Sunday, 13 September 2009

Latin meat sweat

My Dad was in town over the weekend to speak at a conference and we finally hit up one of London's many rodizio restaurants: Rodizio Preto, which is in Pimlico.

A rodizio or a churrascaria is a kind of Brazilian restaurant where various cuts of various meats are grilled on a barbecue, then brought to your table by a waiter who cuts you a portion off and puts it on your plate. Being quarter Brazilian and my Dad being half, we thought we would get back to our roots and discover our Latin spirit. Or something equally contrived.

I hadn't really known what to expect. Pimlico, I'd dismissed as a nothing area: Victoria Station Borders, but was quite surprised to walk down Wilton Street to find a bustling, broad high street lined with restaurants, shops and bars with a well-heeled but not exclusive feel. Preto itself looked bustling, 20 and 30-somethings in their Saturday night finest filled the sprawling outside tables as smartly dressed waiters tender to their meat and alcohol needs. As we approached, my heart sunk very briefly - was this my worst nightmare? A gimmicky good times restaurant?!

You help yourself to an extensive salad bar, which includes various rices, typical Brazilian bean stews, salsas, various potato salads, battered bananas/plantains, croquettes, cabbage stuffed with cream cheese, pork scratchings, onion rings, more cabbage...phew. I filled my plate to the max - I wanted to try everything. With just one piece of meat on it, it looked a little something like this:

Waiters cheerfully walked around with huge cuts of meat on skewers, fresh off the barbecue. They came around at a pace that just allowed you to do one portion justice before saying yes to the next. Different cuts included beef steak, beef ribs, pork shoulder, chicken hearts, chicken wings, turkey breast, lamb , spicy sausage. Etc. I paced myself and tried just about every different cut that was on offer. Each cut was succulent, melt-in-yr-mouth good and you could tell it was good quality stuff.

The diners there were a really diverse bunch: from big tables of birthdaying Brazilians to young families enjoying a rare meal out, over 60s couples to mid-twenties couples, everyone was having a good time, sipping big cocktails, chatting to the waiting staff. It was nice to see so many different people designating a big meal out as a Saturday night's entertainment and being so happy for it. The ceremony and ritual of the rodizio really makes the experience.

If you are thinking of going for a rodizio, you might want to look at this Time Out article which looks at a few of the main one. I've heard Rodizio Rico, a small chain, is a bit more expensive than the others. I would definitely recommend Preto, but there might be better bargains to be had in NW10, which has a big Brazilian population. And wear stretchy trousers (aka buffet pants) - you'll need them.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Red veg

I love going to Parliament Hill Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings and picking up some interesting veg for the weekend. Last weekend I bought a purple cauliflower and a bunch of beetroot.

Pete cooked a beetroot risotto - quickly becoming a staple in our house. Unsurprisingly, it turns out looking like a garish reddy-purple maggot slime. But it has a delicious sweet, root-y celery-like taste that you don't get from beetroot when you prepare it any other way. With added mascarpone, this is a perfectly lovely, rich, warming dish for a cooler end of summer evening.

We use the Times recipe, but with a little less parmesan.

The purple cauliflower went to good use in one of my favourite Ottolenghi salads: Chargrilled cauliflower with dill, capers and cherry tomatoes. The cauliflowers are very lightly parboiled - about three minutes - then flung into a smokin' hot griddle pan until they are nicely charred.

The dressing helps the magic of this dish - 2 parts olive oil to one part cider vinegar, finely chop some capers, add some crushed garlic, salt'n'pepa, some wholegrain mustard. There you have a very tangy jus for your salad.

Combine the charred cauliflower with baby spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes and pour over the dressing. Chop up a generous handful of dill and drop it in. Enjoy with toasted pitta bread. We served with lemon-y turkey breasts. Yum.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Bull and Last, NW5

It's so typical that you wait ages - years, even - to check out a restaurant and then, when you do go, you have a cold and under-active taste buds. Not ideal! But the Bull and Last, a much touted gastropub on Highgate Road NW5, did not disappoint.

Located just opposite Parliament Hill Fields and, handily, just around the corner from my house, the Bull and Last shot to fame when Giles Coren reviewed it for The Times last autumn, followed by Time Out and The Evening Standard, all singing its praises. I like to try and avoid that kind of hype: let the Zeitgeist hawks have their fun and move on to the Next Big Thing. The pub is nearly always busy when I walk past, but we were seated pretty quickly at lunchtime yesterday.

The Bull and Last is beautifully simple and rustic inside: cavernous Victorian high ceilings and huge windows give a sense of space and light, mismatched stools by the bar, chalked blackboards detailing their suppliers. Good looking, though overworked, waiting staff run around trying not to trip over the many pedigree pooches and children meandering away from the tables of slightly smug north London bohemian families.

Not feeling too hungry and saving a 'big meal experience' at the Bull and Last for a day when I have more active taste-buds, I went for the pigeon and pistachio terrine, which was served with a spiced plum chutney. The terrine was gamy but fresh - a celebration of the pigeon's slightly smoky, meaty flavours. It was paired perfectly with the plum chutney, a bistro salad and some bread.

I was jealous of my co-diners' charcuterie boards. The Bull and Last's homemade charcuterie is now the stuff of legend and included deep-fried pig's head, duck prosciutto, some boozy liver pâtés and other bits and bobs. Also on offer was a fishboard, which a couple at a neighbouring table intimately fed to each other. Nice.

The main dishes change frequently, but there there are traditional homemade snacks such as scotch eggs, black pudding sausage rolls waiting to accompany a pint on the way home from a chilly walk up the Heath. There's lots of proper hearty gastropub fare too, and the desserts are supposedly excellent - there was Fererro Rocher ice cream on the menu when I was there. If the entire menu is as tasty as our snack lunch options, I'm going to have to make quite a few trips back to do the Bull and Last justice.