Thursday, August 31, 2006

... _ _ _ ...



When I offered to take LL cool T out to dinner to celebrate the passing of all those exams and getting all those A’s, there really wasn't a lot of choice. I picked the only restaurant I am aware of that has a 'fine meat menu'. Well that's not entirely true as I did consider the mouth watering Carnivore in Nairobi but I thought flying to Kenya may be a little ambitious for dinner! So Smith's of Smithfield it was then! We went for the top floor restaurant to maximise the meaty options.

Smith's of Smithfield is quite industrial looking but as you ascend through the floors the look is softened though still rather masculine. The exposed brick is replaced by metal painted chocolate brown, the bar is a very pleasing shiny red with deep recesses for all the bottles and there are ‘girl on girl action’ line drawings outside the toilets. And we are rather outnumbered by men but that's no bad thing! The … _ _ _ … (SOS) theme is etched onto the glass windows leading out onto the terrace overlooking the amazing view over the city. The … _ _ _ … is also repeated on the china plates.

You've got to admire a restaurant that not only has a fine meat menu but also a 'daily potato' as well as chips and mash. Today's potato was gratin daupinois. It didn't take too long for D and I to ponder how many potato dishes they have to select from and who gets to choose? I thought that a 'potato of the day' was such a good idea that I should instigate the concept in my life though D thinks that my potato du jour would just be mash. I immediately countered with how much I like champ, aligot, baked potatoes and potato duchesse. But I have to admit that's just really mash with spring onions (scallions), mash with cheese, baked mash in a skin and garlic and crispy rosettes with a mash like centre. Hmmm, maybe D is right after all!

The menu is very meaty and very tasty looking. D and I can't decide on a starter so we split two - Foie Gras and Leek Terrine with Toasted Brioche and Smoked Eel, Potato Pancake, Beetroot, Horseradish Cream and Pancetta. Both were really, really good! And T plumps for Rare Breed Carpaccio with Blue Cheese Dressing. The beef was seriously good but I'm not a fan of blue cheese so I wouldn't have had the dressing personally.

D can only drink white wine, I prefer red and T will drink absolutely anything so we split the difference and go for a rose - a Charles Melton Barossa Valley Rose of Virginia in fact. However unfortunately this is still too red for D and we have to bring the rest home.

The point of the top floor of SOS is the fine meat menu – today’s choices were 10oz South Devon Rump, aged 24 days (supplied by Steve Turton of Newton Abbot), 10oz South Devon Sirloin, aged 24 days (supplied by Steve Turton of Newton Abbot), 10oz Welsh Black Sirloin, aged 24 days (supplied by Emrys Davies from the Welsh Hook Meat Centre) and 7oz Rare Breed Fillet served with a choice of sauces. We all went for the Welsh Black Sirloin cooked RARE! And not surprisingly it was amazingly succulent and delicious. D and I have the mash and gratin dauphinois – naturally, and T has the finest very square cut chips (and he let me have one – it was a fabulous chip!)

Definitely, a juicy meaty three forks for SOS top floor!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Birthday 1


As I am in the USA for my birthday this year we decided to hold my first birthday party (well of this year anyway!) tonight. Really it was just an excuse to wear my tiara again, decorate the table, christen my elegant new crystal Villeroy & Boch candelabra and to cook the fabulous beef fillet with a gratin of mushrooms and sautéed new potatoes from Gordon Ramsay’s F Word.
LLcT had a few friends around (Scruffy or Fluffy and the finely eyebrowed JP) so we had a full house to help me celebrate!

We started off with he samphire we picked up on
Bank holiday Monday. Samphire was a new experience for me. It is cooked like asparagus and served with lashings of unsalted butter. You eat it by picking up each sprig, biting gently through each piece and pulling the succulent flesh off with your teeth and then discarding the inner core. We were perhaps a little generous with the portions of samphire; we started to wonder if we’d ever get through it all but I really enjoyed it.

The beef fillet with a gratin of mushrooms and sautéed new potatoes was really gorgeous – the execution was slightly complicated by the fact we had two slightly conflicting versions of the
recipe but D and I worked it all out. It was a truly tasty first birthday celebration meal.

And then we had a heavily candled M&S decadent chocolate cake to finish it all off.

Happy almost birthday to me!

Update: I just had to have another do and it was even better this time around!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Sausages and mash twice!

After a vigorous morning of shopping we popped to EAT for sustenance and plumped for pie. Today's (meat) pie was sausages and mash in a tasty crumbly pastry. The pie has an open crust filled with a layer of spicy sausagement and then topped with roughly mashed potato and then baked. There was a oven baked cherry tomato perched on top of the creation briefly but this was swiftly dealt with and I let it pass. EAT rotate their pies weekly and I do like it when the sausage and mash one comes around again.

And when it was time to make dinner, what had we decided to cook? Yes, you've guessed it - sausages and mash! We had the tasty porky Newmarket sausages from the food fair and the inaugural unveiling of the shiny new potato ricer to mash the King Edwards. Gordon Ramsay mentioned on the F word how useful said gadget is and recommended a visit to Lakeland to purchase one. My first thought was 'is the Gordon effect as powerful as the Delia effect? Will Lakeland be swamped with potato ricer requests?'. I didn't think I'd actually find out but my ministerations on D's old ricer had caused it to buckle alarmingly so a quick trip to Lakeland was required, and sure enough there wasn't a potato ricer to be seen, the shelves were bare. Fortunately we were able to grab a nice shiny stainless steel one from M&S so the mash was saved. For me the best part of a ricer is that it removes the potato peel from the cooked potato as you rice. And a gadget that works so well AND saves me from peeling potatoes is a wonderful thing!

For a final flourish we opted to serve the sausages and mash 'Desperate Dan style' in the new M&S white china bowls.

Monday, August 28, 2006

A Grand Day Out

This is the last bank holiday of the year and it being August bank holiday we opt for an escapade that is quintessentially British and head for the seaside. The stretch of coastline we venture towards is the Norfolk coast, this is a trip full of childhood reminiscences for both D and MC and a whole new experience for me. We aim for the patch of blue in the sky - 'just big enough to make a sailor a pair of trousers', should there be one unfortunately bereft of said garments. This being a quintessential British Bank Holiday we started our car journey with some trepidation that the weather might not hold out as we pointed our nose seawards. It was quite a while before we saw the sea as first we saw light precipitation, then heavy squalling rain, thunder, lightning, hailstones and then a bit of respite - fortunately just in time for our first port of call - Sheringham. Sheringham was billed as Norfolk's Premier town and is just up the coast from Cromer. And talking of Cromer that is what has drawn us here on this fine (?) day - crabs! We have come for one of 'Joyful' West's fresh crab sandwiches. And seriously fresh they are, they taste like they've been plucked from the sea, picked and popped between two pieces of brown bread, a stupendous seaside treat!

I may have not have had these sandwiches like D as a child but the smells and sounds of a seaside town are very evocative. The smell of fish and chips amply vinegared, the crying sea gulls swooping down for any discarded chip wrappers, the chinking of two pence pieces being won in the amusement arcades and the sight of families braving the freezing, crashing waves on the beach 'because, we're on holiday!' really resonant with my memories of trips to Blackpool and Southport with my grandparents so many years ago.

We continue our road trip by heading west towards Blakeney. We spy the fabulously named butcher's shop - Icarus Hines just before the rain hit us again. At Blakeney the children are rolling around in the mud banks and catching little crabs on their lines and putting them into their sandcastle buckets. Buffeted by the bracing sea air we go to the Blakeney hotel and partake of a very English afternoon tea. We were served this in the obligatory peach and chintzy lounge resplendent in seasonal needlepoint wall hangings (though we agreed that 'Winter' was too autumnal and the colours were all wrong!) and unfortunately a boy with extraordinarily fine lungs. Eventually the boy and his lungs were whisked away and calm descended except the odd murmur of 'awfully good gingerbread' and 'are you going to have that last cucumber sandwich?' and the gentle pouring of the Earl Grey into the china teacups. It was all so very English afternoon tea, the thinly sliced cucumber sandwiches had their crusts removed, the fruit scone was served with clotted cream and strawberry jam and their was a jug of water so you could adjust the strength of the tea. And it was very good gingerbread!

We had a look round sleepy Blakeney found a little deli and stocked up on some tasty nibbles and drove up to Morston Hall to check it out for another visit. Morston Hall is a lovely country hotel with a fine restaurant headed by chef Galton Blackiston. D and I have always admired his work and hope to come and eat there one day.

We set off for our final stop though not before buying some samphire that was being sold freshly picked by the side of the road. We'll serve this up like asparagus later this week. Our final blast down memory lane for D was 'sunny hunny' - Hunstanton and the sun did make a brave attempt to shine weakly as we walked around. We got some sticks of the obligatory seaside rock. They even still have the plates of the 'rock' fish fingers, chips and peas on a blue and white plate. I always knew I was at the seaside when I saw these for sale! Hunstanton reminded me more of Southport and other sea sides I visited as a child with a big sea front, lots of manicured little gardens, ornamental flower beds and benches to sit on a stare out at the sea or the little collection of rides and slides and Ferris wheels. Probably the only thing missing was the striped deckchairs that always collapsed or trapped your fingers and the donkey rides. I wonder if you still get donkey rides?

We had a grand day out, a traditional British day out with our infamous changeable weather. Bye bye summer, see you next year.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The show must go on

Despite being totally whacked by the extensive preparation and to a lesser extent all that lovely food yesterday we had pre-booked tickets for the Really Good Food and Drink (and Easy Living) show at the Haggis Farm Polo Club. Our thoughts were that we could probably get some lovely food there and avoid the kitchen all day - a cunning plan indeed! We stocked up on packets of Musk's Newmarket sausages, tasty fresh pesto, garlic and chive cheese, very gingery ginger biscuits and paper bags of ever so juicy dried baby figs and strawberries. D got pots of tapenade and quince jam, MC a pot of some tomatoey thing and I bought a stunning crystal candelabra which will grace my dining table in a fine style. We watched a chukka or two of polo and ate hog roast sandwiches and game pasties washed down with a huge jug of PIMM'S. We entered a few prize draws that we probably won't win and checked out the alpacas where MC pondered the possibility of rearing a trio of his own.

This is the first year for this event so it was pleasantly not too crowded. Though I'm sure the organisers wouldn't concur on that score! Many of the food shows although enjoyable have turned into some annual scrum especially around the free wine and spirit tasting sections where you have to dodge wine glass on a string guzzlers who can barely stand after one or two sips too many! I still attend but try and pick the slightly less overrun weekdays to attend if I can. Though I know Gordon and his 'boys' are doing the Sunday at the London show this year so I guess it will be Sunday after all.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The most elaborate and sparkly meal ever!

I'm sure we did the Queen proud! The execution of the Queen's 80th birthday Great British menu was as complicated as I thought it might be. Even the shopping was more complicated. The fishmonger who promised us turbot couldn't get any so we substituted for monkfish. He couldn't get any cockles in the shell or clams so we abandoned the whole shellfish idea and went for shiitake mushrooms. My fantastic London butchers Porterford recommended venison cutlets and I collected these and the stock bones and oxtail heat-sealed for the train journey to Cambridge. D had ordered the stunning peat smoked salmon online and it had been flown over from the Outer Hebrides. We made copious notes and tackled the rest of the food shopping and then all we had to do is prepare it all.

We started early as there was copious amounts of mis en place, there was much roasting of bones, reducing of stock, monteing of sauces, dicing vegetables, grating potato, rubbing in pastry, zesting of lemons and mixing of batter. There were four sauces to make, at least five vegetables to peel, scrape, dice, mash and we seemed to require every single pan, bowl, plate and colander in D's kitchen and a few from Bee's also. The dishwasher was put on double duty and every surface was used for a bowl, plate of measuring jug of something. The large table was draped in crisp black linen and scattered with diamonds. The napkins had jeweled ornaments tied around each (which ended up being tied round T) and the silver candelabras were finished with silver candles (apparently there is a worldwide shortage of black ones) and the little 'black and diamond' menus were written for everyone and tucked in the napkins. The stage was set! Somehow we found time to dress up and I was able to wear my magnificent tiara - whooo!

And amazingly out of all the (verging on) chaos a spectacular meal emerged. Starter was peat-smoked salmon served with blinis (though I prefer 'potato pancakes'), watercress, mâche and Irish soda bread. The fish course - somewhat altered from the original was monkfish with oxtail and shiitake mushrooms with a rich oxtail sauce and a Gary Rhodes inspired cappuccino (which just means heavily Bamixed!) mushroom sauce spooned on top. I think the 'fish' course with the inclusion of the oxtail had raised the most eyebrows when the menu was discussed before the event. But I can report that it was really tasty and would have been even tastier with the turbot but the ‘meaty’ fish matched very well with the rich oxtail. The main course was venison cutlets on top of a potato rösti and sautéed cabbage served with little cubes of carrots, parsnips and celeriac. The rösti were not quite as we wanted, they were prepared quite early with the required goose fat and went a little grey. The taste ended up being really good but as the cooks D and I were convinced they’d have been better if they weren’t so grey! The venison cutlets were so quick to cook and so tender and succulent. We’ll definitely have them again! We had visited one of the best shops in the world yesterday, which was in fact the Cambridge Cheese shop and selected some fabulous British cheeses for the cheese shaped board. We selected Flower Marie which I’d always wanted to try it after a piece by Stefan Gates years ago on Full on Food and had declared it to be the best British cheese, Cambridge Gumburner – a tangy Cheddar matured in the building next door to the cheese shop, Devon Blue (for the blue aficionados) and Stinking Bishop (never as smelly as it sounds!)

And the crowning glory of the meal was definitely the custard tart. Despite D swearing her way through the prep of the typically crumbly sweet pasty (with the inspired addition of lemon zest) and the extreme amount of time it needed to cook. The original Marcus Wareing recipe said that it would require 30-40 minutes to bake, actually it was an extremely nail biting hour and a half. Though it was all worth it in the end – it was truly, truly sublime!


The Queen would have been very impressed – we certainly were! I’m not sure we’ll tackle quite such an ambitious menu again – if you think for the Queen’s meal each course was prepared by an accomplished (Michelin starred in most cases) chef with all their brigade. We had D and me and a lot of sparkle!

Friday, August 25, 2006

5 A's for T

We had a visit to Café Rouge to celebrate LL cool T's five A's etcetera. The Chicken Liver Parfait was as creamy and lovely as ever. The Boeuf Bourguignon was a good choice for a fine(?) August evening as there was a distinct nip in the air. After my previous visit I knew that the mashed potatoes lack most qualities a mash should have namely unctuous creaminess so I eskewed the mash in favour of gratin Dauphinoise. An improvement on the mash but still sadly lacking, I won't be awarding Cafe Rouge any A's for their performance!. Clearly Gary et al have spoilt me for all other potatoes dishes. The steak frites looked good so maybe that's my plan for another visit. I'll draw a veil over Cafe Rouge's mash and gratin Dauphinoise and head straight for the french chips. The parfait I can't fault however, parfait perfection if you will. We finished off with a nice tart palate-cleansing lemon sorbet.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Burger me!

We ventured forth to check out the new bar menu at The Ivory (Bang Bar of yore). Not Smarties this time as H, bump and I all wanted something a little more substantial. It was the Wagyu (or Kobe) cheeseburger with pancetta on toasted Ciabatta served with double cooked chips that had drawn us in and it turned out to be a very good decision. Mine was slightly marred by the unnecessary layer of thick cut tomatoes even after I'd had the obligatory 'no tomatoes, no tomato sauce no tomato anything near my burger' conversation but it fell on deaf ears. They offered a complimentary glass of wine to compensate but I had to decline. It would have been just too easy to curl up in one of the comfy squashy leather sofas and start on a bottle of Merlot and lose the rest of the day. I probably would have hit the bar snack Smarties again and ended up dancing on the nice mosaic tables. And if H was bump free, I may have been tempted but I also had a train to catch later so that was all out the question.

The burger was rather excellent; the salad was well dressed. There was the right number of the very good chips. Enough for me to add them to my burger, I know, my Northern roots are showing again and a couple spare besides. They brought a selection of home made mayonnaise and relishy things for people who partake in such foodstuffs. We managed to share the best part of a slice of lemon tart and felt very pleasantly stuffed. The place was really empty which surprised me as I always recalled the place being smoky and crowded. This was so much more pleasant without all the smoke and we enjoyed a very fine burger to boot. I think a meaty fork for The Ivory.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Anti-Tomato League

Rotten tomatoes indeed!
Since announcing my thoughts on tomatoes - all bad nothing good, I have been contacted by fellow sufferers of the vegetable, fruit whatever the nasty little red thing is (actually the only thing I like about tomatoes is the colour!) It seems that feelings run strong when having to express the hatred of said red thing and I heard a heartfelt quote the other day by one of the characters from the US FBI TV show 'Without a Trace' ...
"As a kid, I was afraid of tomatoes, I just hated them! I hated the little gross seeds and the pulpy pulpiness! I hated everything about them and was always terrified they'd end up in my food."
- a girl after my own heart, I think!

And this got me pondering, do we need to form an underground society of tomato abhorrers, those who recoil in horror when sat next to someone on a plane slurping on a Bloody Mary or have to gingerly fish out the errant slices from a sandwich and stuff them into their serviette and then have to check really carefully in case some of the malicious little seeds have lingered - urghh (see, we really suffer!) or have to hope that the request of no tomato sauce on a pizza is met? When I first heard of the 1978 film ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’; my first thought was – ‘it could happen!’ So before they do attack, I thought we could band together and arm ourselves but to my delight someone has got there before me and set up the website http://www.tomatoesareevil.com/

And they are organised, they have merchandise promoting a tomato free life and they have posters that educate the unfortunate believers! I’ve been saved!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Gordon's alive!

On Gordon Ramsay’s penultimate F Word he demonstrated a fabulous looking dish of Beef fillet with a gratin of mushrooms and sautéed new potatoes. I was surprised to see that this recipe wasn’t included in his new book – ‘Sunday Dinners’ which has some truly delicious recipes in it. Fortunately the F Word website has the recipe and rather handily, a little video of Gordon Ramsay creating the dish. I am hoping that they’ll bring out a complete DVD of all the dishes Gordon makes on the F Word, I know I’d want to add it to my collection. The DVD that comes with the book just teases you with a handful of recipes. And for D I’d put a plea in for an extended version of the scene in the opening credits where Gordon disrobes as he strides purposely down a corridor. I know D would like to examine that scene in greater detail! Whereas I was just rather taken by his jacket – I’m loving the lining, Gordon!

Fillet with a gratin of mushrooms and sautéed new potatoes

Ingredients for 4 servings:

1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil
100g mixed mushrooms (shiitake, oyster), roughly chopped
100g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
4 tbsp double cream
1 large egg yolk
4 fillet steaks, about 180g and 4cm thick
3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
500g new potatoes, scrubbed
5-6 tbsp olive oil
few sprigs of rosemary
8 garlic cloves, skin on and lightly crushed
knob of butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method:

- Preheat oven to 220°C/Gas 7.

- Place the new potatoes in a large pan and fill with cold water to cover. Add a generous pinch of salt, partially cover with a lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a skewer. Drain and refresh under cold, running water. Halve the potatoes and pat dry with kitchen paper. Set aside.

- To prepare the topping, gently sauté the shallot and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes until nicely softened. Add a further 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the mushrooms over a high heat, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes until browned and cooked. The mixture should be quite dry. If necessary, tip it into a sieve to drain off any remaining liquid. Remove the garlic clove and transfer the mushrooms to a bowl, allow to cool.

- Whip the cream until softly stiff. Fold in the mushrooms along with the egg yolk, herbs and a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

- Season the steaks all over with salt and pepper. Heat a large non-stick frying pan until you can feel a strong heat rising. Cook the steaks for about 2-3 minutes, turning them to seal all over. Remove from the pan. Put the steaks on a shallow baking tray. Pile the mushroom mixture on top of the steaks and dust with the remaining Parmesan. Cook in the oven uncovered, for about 5-7 minutes until the topping is bubbling and golden.

- Meanwhile, finish off the potatoes. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and rosemary, followed by the potatoes. Sauté over a fairly high heat, until the potatoes are golden brown - stir throughout to prevent them sticking to the pan. Add a knob of butter towards the end of cooking, season generously with salt and pepper.

- When ready, serve the steaks with the sautéed potatoes.

__________________________________________________________

Thank you Gordon, I think you’ve sorted out one of the meals at D, MC & LLT’s next week. Yum!

update: this was a huge success and perfect for an early birthday treat - see link
another update: it was even better second time around - see picture above!

And as an aside - why would the phrase 'Gordon's alive!' conjure up an image of a loud man in a beard and leather skirt?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Flaming tart!

I thought I’d try the interesting looking Tarte flambée d’Alsace that I spotted in my local Waitrose. And being a tomato hater, this is a very fine choice! A Tarte flambée d’Alsace is like a pizza as it has a base of bread dough rolled very thinly. And this is where it gets interesting; instead of the dreaded tomato sauce it has a layer of crème fraîche which is then topped with very finely chopped onions and matchsticks of smoked bacon lardons. The version I has had slightly crispier edges than I would have liked, I am sure it would have benefited from being cooked in the traditional wood burning oven as flambée does mean ‘cooked in the flames’. But is was still a very tasty treat with particularly good bacon and if I haven’t got time to make my own, I’d be happy to avail myself of the Waitrose version again.

An update...















- this is our carriage in the day configuration


Finally, finally I have added the remaining entries from our fabulous Orient Express extravaganza, deciphered from my little pink book.

Happy reading M!

You can click here and here!


And I've also upgraded to the new 'beta' blogger as I wanted to create a taxonomy for my blog so I can tag my postings. Ooh the wonders of modern technology - and not just to prove to M that 'have fork' is
not merely 'all about mash!' Unfortunately the new blogger can't handle html yet so this has 'killed' my site counter. I feel so bereft! So for the record, I was the proud possessor of 288 visitors in the last 24 days.
It was nice counting you!


Friday, August 18, 2006

Fit for a Queen


After the Great British Menu winners had fed the Queen in June D and I decided that we wanted to recreate the Queen's birthday meal for our delectation. It's quite an ambitious menu but with a couple of J & D shortcuts, I'm sure we'll have no problems.

The menu (as voted by the Great British public) is:

Smoked salmon with blinis, Irish soda bread, woodland sorrel and cress
~
Pan-fried
turbot with cockles and oxtail
~
Loin of roe venison with rösti, celeriac,
cabbage, carrot and game gravy
~
Custard Tart


We'll probably slip a Great British cheese board in there somewhere as well. I guess we will decide whether to go the French route and eat the cheese with the red wine before the dessert of as it's a British meal do the English thing and finish on cheese after the dessert.

The grand meal is taking place next week at the long table at the Cambridge palace. We decided we needed a theme for such an auspicious occasion. The first idea was "red, white and blue" to go all "patriotic". But one of our party just doesn't do blue. Okay, that would be me then! So after further consideration we then went for black tie and diamonds, hmmm much more manageable! Tiaras are optional, though in my case totally compulsory and to get in the mood I intend to cook in mine! I'm sure it's all going to be extremely tasty, fabulous, very sparkly and just totally fit for a Queen.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oh Ocado!

I had an Ocado delivery tonight which meant that a green suited man in a van fashioned out of a giant strawberry replenished my fridge, cupboards and the Evian mountain. I am very happy to meander through the aisles of my local Waitrose for a few choice bits but I draw the line at lugging multiple bottles of water, heavy detergents and toilet rolls home.
That why God created Ocado! And what an excellent job they do! I love the fact that they cater for night owls and early birds and have hourly slots so you're never left hanging around wondering when they're planning to turn up. I've also been extremely lucky; they’ve never turned up on my doorstep and said that something is not available or that they’ve made a substitution. Unlike one of M’s experiences from another grocery delivery service who substituted screw fitting light bulbs when they’d run out of bayonet fitting bulbs!

And the best bit of having an Ocado man drop by? I can open my fridge and gaze in wonder at all that choice. So what shall I eat next?

Minstrels - when Smarties grew up!

Firstly a Smarties update.
Clearly it seems that Smarties have evoked many childhood memories for lots of you and the great Smarties debate continues. It seems that only special people can detect the subtle orange oil that flavour my favourite orange ones. And I've also learnt from Roo that orange Smarties have Mystic Meg style football result predicting powers. Now that I've certainly got to try out!
I've also discovered that DD's nickname at school was Smarties due amongst other things, to a prediliction for red shirts. Ryan informs us the M&Ms clearly feeling the competitive pinch have been trying to branch out with different varieties and sizes. I’m not sure that Smarties have been quite so avant garde but I have seen packets of super sized Smarties. I was also really interested to hear from Ryan, “that it's very well known that green M&M's offer potent aphrodisiacal qualities”. I guess that warrants a whole other taste test! Watch this space!

But as wonderful as Smarties are they are no match for the silky smooth chocolatey melt-in-the-mouth Minstrels. The packet of Minstrels encourages you to “surrender to smooth and creamy Galaxy chocolate captured in a crispy shell”, and I’m happy to comply. Okay Minstrels lack the vibrancy of Smarties and I'm pretty sure they don't have predictive powers but they make up for it in taste. I discovered Minstrels much later than Smarties and that seems appropriate as they are a grown up version of the adolescent Smartie. I would say that a Minstrel is what a Smartie would aspire to be when it grew up. In a previous life I would travel on business to Europe every week, mainly throughout the Nordic countries and Benelux. After grabbing a bag of Minstrels at Heathrow one time to share during a session in Stockholm I inadvertently started a craze. I would often get requests to bring plenty of those 'brown sweets' - which I assumed referred to the packet and not the content, when I was revisiting a city again. When I completed a project for a group of colleagues, they presented me with a huge glass jar of Minstrels as a thank you. This was actually a cunning plan as the project demanded many follow up meetings and of course meetings always go better with a little mound of Minstrels to hand.
If you want to experience Minstrels without the crispy shell you could always plump for a Galaxy bar and just have unadulterated Minstrel middles! The mention of Galaxy provokes another great debate. Do you prefer the old stalwart of Cadbury's Dairy Milk or relative newcomer Galaxy (which I believe sometimes goes under the name of Dove)? This could demand a whole new taste test. People generally feel quite strongly about this and I could really divide everyone into two camps - Team Cadbury and Team Galaxy, it will be like Team Aniston and Team Jolie all over again but perhaps with better t-shirts!
Minstrels like Smarties have had a recent package revamp. The 'sharing' bag has been redesigned to make it easier to open and easier to re-seal. H and I were most amused by this as frankly it's not rocket science to open a bag of Minstrels and when we want to get into a bag – nothing on earth would stop us! And as for re-sealing – generally it seems that once a bag is opened, it gets consumed, re-sealing is just not required.
To thank Ryan for such a wealth of M&M knowledge I thought I should educate his American palate and furnish him with his very own bag of Minstrels. We waited with bated breath for his conclusion and it was worth waiting for. He does agree that Minstrels are the clear winner in the chocolate covered in a crisp candy shell category, severely trouncing both M&Ms and Smarties.
However, the sheer size of each Minstrel plainly alarmed him as each Minstrel was daintily bitten in half before consumption. I think we have another believer!
Go Team Galaxy!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Smarties people are happy people

I haven't been to our local bar for ages and they're now under new management and have a new menu. I am very impressed to see that they serve a Wagyu beef (or Kobe beef) cheeseburger with twice-cooked chips. I haven't tasted it yet but it definitely warrants a revisit very soon. The other particular thing of note is that the bar menu offered the option of a bowl of Smarties. Now this seems a most intriguing innovation. So is it out with pork scratchings and in with bowls of Smarties? Well Smarties are more colourful and it have is the opportunity to resurrect the 'great orange Smartie' debate! Do orange Smarties taste different than the other colours? The world needs to know! So we organised the blind taste test Smartie challenge, can you spot the orange one? S and I successfully identified the orangey chocolate but R wasn't so sure. Now this could be down to the fact that he is not so accustomed to Smarties, being a visitor from deepest New Jersey means he was more likely to be weaned on M&Ms and perhaps can't differentiate the subtle nuances of Smartie flavourings. And how does a Smartie compare to an M&M? Well, according to R, a Smartie has superior chocolate to an M&M and an M&M has a thinner shell. So the results of the blind tasting were inconclusive so I feel more research is required.
One conclusion that was reached however was that Smarties are not a good accompaniment to beer! I was okay as I was on the mineral water but if I'd chosen a nice glass of Syrah or Pinot, I'm pretty sure I would have concurred that as nice as they were I'm not sure Smarties will catch on as a bar snack.
A gift of a tube of Smarties as a child was always a wonderful thing. There was much speculation on revealing the letter underneath the plastic cap, as this was the first initial of your intended spouse in years to come. The tube itself was a pleasing shape and much used in Blue Peter style craft projects. And then there were the Smarties themselves, being slightly obsessed by colours, I liked to group them by hue and eat them 'in order' always ending on my favourite - orange! There was another reason for my careful sorting out of colours, however. My mother in a cunning ruse to secure a guaranteed share of any Smarties, had convinced me that the black and brown Smarties were the dreaded coffee flavour. And being very trusting I believed her and duly saved all the nasty coffee ones for her. Call it a 'Smartie Tax' if you will. It was many, many years before I could be convinced to try a black or brown Smartie as I was totally convince that if be poisoned. Imagine if she'd tried to convince me that the red ones were tomato flavour! I could have been traumatised for life!
Smarties have had a bit of a revamp recently. They are promoting their lack of artifical colours, probably as the colourings they were using were causing some consumers to bounce off the walls! The colours are now very different than I remembered. The green is much more vivid, the brown is very pale. The blue that was an addition in recent years has gone! See note about food colourings! And the beloved future husband predicting caps of my childhood? – gone, also in favour of new less tubular packaging!
In the name of research I procured some Smarties so I could check the ingredients. I couldn't see orange listed but I could see 'beetroot juice'! I am assuming this is to colour the red ones. I can't imagine they are slipping beetroots into such a well-loved confectionary; I'd call that seriously sneaky!
S and I are still convinced on a second tasting that we detect an orange flavour to the orange but the lack of orange essence listed on the package had us concerned. Nevertheless, a quick glance at the Nestle site confirmed what I've always believed - they do indeed flavour the orange ones with orange. They also say that they have produced 5,000 million Smarties caps in the last 25 years. Furthermore, apparently if all the Smarties eaten in a year were laid end to end they would stretch for almost 102,000 km. And I for one am glad they worked this out, as you never know when this information might be useful.
We were told in the old advert that ‘Smarties people are happy people!’ Which is true, though personally I’d forgo the pretty colours and always choose Minstrels over Smarties.

Iced delight?

Clearly someone from Starbucks has been reading my little blog and didn't like the fact that I dissed their attempts at icy fruity drinks. Those strange lumps in the strawberry cream thing will haunt me for a long time! And their reaction to my criticism is to produce a Blackcurrant and Raspberry icy concoction. I've been aware of the latest addition to their Frappuchino range for a little while as I have to keep sidestepping their sandwich boards advertising it on the pavements of the city. Aren't there a lot of Starbucks? But I didn't really need such an item whilst the skies were gloomy and we were enjoying the august rain. I only demand one of those posh Slush Puppies when I require thirst quenching and something to cool my inner core on those hot and sultry days we've been sweltering through.
I had feared that the summer had dwindled into autumn way before schedule and that I wouldn't need to try the Starbuck's Frescato beater until next year. However, there was a glimmer of hope today and I had to put on my sunglasses and try a Starbuck's again! The Blackcurrant and Raspberry Frapuchino is definitely a huge improvement on the lumpy strawberry thing but was a little watery. Seemingly moments of furious straw action left me clutching a cup of clear ice. So in my mind tasty Frescatos will still reign number one in the fruity popsicle market. And now, where’s that sun gone again?

Bagel-icious


Because of my continued desire for smoked salmon and cream cheese I was delighted to discover that the bagel emporium Bagels Already situated on my local train station platform that I must have walked by at least a thousand times does very fine bagels indeed. I've never had a bagel from there only because I didn't realise how lovely their bagels are and generally I don't eat bagels. But I may have to reconsider this tasty treat. I received a toasted bagel freshly topped with cream cheese, smoked salmon, a squirt of lemon and black pepper and I didn’t miss my train. The toasted bagel really made a difference, I know this will mark me as deprived but I've never had a toasted bagel before! My only experience of them was watching H furiously trying to toast her bagel in the dilapidated toaster of the curious suite hotel in deepest NJ on our annual IS pilgrimage. I was fairly sure that any moment the bagel, the toaster or the hotel would burst into flames. Fortunately this didn't happen but an alarm went off and we beat a hasty retreat. I can't recall the fate of the bagel; it may be still stuck in the toaster! Now I know the joy of a toasted bagel, it may well be me coaxing the same dilapidated toaster into action next month!

Monday, August 14, 2006

A New York plate of mind!

I guess the more people I ask for recommendations for stunning New York restaurants the more differing opinions I get.

DD liked the sound of JoJo which is another Jean-Georges Vongerichten establishment and even though the description of the ‘French bordello refit’ is very intriguing, yet again I can’t lay my hands on a menu. I can’t understand why all the restaurants in the Jean-Georges Vongerichten canon seem to feel that a sample menu would just be too much information for potential diners. This scares me as they might be a totally tomato drenched restaurant and every dish is festooned with some tomato-y nastiness! I need to read the small print!
I’ve heard both good things and bad things about Chanterelle but I do like the look of the web site. I have also been advised to research Esca, Babbo, Modern and Peter Luger. I found a fabulous description for Danube at the New York Magazine site – ‘The outrageous, highly lacquered, velvet-swathed, Klimt-deckled Austrian homage is beautiful, fun, funny, and romantic’ but Adam Platt on the same site only rated it 66 out of 101 best restaurants in New York and said rather scathingly, ‘the worn, unchanging menu, the spotty service, and the perennially drab expense-account crowd make the whole production feel frozen in time, like some dated bull-market Valhalla.’ Now for some reason that has rather put me off!
I found the ‘The Platt 101’ list very interesting reading and maybe Adam can help me with my decision. As he points out this is a guide to the absolutely best restaurants in New York written by a New Yorker and though he doesn’t say it’s a better guide than Michelin’s he does admit that ‘it’s different!’
He puts Chanterelle at number 13, rates it three stars and considers the cooking to be 'pleasing in an opulent, old-fashioned way.' Babbo gets a very respectable 6/101 and four stars. And it’s great to see some a high showing for an Italian restaurant. The Modern is in MoMA and serves some interesting Alsatian concoctions. Esca is number 20, three starred and serves some stunning seafood. Peter Luger is at 43, two starred and serves stunning burgers and may be a very interesting choice for our Sunday lunch!
And the absolute pinnacle of cooking and 'almost perfect' restaurant in New York? Well according to Adam it is Le Bernardin; have I been sadly distracted by the odd picture on their website? The New York Magazine site has a better photograph of Le Bernardin which is very curious. I decided that the number one best restaurant in New York and one of only two that get five out of five stars (he only gives Per Se four stars and position 3) should be seriously considered and have booked us a table. However I have only been able to secure a table for 9.45pm so I am quietly confident that I will be relying on the fabulous company and food to keep me from snoozing in my scallops as I will be very much thinking in London time. I did this to K at Petrus so this is my come uppance.
So DD and I have a restaurant but I am sure I will still get some further excellent suggestions and I can only wish we have a month of dinners to plan!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Never knowingly under catered, me!

I consulted a few cookbooks in the usual pre preparation for a culinary extravaganza. I thought as I had a picnic to plan that David Herbert’s ‘Picnics’ book I’d recently purchased would be a great start. But even though I like the book I wasn’t inspired enough. Maybe this was because I’d already decided to make a creamy leek tart from Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Roast Chicken and Other Stories’ and a Parma ham, hard boiled egg and cheese bread from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef. I’d already got some mini smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels from M&S so the smoked salmon spirals from ‘Picnics’ seemed smoked salmon overkill even for me.
Eventually I also settled upon a Camembert baked in a box with hot potatoes to dip into the liquid cheese centre, chicken drumsticks with pesto cream (inspired by Olive magazine Aug 06), dough balls dipped in garlic butter and the inevitable mâche and balsamic. And for dessert, I’d gone for a tarte au citron and some chocolate pots. All my plans got jotted down on a little visual reminder which I use to ensure that I haven't forgotten anything. Unfortunately what I have seemed to have forgotten is that I was preparing a picnic for three and not a small village. D made me see sense and we dropped the chicken and pesto cream and dough balls quite early on in the preparation.
It was fortunate as the bread recipe would have happily fed a family for a week but I’d hate to think of anyone going hungry so I continued creating a mountain of picnic food.
The bread was particularly pleasing as (sorry H, turn away now) it looked rather like a bread snake had consumed a load of hard-boiled eggs, which in some sense it had. It looked even better when cut into slices and tasted just wonderful. I would heartily recommend baking bread with Parma ham inside; it permeated the entire bread – very tasty indeed! The leek tart is an old favourite of mine but I very stupidly decided to grab a chilled uncooked pastry case as I was pushed for time. What a mistake! When I blind baked it, it shrank unbelievably until in one place there was no pastry side at all to contain any filling. D had the marvellous idea of an attempt to patch it up with the uncooked bread dough and this helped some but as the whole tart ended up as no big than a fat pancake there wasn’t enough room for the cheesy, creamy, tarragon and leek filling so it was rather a dense leek tart. It tasted okay but normally this tart is a triumph, I won’t be cutting that culinary corner again!
We assembled the red and white chequered tablecloth and napkins, the white strawberry encrusted china plates (I’m not crazy about paper/plastic plates or plastic cutlery!), the spikes to stick in the ground to hold the wine glasses (such a boon, I’d urge you to get some), the fabulous Cath Kitson stripy picnic chair, an assortment of cutlery, corkscrews, cake slice, bread knife etcetera and fortunately an umbrella. And of course not forgetting the lantern and its crook and citronella tea lights to burn in it.
Everything was delicious but being a typical English picnic it rained! And I admit, in the end there was a little too much food but I have a reputation to protect and I’m never knowingly under catered, me!

In a cavern in a Canyon...

… not excavating for a mine but tucking into a fine Eggs Benedict. I had a distinct craving for Eggs Benedict this morning so was able to secure a table for brunch at Canyon for D, MC & me. Canyon do a fabulous breakfast and brunch but they get a little lack lustre for other meals. But that’s fine as there’s plenty of other option for lunch and dinner. MC had the full English and seemed suitably sated, D joined me in the excellent Benedict and then we split a chocolate pot between three. The chocolate pot came with juicy macerated cherries but had a totally unnecessary layer of yoghurt on top.
I love the décor in Canyon, it’s all dark wood and crisp white linen and they have these quirky metal handles around the place clutching random bits of fruit. It’s all very stylish! Definitely a high one fork experience!
Now all we have to do is get the picnic food for tonight.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Chez J and Chez Lindsay

D & MC have come to spend a weekend chez J for our regular obligatory orgy of food and wine. We have tickets for one of the open-air Jools Holland concerts in the park and I have promised a posh picnic for the occasion. Bearing in mind all the cooking tomorrow we opt for eating out and find a table at Chez Lindsay.
Chez Lindsay serves seafood and galettes (buck wheat pancakes), “the twin glories of Breton cooking” and it is always a pleasure to eat here. I haven’t visited for ages – not since I came with S & C and have always wanted a trip with D & MC after we joined the long queues at ‘Viva la France’ a few years ago to taste their galettes and found them the star of the show. We started with sharing a big bowl of Moules à la St. Malo which is mussels in a fabulous white wine, cream and thyme sauce and lashings of fine French bread so we could mop up every last bit of the divine creamy sauce. Then galettes all round, super complète for MC (which is ham, cheese, egg, tomatoes, mushrooms and onion), D went for my old favourite of St. Jacques (queen scallops and leeks) and I went for galette au saumon fume which was lots of smoked salmon and a delicious chive cream sauce. We finished off with chocolate, honey and ginger ice cream and a couple of spoons.
A magnificent French meal and well deserved of the deux fourchettes. I also reconsidered Café du Marche and feel I didn’t reward their extremely tasty scallops and black pudding risotto and honeyed duck confit enough - deux fourchettes for them also. Now let’s hope I can conjure up a suitably fabulous picnic tomorrow.

Ladies who lunch

We opted for a potluck lunch for our girl’s little get together with everyone bringing a course. I was aiming to supply the main course but hadn't left enough time to whip up something fabulous so instead I made do with some fabulous shopping at the fine food emporium of Mr. Marks & Mr. Spencer. I stocked up on quiches (sorry D, tarts!) – my favourite ham and asparagus, a cheese and onion and of course a quiche Lorraine. I also get some new potatoes, Parma ham, mozzarella, a mango, Parmesan and some leaves (shock horror, they’d run out of mâche!).
We started with some lovely Irish brown bread and salmon that the Irish (soon to be Belgium!) M had brought. I was especially pleased as I have been craving smoked salmon this summer. On arriving I made a mayonnaise-less potato salad and a tasty salad with the Parma ham, ripped mozzarella, cubed mango covered with peelings of Parmesan and drizzled with my favourite Extrapesto basil oil. The salad was only slightly spoilt by the fact that my ‘ready to eat’ mango was clearly nowhere near ready to eat; it was like eating mango bullets – I was not impressed!
H and bump has bought a fabulous raspberry tart and S had made her delicious carrot cake.We ate really well and put the world to rights whilst we at it! Next time, Brussels maybe?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Restaurant Envy

I've been doing further research to help me select a fantastic (very likely to be three fork) restaurant for DD and I to gorge ourselves at in New York in September. Unfortunately my cunning plan of Gordon Ramsay at London has been thwarted by the likelihood of it not opening until November. And so far my other choice of Per Se has not been successful reservation wise. The problem is I decided that we would eat at either London or Per Se months ago but hadn't actually secured a booking. The banana eating M had waxed lyrical about Per Se after his visit there and I was overcome with restaurant envy. He's already pipped me to the post on Tom Aiken and the Fat Duck so I thought I'd win some foodie points back with a brand new Gordon Ramsay - a cunning plan indeed!
So for further inspiration I consulted Chez Pim http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/ as I knew she'd have some excellent ideas and read a posting about Michelin initiating their star system in New York last year. And the four restaurants awarded the coveted three stars were: Per Se, Alain Ducasse, Le Bernardin and Jean-Georges. So that seems a reasonable place to start!
Le Bernardin The food at Le Bernardin looked really fabulous but whether they've got a strange photo on their site I don't know, but the decor looked really uninspired and reminded me of a hotel bedroom. Maybe harsh as restaurants that I love like Rhodes24 often have a very simple style and lets the amazing view (and stunning food, naturally!) provide the colour and ambiance. I read a review where they referred to Bernardin as a 'blue velvet heaven' and I expected opulence, crystal chandeliers and swathes of blue velvet. However, I can't see any velvet or chandeliers. I hope they weren't referring to the fact that there's a creepy man sat in the corner of the restaurant breathing heavily with an oxygen mask! I'm sure not!
Jean-Georges – Trump Tower Certainly the décor looks more inspired but where is the menu on their site, surely that’s quite fundamental in making a restaurant decision? I’ve read some good reviews but I will reserve judgement until I can lay my hands on their prestige tasting menu etcetera.
Alain Ducasse at Essex House This website looks a lot more promising; I can see the restaurant which looks very nice and also a very interesting tasting menu. I was also intrigued to read that Alain Ducasse’s staff receive movement lessons from a choreographer and they have custom made knives of damascened steel. A damascened steel knife will have an interesting ‘water’ mark that almost makes it look like the knife is covered in a thin layer of oil. All very appealing!
So some food for thought but the quest continues! Maybe I should cast my net wider and look at the two and one starred restaurants. The two starred restaurants of New York are: Bouley, Daniel, Danube and Masa. And Annisa, Aureole, Babbo, BLT Fish, Café Boulud, Café Gray, Craft, Cru, Etats-Unis, Fiamma Osteria, Fleur de Sel, Gotham Bar and Grill, Gramercy Tavern, JoJo, Jewel Bako, La Goulue, Lever House, Lo Scalco, March, Nobu, Oceana, Peter Luger, Picholine, Saul, Scalini Fedeli, Spotted Pig, The Modern, Veritas, Vong, Wallsé and WD-50 have one star apiece.
Daniel I’ve heard good things about Daniel before. Currently the summer menu is heavily populated with tomato dishes and I would probably have to tip toe around it less if we had the autumn menu. I’ll have to see when the autumn menu kicks in.
Bouley and Danube share the same chef, namely David Bouley. And both restaurants share an unusual feature with regards to tasting menus, having choice. Most of the tasting menus I’ve had will have a set chef’s choice with a possible choice of two main courses. So with the likely exception of a little tweaking (i.e. tomato removal), you eat what the chef reckons will best demonstrate their skill. And even with quite an extensive food black list like myself I have been not just pleasantly surprised but totally blown away on many occasions. Both menus sound extremely appealing so a very definite maybe here. I heard of David Bouley years ago because I recall seeing Jamie Oliver in his New York Christmas special of the Naked Chef programme did a ‘stage’ at Danube and then had chef David Bouley round for a festive feast. And though there aren’t pictures of the restaurants on his site – it’s all about food and frankly quite rightly so but I was intrigued to read Danube being described as ‘an opulent jewel box of an Austro-Hungarian restaurant is an over-the-top delight’. Hmmm, DD and I will fill right in there!
Masa And again, a Jamie Oliver reference, he said on his site that he’d had fantastic sushi there. Sushi isn’t my favourite so I’ll probably stick to the French influences instead!

I haven’t been able to research all the one stars yet but I’ve also been given the very interesting suggestion of the Chanterelle restaurant which certainly looks the part, is suitably French and has a good menu. And I know someone who should be able to get us a table! So many decisions to make and so little time to eat all that amazing food. I am waiting to hear about Per Se but if the answer is no, I think we can select something from this lot.
What do you think DD? Are you hungry?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mmmm chips!

I had hoped that as the fabulous K is going back to sunny Dubai tomorrow we could organise a little farewell lunch. As we probably won't all be together again for a long time. I'll get to see K in NY in September but H and bump are commencing their year of putting their feet up and luxuriating at home about then! So a nice little client free, bump tolerant lunch seemed a lovely idea. In reality conference calls and meetings got in the way so we opted for a slap up takeaway of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and chips (or fries as K would say). Never underestimate the power of a portion of salted and vinegared chips wrapped in paper in a confined space. We were followed by a small pack of hungry co-workers as we wafted through the office with our fragrant parcels. So it wasn't exactly haute cuisine but I got to make a chip (and ham and cheese) buttie so that's no bad thing!

Milk and Honey


Whilst rushing around the city this morning on the way to a client I was pondering some of the interesting street names. In medieval times Cheapside was ‘the’ place to get your produce – ‘Cheap’ being old English for ‘market place’ and not just referring to a place to get bargains! The streets leading off from Cheapside refer to their primary produce, I know there’s a Poultry, a Milk Street, a Bread Street and I discovered today the tiny Honey Lane. And Honey Lane had a splendid stone bee over its entrance. The bakers were all in Bread Street, cows were kept in Milk Street and I guess Honey Lane would have been full of hives. Now the streets in this area are full of financial institutions, coffee shops and the odd mobile phone shop. I’ve never seen a baker and I certainly haven’t seen a cow or a chicken or even a stray bee for that matter. Though there is the restaurant ‘Coq d’Argent’ at No.1 Poultry which I always believed has a certain synchronicity. I haven’t been there for a while but I don’t recall it only serving chicken – it would seem rather appropriate but extraordinarily unlikely. Maybe Milk Street would be a good place for a cheese shop and clearly Bread Street should be lined with sandwich shops. Slightly further east of the city is Artichoke Hill which I would guess is a more recently named street and I am delighted to see that there are any Tomato Roads, Streets or Lanes etcetera. Though it’s not surprising as who’d want to live there?

Fork it!

Now that I've launched my fork rating system I need to consider the restaurants I've dined at this year and award no forks, one fork, two forks or the highest accolade three forks. Three forks for the much acclaimed Petrus and Rhodes24. I've had some fantastic food at the cook book events at Blueprint Café and tried many things that I would have never ordered off a menu and really enjoy most them! It seems I still don't like red pepper! So two forks for the unstarred Jeremy Lee and team at Blueprint. I’m awarding two forks for the meal we had at Plateau the other day as well. Café du Marche, Chez Gerard and Café Rouge all serve really tasty French bistro food so a fork for each of them. And for now, I’ll have no fork-less restaurants.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One potato, two potato, three potato... more!

Today marks the birth of two new categories of catering accolades. Firstly, in honour of rather a touchstone of this blog, I am inaugurating worthy members into the Mash Hall of Fame, the pinnacle award for pommes puree. The number one entrant is Gary Rhodes of Rhodes24 - see photo. After another perfectly executed client meal today at the hands of Gary I do wonder the wisdom of these star givers at Michelin. Like the meal at Petrus the other week the food was stunning and the service impeccable. Maybe Michelin feel that the decor needs to be grander and ostentatious, maybe we need a longer menu, maybe we should have more cutlery or maybe the food needs to be stacked in taller teetering towers. The food at Rhodes24 is not as intricate as that at Petrus. There is no tasting menu and no little amuse gueule to whet the appetite. It's a shame really; I recall a seriously superb tiny espresso cup of smoked haddock soup delivered at the beginning of our at City Rhodes. If fact I liked it so much I recreated it myself for a dinner party, but I digress.
Though it is lunch and we certainly cannot spend five hours over a tasting menu and being a 'school day' a cheeky little selection of fine wines it rather out of the question too. However, our food is just perfect, I run out of superlatives pretty early in the meal. When you look at one of the plates you may think 'is that it?' but not when you taste it. I never cease to be amazed at the multi layering of Gary's dishes, each mouthful has been calculated to explode with different flavours. I had exactly the same as last time I visited in June. And it was equally sensational the second time around.

Starter was a lobster bisque risotto, which comes in a little copper pan, and it served with crumbly tiny rolls. The lobster risotto is so rich and intense and just perfect! I followed this with rosy pink veal served with another copper pan of unctuous macaroni cheese and a side order of the ubiquitous mash. And finally we attempted to split three Jaffa cake puddings between us. The company, the food and the service were faultless. And all this brings me to the question of Michelin again, what exactly are they looking for when they award stars? Whatever it is I just can't agree with them any more I henceforth I will have my own system of measuring edible excellence and fabulous foodiness. And I don't think I will have stars as they're just so 'Michelin'. Instead I could have three potatoes for the best restaurants or perhaps three forks would be more appropriate. Yes, I think I'll save potatoes for the mash hall of fame. So my first awards are three potatoes for the creamy magnificence that is Gary's mashed potato in a copper pan and also three forks for the restaurant Rhodes24 itself. And whilst I'm at it, Petrus gets 3 forks as well.

Is it a chocolate UFO? No, it's a trio of Gary's delectable Jaffa Cake puddings

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Joël is coming!

I hear that Joël Robuchon is opening a new restaurant called L'Atelier in Covent Garden next month. This is going straight on the list. I first discovered Joël Robuchon over ten years ago in Paris. I was staying in the madly eclectic Esmeralda hotel near Notre Dame (naturally, with that name!). I remember choosing the hotel because Chet Baker had stayed there and I hoped it would be 'cool'! My room looked like it had been decorated by an eccentric and slightly colour blind great aunt. It was all crazily flowered wallpaper and chintz. I certainly couldn't live in such a cacophony but it was fantastic and certainly more adventurous than the dull, soulless businessmen hotels that my company normally put me up in. I went exploring around the Latin Quarter and stumbled into a bookshop and headed for the food and drink section. My addiction wasn't as bad as it is now but I had already acquired the habit of weighing my luggage down with cookbooks and kitchen gadgets on the return from every trip. On perusing this lovely little Parisian bookshop I came across this fabulous Joël Robuchon and Patricia Wells cookbook - Cuisine Actuelle. I had read about the legend that is Joël Robuchon but hadn't really read any of his recipes in English. But thanks to the ever wonderful writing of Patricia Wells I was able to realise Joël’s vision. I totally fell for his 'bittersweet chocolate mousse' which has become an essential to my repertoire. And I have to admit that I had a sort of pommes purée epiphany whilst flicking through the pages. I had developed an obsession with Gratin Dauphinoise on my European travels. If even learnt the very useful phrase Potatis Gratang so that I could get this delicious garlicky, creamy concoction on my visits to Sweden. I would have placed Gratin Dauphinoise at No. 1 of my 'potato top of the pops' and then I discovered Joël. Now I think my top potatoes would be:
1. Perfect creamy mashed potatoes, think Gary, think Joel
2. Gratin Dauphinoise
3. Proper chip butties
4. Aligot – a cheesy, garlicky, potato-y mound of wonderfulness
5. Boulengère
6. Pommes Duchesse - crispy potato rosettes with a fluffy centre
7. Baked potato
8. Champ
9. Potato cake
10. New potatoes - cooked so they are slightly creamy in the middle and with butter and black pepper, no mint for me though.
But then there’s also sautéed potatoes, rösti, colcannon and fondant potatoes – clearly a top ten isn’t enough.

And what was so wonderful about Joël’s silky and satiny purée? After the potato is pass through a food mill (or ricer for my preference), they are stirred vigorously with a wooden spatula to dry them. Then a lashing of butter is incorporated cube by cube and then the milk is added in a thin stream. And finally as if you haven’t worked hard enough you push the whole mixture through a sieve or tamis. I have only made it once myself and it was truly sensational! I also had it made from me when I went on a cooking course in Burgundy in 2000. The course was run by the wonderfully eccentric Penny and her right hand French chef was the incredible Michel. It turned out that Michel was a huge fan of Joël Robuchon and described his ‘death row dish’ as a stunning seafood dish he’d had chez Joël. Naturally I asked about the pommes purée and Michel happily recreated it for me even though the beating in of each cube of butter took a really long time. I recall that Penny was none too impressed – but I was – thank you Michel! And maybe now I’ll be able to have myself some of the real thing directly from the master. Heaven indeed!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Friday tart

After a long week I needed something quick but seriously delicious tonight and this fine Brie, bacon and spring onion from the local deli Source fits the bill perfectly. They are freshly made everyday and are really tasty. I should have finished off with a nice bit of green salad but horror of horrors; I’ve run out of mâche!

I had some butterflies though!

The divas' NY tour



I have been making some enquiries in readiness for my trip to New York in September. I have two restaurants currently on my hit list for required dining in New York – no.1 – the yet unopened Gordon Ramsay at The London and no.2 but frankly a magnificent second is Per Se. I was concerned that London wasn’t going to be open in time for my visit but I picked up some useful information from our very attentive waiter at Petrus and hope that I can secure an early table at their ‘soft opening’. I have sent off an email in a hope that we can join the front of the queue so I will just have to cross my figures that they are indeed finished in time. Per Se is Thomas Keller’s (he of the outstanding French Laundry fame) new restaurant in New York. If I can get either booking I am sure we’ll have a dazzling meal!
It will also be my birthday that weekend so I think I really need to have the dining experience of my dreams! I will be accompanied by the one and only fabulous DD from Sydney, who also coincidentally has a birthday the same week so it’s going to be viva la diva! I will be digging the most sparkliest stuff out as we aim to impress. Will I get to go to the ball? Watch this space!

W.W.J.E.?

That’s a very good question, “what would J eat?” I was asked this recently when booking my digital photography and gourmet food holiday in France. I didn’t want to scare my hosts with a huge list of dislikes – see my rapidly expanding black list. So I kept it simple I mentioned that French food was always my favourite but that my bête noire would definitely have to be the dreaded tomatoes. This seemed to alarm them greatly as if everything they eat is tomato based. Well I guess someone’s got to, but it’s not going to be me! I wonder what they’d think if I also reeled off my dislike of peppers, curry, coffee, whipped cream, mayonnaise, bananas, okra, plantain, coriander, goat’s cheese and many other things? They’d probably ask me to bring enough sandwiches for a week!
I guess I could have just presented them with the top foods list I put together for my Simon Hopkinson book homage. That would be Artichoke, Asparagus , Bacon, Basil, Beef, Bread, Brie , Brussels Sprouts, Butter, Butternut Squash, Cauliflower , Chambord, Chicken, Chocolate, Crab , Duck, Eggs, Foie gras, Garlic, Ginger , Ice cream, Leeks , Lemons, Lobster , Mâche, Scallops, Monkfish, Mozzarella, Mushrooms , Mussels, Mustard, Oranges, Pancakes, Pancetta, Parma ham, Parmesan, Pasta, Pepper(corns), Pineapple, Plaice, Potatoes, Purple sprouting broccoli, Raspberries, Risotto rice , Salmon, Sausages and Truffles. I think I could have a fabulous week eating my way through this lot.
Though in retrospect I could have just said – when all else fails, feed me mashed potato. I wouldn’t mind, honest!