Thursday, 23 November 2017

Roka, Canary Wharf, The Bottomless Brunch

Last weekend I enjoyed my first ‘bottomless brunch’, at Canary Wharf’s outpost of Roka, the award winning Japanese restaurants of Rainer Becker.

I was joined by my brother Dan and two friends for a Saturday afternoon treat and Roka didn’t disappoint.

I wondered if the vibe would be a little stilted on a Saturday at Canary Wharf, but it was buzzy and the clientele was a mix of groups of friends like us, couples and even families with children.

The decor is super modern and slick with the central theme being around the robata grill, which is open plan in the centre of the restaurant, so diners can view and engage with the cooking process.

On arrival we had the option of a bellini or a bloody Mary, both divine, whilst we mulled over the menu for our mains.

For the remainder of the meal, we had the ‘bottomless’ wine which in our case was the white, Le Anfore, dry and crisp and fruity with notes of elder flower, but very drinkable. I noticed an entire wall of wine, so if I returned I’d be interested to delve into that a little more and see what wines would be paired with the various dishes.

Once mains were selected we were invited to try the selection of appetisers from the counter, an Aladdin’s cave of treasure, that you could re-visit as you wish.

The buffet at Roka
Soba, cold noodles, Roka

Roka's buffet selection included soba, cold noodles, sushi, salads, an array of hot meat dishes cooked on the robata grill and hot noodles and soups as well as some tempura vegetables and little bowls of Japanese savoury snacks such as fiery rice crackers, wasabi peas and some unusual crispy slithers of which I’m not sure what you would call them.

Standout dishes for me from the vast array available, included the sashimi salmon and tuna, super fresh and tender, the padron pepper tempura, which were a complete revelation and insanely good and the katsu pork (thinly sliced pork fried in panko breadcrumbs. The sticky and sweet glazed chicken wings and the tomato salad were also fantastic, and the rest of the group were raving about some sliced lamb which had been cooked in an aromatic, sticky marinade.

Just as we were nicely sated after the buffet, a very welcome surprise dish of pork gyoza arrived at the table. These were fantastic, soft in the main but with one crispy fried edge and with tender, flavourful, herby pork inside. They inspired me to cook dumplings myself on Sunday, Potstickers and some wontons, of which I’ll share the recipe soon.

Gyoza at Roka

For the mains, three of us chose the same meal, the grilled rib eye with spring onions. In fact, Dan and I shared one of these and one of the tiger prawn and vegetable tempura dishes, a kind of Japanese surf & turf.

We all opted for ‘rare’ for the steak and it was absolutely delicious and so well cooked, to the point it just melted in the mouth. It had been marinated in the most intoxicating combination of flavours and was pretty damn near perfection. 

Rib eye from the robata grill at Roka

The tempura was also fantastic, succulent, juicy and fresh prawns, just cooked and in a light as a feather, but packed full of flavour batter. So good. 

Prawn tempura at Roka

The waiter was very prompt at refilling our glasses as soon as they were even a little empty, so by the time we were through with the mains, we were beginning to feel a little tipsy.

The finale at Roka’s brunch, is the dessert platter which arrives in a stone bowl filled with crushed ice and was absolutely beautiful to behold.

Fantastic dessert platter, Roka

It included a selection of fresh fruit, lovely and light and refreshing after our meal.

Alongside the watermelon, grapes and pineapple,was a sensational chocolate, milky pudding which somehow managed to be both rich and light. This was topped with an amazing nut brittle, drizzled with a caramel sauce and with a little banana ice cream on the side. Literally to die for.

Also on the platter were a couple of green tea panna cottas dusted with matcha, which looked fantastic, and went down well around the table.

We opted for the cheaper brunch of a selection of three, which at £49.00 per person, offers good value.

If I had any complaint, it would be that some of the ‘hot’ food on the buffet was slightly lacking in warmth, but that is being pernickety.

We all enjoyed and I’m keen to return to Roka soon, especially to try their tasting menu, which sounds divine. In the meantime I’m going to be on the hunt for my next bottomless brunch.

For more reviews of Japanese restaurants in London please see below:

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Slow Cooked Beef and Lentil Curry

This curry is a slow cooked sensation; warming, hearty and filling with plenty of goodness.

This dish is filling on it's own but can also be served with some rice or breads.

Using braising steak, makes it an economical family meal, but it does take a few hours to cook. It takes very little preparation though, I like to cook it on a Sunday, for dinner on Monday or Tuesday. There’s nothing better than returning from work to such a delicious, already-prepared meal.

The below serves 3-4

Slow Cooked Beef and Lentil Curry

Here’s how:
  • 400g braising steak
  • 6 sping onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 chillies
  • 3cm piece of fresh ginger
  • 1 tin tomatoes
  • 400g passata
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp garam masala 
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 150g red split lentils
  • Rapeseed or groundnut oil
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Handful fresh coriander leaves
  • 1-2 tbsp natural yoghurt (optional)
Firstly drizzle about a tablespoon of the oil you’re using into a heavy bottomed pan and place on a low heat.

In the meantime, finely slice the spring onions, garlic, chillies and ginger and add to the pan to offer some great base flavours.

Whilst these are sauteeing in the pan, take the braising steak and cut into large chunks. Take the salt and pepper (I use white) and season generously. You can omit the salt if preparing for small children.

Add to the pan to sear, turning to ensure every side of the meat pieces are browned.

Now add the chopped tomatoes and passata, stir well and continue to cook on a low heat for an hour. Ensure to stir every so often, to make sure it isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Rinse and drain the lentils and add these to the pan now, cook for a further 1.5 hours, continuing to stir every so often. If the liquid of the dish reduces significantly and you're worried about it being too thick, add a little water.

Before seving with your choice of accompaniments, roughly chop the coriander, retaining a few leaves for garnish, and stir through the chunky curry.

Once dished up, add the yoghurt on top and scatter over the remaining coriander leaves. Enjoy!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Turkey and Vegetable Parsnip Topped Pie

This is a great dish for kids, a slightly healthier, reduced calorie and fats version of a cottage pie, using turkey mince instead of beef (or lamb in a shepherd’s pie) and topped with mashed parsnip instead of potato, for an extra helping of their five-a-day. 

I know many parents say how fussy their kids are and that they detect a hidden vegetable from a five-mile radius, luckily not so much at our house, mine both readily tuck into most vegetables but I’m always looking to offer more and ensure they have a well balanced diet. 

You can top this pie up with any number of vegetables, I use diced carrots, frozen peas and sweetcorn, sliced celery and of course the mashed parsnip topping. You could top up with lentils, sweet potato, courgettes, squash, aubergine - the list is endless, just include your kids’ favourites. 

The below makes enough for 4-6 ramekins of the Turkey & Veggie Parsnip Topped Pie or one large dish, and it freezes well too so is great for batch cooking for busy parents, and let’s face it whether you work or are at home with your kids all the time, we’re all busy!

Turkey and Vegetable Parsnip Topped Pie

Here’s how;

  • 300g turkey mince
  • 1 onion
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 handfuls frozen peas
  • 2 handfuls frozen sweetcorn kernels
  • 1 Knorr Beef Stock Pot
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 large parsnips
  • 1 tbsp Grana Padana or other hard cheese 
  • Couple of drizzles olive oil

Firstly peel and dice the parsnip and bring to the boil in a pan of water. Once boiled, you’ll need to cook for another 10-15 minutes, test with a fork to see if it’s soft enough to mash. Mash with a little drizzle of olive oil and set aside for the moment.

Now pre-heat the oven to 180.

In the meantime add another drizzle of olive oil to a pan and place on a low heat. 

Peel and dice the onion and finely slice the celery, add to the pan to gently saute. 

Peel and dice the carrot and add to the pan.

Once softened, add the mince and allow to brown. Break up gently with a spatula to avoid it all clumping together. Once it has started to brown, add the black pepper and cinnamon.

Now add the peas and sweetcorn and any other vegetables you’re adding. 

Make up the Knorr Beef Stock Pot or alternative stock, to about 50-75ml. Pour it over the meat and allow to simmer for ten minutes. 

Remove from the heat and spoon the meat into ramekins or a larger pie dish. 

Now spoon over the top the parsnip mash and smooth down flat with the back of a spoon.

Finally scatter over the Grana Padana and place into the oven to bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown. 

Ensure to remove from the ramekin for serving to allow it to cool quicker for children. Enjoy!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Banana and Berry Breakfast Muffins

I love making these with Bridget as they have all the fun of baking cakes, without some of the naughtier stuff and are a great breakfast alternative. 

They provide energy with their oaty goodness and the only sugars are from the honey, a drop of vanilla and the naturally occurring ones from the fruits. Adding in the chia seeds is like a little health boost for the children too - and they can't see them in the muffins so won't turn their nose up at them.

They are a great snack to pop into a lunchbox too and the below makes about 24 so these are perfect if you have a bunch of children round too and want a treat without oodles of sugar.

Banana and Berry Breakfast Muffins

Here's how:
  • 200g plain flour
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp bicarb
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 2 bananas
  • 75g frozen mixed berries
  • 4 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • 85ml olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp honey

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees and line a couple of muffin tins with cases.

Firstly weigh out all of the dry ingredients (four, oats, dessicated coconut, bicarb, chia seeds) into a large bowl, mix and set aside. 

Now in a smaller add the yoghurt, eggs, olive oil, vanilla and honey and combine well. It will be a bit of a miss-match at this stage, but make sure the egg yolks get broken up and this will be fine. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well until you have a thick cake batter.

Now peel the two bananas and mash well into a small bowl, then fold into the cake batter.

Add the frozen in berries in last and mix to evenly distribute.

Place 1 large tablespoon of cake batter into each muffin case.

Place into the oven and allow to bake for 25 minutes, or until they are well risen, and the topping is a beautiful golden brown. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Quick Thai Salmon Noodle Soup

Few things are as comforting as a bowl of nourishing noodle soup and this Thai salmon one tastes great, is full of goodness that can be thrown together in no time at all. Win, win.

The great thing about this is you can add any number of vegetables - just use what you have in stock. It's great with a variety of mushrooms that really soak up and take on the flavour of the soup, and topped up with fresh beansprouts before serving for a welcome crunchy.

The below serves two.

Quick Thai Salmon Noodle Soup

Here's how:
  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 100g mushrooms
  • Handful broccoli florets
  • 2 tbsp sweetcorn
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli
  • 3cm piece of ginger
  • 1 tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 lime
  • Tin coconut milk
  • Handful fresh chives and coriander
  • 1 portion of rice noodles (I use Mama)

Firstly pour the sesame oil into the heavy bottomed saucepan and place on a medium heat.

Finely slice the spring onions, chilli and garlic and add to the pan and allow to saute for a few minutes.

In the meantime, slice the mushrooms and set aside, and half the lime and put to one side for the moment too.

Peel and slice the ginger and add to the pan with the green Thai curry paste and broccoli florets and stir.

After a few minutes add the coconut milk, fish sauce and soy sauce.

Meanwhile use this time to carefully remove the skin from the salmon fillets and chop into chunky, bite-sized pieces. 

Add the salmon to the pan at the same time as the mushrooms and sweetcorn.The salmon will only take a few minutes to cook through and you don't want over-cooked fish which will turn rubber and tasteless. It'll be easy to tell when the salmon is cooked as you can see the colour-changing from a deeper red opaque to a lighter pink.

As you can see the colour of the salmon changing, add the rice noodles to the liquid, push them down so they're fully immersed in the cooking liquid. After one minute, remove the soup from the heat and allow to stand for a moment.

Squeeze over all of the lime juice and serve in deep bowls. Scatter over some coriander leaves and some chopped chives and add a touch or sriracha if you like a a hit of extra spice. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Chicken Cacciatore

Legend has it that the traditional version of this dish was made by the wives of Italian’s to greet them after a hard day’s hunting - cacciatore = ‘hunter’s style’.

In my house it is simply a wonderful and delicious dish to greet the entire family after a day of various activities.

The method and ingredients vary depending on different regions of Italy and mine veers towards Northern Italy with the use of white wine over red. I also invariably use smoked bacon when I don't have any pancetta in my fridge, and this works equally well. Recipes are invariably adaptable.

I use economic and flavourful chicken thighs and drumsticks here for a hearty dish, but you could just as easily use breast meat and rabbit is also often used in Italy.

You could serve with any rice, polenta or potato but I love this served on fresh tagliatelle - it's delicious, and the soft buttery ribbons soak up the sauce perfectly.

The below serves 3-4.

Chicken Cacciatore

Here’s how:

  • 6-8 chicken pieces (I use thighs and drumsticks) 
  • 1 large carrot 
  • 3 cloves garlic 
  • 5 spring onions 
  • 2 rashers of smoked bacon, or 3 pancetta slices (you could also use cured ham such as Prosciutto) 
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes 
  • 100g mushrooms 
  • 1 large glass of white wine 
  • 1 tbsp dried rosemary 
  • Sea salt 
  • Black pepper 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 
  • Handful fresh parsley 
Firstly pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees (if you need to speed up the cooking process then 180).

Now drizzle the olive oil into a pan and place on a medium heat.

Generously season the chicken pieces all over and place into the hot pan to sear. Ideally you want them to be a little brown, turn them over to sear all round.

In the meantime finely slice the spring onions and garlic and place into a casserole dish.

Peel and finely dice the carrot and add to the dish.

Slice the mushrooms and set aside for now.

Also roughly chop the parsley and also set aside.

Once seared, add the chicken to the casserole dish.

Cut the bacon or pancetta into small squares and add to the chicken fat to cook for 3 minutes, turning once. Now add to the casserole dish.

Now add the chopped tomatoes, white wine and rosemary to the dish and stir well.

Give a final seasoning of black pepper, place the lid on top or cover with a tight foil lid and place into the oven for 1 hour and forty five minutes. Cooking at a low temperature for this long, yields really juicy, tender chicken that falls off the bone with a simple prod of the fork. As I mentioned, if you’re struggling for time, you can speed things up and turn the oven onto 180 degrees and cook in 45-50 minutes, but a longer approach gives a better, richer and more intensely sweet flavour.

For the final 15 minutes of cooking time, remove the dish from the pan, add the sliced mushrooms and stir well then return to the oven without the lid.

Serve the chicken cacciatore on top of fresh tagliatelle and throw over the parsley as a final flourish.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Simple Spiced Chicken Tagine

This is a great, hearty winter warmer - rich and aromatic, delicately spiced and full of flavour but a sweetness running through from the apricots, honey and cinnamon that makes it suitable for all the family to enjoy.

I've used chicken here, but it's easily adaptable to the meat of your choice, and likewise you could try different dried fruits and vegetables or beans too. Also if you don’t own a tagine a casserole dish will work well enough.

I use chicken thighs and brown the meat off first as I don’t like the texture of the skin if you don’t do this simple step first, but you could use any part of the chicken too if you prefer boneless, breast meat for example.

We had this as it came, but you could serve with rice, couscous and salad leaves. The below serves 3-4.

Simple Spiced Chicken Tagine 

Here’s how;
  • 6-8 chicken thighs 
  • 1 onions 
  • 2 large cloves garlic 
  • 2 carrots 
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained 
  • 3cm piece of ginger 
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds 
  • 2 tsp cinnamon 
  • 1 tsp turmeric 
  • 2tbsp honey 
  • 100g dried apricots 
  • Sea salt 
  • Black pepper 
  • Water to cover 
  • Drizzle olive oil 
  • Handful parsley and coriander leaves, roughly chopped 

Firstly drizzle the olive oil into a pan and place on a medium heat. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.

Season the chicken pieces generously with the sea salt and black pepper.

Now place each chicken piece, skin side down, into the now hot pan and allow to sear for a few minutes or until the skin is nicely golden. Turn over and cook for a few minutes.

In the meantine prepare the vegetables for the tagine. Roughly chop the onion and slice the garlic and add to the tagine.

Peel the carrots and cut into rectangular slices and add to the dish.

Peel the ginger and either slice or grate straight into the tagine.

Half the dried apricots and place into the dish.

Add the chicken and the chickpeas now too.

Now add the cumin seeds, turmeric, cinnamon and honey and stir well.

Pour over cold water until everything is just covered, return the lid to the tagine and place into the oven to cook for 1.5 hours. You can cook it faster at a higher temperature, but low and slow yields fall-off the bone meat.

Remove from the oven after about half of the cooking time to stir then return to the oven.

Remove from the oven and serve with the handful each of coriander and parsley on top.

Simple Spiced Chicken Tagine 

Serve with your choice of accompaniments.