Chez l'abeille

Culture. Travel. Writing. My world in words and pictures


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Montalbano, Sono…

Montalbano sonoIf you watch “Inspector Montalbano” the sun is always shining. Sicily bathes in golden sunlight that illuminates the buttery stone buildings of fictitious Vigata. Our heroic Chief of Police wanders the streets in his reflective Ray Bans, solving crime then lunching on Linguine with sea-urchin and a nice glass of something alcoholic to wash it down with at his local trattoria.

My week in Sicily was wet torrential. So there was only one thing for a bunch of avid Montalbano fans to do: hunt out some of the programmes most loved locations.

Our first stop was the tiny seaside town of Punta Secca. It became evident that, after the beach, the B+B that doubles as Montalbano’s home is probably the key draw. Just as we arrived, the rain actually stopped for a short while, which meant we could get out of the car and have a wander around.

The house is exactly as we see it in the shows but there must be a fair amount of post production to remove the motley collection of beach houses and businesses that we definitely don’t see spoiling the Inspector’s peace and quiet. A regular event in each episode is his solitary swim, brought to life by a hardy local who was to be seen defying the weather and causing the visiting fans much excitement!

Enzo's Restaurant Punta Secca (4)

Turning left around the lighthouse and following the beach front took us to the lunch location of choice, Enzo a Mare. Generally Montalbano is the only person out on the terrace savouring the linguine with sea-urchin, but in reality, even on a blustery, rain-sodden day, the terrace was packed with diners tucking into some of the commissario’s favourites.

Fortified with local wine and ultra-sweet cannoli, our next location was the nearby maze of a town: Scicli.  Regular watchers will be familiar with the town hall which doubles as the exterior of the Chief’s police station. It is an impressive building in a very pretty, paved street and it wasn’t hard to imagine our hero casually parking his Fiat and leaping up the steps.

Our final location was the impressive Castello di Donnafugata, known to Montalbano watchers as the HQ of the Sinagras, the local Mafia family. The lure was the terrace, from which the Mafia henchmen watch every visitor’s approach. Unfortunately the opening times for the castle were so confusingly reported in the various guide books and websites we checked that by the time we arrived it was well and truly closed. Despite that, even from the outside, the magnificence of the castle was apparent.

The fictional world of Montalbano, created by author Andrea Camilleri, is deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of Sicily. Visiting the sites used in the programme drew back the tourist curtain a little and despite the weather was a great way to explore and appreciate this fascinating part of Italy.

©Chez l’abeille  2017

 

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In which I go to Crete. Part 3: Rethymnon

Rethymnon (2)

It’s a few weeks since I got back from Crete but since then I have been trying to recreate some of the flavours I experienced there. It’s not so easy to track down Cretan wine in London, but having discovered a rather delicious wine from Peza in the local Oddbins and coupled it with a home made filo pastry, spinach and feta pie, today I’ve come reasonably close!

There was much eating and wine drinking in Rethymnon too. It’s a busy old town but small enough to get around comfortably on foot. It’s also brimming with restaurants. My favourite spot was Raki Ba Raki where I finally found horta, the steamed or boiled cretan greens (or weeds as I’ve seen them described) which are delicious when drowned in olive oil and lemon. The closest similar plant I have found back home is dandelions, so I might have to wait until I go back to try them again. I have read that the greek word for vegetarian is “hortofagos,” which apparently means “weed eater!”

Sitting above the narrrow streets of the old town is the fortress or fortezzo. This Venetian bastion has been around since 1580 and was designed as a place of safety against Ottoman attack. This plan failed in 1646 when the Ottomans besieged the city and the Venetians surrendered. Inside the grounds there is a mosque and an orthodox church, giving testament to the varied history of the island. The views are magnificent from the parapets and it’s easy to see how this spot would be chosen to defend the city behind it.

At the foot of the Fortezza is the Contemporary Art Museum, which has a variety of shows throughout the year.  I wasn’t too engaged with the work by the artist Nikos Viskadourakis that was on display when I was there. Through intensely worked pieces, using a limited acrylic palette of reds, blues, blacks and ochres he explored the myth of Odysseus in Hades – I guess you might need more than a passing aquaintance with book XI of Homer’s Odyssey to really see what was going on. However the building is worth a visit and in the heat of summer the aircon would be delicious.

Walking around it’s easy to see where the Venetians left their mark in other ways. The Rimondi Fountain lies at its heart, providing drinking water for animals and the people alike in times of drought. Equally the old harbour provides a lovely sheltered spot for some people watching, especially after church turns out on a Sunday morning. Despite the touristy air, there’s also a relaxing, homely atmosphere in Rethymnon, which made it a great place to finish my Cretan soujourn.

©Chez l’abeille  2017


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Oh, Honey Honey.

Bees feature rather a lot in the world of Chez L’abeille. This is a good thing because they are rather an important part of our world generally and in some cases are in rather a perilous situation. Even today a friend has shared an article about bees going onto the endangered wildlife list in America. I was intrigued then, when I heard about a very local supper club  event hosted jointly by Gosnells Mead and Bee Kind and Dine, who provide sustainably sourced meals, which aim to engage more people in the issues within our food systems. Bees, food and drink all rolled into one evening – why not?

Firstly some info about mead. I have to admit, the first (and last time) I drank the stuff was on Lindisfarne. It can’t have made too much of a lasting impression because I haven’t gone out of my way in the intervening 20 or more years to seek it out. But this is 21st century Peckham, so it came as no surprise that there is an actual mead brewery about five minutes from my doorstep.

This, however, is modern mead – still made from honey and water but blended to make an entirely surprising, light and exceedingly tasty beverage. During the course of the evening we sampled drank several bottles of the current Gosnells’ range. (And admired the exceedingly lovely labels!)

The London mead is a delicately flavoured mead with a subtle sweetness and was a refreshing opener for our meal. Our second bottle was the hopped mead which had more strength but still maintained the honey notes of the drink. My favourite (not least for its fabulous label) was the citra sea mead which will be finding its way into my fridge asap! For this limited edition brew, honey is combined with lemon peel, tarragon and hops then blended with sea water as a surprise ingredient. The lemony, tangy flavour went particularly well with my monkfish main course. We rounded off the evening with the winter mead – not bottles this time, but more measured tumblers. This one is definitely worth savouring over desert.

Our accompanying supper was equally delicious. As we arrived the potatoes were cooking outdoors on a large open grill which whetted the appetite nicely. The flavours of honey were threaded through the menu in our appetiser and desert, but my favourite dish was the perfectly cooked Cornish monkfish in lieu of pork belly. As you will also see below, the cuttlefish, tomato and polenta starter disappeared before I remembered to take a picture!

Information, fabulous food, conversation and mead all combined into a very entertaining meal. I for one will be round to the nearest Gosnells’ stockist (also five minutes away) with a new admiration for this very old drink!

©Chez l’abeille  2016


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Spice up your life!

Tastebuds were tingling this weekend after the fabulous Ginger Jar team treated over thirty supper club aficionados to their sumptuous “spice edit”.

After a break in supper club service, in part due to their move to a new kitchen in Herne Hill, the GJ brigade were on top form as they showed us what can be done with those unused jars of spices cluttering our kitchens.

Each course, which included the star-anise spiced rum cocktail on arrival, featured a signature spice. As the evening kicked off we were treated to lemongrass, garlic and onion seed based canapes, with the crispy guidilla pickles in an onion seed tempura batter voted the favourite, though the crispy artichoke heart with ajo blanco came a very close second.

Once seated for supper we continued on our trip around the world of spices. Pink peppercorn and toasted coconut gave confit king prawns a subtle sweetness with hits of peppery heat. This was followed by a carrot, shallot and coriander based dish, which focused on the fresh flavours of Middle Eastern spicing and ingredients.

The star of the evening was undoubtably the richly dark Mexican ancho chile salsa.  Coating the perfectly cooked steaks (meat and cauliflower) it had a depth of flavour and subtle heat that provided the perfect partner to the accompanying Jerusalem artichokes with nutmeg butter. Our table included two vegetarians so the sharing platter of flat iron steak had extra portions for the four remaining meat eaters – suffice to say they cleared the plate! Dessert kept us down in South America with a light and very pretty tonka bean and vanilla pannacotta with spice roasted apricot coulis, edible flowers and shards of black pepper meringue.

Ordinary spices mixed with ordinary ingredients created a fine dining menu of unique flavours; Ginger Jar supper clubs are always tasty but this was a sure fire way to spice up a not so ordinary friday night in SE24 and maybe inspire a revisit to those spices lurking at the  back of the kitchen cupboard!

Ginger Jar Food: http://www.ginger-jar-food.com/contact/

©Chez l’abeille  2016


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In which I pop over to Paris: friends, food and pharmacies.

For quite a few years I have visited various parts of France with my old friends Mardi and Neil. This year due to various house purchasing shenanigans on their part and writing courses on mine, we have been a bit tight for free time but we finally managed to organise a fun and food filled weekend get together in Paris. Pourquoi Pas?

Friday: I arrived earlier than the others so took advantage of the time and had a walk around the quartier of Montparnasse. Then we regrouped and headed out to Frenchie wine bar in the 2nd, where we got in first, ate our way through most of the menu and were decreed “cool” by our lovely waiter! A full review of the evening was written up here, complete with the pictures of what we ate! Definitely worth a drool over. Curiously it was rammed with English speaking patrons but I guess most of the locals were en congé”. It is August in Paris after all!

Saturday: We strolled out on a rather cool morning after a heavy night’s rain and headed to the Hilton where a display of models “en Lego” was on offer. It also meant we got to use the Hilton toilets as well. Continue reading

Lobsters ready for cooking


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Something fishy going on…

Getting up at 4am is not a normal occurrence at Chez L’abeille, but when you want to see one of London’s historic markets in action it’s essential. I was heading to the Billingsgate Market Seafood Training School to take part in their “morning catch” class, which includes a tour of the market in full action, hence the (very) early start!

Having caught the first tube from Southwark (05.31am, should you need to know) to Canary Wharf, my first impression of the market, as I headed over the bridge towards the main gate, was the smell of very fresh fish. My second impression was just how busy it was at 6am, although because of the upcoming Easter weekend, today was apparently especially busy. Billingsgate is a “free and open” market, which means anyone can go there to buy fish and with 98 stands and 30 shops there’s plenty to buy.

As the rather bleary eyed class gradually assembled, we were sent off to walk around the stalls and buy the fish we would learn how to prepare later. The choice was vast*. There are stalls which focus on mainly British species and others who specialise in the warmer water fishes of the world, ones who only do shellfish or just frozen produce. The boxes of fish are often labelled with their port of origin and I did spot a little bit of Cornwall in a pile of “falfish” boxes. After much deliberation and because a cup of tea beckoned, I decided to go for the rather scary looking gurnard, a fish I wouldn’t normally buy because I know little about how to handle it. More of that later!

The second part of the class was a guided tour of the market and I was lucky to be in the group taken around by Robert, one of the market inspectors – a man who appeared to be hugely respected by the merchants and whose knowledge of all things fish seems to be limitless! Things I learnt from this part of the class: Continue reading

Ginger jar supper club menu


Back at the chef’s house again!

I was so excited by the fact that I was going to eat back at Chef Jenny Newall’s kitchen again that I forgot my camera. Thank goodness for mobile phones then. However the quality of the pictures may be a bit worse than usual so forgive me. The food, however did not fail to delight.

My appetite had been whetted earlier in the day by teasers on Instagram and twitter – some fabulous looking hazelnut caramel balls appeared to be in preparation. What’s not to like! On arrival we were greeted with a cocktail, delicious canapés and the lovely warm glow of a working kitchen; a pleasant contrast to the damp winter gloom outside.

And so to the food. Napkin folding lesson! The pixie boot

The antipasti was an individual cauliflower, fontina cheese and cavolo nero gratin, with the most delicious roast garlic and pecorino cheese flatbread. I failed to get a decent picture of this, but I can offer the table entertainment in the form of napkin folding art. (I have friends with many talents.)

I did, however, manage to capture the remaining delights of the evening. For the pesce course, I had the balsamic and beetroot cured salmon with blood orange, fennel and winter leaves. The alternative to the salmon was salt baked beetroot. The earthy flavours of the beetroot were perfectly contrasted with the bitter – sweetness of the blood orange, a combination I shall be repeating in my own kitchen.

The secondi course was a treat; a courgette pea and broad-bean ragu with spinach and ricotta gnudi. Now I have become a bit of a gnudi fan recently, after finding a fairly easy recipe in a recent Jamie Oliver cook book. These were light, tasty and far less overpoweringly cheesy than mine. I shall have to consult with the professionals for some tips.

And so to dolci. This was a tirimasu inspired delight of cocoa pastry stacked up with whipped marscapone, a marsala espresso reduction and the long awaited hazelnut caramel balls!  Delicious.

I had brought several friends along with me, who had not been to this supper club before. By the end of the evening serious plans were being made to all go again, which I would say is a sure sign of a successful evening! So here’s to the next one. And this time I won’t forget the camera.

©Chez l’abeille 2015