Archive for December 2008

Sandwiches and The City #2 (Fuzzy’s Grub).

December 11th, 2008 — 8:30pm

SATC #2: Fuzzy’s Grub (St. James’s) – turkey Christmas dinner on wholemeal bap.

Where: Fuzzy’s grub – St. James’s Branch.
When: 8th December, lunchtime, I met up with Jonathan for a carb-based lunch in town.
Concept: Fuzzy’s grub is all about the meat, carvery style. The idea here is basically that you can get a whole roast dinner – in a sandwich. I mean, I had to try it.

Bread: A wholemeal bap (I sniggered at the word bap). It was perfectly serviceable.

Flavour: We both opted for a Christmas sandwich with ‘the works’. Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, peas, carrots and gravy. To be honest, nothing in the sandwich really tasted of anything. It was all one big bland amalgamation of nothingness. Perhaps some of the other options, eg. beef, lamb are more interesting?
Quality: Crap, to be perfectly frank! Well, the meat was ok but the rest of it? Blimey.
Quantity: Just see for yourself, that sanger was a monster.
Textures: Just what you would expect really. Well, not quite. The Yorkshire had the texture of rubber – which was a surprise.
Spreads/Dressings/Sauces: They were unbelievably stingy on the cranberry sauce, it may as well not have been in there. I reached for the mustard on the table, both for flavour and moisture.
Assembly: Very good. We giggled watching them tower everything up and then squish the bread on top.

Value for Money: I think it cost around £6 but I’m not entirely sure as Jonathan is such a gent and wouldn’t hear of me paying, which makes me feel bad for slagging it off but I’ve got to be honest otherwise my words are worthless. ‘High margin’ definitely springs to mind. It will certainly fill you up, if you can be bothered to eat it.
Service: Great, I think. No complaints anyway and they were cheery, I remember that.

Overall Score: 4/10

Overall, I was not impressed. I mean, the concept is great but the delivery? Poor. The vegetables were limp and lifeless, the stuffing was basically flavourless mush and the Yorkshire was incredibly dense and rubbery. They were also mean with the cranberry sauce and I found the whole thing bland to be honest. To be fair, I did have the tail end of a cold but then I have been eating other food during my period of sickness and I had no problems picking out flavours thus far. The four points they did accumulate are basically down to the fact that the sandwich was edible, the staff were friendly and the concept is brilliant. I must also say that Chris told me he has noticed a decline in quality since Fuzzy’s first opened, which is a shame as he was basically existing on the lamb version of this for a few months. Apparently, the lamb is now often rubbery. Boo.

I must mention that Jonathan was marvellous company and if you want to know what he thought of the sandwich, read his review here.

12 comments » | Sandwiches and The City

Revisiting the Classics: Cottage Pie.

December 8th, 2008 — 10:37am

Now, you might think it a bit difficult to get excited about a humble cottage pie but I’m going to disagree. Sure, it’s hard if you have a memory of watery, thin, scratty beef mince, frozen vegetables and lumpy, under-seasoned mash – I think we’ve all tasted that pie. I am talking about a pie made with love –  slow cooked, unctuous rich filling of beef shin, plenty of red wine and good stock, fresh vegetables, topped with mash and a good bubbling layer of cheese.

So I have re-vamped this classic school dinner staple somewhat. A few minor tweaks here and there and it’s an absolute pleasure to eat I promise. Not only that, but it’s cheap, does the job (of satisfying your belly) very well and is easy as, well – pie, to make. Of course, there’s no need to use la-dee-da rainbow carrots like I have – or any need to play around making pretty patterns with them either.

To me, the secret to improving this pie is the meat. There are some dishes (not all), traditionally made with minced beef, which can be improved by using a stewing cut. I’m not against mince, it’s just that I find the shin meat, cooked slowly until meltingly tender, a very welcome change – both for texture and flavour.

OK, so there are a few other changes here that a cottage pie purist might find offensive, such as garlic and leek but then that’s why I think my pie tastes a whole lot better than the bad memory described earlier. I mean, its hardly revolutionary is it?

Cottage Pie
(Fills 1 10 x 2″ pie dish)

1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 smallish carrots, diced
1 large stick celery, diced
1 medium leek, trimmed, washed and finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg beef shin (weight before trimming), trimmed of any big pieces of fat and diced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme, leaves stripped
300ml good red wine
600ml good beef stock (home made or shop bought but not from a cube if you can help it)
4 large potatoes, diced roughly
1 medium parsnip, diced roughly
Cheddar cheese, for sprinkling
1 heaped teaspoon wholegrain mustard (optional)
Oil, for cooking
Salt and pepper

– Add a tablespoon of oil to a large pan and brown the meat on all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.
– In the same pan, add a little more oil if needed and sweat the onion, carrots, leek and celery until the onions are translucent.
– Add the garlic for a minute (stirring) then add the meat back to the pan, turn up the heat and get everything cooking again, before adding the wine and allowing the alcohol to burn off. Add the stock, thyme and bay leaf and bring everything up to a simmer. Then turn down to the lowest heat, put the lid on and cook for 2 hours or until the meat is really tender. Adjust the seasoning.
– Meanwhile, cook the potatoes and parsnips in boiling salted water, drain and mash together with butter, salt and pepper to taste and the mustard, if using.
– If assembling the pie right away, preheat the grill. If making the pie with cold filling and topping, preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.
– Spoon the beef mixture into the pie dish and top with the mash, followed by a good layer of the cheese. If grilling, stick it under and grill until golden brown and bubbling. If baking from cold, cook for 30 minutes or so until you have the same effect.

24 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat, Pies, Vegetables

Whitley-Neill Gin ‘Top of the Tree’ Cocktail Challenge.

December 7th, 2008 — 12:30pm

Sigh. It’s a tough life being a food blogger. I mean, having to traipse around top London venues drinking fabulous cocktails, all based around the premium brand, multi-award winning Whitley-Neill gin. I mean, really. Earlier this year, Whitley-Neill threw down a challenge to create a cocktail based around the spirit, using only ingredients that originate from a tree (the gin is made with juniper berries and other natural stuff – hence the tree link), with the people at WN also donating some of the profits to Tree Aid. So, considering that I was drinking for a good cause, I thought it only right and proper to dive in head first.

As far as I am aware, the judging for the competition is currently in progress. In the meantime, a gaggle of lucky bloggers embarked on a mini crawl around the capital to sample the entries. Our first stop and meeting place was the lobby bar at One Aldwych – our first cocktail a spiced, warming creation named ‘Africa’, sweetened with a touch of amaretto. Despite the reference to far flung shores (Whitley Neill was inspired by Africa and contains two African botanicals), the cocktail was rather wintery with subtle scents of anise and cinnamon, a welcome tonic to the bitter weather outside (especially for me – I got lost, as usual). Continuing with the African theme, our second tipple, ‘Savannah Plain’ (top photo), was considerably sweeter than the first with a predominant flavour of mango and, although I enjoyed the sunny tropical vibe, it was a little on the syrupy side for my taste.

Still inside half an hour and we are on to our third, which I think was the ‘Maple Neill Kumquat’. You can hardly blame me if I get them mixed up now can you? Flavoured with maple syrup and kumquat, it tasted almost confected – sticky and jammy.

It was at this point that a plate of the most amazing buttery olives appeared that had us cooing for the next, ooh, twenty minutes over just how fantastic they were – Italian, apparently (according to the bartender), from ‘the heel of the boot’, to be precise (pointing to his heel in order to make the point clear). We could hardly express our delight over the olives through mouthfuls of juicy little physalis coated in caramel, like teeny weeny toffee apples but just better in every way.

Our fourth and final cocktail in the lobby was ‘The Lost Cherry’ (above), a rose and maraschino cherry perfumed mixture. Strong and scented like Turkish delight, it was delicious and, although I loved this (I adore the flavour of rose), I would have liked a touch more cherry – a little too ‘lost’ perhaps. A strong contender at this stage nonetheless.

Four cocktails down and on to the next venue, Quo Vadis. We were ushered upstairs to a rather swanky bar (think books, sofas, piano – one of those members places decked out like someone’s house) where the highlight of my evening was to occur – a skilfully hilarious rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, on a piano. The pianist was really rather brilliant, actually and not camera shy, either.

The ripples of giggles in the room at this point were down to the combination of the piano playing, rapid gin consumption and these undeniably phallic ice cubes. Very mature, us bloggers.

Here we sampled two cocktails, the first, ‘Une Amandine’ featured elderflower (I would have liked a bit more but then I do love it) and a dash of absinthe (just what we needed..). Next up, my favourite cocktail of the evening – the ‘Reciprocal Cocktail’ – the most beautifully complex drink I have had the pleasure of quaffing in recent memory. Featuring flavours of licorice, pink peppercorns and grapefruit zest, the layers of flavour were really rather impressive (and no, I don’t normally prattle on about ‘layers’ and the like). I could have easily downed another and probably, another. It was so refreshing to taste a cocktail that wasn’t predominantly sweet and fruity.

Soldiering on to our next port of call, (Bureau at Kingly Court), we apparently crashed right into a speech by Dianne Abbott celebrating the election of Barack Obama, and most of us didn’t even notice! I blame the gin induced haze…Here we guzzled a ‘Tippler’s Tree’ (maple syrup, lime and chocolate bitters), followed by a ‘Passing Thyme’, (above – truly delicious and definitely my ‘runner up’, hooray for herbs in cocktails!) followed by a ‘Rise Marmalade’ (below), sweetly spicy and orange scented.

Our fourth and final destination was Match, where we finally caved to the hunger (none of us had eaten dinner) and ordered the (now typical in bars and pubs everywhere), arrangement of things on a wooden board, which was really rather average to be perfectly frank.

The cocktails here were ‘The Whitley Angel’, flavoured with rhubarb and lemon and ‘Whitley Bay’ with kaffir lime and sambuca which both sound fantastic although my memory of them is not entirely clear. To be honest, you guys were a bit unlucky coming in at the end. I mean, just look at how much gin we have consumed by this point. Good job we’re not the professional judges…

While the ‘Reciprocal’ was the clear winner for me, ‘Passing Thyme’ came a very close second and also planted the idea firmly in my head that I wish to enjoy herbs in my cocktails forever more. This was strengthened by the fantastic ‘raspberry’ sour’ with rosemary that Chris and I ordered (not part of the competition), because obviously we just hadn’t tried enough cocktails already….

The evening definitely opened my eyes to the versatility of gin and also to just what I’ve been missing by always ordering the same damn cocktails. I wish the best of luck to all the competitiors and thank you to all my blogging friends and peers for another lovely evening. (Lizzie, Niamh, Chris, Tim, tikichris, Annie, life on the edge and Melanie). Thank you also to Johnny Neill (creator of Whitley-Neill gin), Sally from Relish PR and of course to the bar tenders for contributing yet further to the demise of my liver with those fabulous drinks – what a way to go…

6 comments » | Blogging Events, Drinks

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