19 May, 2009

Chiswick, a new Cobb Salad, and royalty

And I will tell all, about my encounter with Her Majesty, but first I will keep you in Ghastly Suspense while I extol the virtues of... Chiswick.

First of all, for my compatriots across the Pond, it's pronounced "Chizzick." So you don't arrive and embarrass yourselves by pronouncing it as it looks, any more than you would look at "Southwark" Cathedral and say anything but "Suthuck." But I can top both those by telling you about a girl I know whose last name is "Featherstonehaugh" pronounced... "Fanshaw." I am not making this up.

My point upon salient point is, I have been hearing from my friend Annie for donkey's years, or however long it is I've known her, about the untold joys of... Chizzick. We had one adventure there during a late evening when I had a white crabmeat emergency (don't ask) and I was charmed, the little I could see of it in the January darkness. "Someday you and I will go and mooch around there and shop..." Annie would say, and I put it aside as you do comments like that, like "Someday we've got to go through the entire medieval section of the V&A," not thinking it will ever actually happen. BUt it did.

On Friday I was scooped up, in her own words, by Annie after my stint at Lost Property (an actual Links of London silver charm bracelet with TWO claimants, high drama) and swiftly transported to the loveliness that is Chiswick, or Turnham Green, depending on your post code or sense of neighborhood, or tax code, I know not. Trust me, it's the foodie's paradise in West London. We erupted from Annie's car to be enveloped in a completely unexpected rainstorm. "What the hell?" we both snapped. "This wasn't in the brief! Lunch then, first, and shopping after?" Whereupon the rain stopped with the sensation of an old lady pursing her mouth, and we decided to shop anyway, and have lunch after.

We started out at Whisk, which was a dangerous thing to do because there is absolutely nothing I really, really need from a kitchen shop. But it's like a candy store is to Avery: I simply cannot walk in and walk without buying something, and actually it wasn't even for me, strictly speaking, but for John and Avery: a big heavy nonstick frying pan for her breakfast eggs. And, I admit it, a tiny little orange candle-lighter, because it was orange and I love candles. But I'll have you know I did NOT buy the little terra-cotta egg-box shaped container to hold eggs on my counter. I'll ask for it for my birthday. Whisk was fun.

Then we were onto Mortimer and Bennett, the famous delicatessen-cheese shop (and general Aladdin's Cave of unnecessary things to eat), and again I met with temptation. Annie was planning a cheese board for dinner, and I succumbed to a tiny little St Marcellin in a cunning pottery dish, plus an enormous number of garlicky olives, and a box of organic strawberry biscuits in the shapes of mice and lions, for Avery and Jamie's pre-ice skating snack. I could have bought everything in the shop! Untold types of smoked fish and meat, biscuits and crackers, yogurts and creams and butters. "You know, I read about this shop when searching for a sort of obscure juice called... oh, shoot, now I can't remember, but it started with a 'v'..." I burbled, and the proprietor said calmly, "Yes, 'Verjus,' only our purveyor moved back to New Zealand, taking all of it with her."

Then we popped into the sublime Covent Garden Fishmonger Turnham Green and I picked up a kilo of massive frozen scallops without roe, which made me very happy because I simply hate paying for the weight of something I'll come home and detach and throw away. I do not like roe. But these scallops were sublime, and led me to create a perfect, simple salad for dinner, which I'll tell you about in a moment.

Finally we were tempted into Zecca, a gorgeous shop filled with pottery, napkins, placemats, candle holders, so many things crying out to be brought home by me. I ended up with a modest little fluted blue dish to put steamed asparagus on, as we're now eating the lovely green things as many times per week as we can stand, to enjoy the season!

From there to the secret (shh) of Chiswick, the The Roebuck, the best pub lunch you will ever have for a fiver. Grilled salmon fillet on a bed of chickpeas doused with lovely fresh pesto and tossed with rocket. For a fiver! Annie had cheese and chutney sandwich with handcut chips... for a fiver. Go, do, and make the powers that be at the Roebuck know they have an audience.

Since then, I thawed my brilliant Chiswick scallops and made a new, modern and quite British version of the old American 1937 classic, Cobb Salad.

Scallop Cobb Salad
(serves 2 as main dish, 4 as light starter)

1 tbsp sunflower oil (or other rather tasteless oil)
1 kilo scallops, cleaned of muscle and dried
8 ounces pancetta cubes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb new potatoes, steamed in their skins and quartered
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped
handful chives, chopped
3 beetroot, roasted, peeled and diced
1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
2 cups rocket
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
olive oil to drizzle
1 lemon, quartered

So just like the old Cobb Salad, only not with any of the same ingredients. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and sear the scallops for two minutes on the first side, getting a good color, then turn over and do the same to the other side for perhaps a minute. Do NOT overcook. Turn out onto paper towel to drain.

In same frying pan, where there will still be oil, fry the pancetta gently till well browned. Set aside. Fry garlic gently in the pancetta fat, then add steamed potatoes and parsley and chives. Toss well for a moment, then take off heat.

Now: assembly job. On a long, wide platter, place the scallops, the pancetta, the potatoes, the beetroot, the goat cheese and the rocket in rows.

Let your guests assemble their own arrangements of all the ingredients and provide the salt, pepper and oil to dress, along with the lemon wedges. Enjoy!


This is a divine, and gorgeous, dish. A nice development from the chicken, hard-boiled egg, bacon, blue cheese version of years past. Go for it. Scallops are the new chicken, just like 44 is the new 37. I hope not.

Well, Sunday then we ended up at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, where the favorite activity was the Pony Club Mounted Games. Just hilarious! All the bits of Great Britain competing against each other, and sadly, Wales as usual was at the bottom. But their red jumpers were so charming! And there was the Queen to award the plate for "Best Turned-out" soldier, or whatever: the shiniest coats, the best-combed manes, the plushiest feathered caps... We had a marvellous time, albeit suffering as usual from a horrible burger lunch. How to solve the food problem? Awful institutional fare, or we bring our own picnic and drag it around. None of the scenarios has so far worked for me. Next year, perhaps, I'll figure it out.

This week has been full of drama. Today was my writing class, hosted by my dear friend Valeria, and our special guest was Jane Mulvagh, she of the recent publication fame of Madresfield: The Real Brideshead. Her brief was to help us strategize finding agents and publishers, but honestly what she accomplished, for me at least, was just a massive intimidation of how cool and effortless her rise to fame has been, versus our fledgling and frightened efforts. I'm struggling this month with writer's block, I must confess. None of my ideas feels worth writing down. I need a boost of some kind, an intervention. Should I write next about childhood memories with my dad, or Irish country houses with cookery on an Aga? Or lemons? Or artichoke dip? I'm stymied. But all the writers I know assure me that such periods are normal. All I can do is go swimming, let John drag me out for a tennis game, and cook a lovely dinner of grilled salmon, warm chickpea salad with feta, curry and rocket, and steamed broccolini. That's all I can do right now. Not being royal, that is...


A Work in Progress said...

When we first moved here, the relocation agents were dead set on us living in Chiswick. That, or Cobham (near the American school). I think those were their 2 areas of expertise. So for some reason I assume that Chiswick is full of Americans, and while I often drive through on my way into "town," I have never stopped (not because I don't want to run into Americans, but because it brings out my instinct to resist others' assumptions). But it sounds nice!

Kristen In London said...

Well, all I can say is I didn't hear any American accents: but we did see Vanessa Redgrave sitting at an outdoor cafe!

Foxi Rosie said...

Charming, delightful with happy memories of Chiswick before it became fashionable and trendy.

Caz said...

Ah brings back happy memories - my husband and I lived in Kingston when we were first married and he worked in Chiswick - I know it very well. Our daughter was born at the now sadly gone Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital and I used to push her up and down the length of the High Road some days waiting for him to finish his day.

Ive seen many a famous face there too - happy days indeed.

Kristen In London said...

how nice, Rosie and Caz, that you have happy memories of Chiswick, in my experience such a leafy, peaceful enclave. I suppose it has got a bit trendy, but it's still refreshingly full of on-off shops, energetic foodies, and lovely energy. I adored it!