Category Archives: Pizza

At the Chapel. A weekend for one

I’ve travelled on my own a lot. Buenos Aires, New York, Rome, Lucknow have all been solo adventures; each trip planned in excruciating detail down to where I would have my 4pm coffee and post dinner stroll. Bruton was different. The street I live on in London is possibly longer than the distance between the start and end milestones of this quaint village in Somerset. And save for long walks, an occasional cheddar cheese farm and a country outpost of a city art gallery there is little else to “do”. 

I packed my tablet with several movies, carried as many books as clothes, and took along more newspapers for this long weekend than I usually read in a month. I’m a city girl. What was I doing spending my birthday on my own in the middle of nowhere? Mad. 

Cold and windswept, I walked into At the Chapel in Bruton. Welcomed by muddy gumboots leaning cosily against each other, wafts of freshly baked bread, and the warmest smile I’ve been gifted in the longest time, I knew I had just made one of the better decisions of my life. Charlie swept me into the beautiful atrium restaurant, where I would return like a homing pigeon for the next three days.

  

   

I don’t make New Year resolutions, I never begin diets on a Monday… so the only way I can describe what happened in Bruton is ‘revelations’: 

Where you come from matters 

I imagine Somerset is beautiful in every season, but especially scenic as spring takes hold of its rolling hills and bustling coastline. A short drive from Bruton is Tom Calver’s Westcombe farm, where 280 cows graze their days away in lush fields, less than a mile from the dairy (something about not wanting to disturb the milk’s molecules with too much travel). A small group of men make this award-winning cheese by hand, carefully slapping and turning the cheese until it’s ready for a long sleep in the cave. Tom could have turned the family dairy into a “business”. Instead, he chose tradition. His commitment to artisan techniques has resulted in the best Cheddar anyone will ever taste.

 

Where you are going matters too

Beginning with my first skinny, dry cappuccino, At the Chapel got everything right. And whatever they didn’t, they corrected with smiles so wide, and hearts so warm that I struggle to name any flaws in my stay. I was lucky to meet owners Catherine Butler and Ahmed Sidki who first bought this now fabulous restaurant, bakery, wine shop and hotel to convert into their home. Instead what they ended up doing was create a home for everyone who walks through their doors. A home with gorgeous bedrooms, outstanding pizza, and a team of inn keepers who look after you even before you realise you need looking after.  

 

Where you are matters most 

I have not stood still for a while. Always looking back and looking forward, I lost sight of the ground right beneath my feet. I weep for the loves I have lost, for the life that may never come my way. I weep a lot. The love and warmth at At the Chapel brushed away my tears long enough for me to realise that I am already surrounded by old friends and new strangers who love me today, now. Where I am, matters the most.

 -p 

 This is how I spent my weekend in Bruton:

  • Stayed At the Chapel in a lovely room (£150) with South-facing views of The Dovecote (and not once felt the need to hide behind my collection of books and movies). Each hotel guest wakes up to a warm croissant left outside the door first thing in the morning. Best I’ve ever tasted.

     

  • Walked through muddy fields to the fantastic Hauser & Wirth gallery. 
  • Roth Bar & Grill makes a decent Negroni with the longest orange peel I have seen. I don’t recommend the food.
  • Spent all other meal times at At the Chapel.
  • Visited Westcombe Dairy and came back with a truck load of Tom Calver’s Caerphilly, Cheddar and Ricotta. Sipped on the local brew – Fresh by Wild Beer Co.
  • Walked to The Dovecote.
  • Promised myself to return to Bruton. Soon.

 

 

 

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Breakfast, British, Cheese, Cocktails, Coffee, Hotel, Hotel restaurant, Pizza, Travelogue

Nico Bombay. Style over substance

Me:                        “What is that white cream?”

Waiter:                 “One moment ma’am, I will send the manager.”

Me:                        “What is that white cream?”

Manager:            “It’s part of the dish ma’am.”

Me:                        “Uh… OK, but what is that white cream?”

Manager:            “It’s the aubergine paste.”

Me:                        “I think that is the brown smear under the white cream.”

Manager:            “It’s a clam paste ma’am.”

Me:                        “That would be another item on the menu.”

Are you exhausted yet? Multiply this with 100 and you may come close to my exasperation during lunch at South Bombay’s newest restaurant.  Just back from London, a restaurant serving non-Indian food would not have been my first choice; but I was going to meet a real Bombay food blogger, Prachi Joshi of Deliciously Directionless, and didn’t let the small matter of cuisine get in the way.

I had to read other reviews to understand Nico Bombay’s style of food – Modern European apparently – because neither the staff, nor a studious review of the menu, with an odd mix of roast chicken, Kadaifi wrapped prawns, and pizza, revealed anything.  Nico Bombay will focus on fresh ingredients (!), locally sourced (!!). Even though there is nothing local about Italian burrata or Hungarian salami I hope they are serious about the other ingredients being fresh.

We were welcomed with complimentary glasses of Zampa Sparkling Wine (if you haven’t tasted this yet I would recommend you stay far, far, away), but the restaurant had no filtered water for its guests. We were asked to buy a bottle – costing Rs. 150 – if we were thirsty. Not the kind of start I was hoping for.

We ordered three mezze and one Neapolitan flatbread (not to be confused with pizza, even though it arrived looking like one). And this is what we subjected ourselves to:

Smoked sardines, aubergine compote on sourdough toast (Rs. 375) of white cream fame. The white cream turned out to be a sardine paste, and so this dish which had such promise turned out to be a sardine overload on a piece of toast that was definitely not sourdough.

Veal tenderloin, tuna tonato (Rs. 400). I think they meant tonnato. Just as I’m sure the chef meant to add salt to the veal, and anchovies, capers and lemon to the tonnato. This classic Piedmontese dish arrived on a piece of slate, looking great and tasting of nothing.

Pulled goat meat, red onion, micro greens (Rs. 275) –   such a wonderful choice of meat, maybe inspired by a current global trend for pulled pork buns. It was not the most tender of cuts, but this was the best thing we ate today. And they weren’t kidding about the greens being “micro”.

Ciro: Bocconcini, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Hungarian Pic (k) Salami (Rs. 600) – where do I start with this pizza, uh… sorry, Neapolitan flatbread? I can rarely resist a dish that promises oven roasted tomatoes. A simple oven can coax even the most stubborn tomato into a luscious sauce so I am not sure why the chefs at Nico Bombay chose to create a tart, sloppy mess. We’re not sure if the bread was tough or the knives blunt, but had to throw in the towel a few mouthfuls later.

We left without dessert and treated ourselves to the fantastic coffee and cakes at Kala Ghoda Cafe around the corner instead.

I am quite willing to look past average food at a new restaurant, but when that is coupled with shoddy service, I find no reason to be kind. The waiters didn’t know their burrata from their elbow. We did not finish a single one of the dishes ordered but not one of the three waiters, one bartender, one manager, or two owners present in the restaurant at the time cared to check if there was a problem. Considering we were one of only four tables occupied, it could not have been because they were busy.

I should probably say something about the décor, but a designer we bumped into on our way out said it best, “It’s wonderful that the city’s Art Deco elements are brought into the restaurant; but the space is clearly designed as a bar for the evening.

Uncomfortable as we were in the director’s chairs, the meal wasn’t a total fail. I met a new Bombay person! Prachi and I, probably brought closer by the trauma of the meal, bonded over a shared disbelief over “food critics” who cannot cook, hilarious stories of Internet dating, and a mutual love for Italian holidays and Shah Rukh Khan.

-p

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Filed under Bombay, India, Italian, Mediterranean, Open kitchen, Pizza, Restaurant

da Polpo. And another one?

da Polpo is like the old friend you can rock up to anytime and are guaranteed a great conversation. Like the other restaurants in Russell Norman’s stable, da Polpo is cosy, easy and approachable. I find nothing more uncomfortable than a restaurant on edge – week one, new staff, new menu, forgotten service sequences, the smell of paint, and table tops that shine a bit too much. What I love most about Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino and now da Polpo is how they manage to look and feel lived in, even when brand new.

Most things about this place will remind you of Polpo. One has a Campari Bar, the other an Aperol one. Both bacaros use a lot of natural finishes, have distressed walls, tiled flooring and bar counters you can eat at – the single diner’s most favourite seat.

                     

I even got lucky with my waitress; Tajsa (am near certain I’ve got this spelling wrong) wasted no time in settling me in and starting me off with a glass of the Polpo Prosecco (£5) – OMG so delicious – and some complimentary sesame cream cheese and bread.  (I’m still not sold on the fashion of wine being served in non-wine glasses.)

The menu is also a lot like Polpo’s. I started with the arancini (£2.50) – the gooey cheese centre makes these crispy balls of rice divine, even if lacking a little something. Next was the asparagus, taleggio and parma ham pizzetta (£6.50). The cheese and ham may get too salty for some but I loved this baby pizza.

I finished with a fresh tomato salad (£5) and a glass of the Polpo Merlot (£2.75). Maybe the combination was wrong but I won’t rush to order this wine again.

    

I skipped dessert , promising the superb staff that I would return for some. Soon. Last week I wrote about Spuntino – THE ONE restaurant I knew I would have a long romance with. Today I walked into another ONE. Amongst too many other things, Bollywood is where I first learnt and loved the idea of THE ONE. (It was most likely Rishi Kapoor & Dimple Kapadia’s teenage romance Bobby.)

We’ve all grown up since then and while I may still look for the Bollywood moments in my life, I’ve changed what The One means to me – ever so slightly. I now have:

  • The One who got away – and Thai Green Curry
  • The One who was always going to hurt me – and Pytt I Panna
  • The One I still think about – and Vegemite sandwiches
  • The One I didn’t really care about – and strawberry cheesecake

And then there is THE 5months-14days-8hours- andafewminutes ONE.

-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Design, Dessert, Italian, London, Pizza, Restaurant, Tapas, Wine

Black or white?

East London’s restaurants are better prepared for single diners compared to their West End counterparts. Walking into Pizza East can be intimidating. The restaurant used to be a grimy bar that used to be a warehouse. If you ignore the smiley waiters, wood fired ovens and designer tables you could easily mistake it for an old factory floor. But where Pizza East loses with the tired exposed ducting it more than makes up for with some of my favourite restaurant features – leather button-banquettes, an open kitchen, hardwood floors and counter seating.

Sexy Italian wasted no time getting me settled when I said “Just me please”. He led me to the counter, asked me about my day and went on to chat about his until the waiter was ready to take over. I’d been walking a while and was thirsty! Tap water, fresh orange juice (£2.75) and a Bloody Mary (£7) – I’m set. The clam pizza I had heard so much about is no longer on the menu. Sexy Italian comes back to explain that in spite of great reviews their diners didn’t quite take to fish on their pizza. Pity! He helped me choose a soft polenta appetizer (topped with spicy, deep-fried chicken liver £5) and a Gorgonzola Pizza (£10).

I’m ravenous and my appetizer arrives just before I kick up a fuss. The polenta glides like warm butter around my mouth, and the light crunch of the deep fried batter gives way to creamy, perfect chicken livers. So much bliss in such a small plate.

The waiter comes over and asks me if I would like a newspaper. “No thanks, I brought my own.” After scanning the front page I usually jump to the weekend paper’s Agony Aunt column. The pizza arrives and I chew on a letter from Betrayed Betty. She found out that her best friend knew about her husband’s affair and kept it from her. Now she doesn’t know whether she “should” forgive her friend or not.

It isn’t scandalous to presume that, responding to our wavering moral centre, we advise Betrayed Betty to forgive. Really? Is that what we would do?

Would have, could have, should have – I work hard not to use these words in any sentence about my own life. This doesn’t mean that I have no regrets… of course I do! However, I have made my peace with these regrets and refuse to let the tyranny of ‘would’, ‘could’ and ‘should’ destroy any more days. All regrets except one.

Four years ago I was party to a secret that affected someone I knew. (Let’s call her Mrs A). A secret I kept from my close friend who had known Mrs A for twenty years. Mrs A had known me for eight. I met my close friend twelve years ago. There were reasons why I should have told my friend about the secret; but several more reasons why I could not. High up on the list was a fear that I would lose my friend. More often than not it is the messenger that suffers the consequences; nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news and I am no exception. More importantly, I had not quite resolved the secret in my head.

It was my secret to tell, and not my friend’s to share – would she understand this? Also, would telling this secret be good for anyone? Not for Mrs A; her life as she knew it would come to an end. Not for my friend; who would have to forever bear the burden of having caused her friend great pain, no matter how noble her intentions. And definitely not for me. For the first time in a long time I did not believe that honesty was the best policy, and my black and white world was cloudy with too many shades of gray.

I recently took the decision to tell my friend about the secret. It was as horrible as I had imagined. But together, over many, many spoonfuls of chocolate fudge, we decided it was the better decision – my having waited to tell her, and for both of us deciding not to tell Mrs. A. We knew that we were now both guilty of keeping a secret that really should be exposed. There it is again – “should”. Does having someone share your burden make it lighter? Not this time I’m afraid.

-p

p.s. See how good the pizza looks? It should have tasted fantastic. It did not.

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Filed under Communal tables, London, Open kitchen, Pizza, Restaurant