Posts Tagged ‘English’

Kitchen Confidential

Yesterday I found myself having lunch with Piers Morgan. OK, not sat next to him, but he was close enough to be within earshot which qualifies in my book. He’s an odd fellow close up. Less worry lines that I thought he’d have. Maybe all those months out in LA have resulted in the inevitable Botox injections that seem to be the price of entry to most places there now. I found it rather heartening though that Piers and I should have the same taste in restaurants.

The restaurant in question is Gordon Ramsey’s latest cab-off-the-rank, the aptly named Bread Street Kitchen (http://www.breadstreetkitchen.com/home) since it is a kitchen on, umm, Bread Street. After the proliferation of confusingly named restaurants that seem to have popped up all over London – which includes BSK’s close neighbour, Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa – it’s rather pleasant to have a nice, honest, no frills restaurant name. Which, coincidentally, could be a very good description of the inside of the restaurant itself. Your first observation is that the builder’s must have left in a hurry. It’s all rather industrial with heating ducts and wiring exposed, lots of bare metal and avant garde lighting. Maybe Gordon went for dinner with Bruce Willis during his Die Hard years.

All that being said, you’d be forgiven for not knowing this was Gordon’s place. Unlike Mr Oliver next door whose name adorns every sign and menu, Mr Ramsey’s impact is a lot more low key. Which is good, because you can then focus on the extremely well constructed menu. There are some staples on here (steak etc) as well as an outstanding raw bar which is as fresh and vibrant as you’d find anywhere. I ordered the seared yellow fin tuna with parsnip mash which was extremely good. Not your usual slab of flesh, this had been tastefully cooked and sliced yet still very pink, and topped with featherlight parsnip crisps. Perfect lunch food – not a huge portion, with the emphasis on quality, not quantity. Others round the table had mutton and potato pie, a refreshing change to see such a traditional meat being used in such a modern way.

Service was right out of the old school book of Ramsey – impeccable. Attentive, polite, knowledgeable and friendly. Hardly surprising when you consider the severe punishment that mad Scot would no doubt dish out for anyone dropping a plate or toppling a food tower.

You should try BSK, if only so you can experience Ramsey doing Bistro food rather than thin wafers of owl, or carpaccio of beaver which is the usual fayre in his posh gaffs. And who knows, you might even end up enduring a shamed newspaper editor on the table next to you.

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Watch out Jamie

It seems quite apparent that the restaurant scene in London is not suffering too much from any double-dipping (well, of the financial rather than culinary variety that is). Restaurants that I’ve been in recently all appear to be bursting at the seams, with vibrant clientele all willing to splash the cash.

Last night was no exception, as I found myself in Madison (http://www.madisonlondon.net/), one of the newest restaurants to hit the streets near St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It is situated on the roof – quite literally – of a brand new complex of shops and restaurants, also home to Messrs Oliver and Ramsey’s latest eateries – although more on that later. The restaurant has a terrace area which was over-flowing with puffa-clad twenty-somethings supping on a variety of wine and cocktails braving the cold for one of the most spectacular views across London you’ll see this side of Galvin on Park Lane. It is both stunning and beautiful at night, with a front-lit St Paul’s Cathedral and the London Eye creating an amazing pastiche of old and new London. Inside is no different with floor to ceiling windows making the best of the views, albeit in a rather warmer environment. Just check out the link above to see what I’m referring to.

The restaurant is about 50% bar and 50% dining room, all open plan, and there is a vibrant buzz delivered from mostly professionals enjoying some after-work imbibing. The waitress and menu arrived almost instantly and we were presented with a really eclectic collection of modern cuisine ranging from steamed halibut to 4 or 5 different types of steak. I selected pan-fried squid with a squid-ink dressing followed by lobster. Both courses were stunning, and worth double their modest price. The lobster in particular had been cooked expertly, and I should know having had a fair number all round the world in my time. As side orders, we had kale with braised ham hock which gave it a seasoned saltiness that matched the lobster perfectly, and truffle fries which you could smell the instant they arrived on the table.

As noted above, the ambience was lively without being overpowering and conversation was easily heard – the perfect blend in my opinion. (I hate quiet dining rooms.) Service was attentive and polite, even down to adjusting one of the courses for my dining guest without any hesitation.

Given we were 5 floors above Jamie Oliver’s restaurant, and having eaten there a couple of times before, I have to say this wins hands down. The menu was far more interesting, the restaurant itself far more inviting and it was considerably cheaper. And, to top it all, you’re eating looking out over London rooftops rather than the blank walls of the office building opposite. Not sure whether Mr Oliver has had chance to pop upstairs to review the competition but, on the evidence last night, he ought to be more than a little concerned that his less well-known neighbour is about to take away a large slice of his potential clientele.

My Signature Dishes : Jordanaise Potatoes

This dish goes down as a legend in our house. Not sure how I came up with it – messing about with ingredients probably – but once you’ve tasted these spuds, I guarantee you will cook them over and over again. They go with almost anything, but tonight they’re going with roast chicken and roast root veg.

Chances are, you’ll be heating the oven anyway for the chicken / lamb / pie etc but if not, heat it to 200 celsius. Then you’ll need:

Potatoes (waxy are the best) cut into 1 inch cubes
2 x tbsp plain flour
1 x tsp paprika
1 x tsp cayenne
7 x cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp dried oregano
4 x tbsp groundnut oil
Good pinch of sea salt

Put the potato cubs in a bowl then add the flour. Mix until potatoes thorough coated then add the rest of the ingredients, saving 1 tbsp of the oil, until the potatoes are thorough coated. They should have a red / orange sticky coating on them by now.

Pre-heat a shallow baking tray in the oven with the final 1 tbsp of oil. When really hot, add the potato mix and spread evenly.

Oven bake for about 40 minutes, turning the potatoes every 10 minutes or so. May take less time, or more time depending on how many potatoes you’re doing.

I promise you, this is proper comfort food.

So easy, even a child could do it

I know this is probably easy for me to say, but I do think a lot of cooking is dead easy. I look at the rows of ready meals in Waitrose and my heart sinks to think that people cannot even conceive to put a simple dish together. And don’t get me started on ready chopped and peeled carrots. I mean – how hard is it to peel a carrot ??? I don’t even buy the whole “I’m too busy” argument either. I’m up to my eyeballs in work right now and I’ve still just put on a lamb saag – from fresh ingredients – which took me all of about 10 minutes to prepare. I think there are a lot of people out there that are scared to find out about cooking, and so resort to lazy (and often unhealthy) food as a result.

It’s got to start at childhood though I reckon. I learned all the basics from my mum – an absolutely fabulous “home cook” – and have built on it ever since. And it’s not even that hard to introduce to your kids either. Baking cup cakes or cookies is, quite possibly, the simplest thing in the world to make. And, you know what ? Most kids would just love the opportunity to get their hands mucky and end up eating what they’ve made.

And so, this teatime, my eldest daughter and I made tuna fishcakes. (No cries of “urrrgghhh fish” please.) I tell you, this is the simplest thing you’ll ever make and kids will love it. Mashed potato, a tin of tuna, bit of salt and pepper, then coated in beaten egg then breadcrumbs. That’s it. Healthy, easy, bit of veg on the side, and both my kids wolfed them down. So easy. even a child could do it…and in this case pretty much did from start to finish. And here’s the proof:

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King of the Super-Masterchefs

Anyone who vaguely knows me probably knows that I was a finalist on the original Loyd Grossman-version of Masterchef back in 2000. Seems like a few centuries ago to be honest, but proud of my achievement nonetheless. There was something quite comforting about the format of the show when I was on it. Sunday evening, around teatime, lots of middle-England battling it out in their granite kitchens, trying not to destroy their window-sill basil plants. Loyd was the strangely urbane host whose accent was pitched somewhere Google Maps would probably struggle with, and his guests were an odd combination of professional chefs (Gary Rhodes’ spikes made him the same height as me), and B-list actors who are on to try and plug some strange adaptation of an Arthur Miller play in Stratford. But, alongside the 18-foot salt and pepper pots it somehow worked.

When that version went into the archives, and the new “professional” format came out, I have to admit to not being at all interested. It’s a bit like loving a Ferrari for its racing looks then watching someone take it on an off-road track. To me it just didn’t work. I hated the overly aggressive contestant hell-bent on getting that £9000-a-year sous chef’s job and the exuberant presenters who clearly thought they knew it all but didn’t.

And so, I almost surprised myself when I became hooked on the latest edition of Celebrity Masterchef. No idea why, but I did. Maybe it’s the fragility of the normally bullet-proof contestants, or the faux “OMG, they dropped the tart” startled look of Greg and John. Or maybe it’s because if you’re a Celeb, you somehow aren’t exposed to the contrite and often brutally honest attacks that wide-boy Greg and slimy John are prone to dishing out. Don’t know, but I’m hooked.

I like cooking competitions on TV. I think it shows that ordinarily ordinary humans can step up and be a bit creative. And I like that. But the question I’m getting increasingly asked now is, when I am going to take on the Greg and John show ? Who knows….

Hey, Blog. It’s been a while…

I’ve been trying to work out why it’s been so long since I updated my blog. Let’s face it, it’s not like I’ve not eaten anything (in fact, quite the opposite as my jeans keep telling me). Am I short of time ? Well, yes. I guess I have been. Selling a company does kind of take up a bit more of your time that blogging would allow. But that’s no excuse, especially as I’ve been to some amazing restaurants in the time I’ve been on extended vacation from the Blogosphere. I’ve been to Minneapolis for the first time (land of steak, steak and more steak), New York again (land of pretty much anything you want), Cornwall (land of Ricardo Steinos) as well as the four corners of London (land of annoying tourists).

Clearly I’m not about to back-date my blog with all the places I’ve been to. Not sure my keyboard would thank me for that. So instead I thought I’d put the high point and low point down and leave you, dear reader, to fill in the gaps in between.

The High Point

Drakes Restaurant (http://www.drakesrestaurant.co.uk)

OK, this one deserves an extra special mention and is, without question, the culinary high point of the year. Not only have some other foodies deemed it worthy of a couple of Michelin stars, but it also goes down as one of the most spectacular meals I’ve ever eaten. And for someone who has wined and dined in some of the world’s very finest restaurants, that really is one hell of an accolade.

I’ve long been of the opinion that the best Michelin-starred restaurants are outside of London (Fat Duck, Manoir, etc) and, having experienced Drakes, this is further reinforced. It’s a typically French restaurant in all respects, from waiting staff to menu, and from the moment you arrive you just get this overwhelming feeling that you’re….well, special. Service is a delicate balance between attentiveness and servility, but Drakes has it spot on. Given this was a joint celebration of closing the Deal, and our 10th Wedding Anniversary, we both went for the 9 course tasting menu. They didn’t even flinch when I asked for two of the courses to be swapped round. Now that is the sign of a restaurant who treats its customers well. (And, before you say it, I have eaten in restaurants where they would rather have murdered your entire family than deliver something that wasn’t to “chef’s design”.)

Each course was exquisite, there’s no other word for it. The selection and balance of ingredients harmonised with a delicate and very well trained chef’s hand delivered course after course of breathtakingly good food. We had also chosen wines from 2000 across each course too which, while they almost required a second mortgage to buy, ensured that the food / wine combination was consistently perfect from amuse bouche to cheese (Puligny Montrachet, followed by Chateau Margaux – what else ?). The Sommelier was top rate too, offering up a cheeky little Barsac to have with cheese. I would never have paired dessert wine with cheese but, believe me, it works perfectly.

I will remember that meal at Drakes for a long, long time to come. In fact, I would struggle to fault any part of it. Take note, Ramsey.

The Low Point

The Seafood Restaurant (http://www.rickstein.com)

Now, this must have come as a surprise already for those that know me well. I adore all seafood. I would trade a dry-aged fillet steak for a lobster any day. And, you would think, there comes no finer that Mr Stein, the king of fish himself. Well I’m sorry to say, this was anything but the case.

We’ve eaten at the Seafood Restaurant 4 or 5 times before and never been disappointed. It is normally one of those places where you are guaranteed to have a top class dining experience using locally sourced, fresh ingredients. On all previous visits this has been very much the case. A relaxed dining experience, no rush, a low hum of conversation floating round an airy and light dining room, Stein himself probably propping the bar up trying to explain to some Japanese tourists that no, he wasn’t Gordon Lamsey.

This time was different. The restaurant has had a major refit since the last time we went and now features a circular bar in the middle that makes it look more like an All Bar One than a fine dining restaurant. But the thing that struck me most was how packed in the tables were. I could literally hear every word of our neighbours conversations and, rather than it being a low hum, it was loud and brash which is not what you want when you’re expecting a nice, relaxing evening. The other thing that I think sets apart top restaurants from the rest is the treatment of the wine. Average restaurants put the wine on the table in front of you and below-average restaurants make you pour it yourself. I spent the evening pouring our own wine. Not good. The food itself was as good as ever but the other aspects of the dinner just tainted it. And when you’re paying £370 (we both had lobster and Montrachet before you ask) for a meal for two you really do expect it to be good.

I just can’t explain it. Why Rick Stein has done this to his flagship restaurant is beyond me. What was once the pinnacle of fine dining anywhere in the South West of England is now just an average, up-market bistro which in turn makes it extremely over-priced for what it is. Disappointed ? You will be. Maybe I should have told the Japanese where they could find Lamsey after all.

So there you have it readers. The highs and the lows of the past few months. Clearly everything I’ve cooked at home beats all that hands down but I’m not one to boast so thought I’d write about someone else’s cooking for a change.

Watch out for more. This blog is, most definitely, revived.

No Eggs Please…We’re British

We had an absolute classic in Chez Jourdain last night. I think most families have the 3 or 4 meals or dishes that they have over and over and never get bored of. Those comfort-food stalwarts that never fail to please. Well last night probably ranks on the top 3 in our house and, for some, probably at number one.

I think you could canvass views from over a dozen foodies, or chefs, and none would agree on what makes a great Fish Pie. Some put cheese in the sauce, others are purists and rely on the poaching liquor and a heavy hand of parsley. Others like to come up with about 300 types of fish for that complex flavour sensation. But while I’m at it, the one ingredient that I absolutely cannot understand is hard boiled eggs. Eggs and fish ?? What’s that all about ??!? Apart from the fact that I really don’t like boiled eggs, the very thought of coming across part of one in an unctuous and velvety fish pie just makes me wretch. So, note to everyone – don’t ever invite me round for supper and put eggs in your fish pie. You’ll probably end up wearing your creation during pudding.

Anyway, back to our version of the great British classic. It must have decent smoked fish, either salmon, haddock or cod (or a combination thereof). We are completely spoiled in having one of the best fishmongers I’ve ever been to near us (Williams and Blunkell – brilliant) that even has its own smokehouse so everything we buy from them is filleted and smoked on premise. And it shows. Next it must have the freshest mussels, pre-cooked in fish stock and wine, with the cooking liquor reserved for the sauce. And we put crayfish tails in ours. Don’t ask why, but the sweetness is a delight when you find one amongst all the other ingredients. And then prawns, super-fresh again, but uncooked going in so they don’t taste like bullets when they’re cooked and the pie is served. No cheese sauce either in our house, but no problem there given the flavours built up from preparing the other fish. And finally, the creamiest of mashed potato with a generous topping of grated cheddar. Then the whole thing baked to perfection for about 45 minutes. Not an egg in sight, just creamy, velvety, fishy wonderfulness.

Feeling hungry yet ?