Just in case you’d forgotten (as though I’d let you!), back in March I was the proud (and extremely surprised) winner of the first Food Debate, shouting out for cheese. Although there was no prize proffered beforehand, when I stepped down from the stage, organiser James came over to tell me that there was a prize, if I wanted it, of two places at his newly launched supper club, The Secret Larder.

If I wanted it? IF I WANTED IT? I was absolutely thrilled to be awarded such a generous gift. Not only had I been able to participate in a worthwhile fundraiser, not only had I experienced the adrenalin rush (and fear) of debate, not only had I won but now I had a great evening to look forward to! Result!

The first few dates of the supper club were already fully booked so I put my name down for mid-May and waited, (impatiently) for the date to roll around. My friend Jen of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours joined me for the evening and we made our way to a top floor flat in a converted old school building somewhere in North London.

James shares the flat with his very lovely sister Mary and they run the supper club together, along with service and washing up help from friends.

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It’s a gorgeous flat. A huge open-plan living area with high ceilings, vast windows, a modern kitchen along one wall and plenty of space and light. A stunning room and one that’s giving me house envy, big time. I love the warm and quirky decorating style too with an eclectic mix of furniture, paintings, pot plants and fairy lights.

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Jen and her moscow mule chatting to James

The Secret Larder has a BYOB policy (no corkage but a glass for the hosts wouldn’t go amiss) so first things first, various bottles were squeezed into the fridge or popped onto a side table. Warm welcomes out of the way, we were surprised with a tall glass of vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime. This divine concoction is apparently known as a moscow mule. Why have I never come across this before? With my sweet tooth and dislike for beer and wine, this is right up my street!

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James working on the crackling

As the rest of the guests arrived, we mingled in the seating area (popping over to peer at James toiling away in the kitchen now and then). One of the joys of attending supper clubs is the opportunity to meet fellow guests and there were some fascinating people including a professional photographer who I wished I’d had more time to chat to.

To my delight, another blogger friend, Louis was also attending and better still, James had seated him with Jen and I for the evening. The only downside was that the three of us were at a tiny table of our own. Whilst I had a blast chatting to Jen and Louis I would really have liked us to be on one of the two large tables, to enjoy the full social side of the supper club scene.

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James making the ox tongue fritters

Once most of the guests had arrived (minus the two no-shows, James’ first such cads) we were shown to our seats where pre-starters of ox tongue fritters with horseradish were served. Also on the table were radishes and some fresh butter to go with the home-made soda bread served shortly afterwards.

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ox tongue fritters with horseradish

The ox-tongue fritters were decent, though much better when sprinkled generously with the sea salt provided on each table. Some guests seemed more willing to eat them before being told what they were, but overall, they went down well.

With the soda bead came the first great entertainment of the evening. Beautifully presented in pretty serving dishes lined with thick napkins, James held the bread dish over the table for us to help ourselves. As we were chatting about the ox tongue fritters (as you do) we suddenly noticed the napkin had caught fire from the candle below. The wide-eyed, panicked wail for big sister, Mary, who subsequently averted disaster, transformed our unflappable and usually debonair host into helpless little brother. I was laughing far too hard to capture any of this on camera!

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cucumber soup with salmon tartare and cucumber pickle

The starter was my favourite course of the night – the chilled cucumber soup with salmon tartare and cucumber pickle was stunningly well balanced refreshing cold soup, fresh, oily, delicate salmon and wonderfully sweet, light cucumber pickle. It took will power not to race around the room stealing everyone else’s portions of this lovely dish.

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Jen and Louis

By this time, the room was buzzing, everyone’s bottles were flowing, faces were smiling… James, Mary and Hero (tonight’s helper) brought out generously piled plates of roast pork belly with Jersey royals, savoy cabbage and cider vinegar. With crackling, I cannot forget that crackling! My pork was actually dry and a little tough, but I could see that I happened to receive an edge bit – the meat on my companions’ plates was perfectly moist and fall-apart tender. The vibe was relaxed enough that I knew I could have asked for a swap but I was already so full (and aware that dessert was still to come) that I was happy enough with the very lovely potatoes and cabbage, a couple of mouthfuls of the pork and that delicious crackling (extras of which were brought around shortly after the mains were served). For me, a fair rather than amazing course.

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the buzz; roast pork belly with Jersey royals, savoy cabbage and cider vinegar

During the breaks between courses, it was nice to look around at the lovely arty knick-knacks including a sweet little display of random keep-sakes on a shelf in the bathroom. The little typed message is by Mary, but never made it to the intended recipient, though I forgot to ask whether the teacup did!

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arty knick-knacks

The team were still hard at work in the kitchen and James put the finishing touches to his lemon polenta cake. It was every bit as delicious as it looked, the polenta (and the talents of the cook) locked in lots of moisture and the citrus kick was delightful.

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worker bees; lemon polenta cake

Already full to what I thought was capacity before the lemon cake, I somehow managed to squeeze it in. At which point James mentioned petits fours. My reply that I was so full I’d really like to lie myself flat on the floor groaning resulted in a comment from James that I was welcome to lie down on his bed instead. The millisecond of silence followed by hysterical (and somewhat drunken) guffaws from all three at our table resulted in James’ second (and much more extreme) panic-stricken look of the evening as the poor young lad realised it might sound rather too much like a proposition. Many flustered protestations followed, which only made the giggling worse. Don’t worry James, I’m happy to remain firmly in cyber aunt territory and have no designs on your boudoir!

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petits fours

To round the evening off we were offered tea or coffee (served to the table in cafetières) and the beautiful petits fours. The amaretti biscuits dipped in chocolate were my favourite, though the crystallised ginger cubes and physallis fruits similarly treated were also lovely. And wow, those home-made truffles definitely stole Jen’s chocolate-loving heart.

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James showing off his chocolate-dipping talents

The meal over, some of us moved back across to the seating area to chat amongst ourselves, and with our lovely hosts. Sadly, it was a school night, so it wasn’t long before the majority made moves homewards, though James and Mary were in no rush to chivvy anyone out.

All in all, a lovely evening and even more so being an unexpected and wonderful prize. More than worth the £25 donation James and Mary suggest – I can readily understand why some guests leave more. New dates book up very quickly once announced, so if you want to visit, keep an eye on the website or ask James to add you to the supper club’s mailing list.

May 282010
 

I have posted before about Matcha Chocolat, one of the new quality chocolatiers on the block launched just a few months ago by Katie Christoffers, who is keen to marry the delights of good quality chocolate with the equal wonders of tea.

Since we met for an interview, after she first sent me her original Emperor’s Selection box to review (I subsequently put in an order of my own) I’ve been keeping in touch regularly, keen to show support for this fledgling business, one I admire greatly. You can read more about the inspiration for and launching of the business on my original post, and you can find lots more information on Katie’s website, including a page on ingredients, Matcha’s green policy and of course, her product range.

What I’d really like to draw your attention to today is Katie’s absolutely fantastic blog featuring beautifully written articles on tea history, culture and processing as well as a selection of delectable tea recipes. Not many new blogs are so well presented and such an enjoyable read. Don’t be fooled by it’s integration into the business website into thinking it’s a thinly veiled commercial blog – not at all, it’s a rich and fascinating read and quite separate to the beautiful chocolates on sale in the shop. I absolutely recommend this blog to any fellow teaphiles out there.

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Her new Jade Collection is going on sale in June and includes delicious china rose beauties, white chocolate green tea squares with a pretty gold design imprinted on then, dark chocolate domes filled with green tea liqueur and matcha, dark strawberry chocolates and the popular masala chai variety in the centre.

May 272010
 

Wishing my lovely husband a very happy birthday!

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Pete with the lovely cake presented to him at the pre-birthday birthday dinner at Bob Bob Ricard a couple of nights ago!
 

I first learned of Reiko Hashimoto-Lambert’s Japanese cookery lessons, held in the spacious kitchen of her Wimbledon Park home, by way of Luiz, the London Foodie’s blog post last year. Luiz has attended most of Reiko’s Hashi Cooking classes during the last 3 years and often puts what he’s learned to good practice, much to the delight of lucky dinner guests.

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I, on the other hand, have always felt quite nervous about attempting Japanese cooking at home and have no experience of it whatsoever. So I was absolutely delighted when Luiz invited me to attend a special blogger session he and Reiko put together to show us what Hashi Cooking is all about. Yes, please, count in me for that!

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Tamarind & Thyme, Gourmet Chick, Greedy Diva, Gastrogeek, The Wine Sleuth and myself duly arrived to a warm welcome from Reiko and Luiz, who was playing the part of Reiko’s class assistant for the evening.

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Usually, Reiko offers four different evening courses, each of which run across four sessions – these are Beginners, Home Cooking, Gourmet and Master Chef. In each course, students are taken through four dishes (plus countless techniques and tips) during each of the four sessions. At the end of each session, students enjoy the dishes prepared and Reiko also provides tips on presentation and traditional table manners. Also available are her single session Saturday Sushi & Sashimi classes.

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For our special blogger session, Reiko took two dishes from her beginners course and two from the gourmet to give us a great overview of her wide repertoire, a range of ingredients, lots of different techniques and a great insight into her relaxed but meticulous teaching style.

The four dishes we learned during the evening were beef tataki with creamy sesame sauce, gyoza dumplings, grilled scallops on sushi rice with creamy spicy sauce and cold soba noodles with spicy aubergine.

On arrival, our places were set with folders containing all four recipes as well as a handy glossary and a suppliers list of stores where we could find the more esoteric ingredients. I appreciated having these in advance so I could scribble extra tips and notes onto the pages throughout the evening.

In order not to waste precious teaching time, Reiko prepares all the basic ingredients in advance. This means the entire session can be devoted to the interesting stuff allowing us to cover four dishes without feeling rushed in the slightest.

As some dishes needed resting, marinating or cooling time, we switched between the dishes during the evening, but each of the recipes remained really clear and straightforward.

The class provided a mix of demonstration (for which we all had a great view – the advantage of small class sizes around a large central island) and hands-on so we could properly get to grips with the tricky knack of correctly folding gyoza. I made a few I was proud of but some of mine looked rather ungainly next to those made by the nimblest fingers!

Anytime any of us had a question, Reiko took time to answer it fully and all the extra information and tips she crammed in made this single session very rich in terms of what we learned.

It was also a pleasure to learn about Reiko’s background as an air stewardess, during which time she really learned about good food, travelling the world and eating out wherever she went and also preparing high quality food during her time in the first class cabin. From this start, it was a natural progression for Reiko to share her passion with food and she began teaching Japanese cooking to the foreign community in Tokyo before moving to the UK, where she has been teaching for over ten years.

What’s next for Reiko? A project I’m rather excited about as I can’t wait to read it; Reiko is working on a cookery book featuring many of her tried, tested and much-loved recipes which should be coming out next year.

Find out more about the classes at Hashi Cooking’s website or call Reiko on 020 8944 1918. The Saturday sushi and sashimi class costs £120. The evening classes cost from £240 to £280 for four sessions.


The first dish we learned – seared fillet of beef served on a bed of onion and radish with a creamy sesame sauce and deep fried garlic chips – was definitely my favourite of the evening though I really enjoyed all four. It’s the first one I’ll be trying at home!

Reiko’s Beef Tataki with Creamy Sesame Sauce
Ingredients

400 gram beef fillet
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
¼ daikon (mooli radish), very thinly sliced

For garlic chips:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

For the sesame sauce:
4 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon water (optional, depending on thickness of tahini paste)

Note: Beef fillet is usually quite thick, so Reiko usually cuts it into quarters along it’s length.

Method

  • First make the garlic chips. Heat oil in a small frying pan, add the thinly sliced garlic and fry gently over a low heat, for about 5-6 minutes. Once the garlic begins to colour, remove and drain on kitchen paper. Be careful not to cook until golden as they will continue to cook after draining.
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  • Soak the thinly sliced onion and radish in salted water for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse well and squeeze the water out completely.
  • Heat a frying pan until hot. Brush the beef with the oil (use your hands!) and cook in the hot pan until browned all over. It is important to seal the beef all over, including the ends, first and then continue cooking to desired level.

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  • Once the beef is cooked to the level you wish, remove from the pan and marinade in a mixture of soy sauce and mirin, which will be re-used for the sesame sauce later. Make sure all the juices from the pan go into the soy sauce mixture as well.
  • Set the beef aside for at least 30 minutes. This makes it easier to slice and also allows it to absorb flavours from the sauce.
  • To make the sesame sauce, remove the beef from the soy and mirin sauce (and set aside). Add the tahini paste, sugar and water and mix well. (Reiko warned us that the sauce may split initially but if you keep mixing, it will re-combine into a smooth creamy sauce).

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  • Slice the beef (about 5mm thick).
  • Plate the dish with mounds of onion and radish, a slice of beef, a generous spoon of the sesame sauce and a sprinkle of the garlic chips.

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Here are some pictures from the other 3 dishes we learned:

Gyoza Dumplings

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Grilled Scallops on Sushi Rice with Creamy Spicy Sauce

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Cold Soba Noodles with Spicy Aubergine

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Wild garlic is enjoying a surge in popularity this year, or so it seems to me.

I first had it only last year, at Konstam and absolutely loved the pervasive garlic flavour in the wilted leaves. At around the same time a porkchop-blagging blogger quickly became London’s best-known source. A few months later, it entered my consciousness again, when Mat Follas named his restaurant for it. This year, I’ve seen it mentioned, bartered and used in a variety of recipes by food blogger and twitter friends.

By the way, in the UK, when we talk about wild garlic we’re usually referring to ramsons (allium ursinum), a wild relative of chives. From wiki, I learn that “the Latin name owes to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs and habit of digging up the ground to get at them” which also explains another of it’s aliases: bear’s garlic.

It was my turn to get in on the wild garlic action. But where to get some? My downright desperate appeals to the porkchop meister had gone unheeded. Luckily, a friend was willing to share his secret location (on the basis of my not passing it on, so don’t ask!) and it wasn’t long before I was pushing my way through some dense woodland foliage to access the pungent plants.

This was back at the beginning of May, so the flowers were just in bud. I harvested only leaves, taking care not to disturb the bulbs, damage the plants or take the buds.

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I wasn’t too adventurous with my first bounty, following MarkyMarket‘s suggestion of stuffing leaves into a chicken’s cavities before roasting it. I also smeared copious amounts of butter onto the skin a la Simon Hopkinson; this is now my default treatment for very quick and succulent roast chicken. The wild garlic stuffing worked wonderfully – the leaves gave a very subtle hint of flavour to the bird and I enjoyed them as a side vegetable too.

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Having picked enough leaves to also make soup, but not being in the mood to make it once i got home, I blitzed the remaining leaves raw with oil and froze them. I’m hoping this paste will work as a starting point to a wild garlic pesto (adding pine nuts and parmesan after defrosting) or maybe a simple pasta sauce (with some pancetta fried in the wild garlic oil mixture.

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May 242010
 

Who knew there’s a national day for snails? Yes, today, the 24th May 2010 is apparently National Escargot Day. Why we can’t use the English word for these garden molluscs (or slugs with armour, as I think of them) I’m not sure, but there you go, or should that be escargot?

The internet today abounds with suitably slimy puns about shellebrating these unassuming little squidgy invertebrates, not least of which Cafe Rouge‘s celebration of the snail – it took me a few seconds to realise that (in their URL) they’ve abbreviated National Escargot Day, rather than decided to give all snails the friendly nickname Ned!

Cafe Rouge kindly sent me a snail day parcel including recipe card and ingredients for a few easy snail dishes, which I’ll be trying this week, probably in classic garlic butter with some crusty white bread, a dish I enjoy in France from time to time but have never made myself.

It’s also a rather well timed day, given some blogger friends’ recent mutterings about gathering some common or garden snails for their tables. This blog has some great tips on finding, keeping, purging and preparing such snails before cooking them in a variety of different ways.

Have you ever harvested snails from your garden to eat? If so, how did you get on?

 

My twitter friends are great. Particularly when I’m looking for restaurant recommendations, such as a pre-show dining option before giggling at Bill Bailey live at the Leicester Square Theatre during the early May bank holiday weekend.

Food and film guru, DineHard (previously known as Lambshank Redemption) was most helpful of all, putting forward several spot-on suggestions, one of which was The Forge, on the corner of Garrick and Floral Streets.

The Forge fit the bill perfectly – a short walk from the theatre, tempting food, a competitively priced set menu (and reasonable prices on the a la carte too), open on a Sunday and tables available. And, of course, recommended by someone whose food opinions I trust.

I didn’t know, until I looked up The Forge’s website, that it’s the third London restaurant in the stable of Robert Seigler, who also owns Le Café du Jardin (which I’ve been to) and Le Deuxieme (which I haven’t). Head chef Andrew Barber started his career working for Nico Ladenis before moving onwards and upwards. A good pedigree, then.

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The decor is pleasing: high ceilings, arched windows, exposed brickwork, simple clean lines of white-painted plaster work and elegantly set tables, lifted by a little colour from teal dining chairs. It worked for me!

On arriving just before 6 pm we were the first to be seated but it wasn’t long before other diners appeared, and by the time we left, the dining room was quite busy.

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On being given a la carte menus only, I asked about set menus and was then given their lunch time, pre- and post-theatre menu – a very reasonable £13.50 for two courses or £16.50 for three. A nice touch is that coffee is also included.

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The wine list is extensive and global. Even though I’m not the wine drinker, I made a random pick for Pete, choosing from one of the many <£20 bottles available. He seemed to enjoy the Candidato Tempranillo, Vino de la Tierra (Castilla) 2009 (£17.50) which he described as a fruity, light red.

I confused the waiter by ordering a dessert wine as an aperitif, especially as I ended up nursing my delicious glass of Quady Elysium Black Muscat (USA) 2007 (£6.25) through much of the meal!

I’m afraid, for the purposes of writing a review, we didn’t choose well – both of us opted for the same starter and main!

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The butternut squash, coconut and chilli soup was thick, creamy and absolutely delicious. The combination of sweet squash and coconut worked very well. The chilli was very subtle indeed (which I was happy about, not being a huge fan of very hot food). I ate mine with copious amounts of fresh white bread and butter. A very good start.

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Both of us enjoyed our steak bavette with pommes allumettes and bearnaise sauce. The steak was flavoursome, and more tender than bavette can sometimes be. The matchstick fries were lovely and crispy. The bearnaise was a little mild for my tastes, but flecked with fresh tarragon.

Dessert was a more difficult choice. The parfait of the day was an unappealing combination, so much so that I can no longer bring to mind what it was! Neither of us were in the mood for fresh fruit and sorbet. And I didn’t much fancy the creme brulee either.

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Pete did choose the creme brulee and rather liked the alcohol soaked dried fruit on top, though he wasn’t so impressed with the texture of the custard and, given the shallowness of the dish, there was too thick a layer of burnt sugar for the little custard beneath.

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I ordered from the main dessert menu and chose the apple tarte tatin with calvados creme fraiche (£6.50). I didn’t care for it much, I’m afraid. The whole affair was soggy and had, in my opinion, been made too far in advance. I didn’t like the combination of calvados with creme fraiche and the sharp tang of the cream didn’t help cut through the slightly sickly sweetness of the apples as I’d expected it to.

So desserts were the let down of a meal that had otherwise satisfied. And satisfied well enough that we’ll still likely go back.

After coffee (and tea for me), it didn’t take long to settle our bill and saunter across to Leicester Square Theatre for an evening of giggles and singing with Bill Bailey.

The only other slight niggle was that, as other customers came in after us, I noticed they were ordering from a set menu that clearly offered more choice and also included half a bottle of wine per person. I didn’t think much of it until the couple at the table next to us had some particularly delicious desserts arrive, though I’d also been impressed by the look of a generous fritto misto main. Whilst one took a trip to the facilities, I asked her dining partner about the menu they had chosen from to learn that the restaurant is currently offering a special 2010 menu on Sunday and Monday evenings, priced at £20.10 for three courses and wine. This is the menu that all three of the tables that arrived after us were given. It offered a greater choice of dishes for all three courses and included the same steak frites main we’d both enjoyed. As we left, I asked whether this 2010 menu was only available to customers who had booked it advance, the answer was no, so I was a little disappointed we had not been offered it ourselves, when asking about set menus on arrival. Especially as the desserts appealed a lot more! I asked how much longer it would be available, and the response was a non-committal shrug, so it may be worth asking specifically about it if you visit on a Sunday or Monday evening.

Forge on Urbanspoon
May 202010
 

Krista over at Londonelicious is currently blogging profiles of a range of food bloggers.

Here’s mine!

May 172010
 

Looking for dinner as close to Waterloo station as possible, Canteen at Royal Festival Hall popped into mind. This self-declared “casual all day dining” establishment offers simple, classic British cuisine in a modern, informal setting – just what we needed.

Having reserved a booth, I was surprised at how tight these are for anyone but the skinniest of skinny minnies. Larger booths were reserved for groups of 5 or 6 minimum. We’d have switched to a regular table if these came with chairs rather than stools – perching on a stool for anything more than a very quick drink or bite is a pet hate of mine. So we remained wedged into our booth banquettes.

The lads ordered pints of one of the beers on draft, I forget which. They took an age being served, but went down well.

I opted for a non-alcoholic cocktail called English Rose. Normally consisting of apple juice, cranberry juice and rose syrup, I requested they skip the cranberry juice. The resulting apple juice with rose syrup was very refreshing.

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The menu is divided into Breakfast And All Day, Starters/ Small Dishes, Main Dishes, Sides and Desserts and is full of comforting classics such as sausage and roast onion sandwich (£ 5.75), fish finger sandwich (£ 5.75), spinach and Lancashire cheese tart (£ 6.75), macaroni cheese (£ 8.50), daily pies, roasts and stews (priced individually on the daily specials menu) and steak and chips (£16.75).

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Two of us each ordered a pint of prawns with mayonnaise (£ 7.00). I really enjoyed these – fresh, sweet and succulent and wonderful with the mayonnaise. Every one in my pint glass had a generous volume of vivid orange roe slung beneath, which I greedily slurped before shelling and popping the prawns themselves. My friend would have appreciated the option of a half pint serving but I happily devoured my way through a whole pint without spoiling my appetite for the next course!

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Pete ordered the hot buttered Arbroath smokie (£ 8.50). This is something he’d never have chosen only a few months ago, so the resolution to eat more fish is holding, thanks in no small part to the Billingsgate course we attended several weeks ago. The serving was generous, enough for a main course, with the addition of a side or two. And delicious!

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For his main, Pete chose sausages and mash with onion gravy (£ 9.50), a perfectly decent dish, though I wouldn’t rate it as excellent.

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Our friend had one of the daily specials, a stew with duck and pearl barley. It wasn’t the most appetising dish to look at (even as stews go) and it wasn’t to my taste either, but he seemed happy enough with it.

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I chose roast free range chicken, garlic mayonnaise and chips (£ 9.50 for leg and thigh, £ 12.50 for wing and breast). I asked to swap the chips for duck fat roasted potatoes and our waitress kindly brought out some gravy, on request. In retrospect, I should probably have stuck to the chips – the roasties were OK but had become a little tough, perhaps sitting under a heat lamp for too long after coming out of the oven? As for the meat, it was only OK – the skin was flaccid rather than crisp and the meat wasn’t as tender as I’d hoped, or as flavoursome.

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For dessert I chose the rice pudding with jam (£ 5.25). Hot, thick, rich, creamy – this pudding took me on a saunter straight down memory lane. Particularly nice was that the rice pudding itself was not too sweet, with the rich raspberry jam providing most of the sugar hit. It was served with a crunchy biscotti, which gave a nice texture contrast, though I could have done with a second one, ideally! Very nice indeed.

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Both the lads chose cider brandy syllabub (£ 5.75) and enjoyed it immensely. Soft, pillowy smoothness with a decent cider brandy hit and good with the buttery biscuits that came alongside.

Service was genuinely friendly and helpful, though it often proved difficult to get a staff member’s attention when we wanted it. It didn’t help that one or two staff were so rigid about which tables were and weren’t theirs that they did a sterling job of avoiding eye contact and gestures. But our main waitress was all smiles, happy to answer menu questions, give advice on choices and deal with any minor issues. For example, I wasn’t too keen on coffees being served significantly before desserts but a (polite) explanation and request saw mine taken back and a fresh one brought out to me after my dessert had been eaten; the boys decide to hang on to theirs when they came.

So, can Canteen deliver or can’t it?

On this showing, and a previous brunch visit, I’d say it can, so long as your expectations are realistic. This isn’t the place to visit if you’re looking for break-the-mould innovation or a truly sublime eating experience. What it does, and does very well, is deliver simple familiar comfort food competently executed, reasonably priced and delivered with a (slightly rushed but genuine) smile.

Canteen on Urbanspoon
Addendum: a couple of weeks after this visit, I went again. The smoked mackerel and potato salad ( £7.50) was decent, as was the pint of prawns I had again. My friend and I also shared a macaroni cheese (£8.50) and a fish finger sandwich (£5.75), both of which we enjoyed. It took a while to get a table, longer than we’d been told when we arrived, but once seated, service was good.

Addendum: sadly, I had a really poor experience during a visit in early 2011. Wrong drinks and dishes served, a very long wait for them to be corrected, despite being nearly empty, items on the plate being very stale and generally poor service. We did have some items removed from the bill (though not service, until we requested).

I can no longer recommend Canteen, based on my last visit.

 

We love visiting our friends Mark & Martine, not least because we always eat well and it’s nice to have a late night soak in their outdoor hot tub after a day pottering about. We’ve known them since uni days (longer ago than needs to be mentioned). Back then, I’d never have pegged Mark as someone who’d get into cooking in such a big way, especially the baking and puddings! Then again, I’d never have put Pete and I down as such enthusiastic kitchen gardeners – our glee at our new greenhouse a couple of years ago verged on the demented!

One of the lovely meals Mark cooked for us last year was a chilli con carne recipe with chorizo and chocolate. It was delicious – the spicy flavour of the chorizo and the bitter-sweet cocoa gave the finished dish a wonderful, complex flavour.

Mark gave me a copy of the Nigella recipe he had used, with tips on some adaptations. I’ve made quite a few more tweaks of my own (including switching cubed beef shin for minced beef) and have re-written the method too.

It took me about 10-15 minutes to measure out and prepare all the ingredients, then about 30 minutes to do all the stove top steps before popping the dish into the oven for three hours.

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Chocolate & Chorizo Chilli Con Carne
Adapted from Nigella’s Choc Chip Chilli from Nigella Christmas

Ingredients
250 grams cooking chorizo, chopped into small pieces (I used Unearthed’s Spanish cooking chorizo)
800 grams minced beef
Approximately 250 grams (2 medium) onions peeled and chopped
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Seeds from 1 large brown cardamom pod
1 teaspoon ground cumin (see Notes, will use 2 teaspoons next time)
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (see Notes, will use 1 teaspoon next time)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (see Notes, perhaps 1 teaspoon next time)
1/2 teaspoon my home-made very very hot chilli powder}
1-2 tablespoons double concentrated tomato puree
1 can red kidney beans, drained (400 grams can, 250 grams drained weight)
800 grams tinned chopped tomatoes
40 grams dark chocolate, chopped
Additional water, as required (I added about 250 ml)

Method

    • Preheat oven to 300°F/150°C.

 

  • Finely chop the onion and garlic.

 

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  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy oven proof pan with a lid and sauté the onion and garlic over low heat until soft (about 10 minutes).
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  • Add the cardamom seeds and the cumin, coriander, cinnamon and chilli powders and stir thoroughly.
  • After a couple of minutes, add the chorizo pieces and fry until they leak their aromatic orange oil.
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  • Add the minced beef in batches, to make it easier to brown the meat. Cook until all the beef is nicely browned.
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    • Add the tomato puree, drained kidney beans and chopped tomatoes and stir well. Add water at this point, if there’s not much liquid.

 

  • Bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir in the chocolate.

 

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  • Cover and bake in the oven for 3 hours. (Check once an hour through the cooking time and add water if looking too dry).
ChorizoChocChilli-1439
Chocolate & Chorizo Chilli Con Carne

Notes

I was pretty happy with the result, and Pete really loved it. The chorizo gave it’s unique, smoky flavour to the finished dish. The chocolate wasn’t obvious – it blended in completely but no doubt added to the richness.

My only change will be to double the amount of cumin and coriander, next time, and maybe up the cinnamon too, to give a stronger punch of that traditional chilli con carne taste.

Addendum: we’ve made this again several times and have indeed always doubled cumin and coriander from the amounts listed above. Works beautifully.
If you have any chilli con carne recipes or tips, please do let me know in the comments below! Thanks!

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