Wednesday, August 29, 2007

galvin at windows

i love being on top of tall buildings. having been spoilt at slavedriver's inc. with the privilege of a window seat on the 29th floor, i fill my day peering through the window at the sheep in mudchute park, the dinghys at the sailing centre and have been known to whip out the binoculars from my desk drawers to stare at other pockets of activity on lower lesser buildings (and the rather fit looking bloke clad only in a towel that once appeared in the apartment complex opposite our offices). being a sucker for the views from above has led to many happy memories at the signature lounge at the john hancock building in chicago, the new york bar and grill at park hyatt in tokyo, cityspace bar in singapore, cloud nine in shanghai, felix in hong kong and other establishments where i've been a willing victim to paying a premium for the privilege of taking an elevator at such speed which make my ears pop. it was therefore understandable that in my vulnerability for all manner of bars and restaurants high above ground, i was particularly looking forward to dinner at galvin at windows.

ek and i were led to our table, which though not right at the window's edge, still afforded us a view above the environs of the park lane and hyde park. there was a large body of water in hyde park which confused us a little and the maitre'd quickly pointed out that it was in fact the serpentine which made me feel a little silly. the maitre'd was extremely chatty, and I almost felt I had to apologise on behalf of my nation when he confessed he had been recently ditched by a singaporean. That's just life, he sweetly answered. hardly the stuffy service I had braced myself for.

I wasn't sure what to expect of the food - I had been warned that it was noting beyond ordinary, but I was also intrigued by michelin's pronouncement that galvin was a "rising star" (and the associated discussions about the whole michelin rising star "perhaps-you-might-get-a-star-next-year-but-perhaps-not-and-we'll-be-keeping-an-eye-on-you" business). I simply thought the food was yummy. Upon placing our orders, we were presented with a ball of soft goats cheese on a bed of diced sweet vine tomatoes. ek decided to start with a seafood bisque which was a lovely creamy concoction of crustacean goodness. my smoked trout was on the right side of pink, perfectly cured flakiness. my duck was a lovely shade of tender pink, it's slight game-iness against the sweetness of the carrot and orange puree. ek seemed pleased with the roasted seabass which came with a long crisp toast topped with mussels. a warm Mirabelle tart and vanilla ice-cream for pudding and we thought we were done. not so. a tray of petit fours appeared, and the waiter let us have some of the cocoa-nibs in his tray and gave us a running commentary of the sensations we would taste. this was to be followed again by a lovely pink strawberry marshmallow and a pastel green mint one.

had i not an unsociably early flight to catch the next morning, i would have definitely taken up the maitre'd's offer of a table at the adjoining bar - the sparkly lights of London beckoned temptingly from the window seats. not this time perhaps, i sighed, but i'll be back. any excuse for another ear-popping elevator ride.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

wurst ist sehr gut… aber ich habe zu viele gegessen

i spent the august bank holiday weekend in hamburg visiting my dear friend, hotdog aficionado t. hamburg was bursting with summer street fairs this weekend and we were constantly confronted with yet another hamlet of temporary stalls, beckoning us with their wafts of grilling wursts - white docile bratwursts, spicy krakuerwursts, curry topped currywursts - I'd never seen t so happy in a long time. There was also the calorifically sinful kartofelpuffer - german potato pancakes, griddled to a happy crisp and a myriad of german sweets and pastries including a very sugary jam filled berliner donut. t worked out that it was also cheaper to drink wine than water thus justifying the many glasses of excellent reisling to wash the kartofelpuffer down. Poste! Sitting along the banks of the alster picking greedily at chunks of meaty currywurst beneath their deep red sauce and walking in the happily cheesy Dom breathing in the sweet smell of sugar and general fairground merriment, they were happy days.

we would have continued on our merry consumption of wursts, kartofelpuffer, berliners and other e-numbers had we not been rescued by T's charming and extremely personable boss, D who bought us dinner at Goldfisch. T and I went for the chef's surprise menu in the interests of being entertained. An amuse bouche of octopus salad preceded our creamy earthy turnip soup studded with brown shrimp. this was followed by a fillet of panfried red mullet, its crisp skin and firm flakes against the bed of creamy kartofelpuree, cauliflower puree and seared scallop. we finished with a light cheesecake with a compote of summer fruit. The meal was of course accompanied by many glasses of more reisling and alsterwasser (otherwise known as shandy to the rest of us). The order of alsterwasser led to the discussion of radler, which is the munich version made by mixing beer and according to D, "orange lemonade" which upon pushing defined it with a straight face as "fanta, or otherwise known as the soda with addition of a compound meant to resemble orange flavouring." I think he spends too much time with lawyers.

i was privileged over the weekend to also have been invited to a german barbeque where a trestle table laden with salads was proferred. kartofelsalat (potato salad) and nudelsalat (pasta salad) - according to D, the two stalwarts of german society. for all your archaic stereotypes of the hanseatic race, I was privy to a warm, welcoming and extremely polite party of germans who made the effort to engage in conversation despite language difficulty. T and I were also teased because we had woken up to visit the fischmarkt - most people end up at the fischmarkt after a night of boozing at the nearby reeperbahn. T and I just happened to fit in a night's sleep in between, which I thought most sensible.

t and I have shared, in the course of our friendship, the consumption (and the reminiscence) of many things unhealthy - bacon pancakes, Popeye's fried chicken, buttermilk biscuits from red lobster (and the associated (alleged) theft of our doggie bags by a law student) and many pao de queijos. we always marvel at how God worked, how life turned out, how our paths crossed the continents and how we would never have become friends if not for that year in hyde park. and I can think of nothing wurst (sic), than not having become friends with t.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


No disrespect, but you don’t go to bloody Terence Conran for fine dining. You might go to him for a sofa, but you don’t go to him for an experience in food.
- Gordon Ramsay in “Humble Pie”

E was the most amenable lunch companion. i wanted to take him out for lunch to thank him for all his hard work in assisting me on a matter which involved, amongst other painful experiences, the killing of many trees in the production of a document which ran to the excess of 600 pages. Rather than take him to the perennial favourite, the rat boat, i decided to push the boat out* and book ourselves lunch at Plateau.

led through a maze of power suited pow-wow-ers at lunch, I couldn’t’ help but lust after the furniture - saarinen marble topped tulip tables and tulip chairs, castiglioni arco floor lamps, bertoia wire chairs. I wondered to myself if I had perhaps chosen this previously conran establishment simply to gawk at the furniture.

we hadn’t come to plateau for an experience in fine dining but we certainly weren’t disappointed with our lunch. e started with smoked salmon and a brioche. it came with a curious muslin bundle which upon unwrapping revealed half a lemon. I started with duck rolls. the mains were brought out in speedy succession, steak with roasted tomatoes and a suckling pig, topped with curls of crackling with a side of lightly minted peas and crushed new potatoes. our pudding of a warm valrhona chocolate fondant with coconut sorbet was most delightful and left us with smiles.

it was a fabulous lunch. I had fun sharing the woes of facebook addiction and subjecting E to my very potted history and ode of praise to saarinen and his tulip table.

all the best E – have a fabulous six months, and hopefully I’ll have the pleasure of working with you again.

* pun intended

chez j

i now conclude that cookbooks are the perfect gift. assuming of course that the recipient of such cookbook is a kitchenmeister, there is the potential perk for the giver of being invited back to enjoy the excellently executed results of the said cookbook. whoever said that it is better to give than to receive is a real genius.

J’s a fantastic host, and a wonderful cook. I’m convinced his phd helps in the kitchen. an invitation from someone who bakes his own bread and cakes with consistent regularity of a home cooked thai dinner was anticipated with much glee. J made for us a delicious beef massaman curry and grilled pork skewers. J had learnt how to make gaeng masaman from missionaries while he was out in Thailand and it was a lovely concoction of coconut milk, roasted peanuts, beef chunks, potatoes, bay leafs, cardamom pods and an explosion of other spices and flavours. m had most generously brought chocolate éclairs and a passionfruit custard tart for pudding.

it was a fantastic meal, not just because of the brilliantly comforting home cooked fare, but the easy company and engaging conversations. I was treated to amongst other things, a most inspiring book review of Pierced for Our Transgressions
, an explanation of the mechanism of pull-down beds, discussions involving denby heirlooms inherited from grandparents, vicars appearing in episodes of “Cash in the Attic” and the orange-ness of David Dickinson. it was a fantastic time, sharing fellowship amongst a family I’ve been adopted into.

who should I buy a cookbook for next I wonder.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

le champignon sauvage

i knew it was going to happen. I had said so to the chef and his lovely wife as I left le champignon sauvage. I was going to fall asleep driving back to london and there I was, pulled over in a lay-by to catch a quick nap because despite all my efforts in singing to myself, biting on my lip and giving myself a very rousing pep talk, I finally gave in and pulled over for a nap.

I’d like to blame david and helen everitt matthias for my drowsiness on the A40. I blame them in the nicest way possible of course. I couldn’t have had a lovelier lunch to end what had been a fantastic week spent with 60 boisterous and sugar-fuelled hyperactive children at a christian children’s camp in bredon. brilliant as camp was, it was really nice to sit by myself and chew on an extremely cheesy gougere in peace without constantly being asked a multitude of questions, regaled with displays of how many pieces of garlic bread would fit in a 12 year old’s mouth or being splashed with water and juice from extremely messy children.

lunch was an absolute delight. not just because it was the first meal in a week which did not consist of child-friendly school dinner food, but because it was excellently executed and fantastically delicious. post gougeres, a plate of rabbit mousselline, red onion marmalade and toast magically appeared. it soon disappeared as I savoured each mouthful of the meaty mousse foiled by the sweetness of the marmalade and the crunch of the toast.
I chose to start with seared squid and gloucester old spot pork belly. to say this was tasty would not do justice to how amazing it was. the waitresses must have thought me mad as I launched into a slightly audible soliloquy of praise. this audible soliloquy was to be a repeated occurrence throughout the meal. the aroma of the roasted pork belly hit me as I leant over the curls of tender squid and slices of pork belly bathed in a light creamy foam. I was extremely sad as I put the last forkful of pork in my mouth and savoured its juiciness.
my very clean plate was cleared away and I was presented with a fish knife. strange I thought. maybe the chef had done such magic to the pigeon I had chosen for my main that it now needed to be eaten with a fish knife. the mystery was soon solved as I was brought a little “something from the kitchen” – seared scallops with artichoke puree. or at least that’s what I think it was – I was beside myself with joy as I plunged into the depths of perfectly cooked scallops, their sweetness against the creaminess of the earthy puree. another wave of sorrow swept over me as I finished the last forkful. my only complaint about this dish was that it was served on a pretty plate that had grooves on its edges which meant that some of the precious puree was lost into the abyss of these grooves and civility prevented me from taking the plate to my lips and licking it clean.
my pigeon and snails arrived. snails from Herefordshire on my plate as I was informed. the pigeon was lovely shade of pink and its meatiness against the slight chewiness of the snails, the fluidity of the mash and puree, each forkful was a very pleasant cacophony of textures and tastes. the white asparagus added a slightly woody dimension to the plate which was not altogether out of place to this plate which conjured up images of country hunts in wooded forests, the security of barbour jackets and the comfortable warmth of blazing fireplaces in country manor houses. I’m not sure why, but that’s what I thought of as I ate every scrap of my pigeon.
briefly entertaining the notion of foregoing pudding, I decided to soldier on despite the slight attempts at protest emanating from my extremely full belly. I was brought even nearer to bursting capacity with the pre-desert offering in the form of a shotglass with black sesame parfait, crunchy rose jelly and orchid root foam.

it could be argued that I had been unable to read beyond the first line of the pudding menu, but I couldn’t have been more pleased with my choice of muscovado parfait, mandarin jelly and caramel craquant. the earthy intensity of muscovado shone through with each lick of my spoon as I ate greedily. the crisp shards of craquant with its dulcet sweetness against the mellowness of the citrus tinged cream.

I must apologise for the sometimes rather inaccurate descriptions of what I ate. I was blinkered into the prospect of diving straight into each dish, the descriptions provided by the lovely people who served me were lost in my inability to listen and salivate at the same time. i can’t wait for camp again next year – sharing a week (and the gospel) with lovely, vivacious and funny (albeit sometimes rather smelly) children - and it’s a fantastic excuse to stop off in Cheltenham on the way home for yet another pleasurable meal at le champignon sauvage.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

brian turner

they say, never trust a skinny chef. if that were true, judging from brian turner's girth, we were probably alright eating at his restaurant.

we passed the man himself as the maitre'd led us to our very large table laid for 2. i squeaked in recognition to P who turned around and STARED. the staring was to repeat itself many times as the man sauntered around the restaurant in his chefs whites, particularly checking in on the table next to ours who seemed like they were family friends. we're not very subtle folk.
despite all my (sometimes present) misgivings about television chefs, their eponymous restaurants and other eponymous products, brian turner wasn't a disappointment. in fact it was extremely pleasant. any restaurant which let's me and P giggle and talk incessantly our way through supper without making us feel like we're misbehaving while feeding us fabulous food is always going to be a star in our books.

a light, airy crab mousse with many large chunks of crab meat started us off nicely as we imbibed our champers. P had eaten all of her cracker at once which left her with a mound of mousse still to be attacked. she shot furtive glances at my cracker which I held protectively and nibbled away.

p chose for her starter a gregariously green pea soup which was delicious. I went for the crab cake. we swapped halfway, but I quickly initiated a swap back because I was missing my crab cake. this was followed by the panfried sea bass served over a cherry tomato risotto while p chose a poussin over curried lentils.

puddings were glorious. my jaffa cake pudding was all it was meant to be – it embodied the jaffa cake in all it’s jaffa cake majesty. for those who have never had the pleasure of knowing a jaffa cake, a jaffa cake is a round biscuit sized disc of cake-like consistency topped with a sheen of chocolate and filled with orange jam. sold in tubes, it is an impossibility to just eat ONE jaffa cake. i never buy them because i have absolutely no self control and have on past occasions eaten the whole tube only to stop and stare at my tummy in disbelief and utter disappointment (with myself and also because there are none left). i only eat them at parties or when someone else has bought them because good manners prohibit me from eating more than 3 (and then secretly scoffing another 2 when no one's looking). i digress. back to the jaffa cake pudding, this was moist with a hint of orange peel which revealed a molten chocolate lava when cut open. the marmalade ice-cream which came with it was just divine. p, gravitating to all things crumble related had chosen the pear and raisin crumble tart which came in a short crisp tart shell and served with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice-cream.

i suppose that there are in fact many brilliant chefs who aren't fat - g ramsay and m roux jr who routinely run in the london marathon in pretty decent times and the rather dishy tom aikens being prime examples. but then again, as brian turner demonstrates, it sure doesn't hurt your food or your restaurant to be a not so skinny chef either.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


i love patterson's. i have always loved patterson's. but after dinner on friday night – its status as being one of my favourite restaurants in london is now truly impregnable. how could i not adore a restaurant that makes me squeal in delight when they bring me my desert plate with birthday wishes written in chocolate icing which made us ask – how could they have known?

the food at patterson’s is exquisite – as testified by the clean plates we sent back and the many purrs of pleasure. this was also testified by the couple next to us. the husband was extremely protective of his puddings, assiduously fending away his wife’s straying spoon which hovered slyly over his plate.

they serve sensibly generous portions, and it was a good thing as we were 5 very hungry girls with slightly varying preferences. we were served a chilled watermelon consommé with basil cream and foam before our starters arrived. my tempura of langoustine and vegetables was brilliant - extremely light and crisp and executed by someone who knew what he was doing with tempura. the informal food trading system which had evolved round our table meant that I also managed to sample M’s rabbit tortellni and Y’s iberico ham over a poached duck egg and waffle.

the dover sole was a delight to eat. cooked to perfection, yummy just isn't sufficient a word to describe the smoothness of the flakes of dover sole against a backdrop of extremely creamy mash and the punch of basil coated gnocchi. by the point of eating it all I was much too full to scoff down more of y's steak and ym's lobster which both tasted amazing from the forkfuls we had exchanged.

my chocolate icing adorned desert plate had on it an abundance of chocolate in the form of a chocolate and lemon grass ice cream, chocolate and chilli mousse and a chocolate cream tart. on the table was also the trio of sorbets which were sandwiched between caramelized pineapple slivers and a fruit consommé with pastry straw.

i love patterson's. i love the food, the beautiful service, it's sleekness, sophistication, simplicity and intimacy. i love the very tactile parsley like plants on each table which we took turns to squash. patterson’s holds many fond memories – my last supper before moving to Tokyo, the blind date with the guy from the marines and various other tête-à-têtes. sitting there with 4 of my best girlfriends in london that night, it's yet another memory to add to the treasury. and i have absolutely no doubt it will be the setting for many more to come.

Friday, August 03, 2007

happy birthday to me

i’ve had a lovely birthday. I’m terribly grateful to all the very kind birthday messages, calls, cards, pressies, company and an absolutely gorgeous dinner at pattersons. am feeling rather loved. i couldn’t have asked for a better way to have eased through the pain of coming to terms with turning a year older.

i am grateful to the kind people at slavedrivers inc who wished me well through the day and allowed me to subject them to the results of my attempts at baking – the brave souls who partook of my cupcakes, brownies and rice krispy squares. having made them up in a rather random manner due to lack of the usual things that go into these rice krispy jobbies, i’m left with a rather hazy memory that it involved half a tin of golden syrup and all the white chocolate in my possession last night.

I do however remember what went into the cupcakes because I followed a recipe from a children’s cookbook. the cupcakes were made as follows:

2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g caster sugar
125g butter
125g self-raising flour

beat the butter and sugar till slightly fluffy. add eggs and vanilla essence and beat till smooth. fold in flour and bake in cupcake holders till golden in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 20 minutes till golden. cool before icing with cream cheese icing made out of 120g butter, 230g cream cheese and 220g icing sugar which has been whisked till smooth. resist all temptation to lick the spoon after you’ve iced one cupcake, because the recipe above makes 12 cupcakes and you will have to wash the 11 additional spoons you have licked the icing off assuming that you do intend to use a clean, unlicked spoon to ice the cupcakes.