Saturday, October 30, 2010


3 Varnishers Yard
The Regent Quarter
Kings Cross, London
N1 9FD

P and I have been trying to go to Bar Pepito, the sherry bar next to Camino, for ages. Alas, when we made a Monday night date, we found out that Bar Pepito is closed on Mondays. We consoled ourselves with a sherry at Camino instead, but I'm sure we'll be back on a non-Monday to try some more. The nice thing about Camino is that it's a restaurant as well, though, so we settled in for some tapas feasting. After greedily ordering chorizo, txigorki, arroz negro con calamares, fritos mixtos and some lamb skewers, we started in on a lovely bottle of tempranillo. I think this arroz negro was my favorite - everything was well done, though the chorizo was a wee bit too greasy and salty. The danger with tapas is that the cost adds up quite quickly - still, for an evening with lovely company, Camino fit the bill.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Choc Star

The Choc Star van is one of several street food trucks getting raves from people - something about getting your food from a passionate cook on the move makes people go nuts. Since I was at the Towpath Festival, waiting for my burger from the Meatwagon, I figured I could spend some of my waiting time in the line for Choc Star as well. I was thinking about what could be wrapped up and saved for a post-burger sweet, so settled on their ultra dark brownie, which is as fudgy and decadent as it sounds. My only complaint is that the top of the brownie was quite dry - but aside from that minor flaw, the rest of it was smooth with a high quality deep chocolate taste. I'd like to try their ice creams if I ever run into them again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Meatwagon

The Meatwagon has received quite frenzied attention among food-lovers in London. I made a mental note to try and find them somewhere in the depths of South London, where they are usually based, but never quite got my act together. While running along the canal, I was pleased to notice that they were making an appearance for the Towpath Festival, so I made sure to catch them while they were in my 'hood. A and I showed up on Sunday a little after noon, and the festival was clearly off to a slow start. The only guy around said that everyone got sh*tfaced Saturday night, so they probably wouldn't be up and running until after 2pm. We trudged home sadly, but I ventured out again around 4.30 to try once more, and got there in the nick of time to snag two of the last fifteen burgers of the day. I think I waited for about an hour and a half before my order was called? Then I quickly snapped a picture and shoved the burgers into my bag, racing home on my bike to make sure they were as fresh as possible. A and I chowed down on these and they were certainly excellent burgers, but I'm not sure I'd ever wait that long again (mainly because I don't really see the point in waiting that long for food). At 6 quid each, the bacon cheeseburgers were fairly priced for the quality of ingredients, and I'm glad I tried one - if they can get the wait down to 30 minutes I'll certainly think about trying another.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Le Saint Julien

62 - 63 Long Lane

J and I had tried to go here maybe two years ago - for whatever reason it didn't happen, so when we were picking a place to meet up recently, it resurfaced and was quickly chosen. A 50% off deal from Toptable was booked, and we headed off to have a decadent French meal. J chose better for her starter - the trout rillette with avocado mash was fantastic and a good balance of fresh seafood against the fatty avocado. I had the rillette of rabbit with mango chutney which was good, but much heavier than J's dish. For mains, J chose a Beaujolais style rabbit which came on a bed of incredibly buttery mash, while I had the pressed lamb with mustard crust served with white beans. You can't really tell how big the dish is in the picture above, but it was enormous - and so tasty I finished the entire thing, even though I probably shouldn't have. We were terribly full but couldn't resist some dessert, so we shared a chocolatey thing, I think (my memory is a bit hazy at this point). Point is, the cooking is good here, and with the Toptable deal, it is really good value as well.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tom Yum Soup

A asked for me to try making Tom Yum Soup again (I made it a year ago but forgot to write down what I did, so had to try and cobble together a recipe again using the internet). I think it came out pretty well - I feel like the secret to this soup is to keep tasting and adjusting until you get the balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot that you want. So the recipe below is mostly a guideline rather than absolute measures.

Tom Yum Soup

4 cups stock (I had some pork bone stock, but chicken should be fine too)
3 sticks of freeze dried lemongrass (fresh would be better, I think)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 or 3 limes, halved
2 or 3 bird's eye chillies
3 tbsp fish sauce (and more to taste)
1 tbsp sugar
12 raw king prawns
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
250g package of baby corn, cut into small pieces
handful of coriander, minced


Bring stock to a simmer. Add lemongrass, garlic, 2 chillies and fish sauce. Squeeze lime juice into pan (start with two limes, then add more to taste if you want it more sour). Add sugar and taste again - if the broth needs to be more salty, add more fish sauce, if it needs more sweetness, add more sugar, if it isn't spicy enough, add more chillies. Add bell pepper, tomatoes and baby corn and cook for 20 minutes. Taste the soup again for balance of flavors and adjust appropriately. Add chicken and cook for 10 more minutes. Add prawns, cook until all prawns have turned pink, and take off the heat. Ladle into bowls and top with coriander.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lu Rou Fan (Taiwanese Pork Belly)

I was doing some grocery shopping in Chinatown and couldn't resist picking up a piece of pork belly. I had seen this recipe a while ago and it stuck in my head - it's very similar to a dish my mom used to make and so once the craving struck, I had to obey. Chinese home cooking is definitely one of my favorites - it's delicious and brings back great memories at the same time.

Lu Rou Fan
Adapted from Food Mayhem


500g pork belly
2-inch chunk of ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 star anise
2″ piece of cinnamon
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fried shallots
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder


Dice pork belly into small pieces, no wider than 1/2 inch. Add pork belly to a large wok and start to fry over medium heat. Cook until all of the pieces are beginning to color.

Add soy sauce, rice wine and sugar. Add the ginger, star anise and cinnamon and two cups of water. Bring it to a boil. Boil for two minutes, then sprinkle fried shallots and 5 spice powder over the top and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour. 

Serve over rice, with sauteed vegetables on the side to cut the richness a bit.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The John Peel

52 High St

Looking for a hearty breakfast after a night of camping and drinking to excess, we inquired about what was recommended in the area and The John Peel was top of the list for a good fry up. Off we went to Shaftesbury to go find this place, and it was not what I expected at all. Rather than greasy formica tables and cheap linoleum, the place was decorated in a bizarre, yet cute, almost hobbit-like way. The ceilings sloped in as if you were in a cave, and the tables were all tiny and had little metal lamps hanging above each one. We quickly placed orders for full breakfasts, and the picture above shows you how much food arrived. It didn't taste greasy at all, and quickly cured me of my headache and hunger pangs - we'll be back next year, I'm sure.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Corn Fritters

Amazingly, I had everything I needed for this in the fridge - I even threw in a dollop of goat's cheese that was sitting there and it added a nice tangy creamy quality to some bites. This is a lovely way of eating summer corn (sorry that this is too late for summer corn, but try it next year!) You could easily leave out the pancetta and have a tasty vegetarian dish as well.

Corn Fritters

Adapted from Food Stories


140g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
220ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten with a fork
50g diced pancetta
1/2 red onion, finely diced
3 large corn cobs
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
A small handful of fresh herbs (I used mint, chives and thyme)

2 tbsp soft goat cheese (optional)
Salt and pepper
Vegetable or groundnut oil, for frying


Sift the flour into a large bowl with the baking powder. Pour in the milk and mix well to make a smooth batter.

Remove any outer papery husk and strings from the corn cobs then stand one on its end on a chopping board and carefully run your knife down one side to remove the kernels. Repeat this until all the kernels are stripped off and then add them to the batter. Add the egg, spices and spring onion and season with two large pinches each of salt and pepper.

Cook pancetta in a heavy based frying pan or skillet and wait until the fat renders. Add red onion, cooking until onion is tender. Scoop pancetta bits and red onion into the batter, leaving the fat in the skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high. Drop a large spoonful of the batter into the fat at a time and immediately flatten it out into a round fritter shape. It will take a few minutes to turn golden on the underneath – you can then flip it over and brown the other side.  Add more oil if necessary as you make more batches.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival

Sturminster Newton
DT10 1DQ

The Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival is a thing of wonder. K, A, A and I really didn't know what to expect when we decided to drive there and camp overnight - we were basically hoping that it wouldn't turn out to be one of those cheese "festivals" which consists of a few lumps of cheese on a table outside  pub. Thankfully, it was everything we could have wished for and more. Giant tents full of cheese, jazz bands, haystacks to sit on, real ale and cider on tap, crafts galore... we're already making plans for next year.

Our favorites of the bunch this time around:

Little Ryding - a soft sheep's milk cheese that resembles brie but with a sheepy funk.
Sturminster Coastal Cheddar - a wonderfully mature cheddar with crunchy crystals embedded within - we thought it was salt but the website says its actually calcium crystals from the maturing process
Stickland Goats Cheese - a goat cheddar aged for three months with a nutty flavor and dry texture
Gunstone - an unpasteurized semi hard washed rind curd cheese with a light, buttery taste
The blue cheese lovers in our bunch enjoyed the Exmoor Blue and the Cornish Blue.

We camped in the grounds of The Plough, which is a great pub as well. I highly recommend this for a weekend of amazing cheese and tons of fun.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bon Bon Chicken

As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it was something I would enjoy. Perfect for when you want something healthy but still incredibly tasty - makes for great packed lunches as well, especially if your workplace doesn't have a microwave for heating up food. 

Bon Bon Chicken
Adapted from Serious Eats


1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ cup Shaoxing wine (I used Noilly Prat dry vermouth)
2 green onions, chopped into approximately 3 inch lengths
1 inch fresh ginger, sliced thinly
1 Thai bird's eye chili, cut in half
2 ½ teaspoons whole black, white, or Sichuan peppercorns
2 large cucumbers, peeled
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro


Place the chicken in a large pot. Add the wine, green onions, 3/4 of the ginger, 1 teaspoon of the Sichuan peppercorns, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cook for 3 1/2 minutes. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool for a few minutes. Also remove the spring onion and ginger slices and reserve for the sauce. Then thinly slice the chicken against the grain.

Quarter the cucumbers and scoop out the seeds. Then slice into 1/4-inch thick half-moons.

Combine the reserved spring onion and ginger from the poaching liquid, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, the rest of the Sichuan peppercorn, rest of the ginger, garlic, sugar, and cilantro in a blender. Process until smooth.

Place the cucumber pieces in a deep bowl. Top with the shredded chicken, and pour on the sauce. Tos thoroughly to combine. Garnish with more cilantro.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ben's Chili Bowl

1213 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20009

Ben's Chili Bowl is an institution and boasts pictures of all sorts of dignitaries that have visited (Obama! Sarkozy!) Seeing as how it's a hop, skip and jump away from J's apartment, it was inevitable that I would drag myself there at some point to try a half smoke. We ordered them to go, since the restaurant was packed and we thought it would be more comfortable to eat at J's - this worked well except that when I unwrapped my half smoke it was so disgusting to look at that I couldn't post the picture here. It's basically a sausage with a ladle full of chili piled on top, and then some orange grated cheese. No worries, it still tasted pretty good - it's greasy, heavy food, and I wouldn't necessarily eat another one, but sometimes experiences are worth having just to have them.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Eatonville Restaurant

2121 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

Eatonville was our last proper meal in DC - a wedding brunch for the happy couple! I chose the shrimp with cheesy grits - yummy. The shrimp were tender and juicy and paired well with the creamy bed of grits. A, who is still dubious about grits, went with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and collard greens. He was happy with that, but of course also wanted to try the biscuits with eggs and sausage gravy - lucky for him, M only ate half of his biscuits so A managed to snaffle some of that as well. The iced tea came served in cute little mason jars with handles (though the sweet tea was actually too sweet, so we ended up mixing sweet tea and regular tea to make something drinkable). All in all, a nice place for a group brunch - wouldn't go out of my way to go there, but I'd also be happy if someone suggested it.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Old Ebbitt Grill

675 15th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005-5702

Old Ebbitt Grill is where J & A had their rehearsal dinner, and what a great choice. It's big inside, with a lot of happy groups of diners, and it's upscale enough to introduce two families to each other, without being stuffy. As soon as I saw lobster on the menu, I had to have it - and at $18.95 for the 1 1/4 pound lobster above, with coleslaw, fries and drawn butter, I thought it was fabulous value. I demolished the lobster, egged on by B across the table, who had many childhood summers in Maine. Apologies if the sight of me tearing into the head of the lobster was too graphic for a rehearsal dinner - it was so good I couldn't stop though. There was an amazing bowl of clam chowder to start as well, and everyone who had the crab cakes couldn't stop raving about how packed with crab meat they were. Thumbs up all around - which is good going when you're gathering about 20 people together for dinner.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Great Wall Szechuan House

1527 14th Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20005-3706

Another fantastic place not too far from J's place - he took our family there on our last visit to DC and we ordered everything at full spicy strength, which blew our heads off. This time, we wisely requested the dishes to be made at half strength, which was still plenty spicy. Favorites are the double cooked pork belly (in picture above), the dan dan noodles and the bok choy sauteed with garlic. We also ordered the house special chow mein, which was fine, and salt and pepper shrimp were pretty good, but couldn't hold a candle to our amazing place in Austin, Tien Jin. I think the Szechuan specialties at this place are the standouts - stick to those and you won't be too disappointed, as long as you can handle the ma la spiciness!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Belgo (Oktoberfest)

Belgo is a chain of Belgian restaurants in London - the flagship being the one in Covent Garden which can do 400 covers at a time. While Oktoberfest is German in origin, the Belgians love their beer as well and Belgo has decided to co-opt the idea with a special Oktoberfest menu, matching beers to each option on the menu. I was invited to attend a preview of the menu where we could taste all of the dishes available, along with their paired beers, and also find out more about the beers from the Belgo Beermaster. Every Wednesday, you can book a "Pilgrimage" which consists of a three course meal, with a different beer served with each course, for £33 (which is pretty decent value when you consider that three Belgian beers would usually run you around £15 on their own). Here's the menu:

Parsnip and ginger soup, paired with Jupiler Pilsner (the ginger frites sprinkled on top were great)
Moules Mariniere, paired with Belgo Witbier (made by the same brewery as Hoegaarden)
Champagne, duck and truffle terrine, paired with De Koninck Blonde

Carbonnade of braised beef cooked in Faro beer and served with Witcap Stimulo beer
Mushroom Bouchee, paired with Palm Amber
Moules Portugaises, paired with Bruges Zot Blonde (yummy chorizo)

Pear poached in raspberry beer served with lemon sorbet, paired with Floris Apple
Belgian Chocolate Pudding, paired with Westmalle Double
Belgian waffle, paired with Mort Subite Gueuze (ohh this waffle was amazingly tasty)

My favorite pairings were the beef with Witcap Stimulo, the pear with Floris Apple, and the Belgian waffle withMort Subite Gueuze. A also really loved the Westmalle Double. I also enjoyed the parsnip soup and both moules preparations - can't go wrong with mussels in a Belgian restaurant! Catch this if you can - it runs through the month of October and is a rare opportunity to learn about how well Belgian beers go with food.