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Preview: Midnight Steak Out Extravagansa

23 Nov

Hot on the heels of my recent visit to the Midnight Steak Out (read about it here) comes what can only be described as a extravaganza.

Featuring a whopping seven courses, including a Rolled Rib of Beef cooked on a bbq. There is also some free booze, with a cucumber and rose infused gin. The whole thing sounds pretty special if you ask me.

There are also DJ’s and a ominous sounding ‘festive singalong’. What’s more it’s only 45quid which in this cash straightened times is surely to be celebrated.

To get involved visit midnightsteakout.com quick sharp.

Getting Roasted at Union Coffee

9 Oct

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day? Two or three? I’ve been known to hit six when I’m burning the midnight oil. Yet this all pales into comparison compared with the sheer quantity of coffee consumption reported on my visit to the Union Coffee Roasting factory. Whilst being shown how to use something that looked more like a car than a coffee machine, we got into a friendly ‘who drinks more coffee than who competition’. Four cups a day seemed to be the winner until we asked Arianna, our guide for the day. She casually mentioned that calibrating the machine this morning she had consumed around 8 shots of espresso. When we expressed concern she airily told us that was nothing.

She then recounted her time judging the world Barista championships, consuming over forty cups on the first day. The entire night was spent weeping with frustration, unable to sleep a wink. Apparently she now uses pills to sleep. So you can tell these people are serious about their coffee. In my youth I had drunk it mainly to stay awake, although these days I can be found in Monmouth downing espressos with the best of them. I had come to Union to learn more about the process that occurred before I drank it and what separated the good from the bad. Fittingly, I arrived at Union’s roasting facility in desperate need of caffeine. My wide eyed stare and slightly vacant expression seemed a source of concern for some of the other attendees, so I focused on lining my stomach with pastries from Gail’s. Previous experience had taught me that coffee on an empty stomach is a recipe for nothing but pain.

We were then introduced to the two founders Jeremy and Steven, who were as bouncy as you would expect two men whose life is dedicated to coffee to be. Jeremy explained the philosophy of Union to us. For them, the key question when dealing with growers was “more coffee or better coffee”. They said that encouraging growers to subscribe to quality over quantity central to their approach. They made regular visits to their growers to ensure standards were maintained as well as to help improve their standards. Their ethical approach was also very much in evidence from the posters thanking them for donations to various charities. Our day consisted of a tour of the factory and then some training at the school. Union takes its training very seriously because a bad barista can ruin the hard work of not only the roaster, but the grower as well.

This was one of the most interesting points raised. How often have you said “Oh, I don’t like this brand of coffee”. Unlike a pint of lager, which will taste the same from bar to bar, the taste of your coffee is in many ways in the hands of the barista. Their skill is in doing the coffee justice through proper technique. I was surprised to learn that other people not only had favorite shops, but preferred baristas. I felt like a coffee novice. No such label could be ascribed to Arianna. She expertly lead us through the coffee process, patiently explaining the exact amount of time that the blend we would be brewing with needed to have water put through it. Too much and the flavour could become lost. Too little and the coffee would be unpleasantly bitter. A good tamping is also key.

Wielding a device much like a stamp used to approve loans, Arianna precisely tamped the coffee ensuring an even distribution. As each coffee rolled out of the machine it was surprising to see the pronounced difference between the first cup and the fourth. The fourth was sweet and more rounded and arguably more enjoyable. For many people, coffee would not be complete without the milk. We then moved onto learning the proper steaming technique. Never before have I had such a fractious relationship with a dairy product as I did that day. From the frothing to my attempts to pour it into the cup it was simply not meant to be.

Vibrating slightly after all the coffee, we had some lunch and then moved onto the roasting tour. All of Union’s Coffee is hand roasted which gives them a great control over the quality and flavour of the roast. If you’ve never seen coffee in its raw state before, a small green reminiscent of a giant lentil. We watched as over time, the machine turned this green legume into the dark brown basis for the fuel of so much of working life. Roasting is another art that must be mastered in the quest for quality coffee.You must learn to intuit the perfect balance between an array of variables, all the while avoiding that dreaded over-roast.

Whilst many brands now roast entirely by machine, Union still employs roasters to monitor the beans by hand and pass critical judgment. After the roasting, we were then initiated into the art of cupping. Disappointingly less perverse than it sounds, this is a process akin to wine tasting, involving a great deal of slurping and serious faces. It forms the basis for Jeremy and Steve decision on what beans to buy, so is serious stuff. The subtle differences in the various lots was hard to detect for a novice such as myself, but with help I slowly began to discern nuances hitherto undiscovered.

My trip provided me with a great insight into the whole process and will certainly inform my next trip to a cafe. No longer will I merely reply “strong and black” when required to give my coffee preference. If like me you want to learn more, or want to develop an existing passion for the black stuff, check out their website. The guys at Union are totally committed to both their product as well as the lives of the people growing their coffee. Put simply, they care.

Union Coffee can be ordered online from www.unionroasted.com

Hawksmoor: Serious Steak at Seven Dials

21 Sep

No meat is seen as more macho than steak. Where there is steak you will find men in suits drawn inexorably as if to Helen of Troy.
Yet, this characterisation is a pity for all concerned, especially the women of the world. For a great steak is a thing of universal beauty. Tender, primal. You can tell it’s one of the finer things in life because of how little you need to do to appreciate it. Simply season it and you could eat it raw ( You could eat it without seasoning, but why debase yourself so?). The mere application of a raging heat is enough to elevate it to one of the great foods. Yet tragically, despite having some of the best beef in the world, England has traditionally be seen as lacking a steak restaurant worth talking about, at least in positive terms.

Nowadays London’s pantheon of steak has two main contenders: Goodman and Hawksmoor. Both have slightly distinct vibes but are united by one thing; Consistently providing meaty, rich slabs of excellent steak.

Of the two, Hawksmoor is the slightly punkier younger cousin a fact reflected in its original east London location. As they grow older and more successful they, as is often the case, are moving into slightly more upmarket surroundings, with a branch in Seven Dials and a third planned for the Guildhall.

I made my trip to their slightly swankier Seven Dials location. The restaurant itself is situated in the old Truman’s Brewery, the last remnants of which are the imposing pillars that own the dining room like towering sentinels. The entrance is unassuming but quietly confident and with good reason. From the reception you are lead down some stairs into the bar. This is fitted out like an old school gentleman’s club, all wood and brass. Your face lights up upon entering as you can just tell that everybody here is having a good time. The buzz of contentment hangs heavy in the air.

Doing my best to reinforce stereotypes I had come with three male friends. We began with a round of cocktails to kick off the proceedings. Being stout of heart I went for the infamous Zombie. Consisting of three different rums, absinthe, falernum, grapefruit and lime juice, topped with a Navy Rum float. This is not a drink for the faint of heart or those with a meeting the next day. My decision was justified by the beast that was carried to the table, accompanied by a barman whose “I’m sorry sir, but this should be on fire” ranks as of one of my all time favourite utterances in a restaurant.

We plumped for the express menu (2 courses for £20, three for £22.50), which in my opinion was a steal. The starting salad was well executed but nothing particularly remarkable. If I were going for two courses, I would go for steak and pudding rather than the salad.

After the cocktails and salad we cracked into some bottles of wine, taking advantage of the 5 quid corkage on Mondays. This was only interrupted by the arrival of the main event, 250g of Longhorn rib eye, accompanied by triple cooked chips, the sort that weigh on the mind for days after. The taste sometimes recalls itself to my lips unbidden, causing a smile to break out on my face. Hot, crisp, and all sorts of fun.

The steak itself was everything expected. If my death was to bring someone this much satisfaction I would die at peace. Well-rested after its journey on the Josper, rare but not too bloody. A lot has been said about the Hawksmoor steak, all of it justified. One of the best steaks I have ever had and an embarrassment to so many over cooked and underhung supermarket slabs of beef.

We were originally going to give the puddings a miss, but when it came to it we were enjoying ourselves so much it seemed churlish to refuse. Cornflake ice cream caught my eye, with its echo of Momofuku’s cereal milk ice cream. The waiter told me that it was brought in rather than made on site but that it was still excellent. He was right. Soft, yielding ice cream with crisp cornflake clusters was a perfect way to tend the meal.

At this point I must extend my personal thanks to Will Beckett. Last time I went service slipped somewhat, and he went out of his way to make up for it this time, providing complimentary drink with an unexpected round of cocktails to finish.  I must confess I can’t remember what they were as by this time the zombie and the red wine had their way with my mental faculties. Suffice to say they were of the same high standard as the rest of the meal.

For me, it is no secret why this place is so successful. It does one thing, and it does it very well. Yet what makes it special is that it manages to appeal to both city boys and foodies as well as retaining its trendy east London origins. In my mind, you haven’t had steak till you’ve had Hawksmoor.

Hawksmoor

http://thehawksmoor.com/

Pips’ Dishes at the Marquis

15 Sep

This is a short post to pimp a project I am involved in. For the next three weeks I am helping to cook and run a pop up in a pub in Canonbury with Philip Dundas of www.pipsdish.co.uk .

I donned my chef’s whites for the first time yesterday and I have to say it felt good. We cooked for 25 people which is tiny by restaurant standards but almost double the number I’ve ever cooked for before. Everything went fairly smoothly thanks in part to the new chef who will be taking over when we ship out. Formerly of Graze in Brighton, I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in a more relaxed setting. You should expect a review soon.

The food we did was simple but well executed (even if I do say so myself). Starting with fish cakes and tartare it was exhilarating to be cooking to such tight deadlines and even more so seeing the food actually go out.

We followed with two full loins of roast venison marinated in Chorizo and lemon. This dish was the subject of much discussion as my fellow chef Pip had thought it a fairly original flavour combination before discovering that many on the internet had already done it before us. Carving the meat and plating it in the dining room was slightly nerve wracking but I was surprised to see myself plating stuff without any massive disasters occurring.

The  ice cream we had intended for dessert had to be served as a sauce with some meringue due to a failure with our robot coupe (I have a robot coupe!) Some quick thinking saved us and it all turned out well.

The menu itself changes each night, with a hake with romesco for our main and roasted peaches and cream for pudding this evening. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be debuting my new and improved onion soup as well as trying my hand at making a terrine. Coming up we also have a nice belly of pork from Peter Gott of Sillfield, one of my favourite farmers.

I’ll also be blogging my experiences from the kitchen so keep checking for a insight into how running a pop up works with hopefully not too many disasters among the way.

Bit of a shameless plug:

You can book through http://www.pipsdish.co.uk. Three courses, £25. Weds-sat till October the 2nd. Get involved

The Yanks are coming: Byron’s Uncle Sam Burger

9 Sep

The internet has been responsible for many changes to the way society works. Previously people’s obsessions and quirks were kept guarded. Depending on how left of field it was, some people resorted to visiting shrinks, but there was no major outlet for the monomaniac among us. You just didn’t talk about that sort of thing.

Now however, there are forums for that sort of thing. People gather to reassure and goad each other on to new heights of obsession and depravity. Whilst this, as with so much in life, mainly focuses around sexual fetishes, food has not escaped this fate.

Discussions such as ‘The best burger in town” or “When did Ranch dressing take over the world?” can be found on sites such as Egullet.org,Eater or Chowhound to mention some of the bigger American ones. Yet in London the discussion seems to be firmly centered on twitter. Having been scornful of it before I started blogging, I now spend far too much of my time on it talking about food.A chance tweet offered the opportunity to get involved with a ‘burgerswarm’ and I signed up immediately.

This is how I found myself arriving at a pub off the Strand to meet a load of people from the internet and eat burgers with them. We got chatting and it was clear I was in good company from the oohs over some custom St Johns burger buns somebody had brought with them. My kind of people, as the rich say.

Arriving at the Covent Garden Byron it seemed fitting that we were led downstairs away from the punters proper. Tom Byng, the owner of Byron was behind the bar shaking up a Bull’s blood to kick everybody off. This was consisted of vodka, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, tomato juice and beef bouillon. A beefy bloody Mary that went down well and prompted a conversation about drinking gravy. Like I said, my kind of people.

Whilst I was savouring this, my eyes were drawn by the American craft beers. I had an conversation with the bartender, a fellow enthusiast, and settled on a American Belgian style . Light and golden, it has a bit more character than your average blonde. Apparently frustratingly hard to get hold of, if you see it grab it with both hands.

Ushered further into  our own space, we sat down and began to nibble on some dip and salsa. The salsa was a little reserved in my opinion, solid but lacking kick.

Tom then announced that we would be kicking off the meal with a small burger before making our way onto…another, slightly bigger burger with all the sides. I was more than happy with this plan.

Our Starter (Thanks to Burgerme for the photo)

The first was a three ounce bacon cheeseburger. The bacon was just the right side of crisp and cut into small pieces so it didn’t fall out of the bun. The cheese was top notch, Montgomery s cheddar, one of only three unpasteurized cheddar still made in the traditional way. Normally this is the businesses, but for some reason the taste was lost in the burger storm. The burger itself was juicy and enjoyable. A good start.

The Yank

The Uncle Sam (Thanks again to Burgerme for photo)

Having eaten our first set of burgers, the conversation then naturally turned to burgers we had known and loved. I have never been at a table where a conversation  about the best way to grind and mix hamburgers even got going, let alone went on for over half an hour. These people were serious about their burgers. As the pro on your table, Fred Smith of the Ad Cod pub held court whist we talked techniques and cuts.

This conversation was only interrupted by the arrival of the main event. The Uncle Sam. If the other burger was English, this bruiser was all American through and through, think Tom Cruise in Top Gun but with less flight overalls. Best imagined as a pimped up big mac in terms of flavour profile. Slightly sweet due to the dill pickles, a soft bun and a juicy juicy patty. The plethora of sides was almost too much. Almost being the operative word, as I continued to cram sweet potato fries into my mouth long after I should have stopped.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention the service which excellent and extremely friendly. I think the staff were slightly scared by the huge number of cameras on show which made the table feel like a burger based red carpet at times. They were intrigued to realise that we all knew each other from the internet.I had to abscond from the madness relatively early and felt real disappointment at doing so, a testament to how nice everybody was.

For me Byron is an example of a chain done right. They care about the food and that shows in the finished product. It isn’t the best burger I have ever had, but it does what it sets out to do, and it does it well. Definitely worth a visit, especially to get your hands wrapped around an Uncle Sam.

A big thanks to gubgub08 and Tom for organizing it and a shout out to the rest of the swarm:

@hayleymudge, @razzbingo, @marispiperbingo, @faerietalefoody, @meat_twoveg, @eatingsoho, @fredsmith_ @joelgershinson, @ladyvelo82, @grobelaar, @theskinnybib, @dave_rowlinson, @danpeters, @aoafoodie, and @Hollyw2277.

Moolis: Not a f***ing buritto. F***ing tasty.

5 Sep
The exterior of Moolis

Moolis before its recent refit

I discovered Moolis as part of a noble quest to eat all of London. When I first arrived in London a year  ago it was incredibly new and exciting. Having spent years reading about restaurants and  knowing that reading was all I would ever do, I was suddenly walking past them on my way to work.

My first weekend in the Big Smoke I went to Moro. Having read the books more times than I dare to count, to be actually eating there was like I had arrived in a culinary oasis. The bread, oh the bread. I remember the slightly unnerved expression of my dining partner as I examined said loaf with a forensic intensity. It was an auspicious start to my London eating.

Yet like any young man, I wanted to discover the new. Stake my own claim. I started work in Covent Garden but given that it is still a bit of a culinary wasteland I was drawn to Soho like a dipsomaniac to the window of Gerry’s. Vibrant and seedy, the area was everything that appeals to me.Having made a decision to eat my way around Soho I chose Moolis first, merely on a whim. The plan was to go once and then try somewhere else.

But that somewhere else always became Moolis. Each time, it was a Moolis that I found myself chomping with gleeful abandon. Then I started dragging other people to have one, like an alcoholic bringing people to the pub so he feels justified draining that second bottle of gin.

Sure, I’ve tried Koya, and I’ve tried Fernandez and Wells, enjoying them both immensely. It’s just it felt like cheating. I’m chronically addicted to the pork Moolis. Moist shredded pork with tiny bombs of juicy pomegranate, wrapped in a roti roll. The salad also serves a purpose in terms of flavour, rather than the often token limp lettuce that serves only to bulk out a meagre filling.

Not a Fucking burrito

Pork Roti. F**k Yeah.

Having worked my way through the menu with a couple of willing friends I can confirm that the rest is equally as good.

The other reason I like Moolis is the fact that the two people who run it, Sam and Matthew seem to be genuinely nice people. On Twitter they are engaging and friendly rather than simply spamming promotions, creating that sense of personality and identity that is so crucial for any independent.

I’ll keep my advice simple. Run to Moolis. Buy a Mooli’s. Eat a Moolis. Run skipping back down the street with a great big smile on your face.

The Providores and Tapa Room: The dark art of fusion

18 Aug

Fusion cooking is one of the most maligned of all culinary disciplines. Often rightly, for in the wrong hands it can be an affront to the crockery it’s placed on. The Providores and Tapa Room is one restaurant that practices such dark arts. Led by Peter Gordon the antipodean who caused Jay Rayner to say “there was nothing wrong with fusion cooking… as long as Peter Gordon was doing it”. It’s located on Marylebone High Street and is the perfect spot to do some people watching. The Providores, the restaurant proper is on the top floor, whereas the bottom is filled with the Tapa Room. It takes no bookings and so there was a small queue outside when we arrived on Saturday morning.
My previous experience of fusion at The Modern Pantry, led by Anna Hansen, Gordon’s disciple, had been excellent. I was slightly disappointed by Gordon’s other restaurant, Kopapa, finding the portions too small for the price. I hoped that this wouldn’t be the case here.

The room itself is what could kindly be called intimate, verging on cramped. It does have the advantage of helping to create that crucial ‘buzz’. There are two menus, a breakfast that runs till 2pm, and a full menu from 3pm. The menus both read like a potential car crash of cuisines, miso doing a dance with sweet potato next to lime mingling with basil in a waffle. The brunch menu is relatively restrained in comparison to the all day menu although still has some surprises. Amongst this madness the full English seemed out of place, although I soon changed my mind once I smelt the glistening bacon and the wafting earthiness of the mushrooms.

My Friend and I opted to share some dishes, being achingly trending/a bit greedy. Often I find this annoying, as when I chose something I want to eat all of it. I don’t want to share it. Sometimes it’s nice to have small sections of food as it helps to keep things fresh and exciting. More often than not it’s simply frustrating.

In this case it was a slightly unwise decision as we had too many plates to fit on the table. Having had my love of chorizo rekindled by Brinsida in Borough Market I opted for chorizo with miso, sweet potato and creme fraiche. I was intrigued by how the miso would work with the sweet potato. The first mouthful was enough to wave at my companion for silence, better to savour it. So quite well then. The smokiness of the chorizo and the umami from the miso lifted the sweet potato up to a mash of MADNESS.

The next dish was goat’s curd, broad beans, grilled artichokes and rocket. All the flavours mingled together in a symphony of spring. It was less exciting than the whoomph of the miso and chorizo yet for me it still worked as a dish.

My companion went for the lime and basil waffles with a sweetcorn and jalapeño relish. I was less enamoured with this. The waffles were fairly staid and the relish nothing special. A bit of a non starter if I am honest.

Having ransacked these dishes, I still couldn’t get the smell of that bacon out my head. I went for the bacon with banana and walnuts, feeling that I couldn’t stomach a full English. The bacon was nice, but overall the dish was almost cloyingly sweet due to the syrup over it. The bacon cut through it somewhat, but I would have preferred more bacon and less sweetness.

All in all, a meal of highs and lows. Yet none of the lows were disasters or car crashes. They just didn’t sing to the same standard as the others. With fusion, it seems almost a perverse achievement to manage to make a dish that is merely boring, but I guess that speaks to the skill of Gordon. The standard of cooking is obviously high and I have no doubt that the full English is the proverbial dogs. It’s enough to make you want to move west. Almost.

The Providores and Tapa Room
109 Marylebone High Street W1U 4RX 020 7935 6175
Closest Tube: Baker Street
The Damage?: easily £15 to £20 per person with drinks.
http://www.theprovidores.co.uk/