Thursday, 30 April 2009

As If That Wasn't Enough Beef...

...more beef! After the meat fest that was Hawksmoor, what could be better?

Last Sunday I went to see my parents. The weather reports predicted doom and gloom, so I suggested to Pops that we try out this recipe. It uses beef short ribs, a cut I've never cooked with before and having had such a good reaction from Just Cook It, it was definitely a goer.

Of course, Sunday brought us glorious sunshine. This picture is taken from the patio of my parents' place. It was a perfect spring scene. After a light lunch of octopus braised in a spicy tomato sauce and a glass of wine, I contemplated what the dish ahead would bring us. And then we sprang into action; it does take 5 hours to cook, after all.

Beef short ribs are a cut I've often seen used in Korean cooking, whereby they're cooked quickly - a dish that I believe is called Galbijim. However, we took a much different approach and braised the beef ribs in a mixture of wine, stock and a medley of vegetables. We tweaked the recipe slightly by adding some rosemary and not bothering with cubing and frying the meat, but I don't think we lost out on any flavour. This is also an extremely cheap cut of meat. The beef is raised and butchered on a nearby farm (nearby being Godstone, Surrey) and has a rich and almost gamey flavour. At £3 per kilo, it's definitely credit crunch cooking. The whole flat filled up with the smell of cow when we were searing the meat.

The result? Gorgeous, unctuous meat that fell off the bones with a gentle prod. The resultant sauce was deeply flavoured with the wine and the beef bones. Granted, we didn't have any bone marrow like the original recipe did, but the dish was enough to fill all the flavour expectations I had. A spring onion mash was perfect for mopping up the juices, and the prerequisite greenery of choice was steamed broccoli to accompany it.

This is, of course quite a fatty dish. I spent a good 10 or 15 minutes skimming the fat off the sauce, but what would make it easier is if you made it the day before so that the fat solidifies and can be removed more easily. The initial frying stage renders a lot of the fat out anyway, and Pops remarked that maybe later it would be good spread on a piece of bread and sprinkled with a bit of salt, like in the good ol' days. Gulp.

Braised Beef Ribs

Serves 4 generously

2.2kg beef short ribs (this sounds like a lot, but the bones are heavy. Honest.)

1 bottle of a robust red wine

2 stalks of celery

3 large carrots

2 red onions

1 leek

2 spigs of rosemary

Salt & pepper

200ml chicken stock

1 tbsp plain flour

Preheat the oven to 130 degrees C. Get a non stick frying pan really hot and sear your ribs, fat side down. This may be done in 2 or 3 batches. Ensure you get all sides of the beef a rich, dark brown. When this is done, season liberally with salt and pepper and place it in a large casserole dish.

Chop your carrots, onions, leek and celery roughly. Fry this until softened, and then add to the casserole dish with the beef. Place the dish on the hob, add the bottle of red wine, and bring to the boil. Boil for 3 or 4 minutes to burn the alcohol off, then add the stock. Put the lid on and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 4 hours. We lasted 3.5 hours before I said "enough is enough!". The smell of the beef cooking was driving me bonkers.

Carefully lift the beef out of the casserole and place on a plate to rest. Sieve the liquid into a saucepan, discard the vegetables and skim off the fat. I must've got almost a pint out. Simmer the liquid for half an hour (while your potatoes are cooking) until nice and reduced. At this point, we added a flour and water paste to thicken it up a bit.

Take the meat off the bones of the beef, and if you like fry in a little butter. We didn't bother, but instead dished it up and tucked in.

It took 5 hours to cook, and 20 minutes to eat. But it was worth it.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Hawksmoor Steak Tasting

If my excellent first visit to Hawksmoor wasn't enough to convince me that these guys know their meat, then the subsequent visit certainly did. I and several other bloggers were invited to Hawksmoor to a steak tasting, to try out different breeds of cow. I was disproportionately excited, to the point of nervousness. I needn't have worried as the owners, Will Beckett and Huw Gott were most excellent hosts.

When we arrived, we were shown to an impressive dining room. A large retangular wooden table was adorned with cutlery in a raised part at the back, partitioned with red curtain. We started off with a delicious punch which consisted of passionfruit, prosecco and a little pineapple. It was summer in a really cute glass - bought from Ebay, apparently. I coveted it.

Onto the steak tasting. I must say, I learnt an awful lot about the complexities of aging meat. Dry aged? Wet aged? I am now an expert. Well, not quite, but dry aged is preferable to wet for flavour, whereas wet aging is more economically viable as dry aged meat shrinks, but suffers in the flavour stakes.

When I was presented with the steak tasting sheet, I was overwhelmed with glee. There were 17 note boxes - which means 17 different mouthfuls! We kicked off with the sirloins, of which the South Devon beef, supplied by Wild Beef was my favourite of them all. The cows are 36 months old when they go to slaughter and this produced a deep grassy flavour, ever-so-slightly chewy. Not that this is a bad thing, mind; I have healthy enough teeth. Of the sirloins one of the marked differences I found was in texture. For example, the West Cork Hereford sirloin was very loose in texture, whereas the Angus / Charolais cross was much denser in flesh.

All the cuts of meat were cooked to medium rare. Whilst I go for rare when ordering sirloin or fillet I think it's vital to have rib eye medium rare, as the extra time on the heat gives the fat more of a chance to melt, resulting in a tastier bite.

And so came the rib eyes. I'd love to say I can recall each and every one of them, but since I've come away from the experience, I know which ones stood out and which ones were favourite and which ones were least impressive. The Casterbridge (Modern Cross) rib eye bled a lot on the plate, which according to Huw is not a good sign. It had a lighter flavour and was the least complex of the lot. The same is said for the Ruby Red Devon - such a pretty name, but failing to live up to expectations. On the otherside of the spectrum, the Longhorn from Ginger Pig was a delight - some of us (including me) said it had a Stilton-esque flavour to the rich, silky and unctuous fat. Similarly, Farmer Sharp's Galloway had a caramel, almost toasty flavour to the fat and the flesh.

As if that wasn't enough, we were finally presented with this flat iron steak, from the shoulder of the cow.

This was Aberdeen Angus, from Jack O'Shea. Look at the beast! We placed a fork next to it for comparitive purposes. The flesh had an almost livery flavour and was pleasantly gamey, but unfortunately it defeated us and was taken away to be made into doggy bags for us to take home.

What a fantastic night. Having consumed around 6kg of steak between 12 of us, it was definitely a case of pescetarianism for the next few days, but my god. What a night. It also confirmed that Ginger Pig' Longhorn meat is the daddy of all steak, and that the Hawksmoor lot know what they're doing as that's the steak on offer on their menu. The restaurant's food is cooked here:

Barely room to swing a cat. I don't know how they do it, but it's magic.

When we were offered dessert, I laughed. But then again, having had a cursory glance at the menu, I spotted jelly and I do love jelly so. I ordered one to share, and we had much fun giving it a good ol' wibble wobble. The moulds were designed by Bompas & Parr, the jellymongers. It was a light and refreshing end to the meal.

I waddled off home a happy girl.

Read more reports on the night here, here and here.

If this doesn't motivate you to get yourself down to Hawksmoor and try their steak, then I'm afraid I haven't explained myself very well.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Masala Omelette - A Perfect Hangover Cure

I woke up feeling pretty grotty this morning. Yes, yes, I have no one to blame but myself. However, when bars force you to spend over a tenner so that you can put it on your card, one is sometimes forced to buy those shots that were never part of the original plan. I need to learn to carry cash instead.

I opened the abysmally bare fridge to find only the lonely dregs of a bag of coriander and two eggs. It took a cup of tea and a little sit down before I remembered the Masala Omelette. When my family and I went to India for two weeks to celebrate Pops' birthday, at breakfast time a special omelette chef was on hand to cook these beauties up. I think I had one every day, they were so delicious.

I had a quick google around and found Nigella's recipe, which is what I based mine on. I think she uses way too much of the spices - 1 tsp each of coriander and cumin would be mightily overwhelming. This was delicious; delicately spiced, a little bit of heat from the chilli, and best of all, it cured me.

Masala Omelette

Serves 1

2 eggs, beaten in a bowl with a little salt

1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal

1 clove of garlic, sliced finely

1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced (green is more authentic - red is all I had)

1/5 of a tsp of tumeric

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp garam masala

A few sprigs of fresh coriander

Heat up a little oil in a non stick pan. Fry the garlic, chillis an spring onion until softened, then add all the spices. Add the beaten egg and quickly mix it a little so that all the spices are evenly distributed. If you're good at making omelettes, then fold it over. Or, if you're a bit crap like me, finish it off under the grill until it's just set.

To serve, sprinkle it with fresh coriander and serve on it's own or with a chapati. I made my own chapati, the recipe for which is here.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Chilli Cool

Chilli Cool has been on my restaurant 'Want-To-Go' list for ages. I first heard about it from Niamh, who said that she had such a good meal here. I love Sichuanese food, ever since I got Fuschia Dunlop's Sichuan Cookery book. I can't say I remember eating all that much Sichuanese food in Hong Kong, but I didn't quite have the tolerance for chillis as I do now.

6 other friends and I decided it was high time we visited. Places like this require more than solo dining or with just one other, as there were so many dishes you'll want to try and being such big portions, it's a shame to let it go to waste. Incidentally, my mum e-mailed my just after I booked it to let me know about some great Dan Dan Noodles she'd had from "some place on Leigh Street". It was meant to be.

Luckily, we're all pretty adventurous eaters, because there was a lot of offal on the menu. I'd had 'Beef Slices & Ox Tripe in Chilli Oil' (left) before at Leong's Legends, and really enjoyed it so I wanted to order it again. The dish was delicately spicy. The tripe contrasted well in texture with the beef, with the smattering of sesame seeds providing a hint of flavour. The spicy oil the slices were in had pieces of lightly cooked celery which made it all the more delicious. When the rice arrived we spooned the spicy oil from this into our rice bowls, it was so good.

We also ordered 'Hot & Crispy Pigs Intestines', pictured above. Initially when I made this choice the waitress looked doubtful and told us we wouldn't like it. I'm glad we persevered though, because this was one of the highlights of the evening. The intestines had varying contrasts - some were very very crispy, some only a bit, some fatty and squidgy. What was constant was that each bite of the intestine was intensely porky and rich. The dried chillis you can see aren't as spicy as you'd imagine. Whilst they're not edible as they are quite tough, they made the dish look very pretty.

Of course, none of us could resist ordering pork belly. This 'Sliced Pork Belly in Mashed Garlic Sauce' was a lot less pungent than I imagined. I have a recipe for this in Dunlop's book and I have been a touch too scared to make it for fear of the backlash. This was not so. The pork belly is sliced very thinly so that it's almost transparent and so there's no danger of being chewy or coming upon thick strips of fat. Instead, this melted in the mouth.

What I didn't get to try at Ba Shan, I certainly did here. These 'Shredded Potato Slivers with Dry Chilli' really delivered a massive hit of Sichuan peppercorn. The mouth suddenly starts to salivate more, the tingle spreads, and a slight metallic taste lingers. It sounds unpleasant but I assure you it's not - it's extremely addictive. I kept on munching. The potato slivers were very uniform; not at all starchy and they didn't stick together at all. I can guarantee you if I attempted this at home, it would be an unmitigated disaster.

Another highlight was the brasied tofu with minced meat (top, main picture). The tofu slices were fried on the outside and soft on the inside, soaking up all the thick gravy. 'Stir-Fried then Stewed Jack Beans' were much better than the name suggests, although veggies should note this also came with minced pork. Not the most veggie-friendly restaurant at all, actually.

Here, we have the 'Fish & Chilli Hot Pot (large)'. The pot was huge. Brought to the table steaming, we were given a slotted spoon to fish out the pieces of grouper, ginger, tofu, Sichuan peppers, and of course; the abundance of chillis. By this point my mouth was tingling like no one's business and it was making me feel a little giddy. The fish was perfectly cooked, which confused me somewhatthat it hadn't carried on cooking more - one finger dipped in the soup by accident and it was HOT. We even, at the end of the meal, had a competition to see who could hold their fingers on the side of the pot longest (it was a very highbrow meal) and it burned.

The fish was fresh and wasn't overtly fishy. Despite appearances, the hot pot was actually very light - the broth was flavoursome and nothing sat heavily on the stomach. It was a perfect end to the meal.

All in all, I loved Chilli Cool and I can't wait to go back. It certainly didn't hold back on the spicing like Ba Shan did and for that, I salute them. The service was a little hard to get the attention of, and one might take umbrage to the waitress being doubtful of our intestine dish choice, but rather than being disparaging I think she was really just concerned for whether we'd enjoy it. Looking around, we were the only (aside from 1 couple) table of English(ish) people. Unfortunately the '4 rounds of vegetables' that was supposed to appear with our hot pot was forgotten, both by the kitchen and ourselves. Oh well, we'll just have to go back...

Dinner came to £20 each with service, the feast we had and 2 beers. A bargain, I'd say.

Chilli Cool

15 Leigh Street


Tel: 020 7383 3135
Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Wood Pigeon Breast with Sherry & Onion Sauce

Bit of a long-winded title, that one. Last weekend, I made arrangements to visit my local farmers' market. In my area I have access to a different farmers' market every weekend, but the Telegraph Hill Market, held every third Saturday of the month, from 10am to 4pm is a mere 5 or 10 minute walk from my flat.

The market is small but perfectly formed. A well stocked fish stall (well, it was at 11am), a veg stall, meat and a game seller. There was also a coffee van and a bread stall where I picked up a lovely olive ciabatta, and the obligatory stall selling marinated olives. What more could you want? Actually, I was a bit upset that the veg stall didn't have any new season asparagus, one of the only reasons why I'd bothered to get my backside out of bed so early, but disappointment was quickly blown away by the wood pigeon breasts I'd spotted. Initially I hopped from back to forth - diced venison? - wood pigeon? - wild rabbit? But £5.25 for 8 breasts proved too much of a bargain for me and I snapped them up.

I've only had wood pigeon once before, at Christmas. As I remembered, it was best cooked to rare, and it's lightly gamey flavour might work well with something fruity.

So here's what I came up with. The onion and sherry sauce was great - slightly tart, a hint of sweetness from the sherry and the onions, but with an underlying savoury tone. It turns into a sticky, unctuous jam down to the slow cooking and accompanied the pigeon well.

Wood Pigeon Breast with Sherry & Onion Sauce

Serves 1

2 wood pigeon breasts
1 onion, silced into half rings finely
A good glug of sherry - maybe about 4 tbsp
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses

In a non-stick pan, fry the onions very slowly (i.e. on a very low heat) until soft and slightly caramelised. This takes roughly 15 - 20 minutes. Add the sherry and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the pomegranate molasses and turn down low. Add a pinch of salt.

Meanwhile, heat up another non stick frying pan until quite hot. Oil the pigeon breasts and add to the pan. Sear for about a minute on each side, season with salt and pepper and then leave to rest under the foil for at least 10 minutes. To serve, slice the pigeon breasts diagonally against the grain and spoon the onion and sherry sauce over it. I served it with new potatoes boiled, then fried in oil and thyme with some purple sprouting broccoli, simply steamed.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Ba Shan

Ba Shan is a new Sichuanese and northern Chinese restaurant, owned by the same people that own Baozi Inn and Bar Shu that opened recently. I read favourable reviews here, here and here, and so was delighted when I was invited to dinner there.

When I got to the restaurant, I was surprised by how small the tables were. I wondered how all the plates we'd inevitably order fit on the table. When I sat down I felt like a giant and it was most disconcerting. Anyway; the food. The menu is split off into appetisers, various style of dumpling (steamed, fried, in soup etc), noodles, rice and vegetables.

I made sure to order 'Spicy Potato Slivers', as I've heard a lot about this dish. Potato isn't something I'd immediately associate with Chinese food so I was curious as to how the dish would be. We were served these spinach and beanthread noodles; it was a cold dish and was pleasingly tangy. Unfortunately we'd almost finished the dish before I realised that I didn't actually order this and we were missing the potato slivers. Service was hectic and hard to get the attention of so I let it slide.

Spicy Chicken Salad wasn't fiery, but had a nice lip tingling effect of the Sichuan peppercorn. We also ordered some pork steamed dumplings and some prawn wonton-style dumplings in chilli garlic oil. These were nice, but once again lacking in heat. Why say it's spicy when it's not? I don't think it's my tastebuds - it does seem extremely dumbed down.

These little flatbread sandwiches looked cute, but were disappointingly small - smaller than my palm. We remarked that they were a bit like mini pitta breads, with not enough filling. I had chosen beef in cumin for the filling and while it was flavoursome and well spiced, a little more of it wouldn't have gone amiss.

We were then served some choy sum which I'd ordered with a noodle dish - Shangxi noodles with pork, tofu and 'sizzling' chilli oil. This was rather a disappointment - There was a lot of broth to noodle ratio and it took a while to fish any pork and beancurd out. Once again... not exactly nose-runningly spicy. But hang on a minute... where were those chicken and shiitake mushrom guotie (fried) that I'd ordered? I flagged down a passing waiter and off he went to investigate. Meanwhile, we'd finished our noodles, they were cleared away and we waited.

And we waited. And then for good measure, we waited some more. Again, I flagged down a different waiter and enquired about my missing dumplings. "Ah yes, you've had them, the steamed ones". No no, I said - we haven't had them, I'm after the fried ones. The waiter insisted it was the steamed ones until I said the word for potstickers in Cantonese, and like that his attitude changed - he couldn't have been more helpful. He claimed the dumplings for us must now be cold (?) and he'd get some fresh for us. So, after half an hour's waiting between dishes, we finally got the chicken and shiitake mushroom guotie.

This, served with black vinegar dipping sauce, was probably the best dish of the night. They were crispy with a meaty but light filling. Visually they're a bit cruder than their Shanghainese equivalent, war tip, but are no less tasty.

I'm a bit torn about Ba Shan. The dumplings were indeed very tasty, but I am confused as to why the chilli is toned down - surely we know what we're letting ourselves in for? I had a fiery meal at Baozi Inn, so I'm not sure why it isn't the same here. The service needs to shape up - the wait we had really was ridiculous. While the waiter's patronising attitude made me laugh at the time, it was a bit off. It was also pretty pricy, with the bill coming to around £80 with a few beers each.

Ba Shan

24 Romilly Street,

London, W1D 5AH

Tel: 020 7287 3266

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Making Mayonnaise

For some reason, it never occured to me to make my own mayonnaise. My family never did; we always had a jar of it in the fridge and I suppose it's not the quickest of activities one can undertake, especially when you don't have any fancy electronic gadgets.

I really hate waste, so when I was faced with two egg yolks after making the orange almond biscuits, my thoughts immediately turned to making mayonnaise. I even had some leftover roasted turkey to eat and as luck would have it - some tarragon in the fridge. It was like a match made in heaven. So, I set about making the mayonnaise. The trick is to whisk fast and whisk hard, expecially at the beginning while tentatively dripping the oil in.

At first, not a lot happened as I painstakingly dribbled the oil in. I had to keep repeating "patience, patience" over to myself, because I simply don't have any and did wonder what would happen if I just chucked a load of the oil in. But I'm glad I didn't, as curdling would have been inevitable.

And so, before my very eyes, mayonnaise was made. It really makes a difference too - it's a pale cream colour and tastes beautifully rich and of the perfect consistency. None of this jelly-like wobble you get from manufactured mayonnaises and their stabilisers, oh no. This is rich, luxuriant, and seriously bad for you. I dived in with gusto.


To fill one pesto jar

2 egg yolks

1 clove garlic

250mls groundnut or rapeseed oil

1 tsp white wine vinegar

1 level tsp salt

Freshly milled pepper

Crush the garlic and mince finely. Add to a large bowl with the egg yolks, salt and pepper. Whisk lightly, then add a drop of the oil and carry on whisking. Whisk constantly whilst dripping the oil until you have a thick smooth paste - then add the white wine vinegar, whisk vigorously and then dribble the oil into a steady stream while whisking furiously until all the oil is gone. Sterilise your jar and the mayo should keep in the fridge or up to a week.

To make tarragon mayonnaise, I simply chopped up a tablespoon of tarragon and chives to 2 tablespoons of mayo.

The mayo is quite garlicky, so if you want something a bit more like shop-bought mayo then leave out the garlic, or add a little less.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Orange & Almond Biscuits

My baking skills aren't particularly great. I'm not a huge fan of desserts and this shows as I don't appear to have a natural flair for it.

I recently picked up some rose water from a Persian shop, wanting to experiment with it more. Originally I wanted to make some sort of jelly and with a half-price punnet of strawberries, I simmered them down to a puree, mixed it with some maple sugar I had, and then used agar agar flakes to make it set into a jelly. It was a bit of a disaster - the maple sugar was extremely overwhelming, and I didn't simmer the agar agar enough to dissolve it. Lumpy jelly is not good.

So, rather than rectify my mistakes, I decided to change angle. Out with the jelly and in with biscuits; this time Amaretti biscuits with rose and orange. Typically, nothing went well. I didn't realise that supermarkets weren't open on Easter Sunday, so I did away with the Amaretto and used just rose water for the liquid. Unfortunately, the rose water wasn't powerful enough to shine through the orange. Perhaps next time less orange is needed, or maybe using rose oil rather than water would help.

However, on their own right, these were delicious biscuits, especially to have with tea or coffee. They're fluffy and sweet, with the freshness of orange to lighten it.

Orange & Almond Biscuits

Makes about 15

120gr ground almonds

110gr caster sugar

2 egg whites

20ml rosewater

1 tsp orange zest

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Add the almonds, sugar and the rosewater and mix to a paste. Add the zest and mix to incorporate.

Grease a baking tray and line with baking parchment. Add the mixture in small blobs with a teaspoon, leaving a couple inches space around each. I did the biscuits in two batches. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Sake Tasting at Tsuru Sushi

I'm a big fan of Japanese cuisine. For my last birthday I asked if I could go for a slap-up Japanese meal, and more often than not I get cravings for sushi and sashimi. I also rely on miso soup to comfort me when I'm feeling unwell and I'm pretty sure they cure hangovers. Unfortunately, I don't know a lot about sake. I know it's made with rice, and sometimes it's served warm, sometimes cold but I don't know about the whys or hows. So when I saw this sake tasting advertised on Tsuru's website, I gathered some friends and off we went.

Tsuru is located behind the Tate Modern. Inside, it was dark and slick. We were seated at a huge table and given edamame and Asahi beer to warm us up with. Ngaire Takako introduced herself; a warm and affable lady who clearly knew her stuff. We started with a Daiginjo-Shu sake, made in Fukuoka in Japan. This was light and crisp with a slight hint of peach. I was taken aback by this, as most sakes I've had had a slight burn to it, but this was a clean finish. To accompany (but not as a food to drink matching) we had some excellently sticky chicken teriyaki skewers. We were also given some freshly fried gyozas which had a wonderfully light and thin skin and a well-seasoned filling. There's nothing worse than stodgy gyoza, after all.

Next up, we had another Daijingo-Shu, this time made using Namada Nishiki rice. It is said to be the finest of sakes, and the Toji (head brewer) watches the mixture for 72 hours straight, to ensure nothing goes wrong with it. Not something I'd like to attempt! I was also amused to hear that at a lot of breweries, women weren't allowed near them as it was thought they'd sour the sake due to our higher body temperatures.

When I told a friend I was coming along, he said "if you see any Umeshu, steal it. It's excellent". I spotted it as our next taster, and luckily I had the manners to restrain from any thievery. This is made from plums and had a rich flavour with a subtle finish. We were served sushi with this sake; very generous platters of both vegetarian (not pictured) and non-vegetarian sushi and nigiri for the 3 of us. The fish was lovely and fresh, and on the vegetarian platter the inarizushi was delicious, juicy and moreish, and happily the sushi was stuffed with pickled vegetables. Mmm pickle.

Last up, we had a Genmai Aged Sake, made from brown rice. This was my least favourite of the lot as I found it a bit too heavy on the palate. This was, surprisingly served with a chocolate brownie. It was good and squidgy, but I think I'd have prefered something lighter and more Japanese; mochi ice cream perhaps?

All in all, for £18 it was excellent value and a great night out. Emma and Ngaire are excellent hosts, being both patient with answering our (many) questions and friendly. I'd definitely recommend it if you want to find out more about this often baffling drink.


4 Canvey Street

London SE1 9AN

Tel: 0207 928 2228

Tsuru on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 April 2009

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

Last week, I visited L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon to try out their extremely reasonable set lunch - 3 courses for £25, just like the one I had at Hibiscus. A friend of mine had spotted the offer, so we booked ourselves in and I hot-footed it down to Covent Garden.

Upon arrival, I was surprised by how dark it was. It was very much a black and red colour theme, and once I'd managed to hop rather ungracefully up onto the (red) bar stool I was also surprised to find that there was a definite theme of apples - a big bowl of apples sitting on fake ice cubes graced the bar, and a gigantic red apple sat just behind it. I wish I'd asked why. The bar was the best place to be sitting; a mere 2 or 3 metres away, the chefs were busy at work and you could happily spy on them.

As with most of these set lunches, the choice was limited. To start, I plumped for the 'Soft poached egg with braised celery, hazlenut and beetroot vinagrette'. The presentation was impressive and I must admit I wobbled the plate a couple of times to see if the egg would topple. It didn't. Cutting into the egg revealed a perfectly runny yolk, although it was rather on the cool side. The flavours were clean, smooth and simple, with each element being quite defined.

For my main, I went for the 'Hangar steak served with dauphinois potatoes, red wine and shallot sauce'. The hangar steak was good and beefy, cooked perfectly to medium rare. I'd have liked a thicker stack of potatoes, but on reflection, the dish was quite rich and I am quite greedy so it did turn out to be enough. The shallot sauce that adorned the steak was gorgeous; reduced down to a sweet yet savoury sticky goodness.

Just like at Hibiscus, dessert turned out to be my favourite course. I had originally told the waitress that we'd have just the one dessert to share, but she ignored me and two turned up instead. Naughty of her, but I'm quite glad because this chocolate and coffee finger was rather delicious. A coffee-soaked sponge nestled beneath the chocolate ganache, and the little silver balls gave a welcome change in texture. Accompanying vanilla ice cream was a good bland foil for the richness of the chocolate, though I felt the meringue perched atop of it to be rather redundant.

All in all, a good lunch but for £35 with a glass of wine and service, I do wonder if perhaps it's worth saving up that extra more (ok, a whole lot more) and going for the full whack to get the real experience of the restaurant. While the cooking was solid and the presentation was lovely, I didn't feel particularly wowed by any of the dishes, especially from a 2 Michelin starred establishment.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

13-15 West Street,

London WC2H 9NE

Tel: 0207 010 8600

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Tomoe - Oh No.

I have been eagerly looking forward to my trip to Tomoe, in Marylebone. I've read good reviews here, and here, and here. The day came for me to try lunch out.

I ordered the 'Deluxe Sushi Set'. In hindsight I should have asked how many pieces it included. It had 11. For £17. Yes, it was lovely and fresh and very tasty indeed. Perhaps I chose wrongly. Perhaps they didn't like the look of me.

I left hungry.


62 Marylebone Lane,

London, W1U 2PB

Tel: 020 7486 2004

Friday, 3 April 2009

Baby Octopus Puttanesca

Baby octopus are the kind of beast that would have some people squealing "ewww!". They're not pretty things, being all tentacles attached to a little bulbous sack, but they are a pleasure to eat. When cooked properly, they're tender and flavoursome with just a hint of crunch from the tentacles.

When I found a big (I mean big) bag of these frozen baby octopus in the freezer of a Chinese supermarket last week for a mere £3.70, I almost woopah-ed in delight and I went home a happy girl. I took a handful out this morning to defrost and spent a good 7 hours at work thinking about what to do with them. In the end, I decided to do something simple. I haven't cooked baby octopus before, and I didn't want to spend a lengthy evening making something that could potentially be a disaster.

Happily enough, it wasn't. This Puttanesca sauce worked really well with it. The robust flavours of the anchovies, chilli, garlic and the freshness of the parsley worked beautifully with the octopus - shell-shaped pasta was a good recepticle, though I wonder perhaps if Orecchiette might have been better than Conchiglie.

Baby Octopus Puttanesca

Serves 2

200gr pasta shapes

8 baby octopus, defrosted

2 anchovies (the tinned ones in oil), chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Large pinch of chilli flakes

1 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped

2 tbsp black olives, chopped roughly

A handful of parsley

1 tin of peeled plum tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato paste

Simmer the octopus in water for 20 mins. Meanwhile, fry the anchovies, garlic and chilli flakes in some oil until the anchovies have dissolved. Add the capers, black olives, and the tomatoes chopped roughly. Add the tomato paste and simmer for 15 minutes until thickened. Put the pasta on to cook. Drain the octopus, rinse under cold water and add to the Puttanesca sauce. Carry on simmering on a low heat until the pasta is done, and then stir the pasta through.

Garnish with chopped parsley, taste for seasoning and eat with gusto. I served it with some garlic-braised courgettes. Braised lettuce or just a side salad would work equally well.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

A Tale of Two Curries

I realise that the blog is starting to look like a restaurant review blog. While I have been eating out a lot recently, this isn't the way of the blog; I'm still eating at home.

After I saw Josh blog Mamta's Prawn Patia, it jumped straight to the top of my 'must-make' list. I love the balancing flavours of sweet, spicy and sour that so many cuisines have. The Filipinos have Sinigang Na Hipon, a hot and sour soup; the Thais Tom Yum, and the Chinese Hot and Sour soup. So it was no surprise that this dish turned out to be a cracker - really good depth of flavours with a sauce just coating the meaty prawns.

I like to have a couple of dishes on curry nights, and one I have been trying to recreate is Tinda Masala, which I first tried at Tayyabs. Tinda is an Indian gourd, likened to baby pumpkins but I haven't been able to find any since. Whilst shopping in Peckham last weekend (a stone's throw from my new abode in New Cross) I saw a small green pumpkin which I thought would work out well. Clearly I haven't got much experience with squashes - I find them a bit too sweet - and the shopkeeper gave it a feel, ordered I put it back and got me a fresher one. Now that's service.

Coconut Pumpkin Curry

Serve 4 as part of a multi-dish meal

1 small green pumpkin, chopped into equal sized pieces, skin peeled

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground coridander

1 small tin of coconut milk

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1" ginger, minced finely

1 medium onion, diced

2 chopped green chillis, deseeded

Small bunch of chopped coriander

1/2 tsp garam masala

In a frying pan, heat up 3 tbsp cooking oil and add the cumin seeds. Fry until they are fragrant and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Cook slowly until dark brown but not burnt. Add the green chilli, all the spices except the garam masala, and then the pumpkin pieces. Add the tin of coconut milk with some salt, and simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Simmer for a further 10 mins without the lid to reduce to a thick sauce and 5 mins before finishing, add the garam masala. Take off the heat and garnish with chopped coriander.

This curry worked well as a contrast to the prawns. It was slightly sweet but not too much so, and it was very mild and creamy, taking the heat off the prawns somewhat.

If you prefer a more intense pumpkin flavour, I suggest roasting the pumpkin and adding it to the curry later. As it is, I'm a recent convert to pumpkin and so am going down the softly-softly route...