Friday, June 24, 2011

Arbutus not-so-special offer - restaurant review

I'd wanted to eat at Arbutus for ages, so booked a table immediately when I saw an offer for the pre-theatre menu plus a glass of champagne for £18.95 ppn.  It's not often you can eat in a Michelin starred restaurant for that little.

Unfortunately there was very little 'special' about the offer.  The set menu only offers two choices for starter and main courses and one pud.  Luckily we were able to find things we liked, although the waiter was quite pushy in trying to get us to order a la carte instead.

As we're talking about the service, it was amateur at best.  We waited ages for our order to be taken at the beginning and our waiter disappeared at the end of the meal, so we waited again for the bill.  Wine was sloshed into our glasses in very heavy handed measures AND without offering it to us to taste first.

The food was good but nothing to write home about, so I shan't.  I can only assume they save the Michelin-quality stuff for the main menu...

The biggest gripe of the evening though was the cheese plate - talk about miserly.  We had one piece of cheese and a little pile of chutney - have a look at the pic below.  Mean, mean, mean.

All in all a totally underwhelming experience.

Arbutus on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Putney Fish & Grill - review

In spite of initial reservations, we had an excellent pre-Father's Day dinner at Putney Fish & Grill 

The fish display at the entrance was half-hearted to say the least - a measly selection of old looking fish on ice.  This should either be done properly, or not done at all.  I also object to paying a cover charge for bread.

We shared starters, as we'd already had a hefty selection of canapes at home.  Rach and I shared the scallops with green beans and hazelnut butter.  Nice enough but nothing to write home about.  Mum and Dad plumped for salt cod fritters with crushed pea aioli.  These were good - although bizarrely the peas weren't crushed...

The biggest success of the night was Rachel's whole crab.  Rach loves fiddly food.  She's in her element if her dinner requires tools.   The lamb chops were also declared excellent by Mum.
 There was an interesting, varied wine list, including some low sulphur wines.  (Although they didn't have our first or second choice...)

The bakewell tart was thoroughly delicious.
Wasn't sure if we were supposed to look at the beans or eat them!

Salt cod fritters.

Scallops with hazelnut butter

Tools ready for action

Lobby lobster

Whole crab - Rachel's dream meal

Rach in action

Rather nice cherry bakewell

slightly sorry fish display

Fish & Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Brula - restaurant (sort of) review

Life has been super busy of late. Obviously still enough time to eat and drink very well but not quite enough time to document!

We're lucky enough to have a couple of really good restaurants within walking distance of our new house.   One of these is Brula, a very lovely, very proper French restaurant.

The service was fantastic and the food very good.  I'll write more when I get chance but thought I'd share my photos for now.

Cornish crab with curried mussels, cauliflower rémoulade, pickled apple and coriander

Sauté of king scallops, chilled pea panna cotta, radish, black pudding, chilli and mint dressing

Wild black bream and pickled Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, sauce nantaise

28 day aged beef fillet with Agen prunes and chicken liver parfait, pommes Anna, bacon and home smoked garlic

Brula on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tuna steak with asparagus, tomato and basil cream fraiche - recipe

I like Jamie Oliver.  There I said it.  Seems like a top chap to me.  I know people have mixed views and if, like my brother, you're less than keen on the personality I'd still recommend you try out some of his recipes.

For the most part they're pretty quick and straightforward (maybe not 30 minutes though, eh Jamie?!) but the best thing about them is that every one I've made has worked perfectly and tasted delish.

Last night we had tuna steak, with asparagus and cherry tomatoes and a basil creme fraiche. True to form it was really simple and totally scrumptious. Jamie's recipe is here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Making sushi - pictures

Last night was, sadly, my last Japanese cookery class with Reiko at Hashi Cooking

I loved every minute of the classes.  Reiko is a very thorough, extremely knowledgeable teacher and good fun to boot.  I liked that the classes were quite pacy - learning to make 3 or 4 different things a week means I now have a sizeable Japanese repertoire.  I'll definitely be back in September for the Gourmet lessons. 

The final class focused on making sushi.  I'm not going to try and explain here - it's not hard to make when you have an expert to show you how but it is hard to explain in words.  Have a look at some pics instead. 

It's the first time I've made sushi and, whilst the results were far from perfect, they tasted bloody good!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stuffed aubergine - recipe

This dish got the thumbs up from the Committed Carnivore last night, even though I made it with Quorn mince.  You could just as easily make it with beef or lamb mince though, if you don't want to go the veggie route. 

Quick, easy, satisfying and tasty.  Perfect weeknight tea.

Ingredients (serves 2):
1 large aubergine
Half an onion, finely chopped
150g mince (Quorn, lamb or beef)
1 clove garlic, minced
400g tin chopped tomatoes
Squeeze of tomato puree
1 tsp dried oregano
Splash of Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Small handful fresh basil, chopped
75g grated cheese (I used a mixture of cheddar and parmesan)
Couple of glugs of olive oil

Preheat oven to 190c

Chop the aubergine in half lengthways.  Score the flesh (see pic) being careful not to break the skin.  Place in a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20-25 mins.

In the meantime, gently fry the onion.  Add the garlic, being careful not to burn, and the mince.  Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and oregano.  (If you're using meat, cook it for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes).  Simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Add the Worcestershire sauce and fresh basil. 

Once the aubergine is cooked (lightly browned and soft to the touch), scoop out the flesh to leave a shell - again be careful not to break the skin.

Chop up the aubergine flesh and add to the mince mixture.

Fill the aubergine shells with the mixture, sprinkle with grated cheese and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes.  I finished mine off under the grill to get the cheese really bubbling.

Serve with a green salad if you want to keep it healthy, or garlic bread if you don't.
Aubergine ready for the chop

Aubergine scored and ready for the oven

Stuffed with mince - just needs cheese

Et voila

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rocket, blue cheese, sweet potato and pine nut salad

Gluttonous June rolled on apace this weekend, with a University reunion in the Cotswolds.  It peed down with rain for most of the weekend, so who can blame us for sitting inside and filling our faces with food and booze?!

Anyway, for fear of developing gout and because of an impending holiday, I intend to eat a little more healthily for the next fortnight.  And evil booze... STAY AWAY.

Quick salad recipe below.  Not 100% fat free, due to the cheese and pine nuts but definitely better for you than chips.

Ingredients (Serves 2):
Bag of rocket or salad leaves
1 sweet potato
100g blue cheese, cubed (I used a Cornish blue)
Handful of pine nuts
Salad dressing of your choice (a simple mix of balsamic and olive oil works just fine)

Heat the oven to 180c

Peel the sweet potato and cut into cubes.  Place on baking tray, drizzle with a good glug of olive oil and roast for 20-25 minutes until soft.

Gently toast the pine nuts over a low heat.

Dress the salad.

Let the sweet potato cool slightly, then combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and serve.

Rocket and blue cheese salad

Friday, June 10, 2011

Prawn somen noodle soup - recipe

I've become addicted to Japanese food.  So, another day, another Japanese recipe.  This one is super easy and can be adapted in so many ways, depending on what you fancy and what you have in your fridge.  I used prawns but you could use vegetables, meat, or eggs instead.

Somen noodles are skinny little white noodles, a bit like spaghetti I suppose.  You can use udon or soba noodles if you prefer.

Recipe is courtesy of Reiko at Hashi Cooking, with variations by me.

Ingredients (serves two):
750ml dashi stock (made with dashi powder, according to packet instructions, or fresh dashi stock)
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sake
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
Half a packet of somen noodles
1 packet fresh prawns
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 spring onions, finely chopped
Half a red chilli, finely chopped
Handful fresh coriander


Cook the noodles according to instructions on the packet (mine took 3 minutes).  Drain and put aside

Heat the dashi in a large saucepan and bring to the boil.

Add the soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar, salt and ginger.  If you're using fresh prawns add them to the stock now (if you're using ready cooked, add them at the end and cook for 1-2 minutes to heat through).  Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

Add the noodles to the stock.

Serve in bowls garnished with spring onions, chilli and coriander.  Slurp noisily.

Easily as good as Wagamama ;-)

Somen noodle soup

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tofu bags - Japanese recipe

All the food we learnt to make at Hashi Cooking on Tuesday night was so delish, that I decided to make some of it again for tea last night. 

My sis and I did a supermarket sweep at a Japanese food shop (Atari-ya in Norbiton) the other week, so my cupboards are jam packed full with everything I need.  Although Japanese cooking does need special ingredients, there's not that many of them.  So, once you've got the basics you're away.

This recipe makes two veggie tofu bags and two egg tofu bags.  They can also be made with minced pork - replace the beans and mushrooms with 100g minced pork.

Ingredients (makes 4 tofu bags - plenty for a starter for 2 people):
2 deep fried tofu pockets (See pic - these are found in the freezer section of Japanese stores)
Half a tin of beans, well drained and blended in a food processor.  (I used mixed beans, we used borlotti at the class)
Small handful dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and finely chopped
1 egg
Half a small carrot, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely chopped
1tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp cornflour
Pinch of salt
Small handful of green beans (to serve)

You also need toothpicks, to secure the pockets.

Cooking liquid:
250 ml dashi stock (Buy dashi powder from Asian shops and mix with water according to instructions)
1 tbsp sake
1 dessert spoon sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
**you may want to alter the amounts of these ingredients to personal taste**

Cook the tofu bags in a pan of boiling water for 1 minute and drain well.  Cut the bags in half, so you end up with four pockets, being careful not to tear them.

Mix all the ingredients for the cooking liquid in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.

In a small bowl, mix the beans, mushrooms, carrot, spring onions, ginger and corn flour with your hands.  Divide into two and fill two of the tofu bags with the mixture.  Secure each bag at the top with a toothpick.

Fill each of the remaining two bags with an egg (this should be whole - i.e. not beaten) and secure with a toothpick.

Quickly place all the bags in the cooking liquid, trying to keep them upright.  Cover with a foil lid, to avoid parcels drying out.  Liquid should be gently simmering.  Cook for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cook the green beans.

Once the tofu bags are cooked, remove them from the liquid and take out the toothpick.  Cut each in half and place one veg and one egg bag in a bowl.  Add the remaining cooking liquid and garnish with green beans.

Frozen deep-fried tofu bags, straight from the freezer

Veggie ingredients ready for mixing (all very finely chopped)

Tofu bags ready for cooking

Egg tofu bag after cooking.  Cut in half for serving.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Quinoa salad - Ottolenghi recipe

My lovely friend Helen made this quinoa salad for me for dinner one evening.  It's a tasty, light, summery dish, which will be just perfect if summer makes a reappearance.  The roasted sweet potato gives it a bit of oomph too, so it does fill you up.  Which I like.

I first ate quinoa in South America, where the Incas have been growing it for thousands of years - amusing really when you think how we've just 'discovered' it as a superfood here!

It's really not difficult to make but it does take a little bit of time.  Recipe courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi,
very slightly adapted by me.

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 350g each)
200g mixed basmati and wild rice (I used just basmati, as I didn't have wild)
200g quinoa (I bought mine from a health food shop but I think a lot of bigger supermarkets sell it now)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
3 tbsp shredded sage leaves
2 limes, juice and zest (the recipe calls for Iranian limes but I just used regular, sorry Mr Ottolenghi)
6 tbsp shredded fresh mint
4 spring onions, green part only, thinly sliced, plus extra to garnish
200g feta, broken into chunks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut roughly into 2cm dice. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.

Meanwhile, cook the rice as per the packet instructions. Put the quinoa in a pan with lots of boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain into a fine sieve and leave to dry. Put the cooked and dry (but still warm) rice and quinoa in a large mixing bowl.

Heat a glug of olive oil in a small frying pan and cook the garlic for 30 seconds, or until it turns light golden. Add the sage and fry, stirring, for about a minute - make sure the herbs and garlic don't burn.

Tip the contents of the pan over the rice and quinoa, then stir in the roasted sweet potato and its oil. Add the mint, spring onion, lime juice and zest, feta and salt and pepper, toss together gently, taking care not to mush up the sweet potato and feta, taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve warmish, or at room temperature, garnished with spring onion.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hashi cookery school - Japanese cookery courses

Tonight was the third lesson of our beginners Japanese cookery course at Hashi Cooking, in Wimbledon.   

I'm absolutely loving the classes and can't believe how much we're learning.  Today we learnt to make all different types of vegetable tempura (pumpkin, onion, corn, peppers, mushrooms), miso salmon (the same technique as Nobu's famous black miso cod), somen noodle soup and tofu bags with eggs and beans.

I feel like it's a bit intrusive to take too many photos in such a small group but I've been a good little student and taken copious notes, so I'll be sharing everything I've learnt with you as I recreate it at home over the coming weeks.

Happy 60th birthday Dad!

I spent most of last week celebrating my Dad's 60th and my (less important) birthday.  A veritable marathon of eating and drinking, including some Michelin stars (Alain Ducasse, The Glasshouse), our old faithful Italian (Brocca Antica), a river cruise, plenty of fizz and, of course, a birthday cake.

Terrible pic, yummy cake.

The recipe is courtesy of Lyle's Golden Syrup.  They took a much better pic of their cake.

200g butter, softened
200g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade Caster Sugar
1 large lemon, grated zest and juice
3 medium eggs, beaten
200g self raising flour
3 rounded tbsp Lyle's Golden Syrup

For the frosting:
175g cream cheese
40g butter
Grated zest ½ lemon
50g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade Icing Sugar

Grease and line a 20cm/8" cake tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.

In a bowl, cream together the butter, caster sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs, followed by the flour.

Spoon into the prepared tin, then level the surface with a spoon. Place in the oven and cook for 45-50 minutes or until the cake springs back when lightly touched.

Remove from the oven. Warm the golden syrup with the lemon juice and slowly spoon over the hot cake. Leave to cool in the tin before turning out. **Before pouring over the lemony syrup mixture, I poked lots of little holes in my cake,  using a wooden skewer.  This allows the syrup to permeate the cake better**

For the frosting, beat together the cream cheese, butter, lemon zest and icing sugar until soft and smooth, then spread evenly over the top of the cake and swirl.

Top with pink sparkly bits.  Or not, as you wish.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Brocca Antica - restaurant review

We're super lucky to have a really good Italian restaurant, Brocca Antica, a five minute walk from our new house.

We went there for dinner on the night we viewed our house and it definitely helped cement our choice!

The food and service are always excellent and, in spite of the fact we eat there about once a week, I still find I'm spoilt for choice.

On this visit, we shared mussels in tomato and garlic sauce to start, which were excellent.  I had seafood linguine for my main - delish.  Marc went for chicken wrapped in parma ham, which is one of his favourite things on the menu.

If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend it.  It's worth booking though, as the restaurant is always packed!

Brocca Antica on Urbanspoon