It’s Welsh – Thanksgiving 2023

It’s November 1993.

Bill Clinton has just been sworn in as the 42nd president of the United States of America.

Over here in the UK the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992, has just come into force and the European Union is born.

Here at Ffiona’s Restaurant we were busy preparing for our first ever American Thanksgiving, up to our eyes in all manner of strange new dishes. Cornbread with pickled jalapeños and cheese, yam casserole and pumpkin pie to name just a few and what a delicious and wonderful experience it was.

1993 a monumental year.

The first two events are now consigned to the history books and no one could have envisaged what was to follow for both the USA and Europe!

FFiona’s however continued to thrive, grow and embrace all manner of new ways to work and survive through all the economic downturns and more recently Covid.

Back in 2010 when we were in grave danger of losing the business we introduced our weekend brunch. I had never cooked brunch, none of us had, how do you poach, scramble and fry eggs simultaneously for 40 people? We bought a hugely expensive but very temperamental waffle machine, made pancakes that were gluten free (always ahead of our time) and prayed a lot. 
If you build it they will come.
 We did and they did but it took time. 
We would average around 20 people on a brunch shift now we average 120.

Our actual anniversary was on Saturday September 30th  and the restaurant was full with friends old and new and a lot of love.
A fabulous night and a huge milestone.
30 years strong!

Over the years there are certain constants, for example, every night I’m asked the same three questions:

“How long have you been here?”
“30 years now.”

“Why does your name have 2 ‘ff’s?”
“It’s Welsh”

“What do you love the most about having your own restaurant?”
“The people.”

It’s you… all of you, coming through the door every day, everyone different, so many stories so many memories. People who were dating when we began, now married with children. Some people now introducing their grandchildren to us, generations of families that have become family to me. 
Some people may only have been here once maybe on holiday but they are still in touch and they send family and friends that continue to extend the hand of friendship. 

So in this season awash with pumpkin spiced lattes and the upcoming turkey and pie feast on the 23rd of November, what am I grateful for? 

I’m grateful to still be here, that’s a given, but without all of you there wouldn’t be a ‘here’.

So I’m wishing you all Happy Thanksgiving and cheers to us all.
  

Bloody Mary Mornings

“It’s a Bloody Mary morning,
baby left me without warning,
sometime in the night…”

…sings Willie Nelson and it sounds like reason enough to me to order a tall, spicy, blood red, vodka fuelled cocktail. Those lyrics in fact, could have gone any old way really…

“It’s a Bloody Mary morning,
I woke up and I was yawning/
and the curtains they need drawing/
the rain it was still pouring,”

etc…etc…

Let’s face it, you don’t need a reason you need an attitude. It’s seen as a slightly indulgent, louche type of beverage, drunk by equally indulgent, louche individuals. It’s a stylish, classy drink, not on a par with a martini you understand, but in a class all of its own. A breakfast cocktail no less, now that’s hardcore. Daiquiris and Pina Coladas should hang their heads in shame, this is a drink to be reckoned with.

Willie Nelson rates it and I could definitely see Jeffrey Barnard and Peter O’Toole downing a few at the Coach and Horses in Soho whilst trying to remember the what’s, whys and wherefores of the previous evening. A hell raisers drink no less.

It is my favourite cocktail on a par with a Negroni. It’s an easy choice between the two though, my rule is: only drink Bloody Marys whilst there is still daylight and after sundown it’s Negronis all the way. Often all the way to all kinds of misadventures and I’ve ended up with some interesting tales to tell and some that are best forgotten.

It’s also seen as a civilised way to start your Sunday brunch and cure your hangover all in one tall drink. That being said there are some bloody awful Bloody Marys around and there really is nothing more disgusting than a glass of tepid tomato juice with some vodka and a few desultory drips of Lea and Perrins sinking through the goo.

These are the components of a good Bloody Mary:

  • Freshly grated horseradish
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Good vodka
  • Freshly milled black pepper
  • Tomato juice
  • Celery salt
  • Lea & Perrins
  • Ice

The combination of these elements produces a drink that engages all of our senses full on.

BEHOLD the highball glass filled with a drink the colour of bull’s blood sporting an even taller stick of celery with a fat wedge of bright green lime languishing on top.

PICK IT UP and feel the chill and the condensation on the frosted glass.
INHALE the aromas of horseradish, always a winner for clearing the sinuses, mingling with fresh pepper and spices.
HEAR the crunch of that first bite of celery and the clink of the ice.
TASTE it, that first mouthful, spicy tomato juice and horseradish shot through with the sharpness of fresh lemon and pepper and of course the hit of the vodka…delicious!

You can keep your Bellinis and Buck’s Fizz, for me, if you’re going to drink Champagne for, breakfast, then drink it, don’t dilute it. Personally there’s no contest, if you’re drinking before lunch, maybe even before your morning coffee, then it has to be Bloody Marys all the way.

Inclusive not Exclusive

Running a local restaurant is all about being inclusive not exclusive. These days people have many different dietary needs, some of our customers are lactose intolerant, or celiac, we have many vegetarians and vegans who come to dine with us.

The future is far more about the inclusion of raw foods and foods that are dairy and gluten free. The accent should be on the texture and flavour of a dish and there is a lot of scope for this.
We feel that our menu is good, but good can always be better. We have listened to our customers and are we are taking their views very seriously.

Chicken Kiev connoisseurs and carnivores do not fret, we will still be offering the finest Welsh hill farm lamb, succulent Cumbrian pork and thick cut Scottish sirloin steaks There will be traditional British fish and chips, King scallops from East Sussex and homemade fish pie along with many other favourites.

But now, lookout for new additions to our menu!

  • kale-salad-2
  • chocolate-chesecake

These can stand alone as starters, mains and deserts, or be combined with our more traditional menu items.

We will be trying new dishes throughout the Spring and we would love to get some feedback or even new ideas from you.

Email me: ffiona@ffionas.com

We’ve been here on Kensington Church Street for 21 years, we’ve weathered more than our fair share of recessions. We’ve seen a good few Prime Ministers come and go and served a couple too!

We’ve partied with the best and lived to tell the rest!

However, we want to be here for at least another 20 years and you can bet that whatever the oncoming years will bring, that here at ffionas we will always continue to embrace the changes and most importantly we will always listen to what you have to say.

Baking is the new Black

It’s über trendy, très sexy and everybody whose anybody is doing it!

It’s official…baking is the new black.

From delicate macaroons in every pastel shade or meringues as white as the Pope’s new robes to robust pies, pasties and suet puddings, there is something for everyone. Whatever your level of culinary proficiency or dietary needs there is a recipe for you, a particular creation that becomes “yours”.

There is something quite magical about baking that banishes the blues. Standing in the kitchen weighing and measuring the fresh ingredients and then transforming them into something delicious and nutritious is an act of love…and magic. How amazing to see a bowl of flour, sugar, eggs and butter transformed into a Victoria sponge worthy of the Women’s Institute.

cake

Even better is to find an old family recipe and try it out: Sussex Pond Pudding was a revelation and my grandmother’s lemon curd now lives on. For me, baking has provided a link to my past and a sense of continuity that is so very satisfying.

Shows like The Great British Bake Off with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry have been instrumental in encouraging people back into their kitchens. So why not join the trend? Home baking is hip!

Ginger Cake with Lemon Icing

I adore ginger and what better way to eat it than in cake. There is nothing quite as joyous as a late afternoon slice of cake with a cup of coffee or tea. It is a wonderful time to sit and reflect and lose yourself in your thoughts for a little while. This recipe by Tom Dalby is a favourite of mine as it’s easy to prepare and even easier to eat. It suits any occasion, afternoon tea, celebration cake or even as dessert. i have been known to serve the ginger cake warm with custard instead of the lemon icing….luscious!

Ingredients

225g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
115g butter, cut into cubes, plus extra for greasing
115g dark muscovado sugar
115g black treacle
115g golden syrup
250ml whole milk
85g drained stem ginger, finely grated
1 egg

For the icing

50g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice

Method

Preheat the oven to fan 160C/conventional 180C/gas 4. Butter and line an 18cm round, 7cm deep cake tin with greaseproof or parchment paper.

Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda and all the spices into a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Put the sugar, treacle, syrup and milk in a medium saucepan and heat, gently stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Turn up the heat and bring the mixture to just below boiling point.

Add the stem ginger to the flour mixture, then pour in the treacle mixture, stirring as you go with a wooden spoon. Break in the egg and beat until all the mixture is combined and it resembles a thick pancake batter. Pour this into prepared tin and bake for 50 minutes-1 hour, until a skewer pushed into the centre of the cake comes out fairly clean. Leave to cool completely in tin before turning cake out. (To freeze: wrap in greaseproof paper, then in cling film. Freeze for up to 1 month.)

To make the icing, mix together icing sugar and lemon zest, then gradually add lemon juice until you have a smooth, slightly runny icing, adding more juice, if needed. Drizzle icing in a zig-zag pattern over surface of cake, turn cake around and drizzle again to create the cross-hatched finish (see below). Cake keeps for up to 2 weeks stored in an airtight container.

Enjoy!!

Brussels sprout gratin with bacon, cream and almonds.

We all know that the humble sprout is a Christmas favourite, but it doesn’t just have to be served with turkey and trimmings. Brussels sprouts can be a worthy accompaniment to dinner or Sunday roast any time, and they’re in season right through to the end of March.

Here’s my favourite sprout recipe, it’s easy to make and delicious.

Ingredients

900g/2lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed
20g/¾oz butter
4 tsp sunflower oil
150g/5oz bacon lardons (or rindless back bacon, cut into short fat strips)
20g/¾oz flaked almonds
400ml/14fl oz double cream
2½ tsp lemon juice
5½ tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
4 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Place the sprouts into a saucepan of simmering salted water and cook for 4-5 minutes, until almost, but not quite, cooked. Drain thoroughly, allow to cool slightly, then cut in half.

Place the butter and oil into a wide frying pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon lardons and almonds and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned.

Add the sprouts and sauté for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the cream and bring the mixture to the boil. Boil for 2-4 minutes, until the cream has reduced to a rich sauce. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Remove from the heat, add the lemon juice and spoon into an ovenproof gratin dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese together in a bowl, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the sprout mixture.

Place into the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, until the top is golden-brown and the cream visibly boiling.

Remove from the oven and serve in the gratin dish (when the dish has cooled slightly).

Enjoy!!

Don’t bin the Bread

The humble loaf really is the ‘bread of life’ it’s so incredibly versatile.

Here is my recipe for bread sauce because let’s face it the Christmas turkey would be naked without it!

You will need.

1 small onion stuck with 3 cloves
500 ml milk
Half a day old white loaf made into breadcrumbs
Grated nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground white pepper
100ml double cream
Large knob of butter

Put the clove studded onion in a pan with the milk and heat very slowly until almost boiling. The longer this takes the better as the point is to infuse the milk with the flavour of the onion and cloves.

Remove the onion and whisk in the breadcrumbs until the sauce is thick and all the milk is taken up. Heat through and if the sauce is thin, add some more breadcrumbs and conversely if it appears too thick add a little more milk. Season with salt and pepper and a little mace or nutmeg. Stir in the cream and just before serving stir in the butter, this will make the sauce glossy and add extra flavour.Dont be shy with the cream and butter.

Of course the uses for stale bread could fill a book, here are a few that spring to mind….

• Croutons – for soup or salad
• Bread and butter pudding
• Eggy bread -Soaked in milk, eggs and sugar and then fried and served with sweet or savoury toppings
• Breadcrumbs for meatloaf/meatballs
• Breadcrumbs for all manner of savoury stuffing especially great for vegetarian dishes.

Asparagus and Parmesan Fritters

This makes a very tasty starter or can be used as a supper dish accompanied by a mixed salad. You will need:

Light olive oil for frying;

Salt and pepper;

A bunch of asparagus (the thin spears work best);

4 eggs;

½ lemon;

75g freshly grated parmesan;

and 4 tablespoons chopped parsley with extra to use as garnish.

Remove the woody ends of the asparagus spears and cut off the heads (these can be used raw in your salad). Chop the spears us into small pieces. Put on a pan of salted water and when it is boiling add the chopped asparagus for 1 minute then pour into a colander and run under cold water to stop further cooking and drain.

In a bowl whisk the eggs, add in the lemon juice and season. Then mix in the grated parmesan, the drained asparagus and the parsley.

Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and carefully drop in a few spoonfulls of the mixture which you can then shape into fritters using the back of the spoon or a spatula. Cook over a medium heat until golden on both sides and drain on kitchen paper before serving. Add more oil to the pan with each new batch.

I serve 4 per person with plenty of salad and garnish with chopped parsley or chopped spring onions. With a light, crisp wine they are a great way to welcome in the Spring.

Creamy Vanilla Fudge

This is a smoother version of the recipe I referred to above. As it involves boiling sugar, an adult must be present to help.

You will need:

• 18 cm square tin and baking parchment to line it
• A large non-stick pan and a wooden spoon for stirring
• 125g salted butter (and extra for greasing the baking tin)
• 170g can of evaporated milk (Carnation is the best)
• 4 tablespoons of milk
• 450g Demerara sugar
• 1tsp vanilla extract (optional)

Begin by lining the baking tin. To do this, melt a 1cm cube of the extra butter and smear it onto the baking paper whilst it is lying flat on the counter. Then take the parchment and ease it into the baking tin so that it lines it. Don’t worry about any creases, they will make the fudge look even more interesting!

Next, cut the butter into small cubes and put into the pan with all the other ingredients.  Heat the pan over a low heat to melt the butter and sugar. You will have to stir the mixture constantly to combine the ingredients and check that the sugar has melted.

Increase the heat and bring the mixture to the boil, stirring all the time. Lower the heat so that the mixture continues to bubble, but does not boil over and cook for 10 minutes, stirring all the time. This is where an adult must take over as boiling sugar is extremely hot and dangerous. 

Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then tip the mixture into the tin, smooth it out and allow to cool completely. 

Your fudge is now ready to be cut into squares and enjoyed!

If you want to experiment, you could add nuts, dried fruits or chocolate to the mixture when it is cooling down. 

Your fudge will keep for about 2 weeks, but it will have been eaten up long before then!

Colourful Coconut Squares

This is a simple way to make delicious sweets. No cooking required, just plenty of willpower to resist tasting the mixture!

You will need:

• A board or baking tray to rest the mixture on
• A large bowl to mix the ingredients in
• A rolling pin
• 200g condensed milk
• 250g icing sugar and exra for dusting
• 200g desiccated coconut
• Pink and/or green food colouring (optional)

Put the condensed milk and icing sugar into the bowl and mix together. Then work the coconut in. This is hard work because the mixture will now become very stiff so it is a good idea to use your hands rather than a spoon.

If you are going to colour some of the mixture, split it into 2 or 3 equal parts. Knead the pink food colour into one part and the green into another so that you have 3 mixtures: white, pink and green. (I only make white and pink cubes so I just divide the mixture into two parts). 

Dust the surface of your counter with icing sugar and shape each part into a rectangle and roll out with the rolling pin, constantly reshaping into a rectangle about 1.5cm thick. Repeat so that you will finish up with three rectangles, one in each colour.
 
Place on a board or baking tray and leave overnight to set.

Next day cut into squares and serve. You can keep the cubes in an airtight container for 4/5 weeks. 

If you want dual colour cubes, place the pink or green mixture over the white and combine with the rolling pin until the two sheets are about 2cm thick, then leave to cool and cut up.

GLUTEN FREE DIET (GFD)

This dish is suitable or can be adapted to be suitable for those who are on a Gluten Free Diet.

As part of our Inclusive NOT Exclusive initiative we have introduced many new dishes and tweaked some of our long standing favourite dishes so that they can be enjoyed by those with specific dieatary requirements.

DAIRY FREE / LACTOSE FREE DIET

This dish is suitable or can be adapted to be suitable for those who are on a Dairy Free or Lactose Free Diet.

As part of our Inclusive NOT Exclusive initiative we have introduced many new dishes and tweaked some of our long standing favourite dishes so that they can be enjoyed by those with specific dieatary requirements.

VEGAN/RAW DIET

This dish is suitable or can be adapted to be suitable for those who are on a Vegan or a Raw diet.

As part of our Inclusive NOT Exclusive initiative we have introduced many new dishes and tweaked some of our long standing favourite dishes so that they can be enjoyed by those with specific dieatary requirements.

THE PALEO DIET

This dish is suitable or can be adapted to be suitable for those who are on The Paleo Diet.

As part of our Inclusive NOT Exclusive initiative we have introduced many new dishes and tweaked some of our long standing favourite dishes so that they can be enjoyed by those with specific dieatary requirements.