Thursday, February 22, 2007


I’ve been eating quite a lot of sushi recently, ironic given that the general consensus is that London isn’t a great sushi town. Nobu is one of those restaurants that I’ve always meant to go to but never made it. I think I might have thought it was a bit too cool for me. Judging by our table, which was in Siberia, so did the maitre’d.

Nobu Berkeley gathered a lot of press when it opened. There was no booking policy and Chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards installed a woodfired oven and were offering a much wider menu than in other branches. It took off and I remember reading some really good reviews, especially of the new dishes. Two years on, the no booking policy has been scrapped and reservations are strongly recommended, although they do run a list on the night which we wanted to be on. Which is where things started to go wrong. Emu was running a bit late so I’d asked the Maitre’d to put me on the list, but I was assured that we’d be able to have a table without that because they weren’t that busy. So I tripped off to the very dimly lit bar for a Lillet Blanc and listened to the City boys boasting. Emu duly arrived, we had a drink and went upstairs to our table to be told there would be a wait of at least an hour before we could eat. To cut a long story short, we eventually got a table, next to a Dita Von Teese look alike, but only after Emu told them her life wouldn’t be worth living if we didn’t eat before nine.

Our waiter really pushed the tasting menu but we were happy to go it alone. We started with a sashimi and sushi platter, with sea urchin, salmon eggs, eel, chu-toro, mackerel and bream. There was also some tobiko, which we hadn’t ordered, but which was very, very good. Overall, the quality of the fish was high, but the rice wasn’t quite there for me. Next up was a signature dish, rock shrimp tempura, which is basically KFC popcorn chicken for supermodels. Served with jalapeno, creamy ponzu and another sauce that I can’t quite remember now, it showed a deft hand with the fryer and disappeared fast. Then, after a 25 minute wait, two woodfired dishes; cabbage with black truffles and Gloucester Old Spot belly pork. The cabbage was a disaster; chunks of partially cooked savoy cabbage, burned in a couple spots on the top, allegedly drizzled with truffle oil and served with some dusty black truffles. The old spot was better, rich, unctuous chunks of pork, but it was no more than the sum of its parts. We were a bit bored by now and our ears were hurting from the volume, so we asked for the bill and got ready to leave.

Then there was a first for me. A 15% service charge had been automatically added to the bill. 15% I tell you. We asked for it to be taken off and we tipped a more modest 10%, because our waiter was energetic and knowledgeable and very cute.

So, that’s Nobu out of the way. I don’t think I’ll be going back. Cocktails in the Polo bar in the Westbury hotel afterwards were delicious, and their snack selection one of the best I’ve nibbled in London.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Paul A Young Fine Chocolates

I had one of my best ever work moments this week. I've been helping Paul in the shop and we were working on the Easter range. Paul left me with the words "Can you do 80 of these and make them all exactly the same?" It's the perfect thing to say to someone with OCD.

I don't think I've had such a sense of satisfaction in my work for ages. 80 bunnies, each with a necktie at exactly the same jaunty angle. 80 bunnies, each facing left. 80 bunnies, each with the sticker on their wrapper in exactly the same spot. I even worked out how long each ribbon closing the bag needed to be so that they're all the same length.

Best of all, I got to wear white cotton gloves while I was doing it.

I'm wasted in recruitment you know.

Labels: , ,

On Meatballs

Sometimes only meatballs will do. They're one of my foods that I cook when I am grumpy and I need to cook myself into a better humour. There's something about mulching everything together, rolling out the balls and plopping them into a vat of tomato sauce that I find incredibly soothing.

I once had a major arguement with a boyfriend over meatballs. He insisted that they had to be fried before being coated in the sauce, while I believe in poaching them. From the effort to my left, where they were fried, I still think I win.

So, my meatballs recipe goes a little like this. Take enough minced meat for one more person than is going to eat the dish and mix it with a couple of minced cloves of garlic, a very finely chopped onion that has been gently fried in some olive oil, a good handful of chopped parsley and whatever other herbs you have in the fridge and season with salt and pepper. One of those tiny Italian dried chillis is also nice or some fennel seeds. I use pork and beef for preference and this time also added a little chopped black pudding that I picked up thinking I might make a less saintly potato soup. Bind with a scant egg yolk, just enough to mulch things up. Roll into mouthsize balls and pop in the fridge to set. Meanwhile, mince a couple of white onions in the food processor and fry. Be warned, it's like mustard gas. Add a tin of tomatoes that you've also popped in the processor and a good glug of passata. When the sauce is cooked, add a couple of cups of full fat milk and then plop in the meatballs. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with brown rice if you're being good, spaghetti if you want to seduce someone.

And why made enough for one more than is eating? These meatballs are amazing in a sandwich the next day. Speaking of which, don't ever have the meatball marinara from Subway. It's totally bleugh and a meatball abomination...

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Fox

I'm just not in the mood for cooking at the moment so I took myself off to the Fox at 28 Paul Street on Thursday. I ate here a couple of times years ago, and fondly remember the mismatched crockery and hearty food. I'd heard that it had recently changed hands and figured I should give it a go, before I go.

When I eat out I like to try food that I can't make at home, so I struggle a bit with gastropubs. Short of not having to do the washing up, I can usually rustle up the same. So things like really good service and some distinctive choices become really important to me. The menu here changes weekly and I'd heard good reports about suckling pig and eggs bourgignon so I was hoping for some dishes a cut above the usual.

I was a bit disappointed with the limited menu, but this was more down to high expectations set by other reviews than anything the Fox does wrong. The menu changes weekly, with about four starters and four mains, and a couple of daily specials. I chose the terrine, which was a bit fridge cold, but was very porky and was a good excuse to eat another two slices of their rather lovely warm bread. A main of rabbit with olives was just that, a leg, a saddle and whatever you'd call a rabbit's arms and some green and black olives. It was all suitably rustic and certainly beat anything I could have been bothered to rustle up.

Am still not totally convinced about this gastropub thing you know.

Labels: , , , , , ,

On how Fishworks let me down

You'll notice a distinct lack of fish in the dish on the left. Being of sound mind, I don't eat out on Valentine's Day. I'm sure that there are some restaranteurs who aren't guilty of profiteering on February 14th, but I can't be bothered to find them. So for many years now, I have cooked for Valentine's. I asked Bri what he'd like and he requested the scallop and lentil dish that I'd recreated after my trip to the River Cafe. I called Steve Hatt (the bestest fishmonger in, oooh, N1) but he didn't answer, so in a fit of desperation, I ordered from Fishworks. Four hours later I get back to my phone and see I have a couple of missed calls from a mystery number, but no message. Being a nosy bear I call and find myself speaking to Fishworks. The time is 4.30pm. They don't have my eight diver caught scallops. I hang up and consider putting a rock through their window. Of course Hatt's are answering now, but they're out of scallops.

So what did I cook? Well, my feet were killing me from another day in Paul A Young fine chocolates (more on this in another post) and I really couldn't be bothered to go shopping so poor Bri got a store cupboard supper of roasted onion squash with chestnut mushrooms, Dolcelatte and rocket. I'd also roasted some pine nuts so these were sprinkled over and the whole thing was given some ooomph with a drizzle of really excellent balsamic. Not bad, considering.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Ambassadors

Living in London means that I've learnt there's nothing worse than sleeping late on a Sunday morning and discovering that your chosen venue stops serving eggs at noon. I'm always on the look out for a nice place to get brunch.

I'd been meaning to get to the Ambassadors in Exmouth Market for a while now so Bri and I took a break from delivering unwanted furniture to a variety of Australians and dropped in to read the Sunday papers.

It's a funny old space; all formica and plastic banquettes in a palette primarily of sludge green. There's a table full of newspapers for the grown-ups and some colouring books for the kids. I was heartened to see the table next to us were having tea and sharing a large, old-fashioned brown teapot. The menu, in a sludgey plastic folder, natch, was short, but offered many distractions. Should it be the Londoner's sausage sandwich? A goat cheese omlette? Homemade waffles with sweet-cure bacon? Oooh, you can have a poached egg with that too. The menu's not long, but it's perfectly formed. You could have a simple breakfast, some museli with sourdough toast and their very moorish homemade seville marmalade, or go the whole hog with a three coure lunch. We took a middle road, with some toast and coffee to start and then the sausage sandwich for me and a parsnip, bleu d'Auvergne and walnut salad for him.

It was all very, very good although the sandwich defeated me. This is seriously good sausage, but they might want to think about serving it in a smaller bap. I'll be back; I'm already planning a post-Killy supper with John!

Labels: , , ,

Mutton Hotpot

A late afternoon trip to my local butcher, Frank Godfrey, turned up some lovely looking mutton last week. I'd been meaning to try some for a couple of weeks but the rush to move and finish work hadn't left me with much time for cooking. It's a rare day I'm out of the office early, but I took advantage of a cheeky half day and the cold snap to make an old classic.

I was in the mood for lots of veggies and I know that hotpot is traditionally served with no accompaniment so I went a bit mad on the veg. I chopped everything into good size pieces because I knew this was going to get about two hours on about 160 degrees. Four carrots, a small swede, two white onions, three celery sticks and two turnips went in, along with about 600g of mutton which had been coated in flour and fried until caramelised without. Some chicken stock, bay leaves, seasoning and garlic completed the picture. I sliced some lovely Cyprus potatoes and layered them up after about 90 minutes of cooking.

The whole house smelled amazing amazing and Bri went back for thirds. The snow came the next day...but this was the perfect insulation.

Labels: , , , ,

Beard Papa Creme Puffs, London

All good things come to those who wait. So goes the saying. A friend had blogged about the arrival of Beard Papa’s just before Christmas, and I was determined to try these delicious sounding vanilla puffs. So I set off for Oxford Street. In my inimitable style I’d neglected to make a note of the address and I was slightly vague on the name. I think I’d figured my food radar would somehow just get me there. I even called directory enquires and shouted at the operator when they told me that “Papa Bears in WC1 doesn’t exist”. Yes, I am that stupid.

So I went home empty cream puff handed.

The puffs slipped from my mind until yesterday when I was thinking of a treat for a friend who wasn’t feeling so good. This time I knew the name and that it was on Oxford Street, as I’d spied the bright yellow facade as the number 73 crawled past one day. I’ve always hated the new bendy buses, but never so much as when we were stalled outside a provider of cream filled choux pastry and I couldn’t get off. Bring back the RouteMasters, I say.

But yesterday I finally got my paws on these puffs! You get five for six pounds in a cute little yellow box. The nice waitress asked how long it would be before I ate them (clearly not recognising my greasy weasel tendencies as I had planned to scarf a couple on the tube, but she shamed me into saving them until I got see David) and kindly popped an ice cube into the box to keep them cool on the journey. As one of those people who finds it hard to sleep with snack food in the house, I cannot tell you how frustrating it was to wait to get my hands on my first Beard Papa puff. But it was worth it.

I love the packaging and I love the product. The contrast between the cool, thick, creamy custard and the short, crisp choux bun was a delight. There’s even contrast on the bun with the powder sugar coated, thin top and the thicker, crispier base. The word on the street is that the vanilla is the best flavour, but I shall be back to try their chocolate éclairs, which they claim are coming soon.

I love them so much I went back the next day for more. Everyone in my office loves me now.

Beard Papas: Corner of Oxford and Berwick Street, opposite the Plaza shopping centre.

Labels: , , ,