Tuesday 19 May 2015

Of Book Launches & Supper Clubs - Chinatown Kitchen

This is a somewhat late post, given my book, Chinatown Kitchen, was published on 2nd April. I've been coming down from an adrenaline high ever since.

To launch my book, I held a party at the fantastic Drapers Arms. Truly, Nick Gibson is the master of being a total ledge - here I was, swanning in with my booze sponsor, Tsing Tao, and making a right ruddy mess of their prep kitchens in making canapés for 80.

Some party rules I learnt: DON'T to be in a situation where you're jointing 20 kilos of chicken wings on the morning of your own party. Those Coca Cola chicken wings did go down well, though. 

DO: Recruit your friends to pass round platters of things to eat. Like these smacked cucumbers. 

DON'T: Over-estimate. Canapés are canapés, not a full dinner. You probably don't need as many as 35 cucumbers. (Thanks Wholegood!) Still, the resident chefs were pretty chuffed with leftovers to pickle. 

DO: Ask your friends to help you out. I thought "naaah, I've got this all sorted" but actually it's nice to have someone around to go "AHHHH! People are arriving in THREE HOURS!" with. And to chop your cucumbers up. Thanks, Sheba

DON'T: forget to jot down some semblance of a speech. I am not good at free-styling. Instead, I just blathered on, thanking some people feebly. Oops. 

DO: Bring a Sharpie, to sign books with. 

Photo Courtesy of @LJHale

DON'T: Get drunk and draw willies in peoples' books. Unless they ask for it. 

There were also supper clubs, two nights held at the School of Wok. The School was pretty much the perfect place for me to host a dinner; they had all the right equipment and ingredients. There were made soft-shell crab sliders, udon carbonara, and I even made people eat century eggs, in a scotch egg form. 

Pic courtesy of @chefjeremypang 

Surprisingly, the century eggs were almost 50 / 50 split on favourite dish with the sliders, something that was completely unprecedented; I'd almost put them on the menu as a bit of a challenge! That showed me. 

I've had a lot of fun. Long may it continue. 

To buy the book, you can click here. (Woop! Currently 50% off!)

For more pictures of other peoples' efforts in cooking dishes from Chinatown Kitchen, click on the below.

Have you bought the book? Have you cooked anything from it? I'd love to hear from you if so!

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Knife-Cut Ribbon Noodles

Have you tried these knife-cut ribbon noodles?

They look like this in the pack:

When they're cooked, they go all frilly on the outside, and they feel like they're stroking your mouth when you're eating them.


They are my new favourite. I particularly love them with Egg & Tomato Noodles, and I've also adapted Hot & Sour Noodles to fit in with this shape of noodle. 

Both of these recipes can be found in my book, Chinatown Kitchen, which you can buy HERE. It's currently half price. Less than the cost of 3 London pints! (Damn you, London.)

If you're not near a Chinatown or a Chinese supermarket, you can buy these noodles online here.

Monday 11 May 2015

The Richmond, Hackney

It's in a peculiar place, this one. A good 10 minute stretch of the legs from Dalston Junction, down a rather unremarkable road, The Richmond is striking. Turquoise paint and a striped awning declares it the restaurant it is, with glittering lights - otherwise I would have just wandered past. Inside, they've spent some money fitting it out nicely, with a bar for people to perch at, sipping cocktails, while couples can dine at banquettes, and larger tables get the advantage of natural light by the windows. 

The Richmond is the latest offering from Brett Redman of Elliot's, in Borough Market. Here, like there, the wine list is curated by Isabelle Legeron, forefront of the natural wine movement, and indeed she created RAW, the UK's largest artisan wine fair. This lady knows her shit. Me? Not so much, though I noted some orange wines on the menu. 

Alongside your more traditional menu of starters, mains and pud, there is a selection of raw items, as you might expect from somewhere declaring itself 'East London's first raw bar'. But in addition to this is also an oyster menu, and this night we had kumamotos, those small, sweet Japanese oysters, grown on our home shores of Essex. The 'hearty' from Ireland was the largest of the lot, and somewhat ungraceful to slurp out of the shell - I'm pretty sure my date looked askance - and the Menai rocks from Wales were my favourite, as sweet and mineral as they come. Alongside, a herbacious, a tart and a spicy were the proffered sauces. I usually stick with pure lemon.

Raw red Sicilian prawns aren't just the realm of Rex & Mariano; here, they are neutralised from any squeamishness, having been already relieved of their heads and shells. I was a little disappointed, for the intensity of flavour really is within the heads, but the sweet flesh of the prawns themselves are showcased here. The advertised new season olive oil and lemon seemed to be a little bit lacking, though we were able to lightly spritz them ourselves. For the £9 price tag here, you might find better value in Soho. 

Potentially dish of the evening though were more prawns, this time deep fried whole, which demanded that you eat them whole. The shells were soft but crisp, so that you could crunch through them entirely. A silken aioli and the wedge of lemon were perfect accompaniments; nice and generous with the mayo too, which often restaurants are not. 

Tuna tartare with aubergine, harissa and mint was a flavour sensation - each bite revealed something new. The heat of the harissa was tempered by the cooling silkiness of the smoky aubergine, and upon further nibble, the richness of cumin seed came through, along with a passing glance at preserved lemon. Very clever stuff. 

From such a strong and refined start, it seemed peculiar to order a burger, though I am aware Elliot's has often been recommended. Instead I went for the lamb, celeriac and tenderstem broccoli with anchovy. The meat was well cooked, and the components fitted together on the plate, but I felt the dish was lacking in something - perhaps the excitement of the starters? - it felt a little ...expected. 

I don't think it helped that my companion declared his main as one of the best fish dishes he'd had at a restaurant. Yes, the squid was perfectly cooked, the clams just opened and draped with fronds of wild garlic. The sauce was made from two of the finest sauce liquids known to kitchens - white wine and butter. I was grumpy. 

The Bibb lettuce salad was magic and it perked me back up. The leaves were separated from the heart of the lettuce, and dressed aggressively with a shallot vinaigrette. The thing that sets it apart though was that it was really cold; the most refreshing of salads. I think I ate the whole lot. 

The waiting staff, who were incredibly charming and knew exactly when they were needed and when they weren't - a talent, given the restaurant's infancy - talked me into dessert. My hazelnut cake with ice cream was just the right portion for someone who just wanted a taste of something sweet. 

Across the table, (the less said about the finger poking the better) the banana tart is never something I'd order, as I'm a bit picky about bananas - I like them on the green, slightly flavourless side - but it was incredible. Smooth, caramel and intensely banana-tasting without that over-ripeness that often comes with it, it was a perfectly sharp wedge. 

The Richmond must be a welcome addition to the neighbourhood; it certainly would be if it had sprung up in my own. It does that effortless cool thing effortlessly without being sniffy, and it makes it a very easy place to spend an evening - an atmosphere seemingly instilled by its co-owner, Margaret Crow. The strengths for me lay in the seafood, which seems obvious; I'm looking forward to seeing the menu expand to include the seafood platters, and the £1 Oyster Happy Hour from 6 - 7pm Monday to Friday. Not that there's any chance I could get across town in time for that, but dammit I'll try. 

The Richmond

316 Queensbridge Rd
London, E8 3NH

I dined as a guest of the restaurant. All my opinions are staunchly my own.

There's a tart recipe in my book, Chinatown Kitchen! It's not made with banana though. Definitely coconut. You can buy it HERE.

Monday 4 May 2015

Kitchen Table, Fitzrovia

When Kitchen Table first opened in 2012, everyone flocked. Bubbledogs, the front-facing side of the restaurant, was incredibly popular anyway; co-owner Sandia Chang sources rare, specialist Champagnes to be served with gourmet hot dogs. It might sound like a nutty juxtaposition, but don't tell me you don't like hot dogs. Don't tell me you don't like fizz. Go on, put 'em together. There!

So when James Knappett, the chef there, announced that he was opening Kitchen Table, a 19-seater horse shoe shape around the edge of the kitchen out back within which the chefs prepare incredibly high-spec food, well - the phone lines jammed. He has an impressive pedigree - out abroad, he did time at Noma in Copenhagen and Per Se in New York, and on our home shores, he worked at Marcus Wareing's The Berkeley and The Ledbury. He is not a stranger to our fat jolly tyre specialist, and in fact was awarded one in 2014. 

I took my time with this one. Almost three years from opening, we booked for dinner. Out front, ramshackle and noisy. Push past this, beyond the leather curtains and it is an oasis of calm. The Kitchen Table operates two sittings, one at 6pm and another around 8pm - half of the seats sit down for each, so as to keep control in the kitchen. There are no turning tables here - with a solid 14, if not more, courses, you're in it for the long haul. The main ingredients are chalked up on a blackboard - 'scallop', followed by 'prawn', and perhaps 'beef', for example. Each course is preceded by a spoken explanation, a short description of what accompanies that ingredient, or how it is cooked. The menu comprises of British, seasonal ingredients which is devised each day, so no two sittings may ever be the same. 

Sure, famous, 'signature' dishes like this pressed chicken skin topped with mascarpone and bacon jam feature almost all of the time, and it's easy to see why - purest chicken flavour compressed into an impressive crisp, sweet yet savoury and creamy all at once. I also enjoyed the potato wafer (opening pic) made using potato water, and dabbed with sour cream, cubes of smoked salmon on top. It had a strong potato flavour which I had no idea you could get from dehydrating its water. 

We're readying ourselves for 16 courses, here, so I won't give a blow-by-blow account of everything we ate, especially since it's not likely to be repeated. However, the sweet, delicate little raw prawns with seaweed and dill deserve a mention for the complex flavours brought out on such a seemingly simple plate. 

Blowtorches in full force, Knappett meticulously scorches the skin of brill, rendering the flesh pearly and delicate, the skin crisp. Mustard leaf is a worthy accompaniment here, adding a bit of heat to the otherwise slightly dull turnip and daikon. 

I couldn't miss out talking about the potato foam with a 63 degree, slow-cooked egg nestling within, which came absolutely covered in heady, fresh truffle. That green oil there was made from wild garlic. Outstanding stuff, and proof indeed that one doesn't always need a lump of fish or meat to make a quality dish. 

...I mean, you CAN though so why not? After lamb sweetbreads that were golden and caramelised on the outside, served with a curried yoghurt with carrots, the grill next to us was fired up for the beef. Aged sirloin, seared, with brown sauce - a really, really posh HP - and topped with crumbs. My god, this was good. That beef fat, all yellow and creamy, was the very embodiment of beef. We were dismayed later on to see that other diners on the later sitting hadn't finished theirs. They were denied the beef broth, deemed too full and more the fool them, as the beef broth was clear and comforting, deep and flavoursome. It felt nostalgic, it reminded me of Taiwanese beef brisket soup, with a slight hint of anise scenting the nostrils. A bundle of seaweed in the middle gave it texture and an additional savoury oompf. 

Sweets were, I felt, slightly less inventive. A flop of pannacotta on top of a rhubarb compote was tasty enough, but lacked fireworks for me. 

The caramel dessert brought me back into the room. An ice cream, a mousse and a marshmallow, with cocoa crumbs underneath was very pleasing, texturally and I couldn't help but hoover it all up. Next, we had to make a group decision - banana or liquorice? - probably two of my least favourite flavours. Really, if someone manufactured banana-flavoured sambuca I'd cry, but actually, the frozen chocolate covered cylinder of banana was really very good. It was refreshing and surprising, all at once.

We finished the night off with a sharp-edged cube of fudge, topped with sea salt, and house-made damson gin, while we chatted to the chefs. I felt incredibly satisfied by the end of the meal; almost all the dishes blew me away. Out of 16 courses there was bound to be a couple I felt were weaker, which I did with the desserts, but perhaps it has something to do with my extreme prejudice towards savoury food. 

It's not cheap, and that could go some way to explaining why I took my sweet time getting there. It's £98 per head before you've even looked at the wine list. It's definitely (for me) a special occasion kind of place, and I couldn't recommend it for that enough. It's not the place to come for a big girls night out, or a raucous catch-up - the focus is the food, and you'll want to be focussing on it. Intently. 

Kitchen Table
70 Charlotte Street
London W1T 4QG

Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs on Urbanspoon

So I basically did describe the courses but for more pretty pictures look HERE.