Saturday, November 5, 2011

Nobu - A Birthdaversary Extravaganza

So last month I hit the big 4-0, forty, or XL. I find the roman numeral for 40 the funniest as the past few months I have been on a diet that is making me less XL every week! 18kgs down in 3 months, although to be honest, October while I still had a loss, it was only a small loss of 3 kgs as I had lots of fun with people I love eating and drinking things I have missed.

One thing about this diet, is when I do treat myself, I dont want junk food (most of the time) I crave  clean simple flavours and the best produce I can get my hands on.

Since we got married on my birthday, we were also celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary. Traditionally, the 4th anniversary is celebrated with fruit and flowers - thinking outside the box, I gave Hussyband a box of 24 mixed bitters (beers), as hops are a fruit and therefore meet the criteria for the year.

My actual birthday started brunch in Blackheath with 4 gorgeous women and a sexy little man, Ruth (and Pickle), Caroline (and Livsie), and Nicole and I took over a corner of cafe and scoffed eggs royale, litres of tea, and a slice of birthday brownie to share between 5 (Ethan isnt allowed any yet!)
Later that day I met up with the Hussyband for cocktails on the top floor of the Park Lane Hilton for sunset cocktails overlooking the city that is now our home, because finally I think of London as home (for now). The views from the cocktail bar are lovely and as the sky turned from pale blue to dusky pink we sipped our drinks and reminisced the last 4 years and how far we have traveled.
Walking in to Nobu we mounted the stairs and were immediately seated at a window overlooking the fairy lights outside. The chef came out and when asked what he recommended for the evening asked if we would let him make the choices, so of course we said yes and I got a night without making choices while we dined omakase (chef's choice).

All we had to do was pick our drinks, and being the lushes that we are we went for cold crisp bottles of Kirin Iciban and Ongakashu Sake (10 years old, semi-dry, smooth and delicate and apparently aged to the sound of soothing music!) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, dinner started to arrive!

Salmon Tartar with Caviar, this has a lovely wasabi "soup" and was zingy, fresh and oh so tasty.

Scallop and Ponzu plate

Langoustine with Red Chilli Shiso Salsa - the dipping sauce in the bottom was so good I drank the dregs!

Beef Tenderloin Tataki Onion Ponzu and Garlic Chips - tender lush beef was offset beautifully by the crisp garlic chips

Scallop, Shitake Mushroom and Truffle Sauce - this course was torture for me. Hussyband had gone to the loo and it sat in front of me for 4-5mins until he came back, surrounding me in the deep woody scent of the forest floor.

Black Cod with Miso - a signature dish that no many how many times I have eaten a version of around the world they all pale in comparison. It was dense but light, beautifully crusted on the outside but rare on the inside....a happy place.

Pumpkin Miso Soup - warm, smokey and full of goodness.

Mixed Sushi Plate - we groaned when we saw this, perfect sushi, but oh so full!

Suntory Whiskey Ice Cappucino - smooth and crunchy and boozey all in one little cup!

Chocolate Spring Rolls - these little fellas were not on the menu, but we heard the table next to us request them and of course I had to jump on the bandwagon! Dark chocolate oozing as you crunch through the spring roll, served with a raspberry and passion fruit dipping sauce.

Perfect end to a perfect dinner! OPAI KAMPAI!

We wandered over to Soho for a few final drinks, and as we stumbled towards the station all I could think about was how very lucky I am.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Slow Roasted Lamb and Red Wine Pie - 2 Ways

Hussyband is on call this week, which is probably a good thing considering what a crazy birthday party I had last weekend for my 40th, and the dinner we have planned this week at Nobu on my actual birthday/4th wedding anniversary.

Being confined close to home has its advantages - I made a HUGE batch of passata with tomatoes and basil from the garden that has reduced down for most of the afternoon. And first thing this morning after watching the Wallabies beat South Africa in the Rugby World Cup, I dug out my trusty slow cooker and prepared it for duty.

First off I sliced up 2 onions, 6 cloves of garlic, 4 eschallots and 2 carrots and put them into the base of the slow cooker on top of which I gently rested a shoulder of lamb and a couple of sprigs of rosemary, then poured a bottle of red wine and some really good grinds of salt and pepper. The lid went on, switched on low and forgot about for the next ohhhh 8 hours or so.

Drain the meat and vegetables by tipping them into a colander resting over the top of a bowl or saucepan - you want to keep all the juices, then allow to cool. Then roughly shred the meat with your fingers it will just fall apart into luscious lamb-ie strips.

Once at room temp, put the juices in the fridge for an hours so that the fats solidify, then scoop them off carefully with a slotted spoon. Then I reduced the juice by half, and added a couple about 1/2 a cup of the passata (use a good jar from the supermarket if you dont have a surplus of tomatoes simmering all day!) Return the meat and vegetables to the sauce and stir well to combine.

Hussyband was in the mood for potatoes, so I divided the meat between two enamel pie tins - one I topped with roughly piped mashed potato, and bunged into the oven at 180C until crispy on top. The moans of happiness from He Who Supposedly Must Be Obeyed were testament. The meat was tender and the gravy just unctuous enough to hold it all together, and the mash was soft with crispy edges.

Version 2 was topped with a polenta shortcrust pastry. It is dead easy to make, 200grams of plain flour, 50grams of uncooked polenta, 125grams of cold butter (cubed) all get popped into the bowl of a food processor and pulsed until it resembles breadcrumbs. Then slowly add a couple of tablespoons of ices water until the dough starts to ball together, then remove and gently need together into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 mins. After it has chilled, roll out to 3-4mm thick between two sheets of plastic wrap of grease proof paper

Cut two long strips and use these to edge the pie dish. The carefully place the remaining pastry over the top of the pie and trim to slightly larger than the dish. Using a fork, press the pastry into the edging working your way around the pie. Slice a cross into the centre to allow steam to escape, you can also insert a pastry crow to help this along (and they look so pretty!) Use any left over pastry to decorate the top of the pie as you see fit. Brush the pastry with a mixture of beaten egg and milk and bake for 20 mins at 180C until the pastry is brown and crispy.

Hussy will be eating potato topped pie for a few days, and the pastry topped one is going into the freezer for a few weeks until another cold miserable day when I cant be bothered cooking!

PS: The diet is going really well - lost 15kgs so far, but gee I miss blogging!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Suicide in the Time of Technology

I have been brushed with the paintbrush of sadness that comes from the loss of friends and family who have chosen to take their own life on more than one occasion over the years.

My earliest memory was of an Uncle who had fought in Vietnam, I cant remember how he took his life, but I know that it was spoken of in very hushed voices when I was still in primary school, and that my cousin, his daughter, was never the same on the few times we saw her following his passing.

Then there was the casual boyfriend in high school. I remember getting a phone call from a mutual friend asking if he could come and see me, I was studying for my leaving exams and tried to put him off but he kept saying it was important and he had to see me. I remember sitting on my front step in the sun with tears coursing my cheeks staining his shirt. Railing against the unfairness of it all, and wondering why? What had been so bad that he could not talk people who cared about him? What had been so bad that he could take his own life in such a violent way, and leave his family to find his remains? A note had not been left, so we were all left to deal with the questions that would never be answered.

In the mid-90’s the black dog would rear its ugly head again with a man who I considered my best friend. His dependency issues were not yet known to us, he hid his abuse of alcohol and drugs so well that he always seemed so much more fun and happy when wasted, with us not realising that the times he was sober were far less than we assumed. After a few stints in rehab, and then his decision to move back in with his parents we thought everything was better. Then the late night phone calls would start. Late night calls when he would tell me that he had taken an overdose of pills, or hurt himself. Late night calls when I would then have to contact the police and his parents. The last time, he showed up and tried to kick in the front door of my building as I wouldn’t let him in, and I had to make the hardest call ever at the request of his parents and have him arrested. That ones still pains me, but at least by having him arrested and sectioned that night, he is still alive today. I cut contact him with after that, I love him like a dysfunctional little brother still, but I could no longer sit by and watch his pain manifest. I could no longer be the one calling his Mother to say your son is locked in his room, in your house, and has just overdosed on pills.

In the last 2 weeks an old school friend and a more recent acquaintance took their lives. Their social network updates did not let on that anything out of the ordinary was going on. People who spoke with them saw their pain, but thought that they were coping and would get through it eventually like most of us do. But their pain was obviously too great for them to bear. Both of these I found out through social media updates.

A perfect example of how quickly we can all learn of someone taking their life, was the recent passing of Amy Winehouse. Social media networks were reporting her death over an hour before it made main-stream news service desks.

The friends who post that they wish to end their lives on Facebook and Twitter are not the ones we should worry about. We should be worrying about those that stay silent, that act like life is OK when really they are struggling to hold their existence together.

I have always thought that suicide was the ultimate Fuck You World. It is the last statement that nobody can rebut. It is a hanging sentence that leaves you wondering what could have been if things had been different.

If you think that life is so terribly painful that you cannot bear it, please think again. Reach out to a friend, a family member. There are people you can call if you want anonymity. Please let the words out so that they do not poison your spirit as you are loved by many who will mourn you if you are not a part of our lives.

World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10th, please remember those that we have lost, but also look at those that we can still save.

Websites and Phone Lines:
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            1800 55 1800      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

United Kingdom or 0800 83 85 87 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting            0800 83 85 87      end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Hole Lota Love - Bagels

Sorry for not posting for a while again, the diet has now gone to extremes and I am doing Lighter Life - 500 calories a day of soups and shakes that come form little sachets - nothing exciting to write about OR  for the tastebuds!

I am currently planning my 40th Birthday Party - a Rocky Horror themed night of drinking and debauchery (I hope). As such, even though I cant eat until then, I am browsing websites and cookbooks to make a menu that will give me a light at the end of the tunnel....well in the middle of it as will be doing this until Xmas (at least!)

My dear friend Kanga_Rue has just given birth last week to a bouncing baby boy. and I wanted to (a) trial a recipe I want for my birthday, and (b) make her something yummy that she can eat with one hand while holding the little angel in the other. So bagels it was to be.

These little guys were not as hard as I thought they would be to make, and going from the sounds in the office this morning, the guys were more than happy to be my guinea pigs.

7g sachet of yeast
4 tablespoons of sugar
450g of strong bread flour
2 teaspoons of salt

  • Mix the yeast with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 100mls of warm water, set somewhere warm to activate and goes all foamy (about 10 mins).
  • Add 200 mls more of warm water.
  • Mix half the flour and all of the salt into the bowl and mix on medium speed with the dough hook attachment (yes, I used my could I not use her, she has been feeling neglected these past few months!) Slowly add the remaining flour and let the dough hook kneed the dough until it is nice and stretchy (took about 3 mins on low, with me readjusting the dough ball every minute).
  • Place the dough into a lightly oiled clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and put somewhere to rise for an hour until it has doubled in size.
  • Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil with the remaining sugar. Heat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius
  • Roll balls of dough (I weighed them - about 80grams each) then poke a hole in the middle with your finger and stretch it out a bit. The holes will shrink when they cook so a little bigger is better than being holess. Flatten the balls slightly then drop into the water to cook for about 45 secs on each side so that a skin forms (it will look like your skin does when spend too long in the spa drinking champagne). Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment and spray with oil. Set up your toppings ready to dip - I used poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and some sauteed leeks from the garden. 
  • Dip the bagels into your desired topping - I found the poppy seeds stick better if brushed with a little oil (I just rubbed them in the oil from the leek pan).
  • Bake in the oven for about 20 mins until crisp - the will sound hollow if tapped on the bottom.

These are suitable to freeze and make about 10 bagels around 80g each. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

An Over-Abundance of Rocket

Long time between posts. It’s been a crazy few months at the Casa - we moved house, had no internet for 2 months, the Parentals visited from Oz for 5 weeks, and then we went to Ireland for a week for me to finally meet Hussybands extended family *phew*.

When we moved in, the garden had not been touched in over a year, it had the Laura Palmer thing going (she's dead - wrapped in plastic!), I spent the first 2 weekends pulling out vines, weeds, strange orange slugs, dandelions and my never-ending battle against the dual scourge of Charlton - blackberries and stinging nettles.

Then I started planting - lettuces, rocket, tomatoes, corn, peas, leeks, radishes and strawberries, plus some assorted herbs mint, thyme, and surprising coriander. Some things are doing better than others - the birds eat more strawberries than I do, and the radishes went a bit nuts after all the rain a month ago and split.

The rocket went nuts, we can’t eat it fast enough and I have been trimming off flower heads for weeks. We have had rocket pasta, salads, tarts...rocket coming out of our asses! I love rocket, dont get me wrong, but being continually innovative with it is starting to get difficult.

Last night I put into action a plan that has been building, a rocket pesto with cashews.

Grabbing my trusty sheers, I gave the garden a much needed haircut before retiring to the kitchen to strip the leaves, you don’t want any stems (or as few as possible) in this. 

Now here I get lazy, I know, pesto should be made slowly in a mortar and pestle with love and brute force. Me, I love my food processor too much to deny it the pleasure of going whirrrr and cutting up its own frustrations.

So, into the bowl of the food processor went a nice layer of cashews (you can use any sort - roasted, salted, or in tonites case sea salt and cracked pepper!), your rocket leaves, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and a good shaving of parmesan. After a good blitz, I start drizzling in some good olive oil. I also like to add the juice of 2 lemons for kick at this stage. Just keep adding and blitzing until you get to your preferred consistency. I don’t measure, I just taste as I go. (If you really want some kick, at the first stage before you start blitzing - add a few sliced birds eye chillies....yum!)

I am on the start of (another) health kick, so will be off the booze and cooking/eating out doesn’t seem the most exciting thing to blog (hence my silence the last few months)...but lets see what I can come up with eh? If Hussyband will eat it I can’t be doing too badly.

Oh yeah...we had this with some fresh spaghetti and crusty sourdough, and a glass of lemonade with raspberries....oh the Rockstar life I lead!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Homemade Focaccia with Rosemary and Cherry Tomatoes

This is a quickie, both post and recipe, bought to you at the request of the equally delicious Jane Naylor Jones of Edith & Elizabeth (they make uber cute vinyl wall art for a VERY reasonable price! I currently have 2 - a chandelier in my hallway and "Eat Drink & Be Merry" above my dining table).

So there are three smells that give me a a happy feeling deep in my belly:
1. Freshly mown wet grass
2. Mums Roast Pork
3. Freshly baking bread.

Now my office is downwind of a big bakery, daily my nasal passages are assaulted - currently by a never ending waft of Easter Buns (OK - this has been for weeks, as you can buy the damned things year round here in the UK!) So having recently purchased a Kitchenaid, and wanting bread I can eat that isnt going to make me ill like most store bought bread does, I decided to make my own, and now, to satisfy the lovely Jane (who will probably make her husband cook it) is the recipe.

Homemade Focaccia with Rosemary and Cherry Tomatoes

1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil (plus additional for drizzling)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups Spelt Flour (you could use plain or wholemeal)
1 tablespoon instant yeast

Sea Salt
Punnet of cherry tomatoes

Lightly grease a 9" x 13" pan, by spraying liberally with an olive oil spray if you are trying to be healthy, or drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil if you would prefer.

Combine all of the ingredients (except the topping), and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds. Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan, cover the pan, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes, till it's become puffy. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F/190C.

Now for the fun bit, poke the dough all over with your fingertips to make a dappled crater-y effect. Drizzle it lightly with more olive oil (or spritz away), and insert the tomatoes gently into the dough randomly and sprinkle generously with sea salt and rosemary leaves.

Bake the bread until it's golden brown, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Other toppings you could use: goats cheese and red onion, garlic, roasted peppers/capsicum, olives and sun dried tomatoes....go forth and watch your dough multiply!

PS: Please excuse the pic - was taken with my camera phone in a rush as the bread was in danger of being consumed by a hungry hoard!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Blood Orange Curd: A Redux - Curd, Raspberry & Citrus Sponge Non-Birthday Cake

Following on from last weeks post on Blood Orange Curd, I am being terribly lazy this week, but I promise you it will be worth it.

This past week was the lovely Caroline Mead's birthday, of which we are not allowed to mention or celebrate...oops, sorry babe! In honor of this, I decided to bake a cake. A special cake. A Non-Birthday Cake.

Ingredients Cake
Grated zest 1 blood orange (or lemon)

1 tablespoon blood orange juice (or lemon)
175 grams self-raising flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
175 grams butter at room temperature
175 grams caster sugar
3 large eggs

Ingredients Icing
2-3 cups of icing sugar, sifted (depends on how sweet you want it to be)
Blood orange juice (or lemon)
A few tablespoons of Blood Orange Curd

For the cake: Dump everything into the bowl of your mixer (or food processor, or bowl if you have a death wish to burn lots of calories by beating by hand!) and mix on high until you have a nice smooth batter. Divide the mixture between two sponge tins and bake for approx 25-35 mins or until cooked and it springs back lightly to the touch.

Ahhh now the hard bit. Allow to cool in the tins for about 10 mins, then turn out of wire racks to cool. Cool completely. These puppies need to be cold, so you have to be patient. Best case - make them the day before and forget about them to the next morning (its what I did!)

For the icing:  Sift the sugar into a bowl, and the juice and some of the curd and mix until you get a nice runny (but not too runny) consistency.

To assemble: Lay one layer of the cake on a serving plate, splatter on good splodge of the blood orange curd and spread out evenly so it is nice and thick and oozy, then cover with a punnet of raspberries. Next lay on the next layer - yes, you will get squidgy bits coming out the sides - and that is a good thing! Its oozy and decadent and tangy and good. Pour the icing over the top layer and again, let it drizzle down the sides and puddle and stream....decorate with another punnet of raspberries and put in the fridge for an hour or so to firm up.

We had lovely slabs of this citrus delight this afternoon, while watching an episode of Market Kitchen that I filmed a few months ago....I didn't look like a total jackass, which is a good thing, and I marvel at how much my hair has grown the last few months.

Oh yeah the cake - you wont need cream with this - it is moist and tangy and tart and fresh. You could use any curd with this cake - lemon, lime, are only limited by the seasons and your imagination. ENJOY!

Based on a recipe by the delightful Delia (with a few tweaks for good measure).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blood Orange Curd

Having to stay at home this weekend due to the Hussybands little snip yesterday, I find myself with the time and inclination to play with a few recipes.

Orange and lemons the bell of St Clemens......
In my box from Riverford this week, I added a bag of Blood Oranges. The blood orange is a kind of orange with a deep scarlet hue on the inside. The skin pigment on the outside is also darker. They usually mature mid-season and are deeply juicy and sweet flavoured. These kinds of oranges are typically smaller than an average orange.

Some people believe that blood oranges are a result of cross-breeding between pomegranates and oranges, but this is a total and utter falsehood. Blood oranges are simply oranges that at some point underwent a genetic mutation (like Godzilla) and turned into the noble, sexy fruits that they are today.

Rather than use an existing recipe, I decided to play with my Nan's Lemon Curd Recipe, replacing most of the lemon juice with blood orange juice, I say most, as blood orange juice is sweeter than lemon I wanted to leave some in, so I have used the juice of 1 lime and 1 lemon together with the blood orange juice to make up a total of 2/3 of a cup of liquid.

It is also important to have your eggs at room temperature before incorporating them into the sugar/butter/lemon mix so that the eggs do not curdle. There is nothing worse than curdled curd!

180g butter
3/4C caster sugar
2/3C juice (I used 1 lemon, 1 lime and the rest blood orange), strained
3 eggs
  • Place the butter, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan over low heat and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in the eggs. Stir over low heat continuously for 8-10 mins or until thickened. It will also thicken up further upon chilling so dont worry if it seems a bit water-y!
  • Place in sterilized jars and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Makes 2 cups

I had expected it to come out much redder, like the juice, and the photo doesn't quite to it justice, as it has a lovely pink hue to it. Taste-wise, it is sweet and tart and crying out to be eaten straight away.

You can do so much with this - I love it slathered on sourdough toast, but you could also serve it as a desert canapés in small (or large) sweet pastry tart shells. I am going to use this to fill a sponge with next week, and will top it with a blood orange and sugar drizzle and serve it to @CarolineMead as her non-birthday cake....I hope she likes it! Meanwhile, I have to use restraint and not eat it by the spoonful!


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Benares - Michelin Starred Indian

Just before Xmas the gorgeous Shahera Jordan from Smartbox™ asked me if I would be interested in trying one of their boxes out and writing a review. A Smartbox™ is a gift package which entitles you to a leisure activity (ex: Ferrari car driving, pampering in a spa institute, luxurious escapes...). The Smartbox™ contains a voucher, with no face value, valid for up to a year and a half, and a glossy guidebook, detailing all activities available. It was packaged up beautifully - gave really detailed information about the options available, and how to book.

I was blessed, knowing my love of food (she is currently helping me lose weight yet gives me a food box!!!), Shahera gifted me with the Michelin Star box. BLISS. Then terror....there were so many awesome options to choose from! Much as I would have loved to drive out to Gidleigh Park, or Sharrow Bay, time constraints meant we would have to stay close to home, so I selected and booked Benares, Atul Kochhar's one starred Michelin restaurant in Mayfair, with the offer as per the guide being a 5 course tasting menu that looked divine.

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On arrival we settled into the cocktail lounge for a couple of pre-dinner tipples. Now I must apologise now, due to the sheer amount we ate and drank, I am combining most images into .gifs this week as otherwise this blog would be huger than my ample buttocks.

The bar was buzzing, and being the good little food obsessive that I am I had already highlighted a few cocktails in my head that I wanted to try. I started off the Benares Margarita - I love a good Marg, and this one didn't disappoint with its Patron Anejo tequila and agave syrup making my toes curl in happiness.

The Hussyband started off with a citrus-y martini (who's proper name escapes me) that was just lush, I do recall there was Grey Goose vodka in it (not that that is any help right?)

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Having PLENTY of  time until our table was ready (they do early/late sittings) we decided to have another cocktail *hic*. Thankfully, the drinks are all served with an ample bowl of roasted almonds that are gently spiced (and as a non nut eater - I actually enjoyed them!) I chose the Jasmina for number two, with house prepared Jasmine syrup, Smirnoff Black and lots of fresh mint, it reminded me of a boozy version of the lemon mint drinks I had in Oman last year.

Hussyband this time went for another hosue special - the Passionfruit Chutney Martini that was created with the help of Chef Patron Atul. The chutney is made in-house, and mixed with Smirnoff Black, fresh lime, and a dash of egg white (of all things!) Of lordy lordy lordy - this was so tasty! And PRETTY with its floating half of passionfruit.

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But I digress, it was time for us to move to our table. The voucher also included a glass of champagne each, and being Hussyband's aversion to all things champagne like, I got to drink both glasses. He enjoyed a mango and chilli caprioska. 
This had to have been my favorite cocktail for the evening with its sweetness that suddenly kicked me in the back of the throat with its chilli zing. These washed down a trio of chutneys with mini pappadums - there was a passionfruit and pineapple, tomato, and the good old standby of mango. The tomato had me sold - whilst the others were all gorgeous, it was more tart and spicy.

The Amuse Bouche which was the start of our dining extravaganza for the evening, was a spiced potato ball on a pea puree. It reminded me of Kitty's Potato Balls, a party favorite from back in Oz. These baby's were beautiful - crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and the scent of cumin filling our noses. I chose to have the wines paired with my dishes (lazy maybe, cheap not, delicious definitely.) The wine served with my Amuse was a 2008 Domaine du Grande Mayne from France, a tasty sauvignon blanc that whilst smelling extremely fruity, was actually quite dry and full bodied.
The next courses were all served as trio's. First up, we had (from left to right) Confit Duck Terrine with Orange Jelly, Curry Leaf & Tarragon Infused Lobster Rillet, and Prawns Pickled with Indian Five Spice. Served with a side of Honey and Saffron Naan. This was served with a Soave "La Rocca" Pieropan 2008 from Italy.

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The suggested order of eating these morsels was Lobster, Prawn, in we dived.

The lobster was by far my favorite dish of the evening - sweet, rich, oozy. I am still craving more of it 2 days later.

The prawn, I had expected to be hot, but was served cold. It was nice, but a little chewy.

The duck, was in top 5 for the night. Dense, perfectly seasoned and yummy.

The naan - how to describe this. The best naan I have EVER had. Sticky, sweet,   dense but light. NOM.

We are already starting to groan, and then remember we have 3 courses to go. Oh dear.
The Third Course (from left to right) Chili and Garlic Marinated Chicken Tikka, Lamb Kofta, Tandori Monk Fish Tail with Squid Ink Mayonnaise. My wine for this couse was Journeys End 2009 Chardonnay from South Africa....if I had to say the top three things South Africans are good at its playing dirty rugby, making lush white wines, and ....nope that is it! (Sorry!)
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Dining order this time was :
Monkfish - dense, tasty, the mayonnaise gave it a nice zing.

Lamb - I love kofta, and this one was lovely!

Chicken - the English national dish is chicken tikka masala - an abomination that did not exist prior to its invention here. Thankfully,  this was a lovely moist piece of chicken done as it should be, and not swimming in an orange sauce!
Now we are really struggling, and I am so glad I had eaten a very very light lunch.

Almost there....Course 4....(left to right) Lamb Rump on Chick Peas, Seared Tiger Prawn with Celeriac Puree, and Pan Fried Sea Bass with Kadhai Mushrooms. These were served with a side if Parathi - but we were struggling so didn't really eat any, I had a bite, and it was good, but the naan was better. My wine was a glass of almost home, a 2008 Muddy Water Pinot Noir from Nu Zulund. It is light but full of fruit and with enough oomph to cut through the spices without overpowering the palate.

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I am getting full just writing about this! In order...
Sea Bass - second fav dish of the night - crispy skin and the perfect mouthful.

Prawn - loved the spices, but I have been spoilt from birth with prawns (we used to hand net for them and cook them in a 10 gallon drum of salted water before eating them by a bonfire on the beach) and over here they are just not as good....still, this made the top 5 :)

Lamb - number 3 for the evening. Gorgeous, rare, tender, the chickpeas off gave a nice textural bite to the dish.

Finally we reach the desert course. Now you are thinking why are there only two morsels here...and that was at our request. The trio for desert (as shown) are a Star Anise Bitter Chocolate Mouse and a Hibiscus Sorbet. Not shown, was a poached pear (neither of us like pears). My wine was a glass of Paul Cluver 2008 Late Harvest Riesling  from South Africa.

The sorbet was number 6 of the evenings dishes - other than my penchant for pink being tantalised, it was light, tangy, just sweet enough. The mouse was very dense and bitter in a good way.

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If we thought we were done we were wrong, tea and coffee were offered and declined, we did managed to force down the petits fours, and we marveled at the magic which was the hot towels - aspirin sized white discs that when water is added the grow before our eyes into towers of warm cleaning goodness - like bacon, hot towels make everything better!

All up, a brilliant night out. I would like to thank Shahera Jordan from Smartbox™ , and the team at Benares for making us welcome and pouring us back out onto the street happy and stuffed to the gills.

Benares Grazing Menu: £79/pp, matched with premier wines £120/pp, or with prestige wines £179/pp.

Benares Restaurant & Bar
12A Berkeley Square House
Berkeley Square, London, W1J 6BS

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Scallopalooza (aka Xmas in London)

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Happy new year dear readers, I am sorry for my lack of posting but work and life got a little insane the last few weeks.

This was my first Xmas living away from Oz. Instead of being surrounded by my family drinking and eating ridiculous amounts of seafood in my parents backyard - surrounded by flies, rainbow lorikeets and magpies, we were holed up in Woolwich Arsenal with our growing London Family - literally growing, as Ruth and Chris announced their impending parenthood to us over Veuve on arrival at the house (confirming my suspicions that Ruth's aversion to alcohol was not antibiotic related as she had been claiming for a month!)

The plan for this first Xmas, was a staggered sharing of cooking duties. I had prepared he canapés, starters and deserts, whilst Chris had prepared the main (which will be his/Ruth's story to tell!)

I had pre-ordered my seafood in early November for delivery on Xmas Eve from the team at Fish For Thought in Cornwall - it was delivered on time, well packed in a thermal box with enough ice to sink the Titanic! I had a combination of comestibles - live oysters and scallops, fresh fish in the form of filleted salmon and a couple of sea bass, frozen prawns and tuna, and a slab of smoked salmon.

Waiting on the table when our loved ones arrived was a platter of fresh blinis topped with sour cream, smoked salmon and lemon juice and a cracking of fresh pepper, and champagne (of course).

Now in true Antipodean style, Xmas isnt Xmas without lots of our starter was actually a series of three. Scallopalooza was a progression of fresh Cornish handdived scallops.

First up, we had the grill pan fired on the stove, into which I tossed some thinly sliced spanish chorizo that I had picked up from Borough Market, once the lovely oils had started to leach into the pan, I added the scallop and basted it with the juices while the quickly seared them off on both sides. I then returned it to the shell and drizzled over the oil, and tossed a few sliced spring onions for Xmas Color.

Round Two, and I felt the need to leave the European shores and trip on over to Asia. Xmas eve saw me doing lots of last minute foodie shopping, and one of me favorite places in London is SeeWoo in Greenwich - a HUGE Chinese supermarket that caters to the restaurant community but welcomes casual shoppers with open arms and empty bellies.

Back to the food....round two saw the scallops being braised briefly in Chinese XO sauce. My Wiki-fu explains XO as the following "The name XO sauce comes from fine XO (extra-old) cognac, which is a popular Western liquor in Hong Kong and considered by many to be a chic product there. In addition the term XO is often used in the popular culture of Hong Kong to denote high quality, prestige, and luxury. In fact, XO sauce has been marketed in the same manner as the French liquor, using packaging of similar colour schemes......Developed in the 1980s in Hong Kong for Cantonese cuisine, it is made of roughly chopped dried seafoods including scallops, dried fish, and shrimp and cooked with chili peppers, onions, garlic, and oil."  I served these back in the shell top with thinly sliced radish for crunch and a few coriander leaves for fragrance.

The final round was supposed to have been grilled, but by this stage, Chris' mains were in the oven so I had to improvise. I decided to stay on Asian shores and grabbed down my wok and bamboo steamer. While the water came to the boil, I grated some ginger and garlic directly onto the scallops, drizzled on a bit of sake and mirin then whacked everything into the steamer and promptly forgot about them for a bit. A glass of bubbles later, I wandered back over and they were perfectly cooked. To serve, I lifted them onto a plate carefully to avoid loosing any juices, and added a couple of drops of sesame oil and a sprinkling of spring onions.

Personally - whilst they all tasted brilliant, I liked number three the best!

After this we moved onto Chris' main - totally delicious and juicy guinea fowl which was glorious. The pomegranates burst in my mouth like little happy bombs, and the gravy was lush!

We served this with duck fat roasted potatoes - crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and so naughty they were perfect.

Leftovers the next day made for an awesome hash fryup by the way!!

Somehow we made room for desert. Again, I went overboard and made two! Part one was the Boozy Xmas Pudding with Brandy Sauce, and the second, by request from the Hussyband, was another of Nan's recipes, a Rum Pie. The brandy sauce and rum pie recipes will have to wait for another rainy day though - but I can assure you dear reader, they are worth the wait!