Pantomime Time! Go to the Kings Head Pub!

This has nothing to do with food, but with Pantomime fun! An absolute gem!

We often go to the Kings Head Pub on Upper Street Islington, for us it is a relatively easy to get to, the lovely number 30 bus! They put on shows and operas to such a great standard I often wonder why bother with the Royal Opera House! These are all professional singers and actors and perform to such a high standard, that why are they here and not in the ROH! I’m glad they are here!

We saw today King Tut, a Pyramid Panto! It is the craziest, wackiest Panto in town! Yes, pantos are formulaic, as my eldest grandson told me, that men play girls the ugly sisters are men, the leading boy is always a girl etc etc! Well fast forward to King Tut and this formula goes straight out of the window!

The setting, the theatre is a fairly small space behind the Pub , with maybe maximum 100 seats depending on the configuration as sometimes it is set ” in the round”. Today I would have said that it was about the 100 mark and the performance was for young kids. The place was packed,with mums and dads, grandpas, grandmas, kids and grandkids in fact over packed as we were all asked to shove up a bit to make room for a few more.

There were only 5 performers and two hidden musicians, Lord Conniving ( in theory Lord Carnavon), who was the

Bad Guy, where we all booed and booed, Carter, the archaeologist, Emily the love interest, King Tut as a 9 year old who doubled up as a young Egyptian , her Dad, who doubled up as Clive the Camel and as Bruce Forsyth! Yes we had a game show as well, and Brucey was there, with contestants pre chosen ( not that they knew) from the audience! We all shouted and screamed the answers. And on top of that we had a singing competition, between the sides of the room, ours belonged to Clive, who had been reincarnated ( he had been poisoned by the evil Conniving) the other side belonged to the evil Conniving! Oh what a hoot it all was. It lasted for two hours and our two did not have a hint of a sleepy eye, in fact at the interval they had ice creams, a choice of 11, yes, Eleven different flavours!

So all I can say is ” Google ” Kings Head Theatre and see for yourself what is on and do go and see them ! Just and amazing professional performance!

Another One Bites the Dust ….. The Cinnamon Club, that is!

Am I just getting more exacting in my expectations of restaurants, I don’t think so. Himself sometimes calls me fussy ( not true) but I do know what I want and what I expect. When we first came to London, years ago, I used to visit Shepherds Market, where there was almost a hole in a wall Italian cafe, frequented by Taxi drivers. They made the most superb, chicken sandwich, umm umm and my current quick sandwich of choice, from Prèt a Manger, a ham and cheese baguette and service with a smile.

And so it was this weekend, a group of Old friends all  of whom lived at the same time as us in Brussels, met for dinner. The criteria were,  somewhere, where the 6 of us could sit and chat, have a nice meal, easy for all of us to get to. The choice was left up to me. As I had been a bit lax in making a reservation, many places were already full, had a very early dinner time or a very late one, neither of the latter two suited. I needed to find somewhere that could give us a table around 7.30 or 8 pm. I landed upon the Cinnamon Club.

I first went there in 2003 ( it opened in 2001) and it was a joy. Housed in the former Westminster Library, a beautiful room surround by books and upstairs a mezzanine, which serves as the private dining room.  We went for a corporate “DO”, after an evening of exotic Indian dancing and had the upstairs space, the atmosphere was fun, the food superb as was the service. Fast forward a few years and the “Ladies Who Lunch” went for lunch, again, everything was perfect.

So what has happened in the intervening years? over a million spent on a recent face lift but apart from that, our experience, and for all 6 of us was a disaster.

Firstly, our table, was in what could only be described as ” an overspill room,” an old book store, a dusty little corner with about 6 tables to seat about 24 people, with the atmosphere of a damp squib. We saw and could not see anything of the splendour of the old Library. Then the fun began, we consulted the wine list, and chose some white and a carafe of red and a beer. The beer arrived and after about 5 minutes the white wine and another 10 minutes the carafe of red wine. After about another 15 minutes, we grabbed someone and asked if we could order, a surprised look on the waiters face. We duly waited and a small amuse bouche appeared in front of us, with no explanation as to what it was, Our pescatarian friend had to grab someone to ask( it was so nondescript, that I have no idea, what it was). The wine waiter then poured wine into the glass of the beer drinker ( who by this time had asked for another beer). The glass was unceremoniously picked by the wine waiter and plonked in front of me ( so now I had two glasses). It went from bad to worse, the starters arrived and although my octopus was delicious, very tender, should have been sent back as it was luke warm. The main courses, well three  of us had the pheasant, it might have been pheasant but looked more like dry chicken, the assorted Indian breads, were distinctly uninspiring. Three people asked for coffee, no-one wanted dessert and we asked for the bill at the same time. We were on a bit of time restraint by now as there was a train to catch ( for those who came into town by train), coffee nowhere to be seen, someone got up to find a waiter, ( they were the other side of the door chatting, coffee came, and the Bill we asked? and the Bill, ?? at this point someone got really miffed, her coffee was not what she ordered, and it was cold, take it off the bill. The Cinnamon Club, does not included an automatic service charge, just as well, as we would have taken it off, as it was we did not add it on. The food was not great, could have been a whole lot better and as for the service, it was Dire. So Another one Bites the Dust. Too bad really , but there are plenty others to choose from.

The Cinnamon Club, Great Smith Street, London , SW1P 3BU

Back to the Millionaires Diet!

The other week, the Domestic God, excelled himself, and No it was not Oysters Rockefeller!! He told me I had to rise early and spruce myself up and be out of the house by 6.45!

Duly Done, I found myself in St. Pancras Station waiting for the early morning train to Paris, and Yes we went to Paris for lunch. All very decadent of course but he took me to a three star Michelin restaurant, near the Eiffel tower, on Rue Beethoven. It is called  L’Astrance  and has been listed in the top 50 of the worlds best restaurants for the last 7 years.

It is a small restaurant with only 25 covers, but  it still maintains crisp white lines. We were lucky to have one of the three small tables upstairs, which gave us a perfect open view of all that was going on. The service was impeccable without being in any way pretentious. Interestingly, there is no menu, never a menu, but one can choose how many courses one would like to eat and if to take the wine pairings option or not. We took the wine pairings, and they did indeed serve some very interesting wine.

Our first course or Amuse Bouche, was a small walnut tart along with a cucumber and  mousse tart. This was followed by the most raw mushroom I have ever seen! It was sliced into wafer thin slices and these were stuffed with Fois gras and a confit Citron on the side. The third nibble was , a couple of mini spring rolls with langoustines on a bed of caramelised peanuts and a peanut satay sauce.

 

 

These were followed by Patagonian toothfish. I had not heard of this fish before and little wonder. It lives in the cold waters of the southern Atlantic and is of a cod type. it lives  in deep water, (45m-3850m) but you are more likely to know it as Chilean Seabass. This name was created in 1977 by an American who was trying to sell it to the fickle American Market and the name has stuck. The fish is believed to live up to 50 years and its welfare and controlled fishing, is controlled by the Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Marine Living Resources ( CCAMLR). The fish was served with a grapefruit, cabbage and pineapple sauce. Then we had chicken with red cabbage along with a chorizo type sausage mousse, quickly followed Duck from the Chalon region with a confit of tomatoes and a quince puree. And then a dish of Puree potato, but unlike you have ever had before, as it was served with Fromage Blanc  vanilla ice cream with thyme.

We finished off this extravaganza with a sweet chilli sorbet followed by banana cake and frozen cheesecake with shaved milk and an egg nog.

Given that there are only 25 covers in this little restaurant there were 7 waiters, hence the impeccable service.

Once we were suitably satiated, and we were, more than, we hopped back into a Taxi, back to the Gare du Nord ( some very odd memories of this station from my youth) back onto the Eurostar. We made an unscheduled stop somewhere near Lille to rescue some stranded passengers from another train and back to London. Another quick cab ride and off to the theatre. Not sure that either of us were ready to sit and watch an Oscar Wilde play, but we are not complaining, as “How Lucky are we?” Will we go back? Yes hopefully, one day !

A New Toy in the Kitchen a Sous Vide Machine!

I have a new toy and it is a sous vide machine! You will have no doubt heard or seen it on the myriad of TV cooking shows. Of course what you don’t know is that you will also probably need a vacuum bag sealer!  The basic deal is, seal your food, meat, fish etc in a polythene bag, making sure that a) it is properly sealed and b) that all of the air is extracted . Of course this could be done with a Zip Lock type bag but much more difficult to extract all of the air.

So along with the Sous Vide machine I bought a Bag vacuum machine, which also means buying the proper bags as ordinary plastic bags, just don’t hack it ! I was so I impressed as was himself with the food cooked that I took my machine off to France this summer and I soon found out the downside of not having the Vacuum sealer. No matter how hard I sucked or squeezed to remove air from my Zip Lock bag it ended up floating in the water bath. Therefore it had to be weighted down, usually with a granite pestle and mortal! Still it worked. I am really impressed so much so that I bought another one to leave in France and another one for my son and a foodie friend has also now bought one! Maybe I should be getting a ‘ Refer a friend ‘ discount!

The basic principle of this machine (and this is just a home version so does not need oodles of storage space) is it cooks food very slowly at a low constant temperature. Consequently chicken breasts which can be quiet dry, are moist and succulent. They are in the water bath at about 140  F ( most of the online instructions are from the USA, hence the Farenheit ) for about an hour, patted dry and a quick sauté in the frying pan to give them some colour, Perfect!

Having played around, with chicken, fish, onglet ( hanger steak—-Perfect) I decided to branch out and bought a couple of kilos of Veal Cheeks. These can be very time consuming to prepare and require a lot of slow cooking, just imagine all of that chewing that cows do and today veal is ethically fine as the young animals no longer are kept indoors but free to roam. They are all young bulls but the farmer does not need an overload of young bulls for his herd, just imagine a herd with too many bulls, mayhem would ensue!

On ‘Googling ‘veal cheeks sous vide I discouvered that they need Dunking for a mere 48 hours. I trimmed the cheeks, vacuum packed them set the pan of water to a temperature of 140 F and when it reached this I  put them in the pot, making sure that they were well submerged, covered the pot with cling film to help reduce the evaporation and left them for 48 hours! Himself was given a dire warning “Do Not Touch !”

So after a couple of days, the machine beeped at me so I removed the cheeks and left them to cool, cool enough to handle. They were then trimmed and sliced, onions were also sliced and sautéed, along with some celery, garlic and mushrooms. This recipe, actually a non recipe, was created on the hoof. I added about a bottle of Malbec red wine, about 4 oz butter, some black currant jelly, salt and pepper. 

Although I bought a book called “Exploring Sous Vide” it does not really give very good temperature times and instructions. However it is a good basic guide and some useful information. I think the bottom line is that this is a kitchen gadget not for the faint hearted, BUT himself has been seen using it, to cook chicken, which comes out beautifully moist. I have to admit I have not ventured onto eggs and fish, that will have to come ( if only I was at home long enough). I receive a news letter from the author of this book and I was amused to read one day the article titled” making the perfect drip coffee using the Sous Vide Machine”! I have to say I was amused, not sure I can wait 24 hours for my morning coffee to be ready!

One thing I forgot to say! My machine is controlled by my IPhone! ( Androids also work )

The Domestic God is Cooking!!!

Himself, AKA the Domestic God has been quiet productive of late. Along, with what  has now become his “go to when in doubt fall back option” Oysters Rockefeller, he has expanded his repertoire to included, Cheese Tart, Savoie style, Cheese Soufflé, grilled Giant Shrimp with chilli enhanced salad, Sole Meunière and the latest Baked Cod with herb crust on a base of snow peas and baby corn!! I can see I will soon be able to put my aprons away and put my feet up and watch the rugby ? whilst he potters in the kitchen, or maybe not!

There is just one downside to his now kitchen independence, going shopping to buy his ingredients, where for the most part it will already be in the house. My pantry is full of basics, from flours of several kinds, to spices to ingredients for Mexican, Chinese, Japanese cuisines and more besides. I like to go to the Meat wholesale market in central London, to stock up, or I go to the largest Whole foods in London, also for their meat. I go to The central fish market, for my fish, or failing that to my local street market, I bring back Abondance cheese from France ( it freezes well) for my soufflés and tarts, he has to learn now to look first ( his cleaning up skills are now quite remarkable!)

Onto Cheese Soufflé, most cook books in the English Language call for cheddar cheese, I guess it is fine, and although has a reasonably strong flavour, does not melt that well and I find it a bit boring. If you are in the US on the other hand, dare I say it, cheese which is to be found in the average supermarket is more like soap, than cheese. I have made in the past, a wonderful hot cheese dip, made with orange processed cheese, melted along with cans of chopped tomatoes with chillies in, Umm, yummy with fresh fried tortilla chips! My friend’s daughter said, Oh, you mean it is plastic cheese and in my family the name has very much stuck!

But back to cheese soufflé, yes use cheddar if you wish but try other cheese out to see which you like the best. As I said, I bring Abondance back from the Savoie, here in central London, the price per kilo can be as much as £39, whereas, I can buy from a local farmer for about €14 a kilo and of course is far superior in flavour.

  1. 50 grms unsalted butter plus a little extra melted for greasing the dish
  2. 40 grms plain flour
  3. 1/2tsp english mustard powder, this is quiet strong but it enhances the cheese
  4. good pinch cayenne pepper, pinch salt and a grind of black pepper
  5. 300 mls milk
  6. 200 grms strong cheese, Gruyère or cheddar
  7. 6 large free range eggs, separated

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan, 200 C gas #6.
  2. Grease a 20cm Soufflé dish lightly.
  3. melt the butter in a saucepan add the flour, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne. Cook for a couple of minutes and the gradually stir in the milk making sure after each addition that it is well incorporated. Stir and bring to the boil. It should be thick without lumps BUT if you should have lumps do not despair. Either beat vigorously, attack it with a hand-held electric whisk or even throw it into a food process, DO NOT start over..
  4. remove from heat and add the cheese and the egg yolks.
  5. In a clean bowl beat the egg whites until very stiff, then carefully FOLD them into the egg /cheese mixture
  6. Spoon into the soufflé dish and bake for 25 – 30 mins.
  7. SERVE immediately with a green salad.

A trick with individual soufflés is that they can be twice baked. So simply put the mixture into individual ramekins, bake as above but for about 10-12 mins. Remove from the oven, and leave until ready to serv. remove from the ramekins, and place on a baking tray right side up, sprinkle the tops with some grated parmesan and and bake again as above unto re-risen ! Cheating? Yes! But who cares!!IMG_6860


	

Sea Bass, Chinese style.

A dear Chinese friend gave a cooking class the other day, in aid of charity of course but it was a fun day.

She described her style of cooking as Home Cooking, but whatever it was, it was delicious.

There were a couple of things that really caught my eye, or rather my taste buds, Steamed Sea Bass, Stir Fried Mango Duck and a sauce, which I will call, Shiitake Mushroom Chinese Sauce. Every cook has a secret ingredient or recipe, which they refuse utterly to share with anyone, and this is Annie’s! So after a lot of google-ing and recipe testing I have finally come up with my own version of Annie’s sauce, I could be totally wrong, and only time will tell if it keeps, it has been sealed in sterilized bottles, so watch this space, and if it is successful, I will divulge.

So onto Steamed Sea Bass and I apologise to Annie for stealing her recipe.

For two people:-

  • A large Sea Bass, gutted and de-scaled
  • a large knob of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
  • a bunch spring onions , sliced lengthwise ( about 5 cm)
  • 2 Tablespoons Low salt Soy Sauce
  • 1 Cup Vegetable oil
  • Bunch of fresh coriander chopped
  • 2 teaspoons of sesame oil

Now Annie, used a steam pan to cook her fish, in fact any pan can be used, and made into a steamer, simply by placing some kind of rack into the bottom of a saucepan and make sure that the boiling water keeps below the rack. A bit complicated? Well, an easier way is to use the dishwasher, Annie steamed her fish for 35 Minutes or so, and I steamed my fish on the lowest WASH ( apart from the rinse programme) for an hour. Of course my fish was completely sealed.

Wash the fish and pat dry, ( assuming you have had it gutted and de-scaled by the fishmonger), Slash the fish and insert some of the ginger, the spring onions and some of the chopped coriander. Pour on some drops of the sesame oil, and wrap in aluminium foil, or if using the dishwasher method, seal in a polythene bag ( I have a vacuum sealer, but a zip lock bag will work well, but I would double bag it)

Steam for about 35 mins in a steam pan, or as I say, my shortest programme with the dishwasher is about an hour, and it works really well.

Just before the fish is ready, heat some vegetable oil, , place the fish onto a serving dish and pour over some of the hot oil and garnish with ginger, coriander and onions. Pour over a little soy sauce and/or sesame oil.

Of course some people do not like eating fish on the bone, so a variation of this would be to have sea bass filets, and put some of the ginger, onions and coriander in-between the filets as a form of stuffing and cook in the same way.

The next thing that Annie did was to cook Duck with Mango, again a fast dinner, but a visual and tasty joy.

For 2 people

  • 2 duck breast
  • 3 spring onions finely sliced
  • 1 small red onion also finely sliced
  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tablespoon low salt soy sauce
  • a fresh red chilli sliced
  1. Slice the duck into 1/2″ strips
  2. mix together the red onion, some of the ginger, some of the oil and the soy sauce. Add the duck and leave to marinate, for at least 15 mins, but it is also possible to leave it overnight ( as I did almost by default).
  3. Heat some oil in a wok or deep pan along with some salt and pepper. Add the duck and cook for about 5 mins. Add the rest of the ingredients , leaving the mango to the end, so as not to over cook it.

This might be the traditional Chinese method, but the downside is that Duck has a fatty breast, which of course imparts flavour, but some people might object to the relatively raw fat ( himself and Willowy brunette for starters) , so I adapted the method slightly. I grilled the duck fat side down, after marinating,

then added to the wok as above.

And lastly, I am always fascinated by what I find in Supermarkets, especially when I am not in the UK.

My father once told me that his all time favourite as a boy was being able to afford a can of condensed milk and eating it all straight out of the can. It would seem that little has changed since then, as I found this in a french Supermarket recently. Pocket size, just incase you get a little peckish! Willowy Brunette ( She’s a Dentist will not be recommending that to anyone soon!)img_1389

Accentuate the positive!

Well so far we are only at a rate of 50% positive, which means of course 50 % negative!

Each year after our stay in our mountain home, where we do not eat out very often, given the sameness of the local cuisine ( ham, cheese, potatoes in many disguises)  we choose a hotel  which is 6-8 hours drive, which has a good restaurant, preferably one with a Michelin Star, nearby. The first year we tried this, we ate in a Michelin star restaurant in Reims, the home of champagne. The restaurant was good, the hotel not so good! The following year in wanting to avoid Calais because of the migrant crisis there, we stopped on St. Omer. The town faded and sad, the hotel, basic but new and clean, And with secure parking. But the restaurant!  Upon inspection on arrival, we were rather dismayed, but a surprise was in store, every table was taken, the linen, clean and crisp, the service perfect as was the food!

Last year we detoured to Colombey Les Deux Eglises, the spiritual home of Charles de Gaulle, a quaint, very touristy town, accommodation quaint but the restaurant a big disappointment. Although it holds a Michelin star, in my mind not warranted. The food, faddish ( serving a piece of steak on a huge beach pebble, impossible to eat) and the service decidedly not up to scratch, when himself left the table with napkin duly dumped, it was reassigned to a new duping ground ( in the middle of the table, whilst the next course was served, minus himself being at the table. Next, his red wine had a fly in it, which was removed, wine discarded but not replaced!!

So here we were again, it is August and despite it being the height of the holiday season, many of the good restaurants and hotels are closed, After all it is August and France shuts down for August! I finally settled on Le Touquet Paris Plage, about an hours drive from “Le Tunnel sous la Manche ” ( the channel tunnel to you and me) Perfect? No! The chosen restaurant was full, so plan b came into force. The restaurant that was recommended ( a bit of, You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours, springs to mind) was Les Cimaises, in Hotel Le Westminster, part of the Barrière group, An expensive hotel for a quick overnight stay! And on top of that just in case you abscond, they automatically add an extra €200 to the deposit Credit card!! Umm !!!

As it was a quick overnight stop, we did not see too much of Le Touquet, but it looks a really nice town, not at all Margate more like Padstow. That is being unfair to Margate, memories of a former life, but really nice tree-lined avenues and lovely looking  thatched houses, must go back I have said to myself, but not to the Le Westminster. Apart from the price, the bar was so old-fashioned ( and empty), dark and gloomy, the restaurant unsatisfactory and the rooms? well the rooms, spacious enough, clean and bright, comfortable, but the bathroom, well, the shower one could kill oneself, in getting in and out of the bath, the hairdryer, on of those hot air tubes, attached high up on the wall, and the Bidet??? to use it, if you must, shove a table halfway around the room, to get to it!

So, onto our “Gourmet” dinner. The our amazement the restaurant was full ( lucky us we had reserved), and very noisy. Uncle Tom Cobley and all were there, along with screaming kids, and snotty nosed geriatrics ( not us you understand) but one of whom was in my direct vision, who used his napkin constantly to wipe his nose!!

We soon discovered why the restaurant was so popular, a Buffet, !! every Friday but maybe on other days as well, and even though I did not even look at the buffet, I knew at once, that there would be a few choice items and then the rest would be fillers, in the form of salads and starch. Sure enough, there was the constant flow of diners marching up and down to the buffet, returning with their plates laden sky-high, half of which would be then left on their plates!

So we ate a la carte, the menu was fine, not very imaginative but there were two things on it that I really wanted to try. The first, was something I had never eaten before, L’Os à Moelle Rôti, ( Roasted Marrow Bone) and the second something that I like,

Riz de Veau ( Veal Sweetbreads).IMG_8742

The roasted marrow bone was a revelation, tow large pieces of bone was perhaps a little too much, but was in fact very tasty. The Riz de veau on the other hand was decidedly odd, served with some rather dry macaroni ( I never eat macaroni) and some melted Mozarella, the Riz de veau alone were nice though, but forget about the other bits! We skipped dessert, decamped to the bar, which is when we discovered it to be really rather dull!

The final insult for our little jaunt in Le Touquet, was the morning Tea. Given the fact that they charge a Caution, in case we abscond, the morning tea cups, were paper!!IMG_5589However on my return to the UK, I visited my local Waitrose, only to find that they had Marrow Bones cut lengthwise! Whole foods often has Marrow bones, but cut across so to make Osso Buco.

Needlessly to say I just had to buy them and headed home to try for myself. Easy it is. According to Fergus Henderson, in his book The Complete Nose to Tail Victorians would serve Onion Soup and Bone Marrow  Toast to sickly children, to make them grow big and strong.

All that is needed to make Marrow Bone toast, are the bones, and a baquette cut in half lengthwise, rubbed with some olive oil, toasted and sprinkled with some Fleur du Sel. Simply roast the bIMG_9564ones, marrow side up in a fairly hot oven until the marrow is soft and brown. Serve with the toast and a spoon to scoop out the marrow. Yummy !!