Saturday

Slow Food gains momentum and celebrates 100th Chef to join the Chef Alliance

So what is Slow Food? I found myself asking.  Can you support Slow Food if you eat too quickly and are always the first to finish a meal?  Does it mean I have to cook everything very slowly at very low temperatures in slow motion?
Partridge sausage rolls

Er no, but what it is, is a global, grass roots movement connecting the pleasure of eating with a commitment to community and environment.

Founded in Italy in 1989, the UK arm began four years ago and was set up to encourage people in this country to choose nutritious food, from sustainable, local sources.  As part of this movement Chef Richard Corrigan and CEO of Slow Food UK, Cat Gazzoli set up the Chef Alliance. Its Members pledge to actively champion and support the aims of Slow Food UK and in particular it's Forgotten Foods programme, comprising of 68 endangered foods.

In just over two years the list of Chefs who have joined this Alliance has turned it into a Who's Who of the Chef-ing world.  The list includes famous names such as Michel Roux Jr of Le Gavroche, Raymond Blanc of Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, Theo Randall at the Intercontinental, Vivek Singh at The Cinnamon Club and Lukas Pfaff at Sartoria.

Lavazza coffee caviar
The Chefs are encouraged to serve Forgotten Foods on their menus and work closely with small producers to help promote good quality, local and sustainably produced foods.

Interested to try a few of these Forgotten Foods I headed to the Photographer's Gallery for some Slow Food UK tasting, Lavazza coffee treats and celebrate the 100th member of the Chef Alliance, Pierre Koffmann while scoffing.  

Lavazza edible cookie cup
Beginning the night with a zah zah zing, we were offered little glass fish scoops of coffee bubbles nestled on a bed of cream, called coffee caviar that tasted divine. This was followed by a Lavazza espresso in a cookie cup lined with white icing.  Knocked back with a tilt of the head, the cookie cup got nibbled too.
Marinated Fal Oyster Ceviche

Wondering how long it would take for the caffeine to kick in, a tray of oysters appeared.  Somehow, despite my love of food I had never quite wanted to try oyster before.  This was my moment, I thought.  If ever there was a time to try oyster, then served up at a Chef Alliance bash is likely to be the best.  Dressed with fennel and quinoa, the marinated Fal Oyster ceviche  looked unbelievably inviting.  I thought, here goes.

Harvested from 1st October to 31st March by traditional sailing vessels, the Fal Oyster from Cornwall is one of the few remaining stocks of native oyster left in the UK and the only stock left of wild oyster. Gathered by a little fleet of fishing boats from the port of Truro, they have been included on the Forgotten Foods list due to a number of factors.  Threatened by overfishing of the minimum sized oysters, water quality during the summer months, invasive species (slipper limpet), capital dredging near the fishery and the selling price, the Fal Oyster has a lot to contend with.
Coloured beetroot, horseradish and kipper

The tasters began to appear at a steady pace with coloured beetroot, horseradish and kipper; partridge sausage roll with quince chutney and Cornish saffron cake all making an appearance. Each bite looked delicious, tasted delicious and was served with lashings of Italian white, Gavi di Gavi.  Happy Days.

Surrounded by a room full of chefs and small producers there was a sense of fellowship and bonhomie throughout the evening.  Rounded off by Thank Yous, Cat Gazzoli said, "I want to personally thank every chef member; our Chef Alliance partners Lavazza and Highland Park, as well as every Slow Food UK member and supporter who have come together to protect and defend edible biodiversity as our birth right."

As for the Fal Oyster.  It tasted fantastic! Click on the links to find out more about each of the Forgotten Foods, Forgotten Food recipes, Slow Food UK events and Like the Slow Food UK Facebook Page.
Photographer's Gallery, London

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Thursday

Blogging Bird meets the Russians

It's not every day you get an invite to the Russian Embassy, certainly not for me anyway.  So, when the invite came through, who was I to have a valid reason not to go?
The opportunity to peep inside Russia came about thanks to the World Travel Market 2013 and a Russian desire to encourage and welcome visitors to their great country.

Up to this point my knowledge of Russia had been limited to some fascinating lectures at University from a History Professor, who stood with his hands in his jeans and talked to us for hours on end without checking his notes. Collectively we sat captivated by his stories of Stalin and Lenin and the turbulent past. Years later in Cairo a friend and I were approached by two large Russian men in swimming trunks (we were by the pool) wearing heavy, gold jewellery who offered us drinks, weed, whatever we wanted. The Russian who spoke English clicked his fingers and a waiter appeared with orange, vodka and ice-cubed mineral water. I can't remember his name but he said he could not return to St Petersburg, he had a restaurant in Vienna and travelled the world for pleasure. He didn't have an opinion on Stalin. He gave me his address in Vienna and invited me to visit. I never went to Vienna but he left an abiding memory.

That was the sum of my knowledge of the Land of the Russias and hardly a fair representation of what Russia has to offer the adventurous.

What I discovered at the 'Welcome to Russia' forum was how vast Russia is. Comprising of 83 regions, one region alone to the very far east, is almost double the size of the UK, with a population closer to that of Brighton. Delve deeper and you'd find not all regions are divided equally and this is one of the larger in size, however the scale is still incredible.

Kamchatka geysers, copyright Jaka Skorjanc
The region I'm referring to is also known as the land of volcanoes, containing about 300 extinct and 30 live volcanoes. There are four indigenous peoples, UNESCO recognised national parks, thermal springs and wildlife so undisturbed as to affect even the most seasoned traveller. This is only part of what Russia has to offer.

This blog might turn into a book if I went into more detail about each of the regions covered at the World Travel Market 2013 forum, so I just want to tell you a bit more about the remote, wild, volatile land of volcanoes, Kamchatskiy krai.

Kamchatka, is 4,875 miles (7,846 km) from Moscow and an 8 hour plane journey away. It has a unique geo-thermal eco-system with five sites included on UNESCO's world cultural and national heritage list.

Populated by Even, Itelmen, Koryak and Alentian people, there are reindeer camps and festivals throughout the year to mark ancient traditions. On the first Sunday in June there is the Day of the First Fish festival, which is held for good and successful fishing. As part of the festival there are a series of rituals that are undertaken that include passing through a wooden arch to clean yourself from evil spirits, making a gift of fire and singing ancient songs using the tambourine.

At Paratunskiye there are relaxing hot springs, composed of chloride sulphate natrium siliceous and nitric gases and averaging temperatures of 35-45 degrees Centigrade, along with the restorative mud from Lake Utinoye is credited with having healing properties.  At Kronotsky State National Biosphere Reserve, the Valley of Geysers has the greatest number of geysers in the world, of which the largest in size, the Velican shoots out a column of boiling water and steam, reaching up to heights of 65-100 ft (20-30 meters).  Lake Kurliskoye plays host to over a hundred brown bears that gather in late summer to feed on red salmon, with as many as 30 bears within a distance of 2 miles.  In autumn Cape Lopathka witnesses the migration of tens of thousands of birds, from small sparrows, oriental greenfinch, reed bunting, to Middendorff’s grasshopper-warbler and the Siberian rubythroat they all fly past en masse.

The woodlands are filled with spruce, larch and silver fir; while overhead fly the golden, sea and white eagles and around the peninsula swim grey, blue and killer whales.

It is a land full of wonder and one of the few places left on the planet that is so remote as to remain unspoilt by the advance of humankind.

Kamchatka volcano, copyright Jaka Skorjanc
So, anyway that's Kamchatka. There was still the Russian Embassy to visit. That evening as I walked up the tree lined avenue of mansion houses, where the Embassy is based, I wondered whether my invite was for real. Inside, the chandeliers blazed, the bar was well stocked and the buffet was in the garden room. Along a shelf were a few photos. To the front was President Putin, behind him was a black and white photo taken in the garden room of a meeting attended by Churchill.

Next door, the Koryak dancers had begun to sing and jump about. All the female dancers had impressively long dark plaits reaching down their backs, the dance cries and jumping seemed so lacking in refinement it was truly joyous to watch. I couldn't help myself, I held up my iPhone, captured the moment and sent out a tweet.

For more Kamchatka photos and information, Like the Kamchatka Facebook page.
Outside the Russian Embassy in London
  

Captured on video, here's a small clip.


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Sunday

Georgians Revealed at the British Library, 8 November 2013 - 11 March 2014

Window display at the British Library -
Georgians Revealed

I love the eighteenth century, an impression mostly formed by the books I have read from the period.  Books such as Tom Jones (1749), The Vicar of Wakefield (1766), A Sentimental Journey (1768), The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771) and Evelina (1778) that describe a world full of chaos, colour, open to new ideas, while laughing at human folly in all its forms.

King George III's library at the British Library
During the Georgian period, leisure activities were developing and reaching wider audiences via print - dancing, gambling, sport, fashion, gardening and gossip were popularised.  In fact most of our modern preoccupations, from Grazia, Strictly Come Dancing (I want Abbey to win), to gardening programmes and sporting activities can trace their origins to this period.  These are the connections that the new exhibition at the British Library are hoping visitors will make and the displays have been organised into sections that are aimed to help us navigate our way through the busy-ness of this century.

Lead Curator, Dr Moira Goff explained her aim was to bring the period to life  by including a mixture of "everyday throw away adverts, tickets and receipts, to gargantuan and exquisitely illustrated books that King George III himself would have treasured."

picture of Brighton Pavilion at the British Library
The exhibition begins with Public Places, Private Spaces and features grand architectural and gardening books borrowed from the British Library's most significant collection, King George III's private library of 65,000 books.  Given to the nation by his son George IV in 1823, apparently because King George III had positioned his library directly off his bedroom and George IV wanted to turn it into a more social space. Now encased in glass as a centre piece to the British Library, this priceless collection towers six-stories upwards, tantalisingly in view and out of reach.

Georgians Revealed provides the perfect opportunity to peer into some of these books, including King George III's copy of Cecilia by Frances Burney.  Opened at the page, which reads "The whole of this unfortunate business," said Dr Lyster, " has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE."  Dr Moira Goff a self-confessed fan of Fanny Burney (me too!) chose to include this in the exhibition along with two letters written by Frances Burney and one by Jane Austen.  For Burney fans, the letters are interesting because they refer to her step-mother who she wasn't very keen on and another to "my own dearest Mrs Thrale", who she fell out with over her choice of a socially unacceptable second husband.  On an aside, it's funny how things work out, Fanny Burney went on to marry a foreign, Catholic herself and face her father's disapproval as a consequence.
  
Letters by Fanny Burney and Jane Austen at the British Library

Letter from Fanny Burney to Hester Thrale at the British Library
As you journey through the exhibition, there is also the chance to enjoy some specially recorded music by The Royal College of Music from scores displayed in the exhibition, including a signed manuscript of Handel's Messiah. 

The next two sections Buying Luxury, Acquiring Style; Pleasures of Society, Virtues of Culture illustrate a growing obsession with fashion and has mannequins in perfectly replicated Georgian dress.  There are also books and pictures of dancing, horses, carriages and boxing.  My favourite display relates to a friend of Byron's who had to flee the country to escape creditors and in the process left a trunk full of receipts with his bankers.  Inherited by Barclays, the unclaimed box was eventually lent to the British Library in the 1970s.  The contents of which provide a fascinating window into the world of a young man about town, who incidentally has one of the best names ever, Scrope Berdmore Davies.
interior of Scrope Davies' box at the British Library

Tegg's Map of London at the British Museum
The final section brings Georgian London into even sharper focus by quite literally allowing the visitor to walk on it.  Tegg's New Plan of London, 1830 has been enlarged and spread out across a room, so that before you leave, you walk across London, giving you an opportunity to pick out the areas you know, with further information available on the walls.

This exhibition is only part of a year long series of celebrations across Britain and Germany to mark 300 years since the first Georgian came to the throne, King George I in 1714.  The British Library will be holding a series of events including:

LATE at the Library: Vice and Virtue
Fri 6 Dec 2013, 19:30 - 23:00 £12.50
Enter the Library turned verdant pleasure gardens for an evening of decadent pleasure and entertainment.  Celebrate the legacy of the Georgian era with guest DJ sets, live performance, circus antics and daring-do from Circus Space performers and the exquisite trapeze artistes Collectif and Then. Discover the finer points of Georgian etiquette with the Georgian Townhouse Party; promenade in masks and savour tasty Georgian morsels in a varied evening of installation, demonstration and a late night opening of the exhibition.  Join the uncommon rogues and gents, rowdy vixens and genteel ladies for a night of utter splendour and spectacle.

There is also a chance to win a luxury three-night stay in the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, click on the competition link to enter.



Date:
Georgians Revealed

8 November - 11 March 2014
Times:
Mon - Fri: 10.00 - 18.00  (closes 20.00 on Tues)
Sat: 10.00 - 17.00
Sun: 11.00 - 17.00
Prices:
Adults £9
Under 18s free
Over 60s: £7
Students: £5
Other concessions available
Address:
The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB
How to get to the Library

Enquiries:
boxoffice@bl.uk | +44 (0)1937 546546.

As well as this there are other events to mark 300 years of the British-German royal link at other locations in London and Germany, for more details click on the links below http://www.london.diplo.de/300yearsbritishgermanroyalties


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Tuesday

Sartoria's November menu and Forgotten Foods in Mayfair

Sartoria restaurant, Savile Row
~ Sartoria and the Slow Food Revolution

Last week invites and events took me to that great big bubble of allure and spectacle, London.  While there I found myself enjoying a show of dancing Koryaks at the Russian Embassy; eating oyster for the first time at the Photographer's Gallery; benefiting from a micro-polish facial at Cowshed; looking into a box of receipts left by Scrope Davies when he fled the country 200 years ago; mock falling over for the amusement of my niece, as well as, and not least, savouring Forgotten Foods at fine dining restaurant, Sartoria.  Busy week.

So to begin in the re-telling of tales, please follow me on a virtual tour of my fine dining experience at Sartoria's of Mayfair and find out a little bit more about Slow Food UK's Forgotten Foods.

Situated on the corner of Savile Row and New Burlington Street, Sartoria has been delivering a sophisticated, stylish dining experience for over 15 years to a loyal following.  The bar area offers light, quick meals along with cocktails like Savile Row Sling, Negroni, Tom Collins and Lychee Martini.  To the left, in the dining area tables are covered in long draped white cloth, the seating is a mixture of comfortable sofas and chairs and the wine glasses are long stemmed and slender. The room has a timeless, unshowy style, a canvas on which the food will appear, works of art by a Master Painter, er Chef.

Sartoria's November menu
Head chef, Lukas Pfaff began his career in Germany before moving to London to join Marco Pierre White as chef de partie at The Restaurant and then becoming head chef at Il Convivio, Belgravia.  In October, he became the newest member of Slow Food UK’s Chef Alliance and, as a result, added several Forgotten Food dishes to his Italian menu for November.

The Slow Food UK movement and its list of 69 UK Forgotten Foods, with the support of the prestigious Chef Alliance aims to re-introduce UK foods that are disappearing and support small producers and local, sustainable produce.

Three seasonal dishes have been added to their à la carte menu and are marked on the menu by the Slow Food Alliance symbol (a snail).

To start, Pfaff has created a dish of Morecambe Bay shrimps with a courgette and citrus tartare.  The presentation was superb, a tower of colour, comprising of grapefruit base, roman courgette, with golden brown shrimps on top.  It looked fantastic although, for me it lacked impact.

Middle White Pig at Sartoria
For main there is the truly autumnal combination of Middle White pig, cooked three ways, with black cabbage and cobnuts.  The Middle White pig has been in decline as a consequence of government policy after the Second World War, when pigs were directed  towards the bacon market and specialist pork breeders became less popular.  This was my absolute favourite dish of the night, the pork was so succulent, the cobnuts crumbled apart and the chipped potatoes a perfect side for a hearty, warming dish. Perhaps further enhanced by the dark, rain swept night outside.
To finish Pfaff offers a pudding of cocoa and almond served with Kentish cobnuts, (cultivated hazelnuts), sweet, nutty and very very local.  The combination was interesting as there was a contrast in textures, the smooth pudding contrasting with the crumbling nut, but it lacked light and shade.

To accompany our meal we had a variety of well chosen wines by our sommelier for the evening, Jose.  With over 230 entries on their wine list, Sartoria cover wines from the very best vineyards.  To begin we were offered Prosecco ‘Crede’ Bisol, a delightful choice with a light and delicate flavour. While in the bread basket, the pane carasau guttiau a thin and crisp flatbread from Sardinia, despite its humble appearance was worthy of note.  Throughout the meal Jose continued to bring light, white wines that suited our taste perfectly.  However, the absolute stand out, blow your mind with flavour, wine we had was the amazing Tokaji 5puttonyos, Royal Blue.  A dessert wine, sweet with an explosion of taste sensations.
Dessert wine, Sartoria

As with any dining experience, the service you receive plays a huge part in the overall impression.  Throughout the service was impeccable, unobtrusive yet attentive, polite, informed and incredibly warm.  The meal was unhurried (three hours actually), the food exceptional, in particular a mid course of artichoke and crab risotto was a winning combination of creamy and complementary flavours.

When food is wonderfully cooked, the meal becomes unforgettable; when the service is excellent, the restaurant gains loyalty.  Sartoria, excelled in both senses and can add some more loyal followers to the list.

Sartoria restaurant, London

SARTORIA
20 SAVILE ROW
LONDON W1S 3PR
Tel:  020 7534 7000





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