Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Tuna, Dill & Tomato Tart

This Gallic-inspired bake came about as I attempted to recreate the tuna tart we had eaten on honeymoon Gerard Mulot in Paris. We stumbled upon his cafe/bakery/patisserie while walking towards St Sulpice and were soon entranced inside by the neon macaron and hand made chocolates piled high in the window. Once through the doors we discovered that they also sold an array of bread, pastries, tarts and pies; oh, jour de joie.

The choice was quite bewildering; cabinets full of delights such as coulibiac of salmon, quivering slabs of quiche Lorraine, a magnificent Pâté en croûte au veau, and pear and goats cheese pastries. After staring slack-jawed for an age, we decided to buy boxes of macaron, some fresh bread, and a thick slice of tuna and confit tomato tart to form the beginnings of a Parisian picnic. Sadly spring time in Paris can be rather like England; full of romantic promise, but delivering mostly wind and rain. Happily this meant we had one more reason to get back into bed and enjoy our feast in the warm and dry.

The tart was ambrosial. Sweet chunks of tuna and semi dried tomatoes, a gently wobbling, dill-spiked, savoury custard and the crispest buttery base: and in order to try and do it justice when trying to replicate it back on these shores, I knew I would have to attempt make my own pastry.

While its not that I was particularly daunted by the idea (I have made pastry; nobody has died eating it), pastry making generally seems like the preserve of much calmer, cleaner and more organised cooks. The kind of people who manage to keep their work surfaces clear and free of detritus, who don't try to hide things in the oven to free up more space, or attempt to play Jenga with great piles of their unwashed crockery.

With the kitchen all clean and sparkling, I picked a simple shortcrust recipe from The Two Hairy Bikers Pie Book. While the best pastry I have ever made was Delia's mincemeat tart, it uses a recipe that involves copious amounts of lard and the patience of two saints; this time I took an easier route and whipped out the food processor. Making the dough was trouble free, but rolling it out still tested my patience somewhat.

Pastry finally in the tin, and holes all patched up. I blind baked it to achieve a crisp base, before adding a layer of caramelised onions. This was followed by tinned tuna, sun dried tomatoes and finally a mixture of crème fraîche, copious amounts of fresh dill and a couple of beaten eggs.

Despite the surfeit of flour coating both the kitchen and myself, this is (especially if you use ready rolled pastry, or even a pastry case) a really simple, and very impressive, tart that sings with the flavours of a Mediterranean summer. What's even better is that, using a tin or jar of good tuna and dried tomatoes, you can happily recreate it during an English Winter.

 Tuna, Dill & Confit Tomato Tart

250g plain flour
125g cold butter, cubed
1 egg, beaten

200ml double cream
200ml creme fraiche
3 eggs, beaten
400g tin/jar of tuna steak, flaked
6 sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 bunch of dill, rouchly chopped
Salt and ground black pepper

To make the pastry place flour and butter in a food processor and blitz until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (you can rub the mixture together with your fingertips if you prefer). Add the egg and pulse until mixture comes together. You may need to add a little cold water.
Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180c. Grease a 23cm non-stick tart tin.
Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out to the thickness of a pound coin. Carefully line the tin, patching any holes with spare pastry. Leave to rest for 15 minutes.
Line the tin with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans (I use reuse a jar of dried chickpeas). Place in the oven and blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove greaseproof paper and bake for a further 5 minutes, or until the base is a light golden colour.
Remove from oven and turn temperature down to 170c

While the pastry is resting slowly cook the sliced onions in a frying pan with a little olive oil with a pinch of sugar and some seasoning. You want them to become soft and golden without burning. Leave to cool.
While the pastry is blind-baking mix cream, cream fraiche, eggs, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Add chopped dill.
Allow pastry case to cool slightly then add the onions to the base of the tart case. Add the flaked tuna and scatter the chopped tomato pieces across the top.
Carefully pour the cream and egg mixture into the case and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the mixture has set and the top is golden.
Allow to cool before slicing.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Bond and Burgers

Every so often the stars collide in a rather beautiful way, and last weekend’s adventures proved the perfect example; allowing me to indulge in not one but two of my favourite things alongside two of my favourite people. And that rare beast, the English spring sun, made a welcome appearance proving that it’s not just bad luck that comes in threes.

First up was a Sunday afternoon trip to visit one of the Southbank’s latest residents, and newly crowned Burger Bash champions, Bleecker St Burger. A lovely walk over the Hungerford Bridge to the south side of the river made even better by watching the last of the weary London Marathon runners pounding toward the finish, followed by watching the sun begin to set over the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament.  A view that, no matter how clichéd, invokes Samuel Johnson’s famous quote every time.

Dodging the surging Sunday crowds we propelled ourselves down to the Undercroft skate park, where the Bleecker van can be found.  A spot had just opened up on one of their trio of of wooden picnic benches, and so we had time to bask in the last of the sun’s rays as we drank a cold Brooklyn Brewery EIPA (me) and a Flying Dog Atlantic Lager (the Ewing). Watch out if you’re thinking of making an afternoon of it on the EIPA, a very nice drop at a very potent 7.9%. Although, I'm pretty sure Bond would have been a fan.

The menu when we visited was a simple affair; cheeseburgers, double cheeseburgers, cheese and bacon burgers and fries (they have been known to sling the odd Black Burger, their award winning entry created for the London Burger Bash and the grease-spattered trophy can also be seen taking pride of place on the counter.)

The burgers are cooked on a flat top and are served medium rare, unless requested otherwise. Cooking them in this way keeps them ultra-juicy while still getting a good char, and although it may lead to a burger that’s little to sloppy for some, it’s probably my favourite way to cook a patty. Just make sure you’re armed with plenty of napkins for the inevitable drips.

Cheese, needless to say, is the imperious plastic American type and is properly melted so it glazes the top of each disc of meat, the buns are springy, crunchy onion and lettuce present and correct; a self-applied squirt of ketchup and mustard finish the masterpiece or add crispy bacon to really guild the lily. If the burgers are god the fries may be even better, crisp and squidgy in equal measure they shouldn’t be overlooked. A superlative spot, all round.

Bleecker St. Burger on Urbanspoon

After our alternative Sunday beef feast we staggered over to Stealth’s, and past another classic Big Smoke sunset, for a few cold Vietnamese beers and a (not very) early night in preparedness for our Monday trip to indulge the second great love of my life, Agent 007.

A few Christmases back my sister and her friends commented, pretty accurately, that my tastes pretty much mirrored that of an adolescent male. That year my presents had included a He-Man DVD, several books on baseball and a set of Bond playing cards. My long suffering ex, PaveMatt, even had to endure the film stills of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig (in his trunks) that I hung in the hallway.

Fast forward and nothing’s really changed; I still stay up late to watch baseball, I still have my figures of Skeletor and Battlecat sitting on the back of the bookcase and I still love Bond. So when Stealth arrived at my house with a gift of a framed print of the Japanese promotional poster for Moonraker – a much maligned classic - and announced that the National Film Museum was hosting a Bond in Motion exhibition, I was as happy as James when the bar opens.

The National Film Museum, on Covent Garden’s Wellington Street, is a smallish and mostly subterranean space in which they have managed to carefully contain and display the largest collection of Bond vehicles, alongside a few props, storyboards and some previously unseen memorabilia.

It’s pure Bond heaven, a maze of unashamed geekery that starts when you first glimpse the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud from A View to A Kill as you descend the stairs and finishes with the Mustang Mach 1 that Bond drives sideways through a Las Vegas alley in Diamonds are Forever, that you pass on your way to the gift shop. 

Almost every vehicle of note is here, from the iconic Aston Martin DB5;  Goldfinger’s majestic Rolls-Royce Phantom III to the wondrous Lotus Esprit S1 submersible that emerged from the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me. 

There are also less predictable 007 modes of transport such as one of the Parahawks that attacked Bond and Electra King in The World is Not Enough; the Citroën 2CV that Bond drove through the olive groves in For Your Eyes Only; the Glastron GT-150 jump boat that set a world distance record when jumping over a Louisiana levy in Live and Let Die; and the auto rickshaw, the Bede Acrostar Jet, with folding wings that was hidden in a horsebox, and the Crocodile Submarine that all featured in the the Ewing’s favourite, Octopussy . (Octopussy Octopuss in your face! - TE)

Little Nellie, the memorable autogyro from You Only Live Twice (the only film bond doesn’t drive in), is here; as is the Parisian Renualt 11 Taxi, sans roof from A View to a Kill; the BMW R1200 motorbike that James Bond and Wai Lin are handcuffed together to whist riding through the street of Ho Chi Minh City in Tomorrow Never Dies; and The 1969 Mercury Cougar XR7 428 convertible that Contessa Teresa de Vicenzo drove in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, helping Bond escape Blofeld's henchmen. 

There are also some of the later cars cars in the form of the remote controlled BMW 750 from Tomorrow Never Dies; an Aston Martin DBS used in the chase at the beginning of the Quantum of Solace, complete with missing door; and the ‘adaptive camouflaged” Jaguar XKR from Die Another Day.

There's even my favourite Bond mobile, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante complete with extending side outriggers, spike-producing tires, missiles, lasers signal-intercepting smart radio, head-up display and rocket propulsion. It could also self-destruct when primed. James and Kara use it to outwit the Bratislavian police, before ditching it to ride through the snow to the Austrian border on Kara's cello case. The case is here too, just in the left corner of the picture.

While there were no surprises that I was in my element here, Stealth and the Ewing were also pretty enamoured by the exhibition, too. In fact, as is usual when visiting a museum or gallery, the Ewing had to be forcibly found and coerced to leave with promises of  looking around shop on the way out.

After the requisite tat had been bought all the morning's excitement called for some sustenance, and we made the short walk across the piazza to Peter Gordon's all day cafe, Kopapa, in Seven Dials. A stylish all day spot with outdoor tables that are perfect for a bit of people watching and a charming interior complete with wonderfully hypnotic Turkish floor tiles.

The Evening Standard describes the cooking as 'a bungee jump of flavours and textures', and the Kiwi/fusion menu, rather like Clerkenwell's Modern Pantry, features a variety of weird and wonderful combinations.  These include the famed Turkish  breakfast eggs, from Changa restaurant in Istanbul, served with whipped yoghurt and hot chilli butter, offered alongside New Zealand venison with ponzu, crispy shimeji mushrooms; deep-fried urfa chilli & sesame salted squid, sumac aïoli; and lime-cured salmon, hijiki, and braised endive.

There's also wide range of drinks and bar snacks, including a large smoothie and shake menu from which I sampled a mixed berry, yoghurt and banana number. We also had  a wicked salted caramel and vanilla milkshake, and the Monteiths crushed apple cider, an almost crystal clear drop that lacked the tart edge to raise it above alcoholic apple juice. Very easy afternoon drinking, though.

Although they have a the standard West Country beef burger, with Emmenthal and crispy bacon, we all plumped for the piscine version in the form of a whole crispy soft shell crab with spicy peanut mayo, Asian salad and avocado.

Perfectly portioned for a light, late lunch, the springy, seeded buns contained a cargo of greaseless, crisp crustacean that swam very nicely alongside the poky sauce and zingy pickled carrot shards.

Extra vitamins came in the form of the smoothies, and very tasty side dish of grilled broccolini with a tamarind glaze and crispy shallots. We also shared some decent enough fries, sprinkled with rosemary and garlic salt.

We finished with another round of drinks; a chocolate milkshake to help with my late afternoon sugar slump and bottles of Monteith's Original Ale all round. As Bond said in Thunderball - and who am I to argue - 'it's just that I'd rather die of drink than of thirst'

Kopapa Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Bluegrass BBQ, High Wycombe

While I can get some awesome North Indian curries, enjoy a roast and a bitter in front of the fire in a a plethora of smashing country pubs and even get authentic wood-fired pizza that would make a Neapolitan jealous, Buckinghamshire has never been on the barbecue trail.

Which is why I read a story promising authentic American 'cue, printed last year in the local rag, with suitable amounts of derision and depression. To be fair, the story seemed so ripe for parody it would have been hard to invent; the opening of a new BBQ shack, owned by a Brit who had been to Texas, that was replacing the 'Ladies and Gentleman's club' (sadly, it's real name) on the back streets of High Wycombe. 

The story also reported Bluegrass would be kitted out with 'American vintage wall art, booths, a wooden shack counter and metal chairs... all juxtaposed next to a Tudor wall painting dating back to 1590/1600'. The food would be served on trays, and included jacket potatoes. I cried a tear of anticipatory despair.

So how great it was to be completely and comprehensively wrong; not only is Bluegrass serving true 'cue, it's also pretty damn smokin'.

Yes, there are jackets, but they are cooked in the smoker and loaded with meat, slaw or pit beans. The, all British, meats are all slow smoked for 48 hours and the team includes the only non-American Grand Champion of the Jack Daniels Invitational BBQ contest. As the websites states, that's a pretty big deal. 

And while, it's true, there's nothing revelatory, and very often lots that's depressingly derisory, about food piled in enamel dishes and tables loaded with rolls of paper towels, the heart and passion here proves this is more than some provincial bandwagon-jumping covered in a sheen of sugary sauce.

If sugary sauces happen to be your thing, then fear not as Bluegrass has standard ketchup and Kansas sticky bbq crowd pleasers. They also make their own spicy Louisiana sauce, a mustard-y Carolina sauce and a tommato-y Tennessee number. A side of the dirty mayo that they slather on their burgers is also a must for dipping your fries or, very good, onion rings.

Of course the real draw is the meat. Ribs are very good; crusty and yielding in equal measure, with a glowing pink smoke ring to assure you this is the real deal. Decent skin on fries come in stupidly large portions alongside, although I could always do with more of their vinegar slaw.

The brisket, my least favourite, is a touch dry for my taste, although I've yet to try it heaped on a burger, where I feel the double beefy hit would really shine. The burnt ends are better, get the beef combo to try both.

The pulled pork is great; thick juicy chunks of meat, singing with fat and smoke and ready to be sauced which ever way you chose. I'm also holding out for some real Texas style hot guts - smoked and served in a bun would would be good, chaps - although they do serve an English style sausage in a sub, topped with battered onion bits, alongside deli sandwiches and sliders.

The burgers are also worth a shout out; 'reverse seared - smoked precisely and finished on the char grill', these patties are smoky, deep and compact and work best with a good pile of shredded pork, onion rings, pickles, and dirty mayo for lubrication. Meat fiends can go with the Pit Boss, which adds brisket, cheese and bacon to the mix.

Puddings, if you get that far, are home made and even come in handy trays so you can take home the leftovers. Both the Oreo and Hershey Salted Caramel Pie and the Reese's Peanut Butter Cheesecake are as thoroughly wicked as they sound, and are worth every gloriously claggy calorie.

Of the trio I've yet to try the Key Lime Pie, but I have tried the Stewart's Key Lime soda. The height of bottled sugary artificiality, and quite delightful. There's also Jelly Belly and Jolly Rancher sodas, root beer and craft beer, although the the bottles of Dixie on my last visit could have been a few degrees cooler.

It may not be hard (the nearest recent competition coming from discovering local purveyors to keep me in supplies of both Mint M&Ms and potato vodka - not from the same shop, sadly), but Bluegrass ranks up there with one of the best things to happen to Wycombe for a while. 

While that might sound like being damned with faint praise, I've eaten plenty of barbecue recently and this place stands toe to toe with the best I've sampled on these shores. You also get to wash your rib-glazed hands post-feast in these snazzy metal pails, complete with oil can soap dispensers; almost worth getting sticky fingers for.

Bluegrass BBQ on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Cocktails & Chicken - Callooh Callay and Jubo

These days my idea of a perfect Saturday night mostly involves a curry, the cat curled up on my legs and staying awake until the end of Casualty. Sometimes, though, it's nice to hang with the cool kids; if not just to prove I've still got it.

Not to do things by halves, I managed to get a table at hip Shoreditch hotspot Callooh Callay. While this may be rather removed from my preferred pints of bitter and pork scratchings at the pub,  I realised my plaid shirt would be equally at home in Hoxton as it is in the Home Counties.

Our booking was for the lounge, which is accessed through a wardrobe door (insert Narnia reference here). Yes, it might all sound a bit too cool for school, but it's actually rather fun and the back room proved a bijou and lovely little spot for a few sophisticated bevvies. Our waitress, Tara, was also a gem and looked after us admirably all evening. 

First up the libation I was most looking forward to, the Salt and Vinegar Martini; a Dirty/Gibson mash up with Belvedere vodka and sherry vinegar syrup, finished with a sea salt spray that is spritzed tableside. Not as bracing as it sounded, this had a pleasingly sweet backnote and was dangerously quaffable. Bonus points for both pickled onions and olives as a garnish.

Stealth had (I believe, and I should know as I ended up choosing all her drinks during the evening) an Ike and Cynar, accurately described as 'punchy' on the menu, this was a lethal yet tasty mix of El Dorado rum, PX sherry and Cynar and peach bitters.

We had time for another round and this time the Ewing went for the 20 Regal, 'an old fashioned smoky number, just like Dot Cotton', that's served in a smoke filled Kilner jar. Fun, although a tricky to drink, even when (relatively) sober. I had a Rolla Pisco, a refreshing concoction of walnut bitters, pisco, apple sherbet and pickled celery, and topped off with cider.

Who knows what Stealth had, but she looked rather suave modelling it and it got her sufficiently (belligerent) merry.

Next stop was going to be a restorative Vietnamese on the Kingsland Road, but first we had to wait for Abi, our wing man for the evening. This lead us to the Bedroom Bar, almost directly opposite Callooh Callay, for another round of drinks. 

While first impressions were not terribly auspicious it was busy enough to be buzzing and quiet enough to find a two top free in the corner. With Stealth dispatched to get painkillers, the Ewing decided to venture down past the bar to try find a larger table.

It was only when we were ensconced at our new perch at the other end of the venue - snuggled up to our new friends from LA - that I clocked the fact that they were hosting Jubo, 'an exciting late night Korean style chicken canteen, drawing inspiration from the K-Towns of Wilshire Blvd and Manhattan'; a spot I'd had my eye on trying after my Twitter feed exploded with crispy wings and ssäm.

Abi's arrival heralded another round of cocktails, including a Bed Head for Stealth - 'a mixture of three rums and guava juice and limited to two per person'. - and my Seoul Bliss, from the Jubo menu, served with soju, vodka, pineapple and lime.

The wisdom of ordering cocktails that are restricted due to potency can be illustrated by the above picture  which perfectly contrasts Abi's sophisticated entrance and the Ewing's drunken photobombing. Keeping in theme with her dreamy appearance, Abi drank a Duvet Cocktail - a mix of vodka, berries, Chambord and cream, tasting like 'a Petit Filous', while modelling Stealth's beer.

The menu is short and to the point; subs with steak or chicken, noodle soup, fried rice, Korean fried chicken and steamed buns. The organised can also pre-order ssäm (two servings are available each night); a kilo of either bavette or slow roasted pork belly, served sliced with ssamjang, sesame oil, spring onion, little gem and rice.

We split the Chicken Dinner Platter, eight strips, eight wings, three sides - two orders of the steamed pork buns and an extra portion of pickles. The chicken, a mixture of hot and sweet and soy garlic, was very good; crisp, crunchy, juicy and remarkably similar to this recipe for Korean fried chicken I knocked up for the blog, even if I am tooting my own horn.

The buns were also on the money, a simple marriage of pillowy dough, fatty meat, pickles and Sriatcha that makes them the ultimate drinking snack. Sides were so-so, chips cold and cardboardy, slaw without much of the advertised kimchi punch. The pickles were good though, even if the shitaake mushrooms had the unfortunate resemblance to slices of raw liver.

To accompany, a Hackney Hopster, from the London Fields Brewery went down a treat. The chicken plate for one comes with a bottle of Hite if you prefer the beer to match your food, rather than your location.

Food dispatched, it was time for another round of cocktails; a very nice Bedroom Margarita, with passionfruit elderflower and lime; a punchy Tequila Expresso; the Hoxton Fizz with apple vodka and mint; and Stealth's Maggie's Kiss, a drink that somehow took three attempts to order and was memorably described by its recipient as 'innocuous, pointless and sugary'. It probably could have done with a dose of her bile...

Jubo on Urbanspoon

Post chicken blow out, we decided to roll back across the street for a nightcap at Callooh Callay, helped past the doorman by Abi's befriending of Byron, the bouncer at the Bedroom Bar and a thoroughly nice chap.

Who knows quite what else we managed to imbibe during the rest the evening. Looking at my photos (or, more accurately, scrolling back through the Ewing's iphone the next day) it seems to confirm I had a No. 38; Bombay Sapphire gin with Indian takeaway syrup, and lemon, all wrapped in brown paper with a lager shooter. Spicy and refreshing, and served in a handy paper cup that made dancing to Cameo and Justin Timberlake easier. That was quickly followed by a Va Va Prune with Appleton VX rum, prune liqueur, egg white and black pepper, the remnants of which are still on my jacket sleeve.

There was definitely another Rolla Pisco for Stealth, and a Spruce Collins with Ketel One, Amontillado, spruce and Aperol for Abi. The Ewing, somehow, recollected really enjoying her Disco Gin Pernod; a mix of Tanqueray, orange syrup and Pernod absinthe; and there was something fruity and frothy with cucumber floating in it at some point; answers on a postcard...

Somewhere around this point we tried, and thankfully failed, to order a giant glass skull of intoxicating liquid, adorned with four straws, that we had just seen going out to another table - I think they had run out of ingredients - but we were subbed another round of drinks on the house, which was very nice and fuelled a final bout of drunken dancing.

Staff were saved from more star-shaped shenanigans - Stealth's moves are quite something to behold - by the rush back down Old Street for the last tube. A top night that was crowned among the pantheon of recent greats with the discovery of the good old 'pile of hands' shot on my phone, combined with surprising lack of hangover come the next morning.

Calloh Callay on Urbanspoon