Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Murano, Mayfair: Bu-bye Signore Ramsay

Vegas
Murano glass ceiling at the Bellagio in Vegas. I don't have any pics of the actual restaurant. oops.

One of my fondest “foodie” memories goes back to the days as a child, where I was sat in a neighbourhood Italian restaurant in Frankfurt, watching the incredibly capable pizzaiolo's slave away in front of a large open wood fired clay oven. As a seven year old, I was transfixed, watching them weave magic from dough and produce the finest pizzas I ever remember eating. Watching my father devour his spaghetti vongole and my mother coo over her scaloppine a la Milanese, my love of Italian food was born.

In my vain attempt at trying to replicate that feeling of happiness and content, I have begun searching out many of what are considered the “finer” Italian restaurants in London. These have taken in L’Anima, Theo Randall and Bocca di Lupo to name a few, some good, some bad, but none quite evoking the same memories (although Bocca came close). Murano, run by Angela Hartnett (of Welsh-Italian heritage), was next on the hit list and I expected great things from a restaurant wrestled off Gordon Ramsay.

Murano, Mayfair

As tempted as I was to indulge in the a la carte, or even the tasting options, wallet restricted me to the much more reasonably priced set lunch menu (a snip at £30). Whilst we perused the choices, a wooden board of charcuterie staved off the hunger pangs. The accompany bread basket was filled with a few delights including a superb focaccia (a good standard bearer for any Italian restaurant), and an amuse of arancini balls were also excellent.

Murano, Mayfair

My starter of wood pigeon and coca beans was intriguing but tasty. I can’t say I had ever eaten coca beans but the smoky flavour sat well alongside my generous breasts of wood pigeon. The cubes of pancetta and parsnip puree added saltiness and sweetness and the whole was pretty good, although would have benefited from a few less beans.

Murano, Mayfair

My main of venison with parsnip and winter veg, was in a nutshell, pretty damn sexy. The tender slices of loin were cooked perfectly, with a caramelised nugget of meat on the side, absolutely bursting with flavour, and the veg was, well, veg. But very well cooked veg at that.

Murano, Mayfair

The meal was going rather swimmingly. Mains had been polished off and everyone seemed pleased (this may have been due to the wine and glass of champagne we had to start, I’m not ruling this out). For me, the real party pleaser came in the form of the palate cleanser, a symphony of mini ice creams and sorbets placed on a frozen glass stand. Each one burst with flavour and even if some didn’t exactly hit the spot (basil, I’m, looking at you), it was a nice way to lead us into the desserts.

Murano, Mayfair

Even though my two companions both opted for the cheese cart, where they were adorned with pretty much as much cheese as they desired from a vast selection, my sweet tooth prevailed and I opted for the lemon cream and foam, with a hazelnut dacquoise and mint. I think the best way to describe this would be a citrus explosion, with the lemon cream smooth and tart, and the foam slightly sweet. The slices of grapefruit added a slightly sour juice explosion where all the flavours just mingled in your mouth. I’m not sure how there was a “dacquoise” involved, but the nuggets of biscuit added a nice change in gear of texture.

So in summation, I had a pretty damn enjoyable time. Everything we had eaten was expertly cooked, and care and consideration had been taken when considering balancing flavours and textures without being overly complicated. The service was perfect, without being too obtrusive and were always there to answer a question, take a wine order or pick up your napkin, all the travails you may actually encounter within a restaurant. I hadn’t felt like I had missed out by being restricted to the lunch menu, but peering over the fence into the garden of the tasting menu revealed a myriad of other delights. I will be back in 2011, and next time, my wallet will be prepared.

Murano - 20 Queen Street W1J 5PP

Murano on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wuli Wuli, Camberwell: Bringing the burn....

Wuli Wuli, Camberwell

A couple of weeks ago, I headed down to newly opened Wuli Wuli with two of my favourite South East London friend and bloggers. It looked far too classy for a Chinese restaurant in Camberwell with smart lighting and stylish black interior. We walked in and it was empty bar one other table, never a great sign, but it was early days and the initial word on the street was positive.

Wuli Wuli, Camberwell

We shouldn't have worried as much of the food we ate was very good. With Chinese/Cantonese staples in the front part of the menu, the interesting stuff lay behind what was simply labelled as "Chinese Style". The food behind this divide was more based around the Szechuan cuisine and contained interesting dishes of smashed cucumbers and other dishes containing the more "interesting" parts of the animal.

I wanted to write it up back then but Lizzie and Helen had already covered everything I wanted to say and I sat back hoping that the empty seats would soon fill up.

Wuli Wuli, Camberwell

And fill up it did. Taking the bus down Camberwell Church street every evening, Wuli Wuli seems to bustling along nicely. So why write it up now? Well a week ago I excitedly got a menu delivered through my front door informing me that they now did delivery. Awesome. I waited until the weekend and ordered. Swift delivery and an incredibly cheery Chinaman (much like myself) greeted me, with great food to boost. Spicy thin slices of cabbage, leeks and pork, all intermingled with dried chillis, what's not to like?

Wuli Wuli - 15 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 8TR

Wuli Wuli on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Marco Torri vs Jane Hornby: The Carbonara cook off (with a recipe)

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a chat with a friend and one of the hardest questions a food lover will ever have to answer was asked. "If you had to eat the food from one country for the rest of your life, where would it be?” I paused for a little while, but in truth, I knew the answer straight away. Not because it was an easy answer, but because I had thought about the answer to this question on many occasions, and on every occasion, the answer would be Italian. Surprising maybe, being that I am Chinese, but nothing excites me more than the variety and produce from "The Boot".

Carbonara Cook off

When the offer to take part in a Carbonara taste off arrived in my inbox, I jumped at the chance. In one corner, we have Marco Torri, head chef at Semplice and proud owner of a Michelin Star. In the other, we had Jane Hornby cook, and author of "What to Cook and How to Cook It", a brand new cook book, packed with straightforward recipes all beautifully visualised. This was going to be an interesting contest.

After some chat with both "contestants" and keeping our hunger at bay with focaccia, olive oil and cured meats, the chefs headed off into the kitchen to prepare their dishes. When they both arrived, you could see that they were both very different.

Carbonara Cook off

The first one we were presented with was much wetter with a heady aroma. The sauce was deeply savoury packed with a good strong cheesy punch, not of parmesan, but of Pecorino, we all decided. A smoked ham perhaps? Definitely a few ladles of pasta stock into the sauce, a chefs secret I once saw on the telly.

Carbonara Cook off

The second was a lot less saucy and much milder in overall flavour. The sauce was definitely thicker and the ham used was much milder, without as smoky a hit, definitely less pepper. I actually preferred this one; it wasn't as much an assault on your senses, but a comforting bowl of pasta.

It turns out the second one belonged to Jane, but both were very enjoyable and the fact that both troughs were emptied of their contents was all the chefs needed to know. We had a leaf through Jane's book and the recipe was there in all its glory, well illustrated and simple to follow. I have attached Jane's recipe at the bottom of this post so have a go yourself, and I would definitely recommend getting hold of a copy of "What to Cook and How to Cook it". You won't regret it.

*Thanks to Marco Torri and Semplice Trattoria for hosting the event*

Spaghetti Carbonara

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 –12 minutes
Serves 2 (easily doubled)

Just six ingredients come together to create something quick and indulgent. For an extra touch of luxury add a dash of cream – just two tablespoons or so – to the Parmesan and eggs before mixing with the pasta.

-----------------------------

1 tsp flaky sea salt

200 g (7 oz) spaghetti

1 clove garlic

4 rashers smoked dry-cured streaky

bacon, or 100 g (3½ oz) smoked

bacon lardons or pancetta cubes

1 tbsp mild olive oil

40 g (1½ oz) Parmesan cheese

3 medium eggs

salt and pepper

-----------------------------

1
Put a large pan of water over a high heat and bring it to the boil. Add the salt, then add the spaghetti and bring back to the boil. Stir once, turn the heat down a little, and boil for 10 minutes, or until the pasta is just tender.

2
While the pasta cooks, start the sauce. Squash the whole garlic clove without peeling it. You can do this by simply bashing it with the bottom of a pan. Chop the bacon into small pieces, if using. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat, then add the oil. After 30 seconds, add the chopped bacon or lardons and the garlic. Fry the bacon and garlic for 8–10 minutes, or until the bacon is golden and crisp and the fat has run out. Discard the garlic and take the pan off the heat.

3
While the bacon cooks, finely grate the Parmesan cheese and beat the eggs in a jug with a fork. Mix half of the Parmesan into the eggs. Season with salt and pepper.

4
When the pasta is just tender, reserve a cup of its cooking water, then drain it in a colander.
Tip the pasta into the bacon pan, add 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water, then pour over the egg and cheese mixture. Toss everything together quickly (tongs are useful here), so that the egg mixture, bacon and its juices coat the pasta. The residual heat in the pan and the pasta will be enough to just cook the eggs to a creamy sauce within about 1 minute.

5
Scoop the pasta into warmed serving bowls, then sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and a little black pepper, and serve immediately.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dumplings' Legend, Chinatown


Chinatown is a bit rubbish for Dim Sum. For an area which is meant to represent the wares of the Chinese population in London, it really doesn’t do the best job with great, affordable Dim Sum more commonly located on the peripheries of the City. There were a few good places once upon a time (my family were regulars at New World although it has now descended into all levels of crapness) but the seeming focus on fleecing tourists has really deterioted the overall standard of food in the area. There are a few decent places which still pack in the Chinatown faithful, but when it comes to Dim Sum, I have always struggled to find a good place.



Dumplings Legend is a relatively new place with a glass window where you can witness the dumpling chefs making and steaming them, very much appearing to focus on the siu long bau. It was all a little “Ping Pong”-esque, but I really hoped that it would be a little more authentic and less expensive. The menu is pretty standard although I actually found some of their descriptions a little odd. Pork burger anyone? When it came to ordering, I tried my best using the Cantonese names of dishes I had been eating for many years but only succeeded about 50% of the time.



The food itself was hit and miss but decent enough. The prawn cheung fun and char siu so were good and the pork “burgers” were surprisingly enjoyable, presenting themselves as bigger and flatter versions of the traditional peking dumpling. The siu mai were a tad on the salty side and the xiao long bao were overcooked although the general flavour was decent, with a decent amount of soup thrown into the mix (as long as it doesn't rip and leak out).



Chinatown really needs an excellent Dim Sum restaurant and if one ever decided to move in, I'm pretty sure it would be packed out every day. Unfortunately Dumpling Legend is not the solution to this age old dilemma, but get's decent marks for effort. I shall return, and this time I will win the staring competition with the Dim Sum man.



Dumplings' Legend - 15-16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London, W1D 6JE

Dumpling's Legend on Urbanspoon

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