Monday, 30 December 2013

What Joanna Ate Top 13 of 2013

2013 was the year of hyrid baked goods (did you try a Duffin or Cronut?), even more burger places (escaping any horse in them), speakeasies continued to be not so secret, Negronis were everywhere, and there seemed to be lots of new Korean and Peruvian openings.

As it’s nearly 2014, I thought it was apt to give a round-up of my food highlights in 2013 – this list is a mixture of my favourite recipes, books, restaurants and trips (no particular order).  What were your food and drink highlights of the year?

1) Best birthday meal at Midsummer House – I was treated by my mum for lunch at Midsummer House in Cambridge (with its 2 Michelin stars).  This was the best meal of the year – faultless and inventive cooking, and not stuffy – they even gave us a tour of the kitchen at the end.  The lunch menu is brilliant value, and you must have a cup of tea or coffee at the end just for the bottereaux (little beignet/doughnut diamonds) and the chocolates – a giant wooden box with rows of various intricately made treats.

2) Some of your 5 a day at Grain Store  Grain Store was one of my favourite openings of 2013.  Bruno Loubet’s menu focuses on vegetables rather than the meat or fish, for a refreshing (and affordable) restaurant in the airy King’s Cross site. 

Feta Cheesecake at Honey & Co
3) Fabulous (feta) cheesecake at Honey & Co – I loved the whole meal at the tiny, fragrant and delicious Honey & Co.  You must try the falafel (I’m a sucker for good falafel) or the whole of the giant mezze selection, but the cheesecake was the best bit.  A crispy nest of kadaif pastry underneath a dollop of mascarpone, honey and non-salty feta, with white peach and Greek oregano.

Berners Tavern
4) A number of Social openings, along with a Tavern – Jason Atherton’s places in London are consistently excellent, with a spate of new openings this year.  In 2013 the excellent Pollen St Social was joined by Little Social nearby (cosy bistro food), then Social Eating House (I love the bar upstairs, with its classy snacks) and finally Berners Tavern (one of the most beautiful dining rooms in London).  Some of my favourite lunches out this year, with the rooms, food, service and drinks spot on.

5) More easy. delicious recipes from Nigel Slater – He is one of my favourite food writers, who crops up a number of times on my cookbook shelf (the photography and food styling is beautiful too).  Do go out a buy a copy of Eat – it’s a little book packed with simple and tasty recipes, some with only 2 or 3 ingredients.  Really accessible, and the most useful and used book of my collection.  Other books I’ve used a lot this year included Fuschia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice, Bill Granger’s Easy Asian, Rick Stein’s India and the Polpo cookbook.

Snegl & Hot Chocolate in Copenhagen
6) Hotdogs and cinnamon pastries in chilly Copenhagen – The city is very chic, shown in all the restaurants, cafes and bakeries.  We survived the cold with lots of thick hot chocolate and cinnamon pastries, and had the best hot dog ever – search out the truck at the bottom of one of the towers.  Do go to the meatpacking area for trendy bars and restaurants too.

7) Different (often cheaper) cuts of meat – I liked experimenting in the kitchen with new cuts of meat (especially pork cheeks, and beef shin).  I loved the bacon rib at Foxlow, and the short-rib bourgignon at Smokehouse.  In 2014, I’d recommend going to your local butcher (my Clerkenwell favourites are McKenna on Theobalds Road, and Turner & George on St John Street), and trying new cuts, which are often much cheaper than the usual joints/fillets/breasts etc.

8) Perfect (and cheap as) chips at the Regency Café – The reward for best value meal of the year goes to this archetypal café.  There’s a massice choice – any kind of breakfast you could want, along with excellent fish and chips.  A London institution, and rightly so.

Gelato in Milan
9) Lots of Gelato in northern Italy – My first trip to Italy was to Milan and Lake Como.  Milan was filled with aperitivo – lots of snacks to accompany Prosecco and Aperol spritz (all free when you buy a drink, generally between 5 and 7ish in most bars).  The daily ritual in Lake Como involved gelato – chalky green pistachio, cocoa-rich dark chocolate and nutty hazelnut my favourite.  It really is the best ice-cream.

Biryani at Gymkhana
10) The best curry at Gymkhana – Voted by my family as perhaps the best Indian restaurant (and we have tried a few).  Faultless cooking and expertly fragrant and spiced dishes.  Do try and get a table (and try the biryani) if you can – it might be a little tricky, as all the critics loved it too.

11) Moorish Moro and Morito on Exmouth Market – After cooking lots from the books (my favourites are fish tagine and the patatas bravas), I finally made it to the lovely Moro, where I discovered the multiple carb koshary.  Morito next door is still one of my favourite tapas places in London – my favourite dish is the humble sounding yet delicious fried chickpeas.               
Taralli & Aperol Spritz in Puglia
12) Puglia, the tastiest part of Italy – The best week of food goes to Puglia.  The boot is where lots of vegetables (especially olives are grown) – all were deliciously fresh (I loved the white aubergine).  If you go, make sure to have a bowl of the little taralli, orrecchiette pasta and burrata cheese.

13) Porridge, but a little more interesting – It’s not the most glamorous of dishes, but I start most mornings with a bowl.  This  year I experimented more – try almond or coconut milk, cook with grated apple or blueberries, or top with seeds, honey, berry compote or roasted plums/pears.

Friday, 27 December 2013

What Joanna Ate at Christmas (& a few thoughts for Christmas dinners to come)

Christmas is now a few days gone.  They’ll be lots of people still ploughing through that turkey (in a sandwich with stuffing is always my favourite method of using it up).  But I thought I’d still share some of my festive cooking, with tips for Christmases to come if anything.

Christmas day always starts with brunch – this year sourdough toast, smashed avocado (with plenty of salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon), fried eggs and ham.  The ham was cooked for Christmas eve (a tradition in our house), simmered in apple juice for a couple of hours with leeks, carrots and a sprinkling of juniper berries.  A jug of Bloody Mary set it all off – I used lovely, smooth Chase vodka (made from potatoes), with a good glug of tobasco, Worcestershire sauce and sprinkling of celery salt with the tomato juice (along with a little lemon juice and bit of dry sherry).

This was followed by a late lunch/early dinner.  We started with gravadlax – it’s very simple to make, and a better texture than the pre-sliced packet kind.  It’s cured in the fridge for 48 hours in a mixture of dill, gin (you could use vodka or schnapps), sugar, salt and white pepper.  This was a Simon Hopkinson recipe, served with lightly pickled cucumber and a dill and mustard sauce.  The perfect light start to the roast main course.

I’ve cooked turkey a number of times, last year was a bone-in rib of beef (cooked at 50c for 5 hrs – perfectly pink), but this year a goose.  It’s often called a bit tricky, so after a bit of research, I decided legs off was best way forward.  When the box of goose came from the fancy butcher’s, they hadn’t just taken the legs off, but the whole bottom half of the goose.  It did look a bit of a Frankenstein goose and I don’t know if this is right – do enlighten me if you have the answer. 

I followed a Raymond Blanc recipe (with detached legs) as well as I could with the slightly strange two goose halves.  You cook the legs first at a low temperature, before adding the crown and cooking at a high heat for 30 mins, then both parts at a lower heat for 30 mins, then the legs for an extra 30 mins, with resting.  A lot of fat will come out, so make sure you have a deep tray - this method was pretty fool proof, and the meat tender.

I didn’t stuff the goose itself, as I thought it best to keep it simpler for the cooking. Instead, a great recipe from Nigel Slater with sausagemeat, mashed chickpeas, lemon zest/juice and mint – the chickpeas add a nice cragginess to the texture (I rolled it into balls).  

For the perfect roast potatoes, par-boil until soft at the edges, and leave the steam to escape, before adding to the hot fat – I used some of the extra goose fat.  For the obligatory sprouts, try the red kind or brussel tops if you can find them.   Steam, then sauté with butter and a little garlic (pancetta or lardons would be a perfect addition).

The Christmas pudding was Dan Lepard's Simple Christmas Pudding recipe from his Short & Sweet book (my baking bible) – one of the best I’ve tried, with lots of figs and studded with whole almonds.  Don’t bother with brandy butter – it’s all about a spoonful of clotted cream with its golden crust.

To finish, a little more Christmas baking – here’s my simple way to decorate a Christmas cake.  Just roll out marzipan and cut out stars, and stick on with dried fruit and nuts filling the gaps (use warmed honey or apricot jam as glue).

Now it’s nearly time for everyone to finish off their leftover sandwiches/curries/bubble and squeak, and get the bubbles ready for NYE.  I’m currently working on my food highlights of 2013 to celebrate the end of the year - what were your favourite meals of this year?

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Rita's Bar & Dining, Hackney

I originally wrote about Rita’s when it had a temporary residency at Birthdays in Dalston.  I especially loved the fried chicken roll and patty melt – all American unhealthy, but utterly delicious.

Rita’s has now found a permanent home on Mare Street in Hackney.  It’s simple inside, with a mixture of tables (which you can book) and stools at the bar (for walk-ins).  There’s a bar menu with some of the more snacky things, along with the full menu including these and some bigger dishes.

We shared a number of the smaller dishes, which included a crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside fried cheese (£4.50), perfect with their homemade pickles (£3).  The Szechuan pepper squid (£6) was fried, sticky and delicious, and the soy ginger chicken wings (£6) were dark, hot and messy (just as they should be). 

There were a few repeats from the earlier visit – the patty melt (£6.50) was just as good, the mixture of mince and cheese, fried until the bread is crisp on the outside, with a slice of briny pickle on the side.  The mac and cheese (£4.50) comes with green chilli and guacamole, and we tried some other sides including crispy crushed potatoes and pumpkin and edamame succotash.

We didn’t have a chance to try lots on the menu – I especially like the sound of rabbit in Thai spices and coconut, barbecued at some point in the cooking (a special on the evening we visited).  I’ll return for the crispy duck with mooli slaw and pig’s head noodles – the menu is an interesting combination of Asian flavours, alongside American.

The cocktails are excellent – I loved the Hard Cider (cider and rum, an excellent boozy combination), and the wine is really reasonable.  The number 55 bus stops just outside Rita’s, and just by my flat – I’ll be back soon.

Rita's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Street Feast at Hawker House

Since launching in May 2012, Street Feast has transformed unusual empty spaces in London to some of the best street food markets.  You can spend the evening trying some of the best that London’s street food trucks and stalls have to offer, all in one place with great drinks.  It’s perfect to go with a group, and share lots of the different foods (anything from burgers and ribs, to lobster or tacos).

Street Feast has moved around – this summer it was in Merchant’s Yard on Kingsland Road, and has been in their Hawker House venue just off Hackney Road for the last 6 weeks.  Last night was the last of this run, with their special Twisted Christmas night (and day).

I wouldn’t usually write about something you can’t visit, but they are having one more night of Hawker House for New Year’s Eve if you fancy that (£10 for a ticket, so a bit of a bargain for that great rip-off night out in London).  You can also sample the food on offer at other places the different street food vans and stalls park up, and I’m pretty sure there will be new Street Feast venues in 2014.

My favourite dish last night was the rather decadent lobster mac and cheese from Bob’s Lobster, with rich sauce studded with chunks of sweet lobster.  They currently have a pop-up residency above The Rising Sun pub in St Paul’s, with a longer menu, but the same ethos of using fancy ingredients in more accessible ways.  It’s on my list of places to go very soon – their lobster roll also looked delicious.

The other favourite is Yum Bun – I’ve written about their delicious steamed buns before (they will be moving from this site to a bigger one in 2014).  Along with their classic pork belly, there was duck special crammed with crispy meat and plum sauce. 

We also had excellent sliders from The Slider Bar (Breddos at The Player bar in Soho the rest of the time) – they were up there with Patty & Bun and MeatMission, with pink patties and tangy cheese and pickles.  The pork ribs at Smokestak were tender, smoky and perfect with the tangy sauce (just a little messy), and to finish, the plum pudding ice-cream from Sorbitium Ices was brilliant – full of spice, and very creamy (I checked with them, and it's full of boozy plumped fruit and black treacle).

The best drinks were the hot cocktails – a Hot Toddy could definitely be medicinal, and I loved the hot buttered rum (will be trying out at home).

Keep an eye out for where Street Feast will be next year – it's usually free before 7pm, then £3 after (with paid tickets for special events like last night, or NYE).

Fruity Filo Mince Pies

It’s now the 15th December, so I thought it was high time I gave you  a Christmas recipe – today it’s my take on the mince pie. 

I like the classic kind if the shortcrust pastry is good enough (it needs to be properly buttery), but my new favourite is a little lighter, made with filo pastry instead.  I also mix the mincemeat with chopped bramley apple, and add extra dried fruit (cranberries and apricots work perfectly), to lift the dark mincemeat.  They look very pretty with a sprinkling of icing sugar and the star-like points of pastry.

Makes 24 – you need a small fairy cake tin (I made two batches of 12)
1 packet filo pastry (270g, 6 sheets)
1 jar mincemeat (410g)
1 large bramley apple (peeled, cored and diced)
175g dried apricots (roughly chopped)
100g dried cranberries
30g melted butter
Icing sugar (to dust)

  • Preheat the oven to 180
  • Mix the mincemeat, apple, dried apricots and cranberries
  • Cut 4 sheets of the pastry into 6 squares (approximately 10cm each)
  • Lay a square over each hole in the tray, before pushing into the dip gently
  • Brush the pastry with a little melted butter, before laying another square over the first (the opposite way to the first, with the corners in the middle of the flat edges of the first square)

  • Place a spoonful of the mincemeat filling into each pie, making sure it’s nice and full
  • Cut the remaining pastry into strips, and cover the top of each pie with 1 or 2 scrunched up, so the filling is covered
  • Brush the tops with a tiny bit more melted butter before baking for approximately 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy (cover with foil if they brown too quickly before being cooked underneath)
  • Dust with a little icing sugar before serving

I also made a more indulgent batch of these little mince pies.  Baklava was the inspiration, with its sticky nuts between sheets of filo.  I melted 50g butter, then mixed in 100g chopped mixed nuts and 40g soft brown sugar.  The method is similar to the above – just put a little of the above mixture between the first and second filo sheet.  It gives a wonderful caramel nutty crunch underneath the fruit and mincemeat.

Finally, to help any Scrooges out there, here's a festive cat picture (E's cat Ginger).

Monday, 9 December 2013

Gymkhana, Mayfair

There’s been much debate in my family on the best curry to be had.  Is it my bargain London favourite Tayyabs, with its sizzling, smoking lamb chops, or the nearby Lahore Kebab House with mounds of crunchy pakora?  Or maybe it’s Akbars (in my uni town of York, and nearby northern cities), with its giant naans hanging like sheets from their spikes?  Perhaps even Mumtaz in Bradford, or one of the fancy London places, like Quilon, Benares, The Red Fort or The Cinnamon Club.  There are merits of the cheaper, pared back BYOB places, or the posher takes, with very different experiences and plates of food.

I had read fantastic reviews of Gymkhana.  I had to suggest going there, to see if it was a contender for the short-list.  It opened on Mayfair’s Albermarle Street a few months ago, with a bar below and restaurant above.  The room is very elegant – all dark lacquered wood, mirrors and hunting paraphernalia to evoke smart gymkhana clubs of British Raj India (complete with pretty plates).

The menu is split into various sections – from the bar part we had crisp balls of gourd and aubergine pakora (£4.50) with an intensely green and minty sauce, alongside little papads (£3) with excellent mango chutney and a sticky prawn relish.  

There’s a selection of kebabs and tikka, so we had the turkey tikka (£10) for a nod to festivity.  The meat was tender, with a punchy little mustard, sprouting moong bean, cucumber and tomato salad – it’s great to see mustard used in such a strong, but different way, and it worked really well with the more subtle turkey.

From the curries, the pork cheek vindaloo (£18) had melting meat in a dark, richly cinnamon sauce. The biryani (£25) arrived with a pastry sealed lid, cut open to reveal the buttery rice, heady with saffron and mixed with the wild muntjac deer (there's a game focus to the menu) and crispy onions.  
We also had the soft squidgy baby aubergines and a side of onion salad (£1) – even this was delicious (a little different to the bags of raw onion salad with lots of takeaways, that always seem to be binned).  The bread basket (£5) consisted of 3 naan – one plain, one garlic and one with black sesame, all crispy and with a lovely ghee sheen. Everything was deeply fragrant and perfectly spiced, with distinct flavours, along with the right levels of heat (a good kick, but nothing over-powering and eye watering).

The spicing continued with the desserts.  The first a jaggery and black pepper caramel custard (£7), with the right wobble and dark butterscotch from the jaggery (a type of unrefined sugar) and tingling warmth from the pepper. We also had the saffron jelly (£7), which came with an interesting mixture of little wiggles of vermicelli, wild basil seeds and basundi (sweetened milk).

Gymkhana isn’t cheap, but the meal was more refined, with the dainty silver dishes and excellent service, but not over primped.  They do a good value early evening menu of £25 for 4 courses as one option, or you could always pop into the bar for a drink and snack. 

We decided Gymkhana was potentially one of, if not the, best Indian restaurants we've tried.   A very bold claim indeed.  I just need to convince my Dad (the ultimate curry lover) to go again with me soon (and pay).  I don't think it should be too hard.

Gymkhana on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden

Bone Daddies is one of the first restaurants I wrote about on my blog.  It was one of the spate of ramen bars that opened last year, all with their slurpy, slippery noodles in steaming broth (Tonkotsu, Shoryu among others).  I loved their Tonkotsu ramen in the little restaurant tucked in Soho, even if the porky broth is too rich for me to finish – definitely no added pipettes of fat in mine (a little extra you can order).

The people of Bone Daddies opened Flesh & Buns in Covent Garden earlier this year.  Instead of bowls of noodles, their namesake dish is home-made steamed buns, with different meat or fish to stuff inside.

We tried the pork chop tonkatsu (£13) in the buns, which came crisply crumbed and very tasty, but a tiny bit greasy.  We also had the grilled kimchi spiced lamb chops (£19.50), with a little bit of pulling off needed to squash into the pillowy buns, along with their excellent pickles.  There was even an extra plate of pickles (£3) – my favourite was the little tangy mushrooms.

There’s lots else on the menu, including a selection of sushi and sashimi, which we passed on this time.  To start, we had salted edamame (£3.50) and delicious broccoli with spicy, citrus yuzu mayo (£5), cooked with just the right bite to it.  The bowl of Japanese pepper squid was perfect, and really generous for the £8 (nearly as good as Foxlow’s squid a few weekends ago).

It’s a long underground room, with a similar relaxed feel to Bone Daddies.  It’s more expensive for a meal here (£10ish for a bowl of ramen at Bone Daddies), especially by the time you have had a few starters, flesh (fish or meat) and the buns (which are extra at £2.50 for 2).  

Overall it’s a tasty place in the middle of Covent Garden (much trickier than nearby Soho for good food).  I just need to return to try their S’more dessert – you get a little table theatre with a mini camp-fire to toast your marshmallows.

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon