Centre stage vegetables with A Bit on the Side’s Ed Smith…

Described as a class full of inspiring side dishes, this demonstration at Divertimenti from Rocket & Squash’s Ed Smith was a welcome breath of fresh, light, flavourful, vegetarian air. Three hours, seven dishes and a lot of chat resulted in a slew of new ideas for both dressing up the supporting acts on your plate and also turning them into dishes worthy enough of being crowned the main event. Familiar, accessible & non-threatening ingredients like cauliflower, carrots & new potatoes sat comfortably alongside arguable wild-cards like seaweed, carrot tops & green tomatoes.

Ed, a former lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-writer-turned-chef, was friendly, easy going and totally at home juggling multiple pans; it felt less like we were in a Brompton Road basement kitchen and more sat round his table at home, dog underfoot & vino in hand. FYI I have no idea if Ed has a dog but he seemed like a nice guy and we all know – cat lovers look away now – that the best people in life have dogs.

The first dish of the night was one that could easily pass as a centrepiece statement rather than being relegated to the ‘sides’ bench. Chunky cauliflower florets were roasted in a mixture of rapeseed oil and cumin salt before being tumbled onto a platter with crispy roasted chickpeas, blanched spring greens and dollops of lemony, sumac sprinkled tahini. The blend of so-hip-they-hurt Middle Eastern flavours paired beautifully with the textures & colours of this minimum-fuss, maximum-flavour dish.IMG_7080Next, two gorgeously simple ways to dress up the kitchen knockout that is the Jersey Royal. One of our loveliest & most seasonal vegetables, usually Elvis-approved amounts of butter and a twist of black pepper are enough to elevate this humble little spud but here, Ed showed us the savoury moreishness of dulse seaweed melted into butter and a traditional-with-a-twist pesto made with ferny carrot top fronds. Vibrant yet delicate and eye-wideningly delicious, these brought the idea of how a Jersey Royal should be served into the modern age of cooking.IMG_7082

IMG_7081A traditional American wedge salad usually arrives drowning in blue cheese dressing and creaking under a mountain of bacon bits; Ed’s lighter & more summery version came with a dill-heavy buttermilk dressing that was joyfully fragrant and worth making double of because life’s too short for skimpy amounts of dressing, translucent radish slices and umami-packed soy seeds & popped quinoa. It may sound like a lot of elements but each took only moments to prepare, making the overall end result well worth the effort.IMG_7089Grilled green tiger tomatoes were sprinkled with white pepper and chilli leaving them fresh, juicy & sharp… IMG_7084…a fennel & tarragon salad delivered a beautifully clean, subtle aniseed tang and carrots were given a new lease of life, one that was silky with brown butter, full of chopped hazelnuts & fresh parsley and pan-to-plate ready in minutes.IMG_7085Great tips such as ‘cauliflower always needs a good 45 minutes to roast properly not the 20 minutes designated by cookbooks on a space-page budget’ and a desire to use the entirety of each vegetable & avoid excess waste were two of the nicest qualities of the evening, along with the fact that everything made could be used on so many more blank canvasses than those we saw painted tonight. Nothing was overly complicated, everything was delicious and it was inspiring, in our increasingly plant based culinary landscape, to see vegetables take their moment in the spotlight.

 

Paying homage to the King of Kebabs…

I love Le Bab. Literally, love it. If I could, I’d draw big, glittery pink, teenage girl hearts all over these words.

I love the fact that it’s small and pretty and full of beautifully tiled floors & walls like the offspring of a torrid Middle-Eastern-meets-Lisbon love affair.

I love that it’s on the top floor of Kingly Court and has windows that just beg to be flung open on a sunny evening so that you can enjoy a gentle breeze as passers-by weep with (righteous) envy.

I love that the staff are totally on the ball, that they’re sincerely but not sycophantically friendly, that they talk about the food with honest appreciation and that some of them wear shirts that match the tiles. Now I’m think this is a coincidence but equally I’m not gonna judge when they bring me plates of food I want to wrap my arms around & guard secretively while devouring the contents with a ferocity that would impress the Southern state champions of any July 4th pie eating contest.

I love that the length of the menu doesn’t require me to book in thirty minutes before I actually want to eat to work my way through it and I love that the only thing better than the way the food looks is the way it tastes with every single thing made in house.

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I’ve been trying to eat here for a while but until now, I’ve never managed to bag a walk-in that suited or got my act together enough to book in advance. Well my friends, all that has now changed. I got my booking and I ate like a queen and you can bet a portion of fondue fries, that I’ll be securing a return visit, off chance walk-in as soon I can.

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Le bab bhajis are made with braised lamb shoulder, beef shin & onion and come served with a smoky chilly mayonnaise. There are two in a portion which makes them perfect for sharing; make sure you come with someone you really like because frankly, if you didn’t try and eat them both yourself, I’d judge you a little bit for your lack of competitive spirit. These things are gorgeous. Crispy, lightly spiced and full of juicy meat packed with flavour, they’re the kind of thing that makes you sad to eat because like the start of year feast at Hogwarts, you just want the plate to magically keep refilling itself but we all know you’re a muggle and that’s not your destiny.

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London is a city in love with hummus and this version, topped with crunchy, sticky nuts and accompanied by softly deflated flatbreads is a cracker. Earthier in flavour rather than sharp from the addition of lemon, it comes in the sort of miniature cast iron skillet that you rather fancy would make everything taste better because it’s just. Too. Cool.

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Spiced cauliflower pastillas come looking not too dissimilar to long, crispy cylinders of baklava but are full of lovely crumbly texture and snuggle up perfectly with charred pineapple yoghurt. This, kids, is the sort of thing you eat out, reckon would taste good on everything and then try to recreate at home with varying degrees of success depending on how much wine you’ve consumed at the same time. Save yourself the hassle of coring pineapples, setting off your smoke alarm, spattering yourself with melted butter and just come back here.

The kebabs themselves are seasonal but, given the ambience of the place, I anticipate they’re probably done with a little bit more class than ‘hey it’s December, let’s throw a stuffing ball and some neon cranberry sauce at this one!’

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Lamb comes deliciously charred and adorned with gorgeously vibrant dollops of emerald chermoullah mayo while paneer – best cheese ever? Let’s just say I’d like to put it in the ring with a wedge of gorgonzola and see who wins – is BBQ’d and sits fatly on top of beetroot puree with curry mayo, pickled celery and a Miss. World worthy crown of crispy onions. All hail here please.

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I’m equally admiring and suspicious of anyone who could come here, see fondue fries on the menu and order the heirloom tomato salad. Those ripe round beauties have their place and it’s on a gloriously crisp summer tart with lashings of olive oil and sea salt. It is not here, usurping the rightful place at my table of something oozy, thick, cheesy & delicious.* **

*Insert Tom Hiddleston joke here please

**Actually, I love me some Hiddleston so that was said with love Tom, said with love.

I feel sure that more things would be made better in the world – Trump’s America, the films of Adam Sandler, crocs on adults – with the addition of a small saucepan full of melted cheese to pour over the top. These double cooked chips are golden, crispy and strong enough to withstand the cheese overload that’s so very right at this any point in time.

I started this article by laying my cards unashamedly on the table and declaring my love for Le Bab. I’ll end it by saying I have a job that I love, love, love however this places makes me wanna click on the ‘Work For Us’ button just to see if a P/T role as chief taster and all round fatty exists because, like my love for French Bulldogs, Keanu Reeves and the music of 80’s soft rock gods Chicago, this is a crush that ain’t fading anytime soon.