Food and Foraging

BOCCA DI LUPO HAS HEART – AND LUNGS, AND KIDNEY IN ITS ‘CORATELLA’ – BUT SOME TECHNICAL ISSUES TOO

So to lunch at Bocca Di Lupo, the busy Italian Soho diner serving up plates of regional cooking from London-born Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo.

I’ve long been trying to get in here over the six years it’s been open, but evening walk-ins have failed dismally, such is its popularity.

However an interesting tale lies in how a table became available at last – and for five people no less. First off, I called in the morning and spoke to the male receptionist who said they had nothing. 

But had I also emailed the reception manager from work. Perhaps it was because she saw the Great Pulteney Street address and wanted to keep locals happy, or maybe because of the back-story – I was eating with the family following an audition for my daughter at the Royal Ballet – she came back immediately. And with a table to boot. Hmmm… 

The bustling professionalism of Bocca immediately impresses: the bar at the front where business folk perch before rushing back to create ever-longer spreadsheets. Or the regular tables are at the rear, a warm-coloured space with a good, chatty vibe. It does feel a little shut off and slightly dark, but a attentive US waitress coped with our desire for lots of small dishes and two young girls who shouted a lot!

A plate of buffalo mozzarella arrived with soft, billowing pillows of the white cheese, beautifully milky with a slight acidic tang. Not as good as buying from the roadside in Campania or Lazio of course, and my daughter didn’t like the grassy olive oil on top, but delicious for the adults who had a bonus dish!

Coratella, the traditional dish from Rome using lamb heart, liver, kidneys and lungs was served with artichokes & spring onions and was hearty but not heavy or sour – artichoke really is a fabulous combination with offal.

Ricotta ravioli with burnt walnut pesto was another punchy dish, but this wasn’t loose enough: the pasta cooking liquid had been over-reduced so that the pesto was slightly dry and the pasta not shown to its best effect.

But the highlight was jumping over to their ‘Gelupo’ bar across the road for high quality Italian-style ice cream. The kids loved the exceptionally smooth, light but softly creamy portions, and I tucked into a fabulous, rich, cool butterscotch with cone.

So 6 out of 10: the food wasn’t quite what I expected it would be from a chef who trained at Moro and Boulevard in San Francisco, but it has a great vibe, and the staff dealt exceptionally well with our loud, shouty table!

BOCCA DI LUPO HAS HEART – AND LUNGS, AND KIDNEY IN ITS ‘CORATELLA’ – BUT SOME TECHNICAL ISSUES TOO

So to lunch at Bocca Di Lupo, the busy Italian Soho diner serving up plates of regional cooking from London-born Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo.

I’ve long been trying to get in here over the six years it’s been open, but evening walk-ins have failed dismally, such is its popularity.

However an interesting tale lies in how a table became available at last – and for five people no less. First off, I called in the morning and spoke to the male receptionist who said they had nothing.

But had I also emailed the reception manager from work. Perhaps it was because she saw the Great Pulteney Street address and wanted to keep locals happy, or maybe because of the back-story – I was eating with the family following an audition for my daughter at the Royal Ballet – she came back immediately. And with a table to boot. Hmmm…

The bustling professionalism of Bocca immediately impresses: the bar at the front where business folk perch before rushing back to create ever-longer spreadsheets. Or the regular tables are at the rear, a warm-coloured space with a good, chatty vibe. It does feel a little shut off and slightly dark, but a attentive US waitress coped with our desire for lots of small dishes and two young girls who shouted a lot!

A plate of buffalo mozzarella arrived with soft, billowing pillows of the white cheese, beautifully milky with a slight acidic tang. Not as good as buying from the roadside in Campania or Lazio of course, and my daughter didn’t like the grassy olive oil on top, but delicious for the adults who had a bonus dish!

Coratella, the traditional dish from Rome using lamb heart, liver, kidneys and lungs was served with artichokes & spring onions and was hearty but not heavy or sour – artichoke really is a fabulous combination with offal.

Ricotta ravioli with burnt walnut pesto was another punchy dish, but this wasn’t loose enough: the pasta cooking liquid had been over-reduced so that the pesto was slightly dry and the pasta not shown to its best effect.

But the highlight was jumping over to their ‘Gelupo’ bar across the road for high quality Italian-style ice cream. The kids loved the exceptionally smooth, light but softly creamy portions, and I tucked into a fabulous, rich, cool butterscotch with cone.

So 6 out of 10: the food wasn’t quite what I expected it would be from a chef who trained at Moro and Boulevard in San Francisco, but it has a great vibe, and the staff dealt exceptionally well with our loud, shouty table!

DABBOUS DELIVERS DESPITE THE DELAY, WITH A TWIST ON NOMA

Lunch at a place I’ve long wanted to visit, Ollie Dabbous’ much-lauded W1 venue. Given the five stars by Fay Maschler, and the ultimate accolade from Giles Coren: “They are going to hold down the chef here and stuff him with Michelin stars like a Périgord goose”, it was a must-visit, but until now impossible to enter.

We managed to snag a table at 1.45 on the 29th finally, sneaking in as many of the expense account holders were returning to their desks. The rough-hewed industrial feel is as billed, but still a surprise for a restaurant at this level, and with this clientele. The wealthy diners seem out of place, not quite slumming it, but something slightly jars. The best way I can put it is that the seats seem to small for people – perhaps their egos don’t quite fit?

But onto the nourishing seeded bread, warm, with a thick crust and almost milky softness to its taste and texture, presented in a brown paper bag. It’s a gimmicky touch with a purpose – to keep the bread warm. The butter is cream they’ve whipped up themselves, and very tasty.

Next a compilation of allium – poached red onion, white onion and slivers of curled spring onion, sat in a pine-flavoured broth with basil oil. The flavours were startling, but it didn’t match my need for solidity of ingredient at this point.

Anna had beautifully cooked asparagus coated in a thin film of mayonnaise made with rapeseed oil, plus a pile of crunchy hazelnut pieces, and cream made from meadowsweet. The foraging begins! With a plant that kind of resembles cow parsley or elderflower – the fronds are used to give a subtle almond flavour.

Coddled egg mixed egg with smoked butter and pieces of mushroom for a rich punch of flavour that came just in time after the symphony of allium! Shame the straw wasn’t edible – I reckon everything on the plate should be.

Then onto mains, with an outstanding combination of bitter, savoury and sour that you wouldn’t expect from a dish billed as ‘Pulled Veal with Summer Truffles and Asparagus’. Layers of shaved truffle gave way to shavings of barely cooked white fronds, then melting, slow cooked veal (brilliant because rarely done with this meat as opposed to, say, shoulder of lamb or brisket of beef). Underneath that was buttery spinach and pea shoots. Uncovering each layer made for a joyous sense of discovery.

Anna’s mackerel main wasn’t quite the same event, with more powerful rather than subtle flavours. But mayonnaise made with oyster rather than egg yolk (they kind of look the same!) was clever with a briny deliciousness, and some tasty heritage beetroot lifted the dish.

Then came a grade A pudding, whole coconut topped with soft coconut cream, coconut ice cream and finally, at the base, crunchy coconut flapjack. Again the excitement of uncovering the layers!

Plus a delicious array of wild strawberries atop burrata (mozzarella and cream) with soft poached strawberries underneath and cabbage flowers, plus basil and tarragon leaf scattered on top, plus yellow dots of fennel pollen (too early for that, surely?)

Service was pleasant enough, with a touch of the Scandinavian among the staff as well as on the plate, although being asked three times if I wanted a drink before my wife arrived showed a lack of communication. They also had to check with the kitchen on ingredients a number of times. It seemed as if…how shall I put this? Well, as if they had been celebrating something the night before.

Surmising aside, set lunch for under £80 for two including a glass of Fritz Haag’s 2012 Riesling from the Mosel is great value for cooking of this quality. And you can see the influence of Ollie’s time at Noma with foraged ingredients and haute twists on subtle flavours that don’t just rely on southern Europe for their punch. Although the menu is not billing itself as locally sourced – the coconut springs to mind – and pushes seasonality to the limits (wild strawberries in late April), you can feel a sensitivity towards ingredients that lingers.

7.5/10 (slightly down because of wild strawberries in April and fennel pollen!)

EMIL ÅRENG FORAGES IN THE NORTHERN FORESTS OF SWEDEN – THE FILM

You’ve seen the stills; you’ve read all about it…

…now here’s the film itself!

We were so moved by the feeling for foraging that bartender Emil Åreng displayed as he talked about his first love.

He’d grown up digging around for mushrooms, sorrel and berries amidst the streams, rocky outcrops and undergrowth of the area.

The surroundings also struck us profoundly: a vast forest floor filled with moss, under pine trees that seemed to reach for the sky. It felt untouched by man.

I hope this film conveys that, as well as Emil’s profound technical excellent in mixed drinks. The end result was for sure a very delicious and unusual cocktail!

So enjoy this snapshot of the scenery and beauty of northern Sweden, as well as the great man that is Emil Åreng.

Creds also go to Martin for his camerawork, and Sven for his sound, both at Lampray in Umeå.

REX BAR & GRILL TURNS LOCAL SWEDISH PRODUCE INTO FINE DINING

So visiting the northern parts of Sweden to make a film about foraging for ingredients in the forests, we had to eat sometime!

We took to this restaurant one evening, which is the home to our barman star of the film, Emil Åreng.

Called Rex Bar & Grill, it is bang in the middle of the large town of Umeå, which itself hugs the north eastern coastline of Sweden, facing across to Finland if you follow the river for a few more miles.

Taking an early meal, because there was a conference in town, and we wanted to beat the rush, we had this old-fashioned, wood-panelled restaurant all to ourselves.

Considered the finest restaurant in the town, it feels elegant but not stuffy, with some slightly odd design touches, however. One of those was an old, classic motorbike hanging precariously over the door. The other was rows of Red Bull cans viewable behind the bar. Both seemed out of kilter when you’re paying £180 for a meal for two.

The service from our waiter was spot on, however. A Norwegian by birth, he had moved to Umeå 15 years, and had the enthusiasm of someone who clearly loved where he lived.

We kicked off with local fish roe, which he enthused about at length. Orange in colour, it had subtle fishiness and salt-tinged, but without quite the richness of caviar. They were served with delicious local crackers Huså-Knäcke that had an oaty savour and great snap (not in the picture), sour cream and soft toast.

Next onto some deeply red, rich reindeer meat from local herds. As with any venison, it’s hard to cook this meat without drying out, but there was a slightly pink middle which kept the moisture. It went beautifully with the locally sourced chanterelles (see my previous blog), wonderfully sweet chunks of parsnip and puréed potatoes.

Finally, some own-made vanilla ice cream, with delicious soft, sweet local cloudberries that have a green-tinged colour and tart flavour like gooseberries, but with a floral edge as well that’s all their own. Apparently kids round here grow up eating these as a treat – and that’s how they seemed to us!

So a great example of Swedish food, served in a haute cuisine fashion in a restaurant with warmth and a sense of history.

FORAGING NEAR UMEÅ IN THE NORTH OF SWEDEN WITH BARTENDER EMIL ÅRENG

Take a look at this!

Here are some pics of my great foraging escapade with local bartender Emil Åreng in a forest in the north of Sweden.

We went out on a cold (4*C) but bright, sunny morning to gather great produce from the woods. Apparently it’s called the ‘Troll’ forest, but you can’t but imagine there are a lot of tree-filled expanses given this colloquial name in the area.

Anyway, driving south from the town of Umeå, the camera crew and myself arrived at this spot where we’d heard there could be mushrooms.

Although the snows hadn’t yet arrived in these northerly parts, most of the berries had gone. In fact we came across a few wild blueberries, but Emil said he couldn’t stand them, and that they were totally over-rated!

But amid the beautiful soft forest floor – bright green moss was everywhere – and the sun slanting through the trees, we found some great things.

There were indeed some mushrooms – lovely chanterelles that Emil picked and later made into a syrup with a little liquorice powder. You can just about see these in the far right of the basket.

Then he gathered bark from the many birch trees in the forest, which he later smoked to add more flavour to his drink.

Plus we found some wood sorrel – he put that in a soda-maker to create a fizzy wood sorrel drink, using the water from the beautiful stream you can see above in the third image down.

Also we searched out some amazing lichen from a more exposed part of the forest, on a large outcrop of rock. Apparently this takes 10 years to grow to the size we saw it. So Emil went easy on the picking!

Finally, if you look in the basket again, you can see the pine branches, picked off from the profusion of prickling trees reaching for the sky. They’re in the smallest container, to the right. I had a nibble of a branch (a small one!) and it was absolutely intense, and delicious.

Why were we here? Well as you can see from the second image, we were making a film about the trend in Scandinavia for foraging, and not just among chefs but bartenders too.

Big shout to the cameraman and director Martin and Sven, who was in charge of the sound. Both work for Umeå-based Lamprey, and I can’t recommend them enough, as well as Sara for her creative input! Martin and Sven made a cracking film, which hopefully I’ll be able to share with you soon.

Emil works at Rex Bar & Grill in the centre of Umeå – that’s him in the far right-hand corner of the image on the website homepage. We paid a visit to the restaurant there, more of which later. But I have to say, what an amazing experience! It was fabulous to get back to nature in this wonderful way.

THE SOIL ASSOCIATION’S 67TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE GOES EASY ON THE ORGANIC

With organic sales climbing back as recession eases, and a number of food scares mean that people are searching out more apparently reliable food production methods, now more than ever you’d think that the Soil Association would be pushing organic.

But with chief executive Helen Browning at the helm, the approach is slightly different…

…As I found out attending the first day and AGM at the organisation’s annual conference last month. 

Held bang in the heart of Westminster, at the impressive Central Hall, opposite the Cathedral, it was with a sense of curious anticipation that I entered the main auditorium. 

This was heightened by the enormous pipe organ behind the stage – this was a Methodist place of worship after all. You can see the instrument in all it’s glory in the picture above! Also the fact that we were seated at tables for the talks, rather like an award ceremony.

But also, thirdly, there was the approach. It was very much, ‘organic where possible’. I wonder what Soil Association founder Lady Eve Balfour would have made of this.

Celebrated TV and former Observer newspaper columnist Monty Don kicked off the day, as Soil Association president. He gave a great call to arms: “It’s all about how we care for our lovely, sweet earth. Everything beings there,” he insisted.

However, Monty was on message too: “It’s easy to hit out against overproduction of food or GM. But we want to be known what we’re for, not just what we’re against,” he added.

As another speaker that followed, Tom Andrews, of Sustainable Food Cities said: “Organic is the hardest sell. It runs fresh, then local, then seasonal, and finally organic.”

One delegate, a local authority key worker, agreed. According to her, the whole thing was “very middle class”. But this was illuminating – there were many local authorities members in attendance. So to be ‘as good as possible’ rather than ‘100% organic’ makes sense. Helen Browning wanted to promote the Soil Association in the best light.

However, a few speeches came across as a pure exercise in PR, rather than genuine engagement with the issues. Professor Kevin Fenton, the national director for Public Health England was a good example of this, reading as if from a script that had been delivered to public bodies many times.

Where former Independent on Sunday editor, now Chair of the London Food Board, Rosie Boycott did actually test the audience for their views – each table discussed for 20 minutes, after she had called for solutions to food poverty, none of this was reported back to the stage.

But there were some great messages too. Food 4 Life is doing amazingly well, with 750,000 meals served every day around the UK. There are great stories, such as Jim Kitchen’s work as chair of the Belfast Food Network. And as Monty Don said at the AGM in late afternoon: “It’s not about lowering the bar. Having a schools with 40% of its food as organic is an incredible situation, and if the country could do that as a whole it would be a triumph beyond our wildest dreams”. 

So I’ll keep my membership, and I love this organisation, but more questioning around the place of organics in the Soil Association’s work is required.

THE SOIL ASSOCIATION’S 67TH ANNUAL CONFERENCE GOES EASY ON THE ORGANIC

With organic sales climbing back as recession eases, and a number of food scares mean that people are searching out more apparently reliable food production methods, now more than ever you’d think that the Soil Association would be pushing organic.

But with chief executive Helen Browning at the helm, the approach is slightly different…

…As I found out attending the first day and AGM at the organisation’s annual conference last month.

Held bang in the heart of Westminster, at the impressive Central Hall, opposite the Cathedral, it was with a sense of curious anticipation that I entered the main auditorium.

This was heightened by the enormous pipe organ behind the stage – this was a Methodist place of worship after all. You can see the instrument in all it’s glory in the picture above! Also the fact that we were seated at tables for the talks, rather like an award ceremony.

But also, thirdly, there was the approach. It was very much, ‘organic where possible’. I wonder what Soil Association founder Lady Eve Balfour would have made of this.

Celebrated TV and former Observer newspaper columnist Monty Don kicked off the day, as Soil Association president. He gave a great call to arms: “It’s all about how we care for our lovely, sweet earth. Everything beings there,” he insisted.

However, Monty was on message too: “It’s easy to hit out against overproduction of food or GM. But we want to be known what we’re for, not just what we’re against,” he added.

As another speaker that followed, Tom Andrews, of Sustainable Food Cities said: “Organic is the hardest sell. It runs fresh, then local, then seasonal, and finally organic.”

One delegate, a local authority key worker, agreed. According to her, the whole thing was “very middle class”. But this was illuminating – there were many local authorities members in attendance. So to be ‘as good as possible’ rather than ‘100% organic’ makes sense. Helen Browning wanted to promote the Soil Association in the best light.

However, a few speeches came across as a pure exercise in PR, rather than genuine engagement with the issues. Professor Kevin Fenton, the national director for Public Health England was a good example of this, reading as if from a script that had been delivered to public bodies many times.

Where former Independent on Sunday editor, now Chair of the London Food Board, Rosie Boycott did actually test the audience for their views – each table discussed for 20 minutes, after she had called for solutions to food poverty, none of this was reported back to the stage.

But there were some great messages too. Food 4 Life is doing amazingly well, with 750,000 meals served every day around the UK. There are great stories, such as Jim Kitchen’s work as chair of the Belfast Food Network. And as Monty Don said at the AGM in late afternoon: “It’s not about lowering the bar. Having a schools with 40% of its food as organic is an incredible situation, and if the country could do that as a whole it would be a triumph beyond our wildest dreams”.

So I’ll keep my membership, and I love this organisation, but more questioning around the place of organics in the Soil Association’s work is required.

SEA BASS, COCKLES, SHRIMPS AND SAMPHIRE BY MARK HIX AND MEEK & WILD

I tried this Mark Hix recipe out recently, and it was a cracker. It reminded me of his crab salad – British ingredients all together in an amazing, sweet-tasting and soft-textured combination.

But it’s also typical Hix in that once upon a time the ingredients would once have been easy to source if you lived close or close-ish to the sea. British waters have shrimps and cockles in abundance and the many marshy inlets are covered for many months of the year in green swathes of samphire.

However in the modern day shopping world, cockles are almost non-existent, replaced by many a fishmonger with clams (from France), which they can charge more money for. Meanwhile instead of shrimps there are often large prawns from Madagascar in their place.

It’s often easier buying Chilean/Israeli/Australian than it is British. So putting all this together was quite a task. 

However, I managed it thanks to the great fishmonger that is Meek & Wild, new-ish to Highbury Barn. 

The main guy who works there is knowledgeable and was on my wavelength. In other words, he understood my slightly mad craving for British ingredients above all else. And he helped put together this fine dish, including a silvery-fresh sea bass from Cornwall.

The only downside was the price of the cockles, at £5 for around 300g, which is edging towards clam territory. The samphire was also two large handfuls for £4 – not cheap. But £12 for the bass and £2.50 for a pot of shrimps was reasonable. £23.50 for a meal for two equals expensive, but worth it!

A final word on samphire: it’s at an end now; a few weeks’ ago the pieces I took were slightly woody and bitter, but the bitterness disappeared on cooking and the woodiness softened. So have faith – and have a go at this truly wondrous dish.

Fillet of sea bass with samphire, shrimps and cockles

250-300g cockles 
4 sea bass fillet portions, each weighing 150-160g, skin on, scaled and boned 
A good knob of butter 
3tbsp dry white wine 
100g samphire, woody stalks trimmed, or chopped baby leeks 
60g cooked shrimps, peeled or whole 
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Method (words by Mark Hix)

Cockles tend to contain a lot of grit in their ribbed shells, so immerse them in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes and agitate them every so often with your hands to dislodge it. Then rinse under cold running water for 10 minutes and drain.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Season the sea bass fillets, then put them in an ovenproof dish and rub each fillet with butter. Cover with greaseproof paper and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the white wine in a saucepan with the cockles and samphire (or baby leeks), season, cover and cook on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the cockles are all opened.

Add the shrimps and any cooking liquid from the sea bass and stir well.

To serve, put the sea bass fillets on warmed serving plates and spoon the cockles, shrimps and samphire over, with the cooking liquid.

SEA BASS, COCKLES, SHRIMPS AND SAMPHIRE BY MARK HIX AND MEEK & WILD

I tried this Mark Hix recipe out recently, and it was a cracker. It reminded me of his crab salad – British ingredients all together in an amazing, sweet-tasting and soft-textured combination.

But it’s also typical Hix in that once upon a time the ingredients would once have been easy to source if you lived close or close-ish to the sea. British waters have shrimps and cockles in abundance and the many marshy inlets are covered for many months of the year in green swathes of samphire.

However in the modern day shopping world, cockles are almost non-existent, replaced by many a fishmonger with clams (from France), which they can charge more money for. Meanwhile instead of shrimps there are often large prawns from Madagascar in their place.

It’s often easier buying Chilean/Israeli/Australian than it is British. So putting all this together was quite a task.

However, I managed it thanks to the great fishmonger that is Meek & Wild, new-ish to Highbury Barn.

The main guy who works there is knowledgeable and was on my wavelength. In other words, he understood my slightly mad craving for British ingredients above all else. And he helped put together this fine dish, including a silvery-fresh sea bass from Cornwall.

The only downside was the price of the cockles, at £5 for around 300g, which is edging towards clam territory. The samphire was also two large handfuls for £4 – not cheap. But £12 for the bass and £2.50 for a pot of shrimps was reasonable. £23.50 for a meal for two equals expensive, but worth it!

A final word on samphire: it’s at an end now; a few weeks’ ago the pieces I took were slightly woody and bitter, but the bitterness disappeared on cooking and the woodiness softened. So have faith – and have a go at this truly wondrous dish.

Fillet of sea bass with samphire, shrimps and cockles

250-300g cockles
4 sea bass fillet portions, each weighing 150-160g, skin on, scaled and boned
A good knob of butter
3tbsp dry white wine
100g samphire, woody stalks trimmed, or chopped baby leeks
60g cooked shrimps, peeled or whole
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Method (words by Mark Hix)

Cockles tend to contain a lot of grit in their ribbed shells, so immerse them in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes and agitate them every so often with your hands to dislodge it. Then rinse under cold running water for 10 minutes and drain.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Season the sea bass fillets, then put them in an ovenproof dish and rub each fillet with butter. Cover with greaseproof paper and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the white wine in a saucepan with the cockles and samphire (or baby leeks), season, cover and cook on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or until the cockles are all opened.

Add the shrimps and any cooking liquid from the sea bass and stir well.

To serve, put the sea bass fillets on warmed serving plates and spoon the cockles, shrimps and samphire over, with the cooking liquid.

NANCY’S HOTEL LA VILLA 1901 STARTS OUR GASTRONOMIC TRIP THE RIGHT WAY

So I’m starting my review of our summer holiday, a 2,500 round trip through France, tasting great local produce, fantastic hotels and restaurants and visiting fine markets.

And what a way to begin. We kicked off the first night of the journey in a turn-of-the-century hotel on the edge of central Nancy, La Villa 1901, a lovely stone building that was in fact relatively restrained amidst so much art nouveaux in the city. It worked out at £360 for two nights – and there were four of us, taking the family rooms (2 beds and a bathroom) at the top. Not cheap, but not silly money either.

We arrived on an excruciatingly warm evening, having driven all the way from London that day in temperatures that touched 40 degrees. We bombed down motorways through Belgium to avoid the tolls.

Sadly, however, the food choice in cities such as Mons wan’t nearly as good as northern France, so it was with relief we headed across the border back into Lorraine, and this major cultural centre.

Arriving at La Villa, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as the website has very beautiful, but quite unclear photos. It’s one of those that focuses on close-ups, without giving a sense of the overall look of bedrooms or dining.

In fact, it was spot on. Each morning we had a delicious bowl of fresh blueberries and raspberries, accompanied by a plate of delicious mini-croissants and some truly outstanding, crunchy bread.

This is the French baguette as it should be: thin, soft and blowsy inside, but with a delicious, thin crust.

The second night brought a huge storm – rain and gales as the hot weather broke. Sadly it meant the owner, Isabelle Jung, turning up while we were eating breakfast because her flat had been flooded. Fire engines were dealing with the problem; meanwhile she hunkered down with us and ate some cake.

But not any old cake! It’s pictured above, a lemon drizzle version that came from the hand of three-Michelin-starred chef Michel Troisgros. It turns out that Isabelle a friend of his! Something to take away the pain of the storm – and it was buttery rich, soft crumb, matched with flaking sugar icing and zinging lemon flavours.

We ate out in the evening that followed – not in any three-star venues, but a great local destination! And that took us to the end of our short stay in this striking city. Throughout both Isabelle and her manager were kind and helpful. The overall look was traditional combined with crazy modernity. That included over-sized snails in the extensive, tree-filled garden and more classic wrought metal seating where we took a picnic lunch one day.

Highly recommended – even without the cake!

LARDO SERVES UP GREAT ITALIAN WITH NO SLABS OF FAT IN SIGHT!

So it’s a brave restaurant in this era of cholesterol-watching and calorie counting that calls itself Lardo.

But this operation from Eliza Flanagan, former manager of the Hackney Bistrotheque restaurant, which opened just over a year ago, is in rapidly fashionable and increasingly foody parts on nearby Richmond Road. Here you can get away with it.

Food knowledge is growing at the expense of faddishness in E8, and this well-researched outfit scores for authenticity of both cooking and a bustling atmosphere.

The interior is all brick and wood floors, adding to the stripped back, focus on the essentials. I have to admit, that’s something I love.

But we were forced to eat outside because clearly other people do too! Every table was taken. But a sense of the goings-on inside wafted out as we tucked into our light supper, with not a chop, loin or the classic Italian Lardo cut – cured back fat with salt, pepper and spices – in sight.

The focaccia was beautifully light and springy, with the unctuous olive oil giving the bread moisture and depth of flavour, and salt granules on top adding sharpness and clarity.

Classic deep-fried courgette flowers had a surprisingly full covering of batter, but with a delicious crunch, and savouriness.

Then finally a pizza from their own-built oven that takes up what looks like the entire kitchen! This was topped with gorgonzola, walnut and radicchio, packed with the sour and sweet of the cheese, the rich almost butteriness of the walnut, and the delicious, bitter radicchio leaves (£10.50).

Thanks to Lardo for some of the pics, taken from their outstanding Flickr site. Have a look, and do go down and grab yourself a meal yourself – having booked first!

A FANTASTIC DAY OF FORAGING ON THE SURREY-SUSSEX BORDERS

A beautiful setting for a weekend with some friends, which turned into major mushrooming activity.

Just south of London, near Haslemere, is not the most propitious setting for a gathering of fungi, you’d think. But it turned into a real treat.

As you can see, the surrounding countryside, with the South Downs just brushing the distance, was stunning. But looking down was just as good as up!

The key at finding this growth in the fertile ground was:
1. The soil was damp, surrounded by semi-marsh and a lake and
2. The woods were semi-private, part of the estate we were staying on.

And although I’ve only snapped a couple of examples here – Dryads Saddle and Chanterelles – there was porcini, puffballs and some many unidentified varieties that didn’t make it to camera.

In fact the eagle-eyed among you will notice that the above chanterelles are in fact called ‘False Chanterelles’. I.e. they look like chanterelles, but aren’t.

The difference is that real chanterelles are more yellow than these bright orange examples. Also they smell of apricots rather than mushrooms - you won’t be able to tell that here.

No need to worry though – false chanterelles aren’t poisonous, but just don’t taste as good.

The other pic is of Dryads Saddle, also known as Polyporus squamosus. This grows from the bark of trees, generally at the root. So easy to pick, but it’s getting tough and leathery already – late September is the best time for this. We got this just in time.

So a great day of picking then and great walking in the woods – thanks Hennie and Ralf!