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Friday, 5 January 2018

Discovering the Best of Filipino Cooking & the Country's Hottest Restaurant Tables at Madrid Fusion Manila

With over 7000 tropical islands, there is just so much to discover about the Philippines. The archipelago and its people are brimming with variety and character, and the food scene has been making huge strides in recent times. So how lucky was I to visit it twice in the last 12 months, with the last of these trips coinciding with the annual gastronomic conference - Madrid Fusion Manila.

Lechon (roast sukling pig) for breakfast, no better way to start the day!

Madrid Fusion is a well-established food symposium held every year in Spain’s capital aiming to highlight new developments in gastronomy, with chefs old and new demonstrating their culinary know-how.

The grand opening for Madrid Fusion Manila gastronomic conference

An offshoot of this and now in its third year, the Madrid Fusion Manila takes place in the Filipino capital every April. The conference is an important date in the gastronomic calendar of the country and has helped to drive innovation and quality improvement in the food of the Philippines.

Madrid Fusion Manila 2017

Manila is an exciting place to be these days if you are a chef or foodie, with so much happening on the culinary scene and new restaurant openings, there is also a renewed focus on the unique local produce and on creative ways of using it. The result is that Manila has a number of rising restaurant stars who dig deep into the culinary traditions of the Philippines, but more on that later.

Unique Filipino Ingredients at Madrid Fusion Manila

International participation in this year’s Madrid Fusion Manila was seriously impressive, with chefs from Indonesia, Korea, Hong Kong, USA and Singapore joining their European counterparts. With the theme of the conference being sustainability, there was a strong emphasis on foraging and fermentation with a number of restaurants growing their own food, including the UK’s Simon Rogan of L’Enclume, one of the conference’s international chefs.

Chefs from all corners of the world attending Madrid Fusion Manila

Without wanting to sound partisan, Rogan’s presentation at Madrid Fusion Manila was for me outstanding. Taking the conference theme of sustainability to heart, he did not bring a single ingredient with him from home but went to the local farmers’ market on arrival in Manila for inspiration. There he purchased all the produce for the dishes he was still to create and demonstrate at the conference. Such self-confidence is perhaps not surprising - I have tried Simon Rogan’s cooking in the UK on a number of occasions, and consider him one of the top chefs in the country.

The UK was represented by Simon Rogan of L'Enclume

But for me the real stars of the show were the local Filipino chefs.  

I met and interviewed Josh Boutwood, son of a Filipino father and a British mother who trained as a chef in Europe. Though born in the UK, Boutwood considers the Philippines home, having spent his early years on the tropical island of Boracay. In 2010, after stints in Scandinavia and the UK, and wishing to build on Filipino traditional flavours, he returned to the island of Boracay to open his restaurant, Alchemy.

Chef Josh Boutwood - Image Courtesy of Tatler Philippines

In January 2017, at the age of 30, he opened his own private-dining restaurant, The Test Kitchen, in Manila. Seating only 22 and with an ever-changing menu of 6 to 8 courses, his is one of the hottest tables in Manila right now. 

Boutwood spoke to me with candour about the Filipinos’ quest to find their own culinary identity, in a country with so many influences – Chinese, Spanish, American, Malay as well as a strong indigenous culture. It is encouraging to see someone relatively young but with such experience and talent flying the flag for the country’s cuisine. 

Another local chef to look out for in Manila is Jordy Navarra, who has been making a name for himself at his Toyo Eatery after working at the Fat Duck and Hibiscus in London.

Navarra is also a real advocate for the country’s local produce, sharing the stage with a fisherman he brought all the way from his village in the north to demonstrate how he fillets dorado. Because they can only fish for two months of the year, their catch is dried in the sun, then salted and smoked. Navarra uses this for Kinilaw, a Filipino version of ceviche, made with vinegar, pickled ginger, onion, lime zest and coriander flowers.

Two other Filipino celebrity chefs I got to meet at Madrid Fusion Manila, although they were not speaking this year, were Claude Tayag and Margarita Forés whose knowledge and enthusiasm for Filipino cooking were inspiring. 

Forés is the founder of the Cibo Group of Italian restaurants, which are scattered around the more upmarket neighbourhoods of Manila. She was awarded Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016 by San Pellegrino, and is one of the most famous names in the capital’s food scene.

The delightful Chef Margarita Fores of Cibo Restaurants

As well as hosting us at a local Farmer’s Market in Manila, where Margarita showed us around and introduced us to local vendors and produce, she also served up a cracking plate of corn piadina, sautéed river prawn, with crab head cream sauce and candied calamansi lime at the conference. This was one of the best dishes I had during the three days there.

Visit to the Famers Market in Manila

It was at the Farmer’s Market that Margarita Forés introduced me to sea grapes, a local delicacy known in the Philippines as lato, but also native to Okinawa in Japan (known as umi-budō) and the East Malaysian state of Sabah (where it is called latok).

Filipino Sea Grapes known as Lato

Noteworthy also was the huge variety of exotic tropical fruit and vegetables, and the freshness and great quality of the fish and seafood on sale.

Fresh seafood at Farmers Market in Manila

Claude Tayag, a Filipino polymath who writes and paints as well as being an award-winning self-taught chef was also at the conference. He is an authority on the cuisine of Pampanga (a province in central Luzon), which he serves at Bale Dutung (Wooden House), his home turned into a by-reservation-only restaurant. Bale Dutung reached stardom when Anthony Bourdain made it the location of the Philippine episode of his TV show, “No Reservations” in 2008.

Chef Claude Tayag

Claude Tayag presented a delectable Filipino dessert ‘Maja Lila’. Normally a ‘blanca’ or white pudding made with coconut and corn, his version was lilac because of the native purple ube, served with a lip-smacking salted quail egg yolk – certainly one of the highlights of the conference.

Maja Lila by Chef Claude Tayag

Though not Filipino, Chele Gonzalez is the Chef Patron at Gallery Vask in Manila, heralded as the best restaurant in the Philippines by San Pellegrino, as well as being listed 35th among the top 50 restaurants in Asia in 2017.

As part of the many activities around the conference, participants have the opportunity to sign up to various dinners hosted by the chefs, and if you plan a visit to Madrid Fusion Manila in 2018 or later, I highly recommend signing up to one of these events.  

I attended the one such dinner at Gallery Vask, where chefs from Locavore, Nerua in Bilbao and Odette in Singapore, collaborated with Gonzalez to prepare an outstanding tasting menu.

Every day of the conference there is a long themed lunch break with restaurants of different regions of the country showing their best fares. It is a great opportunity to sample a tremendous spread of Filipino specialities under one roof.

In 2017 the themes were Luzon and Rice, Vizayas and Nose to Tail, and Mindanao and Corn.

The most interesting of these for me was the “Nose to Tail” event, where all the unmentionable bits of animals were served up. I tried Dinakdakan, chopped beef tongue, braised oxtail and pig’s brain mousse, then Betamax, grilled chicken blood with Davoa dark chocolate and crispy chicken craw, all surprisingly tasty.

For the ultimate Filipino surprise, try Balut – a hard-boiled fertilised duck egg, which contains a developing embryo complete with beak and feathers. Don’t forget to add the dressing of chilli, onion and vinegar for that extra kick!

The 2018 Madrid Fusion Manila theme will be “Innovating Tradition”, the conference will take place between 19th to the 22nd April 2018. For more information visit their website at http://www.madridfusionmanila.com/.

Travel Essentials

Fly direct from London to Manila with Philippine Airlines.

For more information about the Phillipines, what to do and where to go, visit the national tourism board site - It's More Fun in the Phillipines

Madrid Fusion Manila

Test Kitchen by Josh Boutwood
9780 Kamagong St. 
San Antonio Village, Makati City
Metro Manila

Toyo Eatery by Jordy Navarra
2316 Chino Roces Ave, 
Makati, 1231 
Metro Manila

Cibo by Margarita Forés
With 12 locations in the Philippines

Bale Dutung by Claude Tayag
Villa Gloria Subdivision, 
Angeles City, Pampanga

Gallery Vask by Chele Gonzalez
5th Floor, Clipp Center 11th Avenue corner 39th Street Bonifacio Global City 1634 Taguig

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Iceland Christmas Foods - Gilded Turkeys, Melting Chocolate Snowflakes, Macarons and Much More!

A unique supermarket group in the UK, Iceland specialises in a huge range of frozen foods but it also offers fresh produce, groceries and drinks. Despite accounting for just 2% of supermarket food sales in the UK, Iceland is renowned for its specialty dessert selection, and in fact is the leading supermarket in the country for desserts.

So I was intrigued to visit Iceland’s head office and product development kitchens in Deeside near Chester to meet their Director of Product Development, Neil Nugent.

The event was an opportunity to flag up some of Iceland’s Christmas range products, and we got off to a very good start with their warming, sweet mulled white wine (first time I tried a white wine version) and some very good Iceland Luxury Mince Pies (£1.89 for 6) on arrival.

Then it was into the testing kitchen for a cookery demonstration of a variety of Iceland’s Christmas offerings.  We started with Iceland’s lobster range. Iceland sells an incredible half a million lobsters each year, and no fewer than half of those are sold in December. They are sold whole, split in half, or as shell-on tails, and Iceland have even perfected a way of removing shells from raw lobsters for easier cooking. 

Smoking lobster tails in burning hay!

In whatever form Iceland’s lobsters are bought, Chef Nugent recommends never boiling them, but rather grilling or frying to preserve the flavour and texture of the meat.  Grilled then smoked in burning hay and served in a taco, the lobster flesh was indeed succulent and delicious.  I loved the clever use of hay to smoke the lobster tails. As part of the 2017 Xmas festivities, Iceland offers Luxury Rock Lobster Thermidor, with a tangy cheese and mushroom sauce (£14 for 2).

Griddled and Hay-Smoked Lobster Tails with Burnt Pineapple, Picked Onions, Guacamole and Soured Cream over Tacos

For Christmas day itself, Iceland, recognising the age-old problem of dry turkey breast, has revived the Victorian custom of roasting the turkey with butter-encrusted muslin draped over the breast.  The Luxury Gilded Turkey with a Mustard & Honey Glaze (£15 for a 3.5Kg bird) is baked at home, then the provided honey and mustard dressing is added for the last 5 minutes for a deep ‘gilded’ finish.

Iceland's Gilded Turkey with Mustard and Honey Glaze

Chef Nugent is also experimenting with roasting salt-encrusted joints, and I was impressed at the sight of him encasing a seasoned, butter-encrusted turkey in a mixture of rock salt and egg white before wrapping the whole lot tightly in muslin.

Salt-Encrusted Turkey!

The salt forms a second “oven” inside your kitchen oven, sealing in all the flavour and moisture of the bird.  I really enjoyed the tender and succulent flesh that emerged once the salt crust had been broken and brushed away.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas-inspired cocktails on the day - to note were the Christmas Mince Pie Martini made from vodka infused in Iceland's mincemeat and also the Christmas Bloody Mary using bacon-infused vodka! Both were really delicious and refreshing and easy to replicate at home!

The day finished with a medley of Iceland’s famous desserts. After weeks of development, Chef Nugent and his team are particularly proud of their new Luxury Melting Middle Chocolate Snowflake (£8, serves 8). A chocolate brownie base is topped with a Belgian chocolate bronze snowflake-shaped shell. You simply pour over the provided hot chocolate sauce to reveal the hidden Belgian chocolate mousse and enjoy!

Iceland also has some gorgeous looking macarons, (12 for £3), while its Luxury Raspberry & Pistachio Layered Pavlova (£6, serves 8), is an Olive Magazine supermarkets award winner. With gooey meringue, lemon cream and raspberry sauce topped with whole raspberries and pistachios, this is a dessert that looks and tastes the business. 

And of course, there is also a Luxury 12 Month Matured Christmas Pudding with Brandy, Sherry and Cognac (£6, serves 6), or for a novel variation, the Luxury Christmas Pudding with a Brandy Sauce Centre (£6, serves 8), which was highly commended by Olive Magazine.

Iceland is already gearing up for Xmas 2018, but for this year they have a huge range of treats for the whole season, with everything from party food to main courses, drinks, spirits and liqueurs.

You can see more at http://groceries.iceland.co.uk/event/christmas or pop into your local branch – if you shop in store until 24 December, they offer Christmas food delivery for free! 

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by Iceland Foods. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The St James’s Market Advent Calender Starts Today – Your Chance to Win a Fabulous Xmas Prezzie Every Day to 24th December 2017!

I don't know about you, but I get childishly excited about Advent Calendars - and St James’s is most likely the ultimate of its kind this festive season, with a fabulous gift giveaway each day in the run-up to Christmas! Forget milky chocolates, we are talking men's fashion, wine tastings and other super-luxe prezzies!

To welcome in the festive season, the St James’s Market Pavilion has been turned into a giant advent calendar. When each new advent window is opened, one lucky person will win and the surprise revealed each day via @StJamesLondon Instagram Stories.

St James's is widely recognised as the original home of menswear in London and the stomping ground of the well-dressed, so it was a natural choice to ask London Fashion Week Men to curate a selection of the twenty-four gifts.

Each beautiful present has been gifted by a different one of St James’s unique and exceptional retailers, restaurants, art galleries or hotels. For a full list of participating St James's retailers and a flavour of gifts on offer, take a peek below.


For a chance to win one or more of these fabulous gifts, visit the St James's site at https://stjamesslondon.typeform.com/to/rD5749 and enter your details in the entry form.

From today, the 1st December, each daily gift will be revealed on @StJamesLondon Instagram stories. Follow @StJamesLondon to stay up to date and take part. Participants can enter daily for a chance to win each prize. 

From Champagne afternoon tea for two, to a fitted Barbour jacket, will you be lucky enough to win one of the bespoke gifts from St James's esteemed retailers? Brands include: 

Lou Dalton
Berry Bros. & Rudd
Fortnum & Mason 
Aspinal of London
D R Harris
Emma Willis 
Barbour Int
The Ritz 
Harvie and Hudson
Tiger of Sweden
Mint Leaf
New & Lingwood
Sims Reed
Lock & Co
John Smedley 
Haymarket Hotel

For more information about St James, the Advent Calendar and what is going on in this exciting neighbourhood of the West End of London, visit their website here - http://www.stjameslondon.co.uk/.

This review feature was commissioned and sponsored by St James Crown Estate. The London Foodie maintains full editorial control over all content published on this site as always.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bottomless Brunch on the Southbank at Gillray’s Steakhouse & Bar

Words & Photography by Matthew Brown and Luiz Hara

Name: Gillray's Steakhouse & Bar

Where: London Marriott Hotel County Hall, Westminster Bridge Road, SE1 7PB, http://gillrays.com/

Cost: The Gillray’s Bottomless Brunch is available every Saturday and Sunday, from 12-3pm, for £40 a head. Diners can choose two courses from the extensive menu, which is organised into four sections: Cereals, Eggs, Meats and Treats. This will be accompanied by an unlimited number of glasses of Cordoniu Brut, a light and refreshing cava that is perfect for an early afternoon sitting. Side-dishes are available for £5 extra, and include a Bloody Mary, triple-cooked chips, and cauliflower and truffle bake.

About: I last reviewed Gillray’s in 2013, when I came for a sumptuous steak dinner, complete with oysters and cocktails. I recall that meal well and looked forward to my return visit for their new weekend brunch. You can read about it here.

The restaurant is named after the 18th Century political caricaturist James Gillray, and this impressive spot in the South Wing of the Marriott Hotel County Hall boasts great views across the Thames to Westminster.

The beautiful wood-paneled, large-windowed dining room is a welcome respite from the tourist rush outside, but it’s also the perfect place to enjoy a brunch before seeing a matinee at the National Theatre or Old Vic, or a film at the BFI.

The Bottomless Brunch offers some signature dishes from the evening menu (sirloin steak and a thick bacon chop) alongside brunch favourites such as eggs royale, pancakes and chia-seed pudding. It is good value and a lot of fun. 

When I came here last, I mentioned that it would have been good to see more affordable options on the wine list, and I'm happy to say that the brunch menu now gives you the opportunity to enjoy a Gillray’s meal with a good-quality free-flowing cava, Cordoniu Brut.

What We Ate: We started with a complimentary hors d’oeuvre from the kitchen, miniature Yorkshire puddings, filled with melted cheddar, and accompanied by a horseradish and creme fraiche dipping sauce. This innovative take on a Sunday Roast classic was such an improvement on the original! The cheese adds texture and flavour, and the fresh dipping sauce went perfectly with the light pudding batter. They were so good, we asked for more!

One of the first courses was the quinoa porridge, made with almond milk and topped with raspberries, pomegranate seeds and honey. Beautifully presented, it was a healthy way to start, with the almond milk ensuring that the dish wasn’t too rich.

Next was the Eggs Royale - an English muffin topped with smoked salmon, poached eggs and a rich Hollandaise sauce. It’s a brunch classic, and the Gillray’s version was so generous that they even folded an extra slice of smoked salmon between the halves of the muffin. The grilled lemon halves were yet more proof of Gillray’s attention to detail, this dish made for a decadent start to the meal.

The second course was a 200g sirloin, topped with a fried egg. It was accompanied by a side dish of flat cap mushrooms with rosemary. Unusually for a restaurant in an international hotel, Gillray’s prides itself on its local suppliers. The Aberdeen Angus steaks come from Darragh O’Shea’s farm in Scotland, and this shows in their depth of flavour.

The second main course was the Gillray’s Steak Burger. This enormous stack, containing a 280g patty, cheedar cheese, onion rings and gherkin may have taken their generosity to a fault! It was hard to tuck in to, and even harder to finish! Sadly, the thick patty could only be ordered well done, it was flavoursome if a tad dry. The onion rings were crispy on the outside, and the hash brown nuggets were a brilliant and addictive invention, served alongside a delicious red onion and bacon chutney.

What We Drank: Our meal started the way every good brunch should, with a Bloody Mary. In the Gillray’s version, the spiciness of the Tobasco is softened by slices of fresh cucumber and lemon, and the addition of celery salt.

After that, we started on the unlimited bubbles. Cordoniu Brut is the perfect choice of cava for the Gillray's brunch. It's dry and light, and the prominent apple notes give it a sweetness that works perfectly with the dishes.

Likes: The incredible cheesy Yorkshire puddings that came as a complimentary hors d'oeuvre, and the generosity that continued throughout the meal. 

Dislikes: We would have liked to see some more imaginative sweet dishes on the menu, other than the usual staples such as pancakes and waffles. 

Verdict: The Gillray's Bottomless Brunch is the a great weekend treat, especially for meat lovers who want to have the Gillray's experience, with a view of the Thames and unlimited bubbles at a great price.

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