Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Eastside Inn

Maybe we shouldn’t have eaten at Trinity, because everything else afterwards has been a bit of a disappointment. Maybe I have been expecting so much from the Eastside Inn, that too be honest it left us very much under whelmed with the whole experience.
It’s not that anything was really bad, infact the opposite. The food was delicious, well cooked and presented beautifully. The wine was great, the ambiance was nice, and the décor has a lovely warming feel to it, which kind of makes you feel at home. The service was not terrible. It wasn’t good. But it was passable. It was polite and courteous but no more.
I think we confused them by ordering cocktails in the restaurant before our meal and not at the bar. This seemed to throw everyone off course from then on. Menus were handed out, and then taken away. Cutlery was laid then taken away. All this before my lovely martini had shown itself. 
As we had eaten a large lunch we were not all that hungry, so all I fancied was a main and maybe to share a pudding afterwards. So the cote de bouef was out, even with the maître d’ selling it to us so well. Thankfully we said no, as when it came to a table near us, it was huge. Two big guys had trouble polishing it off. It is carved tableside for dramatic effect. Nice touch. You do not see that at all these days.
So with the starters rubbed out, we went straight for the mains.  There is an excellent looking cheese trolley, so even pudding could be forgotten about as well. I’m gonna be in the sub-continent for 10 weeks, fine cheeses will be off the menu for a while.
Lina opted for the butchers steak (onglet) with green pepper sauce that came perfectly rare. The sauce was sticky and unxious as it should be.
I had the steak tartare, which after making hundreds of them in restaurants before, I was yearning for some raw meat. The meat was silky smooth and the heat level was nice, but I would have preferred a little more, a personal preference. Plus a tad more salt as well wouldn’t have a gone a miss as well. The downside was that I had to ask for my toast twice, and all I got was 3 small stingy pieces of bread, not even toasted as stated on the menu. Luckily we still had some more bread in the basket.
Both the mains came with some gorgeous French fries, which we were told were fried in beef dripping. Damn they were good. Although the portion was small. I wanted more. Both the mains were well presented, the onglet steak was cooked to perfection, nice and bloody.

The highlight of the night though was definitely the cheese trolley. Oddly enough we were not asked if we wanted any cheeses. The waitress just pulled the trolley in front of us and started reciting the cheeses that were there. I just assumed she had been reading my mind all night and knew we wanted them. Her name, I forget (sorry) has a fantastic knowledge of cheeses. She explained to us every cheese in depth, their tastes, whether long or short, strengths etc. She made it too tough for us to choose. You know sometimes is just easier to let the experts make the selection for you. The highlight, apart from the Roquefort, was a soft, creamy goat’s cheese that had a hint of lemon. Really nice and creamy. It’s very unusual to get a cheese trolley, and I suggest everyone make use of it when they can.

As I said nothing was out of synch. Nothing to make a night bad, but we just felt under whelmed with the place.
I’m not sure if I will give Eastside Inn another chance, for what we had it was quite expensive, and I wonder if I would remember the meal in a few days. (I don’t remember it). I think I would prefer to spend my money just down the road at St John’s, or even south of the river at Trinity which costs less and you got much more. Not only on the plate, but in your soul as well.
But as with everything in life. Some places are not for everyone. 
Eastside Inn on Urbanspoon

Friday, 25 June 2010

Foto Friday # 6

A Steamed Dumpling seller having breakfast whilst waiting for customers to buy her buns.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Heaven at Trinity

Trinity has been on my very large to eat list, for a very long time now. Even before the Princess began working there, it was there, but that just made me want to eat there even more. She’s a damn fine cook, plus she turned down the chance to work at Chez Bruce. So it had to be good.

So, as I was starting to crave some really really good food, you know food that knocks your socks off. That’s what I wanted and I was really hoping Trinity would provide it for me. As living in Colombia where food is for filling the belly, not nourishing the soul, I was in desperate need.
So in a random moment I gave them a call and booked in for a Monday night. The prix fixe menu only happens from Monday to Thursday. I mean £20 for 3 courses. This could turn out to be the bargain of the year.
South London is not a place I normally venture down to. I am enjoying the lofty heights of the north, so going south of the river is a real adventure. But needs must.
Trinity has a nice atmosphere, I really liked it from the minute we walked in. Nice tones, nice space between the tables. Cool place. The staff are very friendly and welcoming. The sommelier is slightly mad but we like that. It makes the place much more enjoyable when you have funny people working there.
As it was a Bank Holiday, they had scrapped the a la carte and tasting menus, and we were left with two prix fixe. The smaller one being £20, and the other much larger was £25. Both for three courses. Quality.

To the food. Starters consisted of a duck sausage roll with a smitten of sauce gribiche. I am an addict to sausage rolls, it’s a big weakness of mine, and this one was the most perfect one I had ever eaten. The meat was so flavoursome and had that perfect texture that I can only dream about. The pastry was flaky and cooked to perfection. The only let down was the slightly under seasoned sauce gribiche. Otherwise it was perfect.
Lina’s pig trotter on sourdough toast was a work of art. Well apart from it looked like a smiley face. A bit tacky. That’s the only bad thing I can say about it. The braised trotter was so so so so good, it was melt in the mouth good. It also came with a lengthy strip of crispy pork crackling and a couple of fried quails eggs.

We would have been happy if the meal ended there. But no, we had more treats to come.
The mains, one fantastic dish of sweetbreads, potatoes and other delights such as lambs hearts lettuce, sweetcorn, mushrooms and a dab of crème fresche. It worked so well. The sweetbreads were crispy on the outside and firm on the inside. Oh how I love offal. I think that was the best single dish I have eaten in several years. Every thing worked well either separate or together. The flavour and texture combinations hit my spot.

The other main of monkfish, chorizo, grilled squid and chickpeas, was as individual items perfect, but as a dish everything was slightly overpowered by the strength of the chorizo. But it was so damn good. Thankfully we both love chorizo, so we were not complaining.
I’m not normally a pudding man, but as it was 3 courses we had to have them. We shared one from each menu.

The chocolate and orange hotpot with poppy seed ice cream was like eating chocolate orange air. Beat that Terry’s. Words are beyond me to describe this pudding. So Moorish, so light, so good. I want more.
The other was an equally great but different cold custard with poached meringues with caramel. Well seasoned and light on the tongue. Very subtle flavours. Very nice.
As you can tell by my above review, we liked Trinity. I think Trinity has given me the best meal I’ve eaten in the last couple of years. I can see this place quickly becoming a favourite of mine. The damage was £100 including tip. Well worth every penny, especially with the slightly mad sommelier.
Trinity is at the Taste of London, which I was pretty tempted to goto just to eat their food again, but the thought of paying £20 entrance fee plus the food, I could have the tasting menu. An idea for when I return from my working trip.  
Trinity on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Ham Hock Terrine

Terrines are awesome. There is something about off cuts of meat being packed into a loaf mould and cooked slowly to produce a delicious cold cut of taste and texture. They can be as rustic or as fancy as you like. Meat, veg or fish can be all made into a terrine. I even once made a three flavour jelly terrine. Brilliant it was, even if I do say so myself.
Terrines are the one thing that I like to judge a restaurant by. If the terrine is good, then you can bet the rest of the meal will be pretty nice also. Even though they are simple to make, care and attention has to go into them. Just a bit of love is needed.
I learnt to do this terrine at my stint in Café Boheme, and I’ve been doing it ever since. It is probably the easiest terrines to make ever. It doesn’t involve buying an expensive mould (even though I have one), and then carefully lining it with thinly sliced bacon and then gently building the terrine and cooking it at a slow temp for an age in the oven.
Nope, this one all you need to start is a big pot and a ham hock. This is the one thing that can be difficult to get. Well buying hocks are not difficult. The difficult thing is buying good ones. I’ve brought them from butchers all over London, and some from within Borough Market too. Most have been mediocre to say the least. But the best ones I’ve found have been from the Ginger Pig, and at £3.80p each. Bonus.

So what you need for the terrine is as follows:

1 Large Ham Hock
2 Carrots, chopped into thirds
2 Sticks of Celery, chopped into thirds
1 Onion, cut in half and studded with cloves
Maybe a leek
Parsley Sprigs
Black peppercorns
Fresh Thyme
Fresh Rosemary
Few fresh bay leaves

Fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
Ground black pepper

As I said it is very easy to make.

Pop the hock in a large pot. Cover with water. Bring to a simmer. Drain of this water and rinse the hock. You do this to get rid of some of the fat. It will give you a clearer stock later on.

Pop the hock back into pot and again cover with water. Bring to a simmer. Skim the scum off that forms on the top.  You will need to do this from time to time.

Add all the other ingredients. I am a traditionalist when it comes to studding my onions. No idea why I do it, but it looks good.

Now turn down the heat and let it bubble away for a few hours. You will know when it is done as the meat will be falling off the bone.

Once it has cooked. Take the hock out of the stock. Cut off the fat and skin and pop them back into the pot. Pump up the heat and let it reduce a little more.

Gently shred the meat in a bowl. You may have to let it cool a little, but not too much.
Mix thoroughly with finely chopped parsley, and season to taste. Remember to over season it, as you’ll be eating it cold and therefore any seasoning will be subdued by the coldness of the meat.

Now the minor hard part. You will need to cut off about 3 or 4 sheets of clingfilm about 12 inches long. Lay these on top of each other and flatten out. Add some of the now fatty stock to the meat mixture, not too much, but just enough to moisten it. This will help the mixture set in the fridge.

Now lay out the mixture on top of the clingfilm at the edge closest to you, but about 2 inches in. Stretch it out a little. Not too much as you do not want a thin sausage. Now the tricky part. This I sometimes have to do twice. Roll up into a sausage. Turning the ends in opposite direction to tighten the mixture. If there is air inside, prick it a few times with a sharp knife, and then roll it again in another two sheets of clingfilm. This expels the air and will help keep its shape in the fridge. Again roll very very tight. Tie the ends, either with string, or as I do with some Ikea bag clips.

Pop in fridge for 24 hours and leave it to set.

It will keep for about 5 days in total. But once I open mine its gone in a day.
The stock you can use for soups, curries etc. It can be a bit fatty, but you can de-fat your stock. You will need to pour it into a bowl through a sieve. Let this liquid cool down and then freeze it. Once frozen place it in a sieve lined with muslin cloth and leave to defrost in the fridge for about 24 hours. What you will be left with is a perfectly golden clear fat free flavoursome stock. My freezer is super small so I can only do a little at a time. But it’s a great thing to use. Best consommé I’ve ever had.

Serve the terrine cut into portions with small onions, cornichons, chutney and some good toasted bread. Eat and enjoy. 

Friday, 18 June 2010

Foto Friday # 5

This stall at the Market near the Bastille sold a fantastic array of spices from all over the world. How I wished we had lived in Paris for even a short while. It would have been a great experience.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Do you have the Heart?

Offal seems to be kind of coming back into fashion, although with some of us it never went out.
I know a lot of people who eat offal in restaurants, but refuse to cook it at home. Why? They say they are squeamish, hate the texture and the thought of touching a slimy product. Yuck. Oh boy.
But not only is offal high in vitamins, but it’s pretty damn cheap as well, and in these so called credit crunching times, (I want to shoot the person who came up with that saying) not only is it high in flavour, but low on the wallet too.
Offal is not that difficult to cook but it does require some respect and sometimes a little bit of pre planning and attention to detail, but the effort you put in is paid back to you in dividends in the end.
My favourite animal for offal is lamb. I love it, the kidneys, liver, and hearts. It’s amazing that from one small animal, its insides are so so good. Although lambs brains are the bottom of my list, after a dodgy episode in Kathmandu, which left me laid up for a week or two.
The offal from my other favourite eating animal, pig, which I find slightly too strong in flavour and not to my liking. For me lamb rocks. Although saying that, the liver from a baby tortured cow or calf is my favourite cut of all time. Dusted in flour, quickly fried in butter and served with peas and Jersey Royals. Heaven on a plate.
I was a fussy eating child, and would never eat any veggies at all. Those things changed as I grew up, although I still cannot stomach sprouts. But I did used to eat my dad’s lamb liver. Gorgeous.
I haven’t cooked hearts in a long time, but after seeing some for sale at the Ginger Pig in Borough Market. I had to grab a couple, and at 50p each. Cheapest dinner I’ll be cooking this week.

My normal way of cooking them is to give them a dusting of a Memphis bar-b-que rub. This I got it from a Steven Raichlen book. It works well and gives the heart a spicy note, which cuts through the fat a bit.
I’ve thought about stuffing and braising hearts, but I like them grilled. Pure and simple.
To prepare offal is pretty easy. I slice them in half from pole to pole. Give them a good rinse, getting rid of any traces of blood and cut away any sinew that will be there.
Then give them a thorough dusting of the rub, making sure every part is covered by the powder. Then place in a bowl, cover with cling film and leave in the fridge over night.

Before you cook them, make sure they are up to room temp before proceeding. After a bit of experimenting, I’ve found that about 2 or 2 ½ minutes each side will take them to about medium. Cooked but still nice and juicy.
As with meat you have to let them rest for a tad, then slice them and I serve with some sauté potatoes and a nice spicy salad. Yum yum yum.
So if you never tried hearts, give them a go….. 

Friday, 11 June 2010

Foto Friday # 4

Travelling in tropical countries, you always find cold refreshing juices to drink. My favourite has to be coconut juice drunk from the coconut shell itself. Not only do you get the fresh juice, but you get to eat the flesh inside as well. Drink and desert all in one. Excellent.

Koya - Noodle Heaven in Soho

Update : February 2011
Hadn't been to Koya for what seems like an age, but as the wife is off home for a couple of weeks, we decided to have lunch at our favourite Udon noodle restaurant. 
As ever everything is perfect, the broth is as favourable as ever. The Prawn Tempura Atsu-Atsu seems to be a main stay with us. But with the addition of Tanuki (extra batter) mixed in with the soup is a real winner.
The Ten Curry Don is the best curry sauce I've had outside of Japan. Really deep and rich in flavour. The accompanying Miso soup was a little weak and lacking in any strong miso flavour. 
But Koya is still streets ahead of any other restaurant serving noodles in London. 

I had to nail my feet to the floor so I wouldn’t go visit Koya when it opened. I’m kinda of the belief that every new restaurant has its tweaking problems. There is always something that isn’t right on its first few weeks. If it’s a good place these will get ironed out and run smoothly. From what I could make out Koya had no such problems, and my expectations grow through me waiting. Thankfully it turned out to be better than I expected.

Maybe I was going mad but everytime I walked past Koya, it was calling out to me. I could hear a soft whisper calling my name. Something was calling me to come in and try their noodles. I could hear a voice whispering that they had good noodles. I had to eat there, and as they specialise in Udon and nothing else. They had to be good.
Koya is very simple in it’s design. It’s not big on clutter, but where is in Japan. The menu is listed on boards on both walls and in keeping with the design of the restaurant, it’s also uncluttered. It’s short and sweet. It’s broken down into roughly four parts.
Atsu Atsu -  Hot Udon in a cold broth.
Hiya Atsu – Cold Udon with hot broth.
Hiya Hiya – Cold udon with cold broth
Danburi – Rice bowl with various additions.

As it was such a beautiful hot sunny afternoon I opted for a Cold Udon with a hot broth with the addition of some pork. Lina as she is a bit traditional in her soups had Atsu Atsu Niku. Hot Udon with a hot Broth with beef.

The meals took their time to come, which I was really happy about, as the expectation had more time to reach unobtainable heights.
When they finally arrived, not only were we taken back to Japan, but also I think I was smiling like a little Cheshire cat. Stupid as it sounds, I was truly happy. The cold noodles dipped in the hot broth for a second made them a delight to eat. The crispy seaweed on top added extra textures I would never have thought possible in London. The broth was rich and meaty but still very delicate. I am so jealous that people can do this with their stocks. The noodles were cooked to perfection and tasted great. Obviously kneading that dough by feet really helps.

Lina’s soup was just as good but totally different. It had a rich miso taste to it that was the other end of the spectrum of mine. Excellent.
The waitress came round to inform us the kitchen was closing and if we wanted to order something else. I had my head over the bowl slurping up some noodles that I didn’t look up, but just shook my head.

That was probably some of the best soup I have tasted since we left Asia. Rich and full of flavour. Awesome. I didn’t think we would get great stuff here in London. But we have.
At £10 a pop the noodles are not the cheapest in London, but they are the best. Oh yes.

Koya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

GBK - How The Mighty Have Fallen

It seems like a lifetime ago now, but we used to live in Brentford. So we used to goto Chiswick a fair bit, mainly because Lina worked there. But as time passed, Chiswick ground me down to the point where I really did not like it at all. Still don’t. People keep asking us why we live in North London now. Chiswick had something to do with it.
Since our return, I have been back once or twice to see friends and meet Lina after work for a drink or some nosh somewhere.
This particular Saturday, we had a goodbye party at the Bollo. A good pub near to Chiswick Park tube. Lina was working that day, so I met her after work and we went off to get a beer and some grub before the party.
We were actually double booked that day. As we had a 40th party at The Green in Clerkenwell that night as well. It was going to be a long night.
We wandered down as far as the Roebuck. Nice gastro pub. Good beers, fun crowd and does some tasty food. Plus it has a nice large garden out back with plenty of seats. Unfortunately we never ate there, as there was nothing on the menu that took our fancy. Shame number 1.
We wandered past Franco Manca, but as I had eaten pizza the afternoon before, I really didn’t want to eat more just yet. Shame number 2.
But in the distance was the round sign of GBK. It sung out to me. Good memories came flooding back to me. Hmm hamburgers. We’d had a fantastic one recently in Byrons on Upper Street, and maybe with those sweet memories I made that fateful mistake of suggesting it. Shame number 3.
Now way back then, we used to eat once in a while at GBK. Then the burgers were pretty damn good, I used to particularly like the barbecue sauce they had. The fries were good, the milkshakes were even better and they sold Steinlager as well. What more could you want.
A big warning should have hit me as we approached. It was pretty much empty. Now this normally sends alarm bells ringing in my head. But this time they were silent.
I had more or less always eaten the barbecue burger, and it was what I wanted again. Lina opted for it as well. So off I trotted to the counter to make our order.
As I was giving my order, the kid asked me how I wanted my burger. I said “Both medium-rare”. He then replied, “ It is company policy that we can not guarantee your burger to be medium rare. Is that ok?” This left me dumfounded. Why bother to ask how you want the burger cooked, if you can’t do it. Damn I hate that in places. I mean it’s not too hard to cook a burger anywhere from rare to well done. Any chef can do it. It’s not rocket science. Grrrrrrrr.
The burger towers came, after being placed in front of a couple that had just sat down. Oh dear. Finally we got them. I really wish I had my camera with me, as they looked a sight. They were everything I do not want in a burger. To start off with, the bread bun did not look appetising at all, and tasted a bit stale. It had been put on the griddle to crisp up a little, but it wasn’t a good bun.
The patty itself had no real taste at all. The inside looked like it had been pureed not minced, and was a rather nasty looking grey colour. Maybe this is why they smother their burgers in sauces. The barbecue sauce itself was lacking in that all important barbecue taste.
The chips were nearly cooked but not quite. They were borderline on being a bit soggy, and they were not hot.
At least the beers we had were damn good. Then again they were not prepared fresh in the GBK kitchen.
What happened to the burgers I used to like. Where had they gone? Gone in their franchising scheme it had. Looks like profit before quality has taken over the GBK machine.
All this may have been because GBK have had a massive expansion over the last few years. On their website they have 51 branches in the UK, plus one to open soon in Nottingham. Also there the ones they have in Ireland, Turkey and I’m assuming Oman, Dubai and Greece pretty soon according to their website.
In my view expanding so big so fast has hit GBK hard. To source good quality beef for their burgers now has obviously been pretty difficult. Also to find decent waiters and chefs is proving problems also it seems. In some countries being a waiter is a good job. Here it is done by people who do not give a damn, and have no idea how to do it. You only have to look at Carluccios and Fish Works to prove that fast expansion does not work.
On this performance GBK has sunk a lot. Can they drag their sorry selves up again? Who knows? To be honest I don’t really care. GBK will never see the inside of my wallet again.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Afghan Kitchen

The Afghan Kitchen has held my curiosity for quite a while now. It’s small shop front sitting there on Islington Green. It kinda looks lost next to the big boys of the chains next door.
It especially grabbed my attention after hearing from some greedy buggers I know, who took up 9 seats upstairs and ate the entire menu. Which isn’t difficult as there are only 8 mains. They all raved about it, saying it was some damn good home cooked style food. 
Ever since then I’ve been meaning to make a beeline for this small restaurant. Well today, as I had survived my first week at my new job. Amazingly.
So after some Friday night drinks in a pub close to work. I headed off to Angel to meet up with Lina and grab some food.
During our monthly meeting at work, food is provided, which today was pizza. So the pizza pub was out of the question. Now I had seen an Eritrean restaurant down Essex Road. Which I am definitely going to have to try, as walking past it on a few occasions the smells waft out from inside is amazing.
Tonight though, I was pretty hungry, so as the Afghan Kitchen is within strolling distance. It won hands down.
Now, the place is really small. About 14 can sit upstairs, and about 12 downstairs. Apparently reservations are a must. We were pretty lucky to get a seat. Although, we had to sit by the front window. Which gave us an interesting view onto the street. There were some strange souls wandering past. Made the evening more fun.
As I said there aren’t a lot of choices. 4 meats and 4 veggies options. We choose the Lavand -e- Murgh (chicken in yoghurt), Qurma -e- Gosht (lamb with potatoes). We also ordered some mixed pickles and bread.
The food is precooked, but as they are all stew based, a little time sleeping in some marinade won’t do it any harm. As I never heard a ping of a microwave, I can only imagine they heat it up in a pan. I hope.
The chicken was damn good. The meat was moist and the sauce had a little smooth kick to it. The lamb was a little flat. It needed a bit more spice to help it along.
The mixed pickles had one hell of a kick to them Fantastic. The bread was nice but a bit hard.
It’s a nice place, but whether I would go back is uncertain. We’ll see. That Eritrean place is calling me.

Afghan Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, 4 June 2010

Foto Friday # 3

With all the talk of Koya in London recently on the bloggersphere, and eating there also. I was thrown back to our last meal in Japan. This fantastic bowl of noodles was my last taste of Japan. Every noodle soup since is judged to this one. Only one so far has come close.