London Pizza Festival 2017

Last year, Laura and I discovered the best festival ever to exist in London- London pizza festival! For my birthday last year, Laura had got me a ticket where we got to make our own pizza with our East London (hangover) favourite, Rosso Pomodoro. However, our ticket did not include (as we were to later find out) the main show- namely, voting for London’s best pizza joint.

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That’s why we had to go back and try out this year (and probably every other year to come as well). Six different pizza places are present at London Pizza Festival and for £28, you make your way around trying a slice of them all as you turn yourself into a pizza connoisseur.  Typical phrases I found myself saying were things like: “Shame, the dough is a little bit burnt”, “Too doughy, tastes like bread”,  “WAY too much cheese” – (and who thought I’d ever say that). Essentially, trying each slice side by side really helps you realise that no pizza is ever the same. You’re able to cleverly distinguish every little detail (or at least that’s what Laura and I certainly felt like). Then, once you have tried them all, each person uses one voting sticker to crown the winner.

Out of all the places that were there, I had tried both Radio Alice and Da Michele before. Da Michele definitely does live up to its reputation and its pizza is delicious. The tomato sauce is perfectly balanced and flavoursome. Radio Alice is a little different from conventional pizza places. Its dough is a lot denser like bread, so it is less airy and fluffy than your typical pizza. However, I will say that it is tasty nonetheless and their topping choices are always unique. Therefore, I was excited that there was a range of contenders this year, including many I had never tried before.

This year, the contenders were as follows:

Addommè

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Delicious tomato sauce with just the right amount of cheese topped with a tasty aubergine parmigiana. The dough was light and airy. My only complaint was it was little burnt on the bottom. This pizza ended up winning and I can completely see why.

Da Michele (apparently the best pizza in the world)

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In the restaurant, when I had tried the margarita, I’d ordered it with single mozzarella and I had really enjoyed it. However, the pizza they offered here was double the cheese and in my opinion, it was way too much. I love cheese but it meant the pizza had no other flavour.

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Made of Dough

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This was our overall favourite and both me and Laura did end up voting for it. It also won in 2015. We found that made of dough had the perfect balance of flavours. The saltiness of the chorizo went well the sweetness of the piquillo peppers. The dough was close to being my favourite as well. I loved that they gave us a basil aioli to dip the crusts in. I am not a huge fan of crusts and their aioli was EXACTLY what I needed. We even ended up saving it for some of the other pizzas as well.

Napoli on the Road

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Probably my least favourite of the whole festival. I don’t really like pizza in Bianco (White Pizza) unless it’s a topping that I enjoy.  This pizza was topped with tuna carpaccio, mullet bottarga and yellow tomatoes. Personally, I really didn’t like the concept of tuna on a pizza, or any seafood at all for that matter, but it still did well in the overall voting so I think this was down to personal choice.

Radio Alice

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Radio Alice’s dough as mentioned before is crispy on the outside and softer inside. It sort of reminds me of having sourdough bread rather than a traditional pizza. Yet, I will say, while their pizza was denser, the toppings were delicious. The fennel and pork sausage tasted super moreish with the tomato sauce. I also chose to have mine with some chilli oil which gave it just the right amount of heat.

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Sud Italia

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I’m still not sure how I feel about this one. Sud Italia’s Pizza sounded like the most interesting to me and a pizza combo I would never usually pick myself in a restaurant. The pizza had pumpkin, nduja, mozzarella, bleu de laqueuille as well as pecorino and parmesan. Again, for me, the cheese flavours in this pizza were too overpowering. I’m not a fan of blue cheese but I will say its saltiness did help cut through the creamy mozzarella. Overall, for me, this pizza was way too rich and if I had ordered a whole one, I would have not been able to eat it. I will say that in terms of positives, the dough was nice and fluffy.

 

With all the pizza done and dusted, we left the festival feeling STUFFED. I even googled an ice cream place nearby for a dessert but sadly, I could not even bring myself to order anything (WHICH IS so unlike me). Each pizza place gave you a massive slice and if you add it all together, we probably ate the equivalent of 1 and a half pizzas. Combined with some prosecco and we were well and truly knackered. I spent the rest of my day on the sofa, nursing what felt like a pizza baby….but it was worth every second.

Without a shadow of a doubt, We’ll be back next year to eat more pizza, drink more prosecco and become the ultimate tasting experts.

A weekend away in Venice

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For my Birthday this year, Mark decided to pull out all the stops (cheers babe) and take me on a little weekend trip to the city of love. and carbs. and wine- Venice! This was a wonderful surprise and a great start to the month- aka the best month because I was born. Jokes. Sort of. Setting off on Saturday morning and smoothly arriving into Venice we were both excited for our lovely long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of London. Venice life is relaxing. Everyone drinks wine for breakfast, lunch and dinner and leisurely strolls around the city soaking in the culture -sometimes underrated here in London where life always feels so rapid.

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On arrival, we walked the quick distance to our bed and breakfast. In a perfect location, just across the main bridge from the bus station and nestled in one of the alleyways of the city, (il Giardino di Giulia- translating literally into Giulia’s garden) was a true gem. Owned by a lovely man named Marco who prides himself in everything his b&b upholds, we had a lovely quaint room on the ground floor, decorated with old-fashioned furniture juxtaposed with modern art touches. It only has three rooms in total, making it lovely, cosy and intimate. For breakfast, which was served on the top floor, decorated with Marco’s vintage furniture, we were served Italian cakes, coffee, tea, toast as well as a list of other organic items made to order, whipped up by Marco himself as smooth jazz played in the background. He made delicious scrambled eggs with chives and porcini mushrooms, as well as fresh pancakes with tasty berries. By having 3 rooms, the breakfast table is essentially shared by all the guests, which means there’s always a chance to talk to Marco, as well as everyone else, discussing restaurants, where they’ve been around Venice, as well as getting to know people. If you don’t really like the idea of socialising- Breakfast is the only likely time you’ll ever see someone, as people spend most of the day out and about exploring.

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On our first day, we decided to do the whole of Venice. WHOLE? – I know what you’re thinking. Damn girl, that’s a bit ambitious. While that may sound like the case, if you look at the map, you can actually go from north to south of the islands in around 50 minutes. Our idea was to get all the main sights done as well as take the famous gondola down the tiny canals. We went to the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco and let ourselves be guided by the city, constantly wandering down little pathways. Note- this doesn’t always work because you end up walking down a path and hitting a dead end, or several in our case. Also- I’d just like to point out gondola ride is 80 euros for 30 minutes. A bit PRICEY IF YA ASK ME, but, nonetheless, I’d definitely recommend it- you truly see the beauty of Venice as you calmly float through the city.

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SATURDAY:

On our first night, we frustratedly walked around looking for a restaurant which would satisfy us and live up to our expectations. I am, the most– pickiest person when it comes to going to a restaurant when I’m on holiday. Especially in a city which attracts more tourists than locals- it is especially important to know you’re eating somewhere that isn’t a tourist trap. Actually, maybe that is just me and Mark, but we love to know that we’re in for a treat. Thankfully, this is exactly what we were in for when we stumbled upon Osteria Enoteca al Artisti. The wine was gorgeous, the food prepared with the freshest ingredients and the tiramisu was THE BOMB.

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Orchiette with Duck Ragu

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Stewed Lamb and Fried Corn Polenta with Veggies

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Tiramisu

 Sunday:

On Sunday, we were knackered having walked all over Venice. Marco suggested we head to Osteria Alba Nova Dalla Maria, tucked away on a small street, away from the main touristy spots. It was also a five-minute walk from the hotel and as I was feeling particularly lazy, this was great news. It is a family run restaurant that is cosy and authentic. If you’re looking for a small, quaint restaurant that serves traditional Venetian recipes then this is your place to go. Just be careful of an old grumpy Italian man that knows the owner, attending regularly for dinner and who ends up getting drunk and hurling abuse at people. I wish I was joking – he must have been about 85 pissed on half a bottle of red, telling mark how only women should wear shorts- bitch, please.

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Selections of meats

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Spaghetti al Vongole (clam spaghetti – MY FAV)

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Dark Chocolate Pasta – (sounds strange, but apparently an ancient recipe and definetly tasty) with cuttlefish

Monday:

DSC03571On Monday, we decided we would head off to the other surrounding Islands of Venice. If you haven’t been, there are no cars so everything is done by boat- imagine moving house and shifting ya furniture down small canals- nightmare! We decided to take the water boat to the north of the island, where you can access further water buses to Burano, Murano and other little islands. I will say, If you don’t want to spend 80 euros on a gondola then this is a cheap way to float through the city- you essentially get an inexpensive tour and can pay for a day pass for 20 euros and take it all around Venice. Burano is a cute little island, famous for knitting intricate lace and is dominated by pretty colourful houses that are fit for an Instagram account’s dream. For lunch, we decided to try Trattoria Da Romano.  As Burano is small and touristy, all the nice restaurants quickly get filled up. We were being consistently turned away or being told to “try our luck in 30 minutes”. Getting hungry and impatient, we were lucky to finally get a table as I had read good things. I’m glad this was the case because the food was worth it! Burano has lots of fresh seafood and I knew we had to take advantage of this.

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Vongole saltate in padella. Clams quickly tossed in a pan in a white wine sauce, with garlic and parsley. You may tell, I like clams. No, I LOVE CLAMS. In Italy, they are a must try dish- especially with a bit of lemon.

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Calamari with white polenta and deep fried vegetables – again, fresh and tender seafood- crucial for a good calamari dish.

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Gnochetti ala Grancevola (crab and tomato sauce)

Later, for dinner, we went to a lovely Venetian place called La Bitta. A restaurant choosing to focus solely on meats, we went for steak, chicken with red peppers, tomatoes and olives as well as a moreish plate of beef carpaccio. I must admit the pictures look a bit blurry and I think this was because I was slightly tipsy.- As Always. But, I did save you a picture of my favourite part of that meal – the dessert. The Panna Cotta was amazing. It had a perfect consistency and jiggled like me on a club night out- haha, seriously though, it was epic.

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TUESDAY:

Finally, our last food stop of the trip consisted of trying Chichetti (Venetian tapas) traditionally eaten standing up.  You can’t go to Venice and not experience it like a local and Chichetti is no exception! You essentially head to the bar and the food is all on display, as you select which different dishes you’d like. It’s all back to basics here- usually served on paper plates and plastic cups. This is even more enjoyable on a sunny day as revellers sit outside in the sun sipping on crisp, cold white wine. We tried Chichetti in both Cantinone Gia Schiavi and Osteria Al Squero, which are both down the road from each other. You must try the latter as it is always popular no matter what day you walk past and has become synonymous with eating like a venetian.

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I can’t honestly tell you everything we got because we asked for house favourites – I’d recommend doing this so you can try an array of different items rather than go for flavours you’re automatically drawn to

Venice was a lovely trip. I got to forget about work for a few days, eat yummy ice cream every day and justify it because we were “walking around”, practice my Italian and spend time with Mark as we basked in the sun.

A personal shout out to him for organising everything, you really are the best.

Italian Tapas at Gastrovino, Chelsea

Situated over 2 floors, Gastrovino is a cute Italian restaurant nestled in the heart of kings road. Surrounded by Italians, (and being asked if I am ACTUALLY Italian – half mate, half) I knew that the food had to be yummy.

IMG_5246Andrea, Katrina and I attended last Wednesday for their aperitivo night! For just £10 pounds per person, every guest is given a welcome drink, as well as an unlimited access to a selection of different small dishes, which are continuously brought out by the chefs as the night unfolds. In terms of price, their Wednesday night deals are such a bargain, as each dish usually ranges between £5-8. I will say we arrived pretty late and so it was rather difficult finding a table and setting up- if you don’t want the hassle of standing around praying someone gets up, definitely go earlier than 8:30 pm! It is also more dimly lit downstairs than up, but this is because the lower deck is a great place for a cocktail, serving as the bar area rather than the main restaurant itself. However, once we did find a seat it was a cosy evening! There was some live music going on in the background and an array of tasty drinks on offer, which really added to the atmosphere. In terms of food, (my favourite part of any situation) we were in control of what dishes we wanted (and in our case, re wanted teehee)- helping ourselves to the various tasty dishes that were on order. As previously mentioned, because the chefs constantly bought out variations of traditional and authentic Italian dishes throughout the night, there was always something new to try. I must admit I kept helping myself to more… it was for the whole table Ok. My favourite dish had to be the aubergine parmigiana. If I have to explain what that is then you know nothing. Jokes.  It is deep fried aubergine in tomato sauce covered with mozzarella cheese mmmmm. We also had the classic bruschetta, pizzette, seafood risotto, pasta with a creamy tomato sauce and meatballs! A pretty good selection if you ask me… and that wasn’t even the half of it!

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All the food was what I’d expect (and want!) from a typical Italian restaurant: tasty carbs, cheese and lots of deep fried goodies.

Lunch at Palatino

Last week my sister and I went to check out Palatino, a new restaurant following Stevie Parle’s The Dock Kitchen, Rotorino, Craft London & Sardine. Palatino is an Italian restaurant with a focus on food from Rome. We have been to Rotorino before as it is an East London favourite (and five seconds from my house) and we love trying their different regional dinners from various parts of Italy, which they host at the end of every month. Knowing we have enjoyed it in the past, we decided to try our luck with Palatino.

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The decor is modern, with a mix of concrete fittings and warm yellow furniture and as we were seated we decided that in order to fully try out the restaurant’s new menu, we had to order a vast selection. We essentially picked our favourite dishes from each section and had a mini feast, (“it’s for the blog though”) opting to share each dish. I am currently unemployed (anyone looking for a brilliant worker hint hint?) and Rebecca has university so it is nice to be able to meet up in the day now that I am still searching.

For antipasti, we ordered Supli with wild mushroom & mascarpone £3 (essentially small arancini). These were delicious- mushroom and mascarpone are the perfect combinations, especially when fried into a small ball of greatness. Great choice for a sharing starter option.

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For pasta, we decided to go with Ravioli with spinach & squash £14 (main course portion). The pasta tasted fresh, the filling was flavourful and the sauce made a nice accompaniment. I always feel like, with ravioli, the mistake is having it with tomato sauce as sometimes that takes away from the flavour inside. My only complaint about this course would be that I wish there was more sauce as Rebecca and I were scraping the plate for more. Overall, though, coming from an Italian background and having tried a lot of pasta, this was pretty decent!

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Next, nothing seems more traditionally Roman than Saltimbocca, which is veal, surrounded by prosciutto, spinach, sage & Marsala wine £14.

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We also liked the sound of the fried potato gnocchi £4.

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Again, the veal was tasty! The meat was tender, the sauce was just right and the spinach on the side provided a bit of relief from the saltiness of the prosciutto. The fried Gnocchi were also extremely moreish and made a good alternative to having potatoes on the side.  However, I found that because they were bite size I kept going back for more. They were also covered in cheese and sage and who doesn’t love anything covered in cheese? (I LOVE cheese).

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As some of you will know if you read these posts often (and I’m not sure how many people that actually is.. Hey mum & Rebecca) I always love dessert and a meal is never finished without something sweet. We couldn’t decide between the Almond lemon & ricotta cake, rhubarb & creme fraiche or the chocolate cake, pistachio & honeycomb (both priced at £7) so we let the waiter surprise us. In the end, he picked the almond ricotta cake. This was light, tangy and the creme fraiche and rhubarb gave it some tartness. It was nice but not my favourite dessert I’ve ever had. Nonetheless, it was still worth it to round off an overall lovely meal.

If you’re looking for a cute Italian restaurant to bring you fond memories of a past trip to Rome, the food at Palatino will do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking with my Italian Grandma

Earlier in the week, my grandma from Italy arrived in the U.K. As some of you may (or may not) know, recently, my mum officially moved back here after living in the Middle East for fourteen years, a place where I spent most of my childhood.

I’m not sure how many of you will be familiar with Italian culture, but basically, everything in Italy revolves around food (and carbs!). Your lunch times are strictly classed within the order of antipasti (starter) primo (usually pasta), secondo (followed by meat/fish) and dolci (desserts.. I think this is where my rule of always finishing a meal with something sweet came from).  Seriously, it still takes me an effort to convince my grandma that I don’t particularly like having a three-course meal every day. Nonetheless, when my grandma arrived, she had naturally stocked up her suitcase and bought over an abundance of fresh Italian produce (Lucky me!). She had items like fresh buffalo mozzarella (you can buy these at Naples airport), ricotta, among other delicious things. Unsurprisingly, one of the things she enjoys most is cooking, usually waking up super early most mornings to start making fresh pasta dough and regularly yearning to cook us all something. While her old fashioned beliefs still startle me, (she tells me that it’s vital for a woman to cook for her man- I don’t think so sister!) it’s always nice when we can come together and make something tasty.

We decided to make both fresh ravioli and fusilli (another type of pasta pictured below and made by yours truly). The ancient trick to making the perfect fusilli? My grandma uses the inner rods from an umbrella (no lie).

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For the pasta dough itself, her recipe is as follows:

1 egg

250g of pasta flour “00.”

You simply mix the two ingredients together and add some water to help bind it all together. Leave it to rest for a bit before attempting to use.

As for the filling, (roasted butternut squash and ricotta), I decided to take inspiration from Jamie Oliver’s new recipe book- ‘Super Food Family Classics’. If you follow me on my food Instagram, then you will know I’ve recently been using the book and replicating dishes (to convince myself I am an actual chef). I roasted a butternut squash whole at 180c for an hour and then added the ricotta in for an additional 30 minutes. When the butternut squash had softened, I scooped out the flesh discarding the seeds and mixed both the ricotta and squash together with some salt, pepper and basil.

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As Italians, my mum obviously owns a pasta machine (i think almost every Italian does), which makes rolling the dough out easy, to spoon the mixture and fold the pasta sheet over. Of course, if you don’t have a machine (like myself in my kitchen) then you can use a rolling pill to still get a similar effect.

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Next, using a mould especially made for ravioli making (see, I told you- italians are dedicated to our food), my grandma pressed and discarded the surrounding dough. Once everything was done and enough had been made, I boiled water with some salt and cooked the pasta for about two minutes. For the cherry (tomato) on top of my fabulous food day, we also had fresh parmesan from Italy AND tomato sauce that my mum had made earlier. While it took time and effort, nothing quite beats a plate of fresh creamy pasta!

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In true Italian fashion, the day couldn’t be over without making desserts. We made Pasticelle, or Stelline di Natale- because they look like stars and they are made during Christmas in the south of Italy. However, my sister and I love them and have usually never got to go to Italy during the Christmas season, so my grandma is happy to make them 365 days of the year! It is essentially a sweet pastry that is fried and has a gooey chestnut, coffee and dark chocolate filling. They are also lightly dusted with icing sugar. My favourite time to eat them is when they are fresh out the fryer and the chocolate filling oozes from the inside.

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I think it’s safe to say that I was left pleasantly satisfied (along with incredibly full- which is what every Italian grandmother aims to accomplish) and if you ever get the chance to meet her, I’m sure you’d feel the same.