Thursday 30 December 2010

Top 10 Dishes of 2010

I like lists, especially when I get to look back on the nice things I ate. In no particular order, here are my top ten dishes that I ate in 2010 - some of them from restaurants, some of them my recipes.

Beef Rendang - so rich, so tasty.

Stuffed artichoke at The Magdalen Arms, Oxford - I kept meaning to recreate this but never got round to it, so it is now but a happy memory.

1.2kg bone-in ribeye at Hawksmoor, that I demolished in under 20 minutes as part of a bet. It still stands as the best steak I've had yet. It was bigger than my head.

Scallops with horseradish snow and kohlrabi, at The Ledbury
. Pure joy.

Cheese souffle in double cream at Le Gavroche - unbelievably light and unbelievably decadent. Eating it was a happy memory.

I wailed when I found out that osso bucco was no longer on the menu at Polpetto, but its replacement, beef cheeks with polenta was a more than adequate substitute. How do they get their polenta so creamy? I love it.

Salted caramel butter. Holy shit, that was one sexy ice cream.

Cold udon with miso and walnut hot broth at Koya. I get weekly cravings for this and it's a favourite lunch spot.

Perhaps the most recent addition in that I ate it last night, but the Veal Holstein at Bob Bob Ricard truly is outstanding. The deeply savoury 'secret sauce' bursts out from underneath the breaded veal, lubricating the truffled mash.

The pork and century egg congee, from Hong Kong City, a few doors down from my flat. The pork is always gorgeously tender, and it's a life-saver having it so near; many a time I've staggered over in my pyjamas poorly concealed by an overcoat to get my restorative takeaway congee that soothes and nourishes.

So, they were my favourite dishes of 2010. And what about the worst?

That accolade can only go to Cantina Laredo's vomit-inducing chicken mole. Five months later and I am still traumatised.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Wuli Wuli Now Do Takeaway

This will mean absolutely bugger all to you if you don't live in South East London, but for those who do, the excellent Sichuan place, Wuli Wuli in Camberwell now do takeaway and they deliver. Where the delivery boundaries lie I have no idea, but they delivered to us in Peckham Rye / East Dulwich borders.

We called them while pissed on mulled cider shouting things like "something porky! Spicy! Oh and some tripe!" and they came good. 35 minutes later, smacked cucumbers, twice-cooked pork, an aubergine dish, a cold tripe and ox tongue in chilli oil dish and some Northern-style chilli udon turned up. It came to a bargainous £27 and they even threw in some free prawn crackers and two bottles of Tsing Tao. They obviously knew our faces were going to be on fire, and on fire they were. Most pleasing.

Wuli Wuli

15 Camberwell Church Street
London SE5 8TR

Tel: 020 7708 5024

Wuli Wuli on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Golden Day, Soho

It was always going to be tricky visiting a Hunanese restaurant with someone who didn't eat spicy food; the flavours typical of the cuisine are said to be chillis, smoke and garlic. Said to be a dry heat, Hunanese food is less numbing than its Sichuan neighbour, and involves a lot more smoked and cured meats. We thumbed through the enormous menu at Golden Day, and my eyes grew wide as all the pictures of the dishes depicted chillis. Lots and lots of chillis. I secretly cursed our intolerant companion. Kelp salad started us off, slivers of slimy seaweed doused with oil and chilli though served a bit too cold.

Chairman Mao braised pork was probably the only dish I could find that didn't look like a fire-bomb. Wibbly wobbly chunks of pork belly braised in a soy sauce were tender and flavoursome, chunks of spring onion freshening the dish. We could have done with the rice we ordered at this point to soak up all the sauces, but unfortunately the five of us were given one dish at a time, painfully slowly.

Dry pot tender chicken was a dish I remembered from Jay Rayner's review; chunks of chicken doused in chillis slowly bubbling under a little flame, sauce intensifying more and more as time goes on. This was rejected by half our group as the chicken was bone-in and quite fiddly - the fools! It was delicious.

Hunan-style aubergines were silky but slightly lacking in flavour. It, like most vegetable dishes, would have benefitted with the addition of some pork.

Strangest dish of the night goes to the sweetcorn cakes. I thought they would be much like the ones I make, but they appeared to be made with glutinous rice flour; they were sticky and intensely gooey. They lacked a certain something, but were quite addictive when dipped into the braised pork belly juices.

Smoked pork with home-pickled radishes was excellent. The slices of pork tasted like bacon, and the pickled radish was at once crunchy and sour. It was a salty dish which needed rice, but one unlike I've had before in Chinese cuisine.

A tofu dish with pork and cloud ear mushrooms was equally good, the spongy tofu making a great texture contrast with the slimy mushroom. There were far more dishes I wanted to try, such as steamed fish head with home-made chilli sauce and plain noodles, and steamed potato balls with chilli sauce which needs revisiting with more adventurous diners. We were disappointed with the service though; it took us ages to get anyone's attention, and when we asked for tap water we were told firmly 'still or sparkling only', which when charged at £2.40 a glass seems cruel and greedy, especially with the level of chillis applied. Still, until I can find another decent Hunanese restaurant, I'll go back.

Golden Day

118 - 120 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 5EP

Tel: 020 7494 2381

Sunday 19 December 2010

Franklins, East Dulwich

The first time I went to Franklins in East Dulwich we got so shit-faced I couldn't remember what we'd eaten. It was a rainy Friday night, and a good catch up was what we were there for. A month or so later, we found ourselves back for lunch on a snowy Saturday. A huge party of people were dining in the restaurant, so we were sat in the bar area and urged to get our orders in sharpish. 6 natives were strangely small, but nonetheless deliciously sweet.

My starter of tongue with chicory and capers was well balanced; salty hits from the capers seasoned the bitter chicory well. The meat was bouncy but not tough and I really enjoyed the dish. While the plate looked a little bare the portion size was judged well.

Whole plaice with brown shrimp and courgettes was one of the most expensive mains, at £17.50. The fish was cooked perfectly, flesh sliding off the bone with ease. The brown shrimps and courgette was cooked in garlicky butter, the vegetable still retaining some texture. I loved this dish; so simple and so pleasing. A side of chips were seasoned generously with salt and pepper and were gloriously crunchy on the outside and fluffy within. The only dud note came with the brussels tops. They could have done with a bit more cooking and should have been bathed in butter but they were undressed. When we pointed this out to our waitress she was surprised, and removed the dish from our bill.

Desserts came in the form of blancmange with prunes stewed in Armagnac and Yorkshire curd and rum raisin tart. The boozy prunes were the perfect hit of sweetness with the wibbly wobbly white dome, while the tart had a pleasing cheesiness to it. The rum was virtually undetectable but the raspberry sauce gave it a tart freshness. Our leisurely lunch was drawing to an end and while the restaurant was busy, we felt a little neglected by the wait staff. Nevertheless, it was a lovely meal and Franklins is an ideal place to while away an afternoon.


157 Lordship Lane
East Dulwich
SE22 8HX

Tel: 020 8299 9598

Franklins on Urbanspoon

Thursday 16 December 2010

Pork Pies

It aint Christmas without a pork pie to tuck into for breakfast. The plate adorned with pickles, it is the breakfast you can scoff in your pyjamas, clutching a bloody mary, feeling ever so slightly dirty for consuming such large amounts of pork fat so early in the day. I highly recommend it.

I went a little over-board this year. Maybe I didn't need quite so much meat. I couldn't help myself. Besides which, is there ever such a thing as too much pie?

(The answer is yes. When I was a child I was sick in my sleep from eating too much pie. True story.)

Scale the quantities down if you like. Or give a pie away as a Christmas present. Or freeze it.

Pork Pie

Feeds an army

For the filling:

700gr pork shoulder
600gr belly pork
6 rashers of bacon
4 large sage leaves
1/2 nutmeg, grated
4 stalks of thyme
2 Bramley apples
1/2 tsp salt
Loads of black pepper
A large pinch of white pepper

For the pastry:

100gr lard
100gr butter
150mls water
550gr plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg + 1 egg for glazing

For the jelly:

2 pigs trotters
1 bay leaf
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
Large pinch of salt
1 onion
15 peppercorns

First thing's first, over your trotter in water, whack in the aromatics and simmer it for 3 hours, topping up with water every now and again. Strain, season. You want to end up with about 300mls of jelly.

Chop all the meat by hand into small pieces. It's tedious and boring and there's a strong risk you'll chop parts of fingernails off at least once but it's worth the nice coarse texture of the pie innards. Dice the apple roughly, then mince the herbs finely. Add the spices and then the salt. Fry a little patty in some oil and leave to cool - taste test for seasoning. Make sure you eat it cold, as you'll be eating the pie cold.

For the pastry, melt the lard and the butter in a pan. Don't let it boil. Add the flour, salt, water and egg to a bowl and mix well - add the lard and butter and mix until combined. Form into a ball and whack it in the fridge for an hour. (If it's a bit sloppy wrap it in cling film, stick it in a bowl. It'll firm up.)

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C. Grease your pie tin (or in my case, Daddy Pyrex and Baby Pyrex bowls) well. Slice the dough in half, then slice a third off each half - these will be the lids. Roll out evenly and line your pyrex / pie tin. Pile in your meat, then top with the lid loosely and crimp it on. Cut out a hole to pour your jelly into. Glaze with the remaining egg wash and add some nice decorations - leaves, or something. Egg wash the decorations.

Bung in the oven for 30 mins, then turn it down to 150 degrees C and cook for another 40 mins. Remove and allow to cool completely. If your trotter stock has turned to jelly, warm in a pan to liquidise it. Using a funnel, pour it very slowly into your pie. Don't overfill it - you must be patient. Then bung in the fridge overnight.

Serve at room temperature with mustard and pickles.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Beetroot & Potato Rosti

Beetroot is a funny little thing. It's a violent vegetable, one that stains your skin, nails and clothes a deep, rich pink. In grating it, be it for salads or this rosti recipe, I invariably manage to leave a spray of juice behind; when dried, it looks like I've killed someone. But it has a earthy quality, one that's well paired with Scandinavian flavours of smoky fish and aniseedy dill.

Forman and Field sent me some of their smoked salmon, and their London cure worked brilliantly with the rosti. Supermarket smoked salmon can be aggressively salted and oily; this was melt in the mouth and delicate. I imagine this would make a lovely little starter. I just ate enough for 2 as my dinner.

Beetroot & Potato Rosti

Serve 2

4 large Vivaldi potatoes
2 beetroot
1 small onion
A hefty pinch of salt
Loads of black pepper
1 egg

I didn't bother to peel the potatoes, but do peel the beetroot. Grate into a bowl and then season. Gather in about 4 sheets of kitchen towel and squeeze all the moisture out - squeeze like hell so that your hands turn nice and red.

Whisk an egg in a bowl and add the potato and beetroot. Add the onion, sliced finely and the black pepper. Heat some oil in a non-stick pan and add the mixture to the pan, shaping it into a circle. Fry on a low heat, for about 15 minutes. Slide out onto a plate, then flip it back in, uncooked side down for a further 15 minutes until cooked through and crispy.

Serve with rocket dressed in a dill, yoghurt and lemon rind dressing with curls of smoked salmon.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Gnocchi in Walnut Sauce

Recently I had a meal at Bella Vista in Blackheath and part of the set menu was a gnocchi dish with a creamy sauce. It was so delicious I asked a waiter what was in it; he came back from the kitchen with a scrap of paper, ingredients listed.

I've never made gnocchi before but have always been a fan. My first memorable experience was of eating it bathed in a four cheese sauce in a deserted Italian restaurant in Macau. I returned the evening after and ordered the exact same thing. So often they have a tendency to be a complete stodgefest, but home-made ones are different. These were delicate as a cloud, soft and sat deceptively lightly in the belly.

The sauce, quantities guessed turned out pretty damn well too. My version was a bit chunkier but the flavour was just as I remembered. Not very pretty though.

Gnocchi in Walnut Sauce

Serves 4

750gr potatoes - I used Vivaldi
150gr flour
1 egg yolk
1 tsp salt

Boil the potatoes in their skins until tender. Peel (hold the potato with a cloth) and push through a ricer. Beat the egg yolk and add to the potato. Sift the flour and add in thirds, incorporating the flour with the potato as you go. Finally add the salt, combine well and knead lightly. It should be soft and slightly sticky.

Dust your work surface well and roll into a thin sausage. Cut into 1" pieces and press lightly into them with a fork. Place on a well floured plate and refridgerate.

1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
70gr walnuts
A handful of basil, sliced finely
2 handfuls of panko breadcrumbs
2 handfuls of parmesan, grated
1 pint milk

Heat the olive oil and fry the garlic very gently. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts and chop well. Add this to the garlic and toss well. Add the milk and bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add the panko breadcrumbs and stir well. Cook for another 5 minutes, then add the parmesan and the basil. Take off the heat. If it's too thick, add a little more milk.

Put on a pan of water to boil. When it's boiling, turn down to a simmer and add the gnocchi. When they're floating they're done. Gently incorporate the sauce into the gnocchi and serve with plenty of black pepper.

Friday 10 December 2010

Top Ten UK Restaurants

Toptable asked me for my top ten restaurants, so here they are. Do you have any others to add to my list? Agree? Disagree? Couldn't give two shits...?

Sunday 5 December 2010

Pork Shank & Kimchee Stew

My nose is frozen and my toes have lost feeling. I can't work out how to set the timer on my heating so I've resorted to warming myself from the inside. This fiery little stew induced a sweat on the brow and fire within.

This stew is pretty dependent on the age of your kimchee. If it's fresh then the stew will need a little help from some Korean chilli paste. If it's been in the fridge for yonks then it should require less help. Pork shanks are ideal for this if you haven't got any good quality pork stock as the bone simmering away in the stew will give it flavour and depth. Tender meat falling off the bone in a red broth was supplemented with slippery glass noodles - you can also eat it with rice.

Pork Shank & Kimchee Stew

Serves 2

1 pork shank
3 tbsp kimchee, plus juices
4 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Korean chilli sauce (Gochujang)
A handful of glass noodles
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 spring onion
1 tsp sugar
A small handful of coriander (optional)

Heat a stone pot or a clay pot on the stove and add the sesame oil. Mince the garlic finely and add to the oil. Fry until fragrant, then add the pork shank and the kimchee. Add the chilli sauce and sugar and cover with water. Cover and simmer for two to three hours, topping up with more water if needed. Taste and if it's not spicy enough add more chilli paste. Add the soy sauce and the glass noodles and simmer for another ten minutes. To serve, garnish with the spring onion sliced diagonally and the coriander.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Bincho, Soho

Recently I was emailed with a recommendation of a blog link. I get these every so often and I'm always glad for new reading material, but this one captured me particularly no less for the startling photography but for all the unusual cuts of meat. It prompted me to hot-foot it down to Bincho Yakitori in Soho, writers of the blog and purveyors of yakitori and kutsiyaki, in the hope of trying some of them out.

So, grilled meat on skewers.

As the skewers were placed on the charcoal in front of us, salt was sprinkled liberally and sauces brushed over seductively as the grill flashed with flames. Chicken hearts (closest) were on the specials board and after having tried them at Ben Greeno's gaff, I knew we had to have them. They weren't as tender as his version but were tasty and well seasoned nonetheless. Chicken gizzards have a habit of being both crunchy yet squidgy, and these were textbook. Their chewiness weren't a patch on Jinkichi's though; I emerged from those particular chicken gizzards with a visibly more muscled jaw.

Chicken oysters, seemingly wrapped in chicken skin before grilling were polar opposite, and in competition of being my favourite skewer. These are usually my favourite part of a roasted chicken; all those gorgeous juices run down through the bird, pooling at the oyster to flavour it. Stuffed shiitake mushrooms were earthy and stuffed with, I think, minced chicken or pork; I am definitely attempting these at home.

Shishito peppers, sweet Japanese ones tasted just like padron peppers to me.

Ox tongue and pork belly cubes were both doused in a sweet, sticky sauce and were beautifully tender and smoky.

And, just as we were about to order a few more bits and pieces to take us through the rest of the working day, the manager told us that the chicken cartilage and chicken neck skewers were now available. Obviously they had to be ordered, with a side of miso aubergine for good measure.

Cartilage (closest) is, as you might expect it. Very crunchy indeed, but these morsels also had the most flavour with the edges charred and crispy. I can't even begin to think how long it must take to extract chicken necks to make a skewer, but these were so juicy they were worth all the work, however much that may be.

Away from skewers, a pig tripe, tofu and daikon stew was tinged with miso and was comforting and homely, little bursts of sancho pepper awakening the palate.

It wasn't a cheap lunch, booze-free at £20 a head, but well worth the money. I can't think of anywhere else within walking distance of my office to get excited about offal on sticks. Just make sure you ask for any off-menu bits and be sure to check the specials board.

My companion's rather more eloquent report is HERE.

Bincho Yakitori

16 Old Compton Street
London W1D 4TL

Tel: 020 7287 9111

Bincho Yakitori on Urbanspoon