Monday, 28 February 2011

Deep Fried

I don't have the squeamishness that some people have about deep frying. I love it; from the vaguely healthy, like agedashi tofu, to the horrendously deliciously unhealthy, like buttermilk fried chicken. Of course I've had my accidents; my first foray into deep frying was squid tempura and I cowered behind my wok lid shield as furious fat spat all over my kitchen, in protest of having wet squid chucked into it. I learned my lesson from that one.

I saw a post on fried pickles at the excellent Homesick Texan and I knew I had to make it. Pickles? Crumbed and fried? Yes please. A buttermilk dressing was made to accompany it, though I added my own tweaks. Combined, the crunch of the coating giving way to crunchy, tangy dill pickle slices was brilliant. The garlicky buttermilk dressing, with a heavy hand in coriander, made an ideal dipping sauce.

Surprise of the day though was a happy snap decision. Some squat mild chillis were in the fridge, while some halloumi was slowly growing mouldy. Since I had a wok full of shimmering hot oil, I figured I might as well give it a go, and they were a hit. Mild, slightly spicy pepper bursting with melted halloumi was a pretty perfect snack to go with a couple of beers.

Coriander Buttermilk Dressing

Makes a small bowl

4 tbsp buttermilk
7 tbsp mayonnaise
1 clove of garlic
Juice of half a lime
A large pinch of cayenne pepper
1 green chilli, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
A handful of coriander, minced

In a bowl, whisk together the lime juice, buttermilk and mayonnaise. Add the garlic, minced finely and the cayenne pepper and chilli. Add the coriander and mix well. Taste for seasoning.

Deep Fried Pickles & Cheese-Stuffed Chillis

Makes enough for 4 as a light snack

4 large pickled dill cucumbers
10 mild squat red chillis
Half a block of halloumi
6 Matzo crackers
4 tbsp buttermilk
1 egg
Plain flour
Vegetable oil for deep frying

Slice the cucumbers to the thickness of about an inch and leave to dry on kitchen paper. Make a slit in the chillis just down one side and carefully scrape out the seeds. Stuff with sticks of halloumi.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Process the matzo crackers into crumbs and place in a sandwich bag. Whisk together the egg and the buttermilk and cover a plate with the flour. Dip the pickles and chillis firstly in the flour, then the egg and then in the sandwich bag for a good shake to cover. Heat the oil until it's shimmering and a breadcrumb sizzles in it and fry the pickles and chilli in batches until browned on all sides. Remove to a plate lined with kitchen towel and place in the oven to keep warm.


I love Korean food, but it's not often I go out for a Korean meal. For a start, I find it pretty scandalous how London restaurants can charge for assorted kimchi, essential for any Korean meal, which is unheard of in Korea or indeed many other places. We were charged £5.90 for this little lot.

But, no matter as the soondubu jiggae, a spicy stew of barely set tofu and seafood (tiny little mussels, prawns and octopus) was bloody delicious. Served with a bowl of steamed rice, this was a gorgeous meal of textures and worth returning for alone. It's not as horrifyingly spicy as it looks but deeply flavoursome.

Oh! And there was a perfectly poached egg nestling inside, enriching the broth nicely as my chopsticks speared the eggy sphere. It was so comforting I was finished in mere minutes, burning my tongue in the process.

A spring onion pancake, packed with mainly octopus and squid was crunchy yet squidgy, pretty addictive stuff.

It's not a cheap lunch, coming to around £15 but I know for sure I'll be coming back for that jiggae.


11 Rathbone Place
London W1T 1 NA

Tel: 0207 580 8825

Koba on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 23 February 2011


I've made a few of Ottolenghi's recipes, but there has always been a slight niggle in the back of my mind that there was something a little odd about them, which I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then I made the caramelised garlic tart from 'Plenty' and I discovered what it was; some of the recipes were so full-on, almost over-flavoured. Much like what some vegan food is like, as if to make up for the fact that there is no delicious meat in it. (I am preparing for a flaming. Sorry vegans.)

But I've never eaten at Ottolenghi, mainly due to it's Angel location and now that NOPI has opened up 10 minutes walk from my work, I didn't really have an excuse. I booked a table during their 50% off soft launch. On arrival, the room is bedecked in cream and gold with soft lighting. It had a very calming effect. A tall bar lined the left side of the room, and we mused it would make a lovely lunch spot for two.

The menu is simply divided into meat, fish and vegetables. It advises dishes are for sharing and 3 per person is recommended.

Scallops were gorgeous and worth coming back for alone; beautifully cooked to translucent inside and paired with a sharp apple, radish and daikon salad. A mystery dark paste-like substance was slightly spicy.

Beef brisket croquettes were crispy beauties flavoured with star anise, the crumbed meat tender and lightened with a coriander-heavy Asian slaw. Rose veal carpaccio with beetroot and kashk was ordered purely because we wanted to know what kashk was; turns out it was a yoghurt-like substance, which when eaten with the wafer thin slices of meat brought out the flavour of the veal.

We were alarmed by the amount of coriander seeds that topped the creamy burrata, but when eaten with the blood orange and basil, the seeds were tempered. This was a favourite of the night; clean, fresh and simple flavours, all drizzled with a punchy fruity olive oil that we first tasted when we arrived, served with complimentary bread and a butternut squash dip.

Seared prawns with feta, fennel and oregano came in a cute little copper pan. The 4 beasts were meaty and cooked just right, while the rich sauce was slurped up with spoons. Another winning dish. Our fish dishes ended with a firm, meaty cured halibut, slightly overpowered by the shiso it was served with but complimented with samphire.

I wondered what was kebab-like about the hake which was served with pickled lemon and yoghurt. It was more like a big fishcake. The fish was densely packed, the yoghurt flavoured mellowly with garlic but I questioned their decision in using huge clumps of herbs for the side salad. An enormous mouthful of tarragon was a surprise, as was a bundle of basil leaves ending up in my mouth.

Oddly, given Ottolenghi's expertise in vegetarian food, it was the vegetarian dishes that impressed us the least. 'Braised carrots, mung beans and smoked labneh' was ordered because of our fascination with the smoked labneh. When it arrived, we gazed at each other agape. Had it been full price, for 10 of your finest pounds you would have received a grand total of 4 match sticks of carrots. We couldn't fathom what they were thinking with this. The blue cheese cheesecake with mixed mushrooms suffered from the aforementioned massive flavours and was so overwhelming we could only manage a mouthful every 10 or so minutes. We're nothing if not persistent.

And so, to finish, a gorgeous little pineapple galette flavoured with the creamy, vanilla-like headiness of pandan and served with coconut ice cream. Churros with hot chocolate and fennel seed sugar was recommended to us; unfortunately the churros were over-cooked and when our server saw we hadn't finished it, they apologised profusely, thanked us for the feedback and took it off our bill - which was unexpected. I'm of the opinion that if you go on the half price soft launch you should expect some duds, after all that's what a soft launch is all about.

Although there were some really delicious dishes, such as the scallops and the prawns, I felt overwhelmingly as though it was hugely and prohibitively expensive. With savoury dishes averaging at around the £10 mark, before dessert or even drinks a meal here would hit £30. I remarked that it was a very 'ladies who lunch' venue; small, pretty and light plates. After sharing 8 dishes and a dessert each, I was only just satisfied so clearly I'm not their target audience. Perhaps breakfast or brunch, when they implement it will be a better and more affordable option.

But gosh, those scallops were good...


21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE

Tel: 020 7494 9584

Nopi on Urbanspoon

Monday, 21 February 2011

Red & Green Meatballs

When I stared into my bereft vegetable drawer while I clutched at a bag of minced pork, my mind grew blank and I thought about getting a takeaway. My thriftiness kicked in though, and a plan was formulated to bring together the odds and sods languishing in my fridge. Bedraggled parsley leaves, an abundance of coriander stalks, truly they should have been destined for the bin. Instead, along with a sorry wrinkled green chilli they got blitzed right up with some fruity extra virgin olive oil. A clove of garlic added spiciness and pungency, complementing the sweet flavours of the tomato sauce and the aniseed hit of the fennel seed within the meatballs. It was a vibrant dish and needed only some crust bread to mop the sauce up with.

Red & Green Meatballs

Serves 2

300gr minced pork
A handful of breadcrumbs
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 white onion
1 tin of peeled plum tomatoes
2 tsp tomato puree
A handful of parsley leaves
A bunch of coriander stalks (or leaves)
1 green chilli
1 spring onion
1 clove of garlic
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Heat up some oil and add the onion, diced, frying until softened and translucent. Add the tinned tomatoes and the tomato puree and simmer. Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds in a dry pan and grind in a mortar and pestle. Add to the minced pork along with some salt, pepper, and the breadcrumbs. Work into golf sized balls. Using a blender or a stick whizzer process the tomato sauce so that it's smooth. Add the meatballs, cover, and cook for 40 minutes, taking the lid off halfway through.

Meanwhile, add the parsley, coriander, garlic and olive oil to a blender or food processor. Add a little salt and pepper and whizz into a dressing.

To serve, drizzle the green sauce over the tomato meatballs.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Tonkatsu wouldn't be my first choice when at a Japanese restaurant. Often, there are more exciting dishes on offer; tempura, sashimi, udon noodles. But the craving took me and I wanted deep fried pork. Badly. The crunch of the breadcrumbed exterior, giving way to the juicy meat inside played on my mind all morning, and I impatiently waited for lunchtime.

A particularly thick loin fillet was butterflied to a heart shape. Deviating from tradition, I marinaded it in soy, ginger and mirrin overnight which gave the meat a fragrance uncommon in tonkatsu. Marinade brushed off, the meat was flopped into flour, slid into beaten egg, and the process repeated until it's final liberal peppering with panko breadcrumbs. This double egg and flour method ensures a nice thick and crunchy crust.

Simply drizzled with (bought) tonkatsu sauce and accompanied by spinach dressed with sesame sauce and some shichimi-dusted steamed rice, I was only annoyed I didn't have the foresight to make double; a tonkatsu sandwich would have been the best packed lunch ever.


Serves 2

2 pork loin fillets
2 cloves of garlic
1" piece of ginger
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 egg
Plain flour
Panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil - enough for deep-frying

If the loin fillets are thick, butterfly them or bash with a rolling pin to make thinner. Place in a dish or a ziplock bag and cover with the mirin and soy sauce. Mince the ginger and lightly crush the garlic and add to the marinade. Leave overnight or at least for several hours.

Lay out a dish of flour, a dish of breadcrumbs and a bowl of beaten egg. Brush the garlic and ginger off the fillets. Dip the meat firstly in the flour, then the egg, then the flour and the egg again. Lastly, place in the breadcrumbs ensuring even coverage. Repeat with the other fillet. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok until shimmering - it's hot enough when a breadcrumb sizzles in it. Place the pork in the oil one at a time, cooking until you get a deep rich brown on each side - around 6 - 7 minutes. Place on a wire rack to drain while you cook the other.

Drizzle with tonkatsu sauce; if you can't get this, I reckon HP mixed with ketchup (a 2:1 ratio) would make a decent substitute.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Ba Shan, Revisited

If there was a testament to visiting somewhere more than once, Ba Shan would be it. After my original visit in April 2009, I was less than impressed, both by the service and the quality of food on offer. Fast forward almost two years, and I found myself visiting again for a Chinese new year dinner with family and friends. This was mainly due to recommendations after having visited the Hunanese Golden Day, where food was good but service patchy. While the menu used to be Northern Chinese street food, a recent overhaul with their resident consultant (and rather a hero of mine), Fuschia Dunlop, made the basis more strongly focused on Hunanese specialities.

We kicked off with three starters. The Hunanese pickles were crunchy, sour batons of cucumber and daikon. They had the curious quality to be both cold yet fiery from the heat. Spare ribs were fine; tender meat, but not hugely interesting when compared to the pickles and the slivered chicken salad (below). The shredded chicken was combined with chilli oil and julienned crunchy vegetables. While on the salty side, it was addictively spicy.

For our mains, we spotted another table with an enormous plate and after enquiring as to what it was, the steamed catfish with salted chillis were duly ordered (opening photo). Two fillets were cooked to tenderness, topped with the chopped salted inferno of chillis. They cut like butter, and came with a portion of noodles to dump in the deeply savoury, almost dashi-like sauce. It was my favourite dish of the night.

A typically home-style Hunanese dish is Peng's beancurd. The beancurd is fried on the outside, soft within and is cooked with fermented black beans, chilli bean paste and pork. Liberally sprinkled with thick rings of chopped fresh chillis, the green were bearable while the red were so spicy they could have been incandescent.

Dried yard beans with Chinese bacon was a serious saltfest. The chewy texture of the dried beans and the slivers of bacon were great, but you really needed to eat this with a lot of rice.

Another typical dish of the region was the least spice-laden. Chairman Mao's red braised pork was a dish of tender, glossy cubes of pork belly, coated in a soy anise sauce. It put the fires out.

My suggestion of hand torn cabbage was veto'd, apparently too boring and instead dry fried green beans, staple of all Sichuan restaurants was ordered and were a fine example. Making up the vegetable contingent, bitter melon with black beans also came with pork. Not everyone's cup of tea due to it's bitterness, we loved it. Again, pork intestines were so intensely porky that it could have put you off, but not us.

With two bottles of wine, tea, 3 starters, 7 mains, rice and service, the bill came to around £36 a head; more expensive than Golden Day opposite, but a much more pleasurable experience. Service was sweet; a mistaken dish of pickled green beans and minced pork was delivered to us and upon the mistake being pointed out, was gifted to us anyway. Leftovers were boxed up happily. I'll be back.

Ba Shan

24 Romilly Street,

London, W1D 5AH

Tel: 020 7287 3266

Ba Shan on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Sichuan Chilli Oil

This was made more out of mistake than anything else; I absently put far more Sichuan peppercorns than I should have done, but what resulted was a seriously lip tingling spicy oil, perfect for dipping your Chinese new year (or otherwise) dumplings into.

Speaking of which, I followed in Josh's lead and did away with making my own dumpling wrappers and using shop bought instead. While they worked well with boiled dumplings, they didn't fare so well with the war tip (potsticker) variety. The bottoms, supposedly crisp while the rest of the dumpling is steamed, were fine but the steamed parts were hard and chewy. It was also nigh on impossible to fold pleats into them, so they became crescent dumplings.

However, in boiling the dumplings it was a different story. They wrinkled up a bit like won tons, but the dough held their contents well and when mixed in with a little chilli oil, soy and black vinegar they were positively delicious.

Sichuan Chilli Oil

Makes a jar

1 heaped tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
200ml peanut oil
4 tbsp chilli flakes
4 dried chillis

Soak the peppercorns in cold water and then drain. Heat the peanut oil in a small saucepan until shimmering, then CAREFULLY add the peppercorns. They will spit a lot - wear long sleeves. Turn down to low and add all the chillis.

Cook gently for 15 minutes, then take off the heat and leave to cool. Leave overnight, then at this point you can either strain it for clear oil, or keep the bits in for a bit of sediment. It should be good and spicy by now.

Mix with soy sauce, matchsticks of ginger and Chinese black vinegar for a good dumpling dippy sauce.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Dragon Palace, Earl's Court

It's not often I'll travel across town to the wilds of West London for a dim sum fix, especially as the ever excellent Dragon Castle in Elephant & Castle is so near me. But the lure of silver needle noodles was too much and I begrudgingly made a booking at Dragon Palace in Earl's Court.

As I was squashed up on the tube in between bellowing Chelsea fans I wondered if I'd made a mistake, but after one bite of the har gao (shrimp dumpling) eased my fears. It was deliciously juicy; coarsely chopped prawns packed into a bulging dumpling wrapper. Scallop and prawn dumplings (above, foreground) contained a good amount of discernible seafood and the large chunks of sweet scallop were just cooked. Village dumplings, filled with cubed fish had a seriously gloopy wrapper and lacked a bit of seasoning. Siu long bao (below), that Taiwanese soup-filled dumpling weren't the most refined but they held their broth and had decent flavour.

Special cheung fun, each filled with prawns, minced beef and roast pork surprised me. I'm not usually a fan of minced beef cheung fun, but this version was filled with the meat they use to make the beef dumplings. Bouncy and punctuated with water chestnuts, the texture was more cake-like than grainy and minced.

Fried items were similarly pleasing. Paper prawns were fresh from the fryer and greaseless with the intense flavour of sesame from the seeds that lined the bottoms of their cigar-like shape.

Squid cakes had an excellent bounce, wrapped in tofu skin before deep frying to give it extra crunch. Flavoured with a hint of coriander, we all burnt our mouths hastily munching in to them.

Pan fried cheung fun were pretty exciting especially as I've never seen it served in a London restaurant before - one side of each rice dough roll was crispy, flavoured with dried shrimp to which you'd bite into soft innards.

Turnip cake was an exemplary version with chunks of Chinese sausage flavouring each slice, and a crisp exterior giving way to soft turnipy innards. We weren't quite finished here though and we flagged down the waitress to order more. She, rather exasperated perhaps by how busy the restaurant was, exclaimed that it would be a big wait for more dishes. Given that the dishes had arrived in a leisurely fashion anyway, we weren't that fussed and we got a serving of Singapore fried silver needle noodles. I've never tried these before, but the noodles are worm-like in appearance and slightly transparent. The mild curry flavour with scrambled egg, chicken and prawns was great and we kept going back for seconds.

Dragon Palace has jumped to the top of my dim sum restaurants in London; I haven't tried a great deal (for example, I haven't tied Pearl Liang's dim sum efforts yet) but their steamed dishes were so good I'd go back for them, let alone the pan fried cheung fun and the noodles. At a bargainous £12 a head for the 3 of us including tea, it certainly won't be long before I make the trek west again.

Dragon Palace

207 Earl's Court Road
London SW5 9AN

Tel: 020 7370 1461

Dragon Palace on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Hot & Sour Chicken Noodles

Happy new year. 2011 is the Chinese year of the Rabbit and what better way to celebrate than to eat a big steaming bowl of noodles. Noodles are traditionally eaten at this time of year as they symbolise longevity so as long as you don't go snipping them, slurp away for a long life.

This particular recipe is a bastardisation of the ever excellent Sunflower's Chongquing suan la fen. I omitted ingredients that I couldn't find and instead replaced them, as well as skipping steps because I was too hungry to spend the extra time. Still, it was excellent; sourness coming from the pickled mustard greens (zha cai), spiciness from the chilli bean paste, all tempered with a little sugar and then ramped up with some fresh chillis.

Sweet potato starch noodles were slippery and slithery, and an odd burst of greenery gave welcome crunch.

Hot & Sour Chicken Noodles

Serves 2

150gr sweet potato noodles (rice vermicelli also works)
2 chicken thighs
3 cloves of garlic
1 inch of ginger
1 x 30gr sachet of ready sliced zha cai (you can buy this in Chinatown - or any kind of pickled vegetable will do)
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 tbsp light soy
1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
2 long red chillis
300ml chicken stock
2 spring onions
Pak choi (or any greens really; I used pak choi and sugarsnap peas)

Soak the sweet potato noodles in boiling water until cooked. Meanwhile, deskin the thighs and remove the bone and pulse with the ginger until coarsely minced.

Rinse the pickled vegetable and set to one side. Heat some oil in a wok and add the garlic, minced. Add the chicken and the chillis chopped up and stir fry until there is no pink left in the meat. Add the chilli bean paste and stir fry until everything is coated. Throw in the pickled vegetables, soy sauce, vinegar and sugar and the chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, steam your vegetables until they're cooked.

To assemble, place the noodles in the bowl and top with the vegetables. Add the chicken mixture on top with half the broth per bowl. Finally, drizzle the sesame oil on top and garnish with spring onion.

Bloom Gin

I was pretty excited to receive a bottle of Bloom gin from their PR people. I love gin. I especially love free gin.

But I was to be disappointed, for this is gin for people who don't really like gin. Described as an 'innovative premium London Dry gin', the bottle tells me it captures the essence of Spring, with floral notes of pomelo, honeysuckle and chamomile.

Dare I say it? It was... girly. More specifically, like a big girl's blouse. It had no discernable juniper flavour that I love so dearly, that sets gin aside from other spirits. In a gin and tonic, all you could taste was floral sweetness. I had some friends round, all gin fiends and they declared it weak in flavour. A pretty bottle but no oomph behind its contents.

No thanks.