Drink slowly, but drink thoughtfully – that is how to enjoy the finest coffee

(Me, about two minutes ago)

Coffee right next to my desk
Coffee right next to my desk

Years ago, around 1997 I think, I had the privilege to record old man Illy in our studios in London. Ernesto, would that have been his name?

Today, I set up my coffee machine in my small studio at home (I am a composer these days) and made myself a wonderful Espresso – Illy, of course. It took me back to that interview.

Illy was accompanied by two young women and he was absolutely wicked, in a charming, mischievous way. But we did chat about coffee, something I am very passionate about. His English was dreadful, as I remember it, but one of the young ladies (who I think may have been a daughter or granddaughter) worked hard to keep up with the translating between the jokes.

He is among several people who have come to the studio and, though the work was simple, impressed me with their wit. Another was Michael Anderson, director of films such as the Dam Busters, Around the World in 80 days and Logans Run. I spent a week with him recording extra dialogue for his last film, The New Adventures of Pinocchio with Warwick Davis and Martin Landau. He sat in the studio, content to let me direct and just fill our week with wonderful stories from an incredible career – most of them completely unrepeatable. I also had a memorable couple of days with Alessandro Alessandroni. He wrote some music for Toby Russell, son of Ken, for a modern day marshal arts sequel of the famous Trinity spaghetti western films. Alessandro was another full of stories, and since I am also a musician, we quickly fell into swapping stories and jokes that completely alienated dear Toby and the producers. Oops! We did have a lot of fun, however.

Back to Illy, the old man really believed in the purity of good coffee and told me that whatever coffee I drank in any part of the world, always make sure it was an honest product. (And make sure it was Illy because he needed the cash!) He wasn’t exactly flattering about coffee in the UK and even less flattering about the growing chains like Starbucks. He pointed out that there was far more to coffee than what it looked like or how slick the barista was.

I agree. Back in the day, I used to buy coffee from the Algerian Coffee Shop in Old Compton Street, London. They did a special blend which I adored and I miss greatly since I moved out of London. But, Illy is good and now I have my machine up and running right next to my desk, I will continue to drink slowly, but thoughtfully and enjoy every sip.

So, tonight, I made myself a second cup and took a photo of it while I was at it – this cup is dedicated to that wicked Old Man Illy who died back in 2008 – it was an honour to meet him and talk about coffee.

Erika and Diogo from The Muesli Café
Erika and Diogo


I am always on the look out for new ideas, new ventures, new tastes. I come from a world which is all about invention and reinvention, the world of turning creativity into a product.

The problem with such a world is that finding people to back an idea with cash, even a great idea, is taking a crash course in futility.  Enter the world of crowdfunding, where for little financial risk, hundreds or even thousands of people can look at a project and decide that these people deserve that rare chance.

Such a couple are two, young-ish designers in the north of Portugal.

The Muesli Café

“She came up with the idea,” says Diogo Olivera, a talented web designer with a love of muesli – eating it, that is.

Erika Göbel, the German half of this enterprising duo, and the one with the cooking flare, explains why opening the Muesli Cafe in Porto is such a wonderful idea.

“It totally fits into the modern diet! Muesli is so easy to prepare and you can take it to the office or school. It’s a light meal, it boosts your energy and keeps you satisfied for a long time. You can use any ingredients you like, even if you are vegan, just use (home-made) almond milk instead of dairy products.”

One of many wonderful bowls
One of many wonderful bowls

But the philosophy is probably better explained by the photos on their website. If ever a dish deserved to have a colour palette named after it, muesli, or at least Diogo and Erika’s take on muesli, certainly does.

The idea is to open a small breakfast cafe in the vibrant, beautiful and cosmopolitan city of Porto on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. This city of colourful and historic buildings already has a café culture ripe for the picking and ready to try something new. “Muesli is not for any specific age,” Diogo explains, “and we want to create a place that doesn’t leave anyone out, although we understand that younger people will probably be more open to try something as new as muesli will be in Porto.”

The locals only taste of Muesli up until now has been the usual industrialised box loads in the supermarkets. “We will try to communicate that our muesli is much tastier than the industrial versions. People already connect muesli to something that is healthy, which is good, but now we have to show them that it is not a boring healthy thing, but the contrary!”

Crowdfunding in Portugal

Raising the money through crowdfunding, if they succeed, could give them more than just the cash they need to rent a property, get it looking they way they want, get staff in and get their message out to the locals.

“In our opinion, the advantage of crowdfunding is that the business happens only if there is interest. This dilutes the risk of failure after opening. We also get the opportunity of making great marketing even before the café exists.” It is a very good point. Another friend who has crowdfunded a games book knows he has a fan base waiting – they have just invested in him.

The crowdfunding site they are using is Portuguese venture website, PPL. This is probably a good move – they want investors who are not just interested in them, but want to come and gorge themselves on the product and then go away and tell more people.

Both Diogo and Erika are designers by trade and develop serious business websites. Diogo is also an accomplished illustrator and has put his skills to good use on their cheerful promotional video for the venture. The proposal is certainly both flavour and design lead, and that is important in food. People don’t just want a feast for the stomach, it must be for the eyes too and if they can get as much colour and flavour into the final venture as they have into their photographs, then surely they will make an impression on Porto society.

But, of course, one has to ask, do they eat Muesli themselves? I mean, every day?

“YES!” Erika shouts into my inbox, adding that her current seasonal favourite is Pomegranate muesli with Roasted Almonds.

“Well, sometimes I eat a typical Portuguese breakfast,” Diogo admits. I am not exactly sure what that is, but I am sure Erika will educate him in the error of his ways…..

Read more about the people and the venture at the Muesli Café Website.

If you are interested in funding this project, you can read all the details at PPL


They need better photos
They need better photos

There is a reason why this blog is not stuffed with Restaurant reviews, well a couple actually. Firstly, I find the restaurant food available within a normal budget is often disappointing, so I simply do not eat out often. The other reason is when I do I am very rarely surprised, at least nicely.

The other week I had the opportunity to visit the China Brasserie in a new district of Aylesbury. Aylesbury has a large and diverse community from many parts of the world, which opens up the opportunity for some interesting food. Despite that, my experience of other similar communities has shown that much ethnic food is in the hands of the opportunist and the best of it is still to be found in their home countries. Indian restaurants are a prime example and however much people in the UK might enjoy popping out for “an Indian,” trust me – that is not how great food from the Indian Subcontinent is meant to taste!

Chinese food has a similar problem. I suspect the majority of Chinese food in the UK is eaten via a take-away and that really is the worst possible punishment for the humble Chinese dish. Chinese food is distinctive in its freshness. The people of the various provinces of China enjoy very different approaches to their food, but they are united by both the wok and a love of steaming. Sadly, steaming is something we see far too little of in the West. The food in Beijing, both in the street and in their noisy, competitive restaurants, is cooked right there, right at the time you want it. It has lightness and subtlety and great love. In many of the takeaways in the UK, the food has the weight of a whale and probably most of it’s oil to boot.  It is thick, sticky and every dish tastes pretty much the same.

The China Brasserie is, happily, trying to buck this trend and we had a thoroughly enjoyable meal the other night. Being midweek, and me being lazy, we chose a set menu. I admit this was completely unfair since the set menus were pretty much the same as you get every where else, and we ignored any original and inspiring unique dishes they might well serve. But then, I did not go in order to review; this was just a pleasant evening out!

This was a Wednesday and the restaurant was very quite, so the service, as you can imagine was prompt. The Thai lady that served us was friendly and chatty, yet polite and efficient. The food, when it arrived, was fresh, generous and quite delightful. It is rare I stop talking to mention something is nice, but I did several times.

It was made up of pretty predictable dishes including satay chicken, crispy seaweed (!) and crispy aromatic duck, but it was well cooked, properly seasoned, and had some subtlety, which was very much appreciated. Reading through the rest of the menu on their dreadful website (please contact me for a nice new one!) there is not a lot on there that cannot be found elsewhere and I would really like to see less dishes and more originality. But the chef, who I suspect might be Thai, can cook properly and I am sure if he or she decided to move away from the predictable and venture into interesting they would make a very good job of it.

The restaurant itself is very modern, large and sited on a new square in the Fairford Leys village, which is a new, well noted development within Aylesbury. Not actually a village then.  Pricing is fairly typical for the menu style and is generally affordable. Checking through the public reviews, the restaurant is well liked and popular and I have no reason to disagree with any of those reviewers.

It is now up to other restaurants in Aylesbury to up their game and present their food, whether that is Asian, European, American or African with as much style and care as the China Brasserie.

Website: http://www.chinabrasserie.co.uk/



Well! What a pretty loaf!

Oat, seed, rye and bran
Oat, seed, rye and bran

Today I decided to have a little bit of cupboard fun with my regular loaf. I am now baking every time we need bread so it has completely dropped off the shopping list to be replaced by flour.

This loaf used more or less my normal quantities, but I dug around in the cupboard to see what else I could throw in. So, ingredients wise, I ended up with this (more or less)

  • 450 grams strong white flour
  • 50 grams rye flour
  • fist full of bran
  • palm full of mixed seeds (sunflower and so on)
  • big fist full of oats
  • 1 tsp salt

I then mixed up 2 tsp dried active yeast into 350 mil of warm water and 50 mil of milk

Once that had got going and had a good froth on it, I added it to the above ingredients in my Kenwood Chef Major Titanium Stand Mixer, added a small glug of Mosto Naturale Extra Virgin Olive Oil and set it to mix with the dough hook for about 7 minutes.

Depending on how absorbent your flour is, you might need to add a little more flour as it mixes, but the dough should definitely be on the wet side.

Once done, leave it to rise till it has doubled in size. That could be anything between 1 hour in a warm room to two or three hours in a cold one. You could even leave it all night in the fridge!

Once risen, knock back gently on a counter that has been lightly oiled and put in a baking tin. Again let it double in size, but definitely no further!

Bake it in a pre-heated oven at 200 Celsius for about 30 minutes and then tip it out onto a rack to cool.

Bolt the door of the kitchen so you still have bread waiting when you come back!

What does it taste like?

Don’t know yet ….

Another view
Another view
Definitely worth three pics
Definitely worth three pics
Harvest Loaf - Cooked
Harvest Time

Complete atheist, me, but given the chance to do some mass baking, I can be as hypocritical as the next atheist. So the local church is having a harvest shindig and I rolled up my sleeves and got baking.

I made three doughs today:

  • A French pain de campagne style dough with 20% rye and a good handful of oregano
  • A light basic dough for some small, soft cottage loaves
  • A low yeast white dough for making a harvest loaf and some mice.

Nothing very complicated, but quite a lot of fun. From the French dough I made some small pain sprinkled with the odd seed. I also made some buns with bran and a plaited round loaf – basically a long plat that is spiralled into a round loaf.

With the white dough I made a handful of egg washed soft cottage loaves. They actually lost much of their cottage shape, but smelt wonderful.

The harvest loaf and the mice were the most complicated. Harvest loaves are dead easy to make, but take ages and it can get boring doing all those ears of corn. The mice puffed up more than I expected so we have a pile of rather podgy mice. Normally I would use peppercorns for the eyes, but since these will be eaten by kids, we used chopped raisins instead. They don’t sink in quite as well, so the odd mouse has lost an eye. I wonder if there are three of them?

Lentil and Vegetable Soup
Warm, spicy and filling

There is something gratifying about returning home on a blustery autumnal day and warming up your tunny with a big bowl of thick, spicy soup. The only let down is that this is still August and it is not meant to be autumnal at all!

But, through fair weather and foul, as they say….

This is an easy dish and low priced so there is precious little excuse. I have made this with red lentils since that was what was in the cupboard. Likewise, the vegetables chosen are what happened to be in the fridge. So, this is very much a larder recipe – vary it according to what you have in stock.


  • 2 tablespoons ground nut oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 small lump ginger
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups chicken stock (or veggie stock if you prefer)
  • 1 chili
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 stick celery, diced
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 cup chopped coriander
  • Salt and black pepper

Cook it!

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil and gently fry the spices. Make sure they do not burn!

Add finely chopped onion, garlic, ginger and chili and cook till the onion is just turning colour – do not brown it too much as that wont work as well.

Stir in the lentils, carrots, celery and stock. Bring to the boil and turn down to simmer till the lentils are properly cooked. You might need to add more stock if it is too thick.

Add the peas and the coriander and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Salt and pepper to taste and serve.

If you want it spicier, increase the spice levels and you might want to drizzel some chili oil over the bowls of soup.