Tuesday 22 April 2014

The Ethicurean, near Bristol

I'll admit, I raised an eyebrow at the wankily worded website and I'm glad I swept my cynicism aside, because The Ethicurean is a lovely place. We lucked out with a sunny Sunday lunch booking and took full advantage of the walled gardens the restaurant is set in, where they grow vegetables and herbs for the kitchen. We sat outside, basking in April sunshine, occasionally batting a wasp or two away, while the rest of the picnic benches slowly filled up.

The menu is, to my mind, modern British with a twist. Most dishes seem to have some sort of pickled element, and although I was drawn to 'Variations of garlic soup: cultivated, wild & fermented', the idea of goat bacon was too tempting to pass up. Especially 'goat bacon, burnt chicory, pickled root, apple balsamic, coriander crackling, jerk oil & parsley ferment'. This was not a pithy menu, but rather ingredient-heavy, a listing of parts.

My dish arrived on an enormous plate, a pretty pile of vegetables centre stage. Goat bacon tasted of lamb, slightly salty and tender. Bitter slivers of chicory blushed pink on the plate, tempered by a sweet onion jam. Sharp bursts of a pickled root (I'm not sure what) completed the sweet, bitter and savoury balances, though I couldn't taste much jerk in the oil. I'm not sure I missed it much.

Ham hock broth with a poached egg was perfectly clear and poured table-side. Any notion that perhaps soup wasn't fitting for the weather was put to one side; with the rainbow chard, lovage 'crackling' and parsley, it was Spring in a bowl.

Then, we waited. We waited and waited and waited. Perhaps if we had a bottle of wine to while away the time over, and we didn't have anywhere to be, we might have been ok. But we sipped on our fizzy elderflowers and was tapped our feet impatiently, glancing furtively at the door to the garden. Almost 45 minutes later, our mains arrived.

My 'butter-poached pollack with nettle, fondant potato, purple sprouting broccoli, pickled samphire, squid ink & fondant potato' was another pretty dish. The poached fish was firm and pearlescent, the meat flaking away densely. I had expected it to be very rich due to its poaching liquor, but instead the dish was light and bright. The vibrant green nettle sauce and the black squid ink gave the (again enormous) plate some drama, while incredibly brittle fish skin shards, the best kind of fishy crisps, gave a little texture contrast. The potato was sweet and fudgy, crisp on the outside, and I wished for more. I loved this dish very much. A side dish of sauerkraut (have I mentioned I love pickles?) had the tang of lactic fermentation, a method of pickling that uses the natural bacteria in the vegetable to preserve, rather than the quick-fix of vinegar. 

Somerset goat came in the form of meatballs and a cylinder of slow-cooked meat. The spheres were shot through with herbs, fork-tender yet sturdy. Rainbow chard, pickled pear and artichoke crisps made up the vegetable components, while burnt onion and apple balsamic sauced the dish. We neglected any carby sides and this was the perfect size for lunch in the sunshine. 

So obviously we wanted dessert. The Montezuma brownie with salt and pepper ganache was as decadent as it sounds. A crisp, sugary crust gave way to an almost-liquid inside of obviously high-quality chocolate. The scoop of malted barley ice cream we ordered seperately suited it so perfectly I wondered why they weren't served together. Though I couldn't taste any pepper in the ganache, its saltiness was just the right foil against the sweetness of the brownie. I fail to remember what the orange blobs are. 

After having spent just under 2.5 hours having lunch, we were keen to get going so we paid the not insubstantial (£70 for 2, booze-less) bill inside, where we could get someone's attention. The waiting staff were nice enough when they were around, but the restaurant was full and they were hard to find. No real harm done, but had the service been on top form, it would have been a damn near perfect lunch.  

The Ethicurean
Barley Wood Walled Garden
Long Lane
BS40 5SA

01934 863713

Monday 14 April 2014

Posh Breakfasting: The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

There's no denying that the menu at The Modern Pantry is intriguingly 'fusion'. Classics such as fruit salads are jazzed up with lime and rosewater syrup, and strong Asian flavours, like yuzu, sit side by side with curry leaves and halloumi. On the day we visited for breakfast, something seemed to have thrown things off kilter - staff were rushing around the place, we had to share a menu for a while, and flagging anyone down for a coffee was difficult.  

But no real harm done. Our Vegetarian asked for the sweetcorn and feta waffles to come with an egg and yuzu hollandaise to replace the advertised bacon (above) and was hoovered down quick smart. My own sugar-cured prawn omelette was attractively bronzed and fluffy. The chilli sambal was smoky and rich, just the right amount of heat for a breakfast dish. I loved it - it's something I can tell would blast a particularly gnarly hangover out of the water. 

Service issues aside, I really enjoyed breakfast at The Modern Pantry. The space is bright and light, mostly made up of greys and whites. I did have to sit with my coat on for the duration of the meal as it was a little draughty, though. 

The Modern Pantry

47-48 St John’s Square
London EC1V 4JJ 
020 7553 9210

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

Friday 11 April 2014

On Blogging and Blagging

I've had my account, @hollowlegs suspended from Twitter for 31 days now. I will hold my hands up  - I did A Bad Thing and accidentally broke the rules. When someone at Gauthier Soho received and tweeted a screenshot of the offending email, it got my back up. It was a food blogger, asking for a free meal in exchange for a positive review. 

That's the kicker. The 'positive' review. I've long since turned down specific invite-to-review meals but I don't begrudge anyone else going to them, as long as they're disclaimed. They're more able than I am, to be able to make seemingly impartial judgements. They're more able to deal with the awkwardness of the no bill situation, the fawning staff. Hell, if you've got the arrogance and the belief in your blog to approach a restaurant and ask for a free meal in exchange for a review, you're braver than I am.

But when you're asking for something free in return for a positive review, especially when you don't disclaim it, it is not cool. It's a shill. It's breaking trust. It's tacky and desperate. It gives bloggers a bad name, one I've tried hard to defend for the 6 years I've kept this little thing going. People don't talk or write about the bloggers who do have integrity; they don't talk about the bloggers who spend their free time doing the hobby they love, taking time to write just because they like to do it. No, whenever bloggers are in the press it is to complain about their big cameras, to complain about the sole person who broke the rules and offered a positive review. It really annoys me when bloggers give the haters such easy things to pull us up on and tarnish us as a whole. 

Why don't we all just be decent? I subscribe to hundreds of blogs; blogs that take free meals, blogs that take products, travel writers who go on trips. I trust them and I continue reading them from a judgement call I made for having all the information available to me. Disclosure. That's what it's all about - not who got what free, but the ability to know when you can trust what you're reading. 

The email I retweeted had the guy's phone number in it. I didn't realise that, it was a mistake. I think I broke the rule that says you can't publish someone's personal details. I assume that's it - I've heard nothing from Twitter yet. Can I come out of jail now please?

Monday 7 April 2014

Chee Cheung Fun - Rice Noodle Rolls

One of my favourite dim sum dishes is 'cheung fun', which is a lasagne-like sheet made of rice noodle and often stuffed with king prawns, char siu (Cantonese barbecued pork), or my favourite - deep fried dough. It's served with a sweetened soy sauce to pour over, and I could eat it every day if I could. 

In Malaysia and Singapore, the same rice noodle sheets are served without stuffing, called 'chee cheung fun' and, happily, you can buy packets of this in Chinatown in the fridge section to steam at home yourself. All you need is a sauce, maybe a topping or two. I ate this and variants of it for breakfast last weekend; the noodles are slippery and comforting, the sauce lurking within the folds. 

Chee Cheung Fun Sauce

Enough for 1 packet of cheung fun

1 tbsp dark sesame paste
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp hoi sin sauce
1 tbsp chilli oil with sediment, or Sriracha
1 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
5 tbsp water 
1 stalk of spring onion, sliced finely
1 tsp sesame seeds

Cut the cheung fun into 3 inch lengths into a bowl, with a tablespoon of water. Place inside a steamer and steam on a high heat for 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times. 

Meanwhile, mix together the sesame paster, the hoi sin sauce, light soy, chilli oil and water. Place in a small saucepan and simmer over a gentle heat, mixing well so that the sesame paste melts and the sauce is smooth. 

Spoon a couple tablespoons of sauce over the cheung fun, then top with the spring onions and sesame seeds. Serve with chopsticks for authenticity. 

I also like this with crushed peanuts, and sometimes I crack an egg into the rice rolls to steam about 10 minutes into the cooking process. A spicy, sweet and vinegar-spiked sauce with plenty of garlic and coriander also makes a great dressing, though perhaps not for breakfast. 

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Lockhart, Marylebone

I had been meaning to go to The Lockhart for a while after I met a couple of the owners at a party last Summer (dahling) and they'd talked excitedly about their passion for mezcal, reflected in their cocktail menu; I bloody love mezcal. But it took me a few months to get there and in that time they installed a new head chef, the acclaimed Brad McDonald previously of New York, and the mezcal was seemingly wiped from their drinks list, bar one lonely cocktail. The Lady Lockhart, a gin, cucumber, maraschino and lemon number, was a decent and well balanced hit of booze to start our dinner off with though.

We were in for an early, pre-cinema dinner and the room was dark and atmospheric, tables lit with candles, a bustling but quiet kitchen pass at the back of the room. Catfish goujons with remoulade and grilled chicken oysters with mustard were nuclear-hot, but once cooled were a tasty little number. I had incredible difficulty in choosing from the mercifully short menu - everything sounded amazing. 

Dirty rice with brown crab and smoked oysters (£14.50) was probably my least favourite dish of the evening. Although the rice grains were pearly and cooked well, I found the overall flavour a little too fishy. Catfish gumbo (£9) was far better; soft chunks of fish with a thick, spiced stew heavy with the slime of okra (which I love). 

On to mains, and the cornbread which seems to be at the forefront of most critics' reviews had to be ordered (opening photo). We were not disappointed. It was drenched in butter, reportedly cooked with lard too for an extra crisp base. A hint of honey flavoured the bread and we ate it straight from the cast iron pan, no adornment needed. Shrimp & grits (£18, above) was somewhat smaller than I had imagined, though the polenta was cooked until smooth and creamy, the prawns sweet and crunchy. I found it overly salty, and towards the end I started to struggle.

Stuffed quail with Madeira glaze (£16) was a cute little thing, and very cleverly stuffed with rice under the skin, so that it burst and spilled out when you cut into it. I love quail, and this was cooked as well as any I've had - blush pink meat, and crisp skin. We ordered coleslaw (£4) as we figured a place serving Deep South food would make it better than any other, but it was unremarkable. 

What was remarkable was the dessert - puffy light doughnuts with a chocolate sauce, made with rice flour (I think?) for extra crispness. Whoever is deep frying there knows their stuff. 

The bill, then. I suppose I shouldn't have been too shocked, since the menu prices were right there before me, but I wondered when a cocktail, a bottle of the cheapest house wine and a 3 course meal became a £70+ per head expenditure? I suppose I was taken aback as everything wasn't perfect, and it especially smarted a little as I had to ask for the 30% discount to be applied, for sitting down before 6:30pm. What was a nice little surprise when I made the online booking turned into a bit of an awkward one. Luckily I wasn't on a first date.

Still though, we were able to box up the leftover cornbread which my very clever boyfriend fried the next day for breakfast with scrambled eggs, which turned out to be one of the best breakfasts I've had in recent memory, so you know, all is not lost. 

22 - 24 Seymour Place

 0203 011 5400 

Lockhart on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Posh Breakfasting: Claridge's, Mayfair

Posh Breakfast at Claridges was a long time coming. We'd originally planned it for a Christmas treat - treat almost certainly being the operative word - but through one mishap or the other, we forgot to book and then it was full. Instead, we visited on a blustery February morning, only slightly conscious that we'd missed the famous Christmas tree. 

The whole place screams old fashioned posh. Plush carpets, polished silverware, well dressed serving staff and beautifully laid tables, at 8am the room was bustling. We were led to a table beyond the pretty dining room, a darker alcove with one other seating of businessmen eating granola. A shame we weren't able to eat in the main room but I didn't want to cause a fuss. 

The menu is likely to make you raise your eyebrows. Yes, that really is £6.50 for a cup of coffee. An English breakfast will set you back £17.50, and the eggs Royale I ordered was £18.50. It was a decent eggs royale, though I can't say it was the best I've ever had. If you're really pushing the boat out you could go for scrambled eggs with caviar, at a causal £75. 

Omelette Arnold Bennett (£19.50!) was a hefty plate of omelette, topped with smoked haddock. Mornay sauce, which is bechemel with added cheese, covered the lot and was grilled until browned and bubbling. This was the richest dish I could have ever imagined. My friend and I shared the Eggs Royale and this, and still half was leftover. 

My vegetarian friend asked for the Welsh rarebit, advertised with ham, to be served without. It arrived as menu'd, but the serving staff apologised profusely and a replacement arrived. It was nice that they removed it from the bill too. 

Speaking of the bill, we would have paid almost £30 each for our breakfasts with a coffee, had the offending item not been removed. Pretty punchy stuff, but you pay for the room and the experience. 

I am sad I don't have much of a sweet tooth, especially in the morning, as the pastries looked amazing. 

Brook Street, Mayfair
London W1K 4HR
Tel: +44 (0)20 7409 6307

The Reading Room - Claridge's on Urbanspoon