Monday, 31 December 2012

Obligatory end-of-year lists

Lists are everywhere. In the spirit of Hornby, the Christmas down-time gave me a chance to think of what I noticed from last year. It's pretty much all positives as it's nice to positive when looking back over a year and it's more fun to write positively.

1) The Cursed Restaurant, Chinatown.
There is a site next to De Hems which had four different restaurants this year. It's haunted or cursed or is very lacking in rabbits' feet. In two of its incarnations I had two lovely meals. The first time was the in its Manchurian Legends guise: wonderful sweet and sour delicately battered pork loin and oozing stewed pork belly. The 2nd time around a very simple braised beef brisket noodle soup for a stupid £5.80, which made me want to try much more of the menu. It shut 2 weeks later and is now rebranded Leong's Legends Inn which appears, from the menu at least to be a carbon copy of the restaurant opposite.

2) Ginstock
It all worked out perfectly. One of those joyous breaks in the summer weather where the sun finally shone to make up not only for miserable summer but also for Ribstock's drenching and we all drank far too much gin, served every which way and loose. It got busy: too busy. People complained in person and on twitter and the complainers who left missed rivers of booze flowing for the rest of us. Bad luck! £1 negronis from the Polpo team? Oh alright then - I'll have five. I really hope that this sort of event proves viable and profitable for the organisers to continue with these as the 'stocks so far have been have all proved remarkable value. When you get good weather into the mix it's a no-brainer. And no, I was too much of a nonce to try Rumstock the morning after.

3) The Beer House, Charing Cross Station
A pub? In a station? I officially declare that 2012 was the year of Pubs in Stations. The Parcel Yard in Kings Cross was a delight. This one in Charing Cross Station with its huge array of craft beers (and Heineken for the unsteady on their feet) doesn't necessarily make it a "go to" venue but definitely makes it a "Oh I'll get the later train then" venue - and also makes it my most-visited watering  hole in 2012. Having said that, I have deliberately taken two people here this year because it's stocked to the rafters with all manner of beer from around the world. The soundtrack is often quite good here, too. A hugely pleasant surprise given the previous pub in that location was somewhere you'd probably need chainmail to enter to be on the safe side. They have also apparently opened in Paddington and Waterloo. Good on them.

4) Burgers and More Burgers
I refuse to declare that 2012 was the "Year of the burger". I'm sure someone else has. Using the Young and Foodish Top 10 from 2011 as a guide, I tried pretty much all in the Top 10 with a group of friends and above all, it made me realise that burgers come in myriad forms but the simplest are seemingly the best. With that I mind I tip a meaty hat to guys at Tommi's Burger Joint. Very reasonably priced, bursting with flavour and served by friendly people. No low-lighting and grease everywhere, no immaculate presentation in a slightly stifled pub dining room atmosphere, just a simple, meaty, tasty, well-priced burger served by charming staff - at around two thirds of the price of the former and about one-third the price of the latter. And it is (for the time being) BYO. Handy.

5) Spuntino
Remember that place?! Really cool when it opened. Everyone loved it! And likely everyone got sidetracked by burgers and ramen and other openings. It's still really great. Really great. I had one of my favourite meals this year here. House pickles here would be on another "Top X" list somewhere for favourite dishes in London. The chef was sat there whilst I ate and was kind enough to share a printout of all the pickle recipes. How is that for service? Makes you want to come back time and again. Fried chicken, house slaw, sliders. Some of it may coat the arteries, but it also warms the soul.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, 8 December 2012


Given that the world (OK, London) has gone ramen-mental, this recipe for stock took my eye on Felicity Cloake's article on ramen in the Guardian. It was actually posted in the comments page by someone called "Sparebulb". Sparebulb, thank you. I think I'll give this a try.
"...what I learned was to make a great stock you should avoid vegetables since they take more away than they contribute.
If money is no object then I use 1KG (approx.) of chicken wings for every litre of finished stock, essentially a supermarket pack. Since stock is always better made in bulk (just because of the time it takes to make a reduced clarified stock) you could order a 25KG box of chicken wings from a butcher or wholesaler, they will be cheaper than buying the equivalent weight from a supermarket- they will probably come frozen or have previously been frozen.
Now, while buying 25KG of chicken wings seems very expensive, you now have a lot of chicken wing tips that serve no real purpose, in fact you could argue the only bit of a chicken wing is the ‘mini-drumstick’ part- save them for the first BBQ of the season, they will be fine in the freezer and can be prepared at the same time- the marinade won’t work below 6C but you just bring them up to room temperature and it will kick in. You might even add them to the finished ‘ramen’ if you wish.
Anyway, back to the stock, for every litre of stock, in addition to the chicken, you want an inch of ginger, a supermarket bunch of spring onions and about a tablespoon of chopped garlic. The garlic (and the other vegetables) is all optional, but you will get the general style this way. I have long since dispensed with chopping garlic and ginger and use frozen cubes available in many supermarkets and ethnic stores- they are ice cube sized so you just use one of each. The spring onions I just chop into thirds (remove blue rubber band first).
The rest is simple stock making, but for added value I will run past that. The vegetables do their work quite fast, so they can be removed early on, based on a few litres of stock this will be about one hour, the finished stock will be strained after 2 hours. Always start with 150% of water for the finished stock (at the two hour point, see below you can reduce that further later). When it comes to straining the stock, you obviously need something to contain it, a colander to contain the now cooked to death chicken bits only fit for the bin. You also need muslin, not a Muslim, although an extra pair of hands is useful and food can build bridges between communities. You probably haven’t got muslin, buy one of those bandages used for supporting broken arms, they are sterile and all pharmacies sell them.
Finally refrigerate the stock, at this time of year, and if you have masses of finished stock, use one of those 25 litre plastic containers that Wilkinson’s sell for home brewers and stick it outside- the lid will protect it and we are looking at overnight temperatures that are probably around freezing. Any sediment will drop to the bottom overnight and then you can gently simmer the stock down to about a third of its original volume."