Sunday 27 December 2009

Pizza East - London

I managed to visit a whole load of restaurants I've had my eye on, in the run-up to Christmas. One of these being Pizza East, the newly opened (October) Pizzeria in Shoreditch. It's located in a former tea warehouse on the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Shoreditch High Street, and has the same owners as trendy members club Shoreditch House, next door.

I arrive on a freezing cold Friday evening, its trying to snow and I'm with a group of friends who are celebrating a slew of December Birthdays (Including mine and the GF's).

Entering through the main doors, we are initially bemused to be greeted by what appears to be a pair of black clad nightclub bouncers, we make our way past them and through the door to Pizza East proper.

Jaw Dropping.
The interior is extremely large, moodily lit and dark, and completely stunning....its a fantastic space....benches, wooden floorboards, bare concrete walls... a large central bar and wood-burning pizza ovens to one side...which are surrounded by a whole kitchen crew.....speedily feeding pizzas in, one of them is making the dough for a base and is spinning the elastic dough around his hand - its amazing to watch. The place is buzzing, packed to the gills with trendy East London punters.
We are greeted in a friendly manner and quickly and efficiently shown to our table - which appears to be made out of solid lump of rivet clad weathered steel, like a slab of battleship. We take our first look at the menu.

I'd done as much research as I could beforehand, (One of my aces being an acquaintance on Twitter who actually works at Pizza East and has tried most of the menu - Thanks Libby!!) and I'd heard elsewhere that the soft polenta with Chicken Livers with salsa rossa calabrese was a thing of beauty. I had to have this.... For my main, I chose a San Danielle ham, buffalo riccota, hazlenut pesto and chard Pizza.

Such is the turnover of punters, that I was told upon booking that we'd only have the table for two hours max...happily the staff were extremely friendly and efficient, and despite the place being packed - our food came out from the kitchens quickly.

My chicken liver dish came up in a metal bowl, and certainly looked the part. Creamy yellow wet polenta piled with crispy chicken livers and salsa. I dug in greedily, and it was be honest, I'm not normally much of a liver person - but one of the happy consequences of writing this blog is that I happily wade into dishes that even just a year ago I'd have probably avoided. This dish was seriously good, extremely rustic...and tasty. The crispiness of the fried livers contrasting nicely against the well seasoned polenta..and the salsa rossa adding a nice tangyness. Lovely Stuff.

Around the table various other dishes were going down seemingly just as well, in particular some rather nice lamb meatballs in tomato sauce and a nice plate of aubergine, orange, balsamic and chili.

Onto the Pizzas.
They come up looking nicely bubbled and charred from the wood burning ovens, the toppings are fresh, vibrant and far so good.
The pizza is delicious, but the star of the show is the's beautiful....elastic and extremely tasty....I suspect I could eat on of the pizza bases on its own. I'm very impressed, and my friends around the table are equally generous with their praise for the food. It is superb.

Luckily for me, the GF can't manage the last third of her pizza, so I lend a helping mouth and eat her leftovers happily....I also seem to remember eating the leftovers of one of my mates pizzas as well....the memory is a tiny bit hazy due no doubt to generous alcohol consumption.

Onto desserts - and I'd been told by my Pizza East contact that 'the' dessert to order was salted chocolate caramel tart.
Well - she was bang on the money, it was delicious in an almost soft Dime Bar flavour type of way. I loved it.
Stuffed, and settling up - it was a nice surprise to see how little the bill actually came to, especially in this part of town. Starters and desserts coming in at around the £5 mark, and Pizzas being around £11.

My friends and I had a great meal, helped in part by the lovely and rather atmospheric interior, the buzzing vibe and the friendly staff. The food was superb....and as mentioned, it was extremely inexpensive. Pizza East is well worth a visit, I really enjoyed eating there and will be visiting again soon.

Pizza East.

Tea Building
56 Shoreditch High Street
E1 6JJ

Telephone: 0207 729 1888

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Great Queen Street - London

Great Queen Street is somewhere I've wanted to visit for a while. I love a good gastropub, mainly due to the lack of formality and absence of pretentious gastronomic flourish. Just serious food, cooked well in a bustling atmosphere. When it comes to eating out, I guess I'm a bit of a peasant, and If I'm honest - I enjoy the rough and ready atmosphere of a good gastropub over a formal restaurant any day. But obviously there are exceptions (Pierre Koffmann I'm looking at you).

Great Queen Street and it's sister restaurant The Anchor and Hope are widely considered to be two of the best examples of gastropubs in London - and I couldn't wait for a chance to finally eat at one of them.

Last week the chance finally came. The occasion? The GF's birthday, I would be taking her there for dinner to celebrate.
But, one of those dilemma's that only foodbloggers (or foodies) seem to encounter reared its ugly head.

I'd asked among my fellow bloggers on Twitter, what in their opinion was a dish worth ordering. Instantly the answer was spat back at me with almost obscene haste by @Tehbus and @scandilicous "The Rib of Beef".


More people proceeded to chip in with photos of the dish and personal recollections of its awesomeness... I was done, I would order the rib of beef, it was going to be so right....but wait a minute, whats this?'s £48 and it's for two people.

Hmmmm tricky.
Not only was I taking the the GF to a restaurant that I'd picked because I wanted to go there 'on her birthday'! I was then going to have to talk her into ordering a dish that I wanted to eat.

Lesser men may have balked at the challenge this presented. But smiling fondly at the memory at the look on her face as she enjoyed unwrapping her birthday presents of the Rambo trilogy on DVD and the Dewalt Hammer Drill, I knew I could pull this off.

In the event, it proved less troublesome than I'd envisaged to talk her round to my way of thinking....I only had to throw one childish tantrum, laying on the floor screaming, kicking and flailing arms. (I expected to have to do this at least three times - result). She agreed. The rib of beef for two it was to be.

So, arriving early on a miserable, freezing cold rainy evening after work - we made our way into the moodily but rather atmospherically lit Great Queen Street and proceeded downstairs to the bar for a quick drink.

Its nice to see that some of the wines are available by the Carafe, and also nice to see wine tumblers (a point of contention amongst some) personally, I love drinking wine out of a tumbler - it's rough and ready and reminds me of the trattorias in Rome where the only real choice is 'red' or 'white'. We ordered a nice easy drinking Sancerre by the carafe and waited for our our table. I have to say, the bar downstairs, when it had started to fill up really is a amiable place to while away sometime. The chairs are comfortable, the dark walls and dim lighting are easy on the eye and relaxing.

Stomping back upstairs, less steady than when we went down - we take our seats at the table. The dining room is now packed to the rafters, buzzing with chat, laughter and noise.
We look through the menu.... this is a dangerous time. The GF might see something else that will ruin the whole rib of beef arrangement. I realise that I need to crush any dissent quickly and ruthlessly. The pheasant pie for two is mentioned, and is received with a withering look from me that would blister paint...It works.
Rib is ordered, and we're informed it's a 40 min wait for this dish and that it comes rare.

We decide to forgo starters as I've been informed the Rib of Beef is allegedly a monster main, and we want to leave room. We while away the time chatting, drinking more Sancerre from tumblers and ogling the dishes being served at nearby tables - A whole Sea bass catches the eye - as does the pheasant pie which looks delicious.

Soon enough, our main arrives. Rib of Beef with Bearnaise sauce and chips, we also order some steamed greens as a nod to some vague notion of healthiness, but really - its all about the meat.
It looks beautiful, presented with the actual rib, and thick charred but pink rare slices of beef, there's a bowl containing enough Bearnaise to drown a child in and of course another bowl full of chips.


The next 30 mins or so are a perfect orgy of meat consumption, gnawing and chewing, the rib is fantastic. I love Bearnaise and I've never eaten so much in my life.... I can understand now why we were advised not to order starters, this is a serious meat-fest....the GF gives up, she cant eat the last slice on her plate. I'm made of sterner stuff, smearing the last of the Bearnaise onto a chip....and finishing off the slice of beef on the GF's plate.
But it's a struggle.
I'm stuffed silly - after just one dish, but it was incredible. I Loved it.

Despite both of us being fit to bursting, we decide to order a dessert to share. (unheard of - believe me, I always manage a dessert). Steamed quince and almond pudding, which arrives quickly, is perfectly nice, light, tasty and well made.

Finishing up with coffee's, I settle up, leaving to plunge back out into the cold and damp December evening. Looking at the pub from the outside, it strikes me how nondescript it the dark, you could easily walk past and not notice it. Which is a shame, because I can honestly say it was one of the best meals I've had for ages, the food was lovely- but it's more than that. The whole place has such a bustling atmosphere alive with people eating fantastic food. It's seriously good and seriously atmospheric, its hard to put my finger on it exactly - but something is very right at Great Queen Street. I'll be returning the first chance I get.

Great Queen Street

32 Great Queen St.

Telephone: 0207 242 0622

Sunday 6 December 2009

Hawksmoor - The best burger in London?

Last week I finally had the chance to tick something off my foodie 'to-do list' that I'd been meaning to try for quite some time, The Hawksmoor burger.

There are a couple of issues associated with actually getting to eat the thing. It's only available at lunchtimes, and only during the week. This throws up all kinds of problems for me to actually sample it. I work nowhere near Commercial Street, and with the added embuggerance of its absence from the menu at weekends...well, let's just say I've waited and watched from the sidelines, biding my time for an opportunity to finally get in there.

But hey it's just a burger right? why all the plotting and gnashing of teeth waiting for an opportunity to try it?

The reply to that would be:- It's not 'just a burger' it is reputedly the best burger in London.
OK, Granted the competition is a bit thin on the ground, we just don't seem to 'get' burgers in the UK, but this one stands head and shoulders above nearly all others.
let me paint you a picture....

Imagine a pyramid with perhaps your microwaved 24 hour garage Rustlers fare lining the bottom, up we go through the dodgy suburban dog meat burger vans where your just as likely to receive a side order of food poisoning as chips, past the defrosted and dry offerings of countless pub menus....whizzing past your McDonalds and Burger Kings, past the so called 'gourmet offerings' of the more upmarket chains.....rocketing skywards, past the other more serious contenders such as Hache - we finally burst through the clouds (for this is truly a mungus pyramid of meat)....and there sparkling like a jewel at the top, master of all it surveys is the Hawksmoor Burger....glistening in an almost mythical way.....angelic music plays....a sense of peace falls throughout the land.

So, not much expectation there then.

Finally, last Friday my chance came, with a day off Christmas shopping I frantically booked a table for lunch at Hawksmoor.

First a bit about the burger, it's made from 100% Longhorn. The notes on the menu state that it
"Includes long neglected cuts like Clod and Stickling and small nuggets of bone marrow".
Personally, I have no idea what these cuts are.....but I like the traditional sounding names and mourn their strangeness to me.... I now long to approach a butchers counter and say "Give me half a pound of Clod.....and, while your at it - I'll have some Stickling as well".

The burger is offered with Ogleshield cheese, or Stichelton Blue Cheese. It's all topped with a hand made demi-brioche bun. (I wont get into the whole bun debate here, others have covered it more
comprehensively than perhaps anyone would have thought possible). But brioche seems to be widely considered as the best choice for a bun.

Finally, this comes with triple cooked chips, and Bearnaise for dipping. Woof. (or perhaps, as a salve to the waistline, a salad...hiss).

So, seated in a packed and buzzing lunchtime Hawksmoor, my burger ordered (Medium rare)...I sip my Brooklyn cocktail (Typical me, I ordered a "Brooklyn" meaning the Beer, which they used to serve but seemingly no longer. I was surprised to be presented with a "Brooklyn" cocktail instead....feeling this was perhaps my own fault for being presumptuous, and never backwards going forwards when it comes to alcohol, I drank it anyway. It wasn't bad).

Finally, my burger is brought out and it certainly looks the part, thick and juicy....with just the cheekiest hint of melted cheese oozing from under the bun.
I take a bite, and it's incredibly good, the meat is extremely moist and tastes good meat should, full of flavour...combined with the cheese, the thinly sliced red onion and pickles, the sweet soft bun......I'm literally dazed.
I dunk a beautifully cooked chip in my Bearnaise and sigh happily, misty-eyed.....then proceed to eat everything on the plate, and I mean the's so good. Meanwhile I keep a weather eye on the GF's efforts to finish her burger. She always leaves a little bit, and she doesn't disappoint this time....I fall on her leftovers immediately like a starving animal.
It's superb.

Now, this is the thing.
It's just a burger, albeit an incredibly good one, but there's no point being snobby about it.

This was without a doubt one of the best things I've eaten all year. Full stop. It was stunningly good. I was in an almost rapturous daze eating it, in between bites of triple cooked chips and Bearnaise, it was beautiful. My only regret is that a return visit is so awkward to fit into my schedule. But have no doubt, a return visit is inevitable. Now that I know it exists....I have to have it again.

As for the question, is it the best burger in London?
I hear the offering at Maze Grill is another contender, but not having tried it, it's impossible to comment. But I will say the Hawksmoor burger is easily the best burger I've eaten in London, and perhaps anywhere. And if there's better out there in the world (and there no doubt is), I cannot even begin to fathom how good they could be after sampling this.

The Hawksmoor Burger is £15

157 Commercial Street
E1 6BJ

Telephone: 0207 247 7392

Saturday 5 December 2009

November - a month in my kitchen.

Despite cooking at home pretty much every night without fail, regular readers of my blog may wonder if that aspect of my life has withered and died....looking back over the last month or so, it's all been restaurant reviews and eating out... not a mention of what I've been dishing up in the kitchen.
So, to correct this oversight - here's a roundup....

At the beginning of the month I received the new Gordon Ramsay book
'World Kitchen' to review, and frankly despite the recipes being competent, I found the book wholly un-inspiring... This no doubt has a lot to do with the whole Ramsay empire being so pervasive nowadays, it's impossible to get away from it. But, unlike his earlier books where you really got a feel for his cooking, the perfection in the kitchen and the passion about the ingredients... this just feels like a case of...

"Your contracted to churn out three books a year....we were thinking 'world food' - you haven't done that yet, knock us a quick book out"

In fact I believe his recently ex-right hand man Mark Sargeant does the real work on the books nowadays, and Gordo just rubberstamps the finished product.
There's just no spark, no passion.

But this is the thing, all of the recipes are good. Great in fact, and the results were fairly impressive. In actual fact, it's a handy book to own. But it'll never be a favourite.
Obviously, in order to test the book out fully, I had to cook a few things from it....

First up from the Italian section of the book, we have 'Grilled Mushrooms on griddled polenta with pecorino'

I made this for a Saturday lunch, mainly because I had an open leftover bag of Polenta I wanted to use up. The Mushrooms are Chanterelles. Straightforward, fairly quick, as easy as it gets and even if I do say so myself - it looks pretty good on a plate.

The next thing I cooked, from the Spanish section....Meatballs in Tomato Sauce. (or Albondigas). Tapas style.
Now this recipe was a complete winner. I loved it, the manchego in the mix, gave it a nice subtle piquancy and the simple tomato sauce they were cooked in was lovely. I served these up with some rice. I'll be making these again....
Here's the recipe, so you can judge for yourself:-

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce.
Serves 4-5

You'll Need:-

For the meatballs:-
500g good quality minced beef
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
50g White Breadcrumbs
25g Manchego (or Cheddar), grated
2 TBS chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish.
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
2 TBS Olive Oil

For the Tomato Sauce:-
2 TBS Olive Oil
1 Onion peeled and finely chopped
1 Garlic Clove, peeled and finely chopped
120ML dry white wine
2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
100ML water
1-2 TSP Caster Sugar

To make the meatballs , mix the minced beef, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, cheese and chopped parsley together in a large bowl until evenly combined. Season well with salt and pepper and add the beaten egg to bind, mixing with your hands. Break off a small piece of the mixture, shape into a ball and fry in an oiled pan until cooked, then taste for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning of the uncooked mixture as necessary.

With damp hands, shape the mixture into about 16 meatballs, trying not to press them too tightly. Place on a large plate, cover with clingfilm and chill for at least 30 mins to allow them to firm up. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and garlic and fry gently until lightly golden.

Increase the heat slightly and pour in the wine. Let bubble until reduced by half, then stir in the chopped tomatoes, water and sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 mins until the tomatoes are soft, then remove the pan from the heat.

To cook the meatballs. heat the olive oil in a large, wide pan. Add the chilled meatballs and fry for 5 minutes, turning frequently, until browned all over. Pour the tomato sauce over them and simmer for a further 10-15 mins until the meatballs are cooked through. Divide the meatballs and tomato sauce between warm bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.

The next thing to get a road test, also from the Spanish section was Paella with Chicken and Chorizo. No hint of seafood in this one, so not what most people would think of as a paella I guess - but then the blurb mentions that there are in fact hundreds of different paella recipes throughout Spain (hey, educational).

I was glad to see the recipe suggested boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the more commonly suggested breast. Thighs are miles cheaper than breast, and taste so much better. The Paella was OK....It was very filling, but a little bland perhaps...I don't think I'd cook it again.

The final dish I cooked in November from 'World Kitchen' was from the Greek section 'White bean and vegetable soup' or Fasoulada as it's more commonly known in Greece.
I loved this - cheap, simple....quick (apart from soaking the haricot beans overnight). But this was thick and tasty, real winter fare....and with some feta crumbled over the top. Wow.
This is something else I'll be making again for sure. Loved it.

Mid November saw me hosting two dinner parties on consecutive weekends. Small one for the GF's parents, and another the following week for some friends.

For the GF's parents, I went a bit Ottolenghi.... one of the main reasons for this was I had a big piece of Turkey in the freezer waiting to be used up, and I'd previously made the 'marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine'....this would be the main, and I paired it with 'crushed new potatoes with horseradish and sorrel'. (To be honest, with hindsight - all looks a bit 'dry'....there was a sauce made from the marinade, but still).
The starter was Puy Lentils with sour cherries, bacon and Gorgonzola...this being another dish I'd cooked previously and really liked.

For dessert I made my legendary
chocolate fondants - topped with shop bought clotted cream ice-cream.....just to ensure there wasn't an intact tooth left in the house.

It all went well, cooking for four is straightforward and fairly easy work. Everyone seemed to like what I'd cooked....the chocolate fondants went down particularly well, but then they always do. Not sure about the presentation on these... but by then I was very....very...drunk.
All in all, not bad.

Dinner party two saw me cooking for six. Slightly more challenging, and I wanted to enjoy it rather than be stuck out in the kitchen all night as sometimes happens....
For some reason (probably drunkenly), I'd said I would cook Thai Green Curry.... perfect for an informal dinner party. For the life of me, I couldn't think what to serve as a starter with this... in the end, I jumped continents and decided to crack open the Ottolenghi book once again and cook 'turkey and sweetcorn meatballs with roasted pepper sauce'. The reasoning behind this being I wanted sharing platters where everyone could just dig in....and my addled brain was struggling to come up with a better suggestion.

Just to really mix things up, I also made a Satay dip to go with the meatballs (The dip recipe being pinched from 'World Kitchen' and being surprisingly involved (Hello shelling monkey nuts to get 100g of unsalted peanuts...took bloody ages).

For the dessert I fatefully decided to crack open Ramsay's 'A Chef for all seasons' and cook the Orange and Lemon tart recipe....I was thinking, nice...light citrusy to finish off the meal. So far so good. But, it was an untested recipe for me.....and this was to later prove decisive.

The turkey meatball starter I made just before they arrived, pre-made the two dips....all good. The Thai Green Curry recipe is Nigel Slater's from 'Real Food' I've made it umpteen times before and it always turns out well. I'd made the green curry paste during the day and would start cooking the actual curry just before the guests arrived. I was going to serve this with some lime leaf rice.

But the orange and lemon tart....I knew it was going to be trouble, the pastry case I made was a thing of thin and perfect, the best I've knocked out ever. But the low cooking temperature and the mention of 'just lightly set' in the recipe was setting off alarm bells in my head. But too late now, I ploughed on....

At this point I decided to have a drink....I hadn't eaten all day, and after just two beers (2!!) I was guests hadn't arrived and I had loads to do. Throwing caution to the wind with an ill judged 'what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger' attitude, I carried on drinking.

The turkey meatball and dips starter went down well, and was eaten in no time.
I stagger out to the kitchen to check on the status of the supposedly setting tart. It's liquid.

I cook the green curry and rice, and stagger back in....utterly munted now. Everyone helps themselves, they're making appreciative noises.....the whole lot gets eaten in what seems like minutes- every last scrap, even all of the rice. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about the tart.

I go outside to's still a pond.

I return to the dining room to inform my guests 'I may be some time' and then proceed outside into the chill November air to hopefully freeze to death, a suitable penance I feel for the impending doom that is my dessert.
That would have been the noble thing to do, but what I actually say, no doubt in a rather slurred fashion "the tart may be some time....hasn't quite set" (Nervous laugh).
A barrage of drunken encouragement of 'I'm sure it's OK'.... 'Serve it anyway'.... I look away worried.

We decide to play some spectacularly stupid board game whilst we wait.
An hour later - I'm very drunk. The tart still hasn't set. I seethe and curse both the tart and Gordon Ramsay rather vocally...
I can't wait any longer, and egged on by my friends decide to serve it anyway....the GF is looking very drunk and everyone is so pissed I don't think they care anymore.
I caramelise the top with a blowtorch (almost drunkenly burning my eyebrows off in the process) I hope this crisp layer might offer some structural stability, It looks fantastic, but there's an ominous wobble there.

Taking the plunge, I cut into's going to be it's not.....
The banks have burst....."bring me some sandbags and a stirrup pump for crissake!!!"....
A flood of orange and lemon filling rolls across my worktop like a citrus Tsunami. It's unstoppable and goes everywhere.
I am utterly appalled.... so much work. It's a complete mess. I think I spy an upturned boat and an uprooted palm tree near the knife block.

Cursing liberally, but making the best of a bad job, I ladle my tart onto plates and proceed to serve it anyway.
My guests....well, they make all the right tastes fantastic, don't worry, it's lovely.
I sit at the other end of the table shell shocked and traumatised... I've seen too much and am now old beyond my years.
At this point, the dinner party breaks up completely as my GF...indulging perhaps a little too much in the free flowing booze disappears suddenly to be violently sick. My guests, sensing perhaps this would be a good time to scarper make their excuses and leave.
A perfect end to a perfect night.

The morning after see's me nursing a hangover that's so gigantic, It should be christened in the same manner Hurricanes are named.... Hangover Dave perhaps.
I'm looking at the remains of my tart and take solace from the fact that the crust is so thin and perfect. I have a little taste. And It's gorgeous.
Not wanting to end this post on abject failure, I'll mention something that did go right this month. Gypsy Eggs or Huevos a la Flamenca. This recipe features in both
The Eagle cookbook and Gastropub classics by Trish Hilferty, and it's cracking.

Basically fried chorizo and Serrano ham, removed from pan - then chopped onion, garlic and paprika cooked in the fat. Add a tin of tomatoes, frozen peas, chopped potatoes (I added some frozen sweetcorn as well) and 100ml of water and cook covered for 10-15mins.
Add the ham and chorizo back, crack a couple of eggs in and bake in a 200C oven for 5 mins or so until the eggs are just set.
The great thing is, the quantities don't really matter - you can chop and change this recipe however you like just throw in whatever you think goes best, which is always the mark of a great recipe - perfect for using up leftovers.

Many thanks to Quadrille for my review copy of Gordon Ramsay's World Kitchen.