"It's not much but it's ours"

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Throw out the hardware
Let's do it right

It's been an age since Dos Hermanos last went for Dim Sum. It used to be a regular fixture on a Sunday after we'd got all tired and emotional the previous evening. Since we're a bit older now Saturday night is less likely to see us shaking our collective asses at the capital's hip and happening discos and more likely to find us nursing a pint of mild in a quiet pub contemplating an evening of Pork Pie, repeats of Dad's Army and a nice cup of tea.

Today was different. We had temporarily retired the slippers last night and went out with our mutual buddy Scott for another enjoyable meal at 12 Temple Place. We'd had a few pints and a few bottles of wine, not a massive amount, but enough to convince us that some restorative Chinese tea and dumplings was in order.

For reasons unknown we had never tried Shanghai Blues in High Holborn before. Maybe it was the mixed reviews the place got when it opened three or so years ago, maybe it was its odd location just outside the West End. Whatever the reason we enjoyed some of the best Dim Sum we've had since Pearl Liang.

Everything was freshly prepared and was characterized by the excellent dough for the dumplings and the expert deep frying. Although not as creative as say, Hakkasan, there's still enough on the menu to differentiate it from the mostly dire Chinatown norm. And the execution was much better.

Char Siu Bao were small, light, fluffy buns – very different to the usually heavy and doughy examples one usually gets. Sichuan Filleted Pork chop was strips of the meat and fat in a rich sauce enlivened by Sichuan peppercorns. Lamb dumplings came with an unctuous stew of that meat that spoke of long slow braising. The classic Xiao Long Bao was a bit short on the stock front but weren't bad at all.

There was a clever twist to the usually prosaic Turnip cake which had been cubed and deep-fried so that the outside was crisp and the inside was soft and creamy. I felt it was only slightly spoiled by the mixture of greens, bacon and beansprouts that was piled on top and which were a little greasy.

A deft hand with the deep frying meant that dishes such as Crispy Yam Cuttlefish stuffed with Masago (fish roe) and Yam Croquettes were actually crispy and grease free.

Dumpling fillings gave us fewer wow moments but the tastes were so clean and un-claggy that we managed to put away maybe twelve (possibly more) dishes without feeling overfull. There was also none of the dreaded dry-mouth syndrome showing that the kitchen doesn't need to use MSG,

Unusually, if you have tea, you have to order a pot per person but they keep topping it up (as they should) and I suppose they're still paying back the cost of decorating the place (think Hakkasan-lite). Speaking of cost, Shanghai Blues is more expensive than your run-of-the-mill Dim Sum joint. Quality costs though and having a well-paced, excellent lunch and still being able to walk out of the restaurant nicely replete without a heavy bloated feeling was worth every penny.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, August 30, 2008


I find it hard to take advice from other people. Usually, I am right because most people who offer up sage words are numb nuts who couldn’t find their genitalia with an Ordnance Survey map.

Sometimes, however, I should really listen, like the time when I was ten and decided to see what would happen if I peed on the coal fire in our front room in Rotherham, against the better counselling of my best friend, Andrew, only to spend the next few hours explaining a room full of acrid, urine smelling smoke to my parents.

I feel like that today, only without the smell of piss.

For years people have been telling me I should head down to Tooting, where they insisted I would find any number of decent East African Asian and Gujurati eateries that offered up some of the best Vegetarian food to be found in London. For as many years, I had pushed their claims to the back of my mind consigning them to the “numb nuts” category.

Now I have finally delivered the revised manuscript, I have lots of time on my hands and, much as I would be perfectly happy to sit at home and watch re-runs of Frasier on The Comedy Channel, I keep thinking I ought to do something more productive, which usually involves food. So, I left London’s fashionable SOSHO and forty minutes later emerged blinking into the gloom of a late Summer’s afternoon in London’s not so fashionable Upper Tooting Road.

There are certainly plenty of dining choices here spotted amongst the Caribbean beauty parlours and charity shops, but I only had one place in mind, arguably the most well known of the lot. A Tooting stalwart of some twenty-one years, Kastoori and the Takni family who run it, have a solid reputation for providing freshly made and reasonably priced food for a loyal customer base and, arriving just as they opened, I had the place to myself to try it out.

A small glass of lassi showed that they take even the basics seriously. House made yoghurt combining with cardamom, nutmeg and pistachios to make as good an example as you are likely to find in the capital. Thick enough to require just a little effort to drag it through the straw.

A starter order plate of dahi puri presented me with five bite size shells of crisp puri filled with chopped onions, potatoes, chickpeas and chilli doused in more yoghurt and a tamarind based pani puri sauce. Although they could have benefited from the addition of a little more chopped green chilli, the fact that, I picked the plate up to lick clean of sauce probably indicates my enjoyment of the dish.

Along with the regular dishes, the family offer up daily specials and I chose a small bowl of Kontola curry. This is a gourd to be adored and here, with deft preparation and the use of a fresh garamasala (made they told me with over twenty five ingredients) and cooked in oil rather than ghee, it was a far cry from normal curry house slop. Deeply savoury and delicious, I spooned it from plate to mouth with the help of a couple of chapatti and some plain rice.

The absence of bloating ghee meant I had room for pudding, in this case shrikand, a classic dessert of Gujurat and Maharashtra made from more of their yoghurt strained through a cloth over night and then mixed with saffron, pistachio and cardamom to form a dense, creamy pudding.

Dessert brought the bill to £21, which, for cooking of this quality is good enough value to persuade me that I might have to start taking people’s advice more seriously next time they offer up ideas of places to eat. Just don’t leave me alone near any open fires.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, August 28, 2008


There are few things more irritating than supper at an ethnic eatery with a person who has recently been to the country which the restaurant represents. Nothing will ever be a match for what they ate on their visit, the ingredients will be wrong and at some point, of course, they will use the word “authentic” by which time you are praying to the gods that they will choke on their pilaf or get a bit of stuffed guinea pig caught in their throat.

So, my apologies to my companion of last night, my new chum, Fiona who had to sit patiently as I prodded disconsolately at the various plates that passed across our table muttering the dreaded “A” word on more than one occasion.

One of the great surprises of my recent trip was The Philippines. I fell in love with the country, the people and the food, which was savoury, delicious and had all the elements DH crave in our food, pork, deep frying and often a combination of the two. Add to that spectacular salads, wonderful seafood and the classics of Lechon, Adobo and Kare Kare and the cuisine of this country of 7,000 islands was quickly promoted into the top ten of EAT MY GLOBE.

I am never quite convinced that because a restaurant is filled with ex-pats it is de facto any good. Being born in a country does not mean you are automatically an expert on your home cuisine, but the fact that Lutong Pinoy in Earls Court came highly recommended and seemed to cater exclusively to elements of London’s 200,000 strong Filipino community augured well as we entered the tiny little restaurant in Kenway St.

Service was charming and slightly eccentric that was definitely “authentic” (there’s that word again) so was the menu, which had all the staples I grew so fond of during my short visit. Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ended. Fiona was kind enough to leave the ordering in my hands and we began with a fresh Lumpia, a form of loose spring roll, which at its best should resemble a Vietnamese Summer roll with a light casing protecting a fresh crunchy filling. Here, the casing was doughy, the vegetable filling mushy and the surrounding slick of sauce cloying. Pancit (noodles) mixed with vegetables were scarcely any better tasting as if they had been lying around all day waiting for someone stupid enough to eat them. We didn’t.

There are few things that fried pork can’t improve and things perked up when a plate of crispy pata arrived. It lacked the tenderness of the real thing, where pork knuckle or leg is boiled until tender and then deep fried to give a magnificent crunch, but when dipped in the bowl of sweet liver sauce served with it reminded me of why I ate pata just about every day of my visit.

Sisig, however, did not. The signature dish of Angeles is comprised of all the bits of the pig left over when all the good stuff has gone, chopped up with lots of chilli. It should come to the table sizzling on a cast iron plate so that the meat becomes crispy and the underside forms a crunchy crust that Filipino men can fight about over a beer. Our version was spicy enough but served on a plate that had not been heated enough so lacked any sizzle leaving it as just a tray of chopped meat with too much chilli.

If that was a disappointment then worse was to follow with the arrival of the Kare Kare, a stew of oxtail made with a peanut sauce. They were out of oxtail so we plumped for the beef version and were presented with a tired looking dish containing soft vegetables and meat that had been cooked to the texture of marshmallow. It could not even be rescued by the addition of Bagoong, the accompanying shrimp paste.

The bill including tip came to £40

This was a listless effort by a restaurant which looked and felt as if it had seen better days in the fifteen years it has been open, happy to serve ersatz tastes of glorious dishes to Londoners who perhaps can’t tell the difference and ex-pats happy for any small reminder of home. It may be odious to make comparisons, but I don’t need to because it is not just that there are certainly better places in The Philippines, I can’t help thinking they has to be a better Filipino restaurant in London.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, August 25, 2008


Good, fresh things
Every day of the year

It was about an hour into our meal at Murano, the new restaurant from the Gordon Ramsay stable and headed up by Angela Hartnett, and things weren’t looking too good. We’d got our wine, we’d got our water and we’d got a nice little amuse of warm Arancini. But that was all about an hour ago and now we were just sitting there twiddling our thumbs, remarking on the rather restrained, even dull, décor and the leaden atmosphere. I’d had some good news that day but this didn’t feel much like a celebration. Then the ham arrived and the evening just got better.

The plate of ham, which came with a selection of bread (but oddly no grissini) and a peppery olive oil was terrific stuff: dense, silky smooth and meaty. Served in a generous pile more akin to a large starter, we fought as only two Hermanos can over every last shred.

Although this only showcased the skill of astute shopping, the first courses that followed proved that the kitchen could cook as well as source. A risotto made with Carnaroli rice was creamy and rich with the grains retaining a good bite. The richness nicely cut by a small blob of pesto, it was declared by HS to be ‘up there’ (young whippersnappers do use some odd phraseology these days and shit).

Vitello Tonnato was wafer thin slices of pink Veal lightly dressed with a sparky combination of pickled baby fennel and capers. On top there were a couple of anchovies encased in a crisp batter. Elegant and delicious.

I’m sure some clever clogs will tell me that they’re all dishes with their roots firmly in Italy (though remember no one likes a smart arse) but with the main courses HS and I seemed to have strayed away from Italy into France and beyond.

HS liked his Halibut which had been confited in Olive Oil but remained firm and flaked attractively. There were some herbs scatter on the fish (dill ?) which he thought over-dominated. There was a good apple and onion puree on the side and a nice red wine sauce brought it all together.

Similarly, there was little to complain about with my Turbot. The fish was good and was cooked accurately. There was a medley (sorry) of good baby vegetables underneath and a light, hammy though slightly over-salted broth with fragments of ham dotted about.

Both were tasty, technically well executed dishes with the sole failing that maybe, just maybe, they should have shown a bit more, as an Italian might say, brio.

Service, which had been a little stiff to start with, warmed up nicely over the course of our meal. Of particular note was the sommelier, who when we expressed disappointment with his choice of wine to match our food, insisted on giving us a couple of glasses of a more suitable wine to finish our main courses with.

As is the norm with high-end dining we got both pre and post-dessert freebies. First, and to my mind, best of all was a selection of sorbets and ice creams. All different flavours and all tasting of their source ingredient.
For pud proper I got a Chocolately thing and HS got a Figgy thing. Actually his Figs infused in red wine with Zabaglione tasted a lot better than it looked and I’m sure my semifreddo was as fine an example of semifreddo as you can get this side of the Mont Blanc tunnel. I could have done with another selection of those ices, though.

HS couldn’t eat his (good) post-dessert Tiramisu owing to a coffee allergy but the kitchen sent him out a little fruit based mouthful. Which was nice.

We probably should have finished there but ploughed on through the fine although ever-so-slightly extraneous mignardises that were on offer. Large pours of expensive grappa were as inappropriate as DH on the pull at the Candy Bar.

As we wobbled into the night we pondered upon our evening and decided that we had enjoyed the experience and that Murano (presumably named after the island next to Venice) had won us round after a hesitant start. But we also wondered how many of the dishes would remain if AH was running her own gaff. We’ll probably never find out and Murano will probably get a Michelin star in the new year.

Oh, and for those who wondered what happened to the Napkin and Mint Tea tests – they never went away and Murano aced them both.

Labels: , , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, August 24, 2008


While HP was revisiting Fish Central, a restaurant we last tried nearly two and a half years ago, it seemed fitting that, for my turn to cook Sunday lunch, I should turn to something I last cooked around the same time.

Gammon is one of the great forgotten joints, primarily because most people are not too sure how to prepare it and also, in these days of instant gratification, dishes like this that take two days to prepare are just plain unfashionable. It takes time, for certain, but the end result is definitely worth all the effort involved.

Although both are taken from the hind legs of the pig, Gammon differs from ham primarily in that the latter is cured for longer and can be eaten without cooking, gammon needs baking or boiling.

My five and a half pound joint came from Grange farm via The Ginger Pig and, after lugging it home, I left it to soak overnight in two changes of water before simmering for two and a half hours. Once the joint was cooked through, I removed the tough outer skin, scored the fat through to the flesh, rubbed with English mustard, studded with cloves and covered in brown sugar before baking to a rich, crunchy glaze. What emerges from the oven is a beautiful thing and we carved off thick, pink slices to serve with simple sides of shredded cabbage and peas and, of course, a thick parsley sauce.

Even with our hefty appetites, there was still plenty left, so I see a thick pea & ham soup in our immediate future

Labels: , ,

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Newer›  ‹Older