Monday, 31 August 2009

Boo in Paris - the great macaron hunt

Weekend in Paris = no brainer, a day seeking out the best macaron France has to offer was called for. I've been dying to try Pierre Hermé since reading Gisele Scanlon's rundown of macaron makers in the Goddess Guide, she rates Hermé as the best.

So on Saturday morning, we set off for 72 Rue Bonaparte, the flagship store, on bikes, the Parisian bicycle scheme is amazing and it was the perfect weather for cycling around and taking in the sights.

Sadly Pierre Hermé was closed, as were many places, I had no idea this would be the case but many shop owners and restaurateurs up sticks for the entire month of August and close for business. Anyhow, I was able to track some down eventually at the Rue Cambon shop, smaller but still the real deal. The verdict? Hermé's are the best. I had a strawberry and pistachio which was quite exquisite and Thomas and Jo both plumped for the olive oil and vanilla. Experimental flavour combinations and delightfully crisp yet soft mouthfuls of sweet chilled meringue sandwiched together with ganache. I don't think it gets much better than this. I promptly snapped up a box for the Kid.

The previous day Thomas and I had sampled some delights at Parisian favourite Ladurée, which of course we are fortunate to be able to do at home in London at the Harrods tearoom and at Burlington Arcade.

Here I had a pistachio and raspberry meringue and Thomas had a vanilla slice. Both agree the Pierre Hermé macarons are superior. Jo prefers Gérard Mulot but once again we were scuppered by the "Fermeture annuel" and were not able to try them.

We also tried some pastries at Maison Kayser which were brilliant, the chorizo bread here was particularly good. In between our visits to Pierre's we stopped off at Mosque de Paris which is worth a mention for the mint tea in the beautiful terrace. There is a fantastically aromatic dining room, beyond the entrance and front counter, housing a stunning array of baklava and other sweet treats. Out back there is a Turkish bath and spa which I am keen to visit next time. Definitely worth a look.

There is such an amazing wealth of Pâtisseries in Paris that for tourists it is hard to differentiate between the standard and the extraordinary ones, without sampling them all. Fortunately for us, Jo knows and we also visited Polaine and marvelled at the breads and biscuits on offer. I took some home for Noy, they are so buttery and melt in the mouth crumbly. Once more we fell foul of the August closures, we had hoped to have lunch at the neighbouring Cuisine de Bar, 8 rue du Cherche-Midi alas, next time perhaps. I've found out since returning that we have Polaine in London too so, for that at least, I needn't wait until my next visit.

Mosque de Paris
2, Place du Puits de l'Ermite
75005 Paris

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Boo in Paris - Derriere

I've been back from Paris for a week now and not done a single post, hectic week etc. but now for the Bank holiday weekend, beef rendang bubbling on the stove, time to blog at last!

Jo selected Derrière as our venue for Saturday night. Karine joined us and we were seated at one of the quirky tables, each different (upstairs one is a bed), arranged on the ground floor around a ping pong table. There are individual lamps to light each group creating a relaxed, somewhat unusual, and intimate atmosphere.

Derrière is owned by Mourad Mazouz, owner of Sketch and Moro in London, having read many less than complimentary reviews of Sketch over the last months I was pleased to find the food we had at Derrière to be very good indeed.

We began things with a couple of starters between us, the cucumber and the tomato. Each dish is named after the key ingredient, with the emphasis being vegetarian, sadly for Jo the same cannot be said of the main course offerings, but more on that later.

The cucumber was served with cottage cheese which was not at all how I recollect ever eating it. I tend to feel it has a dieting connotation and have never seen it on a menu in London. I was most pleasantly surprised. It was rich and cheesy, not chalky in the typical way and was the perfect warm up to the main event.

Cucumber is cucumber, there's not a lot more to say about it but the tomato dish is stunning in its simplicity but is packed full of taste with a vast array of varieties, served in their natural state with a sprinkling of sea salt and good olive oil.

The starters were accompanied by some bread which was good quality and onto the mains. I ordered the whole turbot but was actually presented with fillets of seabass. I was enjoying the good company and fine bottle(s) of Beaujolais a little too much to even notice at the time. Anyhow, the seabass was divine, succulent and tender, served with roasted vegetables and creamy polenta. I loved it, and didn't even think of the fact that it wasn't turbot until days later.

The pesto sauce was seriously good stuff and the side of polenta is just visible at the bottom of the picture above, this has forever changed my opinion of polenta and I now am a big fan, this version was cheese laden, gooey inside with a crisp golden top.

Perhaps the winner of the evening was Karine's Beef cheek casserole which was served up in an impressive cast iron pot. Though Karine had serious food envy and seemed less pleased with it herself!

The beef cheeks were incredibly tender and the portion size was enormous, fortunately we could all have a try! Except for Jo who doesn't eat meat, the solitary vegetarian main course option was gazpacho, more of a starter I'd say. It's certainly a struggle for Jo being a veggie in Paris where they love their meat but she said that the gazpacho was very good.

Thomas' main course was pork tenderloin with wild mushrooms. He was disappointed that the thin slices of pork were not more tender but the accompanying mushrooms were enough to make up for it.

We all skipped dessert as we were running late to meet Jamie. It was 12 by the time we finished. The service was a little slow at times but tap water was provided and the food really was great. I love how dinner seems to be much later than here in London, everyone heads home after work and then back out later to dine rather than heading out straight from the office which is more common here. I like long and lingering evenings, it's no surprise to anyone that the Parisians take their food a lot more seriously than we tend to.

I loved Derrière and would love to return on my next trip, which I'm hoping will be fairly soon, I totally fell for Paris last weekend.

69, Rue des Gravilliers
75003 Paris

Thanks to Karine for the images!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Ultimate Student Cookbook

Quadrille Publishing sent me Tiffany Goodall's From Pasta to Pancakes: The Ultimate Student Cookbook to review and I've tried a couple of recipes from it over the last weeks.

Tiffany has her own blog here featuring many more recipes and her thoughts on restaurants. Having completed a cookery course and realising her dream of publishing her own cookery book, she seems to have made it. But, are her recipes up to scratch? I've seen much of her, in magazines and on the web during her book launch month but what of the food?

Having been hooked on Rick Stein's latest series for BBC2 'Far Eastern Odyssey' my cooking has taken a more adventurous turn and I opted to cook Tiffany's Chinese beef noodle stir fry one night after work. I am not the biggest fan of Chinese cooking but have been hugely inspired by flavours of the orient of late.

I did adapt the recipe slightly but am pleased to say that it was great, light yet punchy due to the chilli, packed with crunchy veggies and padded out with some rice noodles which I am having a phase of adding to dishes wherever possible at the moment.

You will need:

2 sirloin steaks, sliced
1 green pepper (I used yellow)
2 tbs ginger, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 red chillis, deseeded and sliced
rice noodles
2 tbs olive oil
3 tbs soy sauce
2 limes, juice only
1 tbs honey (I used sugar)

I also added
sugar snap
bamboo shoots and water chestnut
chopped coriander

The image is misleading, the dish looks a little dry but it wasn't at all, the combination of soy, lime juice and a little sugar was perfect with the crunchy vegetables and the sirloin (annoyingly I slightly over cooked it) and there was more than enough to coat everything, and to sup out of the bowl to round things off. I love the boldness of the use of chilli too, in size they can vary obviously and if deseeded they are milder in flavour but I left the seeds in and the resulting meal was brilliantly hot.

I struggled a little with the vagueness and at times contradictory nature of the instructions in some areas of the recipe, for example the print states that the pepper should be finely chopped yet in the picture it is clearly sliced. Also I got 2 large sirloin steaks and this was ample, yet the recipe suggests using 3. I think that this is probably what appeals to Goodall's target audience however, students naturally, who probably cook in haste or with a lackadaisical approach (which there is nothing wrong with - it seems that the idea here is akin to the Jamie Oliver 'pass it on' campaign, simplicity being key, with plenty of margin for interpretation).

I like the categorization of the book, healthy recipes, quick recipes, treats, there are even some cocktails towards the end. It's certainly geared towards a young novice chef with a chapter named Wasted Weekends. I think Tiffany Goodall has a promising future, if she is able to adapt her cooking style as she matures and retain the interest of her readers. If she is not, there will always be students who welcome a change to the usual takeaway and ready meals.

Catch Tiffany on Market Kitchen on Thursday 27th Aug, I'm interested to see if she has a TV presence to match the likability factor of the book. She clearly has a passion for food and a flair for home cookery.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


Having read some rave and some lambasting reviews of Rossopomodoro it was with trepidation that I suggested we dine here when my Mum came to visit. It's close to work and pretty cheap so I decided to trust the positive reviews, some even claim this to be one of the best pizza restaurants in London.

A brief bit about the place, Rossopomodoro is an Italian chain serving food and wine inspired by Naples, they claim to source a superior quality of ingredients than many of their counterparts. All sounds good but due to the 'cook to order' nature of the food prep here, it seems slow service is often an issue. This did not seem a major negative as we were planning on a leisurely evening, aiming to arrive around 6:30. There are 3 branches in London, we visited the Monmouth Street one.

Upon requesting an outdoor table the waitress glared at me in a manner akin to how I imagine she would look at her sworn enemy. I'm putting this down to a language misunderstanding, we actually found the service to be perfectly acceptable after this blip and the food was served with a smile for the rest of the evening, we waited for a maximum of 10 minutes for any one course.

The best dishes were indeed, as reported, the pizzas. The charred thick bases were brilliantly smattered with air pockets and whatever oven they're using here certainly makes for a perfect dough. Thomas and I both ordered bianco pizzas without tomato sauce. I selected the acerrana topped with mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes (advertised as sliced but in fact whole, lazy!), rocket and caciocavallo cheese, a hard cheese which retained it's shape and didn't melt, like shavings of Parmesan.

Thomas opted for the Ventura with mozzarella, parma ham, rocket, Parmesan and basil. We both agreed that this is the best pizza we've had in London (but we're still to sample the delights at Franco Manca.....) and my Mum thought it was the best she'd eaten anywhere. I feel that the toppings could be improved upon, the cheese was great but the sun dried tomatoes were a bit over dried, hard and a tad boring. Still, this is much more like it and miles ahead of other chain pizza places, you know who you are.

My Mum had the Rossopomodoro salad with tomato, egg, olives, smoked aubergine and buffalo caciocavello cheese, she was happy with it.

What stood out for me was Thomas' buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad. The quality of the cheese was beyond anything I've been able to locate in London, and I've tried pretty hard and sampled a lot of what's on offer. This is the closest I've come to matching the quality a mozzarella brought back to the UK by a Neapolitan colleague following a trip home. For me good tomatoes, cheese, basil, a high quality olive oil and a tart and fruity balsamic vinegar is an unbeatable flavour combination. Simple but special, I know others decry this sort of fare due to its modest and uncomplicated nature but, for me, such fresh and delectable ingredients can be just as good as more complex and refined flavours.

We sampled a couple of desserts too which were more of a disappointment, the chocolate and almond cake was dense and powdery, very rich but with an artificial flavour, it was served with custard ice cream and some squirty cream. Nothing remarkable here, slightly better was the almond ice cream with hot nutella sauce, there's little room for error when melted nutella is involved!

I like this place, for a West End chain restaurant their sourcing of ingredients sets them apart from other similar establishments. I would go back for a ball of mozzarella and a nice glass of Italian wine one evening, as it's just around the corner from the office this might just become a regular haunt.

50-52 Monmouth Street

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Thursday, 13 August 2009

The Crown Tavern

Noy's birthday dinner was a relaxed and traditional affair in the pleasant setting of Clerkenwell Green. The venue was The Crown Tavern and their menu offers classic hearty pub grub. The building is Victorian, very pretty and is rustically charming, providing a cosy shelter from the rain.

I went for the fish and chips, driven purely by instinct, I'd taken a long time perusing the menu and really had trouble deciding, like so often, I ended up going for the dish that jumped out at me immediately. I wasn't disappointed, the size of the battered haddock was enough to draw gasps when it arrived.

I was disappointed by the lack of flavour in the mushy peas, they weren't seasoned and had congealed a little on the plate. The chips were a bit nondescript, there was potato skin left on many of them which I have an aversion to.

The batter on the fish was stodgy, it was very thickly coated and lacking the crunch that is the vital element to a really good fish and chips. When venturing beyond this outer layer there was minimal actual fish but what was there had benefited from the thick casing and was succulent and delicate.

Nibs and Noy both went for the steak and ale pie which looked great and again was a large portion. This came with vegetables, spring onion mash and more of the mushy peas.

I didn't taste the pie or Kat's goats cheese salad but the latter was apparently rather too heavy on the cheese and whilst it had a good amount of toasted nuts and seeds, it also had a liberal sprinkling of raisins, this would have been more than enough to put me off.

On a balmy and rainy evening the overwhelming memory I have of the place is that the dining room, to the rear of the pub, was stifling and sticky. We all got extremely hot and bothered, not conducive to a pleasant eating experience. The discomfort was eased somewhat by several bottles of prosecco and some melted (therefore ejaculating) white chocolate Lindt Lindor for dessert - thanks for sharing Noy. There was quite a crowd and this seems to be a pub favoured for after work drinks by the local Farringdon contingent. I would return, perhaps on a Sunday to try out the roast but I think it's first and foremost a drinking pub.

The Crown Tavern
43 Clerkenwell Green, EC1R

The Crown Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Texas Embassy Cantina

A while back Sven came to visit and we wandered around the Trafalgar Sq area looking for some place for dinner. I had an inexplicable urge to eat some Mexican food and not wanting to endure the 90 minute wait at Wahaca we head for the Texas Embassy Cantina. I was very dubious of a place that I had not even heard of but am willing to give most things a try at least once.

We were given some complimentary nachos and salsa whilst we perused the menu, the tortillas were good, slightly warm, just the right amount of salt and very crisp. The salsa was a tad runny and lacking heat, I like quite a kick in a tomato salsa.

I chose a chicken and guacamole salad realising that the standard of food here was nowhere near to Wahaca and was severely disappointed with what was delivered. Looking back it was unwise to order a salad in such an establishment, what arrived was a mess. I'm all for messy looking Mexican food but I have a thing about plates of this colour, feels like I'm 10 again and having dinner at my mates house.

The chicken was cold and the kind that bares the hallmarks of having been pre cooked, with regulation charred marks on it, black bits basically that taste of nothing, it was dry and unappealing. As was the salad as a whole, there was a ranch dressing on the side which I opted to instead dunk my side of fries into rather than dousing the leaves in it. There were peppers and mushrooms (all raw), sweetcorn, tomato and cucumber. The only saving grace was a large dollop of guacamole on top but this introduced a mere variation of texture, it was virtually tasteless.

Sven ordered the burger with fries and was far happier with his selection than I. We were in agreement that the fries were good, the burger had all the essentials, red onion, cheese, loads of lettuce and a slice of tomato. Sven was pleased with it in any case but I didn't try it.

The service was reasonable, food arrived very promptly and there were rather a lot of people there. Mostly young and American. There's a bar area upstairs where they were showing some sport, I think it's probably best avoided and I can only see myself returning for a drink perhaps, though I can think of a hundred places I would check out first. If you do go, stick to the more traditional options on the menu, there's arguably less room for error with fajitas, burritos etc.

Texas Embassy Cantina
1 Cockspur St

Texas Embassy Cantina on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 August 2009

Jamon Jamon

This is my 100th post!

On Saturday evening, some old friends and I head out to camden in search of somewhere to line our stomachs before a heavy night of drinking and dancing to some cheesy 80's tunes at the jazz cafe.

Jamon Jamon is where we wound up, tapas meaning there's something for everyone. Geoff, Dave and I did the ordering and started us off was a couple of jugs of sangria. This was a bit rough to be honest, but I've yet to try a sangria that I thought was genuinely good. Perhaps I'm just not a fan. The waitress suggested several times that we might like to try this, she was possibly a bit too pushy about it but, otherwise, service was polite and we'd neglected to book so we were in luck to be accommodated at 8pm on a Saturday.

The best dish for me was the pimientos de padron. I got all mild ones, it's a bit of a lottery heat wise, some very fiery.

The chorizo was average, cooked in olive oil and red wine served on a bed of roasted red peppers, quite spicy but a tad over cooked. All dishes came fairly swiftly after ordering, except for the paella which the menu warns will take 20 minutes to prepare. We'd finished everything else by the time it arrived and it was hugely disappointing. Dry, and at the same time stodgy with a meagre amount of fish and chicken. The 2 large prawns were the only saving grace, but there were 6 of us.

A selection of other dishes were unremarkable, croquettas, chicken and blue cheese varieties lacked flavour. Garlic mushrooms were a little better in a potent garlic butter and the marinated meatballs in a white wine sauce were very tender. The deep fried battered tiger prawns were fine, but I fail to see how battering a shell and eating only the meat within in it can be a good idea. There's a reason that shell on prawns are usually served simply as they are or with a marinade.

The octopus in a spicy tomato sauce was ok at best, there was at least a fair kick to the sauce but again the actual fish was overcooked. They have the right idea here but there is an apparent carelessness resulting in dishes lacking depth of flavour. Perhaps we ought to have ordered some jamon.

The biggest disappointment for me was the pan con tomato. A white 'bake from frozen' baguette with a sodden faintly tomatoey top, one piece was black and frankly should not have been served.

If a little more care and attention went into the sourcing of products and the preparation of the dishes here they could be onto a good thing, Camden Parkway is a good location for a restaurant but with the far superior Del Parc just a 5 minute bus ride North I am unlikely to return here.

Jamon Jamon
38 Parkway

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