Monthly Archives: November 2012

Duke’s Brew and Que – Review

Ok, it’s official, I’ve been eating a lot of BBQ food recently.  It’s pretty hard to avoid in London at the moment.  However, I think I’ve done my dash, at least for a few weeks.  After going to Duke’s Brew and Que at the weekend, it has successfully quelled my desire for ribs.

Duke’s Brew and Que is in über cool Dalston and boy do you know it.  There are trendy’s hanging around outside, smoking rollies and sporting the ubiquitous oversized bobble hat.  Inside is not much different, it is wall to wall with achingly cool hipsters and the occasional bbq loving family.  There was one guy who was sporting a baseball jacket, I think he was an Americanophile.  On a cold winters night, it was a welcome haven.  Lots of wood and warm red light make you feel instantly comfortable.  After ordering a drink at the bar, we then perused the menu until the kitchen opened.  It is a short menu but this always gets brownie points from me.  So many places spread themselves too thin and try to please everyone; which is impossible.  So, stick to a simple formula and execute it well.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, they did not execute it well.

For a restaurant whose ribs are hailed in the Time Out top ten dishes of 2012, you go in with high expectations.  This, coupled with the knowledge that they imported a wood smoker from the states, definitely makes you think you’re in for a great rib experience.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t.  The two pork ribs arrived, as advertised, with a side of slaw.  I also ordered seasoned skinny fries and brussels sprouts (their specials were a nod to thanksgiving).  As soon as I looked at the ribs, I thought they looked a little dry and I was right.  There were tiny pockets of moist goodness but as a whole the ribs were tough and parched, although they were nicely smoky, I didn’t really enjoy the sauce in which they were basted either.  As much as I’d love to say that the side dishes redeemed them, they didn’t.  There was nothing wrong with them, there was just nothing right with them.  The sautéed sprouts showed no sign of seeing a hot pan or the butter  in which they were supposed to be cooked and the seasoned fries seemed to be lacking said seasoning.  Slaw which came with the ribs was not rich and creamy nor was it fresh and crunchy, it was in a kind of slaw no mans land.

I’m hoping that the chef was just having an off day, sometimes with a signature dish, things just get overlooked.  It is easy to assume that your tried and tested recipe will just work time and again but clearly someone took their eye off the ball on this occasion.  Duke’s Brew and Que is a warm, laid-back place which has a dedicated following, however, after my visit, I’m struggling to see why.  I’m going on rib detox for at least a month.  Wish me luck.

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For whom the bell tolls

The day was broken up by the sound of the bell.  A bell rung by hand, small and golden looking with a bulbous wooden handle.  The first bell of the day told us it was time for morning break time. This consisted of a quick run around the playground, and these were the days when the playground was a large field at the back of the school; and a small glass bottle of milk.  There were times of the year when I loved that milk, in the depths of winter when it was capped not only with a thin layer of cream but also a tiny frosting of ice.  And there were times when I had to force down that small bottle, that felt gargantuan because it had been warmed by the rare summer days and was at a terrible temperature.

My primary school will live forever in my memory as a wonderful place, it was of another time and not purely because it was a long time ago and I am officially getting on a bit but because it had an innocence about it which was quite unique.  It was a place that was a little bit magical, there were strange higgledy piggledy staircases which wound around the old building and the vegetables on our plate were from the school garden.  The food that I was served at such a formative age has possibly contributed to the path that I have chosen.  I knew from early in my life that good food can shape the rest of the day.  There is something undeniable about good food, of course it is completely subjective but there are some foods which most people would agree are truly a delight.  The apple flapjack which was served at my primary school was one of those dishes.

It was the kind of food that no matter how much you ate, no matter how full you were, no matter how sick you felt, you always wanted more.  Or, at least I did.  The simplicity was the key, it was just stewed apples with a flapjack topping.  But the thing I want to know, is which absolute bloody genius decided to combine the two?  Whoever they are, I think they should get some kind of medal of honour for services to food.  The smooth and sharp underbelly of stewed apples was hidden beneath a layer of chewy, rich, buttery flapjack which played a teasing game with your back teeth but made your soul sigh a little.  And to top it all off, this was all drenched in a giant puddle of homemade custard.  See; I told you my school was magical.

This is clearly a strong memory for me and a large part of me felt that I should not pursue its recreation.  So many times in life, I have revisited the past in the hope that the fond memories I had would be usurped by something better or at least as good as the original, they never have been.  Not a place, or a moment or a food has ever lived up to a memory, maybe that is the essence of a memory, it has a little gold spun through its core, a little thread of magic.  But similarly, a large part of me felt the need to have apple flapjack back in my life.  My sister and I were equally obsessed with it and asked for the recipe when we were maybe 8 or 9 and tried to make it at home and I remember us being disappointed… However, a few years ago, my sister tried a guessed recipe and I remember it being really tasty so we decided today that with our combined memories and sheer enthusiasm, we could make it work and work, it did.

Thank all the gods of food!  It was maybe not as good as the memory but it came close enough.  And as I sit here now, writing to you guys out there, drinking my lovely Chablis, listening to haunting music and feeling a little bit sick from eating too much apple flapjack, I am safe in the knowledge that food still has the capacity to shape the rest of the day.

Guessed apple flapjack

  • 4 Granny smith apples, peeled and chopped to varying sizes
  • Zest of 1 lemon and 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1tbs Caster sugar
  • 250g Porridge oats
  • 125g Butter
  • 125g Brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbs Golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees c

For the stewed apples, chop half the apples to roughly 1cm cubes and the other half to 2cm cubes. Combine in a saucepan with lemon and sugar and stew over a medium flame until the little bits are broken down and the chunkier bits are still firm. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the flapjack topping.  Combine all ingredients in a food processor until oats are slightly broken down but still retaining good chunky texture.  Now either pop in the microwave for 1 minute to loosen the mixture or put into a saucepan and warm until it becomes loose and pliable.  Remove from the heat.

Find a shallow serving dish which will nicely hold the apples, you want them to lay about 2cm deep.  Spread the apples across the base of the dish and then evenly spread the warmed flapjack mix across the top of the apples.  Put into the preheated oven for 15 minutes and then check, you want the flapjack to be a little bit dry and crispy looking around the edges, mine took about 25 minutes.  It depends on your oven… You want it a little bit chewy and a little bit crispy.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes, it will be like molten lava at first.  Serve to someone you love (possibly yourself) with lashings and lashings of good, proper homemade custard.

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Pitt Cue Co. – Smoky to the bone

As you may have noticed it is all about barbecue in the restaurant scene right now.  London could very easily end up featuring in Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives if we’re not careful.  Anyone who’s in the know is going to be putting some serious junk in their trunk this winter.  The junk food craze is no longer new, it has been kicking around in the UK for a couple of years now but it is fast food gone wild.  Wild in the sense that the animals you’re eating did actually grow up in the wild.  Gone are the days when you had to feel guilty for eating a burger or a chicken wing from some dodgy chain restaurant with highly negligible ethics.  Now, you can head down the street to some trendy little place in your neighbourhood and chow down on some seriously high quality food with some serious integrity.

And this is where Pitt Cue Co steps in.  What started as a food truck parked under Hungerford bridge has now metamorphosed into a not much bigger site in Soho.  Open since January, it has been much celebrated since it’s arrival on the corner of Newburgh street.  Head chef Tom Adams and co-founder Jamie Berger teamed up with the executive chef from Hawksmoor to create a place that has a clear sense of identity.  It is all about the meat and the booze.  Seems like a simple enough concept but you’d be amazed how many places get it wrong.  But this can certainly not be said for Pitt Cue Co.  With an admirably thoughtful and considered approach to sourcing their meat, they have strong relationships with their suppliers, who they visit regularly and even now have their own pigs, which one day, you might be lucky enough to be served up in their 24 seat dining room.

I was so enthusiastic to get to Pitt Cue Co that I walked past it; twice.  In my defence, it was quite late at this point and I was on the verge of collapsing from hunger.  As you walk into the tiny upstairs bar which has a few seats nestled behind the net curtains, you know you’re in for a good time.  Bourbon, the other PCC obsession adorns the bar, each bottle proudly displayed like a well-earned trophy.  Unfortunately, me being gluten free, I had to opt for a gin and tonic, which was fine by me, as they squeezed a lot of lime in it; just how I like it.  When you set up a tab at the bar, instead of being given a number, you are given a cow, with a number on it and the nice man with the clipboard informed me that it was anatomically correct too.  Phew!  I was getting a bit worried for a minute there.

It wasn’t long before I was led down to the dining room.  This is a very small space, I had read all the available information on it but it is still quite surprising when you actually get there. I think my handbag was bigger than the table.  However, this all just adds to the fun.  Who cares if you can hear your neighbours conversation, or if you gesticulate too wildly, you might get charged with assault? It’s all part of the vibe.  You go to PCC for some dirty food fun.  Once the lovely waitress informed me what I could and could not eat (damned Coeliac disease), I settled on the pork ribs with some salad and nduja mayonnaise.  When my food arrived in its functional and oh so quirky enamel tray, I was not concerned about the fact that I couldn’t have the bbq glaze, this was meat that could stand alone.

I tucked into my flirty little salad first, it comprised cabbage, beetroot, pomegranate and chervil amongst other things.  Now there are a couple of ingredients in that list which I usually find a bit mediocre but the combination was fantastic, it was a salad that made me momentarily forget that there were 3 massive pork ribs sitting uneaten on my tray.  As I picked up one of the ribs, the bone fell out, always a good sign in my book.  When I got stuck in, I was rewarded with a mouthful of meaty heaven, this really was smoky to the bone.  God knows what kind of crazy antics they’re getting up to back there in that tiny kitchen but I know it involves a smoker and I know it involves a charcoal grill and I absolutely know that the end result is lip smackingly, finger stickingly,wide grinningly awesome.  Now, I may have made some of those words up but I think they aptly tell the tale.  Ribs that are tender and pink and succulent and oh so smoky will always get my vote.

There is not much more to tell you, this is a venue which serves a few dishes and a lot of bourbon.  Pitt Cue Co does that simple thing, it sells great food which comes from great raw ingredients.  But it also does something which is a lot harder to achieve, it does it with flair and pizazz and vision.  And all this from a tiny venue with a head chef who is all but a child prodigy (not quite true, I think he’s 24).   I can very easily see Tom Adams and Pitt Cue Co taking over a neighbourhood near you and possibly the universe.  Watch this space…

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The Joint – Brixton Village – Reviewed

Where Jay Rayner goes, the rest of the world follows.  And luckily not too many people have picked up on him championing the brand spanking new ‘The Joint’; yet.  And so that meant that we only had to wait about ten minutes for our table today. Don’t get me wrong, I want them to be wildly successful and they will be but I also want to get a table.  I have decided to take up residence in Brixton village as good things can always be found there.  The Joint is a tiny venture, which does not yet have a sign, it’s that new.  There is little you can find out about it, I attempted to do my research before I ventured down the road to Brixton but alas, it is so cool that it is shrouded in mystery.  Either that or they’re just too busy making damn fine food to worry about minor details like people knowing what food they serve or who they are.

I was armed with all the knowledge I needed, Jay Rayner likes them, they do pulled pork, ribs, wings and corn.  I was sold.  It is kind of hard to work out where The Joint actually is, it is squeezed into a tiny shopfront with no sign but luckily the helpful man inside overheard me and confirmed that we had arrived.  We were promised a table in 15 minutes and I reckon we were seated in about 8 minutes.  Now, you do not go to Brixton village for comfort, you go for good, cheap food and the bubbling atmosphere.  The menu is short and sweet and therefore aids the indecisive among us.  Being gluten free and therefore a pain in the butt, I had to go and ask what was gluten free, bbq places are generally laden with worcestershire sauce or soy or both; which are the enemy of those with coeliac disease.  After ascertaining that I couldn’t have anything with their bbq sauce on, the very helpful man said that he would basically make me a plate of food that was all gluten free.  I knew this was a man I could trust and I was right.

The food arrived as it was ready, which is pretty much the only way you can run a place that small.  I sat salivating quietly in the corner whilst Sis and Bil tucked into their corn with bbq butter, it looked delicious and they assured me it was.  Next up, Sis and BIL’s giant pulled pork and brisket buns appeared, they were gargantuan and very tempting.  And then came, my plate of goodness.  They had thoughtfully put together a selection of treats for me, I actually felt quite special.  It comprised coleslaw, candied bacon (I think), pulled pork and chicken wings and some crunchy cos lettuce with some guacamole on the side.  Now.  Let me start with the guacamole, I have been to three Mexican restaurants since I arrived back in London and all have been varying shades of mediocre.  At every Mexican restaurant the guacamole has been really average at best and here I was today, sitting in a non Mexican restaurant eating the best guacamole I’ve had in a very long time.  Finally, I have found somewhere that understands the need for a lot of citrus and seasoning, bang on!

Right, moving swiftly on from my guacamole obsession.  I was so happy making little cos lettuce parcels of my pulled pork and coleslaw.  Despite not having the usual bbq sauce treatment the pulled pork was luxurious and flavoursome and reminded me of lovely rillettes but quite a lot less fatty!  The chicken wings were weird, and I mean that as a huge compliment. They had somehow managed to coerce the chicken skin into becoming wafer thin and explosive, it was almost like popping candy, it just kind of shattered and disappeared, leaving a savoury, salty flavour in its wake.  There was none of the flaccid, chewy rubbish that usually sheaths a chicken wing.  This was illuminating stuff, I really want to find out how they do it…maybe Little Chef can go and do a work experience day with the nice guys at The Joint.

BIL and Sis were equally happy with their buns packed full of pulled meat.  Sis gave her pulled pork bun with apple coleslaw 9/10 which is pretty high for her, she’s a very discerning foodie.  And Bil had tried the brisket bun which was the special for the day and gave it a very solid 8/10.  And this is not a place where you get a trendy sized portion, these were proper man sized portions and for ridiculously good prices.  Me being a wino, had gone to the off licence and bought beers for the family and a can of scrumpy for me and we were not charged corkage.  And so our bill came to a crazy £27 for three adults to have a bloody delicious lunch, we each had a main course and two sides for the table.  This place is a steal, I don’t know how they make money…

So, as I write this, it is slowly dawning on me that I should not be telling you all about it because next time I go to get those special wings or that sultry, hearty pulled meat, you’re going to be sitting at my table aren’t you?! But I felt I had to share the joy.  No place this good, with staff this good, with prices this good should go unnoticed.  If you haven’t worked it out already, you need to go to this place.

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Hawksmoor – Air Street

As you step into Hawksmoor Air street and away from the frenetic cacophony of Piccadilly Circus, you are transported to another world.  Gone are the shoulder barging crowds and intrepid shoppers.  There is an understated opulence about the place, think gentlemen’s club crossed with an Edward Hopper painting.  Dark wood, art deco touches, stained glass windows and parquet flooring all contribute to the sense of restrained elegance and calm.  Once you ascend the sweeping marble staircase you are delivered into an inviting bar staffed by some of the best cocktail brains in the business.  Many at the bar were sipping on the now infamous Full Fat Butter Old fashioned, which makes fine bedfellows of bourbon and you guessed it, butter.  I opted for a grown up little tequila number which went down the hatch far too quickly, as all good cocktails should.  As you are shown to your table, you start to realise the sheer size of the room, it is a very long dining room.  However, some clever design means that you never feel overwhelmed in the space and the room is broken up into intimate compartments.

The menu at Air street showcases a bold move for Hawksmoor, the move into all things ocean.  What do you do when you are consistently lauded as the best steak restaurant in the country?  You make a decision that will test your mettle and try your hand at fish, or at least, that’s what Hawksmoor did!  With the guiding influence of Mitch Tonks who owns The Seahorse in Dartmouth, the much celebrated destination restaurant which champions the finest seafood Brixham has to offer, the Air street chefs have been briefed and trained in all things seafood.

And boy did it pay off!  The Hawskmoor smoked salmon is a joy to eat, it has a true depth of flavour and the smokiness is verging on sexy.  The mussels had a lot to live up to after the salmon and they more than held their own, they were plump and succulent and incredibly tender, in a way that I haven’t really experienced before.  I made sure I tried the seafood before I tucked into my firm favourite, the Tamworth belly ribs.   Now, I must warn you at this juncture, these are life changing ribs.  Do not, under any circumstances think about how many calories they contain as it will ruin all the fun.  Simply bask in the joy of their presence in the world, they are all at once, a little spicy, a little tangy, a little sweet and a lot tender.  The pickled red cabbage which accompanies them keeps them on the right side of rich and makes you feel momentarily virtuous.

At this point in the evening, I was content and satisfied and we hadn’t even reached the main course.  We had ordered rib eye steak cooked medium rare and monkfish cooked over charcoal.  The monkfish was cooked perfectly, the meaty flesh was superbly succulent and coupled with the salsa verde, was a bright star in the evenings offerings.  The rib eye was as you would expect from the best steak restaurant in the country, flawless.  All this and plentiful sides made me a very happy camper.  The highlight of the side dishes was the Jansson’s temptation, essentially, potato dauphinois with anchovies, all kinds of scrumptious.

Amazingly, by this stage,I had managed not to slump into a food coma.  Instead, I felt like I was riding high on the crest of some drug induced wave, the drugs being sophisticated alcohol and sumptuous food.  It seemed necessary to order a nice Tokay to accompany the smorgasbord of desserts which I knew was about to descend on the table.  And descend they did.  I worked my way steadily around the table which had become home for champagne jelly with mandarin foam, jaffa cake, ferrero rocher sundae, assorted macaroons and salted caramel rolos whose reputation precede them and have been setting Twitter alight.  The champagne jelly is a masterclass in simplicity, use good quality ingredients, treat them with the respect which they deserve and you will be rewarded with a harmonious and cohesive result.  There is a creamy character to the luscious champagne jelly which  makes a perfect pairing with the zingy, floral notes of the mandarin foam.  If the champagne jelly is a masterclass in simplicity then the jaffa cake is a seminar in indulgence.  It has everything going for it, from the glossy chocolate veneer to the rich mousse which it envelops, this is not for the faint-hearted.  A secret pocket of sticky marmalade is housed within chocolate walls, hence the name and this is much, much more than a mere jaffa cake. After eating my own body weight, I made the smart decision to take home the rolos and macaroons and they made a delightful morning snack, which I must admit, I ate in bed!

This is a restaurant which means business, they do not do things by halves and this is reflected across the board.  From the well informed and refreshingly approachable floor staff to the quality of the food which is made under the guiding influence of head chef Liam Kirwan and executive pastry chef Carla Henriques by their talented crew of chefs, their is substance and consistency at every turn.

Hawksmoor delivers what all great restaurants do and what all restaurants should aspire to, it gives you a feeling.  From the moment you cross the threshold, you know that everything is going to be taken care of, you can temporarily hand your cares away to the Hawksmoor staff and in their place, will be a damn fine cocktail, some exciting wines and some mighty fine food.  Unfortunately, when you leave you will have to collect your cares from the cloakroom but that ‘feeling’ will definitely hang around, it will definitely make the tube ride home a little less painful, it will definitely make the throngs at Piccadilly circus a little less frustrating and it will definitely still be with you when you’re eating macaroons in bed the next morning!

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