Sunday, 29 June 2008

Restaurant Review - Launceston Place, London, W8 5RL

As part of my birthday celebrations, on Sunday 22 June 2008 my girlfriend (now fiancée) and I went to Launceston Place for Sunday lunch. After we went I read this review by AA Gill at The Times, we saw some similarities to what he said but he didn't rate it as highly as us. Maybe we are not so experienced at being foodies, or maybe he went on a bad day. We thought it was pretty good. We had booked the table for 3 pm, but at 2.45 we got a call from the restaurant asking where we were. We were just outside at the time, having just arrived. Anyway, we went in and found the restaurant closed at 3 pm so expected to be rushed through the meal so they could shut up quickly. I am not sure why the booking was taken for the closing time, but in any case we didn't feel rushed at all. The service is quintessentially French, all the waiters are French and wearing black and whites. The décor is modern and fairly stylish, although quite dark. The paintings are a bit hotel style, so I would agree with Gill on that!

We got some nice bread to start with, and then a "pre-starter" which was home made crisps with a cheese dip. Posh crisps and dips, but still that was all it was - crisp and a dip.

For the starters, my lady had nettle soup, which was served at the table from a tiny copper saucepan, and poured over the bread and cheese. There were some weeds or other under the bread, but we liked it.

I had the pork rillet (yes I did eat a lot of pork this weekend) which was very nice and light, and a rather large portion too. An unusual selection of leaves and flowers were served with it, and what tasted like bits of sweet pickled onions.
As it was Sunday, we opted for the roast dinner. I had pork, below, and she had beef, next picture down. The pork came with apple sauce and crackling, very traditional, and great crackling. Just the right amount of crunch. The beef came with horseradish cream and both meals came with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and vegetables.

I found my pork to be cooked to perfection, but very salty. A little oversalted in my opinion. My measure of Yorkshire pudding quality is to compare against my girlfriends mums as hers as the best I have ever had. The Launceston Place Yorkies were about 7 out of a maximum 10, a bit too crispy but otherwise not bad.
The roast beef was absolutely gorgeous, really tender, melt in your mouth texture. Still pink in the middle, just how I like it.

Now look at these beautiful roast potatoes, golden brown on the outside, lovely and crispy, soft and fluffy on the inside. Perfection!A nice bowl of vegetables to share...roasted parsnip and broccoli.
Now the "pre-dessert" - quite a surprise this one. Served in a silver egg cup with a silver spoon, a hollowed out egg shell, filled with cold set toffee cream custard with crunchy toffee bits and a toffee stick to dip in it, like a boiled egg with soldiers. The novelty value of this was matched by the flavour of it, really good fun to eat. I didn't order it, but I really liked it!
Now the main course of dessert - my girlfriend had rhubarb and ginger crumble with custard cream. I had a toffee ice cream sundae, I might have opted for something different if I knew I was getting the toffee cream egg, but it was still well received. The ice cream was very light but creamy at the same time. A good finish to a good meal. I don't know what you are talking about Gill!

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Taste Festival 2008 - what we ate!

I already posted a little bit about my visit to the Taste Festival on 21 June 2008, but have finally found the time to write about what we ate whilst we were there. This blog was supposed to be a blog of my recipes, but now it seems to be turning more and more into any kind of food experience! Still, its all good and fuels my love of food. As I said earlier, the Taste Festival was a chance for chefs from all around London to showcase their food, and for foodies (like me) to taste it all. Each resturarant had three dishes on offer, and there were about 40 restaurants in total. My girlfriend and I sampled about nine different dishes in total. We could have stayed and had more, but unfortunately we ran out of time, stomach space and money.

The first thing I tried was from Trinity, in Clapham. They are AA restaurant of the year for 2007 and 2008 and you can read more about it on the website. The dish I ate was "Pigs trotters with crackling on pain poilane with sauce gribiche" and as you can see there is also some green puree which I think was pea. I had never eaten pigs trotters before, and it was delicious. The only way I can describe it is as the essence of pig concentrated. Very tasty.

The next stand we called on was Fortnum & Mason, and I am sure most people will have heard of them before. The delight you can see below is twice baked goats cheese souffle with fig and onion marmalade. This was my girlfriends choice, she is crazy about goats cheese in any shape or form, and unsurprisingly she loved this dish. I had a little nibble, and I thought the onion marmalade was top notch.

Now this is a proper posh meal, as served on the Orient Express. It was a lamb nicoise salad, a bit of a twist on the classic tuna nicoise I think. The lamb was loin of Farmer Sharps Herdwick lamb, and then served with beans, olives, sun dried tomatoes, quails eggs (just like normal hens eggs but smaller if you ask me), mint, olives, and I think the purple things are some kind of rare breed of potato. I am a big fan of lamb, it is my favourite meat ever - so juicy and flavourful.

Next stop on the foodie tour around Regents Park was the stand from Broad Stripe Butchers. The only reason we stopped there was to enter a competition for a top chef to come and cook for you and eight friends at home, but then we were given a free sample of the sausages in a cute mini hot dog bun, complete with mustard and a flag as well. A good example of a tasty sausage! Worth buying if you ever find them in a shop near you. I believe they do mail order meat as well.

Now onto the pies - this one is from Bumpkin, a sort of old fashioned traditional country style food. This pie was packed with chicken, leek and bacon in a very creamy sauce. Just the right amount of puff pastry on the top, and no pastry sides balanced it out very well.

This next dish was probably my favourite of the whole day, just because of the novelty of its presentation, and because it was so tasty and unusual. As you can see, it looks very much like a Mr Whippy ice cream cone, so much so that I was tucking into it and a girl asked me where I got it from, thinking it was ice cream. As she was a Muslim, I was a little embarassed to tell her it was roast middle pork risotto topped with creamy apple sauce and some pork crackling, from Launceston Place. It was delicious, the apple sauce, despite its appearance, was not too sweet, and went very well with the creamy risotto beneath it. The crackling was not as good as that which came with the pigs trotters, but did make the dish look like a 99 ice cream.
Also from Launceston Place, due to their "Buy One, Get One Free" offer was smoked salmon with watercress. Nothing too amazing about this one you may think, but it was smoked right in front of me before serving. The dish below came with a lid on, and just before it was served, some wood chip smoke was puffed into the tub before it was sealed again. This gave the fresh salmon a very rich smokiness, both in flavour and even more so in the aroma. The food from Launceston Place was excellent, and I spoke to the chef as we were planning on going there the following day for Sunday lunch, he said he was not working in the restaurant as he was at the festival, but his sous chef would look after us well.

Nearly at the end of the Taste journey now, we got a taste of India from Cafe Spice Namaste in the form of Xacutti de cabrito - Andrew Sharps' renaissance herdwick mutton curry made using twenty two ingredients and served with pilao rice. Apparently this is the worlds most complicated curry, as it has so many ingredients, but it did not taste complicated, all the flavours were well balanced and the mutton was incredibly tender too. I suppose you could not really pick out the individual spice flavours, but that for me was the good thing about this dish - it was such a good balance of flavours.

I had read about this last dish in the Metro paper the day before we went to the festival, so I wanted to try it. The staff of the paper had some of the chefs from the festival in their staff canteen cooking up some food for them, and this dish by Aldo Zilli sold out the quickest. It was a lobster ravioli with shellfish cream sauce. A great dish to finish the day with, and I can see why it sold out so quickly, filling, comforting, warm and tasty Italian food.

So that is all my tastes from the taste festival. You may be thinking, what about the sweet things?! Well, I am not so bothered about puddings but my lady did try some chocolate brownies and some ice cream from a couple of places, and I obviously had a little bite. But I forgot to take any pictures of it!

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Saturday, 28 June 2008

Taste Festival - Sausage Making by "Simply Sausages"

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that for me, the Taste of London festival was a very pork orientated event. So, here is some more pork....

We walked past the "Simply Sausages" stand, on the sniff for free samples. There were none to be had just yet, but were told there was to be a demo of sausage making soon, and then tasters. So we hung around for a bit longer to wait to see the sausage making in action.

Simply Sausages are a premium and traditional sausage making company, made with only natural, fresh, proper ingredients - no fillers, flavourings, preservatives or any other rubbish. The company is run by a chap called Martin Heap, who as well as being the founder of the company is also Executive Chef and a self styled sausage guru. He started the company in 1981 from a London market stall at Smithfields Meat Market and it has grown from there, and the sausages are now popular in Morrissons and Waitrose. It was actually Martin who was making the sausages for us today, so we felt quite privileged! The sausages he made for us were pork, apple and acacia honey, and you can see the ingredients all laid out below.

There is pork, with just the right amount of fat and meat for a juicy sausage, apple (dried so it does not go brown), herbs, amongst the main ingredients.

The pork has now been minced to sausage meat consistency...

Mixed together with all the other ingredients (this was all done in a Blue Peter, here's one I made earlier style)...
Now here is the sausage filling machine. The filling is stuffed into the chamber here, where Martin's hand is.

Now twist the lid onto the filling machine, and he takes a sausage tube (intestine I believe) and threads it onto the machine, ready to be filled with sausage meat.

The machine that was in use at the Taste festival was foot pump operated, so he is gently pumping the machine, which forces the pork out from the nozzle, into the sausage tube, and then gently pull the tube away from the machine.

Now it is starting to look more banger like...

Now the end is knotted off.

Now this was for me the best bit, it was very skillfuly and quickly done. The one long sausage was picked up and carefully and quickly knotted/knitted into "sixes" - that is, bunches of six sausages. Traditionally, it is 6 sausages to the pound (454 g to you youngsters) but Martin makes slightly fatter sausages, so 6 weigh a bit over 1 pound.

According to an email I receive after the event, the Simply Sausages team, sold and sampled nearly 25,000 sausages Taste of London festival over the weekend, Britain's most prestigious food event. They were inundated with sausage lovers, desperate to buy the sausages and as a result sold out every single day!

The proof of the sausage is, as they say, in the eating! And we got to try these as well. Not the actual ones prepared in the pictures, as someone was frying them in the background whilst Martin Heap did his demo. The smell of the frying was rather mouthwatering, and we were desperate for a taste.

The pork and apple sausages were delicious, and the hint of cinnamon really went well. They were nice fat sausages, and juicy too. Of course, some people are not into fruity sausages and so there are also other more meat based ones as well. The Smithfields No 1 with nutmeg might be a better one for pure meat lovers!

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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

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Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Taste of London Festival

As part of my birthday celebrations, my girlfriend had bought me tickets to the Taste of London festival, which luckily fell on the weekend just after my birthday.

It was a really good day out, the clouds looked threatening the whole day but it stayed dry for us. We went for the Saturday afternoon session, form noon till 4 pm and there were over 8000 people there sampling food from about 40 of London's top restaurants.

We tried food from a whole host of top chefs, from restaurants like Bumpkin, Cafe Spice Namaste, Fortnum & Mason, Launceston Place (and this was a good introduction to the following day when we went there for lunch - more to come on that later), Orient Express and Trinity. I took loads of pictures, so will tell a bit more about each of the places in a later post.

Apart from the top restaurants, there were all kinds of other stalls going on, most of them offering free samples and tasters. The first thing we did when we got there though was went to a free wine tasting introduction, just a very quick 10 minute intro to tasting wine and matching the flavour of the wine with the foods. We were given a glass of red, then white, and shown how to swirl the wine around the glass, and look at the legs to see how much alcohol and sugar are in there. Then take a sniff, and try and detect the different flavours. I have been on a wine tasting course before, but I don't think my nose is yet fully attuned to it... when the somellier told us what he could smell, it clicked and I thought "O yes, I can smell that", but apart from that just general fruity smell is what I can detect. Berries, vanilla and a bit of oak in the red, citrus scents in the white. But then when the guy said there were, for example, hints of melon in there, it starts to make sense. Anyway, that was quite a good start to the day.

Amongst the other free stuff was some chocolate, a favourite of my girlfriend. It was from a chocolate company called New Tree, and it was a new one on me. They had some really unusual flavours, like the "Tranquillity" lavender chocolate. This is a flavour I would normally associate with old ladies, but it worked pretty well. Then there was apricot, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, and the rather racily named "Sexy" which was made with dark chocolate and ginger.

We went on and bought a beer then, Chang, which is a Thai beer and came with complimentary Thai snacks - as you can see here, some spring rolls and fish cakes. A nice little nibble whilst walking around the show.

There were all kinds of things to look at whilst walking around, including a garden laid on by Rocket Gardens of Cornwall (my home land so I have to give them a plug). Now I will admit I found the guy running the stall, who turned out to be the owner of the company, a bit sarcastic and annoying but still he had a good concept and I recommend you check it out. Sorry, I forgot to take any pictures.

But I did get a shot of this lovely ice statue - advertising some beer or other, I forget which one now!

And another nice picture, a spit roasting pig. Pork seemed to be the order of the day for me, and I think I had about four or five different pork based dishes! I don't normally eat much meat, and even less pork, so this was a bit of a change, and quite a tasty one too.
Throughout the day there were various chef's performing in the Taste Theatre, which as you can see below is a bit like a TV cookery program but you get to be in the audience. We managed to catch Gary Rhodes, who seems to think he is very good looking I must say, and kept making bad jokes about how young and good looking he is. Anyway, he did make some quite nice recipes in half an hour - a smoked duck and orange salad, and then then a fish dish - I think it was pollock! Unfortunately no tasters with this though, I don't think he made enough for everyone.

All in all a really good day, it was a shame that it only lasted for 4 hours since we could have stayed there longer and felt somewhat rushed to go round it all. I guess though that if we had stayed much longer, we would have eaten and eaten until we could eat no more.

I still have more to post on this, including some sausage making, a bit more about all the food we tried, and some new oil which I discovered there!

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Monday, 23 June 2008

My birthday cake and a meal at Zizis

Last week was my birthday (19th June for anyone who wants to get me a present and card next year) and my lovely girlfriend baked me a cake. As you can see, it is quite a work of art. It was a marbled cake, made from chocolate and banana, in the picture below you can see the marbled effect. Then filled with jam, iced with lots of chocolate icing, some marshmallows, and those lovely shiny silver ball things that you can actually eat (although they are a bit tough on the teeth).

The cake was really light and tasty, and I was very lucky to have it baked for me, and have happy birthday sung as well. We just had the last slice today.

In the evening of my birthday, we went for a meal at Zizi's near by. I am in principle against chain restaurants, as it homogenises every town and there is nowadays very little variety, although I often find myself eating at them. I am not sure what sort of people want to have the same meal every place they go, but it is not me. Actually, I know my girlfriend does like it as she can get a goats cheese calzone all the time.

The food was actually quite good, traditional Italian style cooking. The service, on the other hand, was diabolical. It started off well, with about half a dozen different waiters trying to take our drinks order, and it went down hill from there. When we were actually ready to order, we could not get the attention of anyone for love nor money. We finally ordered, but then we waited ages for the starters to arrive. They were pretty good I must say, despite the wait.

Onto the mains, and this is where the real delays started. It must have taken over half an hour for them to eventually bring out the wrong meal for me, and it took some prompting from us to even get this. Never mind, we had some free drinks given to us anyway. I sent the main course back, I asked for chicken ravioli, not mushroom, so chicken is what I wanted to eat. They took my lady friends back as well, to keep warm. Lucky they did, as the promised "2 minutes" was another 30 minutes or more. Still, we got more wine in the interim, and the ravioli was pretty good when it actually arrived. And to keep us happy, we only got charged for the starters and the first drinks, so it worked out a very cheap night out.

I have no idea why the service was quite so bad, but it was terrible! It was fairly busy for a Thursday night, and there were 3 other birthday parties in, but that is no excuse!

Anyway, I am sure we will end up going back there again, as the food was tasty, but not for a while.

I am aware that this blog is not so much about recipes any more and more about food in general. In keeping with that, I have got some more foodie type posts coming up from a birthday weekend spent in London. To whet your appetite, I will be posting about the Taste Festival, sausage making, tapas, hotel breakfasts, and finally a dinner at the rather posh Kensington restaurant Launceston Place. Hopefully I will get those done this week, if I manage to find the time!

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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Sweet Potato Omelette

A sweet potato omelette is a nice alternative to Spanish tortilla omelette and is very easy to make.

Take one sweet potato, peel and chop up into small cubes.

Heat some oil in a large non stick frying pan, then add the sweet potato. Fry for about 5-10 minutes.

Now add in a chopped onion, clove of garlic and chilli, and fry for a further 5 minutes or so, until the potato is soft and the onions are translucent.

Beat 3 large eggs together, and now make sure the pan is very hot. Pour the eggs into the pan, then reduce the heat down very low. Why is this? To seal the eggs, you need the pan hot, but you don't want to burn the bottom of them, so reduce the heat to low to slowly cook through to the middle.
Now the egg will start to cook, gently push a spatula around the edges just to tease the egg away from the pan.
When it is fairly solid, but still a bit runny at the top, remove from the heat.

Grate some cheese on top, and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Now, finish off under a hot grill until the egg is cooked solid and the cheese is all melted and bubbling.

Serve it up straight away and enjoy!

And on the subject of sweet potato, I thought this was an interesting read...

"Six cows killed by sweet potato poisoning"

Just make sure you store sweet potatoes, like all potatoes, in the dark to stop them producing these toxins.

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Foodie Pictures

I went onto Blogger today, with the intention of writing a post, and saw a link to Picassa - where all my blogger photos are now displayed in one album. I thought it was quite cool, so here is the link to my recipe photos.

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Monday, 9 June 2008

Minty Pea Salad

I saw a post on herbs at the Leftover Queens blog recently, and thought I had better do something with all the herbs I have growing in my garden! Its nice and sunny outside again, and this salad is very refreshing on a summers day. Perfect for cool salad dinners or something like that.

Pick a nice sprig of mint from the garden.

Blanch some peas - picked from the garden is best, but frozen ones are nice too - and then immerse in cold water to cool them and stop them cooking.

Drain the peas, add a dollop of yoghurt, season with salt and pepper, and then tear up the mint leaves into it. I always try and tear herbs rather than chopping them as the flavour is better.

Mix it all together, and you are done.

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