Top Ten Things I Ate This Year – part one

I can’t believe it’s November again. In a few days time I’ll be celebrating my 32nd birthday. On the same day there will be fireworks in London for bonfire night and shortly past 3 pm, all of Australia will rush to a television set, to see the horse race that stops a nation.

Meanwhile Baby Will and I will be in a studio in St Peters, pitching in for the third of eight days of photography for the new book. If I’m honest, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the passing of another year.

Except for taking a little stroll down memory lane. It’s been a cracker of a year, with some outstanding things consumed (morning sickness and all). So here’s the first part; the ten best things I ate in the past year.

1) Beef at Faviken

Faviken is not a restaurant that you casually decide to go to on a Tuesday night. The location may have something to do with it. More than 600 km north of Stockholm it nudges up towards the Arctic Circle.

Visiting this 12-seater restaurant on a 24,000-acre hunting property in Jämtland requires some planning. It was here that we belatedly celebrated my birthday in November last year. And it’s here that I ate a dish of beef that I cannot erase from my memory.  Most beef in the UK will live to around 24 months and be aged for a couple more, if you’re  very lucky. This, is a whole different kettle of protein.

It was a portion of a ten year old dairy cow, that’s been dry aged for five months.  Dairy cows will rarely be used for anything when their term is up. But here is thrift and sense on a plate- with a little effort and time, everything that lives at Faviken has additional value. Sitting at our heavy wooden table that night was a French food and travel journalist at our table who isn’t impressed with the dish. ‘It tastes like death’ he exhorts. But no. It’s rich and gamey, somewhere between venison, pheasant and beef. There’s heft and chew. It’s meat of significance that’s considerately served with light shavings of raw vegetables. It’s steak, but not as you know it.

83005 Järpen, Sweden
+46 (0) 647 401 77

2) Raspberry and Yuzu Sorbet with Cream Cheese Foam at Pollen St Social

Jason Atherton, once from Gordon Ramsay’s stable and the helm of Maze opened his sleekly elegant space in Mayfair two and a half years ago. From there he’s spear headed a cavalcade of impressive openings in London, from the French bistro Little Social to the  more recent venture Berner’s Tavern. But for a classic taste, it’s worth pulling up a perch at the dessert bar at Pollen St Social. The restaurant was host to an indulgent dinner which came to a climax with this dessert; a tumbler with base of raspberry and yuzu sorbet, crowned with a foam of cream cheese,  sprinkling of macha powder and freeze dried raspberry segments. The first thing out of my mouth is to wonder which poor chef is responsible for having to segment the raspberries.  It’s a delight, most akin to  eating one of Rainbow Brite’s clouds.

Pollen St Social
8-10 Pollen Street, London W1S 1NQ
020 7290 7600

Egg en Cocotte with Roast Chicken at Prune

An excursion for brunch at Prune is not for the faint hearted. Ever since I finished Gabrielle Hamilton’s shining memoir ‘Blood, Bones and Butter‘ (if you haven’t read it, I cannot endorse it enough) I knew we had to go the next time we visited  New York. The way Gabrielle writes about food made me certain I’d like what I’d eat there. There’s an economy to it all, a confident sensibility. This is a woman who knows what goes with what- and more than anything- knows when to place a full stop. The trick was getting a seat. I’d heard rumours of two hour waits for weekend brunches. So it seems the age old adage is true; the early bird gets the worm; or the corner table. The good thing about being 9 weeks pregnant when you’re travelling is that your sleep cycle is already all out of whack. So arriving at 9.40 am on a Sunday morning with a copy of the New York Times tucked under our arms wasn’t that hard.  We managed to snaffle the two spots on the wooden love seat outside. We sat and waited in the sun for twenty minutes, while the largely female team inside had their staff breakfast. Meanwhile behind us the line swelled. At 10 am, we were first in. At 11.15 am when we left, there was a queue of 30 people snaking down the block.

So is it worth it? Yes. It’s worth it for the eggs en cocotte alone.  ‘Chicken and egg?’ The Hungry One asked-’isn’t that a bit much?’ No, not really. It’s a perfect lesson in richness and restraint. There are small nuggets of roasted chicken snuggled in the bottom of a ramekin. Over the top is a softly cooked egg in cream, with a downright aggressive amount of black pepper. It comes with tubby triangles of buttered white toast and a gentle pile of soft butter lettuce leaves. The yolk bleeds into oozing softness, while the crunch of the toast and spike of the pepper pull it back from the fringes of infantile. The dressed leaves are  the clarity you need. It might not look like much and at the start you may question the portion of just one egg,  but trust them and me; it’s perfectly complete, from beginning to end.  And it’s the chicken that really makes it sing. It’s a dish that’s made me rethink the usual breakfast equation of pig and egg many a time in the 11 months that has passed, and resulted in this new favourite on our table at home.

54 East 1st St  New York, NY 10003

4) Carrot Tartare at Eleven Madison Park

There’s a moment exactly half way through the four hours of escapist delight which is a meal at New York’s Eleven Madison Park when one of the chefs will emerge and affix a meat grinder to the side of your table. Into which he’ll process a trimmed, cleaned, cooked and outrageously orange Paffenroth Farms carrot.

The resulting pillowish pile of orange is transferred to a decidedly Japanese wooden board housing eight small bowls of garnishes; each one an education on the true dimensions of a fine brunoise (read, tiny). You can season and flavour your tartare to your own heart’s content. Be like The Hungry One and tumble everything in; the smoked blue fish, the minced chive, horseradish, sea salt, pickled ginger, pickled quail egg yolk, apple and mustard flowers. Add some  squirts of spicy carrot vinaigrette and mustard oil and muddle away.

Or you can choose a more restrained path, dabbling with just the apple scents. Whatever you do, don’t leave out the pickled egg yolk. Beneath a thin, puckered meniscus it runs like a Kandinsky print, spilling yellow over orange; gilding it all together. It’s tartare and it’s carrot.  But it’s a reinvention of both. It’s theatre and food, experimentation and expression. It’s knife work that startles and flavour combinations that shine. It’s an astounding dish- made from a carrot.

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010, United States

5)  Fried Green Tomato ‘BLT’ at Yardbird

It’s a BLT, but not as you know it. At the base is a puck of green tomato, sliced thick, breaded and fried. Then comes house made pimento cheese, a slab of pork belly, tomato jam and  a whimsical cap of frisee.

Yardbird in Miami describes themselves as ‘A house of worship to farm-fresh ingredients, classic Southern cooking, culture and hospitality’, and gosh darn,  this swish friendly space does exactly what it says on the box. The restaurant itself is open and breezy, with plenty of tables outside on the porch if the sun isn’t scorching too much. Jeff McInnis is the chef responsible for what’s on the plate (Top Chef watchers might recognise him from Season 5). If you can believe it, he grew up in a town called Niceville.

And the dish not to miss is the ‘Fried Green Tomato BLT’. It’s everything you love about a BLT, without the boring bulk of bread. There’s smoke from the cheese and the sweet tomato jam just highlights the acid living inside the crusted green slices. If there weren’t so many other grand things on the menu (read barbecued pulled pork sandwich, with juices that properly run down your wrist, moon pies for dessert and mac and cheese as a ‘fixin’) we’d have been tempted to order another set. Instead we had to make do with recreating them at home.

1600 Lenox Avenue  Miami Beach, FL 33139, United States

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