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8 posts from March 2006

23 March 2006

Holy crap, it's chocolate crack


They may cost the best part of six times a bar of Dairy Milk but the Ganache from Maison du Chocolat are the best money you will ever spend.


Apologies for the awful photo above.  It is so out of focus largely because of the cacao coarsing through my blood stream.

21 March 2006

Dos Hermanos

I do not usually big-up other blogs.  I let you dear reader, find them for yourselves, but it would be unduly selfish of me not to draw your attention to Dos Hermanos.  The blog has some of the finest food writing around and most of it (so far) is about London restaurants.

I have a fairly good idea who the authors are and to a man, they know their food in a way most of us can only dream of.

20 March 2006

The Perfectionist

I've just finished reading The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, Rudolph Chelminski's biography of Bernard Loiseau, the former chef and proprietor at La Côte D'Or.  I found the book fascinating.  Chelminski clearly knew his subject relatively well.  During the book he refers to a number of interviews and meals he had with Loiseau throughout both of their careers and Chelminski clearly held the chef in great esteem and affection.  It does not mean the book is a mushy hagiography, rather it is insightful as to what made this great chef tick.

The majority of the book is taken up with Loiseau's obsession with reaching his goal of three stars.  As part of that Chelminski spends some time putting into context the power of Michelin in France, the role of chefs in French society and the gossip filled-vortex within which the chefs exist.  I found it thoroughly enjoyable.  Loiseau it would seem was a perfectionist in the kitchen and this translated into this style of pure food, relying heavily on a few ingredients of the highest quality cooked in the way that would enhance their flavour to its apotheosis.  He was a leading light in the much-maligned nouvelle cuisine movement and Chelminski goes to great effort to demonstrate that there is much more to this cuisine than large plates, small portions and vile combinations.  As the title of the book suggests, it was to be his search for perfection and obsession with keeping the three stars once he had them, that might well have led to him committing suicide.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in what makes a chef tick.  It will convince 99% of amateur readers that they don't have what it takes to be a chef, let alone a three-star chef.  For the other 1%, I'd bet a large proportion are delusional.  Although this could in no way be described as a cookery book, you might find you pick up the odd very useful tip: such as thickening sauces with boiled and moulied vegetables as a replacement for butter as a thickening agent. I haven't tried it as yet myself, but frankly if it was good enough for Loiseau and the Michelin inspectors, it's almost certainly going to work for me.  A further advantage of this 528 page behemoth is that it is now out in paperback, so you no longer need to worry about lugging around the hardback.

Chelminski, R, 2006, The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine, Penguin Books (ISBN: 0141021934)

15 March 2006

Alex at Dans Le Noir

Alex dines at Dans Le Noir.


© The Daily Telegraph 15 March 2006

Alex isn't the only one to be slightly ambivalent about the place: it has received mixed reviews in The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Dans Le Noir, 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London, EC1R 0DU, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7253 1100

Google Maps

12 March 2006


I promised in my post on chicken soup to include a post on what you can add to it.  So here we are.

I'm not sure why there is a tradition across numerous cuisines of putting some sort of carbohydrate solid into soup - think croutons, noodles and dumplings - but there is definitely a theme.  I would assume it's a good way of adding substance to a product that might otherwise appear measly.  Very often, those dishes that call specifically for some such addition are the thinner, brothier kinds of soups that tend to be associated with home or street food, rather than haute cuisine.  Chicken soup is no exception, with its addition of knaidlach.

There are two schools of cooking knaidlach, there is the depth-charge and there is the light as feather, float like a butterfly version.  Being difficult, my preference is for somewhere in the middle.  I like to know that I'm eating something, but I don't like the associated heartburn.  The recipe I enjoy most is that which I grew-up with and that Silverbrowess has taken on as her own (we can thank her for providing the recipe below).

The secret to this recipe are the fried onions - an essential part of ashkenazi cooking - that add a depth and smokiness to the balls of delight.  The recipe is simple, straightforward and quick.  This recipe doesn't include the addition of schmaltz (chicken fat) but feel free to cook the onions in it.  You'll love it, your cardiologist won't.

This recipe should give you approximately 15 golf-ball sized knaidlach.   

  • 115g matzo meal    
  • 250ml boiling water    
  • 1 onion - diced    
  • 1 egg - lightly beaten

Fry the onion so it turns a deep golden brown but be careful not to let it burn. Set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl combine the matzo meal, the boiling water, the egg, salt & pepper. Add the onions.  Put the mixture in the fridge to expand slightly and settle.  Just prior to serving the soup, remove the mixture from the fridge and roll into golf-ball sized balls.  Try not to be heavy handed as you'll end up with heavy balls (ooer missus).

Place the balls in the pot of hot soup.  They will take less than a minute to cook through if the soup is close to boiling.  Don't let them sit in the soup for too long as they will disintegrate and can turn the soup cloudy.  Some people cook the balls in boiling water and add to the soup only in the individual balls.  I think you lose some of the flavour doing it this way.

Although this is the last word in knaidlach recipes, knaidlach are not the last word in chicken soup additions.  There are also kreplach (tortellini stuffed with chicken livers) and lokschen (sliced omelette) but we can save those for another day.

You may have seen the photo below previously, apologies for that.  But it demonstrates the knaidlach in all its carbohydrate glory.


10 March 2006

The dangers of democracy

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating autocratic rule, I'm just questioning whether democracy is all it's cracked-up to be.  With the vote comes responsibility and it seems that some of those currently enfranchised are not living up to their end of the bargain.  Or, it could be that the wrong people are enfranchised.  Proof of this can be seen from a poll conducted by a website called View London.  The poll is intended to list the best and worst places in London and 3,500 dimwits were entrusted to express their opinion and vote.  Talk about irresponsible.

According to the clearly chavtastic bunch who voted, London's five best restaurants are:

  1. Oxo Tower
  2. Hakkasan
  3. Nobu
  4. Asia de Cuba
  5. Maze

Squaremeal notes that although you can have a great meal at the Oxo Tower, service has occasionally been described as "unbelievably poor".  Hardens quotes one reader who describes it as "A waste of the best restaurant views in London", whilst another argues the food is "cynical rubbish".  I appreciate these are but a few views, but ones I wholly buy into it. Not all of these restaurants are dogs, Hakkasan and Maze stand out as particularly noteworthy, but they are a long way from the best restaurants in London.  They do not have the best food, the best value for money, the best service or the best ambience.  At a stretch, one might argue that Oxo Tower has the best views, Hakkasan has the best basement and Nobu has the best broom-cupboard.

To me this list does not constitute the five best restaurants in London.  Rather, it is the five restaurants which are mentioned most frequently if you ask a Heat-reading-Chantelle-aspiring-brain-dead nincompoop, where they are most likely to see some minor celebrity who they can shag and then sell the story to one of the red-tops.

This does of course raise the question of what I think are the five best London restaurants.  As yet, I haven't eaten at all of London's restaurants so would find it hard to judge.  I'm doing my best to work through them however.

UPDATE: It appears that Londonist are equally perplexed by these results.

Eating badly in the States

I've just got back from a trip to the States.  Ninety per cent of the food I ate was awful.  I'm not saying all food in the States is awful, just that which I ate.  I take a considerable amount of responsibility for that, I fed myself far too much trash because work was frantic and it was the nearest thing to hand so ended up being shoved down the gob.

I went to one or two supposedly decent restaurants and wasn't impressed, that was especially the case with Maestro at the Ritz Carlton at Tysons Corner, just outside of Washington DC.  To me it felt like the chef was trying way too hard to get noticed and it didn't really work.  My starter of mozzarella and tomato was very oddly presented on one long plate with three bowls sunk into it.  In each bowl was one part of the dish: the mozzarella, the tomato and a salsa verde.  The cheese wasn't great, the olive oil drenching it was tasteless and the tomatoes were nothing to write home about.  I can't remember anything about the salsa.  The main dish of sea bass with mushrooms served three ways was fine, but unnecessarily finicky.  The mashed potato served in a mini-copper sauce pan was good, but chef was aping Robuchon and it didn't work.  He needed to use way more butter in that mash.  My dessert of strawberries was good enough - although, strawberries in March, what was I thinking? 

One real surprise and delight was Dunkin' Donuts coffee.  I had read on Opinionated About (registration required) that Dunkin' Donuts had good coffee.  I was sceptical, but noticed an outlet at the airport yesterday and decided to try it out.  It was excellent.  The coffee was smooth, with a good kick.  Not the burned jet fuel you're often served or the insipid brown-water from Starbucks.  For the record, I had eaten so much rubbish (processed cheese, chocolate, fizzy drinks, crisps, pretzels etc etc) I couldn't face a donut.  So it was just one coffee to go.  Although those glazed donuts were tempting.

I feel sluggish and weighed down (more so than normally) by saturated fats. The combination of jet-lag, loads of work and general exhaustion is a nightmare when it comes to eating well. What I should have been having was fruit and veg, what I ended up eating was M&M's and Coke. I really need to go on a diet.