Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Modern Pantry: Ladies Who Brunch

A few weeks back I met with two fabulous friends on a Saturday morning at The Modern Pantry. Estelle and Flora were both due to host a party in honour of turning another year older which I wasn’t able to attend so this was our mini celebration. We remarked how before we had reached this kind of age (I’d like to point out I am the youngest of the trio), the thought of ‘brunch’ on a Saturday morning wouldn’t have even occurred to us, especially after a night on the sauce the night before. Feeling rather smug in our apparent sophistication, we ordered a Bloody Mary and a couple of Champagne cocktails to toast our new-found late twenties- early thirties chic.

I’ve never really been too excited about brunch before, being a non-eater of eggs. Brunch is a meal solely based around the humble egg and unfortunately despite trying continually I just don’t like them cooked in any way – so I’m very excited about the emergence of more and more ‘adventurous’ non-egg tasting dishes appearing on brunch menus of late and have decided that 2013 is going to be the year of the brunch for me.

Anyway, back to The Modern Pantry, it’s located in St John’s Square in trendy Clerkenwell and is the brainchild of Anna Hansen. It's a warm space despite it being quite crisp in décor, with black wooden furniture and white, white walls adorned with various pieces of modern art. When I arrived just after 11am the place was already teeming with groups of friends and couples and had a fun yet laid back feel to it.

The brunch menu was filled with so many enticing dishes that Estelle and I were tempted to order from both the ‘Fruits, Grains & Seeds’ section as well as the ‘Cooked’ although given what we eventually ordered I’m glad we demonstrated some self-restraint (must be the advancing years).

Estelle chose the English muffin topped with two soft poached eggs, some tea smoked salmon and a yuzu flavoured mayonnaise. I tried some of the salmon, which was incredibly good, but refrained from the eggs, naturally. Estelle and Flora both proclaimed the overall dish to be fantastic though – an excellent brunch dish.

Mine was spectacular. A savoury waffle of spring onion, curry leaf, feta cheese and polenta that alone would have been a triumph. Topped as it was, with crispy, smoked, streaky bacon and an almost salsa-like concoction of chopped fresh tomatoes, avocado and spring onion it really was a triumph. The waffle had a slight heat to it from the curry leaf, which was offset beautifully by the feta and the subtle flavourings. Both Estelle and Flora were equally impressed and I will be trying to recreate this dish at home.

Flora’s breakfast arrived to a chorus of ‘ooh’s and ‘aah’s’ from our table. Having selected the only sweet option, this dessert-looking plate was a very welcome addition to the table. Huge, fluffy pancakes stuffed with lemony ricotta and a compote of the most gloriously sweet berries – absolutely fantastic. This dish was truly a delight and as we all kept swapping plates this became our brunch pudding.

The portions were all rather large, which was good for us as it meant we were able to share and get a taste of everything but don’t be tempted to order everything if you do go – it will be difficult as every dish sounds and looks ridiculously appetising.

Service throughout brunch at The Modern Pantry was great – very friendly and relaxed. In short, perfectly in keeping for the morning after the night before. We paid around £25 each which I thought was reasonable given the pre-midday cocktails and the three plates of exceptional food – I will definitely return.

We completed our ‘sophisticated’ Saturday morning spending an hour at Kate Kanzier, a gem of a shop in Leather Lane, admiring and purchasing four pairs of shoes between us! We could certainly get used to this ‘ladies who brunch’ style of Saturday.

The only thing I have left remaining to say is a huge, belated and final Happy Birthday to Flora and Estelle – here’s to our next brunch date!

I am looking for recommendations for further brunch spots as this is a relatively new style of dining for me so all ideas welcome!

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Monday, 25 February 2013

Brasserie Zedel

I’ve long wanted to try Brasserie Zedel, not least because of the praising reviews I’ve read, but because I simply love the French classics and the menu just looked so reasonable – it’s been on my list for a while. I tried to get a walk-in table recently with a couple of friends on a Friday evening and failed due to the popularity and having made my way down and viewed the rather opulent looking space that was once The Regent Palace Hotel, my interest was further piqued.

I finally got to try it out one cold Thursday evening in January with my friend Jade and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Having viewed the menu online during the day I was determined to try the unbelievably priced, £11.25 set menu. However once we arrived and saw other dishes flying by I couldn’t resist trying some of the other delicious sounding dishes on the menu. I will return to try the much-lauded steak hache dish though, that is a certainty.

The brasserie area is simply huge with high ceilings and a busy, buzzing atmosphere, the constant sound of companionable chatter filled the room and it couldn’t help but put you in a good mood.

Once seated, we selected a bottle of the house Sauvignon Pays D’oc, a light, refreshing and crisp white – this helped with our decision-making.

It took a lot of deliberation over the menu, as there just wasn’t a dish on there that didn’t sound good. It’s a fairly short and simple menu, but one with lots of fantastically classic and delicious sounding dishes. Finally I selected the ham hock and parsley terrine as my ‘entrée’. Served with a basket of warm white bread, the terrine was lovely. Made up of coarse chunks of fantastically salty ham surrounded by the tell-tale jelly of a terrine. With vivid green parsley hues throughout, it was a pretty plate of food and was just as pleasing on the eye as it was on the mouth. 

Jade opted for French onion soup, which is the best I have tried in the UK for sure. Fragrant, soothing and with an almost addictive flavour, I would highly recommend this dish. And considering the location of the restaurant in the middle of Piccadilly Circus, an absolute bargain at only £2.25 a bowl. Served with cheesy croutons that were inhaled rather rapidly by Jade, we were both impressed and looking forward to the main event.

We both selected truly classic dishes, Jade the Boeuf Bourguignon, and I the Confit de Canard. The slow-cooked beef Bourguignon had the most tender, stewed beef, combined with an irresistible flavour of red wine. Served on a bed of the creamiest pureed potatoes this was a little plate of heaven – real comforting, solace food.

My confit duck was quite frankly glorious - crispy, fatty and utterly delicious at the skin, with a soft and tender, melt-in-the-mouth meat centre, that just fell straight off of the bone – an absolute sensation. The duck was served on a bed of white beans in a simple tomato sauce which made for the perfect accompaniment for the knock-out duck.

We also ordered the creamed spinach as a side and were both surprised when it arrived as it looked like a little pot of pesto, however it tasted fabulous. Buttery spinach with a hint of garlic and creamed to perfection. Each dish was served on a white plate with the signature red trim and the 'Zedel' name on which I thought was quite a nice touch too.

We couldn’t manage dessert but we were in such a good mood we couldn’t resist trying one of the Champagne cocktails to sit and enjoy the ambience of the restaurant. We both had a classic Kir Royale which was the ultimate finale to an evening of perfectly executed French food.

The service throughout the meal was faultless, our waitress was attentive, knowledgable and very patient with my French pronunciation. I have to say she was also incredibly tolerant of a very rude male couple seated beside us who were clearly after a free meal. They sat and enjoyed a full rib of beef, and after Jade and I had endured watching them both literally gnawing at the bones, at the very last bite one of the men proclaimed to have found a hair that had completely put them both off of their meal. He kicked off at the waitress and then, in turn the maitre d’ and they handled this rude pair excellently. You would think this kind of spectacle could put a dampener on the end of our meal but it simply added to our voyeuristic entertainment.

We paid around £75 including service and every penny was money well spent.

If you haven’t yet made the trip to Brasserie Zedel, make a booking now, I urge you!

Brasserie Zedel on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Mid-week Magic: Haddock baked on a tomato, chorizo and bean stew

During the working week it is very easy to become stuck in a meal rut, cooking the same predictable dishes week after week.

I often draw inspiration from restaurants, cookery programmes, magazines, books and other blogs for some mid-week magic and aim to cook at least one ‘new’ dish each week.

I’ve decided to share some of these recipes in the hope that they inspire others to try something new. These recipes should give readers the idea for a meal that can be pulled together in well under an hour, that requires the minimum of effort on your part and that will be filled with flavour.

This first one takes forty minutes to cook, but after the first five minutes of preparation, pretty much takes care of itself. The bean stew makes a great, healthy carbohydrate substitute, and makes for a great meal on it’s own too. I served my white fish dish with a selection of curly kale, sprouting broccoli and asparagus tips, all steamed, but you could serve with any veg you have in stock. And if you’re after a true one-pot dish rather than having to cook the veg towards the end, you can always bulk up the stew with chopped courgettes, aubergines, carrots or mushrooms too.

After you’ve chopped all of the necessary, fried off the chorizo and bunged the dish into the oven, it’s a perfect opportunity to relax with a glass of wine, have a hot relaxing après work bath, or if essential crack on with any boring household chores.

Apologies for the dodgy bright white light on the fish – I have a new camera and am slowly getting used to it – hopefully this will improve soon!

Here’s How (for 2):

2 fillets of haddock, or your favourite white fish
1 can each of butter beans and cannellini beans
100g chorizo
Can of chopped tomatoes
1 red onion
2 garlic cloves
1 small red bell pepper
1 red chilli
2 tbsp Manzanilla Sherry or a dry white wine
1 tbsp fresh or dried Oregano
1 tbsp fresh or dried parsley
1 tsp paprika
Salt & pepper to taste

Firstly get the oven on at around 180-200 degrees. Next chop the garlic, pepper, chilli and onion up small and add to an ovenproof tray dish.

Chop the chorizo into small, coin-like pieces and dry fry in a hot pan for four-six minutes, until the tell-tale orange-hued oil is exuded.
In the meantime open the beans and tomatoes and add to the dish with the herbs and spices and sherry. Add the fried chorizo, stir and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add to the oven for fifteen minutes, remove and place on top the fish fillets. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the haddock, cover with foil and then return the dish to the oven for a further 20-25 minutes – cooking time will depend on the size of the fish fillets but the foil will help to prevent the fish from over-cooking.

Whilst the dish is back in the oven, prepare your vegetables and when you remove from the oven sprinkle with a last flourish of parsley and oregano before serving. 

Friday, 22 February 2013

A non-London Lunch: Croma, Manchester

Croma, Manchester is a smart, yet inexpensive little Italian specialising in pizza with a few other delights. I loved this little place while I was living in Manchester as a student, and when I visited the city again recently, I was pleased to find the lunch here is still as good as it was back in 2003.

My suggested lunch would be a classic Americana pizza – topped with pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato, it is always a winner and is a bargain to boot at only £6.85 for a 10-inch, hand stretched pizza that is incredibly satisfying.

Cooked in the on-site pizza oven, the base is exactly as it should be crisp, crunchy, delicious and the toppings are generous too.

I’ve also tried the Roasted Vegetable, Cotto and the Parma which have all been good although I’ve not been tempted by some of their more unusual toppings such as peking duck and tandoori chicken! If you have indulged in any of these ‘alternative’ toppings do let me know your thoughts! I’m much more of a classic when it comes to my pizza.

Now, as I’m always a visitor to the city these days, it always feels a bit like a holiday or a jaunt so I make no apology for the fact that I’m also going to suggest the Croma Espresso Martini which is simply gorgeous – if you have a sweet tooth for drinks like myself then this is for you. It comprises vanilla vodka, which I love anyway topped with Tia Maria and of course an espresso – frankly it is the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely lunch.

Croma on Urbanspoon