« May 2007 | Main | July 2007 »

6 posts from June 2007

26 June 2007


Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Had I not had heavy boots today I would not have decided that comfort food was necessary for lunch, which meant I would not have walked down a street I rarely walk down, which would have meant I would not have found Scoop. But I did and my heavy boots became light flip flops as I realised I that the best ice-cream in the UK is nestling in a side-street in Covent Garden, not a stones throw from the front door of my office.

And yes, what Scoop serves is gelato rather than ice-cream: it has less fat (cream) than traditional, read American, ice-cream; it also has less air beaten into it and uses more egg yolks. The upshot is a very creamy, thick, silky smooth consistency that when done well is heavenly. This stuff is heavenly.

I tried two flavours: Fior di Latte and Amaretto di Saronno. Fior di Latte forms the base of most of Scoop's ice-creams and is in effect an ice-creamed mozzarella or burrata. After I oohed and ahhed over the lactic creaminess of it all, Matteo Pantani, the shop's owner and evangelical gelato maker, without a word simply passed me a spoon laden with the Amaretto di Saronno gelato. The sweet alcohol was tempered by the milky cream and complemented by the warming, nutty aftertaste of almonds. This stuff is truly exceptional.

Despite English not being his first language, Matteo was keen to talk and I was desperate to listen. It turns out he has been making gelato in Italy for the last few years. I didn't quite get to the bottom of why he came here, but thankfully he did. He reckons the UK artisanal ice-cream market is pretty immature. He may have a point, although it is June, 10°C and pissing with rain. There might be a connection. Then again, the likes of Marine Ices (which up until lunchtime today was my favourite ice-cream available in the UK) have been going since 1947 so there must be some sort of market. I also think that when elevated to a culinary speciality, rather another being yet another dessert pumped with chemicals, there is no reason ice-cream should not be taken a bit more seriously over here. Scoop might just be in the vanguard.

Despite his bravura, Matteo is clearly no fool and is hedging his bets a bit. For all his gelatic (Is there such a word? - Ed.) zeal, he has hired a pastry chef to churn out dinky little pasticceria and it looks from the website that they are planning on bigging up coffee and hot chocolate as well. This all seems very canny and I can't help wonder why it has taken so long for someone to come up with the idea. Furthermore, and not that Matteo is paying me - but if you're reading this, I'll accept bribery in the form of tubs of gelati - they have introduced the rather clever idea of styrofoam containers. Which, rather than the crappy cardboard versions so often given out by ice-cream shops in the UK, keeps the ice-cream cool and means large quantities can be transported home without melting. If anyone dares whinge about styrofoam, I'll beat you around the head with your Whole Foods "organic" carrot. As an aside, I hate Whole Foods. I also can't stand AA Gill but please read his article in this week's Sunday Times, he's spot on, so is Charles Campion in the Evening Standard.

Back to Scoop. I strongly urge you to go there and take your time. Chat to Matteo, try the gelati, have a cornetti and if you have no idea what heavy boots are, read Jonathan Safran Foer's very beautiful Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It has nothing to do with gelato or ice-cream, but a lot to do with life and New York.

Google Maps
Google Earth (download)

Scoop 40 Shorts Gardens, London, WC2H 9AB, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7240 7086 | Mob: +44 (0)7944 779 693

19 June 2007

I have a secret to tell you

Please don't tell anyone else. This secret, it's very hush-hush and if anyone finds out, it'll all be over. Seriously. It's for your eyes only. Here, come closer. Ok, you ready? Here goes: bloggers who write about restaurants and food do so because they love restaurants and food.

I know, it's crazy but it's true. We don't invest hundreds of pounds on meals, ingredients, cook-books and cooking utensils and significant amounts of time because we hate it. Who would have thought? All the evidence points to us being evil, manipulative, malevolent and ignorant and now I come along and shatter that illusion with the truth. Amazing, huh?

Why then, are so many chefs and restauranters leery of what we do? One reason could be because they don't know who we are. If that's the case, that's their fault and their problem. They should learn, or at least get their PR firms on the case. Some of us are anonymous. I have my own reasons for anonymity. Others no doubt hide behind anonymity to shill or attack at will. But, and here's the rub, readers have brains, they can sift and they can analyse. I would be willing to bet that if a diner is savvy enough to read one blog, they are likely to read a few, in addition to the magazines and newspapers they also read, whether online or in print. Blogs do not exist in a vacuum, one bad post does not make a bad restaurant. However, five bad posts plus a piss poor review in a national newspaper, might make prospective diners think twice.

I don't wish to sound like I have swallowed The Cluetrain Manifesto, but the internet is basically a worldwide chat. There is a lot of shit out there but there are also a lot of deep and meaningfuls taking place. You won't agree with all of them, but if you look, there'll be something for you. If you love your brawn, you're going to love Opinionated About, but if fast food is more your basket of chips, you'll find Central Florida Restaurant Mum invaluable. Personally, OA is more for me, but I enjoy Florida Mum's stuff, if only to see how the other half eat.

In my opinion, the thing that scares Mario Batali and his unconnected compadres is word of mouth. When it was just the odd reviewer on a newspaper and a couple of trade mags, it was all very manageable. Word of mouth was unable to spread further than a few blocks and it was ephemeral. Now it's tougher, more complicated and thanks to Google, lasts longer.

Whereas what seems to be a younger cohort of chefs regard word of mouth as all important and have chosen to embrace us keyboard toters with relish. My podcasts with Giorgio Locatelli and Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot, among others, are evidence of that.

I fail to see why people get so exercised about bloggers. Most blogs have pretty low readership figures, but our readers tend to be loyal. They post comments, send us emails and sometimes eat and drink with us. We build a relationship, in just the way that I always assumed restaurants wanted to build relationships with their patrons. Readers and bloggers alike share a passion and choose to indulge it in a particular way. Why do some see that as such a threat?

For more on this, go and see what Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet has to say.

18 June 2007

Food and Britishness

There is a thought provoking piece on The Observer's Word of Mouth blog about the connections between obesity and the rather amorphous concept of Britishness. The main argument in the post is that so many non-religious Anglo-Saxons are both disconsolate and fat because they lack an identity to unify them either to each other or to the food they eat.

Although the article is somewhat sweeping, I can't fundamentally disagree with the view that food is crucial in tying us to our roots and giving us our identity.

I don't think that encouraging Britons to bake their own hot-cross buns will boost community cohesion. But I do think that understanding one of the reasons why Britain is so fat - the dissolution of traditional culture in global consumer culture - helps explain why there is a crisis in "Britishness". And it isn't the fault of immigrants.

As an aside, I was amused that the photo at the top of the article was of a chippy and as we know well, fish and chips is hardly the most British of dishes.

17 June 2007

Silverbrow's summer safety tips #1

As the temperature in London rises, so does the dread of those of us who have to use the tube on a regular basis. It is not uncommon to see people pass out with the heat. London Underground advises you carry bottles of water, wear loose clothing etc etc. However, after much experimentation I can bring you a failsafe method of staying safe, cool and even having a seat.

Step 1. Buy yourself some ripe Stinking Bishop
Step 2. Let it rest in a plastic bag
Step 3. Wait for the bag to start sweating
Step 4. Board the tube

You will be amazed how quickly you have the carriage to yourself. It has worked a treat for me.

WARNING: This safety tip is not meant for those of you attempting a James Blunt and planning to fall head over heals in love with some semi-clad temptress. You and anything within a 20 metre radius of you will smell like an overflowing, carrion filled cesspit beneath a particularly dodgy curry house. It's not a good smell, but you will be cool.

You pays your money, you takes your choice.

13 June 2007

Now for something completely different

Please excuse this brief interlude, but I defy you not to have at least one goose-bump in the next 4 minutes 9 seconds. For purists, the video has nothing to do with food, other than the fact it oozes cheese and schmaltz and is all the better for it.

Hat-tip: The Debatable Land

04 June 2007

Smoked brisket

Smoke and be damned. It's as simple as that. Ignore the health warnings. Evolution has taught us that sweetness equals energy and sourness equals off food, then so smokiness must equal nectar. I have decided there is no better way to eat a 4kg slab of fresh brisket than after a 12 hour shvitz in a smoker, equally, can chicken ever be more majestic than eaten cold after a four hour smoke bath? I think not.

The smoking session came about as a result of a perfect storm: too much time on my hands, guilt at not having used a birthday present I'd specifically asked for and a dinner party for my family. Several years ago, in the run up to an insignificant birthday, I had mentioned in more detail than is polite, the amazing attributes of the Weber Smokey Mountain. It is true that the attributes I was extolling were those on the Weber website and other marketing guff I had read. I had never eaten something cooked on one, nor obviously had I cooked on one. Nonetheless, I sensed a calling - I bought into the PR and knew my life would be worthless without one. So for two years my WSM has been sitting under its tarp, singing like a harpe, luring me in, but I never quite fell for it until this weekend. I am deeply pissed off that I have wasted two years of my life not smoking.

Hopefully you can tell I like it. I like the fact cooking on it becomes a zen-like experience. Less of the brassiness of a traditional barbecue, more caressing and nudging and tweaking. I love the fact that the finished product tastes unlike anything I've had before. I particularly like that smoking has allowed me to fall in love again, this time with cold chicken breast. Yes, I know chicken breasts are not great cold - but try one the day after a smoke. It will restore your faith. However, this post is not about chicken breasts, it is about beef and lots of it. I plan to get around to the chicken post shortly.

I detail below what I did to the beef, how I did it and what the meat looked like at various stages. However, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the Virtual Weber Bullet, a website with a disturbing level of enthusiasm for its rather specialised focus. My method detailed below is basically their method, so any successes I had, were theirs.

From putting the meat on the grill to serving it was approximately 12 hours, that included about an hour and a half of resting in kitchen foil.

This serves 8 people, or 6 with decent amount of leftovers, which you will want.

  • 4kg fresh brisket - make sure it's fresh not pickled
  • apple juice for basting

For the rub

  • salt & pepper
  • sweet smoked paprika
  • English mustard
  • za'atar

You need a big hunk of meat for this. Mine was enormous - the largest cut by area that I have ever cooked. Remember though that given the length of cooking, it will shrink considerably. Also remember to keep some of that fat on the brisket, do not be tempted to remove it, despite the fact there is so much of it. Much of it will be rendered down during the process and it will help keep the meat moist during the cooking. What is left at the end, you can simply trim away before serving.

Start off by making the rub and marinading your meat overnight. Use as much of the rub ingredients as possible, but bear in mind not to use too much salt as you will dehydrate the meat unnecessarily. Usually I don't add salt to marinades, because it leaches the water, but having done some reading it seems par for the course for smoking so I dutifully followed the trend.

I cocked up slightly - forgetting what a mammoth cut it was, it wasn't fully defrosted by the time I put the rub on. Being the first time I have done this, I have no idea what impact this had on the outcome. However, it tasted to me that the rub had had an effect and I had more than one guest ask was covering the meat.

So far, so simple. The main part of the cooking process comes down to playing with the heat.

I started the smoker using the ingenious Minion method to fire it up. It was ridiculously easy and I was surprised how little charcoal I used during the cooking: 1 and a quarter 3.5kg boxes of lumpwood charcoal. I think, with a bit more experience I could probably have got away with just one box.

Once the lit coals were sitting on top of the cold coals, I added some lumps of hickory wood and filled up the water bowl.

At this stage the beef went on, fat side down and the cooking began.

I tried to be as accurate as possible compiling the details for the table below. I have listed the temp in the body of the smoker and the times I took the temperature. Where I noted it, I have also detailed the temperature of the meat itself. The method I used to determine the heat was by sticking a digital Polder thermometer in the lid vent, which remained open throughout the cooking process. All temps are in Celsius. If you're a luddite, click here.

It should be noted that the vent column represents how much the vents on the bottom of the smoker were open. 100% means they were all open all the way, 0% they were all shut all the way. 2x0 / 1x50 means two were shut entirely and one was open half-way. On the Virtual Weber website they list which vent was open to which percentage, personally I can't see it makes any difference which actual vent is open, rather the percentage. The only caveat to that is if there is a strong wind. If there is, then the vent that is face on to the wind will obviously have a greater impact on the heat in the coals than one that is leeward.

Finally, please note that I was cooking a chicken as well. This resulted in the beef getting shifted around a little, the temp dropping when the chicken went in and so on. Therefore, it did have an effect on the cooking process, so bear that in mind. However, I don't think its impact was too significant.

[If you are reading this on a RSS reader, you might want to click through to the post itself, so you can see the table of temps and timings.]

1. Meat goes onto the lower grill
2. Meat is flipped and basted with apple juice PHOTO
3. Got very scared with the plummeting heat. Added cold coals to the grate and used my kitchen blow torch to make sure all coals in grate were lit
4. Put in the chicken on the lower grill. Beef moved to top grill. Turned & basted the meat w/apple juice. Added wood. Internal temp of beef 77°C
5. Internal temp of beef 88°C
6. Internal temp of beef 95°C. Beef removed PHOTO

When the meat was taken out, I let it sit in a blanket of silver foil for about an hour and a half. I left it in the warmest place I could find - on top of the washing machine.

So how did it turn out? Simply put it was a revelation. The meat was moist (whilst hot) it had a fantastic depth of flavour and has converted me to 'cue. I made a pretty spicy and vinegary sauce to go with it. I'm not going to list it here, because I forgot to write down how I made it, but it was basically a good mix of vinegar, tomatoes, chillis, sugar, onion and garlic all sauteed down and then blended. I'm sure it's considered heresy in some places, but we loved it.

These are some of the photos during the process.

The brisket after six and a half hours

The brisket after 10 hours

The brisket after ten hours - in profile

This is not a barbecue, this is 'cue. Learn the differences and go forth and smoke.