Monday, 11 November 2013

Cafe Murano - yep, pretty close to flawless

Thank you Twitter! Before you existed, in all your crazy, mixed blessing glory, I would never have known about the timings of soft launches.  But now I do! And now that I have quit my day job and spend my life procrastinating, it means I can sit, poised at the click of a mouse, trying to reserve tables at exciting new restaurants during soft launch when the food is half price.  Half the price = twice the food, hurrah!

I think this is day 1 for Cafe Murano, Angela Hartnett's new solo venture with head chef Samantha Williams.  It is also my sister's birthday (more or less) so we all went for lunch.  I love Angela Hartnett, and this new restaurant is a triumph - very beautiful ingredients, perfectly executed - not a single mis-step.

We ate a lot.  We always do:

Brilliant rosemary focaccia - stunning texture, served with my favourite Planeta olive oil.
Truffle arancini - crisp, light, golden outsides, melting insides:
Fabulous quality mozzarella with charred aubergine and basil
Then pasta - linguine with red mullet, garlic and chili, so simple and such clear flavours
and more pasta - gnocchi with wild mushrooms, parsley and garlic
and risotto Milanese, osso bucco
and then lamb
and monkfish
and chicken escalope....and tiramisu.  (Oh dear - internet has slowed down due to the rain, thanks again Virgin Media, for your consistently reliable service.)  Well I'll come back and post those photos later...

Suffice to say, the whole meal was phenomenally delicious.  When it reverts to full Mayfair prices this Wednesday, it will still be good value, because the food is of a fantastically high quality.  This is the sort of cooking I love - confident, non-show-offy, and with the eater's enjoyment in mind at all times.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A tale of two taverns

Londoners are so lucky right now.  The quality of eating out options in this city has never been better - from toasted cheese sarnies in south London to posh food like my mate Marianne serves at her new 14 seater in West.

Two new and fantastic restaurants have opened up in the last month alone - one in the east and one bang in the centre.  Make that two 'Taverns' in fact - though both are such sophisticated offerings they're not what one would associate with any bawdy tavern of yore.

Merchants Tavern in beyond-fashionable Shoreditch is a joint venture between the wonderful Angela Hartnett, chef Neil Borthwick and the guys who run the chain Canteen.The room is beautiful, grown up, sexy and intimate, with a fabulous wine rack that I feel would work very well in my bedroom.
Highlights of our meal were these ridiculously tasty, crunchy deep fried oysters with ginger and chilli
Cauliflower croquettes
and this more than ample Paris Brest

Muchos healthy, I'm sure you'll agree.  Almost as healthy as my meal at Berners Tavern in the new Edition Hotel, just north of Oxford Street - and opposite possibly London's shittest shopping mall, The Plaza.

Still, the Edition Hotel is drop dead beautiful and the dining room is one of the loveliest spaces I've eaten in for a very long time - incredibly high ceilings, fantastically grand finishes, the walls crammed with paintings, a magnficent bar.  It has a genuinely glamorous feel to it - New York-ish without feeling like a try-hard copy of New York.
I had a burger - perfect proportions, terrific bun, great fries, excellent vinaigrette on the salad.
Some outstanding roast carrots with smoked garlic (see, that's 2 of my 5 a day, and I wasn't even counting the chips.)  And then 3 puddings.  (People never believe me when I say I don't have a particularly sweet tooth.  I really don't.  But I'm researching puddings for the latest novel: THIS IS WORK, I swear.)

Anyway, the first was a warm chocolate doughnut with an intense almond sorbet:
Second up was a Caramel apple and Calvados eclair with a lush cream filling and terrific salted caramel ice cream, topped with gold leaf (though I have to say, I find the whole eating gold thing a touch over-rated - emeralds have far more umami.)
And the killer of the lot - warm almond brioche, pear compote and ginger sorbet, served in a jar with a warm creme anglaise poured over the top.
All very, very very good indeed.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Pear-shaped and ginger cake...

I'm nothing if not pear-shaped.

Well actually that's not true.  I am under-the-weather and pear-shaped. Under-the-weather, contrary and pear-shaped.

I have a tedious heavy cold which means I can't taste much - so I'm baking an extremely fattening cake that I'll barely be able to enjoy the flavour of, just because I like to do things that are not very smart. And also I wanted to use my new toy! A mini food processor someone gave me for my birthday last month that is just super dinky and cute.  (A bit like these photos that I've taken on a borrowed iPhone and don't quite understand how to make bigger...No matter.)
It's in the oven now and I am scared.  Basically I have screwed with this Rose Prince recipe  in most ways, and I don't think I'll get away with it.  In fact right now the cake is threatening to spill molten black treacle all over the bottom of my non-self-cleaning oven...

The pear part was fine - William Pears, one of the finest pears in town as I'm sure you'll agree.
But then I used the wrong type of sugar - it said soft brown, and in fact I used up two half empty packets of light and brown muscovados - neither of which are on brief...
Then I decided to use almonds that have been in my cupboard since my book launch - so maybe 6 months out of date...and a third of an old packet from Tesco.  But realised I was still 16g short of the 270g requirement.
So I just added a bit more flour, which is never a good idea.  And then there's my ginger.  My ginger is so very out of date.  (Like Susie in Leftovers I really don't hold much truck with these alleged use bys.  Just use your nose as your guide and you can't go wrong.)

Still, 2008 was a vintage year for powdered ginger, so let's not worry about that... Regardless, it did still look quite pretty at this stage.
But then I started heating the golden syrup, sugars and treacle and it all went a little volcanic (like what it's doing right now in my oven, that I'm too scared to check on again.)
Right.  Five minutes to go...Oh god! And I forgot to mention the eggs.  One of the eggs was two weeks out of date, but again, it smelled fine and if you can't trust your nose, what can you trust?  Oh.  Bugger. I can't trust my nose at all today...Hmm, this does not bode well...

Ok, so far, so ok.  It's too wobbly at 50 minutes but it looks and smells quite pleasing, in as much as it doesn't smell of salmonella.
Ok.  Now we wait...

Right, well I've worked out how to take bigger photos at least...
The pears must have slipped around when the colossal Vesuvius of buttery treacle rained down upon them.  Up close the texture looks like it's going to be awesome - crumbly, sticky, with a little crunch on top...
Desperate to eat it but have to eat some crazy pasta first...

I'm back.  Ok, it's good.
Beautiful moist texture due to the world of almonds that are in it, and a crisp, crunchy, caramelised chewy bottom.  Could do with more ginger heat though that'll be the 5 years out of date ginger...  Still, nothing a dollop of sour cream can't fix.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

You are really such a pretty one...

I was lucky enough to eat at Marianne's on its opening night last week.

Marianne was a runner up on Masterchef the Professionals, is a brilliant cook, has written a bestselling guide to knife skills in the kitchen (and probably other rooms if you're that way inclined) - and is a dear friend and ex-colleague of mine.  Having worked as a private chef for a world of a-listers (whom she refuses to give me the gossip on) she has finally opened her first place - the smallest fine dining restaurant in London (14 covers only).

I can't write in detail about the meal as today is Yom Kippur - the Jewish day of atonement - so no eating allowed - and writing about Marianne's stunning food will only make my hunger more acute.  So instead a whirlwind guide, mostly through pictures.

The restaurant itself is on a tiny site, round the corner from Westbourne Park Road, on Chepstow Road, a part of west London I used to go drinking in, before I realised I am not really a west London type of girl (too many wrinkles, not enough surnames.)
Here is  the masterchef herself, Ms Lumb:
in her beautiful, elegant, warm dining room - so, so pretty:
And here you can see her rather impressive knife collection in the foreground of her tiny kitchen:
Right, enough about rooms. The food - first off, amazing bread, which she gets from Hedone, a Michelin star restaurant in Chiswick which I haven't been to, so I can't comment - although on the strength of their delicious bread, I suspect I'll be visiting soon enough.
Then an utterly beautiful yellow and green courgette veloute with Scottish langoustines, which were so plump, lush and sweet, I would almost have been prepared to do the tedious work of undressing them myself - but thankfully didn't have to.
Then one of my absolute favourites - these two plump, utterly perfect tortellini of rainbow chard with ricotta, parmesan and beurre noisette, sprinkled with chives.  Am now fully about to break down and run to the kitchen, as the memory of these two is reducing me to a hunger that no merciful god would wish me to endure.
My dinner friend had this risotto with summer truffles and Scottish girolles, which was by all accounts superb. (I'm the original cheap date - I so don't like truffles):
Then on to poached turbot with cepes and a fine herbes hollandaise - utterly amazing.  Not sure I'd ever eaten fresh cepes; well, I have been a fool.  And again, this is a hollandaise that I'd happily take a bath in, though I suspect that would rather defeat the object of having a bath in the first place...
Then plump, sweet Cornish scallops with Breton artichoke puree and Pata Negra ham.  Seriously, how can you go wrong with that combo of salt, sweet, mellow and lush?  Yum.
And then another absolute show-stopper - cannon of Organic Cotswold lamb with braised shoulder and jus. That shoulder of lamb, my goodness - I'll be living off the memory of that for a while.  Just perfectly beautiful - food that you'll think about for weeks afterwards.
And finally on to pudding!
By which stage, the oven and hob had both malfunctioned and poor Marianne had to pull a solution out of the ether, or in this case the freezer.  I mean, we're good mates and all, but if you don't give me pudding...well, let's just say that she's not the only one with knife skills round here.  Anyway, friendicide notwithstanding, she served up this trio of beautiful ice creams: damson, praline and cobnut and gooseberry - and saved the day.

Marianne's is a very special restaurant.  The ingredients are perfect (perfectly considered, sourced,  seasonal and utterly fresh); in the hands of a chef who truly cherishes and understands them, they are transformed into spectacular plates that look stunning and taste better.

I am super-proud of this woman - and I hope this restaurant does as well as it deserves to.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

So good I ate it all twice...

Back to The Dairy at the weekend for my birthday, 21 again....
I took slightly brighter photos.  So for the record, let it be noted - I think that this is the best bread in London right now:
The potted salmon with jalapeno and a touch of cumin, second time round...
The beautiful cod with fancy tomatoes and a perfect crispy crunchy crumb:
And some new recruits!
Crispy beef short rib nuggets with leek ketchup.  How could you not love a crispy nugget smothered in leek ketchup?
And a pasta, just because, it is my birthday damnit and there will be pasta:
And this, that I forgot to mention last week - a tin of treats that come with the bill, including a hibiscus mini donut (tastes of mini and donut, not so much of hibiscus, which suits me fine) - and shards of light  vanilla biscuits, and blobs of apple jelly.
Happy birthday to me. (Except that my irrational fear of getting lost in south London was played out as follows: my dad drove us to Clapham in his car, which has a crappy sat nav system that is stuck on German translation mode.  No one in the car speaks deutsche, so we end up having a delightful tour of Camberwell, Streatham, the South Circular, Brixton, etc - when we could have just turned right shortly after crossing Vauxhall Bridge - which made us all late and stressed and bickery with each other.  But anyway, the second basket of bread helped us all remember that we love each other really.)