Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mien Tay, Battersea - restaurant review

A lot of good stuff has been written about Mien Tay (restaurants on Lavender Hill, Battersea, and Kingsland Road, Shoreditch). The resulting popularity means it can be quite difficult to get a table, even on a weekday.  We finally got round to making a booking in advance (thanks Sara!) and arrived with quite a sense of anticipation...

The restaurant decor could be politely described as kitsch, or less kindly as garish (and the less said about the outfits the waiting staff are forced to endure the better!). Nonetheless, this adds to the atmosphere of the place, which was predictably heaving even on a Wednesday night.

To get the bad bits out of the way upfront, I have to tell you the service was awful.  It was hard to get anyone's attention, our waiter was grumpy as hell, glasses of water never materialised and we waited half an hour for one of the starters to arrive.  Maybe they were having a bad day

Now, let's move on. 

The bring your own booze policy took the edge off and happily they don't charge corkage.  That said, I would've happily paid a couple of quid for a cooler or ice bucket.

The menu is extensive, somewhat overwhelmingly so.  For someone as indecisive as I am, it was a challenge.  We ordered a starter and a main course each.  The portions are pretty big though, so for the less greedy, sharing would most definitely be an option.

Mien Tay spring rolls were crisp and crunchy, served with a nice little side of pickled vegetables and a delicious sweet and spicy dip. 

The crispy pancake with chicken and beansprouts was particularly impressive - Findus this was not!  A huge portion with tender chicken and thin, light pancakes.

Summer rolls with shrimp were fresh and light, served with a gloopy satay sauce (check out my summer rolls recipe if you fancy trying them at home)


Salt and pepper squid was well cooked and not at all greasy.  It could've done with a little more seasoning though.

Two of us went for the whole crispy fried sea bream with mango and fish sauce.  This is one of the house specialties and probably the best dish we had.  The skin was perfectly crispy and the mango and fish sauce worked in perfect harmony.

Sea bream with lemon grass and chilli was good but was overshadowed by the mango dish.  

We also had the chargrilled chicken with honey and spices.  This needed a little more spice but was a generous portion for just £5.80.  Unfortunately my iPhone picture really didn't do it justice, so I haven't included it.

The bill was extremely reasonable, largely due to the lack of booze on it!  Starters range from £3.50 to £8.00 and mains from £5.80 to £12.50, with most at the lower end of the price bracket.

I think the food was good enough to chance the bad service a second time, I'll let you know when I do.

Mien Tay on Urbanspoon

Apricots with goats cheese and rosemary - easy canape recipe

I made up this recipe to make the most of some sweet, juicy end-of-season apricots.  They work in perfect harmony with tangy goats cheese.  Add a sprinkle of fresh rosemary and you're in business. 

These could also work well served with mixed leaves as a light lunch.

150g soft goats cheese
10 apricots
3 stalks of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped

In a bowl, mix the rosemary with the goats cheese.

Half and de-stone the apricots.

Top each apricot half with a teaspoon of the cheese mixture.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

As you like it - easy okonomiyaki recipe

Okonomiyaki is quintessential Japanese street food.  Fitting then that the first time I tried it was from a street stall off Brick Lane earlier this year.

I was over the moon to find out that Reiko included okonomiyaki on her home cookery course and even more delighted to find out how simple it was to make.

The beauty is, the quantities don't need to be too precise and you can use whatever toppings you fancy.  In fact, the name okonomiyaki means 'what you like'.  I've made versions using squid, prawns and mushrooms.  Meat eaters might want to add ham or bacon. You can read more about regional variations in the Wikipedia entry
What really makes this dish is the okonomiyaki sauce and the bonito flakes, which are both very distinctive flavours.  If you can't find an Asian supermarket near you, you can buy them online.

Ingredients (Makes 2 pancakes):
125g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon dashi powder (you can leave this out if you don't have any)
150ml water
2 eggs
4 leaves from a pointed cabbage (also known as sweetheart cabbage), chopped

To top:
Okonomiyaki sauce
Japanese mayonnaise
Bonito flakes
2 spring onions, finely chopped
Your choice of squid, prawns, mushrooms, ham

Mix the flour with the dashi powder in a large bowl.  Add the eggs and water and mix to a smooth batter.

Add the cabbage and mix.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.  Spoon in half the mixture into the pan and gently flatten to about 1cm thickness.  Repeat with the remaining mixture (If your frying pan is big enough, cook both in the same pan).

Lay the squid/prawns/bacon on top of the pancakes.

Cook for about 10 minutes on a medium-low heat, until lightly browned on the underside.

Flip over and cook for a further 5-10 minutes.

Transfer the pancakes to plates.  Spread with okonomiyaki sauce, sprinkle with the spring onion, drizzle with Japanese mayonnaise and top with bonito flakes. 

Okonomiyaki - how I like it!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Greenhouse effect - restaurant review

Always on the lookout for a culinary bargain, last week Little B* and I took advantage of the lunchtime special offer at The Greenhouse - and three courses and coffee for £25 at a Michelin starred restaurant is pretty special.

The restaurant is situated in a maze of Mayfair streets.  As you leave the pavement, you enter a lush, tropical garden with a wooden walkway.  It's a fabulous entrance that fills you with a sense of anticipation.  Once inside the restaurant, the botanical theme continues, with pale green leather chairs and leaf motifs on the glass and walls.  But the effects are subtle, this is a chic, elegant room, hardly the Rainforest Cafe!

From the minute we walked in the door, service was ultra efficient but friendly and, I'm pleased to report, we got looked after every bit as well as other tables who were dining a la carte.  Not always the case when you're eating from the set menu (as we sadly found out at Arbutus).  We also enjoyed all the fancies and fripperies that I love so much about fine dining.

An amuse bouche of smooth, creamy avocado mousse, topped with bright jewels of salmon roe, was served with salty squid ink crackers and a cool little parcel of cucumber filled with cream cheese and mint.  A great way to start, which had us eagerly awaiting the rest of the meal.  The bread certainly didn't disappoint: butter bread, baguette or cereal.  I tried the butter bread, which was similar to a brioche, followed by a nutty cereal bread.  The bread was served with a choice of salted or unsalted butter (always salted for me!)

Vegetable “tart fine”
Parmesan cream and herb jus
I had the vegetable summer tart to start; a lovely selection of fresh seasonal veg atop a melt-in-the mouth super-short parmesan pie crust.  Delicious.
Pachino melon and watermelon
mozzarella and basil
Little B's starter was unusual and very refreshing.  The quality of the ingredients really shone through in this dish.

Steamed sea bream
ratatouille and bouillabaisse sauce
I'm a big sea bream fan and this was perfectly cooked.  Serving the fish with the skin separated was a nice touch.

We both went for the warm chocolate ravioli with coconut ice cream for pud and both agreed it was a real highlight.  The chocolate pasta was surprisingly light with a little burst of rich, hot chocolate sauce in the middle.  The creamy coconut ice cream was a lovely accompaniment.

The BEST petits fours
Nonetheless, it was the petits fours that were the real show stopper.  Exquisite.  I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that we hoovered ours up!

The wine list also deserves a mention.  Whilst we weren't able to indulge on this occasion, we enjoyed a good read of the weighty, leather-bound tome - apparently the largest wine selection in London.

The Greenhouse is home to some exceptional food, with service to match.  I most definitely recommend.

*A lot of other food bloggers use pseudonyms for their dining companions and my fine-dining chum quite fancied one too... She is small.  Her name begins with 'b'.  Geddit?!

Greenhouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 22, 2011

The best Japanese restaurant in London?

Last week, Reiko of Hashi Cooking very kindly invited me to take a class from her Japanese Home Cooking course.  

I did the Beginners course with my sister a couple of months ago, so I knew I was in for an absolute treat and couldn't wait to go along.  Whilst I love learning how to make all the dishes, I have to admit that eating the dishes Reiko creates is my favourite part of her cookery classes.

The classes are taught in Reiko's kitchen in her gorgeous house in Wimbledon.  Never more than six students, you get plenty of attention and chance to ask any questions you might have.  Reiko pitches the classes just right - some of the prep work is done for you but you still get chance to get your hands dirty. Once the dishes are prepared you get to eat the fruits of your labour washed down with a nice chilled glass of white wine.

I make the recipes I learnt on the beginners course all the time (including tofu bags, miso aubergine and somen noodle soup).  I'll definitely be doing the same with the recipes I learnt last week: okonomiyaki, Japanese potato salad and tonkatsu skewers.

Reiko offers a range of four week courses, from beginners through to gourmet, as well as one day classes to learn to make gyozas, canapes and sushi.  At first glance, the classes might seem expensive but  all of the high quality ingredients are included and you get to eat in one of the best Japanese restaurants in London!


Okonomiyaki, garnished and ready to eat

Japanese potato salad

Japanese potato salad

Tonkatsu skewers

Sizzling away


Saturday, August 20, 2011

La Flotte - Ile de Ré, France

So, as promised some more piccies and recommendations from our little trip to beautiful  Ile de Ré.  Next up was a trip to La Flotte.

A quaint harbour village, much smaller and quieter than St Martin but with all the charm (and another branch of La Martiniere if you're craving another hit of their delicious ice cream).

After a couple of drinks by the harbour (amazing people watching), we headed to Le Richelieu for dinner.  We'd booked a table in advance and were extremely pleased to get a front row seat, with fabulous panoramic sea views.

It's quite an old fashioned venue, with dark red carpets and waiters in dicky bows.  We went for the 'menu gastronomique' - six courses, including lobster and cheese for 65 euros

An amuse bouche of refreshing cucumber gazpacho was perfect for a warm summer evening.  Sauteed seafood in broth was extremely tasty but not particularly imaginative.  The lobster course was much more interesting: lobster three ways - in filo pastry (a sort of lobster spring roll!), tartare and consomme.  This was thoroughly enjoyable.  Unfortunately, the main course was decidedly average and even less enjoyable as we ended up waiting an inordinately long time for it to arrive.  

Cheese and puds were definitely the highlights of the meal.  We were spoilt for choice with the cheese selection and thoroughly enjoyed our choices (afraid I don't know what they were called though!).  

Desserts were pretty as a picture.  We particularly enjoyed the lemon meringue pie, which came with a little pipette of raspberry coulis - a fun touch.  

Petit fours were fantastic, although the staff were clearly ready to get rid of us at this point as they arrived as  our desserts were cleared.  With the bill.

It's hard to say if I would go back to Le Richelieu on another visit.  Whilst the view and some of the courses were exceptional, the service and some of the food detracted from the overall experience.  I'd probably have to try some more of the island's offerings before I could make a judgement... oh what a hardship that would be!

La Flotte

I think I would like to live here

There are beautiful wild flowers all over the island
Le Richelieu restaurant

Lobster three ways

d.i.y pud - love it

Beautiful petit fours

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mushrooms with pine nuts, blue cheese and crispy breadcrumbs - recipe

This is another recipe I made for a recent BBQ.  Extremely quick, extremely tasty.  Good for veggies, good for carnivores.  (Bad for nut allergies - sorry Ellie!)

Ingredients (makes 12):
12 field mushrooms
150g Blue cheese (I used Danish blue - but any would work)
50g pine nuts, toasted
1 slice bread, made into breadcrumbs
50g parmesan, finely grated

Divide the blue cheese and pine nuts between the mushrooms.  Mix together the parmesan and bread crumbs and sprinkle over the mushrooms.

Grill for approx 10 minutes on medium heat, until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs toasted.  Alternatively, cook on the BBQ for 5-10 minutes and finish off under a hot grill to crisp the breadcrumbs.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Saint Martin de Ré - Ile de Ré, France

I just spent a fab few days with my sis on the Ile de  in France.  Needless to say we ate and drank extremely well and thought I'd share some of my foodie finds with you.

 Ile de Ré has a number of small towns and villages on it, including the main town of Saint Martin.  The favoured way to get around the island is by bike but, as the weather was a bit dodgy, we took the bus.

We soon came across the La Martiniere ice cream stand on the harbour front.  They sell over 50 flavours of ice cream and sorbet, with flavours ranging from the pedestrian to the downright bizarre.  We were actually brave enough to try the oyster and caviar flavour, which was surprisingly good - creamy and salty.

Whilst wandering the narrow shop-lined streets that lead up from the harbour we came across L'Atelier, which it turned out also belonged to La Martiniere.  L'Atelier sold some of the most beautiful little cakes I've ever seen - including the sushi cake below.  We sampled some of the macaron glaces (ice cream filled macarons).  The caramel fleur de sel, was particularly outstanding.

As far as I can tell, the only other La Martiniere outlet is in La Flotte, a smaller town on the island.  I want to go back to Ile de Re for a number of reasons, not least of which is those ice cream macarons!

The harbour

Over 50 flavours... where to start?!

Puts Greggs to shame...

One of each please

Ice cream filled macarons

The sushi cakes were my fave

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Oyster Feast at Wright Bros, Soho - Review

I love eating oysters but am far from a connoisseur.  Actually, I think I was something of an oyster-ignoramus before going to the Oyster Feast event at Wright Bros, Soho on Monday!

The three-floored Soho restaurant is the latest venture from the Wright Bros, expanding on the success of the iconic Borough Market oyster bar and the Ferryboat Inn, Cornwall.  Wright Bros also run the Duchy of Cornwall oyster farm, cultivating and harvesting over 5 million native and pacific oysters a year.  This makes the Duchy Oyster Farm one of the largest oyster farms in the UK.  Suffice to say, they know their stuff.

The evening began with a glass of prosecco and a presentation from Wright Brother (in-law) Robin Hancock on all things bivalve.  Lots of interesting facts and figures about oyster consumption (the French eat two billion oysters a year, compared to the UK's 20 million), nutrition (oysters contain just six calories each - I am soo doing the oyster diet!), production, history and so on.  I'm a food geek, so I love this stuff.

On to the main event, we started with an oyster shot - a mini bloody mary with a whole oyster.  Very fun - would be a nice touch at a dinner party.

Next we moved on to the more serious business of trying different varieties of oyster: Carlingford Lough (Ireland), Speciale de Claire (France) and Maldon (Essex).  We had a rather nice glass of Chablis, whilst chatting to Robin and his team about the differences between the oysters.  Whilst they were all delicious, I think my favourite was the Maldon, which was plump and sweet.

Rockefeller oysters (oysters topped with breadcrumbs, spinach and herbs) were followed by deep fried oysters and tartare sauce.  These were washed down with a glass of Picpoul.  Both very interesting ways to serve oysters that worked really well.

The last of the oyster courses was oyster rarebits.  Oysters, bread and melted cheese, what's not to love? 

Finally we had a little palate cleanser of Gelupo white peach sorbet. 

We paid £26 each for the event, which I think was very good value.  This included a glass of prosecco, a glass of Chablis and all of the food.  The Oyster Feast events will run monthly.  If you're a bivalve lover, I highly recommend going along.

None of the oysters on the night are from tins!

The oyster shot, with a caper

The star of the show

Ostrich leg stools

Deep fried oysters.  Deep fried is good.

Rockefeller oysters

We bought one of these

Not for the purist but I love a drop of Tabasco

Oyster rarebit.  Melted cheese, mmm.

Wright Brothers (Soho) on Urbanspoon