Category Archives: Things

A Happy Pig is a Good Pig: What Free Range Really Means

This piece was originally written for the Tiki Chris blog.

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Pork has got to be the most versatile meats. From roasting joints, loins for chops, legs for gammon, ribs for barbecue you can create all sorts of wonderful dishes from nose to tail.

While it’s tempting to rush off and start a cooking marathon as soon as possible, it’s important to consider where your meat comes from first. Of course, discerning shoppers always try to source the best quality possible to be sure of welfare standards and good flavour. However there are so many labels to decipher and even the savviest foodie is likely to be confused by the terms “outdoor bred”, “outdoor reared” and “free range”.

Based on my recent visit to Blythburgh Farm in Suffolk, here’s what they all mean:

  • outdoor bred = born outside but then moved indoors to be reared intensively for the majority of their lives
  • outdoor reared = intensively reared outside; they may be in huts or tents but they’re shut in for the whole time
  • free range = born outside, reared outside, freedom to roam large paddocks for all of their lives

If the pork you’re eyeing up in the supermarket has none of the above labels or is imported pork, chances are it’s from animals who have had relatively miserable lives.

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The explanations above are courtesy of Jimmy Butler (pictured right with his son Alistair), an experienced farmer and head of Blythburgh farmily farm in Suffolk. The Butlers converted their pig farm into the “absolutely, totally free range pork” venture it is today back in the 1990s.

Today, you can find pork bearing the Blythburgh stamp in specialist butchers around the country including my local, Hennessy Butchers in Battersea.

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You may have come across Blythburgh pork, also known as Jimmy Butler’s pork, on menus at the Savoy, the Fat Duck, the Ivy and the Hind’s Head – as well as street food favourites Chipotle and Yum Bun.

The label “Blythburgh pork” means that the meat you are buying is traceable back to one truly free range farm, which has ideal conditions for raising happy pigs.

The pigs that produce Blythburgh Free Range Pork spend their entire lives outdoors in the fresh air, with freedom to roam. Large airy tented barns in each paddock with plenty of bedding straw provide shelter when needed.

Better welfare and better taste – these pigs grow at a slower rate, so develop more flavour and succulence that is not easy to find in intensively farmed pork.

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Jimmy’s son Alistair tells us that pigs are curious, intelligent animals who love to root and play. As Jimmy puts it, “a free range pig is a happy pig and a happy pig is a good pig”.

The open spaces of the free range farm is clear to see just off a main road near the town of Blythburgh; the pig farm has become something of a landmark in these parts. You can see for yourself how the pigs happily roam in large paddocks, playing and rooting around as is their nature in the sandy Suffolk soil. I was lucky enough to cuddle one…

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After the visit, the group of food writers I was with were invited to a butchery demonstration by Gerard King, from craft butcher Salter and King, who skillfully broke down a whole side of pork and shared his top tips for preparing each cut. His recipe for rolled pork belly stuffed with chorizo sounds like a winner!

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With fine quality meat like Blythburgh pork, the simplest recipes are often the best to showcase the natural flavours. The Butlers shared one of their favourite family recipes for slow-cooked pork shoulder:

Ingredients:

  • 6kg Blythburgh pork shoulder, boned, rolled and scored
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • salt

Method:

Heat oven to 220 C. Place the pork in a roasting tray, rub the skin with oil and salt, and then sprinkle with fennel seeds. Roast for 30 minutes and then lower the oven to 120C. Cook for a further six and a half hours. When cooked remove pork and rest for 15 minutes. Remove crackling, shred pork and serve in rolls with apple sauce or with vegetables and gravy.

Find out more about Blythburgh Pork on their website www.freerangepork.co.uk and Twitter feed @BlythburghPork

Recipe: Jewelled Aromatic Rice by Amira

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This recipe is based on the classic Persian dish, Javaher Polow, or “jewelled rice”, an opulent dish of fluffy rice, sweet and tangy fruits and crunchy nuts. It’s traditionally served at weddings and celebrations. Each of the ingredients represents a precious jewel; berries for rubies, pistachios for emeralds. The dish is a symbol of wishing sweetness and wealth for the newly married couple – of course it was on my wedding menu last year!

So when the people at Amira rice contacted me to ask if I’d like to try their recipe, I was instantly reminded of happy, delicious memories and had to say yes. The recipe on the Amira website is not totally authentic (traditionally you’d use zereshk/barberries not cranberries, for example) but I was really pleased with the outcome, so it’s a good one to keep hold of particularly if you live in an area where sourcing Middle Eastern ingredients may be a challenge.

The buttery golden crust that develops on the bottom of the pan, “tahdig“, is the best bit – to be able to turn out a perfect crust in one clean motion is a good sign that you’re marriage material (phew – I passed the test!)

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Using high quality rice is really important – please don’t assume that all rice is the same because that’s just not true. You will notice the difference if you source properly aged rice – ordinarily I would always go for basmati for the exceptional fragrance, but Amira’s “Superior Aromatic” is not basmati yet still has the fragrance, nuttiness and and the extra long grains you would expect from the best quality rice.

Ingredients:
300g high quality rice such as Amira Superior Aromatic Rice
Generous pinch of saffron threads
150 g dried cranberries
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
60 g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom pods
1 cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
Seeds picked from 1 large pomegranate
Generous bunch of parsley, chopped
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Method
Add rice to a sieve and rinse under running water. Tip into a bowl and cover well with cold water. Set aside to soak for 1 hour. Add the saffron to a small heatproof glass and cover with 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then set aside to soak. Add the cranberries to a small heatproof bowl and cover in boiling water, set aside to soak.

Add the oil and half the butter to a deep frying pan and set over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, cinnamon, cardamon and cumin and fry gently for 30 minutes until the onion is soft and lightly caramelised, then turn off the heat.

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Drain your rice and add to a large saucepan. Pour over boiling water so it comes a generous 3 centimetres above the rice and set over a medium high heat. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold running water to cool and drain well. The rice will have started to cook but will still have plenty of bite and the grains will not yet be fluffy.

Combine the cooled rice with the onions, along with the saffron, cranberries and their soaking water. Stir well but be careful not to break the grains of rice, which would make them stodgy and starchy – you want separate, elegant grains! Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dot the surface of the rice with the remaining butter.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon make 5-6 holes through the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan – this helps it to steam evenly.

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The recipe instructions said: “tear off a sheet of baking paper, scrunch it up under cold running water, shaking off the excess, then lay snugly over the surface of the rice. Cover the pan tightly with a layer of foil and set over a very low heat.”

I did what I’ve always done to achieve a perfect tahdig: wrap the lid of your saucepan in a tea towel to ensure a snug fit, so no precious steam escapes. Pomegranate pattern optional!

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Cook for 40 minutes on a very low heat, after which time your rice will be fluffy and a delicious buttery crust will have developed on the bottom.

While your rice is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Tip into a bowl and stir through the pomegranate seeds, parsley, orange zest and garlic. Set aside.

Once your rice is ready, remove the lid, place a large platter on top and in one swift, brave movement, flip the pan upside down. Your rice should slide out in a cloud of fragrant steam. Ta da!

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(If you’re not feeling brave, you can scoop the rice out onto your serving dish and then scrape the lovely crunchy caramelised rice from the base of the pan to arrange over the top.)

Enjoy! We ate ours with chicken thighs cooked simply with diced onion, garlic, saffron, salt and pepper over a medium heat, with sides of salads, yoghurt, and my mum’s torshi (Persian pickle) – keep meaning to post the recipe here, bear with me.

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I was sent Amira rice to sample and review and will definitely be buying it in future! Amira rice is stocked at selected Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose stores.

COMPETITION: win tickets to the 10th anniversary of Foodies Festival, 23rd- 25th May 2015

Syon Park is one of those magical places that makes you fall in love with London – how can such a magnificent estate with fine rooms, lush gardens and a stunning conservatory exist in zone 4 of the Big Smoke?

Sure, I’m biased (I got married at Syon Park last year), but it’s one of my favourite spots in the whole city. I’m thrilled for an excuse to return – particularly one that involves food!

The people behind the UK’s biggest celebration of food and drink are getting ready to transform Syon Park into a foodie heaven for the 10th anniversary of the Foodies Festival this year. During 23rd – 25th May, the grounds will welcome celebrity chefs, new tasting theatres and more street food than you can shake a satay stick at.

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TV cooks, Michelin starred chefs and MasterChef champions will share their favourite summer recipes and tips with visitors in the Aga Rangemaster Chefs Theatre.

In the New Wine and Champagne Theatre, experts will guide visitors through the best bottles from around the world, while the New Craft Beer Theatre will show you how to match foods with locally produced craft beers.

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Whatever your tastes, there’s sure to be something to appeal from the huge range of masterclasses. I’m keen to learn ‘How to Sniff Chocolate like a Rockstar’ with chocolatiers in the new Tasting Theatre, as well as topics such as Raw Food, Japanese Soul, Oyster Shucking and Bee Keeping.

The Cake & Bake Theatre is an inspiration for passionate bakers with top local cake makers and bakeries sharing their tips for baking delicious summer cakes. Visitors can also enjoy 3D cake modelling, Chocolate Making and Sugar-Craft masterclasses and a complementing Chocolate, Cake and Bake Village selling bakes, jams, gadgets and baking essentials.

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A new Chilli Food Market will excite those with a love for spicy foods with a range of chilli growers and artisan producers of sauces, sweets and jams. For those who can handle the heat, there’s a Chilli Eating Challenge each day!

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The Street Food Avenue will offer a huge selection of hot and cold dishes from around the world. Japanese, Thai, Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican, French and African are just some of the cuisines visitors can tuck into at communal tables in the Feasting Tent this year.

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Over 200 producers will be exhibiting the Artisan Producers Market, offering samples of award winning food to visitors browsing for treats to buy and enjoy at home.

After a day of food and fun, foodies can relax and soak in the atmosphere with live music from the entertainment stage and a refreshing drink from the Pop-Up bars and cider farm – with the beautiful Syon Park as a backdrop. What a perfect occasion to renew our vows…

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Tickets are on sale now at www.foodiesfestival.com or by calling 0844 995 1111.

Good news though – I have a pair of tickets to give away! Just leave a comment on the blog, and I’ll pick a winner at random by Monday 11th May. Best of luck!

Now in season: ravishing radishes and wonderful watercress

I originally wrote this piece for The Holborn. 

There are many reasons to reach for radishes: they’re low-calorie (a serving of 10 radishes has just 5 calories), super low in fat, low GI, hydrating, help with healthy digestion, and contain antioxidants.

Of course, we at the Pantry are more concerned with matters of taste, an area where radishes also score well. The crisp, crunchy texture and distinctive peppery bite adds a subtle kick to salads, sandwiches, stir fries and more.

Let’s start with the très chic way the French prefer to enjoy les radis: simply with good crusty bread, creamy butter, sea salt and fresh radishes.

Pam Lloyd PR Radish Recipes (7th December 2010)

It takes confidence to serve something so simple and unadorned – the trick is to make sure each item is the best possible quality so that the characteristics of each sing. You can either dip the radishes in butter, then salt and follow with a hunk of bread, or munch on a radish followed by bread spread with butter, topped with a sprinkle of salt. Whichever way you choose, the ingredients complement each other and make something greater than the sum of their parts. It’s a lovely dish to nibble on with drinks and just the thing to accompany a chilled glass of rosé in the sunshine.

Radishes work well in salads, particularly with combinations that play up to the crunch and pepperiness – try mixing with feta cheese for a pleasing contrasting texture and flavour. It’s also worth using a mandolin or very sharp knife to slice radishes into attractive thin rounds for a more delicate effect, although more chunky quarters work well for rustic dishes.

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A more unusual way of preparing radishes is roasted, which mellows the flavour. Radishes roasted in a hot oven with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper creates a fragrant side dish which is a healthier alternative to potatoes, delicious served alongside roast poultry or game.

Did you know the Wholefoods ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) ranks foods from 1-1000 on their nutritional content gram for gram: watercress tops the chart at 1000 whereas blueberries, often touted as a superfood, scores just 160.

100g of watercress has more Vitamin E than broccoli, more vitamin C than a clementine, and more calcium than 100ml of whole milk.

Here at the The Holborn we’ve long been fans of the punchy leaves eaten raw in salads (usually on the side of a perfectly cooked ribeye steak), but have been inspired to cook the vegetable more recently. A frittata is a crowd-pleasing dish that is great for using up odds and ends from the Pantry or fridge.

This Hot Smoked Salmon & Watercress Frittata is simple and quick enough for breakfast and also works as a supper or lunch dish.

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Serves: 4

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 5-10 minutes

Ingredients: 1 tbsp olive oil, 6 spring onions, finely sliced 150g watercress 150g hot smoked salmon, Zest of half a lemon, ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional), Salt and pepper to taste, Pinch of ground nutmeg, 10 large free-range eggs, 1 tbsp crème fraîche, 25g feta cheese thinly sliced (optional)

Method; Pre-heat the grill. Warm the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan with an oven-proof handle and sauté the spring onions over a gentle heat for a few minutes until soft. Add the watercress and stir, gently, until the watercress begins to wilt.

Remove the skin from the hot smoked salmon, and flake it into pieces into the pan. Add the lemon zest and dried chilli, if using. In a bowl, season the eggs generously with salt, black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg, add the crème fraiche and whisk until combined.

Pour into the pan and cook over a gentle heat, moving the mixture around with a spatula every now and then, until the bottom of the frittata is set and the top is still wobbly. Scatter over the feta cheese (if using). Pop the frittata under the grill for another 2-3 minutes, to finish cooking the top.

More information and recipes can be found at www.loveradish.co.uk and The Watercress Alliance www.watercress.co.uk

Are you Sitting Comfortably? Street Food Heroes Crabbieshack Pop-up at The Hat & Tun

Sure, street food is great, but let’s be honest – eating on the street is a bit of a drag. There’s nowhere to sit and you never have enough hands. I hate to think of the amount of precious booze I’ve spilled trying to juggle drinks, plates, cash. I know that the street food movement was all about rebelling against fusty, fancy “fine dining”, but frankly – I like to have a table when eating.

I’m not alone: park benches, low walls, street signs, steps and doorways near street food markets always get taken over by crowds of people crouching down and unwrapping their lunch, creating an impromptu (yet still uncomfortable) dining table with their knees. Near the fantastic Whitecross St Market, dozens of fully grown adults steal a march on a nearby children’s playground, repurposing the swings and climbing frames as a lunch venue – the poor kids wanting to play not getting a look in!

Trouble is, most cafes and bars frown upon bringing food in from outside. Kudos to the ETM group, who have had the brilliant idea of inviting Crabbieshack to host a pop-up at the The Hat & Tun pub in Clerkenwell – meaning punters can enjoy street food while sitting comfortably.

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For three nights only from Wednesday 13th – Friday 15th May, 5.30pm to 9pm, Crabbieshack will be serving Old Bay Batter Soft-Shell Crab Burgers (£9.50). There are enough options on The Hat And Tun’s Crabbieshack menu to keep you coming back throughout the three days of crustacean craziness:

  • Fennel, almond, avocado and harissa
  • Pickled cucumber, chilli, coriander and wasabi mayo
  • Leafy sea aster and tartare sauce
  • Sweetcorn salsa and lobster mayo
  • Nori seaweed, apple, cabbage, spring onion and Sriracha mayo

You can also go for a simple “crab and bun” without sauce and filling, for £7, or crab with salad (£7.50).

Shell out for some of London’s best burgers at The Hat & Tun this May.

The Hat & Tun is located at 3 Hatton Wall, EC1N 8HX. Find out more at thehatandtun.com. For more about Crabbieshack, go to crabbieshack.co.uk.

I was invited to a preview of the Crabbieshack pop-up as a guest, and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris

The George Foreman Grill “Evolves”

This week a student became an internet sensation after being snapped using a George Foreman grill to make a bacon sandwich in the front row of a university lecture.

The last time I encountered a George Foreman I was also a student, which was more years ago than I care to admit. In those days, the student halls had a greasy, squalid kitchen shared by over twenty freshers who would rather spend their pennies on snakebite than washing up liquid. The communal “George” was the high point of the place; the only reliable appliance and the maker of many late night cheese toasties. Even the culinarily challenged (one guy genuinely used to eat dry Supanoodles straight out of the packet) could whip up something hot and nutritious on our trusty George.

Coincidentally, in the same week that the brazen student’s antics went viral, the nice people at George Foreman invited a group of bloggers to try out the latest model.

Like those early Noughties students, the George Foreman has grown up; the new “Evolve” model is described as “the next generation”. New features such as a deep bake pan mean you can easily create so much more than the toasties, paninis and grilled meats associated with the earlier versions. It’s now possible to cook small stews, casseroles and even pizzas using the grill.

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The main draw of the original models was the angle of the grill which meant excess fat drained away. The Evolve still has this feature, but as people are gradually coming around to the idea that fat isn’t something to be afraid of, this model lets you adjust the angle as you wish.

Another snazzy new addition is the sear function, which gives a blast of intense heat before returning to normal cooking temperature.

To put all of these features through their paces, we prepared a menu of seared tuna with salad, a beetroot and broccoli pizza, finishing with grilled plums on rosemary skewers with a hot buttery citrus sauce.

Some of the dishes were more successful than others – all of our tuna steaks ended up overcooked despite following the instructions to the letter. The sear function did not seem to deliver on its promises. The pizza was decent but the base was so crisp it was difficult to cut through – a far cry from the pillowy soft Napoli style pizzas. The best dish was the grilled fruit dessert recipe which didn’t require such precision timing and temperature control.

The George Foreman Evolve grill certainly looks impressively shiny and is easy to use; the dual LED display has a digital timer and variable temperature. The ceramic coated grill plates are simple to remove and clean (even for lazy students) and are dishwasher safe which is a bonus.

Although the appliance is touted as space-saving as it combines several features in one, it is a fairly bulky bit of kit to keep on your kitchen counter, particularly if you already have a hob and oven/grill. It’s not for everyone; I struggled to think when I would prefer to plug in the George instead of using a normal pan or oven dish. Even our famous student would have struggled to set this up in class.

However, the George Foreman Evolve is great solution in many situations; it would be fantastic in a setting with limited cooking facilities such as an office, student accommodation or for taking on self-catered holidays. And let’s not forget those hangover saving cheese toasties. I may not keep one on my kitchen counter 24/7, but I dare say I’ll dig out the George Foreman Evolve next time I feel nostalgic for my student days.

George Foreman Evolve grills are available from Argos, £149.99. Find out more at georgeforeman.co.uk.

I was invited to review the George Foreman Evolve as a guest and originally wrote this post for Tiki Chris.

Bah Bah: a Persian pop-up at The King & Co

Usually I would start off a blog post with some sort of a pre-amble but I’m so excited to tell you about this that I’m going to cut to the chase. The quicker you get the message that you must go as soon as possible to Bah Bah, the Persian pop-up at The King & Co pub, the better.

It’s only on until the end of March so time really is of the essence.

If you need some more reasons as to why you need to head over to Clapham Park Road quick-smart, behold the menu:

Bah Bah at The King & Co - menu

Bah Bah at The King & Co – menu

 

For those of you who don’t know, “bah bah” is what Persians say when something is especially appetizing; it’s the equivalent of “mmm” or “yummy” and a very apt name for the cooking from Bah Bah’s founder and head chef James Nicholson.

Like me, James has an Iranian mother and grew up on Persian food. Middle Eastern and Persian cuisine is finally starting to get the recognition and reputation it deserves which is brilliant. James is flying the flag in an innovative way; as he pointed out, you can get excellent Persian food in London if you know where to look, but never in a pub! Or in Clapham!

The King & Co is a relatively new independent freehouse, launched in September 2014. It’s a great place with a diverse selection of craft beers and interesting food; the pub hosts lots of different kitchen residencies. After Bah Bah there is word of a Ghanaian pop-up moving in.

The food served by the Bah Bah team definitely has a bit of a British accent; it is a more modern adaptation of traditional Persian dishes, often done in a very clever way.

If you go to an old-school Persian place you will be served huge mountains of buttery saffron rice and vast platters of chelo kabob with bread the size of tablecloths.

James and his team have a more refined approach and serve small plates inspired by classic bright, fragrant Persian flavours.

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The best small plates are the kufteh (lamb and dried fruit meatballs with pomegranate and pistachios) – addictively moreish and juicy. The kookoo sabzi (a sort of frittata loaded with herbs, walnuts and barberries) is really good, as is the bademjan (smoked aubergine with yoghurt) – although I do think James should use the traditional kashk (whey) instead of yoghurt for the distinctive tangy flavour.

Pirashki, crepes filled with spiced beef, was new to me. James said the dish is actually Russian in origin (quite a few Persian dishes are originally from Russia, such as salad olivieh, a rich potato salad) and that this was a family favourite. I thought they were a little on the oily side but my partner in crime gobbled them up.

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah’s showstopper is the ghormeh sabzi, a hearty khoresh (slow cooked stew) I was practically raised on, made with small pieces of meat, kidney beans, dried limes and masses of herbs (usually a mix of parsley, fenugreek, chives and others) – it’s always served with fluffy basmati rice. James’s version is one of the best I’ve ever had; he uses beef shin with roasted bone marrow which gives an amazing unctuousness. So inspired to use this cut rather than the more typical lamb neck – it’s rich, full of flavour without being overly fatty, and perfect in a slow cooked dish like this. I am simultaneously thankful to James for giving me the idea, and kicking myself for not thinking of it first!

Luckily there are still a few weeks left before Bah Bah moves on to new pastures – James is considering a few opportunities for the future and is definitely one to watch.

I will be back again soon for more of that incredible ghormeh sabzi and to try the regularly changing specials such as roast quail, which had sadly sold out when we were there. The team is planning specials for Nowruz (Persian New Year aka the first day of spring) which will be an excellent time to visit.

Nush-e-jan!

@bahbahlondon

Bah Bah’s residency at The King & Co ends Sunday 29th March 2015. To book a table or reserve an area, email hello@thekingandco.uk

http://www.thekingandco.uk