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Reviews of London's Restaurants, Supper Clubs and Hotels, Wine Tastings, Travel Writing, and Home to the Japanese and French Supper Clubs in Islington

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Monday 27 February 2012

Pom Pom Takoyaki

is one of my favourite street foods from Japan.  A ball-shaped dumpling made of pancake batter, and cooked in a special takoyaki pan, it is traditionally filled with diced octopus, and served garnished with pickled ginger and spring onion.  These days, it is commonly brushed with takoyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise, and topped with shavings of dried bonito fish.

Originating in Osaka in the mid-1930s, it is now popular throughout Japan where it can be purchased at yatai (street food stalls), or in specialty restaurants. Very tricky to make at home with much twisting and turning required while cooking in a searingly hot pan, whenever I go to Japan I make sure to get my fill of it. On my recent trip to Nara, where the pictures below were taken, Dr G and I enjoyed some fantastic takoyaki. 

It was great then to learn of Pom Pom Takoyaki, a new venture founded by two Japanese women living in London - Hana and Tomo.  Hana has been living in the UK for over 20 years working as an interior designer while Tomo only arrived in London in 2009 after a 3 year stint at the Ritz Hotel restaurant in Paris.

Pom Pom Ladies at Work
I was lucky to meet them recently for a takoyaki masterclass and tasting.  In Japan, takoyaki is made exclusively with octopus, but Hana and Tomo have decided to take it a step further and use a variety of different fillings. 

In addition to Pom Pom Takoyaki with the traditional octopus filling, they also offer a sticky teriyaki chicken-filled Pom Pom served with sweet teriyaki sauce, a Frankfurter and bacon version with crispy onion topping aka Pom Pom Hot Dog, and also Pom Pom Potato made with curried potato, peas and cheese with curried mayonnaise.

The sweet Pom Poms are also delicious and beautifully presented. Flavours include Pom Pom Banana served with hot chocolate sauce, Pom Pom Apple made from caramelised apples and cinnamon sugar and also Pom Pom Chocolat, Pom Pom Wheatgrass and Pom Pom Coconut.

I was so impressed by the quality and flavours of Hana and Tomo's Pom Poms that I decided to start serving them as canapés at my own Japanese Supper Club events. Unsurprisingly the feedback from diners has been fantastic, and I am really pleased to see one of my favourite Japanese dishes, and a relatively unknown one, become more popular in the UK. 

For more information about Pom Pom Takoyaki, prices and how to order click here. If you would like to order Pom Pom Takoyaki for a private party or corporate event, or simply to eat them at home, email hello@pompomtakoyaki.com

Alternatively you can meet Hana and Tomo and try out their Pom Poms on the 17th & 24th March at Hackney Homemade at St.John's church garden, off Mare Street http://www.hackneyhomemade.com/food/ or on 30th March at Brixton Sundowner Night Market. http://sundowner.b-electric.co.uk/2012/02/02/brixton-sundowner-2012/ 

Also Pom Pom Supper Club is in the pipe line, hopefully starting in April.

Learn more about Pom Pom Takoyaki on Twitter, follow them at @pompomtakoyaki.

Hana and Tomo's Pom Poms will also be available at the Japanese Supper Club at my home in Islington on 23rd, 24th, 30th and 31st March 2012.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Celebrating Pancake Tuesday!

This is a small piece I wrote about Pancake Tuesday for Time Out London. Click here to learn more.

Monday 20 February 2012


The good people from Theatre Breaks have given me a couple of tickets to give away for The Wizard of Oz musical this Thursday, 23rd February 2012 at 7:30pm. This is an Andrew Lloyd Weber's production at the London Palladium in the West End. For more information about this musical click here.


To enter this competition, simply leave a comment in this post stating your NAME and E-MAIL address as MrBloggs(at)gmail(dot)com by midday on Wednesday 22nd February 2012. The lucky winner will be randomly selected using random.org and his/her name will be announced via Twitter (follow @thelondonfoodie) soon after midday on the 22nd February 2012.

If you do not use Twitter, I will also be publishing the winner's name here in the evening of the 22nd February 2012.

Food and Wine Matching Masterclass at Corrigan's Mayfair

One of the toughest problems when planning a meal is appropriately matching its dishes with wines. Just as bad wine can completely ruin a good meal, good wine can make an otherwise fairly ordinary one into something memorable.

Years of wine tasting and a recent WSET advanced certificate have opened my eyes to this complex area. As with many food and wine related topics, it is also a rather subjective matter. There are however a few principles one should bear in mind. One of the greatest misconceptions is that fish and chicken should always be served with white wines while red meats, particularly beef, should be paired with red wines.  The main issue is not the colour but the body of the wine. Whether light, medium or full, the body or weight of both food and wine should be carefully matched. So a Provençal chicken stew could go nicely with a bottle of red Grenache, much as a lightly chilled Pinot Noir might go with a seafood platter.  

Other considerations are the acidity of the food (for example tomato dishes are high in acidity, and match acidic reds such as Sangiovese, and fish dishes served with lemon go well with acidic whites like Sauvignon Blanc). Partnering of sugar levels is also important - as with sweet sherries like Pedro Ximenez, or naturally sweet wines like Sauternes or Saussignac matching with sweet desserts like ice cream or apple tart respectively. If you are stuck for a match, remember that wines are usually made to complement the local food, so regional wines will match their cuisines 9 times out of 10.

To  help us with this task, Richard Corrigan's Mayfair has teamed up with Les Caves de Pyrènes for a series of tutored masterclasses in which some of his signature dishes are matched with accompanying wines. At £120 per person, a fine glass of Grand Cru Champagne is offered, with canapés followed by a tutored four-course tasting menu.  For most courses, two different wines are matched and thoroughly discussed.

I was fortunate to attend one of these tutored meals recently, at Richard Corrigan's private dining room in Mayfair. The restaurant feels plush, with a grand piano dominating the entrance, and a restful colour scheme of beige, brown, red and gold.  The bar is marble-topped, with large flower displays, leather armchairs, and the whole feel is discreetly elegant and expensive.

The lunch was tutored by Les Caves de Pyrènes, an independent wine importer based in Guildford, Surrey which is a supporter of wines that are hand-made and naturally expressive of their origins. On this occasion, the tasting was about natural wines from the New World.  Natural wines are made with minimal chemical and technological intervention in growing the grapes and turning them into wine. They can be organically or biodynamically grown, are hand-picked, and have no added sugars, foreign yeasts or adjustments for acidity. They have minimal  or no fining and filtration or added sulphites.  My experience of natural wines has been mixed, and some have not been successes.

At Corrigan's Mayfair, we kicked off with a delectable platter of canapés served with a glass of Paul Dethune Grand Cru Champagne - a fine biscuit nose making for a very good start indeed. This was followed by an excellent starter of lobster raviolo with shellfish broth, served with sea purslane. The broth was intensely flavoured yet delicate, and the pasta generously filled with chunks of lobster that were well matched with the salty, crunchy sea purslane.

To match, we had 2009 Testalonga El Bandito Cortez from Swartland, South Africa - a wine made from old Chenin bush vines, and made the old-fashioned way by foot pressing!  It was a delightful wine, but in my opinion the better match with the food was the 2009 Pyramid Valley, Fields of Fire, Chardonnay from New Zealand. With a wonderful nose of nuts, green figs and vegetal notes, this wine had a lovely richness and minerality with good acidity and texture.

Our next course was a red wine braised brill served with confit cabbage, celeriac & razor clam.  I loved the presentation of this dish, and the artistry and flavour combinations resulting from braising white fish with red wine, and the two types of shell fish.

To accompany this dish, we were served a glass of 2010 Carignan Reserva from Villalobos, Colchagua, Chile (served slightly chilled).  This was a pleasingly light red almost like a dark rosé, aged in French oak, with clean fruit flavours. The better match, however, was the 2010 Pinot Noir from Louis-Antoine Luyt, Maule, Chile. A tiny winery in the Maule Valley, the French wine maker Luyt is the only significant wine maker in Chile following the rigorously anti-industrial approach to wine making  implicit in natural wine.  His efforts have paid off, with his 2010 Pinot Noir showing a lovely depth of redcurrant fruit with light tannins - it was a perfect match to the brill.

The Goosnargh chicken with wild mushrooms and English leeks was next - a very succulent piece of corn-fed chicken from Goosnargh in Lancashire (championed by Gordon Ramsay), served with an intensely creamy mushroom sauce.  This was the Rolls Royce of chicken dishes, served with a glass of 2010 Burnt Cottage Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand.  Central Otago is highly prized for its pinots, and this one did not disappoint, with aromas of red fruit and orange peel, and a pleasing natural acidity. Equally good was the 2010 Wildman Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, Australia - complex and refined, it had a velvety richness while remaining bone-dry.

For dessert, we had rhubarb crumble soufflé, served with a delicious stem-ginger ice cream.  This was a light and refreshing dessert with a good balance of tart and sweet, but how to partner a wine with this combination?  Once again, the tutor came up with the goods, proposing a glass of 2010 Framingham Noble Riesling from Marlborough, New Zealand.  A botrytised sweet wine, it had the high acidity characteristic of Riesling, giving a refreshing quality that perfectly matched the astringency of the soufflé.

If you would like to learn more about the subject of matching food and wine, Corrigan's Mayfair will be holding further masterclasses on this theme on Friday 2nd March (dinner), Saturday 21st April (lunch), and Friday 4th May (dinner).  To learn more about these events, which can also be purchased as a gift, click here www.corrigansmayfair.com/classes, or contact privatedining@corrigansmayfair.com.

Cost: £120 per person for champagne & canapés followed by a tutored four course tasting menu including all wines.

Likes: Some of the best natural wines I have ever tried.  Having a tutored event makes for a very special gastronomic and educational occasion. Very elegant restaurant, friendly service.

Dislikes: None

Verdict: Top notch food matched with excellent natural wines, in very elegant surroundings.  Although at £120 per person it cannot be regarded as inexpensive, for cutting edge wine and food with an expert to teach about natural wines and how to partner them with food, I think this is excellent value. Very highly recommended. 

Corrigan's Mayfair on Urbanspoon

Friday 3 February 2012

London Restaurant Reviews - Morgan M Barbican


Since starting my training at Cordon Bleu I am beginning to gain some understanding of the skill, technique and artistry on discreet display in our top French restaurants.  Morgan M is the first French restaurant I have visited since I started the Grand Diplome, and I looked at it with newly informed eyes.  

Morgan Meunier has an impressive CV, which included 7 years training in a variety of 3 Michelin-starred restaurants in France.  He won his first Michelin star in the UK in 1999, at Monsieur Max in Twickenham, and later worked at The Admiralty in the Strand. 

Having run a successful restaurant (also called Morgan M, an old favourite of mine) in Islington since 2003, Morgan Meunier opened his new restaurant on Long Lane near the Barbican and opposite Smithfield's Meat Market in November 2011. The new two storey restaurant offers his affordable haute cuisine but with dishes that, while meticulously crafted, are modern and simple. 

The ground floor is an accessible and informal bistro, offering an haute cuisine small plates menu. The downstairs menu is more relaxed, with a selection of smaller versions of the classic dishes served upstairs, including the raviolo of snails in Chablis, garlic froth and red wine jus and Ballotine of Foie Gras with fig caviar.

I was impressed to see that unlike most restaurants which include vegetarian dishes almost as an afterthought, Morgan M has an entire 6 -course tasting menu specifically for vegetarians, 'From the Garden' @£46. On the occasion of our visit, Dr G and I went for the 6-course tasting menu: ‘The Winter Menu’ (£50 per person), with matching wines by the glass @£30 per person.

For most courses, there were two options, and therefore between the two of us, we were able to cover the whole Winter Menu.

We started with Cream of Mojette Beans, with lemon confit and pesto, served with
Le Lesc Colombard 2010, Ugni Blanc, Vin du Gers - this was a lovely, delicate starter, and set us up nicely for the dishes to follow.

Game Terrine with Foie Gras followed, served with a French bean salad, apple chutney and toasted Poilane bread, partnered with an Oloroso sherry (Don Jose Reserves Especiales). This was a magnificent terrine, studded with a fillet of rare venison.

In my opinion, the best dish of the night was the Crayfish and Lobster Cannelloni, with tarragon, Jerusalem artichoke soubise and a shellfish capuccino. It was served with a glass of Chateau Clement-Termes Gaillac Sec, 2010, from Southwest France.  If by the end of my year at Cordon Bleu, I can create such a dish, I will be a happy man. The pasta was light, the filling delectable and perfectly seasoned, and the shellfish foam was stunning.  An absolute winner!

Next, we had the Fillet of Wild Sea Bass, served with Torroxal Albarino 2010, Rias Baixas.  Perfectly pan-fried, the sea bass was served on a bed of carrot and ginger risotto, with a lemon and saffron broth. This was an unusual combination of flavours, but delightful nonetheless. It was served with one of my favourite white wines, a lovely Albarino from Rias Baixas. 

For the main course, we had Pot Roasted Fillet of Iken Valley Venison, with Farci of hare, quince puree and sauce Grand Veneur.  The venison was splendid, and the sauce Grand Veneur was a revelation. A classic sauce for large game (it translates as 'huntsman's sauce'), it is based on a sauce poivrade, in which some game trimmings and strained marinade is added to the bouillon, and then finished with blood and redcurrant jelly. Very seasonal, this was a warming but sophisticated winter dish, served with a pleasingly stalky Bourgueil Peu Muleau 1996, Domain de la Chevalerie, from the central Loire region.

The other main course was Oven-roasted Suffolk Pheasant, the leg braised with raisins, glazed pear, served with liver croutons and bread sauce.  Beautifully presented, I really enjoyed the gamey flavours of the bird, with the sweetness of the poached pear and contrasting savoury jus.  A great combination.   

As a palate cleanser, we were served a perfect Light Vanilla Rice Pudding with orange tuile.  Tuiles are a serious technical challenge (as I know from my patisserie classes!), and these were perfectly executed, filled with an exquisitely light rice pudding.

For dessert, we had the Passion Fruit Soufflé and Sorbet with Crème Anglaise, served with Moscata d'Asti, 2010, Bera Canelli, and Dark Chocolate Moelleux and Milk Sorbet, served with a glass of Maury, 2007, Domain Mas Amiel.  Excellent dishes to round off a memorable meal.

Cost: Winter Menu priced at £50 per person (6 courses) plus 6 matching wines at £30 per person.

Likes: Outstanding French cooking, good value for money for tasting menus and pre/post theatre options at £21.50 and £25.50 for 2 or 3 courses respectively.  Well thought out matching wine flights.

Dislikes: None.

Verdict: At £50 per person for this menu, I struggle to think of many restaurants in London that can offer such great quality and cooking skill at so reasonable a price. Highly recommended.

Morgan M Barbican on Urbanspoon
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