Friday, July 31, 2009

Sorelle Picchi , Parma

Sorelle Picchi is a legendary Salumeria and Restaurant in Parma . The 2nd generation Picchi sisters sold out to a big local producer of Prosciutto (Cotto and Crudo)Parmacotto. I'm glad to report that this institution so favoured by the likes of Dario Fo and gastronomes from all over, Parma , Italy and the World is still superb.

The procurement of the finest Prosciutto di Parma , Culatello di Zibello , Salami di Felino and local Coppa is if anything improved . I suspect the new owners also own many of the suppliers like Antica Salumeria Rosi.

The wine list is now a bit longer and broader and I was very happy to find the superb Pinot Nero from Alto Adige made by Martin Hofstätter . At 15 euros this is a veritable bargain and great match for the remarkable Salumi and Tortelli.

I have eaten here 3 times on this trip and have enjoyed some of the best Culatello and Proscuiutto di Parma I have ever tasted and I have never had better Tortelli alle Erbette.

Also sampled superb Fetuccini con culatello e porcini, Cappeletti en brodo and con sugo di carne whilst the best main was without doubt a melt in your mouth Guanciale de Vitello ( Veal cheek stew).

The only desert I managed on my 3 visits was a beautifully balanced semifredo di zabiaone con salsa di cioccolato caldo .

By my third visit I was actually worried that I would be able to squeeze through the little gap between the wall and the wooden counter on which rests the cash register and enter the back room, a vision of white tablecloths, packed with wooden chairs and busy waitresses serving a myriad of simple staple Parmigiani dishes.

What impressed me about Sorelle Picchi was the cross section of local people who ate in this restaurant at both lunch and dinner. There were doctors ,lawyers , shopkeepers , professional footballers,employees from Parmalat , secretaries , students and farm workers from the province of Parma. This is not unusual in good restaurants in Italy but certainly not common in the UK.

Parma like Bologna and most of Emilia Romagna produces wonderful food and it is really difficult to eat badly. I have always found the cuisine of this region along with large portions of the south (especially Calabria , Campagnia,Basilicata and Sicily)to be head and shoulders above the rest of Italy.

For those who have not visited this part of Italy and tend to focus on Rome , Florence , Venice and maybe Verona too try and find time to discover not only great food the beautiful cities and countryside around Parma , Modena and Bologna !

Sorelle Piccchi

Via Farini 27
43100 Parma
Tel 051 233528

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Naranj , Old Damascus

Naranj was recommended to me by Kano -Syrian Foodie in London who is not only a Surgeon but a top Food Blogger.He asserts that this is the finest Syrian Restaurant in Damascus and I cannot disagree.

There cannot be many restaurants in the World located in a more historic location - the corner of Via Recta aka Straight St or Medhat Pasha Street by the Roman Arch

The spacious 300 + cover restaurant is in a converted Old Damascene House with the largest space being in what must have been the countyard. The menu is pan Syrian with special dishes that represent most parts of what is now modern Syria .

Ideally you would want to visit this restaurant with four or more people to be able to start with 10 or more mezze and then have a main course of your choice.However on this occasion this was not possible.

I started with Houmus , Taboule , Babaganoush and Fried Kibeh all were perfectly executed. The Arabic bread was made on site in a section of the large kitchen that has a Fatayer oven for the various Fatayer and breads . I drank Arak with the meal as I have always found this to be the perfect match for Syro/Lebanese cuisine.

For my main course I had Lamb cooked in a clay pot with Bamya (Okra) one of my favourite oriental dishes that I have enjoyed in Greece , Turkey , Egypt and Lebanon. What made this dish exceptional was the quality of the lean lamb (shoulder and leg) and the firmness of the Bamya held together in an almost sweet tomato sauce that had been perfectly seasoned and spiced.

Some Syrian sweets were brought along with superb Cherries and Plums. I had enough time to smoke an Apple Argeela (Shisha) and drink a perfect Turkish Coffee.

I left the restaurant totally satisfied turned right and right again walking up Via Recta remembering Acts 9:10-19

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight."

But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."

So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mrs Gastro's Allotment in mid Summer

Mrs Gastro1 got her allotment just under four years ago and after a first 12 months of very hard work it began to yield some amazing fruit and vegetables.

After much trial and error Mrs Gastro1 has worked out what grows well and now our family is getting superb fruit and vegetables grown without any pesticides whatsoever ( not the case with certified organic ) just good old fashioned horse manure and organic slug pelets not to mention hard work dedication and planning.

Over the last 6 weeks we have had first class berries ( Tayberries , Loganberries , Blueberries and Yellow and Red Raspberries) yellow and green courgettes and French beans , Rocket , Escarole , Radicchio di Treviso , Potatoes , Broad Beans,Leeks ,Peas , Spinach , Swiss Chard, Artichokes , Wet Garlic , Rhubbard , Red Currants , Black Currants and Gooseberries.

We estimate that in at least 8 months of the year we get over 60 % of our fruit and vegetables from the allotment on any given week. The goal is to reach 80% ! And boy do things taste better when you have just picked them.

Another benefit has been the gastronomic education of our two sons who of course have been involved in growing fruit and vegetables and eat absolutely everything with great gusto.

I would recommend my fellow Londoners to get on a waiting list, the hard work really pays off !

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Franco Manca , London

Franco Manca opened on the a site that serious Pizza lovers will may remember was once occupied by a Pizzeria called Franco that begat both Eco here and in Clapham as well as Casale Franco in Islington. (Hence Franco Manca).

Franco Manca is co owned by Neapolitan expatriate Giuseppe Mascoli and the the Brixton based artist Bridget Hugo . Mascoli is the owner of Black's the Soho Private Members Club.

Giuseppe Mascoli and his Pizza "consultant" Marco Parente have created a neo Neapolitan Pizzeria with a twist. Whilst largely adhering to the basic rules of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana they source their Fior di Latte Mozzarella from Alham Wood Farm of Somerset which is rather good and certainly better than the majority of Italian industrial versions - however some argue that not using or providing a (higher priced) option of DOP Mozzarella di Buffala is the one weakness of this establishment. Others point out that top DOP Mozzarella is too good to be used for Pizza and should be enjoyed with some good olive oil uncooked or as part of a fresh tomato based salad.

The philosophy of Franco Manca is the creation of a genuine Neapolitan Pizza with the best available locally sourced ingredients. This explains the cheeses from Shepton Mallet and Spanish Olive Oil and selected cured meats from Brindisa. The perfect dough produced with to 00 flour forms the base of a Pizza that is light and airy and cooked in a genuine Neapolitan brick wood fired ovens for less than a minute.

Mascoli like Francesco Mazzei at L'Anima represent a new generation of proud Italians who are not only perfectionists but also have a tremendous pride in the cooking of their motherland! This is great news for a city and country where regrettably many of their compatriots be they recent migrants or first and second generation have shown in Deli’s, Cafes and Restaurants a total disrespect for authentic good quality regional Italian fare.

The menu offers six Pizzas served regular or as calzone, a side salad and beverages (Organic Sicilian Lemonade, Beer and Wine ) as well as a decent Monmouth Espresso.

My routine is usually to have a Pizza and then either split another with my companion or sometimes even have two. I prefer to drink the excellent lemonade and have an espresso with il conto.

After a year or so of regular visits I am pleased to see Franco Manca has not only maintained standards but also continued to improve.

I'd love to see the option of a more expensive DOP Mozzarella di Buffalo topped Pizza for those who are prepared to pay. But despite this little quibble along with Metro on Battersea Rise I have not had better Neapolitan Pizza in the UK.

Update Monday , July 27, 2009

I took my kids for lunch today and after another sublime pizza I ran into Giuseppe Mascoli . Apart from discussing the deconstruction of a certain classic Italian dish and Jacques Derrida I told im the pizza seemed even lighter and more enjoyable than ususal. Giuseppe informed me that this was because the fermentation of the dough on Mondays has been 38 hours (from Saturday evening) unlike most days when it's 24 ! Anyway I can report that at 12.15 only 15 minutes after oeneing there was not a free seat in the casa !

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Racine , London

Henry Harris is back as Chef Patron at Racine after a shortish stint as Executive Chef of the Soho House Group. I have eaten Henry's fine Bourgeois cooking for more years than I care to count going back to Hilare, Bibendum and 5h Floor at Harvey Nicholls.

It turns out that Henry also knows and worked with one of my best friends from University at The Old Ship in Brighton many moons ago. Strangely all this became apparent when Henry and I engaged on Twitter in a discussion on La Meranda in Nice that also involved restaurateur Charlie McVeigh and food critic/writer Daniel Young.

Racine reminds me of several Paris restaurants that falls into the category of Bistros/Brasseries * with a delightful room that has a wood floor, brown leather banquettes with mirrors above them and pale yellow walls.

Racine though is really about the food and as you can imagine when the Chef Patron has spent his formative years working with Simon Hopkinson you are most likely to be guaranteed well executed classic Bourgeois cooking.

John, Henry’s old colleague from Brighton and I had an exemplary lunch on Friday, July 3rd 2009. The food and service was really top notch and as it turns out it was Henry’s last service before a well-earned holiday.

We were greeted by Henry who gave us some of his own home made delightful cured middle white proscuito .

I strated with Smoked duck, French bean and girolle salad which was really very good indeed. The beans were perfectly cooked “al dente” and the duck was succulent with the delightful small girolles complimenting the ensemble of ingredients.

John was delighted with his Lincolnshire smoked eel, salmon roe, watercress and horseradish salad.

To follow I had Filet au poivre made with a lovely piece of well hung Filet served with hand cut chips and simple mixed leaf salad. The sauce presumably made with a veal stock reduction was really delicious and worked well with the tenderest but not necessarily the most flavorful cut of beef.

John said his Breast of guinea fowl, peas, broad beans and tarragon was really outstanding.

We drank a half bottle of Gewurztraminer, Cote de Rouffach, Rene Mure followed by a chilled Brouilly, Chateau de la Perriere as well as “several” Marc’s de Bourgogne with our espressos; we were really too full to be tempted by the classic deserts or the fine cheeses from La Fromagerie.

Racine is a delightful restaurant with excellent service providing very good and well executed Bourgeois cooking based on well selected ingredients from top suppliers. To paraphrase the by line of Benoît in Paris "Chez toi Racine, on boit, festoie, en rois”

Update Summer of 2009

Henry started to source amazing Cote de Boeuf from O'Shea's of Knightsbridge these Irish Black Angus Grass Fed , Barley Finished 44 day + aged Ribeyes on the Bone are in my humble opinion simply the best steak you can have in the UK !

* see the excellent Bistros , Brasseries and Wine Bars of Paris : Everyday Recipes from the Real Paris by Daniel Young , Harper Collins NY, NY 2006.

Racine on Urbanspoon