All the work for the family bbq done, all I have to do is lay the table in the garden and thread the chicken onto kebab sticks. Now this should be a quick, painless episode but although I’d thought ahead and soaked wooden sticks, decided to use my ancient metal skewers, now tarnished with rust. Although scrubbed smooth, they are far from it but the worst thing is the blunt point so stabbing is tortuous. Definitely time for a new set. Everyone loves barbecued sausages and that’s today’s sidekick, so they need to be oiled. Fortunately nobody minds when they get a tad overdone, as they usually do, and they did today. All in all it was a feast; the pea, bean and watercress cous cous, top dollar tomato salad and tzatziki a winning combo. Very delicious English strawberries and almost chewy Italian vanilla ice cream were the perfect conclusion. I laid a bowl of caster sugar just in case anyone wanted ‘a surface’ on their strawberries as my mother always did and right on cue my brother Adam did. A pot of nduja winked at me from the fridge when it came to thoughts of supper and a generous spoonful stirred into simmering baked beans transformed poached eggs on toast for supper.
The Barristers cute and stunningly efficient little bbq was refuelled for lamb kebabs (neck fillet from March Farm, the brilliant butcher at Chiswick Farmers Market) marinated in a rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil then threaded on pre-soaked wooden skewers and eaten with leftover cous cous, tzatziki and tomato salad. I love barbecue meals, the only down side is the clearing up: soaking then scrubbing the rack and the inevitable spilling the ash.
Very excited to be seeing The Lehman Trilogy tonight. It’s on at the theatre opposite Zedel, so I met the Barrister there in the American Bar for a quick drink before what turned out to be a spellbinding performance. Very good luck to almost literally bump into Jeremy King, the suave and elegant boss of the place. As we called for the bill, we discovered he’d already cancelled the tab. We almost ran round the corner to Bocca di Lupo for a late supper. Instead of taking up our table, we perched on high stools at the bar. I love bar eating and our quickly ordered food brought us a succession of delights. Melanzane alla parmigiana, bruschetta with sautéed bianchetti and best of all baccala – home salted cod creamed into garlicky deliciousness. If you get the chance, do see the play and do go to this consistently good restaurant. And remember Zedel too, so handy for every occasion.
Invited to dinner by friends of the Barrister who I met briefly ages ago. They love potatoes, specially Charlottes which they grow in their veg garden just outside Winchester (lucky devils; oh to have an allotment again). On one of the hottest nights of the summer, a welcome breeze blew through their airy riverside apartment and we feasted on boiled Charlottes smothered with creme fraiche topped with very good faux caviare. I first had this wonderful combo many years ago at a very chic, very big garden dinner in St Tropez (thank you Joseph Berkmann of Berkmann Wine Cellars). The meal started at 10.30 with champagne and cold little potatoes topped with creme fraiche and real caviare, followed with poached sea bass and sauce vierge. Both dishes have been a mainstay of my repertoire ever since. It was very touching to be served my own food and I’m pleased to say everything, including the rich and robust chicken cooked in vinegar that followed, went down very well with all of us.
The Barrister and I are catching an early Eurostar tomorrow, so this morning I did a huge fridge clear out to take with me when I deliver my lurcher Red to her doggy friend Wilbur for her summer holidays. The pride and joy of the food parcel, though, was picking two big handfuls of skinny French beans from the front garden. I’d planted a dozen plants and they’re all flourishing, climbing up and over their climbing frame escaping over the magnolia and olive tree. The latter was a gift from Sacla, the pesto people, in their early days, when pesto was a foreign word and we didn’t know how it was going to change our eating habits. The basil too, planted in an old window box, is growing wildly so I’ll soon be making my own pesto; a lovely gift to take to friends.
I was starving when I got back from the dog drop and fell on two thick slices of pugliese bread toasted from frozen and slathered with the last of Sunday’s seriously squidgy Gorgonzola.
Our holiday really began with dinner at Parsons, an absolute gem of a restaurant in Covent Garden. I remember the premises from my restaurant days as Diana’s Diner but the makeover is a transformation, with tables outside too. the meal began with their very good bread smeared with extraordinarily good anchovy purée. It has the texture of molten, dark chocolate sauce with hints of vinegar and tomato ketchup, a terrific balance of sweet, sour, salty, creamy and fishy. The Barrister starter of frito misto to start was a generous mound of perfectly crisp crumbed, deep fried seafood. My salmon tartare with Bloody Mary jelly was a triumph of two elongated mounds of finely chopped, creamy salmon topped with soft blobs of the jelly sliding off the mounds. My goodness this was good. We shared a plump, big plaice, roasted head-off, burnished and smeared with a lemony hollandaise with hints of chives. It was easy to lift off the fillets, then the bone, to reveal the two underneath fillets and plenty of sauce to moisten the perfectly cooked fish. Great chips and one of the finest lettuce salads ever known to man. Apart from a very elegant vinaigrette, the lettuce had been taken apart, trimmed and then reassembled in the bowl. Class.
Breakfast on Eurostar. A rather good croissant with butter and jam. Mucky people like me dunk it in their (also good) coffee. Lunch (which seemed to arrive about 10 minutes later) was one of those non-specific chicken dishes with a bland, creamy sauce but nudged next to it was a big wedge of very good pommes Dauphinoise. Pud was an above average apricot Frangipane tart with a blob of something creamy. Dinner outside in the courtyard of our lovely hotel in Avignon. We both had tender medallions of lamb with two poached banana shallots, pats of truffle flecked butter and a pool of potato purée with meat jus. With it we had extraordinary courgettes cut in big batons, dipped in batter, deep fried and served ‘planted’ in a bowl of toasted sesame seeds. what a joy it is to be back in France.
Up in good time for the classic French hotel buffet; a splendid display of several bowls and platters of all seasonal fruit, tiny little croissant, freshly baked, crusty bread, plenty of tempting pastries, the option for eggs every which way, not to mention a buffet of charcuterie and cheeses. And very, very good cafe creme. Wandering around Avignon was a joy, so many good shops of all types but no food buying for us. Yet. An early lunch at a cafe with tables spilling onto the square in front of it was a ringside seat for the stream of theatrical troupe who stopped, performed and handed out flyers for their shows later that night at the town’s equivalent of the Edinburgh Festival.
We tucked into a freshly made Salade Nicoise, resisting the crusty flute as best we could. Next up was collect the hire car and head for The Big Shop. I’ve been looking forward to this moment and the B and I had our list ready, divvying up the who gets what and loving every moment. French supermarkets are very tempting places and I daren’t tell you what the bill was. I popped a couple of veal chops and handful of slim, small carrots in my trolley for supper and my what a treat they both turned out to be. I cannot remember eating such tasty carrots; childhood carrot flavour. Must buy more.