Tag Archives: Steak

Stay in this Valentine’s Day! Romance is “in the bag” with a delivery service from Brompton Food Market

Look, obviously I love eating out at restaurants, but there’s one day of the year it is best to avoid them at all costs.

Restaurants on Valentine’s Day are invariably horrific: the overpriced set menus, the gaudy decorations, the forced phoniness of it all. No thank you! Chefs, waiters and kitchen staff hate it too; it’s much easier to cater for a restaurant full of friendly groups of 4 and 6 than dozens of lonely little tables for two.

If only this celebration of love and romance was in midsummer and we could revel in outdoor picnics, feeding each other strawberries and snoozing in the sun.

Best to stay in, get cosy and enjoy a genuinely intimate, relaxing feast together. The lovely, talented lot at the Brompton Food Market agree, and have come up with the brilliant idea to deliver a Valentine’s Day meal kit to London’s lovebirds. It’s not just for smug married types – they’re also offering the deal for one, AND a bottle of house wine thrown in for singles. All the prep is done to very high, cheffy standards so all you have to do is cook it as per the instructions.

The bags arrived with all the components and instructions to put together a classic, elegant, aphrodisiac-packed four course meal for two.

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Food is definitely the way to my heart, and this menu is the type of thing that would get me shouting undying love from the rooftops:

Lobster cocktail, blood orange dressing, romaine lettuce, baguette –

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Peppered rare breed fillet steak, truffled mash, creamed spinach and nutmeg, red wine gravy

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Monk fish, truffled mash, creamed spinach and nutmeg, butter chive sauce

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Lemon and passion fruit posset, tropical fruit salad

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La Tur soft cheese with truffle honey and oat cakes

You can also order specially selected wine as part of the kit.

The starter was luxurious yet light enough to save room for the rich courses to come. Generous chunks of beautifully firm, juicy lobster meat were enrobed in a silky sauce, offset by a crunchy salad and a punchy dressing of seasonal blood orange.

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The only bit of cooking required is to get a heavy pan very hot and sear the peppered fillet steaks briefly on each side.

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The sides of truffle mash and nutmeggy spinach just needed to be reheated – they complemented the meat beautifully.

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We managed to find room for lemon posset for pudding…

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And polished off the final course of ripe La Tur cheese, oat biscuits and truffle honey snuggled up on the sofa. You can’t do that in a restaurant!

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Everything was very easy to put together and the portion sizes were well judged. Even though my artistic plating up skills could do with some work, it all looked, smelled and tasted fabulous. Every component of every dish was restaurant quality; excellent ingredients prepared with skill and seasoned to perfection.

Whether you’re in a new relationship or have been together for years, this was the perfect Valentine’s Day date. It’s fun getting everything ready together and honestly, we felt the same sense of satisfaction as we would have done if the meal had taken hours of work. Best of all, we didn’t have to schlep home after the meal. If things do escalate romantically as one would hope after such a gorgeous meal, the bedroom is just down the hall… nudge nudge, wink wink!

The Valentine’s Day kit is available from Brompton Food Market, £70.00 plus delivery. Place your orders now in time for V Day this weekend!

@bromptonfoodmkt
http://www.bromptonfoodmarket.com

I was invited to review the service by Brompton Food Market.

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The original one dish restaurant – Le Relais de Venise, “L’Entrecôte”

Do you ever play the menu game, when you try to guess what your dining companion will order?

Being able to accurately predict what someone else will choose for any given meal is a sure sign you “get” them and that your connection is deeper than mere acquaintanceship.

People’s food preferences are incredibly revealing; there is no better ice breaker than questions along the lines of “what is your food heaven and hell?” or “What would you choose for your last meal on earth?” (NB: my heaven is pomegranates and hell is offal, and I’d die happy after a plate of spaghetti alla vongole, in case you wondered).

I never tire of learning about people’s unique food quirks: the buzzwords that are guaranteed to make a dish irresistible and others which are a total turn off (NB: the words “smoked” or “pickled” on a menu make it almost impossible for me to order anything else, whereas “polenta” is practically anathema).

But sometimes it is wonderful to remove the paradox of choice and let the food just come.

Le Relais de Venise, “L’Entrecôte” is the original one dish restaurant, with an extremely streamlined and offering of green salad and steak frites, served a la maison or not at all.

There is strictly no ordering off menu; even condiments are restricted to Dijon mustard.

L’Entrecôte’s menu is a Francophile’s delight: it starts with a simple green salad, every leaf coated with a punchy mustard vinaigrette and topped with walnuts.

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Of course the real draw is the eponymous entrecôte steak accompanied by the famous green sauce, which remains a closely guarded secret recipe. The taste is hard to pin down but there is definitely copious amounts of butter, parsley, tarragon and possibly anchovies?

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The only say you have in the proceedings is how you would like your steak cooked. Even then there are no half-measures; you may choose blue, rare, medium or well done – no medium rare allowed!

The steak is served sliced thinly with the green sauce spooned on top, plated up by the charming waiting staff who exude pure Gallic chic with their French maid inspired outfits, perfect chignons and red lipstick.

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Cleverly, each portion is served in two helpings, so you always enjoy deliciously fresh, hot steak frites.

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The wine list is simple, yet refined – you can’t go wrong with the house red, Le Relais de Venise.

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Although the concept could be seen as strict and even spartan, the rich decadence of the sauce, the charming service and generous portions elevate L’Entrecôte to a fun and memorable experience.

Amusingly, after relinquishing control over the starters and mains, the many choices on the dessert menu stumped us. So our group ended up ordering a selection of classic French dishes to share.

Profiteroles with chocolate sauce…

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A slightly mad meringue tower thing…

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Selection of cheeses…

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Limiting the choice of your diners is a brazen move which means that restaurants like L’Entrecôte must execute their chosen dish perfectly; there is no room to hide shoddy food and service. So if you fancy a classic French steak frites that won’t break the bank, L’Entrecôte is a smart place to head.

I was invited to dine at “L’Entrecôte” Canary Wharf  which is currently offering guests discounts of 25% on lunch and dinner on weekdays and 30% discounts on weekends to celebrate Bastille Day, until the 31st July 2014.

http://www.relaisdevenise.com

Mendoza, Argentina: a Mecca for Malbec

With world class wine, good food, beautiful scenery and a huge choice of outdoor activities, Mendoza was always a must-visit destination when we were planning our travels.

The region is responsible for 70% of Argentina’s wine, which is increasingly becoming internationally renowned. Many wineries are working hard to refine their processes to produce the best possible quality. Classic Argentinean Malbec is the most famous, but vineyards also grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Carmeniere and other varieties. 

Mendoza was definitely a highlight of our travels so far and our visit to Bodega Ruca Malén for their lunchtime tasting menu with wine pairing was a highlight of our time in Mendoza.

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The beautiful setting could not have made a better first impression. Hundreds of rows of lush, verdant vines stretched into the distance against a backdrop of the snow capped Andes mountains.

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We were invited to take a tour of the  vineyard and winery. We learnt how the 1000m altitude and climactic conditions of the region are ideal for producing small berries with a thick skin, necessary to make the best wine. It is important to make the grapes suffer by not watering them as much as they would like, so the size of the fruit remains small and packs more flavour. (I thought this was a lovely metaphor; having an easy life is conducive to blandness but a bit of a struggle can lead to interesting complexity and better taste. I will think of Malbec grapes next time things don’t go my way!)

It was towards the end of the harvest period, so we could spot bunches of taut, juicy grapes on the vines, ready to be plucked by workers moving quickly up and down the rows.

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These grapes are very different from eating varieties; although they have plenty of delicious flavour, the thick skins are difficult to digest. We were warned to eat no more than a handful to avoid a stomach ache (with difficulty, we complied – it helped knowing we had a multi course feast soon to come!)

Bodega Ruca Malén is a relatively small winery, producing 700,000 bottles a year, of which 60% is exported. The winery uses many efficient processes, such as using rejected stems and plant matter as fertiliser. They also sell their byproducts on to companies which use them for making pigments and cosmetics (the antioxidants found in the grapes are valuable to this industry).

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Our guide also explained how wine is clarified using egg whites, very similar to the classic French technique of clarifying consommé. Apparently the staff spend hours cracking and separating eggs, and are allowed to take the yolks home, where I imagine they make buckets of mayonnaise!

After clarification comes aging. Barrels are very expensive and French oak is the best (bien sur!). One barrel can cost over £1000 but can only be used for 3-4 years, after which it is sold for just 250 pesos (£35) to be made into furniture or parquet floors.

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One day, my dream house will have reddish-purple Malbec stained French oak floors…

With the tour wrapped up, we were ready to taste the wine we had learned so much about. We made our way to our table and eagerly awaited the five course lunch, each matched to a different Bodega Ruca Malén wine.

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The starter was humita (creamed corn), local Granny Smith apples, creamed toast, lemon cream, crisp caramelised onion slices, roasted almonds and fresh herbs. This was paired with Ruca Malén Chardonnay 2011.

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The citric aromas and acidity of the Chardonnay were brought out by the thin slices of fresh apple, while the oily notes of the creams and onions provided contrast. Everything was balanced by the nutty flavours of toast and almonds. I really liked the presentation: a fun, quirky “paint by numbers” style that helped you identify what the various blobs on the plate were. 

Next was caramelised beetroot, glazed carrots, local olive oil and fresh ricotta cheese, paired with Yauquén Malbec 2012.

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Not the most photogenic plate, but a lovely combination of flavours. The sweetness of the root vegetables complemented the light soft tannins of the Malbec. The ricotta cleansed the palate, encouraging you to continue eating and drinking!

After that we were served seasonal mushroom risotto croquette, pumpkin cream, red chilli pepper jam and herbed oil, alongside Ruca Malén Petit Verdot 2011.

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The earthy mushrooms and spicy chilli jam matched perfectly with the wine’s deep mineral, spice and balsamic aromas. The acidity of the wine balanced the creamy pumpkin.

The main had to be steak, of course: lomo (fillet) grilled a punto with pumpkin millefeuille, creamed potatoes, smoked aubergine, grapes and fresh rosemary.

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For this course, we were offered two pairings which complemented different elements of the dish. Ruca Malén Reserva de Bodega 2010 had a complex character and spicy notes which were perfect against the sweet grapes, pumpkin and tender flesh of the dish. The bold, mature Kinién Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 highlighted the flavours of herbaceous rosemary, the earthy, smoky aubergine and the steak’s charred crust.

We managed to find room for the final course of raspberry ice cream, quince scented with mint, candied orange and caramel cream.

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This was matched with Ruca Malén Brut – unusual to pair the pudding course with a sparkling wine rather than a sweet dessert wine, but in this case the freshness, acidity and delicacy of the sparkling wine worked well with the dish’s sweet yet sharp fruit flavours.

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After all that, a sunny spot on the lawn became an  irresistible spot to lie down for a few minutes to aid digestion. We woke up a couple of hours later, still a bit woozy but utterly happy and relaxed. The staff at the Bodega just let us be – they must see plenty of food/wine comas!

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The next day we travelled to Maipú, a rural wine making area about 45 minutes outside of Mendoza city. We hired bikes and had a lovely day cycling the 40km flat routes between the various vineyards and wineries, stopping for tours and tastings along the way. 

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At one point we were alarmed to see a police car crawling behind us. Mark begged me to try to minimise my drunken wobbles but we weren’t in trouble – the local police have very little crime to work on so spend their days escorting wine tourists!

After a while the tours became a bit samey, especially with distractions like sunbathing and cute puppies.

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Mendoza is also traditional gaucho land and we were keen to take in the scenery on horseback. We signed up for a ride, led by a real life gaucho, who serenaded the group with traditional guitar songs by a crackling fire after dark.

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The next day we found the local bus for the thermal hot springs for some much-needed downtime. 

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Before we left Mendoza, we squeezed in a final wine experience, having both vertical and horizontal wine flights at a fantastic wine bar and shop in town called Vines of Mendoza.

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We learned that a vertical flight is a tasting of several wines of the same grape (in our case, Malbec) but of different vintages. A horizontal flight is a tasting of several grapes from the region, but of similar vintages.

We waved goodbye to Mendoza and hopped on a 20 hour overnight bus (long enough to give our livers a bit of a break) to Salta, another hub of Argentina’s wine industry, famous for the up and coming Torrontés grape.

Buenos Aires bites

You can find excellent steak around the world but what we ate in Argentina’s capital was on another level.

Obviously, the quality of the meat second to none. Happy grass fed cows roaming free in the pampas make juicy, flavourful beef and the asadors manning the grills in parillas are experts at achieving a perfect charred crust with tender a punto flesh.

What I wasn’t prepared for were the astonishing low prices, abundant portions, and the sheer ubiquity of great steak restaurants, parillas, on virtually every street. When I asked porteños (Buenos Aires natives) we met to name their favourite parilla, they often responded with a chuckle because there are simply so many, it is very difficult even for locals to choose.

It is all a bit overwhelming and the only thing to do is get stuck in!

A recommendation from an Aussie foodie traveller led us to Don Julio in the Palermo neighbourhood for our first BA parilla experience. The restaurant was heaving and we had to wait for a table (we took this as a good sign, particularly when the waitress gave us a couple of glasses of plonk on the house to help pass the time). The prices (we’re talking around £15 for a dictionary thick slab of steak) let us order with impunity: bife de lomo (fillet) and bife de chorizo (rib eye) with a bangin’ bottle of Malbec. Regretfully we were too content gorging to photograph anything on the leather-clad tables or bother remembering the name of the wine, although this image from the web will give you an idea of the place. This was Mark’s overall favourite restaurant we tried in BA.

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Another top find was Gran Parilla del Plata, a former butcher shop in the San Telmo neighbourhood which still has butchers’ hooks and posters of the various cuts of beef around the room. This was my favourite – in part because of the side dishes. Garlic fried potatoes almost stole the show from the bife de chorizo mariposa (butterflied sirloin) we ordered to share: they must have used at least a couple of freshly crushed bulbs. The chimichurri and salsa verde condiments served as standard were fresh and full of flavour.

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Des Nivel is a bit of an institution apparently – the asador at the front casually tending to huge piles of sausage, ribs, steak and more is certainly an impressive sight. Totally no-frills; some TVs bolted on the walls, tuned in to the latest football match are the main decoration.

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We also savoured the sights and smells of the asados lining the streets of the San Telmo weekend antiques market.

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We first heard about La Cabrera from Mark’s sister Gill, who decided the steak served here would have the honour of breaking her long-term vegetarianism. While any red meat would surely taste sublime to someone deprived of it for years, Gill’s recommendation was bolstered by several other sources, so we were keen to check it out.

Luckily Mark and I were joined by a new pal we met at our hostel – the quantity of food may well have defeated just the two of us. Just look at this beautiful 800g beast!

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It’s like a hunk of dinosaur from Fred Flintstone’s table. La Cabrera definitely served us the most photogenic steak we had in BA, and the nibbles provided by the cover charge were the most plentiful, varied and interesting.

Sarkis in Palermo gave us some respite from all the steak – the popular, low price Armenian joint served lovely salads and mezze. As an afterthought we ordered some lamb to avoid any potential red meat withdrawal symptoms – better safe than sorry.

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We also squeezed in a visit to Cafe Tortini, the oldest cafe in the city, for a quick coffee before the loud American tour groups and their obtrusive camera flashes became too annoying.

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Before we left BA, we signed up to learn how to make empanadas (not unlike small Cornish pasties) at our hostel, along with a dozen or so others. There was a fun contest at the end for the best/most creative empanada – my effort won the prize of a free bar tab, woohoo! I may go into large-scale production back in England with my creation of meat stuffed, giant pretzel shaped empanadas. Definitely a gap in the market.

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It may be a stretch to say Buenos Aires is paved with steak, but I will personally refer to Buenos Aires as “Steak City” from now on.