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.


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.


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.


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: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
I first had a taste of Russell Bateman's food when he provided the main for the Tommy's charity dinner at Alimentum last year and since then I'd been wanting to visit Colette's the restaurant he heads up at The Grove hotel in Watford. After a series of public transport failings (half an hour for a bus, signal failure outside Cambridge), I made it to the hotel just in time for my booking. Kyle (who used to be sommelier at Alimentum) kindly gave me the grand tour of the sprawling building with its various lounges, bars and restaurants, all held in a simple, elegant style. I also had a quick peek into the kitchen before taking my seat in the restaurant. This is also held in mostly white with very low lighting (fellow food bloggers, take heed) and widely spaced tables dressed in white cloths.

I'm going to keep this review relatively short as there is a lot to go through (counting all the extras, I had 16 courses) and let the photos do the talking. In every dish the ingredients were perfectly cooked/prepared, stood out on their own while harmonising wonderfully with the others on the plate and offered an interesting mix of textures, just what you want in a fine meal. The following spectacle of culinary delights took almost four hours. In addition to a glass of champagne with the canapees, I had a different wine with almost every dish (a few were paired with the same wine) so I think it was a total of 12 glasses. Not very big ones but definitely enough to make me very happy by the end.

Colette's - Canapes
Canapees: White ham, pork and mustard, crab, samphire on squid ink biscuit

Colette's - Bread

The bread deserves special mention. Not only is it freshly baked on the premises but it's served in a warm linen sack with hot baking beans in the bottom that will keep the bread warm. The butter and olive oil were superb, too.

Colette's - Pea amuse bouche
A pea based amuse bouche. Lots of clean, fresh flavours.

Colette's - Scallop
Scallop, peanut, radish, lime. If I had to pick a favourite dish, this would be it.

Colette's - Jerusalem Artichokes with Truffles
Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, truffled soldiers

Colette's - Pig's Cheek
Spicy braised pig's cheek, coconut. This was served with knife and fork but could easily have been eaten with a spoon so tender was the meat.

Colette's - Foie Gras
Foie Gras terrine with apple and celeriac

Colette's - Cod
Another fish dish: Cod with heritage carrots

Colette's - Pigeon
8 spice squab, Grove honey, apple

Colette's - Lamb
Salmon cut of lamb leg, Jalfrezi spices, sweetbreads, glazed aubergine

Colette's - Cheese
A small cheese course. just one variety (Colombier) but this had everything I love about cheese, elements of brie, blue and washed rind.

Colette's - Lid Colette's - Palate Cleanser
A palate cleanser: Mango and papaya salsa, yogurt foam, passionfruit

Colette's - Cheesecake
The tiniest slice of cheesecake ever but it was great. I couldn't have eaten a normal slice, anyway.

Colette's - Lemon Parfait
Lemon parfait and little meringues

Colette's - Chocolate
Jivara chocolate, thyme ice cream, Seville orange, black pepper to finish.

There were some petit fours, too but I had to pack up quickly to catch the last train from Watford Junction so didn't get a phot. They were pretty and delicious, like everything else. There are a few more photos on flickr.

Many thanks to the teams front and back of house at Colette's for looking after me so well. I won't forget this meal anytime soon.
karohemd: (Chef)
They had some reasonable looking monkfish at the fishmonger's so I picked up a piece. I filleted it, cut the fillets into chunks and marinaded them in pimenton and olive oil for a while. While the fish was marinading I made a sort of romesco sauce from a red pepper and some cherry tomatoes cooked down in olive oil with tomato paste, pimenton, garlic and dried herbs, seasoned with salt and pepper and then blitzed with a stick blender.
For the fish, I sliced two small cooking chorizos and fried those in a dry pan over medium heat until crispy and the fat had rendered. I removed the chorizo and then fried the fish in the rendered fat until browned on all sides and moved the pan to a low oven to finish for a few minutes.
In the meantime I steamed some broccoli florets and cooked the couscous with vegetable stock, olive oil and lemon juice.
When the fish was done I set it aside on a warm plate to rest while mixing the pan juices into the sauce. I then plated the fish on the couscous, drizzled the sauce over and around it and added fried chorizo slices. After I'd taken the photo I realised I'd forgotten to add the broccoli. Never mind.

Monkfish, Chorizo, Romesco Sauce

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karohemd: (Chef)
Yesterday I made something I'd never made before for various reasons but mainly because I don't have a freezer in my tiny studio flat, only a tiny compartment in my fridge that just about makes water hard. I'd read and seen on various blogs that you don't need a machine to make ice cream if you stir the mix regularly so I'd considered trying that. I rose to the challenge because fellow food blogger and twitter foodie Kavey posted a Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge on her blog (click the thumbnail below to go there).

The rules for the challenge stipulate that it had to be a custard base recipe so I made one using:
350ml double cream
250ml single cream
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp demerera sugar
the husk of half a vanilla pod I'd kept in my sugar

This I know how to do so it came out really nicely.
For the flavouring I cooked down two smallish chopped apples with 2tsp of ground cinnamon. This I mixed into the custard using a stick blender to ensure even distribution. The final mix tasted great and I was very happy with it. After it had cooled, I filled the custard into a small freezer tub and put it into my freezer compartment, hoping for the best. Every half hour or so I stirred the mix with a fork to break up the ice that had formed and after about four hours or so it had reached a consistency that was very close to ice cream. I even managed to make a reasonably looking quenelle:
Apple and Cinnamon Ice Cream

Now for the disappointment: Unlike the custard, the flavour of the finished product is rather weak. I guess I have to pack in more next time. However, as a first attempt, I really happy with it. Any suggestions more than welcome (please reply with OpenID or include your name and blog/twitter link in your anonymous reply). Many thanks.

Update - A few tips (own experience and others'):
- the initial custard needs to be very strong in flavour, almost too strong to be comfortable when you taste it
- next time I make the above I will cook a stick of cinnamon with the cream and leave to infuse for some time which should intensify the flavour
- use a round container and one is big enough so it's not filled all the way up to make vigorous stirring easier

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karohemd: (Chef)
Plaice fillets (or any other flat or white fish, adjust cooking times according to thickness)
cherry tomatoes, anchovies, red onion, garlic, dried or fresh mediterranean herbs
baby potatoes
mixed baby leaves
olive oil, butter
Gently fry the plaice in butter and olive oil over medium heat (about 2 minutes each side), season with freshly ground pepper (the sauce will be salty enough).
For the sauce, quarter cherry tomatoes and gently cook them with chopped red onion, garlic and a few anchovies in olive oil, season with salt, pepper and mediterranean herbs.
Boil the potatoes and crush them in the pan in which you cooked the fish to mop up all the butter, oil and flavour.
To serve, place the crushed potatoes in the centre of the plate, a fillet of fish on top and spoon over the sauce. Arrange the dressed (good extra virgin olive oil, balsamico, salt, pepper) leaves around the side.
It was very tasty indeed.
Plaice, tomatoes, crushed potatoes, dressed leaves
karohemd: (Chef)
It's been a long time coming but I finally cooked something the look of which I was reasonably happy with and that was a bit different from what I'd cooked before.
The mackerel fillets were simply pan-seared and seasoned with salt and pepper. With it I served beetroot couscous for which I stirred the couscous into cooked, pureed beetroot, thinned with a bit of chicken stock so there was enough liquid and seasoned with salt and pepper and wilted spinach. The little cubes of beetroot were pickled in warm balsamic vinegar for about an hour.

Pan fried Mackerel, Beetroot Couscous, Spinach
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Quite a few friends and foodies I follow on twitter have raved about José Pizarro's authentic Spanish cooking. Last year, he first opened a traditional tapas bar in Bermondsey St., London and a few months later Pizarro, a sit down restaurant with a starter/main/dessert style menu. This is the one I visited. I'd heard they were popular lunch spots so I arrived early at 12 o'clock and was the first customer but the place soon filled up nicely. As I wanted to take a few photos, I picked a window seat (regular chairs facing a bar parallel to the window, ideal when you're on your own to watch the world go by or when you want good daylight). Next time I'll most likely pick a seat with a view of the open kitchen.
For starter, I had a portion of croquetas and a small plate of Jamón Ibérico, the most flavoursome cured ham I've ever tasted. Such deep flavour, with the fat melting on your tongue. No wonder this stuff is so expensive. I forgot to mention that a full plate of Jamón is £20 but I only wanted a taste and they were happy to provide the small plate you see here (for £7.50) so excellent customer service.

Jamon Iberico

For main I had sea bass with roasted winter vegetables and salsa verde. Crispily fried skin, flaking flesh with excellent accompaniments.

Sea bass, root veg, salsa verde

For dessert, I didn't have to think about what to choose: Crema Catalan, the Spanish version of Crème Brûlée. Lovely soft custard cream, crunchy caramel on top (which was almost a bit too well done but I liked the contrast of the bitterness with the sweet cream).

Crema Catalana

Next time I'm in the area I hope to gather a few friends to José and share some tapas.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Mat Follas, head chef at The Wild Garlic in Dorset (and Masterchef 2009 champion) held a one-off "pop-up" restaurant at Ben's Canteen in London (part of the Canteen's guest chef nights).
As The Wild Garlic is a bit out of the way for me currently (there are no trains to Beaminster), this was the perfect opportunity to taste Mat's cooking so when I read about it, I signed up immediately.
I got there early to chat to Dave Ahern, head chef at Ben's Canteen and try one of his famous Breakfast Scotch Eggs (and it really is stunning, you can taste all the elements). Mat joined us and asked me if I would take some photos in the kitchen as well and of course I jumped at the opportunity. However, let's first look at the menu:

It started with a bowl of "Pesto Popcorn", which was nice and one of the few times I enjoyed a savoury popcorn:

Pesto Popcorn

The starter was Smoked Queenie Scallops, served in their shell. These were only morsels but the taste was superb, the smoky flavour enhancing the sweetness of the scallops. I could easily have had a dozen of those.

Starter: Smoked Queenie Scallops

Now the first meat course: Confit Duck Leg with orange and tarragon. The meat was perfectly cooked and so soft it fell apart. You could pull out the bones cleanly. Surprisingly, the orange sauce worked well for me and really loved the dish.

Confit Duck Leg

Another small course was next but by no means small in terms of flavour. A delightfully and strongly flavoured mushroom velouté that tasted like a pound of good mushrooms compressed into an espresso paper cup. Wow. When I was in the kitchen, I'd smelled this soup as it came out of the Thermomix and that already blew me away.

Mushroom Veloute

Then the main: 12 hour triple cooked pork belly, served in slices off the rolled piece with sweet potato and miso puree and pickled vegetables. Another slow cooked dish that let the simple but very flavoursome meat shine. The puree was an excellent substitute for gravy.

Main: Triple Cooked Pork Belly

The next course was a palate cleanser in the shape of a ball of beetroot (yes, you read that right) sorbet, served on a little china spoon. It sounds bizarre but it worked really well. This was hard to photograph on the table so here's a shot from the kitchen:

Palte cleanser: Beetroot Sorbet

Then, there was only dessert to go but what a stunner that was: Lavender panna cotta with berry compote, salt and pepper ice cream and crumbles of honeycomb. Each part was lovely on its own but a bit of everything on the spoon made my tastebuds dance, a perfect balance of flavours.

Dessert: Lavender Panacotta

This was a fantastic meal. Simple, rustic dishes which high quality ingredients were the stars of the meal. If this is the food Mat Follas and his team are cooking every day at The Wild Garlic, its customers are in for a treat and from what I hear that is indeed the case. Go there now! :)
More photos after the cut.

A few more on flickr.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
A new month means new dishes at Alimentum so I went yesterday to try some of them. I was told a menu had been created for me (things like this happen when you're friends with the chefs on twitter) so I didn't even know in advance what I would get (or choose from a menu) and that it would turn into a 8-course extravaganza.

The canapees came in a funky double bowl:
Canapees: Popcorn and Cheese&Onion Macarons

Alimentum popcorn and Cheese&Onion macarons. Both had an excellent flavour combination of savoury and sweet. I could happily devour a box of those macarons.

The amuse bouche was a small bowl of frothy cauliflower veloute, with little bits of pickled cauli at the bottom.
Amuse Bouche: Cauliflower veloute

This style of soup is one of Alimentum's staples and there's a new flavour every month or so. A nice way to get the tastebuds going.

The next dish was smoked haddock with a fried egg and a fluffy potato veloute.
First starter: Haddock and potato veloute, fried egg

Definitely the first highlight in my menu, the different textures made this. Flaky haddock, frothy soup, rich egg and some crispy bits. Oh, and served by the head chef himself. :)

The first meat dish was a duck terrine (smoked leg and foie gras) with sorbe and fig, and liver parfait on toast.
Second starter: duck terrine, sorbe, fig, liver parfait on toast

The only thing that was a bit off for me here was the "BBQ sauce" that was a bit strong for me but that's a personal preference as I'm not a fan of BBQ sauce. Still, with only a little, it was a great addition.

Back to fish: mackerel with a teriyaki glaze with avocado puree, cucumber and radish.
Fish: mackerel, teryiaki glaze, cucumber, radish

Mackerel is one of my favourite fish, you don't need to much to it, only barely cook it and this is what I got here. The glaze wasn't overpowering and the salad was nicely refreshing. The second highlight.

The main act was a duo of beef. Roasted sirloin with carrots and onion ash and in a separate little copper pot a beef cheek ragu and a generous blob of horseradish mash with more onion ash.
Main: beef, carrot, onion ash

Needless to say, the sirloin was perfectly and evenly cooked, deeply flavoured and soft, perfectly matched by the carrot, the jus and the onion ash adding a bit of zing. The ragu had clearly been cooked for a very long time as the meat was reduced to tiny slithers with jus the right amount of sauce. Deep and rich, I was almost tempted to just dig in with the spoon but didn't in the end. While writing this, I remembered I had a rather similar dish at Pollen St. Social last year and thinking back, I prefer Alimentum's version.

By that time, I was thoroughly stuffed but there were two desserts to come:
Luckily, the pre-dessert was very light: a smooth pernod foam, with bits of pineapple at the bottom and fennel crisps stuck in top (yes, this works, very well).
Pre dessert: Pineapple Foam

The only criticism I could find was that it could be a bit more colourful, especially when served in a white bowl.

The final dessert was a slice of Battenburg cake with apricot icecream on one and a cylinder of amaretto foam on the other side.
Dessert: Battenburg cake, apricot ice cream and foam

The apricot things were light but I couldn't finish the cake after that generously poritioned main before. It was, however, very nice indeed and I'm not a big fan of this sort of cake. The natural light from behind me had faded by that point so this photo didn't come out quite as planned.

So yes, another great meal at Alimentum. The restaurant had a little facelift and a window to the kitchen has been added so you can watch the chefs at work. Immediately behind the window is the cold section where desserts and cold elements of other dishes are assembled but you can also see the stoves further in.

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karohemd: (Chef)
When I visit my parents I usually enjoy my mother's cooking but I also pick a day when I cook something. This year my parents again sourced a lovely saddle of roe deer from a family friend who used to be the local gamekeeper and still has connections.
I knew that my parents would still have some dried foraged ceps (this year was too dry but there were plenty the year before) so a risotto sounded like the perfect accompaniment with sprout leaves on the side:

Loin of roe deer, cep risotto, sprout leaves

The day before, I removed the loins from the bone and trimmed off all the sinew and fat and put the meat back in the fridge. Then I chopped the bone into chunks and roasted it with some veg (celeriac, carrots, onion) in a hot oven until nicely browned. That, the offcuts, a sprig each of rosemary and thyme, a few juniper and allspice berries and about a litre of water became the stock for the risotto. Skimmed and strained it only needed to be reheated the next day.

The next day, I made a basic white risotto by gently sweating off a finely chopped shallot and garlic clove in a mix of olive oil and butter, adding the rice, stirring until coated, a generous glug of white wine, stirring until absorbed, added the reconstituted and chopped ceps and added the stock (with the cep water added) ladle by ladle, stirring after each until the liquid was absorbed until the rice was done.

When the risotto was on its way, I rubbed the loin (cut into pieces that would fit the pan) with rapeseed oil and seared it in a hot pan and then transferred them to an 80 degrees oven to finish.

The sprout leaves (mum was my commis and helped pick them) were just quickly blanched in salted water and refreshed in ice water to be finished later.

When the meat was done to my liking, I removed it and let it rest. In the pan I seared the meat in, I melted a generous piece of butter, seasoned it with salt, white pepper, a twig of thyme and rosemary, crushed juniper berries and ground allspice and basted the loin with it before carving. I removed the whole spices and herbs from the butter and tossed the sprout leaves in the pan to warm through. The risotto was finished with a handful of parmesan and a knob of butter which gave it a nice shine.

All that remained was plating up and dig in. The meat was so buttery soft it almost melted in the mouth and - if I may say so myself - up there with any I recently had at fine restaurants. The risotto had just enough ceps in it to flavour it and not overpower the meat. The sprout leaves were nice, too.

Needless to say, I was very happy with that dish.

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karohemd: (Chef)
After so many posts of other people's food, I've finally cooked something pretty enough to post.
Nothing special, just a nice lamb steak, marinaded in rapeseed oil, rosemary and garlic, seared in a smoking hot pan one minute on each side and then finished in a medium oven until it was nicely pink throughout (links to a crappy phone pic halfway through eating).
Served on garlic mash, wilted spinach and a red wine reduction made from the pan and resting juices. Not exactly fine dining but solid home cooking and, if I may say so myself, very tasty indeed. I possibly should have let it rest a bit longer but I was hungry. :P

Lamb steak
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
Yesterday evening I met up with @milliepaw and @spodlife, two fellow twitter foodies who were kind enough to give me a lift to Tuddenham Mill, a small hotel in Suffolk near Newmarket with an excellent restaurant run by Paul Foster. I've been wanting to eat there for a while, especially since tasting some of Paul's food during the charity dinner at Alimentum last week.

When you arrive in the dark as we did, pretty much the only thing you see is this:

Which is a shame, really, as they have beautiful grounds, too. Ever more reason to go back at some point, during daylight hours.

We were shown into the bar where we perused the menus and ordered a cocktail. Amusingly, they'd run out of ingredients for my first two choices (no fresh mint for Mojito, something else missing for The Forager) so I ended up encouraging the barman to come up with something else and he made a brilliant fruity and fresh cocktail incorporating Chase Marmalade vodka for me. :o)
Picking something from the menu was hard but I eventually settled for the mackerel as starter and the fallow deer as main, Sandi picked the pork carpaccio and the jerusalem artichokes and Tim went for the mackerel as well and the wood pigeon.

The dining room is upstairs, has a rather low ceiling with huge exposed beams and half-timber walls. The dark wooden tables are simply laid without cloth. The illumination is quite sparse with a few downlighters in the ceiling and a couple of tealights on the table so food bloggers who want to take photos should bring a camera with a fast lens and high ISO capabilities. Surprisingly, it was rather quiet, there was only one other occupied table. I'd imagine it's busier on weekends or more people need to know about it.

The first food item was an amuse bouche of "mushroom milk" with crunchy bits (I will find out what it was). A lovely start with a rather intense mushroom flavour.
Amuse Bouche

The bread, still hot from the oven:

The starter:

Mackerel, cooked at 52°C, served with alexander, salted cucumber and sea vegetables. A perfectly fresh, soft and beautifully presented fillet of fish, just warm enough to intensify its natural flavour. The other elements on the plate added nicely balanced sweet, sour and bitter notes, mellowing the richness of the oily fish.

The main:
Denham Estate fallow deer

Denham Estate fallow deer, red onion fondue, pearl barley, pear, Colston Bassett stilton. Game season is in full swing so I couldn't resist having my third piece of venison in only two weeks. Cooked perfectly dark pink throughout, the meat was soft with a lovely but not too strong gamey flavour which worked perfectly with the other elements on the plate. The addition of stilton might sound odd but worked well indeed but my favourite additional element was the slices dry cured meat with a slightly salty kick. I almost wanted to lick the plate afterwards but there was some bread left to make sure nothing went back to the kitchen.

Decision time again, for dessert: While the "bitter chocolate textures" looked alluring and the other choices were interesting, I - as you probably have guessed by now - went for the most intriguing and adventurous choice: Whipped sea buckthorn, beer ice cream, damson jam and crispy rice:
Sea buckthorn

It turned out to be the perfect choice as it was light and refreshing after the first two courses of rich fish and meat. The sea buckthorn tasted fresh and fruity but not sweet with a distinctive flavour, a bit reminiscent of rowan. The beer ice cream was a revelation. It sounds bizarre but it really works. It's not strong but rather leaves you with a real ale aftertaste. Remarkable.

My dining companions were equally oohing and aahing about their choices for all the courses (for dessert, Sandi had the chocolate textures with "rosemary tea" and Tim had the tonka bean ice cream).

With cocktails, wines and tip (no automatic service charge!) our bill came to £60 per person, a perfectly reasonable price for the quality and amount of food consumed. Cosy surroundings and pleasant service rounded off the experience. Tuddenham Mill is a bit out of the way but it's well worth the trip.
Paul Foster and his team produce inspiring dishes with the freshest ingredients, many of which are foraged, using modern techniques to extract the maximum of flavour. It's exciting and feels new despite going back to the roots. I love this development and hope that it will spread.

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karohemd: by LJ user gothindulgence (Default)
After a few stressful weeks, I felt the need to indulge and reward myself so booked a table at Roganic for lunch. I'd been there during opening week but wanted to try out the new menu which is now all head chef Ben Spalding's.
Knowing that eating the full 10 course meal would take several hours, I'd booked a table for 12 and was indeed the only guest for a while. This meant I had a free choice of tables so naturally I picked the one by the window which provided excellent light for photography. I've written about the restaurant in my previous post so straight on to the food:

Squid ink paper amuse bouche

The amuse bouche was crunchy "squid ink paper" with a light and fresh cucumber mouse and various seeds. A lovely bite to tickle the tastebuds.

Bread and butter

The bread and butter. The bread (the new chestnut flatbread, pumpernickel, Irish soda and buttermilk) was just as good as during my first visit and the whipped butter was served on Jellybean, the pebble.

Heirloom tomato

The first course was "Heirloom tomato, poached lamb tongue, dill custard", layered in a bowl. Sandia Chang, the maitre d' who usually served me during this stay, described it as a savoury trifle which was a rather apt description with its various layers of different flavours and textures. The chopped, chewy tongue was at the bottom, then a layer of the soft dill custard and finally a sort of salsa. All very fresh flavours that expanded and chased each other as you chewed/moved the spoonful around in your mouth.

Braddock White duck egg

Braddock White duck egg, puff ball mushroom, barley flakes, samphire and marjoram oil. As with most dishes at Roganic, this was a delightul combination of textures: the warm soft egg, the crunchy mushroom and samphire and the crispy barley.

Then, an early highlight, not only culinary but also theatrically: Cured and smoked River Tweed trout, sweet and sour peppers, and crab apple:
Cured and smoked River Tweed trout Cured and smoked River Tweed trout Cured and smoked River Tweed trout

This was the most remarkable piece of fish I'd ever had. It was so soft it literally melted in my mouth, sweet and beautifully flavoured. The accompaniments suited it perfectly. What a delight.

Pork belly and smoked eel croquettes

Pork belly and smoked eel croquettes, black mustard, sea purslane and fresh corn was another taste revelation. The combination of pork belly and eel, both usually rather fatty, was rich but surpisingly not greasy at all. The sweetcorn was lovely (I really seem to be warming to it)

Stone baked prawn

Stone baked prawn, purple sprouting broccoli, pickled elderberries and loganberry oil. Charmingly, the prawn was at first presented to me raw on a large pepple before it was taken to the kitchen to be cooked (I sadly didn't take the chance to take a photo). Excellent combination with the tart fruit.

Royal Kidney potatoes

Royal Kidney potatoes cooked in chicken fat, snow peas, goat's curd and clam juice. The successor to the most stunning potatoes I've ever had, this was equally wonderful but completely different because it was served with liquid accompaniments.

Skate belly and king scallop

The stunners just kept on coming with this Skate belly and king scallop dish, served with young leek and caramelised cauliflower. The seafood wonderfully caramelised while cooked to perfection, this was another hearty dish.

Cumrian rose veal

Closely followed by the main, Cumbrian rose veal cooked in buttermilk then roasted, cobnuts, cabbage and mead sauce. Superb meat with excellent accompaniments. Another winner.


The first dessert: Bilberries (stewed and whole), dried caramel, natural yoghurt and iced lemon thyme. Lovely tart fruit with the powdery caramel not being sweet at all. This was a perfect palate cleanser after the earlier rich dishes.

White chocolate sorbet

The second dessert was a White chocolate sorbet with rapeseed, Herman plum and meadowsweet granita. Sweet granita, crunchy seeds (up until then I hadn't known you could actually eat rapeseed rather than just use them for oil) and tart plum. Perfect.

Bay leaf milkshake, shortbread

Bay leaf milkshake, shortbread. This was another surprise as the bay worked really well.

Skipping the cheese this time, I finished with a cup of hot chocolate, accompanied by the tiniest cupcake ever:
Mini cupcake, hot chocolate

The stunning food and the friendly, relaxed and chatty service made the three hours and 20 minutes I spent at the restaurant fly by in no time. Having eaten so well, I didn't actually need another meal that day and only brunch the next.

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
In a sleepy little village called Little Wilbraham, just outside Cambridge off the road towards Newmarket is the Hole in the Wall, the restaurant run by last year's Masterchef runner-up Alex Rushmer.
I've been wanting to go since it opened in July but not having access to a car at the moment prevented me from doing so this far. Wednesday evening I finally had the opportunity as I wanted to treat a good friend to a hearty meal as a leaving present and he agreed to drive.

The Hole in the Wall has been an alehouse/pub for a long time and has been tastefully redecorated and converted into a restaurant (it's still a Free House, too). It's quite a rambling building with low ceilings and exposed beams everywhere creating a rather comfortable and homely atmosphere. The scrubbed wooden tables and chairs seem to have been sourced from all over the place as none are alike which only adds to the character.

As we were hungry, we declined having a drink first and were shown to our table, the waiter brought a pitcher of water and the menus. We were also offered a selection of breads of which I had the sourdough which was nice. The menu offered and interesting selection but my mind was made up very quickly for the starter when I saw wood pigeon. For main I wavered between the duck and the veal shin but decided on the latter as it's still quite rare to get veal.

Wood Pigeon, Barley, Beetroot
Wood pigeon, beetroot barley risotto

The pigeon was seared, nice and soft and the beetroot barley risotto was perfectly cooked with an excellent bite. A few slices and puree of differently coloured beetroot rounded off the dish, an excellent starter

Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder, apple
Slow cooked pork shoulder

My companion's starter which he was very happy with. You can just see the chopped seasoned apple behind the meat.

The main event, we both had one:
Braised Veal Shin, Saffron Risotto, Romanesco
Braised shin of rose veal, saffron risotto, romanesco

This was absolutely stunning. The rich meat fell apart, there was crunchy marrow inside the bone and a lovely sauce. A minor weak point, the risotto was tasty but a touch overcooked for my liking, more like a rice pudding than a risotto with hardly any distinct grains. However, this did little to distract from the greatness of the meat. True food porn. It was a huge hunk of meat, though, almost a bit too big as part of a three course meal. I struggled towards the end but made it. Still, there are always people who complain about portion sizes so those will love the substance.

After that hunk of meat we were rather full but didn't want to leave without dessert so let the food settle for a while, helped along in my case by a dram of Highland Park. Then we eventually chose desserts:

Chocolate Pot
Chocolate Pot

My companion's dessert. The pot contained a dense mousse (almost a bit like Nutella) with a layer of salted caramel, and there was more caramel in the little truffle. He said the brownie and vanilla ice cream were excellent, too.

Duchess of Cambridge Tart
Duchess of Cambridge Tart

This is the HITW's signature dessert, with a buttery biscuitcrispy, crumbly pastry base, a creme brulee filling and a lovely Cointreau and raisin ice cream on top. Reasonably light so a perfect end to this meal.

Service was friendly, efficient and unobtrusive, perfectly adequate for the setting but they possibly could be a bit more prepared to talk about the food, both when serving it and after. They almost seemed a bit shy.

All in all, an excellent meal, and good value for the quality of food, too. 75 pounds for two, three courses each, a large glass of red, a shot of Belvedere, a dram of Highland Park and a glass of orange juice. Highly recommended if you're in the area and have a car (or don't mind the taxi fare).

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karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Wednesday, I attended a food photography workshop run by Paul Winch-Furness (details on that to come next week, when I've had time to write it up and process all the photos) at The Ship, a nice and big pub and restaurant in Wandsworth. Included in the workshop fee was a three-course lunch, we even had our own set menu (three choices for each course and this is what I had:

Lunch - Seared Wood Pigeon
Seared Wood Pigeon, Braised Puy Lentils, Dried Pancetta and Baby Roquette

The meat was nicely seared and cooked on the rare side of medium rare (nicely rested and warm throughout) and the earthy lentils and pancetta matched perfectly.

Lunch - Lamb Shank
Lamb Shank, Black Olive and Chorizo Mash, Rosemary Gravy.

This was big enough to be a course on its own, not as part of three courses but it was great. The bone came out without resistance as I grabbed it and the meat fell apart, just as it should be. Excellent gravy and lovely mash, enriched by chorizo. Not exactly a light dish but great flavours. I recommend this before an evening of heavy drinking.

Lunch - Vanilla Pannacotta
Vanilla Pannacotta with Blackberry and Blueberry Compote

Made with real vanilla, the pannacotta was soft and flavourful, the tart stewed berries offering an excellent contrast and the crunchy biscuit was great, too.

Everything was cooked perfectly and presented well, definitely on a good restaurant level of food rather than pub grub.

Short URL: http://bit.ly/KaroShip
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
When I heard of Roganic opening I canceled my original dinner booking on Friday and booked a table there instead. I had heard and read very exciting things about Simon Rogan's food at L'Enclume so when I learned he was opening a (temporary but relatively long-term of two years) restaurant in London I saw my chance to sample his food without having to trek to the Lake District and phoned to book a table and managed to get one of the last ones.
The restaurant on Blandford St. (about 150 yards up the road from L'Autre Pied so in excellent company) has an unassuming, green front, so much so that I walked right past it the first time. The restaurant itself is rather small (only 25 covers) with a front room and a small extension in the back with skylights. There are only placemats on the dark brown tables, which gives the place a nicely casual atmosphere. If there is one thing I can't stand in fine dining restaurants it's stiff white tablecloths with equally stiff waiting staff. At Roganic, the first are absent and the latter are anything but stiff. I received a very friendly welcome was shown to my table in the back overlooking the rest of the restaurant (which is great, some places put lone diners in a corner somewhere) and given the menu and wine list.
Now, here's the thing about Roganic: There is only one choice for dinner, the ten(!) course tasting menu (at least currently, I believe some other options are planned and lunch is either five or the full ten courses and there are vegetarian options for each). Helpfully, they left the menu on the table which was handy when trying to remember what exactly it was I was currently eating.
The equally friendly and helpful sommelier recommended a glass of nice white wine for me (which I can't remember now, must remember to take photos of bottle labels but the second glass was a Roter Veltliner) and then the first treat appeared, a "chickpea and rosemary wafer":

Amuse bouche: Chickpea and Rosemary Wafer

This was a fun, light and crunchy bite that already hinted at what was to come.
Then, the bread and butter arrived, both made fresh and in-house, and the purpose of the large pebble on the table became clear: It's not for decoration but serves as plate for the scrumptious, fluffy unsalted butter. Genius, just like the bread: the pumpernickel is so unlike in texture to any other I've eaten. While the dark, malty flavour is typical, the textre is light and almost fluffy with a crisp crust. The other two (potato and sage?) are equally excellent. I think I could happily eat just bread and butter and call it a meal.

Bread and butter

The first actual menu course was Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot. Here was where the list of of the many things I'd never eaten before that evening started: hyssop (the thin stalks with yellow leaves). It's light and sllightly bitter, almost reminding me of chicory, and provided the crunch needed as contrast to the soft beetroot foam and curds. Light and fresh, this dish woke up your tastebuds.

Broad bean and hyssop, fresh curds and beetroot

The first stunner of the evening arrived next: Scarlet ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard. The star of this dish wasn't the crunchy turnip but the smoked yolk. This was cooked in the waterbath so set at the same consistency all the way through, soft but not runny, with a wonderful flavour. With the added crunch from the turnip, the green sea veg and slight kick from the mustard sauce, every bite filled your mouth with flavour that kept kicking in. Truly remarkable.

Scarlet ball turnip baked in salt, smoked yolk, sea vegetables and wild mustard

The first non-vegetarian dish was next: Seawater cured mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey. What can I say? A perfectly cooked piece of fish with crackling skin, complimented by all things around it, not least the elderflower honey (collected in Regent's Park or so I was told). I'm not a big fan of honey and definitely not in savoury dishes but this was great, almost tart and provided the balance needed. Orache was another sea veg I hadn't eaten before, putting the count at four, as I'm sure there were at least two in the previous dish (more if you count the specific variety of turnip). Another stunner, definitely.

Seawater cured mackerel, orache, broccoli and warm elderflower honey

On to the meat: Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper. The warm, deeply meaty flavoured tongue was not really shredded but ground into a very fine paté, the crunchy "paper" was like exceedingly thin toast and the pickled veg were in light and crunchy contrast to the soft tongue. Genius.

Shredded ox tongue, pickles and sourdough paper

Back to seafood with Flaky crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber. With its freshness and subtle flavours, this was the perfect palate cleanser after the rich ox tongue. Wonderful. New things count: 5 (mallow, another sea veg).

Flaky crab and mallow cream, young squid and cucumber

Another vegetarian dish next and this one was a killer: Heritage potatoes in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel. Despite sounding relatively simple, this was full of flavour, warm, strong potatoes, smoky oniony powder and crunchy herbs. So so good. Best potaotoes ever. No doubt.

Heritage potatoes, in onion ashes, lovage and wood sorrel

Back to fish, described as "the first main": Roasted brill, chicken salt, surf clams and rainbow chard. The stunner here was the emulsion which wrapped the fish in a meaty film while leaving the flavour of the fish and clams intact. I have no idea how this works but it does and it was another favourite.

Roasted brill, chicken salt, surf clams and rainbow chard

Meat again for the last main: Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums, putting the new things count to 7 (hogget - from a sheep older than lamb but younger than mutton - and chenopodiums. The meat is slow braised for over 20 hours and comes apart touched. Lovely, strong flavour, with the accompaniments providing balance in texture and lightness. Very yummy.

Cumbrian hogget, artichokes and chenopodiums

When the plate was cleared away I was offered an extra cheese course which I accepted but asked to be served at the very end as early cheese isn't my thing and my request was happily accepted.
So, the desserts, starting with Sweet cicely with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena which was sweet indeed but also tart and "green" so wonderfully balanced. Lovely. New things count at 9 (cicely and verbena).

Sweet cicely with strawberry, buttermilk and verbena

The last dish on the menu was Warmed spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream. Crunchy, crumbly and warm bread, fruity buckthorn and soft cream. In a word, scrumptious. New things count: 10 (buckthorn, at least something I'd heard about when Nathan Outlaw cooked with it on Great British Menu a couple of years ago).

Warmed spiced bread, salted almonds, buckthorn curd, smoked clotted cream

It wasn't over yet, though because something else came along: Cherry Soda and Marshmallow. Very tart blitzed up cherries and a soft, sweet marshmallow. On their own they would have been too strong but combining a bite of marshmallow and a sip of the soda was perfect. This put another huge smile on my face and I asked for a spoon as I didn't want to leave anything behind, just as I often used a bit of bread to mop up the juices on the plate.

Cherry Soda and Marshmallow

Finally, the cheese. There was a great choice on offer, all British and most types represented, including the mighty Stinking Bishop. A generous helping, too, it's rare you get that much to choose. Another star here was the gooseberry chutney which was just awesome. I suggested they should put it in jars and sell it, I would certainly buy one.

So, this was it, almost three and a half hours after taking my seat I had had 13 courses and a truly remarkable experience, both in terms of food and service. All the people serving me were friendly, gracious, very knowledgable about the food they were serving and happy to answer any questions. They were also clearly delighted seeing me enjoying myself so much. I wasn't the only one to enjoy it, either. There was a rather lively table of four in my room who chatted away between courses but when the food arrived they were just as stunned as I was and ate in complete silence after a few excited initial remarks like "This is the best broad bean I've ever eaten!" which underlines exactly what the food at Roganic is about. The dishes aren't just one main, expensive ingredient with a few accompaniments but all the elements shine equally.

None of my descriptions can do it justice and you have to try it for yourself. It's not just me who thinks that, all the reviews I've read so far contain similar remarks. Steve Groves, Masterchef Professional winner last year and sous chef at Roux Parliament Square said on twitter "Food this good hurts my head.", Daniel Clifford, two-star chef at Midsummer House said "what a real gem in London" (he was there when I left, with Kenny Atkinson who were in London because they appeard on Saturday Kitchen the morning after). High praise from high class chefs indeed and they are probably the most difficult people to please.
If you want to visit, be quick because this is going to be a very busy place indeed. Even more so than now that not that many people know about it. Also, I was lucky to get a table during the "soft opening" with a nice discount deducted from the final bill. When it is running at full pace, the 10 course menu will set you back for £80 and the five course lunch menu for £40. With two glasses of wine, the extra cheese course and 12.5% service, my bill ran to £90 which I was very happy to pay.

On my way back from the gents' (two glasses of wine and a bottle of water had taken their toll) I walked past the open kitchen door and had a brief chat with Simon Rogan, thanking him for the wonderful food.

I left with a huge smile on my face and a spring in my step, despite being rather full. The individual portions are small but 13 courses do add up and the bread is just too yummy not to constantly nibble on (and will be replenished throughout the evening). I didn't even need breakfast the next day.

So, Roganic offers food that is out of this world (while being locally sourced) and impeccable service, too. I felt very welcome from the moment I walked in until I was shown out afterwards, without being overwhelmed. It is really hard to believe they had only been open for a week when I was there.

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karohemd: (Chef)
I seared the shank on all sides and then braised it on a bare simmer in red wine and stock with onions, carrots, garlic and rosemary for about three hours.
I then removed the shank and wrapped it in foil to keep warm and rest. Then I turned up the heat and reduced the cooking liquor to a thick sauce while cooking the potatoes and cabbage for the colcannon. Before serving I blitzed the sauce to make it smooth and seasoned it with salt and pepper.
I set the shank on a bed of colcannon (almost didn't manage to do it in one piece as the meat fell off the bone) and poured a liberal amount of the sauce over.
It was just a bit big for me so I have leftovers. :D

Slow Braised Lamb Shank
karohemd: (Chef)
This was quick and easy:
I had marinaded the chops in garlic, rosemary, freshly ground pepper and olive oil, then seared in a very hot pan, seasoned with sea salt and finished in a low oven to medium.
I used some of the marinade to sweat off a bit of finely sliced red pepper and leek, stirred in the couscous and added simmering chicken stock (from concentrate in a little pot) to finish (it was lazy couscous, the kind that takes 5 minutes). I also had some green salad with this.

Lamb Chops on Red Pepper Couscous
karohemd: (Chef)
Soft-boiled Egg with Asparagus Soldiers
Soft-boiled Egg with Asparagus Soldiers
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
After the gig I braved London transport towards Soho to have dinner at NOPI, Yotam Ottolenghi's new restaurant which I'd heard good things about. I'm a huge fan of the ottolenghi deli/bistro in Islington so I was looking forward to it. I'd booked a seat downstairs on one of the high, communal tables (you sit on bar stools) next to the open kitchen and, bizarrely, the kitchen's storage shelves (mostly dry goods, bottles and packs but also a few fresh veg like artichokes). This photo from the website illustrates it quite well, I was sitting at the right hand table at the bottom of the photo, second chair from the left.
There are no starters or mains as such, all the dishes on the menu are the same size and are meant for sharing (a bit like tapas, in a way), with a reasonable variety of vegetarian (not surprising considering the creator), fish/seafood and meat dishes and a selection of desserts.

I'd ordered the octopus and asparagus dishes to start with and the octopus arrived first. It was served with two flavourful sauces, fresh herbs and a disc of dark grains I couldn't identify (and didn't remember from the menu, it's not in the one on the website). The octopus was the most tender I've had anywhere, very impressive and the sauces harmonised wonderful with it.

The perfectly griddled, fresh asparagus was served on romesco sauce with roasted slivers of almonds. I usually like asparagus as simple as possible but the romesco wasn't overpowering at all. A very tasty dish.

Then I ordered another recommended dish, the veal carpaccio which was served with sliced beetroot, fresh herbs and kashk. This was my favourite and absolutely stunning. The paper-thin slices of rose veal melted on your tongue while the beetroot provided a crunchy texture. The soft kashk was a wonderful addition.

I really fancied some dessert so went for the chocolate mousse with peanut brittle, mace and creme fraiche. The mousse was rich, soft and bitter, the brittle crunchy and sweet and the creme fraiche bound everything together. Very nice indeed.

NOPI - Asparagus with romesco NOPI- Rose Veal Carpaccio NOPI - chocolate, peanut brittle

Bigger photos )

Service was friendly but a bit hit and miss in terms of delivery. The octopus arrived quickly but some extra bread I ordered took over ten minutes to arrive and the couple next to me were well into their second dish until they were served their wine. Of course, the place was packed but there were enough staff bustling about that a more timely service shouldn't have been a problem.
Another slightly negative point are the prices. The average is about £10 per dish and you really need three (as suggested) to be satisfied and you will have room for dessert. Yes, it's central London but it's not exactly fine dining. Even more exaggerated are the drinks, I paid £7.50 for one glass of Grüner Veltliner, an excellent but cheap as chips Austrian white (back in Germany you'd pay €3 for a 1l bottle in retail).

Still, I'm glad I went because the food was great and the place has a good atmosphere, at least downstairs. As I was on my own, it was great to occasionally chat to the other diners comparing tasting notes. The upstairs (street level) is more formal with normal sized tables so if you prefer a more private setting, this is for you.

April 2016

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