Thursday, 9 March 2017

Motu Indian Kitchen - Delivery

The Sethi Family are on a massive roll. Michelin-starred Trishna and Gymkhana, both on the high end of the Indian restaurant scale, are absolutely smashing it. If you haven't tried that wild muntjac biriyani served at the latter, get down there quick-smart.

Then they took the old Koya site and in its place opened Hoppers, a Sri Lankan casual restaurant that has seen 2 hour long queues from day 1. The only time I've eaten there it was gone 10pm, I'd whiled away the queue time in the company of margaritas and I don't remember a thing. Not their fault.

They invested in Bao, helping them open their first Soho site and consequently the larger Fitzrovia joint. So it's safe to say they know their stuff.

When they announced Motu Indian Kitchen, a delivery-only outlet in Camberwell (and Battersea, and now in Canary Wharf), I fizzed with excitement. My ends! Delivery! From the comfort of my own home! Right away I got myself as drunk as possible so as to be incapacitated the next day, to be able to justify ordering a takeaway. That's how it works in my house.

Kashmiri lamb shank rogan josh arrived whole, on the bone, resplendent and bathed in sauce, slivered ginger on top for fresh zing. Fluffy naan bread to mop, and a side combo of aubergine masala, tadka dal and samosa chat. God that was good; the samosa came nestled in a fresh, herbal green sauce and shaved coconut. The dal was soothing to the spicy, creamy aubergine masala. More bread mopping. That lamb shank though, a bit one-note. Not much depth too it. And, oh - £20.50 total for the order is a bit punchy.

All in all, not bad, an impressive spread, if a little underwhelmed with the shank. Then I got an email from the PR offering me some credit to try it out - woo! More to try. This time I went for the 'feast box for 1' - "from £16.00" at the time, and you had more prices to add on dependent on which option you went for for the main - which meant you were hitting around £21 for the feast box. They seem to have done away with this now, so it is just a straight-up £16, far better value. It includes kachumber raita, mango chutney, poppadoms, naan, pilau rice and you main of choice. Saves you fannying around trying to decide what to add (though my previous local threw in poppadoms & chutneys gratis). I added the grilled seekh kebab too, because why not. It is a TERRIBLE picture. Soz.

It's quite the feast, and I was properly stuffed. The chicken tikka masala was rich and smooth - not my usual order, but one I enjoyed. I was a little put out that there was only a few pieces of chicken, but that was more in aesthetic in a large, shallow bowl than desire for more. Fluffy rice and a well-spiced kebab made me happy.

It happened again. It had sort of turned into a Sunday ritual now. A feast box jumped into my order, along with 6 tandoori chicken wings and that spicy-ass aubergine masala again, and this time, lamb biriyani. Well spiced, fluffy rice with generous chunks of slow-cooked lamb, garnished with a little mint on top, especially good with the kachumber raita. Holy shit I spent £32 on a takeaway! I justified this that it fed me a further two lunches, but £32!

So having had 3 takeaways from Motu (one of which the PR paid the £25 for) I can safely say it's a very delicious meal made using high quality ingredients. This isn't your typical takeaway with a film of ghee / oil floating around. And thank GOD they've stopped calling them 'cuzzas' on their online menu, and otherwise I really like their branding - slick. But, for the money which is not inconsiderable, Rajah Rowing Team pip it for me, especially as they have a wider menu selection. Their prawn puri is the stuff of dreams. But we're in a very privileged position to have two very fine contenders.

Order via Deliveroo only. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds

I don't think I've ever waited 10 months for a restaurant reservation, but 10 months I waited, which is about standard for The Man Behind The Curtain, in Leeds. I have absolutely no idea why it's called that, and I really expected to be sitting at a darkened spotlit bar, velvet curtain flung back dramatically while each dish is served with a flourish, face forever hidden. My expectations were poorly researched (if at all).

No, The Man Behind The Curtain is a large, white space on the top of a department store, splattered with paintings much like the dish plated in the opening photo. Staff don leather aprons with either muted or fluorescent straps, possibly to denote seniority? It reminded me of Street XO Madrid, similarly located, and similarly what would become an attack on the senses. 

We were seated, one of only three parties in the room. Sunlight shone directly into my eyes, and the staff hurried to close the floor-to-ceiling black curtains, clearly used to it. Strains of Placebo played, and we opted for the full tasting menu, a secret to us and one that would remain to be so for the duration of the meal, save our server's explanations as the plates come down. Bathrooms are alarmingly furnished with egg yolk-yellow toilet roll, so notable my friend brought some (clean I hope) to the table for us to all goggle over.

We started with an oyster served with strawberry kimchi. So delighted was I with the spicy strawberry pickle, I barely registered what was a plump and juicy mollusc, briny of the sea. 

Raw langoustines, served tartare style, arrived within a tree soon after. We all cooed over the pretty presentation, though the slippery, sweet seafood was unfortunately tainted by the blood-like tang of metal, the base of the spoon itself worn until tarnished. My companions were not as unlucky as I was, and loved theirs far more. 

We were served in a flurry, perhaps to keep within the 2hr 15 min timing stated on the menu. A tiny little bao, fluffy and garish red, nestled veal sweetbreads in XO sauce, pickled shiitake mushrooms and kimchi mayo. The mint and basil mentioned were absent to my palate. A cute mouthful, and one I could have repeated several times over. 

Wagyu beef tartare arrived in a cosmic bowl, slightly suspended with gordal olives and some sort of creamy sauce. I really wish I'd asked for a printed menu, or had one proffered. The fatty beef with the rich metallic flavours melted on the tongue, and while I found the transparent potato starch sheets balancing on top impressive in looks, it brought nothing to my party. My appetite was appropriately whetted, and I impatiently awaited the next course. 

The chef, Michael O'Hare, clearly has a colour scheme going on; it's not often you see this much red amongst savoury courses, and this was the most surprising. Within the shards of Sriracha crackers (which didn't contain even a hint of the now-ubiquitous condiment) was a spider crab, wonton skin and lardo 'lasagne' - layers of rich crab flavour, crisp crunch and rich pork fat. Underneath the sheet of bilberry jam (what the hell is a bilberry?) was a tiny, fried quails egg which I didn't especially know what to do with. I sort of wish they'd wrapped the crab, wonton and pork fat combo in some silky pasta and bathed it in a cream sauce. I started to long for comfort and warmth.

'Fish & Chips', made famous by O'Hare's appearance on The Great British Menu, was probably one of my favourite courses. Buried under a pile of crisp potato, was a perfectly seemingly steamed piece of cod, swimming in squid ink. The entire thing was dusted with malt vinegar powder, and topped with sprayed, golden prawns. I love sour flavours, and I loved this. Each mouthful was intensely seaside, that distinct flavour of fried, the lip puckering balance. 

'Polpo' was what this one was called, after the crockery it was served in. Shared between two, three pieces of beef rib were braised until tender - too tender, really, to be picked up with chopsticks and dipped in one of the mustard, coriander or truffle sauces, especially when you're sharing. Still, I enjoyed the burger-like flavour of the mustard combination especially. 

The last of the main courses looked like a piece of modern art, or something someone might have dropped. Depends how you feel about art, I suppose. Iberico pork, cooked until blushing pink, with a boquerone anchovy, anchovy cream, slow cooked egg and charcoal shavings. There was a gooey, sticky, reduced meaty jus hiding in there too, which was sweet and delicious and definitely not enough of it. The anchovy was the imposter here, one that clanged my palate and jarred my flavours that I was enjoying so much - the smoky, the rich, the porky. 

And like that, we were on to dessert. I was disappointed. It didn't feel like 8 courses, and I felt a little lacking. But no matter; dessert looked like it was sent from space. Lavender and chocolate ice cream came sheathed in white chocolate sprayed silver, a potato custard dotted with beetroot vinegared rice crispies. 

Not your typical colours of what one might find naturally, but the combination was pleasant. The potato in the custard contributed only towards texture, a silky smooth feeling in the mouth. 

Petit fours delighted and disgusted our group in equal measure. Cupcakes, edible entirely including its casing, hid a liquid passionfruit centre that exploded in the mouth, sending giggles all around the table. The wannabe Daim bar was dusted in cardamom and caraway, reminiscent of those handfuls of aromatics you grab on your way out of the local curry house to chew on to freshen the breath. 

Just like that, and £120 each later, we were done. There was nothing about the room or the staff (though pleasant) that made us want to spend any longer there, and we disbanded to a nearby pub. My overall and overwhelming experience was one of muted whimsy. The food felt discordant, not so much ecstatically pleasurable but wilfully provocative. I have no doubt that Michael O'Hare is a talented chef, and several courses excited me, but overall I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction. I wished for a hot dish, perhaps some bread and butter. I was there for an event, a procession of art, not to be fed. 

I ate a McDonald's on the train home. 

68-78 Vicar Lane,
Top floor Flannels
Leeds LS1 7JH

 For better pictures and quite a different opinion to mine, check out Chris' post here

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Weeknight-Friendly Duck Ssam

I love any kind of Ssam dishes. Ssam means 'wrapped' in Korean, and was most famously introduced to the masses by Momofuku of New York. Typically, it takes the form of lettuce wrapping rice, meat, kimchi and sauces. David Chang's recipe for Bo Ssam marinates and pretty much cures the pork shoulder in sugar and salt, roasting it low and slow with a final sugar rub into the pork fat and a high blast, rendering the fat crisp and sweet. It is incredible, but it does take the best part of two days and quite the occasion to warrant it.

I've always loved this way of eating. Sang choi bao is the Chinese version, often made with minced meat and piled into rigid Iceberg lettuce cups. You get all the textures; crisp fresh vegetable, rich meat flavours. The all-in-one mouthful.

When I had a friend come for dinner on a Friday night, I set out to recreate my favourite meal in an easily doable space of time to still be hospitable. It worked a treat. Duck breasts were slung in a marinade of mirin, soy and sake for the duration of preparing the other ingredients, roughly half an hour. The marinade itself was utilised afterwards, as a sauce for the glass noodles to soak right up. Duck being a very richly flavoured meat, benefitted from a mint, coriander and jalapeno dressing along with my favourites of ginger and spring onion sauce, and kimchi. A lovely combination of flavours, one we customised to each mouthful.

Duck Ssam

Serves 2 generously

2 duck breasts
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp cooking sake
1 inch of ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, grated

Mix the marinade ingredients well, and place in a shallow bowl. Place the duck breasts into the marinade, meat side down. Try to keep the skin dry.

1 head of Little Gem or a small butter lettuce, leaves separated and washed

4 stalks of spring onion, minced
2 inches of ginger, minced
1 tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
A hefty pinch of salt

2 tbsp store-bought or your own kimchi in a bowl

A small handful of mint leaves, picked off the stems
A larger handful of coriander
2 green jalapenos
A hefty pinch of salt
A squirt of lime juice

30gr glass noodles, soaked in hot water until softened, then drain

Whizz up the mint, coriander, jalapenos, salt, lime juice with 1 tsp water until you a smooth sauce. Place in a bowl.

Add the ginger and salt to a heatproof bowl and heat the cooking oil until smoking. Pour over the ginger so it sizzles a lot. Add the spring onions and vinegar, and mix well. Set to one side.

Dab the marinade off the duck and dry both sides. Salt the skin and then place in a cast iron or non-stick pan skin side down, then place on the heat. The key to a good, crisp duck skin is starting it from cold. Gradually heat up the pan, rendering the fat out, and checking frequently. You can tilt the pan and spoon some of the accumulated fat over the meat side, but you may need to remove some too as duck is super fatty. Do this until you have a rich, golden brown skin, then flip. Fry on the meat side on a medium-high heat for around 3 minutes, pressing it down for even contact. Remove immediately and place on a plate to rest for 15 minutes.

Drain the fat out of the pan, then add the leftover marinade and bring to a bubble. Remove from the heat and add the glass noodles, constantly moving them around to soak up the marinade and prevent from sticking in clumps.

Slice the duck breast finely and place back over the noodles to serve with the lettuce, sauces, and kimchi. Assemble the perfect mouthful with a lettuce leaf, some glass noodles, a slice of duck and whichever sauces take your fancy. Serve with napkins.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Chinese New Year 2017

Chinese New Year starts this Saturday, 28th - the year of the rooster. Here's a round-up of places to eat during the celebration, which lasts for two weeks. Time Out has a great list of things happening in London to mark the new year.

TaTa Eatery, in Haggerston, is having a 9 course collaborative feast with chefs from Koya Bar, Taberna de Mercado, and BossLady to present a Chinese sharing feast rooted in "pairing European ingredients with Asian attitude", as is TaTa's concept. Running from 12 noon until 11pm on the 28th Jan, you can book via their website for £48pp. I visited TaTa's pop-up and their new site, and if you're looking for innovative and incredibly delicious cooking with Asian styles, this is sure to be a belter.

Soho's Yauatcha has created specialist red coloured pastries, as well as a red dim sum platter and cocktail to celebrate the new year with this traditionally auspicious colour. Available until 11th February.

Hakkasan is celebrating with a limited edition menu, featuring very traditional dishes, such as braised abalone, double-boiled soups, steamed turbot, and other premium ingredients - obviously this comes at a high-end price of £88 pp. This runs until 11th February.

The Duck & Rice have an additional menu available, from 23rd Jan - 5th Feb - Cantonese lobster, stir-fried curry crab, salt-baked chicken and potted rice, amongst others.

Raw Duck in Hackney have 'Dumpling Mondays' where the first Monday of the month is, well, dumplings. Their dumpling recipes have come down through generations, and the first Monday of February just so happens to be the 6th, during Chinese New Year.

Sambal Shiok are doing a £20 pp special tasting menu of prosperity salad, a snack platter, one of their great laksas and dessert, Jan 28th to 11th Feb. 24 hours advanced booking required - here are the details.

Crosstown Doughnuts are offering 6 x Pandan doughnuts for Chinese New Year, for £19 - available 27th - 31st Jan.

Otherwise, get a bunch of you together and head to Gold Mine for a shiny, lacquered roast duck Cantonese bbq blow-out.

Things to order:

Turnip Cake (loh bak goh)
Roasted meats
Whole fish, normally steamed
Lobster noodles with ginger and spring onion
'Lo Hei' - a raw salad mixed by tossing ingredients up high with chopsticks. The higher you toss, the more good fortune you capture.
Rice cakes, or 'nian gao'
Sweet rice balls ('tong yuen') for dessert

Recipes for lots of these are in Chinatown Kitchen, too.


Clean your house before the 27th.
Try and see as much family as you can.
Wear as much red as possible. Even your pants.


Cut your hair. You're cutting the wealth out! Some even don't wash their hair for the first few days.
Snip long noodles shorter. Noodles resemble longevity.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Mercato Metropolitano, Borough (ish)

Last November I cycled 480km across Ghana with Child.Org, a brilliant charity doing great things in Africa. I'd wanted to do something of the sort ever since I was due to cycle London to Paris over three days in 2014, but a silly accident on a trampoline involving a lot of rosé curtailed that challenge, and my ankle for a good 6 months. All that training (questionable) needed to be put to use, so I bullied my friend into coming to Ghana with me. In the lead up to the trip, we spent many weekends gawping at huge houses as we hauled our arses repeatedly up the Surrey Hills, pedalled across the Essex countryside in the freezing pissing rain, and negotiated the A21 and miles of traffic through Kent.

Nothing could really prepare us for the heat and humidity that awaited us, though. No amount of training in England's Autumn can make you comfortable with 38 degrees in the shade, and 90% humidity. It was like cycling through soup. Some cried. Some almost fainted (hello!). There's no pretence of being comfortable; coupled with the factor 50 you have to slather on thickly, you soon become one big soggy mess. It was hard, and tiring, and at points a bit scary, and frustrating, and sometimes really tedious, and invigorating, empowering and joyful, and by day 3 I wanted us to extend that 5 days by another 5. Turns out you do get used to it. All that lovely sponsorship money powered me through too. And jelly snakes.

Anyway, there's nothing like a really challenging shared experience like that to help you bond with your companions. It wasn't even day 2 and we, almost perfect strangers, were asking each other "how's your bum?" On our long, sweaty days over many kilometres I'm fairly certain I talked shit to all 60 of my fellow riders, one of which was one of Child.Org's trustees, Ben, and we gleaned that I like food, and Ben works with Mercato Metropolitano on their social media side, so thus we arranged a tour of this exciting new food market. (There was a point to this story, see?)

Mercato Metropolitano is on Newington Causeway, a bleak road that connects Borough and Elephant and Castle. There's not a lot going on there, but what with Bankside and Southwark regenerating faster than you can say the word, it's only a matter of time before it becomes the hot new place. The market is a shining beacon of warmth and deliciousness; it is huge - housed within an old paper factory, it has a definite warehouse feel about it. Braziers and stoves burn in outside spaces, while inside was toasty warm, street food vendors lining the edges, and benches providing ample seating in the middle. I've long lamented street food festivals which now seem to be all queues, smoky from bonfires and balancing plates while awkwardly standing and trying not to splash burger juice on my coat. God I sound like a grumpy grandma.

We visited before Christmas and Mercato Metropolitano was festivity personified. A small choir sang carols on a stage, and a huge beautiful tree dominated. I noticed that none of the stalls had any branding - all of them remain largely generic, which seems slightly peculiar to me. Our first stop was an oyster and bellini truck, and our bellinis were made with the rim of the glass being painted with liquid chocolate. This was a new one on me, and goddamn it was delicious. I'd like all my rims painted with chocolate please (too much?).

What followed was a whirlwind of food, a flurry of dishes and the only thing to do in this situation is to eat as quickly as possible as it takes a while for your brain to catch up that the body is full, so that once it does register you're fit to burst. Nothing a sluggish cycle home can't fix. Argentinian steak sandwiches came first, from a menu that hovered around the £7 mark for a hefty sandwich. Amusingly the 'vegan grill' consists of aubergines and Provolone. This one was surprisingly light, the bread crisp and airy. The steak was so tender that you don't get that thing where when you bite into it the whole steak comes out and is left flapping against your chin. Drives me mad, that.

One of the stalls, called Tiny Leaf, was absolutely beautiful; plants grew out of the walls, and it was living greenery and health and freshness all in one place. They're vegetarian, organic and work on a zero waste principle. The bubble and squeak cake, served on top of romesco sauce was further topped with pickles and herbs.

The chap manning the rotisserie chicken stall went to great lengths to describe their French, slow-grown chickens, so deeply flavoured they're sometimes mistaken for guinea fowl. The skin came burnished, the meat juicy. A ginger and chilli sauce was incredibly moreish, and even more so with a double-dunk of sauce and aioli. A very Frenchly dressed salad had a big hit of mustard. If I still worked at Bankside their chicken, chips and a green salad for £6.50 would be a difficult lunchtime option to beat.

I was less keen on their pulled pork burger. The sweet, glazed brioche bun was a good example of its type, but the combination of mashed avocado and chicken was a little bland, and in any case I'm not sure why you'd 'pull' chicken when you could deep fry or simply roast it.

We were hitting defcon 9 levels of stuffedness by the time we got this tapas board, but the little empanadas were deceptively light, given their deep fried status. Boquerones were soused in vinegar and the meats were of high quality, served as is traditional with those little bread torpedoes. I've sampled better croquettes elsewhere - it's really hard to beat José's, or Barrafina's.

Still though, there were arepas to be had. I've never had one before and I wasn't expecting much - it just looks like a pitta pocket? - but I was blown away by this one. Cooked in front of us, the circular rounds of bread were pressed onto the flat grill, then split open and stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, and salsas. The bread was crisp and light - made with maize flour, they take on a light corn flavour and a great texture, light and fluffy inside. I wish I could have eaten more of this, my favourite of the night.

We threw the towel in at this point - the pizza and fritto misto stalls would have to wait for another visit, the fresh pasta and mozzarella bar for next time - and we headed for dessert.

Build your own tiramisu. Hello, second stomach! 

Yup, it is just as glorious as you'd imagine. You can choose from a selection for every stage of this dessert, from the sponge finger base, to fruit, chocolates and custards. I was the literal kid in a sweet shop, face pressed up against the glass, jabbing at my selections.

Mercato Metropolitano isn't going to win any trend awards. You won't find the next hot young taco-slinger here, nor will you come across many kimchi-chicken-chipotle-bulgogi-sushi-doughnuts. Predominantly European food, with a couple of Japanese and Vietnamese stalls dotted about, the emphasis here is on good, high quality produce. They have a big grocery shop where you can buy cured meats and cheeses, fresh pastas, dried pasta and speciality Italian products. I've already bought Sicilian sausages, and fresh burrata to eat at home. They host events such as pasta making workshops, or ukelele sing-a-longs, and string quartets play. It feels like a grown-up version of Street Feast, one you can take your mum to for a glass of wine and a pizza and have a comfortable and warm sit down, or stop off on your way home from work for some good charcuterie, or bits for dinner. Maybe with a sneaky arepa on the side. And a tiramisu.

Mercato Metropolitano
42 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6DR

Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 11pm, Sunday 10am - 9pm

I was Ben's guest so I didn't pay for anything but as always all views are my own. 

Monday, 9 January 2017

St. John Bread & Wine, Spitalfields

I suffer from a condition that, I suspect, a lot of Londoners have - it's the kind of condition where we're always striving for that next buzz, the next discovery of something new, exciting, fresh, perhaps a hint of one-upmanship (admit it). In this town where restaurants seem to be opening every other minute, there's a relentless scrabble to get to it first, get to it quick, get it while it's hot. 

Last week I made plans to meet a friend for dinner, and I hurriedly rattled off my internal Rolodex of new places we should go and be adventurous at. Nope. I pulled out my iPhone list of places I want to try. On that wet, dark January night none of them appealed, and I floundered. A message came through. "Sudden feeling. St. John?" I leapt on my bike. 

I'm shaking that condition off now. I don't want to get there first. I don't want to be the first-week-nerves guinea pig, bombarding them with my expectation. I want them to settle into their stride and relax into it a bit. I want to be looked after by people who are relaxed, perhaps old hat at this. That's why I'd floundered. 

St. John Bread and Wine opened in 2003. 2003! I was mid-way through my A-Levels then. The room is warmer than the original Farringdon location, which I find austere to the point of frosty. The menu reads like a dream of things I just really want to eat, and when the waiter came to take our order, we spent 10 minutes doing an entire U-turn of it with him. 

Roast shallots with goats curd and mint (£8.40) came topped with a tangle of mustard-dressed rocket. The kitchen forgot about the mint entirely, though given we didn't notice until almost the last bite perhaps it wasn't necessary. The shallots were roasted to complete sweetness and collapse, with only a hint of shape left to them. The sharpness of the mustard dressing, the pepper of the rocket and the cream of the goats curd made us want more each mouthful, each bite. It's the fourth time my friend has had this, testament to how good it was. Obviously the bread is stellar, being St. John's bakery hub - right in front of me, I kept eyeing up loaves to take away, and doughnuts oozing with filling under a tented canopy.

Cold middlewhite pork with dressed leaves and radishes (£8.80) was exactly what it was. Why don't I ever have any leftover roasted meats to create this with? The salad itself had a tangle of bitter leaves, offset by another mustard-heavy dressing. Oh, if they could bottle that dressing I would buy it by the gallon. Nose-clearing, tangy joy. 

I was going to use this as the opening photo but apparently not everyone eats fish heads, and some are a bit squeamish about this sort of thing? As soon as we saw the hake head on the Specials board at £24.60 for two, my friend insisted it was the most 'me' menu item ever, and therefore it was destiny for us to order it. I think that's in reference to the Malaysian fish head curry that I insisted we include a photo for in my cookbook, which scared the hell out of everyone. Fergus Henderson, Chef Patron of St. John, once said "It's only polite really if you knock an animal on the head to eat it all: tripe, heart, feet, ears, head, tail. It's all good stuff." It's also a very Chinese philosophy, that, one I've been brought up with. 

This was served with leeks slathered in aioli. The head was roasted, and included some neck for extra meatiness, the pearly white meat pulling away from the skin and bones easily. I really love hake; substantial yet light and with just the most delicate texture. We dug around that head, pulling out the best nuggets just behind and under the eyes, stopping short at the eyeballs themselves. The leek-y aioli accompaniment was good, though the aioli a little on the timid side for me. I felt a little hard done by in the lack of potato filler. No fish n' chips? 

Still, it made room for dessert, which my unconscionable friend ordered three of while I popped to the ladies. Hokey pokey ice cream, all three enormous scoops of it, the chocolate terrine with brandied prunes, and of course one cannot pass up on the madeleines, pictured top. Never pass on the madeleines, for they are the best £4.50 (per half dozen) you'll spend. Our table was awash with puddings, and envious eyes darted over at us. There we were, on January 6th, decadence personified. I regret nothing, not that light, moussey chocolate with the fudgy prunes and tangy creme fraiche, no. Not the cold crunch of the honeycomb swirled within the ice cream that we could barely finish, save dipping our already honey-sweet cakes into. Even less so when I had a slightly stale madeleine to accompany my cup of tea the following morning. 

With service and a bottle of house white, labelled by St. John simply as 'Blanc', our bill reached us at just clear of £90. We spent 3 hours there, whiling the evening away, happy as clams. 

94-96 Commercial Street
E1 6LZ

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Sicilian Sausage, Spinach & Cashew Cream Bucatini

Hello, hi! It's been a while, hasn't it? I can't say why it's been this long - life got in the way, maybe? Except even when I was working full time and writing a cookbook and testing recipes in my 'spare time' I still managed to write blog posts, so that's not it. 

I just neglected this poor little blog. Instagram is huge now, and thousands and thousands of pictures make for good scrolling. I scroll and scroll and scroll and 'like' them and see what restaurants are cooking up what and I suddenly put my phone down and I realise that I don't know anything about them really. Sure, it looks nice but what's the story? How does it taste? What's in it? I've received press releases introducing their new 'Instagrammable' dishes (kill them with fire), heard fellow diners snapping away enthusiastically for their followers even though they didn't enjoy it much, seen plenty of pictures of comped meals with hearty compliments and no indication of said comping. I'm guilty of this too, but I'm fixing it. In short, too much eye candy and not enough opinion. I like words; I've always liked words. If you say a colour to me I don't picture the colour, I picture the word written down. That is how much I like words. (Though if you like pictures my Instagram account is @hollow_legs...)

Anyway, my attention span was shot and my eyes boggled from staring at a mass of scrolling image and I realised I haven't read anything vaguely long-form in a million years. I also assumed that everyone was the same as me - food blogs are so 2009! - and then I remembered that I once made a promise to myself that I would keep writing this blog as long as I enjoy it, and entirely without regard for reader numbers. I also got an email from a Peter Roddy (hello!) who asked me when I was posting again in the subject, and the body contained just a picture of some prawns and a few tomatoes, 'an October harvest in Alaska'. If that doesn't get you going again I don't know what will. Thanks Peter for the motivation!

So it's January and we're all punishing ourselves for the wonderful time we had in December, where we danced around in fountains of mulled wine and went to parties that ended far too late for any of us to be useful at work the next day, while slightly reeking of stale regret. I'm embracing January's frugality and restriction and I'll show you how - by cooking pasta with a sausage and cream sauce. 

What? Isn't that what detox means? Truth be told, I've been meaning to do this recipe for a while. I find that creamy pasta sauces can be overly rich, too heavy, just all a bit too much. Too thick and it gets claggy, too thin and you have a very sad pasta soup. I went to a vegan restaurant a while ago and had the 'macaroni cheese' and a lightbulb went off. They made it with cashew nuts, blitzed for long enough to make a creamy sauce and even though theirs was a little granular, you got the consistency without the overwhelming richness. They also use something called 'nutritional yeast' but since I'm not an actual vegan and I'm free to get nutrition however I please and I'd rather not use something that sounds like a pharmacy product I've left it out.  

This came out far, far better than I ever dreamed it would for a cream subsitute. It was so delicious, and I doubt I'll ever go back to the dairy sauce again. Big talk there. 

Leave out the sausage meat and the shavings of parmesan that I just couldn't resist to make it fully vegan. You need a really strong food processor or a nutribullet, otherwise you'll need to soak the cashew nuts for 3 hours in water, then drain before use. 

Sicilian Sausage, Spinach & Cashew Cream Bucatini

Serves 1

90gr bucatini, dry weight
130gr Sicilian sausage flavoured with fennel (or just 1/2 tsp fennel seeds if meat-less), released from the skin and broken up
2 large handfuls of baby spinach, washed
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
A hefty pinch of salt
A big ol' grind of pepper
220ml vegetable stock cold
220ml water
60gr raw cashew nuts
1 tsp cooking oil
1 tbsp minced flatleaf parsley
Half a lemon, zested and juiced
Parmesan (optional)

In a small saucepan, add the onion and the water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 6 minutes, then add the garlic and simmer again. There should be a little liquid left here, and you need to simmer it until it evaporates but doesn't catch, so keep watching it. Maybe 10 minutes in total.

Add the cashews to your blender / nutribullet / food processor and then add the onions and garlic mixture. Add the salt, pepper and the cold vegetable stock. Add the lemon juice and process until very very smooth. It should be the consistency of ...paint? Pancake batter?

Cook the bucatini in a saucepan of boiling water that has been salted with at least 1 tbsp salt. Meanwhile, in a frying pan, add the cooking oil and the sausage meat. Fry until browned, and leave on a low heat. When the bucatini is the hard side of al dente, reserve 1 mug of the cooking liquid and drain. Add a couple tbsp of the pasta water to the sausage meat and scrape anything off the bottom of the pan, then add the pasta and the cashew cream and bring to a low-medium heat. Add a slosh of the pasta water and using tongs, start tossing. Add the spinach and keep tossing for about 3 minutes, adding more pasta water if it gets too thick or claggy. It shouldn't need any more time than that but check to see if the pasta is to your liking.

Take off the heat and stir in the parsley and lemon zest, giving it another toss for luck before plating up and potentially adding parmesan, though I don't think it really needs it. Can't hurt though.