Monday 26 November 2007

Cowie's Chilli Con Carne

After a good year or so of banter about making the world's best chilli con carne, Cowie put her money where her mouth was and cooked up a spicy storm on Sunday evening.

Start by sauteing some onions, some garlic, a couple of chillis, some celery stalks, a couple of heaped teaspoons of chilli powder, a kilo of lean mince. Then add some tomato puree, two tins of tomatoes, a good glug of web wine, some salt and pepper and then some lea and perrins. Then add some chopped parsley.

Leave to bubble for 40 minutes and serve with rice in front of Top Gear!

Sunday 25 November 2007

Mega Dinner

This is what Wakers and Sam polished off after a marathon gym session.

Baked potato
Spaghetti hoops
Spring onions
Cheese sauce
Tuna mayo
Baked beans
Leftover bolognese


Whitstable Scallops

Before heading back to London from Whitstable we picked up a dozen scallops from the fishmonger and lovingly transported them home wrapped up in plenty of ice.

After a pretty heavy weekend of eating we were keen to avoid over carbing ourselves so tried Mum's little trick of blitzing cauliflower to make a puree... apparently it's what all the almost cool chefs are doing these days!

We used Gordon Ramsay's tip of placing the scallops in a clock formation so we knew how long we had cooked them all for. It worked brilliantly. Each scallop received a quick blast of searing heat, a spot of seasoning and a little drizzle of butter before being placed on their smart little pedestals of cauliflower and bacon.

They were super fresh. Ultra tasty. And mega satisfying!

The Acorn House, Kings Cross

Ever since Giles Coren's glowing review in The Times, I've been looking for an opportunity to check Acorn House out. Tucked away near Kings Cross it's a bugger to get home from. So lunch seemed like it might present the best opportunity.

We sloped off to lunch, eager to see if it was as good as everyone said. It's housed inside what looks like it could be a 1970s car park with grey concrete walls, ill fitting windows and not a lot of style. The one thing that suggested we were in for a treat was the pub esque sign outside announcing Acorn House to have been voted restaurant of the year by the Observer. Impressive.

Inside it was super busy, even for lunch. We shared a delicious assortment of chesses, salady things and salami for starter, whilst we guzzled a very nice bottle of cotes de Rhone.

I was very excited when my main course arrived. Cowie would have laughed as I was unable to not order the pork belly! If it's on the menu I find it impossible to order anything else. The flesh was so soft, tender and melting. Meanwhile the crackling wasn't so much crackling, as just a bit crunchy! I love pork belly so much that this wasn't really a problem... but maybe not quite so much as this guy does!

From Daddy Mc on Flickr

I can't wait to go back to Acorn House and explore their menu in more depth. It's a fascinating place that is sure to be a huge success.

Ly Bar in Balham

After a hard morning playing hockey on an icy pitch what better way to spend the afternoon than to tuck into Heston Blumenthal's latest book and read about how to cook the perfect Peking duck. Half an hour later and I was gagging for a pancake, some crispy skinned duck, a few shards of spring onion and cucumber and lashings of hoi sin sauce.

The lengths Heston went to were outrageous. Blowing air into a well chosen duck with a drinks straw or bellows and a bizarre range of cooking processes all seemed a bittoo much! So Cowie and I popped out to find a decent Chinese restaurant in Balham. Life's too easy sometimes!

We'd walked past Ly Bar quite a few times and had never had any inclination to pay them a visit. From the outside it looks like a newly painted glizty bar with a seedy underbelly. But inside it's great. A touch of contemporary, oriental style. Laquered screens and a very discrete waterfall made us feel like someone was reading our minds and giving us exactly what we wanted!

Cowie reigned me back from ordering a half peking duck, which was a good thing! Instead the two of us shared a quarter of a quacker with a range of pancakes and lettuce leaves. Having got really excited about haivng the perfect duck with pancakes, I guess I had set myself up for a bit of disappointment! Don't get me wrong we devoured our duck and needed several reloads of hoi sin sauce... but I think we were stretching our imagination too far to think the Ly Bar was going to be up to Heston's exacting stadnards. Heston's main technical problem when cooking crispy duck was that creating duck with crispy skin and keep the felsh moist is about as easy as some of Zeno's paradoxes. If you want crispy skin you get dry flesh. And if you want juicy meat the skin is normally flabby. Ly Bar's duck was a bit tasteless and dry, but a good dollop of sauce sorted that out!

Picture from Xiaming on Flikr

Our main courses were really very good. Cowie's whole steamed sea bass with soy sauce, ginger and spring onion was moist and delicious. The only draw back being the fact that it was given a laparotomy at the table by someone who didn't know what they were doing. We felt very sorry for our waitress who continually apologised and explained that she had only ever done one before! Someone needs to train the staff up a bit. Disecting an expensive fish in front of a paying customer has to be done well. It's these kind of touches that make eating at places like Sheeky's so special.

My BBQ stewed pork belly arrived in a beautiful clay pot and tasted delicious. Slightly spicy, gooey and deeply porky. Just what I like. And then it got even better when I discovered some really slippery mushrooms that seemed like pieces of cartilige! Yummy. And very different what you get at your average local Chinese restaurant.

So, the food was good, if unspectacular. A cut above most Chinese restaurants. But the staff need some training and they need to read Heston's book to get a bit closer to serving the perfect duck!

Saturday 17 November 2007

Wild Honey

Cowie, her sister Vicoria and I visited Wild Honey this week with Mary, Cowie's Granny for a special meal. We'd heard great things in reviews in the Metro and Sunday supplements. Top class seasonal food in a charming setting seemed to be the prevailing opinion. It's the sequel to Arbutus which we've not been to but is supposed to be brilliant.

I arrived via Maddox Street where I spent a moment or two having a look at Hibiscus's menu and slick interior. Very Mayfair... although a little stark. Menu looked great too.

Things didn't start well when we arrived at Wild Honey. The girl on the front desk dramatically opened the door into Cowie's face! Some entrance... luckily this was just an amusing aberation. Everything from then on was perfect.

We negotiated a move away from a quiet backwater of the restaurant into a booth next to the cheese board... right into the heart of the action. The menu was well thought out with ample choice of fish, meat or veggie stuff...

My eye was immediately caught by the braised pig's head for starter and saddle of venison for main whilst the girls opted for a combination of red mullet, wild duck, halibut and snails... but just not mixed together!

Before our starters arrived we decided on a couple of carafe's of white and red wine... both from Chile which were excellent. I can heartily recommend numbers 11 and 52! I just can't quite remember what they were called! A robust but soft Chilean Malbec for my pigs head and venison and a Chilean Viognier for the girls' snails, and fish.

My pig's head was exceptional. I have never eaten anything that tasted more "piggy". It was a combination of slow cooked chunks of head meat, cheeks, jowls etc. pressed into a terrine and then sliced and served warm. Stunning. It came with a sweet and soft onion compote and a slick of potato puree. I can't wait to make it myself... maybe for Christmas!

Feeling quite proud of myself for my bold choice of starter I was offered nibbles at Cowie's red mullet and Victoria's cold English snail. Bot were really tasty but it was quite hard for me to judge after such a gutsy and powerful starter myself. Victoria was a bit disappointed by the size of her portion, which was only to be confounded further by the slender portion of halibut she received for her main course.

Because Cowie and Mary both opted for wild duck I decided to switch to venison which arrived in a the shape of a fat sausage covered in a juniper crust with what I thought were uber tasty potatoes but turned out to be roasted beets. As a combination it worked brilliantly. The meat was tender, moist and tasty and was enhanced by the well chosen selection of vegetables. My only wish would be for a touch more sauce. With the Malbec it was a delicious deep red autumnal marriage.

The girls' duck was lean and tasty with a hint of pinkness. Satisfied mmms and arghs are the main memory I've got of their dish. And also a big debate about what the vegetable that looked like an asparagus was that tasted more like a root vegetable. At the time we thought it was salsify and have since checked on google and it seems we were right!

Victoria's halibut had been gently poached and was served with a mushroom and parsley risotto and greens. All very tasty and very delicate in comparison to the duck and venison. The flesh flaked away perfectly but we couldn't help thinking the whole thing was a bit grey.

Granny had spotted that creme brulee was on the menu for dessert so had held back on the starters. As the waitress arrived to take away our plates from the main course the order for creme brulee was eagerly given. Cowie and I opted to share a bowl of wild honey ice cream and crushed honey comb, whislt Victoria opted for a slice of treacle tart... feeling a bit greedy we also asked for some cheese... afterall we were sat right next to them!

All of the cheese comes from the aladin's cave of the cheese world... La Fromagerie which is just down the road from my office. When we pop off to Waitrose for lunch we often stop off to pick up some obscure and perfectly ripe cheese before nipping into the Ginger Pig for a pork pie or mamouth Scotch egg! I've got a serious soft spot for their cheese... hence the title of this blog!

We had a selection of goat, cow and blue cheeses with some quince and wild honey on the side whilst we waited for our pudding. All were delicious and acted as a perfect segue to our gorgeously sweet desserts.

Our ice cream was first class as were the treacle tart and the enormous creme brule. We loved the way that each one of the sugar rich desserts wasn't overpoweringly sweet. Maybe they use honey instead of sugar...

We had a very memorable evening and are dying to return when we can afford to. It's a great place to spend an evening with friends and family and I can imagine a good place for a business lunch too.

If you want to see what it looks like have a look at Purple Cloud's brilliant photos on Flickr.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Wild Honey, Mayfair

As a treat we are off to Wild Honey on St George's Street tonight. Very excited. It has received some superb reviews and has also been awarded the BMW Square Meal Award.

"The BMW Square Meal Award is designed to recognise the best of the new restaurants, rewarding innovation and imagination on London’s ever-growing dining-out scene.

BMW’s sponsorship of this award continues to be a perfect pairing. The brand shares the allure of a desirable restaurant, consistently delivering quality, aspirational style and that all-important X factor.

This autumn it was no easy choice to pick a winner. There have been a number of impressive launches over the past six months – Angelus, La Petite Maison, Rhodes W1 and Skylon, to name just a few – but we felt that Mayfair’s Wild Honey had the edge.

Just like its sibling, Arbutus, which won the BMW Square Meal Award last autumn, this is a restaurant with a refreshingly unpretentious approach to dining: the simple European dishes are superbly executed and the wine list offers all bins in 250ml carafes, a terrifically user-friendly approach to food and wine matching. There’s also friendly, professional service, affordable prices and, to top it all, the surroundings are that little bit more swish than at Arbutus.

It’s rare to find a new restaurant that ticks so many boxes. Our heartiest congratulations go to co-owners Anthony Demetre and Will Smith, head chef Colin Kelly and the entire Wild Honey team."

It is the sibling of Arbutus and claims to provide exquiste seasonal food, thats bit different and doesn't shatter your wallet in the process..... we shall see!

We will provide a full debrief in due course

Thursday 8 November 2007

Epic Beef Stew

I love it when autumn comes around. It's a chance to wheel out my slow cooker, affectionately known as Stewie Griffin.

The beauty of Balham is the range of niche food shops they've got and the brilliant, but small market at the weekends. I am an enormous fan of the Halal butcher just next to Sainsbury's.

They sell brilliant ox tails, mamouth blades of beef, hard to find shins of beef and whole necks of lamb and loads of goat! I always land up carrying a seriously weighty blue bag full of dense, cheap meat back across Wandsworth Common to the Towers, dreaming up delicious things to cook. More often than not I defer back to someting resembling a bourgignon... loads of red wine, an unhealthy amount of garlic and tonnes of onion.

I cut up my shin and blade of beef into big old chunks before work this morning and seared them in a really hot pan to brown the meat before lobbing the three kilos of meet into the slow cooker. This was followed by 3 large onions sweated with 14 cloves of garlic and a pack of steaky bacon... all softened to bring out the sweetness. All this went into the pot with a bottle of red wine, a handful of tomatoes, some mushrooms, thyme and roesmary.

I popped the pot on a timer to start cooking at lunch time and nipped off to work smelling like a Frenchman. On the packed train to Waterloo I got some seriously odd looks... smelling of red wine, garlic and onions... highly desirable!

I'm always a bit aprehensive when I come back from work when the slow cooker has been on... will the house still be standing... will the cooker have turned itself on... will it have gone on at the right time... will the food be cooked... will it taste any good?

The meat was almost perfectly cooked. It didn't quite fall apart when poked so I let it cook for another hour or so. I quickly cooked some mash and ladled out a healthy portion of liquid to reduce down in a saute pan with some more garlic and sweet pepper. I added a roux and then the meat to creat a really unctuous looking stew which tasted absolutely amazing!

I bloody love stews.

Bruton House, Somerset

As a double birthday treat Granny decided she wanted to take the family and plus ones to Bruton House, a recently taken over restaurant in the heart of Bruton in Somerset. Having read some fantastic reviews we were all enormously excited, but equally rather sceptical that such a super place had suddenly arrived on our door step.

As we entered through the impressive royal blue doors into the reception area I immediately warmed to the place. Subtle lighting, charming staff, good smells from the kitchen, great Louis Armstrong burbling along in the back ground and lovely cream sofas to melt into.

While we sat in the reception and pondered over the inspired Winter menu we were offered some delightful little nibbles to wet the appetite; vast plump and juicy olives, homemade parsnips crisp and mini filo cones filled with ricotta and caviar. A great start.

We all struggled to decide our choices as everything sounded delectable! However, the madre dee was fantastic. She gave a comprehensive low down about everything on the menu and this prevented me from doing my usual of asking endless questions about this and that!

The dinning area was superb; good layout, soft subtle lighting, crisp table clothes; it all complimented the beautiful features of the building including the magnificent stone fire place and old beams. The service throughout the evening was fantastic.. things just happened or simply appeared in front of you.

Now I always get very excited when a small spoon is placed in front of me, especially when I know it has nothing to do with my starter! Our amuse bouch for the evening was an exquisite lobster bisque in a shot glass with an inch thick foam on top. We were all seriously impressed with this. It effortlessly slipped down ones throat with its velvet texture and offered a wonderful depth of flavour.

Then came the starters. Dad and I went for a cracker: Dorset crab, grapefruit and cucumber salad. It was beautiful to look at, light in texture and the mix of flavours exposed in your month. First the rich crab, followed by the zing of the grapefruit and finally the cucumber jelly cleansed the pallet. A 1st class dish. The scallops looked spectacular, but it was pretty hefty having 3 whopping scallops, cauliflower cheeses and pastry. Delicious, but all abit much.

I do love abit of fish but decided on this occasion I was totally sold by the meat dishes on the menu: Wild rabbit with pancetta, ravioli and consommé, Roast grouse with traditional accompaniments, Roasted loin of lamb, tomato cous-cous and kidneys and Seared Dexter beef sirloin with bourguinon sauce and girolles. As you can see.. what a choice! I opted for the lamb and was not in the slightest bit disappointed. Perfectly cooked pink meat, the kidneys added a pleasing kick to the dish but didn't over power it and the mildly spiced / fragrant couscous was the perfect compliment. The others all gave positive reports, especially from mum who had the grouse.

There was no question about whether or not we were having puddings; apricot crumble souffle with apricot sorbet was an absolute must. It was simply incredible. In short it was definitely the best souffle I have ever had!

We had such a super evening and I will definitely be going back. Bruton House offers effortless charm, discrete elegance and bloody brilliant food. Ideal for a celebration or a romantic dinner. The only slight hiccup about the evening was that we were booked in for dinner at 8pm on 22nd Oct... yes, a bad clash with Rugby World Cup Final... and hence Brownys absence on this occasion!

Wednesday 7 November 2007

A Fantasitc Wholesome Breakie at Leon

I am the first to admit I am abit of nerd when it comes to all things healthy.. especially for breakfast. If you also crave the likes of organic this and that, then Leon is the place for you.

I was thrilled when my 9am meeting this morning drew to a close early and I had over an hour to burn before my next one, with not enough time to scrabble back to the office. So I decided to treat myself.

I spotted Leon in the distance opposite Harrods.. I was staving and dying for a cuppa. I settled in with the paper and awaited for my breakie to arrive. I was delighted with my choice... An enormous bowl of steaming tea and some yummy hot,creamy, thick and gooey organic porridge with homemade blackberry compote. Now I know its sounds ridiculous to get so excited about something as basic as a bowl of oats, but this was the best I have ever eaten! I can assure you the menu does offer many more exciting goodies... but this one was for me!

I have been Leon on other occasions for a light lunch. The fodder is always wholesome, tasty, healthy and delicious. The brand and restaurants are very funky and only add to its appeal.

In short.. Leon Rocks. Go there.. and don't forget the porridge!

Sunday 4 November 2007

Canteen and Spitalfields Market

Cowie and I have been looking forward to paying Canteen a visit for Sunday lunch for ages... probably more than a year now. We've just always had other stuff to do and find the trek to Liverpool Street from Clapham a bit of a mission! Getting the bus from Shoreditch home once took 3 hours and involved a detour via Trafalgar Square the night the Italians won the football work cup...

So we zoomed up to Spitalfield eager to get stuck into some bartering and haggling... but were disappointed to find the old market is being renovated and is due to reopen shortly... so we had to make do with the new market stalls just outside Leon, Giraffe and most importantly, Canteen.

Stalls that pop up at Borough, Albeville Road, Good Food Show, London Food Show etc were all on show selling divie chocolate brownies and bananna cake, gorgeous focaccia with olives, amazing pies, stunning chocolate and every other goodie you could think of... London's markets are brilliant. It made us want to give up our day jobs and start a stall...

Having got over our disappointed at the market being somewhat truncated we nipped over the road to Brick Lane to check out the Shepard Fairey exhibition at Stolen Spaces. Just as we set off I overheard an American girl call out to her friend, "Hey Shepard...". How bizarre!

The exhibition was immense. In a vast, industrial space above Brick Lane we emerged into a cavernous space that probably used to be a clothing factory. On the bare concrete walls hung powerful images showing Shepard Fairey's evolution of his Obey/Andre propoganda into a collection of posters/stencil paintings that couldn't hammer home his anti war, pro freedom message any more explosively. The message that we are all being watched in an Orwellian state is particularly apt in London, and even more so on Brick Lane as London has the highest proportion of CCTV cameras per person in any city! He managed to sell 90% of his work on the opening night... not bad for what a lot of the art world would call a vandall!

We ventured back to Canteen via a vibrant market on Brick Lane which could't have had more imaginative stuff on sale... full of originality. Great T shirts, awesome belt buckles, delicious food from every culture of the globe. And we popped out at the rear to see a red London RootMaster bus set up as a restaurant in between a clapped out car by Banksy and a meteorite type thing by D-Face... so cool. I've promised to take Cowie there for a quirky evening of vegan food and bus passes! Very appropriate because Cowie sat us next to a stinky tramp on the bus this morning!

Back at the ranch in Spitalfield we had to queue for about 10 minutes for a table at Canteen which, in conjunction with the school dinner tables, reminded us of Busaba and Wagamamas... no bad thing. The menu is a tour de force of British classics. From macoroni cheese, through potted shrimps, roast duck, veal pie, abroath smokies, smoked haddock and mash and fish and chips. We couldn't find anything we didn't want! No mean feat.

We were seated at the end of a long communual table right next to the kitchen... perfect. It gave us a chance to see all the goodies flying out. Our first observations were that quite a few of the plates seemed to spend too long on the pass. And we weren't sure putting a salad under the hot lamps was a wise move either! On top of this we were quite surprised that not one of the chefs (5 of them) were British bearing in mind this is a British restaurant. And come to think of it neither were any of the waiters or greeting staff. But then again it doesn't matter because all of the food was sublime. In many ways its a great endoresement of how good British food is... and of what a brilliantly mixed culture we are lucky to have in London.

We ordered some apple and tomato juice whilst we filtered our way through the totally delicious menu. When Cowie wasn't looking I asked the waiter for some home made pork scratchings which arrived in a little kiln jar and put a massive smile on my face. The combination of salt and fat is a bit like a class A drug... except more addictive and probably worse for me in the long run!

Our water was from the eco friendly Belu which gets another tick in the box. I love the little icon of a penguin with a smile on his face... and the fact that all profits go towards bore holes in Africa and other great water projects in the developing world.

All this boring stuff aside.... Cowie had smoked haddock and mash with spinach and holandaise which was so, so good I could have licked her plate after she had finished.

Luckily I didn't get food envy because my veal pie was so epic! Stunningly crispy pastry and rich gooey innards took all the pain away from playing hockey on Saturday. The greens were great too... mainly because they were smothered in gravy and veal juice.

All for £32... what a great place. I can't wait to go back.


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