Thursday, 30 July 2009

Dragonfly Wholefoods

He looks a bit like Christopher Walken, playing Russian roulette with alfalfa sprouts...

Guacamole with live crispbread


Highgate village has always been the staider sister to bohemian Hampstead. McDonald's haven't even asked to open up there so no protest was necessary. There are no trendy clothes boutiques. Highgate, I have heard, has the most pubs per square inch in Britain.
My junior school, St Michael's, had a progressive headmaster, Mr Grout, who would invite us up to his attic to listen to classical music. His brother was the Radio 4 actor, James Grout. Mr Grout used his showbiz connections to get local celebrities like Yehudi Menuhin to open our school fete. Another celebrity, the cockney actress Adrienne Posta, small and pixie-like, with bleached cropped hair and huge dark eyes, could thrillingly be found buying newspapers at Howe & Son, the newsagent where I got my newspaper round. I did my first shoplifting in Highgate; sweets of course (mentioned here), and Caran d'Ache felt pens (French! In a metal box! Amazing colours! Expensive!), beautifully illustrated Windsor & Newton inks, from the art shop. These shops are all gone now. The hardware shop, with it's characteristic wooden veranda, is now something trendy and useless, like a cafe Nero.
The Highgate branch of Oxfam famously got the spoils of Vanessa Feltz' plus size wardrobe when she lost weight via divorce and a black personal trainer. Taking my daughter to ballet class in Pond Square, where I too attended ballet, I was dazzled by the acres of sequins on size 22 cocktail tents proudly displayed in the Oxfam window.
Up Highgate Hill, past the statue of Dick Whittington's cat, past Waterlow park where I spent my childhood catching frogs spawn, Dragonfly Wholefoods lurks like an outpost of festival culture, lost in middle class Highgate.
You go through the shop to the back where there are a few tables scattered in the messy courtyard. Some nice hippies behind the counter take your order, you pay, then you sit down.
Everything on the menu is described as 'live'.
I ordered the 'live' guacamole with 'live' crispbread. The guacamole would have been good if they'd put in some 'live' salt (although salt is of course associated with death).
Cutlery was a long time coming. When the 'waiter' finally gave us some, he proffered, in a friendly way
"hey man, you could, like, eat with your hands yeah?"
I also asked for 'pizza'.
It turned out to be a cold dark brown crispbread (again) with olive paste, pesto and some kind of nut 'cheese'. Desperate. But 'live' of course.
It really was 'rabbit' food, presented with a modern flourish, plate graffiti dispensed from a squeegee bottle, adorned with little mounds of this and that.
For me, raw salt free vegan food is the absolute opposite of pleasure. It's molecular gastronomy without the adventure playground ride aspect. I have friends, one of whom 'channeled' her name and changed it to 'Dolphin', who would love this place.
I agree with Sir John Mortimer, sadly missed author of Rumpole of the Bailey:

I refuse to spend my life worrying about what I eat. There is no pleasure worth foregoing just for an extra three years in the geriatric ward.

Adrienne Posta making chips, not something you are likely to see at Dragonfly

Dragonfly Wholefoods
24 Highgate High St

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Travels in Dorrrset, my loverrr

customer at choc star, camp bestival

The customers

Down to Dorset to work at Camp Bestival with Petra Chocstar in her chocolate icecream van. I'd learn to scoop properly she said. The finest technique is to do a long snail-like curl which makes the icecream look bigger than a firmly packed scoop. This is harder than it looks to achieve. Other rules: don't miss out the edges of the tub when scooping because you'll end up with a sticky fist by the time you get to the bottom.
We were an all girl outfit. Next door at the Thali tent, they'd decided we were feminist separatists.
It helps to be small to work in the van. Your view of the outside world, and their view of you, is restricted to a tiny hatch. There is a little step upon which kids haul themselves up. One kid tried to grab the money under the counter. All of the parents are under the impression that their kids are cute. They give the kids the money and let them take the icecream. The child then climbs down from the step, holding the icecream in their wobbly pudgy mit. The icecream drops off the cone. The parent returns complaining defensively that the
"icecream wasn't put on properly".
You replace it.
In general kids want cones (shove the icecream down firmly for little kids due to aforesaid problem) and adults have cups. We started to run out of cones.
"Do you mind a cup?" I asked an adult.
"Yes, I mind. I want a cone"
whimpered this fully grown adult reverting to five years old. Ice cream vans bring out the kid in everyone.
Petra is no idiot: she does hot chocolates as well, for this, after all, is England, where you have all four seasons in one day.
I ended up flirting for Britain through that little hatch; wearing brightly coloured clothes, calling out "cute dad alert" and enticing the mummies to order themselves Chocolate Martini shots. By day three I was having to ask each customer to repeat their order at least four times.
"It's a bloody festival" I'd explain wearily "What do you expect? Efficiency?"
I started calling cones 'scones' and confusing mint choc chip with caramel and chocolate. The strawberry being 'natural' was confusingly not pink but beige. Bring on the colourings and e numbers I say! Some of these parents however were buying icecreams for their kids at 9am. Then they'd wonder why the little bastards were so hyper.
Camp Bestival is fairly middle class. Somebody complained that security forced them to decant their balsamic vinegar into a plastic bottle. Half the festival was under the age of five. You saw all these toddlers rocking out to dubstep.
PJHarvey played. She's a local Dorset girl. No photographer were allowed in the pit to photograph her. Her people insisted that all the other music around be turned down. PJHarvey is very skinny with a large turned up nose. She looks like the childcatcher in Chittychittybangbang.

customer at choc star, camp bestival
Strangest was the 'silent disco': you are given headphones as you enter the tent. If you don't wear the headphones it's a surreal experience, like going to a deaf person's convention. People are writhing in silence, enclosed in a private world of sound. Once in a while, they will all rise in unison and pump the air with their fists, in the direction of the plinth where the DJ fiddles with his turntables. The DJ rarely acknowledges his audience.At festivals in Britain, people wear wellies even when the sun is shining. A festival is a chance to wear all the clothes you'd never dare wear at home; the poncho you picked up somewhere ethnic, the flamenco dress, the fairy wings, glitter, animal masks...

I did a naughty thing while at camp bestival. Something I've never done before...I slept with a married man. He was a photographer there and I met him in the photographers pit (I was doubling up career wise and combining icecream girl with my other profession of rock photographer). I didn't even fancy him. He never told me he was married although I did wonder. At the end of the first evening, he invited me back to his pop up tent for warm cans of gin and tonic. I refused.
The second night, bored by the surfeit of toddlers and having no one to hang out with...I relented to have a 'massage'. This massage seem to spread to my nether regions and one thing led to another.
Now people, the moral of the tale is NEVER EVER sleep with a married man. It's wrong, not just ethically but also because once they've done their bit, the act is over, the man who formerly pursued you starts crying about how they were 'unfaithful to their kids' and how they 'feel really bad' and how 'they really only wanted to give you a massage'. Like it's your fault.
The next day, in the photographers pit, he acted oddly. Calling me over to one side, he said 'can you do me a favour? Let's draw a line under this'. 'Do you think I'm going to tell your wife?' I asked, shocked. 'Er yeah'. I walked off angrily. I didn't even have his phone number.
On Monday I found his card, something I had forgotten he had given me, in my bag. I'm going to have fun with this I thought. I texted him asking 'Do you have a bunny rabbit?'. He called back. Amazingly he did have a sense of humour about it. But then he started crying 'I'm wellin' oop' (he was from Birmingham) 'I don't want to lose me kids'. For fuck's sake. I ended up being his counsellor, ordering him not to tell the wife to assuage his own guilt. Hanging up eventually, I realised, once more, ha! when will I learn? that I cannot have casual sex. I always develop feelings for the guy. I realised, once more, with a deadening thud of the heart, that I'm alone. He will go back to wifey and pretend to be a good guy and I will...carry on being single.

river Cottage, Axminster, Dorset

old fashioned sweet shop, Axminster, Dorset

old fashioned sweet shop, Axminster, Dorset
After Camp Bestival I drove to River Cottage canteen in Axminster. They held a food stall at the festival and I met their chef Tim Maddams, and very briefly, Hugh Fearney-Whittingstall. Unfortunately River Cottage Canteen was closed by the time I got there. I managed to buy a couple of local cheeses... And nipped into the old fashioned sweet shop next door, buying salty liquorice, mega sour lemon balls, butterscotch gums. Nowadays of course they are not sold in quarters (which is actually 115g) but 100g. Mondays seem to be quite dead in Dorset which is a shame when a festival is on.
I had arranged to stay at the house of some people I met through Twitter @greendrawers and @eatdorset that night...a pop up bed and breakfast! We arranged to meet at sunset on the beach at Burton Bradstock where there is a fish 'shack' called The Hive Beach Café.

 The Hive beach cafe, Dorset

 The Hive beach cafe, Dorset
The counter

 The Hive beach cafe, Dorset
The fishmonger bit

fish n chips,  The Hive beach cafe, Dorset
My cod n chips

squid,  The Hive beach cafe, Dorset
The squid

 The Hive beach cafe, Dorset
The View
crab, The Hive beach cafe, Dorset

I was all prepared to LOVE this place; friendly staff and huge Disney-like plates of food. My favourite part was that they didn't have a door. You had to find your way through the plastic that surrounded the shack. I managed to slither through a gap. Their minted mushy peas were fantastic, I've never liked them before and now I am a convert. However my 'tempura' fried cod was not fresh, a little dry in fact and the chips were of the oven variety. Goddammit.
The salad was varied on a leaf level but the dressing consisted of vinegar only. @greendrawers liked her crab but @eatdorset found his squid a little underdone. The setting is so wonderful...pleeease tweak the food...
@eatdorset is author and chef Michael Feasey who used to run a famous restaurant called The Nosh Brothers. He's written a fantastic book called 'Eat Dorset'. Dorset is a foodies the book is a picture of Darren Brown of Shellseekers who hand dives scallops and oysters, selling them at his stall in Borough Market and to restaurants. I actually met him last week at the TioPepe sherry tasting at Camino, a Spanish restaurant in Kings Cross. Passionately against dredging, Darren gave a master class in how to shuck an oyster and fillet a fish. He used to go to school with Mark Hix, who has a restaurant in Lyme Regis. Darren is in his 40s. He's a commercial drysuit diver, going down on his own in rough seas on a nitrogen mix.
"How long can you keep that up?" I asked him.
"Probably another five years" he said "I'm quite old for a commercial diver".
The next day, after about two hours's amazing when you meet fellow tweeters, you carry on chatting away just like you did on twitter...I was led through the Telly Tubby green hills of Dorset to Beaminster where @greendrawers has her eco shop. She sells a mixture of goods, second hand furniture, clothes and people can refill their Ecover products there. Strangely, for an area which has mostly elderly people, baby clothes sell well.
"Grannies isn't it?" explained @greendrawers "where else locally can they buy organic cotton baby clothes to send as presents, knowing they aren't going to get a sniffy reaction from the parents?"
Remembering the nylon vomit pink and urine yellow cardies, so synthetic they'd give you electric shocks, that my nan knitted for babies, I nodded vigorously in agreement.
 Wild Garlic, Mat Follas

 Wild Garlic, Mat Follas

 Wild Garlic, Mat Follas

goats cheese salad,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
Goats cheese salad

goats cheese salad,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
Close up of the goats cheese salad with wild strawberries

lemon sole,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
The lemon sole

fennel from a local allotment,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
A present of allotment fennel brought in...

produce brought in by a local, Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
Wine berries, samphire and beet leaves brought in by a local

spider crab,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
Spider crab

tables,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas

tables,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
The gorgeous tables

toilet,  Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
The toilets, a subject of conversation when Mat blogged his opening on Guardian Word of Mouth blog

cardamom chocolate brownie, Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
The cardomom flavoured chocolate brownie

Lavender icecream topped with borage flower, Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
Lavender icecream topped with Borage flower

Berry Mess, Wild Garlic, Mat Follas
Berry Mess

Mat Follas chats to the customers
Mat chats to the customers

Mat follas smokes food, smoked mash is a signature dish
Mat smokes food, smoked mash is a signature dish
Beaminster is also where this year's Masterchef winner Mat Follas has opened his restaurant 'The Wild Garlic'.
Mat talked about winning Masterchef: they had to stay up in London for several weeks in a horrible building with bars on the windows.
"To stop us escaping I guess" joked Mat.
"Is it a fix?" I asked "Do you think they have chosen who will win from the beginning?"
"Not at all" replied Mat "Some times I was up against really 'televisual' gorgeous woman who did Gluten-free food, another babe in a mini skirt, but I got through. I asked John and Gregg the presenters why and they simply said 'Your food tastes better'. It was quite brave of them to put four guys through to the final."
"I never imagined I would get through. The first round I was surrounded by people bandying around French cooking terms. I can't speak French, I'm an amateur from New Zealand. One guy was actually French but the food he produced went horribly wrong"
Mat is brave opening a restaurant, his competitors are doing 'stages' (work experience)around the top kitchens. But if you have a family, responsibilities, you can't do that, you just have to go for it and learn on the job.
Tim Maddams of The River Cottage joked "from what I've heard, Mat can actually cook, which is more than you can say about most head chefs..."
I started with the goats cheese salad with a little chilli and tomato bread and butter pudding.
The goats cheese was delicately caramelised and the salad was amazing; little purple heads of viola, marigold petals, interesting herbs, poking through the variety of lettuce leaves, one of which tasted of caraway seeds.
The savoury bread & butter pudding was creamy and soft, full of flavour. Perhaps I would add a little parmesan crust to it...
For main course I was served an entire lemon sole, slashed either side, with capers. This fish was incredibly fresh, served on a bed of local samphire, the sea water just seeping through with each al dente bite. I also had crushed New Potatoes, simple but perfectly seasoned.
Puddings, reader, I had three;
1)The chocolate brownie, not too cake-like as many of them are, very light and flavoured with cardomom, served with red currants and crusted clotted cream
2) Lavender icecream, a creamy subtle vanilla with little sugared pods of lavender.
3) A berry mess of blueberries, red currants, meringue and cream
The prices are extremely reasonable, about a fiver for a starter, 12 quid for a main, and four quid for pudding. If you are driving to Dorset, do book a table, I recommend it.
The decor of the full dining room was simple, rustic but modern with pale sorrel green Farrow & Ball paint and fabulous thick oak tables with foodie quotes carved in the edges.
Mat went around the tables talking to people. He understands that a successful restaurant, especially if the owner has won a popular TV competition, depends on the personal touch to distinguish it.
As I sat there, watching people come in to make bookings, they would often bring a present from their garden or allotment. Locals popped in all the time, to bring crabs or local ingredients. It's Mat's restaurant, but I got the feeling that Dorset felt like they were, that horrible New Labour phrase, stake-holders in the project, wanting to add their knowledge.
Little Chef, Popham

Little Chef, Popham

ketchup, Little Chef, Popham

Little Chef, Popham

Little Chef, Popham\

Little Chef, Popham

Little Chef, Popham
My last stop was at Heston Blumenthal's Little Chef in Popham, at the junction where the A303 meets the M3. I've been wanting to visit, since watching the TV documentary where Heston attempts to transform the management's attitude to food.
I was too tired and full to eat, just ordering a pot of tea, some tomatoes and mushrooms. The tomatoes did taste a little of 'thyme' as the menu vaunted but the mushrooms were ordinary. Butter? Can't Little Chef afford butter?
The staff were lovely and the decor witty; a noughties take on the 1950s American diner.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Underground Jubilee...

Apricots dotted with butter and basil leaves

Apricots and Lavender cream

Filo pastry with feta, jalapenos and poppy seeds

Artichokes and chips

Aubergines with masala chaat yoghurt and pomegranites

Roasted vine tomatoes, garlic, peppers with pesto, balsamic
England. Politically we may be in 'Europe' but weather-wise, we are miles away. You cannot plan outdoor events in this country. Soggy bunting, damp table settings, sodden paper napkins, wet bums, elaborately constructed dishes swimming in rainwater...these are my memories of the Queen's Jubilee street party in 1977, a eventual triumph of hope and communal feeling over the God of Thunder.
I could fit 100 people at The Underground Restaurant, if I knew I could use my garden. It's the middle of July for Thor's sake and it's raining every day!
I'd hoped to have the Big Lunch in the front driveway, to encourage interaction with neighbours, the stated goal of the Big Lunch project, but it remained indoors. Add to that the fact that the Jubilee line was suspended (what irony) as was the Overground line (not to mention the Victoria line), it's a miracle that anyone came. Are the transport bosses deliberately attempting to add to the recession by stifling any business in London? (1)
This Queen of Underground Restaurants, on a break, could not resist the lure of cooking for strangers, opened for a one-off Sunday lunch. It was The Underground Restaurant's 25th event, a Jubilee!
I spent Saturday shopping for food at Portobello Road Market. (Note to self: always go on Fridays, far fewer people, easier to park.) In keeping with the 1977 memories I made a detour into Rough Trade Records where I gazed upon posters from punk gigs at The Roundhouse...The Stranglers, The Damned, Blondie, Television, Gen X, The Clash, Talking Heads! I saw them all. In fact I left our street's Jubilee street party to go and see the Ramones at The Roundhouse, see my post here.
I decided not to stress myself out too would all be very casual, not too much prep. I'd get up leisurely on Sunday morning, throw together a few dishes, that typa thing. People could contribute what they felt like...that would be interesting too.
Ha! I can only do things 1000 per cent or not at all. No such thing as no stress. Around 25 people were coming, 14 turned up. (Thank god for pre-bookings on normal nights). I overspent and overcooked.
One planned dish, the home-made tarama, for which I paid £7.50p on smoked cods roe, was ruined by highly expensive biodynamic olive oil...that had gone off! In the bin it went...
I started to feel a bit ill in the morning. Nowadays the merest headache/grogginess/sneeze leads one to believe that you have contracted swine flu, I thought about cancelling. But after a couple of drinks I felt fine again. Who needs Tamiflu?
The Menu ended up as...
Italian olives
Home-made hummus
Shop-bought pitta bread. Sorry about that. I did have swine flu for about five minutes though...
Aga roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine, with roasted garlic and peppers, grilled halloumi with balsamic glaze.
Twice-fried chips with artichoke bottoms, a recipe I got from 'Falling cloudberries' by Tessa Kiros. I love potatoes and artichokes together. I seasoned them with Maldon salt and pink peppercorns.
Cookinboots inspired griddled aubergines with Masala chaat yoghurt, mint, jewel like pomegranite seeds and pine nuts.
Dolmades stuffed with rice, mint, caramelised walnuts, pickled green peppercorns and preserved lemons.
Delicate hot filo pastry triangles stuffed with feta cheese, goat cheese and pickled red jalapeno peppers from Discovery
Aga-baked caramelised endives baked with a parmesan crust (Ottolenghi)
Palm heart, sweet corn, lime and coriander salad. I love palm hearts. If you go on a jungle trek in South America, the guides hack open Palms and extract the hearts, so fresh they are still beating, from the trees...
Oak leaf lettuce salad (found in fridge later, forgot to serve it)
Pudding was L'Anima inspired Apricots, roasted in the Aga simmering oven all night, with plum wine (Akashi-Tai's Umeshu), basil, mint, butter and brown sugar, served with lavender sugar cream and salted caramel.
Conclusion: I didn't make any money, nor did I lose any. I like doing Sunday lunch, very different vibe from the Saturday dinners. I always stress. I don't have swine flu.
Thanks to Nicola from upcoming Underground Restaurant 'The Shed' for help with preparation and clearing up.
(1)In addition to our shit weather, we have the worst swine flu, the worst recession, the worst teenage pregnancy, knife crime, alcohol abuse... We used to have good TV, not anymore. We used to think our politicians were not more. We used to think our banks were 'safe as houses' longer.