Thursday, June 27, 2013

Charleston Day 3

I have this weakness for Waffle House's hash browns, maybe because of nostalgia, so before dropping off V at the airport, we had a quick breakfast there and the hash browns were as satisfying as I remembered. AG, A and I also decided to have a quick whirl around the Tanger Outlets - I love shopping with boys as it is so ridiculously efficient. We all loaded up on exactly what we needed, and then headed off for Folly Beach to enjoy the sun. 

We took a long stroll down the sandy beach before finding the Folly Beach Crab Shack (26 Center St, Folly Beach, SC 29439) which seemed like a good sunny spot to enjoy a cold beer. The waitress also recommended the crab dip so we ordered it - what arrived was this mix of artificial crab, cream cheese, and some spices, which sounds like something I would usually hate, but instead it was surprisingly good on club crackers - we polished off the whole plate very quickly.

On our way back to Charleston proper, I noticed that we would be passing by Melvin's BBQ (719 Folly Rd, Charleston, SC 29412), and in the interests of educating A on the difference between South Carolina BBQ and North Carolina BBQ, we stopped for a plate of ribs and pulled pork. Fries and mac & cheese were the two sides we selected - neither of which were amazing - but the ribs more than made up for it. AG and A were both delighted and A spent the rest of our US trip looking for ribs but nothing was as good as these.

While we usually don't go back to the same place twice in one trip, we had noticed that there was a jazz happy hour at High Cotton that advertised a gypsy jazz / bluegrass band (complete with electric mandolin player!). Since A and I both play gypsy jazz and have recently ventured into a bit of bluegrass as well, we couldn't pass it up - and the $5 cocktails certainly helped. 

Continuing with the happy hour theme, we headed to The Gin Joint (182 E Bay St Charleston, SC 29401) which also had a short $5 cocktail menu - you could either have a Bee's Knees or a rye cocktail with Fernet Branca. I'd vote for the the Bee's Knees but my bias against rye whiskey might have a bit to do with that...

One more happy hour at Cypress (167 E Bay St, Charleston) - they do $5 burgers (but we hadn't even made it to dinner yet so we didn't partake). Instead, cocktails were ordered, including a twist on a mint julep for A, and fried mac & cheese (I know! Fried! What?!) 

Last but not least - Xiao Bao Biscuit (224 Rutledge Avenue, Charleston, SC) for dinner. While we were at Husk the day before, we started chatting with a couple who spend a lot of time visiting Charleston and eating well, and they highly recommended XBB (and especially the okonomiyaki, a cabbage pancake) to us. It's in an old gas station that's been painted in this beautiful shade of mint green and has a lot of exposed brickwork - perfect for their fusion Asian "soul food". I will second the recommendation - and definitely get the okonomiyaki.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Charleston Day 2

AG was happy to go to a jazz brunch with me and A, so on Sunday morning we got up and headed to High Cotton (199 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401). The band actually plays in the bar area, so we abandoned our restaurant reservation and sat at a bar table in order to see the action up close. Thankfully they serve the same menu in the bar, so we didn't have to sacrifice any food options. I went for crabcakes benedict, while A chose chicken and waffles (but this was done fancy-restaurant style, with a chicken breast rolled around sausage, sliced and then fried in discs). Everyone was happy, and the jazz was good, but like the last post, you'll have to wait a bit to see the chicken and waffles of our dreams.

After a tour of Charleston, we did some more strolling about in the historic district, and a bit of lazing around in a waterfront park. But of course, before long, it was time for cocktails.

After some silly attempts to sit at rooftop bars (it was way too windy) we ended up at Husk (76 Queen Street, Charleston, SC 29401), which is a very good thing as it was my favorite cocktail bar of the entire trip. We drank our way through what seemed like most of the cocktail list (especially since V had his flight cancelled and came back to join us), with my favorites being No Whey, Jose? (Si Senor, whey, Chocolat Royal, jalapeno muddled tequila, mole bitters), Edmund's Sherpa (Sage gin, mole bitters, lemongrass and white pepper simple syrup, pickled elderberries, lemon juice, Himalayan sea salt) and Lee's Nest (Vodka, cardamon bitters, strawberry black pepper jam, whey, confederate jasmine bitters). A loved the the barrel-aged Manhattan as well, but my aversion to bourbon and rye whiskey makes me too biased to judge. We also made our way through some bar bites, including BBQ pork neck, and a burger where bacon was ground into the beef patty. All of it was excellent, this would be the first place I would head if I found myself back in Charleston.

Next stop was Charleston Beer Works (468 King St, Charleston, SC 29403), which was described as a bar with a huge selection of beers. I would describe it more as a sports bar with pitchers and wings, and a few interesting beers (their list was long, but a lot were unavailable, which seems a little bit deceptive...) It being Sunday, wings were 25% off, and pitchers of Bud were only $8, so that's what we went with. Those who know me know my buffalo wing cravings are frequent and usually denied, so I was delighted to fulfill them here, and they were meaty, spicy and crispy - everything one wants in a buffalo wing.

But as I was with three men, wings were not going to be enough for dinner, so we walked a few doors down to Closed for Business (453 King St, Charleston, SC 29403). This is a proper craft beer bar. Even if AG hated his beer (tasted too much like bacon, he says).

And they have ridiculously artery-clogging items on the menu. To wit: CFB Fries (fries with gravy, cheddar cheese curds & minced red onion), Crispy Green Beans (individually battered and fried green beans), the Pork Slap (fried pork cutlet, house-smoked ham, swiss cheese, green tomato chutney & house sauce served on a challah bread bun), and the Spicy Chicken Sandwich (fried chicken, spicy red cabbage slaw, pepperjack and cheddar cheese, hot pepper mayo, served on a soft baguette). The fries were really oversalted, so we left quite a bit behind, but the rest was great, although we were all a little disgusted with ourselves after dinner.

To drown our self-disgust in booze, we ended at the cocktail bar upstairs from The Macintosh (479 King St, Charleston, SC 29403) where I had a virgin cocktail (designated driver, fun!) and the boys all had Bulleit rye whiskey (and A had a snooze). Getting back to the hotel for some sleep was the only logical conclusion to this day.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Charleston Day 1

More travel posts to come. A and I spent a little over a week in the US, visiting Charleston, Savannah, and Raleigh / Durham / Chapel Hill. There were some real highlights on this trip, and of course we ate very very well.

We arrived in Charleston on a Saturday evening and headed straight out to meet some friends who happened to be there at the same time. Hominy Grill (207 Rutledge Ave, Charleston, SC 29403) was a recommendation from one of AG's friends, who is a native of Charleston (Charlestonite? Charlestonian? Whatever.) After ebullient greetings, we sat down to stuff ourselves silly. Shared starters included Fried Green Tomatoes with ranch dressing, Okra & Shrimp Beignets with salsa & cilantro-lime sour cream and Jalapeno Hushpuppies with sorghum butter. The beignets were my favorites, followed closely by the fried green tomatoes. For mains, I chose some lowcountry dish called pine bark stew (or something like that, it's not on the menu any more) - it was full of seafood and just what I wanted after all the fried starters. A dove straight into a Big Nasty Biscuit (pictured above) with fried chicken breast, cheddar cheese and sausage gravy. He liked it, but you'll have to wait a few more posts to see the chicken cheddar biscuit of his dreams (and mine). And then of course, the dessert menu was so enticing that we ended up with pecan pie, red velvet cake, buttermilk pie AND a chocolate pudding. We all agreed the red velvet cake won, but there was a lot of disagreement about what should be second place. Let's just say it was all pretty damn top notch. Good start to a holiday, for sure.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chicken Shop

79 Highgate Road

The Soho House Group is certainly doing a good job of opening up restaurants heralded by a frenzy of press and queues. As P and I were meeting up with G in Kentish Town, we decided to try our luck at Chicken Shop, a no-reservations place that only sells rotisserie chicken. Thankfully, we were seated within 15 minutes and then the only decisions to be made were how much chicken, and how many side dishes. One and a half chickens, two portions of fries, and one portion each of butter lettuce & avocado salad and corn on the cob were quickly ordered and then we dug in shortly thereafter, all of us groaning in delight as we devoured crisp skinned, juicy chicken, alongside golden fries (and controversially, my favorite dish, the salad). I have tried to go back since then but learn from my mistakes - they aren't open on Sunday evening.

Edit: Just went back. It's still awesome.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Almond, polenta, orange and cardamom cake with honey and citrus syrup

A's brother T got married in Wales, and as part of the festivities guests were asked to supply cakes for a cake table. I needed something that would travel well and keep for a couple of days as I wasn't sure I'd have time to bake something on the day. This looked perfect for the gluten-free guests - a dense cake with some interesting spice to it (a little nod to T's time in India) and with the delicious nubbly crumb that almonds and polenta create. It's not the most beautiful cake to look at, but its fine eating qualities make up for it!

Almond, polenta, orange and cardamom cake with honey and citrus syrup
Adapted from Dan’s recipe which is in turn adapted from Nigel Slater‘s recipe in the Observer


220 g butter
220 g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
zest and juice of a unwaxed orange
300 g ground almonds
150 g polenta
1 tsp baking powder
12 green cardamom pods
for the glaze: juice of two oranges, two lemons and 4 tablespoons of honey


Line the base of the cake tin with a piece of baking parchment. Set the oven at 180° C/350 F.

Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy. You can do this by hand or in a mixer. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork, then stir into the mixture. Carefully grate the zest and then squeeze the juice from the orange. Add both the zest and the juice to the mixture. Mix the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder together, then fold into the mixture.

Crush the cardamom pods and extract the little black seeds, grinding them to a fine powder. Add the spice to the cake mixture.

Transfer the cake mixture to the lined tin and smooth the top level. Bake for 30 minutes, turn down the heat to 160 C for a further 25 minutes or until the cake is firm.

To make the syrup, squeeze the lemon and orange juice into a stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil and dissolve in the honey. Keep the liquid boiling until it has formed a thin syrup (4-5 minutes).

Spike holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its tin) with a skewer then spoon over the hot citrus syrup. Leave to cool, then lift out of the tin.