Skip to content

Bull & Last, Highgate

July 7, 2013

Bull & Last is one of those restaurants where I’ve been yearning to go for years. I finally had the chance when my dad visited me a couple of months ago, and we had a lovely meal at Bull & Last to round off a lovely day walking around Hampstead Heath with the rest of my family here.

20130504_190648

It’s a beautiful space in a Grade 2 listed building, the interior of which is dotted with various bits of evidence that this is primarily a meat, and when in season, game-focused restaurant. (To me, this is a restaurant with a pub, rather than a gastropub.) The menu celebrates British produce cooked with bold flavours and rustic cooking. We started with their homemade charcuterie board and their fish board, and some excellent bread to get our appetites going (or so we believed).

20130504_191712

Charcuterie board with duck prosciutto, sliced so thinly the fat was a shimmering layer that melted away on your tongue, a chunky ham hock terrine, chicken liver parfait that I could not get enough of, duck rillettes, pig’s head, all served with some pickles, preserves, some leafy greens, and toast.

20130504_191720

Our fish board came with some gorgeously pink gravalax, potted shrimp, mackerel pate, wonderfully light and crispy fried squid, an incredibly moreish smoked haddock croquette, and some dressed fennel with soda bread.

By the time our mains rolled around, some of us were flagging. There’s actually quite a lot of food and I’m a sucker for bread & butter which isn’t great if you want to eat as much of the menu as possible! It was a difficult decision to choose what I wanted, but my uncle and I shared a Dedham Vale aged cote de boeuf and it was a stonkingly huge platter of beef.

20130504_200052

It was absolutely delicious, and gorgeous to boot. Served sliced to reveal its deep pink interior (but bone still present for you to gnaw on, if in close company), it came with fluffy triple-cooked chips and a bit of salad on the side. It also came with a bearnaise sauce, but the steak didn’t need it – the two together was almost too rich a mouthful for me. The sauce was also slightly gloopy, but everything else was fantastic. The beef had a great depth of flavour thanks to both the crust and the quality of the meat, and left you with a complex,  iron-y, beefy aftertaste that lingered long after swallowing the last of the steak.

We just about managed to finish the steak, but only with help from everyone else. I think in retrospect this could have fed 3 of us if we’d ordered another starter to share. In short, I absolutely recommend this place if you have several people you can go with to experience as much of the menu as possible, especially the charcuterie platter.

Bull & Last

168 Highgate Road
London NW5 1QS

Roganic, Marylebone

December 21, 2012

I was so excited to go to Roganic, and I’m extremely late in updating this (I went there more than 6 months ago, in June!) so I’ll preface this post by saying that it’s a two year pop-up restaurant and it was fantastic, so if you have the same tastes in food as I do, please make a booking before you have to make the trek to Cumbria to eat at L’Enclume, Simon Rogan’s other restaurant.

Initially, we had planned on having their £29 set lunch menu (3 courses), but the waitress placed the menus on the table and we couldn’t help but give in to the temptation of their 6 course menu. At £55,  it has been my most expensive meal to date, but it was worth every penny. We didn’t have wine, but you can select wine pairings for a reasonable price.

IMG_9306

First placed in front of us were little nibbles. The beetroot crisps with goat’s cheese curd and fennel was gorgeous to look at; I hated the beetroot + goat’s cheese pairing when I’d tried it as a mousse at Texture, but here it was beautiful. The cheese wasn’t too overpowering, and the dehydrated beetroot was crisp and sweet.

IMG_9308

Next, smoked eel and pork belly croquettes came in a little Staub pot lined with hay.

IMG_9310

The bed came in a little wooden tray with a smear of butter. I’m not sure where the butter was from, but it appeared to be whipped and it was cold and creamy. I love it when butter is cold yet spreadable!

IMG_9311

Our first course was carrot mousse, ham fat, pickled celery, crispy bacon, wild basil. Wild basil, we were told, tastes oddly meaty. It almost tasted like bacon! The mousse was light and sweet and complemented the meaty elements perfectly. Unfortunately I couldn’t pick up much of the celery, but I’m not a fan of celery (actually, I’m a hardcore celery hater) so maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing.

IMG_9312

I think this might have been my favourite course of the day. Sweet pickled mushrooms, mushroom broth, buffalo milk curd. I’ve never thought to pair mushrooms and sweet flavours together, but this really worked for me. My friend didn’t enjoy it as much, but the meaty crumbs and the broth helped bring the dish to a more savoury dimension. The milk curd was great; it reminded me of the steamed milk pudding we get back in Hong Kong!

IMG_9314

The third course came straight from the sea: sea scallop, sea purslane, sea vegetables, oyster emulsion, diced oysters, green apple. The scallop portion was a bit measly, but cooked perfectly so it was just translucent in the middle. The oyster component gave the whole dish the slight bitter, metallic edge it needed to lift the brininess of the sea vegetables and the tartness of the apple.

IMG_9315

The next fish course was simply put together, but it was a textural playground: seared lemon sole paired with wobbly, smoked bone marrow, chewy buckwheat and dehydrated tomato, all finished with a bone marrow jus.
IMG_9318

Sous vide duck breast, mulled cider jus, icicle radish, mace. Another simple dish, not knockout or stunning, but the duck was a beautiful pink colour and still had a bit of chew to it, which I prefer to fork-tender meat.

IMG_9319

Strawberry meringue, macerated strawberries, yoghurt ice cream, buttermilk curd. I really enjoyed this dessert; it was a celebration of the British summer to come (which, sadly, only showed up for a few days). Here, the tang of the curd and yoghurt ice cream tempered the sweetness of the macerated strawberries well.

IMG_9322

We had more surprises next: milkshake infused with douglas fir pine and a lemon curd doughnut. I didn’t know if we were supposed to dip the doughnut into the milkshake, but they were really fun to eat separately anyway. The milkshake didn’t feel like a traditional shake made from ice cream, but it had a wonderfully refreshing flavour from the pine.

IMG_9323

Lastly, we were given frozen chocolate bourbon candies covered with white chocolate. This was such a fun way to end the meal on a high note!

If you can’t tell, I absolutely loved Roganic. The service was impeccable, not stuffy at all and didn’t look down on us for not having wine – and when a neighbouring table didn’t eat their chocolate bourbon candies (for what reason, I do not know), the waitress let us take the rest! The restaurant decor isn’t anything special; it’s spartan inside, but what really counts here is the food and service. I hope Simon Rogan somehow extends this pop-up restaurant so we can experience this again for a special occasion.

Roganic
19 Blandford Street, London W1U 3DH

Dabbous, Fitzrovia

June 24, 2012

Dabbous: famously known as the restaurant booked solid until October. Or is it December now? In any case, I was lucky to have secured a reservation before things got too out of hand. I dined on the Friday of the Easter weekend for lunch. 12pm was the only slot available even then. Sitting down at 12pm meant there wasn’t much atmosphere – it was just us and two other tables, leaving us feeling like we had to have a hush-hush conversation, even though it wasn’t really that type of restaurant. However, the food that came out more than made up for it, and midway through our meal the atmosphere had improved noticeably with all the tables filled.

Bread comes in a paper bag stamped with today’s date. Cute concept, and would have been lovely as a take-home present, actually! Served with butter and olives. The bread was warm, the butter was salty and creamy and the I had the olives all to myself as dining companion doesn’t like olives. I was quite happy.

I was even happier to learn that a 3- or 4-course set lunch menu was priced at £21 and £24, respectively. All the reviews I had read in anticipation of my visit to Dabbous had mentioned the fabulously good value set lunch. I’m a little torn – the portions are tiny, admittedly, and I did leave wanting a little more, but if the portions had been any larger I think the magic, the elegance would have been lost. The first starter we had was beef tartare with cigar oil and whisky. Masculine and smoky, but it wasn’t really to my liking. Thankfully, my starter was gorgeous:

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE asparagus? I’m willing to tolerate the unpleasant side effects for daily asparagus consumption. Alas, British asparagus has such a short season. Here it was served simply with virgin rapeseed oil mayonnaise, toasted hazelnuts and meadowsweet. Beautiful produce = a gorgeous dish. I used to hate mayonnaise. I am now a convert for homemade mayonnaise. Tangy and rich and creamy without an overly strong flavour thanks to the rapeseed oil, it was perfect for the asparagus. The toasted hazelnuts were an additional textural delight, with the meadowsweet giving off a gentle perfume just before you bit into the asparagus.

My 2nd course was a stunner, visually. That blowtorched surface of the salmon was such a contrast with the barely translucent flesh underneath. Paired with elderflower, spring onions, and almonds, it tasted every bit as good as it looked. The elderflower puree was tangy and sweet, cutting through the fatty salmon but it wasn’t overly greasy, thanks to the char.

However, the real winner of the day was clearly dining companion’s main course of barbecued iberico pork, savoury acorn praline, turnip tops, and apple vinegar. It looked simple; the taste was anything but. The pork was cooked to such an even shade of pink you’d think it was sous-vide, but it wasn’t; someone was just really, really good at cooking that pork. The savoury acorn praline was amazing – it was almost like a salty peanut butter with notes of sweet caramelized onion. It was savoury, it was full of umami, and if there was one criticism it would be that I was hoping for a smokier crust from the barbecue. Nevertheless, I was so jealous of dining companion. If I am ever able to come back to Dabbous, this would be the sole reason for my return. Damn that man who made this savoury acorn praline.

Having tasted dining companion’s pork, my 3rd course of braised veal shin, spelt, celery, and kinome fell short of my expectations. The shin was a little on the dry side despite coming with a shallow pool of broth and there just wasn’t that much flavour coming out of it. The broth was too salty, the pickled garlic was a garish shade of pink and visually did nothing to attract me to the dish, and I thought the celery overpowered the meat. On the plus side, the shin was tender and the spelt was a fun textural contrast. I was a little disappointed, though, and at this point I hoped dessert would pick me up.

When the iced lovage arrived, I wasn’t too happy. A meagre portion of sorbet which is meant to be a palate cleanser, being passed off as dessert in the set lunch? Not cool. I’d have been happier paying an extra £2 for a proper dessert, which I had come across reading other reviews. It tasted a little bizarre to me – I think it’s an acquired taste, as lovage is very similar to celery. I wasn’t a huge fan, and unfortunately left the meal on a bit of a dud note.

Happily, the barbecued pork with the savoury acorn praline and charred salmon were fantastic, and were definitely the highlights of our meal. At this price point, I would say it’s fair value for money considering the quality of the food and it is affordable fine dining. A few misses, but mostly hits, and deserves all the praise it’s getting. I will be back for that savoury acorn praline, dammit!

Dabbous

39 Whitfield Street

London W1T 2SF

MEATliquor, Marylebone

April 6, 2012

A couple of months late (as usual), I have finally jumped onto the MEATliquor bandwagon. I’ve been to its precursor #MEATEASY before; the winning combination of a juicy, medium-rare beef patty heavy with liquified fat and topped with a layer of melted cheese that only American slices can provide, all sandwiched by a soft bun that doesn’t totally disintegrate after soaking up the burger juice meant that the 45 minute wait was worth it. But we had a seat and a drink when we waited.

At MEATliquor, if you arrive anytime after 6:30pm, you are faced with a waiting time of anywhere between 30-60 minutes, outdoors. You can peer into the windows and watch the people who had the fortune to arrive early stuffing their faces while you wait, which only fuels your hunger. After an hour’s wait in the cold, I suspect any offering of food would be ravenously stuffed down your gob and set your tastebuds on fire.

Thankfully, I didn’t have such biases to cloud my judgement. My friend and I arrived at 5 minutes past 6pm. We walked straight in and managed to get seated immediately, although we did have to share a table. It doesn’t matter if you’re rubbing elbows with other fellow diners, as the music is so loud anyway that you can barely hear yourself talking. It all fits in very well with the dirty, gritty dive bar theme: male toilets, for example, are only indicated by a “Dicks” sign, and the interior is bombarded with paintings that no parent ever wants their young child to see. It’s not just a burger, it’s a MEATliquor experience.

I was curious to see whether its new location in central London, just off Oxford Street of all places, had any effect on its burgers. I could smell the grease (in a good way!) as I walked into the street behind Debenhams. And surprisingly, the location works. You almost feel gleeful as you turn down a side street off the busiest shopping street in London, to a seedy carpark where lots of dodgy activities could take place. Kind of like you’re about to engage in some delicious, illicit activity yourself. But let’s talk about the burger.

It’s still the best burger you’ll find in London, especially at £6.50. You’ve still got the beautifully cooked medium-rare patty, heady in its beefy, cheese-infused smell, sweet crunchy pickle, and a greasy golden bun with the requisite shiny cracked top. Kitchen rolls are provided on the table, as they were at #MEATEASY, and they are absolutely required. A bib wouldn’t go amiss. The onion rings were the best I’ve ever had, with perfectly seasoned batter and the sweet onion that left me with a breath that gave me a wide berth on the tube.

Admittedly, I was slightly underwhelmed at first. But a few bites into my burger, I realised it wasn’t an experience you could repeat at any other location in London. Other blogs have waxed lyrical and sung the praises of the cheeseburger and other such beefy, greasy delights on the MEATliquor menu. We didn’t order anything other than the cheeseburger and onion rings, but given the chance to go early again, I’d be delighted to try everything else on the menu.

As a minor quibble, I was quite happy with the level of service we received until we were about to leave. The bill for the two of us came to £26. Our burgerette had been nothing but sweet the entire time (but forgot the tap water, despite remembering our cocktail and juice orders), but after we put £30 on the table, we were asked if we wanted change. I wasn’t expecting to pay less than £30, but the fact that we were pressured to give her an answer on the spot made us feel awkward and shameful that I hesitated. I always expect to have the change brought back even if I don’t want it, so was caught off-guard by the question. It’s a small point, but nevertheless tarnished the entire experience a little bit.

BUT, all that said, go. Go before 6:30pm, drink from the well-priced cocktail list, and just enjoy the fact that you’re in a seedy bar/restaurant stuffing your face with the best burger in London without having to trek to New Cross.

MEATliquor
74 Welbeck Street, Marylebone

Sweet potato gnocchi with spinach

March 4, 2012

Just a quick picture post, no recipe. Last winter, when sweet potatoes were abundant and I had a weekend off, I made sweet potato gnocchi. They’re not the prettiest for sure as it’s only my first time making gnocchi, but the sweet, vibrant orange dumplings juxtaposed with the earthy green of the spinach, brought together with some melted butter made me a happy girl.

Lavender macarons with salted caramel

February 7, 2012

When I purchased a miniscule container of edible dried lavender from Whole Foods, I hadn’t even thought of what recipes I could use it in. Unfortunately, every trip to Whole Foods ends in heavier shopping bags than I expect, as it’s a gourmet heaven in a sea of Sainsbury’s and Tesco supermarkets – and I can’t resist picking up specialty items.

I thought of various applications that lavender would have worked well in: brownies, panna cotta, shortbread, ice cream. Yet nothing appealed to me, and desserts, rather than sweet treats like cookies, aren’t ideal since they should be all consumed on the day. A pack of ground almonds in my pantry suddenly conjured up lavender macarons in my mind. I figured that most of the flavour from macarons comes from the filling, while the shell just serves simultaneously as a delicately sweet, textural contrast and vehicle with which to accompany the filling. Lavender has a pungent enough aroma to perfume the entire shell, which would give an additional layer of flavour than the ordinary macaron.

Whatever application I’ve tasted lavender in, it’s always been intensely sweet and floral. Macarons can be sweet to the point of cloying, so I thought that a robust salty filling would work as a juxtaposition against the floral notes. Salted caramel, one of my favourite flavour combinations, immediately sprang to mind.

Unfortunately, I’ve lost my exact recipe since, but since I follow a ratio of ingredients, you should be able to replicate this recipe without major variations. (This is why I’m such a bad blogger – I made these macarons almost exactly a year ago!) I use Syrup and Tang’s ratios; he also has an incredibly detailed guide to making macarons that has been very helpful for me. In brief, decide how many egg whites you want to use, then weigh them and scale the rest of the ingredients up according to the ratios given.

I used three egg whites and ended up with approximately 24 macarons.

Having measured your egg whites, grind the almond meal, icing sugar, and dried lavender together in a food processor to remove any clumps of powder and set it aside.

Beat the egg whites until they’re soft and foamy, and add the caster sugar little by little. Continue beating until the egg whites have formed a thick and glossy meringue.

Add your dry powder in batches and fold it into the meringue with a firm hand, but making sure you don’t over-mix the batter.

Once your dry ingredients have been just incorporated, fill a piping bag and pipe circles onto a lined baking sheet. As you can see, I have no piping skills. Rap the underside of the sheet against the counter to remove air bubbles and any peaks that refuse to dissolve. Then it’s oven time! I don’t have pictures of making the caramel, but it’s dead easy – all it involves is opening a can of condensed milk and stirring.

Lavender macarons with salted caramel

For the lavender macarons:

  • egg whites (g)
  • 1.3 x egg whites (g) ground almonds, minus the weight of dried lavender (see below)
  • 1.6 x egg whites (g) icing sugar
  • 0.8 x egg whites (g) caster sugar
  • 5-10g edible dried lavender – final weight is to taste; don’t add too much, otherwise it’ll taste soapy

For the salted caramel filling:

  • can of condensed milk
  • 0.5 tsp sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 160C, fan-assisted.

Start by pulverising the ground almonds, icing sugar, and lavender together in a food processor until everything has been blitzed to a fine consistency. You want to avoid any clumps of moist almond that will make your macarons grainy later on, so after it’s been processed, sift the almond mixture.

Grab a clean bowl for your egg whites. Make sure it’s really clean, as any oily residue will affect the ability of the egg whites to form a meringue, and you’ll still be beating 20 minutes later. Beat your egg whites until soft and foamy, then add the caster sugar little by little and continue beating until the egg whites have formed a thick and glossy meringue. Any peaks lifted up by your whisk should also stand against gravity at this point.

Add your almond mixture in batches to the meringue, and with a firm hand, fold it in by scooping around and under the meringue and back over onto itself. Once everything is fully incorporated, stop and check the consistency of the batter. Any ribbons of batter dropped from above should disappear within 30 seconds. Be careful not to over-mix it, however: err on the side of under-mixing here, as overstimulation will result in a runny batter. Any food colouring can be added at this point, but I rather like the natural colour of macarons, so I didn’t add any. The flecks of lavender are pretty enough as it is!

Fill a piping bag (or if you don’t have one, a ziplock bag with a corner cut off will do) with the batter and pipe even circles onto a lined baking sheet. To remove any air bubbles or peaks in your batter, rap the underside of the baking sheet firmly onto the counter before placing it into the oven. Many recipes tell you to leave the piped batter to dry on the counter before baking, but I’ve tried both ways and it didn’t seem to make a difference. Bake for about 8-10 minutes; the exact time will depend on the temperament of your oven and how accurate it is. Watch for any browning and rotate the baking sheet as necessary to facilitate even baking.

After taking them out of the oven, don’t try to lift them straight away. Leave them for a few minutes on the baking sheet before lifting the macaron shells off the baking paper with a gentle twisting motion. If you’re having trouble, spray the underside of the baking paper with a tiny bit of water while the sheet is still hot to create a little steam, which should release the shells more readily. Leave to cool on a baking rack.

While cooling, you can get started on the salted caramel filling. Pour the condensed milk and salt into a thick-bottomed saucepan and set it on a low flame. Stir every so often until it turns a lusciously golden colour; this might take up to 20 minutes. Take care not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan. Burnt caramel is a flavour you do not want in this macaron! Once it has transformed into a thick, sugary caramel, take it off the heat and let it cool; it will firm up as it cools. Pair up the macaron shells and pipe the caramel filling on one side of the shell. Sandwich it gently with the other shell using a twisting motion, pushing the filling out to the sides. It takes a bit of practise so that the filling doesn’t ooze out of the sides, but you can eat those. Baker’s treat!

Lastly, the most important step: place the filled macarons in the fridge and let it sit for 24-48 hours. It will be difficult to resist eating them straight away, I know, but allowing the shell and filling to mature in the fridge improves the flavour combination so much. The lavender mellows out and melds with the salted caramel; the contrast doesn’t seem as jarring, and the flavours just marry elegantly after a couple of days.

Let them come to room temperature before consuming, to bring out the best flavour.

Enjoy with a cup of tea!

Rioja Tapas Fantasticas 2011

June 27, 2011

This past weekend, blessed with the sun and soaring temperatures, saw the arrival of the two-day Tapas Fantasticas festival hosted by Rioja. I didn’t think it was well-advertised at all; I only found out on the first day of the festival and made sure to go the next day. It was taking place near Tower Bridge, which is only a short tube ride away from my flat. Not to mention the gorgeous weather (um, heat wave? You can live in Hong Kong for 17 years and then try to tell me that 28C is a heat wave) and free entry – so off I went to indulge in food.

Of course, the event was not just about food; plenty of wine was also on offer. I didn’t try any because I’m not a huge drinker and would probably not tolerate it well in the heat, but it would have cost £3 for a glass with 4 sample tokens, which gives you a rather small volume to taste. There were also cooking demonstrations (I just missed one by Jose Pizarro, unfortunately), live music, and even a children’s play area, which I felt was a thoughtful gesture. But onto the food! The first plates we tried were from Camino’s stall. Check out that grill next to those blistered chorizo sausages!

Chorizo sandwich, £4

I also had the following beauty – the best part was actually the tomatoes. Refreshingly tangy and sweet, drizzled with olive oil and accompanied by translucent slices of jamon, this plate really hit the spot as the sunshine relentlessly bore down on us, with most shady spots taken. The juicy tomatoes definitely made for messy eating – the tomato juice and olive oil was practically running down my arm. I probably looked pretty barbaric eating this right in front of the festival’s entrance.

Spanish ham with tomatoes and bread, £4

At this point I was still hungry, so we found another stall whose name I can’t remember and bought their chilled rice pudding and baked rice with chorizo, meat, and something else. The rice pudding was a huge stodgy portion for £3, which probably would have been better had it been halved and sold for £2, as I couldn’t finish it even with another person to share it with. On the other hand, the baked rice looked deeply savoury with each rice grain glistening in a most tempting shade of brown and studded with various bits of meat. The portion was a little stingy for £4, but it was tasty nonetheless.

With the addition of the two rice dishes, we were now properly stuffed and couldn’t sample any of the other food stalls’ offerings. Perhaps it would have been good to go on both days to avoid a total binge-fest within the space of 2 hours; I will keep that in mind for next time. It was a lovely way to spend a few hours on a Sunday! Remember to keep an eye out for this event next year in 2012.

Rioja Tapas Fantasticas
Potters Fields Park

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 333 other followers