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38 Wimbledon Hill Road, Wimbledon, London SW19 7PA
Most will concede that Italians have a natural propensity to talk. That said, when it comes to describing their love for their cuisine – their quest for perfection, their passion for local producers and ingredients, their respect for family traditions and culinary secrets – the dictionary doesn’t seem to contain the right words, or enough of them, to truly express their feelings anymore and even the most loquacious among them is reduced to humble awe.
Ask Ghigo Berni, co-owner of San Lorenzo Fuoriporta in Wimbledon, to describe Italian cuisine and, within two hours, you’ll believe that only now will you be able to enjoy a plate of pasta as it should be.
Ghigo grew up in his parent’s well-established Knightsbridge trattoria, San Lorenzo, walking in the shadows of the ‘60’s cinema stars, refugees of the infamous Cinecittà strike. However, this world of wonders and celebrity didn’t make the boy forget his first passion for food, though, and when he moved to Wimbledon to open the South Western cousin of San Lorenzo (Fuoriporta meaning “outside the walls”), he made a point to always look for what he calls: the perfection of simplicity.
“This simplicity comes from necessity and poverty. When peasants had the chance to enjoy a piece of meat, they wanted to make the most of it; a dish that would bring out all the flavours. All the basic ingredients used in Italian cuisine – garlic, oil, rice, tomatoes, mushrooms – come from the ground, the earth. They carry with them a spirit and every Italian dish is elaborated to celebrate what nature gives us.”
The starters were an apt introduction to that idea of simplicity. The Bufala, avocado e pomodoro – Buffalo mozzarella, plum tomatoes and avocado – was the essence of Italian cuisine itself: fresh and tasty ingredients, a pinch of black pepper and salt with just a drop of seasoning. By mixing the three, this light dish was the perfect preamble to Italian cuisine in national colours.
The Melanzane Alla Fuoriporta was intense; the grilled aubergines melted in the mouth with the buffalo mozzarella, while the Parma added a salty overtone, even though it could be enjoyed just as well with the delicious homemade Foccacia bread served on the table.
The Polenta taragno con calamari is spring dish celebrating the natural combination of calamari and peas. Although it looked quite heavy, the polenta with buckwheat was actually quite light. The texture was enhanced by the tender braised calamari, tomato sauce and green peas.
We soon moved on to the definition of food and how what used to be a primary need became a way of life. “Food is comfort, memory, emotion, history, culture. Food has always been at the centre of discussion, a component of a relationship that brings people together.” Things seemed to have changed with the generations, though. “Now cuisine has become a cult, an elitist thing, a sign of sophistication. People discover food with culture and emancipation.”
The conversation lead to interesting redefinitions, and metaphors: “Food is following the same evolution as music. Like classical musicians, looking for the original perfection of a piece of music, people usually start cooking classical, practicing to achieve that same perfection they first tasted. But very quickly, they want to add their own touch, to create something new. Experimentation is important but it can become too confusing. It is important to go back to where we come from and where the food comes from. As the French in Indochina, they tried to create something that will reflect their national identity while using local ingredients. And that’s how the whole French Asian trend started.”
We returned to true Italian dishes for the main course, though; traditional risotto, fish and meat which Ghigo described with love and passion.
The Gamberoni alla Fuoriporta – grilled Indian Ocean king prawns with wholegrain risotto. Having grown up in seawater, the prawns are juicy and generous in taste. Fried with a drop of oil and lemon before being placed under a grill, the prawns are placed on wholegrain risotto and served with a delicate sauce of stock, white wine and garlic. The dish was properly balanced between the rice and the copious amount of king prawns, avoiding any frustration in terms of quantity.
The Salsiccia piccante con Lenticchie – Spicy sausages grilled and braised with Italian lentils, garlic and white wine, served on mashed potatoes – was a first experience of Italian lentils. The dish was rich with flavours and yet not too spicy. The lentils were first cooked with garlic, rosemary, stock and olive oil, while the sausages grilled with pork fat, salt, chilli, garlic and wine. Once done, the sausages were braised with the lentils and then topped with olive oil before serving onto the mashed potatoes. The sausages were delicious, spicy and not too greasy. The lentils had absorbed the grease of the sausages, infusing the lentils with a nice spicy taste. A simple and comfortable dish with many flavours that worked well together.
An elegant and soft Valpolicella Superiore 2007 was served to pair with these very different dishes. “Italian wines are regionally connected to the dish you eat. Italy has very rustic and diverse wines coming from grapevines that grow up on very specific volcanic soils. This makes the wines only appropriate to the regional food: a merlot with Sicilian food doesn’t make sense. Wine should always be married with food and the variety has to match.”
After a long discussion, it was time for dessert. What else but Tiramisu? Meaning ‘pick me up’ in Italian, this most popular of Italian desserts is aptly named as it combines ingredients among which everybody is bound to find a favourite: chocolate, espresso coffee, mascarpone, sugar, sponge cake and rum. Tiramisu is one of the only desserts that marries sombre strength of coffee with the purity of vanilla. Even though I prefer a creamier Tiramisu, this one had a pleasant density to it and coffee lovers would appreciate the sensation of having had a sip of true coffee with every spoonful.
The Italian experience wouldn’t have been complete without a glass of Grappa Di Nebbiolo by Sibona. Originally made to prevent waste by using leftovers, wine producers cook the pomace and second pressing of the grapes to create a potent brandy. One bottle of grappa requires the equivalent of ten bottles of wine. To drink with moderation!
As the talented food blogger, WorldFoodieguide, once told me, “enjoyment of food and individual dishes is such a personal and subjective thing. Even being in a bad mood can affect the entire meal.” I would add: the enjoyment of food can only be multiplied by the time we spend learning the history of each dish or cuisine, and listening to the passion of those who cook them. Salute!
64 rue des dames, Batignolles, 75017 Paris
Dans le 17° arrondissement, au bout de la rue Boursault et à l’angle de la rue des Dames se dresse un nouveau restaurant/Bar à vins dont les amateurs de la cuisine du terroir et d’un bon verre de vin trouveront vite leurs repères.
La Cave Des Dames allie sobriété et modernité rappelant l’ambiance d’un bistrot haut de gamme parisien et les caves d’un propriétaire de vignoble. Les tons bordeaux et marron des tables dressées viennent se mêler au chrome des pressions de bière tandis que la petite horloge en fer forgé se marie élégamment avec les différents tableaux noirs qui affichent menus du jour et vins de la semaine.
La Cave des Dames, c’est avant tout une nouvelle aventure pour une bande de potes qui, après avoir ouvert le Purgatoire (6° arrondissement) et le Dock (2°) décident de se diversifier du monde des bars et de la nuit et prendre le temps de discuter avec les gens.
Les trois associés, Stef, Manu et Vincent (la carte des vins, c’est lui !) rejoins par Sébastien et Fréderic (15 ans d’expérience en cuisine chez L’Alsace, Le Clou et Le Doyen) posent alors leurs valises et donnent naissance en juillet dernier à ce dernier projet.
Cet endroit est à l’image de sa cuisine : simple, traditionnel et authentique.
Les hommes d’affaires, les touristes, les habitants du quartier et, bien évidemment, amis y viennent pour savourer une côte de bœuf grillée au thym, un confit de canard et pommes sautées ou encore une andouillette braisée au vin blanc. Les adeptes des produits de la mer y trouvent aussi leur bonheur avec le poisson du marché ou une poêlée de gambas aux figues rôties.
Le brunch est l’inconditionnel du weekend avec au menu un jus de fruit, une boisson chaude, tartare ou cheeseburger, pain perdu ou salade au choix suivi d’un dessert. Voilà de quoi réconcilier les fâchés du dimanche matin.
A la Cave des Dames, la cuisine pour ne se limite pas à ce qu’il y a dans l’assiette ni dans le verre. Toute l’équipe attache une importance tout particulière à l’accueil et la qualité du service. Après des années à avoir fait danser et divertir les fêtards parisiens jusqu’au bout de la nuit, le mot accueil se révèle sous son plus beau jour et dont les propriétaires sont devenu experts.
Ton péché mignon ? Manu : Foie gras en entrée suivi d’une côte de bœuf puis d’une assiette de fromage et pour conclure une mousse au chocolat. Rien de très original… mais si les produits sont bons, bien cuisinés et présentés… Et pour accompagner, je prendrai un verre de moelleux avec l’entrée suivi d’un Croze-Hermitage ou d’une Côte Rôtie.
Ton repas préféré du dimanche ? Manu : Un brunch, évidemment !
50 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9JL
Once upon a time, as fairytales often begin, two food & football fans wanted to enjoy a good Belgian meal to celebrate the victory of Belgium during one of the games for the European Football cup (We did say this was a fairytale!). Desperately looking for a decent place in London, our Anglo-Belgian and French-Canadian pioneers found themselves having to make do with a bowl of chips washed down with a Stella Artois.
In their quest to honour Belgian cuisine, our two valiant knights decided to launch Belgo, a restaurant dedicated to the perfect national match: beer and food. The place was such a great success that, 12 months later, a few square meters were added to the initial room. A second restaurant, Belgo Centraal, saw the light of day in Covent Garden in 1992.
Like in every fairy tale, where miracles allow the wandering prince to find his perfect princess, Belgo’s magical recipe was held in three words: Moules, frites et bière; mosselen, frietjes en bier; mussels, chips and beer. Londoners come to enjoy the 73 beers selected from the finest breweries of Belgium and the freshness of the mussels which are consumed at a rate of seven tons a week.
Nevertheless, neither enchanted forest nor mysterious creatures welcome you to Belgo… and yet the waiters dressed as monks and make it their pleasure to elucidate all the mysteries of beers and Belgian specialties.
In a fairy tale, the legends that surround the main story are as important as the plot itself, creating the right atmosphere in which to enjoy the story.The same holds for Belgian beers: When enjoying a glass of Orval trappist beer, you may notice the fish printed on the glass.
Legend says that Countess Mathilde was walking next to a lake when her wedding ring fell into the water. Having lost her husband recently, her ring meant a lot to her and she prayed for the ring to be returned to her. A fish suddenly leapt from the water, holding the ring in its mouth. As a gratitude to God, Countess Mathilde decided to build a monastery on the lake’s shore
As with any successful quest, it is time to celebrate what made Belgo famous: the beer. For the occasion of Oktoberfest (Oct. 1st – 31st), and a friendly donation of £27.50, the restaurant will kick off the festifities with a 3-course menu of Belgian specialties, each matched to its own beer.
Among the starters, the Shelled mussels in a cream & De Koninck monay sauce with buttered leeks in a puff pastry case, paired with Brugs Wit is a fine introduction to Belgian cuisine with tasty mussels and a delicate sauce. The pastry is light and the portion is ideal for a starter. The Brug Wit is soft and sweet, opening the palate for all the pleasures to come.
The crunchy yet creamy soft Belgian cheese croquettes made with Orval trappist beer served with Orval beer melt in the mouth. They are served with well-balanced sweet and sour piccalilli. The Orval beer is quite fruity, and is the ideal match for the tang of the piccalilli.
As a main course, my favourite goes to the puff pastry case filled with wild mushrooms in an Orval beer with Truffle cream sauce with asparagus spears and button onions matched with Steenbrugge Blond.
The well-rounded fruity hoppy beer cleanses your palate just so with every mouthful to savour the delight of puff pastry perfection, smooth Truffle cream sauce, and crisp asparagus.
The braised beef cooked in Faro beer, nutmeg and brown sugar paired with Mort Subite Gueuse is one of the classical Belgian dishes where the slow, 8-hour cooking process allows the meat to absorb all the flavours and release an even sweetness. The sweet and fruity Mort Subite Gueuse beer may have emphasized the sweetness of the dish a bit too much, though, and the portion was truly belgian.
As an ode to Belgian chocolate, the Belgian dark chocolate cheesecake on a biscuit base with cherry beer coulis was the perfect choice for dessert. Each morsel is a pure pleasure to the palate, the spicy cherry beer coulis balancing nicely with the delicacy of the chocolate.
The paired Früli Strawberry beer was reminiscent of a fruit smoothie with a slightly more bitter taste; a good choice if you’re the kind of person who needs a sweet taste after a meal.
The Oktoberfest is the perfect example of the definition of Belgian cuisine: In the words of our master waiter, a combination of German portions with French culinary skills. German portions indeed. Make sure to have your stomach ready for a feast!
134 Wardour Street, Soho, London W1F 8ZR
Fusion – Noun -
1- Something new created by a mixture of qualities, ideas, or things.
2- A style of cooking that combines ingredients and techniques from different cultures or countries.
Since September 2008, the word fusion has found a new home at Inamo, a pan-Asian restaurant and bar. Illustrating the perfect fusion of the IT world’s ingenuity with the creativity of the chefs’ toque, Inamo is a unique concept where customers take control of their own dinner in a sci-fi dinner room experience.
The story began five years ago when two young and ambitious students, fed up of waiting for their orders, decided to work on a concept where people would enjoy their meal at their own speed without depending on a waiter’s availability and other customer’s.
Two worlds were about to merge with to attain one objective: Put the means to make each customer’s dinner experience exactly what they want it to be at the tips of their fingers, literally.
Mouse pads replace the paper menu to order what you want and when you want, get your bill whenever you like, even call a waiter with just the touch of a button. The lamps above your head have metamorphosed into projectors and your table is converted into an interactive tableau where you set your own ambience and design by choosing among different graphics and colours. And if your dearest love is in a challenging mood while waiting to be served, let see how you manage a game of ‘battleship’.
The home of technological fusion with a dining experience, Inamo could only do itself justice by serving Asian-fusion food; a combination of Japanese, Thai and Chinese cuisine. Countries of technology and innovation, this kind of cuisine finds its place among what looks like at the first glance another gadget. “Nine out of ten customers come to Inamo to play with the system, expecting it to be a gimmick but then, they realize that the food is good,” explains Mark Eggebrry, general manager at Inamo. “We have noticed that by having access to the pictures of the dishes, people select their meal by taste instead of food orientation.”
Mark’s choice to move from the luxury hotel, Sanderson, to Inamo was like asking a kid to design his dream game: “When I was first approached about Inamo I must say I was a little bit skeptical. I interviewed with the owners four times before I saw the actual system at work and at that stage I was sold. The possibilities in my mind for this system are endless and I wanted to be a part of this very ground breaking technology and this very unique style of service.”
If you fancy a unique experience, step into Inamo and you wouldn’t be disappointed. The food is diverse and tasty (And the 3-plate chocolate dessert to die for!), the waiters always available to help you and of course, you have a lot of fun playing with your interactive table. One advice though: order your main dish once you’ve finished with your starter as the team in the kitchen seem to be the most efficient cooks in London.
Inamo is definitely a place to go with your friends, your geek husband or a date you want to impress.
But if you’re looking for a restaurant to celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary with candles and roses, you may want to come back later, unless, of course, your dearest love would appreciate a bouquet of roses as the background of her table. It’s all about fusion.
Mathilde’s Cuisine: What is your relationship to technology?
Mark Eggebrry: “Personally I love everything about it, I love the fact that I can have my whole life on one device that I can use to organise and work. I just want more, everything easier thanks to technology!”
How do you define cooking?
“Cooking for me represents family and friends, coming together for an experience and each others’ company. The time taken and effort put into a dish or a meal defines for me how much care was taken to prepare it.”
What are your influences in cooking?
“Most certainly for me the biggest influence is Asian cuisine, I have spent most of my career working with Asian foo and, for that very reason, I am very impressed, intrigued and inspired by the ingredients used and how they are combined to give a remarkable end product.”
What is your favourite sneaky snack?
“Off our menu I would have to say my favourite snacks are the Pork ribs and the Duck. At home, however, I am less picky and will often sit down to a bag of biltong, (South African dried beef) which I make myself!”
What is the last cookbook you’ve read?
“The most recent one I tried anything from (with marginal success) was Alain Ducasse, however I more frequently use a Jamie Oliver at home book, lots of easy recipes.”
35 Maiden Lane, Nr Covent Garden, London WC2E 7LB
There are people in life that you will always remember.
People you meet for the first time and who you may not have the chance to see again but who will stay in your mind forever. People who will turn an easy-going evening into a once in a lifetime experience. People who, within a few hours, will teach you more than you have ever dared learn, just by listening to their passion and knowledge.
While enjoying this priceless experience, you suddenly feel like a child being given a lesson in humility and modesty. And, secretly, you dream of feeling that same passion for life when the alarm clock rings in the morning.
But first, Rules. Trying to move with the times while reflecting is weighty history, Rules , the oldest restaurant in London, is still rife with a charming English atmosphere reminiscent of a fine Parisian bistro; waiters dressed in bow ties and armed with a ‘sans-faute’ service.
The grouse confirms its success day after day among customers who have come to enjoy its delicate taste for more than a hundred years. Since 1798, though, some creative touches have crept into the menu, including the tasty Dressed Dorset Crab. And, as the way to celebrate the national how-how of making pudding, the Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce will definitely reconcile you with traditional English cuisine.
And now, let’s step Upstairs at Rules. A year ago, when Rules reconverted their first floor into a bar, giving justice back to what it had been during the war, they couldn’t have made a better choice than hiring one of the most recognised bartenders that long and short drinks have ever encountered.
Mastering the art of cocktails may seem as easy as mixing the right measure of liquors in the right order and shake for the appropriate length of time… just like cooking is all about mixing ingredients in the right order and cooking to taste. The perfect cocktail is about respect, about love and the passion you pour into every drink you make. And this is something that the Cocktail master Upstairs at Rules has understood to the very core.
Thirty years after having served his father his first cocktail, Brian Silva, bartender extraordinaire at Rules, has become a master of understanding his customers’ expectations, be it to create their preferred pre-dinner drink like they’ve never had it before or think up the relaxing potion which will put the finishing touch on an exquisite dinner at the restaurant downstairs.
With a menu of only 10 specials but more than a thousand recipes in mind (and 200 written in his little black book), when Brian Silva looks at you and pops the question,‘What are you in the mood for?’ you know the experience is going to be worthwhile. Put the menu away, don’t give a second’s thought to what you thought you were going to drink; let yourself be lead by the master’s flair and know-how. A last check if the drink should be rather short, long, sweet or bitter and the whole creation process starts.
Among his alchemist’s laboratory of first-choice liqueurs, Brian is a flurry of activity, only slowing as he pours each measure by eye over the perfectly 2-by-2-by-3 icecubes. For a moment, you’re sure he would be just as quick – although no less impressive – if he was blindfolded.
’For me, the hit of the evening is to see the smile on my customer’s face when they take their first sip’.
So what does Master Silva think of the infamous classic, Rosebud’s OBI Long Island Iced Tea? “Equal measures of all the spirits and around 25ml or less of lemon juice. The spirits don’t have to be a 25ml measure they can and probably should be less, say around 15ml of each. The cocktail should be tasted first and then balanced with coca-cola to offset the lemon. Lots of ice please!”