Business lunch – Cucina Asselina

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I just started a new contract and wanted to take my client out for lunch. I’d been eyeing up the Italian restaurant at ME Hotel and as it was across the road from the office, it was a perfect choice for a business lunch.

 

The restaurant is stylish – oak panelling, copper lamps, tall ceilings, huge alcove windows and the stunning glass-encased wine display – all adds to the light and airy feelThe restaurant prides itself on serving artisan-style Italian food with exceptional Italian service. The staff have an expert knowledge of the menu, ingredients and drinks which is a refreshing change to the Italian chains.

 

The bread board delivered ahead of our mains was a feast for our eyes and appetite. Soft, salty focaccia blocks, crisp breadsticks and sheets of Sardinian paper bread accompanied by olive tapenade and olive oil. This was followed by semolina gnocchi with basil pesto and asparagus. It was cooked perfectly – al dente and delicious. It melted in your mouth and despite being heavy was a great lunch dish.

 

Cucina Asellina offers a little taste of Italian with plenty of style and plenty on the plate. We left Cucina Asellina feeling stuffed, happy and impressed. Next stop the radio rooftop bar!

 

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Pizza East – crusts and all!

Catching up with school friends is always fun, especially when you haven’t seen them in ages as we have a common love for Italian, we decided to go to Pizza East.

“Trendy” is the best word to describe Pizza East. Lots of wooden tables packed fairly close together give it a really buzzing atmosphere in the middle of Kentish Town! Kentish Town really has its share of authentic restaurants!

As the name suggests, it’s all about the pizzas at Pizza East, but there are no flimsy margaritas on offer. Instead its about the gourmet toppings – the pizzas are piled with fresh, seriously tasty ingredients. Despite the menu being pretty meat-heavy the kitchen is flexible and happy to make changes.

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We went straight onto ordering pizza – well it would have been rude not to given why we were here! I opted for the vegetarian pizza – portobello mushroom, spinach, egg but without the egg! The pizzas looked and smelt amazing – they were really very good and full of flavour – like somebody had gone to Naples and replicated the simple taste.

The defining feature of the pizzas here are the crusts. These things feel like they’re almost dipped in butter. Gives it a really nice texture and ensures it’s packed with flavour.

To finish up, we found space to fit in desserts – we went for the Tiramisu and the Salted chocolate caramel tart. Both were outstanding. You could only have a few bites of the tart though as it was really heavy! But the tiramisu – it was one of the more best I’ve had.

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If you want to eat amazing pizza and have a fun evening out, Pizza East will be the perfect place for you.

 

Pizza Pilgrims – pilgrimage to the best pizzas in London

Soho is completely changing with a raft of new dining establishments that’s helping shed it’s once seedy reputation. And in the middle of Soho, cheekily opposite the Pizza Express jazz bar, you’ll find the Pizza Pilgrims first permanent restaurant. 

So where did it all start – Two brothers went on a pizza pilgrim around Italy learning how to make the perfect Neapolitan pizza and which ingredients made an authentic pizza. The knowledge they built up from visiting restaurants in Italy (predominantly Naples) was used for the launch of the brothers’ van, Pizza Pilgrims on Berwick Street. It was the talk of the town with the two owners cooking out the back of their little green Piaggio Ape especially when the street food scene hit big a few years ago. Combining this following of fans and the traditional hand-built pizza oven makes this a restaurant to try.

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The decor is simple, in their signature white and dark green colours. As you walk in you’ll see the staff working in the kitchen around the pizza oven. The owners built the pizza oven from scratch, including the mosaics. The walls are mostly decorated with posters from Italian movie classics. Most of the restaurant is downstairs and was bright and colourful.

The menu is simple and small, focussing on what they do best: pizza. There are a few starter dishes like olives, salad and bread but its very much all about the main event. There is a basic drinks menu with Prossecco, wines on tap and Birra Moretti beer alongside San Pellegrino. Nothing too extravagent. So how were the pizzas:

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I went for the portobello mushroom and truffle pizza. In their authentic style, the dough was soft so you could eat it easily and the toppings were delicious. I’m not really a fan of pizza bianco, because it often loses the sweetness a pizza needs, but you could taste the truffle oil. I did add some chilli oil to give it some added flavour. The base tasted fresh with a crispy but not too crunchy crust. Apparently the flour is shipped in from Naples don’t you know. I did like the look of the artichoke and mozzarella pizza which had tomato in it – will have to try that next time.

We didn’t go for dessert as the pizzas were really heavy but I was intrigued by the options – nutella ring, ice cream with olive oil and salt, blood orange sorbets and ice cream from Gelupo. I did want to try the affogato however they didn’t make it with decaf so wasn’t going to risk a night of no sleep! Maybe a dessert for the next visit.

Outside of Naples, I would definitely say Pizza Pilgrims do the best pizzas in London. Mamma would definitely be proud of the brothers! Yummy yummy pizza….

Isle of Capri

The scent of lemon blossoms and fresh sea air is what hits you when you take the boat from Sorrento to Capri which is the only way to get to this beautiful yet very expensive island. Ice cream was £5 so make sure you have enough money!!
The coastline, where the cliffs fall to the sea in many spots, is dotted with caves and surrounded by reefs. It’s such a pretty place and the best way to see the Island is to hire a boat and walk around. Although we did get lost and ended up walking up and down the stairs of a really steep path for over an hour the views made the adventure worth it!
Don’t miss out on seeing:
  • The town of Anacapri and its surrounding villas and hikes
  • The Blue Grotto is a beautiful cave at the water’s edge with a tiny opening to the sea that opens and closes with the tide. The entrance is small and depending on the tide there is just enough space for only a small rowboat to get through. It often closes due to tides and waves, so check before going
  • Faraglioni Rocks: three spurs of rock which rise up out of the sea
  • Chairlift from Anacapri up to Monte Solaro for views over the bay of Naples from the summit
  • Villa Jovis: the residence of the Emperor Tiberius
  • People watching in the many cafes and spotting any celebs

Capri is really expensive – so take drinks and snacks with you or buy a sandwich to eat in the many piazzas and squares.

Bella Sorrento

The Amalfi Coast is one of the most stunning parts of Italy that I’ve been to and this is where our travels in Italy began. The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of coastline on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy.  A stretch of coast wedged between the blue of the sky and sea, a string of spectacular little towns and ancient fishing villages welded like limpets to the rocks. This is the unforgettable Amalfi Coast.

We based ourselves in Sorrento – a small and laid-back southern Italian town which took 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other and was a great base from which to travel from to other coast towns and take the boat to the islands.

We stayed in the hills at Villa Monica – a cute little B&B with only three rooms where the owner Pasquale takes cares of your needs. The views and recommendations were second to none – we got to try an authentic local Italian and were picked and dropped as and when we wanted to and really looked after.

There’s not alot to do in Sorrento but make sure you take in the town, walk around leisurely  and enjoy some relaxation time soaking up the atmosphere. Two things that are must-sees:

  • The pretty small Port (Marina Piccola) – be wary of the steps or long walk there though! This is also the jumping point for boats to Naples, Capri (more on this later!) and Ischia.
  • One of the top souvenirs from the area is limoncello, the signature lemon liqueur. You can find it at l’Alambicco which offers limoncello free tasting, is located just few steps from the main square “Piazza Tasso”. via San Cesareo 15. This is a good place to see it being made, after which you’ll know why it packs such a punch – it’s pure alcohol with flavouring.
To eat:
  • Gnocchi alla Sorrentina – potato gnocchi with tomato sauce and mozzarella baked to perfection
  • Italian gelato that incorporates fresh local flavours at Gelateria Davide, Via Giuliani, 35
  • Pastiera a typical cake that is produced in the area and lots of pastries from Pasticceria Monica

Although there’s not a huge amount to do – it’s great stop off point and you can get the bus to: Positano: the coast’s most expensive and photogenic town, Amalfi: a popular day-trip option, with the town of Ravello: perched high on a hill looking down over it. You can get a boat to Capri (post coming up!) or Ischia or the train to see Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius.

Romantic Italian for two at The Alpine

Surprise number: infinity (there were so many!) was a romantic dinner at The Alpine. The Alpine is a posh romantic Italian in Bushey, Hertfordshire. It’s a family owned restaurant that serves home-made Italian cuisine and has been there for many years (1969 to be exact!).

The restaurant is set over two floors in a neo-Tudor building that dates back to the 19th century. The restaurant is filled with original artwork and the smell of Italy. I can’t wait for that holiday in June! There’s a different menu every month incorporating fresh produce (peas and asparagus is the vegetable of this monthy!)

On our table was:

  • Galette di cipolle bianche con formaggio di capra: A red onion and goats cheese feuilliette with caponata, pesto, pine nuts & rocket
  • Gnocchi al pomodoro e melenzane: Homemade gnocchi with a sauce of tomato & basil
  • Arrosto di maiale con verdure: Roast pork with apple puree, Rostii potato, braised red cabbage, baby carrots & confit button onion
  • Of course the wine: Chiaretto bardolino Rose

A really lovely and home restaurant that uses simple ingredients, modern techniques to result in good old Italian style – just how mama in the Dolmio adverts cooks! Perfect for a celebration.

Homemade Pizza

Pizza tastes best when it comes out of the oven freshly baked – I’m yet to find someone who doesn’t like pizza! There really is something to homemade pizza which makes you fall in love with them all over again. When homemade pizza is at its best it can rival or even better those from fancy restaurants and pizzerias. It would be great to have wood-fired ovens at home but with a kitchen oven, you can easily make tasty pizzas.

Though I have made pizzas many a times, it has always been with the ready-made pizza bases and only just recently have we started making it from scratch.

  • Pizza base: (6 bases): Make the dough: mix 1/2 pound plain flour, 1 tsp yeast, 1 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp of salt together in a large mixing bowl and stir in the olive oil. Gradually add 1/2 – 1 glass of warm water, kneading to form a soft dough. Leave for four hours till the dough has risen. Remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands. Divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas. Roll the pizzas out about 15 to 20 minutes before you want to cook them.
  • Sauce: In a large saucepan, heat olive oil. Add garlic and saute until soft and transparent. Mix in blended tomato sauce and cirio tomato paste and stir until smooth plus a pinch of salt and sugar to sweeten the sauce. Add a mix of Italian herbs – oregano, basil and tarragon. Bring to slow simmer until you see the oil separating
  • Toppings: anything you like, my faves are: sweetcorn, pineapple, onions, pine nuts and basil leaves

Have fun making pizzas…