Sunday, 31 October 2010

Gazette, Battersea in under 500 words...

I chose this restaurant for a quiet evening to celebrate my mum’s birthday, even though it was in an inconvenient location, I read some great reviews about the place and thought I should give it a try! Situated within a residential area in Battersea, Gazette offers simple, rustic French food in a relaxed setting.
After spending a great deal of time trying to reach Gazette, we were a little disappointed that our reservation has somehow got ‘lost’ (despite booking a week in advance) but we were reassured very quickly and seated in a cosy area surrounded by quirky little items like old books, bottles and even a rustic accordion! It was an interesting concept, which was further played on by serving all their food in rustic pots and pans and even large slates of wood. The restaurant put a lot of effort into creating that authentic look and I was interested to see whether the food would have that authentic taste. My starter of moules mariniere was a delicious classic combination of white wine, shallots, parsley and mussels served in a huge, steaming pot. I was very impressed with the size of the dish and it took me almost half an hour to polish off! My mum’s starter of duck terrine was also a substantial, hearty portion of a simple but tasty country-style terrine. Our basket of fresh, warm bread and creamy butter was a fantastic addition to both our starters; I particularly enjoyed mopping up my white wine sauce with the crunchy country bread!

Our mains of sea bass were tender and fresh and came on a sharing pan of beautiful steamed vegetables.
The mains were uncomplicated but still full in flavour, and the side of simply-cooked vegetables left me feeling full but healthy, giving me an excuse to indulge in a calorie-packed dessert! I had initially chosen a praline soufflé which was ironically described on the menu as “cooked with patience”. However when it arrived I found it was completely undercooked, a real shame as it looked impressive in size and smelt so delicious! After spending quite some time in getting a waiter’s attention, I replaced my choice with a crème brulee instead. It was less dramatic in appearance but had the classic flavour and texture as expected from a crème brulee.

Overall, the service was pleasant but a little slow. The food was simple but authentic and despite the incident with the soufflé (which is notoriously difficult to get right!) very enjoyable. The other customers were enjoying some of the theatre involved in the presentation of the food, including a sea bream cooked in pastry which was presented to the customer whole before being uncovered by one of the waiters at the table. If Gazette was in a more central location, I would certainly give it another go.  As the menu changes on a daily basis, it would be interesting to see what the chef would serve up next!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ooh la yum! French Onion Soup!

Ok so I realise I've gone a bit soup mad but bear with me. This French classic is well worth a try, not only is it incredibly cheap to make but its super indulgent! If you're struggling to think of an elegant veggie dish for your ethical friends, this might be the one for you (but remember to substitute the beef stock for vegetable stock and check that the wine you use is suitable for vegetarians!).
This recipe makes enough for two big bowls, so remember to vary your recipe accordingly!
·         4 medium red onions (Obviously you are free to substitute for regular white ones but I find the red onions have a delicate sweetness about them as well as giving the soup that pretty, colourful look.)
·         1 garlic clove (plus extra for rubbing on the bread)
·         200ml red wine
·         1 pint of beef/vegetarian stock
·         50g butter
·         1 tbsp of Demerera/brown sugar
·         Fresh thyme leaves (a small handful)
·         2 bay leaves
·         A medium baguette
·         100g hard cheese i.e gruyere or cheddar
First, wash and peel the onions. Why wash, you ask? It reduces the risk of tears, and makes the chopping you are about to do a lot more bearable! I love variation of texture in my soup, so I choose to cube one onion, coarsely chop another and slice the last two into ring shapes. Making the soup your own is what makes it so special so try experimenting with various shapes and sizes! Put aside the chopped onions and melt the butter in a pan over a low-heat. Once melted and hot, drop in the onions and stir quickly to cover all onions in the butter juice. Crush and chop the garlic and coarsely cut the thyme leaves before adding into the pan along with the bay leaves. Stir for 5 minutes before adding the sugar. Cover with a lid and leave on a low heat to sweat for 20 minutes, stirring very occasionally.

 Warm up a grill (or oven to 220C). Turn up the heat on the hob to medium and pour in the wine and simmer and reduce for 15-20 minutes before adding the stock.

Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes while you grate the cheese, slice the baguette into individual slices, lightly toasting it before rubbing with a crushed garlic clove.
Once the grill/oven is hot enough, top the baguette slices with cheese and cook until crunchy and melted. Serve soup in warm bowls topped with the individual cheese ‘croutons’ and a garnish of fresh parsley.

 Tres Delicious!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Fine Wine and British Seasonal Food at the White Swan: an evening to remember!

Every so often I come across a restaurant that I just have to rave about to everyone who is around long enough for me to say hello. The White Swan happens to be one of them. I discovered this little gem near chancery lane two years ago, when my boyfriend booked a valentines dinner there as a surprise. When I walked in, my initial reaction was “A pub? Really?” but as we were led upstairs, to a warm and contemporary dining room was when I started to appreciate the sheer simplicity, warmth and ambiance of the place. Two visits later, I sit here writing about my most recent visit to the one of the White Swan’s wine and food tasting evenings.
 5 delicious courses, 5 fantastic glasses of wine, carefully paired together to create an unforgettable dining experience. The stars of this evening were a wide variety of award winning ‘Hunter’s’ Marlborough wines, and we were privileged to learn so much about it as the founder of Hunter’s came all the way from New Zealand to promote her gorgeous wines. I would love to share some of the interesting facts and history of Hunter’s but as I have 5 different courses to discuss I will just direct you to their website
Citrus-cured Isle of Man king scallop, apple and fennel salad
This was the first dish to arrive at the table so I knew it would be the dish that would either heighten or lower the expectations of the evening. The dish was simply but gracefully presented as disks of cured (thus raw!) scallops were centred in a circle on a white plate with thin shavings of apple and fennel positioned on top. It tasted just as delicate as it looked, with a hint of citrus coming through the subtle taste of the scallops. The fennel and apple shavings contributed a fine tanginess to the dish, creating a palate-cleansing marriage! A starter like that does exactly what it’s supposed to do; tickle the taste-buds, refresh your senses and make you crave more. The wine accompanying the dish was a 2009 Sauvingon Blanc, winner of 13 wine awards, including a gold award in the global sauvignon blanc competition “Concours Mondial du Savignon Blanc 2010”. It really wasn’t difficult to see why it won so many privileges. The wine was preserved in a stainless steel container and lacked any oak quality, thus exposing fragrant tropical fruit aromas as well as some crisp characters of gooseberries. The wine had an acidic element which paired wonderfully with the citrus aspect of the dish.
(Picture unavailable due to impatience,hunger and an unreliable memory!)
Braised south coast brill, truffle crushed celeriac, oxtail beignet.
This dish was definitely one of the highlights for me (just brill-iant). The fillet of Brill was so tender and delicious, one of the best fish dishes I have ever eaten. Matched with the celeriac, which was cleverly infused with truffle aromas to add a tantalizing flavour to the dish, the brill almost melted in my mouth while the oxtail beignet was a fantastic addition of texture and meatiness. The juxtaposition of the soft , silky brill paired with a multi-dimensional oxtail beignet, so crisp on the outside and meaty and rich on the inside is a true celebration of British food. The wine match was a barrel fermented Kaho Roa Sauvignon Blanc (2007), which had a more dry and oaky quality, a less fruity wine than the previous Sauvignon Blanc but more crisp with a lingering finish which worked particularly well with the oxtail part of the dish.

Pot roasted Yorkshire quail, quail sausage roll, chanterelle and artichoke ragout.
This dish was a complex combination of four different elements that went so brilliantly together! The quail, done in two ways, provided the hearty factor. The breast was pink and tender while the quail sausage roll put the seasonal aspect back into the evening- so warming and wholesome, just what I would expect on a chilly autumn evening! The chanterelles and artichokes also played on the seasons, as the vivid wild mushroom taste and the rooty grilled artichoke almost brought out an image of walking through a forest with all the fresh smells of mushrooms and earth. Hence why the wine, a Pinot Noir, was such a brilliant match as the rich red wine had a definite forest fruits overtone which really captured that woodland walk image for me! The wine was fragrant and light compared to your typical red, my first impression was “cherries!” which underpinned the forest floor aromas. Sensational!

The cheese and the dessert
The last two courses consisted of May Hill Green cheese with some grapes and toasted bread followed by tantalizing lemon parfait. May Hill Green cheese, despite its preconceptions of being a mature perhaps blue-type cheese, is a soft, pasteurised cow’s milk cheese with a somewhat pungent quality, not dissimilar to that of stinking bishop! It gets its colourful name from the green appearance of the rind, which is coated in nettles. While the previous course had transported me to a forest, this cheese course had no trouble in taking me to a farmland! The creamy and delicate texture of the cheese was cut through by the 2009 Hunter’s Gewurztraminer, a dry and weighty white wine. I always find that something as rich as cheese needs to be balanced out (perhaps a nice chutney could have helped) but luckily the crisp, almost zesty wine did just that, as well as prepare the taste buds for the final course!

The lemon parfait was a perfect finish to a perfect meal. Acting as a pudding as well as a palate cleanser, the parfait was cold and creamy and did not compromise on texture which was smooth yet riddled with strands of lemon zest to give the taste buds a refreshing kick! The pudding factor came in the form of three homemade honey madeleines. While rustic in appearance, these sweet, sugary treats really spruced up the dessert and gave me something to use as a dipping device once the parfait began to melt. To complete the dish, the raspberry sauce tied together the sweet and the sour and established a perfect balance for the palate. Now, I have never been a huge fan of dessert wine, I mean why have something even sweeter than the pudding? I normally choose to have a coffee or a tea to compliment my dessert but as this was not arriving until later with the petit fours, I had no choice but to sample the Riesling Hukapapa (2009). Good thing I’m not stubborn, as that wine was delicious with a capital d! A late harvest Riesling, Hukapapa is sweet and fruity wine, with subtle undertones of honeysuckle and caramel. The combination of the wine and the dessert created a sweet but sharp finish and left me (and all the other diners around me) perfectly satisfied!

If you are a lover of great food and great wine, hurry to one of the white swan’s tasting evenings! For a party of 2, expect a bill around the £100 mark (including service charge.) but when you think of just how much you will get for your money, you will leave with that ‘money well spent’ feeling. Fresh bread on arrival, five enticing taste sensations, five different wine tastings (expect your glass regularly topped up too!), coffee and petit fours, friendly customer service and a talk with a winemaker or sommelier; bring a good friend and you will have great company for a very special dining experience.
The White Swan on Urbanspoon

Monday, 25 October 2010

Toad in the hole on a sunday

This should be the dictionary definition of comfort food! It’s strange to think that not many people (including myself just a few days ago) realise just how easy it is to make! If you spent your Sunday afternoon out and about instead of slaving over a roast dinner, this could be the perfect replacement for you!

·         6-8 quality sausages (I used tesco’s finest pork and bramley apple)
·         1 medium onion
·         1 cup of plain flour
·         2 Eggs
·         ½ a pint of full fat milk
·         2 tbsp olive/sunflower oil and more to drizzle
·         2 bay leaves
·         1 teaspoon of nutmeg
·         Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 200C and coarsely chop your onions. Put your sausages snugly into a baking dish and throw in the onions and bay leaves, pour over a drizzle of oil and bake for 10-12 minutes. Meanwhile, make the batter using the flour, eggs, milk and oil- the best way to do this is to sieve flour into a large bowl, make a well in the centre, smash the eggs into the well, followed by the milk and oil and mix by slowly bringing flour into the well until all lumps are gone! After the 12 minutes, take out the tray and turn the sausages, removing the bay leaves, then pour over the batter. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and put your tray back in the oven for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the batter is risen around the edges and nice and golden all around.

And if you're struggling for ideas on what to do on your sunday afternoon, why not visit kite hill in hampstead heath for some panoramic views over London!

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Mischievous Chicken Pot Pie

My chicken pot pie started off very experimental and ended up a real hearty delight! My naughty additions of cream and ale make this traditional pie a real indulgent little treat!

My recipe makes 2-3 individual pies.
You will need:
·         1 or 2 puff pastry sheets and 1 whisked egg for egg wash
·         4 boneless, skinless chicken thigh fillets
·         1 large carrot
·         2 celery stalks
·         2 handfuls of chestnut mushrooms (aprox. 6 medium mushrooms- I have small hands!)
·         Half an onion (I use red for vibrant colour!)
·         A handful of fresh, chopped parsley
·         3 garlic cloves
·         2 bay leaves
·         1 teaspoon of nutmeg
·         5 whole peppercorns
·         125ml of single cream
·         2 tablespoons of plain flour
·         100g of butter
·         Chicken concentrate/stock/broth (about 300ml)
·         75ml of good quality ale

First prepare the veg by chopping up the carrots, celery, mushrooms, onions and garlic. Set aside and prepare the chicken, cutting into bitesize chunks. Preheat the oven to 200C and put oil into one frying pan as well as a saucepan and heat. When hot, add chicken to the frying pan and fry for 5 minutes, stirring regularly and spice with the nutmeg (about a teaspoon). Meanwhile put onions and garlic in the saucepan and sweat for 5 minutes before adding the carrots, celery, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaves and top with the chicken stock- simmer for 10 minutes. Add mushrooms to the frying pan and stir with the chicken regularly. Once the mushrooms have shrunk and browned, add and melt the butter in the pan before gradually adding 2 tablespoons of flour (to make a roux).

A roux is a mix of butter and flour which gives it that pie texture.

 Add the single cream and then pour all the contents into the saucepan. For the mischievous part, ladle 75ml of good quality ale (that’s about ¾ of a ladle) before simmering for 5 minutes.

Remember to taste your pie filling before seasoning accordingly! Cool for a few minutes before pouring into your oven-proof pots (or casserole dish) to avoid the steam from the filling wetting the pastry. Roll out your pastry so that there is enough to hang over the edges of the pot/dish. If you have some pastry left over, create some shapes for extra decoration! Place the pastry over the dish and egg wash before putting in the oven for 15-20 minutes (until the pastry rises and turns golden). I served this hearty dish with roasted baby new potatoes which were a great crispy addition to the meal!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Butcher and Grill- ditch your expectations and just experience it.

Hovering under the sign for the Butcher and Grill, I was confused at the lack of a restaurant before me. It wasn’t until I stepped inside what seemed like a regular butchers-come-delicatessen from the outside, that I noticed the dim lights and several tables nestled on a podium towards the back of the room. I was confused by the concept at first, my expectations had crashed but my curiosity was lifted. Looking around, black and white pictures of farm animals (particularly cows) stood out, the restaurant seemed cosy with warming but dim lighting and wooden tables. Having got over the element of surprise, I looked at the menu which too was not what I was expecting (different to what is advertised on their website). For a restaurant specialising in meat, many seafood dishes seemed to steal the show in the form of oysters (cooked and raw) as well as other sea catches like clams and tuna. From my previous experience of visiting specialist restaurants, I find that a lot of effort goes into their specialties but the standard drops when it comes to the rest of the menu. Like whenever I visit a seafood restaurant I find myself disappointed by the meat dishes, so when I chose an all seafood starter and main course, I was weary. As our starters arrived, I was not disappointed! My spaghetti with clams in the classic white wine sauce with parsley and shallots looked and tasted exactly how I wanted! At £6.50 (before discount) for a substantial bowl, I was impressed and craved even more. The sauce was light but still elevated the flavour of the clams, which had a gorgeous texture to add to the dish. I am pleased to say that the dish was worth all the fiddling around with shells and spaghetti! My boyfriend’s starter of tempura oysters looked beautiful nested back in their shells which were balancing on a bed of coarse sea salt, a feast for the eyes, no doubt. (Picture below)

Expectations raised, we awaited the main courses. That was when we noticed the music that was playing in the background (I tend to immerse myself so fully in the food when dining I don’t tend to notice anything else around me). A mix of the smiths and nirvana was contributing to the already-verging-on-odd atmosphere but it was actually kind of nice! Pondering the curiosity of our meal, my main arrived in the form of yet another surprise. It didn’t look like a main course at all, in fact it was served on the same rectangular slate the oysters had made an appearance in earlier and it looked a tad on the small side for the £14.50 price. 3 scallops were symmetrically positioned between spoonfuls of herby crushed potatoes and topped with small cuts of the red mullet I was expecting to arrive in full form. This was not a portion for a man and I was happy to see my boyfriend enjoying a 10 ounce rib-eye that came straight from the butchers downstairs. Putting the size aside, the dish did have some very nice flavours that may have occasionally been overpowered by the over-peppered red mullet. However, the potatoes did a good job of balancing out the flavours and I was thoroughly enjoying the whole plate, even if the sauce vierge didn’t have much to contribute. The scallops were nice and meaty and even filled me up enough to forget all about dessert. I enjoyed a nice 2007 Senorio Rose wine from the Navarra region, which was light, sweet and fruity and broke through the bitterness of the red mullet.

The Butcher and Grill has a concept, perhaps an unconventional one. I guess walking through a butchers to get to your table isn’t up to everyone’s standards but then you know exactly where the meat is coming from and if that doesn’t impress you, you even have the option to choose your cut, there and then. If that doesn't please those picky diners, I don't know what will!

Butcher and Grill's website:

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