karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Yes, I know, another post about Alimentum but this one is a little different. Last Sunday was the first of head chef Mark Poynton's "supper clubs", an informal evening during which he trialed new dishes. Instead of the usual individual tables, there were three long ones which encouraged talking to the other diners about what everybody thought about the dishes.
Thanks to the efforts of Stagecoach, the bus operator in Cambridge, I was almost too late but got there just in time to grab a glass of welcome fizz before taking my seat. Proceedings started with a few nibbles, onion rice cakes, cheese puffs (neither of which I don't have a photo) and red mullet parfait on toast.

Red Mullet parfait
The parfait was soft with the fish coming through nicely.


Rabbit
Next up was braised rabbit with avruga. This might sound unusual but the saltiness worked well with the soft, sweet meat.


Whipped cep butter Milk loaf
The next item was a treat. Freshly baked bread (milk loaf) and whipped cep butter. You only needed to spread a thin layer of the butter to turn a slice of bread into a mushroom. Superb and one of my favourite dishes of the night.


Wood pigeon, liver on toast
The wild theme continued with wood pigeon, a perfectly cooked piece of breast and liver on toast.


Smoked eel, apple, cucumber, horseradish granita

Then, the fish course and my favourite: Smoked eel, apple, cucumber, goat's cheese, horseradish granita. I love smoked eel which is usually a treat around Christmas in my family but there was some apprehension among my fellow diners. However, this changed when the dish arrived and everyone I heard loved it. The apple/cucumber salad helped counteract the inherent greasiness of the fish, making it lighter. Horseradish is a classic accompaniment to smoked fish, anyway.

Beef cheek, variations of onion
The main event was braised beef cheeks with variations of onion, onion mash and onion juice. Soft, flavourful meat, excellent onion bits but not enough juice.


Tarragon, yoghurt
The pre-dessert was tarragon granita with yoghurt, a lovely palate cleanser and siimilar to a dish I had at Tuddenham Mill earlier this year.


White chocolate mousse, mango, black olive caramel
The final act was white chocolate mousse, mango, black olive caramel. I was apprehensive about the black olive having had a sweet dish with olive at Midsummer House but this worked as it had a similar effect to salt to bring down the cloying sweetness of the caramel. The white chocolate and mango harmonised very well, too. Loved it.


The dishes were paired with excellent wines, two of them English (a white and a sparkling rosé) and a superb sherry with the pre-dessert.
A very enjoyable evening indeed and I've already signed up for the next one.
karohemd: (Chef)
This steak looked so good I cooked it a lot less then usual, about a total of one minute on each side, the rested for 10 minutes while I braised the chicory in the same pan. I added some veg stock to the same pan, then the quartered chicory and put on a lid to let cook until tender but still crunchy and most of the liquid was gone.

Sirloin steak, braised chicory, horseradish mash
karohemd: (Chef)
I found myself in town on Saturday so had a look around the market and found a lemon sole at the fish stall. I still had some broad beans from my veg box and new potatoes so that was dinner sorted.
I skinned and filleted the sole which was quite fiddly but I persevered and produced four reasonable fillets. My cooking liquid was a generous glug of vermouth, two generous glugs of white wine, some fish stock and a big knob of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. I bought this to a boil in a frying pan, turned off the heat and when it stopped boiling added the fillets, turned them after a couple of minutes until they were evenly cooked and removed them to a warm dish to keep warm, while I turned up the heat again and cooked the (double-podded!) broad beans in the liquor until they were tender and the liquid was reduced to a sauce.
I served the fillets on a warm plate, with the beans spooned over and around, with new potatoes on the side. Very nice indeed.

Lemon Sole
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Ceviche is another of the rather recent openings I wanted to visit and finally had a chance when I was in London and had enough time to go before a late starting gig. It's on busy Frith St. in Soho and the restaurant is equally busy with tightly packed wooden tables and chairs/stools. I was there on a Thursday at 6:45 and mine was the only free table, even the pisco bar (where you can also eat) in the front was packed so booking is highly recommended. There aren't starters or mains as such but the food is served as sharing plates (or non-sharing if you're on your own) and they recommend three or four plates per person. Have a look at the menu to get an idea. I had three and a dessert without extras and was thoroughly sated.
Now for the food. I obviously wanted some ceviche so I chose sea bass which I enjoyed. The fish is sliced and mixed with "tiger milk" (a mix of lime juice, chilli and spices) which tenderises the fish and basically cooks it without heat. A very fresh and light dish with just a little kick at the end.
The other cold dish I had was chunks of Pulpo (octopus) grilled on a skewer with slices of chorizo. Octopus is hard to get right and this was perfect, lovely and tender, the rich and chewy chorizo a nice contrast.
I also had Solterón, a salad of palm hearts, spinach, alfalfa, feta and olives in a lime dressing. Also very nice, although the flavour of the palm hearts is a bit odd at first.
For dessert I had the most disappointing dish, at least in value: Lúcuma ice cream with crumbled alfajores (a sugar confection). 5.25 for two scoops of ice cream is a bit steep, even in central London, I thought, but the taste was brilliant.
I couldn't leave without having a cocktail with pisco (the national drink of Peru, a grape brandy) and I chose one with passion fruit. Fresh and very enjoyable.
The bill for this meal (three dishes, one dessert, a glass of the house white and the pisco cocktail) came to 43 pounds which is OK for the location. With exception of the dessert, the food prices are fine and drinks were priced well, too (4.35 for the wine and 7.50 for the cocktail).

So, if you fancy something a little different (but apparently Peruvian cooking is up and coming) and don't mind to be packed into a place with a lively atmosphere (and the odd wobbly table), I can only recommend Ceviche and I will definitely be back as I want to try some of the other dishes.

Sorry for the lack of photos but I was going to a gig afterwards so couldn't take my camera. There are stunning ones by Paul Winch-Furness on their website.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
It had been a while since my last meal at Alimentum (my birthday at the end of March) and I had heard very good things about the new dishes Mark Poynton and his brigade have come up with so I went for a nice lunch on Bank Holiday Tuesday and wonderful it was. The new dishes are fresh and light while still being packed with flavour, some classic, some new and adventurous but always exciting. I had a Chef's tasting menu with matching wines to be able to sample most of the new dishes:

Gougères and popcorn Pea

Proceedings started with fresh gougères and crunchy popcorn and then a bowl of very light and fluffy pea mousse with cottage cheese and crispy Parma ham.

Asparagus

The first starter was asparagus (green and white) salad, hazelnut and truffle. I could have eaten this all day, so light and fresh (and slightly bitter) this was with the crunch of the hazelnut and the earthy slithers of truffle. Brilliant.

Pork

Pork: head (the round slices), cheek (the dark piece on the right), pineapple, acorn and chorizo. The cold ballotine of head reminded me of what is called Pressack in Germany (bits of pig's head cooked in the stomach and usually served as a cold cut). The cheek was braised and so soft you could have eaten it with a spoon. The pieces of pineapple added acidity and sweetness. All quite dark in flavour but not heavy.

Lemon Sole Veronique

Fish is always fantastic at Alimentum and this "Sole Veronique" was no exeption, perfection in a bowl.

Lamb

The main was lamb, rump and belly with broccoli and cous cous. Perfectly cooked meat, the rump soft, the belly crispy and the extras with the beautiful sauce pulling everything together.

Fresh ricotta

Palate cleanser: Fresh ricotta, pineapple and sweet cicely sorbet. Fresh, light, bitter, slightly sweet. Huge smile on my face.

Passionfruit

First dessert: Passionfruit (curd and granita), coffee ice cream and saffron meringue. The coffee might sound a bit strange but it worked really well with the fruitiness and the earthy saffron meringue.

And then, a bit of theatre:
Milk Jam Mousse Milk Jam Mousse

Smoked milk jam mousse, lime, banana and honeycomb. Just glorious, the smoke was really noticeable even minutes later. The dish looks quite substantial but it was really light.

Strawberry

Final dessert: Strawberry (mousse and jelly), apricot sorbet (inside the canneloni) and basil meringue. After the saffron with the passionfruit, the second savoury meringue. Basil goes well with strawberry, anyway, so this was spot on. It's rare that I like meringues as they tend to be too sweet for me but these were both lovely.

Every time I eat at Alimentum, the food is just getting better and their prices are hard to beat considering the quality of cooking. Even after having eaten at Midsummer House, I still maintain this is the best restaurant in Cambridge.
karohemd: (Chef)
This long weekend was perfect for some experimentation in the kitchen so on Monday I used up the rest of the asparagus (I had sauteed spears with my lamb steaks on Sunday evening), cooking the front half of the spears in lemony butter, removed them from the butter and kept them warm. Then I cooked the chopped stems in the same butter with some veg stock. When those were tender, I blitzed them with a stick blender, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, stirred in a good dollop of double cream and blitzed again, tilting the blender head to get in as much air as possible. The result was a light, smooth, fluffy soup. The flavour was spot on, too.
I served the soup in a deep plate, with the cooked spears and a poached duck's egg yolk on top. Probably the technically best dish I've ever cooked. Very happy. :o)
Cream of asparagus soup, poached duck's egg yolk
karohemd: by LJ user gothindulgence (Default)
After something like two years on the waiting list, I was finally lucky and got into the stage in which I could apply for tickets and I got some for the recording of episode 6 of the J series!
Figuring that demand would be high (they are giving out more tickets than seats), I took half the afternoon off and arranged to meet Blaze at Waterloo tube at 5. After some positional confusion (I waited at the South Bank tube exit, she was in Waterloo train station), we found each other and wandered over to London Studios where there was a huge queue already. Two queues in fact, one for QI and one for Alan Carr (it was slightly chaotic but we had joined the correct one after all). While we were waiting, the weather turned and it started to rain but thankfully didn't last long.
The queue finally started to move at around 6:40 (10 minutes later than scheduled) and we got in. They were in an obvious hurry, they just grabbed the ticket off me without checking how many we were or even if the printout I gave him was an actual, unique ticket and there was no airport style security check as in the BBC buildings, not even a bag check so up the stairs and into the studio we went. The auditorium is quite large and we were about halfway up and had a reasonable view. There were also loads of monitors that currently showed bits of trivia and during the recording the picture of the active camera (which was useful as sometimes the dolly arm was in the way).

The QI set
This is what the set looks like in ambient light

(This will be the spoiler free version. I'll be typing up a lot more but only publish that after the episode has aired.)
Proceedings started just after 7:30 with the floor manager giving a pep talk about when and when not to applaud etc. and then Stephen Fry came on, talked a bit, recorded the audience participation audioboo (can you guess what we were saying? I didn't even know the word but it begins with J), and introduced the presenter of the Swedish version which will be aired in September. He then introduced the panelists: the ubiquitous Alan Davies, Sue Perkins, Ross Noble and an Australian nobody knew (Julia something, Spanish sounding last name). There was some banter between them and then the recording proper started with the QI theme being played in and Stephen Fry starting his Goooooooooooooooooooooooooood evening thing, introducing the panelists and buzzer sounds, just as you see it on TV. The whole actual QI bit ran in one go without interruptions but for almost 90 minutes so a lot of it will end up on the cutting room floor. As I said there were no breaks but obviously bits where some of the panelists (especially Ross Noble and Alan Davies) would go off on a tangent or throw in some other remark that was highly entertaining but obviously not really suitable for the end product. They might even take out one or more of the questions entirely.
The whole thing went smoothly and there were no pickups at the end, either. It was really enjoyable and very funny, especially Ross Noble was on high form. The chemistry experiment was fun, too and nobody died. Details after the episode has aired. :o)

I'm very glad I made the journey (ticket was free, anyway), had a brilliant time and another little insight into how one of my favourite TV programmes is made.
Even more lucky, I managed to catch the 22:15 train and the last bus home so was home well before midnight.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Saturday I met up with a friend at Jose Pizarro's sherry/tapas bar José for lunch. I had been to Pizarro (his restaurant) before and loved it but I fancied more variety this time. José is on a corner on Bermondsey St. There aren't any tables with chairs but counters along the windows with stools and a few tall bar tables as well as the bar itself. It's open all day on Saturdays from 12 noon and it will be packed very soon and it became apparent why very quickly.
Our first pick was "Pluma Iberica", seared iberico pork served rare. This might sound unusual or even dangerous but the quality of the meat is so high that the rawness is no cause of concern. On the contrary, cooking this superb meat any further would be a crime as it is wonderfully tender and flavoursome, almost melting on the tongue.
The other dishes we shared was a salad of radicchio with walnuts and blue cheese (well balanced flavours), sweet and tender squid with allioli and chilli, gently cooked chicken livers that were almost like paté and a fillet of seabream with morcilla (Spanish black pudding) and red peppers. The final reward was Crema Catalan, equally as good as the one I had at Pizarro. Everything was perfectly cooked, flavoured and seasoned, a joy to eat.
With two glasses of sherry and good conversation, almost two hours went past very quickly indeed.
Apologies for the lack of photos but it was a bit cramped and the food and company were just too good that I forgot, despite actually having a camera with me.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Restaurant Sat Bains has been on my "to do list" for a while because his food always sounded and looked interesting when featured on TV, reviews or food blogs. A couple of months ago I mentioned my desire to visit and a friend who lives in Nottingham offered to come along and a roof over the head for the night so I took the offer and booked a table for yesterday.
When we arrived we were shown to comfortable seats in the cosy bar/lounge for our pre-dinner drinks. Sat Bains only offers tasting menus, one with seven and one with ten courses with optional matching "wine packages". We decided on the full experience of ten courses with matching wines and we also chose to share the duck egg, ham and pea dish, with which Sat Bains won the starter in Great British Menu 2007, as an additional starter.
Now I have to admit I have a problem, I simply lack the words to describe what followed. The horseradish amuse bouche in two parts, the "ice cream sandwich" and the pannacotta, were already oozing with a variety of perfectly matched flavours. This theme would continue throughout the menu and quite often change while eating a dish, especially when having a sip of the matching wine. In the case of the main, the flavour of the venison tartare developed black pepper flavours when eaten with the treacle bread (the darker of the two you see below). A few dishes tasted differently to what your brain told you they should taste like, especially the chocolate/olive/balsamic dessert.
After our main we were offered a cheese course which I asked to be served at the end (my German genes, I guess). This was not a traditional cheese board but two prepared cheese dishes, both excellent.
Service throughout was spot on, friendly, unassuming and happy to discuss the dishes. The sommelier's wine pairings were also perfect, enhancing, supporting or even sometimes changing the flavours of the dishes in an entirely pleasant way.
We must have made an impression because we were invited into the kitchen to have a chat with Chef Sat Bains who showed us the surprsingly small kitchen, introduced us to his brigade and talked about the food and his philosophy/approach to cooking. Not only did we get to meet this thoroughly charming and gracious chef but were also served an additional off-menu dessert, a treacle sponge with parsnip and apple. The sponge was quite big but so fluffy and light it was almost not there. With this we had a glass of sparkling sake which was again a wonderful match.
It was only when we left the kitchen that we realised that it was already 11 o'clock meaning we had spent over four and a half hours eating and drinking without really noticing the time passing as we were so involved in the whole experience. It wasn't over yet as coffee and chocolates were still to come which we took again in the lounge going full circle around the restaurant if you will. Called "chocolate log" this was again not what you would expect as you can see in the last photo below. Each shard of chocolate (from white to dark) was flavoured differently, a beautiful end to a wonderful experience.
And now, the photos. Rather tricky as the light wasn't brilliant but I think they give you some idea of what we experienced:

Horseradish amuse bouche Horseradish amuse bouche
Horseradish amuse bouche


White and treacle bread
Bread


Duck egg 65°, peas
Duck egg, ham, peas


Scallop, leek (smoked, charred)
Scallop and leek


Jersey royals, dashi, onion juice, ham
Jersey royals, dashi, onion juice, ham


Duck liver "muesli"
Duck liver "muesli"


Loch Duart salmon, asparagus, asparagus gazpacho
Loch Duart salmon, asparagus gazpacho


"Waldorf" salad
"Waldorf" salad


Roe deer, mushroom, pine, thyme, chocolate
Roe deer, mushroom, pine, thyme, chocolate


"The crossover"
"The crossover"


Sweetcorn, miso, passionfruit
Sweetcorn, miso, passionfruit


Chocolate, coffee, olive oil, balsamic
Chocolate, coffee, olive oil, balsamic


Strawberry and cream
Strawberry and cream


Tamilworth cheese with beetroot Blue goat's cheese
Cheese


"Chocolate Log"
"Chocolate log" and coffee
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
The First and Last opened last year in Cambridge in the premises that used to be The Cricketers, reverting to the name of the original pub in that location. I've been a couple of times but for some reason haven't blogged about it yet. The menu contains both pub grub (things like burgers, fish&chips etc. cooked to a high standard) and dishes you would more expect at a restaurant.
I was in town this week for a photography group meetup (more on that in another blog post tomorrow) so dropping in at the First and Last for dinner beforehand sounded like a good idea. Everything sounded exciting but I wanted a lightish starter so went for the chicken roulade with asparagus and red onions.

Chicken roulade with asparagus, red onions, sourdough

Chicken mousse wrapped around asparagus spears, wrapped with parma ham and then fried. Nicely cooked, excellent flavours. The stewed red onions and dressed leaves worked well with the meat.

In the afternoon, they posted a photo of a hake on twitter so I knew what I'd be having as I love that fish and it's hard to find in the shops.

Beer battered hake, thrice cooked chips

The beer batter was crispy and the fish was flaky and moist. The chunky, thrice cooked chips were superb, very fluffy inside and very crispy outside. The home made tartare sauce was lovely and I even liked the peas (no mean feat)! A huge portion, too, I had to leave two chips behind and sadly didn't have any room for pudding, something I will have to amend next time.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
The Pass restaurant is in Sussex and a bit tricky to get to from Cambridge so when I read that Matt would do a "popup" at Cinnamon Kitchen (a few minutes from Liverpool St. station), it sounded like an easy way of sampling his food. After a train and tube journey that took 40 minutes longer than it should have, I arrived at the restaurant in time for the welcome drink (a rather nice Bellini). The meal itself was at the "tandoor bar" in the main restaurant, a long low open kitchen counter with comfortable chairs (not barstools) behind which the chefs worked and were also happy to answer questions and explain what they were doing.

Matt Gillan Lewis Hamblet Matt Gillan

When we arrived the chefs (Matt Gillan, head chef at The Pass, Lewis Hamblet, executive chef at South Lodge and Sarah Payne, junior sous chef) were busy assembling the starter. I ordered a glass each of the recommended wines and after a short introduction to the dish by Matt, the starter was served.

Curried gressingham duck breast, braised leg, blackened onions, pink grapefruit

There were two elements of duck in the dish (Curried gressingham duck breast, braised leg, blackened onions, pink grapefruit), hot slow cooked leg in a parcel and rolled up slices of dark pink breast at room temperature. This might sound slightliy odd but worked perfectly and the additional elements tied everything together adding texture and acidity. The wine, a Pinot Gris, worked well with the dish, even if you would expect a red with duck.

Roasted stone bass, spring onions, chick pea, watercress

The fish dish (Roasted stone bass, spring onions, chick pea, watercress) was next and freshly cooked directly in front of me as were the spring onions. You could see how much are and attention went into cooking the fish and the result was brilliant: Crispy skin and moist, flaky fish with excellent accompaniments.

Main: saddle of lamb, slow cooked belly, lamb fat gnocchi, lemon curd, mushroom

The main event was saddle of lamb, slow cooked belly (sitting underneath the slices of saddle), lamb fat gnocchi, lemon curd, mushroom. The meat had been cooked to medium in a waterbath and was then freshly seared and sliced. The belly had been cooked overnight and then pressed. The gnocchi and mushrooms were freshly fried as well. This dish is actually fighting with the lamb I had at Tuddenham Mill I had earlier this month. The basic idea was the same, a prime and a "cheap" cut of meat with interesting accompaniments but rather different in execution. I loved the contrast of the two cuts of meat, the juicy saddle and the soft and crispy belly (which wasn't greasy at all). The gnocchi were crispy on the outside, soft inside, the mushrooms had great flavour and the lemon curd (as weird as it sounds) tied everything together and provided the acidity that came from the yoghurt in Paul Foster's dish. Genius.

Dessert: vanilla and lime cream, mint gel, cucumber, mango, coconut sorbet

The dessert was vanilla and lime cream (inside the cylinder), mint gel, cucumber, mango, coconut sorbet. Lovely fresh, fruity and not too sweet flavours, some soft, some crunchy with the surprising element being the cucumber balls which had been steeped in a light stock syrup to give it some sweetness. Brilliant.

You can find more photos in this flickr set which will be expanded with a few more shots when I find the time over the next few days.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
A different sort of blog post for me as I usually don't do product reviews as I either use fresh/locally produced ingredients or well-known brands.
I sometimes have a craving for a more substantial savoury snack so every now and then I get a pack of jerky or biltong from the supermarket. A while ago, I "met" Will Yates on twitter who produces his own home-made jerky in a variety of flavours. This month he offered a variety pack of all four flavours (BBQ, Teriyaki, Roast Beef & Mustard and the mighty Holy Fuck hot sauce) for a discount and I took the chance to order one and try it.
The jerky comes in 40g vacuum sealed bags to keep it in good condition. On ripping open a pack, you get a nice whiff of the flavour. The jerky is chewy but soft and nicely juicy. The flavours aren't that strong so you can still taste the meat which is clearly of good quality.
The Holy Fuck flavour I was slightly scared of. While I haven't had the sauce itself I've heard horror stories of it blowing the heads off even seasoned chilli heads. So I was surprised when that didn't happen to me at all. The effect is actually quite remarkable: When you bite into a piece of HF jerky, the heat sort of evaporates in your mouth (and your sinuses) which is a nice warm feeling. What remains is fruitiness as you continue to chew. It was clearly my favourite of the four.
So yes, if you fancy some jerky, you can't go wrong with Billy Franks.
karohemd: (Chef)
After my light lunch, I fancied a nice piece of meat for dinner. I'm pretty confident in cooking steak my usual way (fast sear and then finished in a low oven) but I wanted to try the method Heston Blumenthal demonstrated in his last TV series.
The steak had quite a chunk of fat on one end so I cut that off, chopped it up and rendered it on a low/medium heat. There was enough fat to lubricate the steak so I didn't need any oil. It most likely helped with the flavour, too.
With the extractor fan on full and window open, I added the steak to the smoking pan and flipped the steak every 15 seconds (roughly, by counting, I didn't actually use a timer), seasoning with salt and pepper halfway through. After four times on each side, so for a total of two minutes, the steak felt as if it was done so I removed it from the pan to a warm plate to let it rest for five minutes. I poured off the fat as suggested in the linked recipe but made a standard red wine reduction instead to which I added the resting juices later.
After resting, the steak was just how I like it, dark pink throughout, wonderfully juicy and with a really nice crust on the outside, quite possibly the best steak I have cooked.
This I served with boulangere potatoes and fresh, blanched asparagus.

Sirloin steak cooked the Heston way, boulangere potatoes, new season asparagus Sirloin steak cooked the Heston way (cut), boulangere potatoes, new season asparagus


I remember watching this episode on TV and myself and many others on twitter found it a bit odd but it really works. I mentioned this to an American friend and she thought it completely normal. Different cultures, different ways of cooking steaks.
karohemd: (Chef)
Last night I bought a pack of salmon fillets at the supermarket (from the saucy fish co.) because I needed something quick for dinner. The first fillet I pan-fried and had some leftover mediterranean couscous with it. Perfect quick evening meal.

This morning I had bought fresh asparagus from my greengrocer and thought I'd attempt something fancy with the other fillet for lunch:
I took off the skin, laid it flat into a frying pan, with a sheet of baking parchment on top and weighed down with a saucpan and then turned on the hob at medium heat. After five minutes, I turned the skin over and cooked the underside for a further five minutes. The result was a perfectly crispy piece of salmon skin.

I split the fillet lengthways to create two equally thick slices, set them next to each other on a sheet of clingfilm, added a spear of asparagus split lengthways, seasoned with salt and pepper and rolled it up tightly, twisting the ends of the clingfilm. This I wrapped in foil in a similar way and poached it in hot water for about five minutes. After unwrapping (ow!), it came out rather well done but still juicy and flaky. I will need to reduce the temperature next time but for that I will need a thermometer...

I also had cooked some lentils in water and seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I sliced the ballotine (more difficult than it sounds with flaky fish) and arranged the slices on the lentils, with the skin on the side.
Despite the fish being on the well done side, everything tasted really nice and as a first attempt I call this a success. One of the more "cheffy" things I have attempted.

Ballotine of salmon and asparagus, crispy salmon skin, lentils
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Saturday I finally had the chance to go back to Tuddenham Mill near Newmarket. My first visit was brilliant but in the evening the lighting is so low you can't really appreciate the prettiness of the food and we only ate a la carte so deciding what to have was really hard. So this time I went for lunch on a bright spring day and had an 8-course (counting extras) tasting menu designed by head chef Paul Foster.
As I was just a bit early I had some excellent elderflower cordial (made on site) in the bar, nibbling on parmesan twists and pork crackling.
Parmesan twists, pork crackling

As you can see, those aren't your regular pork scratchings but it's what's left when you render a piece of crackling fat very slowly indeed so all the fat disappears. Very light and crunchy.
Then I took my seat upstairs and the meal proper started:

Bread and Butter

Freshly baked bread and Lincolnshire Poacher butter.

Watermelon, Feta, fried pumpkin seeds

The amuse bouche was very thin slices of watermelon with feta and fried pumpkin seeds and did its job (exciting the palate) perfectly because of the contrast of sweet/acidity from the melon, the saltiness of the cheese and the crunchy seeds.

Organic salmon 40°C, asparagus, peanut, chickweed

Organic salmon 40°C, asparagus, peanut, chickweed. The fish was just cooked and especially when it's this good quality, that's all it needs. It is soft and retains its natural flavour. The asparagus was equally simply cooked and the peanuts added the crunch it needed.

Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress

Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress. What a way to raise the humble egg to new heights. It sounds quite rich but was surprisingly light. Lovely combination of flavours and a nice crunch of bacon on top.

Duck hearts, rhubarb, celery, wild rice

Duck hearts, rhubarb, celery, wild rice. I'm a huge fan of poultry giblets and offal in general so this was great and one of the few instances I liked celery. The rhubarb was really interesting in this, too. This was one of those dishes that just keeps growing in flavour as you eat it.

Lamb rump and shoulder, yoghurt, fennel, quinoa

The main event was lamb rump and shoulder, yoghurt, fennel, quinoa. The piece of rump was cooked on the spot pink and very flavourful indeed. There was a nice bit of fat on it, too. The piece of shoulder was slow cooked and fell apart at the touch. The braised fennel, quinoa, yoghurt, wild garlic and a leaf I couldn't identify tied everything together beautifully. Very easily one of the best lamb dishes I've had.

Goat's milk, tarragon

Goat's milk, tarragon. After the rich lamb dish, this was the perfect palate cleanser. The milk was set similar to a pannacotta but almost like curd cheese in texture and very light. The granita on top wasn't too strong in tarragon flavour and worked really well.

Bitter chocolate textures, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, mint

The main dessert was bitter chocolate textures, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, mint. There was soft mousse, crumbs and more solid bits of really excellent dark chocolate. The bits on the other side added a really good fruity tang and some texture. Sea buckthorn seems to a controversial ingredient as people seem to either love or hate it, a bit like coriander or marmite. To me it's fruity and tangy (I'm not a huge fan of just sweet desserts) but fellow Cambridge foodie @ythos doesn't like the "aftertaste of month-old corpse". ;)

At this point Chef Paul invited me to have a look around the kitchen where we had a chat about the meal while I had my final dessert, an egg custard tart with butermilk, apple and nutmeg (this is the reason there's no photo as I left my camera at the table). The salted Granny Smith apple brought down the sweetish taste of the tart again. The perfect, light finish to a fantastic meal.

Tucked away in a village outside Newmarket, Paul Foster is really pushing the boat out in terms of flavour. While he does use modern cooking techniques, there are no molecular gimmicks, foams or other nonsense. Paul demonstrates that you don't need luxury ingredients like truffles and foie gras to create a luxury dining experience as long as you treat the ingredients well to bring out the maximum of flavour. It's a bit of a shame this fine restaurant is so far out of the way but it's worth the effort and I encourage everyone to try it. Paul Foster's appearance on Great British Menu on BBC2 this week should help boost awareness, too.
karohemd: (Chef)
My butcher had nice pork tenderloin portions so I picked up one and they also had cooking chorizo and morcilla (Spanish black pudding) which I thought would go well with it. I also picked up potatoes and sprouting broccoli from Les Ward across the court and my shopping was done.
I first sliced the chorizo and morcilla and fried them in a dry pan over medium low heat until the slices were crispy and a lot of the fat had rendered. I removed the sausage with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and seared the piece of tenderloin in the rendered fat until browned on all sides and then put it into a low oven to finish.
I deglazed the pan with a glass of cider, seasoned with salt, pepper and a bit of thyme and let it reduce down to a sticky sauce.
After letting it rest for a few minutes, I carved the tenderloin, arranged it on top of the mash, crumbled the chorizo and morcilla over and around it and drizzled with the sauce. A few Maldon salt flakes and a few twists of pepper were the only seasoning (apart from the flavour of the chorizo fat).
Served with simple mash and steamed purple sprouting broccoli.
The crispy chorizo and morcilla provided not only extra flavour but also texture. I was really happy with how it came out.

Pork tenderloin, Chorizo, Morcilla

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karohemd: (Chef)
In my previous "baking" post, I mentioned I'd try making a savoury tart with the shop-bought, ready-rolled puff pastry I bought Saturday (JusRol).
I'm pleased to say it worked really well as you can see below.
I didn't have quite enough left to fill my tray so I patched the last piece together with some offcuts from the weekend and it worked (although you can see the wonky lower right corner), scored a rim into the pastry, spread some diluted tomato puree on the pastry, arranged courgette slices, quartered cherry tomatoes and bits of crushed garlic topped with bits of goats' cheese and finishing with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Maldon sea salt and a few grinds of pepper. Into my toaster oven for about fifteen minutes and out came this:
Courgette, Tomato and Goat's Cheese Tart
Photo taken on my phone and processed with instagram, I quite like it.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
For my overnight stay I had more or less randomly picked a hotel just down the road from The Hampshire Hog, a "pub and pantry" I had been wanting to visit for while as I know the owner Ed on twitter and had heard good things about their food. Breakfast wasn't included in my stay so rather than subjecting myself to chain hotel fare, I walked five minutes to the Hog and I'm glad I did. The main room is bright and airy with rough wooden tables and mismatched chairs. When you look at the menu you realise it's a place where you could spend hours having brunch with a variety of dishes but I had lunch coming up at 12:30 and been told to arrive hungry so I only chose a portion of buttermilk pancakes with blueberries, banana and honey butter.

Buttermilk Pancakes, Blueberries, Banana, Honey Butter

The pancakes were crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and the fruit were lovely, too. With it I had a pot of excellent Earl Grey tea (loose leaf, no less, from The Rare Tea Company). As the light was perfect to read by and I didn't have to check out of my hotel before midday, I spent another hour or so with a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. A perfect morning.

My lunch destination was Axis at One Aldwych in Covent Garden. I live in this slightly bizarre world where as a "foodie" on twitter and other social networks I'm in contact not only with other like-minded people but also chefs from around the country. They regularly post menu updates and photos of new dishes and are happy to chat with their followers so I had "known" executive chef Tony Fleming for a while. I even booked my table through him and he promised me an interesting menu after checking for any allergies or dislikes. As I will try everything at least once, I love this sort of arrangement when chefs offer to "cook for me" and I don't necessarily know what I'll be having and the chefs love it when they can exercise their ideas without restriction.

Axis is one of the two restaurants at One Aldwych and situated in the basement but has also its own entrance from street level via a sweeping marble staircase. The dining room is well lit and furnished with tables dressed in white and comfortable chairs. On my table was a personalised printout of my menu entitled "Surf and Turf Tasting" and it looked very exciting indeed. Again I asked the waiter to recommend a couple of glasses of wine to go with the majority of the menu and again his choices were perfect as was service throughout my almost three hour meal.
This was my meal:

Lamb, Lobster, Pea

"Lamb, Lobster, Pea" BBQ style piece of crispy lamb with soft meat and a piece of perfectly cooked lobster tail, brought together by the pea. The antenna, although inedible, was a nice touch.

Scallop, Pork Belly, Prune

"Scallop, Pork Belly, Prune". A soft scallop sitting on a piece of braised pork belly and prune puree. Rather soft and sweet but not overbearingly so and I loved the flavour combination of scallop and pork.

Turbot, Duck, Broccoli

"Turbot, Duck, Broccoli". This combination might sound slightly strange but it worked really well. The turbot was roasted on the bone, the duck cooked dark pink, just how I like it. Some of the best broccoli I've had, too.

Rabbit, Langoustine, Carrot

"Rabbit, Langoustine, Carrot". This was, to my mind, the most inventive dish. The loin meat was wrapped around langoustine which meant it was protected and remained perfectly moist. The other piece was slowly cooked leg meat. The carrot and beet leaves rounded off the dish nicely.

Veal, Crab, Asparagus

"Veal, Crab, Asparagus". The piece of braised rose veal had almost the flavour of beef and fell apart, a truly remarkable piece of meat. It sat on top of the best crab cake I have ever had, it was fresh and light with excellent flavour and flake. The asparagus was tender with a bit of crunch. Lovely.

Gingerbread, Banana, Salt Caramel

"Gingerbread, Banana, Salt Caramel". An excellent gingerbread soufflé, fluffy and light and cooked thoroughly. The piece of banana was crusted with lovely caramel, the ice cream and the salted caramel sauce brought everything together. With that I had a superb Australian dessert wine called Xanadu (the only one I remember, I need to get better at this).

Chef Tony Fleming came out for a chat and gave me a quick tour of the kitchen and the other parts of the hotel. Many thanks to him, his brigade and the front of house staff at Axis for looking after me so well. I walked back to the tube and then to my train to Cambridge a very happy man and didn't need anything else that day, despite clubbing all night and celebrating with friends.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
For my birthday I usually treat myself to a new gadget or some camera equipment but as I didn't need anything this year, I decided to visit a few more restaurants than usual. On my actual birthday I went with a group of friends to Alimentum in Cambridge who treated me to a tasting menu of new dishes. I've written extensively about Alimentum's food before so I won't write a separate post but you can see the photos here. While everything was excellent, the halibut dish was everybody's favourite.
The next day I took a train down to London to have lunch at Alyn Williams' restaurant at The Westbury in Mayfair. I had read quite a few reviews both by journalists and fellow food bloggers who were all praising Alyn's cuisine. No wonder, really, as he'd spend the last few years as Marcus Wareing's head chef at the Berkely before he decided to set up his own restaurant at The Westbury so his reputation was already excellent.
The restaurant is set in a windowless but well lit room on the ground floor of The Westbury. The setting with well spaced tables dressed in white is elegant but not overbearing. Service was equally pleasant, friendly, efficient and invisible when not needed.
Considering the setting and area, one would expect a rather pricey menu but this is not the case. The set lunch menu is £24 for three courses, à la carte is £45 for three courses and the seven course (with two options for main) tasting menu only £55. This, considering the level of cooking and location, is a bargain (a service charge of 12.5% is added to the bill). Also, you have the option of replacing dishes from the tasting menu with one from the a la carte in case one isn't to your liking. As I'm unlikely to have the opportunity to go back soon I chose the tasting menu to be able to taste a good variety of Alyn Williams' cuisine. There are also separate à la carte and tasting menus for vegetarians.
As it was lunchtime and I don't process alcohol well during the day, I did not choose to have the wine flight with my menu so instead the sommelier suggested a glass of white and red each that would go well with the main sections of the menu. Just before my first course was served, Alyn Williams dropped by my table and said Hi before he went back to his kitchen.
Photos and descriptions of each course:

Canapes Bread

Canapés and bread. The former were just little bites (incl. very cheesy gougeres and prawn crackers) but full of flavour and a wonderful indication of what was to come. The bread was lovely, too, especially the dark sourdough which was the closest to German bread I've had in this country.

Beef shin, crab, onion consommé

The first stunner: braised beef cheek, crab and onion consommè, served in a cocktail glass. The fresh crab worked really well with the strong beef.

Scallop, oyster

This was probably the most beautifully presented dish I've had. A perfectly cooked scallop with an oyster on top. It was fresh and yet deep in flavour. Truly high level cooking. Marvellous.

Smoked egg and truffle soldiers

A little extra course of smoked egg with truffled soldiers. Rich egg, crispy soldiers with added truffle flavour. Fun little dish.

Foie gras semi freddo, pickled carrot and liquorice

Foie gras semi freddo, pickled carrot and liquorice. I'm not a huge fan of foie gras for various reasons and briefly considered asking for this course to be replaced but I was intrigued by the combination so I tried it and it was fine indeed. The richness of the foie was cut by the liquorce powder which wasn't too strong in flavour and balanced beautifully. The pickled carrots were perfect with it.

Cod

This cod dish was another example of the high level of skill in Williams' kitchen. Simple in principle yet spectacular in execution and balance of flavours.

Pigeon

The meat main was pigeon, seared breast and a croquette of slow roasted leg. Needless to say, this was also cooked on the spot with perfect sides. I wouldn't have needed that rather mean looking steak knife.

Passion fruit cheesecake

My meal slowly winding down, the pre-dessert arrived, a passion fruit "cheesecake", a brilliant combination of crunchy, sweet and tangy. Just a little portion (that is a normal tablespoon next to it) but perfect as a palate cleanser.

Caramel, apple, walnut ice cream

The main dessert consisted of a button of very dark caramel covered in chocolate, apple and walnut ice cream. I'm not a big fan of caramel but this was outstanding as it wasn't too sweet. You can't just see it in the photo, the disc of apple wasn't solid but consisted of long strips wound into a disc. It was soft but still had a little crunch and was lightly spiced. The walnut ice cream was smooth and worked perfectly with the other components.

Cheese

At this point I was already thoroughly stuffed but on my way to my table I had walked past the cheese trolley which had a lot of the type of cheeses I love so I couldn't say no when the waitress asked me if I wanted some. The cheeses were perfectly ripe and kept in top condition. An excellent end to a wonderful meal. Now really full I had to decline the offer of coffee but the waitress kindly gave me a little box with four truffles to take with me.
After a quick tour of the kitchen and a brief chat with Chef Alyn, I paid my bill and staggered contentedly back to the tube which would take me to my hotel in Hammersmith.
In the evening, I saw the excellent Pokey LaFarge at Bush Hall and back at the hotel afterwards the truffles were a perfect night cap. Needless to say, I didn't actually need dinner that evening.
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karohemd: (Chef)
As a general rule, I don't bake. There are three main reasons: I don't have a proper oven, baking is a precise science which doesn't go well with my intuitive approach to cooking and a real cake is just too big for just one person. I've made crumbles before because the mix is just equal amounts of flour, sugar and butter so easy to scale down.
Today I tried something else. I bought a pack of pre-made, rolled puff pastry from the chiller cabinet (JusRol), cut a piece of pastry for a tartlet, scored a line for a rim, arranged some sliced apple dusted with cinnamon on it and shoved it into my toaster oven. Out came this:
Apple Tartlet

It was a little overdone (will need to watch more carefully next time) and dry (an extra layer of filling would have done nicely, or thicker apple slices). Also, the pastry is a litle salty so a little dusting of sugar should do the trick there.
All in all, not bad for a first attempt. I'll be attempting a savoury version tomorrow as I have cherry tomatoes and goat's cheese.

February 2013

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