Monday, 29 April 2013

Review - Chaophraya

I had a Bad Week and all I wanted to do was be on my own and read books and lament about how full of ennui I was. JUST KIDDING. But I did want to get out of London and forget that school aged children exist and just spend some time doing nothing. Not procrastinating, time dedicated to doing nothing. I spent my Saturday reading, shopping and eating out. Shopping has never been something I consider fun but I think that's because I've been doing it wrong. When I shop, it's because I want something specific and that's stressful. This time, I had something really specific in mind but had already previously been on a futile shop so the pressure was off. This trip was pure 'I'm going to walk around and look at pretty clothes and maybe even buy some because my mother and her credit card are here'. (I got two pairs of patterned trousers, a handbag and some Esmerelda style underwear but that's not the point.) After we were done ambling, my mother insisted we get lunch. It's almost like we had a normal relationship for the day! We went for Thai food and after walking through the maze of places (Jamie's Italian, yuck) on the little plaza by the church, we sat down in this place. I am supreme orderer when I eat with my family and I decided we should share some tempura and the 'chef special' of beef and basil with rice.
I was disappointed. The food looked pretty good but lacked the punch that John Torode always says Thai food needed. Textures were fine: crispy tempura, soft beef, sticky rice. But flavours were either lacking or non existent. I could barely taste the basil in the beef. I thought the little bits of basil might have been some nondescript pretty-looking green just for show. In a vain attempt to add some flavour, I doused the thing in the chilli accompaniment. Unfortunately, this was far too salty so then I kept having to turn to the salad for a thirst quenching break. At least that was good. So was the egg! The tempura were again pretty but unfortunate. The batter was far too heavy and that became unpleasant after a while. If I'd spent these prices on Thai in London, I'd expect it to be among the best I've ever tried. This place is almost double the price of Thai Garden yet that outclasses it completely.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Review - Camino

During my first period of living in London temporarily, when this blog started, I made a list of restaurants I want to eat at based upon what other food bloggers had said. I've had very little chance to go to any of their recommendations mainly because they all seem to be based in South London which feels far away (but isn't really, I know) and I'd much prefer to go to places that I've seen with my very own eyes and though sounded good. I happened to be in King's Cross to see this and since that's very much not my neck of the woods, I thought I'd go to one of the restaurants from my previous list. I vaguely remembered a mention of Bar Pepito being near there so I suggested that for a post-gallery dinner. We ended up not eating in that specific bar but instead in Camino, the bigger umbrella of bar that Pepito comes under. I have to say, I'm so pleased with that decision. We were influenced by the fact that Pepito was small and not very buzzy (although really artfully decorated) and that the menu was a little bit haute for our three-sherries-down palates. So we headed back to Camino and ordered ALL of the food. Well, a good selection with lots of variety. We went for cow cheese fritters with tomato jam, cogollos (little gem lettuce, radishes and cheese sauce), alubios con pato (butter bean and duck stew), empanadilla and grey mullet. Oh, and I last minute decided I wanted some of the tomato bread to soak up the wine.
It was a mixed bag. Actually, let me preface my comments with everything was of a generally high standards so my comments are nit-picking. I was satisfied with the meal and nothing qualified as bad. But some things were more delicious than others. Let's start with the least delicious. The tuna empandillas. Nice texture, slight sweetness to the pastry but the tomato and tuna filling didn't quite work so the tuna felt like it could've gone towards a better cause. Then, tomato bread. It was basically a garlic and tomato bruschetta but unfortunately, they hadn't quite dressed it enough so the harshness of the raw garlic was still there in hints. That made it a little less than comforting which is ultimately what you want from a dish of this sort. Still, it was a good vessel for dipping in the cheese that game with the salad. That cheese was bloody addictive, so creamy and luscious! I also enjoyed the radishes. The bread was also dipped in the mellow tomato based stew of the butter beans and duck. The butter beans again provided a clean canvas to carry the sauce. The duck was pleasantly crisp but a little too chewy - it felt a little unnecessary really. The cheese fritters were fine but not that exciting. GREAT tomato jam though. The mullet was perfect. Perfect cooked and seasoned, with a side salad of onions which were so well dressed that not an ounce of sulphur bitterness remained. If everything had been as good as the mullet, Camino would get an unquestioning 10/10 but as it is, it gets a very respectable but not 100% 7.5.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Review - Tay Do

I recently learnt about the stretch of Kingsland Road with all the Vietnamese restaurants. I had plans to go there on Thursday but ended up at Honest Burger. I won't lie, I wasn't disappointed with the change in plan on that night. But there are so many Vietnamese places on that small strip of road that I couldn't delay my first trip there too long. The first opportunity to go was on Monday so off we trotted to Loong Kee Cafe. When we got there, it appeared that there was a private function on so our hopes for cheap, tasty Vietnamese food with a glass of wine were dashed. OH WAIT there are scores of others! We ended up at Tay Do cafe. We sat down and killed time while perennially late Earnest made the stressful journey there. I was really hungry and as such, kind of a chore to hang with. As soon as Earnest got there, I ordered some spring rolls so I could eat something while we chose. I plumped for lemongrass pork noodles while Earnest went for beef black bean noodles.
Let's start with the black bean - sticky with soy and rice wine, this tasted exactly the same as all other black beans I've tried. Of course, not all other black beans have the knack of tender beef there. Still, unspectacular. The lemongrass pork was more interesting but in my view, not nearly punchy enough. It was a bit meek. This meekness was overpowered by tiny basil leaves ostensibly there for show. They were bitter and unpleasant on the tongue. The pork was well seasoned and juicy and the noodles fine. Again, uninspiring. The spring rolls were a little better. They were crisp and looked wonderful and home made. The filling didn't quite match the exterior - a little bland and slightly dry, they didn't quite have the lip smacking umaminess right. Enjoyable enough.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Recipe - Kapitan Chicken Curry

I'm quite surprised none of my introductions in the past couple of months have included any references to Masterchef. I'm pleased to see they've returned to something like their earlier format rather than that strange black room which looked like a magician's box. I have to remark that south-east Asian women appear to be healthily represented amongst the quarter finalists. (Women in general still appear to be under-represented though. I don't want to make any generalisations about the cooking abilities of men and women respectively as a result - I don't think there are any which can be made.) But I have a comment on the high proportion of south-east Asian women to have gone through. A couple of them made traditionally south-east Asian food which was lauded as the best thing since sliced bread - I think maybe that's because south Asian food is still a mystery even to John and Gregg. Curry houses in the UK serve things nothing like what you'd see in a Bengali household, despite them being made by Bengalis. That got me thinking about the chef-artist, the amazing one, remember? She was being her usual modest self and said 'nonsense, this isn't that great, it's just that people are unaccustomed to food like this' when talking about her Japanese cookery. (Her Japanese food is like crack. Moreish and delicious. That's what I imagine crack to be like anyway.) She also said that's why she was unimpressed by Edamame - it's just Japanese home cooking. Nothing special. You just don't see it that much in the UK. I think maybe the same thing is going on with south-east Asian flavours. I remember seeing Rick Stein's 'bit' on Saturday Kitchen recently and he was in Bangladesh and he talked about fresh fish curry and how you should ask your local curry house to make you 'mach jhol' because that's what they'd usually eat rather than the gloopy English stuff. What he doesn't realise is that 'mach jhol' means literally 'fish with sauce'. As in, any sauce with any combination of flavours at all. That's the problem with south-east Asian food, I rarely come across names of dishes and one name will encompass any range of different recipes as dishes usually go by the name of the main protein/vegetable. My mother wouldn't consider her chicken that involves fenugreek a different dish to her chicken without fenugreek. But online, a difference of just an ingredient will probably mean a whole new title. Anyway, I'm pleased for these ladies because they're food looks great. But I wonder what I'd think of their food if I tasted it - amazing or pretty good but nothing special? Also, I should add that I KNOW that the ladies I'm referring to also cooked different cuisines from other cultures, my remark is primarily addressed at the fact that John and Gregg went mad for it when they went for the really traditional south-east Asian cooking. And now I'll finally remark that I think I'm getting the hang of Indonesian, Thai and Malaysian flavourings! This curry I cooked was bloody good (if I do say so myself).
Kapitan chicken curry
8 chicken drumsticks
1 tsp turmeric

Sprinkle the drumsticks with turmeric and salt.
Heat vegetable oil in a large saucepan and brown the chicken then set aside.

1 onion
6 cloves garlic
1 thumb sized piece of ginger
2 red bird's eye chillies
1 tbsp chopped galangal
1 level teaspoon shrimp paste
3 stalks lemongrass

Blend the above ingredients until smooth.

1 onion, finely sliced
1 tsp turmeric
250ml coconut cream
6 line leaves
1 level tsp sugar
Salt and lime juice to taste

Add the spice paste and the extra chopped onion to the saucepan on a medium heat and fry, stirring frequently for about ten minutes until very fragrant and starting to brown.
Return the chicken to the pan along with the coconut cream, lime leaves and sugar.
Bring the pan to a simmer and summer for thirty minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
Season with salt and lime juice at the end.

I served this with sticky rice with peas running through it, fresh coriander and another onion, sliced thinly and well caramelised.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Review - Honest Burger

I've tasted the best burger in London. I've only tried two places that are reputed to have the best but I don't need to try any more- Honest has it. I'm in a tricky situation where I can't tell if situational factors had an effect on my opinion. Biting into this burger was full of 'omg this is exactly what I wanted I didn't think I was going to get it but oh my god this is it TES YES YES YES' and so in an a When Harry Met Sally way. (A side note, I love that film!) I had had a really long day, you see. This whole week has sapped my confidence that I have what it takes to be a real life, employed grown up with commitments. I wasn't even expected to be at work that early (9.30) and I was still left exhausted and out like a light by 11 in the evening. Thursday was particularly exhausting as I had to sprint back to school after teaching to hand in some coursework. Then I had a coronation chicken DISASTER because I ordered terribly but mainly because I got coronation chicken all over my papers and inside my shoe. Chaos. Then I got off the bus too early and had to walk back to where I'd come from initially. It was only then that I noticed that the heels I'd worn were tearing my heels and causing that persistent, inimitable ache that only heels give you. After a quick hour and a half respite spent trying to convince a twelve year old with a stupidly spelt name that he does enjoy maths and he can do it, I trudged towards paddington as it was the quickest way. The Hyde Park leg of my journey was fun. What was not was the thirty minutes I spent doing laps around paddington station as I couldn't for the life of me see the entrance. (I know I'm gong to be pleased when the Crossrail is complete but right now me and my little feet hate it.) My little legs were exhausted, I really thought they were going to cave. I was not at all amused to discover that there was still a walk to go yet to the restaurant, I just wanted to curl up in bed, maybe with a bucket of chicken and definitely with a hard drink. I'm glad my companion forced me to reconsider and dragged me to the restaurant. I wasn't when we were told there was a ninety minute wait. I really thought I would cry. But my glorious, innovating companion asked the guy if we could sit outside (it was temperate and anyway, I was sweaty from all my schlepping) and hurrah, we were sat and presented with a cold beer within a minute of sitting down. It took is only a moment to decide what to have. Initially we thought we'd both have the honest but then we noticed the special and decided to get one of those as well and do our usual cutting in half bit. Both came with rosemary chips.
My first bite of this burger was probably one of my best moments of 2013. It was probably one of my best food moments ever. In that instant, I forgot about my aching corns, my tired little limbs and the fact that I was sweating all over my falling down top. All I could think about was burger. Pure, unadulterated burger. I've harped on many times before about the Big Tasty and the world of perfect forms. I was wrong. This is the perfect burger. It outclasses all other burgers I've had. Before having this burger, I was satisfied with my Meatliquor experience. Not anymore. In comparison, the Meatliquor patty seemed stringy and tough. Of course, it wasn't actually but Honest has exactly the right balance of lean and fatty that creates the perfect texture. There was the meanest dollop of ketchup adding that much needed saucy sweetness which contrasted with the salty cheddar and crispy, charred bacon. The pickled lettuce and gherkin provided a much needed watery, tangy respite. This heavenly combination was encased in the lightest, softest bun. Oh my God I thought I was going to cry, it was so good. The special had a smoky chilli sauce which worked well too but I preferred the simple Honest. I think this is the best burger in London. I only now realise that I haven't mentioned the fries. Every bit as good as the burgwr, the rosemary salt is a stroke of genius.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Recipe - Nasi Goreng

I don't know if it's the spring air or what but I've noticed myself being more lame and PDA and cutesie recently. It would be enough to push my retchy disposition to actually throwing up if it wasn't me and I wasn't totally loving it. As part of this package of super cringe romance, I've been insisting that we celebrate our 'anniversary' several times, as if I've forgotten that the reason we don't have a set date is because I was so bloody reluctant about the whole thing last year. But any excuse to light candles and cook something pseudo-elaborate is welcome. As are gifts! I decided I would make nasi goreng, coconut shrimp take 2 and apple and honey cocktails.

Spice paste
6 shallots
4 cloves garlic
Shrimp paste
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Unsalted roasted peanuts
Thumb sized piece galangal
Thumb sized piece ginger
2 stalks lemon grass
1 tbsp lime juice
4 red bird's eye chilli peppers

Nasi goreng
Pork fillet, cut into thin strips.
Green beans
Skinless, boneless chicken thighs, sliced
150g green beans
1 red pepper
500g cooked rice
Soy sauce
Kecap manis

2 eggs, fried sunny side up
Lime juice
1 onion, thinly sliced and caramelised
1 fresh red bird's eye chilli, thinly sliced
Fresh coriander
Fresh cucumber

Blend the spice paste in a food processor or in a pestle and mortar if you can really be bothered.
Heat oil in a wok.
Season the pork with a touch of salt and cumin.
Brown on high heat then remove and place on a plate.
Turn the heat down.
Add the spice paste and fry for about ten minutes until wildly fragrant.
Add the green beans and red pepper and fry for 3 minutes.
Return the pork to the pan along with the rice.
Season with the soy sauce and kecap manis, about 2 tbsp each.
Remove from heat and serve with the garnishes scattered on top.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Recipe - Sausage and Potato Pie

I was thinking about how much I love short crust pastry and how sad it was that Incredibly wouldn't let me do a leek filling for salmon en croute when we made it and how that threw off the timings because he still let me have short crust pastry because I prefer it to puff. And then I thought about polish sausage and hot, creamy potato and about a 'sausage roll' I made once involving bacon and cheese and so many vegetables and thought, HEY I'M GONNA MAKE A PIE WHO WILL STOP ME. I was looking at lots of pies on Delicious and Smitten Kitchen and was at least a little bit inspired by the lovely quiche Incredibly's mother had made. This is what emerged. It didn't have the creamy, saucy filling I'd envisaged and was actually a lot tastier lukewarm the next day.

Smoked sausage and onion pie
1 onion, finely sliced
2 large potatoes, finely sliced
Large handful of mushrooms, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic
300g kabanossi, chopped
Lots of parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
100g cheese
Ready rolled short crust pastry, about 350g

Fry the onion in vegetable oil until starting to brown.
Add the potatoes and fry for a further ten minutes until almost tender and onions browned.
Add mushrooms and fry for a further 6 minutes.
Season well with salt.
Wait to cool and add sausage, cheese, most of the beaten eggs and parsley.
Stir and season with pepper.
Place the mixture evenly over one half of the pastry, leaving an inch margin.
Fold over the pastry, seal the edges.
Wash with egg and make a couple of slits.
Bake for about 20 - 30 minutes at gas mark 4 until pastry is brown and crisp.

I served this with a 'salad' of peas and green beans dressed in lemon juice and honey

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Recipe - Beef and Green Olive Tagine

WE HAVE A NEW HOUSEMATE. He sort of fills the same 'niche' that the previous one did, in that he's employed and gay, but that's where the similarities end. Oh, he sings and is talented at music too! I was going to make a tagine on the night he moved in because I forgot that was happening. When I re-remembered, it seemed more appropriate to have pizza and beer. I got round to making my tagine the next day but unfortunately my favourite Sainsbury's of Whitechapel was out of lamb so I did it with beef instead. It fed me for days and also (once) a sweet American.

Beef and olive tagine
1 large onion, finely sliced
6 cloves garlic, finely sliced
900g braising beef, cubed
1 tbsp each: paprika, cumin, ground ginger, ground coriander, ground turmeric
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp honey
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp chopped preserved green olives plus 1 tbsp juice
1 tbsp tomato puree
Fresh coriander stalks
Fresh parsley stalks
400ml water
1 potato, chopped into large chunks, lightly sprinkled with salt

Fry the onion slowly over a medium heat until almost browned.
Add the garlic and cook for a further five minutes.
Turn the heat up, add the beef and spices and stir well to coat everything.
Cook until beef browned all over.
Add the rest of the ingredients except the potato.
Bring to a simmer and simmer on a low heat for 2 hours.
Add the potato, simmer for a further 20 - 30 mins and remove from heat.
Add lemon juice and salt at the end to taste.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Review - The Trout

I had to be on my best behaviour over the Easter weekend because I was convinced one of my fellow diners hated me. This lady has never been anything but completely pleasant towards me but I was still concerned. Perhaps it was because of our shaky beginnings, perhaps because of an unfortunate Skype conversation I was accidentally privy to, perhaps because I'd seen sneaky hits from the Cayman Islands all the way back when. Whatever it was, I was very conscious of the fact that I really wanted, perhaps even needed, to make a better impression this time than last time. I don't know if I managed it. I talked about food the whole time because actually, all I talk about is other people and food and I don't think I come across as particularly kind or tolerant when I talk about other people. But I do come across as a boring and rather prissy imbecile when I talk about food though but I judged that to be better. And then I had a little to drink and the conversation was extended (but not limited to) insurance, mortgages and Bengali weddings (not ours). I think I did a better job this time. I'm rather impressed with myself for this: I was tired and felt horrible from four days of varying degrees of abuse and gluttony. All I wanted to do was eat salad and go to bed but I held my own. We ate at various places but nowhere new but The Trout so that is what I will review. We went for lunch and got a crappy table but it was so busy we were lucky to get any table. We ordered the baked camembert, the sticky platter, fish and chips and leek and potato soup. 
The Camembert box was creamy and had that gloriously chewy skin. The toast that came with it was slightly charred but the real treat was sticky and syrupy but slightly tart quince. Lovely. The lamb koftas on the sticky platter was a bit dry but had a solid flavour. Chicken wings weren't crispy enough but again, pleasantly saccharine. The real treat from the sticky platter was the tzatziki and the salad smothered in that same yoghurty goodness. Despite the coating, the cucumber and carrot were clear and present. The watermelon that sat alongside everything was inspired and I really enjoyed it. The fish and chips, like everything else, was perfectly fine but a bit boring. The tastes were nice enough but just had nothing special going for them.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Review - The Big Bang

Contrary was recently lamenting that things will never be the same because we're not following similar life paths. Well, in the grand scheme of things, they're broadly similar. It's not like how we'll lead different lives to someone who was brought up in a strictly Amish community. But it won't be so solidly similar that we can rely on that alone to preserve friendships. You only need to look at someone's other friends to notice how you're definitely a periphery rather than a main player now. And then you worry you've already drifted because your lives coincide only by design and what would you even talk about? (Other people's lives carry my conversations far too much.) But every time I see this guy, these absent minded worries turn out to be unfounded. I have a great time and I notice no awkward reaching for conversation in the pauses. Which I'm very relieved about because whenever I see him I remember how much I LOVE this guy. He's a grade-A, stand-up, top lad. I've dined with him every time we've been in the same city since we've lived apart so these concerns are all hugely overblown for effect. This most recent time, we went to The Big Bang because he had vouchers and I was curious to try out the new branch. (I went once in the pre-Oxford days when it still existed in Jericho.) It's in the Oxford castle, the most inconvenient place for either of us to get to. I went for one of the out of the ordinary sausagemeats, venison.
My venison was moist but meaty rather than fatty. The mash didn't taste particularly of garlic or rosemary, possibly because the venison was too heavy but possibly just as easily because they forgot to give me special mash. The rosemary in the gravy was again, lost on me, but it had a strong plumminess that went well with the venison. The cabbage echoed that same tartness. This is a very short review but for once, it's not my fault. How does one really dissect sausages and mash? And how does anyone bring themselves to pay £10 for an uninspiring plate of it?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Review - Leong's Legends (take two)

Most of the time, my blogging is poorly informed because I don't get nearly enough dishes to be able to recommend what they do well or badly. My second visit to Leong's gave me the opportunity to do better. Four people and two domineering orderers meant plenty of dishes there were lots of dishes ordered that I wanted to try. I shouldn't have really eaten out on this evening as it was to be the end of holiday week (the week where I spent too much money to think about now and justified it by saying I was sort of on holiday) but hey, you make money to live, right? It was worth it just to try so many more dishes than I did the first time. I got to try some dishes I missed out on previously (stewed pork belly with rice, kung pao prawns, aubergine with mashed garlic) and some I wouldn't have thought to order (sha cha beef noodles, shredded chilli beef, duck pancakes). We had to go for the lovely soup dumplings of course (and I'm so pleased we did) and also plumped for a hot and sour soup. I also learnt how to use Instagram properly!
The soup was steaming and made my mouth burst with flavour (metaphorically). Biting into the dumplings made my mouth burst with flavour literally. God, that soup was so warming and mellow. Kung pao prawns tasted as you'd expect but a special mention must be given to the almost furry just cooked texture of the seafood, nicely offset by crispy batter, crunchy peanuts and eyewateringly hot chillies. Aubergines were melty but chewy and all slightly humming with that sweet garlickiness. The sha cha beef had a pungent but typically Chinese-restaurant-y flavour but I say that as an entirely positive attribute. I was not a fan of the chilli beef but I think that's just because I don't like it. It wasn't as heady as other chilli beef that I've had but I still found the texture the wrong kind of crunch, I find it unsettling. Duck pancakes had the nice touch of being sliced up at the table. Plummy, plucky hoi sin accompanied with chewy but fatty duck and ice cold cucumber. It won't stop any hearts but it tasted pretty lovely. The star of the show was the pork. It was so umami rich and had a merry wine running through it and crispy skin. I would've been totally pleased with just that. More than pleased. Over the moon. More cliches. But you know, I'm writing this long after I had the meal and conjuring the tastes up in my mouth but it's harder to think of adjectives to go with them. Thoroughly enjoyable, £22 with beer and surface.