Thursday, 22 October 2020

A WEEKEND ESCAPE TO DÜSSELDORF (AND FROM 2020)

Before lockdown 2.0 inevitably comes upon us, I managed to escape to Düsseldorf for a long weekend -filled with fabulous food, drinks and quality time with the mother, getting a much needed break from my bedroom / office / mini universe that was slowly but surely driving me a little cray cray! 

Below a little summary of this wonderful weekend, including where I stayed, new foodie discoveries and revisiting old favourites!



WHERE I STAYED: RUBY COCO HOTEL





Even though I have been to Düsseldorf at least twice a year ever since I moved over to the UK over 16 years ago I had never heard of Ruby Coco, a true gem of a hotel, intriguingly located on the upper floors of a luxury shopping arcade on Dusseldorf’s answer to Bond Street, the picturesque Königsallee.
 
That set up may sound a little unusual but honestly Ruby Coco turned out to be one of the best hotels I have stayed at in Europe.

Firstly the location is superb. You literally could not be more centrally located in Düsseldorf, in walking distance to the old town and the Japanese quarter, right by the best shops and a 5 minute hop, skip and jump away from the most amazing huge German supermarket, Edeka Zurheide, where you can stock up on just about any grocery and wine you can think of.

Then there are the minimalist, huge rooms, which are way bigger than your standard affordable boutique hotel size, and which give away that, in fact, the hotel's rooms used to be cooperate offices (which makes sense as the other floors within this “mall” and hidden away alongside the retail shops are lawyer offices). 

My room definitely used to be an exec’s office: spacious, with huge windows and with that typical Styrofoam ceiling, painted in a stylish bright white, which gave the room a unique character that I instantly fell in love with.

Fittings were top notch as well. There was an outstanding rain forrest shower, the most comfy bed, high-end toiletries and a spotlight mirror. Indeed every detail was perfectly thought through and applied to the room in a way that made this a proper luxury hotel experience.

Now, the Covid aspect to the hotel stay. Yes, it was emptier than usual which was odd at times but it meant that service was simply outstanding - thoughtful, proactive and appreciative of us simply being there as their guests

Rooms were impeccably clean and the check-in and out process fully digitised, making the whole hotel experience feel incredibly safe yet still very much like staying at a great hotel in the good old days.

Breakfast again was flawlessly adapted to the strange world we live in, single serving everything, from butter to jam to musli toppings - yes maybe a little space age but not compromising on style or taste.

Overall Ruby Coco was simply a 10/10 in terms of affordability, room quality and service, even during these very bizarre times we live in, and if you go to Düsseldorf, trust me stay here, you couldn’t have a better base for weekend away in my favourite city in Germany.


THE NEW DISCOVERY: NOA FOOD BAR



I am a creature of habit and usual I hit up the same 2 restaurant on every weekend trip when seeing my mum (Münstermann Kontor on a Friday and Brasserie Hülsmann on a Saturday), BUT this time I said to myself let’s see what exciting thing Düsseldorf’s culinary scene really has to offer which is how I stumbled across Noa Foodbar, a modern fusion, sharing plate concept restaurant with an outstanding orange and natural wine list that I never expected to find in Düsseldorf. 

Heck, I wouldn't really expect this sort of place even really London if I am honest, the food at Noa Foodbar in fact fully on par with the level of culinary skill and also creativity I last experienced in Copenhagen.

A sourdough bread with seaweed butter was out of this world while our shared main plates were so imaginative and beautifully execute as well as presented that I haven’t stopped thinking about them since.

There was an outstanding creamed spinach with mascarpone, ramen egg and puffed rice - quite the veggie experience in so many ways, super fragrant sweet potato fritters with fig yogurt, pecan nuts and pak choi, and lastly a rather incredible pumpkin risotto with sheep’s cheese, pumpkin seeds and cranberries, just about perfecting the balance between sweet and savoury, tart and warming.

This was truly food that wowed, showcasing culinary skill and imagination you seldom get to experience, let alone at these very reasonable prices. In London this sort of place would have queues out of the doors every single day of the week, but in Düsseldorf it is an exceptional culinary hidden gem and a must visit for anyone into outstanding food and great natural wine. 

A solid 10/10 that made me very happy I left my usual traditions behind.


THE RE-DISCOVERY: NA NI WA



Na Ni Wa is still the best place in town for authentic Japanese noodles and ramen, equally filled with Japanese after a taste of home and Westerners aware of just how good this place is. When you go make sure you order the fried noodles in a Japanese omelette - it sounds odd but wow, you won’t stop thinking about it once you’ve gobbled the thing up and I for one have to have a portion of it at least once a year.


THE BEST FRIES IN TOWN @ WILMA WUNDER



Shut for quite some time because of a water leak and I guess Covid repercussions, all day eatery Wilma Wunder is back open and OH MY they still serve the best truffle fries I have ever had! 

Even better, they are a total bargain at €7 for the hugest portion of chunky, crispy chips, topped with parmesan shavings and truffle oil, served with the most insane truffle mayo.

I am very happy they have survived the initial Corona hit and can only cross all fingers that they will be still be there when I next make it to Germany, even though god knows when that will be…


AND TO SWEAT IT OUT @ BECYCLE


I adore the strong women that run BECYCLE, a boutique fitness studio in the heart of Düsseldorf, and simply had to fit in a quick spinning session during my 3 days in the city. Once again I left impressed by the state of the art studio, instantly welcoming atmosphere and hard core programming that will push you to your limits while truly feeling part of their community.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

ROASTED PEPPER & OREGANO PASTA WITH MANCHEGO & HERB BREADCRUMB TOPPING


This show stopping pasta dish may take a bit of effort and time to make, involving a few more prep steps than your standard weekday supper, but WOW the roasted pepper, coconut milk and oregano sauce you will get by the end of it, is one of the best sauces I have ever enjoyed in combination with pasta, utterly tantalising your tastebuds, and the Manchego and oregano toasted breadcrumbs will make you question how you ever lived without them. 

A new favourite and a dish I am sure to rustle when wanting to impress!

SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS

  • Olive oil
  • 1/2  cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated Manchego (or Parmesan if you can't find Manchego)
  • 450g pasta (go for fancy and wide - I love the crinkly cut mafalda type)
  • 1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
  • 1 fresh red pepper, diced
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • A pinch red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup canned coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

METHOD

  • Heat a frying pan over medium heat. 
  • Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, breadcrumbs, and 1 tablespoon oregano, and cook, stirring occasionally until the breadcrumbs are toasted all over, about 3 minutes. 
  • Add the cheese and cook another 2 minutes, until fried. 
  • Remove the breadcrumbs from the pan.
  • Season with salt and pepper. 
  • Set the crumbs aside.
  • Add the roasted red peppers to a food processor or blender. 
  • Puree until smooth. 
  • Season with salt and pepper. 
  • Meanwhile, place a frying pan over high heat along with 4 tablespoons olive oil. 
  • When the oil shimmers, add the chopped red peppers, shallots, garlic, 1 tablespoon oregano, and a pinch of red chilli flakes. 
  • Cook until the shallots begin to caramelise, about 5 minutes. 
  • Reduce the heat to low and add the tomato puree and vinegar, cook 2 minutes. 
  • Stir in the roasted red pepper puree, coconut milk, and butter. 
  • Simmer for 15-30 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly. 
  • Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. 
  • Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente, drain.
  • Add the pasta and basil to the sauce, tossing to combine.
  • Divide the pasta among plates, top with cheesy breadcrumbs and ENJOY!

Monday, 12 October 2020

PUFF PASTRY GARLIC & CHILLI PINWHEELS WITH CHEESY HERB & BREADCRUMB FILLING

Ready-made puff pastry became a real favourite of mine to cook with during lockdown and I made just about every savoury tart out there, and I mean that - there was an aubergine themed one with homemade baba ganoush, a fig and blue cheese number and a rather memorable asparagus puff pastry tart, drizzled with the most irresistible honey mustard sauce).

I also loved how easy it turned out to be to make my tasty cinnamon puff pastry swirls, which of course came topped with a moorish vanilla cream cheese icing, and which whilst making them also got me thinking: could I make a savoury version of these lovely swirls? 

Hosting 2 friends the other evening offered the perfect opportunity to find out, nibbles and finger food the order of the day, and the puff pastry garlic and chilli pinwheels I ended up making, pretty much turned out to be one of best veggie friendly canapés I've ever come across!

Forget your standard and boring garlic bread, these little pinwheels are real flavour bombs, look fabulous and are rustled up in less than an hour, including baking time! There is no end yet to my love of puff pastry and you will join me in this fan club after your first bite of one of these.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 package of ready-made puff pastry dough (1 sheet)
  • 100g salted butter
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (panko style preferably, I got these from Waitrose)
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/2 Tsp chilli flakes

METHOD:

  • Preheat your oven to 200 celsius. 
  • Melt butter, chilli flakes and garlic in a saucepan on a low heat for at least 10 minutes. 
  • Take off heat and mix in the fresh chives.
  • Brush the puff pastry sheet generously with butter, garlic and chive mixture. 
  • Sprinkle with the parmesan and breadcrumbs to cover evenly.
  • Roll up the sheet tightly, as you would with a cinnamon swirld, and cut into slices (about 3cm thick)
  • Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown. 
  • Remove and serve hot or at room temperature!

Sunday, 11 October 2020

BAILEY'S TIRAMISU


This my third successful dessert involving Bailey's in probably as many weeks and I have to say this one is a total game changer when it comes to your tiramisu efforts! 

Why? Well there is nothing wrong with your regular, authentic Italian tiramisu, which of course comes with a mix of coffee and marsala, a sweet fortified wine, but replacing the marsala with the creamy alcoholic goodness that is Baileys just makes it EVEN better, trust me.

It is also a dessert that is basically an easy and fun assembly job, done in less than 20 minutes, and even more conveniently a total "prep ahead" situation - make it the night before, chill it in the fridge and have it ready for your rule of 6 or less dinner party, it will be a hit all round!

INGREDIENTS

  • 300ml strong black coffee, freshly made and cooled + 3 tbsp baileys
  • 700ml double cream 
  • 250g mascarpone 
  • 3 tbsp caster sugar 
  • 60ml Baileys 
  • 400g Italian sponge fingers 
  • Some white chocolate to grate on top

METHOD
  • Mix the coffee and baileys in a shallow bowl.
  • Whip the cream, mascarpone, sugar & Baileys together in another bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks and set aside.
  • Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee and Baileys mixture for a few seconds on each side until they’re well soaked but not collapsing and layer them to cover the bottom of your glass dish.
  • Add 1/3 of the cream and spread over the sponge biscuits.
  • Add a second layer of soaked sponge biscuits followed with the second 1/3 of cream. 
  • Finish with the third layer of soaked biscuits and smooth over the remaining cream.
  • Using a grater shave some white chocolate on top.
  • Chill until ready to serve, but for at least 3 hours, I recommend making it the night before so all the flavours can properly infuse.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

REAL DEAL JAPANESE YAKISOBA


For me a good bowl of noodles is the ultimate comfort food, hangover cure and hug in food form, especially properly authentic Japanese yakisoba!

I have always struggled to re-create that real authentic, super fragrant and slightly sticky yakisoba sauce at home but this recipe pretty much tasted like my favourite version from my favourite Japanese restaurant back in Germany which means it must be pretty close to the real deal!

My tip: make the effort and visit your local Asian supermarket. Here it is totally worth investing in the proper ingredients and toppings as they truly elevate the dish into something special, plus I always love buying ingredients I have never used before!

Shredded nori and pickled pink ginger as garnish on top of the noodles may sound odd, but they offer the perfect finishing touch to probably the best bowl of noodles I have ever managed to rustle up at home!

The original version of the recipe and yakisoba in general come served with fried pork but I went for some lovely prawns which also worked a treat. 


SERVES 2

INGREDIENTS
  • 300g egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp oil (vegetable oil)
  • 250g cooked prawns
  • 1 ready stir fry mix 
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • 200g mushrooms
  • 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup bean sprouts

YAKISOBA SAUCE
  • 40ml Bulldog tonkatsu sōsu
  • 50ml Bulldog usutā sōsu 
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • ½ tsp dashi seasoning powder diluted in ½ tsp hot water 

GARNISH (optional but strongly recommended)
  • Dried shredded seaweed aonori 
  • Pink pickled ginger (also used as sushi condiment)

METHOD
  • Add all the yakisoba sauce ingredients into a cup or a bowl and mix well. Set aside until required.
  • Boil water in a sauce pan and cook the noodles for 1 minute.
  • Drain and sprinkle sesame oil over the noodles and mix until all noodles are coated. This is to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.
  • Heat oil in a wok or a large frypan over medium high heat. 
  • Add spring onions, stir fry mix, mushrooms and broccoli.
  • Stir-fry for about 5 minutes, then add the beansprouts and stir fry for a further minute.
  • Add the prawns and noodles and mix well.
  • Add the yakisoba Sauce and mix quickly to ensure that all the noodles are coated with the sauce, and the colour of the noodles is consistent, without any light-coloured patches.
  • Transfer the noodles onto serving plates, piling them into a mound.
  • Sprinkle the sea weed over the noodles and add the pickled ginger on the top or the side of the noodles
  • Serve immediately.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

MY BIG FAT NATURAL, ORGANIC, BIODYNAMIC & ORANGE WINE GUIDE


Following my recent trip to Copenhagen, where the wine scene was so vibrant, exciting, varied and far removed from what I thought was a sphere of interest dominated by rich middle aged men, sipping on red wine that costs more per bottle than my rent, I wanted to learn more about what seemed to have taken the Danish capital by storm - natural, orange, biodynamic and low intervention wine, all incredibly different, both in their making and taste, but all a complete revelation to my taste buds. And as cliché as it sounds once you experience them for yourself it is hard to go back to your cheap bottle of supermarket wine.

Of course back in the UK these new (and also old in the case of biodynamic wine) approaches to wine making are not quite as wide spread YET, but with a bit of research I found some great online suppliers with a wonderful passion for wine, as well as shops in London that offer a great selection and I hope this guide inspires you to give one of them a go!

While we may not be spending as much as before at the pub or at a restaurant on a bottle of wine with a ridiculous mark up, why not use this nightmare of a year to spend a little more on wine to enjoy at home and educate yourself along the way!

There is a whole world I discovered, full of fab sellers, winemakers and just genuinely interested wine buffs, which also awaits you if you fancy it and which makes that much needed glass of wine after a hard day at the (home) office the more exciting!

BUT! First things first let’s define what natural / low intervention, organic and orange wine is and most importantly the differences between them before I begin to explain where to order them online and where to find them in London!


NATURAL / LOW INTERVENTION WINE

“Natural wine,” has no legal definition but broadly refers to wines made without adding or subtracting anything in the cellar—no additives, no chemicals, no sulfur, no oak character from barrels, no filtering, no cultured yeasts. In theory, natural wines are more alive, less manipulated and while some natural wines are delicious and like nothing you have ever tried before, some are pretty out there.

Natural wines can be cloudy and a little smelly but the lack of interference by the winemaker and the minimal use of chemicals in their production can make them taste fresher because none of the flavour qualities are removed during the filtration process, which means natural wines taste a bit different from regular, non-natural wines.

The natural and low intervention winemaking movement has exploded in recent years and I tried some pretty outstanding wines as part of my online subscription boxes - every bottle a real experience.


ORGANIC WINE
In order to be certified as ‘organic’ you have to comply with the strict rules and guidelines that are set out by your country’s regulating body eg. Soil Association in the UK. The most important criteria these wines have to fulfil is being made without the use of any spray herbicides or pesticides or any chemical products on the vines; meaning only natural products can be used to help grow the grapes.


BIODYNAMIC WINE
If organic farming is about what vineyards don’t do to their grapes and fields, then biodynamic farming is more about what vineyards do DO to them. 

Biodynamic farming is an intentional method that dates back to the 1920s (and predates most of the modern organic movement), when Austrian Rudolph Steiner developed methods for agriculture and livestock management.

Biodynamic wine is produced from grapes grown through biodynamic principles. This is when the land is seen as part of the planet and solar system, and the vineyard isn’t seen as an isolated piece of land, engineered for the sole purpose of growing grapes.

Crops and animals are seen as a single system and astrological cycles are taken into consideration when it comes to activities such as sowing and planting. 

It may seem a bit esoteric in its ethics and processes which farmers must follow, but many well regarded and expensive producers in the world are now either certified or in the process of converting to biodynamic wine making.


ORANGE WINE
Orange wine is a type of white wine made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice, creating a deep orange-hued finished product, a white wine essentially made as if it were a red!

To make an orange wine, white grapes are mashed up and then put in a large vessel (often made from cement or ceramic). These grapes are then fermented for anything from four days to sometimes over a year with the skins and seeds still attached.

This is a natural process that uses little to no additives, sometimes not even yeast. Because of all of this, they taste very different from regular white wines and have a sour taste and nuttiness from oxidation which means orange wine often falls under the natural or low intervention wine category.

Surprisingly rather than being a recent “hipster” invention, orange wine has its roots in ancient wine making techniques. Indeed the origins of orange wine date back thousands of years to regions in current-day Georgia. There wines were fermented inside large clay pots to age the wines, to this day a method still used by some orange winemakers.



WHERE TO ORDER ONLINE
Let’s be honest what can be better in this strange year, which most likely will see us spent most of the autumn and winter in our flats, than receiving a fabulous delivery by a small, independent, local and super clued up wine supplier. 

Whether you go for an one-off bundle or a wine subscription, it may not be as cheap as popping to your Sainsbury's Local for a bottle, but you will savour each bottle, glass and sip a lot more and will reconsider
what a good bottle of wine is really worth, trust me. 

I for one am a total convert to ordering wine online and cannot recommend the boxes I tried enough, give them a go, you won't regret it, though be prepared to thoroughly change your perception of what wine can tastes and look like.


LOW INTERVENTION WINE


WHO ARE THEY:
Low Intervention is a boundary-pushing digital bottle shop, a global direct-to-door monthly subscription serving up monthly drops of biodynamic, organic wines from incredible makers.

WHAT THEY SELL:
Individual bottles, selection boxes and an ever changing wonderful subscription boxes to suit all tastes that go from £50 a month for 2 to 3 bottles to £250 for 6 to 10 bottles a month.

WHAT I TRIED:
I had their £100 Anniversary box which included a little bit of everything - red, white, orange and rose!

Every wine was a true taste sensation and came accompanied by their detailed online descriptions to go with each bottle.

I adored the La femme a qui, made from an equal blend of apples and a direct press of Cabernet and Merlot from the Oustric family, a sort of cider meets sparkly wine that tasted like nothing I had ever had before, while the rosé in the box was a dusky, cloudy, dark pink and the best rosé I probably had in my entire life!
 
Their offering is ever evolving and there is an option for any sort of budget and occasion plus their branding and website is flawless! I dare you to go on there and not give into buying a bottle!



NATTY BOY WINES


WHO ARE THEY:
Natty Boy Wines is a one-stop-shop for all things vinous and natural. Whether you’re just getting started or are a seasoned imbiber, you’ll find something here to quench your thirst, all curated by the boy behind it all, Daniel, who is constantly on the look out for new winemakers to work with and stock online!

WHAT HE SELLS:
Individual bottles, bargain bangers, under a tenner, and curated Natty Boy Packs to suit all tastes and budgets. The website is a joy to use and also make sure you follow him on Instagram for his wine adventures around Europe and London and to see his newest wine discoveries. 

WHAT I TRIED:
Project Orange - three fine orange wines for £55.70. Each completely different but a total delight to drink with cool labels to match! 

My favourite: The ESCHENHOF HOLZER Space Invader Orange 2018, made by Arnold Holzer, a young, innovative winemaker based in Wagram, Austria. An outrageously fresh wine with blood orange and grapefruit citrus character overlaid with tropical fruits and gentle tannic grip - quite the wine you won’t forget in a hurry.



PLUS A WINE MERCHANT THAT GIVES BACK......


SEA CHANGE WINE 


WHO ARE THEY:
Sea Change Wine is an online wine shop who offer a range of ethically sourced, environmentally conscious wines designed to help tackle the endemic plastic pollution of the oceans. 

For every bottle sold, a donation goes to ocean conservation charities. The range has been designed with minimal packaging in mind to reduce potential waste and to maximise its conservation credentials.

WHAT THEY SELL:
They offer wine by the bottle or in bulk with a solid red, white, two rosé and prosecco offering. Price point is great (no bottle is over £16) and labels wonderfully designed. 

WHAT I TRIED:
I sampled their sellout Provence rosé which comes with a label that is completely plant based (cellulose) and biodegradable and also tastes a dream. My personal favourite though was the Sea Change Rosé 2019 which is from the Château Canet, a vineyards run according to the guidelines of sustainable viticulture, following the brief of ‘Terra Vitis’, focusing on sustainable development (social, environmental and economic) and encouraging the production of fantastic grapes whilst respecting the environment and maintaining the long term health and sustainability of the vineyards and surrounding agricultural land.



WHERE TO BUY IN LONDON


FRIEND OF OURS
My favourite local cafe and brunch spot has expanded their offering during these weird times and now also sell a very well curated and ever changing selection of natural, orange and biodynamic wines, all around the £17-30 mark. 


THE GROCERY (KINGSLAND ROAD)
This well stocked organic supermarket has a whole room dedicated to mainly organic, biodynamic and natural wine and has a large range of reds, whites, orange wines and even organic fizz!


QUALITY CHOP HOUSE
Quality Chop House isn’t only a well know restaurant these days, no they have a great deli and wine shop next door! There is a good selection of orange wine and staff is super helpful when choosing your tipple!