Cooking on the edgeJuly 17, 2018

All too often Palestine is in the news for its troubles, so it’s refreshing to see a cookbook celebrating its wonderful food. Zaitoun, written by award-winning food and travel writer Yasmin Khan, published this week, is a welcome celebration of the punchy flavours of Palestinian home cooking. (Zaitoun means ‘olive’, one of the key ingredients in the Palestinian kitchen).

Yasmin was born in London to a Pakistani father and an Iranian mother, and spent her childhood between the UK and Iran. Her previous (debut) cookbook, Saffron Tales, was named by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal as one of the best cookbooks of 2016. As well as writing about food and cooking, Yasmin is a campaigner with special focus on the Middle East. Well acquainted with Palestine, Yasmin provides a window into everyday life there.

I love the simplicity of the recipes in this book, of which the roasted carrots (below) is a great example. Eminently doable, it’s the perfect dish to include at dinners outside on hot summer evenings. I also love the Roast cauliflower soup, and for pud, the Spiced pumpkin, olive oil and orange cake. A vibrant and carefully researched book about a part of the world that rarely gets a look-in.

Roast rainbow carrots with herbed yogurt

“This recipe is inspired by a meal I enjoyed at Tawla, a Palestinian-owned restaurant in San Francisco that serves up innovative and tasty adaptations of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. Rainbow carrots are a particular addiction of mine and I adore how they brighten up my table with their purple and golden hues. If you can’t find any, fear not, regular carrots will do, just try and buy organic if you can as the taste is so much better. This salad is best made an hour or so in advance, then left to rest so the carrots soak up all the herby flavours from the dressing.”

Serves 4 as part of a spread

1kg mixed rainbow carrots (ideally purple, white and orange)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons natural yogurt

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill, or ½ teaspoon dried dill

1 teaspoon dried mint

½ teaspoon nigella seeds

¾ teaspoon sesame seeds


Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas 6.

Peel the carrots and slice them diagonally into thick wedges. Toss them with 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt and roast for 30–35 minutes, until they are tender, but still have some bite.

Meanwhile, whisk together all the remaining ingredients, except the seeds, (and not forgetting the final 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil) with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. 

When the carrots are ready, transfer them to a serving dish and leave them to cool to room temperature. Pour over the yogurt dressing, mix well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Scatter with the nigella and sesame seeds.

You can tuck in immediately or, for best results, cover and leave to rest for about 1 hour before serving.

From Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury £26). Photography © Matt Russell

Mezze spread. Photography © Matt Russell

Yasmin Khan. Photography © Matt Russell

Galway’s gourmet revolutionJune 14, 2018

Quietly, Galway, on Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast, has been witnessing a gastronomic explosion, leading it to this year be awarded European Region of Gastronomy status. Among the chefs igniting this gourmet revolution is flame-haired JP McMahon, who runs tiny, Michelin-starred, Aniar (Gaelic for “From the West”, pronounced “An Ear”), so named as its dishes are inspired solely by County Galway’s fields and rugged Atlantic coast. So imported lemons and black pepper are out. Instead, its chefs craft vinegars to provide acidity, and to spice things up, powders from seaweeds or plants. To extend flavours and seasons, they draw on age-old traditions of salting, fermenting and pickling.

When I visit, dinner starts, predictably enough perhaps, with homemade soda bread, moist and dark as an Irish peat bog, served with a choice of cultured butters. But then I’m served a slip of paper bearing an Ode to Bread that starts “Someone else cut off my head in a golden field”. An academic by background and self-taught as a chef, JP doesn’t do anything the ordinary way.

The nibbles (pictured) set the tone: a garlicky chicken heart on a stick, a baby parsnip sprinkled with dehydrated onion crumb, an eel and kohlrabi spring roll, and kelp and sea radish soup – all humble, unfussily presented, ingredients that JP lifts to fabulous flavour-packed heights. Presentation of both food and restaurant are pleasingly uncluttered, allowing you to savour the essence of each glorious ingredient.

Subsequent dishes push the boundaries with equal dexterity, such as the fermented potato (we’re in Ireland, after all) with smoked cod roe and cured egg yolk, snuggled inside an eggshell. Or the Atlantic cod that’s topped with foraged pepper pulse and pickled pine needles. The second of two desserts is candied beetroot with a yoghurt cream, topped with a beetroot leather like a floppy sombrero. This is contemporary Irish food at its pared-down best – and some of the best I’ve eaten anywhere. Get to Aniar when you can.

I visited Aniar while researching a feature on the food of Galway for Olive Magazine. To read more about Aniar, and other eateries in Galway, read my feature in the June issue of Olive magazine.

Aniar Restaurant. Nibbles.

Aniar Restaurant. Atlantic cod with dulse, potato, egg and a pine cone powder.

Aniar restaurant. Beetroot and yoghurt dessert.

Aniar and Dela restaurants.

Bistro on the BridgeJune 2, 2018

All too often, British beach cafes mean soggy chips, cardboard panini and mass-produced ice-cream at rip-off prices. There’s precious little actual cooking. But Bridge Cottage Bistro, in little Sandsend, on the coast just north of Whitby, happily breaks the mould. Here, in a cottage next to the beck that flows onto the beach,  young chef Alexander Perkins draws on his rich local Yorkshire larder to do some very proper cooking. Pop in for elevenses and try his classy pistachio and rose cake or super-sized chocolate brownies. Lunchtime menus are dominated by East Coast seafood, much of it sourced directly from the fishermen who caught it. I kicked off with scallops accompanied with parsley root puree (if you’ve not tried parsley root, it’s fabulous) and pomegranate, and for main went for a lemon sole with nut brown butter, capers and lemon, that was utterly delicious. Also very popular are Alex’s twice-baked Northumbrian cheese soufflé and his fish stew. The restaurant also opens in the evening from Thursday to Saturday. Thursdays are often themed evenings, while on Fridays the restaurant does an East Coast Tasting menu (6 to 9 courses for £38, booking required). To finish, I had a lemon posset topped with poached damsons. It’s all sensibly priced and served in a friendly, gently contemporary space. Just the kind of place that the Yorkshire coast needs.

I visited Bridge Cottage Bistro while researching a feature on the food of the North York Moors for Olive Magazine. To read more about Bridge Cottage, and other eateries on the North York Moors, read my feature here.

Bridge Cottage Bistro at Sandsend near Whitby, Yorks. © Clare Hargreaves

Bridge Cottage Bistro at Sandsend near Whitby, Yorks. © Clare Hargreaves

Bridge Cottage Bistro at Sandsend near Whitby, Yorks. © Clare Hargreaves

Beefing up the beetroot with Tommy BanksMay 2, 2018

I must have first visited the Black Swan at Olstead, on the southwestern fringes of the North York Moors, six or seven years ago. It was a comfy country pub in the middle of nowhere (nearest landmark Byland Abbey) serving elaborate variations on a theme of meat and two veg. But its special point of difference was that it was run by Mum and Dad Banks and their two sons James and Tommy. Tommy was working in the kitchen with its head chef Adam Jackson, while Mum and Dad served in the bar and kept food journos like me entertained. The village was silent as a morgue as I crept outside to the room next door they’d just converted into swanky B&B accommodation.

What a change when I returned to the Black Swan in October for Olive magazine. Tommy, the Banks’ youngest son, now 28, had not only won himself a Michelin star (four years earlier) and  triumphed twice on the BBC’s Great British Menu (2016 and 2017) but a few weeks before I arrived, the inn had been named the best restaurant in the world by TripAdvisor (I know, what do they know about food? But hey, being named best in the world is a pretty cool accolade anyway). The car park was packed with BMWs, and my single room had now turned into nine, several inside the house that used to be Tommy’s grandmothers. Mum and Dad had been substituted by younger staff at the bar.

An eight-course tasting menu was the only option on offer, many of its ingredients happily sourced from the kitchen garden behind the inn and, in the case of foraged ingredients, the Yorkshire hedgerows. (The hogweed seed, honey and elderflower custard served with sheep’s yoghurt ice cream for dessert was spectacular). The jars lining the shelves in the smart first-floor restaurant were filled with fat jars of leaves and fruits that Tommy pickles and preserves to extend their season.

The highlight, though, and the dish that can never come off the menu, is the Crapaudine beetroot, an ancient French variety of beetroot that’s the size and shape of a very large turnip, and gets its name from its warty skin (crapaud being French for toad). It’s grown on the farm by Tommy’s dad, and once pulled is stored in straw which means it’s available all year round. Tommy slow-cooks slices of it in Dexter beef fat for around four hours – not in the oven as you might imagine, but on the top of the stove. The chunky beetroot slices are crowned  with creamy clouds of cod’s roe and horseradish, interspersed with delicate linseed wafers. As I eat the dish, I can almost imagine the Crapaudine’s robust flesh is meat. No wonder the chefs dub it ‘meat root.’

Beetroot may be the simplest ingredient, but the Banks’ genius is that they’ve chosen a variety you won’t find anywhere else and as they grow it themselves on the farm they don’t depend on erratic suppliers. Working on this same principle, they also grow delicately flavoured Alpine strawberries which greet you at breakfast. “They taste best when minutes after being picked, ” Tommy’s dad tells me. “So we grow our own in the garden next to the pub.”  So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that Tommy’s first book, just published, is called Roots. For roots is what the Banks family are all about – even if the place they’re serving them in is now up-scale restaurant rather than gourmet village boozer.

To read more about The Black Swan, and other eateries on the North York Moors, read my feature in the April issue of Olive Magazine.

The Black Swan at Oldstead © Clare Hargreaves

Tommy Banks’ sig dish of crapaudine beetroot slow-cooked in beef fat © Clare Hargreaves

Crapaudine beetroot grown on the Banks’ farm in Oldstead © Clare Hargreaves

The Wright kind of foodMarch 13, 2018

Wright’s Emporium is in the middle of Welsh nowhere, and from the outside looks like a ramshackle pub that the modern world forgot. But inside, what a find! Its Emporium designation, suggesting an Aladdin’s Cave of gourmet surprises that evokes shrieks of childish delight, is spot on. The Wrights part refers to its food-writer owner, Simon Wright and his wife Maryann, who runs the kitchen.

At the far end of its comforting warren-like interior is a wine store (pictured below) offering mostly biodynamic wines that are sourced direct from their European producers. If you like, bring your own bottles and fill them up yourself – sustainability is very much part of this place’s ethic. The heart of the place is a deli crammed with local goodies, from cured meats from Charcutier, to Hafod Cheddar (one of my favourite cheeses) and Wright’s own tomato Catsup (a variant on ketchup) (pictured). There’s freshly baked bread (pictured), and local meats, fruit and veg too.

The highlight, though, is the daytime cafe (open evenings on Fridays and Saturdays), where you can kick off the day with a bubble and squeak made from kale, and topped with a poached egg  (pictured). With its mismatched bare tables, bookshelves, and spreads of just-baked cakes, it’s a deliciously relaxed spot in which to enjoy Maryann’s European-influenced rustic cooking. Dishes might include a Tartiflette, a Rare roast beef tonnato, or Fried aubergine with labneh. Or if you’re in a hurry, the Pork belly cubano (£8) will set you up for the day, and don’t leave without one of their brownies, as big as bricks. Upstairs there’s even a bijou apartment which you can rent. Its location, the village of Llanarthne, is a perfect spot from where to explore Carmarthenshire.

You can read more about Wrights in my article on Carmarthenshire’s food for Olive magazine here.

The wine store, run by Simon and Maryann’s son Dan © Clare Hargreaves

Breakfast bubble & squeak © Clare Hargreaves

Wrights tomato catsup © Clare Hargreaves

Waitress Sammi Jones bringing sourdough breads fresh from the oven © Clare Hargreaves

The chic face of CarmarthenshireMarch 6, 2018

It’s where the super-cool fashion chain, Toast, was born. It has a Ginhaus stocking over 400 gins and a few doors up, a boutique apartment that’s the height of contemporary chic. It even boasts one of the best-stocked kitchen shops in the land. And on its elegant high street, there’s a heavenly chocolate emporium which crafts “extreme” chocolate wedding cakes over a metre tall and weighing up to 35 kilos. No, we’re not talking Chelsea or Clapham, but the market town of Llandeilo in the wilds of southwest Wales. What a find!

I visited Llandeilo while researching a feature on the food of Carmarthenshire for the March issue of Olive magazine, just out. Lunch is a crab platter inside the Ginhaus deli-cum-cafe, assembled from crab from Dash Shellfish in Little Haven on the Pembrokeshire coast, sourdough made by local baker Alex Gooch, and salady goodies from the deli counter. Shelves are crammed with gins from all over the world, including nine or ten Welsh ones such as Damhile In a lovely touch, owners Mike and Kate Kindred serve gins with fresh botanicals from Aberglasney Gardens nearby. Visit on a Friday or Saturday for fresh homemade pizza, topped with local ingredients such as Trealy Farm salami and Caws Cenarth cheeses.

After a stroll around the town’s shops (or a visit to Dinefwr Castle on the outskirts), the place for tea is Heavenly Chocolate Emporium, which not only produces artisan chocolates and freshly made gelatos (in over 300 flavours) but does a unique line in chocolate sculpting for wedding cakes. Bring along an idea, and chocolatier Tracey Kindred will miraculously turn it into a ‘story cake’ crafted out of chocolate. I spy Welsh dragons, saucy mermaids, houses…. It’s a time consuming passion – apparently the record time taken to sculpt one of these edible beauties is 38 hours, and that’s two people working flat out. I make do with the ‘ordinary’ cake, a pink and white confection served on a tablecloth to match. It’s as heavenly as cafe’s name. I love Llandeilo!

You can read my full article on Carmarthenshire’s food here.

Teatime at Heavenly Chocolate Emporium © Clare Hargreaves

Ginhaus deli, Llandeilo © Clare Hargreaves

Crab platter at Ginhaus deli © Clare Hargreaves

Gastropub in the Welsh wildsFebruary 26, 2018

Finding this misshapen pub, a former tollhouse, in the tortuous lanes of Carmarthenshire is part of its charm – it’s literally a hidden gem. But once you step into the stylish, dark-walled dining rooms of Y Polyn, you forget the outside world to experience Welsh gastronomy at its gutsy best. In many ways this place is an example of how the perfect gastropub should be: nourishing dishes made from quality, seasonal ingredients that are “cooked simply and with respect”. And decor that’s stylish, yet simple and unaffected (there are books to read if you want to). Maybe that’s no surprise, as owner Mark Manson used to be a restaurant inspector for the AA, so has tasted his share of fabulous (and maybe also some not-so-fabulous-) food. If there’s one thing Mark knows about, it’s hospitality, which he provides with warmth, in spades.

Mark’s wife, Susan, cooks. I’ve eaten there a handful of times, but most recently while eating my way across Carmarthenshire for Olive Magazine. For starter I try to order something I’ve not tasted before, but end up returning to Susan’s epic fish soup (pictured), rich, savoury, and amply pampered with croutons, rouille and Gruyere. For the next course I ask Mark what his most local dish is and he guides me to the Welsh venison ragu with homemade pappardelle. It’s actually a starter, but no matter (as that leaves more space for pud). I love its simplicity – the homemade on the top is grated toast (pangritata) with a bit of Parmesan – and the deep meaty flavours from the venison (dispatched by a local). Other dishes on the menu are equally scrupulously sourced, from the Roast rack of Presell lamb with lamb belly and potato terrine to the Chargrilled Welsh sirloin steak with braised shallots and beef dripping chips (a great touch). But those will have to await my next visit.

I round off proceedings with what has now become Susan’s signature pudding: baked egg custard tart, served with a radiant raspberry ripple ice cream and a rich raspberry coulis. If you try nothing else, this is the dish. Creamy, decadent and well worth navigating the lanes for.

You can read my full article on Carmarthenshire’s food in the March issue of Olive.

Y Polyn fish soup, Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthenshire © Clare Hargreaves

Welsh venison ragu, pappardelle, pangritata, Parmesan; Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthenshire © Clare Hargreaves

Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthenshire © Clare Hargreaves

Baked egg custard tart with raspberry ripple ice cream; Y Polyn, Capel Dewi, Carmarthenshire © Clare Hargreaves

Carmarthen’s foodie secretFebruary 20, 2018

Polish food might not be the first thing you’d expect to find in the capital of Carmarthenshire, in West Wales, but Polish-run Karm’en Kafe, in the side streets of Carmarthen, is proof that unlikely surprises can be delicious. Here, alongside Carmarthenshire’s typical Cawl (lamb and roots soup), you can find Polish classics like Placki (potato and onion pancakes) and Zapiekanka Polish-style open-faced sandwiches liberally doused with tomato ketchup. I was lucky enough to stumble across this unusual eatery while researching a foodie piece on Carmarthenshire for Olive magazine.

Like so many of the world’s most successful businesses, Karm’en Kafe started “by accident.” It’s owned by Kasia Strykowska, who came to Carmarthenshire to be with her husband Tad who got a job here as an ENT doctor. Kasia was trained as a nursery teacher, but couldn’t get a teaching job in Carmarthen because she didn’t speak Welsh. She decided to open a cafe, and happily found tiny premises on Bridge Street, just off Carmarthen’s main square.

It’s a simple spot, at lunchtime offering sandwiches and panini from Kasia’s homemade breads, along with pizzas, soups and tagines. For tea there are blockbuster cakes (I tried her Lemon Polenta, and if you want Polish, Kasia often makes Karpatka, a choux pastry pie which she says is “in the form of the Carpathian mountains”.) Her cinnamon rolls (pictured) have become legendary. But as much of a draw as her cakes is Kasia herself – a gentle soul who makes everyone welcome. Tad, who helps out whenever he can, is equally delightful.

Occasionally Kasia runs special Central European lunches, serving small dishes at around £6 each. But the thing that really caught my eye was her Gourmet Dining Club, held once a month on a Friday evening. Guests sit in the tiny dining area downstairs (admire the hand-painted wall mural as you eat) and get a three-course meal for £22 per head. A recent menu included Rosal Chicken broth with home-made pasta for starter, and Slow-braised feather-blade beefsteak for main. You choose your pud from the cake stand or fridge. Stonking value I’d say – anyone want to join me at the next one?

You can read about Karm’en Kafe, and other Carmarthenshire food treats, in the March issue of Olive, just out.

Kasia Strykowska with her best-selling cinnamon buns at Karm’en Kafe in Carmarthen © Clare Hargreaves

East Devon’s secret food addressesJanuary 17, 2018

I posted last week about the lovely Pig at Combe, near Honiton, which featured in my piece on the food of East Devon in the current issue of Olive magazine. Two gastropubs that are hidden in the lanes of this beautiful region also merit a visit if you’re down that way: the Five Bells at Clyst Hydon (pictured below) and The Jack in the Green at Rockbeare. Their chefs, Ian Webber and Matt Mason, both trained at Gidleigh Park nearby, and are producing some great dishes drawing on East Devon’s rich larder, including Matt’s Smoked salmon and prawn roulade starter, pictured below, which uses edible flowers from nearby Maddocks Farm Organics.

If you want something more casual, grab a funky cocktail or wood-fired pizza topped with homemade charcuterie at The Rusty Pig in quaint Ottery St Mary whose owner Rob Rea used to work at River Cottage. Try out the local crab (inside a crab-shaped home-made bread roll) at Otterton Mill – and pick up a bag of flour that’s been stoneground in its ancient watermill to take home. Or perch among the deck chairs on the beach at pretty Beer (pictured) and enjoy some locally caught fish with chips. Endearingly old-fashioned Honiton has some good eating spots too, and to capture them, enroll on a Food Photography course at nearby Otter Farm, run by the charismatic Mark Diacono (also ex-River Cottage). If you want to make a weekend of it, you’re in luck: on Coombe farm nearby there’s an adorable shepherd’s hut (pictured) that you can book through AirbnB.

You can read my full Olive feature here.

Five Bells, Clyst St Mary. © Clare Hargreaves

Salmon starter at The Jack in the Green, Rockbeare. © Clare Hargreaves

Shepherds hut Airbnb at Coombe Farm near Honiton. © Clare Hargreaves

The beach at Beer. © Clare Hargreaves

The Country House reinvented: The Pig at CombeJanuary 8, 2018

Majestic yet relaxed and stylish but not stilted, The Pig at Combe, Devon, housed in a gorgeous honey-hued Elizabethan manor, is the latest addition to The Pig Hotel litter. I’ve visited a few Pigs, but this one, hidden in the Otter Valley near Honiton, is definitely my favourite. Dan Gavriilidis is a whizz in the kitchen, drawing on ingredients that are either plucked fresh from The Pig’s kitchen garden or from producers within 25 miles of the hotel. I adore the unstuffy bare-wood-floored dining room (pictured), with its elegantly mismatched mix of antiques, stag antler chandeliers and plants. Dishes – flavoursome yet simple – seem sensibly priced. Do try the local Red Ruby beef, from Piper’s Farm, which I ate both as tartare and as slow-cooked featherblade.  If you want something even more laid back, grab a wood-fired flatbread/pizza in the old garden folly (pictured) – and walk it off with a tour of the red-brick-walled veg patch (pictured).

Incidentally, I photographed The Pig while attending the excellent two-day Food Photography course at nearby Otter Farm, taught by founder Mark Diacono and visiting pro photographer Patricia Niven. Do look up Otter’s courses which I can highly recommend.

Read more about The Pig at Combe in my feature on the food of East Devon in the latest issue of Olive magazine, just out.

© Clare Hargreaves

The Pig. Flatbreads in The Folly. © Clare Hargreaves

The Pig. Dining room. © Clare Hargreaves

The Pig. Kitchen garden. © Clare Hargreaves