Tag Archives: peas

Sweet and Sour Horse

No, not Tesco’s latest tasty offering, but a re-post of something I originally offered at the start of the year of the rabbit, reheated for the year of the horse. Though having watched Ken Hom eat a traditional dish of fried rabbit’s head in Chengdu on TV this morning, perhaps horse wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Whatever your choice of meat, veg or tofu – a happy, prosperous and healthy year of the horse to one and all! 

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

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Dabbous

I’m marking WFTTD’s second birthday with my first restaurant review, and the first review might as well be for the hottest ticket in town…

Dabbous' coddled egg with wild mushrooms and smoked butter, served in an egg shell nestled in hay.

photo © Dabbous

Everybody, it seems, loves Dabbous. I really can’t recall the last time the capital’s collective critics got themselves into so unanimous a lather about anything, and as I write this in June there’s not a table to be had for dinner before next April. “Game changing” is the prevailing gist. I’m really not keen to fuel the bonfire of hype for the restaurant’s sake – overly heightened expectations are so often the enemy of a good meal – but in all honesty I loved it too, and here’s why:

The place

In a display of muscular indifference to identikit restaurant design Dabbous’ interior favours bare brick and concrete, exposed air-con ducts and naked bulbs. Forget rooms aping the style of a private jet and think more the engine room of a cross-channel ferry. And it works. It says with crystal clarity that this place is about what’s on the plate [and downstairs, what’s in the glass], not about the fact that we spent more on our curtains than you did on your house. It’s small too [40 or so covers] and intimate to just the right degree as a result. It’s a space which invites you to relax and enjoy what you’re doing, not one which wants to bully you with its lavishness. And if wasn’t for the customers coming and going all the time I could happily live in the downstairs bar!

The staff

Friendly as you can find. Polite, knowledgeable, there when you want them, not when you don’t. Downstairs in Oskar’s Bar I dithered over my choice of cocktail – keen on the cigar syrup, unsure of the yellow pepper – and the charming and talented young mixologist said, “try that, and if you don’t like it I’ll just make you something else.” I didn’t, so he did, no fuss, and no charge. Upstairs last-minute ordering of additional dishes caused no hint of flap, and despite the pressure of the waiting list we were never pressured for the return of our table. Quite the opposite in fact, as we wanted to return to the bar for a digestif cocktail and were asked if we’d prefer to linger and have them brought to the table. This crew’s pride in what they do and evident joy in doing it here infuse the contents of each coupe and bowl. They could hardly have been bettered.

The menu

A short, seasonal, and to the point selection. The à la carte has five starters, six mains, and five desserts. The descriptions thereon range from three to eleven words, mercifully leaving no room for hyperbole or just plain bollocks. In fact ‘Just plain bollocks’ stands more chance of being a dish on the menu than a criticism of it. I have something of an aversion to tasting menus, though at £49 for seven courses this one is truly excellent value. We were advised that dishes were small [think large tapas] and that if ordering à la carte we might want to choose between four and seven dishes each, and in the end ten between two worked out very well. The other advantage of grazing from the à la carte is that if there are just a couple of you who are happy to share then you can try more dishes than if you both follow the same tasting menu processional route. Be warned though, you might well be reluctant to share some of what arrives!

The food

OK, I’ll say it – this was quite simply some of the best food I have eaten in a more than usually gluttonous 40 plus years. The simplicity of the dishes belies the huge amount of skill and technique which is clearly at play, because all of that skill and technique is directed back into highlighting the inherent beauty of the ingredients, not into hiding them behind the technical prowess of the kitchen or shoving its cleverness down your throat. Several dishes were frankly so good that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry [and usually ended up doing both at the same time!].

To describe the highlights would include almost everything, so here are the edited highlights.

The bread – not something I can remember raving about, or indeed remember, just about anywhere else, our home-made seeded sourdough [with a hint of smoke] came with home-churned butter. Not an afterthought, not padding, but bread to make you sit up and take notice, a sign of things to come. I scoffed the lot. Incidentally I don’t agree with those who have said that it shouldn’t be served in a paper bag – did they actually taste what was in there?

‘Peas with mint’ – this simple description could only have tempted me more if it were to be reduced to just ‘Peas’ [regulars will know I’m a bit of a pea fan]. What arrived was a sublime, smooth pea cream topped with peas, podded and not, pea shoots, and a pea and mint granita on the side. I rummaged around in my extensive critic’s technical vocabulary and pronounced it [no sniggering] “the height of pea-ness!”. This is now officially my ‘death-row’ dinner of choice.

‘Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion’ – had the Shopkeeper repeating over and over “I can’t believe what they’ve done with… a plate of onions!”. Soft onions, aioli, chives, a light broth with jewels of herbed oil and pine infusion. Deep, fresh, sweet and savoury, it was a perfect example of letting the ingredients do the singing.

‘Coddled free range hen egg with woodland mushrooms and smoked butter’ – that ‘hen’ is as close as you’ll get to redundant verbiage on the menu but entirely forgivable given the difficulty of finding eggs from so humble a fowl on London menus today. Imagine the most unctious yolks you’ve ever had and know that they will be as nothing once you’ve eaten this. Being presented in the egg shell nestling in a bowl of hay has helped this to become one of the most photographed of Dabbous’ dishes – it’s now virtually a celebrity in its own right.

‘Braised halibut with lemon verbena’ – we agreed that we’d never had a better bit of fish. It was meltingly light and stunningly sauced and garnished. I should apologise publicly here to the Shopkeeper for trying to take a delicate bite of the accompanying oyster leaf and underestimating the size of my own mouth, sorry.

Also stunning were… asparagus with rapeseed mayonnaise and hazelnuts, barbecued Iberico pork with acorn praline [don’t miss the turnip tops with home-made apple vinegar], the squid broth, the custard cream pie [hint of Tonka bean?], and the chocolate ganache confection [bigger and more dramatic than the custard pie as the Shopkeeper was repeatedly keen to point out]. An otherwise super salmon with marjoram, samphire and moscatel grapes would probably have fared better if it wasn’t up against such stiff competition.

The cheeseboard

I’d read in Fiona Beckett’s review that the cheeseboard included Wigmore and – my own personal favourite in five years of cheese mongering – Shorrock’s aged Lancashire bomb, a cheese which we were the first in London to stock. I have not seen the bomb on any other cheeseboard, and any restaurant with the good sense to serve it instantly goes up in my estimation.

The bill

Ten dishes of the finest food to be had anywhere in town, three cocktails each [two before dinner, we couldn’t resist another one after], a bottle of Viognier, two glasses of dessert wines, and service, all came to just under £100 a head. It is very easy to pay far more for so much less. Let’s just hope that the laws of supply and demand and the inevitable blizzard of awards to come don’t herald a price hike. As things stand this is phenomenal value for money, especially in the heart of W1, and to find such satisfaction without being bilked in the process is all part of the pleasure.

My advice…?

Book it for as soon as you can, and sit out the wait. There’ll probably be only one Christmas between now and then, and we all know how quickly they come around! In the meantime you can always turn up at the bar where a selection of dishes are also offered, some being from the à la carte and some specifically for the bar. It’s a destination all on its own and I’m planning a return trip just for the cocktails – and maybe a sly snack or four. You never know, ask on the way in and they may even have a cancellation, but don’t count on it.

And when your day rolls around please do me one favour – print out this review, rip it up, and throw it on the fire. Forget everything you’ve read here and anywhere else, put away the expectations and the hype, and just turn up hoping for a good time – you’re in good hands, and the good folks at Dabbous won’t let you down.

I didn’t take photos – enjoyment isn’t always consistent with documenting the evidence, and I still turn my phone off when I sit down to dinner. Fellow reviewers Cheese and Biscuits and Eat Like a Girl were more conscientious in the photography department, and there are plenty more to be found online or on the Dabbous website. Please ask me if you’d like to be referred to pictures of specific dishes.

Dabbous 39 Whitfield St London W1T 2SF [Map]
Telephone: 0207 323 1544 Email: info@dabbous.co.uk

Pot Thai

Chicken in a pot with a selection of Thai spices

Perhaps it’s the unseasonably warm and sunny weather we’ve been enjoying of late, or maybe it’s got something to do with my having done two whole weeks of full-time work [I know, poor me!], but I’m yearning to get on a plane and head for distant shores. And with my own planned odyssey to explore the food of Indochina currently on indefinite hold it doesn’t help that you can’t turn on the TV at the moment without seeing a certain bum-chinned, potty-mouthed chef trampling all over South East Asia and its peoples and cuisines. Ah well, if departure lounges must remain a distant dream for now there’s nothing to stop me rustling up a mini-break from the comfort of my own kitchen.

Last July I wrote about the versatility of a simple chicken pot roast and this is yet another variation on the theme, though this time conceived with thoughts of a cold Tiger beer on a Thai beach at the forefront of my mind.

Follow the same basic method as before [you can substitute water for the wine if you think it feels more ‘authentic’, but I didn’t] but this time add the following:

  • A couple of bruised lemon grass stalks and the stems of a handful of basil [reserve the leaves for later] these to be inserted into the cavity, the rest strewn about the chicken in the liquor…
  • Two small shallots, finely chopped
  • A thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
  • Two or three red chillies, chopped
  • Strips of the peel of half a lime
  • Three or four crushed cloves of garlic
  • Half a teaspoon of ground turmeric

Season well and cook as before. Once the chicken is done allow it to rest and strain the juices into another pan. Reduce by a third. Add a tin of coconut milk, simmer for a few minutes more, and check the seasoning. Add some previously steamed and refreshed green veg to the sauce and warm through. I used new season asparagus and some pak choi, but green beans, peas, spinach, pea aubergines, etc. would all be fine.

Finish the sauce with a squeeze of lime, a splash of fish sauce, the reserved basil leaves, and a few further strips of freshly sliced chilli if you fancy. Serve chunks of the chicken in bowls on a bed of warm noodles and with plenty of the sauce.

Now then, where did I put my postcards…?

Sweet and Sour

Sweet and Sour Sauce in a Yin and Yang bowl

Happy New Year to everyone celebrating the Spring Festival – may the year of the rabbit bring you prosperity, happiness and good health.

Learning a language as an adult is far more difficult than doing so as a child when the relevant bits of our brains are more plastic, malleable and hungry for linguistic stimuli. And as it is with language, so with tableware. I could read English by the time I went to nursery school, but I didn’t meet my first pair of chopsticks until I was in my twenties. By then I could speak knife and fork with ease, and could happily conjugate the correct cutlery course combinations for soup, fish, cheese etc. But my adult mind has never mastered more than a rudimentary grasp of chopsticks. My fingers lack fluency, and even when I do successfully manage to convey a morsel of food to my mouth I’m sure it’s done with a thick English accent, clearly audible to anyone within spitting distance whose mother tongue is chopsticks.

I learnt years ago that to leave one’s chopsticks in a bowl of food shows disrespect for one’s ancestors [that’s what the rests are for people, do not dis the dead], but I’m usually more worried about the disrespect for my dining companions shown by showering them with flicks of my food.

However having recently received some smart new pairs emblazoned with the animals of our birth years I decided we needed to inaugurate them at the dawn of the year of the rabbit. And that’s where a sticky sauce like this comes in very handy for a chopsticks dunce like me. It’s effectively food glue, and I’ll be less likely to starve if I can use it to entrap some errant grains of egg fried rice. There’ll be forks involved before we’ve finished for sure, but like learning just a few words of a new language, at least I’ll feel like I’ve made an effort.

“Gung Hay Fat Choy!”

Very many recipes suggest this same basic technique and combination of ingredients though the proportions vary slightly. I’m not sure how traditional an ingredient tomato ketchup is but it’s certainly popular! Take 100ml of Chinese rice vinegar, 3.5 tbsps brown or cane sugar, 2 tbsps tomato ketchup and 1 tsp of soy sauce. Boil all together in a small pan for a couple of minutes and then thicken with a rounded tsp of cornflour mixed with water. This gives you quite a thick, dark sauce which is probably best for dipping.

I wanted something looser and less intense, so added 200ml of passata, 100ml of water and another good glug of rice vinegar. If you’re doing the same taste the sauce and adjust with more vinegar or sugar to balance the sweet and sour. Quickly stir fry an onion and a pepper [roughly chopped], add cooked chicken [unsurprisingly leftovers in my case], then the sauce and chunks of tinned pineapple. After a quick bubble and stir it’s time to check and adjust again.

I had another wok on the go to fry cooked rice, spring onion, small strips of chilli, some finely shredded smoked duck, peas, a beaten egg and a generous splash of soy sauce. Fried rice is another good place to use up scraps of this and that – the duck was leftover from our recent fondue. If only I’d had a bit of rabbit.

The sauce itself is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If you prefer not to have it with meat then some fried tofu would eat very well.

Risotto of Peas, Mint and Paski Sir [with or without leftover lamb!]

Another risotto, but a traditionally made one this time – albeit with a less than traditional ingredient in the form of Paški Sir, of which more later. For a vegetarian version omit the lamb and use vegetable stock.

 Paski Sir, a Croatian ewe's milk cheese

Since my old friend Geoff first taught me to make a proper risotto in his tiny Battersea kitchen some twenty odd years ago I’ve always found it a really gratifying way to spend twenty odd minutes of my time. It does demand your 100% attention for a while but your efforts are repaid many-fold, and the constant, controlled stirring and the slow addition of stock have a meditative rhythm all of their own.

Paški Sir is a hard ewe’s milk cheese from Croatian island of Pag, and we think it’s quite a discovery. The cheese has the sweetness of sheep’s milk, hints of the herby meadows where the sheep graze, and gains further complexity by being rubbed with olive and ash before maturing. Last time I checked yellowwedge cheese was one of only two UK stockists but after its recent success at the World Cheese Awards [winning the Barber’s Trophy for Best New Cheese] I’m pretty sure that there will soon be plenty of others.

Use a good flavourful stock for this dish, perhaps reduce one you already have until further intensified. I had a bulb of roasted garlic to hand and added this to my stock for its sweetness and depth of flavour.

The leftover lamb is not essential, and if making a vegetarian version clearly you’ll want to leave it out, but I had some leftover shank from an earlier braise and the other ingredients – peas, garlic, mint for heaven’s sake – seemed to be crying out for it. And as I had hoped it worked well with the Paški Sir, but then ewe’s milk cheeses do have an almost incestuous affinity with lamb. If you don’t believe me trying following your next roast lamb dinner with a cheese board of Wigmore, Beenleigh Blue and Paški Sir [or Manchego if you can’t get hold of any]. If you are using it tear and / or chop the lamb into small slivers and nuggets. Be sure to do this and all the other prep before you start.

The shopkeeper has a deep seated aversion to re-heated lamb [I have not been able to cook proper shepherd’s pie at home for over 15 years!] and there was much grumbling and muttering about potential take-aways during the preparation, but in the end the entire bowlful disappeared without complaint. It may even have been enjoyed.

Easily feeds two, especially when one of them doesn’t want any in the first place

  • 175g risotto rice
  • 60g butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, or a couple of skinny ones, crushed
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1.5 tsps mint sauce
  • 200g frozen peas, defrosted
  • 750ml of good chicken or vegetable stock [see above]
  • 75ml vermouth or white wine
  • 120g leftover lamb [optional]
  • 120g Paški Sir, two thirds finely grated and one third coarsely grated or shaved into ribbons

Melt the butter and add the onions, some salt and about a teaspoonful of the mint, the rest of which will be added towards the end. Sauté over a low to medium heat for 10 minutes until softened, adding the garlic for the last two minutes. Meanwhile heat the stock in another pan and hold at a barely trembling simmer. Add the rice to the softened onions, stir well to coat with the buttery juices and give it minute or two more.

Turn up the heat under the risotto pan and add the vermouth. Stir constantly, around and in a figure of eight, exposing the hot base of the pan where the returning liquids will turn to steam and cook the rice. Once the liquid has all but disappeared add a ladleful of hot stock and repeat. Continue in this manner for around 15 minutes.

Test a grain or two of rice between your teeth, it should be almost cooked with a bit of crunch still at the core. If not continue as above, testing after each ladleful of stock has been absorbed. Now add the lamb, and a ladle or two more of stock. With the last addition of stock add the mint, parsley, peas, mint sauce and finely grated Paški Sir.

The risotto is ready when the rice is just al dente and the consistency is creamy and moist, usually after around twenty minutes. If necessary add a final dose of stock, turn off the heat and allow to rest, covered with a clean tea towel. Check the seasoning, you’ll want plenty of black pepper, top with the rest of the Paški Sir, and serve.

Peas and Mint