Tuesday 18 December 2012

Salted Caramel and Rosemary Tart Tatin

If you cast your mind back (or scroll to the post before this) you may remember me regaling you in some detail how I was suddenly struck dumb(er) by the potential flavour combination of salted caramel and rosemary and how originally I envisaged it in some kind of apple dish (that at the time I couldn’t be arsed to make) well; hang on to your aprons people…I have pulled my finger out, and I have created, no…crafted… with my own fair hands, something…golden brown….

Oh yeah!

It’s a Salted Caramel and Rosemary Tart Tatin, and to replicate it’s wonder you need only read hither….

Salted Caramel and Rosemary Tart Tatin

You’ll need:-

For the tart:

200g Puff Pastry
12-14 medium Cox’s Apples
10g Butter – Melted
1 Tablespoon Caster Sugar
2 Heaped Tablespoons finely chopped fresh Rosemary
1 Lemon

For the Caramel:

50ml Water
100g Caster Sugar
25g Butter
2 Hefty pinches of Maldon Sea Salt

You’ll also need an 18cm baking or pie tin, 4-5 cm deep, preferably a solid one-piece job, not the removable bottom type.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to around 2mm thick, place on a baking tray, and chill, covered with Clingfilm for 20 mins.

Cut a circle out of the pastry, 20cm in diameter. Prick all over with a fork and place back in the fridge.

Next, make the caramel. Put the water in a small saucepan, and scatter over the sugar. Let it absorb for a couple of minutes, then place on a medium heat and leave it. Don’t stir. Simmer until it turns a deep golden caramel colour, quickly stir in the butter and add your Maldon Salt. Quickly pour into your baking tin, turning to make sure the bottom is evenly coated.

Peel, halve and core the apples, placing into a bowl of water as you go, to which you’ve added a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Pre-heat the oven to 190C
Arrange your apples in the baking tin. First, sitting a half apple in the middle cut side up and topped with another half apple, cut side down. Place the rest of the apple halves upright around the edge in a circle. Cut the remaining apples into wedges and plug all the gaps. Really squeeze as much apple in as you can, the finished result will be better.
Brush melted butter over the top. Sprinkle with the caster sugar and the finely chopped Rosemary.

Bake the tin in the oven for 35 mins.

Remove and place your puff pastry circle over the top of the apples, tucking down the edges inside the tin with the handle of a teaspoon.

Place back in the oven, and bake for another 30-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.
Finally remove and let it cool down, for a good 1-2 hours.

To unmould, slide a sharp knife around the edge, place a large plate on top and flip, giving it a gentle shake to release the tart.
Serve with Crème Fraiche or Vanilla Ice Cream.

Friday 7 December 2012

Salted Caramel and Rosemary Baked Custard

Every now and again I have a flash of recipe inspiration. A gear slips somewhere in my brain, and just for a moment the dull grey veil that obscures my normal waking state, parts and I suddenly see flavours, textures and twists on classic dishes in extreme high definition clarity and then, it’s gone and I’m left scrambling to make sense and notes of my vision.

Of course I’d like you to think that my ‘gift’ is something special, enviable and absolutely infallible. An idea that could best described as absolute cobblers. I’m sad to say I’ve dreamt up some absolutely shocking ideas in the past; I was once adamant that I could get grapes to somehow work in mashed potato, to the subsequent disgusted grimace of everyone I shared it with. But sometimes…

I’d certainly seen the flavour combination somewhere else and forgotten, but the other day came an idea; rudely shoulder-barging aside any more mundane thoughts ‘apple, rosemary and salted caramel, I scribbled this down and mused on it a while. Deciding that I definitely couldn’t be arsed to do anything with apples right then, I thought on it some more and then it came. A crème caramel (or baked custard if you’re me) infused with rosemary and topped with salted caramel.

Right then and there, I decided to give it a go, mentally ticking off the short list of ingredients and realising that I probably didn’t have to buy a thing. Result.

As is often the way, I started making it, and then half way through wondered if anyone else had made something similar and wrote about it previously. A cursory Google provided the answer ‘not really’ which was slightly worrying. I ploughed on regardless, my quick research break had confirmed that rosemary and salted caramel go together, so what the hell.

Later that evening, I unmolded my inaugural Salted Caramel and Rosemary Baked Custard. Despite having made an individual portion that could choke a donkey, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact it was bloody nice. The rosemary-flavoured custard was perhaps a bit too subtle (I think I’ve fixed this in the recipe below) but yeah, I’m happy with the results.

Here’s the recipe – I’d really like to know what you think.

Salted Caramel and Rosemary Baked Custard

Serves 3 Greedy bastardos or 4 slightly more sensible people

Salted Caramel:
65g Sugar
3 Tbs Water
Generous pinch of Maldon Sea Salt

Rosemary Custard:
3 Sprigs of Rosemary (leaves stripped and chopped)
130g Sugar
Pinch of Salt
470ml Full Fat Milk
½ Vanilla Pod or equivalent in Extract
2 Whole Eggs
3 Egg Yolks
Vegetable Oil or other neutral oil.

Of course, you’ll also need 3 or 4 individual moulds or ramekins.

Preheat your oven to 160C

First, make the salted caramel. In a small pan, bring the sugar and the water to the boil. Turn it down a little so it’s not boiling quite so furiously and watch it like a hawk. When it turns a nice deep caramel colour, quickly sprinkle in your generous pinch of Maldon and give the pan a swirl.

Quickly pour the salted caramel into your moulds, making sure to coat the bottom and a little way up the sides. When they’ve cooled, grease the sides with the vegetable oil.

To make the custard, add the rosemary, sugar, salt, vanilla and milk to a saucepan. Bring to the boil, and allow to remain at the boil for 1 minute.

Remove from the heat and put aside for 5 minutes

In a bowl, beat the eggs and yolks together then slowly add your warm milk mixture, beating all the time.

Pass through a fine sieve and leave to stand for 5 mins.

Skim off the foam and any bubbles on the surface.

Pour the custard into your moulds, and place them into a bain-marie using a roasting tin with boiling water two-thirds of the way up the sides. Place into your pre-heated oven and cook for 30-40 mins, until the centre is set and no longer liquid.

Remove from the oven, cool and then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.

To unmold, run a sharp knife around the edges, place a small plate on top, and flip over, giving it a bit of a gentle shake.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Slow Poached Eggs

Of all the cookbooks I’ve leafed through in the last couple of years, ‘Momofuku’ has been one of the most inspiring. Filled with brash, no nonsense recipes lifted straight from the menu of the now almost iconic New York restaurant. Perusing what Chef and owner, David Chang self effacingly describes, as ‘Bad pseudo-fusion cuisine’ is always a rewarding pastime. Every time I look, I find something I want to try cooking for myself.

Slow poached eggs for example. A Momofuku take on a Japanese method of slow cooking an egg in its shell, the end result; being able to crack it open and have a ready-poached egg slide out. It’s frigging cool, if nothing else.

1. Fill your deepest saucepan with water and put on the hob over the lowest possible heat.

2. You need to keep the eggs from sitting on the bottom on the pan, so improvise with whatever you have to hand to achieve this, maybe a steamer rack or scrunched up foil. I used an upturned bowl.

3. Use an instant read thermometer to measure the temperature of the water. You’re looking for it to lie between 60C and 63C. If it gets too hot, add an ice-cube of cold water, it’s important it stays in this range.

4. Add your eggs and let them sit for 40-45 mins, all the while monitoring the water temperature.

Admittedly a bit of a pain in the arse to achieve, but once they’re done either use right away, or place in ice-cold water to cool, and then keep in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

If you refrigerate them, warm them under very hot water for 1 minute before using.

To serve, boldly crack the egg into a small saucer (they seem much more fragile than they actually are), discarding any loose white whilst sliding onto a serving dish.

The Momofuku application for these is to serve them in hot ramen or broth, which is probably the best use. I found the slow poached eggs as a stand-alone item, a bit insipid looking when compared against your standard poached variety, although as I mentioned previously, cracking a perfectly poached egg out of an intact shell is just so frigging cool, it’s worth all the faffing around, just for the sheer hell of it.

So, a bit of a waste of time then?
Not quite. As a footnote, David Chang suggests frying a slow poached egg, 45 seconds a side, then sprinkling with salt.

Crisp fried brown edges encompassing a neat soft white egg package, which when cut, bursts open in the most lurid, porn’tastic way, positively ejaculating yellow yolk-flow alles uber da platz. Can I get a massive ‘Hell Yeah!’

Honestly – fried slow poached eggs rock my world and may well rock yours too. Waste an hour of your life and try them.

Friday 2 November 2012

Duck and Waffle - London

Stepping into a glass lift, and suddenly being propelled upwards at a rate of knots, as the city streets, traffic and people below rapidly contract into dizzying; eye-straining miniature is definitely a thrilling way of reaching your table for lunch. 

The doors opened and we spilled out onto the 40th floor of the Heron Tower, I turned to see ‘E’, her face displaying a mixture of shock and abject terror, back to the wall, clutching a handrail, wordlessly staring downwards into the void with the concrete cityscape spread out below, right on the other side of the glass.
It seems that unbeknownst to even her, extreme heights don't agree, and it took some gentle persuasion with a combination of claw hammer and crowbar to prise her grip off the rail and steer her into the relative normalcy of the restaurant itself.

Seated and with ‘E’ calmed somewhat, we took in the room. There’s no denying that it’s pretty frigging spectacular with views of London spreading out into the distance on three sides, even on the drizzly grey lunchtime we visited, it was impressive.

Reading through the menu prompted a quick tactical discussion on what level of greed would be appropriate here. Seeing as it was a bit of a treat for us, we'd been working hard the previous week, we rapidly agreed on going obscene with the ordering.
Starting off with some good Rosemary and Garlic Bread, nothing spectacular about it, but definitely no bollocks dropped either. 
‘E’s’ Raw Sea Trout, sparingly dressed with olive oil, Amalfi lemon and some micro basil, arrived perched atop a Himalayan Salt Block. It’s the first time I've seen these particular serving ‘plates’ used. Apparently they can be either heated or chilled, hold temperature well and the salt in the blocks season whatever’s placed on them. Pretty enough, but I suspect in the long term these could well become as ubiquitous and ultimately naff as slate. The trout, simply treated, was delicious.
From the snack menu, Battered Sausages with Mustard were good, meaty and herby with a nice sharp mustard dip.
Mackerel Tartare, Pickled Cucumber, Smoked Vodka and Crème Fraiche was nicely made, fresh tasting and delicious. Happily it was a pretty hefty sized portion as well, with the accompanying chargrilled bread for dipping.
The Spicy Ox Cheek Doughnut is a work of genius. Easily the best thing I ate. A cricket ball sized globe, dusted with what tasted like a combination of sugar and sweet paprika and stuffed with shredded oxtail meat. On the side for dipping, apricot jam. The taste and texture really threw me, the doughnut batter, which I automatically associate with sweet flavours encasing savoury meat but then there’s the sugary-paprika coating just to mess with my head. The accompanying jam was sour, and tempered the sweetness perfectly. 
‘E’s Hake Fillet with Haricot Bean Ragout and (apparently) Romanesco surprisingly threw a bit of a spanner in the works. The piece of fish was perfectly cooked, the ragout tasty – but ‘E’ head down; poking around with her fork in an almost archaeological fashion couldn't find any evidence of romanesco (which, as you no doubt know, is a strangely fractal looking variant of cauliflower). We decided to put the question to a waiter, who hurried off to the kitchen to investigate. He returned saying that there had been a problem with the vegetable delivery and this particular ingredient had been omitted. Fair enough you might think, but later in the meal a different staff member mentioned that the spectral romanesco had indeed been present, but mixed in through the sauce (it definitely wasn’t). All of this made ‘E’ and I speculate whether the menu was spelt incorrectly and ‘Romesco’ sauce was in fact being misrepresented here.
Putting mystery cauliflower shenanigans aside for a moment, I’d decided that it was required that I ate the restaurant’s signature dish of Duck & Waffle. It’s labelled as ‘for the table’ so presumably not really designed for solo dining, but as ‘E’ is a pescetarian I thought I’d give it a go anyway. Waffles, piled up with a crispy confit duck leg and a fried duck egg with mustard maple syrup for pouring. Tucking in with abandon, and instantly feeling my arteries begin to harden I could see why it’s a dish made for sharing. But, I'm a terrifically greedy bastard, and it was delicious, so I ate it all anyway, albeit struggling limply with the last few sickly sweet mouthfuls.

Strangely, cauliflower reared its knobbly head again, towards the end of the meal. We'd ordered desserts and the sommelier appeared presenting us with dessert wines matched to our choices ‘compliments of the chef’ as an apology for the head scratcher that’s now listed on Wikipedia as ‘the romanesco enigma’. I'm not entirely sure whether the apology was for the lack of said brassica, the confusion our innocent enquiry elicited, or the fact that the menu quite possibly should have read ‘romesco’ instead. In any case, the chef correctly sizing us up as borderline alcoholics and acting under the wise principle that booze makes everything better, salved our befuddlement nicely.
Warm Chocolate Brownie with Peanut Butter Ice-Cream and Crunchy Caramel didn't really do it for me. I thought the brownie a bit dry, the whole thing a bit too sweet. The individual elements didn't really come together in the bowl, despite being basically a deconstructed Snickers. Maybe I’d just ate too much sickly-sweet when gorging on duck and waffle earlier.
However, torrejas (Basically a Spanish version of French toast) with caramelised apples, cinnamon ice-cream and swimming in caramelised sauce was absolutely frigging-off-the-chart-good. Cheesy grins and thumbs-up all-round.

Duck & Waffle doesn't take itself too seriously, despite it’s central, city ‘spank the expense account’ location. It’s actually good fun. 

The menu itself is interesting, studded throughout with particularly filthy treat dishes, which if you’re anything like me when it comes to ordering, may lead you down an incredibly unbalanced route of sickly cholesterol heavy sweetness. Saying that, the Spicy Ox Cheek doughnut is a thing of beauty and priced at £5 is an absolute must-try. 

Service was generally excellent, although front of house was a little bit brusque for my liking and the sommelier was perhaps a bit, and I hesitate to say this, (as he was undoubtedly a nice guy) over-friendly, at one point holding us in lengthy conversation, oblivious to our rapidly cooling food which we couldn't begin eating, out of sheer politeness.

Duck & Waffle is not perfect, but I liked it a lot anyway. It’s worth booking just to appreciate the breathtaking journey to the top and the astounding views over London…oh and that doughnut!

Duck & Waffle
Heron Tower
110 Bishopgate

Telephone: 0203 640 7310


Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Old Spot - Wells

Former Bibendum chef, Simon Hopkinson holds something of a revered status among those who cook or like good food. His cookbooks, including Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Week in-Week Out are considered to be modern classics, that many (including me) regularly turn to again and again, because his recipes are delicious, so well written, so well judged, they almost never fail. That he retired from the professional kitchen in 1995 and I never got to eat his food will always be something of a regret.

But, as with many talented head chefs, Hopkinson’s legacy continues to deliver. The rather impressive list of protégés who passed through the Bibendum kitchen and who have gone on to have fantastic careers in their own right include Henry Harris of Racine, Bruce Poole of Chez Bruce, Phil Howard of The Square and Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis. Closer to home in the South West, another former member of ‘Hoppy’s’ kitchen brigade is doing the business, Ian Bates at The Old Spot in Wells.

I’d heard a lot of good things about The Old Spot, from people whose judgement I trust, I was just biding my time and waiting for the opportunity to get my ass to the rather attractive cathedral town of Wells for a visit. That chance came about last week and I was tearing the phone off the hook and booking a table for lunch with a sense of haste verging on the obscene.
Walking into a somewhat disconcertingly empty restaurant, we were the first punters to arrive for lunch at 12:30. On the upside, this meant we got to choose any table we fancied. We instantly grabbed one on a raised area at the back, with incredible views across the green to the Cathedral and a grandstand perch over the entire room.

Bread and butter arrived, Bertinet sourdough, no argument with the quality there. ‘E’ and I munched away and studied the concise lunch menu, four starters, four mains, three desserts and cheese. Meanwhile the restaurant had started to fill up.
I’d chosen a starter of Cider-Cured Sardines with Pickled Vegetables and Crème Fraiche, purely because I’d never seen cider cured fish on a menu before and I was intrigued. In fact, it worked well giving the fresh sardines a sweetish tang offset nicely by the sourness of the crème fraiche and the sharpness of the crisp pickled veg. It was a beautifully balanced plate of food and I enjoyed stuffing every last bit in my gob.
‘E’ meanwhile was shovelling up forkfuls of Root Vegetable Salad with Hazelnuts and Creamed Goats Cheese in an obviously lady-like manner and admiring the food and the classic plating style. She had a point, from what I’d seen in books, the same dish could have happily been transplanted to the Hopkinson era Bibendum
Ham Hock and Morteau Sausage with Mustard Sauce arrived, reinforcing a growing feeling that this was the closest thing to experiencing ‘Hoppy’s’ style of cooking and food possible, not entirely unsurprising, considering Chef, Ian Bates’ background. The whole dish was so beautifully and precisely cooked, so unfussy in style, I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed eating something quite as much.
‘E’s Grilled Mackerel with Beetroot, Horseradish and Parsley Puree appeared an incredibly attractive proposition. The beautifully cooked fish framed against the vivid green puree and the scarlet beetroot. ‘E’ loved it, the fish was crisp, the classic flavour pairings working just as you’d expect. It was another cracking plate of food.
I solicited the opinion of the restaurant manager for my choice of dessert, a simple Rice Pudding with Plum Compote. It was a bloody fantastic choice, rich, creamy and flecked throughout with vanilla seeds. I huddled in the corner and made embarrassing sensuous cooing noises whilst scarfing the lot.
Almond Tart with Mascarpone, proved to be a little pedestrian for ‘E’. Not that it wasn’t delicious, oh no, just not as damn sexy as my choice!

So, a 3 course lunch produced by a protégé of Simon Hopkinson, all so beautifully judged, subtle, unpretentious and perfectly cooked if they’d told me ‘Hoppy’ himself was doing the cooking, I wouldn’t have questioned it. £18.50. Incredible.

I would crawl over broken glass and flaming coals for The Old Spot and Chef Ian Bates to be located in Bristol and not Wells. I frigging loved everything. All of it, so much so I was scanning the menu to check if there was anything else I could order, a side dish or suchlike just to see if it was as beautifully prepared as the other grub I’d experienced.

Go to Wells and eat at The Old Spot. Don’t have a car? Get the bus like we did, they run regularly from Bristol Bus station, it takes an hour and costs £7 for a return. You will not regret it.

Me? I’m already planning on going back in the evening to try the a la carte.

The Old Spot
12 Sadler Street

Telephone: 01749 689 099

Monday 15 October 2012

The Square - London

London restaurant, The Square is somewhere I’ve wanted to eat at for ages. Over the past few years, I’ve heard it come up again and again in conversation, often mentioned with some degree of reverence by people whose opinion I respect.

The Square is not achingly hip or in any way the latest thing, having opened in 1991; 21 years ago, it’s almost approaching institution status. With two Michelin stars and Head chef Phil Howard having been integral in both the career of star protégé, Brett Graham and the founding of his restaurant, which many consider to be London’s best, The Ledbury (Howard is a partner) . To say there’s an aura of excellence surrounding the place would be something of a frigging understatement.

I was due to be back in London for a day last week and I was fishing around for lunch recommendations, I always try and squeeze in a meal somewhere nice, wherever I can and The Square was mentioned once again. A chef friend of mine described it as the best meal he’d had recently and that was that. I didn’t need telling again. Booked!

Seeing as it was also my Dad’s birthday, and the old man is notoriously difficult to buy for, I thought I’d take him along, by way of a present. Strictly set lunch only, mind. What do you think I am, made of money?

So, striding down Bruton Street on a brisk, yet bright October lunchtime, the old man and I arrived at The Square, for a bit of posh grub. I don’t think we’ve ever been to a good restaurant together, at least not just the two of us, and I was looking forward to this immensely.

Greeted warmly and shown to the luxurious linen expanse of our table, we both settled in and took in a chattering room full of exclusively sharp-suited businessmen and women (this being mid-week lunchtime in Mayfair after all). As one half of this sartorially un-elegant, Essex duo of decidedly ugly ‘ladies who lunch’ I can say with some confidence, we stuck out like balls on a bulldog.
Not that this actually bothered me one bit, I’m well used to dining situations like this by now.

The old man, also seemingly unfazed by his surroundings surprised me by steering the conversation off-piste straightaway, stabbing his gnarled stump like thumb at a strangely luminescent feature wall,

“What do you reckon that finish costs?”

My Dad, just retired from a lifetime of working in London, constructing every kind of building imaginable, but mainly exclusive high-end, luxury type pads is a fount of arcane building industry knowledge. I realised he was out to shock me.

“Errrr a couple of thousand, maybe? What is it, polished concrete, marble?”

“No, a wall that size wouldn’t take the weight. It’s something called armourcoat, and a finish like that…”

…Taking a moment to appraise the exact dimensions of the wall with a professional eye…a dramatic pause, a casual intake of breath before delivering the good news…

“That’d cost you at least eight grand”.

The conversation then proceeded with a surprisingly amusing armourcoat based anecdote from a building job he’d worked on years ago. I looked around the elegant dining room again and thought it unlikely that anyone else had ever had the same discussion here. Ever.
Butter, unsalted and salted, riding atop flat backed glass swans made it’s way to the table. Posh. Digging into the offered basket full of absolutely superb bread, we paused to consider the set lunch menu.
But first, a baked beetroot and pickled herring amuse topped with cream and specked through with seeds was delicious and a nice way to kick proceedings off.
Ravioli of Langoustine with Crushed Cauliflower, Cepes, Pumpkin and Beurre Noisette was something else, bloody amazing basically. Ridiculously rich, of course, but as I munched away, the very distinct flavours came to the fore and were each in turn briefly discernible, the langoustine, cepes, lemon perhaps…If I could just once, make something so intriguingly multi-layered in taste and utterly frigging delicious I’d be a very happy man.
The old man’s plate of Tartare of Smoked Venison with Baked Celeriac, Crapaudine Beetroot and Chestnut Cream looked gorgeous, absolutely beautiful presentation and from my Dad’s feedback and the forkful I got of it, tasted the business. To be honest, the greedy bastardo in me wishes I could have eaten both starters. I have to admit, at the time I had no idea what crapaudine beetroot was, thinking it perhaps some particularly poncey French culinary term requiring a copy of Larousse to decipher. Turns out it’s a type of heritage beetroot. *groans and slaps forehead*
I’m from Essex; therefore I gravitate towards pie with mash, even in a two star restaurant. It’s the natural order of things. Yes, in this case a very swanky example, Game Pie, Savoy Cabbage and Creamed Potato, with a rich game Jus, poured over ceremoniously at the table. Cracking pastry, beautiful rich meaty filling. A dollop of superbly luxurious, whipped, creamy mash. Quite obviously crammed full of butter and cream, and all the better for it.
My Dad’s Fillet of Organic Salmon with Whole Grain Couscous, a Light Curry Dressing and Pomegranate wasn’t going down quite so well across the table. He was eating it, but as I had my head down like a pig in a trough, gorging on game pie, it wasn’t till the end of the meal that I noticed he’d left some. I did a startled double take, considering as I was, at that very moment, whether it would be truly bad form to lick my plate. The Old Man, ever the diplomat said it was really nice, but not as good as his starter. I tried a little and thought it was cracking. Maybe salmon just isn't my Dad's thing.  
A pre-dessert, turned out to be a dainty portion of the second option on the set menu, which is a nice way of doing business. You’re not left wondering what the other unordered dish was like. Warm Amalfi Lemon Cake with Black Figs and Honey Ice Cream unsurprisingly was ridiculously sweet and sticky, so much so that I doubt I could have finished a full portion, but truly gorgeous.
We’d both ordered the same dessert proper, Roasted Pear with Quince Puree, Almond Croustillant and Sherry Vinegar Ice Cream. First of all, I have to admit I had no idea what croustillant means until I looked it up, but now I’m sagely nodding my head and stroking my beard muttering ‘crisp, of course’.

Although the finer points of French culinary terms count for nothing when you’re stuffing the lot into your gob as fast as you can. This was probably the best dish I ate at The Square. A bona fide frigging masterpiece. The rich caramelised sweetness of the pear combined with the sourness of the sherry vinegar ice cream. Holy Moly, that’s what I’m talking about.
Finally, no parsimony with the delicious Nougat petit fours, they kept coming till we were both groaning and waving them away, stuffed silly.

A three course set lunch at The Square will set you back £35, a non-extravagant glass of wine, coffee and tip; you’re looking at just over £50. Not cheap, but consider that you could walk into any rubbish high street chain and easily spank £20 on lunch or dinner, and it would be truly abysmal, then why not forego that horrendous experience two or three times and treat yourself to a posh lunch where the food will be incredible and the service faultless? Makes sense to me.

As you may have gathered from the write up, the food at The Square was pretty much faultless. The front of house and waiting staff complete professionals, striking just the right balance between being friendly; putting you at ease but with a nice level of formality too, just to remind you that this is an upmarket joint.

If I had to question any aspect of the experience at all, it would be the dining room itself. It’s very businesslike, very corporate and somehow quite characterless. Compared to say The Ledbury, which also has two stars but feels, to me at least, very different, more interesting and pleasing to the eye.

But, it’s all splitting hairs when you can eat dishes like the Langoustine Ravioli and the Roasted Pear with Sherry Vinegar, quite possibly two of the nicest things I’ve eaten, ever, anywhere.

The Square
6-10 Bruton Street

Telephone: 020 7495 7100

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Coffee and cream granita

At ‘The Basement’ supper club I run with ‘E’, we often serve simple granitas or ices as a pre-dessert course. They’re refreshing, act as a bit of palate cleanser and are a nice way of moving from savoury to sweeter flavours. They are also, as you’d expect from me, incredibly sophisticated and posh.

At our most recent supper we served a coffee and cream granita. The coffee part we pinched from Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Just Desserts’ (which is a frigging awesome book by the way), I thought it’d be nice to pour a splash of cream over it, just before serving. It’s bloody nice.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, it actually tastes a little bit like one of those iced coffees available from shitty high street chain coffee shops, but please don’t let that put you off. This is much more intense and über.

Here’s the recipe…

Coffee and Cream Granita
Serves 6-8

You’ll Need:-

100g Sugar
150ml Water
2 Cardamom pods
1 Strip orange zest
500ml Fresh espresso coffee, cooled
Double Cream to serve

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan over a low heat. Stir until dissolved. Add the cardamom and orange zest and boil for 3 mins.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 1 hour before discarding the cardamom pods and the orange zest.

Mix the coffee with the infused syrup and chill.

Once cold, pour into a shallow container and refrigerate for 2-3 hours until partially frozen. Every hour or so, give it a stir with a fork, scraping the frozen crystals into the liquid. After a few hours of this, it will have a nice icy granular texture and be ready to serve.

Spoon some into a glass, splash a bit of cream over.
Try not to suffer brain-freeze.

Sunday 23 September 2012

The Hardwick - Abergavenny

Last week, I had lunch at somewhere I’ve wanted to eat for ages, Stephen Terry’s The Hardwick. We were in Abergavenny for the annual Food Festival at which I ate and drank more than is ever advisable. So much so, that upon returning, I had to spend an entire day in a vegative state, recovering.

Abergavenny almost has an embarrassment of riches where it comes to eating out, with four highly regarded restaurants located nearby. The Hardwick, The Walnut Tree, The Crown at Whitebrook and The Foxhunter. Although admittedly, it’s a bit of a hike or a short cab ride out to reach any of them. Strangely, within the environs of the actual town there’s a real lack of decent places to eat, but with such a concentration of culinary excellence, more or less right on the doorstep, perhaps that’s not so surprising.

It’s worth noting that all of these restaurants are easily reachable from Bristol for lunch or dinner. It’s easy to forget the city’s proximity to Wales, but Abergavenny is a little over an hour away by train.
The Hardwick sits a little way out of town, on the Old Raglan Road, surrounded by an incredibly verdant early autumn panorama of hills and valleys. The exterior, freshly painted white, looks well kept, but a bit plain from the roadside and not especially alluring.

Fortunately, the interior is an entirely different proposition. It’s evidently very old, by virtue of the uneven tiled floors and the ancient wooden joists and there’s a definite understated air of polished comfort. Rustic but with just a veneer of fancy-pants slickness. To randomly use a (probably entirely unsuitable) nautical term, I instantly like the cut of The Hardwick’s jib.

Adopting a nonchalant, ‘damn the expense’ air, (E was paying) I glanced down at the menu coming to the instant conclusion that an ‘understated air of polished comfort’ doesn’t come frigging cheap. It’s definitely special occasion prices, for me at least. Mentally toting the menu up like an idiot savant, in the most literal sense, I reckoned that the 3 courses I wanted, plus half a bottle of wine and tip would come in at something like £60 each. That’s a pretty hefty whack for a spot of lunch in my book.

Then I spied the set menu, aaaaaand relax. 3 Courses, £21. Job-jobbed. Don’t get me wrong; I like spanking huge wads of cash on meals as much as the next corpulent bastard, but sometimes I just have to accept that although the stomach may be willing, the bank balance is a particularly barren, flaccid-sack, bereft of coinage.
Let’s talk about bread. The Hardwick is using baker Alex Gooch’s, and it’s bloody excellent. I ate more of it later that weekend, in the form of rolls at the Trealy Farm stall at the food festival itself and couldn’t have been more impressed.
So, pan-fried local pedigree pork meatloaf with red onion marmalade, toasted sourdough and cornichons. A fairly standard starter, apart from the sheer heft of the monolithic cube of meatloaf on my plate. It was frigging massive. I’m not complaining, mind, it was bloody nice, in a warm chunky pork paving-slab, kind of way.
Meanwhile, in the long shadow cast by my starter, ‘E’ was eating organic salmon and cod croquette with smashed peas, tartar sauce and lemon. And a very nice thing it was too by all accounts. From my side of the table, I particularly admired the geometrically slashed croquette styling. Fancy.
Slow cooked pork belly with celeriac puree, black pudding and salted caramel apple sauce. I’ve eaten pork belly alles uber da platz, and this was probably the best I’ve had anywhere. Ridiculously meaty, sticky, and soft but with perfectly crisp, almost lacquered skin, which I couldn’t help but wonder at. I’ve cooked muchos belly myself and never once attained such a beautiful glazed finish. I’d be really interested if anyone knows the technique to achieve similar results.

The salted caramel sauce was a nice unusual twist. As with my starter, the portion size erred on the mungus, the concluding forkful pushed into my gob with just a small degree of effort. I was very happy but stuffed silly.
‘E’s pescetarian tendencies had led her towards pan fried tomato risotto with Perroche goats cheese, grilled courgettes, rocket and black olives. As with everything else we’d ordered, this was a substantial portion of food. The risotto had been pressed into a rectangular cake and seared, which is something I haven’t seen before. Combined with a generous lump of Perroche, a fantastic fresh young goats cheese from Neal’s Yard Creamery, ‘E’ was well pleased.
As we both go a bit stupid where ordering food is concerned, we'd also requested a completely unnecessary bowl of very decent triple cooked chips and a cracking dish of courgette fries. These were different to any I’ve eaten previously in other restaurants, being cut extremely thin – shoestring style, then presumably coated in a light tempura batter and finished off with what appeared to be grated parmesan. They were frigging excellent.
Neither of us fancied the set-menu desserts, so eyes roaming over to the a la carte, ‘E’ ordered ‘A jar of lemon crunch with Italian meringue’ which proved to be very similar to something we’ve made ourselves at ‘The Basement’ supper club (ours were inspired by a dessert we’d eaten in a Bath pub). A Kilner jar, layered full of lemon curd, custard and a shortbread crumb. It was lovely, but way too big a portion of something so rich. Which isn’t much of a complaint really.
Meanwhile I was hacking into one of the trio of golden balls on my plate and gleefully watching molten chocolate slowly ooze out of the centre in an obscene display of the most depraved kind of food porn  ‘Deep fried, breadcrumbed rice pudding & chocolate arancini with morello cherry parfait’ was ridiculously good.
I really enjoyed lunch at The Hardwick. The restaurant itself has a nice relaxed feel to it. The cooking is excellent, rustic but polished with some very nice, unusual twists on classic dishes and flavour combinations.

Superb local produce is woven throughout the entire menu. You couldn’t ask for more really. The a la carte is definitely on the pricey side, but if like on my visit, you’re not feeling particularly flush then the set menu is bloody good value. I’ll definitely re-visit the next time I’m in Abergavenny.

The Hardwick
Old Raglan Road

Telephone 01873 854220