Monday, November 30, 2009

Japanese, Brixton Style. New Fujiyama

South London gets slammed for lots of things. Some of the things that people seem to complain about are the levels of crime, how dirty the streets are and how the transport links are rubbish. Well, I am a proud South Londoner, who has had no problems with crime in my 6 years down here (touch wood) and love using the buses. I agree though, the roads are a bit grim.

One thing we aren't starved of (pardon the pun) are places to eat. No matter what kind of cuisine you fancy, you will more than likely be able to find somewhere to indulge your craving down saarf. So today, I introduce you to another of my favourites.

New Fujiyama

Introduced to me by my ex-Brixton dwelling buddy, New Fujiyama is another popular local haunt. Located just off Coldharbour Lane, it serves affordable contemporary Japanese cuisine. Popular for its noodles and sushi, I personally veer towards it's rice dishes. Accompanied by my parents on my latest visit, it was just a flying visit but a fairly enjoyable one nonetheless.

Oyaka Don

My favourite dish has to be the Oyako Don. A rice dish topped with chicken cooked with shiitake mushrooms soaked in a sweet soya broth finished off with a raw egg which slowly scrambles in the heat of the rice. It may seem boring, but I always order this and on this evidence, I see no reason to change my ordering habits. Filling and tasty. Win, win.

Beef Teriyaki Bento

My parents both opted for the bento boxes, which come with the standard miso, pickles and salad. I think they both murmured sounds of satisfaction although I had a bit off my mums and found the beef teriyaki slightly dry.

I do like New Fujiyama, but then again, I am a local. It's affordable and serves decent food. If you ever need your sushi, rice or noodle fix when you are down in Brixton, you could do worse than checking out New Fujiyama out.

New Fujiyama (website) - 5-7 Vining Street, Brixton SW9 8QA


Fujiyama on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sunday Lunch at Fish and Grill, South Croydon

Malcolm John is building up quite an empire. Focusing on local, neighbourhood restaurants, he now has three under his belt, all with high acclaim. Le Vacherin in Chiswick has had high praise and has earned itself a coveted Michelin star, whereas Le Cassoulet located in South Croydon has endeared itself to the locals (and me on a previous visit), having previously won the Time Out best local restaurant award as well as a bib gourmand.

The Approach

So I wonder how Fish and Grill could get it so wrong. The third and newest Malcolm John restaurant, also located in South Croydon, specialises (unsurprisingly) in a variety of fish and grilled meats. I was there for Sunday Roast, a mere £15.95 for 3 courses, on paper very good value indeed.

Smoked Salmon and horseradish cream

And you know what, it all started quite well (if you ignore the grumpy waitress who semi-served us). The smoked salmon starter was actually quite appetising, high praise coming from a recent smoked salmon convert, and I felt that the accompanying horseradish cream was well balanced and a good accompaniment. Even the wine, a bottle of the house white, was tasty, slightly sweet and most importantly, was going down a treat.

Roast Beef and all the trimmings

But that's as far as it goes. The main course of roast beef, Yorkshire puddings and veg was curious to say the least. The ample slices of beef appeared to be a strange shade of pink, and upon incision revealed itself to be an overcooked waste of cow. It had the texture of a piece of meat which had been sitting under a hot light for a good few hours, pleading to be served. And don't get me started on the abomination that they called a "Yorkshire Pudding". It was heavy, stale and had a much closer resemblance to a muffin than a "pudding".

I can't go over the top on this one. One of us ordered off the main menu and received the worlds largest battered haddock, although the "chips en papillote" was an interesting concept (chips wrapped in a paper basket, basically). And looking around, the seafood platter looked highly appetising, as did various large hunks of fish.

Apple Crumble

So, all is not lost. I had a bad experience and hope it was a one off. I had hoped that the apple crumble would cheer me up but I had lost my appetite by then and finding large amounts of apple skin made me abandon it. Even a perfectly adequate custard couldn't lift my spirits.

A recent conversation amongst other food fanatics on Twitter came to the simple conclusion that you just can't beat a home roasted Sunday lunch. After this meal, never a truer word said.

Fish & Grill (website) - 48-50 South End, Croydon CRO 1DP

Fish & Grill  on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dutch Pie. It's not Dutch and isn't really a pie (Recipe)

The minute I included my first recipe, more people want me to cook. It's a noble effort, I do like cooking after all, I am just very, very lazy. I work fairly late on most days and by the time I get home, I really just don't want to spend any time in front of the stove. Convenience certainly has taken over.

So, when Catty of the Catty life (not to be confused with cattylife) was asked to recommend somebody by those good people at Abel and Cole, I am sure she cackled a little and gave them my name.

My box from Abel and Cole

Abel and Cole specialise in delivering organic food straight to your front door. Healthy convenience food. So there it was, no sooner had my details been submitted, as if by magic a box full of fresh produce landed on my doorstep. It was full of sorts of wonders and opening up the box, it felt a little bit like Christmas. Half the fun was identifying what had arrived and I was now the proud owner of potatoes, fairtrade bananas, apples, leeks, cucumber, beetroot, celeriac to name just a few of the contents. The next question, what was I going to make? I slept on it and took my predicament to work. A short discussion with my Dutch workmate led me to a dish her mum used to cook for her, so here is my rendition of Dutch Pie, which isn't really a pie or Dutch.

Dutch Pie Ingredients
500mg lean beef mince
3 tablespoons of curry powder
Fennel seeds to taste (I just used a pinch)
1 leek
1 clove of garlic
3 large potatoes
1 celeriac
3 leaves of savoy cabbage

1. Firstly, I would prepare the mash. I simply diced the potatoes and celeriac and boiled until soft enough to run through with a fork. Season then start mashing, adding in butter and a little cream if you are feeling particularly naughty. It needs to be smooth, get rid of the lumps but firm enough to form a topping.

2. Next up, the mince. Chop the leek finely and fry gently with the garlic until softened. Add the mince at this stage, gently browning it. Mix in the curry powder and fennel seeds. Blanche the spinach so that they just start to wilt and remove from the water.

Dutch Pie

3. OK, time to assemble. Get your pie dish, place a cabbage leaf on the bottom, and spoon half the mince mixture on top. Add another leaf of cabbage, and top again with the rest of the mince. Final leaf of cabbage on top, then pipe the mash on top. Glaze with egg or milk (if you want a super crisp topping) and then chuck it into the oven for as long as it takes for the top to brown. Probably about 15 minutes at a high heat (210 degrees should be good) but keep an eye on it.

Dutch Pie

4. Remove and dig in. I served mine with a simple homemade coleslaw, but that's only because that's what we fancied and had to hand.

So there you go. It's not Dutch and it's just about a pie but I was quite pleased. Tasted good and wasn't that hard to put together.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pit stop at HK Diner, Chinatown

Outside

Chinatown is perfect for pit stops, places for a quick bite to eat when you are on the go. In fact, many of the restaurants in Chinatown are designed for turning over the tables quickly, maximising the amount of money they can make. That may seem slightly cynical, but I am Chinese and have always been brought up to work hard and earn a good living so I can provide for my family.

Walking down the streets of Chinatown, roast meat adorn the windows of many of the restaurants, the chinaman's fast food. HK Diner is no exception and is one of the more popular choices, with the added draw of "Bubble tea", cold iced milky tea with tapioca pearls. Even Jun Tanaka rates this as one of his nightime haunts.

I normally resist the temptation to order in Chinese. My pronunciation is terrible and it normally ends up in the staff pointing and laughing. My staple order, Roast Duck and Crispy pork.

Roast Duck and Crispy Pork Rice

This dish can often end up quite greasy, but the duck and pork were as grease free as can be hoped for, not an oil slick in sight. A smattering of greens and a rather thin gravy but overall, really enjoyed it. I was dining with the Big German so obviously a plate of rice and meat wouldn't suffice so we got some ribs on the side. Sticky, sweet and very messy.

Capital Spare Ribs

HK Diner was pretty good overall and above average compared to the rest of the usual Chinatown haunts. I'm making it my mission to try every roast duck and crispy pork joint and this is well up there at the moment.

HK Diner - 22 Wardour Street, W1D 6QQ

Hk Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 20, 2009

Going underground at Sheen Suppers

In the kitchen

I was nervous. Twenty four hours ago, I was given an address and simply told "bring money". A strange sequence of events had found me traipsing through the dark lonely back streets of East Sheen, seeking shelter from the intrusive Autumn weather and my body craving sustenance. I checked the map, we had arrived at the assigned destination. A bright pink house standing out from the mundanity of this suburban road. Tinged with fear, high on anticipation, I knocked...

I had arrived at Sheen Suppers, one of the rapidly growing movement of supper clubs or underground restaurants. Essentially, they are a restaurant run in somebodies home with a suggested "donation" to cover costs. Some are run by ex chefs trying to keep their skills sharp, whereas others are run by enthusiastic home chefs who use them as a vehicle for indulging what is essentially a hobby.

Lara (chef proprietor) falls into the latter category and runs Sheen Suppers very much like a local restaurant. Many of her guests live in the area and learn of her supper club through word of mouth. Having "met" her myself over Twitter, I finally got round to booking in my table, and I tell you what, I was so glad I did. Serving a four course meal with matched wines, what ensued was one of my most enjoyable dining experiences this year.

Pancetta and Prawn Pate

By the time the first course arrived before us, "Maino" (partner and Maitre'D) had managed to ply us with a fair amount of wine. This did not detract from the glorious pate placed before us. Prawn and pancetta, a strange combination for a pate I thought, was quite delicious. Smooth, with more of a consistency of a rillette, came with cornichons and toasted bread.

Beef shin ragu with potato gnocchi

The mains of beef shin ragu and homemade gnocchi again hit the spot. By this stage, I wasn't surprised I was enjoying my food so much, the food had been carefully prepared and was good hearty restaurant quality food. The gnocchi , in particular, caught my eye. Small fluffy potatoey balls of goodness and a perfect foil for the rich ragu. Oh, and the wine. This time a red, I really shouldn't forget the wine.

Cheese!

The cheese interlude was a small break from the loveliness that was to punctuate our meal. Good cheese, a blue with a cheddar and a brie, all with a smattering of oat biscuits.

Orange sponge, chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and choc orange "cup"

But the dessert, wow. As Lara put it, this was proper filth, in the best possible way. What we were presented with was a light orange sponge with a decadent chocolate sauce, vanilla ice cream and a very naughty chocolate orange cup. Polished off within seconds with a lovely port to accompany (as well as some of Maino's private stash, to keep us ticking over).

I do feel a bit odd about commenting on what is essentially someones hobby. Yes, we paid for the privilege but I cannot expect that Lara made much if any profit on the evening. I think I drank the "donation" in wine alone. Criticising the evening would be like leaving an unnecessary acerbic comment on somebodies blog, but even so, thankfully Lara and Iain gave me nothing at all to criticise.

It had been a fantastic night with great a value meal of the highest quality, all topped off with a serving of warm hospitality. I may seem gushing, but I only reserve it for the places that deserve it and even the schlep back to central London in the wind and the rain had not put me off. I will make the journey back to East Sheen, the sooner the better.

Sheen Suppers (website) - In East Sheen somewhere. Pls contact Lara for details.

Blaggers Banquet, been and gone...

Blaggers Banquet 2009

So, Sunday came and went.

After weeks of organising and planning, food and wine bloggers converged on the Hawksmoor to help put on the Blaggers Banquet. As a member of the advance party, we arrived to find the restaurant packed to the brim with produce and prizes, the fruits of labour after weeks of blagging by many of the blogging community. We were soon organised, assigned roles and the work could begin in earnest. Once the goodie bags had been stuffed and put to one side, the real focus of the day could begin, the food.

Blaggers Banquet 2009

As part of the canape crew, we stared at the fruit and veg from Riverford Organic, a beautiful soft goats cheese from Brockhall farm and a variety of salts from Halen Mon, wondering what the the best course of action was. After a few tastings and matchings, @ginandcrumpets and I decided on our offering, a canape of soft Brockhall Farm goats cheese on Peter's Yard crispbreads, studded with pomegranate and sprinkled with vanilla salt and chives. A combination of sweet and salty with contrasting textures, I really thought this worked well and sat well alongside the gougeres and mozzarella & tomato skewers that were served alongside the rest of the banquet.

Blaggers Banquet 2009

Whilst we were crafting the little buggers, the small kitchen was a hive of activity. Even with a few supplier hiccups, the kitchen continued forward in the prep for dinner. The bar staff diligently learned how to knock up a cracking martini as the sommeliers tasted the wines and matched them to each of the individual courses of the banquet. It was all slowly piecing itself together.

Blaggers Banquet 2009

As the guests arrived, sparkling wine was distributed and the front of house went into overdrive. The front of house were decked in black and worked their proverbial socks off, weaving in and out of the tables carrying tray after tray of carefully prepared comestibles. Such was the passion and efficiency, I doubt you would find better service in many of the more well versed restaurants in London. Starters of monkfish ceviche came and returned empty, as did the plates of lamb hot pot, Winter stew and buffalo steaks (yes, three mains. You really got your moneys worth!).

Blaggers Banquet 2009

The meal was punctuated with a raffle of blagged prizes and was rounded off with a stunning chocolate fondant cake and some jelly boobs from Bompas and Parr. And as the guests sat there full and hopefully happy, we moved onto the final section of the evening, the auction of the rest of the blagged items.

It had been a triumphant evening. We had raised a shedload of cash for Action against Hunger with more to come with the daily auctions. Keep an eye on this page for some great items and bid liberally!

So that was my truncated view of the day. There are so many people to praise and thank. The blaggers, the organisers, the suppliers, the Hawksmoor, the list really is endless but without you all, we really could not have achieved this. Special thanks go to @eatlikeagirl who crafted the day, with weeks of planning and all under very difficult circumstances, and @scandilicious who worked so hard to get the food prepped, planned and cooked with constant curveballs being thrown from every angle.

I for one was very proud to be part of this and even though I was dead on my feet by the end of it, would be happy to do it all over again.

Please keep and eye on the the Blaggers banquet twitter feed. There you will find all the latest items for auction and all the write ups from guests and bloggers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Love it or hate it, Marmite Pop Up Shop

Outside

Marmite is just one of those things. A simple spread made from yeast extract with the ability to polarise public opinion. Personally, I think this attitude is slightly extreme. After all, why can't we just like it?

Marmite Mugs

Well, now they have come mainstream. A pop up shop has appeared on the lower end of Regent Street selling all things Marmite and I popped along to the launch party to see what all the fuss was about. Stocking over 100 marmite branded products, it really is a sight to behold. Ranging from Marmite art (marm-art!) to more functional products such as plates, trays and a rather cute sandwich shaped lunchbox.

Marmite Cocktails

Alongside an introduction to these products, we were plied with Marmite based cocktails including an intriguing Love it or Hate it Marma-tini. A pear based martini, with a marmite foam, was a strange but a pleasing mix of sweet and savoury.

Pigeon with Beetroot risotto

We were also served marmite based canapes. I was very pleased with the morsels of pigeon we were served. I believe that these were glazed with marmite on top of a beetroot risotto, and a good example of incorporating marmite into everyday cooking. After all, it is packed with umami, why shouldn't we be using it in cooking more?

So there it is. A reason to prove us why marmite is more than just a spread for toast. As with all pop ups, it's not going to be around forever, so head on down and check it out as soon as you can.

Marmite Pop Up Shop (website) - 82 Regent Street, Quadrant Arcade, London W1

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dicing with Oysters at Bentleys - Dine with DH

Downstairs

Dos Hermanos, heard of them? Grandaddies of the London food blogging scene, they have been eating their way around London for many years now, raving and ranting in (almost) equal measure. DH was one of the first blogs I ever read and was one of the things that inspired me to start my own blog, a public diary so I could remember where I've been and what I have eaten.

The nights menu

So, this leads me onto my next installment of this public diary, Dine with Dos Hermanos. Every two months, Simon Majumdar of DH organises a get together for followers of the DH facebook. For a reasonable price, you get a tonne of food, a chance to meet and greet fellow food lovers and the now notorious goodie bag. Previous locations have included Vinoteca, Brindisa and the Bull and Last. Today's destination was Bentleys.

Smoked fish platter

Primarily a seafood restaurant, we were treated an array of creatures from the deep. Six months ago, this would have struck fear all the way through me but my recent self education in food has proven to me that all I needed to do was try. So try I did. First oysters (which I managed to keep down) and then smoked fish of all kinds (ranging from the delicious eel to the rather strange sturgeon). I even brought myself to try smoked herring roe which was doused in a remarkable herb Bearnaise.

Beef cheeks post unveiling
Silky fish pie

Mains were brought to the table in large family sized casserole dishes. A rich and luxurious fish pie and slow cooked beef cheeks in stout. I had the honour of dishing this up for the table and managed to dish most of it up equally and safely. The pie was packed with generous amounts of scallops, salmon and haddock, wallowing in a luxurious bechamel sauce and topped with a fantastic mash. The cheeks were so tender, they just fell apart and were accompanied by an array of roasted root vegetables and a horseradish mash.

Sticky toffee pudding

By the time the dessert arrived, I was spent. The mounds of food had taken its toll on me but I couldn't afford to embarrass myself in front of my foodie contemporaries. Two massive dishes filled with sticky toffee pudding arrived, with a tub of clotted cream. This really was fantastic, probably the best example of sticky toffee pudding I have tried, but struggled so badly to polish off my portion. By the end of it all, I had to sit back in my chair and loosened the belt.

It was a fantastic event, and although the food was great, the real draw is the opportunity to meet people in real life that I have conversed with "digitally". I had the pleasure of sitting next to @thirstforwine, who I am pretty sure was horrified with my attitude and opinions on wine, and @bribedwithfood, a delightful young lady with a fear of carrots and an intent on poisoning me with anchovies.

There was fun, there was laughter and there was a hell of a lot of wine. At the end of the night, head chef Brendan Fyldes and owner Richard Corrigan made an appearance to rapturous applause. It had been a really enjoyable evening and I must take this opportunity to thank @SimonMajumdar for organising the whole event.

We grabbed the legendary goodie bags filled to to the brim with all sorts of goodies and after a few more drinks in the bar upstairs, we waddled off into the night, full, satisfied and very, very happy.

Bentleys (website) - 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1B 4DG

Bentley's on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 13, 2009

Momofuku Ssam - New York

New York and London are alike in many ways. Both are a sprawling multi cultural metropolis, with many of these influences drifting in and out of everyday life. But one thing remains, this great mix of ethnicity tread these pavements as New Yorkers.

This ethos was also quite clear within much of the food of New York and none more so evident than in Momofuku Ssam. Part of David Chang's Momofuku "brand" of restaurants, it markets itself as selling delicious "American" food. What you find is a menu heavily influenced by Asian flavours.

Inside

Highly recommended by the masses, I needed to find out what all the fuss was about so dragged my cousin out down to 2nd avenue in search of Ssam Bar. When we got there, I was happy to see a reasonably priced set menu with a choice of three dishes for each course. Bypassing the rather unimaginative sounding pickles, we went for a portion of their famous buns and beef tendon.

Beef Tendon

I really don't know what possessed me. Not normally known for my adventurous tastes, I somehow convinced myself that I would enjoy beef tendon. And in reality, they were OK, and only OK. And in fact, that OK only lasted a few mouthfuls. The texture was soft and gelatinous but the sprinkling of rock salt just made it feel incredibly grainy. I just couldn't get to grips with the texture and it was just far too salty.

Those famous buns

And so to the buns. When anybody mentions Momofuku, the buns are sure to follow. Slices of slow booked belly pork in a light bun with cucumbers and hoi sin sauce. Simple and delicious. As with everything that has tonnes of hype attached to it, this wasn't a life changing experience but were very nice. No ordinary buns, but hardly stellar.

Rice Cake with Chinese sausage

So far, I wasn't really too sure what all the fuss was about. That was until my simply named "Rice Cakes with Chinese sausage" turned up. Small cylinders of rice cakes, flash fried to gain a crispy exterior, whilst being squidgy in the middle. These were smothered in a spicy szechuan style sauce, with mounds of sausage meat and crisp greens for company. Bite after bite, we just kept on coming back, a real winner.

Beef Brisket

The beef brisket was perfectly pleasant but nothing to shout about. Generous pieces of beef steeped in a tasty but simple broth. Our attention had very much been on those rice cakes.

Thai Iced Tea ParfaitPeanut Butter and Jelly Pie

The desserts were much more of an east-meets-west affair. A Thai green tea parfait was pleasant with lots of different textures and flavours but it was the peanut butter and jelly pie which blew me away. The grape jelly pie was more of a grape sorbet in pastry but was so fresh and sweet. Served with the pie was a smear of peanut butter and nuggets of peanut butter clusters, both together were a very enjoyable way to end an interesting meal.

So that was Momofuku. I can't help but feel slightly disappointed by it all, but I guess that's what happens when hype starts to overtake the food. On reflection, it was a perfectly good meal at a very affordable price. The P&J pie was memorable, whilst the beef tendon I would rather forget. It does come recommended, just beware of the hype, those buns are just buns.

Oh! And before I forget, make sure you pop to the bakery next door. It serves top notch sweet goods including the infamous crack pie (I am well aware of the irony of this statement) and some ace cookies. The cookies I can definitely vouch for, get many.

An array of cakes in the bakery next door

Momofuku Ssam (website) - 207 2nd Ave. New York 10003

Momofuku Ssäm Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A coffee shop in deepest darkest Hackney - Wiltons

It's funny where your friendships take you. This weekend, mine took me all the way to deepest darkest Hackney. Yep, you guessed it, new territory.

Coffee Machine

Located deep in East London, we were looking for somewhere by the name of Wiltons. Home of London Fields Radio, its a cafe cum radio station, a combination you could only possibly find out in ultra trendy East London.

Inventive pullout tables

The cafe itself is made up primarily of reclaimed materials. I particularly liked the corrugated metal used in the coffee bar and the cunningly hidden fruit crate tables, that you can use both as tables and seats. It's a small cafe but cunning uses of space (such as those tables hidden under the scaffold benching) made it feel far from cramped.

Flat White

The coffee beans, fresh from nearby Climpson and Sons, were expertly crafted into a highly palatable flat white. It was smooth and slightly bitter but a very good cup of coffee. I am not a coffee connoisseur by any means, but can tell that this is head and shoulders over your average high street cup of mud.

Food station

I was really impressed by this little cafe. It had a vibrant atmosphere with a constant turnover of customers, surprising considering that it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere. It also serves food, with ingredients originating from high quality producers such as the Ginger Pig, Brindisa and Neals Yard.

I liked it. Quite a lot actually, but no cafe is going to make me travel just for a good sarnie and an excellent coffee. A lovely local hang out, come here if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

Wiltons - 63 Wilton Way, Hackney, E8 1BG

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