Monday, 31 December 2007

New Year's Eve Masochism

I love Peking Duck. Proper Peking Duck. I first experienced a typical 3 course duck menu in Hong Kong when I was about 12 and I still remember it well. It was in the Rainbow Room of the Lee Gardens Hotel and Dad had to order it a day in advance. This was no dry stringy duck affair. The flesh was moist and juicy. The skin was glistening and crisp. Since then I've had some great duck experiences. BBQ King in Sydney is great, although we just had the pancake course there. We went to a couple of restaurants in Beijing including Da Dong where they carve the duck at the table into about 40 pieces. It's a real spectacle. In London, China Tang at the Dorchester must offer one of the most authentic Peking Duck experiences and at over £50 a duck, so it should.

So when Heston did his perfect Peking Duck I watched with interest and shelved my plans for a simple New Year's Eve dinner of cold meats and cheese. 2008 is going to be a really challenging year, so hey, why not say goodbye to 2007 with something simple?

Because I'm a sucker for punishment, that's why.

So here it is. Heston's 3 course Peking Duck recipe. I've been doing a few searches on the www and I can't find any mere mortal who has attempted it yet. The BBC website for "Perfection" invites readers to send in photos of their attempts to recreate the featured recipes. Unsurprisingly there are not too many: a couple of Baked Alaskas and a DIY Tandoor.

In this recipe, Heston uses grams for both solid and liquid measurements for pinpoint accuracy. To weigh liquids, any suitable container can be placed on digital scales and the scales reset to zero.

For the ducks
2 whole ducks, preferably Silver Hill breed
For the consommé
750g/1lb 10½oz reserved chicken wings, chopped into small pieces
1.2kg/2lb 10¼oz pork spare ribs, cut into 2½cm/1in pieces
reserved duck carcasses, wing tips, necks, extra meat and trimmings, chopped into small pieces
40g/1½oz fresh ginger, thinly sliced
60g/2¼oz spring onions, sliced
90g/3¼oz Shaoxing rice wine or fino sherry
For the consommé infusion and ice filtration
1kg/2¼lb finished stock (reserve any extra for future use)
20g/¾oz fresh ginger, sliced
2½g/¼oz Sichuan peppercorns
2g¼oz Sichuan chillies, roasted
2g/¼oz cinnamon stick
4g/¼oz star anise
10g/½oz spring onions
For the duck confit
42g/1½oz star anise
24g/¾oz ground ginger
12g/½oz Sichuan peppercorns
12g/½oz cinnamon stick
6g/¼oz cardamom
150g/5¼oz sel gris or coarse sea salt
1 mandarin orange, zest only
4 reserved duck legs
rendered duck fat
For the pickled cucumber
50g/1¾oz water
75g/2½oz white wine vinegar
25g/1oz sugar
1 English cucumber
For the pancake garnish
reserved middle section of cucumber
1 bunch spring onions
For the duck crown
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole star anise
3 whole cloves
10 coriander seeds
5 black peppercorns
60g/2¼oz salt
1kg/2lb 3¼oz water
For the crispy skin
reserved sheets of duck skin
125g/4½oz malt extract (maltose, available from health food shops)
25g/1oz rice wine vinegar
75g/2½oz wood chips, ideally cherrywood
For finishing the duck and skin
reserved unfiltered stock from the muslin, plus sufficient water to make 2kg/4lb 6½oz liquid in total
1 reserved brined duck crown
2 sheets prepared duck skin
2kg/4lb 6½oz grapeseed oil or other vegetable oil
For serving the pancakes
reserved sliced duck breast
reserved crispy skin
reserved cucumber batons and spring onion ribbons
Peking duck or hoisin sauce, such as Lee Kum Kee's
18-20 pancakes (available from supermarkets and oriental grocers)
For the mushrooms and aromatics
140g/5oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced 2cm/1in thick
15g/½oz fresh ginger, finely julienned
50g/1¾oz spring onion, finely julienned
25g/1oz shallot, minced
5g/¼oz garlic, minced
2g/¼oz Sichuan chillies, de-seeded and sliced
2 Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
1 small fresh red chilli, thinly sliced
For the glaze
65g/2½oz white port
50g/1¾oz Shaoxing rice wine or fino sherry
500g/1lb 2oz reserved cooking broth (from the crown poaching liquid)
3½g/¼oz fresh ginger, thinly sliced
2g/¼oz star anise, crushed
sherry vinegar, to taste
For serving the duck confit
grapeseed oil or groundnut oil
reserved mushrooms and aromatics
reserved glaze
reserved shredded duck confit
soy sauce
sesame oil
1 head iceberg lettuce, separated into individual leaves
For the braised shiitake mushrooms
4 large shiitake mushrooms
25g/1oz grapeseed or groundnut oil
30g/1oz mirin
100g/3½oz reserved duck consommé
10g/½oz light soy sauce
For the dumplings
200g/7oz reserved duck meat (taken from one of the reserved breasts)
½ tsp salt
120g/4¼oz finely minced leek
120g/4¼oz finely minced savoy cabbage
25g/1oz unsalted butter
1½ tsp skimmed milk powder
60g/2¼oz duck fat
50g/1¾oz free-range egg
14g/½oz soy sauce
25g/1oz sesame oil
15g/½oz fresh ginger, finely chopped
50g/1¾oz spring onion, finely chopped
½ tsp freshly ground and sifted black pepper
12 thin, round wonton wrappers (available at Asian grocers)
For serving the consommé with dumplings
800g/1lb 12¼oz finished consommé
4 reserved braised shiitake mushrooms
12 reserved dumplings
12 slices of reserved pickled cucumber
12 reserved spring onion ribbons
8 drops jasmine essential oil

You will need the following specialist equipment: mandoline, pressure cooker, bamboo steamer, food processor, barding needle, butcher's string, kitchen shears, wire rack wrapped in muslin, oven thermometer, digital probe.

1. Remove the giblets from the ducks. Reserve everything except the livers for the consommé, then rinse the cavity of the birds.
2. Remove the head, neck and wing tips of both birds, cutting as close to the body as you can without damaging the skin on the breast. Reserve the head, neck and wing tips for the consommé.
3. To remove the skin from the birds, begin by using a paring knife to cut through the tendons at the bottom joint of the legs.
4. Working with one duck at a time, cut a slit through the skin on the back, running from the top to the bottom of the bird. Using a pair of kitchen shears, remove the parson's nose.
5. Use your knife to gently free the skin from the flesh. Begin by peeling back the skin on both sides of the long cut. When you reach the legs and wings turn the bird over on to its back and continue peeling the skin away from the wings and then from the legs. Do your best to keep the skin intact and in one piece. Repeat this process with the other duck.
6. Remove the legs from the ducks by popping each joint from its hip socket and then cutting it away from the body. Reserve the legs for the confit.
7. Remove the wings in a similar fashion - by popping them from their sockets and then cutting them away from the body.
8. Reserve the wings for the consommé. Chop the bones and reserve for the consommé.
9. Take one duck and use kitchen shears to cut through the ribs, separating the breast from the back. Cut close to the breast and then cut through to the neck. The idea is to have a clean separation between the breasts on the bone and the ribs, back and neck. Reserve this 'crown' of breast and the back for the first course.
10. Remove the wishbone from the crown by carefully cutting along it with your knife, then using your fingers to prise it loose.
11. Take the other duck and remove the breast meat with your knife. Reserve 200g/7oz of this meat for the dumplings and use the rest in the consommé.
12. Reserve the butchered carcasses of the ducks for the consommé.

1. Put half of all the meats and trimmings, half the aromatics and half the Shaoxing rice wine in a pressure cooker and add 1½kg/3lb 5oz of water.
2. Cook under full pressure for one hour, then remove from the heat and allow the pressure cooker to cool.
3. Strain the stock and repeat this process a second time with the remainder of the ingredients, but use the previously made stock instead of water.
4. Strain the finished stock and reserve.

1. Bring the finished stock back to a simmer.
2. Remove from the heat and add all the aromatics. Infuse for about ten minutes.
3. Pour the stock into the largest flat-bottomed container you have. Refrigerate until it gels, then transfer to the freezer until completely solid.
4. Once the stock is frozen, dip the container into a sink filled with warm water. As soon as the edges of the stock melt, tip the frozen block on to a muslin-lined perforated tray and sit this in a larger container. Place in the fridge and let the stock slowly melt over 24 hours (don't try to speed it up). During this time the ice and gelatin will naturally filter the stock and you will be left with a crystal clear consommé in the container underneath the perforated tray. In the muslin on top of the tray will be the remaining filtrate, still icy and filled with gelatin.
5. Pour off the consommé into a clean container and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
6. Reserve the contents of the muslin for poaching the duck meat for the duck with pancakes.

1. Place all the spices in a blender and grind to a coarse powder.
2. Mix the spices with the salt and the mandarin zest.
3. Put the duck legs in a container and surround them with the spice-salt mixture. Set aside for 12 hours. Remove them from the salt and wash very thoroughly.
4. Preheat the oven to 65C/150F/Gas ¼. Place the duck legs in a roasting pan, cover with duck fat and cook in the oven for 6-8 hours. If you don't have a convection oven, set your oven to the lowest it will go. You may need to jam the door open and use an oven thermometer to ensure you get the required temperature.
5. Cool the cooked duck legs to room temperature, then remove them from the fat. Using your hands, pull off the leg meat and shred it into fine strands. Reserve this for the stir-fry.

1. Place the water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and cool the mixture to room temperature.
2. Use a mandoline to slice thin rounds from either end of the cucumber, where it has fewer seeds. Stop when you get to the thicker part where there are more seeds. Reserve the middle of the cucumber to serve with the crispy pancake portion of the meal.
3. Place the cucumber slices in a small container and fill with the pickling liquid. Cover the container and refrigerate for at least six hours. (This can be done several days in advance). Use when serving the dumpling dish.

1. Peel the cucumber and cut it in half lengthways. Use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds.
2. Cut the cucumber into batons roughly 5cm/2in long and ½cm/¼in square.
3. Trim both ends of the spring onions. Cut the remainder into lengths roughly 5cm/2in long, then cut these lengthways into thin ribbons. Set aside for the pancakes, but reserve 12 strands for the finished consommé.

1. Place the cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, coriander seeds and peppercorns in a saucepan with the salt and water and bring to the boil.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the spices to infuse for ten minutes.
3. Pour the mixture into a container large enough to hold the duck crown.
4. Submerge the duck crown in the brine and cover the container. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
5. Drain off the brine and fill the container with cold water. Soak the duck for two hours, changing the water every 15 minutes, to remove any excess salt from the meat.
6. Remove the crown from the water, blot it dry with kitchen paper and refrigerate until needed.

1. Take the two sheets of duck skin and spread them out on a cutting board with the external side facing up.
2. Using a sharp knife, trim both sheets into a rectangular shape.
3. Place each sheet of skin, external side up, on a metal cooling rack, and stretch out as far as possible without tearing. Use a barding needle and butcher's string to stitch the skin to the racks around the edges. The skin should be fully stretched out, but not pulled so taut that it will rip away from the string when it contracts during the cooking process.
4. Use a fine needle to prick tiny holes all over the surface of the skin, but be careful - don't push the needle through the skin. The lightly punctured surface will allow moisture and fat to escape.
5. Preheat a convection oven to 60C/140F/Gas ¼. Place the racks on foil-lined baking sheets and cook the skin for three hours.
6. In the meantime, warm the malt extract in a small pan until it is very liquid, then whisk in the vinegar.
7. Remove the skin sheets from the oven and use kitchen paper to blot away any moisture on the surface of the skin. Increase the oven temperature to 170C/320F/Gas 3.
8. Brush the skins with a thin, even coating of the warm malt mixture.
9. While the oven is heating, take the wood chips and wrap them in foil. Heat the package in a sauté pan until the chips begin to smoke, then place in the hot oven. Put the skins in the oven with the smoking chips for approximately 15 minutes.
10. Remove the skins and set aside. Discard the used wood chips.

1. Place the stock in a pan and heat until melted. Skim off any oil on the surface. Add the water and heat to 70C/160F, using a digital probe to check the temperature and keep it constant.
2. When the temperature stabilises, insert the probe into the thickest part of the duck crown. (Ideally, use two probes to monitor both the liquid temperature and the meat temperature during cooking.)
3. Submerge the duck in the hot broth and poach the meat until its internal temperature reaches 70C/160F.
4. Remove the crown from the liquid and leave to rest in a warm spot for ten minutes.
5. Reserve 500g/1lb 2oz of the poaching liquid for the stir-fry.
6. After resting, place the crown on a cutting board and remove each breast from the bone.
7. While the duck breasts are resting, place the racks of skin in a large roasting pan.
8. Heat the oil to 190C/375F and use a ladle to pour it over the skin. It's helpful to hold each rack at a steep angle and let the oil run down the skin and collect in the roasting tray. Continue until the skin becomes puffed and crispy and has taken on a rich colour. (You might need to return the oil to the saucepan and reheat it during this process.)
9. Transfer the racks to a work surface and snip off the butcher's string.
10. Place the crispy sheets of skin on a cutting board and cut into strips. Place on a platter and keep warm.
11. Slice the breasts thinly and fan them out on a serving platter.

1. Steam the pancakes (allow 4-5 per person) in a bamboo steamer. Serve these in the steamer basket along with the platters of duck skin and meat, the cucumber batons, spring onions and the Peking or hoisin sauce.

1. Prepare all the ingredients as listed and reserve.

1. Pour the port and wine into a saucepan and gently bring to a simmer. Carefully set the alcohol alight and let the flame burn out while simmering.
2. Add the broth and reduce the liquid to a consistency that coats the back of a spoon.
3. Remove from the heat and add the aromatics for a few minutes, then strain the stock through a fine sieve. Adjust the acidity with the sherry vinegar. Set aside to finish the dish.

1. Heat a wok or a large sauté pan until very hot.
2. Add a small amount of grapeseed oil, the peppercorns and chillies, and swirl to coat the pan lightly. Add the mushrooms, ginger, spring onion, shallot and garlic, and quickly stir-fry to keep them from burning.
3. When the mushrooms have started to wilt and the pan smells very fragrant, deglaze the pan with about ¾ of the glaze, then add the shredded confit.
4. Bring the pan to a simmer to warm the meat through. Add more glaze if necessary (it should just coat the meat and vegetables).
5. When everything is hot, remove the pan from the heat and add the soy sauce and sesame oil to taste. It's important not to add the sesame oil until the very last moment or the nutty aroma will be lost.
6. Serve with the iceberg lettuce. The stir-fry can be wrapped up in lettuce.

1. Remove the stems from the mushrooms, and cut straight across the caps to remove the gills and create a smooth surface. Discard the stems.
2. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over a medium heat, then sear the flat side of the mushroom caps until lightly browned.
3. Use kitchen paper to blot up any excess oil in the pan, then deglaze with the mirin.
4. Reduce the mirin until it thickens and coats the mushrooms.
5. Add the consommé and simmer for about three minutes, until it thickens and glazes the mushrooms too.
6. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mushrooms to a container to cool. Refrigerate until needed.

1. Refrigerate the duck meat and the bowl and blade of a food processor.
2. Blend 20g/¾oz of the meat to a paste and mix it with the salt (this will help to extract the protein from the meat, which is necessary for a good texture). Refrigerate for one hour.
3. In the meantime, sweat the leek and cabbage in butter until very soft. Reserve.
4. After one hour, blend the salted meat with 125g/4½oz of the fresh meat and the skimmed milk powder. Purée this in the cold food processor. Chop the remaining duck meat into very small pieces.
5. Add the fat, the egg, the soy sauce and the sesame oil. Process with the meat.
6. When the meat is a fine paste remove it from the food processor and fold in the sweated leeks and cabbage, the minced ginger, the spring onions, the black pepper and the chopped duck meat.
7. Place the wonton wrappers on a work surface. Roll 15g/¼oz of the meat into balls and place one in the middle of each wrapper. Wet the outer edge of the wrappers, then gather them around the meat and pinch closed at the top. Place on a tray covered with a damp paper towel and reserve in the refrigerator until needed.

1. Put the consommé in a pan and heat until hot.
2. Meanwhile, cut each mushroom into several thin slices and fan these out in the bottom of four warm serving bowls.
3. Poach the dumplings over the consommé for eight minutes, then sit three of them on the mushrooms in each bowl.
4. Drain the pickled cucumber and place the slices on a cutting board. Cut a slit from the middle to the edge of each round, cutting through the skin. Roll the rounds into a cone shape and place on dumplings. Garnish with the ribbons of spring onions.
5. Heat the bowls. Place two drops of jasmine essential oil on the rim of each hot bowl and use kitchen paper to wipe the oil around the rim.
6. Pour 200g/7oz of hot consommé into each bowl and serve immediately.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Christmas Cheer

Well I'm back in London after spending Christmas in Birmingham with the family. We had a great time as usual and had some wonderful food and drank what seemed like vats of Pomerol,Chambolle Musigny, and of course, Champagne.

This year Father Christmas didn't have too much trouble working out what I wanted for Christmas and there was definitely a theme running through my presents. It also became clear that blogging is a seriously useful tool for ensuring you end up with presents you want. This year we received a gift voucher to experience the Tasting Menu and stay overnight at Restaurant Sat Bains so someone may have been peeking at the "Restaurants I want eat at" column of my blog. Nice one. Emilie got me a voucher to use at Pages (yay!) and all the professional kit I need for my course which starts on the 7th of January.

I also received Heston Blumenthal's latest book and this will be put to good use immediately as I have decided to undertake the mammoth three course Peking Duck bonanza for dinner on New Year's Eve. It has over 80 steps to complete and I know that's completely insane when I could just order one from the Chinese takeaway in 15 minutes but I'm actually quite looking forward to the challenge. I'll be starting the process today in order to get everything ready for Monday evening. More on this to come, but firstly I need to find a couple of ducks...

Thursday, 20 December 2007

The water in Majorca don't taste like cloud juice

On this week's Dragon's Den, a pair of young inventors pitched a revolutionary product that could really save lives. The idea in development is a water transporter on wheels which acts not only as a vessel for getting the vital liquid from one place to another, but also filters the water via reverse osmosis powered by the revolution of the wheels. All five Dragons were so impressed that they each put £10k into the pot to support the project. During the polished presentation, an interesting question came up.

"How much does a unit cost to make?"

"About £20"

"Is that affordable in places like Bangladesh?"

"No, to the end user that price is prohibitively expensive, but we're aiming our product at support networks and charities like the Red Cross."

So, £20 makes a potentially life saving product prohibitively expensive in developing nations.

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Observer about the £25bn bottled water market and it nearly had me screaming my angry head off on a slow-moving, freezing cold train home from Worcester. In my eyes, bottled water is right up there with (but not quite surpassing) celebrity perfumes as triumphs of marketing over need. If celebrity perfume is Satan's sweat, then bottled water is his spit. Sadly nowadays, it's not just drinking mineral water that says something about you, it's the brand of mineral water that matters (apparently).

Proof that we're living in a ridiculously spoilt society comes in the form of a number of premium waters hitting the market, complete with ludicrous marketing spiel to justify the exorbitant price tag. King Island Cloud Juice (d'you see what they did there?) from Tasmania is "Rainwater bottled from 'the cleanest weather in the world" and a snip at £9 a bottle. Elsenham at £12 a bottle is "The perfect accompaniment to fried food and full-bodied wines, Elsenham's artesian spring water is rich in minerals and low in sodium. Around 20 years old and sourced from a deep chalk aquifer. Totally pure." Bling H20 is $40 a bottle but it does come with Swarovski crystals on the bottle. Oh that's ok then.

Bling H20: the water for arses

Who buys into this nonsense? What sad individual thinks that being seen with a bottle of Fiji water is cool? How can this market exist when so many countries don't even have regular access to any form of clean water? Why does the restaurant industry continue to shove bottled water down consumers' necks with the near obligatory opening gambit of " Would you prefer still or sparkling for the table?" I was happy to see that Wahaca donates all the profits from bottled water sales to clean water projects and that should be an example to everyone. A carafe of filtered tap water should be readily available on every restaurant table so that the diner has to ask specially for bottled water if they want it. They do it in Australia so why not here?

So what next in this celebrity obsessed, profit hungry world? Well for me the future is as clear as a glass of Perrier. Celebrity Water. Katie Price and Peter Andre will be out in the back garden with their divining rods before you know it. DVB will start blending the water from their estates in LA and Hertfordshire and produce a "For Him" and "For Her" range. Russian oligarchs will leave Kensington and Chelsea and start buying large swathes of Georgian Spa towns like Bath and Cheltenham. And Bling H20 will be taken over by P Diddy who will filter his own urine and market it as "Essence" by Sean John. Kate Moss will then follow suit but will skip the filtration stage and sell her water complete with performance enhancing minerals.

And then we will all wake up, go to that odd metal thing hanging over the kitchen sink and pour ourselves a glass of tap water, and realise that it's all been one big nightmare.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

A Heston Christmas

I just sat through an hour of Heston's Christmas Perfection with the biggest grin on my face. The man is a god. How I wish I was eating that food...

Loin of Pork & Pork Tonnato

Since Kim Libretto first supplied me with his gargantuan pork chops, I've been returning on a regular basis to sample different parts of the Essex-bred free range pigs that he sells. I wasn't surprised that the belly was so flavoursome given the layers of fat that sandwiched the meat, and I've since put in an order to take 3kg back to Birmingham with me next week. Last week I bought a loin joint for roasting and once again, it didn't disappoint. I bought twice the amount needed to make the roast worthwhile but also to use the cold leftovers for an Italian dish of Pork Tonnato.

As part of my foodie quiz at Albion I'd bought a Romanesco for the teams to identify, and not really knowing what to do with it, I decided to create a gratin with a nice mature cheddar cheese sauce. It looked very unusual, like the tips of fir trees peaking through freshly fallen snow high up in the Alps.

I found a recipe for Pork Tonnato in the River Cafe cookbook and it really is a simple and tasty way to use up cold cuts of pork. Simply slice the pork very thinly, cover with tinned tuna, make a mayonnaise flavoured with capers and anchovies, and Roberto is your avuncolo.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Another Pages Fan

I was interested to read that Alex James, formerly of Blur, has the same obsession as I do with the catering supplier Pages on Shaftsbury Avenue. In yesterday's OFM, his column accurately captures the sentiment I feel when I wander around the aisles of Pages on those regular occasions that I'm killing time in the West End. I discussed it in an earlier post on this blog and most recently popped in last week when I really should have been Christmas shopping for other people. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't find anyone on my list who was in need of an industrial sized Turkey baster and so I left empty handed for once, wishing that I could direct Santa there to pick up a few things for me to open on Christmas day.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

No going back

This week I sent off a rather large cheque to Leiths to pay for my course which starts on January 7th. I was sent order forms for my whites and knives and they have been schnaffled away by a very kind Santa who will be delivering them to the school ready for my first day of training. I think I've now covered most of the techniques that are taught during term one, my breadmaking is becoming more consistent, and I have knocked up a couple of cakes including my first Victoria sponge. Every night, my very own Jeremy Paxman tests me on the difference between chopping brunoise, julienne, paysanne and jardiniere and I hope that by early January I will be at a satisfactory level to hold my own alongside my fellow starters.

On Thursday I was invited by Albion, a lovely advertising agency where I did my final freelance stint, to come in and give a talk about my career change. It was lovely to see them all again because they are genuinely some of the nicest people I've worked with in the advertising industry and they have been really supportive of what I'm planning to do. Instead of a standard talk I decided to host a foodie quiz and we did some cheese tasting and had some fun games of trying to identify spices by their aroma. I brought along some strange fruits and vegetables that I picked up at Borough Market and they had to name cuts of beef from a diagram of a cow. I really enjoyed myself and it was lovely talking to a group about something I'm genuinely passionate about. In return I was presented with a new cookery book, Beyond Nose to Tail, which is the follow-up to Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating. I've only eaten once at St John and it was a bizarre experience. Some of the recipes in the book are off the wall. I'm not sure I'll be rushing to cook braised squirrel anytime soon!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Easy Fish

Not much to write about these two classics except that they're simple and pretty!

Wild Alaskan Salmon with Buttered Leeks and Watercress Sauce

Moules a la creme and homebaked bread

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Review: Chez Bruce

Like the Venture In in Ombersely, Chez Bruce is also housed in a building with history. Years ago, it was occupied by a savage despot who struck fear in those around him. Fist fights were common, neanderthal brawling almost the norm. The year was 1988 and Marco Pierre White was in the kitchen of Harveys.

These days the atmosphere in this Wandsworth restaurant is far more tranquil. Chez Bruce has occupied the site since 1995 and despite the lack of controversy and tabloid headlines, it has maintained a reputation for superior cuisine which its predecessor Harveys had initiated on the site. True, it hasn't reached the three Michelin star heights that Marco achieved, but its one star is testament to the quality of cooking in what is essentially a local, neighbourhood restaurant.

Last week we returned to Chez Bruce after a gap of over 6 years. The last time we went we'd probably had a few too many aperatifs before dinner so consequently didn't manage to appreciate the great food that was put before us. Such a shame. This time though, we were determined to savour every mouthful and we weren't disappointed. It was also inspiring to learn that the kitchen at Chez Bruce is now in the hands of a Leiths graduate, and who knows, when I finish my diploma perhaps I could aspire to such heights.

Despite trying to choose different starters, we were both drawn to a gratin of spatzle, chestnuts,and wild hare. Chief Taster was nostalgic for her childhood in Germany and so was desperate for the little noodle dumplings which I had never tried before. I was eager for something meaty before my fish main course and the gamey hare was the perfect option.

Our mains were terrific. Having regretted not ordering fish at the Venture In, I plumped for halibut with scallops, potato gnocchi and jerusalem artichoke puree. It was out of this world and surprisingly lifted by a fairly meaty sauce. Emilie followed her hare starter with more game. Her main of Anjou pigeon with red cabbage, sauce poivrade, honey, walnuts and foie gras was wintery perfection, the perfect plate of food to send you off into four months of hibernation with a grin on the face. I'm a big fan of the concept of hibernation and may start a campaign for human equality with hedgehogs. I hope one day to watch Blue Peter and see humans wrapped in straw and packed away in boxes for the winter. Basically I just want to sleep for a few months, avoid Christmas, and get up when its warm again.

I love Chez Bruce like I love Chapter One in Bromley. Both are worthy of their Michelin stars and both have that unpretentiousness that sets neighbourhood restaurants apart from their snooty west end brethren. Hopefully it will not be another 6 years before we are back in Wandsworth.