The Shed

If I can't eat it I don't want to know. Unless it gets me drunk.

The Gardener’s Cottage, Edinburgh

The Gardener’s Cottage greets you with a smile and a porch filled with preserves, potions and tinctures, an apothecary-cum-farmer’s wife’s larder of nature picked at its best, saved for later. You get a sense of the meal to come. Of Scottish sea and soil, with fermenting seaweeds and turnips, bottled sea buckthorn and countless other treats, like someone has picked the brains of every Great British Menu chef (Scotland round) and created an edible library.

GC exterior

The kitchen is Lilliputian, no room to swing a spatula, and thusly dictates the format of the menu; a £40 six-course set dinner, in turn led by the capabilities of the garden, a handful of local suppliers and the contents of the preserving jars by the door. The rhythm of food over the pass is relentless on the (seemingly lone) chef, a clockwork march made necessary by lack of space. By our dessert we know what will be plated next, and it’s impossible not to watch if you score a seat with a view; four hake, two mackerel, six tortellini, four strawberry, two hake, six mackerel.

At lunch, a paired back café-style menu is on offer, and at weekends a sausage-drenched-in-hollandaise-kind-of-hearty brunch. A previous experience at The Gardener’s Cottage was a simple December lunch of soup and quiche; a bowl of pure pumpkin silk and a positively regal combination of cheese, onion, pastry and cream, all washed down with a sea buckthorn soda that fizzed sweetly on the tongue like nature’s riff on Opal Fruits. The Gardener’s Cottage falls squarely into my favourite class of restaurant; that which makes ingredients taste more of themselves.

Back to the tasting menu. We begin with firm-fresh mackerel atop kohlrabi remoulade, with a gooseberry butter sauce which adds both richness and bite. We opt for the paired drinks but not before aperitifs have been ordered, so our starters are accompanied by a combination of rhubarb, rum and ginger bellinis and fantastically savoury Pickering’s gin and tonics, prettily garnished with nasturtiums and lovage respectively. The paired wines, it turns out, are served one-between-two, with each (generous) glass intended to accompany a couple of courses; a pace more easily managed than the speed-drinking often required with a tasting menu, and well suited to the low key, school room surroundings.

A rounded, clear-as-a-bell duck broth appears, adorned with teeth-squeakingly fresh green beans, courgette ribbons and red pepper, chased by a broad bean tortellini with a disco pink beetroot and ricotta sauce. The latter is the only course I don’t totally love, the pasta just a touch too al dente and crying out for a little salt – almost carried by the rudely fresh broad beans, but not quite. After consulting with tablemates after the event, it seems that one of them may have received my portion of crunchy sea salt in error. A tiny blip.

CG soup

While you might hurry to eat something good, great food slows you almost to a halt, as every last crumb is savoured and committed to memory. The hake – with smoked plum tomatoes, nuggets of sweet lobster meat and spelt, crowned with a thoroughly glorious lobster foam – is definitely a ‘slower’, and eventually we’re running our fingers around the plates, chasing every last speck and drop into our mouths. Pure kitchen magic. Six more of these appear on the pass and we’re hastily devising a grab and run.

GC Hake

Pre-dessert, which we think is actual dessert, consists of a zingy strawberry sorbet, a dehydrated strawberry tuille with the deep Byzantium hue and earthy flavour to suggest that it may have met a beetroot at some point, malt flavoured whipped cream and a dab of savoury lovage oil. The next day I find MALT WHIPPED CREAM written in capital letters in the notes section of my phone, meaning that I might have enjoyed it, just a teensy bit. Cheese is a single slice paired painstakingly with a plate-mate, this evening a chunk of Kirkham’s Lancashire and what the waitress nicknames a ‘Waldorf chutney’ – a combination of apples, celery, sultanas and honey, a thoroughly wonderful idea that delivers well.

Wines have been subtly en pointe, beginning with a lightly luscious peaches-and-lychee number (nope, can’t remember) followed by a structured, buttery, oaky chardonnay, a grape and style now deservedly back in epicurean fashion after years of neglect and abuse. A dry marsala accompanies courses strawberry sorbet and cheese, all raisins and brown sugar on the nose yet pleasingly acetone on the tongue; a bravely niche and hedonistic choice, but a good match nonetheless.

A final glass of demi-sec Nyetimber fizz appears to go with the unexpected (actual) dessert, that has us all effervescent at the prospect of one more course. A squidgy, open textured hazelnut cake with a scoop of meadowsweet ice cream (a pharmacy flavour that’s been cropping up in Sunday supplements recently – very trendy) and blackcurrant cream. We are all happiness and piggery, and again debate the etiquette of actually licking the plate.

The Gardener’s Cottage is joy. The sparse decoration, po-faced jazz soundtrack played on actual vinyl records that have to be flipped every half hour, and local-vore garden forage cheffing might suggest a dedication to purity and seriousness that would rip delight and humour from food and replace it with piety. But this is a kitchen driven by joy. Of the seasons; of moments captured, preserved and shared. The joy of licked fingers and clean plates.

GC jars

The Gardener’s Cottage, £40 for six (or seven) courses, drinks list beautifully curated and reasonably priced. 1 Royal Terrace Gardens, , Edinburgh. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Adventures in trout: side a

Did you know that a trout can look and focus out of both corners of each eye simultaneously, meaning that it can see in almost every direction at once? That they’re one of the most genetically diverse vertebrates around, with more genetic variation present across British populations of wild brown trout than between any populations of the entire human race? AND they’ve got teeth on the roof of the mouth, did you know THAT? Terrifying. We should eat them all now, before they become our scaly, evil overlords.

photo 1

Through an exchange I can’t quite piece together, I have a large (thankfully dead) trout. I also have a medium-sized hangover which goes someway to explaining the confusion, but essentially I think I asked the fishmonger for two whole fillets rather than two portions, and  having watched him dutifully gut, scale and fillet a 2kg fish (during which time I said nothing, natch), panic bought the lot. Like the quintessentially polite, awkward, hungover British idiot that I am. The trout was already a whimsical buy. I went in for a crab, see? I didn’t have a plan for two portions, never mind a whole fish. But when life gives you lots of trout (for twenty three polite, awkward, hungover British-idiot pounds), you just have to roll up your sleeves, schlepp home, ask Twitter for help, spend two hours gathering ingredients that aren’t trout, bully your friend into letting you use the Weber (more on which in another post), rediscover the wonder that is BOURSIN!!!, repeatedly shout “BOURSIN!!!” at your poor, bullied, BBQ-possessing friend in a gravelly French accent, all while trying not to vomit. Then you get to eat a lot of trout. And Google trout facts (thank you www.wildtrout.org for those).

So, trout stuffed with BOURSIN!!! wrapped in ham

Aka, hurrah the 70s! Or maybe the 80s, we couldn’t agree. Total guilty pleasure cooking, but wonderfully presentable and really bloody tasty. Thank you Shaan for the inspiration, I’m absolutely making this again. For a test run things were kept pretty basic, simply sandwiching Boursin between two hunks of fish before applying a sheath of shingled pancetta – and it was ruddy delicious – but if, nay, WHEN I make it again, I’ll brine the fish and use prosciutto instead. Here’s how.

800g piece of trout or salmon, a thick-ish fillet with the thinnest tail bit chopped off

1 pack original Garlic & Herb Boursin

12-16 slices of prosciutto – long pieces of Parma ham would work well

A slosh of olive oil for frying

For the brine 

Dissolve 2tbsp salt in 200ml boiling water, top up with ice and cold water to 1.75l. Ensure the brine is very cold before using.

Slice the trimmed fillet in half down the length of the fish to create two long pieces and place in the chilled brine for 20 minutes – use the right sized vessel to ensure the fish is covered (or scale the brine up a bit – SCALE! Geddit?). While the fish is brining, shingle the ham into a neat little bed as the fish fillets. Remove the fish from the brine, pat dry with kitchen towel and place one half down in the centre of the delicious, hammy bed. Sprinkle with pepper, layer with slices of BOURSIN!!! and allow yourself a little triumphant jig, for you are doing good things. Place the other fillet on top in a top-to-tail fashion to try and keep the overall shape nice and even. Turn the hammy bed into a hammy coat by tightly by neatly wrapping it around the fish, ensuring that the ends end up tucked underneath.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, then heat the olive oil in a large frying pan (big enough to sear the fish) – get it nice and hot, yeah? Carefully sear the fish to start to crisp the ham (this should take around 8 minutes with some turning), then place on a baking sheet in the oven for 6-10 minutes (I had to slice it down the middle to check it was cooked – you want it a little translucent, and remember it’ll carry on cooking for a few minutes once you’ve taken it out). And that’s basically it. Garlicky, hammy fish, with ooze and succulence and crispy pig. So very wrong that it’s entirely and emphatically right. BOF.

photo 2 (1)

San Francisco: a guide of sorts

I went to San Francisco last October. Here’s a blog post I bashed out on the plane home and promptly forgot about, because gin and jetlag. I want to go back. Like, loads. Here’s what I’ll do all over again, with one exception, when I do.

EAT / DRINK Hog and Rocks

http://www.hogandrocks.com/

The clue is in the title. A cocktail bar and restaurant serving oysters and refined-dirty bar snacks, alongside some slightly more grown up big plates. There’s roasted bone marrow, trotter tots (bacon fried potatoes), ham-devilled eggs and a house Manhattan bastardised with a touch of Fernet. If there’s a more archetypically me place in San Francisco, find it I did not. Were the drinks properly stirred as opposed to given a ubiquitous shake, it’d be pretty perfect.

EAT / DRINK Locanda

http://www.locandasf.com/

While London might chug negronis by the bucket-full, San Fran has Fernet delivered by a giant, branded truck (I saw it). Oh, but they like it bitter here. Sit at the bar, order an amari flight and prepare yourself as twelve little glasses are filled with bitter liquids, ranging from the colour of dark straw to brain-tremblingly congener-rich, peat-like and almost opaque. Also order their amaro-spiked affogato and a few small plates from the Italo-menu, but don’t ask me how much it cost because, well, amari flight.

EAT / DRINK 20 Spot

http://20spot.com/

A sophisticated, cosy little wine bar decked out beautifully in G Plan, serving rich alpine food and impressive wines by the glass. Although there are a few notable Californian names on the constantly evolving list, it leans towards interesting German and Austrian bottles which is right up my strasse. We start with nutty little Yukon gold potatoes smothered in a rich cheese sauce with chunks of smoked bacon, brightly dressed baby gems with dill and a glass of Gruner Veltliner, then greedily, happily plough through rabbit rillettes, potted Dungeoness crab and several more fantastic wines. When the bar manager leans in and offers a (free) serve of something that she thinks will taste great with the crab, I know I’m in a good spot. Massive Sager & Wilde vibes, stateside.

EAT Swan Oyster Depot

The old-timer institution you hope will never change, and, apparently, hasn’t much for over fifty years. Fresh seafood, cold beer, hot chowder and good sourdough, served at a long marble counter strewn with sauces, lemon wedges, crackers and paper napkins. Young-ish guys and their fathers serving alongside one another, some of the older guys sons of the founder; of the five diners to arrive after me, three are greeted by first name and two are wide-eyed first timers. Order crab, shrimp, prawns, clams and lobster by the salad (with leaves), cocktail (with sauce) or neat, various oysters by the half-dozen and chowder by the cup or bowl. I would live in here if I could.

EAT Brenda’s Soul Food Kitchen

http://frenchsoulfood.com/

Remember your appetite and forget your waistline: hefty Louisiana soul food with a side order of filled beignets. Big.

EAT / PARTY Tacolicious

http://tacolicious.com/

Operating in a sweet spot between party bar and decent contemporary Mexican restaurant; makes mescal margaritas to make your head spin.

PARTY 500 Club

http://500clubsf.com/contact_and_location_info

Not a destination in itself, other than perhaps for the Buick-sized glittering martini glass sitting atop its roof, but a great dive bar if you’re staying nearby. Replete with thrash metal, beers and shots; open until 2am.

PARTY Make Out Room

http://www.makeoutroom.com/

A vaguely sensuous and quirky bar in the Mission with some of the flare and flamboyance of the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club but better drinks and a cleaner floor.  We saw an all-female, moustache-wearing, bowler-hatted hipster choir performing acapella versions of ‘Do the Hustle’ and David Bowie. It’s very San Francisco.

PARTY El Rio

http://www.elriosf.com/

Palm trees, huge beer garden and Monday nights are a dollar a PBR. Trashy student drinking, but fun with a crowd.

MISS / DO NOT GO / ALWAYS LISTEN TO POPLE Chez Panisse

There are loads of people who give bang on restaurant recommendations, but among the more reliable is Chris Pople. Next time he tells me to swerve one of the world’s “best” restaurants, I’ll bloody listen. The nutshell is that Chez Panisse is resting on its laurels so hard that it’s pulling off intermediate level yoga; coasting on an international reputation up to which it can no longer be bothered to live.

Save for some bright, briney olives and a knock out salad, the menu was beige beige beeeeige, drab and under-seasoned, an insult to the great produce it purports to champion. Both a high and a low was a massive boulder of bread presented without knife; what are you supposed to do with a whole loaf of really crusty bread in a really fancy restaurant? I looked around to see if it has been a mistake, but no, a room full of rich, ancient, beeeeeige people were ripping into loaves with wrinkled hands, some loudly “HA HA HA!”ing at the feral novelty of it, others wondering why the bread had to be manhandled by each of their tablemates. Entertaining.

First course was a salad (“local chicories with autumn fruits and anise dressing”) which I initially thought was a bit weak for the menu’s $85 price tag, but it was actually the only dish I’d ever, ever order again. Bitter leaves and tiny, sweet figs, in a subtle anise dressing balancing acidity and aroma – lovely. A second course of stuffed squid was so utterly meh I can’t be bothered to go into detail, and the main was, frankly, crap. A miniscule portion of cotton-woolly lamb, watery aubergine mush and a sauce so underachieving it should have been sent back to cookery school (Chez Panisse has its own, incidentally). Sauces in a place like this should be impossible to leave, the kind of sauce as a waitress I swooshed my fingers through when [relatively] untouched plates came back (I was sixteen, paid £2.60 an hour and the place had two Michelin stars – there was no other way I was ever going to eat there). But no, nothing. I just couldn’t taste it with my heart.

The matched wines were only matched to three of the four courses, leaving you to swing for your own dessert plonk; $85 dollars for four courses, another $40 for the matched wines and you don’t even get a sticky. Okay so it’s not Ledbury levels of spendy OH WAIT, THREE COURSES FOR £45, YES IT IS. FFS.

Even with the watery, beige food, the biggest problem was that there didn’t seem to be a problem. The ancient, beige Americans weren’t there for the food, they were there simply to be there, and aside from one excellent waiter who seemed genuinely interested in the what he put in front of me (even if I, increasingly, wasn’t) staff were just going through the motions, a tired, old ballet that didn’t care to break a sweat. When Chris urged, nay, commanded me to cancel my booking, I grandly, hopefully said that I’d rather regret something I have done rather than something I haven’t (FOMO in action right there): Chez Panisse represents $160 of true remorse. Always listen to Pople.

EAT / TREAT Smitten

Ice cream made to order utilising the magic of liquid nitrogen. The portions are enormous; were to stake my reputation on an eating contest of any food it would be ice cream (unless Campari is a food), and even I had to ditch the last of my regular serving. But it is smooth and delicious, so go and order a little one.

COFFEE Four Barrel

A cavernous roastery warehouse of wood and beans. Tables like railways sleepers, exposed rafters, hogs’ heads on the wall and old rock records on the turntable, the roasting action in full view at the back. I had an iced pour-over that was naturally sweet (no sugar), fruity and well suited to being served black – reet nice it were.

COFFEE Java Supreme

You’re not going to travel across town for an unassuming little coffee shop, but you sure hell will end up in here every day if you’re staying nearby (Guerrero St just by 19th, really close to Delores Park in The Mission). On the morning after the amari-flight-night before, my awesome host brought a coffee and an Everything bagel to my rescue, and it was bloody marv – from haggard drunk to human being, wondering when it was polite to have another. Everything bagels are a new one on me *sheltered face* and are The Shit™, covered in fennel, poppy and sesame seeds, as well as dried onions, garlic powder and crystals of salt. Toasted, thick layer of cream cheese and a coffee is just $3. Lifesaver (I’d had five by the time I left SF). And the people are bloody lovely too.

I can’t believe I’ve written the most about a restaurant I hated and a sodding bagel. Go to SF. And take me with you.

Happy New Year! Let’s have some wine.

Out with the old, in with the new, let’s all take up something exciting!

But Shed, you’ve had wine before! Shit loads of it, all the time!

Indeed. But I think it is time for drinking smarter, learning more and perhaps even consuming a tiny bit less (perhaps).

I can hold my own [spend loads] in a restaurant or wine shop. I generally know the styles and regions I’m likely to enjoy, and can communicate ably enough to get a bottle or glass of something I’ll love. I’ll get more excited about a farmy, chilly beauj than a four year old will going top bongos on a Cadbury’s selection box, but oh, how I want to learn more. I want to spot the natty, Franconian number on the list, really, really know my Fleurie from my Chiroubles, and – genuinely – I want to know exactly what people are talking about when they blether on about oxidation at length. I want to develop a greater oeno-specific lexicon, so that I may no longer fumble for the names of tried-and-liked vineyards and vintages. And I want to drink some wine. That too.

Working in the food industry is great and hard. Sometimes more hard than great, actually, but on balance it’s pretty brilliant. And although it doesn’t pay all that well for the most part, what it does provide is epicurean currency – and smashing camaraderie – with contemporaries and industry counterparts, a modern nod to bartering systems of old, except the barley is already a craft beer brewed in E9. What might be missing from your pay packet is accounted for in the exchange of staff discounts, dinners and favours – and the friendships are worth ten-fold what a few extra grand might do each year. Awwwh.

Anyway. This is basically a long-winded way of saying, you meet some properly whizz-bang people, and winemaker-grape-nerd Nayan Gowda is no exception (here’s what vino-supremo Jancis Robinson has to say about him). And as well as knowing loads about wine and grapes and stuff, and generally being a bloody excellent person, he’s also daft enough to agree to a [very] informal wine school of sorts – a monthly vertical tasting, getting to know a particular area, style or producer, under the learned guidance of someone who actually knows their shit. And I miss the old supper club lark, so we’ll be ending in a regionally appropriate, family-style dish too.

I can’t stress enough: neither Nayan or I will make any money from this. I essentially wanted personalised, affordable and enjoyable wine lessons, and when I floated the idea with Nayan we decided it would be nice to bring friends – and perhaps make new ones – along the way. We’re hoping to taste 6-8 wines and end with a simple, single hearty dish, sharing the costs of anything we have to buy amongst the group. If this sounds like your idea of fun, email letshavesomewine@gmail.com to get involved. We’ll be wangling our epicurean currency as hard as we can, so if you’re a wine importer or vintner happy to give us trade prices in return for the potential custom these [very] little events might bring, then we’d love to hear from you too – I’ll throw some steaks in if you get involved.

So there you go. My New Years Resolution is in motion – let’s have some wine. First destination: Rioja.

Gutting a grouse

When life gives you lemons you can do whatever the hell you like with them, but when you’re presented with four, feathered, recently deceased grouse, you have to roll up your sleeves and deal with it. And bugger me, it’s bloody smelly.

ImagePlucking them is a riot; if you were the kid who picked at scabs you’ll be all over this like white on rice. Feathers, however, are floaty light and get up your nose, in your eyes, in your hair and generally all over the place, and so plucking must be done under the cover of a bin liner and outside. Like double-podding broad beans it’s best done with a glass of chilly Chards and some Debussy on in the background, but unlike double-podding broad beans you get feathers sodding everywhere, so maybe save the drink until you’re finished. You’ll need it.

ImageThe feathers come out pretty easily and should be prised gently from the skin against the direction in which they grow, and the funkier your game bird the more delicate the skin, and so gently is the operative word here (not known for subtlety, I accidentally pulled the head off my first one). Treat each bird like I treat ironing a shirt (lapels and cuffs); only tend to the bits that you’ll eat. There’s no point de-feathering the wing because it’s only going to get lopped off, but go far enough around its armpit (?) to leave a good target area for the chop.

ImageHere’s where a big, badass cleaver comes in handy, however a sturdy, sharp kitchen knife will also do – but don’t risk blunting your bestest best knife. Basically, chop off all the things. If you haven’t already pulled off the head, chop it off. See those wings? Chop ’em off. Tiny claws and tail, chop, chop, chop. You’ll need to make an incision across the base of the neck in order to empty the last meal from its gullet; this is more than a bit weird, and generally full of bits of nature and moor.

ImageImageImageImageHere comes the stinky bit. If you’ve just eaten or are about to, or are even a teensy bit queasy, this might not be for you. At least we have yet to invent smello-web. You need to find the bottom of the ribcage – the end of the ribs farthest from the neck – and with the tip of a knife gently break the skin, but not actually pierce the flesh. Work the skin open so that you expose what would be its abdomen (I have no idea what that bit of a grouse is called).

ImageStill with the tip of the knife, make a tiny incision using the ribs as guidance; you want to make a small hole, using the base of the ribcage as leverage, with the knifepoint aimed up inside the bird. Again, work this hole bigger, with your fingers this time, until the poo-pipes are unveiled in all of their pongy glory.

SORRY

ImageThen you basically just have to get your hand in there and scoop everything on out. But carefully, so as not to disrupt anything a) gross or b) delicious. Make a scoop with your hand, and insert it so that you follow the top of the ribcage. Bend your fingers ground and gently pull everything out. Heart, lungs, liver the lot – though it’s mainly poo pipes. Remember that drink?

ImageAfter trimming off its neat little bum-hole, leaving it connected to the intestines so as not to disturb their cargo, you’re basically good to go. Separate out which innards you want and dispose of the rest, in eighteen layers of plastic bag, in a neighbour’s bin. Give the gullet and the cavity a quick rinse, pat dry, bard with bacon and you’re off….probably to the freezer and then the chippy, because O-GOD THE SMELL NEVER LEAVES. I froze the grouse and had jerk chicken made with Helen’s amazing marinade, and even then I’m sure there was still a little whiff of foul fowl. I might eat them at Christmas, by which point I might be ready. And I *love* grouse.

ImageThanks to Uncle Richard for the birds, and Adam for talking me through the ordeal. I shall toast you when I’m brave enough to defrost and cook the bastards.

Lord, help me.

Opening on Sunday is Redemption Bar, an alcohol-free, vegan residency selling itself on being a ‘pure’ party where clientele can “get away from booze”. While meat-free and non-alcoholic is never going to particularly interest someone who works for a butchery business and has a bar in her room, it’s not the concept that bothers me, rather the sanctimonious fuckwittery surrounding the promotion and social media.

I’ve already whinged about the horribly patronising tone, suggesting that rather than an establishment for people who can make their own decisions around a menu, that it’s a creche for those who aren’t to be trusted in a bar. About the sheer hypocrisy of positioning Redemption as the ‘pure’ way to party and then operating as a glorified sodding cafe, opening only on Sundays and from 11am (loads of those in East London, thanks). About the sneering, pecksniffian hashtag gracing vacuous tweets like “top 10 list of favourite celebs who #needRedemption“. Yep, I’ve just about done all of that, and it can largely be attributed to a bolshy, clumsy PR bod (probably) and a founder with a bit of a god complex (definitely).

But this? Aligning with a victim-blamer who promotes “don’t drink” above “don’t rape”?

Speechless.

Image

I’ll reiterate; the concept is fine. It’s the surrounding bullshit with which I have a problem.

Addendum: the Billetto listing appears to have been written by a completely different person. Why not promote the whole thing like this?

Enough food for everyone IF

As incongruous as it may seem, last week Save The Children invited a group of us to an evening of wonderful food and wine, in order to talk about world hunger. Amy, Sarah and Brie did a great job of getting the group to engage with the issues around extreme poverty, but instead of making us feel bad about our relative privilege they simply told us what can be done (and fed us jolly well while they were at it). The food and wine was very generously donated by the River Cottage and its suppliers, cooked by their fabulous head chef Danny Bohan, and wines were served by my favourite London sommelier, Emily O’Hare – a real treat.

Zucchini Fritti, Culatello di Zibello

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose NV 

Risotto al pomodoro – with Riccio Fiorentino tomatoes, pecorino and basil

Filippi ‘Vigne della Bra’ – Garganega – 2009, Soave

Coniglio lesso e fritto – with mint, black olives and artichokes, baked fresh borlotti beans

Damiano Ciolli ‘Silene’ – Cesanese – 2009, Lazio 

Terre di Balbium ‘Balbium’ – Magliocco – 2009, Calabria 

Chocolate Nemesis

 Marco di Bartoli ‘Bukkuram’ – Moscato – 2007, Passito di Pantelleria

I cringe to admit it, but world poverty is as abstract a concept to me as it is a deathly reality to those who go hungry every day. Recently I pulled together a playlist for a party to celebrate the new Ginger Pig Farmhouse Cook Book, and there’s loads of food related music out there – all from a time when obtaining a meal or feeding your kids could bring about the same sense of despair as a broken heart. “How things have changed!” I thought – and they really have in developed countries. Can you imagine a Justin Bieber song about only being able to afford a single meatball? Thought not.

While the evening was hugely uplifting and positive, it’s hard to get away from the facts – severe malnutrition and starvation-related illness kills two million children every year, and there’s a lot that can be done to prevent this. There are some wonderful initiatives around farming and self-sufficiency, whereby women receive a loan of five sheep or a single cow, which they pay back by selling milk, or by breeding to increase the herd and selling some of the animals. Not only do the animals provide an income, but the means to ensure family have milk to drink each day; such a heartbreakingly meagre provision, but a lifesaving one for many. We start the evening by trying the staple of the poorest of the poor, ugali, which is a preparation of maize flour and water. It simply doesn’t taste of anything – it’s just a texture – and I find it pretty hard to swallow. It has next to no nutritional value either and is intended as a side dish, but a few spoonfuls is all many people have to eat each day, with many parents going hungry to try and pass their pathetic rations onto their kids. Makes you think twice about complaining about having to ‘slum it’ and grab a sandwich from EAT.

Where the ‘shock and guilt’ adverts of starving kids I remember from the 80s and 90s are about direct fundraising, the Big If campaign is looking for our help to apply political pressure. You know how Amazon and Apple and Google don’t pay their taxes? Well imagine that circumstance a developing country, with no ability to track or highlight corporate tax evasion and even less power to do anything about it. The Big If campaign isn’t just trying to apply emergency aid (although this is still critically important), it seeks lasting change by implementing of a financial structure by which those legally accountable to pay corporate tax are brought to task, injecting a lifeblood of cash into a governing system that really needs it. The other elements of the campaign are around preventing farmers from losing their land, fundraising and government transparency.

All the Big If campaign is asking for right now is for people to make a big, big noise – and you can join a party while you’re at it. The G8 – eight of the most powerful people in the world’s governments – are meeting again and the Big If campaign wants to make sure world hunger and malnutrition is on the agenda.

There’s enough food for everyone in the world, but not everyone has enough food – come to Hyde Park on Saturday 8th June and join the rally that wants to change this.

Tiny prawn fritters.

Today’s new thing isn’t entirely new, on account of the fact I’ve had prawns before and I’ve certainly had fritters. But although I feel like I’m cheating a bit, this was very different to any dish of prawns or fritters I’ve had before, and was my favourite new thing so far – tiny sweet yet savoury prawns in a thick pancake of onion-flecked batter. Are they bits of pepper? No, silly, they’re eyes. Yum.

Sevilla 4 - prawn fritters

Also in Barbiana

Sevilla 4 - solomillo

I have to stop myself bursting into song each time we order this. OOOOOOH SOOOOOOOO-LEH-MEEE-YOHHHH. Ahem. Solomillo. Pork tenderloin. With grilled jamon and potatoes to soak up all the good. Gooooooood.

Sevilla 4 - aubergine and almorejo

Slice of aubergine, grilled then topped with salmorejo, langoustines and a few tiny pieces of jamon.

Hopping about a bit chronologically speaking, here’s what we ate for a pre-lunch snackette in Casa Morales: more solomillo, this time with lard and toasted bread (what pork doesn’t need added lard?), and salt cod with salsa verde and fake baby eels (reconstituted fishy wiggles…not the real eel deal, apparently). All delicious, and about €2 per tapa. Wow.

Sevilla 4 - pork loin and lard

Sevilla 4 - salt cod

Our last stop was the second branch of La Azotea, original of which was among my favourite places when I visited in 2011. We shared a thick trench of hake with artichoke, a piece of soy marinated tuna belly, and some pluma Iberica with membrillo and a hazelnut and chocolate sauce. I then demolished a dessert all by myself, a dessert comprising four layers of chocolate something something with homemade sauce swooshes and sorbets…amazing, but entirely unnecessary by that point. Ooof.

Sevilla 4 - hake and artichoke

Sevilla 4 - tuna

Sevilla - pluma, membrillo

Sevilla 4 - dessert

Every mouthful was a delight, but my god I can’t wait to run around Victoria Park soon. Possibly twice. And then a swim.

*burp*

Fried chicken blood

“Texture of tofu, tastes like liver” says Shawn, who has taken it upon herself to ensure that I eat a new weird thing each day I’m in Seville. And she’s not far wrong. Sangre encebollada is made initially by mixing fresh chicken blood with water which is then heated until set, then the block is sliced into thick pieces and fried with sweet, soft onions – and what tasted like a splash of sherry, though by this point this could be projection of what is within.

Hmmmm.
Close up

But lo, as weird as chicken blood tofu sounds, it is a triumph. By far my favourite of the weird new shit so far, an iron-rich ballast against beautifully sweet, slow cooked Spanish onions, and without the cloying, overwhelming richness you’d get from a plate full of liver. Don’t get me wrong, it was still served in a portion far too big for one, but it was a real treat, smushed into bread with its tender oniony friend. I’d love to try it with loads of ginger, spring onions and a big squooosh of Sriracha.

To prove I’m not simply on a big swinging dick mission to eat all of the weird Spanish food, here’s some of the other stuff we ate. Today, at lunch. Yes, just the one meal *explodes*.

Also in fried chicken blood restaurant, known as Eslava

Star dish of the day. Named Surpresa meaning “surprise”. Apparently a little nugget of beautiful porky goodness nipped from somewhere behind the jaw, a new one on me – I’ll be figuring this out when I get home. I was sure it was cheek, but apparently not. Super-slow cooked, seasoned to perfection, fabulous and melty. Oof.
Duck tenderloin! Okay, what’s that then? Apparently it’s those little tubular fillets that you can prize from the breast. Tremendous, with a sweet and sticky pear poached in a red wine reduction.

And then in Brunilda

Croquetas de jamon, and very good ones too, lovely smack of nutmeg. Equally noteworthy, the giant glass of Albariño lurking in the background, dry, delicious, costing just €2.80 a pop.
Praise-a the presa! A cut taken from below the shoulder of a fatty, acorn-rich Iberico pig, simply grilled and served with buttery sweet potatoes and a sauce made with salty Basque cheese, Idiazabal.
Seared tuna tataky, chunky tomato concasse, pink pickled onion rings and a parsley dressing. Beautiful bit of fish, the dish a  real treat after what feels like an eight month English winter.
CHIPIRONES. Mini squid, migas (fried but soft breadcrumbs, in the best way possible) flecked with fried egg and topped with a big quenelle of herring roe. Superb.

And, I also found a wine shop. OH-OH. So happy.

Jorge Ordonez & Co, both their 2010 Victoria Muscatel (left) and the 2012 Botani dry muscat (right).
Pazo Señorans Albarińo, 2011 (centre-left).
Esencia de la Andana Manzanilla En Rama, bottle number 6758 out of just 10,000 (centre-right).

Sevilla day two: percebes

Another day, another chance to try new weird shit. Percebes, also known as goose barnacles, are frankly terrifying to look at, like the claws of baby dinosaurs or those wiggly little lost souls captured by Ursula in The Little Mermaid, only fossilised. Their smell is, not unsurprisingly, so much that of a rock pool that I’m instantly in Robin Hood’s Bay, aged 11, about to get told off for getting my trainers wet. Despite appearances, at just €18/kg I thought I’d give them a go.

Cooking them couldn’t be simpler; boil some water, as salty as the sea. Add the percebes, wait for the water to properly boil again and they’re done.

Yep. Still worrying to look at.

Eating them, however, is a right faff – I must have been doing it a bit wrong, so covered I am now in salty coastal spray. You prize one off, wrestle it out of its weird flexible armour, then eat the long squidgy bit inside. The texture of tender squid, and a flavour like a lobster that has never left a particularly rock-pooly rock pool; sweet, pleasant, zinc-y fresh – but not something I’d rate over a decent crab (and they’ve every bit as fiddly). Worth trying, and given the chance I’d eat them again, but not like the truly fabulous RED PRAWNS experience I had a few weeks ago.

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