Monday, 17 November 2014

Nuclear approach to cold management or a visit to the Sichuan Kitchen

Dark, drizzly and generally grim – gosh, welcome to London in autumn!   And just to truly celebrate all this bounty – the sniffles, colds and man flu [very vicious this one] arrives.  So when my colleague and I realised that illness was on the horizon, we decided to take the nuclear approach to cold management – bring on the Szechuan!

Nestled just behind Spitalfields before you get to brick lane proper is Sichuan Folk Kitchen on Hanbury Street which serves some of the best south-western Chinese food in London.  Now it isn’t posh and the décor is definitely not going to challenge Nobu but [probably being horribly politically incorrect] I always think it is a good sign when most of the customers in a Chinese restaurant are Chinese – and this is definitely the case here.

Having removed our wet coast, we were seated at one of the long [sometimes communal] tables and began perusing the menu [click here for a look].   Sichuan food is not generally subtle as it uses chilli, garlic and that most glorious of peppers, the Sichuan pepper.  This pepper not only provides heat but an aromatic undertone to the meal which is quite additive.

As our tea arrived, we started reeling off dishes to the bemused but polite waiter.  Seaweed and egg soup to warm us up followed by stir fried Chinese leaf, fish flavoured aubergine, fish in Sichuan style and dry fried chicken and chili’s.  The waiter was at pains to ensure that we had eaten there before as ‘the food is quite spicy’ – yes, we smiled dreamily it is isn’t it just.

The Seaweed and egg soup arrived first and to use one of the foodie words I despite, it was simply so flavourful.  It is like the best chicken soup your jewish grandmother ever made but she went a bit mad and added seaweed.

The greens arrived [full of chili and the deep flavour of garlic] then the fish which was spicy and a little sweeter than my companion [the very glamorous blond to paraphrase A.A. Gill] liked but none the less it was good.  

Then IT arrived, the dry fried chicken in chilli.  I have likened this to crack – in a far less destructive to local communities but as addictive way.

O my giddy aunt, the chicken is essentially deep fried with the chilli and presented to you on a platter where you have to dig through the chili to find the chicken.  It is like all of KFC’s wet dreams in one.   Yes, I did say that – gosh that was so good.

The fish flavoured aubergine is made with chili bean paste, soy sauce, black vinegar, and Sichuan pepper so you know it’s going to taste good and the name refers to the method of cooking rather than the taste.  

And then we were done, sitting quietly in a replete state buzzing from the mixture of spices sipping tea.   All in all as we walked back to Liverpool street, we agreed that £61 was not much to pay for a trip to the orient, a skip in our steps and the death of any viruses within 200 yards.



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Sichuan Folk on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Small and Perfectly Formed - A visit to Little Water

Now don’t get me wrong, I love wine!  Not in a horribly co-dependent way [or at least, I don’t think so] but a nice glass of red with dinner or a crisp chenin blanc is really rather lovely.  Sadly, a large glass of wine has 160 calories which is rather a lot – especially as I prefer to have more than one.

So spirits it is [48 calories per shot] which meant I was very excited when I heard of Little Water in Covent Garden.  Yes, this glorious establishment which pairs vodka with burgers and Scandinavian inspired starters – and even better, I had a Groupon voucher.

 Dragging my former boss as my bemused but tolerant guest, we arrived at Little Water to find that on a wet Wednesday night it wasn’t hugely busy [apparently Friday and Saturday are buzzing]. The décor is Nordic themed with clean lines but touches of comfort.

Sitting down, we perused the menu which was small but perfectly formed!  Yes, mushrooms on soda bread or Winter Salad [with the option to add chicken, cod or beef cheek].  The salad could also come with vegan feta cheese but I am not sure what type of crime against nature this is and I was certainly not sullying my vodka with this.

I chose Winter Salad with Cod [Basil Vodka] and she chose the plain Winter Salad [Finlandia] which arrived in a splash of colour.  The cod was a good sized piece and the salad was a carefully prepared mix of leaves, tomatoes, cucumber strips, radish, cashews and peppers topped with an Avocado dressing.  More than enough for a starter – verging on a main to be honest and very tasty.

The vodkas went well with the dishes and as we chatted about mutual friends and business contacts and life in general, we agreed that Basil vodka really was rather nice.  Burger, burger or burger was the mains choice – traditional, chicken, cod, vegan feta or beef cheek – with chips and a side salad.    

I opted for Beef cheek with celeriac puree which came with Kauffman Hard and made for a messy glorious burger.  Probably not first date food but for want of a better phrase ‘damn fine’.  The traditional cheese and bacon burger came with saffron vodka [another spirit revelation I would like to repeat again].

We skipped desert [remember those calories] but I did notice the sweet burger with chocolate which I will have to save until I’ve done more exercise, like swum the channel.  As we walked into the chilly night, we agreed that Little Water is a welcome innovation and revelation which is small and perfectly formed.

Defiantly worth a visit


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Little Water Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Red Wine and Soy Sauce Oxtail

I’m a Taurus – one of those star signs who respond if you wave a red flag at them – or rather as Kikkoman did, issue a challenge.  Make a dish with Kikkoman soy sauce as the star ingredient – but it can’t be oriental.  Wow, take an iconic flavour and fuse it with another culture!

So, immediately I started thinking – what goes well with the gorgeous umami flavour of soy sauce?  I kept looking at the Basque region as they do big bold flavours [to paraphrase, the lovely Mr Gregg Wallace] so I trotted off to my local butchers and came up with Red wine and Soy Sauce Oxtail which is really rather good!

Firstly, this is a ‘home cook’ recipe, which means that you need to realise that you may need to add a little more or a little less of each ingredient – use your cheffy-sense.

  • 1.5 kg of oxtail chopped
  • 1 and a half bottles of robust red wine [I used Cabernet Sauvignon but use what you have}
  • 1 litre of chicken stock
  • 2 lemons [plus a spare in case]
  • Tablespoon of flour
  • Large onion – finely chopped
  • 15 cloves of garlic [peeled but not chopped]
  • Big pinch of rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of Kikkoman soy sauce
  • 25 ml port
  • 1 teaspoon of nice clear honey
  • Glug of oil

  • Add the oil to a large pot and heat before adding the chopped onion.  Saute.
  • Put the flour into a plastic bag [I had a spare sandwich bag}, add the oxtail and shake
  • When the oxtail is dusted, add it to the large pot and brown [the flour will help to thicken the sauce]. If you are gluten intolerant use gluten free sauce and Kikkoman fantastic Gluten Free Soy Sauce.
  • Once the oxtail has coloured, add about a tablespoon of Kikkoman Soy Sauce – you want to add depth of flavour then add the bottle of wine and half the stock.  The stock can then be added if the mixture seems to be drying out.

  • Add the garlic, rosemary and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Taste!
  • Leave it to cook on a low heat for about an hour.
  • Keep checking – is the liquid still enough?  Do you need to add more soy sauce?  What about chicken stock?
  • After about an hour, add 25ml port and continue to cook for another hour and a half.  Add more red wine or stock if it goes too dry.  Make sure it maintains its rich flavour by adding more Kikkoman Soy Sauce if needs be.

  • Add a big teaspoon of honey [ideally strongly flavoured clear honey] and squeeze the juice of two lemons into the dish.  Cook for a final hour – or until the oxtail falls off the bone - cooking for longer if needs be.
  • Taste before you serve, make sure that you can taste a mild sweetness [honey], umami depth [Kikkoman Soy Sauce], rich flavour [red wine and oxtail] and hint of citrus [lemon].  It is good to get the balance but if your pallet leans towards one flavour, by all means indulge it.
  • Serve with mashed potato to catch the juice.

Hope you like this as much as I do


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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Saturday Night - Dim Sum Delight - A Cooking Class

I love Yum Cha or Dim Sum – its glorious Chinese tapas!  Dumplings, turnip cake, spring rolls and chicken feet – so lovely when enjoyed on a Sunday over copious cups of tea.  So, how hard could it be to make these little delicious tastes?

I found out on a rainy Saturday night in a unprepossessing row of shops in Walthamstow when I arrived to try out Dim Sum making.  Having had lunch with friends earlier in the day, I had a little liquid courage so I leaped right into the experience with my usual enthusiasm.  We were to make:

  •         Chiu Chow Steamed Dumplings [pork dumplings that resemble very small                     empanadas]
  •          Har Gow [Prawn Dumplings that resemble little Cornish pasties]
  •          Sui Mai [open top port dumplings]

The first hour was spent creating the fillings.  The Har Gow needed prawns finely minced mixed with corn flour, salt, water chestnuts, ginger, sugar and white pepper.  Corn flour became a theme for the evening as all of the fillings use this to help the ingredients combine.

Sui Mai was great fun – having mixed all the ingredients, you need to take the pork mixture, stand up and throw it into your bowl.  This loosens the protein threads and you can see the change.  The instructor – who was lovely if a little exhausted having taught a class earlier – explained that the pork needed to have 20% fat (even if you had to add a bit) as this kept the filling succulent when steamed.

We then made the filling for the steamed dumplings which used similar ingredients.  Chatting to the various people on the long table was entertainment in itself, especially the lovely boys off for a night in Vauxhall and making dim sum as a birthday treat.

Then came the dough which essentially involves wheat starch, salt, sugar, tapioca flour and corn flour – then boiling water and oil.  All the dry ingredients are mixed then the boiling water added before being covered for 2 minutes to cook the flour.  You then add the veggie oil and mix into soft dough. 

Divide into 10 pieces and then you get to start making the individual dim sums.  You roll each individual ball into a circle as thin as possible and then use a pastry cutter to cut a circle.  Pop a little of Chiu Chow or Har Gow mixture into the middle then either fold it over like a taco.  Crimp the edges for Har Gow similar to how you work a Cornish pasty and simply close the Chiu Chow edges smoothing them.

We used premade pastry for the Sui Mai and dolloped a little into the middle of the circle then created a circle with your fingers and pushed the dough up the sides of the mixture (similar to a cup).

The results where then steamed, eaten and laughed over [well, we had all bought wine by then which helped with the realisation that I would never be a dim sum master].  Was it worth it?  Well £35 for a fun evening and the opportunity to try something different – definitely! 

L xx

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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Ethnic Mother Gene

I grew up in a matriarchal society – or rather South Africa, where we let the boys think they are in charge and then get them to light the braai which we enjoy a glass of wine.    Love is food!  If you’re tired, ill, happy or your leg is about to drop off, then don’t worry tannie (or auntie) will make something that will make you feel better.  Nothing can’t be cured with the right ingredients and – if you are British – a cup of tea!

So what is this phenomenon?  I call it the “Ethnic mother” syndrome as my Indian, Chinese, Jewish, Muslim, Cajun, Afrikaans and Irish friends seem to have a proud tradition of “Food = love”.   However – despite being somewhat of a hybrid - I am sure that I have the “ethnic mother” gene as when a cold hits, I reach for the Chicken and noodles or if someone’s love life implodes its gooey chocolate every time.

So how do you recognise if you too would like to solve world peace with a well place slice of pie? If you tick yes to more than half of these questions, welcome to the club – let’s swap recipes:

1.       If the world experience a nuclear winter – or 35 people arrived unannounced – could you feed them all without having to visit a supermarket?  Just using the contents of your kitchen?
2.       Do you have go too dishes which you can whip up while washing the dishes, drinking a glass of wine, hanging up the washing, correcting homework and stepping over the random mutt in the middle of the kitchen?  Perfectly everytime.
3.       Can food cure most ailments?  You have a cold?  Yes, chicken noodle soup or fiery curry to kill the germs!  Exhausted after a long day?  Let me perk you up with something slow cooked and comforting.
4.       When you visit do you arrive with food?  Do you make people leave your home with carefully pulled together packages of leftovers? Do you offer food at Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid to anyone within a 3 mile radius irrespective of whether you know them or not?
5.       Do relatives – and not just those who are blood relatives but those of your friends – provide you with recipes?  Aunt Jo’s rice?  No worries got that sorted!  Mom’s chocolate pudding, already squirreled away.
6.       Is slow cooking and pinches of ingredient’s your friend?  I love making curry but I do so through experience, taste and time – sadly nothing I’ve managed to get into a recipe yet.
7.       Is cooking an expression of love, comfort, celebration – the list is endless.  As the advert on the British TV suggests, a shepherd pie can mean ‘I love you but I just don’t know how to say the words’.

So what is your score?  Do you have a matriarchal streak of ethnic mum?  Most foodies probably do and I would humbly suggest that while the food isn’t always uber-healthy the sheer love, companionship and care that is put into it makes it far less harmful than the pre-packaged calorie controlled supermarket offerings.


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Sunday, 5 October 2014

A little visit to the Breakfast Club

Breakfast, it isn’t my favourite meal as I have a couple of issues around gluten, eggs, lactose and citrus!  However, if I do need to have a working breakfast and think that the other guests are relaxed enough to enjoy something new then my favourite destination in London is The Breakfast Club!

A chain – but so not a chain – with branches across London, it pays homage to the epic film, good food and simply being an individual!  Each of the locations are quirky shrines to that era and sadly, I did recognise most of the references.

My companions – a work colleague and a journalist – met me out side and we queued quietly for our table.  The Breakfast Club doesn’t do the fuss that reservations bring [and didn’t do it well before it became popular] so make sure you get up a little early when you visit.

We were ushered to a table and I noticed by guests faces – both bemused, bewildered and – they were boys – hungry!  Catching a passing waiters eyes, we ordered good coffee, tea and a couple of fresh fruit smoothies to nourish us as we flicked through the menu.

While, I am sure that the genius behind this menu has never taken any substances that were not strictly legal [as of course have I never], the list looks like a cross between a stoners dream and an American diner – bouncing from the full English, to waffles, to halloumi and BBQ chicken sandwich.  Yes, my young padawan, we have found the force that will get us through today even though the dark hungover force is strong in you!

Chilli is my friend and I chose guacamole, chili, poached egg with bacon on toast!  Substantial, tasty with a nice hint of tabasco (this is a standard condiment on all tables)!   Once the sheer majesty of the place had worn off my companions when for the full monty and waffles with bacon.

The food arrived in good time and while we managed to cover all the points we needed to discuss, let’s just say that initial five minutes of food-bliss was not eloquent moment of our lives.  Dear Gosh that was good!

Are there any downsides to the Breakfast café?  Well, the coffee could have been quicker and the music could have been softer but otherwise it was perfect!  And to paraphrase the film “When you grow up, your heart dies …..  but not thankfully at the Breakfast Café when we will all continue to be the jock, the brain ….”


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Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Cap Vermell Beach Hotel - A hidden Gem in Majorca

Majorca!  In the UK, it conjures up images of riotous parties, all day breakfasts and people who should really know better.  However, if you escape from Magaluf, Palma and the surrounds to head to the North East of the Island you find a very different vibe – one that I rather like.

Canyamel is an unspoilt bay with only about 5 or 6 hotels and a lovely golden beach.  Popular with Spanish and German tourists, major tour operators have yet to find it and it benefits from this relative in attention.

With thanks to Tripadviser
One of my favourite is the Cap Vermell Beach Hotel Most recently, I ventured in with my parents who are in their 60s and a friend of mine who was visiting the area.  Having enjoyed a couple of Mojitos on at the Bar on the far end of the hotel, we weaved our way to our table which overlooked the bay which was just starting to get dark – truly magnificent.

The food at Vintage 1934 is modern European but pays homage to Majorca – its ingredients and heritage.    As we perused the menu, the amuse bouches arrived – butternut squash soup with a quail egg balanced on top.  It was thoroughly refreshing and reminded us not only that we were hungry but that my friend was a vegetarian (a preference the menu did not seem to cater for).

However, on ordering, the staff could not have been more accommodating and we were soon dipping into a glorious selection of starters.  I chose Anchovies and trampo (Majorcan fresh salad) which was a little salty (yes, I know they are anchovies) but otherwise very tasty.

Other starters included Cod Carpaccio with rocket salad and roe (slightly odd consistency) as well as mango gazpacho.  The food served at Vintage 1934 nudges haute cuisine and is utterly beautiful with good portions.

For mains we chose Beef fillet with balsamic onions and foie, risotto with asparagus and tender beans, Turbot on mushrooms, artichokes and beet puree.  Seabass at low temperature on venere rice and leeks foam was the final choice.

I had the Beef fillet which was cooked to perfection with the excellent quality meat complemented by the generous slice of foie.  Despite being fairly certain by dinner companions liked me, I was not allowed to try their main dishes – a testimony I suppose to their tasty nature.

Desert was coffee and liquors as we gazed over the bay in a fully food sated coma!  So would I return?  I love this hotel and the Maitre’d deserves a special mention for simply being so very lovely and friendly but I do wonder if perhaps the food needs a review to ensure that rather than resting on its laurels, it measures up to the setting.


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