Ich Bin Ein Berliner, Fischers Fritz at the Regent

Set lunch Wine by the glass

No doughnuts on display here, maybe a beignet if you’re lucky. This is one of Berlin’s finest restaurants, headed by Christian Lohse at the posh Regent hotel and with a lofty two Michelin stars. It also has an eye-wateringly expensive dinner menu, I’ve started to realise how great value fine dining in London can be compared to Europe in general. However I wanted to try it and the lunch menu was better at €47 for 3 courses. Still not bargainous but more palatable for a flying visit to Berlin. The welcome was excellent, very refined and formal but with friendliness from the staff. The dining room was grand and generously spaced, lots of soft furnishings and elegant art. It had a touch of hotel dining room about it, but only in the grandest sense (maybe too much beige for my liking). And the wife was concerned about the creases in the thick linen tablecloth, they looked neat to me though.

That contraversial halibut cheese combo Croquette

We were offered a pre-dinner drink, without a price list which always annoys me slightly. Anyway, we opted for a rose champagne and a Manzanilla sherry. Both very nice although quite short measures (100ml and 50ml) for the price (€22 and €16!). An amuse of German anise crackers was brought over, they were light and a good start. My starter was a carpaccio of halibut with fennel and burrata. Fish and cheese are extremely hard to pull off together, they are not natural bedfellows (just ask an Italian). But … the creaminess of the burrata did work, adding some richness to the succulent wafer thin slices of fish. Impressive. The wife opted for pepper and ginger veloute with a prawn croquette. Tons of depth of flavour from the crisp prawn ball and the rich thick veloute poured at the table. Both were beautifully presented, and a light start which was well measured for lunch.

Breads galore

Special mention to the bread that was brought with the starter and remained throughout the meal, an excellent selection of heavier German nutty rye breads and sourdoughs with creamy soft salted butter.

Paprika pork

Skate

The mains selection in the set menu was quite light on meat options (just pork in fact) and interestingly had more fish. I fancied some meat after my delicate fish main, so pork it was. The wife opted for skate wing. My pork came Szgedin style, a new term to me that the waitress explained was a Hungarian stew. Given it was a stew, it was the most elegantly presented I’ve seen. The soft unctuous pork cheek was draped with a soft whole pepper and topped with a light fresh sauerkraut. Flavoured with smoky paprika, it was a good stew. But maybe a bit of a safe dish, certainly a crowd pleaser but there’s only so much you could do with it. The wife’s skate wing was perfectly cooked and topped with a herby parsley root and butter with capers. Again, a solid dish and nothing to fault, buy maybe a bit safe.

Tropical pre-dessert Ice cream substitute

Next, a nice surprise of a pre-dessert, a tropical dragonfruit sauce and ice-cream. The dragonfruit looked a tad like kiwi fruit (which the wife is allergic to), so after some tropical fruit language issues, they very kindly swapped it for a safer variety (which meant two fruity versions for me).

Namelaka creme, campari jelly and fennel pine juiceThe sublime pineapple, dark chocolate, hop caramel and toast

 

Onto desserts proper, both flawlessly presented and both with sauces poured ceremoniously at the table. The wife opted for Namelaka creme (a creamy white chocolate mousse), Campari jelly and a fennel pine juice. Super smooth sweet white chocolate paired with a bitter-sweet soft jelly and the fresh anise / piney notes of the juice, very clever. My only thought was texturally it was too soft. Next was mine, pineapple, dark chocolate, hop syrup and toast. This was a complete triumph, I was concerned about bitter chocolate and pineapple but paired with the bitter-sweet hop syrup and crunch of the toast, it was a revelation. Very smart, very complex and impossible to fault.

It was a very enjoyable meal from start to finish, the whole experience full of grandeur and luxury. The cooking was precise and elevated classic techniques and dishes with modern touches. My only slight niggle being that the mains felt quite safe compared to the more innovative starters and desserts. And price-wise, it isn’t cheap, two set lunches, a bottle of wine and coffee was nudging £200. But even bearing those in mind, an excellent meal and throughly recommended for a sumptuous meal in an opulent dining room.

Review: One Sixty, West End Lane, NW6

You'll need the kitchen roll

NW6 was my stomping ground for quite a few years until recently. And having explored the area thoroughly for 5 years or so, it had got … stale. A few decent pubs, a few good Indian restaurants and the very notable Wet Fish cafe aside, I always found the mix of cafes and restaurants a bit odd, lots of distinctly average places in an area with a glut of young, well-heeled professionals.

Excellent bottled beer selection

So it was exciting to see a new opening (that wasn’t another Italian cafe or short-lived sushi restaurant). It was a smokehouse and bar, very on-trend and hopefully going to kick some life into the main high street, West End Lane. I was even more intrigued to see David Moore involved, the Michelin starred Marylebone restauranteur. We arrived at 9.15pm on a Thursday two weeks after opening and it was buzzing, people filling the 80 cover restaurant and a few standing at the long bar. Waiting at the bar, they clearly took their beer seriously with a decent draft selection and extremely good bottled selection, including some smaller London and USA brews. Supping my limited edition German style smoked Flue Faker from Camden, I thought this is looking promising.

Short and inviting

Wings, celery and blue cheese dipNice selection of fresh pickles

We were seated at our booked table shortly after. The decor feels trendy with a slight “stripped back” look but clearly carefully crafted. I particularly liked the photography of high end London butchers on the walls, a nice dedication to the provenance of their key ingredient, meat. The menu is short, focused and full of treats for meat lovers. We opted for some pickles and hot wings to start. The pickles were an interesting mix of salted cucumber, carrot, gherkins and of all things, semi-dried tomatoes. Very fresh with good crunch, I liked the texture of them. I think they needed a touch more vinegary bite, although the carrot had plenty of garlic and the cucumbers a bit too much salt. But, a different variety and fresh. The wings were pretty generous (10 or so), and very moist and meaty for their size. It came with a heavy blue cheese dip and a nice touch of celery sticks. All good, BUT, they were not hot in any definition of the word. I’m all for subtlety in spicing, however the chilli kick was only just discernable. We had ordered some rye bread and marrow (a rather bargainous £1) which didn’t arrive unfortunately.

Look at the smoking on that cheek

Mains, smoked ox cheek arrived for me. Nestled in the classic enamel tins was a decent hunk of cheek, with a very impressive blackened smoke crust. A selection of pickles were in there as well (I wish I had been told since I ordered coleslaw as a side). Beautiful fork-tender meat, it was unfortunately let down with a chronic lack of seasoning. Such a shame since it was perfectly cooked and the pickles cut through the fatty meat. Salt helped alleviate it but a good dry rub 14hrs earlier when the smoking starting would have been a lot better. Phil had the burger, a dangerous move given Phil’s notoriously high burger standards. He was pleased overall with a good medium-rare patty, although the soft bun and large wet tomato caused “structural issues”. A side of chips was fine, a crisp exterior although slightly light interior.

So, £50 for a couple of good beers, some sharing starters and mains was perfectly acceptable (good value even). But, they really have to get a bit more flavour in there, underseasoned smoked meat and underspiced “hot” wings are still hanging offences in some of the lower States of America. Let’s hope they are still settling into the dishes and will perfect them over the next few weeks, I’m sure I’ll be back.

One Sixty on Urbanspoon

Review: The Hampshire Hog, W6

We were off to see the venerable Nick Cave on a stormy Sunday night (pathetic fallacy I’m sure), an excellent gig by the way, and needed somewhere to eat around Hammersmith. Bar a few solid gastropubs around there, I haven’t been to (or heard of) many inspiring restaurants in this part of town. But I was excited to see the harshly evicted team behind the Engineer in Primrose Hill had opened the Hampshire Hog just down the road opposite Ravenscourt Park. The Engineer was a cracking local food pub which the pubco Mitchells and Butlers forcibly took over from the landlords, presumably because they saw how well it was doing.

After a 10 minute walk from Hammersmith we walked in to a capacious and strangely quiet pub. It was a stormy night so the whole street seemed quite quiet which may explain it. The large drinking area revealed another large dining area at the back with a few people eating at least. Service was friendly but seemed a bit confused with several people offering us drinks and menus. Ah, and the menus were laminated. A terribly small point I know but given the persona the pub was aiming for and the heritage it was supported by, I was surprised. All the ales were off (another bad sign for a pub) so I sought out some wine. The wine list seemed well balanced with a mix of prices and old / new world, although dominated by Sauvignon at the pricier end. We picked the nicest non-Sauvignon they had, a Chardonnay, but were told eventually it was sold out. A bit disappointing on a quiet night with a fairly short wine list but it happens. We went for a riesling described as dry although it was sweet which was doubly worse as it was barely cold. Once chilled in the ice bucket it was nice for me at least, the wife was less keen.

3 fish terrine

Onto the food. The menu is a bit confused, both in terms of lacking a location or focus and also adding in some quite odd combinations. Dashing between Asia, Greece, the Netherlands and England just for the starters is fine but you need an overriding theme to a place. We chose a 3 fish terrine to share as a starter combining smoked salmon, mackerel and cod. With pickled vegetables and toast. The plating was pretty sparse and unappealing, the vegetables’ appearance made me laugh with half a carrot and half a cherry tomato face down. And the terrine looked neat in a Neapolitan ice cream sort of way. Speaking of which, it was fridge cold and hence still quite firm. Very mildly fishy with not much to distinguish the layers, it was more like a cream cheese spread with a hint of fish. The pickled vegetables were also very lightly pickled but nice enough, more were needed. Oh, and the price, in a pub way of town, was £7.50. It felt lazy for that price, a reasonable size but bland.

Cod, barley and sauce gribiche Chicken with redcurrant sauce and skinny chipsMains were slightly better at least, despite the hour wait between a very quick starter and very slow main. I’m glad they weren’t busy! I had cod with barley and sauce gribiche. The fish was served as a nicely cooked chunk, bar the skin which was flabby and soft still. The interior was soft and moist. I love barley and that was also well cooked to a firm bite, mixed with the very garlicky, tangy gribiche it made for a good side. Possibly too much garlic, it did repeat for a bit but I appreciated the punchiness at the time. The wife went for chicken served with redcurrant sauce(!), skinny chips and asparagus. Two slightly lonely out of season asparagus spears supported a large bit of chicken and redcurrant sauce. A bit like a guilty Ikea meatball visit, it was sweet, meaty and OK. The chicken was dry though, and the chips needed a harder fry. Oh, and the repeated chive garnish on both was amateurish when you see both together.

In a word, disappointing. Not desperately bad, my main was moderate in fact. But given the heritage of the place, and the pricing, I would have hoped for more. More focus, more interesting dishes and more attention to detail. I would probably head back for a boozy afternoon and casual lunch with mates if they were going there, but won’t be heading back for dinner.
Hampshire Hog on Urbanspoon

Recipe: Rare venison haunch, sweet potato fondant and braised red cabbage and apples

The finished article, with plenty of gravy on the sideAs autumn starts to take over from summer and the temperature drops, thoughts turn to hearty comforting richer dishes. Game in particular fits this bill very well, matching Autumn with iron-rich flavoursome meat. And I LOVE venison in particular, served rare it is a luxurious red meat with plenty of flavour and can be just as tender as the finest beef fillet. It pairs very well with sweet, tart sides to cut through the strong flavour and provide a counterpoint. The braised cabbage side works really well, adding earthy red cabbage with sharp red wine vinegar and some tart sweetness from apples. You could certainly use normal potatoes (fondant / mash, or for more decadence some dauphinoise). However I think sweet potato pairs excellently as well.

Venison, unless you’re talking about a slow braising cut, HAS to be rare. The meat dries out much more quickly than beef due to its lean nature (well, deer do tend to run around a lot). I’ll admit I managed to slightly overcook this joint which was very frustrating although being haunch it was still good, trust your instincts. If it’s thin enough you can certainly pan fry it like a steak, however I had a whole 2.5kg haunch and hence opted for roasting. I know people can be squeamish about anything gamey, both the flavour and concept. Disney has a lot to answer for, and despite Thumper and indeed Bambi being very cute, their taste far surpasses their looks. I don’t think anyone can seriously argue against eating a wild animal that has had a free life and was quickly dispatched with a rifle, compared with a battery chicken or even well-raised farm animals. Taste-wise, some game can certainly be challenging to more squeamish eaters. Venison is the perfect gateway game though, it has a stronger flavour than beef but certainly isn’t offensive or unusual.

Roasted Haunch of Venison, Juniper and Schezuan Pepper Crust (feeds 8-10)

  • 1 haunch of venison
  • 2 teaspoons of juniper berries (fresh or dried)
  • 2 teaspoons of schezuan pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • Butcher’s string
  • 500ml of beef stock
  • 1 sweet potato per person
  • 500ml of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 red cabbage
  • 2 onions
  • 2 apples
  • 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of butter

Tied up with fancy silicone ties

So, ideally you can get a whole haunch of venison from your butcher. It will vary in weight depending on the type, mine was around 2.5kg deboned. It can be a bit better to cook on the bone (for flavour and helping cook evenly) but is harder to carve so they both have their benefits. Pre-heat your oven to 220°C. Crush the juniper and pepper with a generous couple of large pinches of salt and pepper. Rub the meat with the oil and then rub the salt mix on top around the whole joint. If it is deboned wrap tightly with string, or if you’re lucky enough some fabulous bright pink silicone ties like the ones I was kindly bought by the wife. Once the oven is hot, place the venison in a sturdy roasting tin. Cook for 20 minutes at 220°C for the sear (or up to 30 for a really big haunch, over 3kg say), then turn the oven down to 160°C and cook for 9-10 minutes per 500g.

For the cabbage side, first peel any damaged outer leaves off and then chop in half. Take any of the thick bitter stem off and slice the remaining cabbage quite finely. Chop the red onion and fry in a tablespoon of butter until slightly softened. Add the cabbage and diced apple and cook for a few more minutes. Then add the vinegar and sugar, tasting as you go to get the right balance (it should be both sharp and sweet). Add a few splashes of water, place the lid on and simmer gently for an hour or so. Check every 20 minutes or so and add more water if it has dried out, it should have a small amount of liquid in the bottom.

For the potatoes, peel them first and then shape into approximately 2 inch rounds but cutting slices from the thickest point, you can neaten the edges with the peeler. I tend to get 2 out of a medium potato, or 3-4 out of a large one. Fry them in lots of butter over a medium heat for 10 minutes total, turning occasionally to prevent burning. Then pour in the chicken or vegetable stock to about half way and cook for 15 minutes or so total, turning halfway to evenly cook. Check they are fully tender through (I made the classic Masterchef mistake of a few hard fondants).

Make sure you give the meat plenty of resting time, 20-30 minutes is ideal so factor it into your timings. While it’s resting get the pan with any juices and add some rich beef stock and a splash of red wine. Adjust for seasoning (if needed) and reduce down on the hob to the thickness of gravy you want. When everything else is ready and plated, carve thin slices and serve.

 

Baba Ghanoush

5-photo_4Burn baby burn

Aubergines, they’re bloody hard to master cooking. At once both hard and slimy, I will happily admit I generally struggle cooking the purple tumescent fruit into anything delicious. Except, that is, baba ghanoush which has to be the best way to deal with this troublesome ingredient. And you get to burn the bastard thing to death first for any previous woes. You may think I have aubergine anger issues but ultimately this is for the good of your baba ghanoush as well. You see the blackened crispy skin, that’s what gives you the smokey note essential to this dish.

The finished, decorated baba ghanoush

Think of it as a hummus with aubergine instead of chickpeas. Juicy, tangy, smokey. Somewhere between a dip and a side dish, it adds bags of flavour and moisture to all sorts of dishes, particularly big cuts of lamb.

Recipe – feeds 6 as a side

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • Sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 pomegranate (optional)
  • A handful of coriander / parsley (optional)
  • 1 lemon

Grilled to blackened perfection

Firstly grill your aubergines. If you happen to have a hot BBQ / wood-fire going then great, use that. Otherwise grill directly on your hob until properly blackened and softened, around 10 minutes turning periodically. You’ll think it’s burnt, it’s not and actually is easier to peel and much tastier with that smokey flavour. Make sure you have a window open and the extractor on! Leave to cool in a bowl. In the meantime finely chop the garlic clove and then crush with 1 tsp of sea salt to a paste, using the flat of the blade scraped along the board to squash it all together. Add to a bowl along with the juice of the lemon.

Crushing the salt

Once the aubergines have cooled, gently peel the blackened skin (or as much as you can) off and add the peeled aubergine to your bowl with the garlic and lemon, adding as much of the juices as you can. Roughly chop with a knife / fork in the bowl to a rough texture. Then add the olive oil and tahini and stir. Adjust for seasoning, both in terms of lemon and salt plus some pepper. To serve, mix through some pomegranate seeds and the herbs.

Topped with pomegranate and herbs

(Very!) Quick lunch, tomato and fennel salami open sandwich

Tomato, fennel salami, bread.

A good tomato is a joy forever. Excuse my misplaced Keats reference, but for me a tomato is indeed a thing of beauty and to be savoured. They play some part in a lot of my quick lunches since they are easy to prepare, full of flavour and can be happily served raw or cooked. BUT, they really do have to be ripe. Most supermarkets sell their tomatoes woefully under-ripe, and don’t get me started on hard avocados when I have a guacamole craving. Keep your tomatoes at room temperature, for the following reasons:

  • They are probably under-ripe and need maturing anyway.
  • In the fridge you’ll damage the cells and end up with a mushy, mealy tomato (yuck!).
  • They are absolutely most flavourful served at room temperature.

Roasted garlic ... and *bread*?

Naturally sweet, the only thing they need is a small sprinkle of crushed sea salt to enhance their juicy goodness. Basil is obviously a classic extra, along with cheese. Garlic too, which brings me nicely to this loaf I found (at Belsize Park Budgens of all places). A roasted garlic loaf to be precise, irresistible! Yes, those are whole chunks of sweet pungent roasted garlic you can see. What a bread, and what a lunch!

Classic Cake Time

Birthdays and cakes, is there a better combination of celebration and food? Even more so when the cake in question is a home-baked classic to bring back nostalgic memories of childhood treats and blowing out candles. Add seasonal sweet sharp raspberries into the mix and I’m in heaven.

That’s why I went for the Mary Berry (she of the Great British Bake Off) Victoria Sponge . A nice precise recipe to follow which is very particular about something as simple as making a vanilla sponge. The extra precision pays off with a light fluffy sponge you can smother with jam and fruit. Served with a side of cream (none in the cake to satisfy the purists) makes for a great birthday cake.