Monday, 28 June 2010

London's "Best African Restaurant"?

The latest pocket version of the DLR's Get Out More landed on my desk. Unenthusiastically picking it up - my local foodie scene is dire - I was amazed to seen an entry for Woolwich!  Touted as "the best African restaurant in London" as rated by West Africans my enthusiasm took a sudden leap, and I dashed around organising a twEATup with friends at Marble.

I dropped by the restaurant a couple of weekends before the date to secure a table - previous attempts by email and telephone having been unsuccessful.  We needn't have worried, as we were the only people in attendance on the day.  The chef and waiter were enthusiastic that us non-Africans wanted to try their food - I'd quizzed a couple of friends from work as to what we should eat, so came across as knowledgeable.  I was also asked what we'd likely be drinking, so they could make sure to have stock - white wine, and cocktails thanks very much.

The day arrived, BoyWonder and I were joined by Aussie_Foodie and her hubby and another couple of friends.  We were shuffled downstairs, and while cooler away from the heat of the kitchen, it was very dimly lit - beyond mood lighting.  (So apologies for the below par photos).  We ordered cocktails, and were briskly told that we had said we wanted to order wine.  Umm, yes, but we'd like to start with one of the cocktails on your menu... not going to happen as they didn't have any of the booze in.  A couple of us ordered some Nigerian beers (tasty) along with a bottle of white wine.  A packet of paper napkins was placed on our table.  I've nothing against paper napkins, but display can make a difference.

We decided to try some Puff Puffs -doughnut like, it would have been improved by some sort of dipping sauce, but was liked all round.

Next to arrive were the Meat Sticks.  I think we all pictured some sort of barbecued kebab, but chicken drumsticks arrived.  They were tasty though, so no complaints.

An hour after we ordered the wine it arrived.  At room temperature.  Without any ice.  Did I mention it was white wine?!

Fish Pepper Soup has been recommended by my friends.  And boy did it pack a punch.  Starts as a slow build, then grabs you by the back of the throat to swing you around the room!  Loved the taste, but not sure the texture was for me.

The next dish of the day arrived... sort of.  We'd ordered Jollof Rice and fried plantain served with assorted meat (this was to include goat - something I've heard good things about, but have never tried).  The rice arrived - delicious... the plantain arrived, tasty... and it would have been a good accompaniment for the meat if that had ever arrived.  We'd also ordered Fish Rolls that we never saw either.  Thankfully none of the no-shows appeared on the bill, so there was no need to discuss it.

We decided to live dangerously and order a dish none of us had a clue what it was: Nkwobi.  We didn't understand the description given - we all thought the waiter had said "cat food", but went for it anyway.  I'll try anything once... Turned out it was cow foot!  And boy did it smell.  It looked a bit like cat food too I suppose!  Actually quite a nice taste, it's cooked in traditional herbs and has a similar texture to biltong.  But I couldn't get past the smell for more than a couple of bites.

So bad and sometimes rude service, but the food that did show up was tasty - I won't be rushing back though.  So is this London's best African restaurant?  I certainly hope not. 

Cheers, KangaRue

PS.  The restaurant is currently closed due to major breaches of cleanliness - infestations of cockroaches and vermin and NO HOT WATER... at all... I dread to think, actually, I just won't!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Tasty London

What a great way to spend a London Summer evening, attending the showcase of the London foodie scene at Taste of London... if only the weather had cooperated!  But the food, drinks, atmosphere and all the friendly people Aussie_Foodie and I met more than made up for the rain.

We kick started our gourmet evening with one of the most spectacular dishes of the night, the seared wagyu sushi with sauteed foie gras, finished with a touch of wasabi and drizzled with a sweet soy reduction - an inspired execution of ingredients by Dinings.

Next up was L'Anima's smoked purple aubergine and burrata with basil and chilli jam.  Chef Francesco Mazzei  was at front of house briefly and was happy to answer a couple of questions from us.  The aubergine was lightly smoked and was complimented beautifully by the creaminess of the cheese, with a tang from the jam.  If the food kept up this standard, we were in for a night full of treats!

Ever since attending a wine tasting course a number of years ago I've wanted to try the bubbles from Nyetimber.  Touted as the a rival to Champagne, due to the similar geology and soils of the traditional region, we would have happily bought a bottle had it not been for the ridiculous restaurant-sized mark-ups of the prices.  So we settled for a (plastic - ick) glass of the 2001 Classic CuvĂ©e which was delightful with hints of toast and honey.

Club Gascon's Pimm's Foie Gras was a surprising combination of England and France.  The quality of foie gras was unsurpassed and melted with a delicious creaminess.  Combined with the sweetness of the Pimms soaked fruit and foam, this was another highlight of the day... though I don't think it will surpass the the traditional matching of Sauternes.

Earlier in the day Aussie_Foodie had been tweeting with Tom Aikens, from the Michelin-starred Tom Aikens Restaurant - he recommended the lamb... the 7-hour confit Daylesford lamb with balsamic onions and mash.

Melt in the mouth delicious, the sweetness of the onions was a beautiful match, though I'm not convinced by the mash foam... I would have preferred something more buttery.  Mind you, it didn't hurt that Tom came out to meet us in person and that (BoyWonder look away now) he's an absolute cutie!

A friend from work recommended I visit Trishna London - the original Mumbai restaurant is reknowned for it's seafood, so I couldn't go past their Seafood Biryani served with cucumber black pepper raita.  I wasn't previously aware of the restaurant so read up on it during the day and also discovered that they tweet; I was expecting a high standard of ingredients and innovation, but I still wasn't prepared for the utter deliciousness of this dish.  The seafood was perfectly tender, lightly spiced, complementing the natural flavours rather than overpowering.  I'm hoping to blog more fully on the restaurant soon, as this was my top dish of the day, and I'm looking forward to exploring their menu further.

We stopped for a glass of wine and some Colchester Oysters, reminding me that it had been far too long since I'd visited The Company Shed, another blog post coming up perhaps?  Then a stop at Glorious Foods to try their soups, the Sunny Thai Chicken was light, refreshing and full of flavour.

Leave Aussie_Foodie alone for two minutes, and I find her doing "laybacks" across the bar getting free shots!  

Since I was obviously behind on the drinks, we headed to try the Rekorderlig cider...

... kicking back on a deck-chair - in the rain - with a refreshing glass of the strawberry and lime.  It's a hard life, but somebody's got to do it!

Whipped goats cheese with pickled beetroot and Regents Park honey from Odette's was light and fluffy and well balanced by the stickiness of the honey, the crunch of a few well placed nuts and the light pickling of the beetroot.  Another dish maintaining the high standard of the day up.

And in keeping with the, unplanned, goats cheese theme of the day (not that I'm complaining!), was the Salt Yard's Courgette flowers stuffed with goats cheese and drizzled with honey.  In a light tempura batter, the full-flavoured goats cheese was lifted by the sweetness of the honey, our only complaint was that we had to share... now how to convince BoyWonder that we should grow courgettes next year?

It wasn't all amazing.  The rendang from Awana was disappointing.  While the beef was beautifully tender from it's slow-cooking, it just didn't showcase anything spectacular; perhaps my expectations as an Aussie, with our wide exposure to Malaysian cuisine, were too high.  Perhaps I just chose the wrong dish, but for now I'll be sticking with my local, less glamourous, but so far more authentic and delicious Kaya House.

There were a number different suppliers showcasing their products.  One of the first we tried was Laverstoke Park Farm; their buffalo mozzarella was the creamiest I've tried in a long time and the buffalo chilli biltong and dry beef sausage have already been broken into this morning.  The two James' from Field & Flower raise, hang for four weeks and deliver boxed traditional British grass-fed cattle - the colour and marbling of the meat looked fantastic, and I've got some mince for BoyWonder to make into burgers and barbeque which I'll blog on that later to let you know how it tastes.  Lowland whisky producer Auchentoshan won me over as I'm not a fan of the peatiness of Highland whiskys... I thought it an inspired decision to bring home a bottle for BoyWonder to appease him for my shopping, and the tasks I've set for him.

My main regret of the day was not getting to try Trinity's pigs trotters on toasted pain polaine with fried quail's eggs, sauce gribiche and crackling which was awarded Best Plate.  It was my "not to be missed" dish of the day, but we simply ran out of time (gutted)... nor did we try any of the desserts.  Four hours is just not enough time, but I don't think my wallet would appreciate a second day!

Cheers, KangaRue

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Master Canapes

I follow quite a lot of foodies on Twitter, I enjoy reading about where they've been, what they've experienced eating out and cooking in.  Inevitably we retweet each others general comments and blogs, which is a great way of discovering new people with similar interests.  I started following @JustCookIt this way before realising it was MasterChef UK 2010 finalist, Alex Rushmer.  It wasn't long before I saw him tweeting with Dhruv Baker, the winner that year...  about coming to Canary Wharf to distribute canapes.  Well, that was just not something I could pass up!

So come lunch time I trundled out of the office to find out what these guys were up to.  There was a portable road-side cafe, but a posh one, with a basic, but working kitchen.  People were casually walking up and trying the canapes, getting the promotional material from the finance initiative that was sponsoring the day.  The guys had made a LOT of canapes... more than they'd made for their City sojourn the day before... but they were going quick - more than half had gone in the first hour of a five hour stint!  Yes, they were popular.

But most people missed out on the best bit - the guys were absolute sweethearts, happy to have a quick chat and patiently pose for photos while keeping the canapes flowing.  They really seem to appreciate their fan base, while still having their feet firmly on the ground.

But back to the food!  This is the important bit, because it was this experience that encouraged me back to blogging after my Three-Star Disappointment.  Dhruv had created a 3-course menu of canapes utilising simple yet powerful ingredients, and then gave them a twist... Yes, they looked absolutely beautiful, but more than that, they were delicious!  I loved them.  

The "starter" was a sea trout with beetroot jelly and a hint of horseradish on a crisp wafer.  Surprisingly fresh and the jelly and horseradish united and lifted it.

The "main" was my absolute favourite though (I managed to sneak a second one... hmm, perhaps that could have been why they had to make so many more?!).  The chicken parfait and vanilla foam tartlets had a sauterne & cognac soaked raisin in the bottom of each and were beautifully garnished with a teeny spring leaf, which was so pretty.  I watched while a new batch was whipped up, and the speed of filling the tartlets was impressive.  

The "dessert" was great too - which just goes to show how good the chicken parfait was, that this didn't win the top place.  Not only was it absolutely yummy, but it was so much fun.  Champagne Jelly with fruit caviar was served with "Space Dust" popping candy to put the bubbles back in! Love it, love it, love it!  If only all canapes were this good..

I have to thank Dhruv and Alex, not only for a lovely diversion from my working day; for making my boss very jealous when I told him what I'd been up to... but mostly for helping me get my groove back!

Cheers, KangaRue

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Wonders of Brunch

I've always loved brunch.  In Australia I used to love getting together with friends at cafes or at each others homes or in a park for a weekend brunch - the meal that combines breakfast and lunch.  And yes, one that generally includes Bloody Marys and/or Champagne.  Yet in the decade I've been in London it has been a rare occurrence - mainly because so few places do it (or say they do yet don't open to lunch-time!).

So it was with great delight when I discovered via Twitter that Hawksmoor, reknowned for its steaks, was going to open for Brunch, and from 11am!  Having managed to wangle a table for their soft opening, it is with many apologies to Will & co that it has taken me so long to blog it - for the reason why, see my 3-star disappointment that occurred a few days before my visit - but it did give me the opportunity to return again, so this blog post will take in both those experiences, my very first BOGOF-post if you like.

Part 1:

My first surprise came within seconds of sitting down, when our lovely bubbly red-haired waitress asked if she could get me a drink, and when I asked for the requisite Bloody Mary she responded with "which one"... there are three to choose from!  I went for the Bottomless Bloody Mary (Mix No. 7) which was delicious (pictured above).  And not only that, there is a huge range of breakfast cocktails, of which my friends and I managed to consume most of, only saving two of the Bloody Marys and the four Champagne Cocktails for a later date.  There are Eye Openers, Anti-Fogmatics, Invigorators*, enormous Punches to share and Gloom Lifters! 

We couldn't go past the Hawksmoor Breakfast and while £30 for two people to share, it is great value for the quality.  There's a smoked bacon chop, sausages, black pudding, bubble & squeak, grilled bone marrow, trotter baked beans, fried eggs, grilled mushrooms, roast tomatoes, and unlimited dripping toast.  The meat is all from The Ginger Pig and you really can taste the difference in the quality.  Our friendly, but not overbearing, waitress explained to us the traditional way to eat black pudding was to scoop out the middle of the sausage and mix it with English mustard and vinegar - and OMG, it was delicious.  And for someone who rarely finishes a thin slice, I ate a lot of it.  I'm also one to generally believe that Beanz Meanz... but wow, did the trotter beans blow that theory out of the water.  Bone Marrow is a highly under utilised ingredient, and it shone in its usage here.  There are desserts too - the cornflake ice-cream is delicious and it's also made into milkshakes! 

And while our plates were scraped clean, confirming how much we all enjoyed the meal, we experienced food envy spying other plates around the restaurant.  The HkMuffin (more on that later) and the Sunday Roasts in particular.  We were already trying to schedule our return before we'd left.

* Oh, and the warning under The Zombie cocktail of a maximum of one per person should be strictly adhered to - while the four of us were sharing all the cocktails, BoyWonder had the lions share of our second Zombie... and fell asleep on the journey home and went MIA for a few hours!

Part 2:

Shaky Pete, our bar tender extraordinaire from our first visit wasn't around on our second trip, but his understudies didn't let him down with the two Bloody Marys we tried this time around.  One was a special one developed for the Ketel One promotion, and was made with a peaty whisky, but the highlight for me was the pork scratching it was served with!  I also had the No. 10 which is served with a wedge of cucumber instead of the traditional celery, and while punchy with horseradish root, the No. 7 remains my favourite so far... I will have to go back for the No. 16 when I'm in need of a serious hangover cure in the winter - it's made with beef broth instead of tomato juice and is served warm and spicy.

But the real reason for being here was the food.  I was tempted to go for the Hawksmoor Breakfast again, but couldn't persuade BoyWonder to join me... he was determined to have the HkMuffin.  The Sausage & Egg delight which trounces over it's more well known, and very distant, cousin.  It consists of a pork, beef & mutton ‘flat sausage’ topped with Ogleshield or Colston Basset Stilton and two fried eggs. All piled up inside a toasted muffin.  BoyWonder went for the Colston Basset Stilton and added some Ginger Pig Bacon as well... 

I think he's still having dreams about it!

I really wanted to try the Ginger Pig Bacon, so I went for bacon & eggs with unlimited dripping toast.  I couldn't resist getting some more of the trotter beans and the bone marrow which I split with BoyWonder - yes he spared some time during the HkMuffin eating frenzy!

The only problem is leaving enough room for dessert.  I have to go back, and soon as I really want to try the Chocolate Brownie with Salted Caramel Ice-Cream.  Oh, and perhaps I'll get past the breakfast to try the roast beef with all the trimmings - the Yorkshire Puddings look amazing!

Cheers, KangaRue

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Real Woman

I regularly fill out prize applications and the like - you've got to "be in it to win it" as they say.  So I filled in a Dove survey for a free sample, and a full sized product arrived in the mail.  I was seriously impressed by the bodywash - I use Dove soap and bodywash already, but their (at that point in time unreleased) new product Dove VisibleCare really did make a difference to my skin.  I filled out the response form online and clicked the "yes I'd be willing to be in promotional material" box - thinking that nothing would ever really come of it.

Lo and behold I got an email asking if I'd be willing to take part in a photoshoot.  Would I?!  I took a day off work, met some great people and generally had a laugh.  No, it's not on TV or anything quite so flash, but it is online.  You can see me if you look quickly at the moving image, but I'm on the second "page" of the testimonials - click on the "next" link and I'm in the front row, second from the left.

I haven't been paid for this, but I'm still using the product, and can seriously recommend it.  And yes, Dove really does use real women!

Cheers, KangaRue

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Three-Star Disappointment

I've been remiss in my blogging - and while life has been busy, I can only blame it on possibly one of the worst dining experiences of my life.  I knew I had to tackle the evening, and have had lovely experiences elsewhere since (further blogs to follow in quick succession no doubt), but I kept reaching a block every time I thought about this dinner.  So where was this fateful evening held?  No less than the 3-Michelin starred Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester.

It wasn't all bad.  The setting is exquisite, with neutral mushroom tones and highlights of pink around the room - I particularly liked the water glasses (and at £6 a bottle for the water, I'm glad I had something nice to drink out of!) - and the subdued lighting gives it a relaxed feel.  I loved the shimmering fibre optics that are the centre point of the room where they cascade from the ceiling (directly behind our seats).

And while I'm still not sure of the point of the ceramic vegetables on each table other than for amusement, the tableware is otherwise beautiful.  That is of course, except for our mis-matched wine glasses... having ordered from the extensive wine list with whopping mark-ups (there is very little below the £50 mark), we were presented with two different shaped wine glasses.  Not what we expected from a restaurant of this calibre, however, when we pointed it out to our waiter, we were brushed off with "they're hand blown".

Unsurprisingly France dominates the wine list, however BoyWonder decided on a £45 Austrian wine: Anton Bauer's Zweigelt 2005, which proved to be the highlight of the evening.  I've been unable to find the 2005 vintage online, but the 2006 is retailing for £13 a bottle.  It was a wine with depth, that opened up beautifully with cherry and mocha tones - a perfect match for our main-course veal in particular.

And so back to the food.  Every dish was beautiful to look at.  Unfortunately the taste did not live up to the aesthetics.  Our amuse-bouche arrived, elegantly presented, and while it is meant to please our taste buds it was like drinking liquid salt.  I'm pretty sure my Mum got me to gargle with something equivalent as a child with a sore throat.

The starter of seafood ravioli, looked amazing.  It arrived in black and white splendour (the black coming from squid ink) and the waiter poured the bright green herb sauce with a flourish around the dish.  It came with tender calamari, which thankfully balanced the puree of seafood that filled the ravioli and resembled something along the lines of baby food.

The main course however was lovely, albeit a little on the small side.  The veal and vegetables was beautifully cooked - all round a well balanced dish.

Dessert arrived and looked sensational, I think it was called something bizarre like The Girl from Ipanema.  It was pineapple mousse topped with a vanilla foam, served with a frangipane on the side.  The vanilla foam was delicious, but the chunks of pineapple that separated the layers didn't work texturally with the dish.

To finish, I decided on a tea from The Dorchester's extensive selection, which was delightful.  BoyWonder went for coffee, and has described it as the "most despicable coffee" he has ever tasted and "probably the worst in the world"... we sent it back, and even our Aussie waiter agreed that it wasn't the forte of the restaurant.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but shouldn't food taste good?!  The restaurant's website states: "Awarded Three Michelin Stars, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester became the second restaurant in London to receive this prestigious accolade.  Three Stars denote 'exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey'"...  My personal experience is that Monsieur Ducasse has been awarded on his name and reputation and this restaurant - in my humble opinion - is undeserving of even One, let alone Three Michelin Stars.

Cheers, KangaRue