Wednesday, 30 December 2009

I had a tasty oxtail stew from a take-out place the other day and was going to write about it.  Sadly since I was vomiting for much of that evening, I don't think I will recommend it. Nor will I name and shame since I can't definitively prove it was them and not some Christmas leftovers, though my money is firmly not on anything in my fridge.

This certainly won't put me off oxtail in general though, absolutely not.  I think its sad, now that we live in a world that rightly thinks about food miles and the amount of methane that cows fart into the ozone layer, that people in general are still wary of lesser known cuts of meat (lets not even start on offal).  There are many compelling arguments for eating less meat from an environmental perspective, but too few people argue for eating all the different bits of the animals that are killed.  This would mean farmers could make the same living breeding less animals.  After all everyone is happy to eat cow's arse as long as it's in burger form, no matter how much methane's gone through it, so why not oxtail, shin, flank and all the other good stuff.  This isn't so much the case with restaurants.  St John's made offal and off cuts fashionable here, and chefs have always been happy t charge £12 (if your lucky) for a lamb shank that would have cost them a pound at most.  The problem is that people don't cook with them at home enough, and that means the market isn't there for the supermarkets who are the key players in this to stock them.  So in short ask for breast of lamb to be supplied by your local Sainsbury's and don't eat in places that don't reheat their rice properly.  If you do this the world will be healthier and you won't have to be sick everywhere.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Restaurant Review: Brindisa

I spent the best part of this morning doing the Christmas food shop at Borough Market, which thanks to the ample availability of free samples was great fun.  It was, however, tiring, especially as I kept deciding to buy really heavy things that I didn't need, like bottles of olive oil and a whole celeriac.  Some of the weight was from sheer quantity and cheese has to take most of the blame here.  Either way despite guzzling samples of parmesan, sausages, smoked salmon (the Shellseekers supply is highly recommended, it was absolutely delicious), etc, etc I decided that lunch was in order.

You might have read an article I posted a while ago about the best snack/quick stand up lunch at Borough Market.  The Brindisa chorizo sandwich was for me a clear winner, so I thought it high-time I tried their proper place just round the corner from their market stall.  I had high hopes given the excellent quality of the produce that they sell and my excitement led to the slightly embarrassing situation of arriving at quarter to twelve, fifteen minutes before the kitchen opened.  No matter at least it meant we got a table, something which can be very difficult when the market is busy, where we proceeded to order a couple of cold tapas and some wine.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Seafood Paella

This paella recipe is one of my favourites.  The techniques are largely simple and the dish will taste great if you do them right.  There's also enough process here to make you feel really good when it does taste great, so you get the best of both worlds.  Because you're using good seafood this is perfect to impress especially as it packs a great flavour.  If you don't want or like seafood you can mess around with changing the type of stock and main ingredients.  Rabbit is a very traditional one for instance.  I use the Moro cookbook's paella recipes for basic quantities, temperatures and times, though I have found myself tweaking these, especially as I feel the use about a quarter too much stock and underestimate how much people eat.  The use of green beans in the base is stolen shamelessly from my step-mother who makes the best paella around.  Since you probably wont get that this will do as a substitute.

Restaurant Review: Needoos

The only evidence of me eating in Lahore's famous 'Food Street' is a picture taken by my friend Tom with the caption 'Dan eats balls'.  This was his hilarious way of saying I was eating a sheep testicle and kidney stir-fry, funny guy!  Probably hoping for new opportunities to mock me, he excitedly agreed to come to Needoo Grill, a new venture by a former Tayyabs manager who has employed a chef from somewhere on said 'Food Street'.  Another friend, also a Tom agreed to come as he'd heard me bang on about the Lahore Kebab House and Tayyabs a lot and this place was meant to be up there with them.  The three of us arrived at around 1.30 on a Tuesday looking forward to large lunch, I'm not sure everyone realised how large at this point, though I certainly had plans in that direction.  Its actually lucky we were all there at all,  since one Tom had dropped his phone on the way, breaking in the process.  Since we were late its lucky that he was waiting outside.  Thank goodness I thought, there's a much bigger scope for over-ordering when there are three instead of two

Needoos' self proclaimed selling point is great food with great customer service, in comparison to the Tayyabs long, longer, endless queues.  Shame then that the 'free poppadoms' we were given for being kept waiting for our menus (despite being given them within two minutes of sitting) were charged on our final bill.  To be fair this was a minor blip, the service was friendly and generally good (except for being kept waiting for out bill) and the food arrived fast.  So far so good, it's definitely doing what it said on the tin.  What about the food though?  Since this is just around the corner from Tayyabs in Whitechapel all the reviews I have seen compare the and I won't try be particularly original on this front.  The Dos Hermanos and Jay Rayner have already been to this place and liked it as have quite a few Chowhounders.  If you don't want an extended commentary you can stop here, because I agree with them, the food was great.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Pot Roast Chicken with Lemon and Spices

I had a chicken in the fridge that needed eating and since I'm was going out for a Christmas dinner with friends I didn't just want to roast it, since I'm having roast bird this evening. So I improvised a bit and really enjoyed the results, so here it is.  I don't really like it when people call dishes Moroccan Chicken or something like that, even though they've just thrown some Middle Eastern spices over it.  So I won't call mine anything like that.  Its a chicken with spices that go together done as a pot roast.  Its very nice.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Restaurant Review: The Lahore Kebab House vs Tayyabs

Its a well loved restaurant, serving authentic Punjabi Pakistani cuisine, about ten minutes walk away from Brick Lane you have, to BYOB, its an amazing feed for about £12 and their lamb chops are justifiably famous.  Well that could refer to a few places depending on who you are  - Tayyabs or The Lahore Kebab House being the most famous.  Since they are so close together and there is a debate surrounding them as to which is better I thought I should wade in.  (A third option also appears to be Needoo, which I shall endeavour to get to soon).

So lets put this in some context.  The Michelin Starred Indian chef Atul Kochhar rates the Lahore as his top curry place in London, Time Out rates underrates Tayyabs at 4 stars compared to the Lahore's 3 and Jay Rayner backs Tayyabs as the best lamb chop around, threatening to punch anyone who disagrees.  Well risking the wrath of Rayner (on the off chance he ever come across this), I am going to say something controversial.  The lamb chops at the Lahore are better!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Restaurant Review: Franco Manca

'Why are  the last few places you've reviewed in North London when South London is SOO much better', I hear you cry.  Well those poor buggers need all the help they can get and frankly I took pity on them.  But enough of that, its time to come back South where everything is better.

Ok, Ok this might not be quite accurate, but what is true is that our pizza is better, specifically Franco Manca is better.  Better than what?  Well better than basically everything else that involves cheese, tomato and dough in this country, maybe its because South London is closer to Italy, who knows.  Everyone has reviewed this place by now, so there's probably not much need to go on about the sourdough that, rumour has it, is made from a  batch that has been going in Naples for over 200 years, or that it's rested for 24 hours before being turned into a beautifully elastic, soft base.  Also everyone's already written about the 2 wood-fired ovens made by Neapolitan Artisans that cook that base to a beautifully blistered finish in around a minute.  The fact that its mainly organic and ingredients are from England as far as possible (even the Mozzarella) cutting down on air miles, etc,etc.  You've probably already had a glass of their home-made lemonade.  Well I don't care, I'm going to gush about this place anyway because its local and because its amazing.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Fire and Knives: A New Quarterly Magazine

The other day I came across the new quarterly magazine Fire and Knives whilst reading the Dos Hermanos (Dos Hermanos', Dos Hermanoses, Dos Hermani's?)  blog.  This is the brainchild of Tim Hayward, the official Guardian food blogger and has contributions from such notables as Tom Parker Bowles and Mathew Fort (The Great British Menu, etc).   A couple of days later I received the first issue through the post.  Its a beautifully produced item, printed on high quality matt paper, about the size of an old-school gentleman's journal.  They have no advertisers and instead each spread is based around high-quality, slightly retro feeling design - much nicer than being based around Sainsbury's adverts.  The writing is a mix of well known food writers and 'enthusiastic amateurs'.  Enthusiasm is really at the centre here and the editors have tried to steer well clear of connoisseurs telling the readers what is what.  At root it tries to genuinely focus on food and food culture rather than the lifestyle pieces that characterise a lot of newspaper food writing.  

Monday, 7 December 2009

Restaurant Review: Arbutus

We had a pre-theatre dinner booked, though I had no idea where it was, having failed to spoil the surprise (something that is a real hobby, I hate surprises). It turned out we were going to Arbutus in Soho, a modern, brightly lit restaurant that's won lots of awards. Excellent!

The idea was to have the pre/post-theatre menu at £18.50, except my greed got the better of me. Although for the purposes of this I will say that I thought it would be more interesting to compare the a la carte to the set menu.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Standing on the Shoulders of (Big Fat) Giants

'Movement and life are the cause of continuous wastage of substance in every living body; and the human body, that complicated machine, would soon break down if Providence had not equipped it with a device for warning it when its strength is no longer equal to its needs. This warning device is appetite '.

This is how Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin defines appetite in his classic The Physiology of Taste (1825. This translation is the Penguin Classics edition and is available here). He then rattles off some heroic feats of large appetite; a man that drank 8 bottles of wine everyday at breakfast, a friend who could eat a whole turkey, and another chum he watched polish off a soup with boiled beef, a large salad, a capon and a whole leg of mutton a la royale. The most impressive, in my opinion, was his lunch guest who managed to eat 3 or 4 dozen oysters. I have a friend who has a peculiar gluttony of his own that only really stretches to oysters and I'd be curious to see if he could manage this, some how I think probably not (though if he wants to try I think it would make for a great post).

But not to let the past outshine the present there is plenty of evidence of truly staggering feats of modern-day eating. The world hot-dog eating record currently stands at 59 in ten minutes, jointly held by Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut (US) and Takeru 'Tsunami' Kobayashi (Japan). There's also the 72oz Big Texan challenge and a list of finishers to go with it. So have all the great mountains of gluttony been climbed, apparently not. I came across this post that indicates a new Everest of greed here. Its good to know that there are still challenges out there.

(P.S. I wouldn't actually advocate anyone actually try and replicate any of the above feats, I think if I did my stomach would fall out).

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Jay Rayner travels the Silk Road

Sorry for the tortured title! I thought that given my love of Silk Road, which I constantly bore all my friends with and have already made clear in an earlier post, I should probably put up this link. Jay Rayner of The Guardian reviewed Silk Road back in September and liked it. This is probably why it has been a bit busier of late and hopefully this is something that ensures it a good degree of longevity.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Chorillana; The Unhealthiest Dish on Earth?

To start off; no it probably isn't, there are loads of contenders for the above accolade, including deep fried mars bars, doner kebabs, and a sort of amalgamation of the two which relies on wrapping a hot-dog in doner meat, battering it and then deep frying it. But, what actually is a chorillana? Well apart from being greasy and delicious. It is a Chilean speciality made from fried beef chunks, fried onions and scrambled eggs all served over chips, with none of the fat drained off. Some versions have bits of hot dog in, but I didn't enjoy that to be quite honest. The best version is meant to be found in Casino Social J. Cruz, Condell 1466, Valparaiso, which is where the pictures above were taken. I ate this when completely sober, but I imagine it would be a fantastic post-pub option and I would like to cite it as my ideal food for this type of occasion. If any one has any contenders please join the debate.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Restaurant Review: Chilli Cool

Since a couple of friends were celebrating their birthdays in the Big Chill House in King's Cross I thought it would be a good excuse to go and have dinner at Chilli Cool, a local Sichuanese style Chinese restuarant. I've been their once before, but it was a bit of a rushed affair, so this time I thought it would be nice to linger over it a little more.

By the time I met 3 friends at the station I just wanted to get indoors and out of the rain. Thankfully one of them had the biggest umbrella I've ever seen, sort a marquee on a stick. Wonderful planning on his part, except it did mean he had to walk in the road every time we came to a lamp-post because otherwise it would get stuck between them and the wall running along the other side. Still given the dismal weather it was nice to see the steamed up windows of the restaurant. When we got in we were faced with a simple but busy place with a small front section and a far larger back room and an amazingly pungent smell of fried chillis and copious amounts of Sichuan pepper that hit everyone right in the back of the throat. After a little bit of coughing we got used to it and asked how long it would be for a table. We got told 2 to 3 minutes which turned into twenty, but the benefit of this was that we had all chosen dishes to share. This combination of chilli and Sichuanese pepper is what this type of Chinese food is known for, and has been made far more known in the UK by food writer Fuchsia Dunlop.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

A spot of lunch at Borough Market

I've been really enjoying working next door to Borough Market for the last five months and now that this is drawing to an end its time to answer that all important question; where’s best for snack time?
Over the last couple of years as the tourists have started to flock there, the market has absolutely filled up with places for a quick lunch or a grilled snack. The snob in me thinks this is terrible and would prefer it to all be about buying artisan grown carrots, rather than pushing through crowds at posh burger. However, the hungry (read very, very greedy) luncher in me thinks its fantastic to have somewhere more interesting than Pret to grab a bite. So on with the list.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Restaurant Review: Silk Road

Well at least my friend’s ex-boyfriend was good for something. He found out about Silk Road here and after having a look at all the glowing comments I got pretty excited about going there for her birthday dinner. I really enjoy Chinese food, having travelled there a couple of times. The truism for London, however, is that it’s nearly impossible to get anything authentic and its all a sweet sticky mess laden with MSG. This is now pretty unfair. Places like Bar Shu and Ping Pong are helping and are definitely bringing Chinese into a more fashionable mainstream. But its places like this that I find really exciting. It’s a small plain restaurant with a few wall hangings showing the Gobi Dessert with a few benches in a pretty humdrum location in Camberwell that if I hadn’t been recommended I probably would have walked right past it. Don’t get me wrong I like London’s well furnished, styalised restaurants as well, its just that there is something really exciting about coming into a small simple place like this and being presented with a really great meal.