Chinese New Year at Hakkasan

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Rose Petal Martini

The Year of the Sheep is already blooming for me. Not only have I devoured a ten-course New Year’s menu at Hakkasan Group’s HKK in the City, I have also been spoiled with another multi-course extravaganza at Hakkasan’s flagship restaurant in Hanway Place. Even better, we were there for Chinese New Year’s Eve. Oh, count me a million bouncing lambs, the evening was incredible.

My review of HKK went on almost as long as the Great Wall, so I’m going to make this one a bit easier to dribble over.

COCKTAILS

The Hanway Place Hakkasan boasts a bar that could almost be a liquid encyclopedia of the best alcohol on Planet Earth. There are distinct sections for whiskys, vodkas, fortified wines, spirits of international provenance, gins, rums and many more. Choosing what to drink from their extensive menu takes time. What did I dive into first? A Hakkasan signature cocktail called the Smoky Negroni. Sipping this was like sniffing a humidor of the very best cigars one can find, stirring the scent around with some twelve year-old Suntory whisky, a touch of plum sake, a dash of Campari and some Italian vermouth. Ooooch, I liked it. This was a good way to start the evening. It reminded me of my dear, late great uncle’s pipes. Delicious.

Next (yes, I was naughty enough to indulge in a second cocktail) was the Rose Petal Martini. Adorned with a single dark pink petal, this one was a step into a rose garden, heady with scent. The martini tasted as a rose might smell, yet with kicks of Hendrick’s gin, lychee liqueur, parfait amour and peach bitters attached. The rose syrup content was obvious, but the petal floating atop was a decorative reminder of the key flavour to be enjoyed here. An absolute winner cocktail.

WINE

As we settled into our table tucked away in a quiet corner, the sommelier appeared to guide us through the wine list. After much deliberation we ordered a bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde from Cazas Novas (the Avesso grape variety). This proved an excellent match to the nine courses about to land before us, with a suitably festive, almost bubbly sensation to each refreshing mouthful.

STARTERS

To celebrate Chinese New Year’s Eve Hakkasan put on a signature menu, costing a lucky £88.88 per person. The nine course event started with three dishes:

First, a steamer basket appeared with Hakkasan’s famous soft-wrap dim sum. Hakkasan’s chefs excel in this department. I’ve eaten dim sum all over the globe, but none quite so perfectly executed as Hakkasan’s. The nearest rivals in my little black book of edibles would be thousands of kilometres away in Sydney’s Chinatown in Australia. The fillings tonight? Prawn, scallop, Chinese chive. Some whole, some in softer, paste form, all cheek-swelling orbs of goodness. I could easily visit Hakkasan for their dim sum dumplings alone.

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Hakkasan dim sum

Next, the Spicy Lamb Lupin Wrap, borne of the Year of the Sheep. The wrap sliced into many small rounds, each mouthful warm to the tongue, the meat dissolving easily into a warming haze of Chinese spice.

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Spicy Lamb Lupin Wrap

Just when we though the lamb was a star upon the night sky of Hakkasan starters, along came the Golden Fried Soft Shell Crab. I have to say that soft shell crab has long featured on my death row menu.  So delicate, yet softly crunchy, with that ozone of Neptune’s lair. I love love love it. Somehow I encouraged my husband to eat more lamb, whilst I tucked into the crab. How strategic can I be, when faced with a favourite foodstuff?  Like Sun Tzu on the battlefield, I’d say. My wiles worked; I got more juicy crustacean. Hot. Spicy. Crunchy. WONderful.

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Golden Fried Soft Shell Crab

MAIN COURSES

Our mains arrived as a cluster of five. The Spicy Prawn with Lily Bulb and Almond was very good, but the vegetarian dish of Lily Bulb with Garlic Shoot was so unexpectedly tasty that it surpassed the little pink curvy things for once. They’re like the bulbs of large spring onions, only more delicate, with less of an attack on the tongue. What’s more, they’re good for high blood pressure, insomnia and heart disease; something that more of us would eat on a regular basis if they weren’t so niche a veg. Note to self: visit Chinatown and source lily bulbs. If not available, offer to clean the woks at Hakkasan for a week to earn some.

The stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef was braised into the next century. It fell apart into soft, delectable morsels that somehow disappeared once in the mouth, amid a deep, merlot flavour. No unnecessary fat. No wibbly bits. Just mouthfuls of divine. Enough said.

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Stir Fry Black Pepper Rib Eye Beef, Stir Fry Lily Bulb and Garlic Shoot

Then we tucked into the Grilled Chilean Sea Bass in Honey. Aaaah. It was like a slightly sweeter version of black miso cod. Flaking away from the fork with ease, it blended well with the last plate on our mains menu: Abalone and Dry Scallop Fried Rice.

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Abalone and Dry Scallop Fried Rice with Spicy Prawn and Chilean Seabass

I grew up in New Zealand, where there is an abundance of big, fat abalone, which we call Paua. On the international market it sells for a fortune. Start thinking of offloading a small organ for cash and you get the picture. Around the world, abalone can differ. It might be big, dark and fat, as you get downunder, or a smaller, paler variety, as the Italians harvest. The Hakkasan fried rice with abalone was something I will always remember. The slightly chewy flesh and vaguely salty nature of the dice of abalone sprinkled throughout the rice brought me back to the Southern Hemisphere. In my opinion, this was the highlight of the entire menu. A Kiwi in London, familiar with many things Chinese, celebrating Chinese New Year, and EATING ABALONE. Woo hoo! Life is good.

DESSERT

If the above hadn’t been good enough to wow my discerning buds of taste, the next and final dish would. A plastic tree arrived at our table, with kumquats hanging from its branches. Or were they? At first glance they looked like kumquats (small, orange, round) but the fruit had been squirrelled away inside spheres of chocolate, then coated with orange to resemble the fruit. As the tree sat between us on the table, another tree had been painted on our plates and dressed with chocolate, caramelised macadamia nuts and rocks of cocoa. Creative, sweet, light and fun. Then, in case we weren’t getting quite enough kumquat, our waitress encouraged us to try the Kumquatcha, a Chinese New Year cocktail, containing Germana cachaça (a Brazilian white rum), Campari for colour, kumquats and lime. It tasted like very grown up fruit cordial with a touch of the tropical and plenty of sweet citrus taste.

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Kumquat Wishing Tree

As we downed our Kumquatchas and stripped the standing tree of its small, orange fruit, we wrote wishes for the New Year on red and gold cards, hanging them alongside quite a collection of our fellow diners’ desires. This was a unique way to end a magical evening at Hakkasan and welcome in the Year of the Sheep. Long will it remain in my memory.

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New Year’s Wishes

**I dined as a guest of Hakkasan Group. The views expressed here are my own.

Hakkasan

8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD

reservations@hakkasan.com

hakkasan.com

 

 

 

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Celebrating the Year of the Sheep at HKK, PART II

hkk hakkasan dishes

Jasmine tea smoked poussin

Moving on from the previous five courses in our ten course culinary tour of China at HKK, we would now try jasmine tea smoked poussin. The Anhui area, located inland from Shanghai, is known for its tea and wild herbs, both of which were incorporated into this recipe, along with more black truffle, creating a dish that was of the land in both content and taste. Even better than the supple bird meat was its liquid partner: the Dewazakura brewery’s Izumi Judan or Tenth Degree sake from Japan’s Yamagata region. This was a cold, dry sake, with such a smooth, refreshing effect on my mouth that it felt like silk slinking down my throat.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot

Sorry to see the last of the sake disappear from my glass, we started the seventh course: braised soy Wagyu beef with Merlot. This was served as a single small cube drenched in a rich red wine reduction. The beef fell apart on first exploratory nibble, a sign of successful braising, and the sauce made me want to lick every last smidgen off my fork as a five year-old might with chocolate cake. We had just demolished our example of Zhe cuisine from the Zheziang province bordering the East China Sea to the south of Shanghai.

The wine paired with this and the final savoury course was a Château Simone red blend from Provence.  It was a little light for the beef, which was dense with flavour and required something full-bodied to counteract this, however, where the meat somewhat eclipsed it, the Château Simone did great work with the Szechuan char-grilled New Zealand scampi.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Szechuan char-grilled New Zealand scampi

Here was the dish I’d been looking forward to all evening: New Zealand seafood; a taste of home. Faithful to my imagination the scampi was luscious on a plate. Served with Ma La sauce, which is based on Szechuan pepper but also contains dry chilli, ginger and sesame paste, this is a taste that I will be attempting to replicate at home. Szechuan pepper is commonly used in the region of the same name in south-western China and can produce a numbing effect on the mouth when eaten, but in my case there was no tongue-tingling to speak of; just a thoroughly pleasant warmth as prepared to journey on to the land of Chinese things sweet.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion

The penultimate dish on our culinary tour arrived in a covered bowl: three little white balls whose benign appearance bore no resemblance to what hid within. Before we could resume and consume our waiter poured a yuzu and ginger infusion over the Lilliputian dumplings. Then, ready for a sugar hit I bit into the first sphere, which oozed with chocolate lava. Wu Lei Wong Ka has been to China. This, the first of two desserts, incorporated two classic matches with the chocolate: citrus and ginger, contributing tastes at once tart and hot. It was Chef Tong’s first nod to the Chinese New Year, as the tradition of dim sum forms a key component of any celebratory meal. The second nod would come with the final stop on our trip, where that woolly wonder, the sheep, would finally take her bow.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Here was the sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelized puff rice. This was an unusual mix of tart softness, with the welcome crunch of Rice Bubbles. Go, sheep! This blend of textures had a cleansing effect to the end of the tour, whilst giving the sheep its overdue reverence within the menu: saving the best for last. The pairing for the sugary end to our tour was a Moscato d’Asti – as pleasantly bubbly as the puff rice, with a subtle sweetness. What a pleasant end to a whirl about China and its regions.

My husband and I were now by no means stuffed to the gunnels; merely happily satisfied. The entire evening had given us a gustatory experience, whilst educating us in the various culinary regions of China. What a combo! We talked about our courses all the way home.

And so, to you all, HAPPY (CHINESE) NEW YEAR! GONG XI FA CAI! I wish you all the best for a happy and prosperous Year of the Sheep.

Huge thanks to Chef Tong Chee Hwee and all the staff of HKK, both during our meal, when they fielded my numerous queries with patient knowledge, and also after the fact, when I needed to double-check some kitchen ingredients and methods. People: you are the BEST at your game. Keep going.

HKK

88 Worship Street, Broadgate Quarter, London EC2A 2BE

reservations@hkklondon.com

http://www.hkklondon.com

@HKKlondon

I was a guest of Hakkasan Group and the views expressed in this post are my own.

See the first post here:  

Gong Xi Fa Cai! Celebrating the Year of the Sheep at HKK, PART I

Raise the red lantern, for it’s nearly time to welcome in the Chinese New Year. February 19 will see the dawn of the Year of the Sheep, an animal known in China for being calm and kind, qualities attributed to people born under this sign. At London restaurant HKK, part of the Hakkasan stable, Head Chef Tong Chee Hwee has masterminded a tasting menu to welcome in the New Year; ten courses that transport the diner across eight regions of the land of the Great Wall, creating a culinary tour of a variety of Chinese cuisines, no passport required.

Recently I received an e-mail that cracked open like a fortune cookie filled with promise: might I be interested in reviewing Chef Tong’s New Year menu? As the Chinese might say, yao, xie xie, YES, thank you, I very much would. And so, with my wine advisor (read: husband) on one arm, I set off to Broadgate in the City of London to eat my way through China without leaving the country.

For anyone familiar with Hakkasan’s Hanway Street flagship restaurant or Bruton Street sister, the décor at HKK couldn’t be further from the chic Shanghai Bund feel of its siblings. At first glance this interior is devoid of anything that might indicate an Asiatic influence. Diaphanous curtains shroud the main dining room in silver, the tables following the perimeter, with a large serving island at the nucleus of the space. Until the menus arrived we could have been dining under just about any flag, such is the simplicity of the interior.

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The Yáng Walker

The menus for this jaunt about China came in a red wrapper, emblazoned with a golden sheep worthy of Jason and accompanied by a colourful hand-painted version to keep, the work of artist, Louise Morgan.

The first treat to manifest was a cocktail named the Yáng Walker, a delightful few fruity gulps of Johnny Walker combined with plum wine, grapefruit and lemon juices and a good splash of Dah Chu Chiew, a type of Chinese grain-based spirit, Baijiu, which has existed now for over five millennia. Thankfully, it arrived in a small measure because this was a cocktail that in quantity could be most dangerous indeed. Exotic, strong, tropical, delicious.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly

The appetiser appeared with a glass of Stepp Pinot Noir from Pfalz in Germany, our first pairing wine. Our taste buds would be whet by small cubes of diced pork set in a Chinese wine jelly, arranged with fragrant leaves, tiny mounds of grated ginger and slivers of radish. I confess I’m not a huge fan of aspics and savoury jellies, but I will say that the pork was well-flavoured and the garnish so fresh and hot and cool in small but equal parts that, for me, it was the garnish that became the star of this dish. The tour had begun; we’d just passed through the Jiangsu Province and experienced Su cuisine, where meat is often infused with wine, creating a sweet result.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Cherry wood roasted Peking duck

No Chinese banquet would be complete without the presence of Peking duck. Out came the chef in his whites, carrying a duck that looked like a well-oiled, long-term resident of Florida, such was the perfect bronzage. We were invited to watch the chef carve the bird at the serving island. There, we learned that the duck had been marinated in five spice and vinegar before a lazy hanging and roasting over cherry wood. Our plates were smeared with hoi sin sauce and a wedge of breast set upon it, followed by a triangle of crispy skin and a small pancake, prepared for us in the traditional manner with cucumber and spring onion, duck and a touch more hoisin. Back at the table, this duck was a smoky-sweet taste bomb of tender meat, which, although a case of gilding the lily, we were then encouraged to dip into a little bit of sugar and the plum sauce on the plate. Concerning the crispy skin – my goodness, it was so scoffable that HKK should sell little bags of this as a snack for gourmands on the go. Cellar-side, the German Pinot Noir married well with the duck, smacking of New World style whilst bursting with an Old World cherry flavour, the perfect twin for the cherry wood tang in the duck.

Ooh, là. Time for another mini-cocktail. This time called the Bitter Fortune. Bitter would relate to the Aperol within it, a spirit popular in the famous Spritz of Venice, which can often taste like cough medicine. On this occasion it was mixed with Tanqueray 10 gin and grape and grapefruit juices, with a sliver of star fruit floating on the surface. The Bitter Fortune made Aperol work for me. Like the Yáng Walker, it smacked of far-flung places and Somerset Maugham short stories, and yet, unlike its name, this tipple was far from bitter.

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Dim sum trilogy

The Bitter Fortune was matched with two more dishes on our tour: the dim sum trilogy and a soup poetically named Monk Jumps Over the Wall.

The dim sum appeared in a trio of colour, accompanied by a small dish of soy sauce and a paintbrush with which to daub the morsels. The crab pouffe was my favourite – light and warm and softly salty. My resident wine guru preferred the prawn dim sum – blushed pink with goji berry; a tasty variation on the ever-popular har gau, but less insipid than most in appearance, courtesy of the goji. The green dim sum contained chicken and black truffle – an unexpectedly European taste in the midst of a Chinese meal, yet properly fungal, as anything containing that culinary black gold should be. The dim sum had whisked us off to its place of conception: the region of Guangdong, with its Yue cuisine, all hailing from the proximity of the South China Sea, where seafood is a staple for local folk. I think I could live there.

Where to next?

It was time for soup, this time from the south-eastern Fujian province, where Min cuisine reigns supreme.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Monk Jumps Over the Wall

As my partner in taste crime put it, the true delight of HKK’s food is its presentation. The chefs here aren’t simply cooks; they are artistes. Our stoneware bowls arrived with lids, on top of which sat traditional Chinese soup spoons laden with glass noodles and goji berries. We stirred the noodles and berries into the soup – a mild broth swimming with abalone, porcini and sea cucumber. The legend goes that a nomadic, vegetarian monk once jumped a wall to eat this soup, such was its enticing aroma, thereby taking an unexpected sabbatical from his vegetarianism.

hkk hakkasan dishes

Pan-grilled Chilean sea bass in Sha Cha sauce

Having somewhat Neptunian taste buds I was looking forward to the sea bass in Sha Cha sauce, a North Chinese condiment containing garlic, chilli, brill fish and dried shrimp. This was soft and subtle, like the wallflower at the dance. Good, certainly, but mild when sat alongside its more robust neighbours. However, the wine match for this dish, a Ramey Chardonnay from California’s Russian River region, exuded fruit and spice, with a Lazarus effect on this otherwise quiet plate of food. The sea bass came to life with this tipple tickling our tongues.  I could happily have taken a case of this Chardonnay home for culinary resurrection purposes, not to mention the guilty pleasures stash.

We’re now halfway through the tour, with five destinations under our tightening belts and five yet to reach. We will travel through yet more Chinese regions and their flavours in the second part of this post.

HKK

88 Worship Street, Broadgate Quarter, London EC2A 2BE

reservations@hkklondon.com

@HKKlondon

www.hkklondon.com

The 2015 Culinary Journey through China menu is £98.00. The Wine pairing menu is an additional £58.00.

Images courtesy of Hakkasan Group.

I was a guest of HKK for the purposes of reviewing their Chinese New Year culinary tour menu. The views expressed here are my own.

 

 

Nice Pecks!

Happy-pecks

Our kitchen calendar is usually filled with scenes of far-off places, inspiring our future travels or triggering memories of those we’ve visited in the past. This year, it’s a bit different. The Happy Egg Co crew kindly sent me a Nice Pecks cockerel calendar, so we have cocks in the kitchen for once.

This is the third in the cockerel calendar series, created (as they say) to offer visual stimuli to their egg-laying girls, who live out their lives without the company of cockerels because the eggs they lay, destined for shop and supermarket shelves all over the country, are unfertilised.  The idea is that a bit of eye candy can’t possibly do their chooks any harm and may even stimulate a bit of extra output.

The 2015 calendar is a bit of a hoot, with its theme being touted as the EGG-streme edition. Each of the twelve featured cockerels is pictured practising one egg-streme sport or another. Pictured above we see Mister January, aka Eddie ‘the Rooster’ Edwards, a Light Brahma variety. Being a Kiwi I’m rather fond of Sir Egg-mund Hillary, pictured (natch) atop Everest as the appropriate pin-up for February – the month of New Zealand’s national holiday, Waitangi Day. There’s an Ayam Cemani breed known as David Peck-ham, pictured in his footie boots, and flick through to June to find none other than Sir Bradley Chick-ins proudly perching on the handlebars of a rather slick racing bike.

There’s a lot of humour in this calendar and along with handy egg-based recipes at the bottom of each month it’s already a hit in our household. Quite egg-cellent, to be sure.

If you’re a chicken-lover and would like to see some egg-stremely fine cockerels strutting their stuff on your kitchen wall, visit the Happy Egg Co Facebook page here or tweet the team @thehappyeggco

For further information on the Happy Egg Co, visit their site www.thehappyegg.co.uk

Coppinger Row, Dublin

Guinness. Potatoes. Oysters. If asked to name three things that come immediately to mind on thinking of Irish food, those would be the ones popping up in my head. It’s embarrassingly simplistic, when I consider the broader picture – of the various other healthy and delicious edibles produced by The Emerald Isle. Take Dublin’s Coppinger Row, for instance. Self-styled as a Mediterranean restaurant, it serves local produce wherever possible. Last November I was lucky enough to visit this stalwart of the Irish food scene with Emma Kenneally, Editor of Lovin’ Dublin, and fellow bloggers and writers from the UK.

Located on a short cut-through between busy shopping streets in Dublin 2, Coppinger Row was pretty well-occupied for a Monday lunchtime, yet Emma assured us it would be positively heaving come weekend brunch. I was ravenous by the time we were seated, in spite of a spot of kedgeree before my flight from Heathrow, so I was more than ready to be fed. The selection of starters offered to our group by the chefs had definite Mediterranean influences, but the core ingredients were very much local fare.

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Barbequed Carlingford oysters with Merguez sausage and spring onion were first to appear. Served warm in their shells, on a bed of Neptune’s necklace, each one exuded a magical mix of ozone and spice. The next platter was my absolute delight of the entire day’s eating: Jack McCarthy’s black pudding, from Kanturk, County Cork, garnished with baby leeks and gooey gorgonzola. Suddenly, I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen, the fire sparking away, Toby jugs on the mantle, with plates of a proper, Kiwi fry-up before us on the dining table. My grandmother often served black pudding with her cooked breakfasts. It was store-bought but very tasty, not too fatty and decidedly too delicious to reject once I’d learned that the key ingredient of these dense, black sausages was BLOOD. As an adult, I’ve never found a black pudding as beguiling or balanced as those wolfed down during childhood winter holidays. Never, that is, until now. Mister McCarthy’s black pudding is smooth, almost completely devoid of lumps and fatty bumps, which I don’t exactly relish. Take a tin of black boot polish and you might start to visualise the look of the pudding, but there’s no way on this planet that you’d comprehend the taste and texture unless you’ve visited either Mr Jack McCarthy or Coppinger Row. Here, the black pudding was served on rounds of bread, resembling a tranche of solidified tapenade. The gorgonzola was melted atop these dark mouthfuls, with a green sprinkle of baby leeks lending a touch of spring to the presentation. I could write an entire post about this black pudding, but I won’t. Not today, anyway. The point is that if you like black pudding, this is one worthy of lengthy analysis and description and perhaps a quick trip to Dublin Town.

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Next on the menu were Liscannor Bay crab claws, bearing all the characteristics of those you might find at a Floridian clam bake: big, fat, succulent, with almost tropical colouring. They sat upon a cushion of bread slices, drenched in garlic butter. Dare I say that the sopping, warm bread was just about as good as the claws? In this eating game I find myself avoiding bread much of the time, to save both capacity and calories, but this is not the place to exercise such wisdom. Eat. The. Bread. You won’t regret it.

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Another platter from the sea was now before us: Kilmore Quay Mackerel with Moroccan spices, fennel, olive and orange. I’m a huge fan of this versatile, inexpensive fish. Then again, I don’t know many pescavores who don’t rate it well. Once more, the touch of exotic heat and fruits of the sun took my taste buds on a quick flit about the Med. Supple and silky was this Irish fish.

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We were now able to diverge from the tasting menu that had been created for us, in order to try something of our choice from the menu. One of our group ordered the pulled pork, another the open meatball sandwich, which is apparently legendary here. Grilled steak on flatbread, dressed crab and crayfish with basil and lemon, spinach and ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola cream… all received pretty solid praise from around the table. We were off to eat again in a few, short hours, so in an attempt to reduce my intake I went for the vegetarian mezze plate and antipasto board. It was essentially a salad served on a breadboard with ramekins of houmous and tzatziki on the side. I do admit to being more accustomed to the antipasto components being distinct, instead of tossed together. That’s not to say that the mezze plate wasn’t good. Every chunk of artichoke, bite of mozzarella and salad leaf was, at the risk of being cliché, farm-fresh and flavourful and once more, the Med was right there, hovering bright in the background of this grey Dublin day.

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Before leaving, we were treated to just one more taste of Ireland, this time its cheese. Cavanbert (rhymes with Camembert) hails from County Cavan. Cavanbert is one of Irish cheesemaker, Silke Cropp’s creations, with a raw cow’s milk base and more of a bite than its French cousin, Camembert. Irish mixed seed crackers from Sheridan’s cheesemongers were the accompaniment, and fine crackers they were, too, providing a crunchy alternative to the  slices of rye bread.

In summary: Coppinger Row is a bit of a Dublin institution, especially for weekend brunch. Make sure you book ahead. If you like black pudding, you must try theirs; it has a creamy texture to rival any other I’ve eaten to date. The restaurant’s interior is tiled deep green and with the neo-industrial lamps, shelves of well-thumbed cookbooks and a subtly-lit décor, Coppinger feels just the right amount of modern with an Irish retro twist. There’s a sheltered terrace in the front and the staff are warm and enthusiastic about their local suppliers. Ask them any question about the menu, sit back and listen up as they wax lyrical about all foods Irish.

Coppinger Row – Off South William Street, Dublin 2, www.coppingerrow.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort with the Caldicotts

 

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It’s the Northern Hemisphere winter and we’re fast approaching the year’s shortest day. It’s more often gloomy than bright, the sun sets early and leaves fill the gutters. Setting foot outside a warm home or office becomes a chore, coats and scarves weigh heavy on tired bodies, so when we finally do have some respite at home, simple, soothing food is definitely on the menu.

Carolyn Caldicott and photographer husband, Chris, have produced a timely antidote to chills and sniffles, in the form of a little book of winter-warming recipes called Comfort. Starting with Breakfasts to Get Up For, Carolyn teaches us how to perfect the classics like a boiled egg and soldiers, porridge and eggy bread and sensibly suggests a trio of eggs, potato rösti with a stiff Bloody Mary to blitz that Silly Season hangover. Hearty Meals for Friends and Family includes favourites such as pie and mash, shepherd’s pie and spicy warmer-uppers like spaghetti puttanesca or chicken and mango coconut curry. Every page of this cookbook oozes relief from inclement climes. Chris Caldicott’s photography takes us into farmhouses where fires crackle as they fuel ancient black stoves, enamelware trumps fancy serving dishes, and there, in the midst of all the recipes, a rainbow arcs across a steel-grey sky – a double-paged message of beauty and potential that exists in spite of all the rain and sleet and snow; a reminder that things won’t stay grey forever.

Carolyn offers up edible tonics for seasonal maladies, along with easy snacks, hot toddies and classic English puddings – each and every page designed to coddle the reader into rosy-cheeked contentedness.

I’ve always been seduced by any sort of baked cheese, so as my recipe test I chose Whole Camembert Baked with Garlic and Rosemary. So quick, so wicked, so ideal for sharing with some chunks of oven-warmed sourdough bread and a bowlful of crudités. Here’s the recipe for all you fromage fans out there:

Serves 2

1 whole room temperature Camembert (250g/ 9oz size in a wooden box)

1 plump clove of garlic, sliced,

1 sprig of rosemary

To serve

Warm baguette or ciabatta

Mixed crudités – carrot, celery, raw mushrooms, fennel, apple…

Chutney

Green salad

Slices of your favourite saucisson and ham

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5

Tip the Camembert out of its wooden box, remove the wrapping and carefully squeeze the cheese back into the box. Using a small knife make a few slits in the top of the cheese and insert the garlic slices and rosemary leaves.

Place the Camembert on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or so, until the garlic is golden, the cheese has a slightly swollen appearance and feels soft and molten to the touch.

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When I reached into the fridge today I saw immediately that a hungry mouse had nibbled at my perfectly-ripe Camembert de Normandie au lait cru from the dairy at St-Hilaire de Briouze (in London you can buy this at the Hamish Johnston fromagerie on Northcote Road, SW11), but there was still plenty left for me to play with. In the store cupboard I had a couple of bulbs of black garlic from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, so I substituted that for regular garlic. Black garlic has the consistency of treacle once the clove is exposed, so if you use this, poke holes into the Camembert with the end of a chopstick or similar, and use it again to push the gooey garlic into the cheese.

I absolutely hate cleaning the oven, so I try to protect its innards as much as possible and therefore set the wooden Camembert box on a small enamel dish before placing it in the oven. Thank goodness I did – the cheese was flowing out of the box like lava after 15 minutes in the heat.

This recipe couldn’t be easier to follow. I served the molten cheese with sourdough bread, heirloom radishes and batons of cucumber, whilst watching Kind Hearts and Coronets – a film to warm the cockles, as we say in London Town.

 

One final suggestion in the lead-up to Christmas: if you know someone who’d benefit from a bit of TLC, why not package this up with a copy of a heart-warming DVD or book and a pair of super-long socks with padded soles?

BONUS TIME!

To order Comfort at the discounted price of £7.99 including p&p if within the UK (or +£2.50 for orders from outside of the UK) please call +44 1903 828 503 or email mailorders@lbsltd.co.uk and quote the offer code APG258.

Comfort – Recipes to warm the heart and feed the soul, by Carolyn Caldicott, photographs by Chris Caldicott

Published by Frances Lincoln

RRP £9.99

I received a copy of this book for review and all the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 

 

 

Lovin’ Dublin Live 2014

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Niall Harbison struts his stuff

Niall Harbison is an Irish entrepreneur with the sort of history that someone will probably find to be good film fodder. In spite of being self-admittedly difficult to teach he worked as a chef for a Michelin-starred restaurant before touring the world as private chef to the super-rich, the likes of whom chopper in to Cannes to spend a few days chilling out on their ginormous gin palaces. Harbison went on to develop a media consultancy, Simply Zesty, which he later sold for several million Euros before setting up a simple blog called Lovin’ Dublin to promote all that’s good about the Dublin food scene. It’s now massive, boasts permanent staff and is able to sponsor awards for some of the best eateries in town. They’ve even set up an annual award for a food start-up. As if Harbo, as he’s known online, isn’t busy enough with all of the above, he’s also found the time to pen a bestseller about his success called Get Sh*t Done, not to mention creating an online image store for journalists, called Picstash. If you Google him, you’ll start to realise that what I’ve described of his life and achievements here is merely the abridged version.

Last week Harbison took Lovin’ Dublin to the people, 1200 of them or thereabouts, at the swish new Bord Gáis Energy Theatre by Dublin’s Grand Canal – a regenerated area of the city now populated by tech companies like You Tube and Google.

And so, at Lovin’ Dublin’s kind invitation, I found myself jetting across the Irish Sea to join a group of bloggers and writers from the UK at the event. Not only would we enjoy an evening of inspirational speaking at the Bord Gáis, but we’d also be introduced to some of the site’s favourite food spots.

I’ll post about the travel and food aspects of our trip later, but first to the event.

When we arrived at the theatre, the lobby was heaving with ticket-holders buying drinks and queuing up for tasty tidbits offered by the Lovin’ Dublin sponsors, alongside competitors hoping to walk away with one of the eatery awards. Heinz Ireland was a sponsor – and made sure we knew they were there by installing a huge tomato sauce bottle smack-bang next to the entrance. Apparently it took quite a lot of man-power to squeeze it through the door, which is ironic ‘cos it was a model of one of those upside-down squeezy bottles, just a heck of a lot bigger. Ah, the unexpected things that make me smile.

Upstairs a few of us made our way into the VIP bar area – blessedly under-populated, compared with the thronging ground floor we’d just left behind. There we sipped on ice-cold Jameson’s cocktails, made with ginger ale, before taking our seats in the Circle.

An Irish comedian called Al Porter compered much of the evening in his signature camp style, with a good amount of blue humour thrown in to hold our attention. Once he’d warmed us up we got underway with the inspirational speakers. They were:

  • Paddy Cosgrave, mastermind behind the Dublin Web Summit and now Web Summit – Europe’s largest technology conference;
  • Mark Little, Founder and CEO of Storyful, telling the tale of his move from broadcaster and news anchor to founder of the Storyful site, a social media news agency, where news can be contributed by anyone;
  • Caroline Keeling, CEO of Keeling’s Fruit, who recounted her family’s success story and how they’re now selling tech they developed for their fruit business to Chinese firms;
  • Jamie Heaslip, Irish rugby player, Entrepreneur and Angel Investor, giving a delightful account on where he goes in Dublin on his days off the field;
  • Niall Breslin, known affectionately as ‘Bressie’, Musician and Campaigner, who spoke movingly about his battle with depression – an incredibly brave individual;
  • Marco Pierre White, the chef and restaurateur, who gave a disarmingly frank synopsis of his life in food, starting with a knock at a Harrogate restaurant’s back door at the age of fifteen, asking to see the chef about a job. He hasn’t looked back and claims that out of all the cities he’s visited world-over, Dublin has shown him the most kindness;
  • Niall Harbison, naturally, both explaining the story of Lovin’ Dublin and helping to interview the guests;
  • but above all, I take my hat off to Mark Pollock, the blind paraplegic who is working on a cure for paralysis. This man is the embodiment of courage. Once upon a time Pollock had both sight and the use of his legs, but a double dose of misfortune has taken both from him. Does he complain? No. He’s determined that we will soon see a cure for paralysis, developed by medics and chemists and tech experts and creatives working together. As he puts it, recently he was able to walk every day for a month, with the aid of a technological brace and certain drugs. But because this so-called experiment hasn’t been observed by the right people, the breakthrough is not yet acknowledged. With Pollock’s brand of will-power and a team coming together at Trinity College to work with him on this project, I am absolutely certain he will succeed. His story has recently been released in documentary form in Ireland, aptly entitled Unbreakable. The film is next off to tour festivals like Sundance and hopefully it’ll be on general release before too long.

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Marco Pierre White sharing with Harbo

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MPW Mark Pollock now and back when he was a medal-winning rower

At the end of the evening, the winners of the various Dublin eatery categories were announced and the best start-up prize, totalling €25,000.00, was awarded to Nobo, a non-dairy ice cream with avocado base. (The Mystic Meg in me sees Hollywood celebs in Nobo’s future.)

So there ended the inaugural Lovin’ Dublin Live event. It’s set to be an annual fixture. I just wonder who’ll pop up on the 2015 programme?

As for our group, the day in Dublin was not yet over. We were piled into a green double-decker party bus and driven to the after-party at trendy Sam’s Bar, for yet more Jameson’s and ginger ale.

I was invited to Dublin by Lovin’ Dublin, with help from www.visitdublin.com

and the Lovin’ Dublin Live  sponsors: obrienswine.ie, Heinz Ireland and SuperValu supermarkets.

Confit de Canard for Gressingham Duck

I’ve been up to my elbows in duck of late, writing recipes for Gressingham Duck, the big name in store-bought duck in the UK. Apart from breasts and legs, I’ve even barbecued a whole duck, with a little help from Monsieur who is the outdoor chef for our household while I mostly cook within four walls.

Here’s the recipe I wrote for Gressingham’s blog for homemade preserved duck, otherwise known as Confit de Canard. You can check out my recipes and get plenty of inspiration for cooking duck here.

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Duck legs preserved in their own (and a little extra) fat

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Legs on a bed of Charlotte potatoes and crumbled chèvre, ready to cook

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Another set of confit Gressingham legs served with polenta chips, sautéed mushrooms and a red wine and cassis reduction

For this recipe you will need either a large preserving jar or (as I have used) a firm plastic food storage box with strong seal, large enough to take the two duck legs and a lot of duck fat.

Please do note that the initial part of the preserving process takes 12-24 hours so don’t attempt this if you’re in a rush.

Ingredients:

1 pack of Gressingham duck legs (a pair)

2 jars of Gressingham duck fat (2 x 250g containers)

2 Tbsp Sea salt

10 crushed black peppercorns

2 tspn minced garlic

2-3 bay leaves, roughly torn into small pieces

¼ tspn allspice

1 tspn dried thyme

2-3 bay leaves, whole

How to, Day 1:

  • Wash the duck in cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper
  • Put the duck legs into your sealable container
  • Mix together the sea salt, peppercorns, garlic, torn bay leaves, allspice and dried thyme
  • Rub the mixture all over the legs and seal the container
  • Place the container in the fridge for 12-24 hours (the longer the better for the meat to absorb the seasoning flavours)

 

How to, Day 2:

  • Remove the duck legs from the fridge and rinse well under cold water
  • Once again, pat dry with kitchen paper
  • Place in a frying pan with no added fat and heat for around 10 minutes, skin side down, until the duck produces its own fat and the skin is lightly golden.
  • Then put the duck and its fat into a casserole dish and add the jars of duck fat
  • Slowly heat at 150 degrees Celsius for 2.5 hours
  • Remove the dish from the oven and allow to cool
  • Once cooled, place the duck legs into the sealable container and pour in the fat, making sure it covers all the meat
  • Place the whole bay leaves on top of the fat
  • Seal the container and place in the fridge *the preserved legs may be stored for at least 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, if not disturbed or the seal broken.

 

How to reheat:

Remove the duck legs from the fat, taking care to remove any excess fat. Heat (without added fat) skin-side down in a frying pan, until the skin turns golden, a little longer if you like it crispy, but do keep an eye on the legs so they don’t stick to the pan. The occasional swilling of the fat around the pan should prevent this. Then turn the legs to allow the underside to heat. This should only take 10-12 minutes in total.

Don’t waste the excess fat!

The excess duck fat may be re-used at a later date – it’ll give an excellent flavour to roast potatoes and veg, so don’t throw it out! Just store it in a preserving jar in the fridge. The fat will last a good few months under these conditions.

When you want to use the duck fat, warm it through in a saucepan over a gentle heat, then pass it through a sieve to remove any duck meat or pieces that may remain from prior use and put it to work with your vegetables, as you would usually use butter or lard.

 

 

 

Postcards from Old Palma, Mallorca

I don’t know how I’d never made it to Palma before now. Wonderful tales of Mallorcan life have been reaching my ears for years, many imparted with passion by people who return year after year for just a bit more of what this picturesque Mediterranean isle has to offer. On this, my first visit, three generations of family shared self-catering accommodation just outside Palma. Some weeks later we’re still reliving it and reading as much as we can about the island.

Here’s a taste of Palma’s Old Town, the focus of which is undoubtably the Catedral. It’s like a Titanic of ecclesiastical architecture – an absolute behemoth on the Palma skyline.

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Off the Carrer d’En Morei, a narrow street running away from the back of the Catedral towards the Plaça de Santa Eulàlia, we peeked into inner courtyards – this one belonging to a hotel but others the sanctuary of local folk.

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 Horse-drawn carriages wend their way around Old Palma offering visitors a quaint, if slightly kitsch, way to see the town.

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In the Plaça de la Cort there’s an olive tree so gnarled and ancient that it definitely shows it’s been eight hundred or so years on the planet.

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Many shops sell Mallorcan delicacies: from dried sausage and flavoured oils to the popular ensaimadas – large, spiral-shaped pastries filled with sweet cream or marmalade, almond paste or a host of other sweet surprises. I was particularly drawn to the Aladdin’s Cave frontage of this little store of  Mallorcan produce.

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A close up of the little mannequin for you:

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Another glimpse behind a pair of old gates:

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And lastly, our view back at base after a hard day on our feet. Time to kick back with a chilly glass of blanco.

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Total-ly Greek – the Yoghurt Cookbook by TOTAL

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TOTAL yoghurt is totally, one hundred per cent Greek. Not Greek-style, but authentically Greek, as in Nana Mouskouri Greek, only a bit older. TOTAL was born of a traditional Greek recipe in 1926. It’s so natural that all it contains is milk, cream and live yoghurt cultures. It’s a household name here in the UK and has been since it was first imported here in 1983, but how much further than breakfast do YOU think when you open a punnet of yoghurt? Sadly, a lot of folk don’t recognise the massive potential yoghurt has as a healthy cream-substitute for all sorts of kitchen creations. Now, courtesy of the Total Greek Yoghurt cookbook by Chef Sophie Michell, yoghurt’s versatility is highlighted in a great many delicious and healthy ways.

For instance, did you know that Total 0% Greek yoghurt contains only 57kCal  per 100 grams? Or that it has a fat content of zero? Okay, you probably guessed that from the name. It’s high in protein, extremely low in sugar, making it ideal for diabetics and dieters, whilst lending its thick, creamy texture to all sorts of dishes, sweet and savoury alike. Even TOTAL’s Classic Greek Yoghurt is still low on calorie count (96 per 100 grams), fat and sugar. So, it scores low where it counts, but is also high scoring in all the right places – like protein and calcium content. To boot, TOTAL is blessedly gluten free for anyone with that particular intolerance.

Science over, let’s flick through the recipes in the book. There are three main sections:

  • Small Plates and Soups
  • Main Plates
  • Sweet Plates, Shakes and Smoothies

Under Small Plates there are wonderful concoctions – both the expected Greek staples, such as taramasalata – this time served alongside green olive and lemon bread containing Greek yoghurt, and dolmades served with a dipping side of yoghurt, but there are also surprises which bring the warm Mediterranean sun out from behind the clouds – such as barbecued watermelon with agave and Greek yoghurt (if you don’t have a barbie, Michell has thoughtfully suggested using a griddle pan). The recipes take their influence from a variety of cuisines, too, so we’re not always going to be noshing down with the gods on Mount Olympus. There are crab cakes and wontons and a ceviche-inspired King Prawn cocktail. The yoghurt may be Greek, but we’re travelling the world here.

For something more substantial, skip to the Main Plates section. Here you’ll find generous salads, a rich macaroni cheese, a very grown-up version of baked beans with mustard (and Greek yoghurt) mash, fish tacos with chipotle yoghurt and pickled red onions, and one-pan meals like the smoked haddock and prawn pilaf with coriander and cashew yoghurt.

When I decided to recipe test from the book I went for an old favourite: potato rösti. Here it’s plated up with smoked salmon, vodka-spiked yoghurt and salmon keta. I was salivating more than Cerberus once I’d chosen to whip up a plate of these, so didn’t make it to the shops to pick up the keta, but next time I’ll make sure to do so (and there will definitely be a next time).

The recipe was straightforward to follow, written (as so many are not) in a logical sequence. Apart from one naughty deviation, where I added one finely sliced small onion to the rösti mixture, because I do so love a bite of onion in my potato cakes, the whole process went like a dream and tasted precisely as it should, give or take an onion. As for the vodka-spiced yoghurt, it’s the essence of simple yet wicked enough to be whipped up and paired with other fishy dishes another time.

Which brings me to the TOTAL + pages. There are four of these: TOTAL +1 is comprised of incredibly short recipes for sauces, dips and the like, made up of a mere two ingredients – TOTAL Greek yoghurt being one, plus one other. Creamy chocolate dip, miso dip, yoghurt-dipped strawberries feature here. So quick, so EASY. TOTAL +2 uses two ingredients on top of the yoghurt component, and there’s a special, second TOTAL +2 page in the Sweet Plates section. Lastly, TOTAL +3 is where to find the recipes for yoghurt plus three ingredients. Your classic tzatziki is here, with a beetroot version, a couple of dressings, a dip (blue cheese) and sriracha chilli and lime sauce.

Just a word on the layout: most of the recipes have a page to themselves, with a glorious photo of either the food or some aspect of Greek life opposite. What I really appreciate about the food styling here is that it looks like any reader can make this food. It isn’t overly groomed or presented as if you need a Michelin star just to deign a peek at the pic; the food is displayed on simple kitchenware and has a slightly tousled, ruffled air to it, as if it’s just been tossed out of a normal pan in an average kitchen, from Anywheres-ville. I find that lack of pretension quietly reassuring. As for the lifestyle images featuring Greece and Greeks, they could be holiday snaps, they’re so relaxed. This only adds to the flavour of the book as no-nonsense and accessible.

The Sweet Plates chapter once again follows world cuisines, but the page I gravitate towards each time I open this book boasts recipes for five ice lollies. In execution, they couldn’t be more basic, yet the flavour combinations of rosewater and pistachio, peach and honey, to give just two examples, evoke images of Halcyon days. As the shortest day of the Northern Hemisphere year approaches, those are images I like to hold in my head and, call me odd, but I’ve always preferred ice lollies in winter. This may well be my next TOTAL-ly Greek kitchen experiment.

Sophie Michell is Britain’s youngest female Executive Chef , running Pont St. at Belgraves Hotel, in London’s Belgravia. She was one of four female chefs tasked with creating The Gorgeous Kitchen at Heathrow’s revamped Terminal 2 (opened in June 2014), co-presents the popular TV show Cook Yourself Thin and is a guest judge on Iron Chef USA. Michell has been travelling to Greece on a regular basis since she was two years old and has drawn on her experience of cooking with TOTAL Greek yoghurt in Crete to inspire this book.

**The TOTAL Greek Yoghurt Cookbook by Sophie Michell is published by Kyle Books and retails at £19.99.

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