Friday, 8 October 2010

Dim sum in Hong Kong

I knew I'd love Hong Kong. Everyone said I would but I didn't realise quite how much. It is an amazing city with so much to see, do and above all, eat! I went in September with my sister. We’re both dim sum obsessive fanatics so we had dim sum for lunch every single day. The dim sum we tend to always order are: har gao, shu mai, char siu bun, cheung fun, yam croquette, turnip cake (a recent addition to the repertoire) and quite often glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf. I have eaten a lot of dim sum in my time but in Hong Kong we discovered a few gems to add to the list of dishes we love. When I go on holiday, I like to have personal recommendations from people of where to eat, rather than rely on the guidebooks so a huge thanks to all the people who offered their recommendations, especially Fanny Leung who listed around 10 restaurants and probably didn't expect us to eat at every single one of them!

I will dive straight in with the best meals we had.

Dim Sum trolleys at Maxim's restaurant at City Hall.

Fantastic atmosphere as it's in a beautiful enormous room that feels very regal. They come round to your table with trolleys of dim sum, so although it might not be the most amazing dim sum (according to locals), as some of it has been on the trolley for a while, the setting made it all worthwhile and so much more delicious. We loved it so much we went back a second time on our final day, though we were incredibly hungover. From the moment you sit down you get bombarded with ladies on commission coming around with trolleys of different types of dim sum, all fighting to be the first one to serve you. A great view too.

Please mind the lip-licking! This photo is to show the beautiful room:
Maxim's Restaurant
Low Block (2nd floor),
City Hall,
Connaught Rd. Central and Edinburgh Place,
Central District

Luk Yu Tea House:
Our rule with dim sum is we can order the stuff we love but there always has to be something unknown in there. At the Luk Yu Tea House we ordered 'mince beef balls' thinking it sounded delicious. It certainly wasn't! They were rubbery, bouncy balls of gristle and tendon and for pretty much the first time in my life, I had to leave food to one side. However, it was also here that we discovered the amazing 'polo char siu bao' (bottom centre of the following snap, almost out of the shot).

These are baked, rather than steamed, char siu (barbecued pork) buns which have a sweet biscuit-y casing - the topping is sweet, the pork is packed with flavour (as it is in a regular char siu bun) and the whole thing is indescribably delicious. They were an absolute revelation. I have never seen them at a dim sum restaurant in London but will keep my eye out for them now.
Luk Yu Tea House
G/FL 24, Stanley street, Central
Tel. 852 2523 5464

Tim Ho Wan - the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world.
We knew we'd have to queue to get into this place so we decided to go late in the afternoon and arrived at around 4pm. In amongst the gun shops and the 'Romance High Class Hotels' of Mong Kok, lies a little gem called Tim Ho Wan, famous for being the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world. As you can see, there was no need to take photos of the food as there were actually photos on the placemats of some of the options! This place certainly deserves its Michelin star for the quality of its food, if not for the quality of the service or the atmosphere! We tried 'deep-fried glutinous dumplings' which are hard to describe but slightly sweet and quite chewy in the most delicious sense of the word! You can see these in the bottom left of this photo:
Check out the hottie heading into 'Guns 'n' Guys'!
The queue to get in:

Obviously our knowledge of Chinese led us to the restaurant, not the queue outside!
You can see here that the interior is very basic: Tim Ho Wan's famous polo char siu bao - delicious but not quite as incredible as the ones at Luk Yu Tea House:
Yummy cheung fun - I think these were prawn but I can't quite remember:

I think there will always be things in Chinese cookery that I simply don't get. We also tried their 'steamed rice with pork' (also recommend by Hollow Legs) which was bland, chewy and dry and I think I must have missed the point of it entirely (like Tigre in Argentina!).

We ate our body's weight in dim sum, paid the princely sum of $114 (£9.50) in total for the pleasure and left as quickly as we'd arrived, with the queue still piling up outside. Definitely worth it.

Yan Toh Heen at the Intercontinental (NOT the Intercontinental Grand Stanford!)

After persuading The Sister that we could walk to the Intercontinental for lunch at their renowned dim sum restaurant she reluctantly caved and we arrived, sweating and cursing, at the hotel. Upon entering we asked someone to point us in the direction of Yan Toh Heen restaurant. After a few minutes of deliberating whether the restaurant had recently changed its name, the hotel staff clicked and told us that we were standing in the Intercontinental Grand Stanford and not the Intercontinental which was 'just a bit further down the road'. After about 45 minutes of walking in the blazing midday sun (albeit a lovely walk along the promenade by the water) we finally saw the hotel. Well, we saw it, and it then took us a further 15 minutes to finally figure out how to get inside it!

Once inside (sweat and curses once again emanating from The Sister) it was a picture of 5 star hotel calm. We felt seriously underdressed and seriously over-sticky but nobody seemed to mind and we were treated like princesses. The food is dim sum but not your every day dim sum. They try to make their fillings more exciting than the usual suspects, however, I do always find comfort in eating the old favourites and although we tried lots of new ones, the ones we loved the most were the trusty old favourites. And what a view.

G/fl Intercontinental hotel
18 Salisbury Road
Tel. 852 2313 2323

Wu Kong
I will talk about the 'xiao long bao' at the Wu Kong Shaghainese restaurant, even though I've never seen it as part of the usual dim sum menu and it was the only dumpling-y thing we ate here, because for me they really stole the show. Xiao long bao are probably the most fresh and clean tasting thing I have ever eaten. They are little steamed dumplings and i'm not sure exactly what's inside them but when you pop them in your mouth (and you have to do this all in one mouthful or it will explode all over you!) the most delicious rich ginger broth bursts out and makes you go "oh wow!!"! That's them in the middle of the table:
Wu Kong
L/G., Alpha house
27 Nathan Road
Tel 852 2366 7244

More to come from Hong Kong about our other meals…don’t go away!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Barcelona...such a beautiful horizon

A slightly belated post as we actually went to Barcelona on the May bank holiday weekend. I've been meaning to post for a while but I we ate so much in Barcelona I felt so overwhelmed every time I sat down to write it! So, I have decided to provide a kind of abridged version but I have a feeling it's not going to end up very abridged! I think I may get carried away...

Our first evening, Saturday night, was a wet one (as was much of the weekend). We dumped our bags in the hotel and headed straight out to Cerveceria Catalana. This place is so popular there's always a queue for it so we decided to sit outside, under the umbrellas as no-one but Brits would put up with that.

We had the usual tapas to ease ourselves into the trip: patatas bravas, gambas, pan con tomate, manchego, jamon and more.
The highlight of the meal was the coconut 'flan' which was like a coconutty creme caramel and was absolutely delish. The last time I had flan in Spain I thought I was put off it for life when I found a rogue broad bean in it but this has turned me back on to it!

On Sunday, having visited the major Gaudi buildings and walked for miles, we headed over to Barceloneta. I'm so glad we decided to do this on a Sunday as the atmosphere down there was incredible. Such a buzz and bustling with Spanish families and tourists alike. Time Out had recommended a place called Kaiku so we wondered past all the obvious over-priced sea-view restaurants to a more rustic place, full of Catalans, tucked away right at the end of the promenade. We couldn't get a seat outside but we were lucky to get a seat at all.

This modest restaurant with paper tablecloths specialises in paella, so of course we ordered one. Surprisingly, there was a starter of a foie gras salad with blueberry vinaigrette. When there's foie gras on the menu, the Neal girls never say no (yes, I do feel guilty saying it!)! Even more surprising was the innovative presentation of the salad: if you look at the photo you see that it looks like the salad is covered in breadcrumbs. These are in fact shavings of foie gras! I think they must have frozen the foie and then grated it. I will have to give it a try, as you can make a little go a long way.

Next up was the paella with squid ink, wild mushrooms and mixed shellfish. This was a proper paella and not a red pepper in sight!

All washed down with a chilled bottle of red, this was the perfect way to spend a Sunday in Barcelona!

Tom Aikens and the Cloudy Bay Shack, Parson's Green

Last weekend saw the arrival of Tom Aikens and the Cloudy Bay shack in Parson's Green. This was a pop-up beautiful old-fashioned van serving Tom Aikens' food matched with Cloudy Bay wines. I won't talk much about the wine as I was a bit hungover at the time!

Deep fried paprika squid with garlic and paprika aioli. Yummy squid with spring onions, coriander and chilli, a bit like the garnish of Thai-style salt and pepper squid. At the back is Dorset crab with chilli and ginger, served on a leaf of endive. I only tried a tiny bit but apparently it was good.

7 hour braised lamb with sweet braised onions. Looking at the picture, the lamb is probably not the one you think. The onions look more like a rich stewed lamb and the lamb looks far too light! In fact, this was a kind of summery version of braised lamb. It came apart in long light strands, which sounds horrible but had incredible flavour. The only thing I felt it lacked was something to mop up the juices, eg mashed potato or even a spoon. This was paired with a delicious Pinot Noir.

I do think they missed a trick not offering a dessert, but perhaps Cloudy Bay don't feel their wine matches sweet dishes. All in all, a nice thing to do on a summer's afternoon, watching Tom Aikens hard at work, listening to jazz, dog-spotting and whiling away an hour or so in the sun.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

This week I am mostly eating...fro-yo

My name is Jo and I am addicted to frozen yoghurt. Having never had it or seen it in the UK before this summer it seems to suddenly be everywhere. Available in Mr Whippy style swirls at special 'fro-yo' shops or by the scoop at similarly fashionable Italian gelato shops, it is a low fat alternative to ice cream and seriously addictive!

My first foray into the world of fro-yo was at the heavenly Gelato Mio where I like to have a half scoop of it accompanied by a fruity sorbet, such as mango or melon. The good thing about Gelato Mio is they let you have a try of anything you want and they are very generous with the single scoops, letting you mix and match. I was persuaded to try it by the staff and now have it every time. Gelato Mio has a loyalty card where you get a stamp each time and your tenth stamp gives you a free double scoop. Dangerously, they have just opened a shop around the corner from my flat and now I am a very loyal customer!

Last weekend I headed over to Frae in Camden Passage, Islington, to check out their wares. They offer two flavours of the whippy stuff, natural or green tea, and you pick which fruit to have as toppings. I just had natural without toppings and I wasn't wowed by it. I tried someone else's green tea one and I had serious food envy!

Yogurtry has just opened on Hampstead High Street so I thought I had better try it out. I get the impression it's going to be a chain as it had that vibe. It is heavily air-conned which doesn't really appeal to me when I'm eating something that cold but there were lots of people sitting in there as it was a hot day so I guess some people are drawn because of it. They do all kinds of flavours, including peanut butter and strawberry tart, and toppings like fruit and chocolate sauce. Again, I just had plain because for me it's the acidity and tang of the yoghurt that appeal so much. Again, I wasn't wowed. Maybe the flavours here are the way to go.

And so to my final and most recent chilly delight. Opposite my office in Queen's Park there's a deli called Salusbury Deli which recently put a bright pink poster up outside announcing the arrival of their frozen yoghurt machine. It worked, because I was in there later that afternoon to try it. Wow!The perfect tang and mouthwateringness and it's just across the road! I just wish they had a loyalty card as this is going to be an expensive habit if I keep having one every day.

I now fancy myself as a bit of a fro-yo connoisseur! When it comes to the whippy frozen yoghurt, the Salusbury deli wins hands down but for the scoopy stuff, Gelato Mio has a recipe that I would love to get my hands on.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

My new favourite cheese: Oxford Isis

A couple of weekends ago I headed down to Cheltenham on the pretext of seeing a friend, but really to eat at Le Champignon Sauvage and to visit the Cheeseworks! Le Champignon I will blog about later but I wanted to mention one of the cheeses I bought from the Cheeseworks, Oxford Isis.

I love it when I go into a cheese shop and there are lots of cheeses that I don't recognise. I get so excited and it really gives you the opportunity to discuss my favourite topic, cheese, with the shop assistants! I love telling them what kind of cheeses I like and seeing what they come up with for me to try. This time it was Oxford Isis. describes it as "a very French English cheese" and I'd have to agree. Oxford Isis is a soft cheese, washed in honey mead. It is deliciously stinky and has that sticky kind of rind that makes your hands smell for days but usually indicates the kind of cheese that I will love! Without meaning to sound pretentious, it has a really complex flavour that really develops in your mouth.

I haven't got a picture of it because I scoffed the lot so I have had to poach a picture from the Cheeseworks website (I hope they don't mind!).

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Taste of London 2010

On Friday 18th June I was lucky enough to scrounge a press pass from a friend in media to accompany her to Taste of London.
Taste of London for me is like going to the Oscars for a film buff…I tend to walk around going “OMG! There’s so-and-so! And there’s so-and-so! Ooh! Drool…”. I get a little star-struck.

Which would explain why when I hit the Le Gavroche stand (not intending to eat anything there, as I’d made a list of the places I wanted to try!) and Michel Roux Jr asked me “Are you ladies being served?”, I responded in my attempt at a nonchalant voice “No, actually, I’m still waiting. I’ll have the beef Niçoise.” Uh oh, instead of sounding nonchalant, I sounded like one of those people who talks down their nose at the waiter. I tried to make up for it with my biggest smile but I think the damage was already done. Oops. I have to say, Michel is even more beautiful in the flesh and I found myself wondering how a man of his age, who was pretty much born in a kitchen, has such a smooth and gorgeous complexion! Michel, if you’re reading this (a serious possibility, of course), tell us your secret! You could make a fortune!

Sadly Le Gavroche’s daube de Boeuf à la Niçoise (braised beef with olives) served with polenta was a HUGE let down, as was my friend’s white bean soup with parsley and Hereford snails. Even I can put more flavour into my polenta and the beef was nice, but nothing special, just a stew really with some punchy olives. I was tempted to go back and complain to the man himself but I, obviously, didn’t have the balls.

A far more successful dish was from Dinings, an unusually named Japanese restaurant in Marylebone which has recently had a lot of great press. I went for the sea bass carpaccio with ponzu jelly and fresh truffle shavings and it was incredible. I love the deeply savoury and salty flavours of Japanese food anyway and this had such a fantastic intense flavour. Dinings is definitely on my next to try list. I poached this picture from the website as I didn’t have my camera with me. (Is that going to get me arrested?).

Next up was The Modern Pantry where I sampled their famous dish of garlicky snails with chorizo mash. I do feel a bit funny about eating snails but it was really the chorizo mash that drew me to it. However, the snails had obviously been marinated in red wine for a LONG time as they were juicy and rich and yummy and mmm… Also on the list now.

Luckily, a press pass comes with its perks and one of these was being able to wangle a free pass to the Laurent Perrier Champagne tasting in association with Daylesford Organic. The was hosted by ‘food and drink expert and BBC Radio 2 presenter’ Nigel Barden. It was lovely to try four of the different Laurent Perrier Champagnes (Brut, Cuvée Rosé Brut, Ultra Brut, Brut Millésimé 2000) all matched with Daylesford food. The most memorable pairing was an incredible Daylesford cheddar fondue with ‘freshly picked green market garden vegetables’ ( I think these were actually pea tops) instead of bread to dip in, paired with Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé 2000. I thought this was a great way of making a fondue a summery event and, surprisingly, the Champagne wasn’t murdered by all the cheese.

And so ends Taste of London for another year. I will be back again next year to spend yet another fortune on tiny dishes of fantastic food.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Brunch at The Draft House, Northcote Road, Clapham Junction

On Sunday morning we headed down to baby central, Northcote Road to run a few errands. I’ve never been one to cope with doing anything on an empty stomach so we wandered past every bustling café, peering in to see what was on offer and if there was any room. I do love the atmosphere on Northcote Road, especially on a sunny day but to be honest, most of it is very same-y for brunch. You can have eggs or eggs, and nothing more exotic or exciting than eggs Benedict or a croissant (Gail’s do the best croissants, but I’m biased!).

My beloved Macondo (RIP), on Camden Passage in Angel, was a Latino café (I think there’s one in Shoreditch too). Admittedly they did serve eggs, but they were out of this world eggs! My favourite was huevos divorciados: two fried eggs served with an ancho chilli pepper red sauce & a green tomatillo sauce over Mexican tortillas – perfect for soaking up the hangover!

I was sceptical about going to the Draft House for breakfast as it was pretty empty and I didn’t want to be stuck in the back of a pub on a nice sunny day. I was pleasantly surprised entering the restaurant-y bit at the back as there is an enormous sun roof that makes the room really bright. When I saw the jug of Virgin Mary, I felt much more relaxed! Just what I fancied, and it was perfectly made.
We both had baked eggs, but mine was with spinach and James’ was with ham. It hadn’t mentioned hollandaise on the menu and both were quite heavily laden with it making both dishes quite runny but it was a tasty addition (and I can never resist hollandaise!). Luckily it came with two generous slices of sourdough toast to mop up all the scrumptious juices.

It was a good eggs-perience (sorry!) but I’m still on a quest for more egg-citing in my neck of the woods!

Friday, 2 April 2010

Gregg’s…oh, sorry, I mean Wallace & Co

Him off of the telly, Gregg Wallace from Masterchef has opened a restaurant. In the words of the man himself, ‘It looks great but does it deliver on FLAVOUR??’ (in a loud shouty voice). In a nutshell, it doesn’t. The problem is that Gregg has really set himself up for scrutiny, being obsessed on Masterchef with BIG FLAVOURS.

Walking in, I felt optimistic. Wallace & Co is a beautifully designed space comprised of a deli counter, a greengrocer section filled with abundant fresh vegetables with a large cafe behind. The whole place is a really comfortable, homely place which attracts masses of families, but in a good way.

My Virgin Mary was probably the only thing in the whole meal that wasn't a disappointment…well, almost. It was tasty with a good punch, but it didn't come with a stick of celery, and the straw they put in it was in upside down! I never even eat the celery anyway though, so this wasn’t a biggie to me.

We started with a feta, mint, cucumber and olive salad. Surprisingly, the menu didn't make any mention of the endive leaves the salad sat on, which were fresh and crispy but didn't really go with the rest of the mish-mash-mush. Where was the feta? And the mint? I asked the waitress where the mint was and she said it was ‘cooked with mint’. I pointed out it was a raw and she said it must be infused in the dressing. And why use black olives that taste of tin? And for £5.50, why so small? I’m normally one to find something nice to say about a dish but this one simply needs to come off the menu.

Next up was my tomato and goat’s curd quiche. The idea behind the dish was great – to show off delicious juicy tomatoes and creamy goat’s curd. I've never really understood when people said that pastry could be tough, but now I do. The texture of the egg custard itself was everything about a quiche that people don’t like, almost gelatinous. Very weird. And it’s no mean feat to make something taste of absolutely nothing. The star of the dish was the interesting peppery leaves that accompanied it.

The filling of James’ steak and ale pie was nice enough but, again, the pastry was tough. For me, a pie like that should be covered with puff pastry, rather than shortcrust, and certainly not tough-as-old-boots pastry! There was a tiny bit of mashed potato on the side which had been piped on using the star-shaped nozzle - surprisingly twee and un-Gregg Wallace-like (or am I getting him all wrong?).

Needless to say we skipped dessert. On the way out we had a look at the desserts which were at the deli counter and I’m glad we did skip it - all really naff-ly decorated and looked like they'd been sitting around for a while. Having said that, other reviews I've read have been quite positive about the puds so maybe that's what you should have there.

I really wanted to like Wallace & Co because because it has such a nice atmosphere and the interior really is beautiful, sadly I think it is fundamentally flawed as the dishes are so badly executed. No photos...I was too disappointed and irritated by the whole place that I decided not to take any, on principle!

Pull it together Gregg, at the moment I’d rather go to Gregg’s for a soggy pasty.

Wallace & Co
146 Upper Richmond Road
SW15 2SW

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Pot Kiln, nr Yattendon, Berkshire

The first thing we noticed walking into the Pot Kiln in Yattendon, Berkshire, was the head chef/owner sitting at the bar chowing down on the sharing platter for two (to himself!) With his cheesy grin, floppy hair, wellies and labrador (was there really a dog? I may be making that up!?) he sat at the bar like the Big Man and doled out advice to people struggling to choose their brew (many local ales to choose from).

When we later sat down at our table in the main restaurant we were struggling to choose from the delicious menu, primarily consisting of game. (You can see the menu here, looking a bit scruffy as i had it folded in my handbag for a while before I took the photo!).

The big debate was whether to go for the 'pavé of Lockinge Fallow deer, pomme puree and peppercorn sauce' (£16.50) or the 'peppered t-bone of Lockinge Fallow deer, creamed spinach and farcement potatoes' (£16.50) - so we sent Claire off to the bar to ask the Big Man himself. Making the comparison between a fillet of beef and a t-bone steak, he said that the pave was the prime piece but for flavour and a meatier texture the t-bone is king. Going on his advice all three of my dining buddies went for the t-bone and I (being physically unable to order the same as anyone else at the table) went for the pavé, described on the menu as being "a French cut of meat, the individual muscles of of the haunch are separated lengthways resulting in a virtually fat-free 'slab'".

The unanimous verdict was that the others had serious food envy after trying mine! The meat had a really deep flavour and the mash, sorry, pommes puree, was seriously rich and buttery...mmm...drool.

The others went for a starter of a sharing platter for two, consisting of 'soft boiled truffled duck egg, roe rillette, crispy pig's cheeks, Fallow carpaccio, Mutjac cutlets' (£14) which reminded me a lot of my starter The Harwood Arms in Fulham, the sister restaurant to the Pot Kiln:

My starter was a ragu of Berkshire hare, tagliatelle, aged parmesan, Wiltshire truffle (£8.95). It was very nice, but I have to say I had serious food envy of the platter! The ragu lacked a bit of depth and I’m not convinced there was any truffle in it but it was perfectly nice and if I wasn’t so envious I would’ve enjoyed it much more!

James went for a special from the board which was the most enormous kilner jar of potted venison – delicious but enough for two people!

Oh, and we had delicious wine which I'm sure was a Pinot Noir. I do vaguely remember having cheese and thinking it was too cold to be served. I'm a bit embarrassed to say I can't actually remember the dessert but I know there was chocolate somewhere, and rhubarb somewhere else and port and a Montbazillac, which always slips down easily!

Apparently they do incredible pizzas in their wood-fired oven on a Sunday night for the locals which I'd be interested to try but this is The Don of game restaurants, so I'm not sure I could choose a pizza over a pavé of Fallow deer!

The Pot Kiln,
Frilsham, nr Yattendon, Berkshire

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Benares at the Putney pop-up restaurant for Haiti

Roll up! Roll up! For one night only (well actually two) Benares at the Putney pop-up restaurant in aid of Haiti.

Yay! I managed to get a booking. And yay! It was actually as good as I'd hoped it would be! Atul Kochhar's Michelin-starred Indian restaurant is one i've been wanting to go to for a long time. I feel like i have a personal relationship with Atul, who has appeared in my life in various places (is it meant to be?!). I first saw him on Great British Menu (which I hope they're going to make another series of as it's one of the foodie highlights of my year...sad, I know!), then when i was doing my cooking diploma at Leith's, he came in for in a cooking demonstration, where he made the most incredible tandoori chicken, and then I saw him at Taste of London where I mentioned I had seen him at Leiths and he gave me a wink and slipped me a lamb chop!

So, first up was an amuse bouche of onion fritter with tamarind sauce (really a mini onion bhaji). It doesn't look very attractive in this photo as I think the camera flash picked up on every dust fleck on the plate, but it was tasty, if a little oily.
For my starter I had soft shell crab which was very simply presented but delicious, moist and light. The scrumptious sauce tasted slightly lemongrassy to me but I'm not sure exactly what it was as it wasn't mentioned on the menu. It would've been nice to have a bit more detail on the menu, to be honest.
My sister had the pan fried potato cakes with tomato chutney which, again were tasty but a little greasy for me.

Mains were the real star of the show. My seabass with coconut stew (the closest dish in the following photo) was incredible and had the flavour of my favourite spice (or herb?) in the world...curry leaves. At the back you can see my sister's 'lamb rump with chick peas' (not a very enticing description on the menu!) which came with the most delicious bright green sauce underneath the chickpeas. I think it was green chillies, whizzed up with mint and coriander...the tastiest thing of the whole evening! What a kick! But a perfectly balanced kick that doesn't linger too long.
The sides of 'potato and spinach', naan bread and especially the 'back lentil specialty' (presumably 'black lentil'?) were also fantastic and packed with flavour.
Finally, my dessert was pisctachio and mango kulfi (Indian ice-cream) which you can see in the foreground. A nice refreshing end to the meal.

A touch of glamour in Putney!
(£60 for 3 courses, £10 corkage, though I think we were the only ones that did BYO!)

Monday, 1 March 2010

Chocolate wedding cake

Jo: Early last year I offered to make my sister’s wedding cake, for her wedding in September. That offer was promptly quashed by my family as I was advised against taking on the stress of doing that and being bridesmaid on the day. The other issue was that she has expensive taste and grand visions of what she wanted in a cake. After attending the Designer Wedding Show and looking at the beautiful Linda Fripp cakes, she was smitten. After checking out the price of one of Linda’s incredible creations, she asked if I was still interested in doing it!

The groom is a complete chocoholic so it had to be chocolate, despite my dad’s protestations against a black wedding cake ("It's so unromantic!"). I looked on the internet and picked out a few designs and we settled on a square 3-tiered chocolate cake decorated with chocolate curls, fruit to fill the gaps between each tier and flowers on top. A variety of flavours and cake bases were tested and we even did a blind tasting with both the families to try. The result was unanimously in favour of the chocolate cake with raspberry filling, (well, almost unanimous...except for the groom who opted for chocolate & orange!)
A resounding success, masses of compliments ensued and I felt very smug!

Although I got up at 7am to start and I was still assembling the cake an hour before the ceremony (eek!) I know that if I were to make another one it would take half the time and be relatively stress-free. I would do it again in a flash if anyone were to ask me.

I’m a bit embarrassed to say it, but the cake recipe I used is actually the first one that comes up on Google if you type in “wedding cake recipe”! It's from BBC Good Food Magazine.

The icing and filling was just a basic ganache recipe (equal quantities of chocolate and double cream) layered up with raspberries, and then the chocolate curls (bought from were stuck on to the ganache. Simples!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Butcher's Hook, Fulham

We don’t normally opt for a traditional Valentine’s meal, preferring to avoid all that awkward coupliness of walking into an over-priced restaurant full of quiet couples in favour of an extra special home-cooked meal. Last year James spent the weeks leading up to Valentine’s day practising the perfect steak and chips! His housemates were very grateful recipients. The test was choosing the right steak and perfecting the art of the triple-cooked chip. On the day he actually bought one steak from a local butcher’s shop and one from Asda’s extra special range and we had half of each. Surprisingly Asda’s steak fared very well.

As Valentine’s day was on a Sunday this year, and we knew we’d be hungover on the day, we were able to avoid the Valentine’s rush on restaurants and went on Friday 12th to The Butcher’s Hook in Fulham. It had a really friendly and relaxed atmosphere (it’s right opposite the Chelsea football ground so when there’s a match on apparently it’s a more of a boozer than a restaurant). I started with Carpaccio topped with rocket and comté cheese (a Swiss cheese similar to gruyere). The meat was really tasty and although I absolutely adore Comté, I think it slightly overwhelmed the meat. Never mind though – I ate the meat and then had the cheese on it’s own like a cheese platter to start!

James and I both chose the same main as, to be honest, it was the only main dish on the menu that really appealed to me. We ordered bavette steak and chips. Just after I ordered I wondered whether it was a mistake, as it’s quite a cheap cut. But I stuck to my guns (a steak craving is difficult to suppress!) and was so relieved I did! As far as I know, bavette is skirt or flank steak (if anyone wants to correct me, feel free!) and can be very tough if not treated properly. It had been cut into slices at just the right angle, making it very tender, and had been marinated in “chef’s special sauce” making it juicy and delicious. We had a guess at what was in the sauce and asked the waitress to check with the chef. The sous chef had made the marinade and unfortunately he wasn’t around to ask but we were told that it had oyster sauce in for sure. We tasted ginger and soy though this remains unconfirmed. It really reminded me of a recipe from Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Les Halles’ cookbook so I will have to dig that out, give it a go and see if I can make it as tasty as The Butcher’s Hook’s version!

Just a scoop of hokey pokey ice-cream for dessert which was tasty but not as creamy as it could’ve been.

I’d love to go back with a group of friends as the vibe in there is lively and fun. Perhaps I’ll go back on a Sunday so we can try out their steak and a glass of wine for £13.95 deal.