Monday, 18 August 2014

Spasa - Ukrainian Fruit Harvest

As summer’s finale begins in the latter half of August, so does an extremely important set of three religious dates in the Ukrainian calendar which are known collectively as ‘Spas or Spasa’.  These are also referred to as ‘Saviour Days’ and respectively celebrate the harvesting of honey, apples and nuts.
The most important festival of the trinity is the Second Spas, religiously known as the ‘Feast of Transfiguration of Christ’ or is commonly known as ‘Apple Spas’ and is celebrated on 19 August marking the year’s apple/fruit harvest.
In the Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities worldwide, baskets of apples are taken to church and are blessed in a special mass and then afterwards, are eaten and/or cooked as part of the festivities.
As with every festival, in the Ukraine, each region, village or family would celebrate it in their respective way and I have often been told of my family’s memories of spasa.  In the region of Zboriw, Spasa was celebrated with extreme enthusiasm and my father as a young boy would eagerly anticipate the arrival of the funfair carousel that was enjoyed during the Spasa season and which was one of the area’s annual highlights.  Equally, my maternal Grandmother observed a ritual whereby she wouldn’t eat any of her apple harvest until it had been blessed and only then would she enjoy her crop.
As Apple Spasa approaches, it creates the perfect opportunity to enjoy the harvest yield and perhaps make a Ukrainian apple cake classic such as Yabluchnyk - an ideal accompaniment with coffee or as dessert for a late summer picnic.

Yabluchnyk (Ukrainian Apple Cake)
Recipe Acknowledgement - Adapted from:


210g plain flour, sifted
50g sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
100g butter, diced
1 egg
60ml evaporated milk
4 apples




* Pre-heat the oven to 190°C or Gas mark 4/5.
* Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl then stir in the sugar to combine.
* Add the diced butter and rub in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. * Separately, beat together the egg and the evaporated milk.
* Add this to the flour mix a little at a time, until the mixture comes together a firm dough.
* Transfer the dough into a greased baking tray (suggested size: 25 x 20 cm) and pat into the base and sides.
* Peel and core the apples then cut into thin slices.
* Cover the pastry base with the apple slices.
* Combine the topping ingredients of sugar and cinnamon in a separate bowl and scatter this mixture over the layer of apples.
* Dot a little butter at various points across the apples to help with the baking process.
* When ready, transfer the cake onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the apples are cooked.
* Serve hot with sour cream.
Note: This article and recipe have also been published in the Ukrainian Thought newspaper, printed in London for Ukrainians and those of Ukrainian descent in the UK.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Latest Gastro Superstar in Soho - The Palomar

The Palomar's Kitchen Team

Seeing the buzz on Twitter for Soho’s latest addition to the restaurant scene – The Palomar, I felt I have been let in on a new gastro secret which is on the verge of being turned into a phenomenon.  So what better way of getting in on the action than treating my husband for his birthday and having the opportunity for us to experience the hype first hand.

The Palomar's Kitchen
Yes, you can risk it by walking in speculatively, but taking no chances I rang a few days prior to make my reservation.  First thing I noticed during the conversation was how enthusiastic Amy the reservations lady was about my booking and as it was for a birthday, she wanted to make sure everything was right.  She said we’d have to be seated at the kitchen bar as opposed to the main tabled area which was full, but she assured me it would be more personal and fun, so whilst I was a bit tentative about it at first, I soon warmed to her suggestion.
At our booking time on the day, we walked in and we were greeted with such warmth, almost like we were old friends and you instantly knew you were going to have a nice time.  Seated on the kitchen bar we were face-to-face with the chef’s team who introduced themselves, offered us some sweet potato crisps as an amuse bouche and then guided us through the menu with suggestions, especially great for myself being vegetarian (and there were plenty of veggie choices).  One excellent suggestion was having their ‘Daily 6’ as a starter between the two of us.
Yemeni Bread

The ‘Daily 6’ are 6 mezze dishes (which rotate regularly) and on our visit consisted of:  baked aubergine, labenah cheese, lemon pearl barley to name a few and all vegetarian.  We decided to have some Kubaneh (Yemeni pot baked bread which came with two ramekins of tahini and spiced grated tomato) to accompany it.  The Kubaneh bread was soft and fluffy and is made freshly on site.  The Daily 6 is a fabulous way to enjoy different dishes, almost a snapshot taster of the menu which grabs elements of Middle Eastern/North African/Jewish/Levant cuisine throughout, which incidently is how the restaurant market themselves -  as a cultural, contemporary mix of food from modern day Jerusalem. 
Onglet Steak
My husband had the Onglet Steak with latkes, spring onions and fried Clarence Court egg for his main which he exclaimed as “beyond delicious” and I had the Labenah Tortellini with a butternut squash cream, tomatoes, confit garlic and mange tout.  The pasta for the tortellini was freshly made and the labenah cheese (which is an Israeli cheese made from goat’s yoghurt) is also made on site using the traditional muslin technique.  A great opportunity to consume this cheese, as it isn’t widely available, and made into tortellini parcels was a nice way to present it as a main course dish.
Labenah Tortellini
Tahini Ice Cream
The dessert menu, was again influenced by Middle Eastern flavours.  I opted for the Tahini Ice Cream (cardamom crème Anglaise, brulee figs, filo delight & honey).  You can taste the grainy extracts of fig within the tahini ice cream, complemented by the filo crunchy square wafer which is similar to the pastry base of a baklava.  It was sweet yet refreshing.  As a huge chocolate fan, my husband chose the Chocolate Cremeux (puffed rich crunch, pomegranate coulis, cocoa tuile & almond streusel) and simply said it was “divine”.  It did look it, I have to say.
Chocolate Cremeux
By way of a petit four, we were offered the opportunity to sample some homemade Earl Grey chocolate truffles which were rich and moreish and a perfect way to end the meal.
A wide variety of drinks were available, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic but one thing I was impressed with was there was a cover charge of £1 per head for water and your glass was replenished frequently – a big plus point for me.
The camaraderie between the chef’s team was contagious and they involved you with their banter which was great fun.  Equally, they weren’t intrusive if you were having a private conversation and were very intuitive towards those that didn’t want to join in which demonstrated great respect.
Just as we were greeted, we were bid farewell with the same gusto and the team genuinely thanked us for taking the time to visit and for our custom which we appreciated.  I have to thank Amy for her recommendation of being seated at the kitchen bar.  It really added value and complemented an amazing (veggie friendly) menu.   Already that has stood us in good stead to return again. 
As the plaudits continue to roll in for The Palomar, I predict this little gem will soon be introducing a waiting list to dine, so I would recommend you go there as soon as you can and jump up on the stools by the bar and have an eclectic meal experience – it is worth it.