Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rosa's - Thai treats in Soho

Dinner at Rosa's on Dean Street

Thai food has never really been my favourite type of Asian cuisine. Not sure what it is but all that Thai basil and lemongrass just doesn’t really sit well with me. The lack of depth in Thai restaurants in London probably also doesn’t help a great deal. Sure, I always enjoy meals at Busaba, but that’s not really authentic Thai food now, is it?

So when I asked my friend what she wanted to eat for dinner, I was met with abject fear when she replied “Thai please”. And to compound it all, my friend is a vegetarian (yes, I am friends with vegetarians). So off I went to the fountain of all knowledge (Twitter) and pleaded for help. A flood of replies followed. Blue Elephant, etc etc etc, who knew there were so many places that people could recommend. In the end I opted for Rosa’s on Dean Street, a new(ish) outpost of the original Rosa’s in Spitalfields.

Dinner at Rosa's on Dean Street

Located in the middle of Soho, the streets were buzzing, even for a Monday night. Sat in our booth, we cast our eye over the menu and the multiple vegetarian options kept my companion pleased. We decided to start with some vegetarian summer rolls, which were perfectly alright if not a little bland. Wrapped in sticky rice wrappers, they were packed with veg (led by lettuce) and studded with peanut sauce. Dipping it in the accompanying sweet chilli gave it a bit more flavour.

Dinner at Rosa's on Dean Street

My main of Nuar Kwang Pad Prig Thai Dam had my tongue in a twist when I tried to order, but had my taste buds humming when I got to taste it. Stir fried slices of venison drenched in a peppery sauce were tender and quite punchy, I rather enjoyed it.
I felt rather indulgent so instead of the standard “fragrant” rice, I opted for the Kow Pad Rosa’s, a version of fried rice made with Thai sausage, which was the food equivalent of a “swing vote”. Well fried rice studded with sweet and meaty sausage, really nice and a great accompaniment to my venison dish.

Dinner at Rosa's on Dean Street

My friends vegetarian main of Pad Ka Prow with vegetables and tofu was studded with chilli and garlic, and I was informed that it was exactly what she was looking for. I didn’t have a taste, being the good friend that I am, and let her eat all her tofu on her own.

Dinner at Rosa's on Dean Street

I was pleasantly surprised by Rosa’s. It’s not often I have enjoyed Thai food in London but this hit the spot and was a nice spot to have dinner deep in the heart of West End. At £40 all in, it’s pretty affordable and you get some decent food for your money. The service was amiable and as we drank our tea and chatted for a while, we weren’t hassled and were left to our own devices. A trip down to Gelupo after the meal just added a fine punctuation to a lovely evening catching up with an old friend. Good Thai + good ice cream + good company = great evening.

Dinner at Rosa's on Dean Street

Rosa's Soho - 48 Dean Street London, W1D 5BF

Rosa's Soho on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 17, 2010

101010 - Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

The tenth of October 2010. 101010. The day that maths geeks get really excited. It was also the day that I got quite excited as it was the day I got to eat at the Rivington Grill, with Shaun Hill (of the Walnut Tree, Abergavenny) in the kitchen.

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

The London Restaurant Festival (this year, in association with AMEX) comes but once a year, with new and exciting events each year to commemorate it. You may have seen a giveaway for tickets to the Big Quiz a few weeks ago on this blog, but one of the big events for this year was 10-10-10, ten different chefs from outside of London, working alongside ten chefs from within London, all on the 10th of October. As part of the London Restaurant Festivals 10 “bloggers” that they were working with, I was invited down to the Rivington Grill where Shaun Hill of the Walnut Tree in Abergavenny was taking up residence for one night only.

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

I really didn’t know that much about Shaun and his work, but a little research revealed that he has had a Michelin star for over 20 years and favours a more rustic approach to his food. A few more feelers revealed that some who had eaten at the Walnut Tree had often found it the highlight of their trip to the Abergavenny festival. All pretty good news. I was regaling all this new found information with my dining companion, but unfortunately she was far from interested. Instead, her attention was drawn to the bowls of warm salty and perfectly crisp pork crackling placed evenly across the bar. We slowly stuffed our faces with this most satisfying of “amuse bouche” and I actually had to restrain myself from eating more, a task I never knew I was actually capable of.

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

As we sat down with our pear and elderflower Bellini’s, we were given a basket of battered samphire. Battered in a fluffy, yet crispy beer based batter, the samphire delivered nuggets of salty bursts. Another incredibly addictive pre meal snack, even though the flavour of the samphire was lost a little, the batter was greaseless and delicious.

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

Given a few options over three courses, my companion opted for a sweetcorn soup with squid, a dish I had considered owing to my obsession with all things sweetcorn, although the burrata with Tuscan bread salad was equally so. A quick chat later and it was decided. The sweetcorn soup was perfectly acceptable although I found the fishiness dominate the subtle flavour of the sweetcorn. The burrata was unbelievably creamy. Similar to a mozzarella, although made with cream, it mingled with the vegetables and olive oil to almost become a dressing. Expecting something more similar to a panzanella, the bread was fried into croutons, although I am rather fond of croutons so still went down well. All the flavours formed an enjoyable salad, although I found the huge chunks of raw onion lazy and actually quite hard to digest. I ended up taking them out.

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

With fish being one of the options for a main (albeit served with sweet clams, which I seem to have developed a bit of a crush on of late) and hare the other (never been the biggest fan of hare), I opted for the Welsh lamb with ragout of Autumn vegetables and ceps, an interesting combination, and a dish I was really looking forward to. The lamb arrived as two perfectly pink cutlets sat on a bed of delicately fricasseed shreds of lamb and a ragout of turnips, squash, carrots and potatoes. The shreds of lamb were cooked in a delicate cream and wine sauce, with the ample ceps acting as sponges, soaking up all the sauce. For some reason, there were huge undercooked leaves also on the plate, which seemed totally out of place, and were left largely untouched. The combination of all the elements to this dish (sans greens) went really well together and I looked sadly at my plate as it lay empty.

Shaun Hill at the Rivington Grill

Desserts were uncomplicated but elegant. The mountainous orange and almond cake was delicate and light, despite appearing quite a task to finish when it first arrived. My choice of autumn berry soup with cinnamon ice cream was light and tasted more of Christmas than autumn. The lightly spiced soup was thick and rich with raspberries and blackberries, a fresh ending to a good meal.

Although there were a few issues with some of the dishes (huge chunks of onion, errant pieces of unnecessary under cooked greens), I rather enjoyed my taste of Wales. It was clear that there was some very good cooking going on in the kitchen and was pleased that an event like the London Restaurant Festival had introduced me to a well established chef from outside of London. For someone who has lived in London for over 10 years now, I often forget that there is more to life than the big smoke and rarely venture outside of the M25. I really need to change that.

*I was invited on behalf of AMEX and the London Restaurant Festival*

The Rivington Grill - 28-30 Rivington Street, EC2A 3DZ

Rivington Grill on Urbanspoon

The Walnut Tree - Abergavenny, Monmouthshire NP7 8AW

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bocca di Lupo: From the mouth of the wolf, straight to my belly

Boca di Lupo, Soho

After a long hard day at work, all I yearned for was a cold gin and tonic and some friendly banter. I couldn’t face the realisation that had I gone home, all I would have ended up doing is watch crap tv and order a takeaway. A few messages later, and the steak eating fiend who is @baconchop decided to join me for said beverage. A few beers, some chat, then home. Well, that was the plan anyway.

Inevitably after a few drinks, our thoughts started to wander to our rumbling bellies and food became a necessity. There may be a thousand places to eat in Soho, but when you are pushed for a decision, you end up wandering the streets listlessly, which is exactly the scenario we found ourselves in. I am not entirely sure how we found our way to Archer street, divine inspiration perhaps, but we stood outside Bocca di Lupo hoping they could squeeze us in. Located opposite its sister gelateria (Gelupo, see what they did there?) it peddles regional Italian food. Not particularly descriptive, but the smells emanating from the open kitchen were enough to convince us that this was definitely the right decision.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

It was packed but as it was fairly late (9pm’ish) people had started to finish and leave and a few spaces began to appear, there was hope. The exceptional front of house (seriously lovely) told us to hold fire and she would seat us. Even the addition of Adam’s other half and friend didn’t throw her and a few minutes later, we were perched at the bar with our drinks in tow and a glorious view of the action to boot. As lovely as the main dining room looks, a seat at the bar provides entertainment, banter and beautiful aromas, and fuelled with wine and cocktails, we appeared to have lost the best part of our decision making function. We chose a few things, and left a few choices upto our waitress, and sat back to watch the show begin.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

We watched the chefs throw things in the oil, assemble things on plates and chuck stuff on the grill intently, salivating and hoping that one of the delicious looking dishes was ours. The first things that arrived were a few morsels of fried goodness. Suppli (Roman arancini, of sorts) bocconcini (fried mozzarella balls) and stuffed olives (stuffed with minced pork and veal, so damn good) were lightly fried and redundant of grease.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

Next was a simple salad of Shaved radish, celeriac & pecorino, garnished with pomegranates & truffle oil. This wasn’t something that either Adam or myself were going to order, but our delightful waitress (I will be harping on about the service we had on the night, it was amongst the best and most personable I have ever had in any restaurant) insisted on it and I am really glad she did. I was incredibly surprised by the combination of flavours, the rich earthy truffles, the crunch from the celeriac, the peppery radish and the bursts of sweetness from the pomegranates. Stunning flavours, and each recognisable.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

The first round of dishes were rounded off with some of the lightest and most delicate calamari I have ever tasted, lightly floured, quickly dipped in boiling oil and produced fresh and greaseless. A squeeze of lemon and we were ready to go.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

Boca di Lupo, Soho

The pasta and risotto dishes were next. The finferli and asiago risotto was probably the low point of our meal. Packed with mushrooms, you can hardly accuse them of being stingy, but compared to everything else I ate, this was bland and a bit boring. The pork and veal agnolotti were exactly the opposite. Tiny, delicate little pasta parcels packed with flavour in a light sage and butter sauce. This dish totally blew my mind, and I have been hankering for a return visit just to try these again. A most wonderful end to our savouries.

Boca di Lupo, Soho

We had eaten a huge amount for just two people, but having visited Gelupo across the road, there was no way I could leave without dessert. Managing to convince my dining companion that a chocolate spread made of mostly pigs blood was a good idea (the sanguinaccio was described to us as a funky nutella, must be what sold it), I opted for a somewhat safer option of an ice cream "surprise". A chocolate shell encasing two surprise flavours of ice cream. The first was chestnut, and being a big fan of nut based ice creams, I was very pleased. The name of the second escapes me, but was packed with candied fruit and tasted of Christmas.

This was one of the most enjoyable meals I have had in London, bar none. The food was exquisite, with surprising flavour combinations sitting side by side with simple but clean flavours. The service was stunning and worth visiting for the hospitality of the staff alone. There is still so much on the menu I am desperate to try, yet so many things I have already tried that I desperately want to order again. Yes, the meal was expensive, with it coming to about £60 a head with a few drinks, but when the experience leaves me wondering when my next visit is going to be, there are absolutely no complaints. I am already salivating at the mere thought of it.

Bocca di Lupo - 12 Archer Street, W1D 7BB

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

LRF 2010: And the winner is....

.....Neris and Helen!

Picked out of a bowl of all entries by two of my workmates

Congratulations guys, you win a pair of tickets to the Biq Quiz on the 11th October, which includes the festival menu and a bottle of Mumm Cordon Rouge!

I have already got in touch with Neris but I still need to get hold of Helen. If you're out there, please email me ASAP or I will have to draw another winner.


*HOLD THE PRESS*, Helen has been located!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tudor Road Supper Club: What a chef does when he is on holiday

Professional chefs work bloody hard. Long hours, hot kitchens, churning out food day after day with little reward other than the knowledge that others might be enjoying what they have produced. Professional kitchens are nothing like the domestic kitchen. Don't get me wrong, I haven't worked in one, but knowing a few who have, it sounds like hell on earth which would totally take away the joy of cooking.

Ben Greeno is one of these chefs. Having worked in some of the worlds most established restaurants (including Restaurant Sat Bains, Noma and Momofuku), he is taking a well earned rest after returning from a short stint in New York. Well, I say rest; Ben has decided to set up his own supper club in his home for a few months before he embarks on his next adventure, so I decided to pop along with a few friends, a second best to actually heading to Noma and eating there.

Some supper club purists may have an issue with Ben's set up. After all, he is a professionally trained chef with years of experience behind him, surely this isn't fair on the multitudes of other non trained supper clubbers? Personally, I go for the experience and the food is normally a secondary concern. As long as I have a good time and don't get food poisoning, I am pretty pleased. In this case, we bundled into Bens flat, straight into his living room where the one singular long table is set up and had a glass of cider thrust into our hands, with another table filled with radishes, bread and dips were waiting us. The basil emulsion (mayonnaise) and roasted pepper dip had us constantly dipping and munching, whilst we mingled with the guests on the balcony as they arrived. Good start.

As we sat down, I seemed to have hit the jackpot when it came to dining companions. Along with the people I came with, I had Rob Martin, an American chef and also Noma alumni, sitting next to me and a group of lively food loving Singaporeans a little further down the table. The night was getting good. We started chatting and chowing down on some delicious bread spread thickly with nasturtium butter delivering little salty bursts, as our first course of "carrots" was served. Looks simple, but the combination of poached carrots, raw carrots and cherries soaked in dashi gave the dish an almost sweet and sour quality. Delicious, but the size had me concerned. If all the dishes were this dainty, how the hell was I going to be full by the end of the meal?

Next up was raw mackerel, challenging for a fish hater like me, but I dove in anyway. I needn't have worried, the mackerel was super fresh and the tart sauce made from jostaberries (a cross between the gooseberry and blackcurrant) went with the creamy mackerel well. The "scrumped" apple from a nearby garden added texture, with the bitter leaves building another level of flavour. Simple but clever.

The next dish of pork cigar, slowly caramelised onions and slow poached egg was rather grey, with purple edible flowers lifting the whole dish. The flavours though, were far from grey. Meaty rich pork cigar, the sweet sweet onions and the slow poached egg (gelatinous, having been poached at a consistent 62 degrees), textures, flavours, a symphony of sensations.

You know I was worried about the size of the dishes earlier? Yeah, I was starting to fill up and we were nowhere near the end. The "main" was probably the nearest dish we had to what most would call a conventional one, slow roast lamb belly, a berry jus (I forget which) and parsnips two ways (roasted and pureed). Simple but great flavours.

Ben (if his biopic is correct) jointly headed up the pastry section at Noma, so you can probably say he is a dab hand with desserts. What arrived was a deconstructed lemon meringue pie, with shards of rosewater meringue, blobs of lemon curd and dehydrated ginger biscuits carefully arranged on the plate. Kernels of sweetcorn and a smattering of blackberries added additional sweetness. So good, I was caught licking my plate, and you know what, I didn't care.

I was full and satisfied. Throughout every course, there was much banter and the atmosphere was just perfect. Loads of chatter, laughs and stunning food. Ben had been an excellent host and the food was all I had hoped it would be. He came and joined us with the coffees and chatted with the guests. Coffee with toffee truffles turned to wine, which turned to more wine and, well, turned into a very late night. We chatted about many things, but one included his exciting next steps in his culinary adventure. Go before he stops cooking and if/when you do go one word of advice. Don't load up on the delicious bread early like I did, you will regret it later.

Ben Greeno's Tudor Road - Somewhere in Hackney. It may be on Tudor Road...