Review

A Rum Do Two at Hush Brasserie – Mayfair

When I think of molecular gastronomy, images of olive gel bubbles from El Bulli or liquid nitrogen starters from The Fat Duck spring to mind – not so much cocktails. But really, the concept is the same. So why not?

I went to Hush in Mayfair with nearly the same crew from last year’s A Rum Do* with Element’s 8 Rum to take part in what can only be described as drinking with science. The idea is that a cocktail is just a cocktail, so screw it – let’s have a bit of fun with nitrogen!

Among a few, we tried a foam mojito made with a deep concentration of gelatin and mojito ingredients squeezed out of this:

And the crowd favourite, a pina caviada, which is basically a pina colada made with little pearls of rum pushed out a syringe. Weird, but surprisingly tasty!

There are some fantastic pictures over at TikiChris’ Flickr page. All the drinks are around 8 quid, which is good.

The verdict though? Interesting? Yes. Strong? Oh yes. Tasty? Sure. But would I get them again? I don’t think so. There’s something about molecular gastronomy – whether food or drink related – that just seems so gimmicky to me. I appreciate it, I think it’s really cool, but if I want a mojito, I usually want a mojito – and no amount of kitsch is going to replace that.

I think everyone should try it just once to see. It’s worth it for that, at least. But I’ll happily sip my boring old regular cocktails any time.

*Disclosure: The lovely Elements 8 people treated us to these drinks, just as they did last year. They’re really good guys, and not just because they gave us foamy mojitos.


Hush on Urbanspoon

Beer + Cocktails = Beertails?

I’ve been going to quite a few more drinks events lately.  A few weeks ago, it was a wine tasting at Bibendum, this past Monday I went to a sake cocktail sampling at Tsuru with Qype and on the 10th, Elements 8 is hosting A Rum Do for the second year in a row (the first one was legendary).  This past weekend, however, was mostly spent mixing at home. With beer.

Beer is not huge for women in the UK, and honestly it’s not something I really go for either.  There a few that I like, but if I’m out in a restaurant or at the shop, I almost always go for wine. If I’m at a bar, it’s either wine or cocktails.  Beer just doesn’t even make it into my thought process.

However, there is a small, but growing movement out there that’s bent on changing that perception. With beertails – traditional cocktails made with beer.  Last week I received a beer cocktail starter kit* that included 2 bottles of Blue Moon (an American wheat beer), 2 bottles of Coors Light (a VERY American beer whose typical drinkers like this sort of thing), 2 bottles of Kasteel Cru (a beer made from Champagne yeast), a bunch of little airplane-sized liquor bottles and a recipe sheet.

I tried three concoctions: an Amber Mojito, a Kru Woo and something I named Lady Marmalade

An Amber Mojito is essentially a mojito, but mixed with Coors Light instead of soda water.

Coors light amber mojito

I made a huge mess making this. HUGE. Mint carnage, burned  simple syrup, beer head spilled all over the countertops.  It was a nightmarish process for one drink.  I simply do not have the mad skills to make a mojito at home. That said, I could see how the beer could work as a mojito base. It tasted like a mojito, but with an extra kick.  I wondered if it would make sense to use Corona though?

A Kru Woo is Kasteel Cru with peach scnapps and cranberry juice.

Kasteel Cru Kru Woo

The Kasteel is much more like Champagne, but with a slightly beery taste. Honestly, I preferred it by itself without all the girly accessories. Still very good.

The Lady Marmalade.  I completely made this one up. It’s just Blue Moon with Cointreau floated on top.

Blue Moon Cointreau

Blue Moon is a wheat beer. And wheat beers go well with citrus flavours (Bell’s Oberon, anyone?). So I figured Blue Moon would go just swimmingly with orange liquor in it. I was right! It was delish. Much more a summer drink. I would be very happy to drink it again.

The verdict?

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experiment is that you have to be careful with beer cocktails.  Essentially with every cocktail, you’re taking out the only non-alcoholic part of the recipe (soda water, diet coke, whatever) and replacing it with beer.  And what’s the second half of that rhyme, ‘Beer before liquor….’? It could get messy.

I can see a future for beer cocktails, but convincing the masses isn’t going to be easy.  I bet it’s the kind of drink that you wouldn’t necessarily order if you didn’t know what you were getting, but if a friend ordered one and you tried it – you’d probably end up getting one yourself too. I’m going to keep an eye out, but I haven’t seen anywhere in London that does them. If you know of a place, leave a comment, and I’ll check it out because lord knows I’m never ever making a beer mojito again.

*I received the beer cocktail set to try for free from the lovely Laura on behalf of Coors, but was not paid for this post in any way. Any reviews I ever do on this blog are entirely my own views – good or bad.

Tajima-Tei – Chancery Lane

When I lived back in the States, I used to have sushi all the time. I still love it, but I find to get proper sushi in London, you usually end up paying an arm and a leg. If I’m every really craving it, I might have Itsu for lunch, but even then, I end up spending £7 or £8 for something that’s not really high quality.

So, essentially, I’ve been avoiding sushi as much as I can. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to find a place I like because I know it will be expensive, and I know I’ll just want to go all the time. Tajima-Tei is a perfect example.

I went here on a very cold and rainy London evening. My dining partner had said that he heard about it from a friend who said it’s the only place he goes for sushi in London, and that it’s the only place Japanese people in London go for sushi. Walking in, that seemed to be a true statement. I think we were the only native-English speakers in the whole place. Good sign.

The first thing I order at any sushi restaurant is hamachi. Ninety-nine percent of the time, you can judge the quality of a sushi place based on the quality of their hamachi. For example, what did I think of Hakuba‘s hamachi? Not great. Tomoe‘s hamachi? Actually quite nice, and a good price. Japan Centre‘s hamachi? Meh. And that pretty much sums up my feelings of all of those restaurants in general.

And what, you ask, did I think about Tajima-Tei’s? My god, just look at it:

Lovely, rich and buttery. A fantastic fish.

The rest of the evening was filled with things like eel and avocado:

Tuna, prawn, mackerel, salmon, scallop and some sort of weird egg thing on rice:

Veggie tempura:

And the star of the show, a massive ‘Spicy Tuna Tempura‘, which had sweet prawn, tuna, crab stick and salmon mixed with spicy mayonnaise. This picture doesn’t do it justice – each piece was seriously about the size of my palm:

I really liked this place. It’s a bit out of my way, which is probably a good thing as I won’t be tempted to come back too often, and it’s not the cheapest (food and two carafes of sake and service was about £65), but it was definitely tasty.

Tajima-Tei on Urbanspoon

Asia de Cuba – St. Martin’s Lane

I had my first taste of Asia de Cuba, the most well-known (only?) tropical-Asian fusion restaurant in London and New York, at Taste of London, and I’ve been dreaming of it ever since. After one failed attempt at lunch in August, I was ready for another go – especially since they had a 2-course £15 deal going on for London Restaurant Festival.

The restaurant is located in the St Martins Lane Hotel. It’s about as well-hidden as you can get being on a busy street in tourist London. The only hint of an address number is a nearly transparent sticker at the bottom corner of the giant chiffoned window that faces the street. I walked up and down the street about three times before I figured it out.

The other thing about Asia de Cuba is that it’s expensive. And by expensive, I mean overpriced. But that does not mean it’s not fantastic – it just means I’m not normally going to go unless A) it’s a special deal B) it’s a special occasion or C) someone else is paying. My lunch obviously fell under Category A.

I started out with the beef dumplings two ways: crispy with plum sauce and steamed with coconut rice and mango ponzu.

Gorgeous presentation. A bit small on the portion, but it is only a starter. The crispy dumpling was, indeed, crispy. There was far too little plum sauce though. After one swipe it was pretty much gone and I was left with a dry dumpling. The steamed morsel was much more my taste, but unless I’m blind, it didn’t come with any coconut rice. That was a bummer.

For my main, I got exactly what I tried at Taste of London – the dish I’ve been dreaming about for four months: Honey-rhum glazed pot roast of pork.

Heaven.

The top of the roast is crispy with caramelised goodness. Underneath that, there is a nice pork belly-esque layer of fat, followed by the most supple melt-in-your-mouth pork roast ever. The dish is served on top of cubed fried plantains (gotta get the tropical theme in there somewhere), enoki mushrooms and bok choi.

This is seriously one of my most favourite dishes on the planet. It is an absolute explosion of contrasting and complementing flavours all at the same time. I can not put into words how much I love this. It was just as good as I remembered, and I will have a hard time ever ordering anything else off the menu.

The only problem with this dish is that it is monstrous. I was conflicted… it was so good I wanted to finish every last bite, but I found myself slipping into food coma after about 25 minutes of om nom nom’ing and had to stop. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. I don’t think I could even look at food for the rest of the day.

Still, I think I did pretty well…

Dessert was not an option, but I think at some point in the near future, I could be tempted with the mini mexican donuts filled with butterscotch sauce. The others I thought looked very nice as well.

Service was fine, but nothing to write home about. I didn’t find anyone to be particularly personable, but I can’t complain since the service was prompt and the meal timed correctly.

There are definitely a lot of reasons people gripe about this restaurant (value for money being number 1), but as far as I’m concerned, they’re crazy – I’d probably pay double just to have that pork over and over again.

 

Asia de Cuba on Urbanspoon

Polpo – Soho

This tiny Venetian tapas restaurant in the middle of Soho has really made quite a splash since it opened earlier this month. Harnessing the power of social media, Polpo‘s owners have managed to drill down into the heart of the London foodie community and probably get more food blogger reviews in a few weeks than other restaurants have in years.  Now, whether that’s a good strategy for a new restaurant remains to be seen – the reviews from what I can tell are a mixed bag. My experience, however, was definitely a positive one.

I managed to snag a table for 3 for a 2pm lunch. The restaurant is still hopping. We sit down and take a look at the menu.  I have a momentary freakout because I’m with one vegetarian and one sort of vegetarian, and at first glance it doesn’t seem like there’s much on the menu for them to eat. A bit of detective work, however, found veggie dishes popping out from other categories.

We start out with some green tapenade crostini, potato & parmesan croquette and salt cod on polenta:

polpo

The croquettes are lovely, as is the salt cod.  I’m not too much a fan of the crostini.  The tapenade had a weird rubbery texture I couldn’t quite get used to.

We also tried the grilled zucchini:

polpo

This was fantastic. There was a nice bit of bread crumbs on top to give it a bit of a crunch. The zucchini itself had a nice bite to it as well (seems they were generous with the lemon). I always think zucchini has the potential to come out very soggy depending on how its cooked, but this was done perfectly.

Next up was a dish specifically for the carnivore at the table (me). Roast pumpkin with prosciutto and Parmesan:

polpo

OMG. This was soo good. Very simple, elegant blend of savoury flavours. The cheese was a sharp balance to the warm pumpkin. I’m making this at home. Easy, super fantastic dish.

Pizza bianca:

polpo pizza

This white pizza was a blend of cheeses with some very sweet roasted onions. It was a good size portion. I would order it again.

Grilled polenta:

polpo polenta

I don’t think I eat enough polenta. It’s such a great side dish.  Ours was a bit on cold, but that didn’t detract from it.  There was a hint of sweetness in the dish that made it pair well with whatever else we had at the table, including this dish of turnip tops, chili and garlic:

polpo greens

For me, the only slight disappointment was dessert.  We all went for the chocolate ganache cake, which we were assured was the best on the menu.  While it was indeed tasty, it didn’t blow me away.  It was less a chocolate cake, as it was a lemon cake with a bit of chocolate sauce.  I like to keep my chocolate separate from my citrus, but that’s just me…

polpo cake

So far, I’m a fan of Polpo. I’d definitely like to give it another go some time, particularly to try some of the other meat dishes – especially because I was so fond of the pumpkin ham. It will be interesting to see if it stands the test of time now that all the blog buzz is starting to die down.

Only time will tell…

Polpo on Urbanspoon

Stef’s – Oxford Street

Stef’s is located pretty much on the cusp of the first circle of Hell (just north of Oxford Street across from the Plaza Shopping Centre and next door to a Nando’s), but that won’t stop me from going there again.

We had a large group on a Saturday night and were all there on a Top Table deal of 2 course and a glass of prosecco for £15.95.  Now, most of the time on these deals, I expect to be treated pretty poorly, but the staff at Stef’s couldn’t have been sweeter.  The ‘deal’ menu had a lot of choice, we weren’t rushed by the staff at all and I thought the food was excellent (plus, all 7 meals came at the same time – something that seems to be a huge challenge for far too many restaurants these days).

For my starter, I went with a very simple mozzarella and garlic bread.

A really nice start to a very garlic-y meal. But in a good way

For my main, I had chosen a tomato cream tortelloni, but unfortunately they had just run out.  It must have been pretty popular.  I asked for a recommendation, and ended up going with a spaghetti with mussels in a spicy tomato sauce.

It’s so easy to get used to banging on about crazy intricate sauces and complex flavours that you often forget that simple can be best. This was a nice al dente pasta with tomatoes and chili and garlic and spices.  Nothing complicated, but certainly very good.

I was one of the few tempted by dessert, and went with this chocolate souffle cake.

I was amazed (and a bit bemused) as to how this cake got to our table so quickly.  Usually with a souffle it takes a little bit of time to cook – especially to the point where the middle of the cake is nice and oozy. I ordered this and within minutes it was sitting in front of me.  It’s a mystery – a very delicious mystery I probably don’t want to know the answer to.

Definitely pop into Stef’s if Oxford Street Christmas shopping is doing your head in. It’s not quite as good as Amaretto, but still a cheap option for yummy Italian in Central London.

Stef's on Urbanspoon

Amaretto – Fitzrovia

We all had a very tough week at work. Lots of pitches meant long hours in the office, so once our presentation document was finished, our boss treated us to lunch at Amaretto, a cozy little Italian restaurant off Tottenham Court Road.

I haven’t had proper Southern Italian food in a while and I almost never order pasta in a restaurant ever since I worked at Macaroni Grill. It sounded good.

We ordered some nibbles of bread and olives.  For some reason, I really like olives now. I even had olive bread. The bread was warm too. Triple bonus points for that.

amaretto olive bread

For starters we just ordered a few plates of bruschetta:

Bruschetta can sometimes go horrible wrong.  If it sits too long, you get really soggy oil bread with old tomatoes. This was none of those things – it was crisp, fresh and perfect. Wish it had a bit more basil though. Basil really makes a good bruschetta.

For my main: Homemade gnocchi in a tomato sauce with buffalo mozzarella gratin.

Wow. This was a-ma-zing.  I forgot how much I liked fatty pasta.  Crispy baked cheese on little potato dumplings. What more could you ask for? I mean, look at this gnocchi… When they say homemade, they mean homemade:

Absolutely delicious.

Love, love, love Amaretto.  I can’t believe I’ve walked by it nearly everyday for a year and never went in. Can’t wait to go back.

Amaretto on Urbanspoon