Thursday, 28 February 2013

Oodles of Noodles - Tonkotsu Diner

Continuing with our theme of going to the hippest new joints in our fair city, A and C took a quick pit-stop after a long day at the office at Tonkotsu, a new Japanese Diner in Soho. This place is getting rave reviews from all the critics at the moment, not least because they take stock so seriously, and we've been itching to try it out for a while. The guys at Tonkotsu apparently spend many hours slaving over theirs, and there's always a stock pot simmering away as you enter the place.


Tonkotsu is a ramen bar: this is fast food, japanese style.

For the uninitiated, ramen is a big bowl of broth, with some wheat noodles and other goodies thrown in. The concept has been popularised in the UK by the likes of Wagamama, of course, but Tonkotsu is a little posher than that (but yet still very chilled out - a perfect balance).


As we were only grabbing a quick bite, we didn't push the boat out. We stuck to a simple meal of a bowl of pork ramen each, and a portion of edemame beans to nosh on while we waited for the soup.

The beans were fresh and tasty, and came nicely presented with a dusting of Malden sea salt. We finished them off in about two minutes flat, and C in particular was a huge fan and commented on how fresh they were (and how good the salt was - oh dear).

As for the ramen, although we both agreed that it was a great meal, A couldn't see precisely what London's commentariat have been raving about. Sure, the ramen was tasty and the stock was good, but unlike some of the critics that A's been reading, it wasn't the best meal A's had in the last 12 months. One thing we will agree with, though, is that the marinated eggs are pretty damn good - there were coos of delight and wide eyes from both of us when tucking into them.


So, our verdict? By all means stop by: this is a great place to eat, and fairly affordable (though you can, of course, get much cheaper ramen elsewhere as it's got the predictable Soho price tag attached to it). You'll get a great, quick, tasty meal and leave feeling satisfied and contented.

Is it something that special, though? Perhaps not in our opinion: given the plethora of places to eat in Soho, don't bother queuing for Tonkotsu unless you're really in the mood for good ramen.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Pig & Butcher

In our opinion, there's not much nicer than whiling away a lazy Sunday at a pub lunch with friends; and we consider ourselves extremely lucky that we're surrounded by literally hundreds of great roast dinner options here in London. That said, some are definitely more worth writing home about than others, and with so much choice it becomes hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Indeed, in our experience pubs named in "London's Top 10 Sunday Roasts" lists and the like rarely live up to the hype, as C found out a while ago with Shoreditch joint The Water Poet

We're happy to say, though, that there's recently-opened, centrally-located Sunday lunch spot where an outstanding reputation is entirely justified: The Pig and Butcher in Islington.



We booked a table at The Pig and Butcher (and note - you'll need to book several weeks in advance if you're after a weekend meal) for a relaxed Sunday lunch with M, one of A's oldest friends, and his girlfriend J. From the outset, we were impressed with the place: it was cosy but bustling, staff attentive but not overbearing, and we were seated on raised wooden benches which looked out to Upper Street on one side and over the rest of the pub on the other. It was everything we expected from the latest venture from the people behind The Lady Ottoline and The Princess of Shoreditch, Scott Hunter and Maria Larsen, and we were eagerly eyeing the plates of diners around us.


We began our meal the way every good Sunday lunch should begin: with a bottle of good wine. The wine list is full of uncomplicated, interesting, unpretentious choices, and you really can't go wrong even with a bottle of the house plonk. We went for a bottle of red with the French Peyrasse Rouge 2011 which was - as the website claims - fresh and vibrant, and had fruity undertones of plum.

Our red wine was the perfect accompaniment to our mains, which is what we really had to write home about with this place: we were seriously impressed. The Pig and Butcher do live up to their name as they smoke, butcher and cure their meat on-site, and it really shows. Meat is perfectly tender and wonderfully fresh, and we appreciated the fact that all meat and vegetables are sourced locally and organically so you're under no illusions as to where your food's been before it lands on your plate (increasingly crucial given the horsemeat scandals in the media, and associated debates). Reflecting this, the menu changes almost daily, but rest assured that the food in here is so good that you'll be hard pushed to go wrong with any of the choices.



Although tempted by most of the extensive menu, A, C and M all went for a traditional roast with all the trimmings. C and M opted for the lamb, which was beautifully pink, tender and flavoursome, and some of the best C (somewhat a lamb fanatic) had tasted in a while. A predictably went for the roast beef; served rare, it was also wonderfully tender and juicy and murmurs of approval abounded from his corner of the table too.


J dared to be different by going for the Cornish lemon sole, which was served with new potatoes and green sauce. She was initially a little apprehensive about how she'd cope with the whole fish, but it flaked off the bone wonderfully in chunks and was full of flavour, leaving J a happy customer too.



We were sorely tempted by the desserts, but portion sizes here are so generous that we didn't have room, despite not having eaten breakfast before we ventured to the pub. If you are after dessert, though, expert choices such as traditional Apple Crumble alongside other interesting choices like a Chocolate Torta Caprese and Jersey Curd Cake. Instead, we rounded off our meal with tea, coffee and a good deal of chatting before A had to make a swift exit to catch a flight to France for business (as ever, it's a hard life...!).



The Pig and Butcher isn't the cheapest place: you'll certainly find more affordable pub lunches in London, but they probably won't be as good as this. A main will set you back, depending on what you choose, somewhere around £15-£25, and you're looking at around £40 a head if you go for a full three courses with a house bottle of wine (although hats off to anyone who could actually eat three courses with the size of the portions here). All in all, although it's a little more than A and C would typically spend on a Sunday lunch, it's excellent value for money - and we'll definitely be going back soon for more.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Lahore Kebab House - An East End Curry Institution

Around a year ago, A moved out of north west London where he grew up, and moved into the Docklands, where his grandparents were raised. The Jewish community that lived on and around the Whitechapel Road and Cable Street are long gone (according the the last census, a mere 1,200 Jews are left in Tower Hamlets) as are the working class Anglo-Saxon stevedores from whom C is descended (it turns out C's grandparents were living in the East End at the same time as A's - small world). The area around Whitechapel, Shadwell and Limehouse now seems to be inhabited by yuppies, who find it convenient for the City or Canary Wharf, and a large Bangladeshi community. This community is centred around the so-called "Banglatown", with Brick Lane and the East London moque at its heart. However, some of the best eating is not to be had on the main drag of Brick Lane itself, but on the surrounding streets. It's here, on the uninspiring trunk road that is the Commercial Road, that you'll find the Lahore Kebab House.


In recent decades, Indian food has become almost as British an institution as the Sunday Roast. The UK has made Indian food its own, adapting it to suit the local palate. Indeed, some dishes such as chicken tikka masala were invented in the UK, and some would say that they are as much the British national dish these days as beef wellington or fish and chips. The popularity of Indian cuisine has been brought to the fore largely by restaurants such as the Lahore Kebab House, and other regional curry institutions such as Akbar's in Manchester, the Shish Mahal in Glasgow and the Aagrah in Leeds. Nowadays, even the smallest village will have a balti house, churning out dishes such as lamb dopiaza and chicken dhansak at reasonable prices.


But moving away from British culinary history and on to the joint itself, C dragged A out to the Lahore Kebab House after nearly a year of living on its doorstep. Confusingly, the Lahore Kebab House does not serve kebabs, but curries. Along with Tayyabs, the Lahore Kebab house is probably the most famous Indian restaurant in the East End, and its reputation precedes it. Fortunately, C made the right call and the hype is justified.


We basically ate our way through the menu as the place is so affordable that you almost feel you have to. As is traditional with a British curry, we started the meal with poppadums, which came with the usual luminous yellow mango chutney. Speaking honestly, these aren't much to write home about, but then again it's hard to do anything amazing with these things (though the Shish Mahal does a very fine job, if you're ever in the area, with its own amazing spiced onion chutney).


After we'd polished these off, we tucked into a delicious plate of onion bhajis. Delicately spiced, crispy and moist, these made for an excellent starter and really set the tone for the rest of the meal. We then ordered a curry each - C went for a korma and A opted for the jalfrezi - and both options were excellent. Some places go for heat and fat to mask the fact that the curry is poor, but not here.  Each curry were well spiced, and critically they weren't too heavy on the chili or ghee.

We also went a bit crazy on the side dishes, ordering a plain naan, a pashwari naan and rice. While everything was delicious, we ordered such volumes of food that we didn't have a hope of finishing it all. On top of the food being great, the portions are really generous, which is always nice to see.


If that wasn't enough, our South Asian banquet was washed down with a brace of mango lassies. As with everything else, these were excellent: sweet but not sickly and bursting with mango flavour.

In short, we cannot recommend this place highly enough. This place is hyped, but it's hyped with good reason. We loved it, and we're sure you will too. The Lahore Kebab House is worth travelling for, and given its proximity to Aldgate, Aldgate East, Whitechapel and Shadwell stations, there's really no reason not to go!


Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Paris 3 - Musee d'Orsay Tea Rooms

Alongside the Musée Jacquemart André, the other museum A hit during his time in Paris was the Musée d'Orsay. One of A's all time favourite galleries, the Musée d'Orsay is a collection of 19th and 20th century French art housed in an old train station on the Left Bank, right opposite the Louvre. It's unashamedly modern compared to its stuffy sibling across the Seine, and the main gallery, the old station concourse, is an amazing space, filled with natural light and beautiful objects.

Dining Room
As so often with Parisian museums, the café is as much a part of the event as the museum itself and the Musée d'Orsay is no exception. Here, the café is the former dining room of the old station hotel and the surroundings are opulent to say the least: painted ceilings, gilded walls and floor to ceiling mirrors all feature in the palace of food, which is still open to the public today.

Ceiling in the dining room
This time, we only stopped for a quick sandwich and a drink. Everybody went for the same thing: a smoked salmon sandwich followed by a hot chocolate.


The sandwiches were delicious, and immaculately presented. Each sandwich was a club sandwich of flat breads, delicious smoked salmon and spiced dill mayonnaise, served with a portion of crunchy baby spinach salad doused in a sharp vinaigrette. The soft textures of the club sandwich contrasted beautifully with the greens and made for a very pleasant stop.


The hot chocolate was of the highest order too. A is not usually a hot chocolate drinker, but this really hit the spot. The flavour was strong, but not sickly and the small cup was about the perfect amount (though it might not have represented the best value for money given its size).



I know I've been enthusing about things to do in Paris, but as with the other museum, this place is well worth visting, and while you have to pay the entry to go to the café, do stop by if you're there.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

D's Homemade Cheese & Ham Quiche

Quiche is one of C's favourite comfort foods - warm and a little bit stodgy, and perfect for this time of year. C's father D is a great cook and excellent baker in particular, and quiche is one of his specialities (along with amazing cakes, lemon meringue pies, homemade sausages, apple crumbles... we could go on) and, after a snowy day in London, he spontaneously baked a quiche for dinner. C got wind of this from her mother, and rushed round just in time for it to be served up.

She was very glad she did.


D's quiche was spontaenous, and so rather than following a standard Quiche Lorraine recipe or similar, he threw in whatever was in the house - namely, a large Spanish onion, a few slices of fancy ham, some cheddar cheese and fresh parsley to round it all off. While a little bit unconventional, it was absolutely delicious - and too good not to share. C badgered D for the recipe, and here we have it: believe us, this one's worth making.

Ingredients

For the pastry:
  • 4oz self raising flour
  • 2oz cooking margarine
  • A little water as required
For the filling:
  • 1/2 Spanish onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 slices of ham
  • 2.5fl oz milk
  • 3oz mature cheddar cheese
  • Handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Recipe

  1. Grease a 7 inch flan tin. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6 / 200C.
  2. Rub the margarine into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Gradually add water until it forms a dough. Roll out the pastry dough and use it to line the flan tin. 
  3. Finely chop the onion and place in a saucepan of boiling water and allow to simmer for two minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and milk until light and fluffy. Drain the onions and pour into the egg mixture. Chop the ham into 1cm squares and add to the egg mixture, along with the parsley. Grate in the cheese and mix the ingredients together. Season as required.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the flan tin, ensuring a smooth covering - be especially careful to evenly spread the solid ingredients like the ham and cheese. Bake on the middle shelf of the pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes until well-risen and browned. Enjoy!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Paris 2 - Musee Jacqumart-Andre Tea Rooms

As part of the weekend in Paris, A's family targeted a couple of more interesting galleries as places to spend the day. More or less top of the list was the Musée Jacquemart-André, a lesser known Paris museum, though it's none the less fascinating for that. Perched at the top of the Boulevard Haussmann, the museum was the bachelor pad (and later marital) seat of Edouard André, banker and billionaire, soldier and statesman. André and his wife, Nellie Jacquemart, shared a love of Italian and French art, and poured a considerable portion of the family funds into building up a collection which is of real historical and artistic significance. As the couple had no children, Nellie left the house (with its collection of paintings and sculptures) to the state, and it's now preserved as a museum exhibiting both the collection and how the upper classes lived in fin de siècle Paris.

The place, happily, also has a café set in the André's dining hall. After touring around the museum, it was here that we stopped for a spot of lunch before continuing on.




The food served at the café can only be described as a delight: light, interesting salads are the mainstay of the menu here, though you can have a continental-style brunch if you want it. The family split down the middle, with half going for a fishy "Nordic" style salad, and the others going for an oriental salad. In each case, the dishes were immaculately presented and the combinations excellent. A's fruity Asian salad came presented in a tomato flavoured edible basket, inside which mango and grapefruit pieces nestled alongside beansprouts, green leaves and peanut flavoured dressing. Whilst this may sound unusual, the flavours really worked together and A left a happy customer.



The desserts were also pretty good, though not up to the highest standards of French patisserie. A had a mille feuille, a sort of custard slice which is extremely popular in France. While the custard's consistency was excellent, there was rather more pastry than one would normally expect and the result was a bit heavy. The other family members however, raved about their desserts: coffee and hazelnut slices and ice cream.




While the desserts look rather better than they taste here, the place offers a really rather refined dining experience. The setting is lovely, and the mains in particular are really inventive and refreshing. The museum, and its café, are certainly worth a look!

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Brownie Post

The other week we got a lovely surprise email from Anna and James Gill, the owners of Manchester bakery And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon. It turns out they've been reading our blog for a little bit (we were very impressed with their knowledge of our exploits!) and they very kindly offered to send us some brownies to road test.

It turns out that James and Anna have set up a new (and really rather swish) mail order brownie service called The Brownie Post. The idea is both simple and brilliant: got a sweet tooth? No problem. Log on, order yourself one of twelve flavours of brownie, pick whether you want half or a whole dozen and hey presto, they turn up at your door in prettily wrapped vintage packaging, which reflects the 50s feel of the Didsbury bakery and tea rooms. Amazing.




What's more, all of the ingredients are organic, local and free range where possible and we especially love the fact that the packages are designed to fit through the average UK letterbox, so you avoid the annoying queue at the sorting office. (A did this recently in Whitechapel. There, he encountered a prize series of maniacs, waited nearly an hour in the rain, and ended up with a four inch long toy car sent by a friend. He only just lived to tell the tale!)

As Anna and James are regular readers of Slightly Peckish, they'd clocked that we are pretty big fans of the Middle East and its cuisine so offered to send us out some of their Middle Eastern inspired white choc, cardamom and pistachio brownies, and who are we to decline such an offer?





The proof, as they say, is in the proverbial pudding. So what are these postal puds like?

Firstly, the packaging works really well. It's aesthetically pleasing and the brownies fitted through C's letterbox and came out pristine: full marks for surviving Postman Pat's worst intact.




A, C and Flatmate N (lucky boy) sat down with a plate of brownies to taste test. The general consensus was "pretty d**n delicious". We all agreed that the texture was just right, the flavour unusual but not overpowering and the portion size was spot on - we tackled them after dinner and three brownies were an ample dessert. We also all commented on how fresh the brownies were considering their UK-wide travels. As a social media type, C in particular likes the thought that you can now order not only clothes, books and DVDs but also delicious brownies through the power of the web and parcel force.

We shared out the remaining brownies amongst C's work colleagues at her current freelance contract, and C's parents J & D - and comments were consistently positive all round (along with a discussion about what cardamom actually was and why it tastes so good).



In summary: these brownies are delicious and you should buy lots of them. Go on, we'll even give you the link again so you can click straight through: www.thebrowniepost.co.uk.



Featured Content: A and C did not pay for six brownies from The Brownie Post. A and C enjoyed the brownies courtesy of the Gill family at And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon and did not accept additional payment for this post.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Paris 1 - Brasserie Lipp

A's mother recently turned 60, and A's father J organised a special surprise for her. Last weekend, J arranged for himself, A's mother P, A and his brother K to spend a weekend together in Paris. The boys surprised P at the King's Cross station before whisking her off to St. Pancras for a Champagne breakfast on board Eurostar. We all had an utterly brilliant weekend from our base on the Left Bank, and as ever with A's family, food was a major constituent part of the celebration.


Pot au Feu
One of the places which struck a real chord with the family was the famous Brasserie Lipp in St German des Pres. A lesser-known place practically opposite the famous Café Flore and just down the road from Les Deux Magots, Lipp is a no-nonsense establishment, where uniformed waiters serve up simple brasserie food for reasonable (well reasonable-ish – this is Paris after all!) prices in traditional surroundings. The menu contains all the usual French favourites, and it was these that the family tucked into with gusto.