Monday, May 29, 2006

Things to do in London when it's raining:

We still seem to be in the grip of an unseasonal monsoon. It’s May for heaven’s sake…where are the girls in their frilly dresses?

If you get the tube to Bond St you can get close enough to Selfridge’s to miss most of the puddles and not get stuck in the eye with an umbrella. The vast cathedral-like space is floored and pillared in marble, sensuous with the scent of cosmetics and perfumes, and jam-packed with gorgeous youth dressed in black and crowding around the Chanel counter. I avoid being squirted with something fabulously expensive and sprint for the Food Hall.

This just gets better and better; it used to be a place for good smoked salmon and kosher canapés, but over the years it has become the place for food. (Harrods is pretty good, but I don’t go to that part of town much these days.) The cheese counter has a close relationship with Neal’s Yard Dairy – probably the best cheesemongers in the country – and it is lovely just to ask the question “What’s really good at the moment?” and get a considered reply.

I had a beautiful walnut loaf in my basket (and how I came by it is another story, perhaps for tomorrow) and I asked for cheese to eat with it. I was offered a taste of two; both were terrific and I bought them. The first was Wigmore - a soft sheep’s milk cheese made with unpasteurised sheeps milk and vegetable rennet by Anne and Andy Wigmore at Village Maid Cheese, The Cottage, Riseley, Berks. It’s a sweet, soft cheese and I can’t show it to you because I ate the whole lot for my supper. Cool and fresh and completely delicious.

The second cheese I tasted was Berkswell, a hard sheeps milk cheese made with unpasteurised sheeps milk and vegetable rennet from Ram Hall in the West Midlands.
It is developed from a traditional Caerphilly recipe but has been adapted and matured for four to eight months to give it a unique texture and flavour. To me it tastes a lot like Manchego, nutty and sweet, but not quite so hard textured. Ram Hall exports to lots of places, including the USA.

Both of these cheeses are absolutely wonderful – do seek them out - or order them online from Neal's Yard.

I bought some good Spanish paella rice for when the sun eventually comes out, and was impressed by Daylesford Organic, who come from Gloucestershire and have a new venture at Selfridge’s. They are not too far away from me in Somerset so I think a visit is in the offing.

I was hungry. It was still raining. I needed my spirits lifting, and Antonio Carluccio was just the man to do it. (When I first moved to the countryside I found mushrooms in abundance. Carluccio is THE man on mushrooms and I telephoned him to ask if I could preserve them in olive oil.
“Absolutely not!”
“You’ll get botulism.”
So I didn’t. I dried them in the airing cupboard instead.)

Just round the corner from Selfridge’s Carluccio has a café; tables outside for when it isn’t raining, and inside a riot of colour and a big communal table to sit at. Rain brings out the Dunkirk spirit. At least three people asked me if it had stopped and made sympathetic groaning noises.

I ordered a glass of Prosecco and my spirits lifted. I ordered a plate of antipasti and they soared. Another glass of Prosecco... A coffee...

Aaaaaaah. All is well with the world.


Susan in Italy said...

That antipasto plate looks delectable. What an afternoon you had. I remember back to my first trip to London in 1990 and even then the food section was stellar. I have to admit having low culinary expectations which however, were immediately blown out of the water. London's a great place to eat!

lindy said...

Despite your reports of endless rain , this all looks so inviting to me. We are having a ridiculous early heat wave here in Pittsburgh- and just when spring was going so well. It is nearly 90F, and humid, and I don't even want to go outside. (It's Memorial Day holiday here today) I think I would go outside for some of that cheese though.

Fortunately, I got my tubs of herbs and things planted up and in order before the heat really hit.Now I just have to make sure they don't burn up in the sun.

June said...

Susan - things have moved on a bit since the ubiquitous soggy pasta and glutinous sauce. We are now, at last, celebrating some of the best raw ingredients in Europe. But Carluccio's antipasto plate had 2 fab things on it - an aubergine and pine nut sort of chutney thing and a wonderful chicken thigh stuffed with mortadella and something else. Any ideas about them?

June said...

Lindy - 90, you're kidding! I still have a cardigan on! I saw your herbs, little baby things, they look lovely. In between downpours yesterday I got the front lawn cut and discovered both golden and common oregano growing in its midst - also a lot of dandelions. I skirted round the edibles and the result is some lawn art! The outdoor tomato plants, however, need a mac.

Susan in Italy said...

June, "aubergine chutney" makes me think of the sweet and sour eggplant caponata. The Selfridge's chef may have wanted to get fancy and schmancy with the ingredients and so added pine nuts?? Could be. As for the chicken thighs stuffed with mortadella, no clue, sorry.

June said...

Susan - Caponata! I think that's exactly what it is. I'm off to buy some aubergines immediately. And I'll just make up something for the chicken and see what happens.

June said...

Susan - Caponata! I think that's exactly what it is. I'm off to buy some aubergines immediately. And I'll just make up something for the chicken and see what happens.

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