Thursday, 27 June 2013

Guest Post: Honey and Date Cake with Spiced Icing

So, welcome to our first guest post! We're pleased to bring you a recipe shared with us by Rob Fred Parker*, a friend of C's and an excellent baker. C went to university with Rob, a writer who now co-edits cultural website The Frame Loop, and remembers long seminars made much more bearable by Rob's baked goods which he brought in to share - in particular, his brilliant banana bread. While Rob assures us that he can still cook mean banana bread, these days he's expanded his repertoire to more unusual choices as well, and has kindly agreed to share one of his trusted recipes.

Without further ado, over to Rob for his recipe for Honey and Date Cake with Spiced Icing - with its Middle Eastern twist, it's exactly our kind of thing...





"This cake has a complex, Arabic taste courtesy of the mix of spices, with almonds providing a crunch to the icing. It's a trusted recipe which recently won me a bake-off, and while there's quite a few ingredients, the method is fairly simple and uncomplicated. It goes well with a cup of chai tea, and should keep for about a week in a cake tin.


Ingredients
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 175g softened butter
  • 100g light muscovado sugar
  • 100g stoned and finely diced dates
  • 50g flaked almonds
  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Small amount of chopped fresh ginger

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 160C (Gas 3/ fan 140C)
  2. Lightly butter the base and sides of a 900g (2lb) tin and line with greaseproof paper
  3. Tip flour, butter, sugar, honey, cinnamon, eggs, dates and bananas into a large mixing bowl
  4. Crush half of the almonds in a pestle or mortar or floor processor. Add to mixing bowl
  5. Beat the mixture for 2-3 minutes with a wooden spoon or hand-held mixer, until well blended
  6. Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top
  7. Bake for 1 hour. If the top of the cake if firm, it's done – if not, bake for another ten minutes

Icing ingredients

  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • 150g softened butter
  • Liberal sprinkle of ground mixed spice

Method

  1. Beat the butter until smooth
  2. Add half of the icing sugar and mix together
  3. Add the rest of the icing sugar and mixed spice, and mix thoroughly
  4. Once cake has cooled, apply icing with a flat knife or spatula
  5. Scatter flaked almonds across the icing"



Thanks Rob!

Rob is based in south London, left-handed and perhaps unhealthily obsessed with cinnamon (which is probably why it's in the recipe above?). He is co-editor of The Frame Loop, a website and podcast dedicated to cultural discussion, interviews and collaboration. Go and check it out - it's great!


*Yes, we know full names are unusual on this blog, but we've decided to waive the anonymity in Rob's case...

Monday, 24 June 2013

Hong Kong Champagne Brunch: Aqua

...And we're back! "Where have you been?" we hear you cry in your hoards. "No posts in a whole month?" To this, we can only offer up our apologies and what we hope is a fairly legitimate excuse: we've been on the other side of the world, in what turned out to be possibly The Best Holiday Ever to China and Hong Kong.

We spent around two and a half weeks travelling, beginning with a few days in Hong Kong, a city we fell in love with. After that, we headed into mainland China, travelling around Sichuan and making further stops in Guangxi and Guangdong provinces before reluctantly heading back to London. 

Luckily for us, flatmate T and his girlfriend L have recently come back from six months in Hong Kong, and kindly provided us with a brilliant itinerary for our few days there. One of their recommendations was a Hong Kong Sunday brunch, so we booked into David Yeo's Aqua for a Champagne Infinity Brunch, which we thought sounded like something we might fancy after a long-haul journey.


After a 13 hour flight to Chinese Guangzhou, a bustling train ride into Hong Kong and an off-the-scale humid taxi ride, we stumbled into the tranquility of Aqua, backpacks 'n' all. In hindsight, we must have been quite a sight, but the accommodating staff took our backpacker attire to the cloakroom without any fuss and showed us to our table. Without a fraction of a doubt: every jet lagged visitor to Hong Kong should experience a Hong Kong Champagne Sunday Brunch on their first morning in the place.


For $598HK a head, which equates to around £50, guests enjoy a limitless selection of dishes served fresh to tables with G.H.Mumm Cordon Rouge champagne, a choice of red or white wines and a selection of cocktails. Add to this the stunning view over Hong Kong's Victoria harbour - Aqua's situated on the 29th and 30th floors at One Peking Road in southern Kowloon's Tsim Sha Tsui and features floor-to-ceiling glass windows - and it makes for an extremely indulgent experience.


We're not usually ones to splash out £50 on a meal, but in this case we'd certainly say it was worth the money. Aqua was named one of the 'Hottest 100 Tables in the World' by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, and we can definitely understand why. 

The food itself is Italian-Japanese fusion, named 'Aqua Roma' and 'Aqua Tokyo': a slightly odd concept, the trick is just to go with it. After a starter of edamame beans and a glass (or three) of champagne, we started with a sushi and sashimi platter, which A in particular lapped up. Fresh raw fish and a sushi selection was presented absolutely beautifully, and made for a great appetiser.


Next came the slightly heftier Italian antipasto platter: this was more C's thing, and she made short work of the fine sliced parma ham served with creamy buffalo mozzarella, rock melon and fresh leaves. 


Then we were onto the pasta section: three wonderfully presented and equally appetising dishes. C's favourite was the Paccheri "Verrigni" - a large, hollow, tube-shaped type of pasta - cooked perfectly al dente and tossed in an aromatic duck ragout infused with orange and rosemary. To say it was tasty is an understatement: C made the most of the 'infinity' element by ordering a second serving and finishing that off as well. 


A's favourite of the pasta selection was the homemade ravioli, filled with puree of carrot and tossed in a spicy gorgonzola cream with balsamic syrup. Again, this was perfectly al dente and the unusual hot gorgonzola cream guaranteed to appeal to any open-minded fans of both blue cheese and spice. We also enjoyed the perfectly cooked, creamy risotto with wild mushroom and 24 month aged Parmigiano.


Next, we were onto the mains. Our stomachs were already pleasantly full, but the selection of six - of which we initially were asked to choose one each, and then given the option to order any further dishes we wanted after this - all sounded appealing. After much deliberation, A went for the pan fried pork loin ginger teriyaki, which didn't disappoint with the depth and strength of flavour and texture. 


C opted for a simpler, Western dish of roasted free range spring chicken with sauteed spinach, roasted potato and a light spicy sauce, which was cooked to perfection and was tender yet moist. In particular, she was impressed by how well the spinach was done: there was no hint of sogginess which so often puts her off the vegetable. 


We ended the meal with an extra main: a grilled beef tenderloin with spring onions. Impressed by its presentation, the taste of the meat lived up to expectations too, and although simple the dish was one of the stand-outs in terms of flavour.


And lastly, we were onto desserts: a selection of five, once again presented beautifully. It's worth noting that Aqua clearly pays more attention to its savoury mains and antipasti than its dessert offerings as these failed to live up to quite the standard set by the earlier courses. However, that's not to say that they weren't great: A was a fan of the tiramisu, while C was intrigued by the extremely sour lemon sorbet (just her kind of thing) and the oozing chocolate pot.


There's no rushing in this restaurant: you can order food up until 3pm, and then finish eating and continue drinking for as long as you like. We believe we left around 5pm, although our memories are admittedly a little hazy after a good five hours drinking. Suffice it to say that if you're ever in Hong Kong, head to Aqua and experience their Infinity Brunch: you won't regret it. 

There's also an Aqua in London, although we haven't been to it: given the experience at its Hong Kong counterpart, though, it might be one for us to check out very soon.