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.

 

Marmite butter sprouts; the most important vegetable of the year gets all dolled up for Christmas…

Sprouts. Has there ever been a more divisive vegetable to grace arguably the most important plate of the year? Baby things are always considered cuter than their grown-up counterparts but rarely has anything as inoffensive as a teeny-tiny cabbage ignited so much fervent arguing over whose plate – if any – they end up on but guys, come on. As with so many things in life, I truly believe that if you don’t like it, it’s just because you’ve not found the right way of eating it.

Obviously this doesn’t count where broccoli is concerned because we all know that’s clearly the Devil’s favourite foodstuff.

Plucked from the pages of October’s Good Food Magazine, an issue that promises your easiest Christmas ever, these sprouts are definitely worthy of a place in your festive feasting. Full of savoury, umami flavours from the Marmite and a slick richness from the butter, the charred leaves are crispy, moreish and may just prove to melt even the most hardened of haters’ hearts.

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A deliciously quirky Mediterranean lunch at new Covent Garden darling, Sesame…

Mediterranean street food dreamt & brought to life by one of Ottolenghi’s founding fathers and served fast and fresh in a centrally located site.

With credentials like these being flung excitedly over the food-lovin’ airwaves of London, new hot spot Sesame has been billed as the latest essential place for a quick, simple & healthy meal on the go and so, on the drabbest of steel grey Sunday afternoons with rain-swollen clouds unburdening their cargo on the unsuspecting good folk below, flavourful & delicious Mediterranean fare was exactly what was needed.

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First impressions were promising; a beautiful, sea blue, trimmed exterior effortlessly married together clean modernity & a sense of wandering in the back streets of a sun baked country while street food hawkers shout, cajole & barter and the smell of juicy meat spitting & smoky vegetables roasting storm your senses.

Located on Garrick Street, Sesame is perfectly placed for tourists & office workers of Leicester Square & Covent Garden as well as those who blossom under the promise of a delicious meal like daisies in the late spring sunshine and will seek it out wherever possible. J and I are two such daisies though the late spring sunshine is conspicuously absent right now…

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Rustic, cheery and boldly tiled, we walked straight in to a friendly welcome from amiable staff who waited patiently while we scannned the menu, noseyed around the hot & cold food counters, gently dusted off the droplets of rain that had glittered our coats and inhaled the scent of something – many things – delicious.

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Sesame’s food has been dubbed ‘London’s poshest kebabs’ but if you’re anything like me and would rather chew your own toes – maybe even those of the chap sat next to you on the tube right now – than eat what hangs in the windows of most kebab shops, fear not. The menu may propose you get your groove on with lamb, chicken & pitta but what you end up with is as far from that shady image of the kebab as you can thankfully get.

Skewers & pittas come loaded with lamb or chicken as well as an aubergine option for vegetarian diners. Salads bid for your selection with their array of sweet, sour, spicy vegetables & wholegrains gorgeously vivid in windowed boxes – recognisable ingredients like butternut & beetroot mingle with traditional Mediterranean spices such as za’atar, and the perennial favourite brothers of our own dining table, bulgar and barley, nestle in on the action as well.

Employing our usual tactic of picking and sharing, J & I went for the spiced lamb kebab with chopped salad, tahini, mint yoghurt and zhoug (a green chilli sauce) and paprika & cardamom chicken with chopped salad, sauerkraut, hummus & zhoug, both served in pittas.

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Ok, I need to just take a moment here to heap sincerely deserved praise on the lightest, fluffiest, softest & altogether loveliest pittas I have ever eaten. The perfect size for holding with both hands and demolishing one giant bite at a time, I could eat these babies with nothing but a humungous pot of chickpea strewn hummus to scoop them into.

The lamb was rich in flavour, well spiced & generously portioned with crunchy chopped salad balancing out the succulent meatiness.

Good as the lamb was, the chicken surpassed it for me – perfectly cooked, this was one tasty bird taking flight to its final resting place. Pops of tangy creaminess came from excellent hummus and the flavours of everything were subtle but defined.

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Harissa & cinnamon infused cous cous was warm & comforting when spooned out of a tub also packed with chickpeas, sweet potato, courgette, Iranian lime & that most under-rated store cupboard staples, dried apricots.

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This is the point when I’d love to show you a picture of the rose & walnut chocolate brownie that was dessert but as it was devoured in the darkness as an accompaniment to Mr. Clooney’s latest flick, alas, I cannot.

What I can do, because I’m just that kind of gal, is tell you that it was freaking delicious. To further illustrate my selflessness, I can also confirm that yes, it was dark, squidgy, crumby round the edges, studded with walnut nuggets and delicately perfumed with the fragrance of rose, enough to satisfy my floral adoration but thankfully not enough to take me back to a time when crispy petalled potpourri was considered the height of cutting edge decoration.

Ok I hear you asking, you enjoyed the food, liked the decor and found the staff friendly…so where’s the oddness mentioned in in the opening paragraph? Well for every thing I sincerely appreciated, there was something that jarred a little bit like the bins, tray holders & cutlery/napkin dispensers that looked directly borrowed from the more obvious fast food joints. They, coupled with slightly-too-loud & a-bit-too-modern music, were at odds with the more traditional-to-its-heritage decor and while the addition of a quirky enamel sink in the downstairs eating area signposted as a point to wash was cute, I’m not sure I fancy someone washing their hands mere inches from my food.

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Hey maybe I’m being obsessively picky because frankly, I could just not look at the things I didn’t care for and focus instead on the things I did like those dreamy pillows of pitta but I only mention them because they brought me out of feeling completely at home and made me think I’d better eat quickly rather than get settled in for a good lunch.

Tasty, reasonably priced & a welcome addition to the self proclaimed ‘fast food’ family are all points in Sesame’s favour that are hard to argue with; as a healthy lunch on the run goes, it hit the spot and I’d return for pittas & potted hummus to squirrel away into my bag but I wasn’t left with the crazed, wild-eyed, ‘must-come-back-and-I’ve-not-even-finished-this-meal-yet’ feeling yet that I’ve had in other places recently. That said, I love the fact that it’s another option for hungry folk and in a time when other chains are opening new locations with monotonous regularity, it’s worth supporting a place that tries to do something a little different.