BOOK REVIEW: Fishy Fishy Cookbook

Incredibly I've yet to make it down to the Fishy Fishy restaurant in Brighton despite having heard many a good thing about it. The style and laid-back attitude seems to suit us Brightonians down to the ground and Dermot O'Leary, despite his involvement, hasn't made it feel like some superficial celebrity endorsed enterprise (thank goodness, we have enough of those). Despite only being open a couple of years, it hasn't taken them long to produce a cookbook and good timing too as fish seems to be the hot culinary topic at the moment.

You would expect to some degree some info on sustainable and local sourcing as well as the types of fishing methods and the "do I don't I cod?" issue, all of which are covered in the opening chapters, along with handy sections on fish preparation and selection. And it's so good to see that there is much great fish to be had near my hometown.

The beauty of this book is its simplicity, both in design and content. Fish requires very little to make a great meal and most recipes are more of an explanation of the fish variety in terms of taste, season and tips on buying like choosing "crippled" lobsters that have lost claws as a cost saving measure. The book also highlights the versatility of fish; kept as fillets with simple accompaniments like salsas or sauces, or as pates, stews, burgers, pies or even multiple ways of serving oysters or squid. Interestingly there are also a few recipes in here for non fish eaters like Goat's Cheese and Red Onion Tartlets and a short section on desserts.

Unfortunately, I seemed to have picked a bit of an erroneous recipe to start with. I adore Kedgeree, they used to serve it at 4am when I used to go to fancy dances with Mr GF in his Officer's Mess. After the buckets of booze we used to consume it was always a welcome smell and sight! The recipe here stated it was for 2 people but 600g of smoked haddock smelt a little fishy to me. I mean, you'd HAVE to be a trooper to consume that amount! Turns out the recipe should have been for 4-6 people so I halved it anyway yet oddly still needed the original stated 300ml of fish stock plus more water for half the amount of rice. Hmmm. Still a very tasty result and one I'll try again (with my hand scrawled annotations in the book!).

Next up was the Fish and Prawn Curry and I was particularly interested to see if it would replace my much loved go-to recipe from BBC Good Food. Quantity was perfect, but I stupidly picked up low fat coconut milk by accident so the dish lacked the real creaminess it should have had and maybe added to the fact it looked nothing like the image in the book:

That aside, I still preferred the depth of flavours from my tried and tested recipe better due to having far more spices but for a quick and easy mid-week recipe with limited ingredients, the Fishy Fishy curry is ideal.

This is an affordable, well presented and designed cookbook. Looking at the recipes I think where this book will shine is in cooking those using simple fillet or whole fish. I still have much to learn and hopefully this will make me as comfortable with cooking fish as I am with meats. The Skate Wing with Brown Butter and Scallops with Chorizo are next on my list to try and I'll be sure to dip into this for mid-week solutions.

And I really must get down to the restaurant!

The Fishy Fishy Cookbook is published by New Holland Publishers Ltd and costs £16.99

I received this copy for review.

REVIEW: Michael Caines at the ABode, Exeter

The best things come to those who wait and wait we certainly did for our courses at the Michael Caines Restaurant inside the ABode Exeter.

The amuse was nicely presented as we waited in the bar area, and they even served up an additional celeriac soup amuse after we took our seats at the table.

The bread basket was huge and groaned with an impressive assortment. (Good job as this was to sustain us for quite some time before the starters arrived.)

Totally out of character, I chose the Wild Mushroom Cannelloni (£12.50), rare as I never order pasta out but these fine vertical tubes were filled with intense, smooth roast cep mushrooms that smelt like a fresh woodland floor. The earthy mushroom velouté had a great consistency and manners alone stopped me from mopping the plate clean with more bread. You had to really love mushrooms for this dish but luckily I do.

Caines is one for local produce and there was plenty of local fish on the menu. Mr. GF chose the Roasted Brixham Scallops (£14.50) with cauliflower and truffle purée and a sweet raisin vinaigrette. Despite the presentation looking a little 90s, these were some of the best scallops I have tasted (tearing one away from the husband was no mean feat).

Given plenty more time to reflect on how good the starters were, the mains finally arrived after another age of a wait - must be all that fannying around with tweezers in the kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I'm Italian and used to spending hours on end around a table, but we're usually eating for most of it!

Anyway, I opted for more local fish in the form of a Slow-poached Brixham Brill served with stir-fried vegetables, shiitake mushrooms and a Thai purée with lemongrass foam (£23.50). Despite being one of the smallest plates of food that has ever been put in front of me (why is it the higher the price the smaller the food?) it was utterly delicious. The fish was pillow soft and the different Thai flavours of citrus, sesame, and lemongrass flashed throughout the dish. I liked the textural contrast the crunchy vegetables under the fish offered. Sad to say, I was so hungry at this point I wolfed down the dish in five mouthfuls, probably not giving it the time it deserved to fully appreciate.

Mr. GF's Slow-roasted Devon beef sirlion with Madeira cream sauce (£23.50) looked great, and despite being two teeny weeny little pieces (that tortellini in the picture isn't that big) was tender perfection. The Jacob's Ladder tortellini itself was pretty good I must say and the pasta here seems very well made indeed, filled with rich, flaking tender beef. It was a crying shame there was only one. However, Mr. GF insisted that my meat ravioli are better, but that may be because I serve a hell of a lot more than one on a plate.

Dessert orders were finally taken just under an hour after main were cleared. We were largely ignored but it may have been because friends on the table were due to get married the day after and family came to wish them well. The waiting staff may have been giving us some extra space for this but I had heard about the painful service from other reviews.

When dessert orders were finally taken, I was warned that my souffle would take 15 minutes to arrive (ho ho). My Apricot Souffle with Pistachio Creme Anglaise (£8.50) sure looked the part didn't it? The accompanying ice cream and poached apricot were delicious but the souffle was swimmingly raw at the bottom. Irritatingly schoolboy but it has to be said that it was removed from the bill without a word.

Many people on the table chose better with the impressive looking Trio of Chocolate and plates were practically licked clean. I liked the way the hazelnut in a sugar syrup spike looked.

With no sticky toffee pudding on the menu, Mr GF predictably opted for local cheeses, which included some well known and loved ones like the Quicke's Raw Milk Cheddar and Sharphan. I thought £10 wasn't bad for the selection as well as the pickle and quince accompaniments.

So, all in all a good meal but service should have been a heck of a lot sharper for the price point. The food, when it eventually arrived was, on the whole, great but part of me will never be able to swallow the whole small food/high prices issue unless utterly spectacular and faultlessly delivered. I'm not adverse to spending astronomical amounts on dining and am more than happy if I leave full, happy and impressed but I can't say I left feeling like this particular visit was a good value for money experience.

Michael Caines at the ABode Exeter
Cathedral Yard
Devon EX1 1HD

TRAVEL: Florence restaurant (and general eating) guide

I loved Florence. It was my first visit and really exceeded my expectations as did everywhere we ate which seemed remarkably untainted by the tourist hordes if you know where to look. But then I did spend hours upon hours researching restaurants and things to eat! If you are visiting then I'll save you the trouble by listing all of my best finds here with budgets to suit everyone. I've also created a Google Map at the end with more places I wanted to try but ran out of time for, like the place that serves truffled sandwiches and Prosecco!

Best for Gelato
Avoid the piled up, gaudy displays for the tourists and head to one of the below. Grom is a branded and well-respected gelateria with a great pistachio flavour but I preferred the following two.

1. Carapina
Via Lambertesca 18.
The one everyone is talking about whoever they are. Only the best seasonal ingredients are used here and well worth the extra euro for. Some unusual flavours like olive oil, beer or even cheese mingle with classics. I liked the Vin Santo, which had a boozy Zabaglione taste and the Primolatte, a fresh, pure "first milk" much like a Fior Di Latte. The yogurt flavours are good and well matched to one of their fruity sorbets.

2. Gelateria della Passera
Piazza della Passera 15
A hidden gem and one I randomly stumbled across yet went back to 4 times in as many days. Set in a beautiful tiny piazza south of the Arno, I think this was may favourite overall. The sorbets were just the ticket after eating too heavily at dinner. Mostly classic flavours with a few surprises like the very good Mojito. I however couldn't eat enough of their pineapple or melon sorbets.

Best Cheap Eat
1. Il Contadino
71 Via Palazzuolo Lunch and dinner. Closed at the weekends.
I still can't get over the cost of the meal here. Go for the set meal prices of €10.50 for primo, secondo, side, water and coffee or €11 for the option of a quarter litre of wine on top of that. Insane as the food was delicious and the wine better than any pish that passes as house wine in the UK. This is a simple, yet charming, classic tiled, local trattoria on the outskirts, full of lone dining workers at lunch but you MUST go. The daily changing menu includes classic home-style Italian cooking like mamma would make. The menu is read out to you but English is spoken. I went for home-made ravioli and a wonderful veal and pea stew but you can have minestrone, roast rabbit, carpacchio or even just pasta and a plate of cheese. Beware though, the coffee would wake the dead!

2. Gusta Pizza
Via Maggio 46, 11:30am to 3pm and 7:30pm to 11pm. Closed Monday.
Florence may not be the obvious place for a pizza yet this pizzeria is one of the better ones. Cheap as chips at €4.50-€7 yet great quality ingredients. Go early to get one of the glass topped barrels and be prepared to share. Alternatively get takeaway and devour on the steps of the Santo Spirito piazza. Avoid the house wine like the plague though and opt for a beer. The Gusta family also have a good sandwich shop round the corner called Gusta Panino for a quick cheap bite on the run.

Best Sandwiches/Snacks
1. Nerbone
Mercato Centrale. Closed Sunday.
No foodie should miss a visit to the Mercato Centrale (closed Sun) to gawp at the size of the artichokes and grimace at the tripe stalls. Mostly full of expensive dried mushrooms and multi-coloured pasta for the tourists but worth going alone for the best porchetta sandwich in Florence. Make sure you get it "bagnata" which means "wet" with the cooking juices from the roast. God I still dream about this sandwich.

2. I Due Fratellini
Via dei Cimatori 38.
"Hole in the wall" sandwich and Chianti shops were common in Florence, the fast food joints of the time. I Due Fratellini is still there where a mere €2.50 gets you a nice crusty roll and a choice of filling like porchetta or pork with salsa verde. Wash it down with a small glass of Chianti which you prop up on the specially made shelves on the outside wall. Pret a Manger can bite me.

Best mid-priced
1. Dei Frescobaldi
Via dei Magazzini, 2. Closed all day Sunday and Monday for lunch.
Smart restaurant with great quality food and ideal for a quiet lunch as few tourists will venture here. We just had some wine and some primi for a light lunch. The pasta of my Girasole ("sun flower") was like silk, filled with ricotta and spinach and topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil. Mr. GF's Pici with pancetta and cheese was a real man's pasta dish and something he raved about for the rest of the trip. Prices range from €12-16 for pasta and €18-20 for meat secondi.

I thought the €6 per diner cover charge was a little steep though - everywhere in Florence will charge you a few euros but this was the highest, yet shouldn't put you off a visit as the food and service is great.

2. Caffé Italiano
Via dell'Isola delle Stinche, 11. Closed Monday.
Caffé Italiano offers classic Tuscan cooking with a beautiful smart-rustic interior. Again we pit stopped here for a plate of pasta at lunch although I opted for the Gnudi, a type of regional ricotta dumpling similar to gnocchi. These were served with a simple sage and butter sauce. Mr GF went for the potato ravioli with ragu. The chaps opposite us chose the steak, a must in Florence, and here they serve the Chianina steak - more expensive but the best. The Chianina, huge white cattle, has been bred locally for over 2000 years.

The full 5 course tasting menu at €50 would be a good option for a lingering, atmospheric dinner. It's worth noting the cheaper pizzeria they have next door which only serves 3 pizza choices all of which are supposed to be very good.

Best for Classic Tuscan food
Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco
Borgo San Iacopo 43, Lunch and Dinner. Closed Wednesday.
We chose the Chingale Bianco for our anniversary dinner and, as the name suggests, wild boar is the house specialty.

The interior of this Ostiera is charming and fills up very quickly creating a lively atmosphere. I would drop in or call and book for dinner as small queues were forming outside. The menu is a bevvy of classic Tuscan dishes, they do a really good mixed antipasto with boar chacuterie. For primi, I went for the classic ribollita soup and Mr. GF, clearly on a pasta bender, the homemade tagliatelle with thick boar ragu. Divine. Mains were also great. My herbed roast pork fillet was so tender and served with lashings of the intense roasting juices. Remember to order a side dish as meat will arrive alone or with just roast potatoes.

As I wasn't eating red meat we didn't go for the table sliced Florentine steak as there was a minimum weight order (which really needed two people to finish). Mr. GF opted for the sliced beef and rocket which was the same cut anyway.

This is a really great restaurant and if you book be sure to get the little nook downstairs or the table upstairs for a bit of privacy and lingering as staff tend to be tempted to rush you a little to calm the queue.

Google Map of Florence
This map shows some of the gems I discovered in Florence as well as some I have yet to visit but been highly recommended. Times and prices correct as of July 2011 but be sure to check the current opening details as restaurants will close either Saturday, Sunday, Monday or Wednesday and part or all of August for their holidays. Some just randomly close so hard luck!

View The Graphic Foodie in Florence in a larger map

EVENT: Brighton Food Festival 2011, 1st September - 4th October 2011

The Brighton Food Festival just seems to get better and better (do I say that every time?). This time there seems to be so much variety; shows, demonstrations, markets, tastings, pop-ups, debates, classes, outdoor events and er, cheese bowling. Celebrating local and all aspects of food, it's going to be fantastic. Here are my picks from the festival:

10 September, Live Food Show, Royal Pavilion Gardens, 11.00 am - 5.30 pm
My number one this year has to be the Live Food Show, because Antonio Carluccio himself will be cooking some regional Italian food which makes my heart sing. Plus, I'm his number one fan and will be determined to get my picture taken with him! Also on 11th September.

25 September, Sussex Gourmet Bus Tour, 9.30 am - 6.00 pm
The Sussex Gourmet Bus Tour I went on earlier this year was absolutely unmissable! Includes a trip around a selection of fantastic Sussex producers for a meet and eat plus a lunch in an old Routemaster bus. Fantastic and well worth the £55.

7 September, Seven Bees Cafe
We may finally have a decent place to get a Burger for once in Brighton. Burger obsessive Dan Peters will be serving them up using local meat. I'm there. There will also be pizza, fish and other pop up nights there too so well worth a look.

7 September, The Restaurant at Drakes, 7.00 pm - 9.30 pm
Drakes is one of the few fine dining venues in Brighton and for the festival they will be offering just 12 places for a specially created 3 course menu with matched wines. £60 pp.

8 September and 22 September Moshi Moshi, 7.00 pm - 9.30 pm
Have yet to attend one of Moshi Moshi's tutored Sake tastings. You will be able to try six of them along with three kozara dishes, a selection of sushi or sashimi specially selected by the chef, or one of their yakitori, kushiage, or tempura platters from our hot menu. A bargain at £35.

10 September, Make Your Case, Pavillion Gardens, 6.30 pm - 8.00pm
If you fancy a debate then Make Your Case may be for you. Local wine experts, restaurants and wine merchants will make their case for their favourite wine in six minutes timed slots convincing you why their chosen wine is the best. £20 including food platters, wine samples and entry into a competition to will one bottle of each wine tasted.

17 September, Sussex Cheese Bowling, Preston Park, 11.30 am - 3.00 pm
Yes, cheese BOWLING! Try your hand rolling some fine cheeses from the very fine High Weald Dairy

But there are tons more foodie events during the festival which you can view at

SHOPPNG: Papa Stour

I came across Papa Stour the other day which sell some beautiful and well priced pieces by Scottish designers and artists. I really fancy the wooden handled silver spoon (bottom right), £54. Perfect for getting to the tricky spot at the bottom of the Nutella jar I say!

REVISIT & REVIEW: Aloka, Brighton

UPDATE: Aloka has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For vegan food in Brighton try Terre a Terre, Infinity Cafe, Lydea or The George Pub (Trafalgar Street).

I was rather impressed with my initial visit to Aloka back in October last year, which was my first real foray into bio-dynamic gastronomy. It surprised and delighted on the whole but due to the unusual set up of restaurant/shop/holistic centre, I was worried it reflected a confused identity. Well, I'm back and there have been a few changes. You can now dine on the ground floor, which is the cafe in the day - a good idea as it helps communicate its evening offering to passers by. The food has changed too. It's not exclusively raw anymore yet the menu is still unusual, interesting and everything is organic (apart from the herbs and spices) and as locally sourced as possible. Hard with some of the ingredients I imagine.

One thing you have to say is the food is presented beautifully. The colours are vivid and everything looks inviting, like this Red Pepper Mousse amuse.

We shared an Aloka Mezze Platter (£15.75) between us for starters, a selection of the "raw living and gently cooked botanical tasters". These turned out to be light, fresh and pleasant portions of carrot hummus, guacamole, tzatziki and olives with breads, crackers and fermented millet pancakes with which to dip. There was also a slightly over-herbed caponanta but I liked the fennel in it, and some raw "cottage cheese". However, I thought the shot of mushroom soup was an unusual addition on a plate meant for sharing and the pecan and date chutney/jelly tasted and was textured like stale wallpaper paste. It was rather unpleasant actually, a real blip on the plate which was a shame.

For main I chose the Global Curry of the day, £11.75, which today was North African influenced. There was a spiced pumpkin seed stew accompaniment which was smokey and nutty and had a lot of pout against the main element of butternut, lentil and buckwheat curry. There wasn't much heat but nice you could add it to taste with the harissa paste. I wasn't sure what to do with the honey wine but liked the pancake base of the dish which soaked up the juices and flavours. However, for me there were far too many flavours going on; smokey, nutty, the popcorn taste of the buckwheat... I rarely leave a plate unfinished but this was too much for me and left me a little unsettled to be honest.

My friend's Zen Buddha Bowl (top image) £12.50, was incredibly pretty, looking like a deep sea coral composition and again included an array of components. Purple broccoli shoots, marinated seaweed tartare, brown rice, spelt and roasted buckwheat, steamed stinging nettle, dehydrated lotus root and silken toufu - a visual feast. The pink curls at the front are pickled dicon, a Japenese horseradish which I have not come across before. My friend thought this was really well put together and appreciated all the new flavours and ingredients she got to try. She liked the barley miso soup that came with it as well, yet it also was too much for her to finish.

For dessert, we shared some of their homemade ice creams opting for Lavender and Green Tea & Edamame from their selection. The texture was excellent actually, neither were too sweet which suited me fine. They get their creaminess from the base of cashew nuts, coconut butter and coconut oil apparently. The great big slice of Poppy and Orange Cheesecake was rather good too and not as heavy as it looked. Again, this seemed to be made from an almond/cashew nut base as well so all the nuttiness was a bit too much to polish off a slice, even between two of us.

They have a good selection of teas served in the prettiest cups in town.

The one thing I really like about Aloka is that it offers an alternative dining experience in Brighton and the food is exciting, original and well priced. I think it has lost a little spark in terms of balance and flavour combinations, which was so well done before, but that may be because I am not used to these flavours, the nut bases and oils just seemed too heavy and unsettling for me. Really, I think the food seems to be trying too hard to impress with one or two elements and flavours too many.

Yet for diners that are meat and dairy free then this is an ideal dining option as it must be refreshing to be able to select anything on the menu. For those that are not, and maybe a little tired of the main offering in the city then I would still recommend Aloka for something a little different.

UPDATE: Aloka has now closed its doors. Review for historical purposes. For vegan food in Brighton try Terre a Terre, Infinity Cafe, Lydea or The George Pub (Trafalgar Street).

14 East Street
Brighton BN1 1HP
Tel: 01273 823 178

I dined as a guest of Aloka.