The Notting Hill list and a baked fish recipe
I’ve been on the road for over a month, traveling all over Australia for the tour of my latest cookbook, and last week I got to spend the last leg of my book tour in London, in style. We stayed in a bright, spacious apartment through onefinestay, who kindly offered to put us up for two of the six nights stay near Ladbroke Grove, a stone’s throw from Notting Hill’s Portobello Road. We absolutely loved it.
Traveling with my four year old, it’s always easier to stay in an apartment, so that it feels a little like home. So we can relax, and be comfortable. So we can cook in the kitchen rather than have to go out all the time, which anyone with kids (especially fussy ones) will know is always a plus — but when we did, we loved this guide to Notting Hill, a timely article by The Curious Pear. The upside to staying in a residential area too is that it’s never that far to a supermarket or a park, which keeps the little one happy. And when she’s right at home, everything is that much easier.
Between Acquacotta cooking classes and demos, foodie talks and podcast interviews, it was such a relief to come back to our home away from home and have a play or stretch out with a cup of tea or a the paper along that big wooden dining table — if only I had a big enough kitchen for one just like it at home.
One night I was even able to host a dinner party along that long table, where I prepared a few dishes from my new cookbook — some warm bruschetta with tomato and anchovies, a comforting acquacotta soup (tomato and onion soup with an egg poached directly in it), sea bream baked in paper parcels with some wild mushrooms and herbs and a sturdy fruit cake called a pagnotella, made with dried figs cooked in wine and dark chocolate. You can find the acquacotta and sea bream recipe amongst these favourites from the book — and the sea bream recipe follows right below too.
One of the very handy things that came with the apartment was the use of an iPhone with data so that when out and about you could always find your way home or call an uber or check instagram — genius! The onefinestay app installed on the phone also has an excellent map full of recommendations (with personal comments made by onefinestay home owners in the area) for places to eat, things for children to do and essential things like the nearest pharmacy. We used it every moment we were out and it was a great way to explore what was nearby.
Some things we loved about our corner of Notting Hill:
- Good coffee and a simple breakfast at the quaint cafe Lowry and Baker of organic bacon and eggs — with extra bacon to the tune of mmmmm by a certain four year old (see below)
- A wander down Portobello Road for people, dog, building and everything-watching (also picked up some flowers for the house because, well, I could!)
- Books for Cooks — basically my dream book shop!
- Electric Cinema – old school entertainment complete with comfy sofas
- Ukai for a delicious Japanese dinner in a British pub, squeaky wooden floors and all (because we can’t get quality sushi and yakitori like this in Florence)
- Four Winters gelato — my daughter couldn’t get enough of watching her very creamy, fresh gelato being made to order right in front of us with liquid nitrogen! Also, it’s conveniently next door to Ukai.
- Bea & Co babysitters — in case you need a night off! This was actually our first babysitting experience so needless to say, I was a bit nervous, but they were absolutely wonderful.
Orata al cartoccio con i funghi
Paper-baked sea bream with mushrooms
I am partial to any food preparation that is low maintenance, with a high proportion of delicious eating compared to the amount of effort put into it – and fish baked al cartoccio, or in paper, is one of those things. You bring it home, turn on the oven, stuff it with herbs, splash it with some wine or lemon juice, wrap it in paper, and 20 minutes later dinner is ready. It’s so easy and flavourful, and the fish stays moist, as it is wrapped up and cooked in all its steaming, aromatic juices.
Gilthead sea bream, a local speciality that is farmed in Orbetello’s lagoon, is ideal for this sort of treatment but you could cook any whole large fish this way – sea bass and snapper are also good. I love the combination of mare e monti, and here’s another recipe where the sea and the mountains come together so beautifully. A mixture of earthy mushrooms, tossed with some garlic, make a nice bed for the fish. You could do the same with some thinly sliced potatoes (which, like the mushrooms, will soak up the flavours of the lemon and the herbs beautifully), cooked like the mushrooms before going under the fish – but this bream is also lovely on its own.
This recipe is from my latest cookbook, Acquacotta: Recipes and Stories from Tuscany’s Secret Silver Coast (Hardie Grant Books).
- 2 medium gilthead sea bream, about 500–600 g (1 lb 2 oz–1 lb 5 oz) each, scaled and cleaned
- 2 handfuls fresh herbs such as thyme, basil, oregano, calamint, mint, flat-leaf (Italian) parsley and rosemary
- 2 lemons, 1 sliced, 1 juiced
- 80 ml tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 400 g (14 oz) mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Make sure the fish have been scaled and cleaned; rinse and pat dry. Cut 3 slashes about 1.5 cm (1/2 in) deep along the fleshiest part of the fish, on both sides, season with salt and pepper, rubbing it into the slices and skin. Sprinkle salt in the belly cavities, then stuff with about two-thirds of the herbs and a few slices of lemon to fill. Set aside in the fridge until needed.
Heat half the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the garlic over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms along with the rest of the herbs and cook in the oil until golden and softened, about 5–6 minutes. Allow them to cool.
Heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Tear a large sheet of baking paper for each fish – about double the length of the fish – and distribute the mushrooms in the middle. Place the fish on top of the mushrooms, then pour over the lemon juice and drizzle with the rest of the olive oil.
Wrap the fish in the paper – bring together the long edges of the paper, folding them down together so they overlap slightly. The short sides can be folded at the fish’s tail and head, towards the middle of the fish and secured with a piece of kitchen string, like a present.
Bake for about 20–25 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven and let it sit, wrapped, for 5 minutes before serving. If using a different-sized fish, you may need to double-check if the fish is cooked properly. To check, unwrap the paper carefully (escaping steam is hot). Take a knife and see if the skin and flesh easily lifts off near the spine. Also look at the gashes – they should reveal opaque, soft meat. If not, wrap it back up and put it back in the oven to check in 5-minute increments.
To serve, you can transfer the whole fish to a long oval plate, dribbling the juices and mushrooms over the top. But I prefer to place it right on the plate, as it is, still sitting in its paper.