29 April 2017

Recipe: chicken stewed with cider and apples

I'M NOT EVEN going to try and take credit for this recipe, other than the addition of garlic.  It comes from one of my favourite chefs Jose Pizarro's latest book Basque.  I've made this recipe a few times while entertaining and it always goes down a storm.  Perfect for a change to the old Sunday roast. The beauty of this dish is that it doesn't take much effort whatsoever.

This book really transports me back to touring northern Spain a couple of years ago, enjoying the culinary offers of San Sebastian and Bilbao in particular.  Food has the unique ability to evoke memories and that's exactly what Basque does.

Serve this with some patatas bravas and slices of a good sourdough loaf.

For me, if you find a great recipe it deserves to be shared, so here you go!


1 medium (1.3 - 1.5kg) free-range chicken
4 apples, peeled and quarters
2 onions, finely sliced
500ml, cider
2 bay leaves
6 sage leaves
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves, garlic
75g sultanas
400ml chicken stock
25g butter
Rapeseed oil
1 tsp caster sugar
Sea salt and pepper


1) Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Heat a heavy-based casserole dish on the hob. Melt the butter and add a splash of rapeseed oil.  Season the chicken inside and out then brown all over.

2) Set the chicken a side and sweat the onions for 8-10 mins.  Add the garlic, sage leaves, bay and the cinnamon stick.  Place one of the quartered apples into the cavity and return the chicken to the pan. Add the cider and bring to a gentle bubble, add the stock along with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Place in the oven for 45 mins.

3) Meanwhile, melt the rest of the butter in a pan with a splash of oil. Add the apple quarters and the sugar. Cook until caramelised and add the sultanas. Add to the chicken around half way through the cooking time. Raise the heat to 200C and take the lid off for ten mins to brown the chicken. Take out of the dish an allow to rest for five mins before serving.

4) While resting, ladle some of the cooking liquor into a saucepan and reduce on a rapid heat.  Carve the chicken and serve with some of the apple, onion and sultana mix.  

Basque is available to purchase by following this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/Basque-Spanish-Recipes-Sebastian-Beyond/dp/1784880264


19 April 2017

Feature: The Story Cafe, Edinburgh

THE STORY CAFÉ can be found at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh and has its own unique story to tell.  The café has been under the ownership of the Edinburgh-based charity Comas since 2016 and sees all profits go to help support, among others, adults recovering from addiction and vulnerable people who have been driven into poverty.

This branch is a slightly more ambitious venture than its sister project, the Serenity Café, which can be found nearby, just behind the Scottish Parliament building. Both offer adults the chance to volunteer and even gain paid employment - truly showing the power of what food can do.

The project offers a range of homely grub from soups and delicious cheese scones to salads, sandwiches and tasty hot options, as well as a range of veggie and gluten-free options.  The food is very favourably priced (hot options are just £6.50), aiming to encourage people in from the busy tourist-laden streets outside, as well as local punters alike.

Pic courtesy of the Story Cafe
It’s a wonderfully bright and fun space to eat in - ideal for escaping the hordes of tourists for a coffee and a bite to eat. The premises are fully licensed and offer a range of wines and craft beers. There is also a tasty children’s menu with dishes priced at just £2.50 (you can also order smaller portions of the full menu at half price) with the added bonus of there being plenty going on to keep the little nippers entertained, including the Storytelling Court and the Storywall.

I caught up with Sinead White from the café who took me through the food offerings: “The aim is to offer homemade dishes that people are familiar with, that are good value for money.  We also like to focus on healthy food and home-baking, aiming to be accessible to as many people as possible”

Pic courtesy of the Story Cafe
There is always an exhibition on at the Storytelling Centre for punters to enjoy if visiting the café, which also hosts shows and various events in the early evening.  You will find everything from music lessons to book groups in this incredibly relaxed space. It has clearly been well thought out in order to offer a broad range of goings on, as well as the actual café itself – well worth a visit.

Tasty grub at an affordable price that sees all profits go towards helping people? What’s not to love? Pop into the Story Café on the Royal Mile next time you’re in the heart of the capital.

Storytelling Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

9 April 2017

Review: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Royal Hospital Road, London.

THE SUN WAS shining on London as we strolled down the manicured streets of Royal Hospital Road for lunch at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.  Gordon was one of the chefs that inspired me to cook and despite being more of a TV personality now, his hard work, unrelenting standards and sheer determination to succeed are always something I’ll admire.  To say I was looking forward to this would be the understatement of the century.

We debated who would order the Dexter beef tartare with nasturtiums and Manni olive oil starter for weeks (praying it was still on the menu).  Being the gentleman, Sarah came out on top (in the heats at least) as she had a change of heart on the day.  Admittedly, this one a bit of a thinker because I had expected a traditional steak tartare. What I got was a simple dish that largely relied on the star ingredient to do the talking.  I felt that it needed a pinch of sea salt to maximise its potential.
However, the raw beef melted like butter on your tongue and was hit by a welcome peppery note from the nasturtiums.  The required season was there when the fruity, slightly spicy olive oil was added, but there wasn’t enough (perhaps it was the way it was drizzled around) of it to have the desired effect on the whole portion. Worth mentioning the eagle-eyed waiter who offered to fetch me some extra cracker breads as I came to the end  - that's what makes the difference at this level.

Ironically, Sarah’s starter of Buckwheat gnocchi, mushroom, sweetbreads and Parmesan with garlic capers was exceptional.  The skill here was in the creamy, velvety, mushroom veloute where the richness was reigned in to keep the dish on the lighter side.  The little sweetbread nuggets were soft as silk on the inside, housed by a crunchy, yet light coating and the gnocchi provided a tasty vessel to lap up that delicious cheesy, 'shroom sauce.

The dining room was smaller than I had imagined with an army of staff led by Maître d’ Jean-Claude picking up on even the smallest of details.  It wasn’t as stuffy as I’d have imagined (maybe even hoped for with punters turning up in jeans and answering mobile phones in the dining room), which was a sign that this beacon of British gastronomy is more modern than the restaurant featured years ago in Boiling Point, the TV series were a young Ramsay really came to national fame.

I would need to be truly wooed with my main course after a lukewarm starter and thankfully I was.  Fresh from an excellent venison main at Hadrian’s Brasserie, this meat option was a must for me.  The deer was accompanied by Jerusalem artichokes, alliums and elderberry ketchup.  The venison was out of this world, possibly the most tender piece of meat I’ve eaten, it was simply heaven alongside that elderberry sauce.  It did taste like a posh, slightly fruity Heinz Tommy K, and I mean that with the greatest of respects to the chefs – it was the star of the show alongside those slabs of game.  The artichoke came in the form of both crisps, which was sort of modern game chip idea, and an earthy sort of puree that neatly fitted another piece of the flavour jigsaw together. The puzzle was completed with a pleasant, and again light, venison sauce.

Sarah’s plate was a real eye-pleaser.  Norfolk Black chicken leg with smoked bacon, brassicas and three-corner garlic would taste as pleasing as it looked.  The bird was succulent and as tender as one could dream. The brassicas – Romanesco and crispy kale – looked like a little garden on the plate and brought that freshness with it.  The herby sauce was interesting, while the smoked bacon brought an earthiness to the dish.  A real triumph of modern British cooking.

A three-course lunch will set you back £65 (plus service charge) which we enjoyed with a very reasonably priced bottle of Dao from Portugal – a snip at £39.  The wine list, compiled by head sommelier James Peter Lloyd, was an extensive one (as you’d expect) and I wish we’d had more time (and dosh) to get stuck into it.

My final course was an Earl Grey parfait with Yorkshire rhubarb and lemon balm. The parfait was well-balanced flavour-wise, with the right level of Earl Grey to prevent it being overly floral and sickly.  The rhubarb was controlled well, numbing the acidity without losing the ability to cut through the parfait, and not too sweet.  It also brought needed texture.  I didn’t really get much from the lemon balm, unfortunately.

Custard tart with blood orange, mint and mascarpone sorbet was Sarah’s choice.  The tart filling was a little more liquid than expected but tasted great, especially with the orange and mint combo. The pastry was spot on, too. The only criticism is that she felt there could have been more mint because it was such a delicious match with the blood orange.

This was one of those dreaded restaurant critic moments where the weight of expectation can bring an eatery tumbling down from its pedestal in your mind.  I’m pleased that this was not the case and even more delighted to have experienced the outstanding service that Royal Hospital Road provides.  The food here is a truly pleasurable example of modern British cuisine, showcasing the finest of our ingredients in the best way possible. 

Address: 68 Royal Hospital Road, London, SW3 4HP
Phone: 0207 352 4441

Restaurant Gordon Ramsay Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato Square Meal