Monday, 7 April 2014


Sister number 4 and I were planning a civilised Friday supper.


“I’ve never been to Bodean’s,” she said, wistfully. “I’ve been dreaming of ribs”.


The last time I went to Bodean’s I ended up with salt in my bra, I thought to myself.


“Sister number 4 is desperate to go to Bodean’s”, I texted Sister number 3.


“So is my boyfriend”, she replied, “Desperate to go. Weird”. A few minutes later-


“He just read over my shoulder: ‘does that say Bodean’s? What about Bodean’s? I’m up for that. I’m up for Bodean’s”.


And so it was arranged.  To make it a party but avoid confusion, we roped in two people of the same name. I’m only dating one of them.


First, the sisters and I met my uncle in the Sporting Page. It was his birthday and he was remarkably chipper about it, the only insight into his mental state being the fact he tried to steal my phone when we left. Pre-gaming Bodean’s is a disastrous idea, as is turning up 45 minutes late, thus annoying the person you’re dating and the person you’re not in one fell swoop.  We made up for it by ordering 12 shots as a starter. 


There’s not a lot to say about the food here.  The meat is great, the chips are average, I tried burnt ends for the first time which were good, I don’t like coleslaw... It is mainly fodder for Great Times: a raucous sing-a-long with the table behind us, watching Sister number 4 demolish a whole rack of baby back ribs and developing a new found and seriously incapacitating obsession with honey flavoured bourbon.

Monday, 3 February 2014


I don't 'get' Spain like I 'get' France, but I do love their food and also the existence of the Basque country (I'll qualify that by saying yes to more Xs in words, and no to ETA).  My personal opinion is that jamon iberico de bellota (the acorn one) is nicer than any other ham in the world. As my uncle said when we went to Casa Brindisa (aha, a link!) recently, 'it's one of the times when it really is worth spending the money'. So there you go; to women, wine and cars you can now add ham. Not literally.

Anyway, the ham at Brindisa is spectacular. 'Melt in the mouth' always makes me think of some sort of high temperature plastics accident, but unfortunately it does apply here.  We picked at that quite happily for a while and then moved on to the parade of croquetas, gambas and boquerones that Spanish tapas restaurants in London continue to march out with varying degrees of success  (amazing: Brindisa, Tendido Cero, Opera Tavern, Barrafina) because we all love them, despite the fact the chefs are dreaming of Can Roca. I ordered monkfish cheeks as a special because they sounded interesting and they weren't, really, which was annoying since my uncle ordered everything else and it was spot on.  They didn't have any padron peppers, which was upsetting but they had taken them off the menu so I suppose it was silly to ask (although let the record show this did work with pre-11am martinis at the Dorchester). We had a glass of albariño and then something red that was possibly tempranillo; my knowledge and appreciation of wines being an ongoing but slow moving project that can currently be best summed up in the words of an 80 year old contributor to Trip Advisor "red and white: wow".

Having had such a good time at Brindisa, when I invited some friends to the flat for supper to discuss our group's summer holiday plans I decided to cook Spanish stuff. Despite hoping to have the holiday in Italy, I wasn't ready to revisit that particular culinary danger zone yet; not after Christmas Pastagate (see Christmas dispatch, somewhere below). The memories, like much of the dough, were still too raw.

So I decided to do lots of picky things (chorizo and prawns - surf and turf of the gods - nuts, olives, manchego... we've all been there) and then aubergines stuffed with lamb.  I thought this sounded Middle Eastern, but Rick Stein assured me it was a Spanish dish and my godfather kindly bought me some pimenton recently, so 'why not' was the attitude with which I tacked this one.  I love Rick Stein but Sister Number 4 doesn't (she quite literally won't have him in the house - she turns off Saturday Kitchen if they're running an old clip of his show.  We don't know why but I'm pretty sure they've never met), so I told her I invented it.  I was stymied by my failure to buy either onions or tomato sauce, believing myself to be in possession of both.  I wasn't.  And the co-op wasn't in possession of lamb.  So it was basically just aubergines with mince.  What's 'better luck next time' in Spanish?


I used to live with lots of blonde girls in a house with a pink door, which sounds a bit like Barbie but really could not have been less child friendly. One of them recently got engaged (hooray!) and couldn't join us for supper because she was having a ring fitting (boooooo, but, also, still hooray!), so the remaining blondes and I resolved to have a relatively quiet evening, a plan which went about as well as that type of plan used to go when we all lived together.

Ducksoup is one of those narrow Soho corridors where you eat at the bar and there's a terrible draught at one end from the door. They've recently opened up downstairs, which has tables you can book. I continue to find the no booking thing a hassle because, ultimately, I don't want to queue for a £40 a head supper.  You end up doing bizarre things like spending three hours in a campari bar beforehand, rendering you incapable of tasting your much anticipated hirata bun, or actually being able to use your artisan meat cleaver.  The only option to avoid the queue is to eat at 5.30pm, which I haven't done
since I was six. Chances are you'll actually be eating some form of macaroni cheese too, which only adds to the children's tea time vibe.

I love almost everything else going on right now: handwritten menus, sharing, cramped tables, bio wines, places only serving one thing (I know a lot of it is annoying and derivative but it hit me at the right age, much like Sister Number 4 and Harry Potter- hence the presence of a Hogwarts goblet in my glass cupboard) but I want to be able to book a table to try out your concept.  I think the reason everyone hates bloggers is because they're always drunk before they get to eat, so can't remember anything properly.

Ducksoup's (handwritten) menu changes every day so, whilst you could go to their website and play the fun game of trying to figure out exactly which evening I went (please, don't write in), you won't eat
what we did.  The main thing I noticed was that there are no sauces; not in a Puritanical way, more in a 'things tasted of themselves' way. Everything was very natural and fresh. For example, raw Jerusalem artichoke is exactly the same as a green apple in terms of texture, which was news to me.  We had small plates of mozzarella, kale and chilli, the aforementioned shaved Jerusalem artichokes with herbs and salted anchovies, blistered aubergines, lentils, garlic yoghurt and sumac, blood orange, pink radiccio and salted ricotta salad and a whole chargrilled mackerel with guanciale, which were all polished off
quite happily as the three of us toasted the fourth with something white from Chile (wine knowledge TBC) and gossiped into the Soho night.

Mistletoe and wine

I have previously mentioned how fussy my sisters are. They are like birds, picking and pecking and preening and prodding at their hair and their faces and the things on their plates. This is why their make-up is always immaculate whereas mine looks like I did it in the dark, upside down with a marker pen.  It is also why trying to plan a Christmas lunch that wasn't actually Christmas lunch was an absolute nightmare. I wrote down everything that one of more of them wouldn't eat and it basically eliminated everything Christmassy, special, expensive or celebratory that you could possibly imagine.  So I gave up and did the following:

Kale salad with lemon and parmesan

This is one of Jean Georges Vongerichten's signature dishes.  My flatmate recommended it to me in New York and it was one of the stand out things I ate last year.  Ribbons of raw kale are covered in a thick lemony parmesan dressing and finished with green chilies and croutons - delicious and light as the starter for a long lunch.  I couldn't get kale that was as fine as the dark green strands across the pond; I think the curly type I picked up is a bit harsher, so I would potentially pulse the raw veg through a food processor briefly to soften it up a bit.  If you make this, you will be bang on track with the kale trend this season, 
but actually able to enjoy it rather than turning it into juice (which tends to break the juicer anyway).

Chicken ravioli in truffle cream sauce

You know those food shows where Italian grandmothers roll out pasta dough with the heel of one hand whilst laughing, throwing flour around and drinking olive oil?'s not true.  Pasta dough is TOUGH. The hubris of embarking on making ravioli from scratch for the first time for eight people without a pasta machine occurred to me approximately forty three hours too late, as I stood with my back to my darling family, gathered expectantly at my table, prodding at hockey puck sized flying saucers that were turning over and over in the water and basically sinking. I just couldn't get it thin enough. The minced chicken filling and sauce were obviously nice but, if I'd wanted to serve meatballs with cream, I could have. Thousands (eight) wished I had.

Venison with sauce poivrade, fondant potatoes, carrot puree, broad beans and pancetta

This was well received. I decided to make a sauce poivrade having read Richard Olney's The French Menu Cookbook in which he describes it as one of the pinnacles of classical cooking techniques. Sounds like a challenge, I thought, and immediately I was hooked.  It's not that I am driven and motivated and keen to excel so much as I love showing off.  The sauce involves making a full blown stew from scratch, and then throwing all of the meat and vegetables away.  It took seven hours to make, forty five minutes of which required the constant vigilance of standing at the stove skimming it.  It  quickly became a chore, especially when the end result tasted just like a nice gravy.

Clementine cake

Sister Number 4 made this from Nigella's recipe (hashtag TeamNigella, needless to say) and it was delicious - surprisingly light as it's a flourless cake, and not too heavy after cheese. The hours we spent boiling the clementines on Boxing Day made the whole house smell of Christmas.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Hutong at the Shard - review

It was on Sunday evening that my friend told me he hated dim sum. I was thrilled, having booked Hutong at the Shard for his belated birthday lunch the following day.  He lives in Sydney now, so I thought we could be London tourists and go and look at the old city from a new height. But he hates dim sum, Monday dawned foggy and an hour before we met I received a text saying 'don't wear pink', which I took as forewarning that he would be. A great start all round.


I met the fuschia dream on the 32nd floor of the Shard and had a cocktail made from gin and dragon fruit, the seeds of which have the same terrifying potential as those of poppies for cementing themselves to the gaps between your teeth, as it turns out.  He had something metro in a champagne flute.


We sat in the black lacquered Hutong and wondered why everyone else was there. There were no business lunches, or children, or American tourists, but it was full. We had time on our side and so went for the tasting menu and a bottle of albariño.  In the recesses of my gin-dimmed mind I remembered reading something about Spanish wines going with Chinese food. It isn’t the sort of place for a beer and some prawn crackers.


The first things we ate were chilled razor clams with a lemongrassy dressing. Razor clams look disturbingly anatomical but were very good; like white meat rather than fish. Raw scallops were fresh and sweet but slightly underwhelming – I often think they’re better with the pizzazz of a ceviche or fried in butter (obviously) than as sashimi.


Vegetable spring rolls were forgettable, but prawns with jasmine tea leaves were exceptional. Neither of us had ever eaten better prawns, and one of us is from Australia where all they do is put shrimp on the barbie. They were huge and sweet and bouncy.


The Red Lantern is Hutong's signature dish; a huge bowl filled with baked, deep red Sichuan chillies, rustling like paper, amongst which you poked your chopsticks to find big chunks of spicy, crunchy soft shell crab.  At the end, there were little crispy bits left at the bottom of the bowl that tasted like the most incredible kettle chips ever.  Which is I’m sure what they were going for.  A huge plate of green beans with spicy minced pork was delicious, as were lamb ribs with a garlic dipping sauce, although these last were quite unexpectedly fatty, like pork belly.


They had no cheesecake, which was meant to be the pudding, so we substituted it for a pomelo soup and a squishy thing in a peanut coating. When I asked what it was, presuming it wasn’t actually an eyeball covered in nuts as I had queasily assumed, I was told it was a gelatinous starch. So there you go. The middle was very black. It didn’t taste of much. The pomelo soup was very fruity, but made my teeth yellow which really set off the dragon fruit seeds from earlier.


We sat and waited for the fog to dissipate and darkness to descend. Luckily it started doing that at about 4pm, so we had to plenty of time to go through the cocktail list in the main bar.  Someone has been at the menu with a ‘mad hatter’s tea party’ attitude – there were some weird and wonderful things in those drinks. Some good (earl grey air), some bad (oregano) and some ugly (blue cheese stuffed grapes). Still, they were all delicious and London twinkled around us in the darkness as we pointed out landmarks at least one of us didn't know the names of, and caught up on 6 months of different hemispherical living.


Recounting the day’s events at his leaving dinner later in the week, my friend was moved to suggest that the spicy scotch egg he’d ordered as a joke, three sheets to the wind in a pub on Old Broad Street later that evening, was the best thing he’d eaten that day. There’s gratitude for you.

Monday, 9 December 2013

In which I am underwhelmed in Fulham

A couple of weekends ago I interrupted Sister number 4’s casual midday lie-in to make her come for a walk with me. I explained it was something I quite often liked doing on a sunny Saturday morning, and that if she came with me I’d take her for lunch afterwards. “I’ve never seen you walk,” she said, hyperbolically, but she got up in the end and off we went. It was a glorious autumn day, and we meandered along Chelsea Embankment, over Albert Bridge and into Battersea Park. I had embarrassingly overestimated the levels of exertion (Sister number 4 walks at the equivalent pace to a tortoise. She could race snails) and was dressed in my gym kit, with my hair tied back (for speed).  The upshot of this was that an unfortunate photo was taken of me looking like Kim Jong Il.  Still, it made my sister laugh, which is the purpose for which I live.

Somewhere near the incongruous Buddhist temple in the park she got bored and started talking about lunch, so we wandered back towards base camp- bypassing the Chelsea Ram because we go there so much that I have eaten everything on the menu (still one of my favourite pubs in the whole world)- and continued on to The Sands End.  This has been a really lovely and popular pub for some time, with a deserved reputation for good food. None of that has changed. We had some delicious focaccia, and then my sister ordered a scotch egg and a burger (she’s a teenager), and I went for three oysters and some salmon (I’m not a teenager, and it also looks weird if you eat fat food in lycra).  There was grit in one of the oysters, which I accept as a hazard of eating them given how difficult they are to shuck, but other than that the food was great. The burger meat in particular was way more flavoursome than the average pub burger, rare and almost smoky, and the confit salmon came with a crisply refreshing cucumber salad and a cruchily spicy little fish cake; perfect for a light lunch.  However, this quick stop took over two hours, which is really unacceptable.  It was apparently a kitchen problem but the waiter himself was shufflingly slow and borderline ineffective. I feel a bit guilty here because they took the price of a bottle of sparkling water and the scotch egg off the bill to compensate for the wait (essentially the price of a tip), and I wasn’t going to mention it at all as it’s such a nice place and they’re such nice people.

But – I went back this weekend with a few friends to drown a seriously ferocious post-wedding hangover in some sauvignon blanc, and some of the group wanted food. I should have told them. We ordered and it took the waiter 20 minutes to get back to us with the news that none of the bar snacks were available. The focaccia never arrived and replaced at the end of the meal with some white bread that was still squidgy, raw dough in the middle. Things that did arrive came at random intervals with the kind of charmingly ebullient but hopeless service that I associate with Daisy’s Cafe – an establishment that my sister ran from behind the ironing board in the kitchen when she was six years old. Everything was done with a smile, but it was comically inept. My sister wouldn’t even have offered him a job at Daisy’s during its heyday, when it could really have done with extra staff.  In short: must try harder. 

Places with which I have been more impressed recently:

Franco Manca

I know, I know, I'm so far behind the times on this one I'm like a parent worrying about The Facebooks, but I've been to Brixton about twice and neither time changed my life and so I was waiting for them to creep north of the river. And now they are everywhere! We went to the Chiswick branch on another bright blue afternoon this Autumn, wrapped up warm and sat outside scoffing blisteringly hot, fresh, melty, sharp sourdough pizza slices and tumblers of red wine for the princely sum of about £15 a head.  Excellent.

Bone Daddies

I popped in here for lunch the other day and ate Tantamen 2, drank warm sake and listened to T.Rex, happily cocooned in a bowl of hugs whilst watching the huddled masses cleave through the Soho rain outside.  This is the no-booking rock and roll ramen bar whose owners recently set up Flesh and Buns. Personally, I think this is more successful. The bowls of ramen are huge, customisable a million different ways, restorative and fun.  They also look weirdly beautiful, or maybe that was just because I was dreaming of Marc Bolan.

The Green Man and French Horn

It was a dark and stormy night when a memory crossed me on Savile Row and I felt the ghost of summer.  Perhaps it wasn’t even actually dark: hard to imagine now.

The Green Man and French Horn (or Green Horn and French Man, as it became after a few drinks) is a tiny, incongruous place on Garrick Street. The bowed window is mullioned and the only thing that tells you it isn’t another touristy pub in the ratruns around Leicester Square is the light level.  It glows into the night; gold spilling through each portion of the window and sparkling in the headlights of the traffic in the rain.    

It does the restaurant a disservice to say it has a ‘concept’, because it really isn’t trying to be à la mode, but its food and wine are from the Loire valley.  I am a big fan of the Loire: they speak proper French there, the chateaux are beautiful and I went to Tours on my French exchange and ate pigs trotters with the local chief of police.  He was the father of my French exchange; I wasn’t in custody.  The only thing that worries me about the area are the river fish.  They all taste muddy to me, and I was hoping not to be confronted with quenelles de brochet (pike); on which French people seem inexplicably keen. Michel Roux Jnr, who is currently being beamed by satellite into my sitting room, once had the pike things on the Masterchef classic recipe test; which I thought was unfair as even the good versions don’t taste very nice. 

Luckily, as rivers are wont to do, the Loire lets out into the sea, so there were some nice fish on the menu.  We started with fresh cheese and beetroot, and leeks in vinaigrette with brown shrimp and chopped egg.  These were both light and refreshing, the cheese sharply lactic and the shrimp salty on the fresh leeks.  Brill in beurre blanc was the star; an old fashioned plating of just the fish and sauce on the plate (it reminded me of the Gavroche, not to labour the MRJnr connection), it was fantastic. The sauce was just incredible; thick with shallots and wine.  The other main course was hare with girolles and parpadelle in a deep, glossy sauce. The hare was a little dry (I’m sitting on my hands to stop moving into a terrible interlude of hairdryer puns), but again the sauce was exemplary. There are people here who know their stuff, and it was a cosy place to be on a Thursday evening, hiding from memories.