Monday, 25 April 2011

Zombies, Pastries and The Modern Pantry...

I've always been a fan of post-apocalyptic horror.  Scenes of cities we usually associate with frenetic movement somehow totally deserted save for the occasional zombie / reanimated dinosaur.  This Sunday was much like one of those days as we awoke to beautiful sunshine and an east London seemingly devoid of all people.  Working under the assumption that it was the Bank Holiday that had cleared out the city rather than a flesh eating virus we headed to The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell to check out their brunch...

I'm always told not to judge a book by its cover but where The Modern Pantry is concerned such superficiality could only inspire confidence.  It looks stunning.  A long, rustic wooden table with a stack of fresh pastries welcomed us and it wasn't long before a flat white accompanied by a pain au raisin were delivered to placate me until the main event.  Now let's just pause a moment and talk pastry.  For me it has to have a microlayer of crispiness on the outside with an almost dough like elasticity in the middle.  I'd normally opt for my pain to be au chocolat but they'd already been spirited away - the custardy folds of the raisin variety didn't disappoint though.  Coffee was pretty good too and it always makes me smile to see the baristas fussing over their equipment like enthusiastic mechanics tinkering with a vintage E-Type.  Given the choice I would double the cup size for extra pastry dunkability but I'm a bit of a pig like that...

Ms S. took a liking to the Passion Fruit, Orange, Banana, Yoghurt & Honey Smoothie.  It could have been blended with ice for a more refreshing kick but it was still a good prelude to the next course.

Act II came in the form of Danish Beer & Cassava Waffles with Bacon and Maple Syrup.  If ever a waffle looked like a saturated washing-up sponge then this was the one, but trust me a washing-up sponge never tasted so good.  Topped with curls of deliciously caramelized bacon reminiscent of maple coloured wood shavings the combination of flavours and textures was a perfect Canadian symphony.  

Ms S. opted for the poached eggs, bacon, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes.  A tasty example of all its constituent parts but the dish did have me questioning once again the merits of the grilled tomato.  Correct me if I am wrong but is this not the most pointless addition to any breakfast ?  Cooked until the centre is reduced to a flavourless moosh whilst the skin is left just tough enough to feel like you are chewing on a prophylactic, I'm skipping this one until Heston gets his hands on it.

The conclusion ?  The Modern Pantry is a definite must on the London brunch trail and with a quirky menu including the likes of Blueberry & Manouri Pancakes and Poached Eggs with Yuzu Hollandaise I see an imminent return trip.  With a pitcher of Restorative Bloody Mary headlining the menu it seems as though zombies are welcome too.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Butterbeans, Lamb Shanks and the Shoreditch Nut Huggers...

You have to love the Brits for their idiosyncrasies.  Temperatures in London have been reaching a balmy 12 degrees in the last two days and with that the clothes are shedding already... Today's heliocentric worship came courtesy of at least 5 people wearing their tighty whiteys around the pool at Shoreditch House.  Bless us, if ever a country were deprived of vitamin D its the UK... ;-) 

Now in spite of this heatwave having arrived in my book its still technically closer to winter than summer so with that in mind I've put together a hearty butterbean cassoulet with slow cooked lamb shanks for your dining pleasure...This one is an absolute corker when you're entertaining as once the prep is finished you can stick it in the oven and practically forget it.  Plenty of time to wax your summer bits ;-)

This recipe is great for a DIY date so the more TV chef clichés you can incorporate the better.

2 lamb shanks
1 medium size onion
1 medium size carrot
1 stick of celery
40g lardons
25g pearl barley
1 can of butter beans
2 Toulouse sausages
250ml chicken stock
125ml white wine
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 bay leaf, fresh thyme and rosemary

Brown off the lamb shanks quickly on all sides in a really hot ovenproof saucepan (steal your mum's Le Creuset) with a good splosh of olive oil then remove meat and set aside.

Turn heat down to medium and in the same saucepan brown off the lardons before adding the roughly diced carrot, celery, onion and garlic (when throwing ingredients into the pan imagine you are a matador and try shouting "olé!" for dramatic effect).

When the onion has gone translucent stir in your tomato purée before adding in the wine (nonchalantly from your glass) and reduce by half.

Next add the pearl barley (give it a good rinse first), bay leaf, a couple of sprigs of thyme and rosemary, half the beans, chicken stock and the lamb shanks. Generously pepper your performance with words like "seasonal" and "locavore" to inspire awe.

Put a lid on your pan, stick it in the oven on 120°C and invite your date to watch Dances with Wolves (the director's cut).

2 hours in, press pause and cut each sausage into 8 pieces, fry off and then add to your saucepan with the remaining beans.

One hour and a few well placed tears (to show your sensitive side) later take the shanks out of the saucepan, reduce the sauce on the hob until thick and serve it all with warm crusty bread.

Ensure you buy eggs for breakfast.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A Spot of Dinner at The Mandarin Oriental - A Slightly Biased Review

If the world were a playground then British food would probably be the fat, spotty kid in second hand clothes who got bullied by the cool kids.

Historically, the blame lay with the industrial revolution and Second World War food rationing. Fresh produce became a distant rural memory and food shortages meant the plucky Brits had to get inventive with potatoes. Food became more of a practical consideration than an epicurean extravagance.

But the tide has changed - God isn't even a DJ anymore, he's a celebrity chef – and he appears to have set up his altar in the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge.

The guests kicked themselves when they realised 
that little trickster had fooled them once again
"Meat Fruit"

Arriving Odysseus-like to the siren song (“Mr Drake your table is ready”) of three immaculate hosts we were whisked through to our table on a conveyor belt of niceties. By the time we reached our destination I felt I'd made a new BFF.

First off lets talk kitchen. A culinary wet dream that looks like the lovechild of a Philippe Starck designed fishtank and a Bugatti Veyron it wasn't long before Ms S reminded me that at least a modicum of dinner conversation would be preferable. When half of the restaurant is practically a chef's table and the other half looks onto Hyde Park though its easy to get distracted.

Now you could well imagine that the sister of a three star Michelin restaurant might employ waiting staff with an attitude to match but like its chubby sibling Dinner not only has helpful waiters - it positively needs them. With a menu that lists such 14th century reduxes as Meat Fruit and Rice & Flesh the food comes complete with a culinary history lesson that quickly skims around 700 years of our gastronomic heritage. But is the Dinner menu all cock and no balls (to use the appropriate olde English phrase) ?

I'm desperately resisting the urge to go all AA Gill on you but occasionally a smattering of hyperbole is justified. Imagine yourself suddenly transported to a misty forest clearing - in the middle of that clearing is an old ramshackle hut with a moss covered roof. Walking inside you are hit my the smell of wood smoke, moss and the aroma of a stock pot bubbling over a cauldron (most likely tended to by a gnarled old lady who looks like an extra from a Tolkien novel). That's the lamb broth. Then there's the Meat Fruit - at once a perfectly formed tangerine which on further dissection reveals a smooth liver parfait that is surely destined to become a signature dish. Main courses saw a pork chop whose diminutive stature belied a quality bordering on wagyu whilst the green cockle ketchup accompanying the turbot was like the edgy, skinny jeans wearing younger brother to Heinz's tweed wearing older sibling.

With my insides already planning to take me on a spa day to say thanks, pudding arrived in the form of a moist, squashy brioche and a battery of spit roasted pineapple that evoked rose tinted memories of school puds past. Top this off with a tour around the kitchen by the head chef Ashley Palmer-Watts and by the time we left I felt like it was as much my Birthday as that of the beautiful Ms S.

Now as the title might suggest, and as those who know me will appreciate, my opinion in all of this is a touch biased. That said the quills of critics far greater than myself have already heaped praise on Mr B's latest offering and though the menu is infinitely complex the dishes themselves are devoid of heirs and graces. With a three month waiting list you sense that Dinner's reputation may become as historical as its menu.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

New Year's Resolutions, The Iliad and a Bowl of Sunday Soup

I'm not gonna' lie - when Sunday night rolls around and the whiff of a Firezza Pizza and a slab of Banoffee Pie is luring me, Odysseus-like, upon its calorific rocks its pretty hard to say no.  But then the oh so small voice of reason kicks in and reminds me that there's one more day left in January so I may as well "work the program" as Betty Ford may have put it...

Now when it comes to healthy eating the generally held view is that 1) its a pain in the arse to make and 2) in all likelihood its not going to be armour-plated in either melted cheese, or chocolate. Or both.

Whilst the shareholders of McDonalds have been furiously working on this conspiracy theory since 1940 my trip to Tesco's this evening pulled a pretty major hole in their argument.  Enter a £1.99 bag of pre-cut carrot, swede and potato.  Y'see the Covent Garden Soup Company cottoned on to this trick pretty early - take pretty much any random vegetable, cook it up in a bit of stock, season and blend and suddenly you've got a steaming bowl of liquidised awesomeness in the same time it takes to read a copy of the Metro.

For this recipe I had a bunch of (relatively) fresh coriander hiding out in the back of my fridge but if you're feeling particularly pimp then you could throw in a bit of chilli and even warm it up with a pinch of garam massala.  Safe.


P.S. watch out for next week's video "Patrick Eats a Stuffed Crust Pizza".

P.P.S. clearly it does not take 15 minutes to read Metro, unless you live in Rajasthan and don't speak English.  In which case it still only takes 13.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Haribo, Chickpeas and the Dagenham Caveman...

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention and to be fair the evidence is pretty compelling.  Take the caveman as an example:

One day our hairy litttle friend decides he's had enough of sashimi, rubs a couple of sticks together and kazzam you have fire.

With a new world of culinary choice open to him though the daily commute for groceries becomes a real hassle - enter stage right... the wheel.

Of course during the Flinstone years the Citizens Advice Bureau wasn't up to full speed and our Neanderthal friend never got his patent application filed.  His ancestors now live in a 2 bed semi in Dagenham.

Skip to the modern age and we are still bending our minds to solve all of life's little problems.  One that I'm usually up against is arriving home to discover I have no food in the fridge.  This has led to the invention of dishes ranging from the sublime to the extreme.  Pasta with Scraps (or 'alla scrap' if I'm entertaining) has always been a favourite and my carrot carbonara was always a big hit at university.

I look at some food combinations and can only assume they were borne of similar scarcity because how else could you explain peanut butter and 'jelly' sandwiches or cottage cheese mixed with chocolate powder and a Haribo garnish (thanks to Sofia for this enigma)...

My latest creative challenge recently took the guise of a few random vegetables and a lonely looking tin of chickpeas at the back of the cupboard.  The first thing that sprang to mind was the Indian dish Chana Massala so it was into the blitzer with a classic combination of garlic, onion and fresh ginger.  Fry this off until fragrant and add stir fried aubergine, courgette and mushrooms then throw in some turmeric, ground coriander, garam massala and chili seeds.  A tin of chickpeas and a tin of tomatoes, bubble it down and it was done !

I love this dish for its clean flavours, kick of spice and the fact that I can actually imagine eating it in a tandoori - there's something quite satisfying about recreating that taste in your own home... 

Trust me this dish is so more-ish the whole pan will disappear before you can say poppadom.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Bolognese, Randy Politicians and the Italian Mamma

The question posed at the lunch table today was this: 

"What's the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Italy ?"

The response:

"Ferraris, pizza and a particularly randy septuagenarian Prime Minister." 

Now before anyone takes umbrage to these sweeping generalisations let us not forget that every nation is a victim of certain stereotypes and not all are as endearing as those of Bella Italia.  For me though there is one true characteristic of this wonderful stiletto-esque land mass that transcends all others and that characteristic is passion.

Everything in Italy is accompanied by it.  Watch an Italian describe the weather and you'd be forgiven for thinking that his numbers had just come up on the Euro Millions.  The plosives, the intensity and the way he grabs the air as though he were grabbing your collar with both hands to pull you closer.  I swear if you tied up his hands he'd be mute.

And what of the young Italian lovers who seem to carry the mantle of Romeo & Juliet as they shun all sense of public modesty and swap their masticated chewing gum in front of you on the train ?  The more prudish may balk but they still yearn to experience such thoroughbred abandon.

Anthropomorphically speaking though its all about the nosh.  The image of the Italian Mamma, that ladle wielding matriarch of the homestead, is one that has endured for decades.  The image is in fact so powerful that on a recent trip to Italy I saw a restaurant that had parked their Mamma outside on a chair as if to prove their authenticity.  A clever ruse it was too as they palmed me off with a microwave lasagna.  She was clearly a professional actor.

This week as an homage I've decided to make that most traditional of dishes: Spaghetti Bolognese.  And trust me, I approached the task with no small feeling of trepidation - everyone knows you screw with an Italian's Bolognese at your peril. 

Like chili con carne everyone seems to have a definitive opinion on the cooking method so I have tried to combine all the best parts of the numerous lectures I received and do them justice in one dish.  The result is a really rich, gamey Bolognese that I left to simmer for 3 hours before my hunger could take no more... 

I hope you like it and nota bene: if this is my last post I'm more than likely sleeping with the fishes ;-)

Saturday, 29 May 2010

H-Bombs, Tequila and the Legacy of Lemuel Benedict

I'm dying. This could be my last blog.

The symptoms are almost beyond description: mouth feels like week old cat litter, stomach feels like I did a scene in Alien and eyes resemble, to use popular parlance, piss holes in the snow.

Thankfully by the wonders of modern technology I've saved on medical insurance and managed to self-diagnose via Wikipedia but the diagnosis doesn't look pretty. I'm staring down the barrel of either:

I) Ebola;

2) Bubonic Plague; or

3) The half bottle of tequila and 5 Jagermeisters I drank last night.

I'd pick option 1 but given that the most prominent symptom is that I look like I share hairdressers with Helena Bonham Carter its more likely the result of last night's all out renal assault. Damn you Bacchus.

Now from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang right up to the Muller yoghurt TV ads, the theory that all pleasure must be accompanied by pain is fairly well known. Surely though if one thinks they went to bed with Shakira yet actually woke up next to
a cold Biryani then such utter misery is undeserved ?

The gods are indeed cruel.

Now I'm not one for self-pity (yeah right) so its time to enact that age old cure-all used by hangover victims the world over: eat anything it takes to make the pain go away. You know the scenario: walk into the supermarket and emerge an hour later with 27 different items that bear absolutely no relation to each other.

Today though I'm taking a more focused approach - the sniper rifle as opposed to the H-Bomb - today I have the elixir to tame even the wildest withdrawal ... A classic Eggs Benedict. A combination of deliciousness that would have dietitians running for the hills I make mine with smoked Canadian bacon as opposed to ham.

Next time you wake up looking like an extra from 28 Days Later give it a try, it might just save your life.