Archive for the 'eye on food' Category

Lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons

My wife and I didn’t have a wedding list, we were just happy that people came and had a good time. However, lots of people chose to buy us something which was very kind. The upshot was that we got things we wouldn’t have even thought of asking for.

Lunch at le Manoir

Such as the  generous gift from Susannah and Guy who gave us a voucher for lunch at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons when we tied the knot way back in March. And so last Friday we found ourselves walking up the garden path for lunch in Raymond Blanc’s fabulously appointed country hotel.  The weather was a touch inclement but the home fires were burning bright inside as we sat down in the lounge with the menus and a glass of champagne.

Lunch at le Manoir

After we’d selected our food and blown the top of the fizz a small slate arrived with six Hors d’œuvres: Tartar of salmon on a shard of crunchy bread, tiny arancini, fondant something or other, a little beef tart, goats’ cheese wrapped in jelly with a dash of mint (this is the one on the spoon), and two anchovy fillets so tiny the chef must have filleted them with a microscope came on crunch shard of bread with drip of pesto.

Each of these limbered up our taste buds like Beckham’s touchline warm up in the 65th minute of an England game. And now ready for action we moved through into the dining room. We were sat in the conservatory, which given that we were eating early and the weather outside miserable lacked a little atmosphere, however is soon warmed up as more diners and guests arrived. The sommelier recommend an American Pinot Noir which was light in the mouth and just the sort of thing I like.

Lunch at le Manoir

A amuse bouche of mackerel with chorizo and a slice of new potato came first, which was very enjoyable, though the cake fork that came with it wasn’t quite up to the task of cutting the fish, so I dove in with my butter knife. This had already been put to use like a bricklayers trowel slathering various breads with some lovely butter, chief amongst them bacon bread, studded throughout with lardons.

Lunch at le Manoir

Starters proper duly arrived, pumpkin risotto with chestnuts and crispy bacon for me, and smooth duck liver parfait with a ‘crumble’ top for Kate. The risotto was creamy and unctuous, some seeds – were they from the same pumpkin? – came too which gave firmer bite. Saltiness was provided by some crisp ham. Kate’s parfait came in a shallow dish topped with tiny cubes of fried bread, and a salad of minted apples slices and leaves.

Lunch at le Manoir

Lunch at le Manoir

Mains were cod with squid, chicory and butternut squash for Kate and chicken with mash, bacon and garden vegetables. The cod dish won this round, with the squid was beautifully presented and cooked.  My chicken dish suffered only from the fact that we’re all over familiar with chicken nowadays. It was however a master class in meat and two veg, with the breast juicy and the mash smooth.  The thigh had been given some 2 star treatment by being boned out, stuffed, rolled and roasted. And as you’d expect the gravy was lovely. It was Sunday lunch essentially, a very good one.

Lunch at le Manoir

But zoot alores what’s this? The optional cheese course was offered in the French way before pudding and I took full advantage. Seconds later our waitress backed into view a cheese trolly so large I’m surprised it didn’t go ‘beep-boop! Warning cheese trolly reversing’ as she did so, it was huge. On top was a broad selection, and I duly went for the stronger ones; eposse, a blue one, a goat’s, I didn’t catch all the names.

Lunch at le Manoir

They were all French bar one or two from the UK and an Italian gorgonzola and here I feel I must reproach Monsieur Blanc. Unlike say, wine, surely with cheese Britain can at least compete – even beat – the French nowadays non? There are some lovely examples of immortalised milk available in the UK, Please Raymond, you’re cheese trolly has the room, a section of the UK’s finest would be a worthy addition.

Lunch at le Manoir Lunch at le Manoir

Puds were caramelised pear feuillete and chocolate tart with coffee bean ice-cream. Now the French know a think or two about pears, England we do apples, but pears like it a touch warmer. These came in a wonderful ginger sauce, with a quenelle of pear sorbet and slice of dried pear. The chocolate dish was devine, balancing bitter with sweet, and a good kick from the ice cream.

Lunch at le Manoir

The main business of the day taken care of we decanted once more to the lounge like people coming out of surgery into the recovery room. Here came some lovely petit fours and two coffees to sharpen me up for the drive home in the rain.  A token attempt to ‘walk it off’ was made as we had a nose round the veg patch. Here was Richard Edwards ‘valley au championions’, though I couldn’t find a single fungus there. Maybe they’d all been picked?

Lunch at le Manoir

Blanc’s just celebrated his 25th Year at la Manoir, that’s a long time in this business, and needless to say it is a very smooth and refined operation. Yet despite the history it remains a rather accessible and easy going experience. This was a very fine lunch, and I hope to return again, next time in better weather hopefully.

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Finding supporting content doesn’t get taffa than this!

Having just watched the Masterchef  final where Mssrs Wallace and Torode crowned (though with that trophy branded might be more appropriate) family man and Beaminster resident Mat Follas the winner, I headed over to the beeb site for more post TV buzz/come down.  The BBC homepage had nothing, ditto the /two page, the /food page is as quiet as the grave and /masterchef redirects to one of those SSI API cobbled together programme pages. Sadly I knew this would probably be the case. It’s a shame because this is the grand final of the series, a series which w/e 15th February was the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th most watched programme on BBC Two according to BARB, and last night got 4.7 million viewers, Not too shabby then.

Meanwhile over at the Guardian WoM page it was all kicking off with live blogging by Anna P and over three pages of comments, jokes and observations. There’s even Masterchef bingo cards. After the show The Mail had a story up, as did the METRO. The wikipedia page was updated at 9:16pm and even Thisisnorthdevon.co.uk updated it’s page about local boy Andy Oliver loosing for Gods sake! Yet the beeb had nothing to see. 

There’s two things to consider here. The Guardian has, of late, done a nice line in articles, blogging, and commenting on mainstream TV shows. It’s been quietly hoovering up small pockets of interested folk and no doubt keeping some of them along the way.  It’s been doing this for Channel 4 TV shows too. Emily Bell must be thrilled. Secondly, despite the BBC (and others) banging on about connecting with viewers interests and wanting to ‘own the watercooler chat’ moment, they’re not, because The Big G (and bloggers) are doing it very very well indeed.

It’s the same thing with University Challenge Final on Monday.  All the hullaballoo about Gail Trimble et al, the BBC could have had those eyeballs, comments and page impressions (and love her/loathe her debate).  ‘Course in my day the argument was ‘we don’t have the tools’, well that’s not true anymore, the Beeb’s actually got it’s blogging kit in place. I know budgets are finite but still. These things are pre-recorded just as a drama is, it must be possible to create some content around them? A ‘tonight’s TV page’ perhaps? I think someone’s missing a trick, and more importantly audience, and it’s not the Guardian. 

Is it time to reboot the restaurant critique?

 

Let’s see if you’re Saturday morning resembles this… You’re low on milk, so play thumb war to see who goes to the corner shop where the loser also gets the Guardian. Upon returning you play a sort of gin rummy with each of the sections, holding in your ‘hand’ the Travel, Guide and Magazine, and pretending to read all three. You’ve got to be quick with the later though as its in demand. You glance at Hugh’s recipes and skim read Norman’s restaurant review. You ignore the gardening section; see if you’ve actually been to the place in Let’s Move To… before casting the whole lot back onto the table and finishing your coffee. With newspapers and breakfast thus consumed, the day begins. 

But let’s stop and look at one of those things for a minute – the restaurant review. In my recent visits to Belle House and Bell’s Diner, as well as Iberico world tapas last year, I got to see first hand the effect and aftermath one of Norman’s reviews can have and it started me thinking about the whole ‘critic review’ genre.

Let me make it clear I have not eaten a normal meal in any of those establishments, simply interviewed and filmed the chef or owners. But I want to look at the content of the restaurant review as well as its structure. Finally I’m not deliberately singling Norman out in this, I use him merely as an example of the genre with my thoughts applying to all, however I do believe there are some issues which are Guardian, rather than Norman specific.

1. One man’s meat… To begin then, what is the purpose of a restaurant critic? Jay Rayner gives a good account of the profession in this recent article “Our job is not to sell restaurants, it is to sell newspapers. By which I mean, we are not employed because, necessarily, we know the most about food or restaurants – though we do know a lot – but because we can write about it in an entertaining manner which will keep people reading.”

This post by Jeremy Iggers goes into some depth about why the profession might be on the skids. Of particular note is point two “nowadays the public is much more knowledgeable about food, and much more skeptical about what they read in newspapers.” How very true, and so if we’re all clued up on cuisine, at least those of us that care enough to read a review anyway, what else is left but the opportunity for the writer to wax lyrical on everything else but the food?

2. One of everything please. Can any review ever claim to be extensive? Menus change, ingredients change, and unless the critic goes in with a large group of friends it’s not possible to cover every dish on the menu surely. What if the one they didn’t order was totally brilliant?  The critic’s answer to this is ‘well I’m just an ordinary person and this is the experience that they would have’ only I don’t think that holds water. A critic is going in heavily tooled up with knowledge and comparisons. A punter is going in for an entirely other reason, be that a date, anniversary or meeting.

3. A picture paints a thousand words… unless it’s a restaurant review. The accompanying image is always, always, a deserted shot of the establishment, with maybe a blurry waiter crossing the floor. It’s tell you bugger all about the food, and not much more about the venue. As some one who knows a thing or two about photography I can tell you this style of image is a bland unstimulating space filler, it is pictorial polenta without even the butter or parmesan cheese. Often the lens isn’t wide enough to get more than a table in, and let’s face it, most tables are the same; flat, wooden, with cutlery and empty wine glasses on top.  Yawn. Here’s some lovely examples of what I mean from a selection of papers.

 

 

Very occasionally there’s a shot of the chef, or the kitchen, or the exterior, but that’s only if the review has been kind (as in this round up). Compare this to someone like Chris from Cheese and biscuits who photographs what’s put in front of him. Sure they’re dark and a bit blurry because, mindful of his dining companions he probably doesn’t want the flash going off – very considerate. Even a dark poorly lit image like this communicates so much more than the burred waiter generic.

4. The prose. Restaurant magazine used to have a wonderful statto analysis of each of the big reviewers broken down into the following sections. ‘themselves’, ‘the food’ and ‘random waffle’. I think AA Gill always carried the least about the food and the most waffle. Then there’s the tone, the tenuous analogies, the bad jokes, the Ronnie Corbett-in-that-chair-style waffle that takes up three paragraphs. And when it’s not that it’s gushing praise, after all just how long can you keep saying nice things without it becoming dull, when it’s far easier to vent spleen.

5. The right of reply. The Guardian, unlike the Times and the Standard doesn’t enabled comments on the online versions of Norman’s reviews, this is utter madness, especially when nearly every post on Word of Mouth ends on a question practically begging readers to add a comment. What’s more the restaurant owners have little in the way of comeback publically, they are unable to take up specific points address in the piece by Norman. Often the local papers pick up on it and spin it as and ‘anti fancy London opinions’ piece. In the case of Belle House they received calls of support from the local community.

6. Here comes the technology!  I’ve already mentioned Chris, but there’s many other food bloggers like him (including me). When I spoke to David Waddington, one half of the partnership behind Flash at the Royal Academy. I came away with a sense that restaurant owners feel that bloggers are like foodie insurgents – they’re dangourous and they blend in with the civilians. In times past there were the ‘rules of engagement’. Front of house staff knew who to look out for, their names, photos and even mobile numbers were kept to hand and woe betide a waiter who didn’t clock them and tip off the kitchen sharpish.

Now we’re all at it there’s no fawning over critics, a situation Marina O’Loughlin witnessed when behind her cloak of secrecy. So does that then, make for a better review?  Add to this the aggregator services like Top Table and London Eating and it seems there’s plenty of other opinions and voices out there to listen to. What’s more although food blogger talk about restaurants, they also cover other subjects, painting a much richer picture.

7. It’s all about Location, location, location… as long as it’s in London. I’ve done some tabulating of my own and mapped all Mathew Norman’s reviews onto a Google map along with the score. As you can see out of 46 reviews from February 08 to February 09 he went outside the North/South circular a mere 14 times with the lion’s share of those in the Home Counties. This will come as no surprise to most regional chefs.


Those 14 reviews had an average score of 5.58. The 32 London places scored an average of 7.39.  All the critics in the Caterer article site Travel costs as a reason for staying in the home counties. Come on chaps, Virgin do London to Manchester for £9. National Express do London to York or Leeds for £12.50, all you have to do is book a few days in advance.  I know per head/square mile most eateries are in London, but come on, not all your readers live in Highbury (like me!)

Cheque please

I say all of the above as someone who produces words, images and video about food for a living, and my gripe is not with that. It’s just that I’m a bit bored with the traditional restaurant review, unlike the food scene it reports on it’s barely changed since Maschler first took up her pen over 30 odd years ago. The images are dull, the text riddled with waffle, invectives or gushing praise and the descriptions of the food don’t really entice me. I’m jaded with reading about what one person and their date ate for dinner and the bi-polar obsession with everything being either good or bad.

What about reviews of chip shops, tea shops, road side cafes, the cafes in our cultural institutions, football stadium food, what about exploring a different cuisine and culture each week, or eating only from the special’s board? I think there’s so much more to food discourse in the UK than the central London dining experience, this subject is narrow minded, elitist and heavily London centric and above I don’t think I’ve ever read a review that’s made me go ‘wow, I must go there’ (having thought on that some more I think Matthew Fort’s description of the Anchor and Hope came close). Restaurant provide a service, and it’s right and proper that people comment on the quality of that service, I just want it in a more interesting involving and less ego and bilious format, but then, that’s just me.

But for now I’ll end this post in a Guardian WoM stylee and ask you your thoughts on the role of the critic and can you/we/the media come up with something better?

Video off cuts: leftovers from the C4 pig project. Pt3.5

My travels with the channel 4 Pig have come to an end now. To recap, I got Tim Wilson of The Ginger Pig to cut up a side into the ten main cuts and then took those cuts to 10 chefs around the country. See part 1, 2 and um, 3.0 here.

Paul Askew, The London Carriage Works, Liverpool

Does this train stop at Merseyside? Asked Ian Prowse, lead singer of Amsterdam. Well the 10:07 from London Euston to Liverpool Lime Street is as near as damn it and so I set forth once more to the city on the mouth of the mighty Mersey.

I was back in town to meet up again is Paul Askew, Chef Patron of The London Carriage Works, the restaurant in the Hope Street Hotel. I’d met him before on the Big British Food map, and he spoke then about a loin of Duroc pork dish that he does.  So he seemed the perfect chap to handle the loin.

I got into town by 12:15, that West Coast Mainline upgrade meaning it really is possible to go to Liverpool for lunch. I left my stuff at reception and killed an hour around town. Liverpool’s really grown on me of late. It has more Georgian architecture that Bath apparently, which provided homes to the ‘Liverpool Gentleman (the opposite of the Manchester man). Stuart Marconie described scousers as the Basques of the north, and there’s always been an otherness about Merseyside.

An hour round Liverpool

Anyhow a walk round Hope Street took into a few interesting things. Firstly, I stumbled on Mackenzie’s tomb, which is the first line in the Amsterdam song quoted and linked to above . There’s more on the legend of Mackenzie here http://www.williammackenzie.co.uk, a legend of ghosts, gambling, body snatching, death and devilish pacts – wooooooooooooo!  Next, and slightly more food related, was this lunch board offering scouse for lunch. Nice to see the dish that gives scousers their name actually available in their city. (Read more on my search for scouse). I also took in a lovely old bookshop, and with that it was back to meet and film Paul.

 

Paul’s loin recipe is below, but it’s worth taking a look at one of the ingredients in greater detail. The natural jus as Paul calls it, is made a couple of times a week in a massive 500 litre sauce pan the size of a garden pond. Into this goes just about every bone, vegetable peeling and off cut from the last few days in the kitchen. To this they add herbs and spices and then simmer, very slowly for a very long time. Then they reduce and pass, reduce and pass until the whole thing is down to about 5 litres. What Paul has left is the most incredible sauce, it’s almost tar like in it’s appearance, and incredibly rich. Just a few trickles dressing the plate can add punch to any dish. If you want to try to make it at home… well don’t bother is the short answer – but if you want to I’m guess the recipe goes something like this. Go to a proper market or catering suppliers and buy the biggest pan they have. Next go to the butchers and get bones, off cuts and scraps of beef and chicken for next to nothing. Back home roast all the bones in a hot oven. Transfer to the pot, deglaze the tray and add a miropoix of vegetables. Add seasoning, perhaps some wine and then simmer for days…

Paul Askew’s Loin recipe & video demo (pop up)

Video off cuts: leftovers from the C4 pig project. Pt3

My travels with the channel 4 Pig have come to an end now. To recap, I got Tim Wilson of The Ginger Pig to cut up a side into the ten main cuts and then took those cuts to 10 chefs around the country.  I shot over an hour for each chef, which I edited down to 5mins for Channel 4. This left a fair bit on the cutting room floor so to speak, which it seems a shame to waste. So where possible they’ll be off cuts and scraps of video as well as some photos – It’s what the pig would have wanted.

 

Anthony Demetre, Arbutus. London

I’ve been a fan of Anthony’s restaurant for a long time, and so was mad keen to give him a bit of the pig. The cooking there is my style of food, simple, good strong flavours, not to much messing around. He’s also a good chef to talk about ‘the business’ too. I offered Anthony the shoulder to work with, and dropped it off a few days before hand.

SHOULDER - Anthony Demetre @ Arbutus
He’d originally wanted the head, but Hywel Jones had taken that part. Anthony also used the crackling as a garnish, but this didn’t make the final cut, so I present it here now, along with his thoughts on ragu’s and knives for your enjoyment.

 

 


Cracking crackling

 


Ragu guru Anthony gives us some knife knowledge 

There was so much meat on the shoulder that Anthony planned to make two dishes.  The first one was an Old Italian recipe, pork braised in white wine, sage, garlic and milk. The milk goes in an hour before the end, and as it cooks it sort of curdles and then goes golden – it’s a unique taste, and so time to make. I filmed Anthony prepping and putting it in the oven in the morning, ducked back in during a frantic lunch service to film him adding the milk, and then came back after lunch to film him plating up.

The second dish was a ragu, which wasn’t you gloopy read sauce, but much mroe delicate and featuring mint, anchovies and chilli, perhaps betraying Anthony’s Greek heritage, mint is used a lot in southern Med cooking.

Finally Anthony, like many of the chefs I visited, was rather impressed with Tim’s pork, saying it had a wonderful sweetness to it, which it does.

Anthony’s Milk braised pork shoulder recipe & video demo (pop up)

Anthony’s Pork shoulder Bolognaise recipe & video demo (pop up)

 

Video off cuts: leftovers from the C4 pig project. Pt2

My travels with the channel 4 Pig have come to an end now. To recap, I got Tim Wilson of The Ginger Pig to cut up a side into the ten main cuts and then took those cuts to 10 chefs around the country.  I shot over an hour for each chef, which I edited down to 5mins for Channel 4. This left a fair bit on the cutting room floor so to speak, which it seems a shame to waste. So where possible they’ll be off cuts and scraps of video as well as some photos – It’s what the pig would have wanted.

Next up, the West Country gets a visit when I stop in on Hywel Jones and Chris Wicks. Go west they say, I’ve always had a soft spot for the West Country having spent some of my early childhood in Wookey Hole.  

Chris Wicks, Bell’s Diner. Bristol

Chris Wicks was the first person to answer the phone when I began the ring-around to find chefs for this project. He said yes straight away, and when offered the choice of cuts, went straight for the belly – it’s where the flavour is. 

BELLY - Chris Wicks at Bell's Diner
Chris in his Kitchen

Chris was a man of few words, and an economy of movement, but then once in a while I’d get these little flashes of the person within. He said the word patience many times during the interview, and was calm and collected at all times. An example of this was during filming, when he was pushing the potatoes through a drum sieve and sales man for something came in and asked “are you the owner?” “Yes” replied Chris, “Is now a good time to talk?” said the sales man rather expectantly having clocked me filming Chris cooking. Now some one from the Ramsay mould would have replied ‘what do you think?!’ or ‘fuck off!’ but Chris just leveled him with a quiet simple “no”, and the guy sloped off. We had to re do the take mind.

In the video below Chris shows me a cartouche, a piece of baking parchment placed over any braised dish to help keep the meat submerged as well as allow the sauce to reduce. It also stops a skin forming on the surface. 

Recently Chris was on the receiving end of a mixed review from Matthew Norman from the Guardian, in which he said ‘be a more neighbourhood joint’ which strangely is the exact same thing he said to Belle House whom I also visited on this project. This is a real shame as Jay Rayner really enjoyed his time there in 2007 and Michelin describes it thus. So if I were Chris, I’d take his words with a slight pinch of salt. I asked Chris watch his plans were for 2009, “frugal is the watch word, keep things tight and add value for money, and finally look after people’.   On the subject of pork he says “The belly is simple to cook, has fantastic flavour and can be used in a variety of recipes. Put belly up against say fillet steak for flavour and belly wins everytime”. On cooking it he added wryly, I think pork over cooks very well! It’s very forgiving. Fattier cuts are more tastier and fat’s the key with pork”.

BELLY - Chris Wicks at Bell's Diner

Chris’ Braised belly pork recipe & video demo (pop up)

 

Hywel Jones, Lucknam Park Hotel, Wiltshire

Hywel Jones is a proud Welshman who left Wales to seek his fortune in London. He was at the famous (and now defunct) Coast restaurant during the 90s with Stephen Terry (where incidently Ben Tish from the Salt Yard was a commis at the same time). After having kids the green green grass of home called and he wanted to come back to Wales. He found the job of executive chef at Lucknam Park in Wiltshire allowed him to commute and he’s been there five years now.

HEAD- Hywel Jones @ Lucknam Park
Lucknam Park has a rich and interesting history

The hotel has had a great deal of love, attention and most importantly money poureded into it by it’s private owner. It’s a truly lovely location, with a long tree lined drive nearly a mile long leading to the house. Hywel and Sales Manager Rachel looked kindly looked after me during my time there.

When I first spoke to Hywel about the project, I was about to list the cuts still available to choose from but before I could he said “I’ll have the head”. To be honest I was glad as I thought the pig’s bonce was going to be the hardest to get rid of so gladly assigned it to him. It turns out that Anthony at Arbutus was keen on it too. Hywel wanted the head for two reasons; one, it’s a truly undervalued and cheap cut. A whole head can be had for £1.50. And two, I suspect it would allow him to demonstrate his cooking flare, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

HEAD- Hywel Jones @ Lucknam Park
The pig’s head

Now to all those who say “ewww I could never eat a pigs head” I say “you probably all ready have”. There’s meat on the head, and that meat makes it’s way into sausages, and as long as it’s good meat, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Hywel had earlier this year taken delivery of two brand-new, state-of-the-art induction cookers. I’ve seen these before, namely in the kitchen’s of Flash, the temporary restaurant at the Royal Academy, but those were the plug in portable ones. This range was a brute, Hywel demonstrated them to me, which didn’t make the final channel 4 cut but is over interest and so I’ve included it below.

HEAD- Hywel Jones @ Lucknam Park
The finished dish

Finally I think Hywel’s recipe is obviously a show piece than mid week supper, but if any of you do attempt it, or even attempt to cook the pigs cheeks, please get in touch as I’d love to hear about it.

Hywel’s Compressed head of pork with Langoustines recipe & video demo

Video off cuts: leftovers from the C4 pig project. Pt1

My travels with the channel 4 Pig have come to an end now. To recap, I got Tim Wilson of The Ginger Pig to cut up a side into the ten main cuts and then took those cuts to 10 chefs around the country. Over this week – two by two – I’ll be talking in more detail about my time with them and what I learned.

I shot over an hour for each chef, which I edited down to 5mins for Channel 4. This left a fair bit on the cutting room floor so to speak, which it seems a shame to waste. So where possible they’ll be off cuts and scraps of video as well as some photos – It’s what the pig would have wanted. The first two up are Ben Tish and Vivek Singh.

Ben Tish – Salt Yard, London

Ben was a lovely guy with infectious energy, gulping down an espresso and positively bouncing around his kitchen. Said kitchen however, was compact and bijou. It’s a real skill to move around a space like that without him and his two other chefs getting in each other’s way. 

TENDERLOIN - Ben Tish at the Salt Yard TENDERLOIN - Ben Tish at the Salt Yard

I picked Ben as I thought his style of cooking – tapas – would suit the tenderloin; quick and simple and small tasty portioning.  The pairing with clams and apple I loved. Shellfish and pork somehow work well together. I normally baulk at the idea of a surf ‘n’ turf lobster-on-a–steak-combo. But here land and sea were in harmony. The menu roams around the Iberian Peninsula as well as crossing the Med to Italy to plunder its flavours too with six charcuterie offerings and five of cheese. All the classic hams are there. Serrano, Jamon Iberico, coppa, speck. Flying the flag for the UK on the menu is confit of Gloucester Old Spot pork belly with cannelini beans. Mind you braised oxtails with bone marrow and celeriac puree sounds fantastic too.

Ben repeated a mantra that I heard many times on the project; don’t over cook it. Lack of stock and a shy hand with the butter are where most people go wrong when cooking at home I believe. What’s more all the chefs I visited were generous with the salt and pepper.

The team behind the restaurant have also opened a butcher’s shop across the street, the black foot butcher, named after the breed of pig they stock I believe. The enterprise began as they we’re looking for somewhere to store bulk purchases of some of the Continental produce they’d ordered in.  Ben also works in the butchers as well as the restaurant so is ideally placed to understand the needs of both trades.

Ben’s Tenderloin with clams recipe & video demo (pop up)

Ben’s stuffed tenderloin recipe & video demo (pop up)

  

Vivek Singh – The Cinnamon Kitchen, London

I met with Vivek Singh in his brand new kitchen located in the old East India Company spice warehouse. It’s only recently opened before Christmas and the new kitchen was bright, spacious and staffed by a brigade that ran into double figures. It’s a very modern and professional operation that reflects the area he’s in and the clientele he’s aiming to reach.

CHUMP - Vivek Singh at the Cinnamon Kithcen

While we were waiting for the recipe to cook I had a nose round. Nestled amongst all the modern stainless steel surfaces were two massive charcoal powered tandoor ovens. I took the opportunity to ask why the naan breads always stick to the side and never fall into the coals. “Oh it can do if you’re oven isn’t hot enough or your dough not wet enough” Vivek told me. They also get very very hot, achieving something like 480°C. “One time a camera man put his camera in to get a shot of the flames and it melted his foam microphone cover”. 

Vivek was also kind enough to offer me some lunch and so I got to chat to his other chefs about the food.  What I thought was excellent was Vivek’s use of traditional meats, even cuts, but just augments through the flavours of the sub-continent.  Rajasthani spiced roast red deer, (An homage perhaps to the Indian Gazelle which is found in that region) roast lamb saddle, mint-onion sauce, pilau rice, seared haddock, Devon crab and kokum crust. Yet it is the spicing that lifts these dishes up to the extraordinary, delicate and multi-layered and very tasty.

I got chatting to his pastry chef, 21-year-old James Mossman, about puddings. Nowadays diners are often skipping pudding no matter what the cuisine. Add to that the (misguided) perception that Indian cuisine doesn’t do desserts, and the fact James is a young white guy and the odds aren’t in his favour. Which is a shame because what is in his favour is his really good cooking. The little samples he did me, particularly the pineapple were extemporary. “All too often people thing of pudding in Indian restaurants is ice-cream in a hollowed out orange”. Not here it’s not.

The second thing of note was a lamb dish that was inspired by a description in a 1000-year-old text called the Mānasollāsa written by Somesvara II describing the cooking thin slivers of lamb on hot stones. 

Vivek Singh at the Cinnamon Kithcen

Vivek wanted to recreate this dish using his customer facing grill which on the day was staffed by a lovely bloke from Nepal who also rustled my up paneer in a long broad chilli. Anyway, the cooking is fantastic, the maitre d’ was a lovely Scottish lass, and the place is less ‘civil service’ than the Cinnamon Club in Westminster and a bit more business, you should go. 

Here’s Vivek cooking Coorg style pork recipe and video demo (pop up)

More images on Flickr 

 


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September 2017
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