Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saturday Lunch: Pan-seared Cod with Leek and Potato sauce




Am. and I were out grocery shopping in Waitrose when we came across the published ‘recipe of the week’.  This week it was by Heston Blumenthal and when reading it, it did seem a bit complicated to me. Thankfully, Am. was not dissuaded and we ended up cooking a very nice lunch that was easy and elegant. The sauce had subtle, deep flavours that left you feeling very content and satisfied and went very well paired with a lightly seared cod fillet.

Disclaimer: when I say ‘we cooked’ – I actually mean to say my dear friend Am. was definitely the driving force behind the dish. My contribution was my enthusiasm and ability to operate a blender. That’s about it
J

I decided to talk about the recipe on the blog to show how simple and easy it to cook a lovely meal at home. It’s quite common to feel overwhelmed at the thought of cooking and this recipe proved to me how relatively simple it can be.

You start by making the sauce. Slice 2 small potatoes and half an onion and then cook them in butter for 10 minutes. Then slice about 2 leeks and fry those as well in the pan for another 5 minutes. Add about a cup of fish broth and let the whole thing simmer for another 10 minutes. Add a tablespoon of whipped cream and a tbsp of milk and stir.

Let it cool for a bit and then blend the whole thing using a blender/liquidiser. Sieve it so you end up with smooth silky sauce which you season with salt and pepper.

For the fish, all you have to do is sprinkle salt on either sides, pan fry in a little butter for about 2 mins each side.

You can also chop another potato into cubes, boil it for a bit and fry it. You then plate the dish, by placing the potatoes first, spooning the sauce over and then placing the cod on top. The finishing touch is to sprinkle some chives and ta-dah!

For the exact details, here is the recipe:

http://www.waitrose.com/content/waitrose/en/home/recipes/recipe_directory/h/heston_s_pan_seared_cod_with_leek_and_potato_sauce.html


Nopi


I am lucky enough to have friends who share my passion for eating well and trying out new restaurants. This year, I decided to celebrate my birthday by having dinner at a place none of us had been to called Nopi.

Nopi is the brainchild of Chef Yotam Ottolenghi who is well known for his recipe books and he has a bunch of cafes and bakeries all over London that serve vibrant dishes where vegetables take centre stage rather than just being on the side. He opened Nopi last year and the food is a fusion of different Mediterranean cuisines – served in the increasing popular ‘tapas’ style of sharing small plates at the table.

Nopi is situated quite conveniently between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. The ground floor has some lovely décor and then downstairs, it’s a more casual atmosphere with two large tables facing an open kitchen. The setting downstairs is good for large groups and Nopi offers two set menus for groups of 10 or more.

I spent ages fussing and fretting over the menu options and the staff were quite accommodating in dealing with my all questions. I selected the menu which gave the table 9 different dishes – each person paying 37£ each. I was a bit concerned as I had heard their portions are quite small but I needn’t have worried – the food was more than enough and in hindsight, I think set menu of 8 dishes for 32£ would have been a better option. Another lovely thing about the menu is that is seasonal so it changes every month.

We started with the Burrata with pink grapefruit and basil which was divine and one of those dishes you must order. The next two plates didn’t appeal to me – the Catalan tart and roasted Cauliflower with ricotta.

We then had Octopus with Morcilla (Spanish Black Pudding) and the Seared Prawns. I was not so keen on the Octupus but really like the the prawns.

And then ended with the roasted Sirloin with spinach and pecorino which was presented very beautifully and the char-grilled broccolini. I would not recommend the broccolini – a very tepid and pointless dish.

I was a bit disappointed in the dessert. I had ordered a chocolate rum fondant cake which sounded delectable and given past experience at the Ottolenghi Bakery, I had high expectations. However, the cake was more like a flourless chocolate cake – too thick and stodgy and no hint of rum. I’m pretty sure a fondant should have a soft, gooey centre. For a cake that costs 50£ I was certainly not impressed.

By now, I think you can guess what my thoughts are on Nopi. I was very excited in the beginning but ended up having mixed feelings. To be honest, it seemed to be a bit hyped up.
I feel the menu over-promised and under delivered.

The description of the dishes on the menu and the presentation of the food certainly captivated me. But the actual taste of the food didn’t wow me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a nice meal – but rather expensive for 40£ each (without adding in the wine). I was willing to pay extra because I thought I would be experiencing the food of an extremely skilled chef who knows how to experiment with different ingredients. 

However In the end I’ve learned that if you have a good bunch of friends, any place you go to will be an enjoyable experience. I had a lovely birthday dinner and perhaps I’m a bit critical. I appreciate how the staff took into consideration all the special requests I made. I especially liked how they set some of the vegetarian dishes aside for a friend of mine who was running a bit late.

I think if you are a vegetarian, it’s a good choice since you will have a lot of options. Just be prepared though, you might end up spending a bit more than you expected. A better idea would be to visit the Ottolenghi Café & Bakery – where you get the same type of food but at a much better price.
  
Also, if you do every go to Nopi, this might sound strange – but you must check out the ladies bathroom. It has a whole ‘House of Mirrors’ effect going on which is quite fun and a tad bit disorientating if you’ve a had a glass of wine or two J

Nopi

21-22 Warwick Street
London W1B 5NE
Tel: 0207 494 9584
Tube: Oxford Circus/ Piccadilly Circus

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Square Meal

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dinings: Ultra Sophisticated Japanese food with a French twist


I've always thought that a great restaurant would have the perfect combination of the following factors:

a) Interesting ingredients that are of good quality 
b) Talented chefs who will create beautiful plates of food
c) The right atmosphere and service to ensure you are having a lovely experience

Of course, the more famous the chef, more expensive the ingredients and more popular the location, you could end up spending quite a bit of money on the bill. However, there are times when it is just simply worth it. Dinings in Marylebone is one of those places. Don't be fooled by the rather uninspired name, the food served is amazing and dishes look like works of art on your table.

Story has it, that the head chef of Nobu Tomonari Chiba left and started his own place. But other than serving a similar cuisine, the two restaurants are very different. Dinings has none of the razzle-dazzle effect of Nobu. Located on a quiet residential street, you enter a small room with a sushi bar where you can see the chefs at work. Downstairs has a sort of intimate, underground bunker feel with minimalistic decor. 

They serve a sort of high-end version of Japanese food - a lot ponzu-truffle-foiegras-wagyu magic going on with most dishes. It can be intimidating looking at their endless menu and daily specials but there are a couple of must-have signature dishes which I think showcase the best of Dinings.

1. Sea Bass Carpaccio with Truffle salsa and Ponzu sauce.

Simple divine. I liked it so much that the second time I went there, I tricked my unsuspecting friend A. to order it twice. The presentation is so dainty and delicate and the flavours of ponzu and truffle come together beautifully.






2. Eel and Foie Gras sushi roll

Another signature is their take on mixing European and Japanese flavours by adding foie gras to sushi.


3. Wagyu beef tataki with ponzu and porcini oil

Wagyu beef is the big-daddy of beef. It's a premium cut of beef which is very popular in Japan and taste amazing - in a dense, fatty, melt-in-your-mouth kind of way.

4. Yellowtail Sashimi with jalapenos

The simplicity of it shows how good the quality of the fish is.

5. Lobster tempura

I went green with envy with I saw this on the neighbouring table. A huge lobster comes out with bits and bobs of it encased in a light tempura batter.

There are many more dishes that I would like to try and I find it very hard to control myself from over-ordering at Dinings. I usually get a severe case of food envy from seeing what other tables have ordered but despite all this, even with some wine added, the bill usually comes up to 50£ per person - which is much, much cheaper than Nobu. Another strategy of mine, is after trying out a few big-ticket items, I then proceed to fill my self up with some sushi rolls. It was at Dinings that I discovered how good a sushi roll tastes when it is served correctly with the rice slightly warm/at room temperature.

This is the perfect place to come if you want quiet night with friends filled with conversation or a romantic night out with a special someone with less conversation and more gazing into each others eyes if that's what you feel like - I'm happy to say I've done both ;-)

Dinings
22 Harcourt Street
London W1H 4HH
Tel: 020 7723 0666  (It's best to call ahead for reservations)
Tube: Baker Street/ Edgeware Road


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