Recipe: lettuce wraps with prawns and spicy mayo

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These little wraps are seriously delicious in an effortless sort of way. Perfect for a post-beach supper with a cold beer or a glass of rosé, or as a light lunch on the terrace. The point is that’s it’s low effort to make but full enjoyment to eat. And almost healthy.

If you want to make them actually healthy I’m sure brown rice or wild rice would work too, but lets be honest; it won’t taste as nice.

But they could easily be converted into a lovely starter by just omitting the rice. You see, the possibilities are endless.

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Lettuce wraps with prawns and spicy mayo, serves 2

2 portions long-grain rice

300 g raw large prawns

1 tsp Aleppo pepper or chilli flakes

1 lime wedge, the juice only

salt, white pepper

1 -2 little gem lettuce

10 cm cucumber, peel off most of the green peel and cut into small cubes

6 cherry tomatoes, cut into small wedges

2 spring onion, thinly sliced

1/2 avocado, cut into small cubes

Spicy mayonnaise:

100 ml Hellmann’s mayonnaise (or homemade) 

2-3 tsp gochujang (Korean chilli sauce)

a few splashes red Tabasco for added heat

a small pinch of salt

To serve:

chopped coriander

1/2 lime, cut into wedges

Cook the rice according to the instructions on the packet. Leave to cool a little. Mix the mayo. Wash and dry the lettuce leaves. Wash and cut the remaining vegetables. 

Heat up oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add the prawns and fry until pink. Add Aleppo pepper or chilli flakes, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime. Cut the prawns into smaller pieces. 

Fill the lettuce leaves with rice, mayo, prawn pieces and vegetables (in that order, the mayo works as a glue to hold the toppings in place), add some chopped coriander and finish with a squeeze of lime. Serve with plenty of napkins as they’re best eaten using your hands! 

 

London: The Palomar, Soho

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The Palomar in Soho is a snug little restaurant serving up dishes from the Jerusalem of today and has been around for a while. It’s still as popular as when it opened and I had a fab dinner with my friend Felicity here quite a while ago that I’d like to tell you all about.

Arriving on a weekday after work the small restaurant was of course full (always expect a popular Soho restaurant to be full unless you go very early or very late) so we put our names on the list and when in search of a drink.

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About an hour later our seats at the bar were ready and our enthusiastic water welcomed us and started to recommend dishes from the menu. The kabaneh, a Yemeni pot baked bread with tahini and a tomato sauce was a must and we loved dipping the fluffy bread in the different sauces.

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Next we had a special for the day; crispy Jerusalem artichoke with tuna rillette and duck fat which was amazingly good. Loved loved loved this one!

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The burnt courgette tzatziki was another favourite. It also pairs very well with the bread!

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Another special, the bonito carpaccio, savoury cookie crumble was also really nice! And full of freshness.

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The Jerusalem style polenta with asparagus, mushrooms, parmesan and truffle oil was pure indulgence (I wish I could cook polenta like that!!) and a real treat.

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But the deconstructed kebab with minced beef & lamb, yoghurt, tahini, cured lemon and harissa disappointed us a little. It was still nice – but lacked a bit om oomph compared to the other dishes.

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So did The beets go prawn with smoky beetroot, labneh, prawn jus, basil and chilli but it was still a nice plate of food. Just lacking a bit of wow factor.

All together we had a fantastic evening here, chatting with our waiter, the people next to us and of course each other, enjoying some excellent food and lovely wine! This is what Soho is all about for me; the informal yet amazing dining experiences.

The Palomar, 34 Rupert St, London W1D 6DN

London: New York Italian at Hai Cenato?

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Jason Atherton’s empire continues to grow and the latest restaurant to open was this New York-y Italian restaurant in the new Nova development by Victoria. It’s in goof company with Rail House Café, Aster, Franco Manca etc. nearby.

The first time I came was early one Sunday evening with my friends Helen and Pete and their son Eddie. We’d had a lovely Sunday afternoon exploring the Natural History Museum, had eclairs and coffee at wonderful Maitre Choux and a walk to Buckingham Palacea and were happy to sit down and tuck into some food just as the skies opened.

Hai Cenato? (means ‘Have you had dinner?’ in Italian) certainly feels New York-y with it’s high ceilings, long bar counter, sketched portraits and cosy feel. It’s nice but relaxes and the menu echoes that with pasta dishes, rosso and bianca pizzas and meats from the grill.  and modern yet cosy interior.

They also have a kids menu and children eat free on Sundays, which is a nice touch.

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Eddie chose a pasta with tomato sauce and plenty of grated parmesan from the kids menu  and was very pleased with his choice.

Helen and I both chose the corzetti pasta with bolognese sauce sage, browned butter and grated Berkswell cheese. It was absolutely delicious and felt very indulgent. The sauce was really rich and could have done with a bit more pasta because of the richness but it was a nice size portion. We also shared a side of amazing crushed potatoes that soaked up the last of my bolognese.

Pete chose a lovely vibrant green risotto with oeas, broad beans and crab that was just perfectly executed.

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We were certainly full after our main courses but still fancied pudding and after a quick browse on the (excellent) dessert menu I chose the brioche with salted caramel ice cream. I just love salted caramel and expected a dainty dessert, perfect to finish off my meal but instead I got a large (burger size) brioche bun and THREE scoops of salted caramel ice cream (insert surprised emoji here). The flavour combination was spot on of course but the portion size ridiculous, especially after such starchy food as pasta or pizza.

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Helen’s chocolate and coffee fondant with creme fraiche, puffed rice and caramel was more the size we had expected and absolutely delicious!

We had a lovely dinner here, but also experienced some (I hope they are) teething problems like slow service and I got poured a flat glass of prosecco which just shouldn’t have left the bar and it took ages to get a new one. It’s not the end of the world of course, but I expect an overall smooth and lovely experience when I go to a restaurant, especially when it’s a quiet evening.

I went back last week with my friend Nick for pizza and a glass of wine and the service was a lot better (i.e. smooth) and the place buzzing with people. Oh, and the pizza? DIVINE!

Hai Cenato?, 2 Sir Simon Milton Square, London SW1E 5DJ

Recipe: pizza with asparagus and wild garlic pesto

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I actually had the intention to make a sourdough pizza with this topping but didn’t have enough time in the end, so used my tried and tested Italian pizza dough recipe, courtesy of Gennaro Contaldo, Jamie Oliver’s Italian mentor.

I also used my go-to simple tomato sauce that I use for everything and my homemade wild garlic pesto. My best tip is to pick lots of wild garlic leaves when in season and blanch some of it, squeeze out the liquid and freeze in little parcels. Perfect to use for pesto or mayonnaise.

The all you need is a good buffalo mozzarella, some asparagus, parmesan and olive oil.

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I promise it’s like tasting spring. Delicious!

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Italian pizza dough, 2 pizzas

500 g 00-flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp dried yeast

325 ml lukewarm water

Mix flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the yeast. Add the water bit by bit while stirring with a wooden fork. Knead the dough until elastic. Cut the dough into two and shape to round balls. Put the dough balls back in the mixing bowl, sprinkle with flour and cover. Place somewhere warm and let it rise for 90 minutes.

Shape the dough into round pizzas or use a rolling pin to roll it out thinly. Add the toppings you like and bake in 225C, in a low oven, for 8-10 minutes.

Tomato sauce, for one batch pizza dough

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 can (400 g) chopped tomatoes

salt and pepper

Fry the garlic in the olive oil in a non-stick saucepan. Add the chopped tomatoes, some water and the tomato paste. Cook for 15 minutes while stirring occasionally, until it has thickened. Season to taste and put aside. 

Wild garlic pesto, approx 250 ml pesto

ca 50-70 g wild garlic (about a bunch as stick as a small banana)

30 g almonds

40 g parmesan

1/2 lemon, juice only 

mild oil, approx 100-150 ml 

salt & pepper

Mix wild garlic, almonds, lemon juice and parmesan with a bit of oil to a paste in a food processor or with a stick blender. Keep adding oil until you have the consistency you like. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keeps in the fridge for 5-7 days. 

Topping per pizza:

1/2 batch tomato sauce

olive oil

1 buffalo mozzarella

4-5 asparagus, blanched and cut into smaller pieces

3-4 tbsp wild garlic pesto

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Roll out the dough and drizzle some olive oil on it. Spread out the tomato sauce. Shred the mozzarella into chunks and place on the pizza. Add the asparagus pieces and dollops of wild garlic pesto. Grate over parmesan. Add a little more olive oil and put it in the oven on 225C, middle to low oven for 8-10 minutes.

Barcelona: Born and burgers at Bacoa

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Lots of restaurants in Barcelona are closed for Sunday dinner, so we hadn’t made any proper plans. Instead we decided to go for a walk, from our hotel in Barri Gotic to the Born district not far away, that went from scruffy to trendy quite recently.

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Now it was filled with restaurant (some closed for the evening, some fully booked) and hipster bars and we really liked the vibe here. I really enjoy walking around different neighbourhoods in a city and get to know the city that way. It paints a picture of what it’s like to live there and that beats queuing for tourist attractions in my book.
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After walking around Born for a while we turned on to the main street by the seafront and saw a packed burger place. Yes, we could eat a nice burger and take a break from tapas. And it was completely rammed with people, young and old, which we took as a good sign.

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The burger chain (they have a few restaurants in Barcelona and one in Madrid) isn’t your typical fast food joint. You order by the counter but get to choose what type of bread you want and any toppings you like to really make the burger your own.

I chose the best quality beef burger, a brioche bun, cheddar and their recommended trimmings and truffle mayo on the side and it was seriously good. The beef was really tender and full of flavour. The garnish nice and fresh and the bun lovely.

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Emma had the chicken burger that had been marinated and was really tender as well, with brioche bun and the recommended toppings. We also shared a side of patatas pravas that were really nice!

Oh, and another good thing. Once you’ve ordered you get an order number, sit down at the wooden tables and then they bring you the food when it’s ready. Much more civilised than McDonald’s. And obviously nicer!

Bacoa, Av. del Marquès de l’Argentera 1, 08003 Barcelona

Barcelona: cocktails at Old Fashioned and late supper at Bar Mut

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After our fab (but early; we sat down at 7pm) dinner at Bodega 1900 we found a nice cocktail bar called Old Fashioned to chill in. It was small and cosy, had nice music on but you could still talk and an extensive cocktail list. Lovely! Also, all the staff were bearded men with white shirts and suspenders. Cute!

I went for a Gin Tonica, the Spanish version of gin and tonic served in a large glass on a stem. I tried one with strawberry notes and it was served with a dried strawberry slice. Really nice!

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Emma asked for a fruity drink and received one with strawberries and raspberries. It was good fun sitting here chatting and people watching for a bit.

Old Fashioned, Calle Santa Teresa nº 1, Gràcia, 08012 Barcelona, Spain

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Until we got hungry again and headed to nearby Bar Mut that I was drying to try. I so love that the restaurants here are open late.

At Bar Mut there’s no printed menu, but some dishes are written on the board and your waiter will tell you the rest. You can also choose your fish and shellfish from the iced counter. Everything’s fresh and seasonal. Simple, but not too simple.

We started off with white asparagus that were perfectly cooked, and served with a light mayonnaise, nuts and leaves.

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I’ve never been able to resist croquetas and this time was no exception. These big ones with iberico ham were amazing!

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Our last dish (I mean, we had had a proper dinner earlier that evening) was a this lovely beef dish with morels and a delicious sauce.

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We walked out happy and full, heading back to the hotel in our taxi for another full day of exploring Barcelona the next day.

They don’t have Uber here but other similar taxi companies (the one we used had its own fleet and all cars had free water and wi-fi – so good!) that we used a lot, especially in the evenings when we were tired from walking all day.

Bar Mut, Pau Clarís nº 192 (Diagonal), Barcelona, Spain

 

Barcelona: amazing dinner at Bodega 1900

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This trip was my second time in Barcelona. The first time I visited with my dear friend Carina we had dinner at Bodega 1900 one night, and I liked it so much I booked it again for this trip.

The restaurant is owned by Albert and Ferran Adria, the brothers behind legendary and now closed El Bulli restaurant. Now they have a whole empire of restaurants in Barcelona and Bodega 1900 is one of the least fancy ones.

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The decor is rather austere and the lighting a bit dull, but don’t let that fool you; the food is seriously good and the waiters really friendly and very professional.

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The house cava is amazing – so I highly recommend you start with that. And these “olives”. They look like olives and taste like olives but it is in fact a little wiggly balls of olive juice. Divine!

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Next we had these juicy and sweet red prawns that were almost buttery, that we dipped in sea salt. A-ma-zing! I could have had several more portions of these. Yum!

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Instead of the regular jamon our charming waiter recommended the more flavoursome Iberico loin. Really good!

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We also had the pan con tomate which was very good!

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We also had these squid hotdog which was just as lovely as I remembered it from my last visit!

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This time they also had a mini pork burger on the menu; filled with thin slices of cooked pork full of umami. It just melted in the mouth. Incredible!

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The quail with potatoes and a very fluffy mustard sauce was perfection! And it was nice with a more substantial dish towards the end of our meal.

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But we weren’t quite full yet so we ordered the peas and mushrooms in this very rich broth and some extra bread. Full of flavour and very comforting. A beautiful if yet very simple dish.

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With twenty minutes to spare before the next sitting we shared the perfect wobbly crema de catalana (mum, you would have loved this one!) and had some coffee.

It was a lovely meal and great evening! I love this place and urge you to book a table well in advance of your Barcelona trip. You can thank me later (maybe with a bottle of that cava?!).

Bodega 1900,  Carrer de Tamarit, 91, 08015 Barcelona, Spain