Friday, 30 May 2008

Yummy scrummy in my tummy.

This is something we don't eat very often: pasta. It's a Nigel recipe and has Italian sausage meat, mushrooms, garlic, Dijon mustard, white wine, creme fraiche and basil in it.

It is very tasty and pretty simple to make.

First saute some finely chopped garlic, then add the sausage meat (ideally good quality Italian sausages). Brown the meat with the garlic, it's important to get the gooey fat stuff on the base of the pan. Then add in a tablespoon of Dijon mustard and coat the meat, add a glass of white wine and burn off alcohol. There should be enough fluid to give you some sauce. I usually add in some chili flakes at this point and a couple of mins before serving add in the quartered mushrooms. Just before serving a throw over a hand full of ripped up basil leaves and serve with shell pasta.

You might want to have a piece of bread handy to wipe the pan with, or if no one is looking, lick it clean. It's that good.

The Corpse Reviver No 2

From Harry Craddock's orignal 1930's recipe as quoted in the Savoy cocktail book.

* 1 shot gin
* 1 shot Cointreau
* 1 shot Lillet Blanc
* 1 shot fresh lemon juice
* Dash of absinthe or substitute (I used roughly ¼ teaspoon)

" Four of these taken in swift succession will unrevive the corpse again"

Ted Haigh from his vintage cocktails and spirits book

"this is one of those cocktails that must be exactly measured to perform it's magic. Here is a drink that, shows just what delicate chemists these golden era bartenders often were. Not only is the drink beautiful to look at, every single ingredient shines through individually in each sip. The combination is harmonious; it's a slice of perfection"

Silk Stocking

Imagine a white Russian with raspberry ice-cream in it.

Yep, you got it.
A potent, creamy, yummy drink that tastes like a milkshake.

Beautiful light..

Sometimes, even Glasgow looks beautiful.

The Margarita: the Original and the Contender.

I like my Margaritas, but I like them a particular way. The guy at Stravaigin, to my mind, makes a mean one but many fall short of the mark. So, tonight being Mexican night HI took it upon himself to re-create my perfect Margarita.

On the left is the Original, which has 1.5 units of tequila: 1 unit of triple sec (ideally Cointreau): 0.5 unit fresh lime juice
This to my mind is far too boozy and not sharp enough

So, on the right we have the Contender which is 1:1:1

HI mocks this, saying it is essentially just a lime juice drink with a dash of tequila. I would say if it is good enough for Gary Regan, it's good enough for me.

The Vesper

was the drink that Bond orders in the first Flemming book Casino Royale.

The recipe for Bond's "Vesper" martini, as described in the 1953 book:

'Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon-peel. Got it?'

The Lillet is not easily available and HI had to resort to ordering it online from drink shop. But is also available at drinkon and Harvey Nick's.

In reality it is somewhat disappointing lacking any depth and actually seeming a little watery.

HI calls the Vesper a corrupted, weakened martini. He feels that "you need a damn good reason to have vodka in your cocktail and that it's only really used in smoothies to alkalise the fruit, as in many modern British cocktails". He has no problem with it being Flemming's favourite drink as "the dilution and Vermouth cocktail of your Martini is as personal as your taste in ladies. The Lillet is not the problem, but it is sweeter than your typical Noilly Prat and is in a heavier dose than your modern Martini drinker would expect. The vodka only adds to dilute the gin flavour. The gin and Lillet in your typical martini ratios ie 10:1 makes for interesting diversion but still is not the classic dry martini with dry vermouth".

Ok then..

The monkey gland.

As far as I am concerned it tastes as bad as it sounds, but guess what-HI and Damian love it.

To make this relatively obscure cocktail the following things are needed:

Gin, Orange juice, pomegranate syrup and absinthe

The syringe, by the way, was not because we got all Sherlock Holmes with it, but that a true Cocktalian sees the art of making a good cocktail a science: requiring exact measurement. Useful for the monkey gland, essential for the corpse reviver.

Italian caffe II

Just a quick update..

things that were good

were the green olives-large, juicy and not too salty and the affettato misto plate. What a lot of meat! Rolled herbed pork, Milano salami, Lomo, Parma ham, breasola and something that looked and tasted suspiciously like chorizo.. but what the hey, Spanish, Polish, Italian, it's all good.

From left to right

roasted swordfish, another disappointing fish dish- a bit over cooked
an empty dish of salsiccia in ragu, yum
roast chicken livers- HI was in heaven, I thought metallic.
center was beef carpaccio, again excellent with a good balance of meat, oil and Parmesan.
far right, although finished, not so good panzanella, just a bit bland- should have been sitting for a while to soak up the juices and have a bit more taste.

All in all though, another satisfying meal. Maybe it has to do with the high protein low carb ratio, or the small plate thing.

But whatever it is, I like it.

Cafe Zique

As you may know from my earlier post the mini-adventure, I rate Delizique as a deli. I was particularly impressed with this steak and Guinness pie, whose only fault was that there was not enough gravy in it, which for a self encased pie that might be a feat hard to achieve.

They had packed it full of large chunks of good quality steak and good chunks of portobello mushrooms. The pastry was crispy on the outside and had a good layer of wodge at the bottom. A good effort, which you might expect given it cost a fiver!

Now this naughty little morsel was a particularly rich gooey brownie, with hazelnuts on the bottom and a dusting of high quality cocoa over it.

It was rich, but not too sweet-an easy mistake to make, but so rich I had to eat it over two days.

I was therefore interested to see how this would translate into Cafe Zique which is directly adjacent to the deli. It would seem however, that some things are lost in translation.

The space itself is cool, with double height, a mezzanine level and lots of odd angles covered in a variety of wood and stone. Perhaps the best thing about the place, if I am being harsh, is the fact that they have retained the original Hargens Dairy shopfront.

They started off on the wrong foot when I had gone in earlier that day to scout out what was on offer as they don't have a website. I was due to meet my friend Choiti later that evening for a bite to eat and to catch up. I had a look at the regular menu and enquired as to the specials. 'Yes we have specials, they start at six'. Thinking to myself 'yes, I know that, I am standing in front of a huge blackboard that says specials but has nothing on it', I inquired sweetly if they knew what they were. A particularly surly bar tender/ waiter looked at me and shrugged as if he couldn't care less. 'We don't know yet'. Given it was 5.20pm and they were directly in front of the kitchen, one would think, it was not too hard for them to find out. 'Ok' I said, and walked out hoping that this wouldn't reflect the general attitude of the staff.

So we turned up at 7pm and it was pretty packed. We hadn't booked and it would turn out that we were lucky enough to get two seats on the mezzanine level. This was quite a good place to sit as it allowed us to sit next to each other and chat but also to look at what everyone else was eating. We shared a Caesar salad with chicken

which was good, but not as good as Fifi and Ally or even Louis' for that matter.

Choiti had a crab linguine which was marred by the fact that they had put way too much chili in it and that the garlic was still a bit raw. Now, she and I can handle heat, so it was hot.

This was further compounded by a fifteen minute wait between asking for a second glass of water, and getting it. I had a steak sandwich. All I can say is that I left half of it. Actually I can say more: the bread was some sort of rye effort with no butter or mayo, they had put on a horrible red onion relish and some un-marinated roast tomatoes that were sour and actually spoiled the taste of it.

The steak was marinaded well, and had a good chargrill flavour but was over cooked and as it was sliced thinly, a bit tough. Both mains lacked seasoning.

If you want to see how a steak sandwich should be go to Firebird at lunchtime. Just ciabatta, rocket some pesto and thick rare cuts of steak. The juice drips out of that one.. Anyway back to Cafe Zique.

As mentioned before the service was a bit slow, but at least this time it came with a smile. We again had to wait about fifteen minutes and ask three times to pay our bill.

Would I go back? I don't know. It's obviously a popular spot, perhaps a place to been seen for the denizens of deepest darkest Dowanhill and Hyndland. But, Heart Buchanan does a mean eggs Benedict that's two pounds cheaper, Fifi and Ally a better Caesar and Firebird and mean steak sandwich.

Maybe they will, with time, come up with a reason to return.

Monday, 26 May 2008

The left bank.

I have always kind of avoided the left bank for some reason, and I am not talking Beirut. So, when I read on it's website that it had been given an AA rosette I thought it was time to give it another try.
It's the sort of place I should like, as it offers a selection of small plates with an Asian slant. The problem being, that as usual, the execution usually falls short of the mark. My mark. The place itself had been done up well, they have made great use of the space with lots of little nooks and crannies that feature bare stone, leather and of course, the requisite wallpaper form Timorous Beasties.

Today was another sunny bank holiday and the three of us met for lunch. Damian being good, as usual, ordered the soup,

boring soup

myself the salty and pepper squid,

chewy squid

the sticky ribs

excellent ribs

and the king prawns with salsa.

three! for £5.50

HI ever true to the search for the perfect burger, ordered one.

blah burger, with poor excuse for mayonnaise

Damian didn't say much about the soup, and my squid was way too peppery and a bit chewy, one of the reasons I tend not to order it in many places. The prawns, of which there were three (!), were large, cooked right, but too full of coriander for my liking.
The ribs however, were excellent. The meat fell off the bone, the marinade was hot and sticky, and the portion was generous. HI verdict on the burger was neh. It was overpowered by a lot of beetroot that I don't remember being mentioned on the menu. The chips were good however, only slightly marred by their refusal to serve plain mayonnaise.

I remember previously having an unsuccessful argument based on the logic that, even if they were making their own mayo and then turning it into chipotle, then at some point they would have had plain mayo? Apparently not.

So, would I go back? Maybe for a beer and some ribs but there are other places that do better squid and better burgers.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Martin Wishart

My friends will tell you I think highly of this place.

We have managed to go there at least two or three times a year for the last couple of years, sometimes for special occasions, sometimes just because we can.
I can't remember why we went the first time round, or what the occasion was but I do remember it would have been at a time when my foray into the world of fine dining had just begun. I think restaurants with stars and aiming for more can sometimes be intimidating the first time round, and if you are not treated well, can put you off the experience completely.
So, I think that Martin Wishart is such a favourite due to the way they make us feel at home, something that they do if it is you first visit or fifth. The main exponent of this is the maitre'd Stephen. He is a major asset, he is always on top of his game, unfailingly polite, chatty and obliging. No request is too difficult, not even from me. Then there is the cheese man, whose name I do not know yet but, who is very knowledgeable, who once upon a time handled my very drunken requests for Maury and truffle honey with good grace.

The restaurant is located in Leith a place which seems to be a culinary hotspot these days. I think they were here first, then joined by Tom Kitchin and the Plumed Horse, which unfortunately lost it's star this year.
The chef himself in comparison to mnay other chefs, keeps a low profile. Having said that he still has a cook school and a new cook book which was so hot off the press that he had not had time to autograpgh them. However, I appreciate his decision to keep a relatively low profile as I think it is evident in the quality and consistency of the food, something which can be affected if the chef is spread too thinly between NY, London and Paris and the various TV shows one can find them on, these days. It is good to see however that he does get recognition in the broadsheets. I noticed on this occasion the influence of the current vogue for modern methods that seems to be the stick with which Pru, Mathew and Oliver seem bent on hitting any number of chefs over the head with. There was an espuma, a number of foams, a powder and in the rhubarb pudding the transmorgification of one simple ingredient into four different incarnations, all of which worked.

It can be a lovely place to come on a sunny day, with the sun hitting off the water. The restuarant itself is light and rectanglar with about 14 tables varying from twotops to sixes. The decor is a luxe mix of, muted greens and yellows with textured wallpapers and moroccan-esque lights.

I had requested to sit at right angles to each other and we were given table eight which to my mind is one of the best as it gives you a good look at the room. Others might find its location to the kitchen entrance a bad thing, but I quite liking hearing the bustle.
We started off with an aperitif, a Kir Royale for myself and a martini for HI.
We opted, as usual for the tasting menu, subtituting the monkfish for black truffle risotto for HI, as this is his all time fav dish (alright, second to chili). I almost did the same, as I have had some bad experiences with Monkfish, but Stephen re-assured me it was delicious and in that most charming of ways, offered to pay for it out of his own pocket and give me the John Dory instead, if I didn't like it. Of course, I would never take him up of the offer but it's moments like this that count.

By the way Ronnie Corbett was there, with a lady I assume to be his missus and
being the nosey parker I am, I also overheard that table 3 had a vegan at it, and had menu had been created for them.

The meal started off with some canapes

then an amuse bouche of horseradish cream with a beetroot tuille with beetroot powder.

This was excellent. I thought it could have been hotter but the sweetness of the
tuile cut against the savouriness of the horseradish and the beetroot powder was genuis.

wild garlic veloute with scallops, green raisins and grapes. Excellent, creamy, savoury.

Yum Yum

Smoked duck with langoustine

the salt of the duck contrasted well with the sweet melon and langoustine.

Evil Monkfish! Good Monkfish! Evil-- Noo!! Good!!

Heavenly truffle risotto

Roast loin and Civet of hare with Puy lentils and chocolate sauce, my favourite meat dish here.

cheese-can't remember what they were sorry, but they were all French. Oh yes and the lovely cheese man gave me the card for the fromagerie in Edinburgh where they get their cheese from

my three!! puddings, not an assiette mind you, but three separate puddings. How happy was I?

1 of 3 Rhubarb four ways jelly, espuma and sorbet with white chocolate foam

2 of 3 fromage frais foam and lemon curd

3 of 3 chocolate with praline

HI's apple and clavados souffle. I don't like souffle.

Petite four to go with our coffee.


All I can say is that four hours later, with full happy bellies and feeing slightly tipsy we wandered out into the sunny streets of Leith.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Louis' Grill

Louis' Grill is located two doors down from Stravaigin on Gibson St, which if you ask me is making life hard for themselves. As you know, in my eyes not many places can compete with Stravaigin for atmosphere, margaritas or most importantly food. Louis' has a good pedigree though. Its owners own No 16. on Byres road.

No 16. is a place that serves very good food but is let down by it's appalling service. I have eaten there 3 times, each spread out over the course of three years and each time, there was an inordinate amount of time spent waiting to order drinks, order food, for the starters to arrive and then the mains. So much so that we almost left once before the food arrived. It's a shame as the food served at No 16 is particularly good, but not that good that I would wait an hour between starter and main. I have not been for about a year so maybe things have improved in that time..

Anyway, back to Louis. It serves salads and burgers and some other things that don't even pique my interest so I can't tell you what they are. We ended up going here last Sunday for a quick bite to eat and as I had already been to Stravaigin that weekend, it was out.

It would seem a similar fate occurs in Louis' in that we were sat wondering where our food was 5Min's before it arrived. To be fair though once it arrived it was good enough and they did come and ask if it was ok.

HI had a burger 'black and blue', not a reference to the rarity of the meat but to the inclusion of blackened Cajun spices and blue cheese which he declared to be good, below Chinaski's burger and maybe even as good as Stravaigin's (what sacrilege, as you know we differ on this subject HI seems pretty easy to please where burgers are concerned, in my opinion).

I was not that hungry so had a small Caesar salad with chicken. They either grilled the chicken from raw or heated it up in the microwave as it was warm, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, I choose to believe the former option. They also used good quality silver anchovies and tasty garlicky croutons, so all in all a reasonable effort.
However, there is something lacking in the atmosphere and apart from satisfying Hi's requirement for Ostrich burgers I can't see why I would come back.

Cherry and Heather.

Cherry and Heather is a gem of a place located in that most unlikely of locations, Ibrox (or Ibroxia as I fondly call it).
The name alludes to it's joint lineage, it being a Japansese and Scottish concern. It must have huge appeal to all the displaced BBC folk now located not far away at on the South of the river near the ill-fated squinty bridge.
It stocks some hard to find Japanese dry goods and a selection of rather choice chocolates including the addictive but expensive Amattlons which are roasted and caramelised Catalan Marcona almonds coated in cocoa dusted white chocolate. YUM YUM.
In addition to all this they also do a rather natty line in sandwiches, which as you may know are my favourite food form.

Smoked duck breast with blue cheese and blackcurrant-claret compote

Spanish chorizo sausage with spinach and smoked paprika mayo

Meatball in Indonesian bumbu kecap, chilli & peanut this is my favourite.

They also do some freshly made baked goods including fairy cakes, muffins and brownies as well as veggie sushi made daily.

Ibrox is lucky to have such a place.

Friday, 16 May 2008

La Valle Blanche

In the blink of an eye the antiques auction house that used to inhabit this first floor location, next to Fopp on Byres Road, was replaced by La Valle Blanche. The chef/proprietor is Neil Clark who took over as head chef at Etain when Geoffery Smeddle left. If you have read my Glenapp Castle post you will know that I had a very good duck dish once upon a time at Etain. La Valle Blanche therefore had a good chance of having what it takes..

We had a table booked for 7.30 pm on a Friday and climbed up that stairs wondering what to expect. What we found was a very well executed interpretation of chalet-chic. This along with the St Germain/ Thievery Corporation-esque sound track gave the room a very cool vibe. Interestingly enough though most of the other diners were in their 40-50's.

Greeting us at the door were the French maitre-de and a gracious woman whom I correctly assumed to be the wife of the chef. She took our jackets and we were shown to our table. This was located to the middle of the room and some would say in a good position but I made a mental note to request one of the corner booths if I were to come again. The first thing that I noticed was that the place is incredibly well staffed. Not only do they have a sommelier, a female one at that, but they had levels of staffing normally seen at Michelin starred restaurants. One for water, bread, to sweep up the crumbs, you get the idea. It made me wonder what level they were pitching this place at. So, reception good, room good, music/ambience good, staffing attentive (maybe too attentive). The other thing I noticed, and maybe I am imagining it, was that the staff, most of whom seemed quite young, had an air of nervousness about them. As it turned out, they had nothing to worry about.

Annoyingly enough it was at this point I realised that, not only had I forgotten my camera but also my mobile, hence the lack of visuals.

So, to the food. Now this may be a churlish thing to say but most of the starters seemed to be pre-prepared ie rabbit rillette and duck with chicken terrine. Now, from a chef's point of view this is a clever thing as it allows most of the prep to be done before service, leaving only the plating up to be done. However, I don't think it is possible to gauge what a kitchen is really capable of with starters like these. I did notice a scallop dish, but did not order it, this would have been a good way of judging things but, as it was my first time I chose not to take the risk.
Having said that the rabbit rillette was luxurious and tasty and the terrine, although succumbing to the fate of most terrines (being dry), was served with a very fresh 'relish' of boiled egg and capers which worked very well with it.

My main of lamb was meant to be medium rare but was almost well done and not particularly memorable and the duck dish was similarly over cooked. In no way reminiscent of the dish from Etain.

The standout course were the puddings. I had a peanut parfait with caramelised bananas, which was excellent and moreish, which the best indicator of a good pudding. It came with a shot glass of what seemed to be milk, and nothing more. Was it meant to be something else? If it had been a milk sorbet, that would have been interesting. The apple souffle was fluffy and perfectly cooked and served with a very light and refreshing calvados ice-cream. The ice-cream itself was note-worthy.

We had a glass of white each, one a chablis, the other a viognier. I had been slightly worried after reading a couple of reviews, that they only had bottles, but that fear was unfounded. I then had a glass of pudding wine which was more expensive that either of the whites.

For three courses for two people plus the 3 glasses of wine the bill was £90.
I could see that I was paying for the setting and the staff but the food felt slightly under par. I think this place has a lot of potential. Maybe once they have found their feet and a client base they will feel able to show the same flair with the mains that they do with the puddings. And I really hope that it does because I could see this as a place I would come back to repeatedly as Glasgow is in need of some fine-dining contenders.

The only other gripe I have is that thier web site is not up and running, in this day and age they are missing out on valuable advertising not having an up to date site with the menu,wine list and information about the Chef. But then you would already know that if you had tried to follow the link above!

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Texan Red. A Homage: Part III

Part 3 – The Recipe

This is my personal favourite recipe, if you wanted a more authentic one - replace all the meat with beef and remove the porcinis.

For 4 (or today and tomorrow for 2)

1 onion (I prefer red)
4 cloves garlic
Oil (I prefer olive oil, others prefer a non-flavoured such as groundnut or walnut)
1 pound of meat (450g)
I currently use a 2:1 ratio of venison and pork
The better the cut of meat, the better the chili, but as you are cooking it for hours shoulder is fine.
Chiles (dried)– 3 anchos
- 3 guajillos
- 3 chipotles
1 or 2 others that may be floating around (e.g. pasilla, mulattos, cascabels or new Mexican reds)
50g porcini mushrooms – dried
half a tube of tomato paste (preferably sun-dried) about 40g
2 tablespoons Worcester sauce
1 teaspoon salt (but add more to taste)
1 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika
1 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon peppercorns (szechuan peppercorns are nice also)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon chocolate
extra heat – cayenne pepper or I prefer grinding some piquin chiles
Juice 1 lime
Heavy-duty cookware – I use a Le Creuset skillet and cocotte pot (orange).

1. Boil some water and soak your porcini for 30mins.

2. Dry toast your cumin seeds (in a skillet) for about 1 minute then set aside.

3. cut the tops of your chiles and empty out the seeds. Dry toast them til aromatic but before they burn (20 – 30 seconds), they will smoke.

4. Soak the toasted chiles in boiled water for about 20 minutes.

5. dice your meat, either mince on the widest setting (chile grind) or dice to half-inch cubes (aim for half the size of your pinkie’s tip, or a small game dice).

6. fry your meat in batches in a skillet in the oil, when browned place in your pot.

7. grind your cumin, peppercorns. Add to the pot.
8. fry your diced onion till coloured in the skillet with some more oil, then add the garlic (diced or crushed). Add this to the pot.

N.B. You may want to deglaze the skillet with some chile liquor after frying both the meat and the onion. Add the deglazed goodness to the pot.

9. Drain your chiles (reserving the liquor), place in a blender with a little of the soaking liquor. Blend to a pulp. Add to pot.

10. Drain porcinis (reserve the liquor). Add to pot.
11. Add the Worcester sauce, salt, paprika, Mexican oregano, cinnamon, and tomato paste.

12. Cook this, covered, for 30 mins on the lowest possible heat.

13. At 30 mins taste it. It requires that long before you can accurately gauge the heat of the chili. At this point I usually add some chocolate I prefer to use this from Cacao Sampaka in Barcelona (very Mexican, and preferred to the brown sugar that others may add),

and extra heat - a teaspoon or two of cayenne pepper or a ground teaspoon of piquins may be needed. You can also adjust the seasoning at this point.

14. Then uncover and cook for a further 90 minutes. You mat want to vary the cover-uncover times depending on how wet the chili is.

If at any point it looks to dry use either the chile or porcini liquor to dampen it.

15. With 30 minutes to go (that’s 90 minutes into cooking) I add the drained beans.

16. Then at the end of cooking (2 hours) I will add the juice of 1 lime and some coriander. These, along with the chocolate are my particular flair. As you find as you read there are a myriad of options at this late stage to elevate your chilli. I just feel these items please my palate the most. Please experiment.

17. You can now do the spoon test and eat. Maybe with some rice if you want carbs, or tortillas and guacamole for the fuller Mexican. Many use sour cream (the fat is useful in emulsifying the capsicum and tempering the heat). If I feel that way inclined, I prefer some cheese – Gruyere at present as it melts better than the more obvious American cheddar or Manchego.

Masa harina is a Mexican thickening agent along the lines of corn starch. Some add this at the end to thicken the liquid but if cooked correctly it should not be necessary. It has no intrinsic flavour so I never use it (plus the chocolate will do a little of the same).

Eat, drink, be merry…