A sunny spring day beer review: Fathomless Oyster Stout

It’s been a while since we reviewed a beer, but we certainly have a lot to try (our West Ham flat is a kind of makeshift beer cellar).

Today’s brew is Fathomless. It’s a 5.2% Oyster Stout, brewed by RedWillow Brewery in the UK. It’s a bottle conditioned ale.
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Charlie’s thoughts:

“At the first sip I wasn’t sure, but the taste grew on me. It’s a lovely, light stout and perfectly suits this sunny day. A stout for spring if you will. I’d recommend it to someone wanting to try stout for the first time, who usually drinks lighter beers. Overall: it’s very quaffable.”

Ty’s thoughts:

“Slightly bitter, doesn’t have that full stout heaviness. Quite light in colour for a stout, with a slight liquorice flavour. There’s a sweetness but with a hoppy-ness along with it.”

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Gauthier – Vegetronic Tasting menu review

Since a visit during London Restaurant Festival a few years back, we’ve always been fans of Gauthier Soho. With my coming from a background of vegetarianism, and the Canadian coming from a background of out-and-out carnivorousness we always found Gauthier to be a good middle ground.

Of course, these days, my vegetarianism is all but a distant memory, and the carnivores reign supreme – so tucking into all Gauthier had to offer was on the cards for me this time.

I should probably start by mentioning the overall ambience of the restaurant, and I’m going to do it in a bulleted list:

  • You ring a doorbell and go in through a front door – this was a brand new experience to me first time round, and very much puts you in the mind of going to a posh friend’s house for dinner.
  • There are often pillows on the seats – for comfort, naturally.
  • The lighting is soft and a lot like how you might light your own home if having a dinner party.
  • There is loud music in the toilets, and soft background music in the main dining area. It’s like walking into the toilets and finding a rave is continuing on in a more appropriate place.
  • Sometimes the tables are set up so that you and your dining partner are both facing outwards, in the mannar of surveying the room.
  • The waiters are well mannered and informed, and attentive throughout service.

So, now to the actual food. The Vegetronic tasting menu went a little something like this:

A small bite: squid ink crisp with avocado moose and toast with tomato confit and basil

We thought: ruddy lovely, we’ll have more of that thank you.

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An aperitif: jasmine scented hydromel

We thought: possibly an acquired taste, I (Charlie) love Jasmin tea so the taste was very pleasant to me, whereas Ty found the whole drink a little hard going. Still, not a drop was left.

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A pre-starter: ovenbaked carrot and fish skin

We thought: lovely, crispy, unctuous fish skin which worked really well with the carrot. The sauce that accompanied was a little too salty for our tastes and my carrot did seem just a tad over.

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A starter: green asparagus with quail’s eggs, confit lemon and parmesan crisps

We thought: very excited when we saw it coming up on the menu and it tasted as good as it sounds. Perfectly poached quail’s eggs and the asparagus with crunchy parmesan crisps just made it. The only query we had was on the confit lemon; it was very strong and even seemed to detract from the taste of the parmesan crisps (oh the shame!). Perhaps it was meant to refresh the palate, but I personally think the dish would have been fine without that.

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A post-starter: umami bomb, wild mustard custard

We thought: up there with favourite dish of the entire menu. The name really says it all, the textures of the dish were amazing as well: smooth custards with the firmness of really well cooked wild mushrooms with a piece of crispy panchetta. An accomplished dish and a memorable moment in the meal.

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A fish dish: bamboo steamed cod, garlic leaves, croutons and cos lettuce

We thought: although the cod was cooked perfectly and the croutons a delightful crunchy addition to the dish, overall the flavour didn’t quite deliver for us and the garlic leaves didn’t seem to have the punch we’re used to (perhaps because it’s earlier in the season or perhaps the cold weather?) and again the dish was a bit too salty for our tastes.

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To cleanse: peppered lemon infusion with sugared celery and cucumber sobet

We thought: very well-timed dish, I was just beginning to feel full and needed something light and palette cleansing to see me through the remainder of the menu. The cucumber sobet was awesome (but not in the Vegetronic cookbook it seems) and it was a pleasing and surprising way to treat celery.

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And now for dessert: compote of rhubarb, Indonesian pepper and fresh goat’s cheese

We thought: having a sweet tooth, I always hold out for dessert and it will (by and large) be my favourite course – this did not disappoint me or the Canadian (who does not have quite the sweet tooth I do). There was a decidedly savoury note and the goat’s cheese worked wonders with the rhubarb. I’m not entirely sure what made up the little floating dots, almost like mini, very light, slightly salty, meringues. It rocked. Alas, this picture doesn’t do it justice.

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Finally: lovage bubblegum, orange blossom marshmallow, sugared quince carrot and olive oil petits fours

We thought: specifically, I thought, “how delightful”. You can see my Vine of this part of the meal here. My favourite was the orange blossom marshmallow which was just wonderful. The lovage bubblegum was tasty, but this taste only lasts a short amount of time before giving over to what you’d expect from gum that’s lost it’s flavour. No matter how much I wanted to – I just couldn’t bring myself to blow a big bubble with the gum in the restaurant.

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We drank: strawberry vermouth, Pommeau De Normandie and coffee to finish

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Total bill: £191.25 (including service)

Cost of tasting menu: £136.00 (with two copies of the Vegetronic cook book included)

Cost of drinks: £34

Overall thoughts on Vegetronic tasting menu: more than 3 hours of dining with fantastic food in one of our favourite places to eat, great waiters and two books included. Highly recommend a visit.

Shortcrust squash and cabbage pie with lattice top

It’s squash season. This is usually heralded by the arrival of the Squash Box at Riverford and we take full advantage – as such we have a lot of squash dotted around the living room.

When thinking of tonight’s dinner it seemed sensible to go the squash route, and it occurred to me I hadn’t made a pie in a while.

So here goes. I’d not made a shortcrust pastry in a while, so followed one I found on About.com and added sage to make it a herbed crust.

You’ll need a pie dish. I used a rectangular quiche tin, measuring approx 12″ by 8″, with a removable base

Pastry ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 110g butter, cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tsps dried sage
  • A shot of milk (for brushing the lattice)

Pie ingredients

  • Rape seed oil for frying
  • 2 x medium squashes, I used one medium sized butternut squash and one small festival squash
  • 2 x medium sized squashes
  • 2 of the outer large leaves of a savoy cabbage
  • 6 x cloves of garlic (everyone in my house LOVES garlic, hence 6 cloves – obviously adjust to taste)
  • 2 x tsps of brown mustard seeds
  • 1-2 tsps of smoked paprika
  • 2-3 tsps of mixed herbs
  • A little water for steaming the cabbage
  • Salt and pepper to season

Pastry method

I used a food processor to make this pastry – obviously it can also be done by hand, it will just take a little longer. I always weigh the ingredients direct into the food processor, balancing the jug (with blade already in place) on my digital scales.

Heat the oven to 180°C (fan assisted oven)

  1. Measure the flour, butter and salt into the bowl/jug and then rub in or pulse until the consistency is like breadcrumbs.
  2. Sprinkle in the sage and pulse once or twice or combine with hands.
  3. Add water a tablespoon at a time, until the dough has come together. Be careful not to over mix if using the food processor and only use the pulse – be sure to check the mixture carefully to avoid adding too much water.
  4. Turn the pastry out onto a clean surface or cutting board and gently bring together with your hands, the mixture should be just right so you don’t need to add any more flour or water at this point and it should form a rough, round ball.
  5. Cling film and put in the fridge to rest for around 20 minutes.

Squash and cabbage pie filling method

  1. Peal, de-seed and cut the squash into relatively even pieces.
  2. Pop all into a large cast iron frying pan or oven-proof dish – coat lightly in rapeseed oil season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with around a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a sprinkling of mixed herbs.
  3. Roast in the pre-heated oven for around 20-30 minutes – keep an eye on, you’ll want them to start roasting but not burn and cooking times will depend on the type of squash and size of the pieces.
  4. Roughly chop the shallots and onion.
  5. Grab two big leaves from your savoy cabbage and cut out the stalky bit in the centre. Chop the leaf in half and chop into small strips.
  6. Put a frying pan on the heat and add rapeseed oil.
  7. Add the shallots and cook for 2-3 minutes, add the garlic and cook the lot for around 2-3 minutes.
  8. When shallots and garlic are looking translucent (and ensuring they’re not colouring brown too much) add in all the cabbage and combine through.
  9. Fry the cabbage for a couple of minutes and then add around 5 tablespoons of hot water so the cabbage gets cooked through and remove from the heat.

Now is a good time to get the pastry crust in the oven.

Cooking the pastry crust method

  1. Take the pastry out of the fridge and allow to get to room temperature (give it around 5 minutes).
  2. Taking a tip from Mary Berry on the Great British Bake Off – use the removable base of your pie tin to roll the pastry directly onto – you then know you’ll need to roll just over an inch extra around the outside.
  3. Once you’ve done that, the pastry can be carefully lifted into the rest of the pie tin. Then I use the handle of a wooden spoon to crimp in around the vertical edges and go over the top with a rolling pin (allowing excess pastry to be cut off by the rim of the pie tin).
  4. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork all the way around and pop into the oven (if the timings work, this should be about the same time you take out the roast squash.
  5. Bake for around 10 minutes, check and then bake until the middle is starting to lightly brown and is cooked.

Finishing the pie

  1. To make the lattice top, take the excess pastry you trimmed from the pastry case, and roll out quite thinly into two flats (one approximately the length of the tin, and one approximately the width). Cut these into long strips approx a centimetre wide.
  2. Add the cabbage mix to the roasted squash and combine – add more smoked paprika, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. When the pie case is cooked, remove from oven and add in the squash and cabbage mix. This isn’t a wet mix, but should have enough give to fill the pie quite thickly.
  4. When the pie is filled, carefully place the longer lattice strips lengthways over the filling and then the shorter ones across. Brush all the lattice work lightly with milk.
  5. Cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes or until the lattice is lightly browned and cooked.

I served this up with gravy, peas and mash potato and it went down a treat with all who ate it.

Sorry there aren’t many photos – everyone had eaten it before I thought about writing it all up! I did manage to grab a couple of snaps of the last slice packed up for someone’s lunch:

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The lattice was a little rough around the edges, but it worked.

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Hopefully this shows what the consistency of the filling should be like.

Next time I make it I’ll take photos and add into this post.

Bone Daddies is the daddy

After much anticipation, a lot of schedule crunching and really just any old excuse – we finally made it to Bone Daddies.

I, and the rest of my party of 4, arrived hungry. I found the big windows, communal layout and lighting all very delightful. In short, Bone Daddies looked like an ideal refuge out of the London drizzle.

Unlike all my incredibly enthusiastic dining buddies, I had not studied the menu in intricate detail before hand – so it was my very first perusal in the restaurant. One thing I’d say, being a sometimes veggie, this is not a place for vegetarians; all the stocks are make with bones and every bowl of ramen comes with meat. No bad thing when you’re a sometimes veggie, if you’re a full time one you might just be having a side of mizuna.

Choices, choices…

Being a hungry group, we ordered snacks and mains. This means we started with a helping of yellowtail sashimi, fried chicken and softshell crab. The sashimi came surrounded with a sort of tart soy dressing. I usually prefer my sushi dipping sauces on the side, but as the review on Cheese and Biscuits says, Bone Daddies isn’t going for authentic; and this sashimi just happened to work.

The fried chicken was described by one of my party as “the KFC popcorn chicken – but good”. I had a taste and it was perfect, crunchy moreishness. Suffice to say, it was polished off before you could say Colonel Sanders.

Crunchy tasty chickeny goodness with a slice of lemon – this photo does not do it justice.

The softshell crab was a sight to behold and a generous portion (you got your monies worth at £8 a pop) – this was also polished off quickly, with the accompanying green chilli ginger sauce being a hit with all concerned. It might just be me, but the crab could have done with a touch more seasoning and a little more crunch in the batter. But that is a minor complaint – there was not a bit left.

That velvety green dipping sauce was a hit with everyone.

We did have a little bit of a wait between courses which served to build hunger levels back up again. When the various bowls and plates arrived with our mains, we knew it was worth the patience.

Our party ordered “TANTANMEN with sesame, chilli, pork mince, bok choy (Chicken Bone Broth)” and “DIPPING RAMEN with spring onion, kizami nori, chashu pork (Chicken Broth)”.

I was initially a little disappointed at not getting a one of the big ramen bowls, but my disappointment was dissipated upon tasting my dish. Oh my, my. A tiny little bowl of broth on the side packed an unctuous, umami punch right in the face. The chashu pork had lovely charred BBQ notes to it and dipped in the broth, with a helping of noodles topped with bamboo, spring onions and bean sprouts.

The dipping ramen.

The Tantanmen was ordered with extra mizuna and a pippette of fat – just for that little extra somethin’ somethin’. This beautiful bowl of comfort and pork had an almost coconut-ty taste to it, with all those deep savoury notes that come from really making stock.

The pipette of fat is off to the right there.

Here it is close-up.

The eggs – these must have been smoked, then soft boiled, and they were the embodiment of perfection. Those eggs absolutely rocked my world – and mine is a world where the best is saved to last and my last mouthful was one of those eggs.

Even discounting the fat pipette, the meals were just a touch greasy and the Tantanmen could have done with another handful of veg in there. The accompanying broth in the Dipping Ramen was increasingly salty, I really wanted to drink that thing up but it was just a little bit overpowering. But the point isn’t to drink it neat, hence the “dipping”.

To accompany our meals we went alcohol free – with a round of green tea and ginger beers. The soft drinks menu could have done with a couple more options, just for those of us trying to stay off the sauce in the run up to Christmas.

Drinks in order of “hardness”.

I have also forgotten to mention the condiments – to add whatever zazz you’d like to your dish there is the choice of toasted ground sesame seeds,  pickled garlic (you crush your very self at the table) and a garlicky-chilli oil that everyone at my table was tasting before the starters even arrived.

If you look closely, you can see the awesome sesame seed grinder.

Shiny, chilli goodness.

Self-crush that pickled garlic – grr!

Total bill came to just over £80 including service. We arrived at just after 6pm and the restaurant had plenty of free tables, by the time we left around 8pm the place was packed out. If you’re hungry at 6pm, get there early.

Overall, some seriously savoury treats and there is no doubt that this is an excellent joint to stop off and fuel up – being only a stone’s throw from Oxford Street, a perfect Christmas shopping pit stop. We give this place 7.5/10 and highly recommend a visit.

Cornbread recipe – perfect accompaniment to pumpkin soup

As usual, we here have cooked a whole host of things and have many a recipe waiting to be posted on the blog. Please insert the usual excuses about neglecting the blog [here].

Recently we held a Hallowe’en evening BBQ at our East London flat. Part of this feast involved a cornbread – mainly inspired by the amazing cornbread I’ve had at Ottolenghi’s in Islington.

I baked this cornbread in a cast iron pan, simply because this is how I saw it done in Ottolenghi. I originally used the cornbread recipe I found on Cape By Mouth blog. The below recipe is my adapted version; I was keen to use less oil and substituted the missing wet ingredients for milk. I also used milk with lemon instead of buttermilk. The overall result was lighter and less oily, and I did prefer it.

Cornbread ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups polenta
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups milk combined with 4 tbsps lemon juice, or you could use buttermilk for a slightly richer cornbread.
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup rapeseed (canola) oil
  • 1 cup cup grated cheddar (I used Green’s of Glastonbury cheddar)
  • 2 chopped red chillies

Image courtesy of my lovely friend Angie.

Method

Oven 180 C | cooking time around 30-35 minutes

  1. First thing’s first, message out the milk and add the lemon juice. Leave to stand for around 15 minutes.
  2. In one bowl, measure out and combine all the dry ingredients.
  3. In a separate bowl, add the milk, measure the oil and then add the eggs and lightly beat before gently mixing all the wet ingredients together.
  4. Chop the chillis and set to one side. I cut them into slivers for my first attempt, and I preferred them this way.
  5. Now, add all the wet ingredients to the dry and also add most of the cup of grated cheddar (set a small amount aside for sprinkling over the top of the bread before baking) and add to the mix. Stir gently, being careful not to over mix, until most of the lumps are combined.
  6. Set to the side for 20 minutes.
  7. After 20 minutes, transfer to cast iron pan. We used a number 8 cast iron pan, 10.5 inches.
  8. Sprinkle the set aside cheddar over and bake in a pre-heated oven for approx 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

And then it’s ready to serve with a hearty pumpkin soup. Awesome autumn eats.

Burgers in donuts – need more be said?

I didn’t have to ask twice about whether to get tickets to the latest Bompass and Parr collaboration. The Mercedes Drive-thru in the old Selfridges hotel underground car park; in association with Mercedes-Benz and the Avant/Garde Diaries.

I went with absolutely no expectations, or I should say: being a seasoned B&P event goer, I was comfortably reassured that it was going to be good. And oh my, it was sweet, greasy, tasty good.

We were met by the curtained entrance by a very polite maître d, who (like all well briefed staff) immediately informed us about the cheese. A walk-through confirmed it was a veritable smorgasbord of British delights, including a British camembert and unpasteurised goat’s cheese:

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Oh my, the cheese:

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We were shorty after ushered to through into the revolving restaurant and taken to the bar. As usual, someone did an excellent job of the staging, and the place was like a scene out of Twin Peaks – with giant, blown-up pictures of bodybuilders and heavy, red velvet curtains:

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Suffice to say, all staff were inpecably dressed and incredibly polite. We soon ordered our food (me taking the veggie option, the Canadian opting for meat) and also ordered our sodas (mine a violet and elderflower concoction spiced up with a splosh of gin, the Canuck had the orange quinine one – preference was for the violet):

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The violet one put me in the mind of parma violets and made me want to try using that flavour in cooking more often. Next we selected our seats (salami formica tables and stools no less) and revolved around, offering the opportunity for diners to marvel at the drive-thru spectacle unfolding through the windows, all the while moaning with delight at the food. Donuty, burgery, savoury…goodness gracious me:

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All in all, a most excellent way to spend a an hour or two. £10 for a burger like you’ve never tried before, topped with some pretty outrageous soda, and a constant revolving spectacle before your very eyes. Oh yes, and that cheese! The experience was not diminished by the lack or car, I’d even go so far as to say the pedestrian experience was the better of the two options.

If there are tickets left, I highly recommend you get down there.

Just as an aside, if you are interested in Bompass and Parr I urge you to purchase the following two books:

Buy Bompass and Parr Jelly

Buy Bompass and Parr Cocktails