Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Warwick Wingding - Warwick Gardens, Peckham

CDs adorning the trees

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about where I live is the community spirit. Tucked away from the bad press and areas of degradation are people who not only care, but are proud of where they live.

The Warwick Wingding is a local Arts and Music "festival", organised by the neighbourhood for the neighbourhood. Alongside various arts and crafts stalls, there was food and wine, and music supplied by (you guessed it) bands and musician of the local community.

Sis and the Stall

I was there supporting my sister who decided to take her hobby to the next level and hosted a stall selling her own handmade jewellery. It was an absolutely stunning day so sitting down and selling jewellery after a particularly heavy night, although not my idea of fun, was quite bearable.

The whole event was a massive success. A perfect day to laze in the sun with a pint of cider, surrounded by stalls and music. Here a few photo's of the day:

Camper Van

Junior Steel Band

Cakes and Quiche

Childrens Area

Out and about

And lastly, to the lady who didn't come and collect her bracelets, they are still patiently waiting for you. Please email me and I will get them over to you. And for those who want to see more of the photos, click here!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Old China Hand, Clerkenwell


A pub which serves Dim Sum? Surely these two concepts should be mutually exclusive. Dim Sum for me has always been a big sit down occasion, where plates of fried and steamed loveliness are transported on platters and towers of bamboo steamers, only to be wolfed down, whilst still succulent and warm. My image of pubs is somewhat different. Beer dominates, and civility is often no more than an afterthought. Fruit machines, pool if you're lucky and more often than not, a few nuts and a tin of pringles to stave off the munchies.

The Old China Hand has an interesting history. It's been an Irish pub, then hired a Dim Sum chef who consequently retired, became a Mexican restaurant (called El Gringo, no less) and finally reverted back to serving Dim Sum. Modern and clean in appearance with a really nice bar area, this was the location of choice for my friend's engagement party.


Arriving slightly early, I decided to give the Dim Sum menu the once over with the happy couple. It looked like a decent selection and it served in fours, which is always far more acceptable than in threes, I find. Here's what we had:

Gai Choi Gau - Mushroom, mustard cabbage, celery, garlic dumplings
Gai Choi Gau

Jap Choy Gau - Asparagus, mushroom and water chestnut dumplings
Jap Choy Gau

Chicken Satay
Chicken Satay

Jai Chuen Guen and Gee Mar Gai - Chicken Sesame toasts and Cabbage, water chestnut and mushroom spring rolls.
Jai Chuen Guen and Gee Mar Gai

Char Siu So
Char Siu So

Teen Sze Gau - Prawn and Celery balls
Teen Sze Gau

On the whole, everything was very good. The dumplings were succulent and very tasty, the fried goods relatively grease free. One of the things they pride themselves is on using natural flavours and ignoring MSG, certainly a world away from many Chinese restaurants. My main criticisms would be cost (each dish was over £4) and portion size, which frankly, were tiny.

The bar itself had a wide variety of lagers and ales from all around the world. The main bar area was spacious and the barmen were friendly and accommodating. It's a good fun venue and I believe that Dan and Emily had a great time (all the best guys). I think the fact that I ended the night drinking some strange strawberry beer and setting sambuca on fire indicated that it must have been a successful night.

The Old China Hand - 8 Tysoe Street, Clerkenwell, EC1R 4RQ

Old China Hand on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tastes from my Travels - Green 19 (Dublin)

Dublin is one hell of an expensive city. After wandering around it for 2 days, my pockets were bare, but so was my stomach and it needed to be filled. One of the many reccommendations I received was to try out Green 19. Coined as "recession chic", Green 19 serves straightforward pub grub with strong Irish influences in a rather "too cool for school" bar/cafe setting.

On arrival, I'm not sure why I was surprised to see the rather young queue forming outside at about half seven on a Wednesday evening. We struggled to the front to put our names on the waiting list and were told tentatively that a table might be free in about an hour. So we set out to discover a few bars in the local area one of which was Anseo. This pub, situated just next door, has been standing here for many years under many different guises. It was so dark and dingy inside that on a couple of occasions, as I reached for my Guinness, all I managed to grasp was a fistful of air. It had managed to blend itself perfectly into its environment.

Green 19

After an hour and a half, we made our way back to Green 19 and our table was ready. As always, I had a bit of a chat to the waitress and she explained to us how lucky we were to get a table. Since they had opened, they had been inundated with customers and now had a two week waiting list to get a table. Looking at the menu, I could see why. The prices were cheap in London terms, an absolute steal in Dublin terms, nothing was over 10€. I asked what the waitress what I should order, and without hesitation, she told me the corned beef.

Corned Beef, mash, cabbage and parsley sauce

Green 19
My immediate reaction to corned beef are memories of sitting by a campfire when I was 12. There I would be simmering a tin of corned beef and some onions over the fire, and then finishing it off with a tin of beans. Well, this certainly wasn't anything like that! Two slabs of beautifully cured beef slathered in glorious parsley sauce. The beef was so tender that even a sniff of my fork was enough to flake off the delicate meat. Accompanied by the two traditional staples of cabbage and potatoes, this was Ireland in a slightly bowl shaped plate. Wonderful.

Chicken Supreme with Mushroom and Tarragon cream sauce, lemon zest mash

Green 19
Simple but nice. Didn't really get a chance to get much of this, my cousin snarfed it all before I had a chance. The little bit I did get was still tender, sauce was good if a little thin.

In my humble opinion, it is pretty hard to fault Green 19. The food they are churning out of their kitchen is top notch and highly affordable. It is no surprise that this little restaurant has become so popular in such a short space of time, and I would highly reccommend a visit if you are ever in the neighbourhood. Just remember to book!

Green 19 (Website) - 19 Camden Street Lower, Dublin 2

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tastes from Travels - Roundup of Dublin and other treasures

I discovered that you can fit quite a lot into 3 days. Not enough to fit in everything I was told to try, but I gave it a damn good go. Here's a very brief round up of some food and a few non-food highlights of my jaunt.

Out and about in Dublin
Dublin has a lot of pubs, this was just the first of many we visited. On receipt of our drinks I extended my 10 Euro note only for the proprietor to walk away. "Free drink?" I thought. When we left, I paid the man and asked him why he hadn't asked us to pay in the first instance. "You don't look like the sort who runs away" he replied. Nice to know.

Out and about in Dublin
Puntastic! Absolutely loads of these all over Dublin.

Out and about in Dublin
Home of very expensive drinks. Most expensive round, just under 20 Euro for 2 standard beverages.

Out and about in Dublin
Out and about in Dublin
Fallon and Byrne - An excellent deli on Exchequer street. Had a pretty average coffee but their deli was brimming with lunchtime customers. Their sandwiches looked superb. The deli itself had an array of goods from all over the world. I was probably most impressed by their bread and veg. In that picture alone, there are over 10 types of tomato. I didn't even know more than 10 types even existed!

Out and about in Dublin
Even leprechauns need a fag break

Out and about in Dublin
Out and about in Dublin
Grogans - Our final taste of Dublin. A traditional pub located just off Grafton street, it serves great food as long as what you are looking for are toasted cheese sandwiches. Simple tastes, simple pleasures.

Dublin is an interesting and vibrant city. Ethnically diverse, if you look hard enough, you can find something for everyone. As I embark on my culinary voyage of discovery, I found so many hidden gems I hadn't known about on my previous visit. It's really quite amazing how food opens up your eyes. It took me to areas outside of the tourist hotbed and helped me experience more of Dublin than I could have imagined. Once the pound strengthens against the Euro, I will be back. Otherwise I may well end up like that poor chap below.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Tastes from my Travels - L'Ecrivain (Dublin)

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

I've been to Dublin a few times in the past. Once on a weekend break about 7 years ago and once on a massive piss-up disguised as a "company offsite". When I heard my cousin, who I hadn't seen for about 7 years, was heading across the pond from Seattle, I decided to give him an experience other than London and booked a mini-break over to Dublin.

I was fairly clueless as to what to see, do and, most importantly, eat and was rescued by Twitter once again. I didn't even put the word out, I just mentioned I was off and the flood of recommendations came in. Best take this opportunity to thank @kehoeser, @thedailyspud, @icanhascook, @euzie, @eatlikeagirl and all the Irishmen in my office for supplying far too many places to pack into my short 3 day trip.

I really wanted to sample the best of Dublin and the name L'Ecrivain kept coming up. A little bit of research showed that Dublin has 5 Michelin starred restaurants, L'Ecrivain (meaning "the author) coveting one of these stars so it went to the top of my hit list.

A late arrival into Dublin (due to a "clerical" error with Ryanair) meant we had time to dump our bags and freshen up before we headed to the restaurant. A short stroll along the canal, our first pint of Guinness and we were there.

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

Located in a small courtyard, hidden away from mainstream Dublin life, it took us away from the traffic gently bubbling along Baggott street and led us into the homely and ultimately welcoming interior. Its pretty hard to describe what this restaurant is like. It immediately oozes charm, with a small bar area and grand piano towards the back of the ground floor facing you as you enter, bordered by their private dining room. Most of the action takes place upstairs where there are various levels, although we were seated in the lofty main dining room. There is even a canopied outside balcony for additional seating, if the impulse for al fresco dining ever takes you.

In the evening, they do have a rather hefty a la carte menu, but we were very much settled on the 7 course dinner menu, reasonably priced at 65 Euro. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but I was eager and hungry, an excellent combination in preparation for the impending feast!

(I'm going to apologise for the slightly dodgy pics to follow. It was dark. Not too dark, just too dark for my standard point and click)

Amuse Bouche - Carrot veloute, coconut foam

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

A sensational little opener. The slightly sweet velvety carrot soup slid down a treat, the coconut foam adding an extra dimension, almost transforming this into a subtle Asian curry. As it went down, I felt a slight heat tickling the back of my throat. A touch of cumin and curry powder perhaps? Did exactly what it said on the tin, lit up my taste buds in anticipation for the starter.

Starter - Goats Cheese beignet, caramelised walnuts, fine herb risotto and broccoli puree

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

Salty, salty deep fried goats cheese. May not be everybody's favourite cheese, but I'm a big fan. This little chunk was topped with a sweet relish adding balance (not forgetting the caramelised walnuts too, sweet and crunchy. Balance and texture!). Honestly, didn't think the risotto added a whole lot to the overall dish, felt a bit like padding. However, the deep green broccoli puree certainly delivered with a clean hit of broccoli, complementing the richness of the cheese with an aspect of freshness.

Palate Cleanser - Pink grapefruit granita with cranberry jelly

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

After the strong flavours of the last dish, we really needed something to give us that lift so we could move onto the main and boy did this deliver. The pink grapefruit granita was a sensation. It felt a bit strange to be having a sweet in between our savoury courses. But this was so fresh and zingy, every little mouthful just cleansed all the salty richness of the goats cheese right out of our mouths, yet kept those taste buds firing. The cranberry jelly was a little sloppy and felt totally lost in this dish, I couldn't even taste it. I didn't really care though, I just wanted more of that granita.

Main - Challans duck breast, confit leg crumble, beetroot and celeriac puree, Savoy cabbage, garlic foam

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

There were lots of constituent parts to this dish and started by trying each bit individually. The duck (both ways) was sensational, packed full with that slightly gamey flavour that duck has. The confit crumble just fell apart and packed in the essence of duck, I really wish there had been a tiny bit more. The beetroot puree tasted of the earth and its natural sweetness was a nice accompaniment to the duck, a nice contrast to ducks normal fruity bedfellows. Celeriac is one vegetable I don't tend to eat very often, but after tasting the puree, I want to go and buy some just in the vain hope that I may be able to replicate the sensational flavours. The garlic foam on its own was bitter and not very nice at all, but packing a little bit of everything onto the fork, it added that hint of garlic to the back of your throat, finishing off the mouthful. Phew! A lot to get through, but so worth it. Seriously good cooking.

Pre Dessert - Banoffee Pie Sundae

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

I often sit and wonder what in the world could be better than a banoffee pie (I really do). The answer I now know is simple, banoffee pie in a glass! A simple execution but why mess with perfection? One thing I did notice were the two different types of toffee. The one on top was much lighter and more of a caramel, a nice touch.

Dessert - Chocolate Pave with Pistachio Ice cream

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

OOF! The final course. Stuffed on the verge of bursting, I looked at my cousin and we said we would have to try and cross the finishing line. After all, we had already come this far. The last course was pretty straightforward in execution and relied on great ingredients to produce that wow factor. The chocolate was excellent, thick and glossy. Each mouthful coated every single taste bud on your tongue. Pistachio ice cream is by far and away my favourite flavour and was excellent, not an ice crystal in sight. This was accompanied by some pistachio praline, an interesting take on a traditional praline. I looked over at my cousin and he had hoovered his up. "I thought you were full", I said. He looked over at me guiltily and shrugged, "Couldn't help it, it was so good."

Dinner at L'Ecrivain

And he was right, the whole damn meal had been amazing. No dishes were particularly mind blowing, but the sequences of the dishes, the quality of the cooking and more importantly, the ingredients, the combination of flavours and textures, it all just worked.

As we sipped our coffee and stared at the petit fours (these would later be wrapped up and taken home. No more food was to pass our lips), we turned to each other and enthusiastically discussed what had just taken place. We talked about what we liked best, what we didn't like as much and what really surprised us. Two normal guys talking about exemplary cooking. Simply, that's what good food does, it makes people talk. If you're ever in Dublin, L'Ecrivain is definitely worth the visit. Get down there and prepare for a great experience, and hopefully, great memories.

L'Ecrivain (Website) - 109 a Lower Baggot Street, Dublin 2

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's all business at L'Anima, The City

I love eating out at nice places but sometimes I feel the atmosphere can err towards overbearing. After all, I work in the wonderful world of "meeja" so dont often have the need of a jacket, or looking smart in general.

Walking into L'Anima, located right in the heart of the city, I had tried to look smart but felt totally out of place, even with my jacket and shirt (cufflinks included). It seemed pretty clear that plenty of the city's expense accounts were being spent on L'Animas vast menu.

The interior certainly matches the clientele. Clean, sophisticated and oozing money. The menu is comprehensive, dishes originating from all over Italy and what jumps out is the cost, a good meal here is going to rack up the pounds. However, they do have a very appealing lunch menu, three courses for £26.50, pretty reasonable, if somewhat limited. I opted to add an additional pasta course. After all, I couldn't visit an Italian restaurant without trying their pasta, could I?

Starter - Spring Vegetable Passata and Bruschetta with Parmigiana

Spring Vegetable Passata and Bruschetta with Parmigiana
A bit odd that this was a "Spring" vegetable passata considering it was the middle of Summer. Having said that, the passata was light and summery. Each mouthful contained different veggie notes, with hints of celery, peas and broad beans. The cheesy bruschetta acted like a large crouton, good contrast in textures and the salty tang of the parmigiana was the perfect accompaniment to the passata.

Pasta - Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle with truffles

Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle with truffles
Wow, thats a lot of truffles. I've never been that enamoured with truffles, and unfortunately, this dish isn't going to change my opinion. I don't really think they added much although the dish itself was great. The pasta was delicious and steeped in flavour, almost as if they were cooked in a savoury broth. The wild mushrooms were also delicious, spreading their deep and earthy flavours throughout the dish.

Main - Lemon and Thyme Poussin with olive oil mash

Lemon and Thyme Poussin with olive oil mash
This was a nice if rather average dish. The poussin was exceptionally cooked. It was still moist with a crisp skin. The lemon and thyme added a very subtle flavour to the poussin, but nothing which lit up my tastebuds. The olive oil mash didn't really work for me. Why mess with a thing of beauty by chucking a load of olive oil into it?

Dessert - Cappuccino Tiramisu

Cappuccino Tiramisu
A good finish to a pleasant meal. It was a bit sloppy, but the strong hit of coffee went gloriously with the lashings of cream. The highlights were definitely the chocolate crisp atop the tiramisu, a wonder of culinary engineering, and the incredibly light meringue like biscuit.

Hmm, this is a tough one. I enjoyed the food, but was not blown away. After all the chatter within the food community, I was expecting fireworks but what I got was a good feed in a somewhat sterile environment. The waiters could definitely do with flashing a smile every now and then, although you cannot question their ruthless efficiency. I will definitely try L'Anima again, probably for dinner, and definitely with a bigger budget so I can try a few of the more adventurous dishes on the menu. To be continued...

L'Anima (website) - 1 Snowden Street, Broadgate West, EC2A 2DQ

L'Anima on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eating for charity...again! Chilango in Angel

Eating for the NSPCC @ Chilango
Twice in a week I have eaten for charity. Todays event, a burrito eating competition at Chilango in aid of the NSPCC.

I have to be honest, I am a bit of a burrito virgin. I have had one before but it was nothing memorable. They seem to be far more popular these days. In fact, burrito "emporiums" are popping up all over the city to satisy the appetites of Londons workers. Varying from the burrito vans dotted across the city mimicking Mexican street food, such as Daddy Donkey, to the sit down establishments such as Burrito Bros and in this case, Chilango.

Eating for the NSPCC @ Chilango

If you have never had one, they are essentially flour tortillas filled with as much as you can fit into them. Fillings vary from beans and meat, to guacamole and cheese, all rounded off with a good heap of chilli.

Eating for the NSPCC @ Chilango

Now, I wouldnt say a burrito eating competiton is a great introduction to the burrito. The heats were broken down into groups of five, and I tentatively took my seat. I wanted to have a go early so the crowds couldn't build to mock my humble efforts. The burritos were placed before us. This certainly was no small burrito, it was in fact massive and I think I let out a little whimper. The rules were read out and eventually the word "Chilango" echoed across the room. Bite, chew, swallow and repeat. Two mouthfuls in and I felt ill. I couldn't taste anything, just the taste of defeat. There was no way I was going to win this heat. Not long after, I heard the word "Chilango" screamed across the room yet again, this time from one of the contestants. He had finished his in 56 seconds flat. This man was a machine. A not that lean, mean eating machine.

Eating for the NSPCC @ Chilango

I was relieved, I had managed to get through half of mine, but if I had pushed myself to finish the other half, I would have been really ill. Instead I got to savour it in my own time and slowly, I could finally actually taste the flavours. And damn, it was good. The chicken inside was tender and seasoned perfectly. The combination of cheese, sour cream and guacamole is always a winner and I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of my burrito at my own pace. The only negative I would say, is that it was rather rice heavy. Next time, no rice in mine.

Eating for the NSPCC @ ChilangoEating for the NSPCC @ Chilango

The contest was great fun and all for a good cause. I've always been a keen supporter of the NSPCC and am glad I could contribute to such a great event by making an absolute fool of myself. If you would like to add a contribution, there is a justgiving site set up. As well as charity and great burritos, I got to meet a few other twitter friends. @foodbymark joined me in my heat and failed as badly as I did. He swears it was because Mr 56 seconds was sitting next to him and was putting him off. @oliverthring and @eatmynels fared rather better, both winning their heats. Not quite 56 seconds although for one moment, we all thought Ollie might just do it.

Im glad its over. No matter how tasty, I think it will be a while before I can face another burrito.

(for more pics of the event, please click here)

Chilango (website) - 27 Upper Street, Islington, N1 0PN

Chilango on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 14, 2009

Support Macmillan Cancer, by eating cake!

Just a mini post from me but a worthy one nonetheless.

Macmillan Cancer Trust are a British charity supporting cancer victims and their families. As one of their initiatives, they are encouraging people to hold coffee mornings, filled with cakey goodness and give a small donation in return.

I was lucky enough to be invited to one of these cake bonanza's where after a marathon bake off the day before, we were invited to sample the spread below:

The main "Coffee Mornings" are to be held in 2 weeks but this event was to try and raise some awareness for Macmillan Cancer Trust, so hopefully you reading this has at least done that. If your feeling generous, you may even want to donate a few pennies (please do so here!).

And finally, thanks to the host for a great spread and a really fun afternoon. Please visit her write-up for more info and some great recipes.