Wednesday 30 October 2013

Posh Breakfasting: Quo Vadis

The payday Posh Breakfasting continues strong into Month 2 and our chosen venue was Quo Vadis on Dean Street. Headed up by Jeremy Lee, I've been only once for dinner, though I've wobbled around their upstairs bar more times than I'd care to admit. 

A deathly hush greeted us when we arrived near opening, at 8am. Comfortable banquettes, plump cushions and white linen table cloths exude an air of luxury, and we were the only diners there for the duration of our visit. The menu isn't an extensive one, and actually looks more suited to those with sweeter tastes than mine. Coffees were strong and smooth, and the 'Kipper' at £7.50 was ordered. 

And that's exactly what turned up. A kipper, warmed on a plate. We were asked if we'd like bread with it - toasted? Fried? - and a few toasted slices of sourdough arrived for 2 of us to share. My friend's fry up arrived with, peculiarly, an enormous bundle of watercress piled on top. 

My kipper was... very nice. Probably the best kipper I've eaten. Plump, smoky, salty. A wedge of lemon wouldn't have gone amiss. 

When we got the bill, the toast offered came up as £4.50. I dunno. It seemed over the top. Does anyone eat kippers without bread? That smarted a bit. 

EDIT: Quo Vadis got in touch to make amends, as it turns out we were charged £4.50 in error - sourdough, fruit manchet, a slice of plain, a slice of rye, with homemade jam, honey and butter is £4.50, toast and bread is usually gratis with the kipper.

26 - 29 Dean Street
London, W1D 3LL

Monday 28 October 2013

A Tale of Two Dim Sums

Not so long ago, I achieved the dream schedule - a double dim sum weekend. Unlike, say, the roast dinner, it's completely achievable to do this. Dim sum is the ultimate variety meal and often no two sessions are the same. 

The venues in question couldn't have been more opposite to each other. Dragon Castle is a stalwart; a great big place on the unlovely Walworth Road, under the shadow of Elephant and Castle. Often bustling on a Saturday or Sunday lunchtime, it's sparsely occupied in the evenings. I often meet friends there for an informal dim sum brunch; cheap and cheerful, the dim sum dishes are on a colourful laminated menu. Tea is slopped out of teapots to passing cups, and the waiting staff are perfunctory.

The usual suspects are on the menu; sticky har gau, dense and meaty siu mai. We usually order far too much of the fried stuff (in particular, prawn cakes wrapped in beancurd skin are a favourite) and they usually have some rather more interesting dishes to the uninitiated. My most recent visit involved chicken's feet - served cold, de-boned so you can chew gleefully through flappy goose-pimpled skin, dressed in chilli and sesame. I know. I'm really convincing you, right?

But they also have a decent range of cheung fun, that slippery sheet of rice noodle wrapped around a variety of fillings, drenched in a sweet soy. Not all of their dishes are a total success - fried dough wrapped in cheung fun can sometimes be a little stale, but with prices like theirs, it's hard to complain. 

They often have interesting specials, like the cubes of turnip cake, stir-fried with spring onions and beansprouts. Crisp on the outside, gooey in the middle and studded with tiny chunks of Chinese sausage. Incredibly moreish, dipped in a little chilli oil.

So we usually stuff ourselves silly, get the dim sum dishes cleared away, and as is tradition, finish up with a plate of noodles. Beef ho fun for me please. I've never paid more than £18 a head for the food, tea and service. It's nothing fancy - it's a stuff-yourself-silly slayer-of-hangovers kind of meal. I won't make the mistake of cycling home after that lot again.

Dragon Castle

100 Walworth Rd  
London SE17 1JL

Dragon Castle on Urbanspoon

Hutong couldn't have been more different. I wouldn't traipse through the place dragging my cycling gear behind me. Up the Shard, the view is breathtaking; perhaps more so in the daylight, for London isn't a city of twinkling sky scrapers and actually it's nice to see those landmarks we have. 

I was invited to the launch of their dim sum menu and we kicked off with some pan fried dumplings, some with vegetable and bamboo pith, others with minced lamb. So far, fairly unusual but executed well, with crisp bottoms and soft tops.

Rose Champagne shrimp dumplings were a posh take on the har gau, and a curious pink they were. Though I couldn't detect the champagne flavour, they were pretty orbs and well made, bouncy juicy prawns within and light dough encasing them. This was no ordinary dim sum.

As was evident with the crispy shrimp rolls with thousand year egg. The pastry encasing the prawns and a hint of the fabled century egg was light and greaseless, topped with sesame seeds. The surprise lay within, with a little pickled ginger throughout - actually a classic condiment with preserved egg.

Another dumpling not often done well in your local dim sum joint (at least not in London) is the siu long bao - the Shanghainese soup dumpling. These little bad boys must be left on the spoon (which has a little black vinegar in) for just long enough to cool, before you shove it in your gob and pop the dumpling, a flavoursome broth filling your mouth. While not up to the stellar heights of Din Tai Fung's (which you'd expect, given the latter specialises in them), they were certainly the best of its kind I've had in London. Often these examples are overly doughy in their desperation to hold their broth, but not here. Mine just about made it to my spoon with their precious, porky filling. 

Desserts are classically flavoured; we love our black sesame, and these squidgy numbers rolled in peanut were elegant and delicate. 

Washed down with Pu'er tea (one of five types you can choose from the menu), this dim sum experience was a rather more refined affair. There was no spinning of the lazy susan repeatedly to stuff as many dumplings in your face - no, this is where you savour every mouthful, marvelling at the quality of it. It's also a cheaper way to dine at Hutong. Their evening menu can be prohibitively expensive, so this is a cheaper way to get the full Hutong experience. Undoubtedly the dim sum is more expensive (we had 10 dumplings / morsels, plus a shared soft shell crab dish, tea and service which would have been £30 a head), but you pay for quality. 

I can't say which I preferred, if there is one to prefer over the other - the two are incredibly different experiences. But then, like I said, no two dim sum meals are really the same. 


Level 33, The Shard  
31 St Thomas St, 
London SE1 9RY
020 3011 1257
Hutong on Urbanspoon

Friday 25 October 2013

Dunne Frankowski at Sharp's

Dunne what? At where? I kept seeing Instagram photos popping up on my feed of a trendy coffee shop tagged at this location and I didn't take much notice as really, I don't take much notice of coffee. Then my friend Ed wrote about it here and I realised it wasn't just about coffee, but toasted sandwiches too. Who doesn't love a toasted sandwich? Show me them and I'll shun them appropriately. 

So, what with it being a 5 minute walk from my office, I strong-armed Ed into meeting me there for lunch. There's a barber shop out back and a cavernous, rather dark space with a simple bar. Huge chrome coffee machines and a few grills for toasting sandwiches is the sum of its parts. I ordered a meatball, cheese and pickled fennel toastie (£4.50) and we went outside to sit on their bench. 10 minutes later (for they are made and toasted from scratch) our sandwiches arrived and though my meatball number was flavoursome, cheesy goodness, the sharp tang of pickled fennel saying "HELLO! I'm here!" and working rather beautifully with the pork, I'd set eyes on Ed's Stilton and kimchi version (opening photo) and was immediately jealous. I lightly cajoled him into swapping his other half with me and I'm glad my bullying tactics worked because it was a winner. Kimchi and Stilton on paper sounds like a flavour sensation, perhaps overwhelming, but it wasn't - it was perfect. 

We finished up with a greengage and custard tart that actually I bullied Ed into making for me, and only got a little disheveled in its bike ride. So really I'm just teasing with that photo as they don't sell them at Dunne Whatchamacallit. 

It's just dawned on me that I wasn't very nice to poor Ed. But at Dunne's, the bread is sourdough, the cheese is posh, and these guys sure as shit know their pickles. They are really very good. 

Dunne Frankowski at Sharp's  

9 Windmill Street, 

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Salt n' Pepper Cod Cheeks

I spent a week during the summer in the glorious sunshine, utterly miserable. That we even had a summer was a surprise to all of us, but blue skies abounded and I sat in the garden, working from home and on my tan. The misery came from having torn every ligament in my left ankle from a drunken trampolining accident. I was housebound, a support boot strapped from foot to knee. I managed to crutch myself down the road to Lordship Lane before I realised that if I were to buy any more than one item, I wouldn't actually be able to hold anything and hobble myself home at the same time. I made the most of it; Moxon's were had cod cheeks on sale and I decided to deep fry these silky nuggets. They cheered me up some.

Salt and pepper squid is one of my favourite bog-standard-Chinese dishes. It's not easy to get a really decent version - often, they're covered in a thick, tough batter without the hint of spice the decent ones hold but when done well, they're addictive, the chilli building up with every mouthful. I like them crisp, light and greaseless. Applied to cod cheeks, these required just a dusting of flour, a brief frying in oil to keep them light and moist. Anything more cumbersome tends to slip off the flesh like a jacket, dismissed at the bottom of the plate. 

Biting into these cod cheeks is far different from squid (obviously) - they don't have the resistance against the teeth like squid do, but rather the flaky loveliness you get from a fillet of firm, white fish. Liberal use of Sichuan peppercorn in the dusting gives them a hint of lemon, a tingling of the lip. The double-cooking method of deep frying and then stir-frying with chilli give it that extra oomph.

Salt & Pepper Cod Cheeks 

Serves 4 as part of a multi-dish meal

A large handful of cod cheeks
5 level tbsp of potato flour - essential for extra crunchiness
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
Hefty pinch of white pepper
A few grinds of black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 large red chillis
1/2 a red onion
A wedge of lime
A couple sprigs of coriander
Vegetable oil, to deep and stir fry

Toast the Sichuan peppercorns in a dry frying pan, then grind to a fine powder. Mix with the potato flour, black and white pepper and the salt. 

Heat the oil (enough to cover the cod cheeks) until a breadcrumb sizzles vigorously. Meanwhile, slice the red onion into half moons and slice the red chilli into rounds. 

Line a rack with kitchen paper. Dust the cod cheeks well in the flour mixture, and then fry, taking care not to overcrowd the oil as it'll make it drop in temperature. Fry for a few minutes, turning over now and again. Be careful, as they're quite delicate. Remove and drain on the kitchen paper. 

Pour away all the oil but 1 tbsp (if using a wok) and stir-fry the red onion briskly, until just softened. Add the red chilli and the cod cheeks, and stir-fry very carefully for a few seconds. Turn out onto a plate, decorate with coriander and a wedge of lime, and serve immediately. 

Monday 21 October 2013

Eating in Cádiz

From Seville, we took a two hour train down to the coastal town of Cádiz to flop on a beach for a few days. After leaving the bright blue 30 degree sunshine of Seville, it was just our luck that it was cloudy for our first day. We wandered from our apartment (again, Air B n B - such great value, and a beautiful flat) that was right at the top of the spit that makes up Cádiz through the old town, taking in the sights (another Cathedral) and getting lost in the warren-like cobbled streets. Once on the Playa Santa Maria del Mar (often listed as one of Spain's best beaches) we carried on walking until the town next to us became ugly hotel buildings and blocks of flats. We went for a bracing dip in the sea before we sought sustenance. 

Freiduria Las Flores (Plaza Topete 4) didn't look like much - a front window shows fried fish and a small queue of people were there for takeaway. There were seats further inside, but we elected to stand by the bar with a glass of beer. We started with a plate of sweet, boiled prawns - startlingly expensive, double the price of everything else - and carried on ordering, plate by plate. Chocos (cuttlefish) were thick matchsticks, lightly dusted in flour and deep fried until crisp and dressed with a squeeze of lemon. A plate of seafood rice no bigger than my palm was stodgy goodness. As we found was usual, the only vegetables on offer was 'ensaladilla Rusa', often shortened to just 'ensaladilla' - Russian salad. Potatoes, carrots, and other indeterminable vegetables dressed in mayonnaise. We passed on it. 

Pulpo a gallega didn't come with any potatoes, but were slightly wobbly slices of octopus in a fruity olive oil. The paprika it was sprinkled with had a pretty good kick. This was straightforward decent stuff - a little gem in the stark ugliness of the new town. With a couple of beers each, our bill came to 18 or so Euros. 

Not all seafood we had was as successful. We were staying in Barrio de la Vina and the road our apartment was on was one of the prettiest we found; palm tree-lined and cobbled. Restaurants had tables outdoors, and I was excited to see puntallitas (whole baby squid) on the menu. Though well fried, these weren't cleaned properly and though edible, were a little fiddly. Perhaps I'm spoilt by Morito's. Elsewhere, fried boquerones were a little bitter and could have been fresher. This is what happens when you stray from The Spreadsheet.

We attempted to go to El Merodio, famous for its clams a couple of times but both times it was shut. I'm fairly certain it's due to the Saturday being a public holiday, so no boats out for fresh fish. We came a cropper of this and ended up in a down n' dirty dive bar, eating some pretty grim tapas, but at 1 Euro a plate, we were in no position to complain. Nearby, we ordered jamón croquettas at Taberna Maria (I'm not giving you the address) to be faced with this. 

Yup, they might as well be poos on a bed of crisps. For 7 Euros. The croquettas were completely smooth, bland paste - no sign of jamón within. After a little mild complaining, we retreated back to the dive bar to drown our woes. I woke up very hungry.

It was with much joy, then, that we discovered Casa Manteca (Calle Corralon de los Carros) was a mere two minute walk from our apartment. It is translated as house of lard - there was no way I wasn't going to enjoy it there. 

We visited on a Sunday lunchtime; people were spilling out on the streets drinking beers or sherry, balancing paper rectangles of jamón on their hands, or sucking down oysters being shucked in the street. Squeezing into the bar, the walls were decorated with hundreds of pictures of matadors, and is run by two brothers, sons of matadors. People were shouting orders amiably across the bar; for so many people in there, there wasn't any jostling. We asked for some jamón and three tapas the barman would recommend. Top left was thinly sliced chorizo, and next to it the jamón. Surprisingly for jamón that seemed quite lean, it was packed full of flavour and that essential nuttiness. Chicharrones, not to be confused with with the dish of fried pork rinds, was thinly sliced cold, fatty pork - cooked in garlic and cumin and dressed with lemon. Curled round a picos (little bread stick you get at every bar) they tasted sharp and pickled, which then mellows, allowing the pork flavour to get through. Great stuff, especially with a glass of Manzanilla. 

Our favourite beach, and the best sunsets to be seen are from La Caleta beach (also top pic), especially over a gin at the outside tables at Quilla (Antonio Burgos). Afterwards, we headed to Cumbres Mayores (Calle Zorrilla, 4). Known for its expertise in all things piggy, they even had beer taps shaped like jamón legs. We struggled through a long menu, picking out bits and pieces we recognised the names of, ordering a dish at a time so that we weren't overwhelmed with plates.

Tortilla came warmed and topped with a spicy sauce strongly resembling ketchup and flecked with tuna. It was weirdly good, in a trashy sort of way.

We did recognise 'secreto Iberico' on the menu though, which we ordered straight away. A cut from the prized acorn-fed pigs, this was cooked until pink in the middle. It could have taken a little salt but was otherwise delicious, and incredibly good value at around 3 or 4 Euros.

Iberico pork cheeks were tender and sweet, cooked in a little sherry; perhaps not up to the version at Bodeguita Romero in Seville, but almost there. More fried potatoes accompanied. I felt my waistline grow.

If I hadn't consumed enough pork fat, the thinly sliced 'pork belly' got me there. Cured pork fat with a hint of meat running through the middle of each slice came on a warmed plate, resting on top of a tomato drenched in olive oil. The tomato was essential for each mouthful. It was wickedly good. 

Lastly, the dish that finished us off were these tiny soft little spicy chorizo and fried potatoes, positively swimming in vivid, orange oil. I couldn't fault it. Manzanilla helped wash it down and I realised why this was sherry country.

Holiday over, we waddled back to London. I am visibly fatter.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Eating & Drinking in Seville

One of of my favourite things about Twitter (and really, the internet in general) is the wealth of experience you can glean from people you've never met, all around the globe. It changed the way I travel. While I still love guidebooks for the sheer information of them, when it comes to eating, there's no better information than what you can learn from a local, or one better travelled than you. When it comes to restaurants, guidebook information is often out of date or you're not exactly sure of what the motives are behind a recommendation. When you ask the interwebz and collate the information - I prefer the spreadsheet mode - popular places pop up multiple times. Places off the beaten track become accessible, and that shopfront you were sure looked a bit dodgy is revealed as a bit of a gem. If you're really lucky, a generous local will offer to take you on an tapas binge, as happened with us in Seville.

We dumped our bags in our apartment (which was a really great location, and cheap) and were whisked off to stop number 1 with Shawn Hennessey. Originally a Canadian, and perhaps now a Sevillian, she runs tapas tours and market tours for people into their food. We'd been chatting on Twitter for ages before my trip was even conceived; her twitter account (@SevillaTapas) is a wealth of mouthwatering pictures and tips. 

Our first stop, Las Teresas, was hidden down a little alleyway. Dark and cool, away from the day's heat, the ceiling was almost undetectable for all the jamón legs hanging. We were sliced a beautiful plate of jamón Iberico, full of nutty flavour and thin enough to just melt on the tongue. We followed this with a few slices of spiced lomo (from the loin of the pig), and a few triangles of cheese - perfect with a cold glass of Manzanilla. Our original request for Fino was refused on the grounds that the bottle wasn't cold enough. We returned the next day for more and had rather leaner slices of ham, so do ask for the fattier side, if that's your thing (and why wouldn't it be your thing?). 

Onwards to our next stop, which was Bodeguita Romero. A steel semi-circular bar in a strip-lit place, normally I'd have walked straight past it but for the privilege of local knowledge. There's also Bodeguita Antonio Romero, just round the corner and opened by the rival brother; it looks rather fancier but I'm told our place is superior. We had incredible pringá, which is a little toasted bun filled with morcilla, chorizo and pork belly. A speciality of the Andalusian region, the combination of the meats sound a little intense, but were spread sparingly enough to be discernable from one another, yet decadently enough to soak that little bun. We bought a little pringá pack in the supermarket later on in our trip and the amount of fat on the pork belly is obscene. More on that experiment later...

We also had the potato salad, which while it looks like a bog standard potato salad, tastes anything but. Fruity olive oil and sherry vinegar combined with comforting, silky potatoes made this one of my highlights of our tapas jaunt. 

That's not to say that these stewed pork cheeks were anything short of wonderful. You could cut them apart with a downward motion of a fork. Deeply piggy, in a sweet-ish sauce, I had to stop myself wiping round the plate with those fried potatoes you may see nestled in there. The dangers of tapas were beginning to ring home with me - why are we moving on? I'm happy here. What if the next place isn't as good? 

And, well, it wasn't. I can't remember what it was called; we'd had a few glasses by then, and upon recommendation from our waiter, had a rather tough slices of beef on potatoes. But no matter. We moved on. I saw, now, the upside to tapas touring.

When I casually mentioned to Shawn that it was 3:30pm, we near ran to our next stop, La Brunilda. Seville shuts down from 4pm to around 8ish for that famous Spanish siesta. We skidded in, got comfortable at the bar and ordered 3 of the 'crack burgers', a term from Shawn for the little mini burgers we had, so named for their addictive quality. Served pink, the beef was slightly spiced, topped with a miso dressing and a little onion chutney. Juice squirted out liberally when they were bit into, and the staff were on hand with stain remover on our tshirts. We were in a fancy tapas place. Shawn mourned the usual brioche
-like roll they'd run out of, but I thought the ciabatta-style bun perfectly passable.

It was the next dish that impressed me most, though. Grilled squid was perched on top of migas, which traditionally is breadcrumbs soaked in olive oil, water, garlic, paprika and suchlike. These are not crisp breadcrumbs, but were cooked till soft and cake-like. There was something vaguely familiar about this dish - the migas had scrambled egg folded within and little lumps of flavoursome pork fat, garnished with spring onion. It struck me that it reminded me of egg-fried rice, and that's why I liked it so much. Classic Chineser.

Again, I'd have loved to have given La Brunilda a more thorough working through of the menu, but instead we went to look round the Setas of Seville - a big waffley mushroom-like sculpture that you can walk around the top of (opening photo). A refreshing beer or two later proved to be not so refreshing and our 5am airport taxi took its toll. I woke up face down, fully clothed in the apartment bedroom at 8pm, disorientated but proud that we'd adhered to Spain's siesta rules. We stopped off at Casa Morales (above) for a little fortification - okay, more cured pork - before we called it a day.

The next day we put in some serious sightseeing i.e we visited the Cathedral. Top tip: avoid the long queues by buying your ticket at the Alcazar, and see two cathedrals for the price of one. You also get to laugh and wave your ticket in the face of a disgruntled German when he thinks you're queue jumping. 

For lunch, we visited Freidura La Isla, who deal solely in fried seafood. For 6 Euros we shared a cone of mixed fish, dredged in flour and deep fried. Cuttlefish, prawns, some sort of roe, squid and a white fish, drizzled with a little lemon. There were many people taking away, lots eating in. The tomato salad, made all the more delicious with a healthy drenching of olive oil and sherry vinegar, was essential in palate refreshment. I watched agog as an elderly gentleman ploughed through two portions of the stuff, and as I slowly looked round, realised that damn, these Spaniards love their fried fish. My hollow legs are perhaps not so hollow. 

After a walk around the bull ring our appetites returned, and a visit to Albarama couldn't have been more different to the functional severity of Las Islas. Here, there were (p)leather topped tables, cushioned chairs, and beer served in wine glasses. The food had a hint of the 90s - they love a balsamic smear - but the few plates we shared were really quite delicious. Salmorejo, more common in Seville than Gazpacho, was cold and creamy, sweet with tomato, garnished with hard-boiled egg and studs of jamón, needlessly faffed with alfalfa sprouts. A tuna mini-burger was juicy and pink, slicked with garlic. I could, just about, forgive them their smears.

That evening, we got our tapas touring back on track. We'd briefly stopped off at Casa Moreno with Shawn but hadn't eaten there, so we knew that the shop front, filled with products with gorgeous packaging, actually hid a tiny little bar round the back. The man ensconced behind the bar often jotted on pieces of paper, and looking around at the walls covered in framed pictures of bullfighters, we saw those pieces of paper with quotes or poetry written on them in his pretty script. With our limited Spanish and a little of his guidance, we ordered from a small menu; the place was a lesson in efficient storage. Everywhere you looked was actually a door to a fridge, a cupboard, a shelf hiding various meaty things.

It was by no means health food. We thought we ordered morcilla, which we did and came out on squares of paper, sandwiched in toasted slices of bread. But we were also given spicy, oozing sobresada smeared with a pungent blue cheese. Sounds horrendous, but it was only horrendously moreish.

By now the bar was heaving - there was at least 7 people including us there so we ordered one more tapa before we left. What was listed as 'anchoas' and we had thought anchovy must have been a smoked sardine fillet due to the sheer size of it. It was silky smooth, delicately flavoured, not in the least bit salty. I now wish I'd thrown all my clothes away and bought everything in the shop to bring home in my suitcase. I loved Casa Moreno very much.

We headed over to La Azotea, the third restaurant of its group, and the newest opening in Santa Cruz. We'd walked past the day before and it was a total building site - tonight, sleek and polished on opening night, it was unrecognisable. Pulpo, traditionally served on boiled potatoes and dusted with paprika were given a revamp. The potato puree it was in was Robouchon-esque - I can't imagine that there was much potato to fat (olive oil?) and my god it was delicious. Completely smooth, almost soup-like in consistency, I mopped up remnants with my finger. The octopus was nice too. But that potato.

We bumped into our now-old friend Shawn and under her gratefully received instruction, we ordered the clams, swimming in white wine and their own juices. Tiny little baby artichokes were fried till crisp, and this was everything you'd want from a clam dish. We languidly sucked the meat from the shells, a little pile of them gathering.

Just to make sure of the place, we ordered the croquetas which - joy! - come with more potato puree. If I'm honest, none of the croquetas we had on this trip matched up to those of Jose's or Barrafina's, but were nice enough. Morcilla, this time studded with rice, topped with a fried quails egg was spicy and rich, not as rugged as our black pudding, but milder and sweeter.

Things get a little hazy at this point. We stopped for a few more beers. We had caricatures drawn of ourselves at extortionate prices. We weave our way to Triana, over the river, to Casa Anselma. I'm told this bar has no sign, and the door is often guarded by the grumpy landlady, but fun is to be had. We experience no such trouble and we squeeze in to the most crowded bar I've ever seen. People sing loudly and beautifully to captive audiences, like a Spanish rap-but-not-rap battle (music isn't my strong point...). Some dance, flamenco-like. They free-pour the gin. I woke up with only this picture to show me that it looks like we befriended the landlady.

The journey to Cádiz that day was a painfully hungover one.

My spreadsheet with addresses is HERE, the places mentioned are in bold. I've marked places on a Google map HERE