Monday, 14 April 2014

Posh Breakfasting: The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

There's no denying that the menu at The Modern Pantry is intriguingly 'fusion'. Classics such as fruit salads are jazzed up with lime and rosewater syrup, and strong Asian flavours, like yuzu, sit side by side with curry leaves and halloumi. On the day we visited for breakfast, something seemed to have thrown things off kilter - staff were rushing around the place, we had to share a menu for a while, and flagging anyone down for a coffee was difficult.  

But no real harm done. Our Vegetarian asked for the sweetcorn and feta waffles to come with an egg and yuzu hollandaise to replace the advertised bacon (above) and was hoovered down quick smart. My own sugar-cured prawn omelette was attractively bronzed and fluffy. The chilli sambal was smoky and rich, just the right amount of heat for a breakfast dish. I loved it - it's something I can tell would blast a particularly gnarly hangover out of the water. 

Service issues aside, I really enjoyed breakfast at The Modern Pantry. The space is bright and light, mostly made up of greys and whites. I did have to sit with my coat on for the duration of the meal as it was a little draughty, though. 

The Modern Pantry

47-48 St John’s Square
London EC1V 4JJ 
020 7553 9210

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

Friday, 11 April 2014

On Blogging and Blagging

I've had my account, @hollowlegs suspended from Twitter for 31 days now. I will hold my hands up  - I did A Bad Thing and accidentally broke the rules. When someone at Gauthier Soho received and tweeted a screenshot of the offending email, it got my back up. It was a food blogger, asking for a free meal in exchange for a positive review. 

That's the kicker. The 'positive' review. I've long since turned down specific invite-to-review meals but I don't begrudge anyone else going to them, as long as they're disclaimed. They're more able than I am, to be able to make seemingly impartial judgements. They're more able to deal with the awkwardness of the no bill situation, the fawning staff. Hell, if you've got the arrogance and the belief in your blog to approach a restaurant and ask for a free meal in exchange for a review, you're braver than I am.

But when you're asking for something free in return for a positive review, especially when you don't disclaim it, it is not cool. It's a shill. It's breaking trust. It's tacky and desperate. It gives bloggers a bad name, one I've tried hard to defend for the 6 years I've kept this little thing going. People don't talk or write about the bloggers who do have integrity; they don't talk about the bloggers who spend their free time doing the hobby they love, taking time to write just because they like to do it. No, whenever bloggers are in the press it is to complain about their big cameras, to complain about the sole person who broke the rules and offered a positive review. It really annoys me when bloggers give the haters such easy things to pull us up on and tarnish us as a whole. 

Why don't we all just be decent? I subscribe to hundreds of blogs; blogs that take free meals, blogs that take products, travel writers who go on trips. I trust them and I continue reading them from a judgement call I made for having all the information available to me. Disclosure. That's what it's all about - not who got what free, but the ability to know when you can trust what you're reading. 

The email I retweeted had the guy's phone number in it. I didn't realise that, it was a mistake. I think I broke the rule that says you can't publish someone's personal details. I assume that's it - I've heard nothing from Twitter yet. Can I come out of jail now please?

Monday, 7 April 2014

Chee Cheung Fun - Rice Noodle Rolls

One of my favourite dim sum dishes is 'cheung fun', which is a lasagne-like sheet made of rice noodle and often stuffed with king prawns, char siu (Cantonese barbecued pork), or my favourite - deep fried dough. It's served with a sweetened soy sauce to pour over, and I could eat it every day if I could. 

In Malaysia and Singapore, the same rice noodle sheets are served without stuffing, called 'chee cheung fun' and, happily, you can buy packets of this in Chinatown in the fridge section to steam at home yourself. All you need is a sauce, maybe a topping or two. I ate this and variants of it for breakfast last weekend; the noodles are slippery and comforting, the sauce lurking within the folds. 

Chee Cheung Fun Sauce

Enough for 1 packet of cheung fun

1 tbsp dark sesame paste
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 tbsp chilli oil with sediment, or Sriracha
1 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
5 tbsp water 
1 stalk of spring onion, sliced finely
1 tsp sesame seeds

Cut the cheung fun into 3 inch lengths into a bowl, with a tablespoon of water. Place inside a steamer and steam on a high heat for 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. 

Meanwhile, mix together the sesame paster, the hoi sin sauce, light soy, chilli oil and water. Place in a small saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat, mixing well so that the sesame paste melts and the sauce is smooth. 

Spoon a couple tablespoons of sauce over the cheung fun, then top with the spring onions and sesame seeds. Serve with chopsticks for authenticity. 

I also like this with crushed peanuts, and sometimes I crack an egg into the rice rolls to steam about 10 minutes into the cooking process. A spicy, sweet and vinegar-spiked sauce with plenty of garlic and coriander also makes a great dressing, though perhaps not for breakfast. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Lockhart, Marylebone

I had been meaning to go to The Lockhart for a while after I met a couple of the owners at a party last Summer (dahling) and they'd talked excitedly about their passion for mezcal, reflected in their cocktail menu; I bloody love mezcal. But it took me a few months to get there and in that time they installed a new head chef, the acclaimed Brad McDonald previously of New York, and the mezcal was seemingly wiped from their drinks list, bar one lonely cocktail. The Lady Lockhart, a gin, cucumber, maraschino and lemon number, was a decent and well balanced hit of booze to start our dinner off with though.

We were in for an early, pre-cinema dinner and the room was dark and atmospheric, tables lit with candles, a bustling but quiet kitchen pass at the back of the room. Catfish goujons with remoulade and grilled chicken oysters with mustard were nuclear-hot, but once cooled were a tasty little number. I had incredible difficulty in choosing from the mercifully short menu - everything sounded amazing. 

Dirty rice with brown crab and smoked oysters (£14.50) was probably my least favourite dish of the evening. Although the rice grains were pearly and cooked well, I found the overall flavour a little too fishy. Catfish gumbo (£9) was far better; soft chunks of fish with a thick, spiced stew heavy with the slime of okra (which I love). 

On to mains, and the cornbread which seems to be at the forefront of most critics' reviews had to be ordered (opening photo). We were not disappointed. It was drenched in butter, reportedly cooked with lard too for an extra crisp base. A hint of honey flavoured the bread and we ate it straight from the cast iron pan, no adornment needed. Shrimp & grits (£18, above) was somewhat smaller than I had imagined, though the polenta was cooked until smooth and creamy, the prawns sweet and crunchy. I found it overly salty, and towards the end I started to struggle.

Stuffed quail with Madeira glaze (£16) was a cute little thing, and very cleverly stuffed with rice under the skin, so that it burst and spilled out when you cut into it. I love quail, and this was cooked as well as any I've had - blush pink meat, and crisp skin. We ordered coleslaw (£4) as we figured a place serving Deep South food would make it better than any other, but it was unremarkable. 

What was remarkable was the dessert - puffy light doughnuts with a chocolate sauce, made with rice flour (I think?) for extra crispness. Whoever is deep frying there knows their stuff. 

The bill, then. I suppose I shouldn't have been too shocked, since the menu prices were right there before me, but I wondered when a cocktail, a bottle of the cheapest house wine and a 3 course meal became a £70+ per head expenditure? I suppose I was taken aback as everything wasn't perfect, and it especially smarted a little as I had to ask for the 30% discount to be applied, for sitting down before 6:30pm. What was a nice little surprise when I made the online booking turned into a bit of an awkward one. Luckily I wasn't on a first date.

Still though, we were able to box up the leftover cornbread which my very clever boyfriend fried the next day for breakfast with scrambled eggs, which turned out to be one of the best breakfasts I've had in recent memory, so you know, all is not lost. 

22 - 24 Seymour Place

 0203 011 5400 

Lockhart on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Posh Breakfasting: Claridge's, Mayfair

Posh Breakfast at Claridges was a long time coming. We'd originally planned it for a Christmas treat - treat almost certainly being the operative word - but through one mishap or the other, we forgot to book and then it was full. Instead, we visited on a blustery February morning, only slightly conscious that we'd missed the famous Christmas tree. 

The whole place screams old fashioned posh. Plush carpets, polished silverware, well dressed serving staff and beautifully laid tables, at 8am the room was bustling. We were led to a table beyond the pretty dining room, a darker alcove with one other seating of businessmen eating granola. A shame we weren't able to eat in the main room but I didn't want to cause a fuss. 

The menu is likely to make you raise your eyebrows. Yes, that really is £6.50 for a cup of coffee. An English breakfast will set you back £17.50, and the eggs Royale I ordered was £18.50. It was a decent eggs royale, though I can't say it was the best I've ever had. If you're really pushing the boat out you could go for scrambled eggs with caviar, at a causal £75. 

Omelette Arnold Bennett (£19.50!) was a hefty plate of omelette, topped with smoked haddock. Mornay sauce, which is bechemel with added cheese, covered the lot and was grilled until browned and bubbling. This was the richest dish I could have ever imagined. My friend and I shared the Eggs Royale and this, and still half was leftover. 

My vegetarian friend asked for the Welsh rarebit, advertised with ham, to be served without. It arrived as menu'd, but the serving staff apologised profusely and a replacement arrived. It was nice that they removed it from the bill too. 

Speaking of the bill, we would have paid almost £30 each for our breakfasts with a coffee, had the offending item not been removed. Pretty punchy stuff, but you pay for the room and the experience. 

I am sad I don't have much of a sweet tooth, especially in the morning, as the pastries looked amazing. 

Brook Street, Mayfair
London W1K 4HR
Tel: +44 (0)20 7409 6307

The Reading Room - Claridge's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Lanzhou Noodle Bar, Leicester Square

I was told that Lanzhou Noodle Bar was the place to get authentically hand-pulled noodles, and one Saturday after a bumper load of shopping in Chinatown, I stopped off for a quick lunch. I got there and I gazed suspiciously in the window at the orange gloopy buffet dishes glistening under heat lamps for so long that one of the waitresses poked her head out of the door to see if she could entice me in. She couldn't, until I tentatively asked 'la mian?' and she nodded enthusiastically. 

The menu is vast, but you must ignore all of it (including the buffet) and made a noodle-based decision. One glance at the chap up front, slapping the oiled dough (snigger) down on the counter is enough to tell you that. They're available in soup, dry-tossed or fried. I ordered stewed beef which came in a vast bowl, chunks of beef bobbing around in a clear anise-spiced broth, ruddied by my application of chilli oil. 

The noodles are really great. Chewy and elastic, generous in portion. The surroundings are basic; drinks are served in polystyrene cups and people are ushered along benches to wedge yet more people in. But for £6.50 for a more than ample lunch, I am not complaining - I am there for the noodles.

Lanzhou Noodle Bar (it just says Noodle Bar on the front, for those of us who can't read Chinese like me) 
33 Cranbourne St, 
London WC2H 7AD

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Posh Breakfasting: Honey & Co.

For some reason I started this year thinking it would be like the last - a slow burner, with nothing particularly frantic happening until at least March. I was very wrong. We've hit the ground running, and I haven't had much time to do much cooking for the blog (though Instagram followers will notice I have still been cooking - a girl's gotta eat). Indeed, all the exciting new restaurant openings have fallen by the wayside, evening hours being precious to work and sleep.

But it's easier to get up early when there is promise of a hearty breakfast. The advantage is that not everyone is awake to call you to ask for x y z before you've even got the to office, and a leisurely breakfast can be enjoyed in peace. Honey & Co. was certainly peaceful as we were one of the only tables seated, with a few streaming in and out to pick up pastries.

The breakfast menu on the web is actually more substantial than the one we had to peruse - I suspect that might be a weekend brunch - so I was slightly disappointed when I discovered Shakshuka would not be available to me. But, no matter, for my Merguez sausage roll, warm and flaky from the oven with a hard boiled egg and a side dish of pickles was more than an ample start to the day, especially when smothered with the fiery harissa sauce. My friend's pizza-like bread (opening picture) topped with spinach and a soft egg came with a labneh I continually stole for myself. A coffee was strong and smooth, while a fennel and lemon tea to finish with revived my stuffed self. 

Honey & Co. 

25a Warren St.
London W1T 5LZ

I've been here for lunch too, and it is excellent.