Cu Tu – Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

March 9, 2013

134A Kingsland Road,
E2 8DY

Few posts from me of late. I’m not losing the bug, but it’s a busy time (as ever). It’s also an exciting time as I’m looking into a move south of the river. I know!

One more to add to the slowly expanding list of Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò reviews I’ve got to my name and another from Kingsland Road. Anh Dao – our usual place – was queuing out of the door so we pushed north buoyed by the cold, and a wish to sit down at a table with under 5 minutes wait time. Cu Tu was as packed as everywhere else, but a couple of tables looked to be clearing out so we shot in. It’s a small place inside, dominated by its red theme and as soon as we entered, we could feel the great atmosphere sweep over us.

I’m relieved to say Cu Tu still allows BYOB – something changing at some Kingsland Road joints – a great start. There was never any doubt over what we were going to order so as soon as we’d sat down we ordered with the friendly waiter as soon as he’d popped the tops from our beers.

When it comes to Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò I’m biased. Biased in the sense that I love it all.
All of the variations, differences and fluctuations between the constituent elements which pull together to create dishes which are practically identical yet subtly different.
Cu Tu’s grilled pork had been cut smaller meaning that the meat does not have the opportunity to fully caramelise before being transferred to the serving dish. Their spring rolls had great crispy shells about the thickness of a finger or medium cigar. To my own preference they could be slightly thicker in order to stop the contents from becoming too cooked. The freshness of the contents is key to building the spring roll’s crunch. I was pleased to see the nuoc cham served on the side. Dousing the noodles in this accompanying sauce is a key part of the theatricality of the dish.
Both salad and noodles were well executed and overall it was a strong dish, though not my favourite in town.

I’ve stumbled across another reason for loving this dish. Every version perfectly fills you up, and is great preparation for a night on the tiles, yet the dish’s freshness ensures you’re not so full as to have to make an early trip home to sleep it off. It’s a fulfilling guilt free dinner!

I’ll keep the menu reference at the end of each of these posts updated to record the hierarchy of my classification. Unfortunately Cu Tu’s online menu does not feature the dish (it’s definitely on their printed menu in-house) so I can’t update the menu number. If I go back, I’ll write it down and keep you updated.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò menu reference:
Anh Dao No. 52
Song Que Café No. 59 (Bún Chả Giò Bi Thịt Nướng = Song Que Café No. 60).
Cu Tu No. TBC



BoF Goes Quick Fire! Dishoom, The Newbury Pub, The Mandarin Oriental

February 3, 2013

It’s been several weeks since the last post so I’ve crammed 3 smaller meals of note into this offering. There’s so much on the go currently and it’s been damn chilly out there – I’ve developed a minor addiction to Bikram Yoga as a means of keeping the cold at bay.
Where did January go? I can’t believe it’s the Super Bowl tonight. I hope yo’ all got some buds and wings in.

2 Upper St. Martin’s Lane,

A cold day in London needed an injection of spice. Covent Garden can present a difficult conundrum when you find yourself cold and hungry but don’t want to eat at one of any number of standard grab and go joints – Pret, Eat, ‘Bucks etc. As my lunch in the week is comprised of staples from these establishments I – like many others I know – feel less inclined to eat here in the week.
I’ve heard mixed reviews of Dishoom since it opened several years ago – everything from it being the saviour of modern Indian fare, to it being a blot on the culinary landscape. When you’re in this area of town you’re never going to stumble on a hidden gem and the rents charged to owners often result in a philosophy of get ‘em in, get ‘em out. Dishoom was balancing these competing pressures well when we visited and I’d definitely go again. The place has an Indian Tapas feel though I can’t say it resembles any of the Bombay Canteen joints in which I’ve ever eaten (something the Dishoom staff will have you believe!)

The signature Dishoom Calamari was incredibly delicious and had definitely been cooked for us from fresh. It was gone in seconds! Best of all the dishes were the spicy lamb chops – blackened on the outside and served with a shuck of sweet tamarind sauce, pomegranate seeds and a wedge of lime. Luckily there were enough in the portion for one each or we’d have had a battle on her hands. EP also enjoyed her Chocolate Chai – the fragrant spices bringing a smile to her face before the liquid had passed her lips.

The Newbury Pub
137 Bartholomew Street,
West Berkshire
RG14 5HB
01635 49000

Burns night found me back out West in Newbury at the newly launched Newbury Pub (currently vying for top spot in my affections against El Sabio). They’d put us on a right good spread of Haggis, Bashed Neeps and Tatties. I’d forgotten how creamy the texture of Haggis can be. It was delicious.
If you’ve ever wondered on the difference between Haggis and Black Pudding I’ve harnessed the power of the internets and discovered that Haggis is made of sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, & lungs), onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, salt, stock, boiled in the animal’s stomach. Black Pudding on the other hand is of course Pig’s blood is mixed with oats, salt, onions and spices and usually sliced and fried.

Also of note was their excellent vegetarian option; a stilton and potato pie. Good to see something other than ‘generic goat’s cheese tart’ on the menu. It actually reminded me of Simon Hopkinson’s Cheese & Onion Pie. Not a ‘light’ meal but thoroughly delicious and I’d recommend the Newbury if you’re ever in the town.

The Mandarin Oriental London
66 Knightsbridge,

When I get married I shall spend the first night of my honeymoon with my darling wife at the Mandarin Oriental. We will take a room overlooking the Park and jet to the Maldives the following afternoon. In my dreams!
I’ve wanted to be a guest here ever since I used to cycle past it to work on a daily basis. Luckily a work engagement has now provided me a reason to step over its threshold. Unfortunately they weren’t so generous as to pay for a room for the night or find me a wife. One step at a time.

I’d forgotten what it is to be a guest at a top hotel and make no mistake, this is a top hotel. It isn’t simply the opulent decoration, the excellent quality of the champagne, the wonderful food or the attentiveness of the staff. It is an attitude of mature and attentive service which exudes from the very walls of the place which makes it work.

My favourite of the dinner courses was the main – a lamb wellington with crushed new potatoes, ratatouille and wilted spinach. The lamb was generously pink, melted in the mouth and was ensconced in a roll of the flakiest rough puff pastry. How they perfectly size the portions I will never know and the theatre of the waiters serving a single table at a time in unison really capped things off.
I cannot wait to go back though I’ll dread to check the bill when it’s my turn to pay!


Voodoo Ray’s

January 6, 2013

5 Kingsland High Street,
E8 2PB
020 7254 2273

Through friends I’d been alerted to this joint via the Charlie Porter blogsite. Joint is the only way to refer to this joint – they serve up a pretty special slice of fine American Pizza, but with a little twist provided by the Dalston humour we’ve all come to know and love. Opened back in November 2012, the timing seems perfectly pitched to come on the back of the 2012 ‘dirty food’ revolution. Indeed if it ain’t battered, burgered, bunned and dripping I’m not sure I’m willing to eat it these days. With further whispers of wonderful pizza and frozen margaritas afoot I experienced a thawing in my 2013 diet resolve resembling what I imagined would happen should I let a frozen marg hang around too long…..

Voodoo Ray’s is pretty basic in terms of set-up; pizza counter on the right – where they display their selection of 22” pizzas. Bar spinning frozen margaritas in the middle. Hotch-potch Grandma’s table and chair selection at the back – Dalston standard.
We were feeling pretty peckish so opted for a single slice for starters knowing we would return for a second for dessert. They’re proper big slices. Think Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles except with a crispy base because they blast them back through the oven for a minute to re-heat after you’ve ordered. This crisp texture actually works very well.
The menu presents a good choice of pizza flavours ancient and modern; there’s a peperoni derivative, several good vegie offerings and something with ground beef. The first round’s ‘Porky’s’ (cumberland sausage, stilton, red onion, flat leaf parsley, tomato sauce, mozzarella) was nicely different, with the ‘Giorgio Moroder’ (goat’s cheese, sun blush tomatoes, zucchini, tomato sauce, mozzarella) a strong contender for the early favourite. The second round saw a ‘Honolulu’ (Ham, pineapple, tomato sauce, mozzarella) excellently present an old classic, and the ‘Garden Centre’ (mushroom, aubergine, red & green peppers, red onions, mozzarella, tomato sauce) had even been treated with a healthy lick of salt to turn what can – let’s face it – often be a bland veg feast into a tasty treat. The clear winner of the evening was the ‘Hot Mix 5’ (pepperoni, jalapeño, red chillies, red pepper, mozzarella, tomato sauce) “Walking the line between heat and pain but winning!” as my co-diner put it.

A Friday night where the place was just the right side of buzzy (not over busy) allowed us to enjoy the atmosphere and our frozen margaritas, but not feel pressured to leave to quickly – key when eating is concerned.

It’s pretty on the button for prices in this area – around £15 per head for two slices and a drink though for £5.50 I’d like a real glass for my margarita please. They’ve also got a nice little local team up with the Rio Cinema – discounted pizza if you present your cinema stub several nights of the week.

The Dalston kids are gonna love Vodoo Ray’s and I’ll definitely go back when I’m in the area, but then the cool kids have probably already been several times.

Go enjoy.


Dan Lepard’s Blueberry Cocoa Meringue Pie

December 28, 2012

Regular readers will know that BoF is a great fan of Dan Lepard’s 2011 book ‘Short & Sweet’. So much so in fact that it made up part of Mother’s Christmas pressie this year.
Today’s visit of Family (round 2) provided a great opportunity for a wow dessert, and to create this I turned to Mr Lepard for some inspiration.

We had all of the ingredients for this pud in the house, so it was a simple choice to settle upon. It’s not a difficult dish to create, but now that I’ve made it once I realise that there are some key points to get right.
I have outlined everything you need for the recipe below. I kind of feel guilty putting this straight out onto the net, but then I have now been party to the purchase of 3 copies of this book. My Mum is v chuffed with her copy of the tome. She’s a very capable cook and baker and has already commented that ‘…you don’t need another baking book…’

Dan receives the ultimate seal of approval…….

For the chocolate shortcrust pastry:
125g plain flour
25g cocoa
25g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
100g unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons cold water

For the filling:
125ml milk
3 medium egg yolks
2 tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon cornflour
3 tablespoons caster sugar
175g crème fraîche
300g fresh blueberries

For the meringue:
3 medium egg whites
125g caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
Cocoa for dusting

For the pastry mix the flour, cocoa, icing sugar and salt until thoroughly combined. Rub in the butter until it has disappeared and then mix the egg yolk and cold water before combining with the dry ingredients to form a soft paste. Add a little more water if necessary to bring the mixture together. This pastry is soft so chill thoroughly before rolling out.

Preheat your oven (160 degree fan / 180 degree regular) and grease a 20cm circular tart tin. Ensure you use all of the pastry mix when you roll out, or your walls will not be thick enough. Ensure the pastry comes over the walls of the tin by 3 or 4mm as it will shrink during the baking and remember to prick the base with a fork to let the steam escape. Bake the pastry blind for 25 minutes and then remove your layer of baking paper and baking beads / lentils and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Allow the base to cool and leave in the tin.

For the filling whisk the milk, egg yolks, flour, cornflour, sugar and crème fraîche in a saucepan and then bring to the boil. Once hot, the sauce will thicken very quickly due to the inclusion of the cornflour – this is nothing to be scared of. Keep whisking until you have a thick crème. If you don’t get the filling thick enough at this point it will be too runny when you cut the pie. Once thickened, add the blueberries and mash the mixture with your whisk on a low heat until the blueberry juices run and the crème is a deep purple colour.
Add the filling to the pastry case.

Whisk your leftover egg whites to a thick froth and then beat in the caster sugar. Don’t add your cornflour at this point as I did, oops!
Once the meringue is very thick and glossy, sieve and fold in the cornflour and then spread over the pie in soft peaks. Dust with cocoa powder and bake for 20 minutes at the same temperature as the case.

I was very pleased with my first stab at this pie (see the photos on the left). The cream is not too sweet so works well with the meringue, and you can really taste the cocoa in the pastry. A great desert to bring to the table.


Song Que Café – Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

December 22, 2012

134 Kingsland Rd,
City of London
E2 8DY
020 7613 3222 ‎

BoF has reviewed the Song Que Café before. You can read what I’ve proffered in a previous post HERE.
This post comes to you as part of my Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò series. I’ve recently moved out of my home of the past 2 years, and this provided the house mates and I with an excellent opportunity to pay just one more visit to little Vietnam on a rainy Sunday evening in late November.
I actually chose Bún Chả Giò Bi Thịt Nướng (this differs from the usual Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò in that it includes Grilled Pork, Spring Rolls AND Shredded Pork!)

The spring roll at Song Que is thicker and more dense than versions I’ve had elsewhere. This makes the pieces larger but you get less of them – trade off! I always feel like I’m getting more if the numbers are higher, irrespective of the fact that the volume is probably exactly the same…….
The batter coating was light but was missing the whispishness of batter that really gives the rolls a light crunch.
It was good to see the Nước Chấm served by default on the side without having to ask for it, and plenty of crunchy salad and pungent mint kept things feeling fresh.
Unfortunately the noodles were disappointingly dense and stuck together – I’m not sure they’d been refreshed in icy straight after their cooking. The Grilled Pork was well caramelised so well done to Song Que here. The Shredded Pork was served dry style and crispy and added another layer texture to the dish, but I personally found it a step too far. Should have passed on the starter…..

Overall, a very good example of the dish, but just a little more attention needs to be paid to the noodles. Still a steal at £6, though I’m sorry to see they are now charging corkage on alcohol if you bring your own.

Tonight the Scenesters will enjoy food in Little Vietnam as a set-up for their last night in Dalston before they head back to the home counties for Christmas with the folks.
If they are looking for the best Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò they’ll still be best-off visiting Anh Dao.
If they are looking for the best atmosphere they’ll head to the Song Que Café.
Three nights before Christmas I’d be hard pressed not to follow them.

Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò Menu Reference: Anh Dao No. 52 = Song Que Café No. 59 (Bún Chả Giò Bi Thịt Nướng = Song Que Café No. 60).

Merry Christmas All!


Bún Thịt Nướng Chả Giò

November 25, 2012

Blogs it seems are highly conducive to side projects. I’ve had this little feature in mind for a while as I’ve been obsessed with this dish for at least two years. Living around East London as I do, I eat regularly around ‘Little Vietnam’ (north of Old Street as far as the Geffrye Museum on the Kingsland Road). It was Mr I H who first alerted me to the wonders of Bún thịt nướng chả giò, or in English, Vermicelli Rice Noodles with Grilled Pork and Deep Fried Spring Rolls.

As with many dishes synonymous with a Nation’s cuisine each restaurant’s version can be as different as chalk and cheese. When it goes wrong, you get a disparate collection of overly sticky noodles, soggy meat and depressingly solid spring rolls. Get it right and a riot of fresh mint will break through the spring rolls – crisp on the outside, fresh on the inside – with the caramelised pork providing that shot-in-the arm jolt of fat laced flavour. It’s the mix of hot and cold that completes the dish – steaming pork and blisteringly hot spring rolls alongside noodles, salad and nước chấm  (traditional fish sauce).

My favourite place to enjoy this dish is Anh Dao (106 – 108 Kingsland Road, E2 8DP,, and of the LV joints I’ve eaten in, their Bún thịt nướng chả giò is the best and most consistent.

In this feature I’ll be reviewing each offering of ‘Bun Thit’ I enjoy. In this first issue I’m breaking down the core elements to give you my take on the judging criteria.

The major vehicle for the flavour of the Nước Chấm (see below), the slippery spaghetti like feel of the noodles is pure enjoyment. They are a cooling foil to the heat of the pork and spring rolls and must be served chilled and dry but not at all bunched or stuck together.

The hot barbecued Pork is my favourite element of this dish. It’s important that the meat has a good seam of fat or you won’t have the opportunity to enjoy the indecently caramelised flavour. Usually taken from the interestingly named ‘Butt’ cut (upper shoulder to all of us non-Yanks…) it needs a good marinade of scallions, garlic, chilli, sugar, fish sauce, lime and seasoning. Occasionally I’ve noticed a shard or two of lemon grass creep into the marinade – another example of the infinitely customisable nature of this dish.

Spring Rolls
This is the dish that keeps on giving; the addition of the spring rolls on top of the noodles and Pork being the Vietnamese equivalent of having your cake AND eating it. As with the other elements of the dish the spring rolls vary in size and texture. Some involve an almost feathery coating of the lightest crisp batter, others feature a heavy jacket of rice paper which you have to crunch through to get to the delicious contents; a varying mixture of carrots, mushroom, garlic, onion and cabbage. All varieties must arrive to the table hotter than the sun to leave you dizzy with enjoyment and with a scorched tongue to boot.

Nước Chấm
This staple of Vietnamese cuisine is usually served on the side to be added to the dish to your own taste. Constructed of one part lime / lemon juice, one part fish sauce, one part sugar and two parts water it is often served as a dipping sauce accompaniment to spring rolls. In the case of Bún thịt nướng chả giò it usually has finely chopped garlic and Vietnamese chilli added, and I’ve also been served it with the addition of julienne carrots which add to the deliciously fresh crunch of the dish.

Optional Extras
A little shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled radish, peanuts, scallions…. These elements combined in differing proportions provide the final je ne sais quoi of the dish. Without them you won’t get any of the freshness or cool crunch which is a key element. It’s surprising how varying proportions of the same elements can completely change the end product.
All must be of fresh providence. No one likes a soggy beansprout.

Look out for forthcoming reviews, some will be from memory some from recent experience. I might even have a go at the dish myself!



Dan Lepard Rum & Raisin Fudge

November 19, 2012

In the many intervening months since my last post, the nights have drawn in and I can feel myself slipping into hibernation mode. I’ve been wanting to have a crack at making some Rum & Raisin Fudge for ages. It’s the king of the fudge flavours, and I wanted to see how difficult it is to make. Answer: not difficult with the help of Dan Lepard’s brilliant book ‘Short & Sweet’. You will need a jam thermometer!

500g Caster Sugar
125ml Milk
125ml Double Cream
1 Tablespoon Cocoa
100g Dark Chocolate (broken into little pieces)
100g Raisins
25 – 50ml Dark Rum

Sieve the cocoa and then stir together the sugar, milk, cream and cocoa powder over a low heat in a deep, heavy based pan. Once the mixture is smooth increase the heat until the mixture is boiling, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. At this point, the fudge will be bubbling. Use your thermometer to get the temperature up to 116 degrees centigrade over the next 5 minutes.
Warning: The boiling and velvety fudge doesn’t look hot but it is – take care!

Once you’re up to 116, let a couple of drips of fudge fall from your spoon into a waiting glass of cold water. The balls should be like toffee if the mixture is ready. If not, give it a couple more minutes at temperature and try again.
Once you have a good toffee using the water test, remove from the heat for a moment and stir in the chocolate and raisins and then the rum. (The fudge is still very hot at this point.)

Beat until the mixture is lusciously thick and pourable and then pour into your mould. I tried using ice cube trays in an attempt to create wonderfully portioned fudge from the very beginning but Dan recommends you use a 18cm square tin lined with non-stick baking paper. I will take his advice in the future as the fudge quickly became unmanageable and difficult to get into the ice cube trays! I’m sure you could warm it on the stove it becomes too cold to pour.

Wait for the fudge to set fully and enjoy!
This fudge has a great consistency (not at all grainy) and I’m really pleased with the result.

The process of making the fudge was very therapeutic, though next time I will use more rum. In total I used 50ml (25ml soaked into the raisins, 25ml in the fudge mixture) but I’d like it to be a little more rummy to be perfect. I may also try removing the cocoa and adding some seeds from a vanilla pod. The basic recipe seems easy to make and infinitely customisable. I’m already considering flavours to create as Christmas pressies.


British Airways Business Class

May 6, 2012

I’ve made it back to Hindustan after my two week UK break, and am currently ensconced in my regular place of repose as though I’d never left.
The intervening weeks in Blighty were wonderful thanks to the usual crew who provided much in the way of merriment and eating opportunities – I’ve already mentioned the Korean lunch in a previous post.

Rather than India providing the inspiration for this post, it is the manner in which I travelled which is the subject. As my flight was to be over 8 hours non-stop, I had opted for a BA premium economy ticket and was looking forward to the luxuries of 3cm’s of extra leg room and metal cutlery as I checked in at a rainy Terminal 5. Imagine my surprise when my previously functioning boarding card stopped working at the gate, only to be told that I had been bumped to business class. Wondrous stuff.

Grinning from ear-to-ear I stepped onto the Bangalore bound aircraft and made a left turn, my resemblance to the Cheshire Cat increasing as I came closer in proximity to my lie-flat seat. Tattinger Brut Reserve Champagne in hand I perused the ‘Height Cuisine’ menu whilst we taxied to the runway.
BA’s Business Class is a carte filled with in-vogue buzzwords. I’m doubtful on the influence of mixologists on the menu but there was an informative definition of umami. I was disappointed to find that they were out of the starter of spiced crab cakes with curry cream dressing – these had proved so popular that there were none remaining – and so opted for the cream cheese panna cotta with pea and broad bean salad instead.
By this point I’d had my empty champers glass removed (made of real glass but with a bizarrely small opening which made it relatively difficult to drink from the thing) and had been given a Tanqueray and slimline. Neither the gin brand nor the tonic style are available to travellers in other BA classes on my experience – a nice touch.
In preparation for my imminent arrival in India, I chose the chicken varutha curry with bean poriyal & lemon rice, and requested the cheeseboard for dessert.

The starter turned out to be tasty slice of quiche. It was good, served on real crockery and the salad – including sun dried tomatoes – was a well-balanced accompaniment. The south-Indian style main was a rather disappointing return to airline food – rice packed into a metal container, marinated fried chicken in the other half. I cursed myself for believing they’d make anything truly authentic and resolved that I should have chosen the seared fillet of lamb.
I’d selected the Langmeil Three Gardens Australian Red (2007, Barossa Valley) as a blustery companion to what I had hoped would be a good main course. Of the two the wine was easily the better, the Shiraz-Grenache-Mourvèdre grape varieties combining to form a delightfully strong and spicy combination. According to the menu, the wines are specially selected to ‘counteract the effect of altitude on your taste buds….’ This may well be so – it was certainly a good wine and I made up for the disappointing curry with several glasses, remembering to save a drop for the cheese.
When the board arrived, I was pleased to see thick wedges of Normandy Camembert and Denhay Cheddar on my plate. Grapes and chutney both welcome additions. It’s a shame that no port was offered, but the wine was still a strong companion to the savoury conclusion of the meal.
A final point of sweetness was the two Artisan du Chocolat ( ‘O Favours’ and the salted caramel dark left me considering a request for a second box from the hostess.

6 hours, a good sleep and several movies later and it was breakfast time. I passed up the full-English instead choosing the scrambled egg with poached asparagus on toasted muffin, a fruit box and the ‘morning dew mocktail’.
The muffin was good with a reasonable attempt at hollandaise on the side. The mocktail offered a refreshing wakeup of cucumber, mint and ginger – this being the only possible influence of the mixologists to my mind.

So, there you have it. BA Business Class cuisine; served on real plates and with no small amount of alcohol. Much tastier than some of the offerings served at the rear of the plane but at the end of the day, it’s still airline food.


The Ivy

May 1, 2012

I’ve been holding out on this one for a while now. At times in the past when I have been offered a seat at establishments such as The Ivy, I’ve always experienced mixed emotions.
Part of me dies a little inside. Part of me jumps up, two hands raised and dances around the room.
Why would I want to go eat at some b-list the only way is Essex hang out? Maybe Cheryl Cole will be there!
Never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth I of course accepted the very kind offer.

The Ivy is perched in a busy part of town. If you don’t know, it’s down the side of the pizza hut at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and the Charing Cross Road. You’re as likely to knock over a tourist en-route to Piccadilly Circus as you are to be knocked over by a 40 strong hen party queuing for the HSBC cash machine. But, it is an exciting place to be. The lights of theatre land (The New Ambassadors and St. Martin’s) shine in the green glass of the leaden windows as I cross the threshold to find the coat check girl busily writing herself into the last will and testament of a costa-del-sol tan sporting, gold clad geriatric. They’re having such a great time that she barely manages to take my jacket and push me through to the bar and my companions.
There’s a hubbub here. The room is at full volume and the atmosphere discursive. It’s all plush green carpets, wooden tables, low-backed arm chairs. I take a Hendricks’s & tonic and settle in to the conversation. There are nibbles – olives.  They’re good but nothing more than functional in their taking the initial edge off of our hunger. Still, a good aperitif should always be accompanied by something to keep the palette amused.

On being show to the table, I’m pleased to see there are no partitions, nothing to distort the view across the restaurant floor. It’s as you would expect from a place where you come to see and be seen. They pull the table out to let us sit down which conjures-up good memories of past dinners in Parisian Bistros.

And so to the food. I choose steak tartar and am pleased that I’m queried on how spicy I would like it to be but disappointed that it is served by default: without egg. I go for the pan fried cod with smoked tomatoes and artichoke heart for main. You know me – a sucker for an artichoke heart.
The tartar is delicious, smooth in consistency but with a great piquancy to the flavour which is delivered by the cornichons and tabasco. Standout dish of the starters is the yellowfin tuna sashimi with edible shoots, citrus and soy. The colours on the plate leave us satisfied by both the umami of the dish and the visual spectacle. There’s a utensil mix-up when chopsticks are delivered for the eating of the Dorset crab. Though I’m told this dish was tasty it was disappointing not to see a crab on its back here.

My cod was well cooked. I love the texture of crisped fish skin and this had been well salted (well, not over). I couldn’t distinguish any smoke on the tomatoes but the dish worked well as a whole.
Winner of the main course competition was the Bannockburn rib steak. Though this rather disarmingly resembled a table tennis bat, it had been well treated, well rested and was nothing other than huge. On-the-bone really is the only way to serve good steak.

The final piece of theatre came in the form of a baked Alaska for two to share, which was indeed baked / flambéed at our table. This prompted a round-robin conversation on how best to produce the perfection of still frozen ice cream and meringue topping. The length of our conversation goes to show how difficult this particular dish is to execute.

We washed all of the above down with an excellent 2009 bottle of Chateau Musar – something my host turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about – and a French Viognier ‘Iles Blanches’. Both were excellent and it was good to see wine from the Lebanon adorning the wine list.

The menu at the Ivy is filled with solid and well executed fair which (getting back to basics) is rather a compliment. There is nothing here which will amaze or delight in terms of difference or new approach but then, that isn’t why you come to The Ivy and it certainly won’t satisfy the nouveau riche.
As you’d expect from an establishment such as this; the waiters are all extremely competent though significantly less tattoo-clad than the plate spinners that you’ll find out east.
It is the feeling that you’re paying for. You’re a first time Customer but you’ve been here a thousand times. They know what you want before you ask and they’ve already been good enough to fetch it. There are some ‘VIP’ rooms somewhere around but you don’t want to go there – you wouldn’t be able to see what was going on at the next table.
The Ivy is a piece of dinner time showmanship in theatre land.

And the b-list celebrity head count? I wouldn’t know – I was too busy enjoying myself.


Kimchi / Chang’s Steamed Buns

April 28, 2012

Hello All.

There have been several decent culinary experiences of late and much travelling. Allow me to furnish you with another lovingly blogged about example.

Having returned from my latest Indian escapade unscathed, a friend’s birthday weekend dictated the need for a lazy and Korean themed Sunday lunch. I seem to have entered into an incessant round of competitive Kimchi making with Mr AC. We chop, mix, taste and smell. Each happy in the appreciation of the result of our labours BUT, wanting secretly to out do the other with the perfection of our own dish. Kimchi holds a seductively ‘fuzzy’ quality. As the dish reaches perfection over the course of several weeks the stuff takes on a life of its own and really begins to hum. I understand that Korean families even go to the trouble of installing a second fridge to contain their concoctions far from anywhere they can harm the regular food. AC has had Kimchi ‘disposed of’ by his good lady partner for the crime of tainting her yoghurt.

This round I really thought I had it nailed after picking up some salt preserved shrimp (a secret weapon ingredient, or so I believed…) but alas, no. My Vietnamese chilli flakes (being much hotter than their Korean counterparts) overpowered the Kimchi leaving me with a mildly thermo-nuclear product. I love spice but this was something else. It was still good and I have been eating the stuff all week, but when sampled on the Sunday afternoon I can honestly say that it sent us all a little ‘Kimchi Krazy’. Could this have been Kimchi nirvana? Had we been able to taste anything we might have known.
So the Kimchi didn’t go so well.

At the other end of this weekend’s success spectrum were the Steamed Buns I made. The recipe (predictably) comes from David Chang’s Momofuku book. I can honestly say that these were more easy to make than the instructions suggest, that they had an authentic taste, and that they had a real ‘wow’ factor when presented to diners. I find Chang’s recipes are often slightly off in their measures. This isn’t to doubt him overall. No, no, no – rest assured I have not lost the faith. But I do feel that the reader needs to hone their own technique and perfect the volumes & weights required to perfect each of his dishes.

1 tablespoon & 1 teaspoon dried yeast
350ml water at room temperature
600g strong white flour
6 tbsps sugar
3 tbsps dried milk powder
1 tbsp coarse sea salt
½ tspn bicarbonate soda
½ tspn baking soda
2 ½ tbsps pork fat (I used butter)

Combine the yeast water and water in the bowl of your food mixer then add the flour, sugar, milk powder, salt, baking powder, bicarb & fat and mix on lowest speed for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough gathers into a ball on the hook. Lightly oil this ball and leave it in a warm place in the mixing bowl covered with a tea towel for an hour and a quarter.
Punch the dough out then divide it in half. Divide each half by 5 and roll these 5 lumps into sausages. Divide each sausage into 5 again giving you a total of 50 ping pong sized balls of dough. Cover the dough balls with cling film and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Whilst the dough rises, cut enough squares of parchment to fit your steamer.
Once risen, flatten a ball and roll it into a thin 10cm oval. Fold this in half and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes work in batches to steam the buns for 10 minutes at a time.
Serve these immediately with rare cooked, thinly sliced steak or Chinese style Pork Shoulder. Lettuce leaves, green shoots and Kimchi make great additional fillings. You can freeze the steamed buns – to re-heat steam for 3 minutes.

The buns were really excellent and I’m soon going to attempt some char siu bao using the same dough. They even had the perfectly plump shiny skin of the buns you find in China Town. Tearing the dough revealed the soft irresistible centre. There’s a picture on my twitter feed.
This recipe sounds more tricky than it is. All of the rising time gives you time to prepare the other dishes for lunch, chat to your guests, and quaff the odd glass of vino.

Slow food. This is what it’s all about.