Thursday 30 April 2015

ABC Kitchen

Nestled into the ABC interior design store is the ABC Kitchen. It’s like Petersham Nurseries has had a love child with the Grain Store, a catwalk show and a Conran design shop.

After a couple of very firm recommendations (thanks Suz and Gav) we popped in for a light lunch and had our snow boots blown off.

After a lot of oohing, ahhing and penny counting we decided to forgo the exciting menu items and go for the set lunch. Often this is a disastrous idea. But not here.

My cauliflower soup was stunning to look at. And tasty in equal measure. The sourdough croutons added a lovely crunch and the chives and herbs were very well balanced. But the real stars were the little morsels of goat’s cheese that acted as gourmet depth charges.

Cowie’s carrot salad was one of the highlights of our trip to New York. ‘Carrot Salad’ sounds so pedestrian. It was anything but. The carrots had been roasted to a sweetness normally reserved for fruit and then juxtaposed with a strong handful of spices and salad.

My main course of slow cooked Spanish mackerel wasn’t what I expected. It was everything mackerel often isn’t. Soft, sweet and juicy. Greae free and almost like salmon in consistency. It didn’t have the metallic tang that can often dominate. Cucumbers and a light sauce worked wonders. It was as if as Skye Gyngell had been in the kitchen. Interestingly, one of her books was on sale in the design shop next door.

Cowie’s egg yolk and ricotta raviolo with a game ragu was a joyous explosion of sunny decadence. Dusted with parmesan it growled of umami. And screamed with delight. If it was a Sex and the City character, it would be Samantha after a hormone injection.

In a city full of gutsy macho eating, the ABC Kitchen is a graceful, serene, fresh, considered, stylish, oasis of lightness. But with enough guts to stop it being a fashion show.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Bánh Xèo

Our submission for this year’s pancake competition had a Vietnamese flavour. When we were in Ho Chi Minh city we fell in love with their Bánh Xèo. These enormous crispy, Simpsons coloured pancakes are stuffed with prawns, pork, bean sprouts and mint and are then wrapped in lettuce and rice paper, before being dipped in nuoc cham. Our favourite was this monster in Ho Chi Minh City which was the size of a satellite dish and as crispy as a Pringle.

We learned that Bánh Xèo is an onomatopoeic word that connotes the sizzling or crackling sound you hear when you make one. The batter is a mixture of rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric which fries in a way that leaves a pock marked surface similar to baddy’s face in Licence to Kill.

We found it took longer to cook the pancake than a traditional English version. But the patience was rewarded with a crispy shell to take on the filling.

We opted for a chicken and prawn filling instead of pork and prawn. You could just as easily use oriental mushrooms if you fancied a change. It’s important to marinade the ingredients in fish sauce, lemongrass, garlic, chilli and ginger first to infuse the flavour. Then fry away with some spring onions and keep warm whilst you make the pancake.


For pancakes

200g rice flour
Half a can of coconut milk
200ml water
2 teaspoons of turmeric powder
Pinch of salt
Coconut oil for frying

Pancake filling

4 chicken thighs
2 cloves of garlic – finely sliced
1 lemongrass stem – finely sliced
1 chilli – finely sliced
Large thumb of ginger – grated
Big slug of fish sauce
150 g prawns
Handful of mint
Bean sprouts
Palm sugar
Coconut oil for frying

Nuoc cham dipping sauce

100ml fish sauce
50ml lime juice
3 finely sliced red chillies
1 teaspoon of palm sugar
1 clove of finely chopped garlic


Marinade the filling ingredients in fish sauce, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chilli for half an hour. Then fry till cooked. Add the marinade towards the end to cook off. And some palm sugar. This should form a nice sticky sauce. Keep warm.

Whisk the rice flour, coconut milk, salt and turmeric together with the water to form a batter. Allow to rest for a bit.

Then add some coconut oil and groundnut oil to a frying pan and when hot add a spoonful of batter. The batter should fizz and crackle. It should also look pockmarked.

Once set and crispy on the other side, give it a careful flip. Because these are lacking in gluten they aren’t as stretchy so be a bit more cautious at this stage.

Serve the pancake, bent in half with the filling spooned in, like a taco. Then plate up with a wedge of lime, some bean sprouts, mint, and extra chillies.  And a little bowl of nuoc cham to dip into.

If you wanted to be extra authentic you could wrap the pancake in rice pancakes – but, they are just as nice on their own I think. And a lot less fiddly.

Some nice people from Roberson Wines gave us a bottle of Cono Sur Single Estate Chilean Reisling which paired perfectly with the Bánh Xèo. Fresh enough to slice through the complex flavours and rich enough to cope with the hint of spice. Not bad for £9 a bottle.


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