Saturday, 30 October 2010

Jinkichi, Hampstead & The Food Guide

I like lists. I write a lot of them, taking deep satisfaction in ticking them off, and mild panic when they sit there, taunting me. I have a list for daily to-dos, a list for must-visit restaurants, a list for must-cook recipes; it's never ending. The Sunday Times has produced a list of its own in association with Harden's. Having spoken to the editor of this list while dining at Jinkichi, a Japanese restaurant in Hampstead, she told us that this list is based on food alone. No scores for ambience, none for service; just down to the nitty gritty - food.

I'm in two minds as to how I feel about that. While undoubtedly food is the most important element, an average experience can be lifted by great service, or ambience. However, this list is also a powerful tool because of its Harden's connection; it's not a list based on AA Gill's taste, or Coren's fancies. Instead, it's a number of people's views. It goes live at midnight on Sunday and in addition to Sunday's supplement you can find The Food List here. Sorry, but it's behind the paywall. You may be interested to hear that Gidleigh Park in Devon is ranked number one ahead of The Fat Duck.

Still, what of Jinkichi? It's ranked number 72 on the list. We had a selection of skewers:

Pork with shiso leaves - these were excellent. Smoky meat was decently fatty with citrus tang of the shiso.

Chicken balls were the least adventurous of our choices. They were surprisingly soft, none of that bounce I had expected.

Chicken gizzards were exact opposite. Gristly, chewy (and this is a good thing) and satisfyingly chickeny.

Ox tongue skewers had a lovely bounce to them; these were my favourite.

We had a hell of a lot of deep fried stuff too.

Agedashi tofu were beautifully crisp, though I was disappointed that they were made with quite firm tofu. I'm told a lot of places now do this as it's easier to handle.

Tempura again showed that someone was adept at the fryer.

Chicken karage was served with a ponzu dipping sauce which was spicy and full of mouth tingling freshness. Deep fried octopus was rather pointless; you couldn't tell it was octopus, it was just a texture in batter.

As if that wasn't enough, we ordered some other bits. Standouts in particular:

Grilled salmon jaw. Perfectly cooked and the grated daikon accompaniment was very moreish. Black cod miso was similarly excellent.

Nigiri and sashimi were all good, fresh examples but I particularly enjoyed the cubes of tuna sashimi with natto. I asked for it as I'm determined not to let my first experience of natto put me off; this was far more subtle and enjoyable.

All washed down with some Sapporos and a sake, it was an excellent meal. Hampstead is a bit bloody far though.


73 Heath Street
London NW3 6UG

Tel: 020 7794 6158

Jin Kichi on Urbanspoon

Monday, 25 October 2010

Beef Cheek Cappelletti

I got a new pasta machine for my birthday. It is most excellent and I've been thinking of recipes ever since. My love for pasta will never be dampened.

The first recipe I made was ravioli stuffed with a prawn and fennel mixture. While tasty swathed in their buttery lemon sauce, the pasta was a little too thick, even though the pasta had been rolled on its thinnest setting. My next venture was to make cappelleti; little parcels would mean less pasta and the ability to keep it light and delicate.

For the stuffing, I opted for a meaty number. Beef cheeks were simmered long and slowly in various aromatics until fork-tender. The resultant stock was then used to serve the cappelleti en brodo. It's not the quickest recipe to do, but they freeze well and are damn tasty.

Beef Cheek Cappelletti

Makes loads

1 beef cheek
1 carrot
2 sticks of celery
1 onion
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of rosemary
2 sprigs of thyme
1/2 a star anise

200gr pasta flour
2 eggs

Heat up some oil in a frying pan and brown the beef cheek on each side. Add to a large stock pot with all the rest of the ingredients, fill with water until the meat is covered and simmer very gently for 4 hours. Remove the meat and drain the liquid from the pot, straining the vegetables and herbs from it.

Leave the meat to cool and make your pasta dough in the meantime. Roll it out to its thinnest setting and then cut into squares. Flake the meat with a fork, season with salt and pepper. Add a small blob to the middle of the square and then use these instructions on folding them. Place on a floured plate.

To cook, add to a boiling pan of water and cook for 4 to 5 minutes. Heat up some of the broth made from cooking the beef cheek and season with salt. Serve the pasta in the broth.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester

What a lucky little cow I am. Two meals in 3 Michelin-starred restaurants in almost as many weeks. Invited to dine at the Table Lumiere by their PR, we were treated to their Autumn Menu. This time though, it was not to be a booze-free meal; I leapt lightly off the wagon a few hours short of my two week hiatus. It ws Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester after all.

Before service really kicked off we were taken around their calm and austere kitchen. Cheesy gougeres kept us going and they were as addictive as crack. Or as I'd imagine crack to be. We were seated at a table in the restaurant shielded by a fibre optic curtain, which later lit up prettily.

Sourdough bread was served with not only butter but also a whippy light mousse-like cream cheese. Bacon and onion fougasse though was actively disgusting. After my first mouthful I tried it again to make sure but it tasted of old stale pork fat. I'm not the type to shy away from pork fat but I rejected this.

The menu stared off with scallops topped with Kristal caviar. The scallop slices were silky smooth, the creamy citrus-tinged sauce beneath bringing out the flavour of the shellfish. Salty bursts from the caviar seasoned each mouthful. The matching wine was a 2009 Saint-Joseph; deliciously honeyed, working well with the dish.

Next up, a hearty slab of foie gras was caramelised on the outside and silky smooth within. The essence of autumn on a plate, the ceps were earthy, and pillowy light gnocchi soaked up the sauce nicely.

Roasted Scottish lobster with apple and quince was a bit of an odd one. The chunks of quince were overly tart while the heavily reduced sauce drowned out any delicate flavour of the lobster so that the flesh was just a texture on the plate. It was quite disappointing.

In another case of over-saucing, the cream sauce on the turbot dish had a strong flavour of wine, and I could have done with about half the amount. Otherwise, the attention to detail was impressive as the mushrooms were cut prettily. The turbot was cooked expertly.

At this point, we were given the option of having a beef or grouse. I've only tried grouse once and I disliked it, so I ordered it again in the hope it could change my mind. Thankfully it did - not too gamey but cooked till pink and juicy inside, it had the whiff of moorland about it. Around the table, my fellow diners struggled to finish another massive slab of foie gras that their beef fillet was served with.

A slice of truffled brie was gorgeously creamy, the tangle of leaves well dressed. Smeared on hazelnut bread, this was an ample portion.

We were given the dessert menu to peruse and as there were five of us and six choices, we decided to order them all except the lime souffle. They sent us one anyway, and I'm pretty glad too as it was the best on the table. Served with Sichuan pepper ice cream, the souffle rose beautifully and was devoured in minutes. The kitchen obviously have a sterling pastry chef; macarons were spot on, and little chocolate truffles were decadent and lovely. However, a pear dessert was served in a martini glass and was covered in some sort of foam of which there was too much of it and it reminded me of spit. Finishing off with a chocolate mint tea snipped from the branches of a living plant wheeled to our table was a perfect way to end the meal. Refreshing and reviving, I woke up the next day craving one.

The private dining Table Lumiere was very impressive. The problem sometimes with private dining is that you can feel too cut off from the rest of the restaurant, but with the fibre optic curtain you still get your privacy with the atmosphere. I was suprised about the food though; with the kind of reputation it has as a 3 Michelin starred place, there were too many misses to justify the £180 price tag for the seasonal menu. When I thought back on the meal, I struggled to remember many courses - no, it wasn't the booze, but nothing stunned me enough. I reckon their £45 lunch menu (3 courses and half a bottle of wine) is a better bet.

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester

Park Lane
London W1K 1QA

Tel: 020 7629 8866

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Roka, Fitzrovia

Roka has been top of my I'd-like-to-go-there-but-will-never-afford-it list. I mean, god - the menu on the website doesn't even list prices. You know what they say about those kind of places; if you have to ask how much, it means you can't afford it. Which is why I leapt at the kind offer of lunch there.

Packed to the rafters one lunchtime, there were a lot of business meetings going on. We were sat at the bar in near the robata grills, chefs busy working away. The menu is long; split into sashimi, sushi, soups, rice dishes, seafood and meat grills, I stared dumbfoundedly for a few moments.

Edamame glistened with salt flakes and were lovely served warm. A red miso soup had a real punch to it, a depth that its white sister lacks.

Yellowtail, salmon and tuna sashimi was served on an enormous bowl of chipped ice. Cut thickly, the fish was beautifully fresh, though I winced at its price tag in the late teens.

Tuna, pickled mooli and shiso leaf sushi was gorgeous. Ever so lightly battered and deep fried so that the seaweed was crispy, I wondered how on earth they got this done without cooking its innards. The mooli had a slight tang to it, lifted by the minced shiso. I was glad our waitress recommended this.

Two scallops (at a whopping £13 or so) were served with wasabi mayonnaise. Big fat specimens, the char of the grill deepened the flavour of the flesh and kept them transluscent and juicy inside.

I'm not one to pass up on aubergine, you know that. These were soft, silken and sweet. A perfect example. I hogged it.

I found it difficult to taste the smokiness in the smoked duck breast, but the kumquat and persimmon sauce worked well in its tart sweetness with the richness of the duck fat. Sliced ever so thinly, the meat was tender, the skin crisp.

Sesame and honey chicken wings were the biggest bargain at £4.90. Dipped into the salt mixed with lime juice, these had me licking my fingers in the most unseemly manner.

Rock shrimp tempura'd was served with a chilli mayonnaise. While addictive (they reminded me of KFC's popcorn chicken in that sense) they were fairly one dimensional in flavour, though expertly and greaselessly fried.

Given it was a mid-week lunch, I had to rudely run off before we had even asked for the bill, leaving my companion sat on his own. Honestly, why can't we have two hour lunch breaks?

When I receive my unexpected windfall of dosh, I'll be back for the rest of the menu.


37 Charlotte Street
London W1T 1RR

Tel: 020 7580 0220

Roka on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Sportsman, A Year On

Not a lot has changed at The Sportsman in Seasalter. There's not much I can expand on from last year's visit, save that most of the tasting menu hasn't changed. Little flourishes here and there are different; wild sea bass instead of turbot on the same vividly grey sauce, a quince paste instead of apple with the above pickled herring. They know what they're doing over there, and if it aint broke then I suppose, why fix it? Here are some highlights.

God, that butter. Almost cheese like, and the soda bread was again a favourite. Treacle sweetness and so moreish.

Seaweed season is over, so this year's slipsole was dressed in butter and espelette pepper. So simple and so wonderful.

Of the lamb rump (roasted on the bone) and shoulder, the rump was my favourite. Buttery texture and crispy skin.

Pear lollies with ginger cake milk was delightful and refreshing. I need cake milk.

Some may argue that The Sportsman need to change their menu more often, but as I'm only going once a year slight variations year on year suit me fine. A little gem of a place. I wish I lived closer.

EDIT 19/10/10 - I received a very lovely email from the head chef, Stephen Harris, who wanted to clarify a couple of points. Our table was extra large (9 of us), a favour from The Sportsman to accomodate us and as such they weren't able to make the menu quite as bespoke; however, if you do visit more than once they are happy to devise the menu around dishes which you may have had before, if you want to try something new. Favourites such as the ham and the pork scratchings usually stay on (thank god - for the pork scratchings are humungously, obscenely good) but please don't take my 'take two' to show that they are not spontaneous or adventurous, as this aint so. I've had many messages declaring their love for dishes there that weren't on this or the previous year's menu.

The Sportsman

Faversham Road
Kent CT5 4BP

Tel: 01227 273370

The rest of the meal can be seen here.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Wuli Wuli, Camberwell

Camberwell is quickly becoming a hub of good restaurants. Silk Road stole my heart earlier this year with their Xinjiang cuisine; I quickly fell in love with wide flappy belt noodles. Angels & Gypsies provided a decent Mediterranean flavour, and their newest opening, Wuli Wuli, took us back to China. Originally alerted to this place by Chowhound, we found the place to be empty bar one other table. Tastefully decorated in dark wood and red leather banquettes, we were presented with a menu. Quickly flipping to the latter half, we found the recommended 'Chinese menu'.

Most of the menu is hilariously translated, with dishes like 'saliva chicken' and the above, 'smacked cucumbers' with chilli and garlic. At first taste it was weirdly sweet, but the more we ate it the more we loved its sweetness. Soothing yet with a back tingle of chilli, we picked at it enthusiastically throughout.

A Sichuan staple, green beans are fried with minced pork and chillis. They weren't as blistered as I'd have liked, but with a decent crunch.

A huge dish of glass vermicelli with minced pork arrived, labelled 'silkthread noodles' on the menu. It seemed to me much like Ants Crawling Up A Tree - the minced pork clinging to the noodles to emulate this. Only when it was mixed up proper with the sauce lurking beneath did we rate it above average.

We wanted a clapypot dish and so opted for lamb brisket with beancurd skin. Tender bony chunks of lamb were in a mild sauce, the thin beancurd sheets providing a little bite. Spooned over rice, this was comforting and rich.

Standout dish of the night was 'fried aubergines with pork'. These were in fact lightly battered and deep fried, then smothered in a savoury porky sauce and topped with sliced spring onions. Battered aubergines! Heavenly; soft, melt-in-the-mouth textures of the aubergine without it being greasy or mushy.

So, another great addition to Camberwell. Though not as chilli-laden as perhaps we'd have hoped, I think this was down to ordering. There were some right firebombs on the menu, such as 'beef slices in extremely spicy soup'. That's next on my list.

At a mere tenner a head without any booze, it was bargainous. It made me sad to see it was so empty - people of South East London (and beyond), do go.

Wuli Wuli

15 Camberwell Church Street
London SE5 8TR

Tel: 020 7708 5024

Wuli Wuli on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Fish Fragrant Pork Slivers

It's been a long time since I cooked any Sichuanese food, so when the mood took me I turned to my trusty oil-splattered bible, 'Sichuan Cookery' by Fuschia Dunlop. If you haven't got this book already, you're a fool and you should rectify it immediately.

I've cooked 'fish fragrant' dishes before; though not made with any fish ingredients, this phrase refers to the spicy, sour, sweet and savoury elements of the dish based on tradition seafood cookery, with the redness from chilli bean paste and aromatics from garlic and ginger. Dunlop specifies using pickled chilli bean paste; I couldn't find any, so just used the regular stuff and upped the black vinegar. Served with plain steamed rice, it had addictive qualities. Slivering all the ingredients meant that each mouthful was crunchy from the bamboo shoots, earthy from the mushrooms and meaty from the pork in equal measure.

Fish Fragrant Pork Slivers (yu xiang rou si)

Serves 3

150gr pork (I used a pork loin chop)
75gr tinned bamboo shoots
1 handful of wood ear mushrooms - you can buy these dried and already slivered in Chinese supermarkets


1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tbsp cold water


1.5 tsp sugar
1.5 tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp cornflour
3 tbsp water

2 tbsp chilli bean paste
5 cloves of garlic
2" ginger
1 spring onion
50ml groundnut or vegetable oil
0.5 tsp sesame oil
A small handful of coriander, chopped roughly (optional)

Best thing to do is get all your ingredients laid out in various bowls. Start with the pork - cut it into matchsticks and place in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients, leaving for half an hour. Soak the mushrooms in boiling water.

Cut the bamboo shoots into similar shape and size as the pork. Mince the garlic and ginger finely, and slice the spring onion on the diagonal. Set to one side.

In a bowl, mix together all the sauce ingredients.

Once you have everything all ready, heat the oil in a wok until shimmering and about to smoke. Chuck the pork in and stir-fry till just turned white, then move the pork to the side and pool the oil in the wok in the middle. Add the chilli bean paste and fry until fragrant, then add the minced garlic and ginger. Stir fry for a few minutes, then add the pork back in with the bamboo shoots and mushrooms. Add the sauce ingredients, toss to coat and once thickened take it off the heat, add the spring onions and the coriander if you're using it. Drizzle the sesame on top and serve with plain rice and some steamed veg.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

L'Escala, Spain

I spent 5 days last week sunning it up in L'Escala, Spain. Their local speciality? Anchovies.

We were fortunate; on our trip there was an Anchovy Festival, the 21st I believe. In between scoffing down huge breakfasts and feasting on cured meats, cheeses, bread and salad for lunch, we found the time to waddle down there.

After purchasing a ticket costing a princely sum of 1 Euro, we joined the snaking queue. Several women were stationed at a central work table heaving with sliced baguettes. A quick rub of tomato, topped with L'Escala's plump and creamy anchovies - three on a plate with a glass of red plonk and we were sent on our way. We laughed with glee; this would be at least a fiver in London.

At the end of the holiday, including some supplies we brought back with us, we worked out that we'd spent £80 on anchovies alone between the three of us. It was well spent. Eaten smeared on bread, bashed up into salad dressings, or straight out of the jar itself, we never tired of them.

Another huge addiction was Padron peppers, especially as they were a third of the price of London's offerings. Fried in oil on a medium heat until charred and collapsing and then sprinkled generously with salt, they preceeded every lunchtime, sometimes with a glass (ok, it was a bottle) of sherry, other times with a beer.

Chiperones were marinaded and painstakingly skewered to go on the barbeque. A lemon squeezed over them lifted the flavour, and it was perfect crunchy, sometimes squidgy finger food.

We were big into our seafood, what with a fish shop just down the road from us. Sardines barbequed until crispy-skinned were eaten with our hands, tender flesh dressed with olive oil, thyme and lemon.

And then, just when the wine almost got the better of us and the room was starting to spin, we remembered the marinading ribs and slapped them on the hot coals. Just cooked, we ate them noisily and greedily. They were incredible; meaty, juicy, the punchy marinade shining through. There was none of this slow-cooked falling off the bone business - the flesh was bouncy, giving some resistance to being ripped off the bone.

Barbequed Ribs

1 meaty rack of ribs, cut into 3 sections
1 tbsp hot paprika
2 tbsp brown sugar
5 cloves of garlic
1 small onion
3 stalks of rosemary
A few stalks of thyme
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 lime
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
6 peppercorns

In a pestle and mortar, throw in the salt and sugar. Add the garlic and grind into a paste, adding the onion, chopped finely, halfway through. Add the peppercorns and give it a good bashing.

In a large dish, add the oil, lime juice, ground coriander and cayenne pepper. Stir well. Add the garlic paste and then chop the rosemary and thyme finely and add. Slash the flesh of the ribs and get them in the dish, really working the marinade in with your hands. Leave for a few hours, preferably overnight.

Cook on hot white coals for 15 - 20 minutes each side, depending on the thickness - you want them just cooked so that they're juicy within and slightly charred outside.