Thursday, 15 December 2011

Germany

A long pre-Christmas jaunt to Germany to sample the delights of beer, sausages, sausages, beer, meat in gravy with dumplings, sausages, beer and dumplings. I've done a few towns in Germany now, and this year started with a work trip to Munich, a stag do in Berlin, and then back down to Munich again.

Munich is undoubtedly one of my favourite cities. I would rather have a beer in a beer garden in the height of summer than anywhere else in the world. I wouldn't say it's a go-to location for a culinary journey or necessarily for a city break somewhere that is particularly avant-garde or edgy, but from a tourist standpoint it's clean, well-kept and also surrounded by some spectacular scenery and old towns. It also has my favourite sausage (sorry, Big Apple Hot Dogs, you're a close 2nd). As you walk into the Viktualienmarkt, head to the little green kiosk on the left, opposite all the butchers and have their bratwurst. A meaty, savoury assault on the senses smeared in the local mild mustard which seems to be a sort of cross (in both in strength and flavour) between American yellow and English yellow mustard:

Viktualienmarkt bratwurst, Munich

Berlin for the stag do gave me a chance to try their - ultimately - sinful favourite snack, Currywurst. I've used a capital letter there as I'm sure it's probably held in enough reverence to be capitalised. I headed to Curry 36 in Kreuzberg. And wasn't impressed. Two thick frankfurters were pulled from a pool of frying grease and smeared in an overly-sweet vaguely curried ketchup, along with fries covered in a curried powder and mayonnaise. Maybe I was hung over from a 6am and 3am finish the previous two nights, but nope - this one's not for me. Suitably blurry photo:

Currywurst, Curry 36, Berlin

Another highlight in Berlin was part of the stag was a chance to try Ottenthal's famed schnitzel. I was half-gone by then but it was thin, crispily coated and lovely for soaking up the beer and gluhwein we'd be motoring through all day:

Schnitzel - Ottenthal, Berlin

One other notable nod that doesn't come with a photo as the one I'd taken was shite, was the impressive "durum" - essentially a chicken kebab in a wrap for about €3 at Mustafas Gemüse Kebab. Given the amount of turkish immigration in Germany, it was always worth a try. Type in "Best kebab in Berlin" and this place comes up plenty of times. It probably shows that the queue I joined on a sleety Monday afternoon at 2.45pm was 25-long. It wasn't even lunch time. The kebab itself had 3 different sauces and about 10 different component parts. A cheeky delight and different flavour in each mouthful. It warranted the wait.

Next time around - it'll be Germany in the summer...gratuitous beer garden photos to follow some time later in the year.

Friday, 4 November 2011

A nod to the lads of the Staff Meal Truck, Boston

A trip to Boston and environs earlier in the year threw up some lobster, clams, a great pizza and, from memory, quite an average burger. The one thing that stuck in the mind was a sandwich from what I think is the most inventive food truck I've stumbled upon. I'd actually wound up in a car park looking for the legendary Boston Speed Dog truck, but they weren't there so I was left to choose from the 4 or 5 that were there.

I had from the Staff Meal Truck a "pressed meatloaf sandwich". Turns out that the two guys behind the truck were both fed up with working in haute cuisine restaurants and instead put their spin on "fast" food. Heck - check out three of the items on their menu for 4th November:

- Foie Gras Bakalava (Foie Gras, Pepitas and Lavender)
- Cassoulet Sub (Garlic Sausage, White Bean Stew with Duck Confit and Bacon, Bread Crumbs)
- Pig's Head Mac n' Cheese

My sandwich back in May was meatloaf, with pastrami, home-made pickled cucumbers and a barbecue mayo. It was tremendous. And in their honour, I decided to make it myself and christen the naff Russell Hobbs Panini Press I'd bought about a year prior:

Pressed meatloaf, pastrami, pickle and BBQ Mayo sandwich

The meatloaf I use was thanks to Daniel Young of Burger Monday (and the rest of the week) fame and it is superb: - the recipe calls for a surprising amount of mustard - but that is the winning note. Massively savoury.

Pastrami was embarrassingly from Sainsbury's, and the excellent pickles from Topolski at Maltby Street. I decided to use a sturdy burger bun from St John Bakery a few arches down from Topolski. The result was lovely, even if I say so myself. I hope I've at least vaguely done the Staff Meal boys proud.

Hand pulled noodles at Greenwich Market

You can spend £150 on a massive nosh-up in a Michelin-starred restaurant but it doesn't offer the unique joy of finding a hidden gem. An extremely cheap hidden gem. One of many food stalls down at Greenwich Market, this one caught my attention following the demise of a favourite hand-pulled noodle restaurant, Oodle Noodle (or is it Noodle Oodle) at the arse end of Oxford Street amongst the shit leather shops.

The actual stall itself offers chicken, pork and duck either in soup or with rice as well as dim sum that maybe I'll try next time. The soups vary from spicier offerings to more savoury broth-based ones for nonces like me.

I had the char siu soup and the noodle man quickly got to work, cutting off a section of quite wet dough, lobbing some flour around and rolling it into a tube and proceeded to work his magic. I nearly wrote "wok his magic" there but it would have been particularly twattish.

Hand-pulled noodles

These noodles were dumped into hot water along with some pak choi, some char siu rapidly cut up and a darkish stock thrown over the top. £4.50 please. I have great pleasure in saying, in my limited noodle opinion, that the whole thing was wonderful. I am still amazed that you can get noodles from a blob of dough in about 3 minutes. They were very good - firm but definitely not mushy. The char siu portion was overly-generous, the pak choi retained a crunch and this all sat in a really intensely savoury - maybe even too savoury! - broth.

Hand-pulled noodles with char siu, Greenwich Market

I am really struggling to think of anything better in London in terms of value of money and a satisfyingly full belly. It's just a shame they don't operate at weekends. I ate at 12.30 and by the time I'd got to the bottom of the bowl the queue was about 10 deep. Deservedly so. I'm sure if I do a saddo Nick Hornby-style "Top 5" at the end of the year that this will be in it. 9.

As an addendum, I also had some very nice chicken karaage from a nearby stall. Re-fried seemingly to order, it was crisp, hot and still really tender and moist in the middle. Two triumphs in one day.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Byron's "Uncle Sam" Cheeseburger

I see that McDonald's have released some sort of 1955 burger that has seemingly sod all relation to what would have been dished up in its original restaurants, and no doubt worse quality of ingredients. Gripe over.

Actually, not fully over. A stag do the previous night had dealt me a moderate hangover; maybe 6 on the Richter scale. Junk was needed, but well-made junk. I'd not tried the Byron burger yet and they seem to be popping up everywhere to mainly good reviews. What also attracted was their nod to the US diner in their "Uncle Sam" burger.

I liked their diner - nestled in the thoroughly shit part of London that is the theatreland-cum-bad cafe central-cum-hideous pizza slices in window type fast food outlet. The friendly host with the t-shirt with the legend "medium" was enough of a hint for how I should be having it cooked.

And so it arrived:

The Uncle Sam Burger, Byron, Charing Cross Road

The first impression was that it was relatively small - but was well-filled with the 6 oz patty. Lovely bun that was soft but with enough sturdiness to hold its interior without collapsing. Tomato ketchup, pickles, what I would describe as American Burger Cheese and French's mustard. The disappointing thing? Where was the flavour of the beef. It was there, but it just seemed to lack seasoning and was almost lost in the various condiments.

Dammit - I didn't want to be disappointed! Everything else seemed fine but the main feature was a disappointment. It's by no means a disaster as it was so nicely constructed, but I'm not a structural engineer. 6.

Afterwards I went for a pile of beijing dumplings at the Chinatown staple Jen Cafe. Never fails - somewhere between 8-10 home-made steamed dumplings for £5 that were well seasoned (take note, someone else!) and cack-handedly dropped by me into vinegar probably to the amusement of the local Chinatown clientele. Look at the awkward Englishman and his chopstick cack-handedness.

Friday, 16 September 2011

3 months of eating North London: Pt 6: Made in Camden, Camden (!)

3 months of living in North London is almost coming to a close. I've come to the conclusion that despite my 70s hair and youthful 36-year-old looks, I am a) too late for Britpop in Camden and b) not cool enough for North London. Never mind, a return to middle-class, middle-aged Blackheath beckons as I ease buckets of Black Vanilla gelato down my cakehole.

Tried to get into Market to treat a couple of friends with a belated wedding present. Full. Good for them. Instead I recalled that the small plate menu at Made in Camden looked quite handy, and the reviews on London Eating were largely good - and a recent visit from AA Gill earned it 4 stars, which I'm assuming was promising. Oh my it was.

Camden Lager and imported weissbiers on the go, myself and the newly happy couple attacked pretty much the entirely of the small plate menu.

Pan-fried fennel, marinated feta, pistachio, salted caramel was laden with flavour and sticky pork belly, green papaya, mango, cashew, nam jim (new one on me that was something I'd like to repeat at home now I'm getting a hankering for doing some oriental slow cooked pork.

I jumped at the grilled tiger prawns, romesco, broccoli and garlic crisps - was interested to try some romesco and how it paired with prawns. It paired with them very nicely and the prawns took on a wonderful smoky flavour from whichever implement it was griddled on.

The complete show-stopper and my dish-of-the-year so far was the crisp-fried chicken, black vinegar glaze, carrot and miso puree. Crispy chicken - I would guess thigh meat - seemingly in panko breadcrumbs which swam in a savoury, vinegary sauce that I could have slurped on its own. Stunning, bloody stunning. We made the right choice ordering two at the start.

The lamb kefta was tremendously well-seasoned and tuna with caperberries with roasted peppers and egg almost had too many flavours! Not that I'm complaining. My only complaint was the lighting was quite low which rendered to zero any chances of poor-quality photos in ShitDixonVision. Staff were friendly and unobtrusive. My favourite type of staff. The bill for what were 9 sharing plates between the 3 of us plus a glass of wine, 2 dessert wines (which came in very small servings - probably my only gripe) and 3 beers was around £120.

Unplanned meals this good always raise a smile as expectation ahead of a meal can take the edge off an experience sometimes. I will return north of the border when I move back south just to go there again. 8. Quite possibly a 9, actually.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Hot dog alert - Joe's, Camden

The current trend of being able to get well-made, lovingly-constructed American fast food is great news. I'm not your arbiter of knowledge on this front but it seems that the likes of Hot Chip and Meatwagon as well as great burgers in the more permanent of residences (Byron, Hawksmoor, Goodman) mean that there's no excuse to go into a McDonald's unless you're commode-huggingly drunk.

With this trend, I hope that London goes hot dog mad. Even the tinned ones made of bollocks, elbows, underarms and heels I deem as palatable, but then again I'm probably seen as a heathen for this reason. Abiye's Big Apple Hot Dogs are the daddies, but I stumbled into a recently-opened bar in Camden, Joe's, to share a couple of beers with a friend on Bank Holiday Monday and noticed a wonderful Hot Dog sign over the bar:

Hot Dog Sign, Joe's Bar, Camden

The place incidentally was either deliberately spartan or their seating man had only partly fulfilled his task. The 50s soundtrack and exposed brickwork was if anything a nod to Russell Norman's growing London Polpo empire. I wasn't even hungry, but having had my Hot Dog Enlightening by Big Apple, it was always worth a try. An attempted chat with the unsmiling barman revealed that they were from Gloucestershire from a man called Graham. That was all.

Nonetheless, the hot dogs were good. Thinner, so lacking the juicy texture of Big Apple Hot Dogs, they certainly had good flavour and the meat well-seasoned. And that very required "snap" was there when biting into them - something of course that you'll never get from a can of Tulip / Princes Genuine American Hot Dogs With Bits of Cock and Achilles Tendon in a tin. I liked the touch of toasting the bun, too.

Hot Dog, Joe's, Camden

Would happily have another. And almost did, the fat knacker that I am. Would say a 7 to Big Apple's 9. Let London go hot dog mad and I will hoover them up and I look forward to the proper fried chicken and/or massive pastrami sandwich revolution next.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Meatball Pizza

You heard me: meatball pizza. A friend had gone to Pizza East and proclaimed the glory of their veal meatball pizza. I also had a greasy, glorious meatball pizza whilst sitting in a dreary train station in Boston awaiting one of the tins-on-wheels that is an Amtrak earlier in the year.

Stayed at my parents' glorious little place on the beach in Pevensey and wanted to knock out something that used their bread machine to encourage them to use it more. One recipe called for semolina in the crust that give a crunch and a chew. Worth a try. Here's the recipe:

For the pizza dough:

-300ml (1/2 pint) warm water (45 C)
-250g (9 oz) plain flour
-175g (6 oz) semolina
-1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 dessertspoon olive oil
-1 dessertspoon dried active baking yeast

For the pizza topping:

-1/2 a medium onion
-4 garlic gloves
-2 cans of chopped tomatoes
-1 teaspoon of salt
-1 teaspoon of sugar

For the meatballs:
-250g pork mince
-250g beef mince
-50g of grated parmesan
-Mixed herbs
-1/2 very finely chopped onion

Stick stuff in bread machine and be lazy. Fry onion and garlic for 20 minutes until very soft. Add sugar and chopped tomatoes and leave to putter for the time it takes to get the dough sorted. Mix up the meatball mixture and start them off in the over for 10 minutes. Knock back dough, let it rise again for 45 minutes, then flatted into base, cover with pizza topping, add meatballs and then smother with sliced of mozzarella. 10-12 mins at 200c.

Result?

Home-made Meatball Pizza

Result. Probably the best pizza I've made, and owing to absence of bread machine of late, I've not done one in ages. Memo to Richard: must get new bread machine. Any recommendations?

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Simply Seafood, Pevensey and Westham, East Sussex

My parents have a place right on the beach in Pevensey which is, if anything, wonderfully relaxing. Pevensey Bay itself is a sad sight. A couple of miles of beach and not a hint of a fish stall. Indian, Chinese and chippy. The original chippy from my 80s is now a generic rough-part-of-London hybrid pizza/chicken hole.

Fortunately inland about 2 miles in Westham is a place that does do fish, admittedly brought in from Newhaven and not caught in Pevensey, it was worth a try: that and the fact that it was the subject of one of those TV restaurant makeover programmes.

Managed to get a table at 8.15 and in the end were seated at 8.45 but had wine in their conservatory. Starter was a tasty, if unremarkable crab and mango salad. Unfortunately - at least in my case - it came with overly bitter leaves - this isn't a criticism, more a personal thing. Fresh scallops with a light thai dressing, not overly powerful or heavy on the chilli were very good.

This is where I went Restaurant Nazi and against all my principles. I didn't see the show, but took upon myself to see how they were doing as a restaurant. The low-point was when a man (who turned out later to be the owner) came and sat down near us with a glass of wine and turned off a nearby light which was flooding out table with the necessary light. "Terribly bright in here isn't it". He proceeded to drink wine and talk on his phone. I like your style. Apparently he was known for just sitting around the restaurant getting in the way so clearly Mr Restaurant Inspector didn't do his job on that front. One waiter came to clear our starters and dropped a fork which slid along the floor and sat next to our table. He never came back to clear it up. Must try harder! Picky whine over.

The main courses came - I went for turbot with a shellfish reduction on a bed of roasted potatoes and cabbage. The let-down were the potatoes which smacked of sitting round a bit and had gone dry and unpalatable. The same could not be said of the turbot that was gleaming white, super-fresh, brought in from Newhaven ("why not Pevensey!" I cried to myself). The shellfish sauce was subtle, not overpowering and went perfectly with it. Most of the dish was a shining example of some great cooking.

Turbot with shellfish reduction - Simply Seafood, Westham, East Sussex

I think I had a cheesecake for dessert. Why the hell not. Nothing remarkable, but nothing bad. All of this came to about £95 - which for three people is pretty decent value. I would be happy to have a place like this near me. Some distinct averageness, the odd flash of excellent value, great cooking. If I'm feeling mean - 6. Maybe a 7.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Opera Tavern

Had been planning to visit here as early as the first week when everything was half price. I'm thinking this is a good idea: get to soft openings as much as possible and save lots of money. Already done this at Da Polpo and Riding House Cafe. Must try harder on this front.

Dinner with old school-time friends from 20 years ago. Always good value and with one Hispanophile present I suggested the Opera Tavern. Sporting a moderate hangover from the previous night, it's always this sort of evening where lack of expectancy ends up being a good one.

A late arrival meant nibbles. Smoky marcona almonds were quite possibly the best thing I was to have all evening. Almost. Pork rillions were a mixture of fat and meat - soft, crunchy in places. Scratchings Ghia.

Guest arrived and we shared aplenty. Italian style scotch egg was ever so slightly underseasoned but the yolk was that runny-becoming cooked stage which I imagine is a bastard to get right. Crispy squid with sea purslane (first time for everything) was superbly cooked - lightly coated and with no gag-inducing chew that I hate about bad squid. The iberico pork burgers should come with a warning that you will need two - here are our four:

Iberico pork burgers - The Opera Tavern

Superb, moist, well-seasoned - although I struggled to make out the foie gras. Maybe I have a shit palate. Anyhow, you can see why people raved about it. Chorizo was pretty good - probably more spicy than I've had before but I'm not complaining.

The winning dish for me was the salt marsh lamb with farro, broad beans and peas.

Salt Marsh lamb and broad beans - The Opera Tavern

Earthy. I've never had farro before but pearl barley is the closest I could say it comes to - complete with the chew you get from it. Anyhow - the lamb. I've never had salt marsh lamb - so I never expected to have it in a restaurant that has a heavy Spanish influence. It is bloody great - I've no idea if the salty environment is responsible for the flavour, but served pink in this dish I will have to hunt down some butchers to find more. The whole dish came swimming in a wonderful savoury gravy. I suppose I should say jus or reduction here, but I don't want to.

There is so much more I want to try on the Opera Tavern. What I have tried gets a fulsome 8.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The French Table, Surbiton

Let's see if I can make it through talking about a restaurant in Surbiton without mentioning The Good Life. Headed down here for dinner with friends having known about it pre-Ramsay flutterings as the best in the area - they'd been there before but were only too happy to go back.

8pm table and the places was full which was to be expected. Waiting staff flying around the place without seeming to look hurried. We were ushered into the meal with a couple of pieces of their homemade bread - intrigued by the chorizo bread which was light, stained with the oil of the chorizo but subtley flavoured. An excellent bottle of Paper Road Pinot Noir and we were under way.

My friends launched into the special of crab millefeuille with heritage tomatoes which I managed to completely forget about taking a photo of as it was so well presented. I had beetroot-cured salmon that was good, but unremarkable, but with the pickled radish and beetroot that came with it, worked damn well:

Beetroot cured salmon, French Table, Surbiton

On to mains and two of us couldn't ignore the "trilogy of English pork belly". Something I really should stop being a nonce about and try and do at home to save often having it at restaurants. The first bit of the trio was a pretty standard square of pork belly. Very nicely good - most of the fat rendered down with crisp crackling. The mini pork belly and foie gras burger was understandably full of flavour if slightly oily. The trilogy didn't have a happy ending - the belly and chorizo croustillant creation (seen at the end of the photo below) was overwhelmed with a strong acerbic flavour that ruined it. Grand shame. Shit photo alert:

Trilogy of English pork belly, The French Table, Surbiton

Accompanying mash was as good as I've had in a restaurant and managed to be creamy without chef going in for the "let's see how much butter I can physically whip into the mash" approach that some high-end restaurants try to do which ends up just sickly after a mouthful. Carrots were al dente, but seemed slightly too sweet. Another main was an excellent lamb dish (or at least wonderfully presented) whose details escape me after two bottles of red, but did lead to a mild bout of otherpeoplesdinnerlooksbetteritis.

We were too stuffed to have dessert. A couple of gripes maybe, but I would undoubtedly return largely owing to the fact that a) I like that part of the world and b) I could eat the entire menu. If I went here every Friday I'd certainly think I was leading a Good Life. Oh bollocks. 7.

Monday, 15 August 2011

3 months of eating North London: Pt 5: Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

A previous visit to the pub unveiled the tubular pork heaven that is a Big Apple Hot Dog. This time it was only fair to give their menu a crack. As ever a walk from Hampstead up some sturdy inclines guarantees a hunger. Or maybe I'm just sodding unfit.

I hate calling pubs quirky but it is. It's effectively half a house, or at least that's what it looks like. Large beer garden in the front, small pretty beer garden out back. Friendly staff who actually pay attention to you.

Hot afternoon = two cold starters. First up was a duck and foie gras terrine with cherry chutney and brioche. Great contrasts of savoury terrine, the massive tang of the cherries in the chutney and the sweet brioche. I always have an issue with brioche in that it gives you greasy hands but nonetheless it plainly worked.

The other starter was simply potted shrimp on some thick enough toasted bread to hold the mixture without collapsing into mush. To my relatively untrained palate it almost seemed as though the shrimps were held together with a butter which had the strong hint of brown crab meat. Maybe it was just good, gutsy shrimps. Here's a picture of said dish in the sunlight. I think I'm getting the hang of focussing my bloody iPhone...finally...

Potted shrimps, Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

One friend eschewed any food whilst another charged into - and finished off - a sizeable feather-blade steak (some research on google also tells me it's called flat-iron in the States and paleron in France) - not overly tender but wonderfully cooked to medium rare and heavy on flavour. I was on good photo form today, so I may as well show another snap...

Feather blade steak - Rwd Lion and Sun, Highgate

It's sad that I'm heading back down south to Blackheath in a month or so - as glorious a place to live as it is - as I have no pubs offering up this standard of cooking round there. I have a feeling a future visit to the Bull and Last will likely only add to that feeling. 7.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Gurnard's Head, nr Zennor, Cornwall

A five day tour round Cornwall taking in various sights and smells. Nathan Outlaw's grill where we paid £25 for a very nice, but small portion of sea-bass (that's two stars for you), the shits after some bad mussels (stand up, Sam's, in Fowey and take a bow), but two meals really grabbed me.

Stayed one night in the Gurnard's Head - an old pub/inn that was rough around the edges but served up as near as dammit the best meal I've had all year. Staff were friendly, atmosphere was welcoming, beds were comfortable - food was bloody brilliant. Why can't more stays away from home be like this?

Started wih a sea-bass ceviche - sweet with tomatoes and mangoes which initially I thought might end up a bit odd but was a hands-down success. Friend had a crab cannelloni starter that was packed with gusty brown meat in an equally gutsy crabby sauce. The main course thought was the killer - spring lamb done two ways with braised gem lettuce, broad beans and roasted "cocotte" potatoes (new one on me). Christ, I almost made a decent photo of it:

Lamb done two ways - Gurnard's Head, Zennor, Cornwall

Very clever little cake of braised shoulder meat - dense, well-seasoned, to go alongside the lamb cutlet. I'll flag it up as my favourite meal of the year so far. You can bollock on about simple produce well cooked but this was the case. I wish I could remember what my dining companions had. I can't.

Dessert was a solid (not literally) apricot and almond tart. Dinner, bed and breakfast was about £120 per room. The breakfast was smashing, too - some of the best smoked bacon I've had and proper chunks of portabello mushroom that hadn't had the moisture whacked out of them from overcooking.

Oh for more places like this around the country. 8. Or even a 9.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Fisherman's Arms, Plymouth

"It's where the locals eat" said the bloke who ran the Plymouth guesthouse we stayed in ahead of a wedding down in Newquay. Plymouth, in places, is simply Bracknell-on-Sea. A 1950s/1960s urban apocalypse thanks to the friendly Mr Hitler.

We traipsed through the town and were happy to find some nicer scenery down by the sea, and then wandered back with foreboding to a shit housing estate that housed the Fisherman's Arms. Thankfully the inside was wonderfully modern but inviting and where I discovered St Austell's Trelawney bitter that accompanied me at many of the pubs throughout the trip.

Friendly barmaid gave us our menus and we had a charcuterie board to share - slathered with chorizo, bread, olives and what appeared to be a rose veal carpaccio. Mains were nothing short of enormous and impeccably cooked. The portion of mussels (cooked in cider and cream) was gargantuan. Really. Another platter of mixed fish on olive oil mash in a creamy sauce was wonderfully presented - and stupidly generous.

I went boring and had fish and chips. Yeah, shoot me down. But it was good: very, very good. Seriously thin, crispy batter, obviously fresh fish and some chunky, obviously multiply-cooked chips. The waitress asked me if I was vegetarian as the mushy peas came with bacon. Inspired. Smoky, mushy peas to go against the cod. Inspired. Did I say that already? Crap picture alert, I'll probably change it in due course to the prettier main courses the other folks had:

Cod and chips. Yes, just cod and chips but with bacony mushy peas! Fisherman's Arms, Plymouth

We almost went somewhere better-looking on the outside: apples and skins and all that. Great fishy start to the holiday. 8.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A big two-fingers to the "summer" weather

Today I denied it was pissing down outside when it should be sunny and 25c and flick the bird at the weather by having a tomato and mozzarella salad. That is all.

Good old mozzarella and tomato salad

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Telly Chef Recipe 1: Ramsay's White Onion Soup

Being a stupid cookbook whore, I tend to perve at a lot of recipes in cookbooks and end up actually doing very few. I've taken it upon myself to actually try and few recipes that the TV Chefs do.

Going completely against the grain of my plan however, the first one I did I think is in a Gordon Ramsay book somewhere that I don't have, but I stumbled upon it here on the interweb:

Pretty easy to make - just the usual arseache of chopping the onions - really must get myself a mandolin one day. Substituted Noilly Prat for Dry Martini as I didn't want Noilly Prat in my cupboard for the next 5 years.

Whizzed up and left in the fridge, I re-heated, seasoned and added cream the next day and the flavour was a gentler cousin of the wham-bam of a dark, beefy French Onion soup. It's not really worth a photo as the slowly-cooked onions and chicken stock (from the excellent but expensive Hampstead Butcher and Providore) turned it a 70s beige. 7.

3 months of eating North London: Pt 4: La du du, West Hampstead

Pissing rain in summer is an excuse for a soup. Is it? I don't know. Anyhow I'd got wind (and rain) of a new Vietnamese place so went there following my jaunt to Maltby Street market. Bright and modern and woody, the staff are very friendly here. The place was full as I nibbled away in the corner - lots of families present. Kids growing up these days will be so well educated in food compared even to my generation.

I'm guessing that a judge of a good restaurant is a staple so I headed for the Pho. Order a home-made limeade to keep me going - this lacked sugar and wasn't strong on the lime. The Pho duly arrived:

Pho, Ladudu, West Hampstead

For me a good pho has that aniseed punch initially and then a lingering savouriness. This had the aniseed part but just lacked the savoury hit - everyone seems to use "umami" for this nowadays. By no means a disaster - the noodles were lovely, they can tend to mush sometimes and the beef was generous.

I'm no Pho expert, but this was a bit short of the ones I've had at City Caphe and Thanh Binh in Camden, although I'll come back for a second try if time permits in my stay in Hampstead. 6.

Maltby Street Market

On a morning that can only be described as shitty, I took the tube to London Bridge and traipsed through the housing blocks and railways arches of Bermondsey to reach a cluster of stalls and companies set up within the railway arches themselves. St John bakery was there which was a chance to sample their much-lauded custard doughnuts. "The napkins are over there" said the lady serving me. I took one out of politeness. I used it out of necessity. Wonderfully light doughnuts - none of your heavy 6-for-a-pound fayre from Tesco. Brilliant custard too, flecked with dots of vanilla. Will have to come back for sourdough and was intrigued by their sturdy-looking burger buns.

And from thereon in it was impulse-buy central. A smiling greek lady at the Topolski polish "arch" on Druid Street told me how her wonderfully peppery olive oil was made on her family farm. Sold. £6 for 500ml plus extra for a delightful re-usable jar. I was also waylaid by the smoked polish sausage for £3.

Onward to the arch in Maltby Street that housed the ham and cheese company and the Kernel Brewery. I have a soft spot for fennel - so was obliged to buy 100g of their finocchiona sausage. Salty, aniseedy. £3.50? Certainly.

Maltby/Druid St Market

The most buzz I found was around the 7 or 8 ale fans already cracking into the Kernel Brewery's ales at 11.30 in the morning, laughing from under the large umbrellas as the heavens opened. On the way out I popped into the large fruit/vegetable arch in Druid Street. I'd never seen San Marzano plum tomatoes in London before so nabbed a couple of those on the way out for 50p.

Miserable weather - happy shopper.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Grazing Goat, Marylebone

Every two months I talk bollocks with the same 4 friends. Mainly sport, a lot of banter and ribbing. It usually revolves around steak (regular patronage of Le Relais de Venice) but this time we went leftfield and tried a pub - namely the Grazing Goat - one of the more upmarket pub/dining venues from the Cubitt House group (Pantechnicon, Thomas Cubitt...)

All in all - pretty average. Two of us had starters - scallops, bacon, pea puree and potato wafers were all strong flavours (see below), but with 3 scallops and probably 6 mouthfuls in all, I thought £11 quid for this dish was pretty damn steep.

Scallops, pea purée, bacon at the Grazing Goat

Main courses varied from my roast chicken (small, neat portion but - as with plenty of chicken dishes bar the one I had at Blueprint Cafe late last year - dry!), to a gutsily-sized veal t-bone steak, fillet steak (sent back as was more medium-to-medium rare than the request rare) and lamb and rosemary pie. Nothing there to blow us away, but the staff were very efficient and accepting of the undercooked steak.

The white chocolate tart with raspberries and honeycomb ice-cream that two of us had was excellent, all bar the soggy base. Another friend's apple pie was meagre and unremarkable. We were all pretty honest with our server who returned to offer us a free round of coffees for our thoughts.

At about £45 a head (and we only had a pint or two of beer with this) represents quite an outlay for posh pub food. A meal at Anchor and Hope a couple of weeks ago for the same price reminds you of how well "gastropub" food can be done. 5 - although full marks to the service (although as ever I only really care about marking the food!)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Sausages, smoke, sozzled.

The best boozy moments are those unplanned. Agreed to meet a friend on the South Bank who knows his way around what's happening with London food more than most. And so at this seemingly covert "Tweat_Up" that I was suggested to follow on twitter I had a sticker slapped on my coat which entitled me to very cheap pints of cocktails - the proceeds apparently going towards getting a new smoker for the stellar BBQ at Pitt Cue Co.

"I'll just stay for the one". 20p can of red stripe led to 4 pints of Mojito at £2 a pop:

Yes, a pint of mojito at the Tweat_Up on the South Bank

Luckily for the many merry-makers, Pitt Cue Co were there and I dug into one of the magnificent pork creations (with a smoky kick this time) from Abiye and his Big Apple Hot Dogs. 50 bourbon-soaked brownies were there - somewhere - but we managed to miss out.

Sunday drinking suddenly is fun again at the age of 36.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

3 months of eating North London: Pt 3: Atari-Ya, South Hampstead

I'd caught wind of good sushi near the roaring Finchley Road. Popped in there on a Tuesday evening after work. A speculative turn-up found us seated at the bar as the rest of the place was already booked. Good sign already.

We were seated at the end of the bar, able to watch the chefs mesmerically do their business. We also had a few cooked tuna pieces as an appetiser - nice touch.

Some menu staples (salmon, tuna, miso soup) were pretty much as you'd hope but specific things on the menu had caught my eye. Iberico pork tonkatsu was pretty much as it sounded - a luxurious take on another staple. Crisp on the outside, probably 70/30 pork and fat on the inside. A cardiologist's dream. And probably mine too. Mowed that up with the spicy HP-esque (call me a heathen, then) tonkatsu sauce. Really great. Note the chopsticks-in-one hand, camera-in-other hand photo ability. Who says men can't multitask?

Iberico pork tonkatsu, Atari-Ya

I also took the advice of various reports on the web to give the fatty tuna sashimi a crack. About £10 for a relatively small portion of tuna, but glorious nonetheless:

Fatty "fattest" tuna at Atari-Ya

Not being a regular sushi eater, this was new territory. The whole idea of fish being "fatty" seemed odd, but the texture was fantastic and I felt you didn't really want to spoil it with the various accoutrements that usually come with sashimi.

Worked out about £30 a head with a beer each - and we left full. Will return! 7 or 8. One of the two.

The Anchor & Hope is still my favourite restaurant

It never fails - it just never fails. If Mr Michelin dished out stars simply for food - let's ignore the knockabout chairs and tables and occasionally sharing a table with someone you don't know - then I would have thought that the A&H would be deserving of a star. Wouldn't it? You tell me - maybe I'm blinkered with a bias of loving food there for many a year.

Five of us decided to go large on the mains and share pnly a couple of starters. The omnipresent crab on toast - a barrage of flavour as ever and also sand eels with aioli were a great start. The sand eels offered up a similar crunch to a whitebait, but without the usual over-crumbing that your standing whitebait starter can suffer from.

Mains were an enormous tranche of Beef Wellington - resplendent with mushroom pate and foie grass (at a decidedly steep £26 - well for the A&H anyway). Another great stable - the rib of beef with chips was spot on: the charred, salty outside of the ribs is magnificent here. The chips have been hit and miss before here but not today - crunch and softness inside. Slow-cooked pork belly was immaculate - crunch and softness again here with seemingly most of the fat rendered out and through the strands of meat. The winner though was marrow stuffed with a wonderful gutsy veal ragu. £19 for this (supposedly serving two).

Beef Wellington - Anchor and Hope

In a miracle of belt-loosening there were desserts. Pistachio cake knocked the other desserts (including the ever-excellent subtly burnt-tasting praline ice-cream) into a sizeable cocked hat, retaining plenty of moisture.

Staff bantered away with us - although one bloke seems a bit - well - strange with a rictus grin that would put Gordon Brown to shame. But have we been going there for the staff? Doubt it. So pleasing that after so many years it hasn't lost its inventive touch for turning out hearty food. 8.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Banh mi at home

Hooray for getting internet back at home. To celebrate, I made banh mi. It's not go to the extent in London where you can barely turn a corner without finding a banh mi but they're popping up everywhere. Having gorged on them in Boston last month (hardly the home of banh mi, but nonetheless...) I thought I'd try to make them.

Ingredients:

- Daikon, carrot and cucumber strips soaked in rice vinegar and sugar for the afternoon
- Mayonnaise and pate to smear on either side of a split baguette
- Pork from the barbecue that has been marinaded in lime juice, fish sauce and sugar
- Coriander to liberally toss into the baguette

It worked! It tasted like I remembered.

Homemade banh mi

Small victories. The other guys who were in also enjoyed them - although they're probably just being polite. Now to source a Vietnamese bakery for a proper baguette with that crunch you don't get in a normal shop bought effort...

3 months of eating North London: Pt 2: Big Apple Hot Dogs, Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

Hot dogs fall under the gamut of sausages that are a serious weakness of mine. Was delighted to discover that the Red Lion and Sun pub up Highgate hosted the much-talked-about Big Apple Hot Dogs.

It's only a hot dog - it can't be that wonderful, can it? Grab-and-go food extraordinaire. Anyhow, up reaching the pub, a cheery man caught our eye, winked and waved an enormous sausage at us. Insert fnar fnar here; I'm not going to get drawn into Nigel Slater innuendo here.

Anyhow, pints bought from the pub, there were the standard hot dogs available and also a special Big Pole. An enormous 12-inch whopper. Fnar fnar #2. Anyhow - I opted for a standard hot dog, having already eaten earlier.

All I can say is that for what is essentially the quickest of fast food - served up in about 10 seconds for £3.50 - this is nothing short of sensational, I'll stick a photo in but I doubt I'll do it justice:

Hot dog heaven

Well seasoned, dense, moist meat (fnar away at your pleasure) with the correct snap of the casing as you bite into it. Abiye who runs the cart is a gent and his enthusiasm is infectious; you really want his venture to succeed, and from the sounds of his pleas on twitter - he's overloaded with work and therefore this is going places.

Apparently the guy who makes the sausages is a maverick and makes only for Abiye and his cart and prefers to be called a meat technologist than a butcher. You can call him what you want - he's just given me a "fast food" epiphany. 9!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

3 months of eating North London: Pt 1: Yum Cha, Camden

I have moved from Blackheath to Hampstead for 3 months. Long story, but it means I get a chance to eat stuff somewhere else I probably wouldn't be arsed to eat up.

Wandered through Camden on my first Saturday up there and was told of a good dim sum place in between Chalk Falk and Camden. Wandered in just as they were opened and tried my usual staples: prawn dumplings and char siu (pork) cheung fun - both as you'd find in most places. Maybe they're hard to get wrong. Went randomly off-piste to try broccoli with garlic sauce which was certainly heavy on the garlic; I'm not complaining - and the broccoli still had a bite. Broccoli is ruined when well-done.

Winner for me was the "crystal" prawn and scallop dumpling - slightly tacky skin revealing both the prawn and scallop flavours - was expecting the scallop to get beaten up by the prawn but no, it was there...

Prawn and scallop dumpling

Should have got a 2nd serving but was bulging at the seams by now. Service was perfunctory and unsmiling. Should I expect any more? Will be back - half price dim sum on Monday-Wednesday isn't something I'll turn my nose up at. 7.