Article
16 comments

Taste of London

Taste of London

I quite like festivals, they’re lots of fun. An opportunity to socialise, try new things, and, come the summer, that might even involve sunshine. This was the case yesterday with Taste of London, an annual food festival that takes place in Regent’s Park and showcases some of the best food that London has to offer. Added to that there’s tastings, talks and demonstrations.

It runs over four days, Thursday to Sunday. Sunday was the day we went, and fortunately for us, had the best weather. We got down there for the opening at 12pm, determined to get the most out of the day. It wasn’t so busy at this point, and almost the first thing I saw was the Aitkens brothers walking purposefully towards the stage, decked out in their whites & aprons, preparing for a demonstration.

Aitkens brothers demonstration at Taste of London

We lingered a while, but we were keen to do some wine tasting. Unfortunately, we weren’t alone, there was already an enormous queue when we got down there, so we decided to grab a bite, a glass of wine and see what else was on offer. At this point it was incredibly busy (it had sold out), so a glass of Chapel Down Rosé Brut was most welcome. I am a very big fan of Chapel Down Wines, and am quite partial to their Chapel Down Bacchus, so I was really happy to get a chance to chat to them and taste some of their other wines, at 6 crowns or £3 a glass, an absolute bargain. My favourites on that lovely summers day were the sparkling wines: the Vintage Brut and the Rosé Brut.

Having missed one wine tasting, we made sure we were early for the Spanish one at 2pm. It was quite interesting but a little quick for my liking, I would have preferred to have a bit more time. I know a bit about wine, but am by no means an expert, so, it was a pleasant hour. Mind, I didn’t use the spittoon as much as I should, or atall. I didn’t see anyone else using it either!

Wine Tasting at Taste London

Next up was a talk and book signing by Jay Rayner, the Observer food critic. He was very entertaining and had some tips for us amateurs. His favourite places to eat in London include one of my favourites New Tayyabs in Whitechapel (I really need to blog about this place – it’s also one of my favourites!) and one I really want to try Aiden Byrne at the Dorchester, especially after tasting some of his food at Taste, more on that later.

Jay Rayner at Taste of London

It was definitely time for some food by now. The choice was immense. It was very difficult! I chose to sample the Warm Salad of English Peas, Flaked Salt Cod and Young Shoots from Arbutus, the Squid Salad with Passionfruit Dressing from Benares, the Meen Kozhambu (a kingfish curry with rice and green beans) from Tamarind, the Beetroot Gazpacho with Avocado Sorbet and Vodka Jelly from Aiden Byrne at the Dorchester and the Spit Roast Belly Pork from Le Cafe Anglais. Worry not for my health or appetitie, these were small portions priced at £4-5 and spread out over a couple of hours. All of it was good but the beetroot gazpacho and spit roast pork belly were superb. The beetroot gazpacho was smooth, rich and fruity, the vodka jelly cut right through it and the avocado sorbet was a treat, I was genuinely upset when it was over. The spit roast pork belly was the best that I have had. Le Café Anglais and Aiden Byrne at the Dorchester are now next on my list.

Spit Roast Pork Belly at Taste of London

What else? Live music including a very entertaining and very summery jazz band. Some cocktail competitions, cookery classes. The culinary glitterati were out in force, I spotted Atul Kochar, Gary Rhodes and Aiden Byrne.

There was so much on and so much to taste, it was impossible to do it all. What did I miss? Arthur Potts-Dawson from Acorn House gave one of the afternoon sessions, I would have loved to try the parmesan custards with anchovy toast from Le Cafe Anglais and everything on Aiden Byrne’s menu. The Canteen hog  roast was very tempting as was the Cinnanmon Club stand. I could list the things I wish I had tried all day, but there was only five hours and one stomach.

What’s the verdict? All in all a very pleasant day, with lots of opportunities to taste great food from great restaurants and new & old food products from producers, small scale and larger, at the producers market. Added to this the tastings, classes and demonstrations, it’s just impossible to choose what to do, five hours goes very quickly! We had lots of fun. It’s definitely worthwhile and I’ll go again.

Upcoming Taste experiences: Taste of Bath – 3-6 July, Taste of Birmingham – 10-13 July, Taste of Cork – 27-29 June.

More pictures of Taste of London on Flickr.

Article
4 comments

Haozhan

I am a little late with this one, I am possibly the last food blogger to write about Haozhan. I’ve wanted to go since it opened, but never did and I think this is because it is in Chinatown. This made me nervous, as, generally the best Chinese food in London is found outside of Chinatown. I like going there for their grocery shops, and, go frequently for sichuan pepper, spring roll wrappers and random treats. I enjoy the bakeries and their dairy free semi-savoury delights. But, with few exceptions, the restaurants are not great. However, I continued to read good things and I decided I should really try it.

Hoazhan comes with solid credentials – Jimmy Kong of New Fook Lam Moon opened it with Chee Loong Cheong, formerly of Hakkasan, in the kitchen. Hakkasan is one of Alan Yau’s famed establishments and one of London’s few michelin starred Chinese restaurants. It offers sophisticated Chinese fusion food, but, is in the upper echelons of my current budgetary restrictions, so it was good to get an opportunity to taste the offerings of a chef that had worked there.

I have been twice now, the first time for a friends birthday on a Saturday night, nervously as I had recommended we try it, but had no experience of dining there to reassure me. On arrival, we were ushered upstairs to a round table, and within a short while, we were ordering. It was very busy, full to capacity. The appearance is quite trendy and very different to most of the other restaurants on Gerrard St. The green and black is attributed to Feng Shui, the whole effect was very modern, clean and efficient.

Service, on the other hand, was very much what I have come to know in chinatown – abrupt and swift – but, unlike alot of its neighbours, it had a charm, and by the end of the night we were all laughing at the misunderstandings surrounding getting a birthday candle put in a dessert for the birthday boy. Reviewing the menu, it appeared to be fusion, blending influences from regional asian cuisines with Chinese cooking, there’s marmite prawns and cheesy lobster on the menu, the lobster is a step too far for me I think, but maybe one day I’ll try the prawns.

We ordered a selection of starters – standout were the chilli squid which was crisp, light and beautifully spiced and so full of flavour, the veggie mixed starter was good, if average and the coffee ribs were rich and flavoursome.

Mains went from fabulous to bizarre. I had a gorgeous homemade tofu dish and would have written this post if only to tell you about it – Haozhan tofu – four fried homemade tofu cubes, like a savoury custard with spinach skimming the surface, all topped with a scallop and some fish roe. A friend had curry prawns which were very spicy and came served in a huge round of bread. Bizarre and super spicy. I’ve already mentioned the lobster and the prawns!

For dessert I had the red bean pancake, which was just ok, nothing spectacular. The deep fried ice cream was fine but not amazing.

Impressed as I was with the savoury food, I wanted to bring another foodie friend there. I, the creature of habit and desperate for more squid and tofu, ordered the same meal. He ordered the chilli deep fried soft shell crab and the crispy shredded beef. My meal was spectacular as before but his was disappointing: the crabs were slightly burned and the beef was borderline – very sweet and average.

It was a shame, as the previous night was generally, a very positive experience. I’ll definitely go again, if only for the tofu.

2 courses with one glass of wine, 2 beers and tea was £60.

Haozhan
8 Gerrard Street
W1D 5PJ
0207 434 3838

http://www.haozhan.co.uk/

Correction (20th June 2008) – I had the chilli squid starter, not the chilli tofu. I am clearly just a little focussed on that tofu main course!

Article
17 comments

Broad beans, green garlic & mint bruschetta

I love this time of year. By now I’ve been eating gorgeous seasonal asparagus for about 6 weeks. I should be getting sick of it but I never do. The end of the asparagus season would be depressing, if it were not for the start of the broad bean season with an overlap of a couple of weeks to facilitate gorgeous salads, or, for indulging in any number of dishes with broad beans in the starring role, as I did here.

I was at Marylebone Farmer’s Market at the weekend, rushing as always to get there before it closes at 2pm, and I was quite delighted to find that, as part of Marylebone Summer Village Fayre, it would be open until 5pm. There was the added bonus of new stallholders, albeit just for one week, including the Garlic Farm from the Isle of Wight with their amazing arrays of garlics and garlic products, including elephant garlic and green garlic.

Now green garlic is something that I haven’t had before. I know! What kind of foodie am I? I had read about it though, and was very keen to try it, so I was very happy to have the opportunity to purchase. I also bought some of the early season broad beans from another stall.

I thought I’d do a twist on a broad bean bruschetta that I do regularly, including green garlic this time and keeping it vegetarian. I would often include ham or anchovies, natural partners for the broad bean, but I wanted to experiment and try something where the green garlic and broad beans would dominate.

This doesn’t require a recipe, just a conversation – honestly, follow your tastebuds.

I used a half a kilo of broad beans in the pod, double podded and boiled briefly until tender, then plunged into iced water to stop them cooking and preserve that gorgeous colour and flavour. I then added a couple of teaspoons of chopped fresh mint, the juice of half a lemon, about twice that of a good extra virgin olive oil. Then add about 2 inches of the stalk of green garlic (substitute 1 clove normal garlic or a shallot), outer husk removed and the rest finely chopped, a couple of tablespoons of grated mature manchego (as mature as ou can get – substitute pecorino or parmesan). Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. That’s your bruscheta topping done.

I sliced some baguette diagonally to about half a cm in width. Toast lightly on each side, spread your broad bean mix liberally on top and drizzle some of your extra virgin olive oil over it, topping it with shavings of the manchego.

This is perfect summer food. Enjoy!

Article
10 comments

Sake Tasting Menu from Akashi Sake Brewery Co. & Tsuru

I was at a wonderful event the other night, and I really want to tell you about it but before I do, I want to clarify, for any new readers, that I am not one to write about something because I’ve gotten a freebie. I take great care to ensure that everything I recommend here is of quality and value. I don’t want to waste your time or mine, nor do I want you to feel that this blog isn’t worth reading as my reviews are unreliable, or, perish the thought, that I am easily bought. This event was great, and there’s a couple of things to recommend to you as a result, added to this, it was a really nice experience and one that I would like to share.

Ok, now on with the review!

I had the pleasure of being invited to a sake tasting event at Tsuru in Southwark, London. This was presented by Wakana Omija of the Akashi Sake Brewery Co., an artisanal sake and shochu producer and Tsuru, a Japanese restaurant and bar on Canvey St, in Southwark.

I love Japanese food, some of you may have noticed that, or have read earlier posts about my trip to Japan last year, I am also very fussy about it. The quality of food in Japan, in normal every day izakaya’s is phenomenal. The food is so fresh, and so expertly prepared. Everyone takes such pride in their work, and it’s so much cheaper than eating here, I have to ask, where exactly do we go wrong so often??

So, Tsuru noticed this gap, and aimed to recreate the Japanese everyday experience by offering food “honestly prepared by our chefs using the best ethically-sourced produce”. Added to this, they were offering us a tasting menu with sake from Akashi Sake Brewery Co. matched to each course. I would get to meet other bloggers in the flesh, as opposed to on twitter, or facebook, on their blogs or on mine. It sounded like a night that I couldn’t miss.

So, off I went, running from work to get there by 7pm, only getting lost twice in the process (er, how long have I been in London, 7 years?) and arriving a couple of minutes late. I was warmly welcomed and offered a choice of sake cocktails – a kappa saketini (tokiwa & honjozu with a slice of cucumber) or tokiwa rhubarb fizz (tokiwa, rhubarb, sugar syrup, soda and mint). First, I had the kappa saketini, which was really dry and refreshing, and deceptive! Danger, danger, it was like drinking Pimm’s, although, much stronger. Then, just before dinner, I had the takiwa rhubarb fizz, which was sweeter and more to my taste, being a bit of a rhubarb obssessive. All the while, we were snacking on edamame, with some of that lovely Japanese chilli pepper that I am so fond of.

It was time to progress to our tasting menu. At this point our group was complete, consisting of Annie Mole, Tim, Dave, Lea, Chris & Hazel from Londonist and Rob & Sabrina from Qype. We started with some wonderful carpaccio of seabass matched with daijinjo, one of my favourite sakes of the night. It was very educational (sound too geeky? it was!), Wakana took great pains to explain the background of each sake to us, showing us the rice, explaining how each one is produced, then we would tuck in, exclaim, judge for ourselves, and rapturously agree that we were all big fans of this wonderful sake. Now, the sake was very strong, and this may have something to do with the rapture, but honestly, we were also enjoying it earlier in the night.

Next up was nasu dengaku, one of my favourites, aubergine with miso, paired with warm and room temperature honjozo. The nasu dengaku was wonderful, as good as I have had, and, the sake was delicious and very interesting to see the difference between the warm and the cold one. My personal preference was for the cold. Again, it was a great complement to the dish.

Where from here? Free range chicken yakitori. I was very happy to see free range on the menu, at their prices especially, let them be an example to other establishments. They were served with genmai aged sake, a richer, almost treacley sake, made from brown rice, all the others had had the husk removed to varying degrees. The interesting thing about this one was, that when they first made it, they didn’t like it atall. They left it in the barrel and rediscovered it some years later, at which point it had aged and was quite delicious. It combined very well with the yakitori, which while small, had quite a robust strong flavour, unlike the delicate fish at the start.

At this point, we were all very satisfied and chatting, and speaking for myself, I thought that was it, and was very pleasantly surprised when they produced an enormous platter of sushi. This sushi was very good and included my favourite hamachi. It was paired with honjozu genshu.

By now, the sake had taken it’s effect and I was in full chatter mode. I almost missed the brownies which would have been a crying shame! They were gorgeous, moist and rich and very very chocolatey.

Thanks to Rob and Sabrina for organising and thanks to Wakana and the lovely people at Tsuru for a lovely evening, I would heartily recommend it and will be going back for more sushi and to try their katsu curries (chicken: £4.95, crab: £6.95), which I’ve read are made with sauces that are cooked for 8 hours. I love a cook with an eye for detail and who does things properly, avoiding those shortcuts that are so easy to take. I have to wonder, how they can do it at their prices!

Sake happy bloggers

Be warned, it’s not open every night, although I don’t think that will last much longer once people get a taste for this place.

Tsuru, 4 Canvey Street, London SE1 9AN
Tel: 020 7928 2228

Opening times:
Mon-Wed 11.00am-18.00pm
Thu-Fri 11.00am-21.00pm

http://www.tsuru-sushi.co.uk/

http://www.akashi-tai.com/eng/index.html

Sake available at the Japan Centre in Picadilly, London.

Article
11 comments

Meme Catch-up

One of the great things about blogging, is interacting with other bloggers – it’s inspiring, friendly and creative. There’s lots of ways of interacting – leaving comments, email, even just reading, but there’s also lots of memes lurking around, encouraging us to disclose more than say, our latest dinner recipe, or meal in Soho, and to participate in this wonderful thing we call the blogosphere, but I’ve fallen behind and have a few to catch up on.

So, now folks, it’s time for some extreme participative blogging. I am going to catch up on my memes. Brace yourselves, or ignore and wait for my next post. I promise not to take too long :-)[Read more]

Article
11 comments

Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

I went to a friends yesterday for dinner and she made the most beautiful sweetcorn and roast red pepper fritters with salsa. I had to try and recreate something similar tonight and I am very happy with the results, so unusually, I am happy to blog immediately and encourage you to try them.

Sweetcorn fritters remind me fondly of a holiday in Australia a couple of years ago when I had them for breakfast and had one of those – why haven’t I had these for brekfast before! – revelations. They also remind me of my vegetarian years, when, not a fan of meat substitutes, I instead indulged in sweetcorn fingers and fritters and the like. The texture is wonderful, and each piece of sweetcorn is just bursting with flavour. With a side of avocado and tomato salsa, I challenge anyone to dislike this quick and nutritious evening staple.

I kept these simple, the fritter batter contains only sweetcorn, shallots and fresh coriander with a vibrant and flavoursome salsa of heirloom tomatoes and hass avocado on the side. I used frozen sweetcorn as this was really last minute and I didn’t have time to seek out fresh, but fresh sweetcorn would be wonderful in this recipe, if you have it. I used a wonderful heirloom tomato for the salsa but you can substitute with a beef tomato, 2 plum tomatoes, or some cherry tomatoes. I used shallots but you could substitiute spring onions or red onion. Can’t have dairy? Substitute soya milk or coconut milk – both work really well. If adding the coconut milk, I’d add some green chilli to the batter too and maybe some lime. I sverved some extra heirloom tomato on the side, it was too good not to!

[Read more]