Thursday 28 May 2009

Throw Away Your Prohibitions - Whisky Tasting Session

Ever since I first read about The Tasting Sessions, via Londonist’s report on their Generation XO cognac event, I was hooked. So when the chance to participate in an unusual whisky tasting in a speakeasy popped up, I got rather excited.

The idea behind The Tasting Sessions, is to find surprising and interesting ways of experiencing wine and spirits tastings. They are always held in cool venues and find a way of being different but in a way that sets off the liquid being tasted. Their speakers tend to be very entertaining and the diverse crowd is full of people you’d like to spend the evening talking to. Their model is to showcase top class, unusual drinks in an interesting manner.

To get into the event you had to utter the password before you were let into the illicit speakeasy called Barts on Sloane Avenue. It proved to be a brilliant venue as you’ll see from the photos below.

Before the official tasting kicked off we tucked into some awesome whisky cocktails such as a stunning Manhattan and a Whisky Sour. Whatever ice needed braking, was smashed by the time the tasting officially started!

We were guided through a flight of 6 whiskies by Jen Dickson from The Whisky Exchange with each dram being paired with a cheese by La Fromagerie’s Jon Schofield. For each whisky we were encouraged to position it on a tasting map which helped to give us a frame of reference.

We started with Clynelish 14 year old which had a salt and pepper finish that meant it paired very nicely with some strong Tobermory cheddar from the Isle of Mull. Whilst the cheese matched well, it was the salty, caramely chocolates that appeared that stole the show.

My favourite whiskey came next. Stranahans from Colorado is an American single malt whisky which makes it very unusual. It contrasted strongly with the Clyenlish and had a mellow, vanilla note running through it. I’d love to have a bottle to tuck into whilst writing. The Doddington cheese is well known for its caramel flavours and nutty characteristics which brought out the almost desert like quality of the whiskey.

An Irish whiskey from Connemara emerged next with a puff of smoke that gave away it’s peaty charms. It matched well with a cheese from the Basque region called Zelu Korlaria.

Ever since seeing Lost in Translation, I’ve wanted to learn more about Japanese whisky. The Nikka Yoichi 10 year old was well balanced and, in my mind, quite delicate. Whilst I liked the whisky, the star was the Ami de Chambertin soft cheese washed in brandy from Burgundy which I am ashamed to say I had several helpings of!

Then we were subjected to the humiliation of a blind tasting where a peppery, slightly banana-ry spirit was showcased which blew the tasting apart. It was paired with a lemony, salty soft goat’s cheese which should have rung a few alarm bells as the “whisky” turned out to be El Tesoro Paradiso tequila. The idea was to show that top quality, aged tequilas can be sipped and enjoyed just like a whisky. I’m hoping Angella and Hayley think about hosting a tequila tasting soon as this is a really interesting area.

We finished on a stratospheric high with a glass of Port Ellen 1978 8th Release which is extremely rare and more importantly delicious. My palette by this point was pretty overwhelmed, so all I can say (rather hopelessly) is that it was very complex. Which meant it had to be matched with a pair of cheeses, making it the John Prescott of the whisky world – Two Cheese Port Ellen. The parmesan crumbled and gave a salty, granular edge whilst a Bleu d’Avergne added a creamyness and salty tang.

Hats off to Hayley and Angella. The whole event was brilliant from start to finish. Jon and Jen were both cracking experts and made the complicated world of whisky and cheese seem fun and accessible.

Barts is a tremendous venue and added to the illicit mystique of the night. I’m just upset I didn’t make the most of the dressing up box – given that I had a marmalade stain on my shirt the gorilla outfit would have been a huge improvement!

I’m now waiting on tenterhooks to see what The Tasting Sessions dreams up next.

All photos are courtesy of Nathan McDonald

Monday 25 May 2009

Haddock with Chorizo, Roasted Veg and Polenta

Haddock with chorizo and polenta

Thank you Salad Club. If it wasn't for your Portuguese Eating Eurovision post I would have kept on walking past the Continental Deli in Brixton.

So on a Tuesday evening I popped in and spent quarter of an hour in a state of bliss. I tried cheeses, discussed polenta, sniffed chorizos, squeeze aubergines and nibbled on olives. Bella Cardoso is a star. I walked away with some spicy, semi cured chorizo, some fennel, baby tomatoes, an enormous maroon pepper a bag of polenta, some haddock from the fishmonger next door and plenty of advice to help me!

I kept things simple on the cooking front. I sliced the chorizo into chunks and fried it to crisp the outside and release the paprikay oils. I then fried the seasoned haddock skin side down in the chorizo "juice" and then flipped it over to finish. It was all done in a matter of minutes.

Prior to this I had roasted the red pepper, fennel and tomatoes with a glug of olive oil, ample seasoning and some lemon juice on a high heat with the aim of slightly scorching the veggies to give them a chance of punching their weight against the chorizo. Some steamed spinach made for a savoury burst of greenery.

And for the polenta I didn't know what I was doing, so simply followed the instructions on the pack, by boiling for 3 minutes. It was fine, but bland, as you'd expect.

The result was a dish I'm very pleased with. I adore chorizo and fish so this was a dish that was always going to make me smile.

As I sat down with a plate of Portuguese cheese from the Continental Deli and a glass of wine, I had a look on Twitter and was amazed at what I saw. Tom Aitkens, no less, had seen me a series of tweets about how to make perfect polenta...

"if you use 3-4 x the amount of stock to the polenta you should not go wring for example 100g polenta 400g white chicken stock

bring the stock to a simmer with a pinch of chopped rosemary, little smoked paprika, salt an pepper, pour in polenta and whisk

it will come together quickly then change for a spoon, add a little butter, 1 tbsp creme fraiche, little lemon juice and Parmesan"

Thank you, Tom Aitkens, very much indeed for your help, (even if it did come too late to put into practice this time). I'm now planning to cook your polenta recipe this week. It's episodes like this that make me realise just how powerful Twitter can be.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

British Sandwich Week - A Thank You

Last week was British Sandwich Week, so in my role as the Londonist's "sandwich correspondent" I asked London's top food and drink bloggers to review their favourite sandwiches in London. The brief simply was:

Write a review of a British sandwich from an independent sandwich shop

The response was magnificent. I am so pleased that everyone found the project so much fun. Sometimes I wonder whether I'm just living in my own little world called "Sandwichville"...

... so it is great to work with so many of you to unearth the sandwich treasures that London has to offer. Thanks you so much to:

Su-Lin from Tamarind and Thyme for reviewing 2 brilliant sandwiches from Raison d'Etre in South Ken
Dan from Essex Eating for the lamb sandwich from The Larder on St. John Street
Food Urchin for the ham and mozzarella sandwich from Alford's in Faringdon
Kerri from Dinner Diaries for the smoked salmon sandwich from Kastner and Ovens in Covent Garden
Family Styles for reviewing THREE sandwiches. All of them sensationally naughty.
Goodshoeday from With Knife and Fork for not only reviewing a bought sandwich but also showing us all up by making her own with sourdough!
Niamh from Eat Like a Girl for making us all fall in love all over again with the pork belly sandwich from Konstam in Kings Cross
Helen from Food Stories for the epic Pan Bagnat that must have taken a fortnight to make
Charlie from Eatmynels for such an addictive "boy sandwich" that would be perfect whilst waking up on a Sunday

I can't thank you all enough for your help with this month's Sandwichist post. Without your help British Sandwich Week would have gone by without even so much as a whimper. And the big, evil sandwich overlords would have won by making us all eat their plastic wrapped, soggy, flacid sandwiches that are manufactured without even a slither of passion and far too much mayonnaise.

Photo from Cutie Pie via Flickr Creative Commons

If anyone has any epic sandwiches to suggest for future months, please leave a helpful comment.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

L'enclume, Cartmel, Lake District

L'enclume signage

Recommendations for L’enclume aren’t hard to come by. Giles Coren waxes exuberantly and Hannah swoons at its merest mention. We’ve been dying to make the pilgrimage to this temple of gastronomy in Cumbria for a couple of years and have are now busy telling everyone how amazing it is ourselves.

An old blacksmiths in Cartmel, looking across a small river and up at the priory makes the ideal setting for L’enclume. The pale stone exterior yields gracefully to a contemporary interior that would be at home hosting a regional photography exhibition. It’s a design aesthetic that flows through to the food.

Simon Rogan is one of Britain’s most talented chefs. It seems crass to compare him to Heston Blumenthal. But it does cut to the chase quite fast. Both use the sorts of techniques you wlll find in Harold McGee’s books and Feran Adria’s kitchen. But, for me, Rogan’s cooking is more interesting.

Rogan’s individual genius is based on a three pronged attack. First, he takes the best ingredients from the surrounding area. His larder is the North West, which offers up the abundant fruits of the Lake District and the Atlantic all in one go. This gives his food an integrity and flavour that aren’t unlinked. The second prong is that he tells stories. His meals are narratives with each course pulling on a different emotional chord. One tale leads to another. And the third, and sharpest, prong on his trident is his intelligence. His food is imaginative and fun without being off-putting. It’s not up its own ass. Rather you feel the meal is like a dialogue that ebbs and flows. That has a rythmn and a gentle Cumbrian lilt that sweeps you along.

On arrival we were presented with 3 menus ranging from 9 courses to 17. We decided to pig out on the food and be thrify with the wine and opted for the full shebang. Rather than try to recapture each dish, I am going to give you the Match of the Day approach.

Cones of piquilla peppers were like dinky ice cream cones stuffed with smooth pepper ice cream. The cone was delicate, light and also charmingly flavoured. The presentation of the cones on a miniature rack only added to our glee. So often dishes promise the world with their looks, but fall apart once they are in your mouth. Not so here.

Sausage sundae is a dish that really got to me. Anyone who can combine two of my favourite foods (ice cream and chorizo) is onto a winner. And then the addition of a beetroot foam just adds an extra layer of narrative. As if Rogan is setting his diners up for an adventure. His opening salvos say, “don’t worry ladies and gentlemen. Whilst I’m going to do some weird stuff with your food, I’m going to use ingredients that you all know and love. Enjoy it.”

Cod ‘yolk’ crispies take this cue and raise the notch a bit further. The lingering Spanish accent of the chorizo sausage in the previous dish is evolved and developed by the use of brandade in this dish. The cod yolk is in fact a perfect yellow bubble of salt cod. This brilliant dish is a genial doff of the hat to Adria’s 55’ yolk over in Rosas.

Egg drop and sour soup was huge fun. It took the deliberate lack of egg from the previous dish and wove it into our soup in the same way a home cook would make a meringue from the whites and some hollandaise from the yolks. It was a striking example of how the courses are linked and how richly Rogan layers his stories. There was a danger that this could just turn out to be a slightly embarrassing homage to Feran Adria but to his credit, Rogan is more subtle. Having name checked his inspiration, he then establishes his own style. The sour soup cleansed and cut through the richness of the cod and the sausage and set us up for the main courses.

Surf and turf was brilliantly unusual. It arrived looking like three breaded scampi artistically arrange on a long plate that undulated like a sand dune. In fact they were made from pork belly and smoked eel. The outside was crisp whilst the inside was gungy and deep with savoury oomph. The flavour of pork belly yielded and gave way to the acquired taste of smoked eel. Luckily it’s a flavour we both like.

Langoustine, hydrated, marinated took inspiration from Japan. The sweet, succulent langoustine had been poached in a broth made from its shell and then had been wrapped in seaweed and dropped into a light stock. It tasted of the essence of langoustine and had us in raptures.

Glazed lamb, broccoli stems and nasturtiums was another masterpiece. The lamb was deliberately greasy and totally tasted of that addictive flavour that all men who enjoy a few pints on a Friday night are all too familiar with: kebab. The obstinate use of broccoli stems and of nasturtium rather than nasturtium flowers was trying to communicate something about the way we are all guilty of dismissing the best bits.

Chick’o’hake saw Rogan giving McDonald’s and KFC a moonie. He not only managed to fuse a perfectly crispy piece of chicken skin onto a pristinely cooked fillet of hake, but he also managed to call into question the way people remove chicken skin and turn their nose up at hake. It was a dish that followed the same storyline as the glazed lamb in that it made us re-appraise fast food such as the fillet o’fish and the chicken burger. Rogan’s ability to include people in his stories, rather than turn them away marks him out as a star.

Expearamenthol frappe was the perfect transition from main courses into sweets. A plate of eucalyptus ice cream blasted our mouth like someone squirting Vics “First Defence” in our mouths. But after so many layers of flavour, it was much needed. It would have been very easy for this to have been a great idea on paper that tasted disgusting. But yet again it was a dish that delivered on a functional and intellectual level.

Stiffy tacky pudding is one of Rogan’s signature dishes. It is a deconstruction of the classic pudding that Cartmel is famous for. You are presented with 5 spheres on a “plate” that resembles an executive toy and are told to enjoy. Each ball represents a different flavour: sweet cream, toffee, dates, fudge and vanilla. You pop them all in your mouth, one after the other and giggle with appreciation. It should go down as one of the country’s iconic dishes.

Black passion brought our meal to a close with a burst of fireworks. A ball of passion fruit sorbet and ice cream played off the rounded note from the stiffy taffy pudding. It captured the essence of passion fruit and accentuated it by pairing it with a black liquorices and poppy seed tuille. The use of liquorices reminded me of Blumenthal’s famous salmon dish, not only for the flavour, bit also for the striking colours. The use of “black” in the naming of this dish surely is not haphazard. Combine the word black with the way you have to shatter the tuille with an abrupt tap of the spoon is a subtle reference back to the origins of L’enclume, which in a previous life was a blacksmiths.

Not every dish worked. Some like “Hot pot” (a molecular take on the Lancashire hot pot) and “Surrealists Nitro Slammer” (a dessertified version of tequila, lemon and salt) failed dramatically. But as my music teacher once told me, “if you’re going to make a mistake, make it a big one” and as my rugby coach said, “if you aren’t making a few mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.” So we’ll turn a blind eye. In addition we weren’t impressed with the dodgy bed in our room or the extortionate cost of breakfast. But we’ll let them off because the negatives were so hard to find amongst the abundance of positives.

L’enclume isn’t perfect. It occasionally errs. But it surely must be up there in the pantheon of world class restaurants. Rogan’s intelligence, storytelling and sheer cookery skills place L’enclume at the anvil of the gastronomic gods.

Monday 18 May 2009

Pizza Oven (Cassius) Progress

As my way of butting in on Cowie's pizza oven project, I have not only decided that our clay oven will now be called "Cassius", but I have also given him another layer of clay which means I have technically been part of the building process!

Despite dislocating my thumb in the "claying" process, it was a huge success. Cassius is now looking and cooking better than ever. Next time we are going to add an insulating layer of clay mixed with straw/sawdust which will help to bind it together and conserve heat. Once this is set and the structure seems sound we will add a cosmetic layer of clay and maybe even decorate Cassius with some mosaics and possibly a very manly name badge.

The next step will be to convince Cowie and her parents that they are desperately in need of an "outdoor kitchen" which will give us license to build a little table and sink to make the pizza making easier. It might also be a good idea for us to get a little bakers shovel so we don't land up using the spade! Even though it does make for a great photo.

Here's a photographic update:

Adding more clay

Adding another layer of clay

After the first firing, it is quite natural for the clay to crack. It looks a bit like crazy paving. So to stop the cracking and to add strength you have to add another layer of clay mixed with sand which is what I'm doing with Andrew in the pictures.

Cooking pizza

You can see how wide the cracks are, but they are relatively cosmetic. I hope!

Olive and procuito pizza

Our proscuito, olive, mozzarella and pepperoni pizza was awesome.

Spade work

Great spade work from Andrew or Andreas as he likes to be called now!

Each time we fire up Cassius and cook a fresh batch of pizzas we get ever so slightly better. We've got our pizza dough down to a fine art and this time got the oven so hot we could barely stand near it - which wasn't really the ideal way to welcome our new layer of clay to the oven! Once we've finished the oven fully we are looking forward to experimenting with sourdough pizza bases and baking/roasting things beyond pizza. I've got my eye on a porchetta recipe for instance.

If you've got any bright ideas for what we should cook in Cassius let us know.

Saturday 16 May 2009

Eating Eurovision

Andrew Webb, AKA @Foodjournalist, is the brains and more importantly, energy behind a brilliant project, the Paunch is delighted to part of, called Eating Eurovision. Here's the idea:

25 food bloggers turn up to BBC Television Centre to watch the second semi final of the Eurovision Song Contest. Each blogger then draws a country from the hat and then has 24 hours to get under their adopted country's foodie skin in London and report back. Simple hey? Here's what happened...

BBC Television Centre

I was told off immediately by the BBC security guard for taking photographs which was nice.

BBC  visitor pass


We gorged on crap from Sainsbury's whilst crammed into a small office watching what would otherwise have been my idea of living hell.


The coverage on BBC3 was astonishing with some entries resembling soft porn more than musical performances.

Picka  ball any ball

We then all took our turns to dip into Andrew's lucky sack and we picked...

Turkey and France

Turkey and France which was brilliant, if a little bit on the demanding side...

Lizzie disappointed

But Lizzie seemed a bit disappointed by her choice of Lithuania! I can't think why!

We were in a bit of a spin about what to do but it all worked out in the end. Read our posts on Turkey and France and make sure you have a good look at what everyone else has written over on Eating Eurovision. Now it's time to sit down and watch the Eurovision Song Contest.

Eating Eurovision, Turkey - Antepliler on Green Lanes

When we drew Turkey out of the hat for Eating Eurovision we knew we had hit the jackpot. Having been on a gastro-trip to Istanbul we knew we liked the food and had a frame of reference, albeit fairly limited.

We received dozens of brilliant suggestions on where to find the heart of the Turkish community in London and almost all of them led to either Green Lanes or Stoke Newington. Some say they are the same place. Others disagree. On the sage advice from Niahm, @astareny and @lovelychaos and backed up by a great review on Travels with my Fork, we headed to Green Lanes in search of Antepliler.


According to Ahmed, who seemed to either be the owner, or at the very least heavily involved in Antepliler, their restaurant is the most authentic Turkish restaurant in London. This is backed up by the Time Out review which indicates that Antepliler serves a far more interesting range of Turkish food than anywhere else. On top of the normal kebabs they serve a fascinating, and delicious, variety of food that is from the "Food Paradise" region of Soth Eastern Turkey known as "Gaziantep". According to Ahmed at lunch time they have around 80% turkish diners and during the evening it is around 50%. It is certainly one of the restaurants at the heart and soul of the Turkish community.

We placed ourselves in the hands of our fabulous waiter with the instructions that we wanted to taste and learn about proper Turkish food. The dshes we were served were fabulous. The spicing was intelligent, the grease levels were low, and the flavours shone through like a black thong under a white linen skirt.

The great thing about Antepliler is that they combine my two favourite cooking methods - wood fired ovens and the charcoal grill. This means you are guaranteed smokey, charred flavours. And lots of meat.

Wood fired oven

Here's how our meal panned out.



Hummus is hummus isn't it? Well this was particulary good. Creamy and rich with olive oil. We landed up smearing it on everything!


Halloumi was beautifully grilled to a gentle char and barely squeaked on the teeth.


Patlican Kizartma
was my favouirte dish. As it was also for our waiter who recommended it with great gusto. The slices of aubergine were smokey and reminded me of our trip to Istanbul. The tomato and garlic sauce made for a simple but powerful backdrop.


Ezme was a essentially a Turkish salsa that lent heat, context and zing to the rest of our starters. It is made with crushed chillies, tomatoes, cucumber, peppers and lots of other goodies. You can find a good recipe here.

Icli Kofte

Icli kofte were awesome. They are like Turkish scotch egggs but with minced lamb instead of pork and no egg! The crispy shell and deeply savoury lamb mince were a match made in heaven with the ezme.


Lahmacun is a bit like the garlic pizza brad you get in Strada, but much, much better. And Turkish! All the tables around us were gorging on bowlfulls of it which can be used as the implement to eat all the amazing starters. It is a crispy Turkish flat bread topped with minced lamb, garlic, tomato and peppers. It was a revelation and something that is definitely going to be cooked in our pizza oven!


Gunahkar Pide

Gunahkar pide was billed on the menu as "surprise". So we had to have it. It was like a pizza but with more earthy spices that it's Italian cousins where the basil and the tomato have zip, this had a more bass feel to it. A topping of egg, sausage and tomato was fun, but not our favourite. We'll stick with pizza.

Alti Ezmeli Tavuk s

Alti Ezmeli Tavuk was a chicken kebab served with a spicy tomato sauce that was really excellent. The meat was tender and licked with the addictive flavour that only a charcoal grill can deliver.


Tavuklu is a speciality that you have to order 40 minutes in advance. It arrived straight from the wood fired oven, sizzling with the sort of heat you normally find in a nuclear explosion. It's a chicken caserole, like a tagine, but with more spice and a rich base of tomatoey sweetness. It had us squabbling about who was going to get the last bite. We loved it and have been informed that it doesn't often pop up on other Turkish restaurant's menus.

Vegy kebab

Vegy kebabs were just that. The peppers and aubergine were sweet and smoky. Just how we like them. The bulgar wheat and yoghurt were a great way of soaking up some of the juices and calming the heat.


Pirzola are charcoal grilled lamb cutlets that brought out the hunter gather instinct in us. Gnawing on a hot, sweet, juicy piece of lamb is one of life's great pleasures. The meat wasn't the most tender, but then again the flavour was delicious.



By this stage our chairs were creaking and a number of buttons were looking pretty precarious. So we did our best to make our excuses and leave, but our waiter was having none of it. He insisted on brining us a complimentary plate of baklava from their patissierie next door. On the way home we debated whether baklava is worse for you thank Turkish Delight and the view was that they must be. But never mind that. They tasted amazing with the sweetness of honey and depth from the vivid green pistaccio.


Intrigued by the fact that all of the other tables were drinking what looked like milk we ordered a glass of Ayran which is actually soured yoghurt with salt. Apparently it aids digestions and helps to combat some of the spicier dishes. Although we didn't drink it all, we enjoyed it. Oddly it reminded me of Actimels.

Turkish tea

We finished with a glass of the strongest tea I've ever had. It had the bitterness of coffee and lightness of tea which is quite a weird combination. That said, it made for a fabulous end to a memorable and very educational meal.

We wondered home via various Turkish delis and bought some Turkish Delight to keep us going on the way home. If you want to discover the brilliant world of Turkish food, then head on down to Green Lanes and pay Antepliler a visit. You won't be disappointed.

Antepliler, 46 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, N4 1AG

Antepliler on Urbanspoon
Tel: 020 8802 5588

Eating Eurovision, France - Illicit Ortolan in London

Of all the countries to pick in the Eating Eurovision competition, France is probably the most difficult. At first glance it's easy. But the more we thought about it the more cliched and expected our ideas were. I work for a French company and asked a French colleauge about French food. We circled around subjects such as truffles, sauscisse Lyonnaise and qunelles which were all fascinating. They all revolved around the cooking of Lyon and Dijon. We started talking about the fact that French people are so bonkers about food that they often take things too far. And that's when I remembered Ortolan.

The Ortolan is a small songbird that is nearing extinction thanks to being so tasty. French President, Mitterand ate two as his final meal before he died which you can read about on the Telegraph. It is thoroughly protected with poachers, chefs and greedy people all in line for a hefty fine or a long stretch in the clink if they fall prey to this "barbaric pleasure". The process of catching, preparing and eating Ortolan is very disturbing. First the songbird is caught using a net. Then the birds are placed in a dark box and force fed millet until they have quadruppled in size. Because they feed in the dark, they can't help themselves from gorging. Then they are drowned in a barrel of armagnac, plucked, trimmed a bit and then roasted in a ramekin for 8 minutes. If things weren't distrubing enough already, look away now.

The "ritual" of eating Ortolan is well documented. It involves covering your head in a towel (often emboidered especially) and eating the bird whole, sometimes inside a baked potato. As you bit through the bird the small bones lacerate your gums causing your blood to mix with the flesh of the bird. Apparently the flesh is moist and fatty whilst the innards are very gamey. The towel serves 4 purposes. From a practical point of view it hides the mess from everyone. From a "gourmet" point of view it keeps all the aromas close and provides a more sensual experience. From a pious approach it hides one's greed from God. And lastly, it allows for secrecy and protects such greedy gastronomes from being identified.

If you want to see what it's like, watch Clarkson on YouTube. Apparently, this programme received record complaints to the BBC. So don't watch it if you think you'll find it upsetting.

So we decided to recreate the Ortolan experience in London, to see what it feels like, without doing anything wrong. Sadly there are no Ortolan in London. But what we do have are Garden Warblers, who are very closely related.

Image from Mike Baird on Flickr.

We caught one in Regents Park, plucked it and then mascerated it in cognac before roasting it and serving it up in a baked potato. With a distinct absence of towels to cover me up, I used a Waitrose carrier bag instead.

Here's a step by step photographic re-enactment.

Baked potato prep

Cognac dousing

Ortolan drowning

Scoffing light

Remainder light

The overall experience was of deep shame and guilt, coupled with sore gums and a fear that I was going to suffocate.

Eating Ortolan is clearly very wrong indeed. But it does go a long way to capturing the essence of French food. Like the Chinese, if something has 2 wings and isn't a plane, it's going to get eaten. But will probably be more showy and have a few rituals thrown in as well.

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Chilli Cool

I'm no expert in Sichuan food, but I do know that I loved every single mouthful of our meal at Chilli Cool. The food was authentic, punchy and numbing all at the same time. My research tells me that Sichuan cuisine is built around the elixir of garlic, red chillies and sichuan peppercorns which produce a numbing, tingly experience. The fact that the Chinese language can express this in one character, "麻", just goes to show that we Brits like to waffle and are missing out on an exciting sensory experience.

Lizzie took control and ordered an array of dishes for us all to share. The huge benefit of going as a group of 6 is that you get to try more food. and the fact that Lizzie knew what she was doing helped us no end. I'm sure if I had been ordering we'd have landed up with some chicken chow mein and pineapple infested sweet and sour pork.

"Sliced Pork Belly in Mashed Garlic Sauce" was soft and almost creamy in texture. It had us all playing chopstick hockey to get the last slither of garlicky flesh.

Sliced pork belly in mashed garlic sauce

"Beef & Ox Tripe in Chilli Sauce" would have many people wondering whether they had just been brought a bowl of dog food. But the truth is that this was delicious. The tripe was soft and deeply flavoured with a big kick of chilli to keep you on your toes. It isn't for the faint of heart.

Beef & Ox Tripe in Chilli Sauce

"Hot & Chilli Crispy Pork Intestine" was a revelation. The sections of intestine had been battered and deep fried in a way that made them explode with gungy porky goodness in your mouth. I was deeply fearful of these when they arrived and was delighted when I not only managed to not spit them out, but liked them so much I managed to get a second helping.

Hot & Chilli Crispy Pork Intestine

"Stir-Fried Before Stewing The Jack Bean Dry" is a bizarre name for what was essentially, beans with minced pork and enough chilli to start a world war. As delicious as they were oddly named.

Stir-Fried Before Stewing The Jack Bean Dry

Bean curd with spring onions, garlic and more than enough chilli was a triumph. I'm never quite sure about bean curd, but I am growing to like it. Especially when it is served like this.

Beam card

And then what we'd all been waiting for. The famous Sichuan hotpot. This particular hotpot was full of soft grouper, Sichuan peppercorns and red chillis. It's the sort of dish that would give anyone who has a subscription to the Telegraph a heart attack. It managed to keep us all quiet for a solid 10 minutes which is quite something.

Grouper Hot Pot

It's a cracking little restaurant that was doing a roaring trade on an otherwise innocuous Wednesday night in the back streets of Bloomsbury. I'm gagging to go back in order to introduce some friends to the addictive charms of Sichuan cooking.


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