Wednesday, March 29, 2006

TexMex - Viva Las Vegas Reunion

Last weekend, the gang that went to Las Vegas got together to reminisce about the holiday and share their photos.

I had volunteered (or been volunteered - I can't remember which) to cook, so the question was - what to have to eat?

We decided that a Mexican meal would bring back memories of the meal we had in Las Vegas.

To start with I cooked a Corn and Red Chilli Chowder which was accompanied with Soda Bread (memories of San Francisco there.) The chowder consisted of a puree of creamed corn, onions and tomatoes to which was added corn kernals, red peppers, chillies, potatoes and stock. Once cooked a swirl of cream and some chopped parsley completed the dish. It must've been nice as I was asked for the recipe.

Soda Bread is fun to make and, I've found, quite messy. It's quick, as you don't need to wait for the bread to prove and very tasty.

For the main course we did a selection of dishes. My wife did a couple of salads and made some guacamole. I'm not a huge fan of guacamole, but homemade stuff is always much nicer that the shop bought version, and this was no exception. It was very spicy and made a perfect accompaniment to the quorn fajitas. We also made chicken fajitas for the non-veggies that were there.

Also on the table were peppers stuffed with beans and cheese; rice with tomato, carrots and green beans; flautas - tortilla wraps filled with feta cheese, peppers and seeds; chilli potato cakes and a couple of salsas. All rather nice, even if I do say so myself. One of the salsas was made with chipotles en adobe, and I highly recommend using this as, as well as being very spicy, it has a fantastic smoky flavour.

We had a great idea for dessert. We found a company that would create edible photos ( You email them a photo and they then sent you a version of the photo created in edible ink. The turnaround was really quick and the quality of the picture was excellent.

Initially we we going to get a cake for and ice it with the photo of the gang at the Stratosphere Tower. We eventually decided that we would make an iced trifle. It was different, but worked really well and every one ate their own heads, which must have some psychological meaning, I'm sure...

The meal was accompanied by several different kinds of margheritas (including strawberry and mango and peach if my memory serves me correctly) which were rather nice. All in all it was a great evening. Thanks to all those who helped out in the kitchen with the food and the drinks.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Fifteen Trattoria, London

Westland Place,
London N1 7LP

Last night I made another trip to Fifteen, the restaurant run by Jamie Oliver. This time however I was to be eating in the trattoria rather than the downstairs restaurant.

I met my friend in the bar and we were shown to our table. We both had antipasti to start, which was delivered to the table on a wooden board. We had explained to the waiter that I was vegetarian, and he made sure that the meat for the antipasti was brought on a side-plate. The antipasti included olives, squash, beetroot, chard, caramelised onion, mozzarella, baby carrots and other stuff that I forget. It was all very nice, but I have to make special mention of the squash that had an amazing flavour and was cooked to perfection, including its skin.

We decided that we would do the whole primi, secondi thing so, as there were no veggie options on the secondi menu, after a brief chat with the waiter, I decided that I would have two dishes from the primi menu.

First off I chose the four-cheese tortellini with a sage butter sauce. The pasta was cooked just right, the filling was very tasty and the sage butter divine. All in all, a perfect primi, I couldn’t fault it at all.

Next up I had gnocchi with treviso (if I remember correctly). I have to say that this was very disappointing indeed. When it arrived, the dish looked good, but upon further inspection the gnocchi itself appeared to me not much more than mashed potato. To be honest, I can’t imagine how it would hold together if it was dropped into boiling water. The sauce was okay and would’ve been fine with a more robust gnocchi, but what I effectively ended up with was mashed potato in a cheesy sauce.

Fortunately, the dessert rescued the situation. I had a pannacotta with grappa which was lovely.

The trattoria experience is different to the restaurant experience that I described in an earlier blog. It’s more of a ‘standard’ restaurant (if there is such a thing) and appears to be a lot busier – not necessarily in numbers of people, more in the atmosphere of the place - but the service was up to the same standard as the restaurant. Next to our table was a blackboard that listed the breakfast menu. It all sounds very nice, so I think a morning visit will have to be arranged sometime.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

San Bas, Westerham

San Bas,
1 Market Square,

San Bas is the new name for San Basilio, an Italian restaurant in Westerham, so the menu informed us. The restaurant itself is on the main road through Westerham on the A25 and is very well presented both inside and out.

Lats night we visited for our wedding anniversary. The front part of the restaurant was taken up with a rather good jazz trio who kept us entertained throughout the evening with a nice selection of songs from the likes of Nina Simone.

I started with a goats cheese crottin served with various bits of salad and a honey dressing. It was quite nice, however there wasn't quite enough dressing to take the dry edge off of the cheese, so by the end of the dish it was quite difficult to finish - it reminded me of one of those cream-cracker eating competitions where your mouth completely dries up leaving you unable to swallow. In contrast my wife had a twice-baked applewood cheese souffle with tomato compote that was stunning. I only had a mouthful, but I really wish I'd ordered that. The souffle was lovely and the compote had a gourgeous smoky flavour that complemented the applewood perfectly.

For the main course I ordered a cep gnocchi with shaved truffle. I say 'ordered' because the gnocci dish that turned up didn't appear to have any ceps in it whatsoever, but did have rather a lot of artichokes. I was a bit miffed about the lack of ceps - those of you who have read other reviews here will know of my love of funghi - but the dish was very tasty (and I do like artichokes) so I decided not to make a fuss.

The dish it was served in was like a square dessert bowl, and it was full to the brim with the gnocchi. I managed to make my way through about two thirds of the dish before giving up, mostly through being full but partly through boredom. That's not really being unkind it's just that I felt the dish would have better if it had been served on a flat plate with half the amount. My wife had a chicken dish which, she said, was very nice indeed.

The dessert menu had a creme brulee on so, following Gaz's Dessert Rules, there was only the one choice. And it started so well. The top was a nice colour, crispy and not too thick and the custard was smooth, and very tasty. No vanilla seeds, which was a shame - I always prefer it when vanilla pods are used. However, after a couple of spoonfuls I notice a hard substance at the bottom of the ramekin. I'm not sure what it was - it had a very strong taste of vanilla, so maybe something had separated out of the custard somehow during cooking. Whatever, it prevents this particular brulee from rising above a six on the scale, whereas it could've been on for somewhere around an eight.

Still, even with these reservations, it was an enjoyable evening; the service was great, the food tasty and the jazz band really created a nice atmosphere.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Saturday Morning at Leiths

Leiths School of Food and Wine
21 St Alban’s Grove
LondonW8 5BP

Tel: 020 7229 0177

Leiths is the cookery school where they teach many of the chefs for world class restaurants. They run professional diploma courses as well as courses for enthusiastic amateurs.

Among the latter are their Saturday morning courses where you get to cook a three course meal in one of their kitchens and then eat it for lunch. A couple of times a year the course has a meat-free menu and I attended one of these last Saturday.

The day started in a demo room where we were introduced to the course and told the various safety procedures. Everyone was then divided into groups and told which kitchens we would be working in. There were sixteen people to a kitchen and three (I think) kitchens, so you can see that these courses are pretty popular.

Each kitchen had two tutors and somebody to wash up the mess we made during the day, which was good. Leiths recognise that a lot of people are given these courses as presents or go along because they enjoy cooking and they make sure that it's as enjoyable as possible.

The menu for the day was Parmesan and pear rarebit with hot buttered radishes to start, followed by Open ravioli with warm lemon and rocket pesto and roast vine tomatoes. For dessert we were to make cappucino brulee.

We were talked through the recipes and then paired up to cook the meal. I was interested to see if any of the techniques that would be taught were any different to those I had learnt at Cordon Vert, but they were the same, which was comforting.

Everything went pretty smoothly, except for a brief moment when I accidently (and spectacularly) 'flambeed' the radishes. I'd never even considered cooking radishes before, but trust me, they taste really good having been sauteed in butter and lemon juice.

The main course was quite tasty. I've made a fair bit of pasta and pesto before, but not with rocket, and it was rather nice.

The brulee was devine. It could've been set slightly more, but time constraints meant that it was in the fridge for less time than it should've been. Had it been served to me in a restaurant, it would've been around a seven on Gaz's creme brulee scale - so not bad for my first effort.

It was a really enjoyable morning, topped off with great food. I picked up a few ideas and it was great to cook in a 'professional' kitchen. The staff were helpful and patient. I'd recommend it if you fancy trying something different or you know someone who loves cooking and want to get them a different kind of present for a birthday or similar.

They also do other, midweek, courses where they concentrate on a single skill, pastry or sauces for example. I'm keeping my eye out for convenient dates, as I'm always keen to brush up my skills.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Little Bay, Croydon

Little Bay
32 Selsdon Rd
South Croydon CR2 6PB

A little while back I reviewed my visit to Little Bay in Farringdon. Despite the restricted choices for veggies, the food was so good and the price so reasonable that I decided to visit another of their branches, this time in Croydon.

From the outside, Croydon's Little Bay looks like a Swiss chalet, and the wooden beams and decor inside the front part of the restaurant continues that theme. The rear of the restaurant has the red and gold decoration (including the "big head") that those who have visited the Farringdon branch will be familiar with.

The food in this branch is as well presented and tasty as the Farringdon restaurant - I recommend the Feta Terrine for starters - and the service was great. We arrived for our meal around 6pm and took advantage of the lower pre-7 prices. For two starters, two mains, a side of chips, two desserts, bread and drinks it cost us a total of £24 plus tip. That's amazing for the quality of the food we had. As well as the terrine mentioned earlier that we had for starters, I had Goats Cheese tortilla with artichokes & peppers for main which was very tasty and my wife had pork medallions with coriander & chilli mash. For dessert we both had the apple cake with custard and ice cream - yumm.

Little Bay in Croydon is now on our list of restaurants to visit again, as it's not too far from where we live and, if there's a Little Bay near you, I recommend you to do the same.