Sunday 29 June 2014

Food Porn #7: Ice Cream of Brilliance

Never before, in the field of ice cream making, have so many awesome flavours been combined into one delicious ice cream.  Well done, Boho Gelato, of Brighton. 

Just about the proper time of year, right?

Friday 27 June 2014

Whisky Cured Salmon & Tattie Scones

OK, just to make it clear how horrifically far behind I am with some of my blogging, here's something that I made for Burn's Supper earlier this year.  For those of you who aren’t in Scotland, that was like back in January.  I am that late.
This is another fantastic dinner party dish, because it's something that looks incredible and your guests will think you must be chef-extraordinaire, but which in reality is easier to do than boiling a kettle.  I made little tattie scones to serve the salmon on because it was all Scottish themed (Burn's Supper, aye?) but it would go just as well on blinis or even little oatcakes – a recipe for which I have already furnished you with here.
Right, first up, make the scones.  These can sit in the fridge overnight. 
500g unpeeled potatoes (I've used désirée because it makes a great creamy mash)
50g butter, plus a bit more for cooking
125g plain flour
1 tbs sunflower oil
Put the tatties in a pan of salted water and bring to the boil.  You want them cooked as if you were going to do mash, but by leaving the skins on you can cook them without waterlogging them, which is important for making the dough.

Once they're done, drain the potatoes in a colander and then balance the colander over the hot, empty pan for a few minutes so that the tatties dry off.  By the way, don’t do this if your colander is made of plastic.  This sounds self-evident, but it's not – a friend at uni once did this and we had to endure some very melty-plasticy tasting pasta – not cool for dinner party guests. 
As soon as you can handle them, peel the skins off.  You're in a real quandary here – whilst they're hot the skin will come away pretty easily, leaving behind most of the flesh.  But at this stage they're way too hot to hold, unless your my gran with asbestos hands.  Once you can hold on to them the skins won’t come off.  Good luck with that, yeah?
Right, chuck in the butter and mash it up.  Do this properly, get a ricer and mash it thoroughly – you're making a dough here, so lumps just won't cut it.  Just be sure not to get this ricer from Amazon.  It may be cheap but it's utter shit.  I wrote this review.

Rightho, once that's done, mix in the flour.  Carefully.  You should have a pretty sticky dough by now, so you have to be quite patient. 

Roll your dough out onto the work surface, having made sure to dust the surface with flour first.  Cut the scones into the shapes you want.  I was making a starter (sort of) so I wanted large blini-sized scones.  You may go classic and attempt triangles – especially if you're going to use them for a good old cooked brekkie. 

Get the pan going: heat it up to a medium to high heat, add a knob of butter and a drizzle of sunflower oil, just enough grease so that the pan is lubricated, and cook your scones off in batches.  They take about 2-3 minutes a side to look like this. 

These are great because they can just be wrapped up in cling film and kept in the fridge for a few days until needed.

To make the salmon you will need:

1 side of salmon
150g sea salt
150g caster sugar
100ml whisky (go decent, but not expensive)

Again, this is absurdly easy.  You need to make sure the salmon is super fresh – which means going to a fishmonger, not Sainsbury's.  Go to a good fishmonger too, like Moxon's and ask for sushi grade salmon – they'll know what you need.  That's what I did and no one died, so, yay.  Also, you'll need cling film (a few meters at least).

If it's in big, pyramid crystals (eg. Maldon), grind the sea salt to a powder.  Mix the salt and the sugar together, so that they are fully combined. 

Lay out a piece of cling film about twice the length of the fish.  Spread out half of the salt-sugar mix onto this piece of cling film so you have a nice pillow for the fish to rest on.  The pillow should be no bigger than your piece of fish. 

With the fish on a dinner plate, carefully pour about half the whisky over the bottom of your side of salmon.  As you do so you should (very) gently massaging the spirit into the fish.  Lots of the whisky will dribble off onto the plate, but don’t worry – you can reuse this (hence doing it on a plate and not, for example, a chopping board).  Then place this bottom side onto the salt-sugar pillow. 

Next, cover the salmon with the rest of the salt-sugar mix then carefully pour the remainder of the whisky, plus anything that ended up on the plate from the last step, over the salmon.  Try to make sure it doesn't run off and away – although it'll probably be soaked up by the salt-sugar anyway.  Now wrap the fish tightly in a few layers of cling film.

The fish needs approximately 12 hours in the fridge from here – so this is one to do first thing in the morning if it's going to be part of a dinner party.  It'll keep for about 12 more hours, but I wouldn’t want to risk it further. 

Once it's done its time, get it out, unwrap it (discarding the salt-sugar) and wash the salt off.  Pat dry with kitchen towel before slicing oh-so-finely (harder than it looks!). 

Assembly goes like this: Scone, crème fraiche, salmon ribbons, serve.

Very impressive

 - GrubsterBoy -

Monday 23 June 2014

The Breakfast Club

Anyone who's hung about in the vicinity The Breakfast Club's various locations across this fine city will know it's popular.  You know it's popular because there's always a queue.  And the queue is always, always looooooong.

I remember when GrubsterGirl was living up in the barren northlands of Angel, during our early courtship days, we always used to go to a pub called the Elk in the Woods for brunch on a Saturday.  We always went because we always wanted to go The Breakfast Club and couldn’t get in and couldn’t face a 45 minute queue.  I remember thinking at the time "golly, that place must be good, why else would someone wait in the cold and the rain for the best part of an hour for a breakfast burrito?" (remember that this is before the time that burritos were big news, much less ones stuffed with breakfast) (and, yes, I am the kind of person that uses the word 'golly' in my internal monologue). 

I'm sure that someone, somewhere, has done a study on this – I can see some version of Don Draper and Peggy Olsen hanging around in smoke-filled rooms chatting about the results of some survey or market research that proves it – we all know that the more popular a place is, or at least looks, the better it must be.  So goes The Breakfast Club.  It's good, and we know it's good, because there's always a complete fucker of a queue.

Which brings me to this: I finally went to The Breakfast Club. 

There's a new(ish) one in Battersea, at the top of the Clapham Common side of Battersea Rise.  It's been there a few months and is not too far a stretch from our home, although I have always been put off by the queues.  You see, the weekend it opened – on its very first day – I remember walking by and seeing an epic queue.  So I've always avoided it slightly.

But, you see, both GG and I were off on a working day, so we figured we would be safe, there would be no queue.


OK, so the queue wasn't long.  In fact, it was non-existent when we arrived: there was another couple waiting to be seated when we walked in, but that was it. 

However, clearly smelling blood, we were taken outside and actively arranged in a queue.  This was odd, thought I, because there seemed to be some free tables inside – they must all be booked thought I, because otherwise they'd seat us.  As another couple walked by on the pavement I could see them clock that, even at 11am on a weekday morning The Breakfast Club had a queue, and I could see in their faces the dawning realisation that The Breakfast Club must be jolly good because it had a queue even at this decidedly off-peak time of day.  Just as I imagine it was dawning on my face that I was being played.

This realisation became a certainty when we were eventually seated and shown into a dining room that was, at best, half empty.  Quick note for the management: Being used as impromptu free marketing for a restaurant I'm about to give money to does not whet my appetite in any way; on the contrary it starts the meal with a slightly bitter taste.

We ordered drinks to enjoy whilst we read the menus: a pitcher of fresh 'beetlejuice', a medley of beetroot, carrot, apple and ginger.  We also ordered a couple of cappuccinos.  More about them later.

The menu is an eclectic mix – fun if you like a range of options at breakfast, drifting from their infamous breakfast burrito through the standard full English and eggs benedict, to more filling non-breakfasty foods. 

We ordered, to be shared between us, Boston Beans, a bowl of homemade baked beans with barbequed pork, a fried egg and French toast, and Huevos Al Benny, a bit like eggs benedict if you swapped the ham for chorizo, roasted peppers and guacamole and sprinkled the whole thing with fresh chillies and paprika.  The latter came with a side of home fried potatoes.  Don’t know why.

The beans were, at best, disappointing.  They were homemade, that part was accurate.  The egg was fried – although solid as a rock.  The pork was virtually non-existent.  By which I mean we go two scraps – one each, yay!

We liked the eggs.  It's not an obvious combo, but it's one that works.  The eggs were fresh and beautifully poached and the hollandaise had just the right balance of richness to vinegar.  The chorizo was good – although could have done with being peeled (no, really, it had an inedible, un-cuttable sausage skin that I'm pretty sure should have come off before cooking).  The avocado was good touch as well.  The home fries I could take or leave.

Oh, hang on what's this?  Yup, that would be a HAIR IN MY FOOD.  Not cool, Breakfast Club, not cool.  It's joked about a lot, but have you ever actually found a hair in your food?  I'm not sure that I have.  Or, at least, I hadn't until that day.  Sure, it was dealt with fairly well (swept away and replaced, albeit still charged for) but you know what's better than the chef leaving one of his black curly hairs in your food and then having it dealt with well?  Yup, that's right: the chef NOT leaving a hair in your food. 

You remember the juice and coffees I mentioned?  You know, the ones where I said "more about them later"?  OK, so these arrived now. 

This is an absolute pet hate of mine.  It's not that hard to get drinks out before food arrives.  Or, if it is, that's why I pay you to run a restaurant – and why I don’t, why I couldn’t.  So we had nothing to drink with the first half of our meal and a shed load to drink for the second. 

On the juice front, if I'm honest, I have absolutely no complaints.  It was yummy – really, really yummy.  And, what's more, when you order a pitcher at the price of three glasses, rather than two glasses separately, I'm always afraid that will mean you get 2.01 glasses worth of drink.  Not here: there was a noticeable uplift from the quantity I could see other people got given in their single servings and the amount we got (and I am assuming this isn’t because we got forgotten).  So well done, Breakfast Club, you score points here. 

This is not a good review, I'm aware of that.  And I am sorry.  I never actually intended to write one of these.  You see, the thing is that blog-keeping is time consuming, and takes energy, and I wanted to do it to get away from negative things and to have a happy place.  So I decided from the outset that I wasn't going to deliberately write negative reviews – if I thought somewhere was pants, I just wouldn’t blog it. 

But this just wound me up.  Because it wasn't spectacular - or even especially good - even when they got it right.  Notwithstanding the unnecessary wait for a table, notwithstanding the fact that I involuntarily became part of their advertising, notwithstanding that our drinks were ridiculously late, notwithstanding the beans being boring and missing half of their ingredients, notwithstanding boring home fries, notwithstanding the HAIR IN MY FOOD, it was... OK, I guess.  And that is not enough to outweigh all of its issues.  It certainly doesn’t come close to enough to justify standing in line for your dinner.

 - GrubsterBoy -

PS: If you're reading this from Angel, and thinking about going to the Breakfast Club, can I heartily recommend The Elk in the Woods instead.  Or, alternatively, The Winchester is similarly jolly good and used to be extraordinarily good value.

Friday 20 June 2014

Moxon's Fish Bar

Friday is, traditionally, fish day.  Here's where you should get yourself some.

Moxon's has been around for ages.  It's a Clapham institution.  Tucked around the corner from Clapham South Tube, it's South West London's finest purveyor of wonderfully fresh fish and seafood.  My experience, also, is that they've yet to be flummoxed by an order.  You give them time, they can probably get it for you. 

What I hadn’t experienced, until very recently, is their fish and chips.  Sharing space on Balham Hill with a Chinese takeaway and a kebab shop that looks like it’s really pushing the boundaries of acceptable sanitation, Moxon's Fish Bar is a little slice of takeaway heaven.  Always crammed with hungry punters, you're a lucky soul (or sole – a-ha!) if you can squeeze yourself into the single, diminutive table.  But once you've grabbed it you're in for a treat. 

Moxon's is now selling what I am convinced is London's best fish and chips.  Yes, I know that's a big statement.  No, I don’t care.  Because I'm pretty sure I'm right.  The fish tastes so fresh it's hard to believe that you're so many miles from the sea.  The chips are perfect chippy chips.  The batter is light and crisp.  It's just bloody brilliant.

Go.  Go now.

 - GrubsterBoy

BTW: Anyone know what on earth this is supposed to be?  I aint touching it.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

B.O.B.'s Lobster at The Rising Sun

OK, so the problem with pop-ups and being me is as follows: by the time I get round to (read: pull my bloody finger out) writing about somewhere, it's gone. 
So B.O.B.'s Lobster's residency at the Rising Sun has now totally ended.  SORRY.  But I went so I'm going to tell you about it anyway – because I thought it was brillo pads.  Also, it's not totally in vain because (a) they're still running food trucks around the City; and (b) because it was good I reckon they'll be back for more at some point. 
First up on the menu were deep fried oysters.  I think we'd had these before in the US – in New Orleans, no less – and been confused by them.  I don’t think we liked them much to be frank.  So I'm not entirely sure why we ordered them here, but boy am I glad we did – very, very good.

Next up in our medley of dishes was shrimp and grits.  Now I am absolutely certain we'd had shrimp and grits before, again in the Deep South on the same road trip, and I can absolutely remember our reaction to them: We thought it was disgusting.  I have no idea why we ordered something we knew we hated.

But boy am I glad we did.  Because this dish was, hands down, one of the best all-round plates of food I have ever, ever had.  I have no idea how they made it that good, but you can be sure they did.  It was served up with a gorgeous hunk of pork belly - fantastic surf and turf.

Last starter was pig cheek soft tacos.  A little bit like Wahaca's now infamous pork pibil.  Sadly, a slight miss - nothing wrong with them, but I could have lived without I'm afraid.

On to the mains - again shared. 

In keeping with the theme of the place, we ordered the two lobster-based signature dishes.

Lobster mac & cheese was fantastic - so wonderfully homely and comforting.  The chef uses lobster bisque to make the sauce, and the mac is strewn with lumps of tail meat - it's just divine.  I could eat endless bowls of that stuff, I really could.

And then the lobster roll. 

This is kinda their core business - the pop-up being born from the ongoing lobster roll and prosecco truck that you'll see about the place at food fairs and markets (including, currently, Borough Market).  So you'd reckon that they'd get it right.  Fortunately, they did - this was absolutely spot on. Like, really, really good.  Perfect chargrilled brioche bun, stuffed to the gunnels with lobster meat, and very little mucking about with mayonnaise or other sauces to distract you.  Top marks.

They were also dishing up cocktails - some classic (ordered to request) and some less so.  Below we have the old fashioned and a mint julep.  They were good, but sadly nothing to write home about and, even more sadly, they were terribly slow to arrive. 

All in, if I was in the habit of giving marks out of 10 for a restaurant (which I am not, and I aint gonna start now) this would score well.  Sure, there were a few snags, but generally we enjoyed ourselves and ate very well.  I hope B.O.B's decide to give the restaurant thing another go before too long - they did it well.

 - GrubsterBoy -

Monday 16 June 2014

Wild Honey

So, I might have mentioned that, at some point relatively recently, I got older.  Significantly older. 
So GrubsterGirl took me out for dinner.  TWICE.  To Michelin restaurants.  I literally couldn’t be luckier.  I've already written about round one (Story), but now it's time to talk about round two: Wild Honey
Wild Honey describes itself as "a contemporary Mayfair timeless classic..." which sounds like just too much marketing bullspin to me.  Fortunately, it fails to live up to the self-imposed wanky motto and churns out, instead, phenomenally good food – and drink.
In our usual style – and to be fair to other pretenders – we kicked off proceedings with a round of cocktails.
I had a vesper.  This was lovely, but I am slightly disappointed – more in myself than anything else.  I could certainly have had something more exciting, even if this was perfectly put together.

GG, on the other hand, did have something more exciting: a Professor Cornelius Ampleforths’ Bramble.  Sadly, this didn’t quite live up to the expectation.

It's also worth mentioning at this juncture that they serve a lot of their wines in 250ml carafes.  This is a flipping brilliant idea and one that all restaurants should have to do.  It gives pleasure in two ways: one, it lets you chop and change your wine throughout the meal; and two, it lets you not drink an entire bottle if you don’t want to.  Which meant there was more room for cocktails. 
Whilst we perused the menu we were brought a plate of spicy fried onions.  These were yummy.  However, they were a touch onion bhaji-esque, and so a little out of place in a restaurant serving otherwise contemporary British food.  I'm also not entirely sure why we had them, or what they were for.

My starter was vitello tonnato, a dish of cold, wafer-thin veal doused in creamy tuna dressing.  It was absolutely divine and, despite its size, not as frighteningly filling as you'd expect.  The veal was beautiful, moist and fresh, not at all dry.  The dressing was similarly perfect, with a hint of tuna rather than being overpowering.

GG had the crab salad with avocado.  The crab was delicate, fresh white meat – very tasty – whilst the avocado took the form of a sort of avocado and coriander soup.  Slight Mexican influences shone through – backed up by the accompaniment of a small plate of chicharrónes, a kind of Mexican pork scratching, that was slightly unnecessary.

GG followed her starter with slow-cooked short rib of beef, served with beetroot.  She definitely won in the main course stakes – this was simply amazeballs.  The beef was soft, tender, juicy, flavoursome – all of things anyone could want from such a meal, and perfectly offset by the beetroot.

But even if she did win, I came an incredibly close second.  I had slow-cooked neck and rack of Welsh lamb, served with braised radishes and a crushed pea and sheep's cheese accoutrement.  This was fantastic.  Top rate – fresh, springtime flavours perfectly complimenting one another.  I have a soft spot for rack of lamb especially, something this dish only served to remind me of.

GG finished up with honey ice cream and honeycomb.  I didn’t actually try this, but she seemed very content.

Whilst I went for the cheese. One negative comment here: it would have been nice to know what I was eating, but sadly this information was not volunteered.  (By the way, in case you're wondering - sure, those portions look small, but there's more than enough cheese there for one person.  Seriously.)

And then, with coffee, some delightful little petit fours arrived.

I'd also like to say a little thing about the staff.  They were wonderful.  Seriously wonderful.  Lovely people, that made us feel at home and never once stuffy or condescending – which is sadly all too rare.  There was a slight mix-up with the bill and the manager tried to take service off – it's the only time I have ever had to argue to have it put back on – he was absolutely adamant that we should not pay for service following an error, mistakes "shouldn’t happen at our level".  Needless to say, I won that argument – but it just goes to show, I think, the evident dedication to making your dining experience flawless.

All in all this was a fantastic meal.  Brilliantly executed dishes, great service, a really lovely spot. 

 - GrubsterBoy -

Friday 13 June 2014


OK, these are ridiculously easy and very likely to make your guests think you are a genius wünderchef of epic proportions.  They're the perfect accompaniment to blue or strong, mature hard cheeses – I'd personally go for something a touch lighter with a stinky soft cheese, but they still work (trust me, I've tried). 
There's also a terrifically simple selection of ingredients:
150g porridge oats
150g coarse oatmeal
1tsp coarse ground black pepper
½ tsp salt
75ml olive oil

Use a good olive oil but not your best - you don't want the taste to come through.

On the porridge oats front, don’t use these.  They're Sainsbury's TTD big, crunchy rolled oats.  They make fantastic porridge but terrible oatcakes – they're just too rough.  Go for a much simpler (and often cheaper) porridge oat – the graininess you need comes from the oatmeal.

Because we're not America, oatmeal can be difficult to get hold of over here – especially of the coarse cut variety.  However, Holland & Barrett sell it.  This recipe produced grainy, crunchy, chewy oatcakes, which is how you ought to like them.  If you don’t like them like that then (a) just use a fine milled oatmeal; and (b) you're weird.

First, get that oven on to 190°C / 180°C (fan assisted).  Get the kettle on too.

Get out a big bowl and mix the porridge oats, oatmeal, salt and pepper altogether.  Add the olive oil and stir.  Then add about half a cup of boiling water to the oats and mix them up.  Keep adding water bit-by-bit until you get a sticky dough (but not a porridge – although this can be rectified by the judicious application of more oats).  If you find here that it's just not becoming a dough – probably because you've refused to heed my advice and used really good porridge oats – you can stick half / two thirds of the mix into the blender to make it finer.  Of course, then you'll have to clean the blender.

Next, flour the work surface and roll out the dough.  You want it as thin as possible (although beware: this is an ultra-sticky dough, so too thin can mean you can’t get it off the worktop without it tearing into tiny fragments).  Cut into the shapes you want and stick them onto a non-stick baking tray.  I found that flouring the baking tray was an utterly useless exercise, and in the event the finished oatcakes didn’t stick in the least. 

Get them in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes.  You want them to end up a soft golden brown.  A family friend who used to make oatcakes finished them off in a frying pan or a griddle, to give a little black charring around the edges.  If you don’t think life's too short, then why not give this a go.  I didn’t.

And that's just about it.  You see?  Easy peasey oatcake squeezy.  Or something like that.

 - GrubsterBoy -