Archive for March 2009


March 30th, 2009 — 8:37pm

Regular readers will know that I am prone to developing food obsessions – be it ingredients, whole cuisines, sushi (always), a restaurant, a wine, a whatever. This time round – its dim sum. I decided that I absolutely must learn more about dim sum, pronto. So, on Sunday morning a group of us (including Lizzie and Helen – my teaching volunteers), trekked down to Greenwich for a belly busting feast for five. I even skipped breakfast to make sure I was properly ready and hungry for my education and I hardly ever, ever miss a meal so you know I meant business.

It seemed that every aspect of our visit happened on a grand scale. The journey to North Greenwich was convoluted, the place itself is basically a massive open space dominated by crazy skyscraper structures, the Peninsula restaurant is also huge, accommodating a potential 400 covers and the dim sum, well – what was lacking in portion size was gained back tenfold in quantity. I’m just going to highlight the dishes I really enjoyed – because to blog the lot would leave us all rather fatigued I’m sure.

The first dish to reach our table was the jellyfish – exciting for me as I’d never tried it before. Definitely a ‘texture thing’, it has no real flavour of it’s own but comes doused in a mild yet delicious chilli sauce. The toothsome texture was kind of like eating rubber bands (I imagine), but in a nice way (honestly) and strangely addictive. It had me craving it today, the same way that I crave the octopus.

Next to arrive were these yam croquettes – again exciting because I’m really not sure I’ve eaten much yam before – of any kind. Strange considering you can barely walk to my local station without tripping over piles of them. The exterior was light and crunchy and the filling sweet and moreish.

For me, the highlight of the entire meal was the ‘fried dough stick cheung fun’ (above and in the top photo, where Lizzie is pouring sweetened light soy over it). This was honestly the most delicious dim sum I have ever eaten –  soft and silky rice noodle roll with the sweet, fried dough stick within. The dough was both crispy and chewy – contrasting textural heaven!

I ticked another one off the ‘must-eat’ list with the turnip cake. I’ve been intrigued by this since I saw it on a few different blogs around Chinese new year and the fried slices had the exact pleasing stodgy texture inside that I had hoped for and a mild savoury taste with little surprise nuggets of bacon, shrimp and mushrooms. The cake, although delicious did highlight my insecurities about chopstick etiquette as it needed cutting into pieces for sharing and I only realised after the meal that there was a separate pair of chopsticks specifically for this purpose. I just hope I didn’t dive right in and greedily snatch anything.

And finally, the custard tarts that I almost didn’t order – even thinking about that possibility now makes me breathe a sigh of relief. Quite different from the British version, that pastry was so very thin and flaky, like shortcrust but layered (the primary ingredient is lard, which explains why it tastes so good). This is filled with a wibbly wobbly bright yellow egg custard – I was forced to eat two. I have no idea whatsoever if these tarts were a good example of their kind but they tasted damn fine to me and I will certainly be ‘testing’ as many as possible, as soon as possible.

So there’s my small selection of the many plates which just kept on coming – steamed tripe with ginger and spring onions, spare ribs in black bean sauce, coconut mousse, squid in satay sauce, beef balls with greens – I could go on. We hoovered up the whole lot rather excitedly if the mess on the table at the end was anything to go by. Come to think of it, the mess was mostly on my side but, like I say, my chopstick technique needs a little work. If I run with my newly acquired dim sum obsession though, I reckon I could be an expert by the end of the month.

Peninsula Restaurant
Holiday Inn Express
85 Bugsby’s Way
SE10 0GD
0208 269 1638

Peninsula on Urbanspoon

21 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

The Underground Restaurant

March 25th, 2009 — 4:15pm

I think it takes an incredibly brave person to open an underground restaurant. I mean, of course it is illegal but apart from that – cooking for 20 odd strangers in your very own home every week might be a bit well, stressful/tiring/anxiety provoking/all of the above? Not a bit of it on Saturday night however, when three friends and I dined at the house of the formidable Ms Marmite Lover – not the faintest flicker of worry on her face.

While Ms ML had been calmly preparing (a fabulous tweet revealed her to be up at 12am the previous night making “fu**ing tarte au citron”), we had been sweating it out on smelly buses. As I’m sure all you Londoners will appreciate, the transport system is never what can be described as fully operational at weekends – TFL somehow always manage to shut the bits that you personally need to use. For this reason then, we made a therapeutic pit stop at the nearby pub for pre-dinner pints before moving on in high spirits towards the restaurant.

Greeted at the door with a welcoming smile and a glass of Kir Semi-Royale, we were instantly absorbed into the warm glow within Ms ML’s home. There was a chance for some pre-dinner mingling with the other diners, which perhaps could better be described as a bit of time for them to ‘get used to us’ and our generally excitable ways.

The house by this point was filled with the delicious smell of our first course – raviolo stuffed with portobello, oyster and button mushrooms with an onion cappuccino (cooked by Charlie Nelson). I’m pretty sure everyone agreed this was really good, particularly that sauce. I mean, onions and cream – need I say more?

Our main was salmon en papillote, served with dill, creme fraiche and aga roasted potatoes. The salmon was very fresh and spring-like and those aga roasted potatoes pleased me no end with their little wrinkly jackets. A rocket and pine nut salad added a hit of greenery and was dressed with a fine vinaigrette – robust, thick and unapologetic – just how I like it.

To finish there was that ‘fu**ing’ lemon tart – well worth Ms ML’s efforts, with a good tart whack of citrus, wonderful smooth texture and a bonus surprise addition of meringues which were really nice and chewy, I suspect due to an ultra-slow cooking in the aga.

Ms ML most definitely scores top marks as a hostess (as does her daughter as waitress), the whole evening was incredibly relaxed and the atmosphere in the room by the end of dinner was, ahem ‘lively’ to say the least. All 18 diners chatting and laughing – our table loudest of all if I remember rightly. We even managed to persuade Chris to give us a little impromptu tinkle on Ms ML’s ivories (not as rude as it sounds), to which I know there was out of tune singing and punching of fists in the air because I have video evidence on my camera.

There was coffee to follow but three hours after arrival we Southerners had to flee lest we miss the last train and be stranded on the wrong side of the river. Terrible things can happen to a Londoner when stranded on the wrong side of the water after midnight you know. Don’t worry though, because sleeping on Ms ML’s camp bed isn’t one of them – yep, she has even been known to accomodate the odd tipsy diner for the night*. Now that’s what I call hospitality.

You can buy tickets for the underground restaurant and cooking classes here.

*please do not take this for granted. I’m saying it happened, not that she runs a hotel too….

19 comments » | Restaurant Reviews, Underground Restaurants

Plaice Goujons with Punk IPA Batter.

March 22nd, 2009 — 1:02pm

I have made no secret of my love for Brew Dog beers. Ever since I first tasted one (at the *Tipped Winter BBQ, below), I have been truly dedicated to ‘sampling’ them – every single one in the range, repeatedly. They are so unique and interesting, I wanted to step things up a little and try my hand at a bit of food matching or, as I ended up, using them as an ingredient in a recipe. This is the first of my two culinary experiments with the beers, both quite different and both pretty damn fine. I might publish the other one next week when it’s raining again, it’s that kind of recipe.

The Punk IPA is the beer I find most drinkable on an ‘everyday’ basis – if I was challenged to a session on Brew Dog, this would be my weapon of choice. Described as a ‘post modern classic pale ale’, it’s bitter and malty enough to be interesting and yet it has a subtle, playful fruityness. I thought the best way to harness this fizzy beast and its punky tang would be in a classic beer batter for fish.

Apart from the fact I made the batter a little too thick, the goujons were seriously tasty. The flavour of the beer really comes through, without overwhelming the fish (I used plaice) and they are wicked dunked into a punchy home made tartare sauce. I was too lazy on this occasion to make chips but really, the goujons are practically begging for them. As an added bonus, I also went some way towards conquering my fear of deep frying – probably not a good thing for my waistline, although experimenting with triple cooked chips is clearly more important than worrying about a few extra pounds, so watch this space.

If you don’t live near a Brew Dog stockist, fret not – you can buy online.

Plaice Goujons with Punk IPA Batter (based on a Hugh-FW recipe, here)

4 plaice fillets, each fillet cut into three lengthways (skin removed)
200g plain flour
250 – 300ml Brew Dog Punk IPA beer (I used 250ml and it wasn’t enough)
Salt and pepper
Groundnut oil, for frying (+ 2 tbsp for the batter)

– Sift the flour into a bowl, add 2 tbsp of groundnut oil and whisk in the beer gradually. Hugh-FW says to stop when you have the consistency of ‘thick emulsion paint’. Make sure there are no lumps by beating well and then rest it for half an hour or so.
– Heat 10cm depth of oil in a saucepan. To test if it’s ready, drop a cube of bread into the oil – it should brown in 2-3 minutes.
– Dip the fish into the batter then lower into the oil. Fry 2 or 3 at a time and then rest on kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil.

Tartare Sauce

1 egg yolk
1.5 tsp white wine vinegar
1.5 tsp mustard
100-150ml groundnut oil (depending on how thick you like your mayo)
1 tbsp chopped cornichons
1 tbsp chopped capers (I like the ones packed in salt, just make sure you give them a good rinse)
1 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
1/2 small clove of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

– Put the egg yolk in a bowl and mix in the crushed garlic, mustard and a good pinch of salt.
– Using a small whisk to mix, begin by adding the oil a drop at a time, making sure it is well incorporated before adding the next. As your mayonnaise starts to thicken, you can start adding a little more oil in each time, again making sure it is well incorporated. If you are not confident with making mayonnaise, it is worth remembering not to underestimate how slowly you need to add the oil. When you get more of a feel for it then you know how much is too much. If your mayo splits, just start with a fresh yolk in a clean bowl and add the split mixture gradually to it. This should bring it back.
– Mix in the remaining ingredients.

* A massive awesome thank you to Joel and Charles from Tipped for showing me the way of the Brew Dog!

17 comments » | Fish, Main Dishes, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads

Hawksmoor: The Burger.

March 17th, 2009 — 1:29pm

Just when I thought it wasn’t possible to love Hawksmoor and their great hunks o’meat any more than I already do, they start turning out burgers. At present only available as a lunchtime special, the burger is a true gift to the city business men and ladies what lunch. With the luxury of a week day off however, Chris and I hopped on the number 78 to Shoreditch to sample their latest carnivorous creation – the result of some serious experimentation with numerous different cuts of beef, cheeses and buns.

Yesterday was a sunny day in London and I was therefore excitable anyway. Couple this with the anticipation of tasting what I had built up in my head as the best burger of my life and I needed some calming down. We decided the only thing for it was to sink a couple of my beloved Brew Dog Punk IPA’s but tragically they had run dry. This did present an opportunity to try a frosty glass of Proof Pilsen instead though, which was very pleasant – grassy, slightly hoppy and very importantly, ice cold. I also seriously covet those beer glasses.

Now, onto the important bit. The burger is a combination of lean longhorn beef mixed with a mixture of fattier cuts and (be still my beating heart), little nuggets of bone marrow heaven, for extra unctuous rich flavour goodness. Just like their steaks, the meat was juicy, deep with beefy flavour, sporting a fantastic crusty charring and a damn good unapologetic seasoning.

The bun is, I am relieved to report, in the traditional, sesame seeded, soft style (I am not a fan of messing around with the bun, it shows a lack of confidence in the rest of the burger in my opinion), although Hawksmoor have actually managed to improve on this style too, by using a semi-sweet brioche – all glazed and pretty to boot.

The other burger components are well thought out too – a slight hint of mild, American style mustard coming through in the mayo, super fresh salad of crunchy little gem lettuce, beef tomato, finely sliced red onion and thankfully, pickles. To me, a burger without pickles is incomplete. These were not too wet, not too vinegary and not too small. I am a little sad to report that the carefully chosen Oggleshield cheese was unavailable yesterday, so we had to settle for the emergency cheddar instead. It was totally lost in the burger unfortunately, not enough tang to foil the rich meat patty but obviously Hawksmoor know this, or they wouldn’t have dismissed it in the first place.

They do have the courtesy to give you a knife and fork although I only used them to cut through the burger and provide you with this totally out of focus cross section shot. Sorry about that. Otherwise, the cutlery lay spotless at the side of my plate as I tucked into the burger in the proper manner – with my hands and with gusto.

If I was to make any attempt at a grumble with this burger, I did feel at the time it was but a whisker over cooked. Although, it really looks perfectly nice and pink in this picture. I am as confused by this as you probably are. It is served with a choice of little gem salad or triple cooked chips. Naturally, I ordered the latter. Fluffy within, crispy without, again – not shy with the seasoning. I love them because they remind me of those chips you start to find as you reach the bottom of the paper, the really crispy, salty, naughty ones. A good home made ketchup also comes as standard.

At £15, the burger isn’t cheap, it is downright expensive, but then it is also not far from perfect and I can safely say it is the best I have eaten in London. For me, it is a vast improvement on Hache, where I have issues with the saucing and the bun. Hawksmoor, please accept my whole hearted thanks for finally raising the London burger bar.

157 Commercial Street
E1 6BJ

0207 247 7392

Hawksmoor on Urbanspoon

21 comments » | Burgers, Restaurant Reviews

Pulpo a la Gallega.

March 11th, 2009 — 9:48pm

Those of you who know me or follow me on Twitter will probably share my relief – I’ve finally, finally cooked the octopus. Ever since I ate an octopus salad back in February at this meal, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of cooking one at home. First I tried sourcing at Borough – no joy. Next, my local fishmonger, but he only had a real monster in stock, so I waited another few days for a more manageably sized cephalopod. Apparently, they are really popular and so the whole freezer was stacked to the brim with different sized specimens.

Now in possession of the ‘pus, my next stumbling block was a familiar one – my memory. Every night I would intend to defrost it and simply forgot, thus delaying the big event even further. In the interim though, I had plenty of time to look around for recipes. At first I wanted to create something akin to the salad I enjoyed all those weeks earlier – lemon, parsley, garlic – light, fresh flavours. Then a conversation with Dan and Rob led me onto this classic preparation, something a bit more warming for a cold (if sunny) day in London.

My fishmonger informed me that this mediterranean (?) species of octopus is much more desirable than the English ones they buy fresh, which tend to be too tough, even after the necessary preparations.This beasty however turned out perfectly – I defrosted and gently boiled for 45 minutes or so, giving the tentacles a quick dipping first to scald them and curl them up (see below).

A liberal dusting of paprika and sea salt, a slosh of olive oil, a sprinkle of parsley and – ta-da! My first ever home cooked octopus. Not a bad effort considering I was slightly scared of the slimey sucker when I started out. At a tenner a pop, I won’t be cooking it every week, but it’s definitely a welcome addition to the repertoire.

Pulpo a la Gallega

I basically followed this recipe, but only cooked it for 45 minutes (until it was tender) and I employed the fancy dipping technique to make the tentacles curly.

31 comments » | Fish, Tapas

Rowley Leigh’s Smoked Eel and Bacon Salad.

March 3rd, 2009 — 4:21pm

Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Week In Week Out‘ is a strong contender for the title of ‘my favourite cookbook ever’. He makes use of so many beloved ingredients, with recipes that make my heart skip a beat and my thighs quiver in fear every time I look at them. A book for the calorie counter it ain’t. Nor the vegetarian. The squeamish can also forget it, as Simon is a huge advocate of nose to tail eating. All these qualities combine to form a sumptuously photographed, mouth-wateringly carnivorous (there’s also a lot of fish) and very British cook book.

The book begins with this salad, showcasing one of my favourite smoked beasties – the eel. I love that rich, oily texture, which works well with crisp, streaky bacon and a sinful beurre blanc. This is the first time I’ve attempted this sauce at home and I was surprised at how easy it was although again, not for the faint hearted.

As I’ve been growing in confidence with wine tasting recently, I wanted to have a go at matching some wine with the eel. I chose a wine (an Austrian Grüner Veltliner), based on a vague memory of a Twitter conversation with Dan from Bibendum. I also asked the man in the shop, just to keep all bases covered and he agreed enthusiastically so I went ahead and bought it.

It turned out that Grüner was an excellent match for the eel – quite a bit of acidity to cut through the richness of the salad, notes of peach and grapefruit with a peppery finish. I also thought I detected a bit of floweryness (that’s an acceptable wine description, surely?) on the nose. There, I said it. My first blogged attempt at wine tasting. Now I nervously anticipate your comments.

I may lack confidence with the wine, but I will boldly say that you should make this salad. It is smoky, soft, crispy and buttery and immensely good for you (mostly psychologically). And, dare I say it, your experience may be further enhanced should you pair it with a glass of Grüner Veltliner.

Rowley Leigh’s Smoked Eel and Bacon Salad (serves 4)
(from ‘Week in Week Out’ by Simon Hopkinson)

1 small salad frisee (the inside, yellow bits). I used curly endive
A squeeze of lemon juice and a tiny splash of light olive oil to dress the above
Salt and pepper
200g smoked eel fillets, sliced very lengthways as thinly as possible
8 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, grilled until crisp
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped chives

For the beurre blanc
2 shallots, very finely chopped
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons white wine
4 tablespoons water
250g very cold, fine quality unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

– Make the beurre blanc: using a small stainless steel or enamelled pan, combine shallots, vinegar, wine and water. Reduce over a very moderate heat until almost no liquid is left. Then, reduce the heat to as low as possible and add the butter one chunk at a time (using a small whisk), until it is all incorporated. It should look like light, slightly jellied custard. Season and keep somewhere warm (but not actually on the heat).
– Separate frisee into thin leaves and dress with the lemon juice, oil and seasoning. Arrange evenly on the plate as a base for the salad.
– Arrange the eel strips on top, the bacon bits around the edge and then spoon the beurre blanc ‘in and around’. Garnish with the chopped chives.

13 comments » | Fish, Lunchbox, Salads, Starters

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