Friday, 27 January 2012

Pre-Theatre Dinner @ The Savoy Grill

I have always been sceptical about pre-theatre menus. As a foodie, when going out I'm used to dinner being the main event of the evening. I don't want to be rushed through 2/3 courses of mediocre food as is often the case in some of the restaurants around London's theatreland. I don't want to be halfway through the first act when I'm suddenly caught short. Then again, I don't want to be sitting there wishing for the second half to end as I'm starving and the cast can hear my tummy rumbling from the Royal Circle.

The Savoy is as much of a London landmark as The Thames itself and is actually one of only a few hotels that overlooks it. This was my first visit since it's multi-trillion billion makeover and the results are stunning. I love that modern / art deco design and the hotel just seems to know how to maintain tradition, yet bring it into the 21st century at the same time.

The menu is short and simple, 2 courses @ £20, 3 courses @ £26 with a choice of three dishes for each course. The portions are well balanced and it's not that difficult to manage three courses in roughly an hour and a half. The Beetroot tart with goats curd was light with had good textures and had a delicate sweet and sour blend of flavours. The main was hot smoked salmon served with choucroute and raisins. The fish was beautifully cooked although the raisins should have been reserved for the cakes. Of the desserts, the cinnamon pudding with creme anglaise was as light on it's feet as Wayne Sleep and tasted sublime. The creme brulee was spot on, although I would have preferred a different flavoured sorbet to the redcurrant one provided. As you would expect, the service was impeccable and for 90 minutes you felt like you were back dining with Bogart, Monroe, Sinatra and Chaplin.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

An Orgasnic Evening - The Duke of Cambridge, Islington

Despite being a foodie, I've never been totally sold on this organic thing. Isn't organic food what the amateur gardener grows in their back yard? Isn't organic food the stuff that everybody used to eat years ago, yet didn't actually know it at the time? Anyway, in an era of mass production / less quality I'm open minded on the subject which means that I have an excuse to do my research!

The Islington food scene is as diverse as any area of London. OK, it doesn't have wall to wall Michelin starred establishments like Mayfair, but it does have numerous restaurants, cafes, bars etc of which the standard is generally quite high. The Duke of Cambridge has become a bit of an institution. Set back a couple of minutes from Upper Street, you probably wouldn't know it was there unless you were a local. It holds the distinction of being the UK's first ever organic gastropub and its commitment to such philosophies stretches from the food, beer and wine to packaging, wastage and utilities.

The pub is split into two areas, one reserved more for drinking whilst the rear is a cosy restaurant. The menu is ever changing, even during service and the organic feel even extends to the staff who are all genuinely friendly. After sampling the beer and some wine, we settled on two vegetarian dishes, the pumpkin risotto with gorgonzola and the chickpea and apricot tagine. The risotto was perfectly creamy with the cheese just giving it a special bite whilst the tagine danced all over the palate. Both were washed down with an excellent Viognier. For dessert, the lemon tart was pretty bog standard, albeit still deliciously zingy. The chocolate pot with salt and rosemary was on another level though. The chocolate was devilishly rich, but this was then broken down by the salt which then led to the subtle taste of the rosemary. A cheeky little sticky Muscat suitably complimented dessert. Some people may consider this pub to be a tad expensive and resort back to the argument why pay more for less? However, in terms of value for money I have absolutely no complaint and would recommend this venue to anyone.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Grilled Goats Cheese Salad

Goats Cheese is one of those marmite ingredients isn't it. Personally I love it hot, cold, crumbled, diced, sliced or even as part of a cheeseboard. This particular dish is good as a starter if you halve the portions or great as a main course on a Saturday lunch time as it was today. What I love about it is the array of flavours, textures and colours. For two people the cost is about £4 per head . Make sure that you use the cheese with the rind on or it will melt all over the place.

Ingredients : 2*150g of goats cheese, 100g sun dried tomatoes in olive oil chopped, loaf of ciabatta, packet of rocket, handful of pine nuts, clove of garlic, black pepper, balsamic glaze (optional), ex. virgin olive oil.

1. Heat the grill. Slice the bread into 2cm diagonal slices, place on baking tray and drizzle with the olive oil.
2. Cut cheese in half and place rind side down on a lightly greased baking sheet.
3. Toast pine nuts in a medium hot pan until golden.
4. In a bowl, toss the rocket, tomatoes and half the nuts together.
5. Place cheese and bread under the hot grill. Cook bread on either side for a minute or so. The cheese will be ready when golden on top.
6. To serve, place a mound of salad in the middle of a plate. Carefully place the cheese on top. Gently rub a garlic clove over the toasted bread and then place beside cheese.
7. Scatter remaining pine nuts over salad and dress with black pepper, extra virgin olive oil and the balsamic glaze.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Clay-pot caramelised cinnamon cod.

This is what I call fusion cooking. An asian recipe cooked in a Middle Eastern tagine. One would think that this was something invented by the nutty professor himself Heston Blumenthal, but in fact it comes from that f****** great chef Gordon Ramsay. It's a really f****** simple dish but the flavours will blow your b******* off I swear, or rather he does, rather a f****** lot. The recipe is good for two people and as the flavours particularly from the sauce are so intense, I suggest that it is served with some jasmine rice and some steamed chinese greens like pak choy. For 2 people...

Ingredients : 2*200g fillets of cod (other meaty white fish), tsp cinnamon, seasoning, tbs vegetable oil, 2 smashed garlic cloves, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 125ml water, 2 star anise, cinnamon stick, 3cm piece of ginger peeled and shredded, 25g caster sugar.

1. Heat oven to 180/gm 4. For the sauce mix together the garlic, fish sauce, water, star anise, cinnamon and ginger.
2. Pat dry the fish with kitchen roll and sprinkle with ground cinnamon and seasoning on both sides.
3. Gently fry the fillets in the oil for a minute or two either side and add to tagine / clay pot.
4. In a pan make a caramel by gently dissolving the sugar. Once syrupy, add the sauce. At this point, the sugar may set and become brittle. Continue to heat and it will soon blend into sauce. Cook till syrupy again.
5. Pour sauce over fish and bake for 10-12 minutes.

Noodles with Aubergine and Mango

I'll be honest here, if I were doing the ingredients test on Masterchef again and had such things in front of me as Japanese noodles, aubergine and mango, I would definately put them together! Maybe that's why I got knocked out at the final interview! This recipe makes a great lunch dish and is one that can be prepared in advance and just left for an hour or two to infuse. I've adjusted the way the aubergine is cooked to make the dish healthier and to retain some more texture. Otherwise, you can just stick to the original as per the excellent The measures relate to 2 people and I'd say equates to about £2.50 a head, cheaper for more people due to herbs.

Ingredients: 60ml rice wine vinegar, 20g caster sugar, pinch of salt, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1/2 finely chopped red chilli, 1tsp toasted sesame oil, grated zest and juice of a lime, 1tbsp olive oil, aubergine cut into 1cm slices, 200g soba noodles (other fresh noodles will work too), mango cut into thin slices, 20g basil and coriander, 1/2 red onion thinly sliced.

1. Slice the aubergine, place in a colander and sprinkle with salt.
2. In a small pan gently heat the vinegar, sugar and salt until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add garlic, chilli and sesame oil. Once cool add the lime zest and juice.
3. Pat dry the aubergine with kitchen paper. Drizzle with olive oil and chargrill on a hot griddle pan until cooked on both sides. Set aside.
4. Cook noodles as per instructions on packet until al dente. Drain and refresh in cold water. Drain again and then dry in a tea towel.
5. Add noodles, mango, onion, half of herbs and dressing to a large mixing bowl. Toss together and set aside for at least an hour to allow flavours to infuse.
6. To serve, add rest of herbs and aubergine and pile onto a plate.

The recipe states that the aubergine is shallow fried and then added at (5). However I think that this would be less healthy and that the flesh would become a tad soggy. As it is, the combo of flavours, colours and textures makes for a very appetising dish.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Puy Lentil Galettes

After being a committed vegetarian for almost a week now, I'm constantly trying to widen my repertoire. However, today I have noticed that despite having cupboards and shelves full of all sorts of spices, pastes etc, I'm still lacking 'essential items' like Sumac, Za'atar and Pomegranate molasses. A shopping trip to the Middle East is therefore due. In the meantime, I had to settle for a dish courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi. I think that this would work equally well for lunch accompanied by a cold, crisp glass of white wine. The end result resembles an Eastern Mediterranean style vol-au-vent as pictured below. For two people, the cost is approx £2.50 per head, the most expensive thing being the herbs!

Ingredients : 100g puy lentils, 2 bay leaves, 1tsp cumin seeds / coriander seeds. 2 tbsp olive oil, small chopped onion, 2 garlic cloves crushed, 100g Greek Yogurt, handful of chopped mint / coriander, 1tbsp lemon juice, sheet of puff pastry, beaten egg, salt & pepper

1. Dry fry the seeds in a pan until aromatic. Grind down in a pestle & mortar.
2. Roll out the pasty and cut into 8cm circles. Chill for 20 minutes. Heat oven to 200/gas mark 6.
3. Cook lentils in 500ml of boiling water with the bay leaf until tender.
4. Gently fry the onion in half of the oil until soft. Add the spices, garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
5. Add the cooked lentils and leave to cool.
6. Brush the pastry with the egg wash and bake for 10-15 minutes or until crisp.
7. Stir in the yogurt, spinach, herbs, remaining oil and lemon juice to the lentil mix. Season to taste.
8. To serve, arrange pastry on a plate and pile high with the topping.

The lentil mix is fine on its own and would make an excellent accompaniment to some char grilled lamb. But the crisp pastry is what brings this dish together. You could even make smaller versions and serve as a starter/canape.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Fishy Fusion

It's January, everybody is on a diet, detoxing, de this and de that. Then we have the credit card bill for xmas to pay for. What we need is cheap, tasty and healthy food. This dish I just threw together after finding some cheap white fish in the supermarket. It's called River Cobbler from Viet Nam and at £2 a pack which provides two large fillets I thought I'd try it. It's similar to cod but maybe a bit meatier. To inject some flavour and keep it healthy I decided to steam it and serve with a noodle and veg stir fry. For two people it equates to about £2.50 a head.

Ingredients : 2 fillets of white fish i.e. river cobbler, sole. Small piece of ginger cut into juliennes, lime, fresh noodles, packet of Chinese veg, 1tbs soy sauce, 2tbs oyster sauce, 1 tbs veg oil

1. Cut the fillets in half length ways and roll up. Secure with a cocktail stick.
2. Place into a steamer and top with the ginger and a slice of lime.
3. Steam for about 8-10 minutes until fish is cooked.
3. Fry off veg / noodles in hot oil. Add soy / oyster sauce and a splash of water.
4. To serve, place noodles in centre of plate, top with fish and a drizzle of soy sauce.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Pear Tart Tatin

As a follow up to my previously published apple recipe, I had some conference pears left over from Christmas which were too small to poach. Hence, I made the Pear version. The recipe / method is exactly the same although the end product is slightly different as the pears do not have the acidity of apples.