The very best things I ate…February 2018

February, you were a minxy little trickster. In you rocked on day 1 with your crisp blue skies and your diluted dappled sunshine and then off you bombed it four weeks later in a huffing, whirling, squalling blizzard of lash-tickling snowflakes and bone-chilling temperatures.

Thanks. No really. You were an absolute sweetheart.

However, despite leaving us quilted in the sort of thick soft snow that never fails to send Transport for London into the sort of screechy, shouty, panicky meltdown usually associated with the contestants on America’s Next Top Model, you did bless us with some really, really, ridiculously good-looking food like this…

1. Vegan Cheeseburgers

We have an insanely talented bunch of development chefs at work which means that when lunch rolls round and it’s stuff they’ve put together, you’d be crazy to miss it.

So I don’t.

Ever.

These cheeseburgers were served as part of a vegan inspired lunch that was uniformly splendid but it was these bad boys with their melty, plastic cheese, their soft seeded rolls and their charred-and-smothered-in-special-sauce patties that really dialed it up ‘Hello? Oh hi, this is ludicrously tasty here!’

Looking like the burgers of your childhood and all the better for it – no glazed brioche buns or artisan leafy greens squatting here thank-you very much – I’d defy anyone not to seriously love them.

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2. Rhubarb & Cardamom Pastry at Pophams, Islington

Islington has long been sought out as one of London’s most delicious boroughs and now with the arrival of Pophams, a petite artisan bakery that specialises in beautiful sourdoughs and uniquely gorgeous pastries, it’s even harder to narrow down where you want to eat at any given time, day or night.

With a beautifully light & modern interior, crockery you’ll find yourself ogling & ‘gramming voraciously and a chilled vibe just the right side of being cool, Pophams is the sort of place you’d be proud to call your local…and I am.

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Their peanut butter-jam pastries are a feat of viennoiserie engineering excellence, their sourdough ham & cheese toasties are perfect snow-day provisions and their rosemary-sea salt plaits are as light & delicate as butterfly wings but it’s their stepping-into-Oz Technicolor rhubarb & cardamom custard pastries that are really worth nipping over for. Crispily, flakily edged and softly, sweetly middled, if you’ve found yourself obsessing over new ways to eat spring’s prettiest fruit, here’s one of the nicest you’ll find.

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3. Boerewors with Egg, Romesco, White Beans & Chimichurri at Kudu, Peckham

I have so much affection for South Africa, a heartfelt love that’s come from spending summer weeks and months of my youth and slightly-later-in-my-youth over there, that when rumours started a-whispering that a restaurant inspired by its food was opening in south London, I knew the time had come. I’d be leaving N1 and marching my good self & my even better other half to the other side of the world via the other side of the capital. That’s right kids, I was going to Peckham.

With a brunch menu that ticked all my boxes & floated all my boats, a warm & welcoming dining space and food that was just aces, it became apparent pretty quickly that Kudu was rather special. Sourdough waffles, obscene slabs of bacon & babka that’s been French toasted all night long are must haves from the menu but don’t even think about going and not getting the meaty, savoury boerewors sausage with white beans, an outrageously proportioned duck egg and vivid splashes of colour from nutty romesco & herby chimichurri. Put simply, it’s just everything a savoury brunch dish ought to be.

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4. Blackberry & Frangipane Brioche Toast at Margot Bakery, East Finchley

Second bakery on the list this month and I admit, February punched above its weight when it came to carb heavy days however no complaints about that from me because frankly, if those aren’t the reasons that I die a little every morning in front of Joe Wicks, what the heck are?

Margot came to me via the haven of loveliness that is Instagram and the dribble-emoji-face-inducing account of food writer & dessert admirer extraordinaire, Felicity Spector. Remember when you were a child and your whole mentality of life was ‘see it, like it, want it’? It’s all very natural and logical and makes perfect sense? THAT is how I felt the first time I saw one of Margot Bakery’s immaculate pastries on her feed.

Sourdough here is made to be taken away and eaten greedily, stood over your toaster, continuously feeding it like an old girl at the slots in Vegas. Savoury pastries are deceptively light & wrap-their-arms-around-you comforting, tahini cookies are lighter than air & explode in your mouth with a wallop of savoury, salty nuttiness and slices of babka could double as doorstops if it weren’t for the fact you’d sink to your hands & knees and eat them off the floor…however the syrup soaked & baked brioche, stuffed with homemade blackberry jam & frangipane and dusted with golden flakes of almond & puffs of icing sugar is what you need to eat. And when I say ‘need’, I really do mean you need to get out your diary and plan in your visit. Like now. Crispy, squidgy, sweet and undoubtedly how sweet breakfasting was meant to be done.

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5. Baked Sweet Potato with Boston Beans, Yoghurt & Lime Zest

January saw me create my first ever batch of Boston Beans. Thick and laced heavily with Worcester sauce, molasses & mustard powder, a triumph they were to eat but one of life’s speediest suppers, they were not. What I wanted was something close enough to the original but without the need to wait for hours before devouring.

Enter, stage right, exhibit 1…

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…a saucepan into which tumbled the contents of 1 can of chopped tomatoes, 1 can of white kidney beans, 1 tablespoon each of molasses, Worcester sauce & mustard powder as well as 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika and a generous sprinkling of Maldon sea salt & cracked black pepper.

Stir to combine everything, bring to the boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and leave them be for an hour though do pop and have a look at them every so often to make sure they don’t cook dry and to reassure yourself that they, in fact, quite lovely. Perfect served immediately piled onto baked sweet potatoes and topped with fat-free Greek yoghurt, lime zest & za’atar and equally delicious warmed through the following day and dolloped onto toast under a mountain of grated cheddar and an extra splash of Worcester sauce, as a substitute for slow & low cooked beans, these nippy little beauties more than hold their own.

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6. Citrus Salad with Mint, Dukkah & Tahini Yoghurt

I love reading recipes in proper hard-backed, leafy paged cookbooks and can sit, lost in them for hours on end, finding inspiration. Sometimes however it’s a single image seen online that drives me into the kitchen with a fistful of ingredients and an idea to mull over rather than a set of specifics to follow.

west~bourne in the Big Apple’s Soho has the sort of Instagram account that makes me ache for two of my favourite cities. The fresh, plant-based vibes of Los Angeles are transplanted into the cool, modern dishes of this New York restaurant in an incredibly simple & clever way; everything is healthy, elegant, bright & completely intoxicating to look at.

Their Cali-citrus salad was my inspiration for something that pays homage to one of the lightest & most prettily seasonal plates I’ve seen in a long time. Sliced blood & navel orange and lime lay on top of Greek yoghurt spiked with tahini and are finished with fresh mint leaves and a sprinkling of dukkah. Seven ingredients and ten minutes are all it takes for something this fresh & revitalizing to go from the worktop to the tabletop and the combination of savoury nuttiness, creamy yoghurt and sharp sweet fruit is manna from heaven.

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7. Sausages with Thyme Roasted Sweet Potato, Red Onion, Granny Smith Apple, Cavolo Nero & Chickpeas

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Sausages & roasted vegetables have always been hailed as the sort of comfort food you want to hibernate with from October to April. The best quality ingredients you can buy are key here because there’s very little to hide behind so get the very best you can – I promise it’ll be worth it.

One baking sheet filled with olive oil and thyme strewn sweet potatoes go into the oven and fifteen minutes later, they’re joined by apple & red onion wedges along with chickpeas. Cavolo nero is steamed on the side while sausages hiss & spit & squeak under the grill before everything is jumbled together in a gloriously autumnal coloured medley…simple flavours, cooked effortlessly, tasting delicious.

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8. Donna Hay’s Avocado Hummus with Flatbreads, Roast Chicken & Coconut-Paprika Fried Egg

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To say I have an obsession with avocado is mildly understating the obvious to anyone who has ever watched me mash one with salt & lemon for lunch, throw one in a morning smoothie, bake one for homemade tacos or throw fat, curving slices of one onto pretty much every other thing I ever eat. Finding new ways to coddle this infatuation is always something I’m on the lookout for so stumbling upon Donna Hay’s website has become a real joy recently.

An Australian food stylist, author & magazine editor, Hay is responsible for some of the cleanest & most inviting food photography I’ve ever seen. I love floating through the moodily lit, darkness filled food shots on social media as much as the next IG addict but it’s this brightness, this palpable glow of good health & sunshine beaming from every plate she makes which has made her something of a girl crush in my house right now.

The avocado hummus, as well as being crazy-easy to make, is exceptionally  versatile. Anywhere you’d use standard hummus, use this. Anyplace you’d need a sauce to pull together a salad or a grain bowl, use this. And anywhere you’d need a little something to breathe life into leftovers, use this. Whether served alongside lemon wedges, olive oil & dukkah or spread on homemade flatbreads underneath torn roast chicken and coconut oil-paprika fried eggs, it’s just an incredibly moreish spin on the worlds’ favourite way to eat chickpeas.

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9. Chocolate Tofu Mousse from Donna Hay

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Two spots in this month’s list go to Donna Hay and for good reason – I won’t repeat ad nauseam the ode to her work that I began above but I will say this: for smart, healthy, approachable & empathetic food, she’s kind of head & shoulders above many of her peers. If tofu fills you with fear at the thought of cooking it and dread at the thought of eating it, I understand. For far too long it’s had the very worst kind of reputation and we’ve all had pale, tasteless cubes arrive on our plates bearing the dubious accolade of being both tough and flaccid at the same time.

If you’re looking for an indulgent sort of dessert, one which removes most of the fat found in the traditional version and boasts only 4 ingredients, this might just be the recipe to convince you that tofu can play a part in your diet…just pair it with the perhaps unlikely partners of chocolate, maple syrup & vanilla and away you go. Job done, dessert made, people happy.

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10. Korean Bowls from Mee Market

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Mee Market has only recently opened and I’ve only been there once. That’s really not stopped me stuffing my face with spicy, salty, savoury, crispy, crunchy Korean food on my first visit and planning my second visit already.

Staffed by some of the sweetest, friendliest people in the capital, this beautiful little food market – also selling the kind of plates & dishes that convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt that your kitchen and therefore you need them – serves up rice & noodle bowls, generous in size and full of smack-you-round-the-face bold flavours. If gochujang lurks in your fridge, bulgogi can be found on your Deliveroo history but home-made kimchi is a step too far, this is the perfect place to get your fix of some of London’s best Korean food.

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