Monday, 15 November 2010

Lotus Floating Restaurant - E14

Repatriation has involved a short-term rental for a month or so in Docklands. In my first weekend of wandering around this modern, barren place, I was pleased to note a number of potential restaurants to visit. Thomasina Miers opening a Wahaca there, Ubon, Royal China and also a curious floating chinese restaurant opposite my apartment. Starving, having shuffled from another short-term place in Central London, there was really no excuse to take the 3-minute walk across the canal.

I love places where the opinion is divided on the various food review websites and Lotus was no different. Most of the "Food 0, Atmosphere 0, Service 0" reviews that proliferated the London Eating website were due to the abrupt and rude service. These were punctuated with 10s for the food. Music to my ears. You could slap me round the head with a kipper but if the food was good, I'd be coming back. Thankfully the many zero-reviews here once again said more about the diners than the food.

It was a quick in-and-out for me. In case you were wondering, service was perfunctory - but did the job. That's all I want. 5 different dishes: pastry parcels of char siu, the same meat in cheung fun (those awkward flat sheets), prawn "har gau", simple fried dumplings and my one deviation from the standard fare, pork with pickled radish.

Let's cut to the chase - aside from the pastry parcels of char siu that were a little too sweet, everything was done as you'd expect, but the distant winner were the pork with pickled radish dumplings. Inside the thin, glutinous wrappers (of the ilk that you'd find surrounding the prawn har gau) was a crunchy mixture of pork, radish and five-spice seasoning - wonderful texture and flavour. The other winner were the home-made fried pork dumplings. Wonderful thin, crispy skin containing a seriously meaty hit of minced pork - and well seasoned too.

I looked around the restaurant to see that, aside from one guy with his extended chinese family, I was the only "westerner" there. It's often said that this is a good sign for a foreign restaurant on these shores. I can't disagree, and with 4 weeks left over the road, I'll be back - most probably more than once. Orange juice, 5 dim sum plates and chinese tea - £16. And a worthy 8.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Blueprint Cafe

Back in London for good after 7 months away in Dublin. Being away from London makes you realise a) how much you underuse it when you're there and b) how much you miss it. A wander around Shad Thames to sniff around a potential place to live also afforded me the chance to visit the Blueprint Cafe from a friend who works in the industry and has 5 times the interest and knowledge in food and restaurants than I have.

Naturally I was keyed up to go largely through excitement of being back in London again. I tend not to really comment on the restaurant itself but it was lovely - plain white, unfussy and with a lovely view right on the Thames in the buzzy restaurant area where other Conran restaurants reside.

Blueprint Cafe

And so to lunch. Opted for a £6 house cabernet sauvignon that was sharp but palatable. Started with the coarse jellied terrine - terrine is a theme clearly given I'd had some at the Pig's Ear in Dublin a couple of months ago. This actually disappointed - a relatively small slice with some cornichons that lacked crunch and for a small slice I was expecting some intense flavour - but it really was quite flavourless. The tiny dot of mustard that came with the dish certainly packed a punch.

Naturally hoping for better things for the main - a simple dish of chicken with fennel and celeriac. I've only really had celeriac as part of the restaurant staple - remoulade so having this was a change. The resulting simple dish was an absolute stunner. Three ingredients, perfectly cooked, all complimenting one another. Aniseedy fennel, buttery celeriac and perfectly cooked chicken. The chicken was wonderfully bronzed and charred on the outside with addictive salty skin and still very moist and full of flavour inside. Accompanied with a punchy green parsley-laden sauce - if I could remember back to everything I've had that is wonderful this year, this would be top 3 material. A joy.

Blueprint Cafe - Chicken with celeriac and fennel

The restaurant slowly filled up to half-capacity and included a courting couple, a huge, jolly table of old friends, a family with a well-behaved youngster and four twenty-somethings (one of whom claimed "the menu here is a bit weiiirrd" - which couldn't have been further from the truth - it was solid, English cooking. Despite the misfiring starter, places like this should be far fuller. £24 inc tip for a large glass of wine and two courses. 7.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Ragu obsession post #1: Sausage and fennel ragu

Early forays into cooking in my early twenties that didn't involve just putting something breaded into the oven usually were something spagbollish. Over time I've become slightly obsessed with tomato-based meat sauces. I've slowly, through adoption of various recipes and ingredients (some faithful, some heathen), refined a handy spag bol - sorry, ragu alla bolognesa - not for digesting today, as last night I stumbled upon a great ragu.

I'd always want to try pairing the aniseedy glory of fennel with a really gutsy Italian sausage in a pasta sauce. Italian sausages are hard to come by in Dublin - there seems to be quite a uniform light beige mush of a sausage in Ireland. The rough, coarse, artisan sausages of the UK haven't seem to have hit the shelves yet (please do correct me on this one). Given the lack of salsiccia, I thought I'd try and make the ragu with a "premium" supermarket Irish sausage.

Fried a fairly large onion for 20 minutes to properly start to soften it, and then added (based on reading a number of different recipes), 3 teaspoons of fennel. Sounds a lot, but one recipe called for 2 tablespoons! Fried the fennel with the onion for 2-3 minutes and then in with the 12 chipolatas, about 450g of meat, sans casing. These were fried vigorously to brown and knocked around to break them down for a good 5-8 minutes and then heat up full whack for a glass of red wine to boil down and enrich the meaty mixture. The obvious canned chopped tomatoes (1 and a half cans) along with a teaspoon and a half of sugar and a teaspoon of salt - and it was left to putter along for a good hour and half as is the case of all ragus. The longer the better, but it was already mid-evening Chez thepieshaveit.

Sausage ragu

The resultant tangy, sticky ragu was an absolute joy. Served with tagliatelle and a fair few shavings of parmesan, wonderful stuff. I can heartily recommend the above, it's so easy to do. The fennel just works so well with the sausage - to use the food cliche "Takes it to another level".


The Pig's Ear, Nassau Street, Dublin 2

Another Saturday in Dublin, another chance to tick off one of the Michelin-friendly restaurants. Friendly with Michelin, friendly on the pocket. The Pig's Ear offer a 3-course lunch for €19 - "Good honest Irish fare with a modern touch".

Sat in a simply decorated (white walls, wooden floors) room over looking the greenery of Trinity College, it's certainly relaxed enough to dine - and the dining area (at least on this floor) still had 20 of its 40 covers still there when arrived at 2.30pm for a late sitting.

The starter was a country-style terrine. A livery slice of savouriness, wrapped in what seemed to be bacon, but given the sinewy texture of its wrapping, it could quite easily have been wrapped in the title of the restaurant. Pleasantly flavoured - but maybe underseasoned as it wasn't bursting with flavour. The usual cornichons made a pleasant addition, and the Lyons Tea and fruit chutney was a pleasant (if maybe slightly overly sweet) accompaniment.

Country style terrine

On to the main, duck with greens and broad beans. Came with a flavourful sauce that complimented the duck - honey and cinnamon in there - but the broad beans were a let-down. Dry, chalky, and desperate in need of some sort of liquid to remove the dry taste in my mouth - even when eaten with the duck, which thankfully was exemplary. Moist meat, crispy skin - eat everything and leave the bone behind.

Dessert was perfectly executed. Lemon rice pudding: not too lemony, and definitely not too sweet which is always the danger when the rice pudding reduces and intensifies. A lovely caramelised skin on top and a playful addition of that popping candy that harks back to the early 80s - raises a smile but doesn't intrude into the rest of the dish. The dish of the day after a stop-start beginning.

A fair-sized American gent sat on the table next to me and blocked out what was a nice view of Trinity College - he zipped in and out for the fish of the day - plaice - and was already booked in later that week with golfing friends for a slap-up dinner. Given the one or two glimpses of excellence here, I'm sure he and his golf friends can console themselves after four hours of frustration in the open-air with a good meal to look forward at the end of the day. 6 or 7. Can't decide.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ananda, Dundrum, Dublin 14

And so to lunch. A lazy Saturday, so I've decided recently, demands a long lunch. Gets you out of the house, spritely, and looking forward to what lay ahead - possibly days in advance. So I decided to "do" all the Michelin-recommended places in Dublin, starting with the non-starred residences - those where Mr Michelin suggests you should be getting a good meal. Given the current economic woes over here, I was hoping for some relatively good lunch offers, and it was just that that you get at Ananda.

Ananda is a plush-looking restaurant right on the edges of the multi-cine-shopping-eating-singing-dancing-o-plex that is Dundrum Shopping Centre. Walking into the place is quite eery: two flights of wide, very quiet stairs before entering a modern, well-decked out - clearly not your average Indian - restaurant. Very quiet, although it was 2pm, but only 10-15 people in there.

Lunch: they offer an "Indian Tapas" starter, meat or vegetarian, followed by a selection of the classics, plus tea or coffee for €16. Which is pretty good going for over here. There's a tikka massala there and rogan josh, but I thought I'd try (after my meat tapas), a lamb biryani, having had a couple before now that I've either been too dry or too greasy.

The starter was very nicely presented - undoubtedly (shame about the quality of my blackberry camera!)

Indian Tapas starter

The lamb seekh kebab was as you might expect it. Solid: in both senses of the word. The chicken supreme was an oddity, moist but not necessarily with much flavour but sat on a small mound of delightful beetroot chutney that was had enough spice to provide a punch to sit alongside its natural sweetness - a real winner from the starters. The spicing of the batter on the single prawn was also superb, with the batter remaining crisp but not soggy - easily done. Back down to mundanity again with a white fish fritter that sat on a some rather tasteless yoghurt. Some glimpses of the quality available, though, in the tapas.

The main course was excellent: a fair-sized service of biryani, with all good meat, still moist, and - hurrah! - the biryani wasn't too greasy or dry, a real winner, served alongside a mild curry sauce that I was expecting to have more of kick and was slightly disappointed (despite not being a vindaloo fiend) that this wasn't the case. Very moreish too unlike biryanis I've had before that seem to tail off towards the 2nd half of the dish.

€16 plus a bottle of Tiger brought things to €24 including my tip. I'd quite like to go back to eat off the main menu to see what they can unfurl in terms of non-standard curry fayre. 6.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Restaurant reviews

Given that I've given myself an outlet to talk about food - cooking and dining out - I thought I'd start off with a short polemic (if that's possible) on restaurant review website. I microcosm of what I'm talking about comes in the form of a review I noticed on the (excellent) website that is effectively a free-for-all restaurant for restaurant reviews, and is stacked with comments - I've put a few on there before now.

This particular review is for Mien Tay, that AA Gill recently gave an esteemed "8" for its new opening on Lavender Hill in Battersea. The review states:

"Tried this place out, tasted ok, wouldn't go again."
Food 2 | Service 1 | Atmosphere 1 | Value for money 0

Now the food tasted OK. That to me is probably somewhere between a 4 and 6. 2? Was the squid chewy? Did they burn the fried rice? Kindly explain, o anonymous reviewer. Service and Atmosphere got a 1 - were you sat outside directly in the path of local buses spewing out exhaust? Value for money 0. Having seen the menu, I can safely say that you're not getting anything below a 5 for Value for Money: one of the newspaper reviews called it criminally cheap. Anyhow - I just wanted to give this reviewer 1/10 for his efforts. Having said that, maybe he owns the Vietnamese place opposite (should there be one).

For what it's worth any reviews I do will get a single mark - out of 10 - and that's just for the food. I'm not here to rate service.