Friday, 20 July 2012

The Gilbert Scott : Restaurant Review

One of the most beautiful, iconic stand out buildings in London has to be the refurbished St Pancras Station. The designers have managed to blend modern architecture whilst restoring the grand old station to it's former glories all in one go. On the site of the original Midland Hotel now sits the Renaissance Hotel and housed within it, as a kind of tribute to the architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and other British pioneers of cooking is The Gilbert Scott restaurant, headed by one of England's finest, Marcus Wareing.

How often do we go out for an English meal? Who even knows what one is anyway, Chicken Tikka Masala, Spag Bol? Well, this is a celebration of Great British ingredients and each dish is based on fresh, seasonal produce. There are no fancy sauces or garnishes with poncey French names nor foams, emulsions or liquid nitrogen. What you see is what you get.

To start we had the Mackerel tartare with cucumber, elderflower and gooseberry. This was brought to life by some chili and lime and just made me hungrier than ever. The roasted artichoke with girolles and samphire had great texture and a naturally salty, earthy deep taste. Both dishes were accompanied by a delightful Viognier.

For main we had Rump of Veal with juicy sweet onions and sage and Devilled Mackerel with plum tomatoes. You have to order additional sides which I feel a tad cheeky but the jersey royals and spring greens were summer on a plate on their own. With the Veal I had a glass of Chateau Musar which at £6 a go is an absolute bargain. It's one of my favourite wines and for me made the meal. I was so overcome in fact, I forgot to take any pics of the mains!

For pud, we opted for a couple of the lighter dishes. The Bourbon marinated pineapple with toasted marshmallow was inspired, whilst Mrs Beeton's snow egg, a poached meringue filled with marmalade, topped with crunchy toasted almonds and set on a pond of custard was as gentle a dessert as there is.

For two people, three courses with wine equates at about £55 per head including tip, but also a disappointing cover charge of £2pp which I thought we'd seen the last off. Nevertheless, for a taste of nostalgia I can highly recommend this venue.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Malaysian Chicken with Shitake Mushrooms

To be honest, I haven't got a proper name for this recipe. Many moons ago I had a Malaysia girlfriend who cooked the most amazing dishes. When you're 21 you're quite impressionable, no more so than this which I still enjoy it now. Of course it doesn't taste quite as good as her version and I've probably got the ingredients and method wrong, but it's still a great dish and you won't find it in any take away this weekend.

Essentially the dish is a type of stew. The star ingredient though are the mushrooms which despite being quite expensive just ooze flavour as they soak up the sauce. With such strong flavours, it's best to serve with some simple pak choy and steamed rice.

Ingredients (for four) : whole chicken cut into pieces or a pack of thighs and drumsticks, 6 garlic cloves thinly sliced, 5cm stick of ginger finely sliced, handful of dried shitake mushrooms, 3 tbsp mushroom soy sauce, 2 tbsp oyster sauce.

1. Soak the mushrooms in about half a pint of hot water for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, toss the chicken pieces in 1tbsp of soy sauce.
2. Remove the mushrooms from the water and retain the liquor. Squeeze firmly until all of the water is out. The stems may still be hard and woody so trim. Chop roughly so that you have some sliced and some halved or even whole mushrooms.
3. Heat a casserole dish and add the garlic and ginger. Fry gently until fragrant, then add the chicken. Seal the meat and stir fry until nicely coloured.
4. Add the mushrooms and the remaining soy sauce and the oyster sauce and mix together. Then add the mushroom liquor and place lid on dish.
5. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and season to taste by either adding more soy or a little water.
6. To serve, remove the meat and pour over the sauce which should be dark and rich.

The Pak Choy by the way is fried in a hot pan of oil infused with ginger for 2-3 minutes. You then add 50ml of chicken stock, 1tbsp of mirin and a pinch of sugar. Simmer for a couple of minutes and remove to a heated plate. Drizzle some sesame oil over the top.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Fish Tray Bake

Jamie Oliver and I have much in common. We were both born in the same county. We are passionate about food and we both try to deliver as much flavour as possible through good natural ingredients. I have a cool catering company whilst he has a multi-million pound empire. What's a few quid between Essex boys eh! Tonight's offering is from his excellent book

I must admit, 30 minutes is a push for some of the meals and besides I quite like to dwell in the kitchen but the recipes are still good. I have also slightly adjusted his method for this as I feel that the pancetta burns too quickly. Apart from that, the end product tastes so fresh and zingy. There is natural saltiness from the pancetta and anchovies which is offset by the sweet tomatoes and the succulent fish. At the bottom you will find a natural sauce which enhances the moistness of the dish. I served this simply with some boiled new potatoes.

Ingredients (for 2) : 2 salmon fillets with skin on, 8 large raw tiger prawns, bunch of asparagus, 1 lemon, 1 chopped red chili, tin of anchovies in oil, 4 smashed cloves of garlic, 2 tomatoes on the vine, 2 slices of pancetta, olive oil, seasoning.
1. Heat the oven to 200 degrees.
2. In a roasting tray, place the salmon skin side up. Add the asparagus, discarding the woody stems first. Now arrange the lemon in quarters, the chill, tomatoes, garlic and ripped anchovies. Drizzle over a dash of olive oil and season.
3. Place in over for about ten minutes.
4. Remove and crank grill up to the max. Place the pancetta over the top of the dish and put under grill for a couple of minutes until crispy.
5. Serve in the tray with a nice bottle of chilled white wine. We had an Australian Verdelho which was perfect.

Cardamom cake with lemon and rose water syrup

I'm a big fan of lemon drizzle cake and this is just a variation based upon my current penchant for Eastern Mediterranean food. I like cardamom in virtually anything and although rose water can be equally fragrant, if you balance them out properly the taste is sensational. Now baking is not my forte, but this is virtually foolproof. Putting my snobby hat on for a mo, this goes great with a cup of Earl Grey Tea m'lord!

Ingredients : 225g softened unsalted butter, 225g caster sugar, 225g self raising flour, 3 eggs, zest of a lemon, 12 cardamon pods with their skins removed and seeds crushed in a pestle and mortar. For the syrup, 80g caster sugar, juice of a lemon, 3 tsp rose water, 1tbsp water

1. Heat over to 180 / GM 4.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale. Gradually add the eggs and mix thoroughly. Sift in the flour and add the ground cardamom, water and lemon zest. Mix well until all ingredients have combined.
3. Line a loaf tin with some greaseproof paper and pour in the batter. Level off and bake for 50-60 mins. Baking time can vary, but you can tell when the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean it is done.
4. In the meantime, make the syrup. Gently heat the sugar, lemon juice and rose water in a pan. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
5. With the cake still hot, with a skewer, prick holes all over the cake. Drizzle over the syrup generously. This should keep the centre nice and moist and also create a crisp topping.If you're feeling really decadent, you can decorate with pomegranate seeds and edible dried rose petals.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sabor : Islington

If you want to travel round the world eating every cuisine known to man but don't necessarily have the time nor the budget, then Islington is a fair compromise. The choice of restaurants is amazing and to date I have yet to be disappointed by any of them. One genre of food which I feel is under stated in the UK is South American. Most of us have probably sampled the delights of the wonderful wines on offer but may not be too familiar with the food.

Sabor which is on Essex Road, just to the east of Upper Street is discretely set between some pretty indistinctive shops, but in a culinary sense shines like a beacon. The layout is sleek and narrow, a bit like Chile and quite minimalist in design. The menu however is just packed full of dishes that tantalise the taste buds even before the delicious home made bread arrives.

A good test of many a restaurant is to opt for one of the classics. In this case, sea bass ceviche to start followed by a good old fashioned piece of prime Argentinian steak. The ceviche, pronounced Seveachey was sublime and would not have looked out of place in a Michelin one star restaurant. The little cubes of sea bass still retained a little bite and were blended perfectly well with the chili, tomato and citrus dressing. However, to lift the dish to even higher levels was an amazing tomato and chili sorbet which cleansed the palate between mouthfuls and left you salivating for more. After virtually dancing The Tango on top of our table, our waitress Esther who was totally adorable and worthy of threee michelin stars brought out some more sorbet. To compliment the food fiesta happening in our mouths, we opted for an Argentinian Viognier which was perfect

The steaks that followed enhanced my philosophy that if you stick to good basic ingredients, you can't go wrong.  They were served with a cheeky chimichurri, a green salad and again some beautifully spiced potatoes. Nothing too fancy, but ingredients that just brought out the best in each other. A robust Chilean Carmenere accompanied the main which just rocked.

Unfortunately, dessert was just a step too far but everything looked delicious and I'd be surprised if I didn't return there within the next 25 minutes to sample more ceviche and this time leave room for something sweet. Two courses with two glasses of wine each and tip came to around £80 which is far cheaper than a plane ride to Buenos Aires!