Sunday, 15 February 2009

Some Valentines Food Things

Did you happen to notice that it was Valentine's Day this weekend? You can hardly escape it, but even with all the commercialism associated with Valentine's, it is still a good excuse to do something romantic for your loved ones. So, on Saturday morning I got up early (well, earlyish) and baked a cake for my fiancée. A simple sponge cake recipe and finally a use for the heart shaped cake tin which, for some reason, we own.

After a breakfast of cake, we headed into London for the weekend. I had reserved a table for us at the Oxo Tower Brasserie on the South Bank of the Thames. This is a great setting, just around the corner from the London Eye, overlooking St Paul's cathedral, the famous Gherkin building and the London skyline.

Inside the brasserie was packed, every one of the closely packed tables were full, mainly with couples enjoying romantic lunches. A few too many public displays of affection for me, but I suppose on Valentine's day you have to put up with seeing such things. It was a buzzing atmosphere, very lively and with a live singer and guitarist playing to create the true bustling brasserie experience.

Strangely enough the tower was not as high as I remembered from walking past before, but the brasserie was on the eighth floor and had some remarkable views over the river and beyond to the rest of the city.

Anyway, enough of the views and on to the important business of the day - food! The menu was quite eclectic, with food from all over the world, although there was a dominant North African presence on the menu. For starters I had the sticky chilli pork belly - it was sticky and very tasty, but I must admit that it wasn't as spicy as the "chilli" bit led me to believe. This dish was really popular as I noticed the four other tables in our row (I told you they were closely packed) were all tucking into this.

My fiancée had merguez with cous cous for her starter and she loved it. Merguez are delicious spicy lamb sausages and the yogurt served underneath them complimented the spice perfectly. The cous cous was a gorgeous mix of textures, including pommegranite and courgette.

My main course was meltingly tender Harissa roast lamb served with chick peas.

My fiancee opted for the salmon with puy lentils and yes, you are right, those are cubes of jelly on the plate. It was som kind of chilli jelly which added an interesting aspect of texture to the meal! The main courses were both delightful, but because the starters were do good neither of us could remember much about the mains, they were slightly eclipsed by the first course.

I was pretty stuffed by this point so I just had an Irish coffee to finish, whilst my lady had dessert of chocolate brownies with ice cream. The brownies were done perfectly, crispy around the edges yet moist in the middle, with the chunks of nuts providing some added crunch.

After lunch we wandered around the South Bank for a while and happened upon a slow food market. Slow Food is a great concept and the market equally good. Unfortunately, after a three course lunch neither of us were all that hungry, but I did pick up a horseradish root which has since been planted out in the garden - more on that later in the year, it should be harvested around October or November time once we get the first frost.

The final food item of the day was a visit to a Japanese restaurant in Camden, London. I can't remember the name of it now, but when it comes back to me, or I am next in Camden, I will check it out - I can remember exactly where it is!

My fiancee and I went to Japan on holiday a few years ago and had a fantastic time. My fiancee was not a big fish eater before this trip, but as that is one of the staple foods over there she was soon coverted and got into eating sushi, sashimi, fresh fish, crabs and some even more exotic things like squid liver in squid ink. I had no idea how to eat with chopsticks before we went, but I quickly realised that it was either eat with chopsticks or starve (the Japanese are too polite to eat with their fingers).

We took advantage of the bargainous 7 day tourist pass and travelled around on the Shinkansen (bullet train) and as we were on a tight budget, we often picked up bento boxes to have for lunch on the train. These were available from loads of convenience stores at bargain prices and are really great, balanced and interesting meals.

At the Japanese in Camden we tucked into some bento boxes for a bit of reminisence. Here is my one...

The centre part contains some pickles, then going clockwise from top right we have Teriyaki chicken with stir fried vegetables, assorted dumplings, steamed rice and finally some salad vegetables with a sesame oil dressing.

All-in-all, we had a great romantic day! A combination of high class eating at the brasserie, a nice food market to browse around and then a trip down memory lane with some Japanese grub!

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