Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Tidbit - Your Secret Ingredient

Right, this has got to stop. Seriously, I look at it everyday and wonder how it could ever have got into this state. I am careful and normally attentive, but I admit, I took my eye off the ball on this one. One minute it was manageable, and then all of a sudden, when you're not looking, it all starts to spiral out of control. I have tried my hardest, but something has to change.

I am of course talking about what happens when you neglect your blog. I look at the list of unpublished posts, not even thinking about the posts I have meant to write which have been deleted from my memory. A pitiful effort...but I have a plan. Every Thursday, I shall unleash the Thursday tidbit. Shorter, snappier, better.

So first up, a lovely event organised by we are social and held at The Hospital Club, to try and figure out a mystery ingredient, all used within a variety of dishes. All we were told was that the dishes all used a common readily available and oft used ingredient, with some created by the attending ambassador for this brand, Paul Rankin, and others by the team behind the brand. So what was it?

What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?
What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?

First two dishes, chicken quesadillas (cheesy loveliness) and a grilled chicken with a mango salsa (well cooked, and nice with the salsa). Hmm, a common ingredient, chicken would be too obvious, surely?

What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?
What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?

Next up, spag bol and shepherds pie. Hmm, I think I have an idea now. The sweetness in the spag bol kind of gives it away. I think someones been a bit heavy handed with the old squeezy bottle...

What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?
What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?

Asian style salmon salad is a total no go area for me, but sort of confused now. Surely nothing squeezy is in this dish? Curry was pleasant, and makes me think my initial guess is right. Yup, sticking to my guns.

What is "Your Secret Ingredient"?

The secret ingredient was of course Ketchup, an ingredient endorsed not only by Paul Rankin, but also by my mum (she makes an excellent sweet and sour pork, incorporating ketchup). The cap off the night, our dessert was ketchup cake, which no matter how disgusting it sounds, was delicious. I may even try ketchup with my cornflakes in the morning...

*Check out other cool stuff you can do with ketchup at http://www.heinz.co.uk/secretingredient from the 27th September*

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

Hackney Wick is one of those areas people who live in London don't go to unless they actually live there. I mean, seriously, all there is there are warehouses and canals filled with shopping trolleys, surely there can be no reason to visit? At least that was my opinion until Nicola (she of Shedlikesfood fame) decided to organise a tour to prove that there was more to Hackney Wick than rats and pigeons. As the token South Londoner and a habitual hater of East London, she was taking a real chance inviting me along, but she was confident that the wares of Hackney Wick would be enough to convince me that there be good things amongst all these warehouses.

So, early start and the first stop was breakfast at The Counter Cafe

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

Who knew such a great little cafe existed in the middle of pretty much nowhere? Surrounded by those ever present warehouses, The Counter is an oasis amongst the urban wilderness. Upon arrival, we ordered a few coffees to perk us up from the early morning start. My order of a flat white was velvety smooth and had that slight natural sweetness synonymous with the Antipodean coffee I drank out in Melbourne. Great start.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

We were then served mini portions of a few of the Counter Cafes classics. The first were masala scrambled eggs which were delicately spiced and just made me wish I had a bigger portion (that was until my brain kicked in and the realisation that eating a little at a time on a food tour was probably a sensible thing). For "dessert" we were served their signature french toast served with a sweet but slightly tart compote of berries and banana. I love french toast and I love berries and bananas. I loved this dish.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour
Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

With all these complex carbs, I really needed to work off a few before we headed off towards our next destination. Luckily enough, there is a table tennis table out back to do just that and after a few rounds with Lex, we were ready to move onto our next destination, the Hackney Pearl.

Lunch at the Hackney Pearl

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

The short stroll along the canal to the Hackney Pearl was quite welcome, helping us further digest some more of the food we had just eaten, steeling us for the feast that the Hackney Pearl had prepared for us. It was pretty empty when we first arrived but slowly filled up throughout the time we were there until bursting point when we left a few hours later.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

First drink of the day in hand (it was just about 12 at this stage), we started with a selection of starters including a veggie mezze (with some really good mushed up carrots, creamy slaw and a tzatziki of sorts) and a ball of chicken liver pate which was far too “livery” for my tastes, but seemed to go down well with the rest of the table.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

The mains were the real star with a whole slow roast lamb shoulder and salsa verde. The lamb was unctuous and so tender that strands of meat were just dripping off. When presented with this grand lump of meat, we questioned how long it had been cooking, receiving the response “ A long time, I had to constantly wake up during the night to keep it moist”. A real labour of love, it was certainly appreciated.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

The behemoth of an Eton Mess we had for dessert was perfectly nice, if a little heavy on the cream, not a qualm you often hear from me. A better balance of meringue and fruit would have been ideal, but even then, we all tucked in heartily. By the time we were done, it hardly looked like we had made a dent into the beast.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

Upon completion, it was time for another meander. Doubling back on ourselves, we headed back over the bridge, down past the canal, straight past the Counter and onwards deep into warehouse territory. Before we knew it, we were standing outside Formans, a massive grey and salmon pink building belying it’s true nature. Famous for its smoked salmon and smoker (as well as holding the record for the worlds fastest pin-boned and carved side of smoked salmon), it also contains a restaurant and a pretty bewildering art gallery.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

We made our way to the balcony which with its Astroturf and stunning view of the Olympic stadium would have been the perfect setting for the conclusion of our tour. Unfortunately, it started to spit which consequently turned into an almighty downpour and we were restricted to remaining indoors.

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

The selection of Formans cheeses and dessert wine were a wonderful finale, and it was an absolute miracle that I managed to get through so much cheese. I had another engagement to head to (yet more food!), but I left “The Wick” enlightened and realising that it was more than just warehouses, rats and smelly canals. It had been a brilliant day and I have only Swift to thank for sorting out. I'm sure I will be back to Wick soon!

Hackney Wizzle Munch Tour

The Counter Cafe - 4a Roach Rd, Hackney Wick, London E3 2PA
The Counter Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Hackney Pearl - 11 Prince Edward Road, Hackney Wick E9 5LX
The Hackney Pearl on Urbanspoon

Forman and Fields - Stour Rd, Fish Island, London E3 2NT
Formans on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 13, 2010

Lupita: Mexico City in London town, Charing Cross

Following London's obsession with Mexican imports (yes burritos, i'm looking at you) I approached the opening of Lupita with trepidation. It claimed to be London's first truly authentic Mexican restaurant, quite a claim with so many other protaganists claiming authenticity within the capital. The difference lies in its provenance. Brought to London by the same team who run El Farolita in Mexico city, a well regarded taqueria, they use as many authentic Mexican ingredients as they can lay their hands on to produce food as good as you can get back in Latin America. So in order to test out such grand claims, I turned to my fountain of Latin American food knowledge and probably the harshest judge of anyone I know, and headed on down to Villiers street to see what it was all about.

Lupita, Charing Cross

The menu is very much focused around Mexican street food, tacos, quesadillas and other hand held bites, with each plate designed for sharing. Whilst we pondered the choices, margaritas aided our decision making as well a as plate of tortilla chips and salsa (good salsa, chips unfortunately out of a bag). I gave up on the menu shortly after and left Carla to it.

Lupita, Charing Cross

Tacos arrived first, corn and not flour (apparently flour tacos are for heathens). The taco pastor were sweet and juicy, with a delicious mix of slow cooked pork and bacon marinated in a huge variety of ingredients, ending up in a fruity concoction. These did not last long. The taco nopales (or cactus to the uninitiated) had the taste and texture of okra, not something I am particularly fond of, so didn't really rock my world.

Lupita, Charing Cross

We went for an interesting mix of quesadillas, with one choice of chorizo erring on the normal, whilst the other of huitlacoche being downright odd. As with all the greatest delicacies in the world, the Mexicans saw their corn being destroyed by fungus and curiosity (as well as hunger) drove them to eat it. The chorizo was perfectly pleasant (if not cheesy enough), but the huitlacoche (also known as "corn smut") was quite an experience. An unpleasant looking black sludge, it had a herbal taste with a muted nuttiness. Not all that unpleasant, but I found it quite rich after a few mouthfuls.

Lupita, Charing Cross

The alambre was described by my dining partner as close to fajitas as you would get in a Mexican restaurant, and mighty fine they were too. We were flagging at this stage and we began to chat with one of the managers Rafael as there were a few unanswered questions. I say we, the conversation was very much led in Spanish, but at the end of it, I think he passed the inquisition. One stickling point was regarding the rather expensive guacamole, which seems to be following the trend of having it freshly made at your table and then charging you £7 for the privelege. Rafael agreed that it wasn't a decision they took fondly, and that he would much rather his staff were taking orders and serving, than wasting time at each persons table. He then told us that this was going to be removed in the next menu and replaced by a cheaper, not-made-at-your-table version. A good move. He also proceeded to send some over for us to try, and we managed to shovel a few mouthfuls of excellent creamy guac into our pieholes.

Lupita, Charing Cross

This brought an end to our food binge, and coming to just over £15 a head for the food, it was thoroughly excellent value. I looked over to the harshest judge of them all. She had been quite muted for most of the meal and I was unaware of her verdict, but she smiled and said that she would quite happily come back again. I need no further proof, Lupita is excellent value and definitely bucking the trend. A Mexican restaurant actually run by Mexicans.

Lupita - 13-15 Villiers Street, London WC2N 6ND

Lupita on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A good reason to go North: Pig Feast at the Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

August has been one hell of a month. Who knew that starting a new job would have such a massive impact on my blogging output. I am happy to report that I have come out unscathed and am very much looking forward to my second week back in full employment, but unfortunately, it has left me with an abject fear of turning my computer on when I eventually get home. Not particularly conducive for writing a blog.

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

I have though been keeping myself rather busy outside of work and have had the opportunity to attend some pretty amazing things arranged by the good people off twitter. First up was a pig feast. Organised by the lovely Hollowlegs, it involved getting together some of my favourite people and roasting a 75kg Gloucester Old Spot in a beautiful pub up in leafy Highgate.

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

The Red Lion and Sun is owned by Heath, a boisterous Kiwi I first bumped into at Bar Boulud, but more frequently in the pubs run by his good friend Scott. Having bought the pub a few years back, he told me stories of how many of the locals had initially disapproved (including one involving spitting) but eventually got them to warm to him over the years. I guess the regular pig and lamb roasts that he holds helps sway them in his favour (even if it has meant that Heath is sick of the stuff!).

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

So I guess that helps to explain how about 30 of us found ourselves in the pub garden gorging ourselves on some of the sweetest and most succulent pork I had ever eaten. To accompany it, we were given bowls of BBQ and homemade apple sauce, as well as a variety of salads including coleslaw, tomatoes and some of the best potato salad I have eaten in a while. And I really shouldn't forget the ever flowing pieces of crackling, probably as close to heaven as I can get.

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

Drinks on the night were kindly provided by Four Roses Bourbon and D'Arenberg wines. The bourbon was spun into cocktails by the able staff and the wine flowed deep into the night. With names like "The Stump Jump" and "The Love Grass", the wine kept us amused before we even had a taste, and well, we all know what happens once you actually drink it...

Pig Feast at Red Lion and Sun, Highgate

The Red Lion and Sun is about as far away from my home as I am willing to travel in an evening, which is a shame as if it were closer, I would spend a whole lot more time there. The pub itself is beautiful and homely with large outside spaces out the front and back, and if the pig is anything to go by, Heath and his team have the food covered. And you never know, it may even have been good enough to draw this South East Londoner back to North London.

The Red Lion and Sun - 25 North Road, London N6 4BE
The Red Lion and Sun on Urbanspoon



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