Friday, 10 February 2012

Eggs en Cocotte

Behold! This is the amazing egg en cocotte with light wild mushroom cream that was my starter when I visited L'atelier de Joel Rebuchon for lunch recently. The wild mushroom cream was simultaneously light and deep in flavour. Trying this has really got me thinking about the best way to cook eggs and I'm currently having a bit of a research session on different ways to cook eggs en cocotte.

Also known as shirred eggs, they are cooked in a style that means the albumen or egg white is firm and set whilst maintaining a runny yolk in the centre. This is achieved by baking the egg in the oven. The cocotte naming comes from the type of small casserole dish that they are normally cooked in. Looking through a few books, it seems there are many different classic ways to prepare this dish such as à la Parisienne (which adds ham, mushrooms and cream) and à la Forestière (with which you garnish the bottom of the cocotte diced fried bacon, mushroom purée and topped at the end with chopped parsley).

I'm going into the kitchen to experiment and hopefully I will return triumphant, ready to share with you my culinary treasure. Stay tuned!

P.S. How do you like to cook your eggs en cocotte? How to do you like your eggs in general? Let me know if you have any suggestions.


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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Roast+Conch from Hotel Chocolat

I'm a fan of Hotel Chocolat, particularly their Rabot Estate branded products. I was therefore excited for them to open their newest shop on Monmouth Street which promises a new concept from their others. Roast+Conch at Seven Dials on the edge of Covent Garden is to produce small batches of chocolate from whole beans, shipped from their Rabot Estate in Saint Lucia. Whilst there is a more conventional retail space upstairs, all this chocolate alchemy goes on downstairs in a open-kitchen that doubles as a basement cafe.

It's also in this downstairs space that they serve something else new that I specifically braved the bitter cold to try. I'm talking about the other new concept in this shop which is for the cafe to offer hot drinks which usually use roasted coffee beans and substitute them with roasted cocoa beans. Alternatively, you can go for one shot of each. And by roasted cocoa, I don't mean, hot chocolate by any means. This is a completely different experience (although, the cafe do also offer their "liquid chocolate" if that's more your thing). 

I ventured down this winding, black metal staircase and arrived in the cafe which is semi-industrial looking cavern which evoked an immediate cosy feel, however the fact it was so cold outside may have added to this. Either way, it's a smart-looking space with a mix of whitewashed exposed brick and white painted rendered walls. Seating is a mix of individual table seating, three corners with large communal tables surrounded by banquettes and mini stools, as well as some bar seating around the edges. 

Behind the counter there are various, impressive-looking pieces of machinery used for working with chocolate including a winnower (which separates the cocoa shell from the nib), a bean breaker (cracks the shell and releases the nib) and the eponymous conch (stone grinds and refines the nibs into chocolate). 

I was only passing through and so just opted to sample a flat white (£2-50) made with their roasted cocoa beans. However, if you were feeling hungry, they also offer some interesting sounding chocolate-themed food with warm cocoa wraps which are filled with ingredients such as duck confit, coriander, roast cocoa and cherries. If you want something sweeter they also offer sweet cocoa wraps. The hazelnut chocolate spread and whipped cocoa cream filling sounded particularly appetising. 

The flat white was well made with good milk work. The drink had a great, deep and strong cocoa smell. The cocoa does not have the same level of bitterness that you get with coffee and the roast does not seem as rich with a good coffee. This meant that I found it lighter and a fruitier than coffee and is a great drink in it's own right that I would definitely recommend trying at least once. Personally, considering I'm yet to try their food and because, I may as well admit, I have somewhat of an insatiable chocolate craving, I will definitely be returning. 


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Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Advice for Laura Zilli- If You Can't Say Something Nice...

You may be aware of an article that appeared in the Daily Mail recently about a young lady who is apparently the UK's next big cookery programming star. With a headline shouting "Move Over Nigella!" (how predictable can you get?) Laura Zilli made her opening promotional bid to become the nation's new "queen of the kitchen" (or whatever other horrendous cliché you want to label her aspiration as).

Laura Zilli (copyright. Daily Mail)
Hmm, I hear you say, that name, Zilli, sounds familiar. Well, yes it does. She is in fact the daughter of Aldo Zilli. Already an established "celebrity chef." That's fine. Some people might say, she's only getting the exposure because of her father, but, in reality, a lot of us would use that to get places too if we could. As long as she's humble about the fact that her familial ties might be playing a part in the fact she's even had one scrap of attention from a book publisher and the press, I'll have no problem.

But somewhat predictably, she doesn't. Not one jot. And, it seems no respect for the women that have gone before her. Give the article a quick read here if you want and then (hopefully) come back here-

See what I mean? Miss Zilli is indeed a model. Good for her. Use what you have if you want to make money. I have no problem. I can't criticise someone who uses their natural looks for monetary gain any more than someone who uses their natural pleasant singing tone. That is to say, not at all. I wish her all the luck. I mean, even if she wants to be a "cookery star," that's fair enough. If someone is interested in publishing her book, that's good for her.

What I object to is someone who is completely unproved, except in the field of trying their best to get on TV (she featured as an "budding singer/songwriter" in short lived C4 reality series "Seven Days"), walking into the room with such a rotten attitude.

In a move that was almost certainly recommended by whoever does her PR (bravo, by the way, it got me talking about her) she says that her cooking is "far more refined" than that of Nigella Lawson and criticises her use of cream and butter, concluding "no one wants to be fat."

Not content with that she then turns her focus on Sophie Dahl. Perhaps an easier target you might think. I don't know. Sophie Dahl's move into the food realm began with writing which she already had considerable experience of, being a published author and writer for magazines. Some of her cookery may have been simple, but why can't someone get on TV and share the simple dishes that they love? She certainly didn't approach her television series within any sense that she was suddenly the heir to anyone's throne.

She says of Dahl that she had "no real background in food," as if having daddy occasionally show you how to whip up a dish or two in the family kitchen is enough for her to buy a saddle for the high-horse she's sat upon. She then says she "doesn't understand why she had her own cookery show" before bitchily adding that being a "former plus-sized model" shouldn't make you an "authority on food"

As for her own aspirations, Miss Zilli seems to put some ridiculous focus on teaching women how to cook whilst wearing their Jimmy Choos. How pathetic. How backwards. Is that all women should be expected to wear in the kitchen? Can she even comprehend that outside her little Notting Hill world that most women in the UK don't own a pair of said highly expensive designer heels? Does she think female chefs at the top of their game, such as Angela Hartnett or Hélène Darroze turn up for work in a pair of strappy stilettos?

What's most annoying is that Laura Zilli does not seem to have any genuine passion for food. There is nothing to suggest she has worked in a professional kitchen at any point, despite the fact her fathers owns restaurants. It is also clear that from her time on extremely unsuccessful reality show, "Seven Days," where for the purpose of that she was a "singer/songwriter," that she just wants to have fame (and probably the money that might come with it). Whether she is a singer or a food broadcaster/writer, she does not seem to mind. That's not someone who I want to watch on my TV screen. Give me Nigella any day.


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Monday, 30 January 2012

Restaurant Review- Mishkin's

I feel like I should start this review with a little disclaimer. I am no expert on Jewish cuisine. I have only a little experience of the kind of New York City deli that this new venture from the people behind Polpo, Spuntino et al seems to try to emulate. If you're looking, perhaps as a New Yorker or a Manhattanophile, for an assessment of Mishkin's authenticity, I'm afraid that judgement is way above my pay grade. I could not begin to tell you. What I feel more able to do is to judge the restaurant on its merits; all the usual things that I would take into account, and let me tell you, it seemed pretty good to me.

We walked in without a reservation, but were seated quickly at the bar. The fixtures and the furnishings all appear to be pretty authentic. A brilliant silver, polished U-shaped bar towards the entrance with banquette seating in the main dining area. It's a pretty compact space, but well utilised without making it feel overly cramped. Little details like plastic jugs of water and diner-style condiment receptacles add to that NYC-feeling. 

Where I'm pretty sure that Mishkin's fails in authenticity is its large cocktail list (with a particular focus on gin) and its offering of pork hot dogs on the menu. This place definitely isn't kosher. But, to be fair, it never claims to be. It also never claims to be an attempt to transport wholly the New York deli experience to Covent Garden, describing itself as "a kind-of Jewish deli with cocktails." And that's certainly fine with me. 

We ordered a Reuben sandwich and a Brick Lane salt beef sandwich (both £9) from a menu offering the likes of chopped livers, lox beigel, meat balls, latkes and meat loaf. The Reuben (pastrami, swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Russian dressing) came toasted and was delicious. I have heard that the level of toasting on the bread is too much to be authentic, but like I said, does it really matter when this is only "a kind of Jewish deli?"

We also had the Brick Lane salt beef sandwich. We asked for it with fat, which I would definitely recommend. I would be concerned that the beef may be too dry without. This was served simply with mustard and pickle. Whilst the Reuben was more complex in terms of flavours, I couldn't fault the salt beef sandwich for delivering a big gutsy punch of meaty flavour. We had these with chips (£3) and onion rings (£4) which were both good in their field and charmingly served in little chinoiserie bowls.

I guess if I was turning up expecting to be well and truly taken on a magical trip to the London branch of Katz's deli, I may have left feeling disappointed. I might also have left annoyed were I a particular Jewish food expert, or indeed someone who grew up with their mother's versions of these very dishes. But, from the way I saw it, Mishkin's delivered on everything I wanted from it; a welcoming atmosphere, a fun, stylish restaurant and simple food, cooked very well. What more can you ask for?

Rating- 8/10

25 Catherine Street
London WC2B 5JS


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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Restaurant Review- The Delaunay

From the moment that the doorman welcomes you inside, revealing the luxurious interior of the bar area, to the moment you reluctantly shuffle away, The Delaunay experience is just pure class. Every detail from the amazing interior design, to the smart, formal attire of the staff, to the beautiful customised crockery is precise and thoughtful and makes for a truly immersive experience. The dining room evokes a feeling of Edwardian class and elegance, the walls bedecked with dark wood panelling.

The Delaunay is of course, the latest venture by Corbin and King, the restaurateurs formerly behind The Ivy and now, most famously, The Wolseley on Piccadilly. This new restaurant certainly has a similar feel to their current celebrity-packed hangout. The restaurant concept is the same with all-day dining (open from 7am-midnight) meaning that the kitchens are producing breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner all day, every day. I went on a Sunday to enjoy what their weekend brunch menu had to offer.

Where The Delaunay strikes out more on it's own is its menu's focus on German and Austrian options, combining the classic French offerings more often found in The Wolseley with the feeling of grand central European coffee houses. The menu features schnitzel and wiener as well as plenty of classic cakes such as sachertorte.

Black and White Pudding with a Fried Duck Egg

We began with black and white pudding with a fried duck egg (£11-75) and buck rarebit (£8). The black and white pudding was served on a thin tile of fried bread, which I usually find overly heavy and greasy. This was perfectly thin and light- the best I have ever tried. It was done, like everything they do, with a lot of finesse. The buck rarebit is basically Welsh rarebit with poached eggs and again, was simple brunch food cooked and served perfectly on beautiful crockery. Maybe it's a little superficial to focus on the crockery that a restaurant uses but I feel it's important. Whilst poor crockery or glassware might not ruin a meal, the right kind of equipment certainly helps make the job easier and more enjoyable. Not that you could call the idea of sitting in a restaurant, dining on fine food a job; not by anyone's definition.

Buck Rarebit

We followed these with sachertorte(£5-50) and a coffee and stroh rum cake(£5-75). The former was rich in chocolate and nicely balanced with the fruitiness of the apricot jam. Another charming touch was that "sachertorte" had been piped on each individual piece. The flavour of coffee and rum was prominent in the latter whilst still retaining the necessary sweetness.


The meal was finished off nicely with a pot of earl grey tea. Again, the tea service was a beautiful design. It may be the case that The Delaunay is on the more expensive side of dining, but, in the context of how great the food, service and design are, I feel it's certainly worth it. Although I can't personally vouch for dinner or lunch service (I have heard that they are similarly impressive), I would definitely recommend that you take a little detour onto Aldwych to enjoy breakfast or brunch here. Of course, it's an extravagance but worth it; you'll feel definitely be made to feel special.

Coffee and Stroh Rum Cake

The one thing I should really say, is don't wear chinos, because the fibres from the tablecloth will stick to them. You know somewhere is good when that's the only word of warning someone can give you.

Rating- 8.5/10

The Delaunay, 55 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BB


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Sunday, 22 January 2012

Brunch at The Delaunay- A Little Preview

I'm currently sat here, trying my best to compose a veritable symphony of a review for my brunch at The Delaunay. But as progress is a little slow, I thought I would share a few pictures with you of what we had to eat.

This was black and white pudding served with duck eggs on a very dainty thin slice of fried bread. I normally find fried bread too heavy and fatty but this was done with a lot of finesse. 

I also indulged with Sachertorte which rather charmingly had "sacher" piped onto every individual piece. 

There was also Buck Rarebit which is basically, Welsh Rarebit but with poached eggs on top. 

That's just a little look at what it had to offer. Everything just looked so classy and elegant that I had to share some of it with you straight away. Check back for much more in the way of a review and pictures later on. 

Friday, 20 January 2012

Cakes from Gail's Bakery = Happy Blogger

Look at that box from Gail's Bakery and just imagine the treats and delights hidden inside. If you've ever visited a Gail's you'll no doubt be brimming with excitement and anticipation. You'll be asking yourself, "is it one of their delicious muffins? A densely packed cookie maybe? A beautifully moist apple pie perhaps? Or maybe even one of their dainty little fougasse breads, generously studded with Nigella and sesame seeds?" You might even be wishing that it was one of their paper bags instead, filled with their delicious loaves of freshly made bread. Well, I can reveal the contents of this box for you, but brace yourself; extreme tastiness is about to ensue.

First up is this generous square slice of carrot cake. Now, I must disclose, I am quite a fan of this particular confection, so my standards are, I think, pretty high. Well this multi-layered beauty ticks all the boxes as far as I'm concerned. The cake itself is moist and nicely scattered with the sweet carrot and packed with walnuts which adds an extra dimension of texture. The icing (made with cream cheese on a carrot cake) was nicely sweet whilst maintaining the savoury element that the use of cheese should impart.

Second up, and looking perhaps even more visually impressive is this lemon meringue cupcake. The meringue topping was beautifully light and fluffy. It gave away to a tangy, fresh lemon cake base. This was about as light and fresh as a cake like this could get. Amazing to be eating something that's so indulgent and (I'm guessing) sugar-rich and feel like you're having something that doesn't seem very heavy or guilt-inducing.

I've been a fan of Gail's Bakery for quite a while now. I regularly buy their seaweed bread and olive baguette. Their delicious seed-covered buttermilk crackers are also a favourite. I don't only like Gail's because their produce is delicious. I also appreciate what they do for Londoners. Providing them with a source of fresh, daily-baked bread that is made the way bread should be; without any additives that will lengthen its shelf life. Sure, it might not last as long, but that's the point. Eat fresh bread daily and you notice the difference. And as this post suggests, I'm grateful that they also know how to turn out brilliant cakes and other sweet treats.

On top of this, they've managed to keep this commitment to quality whilst expanding quite significantly (in London at least) in recent times. I say, if you can do that without affecting quality, then go for it. In my opinion, everyone deserves a bakers like Gail's.

Gail's Bakery- 


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