Saturday, 29 August 2009

Dolsot Bibimbap - Well, Kind Of...

I say not quite because 'dolsot' means stone pot, and I used a clay pot. I cheated... but I prefer to say I improvised.

Bibimbap is a popular Korean dish. The word translates to 'mixed meal', and it consists of a dish of rice topped with vegetables, usually placed together to be aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes, slices of beef, chicken or tofu are also added.

I love Korean food. Kimchi, a spicy fermented vegetable (usually cabbage) dish, is a regular in my fridge. You can smell it a mile off and it's really tasty stuff either just eaten with rice, as a side or added to stir fried dishes. When I was a kid my mum used to take my sister and I to Korean restaurants and we loved the barbeque aspect of it, cooking your own food. My dad (who, incidentally, has started his own blog; check it out) was less enthusiastic, commenting that he thought it strange to pay for the privilege of having to cook your own food. But I found that's what I liked about it. Sadly I've noticed that in London Korean restaurants they usually have waiting staff to stand over you and cook your barbeque for you which I find a bit awkward.

Anyway, the bibimbap is a dish we usually order, and in particular this dolsot bibimbap. The stone pots used to serve this dish are heated until very hot, then wiped round with sesame oil. The rice is then added, along with the other ingredients and topped with a raw egg. You then mix it all up and it sizzles nicely, with the residual heat cooking the egg in the process, coating the grains in silky luxuriousness. The great thing about the dolsot is that you get a lovely layer of brown, crusty rice from the bottom that provides a great texture to your meal.

I decided to make this with my clay pot. I have used it only once before and I thought it was high time I got more use out of it. It worked fantastically well. Even though the sizzle was less enthusiastic, the end result worked. It doesn't take long to do; about the amount of time it takes to cook the rice, but there is a hefty amount of prep work involved. In any case, I like chopping vegetables. You can buy stone pots in Korean supermarkets or use a clay pot from a Chinese supermarket. If you use the latter, please follow these instructions on how to use it or you may end up with exploding clay...

Dolsot Bibimbap
Serves 2

Any vegetables really, but I used...
4 cherry tomatoes
1 carrot
1 courgette
3 handfuls of spinach
A handful of marinated beansprouts (Sukju Namul - I used this recipe)
1 egg
100gr fillet steak, or I used minced beef
1 spring onion
150gr sushi rice

For the marinade:

3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

For the chilli sauce:

2 tbsp Korean chilli paste (Gochujang)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 fat clove of garlic, chopped finely
1.5 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil

If you're using a stone bowl, these can be heated on the hob. As I was using a clay pot and was a bit scared of putting it on a naked flame on only it's second outing, I placed it into a cold over and heated it up to 200 degrees 15 minutes before I started cooking.

Firstly, put the rice on to cook. I did this in a rice cooker, but if you haven't got one follow the instructions on the packet. I imagine you could also do this with jasmine rice. I then made the marinated beansprouts, but this could be done in advance. Julienne the courgette and carrot, slice the spring onions. All the vegetables should be kept separate. Make up the marinade and divide in two - dump the raw beef slices in the marinade. If using mince, fry it in a non stick pan, then add to the marinade. Make up the chilli sauce by combining all of the above in a bowl.

Here comes the faff. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half. Get a steamer on (or a small pan of boiling water) and steam the spinach until just cooked. Add to a sieve to get rid of any water. Then add the courgette, steam until just done, and then add the carrots and, like before, steam until just done. Put all the elements, separately, in the clean marinade for a few moments and then place on a place. To assemble, wipe the stone pot or the clay pot with a little sesame oil. Add a thin layer of rice to the pot - it should sizzle - and place it back on the heat / in the oven so that it heats up and cooks the layer of rice to form a bit of a crust. Then add the rest of the rice, and top it with the meat and vegetables, arranging it nicely (or how you please). Top with a raw egg. Bring it to tableside (remember to use an oven glove... I didn't) with the bowl of chilli sauce. The eater then stirs the pot around, cooking the beef slices a little and the egg.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Morgan M, Islington

Firstly, a disclaimer. I didn't pay for this meal. I met up with the lady who does PR for Morgan M, and we had a little chat about food blogging and social media. I guess you could say I was giving her some advice; while I'm not an expert, I know a bit about it and I'm on it enough to be able to be of some help. So when she asked if I'd like to review the restaurant, I said yes, as the restaurant has been on my wish list for some time, since I'd first heard it recommended heartily on the BBC Food Messageboard.

On a balmy summer's evening, we had a cheeky drink before trekking down Liverpool Road. The area became more and more suburban, and we wondered whether we had taken a wrong turning. We hadn't, and I was surprised by how unassuming the restaurant front was. Upon entering, it was very hushed. The dining room was small, and there was only one or two other tables occupied. The restaurant soon filled up as the evening went on. There is definitely a green theme throughout; the menu was green, as was the seating and a couple of walls. We were advised to get the tasting menu.

After some delicious bread, we started off with gazpacho, with a tomato and olive oil sorbet. I was a bit nervous about this, as I've recently discovered that I don't like gazpacho. I've had it several times before and even tested a gazpacho recipe, but if you'll excuse the pun, it leaves me a bit cold. This one was different though. Rich, with an almost creamy feel to it, it left me wanting more. The sorbet had a decent olive oil flavour to it and I was sad when it was finished.

The tasting menu had separate options to choose from, and I chose the scallop tartare three ways. On the left hand side the basil sorbet that adorned the scallop tartare was wonderfully herby. The middle pile hiding under the leaves sat upon a romanesco-style sauce, and the far right had more of that tomato sorbet, with the tartare itself mixed with a little diced mango and cucumber. The tapenade dribbled down the sides added a welcome salty hit. Of the meal, I felt that this was the least successful dish. Although visually stunning, the delicate sweetness of the scallop was a bit lost and the dish would have benifitted from a stronger flavoured fish.

My least favourite dish of the meal was followed by the best of the evening; red mullet with razor clams, fennel pureé and a saffron foam. When it was first placed in front of me, my heart skipped a beat and I thought it was a slab of belly tuna. My eyesight isn't great. The red mullet, though not crispy skinned, was perfectly cooked and melted in the mouth. The saffron foam was in no way bird-spit-like, as some foams can turn out to be, but was flavoursome and highlighted the freshness of the fish. I wanted a big trough of this. Razor clams with diced tomatoes gave a pleasing texture contrast and fennel pureé added a luxuriousness to the dish. Lovely stuff.

For my next choice, I went for rabbit with mustard, steamed gnocchi and courgette in a parsley sauce. This arrived without the sauce, which was then poured over the dish tableside. I'm not sure what this contributed, but I was excited by the little rabbit chops. They were so weeny! The gnocchi was light as a feather, which isn't something you experience every day as it has such a tendency to be a complete stodge-fest. Under the saddle of rabbit was spinach, which hid a cake of rabbit meat mixed with wholegrain mustard. Some consider courgettes to be a rather dull vegetable, but here, steamed provided a light contrast to what was otherwise a rich dish. The rolled rabbit meat on top of the tower were delicious and full of flavour but if anything, the rabbit and mustard meat underneath could have done with a lighter hand with the salt. Otherwise it was a very satisfying dish. I gnawed those little bones dry of the succulent meat.

By this point, I was feeling pretty full. I had a quick look at the menu, and hoped that the 'Light Vanilla Rice Pudding' would be true to it's name. I had horrible visions of a big bowl of steaming rice in a creamy sauce, and I breathed a sigh of relief when this was set before me. The rice pudding is nestled inside the orange scented tuile, with a passionfruit sorbet and sauce providing an ample tang to contrast the sweet vanilla. The perfect prelude to the apricot soufflé to follow.

The soufflé had risen perfectly, which I'm sure anyone who cooks (and even if you don't) knows that this is no easy feat. I've had many a lopsided soufflé but there was no hint of a sag here. The soufflé was cut into by our server, and a coulis of apricot poured inside it. This was delicious; beautifully light and foamy inside. To accompany was a rosemary ice cream. I've never tried rosemary ice cream, but I think I'll try making some at home as it was very moreish. I really loved all the crockery the food immaculately was served on. The plates with the matte cocentric circles were so pretty, it almost drove me to kleptomania. If only I could fit one in my handbag.

We had a good go at some pretty little petit fours, but were too stuffed to finish them off. Service was proficient if a little cold, but Morgan Meunier came and had a quick chat with us which was a pleasant surprise; he seemed like a very nice man and answered my inane question graciously.

While the food wasn't earth shattering, I came away feeling really well looked after, as if I'd been wrapped up in cotton wool and given a big hug simultaneously. The red mullet was a stand-out dish, and showed that they really know what they're doing in the kitchen. As we left we did wonder why it had been over-looked by Michelin; lack of amuses? Its suburban location? Whatever; it's worth the trip.

Morgan M

489 Liverpool Road,


London N7 8NS

Tel: 020 7609 3560

Morgan M on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Meze Mangal, New Cross / St John's / Brockley - Eating Locally

Aside from a five month stint in Collier's Wood down the arse-end of the Northern line, for all of my life in London I've lived in the south east. Starting off in Brockley, I then moved to Charlton, then Lee which was actually just a road, and now New Cross. I prefer to stay south east, I find it has more character than places I've been to in North London. I feel safer here than in East London, and I (nor my bank account) won't entertain the idea of living in West London.

South East London has its good points; lots of green, open spaces such as Greenwich Park and Blackheath means that frolicking in the park is easily done on the rare weekends that we have some sun. Travel is also cheaper on the overground, and I don't have to get the dreaded tube every day. However, there was a lack of decent restaurants in both Lee and Charlton. So when I had a little dig around about restaurants in and around New Cross, I was surprised when I had three mentioned to me with a few more in the surrounding area.

Meze Mangal is situated on a run-down and crappy part of Lewisham Way, near New Cross station. The frontage doesn't reveal what lies within; peeling paint and random car tyres strewn around give it a slightly menacing air. A friend and I visited on a Monday night and the waiter looked doubtful about whether we could have a table; I was surprised to hear that they're fully booked most nights but eventually we were seat by the long charcoal grill pit. The restaurant's card with contact details was pressed into my hand: "next time you won't be so lucky - you must book!"

We decided on sharing three starters. I'm a sucker for aubergines, and this aubergine with spicy tomato sauce was suitably delicious. Smoky, oily and with a decent kick, we mopped this up greedily. Calamari was well cooked and grease-free with a decent hazelnut sauce on the side to liven things up. Houmous was rough in texture, garlicky and moreish. A recent meal at Yalla Yalla, a Lebanese place in Soho yielded a silky smooth houmous; both were equally as good.

All this was scooped up with excellent warm bread. I find it difficult to hold back during starters, and I was almost full by the time we'd finished.

For the mains, I chose a pide with cheese and Turkish sausage. This is a boat-shaped pizza and whilst it was good, it was exactly as you see and I was a bit breaded out. My friend chose a lamb shish kebab (top picture) which is what I'll be having next time. The meat took on the flavour of the charcoal grill and was tender and pink inside. Salad dressed with sumac and some red cabbage provided the vital vegetable element to lighten the dish up.

Service was friendly and you could tell there were many regulars, as it seemed the waiters knew a lot of the diners. it was bargainous too; for £20 we got ourselves a good spread and a beer. At last - a decent local restaurant!

Avoid going to the Rosemary Branch, on Lewisham Way for a digestif; it may be £2 a pint on Monday - Wednesdays, but you have to endure Sean Paul blasting out of the stereo, the stange smell of not-so-legal cigarette fillers lingering, and 10 year old kids being drunkenly sick in bins outside. I love South East London.

Meze Mangal

245 Lewisham Way

London SE4 1XF

Tel: 020 8694 8099
*I've edited the title to include St John's and Brockley. There seems to be some discussion over which area the restaurant is in, and rather than get into a turf war, hopefully this will resolve it. To be honest, as long as I can walk there in half an hour and the food is good, that's all that matters.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Baking Bug

I've been bitten. I never used to be much of a baker, as I don't really have a sweet tooth, but this is now the second weekend in a row I've baked a cake. I suspect it's largely to do with the pretty Kitchenaid mixer bestowed upon me. It is otherwise known as The Beast. I had to get rid of the toaster and the kettle to accomodate it.

The above cake is a blueberry and soured cream cake with a cream cheese frosting. It's a BBC Good Food recipe, and one I had ear-marked a long time ago to make but never quite got round to doing it. I made it to take along to a barbeque a friend was hosting. Except it was in North London. So, very carefully, I packed it up in a huge see-through tupperware container and made the journey north. People stopped in their tracks, everyone stared at me. I felt nervous. On the tube, three people sitting opposite me remarked that they could mug me for my cake. I was glad I was with a friend. On exiting the tube, I glanced behind me; they were right on my tail. The told me they were following the cake.

Thankfully, the cake made it to the party. It drew impressed gasps, but after a filling barbeque we ate most of it for breakfast the next day. It's the perfect balance of sour to sweet, with the added texture contrast of blueberries popping in your mouth. One I will definitely make again.

Spurred on by success, I decided to make another cake to take to another barbeque. This time, a lemon meringue cake from Nigella. It seemed straight-forward enough, though when I tried to beat the egg whites to make the meringue, the egg whites turned to a creamy liquid. I was baffled - was it supposed to be like that? I've never made meringue before so I have no idea what it should look like. After much umming and ahhing, I just switched the mixer on high and whisked the shit out of it. It seemed to do the trick; it turned into a thick white mixture which I could spoon onto the cake and peak to make the lid. After baking it - hurrah! It seems to have worked.

I packed the cake up and set off on my 15 min walking journey to the friend's house.

When I got there, the top had slid off the bottom. The cream and the lemon curd had flopped out the side of the cake. It looked a bit sad. I patched it back up again, and it went down a storm. Not a bite left.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Bun Fighting at Byron's Hamburgers

It was actually the 12th August when we went

I've commented before that I think that McDonald's do the best burger buns. Sorry, but I think it's true. The slight sweetness of the pappy bun, coupled with the sesame seeds is a tasty vehicle to deliver the patties of meat to my mouth without falling apart ashamedly in my hands. Happily, I am not alone in these feelings. Helen of Food Stories shares my view and it spurred her on to come up with the idea of putting a 'gourmet' burger patty in a fast food bun. She expressed this idea on Twitter, and Tom Byng of Byron Hamburgers stepped up to the plate to accomodate the experiment.

Not only did accomodate he the experiment, he went a little further and upped the game. Marcus Miller bakes all of Byron's buns, and they came up with eight different buns for us to test. Eight! When we were presented with the agenda, we were overwhelmed.

Of course, to get a fair playing field, Helen sourced some Burger King buns. Sadly, McDonald's flat out refused to give her any buns so they were not included in the experiment. Our very, very scientific methods involved a plain tasting of the bun, then a quarter of an assembled burger each. As there were five of us, another assembled burger was made up so that we could try the burger as a whole. Hand-feel and how well the bun conveys the patty is also a very important part of a burger, after all.

As there were 9 buns to test, I won't go through them all as I imagine that would be rather boring. Instead, my top three -

1. The Brioche Bun. It was amazing. Yes, the puffed dome was soon deflated once you got your fingers around it, but the sweet buttery bread complimented the patty perfectly. I made obscene comments about this.

2. The Burger King Bun. Sadly so. It held it's puffed shape well, it made for an extremely attractive burger. It had the sweetness of the brioche, but it did taste a little dry and synthetic. And it made me feel dirty.

3. The Byron Bun. It was slightly sweet, had a nice doughy texture and stood up to the burger patty well. It had no overwhelming flavours to detract from the meat and it did it's job nicely.

Other options included wholemeal (wrong, wrong, wrong), sourdough, sourdough with onion (which was rather too much of a lingering sour flavour) and sesame seed which almost pipped the Byron bun to the post.

And the worst?

The Ciabatta. It was horrid. I ate the meat and pushed the bun away. I don't think there's ever any need for a ciabatta burger bun. It was floury, stodgy and the slightly crispy crust upset me. It wasn't like other ciabattas I've seen with a more open crumb, but it was close enough. And if that wasn't bad enough, we turned it over to find bottom soaked through and falling apart. It was an insult to the beautifully seasoned and cooked beef.

So there we were, fit to bursting. How better to finish off the meal than with a Knickerbocker Glory?

Thanks to Byron Hamburgers for indulging us with this experiment. We had wondered if we'd have to do it on the sly and risk embarrassment and being chucked out. They themselves stood up to the test well; of the 18 burgers we sampled, all but one (which more like medium well) was cooked to a juicy pink and were all well seasoned. If that's not a true test of consistency, I don't know what is.

So there you have it. Others round the table rated the Burger King bun as tops, saying that it held it's structure better than the brioche. Now, if only we could make a more sturdy brioche...

Stay tuned for the Big Brioche Burger Bun Battle. Try saying that after a few...

Byron Hamburgers

300 King's Road

Tel: 020 7352 6040

Other locations: see website for details

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Lemon & Rosemary Lamb Ribs

Ribs are one of my favourite cuts of meat. I've previously posted about beef ribs, cooked for hours until falling off the bone. Similarly, pork ribs are barbeque stalwarts. Marinated in a punchy sauce, the charred fat combined with the tender meat is enough to make me dribble a bit.

I came across these lamb ribs in Morrisons. I went to the local branch in Peckham and was surprised to find a lot of the more unusual cuts of meat; oxtail, pig hearts, chicken hearts. These were really cheap - roughly £3 and it fed my housemate and I generously. They didn't require hours of cooking either, though the fat content means that they are definitely a treat rather than an every day meal. I marinated them overnight and the flavours of the lemon and rosemary penetrated the meat through to the bone. They are best eaten piping hot, whipped out straight from under the grill or from the barbeque, as the crispy lamb fat is a joy to eat, with the new potatoes lightly coated in the meat juices. A side of minted braised runner beans completed the meal.

Lemon & Rosemary Lamb Ribs

Serves 2

6 lamb ribs
1 lemon
3 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of rosemary
3 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard

Two handfuls of small new potatoes
300gr runner beans
A small handful of mint
100mls chicken stock

The night before, slash the ribs across. Chop the rosemary and the garlic finely and add to a large dish with the mustard. Slather the mixture over the ribs and place in the fridge.

The next day, take the ribs out and season with salt and pepper. Place the potatoes on to boil. Grill the ribs on a rack (or barbeque them) and grill for roughly 40 minutes on high, turning occasionally. Half way through, drain the fat from the roasting tray underneath and add the potatoes to it, tossing them so that they're covered in the juices. Return to under the grill.

Meanwhile, slice the runner beans diagonally. Add to a pan with the chicken stock and simmer until the beans are cooked, about 7 - 10 minutes. Take off the heat and scatter with the mint, chopped finely. Season with salt and pepper.

When we came to eating this, all you could hear were the sounds of munching and slurping. These were so delicious it was almost criminal.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Gravetye Manor, Surrey

Last weekend was my mum's birthday. Given the ardent foodies my family are, we thought it best to celebrate the occasion with a lovely Sunday lunch.

My parents live properly out in the sticks (and by this I mean at least an hour from Central London), and they've found it somewhat challenging to find a good meal that they couldn't do better on themselves in their neighbourhood. Gravetye Manor looked as if it'd fit the bill.

Built in 1598, the Manor is surrounded by 35 acres of gardens. We drove up a a path so long and winding we wondered if we were lost. The carpark housed Rolls Royces and Land Rovers and I felt a little under-dressed. Inside the manor we were led towards the back of the house, which opened up to beautiful English country garden. It wasn't over-fussed and manicured like some I've seen before, but it looked well cared for and mature.

Taking a seat in the garden, we ordered drinks and were brought canapés. A chilled courgette and basil soup was refreshing. A round of foie gras paté on a biscuit with apricots was silky and luxurious; the fruit cut through the richness nicely. The pictured salmon tartare was my favourite; salmon mixed with dill, sat on a diced cucumber salad topped with roe. A perfect mouthful to whet the appetite.

The dining room at Gravetye Manor is smaller than I expected. Wood panelling lines the walls, and footsteps are muffled by heavy carpet. I had a real trial trying to choose what to have, there were a lot of options that appealed to me. In the end, I decided on this starter - Salad of Young Pigeon with Foie Gras.

When the dish turned up, it was far bigger than I thought it would be (which is definitely not a criticism). Lobes of foie gras were beautifully caramelised and cut like butter. The breast of pigeon, nestled in the leaves was cooked to medium and had a pleasingly gamey taste. I was unsure as to how the mango would work, but it seems I'm really getting into my fruit and meat combinations as it was delicious. The fresh shiitake mushrooms provided a umami hit - a brilliant start to the meal.

The standards kept up for the mains; I went for the English John Dory. This colourful plate contained sweet baby onions, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, carrots and courgettes. I felt positively wholesome eating it. The fish had a deliciously crispy skin, though if I had one criticism I'd say that it was a touch over-salted. The remaining juices were mopped up greedily with some excellent sourdough bread.

Other dishes around the table were just as visually appealing. Mum decided to go with two starters instead of a main (much to my consternation; I could very well polish off any leftovers!) and this warm lobster salad surrounded by a potato hoop brought little gasps of surprise around the table. I did briefly wonder how you're supposed to eat the hoop, but when I resurfaced from inhaling my main course it was all but gone. I didn't even get a look-in on Dad's cannon of lamb; this was eaten with equal gusto.

Surprisingly, I decided against the cheese board. I had already walked past it and it was impressively whiffy, but I went for this roasted peach, vanilla pannacotta and vanilla ice cream dessert instead. It sounded light and refreshing, which it was. That crisp wafer of sesame and other seeds that bridges the vanilla ice cream and pannacotta was seriously moreish.

Satiated and extremely happy, we retired back to the garden to finish our dessert wines and coffees. Pretty little petit fours arrived which defeated us, and we were left to bask in the afternoon sunshine. When we toddled off to the car we left with a feeling of having been really well fed and well looked after. On consulting our watches, we found we'd been there for four and a half hours. It had flown by.

Gravetye Manor may have lost it's Michelin star this year, but given the level of service and the food, it didn't seem that way. At £52 for three courses including at lunch, it is expensive, but I felt it was a lot more than just a meal. The beautiful grounds the manor sits in really add to the experience, and taking aperitifs and digestifs in that country garden was an idyllic setting.

Gravetye Manor

Near East Grinstead

West Sussex RH19 4LJ

Tel: 01342 810 567

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Braised Beef Noodle Soup

One of my most favourite noodle soups is this one - beef braised so that it falls apart at the chopsticks. In Cantonese, Ngau Lam Ho Fun is comforting, deeply spiced and hearty. I used to order it all the time at our local cafe in Hong Kong. There, it would be served with beef tendon and tripe in the soup with it. Tendon is a wonderful texture; slightly sticky and gelatinous. I thought the recipe would be quite complex, but having had a quick scour of the internet, it seems not.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to get my hands on any tendon. I had decided on a whim to cook it on a Sunday, and I wasn't about to mission it to Chinatown to get some. In my neighbouring Peckham, there is a Chinese grocery that sold fresh ho fun (flat wide rice noodles) so with a packet of this, I set about recreating an old favourite. To up the vegetable content, slices of mooli were added. Mooli is also known as Chinese radish, or daikon. It has a slightly bland, turnip-like flavour but when you add it to meaty stews and soups, it takes on the flavour of the meat. The Japanese shred it and serve it raw in a little pile with sashimi, but I prefer it cooked.

Braised Beef Noodle Soup (Ngau Lam Ho Fun)

For 4

800gr braising beef
1 small mooli (also called daikon)
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
3 shallots
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 star anise
5 slices of ginger
1 3" stick of Chinese cinnamon (cassia bark)
3 cloves
2 pieces of dried tangerine peel
Light soy sauce to taste
1 tbsp dark soy
4 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1 tbsp black vinegar
4 stalks of spring onion, sliced
400gr fresh ho fun noodles
A handful of Chinese greens, or spinach

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Cut the beef into large chunks and when the water is boiling, blanch the beef. Remove the beef, throw the water away. Place the beef in a saucepan and add enough water to cover the meat. Bring to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer and add the Shaoxing rice wine.

Cut the shallots in half and add to a muslin bag. You don't have to use this, but I prefer not to have to fish spices out of my bowl. Bash the black peppercorns lightly and add these, along with all the other spices. Tie the bag and submerge with the beef. You may have to add a little more water. Simmer gently for 2 hours. Peel the mooli and cut into rounds. Add this to the beef mixture along with the vinegar and soy sauces. Braise until cooked, which usually takes 30 - 40 minutes.

To serve, add fresh ho fun noodles to a pot of simmering water and gently loosen with chopsticks. Drain and add to the serving bowl. Simmer some Chinese greens (I used choy sum) and add to the bowl, and then ladle the soup stock in along with the beef and some mooli. Scatter the spring onion on top.

Serve with a fiery chilli oil.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Savoy Truffle Supper Club

The phenomenon of supper clubs is continuing to thrive in London. Ms Marmite Lover's place has been doing extremely well, as I found out when I went to volunteer. 42 people in one night was the most she'd ever had and it was an eye-opening experience helping backstage, and it really made me appreciate how much work goes into accomodating and feeding this many guests.

Other supper clubs, like The Saltoun Supper Club in Brixton are all booked up and reservations can be made only a month in advance of the date. It seems Londoners are keen on this kind of set-up and, having now been to two of them, I can see why. The thrill of dining in someone's living room and meeting new people is something a conventional restaurant can't deliver.

I was quite excited when I heard about the Savoy Truffle Club. I spend a lot of my weekends usually negotiating London's (crap) transport system to head north of the river where most of my friends live and go out and it was great to hear it is held in South East London. Where I live. Three miles away, in fact. Hurrah! So, on a balmy summer's evening we headed to Blackheath armed with a bottle of wine each.

On arriving, we were greeted warmly by our host for the evening, Ali. We took our bellinis on the terrace to drink, and meanwhile met the rest of the diners, a combination of foodies and friends of the hosts. The terrace overlooked an immaculately manicured lawn; I was impressed and a bit envious with the huge pots of parsley, sage and other herbs they had growing there. Parsley has always refused to co-operate with me.

We had a table of four decorated with some lovely flowers and happily a big bucket of ice to chill the wine we'd bought. A friend stuck an amusing home-made label on her bottle; the wine was of course, massively expensive. "Melons on the nose, blah blah blah".

The room was large, with maybe eight or nine tables. Upsettingly, a table of four didn't show up but nevertheless, the atmosphere in the room was alight with animated conversation. A piano in the corner winked sugestively at us; one of our party is rather a dab hand at piano playing.

To start, we had some delicious bread rolls with butter from Rhodes Bakery, in Greenwich. All the food served at the supper club is locally sourced. The vegetables are grown either at an allotment or bought from a far seven miles away. Next, we were served cute little coffee cups of roasted red pepper soup with harissa creme fraiche, prettily decorated with micro basil leaves. This took me by surprise. There was an incredible depth of flavour to the soup, and the crème fraîche looked innocent enough but packed a spicy punch. We scooped all the dregs of our cups hungrily.

Next up, we had smashed broad beans with mozarella on sourdough toast. This was a generous portion - I don't envy much the poor soul who had to pod them and then shell them of the grey-green skin that surrounds each bean. This was delicious and really fresh-tasting. The mozarella was creamy and stood up to the broad bean smash well. I woke up the next day wanting it for breakfast.

Next up, we had pork belly with rumble de thumps. I had no idea what rumble de thumps would be; it sounded South African to me, but apparently it's a Scottish preparation of mashed potato with cabbage. The accompanying sticky and sweet Madeira and star anise jus was perfect with the pork. It was lightly spiced and something I'd definitely going to try and recreate. It looks like a small portion, but it was really rich and hit the spot perfectly.

A palate cleanser of elderflower sorbet was perhaps a touch over-sweet for my liking, but it did it's job. The floral overtones cleansed the palate nicely to anticipate the dessert.

I've always thought Eton Mess was a bit of a cop-out dessert. Given its name, it gives the cook free reign to just dump a load of fruit and bits of meringue on the dish. Not so at the Savoy Truffle Supper Club. Beautiful plates of intricately towered cream, meringue and Kentish summer fruits with a coulis appeared before us. I was daunted by its size. The fruits were perfectly ripe, sweet and fragrant. It defeated me, but all was not lost as a companion finished it off.

Our evening ended with some slightly tipsy piano playing, rather too much singing along to be decent, and a cafetière of Monmouth coffee. The chef came out from the kitchen and had a chat with everyone; he looked surprisingly unruffled, less sweaty than was possible given the number of diners, and answered all our questions enthusiastically. After my volunteering experience, I have learned that I would not be in a similar condition. We headed off into the night having felt well looked after, well nourished, and well drunk.