Friday, August 18, 2006

La Cucina Caldesi, London

La Cucina Caldesi
118 Marylebone Lane
London W1U 2QF

La Cucina Caldesi is an Italian cookery school attached to Caffe Caldesi restaurant. You may have seen Giancarlo and Katie Caldesi on the BBC series "Return to Tuscany" which showed them setting up their cookery school in Italy.

Their cookery school in London runs a host of courses many with well known chefs and cookery writers such as Gennaro Contaldo and Ursula Ferrigno.

I picked to do the Italian Vegetarian course run by Giancarlo and Katie. However, when I turned up I found it was being run by Stefano Borella, the pastry chef rather than Giancarlo Caldesi himself. I was a little disappointed, as I wanted to ask Giancarlo about the suitability of the Tuscan cookery school course for vegetarians.

However, Stefano was a good tutor so my disappointment didn't last long.

There were around a dozen of us on the course, so it was reasonably crowded. Luckily, there were plenty of dishes we had to cook, so there were plenty to go around.

The course started with Stefano showing us all how to make foccacia bread and we then volunteered to cook the various dishes.

On the menu was Focaccia Bread, Melanzana Parmigiana, Roasted Vegetables, Balsamic Onions, Sformato of Carrots, Saffron Risotto and Stuffed Tomatoes.

I volunteered to do the sformato of carrots which is a carrot puree mixed with bechamel sauce, whipped egg whites and then baked. I was quite chuffed as Stefano complimented my bechamel sauce. Mind you, I've been making it fairly regularly over the last couple of weeks as I practise for my CV diploma so I'd be in trouble if it wasn't at least half decent.

Stefano himself demonstrated the risotto, using a fresh stock made from the carrot peelings and other leftovers from the morning's cooking. Once he had finished we sat down and had the risotto for starters before tucking into the rest of the food .

The food was really nice, especially the melanzana parmigiana and the roasted peppers and courgettes which we had with mozarella sandwiched in the focaccia. The sformato was pretty good too.

I enjoyed the course, its a shame that there were so many on it and that we couldn't have done a bit more hands on stuff, but we came away with the recipes so I can try them at home sometime.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Curryleaf East, London

Curryleaf East
20, City road,
London EC1Y 2AJ

Having spent the day expecting to go to Anakana having read the great reviews on London-Eating, my two companions and myself were slightly disappointed to find it shut due to some electrical fault or other.

Not sure what to do next, we took the "any port in a storm" option and headed into the next Indian restaurant that we saw. This happened to be the Curryleaf East on City Road. The menu looked promising, so we decided to try it.

The interior is very smart, with dark wood decoration and high backed chairs that somehow gives an Indian feel to the place without it screaming at you or having any resemblance to the flock wallpaper we all know and love.

Indian food, like Italian food, is usually pretty good for vegetarians. Even if there are no main dishes on the menu, the selection of side dishes usually provide a tasty, varied meal.

And so it is with Curryleaf East. The only veggie option on the main menu is Navratan (vegetable) Biryani, but there are loads of vegetable starters and side dishes.

To start we ordered a selection from the vegetable starters list. The Aloo Tiki Pithi Wala (crispy fried mashed potatoes shuffed with lentils and topped with yoghurt) were very tasty as were the Mysore Bonda (fried ginger and coriander potato balls) but my fave were the Bharwan Khumb (stuffed mushrooms).

For the main course I had Baigan Mirch Ka Salan which consisted of beautifully cooked baby aubergines in a peanut yoghurt sauce. Along side this I had Matar Paneer, Miloni Khurchan (mixed vegetables with pomegranite) and mushroom pilau rice. The combination worked well and nothing overwhelmed the other by being too hot or too bland.

The Curryleaf East was a pleasant surprise after the disappointment of finding the Anakan shut. the service was good - attentive, but not too attentive, the setting was very pleasant and, above all, the food was good.