Archive | June, 2011

Smoked Mackerel, chicory and potato salad

27 Jun

Summer is here at last. This year, for the first time, I have started to realise just how delicious a salad can be. Chicory has long stared out at me from the supermarket shelf and last week was the first time that I walked over, picked it up and put it in my basket.

This salad really was delicious, filling and perfect for a hot summers day.

Ingredients (serves 2)

8 chicory leaves, washed
1/2 avocado, sliced lengthways
1/4 red onion, finely sliced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 new potatoes
2 smoked Mackerel fillets
Handful of pea shoots
Sea salt and black pepper

Method

1. Boil new potatoes in hot salted water for 25 minutes, or until soft
2. Meanwhile, place the red onion in a small bowl. Cover with red wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sea salt
3. Drain potatoes and assemble salad on the plate.

Enjoy!

Shoreditch Grind

21 Jun

Another post, another new London coffee establishment. I welcome Shoreditch Grind.

Situated on Old Street roundabout, Shoreditch Grind has a beautiful interior, indoor window seating, rather good coffee and not a bad range of grub. Think indulgent morning pastries, chunky lunch time sandwiches, muffins and cakes to satisfy the sweet tooth.

We enjoyed a silky flat white whilst trying to get comfortable on the beautiful but slightly impractical stools.

A few things made me think that they were not quite ready for opening. The toilets were ‘under construction’ and there were no proper cups or plates. All food that we ordered was brought over to us in a closed paper bag – a tad unnecessary and wasteful.

The honey and almond cake was good without being great, the almond and honey topping deliciously moist but the middle quite dry.

The cheese croissant that we shared was gone in 10 seconds flat, very delicious but small. And at £2.95, probably too expensive.

Our toasted parma ham and mozzarella baguette was good but I forgot to get a photo as I was distracted by a mix up. The waiter gave us an extra sandwich and a muffin on top of our order – but we were good samaritans and returned them.

Despite enjoying my coffee, something niggled me. The manager or owner, I’m not sure which, seemed to be giving a member of staff a hard time – quite obviously too. There were two occasions that I saw the member of staff getting told off – once right in front of me just after I had ordered. It doesn’t give the impression of a happy working environment and I hope I don’t see a repeat when I return. Maybe the member of staff was making mistakes but I think the telling off should happen in private!

The cafe has planning permission for a large outdoor area, which I am told is likely to be ready for next summer. I took a sneak peek around the back of the building and it looks like it could be a great al fresco dining space! At the moment, it’s not a place to go for a lounge whilst drinking a good cup of coffee, it’s more suited to take away and a short stay sitting in the window.

However, it is still early doors (having only been open for two weeks at the time of this post) but there is lots of potential for this cafe to be one of the London greats.

Shoreditch Grind
213 Old Street
London
EC1V 9NR
020 7490 7490

The Wright Brothers, Soho

15 Jun

The first time I went to The Wright Brothers on Kingly Street was shortly after it had opened at the end of last year. The food arrived and I took my camera out of it’s case to capture the delights in front of me but was mortified to find that the lens had miraculously broken.

A few months later and I’m back. I have scraped my shoe, moved on and purchase a new lens. I’m not bitter at all.

I went this week for an early dinner with my dad who works in London a couple of days a week. I love meeting him for dinner and it’s always a comfort having a member of your family to be able to do this with in a city away from home.

The plan was to meet for Oysters, which is why I suggested The Wright Brothers. Their sister restaurant, Oyster & Porterhouse in Borough market has long been suggested as one of the best spots for Oysters in London and the same can be said of their newest venture. We were lucky that it had been a beautiful day so the evening was warm. We snagged a seat in Kingly Court and realised that outside seating areas in Central London are rare.

We ordered 9 of the Spéciale de claire, which slid down the throat a real treat. For main I ordered the roast Hake with chick peas and my dad the seafood linguine. I ordered a side of seasonal vegetables, which happened to be green beans. My favourite. They were perfect – slightly crunchy and deliciously buttery.

I was happy to see that the Hake fillet was large when it arrived. I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t leave full, having not ordered a side of potatoes, but it turned out that I didn’t need them. It was slightly over seasoned and the skin wasn’t quite as crispy as I would have hoped but it was crispy enough to demolish, which of course I did. The texture of the chick peas was a welcome addition and added a punch of extra flavour.

The seafood linguine was exquisite. Al dente linguine with a rich lobser bisque and a perfect amount of seafood. I recently had this dish at another London restaurant and was disappointed with it – the sauce was far too rich and there was hardy any seafood present. The Wright Brothers definitely got the ratios right.

The only niggle of the evening was when a lone diner asked to sit next to us. That was fine but then she asked if she could smoke. I panicked and said yes. After all, she was allowed and there was no where else for her to sit. All of the memories of disgusting cigarette smoke blowing into your mouth when chewing flew back to me. Luckily I didn’t even notice when she lit up.

We chose not to have a dessert, partly as I had the chocolate and hazelnut pot last time I went and wasn’t overly impressed but also because we wanted to head to Bar Italia for a coffee.

With three floors inside, a bustling open kitchen, cosy candlelit indoor eating for those chilly evenings and outdoor table seating for glorious mild summer nights, The Wright Brothers Soho is a restaurant for all seasons. The food is simple and it’s cooked so well that is leaves you wanting to go back for more.

The menu is small but I’m not complaining as it means that all of the fish is fresh daily. And it’s sustainable too – most of it sourced from small Cornish day boats. I like knowing that next time I go back, there will be something different on the menu.

The bill came to £61.80 (including service) for a bread basket, 2 starters, 2 mains and 2 glasses of wine.

The Wright Brothers
13 Kingly Street and
G7/G8 Kingly Court
Carnaby
London
W1B 5PW

020 7434 3611

Wright Brothers (Soho) on Urbanspoon

Paul A Young, Soho

14 Jun

It is no secret that Soho is my favourite area of London. Over the last few years, the vibrant suburb has seen fantastic restaurant after restaurant and cafe after cafe open their doors to welcome very grateful customers.

I am fascinated with the history of Soho – from a vibrant jazz scene in the 1940′s followed by the rock scene in the 60′s to becoming home to London’s gay scene and let’s face it, a lot of unsavoury bedrooms (look up at night and you’ll see the redness that I’m talking about), Soho is culturally diverse and never seems to sleep. It’s an area that I love and one that I’d live, work and play in for the rest of my life if I could.

One thing that seemed to be lacking, until recently, were good chocolate and cake shops. Although they look mouth watering, the cakes at Princi don’t really cut it for me. And the cakes at Hummingbird Bakery do not exactly float my boat. But from today, my worries need be no more as my favourite chocolatier, Paul A Young, has moved to town. Quite literally. Having been a permanent fixture at his new Wardour Street location for the last month, Paul has moved closer to the area to concentrate all of his efforts into this magnificent chocolate heaven.

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The striking shop, with it’s luxurious purple fronting, sits on the corner of Wardour and Broadwick Street. Step inside and marvel at the huge round wooden table that holds a number of Paul’s handmade creations. The custom made chandelier and gold trimmings add to the luxury but the real plus point for me was learning that the shop isn’t just a beauty, it’s sustainable too. Every piece of furniture in the shop is either recycled, upcycled or reclaimed.

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Head down to the kitchen, spotless and gleaming white might I add, and you could be shocked to hear that the basement was used as a club in the 60′s but has been virtually untouched since. That is, until Paul’s builders moved in with a tonne and a half of concrete to reconstruct the beautiful archway that leads from kitchen to a large staff changing and rest room area.

Brand new shiny and slippery British granite slabs sit in the middle of the room. But considering that they will be using these slabs to produce all of the chocolates for the site and that there are currently 110 products and 25 different chocolates being worked with, I can’t imagine the surface will remain shiny and slippery for much longer!

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The majority of staff that have been recruited have little to no experience with chocolate, or working in kitchens for that matter. I like this fact. Paul is willing to take on staff, train them up to his exceptionally high standards and give them a chance to learn the art. And it is an art, learning to temper and produce top quality chocolates can take between 8 months to a year.

One thing that Paul will be able to do now he has this new found space is more classes, which can be held down in the kitchen while the shop is open without disrupting any of the day to day work. They can end when the shop closes at 8pm and the class can make their way upstairs to purchase a few goodies to take home with them if they like.

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I had met Paul a couple of times before the new opening and have always been struck by his passion. His drive and determination to be the best and maintain the excellent quality that everyone is now accustom to is apparent. He’s still using these same methods that he started with 5 years ago and continues to shun compounds, concentrates, essences, artificlial preservatives and additives. Instead, he uses fresh ingredients, spices, organic pure distilled essential oils and fresh fruits. And rightly so. His chocolates are some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Which leads me on to the chocolates. If I had my way (and enough time), I would have made my way around the whole table. Alas, I wasn’t living in my dream world but I did grab 4 or 5 delicious treats. I started with orange and tarragon, which turned out to be the winner. A liquid orange encased in a dark chocolate shell with a tarragon sprinkle on top. Also a winner on the texture front.

Next up was almond praline. A robust 50% Madagascan milk chocolate with toasted almonds. Utterly smooth and moreish.

The delicately dark raspberry looked fantastic and has a silky texture. The spiking of raspberry on top not only looked striking but tasted delicious.

On my way out, I grabbed a small piece of the blondie, which I’ll definitely be going back for. I was also given a goody bag containing a bar of 64% Madagascan with Maldon sea salt, a fudge brownie and a bag of three single chocolates – kalamansi, carrot cake and 82% madagascan pod. Of course I had to try them for research purposes. The kalamansi is a tangy, citrus flavour, wrapped in a dark chocolate coating. I enjoyed the textures of the carrot cake, rich, silky and milky. The madagascan pod was slightly too bittter for me but my boyfriend who prefers his chocolate this way devoured it. The brownie is staying in the fridge for another day but as I have tried one before, I know I’m in for a dense, rich, gooey chocolatey treat.

Flavours that I didn’t get around the trying but will be heading back at the first available opportunity to try are ‘St Germain liquer with elderflower, wild strawberry, balsamic & black pepper, black sesame tahini and rare jasmin tea & ylang-ylang.

If you’re ever in the area and in need of a sweet treat, I urge you to go and try some of Paul’s delicious flavour conbimations. I promise, you won’t find them anywhere else.

Paul A Young
143 Wardour Street
London
W1F 8WA

Da Polpo

8 Jun

You may think that I like to harp on about Russell Norman and his range (yes I can say range now) of London eating establishments. Well, that’s because I do. Already a fan of Polpo, Spuntino and Polpetto, I was quick to try his newest venture.

At first I Da Polpo was a joke – I read on Twitter that this is what the fourth restaurant from Russell Norman would be called. I couldn’t quite believe that he’d open another restaurant and just put a ‘Da’ in front of an already existing restaurant name. But he did and I don’t mind because as far as I am concerned, he could have called it whatever he wanted and I wouldn’t give a monkeys because I don’t go for the name, I go for the bloomin delicious grub.

I met a friend one evening after work in the first week of opening and I’m pleased to say that I walked in and sat straight down. Probably because it was in the first week of opening but another reason is that Da Polpo is a lot bigger than its predecessors. Set over two floors, the restaurant seats 70 and has a bar seating area on both floors, perfect for those casual small plates and carafe dinners.

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So, the food. I would be lying if I said that the menu was very different to Polpo and Polpetto because it isn’t. The only real difference is that there are expanded meatball and pizetta sections. Great. Really great. While we were pondering the menu, the waitress brought over a complimentary dish of whipped ricotta, black sesame seeds and focaccia, which was a very welcome addition. I would have prefered my bread to be slightly toasted but nevertheless I still wolfed it down.

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We went on to choose the rest of our dishes for the evening and had one from nearly every section. First up was the anchovy and olive pizzetta. I couldnt fault this at all. The perfect ratio of cheese, anchovies and crust thickness. The olives added a lot. I’m not sure what variety they were but were definitely creamy.

We had to go for one of the meatball dishes so chose the classic pork and beef. Three large meatballs arrived in lashings of delicious slow cooked tomato sauce. The meatballs were juicy, tender, melt in mouth and were gone very quickly.

Next up was grilled asparagus with buttered eggs and parmesan – basically scrambled eggs with asparagus and parmesan. I found this dish interesting as I had never considered scrambling eggs and eating them with asparagus before. I have dipped a spear into a soft boiled egg but that’s as far as I have gone. Nevertheless, I loved it. The parmesan was just the icing on the cake. Despite the main ingredient being a vegetable, this isn’t a healthy dish!

We also enjoyed a courgette salad with rocket and yet more cheese. We both felt that the courgette didn’t have a lot of taste but the texture more than made up for it. Not quite raw, it had a great crunch to it.

Although the table next to us seemed to be enjoying their desserts very much, including one scoop of gelato in a lovely looking cone, we decided to pay up and retreat to Gelupo to see what fantastical flavours were in store that evening.

I am in awe of Russell Norman. He has created something very special here in London and I would be happy if one of these restaurants opened on every street corner. Each one has managed to retain its own character and I would go to each one for different occasions. The food is spot on. Simple, fresh ingredients cooked perfectly. Massive thumbs up from me.

Da Polpo
6 Maiden Lane
London
WC2E 7NA
020 7836 8448

Dinner for two with a 50cl carafe of wine came to £40, service included.

Da Polpo only takes lunch bookings.

da Polpo on Urbanspoon

COMPETITION – The Big Chopper

6 Jun

A couple of weeks ago, The Big Chopper was introduced to me. What is the big chopper I hear you say. It took me a couple of minutes to realise just what shape the two lockable chopping boards became when joined together (I think I’m one of the naive ones!) but when I did, it made me chuckle.

It’s a cleaver idea really. One board for meat, one for veg and when joined together it looks like… well, you can see what it looks like! I was asked to give one away and thought it would be a great idea, especially since the company is supporting the charity male cancer charity Orchid – 50% of online sales are being donated.

I have used mine a couple of times and they’re not just pretty (!!) but practical too. Simply lock to chop and unlock to store!

Assembled Big Pink One

See below for ways to enter:

1. Mandatory. Like the Big Chopper Facebook page here and leave a comment on the wall to say that you have entered via http://www.foodforthink.com

2. Second chance to win. Tweet this text exactly as shown – #WIN Big Chopper chopping board #prize RRP £19.99 @foodforthink http://www.foodforthink.com Pls RT

3. Third chance to win. Follow @foodforthink and @thebigchopper on Twitter and Tweet both to enter

4. Fourth chance to win. Leave a comment on this blog post telling us why you NEED The Big Chopper

Don’t worry if you aren’t the lucky winner because I’ll be posting details of a special offer after the winner has been announced.

Competition ends on Thursday 16th June at midday. Open to UK residents only.

Good luck!!!

My Britain’s Best Dish journey plus recipe

1 Jun

I can finally write my post now. I was a semi finalist on this years Britain’s Best Dish. The process started at the end of last year when a girl that I used to work with told me that she had been a contestant a couple of years ago. She had won £500 by getting through to the regional finals and recommended that I auditioned – so I did.

I didn’t really take it seriously at first – I had never seen the programme before but had heard through the grapevine that it was a ‘poor mans Masterchef‘. Hmmm – nevertheless, I went for it because I love cooking and I wanted a bit of a challenge.

I made it through the producer auditions to be a contestant on the show and I represented the Midlands because of my Nottingham roots. I won the regional heat and the regional final (hello £500) to get to Hackney Catering college where I went head to head with the other 6 regional finalists in the dessert category. Much to my surprise I came in the top 2 that day and got through to the semi-finals, which meant cooking in the kitchen at The Savoy Hotel.

15 year old Conor McLean beat me to go through to the final and eventually win the whole show. He didn’t just win the £10,000 prize and his dish on the menu at The Savoy Hotel – Executive Chef Bernard Mayer was so impressed that he offered Conor a training apprenticeship at Westminster college.

My dish changed throughout the series. In the first heat I made an almond panna cotta with poached peach and grape sorbet but, after the comments that the elements of the dish didn’t marry well together, I changed it to almond panna cotta with a spiced granola topping, spiced peach coulis and grappa soaked grapes (thanks to Edd Kimber for the grape inspiration!)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the show – it was a bit weird watching myself back on the TV but I couldn’t be happier that I got to cook in the Savoy Hotel kitchen and that executive chef Bernard Mayer liked my dish and said that there were ‘no negatives’.

Almond panna cotta with spiced granola topping, spiced peach coulis and grappa soaked grapes recipe

Ingredients Serves 2

Almond panna cotta

½ a vanilla pod, split and deseeded
125ml full fat milk
125ml double cream
2 gelatine leaves
25g golden caster sugar
A few drops of almond extract

Grappa soaked grapes

200g red concord grapes
15ml grappa
15ml lemon juice
15g golden caster sugar

Peach coulis

4 peaches
300g golden caster sugar
1 star anise
2 tsp runny honey
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
Juice of 1 lemon

Spiced granola

20g unsalted butter
30g whole rolled oats
20g ground cinnamon
20g golden caster sugar
20g sliced almonds

Method

Almond panna cotta

1. Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds.
2. Add the vanilla seeds and split pod to a pan with the milk and cream. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat.
3. Take out the split pod and add the gelatine leaves and sugar. Return to a low heat and stir until the leaves and sugar have fully dissolved.
4. Add the almond extract and stir through.
5. Pour the mixture into small pudding basins and chill in the fridge until set (this takes approximately 1½ hours).

Grappa soaked grapes

1. Peel the grapes and chop in half.
2. Gently heat the grappa, lemon juice and sugar in a pan until all the sugar has dissolved.
3. Place the grapes and grappa sauce into a small bowl and leave to soak in the fridge.

Peach coulis

1. Fill a large bowl with ice-cold water.
2. Fill a separate bowl with boiling water and blanch the peaches for 30 seconds.
3. Plunge into the bowl of cold water with a slotted spoon and then peel off the skins.
4. Slice the peaches in half, leaving the stones in and place in a large pan with the sugar, star anise, runny honey, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon juice.
5. Cover with 800ml of water and gently bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes or until the peaches are soft.
6. Remove the stones then pour the peaches into a blender. Retain some of the syrup. Blend the peaches until smooth, adding more syrup if necessary.
7. Transfer into a squeezy bottle and leave to cool in the fridge.

Spiced granola

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Melt the butter in a pan.
3. Add the oats, cinnamon, sugar and sliced almonds to a baking tray and mix in the melted butter.
4. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

To serve

Dip the base of the panna cotta pudding basin into a bowl of boiling water (this will help to free the pudding) and turn out onto the plate. Carefully layer the crunchy granola on top. Squeeze three circles of peach coulis around the plate, adding a grappa soaked grape in the centre of each circle.

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