Sunday, February 20, 2011

A mushroom that tastes like a scallop

We've been eating a lot of mushrooms lately thanks to our enterprising greengrocer Reg the Veg (yes, it is called that). I've been enjoying the blewitts but yesterday we were really blown away by a mushroom I'd never heard of called eryngi.

Apparently it's a type of oyster mushroom which is also known as King Trumpet or French Horn mushroom I discover from Wikipedia. (You do have to hand it to them. They have an instant answer for everything)

They have more flavour than most of the oyster mushrooms I've tasted but, more importantly, a lovely firm texture. I cut them into scallop-shaped rounds, seasoned them and fried them briefly in a little oil and butter and they were absolutely delicious - a brilliant veggie substitute for scallops.

We had them with braised fennel* and buttered spinach*, also from Reg which I have to say is right up there with the best London greengrocers (although they could do with updating their website ;-) If you live in Bristol you should use them.

A creamy fennel purée or creamed spinach would have been even better but I couldn't be bothered to go and buy cream . . .

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is this the best under £10 'steak' in London?

I'd heard good things about the The Opera Tavern which has recently been taken over by the people who run the excellent tapas bars Salt Yard and Dehesa. Often this is a problem as you go with inflated expectations and then grumble away when things don't live up to the hype.

But not here - even though I didn't have the strongly recommended ham.

Instead I had this brilliant dish (above) of grilled Iberico presa with caper, shallots and lemon which tasted not like pork but like a really tasty tender steak. It wasn't a huge helping but if you have a few other tapas - which I had - it's plenty. And at £8 a portion it's a steal. Presa by the way is a shoulder cut which makes the tenderness even more surprising.

I also tried some Gorgonzola and date croquetas (good with the manzanilla sherry I was drinking but even better with a Palo Cortado I would think) . . .

. . . a sweet-sour salad of pickled salsify, chestnuts and Roosevelt potatoes with winter truffle tasting - a nice fresh contrast among the other rich dishes . . .

. . .and an 'Italian-style Scotch egg' made with Parmesan which I didn't think surpassed the classic version but was good nonetheless. (You do get a whole egg. I just ate half of it before I remembered to snap it.)

This is a perfect pit-stop in the heart of Covent Garden - ideal for a pre-theatre meal or a post-work drink and snack. The desserts looked pretty fab too.

You can see my post about the wine I drank here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Heston's Amazing Ice-Cream Machine

There's more than a touch of Willy Wonka about Heston Blumenthal so it's no surprise to find that he's about to introduce a £35,000 custom-made ice-cream trolley in his new restaurant Dinner.

I got a sneak preview last night* where it was sitting in a corner of the private dining room which opens on March 1st. It looks like an outsize Kenwood chef and belches liquid nitrogen. The ice cream freezes in seconds. (You can read more about the technique here)

It's scooped into handmade sugar cones (delicious) and topped with almond praline and what looked like hundreds and thousands but tasted more like those palate-cleansing sweets you get at the end of an Indian meal.

Ashley Palmer-Watts, Heston's right hand man who heads up the kitchen at Dinner, isn't quite sure how it's going to be received. "I suspect it will be chaos" he said cheerfully.

Liquid nitrogen is not a recent invention by the way. One of Heston's culinary heroes Mrs Agnes B Marshall was advocating its use in kitchens and hospitals as far back as the end of the 19th century.

* For a blow-by-blow account of what we ate and drank visit my website

Friday, February 4, 2011

February's blogs of the month

Being in the middle of a book project (don’t ask!) I haven’t had much time for dipping into blogs over the last few weeks so I’ve shamelessly picked up on some recommendations from fellow bloggers and tweeters for you to follow.

Recently flagged up by cookery publisher Quadrille, a clever blog written by two sisters and fellow journos Claire and Lucy (though Claire seems to do most of the posting). It’s mainly for harassed mothers of young children hence the highly practical division of the recipes into 5, 10 and 20 minutes and ‘a little bit longer’. including - and I like this one - slack mummy soup. Very sparky writing - there must be a book in this (which Quadrille has no doubt snapped up).

Closet Cooking
I nicked this one from my mate James Ramsden who drew attention to the Jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) post in his weekly round-up. It’s one of those amazing blogs that seems to have come from nowhere created by a young Canadian called Kevin simply because he ‘came to realize that my meals were boring’. As you can see from his posts and pix they are far from it now. As his 5288 followers (at the time of writing) seem to testify

The Wine Detective
Diligently updated and well-informed blog from award-winning writer Sarah Ahmed. As she openly points out she specialises in the Loire, Australia, South Africa and Portugal (most of us wine hacks try and give the impression we’re on top of everything) so if you’re particularly interested in what’s happening on the wine scene in those countries follow her on her blog or on Twitter where she tweets as @sarahwine.

Paris by Mouth
We’re hoping to reschedule the trip to Paris we had to postpone just before Christmas so I’ll be keeping an eye on this excellent collaborative blog which has the current lowdown on the city's food scene. It’s also got some great guides so if you want to check out the latest in wine bars, for example, (which we do) or where to go for oysters (ditto) you can find it there.