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Archive for August, 2010

I will start by apologising to my Facebook and twitter friends for going on about my little project and also I’m saying sorry in advance for what is still to come. At last though I will explain what this is all about. When I was at Corrigan’s for a cookery masterclass a couple of month’s ago I saw a book. That book is called Obsession, by Chef Nigel Haworth. Nigel was the man you won the main course dish on great British Menu one year with a great Lancashire hot-pot. I say great but of course I never tasted it. I do know someone who did though, Richard Corrigan. We asked Richard about it at the taste festival that year and he’s an honest man when it comes to food, so when he told me he thought it was really good, I believed him.

Back to the book. It is a celebration of the 10 year anniversary of the Obsession food festival held at Northcote. I had never heard of this before, but i tell you something, I really want to go (please Nigel). So I bought the book not as a fan of the festival, it was for inspiration. The list of chefs, 54 of them, is quite astounding. Some of my favourite chefs are in there, Richard Corrigan, Michel Roux Jr, Atul Kochhar and Chris & Jeff Galvin. Chefs that have inspired me from afar via their television appearances such as Glynn Purnell, Heston Blumenthal, Michael Caines and Mark Hix.

My project, as such, is to have every chef sign the book. Okay so a cookbook should be used for the recipes and I will, but this is a chance to meet some great chefs and to sample their food. As far as possible I will try to dine at their establishments. This becomes a little difficult when you  see that one of the recipes comes from Matthew Fort (my favourite judge on Great British Menu). It is hard to think who is the pinnacle, who is the chef I will be most thrilled to meet. Pierre Koffman, Raymond Blanc, Theo Randall, Nigel himself? You may be getting an idea of the calibre of chef in this book now. I like the fact there are chefs I didn’t know that I knew. Okay to explain that last sentence. I have been wanting to go to St John restaurant in Smithfield. One of the chefs in the book is Fergus Henderson. So I knew of his food without realising who the chef actually was. I am a foodie but I have never claimed to know everything about food or the chefs. I just like eating it. Oh and @SJRestaurant  is great to follow on Twitter.

The project will be a great journey and lesson. On here, I will tell you about the adventures, about the dishes I try to emulate and of course about the food I experience. The journey has in fact started. I picked up the book from Bentley’s in the end after the lovely Valerie Morrison at Corrigan’s arranged for richard to sign his page for me. I have eaten at Bentley’s often and with the masterclass at Corrigan’s and meeting Richard a few times, I didn’t feel quite so guilty about getting the booked started this way.

I was lucky enough to have started to visit Cafe a Vin in Spitalfields and on reading the book, I saw that Chris & Jeff Glavin were in the book. I dropped the book off there just over a week ago for them to sign and picked it up on my visit to Galvin La Chapelle on Friday. If you want to know about the meal there, please read my previous post. So three down, 51 to go. Some of these will be a real challenge, especially the overseas chefs.

I will be sharing the adventure here on the blog, on my Facebook page and on twitter. Please follow and share as I may need some help along the way. So I ask, very politely and kindly, if anyone knows these chefs, can arrange for me to meet them, cook with them, dine with them, get my book signed, please get in touch. I am one man, with hopefully a very understanding wife, as Nigel Haworth’s Obsession becomes my Obsession.

I must finish by saying thank you to Nigel, who emailed me last week with his best wishes. I look forward to the Northcote visit. When that will be along this journey, I don’t yet know.

Links to follow the journey:

Twitter https://twitter.com/Simonlovesfood

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/profile.php?id=832270284 (feel free to add me as a friend) or join my group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=196217326852

The book Nigel Haworth’s Obsession I know can be found at Corrigan’s of Mayfair, Galvin La Chapelle and I assume at Northcote. If not in your local book store, they should be able to order it in.

If anyone thinks this is worthy of a TV series, please contact me, I am a star in the making (cheesy grin).

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Anyone that has been following me on Twitter or read my last post will know I have recently become a fan of Cafe A Vin which is connected to Galvin La Chapelle. On our last visit the restaurant manager, Alessandro Piombino, or Alex as he is known, gave us a little tour of La Chapelle. The setting is fantastic, the high ceiling and original features of the building marry well with the modern classic dining furniture. You feel a moment of occasion as you enter La Chapelle, it really is quite a breathtaking venue. I feel it must put a lot of pressure on the chefs to ensure the food lives up to the expectation.

Alex greeted us and showed us to our table. A great table, seated so we could view most of the restaurant. A table we later found out is Sara Galvin’s favourite. My wife enjoyed a Kir Royal while I had a glass of champagne as we perused the menu. It took some time to figure out what I was going to have as I could really have eaten everything on there. Finally we decided:

Starters

Escabèche of yellow fin tuna, aubergine caviar and coriander

Ballotine of Landaise foie gras, peaches & Pain d’ épice

Main

Assiette of French veal, carrot & cumin purée, sauce diable

Desserts

Soufflé of apricot with Valrhona chocolate

Apple tart Tatin, crème fraîche

The foie gras was my choice and the inclusion of peaches in the dish intrigued me. I was not disappointed with my choice. A silky smooth foie gras which was lifted by the sweetness of the peaches. My wife enjoyed her starter too, the Tuna did look fantastic, and two empty plates were taken back to the kitchen. As you can tell, we both went for the same main course after the veal dish being explained to us. This was us being adventurous. The assiette of veal consisted of braised cheek, belly, brain and sweetbreads. Four parts of veal I have never had, in fact I think I’ve only ever had loin and rump. My wife struggled with the brain which I felt was a strange feeling in my mouth but tasted so good I had to eat it all. I actually struggled with the cheek which I found quite rich and sweet with this being my wife’s favourite part of the dish. For me the winner was the sweetbreads. Never had them at all before and something I will be looking out for again.

There was a nice break between the main course and dessert while we finished off our wine (ready for me to have a dessert wine).  My dessert came with a glass of 2007 Pacherenc du Vic-Bihl Brumaire, Alain Brumont. A great wine, very sweet which it needed to be with the tart. Oh, that pastry on the tart, just amazing, the apples juicy and caramalised so well. I hadn’t even noticed my wife wolfing down her Soufflé so I assume it was very good. SHe even started tucking into mine. We ended with the usual petits fours, coffee and drinks, a brandy and a port. The petits fours came in a small silver dish, two chocolates and two cherries sitting on a bed of crushed cocoa beans. That smell, I can still smell it now as I was allowed to take it with me, not the actual dish of course. I thought this a great touch though as the cherries carried some of the flavour of the cocoa with them and I think possibly the best, juiciest cherries I have ever had.

I suddenly realised it was about 10 pm and that meant there was table turn around. Considering we sat at 7, I liked this as it meant we could really relax. There was never any rush. It does annoy me that so many restaurants turn their tables round and when you’re paying for what is not a cheap meal, I think it is a cheek to make you leave the table. So well done to Galvin La Chapelle for letting people take their time and enjoy the surroundings and of course the food. I never like putting the price of a meal on here and will just say it isn’t cheap but then it is worth every penny. The staff are just so friendly, welcoming and thank you to them for organising the signing of my Obsession cookbook.  I will be seeing some of the Galvin staff again next week at Cafe A Vin (yes again).

Booked via www.toptable.com

Galvin La Chapelle details can be found on www.galvinrestaurants.com

Special mention to:

Sara Galvin, the perfect host.

Julia & Ruby for the tweets @Julia_GalvinRes and @Ruby_Galvin Res

And to Alessandro Piombino, enjoy your holiday.

Our sommelier who suggested a very nice crisp white wine from the Rhone region. Sorry I did not make a note of the wine, I remember it was a St Peray though. We agree with her though that a white Chateauneuf du Pape would go so well on  the wine list.

 

 

 

 

 

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Okay, another trip to London. Yes I know, London again. I really can’t get enough of the place sometimes. Originally the weekend’s trip had been planned for a trip to Borough Market (that didn’t happen). A room was booked at Club Quarter’s St Paul’s. A great little hotel, clean, just right for a one night stop. We both left work early to head off to London for a leisurely trip there and dinner at Cafe A Vin in Spitalfields. This was to be our second trip there in July. The first visit was after Olly Smith’s book signing. He really bigged it up so we just had to try. Also handy that it was very close to Liverpool Street Station.

Obviously we had a great time there first time round which is why I was on the train with much excitement as we headed back. After some great tweeting with Sara Galvin, Ruby and Julia, all at Galvin restaurants, we knew we would be expecting another great night. We arrived very early, a little due to my over excitement. We did stop for a drink and I was so thirsty, it went down a little quick so off we popped to Cafe A Vin. It’s a great venue, no traffic so sitting outside in the summer is relaxed and quiet. It’s also very satisfying sitting there relaxing watching the commuters rushing by to get to their trains.

I had been looking at the menu nearly all day, Julia actually emailed it to me so I could peruse. Thanks Julia, the extra time didn’t help at all, in fact it made it worse. By the time I got there I was really stuck as to what to choose. So much I wanted to try. We had the Galvin Champagne and while we were still choosing, it was suggested we try the tarte flambe to accompany the bubbly. Wow, it was just fantastic, light dough with bacon, creme fraiche and onion. Not just a good match, a brilliant match with champagne. DUring this we finally decided on our meals, okay I finally decided. My wife had chosen almost straight away.

Starters were the duck liver & foie gras parfait for my wife, which came with a shallot chutney. I went for steak tartare as I had not forgotten my plan this year to try new things. This was my first steak tartare and okay I have to be honest. It was nice, no it was great, very rich, very herby but great. It was a little rich for me though and I couldn’t finish it. I did enjoy it though and would try it again some time. I tried some of the parfait and loved it. I would have gone for that if I hadn’t wanted to try something new.

Champagne was still flowing and we went on to the mains. Braised Shoulder of Lamb with runner beans, artichokes and mint for my wife. No idea how this tasted as I didn’t get a look in. I assume that means she enjoyed it, the plate was cleared. I went for another new food, Sea Bream. Yes, I have tried quite a few different fish but never bream, it came wood roasted with chargrilled veg and sauce antiboise. Superbly cooked, three fillets (wow), the sauce, again something new, was well, I don’t quite know how to describe it. The whole dish worked so well, great fish, great flavours and that sauce, mmmmmmmmm. (Guess why I’m not a food journalist).

Then we have my nightmare, the dessert. I’m not great on desserts, however I thought I’d try something and i was a little too full for cheese and biscuits. So while my wife tucked into the same dessert she had last time, Baba au rhum which when serving they should ask, “would you like some baba with your rum?”, I tried the chocolate & hazelnut pot de creme. Smooth and light, just a small amount which was just right for me. We decided not to have coffee as we were intending to go for a drink after which ended up just walking back tot he hotel and collapsing with full stomachs.

Cafe a Vin really is a find, the service is great and so friendly. If you want really good food with a relaxed atmosphere, it is the place to go. Thank you to the guys there, a great team and the little tours round next door, Galvin La Chapelle has us already booked in for this coming Friday. I possibly have a nother trip back to Cafe a Vin the following week too. Have fallen in love I think.

Saturday morning arrives, a quick coffee sets us up for a walk from St Paul’s to Covent Garden. We continue wandering toward Oxford Circus almost walking into David Walliams near Shaftesbury Avenue. Well my wife says it was him, I didn’t think he was tall enough. I soon learnt not to argue with my wife over this issue though. There was a quick stop at Selfridges for a champagne cocktail before heading along Hyde Park to Le Cafe Anglais. A lovely walk in the sun.

We arrive and are directed to the lift to go up to the restaurant. Another warm greeting and we are shown to our table. We originally intended to go for the Toptable offer of the Air Conditioned Picnic with a glass of wine. Instead we stayed with the picnic and had a whole bottle. The picnic is a great idea for lunch. Light, great variety and again a chance to try a few things you may not have had before. There were 13 dishes on the menu and we could choose seven each. We went for one of everything and an extra stuffed aubergine. There were aioli eggs, baked peppers with mozzarella, taboulet, cheese with pickled cherries, really just lots of lovely little pick at foods. A couple of dessert dishes too.

It’s another great venue, attentive staff and very good food. It did surprise me at first that every dish was cold but then I though, oh yes, it’s a picnic. I have to say we struggled to drink a whole bottle of wine with lunch which makes the Toptable offer with a glass seem good sense. However we were not rushed and allowed to finish our wine at our own speed.

After lunch we wandered across the park, had a wander round Harrods and then Harvey Nicholls where we headed to the fifth floor as we had heard about the Tanquery Ten Terrace on the 5th Floor. It wasn’t easy to find, You sort of had to guess it must be attached to the restaurant. I would have thought they would have made a bigger thing about it being there. It was late afternoon and still warm. A table was just coming free which was lucky, the terrace was rammed. We ordered some snack, almonds and chips (not together) and then went for the Cocktail Flight. Three mini Tanquery cocktails, a delightful mix, so good, we flew twice.

The flight is a history lesson in cocktails. We start with the Martinez from around 1887, the exact origins are unknown. Aromatic & sweet with orange bitters and maraschino. Second step is the 1903, apparently a recently discovered recipe that is vibrant & silky with zesty orange undertones. Finally we have the Perfect Ten. We were told this was made with Tanquery Ten in mind. It’s much more your classic martini with citrus and juniper. All three were quite different, going from quite sweet to very dry in three steps. A great finish to a great weekend of food.

As always, to London, I raise my glass, I pat my full stomach and say “See you again, very soon”.

For Cafe a Vin, Spitalfields visit www.galvinrestaurants.com and Cafe a Vin is now bookable via Toptable.

Le Cafe Anglais, Bayswater was booked via Toptable at www.toptable.com or visit www.lecafeanglais.com

For the Tenquery Terrace, visit www.harveynicholls.com

My Twitter friends who made this weekend so much better:

@Toptable

@SaraGalvin1

@Ruby_GalvinRes

@Julia_GlavinRes

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