Anchovies, the Magic Ingredient

AnchoviesAnchovies have much in common with a certain yeast product. Generally one tends either to love them or to hate them.

And yet of those who would have you believe they hate the taste of anchovy, how many will actually have tried them? How many of them indeed use Worcestershire Sauce or Green Goddess Dressing to add interest to their foods, and enjoy the added ingredient?

Are anchovies disliked by some because they taste wrong? Or is it because they have a tendency to stare up and you, and eating fish that still has its skin on and isn’t battered in breadcrumbs is not considered, well, normal?

The anchovy has a very distinctive taste, although much of this is down to the curing process. When eaten fresh the taste is distinctly milder. Nevertheless its presence in any dish adds a punch of flavour, which is why even when not being served up whole their juice is felt to add interest to a recipe or even to a sauce.

Anchovies are a small, oily saltwater fish found in large shoals close to the shore – sometimes indeed in muddy estuaries at the mouth of a river. They inhabit temperate waters as far north as Norway but are found in particularly large quantities around the Mediterranean. They have the dubious distinction of being regarded as a favourite food of most predatory saltwater fish, as well as many species of bird.

In Clapham, South London, they are to be found adorning several types of pizza at the Eco Restaurant, said by many to serve up the best pizza in London. It is an essential ingredient in the Napoletana, the Capricciosa and the Quattro Stagioni, all popular pizza recipes from the famous Eco range.

If you are an anchovy lover you can rest assured that we bring out the very best taste in every pizza in which they feature. If you think you are an anchovy hater come along and let’s see whether we can change your mind.

Sing For Your Supper

Sing For Your SupperEverybody associates pizza with Italy, notwithstanding that it is these days a joyously cosmopolitan dish, with variants of local character emanating from all around the Mediterranean, the United States and even the Far East.

Cuisine is one the things that the Italians do particularly well. Another is singing.

Think of an Italian belting out a song and the chances are the image will be one of a portly tenor, impeccably attired and motionless other than much expression with the hands as he puts everything he has into perfecting his art. The esperto, calmly reassured in his mastery of the notes.

Yet in popular music too, despite it being a largely English-speaking medium, artists of Italian descent are surprisingly commonplace, particularly for some reason amongst female solo singers. Not for nothing has the Italian word diva found its way from the opera into the world of pop.

One of the biggest female solo artists of recent decades, indeed one of the biggest names in pop itself regardless of genre, is of course Madonna. Madonna Louise Ciccone, to use her full name, is an Italian American from Bay City, Michigan. Madonna’s athletic dance routines, the way she dressed, her use of Catholic imagery (sometimes provocatively), her memorable songs and original voice all combined to make her one of the most successful artists of the 1980s. She even managed to persuade the drinks giant Pepsi to pay her five million dollars not to make a commercial for them, which is good business in anybody’s book.

Another sultry diva who emerged in Madonna’s wake was Gwen Stefani, originally Gwen Renée Stefani – another Italian American, this time from California – who was lead singer of the successful band No Doubt before launching herself as a solo artist for several years, then rejoining her old group. Like Madonna she was revered for her platinum blonde hair and good looks, which led her to be awarded the part of Jean Harlow in the 2004 biopic The Aviator.

Today’s blonde bombshell is the enigmatic Lady Gaga and yes, you’ve guessed it, she is of course an Italian American who was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. Lady Gaga’s success lies in her innovative stage performances sometimes bordering on the bizarre. Her consistently changing image borrows a great deal from the artistic philosophy of David Bowie, whom she acknowledges as an influence, whilst her daring and at times gory stage act has more than a hint of Alice Cooper about it.

Which takes the author back to his own childhood, back to the dawn of time, when long before the peroxide dance routines of Madonna, Stefani and Gaga there was a little lass dressed all in leather and plucking at a bass guitar almost as big as herself. Those of a certain age will remember Suzi Quatro, a surname shortened from Quattrocchi by her paternal grandfather. A pocket battleship if ever there was one.

Meanwhile at Eco Restaurant Clapham we just quietly make pizza. We won’t sing to you, nor make you sing to us. We simply create the best pizza in London, with the minimum of fuss.

But if pizza could sing, there is a good chance it would be called Eco. And we challenge you to shorten that.

A Tale of Four Basils

Basil!Basil Fawlty – The barking mad hotelier created and made famous back in the seventies by the hysterically funny John Cleese.

Basil so wanted to inject a touch of class into his modest 22-room bed and breakfast in Torquay, but his efforts were not appreciated by his guests who “want to be waited on hand and foot” while he was trying to run a hotel.

Neither was he ever spared the usually unwelcome attentions of his acidic wife Sybil or the escapades of his crazy Spanish waiter Manuel.

Still, he plodded along, lumbering effortlessly from one disaster to the next. Just don’t mention the war.

Basil d’Oliveira – Cricketing legend d’Oliveira sadly passed away just a few days before this article was written. Prevented from playing first class cricket in his native South Africa under apartheid, he emigrated to England in 1960 and played test cricket into his forties and county cricket almost into his fifties, building up an astonishing tally of runs.

In 1968 South Africa’s refusal to allow him into the country as a member of the England test team led to the cancellation of the tour in what was to become known as the d’Oliveira Affair.

In 2005 he was awarded the CBE, and a stand at New Road in Worcester was named in his honour.

Basil Brush – Probably the world’s most famous fox, Mr. Brush looks good for his almost fifty years and is still a big hit with the youngsters.

For many years Basil had his own children’s show, as well as having appeared in Blue Peter, French and Saunders, The Weakest Link, Fantasy Football League, Crackerjack and Are You Being Served, amongst others.

In 2009 he was presented with an ACE award for his services to entertainment. Boom, boom!

Pizza Pomodoro – Liberally applied with tomato and capers, the unmistakable taste of fresh basil on this scrumptious and healthy light-base pizza makes it one of the sought-after specialities at Eco, the best Italian restaurant Clapham Common has to offer.

The Basilico di Dufala pizza, meanwhile, combines layers of succulent mozzarella with basil, tomato sauce and garlic to create an altogether different experience for

the hungry visitor.

The Eco Restaurant Clapham offers a warm welcome and a menu full of options containing herbs and spices bringing out the best in our delicious, finely cooked food. Why not come along and give it a try?

‘Tis the Season

ChristmasNobody who has ventured out onto the street or switched their television on for more than a few minutes could possibly have failed to notice – Christmas is upon us once again.

It is the season of goodwill to all men (of whatever gender). A time when we eat a little more than usual, drink a little more than usual, and buy those we love sundry things to place in their bedside sacks or under the Christmas tree.

It is a time when we need to think very carefully about what to buy our partners, our children, our parents or our friends. A surprise is always wonderful to receive, but what if it is something that the recipient absolutely doesn’t want? Clothes that don’t fit, or that our daughters refuse to wear because the label is last year’s? A Tottenham Hotspur soccer kit for our Arsenal supporting son? The wrong beer for father, or yet another consignment of socks when he has yet to open the ones we bought for him last year?

Gift vouchers do sometimes appear the safer option, but even then a book voucher for a person who doesn’t find the time to read, or a record (or modern equivalent) voucher for someone without any means of playing recorded music, can be of limited appeal to the recipient.

One option is to treat our loved ones to a drink or a meal. To take them out to a nice place and to allow them to choose what it is they want. Instead of, or even as well as, buying a present.

Eco’s popular Clapham Common restaurant is an excellent choice for a Christmas treat. With an extensive and varied menu offering some of the finest pizzas alongside numerous other meal options, sumptuous desserts and an impressive range of wines, beers and drinks, your companion will be spoilt for choice.

Take the worry out of Christmas shopping by treating your loved ones to a meal out and letting them choose. That way you just can’t get it wrong.

Where Else Would a Visitor to Lambeth Walk?

Lambeth WalkThere is a place you may have heard of down South London way called Lambeth Walk. It’s a good couple of miles from our restaurant in Clapham Common, but it has a bit of history that is well worth reflecting upon.

In fact the Lambeth Walk is not just a street. It is also a popular market, a song, a dance, a walk, two films and a photograph.

The song, “Doin’ the Lambeth Walk”, is a music hall classic and was written by Noel Gay for the 1937 Douglas Furber musical “My and My Girl”, not to be confused with the later American musical of almost the same name, which starred Judy Garland. The song is usually accompanied by a walking, strutting dance which is, indeed, the “Lambeth Walk”.

In 1939 “Lambeth Walk” was released as a film starring Lupino Lane, who had first popularised the dance a couple of years before. In the meantime the song somehow caught on in the United States, where it was adopted by a number of well-known orchestras and eminent performers, including the legendary Duke Ellington.

So just what does any of this have to do with pizzas?

Well, Lambeth of course is the borough in which Clapham resides (actually part of Clapham Common falls within the borough of Wandsworth, but it is maintained by Lambeth by mutual agreement). Although not in the East End, thanks to Gay and Furber Lambeth and in particular its walk have established themselves in the public mind as a part of the Cockney culture.

It’s all a bit different now, much of the borough becoming gentrified and plush eating houses having replaced the traditional cockle stalls as the place to go for a bite to eat. But you can still hop, dance or strut along to Eco, one of the really good restaurants in Clapham, if you want the exercise before enjoying one of our delicious and healthy pizzas.

What Even Popeye Doesn’t Know About His Olive

OlivesThose who do not instinctively associate the word “Olive” with the Popeye films and cartoons will straight away form a picture of a small Mediterranean tree, or of the oily fruit that derives from it and which is a staple part of many popular dishes from that part of the world.

Indeed the olive is almost solely Mediterranean in origin, emanating mostly as it does from Southern Europe, West Asia and North Africa. However many non-Mediterranean countries with a similar climate, including several in South America, now harvest it.

For a small tree and a modest fruit the olive boasts a distinguished history. In the Bible it and its tree are mentioned over thirty times, in both Testaments. It was when Noah received the dove with the olive leaf, for example, that he realised the big flood was finally over.

It also receives several mentions in the Quran. The Prophet Mohammed is alleged to have said “Take oil of olive and massage with it – it is a blessed tree”.

Many Athenians have it that the first olive grew in Athens. At the original Olympic Games the oil of the olive burned in the “Eternal Flame”, and it was also used to anoint sundry worthies, whether kings or successful athletes. Not to be outdone the ancient Egyptians used olive branches in rituals involving powerful leaders and deities. Some were even found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Our main interest in the olive these days is in the edible quality of its fruit. We are familiar with green olives and black olives (in essence just over-ripe green olives), along with their oil which we use for cooking as well as for flavour.

At Eco, one of the most renowned and popular restaurants close to Clapham picture house in South London, delicious olives form an integral part of our culinary portfolio. Whether one is enjoying our aubergine sun-dried pizza or a traditional Napoletana, they are there to be savoured. Or indeed they are available as a stand-alone side dish.

It is a tribute to this hardy fruit that it has made its way intact from the historic empires of Southern Europe, through the Biblical lands and the mystical desert kingdoms to South London, just along the road from the Common. Enjoy!

Pasta Sauce, Please!

Pasta SauceEco Restaurant in Clapham Common is rightfully known for its succulent, nutritious and healthy pizzas.

And yet for those who like a bit of variety, or to whom pizza doesn’t appeal, we are highly regarded for our range of other dishes, not least our extensive selection of pastas.

To some gnocchi, zucchini, pappardelle, maccheroncini, tortellini, vermicelli, bigoli, fusilli and casoncelli may read like the first few names from a Euro 2012 soccer team sheet, but to those in the know they are some of many exciting varieties of pasta or pasta dish that are widely enjoyed around the world today.

Most pastas are made from durum wheat, although some varieties can be made from wheat flour or buckwheat flour. Other ingredients include water and sometimes eggs. In its native Italy pasta is usually enjoyed al dente, meaning “firm to the bite”, in other words not excessively soft. Pasta made without eggs (dry pasta) has the advantage of enjoying a shelf life of two years or even more.

Generally speaking pasta comes in three forms – long pasta (such as spaghetti), short pasta (in shapes such as penne or rigatoni), or minute (also called pastina, used mostly in soups). It is sometimes available in wholemeal, and sometimes in different colours when pigmented by tomato, for example, or spinach.

As well as the excitement value that comes with variety, there is sometimes a logic to the different shapes and sizes. The ability of a pasta form to hold a particular sauce, for example, is often dependent upon its shape. A classic example is ravioli, which is sealed to encase minced meat, cheese or other fillings.

At Eco, recognised as one of the finest Italian restaurants in Clapham, we serve a wide range of pastas topped with the finest meats, fish, seafood and vegetables and tossed and served in some of the most creative and mouth-watering sauces that it is possible to imagine.

Come along and try it for yourself.

10 Places to Visit in London

LondonThere is so much going on in England’s capital city that it would be difficult to draw up a comprehensive list of everything there was to do, every bit of culture there was to be enjoyed.

One could tour the capital for a year and not see everything. Theatres, buildings, bridges, shops – all of them combine to make London unique and exciting. Let us consider just a few:

    1 Buckingham Palace. Buck House, the official residence of Her Majesty and indeed every monarch since 1837. Official tours are available at a price, but the sarnies are on the host if one can wangle an invite to one of her legendary birthday bashes.

    2 Westminster Abbey. Or the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster to the purists. A place where monarchs are crowned, betrothed and buried, the first two not always in that order. As churches go, this is the big one.

    3 Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Founded by William the Conqueror in the 11thcentury, this is a wonderful place to visit but by all accounts not such a good place to stay.

    4 Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. Built to commemorate the victory of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar, there were once lots of pigeons but it is now against the law even to feed them. The man himself looks down disapprovingly as lots of water is wasted.

    5 The Globe Theatre. Built just along the road from the original site which was destroyed in 1613, and again in 1644, Shakespeare’s Globe recaptures the spirit of the wordsmith reputed to have had a vocabulary of 30,000 words, some of which he admittedly made up.

    6 The London Eye. One of London’s newer attractions, at its apex the viewer can see for over 25 miles in every direction, as far as Windsor Castle, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Clapham.

    7 Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Probably Britain’s most famous timepiece adorns the home of government. The Palace of Westminster was a former residence of kings. The less said the better perhaps.

    8 St. Paul’s Cathedral. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built over a period of 35 years this architectural masterpiece, still a working Church, can be seen in all its splendour from King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park, over ten miles away as the crow flies (do other birds take the scenic route?).

    9 Piccadilly Circus and Eros. A monument to busy London, Eros, the winged angel of Christian charity, watches the traffic go buy at this famous meeting point and intersection.

    10 Eco Restaurant Clapham. A sight to behold after a busy day’s touring. Visit this one last, as you’ll be hungry after all that sightseeing. The delicious and healthy pizza menu and extensive wine list will not disappoint.

    A Tale of Two Cultures

    Clapham restaurantFortunately we no longer live in a world where most people believe their own culture to be better than or superior to those of others.

    It is true we cheer on our football or rugby team, wave a flag, maybe even sing our National Anthem. Nothing wrong with that. But generally speaking we tend to respect other nationalities, take some interest in their ways and have a genuine desire to learn about them and to share in the things they do that make them stand out as different and, by our own standards, exotic.

    But even in today’s cosmopolitan, metropolitan world there are two distinct cultures in evidence where the twain shall surely never meet. In our cities, in our eating houses and drinking establishments, two separate and quite contrasting behavioural norms compete for the cultural high ground.

    I refer, of course, to those who like to eat whilst they are drinking, and those who prefer to drink whilst they are eating. Those who would accuse the writer of pedantry must invariably fail to appreciate the dynamic of the conflict. Indeed it is a veritable struggle for the soul of civilisation in our inner cities and suburbs.

    The eating whilst drinking tendency have a clear sense of priorities. They drink in quantity, sometimes preferring to stand rather than sit, by so doing giving themselves cause to cling tenaciously to their glasses lest they be taken away before they are empty, knocked over or become otherwise estranged from their rightful owners. Between gulps the palate is placated with offerings of pork scratchings, pickled onions, salty nuts of various kinds and severally flavoured crisps. In Spain they call it tapas, in England bar snacks. But the real business of the evening remains in the glass.

    The other tendency is focused primarily on the food and, having ordered a sumptuous meal from a menu so colourful and appealing that it could almost be enjoyed as a starter, then and only then does the imbiber move on to choose carefully from a wide range of fine wines and beers from all the four corners of the earth.

    At Eco, the popular Clapham restaurant, we are not judgemental. We always remember and appreciate that there is a time for sitting eating, and a time for standing drinking. Variety is what makes the world such a wonderful place.

    But culturally we are very much about food. Washed down of course by the most delicious and enjoyable wines, beers or coffees, of all of which we have choices in abundance.

    And when it comes to quality of course, you are free to sing our praises and wave our banner because you know we will always be the winning team.

    Go Where the Pizza Takes You

    PizzaIt’s the eternal dilemma when deciding where to live in the UK, whether to head for the bright lights or for the wide open spaces.

    There is much to be said for the countryside. Away from the hustle and bustle of a hectic city life it is difficult to envision a setting more removed from the cramped and jostled existence of the London commuter than a farmhouse on a remote Scottish island or a cottage in a small, unspoiled English town resplendent with thatch-topped tea rooms and roadside notices announcing the sale from somebody’s shed of freshly laid eggs and home-grown strawberries.

    Of course life in the city need not involve London. Any major city in the UK will offer nightlife, shopping, cinemas and sporting events. But having lived in Manchester and travelled the land it is the writer’s experience that there is a “not quite London” spirit about Britain’s “other” cities, no matter how justifiably attached their indigenous inhabitants might be to their respective regional identities.

    There is a different kind of attachment to be felt to Little Stomping on the Mire, its dreamy village green and its untarmacked roads, a place where “every man is my brother” has a different meaning to that which it has in church and where the cider is so thick it can be eaten. There is certainly no substitute for the country air and the outdoor life.

    It is really all a question of personal taste. Horses for courses, as the saying goes. The invigorating freedom of country life has to be weighed up against the inconvenience of having to sail the seven seas to visit the dentist, or the unthinkable consequences of being barred from the island’s only pub.

    One advantage the city in general and London in particular has is the sheer variety and choice of restaurants, especially pizza restaurants. Indeed when you are on the lookout for pizza Clapham Common is the place to be, and one of the best restaurants in Clapham Common is Eco Restaurant, where the most innovative and expertly created toppings come on a light, nutritional base for maximum flavour and the ultimate gastronomic experience.

    Our folded pizzas lock in the flavour and you can have more or less anything in them that you’ve ever longed for. Unless you are seeking the wide open spaces, of course.