Monday 25 March 2013

Pick n' Mix: Part 2

This week's pick n' mix edition is a combination of old favourites, new discoveries and ones to watch. 

Silk Road

Silk Road is probably my most frequented restaurant, with my first visit being way back in March 2010. Since then birthdays have been celebrated birthdays there, I've had girly catch-ups and reunion dinners and even a date (though going with more people is recommended - those dishes, they big). The old favourites are still as amazing as ever - home-style aubergine and home-style cabbage will always perplex me as to how they could be so tasty. Cucumbers in hot sauce, lamb skewers and fried dumplings are staples, and more recently we've branched out to other noodle dishes, most notably the one pictured; Xinjiang fried noodles with lamb. I've never spent more than £20 there - I've never left anything less than stuffed. 

49 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR
Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Staying local, Ambriento is a taco truck on North Cross road's Saturday market in East Dulwich. More Global-Mex than strictly traditional, they don't churn their tacos out quickly but the tequila-battered fish taco I had, garnished with julienned vegetables and hot salsas was brilliant. £5.50 for two makes a light meal or a good snack. 

More traditional tacos are to be found on the other side of town at Taqueria in Westbourne Grove. The tacos were just like the ones I had in Mexico City (though several times the price). A busy little place, the staff were super-friendly and indulged our request for an off-menu mezcal margarita. Tacos al pastor (pictured) contained lovely spiced pork and barbecued pineapple and were the pick of an excellent bunch. 

139-143 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2RS
Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Is there any mashed potato finer than Pitt Cue Co.'s bone marrow mash? Admittedly not the most attractive of names if you're a touch squeamish but the hint of garlic and rich, meaty sauce that encircles the mound of mash makes this one of their finest sides. I lamented the loss of the burnt ends mash, but this is a more than ample replacement. 

1 Newburgh St  London W1F 7RB
Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Check On is a new venture from George Craig and (ex-Hix) Terry Edwards; they previously did a 2 night pop-up, Northern Invasion and are now doing Sunday lunches at The Endurance in the form of 'Hen Party'. Celebrating all things chicken, I was invited to the first one and the 4 course menu is a fun play on the bird - 'tea and dumplings' is a consomme served from a teapot, while the main event is a deboned chicken, stuffed and roasted. Served on a board to carve yourself, there are no fiddly bones to deal with, and skinny truffle chips to dip into the gravy. I'd recommend snagging the leg bit just above the gnarly claw as it was ridiculously tasty; and the dessert was a clever and delicious play on egg and soldiers. There are still tickets for their 28th April date and they're also on Twitter, for all upcoming events

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Pick n' Mix: Part 1

I've been finding recently that I'm less motivated to update this poor little blog of mine, particularly in regards to restaurants. I suppose it has much to do with the pressure I put on myself in writing about them and a lot of the time I just want to recommend somewhere and direct you there, without all the guff of everything else that fills an entire blog post about it. So I'm trying something new; it might happen weekly, it might happen fortnightly, I guess it depends how often I eat out. There's no theme here, hence 'Pick n' Mix'; just places I went to and I liked. Unless I really didn't like it, and then you'll know about it. 

Quality Chop House 

This place has been slowly gathering momentum, and after a few stonking reviews from proper restaurant critics I suspect getting a table might be pretty tricky soon. Separated into two areas, the bookable main dining room operates a set 4 course menu for £35 while the no-reservations wine bar has a daily-changing menu to choose from. Sea urchin (pictured) were unadulterated, while lamb ribs cooked in mint sauce were crispy, tender and ridiculously addictive. You can rack up a fair old bill in the bar but apparently the wines are very interesting, says those in the know. We drank a very nice Albarino. I think. 

94 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R 3EA
The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

Little Social

I was invited to the preview evening of Jason Atherton's new place, Little Social which is now open proper. He's a busy man this year what with opening up this Parisian-style bistro, as well as the larger Social Eating House later this year in Soho. Oysters from Fowey to start were briny and plump, though my date's slow-cooked egg with butternut squash and parmesan soup overshadowed them, as any slow-cooked egg would do. A cote de boeuf was a beast, served on a wooden board to share - well marbled, well charred and well seasoned, the meat was served with decent peppercorn and bearnaise sauces. Buzzy and bustling, the place will do well - at £15 for steak & frites, it's affordable Atherton cooking. 

5 Pollen Street, MayfairLondonW1S 1ND
Little Social on Urbanspoon

The Drapers Arms

I've written about The Drapers Arms a couple of times before, but mainly in a 'special event' sort of way. I've visited 3 times since Christmas now (which, given it's in North London, is actually pretty frequent for me) and it's quickly become a favourite. Definitely on the gastro side of the pub spectrum, I've had one-on-one's (beautiful and generous poussin dish), girls' night at Valentine's (an enormous steak), and, most recently, a ridiculously delicious veal lasagne (pictured) at leaving drinks. Truly a pub for every occasion. 

44 Barnsbury St.  London, N1 1ER
Drapers Arms on Urbanspoon

Fino's 10th Birthday

I'll admit that I've never visited Fino, but after their 10th birthday lunch they are firmly on my radar. Crab empinadas, braised ox tongue, pigs tails slow cooked with prawns, the above carabineros (red prawns) and the rest of the menu we were treated to were a masterclass in skillful Spanish cookery and careful ingredient sourcing. 

33 Charlotte St, London W1T 1RR
Fino on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Roti King, Charing Cross Road - NOW IN CAMDEN

EDIT: Now at 40 Doric Way, London NW1 

Anyone who's been to Malaysia might balk at the £5.50 price tag, but the roti canai at Roti King is really freaking good. Located on the shabby part of Charing Cross Road, Roti King is actually inside Malaysia Kopi Tiam; the roti chef stands at his own counter at the front, turning and slapping the dough to order. 

An alarming / delicious amount of oil goes down on the counter and the dough is formed. The chef then spins it in the air, slapping it down to get that flaky thinness. Meanwhile, a bowl of curry (lamb, chicken, dhal or fish) is popped into the microwave while the roti cooks. 

What you get is two rounds of lovely flaky bread to dip in a spicy, fragrant bowl of curry. Two large pieces of chicken on the bone are juicy and flavoursome. A hot mug of teh tarik, sweet and milky soothes the spices of the curry. 

On the menu there's also murtabak, which is the roti cooked with a filling, wrapped up like a parcel. There are various sweet options if that's your thing too. We also tried a Penang Char Kway Teow on the main menu which while nice enough, wasn't up to much. I'd stick to the rotis. 

Roti King, inside Malaysian Kopi Tiam

67 Charing Cross Road, 
London WC2H 0NE

Malaysia Kopi Tiam on Urbanspoon

Monday 11 March 2013

Steak & Blue Cheese Salad

When I have people round for dinner, I have terrible trouble thinking of things to make which don't involve at least a substantial piece of meat and some fixings. You'd think I would have learnt from my vegan month, but thoughts always stray to something roasted or braised. More often than not, it will be a fairly lengthy recipe to take time over, and there just seems to be more of a sense of celebration in these dishes. 

This kind of meal assumes you have the time to spend over such things though. I recently had friends over for dinner after work and rather than make them wait until the early hours while my centrepiece cooked, this steak salad was pretty much perfect; quick to make and decadent enough to feel like a treat. Faces fell somewhat when I announced that we were having salad, but they soon perked up when the steak was sliced into it and the blue cheese crumbled over it. Salad at our house is rarely the healthy sort. I'll admit I wouldn't win any prizes on presentation, though. 

It seems rather wrong to be eating salad in this weather, but served warm and with a mountain of oven chips, it didn't really need to be Summer. 

Steak & Blue Cheese Salad

Serves 4

500gr rump steak at room temperature
70gr blue cheese, at room temperature
A handful of cherry tomatoes
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, roasted and skins removed (or use jarred)
1/2 a red onion
30gr walnuts, toasted and left to cool
1 x bag of mixed strong leaves, like rocket and watercress

For the dressing:

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 tbsp creme fraiche or yoghurt (optional, but nice)
A pinch of salt and pepper

Whisk the dressing together and set to one side.

This is basically an assembly job. Heat up a griddle pan or a frying pan until it's really hot - oil the steak, not the pan. Fry until your desired doneness (medium rare, for me). Season generously on both sides and remove to rest on a plate under a tent of foil. Rest for 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, add the leaves and dress with half of the dressing. Use your hands to really get in there and work the dressing onto the leaves. Arrange on a plate, then halve the cherry tomatoes and slice the peppers into stripes. Scatter over the leaves. Slice the red onion into thin half moons, again, scatter. 

Slice the steak thinly against the grain. Any juice that remains can be whisked into the remainder of the dressing. Drape the steak over the leaves, give them a little wiggle, and drizzle the rest of the dressing over. Finally, crumble over the blue cheese and serve.

Monday 4 March 2013

Gold Mine, Bayswater

When one thinks of Chinatown in London, you're automatically directed to Gerrard Street just off Leicester Square. Not famed for the high quality of the food, those who know better go to Bayswater instead. I never bothered heading West to this concentrated strip of restaurants until a couple of weeks ago. In a city where more obscure Chinese cuisines are being embraced (Sichuan, Hunanese, Xinjiang), the poor old Cantonese staples, food that I grew up with, have been neglected by me quite heartily. 

Gold Mine has a reputation for duck, specifically Cantonese-style roasted duck. I've heard myths of Singaporean students buying them ready vac-packed and flying them back to Singapore with them for their families. You can reserve tables, and we went en masse for a Chinese New Year dinner. It's not big inside and they pack you in, but the staff were friendly and welcoming.

Roast duck comes in various portion sizes, either on the bone or off. I was worried that I'd built this duck up in my head quite substantially; I'd spent a long afternoon thinking about that laquered skin and glistening fat (it was a small lunch day...). I needn't have worried as it was pretty much glorious. 10 pairs of chopsticks came flying in as we tried to stay polite but really, we (I) failed. I preferred meat on the bone - there's just something about chewing around little bones that I enjoy, and it seemed slightly more succulent. The main competitor on the roast duck front is Four Seasons, but having tried that a few days ago I preferred Gold Mine's; the sauce drizzled over it was more savoury, Four Seasons' more sweet, and the meat less flabby than Four Seasons' version. 

Steamed egg with century egg and salted egg yolks was eggy heaven. Steamed until it is just set like a custard, this savoury dish is delicately flavoured. Each wobbly spoonful I had a little century egg or salted egg yolk hidden within it, and eaten with some steamed rice, it was comforting and creamy. They also do a prawn and scallop version which I'm keen to try. 

Siu yuk (crispy belly pork) was decent, though overshadowed by the duck that had arrived at the same time. Golden sand prawns disappeared in the blink of an eye; the prawns are coated in a salted egg yolk batter and fried, then mixed with chilli and garlic. I'd order a double portion next time. Aubergines with minced pork claypot was strangely flavourless and largely unremarkable, but the Japanese tofu with minced pork (pictured above) was another story. Discs of this soft tofu were fried so that they had a crisp outer coating, and then braised with the pork. 

Most of the table weren't keen on the pork spare ribs with bitter melon, which I sort of suspected might happen when I ordered it. Bitter melon is properly bitter, which I like but I've not found many who agree with me. Pea shoots fried with garlic made up the vegetal component, and although cooked a little past the point I'd have liked, they were tasty and fresh enough. 

Desserts were classic Cantonese restaurant style; banana and apple fritters I gave a wide berth and instead concentrated on a nice, grease-free fried red bean pancake, bafflingly garnished with parsley. 

For roughly £25 a head with beers and service, it was no Michelin-angling HKK, but decent Cantonese food done well. Probably the best roast duck I've had in London too, though I haven't yet done a duck tour. My arteries wouldn't approve. 

Gold Mine

102 Bayswater
London W2 3RR

Tel: 020 7792 8331

Gold Mine on Urbanspoon