karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On my way back from the recording of Kitchen Cabinet (more on that in a separate post tomorrow), I walked past St. John's Chophouse and having not been (and remembering I didn't have time to marinade that Barnsley chop I had bought in the morning), I decided to have early dinner.
The restaurant with its bare wooden tables and low lighting has a cosy feel to it. There's a huge fireplace which sadly didn't contain a fire but a selection of meat cleavers hanging from a rack(!). I guess that makes it a good place to be when the zombie apocalypse comes.

I wasn't that hungry so started with a main, a "t-bone" pork chop. The meat was cooked a bit more well than I like but was still reasonably juicy and flavourful. I guess they err on the side of caution as food authorities are still unconvinced about the safety of "undercooked" pork so that was fine. The combination of apple sauce on top and spicy mustard sauce around worked well with it, as did the bubble and squeak. The slither of crackling on top was excellent.
By the time I was finished, I was glad I hadn't chosen a starter but I had room for a pudding so chose the "Cambridge burnt cream" (in quotes as we had learnt just a few hours earlier during the Kitchen Cabinet recording that it wasn't a Cambridge invention, after all). This was a generous portion in a coffee cup, a bit dense but not curdled, good crunchy caramel topping and a crumbly, sugary biscuit on the side. With that I had a small glass of Pomona which is now a new favourite drink. It's basically a fortified cider, if you will.

The bill without automatic service charge came to just under 28 pounds for a main, a pudding, a pint of ale and the Pomona so about the same as you would pay for a similar meal at The Punter opposite but in my opinion The Punter is better. However, it's not a chain (part of a local restaurant group) and uses mostly local produce so definitely has its place as an independent offering, which are rare in Cambridge.

No photos as it was too dark and I only had the G10 on me.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
My last visit to this lovingly restored pub/restaurant was over a year ago as it's a little out of the way when you don't have a car and a taxi fare is just a little bit too steep so I have to wait until I can persuade friends to come along and give me lift on the way. Yesterday, Sandi and Tim were so kind.
We arrived a bit early so had a drink in the bar before being shown through the rabbit's warren of the building to our table in the cosy but sparsely lit dining room. The choice of mains on the menu was somewhat reduced by the time we got there as the lamb was not on (the delivered meat wasn't up to the chef's standard) so there had been increased demand for the pork chop so my friends opted for the steak for two while I chose the hake.

PSB and beignets

My starter of purple sprouting broccoli with beignets (more similar to Spanish croquetas than doughnuts) worked really well. I could easily have finished a bowl of those beignets. My friends were equally happy with their choice of ham hock terrine with pickles and smoked salmon respetively.

Hake, mussles chowder

My main of a perfectly cooked fillet of hake with mussel chowder was a wonderfully warming and satisfying dish while still being light.

Roasted Marrow Bones

This was the roasted marrow bone that came with the steak. I helped myself to a few teaspoonfuls. It was very rich but literally melted in your mouth. Very very good indeed.

Brownie

Hole in the Wall, 29/11/12

We'd heard lots of praise for the HITW's doughnuts so were eager to try them for dessert but sadly, there had been too much demand for those, too, so we settled for the sticky bread and butter pudding and the chocolate brownie which were both nicely balanced and not too sweet.

Despite being denied a few menu choices, this was a great meal and for the quality, reasonably priced, too. I hope to be back soon because I want to try those doughnuts!
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
One of the hottest new addresses in London is Bubbledogs, a joint venture by James Knappett (who used to work at Per Se, Noma and The Ledbury, to name a few) and Sandia Chang (most recently the queen of wines at Roganic), serving gourmet hot dogs in the main area of the restaurant. In the back, there is the & part of the restaurant, where head chef James has set up an impressive open kitchen surrounded by an U shaped counter with 19 seats from where the guests can watch the chefs at work. The daily changing menu lists no dishes as such, only the main ingredient but the dishes are described and explained by James as they are served. Being able to watch how dishes are being cooked and put together is great and the chefs are happy to chat and answer questions. Here's what I had, your experience will vary.

Shrimp
Shrimp (crispy heads with a dipping sauce including lobster coral). Great nibbles, almost like popcorn.


Kitchen action


Shrimp
Shrimp bodies, dill, frozen horseradish.


Chicken
Chicken skin, rosemary cream, bacon jam, a very naughty dish but oh so good. Just tell yourself they're biscuits.


Mackerel
Mackerel, oyster, cucumber, sea purslane


Kitchen action


Scallop
Scallop


Kitchen action
Shaving truffle


Truffle
Truffle pasta


Kitchen action
Rack of roe buck being seared in the pan


Duck hearts
Duck hearts, turnip


Venison
Venison rack and fillet, chestnut, sprout leaves, wild mushrooms


Burrata
Burrata, shallots


Kitchen action
Roasted figs


Fig
Roasted fig


Apple
Apple cake


Blackberry Blackberry
Tiny blackberry cake covered in chocolate


A few more photos on flickr. There are more to come but I currently have limited internet access.

This excellent, flavourful food was accompanied by perfectly matching wines selected by Sandia. You are obviously free to pick your own wine from the list.
This experience went straight up into the list of the best meals I've had, currently fighting with The Ledbury and my two visits to Roganic.
Needless to say, this took some time, around three and a half hours so I was glad it was a seat at the 6:30 sitting that had become available or I wouldn't have been able to get home afterwards.
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: 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)
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)
Yesterday evening I finally managed to go to Fitzbillies for dinner. This legendary cake shop and café was closed early last year but resurrected by Tim Hayward and his team later in the year. The Guardian has a good overview of the story. I'm almost ashamed to say that despite having lived in Cambridge for 16 years, I'd never been but I'm not a big fan of cakes and exceedingly sweet things (their house specialty is Chelsea Buns). However since they now also offer dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, I had to go. The menu changes weekly and offers a selection of rustic dishes at for its location very reasonable prices.
Something most people have mentioned when talking about the refurbishment is the decor: off-white wood panelling and light blue tiles which make the place look more like a swimming pool than a café or restaurant but while I found it a little odd, I didn't mind it. The low, indirect lighting probably helped there. The downside to the low lighting was that it was hard to take decent photos.

Interior Quince Fizz


I started the evening with a glass of "Quince Fizz", quince puree topped up with sparkling wine. Tart and refreshing. Next up was a cup of crab bisque which was fantastic. Creamy, full of crab flavour with a nice little kick of chilli at the end. Tim Hayward tweeted: Christ, @Rosiebluebell s crab bisque tastes like a suspension of Higgs Bosons in liquid diamond... With unicorn stock. and that wasn't far off. :)

Starter: Smoked pigeon

My starter was smoked pigeon with blood orange, chicory and almonds, basically a salad. The pigeon meat was soft, the chicory crunchy but the citrus dressing - for my taste - just a little overpowering. It still worked and I enjoyed it.

Main: Braised Rabbit

For main I had braised rabbit, winter lettuce and mustard potatoes. This was a perfect dish for a dreary winter evening. The meat was still juicy, very flavourful and went well with the accompaniments. The gravy was outstanding, too and I used the rest of the homemade soda bread to mop it all up. With the first two courses I had a glass of nice Bordeaux.
Despite feeling quite stuffed I couldn't possibly leave this temple of sweetness without having dessert so I picked the Eve's pudding with pear:

Dessert: Eve's Pudding with pear

Baked in a large coffee mug, the cake topping was crispy and the hot pear filling soft with a hint of spice. Delicious.
So yes, if freshly cooked, rustic food is your thing, Fitzbillies is for you and a welcome alternative to the endless sea of chain restaurants in the centre of Cambridge. The only downside is that they currently are only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings. Booking a table in advance is also recommended as by the time I had arrived at dessert, the restaurant was fully seated and word that you can have a fab informal dinner with friendly service still needs to spread.
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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: (Photo)
On Thursday I had the opportunity to shoot the action in the kitchen at The English Pig, Johnnie Mountain's restaurant in Barbican, London. I've been a fan of the place since I was there last month and tried their signature pork belly dish.
Since Tom Kneale started as head chef, they revised their menu to feature only pork based dishes (no other meat, no fish, no vegetarian option) to pay justice to the restaurant's name. Yes, there's even a chocolate and bacon creme brulee as dessert.
When head chef Tom posted some phone photos of the new dishes on twitter I made an off-handed comment offering to come down and take some nicer ones and he took me up on the offer so on Thursday after work, I made my way down to London.
The restaurant is on the ground floor of a large office building just down the road from Barbican tube station on Aldersgate St. and if it wasn't for the signature blackboard on the street you might even miss it as you walk past. The blackboard is one of Johnnie's trademarks and always has something entertaining on it. See for yourself:
One side of the trademark board The other side of the trademark board

The restaurant itself is rather dark, all dark woods, indirect lighting and lots of candles everwhere, simple, yet elegant.
Considering the size of the place, the kitchen is small but efficiently laid out. As the evening wasn't very busy, I managed to stay mostly out of the way, taking photos from the service side of the pass and occasionally peering around the corner. Sadly, this also meant I didn't get a chance to see all the dishes.
Starters: On the left, crispy pig's ears salad, on the right, braised cheeks (my choice)
Crispy Pig's Ears Salad Braised Cheeks

Mains: The Pig's signature dish is the 21 hour roasted pork belly with mustard mash and savoy cabbage:
Plating the Belly 21 hour Pork Belly

Chargrilled chop, prepared by head chef Tom Kneale:
Head Chef Tom Kneale Pork Chop

Smoked Hock:
Smoked Hock

Coriander Fillet:
Coriander Fillet

Iberico Pork Rice Pudding:
Iberico Pork Rice Pudding

Shoulder Steak, braised in cider with vegetables and strawberries. The latter might sound odd but they really worked because the other ingredients and seasoning balanced the flavours. I had this as my main and really enjoyed it.
Shoulder steak braised in cider Shoulder steak braised in cider

Desserts: Chocolate fondant with white chocolate sauce (between the layers) and dark chocolate "soil" in a plant pot. This was fun, rich and very yummy indeed and my choice of dessert.
Chocolate Fondant

A "deconstructed" Lemon Pie:
Deconstructed Lemon Pie

Chocolate and Bacon(!) Creme Brulee:
Chocolate & Bacon Creme Brulee

The brigade: Sous Damian, Head Chef Tom, Pastry Chef Wyman (plus Tom from Stokey Secret Supper who wasn't available for the group photo):
The Brigade

A few more shots from the kitchen action )

Many thanks to head chef Tom Kneale for this insight into a pro kitchen and to the whole team for feeding me afterwards.
karohemd: Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, by me (Hungry)
On Friday I took [personal profile] ginasketch out to Johnnie Mountain's (you might have seen him on The Great British Menu) The English Pig as a belated birthday treat.
I'd booked in advance but I don't think it would have been necessary because when we got there at 6:30, we were the first guests (it filled up later, though). The room is quite big but divided into several sections. As it's held in dark wood throughout and there was only indirect lighting and a short fat candle on each table, it was quite dark. That was probably the only slightly negative aspect of the place as I'd like to see clearly what I'm eating and, if I have a camera, take photos. The latter was impossible without flash.
Our friendly waiter brought us the menu (five choices for each course) and some nice fresh bread with a small bowl of oil and balsamico. Everything looked great but I'd set my mind on trying the slow-roast pork belly, the chef's signature dish so I chose something light as starter, the garlic and chilli prawns.

The English Pig - Chilli & Garlic Prawns

Three large prawns cooked to perfection in aromatic oil. They were shelled but with the tails left on and the heads included for sucking. Full of flavour, slightly sticky with an afterkick of heat, mellowed by the salad leaves. I could easily have eaten a plate of those as a main. It was obviously meant to be eaten by hand as a fingerbowl was provided.

The English Pig - Puy Lentils with Chorizo

[personal profile] ginasketch had the puy lentils with chorizo as starter and she loved the dish.

Then, the main event:
The English Pig - Pork Belly

The pork belly was staggeringly good. The fat was completely rendered, creating a soft, sort of sponge/pumice texture with crispy but not tooth threatingly hard crackling on top. The meat was rich and flavourful and the accompanying mash and red cabbage rounded everything off beautifully. I actually salivated when the first forkful hit my palate. Two minor bits of criticism: For the size of portion a little more sauce would have been good and the crackling could have done with a few more lines of scoring as it was quite hard work to carve off slices. Still, those were miniscule negatives. The dish was definitely among the best pieces of pork I've ever tasted at a restaurant.

My companion's main was the seabass which she didn't stop ooohing and aahing about. :)
The English Pig - Sea Bass


After two generous portions we were quite sated already but decided we would have some pudding after all:

The English Pig - Chocolate Fondant

I went for the chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. As you can see, the fondant was cooked perfectly, crumbly on the outside with a gooey, molten centre. The ice cream was lovely, too and real (you can see the tiny vanilla seeds).

The English Pig - Chocolate & Amaretti Mousse

This was Gina's chocolate and amaretti mousse which she loved but couldn't finish so I took one for the team. I was glad I had opted for the fondant because it was a touch sweet for me and a bit too firm in texture. I prefer egg-white only mousse with really dark chocolate but that's a personal preference.

All in all, a fantastic meal at - for central London - very reasonable prices. Under 80 pounds for two at three courses and a glass of wine each is, for the quality of food provided, extremely good value for money and you certainly won't leave hungry.

Unreservedly and highly recommended.

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