Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tom's Kitchen - 7 Hour Lamb

Last week at Taste of London, Tom Aitkins lamb was one of my favourite dishes. As luck would have it, Allens of Mayfair, also at the festival, had a lovely shoulder of lamb that had my name on it, and was lugged back home across London by a very boozey me at the end of the night.

Early Sunday morning, while the rest of the house slept, I was up surfing the net, writing my last post, and getting caffine into my system to start the day off right, and let the lamb come up to room temperature. Then the fun began.

Peeling and slicing onions has never been a chore for me. I used to prepare jars of caramlised onions when they were in season to store and share with friends back home in Oz. Here, it was another story. I dont know if it is because they are stronger, or because I have not cooked for a few months, but 8 onions equated to about half a box of tissues and the uncontrollable laughter of my Hussyband as I sliced and sniffed away. I really must get a mandolin! This would have to one of my worst photos ever...thanks Hussyband!

Now, having just moved and being under strict instructions not to buy everything I desire for the kitchen, I do not have a casserole or dutch oven in the house. So, for those of you similarily impaired, just use a nice deep sided baking dish, and tent the whole thing really well with a couple of layers of foil in both directions. It works just as well, with the added bonus of not having to scrub a lid clean at the end! Laziness/penny pinching has its uses. The last hour or so the foil came off, the balsamic goes on, and I had to paste every was worth the effort!

I served this with a huge pile of mash, and some green beans. You might also add carrots, peas or brocollini to the table.

The meat was fall apart tender - you really do not need a knife, and the left overs I mised through with the balsamic onions and froze for another day when I envision them either forming the base for a pie, or making the best damned toasted sandwich ever.

Tom Aitkins 7 Hour Lamb Recipe
1 shoulder Lamb (weighing 2.5 kilos)
1 bunch thyme
8 whole medium sized onions, peeled
2 garlic bulbs, peeled cloves
250ml balsamic vinegar
2g Maldon sea salt
150ml olive oil

See here for the method

Serves: 6

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Oyster Shucking and Dinner at Le Cafe Anglais

Last week, my trusty foodie sidekick Kanga_Rue and I headed to Le Cafe Anglais in sunny West London just near Bayswater tube for an instructional afternoon as to how to shuck our own oysters. I got to the restaurant just as the boys from Wright Bros Oyster and Porter House at Borough Market were setting up for the impending hoard of hungry mollusk lovers.

Finding us a seat at one of the few tables I waited patiently for Kanga, damned the London Tube and its ability to slow our scoffing down! The crowd was building and I caved to mental peer group pressure and went to have a sneaky sample.

There were four types of oysters on the menu today - Scottish, Irish, English and French. The offerings for topping them were simple and classic - wedges of lemon, red wine vinegar with shallots and also red and/or green Tabasco.

I found the Scottish to be gorgeously meaty, but very salty. The Irish just slid down my throat with barely a quiver of complaint at their fate. The English had quite a brittle shell which I had to pick away from on occasion. And the French (which I had been warned were the saltiest) were actually quite delicate and creamy. Now, to ensure quality control, we did sample them a number of times each, and were certain by the end of the session that they were all fantabulous.

After about 45mins of sliding the delicious bivalves down our gullets, we decided that it was time to have dinner. Kanga had been raring me up all week for one of the restaurant signature dishes - the Parmesan Custard and Anchovy Toast. It was like a little savory creme brulee, cut by the slightly fishy and crunchy toast soldiers. To wash this down we had a tea infused Bayswater Martini by the gorgeous barmen, Robert Voller. Oh.My.God. This was perfect - on the nose you could smell a tea infusion and oranges, and it tasted like the best martini I have possibly ever had (Hussyband would be so jealous as he loves a good martini!)

Now, being that we had kind of scoffed ourselves senseless on the oysters, we decided against our original plan of having mussels for mains. Instead we took chef/proprietor Rowley Leigh's suggestion of the Pike Boudin with Fines Herbes for our starter (we were good girls and shared our courses so we would not get banned from future escapades by our suffering spouses...and we were kinda stuffed as well). This was the most divine little sausage of seafood - almost mousse like in texture, but with a crunchy top where it had been finished, swimming in a sea of happiness...we used our fingers and bread to soak up every drop of sauce (hey we can be classy when we want to but this was too good to waste!)

Our main for the evening was to be the Wood Pigeon with Braised Peas (and a side of Gratin Dauphinois). You can tell when you are eating proper game, when you bits down into a piece of moist tender breast, only to be met with the crunch of shot. I had never tasted pigeon before, and I found it to be quite tasty, Kanga demonstrated the fine art of how to get the meat from every inch of bone...cant wait to see her on frogs legs! The braised peas and jus were perfect foil for the rich meat, and the dauphinois...well, everything is better with potatoes baked in cream don't you think? We washed all of this down with a carafe of Ponte Pietra 2009 Corvina Del Veneto...hic.

Finally the pudding. Kanga was hoping that they would still have the chocolate gooey concoction she had when last there, but alas this was not the case. So we settled on the Queen of Puddings, with a glass each of the Monbazillac 2006 Domaine de l’Ancienne Cure. Now, we could have come to blows here, as just maybe we should have gotten two desserts. This was good. Nay, better than good. It was a layered clouds of lusciousness. It starts at the bottom with a lemon curd and sponge, then an oh-so-delicate layer of raspberry, and topped with peaks of sweet just stiff meringue. It was...well, the picture shows how much we enjoyed it I think!

Then we took our adieus and stumbled back for the slog to SE18....thankfully in a booze laced sphere of happiness that not even stinking hot overcrowded Tubes could erase. Another happy food excursion.

PS: I never did manage to shuck an oyster, it was too crowded. Kanga on the otherhand, was more persistent and managed to shuck her first - what a proud little shucker she was too!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Taste of London 2010

On a cold, threatening to rain, grey London evening we queued with the masses to enter a Taste of London in Regents Park. We were on a mission, Kanga_Rue and I, we were a hunting. Two things on our hunt for Kanga: Trinity's pig trotter on toasted pain polaine, fried quail eggs, sauce gribiche and pork crackling, and the Nyetimber bubbles. For me: Tom Aitkins 7 hour lamb, and Club Gascon's Pimm's foie gras (yes my love of foie gras continues.)

As the gates opened, so did the heavens, and we dashed inside to start what would be a trip for the taste buds all over the globe.

First foodie stop was Dinings. I have a love of Japanese food that spans the Pacific Ocean, and this first plate of the evening just enhanced it. A dish of seared wagyu sushi with sauteed foie gras, finished with a touch of wasabi and drizzled with a sweet soy reduction. It exploded in my mouth, and then settled in to the most glorious velvety sweetness.

We moved on from here, staying under the canopy and delightfully dry, to L'Anima for the smoked purple aubergine and burrata with basil and chilli jam. The aubergine (or eggplant to my Aussie roots) was smooth, the burrata yummy and the chilli jam and basil cut through everything to make an amazing mouthful. Chef Francesco Mazzei was hanging out in front of house, and kindly answered our questions and explained his dish.

But, we must not tarry, as we only have 4 short hours to hold the nosebag in place.

Onwards and upwards! Next stop the Auchentoshan Whiskey booth, for a couple of aged single malts, and very refreshing mix of 12 year old with soda water and orange. Wold have been perfect if the temperature was a few degrees higher!

We whizz by the Laverstoke Park Farm stand - tasting their marvellous buffalo milk mozzarella, assorted biltongs (what is there not to love about dried meat?), organic ales and the most luscious toffee icecream imaginable.

Now we get to put a tick next to one of Kanga's aims, the Nyetimber champagne stand. The south of England shares similar geology and soils to the Champagne region, the chalk seam found there reappearing from under the Channel across the Sussex and Hampshire downlands. We tasted the 2005 Classic Cuvee, which was a bright golden hue, and filled my mouth and nose with vanilla and citrus fruits fill the nose.

After that lovely little respite, we moved onto Club Gascon to tick one of my boxes, with the Pimm's Foie Gras Plancha. A rich, evil, glorious piece of foie gras, oh so naughtily floating in a little pool of Pimms's complete with strawberries and cucumber (yuck), with a summer cloud of foam floating above. If this is English Summer on a plate, I am staying here.

Right next door, was my other tick, Tom's Kitchen. I had tweeted Tom earlier in the asking for his recommendation - the lamb, or the foie gras, and was advised in no uncertain terms to go the lamb. Tom was onsite on Friday night, and was kind enough to come out front and meet us. He is so much cuter in real life, and I am now more than slightly besotted. But to the lamb. It was moist and meaty, with silky caramalised onions and a potato foam (rather than mash). This is a highlight of the event for me. So much so that I went and bought a shoulder of lamb from the boys at Allens of Mayfair and am cooking it Tom's way as I type.

We were on a run, and going for 3 in a row the kitchen next door was recommended to us by a colleague of Kanga's...Trishna's. We had a gorgeous plate of seafood biryani with cucumber and black pepper raita. The rice was perfectly cooked, the seafood fresh and plentiful, and the raita pulled it all together to make a happy place in our bellies.

Time for a drink again, and we headed to the Chapel Down Winery - a glass of bubbles for me, and a pinot for Kanga. The display of Colchester Oysters was too much for me, having not had an oyster in ohhhh 2 weeks? 2 with lemon and Tabasco, and another 2 with red wine and shallot vinaigrette slid down our throats with little sighs of pleasure. Ours not theirs.

Glorious Foods were giving out belly warmer samples (much needed as it was pissing down by this stage). The curry chicken soup, and the roasted squash soup were both very delicious. We signed the petition to get them into Waitrose...fingers crossed guys!

Kanga left me to break the seal, so I went to have another drink. The boys from Floridita London were more than happy to have my custom and I had something boozey and gorgeous...then I had to have a layback, which kinda wiped the memory of what I was minty...I think. The rum was awesome. Hic.

Kanga came back with another of our wants (but not essentials) and the continuation of my infatuation with goats cheese. Whipped goats cheese with pickled beetroot and Regents Park honey from Odette's was light and fluffy and well with the honey cutting through the slight tartness of the beetroot. Tasted as good as it looked.

Kanga was thirsty again, so we headed to the Rekorderlig tent for a strawberry and lime cider, sitting on deck chairs out of the rain. We didn't drink much...really.

We stopped off on our way somewhere and tried some ales and bitters, including Blue Moon from North America, as I have said for years, Americans can make good beer, they just never drink it themselves.

The goats cheese stuffed zucchini flowers, sorry courgettes, were very tasty, and carried on our love affair of goats cheese (I wonder if you could do goats cheese and foie gras together....maybe not). This tasty beastie was from Salt Yard, and having now realised it is not far from my office, a late night dinner will be held there very soon.

Things were starting to get hazy, so we stopped for a few more drinks, two different stands, two different toffee vodkas....hazey hazey...maybe another layback or two...

I got myself together to make a few last minute buys as the stalls were now closing - some lovely garlicky goodness, a few chucks of meat and another stiff drink saw us out the doors and stumbling home.

My only regret is we didn't have more time, as we did not even manage to hit half of the stalls, Kanaga didn't get her trotters and I was still able to walk unassisted home from the DLR (well Hussyband carried the bags, but I mostly carried myself.) Kanga got a cab.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Riddles & Finns

So this weekend saw Hussyband off to the beach at Brighton to enjoy a summer long weekend. As is typical of Bank Holiday here in the Old Dart, it was crap weather. There was wind and there was rain. At one point we did get enough glorious sunshine for me to get my cleavage and arms burnt which was fantastic (on a side note: I am obviously drinking too much if I get my elbows burnt right?)

We had some marvelous feasts along the shore during our stay, and decided to finish off our visit to a little place in the Lanes that came highly recommended by the owner of our hotel.

Armed with a map, our first attempt at finding R&F on Saturday had been unsuccessful, but miracle of miracles we stumbled across it just in time for lunch on Sunday (and with enough time to cancel our booking at its sister restaurant down by the water Due South).

Now, having moved into our own place last weekend, the belt strings have had to be tightened, but thankfully I was hugely hungry as I could have run rampant on their menu.

Once seated we were presented with a bread basket complete with salted butter on a scallop shell, mackerel pate, aioli and fresh horseradish cream, and two types of bread both with gorgeous crusts.

We settled in for a starter shot - yes, a Bloody Mary Oyster Shot. It had just the right amount of oomph to clear the nostrils and the mind from the previous nights shenanigans. The oyster was perfect - meaty, sweet and salty. And while it was shuffling it's way down my happy gullet, all I could think of was our best man the day after the wedding, come tearing out onto the deck of our beach house after consuming the kick-start I kindly left by his bed, tears streaming from his eyes, begging that next time I "use a little less Tabasco please!". WIMP!

Hussyband went for the Pan fried tiger prawns cooked in garlic butter
with shallots, paprika & lime, which came with a gorgeous salad. He washed it all down with a taste fo home - Little Creatures Pale Ale.

I went for 6 oysters 3 ways...natural (dressed with lemon of course), a cold dressing of tomato, coriander, red onion and chilli, and a hot dressing of champagne foam. I washed my selection down with a glass of 2007 Muscadet de Sevre et Maine sur Lie, Brebionnier France which had a lovely citrus finish.

Natural - delicious, fresh, the aroma and taste of the sea filled my mouth and mind with memories.
Tomato Salsa - good, couldn't taste the chilli (which was remedied by me adding Tabasco to my second one which made a world of difference.)
Champagne Foam - WHOOOHOOO I now have a second favorite topping for oysters (refer PS below). It was rich, creamy and lush. I soaked up every visible dreg with the last of the brown bread and would have happily demolished another 6 just for the sauce (hell give me a mug of sauce and I probably would have been content!)

We really have been blessed with some awesome seafood in the last week. Now I just have to find a fishmonger close to home so I can start to try and duplicate some of these recipes!

PS: If you are wondering what my favorite oyster topping is, I would have to say Motoyaki, which are oysters topped with white onions finely sliced mushrooms and Japanese 'Kewpie' mayonnaise mixed with miso, then baked, and served topped with finely sliced green onions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

101 Pimlico Road

Ruth H-B and I were spending a lovely afternoon perusing the beauty that is the Chelsea FlowerShow. We met up for pre-show drinks at 101 Pimlico Road (to get us in the mood and whet our appetites for our later dinner booking). We started off with a huge glass of rose, then decided to move outside and sit in the sun while we chatted with the owner and head chef, while downing a bottle of prosecco.

Then we stumbled down the 2 blocks and spent 3 hours traverssing the gardens and sobering up (a little bit).

Come 8pm, the show was closing and we wandered back for our reservation and to meet up with Hussyband and BoyWonder.

Drinks were high on our agenda (just for something different) and we ordered a bottle of La Flor Sauvignon Blanc (De Pulenta Wines, Argentina)Famished, we demolished the first basket of bread, which was quickly replaced with a fresh basket overflowing with baked goodness. While this was going on Hussyband showed up, and settled in with a bottle of Mean Time Amber Lager from Greenwich, which he describes as "a very flavourful lager, almost like an Amber Ale". It was to be the first of many.

BoyWonder was running a bit behind time, and we were ready to eat the crutch out of a low flying duck, so we ordered a starter of potted shrimp with melba toast and lemon to share. This was so damned good. And when we ran out of melba toast, they happily gave us yet more bread to spread the shrimp on. Nom Nom.

Upon arrival of Ruth's hard working other half, we ordered mains. I wasnt very hungry by this stage, so ordered the starter size of he home cured organic salmon with lime creme fraiche and quail's egg. Due to a slight mix up downstairs, when our meals were delivered they had sent me the pan fried sea bass, puy lentils, caramalised fennel and orange sauce....not to be rude, and at the insistance on the kitchen, I shared the bass with the rest of the table.

Oh.My.Gawd. This was the most gorgeous piece of fish I have ever had. Never having been a huge fan of puy lentils or fennel I am now won over to their cause. The orange sauce cut everything perfectly, and every bite was met with little moans of pleasure around the table.

After we all but licked the plate clean, they bought up my previously ordered salmon. It looked beuatiful, with dainty cubes of beetroot scattered around the plate. And whilst it looked beautiful, it tasted even better. Yes, a paragraph ago I claimed the sea bass to be the best fish ever. I take it back. This home cured salmon was perfect. Each sliver across my tongue was like heaven.

Being that this was a special nite out, and I had been saving space for dessert, I could not go past the desserts menu. Being a creme brulee addict, it was a hard call skipping the tonka bean version that I had seen whisking its way past me throughout the night. Instead, I settled on strawberry and champagne jelly with chantilly cream.

Washed down with a glass of muscato, the jelly left me all quivery and happy in places that are normally reserved for the marital bed. Oh who am I kidding? I like to get quivery anywhere and this was no exception! This jelly puts to shame my old favorite (Strawberry Aeroplane jelly for meeee....) It was full of the flavours of a full blown english summer (you know the sort we havnt experienced yet, but I am ever hopeful.)

All in all, a fantasic night, with awesome company, and fantastic staff!