Archive for June 2008

Taste Festival London

June 25th, 2008 — 7:30pm

The annual Taste Festival in London’s Regent’s Park has been hailed as ‘one of the world’s greatest food festivals’ by Time Magazine. Now I haven’t been to every food festival in the world but this one definitely came up trumps. We visited on the final day when the weather was perfect, hot and sunny but refreshed by a slightly crazy wind. The whole place had the air of a super civilised music festival, people relaxing and enjoying the sun, eating, drinking, dancing (yes, really) and generally having high jinks, don’t you know.

Shades on, camera at the ready and beers in hand, we launched ourselves full throttle into the experience. Now, if you are a bit totally skint, the Taste festival isn’t really what you call a cheap day out but we still managed to get by on a budget that went out of the window, emerging fully Michelin star fed and watered. I must say though, the beginning of the month would have been preferable!

The whole idea of the festival is to showcase the food from the kitchens of some of the capital’s best restaurants, among the exhibitors were The Boxwood Cafe, Le Cafe Anglais, The Cinnamon Club, Le Gavroche, Theo Randall and loads more (over 40) together with stalls selling yummy looking produce such as these pies (below) and breads – we bought a white spelt loaf – white bread but with goodness inside? We thought it was impossible!

You purchase mini portions of the restaurant dishes with pieces of paper that someone decided to call ‘crowns’ instead of using real money. Dishes ranged from 6-10 crowns each (1 crown = 50p ). Each restaurant had it’s own stall which basically consisted of a front serving bar and then a screen from behind which you could hear lots of shouting, a fair bit of singing and some serious sizzling. The smells from all these different stalls wafted around the festival and mixed together – all of a sudden that wind would change and you got a full on whack of seared beef or some such – it was fantastic.

So, here’s what we ate! Being on a budget, the idea was to take it easy to start off with and try to choose something we really wanted, rather than just diving in and running out of money, the overall strategy was to buy a different dish each from the stand and then go halvers. We didn’t really manage this as it was all just too tempting. Note to self – take more money next year.

First up, Benares. Being a massive fan of Atul Kochhar, the so-called ‘spice master’ – I just had to try this. We chose the chicken tikka and the squid salad with coconut passion fruit dressing. The chicken tikka was without doubt the best I have ever tasted. I know everyone says this about Atul’s food but you really could taste all the individual spices, none overpowering the other. It was just so flavoursome, I feel sad for my own previous tikka efforts.

Next, the squid salad. We weren’t expecting battered squid for some reason, and this was the least exciting of the dishes we tried. That said, it was perfectly cooked – not a hint of chewy rubber bands here – but the highlight was actually the coconut passion fruit dressing. I didn’t get much coconut but the passion fruit sang through and really lifted everything – cutting through the batter. Definitely one to experiment with.

Next up, Trinity. This I made a beeline for. First, we gobbled pig’s trotters with crackling, pain poilane and sauce gribiche (below). This was my first experience of eating trotters – it was delish, although very rich and a little bit fatty for my taste. One was definitely enough. That crackling was absolutely perfect though, as you can see.

From Trinity we ordered the beef short rib cottage pie – onion, bone marrow and anise carrots. That beef is so succulent with real depth of flavour. I could have eaten mouthful after mouthful but unfortunately had to hand half over to Chris as promised. I was really looking forward to the bone marrow but it didn’t quite deliver for some reason, perhaps our expectations were too high. Nevertheless I was still excited to discover that Trinity is in the very nearby Clapham, a definite must visit in the near future, making the most of British ingredients always gets my vote.

Speaking of British, here’s a classic – fish and chips from Tom’s Place, the much talked about and super-trendy new posh fish and chip restaurant opened in 2006 by Tom Aikens. Chris is a massive fan of this classic combo and this promised to be no ordinary offering but beer battered gurnard and chips with tartar sauce. Now I have a little bit of an obsession with tartar sauce, always dipping both chip and fish into the sauce to get maximum tartar coverage. It was a good one, no doubt about it. The gurnard was also excellent, flaky, perfectly cooked with a light, crisp batter. The chips were less impressive, which is a bit of a shame for a fish and chip joint. Chris and I still maintain that the best chips in town can be found at Gourmet Burger Kitchen – seriously. They are so crispy without and so fluffy within that you will not believe your dancing little taste buds. Their smoked chilli mayo is also a winner. Just don’t order a salad, they are terrible – order a burger and be very happy you did.

Finally, we were drawn to Cocoon, here we ordered wagyu beef on hot rocks with champagne teryaki (that’s the hot rock underneath) – absolutely delicious but not made for two to share! Well, you do get a free rock….Next, we had hoped to indulge our love of dim sum with some prawn hark au, scallop siu mai and squid with superior soy sauce – instead we found they were serving crispy duck rolls with hoisin. They were delicious as it goes, succulent with a crispy casing although I admit to being a little disappointed to be dim sum deprived.

There were so many places that we didn’t get to try. I am totally kicking myself for not trying the beetroot gazpacho with avocado sorbet and vodka jelly from Aiden Byrne and the parmesan custard with anchovy toasts from Le Cafe Anglais. I’m not worried though, Niamh from Eat Like A Girl ate there last night and told me it was delicious it is so I’m going to check it out asap.

To wash it all down we ordered a pint or two or four of this spectacular Sierra Nevada beer. Chris and I both agreed this is the most interesting beer we have tried for ages. I would have put money on the fact that it contains elderflowers but the website mentions nothing of the sort – hmmmm, curiouser and curiouser… Anyhow, it does say it is reminiscent of orange blossoms so that will do for me. It also has a great tang which really cuts the flowery flavour. Ultimate refreshment. I was pleased to learn they are in Borough Market, which I handily happen to be visiting in a couple of weeks time, better make sure I get the shopping done first….

Finally, I want to shout out to all you London based food bloggers! Niamh from Eat Like A Girl and I have started a facebook group so that local bloggers can have a good old mingle. Well, it’s was Niamh’s idea really and I just tagged along…So come on over and join in. Don’t forget that Food Stories has it’s own facebook group too – I’d love to see you all there – not just the Londoners!

13 comments » | Food Events

Broad Beans, Bacon, Asparagus & Spring Onions with Herb Vinaigrette

June 14th, 2008 — 7:16am

I know, I know, it’s another recipe using asparagus. I was going to save it until next year but I’ve decided that it tastes too damn good for that. This is one of those dishes that has me stuffing my face uncontrollably – only when I finish my second third helping do I realise I am over-full. The broad beans I laid my hands on were perfect and young, so most needed only an initial podding, the outer skins were so soft and edible. I still take some pleasure though, from squeezing the cooked beans from their wrinkled jackets and watching the almost fluorescent green buttons pop through.

This is the kind of salad I like to lay out at a barbecue, it looks so summery and smells so fragrant. I demand that, as you stir the vinaigrette, onions and herbs through the hot beans and bacon, you put your face close to the bowl and take a deep breath, the reward will be a momentary intoxication. Imagine this, the freshness of the beans and asparagus, crispy, salty bacon, punchy spring onions, all glistening and flecked shades of green with herby vinaigrette. You could use just about any mixture of soft herbs for this salad – I used parsley, chives, mint and dill.



Broad Beans, Bacon, Asparagus & Spring Onions with Herb Vinaigrette

900g broad beans (unpodded weight)
10 asparagus spears
4 rashers smoked bacon or pancetta
4 spring onions, finely shredded
A small handful each of 3 or 4 herbs of your choice. I used dill, parsley, mint and chives – roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 heaped teaspoon wholegrain mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or other wine vinegar or lemon juice)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper

– Pod the beans and trim the asparagus by bending each spear until it snaps and discarding the woody end (not the tips). Wash thoroughly.
– Simmer the asparagus and beans for 3-5 minutes, depending on size, until just tender (I cooked my asparagus and beans separately).
– Grill the bacon or pancetta until crisp and chop into bite size pieces.
– When the vegetables are ready, remove the tough outer skins from any larger broad beans and add to a serving bowl with the asparagus and bacon/pancetta.
– To make the vinaigrette, crush the garlic in a pestle and mortar with some sea salt. Add the mustard and some black pepper and stir in. Add the vinegar and then the oil, whisking to emulsify.
– Add the onions and herbs to the bowl, pour in the desired amount of vinaigrette (I used the lot) and stir to combine. Serve immediately – although it is also delicious cold.

This is an entry for Joelen’s Blogging Adventure: Salad Spinnin’ hosted by Joelen’s Culinary Adventures.

17 comments » | Blogging Events, Gluten-free, Main Dishes, Meat, Salads, Side Dishes, Starters, Vegetables

Whitby Crab, Alphonso Mango, Wet Garlic & Summer.

June 8th, 2008 — 6:51pm

As much as I love a good stew, soup, pie etc, there is something about summer food – vibrant colours, fresh flavours, prettiness on a plate. Food is relaxed in an elegant way, something that cannot be easily achieved with stew and dumplings (although, YUM). As soon as the days start getting warmer, my appetite for carbs starts diminishing and I crave something a bit lighter for my belly. These crab rolls are perfect, like sushi rolls but without the rice. The two knobbly cukes turned up in the box – I pared thin strips with a vegetable peeler and used them as the wrappings for some crunchy ‘sushi’ rolls.

I got to thinking about seafood with fruit after Chris’ brother told me of a lobster and mango salad he ate recently in Dubai. In the UK, Alphonso mangoes are available right now. You buy them by the box and can find them in Indian grocers, which means just about anywhere in London (I can’t be sure of their availability elsewhere, although I used to find them with no problems in Oxford).

The flesh of the Alphonso is considered unsurpassed in terms of sweetness, juiciness and flavour and they are smaller than your average specimen. The fact that you buy them by the box coupled with an incredibly short shelf life is no issue as you will gobble them up quickly. The flavour is like a super enhanced mango.

The crabs landed at Whitby Bay which you can see on this webcam . You could even watch the catch come in, if you like that kind of thing… I bet they eat the freshest crab in Whitby Bay. I remember very clearly some crab eaten while holidaying in Cornwall with my family – spanking fresh, caught that morning and landed literally feet away from the shop/front of someone’s house. We ate it with brown toast, a squeeze of lemon and a green salad – I remember thinking I’d died and gone to heaven.

So for the rolls, we have a strip of mango, a pocket of succulent crab meat, a thin strip each of red chilli and spring onion and finally a leaf of young coriander. All of these I picked up from my favourite local shop which I am lucky to have, as the shopkeeper really cares about great produce and his finger is completely on the pulse without being pretentious. I am hoping my preference for shopping locally might offset my carbon footprint a little considering that the Alphonsos came from Mumbai… Look, I don’t even drive ok?

In the same shop I also discovered some wet garlic – fresh, paperless and an absolute dream to use. The shopkeeper was happy we bought it, peeling back the skin slightly and inviting us to smell it’s pungency. It’s beautiful. You know how that paper can sometimes drive you crazy? No problem with wet garlic, the skin in still fresh and the cloves pop right out. They are crisp, crush like a dream and the whole bulb is a bloomin’ revelation. I want all my garlic like this. The cucumber acted as a perfect container for the fillings – you get crunchy cuke, soft crab, fruity mango, a hint of chilli and fragrant herbage.

This you dunk into the dipping sauce of finely chopped kaffir lime leaves, wet garlic, galangal, rice wine vingear, fish sauce and a touch of honey and oil. Great finger food and perfect for sharing. We ate them on our balcony which is fast becoming a mini jungle, listening to sounds of people in the park and the London traffic which I now find strangely comforting. I love sitting in our little oasis with the chaos of the city below.

Cucumber Rolls with Crab, Alphonso Mango and Chilli

– I don’t think this really needs a recipe does it? Pare thin strips (lengthways) from a cucumber with a vegetable peeler, fill with white crab meat, mango strips, chilli strips and a coriander leaf. Roll them up. Voila! Dip in your sauce of choice.

29 comments » | Fish, Fruit, Gluten-free, Healthy, Snacks, Starters, Vegetables

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