Monday 28 January 2013

Salon, Brixton

We weren't the easiest lunch customers. Having faffed around with my booking no less than three times - "Thursday night? Sunday lunch? there's 5 of us! No, 6! No, 5!", we showed up at Salon in Brixton some of us hungover and bleary-eyed, a toddler in tow. Located above Cannon & Cannon, the meat and cheese deli in Market Row, the small dining room sat 25 or so, an open-plan kitchen small enough for only a few chefs to squidge in.

Happily we didn't have to do anything so strenuous as actually making a decision for what to eat as the menu is set. Usually 4 courses, this particular Sunday we were treated to 5 in honour of the Burn's Night passed.

A plate piled high with crispy fingers of lamb were greaseless and faultless, the breadcrumbs giving way to tender lamb shoulder within. The lamb came from Flock & Herd in Peckham, evidence of careful meat sourcing. A punchy mint sauce studded with tiny capers was essential to each bite and when we ran out of lamb, we carried on eating the sauce.

Their take on cullen skink was a comforting little bowlful, silky in texture and generous with the smoky flavour of the haddock. Seaweed flecked the soup and crunchy croutons bobbed within, retaining their crunch throughout. 

Partridge was presented on a board to share, a breast and a wing each. The bird was simply cooked and accompanied with rye bread mayo; we all dipped our fingers in it for a proper taste and the rye of the bread came through well. Vibrant pickled red cabbage rounded each mouthful off nicely. Partridge isn't my favourite bird but nevertheless I gobbled my portion up.

My favourite course was the mutton faggot served with greens and mashed swede. A dense shiny meatball, it was juicier than it looked. The slight flavour of offal came through but not enough to be off-putting (I'll admit it, I'm a liver-avoider). Mashed swede was intensely sweet, offset well by the broccoli-like floret, more bitter than I'm used to. 

Finally, dessert of whiskey semifreddo with poached rhubarb and oats arrived. The semifreddo, like the lightest whipped ice cream, had a just-discernible hint of whiskey. Rhubarb was served as poached sticks but also as a puree and the dish was garnished with face-puckeringly raw slivers. This was loved universally; the individual portion gifted to the kid was pilfered by the adults. 

Service was sweet and accommodating; not an eyelid was batted when forks were swept onto the floor and spoons banged against the table when we didn't catch it in time. The head chef himself, Nicholas Balfe came out to introduce a few of the dishes and it's evident they have a real pride in their ingredients and dishes. At £30 for the set menu, it was great value, and we all left happy and with a mind to return. 

Upstairs at Cannon & Cannon
18 Market Row
London SW9 8LD

Tel: 020 7501 9152
(Worth noting that while we took a toddler there and didn't have any problems, the bathrooms aren't really equipped with child-changing facilities.) 

Monday 21 January 2013

Clam Pasta

Clam pasta, otherwise known as vongole, is one of my favourite pasta dishes. Traditionally Neapolitan, this dish is made both with and without tomatoes. I prefer it as the latter made with white wine (of course), so that the silky sauce coats the strands of spaghetti transparently, flecked with red chilli and parsley. It is total simplicity, and in the amount of time it takes to cook the pasta, the wine should have reduced and the clams wide-mouthed and ready to be incorporated into the pasta. 

The final cooking of the spaghetti with the clam sauce is quite important, as it allows the pasta to soak up some of the juices. I clickity clacked through my bowl in record time. 

Spaghetti alle Vongole

Serves 3

900gr live clams (mine came from Moxon's)
400gr dried spaghetti
3 fat cloves of garlic
1 red chilli (use a fat long one; a bird's eye would be too much here)
200ml white wine
A hefty handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
1/2 a lemon, zested and juiced
A knob of butter
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

Rinse the clams in plenty of cold running water for 10 minutes. 

In a large pan, melt the butter and the oil together. Slice the garlic finely, and mince the chilli. Add this to the pan with the lemon zest to sweat gently on a low heat. Add the white wine and simmer well until half the liquid has evaporated. 

Boil some water for the spaghetti and set the pasta on. 

Add the clams to the wine sauce and place a lid on top - cook on a high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Check them and as soon as they look as if most of them have opened take them off the heat. 

By now, your pasta should be al dente (or, take it off the heat when it is). Drain and add the pasta to the clams, tossing and stirring gently over the residual heat of your hob until all of it is combined. Add the lemon juice and the parsley, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately. 

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Chap Chye

Ah, January, the month of austerity and dieting. I did try, I really did but in making Chap Chye, some pork ribs just happened to slip in. I couldn't help it; they slipped out of the pack, shimmied their way under my knife and leapt into the pot. There really was nothing I could do about it. Otherwise though, this is a nice and healthy stew. 

Of Nyonya origin, this is normally vegetarian but sometimes not. Fermented red bean curd is usually used to flavour it and it's not for the faint-hearted. Open the lid of the jar and give it a good whiff - chances are you'll do a little retch. Fish a cube out, mash it, and then fry it and the smell transforms, much like the Thai shrimp paste (which actually I like the smell of pre and post cooking. I know I am in the minority here). 

The main components of this stew are mostly dried which makes it pretty handy to have the ingredients at hand. They're also mainly found at Chinese supermarkets. Cabbage and carrots cooked within it make the stew sweet from the vegetables, and deeply earthy from the mushrooms. Shiitake mushrooms and black fungus are both used, creating a good contrast in textures; you get squidgy and crunchy and slippery all at once. Eaten with a bit of rice, this was comforting and warming. 

Chap Chye

Serves 4 with rice and a vegetable side dish

50gr pork ribs or pork belly, chopped into bitesize chunks
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
20gr dried black fungus
1 carrot, peeled and roll cut
A few leaves of white cabbage or napa cabbage, cut into squares
6 sticks of dried tofu bamboo
A few dried lily bulbs (optional if you can find them)
50gr glass noodles, soaked in hot water
1 cube of red fermented beancurd
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch of ginger, minced
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 stalk of spring onion
1 tsp sesame oil

Place the mushrooms and black fungus in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Cover with a small plate and leave for 15 mins. Do the same in another bowl with the tofu bamboo and lily bulbs. 

Heat up the wok with a tablespoon of oil. Add the pork ribs and brown well. Turn the heat down and add the mashed red beancurd and the garlic and ginger. 

Add the carrot and mix well. Reserve the mushroom water and slice the shiitake mushroom in half, discarding the stem. Add to the wok, along with the black fungus (chopped into bite size pieces). Add the mushroom water (though strain, as it may be gritty) which should be at around 200ml and then add the oyster sauce, soy sauces and sugar. Add the tofu bamboo and lily buds and simmer for 30 mins gently. Add a little more water if it's looking dry. Add the cabbage and stir until combined, simmer for another 15 minutes for white cabbage, 5 minutes for napa cabbage. Finally add the drained noodles and simmer for a few more minutes, it should thicken up a little. 

Garnish with spring onion sliced diagonally, and drizzle the sesame oil over it. 

Monday 7 January 2013

Bone Daddies

You may have heard of this new little ramen place called Bone Daddies. There's been some excitement since its opening in early November, or perhaps I just follow noodle nerds. I sat back and watched it all unfold on Twitter, as picture after picture of bowls of tonkotsu littered my Twitter feed. 

I sulked over it. Deep into Vegan Month, tonkotsu was not going to be mine. Made by boiling pig bones until you get the pure essence of pork, it is made milky white by collagen and fat (mmm!) and flavour released from the bones. As soon as veganism was over and done with, I ran down there to try it out for myself. 

Crazed by meat-lust, we kicked off with some decent fried chicken (£5); perfectly crispy and juicy, pepped up with a bit of lemon. Soft shell crab (£8) looked like creatures of the deep reaching out to you. Again, expertly fried they were meaty and served with a lime-spiked sauce. 

I ordered my 'T22' with extra broth (£3!) - I was somewhat over-excited... - which in hindsight wasn't really necessary and swamped the cock scratchings (stop sniggering at the back, it's chicken skin, fried) and rendered them lost in the brothy depths. Nonetheless, the clear soy-based broth was the very essence of chicken. Soft-boiled nitamago (soy marinated egg) was eggy fudgy heaven. Noodles had a decent pull to them and fat coated my lips, making them sticky, like a natural lip balm. I liked it but it wasn't the noodly epiphany everyone had me believe it would be.

It wasn't until I went back for more that I really fell in love with the place.

At 7:30pm on a Friday night, unsurprisingly there was a queue. With an eye on our watches for our impending cinema date, we still managed to get sat down quickly, within half an hour of when we first joined the queue. Cabbage with miso (£2.50) was an addictive and moreish little snack; the leaves were not quite the sulphurous tang of fully raw cabbage yet they still retained a crunch, and the miso sauce was punchy and flavoursome. That soft shell crab had to be ordered again. 

This time, I heeded chef Ross Shonan's advice and went for the standard, non-extra-brothed version. The tantanmen (£10) had a rich sesame-flavoured thick broth, garnished with minced pork as well as chilli and a bit of chicken. Extra corn I added, because there is not a lot that isn't improved with extra corn. Spicy and filling, it was perfect for a cold night, like a big fat hug from the inside. 

I'm already planning my next trip. For roughly £20 a head with starters and sans booze, it's a casual dinner but one made with a lot of expertise and skill. Their cocktails looked pretty decent, and we had a lovely canteloupe sake that the house kindly gifted us.

It might make me fat. I'm ok with that. 

Bone Daddies
31 Peter Street
London W1F 0AR

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Thursday 3 January 2013

Honey & Co., Fitzrovia

Honey & Co. is a tiny little restaurant tucked away in the deepest depths of Fitzrovia. Serving food from the Middle East, chef Sarit Packer has a good pedigree for this style, having worked at Ottolenghi and Nopi. We made a late lunch booking; with only a handful of tables, the place was busy and bustling. Once squeezed in, we ordered some meze to share (£5 per person); hummus was smooth and creamy, aubergines roasted and marinated in a piquant sauce. Cheese pastry triangles I thought may have been better warmed, but little balls of a mozzerella-like cheese served with a herby green dressing were great. A tomato, bulghar wheat and caper mixture was scooped up greedily into warm pitta breads.

We had a pretty hard time trying to decide on mains and we delighted our host by opting for all of them to share (bar the vegetarian dish, because, well...). Sea bream (above) in a spiced tomato sauce, cute in its cast iron pot was spicy but balanced, the delicate flavour of the fish coming through. Lamb was pulled into soft chunks and piled on top of a flat bread, scattered with pickled vegetables and shiny pink pomegranate seeds. Pick of the bunch was a chicken dish that was topped with fried vermicelli strands; I thought the dish a little over-sweet but my friends disagreed. And that veal shank (below) was tender enough to dispose of the knife, pulling away from the bone with ease and sweetened with the fruit.  

Desserts arrived, and while not usually one for sweet things the chocolate mousse particularly took my heart; whipped into lightness, the dark chocolate was heavily flavoured with cardamom. Flakes of salt decorated the top - perhaps why I liked it so much - which gave it an interesting sweet / savoury dimension. I concentrated on this while my friends made their way through a beautiful-looking plum and mascarpone cake, and some sort of whipped cream concoction topped with blueberries and hazelnuts. 

Wine was served in stubby glasses, a Verdiccio that was startlingly easy to drink as we whiled away the afternoon there. It's not fancy; we sat slightly cramped amongst paper tablecloths, but it was comfortable and casual; Itamar who served us was so jolly and friendly. They have the most adorable bathroom so make sure you visit it. For roughly £30 a head, we ate handsomely and left happy. 

Other people have been for breakfast which looks equally as good - pastries are clearly their strong point. They do have slightly odd opening hours (see below) though. 

Honey & Co. 
25a Warren Street
0207 388 6175

Mon-Wed 7:30 - 19:00 
Thu-Fri 7:30 - 22:30
Sat 9:00 - 17:00 
Closed Sunday

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