Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New York, New York - so good they visited it twice!

So finally I have finished the blog posts from our latest foray to the Big Apple (and slightly beyond!), where the divas descended, dazzled and devoured. DD and I added some new restaurants to our recommendation list (Café Gray, Sarabeth’s and Florent), revisited a fabulous old friend (Union Square Café) and in the “low cost, high value” dining experience department got to eat a Mesquite grilled steak and another steak but with a Mexican makeover. And when we weren't eating, we were snacking so especially for DD a bagel and a melting moment - what could that flash of Tiffany be?

Sorry about the tardiness again, I successfully went from chronic jet-lag to being rather sick. The sort of sickness that meant all your brain-power was dedicated to breathing and swallowing (both rather vital I think you'd agree) and there was really nothing left over for composing coherent prose. Despite the malaise I also enjoyed some stunning meals over the last few weeks so I still have to write up Petrus, Browns, The Glasshouse, Restaurant 22 and a rather poor effort at Gaucho’s. I’ve also been hanging out at a TV studio currently filming a new cookery show, tasting some deliciously wicked new chocolates at Hotel Chocolat, poring over and cooking from many new and old cookery books, facilitating D join the 'excessive yet glamorous crockery club' and pondering the possibilities for future festive fare. So another blogging mountain to conquer, I guess the only answer is to stop eating for a while! Hmmmm, I'd rather not!

Oh, I almost forgot not only did we get to enjoy some fine eating in the Big Apple I picked up some little diva -esque sparkly trinkets as well! Well they are being so incredibly kind with the $ vs. £ rate at the moment, we are most grateful!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday purple Sunday

D has been lusting after this purple crockery from M&S for a while, on her first sighting she texted me immediately and declared her deep love for it. Purple would be way too daring for me but is very D. When we visited M&S today they had kindly discounted it so D got her wish and stocked up on the plates and matching purple iridescent chargers. It seems however that MC doesn’t share her love on the new crockery and I guess we’ll have to pile it high with delicious things to convince him that they’re a good thing.

Whilst in M&S we grab a packet of their currently advertised canapés, the mini steak sandwiches and also the much loved tiny coquilles Saint Jacques. We wanted to try the chorizo, scallop and potato nibbles but there has been a run on them so we can’t try them out.

Thus we fill the new amethyst coloured floral plates with tasty food to beguile MC and enjoy another tasty Sunday lunch.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

22 reasons to visit Restaurant 22

Restaurant 22 is a bit of a Cambridge legend, a converted Victorian house in the centre of Cambridge that can feed twenty six in the main room and a further twelve upstairs in a private room. As it is compact and bijou it can be quite a challenge to get a table especially if not booked far enough in advance. I’ve only eaten here once before, every time I visit and we think we should go I am thwarted by not thinking far enough ahead. Fortunately we planned this belated celebration of LLcT’s birthday a little while ago so we managed to secure one of the much-covetable bookings. The menu is available online on their website so decisions are generally made before arrival and the various merits of the choices can be debated and appetites whetted way before sitting down at one of their linen clad tables.

My only real memory from my last visit many years ago was fine bread, being sat next to a tall bookcase crammed with intriguing cookbooks should conversation fail (which I don’t believe happened), some tasty food but I cannot recall what and some full-bodied red wine which is why I think it might all be a little hazy about the latter.

This time I hope to have a clearer memory though photographs do help with that. We are bought some little nibbles which more than half the table think are a little two tomato based (I am in good company here!) but the mousse-y canapés are tasty.

My starter, in fact most of our starter were Seared Scallop, Braised Pig Trotter and Black Pudding. And as ever the crowd pleaser, scallop and black pudding is becoming so de rigour but I rather like the extra little porky twist and the ever so smooth purée. One of the feature of a Restaurant 22 menu is the optional fish course, a treat if one hasn’t laid too heavily into the Guinness bread, but today’s fish dish was Prawn and Chilli Tortellini With Roast Butternut Squash Purée and not being an enormous fan of prawn I passed in favour of more bread.

Then we had a palate cleansing Mixed leaf Salad with a zingy Parmesan wafer before our main courses.

I’d picked Roast Partridge With Puy Lentils, Rosti Potato, Garlic And Thyme when we first pondered the menu many weeks ago, it has all that wintry heartiness that I am rather partial to. In fact when I glance at set menus I am always drawn to the autumn, winter phases and not so to the summer. In the summer everyone wants to feed us heirloom tomatoes, melon, gazpacho and smoked trout and I just can’t get as excited about that.

D and I had both decided that Hot Chocolate Fondant With Orange Sorbet was compulsory, the warning about it taking an extra 10 minutes to cook would hardly deter us as being great believers of good things coming to those who wait.

LLcT and E(D) opted instead for Sticky Toffee Pudding With Walnut Ice-Cream and

MC of course choose the Selection Of British Farmhouse Cheeses With Homemade Chutney. Our chocolate fondant with the fabulous juxtaposition of the zingy sorbet was just perfect and everyone seemed to enjoy their choices also.

We finished off my some yummy truffles and jellies. It was a wonderful meal, maybe all the more enjoyable for me as I had seemingly waited so long to return again. I’m sure if I lived locally I would attempt to visit every month. An easy three forks for Restaurant 22, I am already checking out the future menus for my next visit.

A fortifying pasty

Normally D and I retire to EAT when the trials of shopping have driven us to hunger but on this occasion on this extraordinarily chilly day we go for the Cornish central heating for kids and avail ourselves of a pasty. The parts that don’t shatter into a million pieces and then get stuck in our hair, cover our clothes and possibly even penetrate the shopping we’ve already bought, taste okay. Obviously not as good as the real thing but nipping to Cornwall isn’t very convenient today though we do discuss someone we know you would happily make the round trip for some of Cornwall’s finest skirt. And they do the trick, they warm us up.

Solid little carnivore

LLcT’s main surprise 18th birthday present from D and MC was a fine leg of Spanish pork smuggled home in the boot of their car back from sunnier climes earlier this year. This resplendent beast came with a wooden stand and LLcT has already made impressive inroads in the succulent meat by carving rosy slivers with his new filleting knife either that or a giant caterpillar has been busy gnawing. It seemed fitting to light some appropriate sparklers and record it quickly before LLcT polishes it off. Being such a ‘solid little carnivore’ it’s clear this legs days are extremely numbered!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Doing Genevieve proud!

I was supposed to be in Cambridge last weekend but felt so ill again (yes, I know – again!) that I put it off for a week and despite still not feeling 100% thought I should get myself on a train and help LLcT belatedly celebrate his eighteenth birthday. And thanks to D’s kindest ministrations I was met with a hearty meal from James Martin’s Great British Village Show Cookbook. D had decided on roast poussin with risotto and grapes with a nicely Parmesan-ed and lemon juice risotto. LLcT didn’t join us for this, he isn’t completely crazy about poultry but more importantly, wild horses wouldn’t persuade him to partake in risotto. But he really missed out, the plump poussin sauce had a pleasant fruity tang with the halved black and white grapes and apple juice and the risotto was delicious. I'm not sure if John Torrode would approve, you know how he feels about risotto being used as a side dish or accompaniment. He would have insisted that the poussin was shredded and mixed through the risotto rice. But fortunately neither the wide mouth John nor Gregg was joining us so we weren't accused of crimes against risotto. The heart-warming dish was heaped onto the rather fabulous Genevieve plates which coordinate rather well with the striking new turquoise tablecloth. And very fine it was all round.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

When in glass houses...

I have been hankering after revisiting The Glasshouse for such a long time, my last visit was many years ago a few hours after a return flight from New York which is never an ideal time for me to really appreciate something special. I do recall however eating copious hunks of very fine bread and the restaurant being almost empty but since they’ve acquired a much deserved Michelin star, it’s a lot harder to secure a reservation. But here we are – me and the ever sparking S and C finally waiting to tuck into a Glasshouse feast surrounded by the expectant buzz of eager diners. Firstly as our waiter is a grateful customer of S and C, we offered a little Champagne aperitif whilst we peruse the menu. It’s a tough decision as there are some real corkers on there. I dither between Cream of garlic soup with Mrs. Kirkham’s cheese croûte or Potato, ham and spring onion cake, Foie gras, confit hare and artichoke terrine with quince jelly and poached pear before plumping for the Warm salad of wood pigeon with balsamic vinegar, deep fried truffled egg.

S went for Endive, beetroot and caramelised walnut salad with buffalo blue cheese and C choose the Crisp sea bass with wild mushrooms on toast, Jerusalem artichoke chips.

S had fond memories of the intriguing caramelised walnuts from prior visits and they were indeed delicious. My starter was one of those show stoppers; you’re eating and catching up with much overdue friends and enjoying your dinner but then realising that this just isn’t tasty but something truly sublime. I am beginning to realise that a golden yolked egg oozing its sunshine river over some fine food can floor me every time.

My first real foodie memory is being asked at my infants school (I am guessing I was five) what my favourite food was and I selected soft boiled eggs and soldiers, maybe this was the beginning of my egg odyssey. My first time of worshipping at the altar of Gary Rhodes was marked by the eye-moistening fabulous poached each inside a fresh ravioli bursting over the roasted vegetables underneath. A dish that after years of attempting to track down (including writing to Gary Rhodes) I was delighted to find it in the wonderful Anna del Conti Amaretto, Artichokes and Apple Cakes and I finally recreated it for myself last year. And yes, it was as good as I remembered! So if I add that to my top five most egg-cellent egg dishes that would be:

- The aforementioned oozy egg ravioli first experienced at Rhodes City and since read about in Jamie Oliver’s Cook and Anna’s seminal book.

- The stunning most diva-esque egg cocotte ever - Joël Robuchon’s egg cocotte topped with light wild mushroom cream served in a martini glass at L’Atelier

- The latest addition to the fabulous canon of Gary Rhodes dazzling egg dishes at Rhodes 24 - roast beef fillet with red wine onions, oxtail hash, and poached egg Béarnaise

- and at the newest Gary Rhodes’ venture - W1 the truly awesome crisp soft egg, morel duxelle and Roquefort truffle toasts

- and now the totally jaw-dropping Glasshouse warm salad of wood pigeon with balsamic vinegar, deep fried truffled egg

It is rather curious, I hadn’t immediately associated these spectacular eggy concoctions primarily with the hands of the genius that is Mr Rhodes but he does seem to have glanced into my soul and glimpsed at the golden yolk therein. And of course he does make exceedingly fine mash potatoes as well.

I’m sure Gary would have been proud of this gorgeous truffled egg, the way the golden elixir merged with the meaty pigeon and balsamic drizzled leaves. S seemed rather delighted by her beetroot and caramelised walnut as was C by his sea bass.

After our delightful starters we tucked into our main courses.

As I spent last night and the day today somewhat immersed in all things porky I leave the fabulous sounding Slow roast pork belly with morteau sausage, black pudding apple tarte fine and choucroute to C who seemed very happy with your choice.

I go for the Roast duck breast with lentils, savoy cabbage and butternut squash, green peppercorn sauce instead which is extremely delicious. And talking of magnificent mash potatoes, The Galsshouse don't let us down on this front either, another one for the select hall of fame.

S enjoyed her Fillet of cod with creamed potatoes, bourguignonne garnish and puff pastry fleurons, which have dinky little pastry crescents and a rich sauce. C has selected a superb Chateau Cap de Mourlin, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 1998 to enjoy with our meal and we certainly do.

S and I are feeling somewhat full but think we may be able to squeeze in a few morsels of the Prune and Calvados ice cream with shortbread biscuit whilst C avails himself of an impressive array of cheesy comestibles.

It has been a truly fabulous meal, long over due and The Glasshouse definitely deserves three delicate glass forks. I’m not going to leave it so long next time.

Piggy back-up

It’s not just me that intends to spend best part of the day tomorrow hanging around a television studio touting my tart as H has slightly reluctantly agreed to accompany me. But she’s really not crazy about cooking the requisite dish to sit in front of. So I promised that I would produce a second dish from my beloved piggy book – Pork & Sons. After making my star attraction of the black pudding, apple and potato tart I thought I’d whip up a quick quiche also. I hadn’t made this particular quiche before it was a huge relief how simple this was. First of all no blind baking – what a result! But in the usual style of Pork & Sons there was an abundance of ingredients. I thought I used a deeper quiche tin than his and wondered if the filling would seem a tad scant. But on the contrary there was lashing of egg and cream filling leftover and that’s before I added the fourth egg. Also I was probably a little too generous with pouring the eggy mixture into the flan case and the filling ballooned so excessively I wondered how on earth I would transport it to the film studios. Fortunately after a night to cool it settled to a more acceptable level and I was able to carry it safely and intact to the filming.

Quiche with two kinds of ham
Stéphane Reynaud's Pork & Sons - serves 6

4 eggs
150ml double cream
500ml milk
350g shortcrust pastry
Plain flour, for dusting
175g jambon de Paris or other unsmoked ham diced
150g mature Comté or Gruyère, diced
3 slices or prosciutto or other dry-cure ham, cut into thin strips
50g shelled walnuts, chopped

- Preheat oven to 180c
- Beat the eggs with the cream and milk in a bowl
- Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and use to line a 23 cm (9") flan tin
- Trim the edge, prick the base and place on a baking sheet
- Add the diced ham, cheese, prosciutto and walnuts
- Pour in the egg mixture and bake for 30 minutes, or until the mixture is just set

Having this quiche perched on a cake stand in front of H and I wafting over its delightful porky scent made us determined to cut a wedge out carefully out to display the walnut and hammy filling. And also it would be rude not to try a bit for size and it was surprisingly delicious! Only surprising because it had been lurking around a warm studio all day but actually it seems to have done it good. I think that often quiche is served too cold, frequently straight from the fridge and the eggy mixture that D is so very suspicious of doesn't have chance to warm up and complement the other fillings. I had intended on leaving my two porky dishes in the studio for the next filming session but even though I thought sadly the black pudding, apple and potato tart wasn't worth retrieving as it really needs to be eaten directly from the oven the quiche would be quite happy warm or eaten at room temperature so I bundled it up back for its return journey. The touch of walnut was an unexpected bonus and the two hams and the still cubed Gruyère certainly made the tart sing. The next day I heated up a slice again and was pleased to see that the Gruyère melted just slightly and made it taste even more wonderful. Well done Stéphane, you've done it again!

Pigging out on pork

I’ve been asked to choose another favourite cookbook and whip up a tasty dish from one of the recipes within for another piece on Channel five’s Cooking the Books. And a book that that totally captured my imagination the moment it turned up on my desk and immersed me in its pink porkiness was Pork & Sons by Stéphane Reynaud, the French purveyor of all things pig. I decided to make the black pudding, apple, potato and fennel tart as I thought it would look tasty on television, travel well to the studio and I know from previous experience - is damn tasty!

Black pudding, apple, potato and fennel tart

Stéphane Reynaud's Pork & Sons - serves 6

3 shallots, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons crème fraîche
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
4 Charlotte or other waxy potatoes
2 eating apples
100g smoked lardons, rindless
400g black pudding
350g puff pastry dough, thawed if frozen
Plain flour for dusting
1/4 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 bunch of rocket, optional, torn into pieces

Mix together the shallots and crème fraîche in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Cook the potatoes in lightly salted boiling water for 15-20 minutes, until tender. Drain well, then cut into thin rounds. Preheat the grill.

Peel, core and slice the apple. Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan, add the apple slices and cook until they're just beginning to colour.

Spread out the lardons on a baking sheet and cook under the grill, turning once for 5-8 minutes, until tender. Meanwhile, remove the skin from the black pudding and cut into thin slices.

Preheat the oven to 180oC

Roll out the puff pastry dough on a lightly floured surface to a 25cm round and place on a baking sheet. Spread 2 tablespoons of the shallot cream evenly over the dough round. Sprinkle with the fennel and lardons, and then arrange alternate layers of black pudding, potato and apple slices on top. Cover with the remaining shallot cream. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Cover the tart with the rocket, if using, drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.

Despite making it before I seemed to have totally forgotten how much preparation it requires as potato and apples have to be thinly sliced and pre cooked and the lardons had to be sautéed also before the tart can be constructed for the for baking in the oven. And the other thing I’d forgot from following a Pork & Sons recipe is that the quantities shown are extremely generous, I didn’t even bother with the fennel but there was barely room for all the delicious layers of apples, potatoes, smoky lardons and the leeky crème fraîche. But I was pleased with the result; obviously I made a few tweaks as generally I feel a recipe is more a suggestion and some ideas to get the creative juices running but not a blueprint to adhere to slavishly. This time I omitted the fennel, substituted the shallots for leeks and didn’t peel the Red Delicious apples as I thought the red skin would add an extra burst of colour to the finished dish. I think not peeling the apples also prevented the slices getting too soggy in the sautéing process.

I was pretty delighted with the tart as I think the finished dish on the plate really matched the dish on the page, if that was my main objective. And actually is a bit of a stunner really!

It's a shame that the next day my tart got bumped for a slightly depressed poppy seed topped tart but the cook was the mother of a friend of the show so I was usurped. Never mind, the tart looked fabulous anyhow and if it didn't get its five minutes of fame it attracted a lot of admiring glances!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Comfort and joy!

I am still nurturing this stinking cold so that means simple to prepare and a great big hug of a bowl of comforting buttery mash potato. It never gets old – enough said!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm in love with a food romance

Ever since discovering the Tamasin Day Lewis’ "West of Ireland Summers" cookbook serendipitously whilst in Ireland celebrating H’s wedding I have been a fan of her writing. And when I knew that a new one – Where shall we go for dinner?” was appearing on the horizon, I made sure I added it to my wish list. I didn’t know what to expect as The Kitchen Bible and Kitchen Classics had been thorough tomes and I was intrigued how she would follow this up. And this is how she did it with a very personal foodie narrative winkling out some incredible edible experiences in Europe, meeting a wonderful American cheese emporium owner and exploring their respective gastronomic worlds together both sides of the Atlantic. Tamasin also explains her early evolution into a foodie and I have to admit I have never coveted someone’s relatives so much before. She evocatively described her early years with her Irish poet father and his friends, the extraordinarily poignant last weeks of her father’s life in the rambling home of her godmother Elizabeth Jane Howard who was married to the inveterate alcoholic Kingsley Amis. After her father’s death she asked King’s College Cambridge to hold one of the first places they offered to women and live with her second cousin in London and learns to cook via osmosis from his dress designer first wife who produced miraculous Sunday lunches for their many glamorous friends like Manolo Blahnik and Katherine Hamnett.

At the end of each chapter the essence of the culinary adventures described are captured in a handful in a few perfect recipes - the Risotto Balsamico sounds so decadent and unusual, the White Truffle Pasta fabulously extravagant and the Quiche Lorraine with a Crisp Bacon Top a nice twist on a classic.

The book is subtitled “A food romance” and it is very apt, a romance with good food and with the new man in her life and could possible be summed up by one of my favourite food quotes from Harriet Van Horne - "Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yet another oeuf cocotte

I think that an Oeuf en Cocotte has become one of my favourite comfort foods. I love that fact that there are a multitude of goodies that can lurk beneath the golden yolk crown. As long as I have a couple of fresh eggs and a slurp of double cream a satisfying and tasty dish can be concocted and importantly today, it’s not too trying when the thought of toiling over a hot stove fills you with dread. This time I had a few slivers of smoked salmon and a slice of buttered bread to anoint with the unctuous creamy eggy mixture. I’m also hoping that eating off my ‘Baci di Dama’ emblazoned tray from Harvey Nichols will somehow make me feel much better - and actually it does!

Friday, November 16, 2007

A dark day at Gaucho's

I’m very lucky as it is actually pretty rare I feel I have to slate a restaurant I’ve visited and most of the time I am having to pile on the accolades but Gaucho I am thoroughly ashamed of you! You have served stunning Argentinean beef on many occasions and though I’ve felt that sometimes your service left a little to be desired and frankly your restaurants are too dark, tonight you really let yourselves down.

When glamorous Swedish M said that part of her birthday celebrations would be taking place in a private room at the Gaucho’s where her equally glamorous sister works, I thought we were in for a treat. But it seems Gaucho’s were determined to make sure we had a memorable night for all the wrong reasons. The private room was fabulous; if I could have had it to go I would love it be my dining room at home and we were introduced to our waiter for the evening. We had quite a large energetic party and it seems we were a little much for our waiter, I wasn’t drinking tonight as I was only just holding it together with my lurgy so was rather medicated but I was sure they could whip me up an exciting strawberry cocktail. The drink I eventually got did seem odd and curiously devoid of strawberry but that transpired to be true as I had Swedish M’s other sister’s cranberry drink instead. And then we had to place our order, as we were a large party we had a smaller menu to choose from. The waiter seemed curiously baffled himself by the menu and kept changing his mind as to what the specials were, I can’t work out whether it was his first day here or he just found us intimidating. I thought I’d miss the starter as I normally do at Gaucho’s and have some cheese bread instead but the waiter said that I had to have something as it was included in the price. So I thought I’d try the mushroom soup. I wish I’d stuck to my guns and had the always pleasing cheese bread instead of that murky, thin and gritty soup that I could only face a couple of mouthfuls of. But I had a rare steak winging its way up to me so it really didn’t matter, that is what Gaucho is really all about. But when they turned up they were overcooked, a complete travesty and we were fairly sure people had been bought the steaks of the other diners. We tried to work out the rarest and Swedish M’s sister seemed to think that as hers was clearly swimming in blood it was the one plonked in front of her but as she’d ordered hers to be well done it didn’t seem right. So I swapped my clearly well past rare steak and tried hers instead. It was true that it seemed to be lying in a bloody pool but the steak was as tough as old boots and a mockery to be called a Gaucho steak. The side orders arrived quite a time after our main courses which was intriguing. Our waiter said he was struggling as the kitchen was downstairs from us and there was a lot to carry. Personally I think that isn’t good enough, are we supposed to have a worse service in the private room then we could expect in the restaurant? – very curious!

After our desserts we then had a surprisingly mammoth bill to split, I was only surprised as quite a few of us weren’t even drinking so clearly we’d paid a premium somewhere for an extraordinarily average meal. I was keen to pay sharpish as I had my last train to catch, but that was another farce as the remote credit card machines don’t work in their private room and the waiter had to meander off with my credit card. When finally he’d sorted it out I darted down to the cloakroom to grab my bits and run but yet again Gaucho’s seemingly aversion to light struck. There were totally no lights in the cloakroom and the attendant had been furnished with a pathetic little torch and as a special treat for us in the private room all our belongings had just been piled in a huge heap with no rhyme nor reason. Needless to say it was very tricky finding all my black belongings from a large pile of other black items in a totally black room. Thank you Gaucho – if the time it had taken to serve us, or pay the resultant excessive bill had not prevented me from catching my very last train then the joke of trying to locate my much needed coat etcetera before venturing out in the cold put any chances of me getting my train firmly out of my way. So not only was it an awful meal food-wise (though definitely not company-wise) I then had a ‘fun’ two hour journey home via tube, night bus and taxi to endure. A terrible end to a truly awful meal! I’ve had many delicious steaks at Gaucho to hopefully wipe out this one bad experience but several of my fellow diners had never been to a Gaucho and they all said they would never grace their dining tables again. So my advice is that if you are invited to dine in the private dining rooms at Gaucho One More Place – just say no, I know I certainly will!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A concerto for presto pasta

T and I were planning to go out for a bite to eat and a catch up tonight but then I suggested immersing ourselves in all that is chocolaty at the Hotel Chocolat evening of indulgence so we did. But after all that nibbling we still fancied something a little more. And something savoury! So we started walking around Kensington to see what we could spot. I had originally planned a meal at Roof Top Gardens but that all seemed a bit much after all that delicious chocolate so we decided that we just fancied a little pasta. And fortunately the first place we espied was Caffé Concerto and it looked a likely pasta place. Their creamy broccoli and bacon penne topped with a shower of fresh Parmesan strands seemed to hit the spot perfectly. It was late, the place was almost empty and the pasta took a little time which is encouraging as I think we got a fresh made sauce with broccoli still retaining a little bite and the pasta not soggy at all. If we had gotten our plates instantly I am fairly confident that our pastas would have been the result of a quick click and ping and not as good as they actually were.

My kind of hotel - a Chocolat one!

I do wonder at the wisdom of me going out yet again, I wasn’t feeling my best when I schlepped across London to meet Brighton T at the Witches of Eastwick last night – but I’m so glad I did, you were marvellous R (aka K!)
But tonight I have been invited through my blog to sample the festive fare at the fabulous Hotel Chocolat who are having a special chocolate fuelled event tonight.
And it seemed much too good an opportunity to miss so I agree to meet T in Kensington on what turns out to be a stunningly cold night.
We hot foot it to the warm welcoming glow of Hotel Chocolat and are swiftly furnished with Champagne (for those not heavily dosed up on cough mixture) and frequent shiny trays of enticing squares of chocolate to sample.
I am on a mission tonight as I am keen to procure some of Hotel Chocolat’s finest for the lactose intolerant Swedish M for her birthday party tomorrow. And after hearing some of the lore and history of Hotel Chocolat (their founder also invented the Mr Whippy machine- isn’t that just wonderful?) we are let loose amongst the shelves to consider which of their heavenly delights we should treat ourselves to. Actually my absorption of our chocolaty educational is slightly hampered by the awareness that my throat is actually sealing itself which will surely impede my ability to enjoy their chocolates or perhaps breathe. My chemist has armed me with a throat spray to temporary allay this predicament but I don't seem to be able to administer it with any degree of discretion so my thoughts are really on when and where I can take evasive throat constrictive measures before I may possibility keel over.
Fortunately the friendly Z, one of the intrepid PR team entertaining us tonight, whisks me to a underground location to ensure that doesn't happen. After a few squirts of soothing tincture I am well on my way to being able to continue tucking into the delicious chocolaty offerings and just generally swallow. Though I do admit that it was a terrible idea for me to sample squares of chocolate with the addition of pink peppercorns as they can give you a little tickle in the back of you throat or in my case make you feel that you've accidentally been swallowing Brillo pads. Though I hasten to add that it was still rather tasty, despite the coughing.
However the white chocolates containing the most amazing purple blueberry ganache were incredibly soothing and seemed almost healthy, the Champagnes truffles are blissfully sublime, and I hear the wonderful news that we may get to take some home in our goodie bag - excellent! There are some extraordinarily intense chocolate nuggets to sample, some sliced chocolate logs with little pistachio and hazelnut morsels, mint chocolate puddles and some huge slabs that particular catch my eye. The slabs are extremely enticing swirled with milk, dark and white chocolates and in some cases studded with all matter of goodies like nuts, chocolate nibs and bits of biscuits. They have intriguing names like cool yule, triple chocolate wham bam or caramellow.
After a wonderful indulgent evening we are spoilt even further by receiving the most plumpest of goodie bags with a box of favourite ink Champagne truffles, jars of liquid chocolate in classic, milky and Aztec chilli, slabs of their smoothest and glossiest dark and milk chocolate and a chocolate unwrapped book.
Haven't we done well? And I've also had the opportunity to stock up on a few little edible treats for Christmas.

Salmon for the sick

Still feelingly annoyingly delicate so I need more food that’s simple to cook and soothing to eat especially for a scratchy sore throat. I’ve been pondering the usual repertoire of comfort food and thinking how often this means some sort of carb-tastic meal - bowls of creamy pasta, fluffy buttery baked potatoes, calming risotto, mash potatoes and as I crave the other day – chip butty. And frankly there’s nothing wrong with any of this but instead I went down my other comfort roué – eggs and opted for the old stalwart of creamy scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and finely chopped chives. Ah that’s better!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A brown meal

Post-bump H, the lovely m and I haven’t met for ages in fact the last time was in this same Brown’s restaurant but back then with a different logo when the bump was still in residence. In that time Brown’s seems to be a lot more popular but we manage to grab a table near the window (oooh light, I see to get excited about that in restaurant these days!)

I could be mistaken but I believe the menu has gone up a notch, there are rather a lot of interesting propositions which make selecting quite challenging and our waitress has to return several times whilst we (actually mainly me) prevaricates. After due consideration we tuck into our vibrant starters; I have the juicy, plump PAN FRIED BLACK PEARL SCALLOPS with watercress, puy lentils and a lobster sauce and it’s very good indeed.
H has the terribly tomato-ey PAN-FRIED KING PRAWNS with a tomato, chilli, garlic and olive oil dressing which I decline her kind offer of trying.

And m has the SLOW ROASTED PEPPERS with plum and sweet cherry tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil. She also seems very happy with her choice.

H and m barely hesitate, both immediately choosing the SALMON & SPRING ONION FISHCAKES with lemon hollandaise and dressed mixed leaves and seemed to be very happy with their selection. I struggle between the beef Wellington, the duck confit, the 28 day aged rib eye steak, the bacon cheese burger or the brie, spinach and asparagus tart.
The decision I finally came to however was the GRILLED CHICKEN topped with prosciutto and taleggio cheese with hollandaise and chips and the reason for this was I’d seen Gino D’Campo make a delicious looking battered out chicken fillet topped with taleggio and ham on Cooking the Books the other night. Though he spoilt his by piling it on top of roasted tomatoes and even though it’s very simple and I could easily whip it up the idea had really stuck in my head so I thought I’d check out the Brown’s version. And of course there’s the added bonus of hollandaise which I am huge fan of. The chicken is very tasty and even though deep down I would have liked a taleggio topped chicken, beef Wellington, duck confit, brie, spinach and asparagus (though I have to ask where would you get asparagus from in November?) tasting plate I was pleased with my final decision.
Continuing the tradition of our previous meetings we order a quick BROWN’S CHOCOLATE FUDGE BROWNIE topped with chocolate sauce served with vanilla ice cream and three spoons. We don’t need to see the menu again to make our decision as the extensive reconnaissance earlier had readied us for a speedy dessert and a quick getaway. And we all agreed it was a fine chocolaty brownie and crowned a rather tasty Brown’s lunch. And knowing that there were plenty of other delights on their menu, we may have to organise another return match.
As Brown's have had a bit of a re-vamp, the menu upgraded from just pasta and 'everything with chips' (not that we didn't enjoy that explosion of carbs last time) but I think you've got to admit it looks pretty good I think Brown's should be upgraded to two brown forks.