Thursday, 29 April 2010

Bocca di Lupo

A blissful 3 consecutive days off for both me and JD meant a few days of tasting some nice food :)

Having read a few good reviews, JD had been wanting to take me to try Bocca di Lupo for a while but I have resisted until now partly because the last time I walked past the restaurant, I didn't find the menu particularly interesting. We had originally planned to visit it on one of our special monthly dinners but since we were in town on a weekday, we decided to chance our luck and pop in for a late lunch. The restaurant itself is located on a dodgy enough looking street in Soho but once inside, it is pretty chic with a bar area at the front facing onto an open kitchen. We sat towards the back where there is a smaller more conventional dining room (very impressed by the lighting!!)

The food did not disappoint (for the most part) and we were also surprised to find that desserts were one of the highlights of the meal which is so rare in restaurants normally. It did not come cheap (Starters, mains, 1 side, desserts and coffee for 2 with 2 soft drinks and no vino came close to 90 squid!) - nice for a special occasion and definitely worth it for the quality of food :)
Bread and olives to start - very yummy caramelised onion foccacia and the gigantic green olives taste great (JD is not a fan of olives so all the more for me!)

Wild boar prosciutto with raw broad beans and pecorino - very simple but it all worked very well together

Suppli (fried risotto rice ball) - one of the yummiest we have ever had and deep fried artichoke - have always been curious about this Roman speciality but not sure if I can fully appreciate it!

Roast suckling pig with potatoes and wild garlic - loved this dish, lots of flavour and tender pork with crispy crackling, yum! :)

Ravioli stuffed with braising beef and brains - not the most memorable and probably topped with too much Parmesan

Side dish of caponata - aubergine cooked with tomatoes, celery and anchovies with a sweet sour sauce, very moreish

DIY cannoli - simple but oh so good

Brioche ice cream sandwich - brioche was a slight let down but the ice creams were the best I have tasted in London, a trio of chestnut, hazelnut and pistachio

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Dinner at work

Following a complete re-hash of my schedule at the beginning of the month, I had to give up all my Saturdays to come into work and also cancel a reservation for a follow-up meal at St John which I wasn't too happy about at the time. I then decided to hatch plan B and take JD to have dinner at the place where I work instead so a couple of Wednesdays ago, we headed "back to work" (one perk about being an employee means a 50% discount on meals for up to 2 people, not bad, huh?!).

The menu is split into different parts: one can order a variety of small tasting dishes or alternatively, order from a more classic a la carte menu. There is also the option of ordering a tasting menu of 8 courses but then you are restricted to only eating what is on that menu. There are no set rules so JD and I ordered a few tasting dishes to begin the meal before opting for a more substantial main course each from the a la carte menu.

What can I say about dinner? It was very enjoyable and nice to be able to experience it from the point of view of a customer. To be honest, I wasn't expecting anything extra but just to enjoy the meal but we were blown away by the generosity of the sous chef and the sommelier who gave us extra courses and I also had the chance to taste several wines with my meal.

By the time I had finished all the food presented to us, I truly did not have any room left for dessert so did not order anything (and also because I get to taste everything on a daily basis). JD ordered a chocolate dessert and afterwards, my pastry chef decided to bombard us with an extra 4 desserts!!! All very nice but I just felt at the end of what was already a very heavy meal, probably a bit of overkill......

As I said, lovely food, great company and we were very well looked after by my colleagues so a big merci buckets to them :)
 Amuse bouche of foie gras with port reduction and parmesan (known affectionately by the staff as "foie gras royale")

Langoustine wrapped in rice paper and deep fried, served with pesto

Clams stuffed with garlic and mushroom

Extra course no. 1: green asparagus soup with crunchy croutons

Pan fried red mullet with tomato concasee and aubergine - my favourite dish of the night

Extra course no. 2: Scallop with kumquat sauce, baby leeks and some caviar

Extra course no. 3: foie gras ravioli with truffle

Mini burger with chips

My main course of veal chop served with white asparagus and morel mushrooms in a cream sauce. (JD had the halibut and said that it was the best fish he had ever tasted, apologies for lack of photo)

One of the (4 extra) desserts we were served - strawberry soup with tequila sorbet and basil oil

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Home baking

With work taking up most of my time and energy these days, I really need to give myself a kick up the arse to get into the kitchen and do the odd bit of baking. I recently borrowed Rachel Allen's "Bake" from the library and was pleasantly surprised at seeing some interesting recipes in the book that I knew I wanted to try out when given the chance. To be honest, I haven't always been a fan of Rachel (Darina all the way for me) cos I found some of her TV shows pretty annoying (the D4/transatlantic accent kills me!) and the style of cooking reminded me of Nigella.....who really isn't a cook. However, having watched the latest TV series "Home Cooking" and reading her book have changed my opinion of her and after trying out a couple of her recipes, I can say that they work also which is always a good sign! (Ma Chan also told me that she was one of the helpers at the cookery school when she was there and she found Rachel was always super nice and a good teacher so I guess my pre-conceptions of her were wrong). 

I had already tried out the Sticky Toffee Pudding a few weeks back which tasted super yummy (the motivation for this was the fact this is one of my bro's favourite puddings) - unfortunately, I forgot to grease my moulds which meant I couldn't get the darn puddings out!! Have to try again another time :)
The latest recipe I tried out was Oatmeal Shortbread - strangely enough, I am not a fan of shortbread (the stuff you buy from the shops is generally very stodgy and has a greasy after taste) but was drawn to the recipe by the extra twist of using porridge oats (good way of using my extra oats which have been sitting in the cupboard for a while). I needn't have worried as they turned out perfect and were absolutely delicious and moreish - toot, toot to me, huh?
Simple to make, very tasty and the other great thing......they get better with time! Bon app :)

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Cakes at Princi

A Sopranos favourite: Sfogliatella

A Godfather favourite: Cannolli (the Cannoncini on the left come highly recommended also!)

Ballymaloe House

One of the things which I had organised before heading home for Easter was booking in for lunch at Ballymaloe House. It has a special link with our family because Ballymaloe was where Ma Chan completed the now well renowned 3-month certificate course in cooking at Ballymaloe Cookery School with Darina Allen.......almost 20 years ago! (Ma Chan also likes to remind me that it was me who had brought Darina to her attention all those years ago when I watched Darina on TV and encouraged her to sit down and watch the programme as well).

I can't even remember the last time we ate at Ballymaloe, probably when I was still a teenager but not much has changed since then. The roads into Ballymaloe have improved a little but that didn't stop us from getting a little lost! We arrived just in time to be seated for Sunday lunch which is always a hot buffet. First, we were served some soup with home-made soda bread before being invited to help ourselves to the buffet for our mains. The food is not aspiring to be Michelin-star but it is honest, very delicious and typically for rural Ireland, there is LOTS of it! After 1 helping and a bit of the main course, we chose our desserts from the trolley which was circulating around the dining room....not a great choice and a little disappointing but I also had one of the yummiest vanilla ice creams ever which can't be that bad!
After lunch, we popped over to the cookery school to reminisce with Ma Chan, had a quick look in the shop and bumped into Darina's husband, Tim (who used to take Ma Chan's breadmaking courses) and her son, Toby (who is on the cover of Myrtle Allen's Ballymaloe Cookbook and also featured in a Hot Chocolate recipe in Simply Delicious Christmas). Despite it being Easter, Toby very generously showed us around the cookery school which was pretty exciting for me (also to be able to compare and contrast to Ferrandi) - we even saw the kitchen where they film Rachel Allen's new TV series.....a bit surreal! After a wander around the grounds, it was time to head east and back home. A really brilliant day, hopefully, I will get to go back sooner next time - we have already been invited to go to lunch at the school the next time so looking forward to that!!

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Food, glorious food!

My first meal since arriving home and what a feast it was! There is currently lobster on the menu at the restaurant and every time, a guest orders it, it smells really, really delish which in turn, has given me cravings for it. On the way back from the airport, we popped into a fishmonger that Ma Chan knew about to see what seafood they had. We were very lucky and bagged ourselves some lovely lobster and crab claws (am a sucker for the latter and could eat them every day if I could!)

The lobster at work might smell (and hopefully taste) great but for me, there is no better way of eating lobster than having it stir fried with spring onion and ginger and finished with a touch of brandy on a bed of crispy noodles - a real treat!

The crab claws were also stir fried in some chilli and black bean sauce - a bit fiddly to eat but well worth the effort and I managed to polish the majority of the plate!!!

Finally, some banana fritters and ice cream to end our gluttonous feast - its nice to be home :)

Memories of Ispahan :)

There was a guest dining at the restaurant recently who decided to propose to his girlfriend on the night of the meal. Our restaurant manager got wind of this and managed to get hold of the ring and we then presented it in a chocolate Easter egg during dessert as a surprise. It was a lovely idea (the restaurant manager is a little "crazy" usually but is actually a little sweetie at heart and super creative) and reduced the girlfriend to tears.......of joy, supposedly! :)

As you can see, there were a few rose petals scattered next to the chocolate egg and as a finishing touch and a tribute to the time I spent at the home of Ispahan, of course, there had to be a few drops of "dew" placed on these petals :)

Happy Easter everybody!

End of routine (again)

Apologies for the recent lack of posts - as you can imagine, restaurant hours and time for blog updates are not exactly a marriage made in heaven!! Since my last work posting, there have been some changes in the kitchen. We have had 2 more people joining the section but they are cuisiniers by trade and will inevitably head back to the kitchen at some point and the struggle for hiring pastry chefs continues......

There was a bit more of a routine for me in March which was working weekdays and having Saturdays and Sundays off but this is all about to change again because the pastry chef cannot delegate responsibly and this has meant the Saturday service for my "restaurant" has been in the weeds for the last 2 weeks - I guess that's what happens when you think its a good idea to send a colleague up to do service there without giving them any guidance/time to prepare/instructions whatsoever.....

Service for me has become less daunting and the butterflies have now disappeared. I have a good rapport with the restaurant staff as well which makes for things to work more smoothly, especially during busy times, no mean feat! The next area for me to work on is to really get my presentation up to the standards that I want.....

So, all in all, things have been pretty OK but it looks like its all about to change again this month:
  • One of my colleagues who joined a month ago has to leave now because of family problems so 1 staff member down .
  • My Saturdays off are now gone and the pastry chef has also decided to give me doubles for Thursdays and Fridays as well, the busiest days of the week to look after.
  • I was left in charge last Monday - not meaning to sound arrogant (I like to call it "quietly confident") but naturally, everything went OK and the pastry chef now feels that he can leave me to be in charge every Monday which means an extra day off for him. All fine and dandy but at this point, if there is going to be a(nother) mountain of responsibility heaped on me, there had better be talk of a promotion "toute suite".
As you can probably guess by now, I am still undecided about the job. The hours are the one thing that I still cannot come to terms with and I'm not sure whether I ever will. Since I have been focussed on doing service all the time, I have not been involved with doing as much "mise-en-place" which means that in terms of learning, I have become a little stagnant. On the other hand, a big plus is that the atmosphere in the kitchen is great (bar 1 individual) and the majority of people are nice and friendly which is not easy to find elsewhere. The waiting staff in my restaurant are also lovely so what does one do??

I now have a few days off for Easter and I'm heading home to see Ma Chan so hopefully, this will allow me to clear my head and get a better perspective on things :)