Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pure unadulterated potato pleasure!

What should I do if I find myself proud possessor of a small handful of baby waxy potatoes and the remnants of a pot of double cream? The answer: make a little Gratin Dauphinoise. I like to make the version where you cook the ultra thin potato slices in a pan with the cream (and milk if you have some) and then tip the boiling cream and par-boiled potatoes into a ceramic dish, with a little nutmeg and pepper in between the layers for finishing in the oven. I think I got the idea from a Gordon Ramsay recipe and have adopted this speedier method ever since. As much as I love cheese I never put any in my Gratin Dauphinoise, as it doesn't seem quite right.
This version may look like a vat of the unctuous potato heaven but it's actually only an individual ramekin full - honest! I only had a few potatoes this time, unfortunately.
Never mind, what do they say, a little of what you fancy...

Friday, June 29, 2007

A TGIF night old favourite

This used to be a classic "oh my, what a week that was" Friday night comfort food dish. A handful of pasta cooking in a big pot of salted water, with a egg popped into the same pan. Then the sliced hard boiled eggs and ham are added to a cheesy sauce made the classic way with a roux base. The cooked pasta is added to this sticky, culinary hug style mixture and mingled with the sauce.
And this week has been extremely mad so it seems a good time to resurrect an old classic. I don't make a roux this time though, mainly because I haven't got any milk and a cheese sauce wouldn't really happen without milk. I have a good slug of double cream left though so I make a creamy unctuous sauce with that, a little English mustard and some Microplaned Cheddar. I have no ham but pop some smoky bacon under the grill instead. The whole ensemble is heavily sprinkled with black pepper grindings and enjoyed in front of some not too taxing television. Maybe I should have torn up a few leaves to 'healthy 5-a-day' it up a bit, but somehow it's not right.

It's lighter than I remembered, less glutinous - well that's a mornay sauce for you, but very comforting all the same. I'm hoping for a calmer next week, well I can but dream!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Gary sparkles!

Oh my, Gary Rhodes new restaurant W1 is just so gorgeous. I was going to say my inner diva was sated by my visit but let's be real here, my diva is not inner - it's out, out, out! There is a multitude of dripping Swarovski crystal chandeliers, the walls have a mother of pearl lustre that could be Italian marbling, it's pale and shimmery and ever so elegant. The chargers are black glass Wedgwood that I am immediately coveting, the napkins are pale taupe rough linen, the glasses are quirky and elegantly stemmed. The Kelly Hoppen interior is a feast for the eyes and the reviews I've read which liken it to an Adam's family boudoir or as one reviewer said "looks like the setting for a seduction attempt by Marilyn Manson on Coleen McLoughlin" are just harsh or else I have unusual tastes. I adored it, and no you don't have to be a girl or gay to love it though that possibly helps. I suspect you probably won't find a table of navy pinstriped traders quaffing the most expensive Petrus, bragging about their bonuses and smoking cigars (unless they're very in touch with their feminine side!) but there are plenty of places they could do that if they so desired.
But enough about the bling-tastic decor, what about the food? Does it sparkle accordingly? And the answer is yes, it truly does and if Gary does not find himself proud possessor of some sparkling Michelin stars soon I'll eat my most sparkly Swarovski crystal encrusted hat! And yes I do have one!
The ever so attentive staff give us two menus, an 'a la carte' for £45 and an unusual tasting menu where you choose the elements and each is priced accordingly. I have heard that it can mount up quickly as you leap from one taste sensation to the next but I was very keen to taste the crisp soft egg, and as it wasn't on the 'tasting menu' my decision was made.
Whilst we are perusing them the first little heavenly amuse gueule arrives, warm beignets of smoked eel and a horseradish cream to dip them into. Just awesome and show-stopping on the first mouthful. We ran out of beignet before the horseradish cream but weren't going to waste that nectar so scooped up the remaining with our eager fingers (I know you can't take us anywhere!). This was accompanied by a teeny dollop of foie gras parfait with Sauterne macerated grapes on pain d'epice wafer, yum.
Then a plate of miniature ever so light puff pastry slices sandwiched by a unctuous truffle Gouda turns up for our delectation, which crumble delectably on the lips as you take each nibble. We are in the presence of geniuses!
And yet there's more, a glass dish of white crabmeat mixed with mayonnaise and a grapefruit juice dressing on a bed of avocado puree is produced with a flourish, placed proudly in the centre of our black glass chargers (I want, I want) and is just so fresh and crabby. And I don't even like avocado, either adorning a bathroom suite or in my food! But this is excellent! Immediately we were transported to favourite crab destinations, Joyful West's crab shack near Cromer (Sheringham to be precise) for me and crab shacks full of people picking the freshest crab in Guernsey for E. We are in raptures and the food we've actually ordered isn't even here yet. And then it arrives and I'll have to find new superlatives, I've written much about the seminal egg experience (egg-sperience?) I had at City Rhodes so many years ago when I first tasted a poached egg nestling inside a single ravioli which I eventually recreated last year. And now I have a new egg dish to rave over - a crisp soft egg, morel duxelle and Roquefort truffle toasts. It is a perfect runny egg with the eggshell replaced by very fine crispy breadcrumbs sat on top of a dramatic morel duxelle round. But the star of the show is that you get tiny Roquefort truffle toasted soldiers to dip into the golden egg yolk causing it to erupt and cascade over the waiting earthy mushroom cake below. Truly stunning!
E tucks into the warm scallops and langoustines in a caviar hollandaise, which looked very beautiful also.
For main we go ummm and ahhh over various choices for quite a while but finally opt for the Roast Barbary duck (for two) breast with caramelised turnips and foie gras followed by leg with beetroot salad and crème de mûre dressing.
Me being me enquires whether there is any mash potato available as I have waxed lyrical about the Gary Rhodes potato on many an occasion and wish to see if its magic has been transported to here. They don't do side dishes but are happy to oblige and we are duly delivered a little bowl of creamy mash potato to accompany our duck. it's not quite as stupendous as the little copper pan in Rhodes24, but still extremely fine and worthy enough to join its cousin on the mash hall of fame.
The duck and foie gras are both magnificent, cooked just perfectly with the tasty rounds of caramelised turnips. Really an inspired choice! They is not the tiniest thing I could fault about our meal and am already pondering what I'd eat on my next visit.
After the delicious duck I was just thinking I'd had an elegant sufficiency when they cleared our plates and gave us another knife and fork. I joked that we were having another main course and then E reminded me that we were having the typical French dish of duck served two ways, we still had our duck leg and salad to come. I had a momentary gasp of fear that I wouldn't be able to eat it all but fortunately it wasn't too filling and was another duck-tacular dish, the vibrant purple beetroot really cutting through fatty duck leg.
When the cheese trolley trundled our way our eyes lit up in delight but I had to beg for a respite. The food was just too good and I didn't want to miss anything so needed a short break. We spent some time admiring our twinkly surroundings and when they dimmed the lights a little too aggressively and is the want of all restaurants now, E asked them to fling a little more light on the proceedings as it showed off their restaurant better. Why didn't I ever think of that? And they listened to him, well done E!
And then we were ready for the cheese, it was perfect. I was even persuaded to try a little goat, ones that were apparently not too goaty though! Our French waiter assured us that it needed a drizzle of honey, and this did improve it. I immediately thought of M, here was I eating goats' cheese and honey, what is the world coming to? I preferred the Camembert wrapped in leaves and all the soft ones then you can lead a J to goat but you can't make me really embrace it. Now there's just the magnificence of the desserts, I can't face a whole one but I can't let this opportunity past, they look truly amazing! The waiters keep asking us if we need anything on the menu explaining but we think we'll manage. So after considering the iced lemon chiboust (no, I don't know what that is, I know I could have asked but that would spoil our fun) or a raspberry soufflé or the very close second choice caramel chocolate mousse millefeille we choose to share a orange and dark chocolate tartlet with kumquat sorbet. And it works brilliantly, the tartlet is sweet and chocolaty and the kumquat sorbet is tangy and tart, together they are a perfect match.
I did wonder after the theatrical extravaganza that was The Fat Duck whether I could be so bowled over by a meal so much again and I am stunned that I can be and it is so soon. Not that I haven't been a huge admirer of Gary Rhodes' food at the very first mouthful and yes I can remember exactly what it was and as much as I have really enjoyed all the meals I've had at Rhodes24 I have thought there was something missing. I yearned for that extra flourish, that tantalising little appetizer, his true brilliance being laid bare on my plate. And now I've tasted it, if you haven't guessed yet I truly adored Rhodes W1 (restaurant, don't be confused by the brasserie of the same name) and it deserved three most glittering forks and even though I didn't think Heston would be knocked off the top spot for a long time, Gary has stolen his crown and deserves the diamond fork also.
Even Heston would undoubtedly agree that a diamond fork would look considerably more at home in this opulent, sparkling, crystal encrusted palace than any other restaurant.
Gary I am in awe!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I'm back with Bigham's

It's not that I stop loving Bigham's but I didn't enjoy my first taste of a Bigham's chicken pie as it contained the dreaded tomato and ruined it for me. I did complain to Bigham's not because of the tomato inclusion as that is their prerogative and I am aware that others don't share my abhorrence. But my displeasure was due to their own website and the ingredients listed on Ocado, where I bought it from, didn't mention the stealthy evil inclusion so I was lulled into believing it wasn't going to darken my door. And if there's one thing I don't like sneaking up on me is a tomato.
But stumbling across a bargain box "eat today" Bigham's Lavish Chicken & Mushroom pie in Waitrose I checked the ingredients and lo, the tomato is banished, it is no more! They have changed the recipe and the nasty red has been replaced by mushrooms and a creamy sauce instead. In my mind, a huge improvement!
And it was good!

And another point, if you think that a pie with a bit of mash and some lightly dusted with chives Chantenay carrots seems inappropriate for an British Summer and not the sort of food I should be eating during Wimbledon fortnight, I beg you to consider the vagaries of a British Summer. Strawberries would be very nice indeed but something a tad more hearty seems curiously fitting at the moment. Good weather for ducks! Hmmm, duck - that would be a good idea!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A summer night at Jeremy's

If you are a follower of US dramas, a couple of series in they often like to have a real time episode, an hour of helter-skelter camera techniques with that sense of speed and jeopardy throughout. As I find myself on a solo table for my dearly awaited Jeremy Lee's Summer Party, I have decided to write my thoughts on tonight's meal live and as it happens - mouthful by mouthful and taste after delicious taste! I hadn’t intended to sit by myself but Jeremy’s generosity has meant that not as many people as should have done have signed up for tonight’s extravaganza and I am very disappointed in them. The food is always magnificent, the wine perfectly complimentary and plentiful and a good time is definitely had by all. But the only people who’ve signed up are a couple of corporate tables so I can’t really just join them and the rest of the restaurant is just open to the public and they’re unaware of the specialness of tonight. Though I guess the best part of having one's own table is that it's not considered rude to write your review on your BlackBerry in between courses so here goes. After I'm seated I have not one but two plates (either I have a reputation or there is an eagerness to please to make up for my “Billy No-mates” situation) of a Blueprint staple nibble, an always extremely welcome asparagus wrapped in tissue leaves of filo pastry baked and then showered with aged Parmesan, just a crowd pleaser every time. And a perfect foil to the free flowing champagne! The starter was the much anticipated crab cakes with aioli, two perfect little rounds of crabness, surprisingly subtle with a low volume aioli, but very good indeed. I half expected to be socked round the face with the crab but as it is all white meat, it’s very gentle. The aioli was not a cousin of Jeremy's horseradish sauce which would have you begging for mercy normally, but a soft whispering garlic that mingles with the delicate crab and doesn't overwhelm the delicateness, I am enraptured!
And after the crab I have the fish course which is a sublime broth of lobster, razor clams, mussels, clams (of the non razor variety) samphire and peas. This is fabulously vibrant as each individual seafood element is clearly identifiable and distinct. Jeremy joins me as we discuss how his comment about "flabby scallops" on Great British Menu has become legendary. And he indulges me by answering all sort of random anorak questions about how the Great British Menu show actually works. The intensity of the questioning is perhaps due to the copious and perfectly matching wine that accompanies every mouthful. I have totally exceeded my normal consumption level and wonder if I can get through the meal without feeling a bizarre urge to climb on my little red table and thoroughly embarrass myself. Richard has chosen excellent wine to accompany each course but being the lonely diner there's a very grave danger of me being drunk by the main course. About this time I thought I’d sway over to the window and attempt to capture the view I’ve often talked about. The sky is most definitely bruising and I should have thought about this earlier but I’ll try and point out some of the famous and infamous for all the wrong reasons sights.

No.1 is the Tower 42, it used to be call the NatWest Tower when the National Westminster Bank resides there and fact fans, it is shaped like the interlocking logos of NatWest. Now it is famous, at least in my eyes for being the home of Rhodes24, so named because it’s half way up on the 24th floor of this sky scraping building.

No. 2 is not very distinct but is, rather incongruously amongst all these modern buildings, the Tower of London, much visited by tourists from all over the world and home to the crown jewels, Beefeaters and ravens. I see this building nearly every day and am still always surprised that it’s just there, so much history in the midst of all this city madness.

No. 3 is the Swiss Re building, generally referred to as ‘the erotic gherkin’ and hugely controversial. Like marmite, you either love it or hate it. And just so you know, I love it and totally and utterly detest Marmite!

No.4 is just the last span of Tower Bridge, again a compulsory photo opportunity when visiting London for the first time. The Thames first bridge and formerly lifted by steam but since the 70’s the hydraulics has been powered by oil and electrics. I have always been perplexed by the red, white and predominantly blue livery but have recently learnt that it was only painted in 1977 to celebrate the Queen’s silver jubilee but before that was chocolate brown. I have no recollection of seeing it chocolaty brown but maybe that’s why the blueness has always seemed odd to me.

No. 5 is the hideous monstrosity that is formerly known as the Tower Thistle and is now the Guoman Thistle and still extremely ugly and looming menacingly next to much more interesting buildings. The lights in the foreground and coming on as I photograph line the river for quite a way, well further than I’ve ever walked anyway and are often to be seen in the background of a London at night shot in a film, especially if they’re trying to be romantic. On one of my visits to Blueprint Café we witnessed Gwyneth Paltrow doing her ‘lights camera action’ bit in front of these very lights. And what a main course greets me on my return, everything I said about the subtly of the gorgeous crabcakes is contradicted by the total taste bud onslaught of the peppered beef, pickled walnuts, peppery watercress and the eye watering, take no prisoners, beg for mercy horseradish sauce. Oh my, after a couple of mouthfuls I'm mopping a fevered brow. Jeremy swings by to check if I'm crying and is delighted to see that I am and declares it all a great success! It is a stunning dish, the beef is pink and melting, the pickled walnuts are softer and more interesting than I expected and I savour every mouthful even with my eyes streaming and tongue tingling from the hot, hot, hot horseradish.

You can tell it's a 'summer' evening as unusually for a Blueprint Café soiree I can photograph the delicious food easily, I might get some photographs that don't look a little sepia around the edges and have to be photoshopped to death in an effort to lift some of the gloom. That would be a pleasant change.
The dessert is two crisp snappy layers of shortcake corralling raspberries and a thick vanilla cream and it’s melt in the mouth and very lovely.

I had feared that being sat by myself would be rather sad but I could type furiously as I ate and Jeremy and Richard and many of the waiters stopped by often to ensure I didn’t feel too alone and I now feel very sway-ey (as M would say) so a fabulous evening all round. It’s probably a very good thing that I noted my thoughts before the last glass or two of wine as I am sure the edges will be a little blurry tomorrow. I could just post this as is but I think I may just check tomorrow for any major effects of grapey excess and correct any of the more bizarre spellings (a curious side effect of BlackBerry use)!

Jeremy you were robbed, you should have gone to Paris. I would have voted for you, hang on – I did!

Monday, June 25, 2007

To boldly eat...

I’m already running late for this month’s blog party, I’ve had a crazy busy work week and yet again I’d forgotten to get the components for a suitable themed drink, always the most tricky part of the challenge for me each month.

When Stephanie came up with the theme for the blog party of Sci-Fi I think she thought I'd be as thwarted with the crockery decisions as I had been for the Wild West event but little didn't she know that I'd recently procured some little vintage black polka dot plates and rather spookily some silver sputnik shaped knife rests from fine emporium of eBay and been looking for an opportunity to premier them so I don't thwart that easily!
And as for food, I guess I need plenty of star shaped food and then place my spotty plates on a star strewn tablecloth.
So my first thought for my foray to the dark side of the moon was tiny pointy crab sandwiches, I was thinking of Cancer the crab as being a suitably starry theme but ran out of similar star sign food tie-ups unless you can stretch the analogy of the smoked salmon and cream cheese topped toast stars being 'Pisces'! But oh what to do for Virgo? I can vouch for the extreme difficulty of cutting out star-shaped toast bites with the star cutter, preserving all the five points was troublesome, however I got there in the end.

I then started thinking a little esoterically; what sort of food and Sci-Fi tie-in could I conjure up? And then it came to me in a kind of dream, I remembered the Devil’s Tower inspired mash potato sculpture from the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Perhaps I could recreate my own miniature mashed potato mountain with some little forks to mine little mouthfuls. And I think it turned out quite well, I didn’t start seeing beaming lights through the window or hearing doo, doo doo, do, doooo and mash potatoes is obviously always a good thing in my mind. I am going to gloss over the fact that I may occasionally dream about mash potato, maybe I need to get myself to Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier!

I had this idea for the last plate of nibbles to be some Parma ham and brie moon shaped croissants. And they were delicious but they weren’t the beautiful moon shaped as I’d envisaged, I think I shrunk them down a little too much and they completely unfurled whilst they were baking and I ended up with puffed triangles with tongues of rosy Parma ham sticking out. Not gorgeous, though tasty but they weren’t good enough for my blog bites. At the same time I baked some puff pastry Parmesan stars which didn’t do anything untoward in the oven and no-one ever going to reject a cheesy bite.

To compensate for my lack of croissant moons, I cut out some toast moons (yes, I do have a moon shaped cutter as well as a constellation of different sized stars) and top these off to make tuna pâté toasted moons.

And for a sweet finale I’d been pondering the rather tasteless rice paper flying saucers or tongue tingling fizzing space dust but I could only find them on retro websites and I left it too late to order any. So I visited a few places that sold pick’n’mix to see if anything inspired me but no green jelly Martians, candy rockets or sugared spaceships. But over on the confectionery counter there are a couple of suitably spacey chocolaty things that could be deployed – maybe a Mars bar or a Milky Way, but then I spotted a new sweetmeat – Mars “Planets”, hmm that might do the trick. They are kind of a deconstructed Mars bar spilt into different sized spheres. One has a soft fluffy centre, one the caramel and one was crispy – I haven’t had a Mars bar for many years but I don’t recall a crispy bit. The chocolaty spheres reminded me of a dessert we’d been offered years ago where our French chef had suggested a dish of ‘ice cream with balls’, the balls turned out to be Maltesers but he didn’t know the word Maltesers. So this is my spacier take of the ice cream with balls.

And for the drink/cocktail, the part I always struggle with – I tried to think of a spacey cocktail and thinking of the Red Bull strap line “Red Bull gives you wings”, I thought a drink that makes you believe you can fly would make a perfect finish. A Chambord Energiser has Chambord, raspberry vodka and Red Bull. I didn’t have any raspberry vodka so I made it slightly more virginal (ooh have I squeezed a Virgo reference in there?) with a good slug of Chambord, sugar free Red Bull (okay I may be clipping my wings slightly here but Red Bull does give you a massive sugar high, hence the flying I guess) and loads of frozen raspberries. I couldn’t find any suitably astro-themed cocktail stirrers so went for a favourite black sparkly brooch attached to a chopstick. Out of this world!

Sorry I was so tardy Stephanie, I’ve emerged from the black hole that was this week and I’m here and I’m feeling all kind of ready to boldly go where no blog has gone before.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tasting London

It’s a good job I booked my tickets for the Taste of London festival a while back because I’m so tired after a madly busy week and the weather looks iffy, but I have my ticket and my crowns burning a hole in my pocket so off to Regent’s park I jolly well go. And obviously I am glad that I did because it was a great opportunity to eat some delicious food, catch up with a couple of old friends and make some new ones.

I thought I’d start by doing a reccy around the whole event and then decide what dishes to try first but half way round the aroma of the fat scallops searing on the big black grill wafted over in my direction and I was suddenly very hungry. I found myself in front of One-O-One I handed over a fistful of crowns and bore my Confit of Norwegian salmon and scallop mi-cuit truffle potato mousseline, foie gras jus roti to the nearest fake grass covered box to enjoy. In previous years you've had to try and grab one of the rare seats and a table so this year the scarce tables are abandoned in favour of lurking round one of the tall grassy boxes. The salmon and scallop and the sublime mash were a real treat and a fabulous start. I think tonight's going to be a good one!

Barely a few steps away I espy a Braised veal, mushroom and potato pie at Kensington Place and think that would make a fine chaser, and I guess the second helping of mash wouldn't go amiss either. And a lovely little pie it was as well.

I wandered around to check out some of the produce stalls including the extremely interesting Stark Naked Foods who make yummy fresh pesto, which I think is going to be available at some Sainsbury's but sadly not Waitrose as yet. There's plenty of competitions to fill in and fun things to try. Ocado had a human fruit machine and I managed to win a bottle of Champagne and a rather fruity cocktail.

It's time for more food so I check out what's on offer at Marcus Wareing at the Savoy, I am intrigued by their Beef and ale stew, mainly as it seems to be wearing a pastry hat, I guess one could call it a pie crust. They explain that the original plan was for a stew but as the day drew nearer they elaborated on the theme and turned it into a pie. It was too late to let the Taste of London organisers know though. They persuaded me to tuck into my second pie-ette of the evening. And it is delicious!

I was going to miss out Le Gavroche as it's so busy but I did want to meet Steven Wallis of Masterchef goes large fame and congratulate him on his win. He was very bashful about it all! I am looking forward to seeing more posts on his blog, as he doesn't seem to update it very often. And whilst I'm here I thought I'd partake of. some their fine food, well it would be rude not to. I would normally go for the Daube de boeuf a l'ancienne et gratin dauphinois -braised beef in red wine and creamed potatoes but I have had it before so instead I go for the Terrine de volaille fumee et foie gras aux lentilles, vinaigrette aux truffles - smoked chicken and foie gras terrine with lentils and truffle vinaigrette which was delicate and very flavoursome. .
Rather bizarrely Jeremy Lee of Blueprint Café and the other formerly Conran (now D&D) is not mentioned anywhere on the Taste of London website or in the guide, it seems they are under the name Gastrodome and have been put down as a supplier of something. Jeremy is holding forth over his chicken, asparagus, watercress and toasted nut salad, served more attractively than most in a miniature wooden boat.

... apologies for the break in transmission due to excessive seasonal workload

Jeremy is exercising his usual mad generosity and offering anybody two for the price of one, I refuse to demean his food by excepting his kind offer. Of course it's worth the ten crowns he's asking for! The freshness of the salad dressing and the crunchy asparagus is just perfect after the typical mini meat-fest I've been enjoying. I am really looking forward to experiencing Jeremy's Scottish heat winning menu from the Great British Menu next week, it should be a memorable evening.
After enjoying my chicken salad I decide to meander and see if I can get into Mark Sargeant's demonstration and on the way stop at the Scott's oyster emporium to see if there's anyone I know. And fortunately there is Mark Hix greeting his guests with his girlfriend, the lovely C who I met at the last Blueprint Café cookbook event. She very kindly offers me Champagne and not out of an awful plastic cup like every one has but a proper Scott's restaurant glass 'just like the one they served Babycham in'. I was vaguely disappointed not to spot a cartoon Bambi cavorting over my glass, though after a few glasses of the wonderful Champagne I could possible see anything! We caught up on the Great British Menu final in Paris and the gossip about the Taste show and then realised we'd both been distracted by Champagne and talking and missed Mark Sargeant entirely, whoops! The rains started and armed with an umbrella I went off to spend a few more crowns, on the way I finally found where Mark would have been performing and attended an extremely surreal hosted by Ollie Smith F Word's "Find me a Fanny" show. Hmmm, words fail me, but I got another glass of wine and a sit down!
Then still rain sodden I went off exploring again. My first stop was the lovely Welsh Serious Food Company which I've been seriously impressed (see want I did there?) with ever since I stumbled across their chocolate gorgeousness at Waitrose. They asked me if I'd ever heard of their dishes and somehow I got chatting about blogging with the wonderful Charlotte who'd designed their hot chocolate fondant dish I'd admired so much. She said that they'd found a enthusiastic blog piece about one of their chocolate desserts pictured perched on a heart shaped plate and has put the photograph in their staffroom for inspiration. And shock horror, this is my little old photo from back in February when I first fell under their serious spell. Wow isn't the internet a surprising and curious beast?
In honour of my appreciative comments they ply with with more Champagne and I get to try not just some yummy chocolate mousse (well I'm never going to say no am I?) but also the rather wonderful strawberry and rhubarb compote with creamy vanilla risotto. Now generally if there's chocolate on offer; I am going to find it hard to resist in favour of another non-chocolate dessert but I guess that is what's so good about the Taste of London festival, you have tiny portions so you can try it all! And no, I didn't eat all of these pictures, just one little taste of each. Charlotte told me they loved the heart shaped saucer (strictly a side plate) and have commissioned a lovely white ceramic artist palette style saucer for a limited time to sit under their cups. And I'm definitely interested! I'll be keeping an eye out for those.
I sway away from the Serious Food Company and their scrumminess and wander towards the Tom Aikens tent. I recall being pretty blown away by his offerings last year so scanned the menu menu for this year's stunner. And here it is the Braised beef shin in Guinness with pommes puree and roasted parsnips, and it is truly fabulous. I had the last one, phew that was lucky and even though it doesn't look the best I think it had to be the star of the show again! Well done Tom! And I dropped my business card off to win a meal for two; remember me Tom, I was ever so complimentary!The show is nearly over and I have set my heart on a little final flourish of the Gary Rhodes' lemon tart but I'm thwarted by the ravenous hoards who have beaten me to it. So I have the Pont de la Tour summer fruits in a jelly instead. It is supposed to come with an attractive swirl of fresh cream but I'd rather it didn't so my doesn't.
My feet are excessively weary and I seem to be the furthest from the tube station as I could possibly be, oh for some knight/chef on a white charger. Well in lieu of that a taxi would do but they're nowhere to be seen either! It's over for another year and it's been great. And this year I managed not to buy any heavy pans, but of course I have mentally planned a small extra palette shaped crockery acquisition. Well I have to, don't I?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bonds, city Bonds

Bonds is one of those restaurants that I've walked past a few times and I thought it had potential and I've suggested it as a possibility for others looking for a likely eating spot around Bank station. When L and I decided to grab a bite to eat on the spur of the moment I feared we'd struggle a little on a Thursday night. Thursday being the new Friday in the city, it can be a bit of a challenge. I'd already used up all my restaurant reserving patience trying to get a place for American E and American J to entertain clients. Blueprint Café were having a private function, as was Pont de la Tour. Chophouse and Skylon could only do too early and Rhodes24 was completely booked. I'd eventually plumped for 1 Lombard Street for them but hadn't even considered a restaurant for myself. The first place we tried was way too noisy after the collectively stressful days we had both endured this was not going to work so we tried The Ballroom. That was of course closed for a private function. I scanned my mental restaurant rolodex and reckoned if we walked a little further they’d be Bonds; a bit more we could try the Mezzanine at the Royal Exchange or maybe cross over the road and try Coq D’Argent. But our next port of call came good and it was such a relief to discover the calm oasis of Bonds and find they had a table for us far from the maddening hoards (aka their bar!)

The tables are not too close together but you also get little half curtains to give the illusion of privacy if required. The menu has enough choice for an awkward palate and maybe a tad too many good things for the chronically indecisive. Actually it’s a good looking menu I deliberate between the oak smoked eel fillet, slow cooked belly of pork “porchetta”, asparagus with Joselito Iberico ham but choose the poached egg dressing chicken liver and foie gras parfait with mango pain d’epice mousse. And I was pleased I did, it was unctuously smooth and fabulous, soothing after a frantic day and as L had initially waived his right to a starter when the creaminess started calling to him; there was enough to go round.

The mains or ‘then’ as they called it had another collection of likely suspects – the roast magret de canard with gratin Dauphinoise looked promising (I wonder why that could be?), poulet fermier served with potato gnocchi and morel cream another possibility as also did the fillet of Aberdeenshire salmon with peas a la Française and potato cocotte (possibly a potato theme happening here), chump of Elwery Valley lamb with boulangère potatoes but stunningly I opted for mushroom and truffle risotto galette with soft poached egg, truffle green beans, asparagus, frothy mushroom cream. Look no potato! And it was sublime, a dense soft risotto cake with earthy truffle, soft runny poached egg and perkily topped with a Parmesan hat. It was a good portion of risotto, as much I love risotto I never want too much.

I thought I might be able to squeeze in a few mouthfuls of the warm chocolate ganache and caramelised milk ice cream. I guess I’m following my usual egg followed by chocolate rule! The base was crushed biscuits and nuts, very good and a delicate portion on a glass plate. Another extremely elegant dish!

I really enjoyed our meal at Bonds, it had a bit of a hotelly feel but then it is, it’s part of the boutique hotel Threadneedles and they do it very well. If I was feeling in the mood for a cocktail or two perched on a barstool I am sure I would have enjoyed the atmosphere in the bar but I enjoyed the sophisticated tranquillity of the restaurant. Not bad at all for not booking on a Thursday and to think how many calls and bookings I’d had to make to get a destination for the E and J, I wonder how their meal went.

I think two Bond style forks for Bonds, I would definitely return and as I Have been recommending it to others untried, I am relieved my foodie instinct had been correct.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

All bar gammon

And we’re back at Butler’s Wharf again, this time it’s at All Bar One for drinks. And not really surprisingly the balmy evening has been replaced by one a little greyer and cooler, it really isn’t necessary to break out the sunglasses. The out-of-towners have booked a table at Pont de la Tour and a few others enquire about decent local restaurants and I point them in the other direction towards Blueprint Café, though I am jealous and hungry so I need to leave and find my own delicious dinner. However as often happens with the best laid plans of mice and hungry men, they cut off at the pass by in this case flame-haired H and encouraged to linger longer. The fabulous smells wafting around us from either side convinces me that action needs to be taken and I order an old All Bar One favourite – gammon, egg & chips. Of course being in such a little gastronomic haven it does seem a little of a poor substitute but actually gammon and eggs is a marriage made in heaven so it’s not too much of a sacrifice. And it filled the gap nicely!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Summer at the Chop House

I’d been asked to find a restaurant for the team, one not too far to travel to and one that could perhaps show off a little British-ness to our American guests of honour. I plumped for Butler’s Wharf Chop House as it met the two criteria and fortuitously a third which we could never have really anticipated – Butler’s Wharf can’t really be beaten on a glorious summer evening when you can enjoy the views and people watch and stunningly tonight was a beautiful sunny evening. We enjoy the sun setting on Tower Bridge, see the soaring skyscrapers glorifying successful money making of the mega banks winking in the distance at Canary Wharf and can discuss at length whether the Swiss Re building aka the “erotic gherkin” is a good thing or not. For the record, I think it’s a good thing and how when the hideous brown edifice that is formerly known as the Tower Thistle Hotel is looming across the sparkling Thames anyone can complain about ugly buildings.

The advance party had secured a good table outside and we can pretend that we are lucky enough to have night after night of such pleasures. We explain some of the quirkier typically British menu items to American J like mushy peas and bubble & squeak and I select guinea fowl, bacon & onion terrine, piccalilli for starters. I’m not a fan of piccalilli as I don’t do pickled things, but the terrine sounds fine. It turns out to be very tasty and even though I didn’t eat the piccalilli I like the colour on the plate.

There were plenty of delicious sounding main courses to deliberate but eventually I chose the peppered breast & braised leg of Telmara Farm duck, poached peach & gravy. We choose several plates of vegetables to share, cauliflower cheese, mash potatoes, green beans and buttered carrots. The duck is really tasty and the accompanying peach was certainly an interesting combination. I was rather taken by the cauliflower cheese though it didn’t really feel very summery. And of course the mash had to be sampled, good but quite ordinary!

There offer a savoury course at the Chophouse which I always think is quintessentially British quirk, on offer there’s Welsh rarebit, angles on horseback, British cheeseboard and Stilton. We don’t partake of any of them but I still like to see them on the menu.

I finish off with the elderflower and spring fruit jelly. I am thinking of Mark Hix’s Perry Jelly & Summer Fruits with Elderflower Ice Cream winning dessert from the Great British Menu and immediately fall for that. And it just seems so apt on this lovely summery evening. The jelly was light, fresh and fruity, probably not as fabulous as Mark’s as I think the perry would be a lovely touch but a great finish to our own Great British meal.

We are not naïve enough to think that the weather will last but are grateful for the opportunity to show off some excellent British food in such convivial sun-kissed surroundings for our esteemed colleagues; two forks for the Butler’s Wharf Chophouse.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The morning after the duck before

Well this is a tough gig, it’s the morning after the Fat Duck and I have the challenge of whipping up some tasty food that is going to be instantly compared to all the fabulousness of last night. The meal that MC said he’ll remember for the rest of his life. So no pressure then! After a seminal meal I generally feel buzzing with ideas and influences and immediately start thinking how I could create some homage to the occasion. But after Heston’s, where do you go from there? I just can’t imagine trying to create any of the dishes we enjoyed, the foams, the liquid nitrogen, the little cubes of intense flavourings and the theatrical technical wizardry of it all. I am defeated even before I start. So giving up gracefully I cook the Waitrose’ As Good as Going Out chicken and mushroom filo pies we were planning to have as a light lunch before the excursion to Bray. Knowing that MC might not have cream-drowned leeks again for a little time I thought I better oblige and it was the perfect vehicle for just-arrived-from-Dijon Basil mustard. If I’d cooked this yesterday I would have left out the Jersey royals and just gone for the green salad but we’re not saving ourselves for a meal later today, so a few lightly buttered potatoes get added to this plate to accompany the balsamic splattered mâche.
I can’t possible match the culinary drama of last night but I can whip out the white linen and full on crystal to at least have a dazzling table. And it seems I have quite a lot of crystal – napkin rings, knife rests, candelabra, knives, glasses and spoons etcetera, so it is all quite sparkly! After our sort of pie we have some of the wild garlic wrapped Cornish Yarg which was a nice change and then some lemon tart which was supposed to be the dessert on Friday but I guess the late hour drove thoughts of a sweet ending from everyone’s minds in favour of sleep. They can’t be many more stunning combinations of the vibrant yellow of lemon tart and the vivacious red of the raspberries.
We may not have had a feast even in the same stratosphere as our life-changing repast last night, but the company was still very fine. And I do like an excuse to use the candelabra!