Monday, February 25, 2013

"What I Ate Weekly" 3/4 - Illness, Chinese New Year and a truly Quality Chop House

Chinese New Year

Being sick doesn't half know how to put a dampener on things. Snivelling, coughing, sneezing, complaining that my throat hurts ALL the time. But these are not the worst thing about being ill, not even close. It's the lack of appetite, an idea so alien to me that it took a virus to remind me how utterly depressing not wanting to eat is.

Four Roses Bar

So that is why there is no week 3, it was pretty much a write off with one highlight, a dinner at the Old Quality Chop House. After a few drinks at the new Four Roses popup bar under the Zetter Townhouse (up there with my favourite bars in London), I headed with the venerable Gin Monkey for some food to mop up the bourbon.

Quality Chop House

I wasn't really sure what to expect, its previous incarnation was a restaurant selling meatballs which I previously hadn't heard particular great things about. This version seems to have strong British and Italian influences. Sharing a plate of charcuterie to start set the whole meal off on a good footing. Delicious cured meats, but hardly genius cooking. Morcilla and apple sauce may not have been the prettiest thing to look at but was also extremely moreish, with the apple compote not too sweet and breaking up the richness of that blood sausage perfectly.

Quality Chop House

Where the Quality Chop house really came into it's element was the meat. The longhorn fillet may not have been cheap, but was cooked to medium rare perfection. Served with watercress, nuggets of bone marrow and a pickled walnut, each mouthful was a joy. Even the nuggets of bone marrow that I have never been that fond of injected that little depth of beefy flavour. The Quality Chop house is a great place, and even though we only ate in the bar area, I look forward to going back to try out their ever changing set menu in the dining room.

The Quality Chop House - 94 Farringdon Rd, London, Greater London EC1R 3EA

The Quality Chop House on Urbanspoon

So, the on-set of sickness hit and I managed to miss two eagerly anticipated meals. One was a leaving party at the institution that is Tayyabs (if you ever need some fantastic curries and grilled meats, this is the place) and the launch of Melba (a new platform to find and eat at some of Londons supperclubs). Thankfully come Sunday, I had managed to get take a break from generally feeling crap to spend Chinese New Year with my family.

Mandarin Kitchen

Every year, we end up at the same restaurant, Mandarin Kitchen in Bayswater. Our family have been coming here regularly over the last 20 years and I think you would struggle to find a better version of lobster noodles or aromatic duck in London. Some of the other things it does well here are their deep fried baby squid (packed with chilli and garlic, and one of my favourite things in London), their dry fried chicken, chilli and onion dish, and maybe best of all, their off the menu truffle, mushroom and tofu special, which is indeed very special. Rounding off all the food, the traditional Yee Sang, a raw salmon and jellyfish salad with all sorts of other bits and pieces, flung into the air by all at the table and cheered with gusto to see in the year of the Black Water Snake.

Mandarin Kitchen - 4-16 Queensway, Paddington, London W2 3RX

Mandarin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Danny Trejo - Lucky Chip

One of the best burgers you're going to find in London can be found at Lucky Chip, a successful convert from mobile burger shack to bricks and mortar. From Netil Market to a semi-perm residency at the Sebright Arms in Hackney, you can gorge on fries in many guises (truffle oil, cheese, chilli, all of the above, not forgetting the wasabi and ginger mayo version) and burgers named after movie stars. The special on the night, a Danny Trejo, was a punchy mix of jalapeno, bacon and sour cream amongst other things, and will set you back just under a tenner. I would go as far to say as Lucky Chip are currently best in class and unmissable if you love burgers.

Carrying on the Chinese New Year celebrations, a feast at Goldmine with friends. Located in the heart of Londons 2nd Chinatown (the Bayswater/Queensway area is awash with great Chinese restaurants), we feasted on all sorts of great Cantonese fare. Steamed egg three ways was a new dish on me, and a perfect banqueting dish. Best of all is their roast duck, a "signature" dish of so many Cantonese restaurants. Here, the meat is moist, tender and roasted to perfection. Rumour has it that students heading back to the East come here to take some duck home then, vac packed on site. If that isn't endorsement enough, I'm not sure what is.

Goldmine - 102 Queensway, Paddington, London W2 3RR

Gold Mine on Urbanspoon

So there it is, a fortnight punctuated by illness but book ended by good eats. Hope you enjoyed.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vigo, where it's all about the fish...(Day 1)


At the end of last year, I got an email asking me if I wanted to go to Spain and learn a bit more about Galicia. Initial reaction, was this a joke? Secondary reaction, where the hell was Vigo? I'm a Geography graduate, so that last point was pretty embarrassing  but once I realised this wasn't some sort of elaborate wind up, I keenly said yes. This was after all, my first invite abroad. And I was pretty damn excited by it.



Vigo (as Google Maps swiftly revealed) is located just north of Portugal, deep in the heart of Galicia, and as it turns out, one of of the biggest fishing ports in the whole of Europe. I was slightly worried about the itinerary, containing an assortment of seafood related activities including fish markets and an outing on a fishing boat. It was Winter and I am hesitant about seafood at the best of times. But what's the point of writing this blog if it wasn't about learning?

Staying in the heart of "new" Vigo, we were put up in the Gran Hotel Nagari, five star accommodation. The hotel is home to a rooftop spa boasting a grand view if Vigo. Or so it claimed. Sadly, I wasn't allowed up there so I can't really comment on how bad or good it was. My room, on the other hand was lovely, as were the staff and the location is pretty close to the old town and Maruja Limon, the solitary Michelin starred restaurant in Vigo, and incidentally, the destination for the first night in Vigo.

Maruja Limon

Maruja Limon

To start, a little about the wine of the region. Throughout the meal, we were served one white and one red, but played a few tasting games including being blindfolded and tasting at different temperatures to pick up the subtle nuances of each. The white, an Albarino which is a grape common to the region, was the star of the show and as the focus of this meal was around the seafood of the area, matched well with many of the dishes we ate throughout the evening.

Maruja Limon

The first bite of marinated tuna-esque fish set the tone, a light and fresh mouthful, swiftly followed by a delicate veal carpaccio with parmesan. Each subtle mouthful, heightened by little accents like the mustard in the carpaccio and the diced tomato with the tuna. 

Maruja Limon

I'm not going to lie, I don't remember what was in every dish I ate. I have pictures, but with the limited Spanish I know, most of my memories are just that, just supported by a liberal use of Google translate. An unknown fish started the banquet in earnest, dusted with a liberal shaving of macadamia nuts. Next, a mullet dish with lightly pickled vegetables. Simple, elegant but just what the fish needed to shine. I've never really understood the fuss around fish before, as often found it bland and dull, but these dishes let the fish speak for each itself, and when it's as fresh as this, it's hard not to enjoy.

Maruja Limon

The best dish of the night came next, a truffle and savoury egg custard with nuggets of bacon and mushrooms. We were urged to dig deep into our little bowls, and with each spoonful, a different balance of flavours revealed itself. A wonderful dish that left us licking our bowls.

Maruja Limon

Back to another fish, this time with an artichoke and seaweed sauce. I don't remember ever having enjoyed such a fish based meal, but I guess that I have never eaten fresher, which clearly makes the difference. After the fish, was our final savoury course, an odd combination of sweetbreads and grapes in a cheese sauce. Put simply, I have never enjoyed sweetbreads. I put them up their in the league of the devil alongside anchovies. The texture, the fattiness and the aftertaste are all too challenging for me and this dish sadly did nothing to change my mind.

Maruja Limon

Maruja Limon

The desserts were extraordinary. A sorbet of green apple had such surprising clarity of flavour, and paired with celery, pineapple and tangerine in a juice with a slight savoury tang left me yearning more. A final dessert of "False truffle" arrived looking like a rather large summer truffle. Inside, a chocolate truffle, completing the witty play on on words. A joke doesn't really work if it doesn't eat well, but there was nothing funny about this. This was a serious dessert.

Maruja Limon

On reflection, the whole meal at Maruja Limon was extraordinary. I learnt a little about the wine of Galicia and it's subtle nuances, I learnt a little about the different types of fish and its individual flavours, I even got to try a sip of the first Galician gin, but most of all, I learnt that there is nothing quite like a fresh fish supper. 

So day 1 was a great introduction to Vigo. A wonderful meal and a wonderful hotel. According to my agenda, day 2 was going to teach me all about the fishing trade that manifests itself everywhere in Vigo. I couldn't wait.

Maruja Limon - Restaurante Maruja Limón, Victoria, 4 (Plaza Compostela), 36201 Vigo

Hotel Gran Nagari - Plaza Compostela, 21, 36201 Vigo

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"What I ate" Weekly - Issue TWO

Vestal Vodka

The best way to kick off the week is vodka, right? Well, that's exactly what I did when I attended an LCS event with Vestal Vodka. Coming out of Poland (with an Anglo-Kiwi twist), this vodka is different in many ways, although the focus is on it's single filtration, the "terroir" and age of its potatoes, and it's concept of small batch vintage. It has a pretty interesting (and initially not entirely pleasing) smell, but once you drink it, I picked up the strange nuances of apple and bubblegum, challenging but not displeasing. Over the night, I sampled the entire current Vestal range and emerged from the Vestal Vaults very much converted, only something an evening with the London Cocktail society can do.

Learn a bit more about Vestal Vodka HERE

Tonkotsu - Soy Ramen

I'm not gonig to deny it, I have a bit of an obsession with ramen at the moment. I've always loved noodle soup, and the latest influx of ramen restaurants has just fuelled this obsession. Bonedaddies is my current favourite, but after an initially disappointing outfit (to be fair, it was very early days), I thought I would give Tonkotsu another go for lunch. I'm glad I did as it was infinitely better. The tonkotsu broth was ridiculously rich (probably a little too porky for me), although my soy ramen had just the right balance. The chashu pork was plentiful and retained bite, packed with flavour. I can't help thinking that the whole bowl and experience was a little underwhelming though, lacking the fun and variety of Bonedaddies, but please don't misunderstand, this is in no way a bad ramen. It's just that my heart (and bowl) lies with another.

Tonkotsu - 63 Dean Street, London W1D 4QG

Tonkotsu on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Gran Luchito Popup @ Bambuni

I've never visited Bambuni in Nunhead before, crazy really as it is so close to where I live, but it was the venue for one in a series of Gran Luchito supperclubs. Being early for once, I wandered around the shop and was astounded with the cornucopia of delights on the shelves and in the fridge. As soon as the other guests arrived, we started to tuck into a range of Gran Luchito inspired dished by Tiffany of Kitchen Conversations. My personal favourite was the pork tamale, steamed corn husks containing tender pork. I loved the smoky Gran Luchito, and have an inclination that I may be spooning it on everything. Grabbing a few goodies off the shelves, I left vowing to return for some ham, cheese and a cup of coffee (which uses beans from local SE London supplier Volcano).

More pictures of the night can be found HERE, and please visit the Gran Luchito website to find out more about their roving Supperclubs HERE.

The end of the week took me deep into Dalston, probably one of the strangest neighbourhoods in the whole of London. On the way to Shanghai (restaurant, not city), I walked past men and women in suits, hipsters painting a wall advertising a tea shop with a vintage vibe and a scary old mans pub with groups of old drunk men by the door shouting indecipherable obscenities at each other. Shanghai itself is just as mental, a tatty looking pie and mash shop fronting, leading to a large, far more modern looking dining space out the back. The food was decent enough, with cracking aromatic duck and mediocre dumplings, but we all had a decent time chugging Tsingtao, playing coin eye spy and generally making lots of noise.

So two out of two. Not looking too shabby so far.