Plant-based and pretty special; the small plates of Slaw…

Eat the rainbow. Words we’ve tried so hard and so virtuously and so strenuously to live by in recent years that sometimes, the joy seems to have seeped out of mealtimes because let’s be clear, there is no place in this world for undressed leaves. Frankly we have enough to deal with right now without naked cabbage rearing its unadorned head.

Now it’s more like eat the frickin’ kaleidoscope and what an unbridled, uncomplicated, unabashed joy that is to do when places like Slaw make it so easy. Plant-based bowls, flushed with colour and alive with texture, are characteristic of the small, stylish restaurant that opened earlier this year, mere feet from similarly vegan sibling Wild Food Café.

Starting life as a series of supper clubs and opening on Islington’s Upper Street in February, Slaw’s ambition is to make plant-based food both realistic and accessible through the clever handling of fresh, simple ingredients and it’s fantastic to see it sailing past its original predicted residency of five months.

Understated in design, bold in delivery, warm in service, Slaw possesses a quietly assured menu that subtly transforms itself with the changing of the seasons outside; strapping spears of tender early summer asparagus gave way only recently to defiantly blousy legs of broccoli nestled with peas, quinoa and pickled radish.

Small plates are designed to be shared so after starting with pillowy slabs of salt speckled, golden crusted, house made focaccia that’s exactly what we did, picking all the dishes on offer and hesitating only at the mushrooms. Sorry guys but unless they’re squishy, rolled in coconut and found in the local multi-screen pick’n’mix, I can’t get on board with the fungi.

Carrots arrive roasted, pickled and laying across dollops of carrot hummus like the tastiest pile of edible pick-up sticks imaginable. Showcasing the restaurants root-to-stem ethos means the pesto dashed across the top is made from feathery carrot tops and a tangy crumb made from hazelnuts and rye delivers a crunch that lingers nicely making this a must-order.

Beetroot dahl is thick, silky and as pink as Barbie’s dream sports car with a sweet, earthy bite to the lentils that stops it from descending into mush. Topped with a glossy puddle of cucumber raita, this is the dish that chewy, puffy flatbreads were made for scooping up…

…as is the star of the evening – dukkah sprinkled, roasted cherry tomatoes and aubergine with nutty black rice lazily paddling around in a pool of spiced plum tomato sauce. Dreamily creamy with layers of deep, sweet, almost smoky flavour, this is a new take on summers’ bounty of tomatoes that will have you scraping the dish for every last smudge of vivid terracotta.

Florets of cauliflower are tinted golden yellow, fragrant with spices, softly spiked with flaked almonds and draped with a bright, grassy coriander dressing that stops this from being just another Middle Eastern ode to the humble cauli.

The loveliest thing about Slaw is that whilst some of their dishes are aspirational and unlikely to be replicated in your own kitchen, others, like the cauliflower, are easy to imagine throwing together with confidence for a mid-week supper and that’s brilliant because that’s what the best places should do. Deliver food that tastes great and gives you a break from your own dining table but also encourage you to think about how you can take inspiration from their menu for another night.

The current vegan landscape of London is vast and at times it’s unforgiving to those dipping a toe into the waters of plant-based cooking but the honest and passionate exploration of vegetables apparent at Slaw is something to be sought out and celebrated.

Finding a gem in the rubble of an earthquake…

1486898_10152622085936206_3644739163168549609_n
Napa Valley is renowned for being one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s also famous for being one of the most well-known wine producing regions in the world, delivering 5% of California’s wine each year. Some of the most acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignons on the planet come from Napa and 3m+ visitors each year come to the region to drink, eat & enjoy some of the very best local produce.

After a solid 12 hour drive from Portland, stopping only for a little lunchtime magic at the culinary delight that is Denny’s – judge me not, there’s a hell of a lot of nothing between Oregon and Napa – J and I arrived in Napa around 9.30pm on the Saturday night, ready to hit the hay and wake in the morning, refreshed & ready for our adorable vintage wine trolley tour.

Hmm…

Y’know what else Napa can lay claim to? Earthquakes. Ask me how I know…

I’ve only ever been in one earthquake before; a little 2008 5.4 in Chino Hills that I experienced mid-morning in a classroom with many other people. There was a little rumble, the walls vibrated, everyone stopped…then everything carried on as normal. Scary? Not really. Exciting? Little bit.

Now imagine going to sleep and waking up at 3.20am in the pitch black, in a place you’ve never been before and barely looked at when you arrived 6 hours earlier. Imagine being woken up because the walls are shaking the headboard which is shaking you. Imagine feeling the bed move and lift you up. Imagine feeling like the cabin you are in is about to lift off the ground and take you with it. Imagine not knowing how long this is going to last or whether it will stop and start again or if something will fall on you. Imagine holding onto the person beside you and literally clinging to them because you have no idea what to do or where to go. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Err, no actually. Not at all.

Not quite the welcome to Napa we were expecting and after getting up, seeing drawers slung out of their chests and a fridge several feet away from where it started, learning that there was no electricity or wifi, going back to bed, undergoing two aftershocks and then waking in the morning to learn that the quake had been a 6.1 and the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1989 and that so many vineyards had been damaged that the trolley tour was cancelled, we were faced with an unusual prospect…

…what exactly do you do for 24 hours in Napa when there’s no power and no wine?

Read More

An Introduction to Baking at Leiths, week 4…

The last week has rolled around and whereas with the four week class at LCB, I was sad to finish, here I’m actually sad that I don’t feel sadder. I’m a baker at heart and I was hoping I’d have got more out of this class than I actually did.

We were finishing with red onion focaccia and fruited soda bread plus a practical demonstration of spicy corn muffins…again, if I’d not long completed a one day workshop in artisan bread-making at LCB, I would have more than likely loved this class because I do have something of an addiction to bread. Unfortunately the variety and volume of products from that workshop meant that the focaccia and soda bread created here, although undeniably tasty (especially warm with Famous Five style lashings of butter) didn’t quite reach the same heights. Read More