For many years, Spanish food in the UK was distinctly underwhelming. Stodgy potato tortillas, greasy patatas bravas and limp prawns in garlic – often washed down with cheap plonk. But the food company, Tapas Brindisa, was instrumental in changing the perception and dining experience of Spanish food. Twenty five years ago, they set up shop in Borough Market and made it their mission to provide unbeatable Spanish food, bringing delicious Iberian hams and other amazing ingredients to London. Then they opened the tapas restaurants (now in Shoreditch, South Kensington, London Bridge and Soho) and recently the Food Rooms in Brixton.
Here you’ll find food that’s a great example of superb ingredients cooked brilliantly. I went to the Soho restaurant – an airy, sleek establishment where you can sit at the bar at the back and watch the chefs working in an open kitchen. The waiter couldn’t have been more helpful, crossing dishes out on the menu that I couldn’t have and suggesting alterations to some to make them gluten-free and dairy-free.
I ordered the Fish Selection Plate – a cold selection of cured mackerel, Nardin boquerones (white anchovies to you and me), cured tuna loin and sardines. This was a magical case of the sum parts being just as great as the whole. The mackerel had a delicious subtle smokiness and the tuna was beautifully cured, too – without overwhelming saltiness. The sardines were full of flavour. And the plump, mild-tasting and jucy white anchoviews were a world away from their counterparts in the supermarket aisles. All joined together made a fest of beautifully cured fish.
I also ordered the Broad Bean Salad with Iberico Ham and Roasted Tomato Water. Much has been written about Brindisa’s Iberico ham – and for good reason. Mouthwateringly sweet, with fat that melts in your mouth, this added a delicious layer of flavour to the broad beans and tomato.
On top of this, I got the Ox Cheeks with Dried Fruit and Red Wine Sauce. A dish full of sweet and savoury tones, and incredibly soft, meaty beef. Overall this was a meal with depth of flavours, sophistication and an overall sense of great pleasure. The pleasure of eating but also of consummate professional chefs truly enjoying cooking amazing ingredients.
Oh, and a wine list that doesn’t have a single bottle of Rioja!
This recipe is adapted from the new cookbook by the founder of Planet Organic, Renée Elliott – Me, You & the Kids Too. Gwyneth Paltrow says, ʻRenée Elliottʼs cookbook is a kitchen essential for new moms and for those who need a little inspiration on how to feed the entire family. The delicious recipes cover babies, toddlers, kids and adults – and each meal is simple and healthy for everyone.ʼ
This book is very dear to my heart. I worked on it with Renée when I came back to work, after my maternity leave. I was working full-time (stressed and tired!) but knew that I wanted to cook nutritious food for Zoë, Peter and I. But I found that I was focussing on lovely purées for Zoë and then too tired to rustle much up for us. Renée’s innovative idea for cooking for a family made total sense to me – and she taught me to think of recipes that I could make for us and then make a purée for Zoë from. Brilliant! And here, at last, is the book I wish I’d had in my hands back then! Cook up Herb-Crusted Fish, for example, in just 30 minutes from start to finish. While you’re preparing the main dish, you can follow the mini-variation recipes to make a Salmon with Broad Beans & Sweet Potato Purée version for your 6–9-month-old or a Herby Salmon with Broad Beans & Sweet Potato Purée for your 9–12-month-old. In this book you’ll find recipes for all situations, including quick breakfasts and lunches for everyone, indulgent, romantic dinners (yep!) to have with your partner after you’ve fed your little angels, bathed them and read them their favourite stories, and meals you can cook for friends when you actually get your social life back!
What’s more, these recipes are bursting with goodness. Renée is all about adding nutrition whenever you can. So you’ll find inspiration for those health food products you’ve never known what to do with, as well as ways to make things like chocolate brownies actually healthy. In this recipe, you use super-healthy sardines instead of the more usual salmon/cod. Sardines are hard to get little ones to eat as they taste fairly strong but made this way, you’ll be able to. (Zoë won’t eat fresh or tinned sardines but she loves making these (hence the less-than-perfectly-shaped fishcakes in the picture!) and will then gobble them up.) Sardines, like all oily fish, are full of omega-3 so they’re wonderfully good for boosting brain development. And, of course, they’re a great storecupboard ingredient so you can whip these up with minimum hassle.
I changed the breadcrumbs to gluten-free breadcrumbs (which you can make very easily by putting some bread – crusts and all – into your food processor and whizzing a little).
Serves: 2 adults, 1 kid and a baby Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 30 minutes
- 400g/14oz potatoes, diced
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 180g/6¼oz tinned sardines in oil or water, drained
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
- 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- a large pinch of cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 75g/2½oz/¾ cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for frying if needed
- lemon wedges, to serve
- salad, to serve
- Put the potatoes in a steamer and steam, covered, for 10 minutes
or until soft. Transfer to a large bowl and mash coarsely.
- Mash the sardines with a fork in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, onion, mustard, parsley, lemon zest, cayenne pepper, salt and breadcrumbs and mix well. Add to the mashed potatoes and mix until well combined. Using your hands, divide the mixture into 10 equal pieces and shape each one into a fishcake.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium-low heat. Working in batches, carefully add the fishcakes to the pan and cook for 3 minutes on each side until browned and heated through. Repeat with the remaining fishcakes, adding more oil to the pan as needed. Serve warm with lemon wedges and salad.
- Sardine Purée variation for a 6–9 month old baby
Put 4 of the sardines and 3 tablespoons water in a blender. Blend for 30 seconds, adding extra water 1 teaspoon at a time, until smooth. Serve warm.
- Sardine, Onion & Parsley Mix variation for a 9–12 month old baby
Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a low heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the onion and cook for 10 minutes until completely soft. Transfer to a blender and add 4 of the sardines, 1 teaspoon of the parsley and 3 tablespoons water. Pulse for 15 seconds, adding extra water 1 teaspoon at a time, until the mixture forms a lumpy purée. Serve warm.