Thursday, 23 February 2012

Iberica - Pigs Feast

I walk past Iberica everyday on my way to work, yet it never appealed to me until LucyL sang praises about the food, listing dishes I must try. Well I have no excuse to dodge really; Mister decided it was the perfect place to mark our 7th V-day.

The restaurant is surprisingly spacious, but also quite cosy as it's split into different sections; red velvet sofa booths in the middle, marble bar on the side, and smaller tables in the upper level areas. We were greeted at the jamon station, sniffing away the meaty fragrance from the sexy legs of Iberica pigs on display. From upstairs, we had a clear view of the open kitchen where Chef was gushing out orders in Spanish while the busy team was bustling about.

Trio of Ibericos : Salamanca, Huelva & Cordoba
The three hams were top quality stuff, no doubt. All distinctively different in their characters, but all equally exquisite in flavours. I started with the Salamanca, one that was described as the sweetest of the trio. The beautiful marbling lard melted on tongue to unveil the sweet essence in the oil; the mellow flavours of meat were slowly released and left a trail of aromatic nuttiness. 

Next I went for the deeper scarlet coloured Huelva; the sweetness was more subdued, almost as an undertone to the structured piggy flavours that unfolded layer by layer. Cordoba was a starker contrast to the other two, thicker in cut, drier in grease and smokier with a denser punch of meatiness; finished with a faintly sweet aftertaste. Quite simply the best Jamon Iberico we have ever had.

Mister has developed an addiction to this platter; he began planning his next visit as soon as he put the final piece of ham in his mouth... 

Salmorejo of roasted peppers & tuna belly salad
Right, let's get the low-light out of the way first. This was truly bad because I was expecting the tuna to be lightly seared on the outside to preserve the wobbling fat of the belly, and that it would dissolve in mouth. Silly me. Instead this was cooked to tinned tuna hopelessness, stiff and bland and a waste of a good piece of fish. Tuna belly or not, i think it's a crime to cook any fish this far into death. 

Things then got better from here...

Grilled prawns with chilli garlic & sherry vinegar dressing
The prawns soaked up the garlic oil and were perfectly seasoned. It's a typical tapas dish well done, prawns in shell drizzled in sherry vinegar is always better than de-shelled frozen prawns swimming in garlicky oil. These could be bouncier and fresher though, thought they were slightly mushy...

Grilled marinated Iberico pork loin “secreto”
Ultra soft pork grilled to a crispy shell; the Iberico pork must have been speckled with fat before it was cooked to leave pork juices trickling. The tenderness resembled a more refined half-fat char-siu (roast pork), without an overpowering honey glaze to boast the natural flavours in the meat.  

It does look too heavily charred on the edge. I have a feeling we took too long over our jamon the kitchen had to re-fire. Anyhow it was still a freaking juicy piece of pork.

Crispy confit Segovian suckling pig, apple puree & frisee salad
Our third plate of pig in one meal; we just couldn't get enough of it. Unlike the intense cured ham or masculine fillet in the previous courses, this was more graceful and delicate. The skin was paper-thin with an equally thin layer of jelly-like oil to magnify the silky soft texture; it almost liquefied in mouth. All well balanced by the mildly sweet apple puree that alleviated the grease. Beautiful dish.

Just as I thought Tendido Cero was in a league of its own, Iberica came along. It was brilliant; the quality of ingredients truly shined through, especially the Iberico pork dishes. Like the Cambio de Tercio group, the menu includes some innovative and sophisticated recipes as well as traditional raciones. I was gutted they ran out of the Fried artichokes & white asparagus with sea-urchin alioli, one of the recommendations from LucyL. Sea-urchin alioli sounded so good… but I’m not too bothered, we will definitely be back.

12 Cabot Square
E14 4QQ
Tel: 0207 636 8650

Iberica Canary Wharf on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Borough Market (2)

I've decided not to do another full post on London Borough Market, it's not like I'll get to do one complete post on the best of everything anyway. But just thought I'd add a couple of things I truly enjoyed last year...

Richard Haward's Oysters
I think all the Colchester Natives sold out so we stuck to the good old wild rocks. These babies come in two sizes, and we went for both for good comparison. Big is better - the creamiest oysters I have ever had, and you can see how creamy the sac is. A meat seaball of mineral with delicate brine flavours. Whoa!!

Fish! Kitchen
Genuinely have no idea where to find the best fish & chips; my best experience had been at a random tiny store in Darlington, where the chips were fluffy like cotton balls yet moist and grainy like a well done jacky, plus a crispy case with butter aroma. Fish! does it quite well too, I had an inch-thick haddock fillet in a light batter. With a quick turnover thanks to the constant stream of customers, chips were fresh and pipping hot too.

The Posh Bangers - Blue cheese burger
While we were queuing for the Applebees fish and prawns wrap, we got too hungry and tried out a blue cheese burger next door. And it was brilliant, the juiciest I have had; my first bite was like twisting a towel that had been soaked in delicious beefy goodness, finished with a strong blow of blue cheese fragrance. I think it was eve better than the fish wrap...

The Arabica Food & Spice Co
I got hooked on baklawa since my trip to Morocco, and checked out Comptoir, the odd Turkish delicacy shops in Soho, Hazev, and even Waitrose. Arabica does the best pistachio bird nests. They are more expensive per gram in Selfridges, so I usually pick them up from South Bank or, of course, the Borough Market.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

MEATLiquor - One Dead Hippie

I missed the Meatwagon and never found the way to Meateasy. So when MeatLiquor got the London crowd queuing at all dining hours, I had crazily high hopes for it. After a frantic schedule over Xmas and CNY, I dragged Bro with us for more objective opinion.

The room reached saturation point at 4pm on this particular Friday afternoon, and the queue began around 5. From half 5, we waited for a brief 25min in the cold before we got the little table by the long cage of kitchen roll. My cider was disgusting, I hated the fermenting yeast aftertaste.

When the food arrived after an hour we gave the oil-drenched metallic tray a good shower of flashes. The lights were dimmer than my bedside lamp, so excuse the photos.

Onion Rings
Massive onions were enveloped by even bigger batter, which was just thick enough to give substance but not drowned the sweet crunchy onions. Good stuff.

Buffalo wings with Blue Cheese Dip
Immediately we could smell the nose-prickling vinegar. The unexpected citrusy kick was a good preamble to the mildly spicy mini wings. I didn't get the wings frenzy that was commonly spread among the other MeatLiquor followers. What have I missed? The blue cheese in the dip was subtle, we all thought it was more sour cream than cheese, but went alright with the wings.

Chilli Cheese Fries
In short this was chilli con carne with fries. Fries were flimsy, limp and glimmering under flash, blanketed with chilli sauce and finally topped with lumps of dried minced meat, chopped pickles, plastic cheese. I'm not sure why some bloggers were groaning and moaning in pleasure... Truthfully it was quite disgusting. We didn't even get through half of it, simply because we didn't want to. 

Buffalo Chicken Burger
This would have been an epic burger; one well-greased burger with a juicy hunk of soft chicken breast smothered in thick sauce... had the chicken not been coated with a stomach-upturning, eye-popping, head-pounding (I can go on forever) acidity. The poor chicken must have been bombarded to death by lemons and limes, then kept in the vinegar pot to keep it dead till I ordered it. Those born in the 80's would know this candy called Super Lemon, the chicken coating was exactly like that, but without the eventual sweetness.

Look if the HOT pepper sauce is actually dominantly sour, maybe they should call it zesty & hot pepper sauce? Or just outright fucking sour sauce.

Dead Hippie (bottom right)
This definitely rescued some grace for the much celebrated Yianni. The double patties were dripping with beef juices, oozing with beefy flavours and soft in texture with a touch of grainy chew; there was so much life in the patties! All stacked up with a good splurge of sauce and packed between supple buns. One good burger.

Mushroom Swiss
This wasn't quite as good as the DH above, though the patties were equally well made. While the mushrooms brought more bounce and springy textures, they also watered down the flavours. More to the point, swiss cheese is never going to beat American cheese in a burger.

The glaring music, current gothic decor and comical caricature was great for a one-timer; for me, not the most comfortable dining experience. But I'm sure it's a winner, judging from the snaking queue when we left at 8. As for the grub, I reckon it's sorely overrated. Of the three burgers we ordered, I thought only one ticked all the boxes, and even so, it didn't quite take me to burger heaven. The rest of the food is just typical American diner kinda grub. I'll do it again, but only on a no-queue day for a takeaway of the Dead Hippie, thanks.

74 Welbeck Street
Tel: 0207 224 4239

MEATliquor on Urbanspoon
You may also like: BukowskiYalla YallaPolpo

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Raw Milk - Hook & Son @Selfridges

I've been fed all kinds of info about the milk we buy at the supermarket; such as most natural proteins have been denatured, or killed, during the brief high heat it is exposed to. It is then injected with manufactured proteins along with vitamins and minerals. Bro says an experiment was carried out in Japan, where calves were fed with human processed cow's milk at birth, and they don't survive for longer than 2 months. Frankly I don't know anymore, sounds like everything we eat either causes cancer or it's grown from the testicles of a lab-grown chimp.

This raw milk machine at Selfridges, next to Oddono's counter, offers fresh, organic, unheated milk straight from the farm. We were treated to an introduction from the farmer himself! So we grabbed a bottle from the counter and popped a £2 coin in for some real fresh milk from the cow named Hailsham Kate...

The consistency of milk resembles semi-skimmed milk, opaque with a translucent edge. The taste, however, was fuller and more rounded than full fat milk. Flavours are softer; there is a characteristic weaning aroma that trails from each sip with more subtle sweetness.

Sold at £3.50 per Litre. Get in.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Michael Caines at ABode Manchester

When I told my Dad we were going to Michael Caines’ for lunch shortly after we arrived at Manchester, he got excited about the Alfred from the Batman movies. He was much less ecstatic about one of the most acclaimed British chef with two Michelin stars to his name. Well, I was.

Good thing I made a reservation as the front of house was turning disappointed walk-in diners away on a Tuesday lunchtime. We were shown down the stairs to the basement, where the restaurant was heavily curtained with black velvets, lightly adorned with black & white hangings and brightly contrasted by a single orange Gerbera on the each table. It felt light, modern and slick.

We opted for the excellent value “Amazing Graze” Lunch menu that offers smaller portions off the a la carte, with options for 3, 4 or 5 courses and wine pairing.

Twice baked Mrs Kirkhams Lancashire cheese souffle with Waldorf salad
The small ball of baked cheese was delicately crispy on the edge with a semi-fluffy and semi-gooey filling. Just a hint of nuttiness that was brought out by the grape. Perhaps a tad salty on its own, but absolutely perfect with the salad.

Feuilletine of roasted root vegetables celeriac and truffle foam
This was an elegant interpretation of a deep winter comfort dish – a disk of celeriac, honey-roasted parsnip chip and sugar sweet carrot stick on a slice of puff pastry that had soaked up the creamy sauce. Not sure where the truffle fragrance in the foam had evaporated, but the small blobs of pumpkin puree completed the composite with a well-rounded sweetness.

Cullen Skink  Leek & potato soup with smoked haddock
Possibly the least extraordinary dish of the meal. The soup, though thick and silky, was slightly over-seasoned, and together with the natural saltiness from the smoked fish, I thought it had tipped off balance.

Roasted Goosenargh Chicken Breast herb gnocchi, roasted fennel and artichoke, tarragon jus
Dad had never been more impressed chicken breast. The pieces were packed with herby flavours and so succulent and tender that they resembled chicken leg, just slightly denser. The supreme highlight was the wafer thin slice of roasted chicken skin that was concentrated with all the essence of the meat, yet remains almost grease-free.

Slow poached hake - creamed leeks, spinach, wild mushrooms and chive butter sauce
Mum and I both went for the fish and we thought it was as good as the chicken, if not better. The fillet was cooked to perfection; the silken flesh flaked off with a gentle poke from the knife and took on the ultra rich buttery, almost custard-like, sauce without losing its detectable freshness.

Chocolate mousse with chocolate sorbet
The chocolate mousse was more like a softer torte, much more solid than a typical feathery mousse, but also a lot more powerful with the cocoa bitter-sweetness. All with a double punch from an equally intense chocolate sorbet.

Rhubarb souffle with vanilla ice cream
I didn’t get a chance to sample this as Mum wolfed it down with approving nods. 

Pineapple tarte tartin with pineapple sorbet & vanilla Chantilly 
I thought this could have been better with a less burnt and less chewy tarte; Dad thought he would have preferred tinned pineapple to avoid the eye-twitchingly sour fruit in the middle; Mum thought the vanilla Chantilly was gorgeously light and fragrant.

How was I to know Manchester have such a brilliant gem hidden? Food at Michael Caine’s Abode was undoubtedly top of the league, gracefully presented and glowing with finesse, served in a hip & chic environment and relaxed ambience. It was the perfect way to kick-off our Old Trafford pilgrimage.

On a completely irrelevant note, while my folks were completely overwhelmed by the sheer atmosphere at the Old Trafford, I thought the match could have been better. Without Rooney, Nani, Jones or even Giggs, we only managed to scrape two penalties against Stoke City… not exactly the most gripping and engaging game. Then again, the satisfaction on my folks’ faces made the trip worth every penny.

107 Piccadilly
M1 2DB
Tel: 0161 200 5678

Michael Caines Restaurant at Abode on Urbanspoon

You may also like: ViajanteTendido CeroSanta Maria

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Bulgarian slopes of Bansko

I decided to pick up skiing this winter, and brought my folks with me too. Bansko is a cute little ski resort at the foot of the Pirin Mountains,; the Balkans slopes have welcomed many uncertain beginners over the last few years. Partly because the pistes are generally more manageable, but mainly because the lessons, ski passes, boots hire and ski packs are much cheaper than the Alpine countries.
From Sofia Airport, we went to the taxi counter for a ride to the Central Bus Station, and the counter confirmed it should cost 10-12 leva. Once on the cab, the driver offered to take us to Bansko for 100 Euros. Knowing a bus ticket is approx 8 EUR each, I turned him down and put up with his yelping throughout the 15min ride. He charged me 25 leva. Grrr…

The bus ride was about 3.5 hours with very little to see en-route. As we drove away from the capital, the buildings looked either abandoned or half-built with graffiti-ed walls beside slurry snow piles.

The snow was much higher at Bansko, dragging our hand luggage along the ankle-deep snow wasn’t easy, but finding a taxi was even harder. It was a good 20min walk towards our apartment, near the Gondola lifts at the other end of town. Unlike the shabby dwellings in the city, the small town is lined with charming stone houses and cottages. It smelt gorgeous, too, of the distinctive aroma of burning wood. Interestingly -5˚C didn’t feel too chilly.

The streets are dominated by Bulgarian cuisines with a few Italian joints. We had our first dinner at Dedo Yonkata (no. 22 on the official Bansko map). Apart from the beautiful snow-drowned watermill in the courtyard and the real warming fireplace, it was the live football on offer that drew us in.
We had two traditional Bulgaria Sach, a sizzling metallic plate piled with vegetables and generous portions of roast pork, chicken, preserved sausage, ox tongue and pork neck. Except for the dried sausage, which tasted plastic, dry and salty, all the meat was beautifully cooked, succulent and tender.

Another surprise find was Beef Tripe Soup. This soup resembled Laksa, packed with herbs and fragrance but minus the coconut cream.

We tried another Bulgarian restaurant on the main street, but it wasn’t half as good. That said another dish called “Hotchpotch” was quite interesting; slow cooked meat, topped with processed cheese and served in a colourful earthenware pot. Stone Flower was another restaurant we tried with multi-national cuisines on offer. The deer sach was excellent with melt-in-mouth meat and viscous gravy, but it was the duck salad with parmesan that won us over.

For the week we sampled bbq dishes, eggplant mash and various bit and pieces except for the roast stuffed whole rabbit. Since most dishes came with lots of roasted veg, we didn’t have much to complain. For the week we stayed, we revisited Dedo Yonkata again; a) food was better than others, and b) another football match.

Skiing turns out to easier to pick up than I imagined, though I think it takes more than 4 days to get me on the black runs. Bulgarians in Bansko generally speak good English, and the locals are unbelievably friendly. Not just the instructors, they are obviously brilliant and super tolerant, but just about everyone we met in town were all smiles and helpful when we looked lost.
When we got back to Sofia, it was a different city. The snow storm had left the capital snow-blanketed, and absolutely below freezing. The first 5mins on the street left our faces numb, then decidedly painful as the wind pierced and slashed on...