Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rochelle Canteen - London

Yeah I know.
We’ve been here before and yes, I promised that I’d be around a lot more than I have. I tried, I really did, but I fucked up. I could offer you excuses, I could swear that things will be different this time and you might believe me, but who are we kidding? I might be around, I might not. I just don’t know.  I just can’t stay away though…

So here I am.

Like an illicit lover. I’ve sneaked back in to your life. Made love to you in the most erotic literary fashion by way of this Rochelle Canteen review and disappeared once more in to the grey, early morning light, leaving you sleeping soundly with a wistful smile and tousled hair, a rose on your pillow and a used condom lurking under the duvet, no doubt stuck to your leg.  

Yes!
It’s me!

Ok. Enough of that. Rochelle Canteen….

As you are probably aware, I’m a massive fan of all things St John and Fergus Henderson. I love the British’ness of it, the simple, seasonal, ingredient led menus, the spartan plating and the near fanatical obsession with using dismembered animal bits and bobs that are rarely seen on other restaurant menus. I even, God help me, have learned to like the odd cheeky Fernet Branca, Mr Henderson’s favourite booze, famously always on the speed rail behind the bar at St John.

Where am I going with this? Well, Rochelle Canteen is part of the St John family, literally in fact. It’s owned and run by Margot Henderson, Fergus’s wife and her business partner, Melanie Arnold. It’s just behind Shoreditch High Street, on Arnold Circus in an old Victorian School, and this is where I found myself, in the pissing of rain last Monday lunchtime.

So far, so good. Except it wasn’t.
Considering that I knew exactly where Rochelle Canteen is located, you’d think access would be just a mere formality. Well, it would be if you could find the correct door with the intercom button labelled ‘Rochelle Canteen’. I wandered around in a torrential downpour for ten minutes, circling the entire school wall before finally happening upon the entrance.  To save you suffering the same rain soaked indignity and frustration, I have thoughtfully included pictures of the doorway in question and the intercom button where finger pressure is required. Consider yourself forewarned.
Anyway, I finally made it into the courtyard and wandered across to the small, glass walled outbuilding that houses the canteen and slid open the door.

Inside, as you’d expect it’s very white, very bare looking and judging by the lunchtime crowd, very Shoreditch, which is hardly surprising given the location. There’s a counter with a well-equipped open kitchen to the left and some communal seating in a dining area.

I normally research my restaurant eating and drinking options meticulously before I even book, but this time I had somehow dropped a massive bollock. I was absolutely flabbergasted when the server told me Rochelle Canteen doesn’t sell alcohol. It turns out it’s BYO with £5 corkage. Taking a brief moment to repeatedly slap my own forehead violently, interspersed with shouting “stupid!” “STUPID!” I resigned myself to soft drinks and tap water. Yeah. Bastard.

Recovering my cool, I scanned the menu and was struck by two thoughts.

1) It’s not frigging cheap
2) I want to order everything.

This is bad news. The worst possible combination. A menu perfect storm ensuring that I will probably leave devoid of any dignity, crawling towards the exit, uncomfortably full and being extremely vocal in my agonised groaning. At the same time, I’ll certainly be so utterly skint I’ll have to resort to selling my beautiful, taut, muscular young body to accumulate the train fare home.

Damn you Rochelle Canteen! *fist shake*
Taking into account that it was cold, grey and damp outside, conditions mirrored by me on a personal level after wandering around trying to find the entrance, I ordered duck broth with “Frittaten” (A herb pancake cut into ribbons and draped artfully in the soup). They’d run out of Duck, but they had chicken. Even better. I could think of nothing more comforting to someone in my bedraggled condition. Simple clean flavours, steaming hot and absolutely delicious. Like the peasant I am, I quickly progressed from mannered spoonful’s to dunking huge chunks of sourdough bread slathered with butter into the broth and from there into my gob and felt better and better with every slurp and bite.
When I said ‘it’s not frigging cheap’ Chicken and leek pie, I’m looking at you. 
Maybe I am really a peasant, maybe I no longer have any idea how much things cost in London, now that I live in Bristol and only return intermittently, but £16.50 for a pie, for one, with no other accompaniments at all seems, pardon my Francais; a bit fucking steep. 
To make matters somehow worse, I can’t deny it was absolutely bloody gorgeous. Beautiful pastry, albeit a bit rustic looking, filled solid with bits of chicken and leek.
To round things out a bit and also because I’m a notoriously greedy bastard, I complemented my solitary sixteen and a half quid delicious pie with a bowl of roasted new potatoes, carrots and garlic. All nice enough.
Simple things are often the best, typified perfectly by a slice of ginger loaf with vanilla ice-cream and butterscotch sauce. I demolished the lot and smiled broadly between every mouthful.

After gawping and at the bill, I walked back out into a soggy London afternoon, significantly lighter of pocket but happy, full-up and generally pretty pleased with lunch; so I reckon it was worth it then.  

I liked Rochelle Canteen a lot. Yes it’s a bit on the steep side, but there’s a beautiful almost rustic simplicity to the food. It’s like a far less formal version of St John, similar in outlook (unsurprisingly) but much less restaurant and more like eating around a friend’s house who happens to be an amazing cook. There’s no frippery, no fancy plating, just solid cooking with excellent ingredients and sometimes that’s all you want. I found it refreshing and pretty damn comforting. If you can actually find the bloody entrance, you should go.

Rochelle Canteen
Rochelle School
Arnold Circus
London
E2 7ES

Telephone: 020 7729 5677

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Chicken, Butter Bean and Tarragon Soup

It’s late August but perversely I'm thinking about soup for dinner. It’s been frigging horrible out there lately, it just hasn't stopped pissing down with rain and it’s cold with it. Anyone would think I lived in the UK and not a sun-kissed, palm-fringed Caribbean island *glances out of window and does a double take*. Shit.

Anyway, the legend that is Nigel Slater had a cracking looking soup recipe in The Observer magazine a week or so ago, chicken, butter bean and tarragon, so I gave that a go and in case you didn't see it, I'm going to share it with you.

This recipe ticks a number of boxes for me. Firstly I frigging love chicken soup, always have. Secondly, I also love butter beans, not sure why, I think it’s a textural thing, they feel smooth like a pebble but are soft and mashy when you bite into them, yeah I'm weird. Finally, guess what? I also love the aniseed whack of tarragon, especially with chicken.  It’s like this recipe was made for me.

If that wasn't enough, there’s also a very ‘on trend’ element in the form of chicken crackling garnish. If you haven’t tried it yet, you've got to give it a go. Basically roasted, crispy chicken skin. It’s filthy, but lovely.

A note about chicken thighs – use them often! They’re dirt cheap, the meat actually tastes of something and if you’re shredding it up anyway, what difference does it make what part of the animal it came from. As usual, you should also be using lovely, happy free range chickens and not those grey, anaemic looking, extra value, 5 kilo tubs of sad, assorted chook bits for £3 that are probably a jigsaw puzzle of a butchered tramp.        

Oh and eat this with good crusty bread, slathered in butter if you’re feeling particularly carefree. If you’re in Bristol, Mark’s Bread baguettes are frigging perfect. I love them. Anyway. That recipe….

Chicken Butter Bean and Tarragon Soup

Serves 4

3 large onions
30g butter
A little olive oil
2x 400g tins butter beans
1 litre chicken stock (if you have homemade use it, if not the gel pots will do).
4 large chicken thighs, with skin, on the bone
5-6 sprigs of parsley
6 sprigs tarragon

Peel and roughly chop the onions. Melt the butter in a saucepan with a splash of olive oil. Throw in the chopped onions and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes.

Drain the tins of butter beans and stir them into the onions along with the stock. Bring to the boil.
Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and put to one side for later. Sling the now skinless thighs into the stock then lower the heat and let the whole lot gently simmer for 40 minutes.

While you’re waiting, stretch the chicken skins flat on a foil covered baking tray. Season with salt and pepper. Stick into a low oven (150C) until crisp and golden (Nigel reckons 15-20 mins, but it took a fair bit longer in my oven, more like half hour). When done, set aside on kitchen towel.

Remove the chicken thighs from the soup. Pick all the meat from the bones and tear into large pieces. Chop the tarragon and parsley, then in a small mixing bowl, gently stir it through the chicken with a little salt and pepper until it’s coated in herbs.

Using an electric blender, blitz about half the soup to a creamy puree (Or all of it, if you like your soup non-chunky). Divide between four bowls. Add a heap of herby chicken thigh and a piece of chicken crackling balanced on top. 

Get slurping.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Bobby beans with garlic and crème fraiche

Hello beloved readers. 
I'm back!

Now, I could furnish you all with a multitude of excuses of why I haven’t updated the blog for a little while, but you don’t want to hear that load of pathetic old cobblers, you want frigging RESULTS and I understand that, I really do. So here I am, delivering STUFF for you to cast your critical eye over.

Bearing that in mind and without further ado, get your eyeballs around this.

I've kind of been lacking inspiration recently. Don’t get me wrong, I cook all the time. It’s even what I do for a living at my day job, and I'm always eating out in restaurants. Food is pretty much my raison d'être (check me and my posh words out!), but something has just felt like it was missing. It’s hard to define or pin down but I just haven’t felt particularly excited about anything much lately, but that all changed last week.

I happened to pick up a copy of Caroline Conran’s, Sud de France – The food and cooking of Languedoc

This is hard to describe but flicking through I gradually felt the clouds lifting and was somehow instantly rejuvenated in a culinary sense. I'm not entirely sure how or why, I just realised that I wanted to cook all of it and couldn't wait to get started. 

Now I know you’re probably thinking-

‘What a load of bollocks Dan, you probably ate some dodgy prawns or sumfink and the effects happened to wear off as you read that book ’

But it’s true I tell you. I have been INSPIRED.

Seriously, It’s an absolutely fantastic book. Every single recipe is introduced with anecdotes that beautifully sketch out intriguing glimpses of everyday life, eating and cooking in the Languedoc region of France. The recipes themselves are refreshingly exact, to the point and most importantly, they work (a prerequisite of a recipe book you might think, but it’s surprising how many books fall at that particular hurdle).

There are no photos of the food, just the authors own drawings and I love that. You’re free to interpret how the food should look on the plate and you’re forced to use your imagination and work a little bit, which feels somehow very right. It also helps, dare I say it, to make it all feel very reminiscent of Elizabeth David and that is definitely a compliment.

Anyway, it’s a truly lovely book. Buy it

There’s one recipe in particular I absolutely love. It’s really simple, almost ridiculously so, but It just blew me away. French beans with garlic – Haricots verts a l’ail.

I cooked this recipe using bobby beans (an English variant of green beans that are in season, right now) and used Neal’s Yard Dairy’s rather amazing crème fraiche (if you've never tried it, I urge you to give it a go, it’s the best crème fraiche I've ever tasted – if you’re in Bristol, they stock it in Source at St Nicholas Market).
I served it with the Chicken with sherry vinegar and tomato recipe from the same book (also superb). 

Bobby beans with garlic and crème fraiche

Serves 4

You’ll need-
   
500g Bobby beans, topped and tailed    
150ml Crème Fraiche
1 plump clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt, pepper.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Throw in the beans and let them cook for 8 minutes.

- I’d normally cook fine beans for 3 minutes, al dente, but stick with it, the author explains that she thinks the beans don’t develop their flavour if they are eaten too crisp and raw. Based on the results, for this particular recipe, I think I agree.

Meanwhile simmer the garlic in the crème fraiche in a small non-stick pan for about 5 minutes, until the garlic starts to smell fragrant.

Drain the beans thoroughly, toss them in the cream and garlic mixture.
Season with pepper and salt if necessary.

And that’s it. Simple and bloody amazing!
Yeah, I’ll say it again… buy this book.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Lyle's - London

Contained within a note on my phone is an ever expanding list of restaurants I want to eat at. The majority of them in London. So every time I’m back in the capital, even if I’m just passing through, I always hit somewhere new for lunch or dinner or sometimes both, often with some grazing in-between. Don’t be shocked. I think it’s been well established over the years what a spectacularly greedy bastard I am.

As I was back in London last week, for the first time in frigging ages. I decided to have lunch at Lyle’s in Shoreditch. Running the kitchen is Chef James Lowe. Formerly of the Young Turks; a trio of chefs, who, after impressing London collaboratively a few years back, have all gone on to rather awesome things. Upstairs at the Ten Bells and The Clove Club to name but two. Seeing as I absolutely bloody love both of these, my expectations were pretty high.

But first, the simple task of actually finding the restaurant. I’m a pretty punctual guy, I arrived in Shoreditch with plenty of time to spare. I was looking hip and feeling rather louche, as befits the general vibe of the area. The map application on my phone was telling me that Lyle’s was just there, but could I bloody see it? Pizza East, yes. Hipster central, Shoreditch House, yeah, restaurant I have a lunch reservation at? No. I walked up and down the street, increasingly confused and flustered, whilst my own wafer thin veneer of hip was seemingly melting away like a badly applied coat of cheap spray tan.

In the end, I walked into a warehouse office space and asked the receptionist if she knew where Lyle’s was. Barely containing the urge to pull an imbecilic ‘Duh’ expression at me, she simply pointed behind me and to the left. I’d walked straight past it.

On time, just and presenting myself at the front desk of Lyle’s, I was again thrown out of kilter by the aloof manner of the girl manning the reservation laptop. I know it’s cool Shoreditch, dahling and it’s the latest shit-hot restaurant and all that, but would it have killed her to crack a smile and try and appear friendly? Surely it’s a prerequisite of meeting and greeting to flash those pearly whites and actually make the customer feel, I don’t know….welcome?

Ignoring the bad start and determined to enjoy my lunch, I was shown to my table and immediately things improved. My waiter was friendly, cheerful, professional and knowledgeable as he talked me through the menu. Aaaaand relax.

The restaurant space itself feels very large, light and airy as you’d expect from a former tea warehouse, it actually reminds me of the industrial type space you initially walk into at St John in Clerkenwell, which strangely brings me onto the food.

James Lowe has previously worked at St John and it shows.  Something of the Fergus Henderson’s influence is seemingly ingrained in every chef who has worked in one of his kitchens. The menu, the ingredients, the plating style, the look of the restaurant, you can just see it and it’s a very good thing. I say this because I ate at new Bristol restaurant, Birch a few days previous to this, and the chef, Sam Leach is formerly of the St John Hotel, his menu, his food, the ingredients that he’s using and even the Spartan look of his restaurant are in some ways similar to Lyle’s, which in turn is somehow reminiscent of St John.   
Given that connection, as you’d expect, the menu at Lyles is very British and extremely seasonal. I wanted to order the whole frigging lot from the selection of small plates, but restrained myself to just two.
Asparagus and walnut mayonnaise, very simple but beautifully done. I absolutely love asparagus and can’t get enough when it’s in season, but I really ordered this because I was intrigued by the pairing with a walnut mayonnaise, something which is entirely new to me. It was delicious and worked really well.
The highlight of my lunch and another early contender for the best thing I’ve put in my mouth all year (snigger), Lamb’s sweetbreads, ramson and lettuce. Beautiful to look at, incredible to eat. This was by far the best plate of sweetbreads I ever eaten, anywhere. They were massive, cooked just right and tasted superb with the wild garlic and lettuce. Truly lovely.
Resisting the urge to order another plate of sweetbreads, I continued stuffing myself with meat, moving onto a full sized plate of food. Saddleback, land cress and anchovy. Very simple and St John’esque in appearance. A beautifully cooked piece of pork, paired unusually with an intense anchovy sauce. It was delicious.
At this point, I should mention the excellent bread and butter seeing as I wolfed down two plates of it and while I’m at it, I should also mention the wine, recommended to me by one of the Lyle’s sommelier’s via Twitter (she wasn’t working the lunch shift), Cotes du Jura ‘La Pierre’, 2011, Les Granges de Quatre Sous. It was totally banging. Superb at £7 a glass.
Finally, dessert. Having eaten a rather nice treacle tart at ‘Birch’ a couple of days before, I decided to forgo that option on the menu (those similarities again) Instead I went for Rhubarb and Custard. Consisting of a cold, whipped custard heaped on top of beautiful rhubarb, lightly poached and a quenelle of rhubarb sorbet. It was cracking.

So, I loved Lyle’s. Ignoring the initial rather brusque greeting, I thought the service fantastic and the food beautiful in it’s simplicity. Similar to the grub at St John, but pimped. The lamb sweetbread dish was one of the best things I've ever eaten and I harbour some disappointment that I didn’t manage to eat my way through the entire menu. All in all, I had a stonking lunch. I’ll definitely be going back for more.

Lyle’s
Tea Building
56 Shoreditch High Street
London
E1 6JJ

Telephone: 0203 011 5911
http://www.lyleslondon.com

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Birch - Bristol

I first met Sam and Becky not long after I moved to Bristol. I’d gone along to their supper club and was so taken with what they were doing, it actually inspired me and my ex-partner, Elly to start our own supper club, The Basement, which we ran for two years. 

Apart from Sam and Becky’s food, which was excellent, what impressed me most whenever I talked to them was their almost single-minded dedication to someday owning and running their own restaurant. They obviously really wanted it.  

Determined to learn as much as they could, and make it happen, Sam did some training as a butcher and then as a baker, before undertaking a career as a chef whilst Becky worked as a waitress in a couple of cracking Bristol restaurants, Culinaria and Flinty Red.  A couple of years ago, they both moved to London and worked in some seriously good places, Sam at the St John Hotel and 40 Maltby Street, Becky at Hawksmoor and the Quality Chop House, before recently moving back to Bristol, having learnt loads and still determined to open their own place.

I ran into Sam a few months back and he told me he’d found a site, South of the river, over near the Tobacco Factory and that he and Becky were doing the majority of the building work and fitting out themselves.

That was then, this is now and wouldn't you know, all that work and determination has finally paid off.  Sam and Becky opened their own restaurant, Birch last week and I'm seriously frigging delighted to say that it’s superb.

I wouldn't normally write a review based on a soft opening, it’s not really fair on the restaurant to judge them while they’re ironing out a myriad of unforeseen opening weekend problems, but the crew at Birch absolutely nailed it, hit the ground running and didn't put a foot wrong, so here it is.

Located on the corner of Rayleigh and Birch Roads (hence the name) and just down the street from The Tobacco Factory, it’s a little off the beaten track. It’s a real neighbourhood restaurant location, but is so bloody good it should be drawing people in from all over the city and beyond.

The interior is very plain, very white, with a small bar at the back and 50’s style Formica topped tables. Massive windows on both sides of the dining room, flood the space with light. It all feels a bit Scandinavia via Hackney, which is no bad thing.

The menu however is rooted very much in Britain with excellent local, seasonal produce featuring heavily. Except that Sam and Becky have taken it a step further and have secured an allotment space where they’re growing their own fruit and vegetables for the restaurant.

The food itself is, unsurprisingly given Sam’s background, very much recognisable in the style of St John. Fergus Henderson’s very British, unfussy manner rubs off heavily on anyone who has served time in one of his kitchens (I ate at Lyle’s in Shoreditch a couple of days later and the influence is obvious there too). However, Sam’s food is much less Spartan with more of a flourish and I like that. The food at St John is undoubtedly excellent but can be pretty uncompromising to look at.        
With a trio of nibbles, three starters, three mains, a small selection of ices, puddings and a local cheese, the menu is perfectly formed, short and concise.
Kicking the meal off with a bone dry Manzanilla sherry I picked at an assortment of snacks, excellent anchovy biscuits which were deliciously salty with just a subtle fishy hit on the finish. Fresh radishes with a herb mayonnaise, a particular favourite of mine and devilled almonds, perfectly complimenting the sherry although I reckoned these needed a bit more of a pokey chilli whack. 
I have to mention the bread and the butter, both made by Sam at the restaurant and both bloody lovely. 
A starter of duck and pork pie, chicory, hazelnut and mustard salad however was absolutely faultless. Perfect pastry, encasing quivering redcurrant jelly surrounding an offal tinged slab of duck and pork. Holy Moly, it was seriously good.

My mate, Jemma meanwhile was scoffing a plate of asparagus, hot butter and crumbs, which by all accounts was every bit as good as it sounds. I didn't get a picture, you’ll just have to imagine what that looked like.
At the end of the year, when I'm mulling over meals past, I strongly suspect that my next course of roast hogget leg, mash, chard and anchovy sauce will easily rank up there as one of the best things I ate all year. The lamb was so beautifully cooked, solid slabs of dusky pink meat surrounded by a dark burnished crust, I was certain it must have been cooked sous-vide (I was wrong, it was roasted in a low oven). Combined with the umami punch of the anchovy sauce, perfect mash (I'm a mash fiend, believe me when I say it was perfect) and colourful buttery chard, the whole thing was pretty near as dammit perfect as its possible to be and absolutely beautiful to look at.
Across the table, Jemma was feeling similarly emosh about her plate of hake, brown crab, Cornish new potatoes and spring onions. I cadged a sneaky forkful and yep, it was as lovely as it looked.

On a roll and taking no prisoners, I demolished a scoop of marmalade and whisky ice cream, which had a suitably satisfying whack of both ingredients. Lovely.
I then moved onto a rather nice treacle tart with clotted cream before finishing off with a plate of Bath Soft cheese and crackers whilst my friend Jemma looked on aghast at the gout taunting gluttonous display of excess, playing out opposite.

When people ask where they should eat in Bristol, there’s just three places I always recommend. My personal favourites, Bell’s Diner, Wallfish and Flinty Red. After this meal, I'm going to add a fourth, Birch. 

It’s that good. 

Sam is a superb chef, he obviously adores what he’s doing, his food is frigging excellent, both he and Becky have worked really hard to achieve their dream and that passion, that drive and that love for what they’re doing shines through.

Go and enjoy it.

Birch
47 Raleigh Road, 
Southville
Bristol
BS3 1QS

Telephone: 01179 028 326
http://birchbristol.co

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Slow cooked cauliflower in yoghurt


I have certain dishes in favourite restaurants that are so bloody good, no matter what else is on the menu, I’ll always manage to find room to squeeze a cheeky one in somewhere.  The slow cooked cauliflower in yoghurt at my favourite Bristol restaurant, Bell’s Diner is a cracking example.

Cauliflower, cooked down until almost creamy, then subtly spiced with coriander, cumin, garlic and chilli with a lovely tangy acidity from the yoghurt. Oh yeah. It’s phenomenal. Chef, Sam Sohn-Rethel, who very generously allowed me to reproduce his recipe here, based this dish on a cauliflower soup he used to cook during his time at Moro.

In the restaurant, it’s served as a tapas size portion, but I'm something of a lazy bastard and wanted to stretch it out for dinner, so dished it up, heaped on chargrilled sourdough. Lovely. 
Slow cooked cauliflower with yoghurt

Serves 4

You’ll need:-
150g butter
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed
1 tsp coriander seeds, crushed
1 tsp mild chilli flakes
1 cauliflower, stalk and tough outer leaves removed
1 handful coriander leaves
1 egg yolk
½ tsp cornflour
500ml Greek yoghurt

Heat 100g of the butter in a saucepan and cook the onion until translucent.

Add the garlic, cumin, coriander seeds and chilli and cook for another five minutes.

Finely chop the cauliflower along with the tender inner leaves, add them to the pan and season with plenty of salt.

Finely chop 2/3rds of the coriander leaves and stir into the cauliflower.

Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and continue cooking over a gentle heat until the cauliflower is completely soft and cooked down to a mush.

Beat together the egg yolk, cornflower and yoghurt then add the mixture to the pan and cook for five more minutes. 

Check the seasoning and add more salt if needed. 

Keep warm until ready to serve. 

Heat the remaining 50g of butter in a small pan until it caramelises, as dark brown as you dare. Then pour it over the cauliflower.

Scatter over the remaining coriander leaves and serve.

Toasted breadcrumbs are a nice optional addition for a bit of texture.

Thanks again to Sam for allowing me use his recipe on the blog. I'm hoping to be able to wheedle/cajole/threaten/beg/blackmail recipes for a few more of my favourite dishes out of my regular restaurant haunts very soon.

Watch this space, people. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Roast coconut and ginger parsnips

Moving several steps upward from the dubious delights of an après booze kebab, I recently ended up drunkenly dining in the second floor restaurant at Harvey Nichols, after something of a sprawling evening guzzling muchos alcohol.

The meal was fine, what I can remember of it, but one dish in particular caught my constantly shifting, blurred focus. From the sides section of the menu, roasted coconut and ginger parsnips. Now, normally I’d say don’t f*ck with my parsnips, but my guard was down, I was drunk and I ordered them. Surprisingly (for me) the coconut, ginger and lime worked really well with the sweetness of the parsnips, they were absolutely frigging delicious.

Happily, my pal, Jemma, had enough wits about her to ask for the recipe and received a scribbled note from the kitchen giving just enough instruction that, when combined with a quick internet search for similar recipes allowed me to reproduce more or less the same dish in my own kitchen. Oh yeah.

You need the creamed coconut that comes in a block for this, not a tin of coconut milk, which you will be unable to grate *slaps forehead*

Roast coconut and ginger parsnips

You’ll need:-
5 parsnips, peeled
40g creamed coconut
5cm piece fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
Grated zest ½ lime
Vegetable oil for roasting

Heat the oven to 190C

Quarter or half the parsnips (depending on size) and cook in boiling, salted water for 5 minutes, then drain.

Grate the creamed coconut into a bowl, add the ginger, chillies and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of hot water and stir together until you have a paste.
It’ll probably be a bit clumpy so blitz it in a blender if you think it needs it. Finally stir in the lime zest.

Heat the vegetable oil in a roasting tray for 5 mins or so.

Toss the parsnips in the coconut paste, and then transfer to the smoking hot roasting tray.

Roast the parsnips for 30-40 mins until they’re browned and crisped up. 

If after 30 mins or so, they’re looking a bit anaemic still, flash them under the grill to brown them off. 

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Sauce Verte

Before I get started celebrating the virtues of my new favourite sauce, I feel that some small measure of profuse apology is in order. Regular readers may have noticed a recent lack of updates to the blog of late.

Although no doubt, general cause for celebration amongst the masses, I also believe that there are a handful of misguided individuals out there that have felt genuine loss at my lack of output. To these unhappy few, I’m sorry for leaving a gaping ‘Essex Eating’ shaped void in your lives and promise never to leave you devoid of my dubious pleasures again.

Basically, I’ve been notably less than prolific for a number of reasons. There was the upheaval of moving home, then the seemingly interminable ballache of getting broadband installed (this still hasn’t happened, I’m writing this in a local café) Oh and finally a hefty dose of good old writers block. I’ve still been eating out in restaurants, cooking and drinking enough for a whole crowd of gluttons, but just couldn’t find that spark within me to write about it. I’ve no idea why, I probably caught it off a toilet seat, honest.

Anyway, that was then, this is now. I’m back in the saddle. Leaner, fitter, hungrier and mungously brainier. So, turn those frowns upside down, organise a parade, drink a pint of gin or two in celebration (Plymouth obviously) and let the good times roll, you lucky bastardos.

So, Sauce Verte. The French green sauce. I’ve recently discovered this via the venerable Simon Hopkinson, basically aioli pimped with seemingly every herb in existence. The combination of garlic, lemon and fresh herbs is superb. It goes particularly well with fish, but is also pretty damn nice with boiled potatoes and chargrilled vegetables, such as asparagus.

First, make your aioli base.

You’ll need:-

2 egg yolks
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Salt & Pepper
300-450ml Olive Oil
Although I find just using just olive oil too rasping and peppery, as well as frigging expensive, so cut it with vegetable oil in whatever proportions your budget and taste deems appropriate.  
Juice of 1 Lemon

You can make it with a whisk, but despite my obviously muscular physique, I’m a notoriously lazy bastard so use a hand blender, in a tall beaker that just fits over the tip of your err…blending rod, or whatever its called.

First make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature.

Beat the egg yolks with the garlic and a little salt, until thick.

Add the oil, but just a trickle at a time. Too much and it’ll split.

Add a little lemon juice, and then some more oil, alternating a little at a time, incorporating it before adding more, patience is key. Carry on till both are all used up.

At some point, if the mayonnaise gods are smiling on you, it will have come together and you’ll have a pot of luscious, thick gunk. If they’re not, as is nearly always the case with me, you’ll have thin split mess. If this is the case, don’t panic.

Get another pot, with a couple of egg yolks. Start again, this time carefully trickling your split mess into the egg yolks as you thrash away with the blender or whisk. It should come right this time. If it doesn’t, sorry but you are truly f*cked. Curse the gods of mayo. Tip it into the bin and accept it isn’t your day and go buy a jar of Hellmans.

But of course, everything has gone right and you’re marvelling at a quivering pot of homemade, garlic tinged mayonnaise.

Now to turn it into Sauce Verte. For this, you might consider wearing a beret, but this step is entirely optional.

You’ll need:-

A bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves only
A bunch of watercress, leaves only
4 tarragon sprigs, leaves only
4 mint sprigs, leaves only
10 basil leaves
2 anchovy fillets

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, throw in the parsley and watercress leaves, stir and drain. Rinse them with cold water and squeeze dry in a tea towel. Chop them until extremely fine.

Then, in a frenzy of extremely fine chopping, get to work on everything else and stir the lot into your mayonnaise base. Season carefully and stir in a little extra lemon juice if you think it needs it.

Sauce Verte. Done.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A guide to breakfast in Bristol - Updated 26th January 2015

A leisurely breakfast, with good coffee and the papers has to be one of my favourite meals of the day, a real treat. Every time I get a day off, its what I crave. Quite often I’ll cook something for myself at home, but nothing really beats sitting in a busy, steamy café and letting someone else do all the work for a change.

Back when I was young and far less choosy, I’d hit the nearest greasy spoon, surrounded by high-vis attired customers, avidly flicking through the trashy tabloids and stuffing myself with gargantuan breakfasts where the only common theme linking all of the items on the plate would be cheapness. Piled high but ultimately tasting of sod all.

Nowadays, I'm a much more sophisticated chap. I wouldn't touch The Sun with yours, preferring instead the broadsheets. As for my breakfast, the choice hasn't changed that much, a full English remains a lifelong favourite. What has changed though is that I'm prepared to pay a hell of a lot more for quality. No more garishly pink, cardboard tasting sausages packed full of eyelids, lips and arseholes for me, No. If my breakfast banger hasn't been lovingly hand reared on a Wiltshire farm and actually suckled at the teat of a farmer called Alan who’s own diet consists solely of locally sourced spring water and grass, then frankly, I'm not sticking it in my gob.

Well. Not quite, but I am incredibly picky.

But where to find a good breakfast in Bristol? I hear your anguished cry. Hold tight, bacon lovers, I’ve taken the required hefty cholesterol whack for the team and have compiled a list of my favourites. I’ll update this list from time to time, should my heart hold out. But right now, you should be eating breakfast in these places…. 
Poco
I love the Moroccan style breakfast at Poco in Stokes Croft. Merguez sausage, harissa, creamy scrambled eggs on toasted sourdough. Hell yes. The restaurant is also perfectly sited to watch the infinitely varied comings and goings of The Croft as you munch away. Believe me, people watching doesn't get any better than this.

45 Jamaica Street, Stokes Croft, BS2 8JP
Telephone: 0117 923 2233
http://www.tomsfeast.com/restaurants/poco-bristol
Wallfish
They serve breakfast/brunch on Sunday from 10am-3pm and it's absolutely belting. Go here, have the full English, drink coffee, read the papers and give me a wave whilst I do the same. It’s my favourite breakfast haunt right now.

112 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton. BS8 4DB
Telephone: 01179 735435
http://www.wallfishbistro.co.uk
Workhouse Café
Just down the road from the BRI, on the corner of St Michaels Hill, this steamy windowed café serves breakfast Mon-Fri 8-11 and all day on Saturday. Its fast becoming my favourite midweek go to. Laura Hart’s sourdough toast, cracking coffee and a belting full English for £6.50 (I'm a particular fan of the sausages, almost certainly hand suckled by farmer Alan), they also serve porridge, if you’re feeling virtuous.

Perry Rd, Bristol, Avon BS1 5BG
Telephone: 0117 329 0889
http://www.workhousecafe.co.uk
Soukitchen
Absolutely cracking modern Middle Eastern restaurant, just South of the river in Bedminster. On the weekend, their brunch menu (served 10am-3pm) includes shaksohuka, a middle eastern breakfast of poached eggs, tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices. Throw in some merguez sausage for an extra £1.50 and you’re laughing.

277 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JP
Telephone 0117 966 6880
http://www.soukitchen.co.uk

Harts Bakery
An excellent artisan bakery, located at Temple Meads in an archway underneath the station approach (very Hackney’esque), it’s a must visit for breakfast if you're travelling anywhere by train (or even if you're not) Ignore the abysmal chain offerings on the platforms and head here for Laura Hart's excellent coffee, superb cakes, pastries and bread (I'm a huge fan of the fennel and raisin variety).  Open 7am-3pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

Arch 35 Lower Approach Road, Temple Meads. BS1 6QS
http://www.hartsbakery.co.uk
Bakers and Co.
A new addition to my breakfast listing, and what a belter it is. Located on Gloucester Road and serving excellent food inspired by the San Francisco cafe scene, this buzzing little cafe is fast becoming one of my regular morning go to's. I'm a greedy bastard, so I most often go for the more traditional  'Baker's breakfast', but there are some other excellent, really interesting choices on the menu. No reservations taken, so just turn up and squeeze in.

193 Gloucester Road. BS7 8BG
http://bakersbristol.co.uk


Pear Café
Seeing as this tiny Stokes Croft café is owned by my ex girlfriend, I may be accused of favouritism by adding it to this list, but I’ve eaten far too many sausage sandwiches there, of my own volition to happily refute any such claims. Takeaway only, really (there is a small table inside for two) and open from 8am, serving toast, coffee, tea, sausage sandwiches and absolutely superb flapjacks (beautiful buttery, syrupy, filth).

Unit 1, The Coach House, 2 Upper York Street. BS2 8QN
Telephone: 0117 942 8392
http://www.thepearcafe.com

If a slap up, full on breakfast is a bit much for you and you’re more in the mood for excellent coffee and maybe a cheeky pastry, then head to these places…

Full Court Press
59 Broad Street, Bristol, BS1 2EJ
http://www.fcpcoffee.com

Small Street Espresso
Small Street, BS1 1DW
http://www.smallstreetespresso.co.uk 

Didn't You Do Well
20 Park Row, BS1 5LJ

So, there you have my favourite Bristol breakfast joints. I don’t consider myself infallible (OK, maybe just a bit) but if you know somewhere I’ve missed or I just don’t know about, then let me know in the comments.

Friday, 31 January 2014

5 years of Essex Eating!

Five years! Can you frigging believe it? Five whole years. Yes, people. This blog has officially made it out of nappies and grown up. Thanks for sticking with it, muchos beloved readers, as Essex Eating found it’s voice and tentatively took it’s first steps, albeit staggeringly erratic ones and occasionally, crapped itself extravagantly with unashamedly wild abandon. Nevertheless it’s still here, an unvarnished electronic testament to my monumental stupidity and unabashed gluttony. 

As is now traditional on this, the birth date of Essex Eating, I like to look back over the previous year. Picking out the gastronomic triumphs and the unmitigated f*cking disasters that I’ve experienced both while dining out and embarrassingly closer to home. 2013 was a pretty vintage year in every respect. Enjoy. 

Best meal I ate in 2013
I ate in some pretty amazing restaurants last year; in fact I probably ate out more often in 2013  than at any other time in my life. I have to say, the absolute best meal I ate was at Le Champignon Sauvage, David Everitt-Matthias’ s two Michelin starred restaurant in Cheltenham. The food was so beautifully cooked, so inventive and such a ridiculous bargain it’s almost hard to believe. 
Closer to home, Bells Diner & Bar Rooms newly re-opened in May with talented Chef, Sam Sohn-Rethel running the kitchen. Providing me with something of a regular haunt, I ate there a hell of a lot in 2013, at one memorable point, almost twice a week. The food is superb. It’s now firmly entrenched as my favourite restaurant in Bristol.
Despite almost burning myself out with a week long 40th birthday fine dining binge, an evening at The Clove Club in Shoreditch was so good, it pretty much restored my faith in eating out. A beautiful and atmospheric room, inventive, fun and interesting food, easily one of the best meals I ate last year.
The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh comes in just a whisker behind Le Champignon Sauvage as my most impressive meal of 2013. I had an absolute belting lunch there. By far the best I ate in Edinburgh in fact, it’s probably one of the best lunches I’ve eaten anywhere.  Chef Dominic Jack’s food is almost impossibly elegant and beautiful. I was absolutely blown away. The set lunch menu is a total bargain.
In July I ate lunch at The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, which is something of a legendary restaurant, with Sean Hill, who could be described as an equally legendary Chef, doing the cooking.  Yep, it was pretty expensive but bloody hell it was good. Beautiful food. Jabron potatoes, get in my belly!
Back in January I was left completely and utterly enamoured with the Green Man & French Horn, the latest Gallic outpost from the owners of Terroir. I found the food honest, simple and beautifully cooked. I still think about the poached pear and salted butter caramel dish.

Finally, I have to mention my  weekend breakfasts at Wallfish in Bristol. I'm there every Sunday and yeah, the full English is pretty damn phenomenal.

Best Dish I cooked at home 2013

Without a doubt, the best thing I cooked at home last year was fennel & raisin custard doughnuts, after a little expert advice from my mate, Sam, an ex St John pastry chef. Inspired by the flavours of Laura Harts excellent fennel and raisin bread. I churned out a batch of doughnuts so impossibly perfect that I found it hard to believe that I’d produced them with my own hands. Lovely. I was, and still am ridiculously proud. 
Another dish I was pretty pleased with was a bastardised version of Elizabeth David’s classic, Lamb Ste Menehould. I was introduced to this deep fried lamb breast dish at Bell’s Diner and mixed the original recipe with the restaurant method for preparing it. The result was superb. Loved it.
I have to also mention Sussex Pond Pudding. An absolute English classic. Suet pudding encasing a whole lemon, perhaps seems at first glance a bit strange. I first ate this at Hix in Browns Hotel and to say I was impressed was an understatement. I had to try it at home and I pretty much ate the whole f*cking lot solo. I just couldn’t leave it alone. If you’ve never tried it, make it immediately.

Worst Dish I cooked at home 2013

Strangely enough the worst dish I cooked was also doughnuts. The supreme fennel & raisin variety were my second attempt, after I’d initially made a batch of bacon and bourbon custard the week before, which were also admittedly delicious but this was before I’d been furnished with the indispensable help and tips from my pastry chef friend. I found making them a complete and utter ballache. Despite tasting delicious, they were frigging ugly, deflated and squashed, which strangely enough, exactly matched my mood as I surveyed the results.

I also cooked some lamb’s liver, which was the strongest most livery tasting piece of errr liver that I’ve ever had the misfortune to put in my mouth. I almost gagged on it and I’m normally a fan. Straight in the bin. 

I no doubt made some pretty mundane, rubbish food but I’ve somehow expunged the memories from my noggin. Nothing else really springs to mind.

Best Booze I drank in 2013

I did a fair old bit of boozing last year, a couple of things in particular caught my eye. Chateau Musar a biodynamic Red from Lebanon (available from Waitrose) was bloody lovely and Kernel Table Beer, which has a lovely flavour but is light enough to drink all evening without falling on your ass. Much.

Worst Dish I ate out 2013

Ok, couple of contenders. I’m kind of cheating here, as I didn’t order either of these dishes, the exact same friend I was eating with did on both occasions (Jemma, you have rubbish taste!). I haven’t eaten anything myself that was even close to being as appalling as these. 

Poco, I love you guys but I didn’t love your mushroom and vanilla soup. In fact, I hated it. Thick and muddy looking with a disgusting sweet note from the vanilla, definitely not complimenting the earthy taste of the mushrooms. It was pretty wrong. Sorry.

Roast Cauliflower as a vegetarian option, yeah, broken down into florets with those crispy burnt edges, lovely. Number 1 Harbourside presented my friend with basically a whole cauliflower, in one piece, on a plate. Which is strange enough, but that it wasn’t cooked at all and was raw. No idea how that left the kitchen really. I was so disgusted, I complained on my sheepish looking friends behalf.  

Best Dish I ate out in 2013

So many contenders here. Amalfi lemonade & black pepper ice cream at The Clove Club was bloody incredible as was the signature dish of  buttermilk fried chicken & pine salt, scoffed at the aforementioned restaurant and again at it’s sister restaurant, Upstairs at The Ten Bells. 
Hard to believe I’d include squid as one of the best dishes I ate last year, but cannelloni of North Sea squid with garlic and parsley at The Castle Terrace in Edinburgh blew me away. So delicate, intricate and beautifully cooked. 
A dessert of locally foraged sea buckthorn, crowdie (a type of Scottish cream cheese) carrot and biscuit at Edinburgh’s Timberyard really impressed me. It was on the set lunch menu at £5 and I just couldn’t believe the amount of work that had obviously gone into this dessert, at such a ridiculously low price. Consisting of a sea buckthorn granita and a jelly, whipped crowdie an unusual carrot sorbet (which was absolutely delicious) a frozen vanilla parfait and sheets of meringue. I know all the work is in the preparation, and assembly would take no time at all, but still, f*ck, a fiver! It was phenomenal.
I’ve obviously got something of a sweet tooth because another winning dish from last year was a warm treacle tart at Arbutus in London. It  was by far the best I’ve ever eaten, anywhere. Warm, just set, softly oozing sweetness on a beautifully crisp pastry base. As that first spoonful entered my willing gob and spread itself luxuriously across my tongue I was pinned to the seat, transfixed, radiating love for this dessert. It’s something of an understatement to say I thought it was pretty f*cking good. 
At Le Champignon Sauvage, Lamb fillet with poached apricot, aubergine, garlic yoghurt and Moroccan spiced sauce, impressed me no end.  I just can’t believe this dish is on the set lunch menu, it was phenomenal. Seriously one of the best plates of food I’ve eaten anywhere. I don’t even know where to begin; the lamb was so tender and there was so much of it! The sweet dots of poached apricot and the subtly spiced sauce, just amazing. 
Obviously, the previously mentioned Lamb Ste Menehould at Bell’s Diner and Bar Rooms. Inspirational and bloody lovely. 
Finally (that sweet tooth again) a poached pear with salted butter caramel and filled with crème anglaise at The Green Man and French Horn? F*ck yes.

Weirdest Google searches that have led to my Blog 2013

Roast Skunk
At it essek porno (?)
Arnold Schwarzenegger like pizza
alcohol+abuse+in+essex+useful+links (probably appropriate)
Add ma im hot (OK)
diahorreah it can make a grown man weep (Indeed)
butters whore-browns restaurant in London
blown veal (eh?)
birthday restaurant cack
gribiche sauce say it (No)
grans looking for love in essex
frothing milk iceberg
fernet branca makes you sober (Not in my experience)
essex posh salt (Maldon – tres posh)
essex love sausages (they do)
essex fight, cheek bitten off
eating red onions and drinking red wine
eat my ass Bristol
eat as much meat London
do they make lamb in a can for sandwiches
do people eat pig cheeks
lyme regis what to do when its pissing down with rain
living room bristol twat
interseting fact about pork cheeks
I am ready with mint sauce
how to cook pork shoulder Essex way (there’s an Essex way?)
how the fuck do you make pease pudding
how do you get mr. bacon stop oinking?
how cooking sausages in coffee shop
hot mustard make my brain hurt
porno pollen
squid eating seahorse
why do people in essex like to eat pudding with gravy
why do my new potatoes fall apart when i cook them
why are scotch eggs horrible
who eats the most puddings in essex?
whisk in arse
vintage eel fucking before cooking

Best Recipe book 2013

Loved One Good Dish by David Tanis. Stripped back, simple cooking. Almost like the American version of Nigel Slater. I found this really inspirational.

Have to include Simon Hopkinson Cooks. I bloody love Simon Hopkinson, his style of cooking, his recipes and his writing are top class.

Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food was probably my favourite cookbook of 2013. Managing to be both accessible and at the same time, slightly ‘cheffy’. I think it’s cracking. 

Strangest thing I ate in 2013

Has to be slices of tuna heart in a Fisherman’s working mans club in Spain. It tasted surprisingly subtle, almost like thinly sliced pieces of roast beef. 

Best Ingredients and Produce I ate in 2013

I bloody loved the fennel & raisin loaf at Harts Bakery, in fact I loved it so much it inspired me to use the flavour combination as a filling for doughnuts.

Right now I’m a bit addicted to Marks Bread Baguettes. They’re bloody crusty and delicious. They make awesome toast when they get a bit older. 

Hands down the best doughnuts in Bristol, comparable even to St John’s famous doughnuts in London (unsurprising as the pastry chef who makes them is ex St John) Pippin Doughnuts I love you, tres much, especially the custard variety.

Must visit restaurants 2014

As is now traditional – here’s last years wish list. I actually managed to knock a few off this time. Having had amazing lunches at Le Champignon Sauvage, Arbutus and The Kitchin in Edinburgh.  

The Kitchin – Edinburgh 
Brawn – London
The British Larder – Suffolk
Le Champignon Sauvage – Cheltenham
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Zucca – London
Bocca Di Lupo - London
L’enclume – Cumbria
Balthazar – London
Honey & Co – London
Hand & Flowers – Marlow
Galvin at Windows (or La Chapelle) – London
Wild Honey or Arbutus (or both!) - London

So much for looking back, lets swivel our view forward to the future. Here’s this years wish list. As always, it’ll be interesting to see how many I actually managed to eat at by January 2015.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London
Hand & Flowers – Marlow
L’Enclume – Cumbria
Wild Honey – London
Brawn – London
The Dairy – London
Sweetings – London
Bocca Di Lupo – London
8 Hoxton Square - London
Chez Bruce - London
Social Eating House – London
Rules – London
Berners Tavern - London
Restaurant Sat Bains – Nottingham
The French at The Midland Hotel - Manchester

So that’s that. Five years of Essex Eating. I can hardly believe it myself. It’s been a strange year; despite eating and drinking a hell of a lot I managed to achieve some balance in my dining habits and lost two and a half stone! Basically, just by educating myself a bit as to how many calories I was actually stuffing in my gob and reining the excess in slightly, oh and doing a bit of running.

So that’s me, svelte, fit and ready for another year of (moderate) gluttony, drinking muchos (sort of), cooking and trying to write about it all. Stay tuned for more of the same, my gorgeous readers.

Mwah Mwah
Dan
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