Pastaio; a jewel in London’s pasta-obsessed restaurant crown…

Stevie Parle’s Clerkenwell based Palatino was responsible for one of my finest 2017 date night dinners. The venue perfectly straddled the cosy-stylish divide, the service was top notch and the food was flat-out fantastic. Carbs are taken as seriously as Trump in my house and their Gnocchi alla Romana is the stuff of dreams though it is, of course, quelle horreur for Atkins devotees.

IMG_4311

Opening a new, very centrally located place is something that’s always going to be accompanied by a whole new set of sky-high expectations as well as a new crowd of diners, for whilst EC1 is a barely-worth-putting-outdoor-shoes-on length stroll from my North London home, it’s considered something of a trek by anyone living elsewhere on the capital’s compass. This just-off Carnaby Street location is moments from theatres, cinemas & flagship stores so understand that you may well spot an M&M’s World bag or a Hamley’s survivor inside – you’ll recognise them by the look of shell-shock on their faces.

IMG_4312

Like a similarly named, no-reservations, South London counterpart, Pastaio specialises in fresh pasta and, apparently, drawing the crowds. During its recent soft launch, my attempt to feast on the cheap was rebuffed by a 2 hour wait, something my at-the-time growling stomach made quite clear was not going to happen. Returning a week later for a Thursday night, girl date supper we were seated immediately and the restaurant was quiet enough in the no man’s land time period that falls between finishing work & beginning to dine for us to fall a little bit in love with the place.  Long communal tables in beautiful flecked stone, an open plan kitchen constantly blurred behind puffy clouds of steam and a warm, mellow glow from the sort of lighting that makes everyone look that little bit more attractive. Read More

Sumac Roasted Squash & Carrots with Sautéed Cavolo Nero & Shallots, Lemon Yoghurt, Pomegranate & Dukkah…

When the nights draw in and the thought of hibernation becomes ever more alluring, there are times when I know I’ve overindulged. Forking molten Camembert into my mouth at the weekend with friends counts as one of those occasions – wholly delicious, understandable and indeed even necessary at the time as, let’s face it, all melted cheese is at the beginning – but slightly more difficult to deal with the morning after when unrelenting denim is dragged unenthusiastically up my legs inch by inch. These are the times I want to recharge the system, to flush it out with vegetables, olive oil and good fats and feel as though I’m actively feeding it with both dark green & leafy and bright orange & sweet goodness and this simple, cosy vegetarian supper is just the dish to do that.

Bright, citrussy sumac gives most things a lovely, fragrant flavour and its russet coloured sandiness works particularly well here with the natural sweetness of roasted squash & carrots. Black kale – one of my all-time favourite greens and so much more appealing with its dark velvet leaves than its sturdier, spikier sibling – wilts alongside fragments of shallot that infuse it with a caramelised sweetness. Yoghurt based dressings are reached for time and again in our house – there’s something about their creamy appearance that reminds us of the more indulgent mayonnaise but the guilt-free tang cleanses the palate and soothes both conscience & waistband – while warming, spicy dukkah crumbs and nuggets of candy coloured fruit give lovely textural contrast. The dish is minimum effort, maximum reward and I hope it will leave you as enamoured with the autumnal ingredients as it did us.

IMG_4406

 

INGREDIENTS (serves 2)

  • Olive oil
  • 1 butternut squash
  • 2 medium carrots
  • Sumac
  • Flaked sea salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 2 small banana shallots
  • 100g Cavolo Nero
  • 100g fat-free Greek yoghurt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Seeds of half a pomegranate
  • Dukkah

RECIPE

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190/375/gas mark 5.
  2. Drizzle 1 tbsp of olive oil onto a large baking tray (you may need 2 depending on the size of your vegetables) and place in the oven on a middle-top shelf to warm.
  3. Wash & dry the squash then slice into rounds approximately 1-1/5cm thick then wash & dry the carrots before slicing into batons (I don’t remove the skins as I like both the flavour and the goodness that comes from them but if you would prefer to, then by all means peel both vegetables before cutting).
  4. Add both vegetables to a large bowl, drizzle over 2 tbsps. of olive oil and generously dust everything with sumac, flaky sea salt & freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Remove baking tray(s) from the oven and evenly place the sliced vegetables on them in a single layer before roasting until they are golden brown and soft enough to be pierced all the way through with a knife; this will take approximately 40 minutes, turning and flipping your vegetables half way through.
  6. When your squash & carrots are approximately 15 minutes from being done, remove the tops, bottoms & outer skin of your shallots, slice in half lengthways and then chop across into slender half-moons, roughly 0.5cm thick.
  7. In a small, non-stick frying pan, add 1 tsp. of olive oil and place on a medium heat.
  8. Add your half-moon shallots (breaking them into individual pieces as you do) and sauté gently until slightly crispy with a nice golden colour.
  9. While your shallots are cooking, remove the central vein from your cavolo nero leaves, slice in half, gather together in a pile and slice finely into thin ribbons.
  10. Once your shallots are nearly done, add the cavolo nero to your frying pan and gently toss for five minutes to ensure everything is warmed through and lightly coated in oil.
  11. Lightly beat together the Greek yoghurt & lemon juice in a small bowl.
  12. Once your vegetables are all done, remove from the oven and the hob; place some of the shallot speckled cavolo nero on a plate and add slices of the squash & pieces of the carrot.
  13. Dollop teaspoonfuls of the lemon-yoghurt on top then scatter with pomegranate seeds and dukkah and serve immediately.

IMG_4407

Upping the cool factor at the hot, loud & down right delicious Black Axe Mangal…

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to eat somewhere that’s part restaurant-part rock concert-part tattoo parlour, you’ve obviously never dined at Black Axe Mangal.

Small, loud – yes even at the yuppiest of meals, Sunday morning brunch – and sat on the Highbury & Islington roundabout next to Maison d’Etre, a prime piece of caffeinated yummy mummy real estate, this place is dangerously close to straying into the ‘if you have to ask, you’re not cool enough to know’ territory. Devoid of all obvious signage and possessing just one small menu in the window, don’t be fooled into thinking no-one knows about BAM; opening at 11am and, by midday, full of people after cold beers and hot meats served in flaky flatbreads served fresh from the Gene Simmons face painted grill, this place is as popular now as when it first opened. Read More