Tuesday 30 November 2010

Hibiscus, Mayfair

Wild mushroom veloute with sweet coconut custard

American Express and Toptable have recently launched a new website, Top Treats. If you have an Amex card, you can use it to book restaurants on-line throughout the UK and earn Amex and Toptable rewards, as well as enter monthly prize draws. In conjunction with the new site, Amex offered to treat me to dinner at a restaurant of my choice, so I thought for a good, long two and a half seconds, then chose Hibiscus.

Hibiscus has been on my wish list for a while. Chef-patron Claude Bosi has trained under some of France's most renowned chefs and has an excellent reputation for producing classical French cuisine with a dash of modern flair. His restaurant has 2 Michelin stars, and I think it lives up to them on both the food and the service front.

Not wishing to miss a trick, we opted for the 8 course tasting menu. This is not one for control freaks - you advise of any allergies, but then each dish is in the chef's hands and you don't know what you're getting until it arrives. This also requires an element of trust in your sommelier for the wine selection - and the list is so pricey that it can really raise the anticipated cost of your meal.

After some excellent bread and cheesy gougeres, our amuse set the scene for what was to come - a wild mushroom veloute in an eggshell, resting atop a sweet coconut custard was a delicate, surprising mix of flavours which shouldn't work, but somehow did - just.

Langoustine with passionfruit, wattleseed and sea herbs

A terrific tartare of Scottish langoustine was sweet and fresh. It was surrounded by tiny dots of tart passionfruit with wattleseed and sea herbs adding colour and zing.

Scallop with pork pie sauce - the new surf 'n turf

Half of a truly humungous roasted hand dived scallop followed. Its crunchy top was encrusted with hazlenuts, apple puree, herbs and butter. Perfectly cooked, nothing less than the fabulous, punchy pork pie sauce (yes, PORK PIE SAUCE) accompanying it would have distracted me from the scallop itself. A sharp, thick pink grapefruit with wood sorrel worked well to cut through the porky sauce. Scallop and pork pie - who would have thought? Is this the new surf 'n turf?

Earlier in the week, we ate one of the most memorable (and expensive) meals of our lives at Per Se in New York (review to follow) and these first two dishes were up there with those we loved at Per Se.

Hen's egg raviolo with smoked potato and Autumn truffle

A raviolo of hen's egg yolk and smoked potato with chopped autumn truffle was a fraction disappointing. The egg yolk oozed magnificently, but the autumnal truffles lacked the oomph and earthy pungency that they needed to add depth to this dish and the hard, gritty texture of the tiny, chopped pieces didn't work as nicely as it might for that melt in the mouth feel.

Cornish skate with brown butter, Jerusalem artichoke and sweetcorn

A Cornish skate wing was cooked in brown butter with Jerusalem artichoke, vanilla puree, sweetcorn and butter foam milk. The addition of the corn was fantastic, complementing the perfectly cooked skate. TPG was less convinced, but I'd be happy to see a more liberal use of such sweet, plump, juicy corn on menus everywhere.

Foie gras, sea buckthorn gel, quince and Szechuan pepper compote

Roast "Adour" Foie Gras was immensely rich and bloody, accompanied nicely by a gooey sea buckthorn gel and a quince and Szechuan pepper compote.

Clun Valley hare

A saddle of Clun Valley hare with Cevennes onion and coffee, truffle sauce and pommes souffle was another rich and memorable dish, and by the time we reached the selection of 3 British and French cheeses from Paxton and Whitfield and Bernard Antony we were starting to struggle under the weight of the volume and richness of the meal so far.

Apple puree, sweet celeriac, chestnut cream

The sweet courses were the biggest let down for us - no horror stories, but no fireworks either. As a pre-dessert, the apple puree, sweet celeriac and chestnut cream was simply refreshing but not particularly memorable. We were licking our lips at the sight of a large millefeuille type pastry number which was delivered to another table, so we were slightly disappointed when a decidedly more staid looking tart landed in its place (and mildly confused that it erroneously bore a "Happy Birthday" candle for me - sending a momentary look of "Oh my God, I've forgotten her birthday" across TPG's face, for which I will always be grateful to them).

Every table seemed to be given a different dessert. Ours was a fine cream tart of Jerusalem artichoke, toasted oat ice cream, and salted caramel sauce. Yes, a vegetable based dessert. This will not be everyone's cup of tea - it was not TPG's, although he's a man with a sweet tooth that adds honey to sugar. The sweet pastry itself was gorgeous - faultless, in fact - and on this we agreed. The artichoke tart, toasted oat ice cream and salted caramel sauce were only very mildly sweetened - the flavours were subtle and earthy, so while some will no doubt be in raptures over the originality and cleverness of this dish, for me it was just nice (but no millefeuille) and for TP-sugar-rush-G it was devastating.

I wasn't completely sold on the decor either - low ceilings, wood panelling and warm amber tones still left me feeling the room was a tad too stiff and corporate for my tastes. Or perhaps I just miss windows.

Service was attentive and friendly - hard to fault until the very end when TPG's wine glass was whisked away with that treasured last sip left, and also when we struggled for what seemed like an age to catch attention to finalise our bill.

All in all, a memorable experience and interesting, original food that is generally excellent.

The 8 course tasting menu costs £95 per head and is available on Friday and Saturday nights (or 4 courses are £75 and 6 courses are £85). Various other a la carte and set price lunch/dinner menus are also available.

Hibiscus, 29 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2PA. Telephone: 020 7629 2999

Greedy Diva was a guest of Amex.

Hibiscus on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Wright Brothers Soho

The new Wright Brothers Soho is certainly a fun place to gather the troops, or dine solo, for seafood binges large and small.

Our Sunday night party of 6 gathered in the downstairs bar to share some champagne and oysters. I love the fit out of the bar area - high table seating, white tiles and exposed brickwork, industrial fittings, high ceilings and an open kitchen set the scene for a potentially buzzing area once the crowds start flocking in. It would also be the perfect place to eat alone at the bar while watching your oysters being shucked.

Most of the searfood is sourced from Small Cornish day boats and is fresh and from sustainable stocks. The shellfish hails from Wright Brothers' own Duchy Oyster Farm on the Helford River in Cornwall, or other parts of Britain and France.

Mmm... oysters - the ultimate creamy, salty taste of luxury. We ordered 2 dozen - a mixture of everything including the special Japanese Kumamotos, Carlingfords, Duchy Natives, Colchesters, Speciales de Claire and Maldons. All were good, but I particularly liked the buttery Carlingfords and the small, briny Kumamotos.

Deep-fried whitebait with tartare sauce were slightly overseasoned but the delicate, crisp batter gave way to fresh, steamy moist flesh. Tiny Falmouth Bay prawns in garlic and butter are sweetly addictive and a large slab of toast lathered in a generous serving of fresh crab was also lovely and big in flavour.

Service was friendly but a little slow - I had the feeling they didn't want to disturb our conversation which meant we found it difficult to get the food coming. But, it's still early days.

Prices range from around £6-7 pounds for 3 oysters and the small tasting plates are generally around £4-9 each. Larger dishes like fish pie (£14.50) and ox cheek, ale and oyster pie (£18.50) are there for more substantive bites. I say it's very reasonably priced.

The dessert menu is also appealing (including lemon sorbet from Gelupo, chocolate pot and hazlenuts or Neals Yard cheese). However, we outstayed the bar's shorter opening hours on Sunday (I think it closed at about 11pm), so we hit Bar Italia (it's been years, YEARS!) for panettone and fab hot chocolates.

The upstairs restaurant at Wright Brothers Soho is also gorgeous - a slightly more romantic setting with candlelight and large windows overlooking Kingly Street. I already liked the original Borough branch, and now the Soho venue is a place to which I'll definitely be returning on a regular basis - for a more substantial meal next time, and then again when the need for reasonably priced oysters and bubbly after a hard days shopping takes hold.

Wright Brothers Soho, 13 Kingley Street, Soho, London W1B 5PW

Wright Brothers (Soho) on Urbanspoon

Sunday 21 November 2010

Do you have the palate to be the new Chocolate Taster for Green & Blacks? The 15:15 Challenge

As a small child, my dream job was to dress up in sparkly silver high heels all day and work in a milk bar (that's the corner sweets store, if you didn't grow up in Australia). It was a tight, well considered toss up between that and becoming a school crossing lady - but still with the silver heels. One aspiration indulged my penchant for gluttony and Bubble O Bills, the other for directing people about, preferably while holding a big orange sign signalling my own officialdom and importance.

But this was before anyone let me in on the world's best kept secret. Some people are paid - in actual money - to be chocolate tasters. That's right. Paid. To taste chocolate. The jig is up. This has to be the dream job to end all dreams of other dream jobs. This is a job you could do while wearing silver sparkly heels and bossing people about to fetch you another chunk. And I bet you even get some kind of important, official badge to wear while you're hard at it "working" (ie. tasting chocolate in exchange for financial compensation). Heaven.

Green & Blacks, makers of such delights as the salted caramel chocolate peanut bar*, is currently on the hunt to recruit a chocolate taster - an assistant to their Head of Taste, Micah Carr-Hill. To come to grips with some of the tests the successful applicant would undergo (and with more than a subtle hope that my obvious perfectness for the role would shine through and that I'd be leaving with a signed contract and some kind of medal), I attended an event hosted by Green & Blacks at the kitchen porn studios that are the Miele showrooms.

Jen from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours

After an introduction by Micah regarding the tasting role, and a good sniff of the high and low notes of various flavourings from Matthew Stokes of Frutarom, I was well and truly limbered up to strutt my stuff in the 2 palate tests.

The Cocktail Test

The first involved the tasting of 2 chocolate ganaches - one dark, one white - to detect the subtle flavourings. The second was a cocktail test, swilling the exotic creations of Johan Svensson of Drinks Fusion. I found that the more I applied myself to the second test, the greater became my aptitude for the first.

I was, apparently, the only person that detected the coriander in the dark ganache. It came to me like a slap in the face only after downing several of the aforementioned exotic cocktails. Unfortunately, before cocktail no. 5, I also detected orange and such a vast range of other exotic spices that my cunning plan to unveil my refined palate to the world came gloriously unstuck. I went down in flames. Mimi, the winner, picked the white tea, lime and vanilla in the second ganache - and walked away with my once dreamt of glory and a stack of beautiful cookbooks. Note to self: she has no contract in hand, the tasting job is still up for grabs.

The cocktail test (and a lovely set of Riedel wine glasses) was won by Jen from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours who came closest to identifying the flavours in the Orange & Ginger Alexander (cognac, chocolate, cream, ginger, orange and a dust of dark chocolate) and a creamy Moth Flower (Black Moth Truffle Vodka, creme de mure, Noilly Prat dry vermouth, lavender eaux de vie, lemon, sugar, violet foam). And I thought my standard Aperol and soda was complex.

Luiz from The London Foodie

But the main event was the 15:15 Challenge - to cook a meal exhibiting well balanced flavours to be judged by Head of Taste, Micah. No more than £15 could be spent on the ingredients, and the entire thing had to be cooked up in 15 minutes. The winner takes all - including a spanking new, bright red KitchenAid mixer.

I was there purely for the cocktails and the heckling. But with Iron Chef-like speed, in pressure cooker conditions, the contestants battled it out to produce such marvels as quail with rose petals and bitter chocolate (by Iron Chef Luiz) and a lime and Oreo cheesecake (by Iron Chef Sarah).

Luiz's quail with rose petals & bitter chocolate

Micah's poker face gave nothing away as he prodded, tasted and munched his way around the table - then dived for safety as the vultures (ie. me) descended on the leftovers. Once again, Mimi rose to KitchenAid glory with her clever wafu pasta dish which impressively balanced all 5 of the tastes - sweet (brown beech mushrooms and mirin), sour (shiso leaves, spring onion), salty (salmon roe), bitter (shiso leaves) and umami (or savoury - dashi and soy).

Micah's poker face

Mimi's wafu pasta

Much joy, tears and congratulations ensued. Me, I had another cocktail and contemplated what could have been...

Mimi takes 15:15 glory

But it's not too late for you. If you think you have the palate which could lead you to a life of chocolate tasting glory, you can apply to be the new Green & Black's Taste Assistant here. Shine in the interviews, tasting and cooking challenges, and a career of tasting chocolate and developing new chocolately products could await you.

If you see a serious looking woman at the interviews, stretching her hammies in sweat bands and sparkly silver shoes, give me a wave.

* Green & Blacks, I hope this further hint to please bring the salted caramel chocolate peanut bar to the UK did not go unnoticed.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Hawksmoor, Seven Dials - Covent Garden

The kimchi burger - it's no oil painting,
but you can't fault the meat

The new Hawksmoor, Seven Dials in Covent Garden is a shiny, brassy counterpart to its more pared back Shoreditch mothership.

Located in the old Watney-Combe brewery, the front bar is dark, stylish and sophisticated. This is essentially a steak house (and a mighty fine one - I'll get to that later). But in the domain of proven bar man extraordinaire, Shaky Pete (who has moved over from the Shoreditch branch), we sip well made marmalade cocktails in martini glasses (£7.50) and some excellent lagers while making the most of Hawksmoor's superb bar menu.

I've sung the praises of the extraordinary Hawksmoor burger before, its juicy, loosely packed meat laden with fatty marrow to give it extra richness. Rob orders it here and gives it the thumbs up - it looks every bit as good as those I've had at Shoreditch. Now, there's also a choice of the Burger Van Burger (a stripped down version of the classic Hawksmoor burger) or the Kimchi burger. For something different, I go for the latter and it's certainly an eyeful. The meat is fantastic (no surprise there), and it's huge. However, I'm not a massive fan of the kimchi (a Korean dish of fermented cabbage and spices). Rich and tangy, it's nice enough on its own - but I find it quite overpowering with the burger. If I'd never met the original Hawksmoor burger, I would be writing home about this one now - it's good. But we've met, I'm smitten and so it's the original burger all the way for me.

The burgers come with a choice of thick, crunchy beef dripping chips (my choice - they're fantastic), triple cooked chips (both sorts of chips come with a gorgeous Stilton hollandaise) or a refreshing green salad. The latter may not sound as sexy but is terrific as far as greenery goes. (Burger and chips/salad is £15 - but, oh, it's worth it).

Lobster roll

TPG's lobster roll is a fine thing - generous pieces of sweet lobster are heaped into a long, warm, toasted brioche bun with garlic, hazelnut butter and mayo. Apparently, it's stuffed with a whole Dorset Blue. Strangely, there's a side of bearnaise which is excellent in its own right but I'm not sure what it's doing there with a lobster roll. The clincher is this baby is quite small for £25 and doesn't come with the side of chips or salad. In New York this week, I ate the lobster roll of my life (at Luke's Lobster, East Village), made with huge chunks of fresh lobster from a sustainable source in Maine - it cost me $14 (£8.73, review to follow). It may not be fair to make direct comparisons of two such different operations in entirely different continents, but it has to be said that the Hawksmoor lobster roll is hair raisingly expensive.

But that's pretty much where my quibbles with anything about the Hawksmoor end.

I also ate in the larger dining room during the soft opening period. Exposed brickwork and dark pillars give an industrial edge to the sleek room, which is perfectly conducive to the task at hand - consuming large quantities of tremendously good steak.

All steaks are from Yorkshire Longhorns reared by The Ginger Pig and dry aged for at least 35 days.

My preferred cut is the fatty bone-in prime rib (£6/100g), although they're out of that and the rib eye (400g, £25) by the time we order on the first night of the popular soft opening period. Our lovely waiter arranges for us to have a large chateaubriand for the same price (normally £12/100g). It's quite easily the tastiest chateaubriand I can remember, the dry ageing giving a great depth of meaty flavour. It's gorgeously tender and cooked to perfection on the Josper charcoal grill. There's a satisfying charred crust while the middle is lusciously pink and juicy. The delectable bone marrow gravy is our sauce of choice and we don't regret it.

We share the excellent, crisp and fluffy beef dripping chips and a serve of creamed spinach (£4 each). TPG is tempted by the macaroni cheese, but we save it for next time.

And now I have an admission to make. Before our ginormous steak, we also ate a serve of lamb chops. And it certainly taught me a lesson - just because you're out for steak, do NOT ignore the chops. They're grilled with a mint and caper salad which adds salty, zingy flavours to the deep, juicy meat (£10). Sublime. We also enjoyed the excellent prawn cocktail (£8.50).

In the end, it's really hard to choose between dishes - so much appeals.

The mini sticky toffee sundae (£4) is delicious with gloopy bits in the sauce at the bottom, although TPG's custard tart is a little bland (£6) - we regret not opting for the sticky toffee pudding which comes highly recommended.

Your bill at the Hawksmoor will stack up - it's not cheap. Dinner for 2 with drinks is likely to cost around £100 (plus service). However, it's a joyous place to indulge in great quality meat with some classy cocktails on the side. If you haven't been already, add it to your list.

Hawksmoor Seven Dials, 11 Langley Street, Covent Garden, London WC2H 9JG (Tel: 020 7856 2154)

Hawksmoor (Seven Dials) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Satori Robata, Knightsbridge

Chirashi sushi box

For overpriced, bland sushi, look no further than Satori Robata in Knightsbridge.

I paid £16 for a Groupon voucher entitling 2 people to eat £40 worth of food and drink £5 worth of green tea or soft drinks. Groupon vouchers are great for facials and massages, where I have a theory that even a bad one is a good one. The risks are greater when it comes to haircuts and restaurants.

It's a small thing, but the stools are so clunky and heavy that I struggle to manouvre into position to get me within comfortable striking range of my food. Diners face the open kitchen, while peering over a depressing conveyer belt as tired looking sushi rolls and limp morsels of prawn do the rounds on repeat. Fairly rank green tea comes in the form of a mug with a tea bag draped in it.

Miso cod

The miso cod isn't bad although it's puny and there are some serious bones lurking in there. It comes with a side salad of lettuce and cherry tomato with a nice sesame dressing, as well as some pickled ginger and a tiny but tasty enough splodge of fairly standard potato salad.  However, at over £19 the quality and quantity are not there.

The chirashi sushi box (£16.95) is a haphazard scattering of sliced salmon, tuna, sea bass and fish roe atop a plentiful serving of rice. While it should have a firm texture, the seabass is largely chewy sinew, and all 3 types of fish lack any memorable flavour. There are no melt in the mouth moments here.

It's all fairly charmless and there's a complete lack of atmosphere. Before I sit down, I am politely requested (as are all customers) to vacate my seat after 1 hour during the busy voucher period. I happily oblige.

For great sushi and sashimi, try Kikuchi in Fitzrovia, or have a good quality bargainous meal at Yoshino off Piccadilly.

Satori Robata, 28-30 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JN (Tel: 020 7235 1943)

Satori Robata on Urbanspoon

Sunday 14 November 2010

The Petersham, Richmond

Roasted venison loin

Fireworks, bubbles and feathers.... and not just on my plate. Where to begin with the tale of The Petersham?

The Petersham would be a terrific place to lunch on a clear day. It's posited high up on Richmond Hill in the grand old Petersham Hotel in Richmond, in prime position for glorious views over the Thames and surrounding meadows (see The London Foodie's blog for the day snaps). However, it's also pretty hard to beat it on Guy Fawkes night, when the hotel is lit up like something from a Golden Book and we sip our champagne watching the fireworks explode over the river.

Approaching the hotel is like wandering into a scene from Pride and Prejudice. It feels only right to start with champagne, and even better when it arrives in a 200ml bottle each (Joseph Perrier, £13.50).

Inside the decor is old school - classic and classy, it feels warm, romantic and elegant in the candlelight, if slightly like somewhere we should be in about 20 years time when we have a smart splash of grey hair and our own set of golf clubs.

Head chef, Alex Bentley, has gathered plenty of attractive options on the menu, but given the setting it feels right to stick to the seasonal "Glorious Game" menu.

Seared partridge breast with truffle toast

I start with the partridge (£13) - the perfectly seared breast nestles atop a rich black truffle toast with mushrooms (what better accompaniment could there be?) while the fabulously moist leg comes wrapped in a vine leaf. Both have an excellent, deep flavour although I find the leg a tad over salted.

Tandoori quail

TPG's tandoori spiced quail comes with shallot bhaji, chickpea salad, yellow tomato and mango (£12.50). The very Indian nature of this dish seems a little jarring in the setting, but the flavours here are fresh and vibrant, and the quail is superbly tender with lovely spices.

Pot roasted grouse

My pot roasted grouse. Oh my. If you like grouse, you'll love this. (And if you have your reservations, you'll almost definitely hate it). It's bloody, earthy and super gamey - you can almost taste the heath in the meat. The ends of the legs are still feathered up, which seems to add to the experience of eating something fresh from the hunt. It comes with a "game crouton" smothered in a luscious, rich pate, celeriac puree, braised red cabbage and a terrific bread sauce (£32.00). This is such an intense, memorable dish. I absolutely love it, but it's so immense in its rich "gameyness" that I'm unable to finish the last few bites.

TPG has the roasted venison loin (£23). It looks succulent and gorgeous, and the flavour is excellent although it's chewy. It's plated up with mushroom duxelle and walnuts, sweet potatoes, green beans and a well balanced chocolate and balsamic sauce.

Apple tarte tartin

Vanilla rice pudding

My gooey, apple tarte tartin with cinnamon ice-cream is a hit with us both (although I always think vanilla ice-cream makes for a better combination). TPG's chilled vanilla rice pudding is less of a success - it looks pretty, but the lemon flavour doesn't appeal and the accompanying tuile is slightly floppy. It's a minor lowlight in an otherwise fantastic meal. Perhaps we should have tried the rum baba? Puddings are £7 each.

Service is unobtrusive, but there when you need it. Our sommelier is particularly good and friendly. He recommends the Santenay 1er Cru, Domaine de la Pousse d'Or, Cotes de Beaune (£46) - big, fruity and earthy, it's a great accompaniment to our gamey meal. The wine list is extensive - and there's quite a few wines available for under £25, although there's nothing for less than £20.

The Glorious Game menu is available on an a la carte basis for dinner or for £24.50 as a 3 course set menu at lunch (£31.50 on Sundays) - although be warned that quite a few  dishes carry a supplement.

The food, wine, service and overall experience are excellent - a great place to treat yourself. After coffees (with chocolate petite fours), our bill came to around £175 for two (plus service) although we did go for some of the more expensive options on the menu. It's not cheap, but you could dine here less extravagantly and you can expect fine quality to match the price.

The Petersham, Nightingale Lane, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 6UZ (Tel: 020 8640 7471)

Greedy Diva was a guest of The Petersham

Restaurant at the Petersham on Urbanspoon

Thursday 11 November 2010

Dumplings' Legend, Chinatown

Sometimes you just need to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon eating dim sum.

Last week, I wrote about Leong's Legends, a decent Taiwanese restaurant in Chinatown which recently opened a dim sum offshoot, Dumplings' Legend, just around the corner on Gerrard Street. Reading comments on my post about LL's excellent Siu Loung Bao (or Xiao Long Bao) brought on cravings. It was time to investigate the newbie's offerings.

On the site of the former Golden Harvest, the downstairs room is large and airy with white walls and minimalistic touches. It's fresher looking than some of its neighbours - quite like an Asian St John's in terms of decor. We were lucky to be seated at the front, where the whole wall is a window and the sunshine flitted in over our lunch as we watched the characters of Chinatown amble by. Upstairs is more poky, but does the job.

We arrived about 2pm - prime time it seems. The dining room was packed and a small queue was growing rapidly. However, 3 dumpling makers were at work behind a glass panel at the entrance, rolling, folding and stuffing delicate dumpling wrappers. It's mesmerising to watch while you wait - although I do wonder how long it takes before RSI sets in.

"Whatever", you say. To the food, the food...

Our knobbly cheung-fun arrive first - three generous, slinky, slug-like noodles stuffed with ample slices of sea bass and picked vegetables. A fair price at £3.30. The next table orders the spicy stir fried cheung-fun which looks good and appears to be a popular choice around the room.

Steamed sticky rice in a bamboo tube is delicious but so thick it borders on congealed - a decent set of biceps is required to scoop it out (£4.50).

Barbecued pork buns are excellent - fluffy and filled with big, juicy splashes of sweet, red barbecued meat (3 for £2.50).

Crystal prawn dumplings are small, pretty things, sweet and plump - but nothing which stands out above the norm here (£2.50). Chicken wrapped in banana leaf with Chinese is a highlight - deliciously moist, with satisfying chunks of chicken and Chinese sausage (£2.20).

Finally, out come the pork Siu Loung Bao, for which Leong's Legends are renowed (£6.00). At Dumplings' Legend, they're also fantastic - the little smurf's hut shaped wrapper is quite delicate and so you have to be careful not to pierce it, spilling broth onto the table. It snuggles a parcel of meat within as well as a warm soupy broth which explodes into your mouth on first bite. These should be an essential part of your dim sum order here. The accompanying soy sauce contains thick slithers of shredded ginger - a lovely touch.

We finish with a serve of 3 tiny egg tarts (£2.20) - these are TPG's thing more than mine. They're nothing special, but I quite like the fact they don't taste overly eggy,

Service is efficient and friendlier than you might experience at some Chinatown restaurants. We paid around £15 per head including tea and service, although we could have done with 1 less dish and 1 less pot of tea (at £2.20 each) had we not been feeling so greedy.

Both Leong's Legends and Dumplings' Legend highlight their "highly recommended" dishes with 2 stars on the menu. Interestingly, "Legends specialties" are distinguished with 1 star. I'm not sure what the distinction means.

Dumplings' Legend is good, and it's already popular. I think it may become my cheap and cheerful dim sum restaurant of choice when those Sunday afternoon cravings set in.

Dumplings' Legend, 15-16 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London, W1D 6JE

Tuesday 9 November 2010

"India Cookbook": Book Launch at Moti Mahal, Covent Garden

Sometimes I think about going to India to do one of those serene looking yoga courses by the ocean. It would have to be one with clean toilets and nice views, where everyone is decked out in the latest Sweaty Betty gear and has the afternoon off to lie in a hammock. I can do downward dogs and pigeon pose with the best of them, possibly even at sunrise. But I'm fairly certain I'd fail at the first yogi hurdle (the vegetarian one) as soon as I caught the whiff of a tender piece of chicken being plucked from a tandoor.

I suppose if there's one place to have a superb vegetarian diet, it's in India - so many chutneys, mangos, pickles, spice to distract you from the huge, gaping void on your plate. But then the yogi people probably wouldn't let me have a glass of wine with it, and now the dream's all falling apart before my eyes. Anyhoo...

Phaidon Press has recently published the "India Cookbook", a compilation of 1000 recipes, by food writer Pushpesh Pant.

Featuring some beautiful photography and a clear, simple layout, the book had me pining for a trip to India before I was even through the introduction - a walk through the rich history of Indian food and the culinary influences in the various regions contributing to India's food culture.

From spice mixtures and pastes (try an aromatic garam masala or fried onion paste),  pickles, chutneys and raitas (like the Egyptian lentil chutney or raw mango pickle) through to more substantial dishes (ginger flavoured chops, dry spicy pumpkin and fish biryani), desserts and drinks - this book has it covered. The signature dishes of some guest Indian chefs are included at the back. My only quibble is that it might be nice to see the beautiful photos next to the relevant recipe rather than in glossy, colour sections scattered throughout the book. However the snaps are cross referenced, and I suppose each approach has its pros and cons.

I recently attended the book launch at Moti Mahal in Covent Garden where chef Anirudh Arora not only tried to sell our small cookery "masterclass" group a tandoor larger than my kitchen, but also brought his adaptations of the recipes to life with some fine Indian cooking. Anirudh has an impressive background, having cooked for India's Prime Minister at the age of 25 and heading up the Udaimahal restaurant in India in 2002.

Anirudh Arora preparing the marinated
guinea fowl for the tandoor

One of my favourite dishes was the tandoor grilled guinea fowl which had been the subject of a short masterclass in the kitchen - adapted from the recipe for Tandoori Murg (chicken) in India Cookbook.

Tandoori guinea fowl - others worked on the
gorgeous, spicy paturee (crab and tiger prawn cakes wrapped
in banana leaves) which was another of my favourites.

The first marinade consists of ginger, garlic, chilli, lemon juice and salt (Anirudh adds malt vinegar) which is rubbed on and left for an hour. A further marinade is then applied - a mix of yoghurt, ginger, garlic, fenugreek, vegetable oil and garam masala (Anirudh makes his own garam masala, and there's a recipe in the book, although you might cheat here with a commercial brand). The guinea fowl (or chicken) lolls about in half the mix for 2-3 hours before roasting in the hot tandoor or a charcoal grill for 12-15 minutes - or in the oven for 1 - 1.5 hours. Half way through the remaining marinade is applied.

After hanging for 2-3 minutes to drain out any excess moisture, the bird is basted with melted butter and roasted again for 5-7 minutes. And voila - a gorgeous, succulent, spicy starter. Fantastic stuff.

Here are some of my other favourites from the night, served family style:

Bhalla papdi chaat - chickpeas, fried pastry,
yoghurt, tamarind & mint chutney - lovely flavours
& contrasting textures

Clockwise from top left: Slow cooked black lentils (less memorable,
perhaps could have done with more oomph);
crispy, stir fried lotus roots with peanut & coriander (excellent);
a refreshing raita (cucumber & yoghurt)

Chicken biryani with spinach & fenugreek

A thick, hearty stewed lamb with spinach & dill)

Moti Mahal does have a sleek, slightly sterile, corporate air about the room. It's the type of place where you drink fancy cocktails (and delicious, Indian spiced ones I might add) with your curry. But scratch beneath that service and there's some good quality cooking coming out of the kitchen. Prices are steeper than your average local Indian - around £12-£20 for main courses. I would bank on spending £35-£55 per head. Indian cookery classes and cocktail masterclasses are available at the restaurant - see the website for details.

"India Cookbook" by Pushpesh Pant is available for RRP £29.95.

Moti Mahal, 45 Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5AA

Greedy Diva was a guest of Moti Mahal and received a review copy of India Cookbook from Phaidon.

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