Friday, 21 November 2014

Silk Road, Xinjiang Chinese in Camberwell

Mid plate chicken
In Sydney I could literally fall of bed an into the delights of China town, but authentic Asian cooking doesn't seem quite as easy to find in London. With its promise of authentic Sichuan food, Silk Road in Camberwell has been on my wish list for quite a while.

After a false start last year, when we got turned away, I planned this trip properly; assembling a group of friends and, crucially, making a booking. I had a strange nervousness that out booking would have been lost, but thankfully all was well and we got shown to a small table at the back of the restaurant.
Beef and onion dumplings 
I'd been teasing my companions that we were in for a night of offal, While there was generous sprinkling of tripe on the menu we were able to easily avoid, selecting a dish from most sections of the menu so we could taste as much as possible.

First to arrive at the table was a double serving of the beef and onion dumplings. We ordered two servings as at £2.50 each we thought we might only get three / four dumplings with each serving. We shouldn't have feared as we got a generous mound. The dumplings definitely benefited from a dunking in Chinese vinegar and I think if I was going to order two servings again I'd definitely mix up the flavours.
Hot and sour shredded potatoes
Next to arrive at the table was the hot and sour shredded potatoes. I'd expected / hoped for fried potatoes, but despite being cut like shoe string fries these potatoes had been nowhere near hot oil. They were hot, not particularly sour and just the right side of raw. It was an alien taste to my palate and not one I immediately warmed to if I'm honest.

Getting us right back on track were two large grilled swordfish shish kebabs. The fish was spicier than I expected with a ground chilli crust. After the hot potatoes the fish was the dish that tipped me over my pathetic chilli threshold and my brow began to glisten.
Fish shish
I was beginning to fill up, but the dishes kept arriving at our table with the home style aubergine and special cooked lamb with noodles. The aubergine, tomato and chilli was out attempt at a vegetable dish. It still counts of the aubergines were fried, right?

The lamb was our first taste of the homemade noodles and they were a delight, if incredibly long and a little messy to eat. As my shirt can attest and I'd like to make it clear for the record that it was two of my dining companions that splattered me! There wasn't too much lamb in the dish, but you can't complain at these prices.
Home style aubergine
Our final dish was also the best, the mid plate chicken (top photo). A large both of Shichuan pepper and chicken broth arrived at our, quickly followed by some more homemade noodles that were poured on top. The broth had the classic aromatic mouth-numbing quality that you get with heaps of Sichuan pepper. The small pieces of chicken were quite boney and a little awkward to eat, but you forgive a lot when the noodles and broth were that good.
Special cooked lamb with noodles
Silk Road is the type of place I love. Sure it's a little cramp, crowded and rough around the edges. But the food was fantastic and at £15 per head (including a generous tip and two beers each) it was amazing value too.

Silk Road has been added to my London eats map.

Silk Road
49 Camberwell Church St
Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Le Querce Italian, Honor Oak

Last Saturday night we went for dinner at Le Querce in Honor Oak for Beck's birthday, just over the road from Babur where we went for her first birthday we were together. I don't like to travel too far.

Last Saturday was also the night of the Blackheath firework display so I'd arranged a late booking to allow us to watch some fireworks from nearby Blythe Hill before dinner. The Blackheath display started ten minutes late, and I had a few moments thinking I'd dragged us up a hill on a cold night for no reward. But it turned out to be a good vantage point with beautifully clear sweeping views of the city. We were able to see both the Blackheath and Alexandra Palace displays pretty well and had the Crystal Palace display booming behind has as well.

The restaurant was full when we arrived and we were seated on a small table between two other couples. Luckily one of them was just finishing up which allowed us a bit more room once they'd left.

We almost didn't order starters, but I'm pleased we selected the salame, carasau e formaggio to share from the special menu. The hard cheese had a lightly smoked flavour, while the small serving of soft cheese had a heavenly texture. It was much smoother and creamier than a mozzarella or burrata. Beck's likened the texture to Dairly Lee triangles. I'd said the cheese we had yielded a little more, but it was a pretty accurate description, although gives completely the wrong impression of the quality!

My main of hake was also from the specials menu. The large serving of hake flaked apart and was served with a fresh tomato sauce and cauliflower. The drizzle of salsa verde gave we welcome lift and freshness and I would have liked more of it.

The star reason for going to Le Querce in my view is for their extensive selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets which are frankly, fantastic. We both went for three scoops. My tactic was to go for something classic - chocolate - a little different - pineapple and mint - and them something a bit more out there - Banana, Cardamom and Ginger. (Ok, so it wasn't completely out there, but I wasn't up for the onion and garlic.)

The star of my plate was the pineapple and mint while the standout on Beck's plate was the strawberry and cassis.

The service was a little slow towards the end of the night, but you can forgive them a lot when the ice creams are that good. It was good value too.

Le Querce
66 Brockley Rise
SE23 1LN
Le Querce on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Bistro Brunot Loubet, Clarkenwell

The rabbit and pork rillettes
Flicking through the Eurostar magazine on the way back from our recent trip to the Dordogne I read a short interview with Raymond Blanc. He was tipping a new restaurant in Clarkenwell run by one of his protégés Bruno Loubet. It was clearly a plug for a friend, but it piqued my interest, and I added Bistro Bruno Loubet onto my wish list. A recent dinner with school friends Rob and Joel gave me the opportunity to check it out.

I decided to order from the prix fixe menu (£20 for two courses or £25 for three) which is available if you are seated and order before 19:30.

The set menu starter was the rabbit and pork rillettes, pickled prune, cornichon and toast, which is also available on the a la carte menu. The rillettes had a lovely soft texture, but I didn't think a lot of flavour. Punch could be added via some of the hearty pile of cornichons or a dab of the surprisingly fiery Dijon mustard. I love cornichons so was happy to see such a big pile.

My main course was squid marrow with polenta and fennel. I was surprised at how tender the squid was and it went well with the oven roasted tomatoes and the bed of polenta.

I wasn't particularly inspired by the dessert menu, neither the choices on the menu nor the dishes which arrived at our table. I decided against the cheescake from the prix fixe menu and instead selected the apple tarte Normande, Calvados & caramel sauce (£6.50) from the a la carte menu. French bistros usually do some awesome tarts and bowls filled with lashings of creme anglaise, but I found Brunot Loubet didn't hit the spot for me in this area.

Apple tarte Normande

Bistro Bruno Loubert
St John's Square
86-88 Clerkenwell Road,
London EC1M 5RJ
Bistrot Bruno Loubet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Dordogne: Paunat & Restaurant Chez Julien

The limestone village of Paunat
Sadly our holiday in the Dordogne was coming to an end. Having ticked off most of the places that we wanted to visit we decided to spend the day hanging around the village of Paunat where we were staying.

A picturesque limestone village, Paunat is on the pilgrimage trail. In the twelfth centurya pilgrims staff took root in village and grew into a tree. A large abbey was built at the site of the miracle. Although the monastery is no longer present, the large church of St Martia still dominates the village both in terms of its size and the bells which chime rather irregularly at 7am and 7pm daily.

The village is postcard perfect and I was surprised that all of the houses seemed quite large / high status. I'm not sure where the farm labourers stayed in centuries gone by. The only downside to the village as far as I was concerned is that it didn't have a boulangerie. I love being able to walk to the bakers to buy fresh bread, and maybe a croissant, every morning.

With no road signs in the village I also found it quite infuriating to navigate and it took me most of the week before I'd worked out which road to take in order to arrive at neighbouring town I was aiming for.

Our gîtes for the week
We ate twice at the village restaurant, Chez Julien, during our stay. On the first night we hungrily scoffed down our food after a long day travelling, so we returned on our last night for a more relaxed meal.

Chez Julien is a friendly and welcoming restaurant which probably explains why even in late summer they were still busy and you needed to book a table if you wanted to get in. On both occasions we visited there were a fair few English voices at neighbouring tables with expats and holiday makers coming in from the surrounding countryside for dinner.

A local brew from Limeuil
On our second visit I started the evening with a beer from the local brewery in the next village. When it came to the menu I decided to order local specialities that I either hadn't tried during the week or wanted to try again.

Cèpes mushrooms were in season so I went for the tartallete de cepes a la creme d'ail so that I could get in my last fix. For the main course I went for the confit du canard as I hadn't yet had any duck during the week.

The food was good, but it didn't feel like they were pushing any boundaries and that they have found a formula that they are comfortable sticking with. Every main course (on both nights) came served with the same vegetables, and not a very generous portion either.

After dinner it was great to be able to walk back to our gîtes across the village square and be in bed within minutes.

The next morning we were up early to drive back to Bordeaux train station. Despite one wrong turn we made it back to the train station in the centre of the city much more easily than I was expecting.

Tartallete de cepes a la creme d'ail

Confit du canard

Chocolate tart

Monday, 20 October 2014

Peckham Bazaar, Peckham

Baked feta parcels, marinated betroot and skordalia
The first thing I noticed as we stepped inside the Peckham Bazaar was the smell of cooking over charcoal. The second thing I noticed was a whole lamb rotating on a spit behind the open kitchen. It had me excited.

The menu describes itself as Greek, Turkish, Albanian and Iranian and there were lots of items that I didn't recognise like tarama, skordalia, adjika and kefalotyri. Our friendly waitress offered to help we any questions we had and was surprised when we only asked about one or two dishes. Our lack of questioning wasn't from any position of knowledge, but more happiness to make some random new discoveries.

Imam bayaldi, kefalotyri and sheep’s yoghurt
We started with the baked feta parcels, marinated betroot and skordalia (£6.50). We were both expecting the feta to be 'parceled' in filo, but it came in wrapped in tin foil. A much more suitable protector from hot coals. The star of the dish for me was the garlicky white skordalia.

We shared two main courses. The first was the imam bayaldi, kefalotyri and sheep’s yoghurt (£13.50). Half a slow cooked aubergine was sitting in a pool of sheep's yoghurt and was topped with some shaved kefalotyri, a hard sheep's cheese that tasted a little like parmesan. I enjoyed the dish and subtle spice of the aubergine, but thought it could have been enhanced by some fresh mint to help cut through the richness. It wasn't very substantial as a main and I thought a little on the pricey side for half an aubergine.

Spit roasted lamb, swiss chard gratin and greek salad
Our final dish was the one that caught my eye as we walked in, the spit roasted lamb, swiss chard gratin and greek salad (£18.50) from specials board. The lamb was my favourite of the food we tried. It wasn't as smokey as I expected, but the skin had a subtly spiced flavour and the swiss chard gratin was good too. However, for the price I was hoping for a much bigger serving of the lamb.

The Peckham Bazaar has been on my wish list for a while so it was good to finally make it. I liked the friendly service and the fact they are trying to do something different in suburban Peckham. Before I could become a regular they need to sort out the smoke which filled the dining room, got in our clothes and on occasion stung our eyes. I also feel they need to sort out their pricing too, better value might tempt me back sooner.

Peckham Bazaar
119 Consort Rd
SE15 3RU
Peckham Bazaar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Dordogne: The Panoramic Gardens at Limeuil & the Grotte de Rouffignac et Lascaux II

The Panoramic Gardens at Limeuil
The Wednesday of our week in France was a lazy day. Becks and I didn't leave the gîtes until early afternoon and we didn't want to travel far, so we headed down the road to Les jardins panoramiques de Limeuil.

The gardens are at the top of the hill above the village Limeuil with sweeping views of the Vereze and Dordogne rivers joining together. Perhaps it was a little hot to enjoy the gardens fully, but with the exception of the section over looking the rivers (which was stunning), I was a little underwhelmed les jardins panoramiques.

In contrast to Wednesday, Thursday was an early start as we were up and off to see some caves.

We started by heading to Le Font du Gaume. To protect the caves they only allow eight visitors a day with thirty tickets pre-sold and fifty available on a first come first served basis. We arrived at eight thirty only to see a long queue of people already waiting for tickets. We stood in a puddle of an hour, grumbling as people pushed into the queue, to inevitably miss out on tickets.

Plan B was to head for the Grotte de Rouffignac. Electric trains took is on a rather chilly one hour journey into the limestone caves. Caves were filled with over two hundred and fifty paintings of horses, buffalo, mammoths and more. Just as impressive as the paintings were the number of nests (?) that had been made by bears who hibernated in the caves. Virtually every wall was lined with claw marks from where the bears had been sharpening their claws.
Pumpkins in the gardens
On a cave roll we headed onto Lascaux II to see some cave paintings in full technicolour. The original Lascaux caves are closed to visitors and two of the most decorative tunnels have been faithfully re-created in the hills above Montignac. An English speaking tour wasn't available for a couple of hours so we jumped onto the next available tour in French. The Lascaux caves were smaller than I was expecting, but the ceilings were crammed full of horses.

It was then home for an elegant dinner!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Coopers Bakehouse Open Day

Rolling the croissant dough
Yesterday we popped along to the Coopers Bakehouse Open Day in their (relatively) new headquarters in Dragonfly Place.

For a bread nerd it was lovely to step inside a professional bakery and to have a look around. We got to spend a bit of time talking with Francis Cooper, the owner, who showed us the ovens he uses and we had a bit of a chat about my current troubles with the oven in the rental flat that we've just moved into. I get the feeling I've never cranked my oven up to pre-heat long enough before baking.

Coopers is on a much smaller scale operation to Sydney's Brasserie Bread that I visited three years ago. It was wonderful to see some ingeniously low tech solutions like the home made, high humidity, proving cupboard and to talk about how to get the best oven spring.

Around the tasting table we got to try both their white and wholemeal sourdough loaves, as well as one of the Danish pastries. I preferred the white loaf over the wholemeal, as I found the wholemeal a bit too sour for my tastes.

Speaking to a one of the staff over the tasting table, they start at 4am most days in order to get the deliveries ready for 9am. You clearly need to be a lover of early starts to be a baker, no wonder they said they'd never seen an episode of Bake Off.

I'd love it if they did some advanced bread or patisserie courses.

Croissants and Danish pastries shaped and ready to prove

Work bench

The founder of Coopers Bake weighing out some dough