Monday, 19 August 2013

sticks'n'sushi, wimbledon - review

There is a lot of water in Scandinavia. There’s a lot of water all over the planet to be fair, but in Scandinavia it’s everywhere. 

Sweden is made up of around 30,000 islands that on a map look like clay shooting shrapnel scattered across belts of water and the sea. Denmark consists of a peninsula, Jutland, and an archipelago of 407 islands. Great lakes and rivers litter the Scandinavian land like holes in a sieve. And where there are vast expanses of unpolluted, cold and clear waters, there will be excellent things to eat from them

When I visited Stockholm, I ate more cured salmon in five days than I did in the previous 12 months. You can even fish for the stuff in its waters; fishing for salmon in a capital city - imagine that. 

So it comes as no surprise that some of this fine flesh will make its way into the stomachs of residents and visitors alike in the form of sushi. In Denmark’s capital of Copenhagen you will not only find one of the greatest restaurants in the world making the most of the abundance of fresh Nordic produce, but also one of a chain of eight sushi restaurants found throughout Denmark and voted one of the best in Copenhagen, Sticks'n'Sushi. 

A couple of fellow food bloggers (@yummychooeats and @edgwareviabank) and I were after a Wimbledon dinner venue that could accommodate our discerning palates and photography penchants. 

We three are all suckers for the firm and sparkling flesh of spanking fresh sushi and it turns out Sticks'n'Sushi have had their first UK branch in Wimbledon for some time, soon to be followed by a second opening in Covent Garden in the autumn.

Fully glass fronted, the space within is cavernous to the point that first time visitors exclaiming on entry, ‘it’s massive in here!’ must be an all too common greeting for the staff. 

The space used to house horse carts (so our very pleasant waiter Jordan informed us), reflected in the carriage wheel design incorporated into the ends of the long dark tables stretching across the space, ideal for large parties and communal dining

Above this layer of activity is a huge expanse occupied only by large contemporary Japanese-style lighting hanging from the lofty ceiling. The rear of the premises is home to a bar and the open kitchen and the whole of one side of the restaurant is bordered by the original brick work. 

Staff are kitted out in black, the lighting is dim and the atmosphere is sophisticated but informal with unobtrusive monotonous beats of generic house music providing a backdrop for conversation.

Dominico behind the bar rustled up some impressive fruity virgin cocktails (driving involved), that included raspberries, passion fruit and ginger. Fresh and tart and a good accompaniment to perusing the two beautifully photographed menus

After much deliberation, we decided on the Sticks’n’Sushi set menu for three, encompassing both sticks (yakitori) and sushi. 

The cold elements were presented first and on our plates we found shrimp, halibut, salmon and tuna nigri (sliced raw fish sitting atop a moulded ball of rice). Alongside sat uramaki (inside out rolls) working very well with the flavour from the toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top. 

Two slices of futomaki (big rolls) finished off the plate, encasing seared fish, spicy sauce, avocado, cucumber, chilli, red onion, ginger, and unagi sauce (a thicker and sweeter soy) - incredibly flavoursome, sweet and savoury. The raw fish of the nigri was so yielding and delicate it almost disintegrated on the tongue, with soft rice beneath.

The second half of this set menu soon followed, with hot skewered sticks straight from the kitchen. 

Perfectly opaque and moist chicken breast pieces smothered in a chilli sauce, juicy and fat chicken meatballs (tsukune) sticky with sweet soy, and crunchy asparagus wrapped in crisp salted bacon - all the sticks carrying a smoky charred flavour from the grill and served with al dente edamames sprinkled with coarse salt to busy the fingers in between conversation.

The intention was to supplement this platter with a small selection from the a la carte menu, but by the final bite we were already rolling in our digestive juices and ready to move onto something sweet. 

Green tea and latte - two words used to describe quite opposing and never-to-meet beverages. For we all know, milk is not to be added to green tea

With much gratitude, Sticks’n’Sushi have shown me an enlightened path. Take fine matcha green tea powder, combine with boiled water, hot milk and whip up into a creamy soft drink. The result is a warming bowl of bubbles with all the comforting qualities of a mug of hot chocolate, but vibrant in colour, less sweet and infinitely healthier. A mildly bitter aftertaste secures its grown up status.

A dish of Four Tasters delivered an almost impenetrable popped rice case covered in white chocolate and housing a sweet miso paste, possibly one of the finest and smoothest vanilla crème brûlées I’ve encountered, and a rich chocolate fondant with gooey centre. 

There was also another appearance from my new favourite ingredient - matcha green tea, this time in the form ice cream. A delicate almost neutral yet comforting flavour - quite something.

A Martini glass contained the second of our shared desserts - yuzu (Asian citrus fruit) sorbet, orange, lemon meringue, lemon curd, small lemon pearls, and dried lime. My Mediterranean heritage dictates that the juice of lemons may as well run through my veins, and a dessert like this is so far up my strada, it’s into a different postcode

Acting like a palate cleanser, the level of tartness and flavour from lemon was at the exact high intensity required in any citrus based dessert. An utter joy to devour.

Three small pieces of raw food cake wrapped up proceedings, of which none of us were able to entertain as a result of top trouser buttons undone at least an hour previously, and so they were packaged for us to sample at home. 

Organic brazil nuts, dates, coconut, orange, cacao, goji berries, matcha tea (YES), spiruline, cardamom and cinnamon formed the small and dense cubes, decorated with lime cream, cashews and coconuts. 

So many components in a complex and healthy tasting bite that married very well with my morning coffee the next day.

As I’ve shared many times before, Japanese cuisine is up there in my top three. I’ve sampled sushi in many different restaurants which when done well, is difficult to match. 

While the name above the door in my mind does not reflect the slick interiors and quality fare, Sticks’n’Sushi exceed expectations when it comes to exciting menus and exceptional dining experiences

Combine this with the Nordic influences in both aesthetics and service, and you’ll find yourself in a restaurant you will be coming back to. 

Liked lots: warm staff, interiors, abundance of space, sharing platter menu, yuzu dessert, matcha tea, excellent sushi, bonsai tree, clay crockery, as much attention to desserts as mains, Nordic influences, the exciting menu
Liked less: little natural light reaches the rear so a challenge for food shots - not exactly an issue
Good for: a different type of sushi restaurant, large groups, communal dining, trying new ingredients, combining sushi with yakitori.

My rating: 4/5

Afiyet olsun.

Note: I was invited as a guest to this dinner.

This review can also be found on the Your Local Guardian website.

Sticks N Sushi on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday, 11 August 2013

menemen - turkish eggs with sumac yoghurt

Whenever I utter the name of this rather wonderful staple of the Turkish breakfast table, I inadvertently but consistently slip into spitting some old school 50 Cent lyrics into my air-microphone: 'Many men; many, many, many, many men Wish death upon me Lord I don't cry no more Don't look to the sky no more' A blast from the past that were my university days each time. I of course know no further lyrics to this ‘song’. Whatever did happen to Fiddy C anyway? I’m not entirely sure anyone cares. Questionable London clubs frequented in 2003 aside, menemen is a rather fabulous and different way to eat eggs with the addition of tomatoes and peppers. The traditional recipe sees the eggs scrambled, but I’ve left them unbroken and with dippy yolks for cascading and deep orange bread accompaniment. Mildy spiced and very hearty, this is a great example of the course of the day the Turks do so exceptionally well. Serve with chai and the best quality bread you can find and if it’s topped with sesame seeds, even better.

Menemen with sumac yoghurt

Serves two, or one very hungry person (i.e. me)

For the eggs
1 x green pepper, finely chopped
1 x large green chilli, finely chopped
2 x garlic cloves, grated
1/2tsp cumin seeds
300ml sieved tomatoes
Handful of spinach
2 x eggs
1 x lemon
Olive oil
Small bunch of fresh parsley

For the yoghurt
2 x heaped tbsp strained yoghurt
1/2 x garlic clove, grated
Generous pinch of sumac
Chilli flakes (optional)
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Pour a glug of olive oil into a saucepan and on a low-medium heat, gently fry the garlic and cumin seeds for a couple of minutes. Add the pepper and chilli and fry for a few more minutes until they are soft.

Add the sieved tomatoes and let bubble for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and a squeeze of lemon juice. Turn off the heat, add your spinach leaves and stir until they're wilted in the sauce.

Pour this mixture into a shallow but wide oven proof dish. Create a couple of wells in the sauce for the eggs. Crack one egg into a cup then carefully pour it into one of the wells. Repeat with the second egg. Place in the oven until the whites become opaque but the yolk remains runny.

In the meantime create the yoghurt by combining all the ingredients and topping with a pinch of sumac and drizzle of olive oil.

When the eggs are ready, sprinkle with a little coarse sea salt, a few chilli flakes and some chopped parsley. Serve with toasted Turkish bread.

Afiyet olsun.

Monday, 5 August 2013

l'autre pied, marylebone - review

I recently treated
my parents to dinner at The Ritz for an anniversary gift, and as the day approached my mother divulged, ‘we’re going to have to get your dad a new suit’. I had almost forgotten the strict code of attire at The Ritz - men must wear a jacket with tie and jeans are strictly prohibited. The opulence of the setting complete with a fully tuxedo’d front of house is certainly fitting for such robe requests, and everyone doing their bit when it comes to making an effort lends itself to an even more heightened dining experience of exclusivity and luxury. 

Whilst I’m sure dining at The Ritz is a very unique venture, it’s not really for me. I want to consume very good food without having to adhere to a dress dictatorship in order to do so. I recall my dining partner almost being refused entry to Hakkasan once due to his sport shoes, albeit very smart and pristine white ones with the addition of a blazer to boot - scandalous! My ideal location for a birthday treat (of which this meal was), would be an informal and relaxed restaurant with no pretenses serving Michelin quality food. And L’autre Pied in Marylebone achieves that in spades.

The kitchen is commandeered by head chef Andy McFadden and his seven course tasting menu was the agenda for the evening. On arrival we were seated by a very charming maitr’d who recommended a rather spectacular glass of Italian red, the name of which I failed to note. An amuse bouche began proceedings consisting of silk thin poppy seed pastry topped with cool, smooth and meaty chicken liver parfait and sprinkled with chopped olives.

Culinary artistry and refined presentation stole the limelight at each course. The first involved compressed cucumber with frozen gazpacho, akin to incredibly flavoursome crushed ice alongside an intense flavour of cucumber and topped with black onion seeds. The dish sang the familiar notes of a typically Turkish sandwich comprising of sesame seed topped bread, cucumber, and salt from halloumi (in this case from the well seasoned gazpacho) - light and refreshing and quite the picture.

A salad of radishes with black quinoa, crème fraîche, fennel and dill followed. I was more than happy to let the mispronunciation from the waitress of quinoa as ‘kwin-owa’ (actually pronounced ‘keen-wah’) slide, as the plate itself was striking enough in its appearance to distract me, with the flavours and textures to match. Delicate, crisp and clean and with hard raw beads of the grain to provide interest between the teeth.

The third course continued with the theme of vegetables as the star attraction and with one of my favourites taking centre stage - beetroot. A generous wedge of it was served baked alongside a balsamic gel, a gratifyingly wobbly horseradish panna cotta, small and perfectly piped meringues dyed pink from beetroot juice with a sublimely satisfying texture when penetrated with the fork, and crunchy beetroot and balsamic crisps intense with the flavour from both; I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of techniques usually reserved for desserts in this dish. Course devoured and plate left like a scene from a Tarantino set, typical of the ruby red vegetable presence.

Fish was next to decorate our table in the form of poached pollock with gem lettuce, broad beans, peas and mint. This was my least favourite dish and I would go so far as saying it was disappointing. The fish was underseasoned and added little, if anything, to the plate. It was served alongside a foam of some sort which was also entirely lacking in any discernable flavour. The vegetables were the redeemers and topped with pea shoots - an arresting vibrant green, perfectly al dente and exceedingly fresh.

Red meat soon followed - slow cooked shoulder of roe deer with the flesh sporting slightly caramelised and toughened edges deep with flavour. Tea smoked prunes and baby carrots provided sweetness and the plate was dressed with a rich jus, carrot oil and a peanut crumble, although I was only able to detect little presence of the latter.  Soft and flaking meat characteristic of an eight hour low heat treatment.

Onto the second stomach for desserts spanning two courses. To begin, an apple custard with honeycomb, sharp palate cleansing raspberry sorbet, speckled with pieces of rose water meringue (very similar in both flavour and texture to the nuggets of sin found in the tooth-achingly sweet Lucky Charms cereal), and topped with a sprinkling of toasted pistachio, the flavour of which I adore about as much as toasted sesame - almost certainly due to my part-Turkish heritage. A quite wonderful and well thought out dessert.

French Gariguette strawberries served at room temperature (a cold fridge sucks out the flavour from a strawberry) along with an exceedingly coconutty ice cream, yoghurt and passion fruit drew the very pleasing proceedings to a close.

Service throughout was warm and attentive without being overbearing. Interiors are muted and casual, allowing the expertise and precise presentation demonstrated through the food to take centre stage. The lack of a trous normand before dessert or petit fours after was a little unexpected when compared to other Michelin tasting menus I've sampled, particularly the sister restaurant Pied a Terre, where both were received. But L’autre Pied, whilst still maintaining highly commendable standards, is the slightly more accessible of the two with good value set menus for the quality received, and a wine list with prices that don’t cause a pained wince on perusal. 

On the note of value, it’s certainly worth mentioning that this particular meal was part of a deal sold on Groupon - 50% off a seven course tasting menu for two. Or two for the price of one, in other words. I thought it highly uncharacteristic of a Michelin venue to lend itself to Groupon, whilst also offering such significant discounts within the deal. But as far as I could tell, the menu was identical to full paying customers and we received the same service and experience as the diners around us. I in fact commend L’autre Pied for shunning the judgements of others and actively making their food accessible to more people - bravo.

With the full priced seven course tasting menu coming in at a very reasonable £62 per person, a visit is certainly more than worthwhile for a special occasion or a well deserved treat.

Liked lots: relaxed and informal fine dining atmosphere, asking for any dietary requirements prior to taking our order; pillowy warm bread basket straight from the oven, service, reasonably priced wine, the Groupon deal, wonderful presentation throughout, location
Liked less: fish dish, lack of petit fours
Good for: introduction to fine dining, romantic meal, special occasions

My rating: 4/5

Afiyet olsun.

[object Object] L'Autre Pied on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Sunday, 4 August 2013

shake shack, covent garden - review

I do a lot of things ‘as a matter of principle’. Often a guise for what is essentially my unequivocal stubbornness, wave a ‘principle counter’ over me and my reading is click-clicking off the chart. While this may initially sound like a virtuous trait, it really isn’t. 

For example, when driving, I will continue ahead in my correct lane even though I know the cretin next to me in the wrong lane also wants to carry on forwards. By neither of us dropping back, it is inevitable we will bump cars. But I am in the right, he is in the wrong. I am therefore exempt from any bolts of wrath and misfortune from above. And so I don’t move, as a matter of principle. Personal beliefs still upheld, but car bumped (true story). 

At few other points in life do I flex my muscles of principle more than when the latest fad is sweeping the nation. Fifty Shades of Grey, Angry Birds, Harlem shaking, planking are all examples of crap crazes I have refused to entertain, as a matter of principle. If it pleases the masses, the bitter cynic in me makes the immediate assumption it won’t please me. Turns out my theory doesn’t have a 100% success rate; who knew.

The American burger chain Shake Shack opened its first set of doors on UK soil earlier this month, specifically on Covent Garden soil and only a week apart from one of its largest American competitors, Five Guys.

They, and others, have been riding the crest of the wave that is the recent and all-encompassing UK burger resurgence. Even the vegans amongst us would have found it difficult to ignore burger joints springing up across the capital like rodents on a Whac-A-Mole arcade game - Dirty Burger, Honest Burgers, Mother Flipper, Meat Liquor, Patty & Bun, to name a few. And people are going crazy for them, rushing to sample with a fervour like they’re on commission. 

With PR machines and social media working overtime to create trending hashtags and an Instagram meltdown prior and during openings, launches of these fast-food-with-finesse joints have seen early adopters queuing for tens of minutes at a time to be one of the first to get their chops around the newest best burger in town.

As a matter of principle, I have refused to be swept up in these initial fanatical flurries of overzealous and disproportional activity, whilst at the same time reading reviews with the simultaneously furrowed and cocked brow of a sceptic. 

However, I did eat in a Shake Shack in NYC a couple of years back. And I do recall it being very good. And on that basis and that basis alone, in the name of objective comparison, I saw it my duty to see what this Covent Garden store had to offer. That was definitely my soul motivation..

Situated in the old Market Building at the centre of Covent Garden, Shake Shack comprises of the premises housing a band of cash registers backed by the kitchen and only al fresco seating (although dining areas are covered by the Market Building roof). 

Along with your name, you give your order to the well trained and smiling till staff and a buzzer you’re handed makes a racket once the food is ready to collect from the pick-up counter. We were a party of three, each ordering the double Smoke Shack - essentially a bacon cheeseburger with two beef patties. I also ordered the Union Shack concrete (ice cream) and there were a couple of portions of crinkle cut chips on the table.

Burgers I’m used to are an assembly of quite separate components. Two halves of a well structured bun with a pattie betwixt and toppings involved somewhere in the gathering. It is easy to separate each piece out to decorate your plate and systematically work your way round the constituent parts if that's your thing (I have actually witnessed this method of eating a burger). 

But at Shake Shack, you are presented with a single soft mass of yielding savoury and juicy wonder. The patties, cheese and bun unite into palate coating mushy magnificence rendering them impossible to dissect. 

In one mouthful you can enjoy an amalgamation of meaty grease from the smashed patty, slight sweetness from the toasted bun, a whisp of heat from chopped cherry pepper, oozing American-style cheese, saltiness from the crisp bacon and tang from the signature Shake Shack sauce (like a piquant mayonnaise); together they send the pleasure receptors into a manic frenzy.

Shake Shack are not quiet about all their ingredients (bar the buns which are flown in from America) being carefully sourced from UK farms and suppliers. The beef is 100% raised Aberdeen Angus, grass fed on Scottish pastures and they refrain from ever using hormones or antibiotics on their cows. 

The meat is ground daily and burgers are cooked to order rather than left drying out under a heat lamp. Each patty consists of 1/4lb of this beef smashed onto the grill for an intensely flavoured and slightly caramalised crust. Yes please.

Bacon is free-range Wiltshire cure smoked. The imported buns are typical of an American burger (as opposed to brioche or posh bread options often found in the UK) and similar to Martin’s potato rolls with the inclusion of potato flour - an excellent choice for absorbing dripping goodness. 

In a moment of madness and excited anticipation, we all completely forgot to request any toppings and in fact failed to even notice them on the menu. The one thing I felt was missing from the burger was only absent due to my lack of attention - pickles. A good enough reason to return for me.

Chips were sturdy and crisp on the outside with fluffy middles and essentially pretty good (I’m not the world’s biggest fries fan). The Union Shack concrete that rounded off my meal consisted of frozen chocolate custard, bites of chocolate and hazelnut brownies, fudge sauce, shrapnel of bitter dark chocolate and a touch of sea salt - a thick, dense and very chocolatey ice cream with lots to bite down on and served in a cardboard drink cup.

My verdict here is that despite the irritating initial fanfare, I really enjoyed this meal. Compared to other burgers I’ve eaten in this country, Shake Shack offers something quite unique - it’s just not like any other I’ve had. In all fairness, I haven’t eaten at enough of the competitors to form an entirely informed opinion based on adequate comparisons, but who the hell cares. 

Shake Shack burgers are so good I could easily eat one for breakfast. No doubt that says more about me than the burger.

Liked lots: burger, chopped cherry pepper, nice staff, location, covered al fresco dining, concretes, a short and quick queue 
Liked less: slightly confusing entrances and exits to the queue and ordering
Good for: a quick bite, al fresco dining, significantly exceeding your daily intake of saturated fat, jumping on the bandwagon

My rating: 5/5

Afiyet olsun.

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Friday, 2 August 2013

top 10 tips for food photography

'The society of today is plagued with the affliction that is the unending desire to share every entertained piece of dross from our daily lives with the rest of humanity.

Thanks to social media, we are inflicted with relentless images of the activity or scene currently occupying our beings, whatever that may be. Be it the sunset which isn’t actually that pink so best apply a filter (‘I just LOVE London in the summer!’), the rodent-dog we managed to avoid drop-kicking in the park (‘I SO need a chihuahua in my life right now!’), or the heart-attack meal complete with a side of defibrillation we’re about to devour (OMG this is the most AMAZING burger I’ve EVER eaten and it’s as big a my head!).

With mine hung in shame, I hold my hands up as a frequent sinner when it comes to the topic of photographing and sharing what I’m cooking or eating.'

You can find the rest of this article along with my top 10 tips for good food photography written for Your Local Guardian here.

I hope you enjoy.

Afiyet olsun.

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