Sunday 25 March 2012

Spanish Breakfast @ Brindisa

Borough Market can be a royal pain in the arse, but that's not to say there aren't some good things about it. Chief among those is Brindisa, not only for its food shop but also for its tapas bar. I've previously enthused about the former's chorizo sandwich, but in this post I want to pay homage to the breakfast served at the latter.

As much as I'm a fan of the full English, this Spanish alternative of ham, egg & fried potatoes is an equally great way of setting yourself up before braving the Borough Market crowds. And then there's the coffee. While half of London is genuflecting in front of the Antipodean flat white, I believe the Spanish café con leche, as served at Brindisa, is superior.

It isn't cheap. The ham, egg & fried potatoes costs £11.90, and you won't get much change out of £20 after ordering a coffee and an orange juice. But unlike some places I can think of, I don't mind spending that kind of money on what is a mighty fine breakfast.

Tapas Brindisa on Urbanspoon

Tapas Brindisa, 18-20 Southwark St, 
London SE1 1TJ
Nearest station: London Bridge

Breakfast is served on Fridays & Saturdays 9am - 11am

Thursday 15 March 2012

Copenhagen Cool - Kødbyens Fiskebar

It seems quite apt that Kødbyens Fiskebar is located in Copenhagen, where Hans Christian Andersen spent most of his life. That's because I'm not sure whether it represents the future of food as styled by Nordic culinary gods, or whether it's the Emperor's New Clothes.

The menu, majoring in fish and seafood, changes daily, and is presented on a clipboard. So far, so trendy. I kicked off with a starter of raw razor clams on maltbread crisp with fennel, dill and blobs of tarragon cream. The raw clams were pretty tasteless and insufficiently enlivened by the accoutrements. A bit of a let-down, all told.

For my main, I went with hake pan-fried in seaweed butter served with cabbage, Jerusalem artichoke cream, spring onion, croutons (dyed with squid ink) and mussel broth with tapioca. This was served with a bowl of creamed pearl barley with lovage, St John's wort and rye breadcrumbs.

There were so many components to this dish (I think I may have missed some out) that I was frightened my food would go cold before the waitress finished explaining what I was going to eat. The thing is I would've been quite happy with just the perfectly cooked hake in seaweed butter with a few greens on the side.

I could just about cope with the food on my plate, but what tipped it over the edge for me was the bowl of pearl barley on the side. Yes, it was tasty with interesting undertones of curry, and I appreciated the contrast in texture between the crunchy rye breadcrumbs and soft pearl barley. But what was the point? It was as if three separate courses from a tasting menu all turned up at the same time. There was just too much going on, and the clash of so many different tastes and textures ultimately detracted from a beautiful bit of fish.

The food didn't get any simpler with a dessert of Mutzo apples, almond, thyme and acorn ice cream. This was a posh apple tart, and in fairness, it was the highlight of the evening. In particular I thought the thyme meringue stick was genius and I enjoyed the contrast between the mini-balls of fresh apple and blobs of cooked apple.

Nevertheless, this dish did have its flaws; for instance, the acorn ice cream didn't really taste of anything (vanilla would actually have been a better option). And then there was the limp pastry that was strangely at odds with the otherwise technical excellence on show.

There was a lot to admire about my dinner, but not a lot to love about it. Yes, the cooking was, by and large, very skillful. Yet it was all a bit fussy with too many superfluous flourishes. Sometimes, less is more, and it's hoped that this message gets through to the Emperor in the kitchen. Otherwise, he may indeed end up stark-bollock naked.

The food aside, I liked the dining room, thought the service was informative and attentive, and it was good that you could eat at the bar (always a plus for solo business diners).

While I'm not sure if this restaurant is really for me, I am a big fan of the Kødbyen area (Copenhagen's answer to New York's Meatpacking District) in which it's located. There's a wide selection of bars and eateries there including the excellent Paté Paté.

Kødbyens Fiskebar, Flæsketorvet 100, DK-1711 København V
(Tel: +45-3215-5656)

Thursday 8 March 2012

Ramen Class @ Yuki's Kitchen

I don't know if you've noticed but I've been a little bit obsessed with ramen lately. This obsession reached its apotheosis when I signed up to a ramen class at Yuki's Kitchen. Yuki doesn't usually run ramen classes, but a pair of fellow noodle fanatics asked her to run one, which I subsequently also signed up to.

The class was a demonstration on how to make shoyu ramen with Japanese cha siu (醤油チャーシューラーメン), a noodle classic if there ever was one! Over the course of three hours or so, Yuki rustled up some chicken stock, prepared some Japanese cha siu, and assembled a cracking bowl of ramen. Some of you may be thinking that this is a bit quick, but it's not impossible with the aid of a pressure cooker. Moreover, the course was more about Yuki sharing her knowledge about the techniques used rather than attaining noodle nirvana.

I'm not going to give away all of Yuki's tips and tricks, as otherwise there's a danger that you may not sign up to the course! However, I do want share with you some of the things that I learnt. For example, I discovered that Japanese cha siu is very different from the Cantonese original, as the pork is braised rather than roasted or BBQ'ed. For a twist, Yuki added green tea and sake to the shoyu (soy sauce) in the braising liquor – proper genius.

After the cha siu was cooked and sliced, Yuki started assembling the bowl of ramen. The soup was made by combining the chicken stock with a glug of the braising liquor. Added to this were perfectly cooked al dente ramen noodles (sadly, the noodles used are only available in Japan). The accoutrements of negi (spring onion), wakame (seaweed) and nori (dried seaweed) were added together with half a boiled egg, and finally, a few slices of cha siu pork.

The finished article was a belter, although without wishing to sound too churlish, the pork could've been tenderer. But as I mentioned earlier, time wasn't really on our side and it's more important to learn the techniques.

I certainly picked up a lot of knowledge from Yuki, and that's in no small part to her enthusiasm and passion for food. So if you have some spare time then I recommend popping along to one of her courses.

The ramen course cost £50, which includes the ingredients - for further details about the Japanese cooking courses that Yuki runs, please check out her website. I learnt about Yuki's class through Edible Experiences, an online resource that helps you discover food & drink experiences in London – for further details click on the logo below:

Edible Experiences

Thursday 1 March 2012

Tonkotsu Ramen @ Nagomi

For a city that has loads of Japanese eateries, it is surprisingly difficult to find tonkotsu ramen in London. Yes, Tsuru occasionally serve it at their Saturday ramen pop-ups, and yes, Toku sometimes has it on as a special. But few places regularly serve this dish; the only place in London I've found tonkotsu ramen is on the lunch menu at Nagomi in the heart of Mayfair.

I ordered the tonkotsu ramen set (£10.90), which includes four deep-fried gyoza dumplings and some free edamame in addition to the noodle soup. (By the way, although tonkotsu features on the menu in the window, the same dish is described as pork & chicken soup on the menu card inside the restaurant.)

When the tonkotsu ramen arrived, it certainly looked like the real deal. The broth was just as it should be: milky white in colour with an oily sheen. On the side of the bowl was the regulation sheet of nori (dried seaweed), and the soup was topped with spring onions and sesame seeds. And for that ultra-authentic touch, globules of black sesame oil called mayu (マー油) were added to the soup. Taste-wise, it had a rich porky taste although purists may yearn for an even richer, thicker broth with that primeval whiff of collagen.

The observant among you will have noticed that the ramen in the photo is thinner than normal; this apparently is the done thing when it comes to tonkotsu given the thicker consistency of the broth. Ironically, though, I think I would've preferred the more common thicker ramen because, as I alluded to earlier, the broth wasn't as rich and thick as it might be. Having said that, the noodles were top quality and had enough 'bite'. (By the way, you're given the choice between thin and thick ramen at Nagomi.)

The downside? My bowl of noodles was a little bit spartan. There was no boiled egg, no menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and the three bits of pork were a little tired. It's just as well there were some tasty gyoza dumplings on the side to ward off the hunger pangs! Having said that, I prefer to dwell on the positives in that I've found somewhere in London serving real tonkotsu ramen.

Nagomi is definitely somewhere I'd like to return to. Looking around the intimate dining room, punters were enjoying not just ramen but also sushi, sashimi, tempura in addition to other good-looking dishes. The service was excellent and considering I was eating Japanese food in Mayfair, I thought my lunch was a steal at around £15 including a drink and 10% service. Recommended.

Nagomi on Urbanspoon

Nagomi, 4 Blenheim St, London, W1S 1LB (Tel: 020-7165-9506)
Nearest stations: Bond St, Oxford Circus