Category Archives: Places

A Happy Pig is a Good Pig: What Free Range Really Means

This piece was originally written for the Tiki Chris blog.

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Pork has got to be the most versatile meats. From roasting joints, loins for chops, legs for gammon, ribs for barbecue you can create all sorts of wonderful dishes from nose to tail.

While it’s tempting to rush off and start a cooking marathon as soon as possible, it’s important to consider where your meat comes from first. Of course, discerning shoppers always try to source the best quality possible to be sure of welfare standards and good flavour. However there are so many labels to decipher and even the savviest foodie is likely to be confused by the terms “outdoor bred”, “outdoor reared” and “free range”.

Based on my recent visit to Blythburgh Farm in Suffolk, here’s what they all mean:

  • outdoor bred = born outside but then moved indoors to be reared intensively for the majority of their lives
  • outdoor reared = intensively reared outside; they may be in huts or tents but they’re shut in for the whole time
  • free range = born outside, reared outside, freedom to roam large paddocks for all of their lives

If the pork you’re eyeing up in the supermarket has none of the above labels or is imported pork, chances are it’s from animals who have had relatively miserable lives.

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The explanations above are courtesy of Jimmy Butler (pictured right with his son Alistair), an experienced farmer and head of Blythburgh farmily farm in Suffolk. The Butlers converted their pig farm into the “absolutely, totally free range pork” venture it is today back in the 1990s.

Today, you can find pork bearing the Blythburgh stamp in specialist butchers around the country including my local, Hennessy Butchers in Battersea.

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You may have come across Blythburgh pork, also known as Jimmy Butler’s pork, on menus at the Savoy, the Fat Duck, the Ivy and the Hind’s Head – as well as street food favourites Chipotle and Yum Bun.

The label “Blythburgh pork” means that the meat you are buying is traceable back to one truly free range farm, which has ideal conditions for raising happy pigs.

The pigs that produce Blythburgh Free Range Pork spend their entire lives outdoors in the fresh air, with freedom to roam. Large airy tented barns in each paddock with plenty of bedding straw provide shelter when needed.

Better welfare and better taste – these pigs grow at a slower rate, so develop more flavour and succulence that is not easy to find in intensively farmed pork.

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Jimmy’s son Alistair tells us that pigs are curious, intelligent animals who love to root and play. As Jimmy puts it, “a free range pig is a happy pig and a happy pig is a good pig”.

The open spaces of the free range farm is clear to see just off a main road near the town of Blythburgh; the pig farm has become something of a landmark in these parts. You can see for yourself how the pigs happily roam in large paddocks, playing and rooting around as is their nature in the sandy Suffolk soil. I was lucky enough to cuddle one…

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After the visit, the group of food writers I was with were invited to a butchery demonstration by Gerard King, from craft butcher Salter and King, who skillfully broke down a whole side of pork and shared his top tips for preparing each cut. His recipe for rolled pork belly stuffed with chorizo sounds like a winner!

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With fine quality meat like Blythburgh pork, the simplest recipes are often the best to showcase the natural flavours. The Butlers shared one of their favourite family recipes for slow-cooked pork shoulder:

Ingredients:

  • 6kg Blythburgh pork shoulder, boned, rolled and scored
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • salt

Method:

Heat oven to 220 C. Place the pork in a roasting tray, rub the skin with oil and salt, and then sprinkle with fennel seeds. Roast for 30 minutes and then lower the oven to 120C. Cook for a further six and a half hours. When cooked remove pork and rest for 15 minutes. Remove crackling, shred pork and serve in rolls with apple sauce or with vegetables and gravy.

Find out more about Blythburgh Pork on their website www.freerangepork.co.uk and Twitter feed @BlythburghPork

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Farewell to Food for Thought…

Food for Thought is the oldest and longest running vegetarian restaurant in London. After more than forty years of service, it will close its doors on Sunday 21st June – Father’s Day.

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My father has been a regular since it opened in the 1970s. He took me when I was young; I too fell in love with the alternative vibe and hearty, homespun, delicious and low priced food.

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As the team from Food for Thought put it, “It has been a remarkable venture. That such an awkward, cramped and unconventional set-up could have survived so long is, in no little measure, due to the commitment of our staff and the loyalty of our customers.”

The news that it’s shutting in a few weeks because of escalating rent prices is incredibly sad, but my dad and I will always smile at the fond memories we’ve had here over the years. I love the food scene in London and how there’s always an exciting new opening, but the flip side is seeing historic stalwarts like Food For Thought shut down more than they should.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy – thank you for sharing memories with me over the years, including our last meal together at Food for Thought.

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The Botanist Broadgate Circle

This piece first appeared on The Holborn

London is most certainly a city of villages: whether you are loyal to the tribes of the north, south, east or west, you are never too far from a venue owned by the ETM Group, which has gastro pubs all over town. Over the past 15 years brothers Ed and Tom Martin have learnt a thing or two about adapting successful concepts according to their location.

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is the latest addition to the ETM Group, recently opened in a corner of London which has just undergone significant redevelopment. The concrete area near Liverpool St has seen a flurry of buzzy openings from big names like Jose Pizarro, artisan coffee house Beany Green, sourdough pizza specialists Franco Manca, and brand new surf&turf concept Crab Tavern.

Botanist BGC Exterior smThe Botanist Broadgate Circle is one of the latest to join this newly dressed up restaurant hub. Named after its “sister” restaurant in Chelsea, the family resemblence can barely be detected: something was lost in translation in the few miles travelled from West to East. Arriving at the restaurant is a bit of a shock if you’re expecting the genteel vibe of the original outpost of The Botanist: in this neck of the woods, you’re greeted by an outdoor terrace heaving with thumping music and braying suits fresh out of their Square Mile offices.

The familiar name is there to appeal to punters who know the Sloaney stomping ground, while the wholly new offering has been calculated to appeal to punters from the Square Mile heartland.

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Dining booths

The venue is all handsome dark wood and leather banquettes over two floors, with surprising flourishes such as exotic taxidermy in the downstairs nightclub the “Soda Room”. Unfortunately the sound system for the whole venue is connected to the club, meaning it was impossible to hear anything.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, having to strain to understand the waiter and your table-mates, and going hoarse from shouting to be heard, is not an enjoyable experience. By all means, crank up the volume when the night has moved on from dinner to dancing, but most people don’t want to dine among nightclub-level volumes – it can’t be good for digestion and unfortunately taints the whole dining experience.

The only similarity to the Sloane Square Botanist is the drinks. The waiting staff know their way around the cocktail and wine lists, recommending a bottle of South African Kanu wine with confidence that we would enjoy the unusual variety – shame there had to be so much shouting and pointing to order it.

The menu is an appealing mix of British and European dishes, with market-fresh fish sourced daily from Billingsgate and a solid selection of steaks.

For a starter, I ordered the special of salmon cured in Thai flavours of galangal and lemongrass. Slivers of fried lotus fruit, crisp radish and shiso leaf scattered on top added crunch to a pleasingly fragrant, fresh starter. Meanwhile my companion was busy piling forkfuls of her dressed crab onto delicate melba toast.

Crab

Monk’s beard, is an underrated green vegetable which is available for so short a time each year that I am compelled to order it whenever possible. My main course of roast cod, clam chowder and monk’s beard was a showcase for the best foods in season.

Roast cod, clam chowder, monks beardIf it hadn’t been so good I would have succumbed to food envy for my friend’s Iberico pork shoulder, served with almonds, pickled nectarines and nasturtium flowers.

Iberico Pork shoulderThe dessert menu was a surprisingly long list of tempting dishes, all vying for our attention. In the end we ordered the sticky date pudding, served with a refreshing, clean-tasting cornflake milk sorbet which captured the very essence of cereal bowl dregs, in a good way.

Sticky date pudding, cornflake milk sorbet

It alternated beautifully with spoonfuls of the other dessert we shared, coconut and lime panna cotta with mojito sorbet.

Coconut and lime panna cotta, Mojito sorbet

The Botanist Broadgate Circle is a decent, dependable addition to the City, but will be vastly improved once the issue with the music is sorted out.

This restaurant’s food is commendable, and deserves an appropriate setting; it is a disservice to the kitchen’s skilled cooking to serve it in an oppressively loud environment.

While my ears recover from the evening entertainment offered at The Botanist, I will return for one of their weekend brunches: great value at £25 for three courses and surely 11am is a quiter time of day (depending on the number of bottomless Bloody Marys you order)… Until the sound system is sorted, I will have to agree with the Sloaney saying, at least when it comes to The Botanist: west is best.

The Botanist, Unit 5 Broadgate Circle, City of London, EC2M 2QS, 020 3058 9888.

botanistlondon.com
@botanistlondon

Bah Bah: a Persian pop-up at The King & Co

Usually I would start off a blog post with some sort of a pre-amble but I’m so excited to tell you about this that I’m going to cut to the chase. The quicker you get the message that you must go as soon as possible to Bah Bah, the Persian pop-up at The King & Co pub, the better.

It’s only on until the end of March so time really is of the essence.

If you need some more reasons as to why you need to head over to Clapham Park Road quick-smart, behold the menu:

Bah Bah at The King & Co - menu

Bah Bah at The King & Co – menu

 

For those of you who don’t know, “bah bah” is what Persians say when something is especially appetizing; it’s the equivalent of “mmm” or “yummy” and a very apt name for the cooking from Bah Bah’s founder and head chef James Nicholson.

Like me, James has an Iranian mother and grew up on Persian food. Middle Eastern and Persian cuisine is finally starting to get the recognition and reputation it deserves which is brilliant. James is flying the flag in an innovative way; as he pointed out, you can get excellent Persian food in London if you know where to look, but never in a pub! Or in Clapham!

The King & Co is a relatively new independent freehouse, launched in September 2014. It’s a great place with a diverse selection of craft beers and interesting food; the pub hosts lots of different kitchen residencies. After Bah Bah there is word of a Ghanaian pop-up moving in.

The food served by the Bah Bah team definitely has a bit of a British accent; it is a more modern adaptation of traditional Persian dishes, often done in a very clever way.

If you go to an old-school Persian place you will be served huge mountains of buttery saffron rice and vast platters of chelo kabob with bread the size of tablecloths.

James and his team have a more refined approach and serve small plates inspired by classic bright, fragrant Persian flavours.

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The best small plates are the kufteh (lamb and dried fruit meatballs with pomegranate and pistachios) – addictively moreish and juicy. The kookoo sabzi (a sort of frittata loaded with herbs, walnuts and barberries) is really good, as is the bademjan (smoked aubergine with yoghurt) – although I do think James should use the traditional kashk (whey) instead of yoghurt for the distinctive tangy flavour.

Pirashki, crepes filled with spiced beef, was new to me. James said the dish is actually Russian in origin (quite a few Persian dishes are originally from Russia, such as salad olivieh, a rich potato salad) and that this was a family favourite. I thought they were a little on the oily side but my partner in crime gobbled them up.

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah ghormeh sabzi

Bah Bah’s showstopper is the ghormeh sabzi, a hearty khoresh (slow cooked stew) I was practically raised on, made with small pieces of meat, kidney beans, dried limes and masses of herbs (usually a mix of parsley, fenugreek, chives and others) – it’s always served with fluffy basmati rice. James’s version is one of the best I’ve ever had; he uses beef shin with roasted bone marrow which gives an amazing unctuousness. So inspired to use this cut rather than the more typical lamb neck – it’s rich, full of flavour without being overly fatty, and perfect in a slow cooked dish like this. I am simultaneously thankful to James for giving me the idea, and kicking myself for not thinking of it first!

Luckily there are still a few weeks left before Bah Bah moves on to new pastures – James is considering a few opportunities for the future and is definitely one to watch.

I will be back again soon for more of that incredible ghormeh sabzi and to try the regularly changing specials such as roast quail, which had sadly sold out when we were there. The team is planning specials for Nowruz (Persian New Year aka the first day of spring) which will be an excellent time to visit.

Nush-e-jan!

@bahbahlondon

Bah Bah’s residency at The King & Co ends Sunday 29th March 2015. To book a table or reserve an area, email hello@thekingandco.uk

http://www.thekingandco.uk

Gordon Ramsay’s Heddon Street Kitchen, Mayfair

HSK Neon Sign

Last Autumn, “wedmin” (and a few weeks of last minute carb-dodging before the big day) meant I neglected to keep up with my always-growing list of must visit new restaurants with my usual vigour.

One of the places that has been on my radar for several months is Heddon Street Kitchen, the latest in Gordon Ramsay’s international portfolio. Mr “Big Sweary” has a dozen or so restaurants in London and this newest offering promises informal Modern European food in Heddon Street, a pedestrianised section of Mayfair which is being dubbed “Regent Street’s Food Quarter”.

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HSK Ground Floor

The restaurant has received a mixed reception since opening, and I was looking forward to sampling it for myself now the venue has had a few months to bed in to the London dining scene.

The atmosphere is buzzing; the crowds of people did not seem to be put off by any negative reviews. The industrial chic vibe is offset with cosy tables and banquette seating, plus some inviting details dotted around such as retro desk lamps and piles of rolled up blankets. It’s all very dark and my camera couldn’t capture any decent shots, so I’ve relied mainly on PR images.

Our assembled group of food bloggers kicked off with cocktails: Brits Spritz reminded me of a combination of a classic Aperol Spritz and Pimms fruit cup, combining Kamm & Sons, elderflower cordial, soda and Prosecco.

The Lady Regent was an elegant and refreshing blend of Hendricks gin, Ruinquinquin peach, elderflower, lemon and mint, garnished with a single rose petal.

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Most memorable was the Heddon St Grog – a quirky metal tankard brimming with Bacardi Oakheart, Cherry Heering, pineapple, lemon, Bitters, sugar, Innis & Gunn original beer.

Heddon Street Grog

We then shared platters of hot and cold starters so we could sample a variety of dishes from the menu.

The spicy tuna tartare, chilli garlic, sesame oil, wonton crisps (£12) was incredibly moreish and just the type of thing I would be happy picking at throughout the evening over cocktails with friends.

Similarly, the California maki roll with snow crab mix, avocado, tobiko made a great bar snack – I’ve had better sushi not too far from this restaurant, but it was tasty enough.

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The Fried Rock Oysters with fennel and lemon confit salad (£13.50) were popular, but in my humble opinion, I don’t see the point of deep frying oysters, or smothering them in accompaniments. This rare treat is far better ice cold, raw and freshly shucked for that pure taste of the sea.

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My top choice was the Tamarind spiced chicken wings (£8.50) which had a perfect crunchy crust, tender flesh and lip-smacking, tangy sauce.

Another winner was the potted salt beef brisket, grain mustard and piccalilli, buckwheat crackers (£9.50) – the bold, salty and meaty flavours of the meat were a brilliant foil to the punchy piccalilli accompaniment. I couldn’t stop piling it onto the nutty buckwheat crackers.

Roasted veal carpaccio with dill pickles and tuna dressing (£12.50) is an interesting combination and while it was pleasant enough, was not a finely balanced dish as the dressing overpowered the delicate flavour and texture of the veal.

Moving on to the mains, we sampled bites of a variety of options, starting with slow-roasted saddleback pork belly, spiced apple sauce (£16). Like several of the dishes at Heddon Street Kitchen, I couldn’t help but think that I’ve enjoyed better, cheaper versions not too far from this restaurant. The meat was a touch dry and mealy, which is surprising for such a fatty cut.

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Similarly Herdwick lamb cutlets (£26) were fine, but could have done with more “zip” in flavour, either from a marinade or a smokier finish from the grill.

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The spiced plaice, piperade, chorizo, cauliflower purée and parsley oil (£22) was a divisive dish: it was my favourite of the mains while others felt it could have been didn’t go particularly well with the other dishes we sampled.

Typically, the dish I most looked forward to was one of the most disappointing. The best mac & cheese should make you want to bury your face in it; I abandoned the Macaroni cheese with garlic roasted crumbs (£5) after a couple of forkfuls. Someone on the table queried whether the chefs may have forgotten to put cheese in – not a good sign.

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The highlight of the evening was hands down the Chocolat fondant (£8). We held our breaths as the first spoon went in, the moment of truth – sure enough, molten chocolate goo spilled out joyfully over the plate. A perfect example of this favourite dessert.

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I almost overlooked it but the Pineapple carpaccio (£7) quietly stole the show. Shaved slices of the aromatic fruit were served with a syrup infused with star anise and chilli – it was the most delicious way to round off the evening’s indulgences with something light yet interesting. I have made a mental note to recreate this at home; it would be an amazing, refreshing dessert after a curry night.

So to summarise, there were some hits, some misses, a pleasant evening of food all in all with nothing particularly astonishingly good or bad. While I would advise heading elsewhere if you want to be wowed by a truly unique dining experience, Heddon Street Kitchen is spot on for catching up with group of friends over cocktails and crowd-pleasing bites.

I was invited to dine as a guest of Heddon Street Kitchen.

Heddon Street Kitchen

3-9 Heddon Street, London W1B 4BN

http://www.heddonstreetkitchen.co.uk

@heddonstreetkitchen

Facebook.com/heddonstreetkitchen

 

Kanada-Ya: tonkotsu ramen worth waiting for

Since Kanada-Ya opened last autumn in St Giles, the restaurant has attracted steady queues of people waiting patiently for a fix of authentic tonkotsu ramen.

The good news for those shivering outside is, Kanada-Ya is not the kind of place you linger for ages. The menu is ultra streamlined, offering just three choices of piggy goodness (vegetarians, look away now). Sure enough, a couple of spots at a window bench became available fairly quickly.

The original, most straightforward option is the Original: 18 hour pork bone broth and hand pulled noodles, topped with pork belly slices, nori seaweed, and dinky piles of julienned wood ear fungus and spring onion.

I opted for the Moyashi ramen, which introduces blanched beansprouts into the mix. I also couldn’t resist an extra topping of Hanjuku egg, a cured Burford Brown which arrived with a rich, technicolour, wobbly yolk.

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Kanada-Ya’s signature 18 hour pork broth has a glorious clarity of taste and a distinctly gelatinous, sticky texture – the restaurant credits their chefs’ meticulous simmering and regular skimming for the end result.

It’s not all about the broth though; the noodles are prepared with equal care, made on site with a specially imported bit of kit from Japan to produce a bouncy, firm noodle capable of standing up to the rich broth. It’s possible to request how you like your noodles cooked when ordering; the staff recommend “hard” because the noodles continue to soften in the steaming broth while you slurp away at your bowl.

Next time I will have to try the Chashu­‐men ramen, which replaces the standard chashu pork belly with large slices of the meatier chashu pork collar.

We also tried Onigiri, seasoned rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed with various stuffings.

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The one with Japanese sour, salty pickled plums in the middle was a fantastic bar snack to accompany a refreshing bottle of Asahi.

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Kanada-Ya serves food worth waiting for – and with the new heaters promising to keep patrons toasty warm as they inch closer to a fantastic dining experience, I’m sure there will be queues for a long time to come.

http://www.kanada-ya.com

64 St Giles High Street

London

WC2H 8LE

Picture, Great Portland Streeet

Poor Mondays. They are the ugly sister of the working week; a time to hunker down and battle through.

Heads feel delicate, wallets light after the excesses of the weekend. No wonder many restaurateurs opt to close on this day.

Those who stay open often do their best to lure in trade – so actually Manic Mondays can be a great time try out restaurants and dodge the madness of weekend crowds.

Picture restaurant is where you are likely to find me shedding the last of Monday blues from now on.

The restaurant, which was founded in summer 2013 by three former members of restaurant group Arbutus and Wild Honey, is now offering free corkage on Mondays – a great excuse to crack open a decent bottle and drown your sorrows that the next weekend is four whole sleeps away.

Even better, the tasting menu is remarkable value at £35 for 5 courses. There is also a tasting menu for vegetarians (or those observing Meat Free Monday).

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Picture (1)

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When I visited, we started with a velvety squash velouté spiked with cumin – soft, earthy and rounded flavours, soothing for a frazzled soul struggling to readjust to the working week.

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The second course seemed to sense that we were perking up; creamy goats cheese curd and tender broccoli were cut with fruity plum tomatoes and piquant capers.

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Crisp pork cheek with braised celery, apple, hazelnuts was expertly cooked.

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A flaky fillet of sea bream on top of a light helping of lentils, fennel and diced turnip: juicy and pleasant.

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The bavette was the star dish. A well judged portion arrived – more generous than the tiny morsels you often get with tasting menus, but not a huge slab to trample on the courses to follow. It was a beautiful example of this underrated cut with loosely packed meat fibres, a rich umami crust and a pink, yielding centre.

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My only gripe about the dish was that the heavy handed use of cumin in both the jus and the carrot purée, which tasted very similar to the squash velouté we started with. A wider flavour spectrum throughout the tasting menu would have been more enjoyable.

After all that I was feeling rather like Mr Creosote and wondering how I could manage anything more than a “wafer thin” dessert, but the silky chocolate mousse with blackberries and peanut butter cream was not too heavy or sweet, just right.

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See you there next Monday!

Picture, 110 Great Portland Street, London, W1W 6PQ

Telephone: 0207 637 7892

info@picturerestaurant.co.uk

http://www.picturerestaurant.co.uk

Open Monday – Saturday
Lunch 12pm-2:30pm
Dinner 6pm-10:30pm

I was invited to give an honest review as a guest of Picture restaurant