Sunday, 31 January 2010

A food packed weekend

The vegetable stock is simmering on the stove, we've just inhaled lovely mushrooms cooked in butter and olive oil, on buttery toasted rye bread, I've flicked through the Observer Food Monthly mag and it's time to write a post. I haven't done so for far too long, mainly due to being sick and also hosting my second supper club on Friday night. I do love reflecting on a really great foodie weekend, so thought I'd just briefly sum it up here.

As I've said, Friday night was supper club (photos "before" and "during", above and below). With 6 of the 18 guests not eating meat, this one was a little challenging, but everyone who came was just so lovely and brought such excitement with them, I couldn't help but get wrapped up in the adrenalin. Think I've been on a high ever since and starting to experiment with new recipes for the next ones.
Saturday morning was brunch at Lantana in Soho. My sister (a barista in another life and complete coffee snob) has been searching London for a decent cup of coffee and Lantana has been on the hit list for a while. It's worth queueing just for the amazing coffee. I could be biased but I think Australians do brunch like no one else, and this cafe (owned by Melbournians) is no exception - gorgeous corn fritters, french toast with poached pears and pistachio mascarpone, a halloumi stack, and incredible toasted sour dough (with Vegemite or peanut butter of course). Service was a little hit and miss and it always worries me when waiters don't write down the order, but we couldn't fault the food.
Saturday night was a lovely, relaxed and intimate dinner at Can Be Bribed With Food's place. Carla and her house mate, Lesley, hold dinners periodically with friends of friends and maybe even their friends (if you ask nicely). Both gorgeous gals have Latin American origins and are passionate about educating Londoners about their food - I think they're doing a good job!

After settling in with Cusquena beers and empanaditas, we were served a gorgeous black bean soup with chorizo and jalapeno cheesy quesadilla - yum yum yum. The soup was gorgeous, dark and inky looking and I could have eaten a vat of it.
The whole menu was written in Spanish and sounded far more exotic than it will now sound when I translate it into English (I also completely forgot to take a photo of the menu, so I know Carla will be cringing at my inept description - this was not aided by our table being too busy enjoying ourselves to remember to also take photos until half way through eating). Our main course was beautifully cooked cod in coconut milk, spicy rice and fried plantains. So the photo is not great, and I didn't write down exactly what was with the fish, but I can definitely attest to it being lovely.

A pineapple upside down cake with rum cream was dessert - a cake Carla's mum made when she was little. Both the texture and taste were perfect. A lovely ending to a great meal, made better by the company and down to earth atmosphere created by our hosts.
Thanks Carla!

I have mentioned previously Farm Direct, which is a great little business delivering produce straight from farms out of London to the foodies of Islington. This week's Farm Direct newsletter announced that Robert of Farm Direct would be holding pheasant plucking lessons on Sunday. Fantastic!
Y and I met a friend for coffee and then headed to the little brick garage, opposite our favourite little French cafe, Le Peche Mignon (where we later went for olive oil and amaretti biscuits), for pheasant plucking. To be honest, we observed (and Y snapped away on her camera) another Islington resident and Farm Direct customer @midnight_cowboy pluck a pheasant, and then remove some decent sized breasts from some pigeons (which we both agreed looked scarily similar to those in Trafalgar Square - the pigeons, not the breasts).I wasn't sure if I'd get squeamish, but fascination took over and I was not fazed at all. I was surprised to find the throats of most of the birds stuffed full of corn, berries, grains - clearly they'd been disturbed mid-meal, and, as @midnight_cowboy surmised, were then too full of food to be quick enough to fly from the hunters!Such a brilliant idea to bring a little bit of the country to the city, and also a lovely way to meet some other like-minded locals. If you live in Islington you should definitely check it out (as well as all the other great produce Farm Direct have on offer). You pay 5 pounds and get to keep what you pluck.

Hope you've had a similarly food filled weekend.
Just one more thought - talk of pheasant plucking of course got the infamous pheasant plucking song stuck in my head. After some discussion on Twitter, I downloaded the song for a laugh. I've set out the words below (it's harder to sing than it looks!), but you really should download and have a listen.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's son
I'm only plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker comes.

Me husband is a keeper, he's a very busy man
I try to understand him and I help him all I can,
But sometimes in an evening I feel a trifle dim
All alone, I'm plucking pheasants, when I'd rather pluck with him.
I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mate
I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker's late !
I'm not good at plucking pheasants, at pheasant plucking I get stuck
Though some pheasants find it pleasant I'd rather pluck a duck.
Oh plucking geese is gorgeous, I can pluck a goose with ease
But pheasant plucking's torture because they haven't any grease.
I'm not a pheasant plucker, he has gone out on the tiles
He only plucked one pheasant and I'm sitting here with piles!

You have to pluck them fresh, if it’s fresh they’re not unpleasant,
I knew a man in Dunstable who could pluck a frozen pheasant.
They say the village constable had pheasant plucking sessions
With the vicar on a Sunday ‘tween the first and second lessons.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mum
I'm only plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker's come.

My good friend Godfrey is most adept, he's really got the knack
He likes to have a pheasant plucked before he hits the sack
I like to give a helping hand, I gather up the feathers,
It's really all our pheasant plucking keeps us pair together.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's friend
I'm only plucking pheasants as a means unto an end !
My husband's in the forest always banging with his gun
If he could hear me half the time I'm sure that he would run,
For there's fluff in all my crannies, there's feathers up my nose
And I'm itching in the kitchen from my head down to my toes.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's wife
And when we pluck together it's a pheasant plucking life!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A foodie tour through central western NSW - part 2

Last week I introduced a series of posts written by my Dad. They are about the best places to eat and to avoid in the area of central western New South Wales, where my parents have a farm in the Capertee Valley, "Snowgoose" (see my Dad above, in his olive "grove"). I'm posting the posts throughout January to celebrate my Dad's 60th birthday. The previous post covered Rylstone, and this post continues on to cover Mudgee.
As for the previous post, references to "Fifi" are to my gorgeous Mum, and "the boys, Oscar & Dugal" to my parents' favourites, their two miniature Schnauzers.
My Dad:
Mudgee is the administrative and cultural centre of a region originally famous for fine wool sheep and beef cattle. Vineyards, olive groves, horse studs, and regrettably the southern advance of Hunter Valley coal mines have diversified the enterprise mix in recent decades. Having successfully repelled the attempts of the shopping centre giants to tansform the townscape with their musak and multi storey car park malls, Mudgee retains its impressive colonial architecture and country friendliness. The traveler should not be deceived - behind the sleepy sandstone facades is a town poised to take off, reminiscent of Orange a decade ago.
First (virtually compulsory) stop is the Butcher Shop Café in the main street, Church Street, for a great coffee and a passable snack at the big table inside, or a small table on the footpath, where sturdy verandah posts provide secure tying up for the most active of canine companions. Don’t be put off by the blood on the barista’s hands- it’s not yours, and it doesn’t end up in your coffee. The authors of the 2010 Good Food Guide weren’t, and they should know.
Thus revived, it’s across the road to the shrine of rural sartorial elegance - Blowes, where every self respecting cowboy, cowgirl and wannabe from Goollooinboin to Merrimba Station comes to be kitted out. On the third Saturday of the month, the Farmers' Market a short walk away in the grounds of St Mary’s Church offers a wide range of fresh regional certified organic produce, much of it sold by the growers who produce it a food mile or two away. The huge and ancient river red gums of nearby Lawson Park provide the perfect place to devour the spoils of the market.
For a serious appetite, Mudgee has numerous offerings. The cost and inconvenience of kangaroo damage discourages the writer, and many other farming folk from venturing far afield on the roads after dusk. The downside of this however is that culinary opportunities are limited in ways not imposed on the culinary sleuth who travels by day. The writer regrets that his dining experiences in Mudgee are limited to daylight hours. If sufficient readers contribute sufficient funds to defray kangaroo damage, nocturnal culinary excursions may become possible.

(In his previous post, Dad raved about the offerings cooked by my Mum at their farm. Here's another example above)

Deeb’s Kitchen, located in the century old Eurunderee School House on the edge of town has been serving big flavoured traditional Lebanese delights to satisfied locals and travelers for a decade. As our boys Oscar (8) and Dugal (6) are not welcome there, the writer has not had the pleasure of tucking into Deeb’s signature dish of whole baked lamb marinated in cinnamon and garlic and stuffed with rice, nuts and spices, served with a red wine reduction, Oozie. Foodie, and sometime mentor to Fifi, Maeve O’Meara, says the dish “sings on the plate”. The Qantas in-flight magazine was similarly enthusiastic.

Set in a large timber cavern overlooking kegs and an even larger tasting area, and surrounded by more kegs, and the sweet moist aroma of cellar air, Wild Oats in the old Craigmoor Winery is sure to satisfy the traveler in search of something from the culinary eclecticism sometimes called “modern Australian” cuisine, or simply, and more accurately, simple food done well. The atmosphere is relaxed, unless a bus tour has landed, in which case the traveler should drive on. The menu is extensive, service good, and the food very agreeable. Two years later, three senior, and mildly critical members of the writer’s family still recall with salivation the ten hour cooked pork belly they savoured at Wild Oats. The boys were not welcome there either, but two hours of snoozing in the vehicle in the shade of a peppercorn tree did them no harm. Click here for more on Wild Oats and navigate carefully to the Wild Oats Restaurant page to avoid a tedious spiel about some sailing boat by the same name.

(the view from my parents' farm, Snowgoose, in the Capertee Valley)

An abiding favourite place for lunch when Fifi and the writer drive to Mudgee to shop is the High Valley Wine and Cheese Co, just past the racecourse on the northern edge of town. The boys are welcome here, and often not even required to be tied up. The sandstone and corrugated iron buildings, vine covered pergolas, manicured lawns and paved outdoor eating areas invite relaxed lunches of vegetable salads, interesting open sandwiches, cheese platters, frittatas and quiches, served with local wines by the glass. The service is excellent, and hospitable, perhaps because the owners are hands on. Toby’s Estate coffee, and baristas who do it justice are added attractions. The traveler seeking something to embody the memory of a Mudgee sojourn could do worse than browse the quirky and unusual fare on sale at the High Valley. The “posh brekkie with fresh sourdough, organic eggs and strong coffee” remains a yet to do for the Snowgoose crew, but the endorsement of the 2010 Good Food Guide means it is a matter of when, not whether.

(Fifi & Y enjoying another delicious lunch at Snowgoose farm)

Depending upon the day of the week, Eltons Brasserie offers breakfast, lunch or dinner. The authors of the 2010 Good Food Guide rated Eltons a respectable 12.5 out of 20. As the boys are not welcome, the writer has not eaten at Eltons, but friends who have are repeat customers.

Another yet to try restaurant for Fifi and the writer is the Wineglass Bar and Grill, located in the very traditional Cobb and Co Boutique Hotel in the centre of town. Rated 13.5 out of 20 by the authors of the 2010 Good Food Guide, the menu is contemporary, and made from seasonal regional produce. The local stock and station agents, whose word can generally be relied upon in this regard, report that the food is good, and there’s always plenty of it. The urban authors of the Guide consider it “hearty country staples”, which probably means pretty much the same thing. For the traveler, boutique accommodation at the Cobb and Co is potentially a bonus.

Five minutes past the racecourse on the way out of town lies the Blue Wren Winery and Restaurant, and its distinctive blue (naturally) colourbond buildings. Here the boys are welcome, as are travelers. The Wren is a handy fall-back for when other places are closed, or packed on some weekends in winter. Not bad, not great, the Blue Wren is a place where a reasonable meal can be enjoyed in pleasant surroundings. Enough said?

Thus fortified, as Willy Nelson recommends, it’s on the road again, the boys happily off loaded at Anne Underhill’s kennels just out of town. Hopefully, when lexeat diversifies, the boys will post a report on the cuisine there. For now though, in the Toby Keith tradition, let’s just stick to me, me, me.
The novice traveler may be tempted to detour via Sofala, an old gold mining town on the dribble of water that passes for the Turon River in those parts. This the less inexperienced would never do. In the unlikely event of imminent starvation, the café at the museum which sits looking down on the town could be resorted to for a passable pie and vegetable collation, or a mug of thick soup with even thicker bread, although the BMW wagons with rows of mini-seats children which often litter the carpark suggest that children’s feeding time should be avoided. The setting is pretty much straight out of a Jack London novel, lots of knotty timber, woodfire smoke and low ceilings, without the snow and howling of wolves in the hills above, probably evocative for those who have never before traveled beyond the shadow of Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower.

Click here to check out posts on dining in Dubbo, Orange and the Blue Mountains.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Happy Birthday Dad (the born again foodie)

My Dad is a born again foodie. He spent most of his adult life convincing himself that he loved burnt steaks and would insist on throwing his T-bone on the barbie 15 minutes before everyone else's. One day, only 2 or 3 years ago, he accidentally undercooked his steak and realised he loved medium rare meat!
My Dad's first cooking attempts started about 3-4 years ago. His first dish - prawn risotto. The instructions said, heat a saucepan and warm the olive oil. My Dad (an otherwise very intelligent man) put the saucepan on the stove top to heat up, meanwhile he warmed up the olive oil in the microwave.
Since then both his cooking and interest in food have blossomed and the last time I was in Sydney I came home to this: "Hi Lex - ok, just pan frying the Barramundi fillets and toasting some pine nuts for a lovely goats cheese & roast beetroot salad I've prepared. What's your opinion on the balsamic dressing though?" Ummm, am I in the wrong house? and since when does Mum leave you completely alone in her kitchen?
My Dad has always loved the land and has owned a farm for most of the time I've known him. His interest in organic farming has grown, much at the same time and rate as his interest in food. He is now the perfect foodie companion who loves to cook and eat, and is concerned and interested in where produce comes from. When I go home to Sydney now, I love spending time with my parents going to food markets, trying out new restaurants/cafes, cooking different recipes at home. We plan all foodie events before I arrive and no occasion for eating goes wasted. This has always been a shared love with my Mum and I, so I'm thrilled that now my Dad is part of the gang (although my Mum has remarked that cooking is meant to be "her" thing and how dare he impose on her area of expertise).
I tell you all this, not only to share my adoration for my wonderful father, but because it's his birthday in January. He turns 60 on Thursday 28 January. When I started this blog, my Dad was keen to contribute (he thinks we share the same writing style and we definitely share the same odd sense of humour [although most likely don't share it with anyone else] - however I know that Mon Pere's writing is far superior to mine).
My parents own a farm about 3 hours from Sydney, in the beautiful Capertee Valley. It is their little retreat where they have some cattle, grow olives and spend lots of time cooking and eating (my mum has barely put away the espresso machine from breakfast before she's starting on the scones for morning tea - see photo below of us eating scones in the cattle yards). The farm, "Snowgoose", is in central western New South Wales and is accessed from Sydney through the Blue Mountains. I therefore asked my Dad whether he'd like to write a guest blog for me on the good places to eat in the area and en route to the central west from Sydney. A few weeks later a 9 page, single spaced typed document arrived in my inbox. I decided to post my Dad's series of guest posts throughout January in commemoration of his birthday.
Please have a read and make a comment. And if you ever make it to Sydney (or for Sydney-siders, take a mini-break in the country), do take my Dad's advice. He knows what he's talking about (plus he's not really allowed to go places not approved by my Mum).
Happy birthday Mon Pere - thanks for these posts. Have a great birthday on Thursday (Soph has a super present from us to give you which relates to your 3 great loves I've mentioned here - farming, food and Mum) and I can't wait to continue our foodie explorations in London, North England & France later in the year!
Al xx
I'll now pass over to my Dad, Ian Coleman. My occasional additions/clarifications are in square brackets. References to "Fifi" are my Mum, and "the boys, Oscar & Dugal" (who are referred to more frequently and with far more affection than any of my parents' actual human children) are two miniature schnauzers:
Central Western New South Wales Supplement to Lexeat
When the writer volunteered to undertake this task earlier in the year, it seemed a good excuse for gastronomic excess, if only of slight potential interest to devotees of Lexeat, and particularly those suffering in self imposed exile in a land from which the astute fled to invade this country two centuries ago. Sadly, the green shoots which this assignment spawned have produced little by way of harvestable crops. Fortunately, where the seeds of the idea have thrived, the result has been worth the effort.
Before beginning, a warning to the reader is perhaps advisable. In the past, and for no adequate reason, the writer has been accused of “talking things up” to levels of excellence which they are alleged to dismally fail to achieve. With that caveat in mind, the reader may prefer to “scale down” the writer’s judgments of eating establishments. Where rapturous accolades are bestowed upon an establishment, a judgment of “passably good” might be adopted. Any establishment receiving no more than modest praise should probably be avoided unless starvation is considered beyond reasonable doubt to be the only alternative.
Although able to be experienced by only a fortunate few, the apex of culinary excellence in the region is to be found at Snowgoose homestead, near Glen Alice, in the world’s second largest enclosed canyon: the Capertee Valley (above). Against the backdrop of the towering sandstone cliffs of the valley, chef Fifi produces provocative entrees, extravagant mains, with cheeky sides, and lavish desserts which reflect the diversity and intensity of the environment. Using fresh seasonal produce, organic meats and chemical free ingredients, Fifi’s offerings excite the palates of her fortunate favoured guests, whether it is 2 degrees outside and the sleet horizontal, or 40 with not a lizard stirring. When the fortunate traveller’s sojourn comes to its all too swift finale, and the bitumen is regained, a difficult decision must be made: to follow the heart, or follow the stomach.
(Fifi/Mum with another delicious lunch at the farm)
Having followed the heart in the belief that Fifi’s table is but the first of many happy diversions on the culinary conquest of the central west, the pilgrim is soon in Rylstone, a deceptive town which promises much, but sadly delivers little to excite the discerning human palate. It was not always thus. For several years, the Rylstone Food Store served great five course set menu meals featuring fresh, local seasonal fare at communal tables. Free coffee and no corkage added to the value. Diners ate what they were offered, served themselves, sat where they were placed, and booked weeks ahead to get in. Then, according to local legend, a farmer did the unthinkable and loaded his plate with almost half the food allocated to his table of four, two of whom were unknown to him. Whilst the writer cannot imagine a farmer doing such a thing, the following week, the restaurant closed, and never re-opened. Shortly thereafter, the Bridgeview Bakery, operated in the same interests, also closed its doors. Kim Currie, the inspirational originator of both establishments, took herself, and her inspiration to Orange and never returned. Rylstone has not been the same since. The writer never passes the Food Store premises without thinking of that poor farmer, and how harshly rumour has treated him. [Lex: Actually Dad, there was 5 of us - b/c it was Mum and I blushing with embarrassment at the actions of our "farmer" dining companion]
The plane trees which bisect the main street of Rylstone, abundance of well preserved sandstone buildings from the early 19th century, and unmistakably solid feel of this essentially affluent rural centre imply that good food and drink are a given. The corrugated iron walls, rough sawn timber beams, old wool bale stencils and generous garden of the Globe Hotel cannot compensate for an uninviting menu which appears to have been set around the time refrigeration was invented, and followed with unfailing fidelity ever since. To call it “pub food” would be to insult those pubs which actually do produce tolerable to good simple meals. In its defence, the Globe does bury its offerings under a mountain of limp lettuce leaves, grated carrot, tinned beetroot, sliced tomato and thick potato chips. Only on leaving will the unwary remember that the diners were mostly miners in orange fluorescent vests and grimy overalls, intelligence that should be stored away for future encounters. Sprinkled along the main street are half a dozen cafes, mostly run by pleasant locals who can no longer shear, or fence, much less turn out a decent espresso. Behind respectable sandstone facades lurk amateurs falsely pretending to offer quality sustenance for the unsuspecting out of towner. These establishments are to be avoided, unless paying good money out of sympathy for its maker, for something to be thrown away or poured out provides some perverse form of fulfilment.
There is however Bizzy Bird’s Cafe, on the corner opposite the now re-opened Rylstone Hotel, just up from the showground. Part of its appeal is that it does not pretend to be what it is not. Satisfying light meals, hearty soups, a good fire in winter, local organic produce and oils, and coffee usually worth the 30 kilometre drive make Bizzy Bird’s Café the place to eat in Rylstone- at least during daylight hours. Bizzy Bird’s snuck quietly into the 2010 Good Food Guide, whose authors embraced its home-baked bread and butter puddings, banana and walnut cakes, and carrot cake with yoghurt icing. After dark, traveler and stomach are on their own, and off to Mudgee, about 60 kilometres to the north west.
Click here to check out the Mudgee post, and posts on Dubbo & Orange.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Lighten Up!

Healthy eating at the start of January. It's cliched, yes. But when have I ever been original? Our meals this week and those planned for next week are simple, back to basics and healthy. Kind on the wallet and the hips.
I do feel good when I'm eating super healthy food, but it has to taste good too - there is absolutely no compromise on flavour. I've been cooking this week from Jill Dupleix's book "Lighten Up" which my brother in law gave me a few years ago (if I hadn't told him I wanted it, I would have almost been offended). If I'm going to eat well, then I'd rather follow healthy recipes written by a foodie, not a nutritionist who thinks juiced carrot is the best thing since sliced gluten free bread, so Jill Dupleix (Australia food writer living in London - check out her website for more recipes
) fit the bill.
I really enjoy reading this book, but more fun is of course making and eating the delicious food. Previously I've made salmon, orange & chickpea salad (actually we're having that again on Sunday night), spiced yoghurt chicken, aubergine curry with ginger and chilli, Thai beef with lemongrass, braised oxtail with ginger and chilli, and harissa beef with couscous. This is really the food I've always eaten in Australia, so to me, the food in here is not really "a healthy new way to cook" (my emphasis) as the book's cover claims, but that doesn't stop all the recipes from being scrumptious.
Last Sunday we had nutty quinoa with greens. I've cooked with quinoa several times before (to go with roast beef, quinoa with butternut squash, haricot beans and seeds, and linseed & quinoa porridge) and I really love it. Here's Jill's recipe:
serves 4
400g quinoa
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
100g baby spinach
2T pistachios or hazelnuts (I used pistachios and my toasted mix of hazelnuts, pumpkin & sunflower seeds)
2T sultanas/currants
3T mint leaves, torn
3T parsley leaves
2T extra virgin olive oil
1T lemon juice
1t ground cumin
1t fennel seeds
sea salt & pepper
I also fried off some lardons I had in the fridge.
Wash the quinoa, drain and tip into a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Once boiled, let simmer for 10 minutes or until tender - it's kind of like cooking couscous - the grains will all fluff up. Drain.
I then added to my frying pan with the lardons, the quinoa, tomatoes, spinach, pistachios, sultanas, mint and parsley.
Make a dressing (either by whisking or shaking in a jar) with the olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and fennel seeds and season. Add this to the quinoa salad. Serve!
Thursday night was kheema with peas which my notes in the cook book told me we'd had twice before, so it must have been good!
serves 4
2T vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1T grated fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1t ground coriander
1/2t dried chilli flakes (or a couple of dried chillies chopped up in my case)
1t turmeric
750g lean minced lamb or beef (I used lamb)
2T tomato puree/paste
250ml stock/water
sea salt & pepper
200g frozen peas
1-2t garam masala (I seem to have run out so didn't include)
3T chopped coriander leaves
Jill suggests (and I've done this in the past) serving with a dollop of natural yoghurt. As I didn't have any this time, I added just a dash (maybe 2T) of coconut milk at the end, which worked really well.
Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the onions until lightly golden. Add ginger, garlic and spices and cook for a minute or two before adding the meat. Cook the meat until browned.
Add tomato puree, stock, salt & pepper. Cook gently for 20 minutes (or if it's a week night and you're starving, maybe only 10min ... but you didn't hear that from me).
Add the peas and simmer for a few minutes longer. Add garam masala to taste and serve with coriander leaves.
We just eat ours like this, without any carbs, but Jill suggests the addition of rice or lentils - I think either would be nice (especially brown rice) stirred through the kheema.
Last night we devoured tuna souvlaki with tahini and parsley which was fantastic.
serves 4
2 ripe tomatoes chopped (or the leftover cherry tomatoes from the quinoa, quartered)
2T parsley
2 spring onions, finely sliced
4 thick tuna steaks
1T olive oil
s & p
1t dried mint
4 pita breads (I prefer the wholemeal ones)
tahini sauce (I advise deliberately making too much so there will be leftovers):
2T tahini
2T lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3T natural/Greek yoghurt
If using wooden skewers, soak first. I used metal ones as you can see. Cut the tuna into generous bite sized chunks and thread onto the skewers. Drizzle with olive oil, s & p, and sprinkle with the dried mint.
Mix the ingredients for the sauce together, add a little water and shake up. You can add more water to get a smooth runnier consistency.
Toss tomatoes, parsley and spring onions together.
On a hot grill quickly grill the pita bread (I just popped mine in the oven while the tuna cooked). Then grill the tuna for 2 minutes each side (I did mine for less, so just watch the tuna and play by ear).
To serve, smother delicious tahini sauce all over pita bread, top with tomato salad and then the skewers of tuna. The flavour and texture combo is fab!

Friday, 1 January 2010

3 great reasons to leave our own backyard

In December we've left our beloved Islington to explore what foodie delights other parts of London have to offer. Enduring long tube trips and strange buses has been rewarded on each occasion.

Sheen Suppers
One such outing was in the first week of December when, on the recommendation of several other bloggers, we went to secret supper club Sheen Suppers. It's in Sheen. I'd never heard of Sheen, but to Sheen we went. I have to say, travelling there from North London was not as difficult as you'd think, so don't let the location turn you off.
We arrived at the front door of a lovely looking terrace in a suburban street, not far back from a posh looking high street, and were warmly greeted by Iain and after a few nervous jokes about whether we'd turned up for the swingers night we were shown to our table. I am not going to go in to great detail about our night at Sheen Suppers - several others have taken great photos and written high praise, and I don't disagree with anything that's been said. To read more about Lara and Iain's supper club and to see some great photos, check out these blog posts:
London Eater, Essex Eating, Food Urchin.
It was Indian night when we were there and we enjoyed a starter of lamb Seekh
Kebab, Aloo Ki Tikki, mango chutney and mint yoghurt, a main of chicken Chettinad, vegetable Biriyani, dahl Makhani and garlic naan (I was so impressed to discover that Lara had made the naan herself - it was so good she could have just brought out a plate of naan bread and I'd have been happy), a palette cleansing sweet chai sorbet with (Iain's creation) lime gimlet, and then what is now my favourite carrot dessert of all time (stiff competition for that title), carrot Halwa with nuts, cardamon and cream. All the food was exceptionally good, with special mentions going to the lamb sheek kebab, the dahl, chicken chettinad, the carrot halwa, and did I mention the naan?
I loved this supper club. The atmosphere was great, Iain was an extremely generous sommelier and all round nice guy. Lara and Iain have decorated their lovely house in a really personal way which I thought fabulous. I was thrilled that Lara came around to all the tables for a chat, and I seethed with jealousy upon discovering her beautiful pink kitchen. I admire Lara for indulging her passion for food so fully and so successfully.
Get yourself to Sheen - it's well worth the trip.
Harwood Arms

My friends who live in Fulham are in Australia for a month and have asked me to check on their house and cars a couple of times. This is a 2 hour round trip on the tube for me, so I had to make it worth my while! Y's cousin Erenie suggested we meet at the Harwood Arms in Fulham for dinner. I vaguely recalled it being recommended and was happy that at least we'd get a decent pub meal in return for trekking to Fulham in the rain. During the day Erenie emailed to say she'd been able to secure an 8.30pm table, but only because someone had cancelled - can other people be going to this Harwood Arms place as well? Just before we ran out the door I tweeted my dinner destination and was met immediately with these two responses:

tehbus: SUPER SUPER JEALOUS (don't like using caps, but I think this tweet deserves it)

sulineats: Most excellent - can't wait for your report - it's on my to-eat list.
Huh, perhaps I should take the camera? Maybe this might be worth mentioning on the blog? My excitement level increased somewhat and I was actually looking forward to the Fulham pilgrimage. (I did take iphone photos but it was rather dim and the photos not worthy)
Y & I stumbled from the rain into an oasis of warmth and cosiness on a seemingly suburban Fulham street. We were greeted instantly by a smiling face, proffering a paper serviette for Y to remove the rain drops from her glasses! We had been going to meet an hour early for a drink, however our table was ready and we were shown straight to it. Pottery jugs of water and a little hessian sack of warm bread arrived at our table shortly after. Whilst we were waiting for Erenie the heavenly aroma of the bread was too much and we had to devour some. How do they get the bread to taste this good?! The dark rye bread in particular was astonishingly good. I was sold - I love this place!
We perused the menu with excitement. Y had been on the website reading about how the deers are humanely hunted and explained the procedure to Erenie and I as we considered the merits of pheasant Kiev versus rainbow trout.
As a starter the 3 of us shared the ham hock and crispy pigs ear on toast with bitter leaves and picalilli - um, delicious! The ham hock in particular was beautiful.
Our mains arrived and I just enjoyed the amazing smell for a few seconds before tucking in. I had beef cheeks braised in ale with smoked bacon, clotted cream mash and roast carrots - the beef fell apart with the prod of a fork. The meat was beautiful with a hint of gelatinous goodness - seriously good stuff. Y had the special which was T-Bone of Linkenholt Estate fallow deer with black cabbage, crispy potatoes and wild mushrooms - perfectly cooked and another really impressive meal. As good as our meals were, Erenie may actually have trumped us with the slow braised shoulder of English mutton with purple sprouting broccoli, white onion and caper berries. Not a complaint from anyone.

We were rather satiated, but if a menu says "Bowl of warm Bramley apple donuts with whipped cream" and the waitress tells you they're so good she eats them for breakfast, you can't go back to Islington without trying them, can you? You don't need me to tell you they were good. But they were good.
Lovely atmosphere, excellent and very friendly service, top quality food. Another destination worthy of the trip!
Launceston Place
I'm never a big fan of New Year's Eve and normally proceed on the basis that the more low key the more fun I have. Y & I therefore decided upon dinner and then off to dance the night away with her favourite DJ at Madame JoJo's. When we discovered one table left at the 6.30pm sitting at Launceston Place in Kensington we snapped it up. I was super excited - I'd read so much about the restaurant (see reviews here from fellow bloggers Gourmet Chick and A Forkful of Spaghetti - their photos are far better than mine so do take a look) and its head chef Tristan Welch (formerly of the 2 Michelin Starred Petrus, where I'd been to the chef's table shortly after the split between Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay) and of course professional Master Chef winner, Steve Groves. The restaurant has won many accolades of late - click here for more details.

What an incredible experience. A beautiful, warm, subdued setting with gorgeous charcoal walls, soft furnishings and cool art work. We were greeted warmly and the night only got better from there.

There was a considerable number of wait staff of different ranks, however, the contrast to the over the top pretentious service we experienced at La Gavroche could not be greater. Australian food writer Jill Dupleix says in one of her books "I love that mix of being serious about the food and casual about everything else". This to me sums up Launceston Place, because the food was exceptionally good, the staff extremely competent but relaxed, friendly, happy to engage - fancy that! What also struck me was the loyalty of the wait staff to Head Chef Tristan Welch. On more than one occasion he was referred to as "my chef" - "my chef made these himself", "this is a little something from my chef" - I got the feeling the waiters were proud to work there and to be serving such beautiful food - and why wouldn't they?

Upon arrival we were met with a gorgeous flute of pink champagne, parsnip crisps (wrapped in Launceston Place ribbon) and bread (not as good as the Hardwood Arms bread I have to say).
The New Years Eve menu was a set 4 courses. Firstly we were brought an amuse bouche of cold and hot leek soup in a small shot glass - the bottom layer pale hot soup, the top a cold verdant foam of soup. Off to a stellar start!
Our first course was the largest scallops I've ever seen! West coast scallops roasted with aromatic herbs in their shell. A delight to eat!
Next up, possibly one of the most decadent, luscious things I've ever eaten. Presented in a duck shell in a silver egg cup, was black truffle and duck egg risotto. I imagine that life in heaven is simply lolling about eating this. Every waiter that walked past Y demanded "have you tried this?" - "YES" was the smug reply, accompanied by a knowing nod.
Our main was a choice between partridge cooked in whisky and heather, oats or salt marsh lamb, sea beets, crackling and salt baked potatoes. Just before leaving the house earlier that evening Gourmet Chick had tweeted "the salt marsh lamb was a winner" - I didn't even consult Y, I was having the lamb.
I love lamb and have eaten delicious lamb before, but this was like a whole other species of lamb. Beautifully cooked to a perfect pale pink but not bloody at all. The crackling is best described as the texture of amazing pork belly combined with flavour of roast lamb. The salt baked potatoes came to the table in a little bag with salt and were cut open by the waiter. An incredible incredible dish.
Y's partridge was just as good. The plate had a line of crushed oats across it which provided an unusual but successful texture contrast. This dish was very pretty and, again, delicious.
What I liked about our main courses was that the dishes were not fussy. They simply relied on incredibly good ingredients, inspired ideas and skillful cooking.
Our amazing dessert was a scallop shell of warm dark chocolate truffle with a very salty almond sorbet. This was a genius combination. The chocolate almost sickeningly rich, but when paired with the sorbet (which could only be described as a cold splash of almondy sea water) this dessert just worked.
We enjoyed our double espressos but were too full to even taste the shards of dark chocolate with pistachios.
As we left the people for the 9pm sitting were gathering. One lovely couple caught my eye and said excitedly "What's it like? What did you eat?", I of course gushed and started to tell them about the leek soup but stopped "I don't want to spoil it for you! Enjoy! Happy New Year!". There was definitely a vibe of excitement amongst the diners, which I loved.
I can't wait to go back. This is a truly brilliant restaurant, with the perfect balance of competency and familiarity in the service and exquisite food.

As we left a little parcel was thrust into our hand "Tristan Welch has personally created these chocolates for your enjoyment". Aw bless.