Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Iv-y been waiting for you: The Ivy restaurant review

There are some restaurants you go to for the food. And there are some restaurants you go to to go to. I thought The Ivy was the later. But I admit I'm a sucker for the hype and since I had the opportunity to go through some PR pimping (yes wedding magazines do have benefits) / birthday-being / mother visiting brilliant coincidence on Saturday night, I was going to damn well put on some sequins and go.

I have to admit, posh restaurant intimidate me. The door holding, napkin fluffing, bill spiralling out of control in my mind (even if I'm not paying) it's enough to make a girl lose her appetite. Well, almost. Having looked at the menu online as soon as the PR confirmed I could have a table last Monday, I was overwhelmed by the options. The Ivy! I have a table! On a Saturday night! I hadn't even considered the food and I didn't want to let myself down with a bad order.

A bit of a twitter-please-don't-think-I'm-a-pretentious-twat-plea on Saturday got a reply from the lovely Alice (fellow Bride-y) with guidance just in the nick of time: 'Lucky thing! The poulet des landes for 2 is a-mazing, all truffly - the best chicken you'll ever eat. Also good is the steak tartare, tempura and burger, and great creme brulee. Jealous!'

Once through the opened-door, sat at the pulled-out-for-us table and napkins fluffed, I check-out the menu again (while also trying to do a quick celeb scout - I admit it, I'm shallow). There were no celebrities I could see sadly, although there was a lot of moustaches as well and a man with a full on lego-hair wig.

'It says "No mobile phones and no photos",' says the bro.

This blog review could be difficult... iPhone under the palm of my hand at the ready. The Ivy will not outwit me.

First up I went for the Grilled Squid and Chorizo Salad (apologies for the poor quality of the pictures, being a food spy is tough).

Gorgeously tender strips of squid with chorizo, parsely and red cabbage. The brother went for the same, the mother the Hot Smoked Duck and Provence Fig Salad and Choux Boy the recommended Steak Tartare. Thumbs up all round.

Round two - it had to be the Roast Poulet for two with the Boy.

This is what heaven tastes like. I mistakenly started on the breast, which was lovely but the leg was where all that amazing foie gras goodness was, but by the time I came to it I was rather full on the breast and incredible truffley pommes sarladaise. I didn't want it to stop but unfortunately with a high waisted skirt and belt on (even after loosening it two notches), I had to. Or I would explode. And I didn't think The Ivy was the kind of joint I could ask for a doggie bag. If you were ever foolish enough not to go for the chicken, the bro had Roasted Venision with bashed neeps and elderberry sauce (thumbs up) and the mother Wild Mushroom Risotto (good but, hey, it's risotto. I made something very similar the next night with wild mushrooms and truffle oil, she should have just waited).

Two bottles of wine and one of champagne down by this point, we were flagging but dessert menus came and the in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-(lot of)-pound mentality kicked in: one crème brûlèe (me and the mother), honeycomb ice cream with hot chocolate sauce (served freshly hot in a little milk jug) for the Boy and cheese plate for bro.

And yes those are gorgeous little specks of fresh black vanilla you can see on the bottom of the bowl. Mmmm.... It was worth it.

The Ivy
1-5 West Street
020 7836 4751

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Feeling Moor-ish: Doukan restaurant review

Since moving to 'sarf' London with Choux Boy last month I've felt a bit lost with my dining options. No more Tas Firin, no more Muhib curry on Brick Lane, no more Viet-Ho on Kingsland Road. Ok, enough the 'East is best' hipster-pretence chat, I need to reset my default dining settings.

So with that in mind, and the fact that Choux Boy and I hadn't been on an actual 'date' since we moved in together, I dragged him off to new-ish Moroccan Doukan on Old York Road on Wednesday. The press release boasted: 'truly authentic Moroccan restaurant opened last month in leafy Wandsworth Town by culinary heavyweight Khalil Abdesslem, owner of Nomades Foods one of London's top suppliers of the finest Moroccan sauces and condiments.' My tummy was rumbling.

'Do you think I can have hummus?' I asked Choux Boy.

'Hummus isn't Moroccan.'

Told. Ok, my hummus-obsession got a mis-signal.

Hummus or not Doukan was pretty packed (always a good sign), and, we were told when we arrived, Channel 4's The F word were in filming (must be a good sign). Was that ok? Give me a menu and a glass of wine and I'm sure it will be fine. The clientele looked typically Wandsworthian - older couples and thirty-somethings with their babies. One of which was crying, right in my ear.

'See in East London there weren't any babies,' I hissed a Choux Boy.

'Oh, Filo she's just tired and hungry and irritable, like someone else I think...'

Fortunately our waitress appeared with my Moroccan white wine (when in Rome... it was called Ksar 2007 for any wine buffs - it was, ok) and the Boy's beer.

First up starter Halumi Maquli - lightly fried halloumi with fig chutney. The batter was perfectly just there and the halloumi a world away from the chewy teeth squeaking variety I've had so often. The fig chutney had a hint of Turkish delights to it that me and the Choux struggled to put our finger on - rose water? It was good.

Next up we did the classic half and half order of Chicken Mcharmel Tagine (aromatic chicken tagine in coriander, tomato and green olive sauce with couscous) and Kefta mechouia (grilled lamb kefta with fragrant shallot salad and couscous). Doukan is big on the authentic touches (and the menu says everything is made fresh on site), so my tagine came all roasty in a proper tagine dish. Both the chicken and the lamb were well cooked and tender and couscous very light and fluffy. The shallot salad was, well, just a salad and we never did manage to work out what that orange sauce was, but it did taste good.

Last up some Halwa Maghribia (assorted Moroccan pastries) tasty, goo-y and nutty. I even forgot about the lack of hummus.

35 Old York Road
Wandsworth Town
SW18 1SW
020 8870 8280

Monday, 12 October 2009

Tarting it up: Figgy custard tart

I would never say baking is my fortay. Discounting chocolate rice crispie/cornflake/insert-cereal-favourite-here 'cakes', I've attempted it twice. Peanut butter cookies that I made while nursing a rather nasty eye problem (you may think that cooking when you can't see properly doesn't sound like the best idea but it worked surprisingly well), were a instant success, and disappeared so fast I contemplated coming over all domestic goddess and baking biscuits and muffins and cupcakes every weekend, and becoming the best flatmate, like, ever.

Buoyed on by this success I decided I would really up my domestic goddess credentials by baking Choux Boy's parents some Scottish shortbread (well I'm Scottish, so they are Scottish alright) Christmas tree biscuits for last Christmas. I have to admit this was kind of spurred on by the thought of being outdone by Choux Boy himself, who had told me he was making my mother homemade chocolate truffles (in two varieties no less) for her Christmas. So the the challenge was well and truly set. Unfortunately my shortbread never did and after spending hours making dough, rolling dough, trying to work out why the dough had stuck to my kitchen table and cutting out perfect Chirstmas trees, they went in the oven looking perfect and Christmasy-y and came out looking, well splodged all over the baking tray in one big unset shorebread mess. So that was the end of that.
Until this weekend that is. Round two of impress Choux Boy's parents as they were coming round to see the new flat (first nerves) and for us to cook them dinner (second nerves). Choux Boy got in there first with his Lamb Cassoulet for mains so I was left with dessert. Rather liking figs, custard and a bit of a tart, and rather scarred for life off hot desserts by being force fed them at school dinners (the memory of eating vile rice pudding grain by grain as my friends all played outside still makes me shudder), chilled Figgy Custard Tart it was. Not too many baking ingredients to boot, I knew I was on to a winner.

Making the dough in the food processor caused a little early concern when the flour, butter, egg yolk, sugar and ground almond kept on breaking up into lots of little lumps, but some dedicated time with the wooden spoon and a drop or two of milk and we were set.
It's a lot more fragile than it looks in a big lump but hat gives it all its biscuity goodness.

The big ol' lump of dough ready to go in the fridge for a couple of hours

I could have used two people to do a bit of a lift and whisk the tart tin underneath with the rolled pasty, but Choux Boy was occupied making a mess with his skimming of the lamb fat, so I made do with some patching. 

The filling - sour cream, egg and honey

I slightly over cooked the edges of the pastry, and a bit of monitoring for a turn once it was all fillinged up and in the oven would've helped (it was slightly more golden, er, or brown on one side than the other) but it was as good as I imagined, a winner with Mackies (more Scottishness) ice cream and enough to serve five with a couple bits left over for the chefs tonight. Bring on more seasonal goodness!

Looking tarty!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Top tips for girls

So D&D have dropped their inclusive service charge. Good news or bad news for waitresses and waiters? Liberated diners? Better service? Well we’ll have to wait and see. But for the next time I dine out with friends I fear for my wallet. You see my mother put the fear of god of tipping in me growing up. To the point that I never leave a taxi now with out saying 'Keep the change', I spend most of a haircut stressing whether I should tip my hair washer and cutter and in what proportion and I’ve spent many a bikini wax squirming not over the pain but over the fact that I’ve just remember that I, again, don’t have any cash in my purse and won’t be able to tip her when I pay, again, by card. Are you supposed to tip your bikini waxer? Surely there must be tip-iquette on this?

Anyway, before I put you off your food (which is supposed to be what this is all about) back to my point. A lot of people don’t tip. And I think that’s wrong. And when that joint bill comes and everyone whacks down their share in an assortment of silver and pounds (I told you I am a lowly journo, none of my friends have any money either), there always seems to be well shy of an extra 10%, let alone the 12.5% all-inclusive sum. So what does my ‘no one call me a tight Scot’ self do? Make up the difference. Now, I’m not setting myself out as some sort of tipping saint but I think good service is all part of the joy of going to restaurants. What would going out to eat be without waiting staff? You might as well just go to a glorified Chinese Buffet King and be done. Can you imagine Gord at Claridge’s yelling, ‘Number 22 your Crispy pork belly with braised cheek and scallop is up, come and get it.’ No. You wouldn't want canteen culture to extend to restaurant culture so please, I beg of you, tip. Otherwise I might just feel guilty enough to do it for you.

Ooo part twooo: Ostrich

Moving on to the oo-travaganza round two and it was yet another new meat to our kitchen: ostrich. Now I’ve heard great things about this strange bird and it’s more and more in vogue in recent years, but still I had no idea what to expect: is it a bird, no it can’t fly, is it red meat, no it’s ostrich! And a riot of flavours to go along with it: bring it on! (My mother would be proud, once fussy eater reformed).
Serves 2
For the marinade:
Garlic clove crushed
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
½ preserved lemon, flesh only chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Pinch saffron threads
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

2 x 200g ostrich fillets
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
6 small parsnips
For the sauce:
125ml red wine
250ml chicken stock
75g pomegranate seeds
60g fresh raspberries
2tbsp Grenadine (we skipped this)
1 tbsp butter

Green pea and artichoke mash
(Fry ½ onion and 2 crushed garlic cloves in butter, add 250g green peas, 250g canned artichoke hearts. Cook for 10mins. Add 125ml coconut cream, simmer for 20 mins, season, blend)
Herbed sweet potato mash
(Boil 500kg cubed sweet potato. Fry 1 crushed garlic clove then add ½ tsp oregano, ½ tbsp thyme, ½ tbsp coriander, ½ tbsp tarrogan, cook til fragrant. Mix in sweet potato, add 150ml milk, simmer for 10, season then mash, mash, mash.)
Garlic potato mash – normal mash with lots of lovely roasted garlic. Remember its ok as long you both eat it. Nice and wiffy.
It’s probably easiest to make these three first and then re-heat a bit.

For the ostrich – mix marinade ingredients and let the ostrich soak it up for 2 hours or so.
Heat butter, brown sugar and lemon juice in saucepan, til melted and dissolved. Bursh over parsnips and pop them in the oven at 200 degrees for 30mins, brush regularly with butter and sugar.
Take ostrich out the marinade and heat marinade over high heat until sizzling, add the wine and stock and reduce. Lower heat to add your fruit and cook for 5 mins. Let it cool down a bit before giving it a whiz in the blender. Strain with a fine sieve into a new saucepan and reduce for a further 5 and then cover to keep warm.
Fry the ostrich to taste – we had ours beautifully rare and tender.

On the plate, here’s the tricky bit for the full fine service look, top with each of the mashes in turn, in flavour, white, orange, green and steady hand arrange parsnips around the stack. Pour sauce around the base and voila. It’s very moor-ish (sorry). ‘Specially that green mash…

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Ooo part one: Oysters

If you fancy a bit of ooo at home - Gordon's breaded and fried oysters are actually easier than you think, provided you have a bit of brute strength and an oyster knife.

Serves 2
For the oysters:
Dozen fresh oysters (5 each plus 2 for pre cooking slurping)
30g plain flour
1 large egg beaten
30g Japanese panko breadcrumbs (we just used normal stale bread whizzed in the food processor)
groundnut or vegetable oil for deep frying (we only had seasame oil which seemed to work just as well)

For the sauce gribiche: (this makes enough for 4 but it's so delicious make the extra, it keeps well in the fridge, we had the reast with lemon sole goujons the next night)
1 large egg
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
120 olive oil
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp fresh flat parsley

To make the sauce - boil the egg, shell and half and scoop out the yolk put in the food processor and add the mustard, white wine vinegar, capers and olive oil and whizz. Finely chop the white and chop the parsely and mix in.

For the oysters - hold flat in a thickly folded tea towel, push the oyster knife against the joint (bottom) of the oyster and wiggle about to break it (bit of force required here, Choux Boy was sweating). Onde you are through turn the oyster knife to open the shell. Scoop out the oyster flesh and put in a bowl.

Once you have opened and scoops all your oysters (and slurped one each to reward yourself for all your hard work) place the flour, egg, bread in three bowls. You want to dunk each oyster in flour, egg, breadcrumbs in that order and set aside ready for the pan.

Heat 3-4cm of oil in a small saucepan. Gordon says you know it is ready for the off when a piece of breadcrumb 'fizzes vigorously' when you drop it in. Deep fry your oysters in batches of 3 or 4, depending on how big your pan is. Gordon says for a few seconds each but ours look a bit longer, maybe our oil wasn't hot enough but the breadcrumb test was definitely fizzy. Basically you want the breadcrumbs to look crisp and a bit golden like cooked scampi.

When done place them on a place lined with kitchen towel to absorb at least a little of the unhealthy deep friedness (but it tastes so goooooood). When they are all done split between two plates with some sauce on the side and crack open that bottle of bubbles, as if you haven't already...

(courtesy of Gordon Ramsay's Cooking for Friends, cheers Gord!)

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Something kind of ooo...

So it was my birthday on Monday, which is always a great excuse for a bit of indulgence. Since me a Choux Boy moved into our flat together just a few weeks ago, he thought it a great opportunity to treat me to a flatmate-arriving-home-free romantic dinner for two on Saturday.

Flatmates or not, Choux Boy has always been a fan of the home cuisine rather than haute cuisine in a restaurant. Now in the beginning (aka our first Valentine's meal, date four) I thought this was because Valentines in a restaurant are always an awkward disaster, especially when you have timed the beginning of a relationship to unfortunately coincide with this smultz-fest. As the relationship went on I thought it was through thirftiness, then discovered his freakish inability to sit at a table after the last course has been taken away (bill, door, gone) and have laterly realised it is actually the real meaning of labour of love (aaah) as the poor boy spends at least 24 hours, many cross London trips for specialist ingredients and blood, sweat and tears (ok, I haven't seen the tears) preparing the masterpiece. I mean how long did it take me to call Roast and book a table for his birthday?

Anyway enough relationship chatter, on with the important stuff: the food. So it was supposed to be a surprise. But it is very hard to keep a surprise when it is a 24 hour epic, so short of banishment I was able to get some clues. "It involves oysters." Mmm I love oysters. "You can meet me at Borough Market for lunch after I've done my shopping." I see a lot of herbs.

And my oysters!!

Half a pint of strong but delicious perry from New Forest cider down, I was allowed to be in on the cheese choosing, and most importantly the sampling... we settled on a strong hard Grand Juru and the tangy soft Perail.

Then banishment again. I was under strict instructions not to return to the house until at least 6pm. With ETA on bubbles (what's a birthday without bubbles?) at 7.30pm.

Back at the flat it was a chance to sneak into the kitchen to see Choux Boy at work in his mess, and a chance to peak at the open cookbooks (I am rubbish with surprises).

Breaded and fried oysters with sauce gribiche courtesy of Gordon Ramsay's Cooking for Friends.

Followed by ostrich fillet with triple mash and caramalised parsnips from Modern Moroccan by Hassan M'Souli. Oysters and ostrich! Ooooo! This is not how we eat normally...

My camera skills deteriorated from here on in thanks to some deliciously fine bubbled Casa Coste Piane prosecco from Artisan and Vine and candlelight... However I couldn't help myself getting invovled in the kitchen. Oyster opening defintely requires a bit of kit buying as I won't like to have seen Choux Boy try with a kitchen knife. I think blood and tears would have been on the cards to go with the sweat. Oyster knife is essential (and only 8 quid from Selfridges).

I'll post the recipes - but the oysters tasted like a very intense bizarre scampi. But in a great way. It was an explosion of beautiful flavours in my mouth - having only had oysters raw before I was a revelation: oystery, salty, bready hotness with capery, lemony, eggy goodness. Yum. And I think, if it's possible, even better than slurping them raw.

The ostrich was marinated in all the herbs (recipe to come!) and then cooked rare to seal the flavour - artfully balanced on top with the green pea and artichoke, sweet potato and rosemary and potato multicoloured mashes in a pool of red sauce made with the juices, stock, pomegranate and raspberry. It might sound like a lot but the sweetness of the sauce brought out the flavour of the meat - and that green pea and artichoke mash, lets just say Choux Boy was eating the leftovers cold out a bowl the next morning. That good!

Scientists gasing about bubbles

We all know there is something about bubbles. From the pop, to the fizzy foam to the tingling sip; bubbles make any evening feel special. In a nod to decadence I have a little ritual for my Friday nights - one champagne flute, one mini bottle of cava (sadly the the lowly rung journalist's wage doesn't quiet stretch to champagne at this stage) and fizz, aaah, the weekend can begin. A glass of wine just doesn't cut it somehow. Well now some smart scientists have backed my theory.

Apparently it's the bubbles that make it taste so good - I knew it! I'll drink to that.

Welcome, tuck in!

So I guess you've realised I quite like food.

I like eating food, I like cooking food, I like talking about food, I like going to restaurants to eat food (although can't afford to do that as much as I'd like), I really like cutting recipes out of newspapers and magazines and slightly OCD filing them in plastic wallets in a well divided recipes folder.

I have far more recipes in there than I've ever got round to cooking so hopefully I can cook them with you. And eat with you. And maybe drink wine and eat in far off places with you. Quite a lot of the time I'll be eating in London. And too much of the time I'll be eating out a plastic lunchbox at my desk (aka The Box Project). But I'll try and make it interesting so tuck in!