There is a lot of truth in the old cliche that ‘food brings people together’. Without food being involved, it is likely that I would never see half of my friends, nor would I have met half of the new ones I have made in London. Any food usually works, but I think it is the most familiar and comforting ones that do the ‘bringing together’ the best. My proof is in the pizza. I can think of nothing else that would bring four food-loving, photograph-taking, blog-writing ladies together more enthusiastically or religiously than the simple pleasure of a good pizza. Meeting for pizza has become such a ritual, we turned it into a club and happily hold our meetings anywhere a decent slice is served.
Our latest meeting took us all a little out of our ways (these are the extreme lengths we go to for Pizza Club) to a cosy corner of Fulham which has been transformed into a slice of the Italian south. Meridionale, which literally translates to mean ‘from the South’, aims to showcase the best of the Southern regions such as Naples, Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia so we were excited to discover some new dishes or curious tweaks to well-know favourites. But first, we had to pop the prosecco to adjourn the meeting… we don’t have too many rules at Pizza Club however that is definitely one of them!
These days, parmesan and balsamic vinegar are pretty much household staples, or at least for those in the cooking-show-watching households anyway. I’ll be the first to admit guilt; I’ve drizzled balsamic vinegar over rocket leaves which I’m not entirely sure I like eating, and dutifully grated parmesan over my pasta as if my Italian street cred depended on it. But of course, that would be exactly the thing not to do… I should instead be ditching these imposters and going back to their true Italian roots, I should be stocking my shelves with Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena PDO. Bit of a mouthful, bit more expensive, but a little bit goes a lot further when you are using the real deal.
Both Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena PDO are probably victims of their own success; their increased popularity have driven a desire for increased accessibility and as a result the parmesans and bog standard balsamics of the world have flooded our supermarket shelves. But the traditional Italian producers are fighting back and re-educating consumers. I think the proof is in the tasting. I always thought the cheese and vinegar I picked up at the supermarket, while not the best on the market, was good enough… but I soon realised what a naïve view that was.
Now, I certainly don’t want to encourage emotional eating but I’m also not self-righteous enough to condemn it when the stress levels hit boiling point. We’ve all had those days: friends that pester, colleagues who whinge, clients who complain, or heck, even just random strangers who lack those common social etiquettes can drive me bonkers. All those things make me shamefully inhale that packet of crisps at 11am or that Snickers bar at 3pm. If that still doesn’t help, I go for the big guns – a big ol’ bowl of noodles or pasta.
I’m not fussy about which of those carb-heavy comforts rush to my rescue, as long as one is in front of me at dinner time, I’ll survive. So after a particularly long and arduous day in the office, no one was happier to walk through the recently refurbished doors of Venerdi than I was, especially when smacked in the olfactics with such sublime aromas! I won’t lie, a double dose of Aperols (joys of the Happy Hour) arriving within minutes of me sitting down, perked me right up too.
It took me almost two weeks into the new year before I had my first slice of pizza; a lot longer than I had expected if I’m being honest. It was one of those DIY jobs with a Sainsbury’s pre-made base (we gasp, but in my defence I was in a state of hanger) and topped with our favourites like ham, chorizo, mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and basil, and pineapple for me. They were good, nothing at all wrong with them but the pizzas you cook in your home oven with an upper temperature of 250ish degrees will never ever compare to one cooked in a wood fired oven which can get as hot as 400ish degrees within minutes. It did satisfy my pizza cravings then and there, but the next meeting of Pizza Club couldn’t come soon enough!
The girls and I got together early in February at Firebrand Pizza, a recent addition to the Marylebone neighbourhood and convened the first Pizza Club of the year with a glass of prosecco – it feels customary now! If you’ve kept tabs on our first and second meetings, then you know that cheese is also a must; the more varieties, the better. On this night we had about five… the first was a buffalo mozzarella with parma ham, pear and rocket which was such a light and fresh dish, it was something you’d imagine consuming al fresco with a glass of wine in hand! London in February is not al fresco weather but at least the wine situation was easy to arrange…
On my way to dinner, I managed to window shop at Victoria Beckham’s flagship store, narrowly avoid being clipped by a Bentley whilst crossing the road, and almost stumbled into a private members’ club. All part and parcel of walking through Mayfair, perhaps? How the other half live. If the tables were turned, I could actually be stocking up on VB gears, have my driver ferry me around in the Bentley, and be darting from one club to another. But no, this Kiwi lass is unlikely to be joining the Mayfair set… the closest I’ll get is to frequent the restaurants in their hood.
On this occasion, it was QP LDN. This swish Italian comes to Mayfair via the Amalfi coast where its sister restaurant, Michelin starred Quattro Passi resides. QP LDN aims to bring a taste of this authentic Amalfi coast inspired cooking, something I was very much looking forward to after the eventful journey to the restaurant. I was also more than happy to accept a gigantic Aperol spritz whilst waiting for my dinner date Vicky.
When I told a certain someone we were going out for an Italian dinner he was a little surprised… and I sensed, a little unimpressed. Unless we’re actually in Italy, we very rarely choose Italian over the 101 other cuisines and styles at the tips of our tastebuds here in London. Why? I honestly couldn’t tell you. I think my first instinct is that it’s a safe option, even perhaps a boring option.
Hands up, who’s dismissed Italian food because it’s just pizza and often sub-par pasta? Yep, me. Have you also been a little smug and thought, why would I order that in a restaurant when I can make it at home myself? Me again. And have you also realised that of course, you’re very wrong because Italian food is so much more diverse than that… think of the beautiful cured meats and cheeses, think of the rich ragú, think of the gelato!
Mention Milan and I immediately think of fashion. My mind starts picturing designer bag toting, stiletto heel wearing fashionistas… sleek looking ladies… impossibly chic Italian women. I imagine myself joining their ranks for a few days as I pound the pavements, ducking in and out of boutiques… arms becoming laden down with shopping bags as the day goes on… The shopaholic in me is basically in heaven. But this is all just a daydream. Shopaholic Connie hasn’t hit her stride in quite some time, about the same time a certain someone showed up on the scene.
I could spend, and have spent, hours strolling the streets of a foreign city just window shopping, making the occasional purchase here and there. I truly enjoy wandering through new shops, looking at new things, pondering whether I want it enough to squeeze into my luggage, but a certain someone doesn’t and there’s nothing more awkward than trying to shop with someone who hates the looking part.