Sunday, February 13, 2011

happy valentines day. x

"for God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." - John 3:16

Thursday, November 04, 2010

freakanomics. and meatloaf.

 i was reading freakanomics recently. Yeah, i’m late to the game. I have a tendency not to read books when everyone is reading them, and i’ll read them at my own time. Literary trendiness is too much for me to bear. It’s the same way how i never really relish book reviews in the guardian – it’s all very well someone liking a book or thinking it sucks, i’d like to make up my own mind, in my own time and not have someone tell me.

Freakanomics is an enjoyable read. it made me ask my own questions. Like why do good restaurants always go downhill after a certain period of time? Is it just complacency of the chefs, or is there a larger price question at hand, some tipping point in which restaurants tip from excellent to unbearable? It brought to mind my time in Chicago, where at law school, the economic analysis of law was the constant theme running through all the classes. “Fair” was the four letter word one never dared utter in class. What’s the price of “fairness” and how does economic efficiency reflect itself in that concept? It was extremely capitalist. A far cry from the more socialist approach at the LSE where our classes revolved around the indictment against all big, bad and evil corporations and we were challenged to look at the wider range of stakeholder interests, which generally included the society at large.

Freakanomics also made me think of meatloaf. Not the aged rockstar (though there’s a whole other story there). Meatloaf – the food. I admit it isn’t the most straightforward of connections to make, but allow me to explain.  It’s not that complicated. This guy i dated while in Chicago, AF, was quoted in Freakanomics. He wrote a paper while doing his phd in economics and said some clever things which were quoted in the book. AF really likes meatloaf. AF’s idea of a gourmet meal out was meatloaf from the boston kitchen. There was also that time i almost killed him by suggesting dinner at our neighbourhood Hyde Park thai restaurant – he’s allergic to peanuts and they cooked everything in peanut oil. The date ended in A&E. I guess i knew it was never going to work out when i realised he wasn’t a foodie. I’m not sure i can be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t obsess over food like i do.

Anyway, meatloaf. I haven’t eaten it since all that time ago in Chicago with AF. Meatloaf with mash and gravy. It’s comfort food. And it’s comfort food season.
I pretty much followed the recipe ( on The Pioneer Woman’s blog. That woman is genius. She almost makes me want to marry a farmer. Actually she just makes me hungry.

The only part i deviated from was the ketchup glaze, only because i don’t like ketchup. So I made a glaze with Sriracha instead. I would have eaten this with a velvety mash (in they style of Robuchon artery clogging butteryness) and bisto. But i didn’t because i didn’t have potatoes. Don’t’ judge me for eating Bisto - it makes me happy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

boisdale with the boys

 Trust J and K to pick boisdale for supper – it was the whisky club and cigar terrace that drew them there. Couldn’t get more boy friendly than that unless we had gone to a gentlemen’s club. But i don’t’ think the  respective wife/girlfriend would have approved, and i’m glad – the last time i went to stringfellows i don’t think they served food.
Still i was grateful to have been invited along for dinner and what was a really good night out. I cant’ believe i’m saying this, but the menu was so sexy. Not in that clichéd minimalist fusion food trying way too hard way. There was nothing fusion about the food here – standard classics done incredibly well. This menu oozed confidence. And confidence is sexy. Very sexy. The choice of starters offered on the menu included straightforward pleasures such as oysters, prawn cocktail, crab on toast, caviar. J has a theory that if any place is confident to put something as mundane sounding like prawn cocktail on its menu and claim it to be a house specialty, it’s either got unjustifiably high regard for itself, or the prawn cocktail is going to be damn good. And it was. A mound of fresh crisp prawns on a bed of lettuce crisper still, dressed with green harissa mayonnaise and mary rose sauce and liberally dusted with paprika. It was a joy to eat. Banish all thoughts and bad memories of the supermarket tubs of prawn cocktail bachelors buy to eat the garishly pink mayonnaise. This was a complete joy to eat.
K and I each went for the caramelised diver caught south uist king scallops, roast macsween haggis, saffron mash, dry curd Ayrshire ackon and spinach puree. How does the very sound of that not immediately send shudders of undisguised pleasure down your back? Well it did that for me and i had to have it. Had to. And it was more than i thought it’d be. The scallops were perfectly executed, juicy, plump and sweet like all great scallops should be. The haggis, fried to a crisp in little mounds, the bits of bacon providing yet more smoky crunch against the creaminess of both the scallop and the gloriously yellow saffron mash.
It was the night for cow. K’s steak tartare was extremely tasty and served with thin cut shoe string chips which were perfectly crisp and a very good thing to eat with the well seasoned raw mince and fresh egg yolk. I could never work out why Mr Bean didn’t’ take to steak tartare – it’s a glorious thing to eat when done well. A bite of the thin cut chips and i declared that if i was queen, i would outlaw all other forms of chips and just have these – off with the heads of those who dared serve me those soggy chunky chips which are nothing short of a monstrous disaster. I’ve never really liked chunky chips – the potato to surface area ratio doesn’t do it for me.

J and I had a rib eye  each – he chose his with the grated black truffle and glazed carrots. I had mine with béarnaise sauce, watercress and a grilled tomato. I had asked to sub the tomato for mushrooms – i wasn’t in a tomato mood, and the chef was nice enough to give me both the tomatoes and the mushrooms. The wild mushrooms were luscious, velvety, and tasted like an autumn romp in the woods. We also ordered a side of Jerusalem artichokes to share. The steaks were very good. and i'm glad they gave me the right amount of bearnaise - i hate it when the bearnaise runs out before you're done with the steak.

If the food so far had me shuddering in pleasure. The deserts made me scream in pure delight. Silently of course. I had the earl grey brulee which came with vanilla ice cream, a jam-filled sponge and a marshmallow on a spoon shaped butter tuille. K had the chocolate torte – so rich yet not cloying at all and just completely delightful. J’s oatmeal icecream with raspberries had the perfect balance between the tartness of the fruit and the smoothness of the oatmeal icecream – it also came with a pastry cigar filled with whisky cream which made J very happy indeed.

Boisdale has several branches over London – and to be honest, before this night, it never really appealed to me – i thought it’d be too stuffy and tartan. It was very tartan, and while a little old school, the food is completely delightful and a lovely time was had. Thanks J & K for taking me on your boys night out! x

Boisdale of Belgravia
15 Eccleston Street

Thursday, October 28, 2010

mr alien's chilli

As we filed out of spinning class on Monday evening, Elliot, the spinning instructor said to each one, “well done – good effort”, until I walked past him and he said “one class only? Not staying for the double? Lightweight… tsk tsk” followed by a shake of his curly haired head and a big frown. Why do i get treated differently? :( not fair.

But the frown was worth it. I would normally have stayed for the double spin class extravaganza where Elliot holds court on Monday, but i received a text in the afternoon announcing that Mr Alien had cooked a large pot of chilli and help was needed to consume it. I’ve had Mr Alien’s chilli many times. It’s fabulous. And it comes with home made guacamole. And nachos. And fantastic company – Mr and Mrs Alien count as one of my favourite people in the neighbourhood and it’s a joy to hang with them and their lovely family. Plus i always get fed lots. I love people that feed me.
 Mr Alien making guacamole.

Guacamole which i helped to mash.


The chilli was rather more spicy that usual. Mr Alien had somewhat overcompensated for the mildness of the new spice mix he was trying. It was still richly delicious. He was explaining how to make his chilli, and i was only half-listening – i figure why make it myself when i can just come round and eat it. He does however put a whole bar of extremely dark chocolate into his chilli, and it definitely shows itself, bringing out the other warming flavours of the stew as it emerges.

Thanks Mr and Mrs Alien – I had a fab evening - the company was, as usual spectacularly fabulous. x


Y and i decided to be brave last night and travel into the deep south that is Elephant and Caslte in search of chow.  Polish chow to be exact. We wanted to go to the fabled shiori for sushi, but alas, they were all booked up for a private event. Mamuska! has been on my list of places to try and Y thought it looked fun. To be honest, I was really glad he was coming with me – i was a little bit scared to go there by myself. It’s probably old age – i don’t remember ever being scared coming to Elephant and Castle late at night when i was in my twenties, revved up with drink and raring to go for a night out at MOS.

We both felt it necessary to have a shot of wodka each to start the meal. And what a meal – we were completely stuffed by the time we stumbled out of the polish café on the second floor of the Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre. All for £25 for the both of us. With starters at £3 and mains at £5, bargain seemed like an understatement. I’ve eaten far worse food for £5 – with the few exceptions, most meals bought for £5 have that mass factory produced freezer burn microwaved air about them. Think of the inedible meals that you’re subjected to at some pubs. There was none of that nonsense here.

We ordered Barszcz i krokiet z miesem (beetroot soup with minced pork croquette), Pierogi Mamuski! z kapusta i boczkiem (dumplings with cabbage and smoked bacon topped with onion and bacon), Kotlet schabowy (pork chop with potatoes and salad), Gulasz (goulash). I just realised we didn’t’ have desert which is an anomaly – but there simply wasn’t space. I particularly liked the pork chop – possibly because it was breaded and deep fried, but it was surprisingly not heavily greasy like i was dreading it would be. Hearty, but not artery cloggingly so. The pierogi tasted like chinese dumplings, and there’s something just so comforting about meat wrapped in dough – i haven’t yet met a dumpling i haven’t liked as much as my duvet on a cold winter’s night. The goulash was a little stock cubey and could have benefitted from a little more paprika, but it was velvety and stewy all the same. I didn’t take to the beetroot soup, but it was more because it looked too much like cranberry juice. It did taste very nice and Y was rather pleased he could have the whole mug. The croquette that it came with was a tasty bit of minced pork wrapped in pancake, breaded and fried.

There’s other stuff on the menu that i’d like to try – like all the other pierogi variants, and the potato pancakes. It’s not a place for vegan rabbit like health food – the portions are hearty and the cooking heartier still. But i shall wait till Y fancies another trip there or someone else is brave enough to venture south and take me.

Unit 233, 1st Floor
Elephant & Castle
Shopping Centre
London SE1 6TE

Friday, October 22, 2010


JW suggested Sabor for dinner – he was craving latin American food. I was a bit wary – the last time we spoke about latin american food, the conversation involved his very graphic description of eating a spatchcocked guinea pig. It made me think of the two guinea pigs i briefly owned when I was a trainee. I was convinced they were gay – perhaps it was just a matter of guinea pig grooming behaviour, but it sometimes looked a lot dodgier than purely a practice of guinea pig hygiene.

Sabor, thankfully didn’t serve spatchcocked guinea pig. They did however, have a range of food spanning a number of south American countries. They have Ceviche.

I love ceviche. I love raw fish. LOVE IT. I ordered sea bream ceviche which had a abundantly citrusy dressing and a little mound of cress which i ignored. Don’t get in the way of my fish. We tried also the cod ceviche which had a chilli lime marinade and came with toasted corn. A trio of empanadas accompanied with a jalapeno and tomato relish was delicious – lightly crisp on the outside yet meltingly dense inside. We had hoped to try their home made chorizo, but they had run out alas.

I ordered the Pargo Rojo con Gallo Pino, pan-fried fillet of red snapper with a cocoa chilli coating with red beans and a tomato sauce. We also tried the Rabo Encendido, Cuban slow braised oxtail in malbec served with garlic mash and a huge plantain chip, the Aji de Gallina, a Peruvian dish of chicken breast with a golden saffron mash and aji Amarillo sauce. The sauce is spicy, but doesn’t immediately strike you as such – the heat stealthily rises from the back of your tongue catching you unawares, but in a most pleasantly warming way. The Conejo en Salsa de Chocolate, a unctuous slow cooked rabit in a spicy chocolate sauce with potatoes in tumeric cheese sauce – spicily chocolatey in that gorgeous Peruvian way. And yucca fries – we liked them so much we had two servings.
We shared a bottle Ribera (2006 Ribera del Duero, Arrocal, Spain) which was smooth and fruity. It was described as having chocolate hints, but not a flavour i readily picked up. Extremely quaffable in any case.

JW said to save space for puddings, because they did them well here. He’s usually not wrong about food. Alfajores con Helado de Café, Peruvian/Argentinian biscuits served with coffee ice-cream and dulce de leche sauce. It was everything i thought it’d be – comfortingly sweet, but not sickeningly so. The coffee ice-cream, made with their own house blend of coffee, was possibly the best coffee ice-cream i’ve had. We tried also the Dulce de Leche brulee, and passionfruit cheesecake. Dulce de Leche makes everything taste good.

Sabor is lovely – a little bit of a trek up Essex Road, but definitely worth the trek. And for those that can’t make it to the inca trail, this place brings a little bit of gaily authentic latin American with a slightly modern twist to us in the grey of London.

108 Essex Road
London N1 8LX

le mercury

le mercury is one of the few places that restores my faith in the belief that one can still find decent grub in London without having to also resort to bank robbery.

The menu isn’t complicated – mostly bistro classics. No faffy modern twists. Just incredibly straightforward and tasty. And all completely affordable. We were a gaggle of girls, and decided against having a three course meal each, so opted for the girl friendly route of a couple of starters and deserts to share. And for our ‘almost’ 3 course meal, a bottle of wine, coffees, service and a bellini came up to less than £25 a person.

I adored the crayfish and lobster ravioli with spinach and shellfish sauce. And i was wishing we didn’t have to share, because i could have definitely eaten the whole thing myself. The ravioli, blowsy and fat with crayfish and lobster meat, the sauce, velvety and luscious and extremely moreish. The moules mariniere we shared were confidently executed, as was the foie gras and duck ballotine with poached dates and thin crisp toast.

I had the ribeye steak with frite as my main, which was a little disappointing – but this was the fault of the meat itself rather than the way it was cooked. The shallot sauce that it came with was a joy, but they had cooked it to my medium rare order, it was just the quality of the meat itself which let it down. The other mains which were ordered were however, a joy to eat, and the table descended into temporary silence as food was shovelled into hungry mouths. We ate between us, roast breast of duck on garlic mash, roast lamb with rosemary, sea bass fillet with minted pesto, and slow roasted honeyed pork belly with celeriac.

I had, i’m ashamed to admit, already eaten 4 puddings by the time i arrived at dinner, so i was happy to go without. Everyone else looked at me like i was mad – no pudding? I did suffer pudding envy as the plates of cheesecake, sticky toffee pudding and poached pears arrived, but had to content myself with a double espresso instead. I didn’t try any, but from the repeated silence that descended as puddings were devoured, followed by the happy groans of gratification, i surmised they were pretty good. And the fact that no one was very enthusiastic about offering me any meant that they were possibly too good to be shared.

Le Mercury
140a Upper Street
N1 1QY

colin firth. wanton noodles.

I’m having a blonde phase. I succumbed to the lure of hair extensions – R highly recommended her extensionist, so a phonecall and a tube ride to Finsbury park later, i now have long wavy hair. Never had such long hair before – it’s LONG and it comes halfway down my back. I’m probably genetically unable to grow such long hair, so it’s been a real novelty having long locks. Having a real rapunzel moment.
 Took my hair to the movies last night. The premiere of the King’s Speech. It’s a brilliant movie – it makes you laugh and it’s deadly touching – makes you almost want to weep when the King weeps, an inspirational tale of a man who wanted to do what was right, scared as he was, sought help and faced his fears. He might not have fought bears, but when a man faces his fears and fights through the struggle to beat being scared, it’s a brave man indeed. And i got to be in the same room Colin Firth. Who is hot. At 50. Not in the George Clooney way, but gorgeous in his own right.
Here’s a picture of colin firth – third on the right – he’s tiny because i can’t work out how to zoom in.

Enough about gorgeous men. Getting my hair done and watching a movie was pretty hard work and made me hungry. A dinner was needed. I have a natural suspicion of most restaurants in Leicester Square, and on the rare occasion i make it down there, i go to either four seasons for roast duck, leong’s legends for xiaolongbao, or HK-Diner for wanton noodles. A toss-up between the three choices and HK Diner it was for wanton noodles. It’s not Mak’s, or Tsim Chai Kee, but the wantons are plump with prawns and pork, and the stock is luscious. The noodles are a tad limp and not as “Q” as one would like. I laughed when I first heard the term “Q” to describe the texture of noodles – it’s a term used among chinese folk, first in Taiwan, to describe the al dente springiness of perfectly cooked egg noodles. A nice dollop of chilli oil, and i was in business. HK Diner actually has some rather nice cha-chaan-tang style dishes, and bubble tea. And as all proud and proper chinese restaurants do, unabashedly discrimiate against white folk and have a completely different menu for folk who can read chinese.
HK Diner
22 Wardour Street
London W1D 6QQ, United Kingdom
020 7434 9455

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

make us cake! make us white chocolate cheesecake...

JM, my secretary, came into my office one day and handed me a piece of paper. I hadn’t asked for anything from her, so i was a little puzzled to be handed paper. i glanced down and realised it was a recipe for a white chocolate cheesecake – the recipe naturally came with the implied request to make cake. I would most certainly oblige. I don’t think i’ve ever turned down a request for cake.

So here’s the cake i made. I brought it into work today for the lovely secretaries, and i think it was pretty good.

100g digestives, pulverised into crumbs
50g brown sugar
50g butter, melted
100g white chocolate, melted
500g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
200ml cream
Shot of baileys

Mix the digestive crumbs, brown sugar and melted butter well and form a crust at the bottom of a 20cm springform tin. Refrigerate till set. Whip cream cheese, icing sugar, cream, melted white chocolate and shot of baileys well. Spread on top of crust and leave to set in fridge overnight. Easy peasey.

The original recipe said to “place a few cut strawberries strategically on the top of the cheesecake”. What does it mean to have “strategically placed” strawberries? What’s so strategic about the placement of strawberry halves? alas, strawberries aren’t in season so i couldn’t strategically place them on the cheesecake. i might have been a tad liberal with the baileys, and it definitely didn't suffer from the lack of strategically placed fruit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

zucca is pukka

i’m not quite sure how i’ve ended up always answering my phone at work with “[my name] speaking”. It was as if saying “hello” is for wimps. None of that for me. I can’t remember if that was a slavedriver’s inc policy – but if it was, it certainly wasn’t uniformly practiced. And now i’m so used to doing it, i’ve stopped questioning it’s oddness. Till today.

This woman rang me, and i answered in the usual way. And then she asked me who i was. I just said!!

Random rant. I just want to write about zucca. Because it’s pukka. I couldn’t’ help that. i love it when things rhyme. Or sort of. In my randomest of moments, i write haikus. You know, Japanese styled poems which have 5-7-5 syllables. There was a certain ex-friend that used to be the unfortunate recipient of the products of my poetic inspiration. Maybe we’re not friends anymore because i wrote him too many haikus. I do get carried away.  But it’s fun. Beats thinking about how to take security over shares. Then again i also like alliteration. Random ranting.

Zucca. Modern Italian restaurant on Bermondsey street. You’d think that the closest tube station to Bermondsey Street is Bermondsey – it’s not. London bridge is closer, and it’s not even that close to Bermondsey. But i digress. The food at Zucca, is again, pukka. I met A&C for Sunday lunch there and we had a brilliant time. You can’t beat hanging out with old college mates, especially not when they make you laugh till your sides hurt like A&C do.

I was late, as usual, and A&C had decided that we would order a couple of starters to share. We got the carpaccio of seabass, prosciutto with figs, buffalo mozzarella with grilled vegetables. The carpaccio could have been a little colder, but it was tasty and struck the right balance with its citrusy marinade. Prosciutto with figs, as ever a classic. A fresh fig is a delight. All we got in Singapore were the dried variants, and i never knew why the bible made such a big deal of them, until i ate my first fresh fig. It’s the perfect thing to eat with salty, fatty cured meat. They gave us a little grief when we asked for butter for the bread, but understandably so because they are very proud of their olive oil.

The usual indecision reigned over main choices, but i finally decided on the slow-cooked duck with polenta. I always fear I’m playing Russian roulette when i order polenta – it can go so horribly wrong and you end up with a plate of grey gloop. But this was nothing like that. C wasn’t entirely a fan of polenta, but a mouthful of this one and she smiled in approval. The duck, slow cooked to fallen-apart goodness was beyond tender in stewy deliciousness. A ordered veal chops which were excellent. C’s grilled squid was unbelievably tender – squid being another thing that could go so wrong – you either cook it for 30 seconds, or more than an hour. Anything in between just yields chewy rubber. The squid was grilled with chilli and came with a large rocket salad. I’m definitely getting that the next time.

I hinted at the suggestion that we skip desert when A&C looked at me in horror at the mere thought of that. So pudding it was, apple cake with an abundance of cream. Pudding also came with A&Cs hilarious recollection of how you can’t get crème fraiche in crete.
Altogether, lunch was a delightful affair, and i will most certainly be returning soon. And sooner still for lunch with A&C - let's not leave it too long.

Alas, i am incorrible and i couldn’t resist. Haiku for the day:

I do like zucca
 it's really rather pukka
they don’t serve yucca

184 bermondsey street
se1 3tq

bimbimbap. young bean.

out of all the cities i've ever lived in, i miss Tokyo the most. it's a bittersweet sentiment. i had one of the lowest points in my life so far in tokyo, but i also had the best fun of my twenties. i miss the constant sense of novelty, the never ending assault on my senses as i sought every experience in a city which has so much quirkiness, tradition, convention and . the language barrier was difficult, but also in part a reasonably enjoyable challenge as i navigated round the city, speaking in broken japanese to waiters, cabbies and the odd businessman who tried to chat me up and buy me a drink. i miss the club we used to frequent where models were given free entry - it made for great eye candy. i miss the ramen counter in shibuya where many a post-partying 4am eating binge was held - we loved it because we could just punch in our choices into the ramen vending machine and no japanese was needed to be spoken. i miss the sunday afternoon walks around harajuku and yoyogi park to watch the teenage goths and teenage rock bands rehearsing next to elvis presley wannabes. i miss the japanese curry houses where we would compete over lunch to test our tolerance of the spiciest curry levels - i usually won. i miss the hospital themed bar where cocktails came in sryinges. i miss the amazing array of takeout options for dinner when working late - especially the man who would bring me dolsot bimbimbap, stone bowl and all, right up to my desk.

dolsot bimbimbap. i rate it among my favourite comfort foods. it's a shame no one offers that service of bringing stone bowls laden with rice right to your desk in london. but i’ve found an alternative source. lunch with J at Young Bean has become a regular occurrence since i started work in the city. we often have bimbimbap cravings and we come to this place to eat the good stuff. Taki, the brazillian-japanese head waiter is charming, and still tries to offer us the menu when all we only ever want is beef dolsot bimbimbap and perrier. i couldn't eat bimbimbap if it doesn't come in a stone bowl anymore. it's fantastic, the sizzling rice, the glistening egg, the strips of raw beef, the jullienned mix of carrots, seaweed and greens. you heap your chosen quantity of chilli sauce into it. you mix. and you eat. i like to let my rice sizzle a little more so that hopefully a nice crust forms around the bottom of the bowl which i can then crack into little crisp pieces. Young Bean isn't fancy, and most of the lunch crowd comes for the buffet lunch spread. But they do a good bimbimbap - the sauce is right, the ratio of ingredients is balanced, the stone bowl properly hot so you get lots of crusty bits. its all about the crusty bits.

Young Bean
2-3 Bassishaw Highwalk