Wednesday 29 August 2012

Dak Doritang - Korean Chicken Stew

I was after something simple and homely, something I could stick on the stove so that I could flop on the couch and gaze inanely at the TV. I wanted something vivid with a variety of textures and I wanted something meaty. I knew I was being picky but a quick Google search told me that Korean was the way to go. 

Usually a winter dish, Dak Doritang (spicy simmered chicken stew) has many variations and recipes, but all I found include chicken and potatoes. And then served over rice. Double carbing! I was sold.

This recipe is an amalgamation of lots I found over the internet, and having never been to Korea or tried this dish in a Korean restaurant, I have no idea whether it is 'authentic' or not. It is delicious though, and given how simple it was to put together and the short ingredients list, it is set to be a staple. The sweetness of the sauce tempers the heat of the chilli, making it tongue-tingling but not excruciating. Well, not for me anyway; my housemate broke a sweat so if you're not very tolerant perhaps dial down the chilli powder a bit. It's not the most attractive of dishes - stews, I find rarely are - but more a giant bowl to bury your face in. 

I used dark chicken meat on the bone which I think is very important; given that you're using a water base rather than stock you need to get maximum flavour given the relatively short simmering time, and the bones help do this. Also, it's more fun eating meat off the bone. I kept the skin on the chicken, adding more flavour and texture and I understand that flabby chicken skin isn't high on everyone's favourites list, but personally I love it. Remove it if it gives you the wibbles.

Dak Doritang

Serves 4

For the sauce: 2 tbsp Gochujang (get this at your local Asian supermarket)
3 tbsp coarse Korean chilli powder (this stuff is not blow-your-face-off but gives it the red colour so if you use a different chilli powder be careful with quantities)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2" piece of ginger, minced
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp rice wine (Shaoxing)
2 tbsp ketchup (yes really)
60ml water

4 large chicken thighs - get your butcher to chop each into 4 for you, or get your cleaver out.
2 medium white onions, chopped into 6
2 carrots, chopped roughly
6 new potatoes, sliced in half (so they're bite-sized)
A handful of green beans - any greenery you have, really
4 spring onions, sliced diagonally 

Bring a pan of water to the boil and drop the chicken pieces in. Simmer for two minutes, drain and rinse the pan and the chicken thoroughly. 

Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients and add the chicken, tossing well. Place back in the pan and bring to the simmer. Add the potatoes and the onions and simmer for 10 minutes with the lid on, then add the onions and simmer for another 20 mins lid on, tossing all the ingredients in the sauce well. If it's looking a little dry, add more water but this is supposed to be nice and thick. Remove the lid, stir and add the greenery and simmer for another 15 minutes, gently. Serve over steamed white rice with the sliced spring onions garnishing each dish. 

Saturday 18 August 2012

Slider Bar, Soho

I couldn't help it. I am completely obsessed with the burgers from Lucky Chip and I'm not the only one. My friends now get burger cravings, and we wind each other up with just a mention of their Daryl Hannah (a fillet-o'-fish version) and the chilli cheese fries. As soon as Slider Bar
Lucky Chip's new Soho outpost, was mentioned, we had to go. To me, sliders are mini burgers so that means I get to eat lots of different flavoured burgers right? Good. So I apologise, this is based all on Slider Bar's opening night, something I'm still debating about whether it's a fair thing to do or not as surely they're still settling in? But hey, if they're taking my money...

Just like at The Sebright Arms, they've collaborated with an existing space to serve the food there, and in this instance it's The Player Bar. A nondescript door just off Wardour Street, the main vein of Soho, blink and you'll miss the little sign proclaiming its presence. Downstairs, the room is big and blue-lit - it was a cocktail bar after all. 

The menu is split off into starters, sliders with chips and desserts. We zoned straight in to the chicken bucket for two (£9). Fried chicken, cheese croquettes, creamed corn and chicken gravy. It was too much for me to move on from. A tray arrived with a small tub of well fried, juicy chicken. The coating was nicely crunchy, the chicken beneath juicy and flavoursome. We squirted the chicken gravy over pieces and scoffed them quick smart. The cheese croquettes were vehicles for the creamed sweetcorn - and oh, that creamed sweetcorn. It was smooth, sweet, corny glory in a pot. I frantically flagged down a waitress for a fork, a spoon - anything, now that I was out of cheese vehicles. 

That chicken starter made me only hungrier for my sliders. The menu format offers two sliders with chips for £12.50, but our waiter conspiratorially told us we could add an extra slider for £4 or so, so we got 3 sliders to share between us. Our favourite, the fillet o' fish (top background slider) was a perfect mini version of the Daryl Hannah. The double cheeseburger had two patties fused with melted cheese; cooked perfectly to medium - impressive given it's diminutive size - and these were messily good. Our last, the Club was also a two pattied beast with lettuce, onion and tomato; much like a mini Big Mac I suppose. I was in a slider heaven. A moment of confusion occured when I dipped a chip into a little pot of white stuff, thinking it was mayonnaise. I was slightly startled to find that it was some sort of fizzy lemon sherbet foam. Okay, perhaps it's that McDonald's fries dipped in vanilla ice cream kind of thing? (Come on - we've all done it.) I carried on dipping confidently until when asked, one of the servers told us it was a palate cleanser. That would explain the popping candy. I felt quite silly. 

Having shared our sliders though, we figured that meant we could fit one last dish in, and we went back to the starters and ordered the fish n' chips (£7.50). It was the lure of the 'fish skin crisps' in the description. The dish was made up of a log of hake, enclosed in a delicate greaseless batter arrived, perfectly fried and crispy. A seared scallop was perched atop crushed peas, flavoured well with a mint oil. The fish skin crisps looked alarmingly salted, but a dab of that salt revealed it was in fact powdered malt vinegar. We gazed at each other in wonderment, pleased as punch that we'd decided to order it. It was excellent, and so refined and clever that it actually seemed incongruous for the burger place I thought it was. Still, there is a very smart person in the kitchen - and someone incredibly good at deep-frying too. 

We skipped dessert (ice cream burgers), something I won't be doing next time. A small part of me wished the menu format wasn't so rigid - for example it would be nice if you could go and order 5 sliders and skip the (admittedly good) chips or something, but there doesn't seem to be that option. Still, I can't wait to go back already. 

The Slider Bar at The Player 

8 Broadwick Street 

London W1F 8HN

Wednesday 15 August 2012

The Begging Bowl, Peckham

The Begging Bowl in Peckham has just opened, on the site that was formerly a short-lived pizza place and before that, a fairly well regarded cafe. Tucked in the back streets of the 'posh' side of Peckham, Bellenden (stop sniggering), we visited as a group of nine to attempt to try most of the menu. No reservations taken, a small line snaked out of the restaurant; it was looking popular already, less than a week into service. Inside was packed and noisy and we squidged onto a bench to tackle the task of ordering. Happily, we managed to utter the words we all dream of - 'we'll have one of everything'. The menu is split into 'Slight Dishes £4.50', 'Light Dishes £7.50' and 'Robust Dishes £9.50', with sticky rice and steamed rice included.

Deep fried salmon with sour fruits and chilli (top picture) came from the light dishes, and for £7.50 seemed a little on the small side. Perhaps it is the plate they used, as a smaller plate might have made it seem better value. Nevertheless, it was pretty delicious - tender chunks of flaky salmon was mixed with shallots and lots of citrus and herbs, with a good chilli kick to it. 

Betel leaves came 5 to a plate and was topped with nuts, palm sugar and pomelo. This was one of my favourites of the night, and I wondered whether the chap I saw buying £50's worth of betel leaves from the local Oriental supermarket last week was doing so for this dish. They were the perfect little mouthful of grassiness, sour, sweet and savoury. I had something very similar in Nahm in Bangkok except these were a little less weird.

Thai fishcakes were less favoured; their characteristic traditional bounciness that comes from pounding the fish until elastic was missing, and instead these were fluffier and with a more potatoey texture. Lime leaves were mixed in with each nugget giving them a nice fragrance though.

Coconut and galangal soup with chicken and mushrooms (so, tom kha gai?) came in a tureen and was beautifully fragrant and flavoursome, the galangal coming out strong. Tom Yum soup with prawns was less successful; it needed stronger flavours of that sour, savoury, spicy balance.

Of the robust dishes, the curry with pork shoulder and ginger impressed the most. The pork was juicy, the gravy heavily spiked with coconut. I wished for a little bit more chilli heat. 

Green curry was made with rabbit instead of the ubiquitous chicken, but if I'm honest I probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. The addition of both apple and pea aubergines were a nice touch though, and it had a pleasant nose-clearing kick. Another main I was impressed with was a grilled bream smeared with a red curry paste and served wrapped up in the banana leaves it was grilled in. 

The only disappointing dish was the grilled sirloin steak served with chilli sauce, cucumber and some herbs. The beef wasn't particularly beefy and I was unsure of how to tackle it - a bite of steak and a bite of cucumber? A dunk in each sauce? Wrapped in basil? It seemed least balanced of the robust dishes and was lacking in something. 

Otherwise, I was pretty impressed with The Begging Bowl. Although I could have done with some more chilli in most of the dishes, the balance of flavours so prized in Thai food was mostly there. I think they're pretty brave in eschewing the noodles of Thailand - everyone loves a pad Thai, no? - but maybe that is yet to come. 

The waiting staff could have been overwhelmed by the amount of people eating but instead they were calm, sweet and friendly, and we had a good chat when they asked us for feedback on the dishes we'd had. Given it was the opening week I can only imagine it'll get better; I don't know anywhere locally that does decent Thai food so I'll definitely be back. 

The Begging Bowl 

168 Bellenden Road


SE15 4BW

No reservations

Friday 10 August 2012

Sushi Tetsu, Clerkenwell

Sushi Tetsu somewhat scared me. Other peoples' posts revealed it was a hushed place, much like high-end sushi restaurants in Japan (I've never been). These are not places you go with a gaggle of friends to drink and laugh and have raucous fun. And, like these places in Japan, they can be nosebleedingly expensive. But my curiosity was piqued. I took a deep breath and dived in. 

With a mere 7 or so seats around the bar, the three of us were first ones in the restaurant. We left the fate of our meal up to the chef with the request of an omakase; the chef's selection. When asked if we should let them know a budget we were willing to spend, the chef's wife smiled sweetly and told us to just let the chef know when we were full. I started sweating. I'm never full. 

First up was a selection of sashimi. Trays of fish were produced, and gleaming flesh expertly sliced. Marinated sardines (back right) were startling with their intense, clean flavours. Sweet prawns were a favourite, as well as wafer-thin sea bream brushed with a yuzu sauce. The quality of the fish, some of which is flown over from Japan, was evident. 

A bamboo leaf was wiped clean and set before each of us. A tray containing a moist cloth for our hands was laid in front of us, and the chef instructed us to eat with our fingers (or chopsticks if we had to). The sushi would already be seasoned enough but we could add soy sauce if we wanted to. I dread to think how offended he would be if we actually had done some dunking, but throughout the meal, it wasn't necessary. Meticulously, fish was removed from the trays and portioned into nigiri, one for each of us. I won't talk about every single one we had as I would run out of adjectives, but here were a few highlights. 

For some of the pieces, a blowtorch was produced and the fish was given a scorching, to stunning effect. Above was a scallop; brushed with seasoning (soy sauce, I presume), they were lightly scored, scorched and then brushed again before being molded around the most perfect nugget of sushi rice that I've eaten. A smoky flavour was imparted to the scallop and it retained its juicy, tender sweetness. The rice, warm and sweet but with just the right tang and stickiness, held its structure well to fall apart in the mouth. 

We had the fattiest tuna I've ever set eyes upon. The slab of it was pale pink, the marbling of the fat so prized in this type of tuna abundant. The tuna was lightly touched with the scarily sharp knife so that it was criss-crossed with scoring, and again the blowtorch came out to warm the fat to make it melt on the tongue. This was probably the best thing I've eaten all year. The richness of the tuna stayed on the tongue and I chewed and chewed and chewed, willing it not to end. The flavour was so deep it tasted beefy. Stunning stuff, and worth the trip alone. 

We saw the fatty tuna again, when it was minced into a tartare with normal tuna and rolled into a cone shape as temaki. Again, here mixed with pickled radish it was another happy moment. 

I've included this picture of salmon mainly because it's pretty and shows off the chef's knife skills, of which looked extraordinary. Of all the nigiri we had (and I'd say there was a good 8 or so) only one didn't impress much - the horse mackerel, while nice enough was a little over fishy and uninteresting for me. 

We called it a day when gently prompted, although I could have gone on for a good few more rounds. A couple cubes of tamago - a set egg custard-type thing - marked the sweet end. We waited for the bill with baited breath, fear and dread mounting and my fears were realised; 80 big ones for my meal, with 3 beers and service. But then such mesmerising skill, attention and care doesn't come cheap. When we were there only one other couple was eating, and they sat down at least an hour after we did. I can't imagine this is down to the restaurant not being popular - Jay Rayner raved about it - but I can only imagine it is imposed on to the bookings, as looking after many in such a way would become hectic and frenetic for the chef. 
I imagine if you go a la carte it might be more accessible, and there are sets up to £38.50. 

There were inventive and imaginative quirks; not quite as varied as
Sushi of Shiori in their flavourings, but in the different treatments of the fish used. Top quality fish doesn't come cheap, and while I don't begrudge the £80 I spent, it's certainly not an amount I can spend often, alas. So for now I'll just feast on the memory of that fatty tuna. 

Sushi Tetsu

12 Jerusalem Passage

London EC1V 4JP

Tel: 020 3217 0090

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Lardo, Hackney

Admittedly, Lardo isn't the easiest place to get to. Located down Richmond Road, a superior knowledge of the orange line that services East London all the way to West Croydon is helpful. We got a cab. 

Inside, the room is industrial-chic. Dimly lit with choice spotlights, the exposed brickwork made the room unmistakenly East London-cool. A mirrored, disco-ball pizza oven dominates one section of the room and a bar populated by diners on high stools oversaw the action. 

We had a table reserved - I know, RESERVED! - and we started off with some cured meats. Interestingly, no lardo was actually offered but instead some home-cured chorizo and loin of pork, garnished with thinly shaved fennel. The chorizo had a spicy kick and both dishes were good value at £4.50 per 25gr. Starters followed, and a fat bulbous burrata  was drizzled with olive oil. Pierced open, our forks scrabbled to scoop up its oozing centre. 

Arancini was crisp and well fried (possibly the choice starter of the night), its innards studded with ferociously spicy 'nduja. Vitello Tonnato was a dish that, when described, baffled everyone so of course it had to be ordered. Thinly sliced veal, poached until just pink was dressed with a sauce of smooth tuna mayonnaise and flecked with capers. It was pleasant enough to eat but I'm not sure I'm really down with the whole idea of the dish. Veal is a delicate flavour, and tuna isn't a shrinking violet - I know which flavour I'd prefer to taste more of. 

Goats cheese and courgette flower pizza was strewn with mint and only reinforced my thoughts that courgette flowers are just a pretty thing. It was one of my favourites of the pizzas though; the toppings were bright and light. 

A black anise pepperoni pizza was topped with rocket and was rich and meaty; when compared to our other two orders it seemed the most standard. Our wildcard was the clam pizza with garlic and chilli; it sounded interesting but I had no idea how it would go down. The clams arrived in their shells and the chilli kick was evident. Thankfully there was no sign of any cheese, and the garlic and parsley was pungent. A little on the salty side though. 
The dessert options were sparse, and I went for a grapefruit and Campari granita - a bitter, orangey bomb which was just what I needed after all that cheese and meat. 

At around £6 for starters and £9ish for pizzas, Lardo is a pretty perfect neighbourhood restaurant. The service was friendly, the atmosphere relaxed and buzzing without being overwhelmingly loud, sometimes a danger for dark industrial-esque places. While their pizzas aren't the best I've had in London - the bases were a little too shatter-crisp for my liking - I liked the inventive toppings. To be honest though I'd go back just to stick my face in another burrata. That stuff was pretty amazing. 

Richmond Road
London E8 3NJ 

Tel: 020 8985 2683

Thursday 2 August 2012

Takoyaki in Chinatown

When I first walked past this stall in Chinatown, I did a double-take. A few more steps were taken, before I realised I was being foolish and so I hurried back to pick up a snack. A poster advertising takoyaki - balls of batter studded with octopus - was what I was first drawn in by. I was seduced by a pancake being made though and made a last minute decision swap.

Batter is poured onto a hot plate and spread thin to form the base. An egg is cracked on top and then spread over it, before it's then flipped. Chilli sauce and what looked like hoisin sauce was brushed over it, and some spring onions scattered on top. What followed was what drew me in; a frankfurter and a fried dough stick, before it is all wrapped up into a big steaming rectangle. 

Oh happy, glorious filthy snack. I believe this is a type of breakfast pancake, jian bing. Slightly crispy on the outside with soft doughy pancake,  I wanted a little more chilli kick but otherwise it was great. The frankfurter, one of those cheap types you get in jars, added a little porkiness to it, and further crunch came from the dough stick. For £2.50, this was pretty satisfying.

I returned the next day for takoyaki, a Japanese snack. Ever since trying them in New York for the first time, I've been hoping to find them in London. Though not quite up there with Otafaku's, they are made to order so I milled around for 10 minutes, watching the man also make Hong Kong-style egg waffles. Once cooked, the takoyaki are drizzled with mayonnaise and a fruity HP-like sauce, before being topped with bonito flakes. These were delicious; crisp fried exteriors and melting innards, a chewy piece of octopus within flavouring the batter. Again £2.50 and you get 4.

The stall is located outside a Chinese supermarket called Chinatown Market, just off Newport Place. Google Map here.