Darina Allen: A research trip to London and this weekend's recipes

London is right up there with New York and San Francisco, vying for the title of top food capital in the world. Over a weekend in London you can eat your way through tasty bites from anywhere, Ethiopia to Georgia, from inexpensive but super cool street food to pop-up dinners, super chic cafés to three star Michelin restaurants and everything else.

On a recent research trip, I visited Borough Market with its 100 plus stalls, superb cheeses, spices and heritage meats. Don’t miss the Ginger Pig, 100 day old chickens and ducks, bursting with flavour, Cannon and Cannon dry cured meat, fat rashers with rind still on, well-aged beef. Brindisa Shop has the best Spanish products and hand sliced Serrano, pata negra, and jamon. Round the corner there is Brindisa Café, a superb place for breakfast. Don’t miss the melting Monte Enebro goat milk cheese with chestnut honey and crispy fried eggs with olive oil fried chips and chorizo.

Round the corner one of our past students Ray O’Connor is the head chef at Padella, there’s always a queue. However the handmade pasta, gnocchi and carpaccio of Dexter beef with Fiorano olive oil is worth the wait. Black Axe Mangal is also worth the long schlep out to Canonbury Road. There’s a great playlist, with small plates on bright oil cloth covered tables. Don’t miss their flat breads topped with lamb offal or squid ink and smoked cod roe. I had the charred Hispi cabbage with Katsuobushi butter, possibly the best dish I have eaten this year. Round off with Jameson and honey ice cream.

I love these small restaurants run by feisty passionate young people on a mission to serve super delicious food at reasonable prices, not a starched chef’s toque in sight. No 40 Maltby Street is another mecca of real food and natural wines, small super tasty plates, with gorgeously fresh ingredients, a devilled egg with tiny pink shrimps, a slice of warm juicy glazed ham with a dollop of good mustard, a thick slice of natural sourdough with homemade butter. There were other good things to pair with a glass of Jacot from Slovenian Klinkez but the treacle tart was a triumph. Trying to choose between that and the rhubarb jelly with rosewater cream was agony. Andrew generously sweetly shared the recipe for the treacle tart which contains treacle as well as the usual golden syrup.

Duck Soup in Soho and Raw Duck in Hackney both of which have pride of place on my London list, have a new sister restaurant called Little Duck - The Picklery in Hackney, a super chic space with a huge terrazzo table in the centre. Chefs and cooks lovingly prepping food at one side, more small plates and as the name suggests, lots of good pickles and an unbearable choice of little dishes. I particularly enjoyed a radicchio, puntarelle, and walnut salad fresh tasting bitter leaves with chopped walnuts added to the dressing. The smoked mackerel with pickled rhubarb and looked so beautiful and tasted just as good but the buckwheat custard with poached quince and pear scattered with crumble really blew me away. Here again a Ballymaloe Cookery School student, Hannah Lederer was part of the creative team.

At the Monmouth coffee shop, there will be a long but convivial queue from early morning. Then nip in to Neal’s Yard Dairy next door for some superb Irish and British cheeses or pick up a sweet treat at Baker and Spice on the other side. The Broadway Market in Hackney and the Netil market round the corner may just be the best Farmers Markets in London. This is where the Bao and Violet Cake stalls started.

For a very sophisticated treat in a truly beautiful room, Spring in Somerset House is hard to beat, Skye Gyngell’s food exudes freshness, looks irresistible on the plate and tastes delicious. www.springrestaurant.co.uk. Finally if you have even one more meal slot check out Westerns Laundry in Highbury East.

Fuchsia Dunlop’s beef with cumin

The powerful aroma of cumin is always associated with Xinjiang, the great northwestern Muslim region where it is grown. On city streets all over China, you will find it drifting up from portable grills where Xinjiang Uyghur street vendors cook their trademark lamb kebabs, scattering the sizzling meat with chilli and cumin.

In Hunan, the spice finds its way into “strange-flavour” combinations, Uyghur-influenced barbecues and a limited number of restaurant dishes. This one is irresistible. Tender slices of beef luxuriate in a densely spiced sauce, speckled with the gold and ivory of ginger and garlic, scarlet chilli and green spring onion, and suffused with the scent of cumin. You may use prime steak if you wish, but I usually make do with braising steak: the method of cutting it across the grain makes it seem almost as tender.

This particular recipe is one from the Guchengge restaurant in Changsha, and it’s one I fell in love with immediately. I’m sure you will too.

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as part of a Chinese meal

340g (11½ oz) beef steak, trimmed (see introduction above)

400ml (14fl oz) groundnut oil, for frying

2 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

2 fresh red chillies, seeds and stalks discarded and finely chopped

2-4 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp ground cumin

salt

spring onions 2, green parts only, finely sliced

1 tsp sesame oil

For the marinade

1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

½ tsp salt

1 tsp light soy sauce

1 tsp dark soy sauce

1 tbsp potato flour

1 tbsp water

Cut the beef across the grain into thin slices, ideally 4 x 3 cm. Add the marinade ingredients and mix well.

Heat the groundnut oil to about 140C/275F. Add the beef and stir gently. As soon as the pieces have separated, remove them from the oil and drain well; set aside.

Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the oil. Over a high flame, add the ginger, garlic, fresh chillies, chilli flakes and cumin and stir fry briefly until fragrant. Return the beef to the wok and stir well, seasoning with salt to taste.

When all the ingredients are sizzlingly fragrant and delicious, add the spring onions and toss briefly. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.

- From Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop

Ducksoup Soho’s mackerel under oil, pickled rhubarb & lovage

Serves 4

For the mackerel

2 400g mackerel, filleted

120g coarse sea salt

50g soft brown sugar

1 cloves of garlic thinly sliced

200ml olive oil

For the rhubarb

This will make more than you need but will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks and you can serve with cheese or goes very well with ice cream

500g Yorkshire forced rhubarb

250g caster sugar

250ml cider vinegar

100ml water

4 green cardamom lightly crushed

1 star anise

Pinch of red chilli flakes

Mix together the salt and sugar and rub into the mackerel in a gastro. Press cling film over the fish and allow to cure for 1½ hours in the fridge.

Rinse well and pat dry. If time, allow to air dry uncovered in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Drizzle the fillets with a little olive oil and pan fry on both sides until coloured and cooked through.

In a tray just large enough for the mackerel fillets add the sliced garlic and olive oil and then add the mackerel fillets while still warm.

Allow to marinade for a few hours if possible.

For the rhubarb

Put the sugar, vinegar, water and spices in a pan together and bring to a gentle simmer, then cook for about five minutes.

Meanwhile cut the rhubarb into 1-inch pieces. When the pickling liquor has cooked for five minutes, in batches drop the rhubarb in the pan and cook for 30-45 seconds until you see the rhubarb change to a much paler colour, remove straight away with a slotted spoon and allow to cool flat on a baking tray. Repeat this process till all the rhubarb is cooked.

When it’s all cooked allow the liquor to cool and then poor over the rhubarb, if you pour it over while it is still hot you will over-cook the rhubarb and it will go mushy.

To plate the dish, gently break up the mackerel fillets with the skin on into large chunks into a large mixing bowl and add some of the oil and a pinch of sea salt. Spoon in the rhubarb — allow two tablespoons per person — and add some of the pickling liquor

Tear in a good handful of lovage and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Gently mix everything together and the divide between four plates.

Finish with a little pinch of red pepper flakes.

Skye Gyngell’s Guinea Fowl with Farro and Parsley Cream

Serves 4

I cooked this dish for a dinner at the Ballymaloe Literary Festival a couple of years ago, on Darina Allen’s request, and it was well received. Full of friends from all over the world, it was a lovely evening and holds a special place in my memory, so I have a soft spot for this dish.

4 guinea fowl supremes

3 carrots, peeled

2 inner celery stalks (the paler stalks around the heart)

2 tbsp olive oil

140g farro (or spelt), well rinsed

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

30g unsalted butter

2 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the parsley cream

A large bunch of flat-leaf parsley

200ml double cream

A few gratings of fresh nutmeg

Have the guinea fowl supremes ready to cook.

Cut the carrots and celery into chunky slices on the diagonal. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan, add the carrots and celery and cook gently, without browning, for 5 minutes. Now add the farro and pour in enough water to just cover. Cook for 20 minutes or until the farro and vegetables are just tender to the bite.

Meanwhile, for the parsley cream, strip the leaves from the parsley. Rinse the stalks and place in a small pan. Pour over the cream and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Turn off the heat, leave to infuse for 15 minutes, then strain.

Plunge the parsley leaves into a small pan of boiling water, drain immediately and refresh under cold water. Chop the blanched parsley very finely and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 220C/Gas 7. Season the guinea fowl well with salt and pepper. Place a non-stick ovenproof pan over a high heat and add the remaining olive oil. When very hot, add the supremes, skin side down, and cook, without moving, for five minutes until the skin is golden brown and quite crisp. Transfer to the middle of the oven and cook for 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the wine vinegar, butter and chopped parsley to the farro and vegetables, season well and warm through. Warm the parsley cream over a low heat and add the nutmeg, blanched parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, divide the vegetables and farro between warm plates. Arrange the guinea fowl alongside the vegetables and spoon the parsley cream over the top. Serve at once.

- From Spring: The Cookbook by Skye Gyngell published by Quadrille (Image left by Andy Sewell).

Monte Enebro cheese with walnuts from Brindisa

A simple but irresistible starter I order every time I go to

Brindisa

Covent Garden.

Serves 2 as a starter

2 slices of Monte Enebro goats cheese, about 70g and 1.5cm thick

2 slices of grilled bread

Small handful raisins

Small handful walnuts

Olive oil

Honey

Muscatel vinegar

2 slices of grilled bread

Pre heat the grill to medium.

Mix a small handful of raisins with walnuts, olive oil, honey and vinegar.

Place a slice of cheese on each of the two slices of grilled bread and put under the grill for about 3 minutes, until the cheese begins to bubble and colour. Remove and top with the walnuts and raisins in their dressing. Serve ASAP.

Hot tips

Sign up for a beginners Spoon Carving Workshop with Éamonn O’Sullivan from Hewn of Westport for a day of spoon carving at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Saturday, March 10, at 9.30am. No woodworking experience is necessary although participants should be reasonably comfortable with the idea of handling sharp tools. You will learn all the skills you need to create a spoon from scratch. All raw materials and tools are provided. To book see www.cookingisfun.ie


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