Saturday 19 December 2009

Cooking the books

No, I do not refer to an accounting anomaly, nor to the tv programme that is hosted by the rather incongruous Jeremy Edwards, but to the fact that since eating out has become a bit of a rarity we have taken to doing quite a bit of cooking, some of which has been more sucessful than others. Rather than go into each recipe in detail I thought I would reference the book, provide a link if possible, tell you the pros and cons of each, and ultimately what we thought.

John Pawson and Annie Bell-Living and Dining- kedgeree
I love this. It's one of those breakfasts you have when its wet and cold outside and you feel like a treat. This book is a couple of years old and was given to me by my good friend John. I remember he made this for me for breakfast one day. I have to say though, Kedgeree is not Kedgeree without boiled eggs, so I add these quartered at the end.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques-Suzanne Goin
I first heard of this book on one of my favourite food blogs the Amateur Gourmet. He had made the spicy pork stew which is one of the tastiest things I have ever made. I got this book last year for Christmas but with one thing and another have only just got round to exploring it. I have to say the beef stew is very similar in concept to the pork stew but for some reason I find the pork stew to be better.

Beouf a la nicoise braisedbeef stew with red wine, tomato, olives and buttered noodles (spiced pork stew with polenta root vegetables and gremolata)
grilled pork burgers with rob's famous coleslaw

These pork burgers are amazing! How can something that contains 3 different types of pork loveliness not be delicious? A must. The coleslaw was also a revelation and could be eaten on it's own or with anything else you fancy.

Roast figs, sugar, snow- Diana Henry
Stryian venison with chesnuts cranberries and wild mushrooms

I don't think I really like venison which is a shame, for HI loves it and insists on putting it in everything he cooks. Having said that, I did quite like this stew. The mushrooms and cranberries are simmered down for ages and provide that earthy foil that venison sems to require.

Roast chicken and other stories/ second helpings of roast chicken- simon hopkinson
braised rabbit with white wine, shallots, rosemary and cream/ braised rabbit with cabbage, garlic and bacon
This is yum especially with goose roasties. We amalgamated the two recipes to end up with a pot of loveliness. I highly recommend both these books.

Nutmeg and custard-Marcus Wareing

poached and roasted chicken with almond and thyme crust and chargrilled cauliflower

Was not a big fan of this. The crust to me seemed pointless and was hard and tasteless and the cauliflower turned into an insipid mush. The book did not really have many things in it that I would want to cook and seemed a mish mash of recipes from various continents, going for that homely feel rather than exploring the fine dining cuisine that Marcus is known for, which seems a shame, as someone with his skill would have many things to teach.

Waitrose magazine
rioja pot roasted chicken vicky boghal

This is one of the tastiest chicken dishes I have had in a long time. The addition of chorizo results in a very, very rich and unctous sauce at the bottom. Very moreish, but probably quite bad for you as all that lovely chicken fat gets eaten up as opposed to thrown away!

Week in week out-Simon Hopkinson
Pot roasted chicken with potatoes, bacon, garlic and thyme.
Pot roasting is our new favourite way of cooking birds, and I amalgated this with the rioja chicken recipe so that the sauce was absorbed by the potatoes-very yum.

Sainsbury's magazine ragu, then ragu and mushroom lasagne April 2007

This ragu is probably one of the best smelling dishes we have cooked. It is also very tasty. I would forget about the lasagne and just eat it with rice. Unfortunately, I can't find a link online so you will just have to take my word for it.

Pot roasted guinea fowl with apples clavados and cream- delia online

Continuing on the pot-roasting theme, this was yum. Guinea fowl is a lovely bird and the sauce is rich and good with, you guessed it, goose roasties. The apples provide just enough sharpness to cut against the cream. It's the first time I had followed a Delia recipe, despite having the bible, but it will not be the last if, they all taste as good as this.

All in all only one dud. I would eat any of the others again and again and definitely cook them for my friends. Having said all that it must be said that my favourite food writer is Nigel Slater. His Kitchen Diaries is not only a beautiful book but beautiful to read. Forget Jules and Julia if you wanted to have a gourmet year try replicating what Nigel eats.. Now there is an idea. Shame my name is not Nigella, then there could be Nigella and Nigel. Book deal anyone? Forget the book I want the movie!

Anyway, although I love to read the Kitchen Diaries, Real Food is responsble for some of my most favourite meals- sausage pasta, coq au reisling, spicy chicken sandwiches, roast chicken lemon, basil and garlic, garlicky prawns. I could go on. The only problem being the liberal use of olive oil and butter, so, whilst these dishes were so very tasty they were also responsible, in part to, an expansion of my waistline.

Wednesday 16 December 2009


We won't be going back.

We had high hopes, locally sourced meat, burgers cooked medium and blue cheese as a topping, it all held so much promise but lacked in execution.
I guess it should have been a warning sign that the burgers come with at least four or five toppings. If a burger is good it should stand alone with maybe cheese or bacon to accompany it. The patties themselves reminded me of those birdseye hamburgers that we ate as children of the eighties. Their uniform shape and consistency was disconcerting. On the plus side the patties were cooked medium as adveritsed, a request for medium rare was politely declined, and juicy. But that in combination with the myriad of toppings lead to the bun disintegrating and a very messy meal indeed. The chunky chips were bad, undercooked inside and not crispy on the outside. Hardly once cooked let alone triple-cooked. The onion rings were a mistake too- very oily with onion that was raw on the inside. The chocolate milkshake was mildly amusing as it came in a milk bottle but that's where the wholesomeness ended, as it left a distinctly unnatural taste in the mouth.

Lunch for two came to £23 and all I could think was I could have had a burger at Stravaigin for that.

Saturday 12 December 2009

Stravaigin update

As usual, not much to say other than excellent food, and oh, I wish I owned the place.

a very good chanterelle in garlicky creamy bacony sauce on toast

standard setting haggis neeps and tatties

yummy rabbit and bean cassoulet

Livers with mash and a superb gravy

This place knows how to do heart warming well, whilst at the same time exhibiing a delicacy of touch.

La Valle Blanche

It was a rare opportunity to go our for dinner so we chose La Valle Blanche. As usual the staff were attentive and the place had a pleasant buzz. I started off with a champange cocktail

to celebrate our night of freedom and HI had a glass of white. We were offered freshly baked fennel rolls

and an amuse of duck rillets, which were very tasty and not too oily.

I had the rare steak salad which was quite generous in size

and HI had the beef cheeks as usual

We both opted for the duck confit and I kind of wish I had stuck to my rule, that we have to order different things, and gone with my first choice the halibut. It was not that the confit was not any good, as it was-moist, but not oily, however, I did think the skin could have been crispier. My main problem was that confit in and of itself is quite rich and when served with the very good and buttery pomme puree and a very hearty puy lentil and bacon creation, it was altogether too heavy a dish. My ideal duck confit can be found at Onde in Sydney where it is paired with caramalised apple, walnuts, mesclun salad and a side of frites.

Anyway, one of the highlights of the evening was when the very gracious Mrs Clarke who does FOH came to offer us a free glass of fizz and glass of white on the house to celebrate our night of freedom. It must be the only time in the history of forever that both of us declined- oh how times have changed! My alcohol tolerance being zilch now, a second glass would have been messy.

Monday 5 October 2009


My mum offered to babysit, so off we trotted to Crabshakk. We decided to have an oyster each, and then share not one, but two plates of very well excecuted squid tempura-batter crispy, squid not chewy. I again plumped for the fish and chips, and the chip were as good as I remembered, better than Stravaigin and just as good as Mohr fish. HI had the whitebait which were deccent enough but not as good as those we have had in Barcelona. Rachel opted for the crab claws which were fresh and delicate in flavour but soon the novelty wore off as bits of shell flew everywhere.

It was a very tasty and pleasant lunch and I am glad that this place is just round the corner from us. It joins Stravaigin as my go to place. We were also happy to hear that folk do take their babies there, and we even got the number of the best table to ask for, if accompanied by a sprog.

As mentioned before the owners are husband and wife team, Lynne Jones and architect John Macleod, the architect behind Gandolfi Bar and Cafezique. This staircase is pretty cool, I would like one in my house.

My first experience of oysters since Applecross and Torridon, Fortunately this experience did not end in disaster!

Excellent squid tempura, not chewy and not oily.

Crab claws and Rachels hand

Very decent fish and chips

Kir royales

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Thai Siam

A favourite of ours. We always order the same:

from left to right chicken with sweet basil, chilli and cashwew nuts, larb gai, somtom.

hot, savoury and tasty.

Friday 25 September 2009

EAT at Clarkston Toll

Although the Southside seems lacking in quality deli's, Eat is reckoned to be one of the best. It was full on a Saturday lunchtime with a healthy queue of people, taking out. However, compared to Heart Buchanan or Delizique I did not find it to be all that.

My sandwich although substantial in appearance was lacking in taste,

whereas the chocolate filled eclair was quite decadent and tasty.

The bill was pretty steep coming to £25 for the sandwich, two hot drinks and two eclairs. I think that I may still venture to the West end of a Saturday morning and stock up whilst I am there.

Truffle Risotto

This was a weekend treat. I had made chicken stock using the left over carcass from a roast. HI had got all excited and bought some black truffle-white not being readily avaialble.

You know the drill:

Sautee some shallots and garlic until golden but not brown, meanwhile heat up the stock so it simmers, add the risotto (carnaroli is meant to be best) and fold into the shallots and garlic, stir until you smell a toasting smell, season with salt and white pepper then add some white wine so that the alcohol burns off. Once this has been absorbed slowly add, ladle by ladle the hot stock making sure it is absorbed before adding the next ladle. At this point I add some sliced wild mushrooms, watching out for their water content. The addition of stock can take quite a while and I always aim for the description of a single grain of rice suspended in a globule of liquid- not too runny not too thick. Just before serving I fold in two to three generous handfuls of grated parmesan and then the finely slice truffle on top.

A real treat.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

The left bank.

The left bank is situated diagonally across from Stravaigin which means it has stiff competition and usually loses. However, on a quest to find baby friendly lunch joints, I met my friend there for lunch. It serves smaller tapas plates in addition to larger mains, and has an AA rosette, something which Stravaigin does not oddly enough. We ordered a selection of small plates most of which was pretty good. The ribs were excellent with the meat falling off the bone, the humous was garlicky and tasty, the meatballs were generous in size with a slight chili kick. The fries decent enough the only downside being that, for some bizarre reason they don't serve mayo, despite the fact that they have chipotle mayo on the menu. My naive assumption that to have one you must first make the other was refuted without much discussion! Oh well..

rosemary salted chips

spicy lamb meatballs with tomato sauce and parmesean

excellent sticky pork ribs

garlic and aubergine humous

..the food was pretty tasty and they like babies so I will be back.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Fifi and ally

A quick lunch.
They seem to have pulled up their socks service-wise, we were seated quickly, our orders taken without too much delay and the food appeared not too much later.

A very generous garlicky, creamy wild mushrooms on toast, which was very good

and a healthy roast chicken salad, again with a healthy portion of moist roast chicken

There were also comments cards on the tables which is refreshing to see, and something I wish that more places would do, as it shows a willingness to constantly improve service.

So, well done Fifi and Ally!

how lucky am I!?

Freshly made garlic chutney and paper thin dosa hot off the stove, all washed down with piping hot coffee. Yum yum

Friday 31 July 2009

A few updates: Stravaigin, Asia Style, Chow, Mother India Cafe

Rather than do individual posts about these old favourites I thought I would just report back on them and tell you all is well-they are still delivering the goods!


HI has a new favourite dish-a kidney and suet pudding that features on their downstairs menu. It doesn't appeal to me but it makes his little face light up.

My old staple the burger is still as glorious as ever, only now due to ever shrinking stomach size I can only eat half. To think of the days that I used to be able to eat a starter and a whole burger..

Asia Style

This was particularly good. We went on a hot saturday evening around six o'clock and the food came out really quick and was super fresh.
The usual order of malaysian pancake, choi sum with garlic, salt and pepper prawns, Sichuan chicken and noodles really hit the spot. The left overs of which there were many went down a treat the next day.


For more straight forward Chinese we go to Chow and this is where we indulge in our guilty secret pleasure which is chips and gravy, which to taste right has to be had in a Chinese restaurant.

It takes me back to my childhood when my best friend and I ate this in a place called Mauchline. The salt and pepper squid is very good.

and the Sichuan chicken although tasty is a very different beast to the one at Asia Style.

Mother India Cafe

What can I say? Still very tasty, still very reasonable. I have no photos as we always tuck in before I remember to take them! Rachel always orders the same-butter chicken, chicken on the bone, chilli prawns, garlic potatoes and a peshwari nan. Yep, that's all just for her. HI and I always order the same-butter chicken, lamb mince with peas, tomato and okra and lamb saag. And the magical £15 rule still works!

Tuesday 7 July 2009


After the wedding we planned on meeting up with our friends, Neil, Emma, Will and Nina for dinner at the Hawksmoor. Being pregnant the idea of eating an overcooked steak did not appeal so I had emailed them in advance to see if I could get special dispensation to get the burger instead.

But oh no, no special treatment for the pregnant lady.

It's the only time this ploy has failed. I was told via email that if they allowed me the burger they would have to allow other people the burger and then chaos would ensue, so they suggested that I have a rib-eye done medium well instead. To be dissed in such a way would normally result in me giving a place a body swerve, but, because it's HI's favourite place for cocktails and it was relatively convenient, I made the booking anyway.

So after a couple of very good handmade lemonades at Pinchito People we found ourselves at the bar at the Hawksmoor round about six. The nice barman noticing my prominent bump, straight away set-to whipping up a non-alcoholic cocktail for me, whilst HI plumped for a Millionaire.

My cocktail was lovely and refreshing-guava, lime and pineapple flavours came through.

It was followed by this strawberry delight

The others joined us at the bar and ordered some cocktails too, we were so busy catching up that we didn't actually take our table till seven-thirty. The place was not yet full but it is London, and it got busier round about nine. Our waitress was rather surly I have to say, I think she thought that her tip, which was added to our bill with out our asking, was going to be a paltry one when she heard that we were not having starters. She perked up a little when we order about 6 sides, puddings, coffee, and many more drinks. She had an annoying habit of asking my husband if he wanted another cocktail everytime she came to the table, which could be perceived as being attentive but if you know how potent these cocktails is a bit dangerous, and smacked of wanting to take advantage of a group of slightly tipsy people, of whom I was not one.

Anyway, griping aside, onto the food. I was disappointed by the chips, they are triple cooked but I found them to be a bit under done on the inside. Stravaigin and Crabshakk do better chips if you ask me. The others decided to try out the Porterhouses, one at 850g the other at 700g both done medium-rare. Much to my annoyance I did not take a photo of what looked to be a mighty fine piece of meat. The silence that ensued confirmed that it was as tasty as it looked. Will had order envy as he had gone for a rib-eye medium-rare which did not compete with the Porterhouse. I asked for my rib-eye medium-well as instructed only to be told that it would have to be done well-done, I think to avoid me having any chance of coming back and suing them for food poisoning, so I just ate what I was given like a good meek pregnant woman should.

It was ok, not too chewy but by then the fun had gone out of it a bit.
The puddings that followed were associated with happy noises but I did not part-take as I was suffering from protein overload. I do like the Hawksmoor primarily for the cocktails, but as I anticipated it's not really for pregnant people, but then again, not many places are.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Pinchito tapas

We headed here after the wedding, hoping that it would be open, and we were in luck, for there are not to be many places open in Shoreditch before five. I liked the vibe of the place, it was very Born- Barcelona. We shared some Padron with the obligatory hot few, I had two very tasty handmade lemonades.

and HI had a blood and sand,

a cocktail which is not often found in cocktail bars.

I would definitely come back to Pinchito Tapas to sample the food as it's a lot closer than Barcelona.

Saturday 4 July 2009

The Clerkenwell Green:restoring faith in gastropubs.

My sister choose to have her wedding reception at the Clerkenwell Green and it turned out to be a pretty good choice. Slightly wary from our bad experience at the Clissold Arms that night before we were pleasantly surprised. We started off with a variety of canapes including smoked salmon, mushroom rolls, foie gras, little lamb meatballs and some other bits and pieces.

For our starters the winner, once again, seemed to be the veggie option of goats cheese with aubergine and pesto. The look on my mum's face was priceless-a clear case of order envy if ever I saw one. My smoked mackerel pate was good as was the parma ham with figs, which for once were sweet.

The mains were very good, my chicken with chorizo was excellent and I ate it all.

The salmon was also declared a success

as was the blue cheese and onion tart.

If I was in the vicinity again I would definitely come back here for something to ate. Proof that not all gastro-pubs are created equal!

Friday 3 July 2009

The Glasshouse, Kew

Given that the curious-eater’s currently with child and not doing too much in the way of eating out, she approached me and asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a few guest blogs just to keep things ticking over.

So by way of introduction, my name is Will.

I’ve been mentioned in a few of the curious-eater’s posts as a partner in crime to many of the culinary experiences described in her fabulous blog. The curious-eater has been a very good friend for a number of years and that friendship has been fuelled in part, by a shared passion for food. We love talking about it, thinking about it, we love cooking it, and most importantly we love eating it. Anyway having done lots of the above this is my first go at blogging about it so please be gentle with me…

Last week was my birthday and as a birthday treat, some friends and I headed to La Trompette in Chiswick. However, this particular post is not about that meal but it’s relevance will be revealed. All I want to say is if you haven’t been, I would thoroughly advise that you go as soon as you can. Have a look back through the curious-eater’s previous posts, the food is absolutely amazing and a more splendid dining experience you’ll struggle to find.
Upon settling the bill we were presented with some vouchers to visit The Glasshouse Restaurant in Kew which is a sister restaurant of La Trompette, in Chiswick and Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. Given that it was a very reasonable £18.75 for three courses at dinner, myself and my delightful girlfriend Nina felt that it was too good an opportunity to miss. We booked to visit the following Monday evening and I have to say we were not in anyway disappointed.

To start Nina ordered the ‘smoked haddock fishcake with samphire, Provencal tomato and hollandaise sauce’

which I rather cheekily managed steal a mouthful or two of, obviously in the interests of research and not out of greed! Ahem! I have to say I actually preferred this to the starter I had which was the ‘thinly sliced veal with blushed tomatoes and watercress’.

Both were excellent but the smoked haddock fishcake for me won it. The fishcake was wonderfully flavoured: the smokiness of the fish complemented beautifully by the slight saltiness of the samphire and the delicious hollandaise. The veal was really good and was without question a beautifully prepared dish, but it just didn’t have anything which set the taste buds zinging…

For our mains Nina ordered the ‘Duck leg confit with spring savoy cabbage, beetroot, carrot puree and sauce poivrade’.

I ordered the ‘John Dory and crispy squid with fennel, aubergine, and tomato salad’.

Both dished were flawless. I wont even try to describe how good both dishes were. I think the photo’s speak for themselves.

For our pudding I had the cheese board and Nina ordered the ‘strawberry sorbet with strawberries and crushed meringue’ which when boiled down was essentially a lovely Eton mess.

Given that Eton mess is, in my opinion, just about as good as puddings get, and given that Nina thinks cheese is just about one of the best things ever there were envious looks a plenty back and forth…

For the wine we selected, with the help of the sommelier, a Chenin Blanc (Old vines, Stellenbosch) which was wonderfully dry with a real citrus aroma which was very reasonably priced at £25.

So, with coffee on top the bill came to a very reasonable £50 each. (Service inc.)

All in all, a meal of superb quality. If pushed though I’d probably have to choose La Trompette as being the better of the two restaurants. Although, I’m assured by Nina that Chez Bruce is the best of the three. I may need to start inventing special occasions just to have a reason for visit Chez Bruce!

Clissold Arms

I can't beat about the bush. This place was bad. Not only was it bad but it was expensive too, a combination of my two least favourite things. The reason we were there was a family gathering, we had originally planned to go to Cay Tre for some Vietnamese but my sister was getting married the next day and the opportunity arose to meet the groom's familly, so when duty calls..

The place is pretty generic looking: with long wooden tables, ornate lighting and muted colours. We were waiting for people to join us so we started off with some bread and olives both of which were unremarkable. What was noticeable is that we were not given any side plates and so had to drip olive oil everywhere whilst eating our bread. There other thing that should cause concern was that the menu was distinctly uninspiring. There was not really anything that any of us wanted to eat from either the starters and mains, which is unusual.

There were a variety of starters ordered. A smoked salmon starter ended up being a couple of piece of smoked salmon already dressed with a lot of salad leaves. Being Scottish I know that good smoked salmon needs nothing if a little lemon juice so the dressing was to my mind unnecessary and unadvertised. The tomato soup was declared good and seasoned perfectly. HI starter of potted shrimp whihc was passable in tjhat it was not a solid lump of butter but a bit underseasoned to my palate

The mains were again underwhelming, I had the pork loin with chorizo and spinach which turned out to be a huge chunk of tasteless meat, there had been little preparation put into the meat and the tomato confit was bland.

The steaks were also declared tasteless and chewy, even though asked for medium-rare.

the winner turned out to be the veggie tagliatelle with feta, tomatoes and walnuts.

For three people two starters, three mains, two beers, two ginger beers and a juice it came to £100 which to my mind was ridiculous. As you know, I don't mind spending money on food but it has to at least be tasty. There seems to be a huge variation in quality where gastropubs are concerned and in an area like East Finchley where there is not much competition, a place like the Clissold Arms will flourish, which is a shame as they could do with pulling their socks up. I don't think I am being harsh as we had a good example of what is possible from the Clerkenwell Green the very next day. I If anything they had the tougher deal, they were catering for 60 at a wedding, a 3 course sit down and the food was very good. Anyway I would not go back to the Clissold Arms and in fact would probably ask to go elsewhere..