Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Delicious and Healthy? Perhaps not quite...

I'm currently torn between Gillian McKeith and Nigel Slater.

The McKeith thing is part of my annual January detox and my intake of raw green things, seeds and wholegrains has gone up, while my consumption of Vacherin Mont D'or has gone down. I think it can be hard to eat clean and eat deliciously but I have been giving it a go.

The soup on the left is based on a very Nigel Slater concept, a vegetable soup with a really chunky garnish to ponce it up a bit. He recommended his leek and potato soup served with slices of fried black pudding but I felt this wasn't saintly enough so I improvised with sauted potatoes and the weeniest bit of chorizo dulce. You'll notice my use of the term "quite" saintly. No-one's perfect!

The soup really benefitted from being made with chicken stock rather than vegetable. I find it gives it more body and much, much more flavour. The potatoes were marfona, from the supermarket, with a couple of little charlottes thrown in with the skins still on. The leeks, while not as sweet and perfect as the organic ones from last year, were still good and I am wondering if the recent snow might have improved the flavour.

My McKeith bit? A couple of handfuls of rocket chopped and stirred through at the last minute to make up for the chorizo. And a really easy way to get another portion of veg in! A real winter warmer and one I'll make again.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Zetter

OK, so first off, this is the worst photo in the world. I'm still using my camera phone and it's really useless in dim light. The photo is of a small sliver of foie gras parfait with quince and a scattering of pomegranate that we shared at the Zetter on Saturday night.

I don't know if it's just that my diet has got in the way of my eating over the past few weeks, but Saturday felt like the first really delicious restaurant dish I've had all year. The Zetter was a last minute choice, I was really looking for a gastropub near to the Barbican where we could get supper at six to make our show at 7.30 (an almost impossible combination it would appear) and all of my choices didn't start serving until 6.30. I'd had a really good meal at the Zetter when it first opened and this was the ideal chance to revisit and have a drink in the bar.

I'd wanted to have cocktails, but when I saw a Bonny Doon Malvasia by the glass, that was it for me. I was first introduced to their wines at Trio and have been a fan ever since. Given we were short on time we ordered the slice of foie from the bar menu to tide us over until the restaurant opened. Luckily we weren't starving because if I were being critical, and I'm not in the mood, this was small for the £5.50 price tag, although it was perfectly formed. We filled up on the perfect bread. This is the real indicator that you're in the good hands of Sam and Sam Clarke of Moro. More moist than the bread at Moro and with a softer bite, this is seriously good sourdough. I'd meant to ask more, but all I could ascertain was that they make it themselves. It came with delicious, peppery olive oil.

Next up we both ordered the rare yellow fin tuna with garlic broccoli and cauliflower. I'm not usually a huge tuna fan (unless it's sushi) but this was perfect. Thinly sliced, seared on the outside and ruby red inside, it came on an iron skillet with a puree of cauli and some perfectly al dente broccoli. A side order of roasted new potatoes completed the picture, along with another glass of Bonny Doon.

So, a very quick meal before a performance of "Child of Our Time" and "Spring Symphony" at the Barbican, and overall a most delicious evening.

The Zetter,
St John’s Square
86-88 Clerkenwell Road,
London EC1M 5RJ
(0)20 7324 4444

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Thai Corner Bistro

I stopped writing horrible things about restaurants a while ago. I'd really enjoyed doing the odd hatchet job on places (especially Flamin Nora's which thankfully has closed for business) but realised that I preferred reading about the great places that I really should go to. I think I was vaguely remembering a quote from Bob McWhirter, an influential developer I'd been talking to. He said it much more articulately than I can manage in his post "Everything Sucks".
So since then I've kept the invective for the journey home and for the odd conversation on food boards. I just didn't want to spend my time writing up meals that I really hated.

Until yesterday. I'd been told that the Thai Corner Cafe on St Paul's Road, N1 was a delicious, homey authentic Thai. Well, I am sad to report that it's none of those, and it's also probably guilty of profiteering.

My chicken and prawn salad (left) came with two small prawns and four strips of chicken, not much larger than my little finger. I called the waitress over and asked if this were normal. She snapped yes and walked off. The picture was taken shortly before we asked for the bill and not one person asked if everything was OK.

It's a rare day that I don't tip...but they didn't get a penny last night. Which was unsurprising since the most depressing meal I've eaten in months cost me three thousand five hundred of them.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

River Cafe

Oh I have been a naughty and not been updating at all. I've got too much stuff to catch up on, so there'll probably be quite a lot of activity over the next few days. Not that I am insane enough to imagine that anyone is actually reading this....

So, River Cafe with Emu. I'm embarrassed to admit that this was my first ever trip and I'm still kicking myself that I hadn't been earlier. I lived in West London for years for crying out loud. The cab ride home cost me £30 this time. Which was as much as the scallop dish pictured on the right.

In some ways the River Cafe exemplifies everything that's wrong with eating out in London. It's basically serving the sort of food I eat at home (oh, get me). Really great ingredients not mucked about (I appear to be channeling Jamie Oliver today. Apologies) but £30 for four scallops and some lentils? I cooked the exact same dish two days later and it came out at £7. Including an extra scallop. What's wrong with London diners? I'm sure most people that night were having a lovely time, cooing and ahhing over the delicious food and then trolling off, confident they'd had a quintessential London dining experience. They had, as long as you recognise that paying the bill in London can often leave you thinking you need one of those victims of crime leaflets the Met like to hand out.

But I shouldn't be mean. This really is delicious food and I can afford it, so what matter is it to me that I can do this at home? I'll tell you why. Most people in that restaurant are probably completely unaware that they could make that exact dish themselves. The adventurous might try to re-create it, perhaps using some nice lentils de Puy like I did from the Sainsburies Special Selection. But their scallops, perhaps from M&S, will be lacking tlusciousnessess of the River Cafe's, because it's impossible to buy good fish in the supermarket these days. And no-one seems to care.

Luckily the River Cafe is here to show people what food can really taste like. From the start, every ingredient had been sourced with the most care and then treated with the most respect. So my lamb had just been roasted, perhaps after a rub with a little garlic, in a proper wood burning oven. My potatoes with trevisse were deeply savoury, cooked long and slow to bring out the sweetness of both and melt them together.

Desserts were unnecessary, but the caramel ice cream, while not quite up to St John standards, was delicious and Emu declared her almond tarte divine. What was best though was the company, and the feeling that I'd managed to cross a place off my list before I leave. If I were staying in London I'd be planning a trip back now, but the move means that I have too little time, and too many things to do!

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