Sunday, 22 January 2012

Ragu alla Ricardo

When I first got into cooking, I recall one of my Meteorology lecturers, the wonderfully avuncular Ross Reynolds giving me a photocopy of a recipe for a ragu - i.e. spag bol sauce, let's face it. This recipe called for all sorts of ingredients which as a fresh-faced 21 year old was going to be a challenge. I recall fucking it up completely but the seed was sown for what is about 15 years of tinkering with recipes. I've finally settled on "my version" that's been guided by various Telly Chefs and friends. It's not authentic, unique, real, seasonal, locally-sourced, passionate or other words thrown around about food, but my version. Maybe you can give it a try and see what you think. I have a horrible feeling I may have written about this before, but what the hell.

1) Chop up 1 1/2 onions, 2 sticks of celery and 2 carrots into very small bits. Fry these in olive oil with two star anise (thank you Heston) for about 45 minutes very slowly.

2) In a separate pan (fry pan usually good for this), fry off 500g of minced beef (the better quality, the better, I'd guess) and let it sit there to get a nice crust before turning over (thank you, Giorgio). Drop this into the cooking vegetables and do exactly the same with 500g of pork mince. As with all these things, a bit of fat in the meat never goes amiss. Pour pork mince into the veg and deglaze pan with red wine.

3) Turn the veg/meat mixture up to high and empty in a generously large wine glass of red wine (something gutsy) and burn all the alcohol off until it doesn't smell "tart" any more.

4) Add 3 cans of chopped tomatoes, I usually pick Cirio which I can get in my local Sainsbury's as they're supposed to be good quality (and seem to be coming down in price - as well as suddenly getting advertised on mainstream telly) as well as a good 2-3 second squirt of tomato ketchup.

5) Let it blubber away for about 3-4 hours with the lid off on a lowish heat. Stir occasionally to make it feel wanted. As it starts to lose liquid, top it up with milk. Serves maybe 6-8 people with British "too much ragu" sized portions or probably 60-80 italian understated ragu portions. Here it is blobbing away early in its 4-hour marathon:


I actually only settled on this recipe about 2 months ago and have cooked it twice now and it seems pretty nice. I used to add pancetta as well and that might reappear in time. Who knows. The star anise came in a year ago and the "topping up with milk" was the most recent addition. The ketchup was there from the start, heathen that I am.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

I love you, Anchor and Hope

It seems as though the way of attracting attention to you new venture is to make it a pop-up. Do it for 2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months and leave the audience wanting more. Ephemerality rules. Blogs and restaurant reviews tend to focus on the new and cutting edge. Got there first, done that, when's the next opening.

I sometimes wonder whether it would be nice for someone in their newspaper column to spend a year revisiting the stayers, the survivors that have been here for yonks and whose reputation has passed down through word of mouth: off the top of my head Blueprint Cafe (although now lacking its guiding light), St. John and here - the Anchor and Hope.

Anyhow, about since 6 months since my last visit I was back there for the Sunday lunch. £30, no choice, the pub opened out and all tables full. And you can book. I thought my last meal at Manchurian Legends could be up there with the best this year - so could this one. 2012. Two meals, two big hits.

Arriving early we got a great table in the corner and as there were five of us, everything came served on an enormous plate for us to dig into. We kicked off with a few nibbles on bread - oxtail and tongue and beetroot and horseradish that set the palate up. First up was a large plate of watercress, tangy stichelton blue chees, pecans and pear. I am in my infancy of blue cheese love, but this all works. I've seen it on the menu before - and can see why it's still there, everything playing off each other.

The main should really have come with a fanfare. A huge, triumphant plate of porchetta sat atop fennel and roasted potatoes with a magnificent gravy swimming beneath it all. The stuffing of the porchetta was deeply, deeply savoury and the only thing I could have criticised was the cracking that failed on one quarter of my slab of pork. The pork itself retained plenty of moisture. The unanimous decision was one of "Good Lord". Take a look at it in all its grainy iPhone photo glory:

Porchetta - Anchor and Hope

Dessert doesn't usually interest me but it was good to see tarte tatin coming out - caramelised to within an inch of its life with a deep brown colour, sweetness with the slight sour hit of the mascarpone that came with it.

Tarte Tatin - Anchor and Hope

We were all full. And happy. Maybe it's best that the Anchor and Hope doesn't get re-reviewed for those unaware of it because quite frankly a) it doesn't need to be as it's always full and, selfishly, b) I want to be able to get a table. A glorious 9.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Manchurian Legends

New Year - the event itself and the couple of days that follow it is an enormous waste of time, energy and faux excitement at the turn of the New Year. The days that follow it are usually grey and uninteresting, so I headed out to Soho where I headed to meet Soho's finest floater Mr Wilson for a pint and a suggestion of Manchurian Legends - which had seemingly split the Rayners, Corens, Normans and Gills down the middle.

It's fair to say that I wouldn't be surprised if my first meal out of the year turned out to be one of the "Top 5" that everybody loves to compile come the year's end.

We ordered based on recommended dishes from the aforementioned viewers and wasn't disappointed at all. Highlight of the entire meal was the pork, slow-braised in a oriental broth with glass noodles probably maxed out on savouriness. Yes the pork was fatty, but the slowness of the braise had rendered it wonderfully soft. And for once I take a photo that does it some vague justice:

Braised pork belly with glass noodles - Manchurian Legends

The other killer dish was the sweet and sour pork. The instant thought of sweet and sour pork is fatty, chewy pork covered in greasy batter in a lurid overly-vinegary mass-catering sweet and sour sauce. This was bloody well nowhere near it. Thin slices of what seemed to be pork loin had been delicately battered and served in a thin, balanced vinegary sauce. Addicting, as they say in America.

There was also some lamb skewers coated in chilli flakes that had really strong lamby flavour - a little bit chewy maybe, but by no means a failure. The pork dumplings were the only let-down. Maybe it's the way in Dongbei that their dumplings have thick skin but the filling lack flavour - better off heading to Jen Cafe for something similar done much better.

But it's for the first two dishes that I'll be coming back - as well as the several other interesting options on the menu. Anyone fancy sharing a hot-pot?