Wednesday, 30 May 2012

MEATmarket sells Juice

I've been having craving issues. Among the magnitude of things I have been craving for, food is the most easily accessible and resolvable one. By 4pm on any weekday, I'd start hallucinating a juicy smokey beef patty, smothered in melted cheese, wedged between supple buns, luring me to take a bite... Fuck's sake I need to get out more.

Remember MeatLiquor? The burger hip-house that served me a super lemon buffalo chicken burger? I thought it was more hype than good, but Mr Yianni's dedicated followers had brought him to his next project: MeatMarket - hidden above the Jubilee Market in Covent Garden. So I get to give the MEAT series another go and satisfy one of my cravings. Perfect.

Surprisingly quiet at 2pm on a sunny Saturday, just four tables occupied. Gone were the street art graffiti and crazily deafening music, the food-court fast-food style counter was decorated with light boxes of good-humour quotes, which kept us entertained while we waited for our food. Menu was much shorter than MeatLiquor and I was a little miffed about the cheeseburger not making it to this menu; LucyL highly recommended that.

Corn Puppies
American battered sausage, only ten times better. First the crunch from the perfect corn batter, then the second crunch from the brittle skin of mini-savaloys. The syrupy honey mustard sauce helped to wash some of the weight off, or put more on, depends.

Dead Hippie
The safest bet - double patties with meat juice trickling down, fuses with the softened cheese and drips onto the grease-laiden bun. Even better and juicier than what I remembered - there was so much of it each bite caused a mini squirt... finger-sucking good, for real. 

The burgers at MEAT and Lucky Chip are totally different. MEAT does traditional American-style burgers, with the ketchup, lettuce and gherkins; Lucky Chip has more modern recipes of mixing whatever might go well together, and they do it well.

Philly Cheese Steak
I was hit by a familiar smell, took me a few seconds, then I got it : stir fry whatever meat with black bean sauce! Must have been the combination of green peppers and beef, but it felt downright weird to have this flavour with a soft bun. My strange connection of the two aside, beef cubes were plenty and tender, sitting on top of a bed of melted cheese, not a bad sandwich, I just wouldn't do it again.

MeatMarket and I bonded much better than MeatLiquor did. While the food was more or less indifferent, not having that lemon-imposing-chicken burger really helped, at least my taste buds remained functional and intact. Not waiting for an hour, then eat in the dark with glaring music probably did the rest of the trick for me. Look I'm a simpleton, so keeping a burger joint simple ticks the boxes.

The Deck
Jubilee Market Hall
Tavistock Street
Covent Garden

You may also like: Lucky ChipPitt Cue Co.

MEATmarket on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

On a side note, we tried The IceCreamist for dessert. You know, the parlour that got the UK talking by selling breast milk ice cream, named Baby Gaga.

Well, at £20 a pop I didn't go for the frozen breast milk, and tried Popcorn and my new found passion, peanut butter. 

And... I've had better.

15 Maiden Lane

The Icecreamists on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, 24 May 2012

Corner Room - Best Corner of London

I've had Corner Room on my list since its low profile days; I discovered it by word-of-mouth that they 'secretly' served brunch, as a side project of Nuno Mendes besides Viajante. Then I was distracted by too many things and CR was pushed lower and lower down my list... until I noticed it is now 'publicly' serving lunches and they take bookings too.

CR was literally a room in the corner of the Tower Hall Hotel, perhaps slightly bigger than a usual corner room, but genuinely nothing more than a rectangular space with a few tables, and of course the wall of hanging lamps. Unlike the blind tasting menu at Viajante, CR has a small menu of 6 items per course. Long gone were the smoked salmon & eggs and poached eggs with chorizo...

Squid with buttermilk & asparagus
The squid were presented in two ways. The roasted tentacles were full of bounce on the outside, then broke into a slithery jelly on the inside, bursting with smokiness. The body of squid was cut into thin strips, barely cooked to retain its squidginess, submerged in the lime-infused, rich milky sauce for a palate-awakening start.

Venison & Salsify
This was on 'today's special', which probably meant venison was looking irresistible on the day. The controlled chaos brought me right back to Viajante.

When the dish arrived I thought venison must have been irresistible AND scarce on the day. The small carpaccio of venison was mild in gamey flavours, almost as if the venison was an accessory to the little blobs of beetroot puree, but it worked. The underlying creamy jus was gorgeous, not dissimilar to the one in the squid above, minus the citrus kick. I would remove the brown 'rice crispies' though, not sure what their contributions were except for spoiling the smoothness of the dish.

Cod with clam porridge
There was so much going on in this little bowl I don't even know where to start - it was just stunning. The heady flavours were led by punches after punches of refreshing coriander, complemented by chewy textures of broken wheats mixed into the porridge. 

Diced razor clams were hidden among the chopped spring onions and coriander, and each time I came across a bouncy clam cube, I'd let out an involuntary "hmmm" with the biggest grin of utmost satisfaction. The razor clams were insanely sweet, unleashing juices that fused and lightened the savoury porridge. The cod was equally impeccable; the thick slices dissembled into their silken flakes with a soft poke of the spoon, yet held its firmer textures to release its freshness.

Honestly I can barely put how mind-blowing this porridge was into words, and trust I haven't done it justice. Yes the green layer on top was extra virgin olive oil, and it was quite a weighty dish but I pretty much licked it clean.

Onglet Steak with celeriac & tarragon
I'm a bit short of words again. Thinner beef cut rarely get me swooning, purely down to personal preference of beefy grease to muscle flavours. But this little piece almost had me converted; the meaty flavours were so powerful, as if it had sucked out the flavours from the neighbouring flank and loin.

I think I detected a gentle hints of star aniseed in the seasoning, which helped to amplify the tang, and I like the subtle fusion of Asian touches with the deep-fried sun-dried mandarin skin. Genius.

Rhubarb with buttermilk sorbet and white chocolate
All kinds of weird and wonderful things were happening on this plate. White chocolate was actually toasted / melted marshmallow blotches around the plate, and they were made even better with the sharp rhubarb jam. The vibrant mint extract was a nice touch to keep things extraordinary, but what raised my eyebrows were the buttery crumble that dissolved in mouth.

Apple & Hazelnut with frozen pannacotta
Roast apple can't go wrong with melting ice cream; frozen panna cotta was much more akin milk ice cream than panna cotta. The salted hazelnuts had interesting chemistry with cookie dough cube and dulce de leche... Alright, visually it's not as dramatic and in terms of surprises this probably didn't rank as high as the rest of the meal, but still a freaking good end to a long lunch.

I walked out of Corner Room as if I'd met someone absolutely flawless, found myself dumbstruck and rendered speechless (except I squeezed a few hundred words out of my boggled brain). More interestingly, I walked out feeling I'd robbed it - £21 for 3 top-quality courses (£17 for 2) plus just £1 pp as cover charge inc. water. 

The quality, creativity and execution of dishes were as high as Viajante, which, by the way, is already amazing value for money. Okay, Corner Room doesn't offer the Iberica ham infused butter with out-of-this-world baguettes; the 20-ingredients-in-one-bite amuse bouche; nor the live chef shows that Viajante proudly shows off, but we get to choose from a menu here. Plus the intimacy and comfort of casual dining.

I felt so smug sitting in that corner of Corner Room. Did I mention Nuno Mendes is a genius? 

8 Patriot Square
E2 9NF
Tel: 0207 871 0460

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Big Queue at Pitt Cue Co.

No I never tried their meat truck under the bridge, and American BBQ has never been my thing. I always thought barbeque should be something done with family and friends, huddled around the garden under the sun, with bubbly flowing and rabbits hopping. But everyone is talking about Pitt Cue Co., mostly about how gorgeous the ribs are, some about how ridiculous the queuing system is.

And the queue was ridiculous. 8pm Saturday, we thought we were lucky to see a short line of 10 outside the tiny restaurant in the corner of Carnaby Street. It took a good hour to get us to the door, where the guy with a clipboard took our names, smuggled us into the tiniest bar in Soho and informed us it’d be another 1-1.5hr wait. Seriously?

The pain of waiting and hunger gradually eased up with a couple of cocktails. New York Sour is not my kinda cocktail, whiskey sour topped with a splurge of red wine was a little too 'upfront' for me.
More than an hour later we were led downstairs to where the eating happens, which was equally tiny with tables crammed as close as rush hour tube. Apparently there were 30 covers, but I could only count 18 including the 4 awkward seats at the bar... There were 7 items on the menu, I wanted all of it, mainly because I was under the influence of alcohol on an empty and shrivelling stomach.

Pork Ribs. Bone Marrow Mash
Everything came in these 60s’ prison-style white enamel trays, like everywhere else in Soho at the mo. And it felt more like a prison meal than ever, because the one tray has all; a bit of bread, a bit of room temperature salad and a bit of pickles. 

4 large, super meaty ribs. The marinade penetrated through the meat and well into the bones, leaving the ribs juicy and flavourful without drowning them in sauce. Meat hung well on the bones, easily fell off with a bit of gentle tearing, but not to the point of mush. These were wicked ribs, no doubt. But did they bowl me over and got me grinning like an idiot? I probably wouldn't go that far.

Beef Brisket; Bone Marrow Mash
The brisket was sliced like roast beef and was exactly like char-shiu (roast pork). Meat was soft and oozing with smokiness. And just like char-shiu, the best bit was the slightly charred, crispy edges with a small strip of melt-in-mouth cow fat...

The mash was kind of disappointing. I couldn't pink up any hint of bone marrow richness, it was more like thicker-than-usual gravy with ordinary mash.

Hot Rib-tips
Seeing we already had pork, we went for beef ribs on the side. And by hot, Pitt Cue means explode-in-mouth-and-set-your-tongue-on-fire hot. The heat wouldn't go away, regardless of gulps after gulps of beer, and worse still it freaking spreads; it felt as though I had thousands of pins poking my lips, my tongue and all the way to the back of my throat. Yet it was addictive; I ended up scraping the spicy sauce off and smothered the tips in the syrupy bbq sauce...

I enjoyed Pitt Cue, ribs were great, marinade was spot on, the buzz was intimate Soho. Just not sure if I'd wait another 2.5 hours for it. I mean good ribs aren't that hard to come by, and if we benchmark these against the ones in the States...they wouldn't even survive as a truck vendor. I didn't fall head over heels, purely because there was nothing spectacular. That said, Pitt Cue does simple things well, and I wouldn't mind dropping by for a quick lunch in a quiet afternoon.

1 Newburgh Street
No Reservations

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal - More than Dinner

We booked months in advance to celebrate Mister’s change of title to Doctor. Circumstances have changed, and this meal also became our farewell bid.

All emotional baggage aside, the timing for visiting Heston’s London restaurant was rather perfect – in line with the release of World’s Top 50 restaurant. Heston Blumenthal is still on the list; but Dinner by Heston ranked 9th on this year whilst The Fat Duck fell all the way down to 13th. Interesting.

Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge; it’s the kind of location you’d fall in love with instantly – modest grandeur. The restaurant carries a similar understated splendour with the glowing warm cream walls comfortably contrasted with dark chocolate brown furniture. The best feature was no doubt the kitchen on display, where rows of whole pineapple slowly rotating against the wall, waiting to be our dessert.

Roast Marrowbone – snails, parsley, anchovy & mace, pickled vegetables
There was something complementary about pairing the two together; the earthy tones of snails were gorgeous with the melt-on-tongue bone marrow, which added a fullness to the seemingly familiar combination of parsley butter and snails, all garnished with an oomph from the restrained anchovy tingle. The trail of rich oils left me yearning for more.

Meat Fruit – mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread
I contemplated the savoury porridge too, if it’s good enough to be on the Fat Duck’s menu then it must be something, right? But then Heston decided to go with cod instead of snails here, so Meat Fruit won the fight. Waitress kindly pointed out that everything on the plate was edible except for the wooden board and green stem.

Anyone else watched Heston’s crazy feasts on channel 4 years ago? I had to revisit this episode when his challenge was to re-create a duck a l’orange. In his first attempt, the guy blew up a duck with orange smoke in a fire station, thinking the flavours would infuse better if smoked into the meat... Somehow, just somehow the idea transpired into the Meat Fruit. In case you are interested, click here for Heston’s Feast. My personal favourite was when he tried make a massive jelly dildo that wobbled by ten vibrators.

This was simply ingenious. We already knew what to expect, yet when we saw the flawless mandarin perched on the board, I couldn’t help being overwhelmed.  It didn’t just score 10/10 on idea, the textures and flavours were stunningly perfect too. The liver parfait was smooth as gelato, with the richness of room-temperature butter, and its weightiness just about reined in by the subtle mandarin jelly skin that brought an undertone of fruity bitterness. Creamy, indulgent, sinful.

I’m almost certain it wasn’t butter that glazed the bread; it had much more fatty fragrance to it... chicken fat?

Roast Turbot – leaf chicory & cockle ketchup
I once had the most perfect turbot; its wing steam-roasted in tinfoil with simple seasoning, parsley and lemon. So this was a natural choice. Can’t say I wasn’t disappointed to see it wasn’t the squidgy cartilage-packed turbot wing on the plate, but a glimmering fillet of loin instead.

It’s not my favourite, I prefer much flakier and delicate textures; this was soft yet firm. Like most white fish, flavours were mild, mostly overshadowed by the punchy cockles ketchup. It’s sauce that had either clicked with your tastebuds or glanced past it. For me, it didn’t quite make the impact, a bit too glutinous, a bit too much crunch from the veg, a bit too scarce on the cockles and hence a bit too weak on the oceanic touch.

I’m coming back for the black foot pork chop next.

Beef Royale – slowed cooked short ribs
Since this was on the specials menu, I didn’t quite capture everything in the description, it was the 50-hour cooking in low temperatures that caught my attention.

The knife sliced through the meat with no effort, this could have been more tender than the turbot. The meat revealed layers of half-melting tendons sandwiched between the juicy muscles, with a thin margin of dissolving fat. Unlike typical slow-cooked dishes, the rib meat locked in all its flavours and beefy goodness, together with a strong essence of smokiness, as if it had been chargrilled for hours. Skill.

I couldn’t hide my grin when maitre’d pointed out the triple cooked chips are not available that evening because chef wasn’t happy with the quality of potatoes. The mash on the side was great, but still nowhere as great as the buttery Joel Robuchon version.

Tipsy Cake – spit roast pineapple
We were advised the signature tipsy cake takes an extra 30mins to prepare, as the whole pineapple needs to be spit roasted. Considering Heston chose a pineapple as his logo, this was definitely a must-try.

The top half of the brioche-based cake was airy and oozing with buttery fragrance; bottom half was soaked in light syrup, which was almost too sugary if not taken with the roasted pineapple chunks on the side. The natural fruit acids were mellowed after the roasting, which retained the juices in a crispy shell. Why spit roasting the entire pineapple is beyond me, but it looked good.

Quaking Pudding – Pear, perry, caramel & lime
This felt ordinary. Yes the pudding was having a good shake on the plate, but it was still crème caramel, and probably not even the smoothest I have had.

On hindsight, I would have gone for the brown bread ice cream, where they bring the entire nitrogen gear on a trolley and make the ice cream on the spot.

We finished off with dark chocolate ganache, courtesy of Chef.

You know when you really like something / someone, you can justify their imperfections and have incredibly high tolerance? I find myself doing that so often recently. So I might as well apply the same logic here. There were a couple of things that fell slightly below my expectations at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, but then again given how high I’d held my hopes, some misses were inevitable; most of the dishes lived up to it. This was a stunning meal, just enough elements of surprise to make it extraordinary, but not an overdrive into a gimmick-led idea.

Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
Tel: 0207 201 3833

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on Urbanspoon
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Monday, 7 May 2012

Seafood Feast

I thought about deleting this weekend altogether - just downright painful to be honest. But feeling unloved and unwanted is hardly something I am used to, let alone accepting it. So I have chosen to extend my original plans to wider recipients:) 

An early visit to Billingsgate does wonders, exactly why I'm staying in this area.
Start with something simple - Maldon oysters for everyone.

Thai Green Curry Crab
Check out the meaty fella, whoa!!!!

Sorry I cheat a little with this one; I can't figure out the spices in a Thai green curry for my life, so I go with the green curry pastes. Frying the massive crab with the curry paste never works, paste get stuck in various bits, so I prepare the sauce with coconut milk and rock sugar first. 

Fry up the fragrance with garlic, spring onions and ginger till almost cooked, bring in the sauce as a finishing touch helps to retain the sweet juices of the beastly crab.

Mussels with Leeks, bacon and Aspall Cider
This couldn't be simpler; just the usual way of mussels marinere, but with cider. Fry diced onion, sliced leeks and bacon with bay leaf and garlic. Add 200ml of cider to the pan till it gently boils; down the rest

Then just gently cook the mussels in the sauce for 2 mins until the shells start to open. There is nothing worse than over cooked, shrivelled mussels, so let's not over do it. Throw in 80ml of double cream until it hits the brink of boil and remove from heat.

Chuck in some handfuls of parsley and chives and it's ready to serve. Ta-da!

This version is pretty ideal for those who aren't crazy about the dry whites. Like myself.

Classic Steamed Scallops
This is the most Chinese-y way of cooking scallops, and I still think it's the best way. 

Sautee garlic works better than raw; vermicelli soaks up with shellfish juice. 
Roughly chop the vermicelli, one tea spoonful of garlic per shell and a handful of chopped spring onions. Steam for 6.5mins (5 shells per batch), drizzle with boiling oil and soy sauce to finish.

Razor Clams
Having it raw is always my first choice. For the less adventurous, steam in the exact same way as the scallops.

Sea-snails in parsley butter & garlic
I'd say roast for at least 45mins to be on the safe side. My impatience usually prompts me to boil them first before shoving them in the oven with loads of butter and herbs.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Milano - Small Eats Wins

Milan isn't one of my favourite spots in Italy; it lacks the flair, the passion and the sex appeal that other Italian cities have to offer. She tries too hard; Gucci-lined streets and Prada-filled malls, yet people trot around in trainers and sloppy outfits. Food doesn't rank so highly here either, traditionally crude and unfortunately metropolitan. Recently a French bluntly, and mercilessly, pointed out that Italian cuisine is overrated, and I for all kinds of reasons failed to defend it.

Spontini Pizza
Our first stop after a 40-min train ride from Malpensa was Spontini. A local MIlano recommended it as a good lunch stopover. The menu has 3 items: large Margherita pizza, regular Margherita pizza and Lasagne.

Normally I'd go for thin crust over thick any day, but this was totally different. The pizza dough was feathery soft and airy, just doughy enough to give substance and the base was soaked with olive oil for crispiness. Smothered with ultra stretchy cheese, fresh tomato puree and generous handfuls of herbs, easily a winner. Silly queues were forming by noon, when whole pizzas were flying out of the oven and people were snapping them up in no time.

Guilo Pane e ojo
After a couple of espressos and a mid-afternoon beauty nap, we set out for Guilo Pane e Ojo, a place recommended by locals and many tourists. Frankly this was a nightmare. The best bit was the complimentary bubbly we were offered while we waited for a table. To start, Tonnarelli con salsiccia e funghi and Spaghetti Carbonara were drowned with salt with low-quality pasta. By low quality I mean bland, frozen and overcooked.
The two pasta dishes tasted the same and equally bad. Yeah I know MIlan does risotto better, but a) it's not on the menu, and b) this doesn't justify shitting all over the pasta.

Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal wrapped with ham and herbs) 
Now what does this look like? Either an old man's fingers immersed in pale shit, or a very ugly wrinkly small penis that accidentally fell into the sewage. The texture was exactly like lean pork that had been boiled for 6 hours in soup, and everything was heavily dosed with salt...

Coniglio sale e rosemary
And this poor rabbit died by accident. The meat is totally parched and cardboard-like; it could have been a century-year-old chicken that had been cooked for years, found under the stove last week so they re-fired it just for me. It tasted even worse because it was, yet again, doused in salt. 

I could go on forever, but to cut a simple story short - AVOID even if this was the last restaurant standing after Armageddon.

Luini Panzerotti 
Behind the Duomo lies the bakery that attracted crowds, young and old, squatting on the streets, munching on panzerotti. 
The deep-fried one was very much like a savoury doughnut in texture, stuffed with half-melted mozzarella and some regular ham. The first bite was a little meek in flavour and juice without the filling, but it got better. If I had it my way, I'd big this up with mushroom, tomato sauce and blow this into a calzone...

Cioccolata & Pere
Crumbly pastry with thin layers of choc and thin slices of pear. The absolute focus was just the buttery shell.

Gnoccho Fritto
Most better eateries are clustered around the Grand Canal area. Gnoccho Fritto is one of them. They charge 4.50 Euros cover charge per head, in return we get unlimited access to these baskets of lightly fried, fluffy gnocchi.

I loved it - these were brilliant with the cured meats and cheese platter.

Cioccolati Italiani & GROM
At Cioccolati (left) we got a ticket that says 003 and the board was still flashing 65 - Crema Bologna, Cioccolata Madagascar & Pistachio plus dark choc cream filling the cone. 

Cream di GROM (right) had gorgeous bits of special biscuits with chocolate chips and its pistachio had more roasted fragrance.

These were better than any gelato in London, but I thought it was still a long way from what we had in Bologna.

Il Bar
The top floor of La Rinascente hosts various bars and posh eats. We enjoyed a Shakerato (8 Euros) and iced cappuccino (6 Euros) with views overlooking the Duomo. Just for style.

We spent a day at Lake Como and wandered around Cernobbio, a little town on the lake. These wasn't much to offer except for tranquility and pretty little gardens. But it was here that we had a stunning creamy burrata with lots of vino sfuso hidden in the winding alleys... Then the hail storm hits the lake...