Classically perfect pasta at Morgenster

I’m taking my job very seriously this month and trying to bring you news and lovely pictures from a range of Cape Winelands eateries. So today we’ve popped in for a casual mid-week lunch at 95 at Morgenster.

Morgenster is a thriving wine and olive farm which dates back to 1711. They are known for their Bourdeaux-style blends and their Italian Collection wines. All of which are fabulous. Plus they offer a  top range of olive oils.

The restaurant 95 at Morgenster is the baby of Italian chef Giorgio Nava, whose lovely original restaurant, 95 Keerom, is in  central Cape Town. The menu is inspired by the food of Milan and there’s a good selection of salads, antipasti, pasta and meat dishes.

Our taste buds got awakened by the sound of all the pasta dishes. My homemade ravioli of slow baked Karoo lamb shoulder was served with sage butter and parmesan. One of those pasta dishes that makes you want to sigh with delight with every mouthful. The richness and softness of the lamb, the flavoursome pasta pillows and that amazingly silken butter sauce. Truly a pasta dish to dream about.

Luscious ravioli in sage butter

You can’t beat a classic Italian dish perfectly done. The handmade tagliatelle came with a slow cooked beef ragu and fresh herbs. You can tell just by looking at this picture that it was a lovingly prepared ragu with great richness and depth.

Rich and tasty ragu with flavoursome fresh pasta

We actually got to Morgenster a bit early for lunch so settled on the restaurant’s lovely verandah overlooking the dam and mountains and enjoyed a pre-lunch coffee. Love the attention to detail here, with footprints in the foam.

Who left their footprints in the coffee?

You eat in dappled sunlight under a slatted roof (as you can see from the pictures of our lovely pasta dishes). And this is the expansive view of water, mountains and azure sky.

Food always tastes better with a view

Morgenster is at Vergelegen Avenue, off Lourensford Road on the outskirts of Somerset West.

Today’s price point

We paid R320 (about £19 at today’s exchange rate) for two delicious pasta dishes and a bottle of Merlot.

The taste of Venice in chic St James

Today we’re eating in London’s West End in swanky St James. The area was developed in the 17th century as a residential location for the British aristocracy. Now it’s home to fine clothing stores, chic art galleries, gentlemen’s clubs and beautiful terraces. And of course its share of top restaurants. It certainly exudes class and you can feel a general poshness in the air.

Veneta is the latest in the fantastic Salt Yard stable which includes one of my favourites – its sister in Soho – Ember Yard. The elegant eatery is in the shiny new St James Place area and its menu is inspired by classic Venetian dishes. It has a real feel of glamour and plushness, the kind of restaurant that lifts your spirits as you walk in the door. You can just feel good things happen here!

We started off with heavenly focaccia, topped with a dusting of crunchy salt and rosemary sprigs.

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Warmly soft and flavoursome focaccia

I’m a bit of an anchovy addict and these were tastily luscious, served simply with paper thin toast and butter. The perfect way to get the gastric juices going.

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An anchovy snack to delight

Autumn brings beetroot to many menus and this colourful seasonal salad was packed with flavour. Slivers of salt-baked carrots and beef were served with sheep’s ricotta, date puree and oregano.

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A colourful autumn display

From the small plates section we chose this kid goat ragu with fresh pappardelle. Seems like goat is popping up on menus all around London Town and I must say I’m loving it. This ragu was in a class of its own, beautifully rich and silken, coating the wonderful fresh pasta.

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Goat seems to be all the rage in London

A bowl of polenta with parmesan cream and topped with earthy girolles from the vegetable section made the perfect accompaniment to the richness of the pork.

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Creamy polenta and earthy mushrooms

Our meaty choice was the charcoal grilled pork ribeye. The tastiest piece of pork I’ve had in a while, with that irresistible charred flavour and courgettes on the side.

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Pork chop perfectly charred

And then it was dessert time. I’m not much of a one for pudding but Italian sweets are not for resisting. Their mini tiramisu tower was exquisite, I especially loved the coffee cream on the side.

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Finishing the traditional Italian way

Today’s price point

Our lunch came to £50 for two people.

We opted to eat tapas-style mainly from their small plate section. There are also large plates on offer.

Veneta is at 3 Norris Street, St James W1.

It’s open from 7am Monday to Friday and 9am Saturday and Sunday for all-day dining (including breakfast).

Christmas delights at Spaghetti House

It’s that time of year again – Christmas. Okay it’s only early November but the Christmas lights have been up in London for some time already and the shops are bulging with decorations, food and ideas to make it your best Christmas ever. All that sort of stuff.

For me the best part of Christmas is the chance to spend time with friends and family – and of course, the food. So I was delighted to get an early taster of Spaghetti House’s tasty Christmas offering. I do love this family-run group of London restaurants. You’re guaranteed top quality, authentic Italian dishes, it’s great value for money and there’s always a warm welcome.

The set Christmas menu offers a choice of four starters, mains and desserts. So something to suit everyone. We watched the expert chefs led by Achille Travaglini prepare everything fresh in front of us. Achille was also happy to share some of his top tips with us, like the use of orange zest in his prawn cocktail to give it an extra zing, and a slice of orange to serve for colour.

Here’s a taster of what you can enjoy for your Christmas celebration.

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Spaghetti House’s take on cocktail di gamberetti

The involtini di melanzane al forno  is a generous portion of baked aubergines stuffed with basil and ricotta with Napoli sauce. Beautifully rich and satisfying, and extremely cheesy. A deliciously indulgent starter.

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Baked aubergine filled with indulgent ricotta

The sea bass fillet (branzino also scalogno) came with shallot dressing and balsamic drops, grain mustard mash and spinach. Sweet and perfectly pan-fried fish topped a pile of smooth, zesty mash.

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The sea bass is a delightful fishy option

Pasta lovers won’t be able to resist the tortellini al funghi and tartufo. Handmade pasta parcels are filled with mushrooms and black truffle and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, crispy sage and lemon zest.

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Little parcels of truffle, mushroom deliciousness

For red meat lovers there’s the medaglioni di manzo al vino rosso. Beef tenderloin medallions are served on a bed of aubergine puree with a red wine sauce and smoked sautéed potatoes.

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A substantial plate of tasty beef and potatoes

Italian desserts are my absolute favourites and I do love a good tiramisu. Made here with soaked espresso biscuits, mascarpone and amaretto liquor. Simply yum.

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Tiramisu is the king of Italian desserts

Winter fruit compote came with toasted traditional panettone – feather-light panettone soaks up the richness and syrupy-ness of the compote.

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Panettone and winter fruits to delight

There’s also an Italian version of crumble – the Bramley apple crumble is served with a  large dollop of vanilla ice cream.

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A pot of apple crumble topped with rich ice cream

Of course there are also traditional choices available like chicken liver pate to start, roast Norfolk turkey with all the trimmings for mains and a stunning Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

The Christmas menu is available from 21 November to 21 December 24 2016.

Today’s price point

Spaghetti House’s Menu Natalizio (Christmas menu) is great value at £16.95 for two courses, £19.95 for three courses or £29.95 for three courses with half a litre of wine.

To find out more visit spaghettihouse.co.uk

Recipe: Goats’ cheese & beetroot fiorelli served with fresh spinach & chive pesto

I love beetroot and am always trying to eat more of it. A vegetable with many health benefits, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans and belongs to the same family as chard and spinach. It’s know to help with intestinal problems, has a positive effect on blood pressure…and it’s delicious.

So I was delighted to discover Dell’Ugo’s goats’ cheese and beetroot fiorelli. This family business is the longest established fresh pasta company in the UK and offer a delicious range of products. It’s now run by Paul Ugo, the grandson of the founder, who says: “My family have been making pasta since 1929 when my grandfather Luigi arrived in London from Italy and founded the first fresh pasta company in the UK. In the 1960s my father Leo took over the business and in the 1990s I followed suit.” So they’ve had plenty of practice.

The fiorelli comes with recipe and serving suggestions on the packaging so today I decided to make their spinach and chive pesto – a fabulous sauce that would go with any pasta.

Recipes don’t come simpler than this. Whizz up the pesto, cook the pasta, mix and serve. And the combination of flavours is stunning. You have the creaminess of the goats cheese and the sweetness of the beetroot as the filling in the melt-in-the-mouth fiorelli. Then the pesto adds garlic, parmesan and chive flavours to the mix – along with a vibrant greenness. Delightful.

RECIPES SERVES TWO

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The perfectly pretty plate of food in shades of green and pink

250g Dell’Ugo goats’ cheese and beetroot fiorelli

50g baby spinach

Half a bunch of fresh chives

100ml olive oil

20g Parmesan

1 clove of garlic

20g toasted pine nuts

Heat a pan of boiling water and quickly dip the chives and spinach for a few seconds so they soften but are bright green. Remove from the water and cool slightly.

Add the spinach and chives to a blender with the Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil and blend to a paste. You can read more about the many health benefits of spinach at www.cooking detective.com

Meanwhile heat a pan of water and once boiling cook the pasta for three minutes until tender. Drain the pasta in a colander.

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Beetroot pasta in all its pinkness

Return the pan to the heat and add the pesto. Warm the pesto through. Add the pasta back to the pan and toss so the pesto coats it well.

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Indulgently silken pesto

Divide the pasta between two bowls and serve.

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The Dell’Ugo range is available from Waitrose and online at Ocado. The goats’ cheese and beetroot fiorelli costs £3.49.

You can find out more about the company at dellugo.co.uk

 

Recipe: Parmesan and asparagus frittata

Today I’m cooking a perfect light, summer dish. I love a frittata – so easy to make and often with whatever I have in the house, avoiding any waste. It can all be thrown into one pan to produce a taste sensation.

I was inspired by the fantastic Italian cheeses I received from Vorrei so decided to use their aged mountain Parmesan to make this dish.

Vorrei sells a range of fabulous Italian cheeses sourced from small producers across Italy. They also sell pretty much all things Italian, from chocolates, rice, pasta and pasta sauces to different oils and balsamic vinegar. You can find out more about their delightful selection of carefully selected products at vorrei.co.uk

The fabulous selection of Italian cheeses from Vorrei

The fabulous selection of Italian cheeses from Vorrei

PARMESAN, ASPARAGUS AND HAM FRITTATA

Serves 4

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Straight out of then oven and all ready for slicing

12 thin asparagus spears

A knob of butter

6 eggs

A splash of milk

6 tbsps grated Parmesan

120g shredded ham hock or chopped ham

Salt and pepper, to season

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

Melt the butter in the frying pan and fry the asparagus for about 10 mins until softened and browned.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and fry the onion until softened.

Pour in the egg mixture and layer the asparagus evenly throughout.

Cook on medium heat until the bottom is well set (about 15 mins), keeping a close eye on it so it doesn’t burn and turning down the temperature if it seems to be cooking too fiercely.

Place the pan under a medium grill for about 10 mins until the top is set and slightly browned.

Serve with a fresh green salad for a delightful, light summer dinner.

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The beautiful asparagus bubbles away in the butter

MY TOP TIPS

To prepare the asparagus, grip it firmly and bend. The end should easily break off, leaving the section of the spear you can cook.

I like to use the thinner spears as they are easy to bite into when they’re in the frittata.

Experiment with different vegetables. Peppers, peas, broad beans, spring onions all work well.

If you’re vegetarian, just leave out the ham, it still tastes fabulous.

I like to fry the asparagus rather than boil it as it adds a lovely buttery flavour to the mix.

If you’re feeling indulgent, add a few tablespoons of cream to the egg mix.

Frittata is also delicious cold and it’s very portable. Simply wrap up a generous slice for a packed lunch.

Tasty Italian and a warm welcome at C’Alice

So today we’re dining out in Fulham. Fulham sits on the north bank of the River Thames, between Putney and Chelsea and is an elegant area of London teaming with stylish shops, bars and restaurants.

Historically half of Fulham was originally occupied by market gardeners, so a lot of London’s produce came from here – nowadays plenty of it is being eaten.

C’Alice is a new addition to the scene (it opened about two months ago), about halfway along the Munster Road, a short and pleasant meander from Parsons Green tube station.

It’s run by an Italian husband and wife team who felt there was a lack of what they describe as Italian aperitvi places in the area, so they wanted to create a relaxed meeting place for drinks or dinner that locals could enjoy. Well, there’s plenty of enjoying going on at C’Alice.

The menu abounds with Italian favourites and dishes with a difference, too. To start off we enjoyed two fishy starters. The scallops were panfried with grapefruit juice, an unusual combination. The sweetness of the scallops was a little overpowered by the tartness of the grapefruit but they did melt in the mouth. And don’t they look beautiful.

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A beautifully presented scallop starter

A dish of three-pepper marinated salmon in olive oil, lemon and celery was light and zesty, a lovely summer night starter.

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Succulent pink, peppery salmon

For mains there’s a good selection of pasta, risotto and salads as well as classic dishes like tagliata. And this pan fried, breaded sirloin steak simply served with chips and salad. Must try breading sirloin at home – it was tasty and tender and gives a nice twist to a steak.

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Lightly breaded, tender sirloin

And here’s a real Italian favourite – Saltimbocca. The pan fried veal steak is topped with Parma ham and served with Parmesan risotto. A truly indulgent and satisfying dish.

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A traditional veal dish with parmesan risotto

And then of course we were on the Italian dessert trail and we went for two beauties. The creme brûlée was warm, creamy and light.

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A classic creme brûlée

The tiramisu was a little overloaded with cocoa powder but underneath had all the beautiful textures and flavours of this Italian staple. I seem to be tasting tiramisu all around London…nothing wrong with that.

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Time to taste another tiramisu

C’Alice serves good Italian cuisine in substantial portions. The service is friendly welcoming and the space is light and decorated in a relaxed, contemporary style. There’s plenty of wine on display – they sell over 130 different kinds from Italy – and lots of other liquor options as we discovered.

After dinner we settled in on the small terrace and sipped on a glass of their beautiful Amara – a lemon-based liqueur from Sicilly.

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Delicious lemony liqueur from Sicilia

And we chatted to some of the locals who were clearly happy with their new meeting spot. C’Alice’s strapline on their website and shopfront is Wine – Food – Talk. They’ve definitely got all that covered.

Today’s price point

Our three-course dinner cost £69.50 for two people, not including wine.

There’s a wide range of Italian wine available, including by the glass. We had a bottle of Primitivo Itynera for £19.

Starters begin from £6 and mains from £12 for pasta dishes.

C’Alice is at 199 Munster Road, Fulham, SW6.

Square Meal