Entries in reviews (8)

Wednesday
Nov262014

#GirlBoss

Sophia Amoruso's fresh, edgy part memoir part business book #GirlBoss is fierce and fun.  It is a definite buy for any girl you know from late teens on, who may go into business one day.  

In #GirlBoss Sophia tells her story that began with Starting an eBay Business for Dummies, and ended with a global brand.  Within eight years her business Nasty Gal has sold over $100 million in new and vintage clothing, with a 65,000 square foot office in LA where she employs  over 350 people.  This is a tale of hardwork, taking chances, making it work, and at times wingin it.  It is a thoroughly enjoyable read, fast paced, with lots of takeaway knowledge, and can be instantly applied.

Sophia believes in working hard, leaning in, rolling your sleeves up and getting on with it.  Taking pride in what you do, and doing it all to the best of your ability.

Four Takeaway's from #GirlBoss I enjoyed are 

  1. Keep Your Goals in Sight, Literally - remind yourself of what you are working for all the time, don't lose sight of your endgoals. Sophia uses her login passwords to remind her of her goals
  2. Small Milestones Can Add Up to a Giant Enterprise - the big is in the small, celebrate small achievements, build your brand, and use every opportunity to do so. Use social media, it is just media after all, give people value in everything
  3. Do the Dirty Work (as Though You’re Nose-Deep in Pine Sol) - be prepared to do everything from filing to photocopying, Sophia tells her story of literally doing everything to be successful
  4. Leave Your Entitled ‘Tude At the Door - do the work, whether you think it is beneath you or not

Some of my favourite quotations which just made me want to hustle - included

“No matter where you are in life, you'll save a lot of time by not worrying too much about what other people think about you. The earlier in your life that you can learn that, the easier the rest of it will be.” 

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle. —Abraham Lincoln” 

“There are secret opportunities hidden inside every failure.” 

“Even with no manager watching to give me a gold star, it was important to do my best. Who cares if a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it? The tree still falls. If you believe that what you’re doing will have positive results, it will—even if it’s not immediately obvious. When you hold yourself to the same standard in your work that you do as a friend, girlfriend, student, or otherwise, it pays off.” 

“It just means that your talents lie elsewhere, so take the opportunity to seek out what you are good at, and find a place where you can flourish. Once you do, you’re going to kill it.” 

“It’s cool to be kind. It’s cool to be weird. It’s cool to be honest and to be secure with yourself.” 

#GirlBoss is a ballsy business book for the 21st Century, with a strong narrative and personal story, which gives the impression if Sophia can do it, so can you.  It will inspire anyone with a can-do attitude to really go for it.  It's fast paced, easy to read, and powerful.  I highly recommend you get a copy for yourself and one to give to a girlfriend who's either just starting in business or thinking about it.

 

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable


 

 

Monday
Jun092014

ABC Kitchen, New York City

 

New York City: a place of endless energy, relentless ambition, continuous choice and unlimited urgency.  Variety is the spice of life, but it can also be overwhelming, and confusing.  Our time is so precious to all of us, that when we travel we want to have the best possible experience.  We want the most exciting stories to tell when we return home, and are asked the question, ‘Well, so what was the food like?’  Good food can make or break a trip.  Reading the “Where To Eat” Bibles often leaves us foodies wanting, because we know that the pages of the majority of them are filled with establishments that pay to be there.

One of my newest and best food memories is that of Abc Kitchen, (35 East 18th Street between Broadway and Park, New York City).

In a city like New York, with some of the best dining experiences in the world, how does a restaurant stand out?  The answer is that it has to have the whole package: not only extraordinary food, but also attentive service, a space with vibrancy, stylish interiors, good crockery and cutlery, a menu that tickles the taste buds the moment you start reading it and a welcoming atmosphere.

Awarded “Best New Restaurant of 2011” by the James Beard Foundation, Abc is a restaurant that not only readily deserves this award but is also one that I wish I could eat in every day.

It’s a place that first and foremost respects good, organic ingredients.  They have staff that wholly believe in the restaurant’s food ethics and philosophy of fresh produce, barely touched, from the field to the plate.  The menu celebrates simplicity and avoids food gimmicks. 

You can eat roasted Portobello mushrooms with celery leaves; marinated heirloom tomatoes with chillies and basil; roasted aubergine toast with peppers and lemon and wholewheat pizzas, with toppings such as mushrooms, Parmesan, oregano and farm egg.  There’s also an akaushi burger with herbed mayonnaise and pickled jalapenos, and what I am told is the most popular lunch option, a house roasted turkey sandwich with applewood smoked bacon, arugula and jalapenos.  The secret for a chef to be able to serve dishes like these is an unwavering belief in the quality of the ingredients.

Offering farm-to-table dining, the restaurant sources 70% of its food from a ninety-mile radius, from May to October, with a commitment to try to reach 100% of the ingredients sourced from within this area, as soon as they can.  And, you can really taste the difference the lack of food miles makes to the freshness and colour of the food that is served.

Overseen by Alsatian chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, famous for fusing French classics and Asian flavours, Chef Dan Kluger was cooking in the kitchen the day we were there.  Both men shop regularly at Manhattan’s Union Square Greenmarket, often picking up produce and creating a dish around it.  This is what I am told happened with my favourite dish on the menu the ‘shaved radish toast, grainy mustard butter and black pepper’. 

Freshly made sourdough bread had been brushed with olive oil and toasted, giving it a crunchy, chewy texture, and topped with several types of garden fresh radishes, so thin that they looked like pieces of the most delicate tissue paper.  They swept along the top of the bread like a dusting of confetti that had been anointed with glossy mustard and black pepper butter that had just a hint of saltiness.  It tasted light and tangy. Those radishes reminded me of the ones I ate as a child, sitting in the middle of our vegetable garden, straight out of the soil, a vegetable untouched by electric refrigeration.

Braised hake, cabbage, chillies and seaweed, grilled chicken salad with pistachios, fennel & cider dressing, and steamed salmon salad, tomatoes, haricot verts and goat cheese feta were placed before us.  All our plates were cleared, but our waiter assured us, if they hadn’t been doggy bags were available, and all food waste was put on compost heaps – to ease the carbon footprint of the restaurant.

The puddings were twists on classics that I have since recreated several times at home – an ice-cream sundae, a cookie plate, and an upside down cake.  The signature pudding was the salted caramel ice cream and candied peanuts and popcorn, served with chocolate sauce: rich, creamy and salty, with a dash of chocolate sauce.

Our waiters pointed out the list of the kitchen’s commitments and standards with regards to their conscious sourcing policy, printed on the back of each – recycled paper - menu.  This stretches not only to the food and wine that is served but also the artwork, utensils, accessories, plates and furniture, cleaning products, a rooftop herb garden and an impressive ingredients provenance list. They use reclaimed and recycled building materials wherever possible and even the tree we were eating on had been carved from a windfall tree. 

The obvious comparisons to the Abc kitchen and its philosophy is Alice Water’s Chez Panisse restaurant, in California, or Mrytle Allen’s Ballymaloe House, in County Cork in Ireland, both of which set the bar for excellent sourcing and simple recipes in the 1980’s.

The Abc dining room is a space similar to a farmhouse barn, with recycled wooden beams that frame the ceiling, grey flagstone floors, whitewashed walls, huge black and white photographs, wild flowers on the table and a sort of dusky lighting that adds to the feeling of romance.  The atmosphere is relaxed and familial, waiters wear plimsolls and checked shirts and the clientele is a mix across the demographics.

And if you love the whole experience enough, there is even a shop where you can buy the same look. They have really thought of everything.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Tuesday
Mar252014

Mother's Day Foodie Gift Guide Marks and Spencer

Marks and Spencer have a very prettily packaged range of foodie delights for Mother's Day.  I am going to share ou Salt & Sparkle favourites with you today.

When you open the tin of this Lemon Shortbread it smells of warm citrus and sugar.  These delightfully thin biscuits have a good snap, and little pieces of lemon rid in the biscuit which bring a superb flavour.  The tins are perfect to pop beside the bed in the guest bedroom, for any visitors who might feel a little peckish before bed. They are also refilable and great to keep in the car.

Biting into these chocolates, your palate gets an intense hit of dark chocolate and parma violet laced fondant. These are the perfect sweet treat to serve with coffee after your Mother's Day lunch or to enjoy during a Sunday Movie.

Chocolate and orange are perfect partners.  Candied orange peel dipped in 70% cocoa soilds.  Smooth dark, and handsome these orangettes are very morish.  Even opening the tin gives that all too pleasant scent of chocolate orange.  These are grownup chocolates.

Crumbly, with a melt in the mouth texture, these pieces of fudge have the texture of Scottish Tablet, and are delicious.  One amber nugget of sweet fudgey goodness, will not be enough.

Petticoat Shortbread is an absolute classic - mums, Grans, Great-Grans, Grannys - all love them.  This very beautiful tin is one to treasure and use for years to come.

Sliding open the box of these Champage Truffles feels luxurious, as does unwrapping the crinkly pink tissue, before finding these balls of melt in the mouth chocolate, flavoured with champage truffle and freeze dried strawberries.

Paloe friendly and processed sugar free - these nuts are perfect for anyone who wants a sweet hit without the sugar.  Fresh crunchy nuts, are flavoured with a strong balance of rosemary, cayenne and black pepper, onion seeds, salt and wildflower honey.  These nuts look and taste of luxury.  They make a wonderful pre-dinner snack, especially with a glass of this Brazilian sparkling wine.

This crisp but sweet sparkling wine has a heady bouquet of lemon sherbert, passionfruit and mango.  The bubbles are plentiful and small giving a creamy texture.  It's sweetness sits beautifully with the salty spice of these nuts, but it is also a good match for soft goats cheeses, fruit sponge with cream and  meringues.  The beautiful bottle is an immediate hit to look at, and the fresh sweetness of the wine, means it will be a sure fire hit with everyone around the table.

Mother's Day presents would not be complete if I did not at least suggest one plant as a gift.  While bouquets of flowers may look good, giving a living plant is truly a joy because it lasts for life, and beyond - we still have plants in the garden, which came from my Grandparents gardens.

Azalea's are commonly given to womena nd loved ones because they are a symbols of femininity.  When given to a women this flower tells the recipient to 'take good care of herself' because she is so beautiful.  Marks and Spencer plants are of excellent quality, and they are looked after by floral trained staff, who are able to answer detailed queries about planting, potting, and more.

Giving a living breathing plant, has to be one of my favourite gifts of all time.

Happy Mother's Day.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Thursday
Jan302014

Dinner at Pizza Jazz

Thin, crispy crusts that are just ever so chewy, lightly smeared with tomato, and then topped with well anything really, but hot bubbly cheese, a smattering of parmesan, just a hint of garlic, and the crunch of some black pepper.  Well I'm hungry already and its not anywhere near dinner time, but if someone put pizza in front of me, I would be very pleased to eat it.

Is there really a better food than pizza?  

Seriously though, in terms of satisfaction and taste good pizza, cannot, simply cannot be bettered.

Pizza Jazz Belfast's newest place for pizza on Great Victoria street, opens early and closes very late and does takeaway until 4am on weekends, and 2am on weeknights.  We visited on a Wednesday evening, and the twirling of pizzas didn't seem to stop all night.

All the pizzas have thin bases but you can order them in either 12 or 24" sizes.  When cooked these bases become crisp and chewy.

There are 20 different pizzas to chose from, or you can live for the moment, and create your own masterpiece making a selection from a large array of toppings.

The restaurant is at the back of the building, and to get to it you walk past the counter where the pizza is made.  The space is clean, with white wallks covered with large Black and White prints of different rockers, guitars and fiddles, there's a nice exposed brickwork feature, with a mirrored window, which adds depth to the room.  There's a blueish glow from the lights which contrasts with the stark white, creating a cool warmth.

A large screen covers a side wall, and diners can chose from a large selection of music concerts on DVD,  to listen to you while eating.  When we arrived the Rolling Stones were playing, then we had some Garth Brooks, followed by Adele, and Amy Winehouse.  The fact these concerts are on DVD rather than simply played by DVD, adds a really funky energy to the room.

Several guitars sit around the room, for diners to pick up and play, as they wish.  Pizza Jazz is a great place for a 'session' of music, singing and laughter.  Professional musicians play jazz, rock and folk at the weekends.

Choosing to eat family style we shared dough balls, bruschetta, and cheesy garlic bread as starters, along with a bowl of juicy olives.  

The dough balls which were dipped in a good garlicky butter were made from tightly rolled pizza base, and had a crispy exterior with a chewy interior.  These can be ordered straight up or with salami or mozzerella inside. They are very morish and one portion just isn't enough.

The Bruschetta was the best I have tasted in Ireland,  fresh tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, slivers of red onion, and roasted red peppers were served over a thicker oval of chewy pizza bread.  The flavours were fresh, robust and easy to eat, they had been expertly seasoned, in a way that brought each of the ingredients together as a team. I could imagine eating a pizza with this very topping.  There was a squiggly Balsamic glaze which would work better on the side.

Friends from Tawian and Norway joined us for dinner.

Tanya our server was friendly and professional, she really knew the menu and was able to advise us on things to try.  Having never eaten Stromboli before I took her advice and ordered, Picante Stromboli, that was filled with Chilli sauce, mozzarella, salami & red onion, and came with a peppery rocket and tomato salad.  

Stromboli is a rolled pizza, were the ingredients are turned with the base, to form a baguette type shape.  The outside had been brushed with garlic oil before baking, and was a good compliment to the warm, oozing ingredients inside.

 

Yvonne orderd a Capricciosa, which came topped with juciy black olives, Tomato, mozzarella, ham, mushrooms, anchovies, & artichokes.  This was a combination of flavours that worked particulary well.  

The Pollo Piccante pizza, had tomato, mozzarella and chilli chicken, scattered with crunchy yellow peppers and red onions.  The mix of textures, made for a flavoursome and balanced bite.

The Compagnola was topped with tomato, crisped pancetta, mozzarella, mushrooms, garlic oil and parsley.  The light smokiness of the pancetta sat well with the earthy mushrooms, and the fresh parsley.

When you've eaten pizza, there is a longing for something at the end, not frothy, but bittersweet and cold. Pizza Jazz offer four choices for pudding, something lemony, another chocolatey, ice cream, and Tiramusu  or there's cheese and biscuits.

We opted for Chocolate tart and IceCream with four spoons.  The ice cream was so smooth, and the chocolate bitter without being tart.  Chocolate and IceCream, the perfect end to a good meal.

Pizza Jazz is a restaurant with no pretensions.  It serves pizza, pleasant wines, and simple desserts and it does it very, very well.  

I'm looking forward to my next visit with some girlfriends, when we will tackle the 24 inch pizza, and maybe even get up and sing.  Watch this space.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Wednesday
Jan292014

Lunch at the Potted Hen, Belfast


At the top of the spiral staircase is the Potted Hen's private dining room, a clean space, with windows looking out over St Anne's square.  

A steel topped bar runs down the side of the room, and the eating area is separated from it by different types of decorative hens behind chicken wire.  The effect is clever, and gives the room a full bar service, without the omipresence of a bar invading the dining space.  Dark wooden furniture and floors, green velvet banquettes, contrasted with lots of windows in white frames, bring a pleasant openness to the room.


There were about 30 of us seated a tables arranged in smalls groups, this brought a liveliness so often lost in typical large group dining arrangements, with their long tables of endless chairs.

We sat with two men who hold their Friday Lunch Club, at the Potted Hen, and some wonderful girls from Visit Belfast.  None of us had met before, but the genuis of the food served to us as we tried the new lunch menu at the Potted Hen, was that everything was served family style, in sharable portions.  Our table was filled with lively conversation, plenty of laughter, at how many people we knew in common, and delight at the food.

Eating family style, is without doubt the best and most social way to eat.  It naturally draws conversation and eases down the barriers of more formal dining, it works really well at lunch time.  

Head Chef James Neilly has worked with the owners of the Potted Hen Dermot & Catherine Regan have come up with a menu based around sharing, small plates and superfood salads.

We start with a selection of dishes based around potting - which makes me smile, ordering potted dishes, at the Potted Hen - the results of which can then be spread over bread. 

Potted brown shrimp with spiced mascarpone, lemon and homemade wheaten bread - potted shrimp is a nostalgic classic, that needs a deliciate hand, to much of any spice, and the flavour is overpowered, these one's have a good splice of lemon, which is refreshing.  The brown shrimp is also a nice nod to the needs for restaurants to use sustainable fish.  The wheaten bread is a deep brown colour with a rich taste.

Potted pork rillette with apple ketchup, watercress and sour dough toast - the pork is well spiced, and the apple ketchup cuts through the natural fattiness of the pork, with peppery watercress bringing a lightness to the dish.

Potted salmon with toasted sour dough and cucumber raita - like the other potted recipes, potted Salmon can trace its food history back for centuries, the coolness of the cucumber sits nicely with the silky rich salmon.

These can be ordered all at once as a main or as a starter to share. 

A curried lentil dhal, salmon fillet, wholemeal & cumin flatbread stood out as the most memorable dish, the flavours had been well thought out and offered a good balance of flavours, and textures.

 


 We also tasted: Saffron marinated fillet of cod with homemade tagliatelle nero, gremolata and pickled vegetables - the dark inky pasta sits well with the yellow fish, and the pickled vegetables added a nice sweet sharpness, Haddock fritters with curried slaw and saffron mayonnaise, Ox tail linguini with tomato ragu, crispy pancetta and spinach, and Goats cheese fritters with beetroot compote, candied pecans and balsamic gel.

The goats cheese had the presentation of a fine dining option, which sat in contrast to the other dishes.  The flavours were good and there was a lovely mix of textures - crunchy caramelised nuts, soft white balsamic gel, milky creamy cheese, with earthy beetroot whiche was painted on, and served in cubes.  

Bowls of Superfood salads were served in earthware pottery bowls which made the already bright and colourful ingredients, look even more desirable.  

We eat: Bulgur wheat, apple, celery, radish, scallion, spinach, gems and citrus miso dressing, then a Quinoa salad with tomato, artichoke, olives and olive oil, red chard, rocket, cucumber and a lemon & thyme dressing and a Beetroot & shaved fennel salad with red chard, baby gem, chicory, radish, orange, dill and toasted pine nuts and a beetroot juice, rapeseed oil & lemon dressing.

Each of the salads mix texture, colour and flavour, they feel  as good to eat as they are pleasant to look at.   It is good to see salads like these on menus in Belfast, it is a really pleasant change, to salads that are rocket, pesto or tomato based.  The salads can be eaten alone, or topped with different types of protein - beef, quail, or fish.

The menu isn't all salad or small plates, there is also a mean burger, made from Hannon Shorthorn beef, topped with a really delicious, very spicey relish, it was so and quite addictive.  

Berry sorbet with pieces of chocolate, made a light and refreshing dessert.  The Banoffee was the best I have ever tasted, with firm pieces of bananna and crunchy crumbs, it had a freshness that this pudding normally is without.

There's an inventive cocktail list, and a sturdy wine list, as well as lots of sparkling water.

The new lunch menu at the Potted Hen, is tasty.  It moves with the times, offering little plates which each have different taste leanings.  Then the more traditional fish and chips, burgers or roast chicken, nods to three common types of protein, but paired with flavours which have been well considered, its a menu which does something very difficult, offers something for everyone!

Do get in touch and let us know what you eat when you visit, as always we look forward to hearing from you.

That's it for now ...

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Tuesday
Jun042013

The Fitzwilliam's Fabulous Food

After I’d ordered, the waiter came back to the table and said,

‘Ahhhh I see you have ordered the eggs.  You are in for a surprise.’

I looked at him, and wondered what he was talking about. 

Then the eggs arrived.  The yolks a vivid yellow, with an orangery tinge that only comes from the freshest of free-range eggs.   Two eggs tops off sat in eggcups, on a long white plate with five thin and crispy soldiers arranged in a fan beside a silver spoon. 

Eggs & Soldiers, nursery food – following us throughout our lives, soothing the most, stressed of souls – will never go out of fashion.  Is there really anything more pleasurable than dipping hot buttered toast, into gooey egg yolk?


I lifted the plate to photograph it, when a gentleman with a Kerry accent who was sitting in the large dinner party next to us asked

‘Why are you taking photographs of boiled eggs and soldiers?’ 

I smiled, and said,

Because these aren’t regular eggs and soldiers.  This is white chocolate mousse, mango coulis and soldiers of shortbread.’

Handing him the plate to look at, I smiled as it was passed around the table, with oohs and aaahs of delight, and much laughter.  And, murmurs, of well I definitely know what I am ordering for pudding.

The Fitzwilliam Hotel’s Food theatre was done with a tremendous sense of fun, which in turn created an enjoyable atmosphere in the dining room, and encouraged interaction between the diners.  I will certainly never forget ordering white chocolate mouse and having it served to me masquerading as Boiled Eggs and Soldiers. 

The mousse had an uncommon depth of flavour for white chocolate, which sat well with the syrupy mango. 

It was, however, the long soldiers of shortbread that really took the biscuit. 

About the size of a 6 inch ruler, and not much thicker, they looked like long strips of Pappardelle.   Their crumb was crunchy to the bite, but yet dissolved on the tongue.  There must have been a lot of rolling involved to get the shortbread so thin.  

The shortbread had a subtle hint of spice, which came from Tonka beans.  An ingredient I would love to see used more often because of their fruity flavour, which is lighter than the often overpoweringly and over used floral vanilla.

 A lightness of touch is the secret to a pleasurable meal in a restaurant, where staff and chefs don’t take their food or themselves, too seriously.  They understand foods complexities and nuances but they don’t condescend or control the diner’s experience of it.

This atmosphere is a delicate balance to create and maintain, but it is one, which Restaurant Manager of the Fitzwilliam Hotel, in Belfast, Robin Laird and his team, do perfectly.  They are pleasant and engaging to the diners, whilst neither being too familiar or overbearing.

As we looked at the menu, a bread board arrived.  Slices of some of the best Treacle Wheaten Bread, I have ever had, were presented with an onion sourdough, and a light black olive tapenade, that tasted fresh, and light.

Chef Michael Dargan’s menu is well thought out, seasonal, local were possible and has an attention to detail, that translates to the plates set down to eat from, which have a fun curvature swirl at the edge.  

All the usual suspects make an appearance on the menu - steak both fillet and ribeye, lamb, chicken, pork and fish making it a haven for carnivores.  The vegetarian option features, pesto, but not the normal basil-heavy stuff, instead seasonal wild garlic pesto is served over roasted peppers and tomatoes.

Organic Glenarm Salmon served with Soy, Fresh Ginger Pack Choi & Chilli noodles is the only ingredient to get a provenance name-check on the menu, however, Robin told me that all the meat and bacon is local and comes from Kettyle Irish Foods, in County Fermanagh. 

Smoothness and crunch were well combined in the warm salad I had to start with. Boiled eggs coated in seasoned breadcrumbs and fried, the white firm, the yolk just short of runny and bread crispy were served warm with thick wedges of cool New Jersey Potatoes, and slices hot of dry fried bacon.  A creamey Cashel Blue Cheese dressing brought some spike to the overall velvetiness of the dish.  Snips of chives added a fresh bite, while rocket leaves added a little spice. Dargan produced a dish that was just delightful, combined robust flavours and firm textures in a clever way. 

Dargan’s desire to use the best ingredients is apparent in the goats cheese starter.  Determined to find the best cheese for this dish he settled on a French Cherve, which was as creamy as it was light. It seemed to dissolve on the tongue. He showed his skill and understanding of ingredients by combining several flavours and textures - goats cheese, sweet salted grapes, walnuts with a woody flavour, pickled pears and rocket leaves - resulting in a dish of depth and lightness.


Robin asked would we like pepper with our starters, and the largest pepper grinder I have ever seen made an appearance, its grinders properly mechanised allowing dusting of black pepper to fall on our plates, rather than cracked pepper chunks, which can damage the flavour of a dish.  The pepper mills grinder is intentional, just like everything else at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, it has been considered and thought out, then executed with finesse.

The quality of ingredients is taken very seriously at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, Belfast.  Both the fillet and the ribeye steaks had been well-hung and dry aged, resulting in a melt in the mouth texture to both cuts of meat.

The Ribeye was served with wilted spinach and melted blue cheese  - a classic but magical combination, resulting in a  flavours which juxtaposed but worked brilliantly together, the sharpness from the cheese, a sweet richness with the meat and that lovely wet greenness from the spinach.  Waxy potatoes easily took on the flavour of thyme and smoked bacon, creating a silky gratin, with gentle flavours.

The ribeye was huge, and I wasn’t able to finish it.  However, I was impressed by the Fitzwilliam’s service when I asked for a doggy bag and a little tinfoil handbag was presented to me, to take home.

The Fitzwilliam fillet steak was tender; a well-seasoned piece of meat that had been seared on a high heat which meant the flesh immediately caramelised while the inside remained pink and juicy.  

Teamed with Pomme Mousseline – a rich and indulgent mashed potato that sees equal quantities of butter and potatoes mashed with cream – and some little onions, this dish is decadent, delicious and delactable and proudly so.


The meal was accompanied by a trio of sides - big fat chips, which were crispy on the outside and fluffy within, steamed vegetables – broccoli, green beans, carrots and cauliflower and a rocket and red onion salad.

A well chosen wine list is accompanied by a selection of cocktails, and non alcoholic cocktails, which always interest me, as I live way out in the country, and drinking and driving is just not an option – ever. 

We had raspberry mojitos – crushed raspberries were muddled with lime, sugar syrup then poured over ice and mint leaves, with a hint of something sharp.  The sharpness lingered on the tongue, and I recognised the flavour but couldn’t quite put my finger on it – gingerbeer creating a very refreshing and easy to sip drink.

To go back to puddings for a second, my companion wanted something light and sorbet was recommended.  A bowl of the brightest cerise raspberry sorbet was served with a strip of shortbread.  The ices came from Glastry Farm, a local Northern Irish ice cream supplier, and are without doubt the best sorbet we had ever tasted, light, refreshing and tangy, with a balance of sweetness.

The dining room is on the first floor, actually its two rooms divided by open funky panelling and could be described as a modern space which combines pale wood and red seats, and although without natural light, the room felt bright, with low hanging lamps with white shades.  Booths with red leather banquettes offering a great deal of privacy, surround a central space in the two rooms.  This space has tall red textile upholstered chairs, which are way more comfortable than they look.  Strips of white linen run across the centre of the tables to good effect.

It is a rare event to go out for dinner and for the food served to be excellent from start to finish, but this is exactly what happens at the Restaurant at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, in Belfast.  This is a place that does fine food really well, without ceremony or fuss.  Dishes are well thought out, combining taste and texture with consistency, competency and confidence

The staff are knowledgeable, warm and professional, and they have a strong understanding of the menu and food and wine pairings.  The food is presented with impact and tastes as good as it looks.  The Restaurant at the Fitzwilliam, has a subdued atmosphere, it is the kind of place you can rely on to always produce good food whether you are celebrating a family graduation, or having an intimate dinner for two, or even popping in for a bite of lunch. 

The restaurant at the Fitzwilliam Hotel in Belfast, is somewhere I recommend you try - and soon.

 

That’s it for now …

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable  

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Oct302012

JERUSALEM by Ottolenghi & Tamimi - Day 29 - 31 Days of Food

Sometimes a book arrives where I have no option to stop, start reading, and not get up until the book is finished.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini was one of those books.  

It absorbed me,

 

The clock had struck midnight when I returned home. I didn't sleep until dawn so avidly did my eyes dance across the pages,and when I did sleep my dreams were vivid with rose water, tahini, fresh vegetables, the history of that ancient city, and the food that joins its peoples.

I first found out about Ottolenghi with my friends Hendrik and Rebecca, when we took a stroll through NottingHill one sharp September afternoon.  Looking for somewhere to eat, and not coming to any agreement amongst ourselves - Nottinghill not being their part of London, and me an Irish blowin.  I decided to do what the Irish do best, and ask someone.  As the others looked at antique maps and prints, I struck up a conversation with the owner, and after a bit of small talk about the weather and such like I cut straight to the chase - 

'We are hungry, where do you recommend we eat - somewhere good please?'

Without missing a beat he said,

'Ottolenghi, fresh, delicious and full of flavour.'

It took us a while to find it, but when we got there, I did not know where to look, to smell, to taste, to think about first. I was completely overwhelmed in the most wonderful of ways - food stimulation.

Everywhere I looked there was something I wanted to eat.  

Bread. Biscuits.  

Nuts.  Fruit.

Chocolate, gloriously glossy and dark.

Platters with salads piled high upon them.

Brownies. Cake. Meringues swirled with red and green.

There were jars of seeds, jams, honey, granola, oils and herbs, stacks of books, and beautiful things wrapped in cellophane with ribbons.

I was in heaven.  As we waited in line, I picked up the first Ottolenghi cookbook, and my already passionate love affair with Middle Eastern food blossomed in a new way.

I quickly discovered that Yotam Ottolenghi was Israeli and Sami Tamimi was Palestinian.  As someone who hopes and prays for the peace of Jerusalem reguarly, I was overjoyed to hear and learn about their story.  They were both born in the same year in the same place - Jerusalem, although Sami grew up in the East of the city and Yotam on the west.  In London, three decades later they met.  They discovered they spoke the same language not only physically but in the kitchen, and they had a shared history in their homeland.

There is so much that has been said about Jerusalem as a city, so much that can be said, but much of this is territorial, claiming the city for one or another.  Asserting rights and entrenching divisions.

Ottolenghi & Tamini's book Jerusalem does the opposite.  Instead it says - lets celebrate our food, something that brings us together on a daily basis, whether it is recognised or not, because the food of Jerusalem is something we share, abet with slightly different methods, or techniques. The principles, the ingredients, the flavours of food, the sense of food and cookery are shared and are worth rejoicing, and sharing with others.

Jerusalem is Tamini & Ottolenghi's cookery language, and their book filled with page upon page of delicious delights, avidly reflects this.  Their united love for their city, flows out of the books pages, and relates its food, to the cultures of the city, with snippets of history thrown in.

Jerusalem is not just a book full of recipes to taste & savour but great writing, filled with intersting snippets and personal back story.  The photography is reportage, often more akin to what we might see from a photojournalist in a newspaper, sitting comfortably beside images of food, that immediately send me running to the kitchen to cook.  

In this whole book I don't think there was one dish that made me think, oh no, I'm not cooking that.  Instead I wanted to try everything, and I ran out of postits just highlighting the dishes I wanted to return to.  There are recipes here for vegans, carnivorves, fish lovers and vegetarians.  No one loses out in this selection of recipes.

The first dish I made from the book was the Roasted Buternut squash and red onion with tahini & za'atar has already become a dinner party staple, served with roasted salt chicken.

Butternut squash was roasted skin on with red onions - I added whole cloves of garlic - then served with a pungent seasame garlicky tahini, chopped parsley and pine nuts.  The combination of the sweetness of the butternut, and the caramelised onions, with the bite from the earthy za'atar all doused ina dry tahini works perfectly.  I added spinach for colour, and the result is not only great tasting, but lovely to look at.

I have always made a spiced rich pudding, after reading Yotam and Sami's book, I made some additions to my recipe.

I finished this book wishing it had several more hundred pages.

That's it for now...

Nics

Salt and Sparkle = Life Remarkable