Monday, 30 September 2013

Posh Breakfasting: Duck & Waffle

"WHAT?" my friend spluttered. "You've never been to The Wolseley?! Dahling." And thus, our posh breakfast club was born. We started a spreadsheet of all the lovely places in London you can go for breakfast for monthly pay day visits. Our theory is this; it's much cheaper than going for lunch or dinner on account of the booze you probably won't drink - I say probably because, really, anything can happen - and when you head into work after a proper slap-up breakfast, you feel like a champion. Until your 6am alarm clock catches up with you. 

Duck and Waffle has one of the more extensive breakfast menus I've seen. Incredibly, they open from 6am to 5am - almost 24 hours. A foggy morning, we were distracted from our total white-out of a view with plates of belgian waffles, fruit, granola and pastries going past our table. My eye zoned in immediately on the 'steak and eggs benedict', which actually was a slice of toasted sourdough, piled with braised ox cheek, topped with a couple of poached eggs and smothered liberally with hollandaise sauce. Poking the eggs so that the yolk burst out drew literal gasps at the table. The meat was slow-cooked and shredded, lightly flavoured enough not to be too full-on for such an hour. The hollandaise was smooth and tangy, one of the better versions I've tried. I was a happy lady. 

As it was my birthday, the kitchen were kind enough to send me the PBJ. Toasted brioche, stuffed with peanut butter, jam and banana, I was relieved to see the 'fat boy' option did not appear. An additional fried egg and maple bacon might have killed me. This was pretty wonderful; crunchy, fluffy brioche, a good amount of filling, and some decadent whipped cream and berries to top off each mouthful. 

After a fresh mint tea, we waddled off to work. I didn't eat again until 5pm (apart from just a little soup at lunch...).

Duck & Waffle

Heron Tower
110 Bishopgate, 

London EC2N 4AY

Breakfast served from 6am - 11am

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Big Bean Experiment

When I was in Istanbul earlier this year, the dish that stuck in my memory the most (apart from kaymak - who forgets clotted cream with honey? Not me) was the beans at Fasuli and Hayvore. Enormous white beans were cooked until creamy, in a tomato-tinged sauce. Served on a bed of beige buttered rice, it was comfort food to the max. As the days turned a bit chilly, I craved it. 

I scoured the menus online of well-known and not so well known Turkish restaurants. I contacted Mangal 2 on twitter. It was unanimous; while a lot of them did braised green beans in tomato sauce, none did what I was looking for. I resigned myself to a long, lengthy experimental process, not least because of how I think the dish is made. What I did know is that they're definitely beans cooked from dried, given the creamy texture. I knew they were cooked in lamb stock, given the flavour. Simple, right?

Needless to say, my first version isn't anywhere near the one I had in Istanbul. I have a habit of over-complicating things; a little dash of this, a shake of that. The sauce was too tomato, too spiced. From the photos on my travels, it needs to be more of an oily dressing than a sauce, a mere coating. Nevertheless it was delicious, but in its own sort of way. Mark 1 out the way, and onto Mark 2. 

Fasuli, Mark 1

Serves 4

250gr dried butter beans

Cover the beans in plenty of cold water overnight, or at least 8 hours. Drain, then simmer for 15 mins and drain. 

3 pieces of bone-in lamb stewing pieces
1 onion 
1 carrot 
1 stick of celery

Place the lamb in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 3 minutes to bring the scum to the surface, so it doesn't end up in your final dish. I'm too lazy to skim. Drain the lamb and wash the pot thoroughly, and also give the lamb pieces a little rinse. 

Simmer the lamb in 500mls of water with the carrot, onion halved, skin on and celery, lid on for an hour. Remove the lamb pieces and sieve into a measuring jug. Remove any lamb meat from the bones.

2 onions, diced
5 tbsp butter 
1 can of chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp Turkish chilli flakes
A dash of ground cinnamon
A dash of ground allspice
A pinch of ground cumin
And since I went mental on the spices, I thought - why not just add some green beans in there too. 

Melt the butter in a pan and sweat the onions until very soft and transluscent. Add the spices and cook well. Add the tomato puree, then the tinned tomatoes, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the beans, green beans and the lamb stock and simmer for 45 mins to an hour, stirring regularly so it doesn't stick. In the last 20 minutes add in the lamb meat picked off the bones.

Serve with white buttered rice.

See what I mean about a lengthy process? 

Monday, 23 September 2013

Pollen Street Social, Mayfair

With all the restaurants Jason Atherton's opened recently, one might wonder what's happening over at his original restaurant, Pollen Street Social, but even this place hasn't been left behind. With a refurbishment and a menu overhaul, the place has been given a refresh. I was invited to try it out, though having only been once before and a very long time ago at that, I can't say I could easily tell you what the differences are. There's still a dessert bar, and the stairs still lead you down to the meat dungeon - one wrong turn and you find yourself face to face with a side of beef, rather than the bathroom as you'd originally intended. 

We were seated in row of tables for two, one of us on a banquette. The waiting staff encouraged us to order cocktails, and the 'Slap and Pickle', a sweet / sour / savoury riff of a pickleback was received well. A box of amuses appeared - a pig skin wafer, reminiscent of a Quaver and involving the same dentally adhesive nature was a favourite. 

An egg cup on a tall stem was an ugly thing - the splayed web of a duck's foot forming the base. But the egg itself, filled with a mixture of egg and an intense mushroom jam, reminded me a little of Heinz cream of tomato soup. In a good way. 

Once presented with the menus, my eye immediately zoned in on the roast lobster with girolles, Iberico ham and leek. Surf and turf! Our waiter brought the lobster out so that I could give it a good poke here and there, ensure it was alive and quite sleepy, before it was whisked off to the kitchen to be despatched. I named him Herbert. He didn't die in vain, as a beautiful and rich dish of lobster claw and tail arrived in an intense, meaty stock. The lobster was perfectly cooked, retaining some bite, the roasting treatment concentrating its flavours. Across the table, I could smell the smokiness of the smoked Lincolnshire eel soup, made green with a truffled parsley puree.

I'm not entirely sure as to what made me ask for the vegetarian menu when we were ordering, but I did. I found it slightly peculiar that you'd need a whole new menu that's not presented to you until asked - does it indicate a lack of confidence in the vegetable dishes, which is why it's kept off the main menu? Our waiter himself intoned that you need a lot more imagination with vegetable dishes to keep them interesting. Anyway, my potato gnocchi with wild mushrooms, baked potato emulsion and summer truffle was... nice. Perhaps I was expecting something more decadent, more creamy and rich - or perhaps it was the fillet of beef, braised short rib, and bone marrow crumb that was set down opposite me that distracted me somewhat. The gnocchi itself was well made, but it was all a little disjointed - crispy bits here and there, woody bits too - without much seeming cohesion. Of course the fillet of beef was totally stunning; the mouthful I got of it made me grimace with food envy. 

On to desserts, and the frozen guava, English plum, and Pecorino cheese wafer was a cheese wafer too far. It felt a little out of place, and the fruit jarred with the cheese. Better was the PBJ (below); peanut parfait, cherry yuzu sorbet, and 'nitro peanut'. All sorts of ices and dusts and foams made this dish up, so it was a textural fun fair. 

Dinner at Pollen Street Social is not a cheap affair with starters around the £15 mark and mains hovering in the low £30s. Dishes similar to the Creedy Carver duck are also on the Berners Tavern menu, though here a little more expensive. Pollen Street Social is Michelin starred so one might imagine their version of the dish might be fancier. The service was exemplary; everyone we had dealings with, from the bar staff to the sommelier to the waiters were lovely. The barman didn't bat an eyelid when we sniggered at our drink being described as having "a sugared rim" (yes, yes, I need to grow up) and I particularly loved our waiter when, asked what 'compressed celery' might be, responded with "er... it's... celery... pressed." Ask a silly question... 

We left feeling incredibly well looked after, despite my error in ordering. If I've learnt one thing from this, it is this: never order the vegetarian main. 

Pollen Street Social

8/10 Pollen Street
London W1S 1NQ

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Berners Tavern, Fitzrovia

If you were to look up what Jason Atherton was up to at the moment, you may raise an eyebrow. This is a busy man. Within spitting distance of his Michelin starred original, Pollen Street Social, sprouted up Little Social, a more casual bistro-style joint. Next came the confusingly named Social Eating House, on Poland Street - not Poland Street Social, or Social House Poland, both of which I've both stumbled on. Then just as the paint was just about to dry on his last place, Berners Tavern snuck in under the radar and opened last Wednesday. And that's just in London - Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong also have restaurants with his name over the door. 

We went along to the press preview and a bouncer waited at an nondescript door with a black canopy, barely giving away what was to unfold before us. Stepping through the door, your breath really is taken away - it is a very handsome dining room. I stood there slack-jawed for a minute, regretting my choice in shoe. High ceilings hold up two enormous chandeliers. A bar lines the right hand side of the room while banquettes for larger groups dominate the middle of the room and tables for couples line the walls. Between 185 and 200 pictures depending on who you ask adorn the walls.

Head Chef Phil Carmichael's menu was a hefty page of A3. It read like a British take on the all-day-dining brasserie menu, detailing seafood platters, sandwiches, salads, 'Fish Fridays', Sunday roasts and then the classic starters and mains. Oh! And a steak section. Phew. 

A couple of oysters to steer us into dinner were jazzed up with a Vietnamese-style dressing, a spicy citrus thing that sweetened the oyster further. My starter of scallop carpaccio was light and inventive; the sweet shellfish was scattered with Little Gem lettuce, shavings of radish and creamy blobs of avocado. The quenelle of jalapeno and lime sorbet made an otherwise perfectly nice dish more exciting. The 'Ham, Egg, Chips & Peas' was brilliant; a soft-yolked breadcrumbed egg was sat on top of pea shoots and shavings of jamon. The 'chips' aspect were frites with a spicy tomato chutney, though better dipped inside the egg. I ground my teeth that I hadn't put dibs on ordering this first. 

It took a lot of uhm-ing and ah-ing to decide on main courses. I swung wildly between a steak, or a delicious-sounding seabass with seaweed and cockles, or perhaps the chicken? Or lamb? The patient serving staff guided me gently, offering me assistance to my frustrating decision-swinging. I finally decided on the Creedy Carver duck, mainly because it had kale in it and I freaking love kale. Perhaps I'm a secret Californian. Beautifully cooked to pink, it was served with roasted plums (or nectarines? I'm not up on my soft fruits) and a plum puree and it was heady with Autumnal spices. Towards the end it perhaps veered on too sweet for my tastes. Across the table, the ribeye steak was being very well received, though I questioned the point of serving it on a board for you to then drag / flop it on to your plate. Creamed potatoes on the side were, indeed, creamy and rich - the perfect mashed potato really. I gazed over in awe at the couple next to us that ordered the seafood platter - with lobster - and then went on into main courses. 

Feeling fully stuffed but not one to pass up on dessert, I went for the lightest sounding option - the chocolate doughnut. Ahem. But we also balanced it out with this goat's cheese sorbet with blackberries. It was a joy to have something so surprising and unusual; slightly goaty, slightly salty, fruity tartness. 

I loved Berners Tavern. I loved the room and the sheer glamour of it; it reminds me a lot of places in New York. The menu is a nightmare for people like me who live in fear of Food Envy, given that there's so much choice, but I think that's more to say about me than them. The whole place ran like clockwork on it's first night, which is no easy feat - our lovely waiter told us they'd be in full training for two weeks - and we left feeling incredibly well looked after. And more joy! It's a five minute walk from my office. 

Berners Tavern

Edition Hotel, 
10 Berners Street, 
London, W1T 3NP

Tel: 0207 9087979

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Miso-Braised Pork Belly

Winter is coming. I don't feel like I can really complain all that much, given that we actually had a decent hot, sunshine-filled summer which hasn't happened since 2004, but that was Very Long Time Ago. Nevertheless, I'm quite a fan of the changing of seasons. I'm autumn's child, but I also love it when the trees turn colour and you can crunch through piles of bronzed leaves, throwing them in the air like you're in Vermont or something, and oh! Those days you get when the sky is blue and the air cold enough to sting your nose a little and you come home to a warming cup of cocoa.

That's all bollocks of course, as was completely evident by my grim cycle home. Autumn in London is grey, windy and miserable. I was soaked to the bone, covered in car filth, and still reeling from screaming across the Elephant & Castle roundabout, desperately trying to see through rain-splattered glasses, in the dark. But I can console myself with the fact that this is one of the best eating times of year. Sweetcorn is in abundance - if you don't like sweetcorn you're dead to me - and those iron-rich brassicas. Mid-cycle, I stopped off at General Store, which is a gorgeous little shop selling top quality cured meats, cheeses, seasonal vegetables and other bits and pieces. I left with kale and chard and oregano and patty pan squashes and I was THIS CLOSE to buying a 'beer stick' (a slim cured salami-type-thing) to chew on the way home, such is the loveliness of everything in that place. My local greengrocer told me that that was the first time in 5 weeks my beloved mooli (an Asian turnip, also called daikon) was finally back in stock. 

Mooli is most often seen in Japanese restaurants, shaved raw into a pile with your sushi. I much prefer it cooked; when done so, especially with meat, it becomes sweet and tender. It takes on the flavours of whatever you're cooking it in, which on this occasion was pork belly and miso. The miso makes the whole stew comforting, sweet but also imparts that essential umami, as it's made from fermented soybeans. I use a combination of red and white miso, the latter giving the dish a deeper saltiness, the white sweeter and milder in flavour. The pork, slowly braised until the meat falls apart in your mouth and the fat becomes silky and flavoursome, is still one of my favourite cuts of meat, despite the over-exposure it now gets on menus. It's the very essence of warming. 

A note on the pork belly. I use skin-on simply because I like the way the skin turns gelatinous and wobbly after a long braising. Asians will say that using skin in there adds collagen to the stew and keeps your skin supple - I don't know if that's actually true - but it sure does make it sticky and delicious. If you're a little squeamish about it simply remove the skin before you cook it, I won't judge you (MUCH). I served this with white rice and some rainbow chard and fresh shiitake mushrooms, stir-fried in garlic and ginger.

Miso-Braised Pork Belly 

Serves 4 greedy people, and would serve 6 with a couple of side dishes 

700gr skin on or off pork belly - if yours comes with ribs, simply take them off and use them for another dish, or stock, or congee 
1 white onion, sliced finely
190ml sake
2 tsp red miso
3 tbsp white miso
1 tbsp mirin
1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
700ml water
450gr mooli / daikon - peeled and sliced into rounds about 1 inch thick
2 spring onions

Cut the pork belly into large cubes and place in a pot of boiling water. Boil for a couple of minutes; this is so that any scum comes floating to the surface now, and not in your stew. 

Drain, rinse and set the saucepan back on the heat. Add a little oil, then add the white onions in a layer on the bottom. You don't want them cooking much at the moment. Add the pork belly in a layer on top. Pour over the sake, then the water. Cut a piece of parchment paper so that it fits into the pot nicely, then place the lid on. Cook on a low heat (you want a bare simmer) for 1.5 hours. 

Add the mirin, light soy and sugar as well as the mooli, re-cover and cook for another hour. By now, the pork belly and the mooli should be tender, if not, cook a little longer. Discard the parchment, take out some of the stock, mix into the miso until it dissolves, then add to the stew. Cook on the barest simmer - don't boil, as it ruins any nutritional benefit in the miso - for another 15 minutes. 

Slice the whites of the spring onion and add to the stew. Julienne the greens of the spring onion and set aside for garnish. 

This isn't a thick stew as much of the liquid hasn't been evaporated off, so best to serve it in a large bowl or a pasta dish. Serve over white rice and garnish with spring onion.