Friday, 27 November 2015

Pieday: an Antipodean offering

After a mild autumn that saw me outside watching fireworks on Bonfire Night in just shirtsleeves (yes, I also had trousers on) it seems appropriate to stop messing about with salad and get back to the serious businesses of loading up on stodge again for the winter. 

As much as I like watermelon and barbecues and steadfastly refusing to wear a coat to work like a badge of honour, there comes a time in the year when you just want to stop the polite pretense of pretending to enjoy drinking your coffee cold and go back to scarfing down piles of buttery mashed potatoes with a gravy chaser.

Somewhat ironically, this warming recipe comes from the Bourke Street Bakery in Sydney - the city in which my Dad and sister now live and where I get 'winter' updates from them if the temps dip to single figures. Although they do remain partial to a pie and pie floater Down Under, whatever the weather.

This Christmas, however my sister and bro-in-law and little Matilda Gingerbread are giving up their prawns on the barbie, washed down with a few tinnies and are coming back to enjoy a month of bright frosty mornings and evenings carolling around the open fire (or, more likely, endless drizzle and drunken squabbling over what to watch on TV).

In honour of their impending visit, combined with the fact the temperature has now reached Officially Freezing, I thought it was time to dig out my Bourke Street cookbook - a Christmas present from my sister, after she took us to the Surrey Hills bakery on our last trip to Oz - and bake what has become one of my favourite pies; the bonkers but brilliant sweet potato, chicken, pea and lime pickle.

Created when the bakery was closed for renovations and the staff filled in their spare time by eating lots of Indian food in nearby Cleveland Street, this is a pie that covers all the important taste bases of hot, sweet, sour and salty. It also helps bring some rays of Antipodean warmth, from both the chilli in the pickle and the bright colour of the filling, that cuts a swathe through the encroaching grayness of winter.

I confess that the original recipe, including how to make two different types of pastry, shortcrust below and puff on top and which runs to several pages long, initially filled me with fear. Not to mention the verjuice and potato flour and the bit where you poach a chicken...

Happily, it seems to be pretty adaptable and I have made it successfully sans the unripe grape juice (vinegar works fine) and using left over cooked chicken, bog standard plain flour and with a mix of homemade shortcrust and bought puff. On one occasion I even manage to utilize some of the Ewing's (unsweetened) rough/flaky, left over after making a batch of eccles cakes.

Sweet potato, chicken and lime pickle pie -
(heavily adapted by a Brit from the Bourke Street Bakery cookbook)

The original recipe states it makes 6 12.5cm pies (or an assorted jumble of sizes, as above)

450g shortcrust pastry, rolled to a thickness of a pound coin
450g puff pastry, rolled to the thickness of a pound coin 
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g cooked chicken thighs, cut into chunks (or leftover roast chicken)
half a tin of chopped tomatoes, drained
good splash of white wine vinegar
200ml chicken stock
1tbsp plain flour
50g lime pickle, finely chopped if chunky
handful of frozen peas
1 egg, beaten, for brushing pastry
sesame seeds, for sprinkling

preheat the oven to 200c.
Put the sweet potato on a baking tray, add a glug of olive oil and roast for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Set aside to cool.
Heat another glug of oil in a saucepan, add the onion and garlic and cook until softened.
Stir in the flour to the onion and garlic mixture, before slowly whisking in the stock. 
Simmer for a further 5 minutes, or until sauce has thickened.
Add the tomatoes and vinegar to the sauce before stirring in the chicken, peas, pickle and sweet potato. Season to taste.
Allow mixture to cool thoroughly.
Use the shortcrust pastry to line the tins and spoon in the mixture, filling each one to the top.
Cut lids from the rolled puff pastry and top the pies, pinching to seal the edges
Brush each top with egg wash and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and cut a small hole in each pie, for the steam to escape.
Turn the oven down to 180c and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden.
Leave the pies to cool a little before serving.

Serve with more peas, and some ketchup if you're True Blue.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Bites: Zelman Meats, Soho

You'd think that, by having a risk management course that conveniently coincided with Zelman Meats first 'proper' opening night, the blog might have finally made it ahead of the curve. But, judging from the vast lumps of bloody protein and truffle-draped fried potatoes that were punctuating my Twitter stream the week before, I was still playing catch up.

Happily, my motivation is spurred by greed rather than getting there first (although if you're greedy, that's not a bad place to be). And, of course, to a enduring love of rare meat that goes back to my birthday meal each year as a child; rump steak with fried mushrooms and onion rings. A love of meat that even trumps the sadness I felt when I found Zelman would be replacing the venerable Rex and Mariano, with their infamous Sicilian prawns and other raw fishy things. 

Before meat there has to be drink and, fortuitously, I just happened to wander past Brewdog's latest Soho gaff en route to dinner. Less fortuitously they, after 4 days of being open, had run out of Ballast Point Sculpin, but I made do with a schooner of Jack Hammer and a rather nice pounder (that's 16oz, or 454mls if you're metric) of Modern Times Blazing World, perfectly described with three words; 'hoppy, dank, amber' across the front tin.

Whereas Rex and Mariano went with an open plan, zinc pipes and white tile approach, Zelman has gone classic steakhouse, complete with comfy leather booths and dark little nooks and crannies. Another big change is the ordering system. Where as R&M had a novel but frustrating (possibly because the Ewing is horribly clumsy (endearingly - TE) and I'm just a heathen (correct - TE)) iPad ordering system, Zelman goes back to the old school with real people - my waiter, a lovely chap from Rimini, being a real charmer. 

Thankfully not all the best bits of R&M have been lost; the red prawns are currently available as a starter on the (regularly changing) menu, which can now be found chalked up on blackboards, positioned at head-tilting angles around the restaurant.

If I could imagine a perfect dinner, it might look a lot like this. 300g of roasted picanha (or rump cap to us non-Brazilians) thickly sliced and served with chimichurri, fresh truffle and parmesan fries (get the truffle fries) and a glass of Malbec. A cheesy, beefy, funky, garlicky joy; eaten to the sound of my own gentle sighing.  

While rib eye is classic, bavette is for the cool kids and the loin was considered so good that Henry VIII knighted it, I've always loved a bit of rump, and this was a plate of childhood birthday dreams come true. Rather like a roast on steroids (they also offer Sunday lunch, which I imagine would actually be a roast on steroids).

Excuse the meat porn, but in the words of the White Stripes (if they were ever faced with beef this tasty); I've said it once before, but it bears repeating now. 

They also currently have roasted Chateaubriand (available in portions starting at 200g) and Fred Flintstone-esque roasted beef ribs on offer, alongside various things involving feta, courgettes and aubergines, if you're that way inclined.

After weighing up the risks - I knew my earlier training would come in handy - I decided that finishing with a slice of Will's Nan's apple pie was in order; and, being that I was throwing caution to the wind, with a glass of chilled Tokaji alongside. With crisp, buttery pastry, tart apples and coming with both vanilla cream and ice cream, it proved a gamble worth taking.

Zelman Meats Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, 16 November 2015

Wish you were here - Sixty Million Postcards

There are some advantages of getting old. For a start there's the starting to wake up at the crack of dawn, even at the weekend. Although it means I actually get to actually see Saturday mornings for the first time since the halcyon days of watching Inspector Gadget and Transworld Sport while eating my way through a box of Wheetos, sans milk.

Another realisation that advancing age brings is that going for a walk can actually be quite enjoyable (yes, Mum and Dad, you were right, as always). Especially so when it's a gloriously sunny day outside and even more if there is the promise of a heap of fried chicken and waffles at Bournemouth's Sixty Million Postcards at the end of it.

Everyone also knows that going to the gym means twice as much dinner (not that I ever test that theory, preferring to eat my second helpings without going anywhere near a treadmill...). Ergo, a nice gentle stroll along the beach - from Boscombe Pier into town - before breakfast means two pre-lunch drinks are in order. At least.

Firstly bloody marys, cos that's the brunch rules. 60MP provided a nicely poky example of the genre complete with cucumber (useful for the eyes, after these early starts) and extra brownie points for providing no less than three types of Tabasco. They also offer a decent beer selection, with a chaser of frosty Dale's Pale Ale - at a hefty six-and-a-half-percent - going down nicely.

The Shroomhalloumi - the cunningly named halloumi and mushroom burger - almost made up for its lack of beef, although I still feel would have been better with a sneaky meaty patty in the mix. And maybe another slice of halloumi; I'm pretty partial to halloumi.

Yet another meatless option, the veggie fry up, didn't sound like a very enticing prospect, especially to a confirmed egg-avoider, but I was kinda jealous when it arrived. Well, at least over some of it. Alongside the pesky ouef there was Nigella-style DIY avocado with wholewheat toast, some, not completely offensive, veggie sausages, fried red tomatoes and very good homemade hash browns.  

An imminent menu revamp meant sadly (in fact, no exaggeration to say dream-shatteringly, as it had comprised my main train of thought the night before), there were no longer any waffles available. I consoled myself by persuading the Ewing to share a platter of chicken served instead with ribs, sweet potato fries, pit beans and coleslaw.

The 'hot and kickin' chicken was, whisper it, maybe even better than another famous fried chicken purveyor. Not only was it as crispy and juicy as my favoured bargain bucket (a surprisingly difficult art to master) it also came with the advertised kick.

As they had neglected to bring any plates out, and I was too impatient to flag someone down, I ended up eating my half of the platter from atop the basket of sweet potato fries. Not really one of my biggest hardships, although probably not very attractive to my fellow diners.

The bourbon glazed ribs came adorned with something that, curiously, looked like processed cheese and turned out to be, even more curiously, slices of 'grilled' pineapple. Slightly strange but actually a nice respite; rather like a mini pudding between meats. The ribs themselves couldn't live up to the excitement of their fruity drapery, but were still a decent effort and, happily, came with the requisite amount of chew.

The other sides - served in tiny ramekins, like something of an afterthought, - were mixed; the pit beans were mostly pulled pork which, despite reaching peak pork sometime ago, is still no bad thing in my eyes. Coleslaw suffered from the addition of huge strands of unchopped coriander leaf that gave it a strange taste and texture (eating it saved the need for floss after the ribs, though).S

Sixty Million Postcards proved a pleasant surprise food wise. Add good tunes, a good drinks list, good staff and a laid back weekend vibe, it made me want to grab another couple of tinnies and slide back into my leather booth for an afternoon session. Unfortunately the prospect of shopping for pajamas in Primark on a Saturday afternoon awaited, which I can confirm is slightly better when you're slightly pissed. And at least it made the walk home seem like something to look forward to.

And while walking may be a new found hobby, I think I'll leave the body building to the experts....

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Shotgun BBQ

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there.
Anton Chekov

It all started out East with doughnuts. Not just any doughnuts; puffy, generously stuffed orbs, freshly baked by Brad Mcdonald and his wife Molly sold outside their yellow front door on Hackney’s Columbia Road Market on Sundays. The next step was to move West to Marylebone to open the much lauded, American South inspired Lockhart. Now the Mcdonalds have branched out again to Carnaby, with Shotgun BBQ, a homage to the low and slow.

The lunchtime menu starts with a selection of snacks to share, followed by a selection of that British staple, the sandwich, each with a little Southern twist. There is also a selection of regularly changing smoked meats, sold by weight or as a combo plate. The latter to which you can add a glass of wine or Four Pure beer for just an extra couple of quid.

'Cheese and chive dip' came with some, rather frightening looking, shards of dehydrated cabbage stuck in the top like sails on a haunted pirate ship. The cabbage was inspired, but sadly too brittle to scoop up the pleasingly old school creamy mixture in which they were embedded with much success. Of course, the Ewing was happy to improvise with a digit. (Is what they are made for - TE)

The smoked meat plate was a simple joy and surprisingly substantial. The pork belly was good (isn’t it always), especially when doused in a little KC hot sauce, but the brisket really stole the show. The red-rimmed strips of beef bringing to mind all the barbecue superlatives; smoky; juicy and, err, meaty; that I hoped they would.

The ox tongue bun with oyster mayo and a heap of melting onions was halved and then pretty much inhaled. Yes, if you're trying to find fault, some may find the potato bun rather on the sweet side (southerners sure love their sugar), and the briny note of the oysters became lost in the background, but for me the slippery, smoky mix of allium and offal - nicely spiked with a punch of pickled cucumber - made the perfect sarnie. 

More sweetness came with sides of fondant sweet potato (clue’s in the name, really) that had been topped with crunchy pecans and lashings of butter, and some decent barbecue beans, made with baby pintos and topped with sesame seeds. Coleslaw was a little wan in comparison, but I perked it up with a good squirt of the house made Carolina mustard sauce.

Having spent far too many hours of my life staring at sites like Roadfood, the home made Nana pudding – a southern trifle-like classic layered with chopped bananas, cream, custard and Nabisco wafers (like a kind of round sponge finger), was the only dessert for me. Looks wise it didn’t disappoint, being served tableside from a huge glass dish that put me in mind of Blur’s ‘There’s No Other Way’ video, but set in Charleston not Colchester. Taste wise it was also on the money, as evidenced by my wife snaffling her pudding then ‘helping’ me finish it

Happily for Chekov, we squared the circle by going back to where this story started; with a doughnut. Again, not just any doughnut, this one being a limited edition 'pineapple delight' - the ten available when we visited rapidly being chalked off on the specials board during our meal, much to the Ewing's consternation. And a delight it was, the crisp fritter-like surface pock-marked with fruit-filled craters and glazed with icing. Definitely worth the suspense.

Shotgun Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Scotch Ale Trail - Glasgow edition

Will Self recently wrote a nice little article on ‘The joy of doing the same thing over and over again’ in which he recounts that when he visits Melbourne he always eat at a Japanese restaurant on the edge of Chinatown, and always has the same thing. He then follows up with the fact he’s only been to Melbourne twice and ‘it just so happens I ate in the same restaurant on each occasion. Nevertheless this was sufficient for me to confidently predict I will at some point in the future eat there again, and moreover for me to also feel distinctly cosy about the prospect.’

Which pretty much sums up how I feel about Nice and Sleazy’s; although I’ve only visited Glasgow twice, each time has been punctuated with a lunchtime visit here, accompanied by a White Russian, a routine I’m already very happy to be in, and one I would hope to continue on subsequent visits to a city that already has a fond place in my heart.

Alongside our three pound a pop milk-based cocktails (you can also get a black Russian for the same bargain basement price, alongside cheap jugs of Williams Jester IPA) we stayed to try out the new Meathammer burger menu; a decision which proved a remarkably sound addition to the old routine.

I tackled the Grinder - a Stilton burger dripping with lashings of garlic butter that would certainly preclude any app based dates after eating, the only hot thing being my fiery garlic breath (tasted great, though). The Ewing was swayed by the Worldeater – a umami bomb of mature cheddar, Parma ham, caramelised red onions. dill pickle, tomato and bacon relish and parmesan crisp - recently voted by critics as Glasgow’s best burger and fully deserving of its plaudits.

Nice N Sleazy Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Our second Brewdog visit of the trip was to the Glasgow branch, conveniently opposite Kelvingrove and is possibly my favourite of the ones visited so far, being light and airy and having  a lovely view across the park to the museum.

Scottish brews on tap were lacking – there was a Oskar Blues tap takeover but the Ewing though her favourite Ten Fidy stout might be a bit much for mid-afternoon – but I was happy to try their Candy Kaiser, a new northern German style retro altbier, that Brewdog describe thus: 'we’ve dialled down the dry-hops to zero, but cranked up the malt to create massive aromas. Toasty, toffee and floral notes duke it out for supremacy in the headspace of your glass'. While the Ewing finally got her chilled bottle of Pumpkin Head, heady with autumnal spices.

Brew Dog Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

King Tuts, like Sleazy’s, was on my Glasgow must do list after my teenage pen pal – the lead singer with Bis, no less – sent me a flyer advertising their gig there in the mid-90s. For years it remained a mythical nirvana until, over a decade later, I finally made it north of the border and dragged the Ewing to sit in the, very real, gloom and drink fizzy lager to a soundtrack of my teenage angst. This year she had already vetoed a return trip, but after looking for the next spot to stop for a drink and realising we were practically outside, it seemed fate had intervened.

Something else that had also intervened since our last visit was craft, that five letter word that meant the range of beers on offer was no longer limited to Tennents and Wife Beater; indeed they now even have their own lager breweed for them by West. 

Alongside a tankard of the house Tut’s we also tried the Gladeye Rye IPA brewed by Drygate and, in a moment of notoriety that almost matched the time I ate the first ever hotdog off the warming rollers at Cineworld High Wycombe, we got to sample the very first pint dispensed through the new tap. A very timely taster as our next stop was the Drygate microbrewery proper, to see how the magic was made.

King Tut's Wah Wah Hut Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Drygate /The Vintage (yes, one name would be much easier) is multi-faceted microbrewery/event space/ bar/ restaurant that has opened on the site of the Tennent’s plant (aka the Wellpark Brewery that was originally known as  Drygate), a ten minute walk to the West of the city centre. Lager lovers despair not, the Tennent’s site still operates as a multi-barrel multinational operation next door, providing over a third of Scotland’s fizzy yellow stuff as well as distributing beers such as Sweetheart Stout and Caledonia Best across the globe.

Save for the sparkly lights all seemed deathly quiet outside, even for a Wednesday evening, so it was a cheering surprise to find the open plan /restaurant bar area buzzing. We were greeted warmly, both by the staff and the thick malty fug that hung in the air, before choosing to sit on communal drinking benches by the bar, which also afforded us a view of the beer-making action happening in the next door.

Things started sensibly (after an afternoon spent mostly drinking in bars and snoozing in the Kelvingrove) and promisingly with schooners of Outaspace, their apple ale. The latter being particularly curious, especially as it is one of their core beers, being a kind of lager/cider hybrid that would be particularly welcome in the warmer summer months, if such a phenomena makes it to G31.

After that things became hazier when, realising that the beer list was packed full of local cask and keg brews that we had barely made a start on (not to mention such delights as Buxton’s Wyoming Sheep Ranch), we decided the best idea would be to order two flights….

Now the headache has finally subsided I can confirm this was in fact the correct decision, meaning that we got to try such brews as ‘unfiltered Tennent’s straight from the tank (who thought the familiar brew could get hipster points – still tastes of piss, though) Cromarty's Rogue Wave pale ale and a couple of fine dark beers, a Red Eye Flight porter from Tempest and William Brothers Black Ball stout. 

Surprise of the night, however, was a wildcard picked by the Ewing of the Thistly Cross elderflower cider. Initially I was upset that this apple-based interloper had sullied our range of hop based libations, but on sampling it I can confirm that it was a very fine variation. A tipple to which the cliché ‘dangerously drinkable’ could have been designed. So good that I (who?- TE) have even created a hybrid version at home using cloudy Strongbow and homemade elderflower cordial. Best served in pint glasses over ice with a Nurofen chaser.

The Ewing's haddock risotto topped with a gooey poached egg and peppery watercress was comfort food at it's finest; a mixture of salt and smoke and buttery yolk that reminded her of her Mum's 'yellow fish, mash and peas'.

I went with the classic Bearface Lager beer battered fish and chips with side helpings of very good minted mushy peas and home made tartare sauce. Very rich but very nicely done and, being predominantly deep fried, the perfect accompaniment to soak up all the beer.

The Ewing was lured by the special of panna cotta – a surprisingly chocolate-less choice, in the end she just couldn’t resist the charm of our lovely waiter Alasdair, whose Scottish lilt made clementine jelly sound far more enticing than it has any right to.

Alongside the layers of wobbly cream and fruity stuff the whole thing was topped off by a wonderfully boozy topping of Pedro Jimenez syrup, a charming pudding with the promise of Christmas and only missing that classic Scottish accompaniment to everything, a shortbread finger to dunk.

My dessert, the freshly made doughnuts served with tonka bean and white pepper caramel was ambrosial. Cold beer and hot doughnuts may already be a classic, but this dish provided a real life When Harry Met Sally moment as I shovelled the hot fluffy orbs mouthwards, leaving a little more than a scattering of sugar and a trail of moans in my wake. (vom - TE)

If I haven’t already used far too many superlatives, pounding head aside, Vintage was the venue of the trip for me. Great staff (with even greater beards) a fantastic selection of cheap and plentiful beer from both their own kit and beyond; and some cracking cooking coming out the kitchen. In fact it's no exaggeration to say that Drygate might be my new favourite place; it's just a shame its 383 miles from my house (yes, I did Google it...).

The Vintage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

And so we headed eastwards, back to Auld Reekie, yet another venue added to our lists of must visits for the next time. Who said routine was the enemy?