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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Foodwork – Dining with Bryan Cranston and Michelle Dockery on the National Theatre Stage!

Readers of this site will know that I will travel the earth for good food, but few places have been as exciting as the National Theatre stage!

Network is a play based on the iconic, four-time Oscar-winning Paddy Chayefsky film, adapted for the stage for the first time by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot) and directed by Ivo Van Hove. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) lead the cast.

The play follows the ups and downs of Beale (played by Cranston), who announces that he will kill himself during a live broadcast because his show is getting poor ratings. He instantly becomes a folk hero and leads the nation’s viewers in a rallying cry: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this any more.”

The stage for Network recreates a TV studio, with a kitchen, restaurant and diners as an integral part of the set. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the precious seats at the Network restaurant, set on the stage of the Lyttleton, and so surreally found myself sitting with a couple of dozen other diners with Cranston facing the bright lights on the stage.  The play was a scream, but I won’t give any plot-spoilers for those who might be going to see it.

Sadly Network the play is now sold out, but you can still get tickets through Day Seats and Friday Rush

Better still, the menu served on stage is available at the National Theatre’s House restaurant until the end of the run on 24 March 2018. Crafted in a unique first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Network creative team and the NT’s in-house catering department, the meal aims to transport the diner to the 1970s and serves a contemporary take on classic dishes from the era.  This post-show menu includes five courses including a cocktail and a glass of wine, at a cost of £38 per person.

The dinner started with a glass of Nyetimber sparkling wine or a “Mad as Hell” cocktail, and we opted for the sparkly, which was elegance in a glass. 

The starter was a simple but flavourful combination of butternut squash purée with crispy shallots and kale. 

Next was a very 70s-looking glass of Portland crab cocktail – old fashioned in appearance but with freshest dressed crab, shredded lettue and marie rose sauce. The vegetarian alternative was a taleggio, cavolo nero and salsify tart. 

The main course was a delectable short rib and ox cheek bourguignon, with tender meat falling off the bone in a richly concentrated jus. For vegetarians, the main was grilled vegetables with romesco sauce and fried polenta. 

After a refreshing gin and tonic sorbet, the dessert course offered a choice of that 70s classic black forest gateau or a cheese platter.  We chose the cheese, including Westcomb cheddar, Cropwell Bishop and beetroot chutney. 

The £38 menu includes a glass of either Galassia Garganega – Pinot Grigio or a Rocco Sangiovese, both from Italy. 

I enjoyed the play and the dinner at Network Studios at the National Theatre.  Not long ago I also got to see the revival of Amadeus at the Olivier Theatre, which was superb.  The National Theatre is certainly coming more onto my radar these days, and I will be looking out for more plays and dining experiences at this iconic London landmark. You can see more about what is upcoming here: https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/whats-on

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Yauatcha City's 2018 Chinese New Year Menu Reviewed - The Year of the Dog

Name: Yauatcha City

Where: 1 Broadgate Circus, London EC2M 2QS, http://www.yauatcha.com/city/

Cost: The special CNY menu is served a la carte, and includes special dim sum at £8-9, mains priced at £17-30, and desserts at £2-9. 

About: Michelin-starred Yauatcha is one of my favourite Chinese restaurants in town, with the first branch in Soho, and this glamorous spot in the City opened in 2015. Building on the Chinese dim sum teahouse concept, Yauatcha City has two bars, two outside terraces and a large main dining area, and on the weekday evening we were there was as usual packed with an after-work crowd.

The Chinese kitchen is led by Chef Tong Chee Hwee, and offers authentic Cantonese dishes with a modern influence, while the drinks menu has a staggering 38 types of tea plus cocktails inspired by Chinese ingredients and a large wine and Champagne list. The restaurant also has an Executive Pastry Chef (Graham Hornigold), who is responsible for the sumptuous array of macarons, petits gateaux and chocolates you will pass at the entrance to the dining room. 

I am a regular visitor to Yauatcha City, and was keen to try their Year of the Dog CNY menu, available only until 4 March 2018. 

What We Ate: The CNY menu is à la carte, with a choice of two dim sum, five main courses, one special CNY dessert or macarons.  They all looked incredibly tempted, so we opted to try the whole menu. 

The Chilean seabass rolls (£9) came with wood ear fungus and Chinese green vegetable, all wrapped up in rice pastry and delicately tied with a single Chinese chive. The combination of ingredients was well judged, and the fish was rich and creamy.

The serving of three salted egg yolk custard sesame balls (£8) was graceful, on a fine disc of raw carrot over a jade serving bowl in the shape of a lotus leaf. It was as much a feast for the palate as for the eyes, and the molten salted custard was transcendent.

From the CNY main course menu, first came the Golden fortune prawn in lime sauce (£17). Five huge, fresh and surprisingly tender prawns were served with salted egg yolk, crispy fried lotus root and a topping of tobiko eggs. I really enjoyed this, although the prawns were a tad sweet for my palate.

The steamed scallops (£30) were big, juicy, unctuous and richly flavoured, served in black bean sauce with glass noodles. They worked out at £5 a piece, which I thought was a touch on the high side. 

The braised pork shank with lotus seed, water chestnut, star anise and shiitake mushroom (£23) came in a clay pot, served with goji berries, water chestnuts and a sauce rich in star anise and five spice. The transformation of this humble cut of pork into a rich and unctuous delicacy reminded me of Pierre Koffman's fabled pigs trotter and morels.

Stir-fried duck breast with hazelnut in mala sauce (£21) came with shimeji mushrooms, sugar snaps, red peppers. The duck was again surprisingly soft, indeed almost spongy in texture. The mala sauce, a mouth-numbing spicy condiment made from Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cardamom, salt and sugar mixed with vegetable and sesame oil was a heady blend, and tasted like it had a generous slug of belachan. I thoroughly enjoyed it with the duck.

The seafood braised rice in lotus leaf (£22) had a generous serving of fresh prawns and a lovely “wok breath”, but was for me the weakest link in an otherwise solid CNY menu.

From the regular menu, we ordered a dish of spicy aubergine with sato bean, okra and French beans with peanut (£13). This is one of my favourite dishes at Yauatcha, and I order it every time I return. In my experience, it never disappoints. 

Returning to the CNY menu for dessert, the special Haoyun lantern (£9) combined soy caramel mousse with mandarin confit, topped with gold leaf, served over a sesame sable base. Served with sesame brittle and a mandarin sorbet, this was a complex and thought-provoking dessert, beautifully presented.

The selection of macarons including kumquat cashew and raspberry Szechuan pepper, priced at £2 each, were as soft and delicious as I could wish for.  

What We Drank: We started with cocktails, priced at £12.50.  The Hakka combines Belvedere vodka with Akashi-tai sake, lychee, lime, coconut and passion fruit, and was headily aromatic, strong and delicious.  The Kumquatcha had Germana cachaca, Campari, mandarin, lime and Prosecco, and I really enjoyed the astringency and complex fruit flavours of this long, refreshing drink.

With our main courses, we shared a bottle of Hatzidakis PDO, from the volcanic soil of Santorini 2016 (£44). The winery was founded in 1997 by pioneering Greek vintner Haridimos Hatzidakis, who sadly died in 2017 at the age of only 50. The first maker in Santorini to use indigenous yeasts, he also promoted indigenous grape varieties like Assyrtiko, Aidani and Mavrotragano.  This wine was made from 100% Assyrtiko, and was a wonderfully crisp yet powerful, with peach and apricot flavours and flinty minerality, making it a fitting swansong for poor Mr Hatzidakis.  

Likes: For me, the outstanding dishes were the Chilean seabass rolls, the wonderful braised pork shank and the “Haoyun lantern” dessert. The cocktails and wine list include some of the most interesting drinks to be found anywhere in town, and there is an outstanding selection of top quality teas. 

Dislikes: None

Verdict: For high quality Cantonese cooking, beautifully presented in a glamorous setting, there are few places to rival Yauatcha City. Their CNY menu is always worth looking out for, and the 2018 Year of the Dog menu is available only until 4 March 2018 so there is no time to waste!

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Hakkasan’s Fabulous Year of the Dog Chinese New Year Menu

Where: 8 Hanway Place, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1HD

Cost: The Chinese New Year (CNY) menu costs £88 per person. The suggested Happy Daisy cocktail is £13.50. 

About: 2018 is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese calendar, and Michelin-starred Hakkasan is offering a special CNYs menu for a lucky £88 per head at its flagship and Mayfair branches. This special celebration meal is available for a limited period, between 29 January and 4 March, and as in previous years I was keen to give it a try. 

Hakksan Hanway Place is one of the very few Chinese restaurants in London to hold a Michelin star, and it always seems to be heaving, as indeed it was on the Saturday lunchtime when I sampled the CNY menu. In my experience it offers good customer service and almost flawless cooking, so it is perhaps no surprise that it is perennially popular.  

What We Ate: The 2018 CNY menu starts with a selection of small eats. The Szechuan oyster with lotus root with crispy rice in mantau bread had a magnificent flavour of the sea, complimented by a scattering of pine nuts and Chinese chives.

Wonderfully tender braised beef tongue rolls came next with crunchy caramelized walnuts, served on a bed of fine baby asparagus, with mustard and mint.

The final “small eat” was scallops, served with sweet plum sauce and mango in a "golden cup" of crisp rice pastry, on a bed of green pea shoots, goji berries and Chinese chives. The pastry shell gave a lovely crunch to the dish, contrasting with the unctuous scallops.

The main courses followed, served simultaneously. Wok-fried native lobster came gorgeously presented in light stock with edamame beans, red and black caviar and edible flowers. This was a sumptuous dish, as good to eat as it looked, and the lobster pieces were succulent, ultra fresh and tender.

For me, the weakest link in the meal was the Rhug estate organic lamb in seaweed soy with celery and enoki mushroom. The lamb was medium rare, tender and delicious, but it did not in my opinion live up to the quality of the other dishes in this part of the meal.

Best of all though was the baked Chilean sea bass with kumquat glaze. I have prepared and eaten a great deal of Chilean sea bass in my time. But Hakkasan’s version was sensational, with magnificently tender, creamy flesh in a well-judged, zingy kumquat reduction.

To accompany the main course, there was a generous serving of abalone fried rice in a fine bean curd wrap with Chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom and choi sum. I enjoyed the unusual presentation of the rice, concealed within a fine layer of tofu, and the rice was richly flavoured and more than a match for the meat, fish and seafood main courses.

Dessert was described as ‘Golden Fortune”. Hakkasan is famous for its desserts, and this more than lived up to the billing. Made with ginger caramel, roasted macadamia and wafer-thin chocolate, this was exquisite patisserie, a feast for the eyes and palate, skilfully partnered with an intensely flavoured lemongrass ice cream.

What We Drank: We started with the Happy Daisy cocktail (£13.50), which is suggested to kick off the CNY menu. With Tanqueray No.10 gin, Chartreuse Yellow, lemon, spiced mandarin jam, egg white and soda water, with a lemon thyme garnish. This had a good depth of flavour and bittersweet herbal astringency.

There is an extensive list of 'dry' alcohol-free drinks, including cold brewed teas, sparkling juices like quince and apple, or an alcohol-free Australian Shiraz. 

We opted to take a pot of high-mountain Taiwanese tea, which I thoroughly enjoyed (£8 per person). 

Likes: The lobster, Chilean seabass and ‘Golden Fortune’ dessert were, for me, the highlights of an excellent CNY meal.  

Dislikes: None 

Verdict: Hakkasan is one of the finest Chinese restaurants in London. If you are looking for a great food, cocktails, service and atmosphere to see in the CNY, then I cannot think of a venue I would recommend more highly. But hurry as this celebration meal is only available until 4 March 2018!

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.

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