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“A word, a taste, a smell trigger memories I never knew I had. It is surprising how dishes can appeal directly to the emotions. With food, as with music, you can touch people and make them cry.”

Claudia Roden

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Monday
Mar052012

Spicy lamb burgers with halloumi, tzatziki and harissa

I am particular about a lot of things, but I am particularly particular about burgers. I grew up in the land of Oz, where a ‘true blue’ burger is cow or nothing and comes with lettuce, tomato, onion (fried, not raw) and beetroot. Yes, beetroot. Some add egg, bacon and pineapple and call it The Works, but I find it doesn’t – you can’t pick it up for a start. But you can get messy - I add tomato sauce and mayonnaise and lots of it. Oh, and guerkins too.

A good burger should be big and sloppy and dribble down your arms. It should require a lot of napkins, a lot more than you ever get given. It should be impossible to put down once picked up for you’ll never be able to pick it up again in one piece. And it should not be eaten on a first date.

When I eat burgers out in London I am inevitably disappointed. I know beets are unlikely, but most of the time your lucky to even get a slice of tomato. So I make them at home and until recently I have never deviated from the above, but…

There is a new kid on my block. And it is making an impression.

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Saturday
Feb182012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

When Dinner by Heston Blumenthal opened it seemed the whole culinary world was talking of nothing else. Bloggers and critics alike were singing its praises; not even A.A. Gill could find a negative word to say about it. Getting a booking was like a local trying to get a ticket to the 100 metre final at the London Olympics.

Now, almost a year on, the hype has died down but dinner at Dinner is still an improbability. So I opted for a lunch booking and in the end a leisurely lunch (four hours!) was the perfect way to savour the experience. And who better to share it with than the only person I know who loves Heston more than me, Alex – aka Blumenthal’s Biatch

I have had a lot of fine meals in my life – but not because my life has been especially privileged by western standards; where other young women might have spent their first earnings on the latest fashion, I spent mine on dining out. This was definitely in the top three meals of my life.

Part of the attraction for me was that it had all the thought, finesse and elegance of a fine dining meal, without the ponce. There were no fancy foams or mousses, the portions were generous, the presentation was carefully considered but never at the expense of taste, and not one of the ingredients was superfluous, each had its proper place. 

Still, there is theatre here – Ashley Palmer Watt’s is Heston’s protégé after all. The signature dish, and probably my favourite, not least because it managed to live up to expectations, was the Meat Fruit,  a chicken liver parfait encased in mandarin jelly and modelled to look like a mandarin. It was astonishingly realistic, even the jelly was textured to look like the skin. A.A. Gill described it as “A perfect mandarin orange that smells like mandarin, even minutely examined it looks like a mandarin, but, cut open, it is immensely fine chicken liver parfait.”

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Tuesday
Feb072012

Albondigas árabe – my Moorish meatballs

 

It is a bit cheeky of me to give my meatballs this name, because they are exactly that – mine. They are neither traditionally Spanish nor from the Moors, but they are packed full of Moorish spices and these are used a lot in the south of Spain where the Moorish influence is most prevalent. Indeed the Spanish are rather quick to add this suffix; a little pinch of cumin or all spice seems enough to mark a dish Moorish and so I am following suit. Oh, and a double whammy of alliteration in both languages was too much to resist.

I started out with the intention of making traditional Spanish albondigas, but even those would rarely involve chorizo or paprika, despite these both being typical Spanish ingredients. Then I got carried away and decided on a Moorish theme adding all spice, cumin, nutmeg and ground coriander too. The result was spicier than the meatballs you would typically get in a tapas restaurant in Spain, but it was wonderfully hearty and warming and the chorizo and paprika gave it a deep, smoky flavour. If you prefer something milder you could tone it down by using sweet smoked paprika and skipping the chilli. And for something smoother with less intensity, you might like to try adding thyme in place of the fresh coriander.

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Wednesday
Jan252012

Two for ten Tuesday at Public House

It is rare that I get round to writing up a casual dinner date in a local restaurant. It is even rarer that I do so the next day, but I just couldn’t believe the amazing value I experienced at Public House last night.

As I said, it was a casual dinner date and so I did not take notes or spend a lot of time making sure I got the right photos, but looking back on the meal this morning I felt it warranted some attention.

I have only recently started using Top Table; as someone who usually knows exactly where I want to eat and who is willing to pay a premium to eat there, I didn’t think the deals would appeal. I was wrong.

Last week I was supposed to be taking someone to dinner in exchange for their worldly wisdom. It had to be easy to get to from Kings Cross and not too expensive, since I haven’t got a lot of money at the moment. I was pondering various cheap and cheerfuls I know in Islington when my friend, Jen, piped up:

“What about Public House? They often have really good deals on Top Table.”

Suspicious.

“Any good?”

“Yeah, I’ve been there a few times. The food’s great and they do nice cocktails, which I suppose is where they make their money.”

Hmm...

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Wednesday
Jan182012

Pear and ginger chutney

A few days before New Year’s Eve I took my friend Tina, a chef who is visiting London, on the obligatory foodie tour of Borough markets. This, of course, necessitated a visit to Neal’s Yard Dairy. I didn’t actually need any cheese but it is one of my favourite things to do and, if you are going to try everything in the store, you have to purchase something. So I decided to do some sort of cheese canapé as part of the New Year menu.

I started out with grand plans – a pear, Stichelton and walnut salad on chicory leaves – but I decided that a) chicory might be too bitter b) radicchio, my preferred alternative, would be too hard to find and c) it didn’t go with my other Asian themed canapés. I then thought I might try my hand at making oatcakes, which I’ve never done before, and make them really thin with a slice of Stichelton, a slice of crisp pear and a walnut on top. This would work well at the end of the meal, I thought, alongside the dessert canapé. In the end I couldn’t be bothered making oatcakes (I already had plenty to do) and I couldn’t find any ripe pears so I decided to make a chutney.

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