London: New York Italian at Hai Cenato?

hai2.jpg

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.

hai1.jpg

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.

hai11.jpg

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.

hai10.jpg

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

London: crudo and pasta at Veneta

ven1.jpg

SaltYard Group, the company behind favourites like Ember Yard and Opera Tavern recently opened a restaurant in the newly redeveloped area of St James’s, just next to Swedish Aquavit actually. Called Veneta it has a distinct Italian, and Ventian, cuisine, compared to the other restaurants with a more Spanish menu.

I assume it’s because of my frequent visits to Opera Tavern (I wonder how many times I’ve eaten their mini pork and foie gras burger) that I was on the mailing list for Veneta’s soft launch.Either way, I was quick to book a table and went there one night after work with my friend Ro.

As it was a soft launch they offered 50 % off food in exchange for trying things out on us, and requesting feedback.

ven2.jpg

Just like the other restaurants in the group, Veneta’s menu consists of small dishes perfect for sharing. I was super excited to see a whole section of the menu devoted to crudo, i.e. raw fish and seafood, which I love and we quickly ordered the raw red prawns with rosemary (top photo). They were plump and sweet and very fragrant from the rosemary. Lovely! Next time I want to try the raw red prawns with lardo.

Next we had the tortelloni, filled with red prawns and served in a seafood broth. It was nice but didn’t blow us away.

ven3.jpg

The goat kid ragu with pappardelle however, did. It was just amazing and I predict it will become one of their signature dishes (if it isn’t already!).

ven4.jpg

The salt baked carrots and beets with sheep ricotta, date purée and oregano was lovely and the plate was as pretty as a picture. It’s fun to see the vegetable dishes getting as much care and attention as the meat and fish dishes.

ven5.jpg

The lamb with chard, lamb fat crisps and caprini fresco cheese was another amazing dish I’ll come back for.

ven6.jpg

For pudding both Ro and I were set on having one of the amazing sounding sundaes but they were all sold out (sob) so we had a rethink and settled on fritelle doughnuts for Ro and tiramisu for me.

ven7.jpg

The doughnuts were rather compact and chewy but that could have been intentional, as neither of us have had Italian doughnuts before. The taste was lovely though and chocolate sauce, whipped cream and jam works every time. The tiramisu was really nice but lacked a little in presentation I thought.

I could definitely see some teething problems here, like the tables being too close together (it felt like we had dinner with, not next to, our neighbours) and the waiting staff didn’t seem to have worked out a routine yet, but that’s also the whole point of this trial run soft launch.

Food wise I think the savoury dishes were very good and thought out, whereas the puddings could have done with a little more work, however I’m still intrigued by those sundaes and hope they haven’t sold out on my next visit.

I have already planned my meal. Definitely lots of crudo, the kid goat ragu and the lamb. And that ice cream.

Veneta, 3 Norris St, St. James’s Market, London SW1Y 4RJ

Recipe: Cacio e pepe

IMG_8607.JPG

Cacio e pepe, this heavenly dish consisting only of pasta, pecorino and black pepper (and a little cooking water from the pasta) has always seemed so daunting to make. I have enjoyed it cooked to perfection in Rome (it’s a Roman dish) but I never thought I could recreate it at home. But then I read Felicity Cloake’s article about the perfect cacio e pepe and decided to have a go as she made it seem so easy. And it turns out, with her guidance, it actually was!

The receipt is perfect. I didn’t change a thing and it worked perfectly the first time. If you’re a cacio e pepe novice like I was I highly recommend reading the article beforehand just to understand the elements of the dish better. And I can’t stress enough how important the quality of the ingredients are; buy some good dried pasta (I love de Cecco) and some really nice pecorino ( I got mine from Natoora) and your finished dish will be just as nice as the one you had in Rome on your holiday.

IMG_8615.JPG

Cacio e pepe, serves 2

Adapted from Felicity Cloake’s recipe.

2 tsp black peppercorns

200 g spaghetti 

80 g pecorino romano, at room temperature, finely grated 

Toast the peppercorns in a very hot, dry pan then roughly crush with a pestle and mortar.

Bring a wide shallow pan of well-salted water to the boil, then add the pasta; it should be covered but not by much. Stir occasionally during cooking and, five minutes into the cooking time, scoop out 250 ml water into a wide bowl to allow it to cool slightly.

Drain the pasta and leave it to cool for a minute. Meanwhile, put the cheese and most of the pepper in a large, heavy bowl or pan and beat in some of the pasta water very gradually to make first a paste, and then a sauce the consistency of bechamel. Add the pasta and toss furiously while adding enough of the water to make a sauce that coats each strand of spaghetti.

Divide between warm bowls, sprinkle over a little more pepper, and serve immediately.

 

Recipe: Orrechiette with salsiccia

sal1.jpg

This is my attempt to recreate one of those amazing food memories I have stored in my head.

My friend Caroline and I were in Bologna last year and although we couldn’t secure a reservation at Osteria Franscescana in nearby Modena, we still decided to visit for the day. We went to Massimo Bottura’s much more unassuming restaurant Franceschetta 58 for lunch and tucked into the small but perfectly assembled lunch buffet. And that’s where I had one of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten; their orrechiette with salsiccia. It was utterly heavenly and what I tried to create at home one day, with my last precious salsiccia from the same trip (stored in the freezer of course).

I must add that the very authentic salsiccia help make my version of the dish very good, so go to a good Italian shop to buy those. Without proper salsiccia you needn’t bother with this dish at all.

Orrechiette with salsiccia, serves 3-4

4 portions orrechiette, cooked according to the instructions on the packet

3 salsiccia sausages

ca 3 tbsp soffritto made using the same amount of onions, carrots and celery (I make a big batch and freeze it in portions)

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tin (400 g) chopped tomatoes or passata + half the tin filled with water 

1 tbsp tomato puré

100 ml red wine

1 tsp fennel seeds

salt and black pepper

a pinch of sugar if needed

mild olive oil for frying

Heat up the oil in a casserole dish. Remove the skin from the sausages and fry in the oil until golden brown. Remove the sausage meat from the casserole dish and add the soffritto and garlic. Fru on medium heat for a minute or two. Add tomatoes, water, tomato puré and wine. When the sauce has thickened a little, add the sausage meat and fennel seeds. Let the sauce reduce further. Season to taste with salt, pepper and some sugar (to balance the acidity) if needed. Mix into the drained orrechiette and serve with finely grated parmesan. 

Eating NYC: Emilio’s Ballato

fullsizerender29

When my friend Sinead and I arrived in New York, all we had booked was the flights and the first hotel. It was easily the most unplanned trip I’ve ever been on, but it was fun to try to travel like this (it was so last minute and we were so busy we didn’t have time to plan beforehand) and also strangely liberating.

Our first night in the city we had dinner quite late, without booking and just tried our luck at  Emilio’s Ballato, an Italian restaurant food writer Diana Henry recommended in her New York special in The Telegraph.  

img_6052

The interior was charmingly dishevelled in a New York sort of way and we could tell the guests were enjoying themselves; drinking wine, sharing both stories and food. We shared a bottle of wine and dove straight into the starters as they arrived just a few minutes after the waiter had taken our order. Sinead had this huge portion of crispy, warm calamari and was almost too full for the next course.

img_6053

My starter, baked clams with breadcrumbs, parsley, butter and a little garlic, was a lot smaller but just as nice.

img_6057

We both chose pasta for the main course; Sinead had the excellent Pnne all’Arrabbiata…

img_6058

…while I enjoyed spaghetti with a summery ‘raw’ tomato sauce. It was all really nice and well-cooked but not outstanding. But despite this, I really liked the place. It all comes together as one really nice experience; the food, the ambiance, the interior, the staff.

Emilio’s Ballato, 55 E Houston St, New York, NY 10012

Gnocchi with creamy butternut sauce

IMG_1992

I’m a very seasonal person. Despite the mainly chilly weather at the moment I can’t face putting tights or warm jackets on. Because it is summer. Instead I layer up on my upper body but keep my legs bare (if I’m wearing a skirt or dress for work). I’m used to this approach but people in the office think I’m a little strange. Fair enough, I think.

But when it comes to food it’s harder. Sure, I incorporate as much asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb, tomatoes and new potatoes into my diet as I possibly can, but instead of craving salads I still want warm filling food. So while this autumnal recipe of gnocchi with a lovely creamy butternut squash sauce with both cream and parmesan may suit the post-bikini season better it’s what I fancy eating right now. Until summer arrives. Then bring on the salads!

Gnocchi with creamy butternut sauce, serves 2 

1/2 butternut squash

olive oil

salt & pepper

approx 300 g gnocchi, cooked according to the instructions on the packet 

50-100 ml single cream

finely grated parmesan

a few sprigs of thyme (sage works too!)

Peel the squash and remove the strings and seeds. Cut into even-sized pieces and place in a roasting tin. Drizzle with olive oil and season. Stir to coat all the pieces with oil. Place in the oven and roast until the pumpkin is soft, approx 35 mins in 200C. 

Cook the gnocchi and keep it warm.  

Purée the roasted squash with a stick blender. Add (cold) cream until you have a nice thick sauce. Season with salt, pepper and grated parmesan. Heat up the sauce in a non-stick saucepan while stirring, if needed. Pour the sauce over the gnocchi, top with more grated parmesan and some thyme leaves. 

Orzo pasta with wild garlic pesto, courgette and feta

IMG_3100.JPG

I snapped this picture as I was throwing this pasta together for lunch the next day, but I must say it exceeded my expectations so much I wish I had allowed myself time to take a nicer picture.

This is another dish where the sum is (much) greater than the individual parts; it’s just a simple dish that works. I love every bite of the slightly al dente pasta coated in fresh wild garlic pesto, the crunch from the raw thinly sliced baby courgettes, the bigger bits of tender-but-not-too-tender broccoli and the slightly melted pieces of tangy feta. I urge you to try it for your next picnic, barbecue or quick weekday supper.

Orzo pasta with wild garlic pesto, courgettes and feta, serves 2

200 ml orzo 

2-3 tbsp wild garlic pesto

1 baby courgette, thinly sliced

4 stems tenderstem broccoli 

100 g feta

a little olive oil if needed 

salt & pepper

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. Put the broccoli in boiling salted water and cook until a little tender but still al dente and cut each stem into four. Drain the pasta in a sieve and pour it back into the empty saucepan. Stir in the pesto and add a little olive oil if needed. Add the courgette slices and the broccoli. Mix together and season to taste. Add the crumbled feta and stir once more before serving.