Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Photographing in the dark

I love the food at Le Pont de la Tour, the service is terribly efficient, the restaurant is elegant and the views are wonderful. And therein lies the problem. Because of the star attraction of the view, the lighting is ambient, some say dim, and plays havoc with my food blogging photographs. Of course, that’s not remotely important, and I’m sure they wouldn’t be the tiniest bit concerned but it makes it very hard to display their delicious food to the best effect. However, despite my gloomy photos, I can assure you that the meal tasted much better than it looks.

After the melba toast and the tasty raisin bread nearly all of us went for Brandan Orach smoked salmon, blini and keta caviar and why not, the blini was soft and flavoursome and the salmon was deliciously moist and thickly cut which seems the fashion at the moment. And I am not complaining as you really get to appreciate the meaty salmon flavour.

This was followed by guinea fowl, truffled potatoes and stuffed cabbage. The guinea fowl was perfect, so aromatic and juicy and probably the best guinea fowl I’ve ever had. The potato was pleasant but nothing really special but the stuffed cabbage was very good.

I had remembered after my last visit that the petit pot au chocolat is topped off with vanilla cream. And as I had recalled this I was able to ask the waiter if I could have my chocolate pot cream-free. But for some reason that seemed a good idea at the time when the waiter didn’t immediately understand me I explained my proclivities in French. But the problem here is that even though I have learnt the most vital of phrases namely, “please don’t let tomato come anywhere near my food” and “definitely no whipped cream on top of my delicious chocolate dessert”, my French is still very sporadic. So, as well as he understood me he felt that a discourse of my cream dodging in French would convince me that I was making a wrong decision. I understood practically none of his reasons for me having the cream but just insisted at regular intervals that I didn’t want it. He probably thought I was quite rude but unfortunately it was just my inadequate French that let me down. The cream-less chocolate pot was delicious and the citrussy madelines a perfect foil.

One of the things I’ve always admired at Le Pont de la Tour is the cigar smoking Michelin man stained glass window over the reception desk and after explaining that I really wanted a photo of it for my blog, they were happy to oblige. We chose this restaurant because we wanted a good, local restaurant to introduce another J into our team. And they are doing a special offer at the moment, 3 courses plus a glass of Champagne for £30 which probably makes the meal about half it’s usual price so excellent food for a great price. Welcome to the team J, I’m afraid the photographing of all our restaurant meals is more or less mandatory but maybe next time they’ll be a little more light.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Taking comfort...

Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness has luckily recovered from her illness and technology issues and has posted the latest Blog Party. It seems that everyone wanted to "take comfort" and the party was very well attended. This was my entry and if you want to check out the other comforting canapé offerings click here.
Stephanie has given all of this month's blog party attendees next month's theme to give us a head start. I won't say what it is is yet but as Stephanie is a fan of my tableware, I hope she'll be very happy with my interpretation as it's a chance to showcase yet even more crockery, table fripperies and I hope, some fabulous little canapés! I've got my culinary thinking cap on, watch this space.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

a French Sunday lunch

D and I felt that our shopping excursion had been cruelly cut short yesterday, though clearly MC and LLcT had the slightly opposing view that we'd been kidnapped! So we plan another excursion but as MC felt particularly abandoned yesterday we figured that we should attempt to lure him into joining us, the carrot being lunch somewhere. Our motives were clear; we enjoy his company, value his opinion and admire his abilities as a bag carrier! I think he thought we solely required him a dining companion and wasn't very happy that shops had to be visited first.

Rather scarily one of my first thoughts of the day was imagining the ideal dishes to serve on those pink M&S plates! Obsessed? Me? Hmmm, possibly!

So to ensure that my bizarre imagining didn't keep me awake at night, we revisited M&S so I could add a few choice pink pieces to the extensive crockery collection. And after a few more purchases we headed off for Chez Gérard which was pleasantly quiet this Sunday.

Strictly for research purposes (or at least that's what D told our waitress) we ordered a tarte flambé to split between the three of us for a starter. We wanted to see how it compared to the flamiche we made the other night. Though on further consideration I think my belief that tarte flambé and flamiche are one of the same is misconceived I think the French name is tarte flambé and the Alsatian name is actually Flammekueche. Flamiche is a leek and cream tart often served in a very similar way to a tarte flambé or even a quiche but also served as a double-crust pie as in Simon Hopkinson’s wonderful recipe that we reproduced. And it's very tasty but we all agree that if we'd had our own individual flaming tart they'd be no room for steak, frites and quelle horreur no room for any chocolate unctuousness! It was a good tart, the bacon was smoky and the spring onion had a nice bite but I am glad I didn't have to try and finish a whole one.

So after our third of a tart we have some of their damn fine rare steak and frites, I had rump and D had some ever so French onglet and we both had some yummy béarnaise to dip our hot skinny frites into. As well as great bread, Chez Gerard do a very fine steak and frites and we just had enough room to squeeze in desserts.

There was chocolate tart with a raspberry drizzle for me, lemon tart with a raspberry drizzle for MC (they seem to like their drizzles!) and mango sorbet for the chocolate dodging D. The tarts were a good size, not to big, well my chocolate one was the perfect size for one, if I had to share it with D, I may have felt deprived and the raspberry was wonderful to cut through the rich chocolate - definitely a perfect match!

Not a bad Sunday lunch at all - and no washing up, result!

update: Okay, I am sorry I had thought we'd all consumed one of Chez Gérard's fine juicy steaks but my memory was clouded by béarnaise and I should have said that MC has a big hunk of lamb instead and he wasn't just there for his qualities as a Sherpa - well, not really!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Surf and turf

D and I wandered around M&S food department trying to get inspiration for dinner tonight, we had pondered getting a table at Restaurant 22 but it’s too popular and we’d left it too late again. The chiller cabinets of M&S are somewhat spartan which I guess makes decisions easier; it’s more like what’s left? The problem is that we’ve not really shopped off our lunch so we’re not feeling too bothered about food but knowing that MC and LLcT would be probably not be feeling so laissez faire about a possible lack of dinner tonight, we think harder. We go looking for M’s beloved crab gratin but the cupboard is bare. However there’s some lovely looking thick cut wild salmon so that seems a good start and we add a packet of blinis and plan to mix some horseradish into some crème fraîche. We make sure that the LLcT’s ham coffers is replenished, we get a couple of packets of Iberico ham and some Parma ham and this gives us the idea of wrapping some beef fillet with the Parma and serving it with some purple sprouting or tender stem broccoli. Okay, so now we’ve made our decision we just have to find all the elements. M&S doesn’t seem to have any beef fillet left so that means a trip on the way home to the dreaded obese supermarket that D and I despise but unfortunately is conveniently local or should I say looming. And luckily they do have beef but what on earth has happened to their vegetables? I can only assume a plague of vegetarian locusts have stripped the shelves bare. However after some foraging we find some mushrooms which will go nicely with the ham-wrapped beef but still I hankered after something green though we do have some mâche left from the Waitrose shop last night so that will have to suffice.
It’s not as if we decided to have the delicious meaty slices of salmon and fluffy blinis so I could christen my crystal handled butter knives but that’s just a bonus and they do look awfully nice! And D puts her new copper tailed knife to good effect by chopping the chives ever so finely to finish off the zesty hot horseradish and crème fraîche sauce. A really delicious and frankly so easy starter for two weary shoppers to prepare!
The fillet steak turns out extremely tasty as well. I sauté some of D’s smoked garlic with a little duxelle of mushrooms and a splash of red wine to add a moist layer under the Parma ham, we tie it up and pop it in the oven for 25 minutes as we all like our meat rare. The mushrooms are softened in the garlicky buttery juices remaining from making the duxelle and get stuffed with a little sautéed leek that we didn’t use in last night’s flamiche and topped with either Cheddar (for LLcT and me) or Gorgonzola (for D and MC) before grilling until bubbling. The requisite green is provided by the ubiquitous mâche and a good splash of balsamic vinegar.

Okay. maybe not a traditional surf and turf but a very elegant Restaurant 74 interpretation!

Shop, eat & shop again!

There's really nothing like a good old shop pounding to make you ravenous so D and I headed into Strada and secured a corner round table perfect for consumption and people watching.
We started off with some schiacciatella which is scrumptious garlic and rosemary bread and a bottle of their filtered tap water. This is a very impressive precedence, Giles Coren in his weekly Times restaurant review column has started marking restaurants down that don't offer tap water or Belu (which is English Shropshire mineral water sold in bio-degradable bottles and whose profits fund clean drinking water projects). At the very least he hope that a restaurant in England would serve English water and not god forbid, Fiji water! I wonder if he's been to New York recently as the 'smart' restaurants offer a choice of waters and a silver plated water bottle caddy of the requisite shape! I don't think he'd be happy at all!
But back to Strada, I ordered the thyme roasted butternut squash, chilli, smoked pancetta bacon finished with baby spinach and toasted pine nuts risotto and D the lobster, crab, sun blushed tomatoes and chilli.
The plan was I'd check to see if the crab and lobster risotto wasn't too tomato-y we would share the two. I was alarmed by the red colour but did give it a go, I thought the lobster and crab were delicious but starting to be overcome by tomato fumes I scuttled back to my Autumn in a bowl roasted butternut squash and pancetta one. It's the second time I've eaten this risotto and again I was really impressed by its smokiness (from the pancetta) the rich comforting flavour of the butternut and that subtle heat from the chilli. It's a very good risotto indeed! And especially because of that dish I think Strada should be awarded the coveted two forks.

Our table was just perfect for examining our earlier purchases and to plan where our next assault should be. I'd already found some gorgeous crystal handled butter knives and a very curious and rather wonderful lobster fork but as yet no crockery purchases had been made!
As D has sworn off chocolate for Lent and nothing would persuade me to drink coffee, we couldn't do pie customised dessert sharing. I went for the warm chocolate tart and D the tiramisu. And there were definitely no complaints there.

After our lovely meal we headed off towards M&S, D wanted to slow me some crockery she become very attached to and would visit the homeware department to stroke them and will them to be on special offer. And whilst I was there I spotted some interesting new crockery also that amazingly was neither white nor black but... believe it or not was pink! I resisted but it was a very intriguing proposition and gave us much to ponder during the rest of the shopping as to the ideal dishes to serve on pink plates. Hmmm well fed and food for thought!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Another slice of pie?

I had it all worked out, I wanted to bake a pie this weekend and enter it for Cook Sister's Waiter, there’s something in my… pie event. Then I decided to spend the weekend in Cambridge but thought that would be even better, I could bake a larger pie than I would have made at home. I’d been promising myself for ages to try one of the recipes from Sophie Conran’s Pies book and I am sure Sophie herself didn’t really believe me when I said I would be recreating one of her pastry joys very soon… in fact less than 24 hours later! On the first glance through this pleasing little pink book I had pounced on the Simon Hopkinson's recipe for Flamiche from his Gammon & Spinach book. This was particularly interesting as I’d become rather a fan of the Alsatian pizza, flamiche or tarte flambé. All the recipes I had even seen were for an open pizza-style base topped with crème fraîche and lardons of bacon and was very tasty indeed. But Simon’s recipe is based on the speciality of the Roye restaurant La Flamiche, and is called La Flamiche aux Poireaux so more like a flat double crust leek pie but being a massive leek fan; I was very willing to give it a try. Though this was probably quite lucky as the rule of the Waiter, there's something in my... pie event was the pie filling had to be invisible until sliced into and a normal pizza recipe however Alsatian would not have been permitted.

Here is Simon's recipe:


75g butter

1kg leeks, trimmed of most of the green, sliced and well washed

5-6 tbsp double cream

500g puff pastry (you’ll need 2 circles either ready rolled or with the end of a dinner plate template)

1 egg yolk, beaten

freshly grated nutmeg

salt and freshly ground black pepper

You will need 2 fat baking trays with no edges.

Melt the butter in a wide frying pan and cook the leeks gently for about 20 minutes until really soft. Season, turn up the heat and add the cream. Allow to bubble vigorously for a minute or two until the mixture is creamy but not too wet. Tip onto a plate and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200oc. Place one of the baking trays in the oven to get hot. Lightly smear the other tray with butter and on it lay one of the circles of puff pastry. Take the cooled leeks and spread them carefully in a piled, though flattish, circle over the pastry, leaving an edge of 2.5cm uncovered; paint this with egg yolk. Form a lid with the other circle of pastry and allow the edge of this to flop down into the bottom layer. Press together lightly all the way around. Now brush the whole surface with more egg and press the edges together firmly with the tines of a fork. Also make a few small cuts in the centre of the flamiche, so as to allow steam to escape.

Decorate with the point of a knife if you are in an artistic mood. Slide the flamiche into the oven, onto the preheated tray. Bake for around 25 minutes or until golden brown and well crisped. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Cut into wedges and eat with salad or just on its own.

As D and I wandered around Waitrose earlier this evening trying to get inspiration for tonight’s dinner, I suggested this particular flamiche but typically the Pies book I’d purchased from last night’s event for D sadly remained on my coffee table and I had to try and recall the recipe from memory. We concurred that as D had Simon Hopkinson’s Gammon & Spinach book back at home, I only had to remember the required ingredients. And luckily with it being a simple recipe, I somehow remembered the 1kg leeks, 500g puff pastry and a small amount of double cream. We also thought that the ‘men’ would not be terribly happy with just a wedge of leek pie however delicious, so we got some of Waitrose’s finest wild boar and prune sausages to inject the required meat into the meal. The need for two flat baking trays thwarted us slightly so we just attempted to quickly form the pie on one foiled topped pre-heated baking tray and trasnfer that back to the oven, well needs must! When it came to decoration I decided that some pastry leeks adorning the top would look most fetching, but actually they came out like rather sinister squid-like pastry sea creatures and I abandoned ‘plan a’ in favour of a few free hand hearts. Well I do love leeks...and pies!

This certainly didn’t taste like any flamiche or tarte flambé I’d tasted previously but it was a very fine melting soft buttery leek pie and it was very tasty indeed and the prefect foil for the incredibly aromatic dark wild boar and prune sausages.
Not that there was the tiniest doubt previously, but I can definitely say that I am a confirmed pie lover after this. More pie anyone?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

We ate all the pies!

Despite really looking forward to the latest cook book club at Blueprint Café especially as it featured Sophie Conran’s fabulous little pink Pies book it was with trepidation I ventured over Tower Bridge. And it wasn’t the food I was worried about or tonight’s esteemed guest but where I’d be sitting. Generally as a solo cook book club attendee I am placed on the longest table but generally most diners attend in a group so I never know where to place myself until everyone else is seated. This normally works out fine, wherever I sit there’s someone interesting to chat with whilst we eat the delicious dinner but last month I ended up at the furthest end of the long table sat next to a taciturn man and no one sat opposite and spent most of the meal sat in an awkward silence. Not really the best evening!

This time I vowed not to be “baby, sat in the corner” so I cased the long table I’d be assigned and positioned myself cunningly in the middle. I needn’t have worried at all as everyone was lovely and friendly at my table and a fine time was had by all. Before I sat down there was the business of the menu to check out and some tasty nibbles and exotic vibrant drink to consume.

Baked salsify, Parmesan

Haddock & black pudding mini tarts

Steak & kidney pie, puff pastry crust

Cheese, quince & a green salad

Sticky toffee pudding with cream

Prosecco & blood orange juice

Who would have thought salsify wrapped in filo pastry and sprinkled generously with Parmesan would be so wonderful, but it is. It is the perfect little nibble to go with drinks, you get the salty hit from the Parmesan which is way more classier that a bowl of peanuts and you can smugly count salsify towards your five-a-day.

We were also offered cubes of the most amazing smoked haddock and black pudding tarts. This may sound a crazy combination but U can assure you it was fastic. My attempts at photographing them wasn’t so good as the dark cubes even on a white plate in a dark restaurant just don’t really work. The reason why Blueprint Café is unusually dark is really for the benefit of showing off the excellent location. The Blueprint Café is on top of the Design Museum and by the Thames so the height affords a fabulous view of Tower Bridge and the city beyond and to your right the soaring towers of the Canary Wharf development. The bridges and the walkways along the Thames are illuminated and with the aid of your supplied binoculars and the restaurant’s ambient lighting you can check out the metropolis. I guess if the lights were brighter inside, seeing the world outside would be much harder.

To wash down our nibbles we had glasses of stunning jewel-bright Prosecco and blood orange juice. I particularly like the way that the blood orange pulp made up the head of the drink giving it a nice texture.

Thanks to Richard, I was very honoured to be invited into the kitchen for the first time to take a few well-lit shots the night’s pies as they came out of the oven. This meant that I could see them properly and admire them in their Portmeirion as designed by Sophie Conran pie dishes!

Not long after we were seated these stupendous steak and kidney pies started wending their way towards is and what fine beasts they were – meaty chunks of beef and juicy mushrooms with a lovely essence of kidney all topped with a tasty and crispy puff pastry.

Jeremy Lee, the ever ebullient head chef assured us of the excellent provenance, the love and care that had gone into our pies. Jeremy had considered reproducing his own rabbit pie from Sophie’s book but knowing that some are rather squeamish about bunny, made a steak and kidney pie and a spinach and ricotta filo wrapped thing for the vegetarians. We had some boiled potatoes, delicious purple sprouting broccoli and some very feisty lip-tingling horseradish sauce to accompany our pastry delights.

On these cook book club evenings the restaurant is closed to other diners but a couple of tourists slipped past the “restaurant closed for private party” sign and was well met by a pie brandishing Jeremy. It seemed they didn’t stay! More fool them I think!

In between mouthfuls of delicious pie the main topic of conversation on our table was “Wouldn’t Jeremy be awfully good on television?” and I am pleased to hear the wonderful rumour that he is indeed soon to grace our screens! As usual he made an impressive little introductory speech especially as Sophie is a good friend of his. Sophie perhaps made the shortest public address at one of these events as truly unaccustomed to making such speeches it was left for her brother to expound her qualities as both an excellent cook and mother. I must admit Sophie and her assistant Sarah are fine exponents of a life of pie consuming as a sylph-like and elegant a pair of pie eaters you’ll ever see. They even claimed to have tested sixty pies in one sitting, very impressive!

After the pies, we had some tangy cheese, quince and a well dressed mâche salad. I’m always so pleased when I realise it’s not just me who’s crazy about mâche (some say lamb’s lettuce).

Despite everyone declaring how utterly stuffed we were, we managed to force down to some of Jeremy’s incredible sticky toffee pudding with a few people around me declaring that they could happily just live on this forever. I agree that it was very good but with scrummy pies like the steak and kidney pie and the smoked haddock and the black pudding, personally I don’t intend to relinquish pies yet.

Sophie was signing copies of her Pie book and asked me as an already owner if I’d tried any of the recipes, I had to admit that I hadn’t but fully intended to correct this omission this very weekend. I got Sophie to sign a book for me anyway as I figured I could both supplement D’s cook book collection and ensure we’d have the pie recipe I had my eye on for this weekend Pies inauguration.

Thanks to Richard, Jeremy and of course Sophie this was a thoroughly wonderful evening and I am looking forward to the next cook book club featuring Skye Gyngell’s – ‘A Year in My Kitchen’.

What would Noel eat?

After musing my favourite biscuit the Friday before last after hearing a trailer on the radio on that Friday about the winner of this year's Brit's lifetime achievement award biscuit preference, it seems that the world still really wants to know. Just in case you're one of those who been desperate to know that answer to the burning question... and I know some of you have been on tenterhooks, the answer to the great 'What's Noel Gallagher's favourite biscuit?' is not a Garibaldi, not a custard cream but a... who would have thought it... a ginger nut! Hmmm, strangely appropriate!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Flipping good pancakes!

Today is one of the high days and holidays you’ve really got to love – Shrove Tuesday, a chance to eat lots of yummy pancakes before the austerity of Lent. And everyone seems to have their own slight variations of the perfect pancake or crêpe batter, some have eggs and egg yolks, most are all milk, some have cream and if being used for a dessert many have caster sugar added also. The really important thing is not to make the batter too thick, because you can’t then easily swirl it around your crêpe pan quickly so as to cook it evenly. I am only making pancakes for myself today, so I halved my normal batter recipe.

Basic Crêpes – makes about 5 or 6 pancakes

60g plain flour, sifted

A pinch of salt

1 large free-range egg

100ml milk mixed with 40ml water

25g butter

- Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl (for this quantity I can use my big Pyrex jug) and break the egg into a well in the centre.

- Start whisking and then gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, whisking all the time. It will start off rather lumpy but these should disappear as you whisk.

- The mixture should have the consistency of thin cream, it is important that the batter is not too thick as it won’t spread thinly around your crêpe pan.

- Melt the butter in a small pan, cool slightly and then whisk 1 tbsp of it into the batter. Leave the batter to stand for about 30 minutes (or even overnight), it will thicken and you may need to thin it down with a splash more milk before making the pancakes. I had to thin down mine a little today as it really plumped up whilst it was standing.

- Leave the remaining butter in the pan (or transfer to a small bowl if the pan is too hot) and use it to lubricate the crêpe pan with a wad of kitchen towel before pouring in the batter to make each pancake.

- Get the pan hot and then turn it down to medium, pour about 3 tbsp of batter (either from the jug or a ladle if more practical) into the pan and quickly swoosh it round to cover evenly the base of the pan.

- After about half a minute, lift an edge with a palette knife to check the colour, if it’s tinged with golden brown flip over and cook the other side for a few moments more. Generally the first pancake has to be sacrificed to the god of pancakes because it will invariably fail; I believe that’s called a cook’s treat!

- Slide the pancake directly onto a warm plate or stack the pancakes between sheets of greaseproof paper as you cook them.

- To serve, either sprinkle each pancake with sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice and then fold into quarters or roll them up especially if filled with a tasty savoury filling.

Today I wanted to have both savoury and sweets pancakes so I sautéed some chicken breast, cubes of tasty ham, finely chopped leeks and then added some double cream. This mixture filled three plump rolled crêpes and the remaining two were doused with lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar. I suppose they didn't look very exciting on the plate but I can assure you they were really delicious!.

Crêpes are so delicious and versatile; I really should flip a few more often.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A seriously good dessert!

I spotted an intriguing new dessert in Waitrose today, well new for me anyway. I was reaching for a Gü pudding but clearly influenced by M’s fetish for little china dishes I was drawn to the lovely little china cups these desserts come in.

And the dessert itself looked very interesting; they come from the Serious Food Company who make wonderful little 'only natural ingredients' 'additive-free' desserts which I think may be exclusive to Waitrose. They also do a very interesting looking trio of square crème brulees in a little divided china dish that could be worth investigating.

All you do is pop the little china cup into the microwave for 25 seconds, leave it for a minute (prefect to take a quick photograph!) and then tuck in - seriously delicious!

This is probably what I should have had for the Valentine’s Day dessert as it looked especially fine on one of my heart shaped YSL plates with the similarly heart shaped little Alessi coffee spoon. Seriously good indeed! The pudding is really good, a proper dark chocolate fondant pudding with a rich liquid chocolatey sauce, and a good size - i.e. not too big!

And as you guess, I really like the cups, for someone who would never drink coffee I have strange and unnatural feelings towards little coffee/espresso cups! Seriously odd!

So M, you do need to check out these desserts and the cups - I don't think they're available on Ocado yet, but hopefully they will be soon as they already have some of the other Serious Food Company range. You will become seriously addicted, I am sure!

Pie in a box

My plan today was to pop in a good eatery nearby, sit down and eat some decent food and then head off into the city. But then time overtook me (again!) so I moved swiftly onto plan B. And plan B was to grab a pie from Source and then eating it on the train.

This was my first taste of a Source pie and this was a nice home-cooked chicken and smoked cheese pie with mash. They serve the pies is a box that can be turned into a plate and I hoped I would get a seat with one of those drop down trays like on a plane and I could peacefully eat my pie. But I’d underestimated that this is half term week and the train was utterly heaving and luckily for me lots of really loud schoolgirls yelling into their mobiles - fabulous! Forget about getting a seat with a drop down tray, forget the seat. Instead I had to stand in the aisle clutching my pie box and hoping I could manage to cut up the pie with a fork. It kind of worked but was far from ideal! Fortunately the pie crust wasn’t too crispy to mean that I couldn't eat it with just a fork but only just. I am sure the rest of the train enjoyed watching me struggle with remaining upright and eating a pie and mash out of a box with a plastic fork. Well I aim to entertain!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Year of the pig

I am really hoping this red banner says “Wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year” as that’s what I wanted to say but I should really check with someone who knows.

I wanted to celebrate the Chinese New Year of the pig in my own way. Unfortunately I am not a huge fan of Chinese food but I must admit I had the most amazing crispy duck and pancakes in an incredibly bright Chinese restaurant in Miami Playa in Spain. Even though the leaking air conditioner unit was really bothering me (I don’t think anyone really likes being dripped on!) I thought the succulent duck and surprising plump pancakes the best I’d ever had. Though this could be my fault, I have very really eaten in a good Chinese restaurant, it’s normally been with a crowd after a long night drinking and/or dancing and we’ve just entered the nearest place that it still open. And I think because of that I have had some extremely bad Chinese food when I haven’t been drunk enough to ignore how poor it is. I am sure if I did avail myself of a good Chinese restaurant, I would be pleasantly surprised. I have been meaning to try out Hakkasan restaurant as it’s a big favourite of H’s but somehow I have so far resisted.

My plan tonight was to do something more typically Chinese with pork belly to welcome in the year of the pig but I had a piece of gammon in my fridge that needed eating and some fresh eggs, so it became rather non-traditional. It was very tasty though as I believe traditional Chinese New Year celebrations can go on for fifteen days, I still have time to do something interesting with pork belly.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Does my blog look good in January?

I’ve been trying to find one of my food blog photographs to submit for January’s DMBLGiT photo competition which is being held over at Fancy Toast. Unfortunately I think January was a bit of a dearth of photographs for me but after some consideration and after asking advice I think I’ll have to choose something from the black and white party. So I’ve opted for the tasty dish of scallops and black pudding on my black and white damask plate.
There is some seriously tough competition for January that you can check out here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Masterchef goes fourth

We've met our fourth semi-finalist and I am pleased again with this week's winner.
Jay did a Catalan salad with chorizo and tomatoes and they considered it tasty but too simple then followed it rather bizarrely with sesame coated chicken, mango mayonnaise and Mediterranean vegetables. And of course she cleverly used Amaretto in the chocolate dessert, which is always going to make Gregg want to marry you!
William started with an attractive looking goat's cheese and fig tart with red onion jam and watercress (even though I wouldn't have eaten it!) followed by a juicy fillet steak with Marsala and wild mushroom sauce served with honeyed parsnips and horseradish greens. Unfortunately John and Gregg thought the combination of honey, Marsala and peas made it all a bit sweet. William made another chocolate dessert with Amaretto and Brandy but despite being tasty, it wasn't as attractive as his other two dishes. Though John was impressed and they pretty much cleared the plate.
Natasha made a Dorset apple soup with a walnut scone but it was all a little 'country cottage kitchen' for John and unfortunately she over-whipped her chocolate mousse. Even though I think William came into the quarter finals a clear winner as seemingly he has the techniques and can certainly produce an attractive plate, they were very critical of his three course meal, maybe the expectations were just too high! However, William got through and joins the other three. Only two more semi-finalists to find.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A little bit of Argentina on the Wharf

I was really surprised when T suggested Gaucho Grill for dinner as when I think of Gaucho Grill I conjure up an image of a large rare hunk of steak possibly even resplendent with a fine set of horns and probably still mooing. And that isn’t really typical of T and her risotto loving ways. But I was wrong, she might not be partaking of any slabs of meat but she loves the atmosphere and has become a aficionado of Gaucho Grills around the city. So T plumps for chicken whilst I peruse the impressive steak menu.

BIFE DE CUADRIL Rump – a uniquely lean and flavourful cut

BIFE DE CHORIZO Sirloin – with a belt of tasty crackling

BIFE DE LOMO Fillet – the tenderest cut of all

BIFE ANCHO Rib eye – a marbled sirloin with a tender skirt

GAUCHO SAMPLER - A taste of all four cuts of prime Argentine beef

CHURRASCO ’CUTS’ - A choice of cuts, spiral cut and marinated


First you select your cut, then the size of your slab and then a sauce. They are very happy to bring all the cuts out from the kitchen for your inspection and as much as I fancied the Gaucho sampler, I probably should leave that for another visit when I can share it with a fellow beef fiend (LLcoolT - when are you next in London?). So I went for a rare rib eye sirloin with béarnaise sauce, grilled mushrooms and the fattest of fat chips.

We decided to forgo a starter in favour of T’s suggestion of the fabulous cheese bread. We had to wait for it to come from the oven and T had to chase it but it was well worth it – a very good tip form a Gaucho regular! We dip it in the herby oil whilst we caught up on all the gossip! The Gaucho Grill is very buzzy and the Canary Wharf branch has twinkling blue lit trees lining the terrace outside. There are plenty of cow hide accoutrements, most of the chairs are backed in brown and cream cow hide as are the wall panels and the fat barstools. There’s lots of dark brown leather and dark wood, a little taste of Argentina at the Wharf. It's quite dark and not good for taking my food blog photos but good for atmosphere.

Our mains arrive and they are seriously tasty. My steak in very tender and perfectly cooked, the fat chips are indeed wonderfully plump, delicious and sprinkled with herbs, the mushrooms and dark and juicy and the béarnaise sauce just perfect for dipping the fat chips into. A very fine plate of food indeed.

Somehow we managed to squeeze in a shared chocolate truffle cake which is a rich chocolate cake topped with more chocolate in the form of a chocolate ganache, but rather frightening served with crème fraîche. Something we could both ignore!

Even after my lovely lunch today, I really enjoyed our meal. For various strange reasons I have never visited Gaucho Grill in this country, I’ve booked many a table for others and D and I once went along to one to find they was a problem and they’d had to close early. But now I finally eaten one of their succulent steaks and I really loved it. Three Argentinean beefy forks for the Gaucho Grill - Canary and I now, thanks to T, have a few more recommendations to visit!

Artistry at Addendum

I had my second visit to Addendum today, again with a client, again with a vegetarian client (well, strictly a pescatorian as fish would have been acceptable!) and again I didn't know beforehand. Clearly I'm failing in my duty as a hostess to ascertain my guests' food preferences. I guess I need to ask more pertinent taste questions when verifying restaurant choice next time. Fortunately Addendum has diluted their caveman only menu in favour of a small but perfectly formed meat, fish or vegetable selection and V seemed happy with her albeit limited choice of blue cheese starter followed by braised celery hearts, wild rice and red wine sauce whereas of course I had to go all carnivore. At least I needn’t have worried about V finding the restaurant rather tucked away in the Apex hotel as her hotel that happened to be booked for this trip for coincidently the Apex!

We were given some interesting amuse gueules to whet out appetites. Firstly there were pistachios and anchovy breadsticks followed by little espresso cups of spinach soup. The anchovy breadsticks were a revelation as I’m not a big fan of anchovies, I would insert them with rosemary into slits onto my leg of lamb but I would never let them infiltrate my pizza. And I recall a painful meal in Valencia when I forgot my Catalan menu primer and ended up with a plate of bones with the merest morsel of flesh clinging to them. This time the anchovies were more of a success and just gave the breadsticks an intriguing salty hit.

My starter was a pan roasted wood pigeon, apple, beetroot leaves and potatoes which were all arranged with Addendum’s usual artistry. I particularly thought the pink beetroot ‘crisp’ was awfully pretty against the dark pigeon meat and the green of the beetroot leaves. And importantly it tasted as good as it looked.

For the main I’d been trying to decide between the chicken breast with truffle panisse or braised pork belly but when I heard about the special of roasted & confit duck, creamed celeriac, figs, radish I immediately went for that. And I received another really attractive plate though the radishes look rather like the sous chef’s fingers. But the duck was really succulent so what’s a dismembered finger amongst friends?

And as the portions were just the right size so as not feel too stuffed, V and I were both able to fit in the very elegant dessert of rhubarb bavarois, ginger ice cream, orange sorbet, poached rhubarb.

Then to accompany our latte and Earl Grey we had our pick of some delicious petit fours especially my new found favourite mini macaroons. V called them something else which unfortunately I can’t remember, I know there’s one of the fabulous Ladurée tea salons in Geneva – home of the world renowned macaroons so she may have had them there. I also had a luscious little jelly cube and V the miniature lollipop as it seemed rude to leave them!

I think Addendum is the perfect spot for a lovely little business lunch and very probably any lunch. The food and service are impeccable and you can even entertain a vegetarian there. The plates looks fabulous and the place is stylish and well lit – surely what every food blogger dreams of? Addendum have two very stylish and well illuminated forks.