Wild Spring


April 23rd and spring is finally springing up all over, cherry blossoms raining down pink petals, bluebells stretching their stalks upwards, buds at the ready.  Leaves on the trees are about to explode in all their delicious pale greens.  It is a most wonderful time of year.

Where there are bluebells you almost always also find wild garlic, that most abundant and pungent of free foods.  Leigh Woods is full of it, road sides groan with it and if you have your car window open the unmistakeable smell will hit you as you drive by.  May I suggest that you don't drive by, but stop, breathe deep and pick some.

You can use this magnificent plant in all sorts of ways.  When it's young put it in salads, just as it is.  The flowers too are edible and make a gorgeous decorative addition.  Use in stir fries, tarts (as we have in both our cafés), braised with spinach or other greens, add to soups and stews.  My favourite way to use wild garlic however is to make a pesto with it.  

There is nothing like a bowl of spaghetti with fresh wild garlic pesto - it is epic in it's simplicity and deliciousness. My brother Barny Haughton of Square Food Foundation has the best recipe I have ever tried.  It can be used in loads of ways, as an addition to any dish that can use a little lift or greening, for example Barny's  'Rigatoni with with borlotti beans, potato and wild garlic pesto'.  But I leave him to share that recipe with you another time.  I will share the pesto recipe though - let us know your thoughts.

Wild Garlic Pesto by Barny Haughton

This is best made when the wild garlic leaves are still young and tender because the flavour is more delicate and you can chop them up more easily. And like any freshly-made basil pesto, wild garlic pesto is best eaten minutes after making it. So, have all your ingredients separately prepared and ready. It will take 1 minute to actually make it

1 large handful of wild garlic leaves, thoroughly washed

20g each hazelnuts & walnuts or 40g of either

30g Parmesan, grated

20ml extra virgin olive oil

Black pepper

Juice half a lemon

Toast the nuts in the oven or in a frying pan – just enough – golden brown not dark.  

Wash the garlic leaves under cold water, dry them thoroughly and, on a large chopping board, chop them until fine but not to a paste. 

Add the nuts and chop them into the garlic until they are like very small bread crumbs. Add the parmesan, olive oil, black pepper and mix well. 

Add the lemon juice just before serving.

Serve any way you like but if with spaghetti chuck it in with the cooked, drained spaghetti, straight off the stove, with a tiny bit of the cooking water to loosen it all.  Put in a bowl.  Eat.

While obviously it is best served immediately this pesto can be kept in the fridge for up to a week in a sealed jar, and also frozen.


While we are on the subject of Barny (yes, there really is no 'e' in his name) and Square Food Foundation here's a quick reminder of the next pop-up they are bringing to Spike Island Cafe.  A cookery demo and supper by acclaimed Sicilian cook and author Fabrizia Lanza from Case Vecchie in Sicily. 

BOOK HERE NOW to avoid disappointment!

Here it comes...


The nights are drawing in and will be drawing in a lot faster when the clocks change at the end of this month.  Our thoughts will turn inward, to the indoors, twinkly lights and warm spaces, hot soup after a chilly, damp walk.  And before we know it Christmas will be looming on the horizon, like it or not, it's coming your way.  Here at Spike Island Café we are rather partial to Christmas, fond of a bit of tinsel and spiced wine, a hearty meal with friends and colleagues, festive music and the throwing away of cares for a night be-bopping to Wham while wearing a cracker crown.

If you are like us and fancy a little or large knees up this December, give us a call - there is no hire fee*, you can have lots of food or no food, we have a splendid bar, smiling staff who will wear elves' hats if that's what pleases you,  you can bring your own music or listen to our play lists - all you need to bring is some Christmas spirit!

Call Natalie on 0117 954 4030 for more information and to book your do.

*minimum bar spend applies


Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto Milanese is pillar of the Northern Italian cuisine, whose origins are blurred in history and legend.  Brought by the Moors and Saracens after they settled in Europe, rice was first introduced in Sicily as early as the 13th century. From there, it spread to the Naples area and later to the Po Valley in northern Italy, where it found the ideal conditions to be grown: flat lands, abundance of water, and humidity - perfect for growing the starchier, shorter grain rice that lent itself so well to slow cooking, and hence risotto.

 When they weren't off killing and pillaging the Saracens were cooking lovely little suppers of rice and saffron.

When they weren't off killing and pillaging the Saracens were cooking lovely little suppers of rice and saffron.

It was in Milan where the rice met its delicious destiny. Milan had been under Spanish rule for almost two centuries (hence the similar evolution of paella in Spain), and rice had become a staple. Slow-cooking also dominated the culinary landscape of the region, with Ossobucco a long-held favourite and still today they are more often than not served together.

One of the most famous risotto is no doubt risotto alla Milanese. There is of course a story attached to this, it is Italian after all.  The legend has it that origin of this famous dish started as a joke played in the year 1574. The Duomo di Milano, the magnificent Gothic cathedral, was being built, and a young apprentice named Valerius was in charge of staining the decorated glass for the windows. Everybody was teasing him because he appeared to have added saffron to the pigments to obtain a more brilliant colour.  Tired of the teasing, he decided to return the joke and added saffron to the rice to be served at his master's wedding. The rice turned out so good that the idea spread immediately throughout the city and became the popular dish we know today.

 Stained glass window in the Duomo di Milano - some of Valerius' saffron coloured windows perhaps?

Stained glass window in the Duomo di Milano - some of Valerius' saffron coloured windows perhaps?

Who knows if it’s true - it doesn’t matter, risotto all Milanese is a tribute to Valerius and we can only thank him for his mischief which gave us the beautiful subtlety of saffron's flavour with it's zinging yellow colour in a dish of rice.

This short grain rice, arborio being the one we are most familiar with, lends itself to so many glorious flavours and dishes, it is versatile, comforting and carries a little piece of exotic history in each tiny, magical grain.  And, should there be any left over (not likely in my house), it can be made into arancini, which can be almost as sublime as the risotto it came from.

If you want to know how to create this dish, seemingly so simple and yet often frustratingly easy to mess up, and eat it as it is meant to be, then we will see you on Friday, at 7pm, at Spike Island Cafe.

Barny, our teacher and chef for the night, teaches at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, in Bra, Italy, as well as locally at the Square Food Foundation in Knowle. 

Earth Hour - 25th March 2017

What is it about candle light that is so alluring? Is that we all appear ten years younger when lit by the romantic glow of a flame, or that the flickering takes us out of the here and now,  making the world appear ethereal and slightly unreal?  A welcoming distraction is these disturbing times perhaps.

Candles can also signify the ‘lights going out’, that great fear of all western nations, which is why we scrabble for the last vestiges of fossil fuels; to stop the lights going out.  Those who remember the power cuts of the early 70’s will remember evenings of candle light, no doubt from many different perspectives.  Mine was that of a child, loving the excitement of the dark, the story telling and the candles at the bedside.  My mother knew how to make a massive inconvenience into a fun time, for us kids at least.  That this fear of the lights going out is nurtured at the bosom of the fossil fuel companies is never really given the platform it needs, given the fact that it is very clear we have the technology to fuel our entire nation on renewables if we/they so chose.

I was inspired to hold a candlelit dinner by the WWF Earth Hour phenomenon that has become a global tradition.  For one hour, on the same day at the same time all over the world people turn the lights off.   Some simply turn them off and think about what it’s all about.  Some turn them off and use the hour to spread the word, enjoy explore other ways to light the dark, and make it fun.

I am aiming to do the latter of course.  Gather groups of friends together, eat delicious, simple food, listen to some great live music, drink nice wine, share discussion and listen to some great sweary poetry - all by candlelight.

Anyone remotely awake knows that we heading for climate disaster unless we/they actually take action now.  With the orange fiend in charge in the USA and Mrs. May-i-hold-your-hand here it looks like the path to doom is completely unobstructed.  I, like many others, feel a sense of impotence and frustration that we can’t as individuals do anything to change this.  Democracy is all very well but it moves at a snail’s pace in comparison to the destruction that these people, once in charge can achieve is a very short time.

So, is holding a dinner by candle light, eating yummy food and drinking nice wine going to make any difference?  Is the march in London on the same day going to help keep some kind of unity with Europe?  Will the march in support of the NHS stop the awful, seemingly unstoppable move toward privatisation and USA like insurance style health care coming at us?  Maybe, maybe not.  But what it, and marches and get togethers of all kinds, can do is remind us that we are not alone, that together we are a force, that maybe, one tiny step, one tiny candle at a time we can make change happen.  Maybe from there will come ideas, a plan, or many plans, and maybe, just maybe, we can, together turn this ship around.  Or at the very least we will have a really brilliant evening with friends.


Words by Liz Haughton

Cures what ails you.

This is a recipe for a chicken soup that Louise Marchionne used to make when she cooked for us at our sister cafe The Folk House Cafe, on Park Street.  Lou is a nutritionist and fantastic cook - this soup would always appear this time of year as people began to start sniffling and sneezing (never a good thing in a kitchen) and complaining of the ague (not that anyone knew what that was but it sounded serious and requiring of soup).

 Lou at Folk House Café, with squash.

Lou at Folk House Café, with squash.


It is packed with nutrition - ginger for circulation, garlic as antiseptic and both anti-inflammatory.  Miso is fermented soya beans which makes it incredibly good for your gut, and helps give a real depth to the flavour.  Chicken broth is good for everything as any good Jewish (Italian, Asian, Any) Mama will tell you, it is simply magic stuff.

Lou could tell you much more and you can now find her behind the counter of the Better Food Company’s deli counter on Whiteladies Road where she produces delicious, fresh salads and beaming ‘Hello Darlings’ for the lucky customers there.  She can also be contacted via her website and is available for dietary and nutritional consultations.

Chicken miso soup.

To make chicken stock:

1 roast chicken carcass 

1 onion

2 carrots, 

2 sticks celery, 

3 bay leaves 

6 or 7 black peppercorns 

5 cloves of garlic 

1 large ‘thumb’ of ginger

Put everything in one large pot.  

Fill pot with water to cover the carcass.  Bring this to almost boiling point then turn right down to lowest flame and simmer for 2-3 hours, with lid loosely over the pot until the last half hour when you can reduce the liquid slightly by removing the lid altogether.  Top up water if necessary but don’t dilute it too much..

Note: If you want a clearer cleaner stock then use a raw carcass, if you want a deeper darker stock then use a roasted carcass. For this soup roasted is better for flavour but both equally good nutritionally.

Strain the liquid, holding back the bones etc.  The bones can be picked over for meaty bits, then discarded along with everything else.

Put the stock back in the pot and add:

1 small leek and 1 - 2 carrots very finely sliced, or ‘julienned’.

1 handful Arame seaweed – only needs rinsing and rehydrating for 15 or 20 minutes (optional but delicious and nutritious)

2 handfuls finely shredded kale or dark leafy greens.

Heat gently until the vegetables are cooked but still al dente.

Add 2 tablespoons of light Miso, a good splash of Tamari soya sauce and freshly ground black pepper. Taste it. Adjust accordingly.

To serve:

Place some pre-cooked rice or buckwheat noodles in the bottom of the bowl.

Pour in ladle full of the chicken soup.

Add a few slices of spring onion and some coriander leaves on top.

Eat - it cures everything!

Substitutions and add ons…

You can substitute or almost any greens - broccoli, cabbage, spinach, chard, spring greens, lettuce, pak choi - just be aware of different cooking times.  The stock is the most important ingredient - just remember that.

You can also add very finely sliced radish at the end, for some peppery crunch and a bit of colour.  Also some micro greens would work very well, now grown right here in Bristol by Grow Bristol (and sold in Better Food) - pretty, delicious and nutritious - astonishing what you get in one tiny leaf!  If you want to beef it up (s’cuse the pun) you can add lots more chicken meat - I would shred it. 

I would avoid chunky vegetable as they would change the nature of the dish too much.  Finely sliced mushrooms are a lovely extra too - it's hard to know where to stop sometimes but once you have made it a few times you will settle on your favourite way, or just get creative with whatever you have to hand, just remember it's all about the stock.

If you want to make it vegetarian/vegan you would need to make your own strong and clear veg stock, using garlic and ginger as in chicken recipe.  I would also use dried mushrooms for a bit of oomph, and definitely add some fresh ones at the end.  Veg stock will be another post  - keep an eye out!