owlfish: (Feast)
2015-10-18 11:02 pm

Tasting chocolate

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)
2015-09-06 04:37 pm

Theo Randall at the Intercontinental

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)
2015-04-09 03:25 pm

Hibiscus 2: Too creative to impose

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)
2015-04-07 02:16 pm

Hibiscus, part 1: Comes with kumquats

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.
owlfish: (Feast)
2014-10-22 04:29 pm

Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

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)
2012-03-11 11:31 pm

Mall tourism/Cabana

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)
2011-11-08 10:15 pm

Afternoon Tea at the Chesterfield

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)
2011-08-14 10:21 pm

When things go well/Hawksmoor Seven Dials/Much Ado about Nothing

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)
2011-07-23 04:19 pm
Entry tags:

Portobello Road

[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)
2011-05-04 12:35 am

Susan Hiller at the Tate Britain/Pollen Street Social

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 canapés 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.
owlfish: (Feast)
2011-03-05 10:21 pm

#Meateasy

At first, it was a hamburger truck. Back then, the Meatwagon had enough buzz that I started following its updates in the hopes of some day intersecting it. Then the truck was stolen. What could have been sheer disaster for such a small-scale business was saved by someone's bright idea: a pop-up restaurant in a room over a closed pub (under renovation) down near New Cross Gate. And so #meateasy was born.

It's due to have approximately two months of life, so opportunity was limited. Having heard that it fills up so fast, it can take two hours to put in an order, we were advised to go at 5:30, right when the doors open. That's how C. and I came to be sitting on mix-and-matched chairs in a cheerful paper-and-chalkboard decorated room lit two-thirds by candlelight with slips of papers numbering 4 and 5 in our hands tonight. Those valuable slips of paper entitled us to order three items each (not including drinks) when our numbers were called on the sensible PA system whose throttled siren breaks through the buzziness of the rapidly crowding-up space.

Our drinks, in jam jars, are from the separate bar on the side which features an impressive array of ingredients. I particularly admired the half-prepped pineapple and the relatively unusual array of cordials. My drink is improvised, a fruity mojito with crushed raspberries; C.'s is a nicely well-rounded G&T. Soon, the wait for the bar looks substantial too; good call getting there so early.

We're so early in the evening that it's not a long wait, either to order, or for our food to arrive on their paper plates, delivered to the table. My bacon cheeseburger is a lovely burger, perfectly cooked, meaty and a little juicy, but the bacon is, almost inevitably, wide, tougher slab bacon and only really noticeably added a little toughness to the burger. C. praises the chili cheeseburger.

We've skipped fries (lackluster earlier reviews) and gone with buffalo wings, mac n' cheese, and onion rings for our shared sides. Buffalo wings! How I pined for them when I was living in York. These are aren't quite classic, but they're close and, more to the point, they're good, well-seasoned wings with a touch of spice and piquancy. The mac n' cheese is straightforward, a solid pot rendition (i.e. no crunchy top), and is the only dish which comes in something other than paper. I should have had the onion rings when they were newly delivered: by the time I tried one, it had lost its first delicacy of still-warm grease, but were still good renditions of thick-cut ones, easy to eat and at one with its crust (instead of slithering free of it).

By the time we left, it was all of 6:30. Spare pockets of standing space were jammed with the hovering 20-and-30-something crowds, gratefully receiving a spare table. The local mobile phone network was jammed up with users, and we'd had quite a nice dinner.

It's only due to be open for another two to four weeks so go now if you're going to go at all.
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-10-18 11:32 pm

Chocolate Menu at Almeida

Location: 18 Almeida Street in Islington, about a 10 minute's walk north of Angel. London.

For Chocolate Week, Almeida, a restaurant, coordinated with Paul A. Young, chocolatier, to create a three course menu for the second year running. We went with [livejournal.com profile] cwjat who, as it happens, is allergic to chocolate and so ordered off of the regular menu.

Richly chocolatey, with a really nice bit of pork belly.... )

Service was helpful and good-natured, if stretched a little thin at peak service times. The kitchen's clearly doing good things, if not reliably so; but it's hard to tell with a special one-off collaborative menu, not refined over months or years of operation. The Chocolate Week menu was a good idea, but the results were more a work in progress than a polished work of art.

Alas, this proved true of my other attempt at a Chocolate Weke event. The Orangery at Kensington Palace promised a week of chocolate-themed afternoon tea, but failed to live up to its advertised Sunday opening hours; it was closed for a private event.
owlfish: (Default)
2010-08-05 11:06 pm

Southbank Favela

I went down to Southank today, to meet [livejournal.com profile] swisstone for lunch. As a result, I have experienced the singing lift in Royal Festival Hall, in which a recorded choir mark the rising and falling of the elevator with steady increases or decreases in their notes, singing the name of the floor at the same pitch when the doors open. They could barely squeak out "level 6".

Down around level 2, on the first balcony level, outside Royal Festival Hall, was an art installation drawing attention to Brazil's favelas. On the one hand, it's important that such a massive situation as Brazil's enormous slums have attention paid to them. On the other, it was a little unexpected as part of a festival of Brazil in London. Is it helpful? Is it a cultural statement? Is it appropriative? Is it useful to draw parallels between London and favelas in the form of an art installation, that there is poverty at home as well as abroad? Does this trivialize the mind-boggling scale of the favelas? That there is a standard word for the slums in a particular country which I have known for years shows just how endemic the problem is.

I'm still not sure what to think, but here are some photos.



Photos of the Southbank favela... )

Bonus: Finally trying out Canteen, the up-and-coming little restaurant chain aiming to serve good classic British food. The fennel, tomato, and basil pie special was good, especially because I like fennel and the mashed potatoes very smooth, but very much real potato. It's a semi-fast food concept, as was evident by how much we needed to fit into their ordering process. After turning down dessert, our placemat/menus were taken away so we wouldn't have a chance to change our minds.
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-07-20 12:11 am

Saf

Location: 152-154 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, in London. Moderate walk from Old Street or Liverpool St. Stations.

In a spacious chic-industrial space full of light, Saf's bar serves up some impressive and innovative cocktails. I drink a praise to England's Rhubarb Triangle, while C. is on the tarragon & tonic, and [livejournal.com profile] doctorvirago tries out the "Pick of the Garden Martini". A radish lounges on a floating leaf in her drink. Each cocktail is vividly complex, but with each element still distinct. This is superb teamwork on the part of the ingredients and the artfully performative bartender.

Dinner is thought-provoking, but we're not blown away the way we were with drinks. We have all three courses, starting with a vibrant sea vegetable salad, or a inadequately-varied set of tacos whose meat-replacement filling wasn't nearly as interesting as the sauces it came with. The salsify fettucine was visually lovely, but the comparison with fettucine was a distraction, with its flavor being less robust, more delicate than its namesake. Baked tofu really needed its dash of red pepper sauce to enliven it. The desserts were fine, but none of them were memorable for more than presentation.

Vegan fine-dining is a laudable accomplishment, but frequently, the dishes were, for all their visual elegance, not internally varied enough. We should have gone for more, smaller plates, perhaps a selection of appetizers. We also felt distracted by the names, with vegan dishes labeled as derivative of meat-laden versions we already knew. We wished we weren't burdened by those comparisons.

So: a pleasant meal, outside in the intimate little courtyard with twining pepper plants, fresh air and hard seats; friendly-but-uncertain service from a new waitperson; but the biggest active lure for a return trip is the cocktails. They really are awfully good.

Photos... )
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-06-23 11:42 pm

Hereford Road

Location: 3 Hereford Road. Ossington Road becomes Hereford, heading north from Notting Hill Gate. West London.

The main dining room of Hereford Road is down the stairs, a well beneath a rounded skylight. Above us grow grasses and the sun is clear and warm. Here, capacious maroon booths, comfortable for four, ample for two as we sprawl our belongings across their lengths. Without the wash of sun, the room looks like it would be dim, despite its white walls. It's hard for me to picture either way.

The three course lunch special is £15.50. I have a refreshing salad, with large chunks of beetroot tumbled up with sorrel and tender hard-boiled eggs. [livejournal.com profile] d_aulnoy is generous and shares a full half of her much-needed salt intake, in the form of cod roe, delicate and light, on a more of the restaurant's good bread. (It arrived, untoasted, with butter, earlier.) Slices of onglet are nearly meltingly tender and buttery. The chips are crunchy and light, just as I like them, with a lemony aioli as accompaniament. The menu is literal: had we wanted additional vegetables, it would have required ordering sides.

The waitress is apologetic - no more strawberries, so I have a non-traditional Eton mess with raspberries, the sticky crushed meringue and fruit giving my stomach the illusion of lightness and very real energy. Service is pleasant and when we need it. The food refines on classics with minor experimentations along its edges. I wonder what dinner would be like there, lighting and all?

Afterward, we explore vintage clothing, Paul A. Young's lastest truffle innovations, and the tranquility of London streets in the middle of a World Cup football game when England is playing. Later, the cashier at a supermarket tells me of 3:30; the cashiers were all at their posts, but there was not a customer in sight.
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-06-22 11:57 pm

Taste of London 2010, Part 1

Clear blue skies, clement temperatures, talented chefs, good food, and lots of freebies: my annual four hours at the Taste of London flew by in a whirl of decadence, scribbled notes, and sporadic light conversation.

I used up half-an-hour of those scant four at a colorful cooking demonstration being given by the chef at Tamarind, a really good Indian restaurant. He was being hosted by some guy who referred to working with Gordon in Tamarind's kitchen, but he never did think to introduce himself. While on the whole, I tried to focus on new-to-me restaurants and products, I failed to resist the lure of finding out who the chef behind Tamarind is; nor did I resist the lure of the one-day-only L'Enclume booth. The presence of this booth is, indeed, why I knew I had chosen the right day to come to Taste. L'Enclume is a *really* good restaurant.

Taste of London features a decadence of samples. It's one of the many reasons to go. This year, samples ranged from an individually-wrapped seeded California prune to a bottle of iced tea to cherry tomatoes to hearty soup to quivery Malaysian lychee jellies. A supposedly halo-wearing frozen yoghurt was being given away by Sensodyne, the tooth past company. At one point, a particularly spicy pickle killed my taste buds so effectively that I could no longer taste jam, chocolate, or other spicy sauces; a conveniently-placed booth led to my discovery that a G&T is a good counterbalance to aggressive spice. It being only midday, I had intended to stop after one drink, but when I went back to thank the nice G&T people, they comp'd me a second.

At one point in the afternoon, I took five minutes or so to fill out the computerized survey on the event. Subjectively, it went on for a very, very long time, but it is how I discovered I must not really be a food blogger; I hadn't heard of a single blog that the survey asked me if I read. I was so startled that, despite reflective glare, I took photos of the screen so as to record this mysterious list of bloggers. This was one of two ways I rhetorically came to this conclusion this week. The other was that I had not heard of Food Blogger Connect '10, a London-based food blogger convention which was held for its second year, before it happened.

The best part of going to Taste is the chance to sample restaurants dishes - but since I have so much to say about those - and so many photos with which to illustrate them - I'll save them for another post.
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-06-16 06:13 pm

Golden Day

Location: 118-120 Shaftesbury Ave, south side, by Chinatown. London.

This used to be the restaurant named Chinese Experience; rebranded and somewhat reworked inside to relatively plain, functional decor, it is now one of London's very few Hunanese restaurants. The menu is a picture book, poorly translated, but clearly depicted. We had a Hunan Chinese speaker in our group to bridge confusion, and the waitress double-checked our orders against the items in the picture menu to make sure.

Many dishes... )

If this assortment is at all typical of Hunanese food, then it is a rich cuisine, meaty, and dominated by an assortment of strong, decisive spices, whether cumin, garlic, or chili. It is not excessively spicy (although we were uncertain if they had been at all toned down for us because we were (mostly) not Chinese). Overall, it was a feast of regular visual interest, spice variety, and flavorfulness,

Service was friendly, not always wholly bi-lingual, but since we had a Hunan Chinese speaker with us, this was never a problem. One odd service moment: part of our party ordered wine from the wine list; the waitress had to come back to tell us that actually, they only had one wine in that day, the house wine. It was, for a while, a challenge to catch the attention of staff when, later in the meal, we needed refills of drinks, including chrysanthemum and green tea in tea pots, and rice, but they were prompt and helpful once we had secured their attention.

I'm now more interested than I was before in consciously being able to contrast regional Chinese food as represented in London (or elsewhere) restaurants. My particular thanks to [livejournal.com profile] nou in arranging for the dinner in the first place!
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-05-27 11:29 pm

L'Art du Fromage

Location: 1a Langton Street, at World's End. Chelsea. London.

A cheese-themed restaurant: how could I not check it out? Under the slightly confused "Cheese Gourmet Restaurant" sign, L'art du fromage looks Chelsea-elegant from without, but is more casual within. Bare wooden walls and tables, and a tasteful stained-glass window to hide the view out the back. Cheese, cheese, and non-cheese... )

The menu is seasonal, so it should be worth returning regularly to this restaurant. To our pleased surprised, the portions were not generally too large and, after a meal in which every course, for at least some of us, featured cheese, we were not cheesed-out. The main downside was that over the phone, we were told they have seatings, at least on Saturday night, of 6:30 and 9:30. Although the time gaps are generous, we were half-worried that we would be kicked out at 9; we were not, but it was a hazard hanging over our tranquility. Pleasant, friendly, low-key, but diligently-put-together dishes star at a rare cheese-themed restaurant. I'd go back.
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-05-15 11:23 pm

Wild Honey

Location: 12 St. George St., London, southwest of Oxford Circus. London.

[livejournal.com profile] pittenweem was off at the annual medieval congress in Kalamazoo, having dinner with my friends, so I spent Wednesday evening having dinner with hers. Fair trade. [livejournal.com profile] siusaidh was en route back from Botswana. Judah was over from Paris for the night. I dragged them around London for pastries (Cocomaya), chocolates (Paul A. Young), and dinner at Wild Honey.

Wild Honey is sister restaurant to Arbutus. It has the same high-end economical philosophy, good food, competitively priced, with intelligent use of its ingredients. It's the plusher-feeling of the two, with comfortable, spacious booths and oak-paneled walls. We made our reservation an hour before we showed up. They only had space for us at the bar then, but shortly after we settled in with blood orange and prosecco cocktails, a booth opened up - much better for comfort and conversation all around.

Onion tart, smoked lettuce cream, honey ice cream... )

C. was impressed enough with our meal that it may have moved to the top of his list of London restaurants. I enjoyed it, and will certainly be remembering that wonderful onion tart for a long time to come; but then again, the two of us don't agree on what makes a good risotto. The company was excellent, even if [livejournal.com profile] pittenweem couldn't join us.
owlfish: (Feast)
2010-01-14 01:27 pm

Imli

Location: 167 Wardour Street, London.

Imli was the restaurant I thought I was going to when I had an amazing dinner at its more expensive sibling Tamarind, all those months ago. Better-informed this time around, I joined C, and visitors (previously unknown to each other) [livejournal.com profile] austengirl and [livejournal.com profile] gleodream for a long, loitering dinner in this fairly casual central Soho Indian tapas restaurant.

Warm colors, bare tables, paper napkins, and food which arrives whenever it's ready define Imli's informality. We started with a single order of pappadoms, two of them sensibly pre-divided into smaller pieces and served with pleasant chutneys made in-house, most memorably a tomato one. The drink selection was a delight of variety, with juice blends and interesting flavors of lassi to add to the usual suspects. [livejournal.com profile] austengirl's traditional lemonade was enlivened by thyme*. My refreshing pear-and-lychi juice blend was unexpectedly pink from the unmentioned addition of blackberries.

A variety of dishes... )