BLANCHETTE, SOHO

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I have a new favourite restaurant…Blanchette on D’Arblay Street, Soho.  If I was ever to own a restaurant, this is exactly what I’d want it to look like. Its almost as if they’ve taken my dream restaurant from my head and popped it into the middle of Soho. Even better, its just a 10 minute walk from my office.

Blanchette opened in December ’13 and is run by the three Alary brothers, Maxime, Yannis and Malik. They also have Salt Yard Group co-founder Simon Mullins and chef director Ben Tish on board as consultants and stakeholders. With all these guys at the helm, its no wonder it has been such a success in the short time its been open.

The rustic and quaint interior is decked out with decorative tiles and exposed brick walls adorned with antique mirrors and shelves filled with junk shop paraphernalia, albums and books. Mismatched furniture, crockery and cutlery make it feel like homely, at least to me, as that is pretty much what my flat is like.

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Photo taken from Evening Standard

Photo taken from Evening Standard

Blanchette serves small classic French sharing plates, a bit like French tapas. The menu is only two pages long which is a good sign. Its divided into ‘snacks’ (terrine, baked St Marcelin, frogs legs etc), ‘charcuterie’, ‘cheese’, ‘fish’, ‘meat’ and ‘vegetables’. I actually found it quite hard to narrow it down to just a few dishes as everything sounded so good.

We began with bread and butter. The bread arrived in a brown paper bag which, as soon as you opened it, released the most amazing aroma of warm, fresh bread. The butter was soft and salted, which was a relief as it seems to be rare these days.

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The first dish to arrive was Pissaladière (£3)… sweet, caramelised onions with olives and anchovies on a pastry base. Lovely. The sweetness of the onions, the spiky olives, salty anchovies and the buttery pastry worked so well together.

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The truffle salami (£6) arrived shortly after which smelt and tasted incredible.

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I wasn’t wild about the Alta Népita (£4.50), ewes’ milk cheese with Corsican aromatic herbs. It was nice but there were so many other great plates on the table, it didn’t excite me as much as the rest of the food. The chutney was very tasty though and the two complimented each other well.

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Now this next dish was the highlight of the night…two fingers of Croque Monsieur (£4). I would go as far as to say this was the best croque monsieur I have tasted in a very long time. Biting into it was heaven…the fried crunchiness of the bread, the creaminess of the cheese, the hit of mustard at the end. I was genuinely pissed off that I had to share it, I could happily have eaten three servings of this alone. I order it every time I go there.

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The tartare of the day was salmon served with cucumber, dill and crème fraiche (£7). It was perfectly light, fresh and zingy.

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The smoked duck breast salad with Heritage tomato vierge and baby artichoke (£7.50) was full of flavour, juicy, fresh and light, the duck was tender and perfectly smoked.

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The braised lamb shoulder with anchovy, rosemary and soubise sauce £8.25 was a delight to eat. The caramelised lamb melted in my mouth, the anchovy added a subtle saltiness without overpowering the meat and the savoury onion soubise tied it all up with its smooth richness. If I could have dived into this dish, I would have.

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Accompanying the lamb were some bloody good fries served with bearnaise sauce.

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Now you would have thought that after all that I would have been stuffed, but I still managed dessert…chocolate marquise with salted caramel puffed rice and pistachio ice cream (£5.95). The rich and dense chocolate was actually a bit much for me after all that food so after a couple of bites of that I moved onto the beautiful pistachio ice cream and the salted caramel puffed rice, which I loved. I could have had a plate of just the puffed rice to be honest.

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Finishing off the evening with a double espresso, I felt happy and content.

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As you can probably tell, I love Blanchette and have been several times now. I love the atmosphere and feel of it, the staff are always incredibly friendly, helpful and knowledgeable and seem to genuinely enjoy describing the dishes to you. I’ve never had a bad meal there and I am sure I’ll continue to have plenty more great meals there. Even better…you can book which is a rare treat in Soho nowadays.

Blanchette
9 D’Arblay Street Greater London, W1F 8DR
Twitter: @BlanchetteSoho

Email: info@blanchettesoho.co.uk
Tel: 020 7439 8100
Open Monday-Saturday 12.00 noon – 11.00 pm, Sunday 12.00 noon – 5.00 pm


Bistro Blanchette on Urbanspoon

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KHORESHT-E-FESENJAN… WALNUT, POMEGRANATE AND CHICKEN STEW

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My favourite recipe book at the moment is Persiana written by the lovely Sabrina Ghayour. It is jam packed with delicious looking recipes and I am currently trying to work my way through them. You can see a couple of them here.

I recently made her Khoresht-e-Fesenja which is a walnut, pomegranate and chicken stew. I first tasted this at her supperclub and instantly loved it so I was thrilled when I saw it was included in her book. The chicken is unbelievably succulent and the sauce is glossy, deep and rich with a nutty texture, in the background is a wonderful subtle acidity that cuts through the richness of the dish. I warn you now though, if you don’t have a sweet tooth, this may be a bit sweet for you. If this is the case I would suggest using a little less of the pomegranate molasses.

Sabrina does recommend that its best to make this dish the day before you want to eat it. As with all stews, the flavours have time to intensify overnight, resulting in a much fuller flavour. When I first made this I froze a portion of it. When I ate it a few weeks later I was amazed by how much richer it was than when I first made it.

Ingredients (served 6-8)
8 chicken thighs (skin on or off, your choice)
1 large (or 2 small) onions
550g of walnuts, finely ground in a food processor
1 tablespoon of plain flour
3 tablespoons of caster sugar
300ml of pomegranate syrup
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt flakes
Water

(I only wanted to make enough for 2 people so I halved the ingredients)

Method
Preheat two large, deep cooking pots cooking pots on a medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in one. Fry your onions until translucent and lightly browned. In the other pan, add the plain flour and ‘toast’ it until it becomes pale beige in colour. Then add the walnuts and fry the mixture through a little.

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Once the onions in the first pan are brown, season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and add them to the pan, turning the temperature up and stirring the pan well to ensure you seal the chicken thighs well on both sides gently browning them before turning off the heat and setting them aside.

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Give the walnuts a good stir before adding 2 pints of cold water to the pan.  Stir well and bring the mixture to a slow boil before covering with a lid and allow the khoresh to cook for an hour on a low-medium heat. This process will ‘cook’ the walnuts through and soften the texture somewhat; once you see the natural oils of the walnuts rise to the surface, the mixture is properly cooked.

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Add the sugar and pomegranate syrup to the walnuts and stir well for about a minute.  Take your time to stir the pomegranate syrup well, as its thick consistency means it takes a while to fully dissolve into the stew. Once this is done, add your chicken and onions into the walnut and pomegranate mixture and cook for approximately 2 hours, stirring thoroughly every 30 minutes to ensure you lift the walnuts from the bottom of the pan so they don’t burn.

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After 2 hours, what initially looked beige will now have turned into a rich, dark, almost chocolatey looking mixture.

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Enjoy with a generous mound of basmati rice and sprinkle a handful of pomegranate seeds.

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And there you have it…a deliciously rich, deep, sweet, succulent stew with pomegranate seeds that burst in your mouth.

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COCKTAIL REQUEST WEEK @ OLD STREET STATION

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So yesterday I was walking through Old Street tube station and I noticed a new pop-up…Jamie Oliver’s Cocktail Request Week studio.  Its only there this week but the idea is that anyone can put forward their cocktail requests to his You Tube channel, Drinks Tube, through Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the #cocktailrequest hashtag. Requests can be in the form of photos, ingredients or a brand new cocktail name, then mixologists will create a cocktail for that person and put it up on the channel. 

A variety of Drinks Tube experts – including Simone Caporale, International Bartender of the Year*, and top bartender Rich Hunt – will be teaming up with the stars of Food Tube, DJ BBQ and Gennaro Contaldo, to create bespoke cocktail recipes inspired by the audience requests.

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Five daily recipe videos will be filmed and uploaded to the Drinks Tube channel throughout the week. Anyone of legal drinking age in their country can send a request via the #CocktailRequest hashtag, and cocktail fans can also visit the studio in Old Street Station, to watch the filming taking place.

So yesterday I tweeted this photo from my trip to Mallorca last weekend…

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And today they tweeted me back with this video of the cocktail they made using my photo as inspiration!

Twitter: @DrinksTube
Facebook: www.facebook.com/DrinksTube
Instagram: http://instagram.com/drinkstube

Cocktail Request Week’s studio was rented through Appear Here, the leading online marketplace for short-term retails space.

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MATSURI ST JAMES, MAYFAIR

One of the rather lovely benefits of writing a food blog is occasionally being invited to foodie events and I was lucky enough to be invited along for a special Japanese dinner at Matsuri St James in Mayfair.

Matsuri St James’ opened its doors 20 years ago, introducing not only traditional Japanese food such as sushi and tempura to London, but also a new style of Japanese cuisine…teppan-yaki. This is when fresh fish, meat and vegetables are cooked by a chef on an iron grill in front of the customers.  In March of this year, the restaurant relaunched its sushi bar and announced their new head chef, Mr Kishi, who trained as a French chef but went on to cook Japanese food for numerous celebrities and government officials in Tokyo and London.

After a glass of champagne, we were shown downstairs to the restaurant and welcomed by the restaurant’s President, Yoshinori Hatta who talked about the restaurant and its history.  He then introduced Mr Kishi who was preparing the Yellowtail sushi at an incredible speed.

We were then served two kinds of Nigiri, and sushi rolls which were beautifully fresh and delicious.

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Next we were served prawn & vegetable tempura. The batter was unbelievably light and cripsy, I loved it.

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As we were finishing our tempura, the Teppan-yaki chefs starting setting up at their grills. They worked so fast it was mesmerising to watch them.

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The first dish to be cooked in front of us was Alaskan Black Cod marinated in ginger. Cooked under a beautiful cloche, this dish was probably the highlight for me. I adore black cod anyway and this was perfectly cooked, silky. light and just a joy to eat.

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By this point everyone had noticed (and was taking photos of) a huge slab of Txogitxu Galician Beef T-Bone Steak that was on the side of the grill. As it was placed on the grill our chef covered it in sea salt and left it to sizzle away in front of us while he started on the asparagus and mushrooms.

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The steak was cooked perfectly (well, to my liking anyway) and tasted wonderful. It was served with the asparagus, mushrooms and garlic butter egg fried rice.

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By this point I was feeling very full and wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit in dessert.  However, watching the theatre of the Fire Ball Ice Cream being made in front of me, changed my mind. Large blocks of vanilla ice-cream were flambéed with Sake and grilled pineapple and served on a thin pancake. Absolutely delicious and a lovely way to end the evening.

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Throughout the meal we were served Sake with the starters (Houraisen – WA, Aichi Prefecture, Junmai Ginjo), white wine with the fish (Dom. Gerard Tremblay, Chablis 1er Cru Montmain, 2011), red wine with the steak (Etna Red, I Vigneri Salvo Foti, 2011) and a wonderful Plum wine with the dessert (Umenoyado Aragoshi Umeshu).  Each drink perfectly complimented what we were eating and really enhanced the overall experience.

All in all we had a fantastic evening of beautiful food, delicious wines, great company and the theatre of the food being cooked in front of us. I have been to teppan-yaki restaurants in the past and have always enjoyed them. There is something rather lovely about seeing your food cooked in front of you and I think it would be a great night out for a group of friends.

I should add that although I was invited as a guest to Matsuri, my review is honest.

Matsuri, 15 Bury Street, London, SW1Y 6AL.
020 7839 1101

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BIBO, PUTNEY

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Putney, in South West London, isn’t exactly a hub of culinary delights, which is a shame seeing as I live there.  Yes, its pretty and green and on the river, but I’ve always been distinctly underwhelmed by its foodie offerings.  However, recently, the tide appears to be turning.  One of my favourite restaurants, Gazette, opened a branch on Upper Richmond Road a few months ago and then Bibo, a modern Italian restaurant and bar, appeared on the opposite side of the same road, replacing Gregg Wallace’s Wallace & Co.

I had seen a lot of good things written about Bibo, which is the brainchild of restaurateur Rebecca Mascarenhas (Kitchen W8 and Sam’s Brasserie) and chef Chris Beverley (Theo Randall at the InterContinental and Chez Bruce), on Twitter, so I practically skipped down Upper Richmond Road a few weeks ago on my to dinner after a particularly gruelling day at work.

After a rather lovely (and rather large) glass of cold, crisp dry white, I can’t remember which one, I managed to calm down and unwind from the stresses of the office and relax into my surroundings…white exposed-brick walls, high-ceilings, dark wood and beautiful tiled floors.  It feels like it could easily slot into Soho, rather than being nestled in between Nandos and Pizza Express in the suburbs.

While we were perusing the menu, we were offered some warm, handmade focaccia with a beautiful grassy extra virgin olive oil.

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We started with Prosciutto San Daniele with Sicilian melon. The prosciutto was so soft and deliciously sweet it practically melted as soon as it hit my tongue.  The Sicilian melon, also sweet but tasting so fresh was the perfect accompaniment. It was a perfect starter.

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The n’duja crocchettes were also fantastic.  They had a fair amount of spice to them and even though I’m not a lover of anything spicy, these were so good I couldn’t stop eating them.

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I ordered the pappardelle with pork ragu, lemon and marjoram for my main.  What a joy this was. The pasta itself was comforting and had the perfect amount of bite to it. The pork ragu was insanely soft and tasty. The lemon lifted the dish out of what could be a winter dish, and catapulted it straight into summer.  It was a wonderful dish.

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My friend ordered the Barnsley lamb chop with caponata. Wow. The lamb was so tender and juicy and bursting with flavour, and the caponata worked so well with it.  I’m a huge fan of caponata anyway, and would happily have it with most things, but this really was on another level. As happy as I was with my pasta dish, I’m so glad my friend ordered this.  I found myself beaming with pleasure at this point.

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Although I was full by now, I really wanted something else to round off my meal.  I could see some wonderful looking desserts being delivered to our neighbouring tables but I wasn’t really in the mood for chocolate.  The words ‘Gorgonzola dolce’ jumped off the menu at me and my eyes had no reason to look elsewhere.  And so I ordered Gorgonzola dolce with poached pear, walnuts and honey.

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Its a classic dessert, you can’t really go wrong with it.  If I had any complaint, it was that I could have done with more Gorgonzola.  But that is a common complaint of mine. I would have ordered ‘Gorgonzola on a spoon’ if it had been on the menu, and been happy as Larry! (I do often eat Gorgonzola with a spoon as I sit on my sofa of an evening).

This is a fantastic little restaurant and I really hope it does well, it certainly deserves to. The food is superb, its not too expensive, the service was exceptional…very friendly, very efficient and not intrusive.  Everyone knew exactly what they were talking about and seemed to have a passion for what they were serving. I am delighted its just down the road from me and I will definitely be back soon.

Bibo,  146 Upper Richmond Rd, London, SW15 2SW
020 8780 0592
@BiboRestaurant

Bibo on Urbanspoon

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AUBERGINES WITH SAFFRON YOGHURT & TOMATO SALAD WITH POMEGRANATE MOLASSES

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I have been a fan of Sabrina Ghayour’s cooking for a while now. I first went to the supperclub she hosts from her living room over a year ago, which you can read about here. Since then I think I’ve been on 4 other occasions, mainly because I kept raving about her cooking to my friends. Sabrina’s cooking has not gone unnoticed by publishers and she has her very first book, Persiana, coming out next month which you can pre-order here.

Persiana

Last weekend, the Observer featured a taster of Sabrina’s recipes from her book, you can see the recipes here. Luckily I had most of the ingredients for two of the recipes in my kitchen so I set about making them straight away.

GRIDDLED AUBERGINES WITH SAFFRON YOGHURT (Serves 4)
aubergines 2 large or 3 small, cut into 1cm-thick slices
olive oil for brushing
saffron threads 2 good pinches, ground with a pestle and mortar
boiling water 2 tbsp
Greek yogurt 250ml
garlic oil 2 tbsp
sea salt
flat-leaf parsley 20g packet, leaves picked and roughly chopped
red pickled chillies 8, thinly sliced
nigella seeds 1 tsp

As I was just making this for myself, I obviously reduced the ingredients, using just one aubergine.

Preheat a griddle pan over a medium-high heat. Brush the aubergine slices with olive oil on one side and chargrill for about 6‑8 minutes on each side, brushing the reverse side with more oil as you turn them over, until the texture softens and they are cooked through with nice griddle marks. Set aside.

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Using a pestle and mortar, grind the saffron to a powder, then pour over the boiling water and leave to infuse for at least 15 minutes. Once done, put the cooled saffron water into the yoghurt along with the garlic oil and a generous seasoning of sea salt and mix well. If you want to slacken the yoghurt mixture, stir in up to 5 tbsp of water.

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Arrange the aubergine slices on a platter, drizzle liberally with the saffron yoghurt, scatter with the parsley and top with the pickled chillies. Sprinkle on the nigella seeds and serve.

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TOMATO SALAD W POMEGRANATE MOLASSES (Serves 6 as a side dish)
tomatoes 600g
Turkish long peppers 2 green, cut into thin rings, or 1 green pepper, thinly sliced lengthways
large red onion 1, cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
sumac 2 tsp, plus a little extra to garnish
pomegranate molasses 4 tbsp
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
walnut pieces 100g, to garnish

If using large tomatoes, chop them into rough 2cm cubes, or, if using cherry or baby plum tomatoes, simply halve them. There is no science or precision to making this salad – you just chop the tomatoes as you like.

Arrange the tomatoes, pepper rings or strips and onion on a flat serving plate.

In another bowl combine the sumac, pomegranate molasses, crushed sea salt to taste and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and give the ingredients a good mix.

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Drizzle the dressing evenly over the salad. Garnish with the walnuts and a little sprinkling of sumac and serve.

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These dishes are so quick and easy to make, it almost feels like you’re cheating. I have a slight aubergine obsession at the best of times but I have never even considered pairing griddled aubergines with a saffron yoghurt before and yet it tastes terrific. And tomatoes, well, I eat a punnet of cherry tomatoes every day and yet I have never thought to have them with pomegranate molasses and yet it really works. The molasses makes them ‘pop’. I will definitely be making these dishes again, and I can’t wait for my copy of Persiana to land at my front door so I can make more of Sabrina’s dishes.

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PERSIAN SAFFRON & MINT CHICKEN WITH SPRING COUSCOUS

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I have been eagerly awaiting Diana Henry‘s new cook book, A Change Of Appetite and last week I finally got my hands on it. I was not disappointed, its a beautiful book. In the introduction Diana explains the background to the book and says, ‘the main thing you can do for good health is to eat proper home-cooked food, limit anything processed, really keep an eye on refined carbohydrates (especially sugar), switch to whole grains for at least some meals and up your vegetable intake.’ Its common sense and we all know what we should be eating more and less of, but its much easier said than done. This book is packed full of healthy, nutritious recipes that look and sound delicious.

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The recipes are listed by seasons, and its been lovely to be able to run my eyes down the list of Spring recipes now that the sun has come out and I fancy eating something lighter. This recipe for Persian saffron & mint chicken with Spring couscous in particular jumped out at me and pleaded to be made immediately.  I had most of the ingredients at home so just needed to get some dried sour cherries, and some extra lemons and I was ready to go!

The ingredients below are taken directly from the recipe in the book, which serves 4 people. As I live on my own, (and I only had 3 chicken thighs in my fridge) I halved the amounts so it was enough for me to have for dinner and then again the next day for lunch.

INGREDIENTS
For the chicken
about 1/4 tsp saffrom stamens
juice of 2 lemons and finely grated zest of 1
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 red chillis, deseeded and roughly chopped (if, like me, you don’t like chilli, you can just omit this)
2tbsp olive oil
leaves from 1 small bunch of mint
8 skinless boneless chicken thighs

For the couscous
20g (3/4oz) dried sour cherries
200f (7oz) wholemeal couscous
200ml (7fl oz) boiling chicken stock or water
2tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of 1/2 lemon and finely grated zest of 1
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tbsp each chopped flat-eaf parsley and mint leaves
2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped
25g (10z) pistachios, choppped
handful of pea shoots (or other small salad leaves)

For the yoghurt sauce
200g (7oz) Greek yoghurt
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, grated
microleaves, such as amaranth, or 3 radishes, julienned

I began by weighing everything up and laying it out in advance. It just makes the kitchen a little more organised whilst cooking.

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For the chicken, put the saffron and lemon juice in a small pan, heat gently and stir to help the saffron stamens dissolve.

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Remove from the heat and mix with the lemon zest, garlic, chillies and olive oil. Tear the mint leaves into the pan.

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Put the chicken thighs into a large dish (I was only making half the amount so I just used a small one) and pour the marinade over.

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Turn the over to make sure they get completely coated, then cover with cling film/plastic wrap and put in the fridge to marinate. Leave for about 30 minutes. (Alternatively you could just pop the chicken into a freezer bag and pour the marinade over the top to make sure its fully coated. Then pop the bag in the fridge).

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At the same time, pour boiling water over the cherries for the couscous and leave them to plump up or 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the couscous into a bowl, pour over the stock or the water, and the olive oil. Leave for 15 minutes. Fork it through to separate the grains, then add the garlic, lemon juice and zest, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir in the herbs, spring onions, pistachios, pea shoots and drained cherries.

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To make the yoghurt sauce, mix the yoghurt with the extra virgin olive oil and garlic, and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle with the microleaves or radish matchsticks on top.

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Heat a griddle pan until it is really hot. Lift the chicken out of the marinade and griddle it (you will have to do it in two batches if your pan is small), turning frequently.

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You want to get a good dark golden colour on each side.  Make sure the chicken is cooked (cut into the underside to check: the juices should run clear with no trace of pink).

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Serve it with the couscous and yoghurt sauce.

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I am so glad I tried out this dish. It tasted wonderful. The chicken was charred beautifully yet moist and tender and oh so tasty. It was perfect with the couscous which was the best tasting couscous I’ve ever had. I’m not a huge fan of couscous normally but this recipe has changed my mind. The sweetness coming from the cherries, the freshness from the mint, the crunch of the pistachios, it was absolutely delicious. And the yoghurt on the side cut through it all. It is a really stunning dish. And it tasted even better the next day when I had the rest for lunch.

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