Monday, 15 August 2011

Phoenix Palace does good Dim Sum

BBQ pork puff pastry

As a child who tried resisting all things Chinese - violin lessons, the Last Emperor, belching at dinner - there was one thing that attached me like an umbilical cord to my culture.

Thank God for dim sum, without which I might have been lost to cheeseburgers.

Xiao long bao - Shanghai dumplings with pork

Yum cha, that Cantonese tea-house tradition during which dim sum is served, is for the greedy. One is never full, and there is always more. Order as many of those small dishes as you possibly can, and talk loudly. With your mouth full.

The traditional time for yum cha is midday, Sunday, when all the aunties get together and “wah!” at how tall you are, how pale you are, how fat you are now - it’s a sign of family.

Octopus patties with vinaigrette

Lunch is elevated from a meat-and-two-veg affair to being the excited heart of the Chinese community. The meal is a sequence of rituals. There are rules you should learn. Serve tea to others before yourself. Tap fingers on the table to thank those pouring tea into your cup - a gesture not, as my friend thought, a sign of impatience or atrocious manners. Cock the teapot lid to show that the teapot needs refilling.

Stir fried choi sum and turnip patties with XO sauce

If you can successfully navigate the ritual of yum cha, you warrant inclusion. Golden Palace in Harrow, the hub of the Chinese community in the suburbs of northwest London, had been the scene of many dramas before it closed down. It was where boyfriends were first taken to meet the family, where celebrations and commiserations were held. My parents judged on whether guests would gutsily try that chicken’s foot. Or at least laugh if they didn’t.

Chickens' feet with black bean sauce - a childhood favourite

There is no more Golden Palace, sadly. But, keeping things palatial, our alternative is Baker Street’s Phoenix Palace, which is consistently delicious and does all the traditional dishes, like char siu bao and siu mai, but (refreshingly) innovates too. The sort of restaurant you might see in Hong Kong, the huge familial place has a soundtrack of chopsticks clacking in hungry fervour under the chat and you may very well find yourself near Chinese grannies seated by their begrudging but respectful iPod-wielding grandsons for their big Sunday lunch.

Look out for me if you’re ever there, and say hello. I shall be proffering cartilaginous chicken’s feet with my chopsticks to see if you're worthy of company.

Vietnamese spring rolls

Suckling pig with jelly fish

Grilled chicken gyoza

Mixed seafood crispy noodles

Phoenix Palace on Urbanspoon

Phoenix Palace
5 Glentworth Street, London NW1 5PG
Tel: 020 7486 3515

Monday, 18 July 2011

Recipe: Squid, Chorizo and Broad Beans

It all started with Rupert Everett. He was in white T - the sort that only those who want to show off what’s underneath it wear. We were at the counter of J Sheekey Oyster Bar, Dee and I, feeling as though we’d bunked school to eat fish pie and drink champagne.

Rupert walked through the door.

Our octopus with chorizo and broad beans arrived.

Slight panic. What to devour? Hollywood-star-in-tight-T-shirt-and-designer-stubble or good-looking-seafood-dish-that-dies-when-cold?

I think you know the answer to that question, friends. If Rupert had decided to give us a star turn of Say a little prayer I might have reconsidered but as he didn't I chose to spend the next day or so obsessing over the dish. The chorizo and broad bean dish, that is.

Anyway, here’s my attempt at it. I like J Sheekey's meaty-mollusc combination, especially their baked razor clams. Unfortunately I could find no octopus at the fishmongers, only frozen baby squid from Waitrose. But for a light Sunday-night supper, this is still a bit of a luxury. Great as a starter.

Recipe: Serves 2

I won’t go into how to prepare squid, but click here for a good ol’ Mitch Tonks BBC demonstration.

8 baby squid, cleaned and complete with tenticles
Under 100g chorizo slices
About 20 broad bean pods (thanks Riverford)
1 big garlic clove, sliced (optional)
Olive oil
Squeeze of lemon

Pod the broad beans and throw into a pan of boiling water for 4 minutes.
Drain, refresh with cold water then peel the skin of each bean. Keep to one side.

Slice the body of the squid in half, lengthways. Drizzle oil over the squid halves and tenticles. Heat a griddle pan, and when searing hot, season squid with salt, and lay squid on pan a minute each side until they curl. Be quick, and fry in batches, you don’t want to overcook them - in fact, better to undercook. Set to one side.

In another frying pan, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat, and throw in garlic (if using), then a minute later, the chorizo slices. When they start yielding that gorgeous pimentón-coloured oil, throw in the broad beans just to heat through, followed by the squid. Heat for a minute or two to ensure the squid is just cooked, and the orange-red oil coats the beans and squid and add a little butter to enrich the sauce.

Take off the heat, season and serve with a spritz of lemon. Lovely on lightly-toasted bread with a drizzle of olive oil.

J Sheekey Oyster Bar
28-34 St Martin's Court
020 7240 2565

Friday, 24 June 2011

Les Deux Salons review and Ruth Ford's Must Drink!

It was an unfortunate decision - to celebrate his birthday on a Tuesday night. We should have just gone for late night Vietnamese.

I like to think it was everyone else’s fault, Giles', Adrian's, Guy's, though I only have myself to blame. You see, the reviews for Les Deux Salons in Covent Garden were stirling.


If I’d gone and opened a restaurant, hard-grafted and walloped £2million on this interior as Will Smith and Anthony Demetre have done, I wouldn’t mind being billed by FT’s Nick Lander as a “serious contender to the Ivy” either.

Herefordshire snail & bacon pie and salt cod brandade, sauté of young squid, parsley cromesqui

And the grand entrance, on William VI street, suggested this would be the place to exercise the art of dining . This is the restaurant of occasion! the doorway states, in all high pillared splendour. Pushing through the heavy door, our entrance felt akin to shimmying down the grand staircase of a country manor. Les Deux Salons is so different from its counterparts, Arbutus and Wild Honey, which have that Soho inclusive snugness I so love.

We were shown to our table, which was in the thick of things. And it was from this point the occasion fell apart.

Roast saddle of rabbit, spring chard, carrot purée

Efficiency is not a sin. But dishes flew from the kitchen with such efficiency that I felt like the naughty kid for chatting and I forgot to chew (we were interrupted about five times). Wines were not recommended with certainty, which was slightly unsettling. We sat almost knee to knee with the tables either side of us - awkward if you’re with your boyfriend.

Bavette steak, caramelised shallot sauce

The food, however, was joyous. There was a masterpiece of a snail and bacon pie, a saddle of rabbit, a sweet, slightly-marshmallowy floating island with pink praline for dessert. But the one thing that I would do star-jumps for is their bavette steak. Their thick, meaty, manly flank - infused with the pungent smoke from a Josper charcoal grill. It was coarse and wonderful, a glorious punchy red-pink inside. And I’d warrant that everything that erupted from that grill would taste as brilliant as this steak.

Floating island with pink praline & custard

A place to linger? Hardly. Too high-adrenaline for me. If this was a bistro - then I'd be happy here - a carafe of red and a manly steak would do just fine. But a bistro it ain't. Song Que can expect a call next year.

Les Deux Salons
40-42 William IV Street
London WC2N 4DE
020 7420 2050

Les Deux Salons on Urbanspoon

Ruth Ford’s Must Drink!

Helena made the very excellent decision to drink carafes of wine with her dinner. I am a huge fan of carafes: being able to order a wine in 250ml instead of a 750ml bottle gives you the freedom to have different wines with every course, and the confidence to try wines you wouldn’t normally, because if it turns out you don’t like it, it’s not as expensive as a bottle would have been, and you can simply choose another one.
More and more restaurants are offering wines by the carafe and this is to be APPLAUDED. I look forward to the day that every restaurant offers every wine on its list by the carafe and glass…
However I was slightly – just slightly – disappointed by the wines that had been recommended to Helena. A Chardonnay and a Cabernet Merlot, whilst both perfectly acceptable as matches for the dishes chosen, are just a bit safe, especially given the incredible choice of wines that Les Deux Salons offers by the carafe (massive thumbs up).
So this is a post about the wines that Helena could have had…
With the warm salt cod brandade and the snail and bacon pie, something thirst slaking is needed, to counter all the salt, but also with enough richness to cope with the textures and weight of the two dishes.
The Grüner Veltliner, Gmörk, Anton Bauer, Wagram (Austria) would have done the trick, with enough body and spice notes to match the flavours of both dishes, but also plenty of crisp freshness to cut through the saltiness. Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s signature white grape and if you haven’t tried it, do. It’s a great alternative to ‘usual’ light white wines like Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, and very good at matching with all kinds of foods.
Salt cod brandade

The bavette and saddle of rabbit are perhaps a bit trickier to find one wine for. The steak was meaty and smoky while the rabbit was light, so we need a wine that will cosy up to the steak without making the rabbit feel intimidated.
The Savigny-lès-Beaunes, ‘Les Bas Liards’, Rossignol-Changarnier, Burgundy (France), made from Pinot noir grapes in one of the more affordable villages of Burgundy, would go down a treat. Plenty of flavour for the steak, and yet light and silky enough for the rabbit.
From the cheaper end of the list, the Rosso di Montepulciano, Cantina Crociani, Tuscany (Italy) would also be good. The little brother of the more famous (and expensive) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, it’s made from the Sangiovese grape and would be lively enough for the rabbit, whilst having enough fruit and savoury flavours not to be overpowered by the steak.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town

There’s no denying the childhood fantasy with bars like The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town. Stumble across unlikely room, find hiding place, open wardrobe, discover other world.

Familiar? Yes, but swap wardrobe with SMEG fridge, and unlikely room with the Breakfast Club Cafe and there you have Narnia cocktail-shaken with retro design.

The speakeasy in London is spreading like glandular fever. There are the classics - Milk and Honey in Soho, and stunning additions the Nightjar, ECC and Lounge Bohemia who take The Cocktail to another level. But these are all hidden behind unmarked doors, often with bouncers brimming with menace and a cocky smile as you walk in.

But there’s no unmarked door here. Just a SMEG fridge you think stocks ham and cheese but actually stocks an underground bar, DJ and about 50 people. Walk through and like Doctor Who's tardis, or Narnia, you discover the world is bigger on the inside.

What also comes with this fantasy is that element of smugness, the whole - being in the know - that makes you a little annoying but helps your G&T taste a whole lot better.

I’m surprised bars such as this one aren’t more prolific - in New York, Please Don’t Tell has been around for years, a hot dog joint with a telephone box that’s the doorway to the drinking establishment.

And so I salute the Mayor of Scaredy Cat for bringing grown-up fantasy to London.

Here are the main reasons I love this place:

1. It’s not full of trendy kids who speak a different language to me.
2. They spun Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance. Who does that any more?
3. Tasked with surprising us (three boys, four girls) with drinks, they embraced the challenge and made us seven different cocktails.
4. I like SMEG.

I don’t want to say too much for fear of ruining the fantasy, but for a place to drink that gives you more than the usual high-prices, bad chat and overcrowding, come here instead for an antidotal wink, a nod and a smugness you’re entitled to have.

To make a reservation visit the website

Thanks to Beth and Vivi for the photos

The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town
SMEG fridge
The Breakfast Club
12-16 Artillery Lane
E1 7LS

Saturday, 7 May 2011

In praise of the doggy bag. Recipe: Leftover porterhouse steak salad

The doggy bag... (box) from Dean Street Townhouse

How English of us to be embarrassed by the doggy bag. Sweeping up those bits we’ve chosen not to scoff, taking them home to reheat dodgy-style in a microwave.

How tight. How uncouth.

But surely it’s the second highest compliment a restaurant can receive: that the food was so fabulous and generous, we’d like to eat it again, thank you very much. The first compliment, of course, would have been to love it the first time round.

Well, the asking for the doggy bag needn’t be embarrassing nor confined to the back-street Chinese restaurant.

The porterhouse steak and béarnaise sauce

I’ve never been shy of asking (it’s my Chinese genes). My last doggy bag was from the impeccable Dean Street Townhouse in Soho. The Scottish porterhouse steak is a beast of a dish, all tender tenderloin fillet one side of the bone, and beefy sirloin on the other. Enriched with custardy yellow béarnaise and accompanied by thin-cut chips.

It wasn’t a cheap meal, this. In fact this beast will set you back a good £65, and it rather defeated us on the night. But it turned into a fantastic salad supper the day after (recipe below), and saved us having to pick up anything new.

Dean Street Townhouse was gracious enough to accept the compliment. In fact, they were prepared for it and as soon as we asked, packed us off with a fancy box and a bag. After our waiter informed us that many fail to finish the Porterhouse, I’d wager they’d not ask for the doggy bag, which to me seems a waste of prime steak.

Our waiter did wonder if we had a dog as we asked if he could pack the bone too.

“No dog”, we replied, “just us”.

Waitrose Food Illustrated’s William Sitwell started the campaign a couple of years back, and was taken on by Jay Rayner and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but I wonder how mainstream doggy-bagging actually is.

Is it something that you’d be happy to do? Or is it just a bit too embarrassing?

The tenderloin fillet (left) and sirloin (right) before...

...and after

Recipe: Leftover beef salad

There were heated discussions while waiting for the bill on what to do with the beef, which was to be used for the next day’s dinner. Stir fry? Pasta?

Fears that the beef would lose its already fantastic flavour cast those ideas aside. We decided to freshen up the steak with lots of vibrant herbs, and enhance rather than hide the flavour with a simple lime dressing.

Serves 2

Beef marinade
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 heaped teaspoon palm sugar
Few drops sesame oil

Leftover rare steak from last night’s blowout
100g dried vermicelli noodles

Handful of herbs - anything like fresh mint leaves, coriander, thai basil or all three is great. I like mine with mint and coriander
Scatter of dry roasted peanuts - roughly crushed with a pestle
Half a cucumber, sliced

Juice from two limes
Fresh chilli or cheat with dollops of sweet chilli sauce

Using a pestle and mortar, crush the garlic, and then add the rest of the ingredients. Pour over the steak and marinate for at least an hour.

Cover the dried noodles with boiling water for ten minutes, then rinse under cold water

Flash fry the steak - you don’t want to cook that rareness out. If already sliced, then it’s a token heat through to take the edge off the marinade. If not, take out and leave to stand before slicing thinly.

Throw the noodles, sliced herbs, peanuts, cucumber, beef. Combine the lime juice and chilli, pour over, toss and serve.

Dean Street Townhouse
69 - 71 Dean Street


020 7434 1775

Thanks to Tom for the recipe

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bank Holiday Asam Udang (Tamarind Prawns)

Crete is unforgiving.

As Professor Trefusis says in Stephen Fry’s The Liar, travel broadens the behind and my eight days on this craggy beaut of an island has certainly done that. Sixteen meals of carnivorous feasting was just mixed-grill pleasure.

And so I arrive back on bank holiday Monday - the depression of the Royal Wedding weekend - resolutely craving a week of Asian food. Craving Nonya food in fact.

Nonya flavours are magnificent. The wince of tart tamarind, against the salt-tang of shrimp paste. I grew up with those flavours - so glorious in Penang laksas and satay. The cuisine is the 600 year old offspring of Chinese merchants and local Malay women along the Malaysian Straits. Nonya originates from Malacca, but Singapore has some of the greatest Nonya food I know. Personally I think this is the best food in the world - and I don’t say this lightly - the best of both Chinese and South-East Asian worlds.

The things to have in your larder will be a block of tamarind, a bottle of shrimp paste, lemongrass, galangal and chillies - all readily available from your Chinese supermarket.

Unfortunately, bank holiday supermarkets are also unforgiving, so all I managed to pick up was a pack of raw prawns and I had to shave a lemon as I didn’t have any lemongrass.

Still, my hit has begun the process of unbroadening that behind.

Asam Udang (Tamarind Prawns)

Serves 2 and takes 15 minutes max

150g prawns - either legs trimmed off, or for convenience a packet of raw prawns (as pictured)

Sauce ingredients
1 onion sliced
1 stalk lemongrass - bruised (peel from 1 lemon, bruised, if you don’t have any)
4 birdseye chillies - red and green, deseeded and slit lengthways
1 generous tablespoon tamarind pulp mixed with 450ml boiling water
1/3 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 level tablespoon sugar
pinch salt

Push the pulp through a sieve and collect the water in a saucepan. Put the rest of the sauce ingredients into the saucepan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes uncovered. Let the flavours get to know each other.

Add the prawns and simmer until just cooked.

Serve with rice and a generous helping of garlic broccoli with oyster sauce.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

A right Jersey Royal weekend

Though the union flags are down from frantic waving and we’ve peeled ourselves from the telly, we still have a few glorious days ahead of us to embrace that nationwide hangover. I’m certainly ready to adopt the weekend that’s as long as the working week.

The first crop of Jersey Royal potatoes arrived last week.

I don’t know who’s not partial to these regal things, freshly dug, all sweet and smooth and waxy.

A big bowl of earthy, just-cooked Jersey Royals is a welcome addition to the indoor/outdoor barbecue.

Whether guest or host can I suggest that these are part of the festivities as well as the Pimms.

Scrub off that soft mud that clothe the spud. They cook terribly fast - you want to watch them - give them less than ten minutes in salted boiling water. Sprinkle finely chopped spring onions which will wilt beautifully over the heat of the potatoes and a smatter of sea salt crushed with your fingers. Coat them in a light olive oil - nothing too strong.

Present with a lamb chop or a glazed steak hot off the barbecue, or perhaps a whole trout. Watch as your guests help themselves to large spoonfuls of spuds and, if they aren’t already, become right Royalists.

Thank you to Phipps and Jersey Royals

Sunday, 10 April 2011

New York Tales: 2. The Burger Brunch

Forget eggs benedict and fancy fries. When your insides are wincing from margarita pain - the burger’s where it’s at.

I’m a maximalist when it comes to the burger. I once had a month’s stint in Australia, where avocado and beetroot is packed in just about everything, after which I was purist no longer. Pickle, onion, fried things, bacon bits. You know the score.

Think thick slabs of meat, wedged in bun and made sloppy with enough condiment to drip from your hands. Cheese? Oh go on then. Melt it.

That was the tonic after a night out at Industry in Hell’s Kitchen - a pulsing gay club, newly opened, box-fresh and quite frankly, too much.

I’d spent the morning-after dazedly wandering the art galleries of Chelsea, all Andy Warhol polaroids and sad artists. But by midday I had a purpose. Brunch with my friend Barry had been booked at the Mercer Kitchen in Soho and burgers awaited. Just the anticipation of eating was making me shake.

The Mercer Kitchen is a fine place - airy and busy up top, but the floor underneath in its Christian Liaigre glory is clandestine - dark with wenge-wood. You may think it's a dear place as it's a Jean-George Vongerichten number (who's just opened Spice Market in Soho, London. Read Jay Rayner's review here) but with burgers at $15 a pop, I don't think that's bad at all.

Barry chose the Niman ranch burger, adorned with only aged cheddar. Mine was called the Mercer (which surely allows the kitchen to dress it up with as fancy ingredients as possible) fussy with tart pepperjack cheese, avocado, creamy Russian dressing and crispy onions. All this glorified cheeseburger was missing was the crunch of salty bacon. Simple golden fries were served charmingly in a flowerpot.

I’d learnt to love Brooklyn Brewery lager over the weeks (the Draft House in Battersea stocks the lager and the ale) which was a handsome thing to swig with mouthfuls of chargrilled meat.

Now, the Mercer is not the best place to chow down burger in New York City. But as far as fussy burgers and good chat go, this place has the winning combination.

It’s the place to talk the morning after the night before. The place where you can avoid smug bright eyed shoppers. The place to hide from the stream of sunbeams when your eyes aren’t quite used to daylight.

I’m all for the burger brunch. Are you?

The Mercer Kitchen
99 Prince St.
New York, NY

Mercer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

New York Tales: 1. The art of eating alone

I grew up on London suspicion.

“Don’t talk to strangers”
“Men that come up to you will kidnap you” (primary school aged six)
“Don’t answer the doorbell especially on Hallowe’en”

I’ve been slowly unpicking these axioms from my life (perhaps the last one not so much).

And then I go to New York City. Everyone’s yapping. No one's moody at you. No huff of an impatient brute in your ear on Oxford Street if you walk too slow. Nor constipated silence in the reluctant intimacy of a train racketing its way to work.

It is a joy to be in New York on your own. Almost every bar of every decent restaurant will have ownsomes drinking, eating, and if they could only smoke, they would.

It’s not an opportunity to leer, it’s not a no-mates statement.

In London it’s unheard of to see people alone for those brunch or dinner occasions. Lunch and coffee perhaps. And rarer still to see strangers talk to each other unless they want to pounce on each other. Perching up at the bar without a companion exposes them as being ON THEIR OWN and WITHOUT FRIENDS.

My friend Kate, a Brit who lives in New York, once rocked up to The Fat Radish to meet a friend only to realise she’d misread her diary and was frustratingly sans mobile. Undeterred, she ordered supper, armed herself with a glass of wine and a paperback. A full member of the ownsome club, she went back for supper with her friend the next day unembarrassed and knowing what to order.

And so I have twenty minutes at the Mercer Kitchen in NY’s Soho on my own. Yearning for a burger brunch that will make friends with some beers and margaritas from the night before.

My friend is late. And that is fine. Trouncing up to the bar, greeted by lovely white-teethed smiles, I snatch a high chair next to someone going at his egg-white omelette with his fork.

I order a cucumber martini.

He looks at me like I’m his kinda girl.

And that’s it. I learn about his trade - broking for marigold yellow cabs. He tells me most people like to rant about them. I don’t, and from there it’s freeflow.

It’s acceptable to be on your own, to wait. My friend Barry comes along, picks me up and there’s no obligation to keep talking. We politely exchange goodbyes. My interlude with a stranger has not ended in kidnap, but a richer appreciation of the yellow cab. Though to be fair – he didn’t come up to me, I bothered him. Perhaps he should’ve been suspicious of me, the Londoner instead.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Eyre Brothers, Shoreditch

*Warning. Another porky post*

Eyre Brothers in Shoreditch. I’m too excited to give this place a full review as we only tried two dishes there - but I wanted to say that the two dishes we did have were outstanding. Both pork, both exceptional and balanced dishes. They were maximalist without being over the top, with punchy flavours that are expertly reigned in.

Pork and clams braised in white wine, garlic, bay with fried potatoes and coriander - Alentejo (a region in Portugal) style
A rich and fun dish - chunks of pork with the delicate clams that appear in the dish. Bursts of freshness of the sea

Grilled fore-loin of acorn-fed Iberico pig marinated with smoked paprika, thyme, garlic and patatas pobres - potatoes with green peppers, onions, garlic and white wine.
Perfectly cooked, hearty, rustic flavour through the meat.

To accompany, we drank a glass of Monastrell 2009, Bodegas Castano from Spain which was rather rich and rather fruity.

It’s rustic and stylish cooking from David Eyre, who set up original gastropub The Eagle in Clerkenwell, and his upbringing in the former Portuguese colony of Mozambique is reflected in the food, which has punchy Spanish flavours too. The room is pared down - dark African mahogany and New York clean lines. The service is impeccable. And you’ll be surrounded by a strange mixture of clientele - mostly City and creative-types. Oh and maybe a daytime TV chef having a celebratory supper.

All I can say is that I urge you to go. And I will be going again to try the pulpo - octopus Galician style, and Caldeirada - the Portuguese fish and shellfish stew.

The mains are close to £20, but each dish is very filling.

Eyre Brothers
70 Leonard Street, City of London EC2A 4QX
+44 20 7613 5346 ‎

Eyre Brothers on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 10 March 2011

6 Nations Rugby Rolls: Hot Pork with Caramelised Onions

I can’t help the porky posts. I know I’ve gushed about hot roast pork rolls here and no doubt I shall write about them again. I make no apologies, it’s an addiction.

And it is rugby-time.

Here’s a treat for the six-nations weekends. I heartily recommend doing what we did last match - the boys came on over for a rugby lunch - a help yourself DIY hot belly-pork roll with a dollop of homemade apple sauce and a thick smear of caramelised onions. Perfect with the biggest bottles of British ale you can find.

It's the caramelised onions that makes this.

I learnt the secret of these onions when I was out in the South of France learning Provencal cookery from the extremely talented Alex Mackay.

The secret was simple. Patience.

I am an instant-gratification kind of girl. I'm not keen on waiting or stirring much (which is why I’ve never made risotto), so these onions are not as faithfully caramelised as what Alex would use in a Pissaladière (this fantastic recipe is in his book Cooking in Provence).
But I do make vast amounts and keep in a sterilised jar. A sort of condiment that goes well with almost everything savoury, the onions make great friends cold with a cheese sandwich, or hot on a steak.

Hot roast pork rolls with caramelised onions

Most of this can be made in advance.

The sagey pork
Get yourself a large slab of belly pork. Score and heavily salt the fat. Preferably leave overnight, but at least for two hours.
Preheat the oven to 240C. Slice the whole layer of fat off with a sharp knife and place sage leaves onto the meat as pictured. Put the layer of fat back on top and roast for 20 minutes before reducing the heat to 200C. Roast for 40-45 minutes until crispy. Leave to rest for 10 minutes then slice thickly.

The apple sauce and onions before

The onions
While the pork is roasting, slice five mild onions. Slug a little mild olive oil and a large wedge of butter into a heavy-bottomed pan. Heat gently until foaming, and throw the onions in. Let them cook gently for at least 15 - 20 minutes and stir occasionally to avoid catching on the bottom. Add a large pinch of salt, and two teaspoons of golden caster sugar. Add a little water every now and then to moisten and make gloopy - cover occasionally if you think they look like they will dry out to steam them a little. Cook for about 15 more minutes until a gorgeous goldeny colour.

The apple sauce and onions after

The assembly
Take floury white bap bottom. Layer with butter, Tracklements English mustard (warning - hot!), apple sauce, onions. Lay on three thick slices of pork, some crackling, salad leaves and floury white bap top.

Sink your teeth into that and get ready for some prime rugby.

Thanks to British Onions for sending me a vast selection of shallots and onions. I had too much fun experimenting.

Olive Magazine's Media Must Have

Olive's Food Porn April Edition Cover

If I've been walking round with inane grin this week, it's because I'm ridiculously pleased to find out that Voracious is fabulous food magazine Olive's 'Media Must-Have' blog this month.

I'm terribly chuffed at being a 'Must Have', right next to cocktail genius Tony Conigliaro and Masterchef champ Mat Follas.

The view at page 114

So hello to any Olive readers who've dropped by this way - enjoy your browse and hope you'll come again.

Thanks Olive and to @charlythechef for choosing the blog.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Morito: Pre-Gig Tapas

Carrying on the theme of little sister restaurants, three of us popped round to Morito. Down London's food mecca Exmouth Market fellow giggers Harriet, Ianthe and I caught a quick supper there before being wowed by the voice of Clare Maguire in Shepherd’s Bush. And I’ll say it upfront that Morito is a gem of a place, Sam and Sam Clarke have a little winner on their hands. It may be right next door to its older sibling Moro, but with its Spanish-Moorish tapas and informal clamour of canteeny tables and chairs, it is equally pleasurable.

Pre-gig bites were swift in their delivery and the staff so down to earth that on occasion I thought we were house-partying with them. More low-key and chirpy than Moro, we chatted happily to our waitress and the kitchen about quail egg deliveries and which moritos to have.

Padrón peppers

We plumped for padrón peppers - (the ultimate beery snack bar edamame beans and pork scratchings) scattered with crystals that gave perfunctory saltiness, croquettes that were light yet jam-packed with salt-cod.

Salt cod croquetas

Patatas mojo - salt crusted potatoes with green chilli & coriander sauce

We had wee boiled potatoes layered thick with a vivid green coriander sauce - a wonderfully simple and rustic dish, as was the sausage with white beans and alioli, which prompted uncouth mopping, ordering of the bread basket and unlimited alioli.

Butifarra sausage (a type of Catalan sausage) with white beans and alioli
The star dish of the night

Crispy aubergine with Miel De Caña

Sliced aubergines had their savoury-soft flesh drizzled with devilish miel de cana (a black molasses) and were followed by the quail’s egg and peppers - oh-so-sweet and perfect in its proportion. But this was the last dish, and there was a definite ‘is that it?’ disappointment by the end as the portions were so tiny. The recommendation was to have three dishes each, but when the tapas was an average £4 each we went for two-and-a-bit. This may have been a mistake.

Quail's egg and chargrilled peppers. They kindly replaced the jamon with peppers for the vegetarian among us

The cooking cannot be faulted. Neither can the service and if I could I would swing by every day. But the bill steadily mounted, and though we did order a fruity Castro Regio Tempranillo at £15, we were all taken aback at how much it totted up to.

On the bright side, you don’t want to be gigging on a full stomach, and there lies the silver lining.

Go early on a weekday and preferably pre-gig, ready to be wowed. And bring lots of cash.

32 Exmouth Market
Islington EC1R 4 
020 7278 7007

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