A New Addition to my List of Food Addictions

Every now and again I come across a dish of food that has me dreaming about it non-stop. Fortunately a number of these cravings can be instantly sorted by visiting my local Ottolenghi – as an aside, Yotam Ottolenghi’s prowess with vegetables continues to astound me. For instance, their roasted eggplant salad in whatever guise (always with a yoghurt sauce). Or their chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic, which is something I do make myself – but I hate to say it, theirs beats mine…probably due to the caramelized garlic which I’m afraid of taking too far, ending up with a bitter, acrid mouthful. Anyway, these two dishes sit right at the top of my list of addictions!

I now have another dish to add to the list…but it’s going to be difficult to address my addiction, given that it’s from a café in Auckland, New Zealand! I was recently ‘home’ (even though I have lived away from NZ for over 25 years, I still call it home), and I have to say, the quality of food in NZ just keeps on getting better and better. Kiwis aren’t afraid to experiment with different flavour profiles – Peter Gordon being the founding father of fusion cooking after all. I’ve been back twice this year and each time I have been impressed with the food options available – particularly in Auckland. But more on this in another post – first, I have to discuss my current obsession. Now hold on to your seat, this is going to be shocking, but it was a plate of chips (or fries for my North American friends)! But not just any old chips – these were friggin’ amazing chips!

Odettes Eatery is the name of the establishment that has conjured up this vision on a plate.


Lovely room at Odettes, Auckland [photo credit: Anna Kidman]

To be honest, the listing on their menu was rather understated being “Chips – curry leaves & honey mustard”. However, my sister and I are both potato addicts and we felt that they were worth a try – particularly after the waitress gave a very strong nod of approval. They arrived, we tasted, we swooned – and then we fought over our fair share.



Odettes chips truly are to die for!

These are not any ordinary chips/fries – these are perfectly cooked, thick-cut Agria chips (the BEST potato in my mind…and after a quick online search, have discovered that they are available in the UK and Canada after being introduced in the 90’s, although I haven’t seen them myself…yet!) They are liberally coated in Berbere spice (an Ethiopian spice concoction which I will also be adding to my pantry) and drizzled with an aioli, which has been made with honey mustard, providing the perfect balance of salty/sweet. The most inspired of the ingredients however are the fried curry leaves that are scattered over the top – something that I am going to be doing myself to use up these delicious leaves. Let me tell you – these are addict-worthy chips.

If you live in Auckland, I am SO SO jealous. I am already plotting my return trip to NZ at Christmas and praying that they are still on the menu.

Odettes Eatery 90 Wellesley St W, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand


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Best Gelato in Rome…and Orvieto

It was while living in Paris that I developed my love for gelato. We used to walk down to our local Amorino or Grom on a Sunday afternoon (best thing to do on a day when pretty much everything is closed).

Gelato cone

In terms of flavours, I’m not super-adventurous…always going for yoghurt as my first (and sometimes only) scoop. Yep, I know – it’s not at the top of many people’s list…but it is definitely top of mine, as it reminds me of the yoghurt ice-cream that I used to eat as a kid in New Zealand which really did taste of yoghurt unlike so much that is available today. Although, last week I tasted a flavour that could knock yoghurt from the top spot…I will now be seeking it out at all the gelaterie I come across, to see whether it’s as good as I think it is (more on that below).

Both Amorino and Grom originate from Italy – the land of gelato. And hot summer days in Italy scream out for a cooling gelato. Unfortunately, the one drawback of staying in the sticks of Umbria meant that I didn’t get to indulge my gelato obsession as much as I would have liked. But here are a few places that hit the mark:

  1. Giolitti – apparently the oldest gelato shop in Rome. My friend Julia, who lived in Rome a few years back, directed us here – and for that, she gIMG_3661ets a huge grazie mille, as it was pretty damned amazing. As one would expect from a top gelateria, the queues…actually scratch that, the masses crowding the counter were huge. My top tip: go to the small counter, usually located near the door, and pay first! Hands down, their yoghurt gelato was definitely the best of the week.
  1. Gelateria Pasqualetti – Orvieto was super hot…resulting in us doing a tour of the caves just to get out of the heat (actually well worth the visit). While we were waiting for the tour to start, I decided to hunt down the best gelato in Orvieto – and discovered Gelateria Pasqualetti. Their café (coffee) gelato has apparently won awards – and I can see why.
  1. Gelateria dei Gracchi – our return flight was cancelled, so we ended up with an extra day in Rome. Our last port of call before heading to the airport was, you guessed it, gelato! I came across Gelateria dei Gracchi purely by its location (closest to where we were, and then shortest walk back to our hotel), as it was 36C in the shade. They have 3 stores in Rome, but we went to their namesake on Via dei Gracchi – which is definitely off the beaIMG_3716ten tourist track (approx. 10 minute walk from Piazza del Popolo, on the other side of the river) but it must be super-popular as walking up to it, I could see the digital display of the queue counter on the outside wall of the shop – so I figure that it must get super-crazy (admittedly, it’s not that large on the inside).

So the new flavour revelation? Riso e miele (or rice and honey)…seriously, it was beyond delish! As I write this, I wish I could transport myself back there right now for a large coppa! I also tried the yoghurt (of course) – and a first for me, the pistachio, which was excellent. But the star of the week was definitely riso e miele!

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Best Value Michelin-Starred Restaurant in Paris

Ahhh…Paris…I do love you so! I miss you – but with our time of being together being a long distant memory…I now just get to enjoy you as a visitor.

Fortunately, it’s still very easy for me to get there for a regular fix. Although not often enough having just realised that it has been a year since we last visited. I wrote this post – but then forgot to post it! I know that the restaurant reviewed is still amazing…so what the heck, I’m going to post it anyway.

When visiting for a weekend, with only 2 lunches and 2 dinners, I have to be very strategic on where we eat – and what we eat. Nothing worse than stuffing yourself on the first day so that the next day all you want is a bowl of virtuous broth…so easy to do in Paris!

So I set off to research what was new in the City of Gastronomy. Trawling through my usual Paris restaurant review sites, I eventually ended up with the perfect balance – or at least I hoped so. Continue reading

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It sure ain’t pretty…

…but who cares when it tastes so damn good!  While I will never be a vegetarian, I know that eating too much meat is not good for the old body particularly as I continue the battle with candida.  So I’m always on the hunt for new recipes that will invigorate the taste buds.  This recipe certainly does that – and it’s the perfect comfort food as we head into long winter evenings. Continue reading

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Chips…and Fish

Growing up in New Zealand, eating fish and chips (or ‘shark and taties’ as my dad calls them!) was invariably our Friday night routine. Mum was – still is, at least for the next year – a working mum, so I’m sure this was her way of relaxing into the weekend, having come home to produce a home-cooked ‘tea’ each and every night. We were pretty faithful to the same fish and chip shop for years…and didn’t venture much beyond the standard piece of fish each with $2 worth of chips (or whatever ridiculously low price a scoop of chips was). As I got older, I developed a taste for battered Bluff oysters – oh yum…I could eat a few of those right now! But for me, the Potato Freak, it was always about the chips, which were always perfectly cooked – and on fresh white, ‘plastic’ bread spread thickly with butter, they made the best chip buttie!

Roll on a good few years and now living in London, you would think that finding really good fish and chips would be super easy in the land of the ‘chippy’. Well that’s where you would be wrong! Chips (or fries for my North American readers) is where it all goes wrong…soggy, flaccid, pale excuses for chips are all too common. They make me shudder as I write this…

So when I saw the beginnings of a new restaurant across the street from us, I got ever so slightly excited at the thought that maybe we would finally have a decent fish and chip shop in the ‘hood, given that the name is ‘The Fish and Chip Shop’!

Friday nights right now tend to be flying back from Geneva and wondering what the heck to do for dinner. This week, I was ahead of the game and booked somewhere…none other than across the street, at the Fish and Chip Shop, as I have a feeling that it’s only going to be accessible via booking ahead (just like other local favourites, Ottolenghi and Trullo). Particularly after Giles Coren from The Times does his review (he came in while we were there).

After over an hour in a handbrake-loving cab driver (there are no hills in London that justify such over use of the handbrake), I was desperate for a drink and food. Both of which were delivered in rapid time. Given that they had only been open less than a week, it was a relatively smooth process. They have done a great job of breaking up a long skinny room into intimate spaces. Noisy, vibey place – good for ‘thank god that week is over’ Friday nights. The food was tasty – loved the crab and asparagus salad – and well priced. Most importantly, they do good chips! I predict this place is going to be busy busy. The big bonus for us locals is that they do takeaway!

Verdict: go quickly to be one of the first…before long it will be only for those super-organised individuals who somehow know what they are doing at least 2 weeks ahead of the rest of us!

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a zingy winter salad

Happy New Year – and here’s to a great 2013!

So it was the same old story for me…stressed out end of year (WAY too much work going on for my liking) and the minute I stopped, I got sick. And what an awful cold/flu/bug thing it was…I still have a cough over 3 weeks later, and that’s not normal for me. This year I am determined not to fall into the trap of too much work and not enough downtime/looking after myself. After all, we only get to live each day once, so we might as well make the most of what we can of each day, balancing work (as in the end, we all need money to live), play and health.

It’s a chilly Saturday here in London. After some good, stodgy pasta and cuttlefish stew at our local Italian last night, I’m craving healthy yet tasty winter food. So lunch today is a salad that will certainly invigorate the taste buds! It’s a mix of winter veggies with apple and a zingy dressing. The key is to shaving all the raw ingredients really finely.


My Winter Salad (serves 1 – but easily doubled, tripled, whatever)
1/2 of a Chicory or Endive (depending on which part of the world you are from), finely sliced
Couple of radishes, finely shaved
Couple of brussel sprouts (I’m determined to take this vegetable from the xmas table and use it throughout the winter), finely shaved
1/2 a Cox apple – or any apple that takes your fancy, a tart yet sweet little number is best though; finely shaved
Squeeze of 1/4 lime – to keep the apple from browning, but also to give a bit of citrus zing
Few fine shavings of red onion or shallot – or if you only have green onions, that will be just fine

You could also add: celery, radicchio, fennel, pear (instead of apple), a handful of rocket, some nuts – walnuts would be good

My dressing (this will make more than required for the salad, but I keep the jar on the counter and reach for it throughout the week whenever I’m making a version of a winter salad) :

3 tbsp good olive oil
1 tbsp raw cider vinegar (residual from my anti-candida diet – love this stuff)
Heaped tsp (or more!) of dijon mustard
A good splash of maple syrup (my splash was more of a splosh which was perhaps too much…although as G says, you can’t ever have too much maple syrup – the words of a true Canadian male!)
Pinch of salt
Few grinds of black pepper

Shake, shake, shake

Back to the salad – place all raw ingredients in a bowl and drizzle on the dressing until you feel it has just the right amount (you don’t want it to be drowning). Toss and then gobble up!

This is REALLY good with a piece of your favourite fresh bread, spread thickly with some butter and then covered with thick slices of ham.

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the perfect cup – from allpress espresso

When I first lived in London I worked in the music industry for Harvey Goldsmith, a well known concert promoter. I was in my early 20’s and it was THE job to have!  We got to go to all the gigs…and as this was the Brit-pop era, that was pretty cool. And if no gigs, then there was always someone ready to hit the pub. The downside of this meant that we were forever struggling with ‘tiredness’ – and sometimes the good ol’ cuppa just didn’t quite hit the spot.  One of my bosses spent most lunches in a champagne bar around the corner.  He’s a generous guy…particularly after a few…and so we used to love it when he would spoil us and bring back cappuccinos from Le Coin, the little French cafe around the corner which knew how to make coffee (and the best baguette with Emmental and coleslaw…makes me drool thinking about it).  These coffees were worth crawling out from under the desk for (yes, there were times when that would make do as a bed!)  My memories from that time – admittedly a bit foggy – were that these were the best coffees to be had in London (or at least in my little world).

Roll on fifteen-ish years (yikes that makes me feel old!) and what a transformation of the London coffee scene. Starbucks opened after I left, which then led to the onslaught of Costa, Cafe Nero etc…all of which are just plain bad.  During this time, I married a Canadian and subsequently moved to Canada…where coffee is just a fact of life (although there are still too many Starbucks etc for my liking!)  I fell in love with Intelligentsia beans (US brand out of Chicago) and while living in Paris, I would get my fix brought over from North America by my family (read here if you want to know about the Paris coffee scene…needless to say, it’s worse than bad but thank goodness, things are slowly changing).  As our ‘coffee mules’ were few and far between, this just wasn’t a feasible solution for the long-term given how much coffee gets consumed in our house.

So when we were scoping out moving to London at the end of last year, I was ecstatic when I discovered Allpress just down the road from our Shoreditch hotel. If you don’t know of them, then this is coffee at its best!  They are a kiwi company and are considered one of, if not, the best Down Under.

I was recently fortunate enough to meet the team at Allpress here in London.  As a result, I was offered up the opportunity to attend one of their Perfect Cup training sessions (which they run for those cafe’s barista teams who are supplied by Allpress).  Run by the ‘Coffee Goddess’, Agnes, I knew it was the only way to get inside knowledge on making the perfect cup so I jumped at the opportunity (and of course, in the background was G saying “do it and become MY barista”!)

The guys at Allpress are serious about their coffee – right down to regularly flying off around the world to meet with the individual farmers who supply their beans.  Sounds exotic, but according to co-owner, Tony Papas, it can be pretty rugged traveling. Their high quality demands means that most of their coffee is organic by default, but they stay away from those schemes which label as such, as this is a huge cost to the farmer.

I learned so much from Agnes…making the Perfect Cup really is a scientific process.  Just the slightest tweak/screw-up can send your coffee from a delicious, addictive cup leaving you wanting more, to a too bitter or acidic cup of blah!  And I’m sure you have all experienced that at some point, and probably more often than you wished for. The trick is getting the right balance of bitterness, acidity and sweetness.

Here’s some things I learned from my session:

  • Green beans last a long time but once they are roasted they become hygroscopic, which means that they take on moisture. This means that beans are only at their optimum for 10-14 days – after that, they start to lose their oils, and the oils are what makes a great cup of coffee (the all-important crema comprises oil and gas). Now I get why beans are sold in small packages (usually 250g). Oh and vacuum-packing does not make that much of a difference.
  • A shiny bean equals an old bean…this means that the oils are being released and that’s not good.  So always look for a dry, matt bean.
  • When storing, keep your coffee beans away from any strong smells as they will take on that smell. Best is a cool, dry, dark place (which now rules out my home location, which is in a cupboard with our gas hot water boiler…which frustratingly seems to be on all day!!)
  • La Marzocco is the Rolls Royce of coffee machines.  Of course, G has already scoped out that they have a home version…but that will definitely require a bigger kitchen before one of those moves in…I have a feeling this visit to Allpress will be an ongoing costly exercise!
  • There’s a very precise recipe in making the perfect espresso…16-18g of coffee, tamped twice at 30lb/tamp, brewed somewhere between 23-28 seconds.  OK – so at this point, I quickly realized that my home attempts will never match a good cafe’s barista.
  • Timing of the brewing is important in determining whether you have got it right or not…too slow, and it will be bitter; too fast, and it will be sour/acidic.
  • If grinding your own beans, which of course is the only way, you need to brew the coffee within 10 minutes, otherwise the coffee oxidizes, leaving a thin crema with a flat taste.
  • For their milky drinks they only use full fat milk as it’s the lactose in the milk which makes it taste sweeter and gives the creamy, smooth texture lusted after by all latte/flat white aficionados.
  • Steaming jargon…first you ‘stretch’ the milk, which produces the foam, then you ‘whirlpool’ as you heat the milk, which folds the foam into the milk. Finally, just before pouring, one ‘surfs’ the milk, which creates the glossy final product.

And that’s just a taste of how to make the Perfect Cup – the Allpress Espresso Way!  Check it out for yourself…they even have an app which shows all the cafes who use their beans.

N.B. all writing for this post was fueled by Allpress’ Redchurch Blend.

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