Time for some Italian food

It has been nearly ten years since I visited a branch of Carluccio’s.

I do like Italian food, but I’ve not really had the inclination to visit Carluccio’s in that time. Their menu always looks interesting, but for quick lunches it was always on the pricey side.

So staying over in London and needing somewhere close and not too expensive, finding and reading the set menu online for Carluccio’s which was a few minutes walk away, I thought, well why not. It might be nice.

This branch of Carluccio’s was very close to Spitalfield Market and inside was dark and atmospheric. There was limited lighting, complemented with candles on the tables. I felt that it spoke of mystery and intrigue, so different to brightly lit restaurants.

I had a lovely warm welcome from the waiting staff and I was allowed to choose my own table. I do like being able to choose my own table, I realise when it’s busy that may not be possible, but when the place is quiet (as it was when I got there) it’s really nice to have a choice, and not been placed somewhere because it makes life easier for the waiting staff.

As it was dark, it was challenging to read the menu, I am glad I read it online before I had gone out.

The set menu I was choosing from had four choices for each course. I went for the Antipasto Misto. This was
pane carasau with gorgonzola dolce & 14 month aged prosciutto, caperberries, olives, finocchiona salami, baby pepper with pesto, marinated green beans, caponata.

Antipasto Misto. This was  pane carasau with gorgonzola dolce & 14 month aged prosciutto, caperberries, olives, finocchiona salami, baby pepper with pesto, marinated green beans, caponata.

I’ve not had pane carasau before, it is a traditional flatbread from Sardinia. It is very thin and crisp. It is made by taking baked flat bread, then separating it into two sheets which are baked again. It was interesting, but I think I would have preferred some ciabatta or focaccia instead.

There was very little gorgonzola dolce, reflecting on this when writing this, I initially thought there hadn’t been any on the plate, but then remembered there was a small piece. The prosciutto and finocchiona salami were nice, and I enjoyed the caponata, but I think it would have gone better with some bread (and not the flatbread).

My main course I chose was the Risotto ai Funghi. This was a risotto made with porcini, chestnut, oyster, shiitaki, shimenji, baby king oyster, closed cup mushrooms and garlic.

Risotto ai Funghi. This was a risotto made with porcini, chestnut, oyster, shiitaki, shimenji, baby king oyster, closed cup mushrooms and garlic.

You could certainly taste the mushrooms in this risotto dish, and the risotto rice was al dente and creamy. I thought it was slightly salty for my taste.

I had intended to go with the cheeses for a third course, this was three Italian cheeses, truffle honey, pickled walnuts and ciappe crispbread. However I was feeling somewhat full, so didn’t.

When I was presented with the bill, they had added a 12.5% service charge which was “optional”. When I have had good service I do tip, however adding the tip to the bill always strikes me as presumptive and I find it insulting. It appears to be saying we don’t trust you to leave a tip, so we are going to add a service charge to the bill to make you feel bad. I also wonder how much of that “service charge” goes to the actual staff? As I didn’t have any loose change on me, I left the charge on the bill and paid. I know waiting staff are poorly paid for what is a busy and can be stressful job (I have done it myself), so I think tipping for good service is a good thing. If I receive poor service then I don’t tip.

Overall I did enjoy the food, the service was attentive and quick. The environment was nice and did not feel crowded, nor was I rushed. Would I go again, probably.

Satay Chicken Hot Box

I have been intrigued by Leon for a while now, I was surprised to find a branch at the Strensham South Services on the M5. Also pleasantly surprised that their prices were the same as they are in their high street stores and not inflated because they are in the motorway services.

The reasons for my intrigue is the interesting menu of salads and hot boxes. The choice is varied, sounds delicious and look appetising.

I didn’t eat at Strensham as I wasn’t stopping to eat, but to be honest I was a little bit tempted. So it was no surprise when needing to buy lunch in London the other day I was pleased to see a Leon branch and I popped into to get some lunch.

As it was rather cold, I decided I would go with a hot box rather than a salad. There were some really nice choices, but in the end I went with the Satay Chicken Hot Box.

Satay Chicken Hot Box

This contained sliced chargrilled chicken thigh on Italian brown rice, served with a punchy satay sauce. Topped with fresh parsley, mint & toasted seeds.

The chicken was really tasty and tender, it was covered in a nice but not too spicy satay sauce. The slaw was crunchy and fresh.

I really enjoyed the box, it was tasty, fresh and full of flavour.

Going back to itsu

I haven’t been to itsu for a while now, since I stopped working in Oxford, I made quite a few visits there for sushi and pots of noodles. I haven’t been to the branch in London (too many other choices) however in December a new branch opened in Bristol.

As on my previous visit, there was a lot of choice and within the different types of food on offer lots of variation. I found it difficult to decide on what to have.

There is a big choice of salad and sushi in the fridges and then there are the hot options, pots of soup, rice, noodles or dumplings.

In the end I went with the Vietnam beef salad. This was roasted beef, hard boiled egg, spicy sauce, sushi rice, greens & ginger, roasted seeds, chives, red ginger, `no lettuce´ salad and salad seasoning.

Vietnam beef (roasted), hard boiled egg (free range), spicy sauce, sushi rice, greens & ginger, roasted seeds, chives, red ginger, `no lettuce´ salad and salad seasoning

It looked really nice and was well presented. I found the beef tender and actually quite tasty. The salad and rice was also really nice. The overall combination was delicious and I really enjoyed the salad.

Spicy!

If you live in Bristol you’ve probably heard of Chilli Daddy and you may have even eaten there. They have relatively recently taken on a stall in the St Nicholas Market and as that is a regular haunt of mine for lunch, I have been thinking about eating there for a while. When they first arrived in St Nicks I did find the menu somewhat confusing, since then they have appeared to simplify it.

winter1_1_orig

winter2_1_orig

winter3_orig

On my most recent visit to St Nick’s the staff from Chilli Daddy were offering free samples of fried spicy chicken, pepper chicken and mini spring rolls. All very nice and tasty. Though what I didn’t see was where they were on the menu!

Looking over the menu, I decided that noodles would be a messy affair so went with a rice dish, the Paojiao Chicken Rice Box.

So the dish didn’t look like the picture, well it was a square box.

Paojiao Chicken Rice Box.

The dish was mainly rice with ground chicken with some vegetables and some peanuts. The pajiao was Sichuan pickled chili pepper. This was a very interesting dish and I did find it both tasty and spicy. Even though I went for the level 2 spiciness it was still quite a hot spicy dish, I don’t really want to imagine how hot a level 5 dish would be.

Time for a new pan

paella

I do quite like cooking paella, and though I’ve not talked about it for a while on the blog, it has made regular appearances on the dining table. One thing I have been thinking about for a while was buying a paella pan to cook it in. I have been using a regular frying pan, but the idea behind using a special paella pan, was to ensure a more authentic dish. This would be achieved by having a broader pan, the resulting paella would be shallower than using the regular frying pan. It would also ensure that I didn’t need to stir the paella, which I have been told now is something you don’t do with paella. So when I was out shopping in Bristol recently I treated myself to a new 40cm paella pan.

For my most recent paella and using the new pan for the first time, I took some diced onion, pepper, mushrooms and courgette. In addition I also threw in some diced chorizo to the pan. After heating a splash of olive oil in the pan, I fried the vegetables and chorizo until they were soft.

I use a variety of methods when adding flavour, from making my own seasoning mix using saffron and paprika, to using shop bought seasoning mixes or pastes. For this paella I used the Marks & Spencer’s paella paste, this contains saffron, but also gives the paella a rich fruity flavour. The paste was added to the pan and mixed with the cooked vegetables.

I then added the paella rice. It makes sense to use the right kind of rice when cooking paella, to ensure you get the right texture. This was coated with the rest of the ingredients and then I added some white wine, before adding the stock to cover all the ingredients.

This was then left to cook over a simmering heat for 30-40 minutes, and I didn’t stir. Though after 25 minutes I did add a little more stock to the pan.

In separate pans I cooked the chorizo and the squid. The chorizo I used was the cooking chorizo, sliced into 4-5mm slices. This was cooked off in a medium pan with a little olive oil. They certainly sweat oil out and this combined with the paprika can stain, so be careful. For this paella I used regular squid, this was scored with a sharp knife before been cooked just before serving in a hot frying pan.

The dish was then constructed, the cooked squid and chorizo was placed on top with chunks of lemon, then served.

Delicious, and went down well.

Eat beautiful?

itsu Oxford

I hadn’t heard or seen an itsu restaurant or shop before, but I was out in Oxford and found their branch on Cornmarket Street. They have been in London for a while, since 1999 according to the website.

The blurb says

The early pioneers of Pret are the creative force behind itsu.

Years of listening and reacting to customers encouraged us to build a new type of food place dedicated to skinny but delicious food; sixty two dishes- light, green and good for you.

Apparently the secret to Pink Floyd’s breathtaking music is as much about what they left out as what they put in; a bit like itsu, less fat, more bounce.

There was a lot of choice and within the different types of food on offer lots of variation. It was quite difficult to decide on what to choose.

The salads looked great, well presented, as did the sushi. The food looked fresh and inviting. The shelves were well stocked and there was a lot of choice.

itsu salad boxes in Oxford

I was tempted by a box of sushi, but as the weather outside was cold and wet, I went with the chicken and rice “potsu”. It is described as chargrilled chicken, ithai sauce, kombu relish, brown + wild rice & seven veg.

itsu Chargrilled Chicken Potsu

It was rather nice, filling and tasty. The chargrilled chicken was full of flavour, and the vegetables were fresh and had a nice crunch. The sauce was very spicy and in some ways I could see how some people might find it overpowering, but I did like it. It was nice to eat something very different for lunch, something that wasn’t a sandwich or the ubiquitous panini.

It was an interesting environment in which to eat, there were raised communal tables with high stools. It certainly is a good place to go if you are in a group, and I am sure in a place like Oxford with lots of students they are trying to attract that market. The decor and colours are best described as bright and colourful, very different from the dark and wood you find in coffee shops.

I enjoyed the food, quite liked the environment and was inspired by the menu. I will certainly go again.

Don’t you dare stir…

Well I have been well and truly told by lots of people never to stir my paella again.

Claire is currently living in Spain.

Fernando is a Lecturer in Spanish at the Open University.


So that means I am very clear now, I don’t stir the paella.

Paella, have it your way

In my most recent blog post on cooking paella I talked about using a different method that I had seen on the television. I did manage to try it out and, yes it did work exactly as planned.

I cooked the vegetables first and then added the rice and the stock, stirred once and then left it.

I was concerned about how it would turn out and was so, oh so tempted to give it a stir now and again… but I didn’t.

So what of the result?

Well the paella was a lot dryer than my usual recipe and I did feel it lacked some flavour compared to previous versions I had cooked. I am guessing though it was more “authentic” and how a paella should be. One of these days I will need to get to Spain and have a proper paella to compare.

Going to try something different…

Simon Hopkinson Cooks Paella

So there I was watching Simon Hopkinson Cooks on More4 and he was cooking paella. The way in which he cooked his dish is different from the way in which I have cooked mine What he did was cook the core ingredients first in the paella pan, then add the fish stock before finally adding the rice. He gave the rice a single stir before leaving it.

I knew that you should try avoiding stirring, but once and then leave it wasn’t something I had done before. Unlike a risotto where you want to break down the starch to make a creamy sauce, you want the rice in a paella to remain whole, hence avoiding stirring. Similarly I added stock as I was cooking the rice, rather than all at once.

I don’t like the way he did the mussels, but that’s not a crucial part of the recipe. He placed them in the dish pointed upwards and then finished the paella in the oven. I can see the benefits of finishing it off in the oven, but not so sure about the mussels.

When he finished his paella he dressed it with a dressing of olive oil, parsley and garlic. I like the idea of the dressing and will certainly try that on my paella.

So the next time I cook paella I am going to change from my usual method and try something different.

A simple rice salad

The other day I cooked some rice to accompany the pork dish I was cooking and wouldn’t you know it I had cooked way too much rice! Or maybe people weren’t as hungry that day as they have been other days.

So what to do with the left over cooked rice? Well make a rice salad of course.

I looked through the fridge and found some cucumber and a tomato, these I diced and added to the salad along with a good dollop of mayonnaise. I had missed the leftover sweetcorn otherwise I would have added that too.

Stir, chill and eat later.

Another rice salad recipe.