Saturday 27 November 2010

Lunch @ The Providores and Tapa Room

Is this the most pretentious bowl of noodles in London? Well if it isn't then it's almost certainly the one with the longest name: Smoked coconut, tamarind and liquorice laksa with a chicken lime leaf dumpling, green tea noodles, crispy shallots and coriander (£9.30).

Is this a laksa?
Full disclosure. The very notion of a fusion restaurant in chi-chi Marylebone High St appropriating the term, laksa, to describe a bowl of noodles, costing nearly a tenner, offends me on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin. That said, there was something about this dish that intrigued me and I just knew I had to give it a try.

First impressions weren't good. I wasn't expecting a large bowl of noodles but nor did I quite anticipate being served a kid's meal from Lilliput. On the plus side, the broth was different class with the liquorice adding another dimension. But was it a laksa? I'll leave that question to my Malaysian friends to debate further, but in my eyes it wasn't.

World's smallest dumpling
Sadly the rest of the dish was a bit of a letdown, the green tea noodles were overcooked and any subtle tea flavour that they might have had was lost in the aromatic flavoursome broth. The chicken lime leaf dumpling (singular) was nothing short of a joke. The chicken wasn't so much minced but ground to an almost powdery consistency. And could they have made it any smaller?

Joining me for lunch was El Greco and I asked him to see if he could spot anything vaguely Greek on the menu that he might feel was an affront to him or his forebears. He struggled but there was some feta in the sweet potato, feta, spinach, and herb tortilla with yoghurt, basil pesto dressing, pine nuts and greens (£8.80). This was a finely balanced dish that was better suited to summer rather than winter but it was good quality nonetheless. El Greco just wished there was more of it.

At least they were generous with the salad leaves
Has my hand grown?
We also shared a glazed baked duck char siu bun with chilli jam (£6.20). The name of this dish is confusing, if not potentially misleading. I asked the waiter if the bun contained pork, as char siu is taken to mean honey-roasted pork in Chinese. He checked. It didn't. The bun contained just duck. I tell you, this lax use of Chinese food terminology is something that really gets on my tits. To be fair though, the management took on board my constructive criticism of their misuse of the Chinese language with good grace.

Duck but no char siu!
Ignoring char siu-gate, the bun was the best dish that we sampled. It was freshly baked and filled with juicy roast duck but yet again, it was a complete rip-off. Given how small the bun was, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to be served three, in the style of dim sum, rather than one for £6.20. The only other (minor) complaint was that the chilli jam was slightly overpowering. In my opinion, plum sauce would've been a better accompaniment.

The Details
The Providores and Tapa Room is one of London's most celebrated restaurants and needs little introduction. It consists of two separate dining rooms, the first floor Providores restaurant and the ground floor Tapa Room. We dined at the latter, which being a more casual café-style operation is the cheaper of the two.

The owner, Peter Gordon is a famous Kiwi celeb chef and a champion of fusion cuisine. These influences can be seen throughout the menu, which is quite possibly the most irritating menu ever. For God's sake, is there really any need to list all the chuffing ingredients in each and every dish?

The bill came to £27.34 including 12.5% service – this was just for the food, as we drank tap water. Even allowing for its Marylebone High St location, this was bloody expensive for what it was.

The Verdict
Restaurants like The Providores and Tapa Room aren't my natural habitat. However, it wasn't the fusion cuisine that I disliked – our food was by and large fine – it was the relationship between portion size and price.

We could've easily eaten double the amount of what we ordered or to put it another way, spend nearly £30 each (without drinks) on a quick workday lunch. For that kind of price, there are many other places that I'd rather visit.

But hey, what do I know? Despite the exorbitant prices, this is a very popular restaurant and in the 45 minutes or so that we were there, it was never less than busy. No mean feat for a Tuesday lunchtime.

Providores on Urbanspoon

The Providores and Tapa Room, 109 Marylebone High St, London W1U 4RX
(Tel 020-7935-6175) Nearest Tube: Baker St

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Spanish Fried Rice 西班牙炒飯

As you may have gathered by now, I'm no great shakes in the kitchen. That said I do have a few dishes in my rather limited repertoire, one of which is fried rice.

Usually, I make this with whatever I have lying around. Stuff like leftover chicken might get bunged in a wok with some eggs, spring onion, and rice. Season with soy and finish off with some sesame oil and voila, a quick supper. Bit bloody boring really.

So one day I decided it to give my fried rice, an Iberian flavour with some chorizo, smoked paprika, peppers, onions and a couple of prawns. The end result needs some fine-tuning but I will be making this again.

Saturday 20 November 2010

The Battle of Borough Market: Roast v Brindisa

I don't know about you but whenever I visit Borough Market, I just have to grab a bite to eat. It's the only way to cope with the ever increasingly stressful ordeal of visiting this market on a Saturday. I usually go for a double chorizo sandwich from the open grill outside Brindisa. However, I fancied a change one Saturday, so I wandered over to Roast To Go.

Penélope Cruz, courtesy Wikipedia
Whilst in the queue, I began to daydream about an imaginary battle between these two stalls to decide who is The King of Borough Market. The film running through my mind is a gangland drama with Ray Winstone, exuding his trademark quiet malevolence, playing the head of the Roast mob. Javier Bardem portrays the boss of the rival Brindisa gang boss, for the simple reason that he's the first Spanish actor that popped into my head.

As with most big Spanish films (real or imaginary), Penélope Cruz is in it and it was at the point when her character was abducted by Winstone's that I reached the front of the queue. My screenplay would just have to wait; although I'm pretty sure Pedro Almodóvar won't be calling anytime soon.

Back at Roast, I duly ordered the pork belly with apple sauce sandwich (£6). Unfortunately, it was bland and tasteless. To add insult to injury, the crackling was chewy and not even the apple sauce could lift this poor effort. It really could've done with some stuffing or gravy but even that wouldn't have disguised the fact that it was overpriced and under-seasoned.

In contrast, Brindisa's trusty old double chorizo sandwich (£4.85) shows Roast how it should be done. There was always going to be more flavour, as chorizo naturally has, but it was the sweet piquillo peppers that nearly stole the show. Not even the presence of devil-weed (rocket) could spoil this superior sarnie. It's no wonder that there's always a queue for this beauty.

So, there's only one winner in the Battle of Borough Market and that's Brindisa, which isn't really much of a shock. Anyway, now we've established that, I know you're all dying to find out what happens in the rest of my screenplay, 'The King of Borough Market'.

Bardem rescues Cruz from the clutches of Winstone, who follows in hot pursuit. However, the Spanish gang leads Winstone's mob into a trap at a deserted Borough Market. Bardem has Winstone on his knees but spares him on the understanding that the Englishman will learn how to season pork belly properly. OK then, I guess I won't be giving up the day job anytime soon but I can always dream!

Sunday 14 November 2010

And Another Thing...

There are times when real life intrudes the blogosphere and if you're reading this, it means that I've been too busy to write-up a 'normal' post. That means I'm probably in a crappy mood so it's only appropriate that my 'stand-by' post (do other bloggers have these?) is one where I turn into Mr Grumpy and have a good old-fashioned moan.

Pan-Asian Restaurants
There's a group of bright young things out on the town looking for somewhere to eat. One of them wants Thai, one Chinese, whilst the cool kids are torn between Malaysian and Vietnamese. That's where the Pan-Asian eatery comes in, not all of them are shit but plenty are. You know the ones; they'll have banana leaf, mango, or lemongrass in their name. Otherwise, they'll be called something in an indeterminate Asian language that when translated means 'ha-ha, thanks for your hard-earnt'.

The menu will claim to represent the cuisine of a third of the world's population but there will be dishes that bear no resemblance to any Asian cuisine. Much of the food will be pre-prepared, inauthentic ingredients will be used, spicy dishes will be watered down and everything will be too bloody sweet.

Punters that regularly frequent these places should be disappointed but they won't be. That's because most of them don't really care (or realise) what they're eating is a piss poor rendition of some of the world's greatest cuisines.

Service Charge Inflation
I always try and tip at least 10% and don't mind putting more in for exceptional service. So when a restaurant has a 10% service charge, I don't mind too much as long as the service has been OK. I'm not sure when 12.5% service charge became de rigueur but if you're somewhere nice and the service is good then it's no big deal.

But a 15% service charge is just taking the piss. I mean that's nearly as much as the VAT. For that I expect complimentary shoeshine and suit pressing. American readers might think I'm a tight-arse but we don't have that tip equals double-the-tax bollocks in Britain. And whilst we're at it, what is it with Americans calling the main course, an entrée? Do the French call it that? No and it's their bloody language.

What really pisses me off about the 15% service charge is that the places that charge it tend to be posh and expensive anyway. They also know most diners won't kick up a fuss and in fairness, I've never been anywhere with 15% service charge where I've had cause to ask for it to be removed. That said I prefer the decision to leave a generous tip to be mine and not theirs.

I can't believe I've had a good rant and not mentioned how utterly shit some restaurant critics are when they're out of their 'white man food' comfort zone. Well I have now and yes I do mean you, Matthew Norman.

What gets on your nerves in the world of food? Leave a comment and we can all have a therapeutic bitch about it.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Dinner @ Bistro DéLICAT

In case you're wondering, no I didn't accidentally hit CAPS LOCK whilst typing out Bistro DéLICAT. For some bizarre reason, that's how this Battersea bistro wants to style itself. However, the annoying mix of upper and lower case in its name is just about the only criticism I have of this fine restaurant.

Bistro DéLICAT is an Austrian restaurant and there aren't too many of those in London. That's probably because Austrian cuisine is seen as a frumpy hausfrau compared to her more glamorous Mediterranean rivals. That said she scrubs up quite well when it comes to cakes and pastries. I think I'll stop developing this metaphor any further, as I can only see it getting me into trouble!

First impressions were strong; I particularly liked the contrasting white-tiled walls at the front and black-tiled walls at the back. The hanging spherical lamps are also a nice feature and combine well with the candlelight to bathe the dining room in a warm glow. Sadly, this excellent mood lighting meant that my photos didn't come out very well.

Joining me for dinner was Mr Wine, who has holidayed widely in Austria, and has a fair bit of knowledge about its food and drink. That said his expertise was wasted on those parts of the menu that were unmistakably French. I'm not sure why there was a sprinkling of French dishes but needless to say, we ignored these Gallic interlopers in favour of the full Austrian experience.

The Starters
I just had to order the schupfnudeln (£7), which means rolled noodle in German. This is described as Austrian gnocchi on the menu. However, as these nudeln are rolled, they're longer than the more renowned Italian version. These were pan-seared, which gave them a tasty crust, and they were well matched with the parsley pesto and crispy onions. I couldn't really fault this excellent starter although if I was being ultra-churlish, I'd have to admit that I couldn't really detect any nuttiness from the beurre noisette.

Mr Wine enjoyed his beautifully presented smoked trout salad (£7.50) that was made with homemade remoulade and topped with lamb's lettuce. He was particularly enamoured with the roasted pumpkin seeds that added a contrasting flavour and texture to this salad. A special mention should also go to the superior rye bread that was served with our starters.

Wiener schnitzel
The Mains
A bit of a clichéd choice but wiener schnitzel (£12) is one of my favourites. This was a fine rendition and the generous portion of veal was succulent and not at all greasy. It was served with a potato salad that had just the most amazing grainy mustard dressing. Best potato salad ever!

My first reaction on seeing my dining companion's grammelknödel (£11) was that they were on the small side but appearances can be deceptive, as they were quite filling. These dumplings were also very moreish, as anything made with crispy bacon tends to be. The sauerkraut was also of a superior quality.

The Dessert
We didn't have room for a dessert each so we just ended up ordering one between two (well kind of, as I ended up eating the lion's share). I wanted Sachertorte but it wasn't on the menu so I ordered the sweet nougat 'knödel' (£6) instead.

Sweet nougat knödel
This dessert epitomised all that is good about this restaurant. Traditional fare, done stylishly and with an understanding of how to combine different flavours on a single plate. Here we see chocolate nougat-filled dumplings served with vanilla ice cream and a slightly tart berry compote. Sehr gut!

The Booze
To this day, the reputation of Austrian wine is still damaged by the fall out from the antifreeze scandal. This is a shame as there is some excellent Austrian wine out there, in particular the whites. With that in mind we kicked off with a glass of the crisp and refreshing Ried Rosenberg Grüner Veltliner (2009 Anton Bauer, Wagram, Austria).

Austrian reds are less well known and we were a tad disappointed that there were only a couple on the (largely French) wine list. In the end, we opted for a bottle of Sankt Laurent (2008 Johannes Trapl, Carnuntum, Austria), a highly gluggable tipple reminiscent of Pinot Noir. This superior berry-like red confirms Mr Wine's opinion that wine from Austria demands more respect.

I don't like to drink coffee at night, as all that caffeine isn't particularly good for you. So instead, we rounded off our meal in the traditional Austrian way with some schnapps. None of that mass-market crap though, this was the good stuff and I went with apricot whilst Mr Wine plumped for raspberry.

The Details
Bistro DéLICAT is a very intimate restaurant with around 35 to 40 covers and perhaps another dozen or so seats outside. As the dining room filled, it became very buzzy but not that it was so loud that you couldn't have a conversation.

The service was amongst the best I've experienced in a long time. Our friendly but not over-familiar server was efficient and helpful. I was particularly impressed by the manner in which she let us know about the side dishes but pointed out that they might not be necessary.

The bill came to £89.70, which we rounded up to £100 or £50/head. This may seem a bit expensive but we did rather shamefully end up spending more on drinks than food. If you stripped away the booze and bottled water, the food itself cost only £43.50.

The Verdict
This is a neighbourhood restaurant that any neighbourhood would be happy to have. Good quality food, wine, and service in a buzzy setting – it's what eating out is all about.

Other Stuff
Before I left, I had to find out whether they serve Sachertorte and the answer is sometimes. I'll have to make sure it's on the next time I come here.

Bistro Delicat on Urbanspoon

Bistro DéLICAT, 124 Northcote Rd, Battersea, London SW11 6QU
(Tel 020-7924-3566) Nearest rail: Clapham Junction

Thursday 4 November 2010

Yook Hwei 육회

I'm often asked why I started blogging. The answer is that I wanted to remember. I've been privileged over the years to sample great food from all over the world. But there's only so much that the mind can store and that's why I started taking photos and writing inelegant prose.

And it's just as well I do blog, as a few short months after being introduced to yook hwei (육회) by Catty, I nearly forgot all about it. It's a bit crap when you have to refer to your own blog archives to remember to order such a magnificent dish! Anyway, I reacquainted myself with the Korean version of steak tatare at Koba recently.

Before it's mixed at the table, this dish looks pretty scary with a raw egg perched on top of raw beef and nashi pear (bae 배). Once mixed though, the contrast between the textures of the beef and the crunchy pear combined with the sesame oil marinade is amazing. Here's a link to a recipe if you fancy making it at home.

Monday 1 November 2010

Action Against Hunger @ Fernandez & Leluu

It was my privilege to attend a charity event held at one of London's most renowned supper clubs, Fernandez & Leluu, last week. This event was hosted by unearthed to raise awareness and funds for Action Against Hunger, a humanitarian organisation committed to ending child hunger.

unearthed specialise in continental food and it was with their range of products that Fernandez & Leluu rustled up dinner. Much of unearthed's range has a Mediterranean bent so it was quite apt that Spain was the main inspiration for the menu. And what an inspired menu it proved to be...

To kick off, we had a selection of ham, Spanish potato omelette, oyster mushrooms, duck mousse and my favourite, pork rillettes. This was followed by sweetcorn veloute with chorizo film. So far so good.

Next up were flamenquines, made with pork loin, pepperoni and ham. I was a big fan of these meaty croquette-like tapas and they went really well with the mustard although the other herby dip was good too.

More pork in the form of meatballs followed. These were pepped up with cider and figs and were served with a Russian salad. These must have been good, as I forgot to take a photo of the salad!

By this stage of the evening, much wine had been consumed and if it wasn't for the rest of my table reminding me, I would've forgotten to take a photo of the Serrano ham salad with champagne poached pears. This was my favourite dish not least because of the amazing champagne poached pears. Sadly these are unavailable in the shops, as they are Fernandez & Leluu's own special creation.

There was yet more food to come in the form of baked rice, with chorizo, spare ribs, and probably some other stuff topped with tomatoes and potato slices. It was well worth the wait.

After this, I was quite full and would've been quite happy to call it a night but there was the small matter of dessert. I found some space for churros and chocolate, which was a great way to round off a great evening.

It was a shame that it was a school night, as I had to leave the party early. That said, I had a fantastic time and I'd like to thank Simon and Uyen for their excellent food and warm hospitality. I also feel more than a bit of a numpty for not having previously been to their wonderful supper club.

I'd also like to thank the other Simon from unearthed for holding this event and providing the ingredients. I was very impressed by the standard of the products, especially the pork rillettes, chorizo, meatballs, and Serrano ham.

If you'd like to do your bit for Action Against Hunger and have some fun at the same time, please check out their Fight Hunger Eat In campaign. Alternatively, if you buy any unearthed products in-store, 1p from each sale will be donated to this worthy cause.

Click here For Fernandez & Leluu's take on the evening and here for a recipe for those amazing Champagne poached pears.