Sunday, 30 October 2016

Food Roots Interview - Omar Allibhoy


Omar Allibhoy
Photo:  c/o Neil Reading PR

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Omar Allibhoy a couple of times over the years, at Birmingham’s Good Food Show and also recently at the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards evening (at which incidentally his restaurant won the ‘Best Spanish Restaurant’ category).  And as he is so exceptionally charming and such good fun, I instantly had him in mind for one of my Food Roots Interviews.

Born in Madrid, Omar’s passion for food developed at a very early age where he would watch his mother cook and he’d learn from her.   It was not long before Omar’s longing to develop his culinary skills became a realisation after he enrolled into an evening cookery class while still attending school during the day. Omar also worked in numerous restaurants to gain professional kitchen experience however, his career truly took off after training under the watchful eye of world-renowned three Michelin starred chef Ferran Adria.

In 2008, Omar’s dream of taking traditional Spanish cuisine across the channel came to fruition after leaving his home country for London. He worked in a variety of restaurants including Gordon Ramsay’s Maze before launching El Pirata Detapas in Notting Hill, London.  El Pirata Detapas narrowly missed out on a semi-final place in ‘Ramsay’s Best Restaurant’ TV programme.  Omar was described by Gordon Ramsay as “The Antonio Banderas of cooking”.

Photo:  c/o Neil Reading PR

Omar launched Tapas Revolution at the end of 2010 and the restaurant opened with fantastic reviews from leading critics such as Tom Parker-Bowles and food writers from The Daily Telegraph, Time Out and The Guardian.   Five further restaurants have opened across London and the UK with February 2017 set to see the opening of a new restaurant in Eldon Square, Newcastle.

Omar’s simple food and flair for Spanish cuisine has awarded him recognition within the industry by winning last year’s Caterer and Hotelkeeper’s Acorn Award for ‘Rising Star’. In addition, the London Lifestyle Awards shortlisted Tapas Revolution for ‘Best Restaurant’ and of course as mentioned above, he won ‘Best Spanish Restaurant’ at the Birmingham Food, Drink & Hospitality Awards.

Photo:  Martin Poole

His new cookbook - Spanish Made Simple - is a journey of discovery through the best tasting and most authentic Spanish dishes.   (Published by Quadrille, £20.00).  Spanish Made Simple includes the best recipes for all sorts of occasions and of course some of his signature tapas. They hail from every corner of Spain - from the hot Andalucía to the cooler Galicia, passing through historic Castilla and the entire Mediterranean coast.  A number of the dishes are available on the current Tapas Revolution restaurant menu across the country.  See below for Omar’s vegetarian recipe of Piquillos Rellenos de Setas (Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Mushrooms) which has been extracted from the book.

When he’s not in his kitchen or writing, Omar can be found on popular television programmes including, Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, The One Show, This Morning, Masterchef, Saturday Cookbook, Paul Hollywood’s Pies & Puds and Nigel and Adam’s Farm Kitchen.   He also cooks Spanish recipes for Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube and is hailed as being at the forefront of Spanish food in the UK.

Here, Omar talks about his roots and his love for food, family and celebrations as well as telling us what he keeps in his pantry!


Living in the UK, how important is it for you to keep your Spanish roots alive? How much of that is expressed through food? 

I still live a very Spanish lifestyle, I have a lot of Spanish friends and most of the Tapas Revolution team I work with are Spanish. Although I’ve learnt many different ways of cooking, at home my comfort food is still Spanish food. If I invite people over for lunch or dinner rest assured there will be paella! 

How nostalgic (if at all) does it make you feel eating Spanish food at home? 

It’s actually probably the other way around – it’s eating Spanish food that comforts me and makes me feel less nostalgic.  

How important is food in Spanishculture? Do you celebrate calendared Spanish/religious festivals with any particular kind of feasting? 

Yes, food and gastronomy is very important in Spanish culture. We always have special dishes for each celebration throughout the year, usually originating from religious traditions. Now that I have a son I love keeping those traditions alive, so he learns about eating Torrija (egg bread) at Easter and Rosca de reyes (King’s cake) in January.  

What vegetarian dishes could you recommend when dining at a Spanishfeast and/or restaurant? 

Salads are very important in our diet and I believe that we do them very well. As Spain’s often quite hot, you want to eat refreshing salads and raw vegetables. Also two of the most important Spanish dishes are Patatas Bravas and Tortilla de Patas, everybody orders them when they go to a Spanish restaurant, so you won’t miss out. You can tell how good a restaurant is by those two dishes.  

What would be your 'must have' pantry items to replicate a Spanishkitchen? 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sweet Pimenton, Sherry Vinegar, Cumin Powder, Good Bread, Onions and Garlic.

Photo:  Martin Poole

Serves 6 as a Tapa
150g (5oz) Wild Mushrooms, such as oyster, or a mixture of field mushrooms
50ml (3½ tbsp) Olive Oil
¼ small Onion, finely chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
2 sprigs Fresh Thyme
A splash of White Wine
30g (2 tbsp) Butter
30g (3 tbsp) Plain (All-Purpose) Flour
400ml (1¾ cups) Whole Milk, hot
A pinch of grated Nutmeg
15 tinned Piquillo Peppers
400ml (1¾ cups) Double (Heavy) Cream
50g (½ cup) grated Cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper
Bread, to serve
I have always been a big fan of mushrooms in all their forms – from taking long walks with family to pick wild mushrooms, to cooking them in many ways at home. This recipe is packed full of tastiness.
Trim the mushrooms, removing the stalks, and wipe them with a damp cloth. Roughly chop. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and fry the mushrooms for at least 2 minutes, season with salt and pepper, stir well and season again. Fry for a further 2 minutes. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the garlic, thyme and cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook for 1 minute.
Lower the heat to medium and add the butter. Let it melt, then add the flour and cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour is lightly toasted. Add the hot milk, little by little, and the nutmeg, whisking until you have a smooth and silky white sauce. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time to make sure it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan, until the sauce has thickened. Pour into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill completely in the fridge. After at least 2 hours, the béchamel should be firm and ready to handle.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/gas mark 3.
Bring 3 of the piquillo peppers, the cream and cheese to the boil in a small pan over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Use a hand blender to blend until smooth.
Using a spoon, fill the remaining 12 piquillo peppers with the mushroom béchamel. Lay them in an oven dish and pour the piquillo sauce on top. Scatter some more grated chese over the top. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and crispy on top. Serve with bread.

Notes & My Thanks

I would like to thank Omar Allibhoy for his time in participating in the interview.
For more information visit:

Read my restaurant review of Tapas Revolution Birmingham
Spanish Made Simple:  Foolproof Spanish Recipes for Every Day by Omar Allibhoy (Quadrille £20.00).  Photography:  Martin Poole



Sunday, 23 October 2016

Hi-PRO Peanut Butter & Peanut Butter Hummus Recipe

Peanut butter is one of those staple jarred items in most people’s kitchen cupboards.  Our cupboards included. 

In recent times, My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) has become a big fan of Hi PRO Crunchy Peanut Butter as it boasts having more protein other brands.  As he’s somewhat of a ‘gym bunny’, so he likes having some peanut butter on toast before he pounds the treadmill as it gives him an energy lift (that’s where the extra protein comes in handy) .  It tastes nice with a thick consistency.  Personally, I just like it – gym or no gym…..
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

So it was nice to be offered the chance to try out Hi PRO Smooth Peanut Butter as a contrast.  As with the ‘Crunchy’ version, it contains 33% pure peanut protein, uses whole peanuts and peanut flour with 25% extra protein than mainstream peanut butters.   Also, it doesn’t use whey or soy to increase the protein levels, it is a great source of fibre, niacin, magnesium, zinc and vitamins B1, B6 and E plus it is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

I am mindful of palm oil origins where possible and so it’s good to know that Hi PRO obtain theirs from sustainable sources.

I would conventionally have it on toast or in a sandwich but having the smooth version to try gave me the perfect excuse to make a recipe I’ve had my eye on for ages!

It is from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Kitchen’ recipe book and it is Peanut Butter Hummus.  It substitutes the traditional use of tahini paste in hummus for peanut butter and by using Hi PRO, the hummus will also have Hi PRO’s additional protein content which is always a good thing!

Plus this is a lovely way to impress your nearest and dearest with a home-made hummus dip  perfect for those forthcoming Halloween and Bonfire Night parties.  And also, dare I even say it this early but – Christmas Buffets!!

Here’s the link to it: Peanut Butter Hummus Recipe
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways


Disclosure:    This post has been written following receipt of a sample for review of Hi PRO Peanut Butter.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.      


Saturday, 15 October 2016

Bar Italia Soho London

Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

After hearing the track ‘Bar Italia’ on Pulp’s mid-‘90’s album ‘Different Class’, it has fascinated me ever since, I always wondered what all the fuss was about and why someone would write a song about it. 

Open from 7am to 5am, it caters for the early risers, the night owls and everyone else in between.   Jarvis Cocker from Pulp drew inspiration from his own experiences of going there for that last drink in the wee hours when you don’t quite want your night to end.  Hence the lyrics:  It’s now morning, there’s only one place we can go, it’s around the corner in Soho.
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Bar Italia was established in 1949 by an Italian family who 3 generations in, continue to run it.  The décor has a vintage vibe to it, wood panelled walls with Italian football shirts adorning them and even the cash till still bears reference to pre-decimalisation. 

Located in the heart of Soho, opposite Ronnie Scott’s club, it was only a few years ago that I finally went to satisfy my curiosity.   Upon approach, I imagine 1960’s London with Soho renowned for its seedy reputation, I wonder what it would’ve been like here on Frith Street, no doubt anecdotes are a-plenty.

My first visit happened to be on a Saturday morning, the street was quiet, as if taking a breather from revelry from the night before ahead of it happening again, yet Bar Italia was so busy.  I think I fell in love with it the second I received a rapturous, flirtatious welcome and was endearingly called ‘daaarrrrling’.   I like my cappuccinos a certain way, they obliged.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

My choice to go for the outdoor seating was the best one as it offers a prime spot for people-watching and I spend my time observing the eclectic tribe of patrons come and go.  I thank the woman with actual razor blades for earrings for giving up her seat for me, I see the local trendies waltz in to get their Americanos to go and I can’t take my eyes off the older lady with the most captivating candy coloured perm who chain smokes whilst staring into the middle distance lost in her thoughts.   As I dunk my biscotti into my coffee, I sit and wonder what her story is.  It’s a treasure trove of characters and I can see why Jarvis would turn it into a song.

It’s now somewhere I always go to first before embarking upon my adventures in London, an indulgent elevenses combo of a large cappuccino and a slab of tiramisu sets me up for the day quite nicely.  I find the experience and its uniqueness more gratifying than had I set foot in a chain outlet, I feel I’m getting a slice of real London coated with Italian charm, although I fear I’m too late and shall never bump into Jarvis Cocker.  Oh well.

Their website claims tell the waiter twice and you’ll never have to tell him again, he will remember you and know exactly how you want your coffee, he’ll get it right each time.

So stamp my loyalty card and remember I’m the girl who likes a single shot cappuccino, sugar and a plenty of chocolate on top.  I know you won’t need telling more than twice daaarrrling……….



Bar Italia and other unique cafes are featured in Café London a guide to London’s café culture.  Cafe London edited by Zena Alkayat is published by Frances Lincoln (£9.99). My review of Café London and more information on the book can be found here

Bar Italia lyrics have been extracted from the internet.  Lyrics written by: Jarvis Cocker/Nick Banks/Steve Mackey/Russell Senior/Candida Doyle/Mark Webber.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Review: Bottomless Brunch at The One Elm

I actually do love the event of brunch, especially at the weekend when you wake up later than normal, sometimes with a hangover, sometimes with hunger and this hybrid of breakfast and lunch can hit the spot to subside both those feelings.

Photo:  c/o The One Elm
Not often getting the chance to indulge in a bit brunching, it was nice to have the opportunity to pop out for brunch this particular late September Saturday morning and try out The One Elm’s offering in Stratford Upon Avon.

Stratford upon Avon was busy, busy, busy when we went as on top of the usual tourist traffic the town gets, it was also the weekend of Stratford Food Festival so even more people were around. 
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
The beauty of The One Elm is that it is on the cusp of the town centre, close enough to walk into the town with ease but just far enough out to take a breather from the crowds.  If coming from the M40/A3400 Birmingham direction, I suggest using the Arden Street car park as then you get back on the road much easier than having to negotiate with the traffic within the centre.

Outside Courtyard Area
Photos:  Word In Veg Ways

Arriving for 10am, there were a good number of people in there already having brunch and as the weather was glorious, we decided to sit in the outside courtyard area which attached to the Victorian style building of One Elm, is enclosed with trees and plants surrounding it.  There are plenty of varying sized tables and chairs which are accompanied by heater lamps and newspapers to read and there is a small sofa area which is available for hire.
Upstairs Dining Area
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

If you choose to stay indoors you’ll see The One Elm very much echoes the Peach Pub environment with eclectic décor and tasteful furnishings and we particularly liked the gallery of David Bailey photographs on the walls of the upstairs dining area.
Inside The One Elm
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
The brunch menu can work any way depending on what you fancy.  So if you only want to have a hot drink and a muffin then those items are individually priced or if you have a big thirst or hunger, then the all-in-one package of ‘Bottomless Brunch’ is the best option for you.

Drilling it down even further, the ‘Bottomless Brunch’ comes in two packages –

1) Stiff : with alcohol (certain alcoholic drinks only but inc: hot drinks) - £20.00 per person
2) Soft : without alcohol (soft drinks & hot drinks) £15.00 per person

There are certain stipulations about how you order the food to avoid waste and to ensure that the whole group you are with all eat at the same time.  Also, the brunch session is up to a maximum of 2 hours long.  To be honest, that’s plentiful.
MCH's Favourite Filmstar - Michael Caine
David Bailey Portrait
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The brunch menu almost falls into a Starter/Main/Dessert format whereby you can choose from different granola and fruit combos, followed by hot sandwich/muffin options, full English breakfasts and then waffles/pancakes.
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

We went for the pancake option first with a big pot of tea.  I had the Superfruit, Natural Yoghurt and Honey Pancakes whilst My Carnivorous Husband (MCH) had the Blueberry & Ricotta Pancakes – which was ideal as we could try each other’s.  We couldn’t work out if the pancakes were ready-made or made on site and the girl who served us wasn’t sure either, but they were pleasant nevertheless.  We both liked the combination of flavours on my portion but we liked the hint of savoury via the ricotta version a little more.
Eggs Benedict
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

MCH is a man who enjoys his eggs so he opted for the Eggs Benedict with Salmon on a Bagel.  He commented it was a good portion of salmon, the hollandaise sauce was rich and the white bagel was soft.

Veggie Full Cooked
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

I however fast-forwarded to the Veggie Full Cooked which consisted of: veggie haggis, spinach, eggs, tomato, mushroom & beans.  I swapped the eggs for avocado with sourdough bread (taking inspiration from one of the muffin sandwich ideas).  The veggie haggis was very delicious and nutty, it was the jewel in the crown here and it was so nice to see it, along with the spinach as a different alternative to the standard veggie breakfasts you see around.  I was surprised there was no mention of veggie sausages, although I assume that the haggis replaces them.  I didn’t get my beans, I think an oversight because of the changes I requested.  Our waitress was deeply apologetic and I was offered something else to make up for it, but I’d eaten the breakfast by that point and to be honest I was quite full but it was nice that she offered me something extra.

MCH of course went for the Meat Full Cooked which was made up of:  Jimmy Butler’s Sausage & Bacon, Mushroom, Black Pudding, Eggs and Tomato.  He enjoyed it very much, the meat was of a good quality and mentioned that the presentation of it was more elegant than that you’d find in a greasy spoon café!  (Stands to reason)!

The only thing we did both think was that the portion size (for both full cooked versions) could have been a little more generous with a few things like having extra tomatoes and mushrooms to match the stand alone price of each (£10.00 meat version and £9.00 veggie option).  But as combinations of cooked breakfasts go, they were very good – the vegetarian especially so.
Brunch Punch & Mimosa
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Rounding off with a Brunch Punch cocktail (rum/vodka based) for MCH and a little Mimosa for me, our Bottomless Brunch was the perfect way to start our morning before we headed off to the food festival in town.

If you like your food (like we do), then the Bottomless packages are by far the best deal and you can experience all the different dishes within.  For veggies it is perfect, with an excellent range it really was one of those rare times where I did have plenty to choose from which was music to my ears!

Overall, good location, good food and a good way to start your weekend!


Disclosure:    This post has been written following a kind invitation from The One Elm to sample their Bottomless Brunch menu.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.      














Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Cafe London - Your Guidebook to London's Best Cafes

On the back of the success of Eat Like a Londoner comes Café London, a more bespoke offering that focuses on the city’s café culture and informal dining scene.  

Totally detaching itself from the chain café/coffee shops that populate High Streets en masse, this book is a show & tell of the unusual and the wonderful , which with a bit of research you can find for yourself off the beaten track.

Whilst celebrating London’s diversity within, the book skips along nicely through sections of brunch, lunch, coffee and afternoon tea accompanied by the author’s suggestions for each category.  Each suggestion has been made based on a loveable feature of a place whether that be simply that the coffee there is good, or it’s an international cuisine rarely encountered or that you get a slice of live opera with your ‘rosie lee’. 

The one which made me smile the most was ‘Cereal Killers Café’ in Camden.  As you sit on bed style seating with quirky cartoon character duvet covers, you are served a bowl of breakfast cereal from the 100+ ones available, many of which have come from abroad.  How cool is that?

This book is a really handy guide to exploring new haunts in London and it would also work well as an interesting ‘coffee table book’ (do excuse the pun there)!

When it comes to London based cafes, I make so secret of adoring and frequenting Bar Italia in Soho, but I intend on working my way through Café London as trying something different is part of the reason I love visiting the capital.   

What’s your favourite café in London?


Information about Café London:

Cafe London edited by Zena Alkayat is published by Frances Lincoln (£9.99). More information on the book can be found here. 


Disclosure:    This post has been written following a complementary copy of Café London.  This review was conducted honestly without bias and I was not required to produce a positive review.  For further details of my PR policy, please see the Press, PR & Food Writing page of this website.