Figs with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

SMALL plates are fast becoming a real enduring trend in restaurants.

Rather than a full meal, or even just a main course, one can order a series of little plates, which presents an opportunity to taste a wide variety of dishes on the menu; I love this way of eating. This is a concept I came across in the US about 10 years ago.

For many years now, some of my favourite restaurants in London have chosen this concept, Terroirs, Pulpo, Barrafina, Duck Soup..... On a recent trip to London, I ate at their second venture, Raw Duck out on 5 Amhurst Road in Hackney.

As before the emphasis is on fine ingredients, simply assembled. There’s a long blond, poured concrete counter with a scalloped edge on one side where you can watch your food being prepared and communal concrete tables along the other wall and an appealing deck area out behind.

Owners Clare Lattin and Rory McCoy have cleverly brought together food from some of the best food producers in London, Bread from E5 Bakehouse, Gelupo Ice-cream, decadent cakes and breakfast buns from Violet Cakes. Meat, vegetables and cheese from Natoora.

On my last trip, I had delicious canned mackerel with heirloom tomatoes. I’ve always loved sardines on grilled bread but I’ve never eaten canned mackerel before, but it was fantastically good. This time I wanted to taste virtually everything on the menu. Here is my version of some of the delicious plates I ate. There’s also a tempting wine list with biodynamic and natural wines.

Another couple of hot spots are Koya and the Koya Bar, both serving Japanese udon noodles. They were started by Irish man John Devitt. Initially, it was an Irish joke around London, well it’s no joke now with daily queues along Frith Street. Newly opened Koya Bar starts breakfast at 8.30am.

There’s an amusing Japanese take on an English breakfast with noodles but there are more exciting things to try, the slithery silky Udon noodles are homemade, as is the dashi broth — already this fresh food has developed a cult following.

On this trip, a fortuitous meeting meant that I came home via Belfast which gave me the opportunity to eat at Ox in Oxford Street. I’d read lots of terrific reviews which had whetted my appetite.

The unpretentious, almost spartan, restaurant overlooks the River Lagan, and boasts simple unpainted timber tables, high ceilings and a warm welcome. Owners Alain Kerloc’h and Stephen Toman have a very impressive pedigree. The food is contemporary and ‘of the moment’ with Nordic influences. They are obviously putting lots of effort into sourcing good ingredients. There’s a high level of skill and technique in the young multi ethnic team and a palpable excitement and wish to please. There’s a set menu with many choices and an impressive wine list. You’ll need to book ahead but as the Michelin Guide says, it’s worth a detour — plus the train journey from Dublin to Belfast is one of the loveliest in the country.

Figs with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Serves 4 as a starter or small plate

8 fresh figs in season

8 tbsp Greek-style natural yoghurt

2 tsp fresh sumac

3 – 4 tsp pistachios, halved

Extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp honey

A few flakes of sea salt

Spoon two-three tablespoons of yoghurt onto each plate. Cut the figs into quarters, push gently down into the yoghurt. Sprinkle with sumac and pistachios, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey, serve.

Kale, Fennel, Radish and Parmesan Salad

Serves 4 as a starter or small plate

150g (5oz) green curly kale, stalks included

110g (4oz) fennel, thinly sliced

8 French Breakfast radishes, thinly sliced at a long angle

4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Keep the sliced fennel and radishes in iced water for at least 5 minutes.
To serve: Remove the stalks from the kale and shred very finely.

Put some kale, drained fennel and radishes into a bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Grate on some Parmesan with a slivery micro plane. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss and taste and serve.

Cacciatore with Honeycomb and Thyme Leaves

Serves 1 starter or small plate

One slice of Cacciatore, ¼ inch thick

A little sliver of honeycomb or candied lemon peel

A sprig of thyme

A few flakes of sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil

Lay the cheese on a warm plate, put the honeycomb or diced candied lemon peel in the centre of the slice. Lay a sprig of thyme on top and sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin oil on top.

Serve immediately.

Grilled Chicken with Yoghurt and Harissa

Serves 6 – as a starter or small plate

4 – 8 organic chicken thighs, depending on size

4 – 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Fresh thyme leaves

6 tsp harissa (see recipe)

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 tbsp Greek yoghurt

18 – 24 fresh rocket leaves or coriander sprigs

Bone the chicken thighs, put them into a bowl, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Heat a pangrill, put the chicken skin side down onto the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until crisp on one side then turn over and continue to cook until the juices run clear.

Allow to rest for a few minutes, slice into strips. Put a mound of chicken, skin side up on a plate. Spoon a large tablespoon of yoghurt onto the plate and put a teaspoon of harissa on top. Add a few fresh rocket leaves or some sprigs of coriander to each plate, sprinkle the chicken with a few flakes of sea salt. Serve immediately.

Harissa

Makes 100g (3½oz)

10 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes

5 fresh red chillies

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

De-seed and roughly chop the dried and fresh chillies. Put in a food processor with the garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and olive oil. Whizz until smooth.

Store in a jar with a layer of olive oil over the top. It will keep for 3 months.

Hot tips

On a recent visit to Mahon Point Farmers Market I found several new products. Gubbeen with Moruga Scorpion chilli, a delicious super-hot hybrid chilli from central Trinidad that’s a million times stronger than the ghost chilli — three chillies were enough to give a feisty tingle to 10kgs of Gubbeen pork, we all loved it. Kilree Goats Cheese made by Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinna was a find on Mark Hosford’s Cheese stall. He’d sold out of Anna Leveque’s goats crottin. I’ll have to get there earlier next time. www.mahonpointfarmersmarket.com Every Thursday from 10am to 3pm.

Fancy something different for your staff Christmas outing this year? The team at Ballymaloe Cookery School will help you cook up a storm before sitting down to a delicious dinner that you and your colleagues have cooked together. Phone 021-4646785 — www.cookingisfun.ie

Limerick is gearing up to be City of Culture 2014 and is swiftly becoming a foodie hotspot. Food writer and blogger Valerie O’Connor has started Limerick Food Trails to show locals and visitors around the city’s many food gems.www.valskitchen.com/foodtrails


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