Wednesday 30 June 2010

Out in the Wild West - Michael Nadra

When I was invited to go and try out the eponymous Michael Nadra, I was excited. Previously of The Fish Hook, he has also worked at Petrus, Chez Bruce, The Square, The Glasshouse and La Trompette; all heavy hitters. And then I looked at the address and groaned inwardly. West London. The Wild West. Bloody miles away.

When I was 19 I had a boyfriend who lived in posho Turnham Green. I used to spend weekends there, feeling out of place in the local pub, thinking everyone was sneering at me and my ragged Converse trainers. One pant-twistingly embarrassing moment was when I ordered a bottle of Rioja. "Which one?" asked the barman. "The Spanish one", said I. His eyes rolled skywards.

Four years on, I was back. The sun was shining, people were lounging on the green. The restaurant is situated on a leafy suburban street dotted with Mercedes and BMWs. I'd like to live here. With a rueful shake I banished the unwarranted thought from my head.

The restaurant was empty upon arrival; I whispered my hellos to a friend. We spent a lot of time deliberating over the menu as there was a lot on offer. At £8.50 for starters and £17 for mains, it's a middle priced menu, though I found the supplements scattered around to be irksome. It's a bug bear of mine; either price everything individually, or don't use 'premium' ingredients. An amuse of light, grease-free battered sprats with a gorgeously creamy and tart tartare sauce made me forget.

Quail three ways - poached, tempura-d and confit - was served with sweet potato puree and sherry sauce. I usually avoid sweet potato like the plague since it's the root of all evil, but in the interests of expanding my horizons I've been tentatively trying it. This did not repulse me, which is an enormous compliment. The tempura was crispy, the poached breast was juicy, gamey and cooked to perfection. The star of the show was the confit little legs; I sucked every morsel of meat off the bones.

As we'd pondered over our menu choices, Michael Nadra came to say hello to us and he spoke with great enthusiasm of the 'plat du jour', a risotto with lobster and rocket. He told us that it's his special dish, one that he always makes himself and that he won't leave to the sous chefs. His preference is to cook the rice grains through, so that it doesn't leave them crunchy. After all this, we thought it only best we give it a try. Tasting plates came out and the rice was silky smooth, flavoured lightly with a seafood stock. Lobster meat was sweet and firm with the rocket leaves adding a peppery hit. Perfectly balanced between comforting and luxurious.

Roast cod with summer veg, king prawn veloute and roasted garlic was a beautiful plate. Confusingly, two little lumps of majoram ricotta gnocchi followed on a side dish a minute or two after, what I can only imagine as originally forgotten by the kitchen. The sweetness of the vegetables worked well with the veloute but I felt that somehow it didn't gel properly. A tangle of carrot, a few shaved discs of radish, a spear or two of asparagus, the crunch of mange tout was a bit jumbled underneath that impeccably cooked cod. Given the beauty of the quail dish I couldn't help but regret that neither of us had ordered a meaty main course.

I found it rather difficult to choose from the dessert list. It wasn't particularly inspired; chocolate fondant, fruit salad, ice cream, cheese. Tarte tatin seemed too heavy for the weather we were having, so instead I decided on the sorbet. Our waiter heartily recommended the Greek yoghurt sorbet with honey, perhaps with raspberry and lemon.

The Greek yoghurt sorbet was stand-out. Creamy and without the tang you usually get from frozen yoghurt, the honey sweetened it just so. Lemon and raspberry were also good, but I had only eyes for that particular sphere.

The ambience of the restaurant, at least where we were sitting, seems geared heavily towards dating couples. Candlelit tables, soft music and two seaters lined the walls. Despite feeling like some of the dishes were a touch over-wrought with little piles of leaves and cresses adorning most plates, a smear popping up occasionally, I really enjoyed our meal here; Nadra's skill shines through. I'd love to go back to try out the meat more but my god - what a schlep back South East. An hour and a half, to be precise. Residents of West London, it's not often I say this, but you're lucky things. A lovely little place on your doorstep.

Restaurant Michael Nadra

6/8 Elliot Road
London W4 1PE

Tel: 020 8742 0766

Michael Nadra on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Rescue Mission

I'm not always a competent cook. Over the years I've smashed 3 Pyrex dishes by removing them from the oven and then running them under a cold tap. I am completely unable to make foccacia without producing sheets of cardboard. I can't cook rice without the aid of a rice cooker.

To add to this list, I have been known to get drunk on gin when I have friends round on a sunny afternoon. I forgot about it and hideously overcooked a beautiful 2.6kg sirloin of beef. Even still with the merest hint of pink on the inside, it was moist and tender but my cheeks burned with shame (and the alcoholic flush) when I sliced into it.

Served with summertime accompaniments of steamed carrots, broad bean salad and new potatoes crushed with Greek yoghurt and horseradish, there was no denying it; I'd ballsed it right up. I thought of the leftovers and shuddered at the image of drying slices of meat heaped pitifully atop piles of salad leaves, perked up only by a smear of mustard and a quartered pickled onion. No no, it wouldn't do.

Having spied the leftover crushed new potatoes and a few carrots languishing as well, there was only one thing for it; chopped into chunks, the meat would make a cottage pie. Not really the weather for it, but after feasting in Hong Kong I was rather taken by the idea of some warming British comfort food. A damn fine pie it made too; crispy peaks of the crushed potato, spiked with horseradish spiciness yielded to rich, unctuous gravy, sweetened with carrot and studded with tender chunks of beef. This was the only way to atone for my sins.

Cottage Pie

Serves 3

300gr leftover roast beef, chopped into chunks
A few (leftover) carrots, diced
A large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Beef stock, to cover
2 sprigs of thyme
1 tbsp cornflour, mixed with 1 tbsp water

Cold mashed potato - I used new potatoes and crushed them with horseradish, Greek yoghurt and 2 sliced spring onions

Fry the onion and garlic slowly until soft and translucent. Add the carrots and fry for another 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Throw in the sprigs of thyme, the chunks of beef and cover with the beef stock. Simmer slowly for 40 minutes. Thicken with the cornflour and then pour into a dish. Top with the potato, make slight peaks with a fork and bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the dish is bubbling, making an unholy mess of your oven.

Remove, leave to stand for 10 minutes and serve.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Eat Meet Supperclub, Brockley

Thus far, I've only been to two supperclubs. The first, in North West London, was well over a year ago. Following 5 months later, The Savoy Truffle Supperclub was closer to home in Blackheath. I heard about Eat Meet through Feast on Scraps, and hooray! Right on my doorstep.

A slightly sweaty, beautifully sunny summer's day, the seven of us dined in the garden after a refreshing gin cooler. The house looked newly decorated and was gorgeously colourful. I got some house envy. A salad of watermelon, halloumi and green beans was sweet, salty, juicy and crunchy all at the same time. The sweetness of the watermelon worked brilliantly with the halloumi.

Duck with puy lentils braised in cider was crispy skinned, though cooked more than I'd have liked. The meat lacked a little seasoning but was moist and tender. Lentils were suitably cidery, with sweet bursts from the pomegranate seeds and peppery hits from the watercress. Just the right amount of food too.

Earl grey pannacotta with boozy berries and poppyseed biscuits was well accomplished. The pannacotta had a proper hit of the tea flavour, and the berries, almost face puckeringly sour when eaten alone, balanced the sweetness of the biscuits and the pannacotta well.

Cheese, served with home-made spelt biscuits were all from the UK. A particular favourite was the Scottish cheddar, and the chutney served with it was delicious. Biscuits were a little too thick and therefore a bit heavy with the cheese, but I was so stuffed at this point I needed a less substantial recepticle to get the cheese in my face. My greed sees no boundaries.

Coffee followed, and we sat around chatting until darkness fell and goosebumps appeared. For £25 and to bring your own booze, it was a great evening; really interesting and chatty people, and lovely hosts in Julie and Sophie, who sat down with us at the end. Heartily recommended.

Eat Meet

Thursday 24 June 2010

The Best of the Rest

Have I bored you with my tales of Hong Kong yet?

It was an epic eating adventure, and one I'm going to miss but hopefully recreate in the not-too-distant future. Here was the best of the rest.

On Lamma Island, the best area to go for restaurants is Yung Shue Wan. We, however, missed the boat which isn't all that regular and opted for Sok Kwu Wan. You can walk between the two in an hour. We settled at a seafront restaurant called Sampan and simply ordered clams in blackbean sauce, poached prawns and squid in shrimp paste. Beautifully sweet prawns, really pungent squid due to the shrimp paste. Excellent stuff.

Bizarrely, we went to a Thai cafe and had some amazing Hainanese chicken rice, in Wanchai. I'm afraid I didn't get the name of the place, but it looks like this and it has yellow chickens hanging up. The chicken was so moist and tender and it can be ordered on or off the bone, with or without skin (without skin? Sweet Jesus why?). Chicken broth with a chicken claw poking out of it was light and flavoursome.

Congee with a deep fried dough stick to dip into it was another great breakfast, served in many cafes - we just spotted the great bubbling pans of it. I opted for pork rather than the pigs blood my mum went for. The dough stick dipped in goes all soft and spongy.

Tofu fa with sugar syrup was another light breakfast I had, though I usually have it as a dessert. I prefer mine cold; far more refreshing.

I also visited Hui Lau Shan, a chain of cafes selling healthy desserts twice, once in Causeway Bay and once in Jordan. Refreshing drinks made with aloe jelly, coconut milk and mango juice was delicious, while tofu pudding in mango juice with red beans, alongside a fresh fruit bowl was quite mammoth. A great place for people who like textures; lots of glutinous rice balls and jelly options.

More traditional was Yuen Kee, on 32 Centre Street in Western. A small place that held roughly around 20 people, they do only hot soup desserts. Bowls such as almond soup with lotus nuts and hard boiled eggs, we elected to go eggless (above). I had a mung bean soup that was sweet and refreshing, even if it was hot. Mung beans are said to be cooling, after all.

One sweet I will probably miss the most - mochi ice cream. Why don't we have this in London? Different flavours of ice cream, wrapped in a rice flour mochi wrapper, available in cornershops (7-11) and supermarkets. The texture contrasts are amazing; soft gooey rice flour skin, giving way to cold sweet ice cream. Black sesame was a favourite, but I also love red bean, green tea and the purple ube flavour.

So that's it. Normal service to resume henceforth. No more holidays for ages. Pass the gin.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Chiu Chow Cuisine, Hong Kong

Aside from dumplings at dim sum packed with peanuts, Chiu Chow cuisine isn't one I remember trying. Dad was excited about the prospect - "goose blood!" which filled me with a slight apprehension.

Sheung Hing restaurant is a no-frills affair but reputedly very good for this cuisine. Typically of the cuisine, little thimble-sized cups of tea are served as we sat down. We kicked off with the dumplings, fried, which were perfectly nice. The goose blood with pieces of squid turned up; annoyingly, I forgot to take a photo of it. It had the texture of soft silken tofu, and the flavour, slightly iron-rich was mild. I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would.

The dishes then arrived in quick succession and our table groaned under the weight of it all. Baby oyster congee was very different to Cantonese congee; rather than thick and slightly gloopy, it was more of a rice soup, some of the grains still intact. Little baby oysters along with minced pork bobbed around and gave the soup a subtle seafood flavour and were sweet in the mouth.

Steamed goose, resting atop cubes of fried tofu was excellent. Moist, tender and a flavourful strip of fat, dribbling all its juices onto the sponge-like tofu underneath.

Surf clams were served in their shell. The flesh was sweet and chewy, coated lightly with a black bean sauce. It was a shame more shells were empty than I'd have liked.

A soup of skinned mung beans, on the house, was hot, sweet and slightly bland.

These taro sticks, coated in sugar and deep fried were intensely sweet. I really dislike taro as a dessert but stuffed one down in politeness. My teeth ached a bit afterwards.

Far more to my taste were these crystal balls, also served hot and filled with either yellow bean paste or red bean paste. They were little squidgy balls of joy.

This was one of the best meals we ate in Hong Kong; that baby oyster congee was such a great balance of meatiness, tastes of the sea and light in flavour. Now, where can I find Chiu Chow in London?

Sheung Hing Chiu Chow Restaurant

29 Queen's Road West,
Hong Kong

Sunday 20 June 2010

Noodle Frenzy

It's impossible to go to Hong Kong and not eat your body weight in noodles. Frankly, I'd be seriously disappointed if I didn't do so. A favourite of mine is ngau lam ho fun, or beef brisket soup noodles, the wide flat rice ones. I was encouraged to visit Kau Kee for a decent version; at 7pm on a Saturday night, they had sadly run out of ho fun. Vermicelli noodles made a good enough substitute. The beef was tender, strands falling apart and the curry soup broth rich and oily. Pieces of beef tendon gave a good squidgy texture contrast. For roughly £4 with a milk tea it was terribly good value.

Kau Kee

G/F, 21 Gough Street

This particular noodle place was located right opposite our hotel in Western, on Centre Street. I don't have the exact address (I'm guessing it's 6 - 14 by the sign above) but it was newly opened. We popped in for breakfast. The menu is dedicated to noodle soups; pork, beef or fish. Our waitress told us they were famous for the pork, so I elected to have ho fun with pork lung, heart, tongue and intestine (no liver please), topped with some seaweed. The broth was light, the meats giving a great textures of chewiness with the slippery ho fun. A fine breakfast. A side portion of crispy fish skin was really moreish; the pieces crackled in the soup to soften slightly. Squid balls, fish cake and fish won ton were equally excellent; great, bouncy textures. Since returning I've found my bowl of muesli, eaten al desko, to be a tear-inducing bump back to reality when compared with this.

We had this dish a couple of times, it's quite common. Cold shredded chicken atop cold rice noodles in a peanut sauce. Cooling, creamy and light.

More beef, this time at Mak's Noodle. Tendon and brisket again, the brisket with some excellent prawn wontons. Silky skins and packed full of the seafood, they seemed a touch incongruous with the beef but still went well together. We also ordered a dish of noodles sprinkled with prawn roe; served with a little bowl of soup to moisten it, it was so tasty. Very prawny and the noodles were wonderfully springy and elastic. It was a messy business eating it all - in fact, all noodle soups are, and I came back with a suitcase full of soup-splattered clothes.

Mak's Noodle

G/F, 77 Wellington Street,
Lan Kwai Fong,

Friday 18 June 2010

Yung Kee - Roast Goose & Century Eggs in Hong Kong

From one Michelin starred joint to the next, this time entirely different in both character and style. My mum first laughed at me when I whipped out my list and suggested we go to Yung Kee for a dinner; "I used to get my takeaway lunches from here when I was a girl!".

Situated in the busy and bustling night life of Lan Kwai Fong, it is huge. Set over two floors, it is typically Chinese in style. Large round tables, loud chatter and plain unfussy furnishings.

We came here for two things really, what Yung Kee are known for. Roast goose is surprisingly difficult to find in London; when my mum asked why they didn't do it at a Chinese restaurant, we were told they weren't allowed to and it was something to do with legalities - can anyone confirm? - so we were very excited to get this on the table. The goose with it's sweet, crisp skin yielded to a soft layer of fat and slightly gamey, extremely moreish meat. Goose is usually quite a rich and filling meat due to the bird's fat content but I could have easily munched through the entire plate myself.

Century eggs were fine specimens. Served with sweet pickled ginger, the yolks were runny and gooey, a sure sign of top quality. They didn't have that slightly off-putting ammonia-like overtly eggy flavour either, which was a relief.

A mere two dishes for the three of us would have been a bit silly so we supplemented our meal with some fried scallops served with vegetables. Nothing earth-shattering, just fine. Sweet, tender scallops atop crunchy vegetables, this concluded our meal nicely.

From what I've seen, Michelin starred places in Hong Kong are far different to our own in London. Service doesn't seem to be taken much in account; while proficient, it wasn't particularly attentive.

Poor Mum choked a little upon arrival of the bill, her eyes widened in horror. "HK$220 (around £20) for half a roast goose?! When I was a girl....".

Yung Kee

32-40 Wellington Street,
Lan Kwai Fong,
Hong Kong

This review was supported by restaurantvouchers, who bring together those helpful 2 for 1 printable vouchers like Zizzi Vouchers, Prezzo Vouchers, Pizza Express Vouchers and loads more.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Dim Sum in Hong Kong

It's been 12 years since I left Hong Kong, my place of birth, and I haven't been back until last week. It was a whirlwind of visiting friends and family. And eating, of course. Lots of eating.

I had compiled a list of restaurants to eat at, at the advice of @supercharz and Catty, who had visited recently. One place I was dying to try was Tim Ho Wun, a 30 seater Michelin starred dim sum restaurant that did not take bookings and was famed for it's long queues and bargain prices.

We came here on our penultimate day with some trepidation; everyone we had previously met up with, residents of Hong Kong, had never heard of it. Even taxi drivers my mother asked looked somewhat baffled. We arrived at 9am and there wasn't a queue to be seen. It didn't open till 10am, so we sat ourselves strategically at the tea shop next door, slurping up hot milk tea and slowly melting into a puddle of sweat in the humidity. Sure enough, a queue started to form and we leapt from our plastic stools, pleased as punch to be second in line. 40 minutes later, we were in.

Baked char siu bun with a sweet topping, or more commonly known as 'polo char siu bao', was a balance of sweet and salty. The sweet topping had a great crust giving way to flaky pastry and char siu, great chunks of it.

'Loh bak goh', or turnip cake was expertly made. Wibbly wobbly, soft and very delicate, it had none of the glueyness that most have; it seemed like it was made with minimal flour and maximum daikon / mooli. Globules of it slipped off my chopsticks as I tried to greedily shovel it in.

Steamed rice with pork and dried shrimp was drizzled with soy sauce on serving and was so good we had to order another, this time with beef and topped with an egg.

Cheung fun (rice noodle) stuffed with beef and another serving filled with prawns were silky smooth and probably the best version I've had to date. I was only disappointed that they didn't have the version stuffed with fried dough stick. Har gao and siu mai, those staples of dim sum meals were also expertly made and drew gasps of appreciation from us all.

Beef balls, usually an unappetising grey were nicely pink and bouncy, retaining a great flavour with juiciness. Dipped in Worcester sauce for an added tang, these were one of my favourite.

Teochow dumplings, filled with peanuts and crunchy green vegetables were far superior version to the ones I've tried before. The skins, which can sometimes be sticky and gelatinous were thin and silky, contrasting nicely with the crunch within.

Stuffed to the brim, our waitress urged us to try their desserts, said to be the restaurant's speciality. Jelly cubes filled with berries and herb-like strands were pleasant enough but had a hint of chlorine about it.

Far tastier was the black truffle milk pudding. Truffles are something I associate more with European dishes, but it worked well here. The earthiness of the truffle worked surprisingly well with the sweetness of the milk custard. A bargain at HK$36, two desserts each was perhaps over the top and brought our bill from a laughable $171 (around £16) to $370 (around £34). All for four people. Incredible.

Is this the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant? Most probably. It has none of the characteristics of any other starred establishments I've been to; wedged into a bench next to a wall, the waitress barked orders at us to wedge even closer so that they could get through. No tablecloths, no fripperies, but what they did have was excellent dim sum, freshly made and we left with (disgustingly) full bellies and smiles on our faces.

I must admit, I had a bit of a smirk at the enormous queue when we left.

Tim Ho Wun

Shop 8
Taui Yuen Mansion Phase 2,
2 - 20 Kwon Wa Street
Mong Kok