Thursday, 28 February 2013

Oh-so-tasty steaks at the New Street Grill

Last week, a craving for red meat led my boyfriend and I to New Street Grill for an impromptu Monday night meal. Just off Devonshire Square, this stylish restaurant has a sophisticated-yet-intimate vibe; and with smartly dressed French waiters, exemplary service, and a very impressive wine list, it's a bit more special than your usual steak joint.

New Street Grill boasts a very appetising menu, featuring everything from game to seafood, but we were here for steak, so we ignored fought off temptation (roast venison, confit duck leg, lobster macaroni...) and turned our attention to the list of cuts.

I opted for the 250g fillet steak (£33), and received a thick slab of beautifully seared meat. The inside was perfectly rare, while the exterior sported a deep brown gloss with a buttery, almost caramel flavour. Paired with a side of roasted beetroots, carrots and celeriac and a copper dish of creamy peppercorn sauce, it was just what I had been craving.

My boyfriend went for the 350g rib eye (£32). A slightly fattier cut than my fillet, this was incredibly tender, but without (I thought) quite the same intensity of flavour. His accompanying bearnaise sauce was somewhat inferior to my peppercorn (but then, I'm not a fan of tarragon, so I may be biased), but his side of macaroni cheese (complete with smooth cream sauce and a crisp, golden parmesan topping) more than made up for it.

Both steaks were served with a bundle of watercress and half a head of roasted garlic - I ate a clove or two (sweet from the slow cooking process, but still quite potent) which made a lasting impression on my breath!

Paired with a bottle of red (a French Cabernet Sauvignon, for a very reasonable £20 - although the wine list does tend towards the pricier end of things, with many stretching into the £1000s), this meal was a real treat, and if you're a meat-lover, I highly recommend giving it a try!

 New Street Grill on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Best-ever brownies (from the Peyton and Byrne "British Baking" cookbook)

A quick disclaimer before I start this post: while these were the best-ever brownies when my friend made them, my attempt was somewhat less successful: even a minute or two of over-cooking will eliminate the incredible gooey-fudginess this recipe is capable of producing, so MAKE SURE YOU DON'T OVERCOOK THEM! However, as long as you check on them regularly (and err on the side of taking them out of the oven too early rather than too late), then they should turn out every bit as delicious as hers were!


300g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
100g butter (plus extra for greasing)
1/2 teaspoon salt
150g caster sugar
50g light brown sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100g plain white flour
100g chopped walnuts (I missed these out because I hate walnuts - pecans or chunks of chocolate would be a great alternative)

Pre-heat your oven to 180C.

Melt the butter and chocolate pieces in a heatproof bowl balanced over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the salt and stir until smooth, glossy, and fully combined. (Have a little taste if you must!). Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute or so.

Meanwhile, in a seperate bowl,beat your eggs together with the sugar (both types). When the chocolate has cooled slightly, stir the egg and sugar mixture into the melted chocolate, bit by bit.

Finally, fold in your flour.

Grease a 20cm square baking tin and line with greaseproof paper (the trick to lining a baking dish is to snip darts into the corners to allow the paper to fold around with the contour of the tin more easily). Pour the brownie batter into the tin, and cook on the middle shelf for about 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the brownies emerges almost clean (you still want some gooeyness!)

To avoid over-cooking, it's probably best to check your brownies around the 20 minute mark - and if you don't mind them being a bit under-cooked, you could even remove them early for an extra-fudgy texture.

Leave the brownies to cool completely in the tin, then cut into squares and serve! They should keep (ha!) for a couple of days in an airtight container.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished product...but here's some Oliver Peyton made earlier

Monday, 25 February 2013

Seasonal tasting menu at Morgan M

For a pre-Valentine's day treat, my boyfriend and I headed to Morgan M, just off Smithfields Market. I've wanted to check out their seasonal tasting menu for a while, and I wasn't disappointed: we had a lovely meal which - while arguably slightly less innovative than Club Gascon - was equally delicious.

The six course tasting menu (£52) is unusual in that it gives you a lot of choice, making it more about the customer and their preferences than the "no-substitution" approach favoured by other restaurants, and with a focus on top-quality ingredients and flawless execution (rather than off-the-wall flavour combinations), fussy eaters will fare better here than most places. This meant that, for once, I could go for the meat-eaters menu without fear of being accosted with frogs legs, foie gras, offal, or other 'scary' ingredients.

Decorated with an unobtrusively pastel palette, Morgan M is perhaps not the most atmospheric venue. However, it was actually quite nice to eat in a calm, well-lit space, and - in any case - I would always rather the decor took second place to the food than the other way round!

The menu began with a delicious velouté of turnip and white truffle. Smooth and creamy, the slight sweetness of the turnip was the perfect vessel for the muskiness of the truffle - a lovely and understated start to the meal.

This was followed by the ravioli of snails for my boyfriend and an exquisite dish of crayfish and lobster canneloni for myself. Sweet chunks of tender seafood were rolled in a sheet of fresh green pasta, with a Jerusalem artichoke soubise and shellfish cappuccino providing the perfect finishing touches.

I even tried a bite of snail (despite my squeamishness): encased in more freshly-made pasta and doused in a rich red wine sauce, the garlicky snail meat was surprisingly good.

The next course  - fillet of John Dory with the carrot and ginger risotto - was my favourite of the night. The fish was cooked to perfection, with crisp golden skin and meltingly tender white flesh; the unusual pairing of carrot and ginger with risotto was spot on; and the fragrant lemon and saffron broth brought everything together perfectly. The only downside was that - being just one course in a tasting menu - it was finished all too quickly: I would happily dig into a huge bowl of this dish on a regular basis!

To follow the fish course, we were given the choice of slow-cooked wild boar or pheasant. My boyfriend went for the boar, which was excellent. The large slab of boar - surrounded by an artful arrangement of roasted root vegetables and celeriac puree - cooked to perfection, collapsing into tender flakes of flavourful meat.

My pheasant was not quite as good - while the bread sauce and glazed pear were very tasty, the pheasant itself was a little too gamey, and the rich topping of liver pate was a bit too much, and I found myself scraping most of it off.

Entering the dessert phase of the menu, we were treated to a lovely pre-dessert of vanilla rice pudding. Encased in a dainty ring of crisp orange tuile and doused with fruity sauce, this was some of the best rice pudding I've tried, as far removed from my (traumatic) childhood memories of tinned Ambrosia as can be.

For the final course, we both passed over the orange segment salad (too healthy-sounding!) in favour of the blueberry and pistachio soufflé. I love soufflé, and Morgan M's offering was particularly good - flavoured with juicy blueberries and a hint of pistachio, and accompanied by a refreshing blueberry sorbet and a jug of rich creme anglaise, this was a light and airy ending to a fantastic meal.

Morgan M on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A laid-back brunch at Osteria Dell'Arte in Clapham

The other weekend I cycled down to Clapham for a long overdue catch-up with my original "brunch buddy". She used to live just down the road from me in Angel, but since she upped sticks and moved South London, our brunching has become (tragically) less frequent, and it was lovely to get together again.

We're both big fans of Bread Etcetera (unlimited bread to toast at your table, what more could you want?) but unfortunately 11.30am on a Saturday is not the best time to visit, and the queue was already snaking out of the door when we got there. Instead, we crossed the road to another great brunch spot - the Osteria Dell'Arte.

Bright and airy inside, with high ceilings, a glass roof, and - impressively - a large tree, you can almost imagine you're eating outside (although without the icy temperatures and intermittent drizzle of a British winter). White walls and colourful arty accents complete the fresh, zesty vibe.

The breakfast menu - despite the Italian make-over - offers a fairly classic selection of brunch-time favourites, from smoked salmon scrambled eggs to omelette. I went for the All'Inglese (aka the full English), while my friend opted for the Uovo Benedict.

The full English wasn't the largest I've had - in fact it was positively diminuitive in comparison to some of the behemoth breakfasts I've had - but despite my inital disappointment it was still delicious, and actually did fill me up (my eyes are often bigger than my belly!)

A neat stack of bacon, mushrooms, grilled tomato, sausage and beans were topped with a perfectly fried egg: everything was good, but the spicy Italian sausage and the home-made baked beans were particularly delicious. The large squeezy bottle of Sainsbury's own brand ketchup was a homely touch - no fancy home-made ketchup here! - and despite being a total Heinz snob (if you can actually call someone who smothers everything in ketchup a snob) it was actually pretty tasty!

My friend's Eggs Benedict was also good, with plenty of ham and a generous drizzling of golden hollandaise. Along with our food we had couple of teas (and a nice long chat) before going for a wander around Clapham (which ended up with us both accidentally buying uneccesary accessories from a cute little boutique around the corner...oops!).

To conclude, Osteria Dell'Arte is a lovely spot: next time you're shivering away in the queue for Bread Etcetera, maybe you should pop across the road instead!

Osteria dell'arte on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Tasty pizza at Santore, Exmouth Market

Another gem on Exmouth Market, Santore serves up some of the best pizza around. I went there for lunch the other week with my boyfriend and his mum, and (as on previous visits) was impressed by the fantastic food, friendly service, and very reasonable prices*.

 Look at that beautiful base!

The pizzas are pretty large, so while my boyfriend went solo with a napoletana, Jane and I decided to split a quattro stagioni pizza and the melanzane parmiagana (from the starter menu).

The pizzas were excellent, getting high marks in all four 'tastiness' criteria:

1) Cheese - plenty of ooey-gooey good quality mozzarella - tick
2) Tomato sauce - smooth, zingy, and super-fresh - tick again
3) Toppings - all delicious, with plenty of different combinations available - tick
4) Base - perfection, hitting that sweet spot between doughy/crisp and thick/thin bang on - TICK!

 Two 'seasons' of a quattro stagioni pizza (not the easiest pizza to share!)

The aubergine dishes are pretty amazing here too, and our melanzane parmiagana starter was gorgeous (and - for the record - huge): layers of tender aubergine, tangy tomato passata, and melted mozzarella garnished with fresh basil and salty parmesan...mmmm. Last time I came here I made the mistake of following the melanzane pamiagana with an aubergine, tomato and mozzarella pasta, and the resultant aubergine overload slightly marred my recollection of the dish, but it really is excellent.

In conclusion, Santore is a great little place: the food is delicious, while the laid-back atmosphere means it is as perfect for a lively Italian-style family dinner as for a relaxed pre-theatre meal a deux**.

 Tucking in :)

*It's hard to justify the extortionate prices charged by takeaway joints (Dominos, Papa Johns, I'm looking at you!) when you can get pizza this good for a mere £7
**Before heading to the ballet at nearby Saddlers Wells...very civilised!
Santore on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Kurumaya - delicious Japanese in the City

Another week, another lunch - this time Japanese with some of the girls from the office.

We were in the mood for something a bit more exciting than Itsu or Wasabi, so we headed to Kurumaya on Watling Street for some upmarket Japanese cuisine. The basement restaurant has a very comprehensive menu - offering everything from enormous 8-person sushi platters to bento boxes, teppanyaki and assorted noodle dishes - and the fact that you have to take your shoes off adds to the authenticity of the Japanese dining experience!

My only complaint is that the size of the meals is pretty variable: you can't really tell how much food you're going to get (even the pricing doesn't provide much of an indication). Last time I ate here, I struggled to finish an enormous bowl of seafood udon soup, whereas on this occasion my mixed seafood teppanyaki (see below) was pitifully small compared to the dishes served up to my peers.

Still - it was delicious: juicy chunks of fish, large, flavourful shrimp, and rings of tender squid, all drenched in an exquisite buttery sauce (which I tried - and failed - to scoop up with my chopsticks!)

Mixed seafood teppanyaki (with fish, squid, prawns, and stir-fried vegetables). Small, but delicious nonetheless!

In addition to the beautiful sushi set and the tempura udon soup pictured in this post, my group also enjoyed chicken katsu curry, a set of temaki hand-rolls, and a plate of sashimi (I didn't want to have to lean over everyone to get photos, so no pictures unfortunately!). Everything was reported to be delicious, and there was not a speck left on any of our plates at the end of the meal.

Tempura udon soup

If you're a fan of Japanese food and you're looking for somewhere to go for a lunch-time treat, I would definitely recommend Kurumaya - just make sure you book in advance, as the restaurant is usually pretty busy!

Kurumaya Japanese Restaurant on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Club Gascon - Review for the Bookatable blog

Quinoa-risotto (aka "quinotto") stuffed tulip

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to try the six course "Le Marche" tasting menu at Club Gascon. My boyfriend and I had a fantastic meal (highlights included quinoa-stuffed purple tulip, goose with red cabbage and mulled wine sauce, and a miniature cone filled with creamy ice-cream and the best salted caramel I have ever tasted) and afterwards I wrote about it for the Bookatable blog. Check out the full review here (and then get yourself to Club Gascon!).

Rare goose breast with red cabbage, puntarella, and a mulled wine sauce

 Pre-dessert (that salted caramel made my week!)

Club Gascon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Lasagne soup

I love lasagne, but it's not something I usually have time to make after a full day at work... when I saw this lasagne soup on Sweet Basil, I knew I had to give it a try. Meaty, tomato-ey, and packed with chunks of melting mozzarella, this quick, no-fuss recipe is a great way of satisfying your craving without spending hours in the kitchen.

The concept is pretty simple - make a basic Bolognese sauce (beef mince, tomato passata, maybe some red wine), throw in some pasta (most recipes call for broken up sheets of lasagne - I didn't have any left, so I used fresh tortellini instead), and finish everything off with chunks of fresh mozzarella and a heavy dusting of Parmesan. Delicious.

My version is quite different from the original, and if you have your own tried-and-tested recipe for Bolognese, feel free to substitute it in to the recipe below.

Ingredients (makes two huge bowls, or four smaller ones)

1 lb of extra lean beef mince
700g tomato passata
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Handful of basil leaves, roughly shredded
1tbsp tomato puree
A few glugs of red wine
Hot water, to thin out the sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Half a packet of fresh tortellini (OR a few sheets of dried lasagne, broken into pieces)
1 ball mozzarella cheese, cut into chunks
Parmesan and more basil leaves, to serve

Fry your mince in a large frying pan. Depending on the size of the pan, it may be best to do this in batches to allow the meat to brown properly. Meanwhile, add tomato passata, crushed garlic, basil leaves, tomato puree and red wine to a large saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Once browned, add your mince to the tomato sauce, and cook everything together on a medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.

Season your sauce with salt and pepper to taste, and add the tortellini. The sauce should be liquid enough to cover the pasta - if not, add some hot water to make it more 'soupy'. Leave everything to simmer for another 4 minutes or so (depending on the cooking instructions for the tortellini), before stirring in three quarters of your mozzarella cubes.

Divide the lasagne soup into bowls, and scatter with the remaining mozzarella, more shredded basil, and a good sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Lunch at Zizzi

The other Friday I took a long lunch break and went to Zizzi with a couple of girls from my office. Zizzi may be a chain, but the food is lovely, and the atmosphere at this particular restaurant is surprisingly relaxed given its location inside the sometimes-hectic One New Change shopping centre.

Zizzi has a typically Italian menu of delicious pasta dishes and decadent pizzas, but it also offers a decent selection of healthier options. My friend and I both decided to try the Skinny Rustica pizzas from the guilt-free range. My Bufala pizza (topped with buffalo mozarella, sun-blushed tomatoes, basil and rocket) was delicious, and my friend's Primavera (with aubergine, olives, peppers, artichoke and goat's cheese) looked pretty good too! Both had lovely doughy bases, delicious tomato passata and just enough cheese, and - stylishly presented on wooden boards alongside a mound of mixed salad - they certainly didn't leave us feeling deprived.

The third member of our party went for another guilt-free option - the aptly named Superfood Salad. Drizzled with balsamic vinegar and accompanied by a pair of doughy breadsticks, this was a tasty and nutritious mixture of butternut squash, courgette, lentils, broadbeans, goat's cheese, salad leaves and mint. My friend added grilled chicken to her salad for a well-balanced and filling lunch.

To celebrate the end of "dry January" (not that any of us had actually suceeded!) we ordered a carafe of Merlot with our lunch - at £12.55 for 500ml this was good value, and definitely a nice way to finish the week!
Happy Friday!

Square MealZizzi on Urbanspoon