Steak take 2 – Cau

Steak take 2 – Cau

This is a little belated given this jumps all the way back to the parents visit, but what can I say, I’ve been busy. Cau has got to be one of my best recent eating out experiences. Not only is the food really good (especially the traditional argentinian dishes, we tried the flatbreads which were nice but didn’t blow pizza express away), but the argentinian wine is worth remembering. The only issue here is that I forgot to take pictures, we were a little too busy enjoying the food.

We started with Empanandas, like little cornish pasties with slightly more exciting flavours. We ended up trying all three, through a slight communicative error with our waitress but it was good to try all three. The first, spicy ground beef and onion, was actually my least favourite, ironically probably the most similar to a cornish pasty but it lacked interesting flavour, better for the less adventurous. The next, spanish chorizo and cream cheese was my favourite, spicy and creamy at the same time, good flavour/texture balance. Finally the spinach, ricotta and date which was also really good, the date adding a sweet edge to an otherwise classic combination. We found half of each of these and a chicken skewer was perfect for a starter. We went for the chicken with guacamole (you may be noticing an avocado trend in this blog) which had some of the best guacamole I’ve had in a while, so creamy and delicious – even my dad (who is generally spice phobic) enjoyed the balanced flavours in the guacamole, and very well cooked chicken,  not over or under done.

For mains we all went for steak (why not?) My dad and sister (the mother was off doing her job back in Oxford) both had the thinly sliced tapa de cuadril which was apparently very good and suited both of them perfectly, they aren’t generally so keen on the bloody steak. My sisters salsa style chimchurri sauce was ok but my dad’s garlic and herb aioli fought off stiff competition of any aioli I’ve had before. Likewise dad’s chunky chips were good but my thinly sliced ones were better, and definitely much better than McDonalds while retaining that addictive tendency. I enjoyed the red juices oozing from my perfectly cooked medallions and they were complimented by the creamy and salty mustard sauce which I am ashamed to say I wiped off my plate with the chips, it was that good.

After such a feast we were all quite stuffed, no matter how valiantly I tried to fit dessert in. Luckily my dad had the answer, sharing the Dulce de leche pancakes. I am so glad he forced this on both his daughters as I haven’t had such amazing caramel sauce, really ever. I may just go back for these pancakes they were that good.

I think the picture below speaks for itself, that is a satisfied table – while Cau will never be cheap cheap, it is better value for money given the quality of the produce and wine then most places. Ive never tasted Argentinian food before but I will definitely be trying it again (maybe just at Cau).

Advertisements

If you go down to the woods today…

If you go down to the woods today…

So as you may have realised from this blog I am generally not very good at spontaneity. Of course this is a benefit when it comes to cooking elaborate 5 course dinners…. but generally as a student I am learning to juggle everything with a tight schedule and a bit of spontaneity every now and then is a welcome stress release. Of course spontaneity can vary from taking a long cycle ride, heading to the museum or in my case soaking gummy bears in gin….
It was one of those weird afternoons following brunch when I wanted a snack because I can’t cope with only having two meals a day, so stopped off for a healthy cereal bar. Of course I met my friend who suggested tangfastics were a more juvenile approach and I should probably start acting like the kid I feel like inside rather than the mature soon to be graduate I actually am. Upon spotting the gummy bears I mused that I had always wanted to try gummy bears in vodka having read they grow to about 4 times in size, he suggested we actually try it. Of course I only had gin (being more a g and t girl than a vodka coke) so we used that instead. A few days later and all I can say is that half a packet of gummy bears engorged to the size of a key with gin, makes for rather good pre-drinking.

Same friend, different experiment. Following on from the successful gin gummy bears, we decided to try the much talked about skittle vodka. Deciding that skittles wouldn’t make our final vodka enough like sours, we used skittle sours. Trying not to eat too many we skilfully divided all the skittles into colours, this was the fun part, brought out the ocd in us, I think all Cambridge students have it a little. We then downed 5 bottles of fizzy water and filled up with vodka, I’ll keep you updated on the results

In another note, same friend and I headed to chophouse again (I am not normally this decadent) and had the exciting sharing plate. I have been wanting to try this for a while but this plate is rather difficult to share between four…much better between two.

 Venison Pate with sweetcorn relish and brown sourdough, possibly my favourite part of the dish , meaty and chunky, balanced by the tangy relish. Then there was the pork crackling, crunchy and salty – not quite up their with the maypole’s but then the maypole is specifically tailored for drunken munchies. The cheese, I was assured, was very good cheddar, as detailed many times, I am not a cheese fan. Likewise personally I wasn’t such a fan of the gammon although that is more personal taste as it was smokey and I’m sure hit the spots for more of a gammon lover. I am always a big fan of cured salmon, especially beetroot cured and this was good, although I think it was sliced a little thinly, I think cured salmon tastes better a little thicker so you can taste how much meatier it is than smoked salmon and not so salty but they still did well, plus good value for money, we were stuffed.

St John’s Chophouse

St John’s Chophouse

It might be only me, but when anyone offers me an all expenses trip to a restaurant all I can think about is STEAK. So the inevitable termly visit from the parents is centred around a decadent 3 course meal at none other than the St John’s Chophouse. Not only is this probably the best steak I have ever had, every time I go, but they also play Blackadder in the loos, what more could you want. This time round it was especially exciting as my aunt was up (she’d treated me to a romantic meal at Pizza Express on Valentine’s day – giving me something to do, couldn’t have spent it better) and even my busy london-lifestyle sister was gracing us with her presence. Turns out I’m not the only one who thinks the chophouse is an excellent choice as the whole place was packed, probably a good thing we’d booked on a saturday night…
Since I’m not very good at spontaneity (I’m working on it) , I had of course already perused the menu and was set on starting with some of their interesting sounding Three Squirrels English Sparkling Wine. This turned out to be only one of a set of excellent choices I’d already made before I sat down – yes I had looked at the menu that much. While sipping a glass of the bubbly stuff with distinctive notes of elderflower, we ordered a diverse range of starters much to my internal blogger’s delight. My aunt and mum went for the special, a salmon gateaux, layered with creme fraiche, beetroot cured salmon and smoked salmon. My dad, the quirkily retro prawn cocktail, with slightly more flavour and less acidity than its namesake but still served in a cocktail class. My sister had the cured pigeon and beetroot salad, which indulged every meat lovers dream, the pigeon melting in the mouth due to the curing process, while still maintaining the flavour of a piece cooked rare.

I opted for the poached egg on toast with mushroom/ mustard sauce – tempted by the similarity to my favourite breakfast treat, eggs benedict – the intense flavour and saltiness of the sauce was balanced by a perfectly cooked poached egg, the yellow yolk oozing lusciously from the centre.

We accompanied our main course with a lovely red wine served in big goblet glasses, something I can’t wait own when I have a full set of glassware for dinner parties (although the crystal glasses from Oxfam given to me by my parents for my birthday do look rather good on my cupboard shelf).

 Of course for me this course was what I had been looking forward to pretty much all term, a sirloin steak, brandy and pepper sauce, bashed butternut squash and chunky chips. As any foodie should, I like my steak rare and bloody, and the chophouse didn’t fail me. Likewise the chips crispy and fluffy at the same time as expected, which I used to soak up the deliciously savoury brandy sauce. However the pleasantly surprising highlight of the dish was the butternut squash, it worked so well bursting with sage, I only wish I got more than one spoonful. They say all great women turn into their mothers, and that must be the case as my mum and I unwittingly chose exactly the same main course.

While regaling us with tales of her business course in London, my sister tucked into the market fish, a pan fired sea bream, kale and crushed new potatoes. While I was assured the fish was delicious, she was slightly underwhelmed with the crushed potatoes which appeared to lack buttery flavour and was slightly overwhelmed by mint.

My dad went for the supreme of the menu, the beef wellington. I’m trying not to hear the cries of outrage as I admit that I have actually never tried Beef wellington. The truth is that I’m scared of making it (it is one of the hardest dishes to make without over cooking/ soggy pastry etc) and I’m scared if I have it at restaurant it will be better than I could ever make it. Dad’s did not disappoint. I hardly had a chance to take a picture of it before it disappeared off the plate…. but I was assured it was delicious.

 My aunt was clearly enticed by the specials again as she went with the seasonal duck with haggis hash and roasted carrots and parsnips. Again it hit the spot, crispy skin and melting meat.

I’ve never been one to turn down pudding, despite feeling both well fed, watered and intellectually stimulated by this point, having filled everyone in on my latest work and social highlights and being treated to equally exciting tales, mostly of my parents having gone out to free work dinners and invites to the opera (not that I’m jealous or anything..) The choice isn’t large, and certainly not exotic at the chophouse, but they certainly do Great British Menu incredibly well. I made my third good choice of the evening with the chocolate bread and butter pudding with marmalade sauce. The bitter chocolate was off set by the creamy and sweet marmalade custard, as if you were eating sophisticated chocolate covered orange peel while simultaneously indulging in your mothers most comforting stodgy sponge.

My mother enjoyed her creme brûlée or more geographically correct ‘Cambridge Burnt Cream’, which of course Trinity college take credit for oner french paste chefs… http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/food/article-1298534/Which-came-Cr-br-l-e-burnt-cream-UK-claims-French-classic-own.html

Yet again the only disappointment was slight, in this case my aunt’s dessert was too large. No-one can eat quite that much chocolate pot (a very thick and rich chocolate mousse), I personally would’ve upped the shortbread and cut a little of the chocolate stuff, but I tried a little and the orange and ginger came through nicely , meaning it wasn’t too sweet.
Being the hugely organised family that we are, we spent most of the dessert discussing where our next meal out was – watch this space. Meanwhile check out the Chophouse website http://www.cambscuisine.com/st-johns-chop-house

Macaroons:2 / L’Escargot

Macaroons: 2
Every year my family and I make the huge journey from Oxford to London for an annual christmas shopping trip. We try our best to pretend that we only go up to London once a year (despite the fact my sister now lives there) and plan the trip months in advance. It’s all terribly exciting…. The secret to this shopping trip to prevent the inevitable stress of actually shopping 5 days before christmas on Oxford street, is not to actually buy anything. The hour we spend in Topshop London is about the extent my father can cope with in a shop that isn’t a suit shop or Fortnum and Mason (this year he managed to buy £8 worth of Turkish Delight despite the fact he is the only one in our extended family who likes it). So we tend to potter around, look at the window displays (I go around and gawp at the Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason food halls), do a final mad dash round John Lewis when we realise we haven’t actually bought anything and end up collapsed in a heap in Waterstones coffee shop.

This year I was delivered some welcome respite in the form of a Champagne and Macaroon date with the red haired friend to celebrate her 21st. I wasn’t sure what to expect really when I eventually found my way to Eric Lanlard’s patisserie, Cake Boy. It appeared to be at the bottom of an office block surrounded by a busy roundabout and residential area, I was pretty sure it was the only shop for miles. Once we got in though, it was very modern and smart. This vibe was matched when our macaroons turned up, accompanied by a glass of lovely champagne. 
The plate was so much more than your average plate of macaroons, with a piece of modern art made of chocolate, caramel, raspberry coulis, popping candy, freeze dried raspberry and cocoa nibs underneath the macaroons themselves. It was rather nice to be able to taste the plate as well as the actual macaroons themselves. the flavours they described to us sounded incredibly interesting, including lemon and white chocolate, lime and kinnow, chocolate and caramel and raspberry. However it was a bit of a shame that, while they were all well baked and tasty, most of them were just sweet and the main flavours you could taste were the lemon, chocolate and caramel. But then again I have been spoiled by french macaroons bursting with flavour.

L’Escargot

http://www.lescargotrestaurant.co.uk/Lescargot/intro.html

l’Escargot, as my father helpfully pointed out, means snails, so the assumption would be that this was a french bistro, however L’Escargot is so much more. It manages to bridge the awkward gap between michelin starred expensiveness and dynamic innovations (and sometimes pretentiousness), and the casualness and lack of finesse you get in other places, not to mention the repetitiveness of chain restaurants. It was perfect for a celebratory meal. Most places I’ve been to of a similar price (not very cheap but nowhere near michelin prices) tend to underwhelm on the food for what you’re given, but in this case the food and service impressed.

We were not only celebrating managing to get to the end of the shopping trip and the first time we had all been together in a very long time, but my sister also received her first ever job offer, so we started off the meal with something bubbly. The staff were incredibly helpful and attentive, not only taking all our shopping bags and sopping wet coats as soon as we got in the door, but also charging my phone while we ate our meal. They had the level of attentiveness that I would expect in a michelin starred restaurant (filling up water glasses a lot, pushing chairs in/ laying napkins, refilling wine) but importantly didn’t force bottled water on us (they were perfectly happy for us to have tap) and nor did they push the most expensive food/wine choices on us.

After agreeing on a white wine to go with our various choices, we were pretty much left alone, excepting when we were offered 3 different types of bread (olive, brown, white) all warm with sea salted butter (no additional expense). The olive bread I had was particularly morish, clearly made with olive oil, and we kept being offered more (I did decline with the knowledge that christmas with its’ gut busting mounds of food was just round the corner).
When are starters arrived my first thought was, not too big not too small. Mine came with huge chunky tempura prawns, a lovely light crisp batter with a marie rose sauce, a sort of gourmet fish and chip shop fare. But this gave way to a lovely crab mayonnaise, light on the mayonnaise, heavy on the crab, with a nugget of avocado underneath, lovely.

My Father obviously went for snails, insisting you had to have snails in a place called ‘L’Escargot (he’s an English teacher, takes everything literally). I have to say snails are one of those things I can eat but only as part of a dish, the texture on its own is a bit too odd for my liking, it’s sort of up there with tripe. Having said that my Dad looked positively delighted to be presented with a plate of snails along with his own gadgets to eat them with (boys and their toys), his only criticism was it could have done with a tiny bit more garlic but otherwise very nice.
 
My sister’s Tuna also proved a big hit, although it was less lightly seared and more medium rare, but this may have been more pleasing to any clients with a fear of raw fish. My mother had the enigmatic beetroot and goats curd ravioli, about which the waiter went to great pains to tell us that it wasn’t actually ravioli (I don’t think my mum was that annoyed about the lack of pasta) but was paper thin beetroot surrounding the goats curd. It was a classic combination but well executed with a professional finish.

The mains arrived with the same pomp and ceremony as the starters, plated up beautifully. I started by thinking mine was lacking in side dishes as it was essentially a huge mound of pheasant and chorizo type sausage on a small amount of cabbage and a few smears of parsnip puree. However I soon realised this was because the pheasant was so delicious and meaty (although the highlight was the jus which I could happily have licked off the plate) that it only needed garnishing with the sides, a starchy potato dish would have been too overwhelmingly rich. It possibly wasn’t the most ladylike meal to eat in such a nice restaurant (I tried to pick as much meat off the bone as possible) but luckily the only people who could see were my family who aren’t allowed to judge me too harshly.

My family were equally complimentary. My sister’s sea bass with fennel boulangere was apparently perfectly cooked, and I can vouch for the taste of the fennel myself. She particularly enjoyed the Lie de Vin sauce apparently delicious and alcoholic.
 
My Dad liked the samphire and Salmon combination which was complimented by the sweet ratatouille. My mother went for a rather unusual scallop dish (I generally don’t see scallop on the menu except as a starter), but it seemed like it fulfilled the unusual potential of being filling enough as a main, sweetened by the raisins.

Having had such a good meal I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity for dessert. I rather liked how they added matching dessert wine underneath if you desired. We did have to find our way back to Oxford so decided not to do that but my sister did have one glass of excellent sweet sherry. My mum and dad went for the more traditional items on the menu, Apple tart and Sticky Toffee pudding. I was a bit put off by the fact the tart was served with both calvados cream and creme fraiche but apparently the tart itself enough but made up for it as it was perfection. The sticky toffee pudding likewise got the thumbs up. While my more unusual apricot soufflé and white chocolate toffee crumble was tangy and well cooked for the souflee, but accompanied by a rather odd and disconcertingly bright green shot, which turned out to be a sort of pistachio milkshake, nice for a sip but a but overpowering to have a whole shot of.

All in all I was very impressed with L’Escargot, it managed to do what it said on the label – fine dining, affordable glamour. Greatly enjoyed by all – I would come again if just for that jus on the partridge.

Coast?

Coast

Anyone who knows Cambridge will inevitably remember Tatties and for those of you who don’t know Cambridge think of it as your go to hangover breakfast, weekend panini and chips or for those who live opposite, coffee break. It’s a Cambridge institution (at least if you’re a hungover student) so it didn’t go down too well when a more expensive fish and chip shop restaurant opened there this year    (Despite the fact there is still a Tatties 3mins walk away it’s the principle). Having said that, despite being as far from the sea as seemingly possible, Cambridge needs a good fish and chip place, we have so many kebab/burger/Chinese/Italian/gastropub places I think this might be the one obvious thing we are missing. So this weekend I took full advantage of the parents coming up to get them to take me for a nice lunch (after all what are parents for but making sure you’re not just living off pot noodle – on second thoughts, as if!). Coast started out well. We sat downstairs and the waiters were so desperate to take our drinks order and bring us our drinks we hardly had time to think. Ironically they then got the message rather too well and didn’t come and get our food order for another 20mins meaning we’d finished our drinks before we ordered. However this did give me time to peruse the extended menu. The first thing that struck me was that the breakfasts looked incredibly exciting (watch this space) all smoked salmon scrambled eggs etc and for about the same price as old Tatties. The main menu was equally enticing with a wide range of fish mains (fish pie, seafood tagliatelle) as well as the option to choose your own fish for fish and chips, fish cakes or grilled, all satisfyingly coming with chips. There were salads (typically overpriced) and a small number of meat and veg courses (although why you would come to a fish restaurant I have no idea). Admittedly it is a little out of student budget (Bills or Browns prices ) but it is possible to get a decent Portion of fish and chips for under £10 and they even do takeaway.

When they finally took our order they were very efficient about bringing our food out. Since the parents were paying and we were all dashing around too much that evening to think about eating, I suggested we have two courses each (also so I could try more). I may have mentioned in my San Francisco blog post how much I love crab, and I really do . I was a little sceptical of the fact fresh crab tastes the best and Cambridge is do far from the coast line….. But I was pleasantly surprised.   
The crab mayonnaise was salty and with a kick, not overly creamy and very heavy on the crab meat which is always better. The crab mayonnaise came in two huge quenelles and a hunk of bread on the plate which made me extremely happy, I always hate when you order something like this and end up with about 5 slices of bread with a teaspoon of crab on the side, the filling should always be more than the bread, not visa versa. It came with a well dressed salad and garnish of caviar which at first seemed superfluous but in fact lifted the dish, I was a very happy customer.

My dad got incredibly excited by his prawn and avocado salad because of its edible flowers and caviar, however it was concluded that my dish was better value for money as his dish was smaller, less filling and the caviar was an unnecessary addition as were the flowers. My mother’s was a lot of fun. She had piri piri prawns that came dripping in a very tasty (and messy) sauce and required a lot of work, a finger bowl and 4 napkins, but it came in a cute fake newspaper wrapping and was a good starter for anyone who likes playing with food and wants something slightly lighter but still with a burst of flavour.

Mains arrived almost as soon as our starters were picked up and they did not disappoint. You can see why the prices are higher than you expect, the portions were huge and extremely satisfying. (For real value for money go for the fish burger, only a tenner and about the size of a small dog) my mother and I went for the more expensive grilled mackeral with mash and ratatouille, while my father went for the lemon plaice, grilled with chips. Again I think we picked a winner. 

The mackeral was fiddly (it was a whole fish) but it had been butterflied and main bones removed, with a mass of charred rosemary and thyme on top. The fish was a little under seasoned (I took the lemon out of my water and spritzed this on top which lifted it) and the edge was over cooked but this just meant the centre was perfectly cooked so I could see why. It was served with a chunky pseudo-ratatouille which went very nicely with the fish but could have been a little more saucy.  The best thing about the dish though was the mash. I don’t know what they did to it ( although I suspect they cooked it a little after it had been mashed with lots of butter) but it was possibly the best mash I’ve ever tasted. It was very thick and smooth with a faint garlicky hint, it was so good I finished off my mum’s! My dad’s was also apparently well cooked and the huge mound if chips were very good, very chippy like. I tried one and they tasted so much like the takeaway chips we used to get while on holiday in Brighton, thick, chunky and slightly squashed, very impressed.

I am not easily defeated by food (see midsummer house) but after that I certainly couldn’t manage a pudding (shame I would have liked to have seen if they were any good) and was full for most of the day after meaning it didn’t matter I didn’t eat supper till 10.30. In this sense Coast is very good for filling up while your parents are here so you don’t need to spend so much on food at other times.

All in all I was quite impressed with this restaurant. Not for anyone on a diet (I’m pretty sure the salads wouldn’t be worth the extortionate price) but otherwise the portion size proves what you get for your money and the food straddles the line between homely comfort food and that extra restaurant lift. Not everyday but good for a reasonably priced treat. However I’m pretty sure it will never become as beloved as Tatties.

Midsummer heaven (21st birthday present)

Midsummer Heaven
( photos all at the bottom of the page due to technical-I-broke-my-computer difficulties)

So the moment I had been waiting for for about 3months finally arrived last Saturday. Unlike most things which you get yourself hyped up for but then end up finding bitterly anti-climatic and occasionally lying in bed in a drunken mess wondering exactly why you decided to do what you did last night, lunch at midsummer house lived up to the hype. As a foodie you would probably expect my lasting memory of the day to be solely the food, but while the food was phenomenal ( more on that later) the best thing about midsummer house was how well we were treated by the front of house staff, flawlessly neither stuck up and pretentious or overly chummy, but friendly, informative and made you feel right at home. In fact the whole feel of midsummer house was that of a home, the layout if the restaurant reminding me strongly of some of my friends houses growing up, it really wasn’t very big and while the decor was classy and stylish , the way that the bathroom and lounge were upstairs and the kitchen at the back with the front room with a bay window where we were eating, it would perfectly suit a standard 2.5 children middle class family in size.
As you approach the house it looks rather quirky, a random what should be semi detached house on the edge of a field with the back drop of a river and university boat clubs, but I think this just adds to the charm of the place, plus in the summer i’m sure the views are stunning.

Having waited outside and photographed every angle for about 20mins for the family to finally rock up I was eagerly anticipating the inside. I was not disappointed , not only were we immediately welcomed into our table with a lovely view of the common but we were immediately relieved of our coats, given very handy bag hooks on our luxurious chairs and  offered a glass of champagne. The staff didn’t hurry us but let us take copious photos to celebrate the occasion (I’m not sure we needed the same photo on every iPhone of the family but….) and the sommelier even cheekily slipped into a few putting us all at ease. Canapés were swiftly brought over as we were left to peruse our menu with the waiter happy to put up with my bad French pronunciation of the wines on the menu (turns out he was French…) and to answer my questions of how exactly they made each canapé and why he thought the lime jelly worked with Creme fraiche so well.

Canapés
Bloody Mary foam with celery pieces and celery sorbet 
Two thin slices of potato deep grief to create a puffed up pouch, filled with creme fraiche and topped with chives and lime jelly
A pinwheel of bacon and cheese (in afraid I can’t remember this one so well, but U8 assured me it tasted a little like a cheese twist)


The best thing about this dish was the fact the parents agreed to buy me both a syringe and siphon to make foam after tasting these dishes and declaring them amazing. The texture of the foam was silky and light with a real spicy kick with was cut through by the almost sweet and vibrant celery sorbet which even the great celery hater himself enjoyed! The potato disc was my favourite though, mostly because the crunchy outside gave way to the most surprising almost liquid sour cream hit with the chives and lime as a subtle background flavour – my sister out it well, a sort of posh Pringle, cleverly evoking childhood tastes.

Course 1
Pumpkin velouté, a la greque mushrooms, Parmesan gnocchi 

Kurt angerer, gurner veltliner, Austria 2012

We ordered the market menu , mid-price with flight of wines but you could very easily have a reasonable lunch here 3 courses for the same price as a fairly average meal at Browns if not cheaper!
This course was another triumph for the siphon (mum – if we buy you one will you make this for Christmas dinner?) The only slight disappointment was the lack of crunch, perhaps a Parmesan crisp would have added to the texture as the mushroom pieces and gnocchi, while not filling and bursting with flavour were a little monotonous and blending into one where a salty snap might have lifted the dish. With this we were given a lovely wine, not overly sweet but definitely sweeter than the very dry wine we got next, it balanced the soup nicely. ( I apologise if this is wrong but I’m still learning about wine, but I do know it was a big improvement on sainsburys basics or college Chardonnay )

Course 2
Confit salmon, crayfish, garden apple, sauce vouvray


I will love any well cooked piece of salmon you put in front if me and am a firm believer of curing, slow baking and pan frying but confit is definitely my favourite. For those of you that don’t know, confit is where the meat or fish is slow cooked in medium hot oil for a longer time than you would cook it most ways for a really rich, melting in the mouth taste (although admittedly it’s not the healthiest way…). With this salmon was little individually shelled pieces of langoustine (how you get the inside out so delicately I have no idea) as well as pools of sharp apple purée and a gorgeous salty ,what must have been, sauce vouvray which I shamelessly admit to licking off the plate it was so good! To finish the dish were texturally interesting crispy salmon skin (definitely one up on yo sushi) and salmon pieces wrapped in the thinnest piece of apple I’ve ever seen, a sort of apple spring roll. With this we were offered some lovely homemade bread, not particularly special but just what you need, if it had been too complex it would have detracted from the menu, plus my mum was really impressed with the butter in the shape of bee hives….. No one can say they were stingy with the bread either, when you finished they would immediately offer you a second, warm slice. ( I had to stop after the second fearing I wouldn’t have space for the remaining courses)

Course 3
Beetroot cooked on open coals sheep curd and horseradish 

Chateau Rives-Blanques, Chardonnay-Chenin, France 2012


Midsummer house isn’t famed for its theatricality, it’s more about great tasting seasonal produce (think more Manoir than fat duck ) but it still managed to keep it tongue on cheek with this next course, almost as soon as our wine (the slightly drier white I talked about earlier) had been poured, a what looked like a portable barbecue complete with a large green done was wheeled in. Aptly named the big green egg we were swiftly informed by the chef ( a real kitchen chef and all – what a relief) how the Beetroot she was expertly carving had been cooked for 2days (I think ) over open coals for a smoky flavour to off set the sweetness of the Beetroot. Funnily enough, while impressive, it wasn’t the yellow Beetroot, candied Beetroot, barbecues beetroot, lush Beetroot purée or the fact that my dad was actually eating all this Beetroot having almost declared himself allergic to it at the start of the meal, it was the soft coats curd. It was like a more flavoursome ricotta and offset the acidity and sweetness of Beetroot – I might have eaten my sisters sheep curd too…

Course 4
Slow roasted monkfish, bay leaf, mushroom and onion infusion

Luigi Bosca, Pinot Noir, Argentina, 2011

I had been enlightened earlier of how amazing this dish was before I came by U8 who declared this her favourite dish and it did not disappoint. I think the dishes got better through the lunch. This fish was introduced by way of an apparent coffee service ( I hope your not going to do this with our
cafetiere was the die hard coffee addict my mother’a comment). The waiter explained that he was using the cafetieres to create a mushroom broth infusion to pour over the monkfish. It came with crunchy onion slivers, so thin you could hardly compare them to the hulking batter laden rings you get from the kebab van (although that is my post-club guilty treat on occasion). Every time I have monkfish I’m surprised by how wonderfully meaty it is for a fish, like eating a pork fillet, lighter than a steak but not half hearted and thin like a plaice. This was accompanied by the most lovely red wine, rather like the monkfish it wasn’t as full bodied as the next red, more delicate but was red nonetheless and carried more weight than the white.
 
Course 5
Slow roasted loin of venison, braised neck, Brussels sprouts, pancetta and quince

Lammershoek, South Africa, 2010

After returning from the incredibly decadent bathrooms ( fancy hand towels) and having my seat pushed in behind me as I sat down, and my napkin laid over my lap, I felt incredibly pampered (although admittedly the first time the waiter tried to push in my chair I got a little confused ending in an awkward tussle but we sorted it in the end). The next course felt like Christmas, except what you would have for Christmas dinner if you didn’t feel the need to push your stomach to the limits on Christmas Day . I am a big fan of two things on this dish, the recent re-occurance of venison on dishes, and Brussels sprouts. I know most people are not fans of this seasonal vegetable but I assure you when each leaf is individually peeled for you and served with melt in the mouth venison, a thick red wine jus and a shaving of chocolate it can make even the most anti-sprout protestor enjoy it (exhibit A – my father who appears to be really fussy from this post, he’s not that bad). Having said that the highlight of this dish were the pools of sweet and sharp quince purée and the most succulent braised neck, sharp and salty and soft mmmmmm in fact the only disappointment was that the dark chocolate was masked by these flavours, perhaps a little more would have rendered it not entirely superfluous to the  dish, but baring in mind this was the first day of serving this dish for them it was otherwise exquisite. Even the red meat phobe to my left (my sister had a bad experience with a steak in France) really enjoyed this dish.

Course 6
 Lemon posset, blueberries, lemon Espuma

The keen eyed among you will start to notice a theme, Daniel Clifford seems to be making good use of his siphon. Not that I’m complaining – not only does it gives dishes the most interesting dimension, but I’m also now going to be able to recreate dishes thanks to the persuasiveness of midsummer house foams (note to kings college GOOD use of foams in dishes ). This was almost my favourite dish excepting the second pudding (is it that obvious I have a sweet tooth). Having newly discovered lemon meringue pie (I know 30 years too late) the sweet lemon curd like base was off set by a sharp layer of crushed frozen blueberries and blueberry coulis (who would have thought that the blueberries rather than the lemon was the sour part). Finally the whole dish is finished with a silky lemon foam and tiny pieces of blueberry meringue. Nothing was overly sweet and this proved the perfect palate cleanser before a return to Christmassy flavours for dessert.

Course 7
Roasted chestnuts, caramel, chestnut frangipane

Tenute Marchese Antinori, Vin Santo Del Chianti Classico, 2008

I don’t know why but it has never occurred to me to mix chocolate and chestnut. Chestnut and sprouts, chestnut and cheese even chestnut and caramel but never with chocolate. Oh how wrong I was. This was the best dish. A crumbly salty base, topped with a silky cold chocolate mousse (so much more than an ice cream) with soft chestnuts, frangipane and drizzled with caramel, scattered with hazelnuts. The lost amazing mixture if flavours and textures, each strong enough to hold their own against the other. You’re probably wondering how on earth we managed to fit all this in but trust me when the food is this good – it’s worth it. Wash this down nicely with vin santo (if you have never tried cantuccini biscotti dipped in vin santo stop reading and go try it now) and it was the perfect dessert

Not that we were finished at this point, there was still soft doughnuts with lemon dipping sauce, so good we ate them before I could get a picture. Then ended the meal with complimentary champagne which the sommelier helpfully put in front of us despite the fact my mum and sister had left saying – aah well just two glasses each for you then.


Even that wasn’t the end of it. We were then taken on a tour if the kitchens by our lovely waiter who first took us to the wine cellar and prep kitchen. I kid you not, I held a Dom Perignon 1985. The more I see of life the more I realise I’m going to have to marry for money ! Then round to the main kitchen where I meet the head chef Dan. After that glass of champagne I brazenly recall my experience at Le Manoir, he says we if you don’t ask you don’t get and offers me a work experience slot at midsummer ( turns out he worked at Le Manoir too – watch this space) Finally we end with the pastry kitchen (obviously my faveourite place) where I get to try the new fig and chocolate dessert as well. And on that sugar and career high, I had to come all the way back down to earth, with an opera.

My Heart belongs to San Francisco

My Heart Belongs to San Francisco
            San Francisco, one of the worlds best foodie locations. I was down there on a winning combination of choir tour and family holiday, all the fun of being with your friends with the financial backing of your parents. Although the kitchen facilities in our flat were limited, this was more than made up for by the vast array of exciting restaurants. Ask any foodie and I’m sure they would agree that American supermarkets are heaven, so much choice, so little sense. Who else would think (or be legally allowed) to make apple pie chewing gum, cereal that tastes like peanut butter cups and cheeseburger flavoured chips. However foodie heaven on earth occurs in Whole Foods. I defy any sane person not to stand and stare for a good hour at the mouth-watering cakes, heaped salad bar and hot food stall, genetically perfected fruit and vegetables and un-natural naturally flavoured crisps. I had to stop myself bankrupting my parents with the weighed salad when we went there for lunch and instead opted for a classic smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel. You haven’t tasted a cream cheese bagel till you have had one in San Francisco. I’m afraid you are not allowed anything else but an onion and herb toasted white bagel, lox (smoked salmon and cream cheese mix) and added smoked salmon, simple, yet simply one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted.


            Another American staple that England seems to have failed on is Snapple. You can indeed buy Ice tea but it isn’t really ice tea. Ice Tea in England is far too wholesome and fresh. What you really want is additive full, zero-calorie, ice cold, possibly so far from peach-flavour it seems impossible, peach flavoured Snapple. I am serious it is delicious. I just don’t want to know what it is doing to my body. I think it may be partly due to the legal age for drinking in America that I drank quite so much of this stuff (although I’m sure it’s worse for you than alcohol). Every time my parents would be trying a delicious Californian wine the waiter would turn to me and the grown up 20year old would be reduced once again to an underage child and I would say ‘just a Snapple for me please’. The no drinking didn’t affect me that much until we took a family trip to a wine merchant. Here my parents and sister slowly made their way through large tasters of at least 15 different bottles of wine while I swigged my diet coke in the corner and led the tipsy group waywardly home. ‘sigh’ the responsible 20 year old.
            To offset the enormous amounts of diet coke and Snapple I appeared to be drinking I gladly followed the choir along to a garlic restaurant. The Stinking Rose. I have never encountered such a bizarre place. Any place where a birthday is celebrated by presenting the lucky person with a stuffed hat in the shape of a garlic clove is a little strange. However the most bizarre thing about this place is that every single dish on the menu has garlic in. Their slogan of ‘we season our garlic with food’ is well matched. There is even the promise of ‘Gilroy’s famous garlic Ice Cream’ that thankfully I didn’t try. Despite my complaints, I do love garlic and the Bagna Calda (Garlic soaking in a hot tub) was amazing. So if you are in the area this is a once in a lifetime experience. http://thestinkingrose.com/# (I would also recommend the Crab – I didn’t have it myself but I ate copious amounts of someone else’s….)
            Another gem from San Francisco was a meal I found by the harbour. One Market. It was an amazing find, apparently frequented by businessmen who all drank (like me) large amounts of Ice Tea. While I settled down to my Ice tea, my parents and sister tried the something like $2 martinis, which I would like to add none of them finished.

The menu was, while not cheap, not too expensive and absolutely delicious! Highlights included my beautiful Mahi Mahi seared fish with a side order of the most amazing roasted pumpkin, and my sisters beautiful watercress soup, very simple but lovely. However the pinnacle of the lunch (and possibly of my eating out experience) was the dessert. They kindly offered mini desserts which was understandable for most people following a large three course meal, so of course I had 3 of them. Being America (where no-one knowingly serves too little) mini was a relative term, but they were amazing.

The first was a lovely lemon cheesecake, inverted with the graham cracker crumbs on the outside and it melted in the mouth. The second was assorted crème brulee, classic and coffee, very good but nothing compared to the final flourish. A warm pecan pie, scattered with caramelised bacon (WOW) and topped with creamy bourbon ice cream – of course I had to try and make it when I got home and I advise you to do the same, it is Epic. As expected I licked the plate clean. http://www.onemarket.com
            As I said before I appreciate lots of things the Americans give us foodwise. While their diets may be one of the worst for local, seasonal, wholesome cuisine, it is undoubtedly brought us some gems. Frozen yoghurt is now cautiously making its way over to the UK but in America it is a staple of every street corner (possibly this is also to do with the better weather they have over there). It tastes a little like Mr Whippy ice creams you get in ice cream vans, but you feel much more virtuous eating it. So much so that you can guilt free treat yourself to all the cheesecake bites, oreos, m and ms and peanut butter cups you like. Frozen yoghurt is my favourite type of health food.


            While in America, despite the limited kitchen, I couldn’t resist cooking something. So when a friend of ours mentioned the quintessentially American S’more, I had a go at recreating a version. I melted butter in our microwave and mixed in mashed up graham crackers. I pressed this into a tin and froze for 20mins (my time was limited). Then I topped with marshmallows and placed in the oven on high until the marshmallow started to brown. Meanwhile I melted Nestle chocolate chips, a pinch of salt and lots of butter (I think this is the secret), and topped it before putting it all back in the freezer. Lets just say I had multiple compliments and they were hard to put down, s’morish…..
            On our final day in San Francisco we visited the famous Ferry Market. It is worth a visit. Lots of tasters, meat, cheese, gluten free bakes, I even tried an oyster. However we really headed there with one place in mind, Boulette’s larder. Our host, who lived there, was a regular and had mentioned we were coming  http://www.bouletteslarder.comBoulette was a dog. She slept under the table (I have since been told she died ), a huge matted dog with dreadlocks all over, even covering her eyes. Her owners are two brilliant chefs who cook local and seasonal produce (I apologise to her for the above generalisation about Americans), Amaryll Schwertner and Lori Regis. We arrived, and were immediately treated to two extra 
courses in addition to the main we actually ordered and paid for thanks to the recommendation from our friend. The first was a simple salad of fresh herbs with homemade mozzarella style cheese. Now I am not normally a fan of cheese, and I especially dislike raw mozzarella but this was soft, creamy and delicate, not chewy. The next course I would love to recreate. A perfectly poached egg in a Parmesan sauce/soup with a single caramelized roasted parsnip on top. I then chose to have the chicken, simply roasted with roasted vegetables. I wish I could recommend you choose that but the menu changes so regularly I can only tell you to go with what Amaryll recommends! Finally we were sent off to the airport in style, with a small box full of homemade biscuits which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you were buttery, melting in the mouth and saved me from the limp offering that was my supper on the flight home.