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.


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.