Thursday, 29 November 2012

Creamy Mustard Chicken One-Pot

Cold wintry nights call for hearty, warming dishes, and mid-week, after a cold and often wet commute, sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to call on the classic one-pot style of cooking. One-pot cooking means you can prepare everything you need, bung it into the oven, or leave it cooking on the hob, and then go for a steaming hot bath or shower or get on with household chores, Christmas gift-wrapping or just relax with a book or your favourite TV show.


This is a dish I cook for solace when I’m rushing around doing 101 things, Creamy Mustard Chicken.

I use chicken thighs or drumsticks which are also a cheap choice, so great for towards the end of the month when purses are light, whole grain mustard for some much-needed heat and flavour and double cream for a decadent, naughty feel – although you could substitute this for crème fraiche, which is equally good if you want to feel virtuous. Chopped leeks give a good onion flavour and are a lot easier, and most importantly, quicker to prepare than an onion.

This dish is a bit of a chameleon for me, as it changes each time I make it according to what vegetables I have in the fridge – peas work well, as do chopped parsnips, carrots and squash and mushrooms add a delicious woody taste. If you wanted to add a meatier dimension you could even fry some pancetta or smoked bacon and chop up and scatter into your baking dish.

When I prepared it this week, I was going for speed and solace combined, and forgot the vegetables – I cooked some green beans separately towards the end and that worked a treat too. I made enough for two plus a portion for lunch the next day.

Here’s How:


4-6 chicken thighs or drumsticks
250ml double cream
2-3 cloves of garlic, no need to peel
2-3 leeks
2 tablespoon’s Wholegrain mustard
50-60ml chicken stock
New potatoes
Vegetables of your choice
A few sprigs of thyme

Firstly half and par-boil your potatoes – use boiled water from the kettle and cook at a high heat for ten minutes to really start them off.

Trim and slice your leeks and place into an ovenproof dish and scatter over the garlic cloves.

Wash and pat dry the chicken pieces and arrange into the dish. Season to taste.

In a jug pop the cream, mustard and chicken stock and stir thoroughly.

Once the potatoes have been on long enough, and you can just push a fork through, take off the heat and drain and place in the ‘holes’ around the chicken in the dish.

Cover completely with the sauce mixture and season again. Add a few sprigs of fresh thyme and place into the oven. 




Cook for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is bubbling. Take out of the oven and leave to rest for a few minutes before dishing up your one-pot wonder.

It’s particularly good with some crusty bread dipped in too.



Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Second Floor Restaurant, Harvey Nichols, Bristol


Whilst in Bristol over the past few days I enjoyed a business lunch with a colleague at Second Floor Restaurant in the Harvey Nichols in the Cabot Circus centre.

A late lunch, we arrived around 2:30pm and were one of only two tables, which made for a very quiet setting. The restaurant is very much geared up to be “fine dining” and the luxurious gold seating around the place made for a very opulent atmosphere.

We made the most of the set lunch menu and shared our food throughout so as to try as much as possible.

To start we had a pheasant terrine with a prune and red onion marmalade with toasted focaccia and a smoked kipper terrine, which came with the same bread, a little green salad and a wedge of lemon. Both were excellent, the pheasant was rich, chunky and gamey, seasoned well and beautifully complemented by the caramelised red onion and prune accompaniment. The kipper too was fantastic, much smoother in texture and with a light and delicate flavour, enhanced with a squeeze of lemon and the green salad that was generously populated with fresh sprigs of dill – always a good partner to any fish dish.





For the mains we had a fillet of South coast gurnard that came with a Jerusalem artichoke risotto and lemon veloute that looked simply stunning when it arrived. The fish was pan fried to perfection, fleshy white fish, full of flavour and with a delicious and expertly seasoned crispy skin. The risotto was very light with just the merest hint at creaminess, and again flavoured with delicate dill – divine.




Alongside the gurnard we selected the belly pork dish, cooked in ginger, chilli and coconut and accompanied by some gloriously creamy, sweet potato mash. Once again the dish looked gorgeous and the flavour certainly matched up. The pork belly had been slow cooked to the point where it absolutely fell apart and melted in the mouth, and the sauce the meat had been cooked in was a sweet yet sour, sticky glaze, Asian inspired on a classic British dish – genius. Once again, this is a dish I will be attempting to emulate in my own kitchen.




We completed the meal with a vanilla pannacotta that was ridiculously light with a poached quince compote that completely lifted the delicious vanilla cream jelly to a whole new dimension – superb. 




We also had a Valrhona chocolate brownie with a twist – it also comprised of pumpkin, something I found quite strange when perusing the menu, but that my dining companion, a chef and restaurateur, said would work well and that squash and sweet potato do work well in baking. So we gave it a shot and I wasn’t disappointed. It came with a scoop of black pepper ice cream and when it arrived it reminded me of a mini Guinness. The chocolate brownie was rich and whilst dark chocolate can be quite bitter, the pumpkin inside meant the flavour was instantly transferred to sweet. The ice cream was lovely, and subtle and worked well with this sweet chocolate dessert.

The set menu at £17 for two courses and £20 for three courses is incredibly reasonable given the high standard of food on offer, we literally couldn’t find a single flaw with the meal, which given I was with a professional chef speaks volumes. We both had a glass of house white wine with our meal and a large bottle of sparkling water and the entire bill, including service amounted to

I’ll definitely return again next time I come to Bristol, especially as the menu is seasonal and changes each month. The service was impeccable, the food flawless and the bill affordable, not to mention the view overlooking the city and watching the world go by from the second floor – a fabulous retreat.

Second Floor Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Burger Joint, Bristol



I’ve been in Bristol for a few days, firstly for work, and secondly to visit my brother Dan and when I travelled up from London on Wednesday evening after work, the severe weather across the West ensured I had a less than idyllic journey.

My brother picked me up from the station and suggested The Burger Joint for dinner – knowing it to be good and equally important given the time – fast.

A small, informal venue, there were several full tables when we arrived at around 9:30pm and the diners appeared to be a mixture of students and couples.

We were welcomed by a very friendly waitress and she quickly explained how the menu worked. So you choose which burger you want, from a selection including wild boar, venison and Welsh lamb and mint along with the obvious chicken, and prime beef (which we both opted for) and a few different vegetarian options. All under £8.00 each, the burgers come in ciabatta with gherkins, lettuce and tomato and an option of a glazed brioche bun is also available, although sadly they had run out on Wednesday evening.

The toppings are all either 80p each of 3 for £1.95 and I chose blue cheese, bacon and pineapple, Dan chose Cheddar, a pineapple and some sautéed onions – both fairly safe choices, but as I said it was late and we were both tired and hungry.

Next part is choosing your two free sauces for inside your burger – I went for a predictable BBQ and mayo, however there are more exciting choices such as tarragon & lemon mayo and apple salsa if you’re so inclined.

A free side comes with each and we both opted for some French fries. We ordered as an extra to share some beer battered onion rings, as Dan had highly recommended them from his last visit to The Burger Joint. They were absolutely exceptional – the best I’ve tasted by far. Chunky rings of white onion, in the tastiest, crisp batter – if the burger hadn’t been good it would be worth returning just to have these again.






I wasn’t asked how well done I’d like my burger cooked, but was delighted when it arrived to find it juicy and pink in the middle – the best way (in my opinion) to enjoy a burger.
The blue cheese, pineapple and bacon combination worked beautifully against the prime beef burger – it was incredibly flavoursome, succulent and satisfying burger. The fries were great too although the portion size was huge, so you could have easily shared a portion.





I washed down my meal with a couple of Peroni’s and Dan, the designated driver, had some elderflower presse with his and the entire bill came to a ridiculously reasonable £26 – worth every single penny.

London is awash with burger bars and restaurants – it’s the trend that hasn’t gone away for the past few years really, and I would say that The Burger Joint could easily stand up to most that I’ve tried in flavour, substance and variety.

I would thoroughly recommend The Burger Joint to anybody looking for a good, honest and affordable burger restaurant in the Bristol area. The food was great and the staff friendly,  what else could you ask for?

The Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Thomasina Mier's Fruity Chilli



I’m constantly tearing out recipes from magazines, saving or pinning online recipes and taking notes during TV shows of dishes I want to try and this weekend I finally made one I’ve had earmarked for a while.

Being a big fan of Wahaca, when Thomasina Miers’ Mexican Food Made Simple aired, I was avidly viewing week by week and one of the recipes she prepared that I really liked the look of was for a fruity chilli. After a bit of online digging and having to re-watch the episode via  Channel 5 Online yesterday afternoon, I took note of all of the ingredients, decided to omit from using banana and pear and popped out to get the remainder of the ingredients I didn’t already have in my brother’s stock cupboard, where I’ve been staying for a few nights.

I made a large batch, to freeze half for a pre-prepared mid-week meal, and the rest fed four of us comfortably. Combining both lean steak and pork mince, and with a sauce flavoured with charred vegetables and chipotle the end result was rich, smoky and delicious – a perfect warming, winter meal. I served it with rice, homemade salsa and guacamole, sour cream and some tortilla chips.

Here’s How:

500g each of lean steak and lean pork mince
2 large onions
6 large tomatoes
2 bell peppers
2 cloves of garlic
1 large red chilli
2 apples, peeled and chopped into cubes
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons of raisins or dried fruit
Heaped tsp of each of the following: ground cinnamon, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper
2 cloves
2 tablespoons of oregano (I used dried as couldn’t get hold of any fresh and it was fine)
75 chipotle paste
50 ml chicken stock
1 tin of red kidney beans

First off, whack the oven up to a high heat, and place on a baking sheet the tomatoes, peppers and the onions roughly chopped. Place them into the oven until the skin is blackened, then leave to one side to cool.

Brown off the mince and whilst it’s cooking, place the charred vegetables into a blender and blitz until liquidised – the blackened vegetables will give this basis of your sauce a great, smoked flavour. Now you need to add the flavours – add all of your herbs and spices, garlic and chilli along with the chipotle paste and blitz once more.

Once browned, transfer the mince to a saucepan, then cover with your sauce and stir through thoroughly. Next add your apples and raisins (and if you wish to stick to Thomasina’s recipe your pear and banana) and the chicken stock and kidney beans and stir again. Now place on a moderate heat for 45 minutes-an hour.

In the meantime prepare your salsa by finely chopping 2 tomatoes, 1 red onion and 1 chilli and a tsp of sun-dried tomato paste in a small bowl or ramekin. Pour in some garlic infused olive oil and then leave to intensify as the chilli is cooking.

For the guacamole, in a mortar, place a finely chopped red onion, chopped red chilli and 1 clove of garlic with 2 chopped avocadoes and some fresh coriander and grind with the pestle till you’re left with a fairly chunky texture. Next add the juice of 1 lime and add a pinch of salt and pepper then grind again. Just before serving, mix in some freshly chopped coriander.

Finally cook your rice to the packet instructions, or if you prefer jacket potatoes, and once cooked, plate up with a spoonful each of the salsa, guacamole and sour cream with a bowl of moreish tortillas in the middle of the table, and some grated cheddar cheese for a seriously satisfying, fiery, yet smoky meal.  It might not look very glam, but when it’s cold outside, this kind of a meal is balm, to whoever you’re feeding.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Kyoto


I recently visited Kyoto, on Romilly Street in Soho with my Dad and brother after we got fed up of the queues outside of Koya where we had intended on eating for a mid-week, after work meal. Quite a different offering from the popular noodle bar, we opted to try a few different things on the menu and found it to be a great find, in an area where we would usually head to Gerrard St for Cantonese food.

The place is quite small and the tables are all very close together, but in a charming way, rather than just looking cramped, and the staff were incredibly welcoming when we arrived and we were soon seated on a table that ended up being a bit small for the amount we ordered.

We shared seven dishes and found most of them to be superb in quality and flavour – starting with vegetable tempura. Spears of asparagus and long, thin strips of butternut squash were coated in a very light, flavoursome batter, which had a crisp crunch and perfectly cooked vegetables inside – a very good start.



Next came the pork gyoza which were the best I’ve tasted. The delicate dumplings had a really tasty pork filling, and the pastry was quite thick, but was cooked through so avoided that doughy taste that sometimes occurs and they were gorgeously crisp on the outside too. We practically inhaled these, they were gone in moments. 



We ordered a crab sushi dish which the waitress had recommended for us, and this was good, although to be honest, I didn’t really feel it was any better than what you can pick up in any branch of Itsu, but I love their sushi so not a problem at all.




Next up came yakitori chicken which was another stand out dish – the chicken was moist and tender and the rich, sticky sweet yakitori sauce was utterly addictive. We had ordered some green vegetables to go alongside this and they were in a very salty dressing so these two dishes complemented each other well.




We also had a seafood noodle dish, which was frankly bland and a real disappointment considering the standard of the rest of the dishes, the seafood was all cooked well and comprised prawns, scallops and some squid, the noodles just had hardly any flavour at all, which was a shame.





Now I simply find it impossible to enter a Japanese restaurant that has a chicken katsu curry on the menu and not indulge – I love this dish and so does my Dad so naturally we went for this too and were delighted with the curry. The panko-coated chicken was perfectly cooked and the mild, but creamy curry was delicious – a great dish all round, if a little predictable of us to order it, but it’s just such a warming and comforting dish it’s too hard to resist.

The service was impeccable, and the bill was around the £100 mark which included several Asahi’s each, so quite reasonable. Kyoto is a place I’d been past lots of times and never thought about trying it – but now we’ve found it, I’m certain we will go back again and again.

Kyoto on Urbanspoon


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Fish Finger Sandwich


Sometimes, there is nothing more satisfying than eating something that brings you right back to your childhood. One food-stuff that I remember fondly from the late 80’s and early 90’s is fish fingers. We didn’t have these very often at my family home, but they always went down well when we did.

These days fish finger sandwiches seem to occupy most pub menus, but I’m generally reluctant to try for fear of being faces with processed, tasteless and less than satisfying fish inside – thus killing a childhood memory right there. However every so often I get an craving for a fish finger – whether in a sandwich or on a seriously childish plate also occupied with chips and beans, and this week I had that urge.

The only option is to make my own, that way I know exactly how fresh the fish inside is, and I also know that it is only fish inside and no nasties. They are so simple to make, taste great and what’s more they are fun, and food should definitely be fun.

For this I used a large cod fillet, but you could use any white fish really. Haddock is a good option too, but you could equally use pollack, coley or even river cobbler that seems to be more and more readily available, and extremely economical. I also used the ‘flour, egg, breadcrumb’ method to coat, but if you preferred you could of course coat in a light batter and deep fry.

I served my sandwiches with some potato wedges that were par boiled, tossed in olive oil and then some Cajun spices, before baked in the oven for twenty minutes, and some garden peas – but the sandwich alone is enough for a Saturday, hung over lunch. The recipe below makes enough for three sandwiches.

Here’s how:

1 large cod fillet
100g plain white flour
3 slices of bread, white or brown is fine
2 eggs, whisked
1 large ciabatta loaf
3 tablespoons of tartare sauce
Salt and pepper
½ lemon cut into 3 wedges to serve alongside

Firstly get the oven on to about 150 and place the ciabatta in there to warm up for about ten minutes.

Place the flour in a bowl and add a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper and mix well to ensure the seasoning is present throughout.

In a separate bowl crack the two eggs and whisk.

In a third bowl place the breadcrumbs. I tend to use whatever bread is in the house and just blitz in my food processor but it’s fine to use shop bought breadcrumbs or even panko if you prefer the taste or texture, or if you’re looking to save time.

Get about a level tablespoon of olive oil and place into a non-stick pan on a low heat so the pan heats up gently while you prepare the fingers.

Take out the ciabatta, portion up and cut in half to cool a little.

Cut the fish fillet into rectangle shaped pieces, trying to keep them as equally sized as possible. Then take each finger and coat first in the flour, then place into the egg, making sure the whole finger is covered and wet with egg wash. Finally place into the breadcrumbs and press down gently, then turn over and do the same to the over side.






Once all fingers are coated, cook them in two batches in your now-hot pan for about 2-3 minutes on each side. You want a crispy, golden brown exterior, and if the pan is nice and hot then this should be enough time to achieve that. When the first batch has turned golden brown place into an ovenproof dish and cook the others. Add them to the ovenproof dish. When the second batch is also golden brown, add to the ovenproof dish and place in the oven. I popped mine in for about three minutes as I had quite a fairly thin fillet, but if you are using a thicker piece of fish, then adjust the oven time accordingly, as this is just to ensure the fish is cooked through.


Whilst the fingers are in the oven, butter the ciabatta, and to each sandwich add a spoonful of the tartare sauce. Remove fingers from the oven and complete your sandwich. Serve with a wedge of lemon and whatever else you fancy, sit back and enjoy a seriously retro sarnie. Be warned, these are a little bit addictive, are great if you have kids and even better if you're a big kid yourself.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Can I get a bun with that burger?

Indian Spiced Bean Burger with Skinny Slaw and Sweet Potato Chips


So in a bid to shed a pound or ten pre-Christmas, I’ve decided a bit of healthy eating is in order, and to kick start this I’m doing a full week completely meat-free.

As I’m the person that does 99% of the cooking at home, the boy is also being subjected to this, so I thought I’d need to be slightly creative to avoid accusations of serving up ‘rabbit food’ so the first evening was a vegetable curry, which went down well on Sunday evening as both of us had what can only be described as a ‘skin-full’ on Saturday night and last night I made an alternative to burger ‘n’ chips.

I made my first ever bean burger, which I flavoured with some Indian herbs and spices and served with a home made spicy coleslaw and some sweet potato chips. This was also well received by the pair of us – and although we enjoyed it, I did think whilst eating it, that next time I’ll improve it with some chopped chorizo – but then I’m always thinking about ‘next time’ and new ways with everything I cook. The sweet potato chips and coleslaw were great accompaniments, and both a lower calorie version of the usual suspects, they really complemented the spices from the burger too.

Also please note from my picture the ridiculously thick size of the patties, again, a learning, and next time I will try to make these more compact, but overall it was a good dish and one I’d eat again with or without the addition of meat.

Here’s how:

Sweet Potato Chips:

  • 300g sweet potatoes


  • Half a red chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 Cloves Garlic
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Peel and cut into chip or wedge shapes, then rinse thoroughly. Add to a pan of boiling water and cook for fifteen minutes. In the meantime add some olive oil into an ovenproof dish and place into a pre-heated oven. Drain the sweet potatoes and shake in the colander then add to the dish and move around to make sure all have an oil coating. Scatter the chopped chilli, and pop in the unpeeled garlic cloves (feel free to add more or omit if you’re not a garlic fan or if you have a hot date later!) Season well and cook for twenty minutes or until they start to crisp.

    Skinny Slaw

    • 2 carrots coarsely grated


  • ½ white cabbage coarsely grated
  • 1 red onion coarsely grated
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 3 tablespoons of low fat natural yoghurt
  • Salt & pepper to taste



  • Simply combine all of the ingredients and mix well. Makes a large bowl full, perfect for 4-6 people or if you’re only two, then great for keeping in the fridge to perk up salads or sandwiches for lunch the next day.

    The Burger (makes 4 large patties or 6 smaller ones):

    • 200g butter beans, cooked and cooled


  • 200g chickpeas, cooked and cooled
  • 200g kidney beans, cooked and cooled
  • 1 small red onion finely diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • About two tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves and stalks
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 small red onion finely diced
  • 1 red chilli finely chopped
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 100g breadcrumbs
  • 2 cloves, finely ground


  • To make the burger pop all of the cooked beans into a large mixing bowl and crush up with a potato masher, leaving the mixture quite coarse (don’t put through a potato ricer). Add the coriander and all of the herbs, onion and garlic and stir through with the egg. Gently add in a tablespoon at a time of the breadcrumbs until you have a texture that would hold well in a burger. Then shape into patties with your hands and top each side with some additional breadcrumbs.

    Heat a tablespoon of olive or vegetable oil in a non-stick pan and once hot add the patties and cook on each side for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. When you turn over to cook the other side, add a slice of Emental cheese so it melts nicely into the burger.

    The Extras
    • Burger buns of your choice 


  • 2 tablespoons of natural yoghurt with a tablespoon of fresh, chopped mint
  • 1 tub of salsa
  • Leaves and/or sliced tomato
  • Sliced red onion


  • Once your chips are almost done and your skinny slaw is ready – add in your burger patties to the pan to cook. To assemble I added some shop-bought (Sainsbury's) salsa to the bottom bun, then a slice of juicy beef tomato, the cooked burger with melted cheese next and then to finish a spoonful of the cooling minty yoghurt dressing.

    Plate up and serve - good for veggies and meat lovers too.

    Wednesday, 31 October 2012

    Dishoom

    Indian food is one of my absolute favourite things to eat – but when I do, it tends to be either a local curry house close to where I live in Essex (normally The Cardomom Lounge) or a mildly drunken jaunt around Brick Lane.
    Happily the number of Indian restaurants in the West End is on the rise, be them slightly more modern in their approach than my trusted curry houses, and Dishoom is, in my opinion, leading in style, substance and most importantly flavour.
    I had a sharing lunch with my brother recently that consisted of four delightfully simple dishes, each one expertly executed and each one leaving us wanting to come back and have it again.
    The restaurant was intended to be a reflection of the traditional Bombay cafes serving wonderful street food, and whilst we tried a few of these types of dishes – we just had to order a curry dish too, it would feel wrong not to.


    We went for their ‘Chicken Ruby’, which was in fact a rich red South Indian curry, tomato based but with a fiery kick to it, which made it perfect for Dan and I, as we are chilli lovers. Served with a roti wrap to mop up the spicy juices, there was no additional oil or grease, which you can sometimes find in Indian restaurants, and particularly with takeaway Indian food. A taste winner and particularly when paired with the Gunpowder Potatoes we had ordered which soaked up the sauce of the curry beautifully.


    The potatoes were a crushed dish combining a mixture of seeds and spices and which had a good kick to them too. Served with a cooling raita, which was a good way to cool down the mouth with both of these spicy dishes.


    As regular readers will be aware, I love a wrap, whether it be a burrito or my favourite Indian wrap place, Moolis, so we decided it would be prudent to try the Dishoom Chicken Tikka Roll and we weren’t disappointed.


    This had a little green leaf and tomato salad inside, but not so much that the chicken was hiding within it – a good start. The chicken was cooked and flavoured beautifully, but the star of this wrap for me was the chilli chutney served alongside it. It gave a massive explosion of heat but had a sweetness running through it too for an almost sweet and soury taste – superb, and it complemented the wrap perfectly.


    Our final dish was the Dishoom Calamari and, once again, it was faultless. Rather than a batter, which is so often the outside coating for grilled squid, Dishoom has a crunchy, spicy bread-crumbed exterior to their calamari that was just sublime. Served with a minty sauce and some chutneys this was a great dish too – and one I hope to try preparing at home!



    As it was a working lunch, we washed down the meal with a Limca and a Thums Up (Indian lemonade and cola style drinks) rather than wine or beer and coming in at around the £40 mark – I think this is an example of the ideal Friday lunchtime spot – particularly if you’ve been out the night before.


    Dishoom have just opened another branch in the City and I’m sure this won’t be the last new opening we see from them with their winning formula of simple, but well done Indian food, coupled with knowledgeable and friendly service. I’ll be back again.

    Dishoom on Urbanspoon



     Square Meal

    Monday, 22 October 2012

    The Opera Tavern


    This venue has been on my ‘wish-list’ for a while and during August I finally got to see what all the fuss was all about. Tucked away just outside of Covent Garden, The Opera Tavern specialises in Italian and Spanish tapas and so my lovely dad was the obvious companion for this jaunt – Spanish tapas is his absolute favourite. We had tickets for the Women’s Football Final at London 2012 and enjoyed a lovely meal here prior to a fantastic and atmospheric evening at Wembley stadium.


    The downstairs area where we were seated, close to the open charcoal grill, was small but perfectly formed, smartly attired with stalls at the bar. We were in a bit of a rush so ordered straight away following some enthusiastic and knowledgeable recommendations from our friendly Spanish waitress.




    My dad couldn’t help ordering the Italian Scotch Egg, which he loved – with a soft, perfectly cooked egg, covered in citrus-infused Italian sausage meat and herby breadcrumbs. Eggs are one of the few things that I just don’t like, so I left my dad to enjoy this, which he did so immensely – in fact he said it was the best one he’d ever had and would have happily ordered another if we didn’t have a full flurry of dishes coming our way. It did look very appetising too, though I didn’t try this.

    One of the signature dishes at The Opera Tavern is the Mini Ibérico Pork and Foie Gras Burger – I’ve read lots about this dish from reviewers and other bloggers and so was keen to try it. The Ibérico pork at The Opera Tavern is imported directly from Spain, and the actual patty with the foie gras running through was divine, nicely pink and juicy in the middle and with an incredible flavour, an outstanding quality of meat. A little melted cheese and some gloriously sweet red onion chutney were included in the soft burger bun, with a little aioli and this was served on a board with a mild green chilli. It’s the kind of dish I’d happily pop into the restaurant for on my own and order with a Cruz Campo – one of my favourite bottled beers and sit happily at the bar with – gorgeous.

    We also tried the Roasted Scallops with Braised Peas and Prosciutto, Pea Purée and Truffle Butter, which was presented beautifully on a slate in the shells. The scallops were ever so slightly over-cooked which was a shame but the flavours together were good and I can see that this would be a good dish.

     

    Another dish that looked exceptionally pretty was the Roasted Salt Hake with Saffron and Almond Sauce, Courgettes and Broad Beans. This was one of my favourite dishes – the fleshy white fish was cooked just right so it flaked away nicely and with the flavours of the saffron and almond evident in the customary yellow hued sauce which had clearly been made with some glorious fish-stock as there was a definite flavour of the sea on this plate. The seasonal courgette and broad beans added to this dish, and again this is something I’d order if I were to visit again.



    One of the standout dishes of the evening was the Confit of Old Spot Pork Belly with Rosemary Scented Cannellini Beans. Now, my pictures really don’t do these dishes justice as the presentation was fantastic throughout, and I’d forgotten my camera so had to rely on my battered Blackberry, and for this dish in particular, the meat looks quite dry in the picture. It wasn’t at all – it had been slow cooked and the meat fell apart with a delicious overall flavour. Coupled with the rosemary-infused white beans this was really delicious, and something I’ll be trying to recreate at home. 



    Our final dish was a salad of Buffalo Mozzarella and Heritage Tomato’s with Grilled Peaches, Thyme and crunchy breadcrumbs. I’d never have thought of combining peaches in such a salad but it was lovely, and the mozzarella had just the right amount of salt to contrast with the sweet flavours.


    As we’re both greedy sorts, we couldn’t resist trying one each of the desserts – my dad had the Calasparra Rice Pudding with New Season’s Cherries, Marcona Almond Ice Cream and Fresh Thyme which he practically inhaled, despite complaining that he wasn’t keen on the thyme used in a dessert. I tried this and was delighted to find it was nothing like any other rice pudding I’ve endured, it was rich, creamy and flavoursome with a savoury edge. Our waitress once again gave me her recommendation for the best pudding and so I took her advice and opted for the Cold Chocolate Fondant with Salted PX Caramel and Milk Ice Cream. This was a chocolate-lovers choice and so suited me perfectly. The fondant was soft, mousse-like and pure, dark chocolate heaven and the ice cream was frankly to die for. It was a good note to end on. This was a great meal, thoroughly enjoyed and with great service to boot. I’d recommend The Opera Tavern to anybody who likes tapas and a laid-back atmosphere.

    (Apologies for the dodgy photography - it was courtesy of my not-so-fabulous phone and for some reason I'm unable to rotate them so if anybody has any pointers on why this might be please do let me know!)


    Opera Tavern on Urbanspoon
    Square Meal

    Tuesday, 28 August 2012

    Three-Cheese Topped Pork Lasagne

    Foolishly,and in my natural greed, I forgot to take a photo of Sunday night’s dinner – but frankly it was too delicious not to share so here we are. Not a health tonic, it’s much more of an indulgent, comfort-food style of eating: my Three-Cheese Topped Pork Lasagne.

    This can of course be tweaked to include beef or lamb mince, but do try the pork version as it is a definite flavour winner.


    Ingredients


    400g lean pork mince

    1 red onion, chopped finely

    2 cloves of garlic, crushed

    1 tsp cinnamon

    2 tsp dried oregano

    Tin of tomatoes

    2 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste

    Lasagne sheets (I used dried but you could use fresh or if you have a pasta maker make your own)

    425ml milk

    45g butter

    20g plain flour

    Parsley stalks

    10 peppercorns

    1 bay leaf

    Salt and pepper

    Half ball of Mozzarella

    100g Parmigiana Reggiano

    100g Mature Cheddar


    How To


    The Béchamel Sauce

      1. First in a saucepan warm through the milk with the peppercorns, parsley stalks and bay leaf as well as some generous seasoning. Allow to boil, then simmer for five minutes. Take off of the heat.

    2. In a separate pan melt the butter slowly, not letting it burn. Once melted add the flour, bit by bit, constantly stirring it in with a wooden spoon.

    3. Sieve the milk contents into the butter and flour mixture slowly, keeping up the stirring until all milk has been added and the consistency is thick and sauce-like whilst also smooth.

    4. Add about 20g of the Cheddar and continue to stir until the sauce returns to the thick and smooth consistency

    5. Taste and then add seasoning where necessary and take off of the heat.



    The Meat & Sauce

    1. Firstly sauté the chopped onion and garlic in some extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick pan.

    2. Once softened add the pork mince and continue to move around the pan with a wooden spatula or spoon until its beginning to brown.

    3. Add the cinnamon and oregano to the meat with a pinch each of sea salt and ground black pepper and allow to cook for a few minutes.

    4. Add the tin of tomatoes and stir through so the meat is evenly covered. Next add the two tablespoons of sun-dried tomato paste. Cover and allow to simmer for twenty minute. Just before taking off of the heat add in some roughly torn fresh basil leaves.


    Assembly


    1. In your greased, ovenproof dish firstly layer some of the meat.

    2. Use a large spoon or ladle to pour on some of the béchamel sauce then use a palette knife to spread over the meat.

    3. Add a sprinkling of the Parmesan over the sauce.

    4. Top with the lasagne sheets so all of the sauce is covered and then add your next layer of meat.

    5. Repeat this process so you have three layers of meat and then for the top layer top the lasagne sheets with the remaining béchamel sauce.

    6. Finally use the remaining cheese to cover the top, sprinkling the Parmesan and Cheddar on evenly and tearing the Mozzarella and placing in even spots around the lasagne.

    7. If you want to you can top with slices of tomato for a garnish.


    Cook


    1. Place in a pre-heated oven at around 160-170 degrees and allow to cook for around 40-45 minutes or until the top is a glorious golden brown and the cheese is bubbling away


    Serve


    Perfect with a simple green leaf salad, lightly dressed with either a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of olive oil and some freshly ground black pepper. Serve with a glass of glorious Italian red wine - I enjoyed with a Barolo Milani 2007/8 Rocca, which was given to me recently as a present, and it went down rather well indeed.

    Saturday, 4 August 2012

    The Table Café – A New Era

    The Table Café in Southwark Street has long been on my food radar, working as I do in PR, I’ve been there with several IPC journalists for coffees, pastries and breakfast and have always enjoyed great food.
    This week I was invited to a party at the café to celebrate a new era for the venue, as Cinzia Ghighoni, acclaimed chef formerly of Zucca, Duck Soup and Angela Hartnett takes over the culinary reins. I invited my friend Jade along with me promising her great food and wine, and with the re-launched wine menu, the promise was kept.

    When we arrived at around 7pm the place was buzzing with people, a group of food journalists, home economists, bloggers and wine experts, all keen to try out the new style. We were greeted with a glass of Coates & Seely Blanc de Blancs NV, I’m no wine expert I’m afraid, but this was a gorgeous glass of white sparkling wine, and went down a little quickly with Jade and myself – we are partial to the odd glass of fizz and allowed the friendly waiting staff to re-fill our glasses quite rapidly.


    Our first bite was a piece of the most gorgeous focaccia, moist and salty, an opening of what was to come. The next small plate was some Baccala Mantecato with polenta crisps. I’d never heard of this dish before, but enjoyed it immensely - it had a creamy fishy taste and reminded me of a garlicky tarramasalata, lovely. The polenta crisps were also good and we’d soon eaten all of these with some of the fishy dip remaining – we found ourselves heading over to the front of the place, to get more of the focaccia to mop up the rest of the Baccala Mantecato – this was right in front of the open-kitchen and we remained there for most of the rest of the evening as it gave us the perfect view of the busy and efficient chef team preparing the rest of the dishes. I’ve since learned that Baccala Mantecato is a salt cod concoction, and one that I hope to try again.

    The next dish was a Friggitelli (a mild, Italian green pepper) with ricotta, marjoram and breadcrumbs, this actually reminded me of how simplistic good Italian food is. It was lovely, with a lemony flavour to the ricotta, it was beautiful in its simplicity, the toasted breadcrumbs gave a little crunch to the otherwise creamy texture and Jade and I frankly inhaled this dish – another good one.

    We then had a seafood plate of octopus with the most flavoursome and delicious aubergines I’ve ever tried. Aubergines are such a great sponge of herbs and spices and these were marinated, moist and full of fresh Italian flavours, absolutely fantastic. The octopus was good too, but we could have enjoyed the aubergines alone. This was served with a glass of Prieuré de Montézargues Rosé 2011 which matched really well with the delicate flavours of the fish and the aubergine.
                                                          
    The next dish was definitely my favourite – a veal dish which yet again was simple but fantastic. Slices of perfectly cooked, soft veal topped with woody girolles and completed with shavings of Scorzone Truffle – a delicious black Italian truffle and a drizzle of oil. This dish was so lovely, it felt incredibly decadent even in its simple format and was served with a delightfully dry but fruity red, Reverdito ‘Simane’ Langhe Nebbiolo 2010, another selection by the creator of the wine list, Matt Walls, who I take my hat off to for a great selection of wines.


    Our Italian pudding was a Passion Fruit Tart, which had a light pastry casing and was beautiful in appearance and taste with a light and fruity cream filling. This was served with my favourite wine of the evening – a dessert wine: Château Bouscassé ''Larmes Célestes 2010. Now at this point Jade and I were getting a mini wine education from the lovely Denise otherwise known as The Wine Sleuth. As I’ve said I can’t declare to be a wine connoisseur but I did really enjoy this sweet and fruity dessert wine, and will be investing in a bottle for home consumption when I have people round for dinner as it was the perfect finale to a fabulous evening of great food and wine.



     
    Shaun Alpine-Crabtree is the founder of the restaurant and has gained a 2 star award from The Sustainable Restaurant Association too for spearheading the venue’s collaboration with the homeless charity St Mungos, with whom, the restaurant work with on their herbs. It was these fantastic herbs that made up the most unusual ‘goody bag’ I’ve ever received, a batch of these herbs in a wooden box.

    It was a great evening and now that I know the venue play live Jazz on a Saturday evening I may venture there in the evening as well as for the go-to for visits when in Southwark Street. The new Italian direction looks set to take The Table Café onto the next stage in an already splendid food journey.

    The Table on Urbanspoon



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    Sunday, 22 July 2012

    Pitt Cue - Barbecue Heaven


    Pulled Pork Perfection
    So once upon a time a metallic ‘burger van’ style BBQ eaterie, Pitt Cue, sat splendid over by the Southbank, ran by Tom Adams and serving ribs and pulled pork in as magnificent a way as is possible and so the ‘street food’ explosion began and continues.

    Now Pitt Cue resides in a small little corner just off of Carnaby St in a restaurant, not so much street food, more diner-style in a very popular Soho location. As with so many venues in the ‘trendy’ food scene at the moment, reservations cannot be made to eat here, one must simply turn up and wait their turn - in a restaurant with only 30 covers this can be a lengthy process. Queues out of the door are a regular sight and I guess as with other similarly no-booking-policy venues, this only adds to the allure and makes the wannabe diner wonder what is so good to make people queue out of the door - and often for quite some time too.

    I finally visited recently for the first time since the Newburgh St restaurant opened with my brother Dan, and a tip for not waiting too long is to go after the lunchtime rush and before the early evening stampede. We turned up around 3pm and waited just long enough to down a couple of drinks each, and eat a portion of the fantastic pork scratchings, which were lovely salty, crunchy and delicious things of culinary beauty (see attached image). Obviously pork scratchings are not to be eaten on a regular basis as they are certainly not the healthiest of things, and I’d dread to think of the fat-content, but my word as an occasional treat these were just phenomenal.

    The place really is tiny, and when waiting in the bar area I particularly noticed the oddly old-fashioned net curtains, that adorn the windows and that I haven’t seen the like of for about twenty years, I guess this feeds into the Western theme but I can’t see it taking off too much on the London food scene (well I hope not anyway).

    The bar serves an array of cocktails, but having been Pisco’d at Ceviche the weekend before, Dan and I opted for a beer and a ginger beer which were both: tasty, reasonable and refreshing.

    Once seated in the downstairs area we quickly decided on our meal. You can either choose to have one of the Bun meals which includes the meat of your choice in some bread with pickles, which is the cheaper way to enjoy the food, but we opted for the Meat & a Side option which is also pretty reasonable.

    We decided to get two different meals and share so we could try a bit of everything so we had the Pulled Pork and the Beef Rib mains with Bone Marrow Mash and Spicy Slaw as well as the pickles that come with each dish.
    Beef Rib & Bone Marrow Mash
    I literally don’t know where to start with detailing this food, it was mouth-wateringly delicious, all of it! I literally couldn’t find one single gripe or moan about the place. The pulled-pork, was tender, flavoursome and fell apart at the touch of the fork. The bone marrow mashed potato was creamy, earthy and a little bit on the greasy side, naughty but very, very nice and the spicy slaw was the perfect accompaniment to all as it had that gorgeous crunch with a slightly acidic, vinegary flavour and the beef ribs were just to-die-for. They fell off of the bone and had that charred, BBQ flavouring on the crispy coat, but had clearly been cooked over time to ensure tender, delicate meat. A chunky piece of crusty bread, also charred, came with both and was perfect for soaking up the meat juices.

    The meals are served in metallic tins, not unlike the kind you’d imagine a grandparent preparing their roast joint in as a child, well for me anyway.
    Pork Scratchings
    Pitt Cue is a must for anyone who likes their meat, BBQ style food or just to stay ahead of the foodie pack and ensure you’ve been to all of the latest ‘on-trend’ places. The meal was a treat from my brother and came in at around the £50 mark, with a few drinks each. With the Bun meal options priced at only £6.50 this is a really affordable place to eat, particularly if you’re not drinking, and don’t mind a bit of a wait, although frankly if our meal was anything to go by, the wait, however long, will be worth it.

    Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon
    Square Meal