Thursday, 28 February 2008


There may come a time, and I'm hoping it's not in the near future, when I'm lying in a hospital bed following a triple heart bypass. I slowly awaken from the anaesthetic and in the mild confusion that follows, I wonder how I came to be in this strange place. Then I remember the first Genoise I made. I remember going to the scales in the kitchen and weighing out 280g of butter for the icing alone, looking at the yellow brick of fat, and thinking, 'that can't be good for you.' Then I remember whisking sweet meringue into the butter, plastering a slick of chocolate icing all over the sponge, and pressing praline into the sides. Then memories of chocolate fill my head, delicate curls scraped from the thinnest, darkest sheet to decorate the top. The day I made that Genoise, the day I had three, no four slices of the lightest sponge with the buttery-est icing in the space of three hours, that was the day that would put me on the path to the intensive care unit.

It was worth it.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Chelsea Buns

On the menu today were Chelsea Buns which rather disappointingly wasn't an exercise in using a turning knife to recreate young Miss Clinton's buttcheeks out of a nectarine. I'm not sure why Chelsea Buns are so called but I can't think that the name comes from that particular part of London. Just look at them. They're so unassuming, so down-to-earth, a little bit mumsy even. You can't imagine one in the passenger seat of an open top Ferrari cruising down the Kings Road, stereo blaring, sunglasses on, shouting "check me out, I'm a Chelsea bun!" It would be Like Delia Smith in head-to-toe Versace. It just wouldn't pull it off.

"You're not a Chelsea bun", onlookers would shout back, "you're a Wimbledon bun. Go back to your family home and darn some socks!" Maybe that or something in Arabic. Or Russian. Or Italian. Ciao!

I'm sure the likes of Jemima Khan and Tara Palmer Tompkinson would turn their noses up at a doughy Chelsea Bun and head straight for a dainty bit of patisserie. I can't really see Roman Abramovich tucking into a plateful in the Directors' Box at Stamford Bridge either. So why oh why are they called Chelsea Buns? I think it must be because technically, Chelsea Buns are made with an enriched dough, and Kensington and Chelsea is the most enriched borough of London. However unlike the denizens of Old Church Street and Cheyne Walk, Chelsea Buns are not enriched by diamonds, daddy's money, or shady oil deals, but larger quantities of sugar and butter which means that although they may not look that flash, they do have very good taste.

Unlike some people you might see in SW3.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Aldo Zilli, you rock!

Congratulations to London chef Aldo Zilli for banning bottled water from his restaurants. As many of you will have seen, I wrote a post on bottled water craziness last year and I'm really happy to see that it (the topic, not my post!) has become a subject of debate in the national media over the past few weeks. I hope that Aldo Zilli is not the only chef to put the environment before profits, and that we will see other restaurants following suit very soon. Apparently the fact that it takes seven litres of water to make the plastic container for a single bottle of water was what swayed it for Signor Zilli.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Black Pudding Brunch

When the head is pounding, when the mouth is dry, when hazy memories of the previous night's excesses dribble back into semi-consciousness, there is nothing that sates an alcohol-induced appetite better than congealed pig's blood. Life comes back into focus after a couple of slices, crispy on the outside but moist in the middle, propped up by thick wedges of crusty white bread and caramelised apples. A rich yellow river of egg yolk slowly oozes down and over the jagged edges of the blood sausage like molten lava creeping over mountain rocks. Its path is anything but destructive.

It revives.

Hello weekend, I'm so glad your here.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Review: Benares

So I'm sitting on the tube reading The London Paper on my way to Benares and I spot that the lovely Natalie Portman had dined there the previous evening. This filled me with equal parts sadness and joy. Sadness that I had missed her and that it was unlikely that she would dine at the same place two nights in a row. Joy that Benares attracts such Hollywood A-listers and that the night might still throw up some good sleb spotting potential.

Benares is seriously swanky. To get there you walk through Berkeley Square, past the Bentley garage and the Ferraris parked outside. A top-hatted doorman ushers you inside and you go upstairs past a lily filled indoor pond and into the bar. Atul Kochhar, a man I've admired since watching The Great British Menu, is chatting to some smart looking people and we walk by into the restaurant itself. From his TV appearances Atul seems unlike most other "Celebrity Chefs" in that he is quiet. You can't imagine him effing and blinding like Ramsay, or throwing people out of his restaurant like MPW. He has this aura of calmness and control which it has to be said, is perfectly mirrored by the decor and atmosphere of his restaurant.

Around us, the room is filling up with suits. Lawyers, money men, business dinners. No Natalie Portman, no Charlize Theron. It's early though. There's still plenty of time.

The menu looks great and includes a few dishes that feature in Atul's book Simple Indian. Starters include Pan-Fried Potato Cakes and at the top of the main courses is Meen Molee, or Sea Bass in Coconut and Ginger which I made myself a few weeks ago and is pictured above.

I'm going to say right now that I spent the night suffering from serious food envy. Envious of the crisp soft shell crab with squid salad to my right. Envious of the simple potato cakes with Egyptian hummus to my left. Envious of the roast rump of lamb with rosemary and garlic chickpeas across the table. They all looked and tasted great, and the soft shell crab had my Dad in raptures. On the other hand my starter of spice crusted scallops with grape and mint dressing was beautiful to look at, but seriously lacking the mouth-stimulating spice I'd hoped for. It was, dare I say it, a bit bland. The Hyderabadi Speciality of Slow-cooked Basmati Rice and Lamb had an overwhelming flavour of saffron that swamped all of the other spices in the dish. It was ok, but certainly not special. I guess I just chose badly on the night, because everything else was fantastic. Sometimes it happens that way.

As we prepared to leave, a celebrity couple sat down at the table next to us. Was it Tom and Katie? Posh and Becks? Madonna and Guy? Not quite. It was the Two Hairy Bikers who were indeed very hairy, but unfortunatly not on their bikes.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Love is...

Every year the 14th of February comes around and the air is filled with romance and the sound of cash registers going into overdrive. Shop windows are awash with red, radio DJs dedicate back-to-back Westlife for Tracy in Dagenham, and rom coms litter the TV schedules like rose petals across a suburban bedroom floor.

Office girls up and down the country survey reception desks like hawks, hoping that the next bouquet to be delivered will be for them. Packed tube trains are filled with self-conscious Romeos trying to protect the fragile heads of the floral gifts that they have just remembered to pick up for their awaiting Juliets.

In neighbourhood restaurants, whispering couples dine cheek by jowl on fixed price menus as waiters take bets on which table will host the first argument of the night. Meanwhile in the kitchen, pastry chefs hide engagement rings at the bottom of the tiramisu as restaurant owners brush up on the heimlich manoeuvre and have 999 on speed dial. It's a day of pressure, and for many, bitter disappointment.

Which is why love isn't paying the 1000% price increase for a dozen red roses on Valentine's Day. Love is sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting "la la la la la la!" when Angels is played for the millionth time on Heart FM. Love is quickly turning the page of the Metro when you get to the double page spread on buying edible underwear for that special someone. Love is romance on any other day but the 14th of February. Love is pate sucree, creme patissiere, and a little raspberry tartlet on the 16th.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Stress? What stress?

According to a Kings College report, being a head chef in a large restaurant is one of the most stressful jobs you can do.

I can totally see how cheffing could be described as stressful. When those tickets are racking up on the pass, service is in full flow, and a whole dining room is waiting for its grub. It's no wonder that tempers get frayed and people begin to lose it a bit. But is it at stressful as neurosurgery, air traffic control, or teaching in a failing inner city comprehensive?

Personally I think the most stressful job in the world is none of the above. Nor is it firefighting, running the country, or leading the army. It's designing toothbrushes. Imagine your job is to come up with new innovations in toothbrush design. Your success depends on finding something totally original that no other toothbrush company has thought of yet. Every day you sit at your drawing board working on head size, neck angle, bristle density, tongue scraping accoutrements, and shaft flexibility all in the knowledge that you're only as good as your last brush and your job's on the line if you don't come up with something to present to the MD soon.

How about a battery-powered, vibrating head? That'll be the Oral B Pulsar with patented micro pulse technology. What about rubber bristles down the sides of the head to stimulate the gums. Sorry, The Cross-Action Massager got there first. I know, stick a textured tongue scraper on the back of the head...Doh! The Oral B Advantage Breath Refresh beat you to it. I just love the names of these toothbrushes. Colgate has The Navigator, The Whitening, and The Twister which sound more like white knuckle rides at Alton Towers than dental hygiene products. Prepare yourselves for THE ENAMELATOR, THE PLAQTIVATOR and THE BRUSH OF DOOM!

Why am I writing about these things? Well I happened to find something at the bottom of a shopping trolley the other day that looked so futuristic, I wasn't sure if it was a toothbrush or a next generation ipod with built-in dental cleaner. It had "wiper technology" a "dual wave head", a "unique ball-joint" and "X-Active plaque cleaning bristles". Pardon me? Yes, X-Active cleaning bristles, you know, the ones that you use with Extreme Clean toothpaste with micro-active foam. Oh yes, micro-active foam, now I know what you're talking about. How did an item so simple become so over-engineered? William Addis, the eighteenth century designer of the first mass-produced toothbrush would be scratching (or brushing) his head in wonder.

So next time you're getting stressed over delivering another powerpoint presentation to a bunch of clients or worried about another dinner service for a group of VIPs, spare a thought for Mr Toothbrush Designer who is crumpled over a sketch pad trying to design a tripleheaded self-cleaning eco-friendly brush with built in GPS and Smile Buffing Technology.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Apple Flan Menagere

Oh la la! Now there's lovely.

Here's the recipe courtesy of Leiths Cookery Bible. The picture makes it look a lot more fancy than it actually is. I'm not going to go into the method for making sweet shortcrust pastry here. We did it in a very time consuming but "traditional" way involving pecking, chopping, and frasiering which has nothing to do with Seattle psychiatrists.

Serves 4

170g flour quantity of sweet shortcrust pastry
(170g plain flour, 85g unsalted butter, 3 egg yolks, 85g sugar, 2 drops vanilla essence)
1kg medium dessert apples
caster sugar
6 tablespoons of warm apricot glaze.

1. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C
2. Roll out the pastry and line a flan ring. Refrigerate until firm. Bake blind
3. Peel,quarter and core all but 2 of the apples. Do not peel the final two but quarter and core them. Finely slice all the apples. Lay the peeled apples inside the pastry case right up to the rim of the flan.
4. Neatly arrange the slices with the peel still on over the surface.
5. Dust with caster sugar and bake well for 25 minutes.
6. Brush with warm apricot glaze.

And that's it!

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Man Flu

I didn't manage to make it in to class today due to a bout of man flu. I've managed to sort out some paperwork at least and thought I'd post all the dishes we've tackled so far this term.

Quiche Lorraine
Lamb cutlets with herbs
Carbonnade de Boeuf
Chicken Saute Normande
Chickpea Flatbreads
Baba Ganoush
Kefta Maticha
Roasted green peppers in harissa and preserved lemon dressing
Risotto alla Milanese
Chocolate and Orange Cake
Crespelle a la Fiorentina
Chicken Kiev
Eggs Benedict
Flaky Pastry
Creme Caramel
Cullen skink
Eccles cakes
Trout en papillote
White bread rolls
Hot water crust pastry
Raised veal and ham pie
Pecan pies
Monkfish with herby hollandaise
Twice baked goats cheese souffles
Chicken liver pate
Chicken breast with watercress sauce
Apple sorbet
Skate with brown butter and capers
Soda bread
Treacle sponge
Creme anglaise
Cheese souffle
Brill with deep fried vegetable ribbons
Tuiles Amandine
Aubergine and Prosciutto Gougeres.

I'm amazed we've done so much in such a short space of time and I'm yet to have a kitchen nightmare which is reassuring!