Sunday, 14 May 2017

Foxlow Soho

Anchovy and goats butter on rye crisps
Hawksmoor - either Air St or Seven Dials - is one of my happy places. The food is always good, the staff are always friendly and competent and the atmosphere inviting. You step through the door and take a deep breath because, for a couple of hours, nothing bad can happen. Unfortunately, Hawksmoor is priced to make that particular happy place quite a rare treat. Once a year, if I am lucky. A few years ago, presumably recognising that people want good food, nice staff and a welcoming atmosphere more often than that, the people behind Hawksmoor opened Foxlow, pitched as a "neighbourhood restaurant". The neighbourhoods they started in were Stoke Newington, Clerkenwell and Balham though, none of which are convenient for me to drop in on or particularly enticing as a destination in themselves. The new Soho branch, however, is very convenient for getting home from.
Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew - the head is deliberate
The soft launch was this week, with a very appealing 50% off food, and I managed to be quick enough on the booking button to get a table for last night. I started with one of Hawksmoor's most famous drinks, Shaky Pete's ginger brew - a fabulous take on a shandy and the best possible use for London Pride. Paul had a beer, but he was very impressed when I gave him a sip of my drink.
Five pepper squid
I knew I wanted fried chicken as a main course - I've been having a craving lately - so chose the lightest possible option for my starter. It was 3 little (almost certainly Peter's Yard) rye crispbreads, topped with whipped goats butter, plump curled anchovies and rings of crunchy red onion. Perfect appetite-whetting mouthfuls, with enough salt to make the ginger brew sing. Paul had five pepper squid. Which was nicely crisp but slightly underpowered for something claiming five peppers. The devilled mayo could have had a little more tang as well. But it's always nice to see tentacles on the plate as well as calamari rings.

We'd ordered a bottle of pinot noir (the wine list is very reasonably priced) to go with our mains. They didn't have it, and in what may be a world first for wine waiters, they suggested an alternative that was actually cheaper than our original selection. I was a little surprised by the assertion that the flavours in the suggested Chilean carmenere were similar, because the carmeneres I have had in the past were pretty big, fruity wines with a bit of smoke, whereas the pinot noir we were anticipating was a lighter, more refined affair. As it happened, the recommendation was absolutely on the money: a much lighter bodied and very drinkable wine.
Rib eye with green salad
Ever since he first had a kimchi burger at Hawksmoor Seven Dials, years and years ago, Paul's been devoted to them, so I was slightly surprised that he pulled himself away from the Foxlow burger, with an optional kimchi topping, opting for a rib eye steak with peppercorn sauce and a green salad. The steak was excellent. Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned and a very nice piece of meat (as you'd expect from them, really). Also, as you'd expect from the team that brought you the best salad in the world, the green salad wasn't just a garnish, but a properly dressed assembly of leaves. The boy a couple of tables down wasn't having such a positive experience, holding forth loudly about how the flat iron he'd ordered wasn't a flat iron. Not that he said anything to the waitress when she checked on him.
Fried chicken
My longed-for fried chicken absolutely nailed the craving. I had a slight language barrier with the waitress though - they offer 2 or 4 piece portions, and I'd asked if a piece was a joint like a drumstick or if it was divided into smaller pieces. She said "Oh no, smaller!" and indicated a size with her hands that led me to believe I wanted the 4 piece. Fortunately Paul helped me with the last piece. But it was SO good - really crisp, well-seasoned and the flesh had that melting quality that certain famous chicken chains achieve with a pressure cooker. The accompanying habanero vinegar, apple and fennel slaw was just the right tangy, acid counterpoint to the richness. Although I couldn't actually detect any habanero heat in it.

For dessert Paul had whiskey and I had gorgeous pococello. And a couple of scoops of lime and mascarpone icecream from Poco Gelato. The icecream had almost the chewy texture you get with Middle Eastern mastic-based icecreams, which I like, but not quite enough lime. So I poured half my pococello over it and that was absolutely perfect.

It was the soft launch, of course, so you don't expect everything to be absolutely right and there was very little wrong. Except the seats. I'm not the tallest woman you are likely to meet, but at 5'6" I'm not really short enough to have my feet swinging 3" off the ground. And I noticed that most of the other diners on the similar seats were swapping places half way through the meal. If I sat right forward at the edge of the seat my toes touched the ground and took some of the pressure off. But they really might like to offer footstools.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Bank holiday barbecue

 
video
It's a bank holiday weekend, and unfortunately it has played into the British bank holiday stereotype of shit weather. We haven't had much in the way of rain for weeks, but it's been threatening all weekend and just been unpleasant to be outside in.
Pulled harissa lamb
We could've made plans to do something indoors, but we haven't, despite actually getting as far as looking at cinema screentimes. So I have been reading and Paul's been whacking aliens on the computer and the cat has been patrolling the lawn in between lengthy naps.

On Saturday, though, we did a nice, long, low & slow barbecue. A shoulder of British lamb, seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin, smoked gently for 5 hours, then wrapped in harissa paste and vegetable broth and cooked for another 2 hours before resting for an hour. We had it piled onto bread flavoured with dukkah, hummus laden with wild garlic leaves and grilled courgettes in a preserved lemon and coriander dressing. It tasted perfectly springlike even if the weather felt very much like late winter.


Saturday, 22 April 2017

Picture restaurant and thoughts on blogging


Menu
For Christmas, Paul gave me a day-long silver jewellery making course. Which I thoroughly enjoyed. One thing that startled me, though, was that when we were introducing ourselves at the beginning of the course, a couple of the other participants announced that they were doing this (absolute beginners) course because they intended to make a career out of it. Without any real background in jewellery making or knowing whether they had any aptitude they were determined that this was going to be their thing. On the one hand I admired the confidence, but on the other that just seems bonkers to me.
Warm sourdough rolls and whipped butter
And I have to say that I am feeling much the same way about food blogging these days. Back lo, these many years ago, when I started blogging, it mostly seemed to be people who liked food or liked writing or both, using a free platform with a shitty layout and rubbish photos. And enjoying it. We made friends with people with similar interests, spent time commenting on other people's posts and took our time over things.
Delicious basil martini
Now it seems like a lot of people have decided that there is money to be made and they decide they are going to be Food Bloggers. They come in with professional-looking headshots in their profiles, a business plan, a brand identity and an SEO strategy. They have media kits. They have business cards. They hustle. It's a valid approach, but it's not my approach and it does make me a bit wistful for the days when we made friendships, not networking opportunities. I deeply admire, though, the people who started around when I did who have actually been able to cope with change and adapt to the new environment.
Beef bites
The whole landscape is different. I've stopped accepting PR invitations and removed myself from a couple of databases, because if you want a blog to promote your thing I'm really not your girl. I don't care about my reach. I don't know how many, if any, readers I have. I seldom bother cross promoting my blog posts on other channels (I will put them on the Foodycat facebook page but I won't pay to boost posts, so not a lot of people will see that). I'd rather leave that stuff to the people who are passionate about making their blogs pay.
Asparagus, pea and wild garlic veloute
It also occurred to me this week, that while there are products that I have continued to buy and use after initially being sent them to review, there's only one restaurant that I have been to for a blogger event that I have subsequently been back to on my own dime. Since I don't have a lot to offer a restaurant in terms of generating buzz, the point of me really is going to a place, being inoffensive to staff and paying for my dinner - so I have a pretty terrible track record.
Beetroot tartare, goats curd
I first went to Picture, on Great Portland St, with a bunch of bloggers in 2014. And then again less than a week later. Then somehow I hadn't managed to go back. I knew they'd opened a second restaurant in Marylebone, but I'd never made it to that one either.
Pork, pickled carrots, granny smith apple
This week, though, I was looking for a venue for a dinner with a friend (same friend I'd had lunch with at Picture before, as it happens) and Great Portland St ticked the boxes for her to get to Waterloo or Vauxhall and me to get to Baker St or Marylebone after. I'd assumed we'd go a la carte - didn't think I could stretch to the £45 6 course Spring menu (still very reasonable, but once you add drinks and service charge that's probably £65. Not on a Wednesday). But then when I booked I discovered they were doing a Taste on London deal of the Spring menu and a cocktail for £35.
Roast cod, charred gem, salsa verde, merguez
It was all wonderful really. In a perfect world the skin on the cod would have been crisp. And the merguez tasted more like chorizo. But plate after plate of delicious, well-seasoned food with interesting contrasts of taste and texture can't really be sneered at. The first time I was there I noted that the menu had moved from veg to pork to fish in a slightly confusing way, but that the fish had been a necessary palate cleanser between rich pork and rich beef. This menu went with a similar formula with the clean, pearly cod breaking up the lightly smoked, meltingly tender pork and the voluptuous lamb. But even so I couldn't possibly have faced a cheese course, either before or after the chocolate mousse.
Lamb, sprouting broccoli
Chocolate mousse was the pudding the first time I ate at Picture too. But they make such a good one it hardly matters. The presentation was better this time! I wasn't quite sure about the blob of cream being almost the same size as the mousse, but it actually concealed the delicious milk jam (basically condensed milk, for those of us who adore it). The mousse was very light, just the right sweetness and although I had my doubts at the beginning I actually managed to finish the whole dish. In addition to the £35 deal, we had a beef bite each and shared a carafe of wine. So with the service charge it came in at £50 a head. Definitely worth it.
Chocolate mousse
Showing the milk jam













Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter Weekend


We're on the last day of the blissful 4 day Easter bank holiday weekend. I love this weekend. It's spring, so there are lots of flowers blossoming and a sense of promise and excitement, but at the same time there's no real pressure to do anything.
saffron
My cooking for the weekend made respectful nods to a variety of traditions without being absolutely traditional.
Saffron, sour cherry and pistachio buns
Saffron crocuses are an autumn crocus, but at the same time crocuses are such a sign of spring that it felt right and proper to flavour some sweet buns with saffron. The dough was studded with sour cherries, then rolled around a pistachio and cinnamon filling and finished after baking with a hot, tangy lemon glaze. They didn't feel a million miles from a hot cross bun, but also reminiscent of baklava. Just the thing for the luxury of lingering over coffee on a long weekend.

I also made a savoury pie. Sort of nodding to some of the Mediterranean ones. This was filled with ricotta, feta, watercress, chard and wild garlic, with eggs cracked on top of the filling to bake under the crust. I should have blind-baked the base - the bottom was a bit soggy - but the flavours were excellent.

On Saturday we went for a walk from Latimer through the Chess Valley. About half way along there is a watercress farm (the last working watercress farm in the Chilterns), with a farm stall and honesty box. The farmer had just brought out a fresh batch of watercress so we grabbed a bag.
Watercress farm
That watercress formed the base of our salad on Saturday night (with a beautiful Galician bone-in sirloin steak). And left enough for a second salad on Sunday - with radishes and British asparagus (asparagus season, hurrah!). Which was all we needed to accompany a boned leg of suckling pig, rolled around a wild garlic and fennel paste, and barbecued for 6 hours until the meat was jelly-soft and the skin crisp as glass. The leftover pork will form our lunch in an hour or so, but I haven't quite decided how. There's plenty of time to think.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

Pear and blue cheese crostini

There isn't a lot that I can recommend about Paul being away. I like having him around. Urchin likes having him around. But one food thing I really quite like and he really doesn't is fruit in savoury stuff. I have been taking advantage of his absence to indulge.

This was my lunch today - toast rubbed with garlic, smeared with a soft blue cheese, then topped with pears poached in red wine, caramelised walnuts and balsamic pearls. And very nice it was too.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Fig, bresaola and burrata

Paul's in South Africa for a couple of weeks spending time with his mother and brother while I hold the fort here. And the fort needs quite a lot of holding - Miss Urchin is not at all amused by his abandonment and for the two days he's been gone she's been extremely demanding and not very interested in letting me sleep.

I remembered that the last time he was away for a while she was similarly demanding, and didn't understand why I felt the need to cook when I got home from work, rather than dedicating my time to entertaining her. So mostly while Paul's away I am planning to eat very fast, low effort meals.

This was pretty fast and low effort, but still really rich and indulgent for a Sunday lunch. If you find burrata too rich for words, a fresh buffalo mozzarella or even a creamy young goats cheese would also be nice.

Fig, bresaola and burrata (serves 1 as a main course)

50g hazelnuts, blanched
1 small bunch basil
1 small garlic clove
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
4 slices bresaola (or proscuitto or serrano ham)
4 figs
1 x 100g burrata
extra balsamic

Roast the hazelnuts in a 160C oven until nicely browned and tip the hot nuts into a mini processor.

Turn up the heat to 180, halve the figs and put them on a baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes.

Add the basil, garlic, mustard, olive oil and balsamic to the mini processor and pulse to a rubble.

Arrange the bresaola and burrata on a plate, tip the hazelnut rubble onto the plate and add the hot figs. Drizzle with a little extra balsamic. A glass of fino sherry would be particularly nice with this, but I didn't happen to have one.


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