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Cold-press rapeseed oil: oil for one and one for oil

I originally wrote this piece for the Tiki Chris blog IMG_4759

Oil is an everyday foodstuff used in many kinds of dishes – yet the sheer range of options available can be baffling. The paradox of choice is obvious in every supermarket – how to choose between olive, sunflower, coconut, rapeseed and numerous other culinary oils and fats? The best advice is not to choose: keep a range for different purposes.

One variety which is increasingly likely to be found in kitchens across the country is rapeseed oil, with sales rocketing in the last year. The golden elixir attracting shoppers is not the cheap, refined, processed stuff often labeled as “vegetable” oil you may associate with rapeseed. British farmers are now producing premium cold-pressed, extra virgin oils from rapeseed crops which comparable in quality to the best olive oils.

IMG_4736 IMG_4745

The founders of Hillfarm Oil, married couple Clare and Sam Fairs, made their family farm in Heveningham, Suffolk the first farm in the UK to cold-press and bottle their own rapeseed over ten years ago. Hillfarm is now one of the UK’s leading producers, bottling over 500,000 litres of their oil for shops, restaurants and supermarkets across the land.

Clare and Sam Fairs speak passionately about the health benefits of rapeseed oil and are quick to compare the numbers to olive oil: it has half the saturated fat, eleven times more natural omega 3 and more vitamin E. While the Hillfarm branded tshirts may proclaim they are “challenging the olive”, in fact all sorts of oils should be welcome in the kitchen.

There is nothing quite like the peppery, grassy kick of extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over dishes just before serving. But olive oils are not the best for cooking: not only does the quality deteriorate, applying very high heat can cause release toxic chemicals according to scientists. Coconut oil is often described as excellent for cooking due to its high burn point, but the strong flavour and greasy mouthfeel can be overpowering. Rapeseed oil also has a high smoking point, so can be used for roasting and frying. It’s also relatively thin as an oil, meaning vegetables crisp up more quickly than with other oils. Taste wise, rapeseed certainly doesn’t pack the same punch as really good olive oil, but the faintly nutty, mustardy flavour is undeniably delicious and does not interfere with other ingredients. Instead of trying to “convert” shoppers from one type of oil to another, we should be encouraged to expand our repertoire of oils, in the same way we build an arsenal of herbs and spices in our storecupboards. Rapeseed oil has a lot going for it: the British providence, the high burn point and the distinct, mellow flavour. IMG_4787

Cake Shop Bakery, a renowned bakery not far from Hillfarm, use the rapeseed oil in many of their recipes including a stunning “British foccacia”.


It’s not just rapeseed oil that is liquid gold, earning praise from big names like Tom Kerridge, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Hillfarm is now growing and selling rapeseed greens and seeds for culinary uses, which are popular with chefs like Mark Hix. Hillfarm also make seriously amazing mayonnaise – the yellow colour, thick wobbly texture and mellow nutty, mustardy flavour are glorious. The most recent launch is a new range of rapeseed hand soap and creams which feel lovely to use.

Time to make room in your kitchen cabinets: there is a new healthy, home-grown crop around.

rapeseed field3 I was invited to visit Hill Farm oil to learn more about the company by the Founders and Food Safari


Something for Everyone at Maze Grill, Park Walk

I originally wrote this piece for the Tiki Chris blog

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Michael Pollan’s suggestion for healthy, balanced eating habits has a simple, bold clarity which rings true on a deep level. We should all be eating less meat, for both health and environmental reasons.

And yet. The “mostly” in the famous phrase is a giant loophole, carte blanche to veer off course in the quest for wholesome living – once in a while. In my view, if red meat, seafood, rich sauces, dairy and other delicious non plant-based food is acceptable occasionally, it makes sense to make those times a real occasion.

Book a table at a restaurant with carefully sourced meat, handled with skill by people who are passionate about the whole process: somewhere like Maze Grill Park Walk in Chelsea.


The beauty of the menu is that there is something for everyone; it would be an excellent option for a reunion with old friends, or a family gathering of various generations. The space is cosy with a chic interior design – somehow the restaurant manages to pull off an exposed brick wall in swanky Mayfair.


The restaurant specializes in rare-breed, dry-aged prime beef, a mixture of British native breeds, US prime steaks and Japanese wagyu. Some of the cuts can be seen maturing in Himalayan Salt Block ageing cabinets, which help draw the moisture out of the beef.


Taking equal billing is a “raw bar” making sushi and sashimi to order. We tried the California Roll (£9), which comes topped with a generous pile of snow crab and tempura crunch. Scallops Yuzu (£14) which was finished with frozen yuzu grated at the table caused chopsticks to clash over the last bites. Another stand-out dish was the Salmon Nashi (£10) with the silky, high grade salmon contrasting pleasantly against thin slices of crunchy, refreshing Nashi pear. The sashimi selection showed off the pure quality of the seafood at maze Grill.

Sashimi selection (2)

The small plates section of the menu comprised modish dishes like Smashed Avocados with Sweet Potato Chips (£4) and delightfully retro Tuna Devilled Eggs (£4), updated with the addition of dill and nori seaweed in the filling.

Tuna devilled eggs

In the past I have felt indifferent to Gordon Ramsay Group restaurants such as Heddon St Kitchen, which neither wowed nor disappointed. But I left Maze Grill Park Walk thoroughly impressed – there were simply no duds on the menu. Even the salads were astonishingly good – if you have taken Michael Pollan’s advice to heart, you could still enjoy a fantastic plant-based meal at this restaurant without feeling at all deprived. The Shaved Cauliflower side dish quietly stole the show: paper-thin slices tossed with creamy pureed cauliflower, parmesan and dill dressing. The contrast between the silky dressing, toothsome raw veg, crunchy toasted almonds and fragrant herbs was addictive.

Honestly I happily ignored the last bites of the giant T-Bone steaks my companions were digging into in favour of the Young Kale and Nori salad – this one was given a deep kick of savoury, salty umami with bottarga fish roe.

Young kale and nori salad (1)

Between us we tried a few desserts and surprisingly, the best was the “Frozen Lime Yoghurt with Toasted Meringue” (£6) – light and refreshing after the previous hearty courses. Next time I will leave more room for the “Monkey Bread”, spiced cinnamon rolls with pecans and ice cream (£12 to share).

Whether you’re a carnivore, omnivore or vegetarian, maze Grill Park Walk is somewhere you will want to go more than once in a while.

I was invited to dine at maze Grill as a guest of the restaurant, to give an honest review.

maze Grill
11 Park Walk
SW10 0AJ

Foodies Film Club in the Kitchen

Last minute one this, but thought the idea of combining food and film was cute and some of you may be interested!

JW3 is hosting a special screening and baking event tonight in Finchley.

The film of choice is 2007 hit Waitress, about a woman trapped in an oppressive small-town marriage who dreams of a way out. She pours her heart and soul into baking, using her daily woes and occasional joys to create decadent and delicious pies.

Tonight’s event will start with a hands-on demonstration in the kitchen, where you will explore ideas on getting creative with pie fillings with Kosher Roast and get stuck into some old-time baking.

Then you can sit back and see the film (start time 8.30pm) in the comfy JW3 Cinema.

If you would rather leave the baking to the silver screen, you can also watch the film without attending the demo.

More information here:


Mien Tay, Battersea

Not too long ago, the thought of moving to Clapham Junction filled me with horror. I thought this patch of sarf London was horribly bland, twee and borderline suburban; a painfully uncool, soulless “Nappy Valley” ringing with the sound of buggies clashing in cafes.

Although my father still refers to my new ‘hood as “the wrong side of the river”, in the couple of years I’ve lived here I have gradually, begrudgingly accepted that it’s not all bad.

The main thing which redeemed Clappy J in my mind was Mien Tay, a local restaurant which produces consistently great, authentic Vietnamese food.

From the outside it’s rather shabby, with dog-eared clippings of reviews in the window (a particularly glowing AA Gill number is one of the reasons the place is packed day and night, seven days a week). The interior decor doesn’t improve much; there is an incongruous shamble of filing cabinets and mismatched chairs as soon as you enter, where you must wait to be seated. The tables are peculiar glass-topped things which display miniature garden scenes and doll-like furniture. Best of all are the luminous green tunics worn by the staff. If the food wasn’t so good, these details would I’m sure add to the restaurant’s awfulness. But because it’s so good, they add to the charm!

I do think Mien Tay was probably better a couple of years ago, back when you were able to BYO booze, but it’s still a failsafe option for a reliably delicious and cheap meal out. Typically I’m there a couple of times a month; during one ridiculous six week period when Mark and I had no fridge (it’s a long story which will only end up with a rant against John Lewis, so don’t get me started), we were at Mien Tay two or three times a week.

Here are some snaps from my last few visits.

Green papaya salad with dry spicy beef. My favourite starter…


…although occasionally I like to ring the changes with green papaya salad with fat, juicy prawns


One of Mien Tay’s signature dishes, chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices. Yes, that is a little dish of MSG on the side. I told you it was authentic Vietnamese!


Vietnamese style spring rolls – so good wrapped up in lettuce leaves and herbs and dunked into the dipping sauce.


No Vietnamese meal is complete without pho noodle soup, the national dish and the “soul of the nation”. Served with a thicket of fresh herbs on the side, to add as you eat.


Whole crispy fried sea bream with fish sauce and mango


Stir fried goat with galangal. Don’t be shy about eating goat; it’s bloody tasty. Pretend it’s beef. 20140219-204716.jpg

Stir fried morning glory with garlic. Took me right back to Hoi An.


No frills, so no dessert option – just some orange segments to refresh the palate, served as you realise the coins in your purse don’t quite cover the cash-only bill and you need to nip down the road to the cashpoint.

Mien Tay would be a success in any part of town (they have an equally popular sister restaurant in the much edgier neighbourhood of Shoreditch) but situated on the otherwise lacklustre Lavender Hill, it’s a true local gem.


North West Argentina: Salta, Cafayate, Cachi

Our last stop-off in Argentina was the charming city of Salta in the North West, which gave us a great base to explore the picturesque towns nearby, Cafayate and Cachi.

Some of the best sights were actually on the way, along the National Route 68 road which cut through the stunning landscapes of Quebrada de Cafayate.





We saw spectacular and awesome rock formations such as the Garganta del Diablo (Devil´s Throat):


El Anfiteatro (The Amphitheatre), where some musicians had squeezed through the narrow entrance to demonstrate the excellent acoustics of the circular space:



Holes in the rocks looked like giant windows:


Less awesome, more amusing was El Sapo (The Toad):


Thousands of tall, broad cacti with seriously sharp needles:





There were also plenty of cute llamas and alpacas along the way – this first picture amuses me as it looks like Mark is trying to push the animal over. Llama-tipping, anyone?




The Cafayate region is known for wine made from the Torrontés grape, an up-and-coming Argentinean variety which is tipped to become the white counterpart to the famous red Malbec.

Torrontés is also known as “mentirosa” or “the liar”. This is because the aroma is ripe with tropical, fruit and floral notes, indicating that the taste will be sweet but actually it is as dry as a bone.

The altitude of the Cafayate region is a perfect home for Torrontés, because the cooler nights encourages the grapes to keep their acidity while developing subtle flavour.

Torrontés is grown almost exclusively in Argentina so of course we took the opportunity to taste a glass or to while we were there! We also found an ice cream shop which made Torrontés sorbet – Mark was in heaven.

We had heard Cachi was the most beautiful out of the whole Valles Calchaquíes and sure enough, we were instantly charmed by its picturesque serenity.


The fields around the little town grow spicy red peppers. We could see farmers spreading them out evenly to dry in the sun.


Salta itself was a fun place to spend a couple of days. After we dutifully checked out the landmarks such as the Cerro San Bernado hill, which we climbed to get this view…


… and the ornate Iglesia San Francisco…


…we gleefully arrived at the Patio de la Empanada to try what are reportedly the best empanadas in the whole of Argentina.

There is a fiercely judged empanada making competition each year, in which winning a prize is a proud accolade. The rest of the time, these empanadistas serve their wares alongside each other from tiny stalls which overlook a shared patio in the centre with plastic tables and chairs.



As well as empanadas, humitas (mashed corn, seasoned and made into a dough and steamed, often with cheese) and tamales (mashed corn dough stuffed with meat, vegetables and other fillings) are available.



Hands down, the best street food we ate in Argentina and a great way to celebrate this fantastic country before we crossed the border over to Bolivia.


Pastel de choclo: Chile’s best loved dish (recipe)

After completing the W trek we decided to treat ourselves to a stay in a cosy B&B, as a break from roughing it and a chance to rest and recuperate properly.

We chose Pire Mapu in Puerto Natales on the basis of excellent online reviews and had a lovely time. The hosts (Brendan is from Leeds and his wife Fabiana is from Puerto Natales) were very warm and welcoming. We soon got talking about food, cooking and Chilean cuisine. Fabiana kindly agreed to show me how to make a classic Chilean recipe, pastel de choclo, which we would then eat together for lunch on Easter Sunday.

Fabiana explained that since Chile is so long and extends through many lines of latitude, the cuisine varies greatly from tip to tip and between the coast and inland areas. Pastel de choclo, however, is adored throughout the country and is essentially the national dish.

It’s not unlike a cottage or shepherd’s pie, but with a topping of mashed sweetcorn (choclo) in place of potato. Also the filling combines chicken, minced beef, hard boiled eggs with softened onions, peppers, garlic (other versions often include raisins and olives although we omitted these). It’s as though every element of a typical farm is represented in each mouthful of pastel de choclo.

Although the components are very different, the end result is just as hearty, warming and comforting as the British classics – and as easy to prepare. It’s definitely a complete meal; no accompaniments are necessary, although we did use some of Fabiana’s homemade crusty bread to soak up the last of the juices in our clay bowls.

This is how Fabiana made it, on the beautiful antique AGA-style cooker which had been a wedding present to her parents, decades ago. I have added some thoughts about how I may tweak the recipe and method to account for UK ingredients, equipment and palate at the end.

Pastel de choclo – Fabiana from Pire Mapu’s recipe

(serves 4 – you can use four individual ovenproof dishes as we did, or put everything in one large dish and divide portions when you serve)

1 onion
1 red pepper
dried oregano
4 chicken thighs (skinned)
4 cloves garlic
200g minced beef
4 hard boiled eggs (peeled)
1 kg package of blended maize
200g sweetcorn kernels
salt and pepper

Dice onion and red pepper and crush 3 cloves of garlic. Soften in a little olive oil with 2tbsp each of paprika and oregano for a couple of minutes.


Add the chicken thighs and cook for a further few minutes before adding enough cold water to reach just under the surface of the chicken. Season with salt and pepper, stick a lid on and leave to simmer gently.



In a separate pan, prepare the minced beef in a similar way: crush the remaining clove of garlic, soften in oil with another tsp each of oregano & paprika. Add the minced beef, fry for a few minutes until brown, season and add a splash of water to create a tasty gravy. Leave to simmer gently.

Meanwhile prepare the topping: if using ready blended maize paste, drain off excess liquid in a sieve. Use a blender or food processor to pulse the sweetcorn kernels to a rough paste (let a few chunks remain). Combine with the drained maize – the texture should be like soft scrambled eggs. Put the mix in a clean pan to heat through on the stove, and add quite a bit of sugar – a couple of generous handfuls.


By this point the chicken thighs should be tender and cooked through. Place one in the bottom of each individual ovenproof dish (or if using a big dish, one in each corner) and spoon over the red peppers, onions and juice from the pan.



Sprinkle some minced beef around each chicken thigh. Tuck in a hard boiled egg – each person gets a whole one.

Cover with a thick layer of the sweetcorn topping, right to the edges. Dot with butter and sprinkle with more sugar to help brown.



Put in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until the top is browned and the filling is piping hot.




  • Fabiana says you can use your favourite spices; cumin is typical, or chilli powder if you like hot food. I think smoked paprika or chipotle chillies would work really well in this dish, particularly against the sweet topping.
  • I wondered about using poached eggs rather than hardboiled, so you have the joy of breaking into a runny yolk. Or even sous vide if you’ve got fancy kit!?
  • While I’m sure it could be tracked down in a specialist shop, I have never seen ready blended sweetcorn or maize in London. Fabiana is confident that making a paste from tinned sweetcorn kernels in a blender would work just as well. If the paste needs to be loosened, a little milk would be the best thing to add.
  • Chileans love very sweet food and I would use far less sugar than Fabiana did. Particularly as tinned sweetcorn in the UK is sweeter than the starchy Chilean maize anyhow. Also I want to experiment with brown sugar or even molasses, which would give a richer flavour than refined white sugar.