Monday, 13 April 2015

VIDEO: How to Fold & Cook Potsticker Dumplings

Here I am, in video form, showing you how to fold and cook potsticker dumplings. The beauty of these is that you can make your own fillings up - prefer chicken? Used minced chicken instead. Add some prawn to the pork mixture for a little seafood sweetness. You can experiment with alliums too - finely minced Chinese chives work well. In the Spring, I tweak it a touch by adding wild garlic and asparagus to the mixture too. 

The full recipe, with more variations plus a step by step guide on how to fold them are in my book, Chinatown Kitchen, which you can buy here or at Waterstones. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Rex & Mariano, Soho

I've worked in Soho, or the proximity of Soho for over ten years now (good god, that makes me feel old) and I can count on one hand the number of times I've been to the site that Rex & Mariano now occupies on St. Anne's Court. A vast behemoth of a place tucked down this alleyway that joins Wardour Street to Dean Street, it was, for many years, Vodka Revolution. Nothing good happens in Vodka Revolution. It's the type of bar, in my experience, that is dark, dank, loud and full of grabby lecherous men. They used to sell flavoured vodka shots that you would optimistically suck back, your subconscious hoping beyond all hope that you would get pissed enough to induce a memory black-out of ever having been in such a place. 

But now it's all joyfulness and light. Gone is the dark, and in its place light pine furniture, white marble-topped tables and a huge gleaming kitchen. There's banquettes, there's bar seating, and also standalone tables - truly something for everyone. From the same stable as Goodman, Burger & Lobster and Beast, Rex is Rex Goldsmith, Chelsea's fishmonger, while Mariano looks after the wine list side of things. 

The menu is, indeed, very fishy. It's also presented to you not only as a paper menu, but also on an iPad. The first time I visited in December I thought perhaps that would be a worthless gimmick but I am now a total convert. All the items are listed for you to order with gay abandon, and an alert will tell you when you've ordered quite a lot and perhaps maybe you'd like to order more a little later so that it doesn't all come at once? There are humans available to guide you if it's your first time and also deliver the food, but I loved the efficiency of the electronic ordering and the subsequent 5% standard service charge. There are some who will bemoan the coldness of a dining experience without human interaction, but that's what your lunch companion is for. 

Anyway, the food. The food! The raw red prawns (opening picture) will be served to you cooked if you so choose. They are specialities of Sicily, and they are the sweetest, prawniest little things. Already de-shelled for your eating ease, they are dressed liberally with olive oil and salt. Some find the raw versions a little slimy but that's why I like them - they're slippery and sweet. Suck the heads of the prawns for an extra prawny hit (I imagine some of you might be retching a little at the thought but do try it. Prawn brains!) At £10 for 8 of the highest quality seafood, it really is a bargain. 

Lobster ceviche (£12) I am not sure is a ceviche in the truest sense of it being cured in a citrus juice, but it certainly is very lightly cooked, tossed with lemon and the unmistakable fragrance of yuzu, a type of Japanese citrus fruit. It's hard to describe what yuzu tastes of, except for absolutely delicious. Along with shaved fennel and chives, this is what summer flavours are made of.

Tuna ceviche is true to form and has the unmistakable heat flavour of jalapeno, addictive and punchy. Salmon carpaccio with tomato and olive oil was something I had at my original visit in December, and I found it a little dull when compared with the exciting flavours that preceded it.

Onto the cooked. There's usually a daily fish on offer, grilled simply and served with chips but these clams with white wine, chilli and parsley are unmissable. On my first visit (which was also their first day open) the clams were deliciously garlicky but also borderline too salty - this has now calmed down a lot. We used empty shells to slurp up the delicious sauce. 

Courgette fries have surpassed Byron's as my favourite side in London. Served with an aioli that is mercifully mild on the garlic flavour (look, no one wants a colleague returning from lunch honking of garlic) they are crisp, bronzed and utterly irresistible. 

Olives are stuffed with yellowfin tuna, dusted lightly and deep fried. I've had versions of these stuffed with anchovies which are a bit too much for me - a literal salt bomb - so these tuna versions pleased me greatly, as they have just the right side of fishiness. 

Nothing will ever sway me from my most favoured preparation of deep fried seafood, which is the classic Cantonese salt and pepper (yup, you guessed it - there's a book plug - I have a recipe for it in Chinatown Kitchen!) but this frito misto with Old Bay seasoning is a decent alternative. Old Bay seasoning is used for crab and crawfish boils, made up of rich, warm spices. We were pretty big on squid on this plate - a couple more whitebait would have balanced it out well, but for £9 it was a good portion. 

That's another thing. Price. While Goodman is expensive - quality meat doesn't come cheap - they've brought lobster to the masses, for £20 at Burger & Lobster. Beast blows the budget with the food coming in at £75 per head - certainly, it is 'exclusive' as their website advertises. That king crab aint cheap. Rex & Mariano though is a total bargain. If you look at the price of seafood at the fishmongers you'll know it's not a cheap foodstuff; at Rex & Mariano, those prices are barely inflated. 

So why isn't it completely packed to the rafters? Alas, fish and seafood is one type of food that divides people. I know a lot of people fanatical about it; similarly I know many who won't entertain any sort of seafood at all. I feel sorry for them. I've recommended Rex & Mariano to countless people who have been so excited to go, to be let down by one party member who won't or can't eat fish. Unless you're happy with a meal of sides, it won't be suitable. I can't help but wonder if they could just put a chicken or steak dish on the menu to pacify the naysayers, I could go more often to stuff my face full of delicious creatures of the sea. Please?

2 St. Anne's Court
London W1F 0AZ

Tel: 020 7437 0566

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 April 2015

Top 5 Essentials for Asian Cooking

In my book, Chinatown Kitchen - which is out now! -I detail basic ingredients that you can buy to build the basis of your cooking repertoire for Asian food. Here are my top 5, from right to left.

Chilli oil / sauce - Essential flavour enhancer for congee, soup, rice dishes, noodle dishes, grilled cheese sandwiches... The type of chilli oil or sauce alternates as I like to experiment with what I find in the supermarket. Stalwarts are Sriracha (the book actually has a home-made version of this too) and a classic oil made from just dried, ground chillis and Sichuan peppercorns.

Dark Soy Sauce - Usually used very sparingly, this adds colour and  caramel-like flavour.

Light Soy Sauce - I prefer Pearl River Bridge Premium Deluxe - it is a little harder to find (See Woo definitely sell it) and a little more expensive than regular soy sauce, but it has a superior flavour that I love.

Chinkiang black vinegar - this is a very delicate, slightly sweet and fragrant Chinese vinegar. It's added at the end of cooking to preserve its flavour, and is used in sauces, soups and dipping sauces for dumplings.

Fish Sauce - I use 3 Crabs, upon the advice of the eminent Vietnamese guru, Uyen Leluu. It's flavoursome and fragrant, without the harsh saltiness you get from lesser brands. It's essential in Thai and Vietnamese cookery.

You can buy these in Asian supermarkets, and a lot of the ingredients are available in mainstream supermarkets like Waitrose, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Tescos. You can also buy online - Wai Yee Hong and Sous Chef deliver.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

My Favourite Asian Restaurants in London

With less than a week to go before the publication of my first cook book, Chinatown Kitchen, I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite Asian restaurants in London. These are the places I visit often; I know what I'm getting and I know the quality is consistent. Do you agree? Disagree? Have I left anything off? Let me know!

Silk Road

Serving the more unusual Xinjiang-style food, Silk Road is wonderful. I love the tomato, green pepper and onion salad, but you mustn't miss the homestyle cabbage, homestyle aubergine, TEP noodles, dumplings and lamb skewers in particular. I don't think I've ever had a bad dish there. 

49 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR - you can reserve tables. 

Baozi Skewer Stall

There isn't room to swing a cat in here. It's simply a lady behind a counter with a bubbling pot of stock, lurid red chillis bobbing around, and the sting of Sichuan peppercorns in the air. They sell skewers at £1.20 each - I love the broccoli, and Spam. Simmered to just tender, plonked in a foil container and sprinkled with coriander if you wish, it is a most perfect snack. Don't bother with the Baozi Inn restaurant - standards have slipped since it first opened and my last meal there was a bit crap (company excluded). 

27 Newport Court, WC2H 7JS

Roti King

I wrote about the rotis so recently, I won't bother repeating myself, just that - it's GOOD. 

40 Doric Way, London NW1 1LH


Atari-Ya has several branches, and I've only visited James Street which is predominantly takeaway. The sushi is always of a very high standard, and the fish very fresh. You should call up to place your order before you wander over, as when it is busy (which is seemingly always) it can take a while to prepare. The menu is here

20 James Street, London W1U 1EH

Bone Daddies / Shack Fuyu

The ramen at Bone Daddies is great. The toppings are plentiful, and the broth well flavoured. They've just opened Shack Fuyu on Old Compton Street, serving their take on Japanese dishes cooked in a huge pizza oven, a relic of the previous owners. Of this, the Kinako french toast with green tea soft-serve ice cream is pure heavenly. The rest of the menu is worth a visit too - prepare yourself for a flavour bombshell.

Ramen Sasuke

My favourite ramen of them all, though, is Sasuke's spicy miso. Sometimes it can be borderline too salty, but more often than not it is just right for my tastes. Austere and authentically Japanese within, I am always amused by Japanese businessmen slurping their noodles so enthusiastically. They do takeaway, too. 

32 Great Windmill Street, London W1

Koya Bar

My love affair with John Devitt's noodles started off at Koya, the original opening. These days, I tend to veer towards neighbouring Koya Bar instead - Koya is wonderful, but I find the atmosphere at the Bar much calmer and soothing. I love their breakfasts and I would eat there every day if I could. 

49 Frith Street London W1D 4SG

Chang's Noodle

Chang's Noodle are famous for this particular one - Henan lamb noodle soup. The broth is milky, sweet and strongly flavoured with lamb, and the wide wheat noodles are messily ripped into the broth. Braised and stewed lamb make up the rest of the bowl, with a light smattering of coriander. This is hearty stuff. This is great stuff. 

35-37 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BH

Dumplings Legend

This is a new one for me - I've only visited once, but I was so impressed with the quality of the xiao long bao - soup dumplings. Finally! Decent soup dumplings in London! They don't reach the heady heights of Din Tai Fung's yet, but they are decent. We enjoyed the black truffle version and the spicy pork, though don't bother with the 'special crab roe' of which seemingly a limited number of are made per day - I couldn't taste the crab roe. Other dim sum are decent, though it was a bit naughty of them to deep fry the 'grilled' pork dumplings. Beef brisket curry with rice is also excellent. 

15 - 16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London W1


I've been going to Hung's for absolute donkeys years. Since I moved to London, 11 years ago, in fact. It is basic and service can be gruff, but the crispy pork belly and king prawn dumpling noodle soup (this is a hybrid of two and needs to be asked for) has remained the best noodle soup you can buy under a fiver. I also like Wong Kei's, despite its terrible reputation for service, but Hung's quality just edges it. 

27 Wardour Street, Chinatown, London W1

Gold Mine

I am fairly convinced that Gold Mine is the best Cantonese food in London. Yup, I'm going there. The roast duck is incredible, and I drool a little thinking about it. Steamed egg custard is also brilliant. Go with a big group so that you can order lots. 

102 Queensway, London W2 3RR

Cafe East

My favourite of the Vietnamese restaurants in London, and possibly because of the Banh Cuon (rice noodle rolls). The pho is also excellent. It's in the wasteland that is Surrey Quays, but good for a pre-cinema feed. Or if you really like going bowling. 

100 Redriff Road Surrey Quays Leisure Park SE16 7LH

Smoking Goat

I enthused about Smoking Goat here, and I still feel the same way. It is punchy and in-your-face Thai food, prepared to the highest standard. Som Saa would have been here too, if only it wasn't so damn inconvenient to get to for me. 

So, those are mine. I'd love to hear about yours, both in London and elsewhere! 

Oh, and you can buy Chinatown Kitchen here!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Meat School at Cannon & Cannon


Surely the best kind of school? It definitely beat double English Lit. on a Friday afternoon.

I was invited to the launch of Cannon & Cannon's Meat School. Cannon & Cannon are purveyors of British cured meats. They're not producers as such - they're curators of the good stuff. They have stalls at various markets, and they also occupy the space underneath Salon, in Brixton (have you been there for brunch yet? Go. Immediately.) Their HQ is in Borough Market, which is where we went to be schooled.

We started off with cured loins, and the first was delicate and sweet in flavour, laced with an incredibly creamy strip of fat. 

All of the loins were from different producers, so each had a distinctive style. I particularly liked the paprika-cured loin from Trealy Farm, Monmouthshire, for its subtle spiciness. The others, from Moons Green in East Sussex, Black Hand Foods in Hackney and Capreolus Fine Foods in Dorset all held their own with other charcuterie I've tasted on the continent. Ed Smith, creative director of Cannon & Cannon, talked us through the process of how the meat is cured. Alongside, we tasted wines from Jascots, matched for each style of charcuterie. 

From the collar now, which came from Trealy Farm and Capreolus Fine Foods again, and also Native Breeds in Gloucestershire. These are a little firmer, denser and all round meatier, each with their own unique flavour. 

Ahh, these air dried sausage variants were a bit more like the saucisson I'm used to, particularly the pork, fennel seed and garlic from Moons Green, back right. This in particular was much like the salami you and I think of when it's mentioned, and in the background left there, pork, seaweed and garlic from Cornish Charcuterie was a little lacking in seaweed flavour, though I enjoyed the chewiness of it. In the foreground, the pork, fennel seed and cubeb pepper from Black Hands Food won my heart with its spicy pepperiness. In between, we cleansed our palates with bread from Bread Ahead, and the most insanely addictive sweet pickled cucumbers from Vadasz Deli

And then, something a little bit different - venison and long pepper (back), from Native Breeds, and the other from Great Glen Charcuterie in Scotland.  Spiked with green peppercorns, it was  supple and floppy, gently cured, and the other a little more robust. Deep, rich and gamey, I loved them both.

Finally, a little treat. Trealy Farm had been experimenting using pork, duck and Sichuan peppercorn. I got to have the first taste on account of being the most Chinese (read: pushy) in the room, and it was absolutely fantastic. There was the richness of the duck fat, the mellow sweetness of the pork, and then lip-tingling spiciness from the Sichuan peppercorns. I am ordering more as soon as I can. 

Meat School isn't just about tasting charcuterie. They also run classes on how to cure your own bacon, cured meat butchery, and pates and terrines. The one I went on was £25 - along with a welcome drink, it really is worth it. Just don't break their meat slicer...


Browse the courses here

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Roti King (Revisited), Euston

I wrote about Roti King a couple of years ago, when it was on the Charing Cross Road. I only went once, and I am a total fool. It was so convenient to my office, and I only went once! Those were the days when word hadn't quite got out yet about Mr Roti King, and you could swan on in there, have a sit and eat some freaking delicious roti. 

Not so now. 


Admittedly, we did visit on a Friday night, right at prime time, and we did go as a group of 5 when the restaurant sits 30 at most. We queued for at least an hour, watching the guy slap his rotis out, folding them up and cooking them on a hot flat griddle next to him. The result? All our clothes absolutely honked. But no matter, as we had wine to slurp our way through (it's BYOB). The waitress, weaving in and out of everyone, delivering orders to the tables must have a patience of a saint.

The roti (opening pic) is so, so good. Cooked freshly to order, it's hot and flaky. We peeled off pieces to dip in both lamb and chicken curries. The murtabak (the roti is spread with egg, folded and cooked so it is stuffed) came with a dhal that was pleasantly spicier than expected too. Char kway teow had the appropriate smokiness from the wok, and enough prawns to please the table. I asked the chap on the table next to us how his Laksa was, and he looked pretty ambivalent about it. Further reports have been favourable though, so I'll just have to return. Soon.

Nasi lemak could have done with fresher coconut rice, but it was still pretty good. To be honest, we all had eyes for the roti and not much else. 

Yup, that there is a roti cone, drizzled with chocolate syrup. A nice, sweet ending to proceedings, though the roti stuffed with banana is infinitely more satisfying. 

(I have a recipe for banana roti, Thai style, drizzled with condensed milk in my book, Chinatown Kitchen... it's out on 2nd April plug plug plug) 

At £15 per head, it's stupidly good value. I can't wait to return, already. 

Roti King 
40 Doric Way,
London NW1 1LH

Roti King on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Blacklock, Soho

"Do you want to eat piles of meat and drink £5 cocktails in a former brothel basement in Soho?" 

"Of course I do."

That, pretty much, is how I'd sum up Blacklock. Opened a few weeks ago, the slim doorway doesn't give away the cavernous space beneath. It's dark. It's noisy. It's not for vegetarians. The menu consists of pre-meal bites, a selection of 'skinny' chops, and some sides - you're here for the meat. The 'crisps' are perfectly circular crisp breads; of the lot, egg mayo and anchovy is my favourite. I'm not sure what is 'filthy' about a wafer of parma ham atop the crisps, but in any case, I favoured the pickled vegetables with a sharp, strong cheese over them. 

I've been twice now - once for dinner, when it was a no-brainer to go for the 'all-in' option of a load of chops, a side each person and the crisps for £20 per person. It's enormous, a whopping great pile of charred meat on the bone. A blacklock is a type of cast iron press, and these are used to press the meat against the hot grill. Underneath the meat is crisp, spongy bread, soaking up all those meat juices and fat. Pork belly, lamb t-bones and chops, and beef chops were all present and cooked well, with incredible flavour from well-sourced meat. 

I returned again for lunch, and we attempted to order a la carte at £4 per chop but we abandoned that idea when the order became too confusing. It's just easier to go all in. This time the beef chops were out of stock, so a pork and lamb feast was presented to us. My earlier criticism that the meat was aggressively salted seems to have been addressed. 

But what of the sides? Oh, the glorious, glorious sides. Carrot and meat radish salad was a vinegared affair, shaved thinly and dressed with fennel seed and parsley. It's brilliant - well balanced, and it cuts through the richness of the meat. Kale and parmesan salad was the antithesis of this, what with being very cheesy and robust. Chargrilled baby gem was another favourite at the table.  

Anyone who knows me knows that there's not much I dislike in the food world, but sweet root vegetables have that dishonour. So I was as surprised as anyone when I actually actively enjoyed the 10 hour coal-roasted sweet potato - a genius idea of cooking them overnight on the dying embers. Smoky, sweet, and seasoned well with butter, I have found my new favourite side dish. I don't even know who I am anymore. 

And what of those cocktails? The nettle gimlet is a pretty thing, served in a tiny glass but packed full of potent punch. An Aperol negroni was a shy cousin of it's usual bolshy Campari-led self. They have a beautiful cocktail trolley which they'll wheel round to you to stir up an Old Fashioned, which is pretty much the best way to end a night.

There is only one dessert, the white chocolate cheesecake. The waiting staff come round with a dish off of it, proffering a portion with an accompaniment of stewed rhubarb, which I imagine might change as the seasons do. What a cheesecake! Light and fluffy, and the only thing I was capable of eating after that carnivorous frenzy.  

Blacklock will be a deserved success. The staff are friendly, the playlist makes you want to wave your arms in the air, and the food is accessible and no-nonsense. I hope the sides will change slightly as to what's available as the year wears on, and as I understand it they will be introducing specialist and larger, sharing cuts of meat. At around £35 a head if you're being sensible, it's perfectly reasonable to go back all the time. Interspersed with gym visits, perhaps.  

The Basement,
24 Great Windmill St,
London W1D 7LG 

No reservations

Blacklock on Urbanspoon