16/10/2011

Food Urchin Autumnal Supper Club

It was a glorious autumn day. We had managed to get a good haul of ingredients on our lovely high street for not very many pennies, the sun was shining and we’d had bacon sandwiches for breakfast to fortify us for the trek ahead. We were going to look for The Food Urchin.

 
Now, you may not know of The Food Urchin. He is an elusive creature, venturing out only to work and forage for food to feed his little family. The Food Urchin young are highly inquisitive and voracious eaters, and so need to be fed tasty food to keep them satisfied. To this end, you can often find the Food Urchin in farm shops, and at food fairs, where the best produce can be gathered, but you have to watch from a distance or the shy Urchin will take flight, bolting home with the quickness of a gazelle to take refuge in this lair or, as we know it, The Kitchen.

 
On rare occasions, the Food Urchin will develop a sociable streak, for instance when there is an overabundance of a kill. Then others from outside of the lair will be invited in to share. This is a time where barriers are down, and many get the chance to participate. To be invited in is a momentous occasion, and one which I will document for you here because, yes, I was one of the lucky few that got to glimpse the Food Urchin not once, but twice in his home habitat.

 
It was a cold night, but the lair was warm and welcoming. Empty at first, so we were a little wary just in case we spooked the Food Urchin and his attractive mate, known as the Mrs Food Urchin. We had brought offerings with us, to reassure the Urchins and this seemed to do the trick. We had no wish to spook these gentle creatures, and it seemed our gifts of cider and chutney were well received.
 
Here endeth the David Attenborough section because I don’t think I can work a pork roast and granita in there without serious effort, and I haven’t the brainspoons for that kind of cleverness today.
 
As ever, Danny and Holly proved the most gracious of hosts. I feel like I’m visiting friends I’ve known for years, rather than this being only the second time we’ve met. The tables were laid, the food was cooking and there, proud and resplendent with flour was Veronica’s Baby.

Veronica, Danny’s sourdough starter, had not had a good week and at one point her likely demise was lamented across the Twitterverse. However, she rallied at the last minute, rallied in a superb fashion, and there on the counter as result of her labours, was the final result.
Sourdough and smoked malt flour easy bread  Veronicas baby

The smell was fabulous, the eating of it even better. The darker loaf was made with a smoked malt flour and that brought with it a deep, nutty flavour and a tight crumb. The sourdough loaf was….well, just gorgeous. A dense, chewy crust and a most wonderful springy insides. Soft to eat, but with a bouncy texture. I now want the recipe, of course. And some of that smoked flour.

 Slicesii Slices

The darker one would be just the thing for a ham and chutney sandwich, the sourdough perfect just on its own with butter. I don’t quite know how we didn’t just fall into the bread basket and eat it all there and then.

Next came the starters. A beautiful, warm seasonal salad of Pheasant, Poached Pear, Pomegranates and Hazelnuts. I adored the dressing, which I think was an elderflower or elderberry one? Help me out, Danny mate.

Juicy pheasant, soft leaves, flavourful pear and crunchy hazelnuts. A triumph of tastes and textures. I ate all of mine and some of Tex’s too.

Pheasant, pear and pomegranate salad

We ate more bread. We had a rest and talked to our lovely table companions. Then came….The Main Course. Cue dramatic music if you please.

Pork roast with mash, greens, fried sage and roasted apple ii Pork roast with mash, greens, fried sage and roasted apple

Pork Chop Roast with Cox's Apples, Crispy Sage and Cider Gravy, with Mashed Allotment Spuds and Steamed Greens.

It was So. Damned. Good. Perfect gravy, meltingly tender meat, extra crackling on the side – I could have eaten this twice and still asked for more. I loved the fried sage leaves, especially when mixed with the creamy mash. I think we all piled into it with great gusto.

I admit that I adore pork fat so I will have you know that I fought every temptation going not to nick the stuff off other peoples’ plates. I behaved. I really did.

Then a rest, and much more conversation, plus a fair bit of idle wondering what the other room was drinking because it was pretty raucous in there. We stayed safely where we are. They sounded scary.
 
A palate cleanser of Quince Granita came next and can I just say that this…this was a revelation. I have never eaten quince before, and this little glass of fluffy, perfumed ice crystals, slowly melting into pale pinky/tangerine juice may have made me an addict. It was so fresh, light and a very lovely, clean thing to eat.
 
Granita Granita close up

We had a bit of a rest at this point, and talk turned to, well, it turned to all sorts of things to be honest. We did have very engaging dinner companions for the evening.
 
With the sorbet providing a break in the rich food proceedings, naturally the dessert that followed was actually made of richness.
Baked Blackberry and Sticky Stem Ginger Pudding with Golden Syrup and Cream.
There. That deserved a line all to itself didn’t it? And here it is.

 
Ginger and blackberry pudding Ginger and blackberry pudding second helping

I wanted to get a proper close up but I’m sorry, I was actually too busy eating this mound of amazingness. Soft, light sponge, with almost crystallised edges around the base – I’m assuming some golden syrup action there – with a gorgeously fruity, jammy hit of blackberry. Yes, I had cream and YES I had two helpings because it was that damned good.
 
We sat, sated, and contemplated our stomachs for a bit.
 
At this point, sadly, outside influences meant that Tex and I had to depart in a bit of a hurry but I have it on good authority that much talking was had and much wine was drunk. See The Food Urchin’s Twitter status update of “why o why o why o why?” from earlier today.
 
Once again, Food Urchin and Mrs Food Urchin gave us a great time. One day, I hope to be able to cook dinner for them too, but no sirree bob I am NOT doing a supper club. Not until I move the extra house’s worth of Stuff out of this house at least!
 
Many thanks to Danny and Holly. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.


Edible Experiences

11/10/2011

La Gelatiera and Byron

Okay, I admit it. I’ve worked in Covent Garden for three years now and I have never, ever been into Byron. I know, I know, very poor of me but I am not a great burger person, generally, and plus I’m always walking past on the way to somewhere else with no time to stop.

Tonight was different.

MissyKate and I had spent a very lovely early evening sitting in La Gelatiera in New Row, eating what felt like our weight in gelato. I tried Balsamic, which was gorgeously smooth, slightly sweet and right at the end of your tastebuds hits you with a whack of savoury out of nowhere.

Kate had dark Chocolate Sorbet and Belgian Chocolate gelato – in the same tub the slattern – and I chose Salted Caramel. This is no ordinary ice cream. It’s smooth and creamy and very rich, seriously sinful in taste. I have never, ever had a chocolate sorbet that good.

La Gelatiera

We ogled the gelato selection, we ogled the gelato sandwiches in the freezer, we ogled the biscuits and the cakes and the fabulous selection of goodies that seemed to be in every corner.

Once we’d eaten our choices, and each tried some of the other’s choice, and then gasbagged for a very long time whilst the extremely patient man behind the counter smiled at us, we bid the gelato palace farewell.

La Gelatiera, 27 New Row, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4LA, UK
Telephone (0)207 836 9559 | info@lagelatiera.co.uk

We wandered along back up towards The Strand, via a cupcake shop (Cupcake Couture I think) which has most excellent pavement graffiti outside.

Eat Cupcakes

A peanut butter and jelly one was purchased, and Kate walked away with it in an incredibly pretty yellow box.

On the spur of the moment we decided that dinner was needed. Actual, substantial, non-sugar based food.

“COURGETTE FRIES!” we cried. “TO BYRON BURGER!” and away we ran to Wellington Street, to the corner of Covent Garden that is a haven of beef. Sophie’s Steakhouse on one corner, and Byron’s on the other. We entered the warm, beefy smelling portals of Byron’s, feeling more and more hungry the further we went.

The smell is fabulous. There’s a tang of mustard and ketchup in the air, overlaid with smoke from the grills. A wave of heat hits you, and then one of the uber cute, uber smiley staff greeted us and we were led, smiling, to our table.

We knew what we wanted. Courgette fries and pure, unadulterated burger. So that was what we had. Two classic burgers and two portions of fries. Our waiter was quite the most hot waiter I have seen in a long time. So very hot that we feel we should mention it. Tattoos, a soft Irish accent, a big smile and…and…he was softly singing while he cleared tables. What more could two sugar fuelled ladies want?

Anyway, moving on.

To quote the Byron menu: “ All our hamburgers are cooked medium unless otherwise requested and served with lettuce, tomato, red onion, pickle and mayonnaise.” and they really are medium. Perfectly so.

burgers and fries

Ohhh the meat was soft, and pink but with perfect chargrilled flavours and a really deep, savoury hit of moo. Mine was so well built it even sat up on its own to have its photo taken. Look!

Burger

Then it fell over and I ate it, with gusto, American yellow and ketchup. It was exactly what we wanted. Now those courgette fries. Those wonderful, heavenly, crispy, salty, battered sticks of tasty vegetable made zingy and tongue-tingling. I could have eaten just a plate of those alone.

All in all, fabulous food, lovely staff and a top atmosphere. Including drinks the bill was £21.

Go, and go soon. You never know, the lovely Irish smiley boy might be there.

Byron, 33-35 Wellington Street, London, WC2E 7BN - Telephone 020 7420 9850

10/10/2011

Loving Hut, Edgware

A few weeks ago, I was wandering along Edgware high street with Lovely Jane, in search of food. We were heading along Station Road, vaguely towards Izgara, a fabulous Turkish place, as we have been there before and have never been disappointed with the food. I say ‘vaguely’ as we started from Sainsbury’s car park and thought we’d check out what else there was on the way to Izgara just in case. We saw all sorts during our leisurely saunter – pizza place, Chinese buffet, Nando’s (there’s always a Nando’s right?) but then Jane mentioned what used to be Mr Mann’s. It’s a purely vegan Asian restaurant with a great value for money buffet, a limited eat as much as you like menu, and an a la carte menu, filled to the brim with vegan dim sum and wonderful spicy, noodly dishes. Jane is always happy to go to places that offer only a small vegetarian selection, but this time I wanted to go somewhere that meant she could eat the whole darned menu if she chose to and not have to worry.

It is now called Loving Hut, and is like something out of Space 1999 meets Akira. I LOVE IT.

Outside  27092011660  27092011656

The staff are very friendly, the atmosphere is nice – and they do not hassle you at all, even if you are an odd girl taking lots of photos with her phone – and the food is very good indeed. I like the fact that it is all vegan. This means that friends of mine can go and eat without any problems at all, which relaxes me, and the food really is very good indeed. I’m a fairly confirmed carnivore and this didn't leave me ‘missing meat’ in any way at all. In fact, it made me want to go back and eat lots of their delicious food to find out more about it. It’s also a great place for Jewish people to eat, as there is no chance at all of the meat/dairy cross-contamination. I imagine that this restaurant being placed in Edgware isn’t just a happy accident.

Onto the food. We went for the Eat As Much As You Like menu, which I think was £12.99 per person. They only allow you to order two dishes each at a time, which is very sensible, and they also have a lovely sentence on the menu that says “Cherish the food. Do not waste food.”

We went for veggie dumplings, ‘pork’ balls in batter, sesame toasts and tofu with salt and chilli for our starters.

Tofu with chilli and veggie dumplingsSauces Sesame toast and notpork balls 

I actually preferred these sesame toasts to the ‘usual’ ones. I thought they had much more flavour and a better texture. The soy and chilli dip had a dark, smoky  hint to it and went perfectly with the tofu which, even though it was deep fried, was not at all greasy. Once you get used to the texture of the ‘meat’ in the ‘pork’ balls, it’s all good. I think they use gluten chunks or soya pieces, so it’s actually very soft. It didn’t take me long to get used to it though! Next time I want to concentrate solely on the dim dum because just look at the menu.

http://edgware.lovinghut.co.uk/uk-edgeware-en/menu/

sesame toast tofuanddumpling

Next up were the mains.

 Mains bbqnotbeef

The best fried rice I have ever eaten, with spring onion scattered liberally through it, but not so much that it overpowered the rice. Light and fresh , with not a hint of oiliness or heaviness. We got brought a Szechuan dish by mistake, which they apologised profusely for and let us have for free. It was sooo spicy that we had to take that very slowly but the flavours…oh they were so good and zingy that we didn’t really want to stop eating. I had to give up after a while though, as I am a wuss. Heed the chilli warnings on the menu for they do not lie.

My barbecue ‘beef’ was a revelation. Sticky, sweet and smoky but crisped edges and soft insides. If I could choose only one dish, it would be that. Jane’s Thai Green Curry was gorgeous. Okay, so I might choose that as well. Um.

Creamy and coconutty but with a little lilt of spice to cut through the creaminess. The aubergine in it was soft and silky, a pleasure to eat. Many places simply cannot cook aubergine right, but this, this was heaven.

We had broccoli cooked with ginger as a side and that was such a surprise to me. I don’t like ginger at all but this…the freshness just worked, and sharing the dish was very difficult! The next time I visited I had it fried with garlic and that was equally yummy, but on balance I actually prefer the gingered version.

After all this food we were getting dangerously full, but after a small excursion by yours truly to photograph the dessert bar and buffet decor (yes, those are plastic cucumbers and aubergines)

Buffet Bar 2Buffet bar  Decorations dessert bar

we had just enough room to share a dessert. We got ourselves the last slice of home made blueberry cheesecake. Okay, maybe I should write ‘cheese’cake but anyway. Dense, fudgy, sweet, cool and creamy. It was absolutely luscious. Just as well it was the last slice else we’d have eaten even more and probably burst. The mum and daughter who work in the restaurant make all the cakes but because Mum was away, there was no more cheesecake to be had. As I say, probably just as well!

All of this spicy, zingy, mouth-tingling wonderfulness came to under £30 including the coconut and pineapple drinks we had. I could happily eat there again and again and you know what? I think I will. It was almost like a breath of fresh air. I’m fairly sure my arteries thanked me, at least until just before the cheesecake.

Loving Hut, 236 Station Road, Edgware, Middlesex, HA8 7AU, Tel: 0208 905 3033