owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:02pm on 18/10/2015 under , ,
One of the highlights of going to the Chocolate Show today was a panel called "Judging the Judges".

The award winners of a raft of major chocolate awards were announced this weekend at the show; this panel was intended as a light-hearted way of letting some award-winning chocolatiers get their revenge by reviewing chocolate created by the people doing the judges. The confections were all created fairly last-minutely - not works of long love and labor the way the real competition's entries are.

I learned that chocolate competition judges
* recalibrate their palate periodically by tasting the same non-competition chocolate they started with and comparing their current tasting notes for it with what they noted at the start of the day
* they refresh their palate by eating little cubes of plain, unsalted polenta
* when judging the World Chocolate Awards, a jury has to taste and assess about 80 chocolates over about 8 hours, every day
* A judge I spoke with longed for salty foods at the end of a day of judging.

Particularly wonderful comments, by chocolatiers, assessing the real judges' creations:
* "This chocolate tastes like three things I put in my mouth by accident."
* "It's an idea. It should have stayed as an idea."
* Host: "What was your favorite part of this chocolate?" Chocolatier: "The polenta." (palate refresher afterward)
* Host: "What was your favorite chocolate from the tasting?" Chocolatier (likely the same one): "The breadstick."
* "This has a particular blandness which is hard to achieve." (an actual judge from the audience)
* An anti-Belgian chocolate chocolatier from Belgium: "We use Belgian chocolate for biscuits, not for production."

In an interesting moment of historicity, the session's host told us that Nutella originated as a Napoleonic war product. (Instead of the WWII product that it is.) There's a very long tradition of people assuming/arguing things are older than they actually are. It was nice to document one in the wild.
owlfish: (Feast)
For weeks, I'd been looking forward to eating at Dabbous, but they cancelled at the last minute, thanks to a gas leak. We already had childcare, so I did a quick search around for a different place to eat out. I was after something quite nice food-wise but not particularly formal; C was already out in London and dressed for a casual office day. And so we ended up at Theo Randall at the Intercontinental.

In no rush, we went along with the suggestion to start at the bar. The bar menu was an interesting one, but they were out of my first choice. My second choice was a fluffy marshmallow of a drink; on its own, that was fine, but alas, the dessert wine ended up being extremely similar.

Oh, the hazards of Italian food in Britain. Any menu which lists "primi" and "secondi" is one which raises my hopes that portions are thoughtfully small, enabling me to have lots of courses. The waitress cautioned that their portions were large. No antipasti for us, then. The little bits of bread which arrive are delicately soft and bode well for the rest of the meal.

I started with the linguine con aragosta, linguine with Dorset blue crab and chili. No, no parmesan for me, I am too inculturated into having no cheese with a pasta seafood dish. The crab meat is tender and tasty, a feat when paired with chili; but that's as high as the dish rises. The pasta is precisely al dente, which works for my linguine, but not for C's capelletti di vitello, which should be tender parcels without that bit of undercooked stiffness. They're fine. We've had better. By the standards of most of the meal, the pasta dishes were relatively pedestrian.

The secondi, on the other hand, are wonderful, delicate, rich, and intimidatingly enormous. My arrosta di faraone could easily have served both of us on its own. The best dish of the night, and I end up leaving a good half of the guinea fowl on my plate. ("Was something wrong?" is a painful query to receive for the evening's highlight!) C made slightly better inroads on his his costata di agnello. Even the side salad, a lovely array of colorful crunch, is quite substantial.

We loitered for a while and agreed to consider the dessert menu. I *want* to try out more of their offerings, but the secondo has made it difficult. We go with sorbet and ice cream. My peach sorbet is overly sweet. It's peach season, but this is a year-round dish, the richness of preserved fruit, not the refreshing juiciness of fresh peaches. It's heavy, and the accompanying marshmallow of the moscao d'asti adds more freshness than the peaches themselves have. C polishes off his chocolate-hazelnut ice cream, so it can't have been that bad.

I came away wistful. Should we have done the tasting menu after all? Is there any place in the UK which allows for consumption of both primi and secondi without food overdose? Should I never try another upscale Italian restaurant in the UK again, because I have spent too much time in Italy? For better or worse, I already have provisional plans to check out one of the Polpo family.

If I ever have reason to go back to Theo Randall's restaurant, I'd be inclined to gamble on the tasting menu, or just have meat and salad.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 03:25pm on 09/04/2015 under , ,
One advantage of doing a formal celebration with a very small number of people is that, several years ago when it happened, we felt we choose a really nice restaurant for it. I was initially leaning towards Hibiscus: creative, high reviewed, private dining room. Only on further reflection, I started to think that Claude Bosi's cooking might be a little *too* creative to impose on my extended family. I wanted them to enjoy the meal a little less critically than the truly unexpected might permit.

In the intervening years, the restaurant has, from all accounts, only improved. Last year, Bosi bought the restaurant back from its backers, and with full oversight, has pushed the cuisine in new and interesting ways. It was very pleasant; but one of the first tidbits to arrive reaffirmed my certainty that we had made the right choice in going somewhere else for the wedding meal.

Arriving in dark wooden block holder, two svelte, crisp ice cream cones looked gentile, but were, in fact, revelatory. As introduced by our waiter, they held smooth, fairly delicate, light fois gras ice cream, with an underlying, hidden layer of blood orange jelly - gently tart, brilliantly, glowingly, red - filling the bottom of the cone, slowly oozing out through the small shatters of narrow cone. Creamy ice cream, sweetly tart orange. It was delicious.
owlfish: (Feast)
A post of [livejournal.com profile] desperance's on kumquats reminds me that I've been meaning to start writing about our meal at Hibiscus. I'll be writing this in likely-erratic installment. Thanks to Chaz, I'm starting with the cheese course.

The cheese course was a sumptuous lump of melted Mont d'Or cheese partially smeared across a plate, a modest quantity to keep us comfortable in the midst of the installments of a tasting menu. A little bit of well-cooked leek added nominal vegetative fattiness to the cheese's well-rounded unctuousness. Black truffle shavings were applied, as they were to many dishes, with unnecessary abandon and, oddly, more coarse texture than flavor.

But the leek and truffle played supporting roles. The thin slices of lightly candied kumquat were the real contrast to the Mont d'Or, their distinctive sharp bittersweetness assertively balancing the smooth richness.

It was an evocative moment for me, one which put me on the edge of tears, because kumquats - a fruit of which I am not especially fond, but can work well as a condiment - are the fruit which reminds me of Louise Noun.

My family were over at her apartment for a rare dinner there (my memory is that she didn't really like to cook), her amazing collection of artwork by female artists on the walls. I was probably a high schooler at the time. After the meal, she served a bowl of fruit for dessert, and I tried my first kumquat: small, hard, bitter. It was so small, I thought I surely could finish it, and did. It wasn't a particularly pleasant experience, although obviously I grateful for the introduction.

The bittersweetness though wasn't just from the fruit or the largely pleasant memories of that dinner. It's Louise herself. She said she would commit suicide when sufficient age incapacitated her to the extent that she was in danger of becoming more burden than benefit. And she did.

She was in her 90s, she lived an amazing, accomplished life, and she ended it on her own terms. It still took away from my mother one of her best friends, and from the rest us, a well-loved family friend. One aspect of her work lives on the Chrysalis Foundation, which works to help girls and women be safe, secure, and educated.

So that was the cheese course.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 04:29pm on 22/10/2014 under , ,
We celebrated Chocolate Week with [livejournal.com profile] taldragon and [livejournal.com profile] lazyknight by having dinner at one of the only restaurants in London doing anything other than afternoon tea in its honor. I had fairly high expectations of it thanks to having had a wonderfully sumptuous meal earlier in the year at its upscale sibling, Galvin La Chapelle.

Chocolate and toddlers... )

I would highly recommend the Bistrot especially for tall parents who are frustrated by how low changing facilities usually are. They not only have them (armpit-high on me), but beautifully clean high chairs and an erstwhile free meal for the under-eights. (No guarantees as to when it's for.) And the food really was pretty good overall, if clearly - based on our sampling - more worth ordering the full-priced mains than the prix fixe if what you're after are the tastiest dishes. But the prix fixe is good value, and a welcome option.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:31pm on 11/03/2012 under , , ,
We made our first trip to Westfield City Stratford yesterday, aka what will be the Olympics gift shop, in effect. Restaurant magazine has been covering interesting new concepts there since it opened, and it was a chance to try out a new movie complex.

The mall was very crowded but functional in the late afternoon on a Saturday, but information-gathering while waiting for a transit-delayed C meant I found how to navigate much of the mall from the much more tranquil exterior. The interior has a decent number of comfy seating clusters, especially at the end furthest away from the main entrances; although these are in places that look like they may yet be rented out to stalls and kiosks once the still-fairly-new-mall has filled in more of its space gaps. Waiting, I appreciated the cluster of coffee shops and quick food places right near the front.

Amusingly, there's a "2012 Viewing Platform". I think that would be a fantastic place - symbolically, not in practice - to spend next New Year's Eve, seeing in the wrong year. Really, it's a view out toward the Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Olympics.

Cabana is in one of the cluster of shops outside the main building of the mall (Chestnut Plaza). Two layered, busy, and people-intensive, it's a Brazilian barbecue place, food on skewers, plus sides and starters. It's casual sit-down dining, expeditious and decent. I had a lovely, refreshing coconut drink which was, as C put it, more than the sum of its parts. The starter packet of melting cheese was made interesting by smoked chili oil.

The parmesan-coated pork tenderloin was a taste highlight for me, as were the sweet potato fries - fluffy within, crunchy without. The grilled corn-on-the-cob was negligible, and the sticky short back ribs - C's highlight for their falling-apartness - were well-flavored, but my portion was too gristle-intensive to be much pleasure. Chili cumin lamb offered decent depth of flavor.

A major point in Cabana's favor is that everything we ate had sufficient flavor of its own that the provided house sauces added nothing we needed - spiciness which overwhelmed the flavor range already built-in. We had a very leisurely dinner in all of 45 minutes, in the quieter upstairs section which only has room for tables for two or four.
owlfish: (Feast)
Location: Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair. London. UK.

Why do so many London places go through the motions of serving afternoon tea, their heart so clearly not in it? Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, proved yet another of these places, who have so lowered my expectations of adequacy in a full afternoon tea that I was rating this one as vaguely averagely mediocre while K was totally slating the food.

Front-of-hotel service was excellent, with staff volunteering to check away our coats and bags voluntarily, organizedly giving us a cute little envelope with our coat claim numbers. The atmosphere where we ate was pleasant, a greenhouse roof over white linened tables, and a mini-courtyard just outside the window, complete with running fountain. The chair covers were a bit awkward, but forgivable on the whole.

The service was very well-intentioned, although clearly operating without sufficient management guidance. The good was that we were regularly offered refills, of water and anything else we might want. The oversights were intrinsic to afternoon tea: no milk was provided along with our teapots although one of us was on black tea, and the teapots were placed on our table the wrong way around, such that when K tried pouring herself a refill from the nearest pot, it turned out to be my tea instead.

Another sign of the lack of thought given to this period of food service was my tea. The peppermint had lots of fine leaf particles floating in it, the sort which would ideally be strained out by the provided strainer; only all the particles were finer than the holes of the strainer.

The food... well, it went through all the right motions. There were finger sandwiches, scones with good clotted cream and jam, and little pastries. The scones had a good crumb, although they were rather bland; the chocolate eclair was decent, and the orange cupcake was practically a highlight because it had a decisive candy orange flavor, full-bodied in a way nothing else was. The fruit in the tart was good, but I've had better pastry cups from any number of supermarkets. The sandwiches were a wash. The only one which tried was bland chicken salad overpowered by incongruous toasted almonds which prettily edged it. Salmon, ham, and cucumber (there was a fourth, blanking on it) were bland and uninteresting. Most supermarkets do better sandwiches. It is entirely possible to do tasty little proper afternoon tea finger sandwiches; I have eaten them elsewhere.

I had a lovely afternoon with K, and staff were good about letting us loiter, but food-wise and tea-consciousness-wise, it wasn't worth the effort to have gone there.
owlfish: (Default)
Sometimes, it all works out better than plannable. Friday was one of those nights. As of Wednesday morning, I could not have told you I would be at the sold-out Much Ado about Nothing at the Wyndham, but someone else's inconvenience was my fortune. (It was very generous of you to have a conflict, [livejournal.com profile] ashfae!)

Dinner at Hawksmoor Seven Dials... )

After a little bit of suspense, we found L, who had the tickets. It required texting since it was a busy pub and we had not previously met her, and K, whom I do know, had gone to look for me when I was looking for her. L was a delight, and we had more time to get to know her and the rest of the group at another pub afterward. Anyways, the important thing is that it worked out just fine.

Much Ado about Nothing at the Wyndham sold out long since because it stars Catherine Tate and David Tennant as Beatrice and Benedict. It was a giddy romp of a production, adorable and delightful and ridiculous to the degree that the serious parts were often overshadowed. They often are in this play, but they particularly were in this version. The scene in which Hero tells Beatrice that Benedict loves her - I didn't hear a word of it because all attention was on the aerial hijinks of Beatrice. Poor Hero.

I wonder how many tunes there are out there for "Sigh no more, ladies". The Branagh movie had one. This version set in post-Falklands Gibralter had an '80s rendition (as, indeed, was the entire original soundtrack). These are surely not the only two. There were lots of '80s jokes/references/homages built into the visuals, from heavy Princess Di/Hero paralleling to an electronic keyboard to a Rubik's cube. I missed the Super Mario Brothers homage (a costume in the masked ball/dance), but there was one, apparently!

In any event, a really lovely evening.
owlfish: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 04:19pm on 23/07/2011 under , ,
[livejournal.com profile] d_aulnoy is a delight to go shopping with. She is really good at explaining *why* vintage shopping is interesting for her, and only loitering when there's something worth loitering over. We spent yesterday wandering down Portobello Road, stopping for purple cauliflower, velvet dresses, and a family friend's clothing store. We ran into B, because London is that small some days.

We stopped for ice cream at Dri Dri. The three flavors I sampled all erred on the side of a little too sweet. The Green Apple sorbet had a lovely Granny Smith tartness to it, but was undermined by the residual after taste of marshmallow. I settled on a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, since the salt helped to balance out the sweet.

Around mid-afternoon, I spotted a small table. It was big enough to work as a coffee table with our sofa, but not so big that it would take up too much space; I'd yet to see one so petite, and it was teak. After a bit of dilemma'ing, I bought it. It was small and lightweight enough that I could wander around the markets for another hour with it tucked under my arm. Only when a shop was crowded would I need to leave it. There was even room for it in my lap on the underground, so we only took up one seat. (!)

So that's how I cam to wander around London with a table, and we now have a new piece of furniture.

I brought it home barely in time to help cook for our evening's medievalists: a sumptuous cauliflower dish (not with purple) involving entirely too many cooking method, idlis, dal, spicy cucumber salad, rice, and an assortment of desserts kindly provided by E & J. [livejournal.com profile] highlyeccentric, houseguest, had already gone on to her next destination.
owlfish: (Default)
Some evenings work out fabulously. It was good enough that I knew I was going to see the Susan Hiller show this evening at the Tate. It was a private showing with the artist, the museum opened up just for our group, spacious and tranquil.

Encyclopedias, aliens, holy water... )

And then, after canap├ęs and wine and conversation with the artist and with friends, I ended up at Perdido Pollen Street Social, the new Jason Atherton restaurant with a dessert bar. (The dessert bar, of course, being one of the major elements which caught my attention in advance descriptions.) We had tapas and cocktails at the bar. The char-grilled prawns were fiddly but very tasty; my fingers still smell nicely because of them. The lamb chops were, improbably, even more fiddly than the prawns; the sauce was good, a rich infusion of onions, jus, capers, something citrus, and something berry-y, but the prawns were better. Also, I should have asked for a real cutting knife. The rhubarb bellini was undermined by its hint of vanilla, which gave it echoes of candy rather than enhancing the complementary bitterness. Indeed, I could scarcely taste the rhubarb. Still, the space is pleasant, the staff are a delight, and I'm only being picky because it seemed fundamentally solid in the first place.

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