Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Mackerel à la Lyonnaise

Sometimes you just want to do something a little differently. Recently on a Saturday spent with my parents, we picked up some mackerel for lunch. When my dad suggested we cook them with some butter, white wine and vinegar I did wonder for a minute. I had assumed we'd stuff the mackerel with some herbage and some citrus and simply grill. However, he said he'd done it like this before, and it turned out well so I went along with it.

We dug out the old tome that housed this recipe, Larousse Gastronomique, and set about making the recipe. The fish were filleted and I spent a good 10 minutes hunched over the fillets removing the little pin bones with my tweezers, checking for any wayward eyebrow hairs.

Next, 2 diced onions were slowly cooked to almost-caramelised sweetness in a healthy amount of butter with a dash of oil. The oven was preheated to 200 degrees C, and half the onions were scooped into a buttered dish. The salt and peppered mackerel were laid out on top and covered with the remaining onions. A generous tablespoon of red wine vinegar was splashed on top, along with 4 very generous tablespoons of white wine. At the point, the recipe called for breadcrumbs to be sprinkled on top, but we couldn't be arsed. With the top dotted with butter, the dish went in the oven for 10 minutes.

We were somewhat concerned whether the 10 minutes would be sufficient enough to burn the alcohol off. After all, my unfortunate mother is allergic to booze and this dish may have rendered her red faced and droopy-eyed (yes, really). We gave it about 12 minutes in the end, and when it came out it was happily bubbling. There were no incidents around the dining table. Scattered with some finely chopped parsley, served with a simply dressed salad and some crusty French baguette, this made a fine lunch. The mackerel were cooked to perfection and melted in the mouth. Not normally a fan of soggy fish skin, the meat was so tender you couldn't even tell it was there, save the tell-tale silvery colour peeking from below. The sweetness of the onions was balanced perfectly with the vinegar, and the buttery, white wine sauce was mopped up readily with the bread.

Monday, 26 October 2009

A Brioche, Some Chutney

When the lovely PR bods at Wild Card contacted me asking if wanted to try out some packaged soy milk, So Good Soya, I was a bit skeptical. My mum makes her own soy milk from dried soy beans and I often drink it cold and slightly sweetened as a drink. Curiosity got the better of me and I wondered how they would compare. I was sent a couple of cartons, along with a comprehensive recipe list. However, I have been wanting to try making brioche and as I had a lactose-intolerant friend coming over to visit, I decided to use the soy milk to substitute milk in this recipe.

Brioche is a French bread, enriched with butter and eggs. It's sweetness often complements foie gras, and having had a tin of pâté in the fridge for god knows how long, this little starter came to mind. I adapted this recipe, replacing the milk with soy milk. Though the dough was very wet, I added a little more flour, let The Beast do it's thing, and it turned soft and elasticky, pulling away nicely from the bowl . It was sweet and delicious; toasted, smeared with foie gras pâté and dabbed with a little of the plum chutney below, it was a decadent and moreish nibble. In fact, later I couldn't stop slicing more off and slathering it with jam to munch on.

It really was a day of firsts, and I decided to give myself a bit more work to do. That foie gras pâté needed some chutney, after all. A punnet of plums called out to me, and this recipe was born. Recipes on the net suggest adding some diced shallots, but I was all out and I wasn't about to head to the shops. I don't think the chutney suffered from it; it was sweet, spicy with a tangy background and it cut through the richness of the foie gras. It also turned a brilliantly lurid colour.

Plum & Star Anise Chutney

Makes about 2 jam jars

450gr plums
1 star anise
70ml white wine or cider vinegar
100gr brown or demerara sugar
1 1" slice of ginger
4 tbsp water
A little cooking oil

Sterilise the jam jars and lids by covering them and their lids in a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the water (carefully!) and leave to dry.

Wash the plums and slice around in half, twisting the halves off and removing the stone. Chop into roughly equal sized chunks. In a pan, add a dribble of oil and fry the ginger gently on both sides. Add the plums and the sugar and fry on a low heat, covering all the plums in the sugar. Throw in the water and the vinegar, as well as the star anise and simmer for 15 - 20 minutes. When it's done, remove the star anise and ginger, spoon into the jars while hot and put the lid on. If you want a stronger star anise flavour leave the pod in the chutney. Leave to cool and put it in the fridge.

I'm not sure how long it lasts, I'd say about a couple of weeks. The chutney worked out perfectly with the brioche and pâté, and I imagine it'll also work well used sparingly with a really strong cheddar. I also used a couple dollops stirred into a red wine reduction to sauce a duck breast, cooked to medium rare, with great effect.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Mien Tay, Battersea

Vietnamese food is quickly becoming an obsession of mine. Fresh clean flavours, some chilli kick, and often the comfort of deeply beefy noodle soups.

Mien Tay is a Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road, part of the many that make up what is known as Pho Mile. Specialising in the cuisine of South Western Vietnam, they recently opened a branch in Battersea and invited me along to sample their dishes. Located on Lavender Hill, it's actually more convenient for me than Kingsland Road is - when timed right it's a mere 30 minute train ride away.

The menu is over-whelmingly long. I was pleased to see some unusual meats, like frogs legs, eel and goat. Whereas I knew exactly what I wanted for my main - how else do you test a Vietnamese place other than by its Pho? - I was more confused about what to have to start. I wanted several different dishes, so I asked our waitress what she would recommend. She told us she'd bring us a selection. Green papaya salad with dried chilli beef (top) was refreshing, light and the jerky-like strips of beef packed a punch. Next, the Banh Xeo came out - a crispy rice flour pancake coloured with turmeric and stuffed to bursting full of pork and beansprouts, with lettuce leaves and herbs for us to wrap and dip. It was deliciously messy business, and there wasn't a scrap left on the plate.

Our eyes widened when this platter was brought out to us. Prawn paste wrapped around sugar cane, spiced pork patties, chargrilled quail with honey and spices, summer rolls, spring rolls... I looked on in glee while my dining companion had a vague look of fear about him.

I don't often bother with quail as I find it fiddly but these were enough to make me change my mind. Slightly sweet, sticky and meaty, they were worth the fiddle. Dipped in a dish of salt and pepper mixed with lime juice, I couldn't help but to pick the bones dry. Prawn paste wrapped the sugarcane, and gnawing on it was a pleasure; sweet juices mixed with garlicky, bouncy prawn flesh. Summer rolls and spring rolls were adequately made and stuffed with fresh vegetables, but were neglected in favour of the spiced meats.

At this point my friend fretted that he was already full. I patted my belly; still some room left. By this point the dining room was busy and full of chatter. Service started to suffer a bit; I'd heard our neighbouring table complaining that they hadn't received their starters before their mains. Wrong dishes were placed at our table and then whisked away. While mildly irritating, I wasn't particularly bothered; service was so sweet and apologetic I almost wanted to give them a hug.

The above steaming bowl of Pho was placed before me. I'd ordered the Special, which contained a combination of beef balls, brisket and tender, rare slices of beef. I had a sip of the soup stock before garnishing it with the beansprouts, herbs and lime - I almost didn't want to add them. The stock was beautifully flavoured. The noodles retained some bite and were pleasingly elastic. Easily the best Pho I've had in London.

My companion ordered the goat stir-fried with galangal. I wasn't sure if this was a particularly Vietnamese dish, as I usually associate galangal with Thai food. The dish was heavily spiced, almost like a curry and the meat was slightly chewy which is what I'd expected of goat, with a hint of gaminess. The dish was rather one dimensional in flavour - there was an initial smack of the galangal, but not a whole lot else. By this point, my friend declared himself overstuffed. Our lovely hosts were kind enough to pack up the rest of the goat dish to be enjoyed later.

All in all, it was a fantastic meal. None of the dishes passed the £6 mark, and being a BYO place means it is a place to have a meal of great value. I think the menu could do with being simpled down; there were a lot of Chinese-sounding dishes and I think they should stick to what they're obviously good at - Vietnamese food. As well as the salad, the pancake and the quail, the Pho was fantastic, and my friend who'd tried some of mine said it was amazing. A gem in South London - though I wish they'd opened south east way.

Mien Tay

180 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TQ

Tel: 0207 350 0721

Mien Tay on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Chinese Braised Oxtail

One might have thought that after the meatiness of the faggots, I'd balance it out with a somewhat lighter and vegetable-laden meal. Not so. Various tempting blog posts, like that of this and this, made me crave oxtail and it's fork-tender, fatty, gelatinous goodness. Having only ever cooked oxtail once before in a very British manner, I decided to go entirely the other way this time, and plumped for some Chinese flavours.

Of course, oxtail requires some long and slow cooking. Last weekend saw me sling some essential flavourings into a big stock pot. The browned oxtails went in next, and it was just left to do it's thing for 3 or 4 hours. The flat filled up with the warm and spicy smells of star anise, cloves and ginger and I was well rewarded for such little effort. The meat was soft, interspersed with unmistakably gooey tendon. My poor knife was unable to negotiate around the funny star-shaped bones, and in the end I picked it up gnawing away, making sure I got every morsel off. It was a rather grotesque sight to behold.

It's best to cook the oxtail the day before, so that you can easily lift the fat out but this is not essential - you just need rather a lot of patience to spoon the fat out instead.

Chinese Braised Oxtail

Serves 2 generously

4 large pieces of oxtail
8 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water
4 cloves of garlic, bashed roughly
6 slices of ginger
4 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 tbsp black vinegar
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 1/2 star anise
2 cloves
2 dried chillis
1 pint of beef stock
2 spring onions

In a large frying pan, season the oxtail with salt and pepper and brown. Remove and place in a big stock pot. In the frying pan, fry the chillis, garlic and ginger in the fat that was rendered from the oxtail. Add to the pot. Add the rest of the ingredients except the spring onions. If the stock doesn't cover the oxtail, add more. Simmer for 2 hours on a low heat. Then take the mushrooms, cut the stems off and add to the pot, along with the mushroom liqour, taking care not to add any grit. Braise for a further hour.

At this stage, you can leave it to cool and put it in the fridge to lift some of the fat out. Otherwise, take the oxtails out, and strain the liquid into a smaller saucepan, picking the mushrooms out. If you're doing this right away, spoon out as much fat as you can. Simmer this liquid fairly rapidly so that it reduces into a thicker sauce. This can take up to 45 minutes. Add the oxtails and the mushrooms back in, and simmer for a further 15 minutes, turning the oxtails around if they're not covered by the sauce. Serve, garnishing with spring onions cut diagonally, with some steamed rice and stir-fried spinach or steamed pak choi. Have wet wipes handy...

Sunday, 18 October 2009


I recently offered my services to Simon Majumdar of Dos Hermanos, when he asked for someone to test a recipe for faggots for a forthcoming book. Certain friends gave me the nickname 'Faggot', as my surname almost rhymes with it, and since I'd never tried them before I jumped at the chance.

The recipe recommends adding pigs heart, but upon visiting my butcher and asking for pigs liver, pigs heart and caul fat (which the faggots are traditionally wrapped in), he couldn't help me. These cuts are not in vogue, and so they don't sell them. Morrisons helped me out with the pig liver though; they have an astonishing range of alternative cuts of meat. Alas, another obstacle - I visited no less than 4 supermarkets and not one of them had sage in stock. Apparently all the Canadians had snapped it up for their Thankgiving stuffings. I persevered and was rewarded with this handsome meal.

This is seriously rib-sticking stuff; perfect for this autumnal weather. The seasoning was spot on. Rich and deeply meaty with a hint of liver here and there, the faggots were juicy without being greasy. The thyme flavoured the faggots nicely, and the only criticism I had was that I felt they needed a touch more sage. I had an accident while hand-mincing a slab of pork belly, and I almost took the top of my index finger off; much bleeding ensued and the rest of the mincing wasn't as fine as it could have been.

Welsh Faggots

Makes 6 Faggots

500gms Pork Belly (trim off the skin and, unless you are a savage, keep to make crackling)

250gms Pigs Liver

250gms Lamb Breast

125gms Pig Heart (optional, but adds real flavour)

125gms of breadcrumbs (made using day old bread)

1 Large white onion (finely chopped)

1 Teaspoon of Salt

1 Teaspoon of white pepper

1 Teaspoon fresh sage (finely chopped)

1 Teaspoon fresh thyme (finely chopped)

If you can find caul fat at your butcher all the better, but if not, strips of good unsmoked back bacon will do just as well.

Mince all the meats together, mixing to make sure they are combined. Add the onion, the salt, pepper and herbs and mince once more to the texture of a rough pate. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well. Form the mixture into cricket ball sized balls and wrap in caul fat or in a criss-cross of bacon. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour to firm. Bake in a pre-heated oven at around 180c/350f/Gas 4 for fifty minutes to an hour. Serve with a thick rich gravy and a bowl of homemade mushy peas doused liberally with malt vinegar. I added a glob of mint sauce to my mushy peas which also worked brilliantly.

Simon's book is out next May. If all the recipes are as good as this, it will be well worth buying.

(Any leftover faggots work fantastically chopped up into bubble and squeak...)

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Le Cassoulet

I've heard many good things about Le Cassoulet. Malcolm John's restaurant is located in deepest, darkest Croydon and I was surprised to find bloggers trekking out there to visit it. Handily enough, Croydon is mere 20 minute train ride for me. This made it prime pick for my birthday lunch with my parents, as it's half way for us.

Arriving in South Croydon, it struck me as an unsual place to have a restaurant awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin. It's located on a quiet high street, not a soul in sight save one lone hobo, who jittered up and down the stretch no less than 3 times in as many hours. Entering the restaurant, it was virtually empty and we were seated. Fresh warm bread was brought out with room temperature butters, one of which was a delicious anchovy butter. Oh how I love anchovies.

To start, I couldn't resist the steak tartare (above), though I know of a friend who raves about the chicken liver parfait. I was hoping one of my parents would order the parfait so that I could snaffle some, but they went for the escargots. While my dish was amusingly presented, I really enjoyed this. With properly hand minced beef, I was able to regulate exactly how much egg yolk went in (just a touch) and how many capers, gherkins and shallots would season it (all of it). We were off to a good start.

After much lingering over the menu, I went for the oxtail ravioli with celeriac puree and chanterelles.

While the pasta wasn't as silky smooth and thin as the example I had at Le Querce, the filling was meaty and had a great depth of flavour. The chanterelles added a great earthy flavour and were cooked well. A comforting dish, though I'd have prefered a little less celeriac puree, and a bit more of the sauce to moisten it more.

Dad felt it was his duty to have the eponymous cassoulet. Unfortunately it was a little burnt on top - I think I would have complained, but Pops is terribly British. Nevertheless, he enjoyed it, especially as he found nuggets of duck hearts. Having procured myself a little taste the white beans were perfectly cooked and didn't melt into a mush, as it can sometimes too. Intensely flavoured with duck and pork, it was a real rib sticker. It's something I'd really like to recreate at home.

Mum's razor clams in a Calvados and parsley cream sauce was a generous portion. The meat was sweet and tender, the sauce deceptively light, making a great chip-dip. The frites served with this dish deserve a mention. They were wonderfully crunchy and salty, encasing a fluffy centre and were perhaps the best example that I've had this year - high praise, as I have munched rather a lot of frites.

Though I was pretty full by this point, I decided to to share the tarte tatin, with vanilla ice cream. Having been told it would be a 20 minute wait, we uncouthly popped out for a quick smoke and the time passed by pleasantly. The tarte was served at the table, and it really was the highlight of the meal. The apples were cooked so that they were soft enough to cut with a spoon, but not mushy. A light caramel sweetened the dish, while the flaky, buttery pastry was a thing of great beauty. I would return for this alone.

Throughout the meal, our server was sweet and unobtrusive. She seemed a little confused at times ("what does the dish come with, do I need any sides?" "Erm... do you want any sides?") but did her job well, especially as the restaurant filled up to bustling as the afternoon went on.

For a 3 course lunch from an extensive set menu at £20, this is excellent value. Yes, there were faults with the meal such as a slightly burnt cassoulet, escargots that needed more garlic, but nevertheless I thought there was good skill behind the dishes and it was great hearty fare. I will definitely be returning; there's chicken liver parfait and chateaubriand to be sampled. Another great local(ish) discovery.

Le Cassoulet

18 Selsdon Road
South Croydon

Tel: 020 8633 1818


Le Cassoulet on Urbanspoon

Monday, 12 October 2009

Stuffed Tofu

Often people will tell me they don't like tofu. I find this hard to believe, mainly because there are so many different types and different ways in cooking it. Sure, if you've been subjected to tofu burgers, or that hideous Cauldron marinated stuff, then I can understand.

But tofu, especially bought fresh, is wonderous; from Ma Po Tofu to Agedashi Tofu, it shows that tofu isn't just reserved just for the vegetarian or vegan. Fresh silken tofu is, as the name suggests silky in the mouth with a clean and refreshing flavour. A particular favourite of mine is the tofu you can buy already deep-fried at the Chinese supermarket. When stuffed and then braised in sauce it takes on a lovely, spongy, juicy quality that's full of flavour.

This is quite a common Cantonese recipe. Traditionally white fish is pounded until it is a paste, and then when cooked it takes on a bouncy texture. It's a dish my grandmother used to make, either with a combination of pork and prawn or fish and it a very comforting dish to me, redolent of family meals in Hong Kong. The table would heave with several dishes, such as this tofu dish, some vegetables, and a meat dish all to be added to your bowl of rice.

Fish-Stuffed Fried Tofu in Black Bean Sauce

Serves 4 as part of a multi-dish meal or 2 as a main

For the tofu:

10 or 15 cubes of tofu
200gr white fish (I used pollack)
1 spring onion, minced finely
1" cube of ginger, chopped finely
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp white pepper
A few dashes of sesame oil
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cornflour
1 egg white

For the sauce:

2 tbsp black beans, chopped
1 tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
2 tsp light soy
1/5 tsp sugar
1 tsp black vinegar
100ml chicken stock or water
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 spring onion, sliced on the diagonal
1 tsp of cornflour slackened with 2 tsp water

Slice the tofu cubes in half and remove the inner white bits. In a food processor, add the stuffing mixture and process into a paste. Chop the black beans finely and add to a separate bowl with the dark soy, rice wine, light soy, sugar, and vinegar. Mix well to make a thick, viscous sauce. Add the water or chicken stock.

Stuff the fish paste into the tofu, over stuffing it a touch, as it will shrink. This is best done with a teaspoon and fingers. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the tofu gently, fish side down, for 5 minutes. Then add in the garlic and stir gently until fragrant. Add the sauce mixture and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring carefully, occasionally. Then add the cornflour mixture and simmer until thickened, finally garnishing with the spring onion. Serve with rice.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Onion & Anchovy Pasta

This is probably one of the dishes I cook most often. I first got the recipe from the BBC Food Messageboards, apparently a Venetian dish and it frankly sounded a little bizarre. Onions, anchovies, parsley and pasta? That's it? I was dubious. After I made it though, I was completely converted.

So, when I was gifted this jar of anchovies my friend brought back from Spain, I knew this dish was destined to be in my belly in the near future. The plump anchovies were a world away from the brown paper thin ones you get in tins, and made this dish as tasty as ever. The onions, cooked ever-so-slowly over 40 or so minutes, turn into a sweet mush, while the anchovies melt into it, emulsifying it into a perfectly balanced sauce with the freshness of the parsley flecks completing it. The anchovies lend a deep umami flavour without an overly fishy flavour. I thoroughly recommend you try it, but don't try and fancify it; red onions definitely do not work, and don't be tempted to add any Parmesan to it. Spaghetti works well with this, but even better as I discovered this time, is bucatini. It has a spaghetti shape but is slightly thicker with a hole and it holds the sauce well.

Onion & Anchovy Pasta

Serves 2

3 large white onions
8 anchovies (the ones in oil, not fresh)
A large handful of fresh parsley
200gr pasta - spaghetti or bucatini
A little milk
Salt & pepper

Soak the anchovy fillets in a little milk. Slice the onions into a half moon shape thinly and chop the parsley finely. In a pan, fry the onions in some oil in a pan on the lowest heat you have, with the lid on. Stir occasionally, and if they start to stick add a splash of water. 30 minutes later, put the pasta on to cook. Add the anchovies to the onions with the milk. Stir the sauce until the anchovies disintegrate. This will probably look a bit grim, but it will emulsify into a sauce. Add a dash of milk if it gets dry. Drain the pasta, reserving 4 tbsp of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat, adding the water if it needs it. Scatter in the parsley, grind over plenty of fresh pepper and add salt to taste.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Sportsman, Seasalter

On the Kentish coast of Seasalter sits The Sportsman. This pub / restaurant has been much talked about, and was this year awarded a Michelin star. Not only does head chef, Stephen Harris cure his own ham, they churn their own butter and even make their own salt from the sea water 50 metres from their door.

A gaggle of my girlfriends come from Whitstable, mere miles away and driving past a few months ago, face pressed to the window, I marvelled at it's remote location. Last Friday morning (they don't do tasting menus at the weekend), I found myself at Victoria station, running for a train to take me to the seaside.

We were fortuitous; the day we picked was beautifully sunny. A quick cab ride took us to the place, and we had a quick look at the sea before heading inside to commence our lunch. The restaurant is sparsely furnished; bare wooden floors match bare wooden tables. It was impressively pub-like for somewhere recognised by Michelin.

The tables were decorated with all sorts of weirdly shaped squashes, from the vegetable garden round the back. After a Bloody Mary pick-me-up we were asked if we wanted a menu or a surprise. We picked the latter. The first natives of the season came out on a bed of clam shells, topped with a slice of chorizo. The oyster was creamy and briny; the chorizo spicy and salty. We were off to a good start.

Next up, we were presented with Gloucester Old Spot pork scratchings with a wholegrain mustard dip, alongside herrings with gooseberry jelly and cream cheese on a rye bread square. Those pork scratchings were addictive. Appropriately salty, slightly chewy, definitely crunchy, we jealously eyed up the remaining morsels, like a Mexican stand-off. On the other side, the herring skewer was a contrast; firm fresh herring meat, slightly tart fruity jelly with a hint of luxuriousness. The excitement was reaching peak level.

On paper, this poached oyster with gooseberry granita and Jersey cream sounds like it would be a bit odd. Sour gooseberries, with cream? However, it worked. The oyster was barely poached, the granita giving a lightness and the cream was thick and unctuous. I enjoyed it, but at the end of the meal I felt that this was the dish that stood out the least.

Bread, which I'm usually neither here nor there about, was served warm with the home-made butter. The butter had a fudgy consistency, and the dark brown, rye-like bread was my favourite. Slightly sweet and nutty, I had to stop myself from stuffing myself silly with it.

Slipsole in seaweed butter was simply presented and simply cooked. The fish slid off the bone beautifully and revealed sweet meat. It showed Harris' deft skills in cooking something that relies so much on its quality, which was top.

Crab risotto was stunning. The intense brown crab flavour in the rice was rich but not overwhelming. It was a perfect portion size as this really was a flavoursome dish that whalloped you full-on in the face. The pile of white crabmeat was contrasted sweetly with the intense umami-rich rice it sat atop.

Home-cured ham was a little dry, but flavoursome in a rustic, heavily porcine way. I admire Harris curing his ham from his own pigs. The fat was silky and melted happily on the tongue.

This was my absolute favourite dish of the meal. Wild turbot teetered on some mineral-rich greenery (spinach perhaps?) surrounded by a smoked herring roe sauce. The sauce was dramatically grey which pleased me, but put off another guest at our table. The flesh was bouncy, so fresh and well matched with the sauce that I didn't want it to end. The plate looked as though it had been licked clean.

Breaded lamb belly slices hid a strong hit of mustard underneath the crumb. The mint sauce gave a welcome freshness to the fatty meat, introducing the meat course well.

Rack of lamb and a nugget of the shoulder were, again, simply cooked. The shoulder was tender and well layered with fat. The little lamb chop was cooked to perfection, and I picked up the bone to have a little discreet gnaw. Another example of the chef letting the natural quality of the flavours shine through.

This blackberry lollipop in cake milk heralded the arrival of the sweeter courses. I wondered what cake milk was, and Stephen, who introduced a few of our courses explained "milk that tastes like cake". And so it did! The blackberry lolly was of the frozen type, and reminded me of jelly and ice cream.

I never really have high hope for desserts, as I'm not a sweet lover myself. However, this filled me with delight. Apple parfait, drizzled with salted caramel and hazelnuts, topped with a sweet caramel wafer, and a quenelle of blackberry sorbet. It was a large portion, but I gobbled it all up happily. Salted caramel really is my new favourite thing.

And to finish, this platter of desserts. Rhubarb and custard sorbet had the added surprise of popping candy, while a shot of chocolate mousse was light as a feather. Lemon and raspberry tart was so delicate I nearly crushed it between my oafish fingers. A candied plum was what it was, and right at the end, the sponge soaked in walnut liquer was nice, but somewhat plain and therefore the weakest of the lot.

Wine prices were almost absurdly reasonable. Stephen explained to us that a lot of the customers have been there before, and don't want to feel ripped off by 300-500% mark-ups. While London restaurants might be able to get away with it, not so here. We started with a couple bottles of Sancerre Clos des Bouffants Roger Neveu 2007 Loire Valley, priced at £21.95. This was crisp, slightly grassy with a hint of tropical flavours that went perfectly with the seafood. For the meaty courses, a 1999 bottle of Château Fourcas-Dumont Listrac Medoc Bordeaux was vanilla-scented, robust and great value at £24.95. We later switched to a slightly chilled Runnymead Pinot Noir which was lighter on the palate and really quite quaffable, before finishing on a glass of delicious Moscatel.

I tried to edit this post down to include less pictures, less waffle to hold your attention more but truth be told, I couldn't bear not sharing it all - I enjoyed this meal so much. True, it is a bit of a schlep being about 1.5 hours away from London, but a good 4 or 5 hour lunch is worth a little effort, especially given it was such incredible value; an aperitif, the tasting menu, a share of the 6 bottles of wine consumed between 5 of us came to £94 each, including the well-deserved 10% tip.

We were the first to arrive and the last to leave, truly the sign of a good lunch. After we waddled out of the restaurant, we decided a stroll along the beach to Whitstable was in order. The waiting staff told us it would take around an hour - after jumping over a groyn every 20 metres it came to more like 1.5 hours. Still, it was a scenic walk and more than enough to blow out the post-lunch snooze.

A full Flickr set of the day can be seen by clicking here.

The Sportsman

Faversham Road
Kent CT5 4BP

Tel: 01227 273370

We came here by public transport. A return ticket from London Victoria to Faversham costs £12 when booked as part of a group and 5 of us in a cab from Faversham came to £15.

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 October 2009


A friend turned up at my flat on Saturday with this little beasty, picked up from F. C. Soper in Nunhead. I was beside myself with excitement.

A quick split down the middle, a few bashes with a spanner (I had nothing else), and several minutes spraying myself with lobster viscera later...

With some freshly baked bread, butter, truffle mayonnaise, and a wodge of lemon made for a perfect dinner.