Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Anchor & Hope Blow Out

Some foodie friends from Suffolk were up in London recently, staying in Waterloo. They have just had a baby and this was their first evening off having put the baby in the care of a grandparent. They were particularly hungry and were keen to try out some local, cutting-edge metropolitan restaurant within easy reach of a panicking grandfather.

Well, the Anchor & Hope is not exactly cutting edge but it's an excellent place, about as good as (pub) food gets, the atmosphere is convivial if noisy, it's informal, and the dishes lend themselves to sharing.

Whilst contemplating the menu we had pints of well-kept Young's Ordinary (£3) and then kicked off with Quince and Prosecco fizz as an aperitif (£4.60) whilst sitting at the bar waiting for a table (there is a no-booking, first-come first-serve policy except on Sunday lunch). There were some tempting looking pâté-laden crostini on the bar which were slightly out of reach because of the sheer number of punters ordering drinks (Monday evening, around 7). The three of us were eventually shown to a tiny corner table which we knew would not be big enough for all the dishes we were going to order. But as soon as another larger table became free we were offered it graciously by the waiter (but carried over all the paraphernalia ourselves).

We tried Artichoke Vinaigrette (£4.80) which was what it said on the tin. Very plain, French home food but novel in a London restaurant. I had to show the Suffolktons how to peel the leaves and scrape the flesh off the ends using teeth. Whole Crab Mayonnaise (£8.40) again was what the tin said. And it was very sweet, fresh and juicy and the mayonnaise made in-house (why do Loch Fyne restaurants refuse to make their own mayo? grrrrr). Great diet food as it takes so long to pick out the meat that you end up ignoring other dishes. But we were too greedy for that and were soon tucking into Smoked Cod's Roe on Toast, Cucumber & Crème Fraîche (£6) which was just that and really good. The cream was probably unnecessary but the cucumber had been peeled, salted and then lightly pickled and went well with the salty fish.

Hot dishes were Salt Beef, Beetroot & Horseradish Broth (£5) which was very satisfying, the beef melting, the beetroot sweet and fruity, the horseradish cream giving the dish a kick; I could have had this one twice over and slightly resented having to share it. Red Gurnard, its Broth & Aïoli (£13.80) was OUTSTANDINGLY good, simpler and better than Bouillabaisse at a fraction of the price (please Chelseafish, don't tell me gurnard is on the endangered list).

Hare & Mashed Celeriac (£13.80) was well done, flaky but not dry leg meat on the bone in a winey jus with real depth. Could have had more juniper maybe but this went really well with the old fashioned, gamey, truffley, beetrooty 12 year old Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 which we managed to drink from real wine glasses as opposed to the ludicrously trendy Duralex school tumblers on other tables which do nothing for fine wine (St. John Restaurant please note).

Roast & Confit Mallard, Coco Beans, Kale & Damson (£28 for two) was cooked to perfection (but not very Delia) with really rare breast served on the carcase and the separate legs done confit, really tender, not too salty; shame that in France you never get breast AND leg served like this together. Roast Middlewhite, Pumpkin & Cured Ham, Bramley Apple Sauce (£16) was really sweet, moist, pale meat in a broth with soft, yielding ham. The apple was best avoided with the wine (as was the damson in the duck dish). Whole Roast Seabass (£32.80 for two) was off but that is a fish you can pick up off the beach in Suffolk and cook yourself quite easily and Slow Cooked Lamb Shoulder and Gratin Dauphinois at £65 for five-ish might have been a bit greedy.

However, there was room for puds (and cheese) and we chose the whole lot. Lemon Queen of Puddings (£5) was a lovely soft meringuey sort of thing and quite refreshing after the protein overload beforehand. Pear & Almond Tart (£5) was just that, Buttermilk Pudding & Scottish Raspberries (£4.80) a great way to neutralise some of the tartness of the fruit, Damson Icecream (£2.40 per scoop) damsomy, and the star Soufflé Beignet, Stewed Bramley & Vanilla Icecream (£5) which was perfectly crispily fried churros (not sure why chef Trish Hilferty chose a French name for these) with stewed apple. We had our Mr Creosote moment with the cheese (at £7.40, more than at Pierre Koffmann's but at least the cheese was at room temp and not fridge cold) and reluctantly ate it fearing detonation. It was served with a whole apple cut in half, but not peeled or cored, which somehow sums up the welcome lack of pretension of the Anchor & Hope.

As in so many restaurants however, wine service could have been better. Whilst the normal tumblers were replaced with wine glasses for the (£50) Rioja, this red wine whilst excellent was served too warm. The Viré Clessé 2005, André Bonhomme (£25) was noticeably corked but the waiter wanted to fetch a superior before accepting our mutual rejection of the wine. The second bottle was even worse at which point the manageress suggested we have something else; logically, we should have been offered a 3rd bottle. We settled for Limoux Chardonnay 2007, Toques & Clocher (£29) which was actually very good and coped more or less with the mix of starters. A fruity, spicey Douro 2007, Vinha de Palestra (£20 and again, too warm) helped the cheese go down. The list usefully serves six whites and five reds and one rosé by the 375ml carafe aswell as 125ml glass but if you want to smell the wine refuse the school canteen tumbler.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Truffle Omelette

After the sumptuous dinner at The Harrow I was kindly given a couple of small truffles by the Trufflehounds to play with at home. I picked up half a dozen fresh eggs laid by my mother's hens in Dorset and packed them into a small tupperware box along with the pair of truffles hoping that magic things would happen to the flavour of the eggs before I turned them into an omelette. A couple of days later I took a sniff and was almost overwhelmed by the scent, or should I say fumes, reminiscent of shoemaker's glue. Others with me suggested petrol and ethanol. Not necessarily very appetising but certainly intriguing and somehow compelling (if not downright addictive).

After four days I sliced the truffles thinly, sweated them in butter and then poured in the seasoned beaten eggs to make a scrambled omelette which three of us ate straight from the pan.

The truffles had definitely perfumed the eggs (the inside surface of the shells was very aromatic) but that gluey, estery smell did not transmute the flavour; instead, the truffles were pleasantly nutty and slightly 'high' hinting at decay and earth, the eggs a lovely rich umami accompaniment.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Truffle & Ozzie Wine Fest at The Harrow in Little Bedwyn

I made the journey down the flooded, leaf-strewn narrow lanes of this beautiful and seemingly isolated (albeit M4-friendly) part of Wiltshire looking forward to a multi-course truffle dinner organised at The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.

I did wonder though if, yet again, I'd be underwhelmed by black truffles. I'd had them from the markets in Beaune and Carpentras before, I'd been on a forage in St. Bris le Vineux, I'd unearthed them in the Lubéron where I'd packed them into a box of fresh eggs and a tin of Arborio rice hoping that their supposedly magic olfactory properties would symbiotically transform any subsequent omelette or risotto I made from them. But it seemed to me that truffles were more about smell and less about taste.

Well, the dish on the bar of glistening black truffles that greeted us on arrival was certainly promisingly aromatic and I just hoped that the wafts of gamey, musky, fruity earthiness reaching our nostrils would not dissipate before chef-patron Roger Jones had managed to trap at least a little taste for our palates in the menu. The other challenge for the evening was to convince me that Australian wine goes with subtle, refined Michelin-star food without smothering it with over-extracted, rich ripe fruit, unsubtle vanillary new oak and too much alcohol. Sandro Mosele the winemaker at Kooyong Estate on the Mornington Peninsula south of Melbourne, Victoria was on hand to do the convincing with his wines by matching them to Roger's dishes.

Before attacking the first course we had some Taittinger Brut enlivened by deliciously fresh crab & cucumber bites (well, licks, as these were served on small spoons passed around on trays) and lightly smoked tiny chunks of salmon. We listened to the local farmer who has chanced upon what might be the most fecund patch of truffle-laden forest in Europe, if not the world. The past 4 years have yielded over a ton of commercially viable, worm-free, intact truffles. The whereabouts of this 10 acre chalky patch of mainly beech and hazel forest are necessarily kept secret but I have been invited to go and have a look as long as I am escorted there blindfolded.

The first course consisted of a large dim sum like dumpling of lobster in a light chicken broth scented, and slightly crunchy with nutty truffle.

This was an elegant and subtle foil for the very Burgundian Kooyong Estate Chardonnay 2004 though perhaps a richer and creamier lobster dish (bisque-style maybe) would have better matched the oakiness of this Chassagne Montrachet lookalike.

But then, we might not have been hungry for the next course of a stunningly ambrosial, rich, wild mushroom and truffle risotto where the slices of truffle were soft rather than crunchy and seemed to flavour the dish more convincingly than in the broth (perhaps with the helping hand of a drop of truffle oil added just before serving?). The even more Burgundian Kooyong Faultline Chardonnay 2004 was more than a match for this dish with its honeyed, creamy palate redolent of hazelnuts. Both chardonnays had great acidity like proper Burgundy from a classic vintage and price tags approaching Burgundy prices too (at £18.95 and £27 retail respectively) but, unlike Burgundy of a similar age, these wines are mature and perfectly formed right now. So, representing great value if carefully oaked, nutty, crisp Chardonnay with great length is your thing (if not, it should be!).

Next dish was a chunky pork & truffle terrine containing nuggets of moist pork, nutmeggy black pudding, foie gras, thinly sliced truffle and incredibly soft pork fat almost like lard; the whole was wrapped in hammy, English 'prosciutto'. The Kooyong Estate Pinot Noir 2006 (retail £19.95) was lean and mean like a young red Burgundy and French oak still dominated the nose. However, the wine opened up in the glass over time and the fruit started coming through. There was a puddle of beetroot purée under the terrine which echoed the wine's fruit but the two whites were at least as good with this dish with their pronounced, citrussy acidity going with the saltiness of the meat and cutting through the richness. I thought the pork in the terrine had been confit (salted then gently poached in fat) but apparently had been poached overnight in veal stock at 75°C. It was really succulent and I wonder why more terrines are not made like this.

The second Pinot Noir was Kooyong Ferrous 2004 (retail £27) which, with the advantage of 2 extra years ageing had a more open, evolved, almost gamey nose, with great fruit concentration on the palate, lowish tannin and a fair amount of acidity. A great, balanced Pinot Noir which blind could be taken for a well made Côte d'Or Burgundy. The grilled turbot it accompanied was crying out for the Faultline Chardonnay. I know that low tannin, high acid reds do go with fish; I just prefer white. Perhaps it's the lemony finish on the Chardonnays so good with fish that is missing from the Pinot Noirs. The fish had a wonderfully gelatinous consistency in the skin (even though it had been grilled) and firm flesh. It was in a truffley broth with a few tiny morels, some runny mash and peas. A great dish,the fish just lacking a little salt.

The 2 chardonnays left in my glass 1 hour later were still full of vitality and very long. Next wine was Kooyong Clonale Chardonnay 2007 (retail £13.95) which was a noticeable step down in concentration though very attractive; more Mâcon than Côte d'Or.

It could not match however the intensely anchovy Welsh Rarebit which really needed a glass of Fino Sherry (or Alvear Montilla, which The Harrow has on its comprehensive list).

Next wine was Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir 2008 (retail £14.95) which had lovely cherryish fruit, fine tannins, fresh acidity and a slightly bitter finish.

A delight on its own (or with a plate of charcuterie perhaps) but floored by the challenging pudding of blackberry crumble, blackberry jelly, and creamed cheese ice cream. To be fair, most whites, sweet included, would have clashed.

The outstanding ice cream was reminiscent of those served in the Basque country of Northern Spain; a cheesy, slightly sour and salty cream, great with the darkly acid fruit.

The service orchestrated by Sue Jones with her able manager Heather was smooth and smiley. The farmers, who call themselves the Trufflehounds, spoke eloquently about their truffle treasure find. Their truffles are available at Borough Market through The Wild Mushroom Company and at Truffle UK Ltd. Sandro the wine maker was tired after a marathon tour doing tastings all over the country but did explain that his aim was to make food-friendly wines from hand picked grapes from his own land and that the Mornington Peninsula with its relatively cool, atypically Australian maritime climate is perfect for making balanced, fresh wines from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir which have a sense of place. All quite novel in an Australian context.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Pierre Koffmann's Restaurant on the Roof at Selfridges

I never got to go to Pierre Koffmann's restaurant when it was open in the 1980's & 90's. I kept hearing and reading how good the food was but every time I tried to book the place was full.

I had to content myself with his book Memories of Gascony and imagine his food through eating at his ex-students' places like Marco Pierre White's Harvey's.

Then he sold up and fell off most people's radar screens. So when I heard he was back in town in a pop up restaurant I joined the queue on the phone to book a table without knowing what was going to be served, how much it was going to cost, and indeed, without knowing what Michelin star food would be like served in a tent on the roof of a department store.

On the whole I wasn't disappointed but perhaps slightly underwhelmed. Flavours were a little mute, service friendly but patchy, and the tent whilst being very light and airy had an irritatingly bouncy floor.

Perhaps my expectations were too high. And food in restaurants (and pubs and bars) is so much better these days than it was a decade or so ago, at least in London.

A pre-starter of langoustine bisque with a langoustine raviolo set the tone for a meal of high quality ingredients classically transformed into refined dishes which, by balancing richness and lightness, sometimes lacked impact.

I shared my £75 menu with Abi and my view of the rest of the meal follows in the next three blog posts:


Pierre Koffmann's Foie Gras & Snails

Abi chose Pan Fried Foie Gras with a Potato Galatte (sic) and Sauternes Jus.

The liver was cut thickly, well seared but just done in the middle: perfect.

This was a refined, subtly flavoured piece of offal, perhaps from a goose rather than a duck?

The Galette was a crispy foil for the wobbly liver and the jus came with a couple of smears of bright green apple which tasted of rhubarb and gooseberry.

A surprisingly trendy foam was sprayed over the liver (or had a snail escaped from my plate and crawled over?)

The Fricassé (sic) of Wild Mushrooms and Snails with Bone Marrow was a small portion of tiny bits of mushroom not easily identifiable (shame when the markets are heaving now with ceps and girolles) with some curiously bland though pleasingly soft snails.

The star of the dish was sadly only 2 crostini (or should it be croûtes?) of bone marrow.

A whole dish of these would have been just the ticket.

Pierre Koffmann's Trotter & Hare

This is the iconic dish of Pierre Koffmann, 3 Michelin Star Chef of the 1980's & 90's. Looks revolting, doesn't it? The trotter looks, well, like a pig's trotter, or a peeled puppy lying on its front next to a quenelle of taramasalata. But, the trotter didn't taste doggy (well, I don't think dogs taste of pork) and the pink mash didn't taste fishy. Unappetising appearances aside, the dish was enjoyable though the mash of "Burgundy Potato" (whence the colour) could have been lighter, more buttery and less gloopy. It seemed to have been overworked (with a blender?). Marco Pierre White's homage version at the Hyde Park Hotel back in the early 90's was certainly better and relied on its smoothness by being pushed through a tammy strainer (twice) and containing a ratio of butter to potato of about 1:1 in true 3* Michelin fashion. This trotter was almost completely boned out and contained carefully cooked calf's sweetbreads and the odd tiny morel (adding a contrast of dark colour to the pallid glands rather than much flavour) all set in an eggy mousseline held by the wobbly pig skin.

The puddle in the plate was an (overly) sweet, sticky, old-school reduction. Minimal texture relief was provided by a thin disc of rolled crispy pig's belly.

In all, a good dish if you like plenty of soft, pillowy, marshmallowy sensations on the palate (but watch out for the toe bones).

An altogether more satisfying dish was the one chosen by Abi which was Royale de Lièvre with Buttered Taglietelle. The pasta alone was worth the journey and was silkily soft and, well, pasta-ry, and needed no accompaniment other than the butter. The hare came three ways with a meatloaf slice of confit hare with a nugget of foie gras in the centre, a faggot of shredded leg meat and offal, and a few slices of fried saddle.

The hare could have been gamier but this being a French restaurant the wow factor was provided by elaborate techniques used such as the long slow confit cooking of the meat to produce the succulent 'terrine' where the foie gras in the centre was perfectly cooked, the long slow braising of the leg meat for the faggot which had a tremendous, winey depth of flavour and even the long slow cooking of the almost caramelised, sweet carrots.

Pierre Koffmann's Pistachio Soufflé, Pistachio Ice Cream & Walnut Tart

This was the highlight of my lunch. A beautifully risen soufflé (how often do you see people eating soufflés these days?) with a scoop of ice cream plopped into the middle by the waitress.

The soufflé was very eggy and rich but deceptively light at the same time.

There were quite big flecks of egg white still visible implying the mix had not been overstirred thereby ensuring an airy lightness.

The chocolate dusting around the edge of the dish helped the soufflé climb out of the ramekin and made a pretty, and tasty, contrast to the pale green soufflé.

Walnut Tart was a generous serving of heavy looking pastry but again achieved that balance between rich and light.

Crisp pastry with caramelised walnuts set in a walnut liqueur-heady crème pâtissière which was light on the cornflour.

We did share a plate of cheese before the pud for a relatively reasonable sounding fiver supplement (often much more these days, even in pubs).

Disappointingly, the slivers of cheese (4 French, 1 Swiss) were ice cold. Evidently, not many people were ordering cheese to warrant it being kept out of the fridge. Shame.

But we needed it to finish off the rather acid, slightly overextracted Saumur Champigny '06 from Sébastien Bobinet.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Giant Lobster & Giant Wine

This giant 5 to 6 pound lobster was caught off the Suffolk coast near Orford and boiled in seawater and then served cold. It provided a feast of a starter for 6. It was probably 30 to 40 years old.
We did it justice with the giant bottle of white on the right... the briny lobster bringing out the intense minerality of this outstanding Meursault and the wine still so crisp and fresh at 17 years old slaking our resultant thirst.
(the reds went with steak by the way... but not any old steak: rib of beef aged for 38 days).  The host was Julian from Seckford Wines (hence the splendid line up in the picture).

Friday, 9 October 2009

Another Great Match... chablis & langoustines

This unoaked Chardonnay is restrained enough not to dominate gently boiled and refreshed langoustines (here, they're still alive) and has enough bite still to cut through the accompanying mayonnaise.

A Great Match... chablis & oysters

These wild oysters gathered minutes before have an intensely briney, almost bitter twang to them. Never have oysters needed a squeeze of lemon or spoonful of shallot vinegar less than these. However, they are thirsty work and the wine quenches that thirst and brings out the mineral character of the mollusc. And the mollusc reciprocates and accentuates the mineral, stoney, almost 'oystery' character of the wine; after all, the soil in Chablis is made up of oyster shells. But choose your Chablis carefully as some Grand Cru are aged (and even fermented) in oak and should be treated like top Côte d'Or whites to go with turbot, halibut, Dover sole etc.

A Couple of Old Scrubbers... Jean-Marc Brocard & I cleaning oysters

The older scrubber is Jean-Marc Brocard from Chablis who makes wines which go so well with those being scrubbed. Incidentally, the water is spotlessly clear and clean; the orange tinge comes from the peat over which this burn flows on the Isle of Mull. The oysters were gathered at low tide 100 yards away and were subsequently eaten at high tide 30 yards away.

A Perfect Snack for Lunch... tinned sardines & Fino

Tinned sardines in olive oil (John West will do though there are myriad posher brands, especially from Spain), garlic, lemon, Fino sherry. Just make sure you don't have a date within 12 hours.

Wild Oysters

It seems a shame to scrub them clean. Note the colour of the burn water (peaty and soft and so good added to Malt whisky to help the kippers go down).

Camouflaged Oyster

This wild oyster from the Isle of Mull looks like it's trying to blend into its surroundings to avoid the shucking knife.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

A Smokey Breakfast... kippers & Laphroaig

The oaky smokiness of the kipper is echoed in the peaty smokiness of this Islay Malt and the fishiness of the herring brings out an iodine salty twang in the whisky.

A great combination especially if you temper the strength of the alcohol with a little water (preferably lusciously soft, peaty water taken straight from the burn running at the end of the garden if you're in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland). Incidentally, the same water makes great tea too.

Buy Smarter and Drink Better Wines

The main thing to think about when choosing a bottle of wine is whether it's going to be drunk on its own or with food. Imbibing without eating broadens the choice though fruitier red wines low in tannin and dry white wines not searingly high in acidity are more pleasingly drinkable on their own than other styles. New World wines often fall into these categories as they are usually made from riper grapes than those from the Old World. And some sweet, vanillary, American oak makes them even more appealing as drinks in their own right.

At the end of the day though most wines, especially European unless very low in alcohol, are improved by food; and much food, unless inordinately spicy, is improved by wine.

It's important to aim at a balance in relative 'weight' in wine and food as a big, alcoholic, super ripe Australian shiraz can all too easily swamp a delicate rabbit dish and a light, fruity Beaujolais will be overwhelmed by a gamey venison stew.
Balancing tannins in red wines and acidity in white wines is crucial too; tannic reds become rounder and richer when paired with roast red meat and acidic, neutral whites become more mineral and interesting with shellfish. In fact, the colour of the wine is often less important than its structure so that a red low in tannin but fresh in acidity (like many a Pinot Noir) can happily partner fish like salmon or tuna and a full white with moderate acidity but plenty of flavour (like a white Rhône) can partner roast pork or veal.
Tannic reds also help make a rich stew or fatty meat like lamb more palatable and acidic whites are good with salty, hard cheese.
Sometimes flavours echo each other in wine and food so a mature red Burgundy which has developed earthy, gamey flavours will go well with well-hung game birds and young Sauternes positively reeks of crème brûlée.
So, when reaching for that bottle in the rack, or choosing something off a wine list, think about the food it's going with. In European wine-producing countries most wine is made with food in mind and, if not, at least as a prelude to food or to sip afterwards. Sometimes it makes sense to think local so good combinations include sauvignon with goat's cheese (as in Sancerre and the locally made Crottin de Chavignol), dry mineral whites with shellfish (such as Muscadet and locally harvested oysters), roast lamb and claret (as in salt meadow lamb and Pauillac, or baby lamb and Rioja), white truffle risotto and Barolo, spag bol and Lambrusco, Munster cheese and Gewürztraminer, olives and Manzanilla, taramasalata and Retsina, Bouillabaisse and Provence rosé, coq au vin and red Burgundy, and so on.
But whatever you do don't eat salted peanuts or flavoured crisps with any wine and if faced with something very salty, or fishy, or sour and strongly flavoured, or all of these, try Fino Sherry, the world's most underrated, versatile, value wine, great on its own but miles better with food.

Pasta & Pesto

What is it about "bronze drawn, slow dried, organically grown, high density durum wheat from the unspoilt Orcia valley in Tuscany"? Yes, it's got a firm texture and the sauce sticks to it nicely... but should it cost more than free range, 90 day old, organically grown, high welfare chicken from the unspoilt Alde valley in Suffolk? For you vegetarians out there (not vegans as the Grana Padano cheese in the pesto contains rennet and be careful of the isinglass fish bladders or egg albumen in the wine) try the above dish with Sauvignon (from Chile or New Zealand maybe).

Monday, 5 October 2009

Goat's cheese & Sauvignon... a marriage made in heaven

Why are goat's cheese and sauvignon such a good combination? Even if the wine here is only Oxford Landing, the cheese (which cost more than the wine) is Dorstone from Neal's Yard Dairy and has a Crottin-like chalky texture and intense goatiness.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Oyster scrubbing

Scrubbing the mud off a freshly gathered ostrea edulis with my feet in an orange, peat-tinted burn on the Isle of Mull.

Crab tart and Sauvignon

Crab tart recipe adapted from Simon Hopkinson's book Roast Chicken though I add as much brown meat into it that I can without it overflowing. Rather more saffron too. Wine could be richer (chardonnay-based perhaps) but delicious nonetheless.