Thursday, 31 March 2011

Shiori - Sushi Art

Spring is a little late this year. London has finally warmed up in the final weekend of March; loving the double-digit day time temperature. The sunshine calls for sashimi.

Sushi of Shiori doesn’t need much introduction; the fine sushi bar run by ex-Umu chef has been widely blogged and reviewed. With a three-week advance booking, we got ourselves a £40 Omakase session.

Okay people say it’s small, I just didn’t know it was that petite. There were 3 bar seats facing Chef and another 5 facing the full-length window. A couple was already seated in front of Chef, gnawing away their picturesque sashimi platter. The ambience was slightly awkward to be honest; I felt I had intruded their silence with my entrance. I gradually eased up when the hostess introduced the drinks menu and asked if we were ready to start. She’s pleasantly loud.

Amuse Bouche – Pickled Aji with Preserved Vegetables
Aji, also known as horse mackerel or scad, was deep fried before pickled. Pretty standard stuff. The vinegar was fruity and the sweetness of the finely shredded carrots steered the dish well away from unbearable spikiness. It worked well to cleanse my palate.

This was followed by a bowl of miso soup with a hint of tomato.

Appetiser - Razor Clam with Ponzu Sauce
Razor clams were on the day’s special menu too. While the bouncy clam paired with the punchy Ponzu sauce was refreshing, I thought the slicing defied the distinctiveness of razor clams. Perhaps slicing the fat clam meat could ease off the chewiness and help holding the sauce, but what I love about razor clams is the sweet juice they release with each chew. In my humble opinion, the shellfish didn’t push through the sauce.

Sashimi Platter
Truly artisan. I actually felt sad destroying the artwork.

Much thought as gone into the pairing of each sashimi with its accompaniments; the milder seabass was enhanced by the sharp plum sauce, made even better with the unique shiso leaf fragrance; horse mackerel was served with smoked aubergine to relieve its fishiness. Even the boring squid had its texture exaggerated to maximum squishiness. Uni and Ubi (diced and wrapped with a thin soya sheet) should totally get married coz I want to eat their children.

The tuna cubes were so intense, as if someone had mashed the maguro and smeared it across my tongue.

And of course the obese o-toro. I could almost see a tear in the corner of Mister’s eye.

It wasn’t just the freshness and quality of fish. It was the delicate balance and exquisite skills displayed by Chef too.

Sushi – Chu-Toro, Grouper, Scallop and Shishito Peppers
Usual etiquette is to flip the sushi upside down and lightly dip the fish into soy sauce. Seeing all the ‘accessories’ on top, we were given a brush, isn’t it cute?

The chu-toro is out of this world. It melted into the sushi rice, no tendons. Just a trail of fish oil. Scallop was topped with white truffle imported from Italy. The truffle wasn’t overpowering, perhaps because the fungi’s perfume is better unleashed with moderate heat, but this allowed the natural charm of the scallop to shine through. It was an extravagant combination.

I wasn’t mad about the grouper, another meek fish, nor the pickled flower. I won’t go melodramatic over the Japanese peppers. They taste exactly like normal green bell peppers, but lack the bitter undertone and replace it with a faint curt sweetness.

Steamed Sushi

Seasoned rice with chopped shitake mushroom and black sesame, topped with unagi and a generous splurge of eel sauce. There is no way unagi on a bed of rice could go wrong. Chef just took it to the next level by steaming the parcel with aromatic leaves to drawn in its fragrance. Ace.

Had the joint been equipped with a charcoal grill to add more bite to the eel edges… I’m asking for a lot here.

Wagyu Beef Sushi

Usually I turn my nose up at beef sushi. Raw Wagyu beef sushi is wasteful as the meat is only worthy of its price tag with melting beefy butter; lightly seared ones are slightly better but the beef has to be just thick enough. This little piece, however, had me grinning.
The light torching has dissolved the marbling fat but maintained the rawness of the meat. The fat-infused sushi rice blended with the velvety texture of the beef and a healthy splash of grill sauce, all melting away ever so smoothly.

Chef made Chestnut Ice cream
Despite the small broken pieces of chestnut hidden in the ice cream, it didn’t really taste of chestnut. Mister had sweet potato flavour, and we both wished we had opted for the conventional green tea and black sesame. But that’s okay, I didn’t come here for the ice cream.

Bill came to £95 for 2. I thought it was a bargain considering the quality, craftsmanship and the amount of consideration that has gone into the food. Mister was 70% full (aka with enough space for half a kebab) and me 90% (an ikura gunkan would be nice), which is about right. Fair enough there are minor hiccups such as my teapot came without a lid (intentional?) and tucking in my chair each time another diner squeeze pass to the loo, but this is no Umu and I wasn’t in my best pair of heels either.

Next time we’re going for the canapé sushi platter – one each – because Mister said he wouldn’t like to share.

144 Drummond Street
Tel: 0207 388 9962
(Omakase & Canapé platter by pre-order only)

Sushi of Shiori on Urbanspoon

Friday, 25 March 2011

Sông quê - Viet in the East of West

So I was saying we hit Kingsland Road by chance and briefly toured Tokyo while picking the right Vietnamese noodle joint. Talk about multi-culture. There was one Vietnamese resto every other shop, no wonder this was ingeniously dubbed ‘The Pho Mile’. It wasn’t an easy choice. The menus looked indifferent; names were all variants of ‘Viet’ and each window was plastered with newspaper articles or photographs with celebrity patrons. And none of them were short of customers.

Then we reached Sông quê at the end of the road. It was comparatively more toned down compared to its peers; no dark bamboos or deep purple table cloths, instead just light green walls and a lot of diners. The rule of thumb says: when in doubt, pick the most crowded resto that is not cheaper than its peers. We had a winner.

The place was buzzing. Waiters were whizzing between tables with 3 dishes on one hand and a massive bowl of pho on the other. The owner pointed us to a table in front of the bar, which hung two plastic lobsters with green LED eyes. The menu was crammed with words and a few pretty pictures at the back. To my delight, they serve cold vermicelli.

Spring rolls
Four? Dont they usually halve the two spring rolls?

These arrived piping hot. The bursting mince was juicy, and mixed well with the crunchy veg. I usually prefer a thinner wrap, since the double foldingoften traps excess grease and hardens the shell. Still, these were good.

Cold Vermicelli with Grilled Pork and Lemongrass
Okay this really is vermicelli, I was hoping for Vietnamese vermicelli which is slightly more transparent, flatter, thicker and more springy. Nevermind the tiny glitch. The rice noodles were well-cooked, dry and loosened easily to hold the fish sauce it came with. This was almost exactly what I had hoped for.

They serve big; the bowl was easily bigger than my head. The mountain consisted of thick slices of pork, bean sprouts and onions, topped with a generous sprinkle of coarsely grounded peanuts. The pork was tender with thin trims of fat, exuded immense fragrance of lemongrass when mixed with the fish sauce. Loved it.

Rare Beef slices, Flank, Tendons and Tripe Pho
The list of Pho was a page long. Half of it was the permutation of the four beef items. We went for the full combo.

The wafer thin beef slices arrived pink in yet another washing basin size bowl, along with the usual bean sprouts and lime on the side. The broth wasclear with a skim of floating oil. It was sweet and bovine, its herbiness lifted with a squeeze of lime juice. The various beef bits all contributed difference textures; rare slices gradually cooked in the hot broth was soft, flank was leaner with more chew, tendons were half-melted and beef tripe was bouncy. So satisfying.

We walked pass all the Vietnamese restaurants on backtrack, and none of them offered the combo pho we had in Sông quê. It was icing on the cake on this perfect day:
A World Champ coffee + Osuga Exhibition + Good Pho = Wholesome

The years of misspent education only got me to translating Sông quê to the River Stick. I could be miles off. Then again, I felt miles away from London anyway.

Sông quê Cafe
134 Kingsland Road
E2 8DY
Tel: 020 7613 3222

You may also like: Koya (Udon)Nakhon Thai

Song Que on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Asparagus - Oxtail - Apple Sorbet

Seeing my previous attempt earned many appreciative smiles from Mister, I decided to challenge another three course meal. (And also because I went overboard with my credit card…)

Asparagus Soup

Since we are catching glimpses of spring, I thought I’d grasp the last chance of making a winter soup. Another great recipe from The British Larder, only I have replaced the crispy asparagus rolls with cheesy seeded toast. I’m just not much of a filo pastry fan.

This was surprisingly simple to make; a bit of chopping, boiling and blending. It wasnt too chunky as a starter, and possesses a light fragrance that works well on our palate. Look at me blowing my own trumpet.

Oxtail Stew

Mum bought me an Intelligent Cooker, which is basically a pressure cooker that calculates its cooking time when you tell it what youre cooking. It makes slow-cooking speedy.

I used to cheat by pouring a can of oxtail soup to get half the job done. But I did it properly this time. The recipe is the result of trial and error from my annual attempts for the past 5 years.

1) Lightly dust 1kg of oxtail with flour and brown with 25g of butter in the pot. Chuck in 350ml red wine with a bundle of herbs (bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and parsley) till it thickens.
2) Peel and slice 2 carrots, 1 small onion, 2 slices of streak bacon, 2 chopped tomatoes – throw into the pot plus salt & black pepper. Add 450ml stock.
3) Lock lid - 30 mins on the Intelligent Cooker (or simmer for 4 hours)
*I used significantly less stock because little steam escapes pressure cookers.

Shortening the steps to 3 really encourages cooking, right?
Truth is I left the oxtail to cool and chilled overnight so the flavours would sink in, and I get to skim off the fat before reheating the pot with fresh carrots for 20 mins. Serves 2.

Mister loved it. The meat on the tail flaked off with a tiny poke and flavours were intense. So little work too!

Apple Sorbet

Recipes for sorbet are more or less the same. Some are unnecessarily complicated while others involve too much manual work, such as shaving ice with a fork. I have tailored mine from a collection:

Peel, core and dice 2 granny smith apples, sauté with 10 tsp of lemon juice and 1 tbs of sugar until soft. Blend. Freeze.
Once frozen, blend again until smooth and slurry. Freeze again. Serves 2.

I genuinely don’t think a dessert could get any simpler than this. So I gave myself more work by scooping out an apple as a container;)

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Prufrock Cup of Coffee next to Tokyo

Mister loves coffee. I like coffee.

So when we saw HK Epicurus had scored his first 10/10 for Prufrock Coffee, this pilgrimage was inevitable. Gwilym Davies, the World Barista Champion of 2009, chose to hide away in a Japanese clothes store called Present on Shoreditch High Street. We didn’t catch him behind his state-of-art espresso machine; perhaps he was entertaining another crowd on Leather Lane in his almost-finished establishment with his Nuova Simonelli.

Anyway, simple menu: espresso or espresso with milk in 3 sizes.
This could be the snappiest coffee I have yet tested my taste buds. The layers of aroma unfolded with various fruitiness, gradually tamed by an underlying trace of honey. It was complicated - woody yet spiky; smoky but defined. Mister was mesmerised by its uniqueness, trying to catch the right words for each essence that jumped at him.

I, er, didn’t like it.
For some obscure reason I kept finding it salty each time the shot met my lips. It was like a gate I had to battle through before I could reach the perfumes. It was brutally frustrating.

Mister thought the latte art could have been neater, but I managed to convince myself that I was intentionally given a heart. Very, very milky. Had I been blind-folded, this could pass as warm milk. Nah, maybe I don’t like milky coffees… Mister dismissively said I should stick to the Nespresso machine at home with evaporated milk.

I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with my visit. Like wines, people like different things. Afterall it was still the most complex caffeine I have experienced to date.

Finally fully awake at 1pm, we wandered around since we are still East London newbies. Ambling along Shoreditch High Street with the quirkiest furniture and fricking ridiculously priced teapots, we arrived at Kingsland Road, where Vietnamese cafes dominated the street. While comparing the menus, we caught sight of a wall full of paper masks through the Flowers Gallery windows. Nosily I buzzed in.

The Japanese artist reconstructed a corner of Tokyo with snapshots of a department store, noodle bar, public baths, vending machines, busy streetsof neon lights and the odd lamppost. Despite the cartoon-like strokes and deliberate wonkiness of the dimensions, Osuga captures the courtesy andcivility of the Japanese, and detailed the orderly chaos of the city.

The birds eye view of the bird and Tokyo. We could remove our shoes and ‘walk on the city.

My rats eye view of the Tokyo Metro:)

The rest of the gallery was more playful with paper masks that invited visitors to try on, a super-sized oracle & wishing rack and miniature models of Japanese traditions.

The exhibition of packed with fun and portrayed the city with utmost accuracy.

140 Shoreditch High Street
E1 6JE
Tel: 07852 243 470 (Gwilym)

82 Kingsland Road
E2 8DP
Tel: 0207 920 7777
(Jiro Osuga Exhibition until 26th March, 2011)

Prufrock Coffee on Urbanspoon