13 September 2007

Bacon, Chicory and blue cheese risotto with Fiano d'Avellino

Tried a standard risotto of mine last night, with the addition of some chopped chicory just before the rice. It came out beautifully. We then matched with a (white) Fiano d'Avellino dei Feudi Di SanGregorio, which stood up to the powerful flavours very well. Much more full-bodied than we expected, but very well balanced, fruity and delicious.

Armenian Beorijch

Cooked this black-eyed bean and tomato stew, with lots of mixed nuts in. Nice, but missing something. Like meat or fish.

07 August 2007


It's been a while, but we haven't stopped eating. Had a good meal recently at the much-lauded Magdalen, near Tower Bridge. It was perhaps a bit too poncey for our friends: why do restaurants make it so unpleasant for people who like their meat well done? There were a few service niggles, but, when reported, these were handled with superb professionalism. The starters were apetising - just the thing to make you want to more. Rupert and I shared a large suet-crusted veal and leek pie, served with carrots. It was marvellous. The veal was described as rose, in this case meaning just short of red, rather than a delicate pink. Of the desserts, all good, I was most impressed with my peach melba. Not radical, but very unusual to get this made with fresh peaches and other top quality ingredients. We'll be back.

04 May 2007

Royal China Canary Riverside, again

This is a very usual place for us to stop and eat supper on the way home. Earlier this week, it was beautifully sunny, even for the end of April. We sat outside and had duck pancakes, green veg with oyster sauce, slow-cooked pork belly with perserved veg, and noodles and beansprouts. Nothing special. A bottle of house wine at £20 (yikes) which was okay. Still a lovely place to eat and a special experience. What a view!

29 April 2007

Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

We have a policy of monitoring excellent restaurants which have been there a while, and where there is a risk of retirement or boredom on the part of their owners. We failed to get to the Walnut Tree before Franco Taruschio retired, and so have been trying harder since. With this in mind, we went to Croque-en-Bouche twice in the 3 years before it closed, and managed to return to the Merchant House in the week before Shaun Hill hung up his apron. The Altnaharrie Inn closed shortly after we went there, but hopefully the two are not connected!
We therefore thought it prudent to return to the Champignon Sauvage, having only once visited it over 5 years ago. It had been the location for our "highest bill ever" at the time, long now since exceeded by Gordon Ramsey's Royal Hospital Road joint. This time, cars were involved, so it would be harder to achieve such a bill, and we were trying not to frighten our friend resident in the town who had agreed to accompany us.
It was a super meal, far too lengthy to list here, but some highlights were the amuse bouche cheese puffs, the veloute of white asparagus in a shot glass, kid canneloni with curd cheese and land cress, scallops with crispy pork belly; roasted cinderford lamb, lamb sweetbreads, crushed parsnips with hazelnuts; chicory cheesecake with chicory ripple ice cream; lemon and pine kernel parfait, lemon curd, fromage frais and pepper sorbet. The petit fours were exquisite - a selection of 10 different ones that we had to fight over.
We accompanied it with the most expensive Beaujolais on the menu at £24, and a supplementary glass of house white burgundy.
Lunch for the 3 of us was considerably less than it had been for the two people 5 years ago, and very decent value at that.

Risotto of spring vegetables with wild garlic leaves

It's the time of year that, in Vienna at least, menus are stuffed with wild garlic leaves from soup to cheese course.
Having received a surfeit of wild garlic leaves from generous friends with a garden, I begin to see why. We had to work out what to do with them. Chez Bruce was advertising a risotto with new vegetables, wild garlic leaves and parmesan. Sounds straightforward: I can make risotto. The only problem being how to find fresh vegetables on Fleet St at 6.30 in the evening. Marks & Spencer Simply Food on Ludgate Hill came up with asparagus tips (from Kent), carrots (from Northumbria) and sliced runner beans and shelled peas (from Kenya).
I wouldn't normally buy anything that had flown that far, nor have I ever bought sliced runners before. They looked very dried up, but the "protective atmosphere" must have had some very rejuvinating qualities - they were crisp, sweet and tasty.
I sliced the carrots "o"-style and cooked a good while with chopped onion before adding the rice, a glass of vermouth and the chicken stock. The wild garlic leaves were shredded, with some added at the beginning and most at the end. Peas went in 4 mins before end, with blanched asparagus and runners shortly after. Final adds were the parmesan (bowlful), some chopped parsley, and about 2/3 oz of frozen diced unsalted butter.
The arbiter of risottos pronounced his approval, but I thought it looked a bit of a mess, lacked a certain something (lemon juice, perhaps?) and am very curious to know how Bruce would have done it instead.

09 April 2007

Hot cross bun-and-butter pudding

At last, a use for supermarket hot cross buns. The hot cross buns at Borough market are a revelation; rich, dense, moist, fruit and spicy. Even 4 days later, there's no need to heat them up; they're just lovely buttered cold.
Unfortunately, I'd already bought some from waitrose, and couldn't bear to throw them away.
Recipe books are full of variations on the bread-and-butter pudding theme: brioche, pain-au-chocolat, crab sandwiches even. No-one seemed to have covered hot cross buns before, so I had to wing it as regards quantities.
The remains of a beaten egg (from pastry brushing), some top-of-bottle, a few pointless sultanas and demerara sugar were all that I added to two hot cross buns cut-and-buttered vertically in several slices.
Miracle! It worked. Normally Hungerpang experiments, and I work from recipe books. In his absence, I had to take on his role, and learnt that you get lucky quite often.

Pied a terre

We've discovered that snow is a good thing. Or any other cause of "transport chaos" which leads to lots of people working from home unexpectedly. Unable to go to Chez Bruce due to a friend's illness, we still wanted to go out, and started to ring around. Pied a terre could fit us in, and so began the most expensive evening of my life.
Something comes over Hungerpang around his birthday (for it was this meal, and I was paying). Something competitive, something "let's see just how high a bill can go"-ish. To be fair, on this occasion we were in need of cheering ourselves up, and we decided to blow economy. We ordered 3 separate half-bottles - champagne, mas de domas gassac white, red burgundy, and some glasses of dessert wine, turning down the recommended PX as we've got exactly that bottle lying around the kitchen.
Choosing from the a la carte menu, we swapped plates as usual. This was cooking at its most high-falutin. The amuse-bouches came on a very fancy presentation stand - one multilayered cube, one shot of carrot foam, one wafer, one baby american muffin (cheesey). If I put a whole paragraph into describing them, I might be able to convey the complexity on display here. Equally, there aren't enough hours to describe all the aspects of the full dishes. My scallops etc. etc. were beautifully matched. Hungerpang's trout and crab ravioli came with an exciting fennel emulsion, which he wasn't much enamoured with. Emulsions, foams and purees were much in evidence. They are undoubtedly very clever, but not very satisfying.
Can't remember main courses, except that Hungerpang went for pig lots of ways. There was head, belly, maybe black pudding. Something in there he rated "best ever morsel".
Then we had cheese. Then desserts. Then coffee and petit-fours.
But still, £325 was a lot of money for a mid-week dinner for two.......
Funny, isn't it. Probably the most exciting meal we'll have this year, but very difficult to remember 2 months later what the fuss was about.

Tapas in Melbourne - Movida

Hidden in a scruffy alleyway very near Melbourne's Flinders Street station is this gem of modern spanish food.
It's the sort of place you come in to, and know immediately you're going to enjoy it all. Modern but friendly decor, knowledgeable staff, a very happy buzz in the air.
We came in mid-afternoon, a little too early in the day to settle into drinking ourselves into oblivion, so we had to be restrained.
There's a good selection of sherries, although we didn't think much of the one we ordered. On later reflection, we think it was probably bottled some time ago and therefore no longer marvellous.
In terms of tapas, they have the usual olives, calamari, plates of ham and so on, but much more dainty stuff too. We had one of everything, all 9 of them. The "Cantabrian artisan anchovy on crouton with smoked tomato sorbet" was exactly as described; our picture shows, I think I remember, a "crab tartare" between two layers of Melba toast, and some gorgeous spicy shrimps. The croqueta was eely good! One small lonely piece of manchego cheese came with quince paste, but that's what happens when you order only 1 of something, I suppose.
With the exchange rate so favorable, we'd have been hard-pushed to make the bill hurt. The total was AUD 112, which seems to be about £45. In London, for tapas this good, we'd have been paying at least £112.

15 February 2007

Eating to avoid jet-lag

We're trying to do this weird diet-and-lifestyle preparation for the long-haul flight. It involves eating mainly protein for breakfast and lunch, and mainly carbohydrate for supper. Today is a "fast" day, which means trying to survive on about 800 calories: not something we are used to.
Breakfast is okay - cold meats and cheese. For lunch, I wanted to eat sashimi and salad, but failed to find it. Instead I went to the marvellous Hilliard, and bought Jambon Persille and some courgette and goat's cheese salad. I don't often eat shredded ham in aspic, with or without lots of parsley and some gherkins, and it's an even stranger thing to eat at your desk. The courgette salad made little impression on it.