Thursday, March 29, 2007


177 Hoxton Street
London N1 6PJ

I made the trek out Hoxton for my birthday with friends two of which where either about to or had just had their birthdays. We had read about this restaurant but never been however, as the chef was rumoured to have trained at el Bulli in the Costa Brava near Barcelona we were very exited about the prospect of avant garde food. The restaurant has received mixed reviews but based on our experience they have either fixed the negatives or the criticism was uncalled for.

Our table of five had a very competent waitress that appeared not to be serving other tables so was always available when we needed something. One of the more common criticism had been that the staff was clueless but this was not at all our experience. Same goes for the food. Innovative and excellently executed was how I would describe the experience overall.

We had the nine course tasting menu which consisted of:

  • Sardine, rhubarb puree, citrus, rosemary-sake spray (excellent particularly the puree which totally made this dish)
  • Scallops, hon shimeji mushrooms, dashi, mint (No recollection)
  • Artichoke and honey-wine soup, pine nut ravioli, eringe, yogurt (again excellent never had artichoke in a soup put this really worked)
  • Pork jowl, black radish, langoustine, leek puree (good but unremarkable)
  • Free range egg cooked at sixty five degrees, dashi, chicken skin (yes, I loved this. I have not managed to read up on what exactly happens to egg at sixty five degrees but the egg that Bacchus served had a very unique consistency somewhere between gelatinous and hard boiled egg. With the saltiness of the dashi and chicken skin this was a very unique and satisfying dish.)
  • Salmon belly, black olives, date and hazelnut puree, pate de brique (a bit boring)
  • Lamb shoulder, figs brulee, hijiki paste, hot coffee (I have seen this dish much criticised in reviews but I think this undeserved. The lamb has been cooked for 36 hours using the sous-vide method and in my opinion the resulting bitterness is very attractive. A very unique taste to be sure but it worked for me. I was a little unsure about the ground coffee beans but the rest worked.)
  • Black olive financier, roasted pear ice cream, pine nuts (I have also seen this dish criticised but I found the combinations of salt (on the ice cream) and sweet perfect.)

I have to admit that my recollections are a little hazy as between the champagne at my house before leaving for the restaurant and the Bacchus Bubblebath cocktail before dinner I was quite drunk. This explains why there are only eight dishes on the list above - I will just have to go again! The restaurant gave us the cocktail recipes and my bubblebath consisted of apple puree, simple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, apple juice, Thai basis, vodka (loads) and lemon grass. The other had a Bacchus Bloody Marvellous a “twist on a classic bloody mary” that was made from lime juice, lemon juice, orange zest and juice, ginger and tomato juice (all strained), sweet basil soy sauce, Worcester sauce, chilli, pepper oil and loads of vodka!

After dinner Nuno Mendes the chef owner, came to speak to us drunks and we found out that his stay at el Bulli was in fact only three months but he appears to have picked up a lot in his time there. He did in fact give us a concise version of his CV that was quite extensive for a young guy but I unfortunately don’t remember it except that he started out with Jean Georges in New York and has done some stints in Asia. I think there should be more of a buss about this restaurant than there is at the moment. It is not as good as the Fat Duck but it is very good and for me a welcome source of innovative food.

The Grill at the Dorchester

Park Lane,
London W1K 1QA,

Went there yesterday for dinner, was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and service. I started with pan fried scallops served on white truffle risotto. The scallops where perfectly cooked but what really made this dish was the risotto. Velvety, light stunning. We had a Louis Latour, Puligny-Montrachet 2002 which was excellent and almost good value at £79.

Main was a fairly unremarkable rib-eye with black pudding. Good but nothing more although the cooking again was perfect. The vine however was a Châteaux Palmer 1990, Troisieme Cru Classe de Margaux I did not see the price but I imagine we paid something like £200 for it. I love Margaux and I particularly love Palmer and 1990 was a very good year. I think Parker gave it 92/100.

I will definitely have to explore the rest of the restaurants at the Dorchester after this experience. Particularly, China Tang’s that looks very promishing.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mojo Rojo

My mother and her sisters, well two of her five sisters, spend most of March in the geriatric capital of Europe Gran Canaria. Specifically in the holiday town of Maspalomas. I decided to go over and spend last weekend with them and drive the old ladies around the Island as I suspected three octogenarians would not be terribly mobile on their own.

My memories of Gran Canaria are all from annual visits to Playa del Ingles made with my parents when I was a kid. I think I stopped going with them when I was eleven on the basis that hanging with my parents for a month even if the weather was good was not that much fun. I remember the place being touristic but as a kid I really did not appreciate that the only reason there even where towns where we were staying was so that Northen European tourist would have somewhere to stay. The place is simply horrific and completely artificial with not a vestige of local culture visible anywhere. And the food is indescribable.

Normally I know I am in the wrong restaurant when the menu is in German or even worse in one of the Scandinavian languages. This usually means the restaurant has decided to focus on fleecing tourists and not on food. As a matter of fact I generally do not go into restaurants that display anything other than local language menus out front. If is says tourist menu then I actually switch sides on the street to avoid contagion. Imagine what I felt like on discovering that having the menu in Icelandic is the norm in Gran Canary.

I had one all right meal of baccalo or salt cod in a hotel restaurant in Playa del Ingles but the rest of the culinary experience was pretty depressing. I will never go back other than to play driver for my mum. The only good food experience came in a little town called Tejeda in the centre of the island.

This town looked different and more prosperous than any other I have seen on the island and the restaurant on the town square looked authentic. It looked authentic in a worn way that suggests its been there a long time and been used up by the locals. Upon sitting down on an outside table (the weather did not disappoint even if the island did) the owner came and told us in surprisingly good English about a seven course menu that they where serving that lunch time. It contained all sorts of goodies but what caught my attention was what he said was local speciality of lamb and potatoes.

Basically, what it is is various pieces of lamb quickly grilled at high heat with just salt as spice served with local potatoes covered in a sauce called mojo rojo - literally red gravy. The effect of grilling the lamb at high heat means it closes up quickly and becomes very nice and caramelized on the outside. What really makes this dish however is the mojo rojo and the wonderful canary potato. They are very proud of that potato and rightly so because it really is amongst the best potatoes I've ever had. The mojo rojo is the real find. According to the towns own website (they have a website!) it is made by maciating the following ingredients in a mortar:

  • Garlic;
  • A small amount of sea salt;
  • Cumin seeds;
  • 2 tomates;
  • Hard bread (they call it pan duro I have not really worked out what that is);
  • Olive oil;
  • Vinegar;
  • Sweet paprika;
  • Water.

Simply magnificent, almost turned my opinion of Gran Canary.

On the website they also have a recipe for mojo verde or green gravy. In that case they replace the sweet paprika with parsley (cilantro) and then claim it is great sauce for fish, which I don't doubt.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Carrot Salad

I have started making this salad again after being bored with it for a long time. I prefer Carrot salad as simple as possible i.e. grated carrot, best quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil plus freshly grated black pepper and sea salt. I sometimes replace the balsamic vinegar with lemon or sherry vinegar. I sometimes add raisins or chopped dried apricots but the variations to this simple salad are astonishing.

I googled Carrot Salad and got 1.5 million hits with a really wide selection of methods for preparing the salad. A lot of these where for cooked carrot salad whereas I like raw carrot salad and for variations on the classic French bistro salad whereby they add remolade to the grated carrot. While I love the remolade method it does appear slightly besides the point to lather the carrot up in mayo if I’m trying to eat healthily.

Basic ingredients:

  • Grated Carrot;
  • Best quality olive oil (really do use the best this is a raw salad and you will taste the quality of the oil);
  • Balsamic vinegar (same comment with regards to quality applies);
  • Freshly grated black pepper;
  • Sea salt;

Potential additional ingredients:

  • Dried apricots (finely chopped);
  • Raisins;
  • Celery slices (very finely chopped);
  • Apples preferably grated;
  • Coarsely chopped almonds;
  • Roasted pine nuts;
  • Chives;
  • Shallots (let them marinade in cold water for 5 min to cut the bitterness of the shallot);
  • Grated white turnips (finely grated is important for turnips);
  • Peas and/or beans;
Potential additional dressing ingredients:
  • Lemmon or lime (instead of balsamic);
  • Sherry vinegar (instead of balsamic);
  • Walnut oil (just a dash into the olive oil);
  • Soy sauce (with lemon or lime not balsamic);
  • Yogurt;
  • Mustard preferably Dijon or mustard seeds;
    Worcestershire sauce (¼ tsp);
  • Ground ginger;
  • Fresh mint or flat leave parsley or coriander;
  • Ground cumin;

And I can go on and on. A lot of recipes contain sugar and or honey but I think that’s unnecessary as the carrot is quite sweet enough as it is. One variation that I’m quite exited about but have not tried is to cut the carrot lengthwise into 5 mm think sticks and roasting them before making the salad as before. Will be trying this soon.

BBC on Icelandic Food

Found this excellent BBC Food article on traditional Icelandic food.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


26 St John Street,
London, EC1M 4AY
(07 March 2007)

This is one of my favorite restaurants in London for its eccentric food offering. The food at St John basically is very simple but uses ingredients that we’ve gotten accustomed to never seeing e.g. offal and bone marrow. I love this kind of stuff having been raised by a mother who bought animals whole (she outsourced the actual killing but only because the authorities would have objected to her slaughtering animals in the garage) and then proceeded to use everything. And I mean everything with the possible exception of the trotter. At my house we made sausages from stuffed sheep’s stomach, blood sausage and we ate the heads of animals. Offal was served the Italian way with loads of onion.

We went to St John on the spur of the moment because we had gone to see Peer Gynt at the Barbican and it was so bad we walked out during intermission. I have no idea why anyone would go see a play by Ibsen. His plays are dull in a mind numbing way that only manic depressed Norwegians (and possibly Swedes) can manage. I only went because it was a performance by the National Theater of Iceland but I would never have gone back home in Reykjavik. The acting was superb but you can not sustain yourself on good acting alone for almost three hours. It is like watching someone masturbate; you can admire the technical excellence but you’ll never get anything out of it yourself.

Having, escaped Ibsen we tried getting a table at St John which is hopeless without an reservation but were offered a table in the bar area. They have a slightly scaled down menu there and by 9.30 when we arrived where out of most things. Nonetheless we managed to have a very good meal of smoked eel, Welsh Rarebit, roasted bone marrow with parsley salad, chicken and garlic soup and chocolate cake.

It was all very good and their bone marrow is one of my favorite dishes that I have every time. It is roasted bone marrow served with sea salt and parsley salad all of which you mix together on a whole bread toast. The soup was so heavy on the garlic that my stomach is still complaining twelve hours later but it was good. The force de resistance was the chocolate cake. It is one of these spongy chocolate cakes but so heavy on the chocolate that it becomes runny like a mousse. They serve it with a crème fraise that is much more sour than normal and just works perfectly with the cake.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Beurre blanc is a hot butter sauce made from a vinegar and shallot reduction to which butter is added. Apparently, the origin is that a chef in the Loire Valley forgot to use eggs and Tarragon when making a Béarnaise sauce for a fish dish he was serving at a dinner held by the Marquis de Goulaine. The sauce was an instant hit and was named beurre blanc on the spot!

Ingredients for a Basic Beurre Blanc:

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (can be replaced by the juice of one lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1 to 2 sticks unsalted butter, cold
  • Salt and pepper to taste
In a saucepan combine vinegar, wine and shallots. Over low to medium heat reduce mixture to about 1 tablespoon of a jam like substance. Over low heat add cold butter in a spoon size at a time while whisking continually. Continue to add, butter quickly, barely allowing for previously added butter to melt. Whatever you do, work quickly and pay attention to the temperature. Overheat the sauce and it will separate, leave it too long and it settles and instead of frothy you get flat.

If you are looking for a fine sauce strain the beurre blanc but I quite like getting the shallot with the sauce. You can at this point serve the sauce over asparagus or almost any fish. There are however, loads of methods of making beurre blanc more interesting. Dijon mustard is a classic recipe as is truffle and cream. Muscadet instead of white wine is an Anjou version and in Nantes it is made with fish stock.

Beurre Blanc Genovaise is this rather interesting version:

  • 4 shallots, very finely chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 250 ml water
  • 250 ml dry red wine
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh chervil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter

You make this exactly in the same way as the basic sauce but obviously with a lot more ingredients. I had this in the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva over Salmon and it was excellent.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Temperance

74-76 York Street,
London W1H 1QN

New gastro pub in the neighborhood, Marylebone. Went there with a mate to try out the food. My general feeling with gastro pubs is that when they try too hard to be French bistros they fail. This place is more Victorian classics than bistro and was very much to my liking. The décor is simple with faux gilding on the wallpaper and a rather sweet Swedish (this is the Swedish quarter after all) waitress which together made for a very homely experience.

The menu changes constantly depending on what is in season and available but follows a theme of serving up traditional fare with a twist. I had scallops with some totally forgettable sauce but the scallops were perfectly cooked. They had been pan fried just long enough to brown the sides but no more. My friend had a rustic vegetable soup (velute) that was very heavy on the cumin but again very simple worked very well.

For mains I had Venison & Cumberland sausages with black pudding mash and he had haggis with whiskey jus. Both dishes where firmly in the sort of comfort food that is delightful if done correctly i.e. simply. Here the Temperance did not disappoint and both dishes where excellent. I was particularly found of the black pudding mash as that is a completely new variation on mash as far as I’m concerned.

We finished with Gooseberry & rhubarb crumble w/butterscotch ice-cream which again was very good in its simplicity. In short no complaints although £80 for the two of us with one bottle of vine was a little steep but hey they’ve got to pay London rents like everybody else.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pied à Terre

34 Charlotte Street
London W1T 2NH
(28 February 2007)

Tasting Menu:

  • Pepper Seared Tuna with Chive Crushed Potato, Black Olive and Cabernet Sauvignon Vinaigrette, Baby Sorrel
  • Panfried Scottish Scallops with Squash and Vanilla Puree, Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Beurre Noissette Sauce
  • Roasted Foie Gras, Salsify Puree, Red Onion and Red cabbage Marmalade, Bayleaf Foam
  • Panfried Zander with Ragout of lentils, Snails and Root Vegetables, Parsnip Puree, Curly Kale and Bacon Oil
  • Roasted best End of Salt Marsh Lamb with Caramelised Endive, Shallot Puree and Oregano Sauce
  • The Cheese
  • Mango Coulis with Coconut Foam
  • Bitter Sweet Chocolate tart, Macadamia Nut Cream and Stout Ice Cream
  • Coffee and Petits Fours
Mmmh. We had a lovely Sancerre with the fish and an even lovelier Chevry Chambertin with the meat course and cheese. The menu really speaks for itself although the most memorable dish was the Zander and least memorable was the foie gras.

This was a closing dinner for a deal we did before Christmas so we started with a champagne reception at the bar. The best dish of the day was actually one of the canapés that they served in the bar. It was a foie gras foam sandwiched between two very nice home made crisps. Spetacular.