Wheelers of St James

Some time ago I purchased a voucher (£30 for 3 course mean with half bottle of wine) for a meal at Marco Pierre White’s Wheeler’s of St James. In need of a quiet weekend after working way too many hours during the week I decided to cash in and take myself out for a bit of culinary pampering. I was surprised to be able to secure a reservation on a Saturday night so easily. Arriving a little early for my reservation at 7:30pm, I was also acutely aware of how few people there were in the restaurant. Maybe Wheelers is a place were people come to dine later in the evening? The table was fully prepared for me despite my premature attendance, including my special limited menu associated with my voucher. I was pleased to see five different options for each course, I’d anticipated only three. However, I did notice that there was no vegetarian option available within the list of main courses, something that others looking to make the most of such deals may need to be aware of.

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For my starter I selected the potted duck with peppercorn and toasted sourdough. I chose to scrape the duck fat off the top knowing how much food I had ahead of me. I felt it was necessary to make some concession to calories. The flavour of the patê was excellent. I really liked the balance of duck and peppercorn, such that the peppercorn was an equal partner, not just a flavour enhancer to the duck. The sourdough was nice, but a third slice was really necessary given the volume of patê.

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I opted for the ribeye steak (medium rare) with triple cooked chips and béarnaise sauce for my main course. The dish also included green beans and roasted cherry tomatoes. This is the point at which the meal started going a little awry. The beans were just shy of being clearly overcooked. So although the flavour was fine the texture wasn’t as pleasant as it should have been. The steak had a good flavour, but it wasn’t striking in any way. It was a little chewy and I think in this instance I would have had a better experience if the steak had been cooked medium. The béarnaise sauce was nice, but again nothing exciting in any way (contrasting greatly with somewhere like Gaucho where I quite happily sit with a pot of béarnaise sauce and eat it by the spoonful). I really enjoyed the roasted cherry tomatoes, and it’s possibly quite telling that I felt most positive about this aspect of the dish. As for the triple cooked chips…well actually I good them to be quite inconsistent. A couple were really crunchy, to the extent that you would expect of triple cooked chips. Others were more chewy, and then some were the same consistency as chips cooked in the standard manner. While it was a nice dish overall there was just nothing that really blew me away.

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I was really torn when it came to dessert. I’d seen the rhubarb crumble and it looked really nice. However I’ve tried rhubarb only once before and didn’t really enjoy it. I was also intrigued by the pannacotta but wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the consistency. So int he end I stuck with my standard preference for sticky toffee pudding knowing that at least I’d have some frame of reference for assessing the quality of this dish. Again I just wasn’t sure about this. The flavour was really good, however the texture just wasn’t right. The pudding had clearly been produced on mass and then cut into individual squares, and I was provided with a jug of caramel sauce to pour over the top. The consistency of the pudding was, well inconsistent. In some places it was beautifully soft, in others it was almost chewy. The ice-cream was clearly inferior to that which I’d been served at Hush Brasserie. So although it tasted good, but it just wasn’t quite right.

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Overall I was left with the sense that I’d been served with a solid, genuinely good meal, but not a great meal. I have to say, I expected better. I might have been just a pleb with a voucher, but surely there is a standard to maintain even in such circumstances.

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Street Feast London meets Eat Street

The prospect of a whole new array of street food traders lured me back to Street Feast London tonight. I was particularly drawn by the partnership with Eat Street. Unable to get to Kings Cross during the day I welcomed the opportunity to sample some of these traders’ wares. Walking along the street to the carpark I was struck by the aromas of sizzling meat and I knew I was in for some good eating.

As always I did my research beforehand and arrived with a plan of action. Still, I took a little tour just to see the reality of what was available. My first port of call was Spit and Roast. Having read rave reviews of their buttermilk fried chicken, I was compelled to see whether I would agree with such high praise. I started with the sides of a corn muffin and gravy. This was really lovely. The muffin was light and had a savoury sweetness which worked surprisingly well with the meaty gravy. Then there was the chicken. The flavour of the meat was fantastic, but naturally it was the coating that was the star. It had been a beautiful deep golden brown and I was really pleased that it didn’t feel in the least bit greasy. The combination of spices was really good. I loved that the spices weren’t just about conveying heat, but delivered a wonderful flavour the was both complex and harmonious.

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Next on the list was Speck Mobile. sitting on the counter of this mobile van were samples of the grilled herbed Alpine cheese dumplings with sour cream and chive sauce. These were really nice. A strong cheesy flavour with a pleasing crunchy exterior. However, the options that really tempted me were the rare breed pork schnitzel Viennese style with potato and cucumber salad, and the Tyrolean speck dumplings with sauerkraut. Discussing my dilemma with the vendors led to a recommendation of the speck dumplings, their reasoning being that I would never have had anything like this before. It was excellent logic and I decided to follow their advice. This was an excellent decision. The sauerkraut was possibly the best I’ve ever had. It had a wonderful acidity without the overpowering vinegariness that is too often associated with this condiment. The slightly sweet gravy with which this dish was served may have aided this balance of flavours. The dumplings themselves were really tasty. The exterior was soft and doughy without being excessively stodgy. The speck filling was surprisingly meaty. The flavours of all the different elements combined perfectly to make a really enjoyable meal.

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There was one last stop I had to make: The Bowler. You have to respect a man who describes his balls as “sloppy and slutty” to prospective customers. His meatballs that is. Friggin’. Amazing. Meatballs. Having sampled so much already I restricted myself to the meatball shooter, which is a single meatball served with a “tasty tangy tomato sauce”, cumin cream and fresh chopped coriander. I have absolutely no idea how he managed to get so much flavour into this sample-sized portion. I was absolutely blown away. The meat was astonishingly soft. I didn’t really have to chew it, it just disintegrated in my mouth. The sauce was more of a chutney with sultanas and chunks of tomato and..oh lots of wonderful things. The flavours hit me in waves starting with the meat which I swear had a hint of cumin in it, followed by fruitiness, then tanginess, then a final glowing heat of chilli. It was so good that I wanted to go back for a second helping, and only managed to restrain myself by looking at photos of the food I’d eaten to remind myself that I didn’t need to eat any more. I know, this is another gushing review, but it’s totally warranted.

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Hackney Homemade

I’d been wanting to check out Hackney Homemade for weeks but just hadn’t been able to get there. I’d heard about it over Twitter and it sounded like two of my favourite things combined (markets and food). Finally on Saturday I managed to find the time to check it out.

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I purposefully restrained myself at the post-run brunch to ensure that I had plenty of room to sample the different offerings available. This meant that by the time I arrived I was famished. Fortunately I’d done some research beforehand so had a vague meal-plan in mind. The market was smaller and there were fewer people attending than I’d anticipated. Of course this had the benefit that I was able to get to the food straight away, so I wasn’t complaining.

My first port of call was Alley Katsu. I do like a good katsu curry, and I was really pleased with the sample I was given before I made my purchase. I opted for a children’s sized portion, reasoning that although I was hungry, there would likely be plenty of other wares that I would want to try. Even then, the serving was sufficient to be a full meal. The flavour of the chicken was really lovely. I was particularly impressed with the quality and strength of the breadcrumb. Usually I find breadcrumb is about texture, but this clearly brought and added dimension of flavour to the dish. The curry was nice, although I prefer mine with a little more kick. I was able to achieve this with the addition of the sweet chilli sauce made available. However this extra flavour distracted from the taste of the curry. The rice was well cooked and I liked the sweet sharpness of the pickled cucumber slices. This would have been better without the addition of the chilli sauce because this meant the whole dish was pushed towards sweetness, thereby limiting the contrast of flavours.

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I took quite some time wandering around the different options available. Nothing was really calling out to me begging me to try it. Eventually I settled upon El Mosset, which offered a range of croquettes. Rather than deciding for myself I asked for recommendations. As a result I tried one ham and manchego and one mushroom and onion croquette. The croquettes were pre-cooked and reheated in a pan. Unfortunately this method was inadequate and left most of my croquettes still cold. Still I liked that that there were chunks of ingredients like ham and mushrooms, rather than everything having been blended into a homogenous mush. The strength of the flavour of the mushrooms was also particularly pleasing. I also tried a spinach and tomato brioche. It was nice, but to be honest I wasn’t overwhelmed.

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I probably should have stopped eating at this point. However as I was munching my samples from El Mosset I was able to watch a quesadilla being made at Vadasz Deli. I was utterly intrigued and had to give it a try. There were three fillings available:
• pulled pork
• beef brisket
• black beans

I stayed traditionally Mexican(ish) and went for pulled pork with black beans and cheese. The chef, Nick makes his own tortilla as they are needed, and cooks the quesadilla there and then so they’re wonderfully fresh. It was Mexico in a mouthful! Really, really good! Each quesadilla (or bagel, but why would you?) was served with what was effectively a tour around the world of pickles. From sauerkraut to sour cucumbers to jalapeños to pickled cabbage and more, all homemade. There were also some really yummy crisp breads which I think had been seasoned with paprika. While they were really interesting to try in and of themselves I’m not sure they complimented the quesadilla. Still,
although I was incredibly full by the end of the meal I was really glad that I tried this.

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Pickled cabbage salad

Ok it sounds odd I know but this recipe is delicious. The key is in the cabbage. I developed this recipe after I realised that I had a large amount of leftover pickled cabbage that I’d made according to the recipe from the Hawksmoor at Home Cookbook. It’s a really lovely recipe, wonderfully balanced in terms of sweetness, acidity and depth. If not for the fact that I had to adjust the fridge to fit the pickling jar in and this was causing difficulties for my housemates’ food, I would have kept it to enjoy in and of itself.

This salad draws on a wonderful Ottolenghi recipe for roasted aubergine with walnut salsa in Great British Food Revival Volume Two (which for the record is a fantastic recipe that must be tried). The great thing about this salad is that it doesn’t require any dressing because of the residual pickling juices from the cabbage and walnuts.

Ingredients
Pickled cabbage (a la Hawksmoor)
125 grams of medium soft goat cheese (feta would be a viable substitute)
1 pomegranate
6 Pickled walnuts
Coriander
Parsley

Method
1. Place four large scoops of drained pickled cabbage in a bowl. I used a pasta spoon to do this.

2. Remove pomegranate seeds and add to the salad. I use a mix methodology of halving the pomegranate, bashing the skin on top with a rolling pin (or similar) until the seeds start to come out, the gradually gently squeezing out the rest of the seeds, rotating the fruit as I do so.

3. Roughly chop walnuts and add to bowl. Crumble in cheese in large chunks.

4. Roughly chop a handful each of the herbs, add to the salad and gently mix through.

Delicious!

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Street Feast London, 11 May 2012

I read about Street Feast London on Twitter and was instantly intrigued. I’m fascinated by the street food culture that has evolved in London and this seemed a fantastic opportunity to explore it further! Situated in an East London car park, I felt a little out of place turning up straight from work all suited and booted, literally. When I arrived a bit before 7pm there was already a good crowd, but the queues for the different vendors were still small. This soon changed.

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Circulating the car park the first option that caught my eye was Homeslice Pizza. I had never before encountered a bone marrow and spring onion pizza topped with fresh watercress. It was either amazing or insane and I had to find out which. I was intrigued to see that all the pizzas are cooked in a portable woodfire. I didn’t even know that such things exist, yet I am now incredibly grateful for their availability. The pizza slice was huge, and great value at £3. I actually asked for mine to be cut and saved half for later, partly because I wanted to save room for other options, partly because I wanted to see how it tasted the next day. This almost wasn’t necessary. After the first bite, I was in love! The base was perfect. Thin, a little bit crispy, not in the least bit oily and absolutely full of flavour. The tomato base was incredibly powerful. A wonderful rich, sweet, fresh tomato taste, and the mozerella was equally strongly flavoured and delicious. The spring onion and bone marrow combination was absolutely inspired! The bone marrow was perfectly melted and had that wonderful punchy meatiness. Absolutely amazing. I’ve just eaten the second half for breakfast (I’m going for a run soon so I figure I’m allowed) and it tasted even better. You have to try this!

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I took a lot of time to select my next course. Eventually I decided upon the seafood ceviche served on a tostada at Buen Provecho. The seafood was a mixture of shrimp and fish which had been cooked in lime and chilli. Finely diced raw onion and tomato had also been mixed through. The tostada was spread with crème fraiche before being topped with the seafood mix. To this, guacamole and salsa were added. It was a little messy to eat with the lime sauce dripping all over the place. However the flavours were fantastic! Initially I was a little concerned that the seafood wouldn’t be able to hold it’s own against the strength of the chilli, lime, avocado, etc. However I was pleasantly surprised to be able to detect every element of the dish. Really good, strong, classic Mexican flavours. I was so excited I almost forgot to take a photo, so excuse the bite marks.

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I still had room for one more course. It was a tough call, but it was Big Apple Hot Dogs that eventually secured my custom. I’d seen them previously at The StockMKT, but hadn’t registered that they make their own hot dogs. I opted for the Big Dog, which is a hot dog made with pork, beef, marjoram, garlic, and black pepper. Now in my experience most places try to fill customers up with a big bun to save on meat. Not here. The hot dog was huge and served in a medium sized bun with optional (but why wouldn’t you?) caramelised onions. Condiments galore were made available but I stuck with my usual ketchup and mustard. I have to say that this hot dog was unlike anything I’ve ever had before. All hot dogs should aspire to be this good. Even though the flesh had been very finely ground it still had grain and texture and I actually felt like I was eating meat. The depth of flavour was astonishing and juices trickled out of the sausage with every bite. I feel like I should be more critical given that I’m writing a review but when food is this good it’s just not possible!

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There were so many vendors I didn’t get to try and with Street Feast London available every Friday 5pm til midnight until the 20th of July, I’m certain I’ll be back for another helping.

The Balcon

It was my birthday on Saturday and what better way to celebrate than a three course meal with a very dear friend? The venue for the evening was The Balcon. A three course the Marché menu with coffee and a glass of wine on a gorgeous art deco setting for £25 each seemed to good a deal to pass up.

The Marché menu offered a choice between three dishes for each of the courses. Well I had three options but as a vegetarian my companion was effectively working with a set menu. I drank red wine and he drank white and we were both happy with our selections. We were soon presented with a basket of rye, olive and white bread rolls and a choice of salted and unsalted butter. We both agreed that the olive bread was the best. However the real star (oddly) was the salted butter. It had a wonderful richness and an underlying sweetness reminiscent of honey. I could have eaten it all night!

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As an entrée I had a salad of rocket, croutons, and cornichons surrounded by slices of Parma ham. The quality of the ingredients was excellent, although I still felt that it could have benefited from a light dressing. My companion devoured his cauliflower soup with evident relish, commenting on its pleasing cheesiness. I was surprised by the strength of the aroma of cauliflower wafting towards me from the opposite side of the table. Clearly this was excellent soup.

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After pausing to focus on the wine and conversation we moved onto the second course. I had opted for a seafood sauerkraut with salmon, cockles, mussels, and I think sea bass, from memory. It sounded like an unusual combination and I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of flavours. The sauerkraut had a very light pickled flavour and had been dressed in a white wine and cream sauce. This meant it was far less acidic than is typical for this condiment. The result was really lovely and it worked incredibly well with the seafood. Both pieces of fish were unfortunately slightly overcooked, but retained a strong and appetising taste. The quality of the cockles and mussels was outstanding! One mussel in particular had me laying down my cutlery to concentrate on the depth of its flavour. Amazing! Unfortunately my friend’s vegetable biriyani did not rate as highly. He described it as vegetables and rice, lacking any clear sense of having being spiced according to the description. In once sense this was fortuitous because he doesn’t enjoy firey foods. Still it was a little disappointing.

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The staff were happy to allow us to sit and digest our meals over more wine and conversation until we were ready for our desserts. This time we’d agreed that the pear charlotte was the only way to go. This was a layered sponge and mousse cake served with dark chocolate sauce. I thought it was nice, but nothing spectacular, but my friend thought it was the best course of the meal, which surprised me given his evident delight in the soup.

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Overall I was quite happy with our meal at The Balcon. Obviously some areas for improvement, but in terms of value for money, it was definitely a good choice.

Moou

Before catching an overnight bus to Valencia, I went out for a final meal in Granada. Having had a reasonably large lunch, I didn’t want anything too substantial, so tapas seemed the obvious choice. It was a cold wet and miserable day so I went to the nearest place that was open. I’d spotted Moou on my first day in Granada. It looked a little modern and I wasn’t sure what would mean for the quality of the food. However, it had a range of free tapas available with a glass of wine and combined with the state of the weather this was sufficient impetus for me to give it a try. Fortunately, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the food I experienced. This was definitely a “don’t judge the food by the decor” kind of situation.

In addition to my wine, I selected two tapas:
• Berenjanas con miel de caña
• Castillas a la barbacoa

The former was slices of aubergine which had been lightly floured and deep-fried until golden. They were served topped with salt crystal and drizzles of cane sugar syrup. A really simple dish that tasted fantastic! The clash of salt and sweet was perfect, and combined particularly well with the sweetness of the cooked aubergine. I was surprised by the flavour of the cane sugar syrup. I expected it to be almost sickly sweet, but this was in no way the case. It is a far more savoury condiment than honey. I was also really impressed that the aubergine were in no way greasy. Absolutely delicious!

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The castillas do barbecoa were mini barbecued ribs. The neat was incredibly well cooked. I was able to place the meat in my mouth, bite into the flesh and pull the bone away clean. I even took a photo as proof! Unfortunately whatever process that was used to make the meat so tender also took away a lot of the flavour of the meat. However I really liked barbecue sauce. Usually I find this sauce to be really sweet, but this version was tangier. Really nice. The ribs were served with bread, which I happily used to mop up the sauce. However, for once I managed to resist the accompanying chips.

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Clearly, it was the aubergine dish that was the star of this meal. It was so good that I bought some cane sugar syrup while I was in Valencia and found a recipe online to make it at home. This is link to the recipe I used. It was just as good!

http://gowithcuriosity.com/2011/11/25/a-recipe-worth-frying-for-berenjenas-fritas-con-miel-de-cana-fried-eggplant-with-dark-cane-syrup/