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Lady Aga

A blog dedicated to recipes, cakes, baking, restaurants and booze. .... Yorkshire-born.... London-based ..... Labrador-Greed ..... Lady Aga also bakes custom-made-cakes for all kinds of celebratory events

Pot Luck Club, Cape Town, South Africa

Picture the scene: lazy Saturday lunchtime, penultimate day of official South African summer, blue skies, beautiful people, drool-worthy food stalls, long communal tables stretching the length of market tents, overlooked by hanging baskets of shrubbery with bottles of wine plonked along at various intervals.  Welcome to the Neighbourhood Market at the Biscuit Mill in Cape Town’s happening suburb of Woodstock…

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…grab yourself a beer or a cane sugar and rum cocktail and survey the scene; it’s essentially a slightly crowded but totally delicious version of heaven.

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I say ‘lazy’ with a degree of artistic license - The Blonde had been up since 5am doing his producer thang; I rocked up at the Tiger House location at a more socially acceptable hour, hung about for a while committing on-set faux pas such as eating from the actor’s sandwich platters before The Blonde took pity and drove us down to Woodstock for a market mooch and slap-up lunch at The Pot Luck Club.

Said restaurant is the sister of Test Kitchen; Cape Town’s hottest foodie property.  To secure a table there you need to book months in advance.  Us laisez faire individuals are more than happy with its sibling’s relaxed take on reservations (you should be good to go at PLC with a few weeks notice).

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You access Pot Luck Club via a glass lift at the corner of the market; it’s situated on the sixth floor so offers great visual opportunity to check out the hipsters below, plot your market route and get some take-your-breath-away views of the city.

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You know, as soon as the lift doors open, that you’re in for a good time; the open plan kitchen emits heavenly scents and the air is thick with that idiosyncratic restaurant l’eau d’anticipation and optimism of a beautiful meal to come.

It’s a good looking beast, The Pot Luck Club- panoramic views, parquet flooring, great crockery, fancy stemware and a price point that reads like a Pizza Express menu (gotta love that rand)

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You choose about 3-4 dishes per person and mark up your selection on the notepad provided.  Then just lay back and don’t think of mediocre dim sum at Ping Pong (who employ a similar ordering tactic) - or maybe do; it might heighten your senses for what is to come…

We went for nine dishes, just to be on the safe side of the wolf’s door, you know.

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The clever Luke Dale Roberts; Man of the kitchen and the hour has broken his menu down according to your palette.  Dishes arrive as and when, so your mouth is in a constant state of surprise and delight.

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First up, sour dough, sweet and smoky roasted garlic, tapenade and olives

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Steamed edamame with miso and toasted garlic salt

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Fresh fish tacos Pot Club style - miniature bites of fresh, zesty, crunchy, creamy awesomeness (Cape Town kills it when it comes to avos, aka avocados)

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Korean fried chicken with a caramelised spicy crust and pineapple miso slaw; although there is an entire section of the menu dedicated to ‘umami’, in truth a lot of the mooreish but light plates pay homage to this fifth sense to brilliant effect.

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5 spice roasted pork belly with whole cured roasted baby apple.  Served with a sort of air-dried crackling and topped with sweet halva, perfectly complementing this melting piggy.

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But the star of the show has to be the smoked beef fillet with black pepper and truffle cafe au lait.  Cooked sous vide and finished off in the pan for extra tenderness.  I’ll never be able to do verbal justice to this dish; it was quite simply unlike any other.  As soon as The Blonde put fork to mouth he was already summoning the waiter back to beg for another plate. But, alas, the kitchen had shut up shop on the savoury front.  I sort of want to weep recalling the tragedy of this incident.  My kingdom for that beef…

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Blood orange and gin sorbet, sake compressed watermelon and bitter jellies-  acidicly erasing all creamy luxurious memories of truffled beef in the best possible way.

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Nectarine and almond tart with malted popcorn ice cream - a sort of honeycomb popped corn praline crumbled on top; This pudding is responsible for one of the many moments I decided to move to Cape Town asap.

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Malted chocolate fondant with stem ginger icing.  Malt and chocolate - does it get any better?  Make it gooey and melty and you’ve just turned it up to eleven.  Bravo Pot Luck Club.

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Mint tea to finish, it was a mint tea but I just love that cup and saucer.  There was a shop underneath the restaurant selling similar stoneware, not sure that’s where it was from but aint it pretty?

And, of course, speaking of pretty, there’s THAT view.  I’ll have seconds, thirds and fifteenths of that guy, please.

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Pot Luck Club, Silo Top Floor, The Old Biscuit Mill, 373-375 Albert Road Woodstock, Cape Town

Oep Ve Koep, Paternoster, South Africa

Howzit?  Sorry for the awol status, I’ve been busy taking most of my holiday allowance within the space of a month, and in doing so, delighting both my boss and bank manager in equal measure.

I may have mentioned that The Blonde is producing his first feature film, it’s called Tiger House and stars, amongst others, Dougray Scott and Kaya Scodelario.  Dougray acted alongside Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 2; Kaya’s something unbelievable like number 150 out of a gazillion actresses on IMDB’s STARmeter.  No big deal basically.  Just casual film production stuff.  Anyway, they spent the first two months of this year filming out in Cape Town and I thought I’d better  shuffle on down there - you know, to oversee production, suss out the on-set catering and, ultimately, get thoroughly involved in the local food scene.

Apparently if you’re on a movie set you work a six day week (rather you than me, husband).   So, when they were close to wrapping up Saturday’s scenes, The Blonde and I scarpered 150km up the West Coast for a couple of nights in St Helena Bay, just next door to the small historic fishing village of Paternoster.

The highlight of this getaway, and probably my entire ten day trip, was Oep Ve Koep; Kobus van der Merwe's small-but-perfectly-formed restaurant set in a gorgeous little garden.  Here's the unassuming frontage which is in keeping with the white washed brickwork of Paternoster.

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Go through the red door, stroll through the shop, peruse the tempting chutneys, jams, oils, crockery and souvenirs from the local bay - we failed to buy this t-shirt.  I know, idiots, right?!

image… making your way to backyard garden heaven, where your table awaits:

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Along with an exiting, but slightly incomprehensible, looking menu du jour.

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Luckily the charming Kobus is on hand to talk you through the Afrikaans.

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And to suggest a suitably dry and quaffable vino to match the balmy sunshine and his unique menu. Sorry Dad, rose probably wasn’t the wine connoisseur’s choice but the heart wants what it wants!

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It was bone dry and beautiful so whatever, really.

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Homemade butter (just when I thought butter couldn’t get any better, this creamy delight appeared and shook up my love of saturated fat), mackerel pate and a soft sticky fig that was somewhere between a glace and mustard fruit.

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With freshly baked bread - I don’t know whether the mint in the linen bag keeps it fresh or what, but it’s a nice touch.

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We ordered everything on the menu, which isn’t as greedy as it sounds - essentially we got an additional starter to split between two and who could refuse these guys?

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Three plump oysters with watermelon and salvia garnish.  This herb, along with many others, is growing right around you in Oep’s garden; there is a real feel of seasonality, sustainability and straight-from-the-source goodness here.  You know this is a menu which the chef has taken a lot of care and thought putting together.  It’s environmentally sensitive but also exudes a sense of fun and imagination.

Next up, ceviche with grapefruit (and a now unidentifiable/ untranslatable orange fruit - sort of like a physalis) served on a crunchy kinda cactus leaf.  Fresh and fabulous - a plate of sunshiny citrus joy.

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Rooibos, tomato and basil consome with a whopping-great crayfish tail and a splash of peppery olive oil to offset the sweetness.  Those flavours - just wow, tea in a consomme, pure genius.

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My main was a take on the traditional South African dish, bobotie. Usually made with meat but in this instance mussels were substituted for a lighter seaside take.  Gone too were the raisins; in their place apricots and their essence courtesy of the kernel.  Stewed up with butternut squash and topped with an egg bake that had the consistency of polenta.  It was sort of like a tagine gone mad and I loved it.

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The tenderest kudu (antelope) fillet with moskonfyt (a traditional South African syrupy jam) and a mooreish creamy mash (was it butterbean? I forget, sorry Kobus!).  Kudu is venison-esque with the consistency of the finest fillet available.  They seriously know meat out in South Africa - I’ve never had better.

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A brief pause before pud, at which point we clocked this lil fella just mooching around the pebbles.  So we asked him to join for a wander (and subsequent pee) on the coolest tablecloth that ever there was.

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Pudding was a slightly more simple, but no less delicious, combination of sweet Chenin Blanc custard/ ice cream with grapes and melon.

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Rose Pelargonium tea and honey for apres, freshly picked from the garden.

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Loving life.

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And the cloth - what a cloth.

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The menu is ridiculous value for money (all in, I think it was about £20 a head for three courses each, one extra, bread and wine), the setting a veritable culinary Eden of tranquility and hospitality.  The food will blow your mind and offer a completely unique introduction to the landscape of South African food and Kobus will charm like no other.  I take my hat off to The Blonde for choosing this venue for my first lunch in South Africa; there could be no better scene setter. Oep ve Koep: unforgettable, that’s what you are.

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Oep Ve Koep, St Augustine Road, Paternoster, South Africa +27 (0) 22 752 2105

Bookings necessary

Guacamole Quinoa with pan fried salmon

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Aka Grains’n’Greens Part Deux.  I saw this on Food 52  day and knew it had to feature on my weekend menu.  Since I so rarely find raw tomatoes to be a flavour sensation, slow roasting is my combative weapon of choice.  Likewise, unadulterated onion has never really floated my boat but, soak it in the juice of a lime and you get a mellow acidic crunch that offsets the creamy avocado component perfectly.

This recipe would work just as well with cous cous, bulgar wheat, farro or brown rice in place of quinoa but, since Gwyneth has taught me how to cook it to perfection in the easiest possible way, I’m a slave to the Q-tip. 

I did consider trashing-up this recipe by scattering some crumbled cheesy Doritos on top but had none to hand.  Quelle domage.  There’s always next time…

To serve 4 you’ll need

Two large branches cherry vine tomatoes

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup/ 185g quinoa, rinsed well in cold water

1 3/4 cups / 400ml cold water

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

2 limes, juiced

1 large bunch coriander, chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 small red chilli (or more if you prefer a feisty guac), de-seeded and finely chopped

1 large ripe avocado

2 salmon fillets

Start by pre-heating your oven to 220 degrees

Place your vine tomatoes on a baking tray, season well and drizzle with olive oil

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Roast for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 150 degrees and continue to cook for around half an hour or so, or until the tomatoes are wilted and caramelised and looking like this.  Remove from the oven.

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Whilst those guys are roasting, get going with the quinoa. 

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Pour your water and quinoa into a large lidded saucepan and bring to the boil, simmer gently for around 12-15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.  You shouldn’t take the lid off and stir but I sometimes shake mine about to make sure all the grains are submerged and doing their thang.

When it’s looking cooked (ie. when those weird sprouty things have appeared), remove the pan from the heat and place a sheet of kitchen paper between the pan and the pan lid (I imagine a clean tea towel would also do the trick).  Leave for five minutes and then fluff-up the quinoa with a fork.

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During the quinoa cooking time you can soak your onion with the juice of one lime

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Set aside until you’re ready to assemble the salad.

Take half the tomatoes, pluck them from their stalks (maybe use rubber gloves if they’re still scalding hot) and add them to the quinoa pan.  Combine with the chopped coriander, garlic, chilli, remaining lime juice and onions

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Mix up your quinoa and season well, add a few more glugs of olive oil and mix in the tomato juices from the roasting pan

Peel, de-stone your avocado

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Chop and add to the quinoa mix

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Mix well and top with the remaining cherry tomato sprigs, decant into a serving dish if you’re feeling fancy

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Heat some oil in a frying pan (I was feeling all Miranda Kerr virtuous so went down the coconut oil route), when the oil is smoking lay down your salmon fillets (skin side first if using salmon fillets with skin on).  Fry for around 2 minutes or until golden, flip and fry for a further minute.

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Best enjoyed al fresco in the sunshine.

Toasted barley pudding

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This recipe belongs to the chef Tom Harris (he of One Leicester Street) and features in this month’s Waitrose magazine.  It was one of those love-at-first-sight numbers; I knew it was going to be a winner. 

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Barley malt extract isn’t an ingredient I’ve worked with before but it gives a deliciously nostalgic character to the pud, reminiscent of hot steaming mugs of Ovaltine and inhaled bags of Maltesers.  Plus, you can find barley malt extract in health food shops and it’s vitamin-heavy so let’s just, from now on, refer to this pudding a Superfood, ok?  Great stuff.

I failed to read Harris’ original recipe all the way through so didn’t see the raisins need to be soaked overnight, hence their absence in the photos.  I’ve included them in the instructions below but, honestly, the creamy yeasty risotto-esque bowl of comfort is a stand alone sensation that works equally well hot or cold - boozy raisins or no.

Serves 6:

100g pearl barley

800ml water

50g butter

80g demerara sugar

40g barley malt extract

600ml whole milk

1/4 nutmeg, freshly grated

1 vanilla pod, split

1 pinch salt

100g raisins, soaked overnight in hot tea

2 tbsp malt whisky

Put your pearl barley in a medium sized pan and toast over a the hob.  Shake the pan from time to time to prevent the barley burning.  You’re looking to get the barley to a lightly golden shade (this should take around 5 minutes if using a heavy bottomed pan - as I was - probably less if using a frying pan; mine started to give off a light aromatic smoke when it was ready). 

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Pour over over the water, bring to a low boil and simmer for 15 minutes, by which point it will have absorbed just under half of the liquid.  Drain the barley

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In a heavy bottomed pan (I quickly rinsed and dried my toasting pan), melt your butter, sugar and malt extract

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Heat until you’ve got a golden caramel, comme ca (this only took a few minutes)

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Add the drained barley back into the pan and stir well before pouring over the milk and adding the nutmeg, vanilla (seeds scraped out and added to the mix) and salt  image

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Simmer gently, stirring every so often, until you have a thick creamy pan of rice pudding-esque beauty (something short of an hour)

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If serving with the raisins, tip them into a sieve to drain away the tea.  Warm the raisins through in a small saucepan with the whisky and dollop on top of the pudding when it comes to serving

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American style pancakes with honey roast peanut butter cream and hot blueberry sauce

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A pimped plate of pancakey joy for you this Shrove Tuesday.  There are no half measures with this recipe - it’s all or nothing on the calgebra front, I’m afraid.  But what it lacks in healthiness it makes up for in simplicity.   I went for this variation on the peanut butter and jelly theme for three reasons - One: The Blonde, he’s technically a Yank and the boy loves a blueberry.  Two:  Honey roasted peanut butter cream #youknowit.  Three: I thought they’d lens better than your regular crepe.  Point three came back to bite me, however… when I touched down back in Heathrow from Cape Town yesterday, my luggage (and therefore camera), sadly, did not.  So, until SAA sort themselves out, iphone photoshoot it is, sorry guys. 

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Makes 6 pancakes/ breakfast for two:

For the pancake batter:

1 large egg

45ml milk

40g plain flour

1/2 level teaspoon baking powder

1 small pinch salt

50g blueberries

Butter and oil for frying

For the hot blueberry sauce

50g blueberries

2 tsp demerara sugar

2 tsp water

For the honey roasted peanut butter cream:

100g honey roasted peanuts - set a few aside for decoration

1 heaped tbsp cream cheese

1 tbsp melted butter

Method:

Set your oven on a low heat and put a couple of plates inside to keep them warm and ready for serving

Prepare your pancake batter by whisking together the egg,  milk,  flour, baking powder and salt. 

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Then stir in the blueberries. 

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You can now let the mixture sit whilst you prepare the other elements.

For the blueberry sauce, gently heat the three ingredients in a small saucepan for around 5 minutes or until the berries soften enough to be smooshed with the back of a wooden spoon.  Leave some whole.  Remove from the heat, set aside and keep the sauce warm.

To make your honey roast peanut butter, grind the nuts in a blender.  They will quickly go from rough crumbs to smooth peanut butter

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When you’ve got to the latter state, whizz in the cream cheese and melted butter. 

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Now, time for the pancakes.  Heat a small knob of butter and glugette of vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan.  When the butter starts to sizzle, ladle in your mix, making sure you’ve got a reasonable amount of space between each pancake. 

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When bubbles start to form in the pancakes (about 2 minutes into cooking), flip them over and cook for a further minute or two.  You want a golden puffed pancake.

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Serve straight away with a generous dollop of the nut butter, a good drizzle of the hot blueberry sauce and a scattering of nuts

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Cake it till you make it

Just because you guys haven’t had a cake hit since October - that’s a whole lotta time.  Get ready for a sugar overload…

Here’s what I’ve been baking in the last coupla months

Panda cake:  Sometimes I worry about my cakes - sending them out into the big bad world, occasionally to complete strangers.  Will they be alright?  Can they fend for themselves? This girl, however… this girl I had no qualms about letting her loose because, looking at her, you just know she’s going to be A-ok.  Sassy young thing that she is - get a load of that lippy.

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Next up:  First attempt at a Hummingbird cake, whose lengthy ingredients list features pecans, pineapple and bananas.  The scene of my kitchen as I made this was something straight out of The Blondes worst nightmares - mashed banana EVERYWHERE.  Five layers of Hummingbird sponge, sandwiched with maple cream cheese frosting, covered in buttercream and decorated with gingerbread fondant letters which were then sprayed gold and covered in edible glitter.  Obviously.

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Continuing in the 3D letter theme, here’s a classic Victoria sponge sandwiched with buttercream and jam, covered in blue marble glitter fondant and then personalised; not your most conventional christening cake but hopefully a crowd pleaser…

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Back in November last year I took a course at Jane Asher on how to make flowers from icing - check out me and my ‘bouquet’(ok, corsage, my dedication to homework was somewhat lacklustre)!

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Anyway, with that string to my bow I whipped up a red velvet ombre cake with edible hydrangea petals - you dig?

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And, in other ombre news:  ombre cupcakes #ombre4eva

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That’s all for now folks, if you can’t stand the wait check out my cake commissions page and get a slice of the action for yourself…

One Leicester Street & The Talented Mr Fox

A number of my recent restaurant reviews seem to be prefaced with something like… ‘set back from the crazy/ frantic/ nightmare…’ in order to set the scene for the tranquil civilisation that can be found a few paces away (I’m looking at you, Rules and Augustus Harris). Apologies if it’s all getting a bit predictable round here, because today’s entry is no different…

But seriously, have you seen the state of Leicester Square these days?  What a hot mess.  Four corners of hell, made even more so when your iphone data runs out, google maps will not load and the only orientation points being offered via a crackly phone line from your senseless-of-direction daughter to the restaurant rendezvous is ‘near the M&M store…’

Such was the scenario when Mum and Granny were in town a few weeks back and my bro and I had agreed to meet for dinner at One Leicester Street. Serious case of blind leading the blind. Soz Mum!

Word to the wise: One Leicester Street isn’t sign-posted from Sodom & Gomorrah (aka Leicester Square) so make sure you plot your route carefully, or just access from China Town.  You have been warned…

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It’s worth the trauma though, because there’s nothing more comforting than surveying hectic scenes of the West End when you’re ensconced in their dining room with a basket of crusty bread, some creamy butter and a vintage boule of Nyetimber in your hand whilst you peruse a very appealing menu

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We were taking advantage of the value early bird pre-theatre menu.  At two courses for £16 and three for £19 it’s something of a bargain, especially since One Leicester Street has a Michelin star to its name.

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The menu is simple seasonal British with clear cut punchy flavours.  Head Chef Tom Harris was already doing his thing in this restaurant’s previous incarnation (when it was briefly part of the St John outfit) and the culinary offering has all the hall marks of nose-to-tail no-nonsense eating for which Fergus Henderson’s stable have become so well known.

First up: Smoked belly ham, celeriac and mustard - fine flavourful slithers of a porchetta-esque cured piggy.  Fattiness balanced out by a piquante but creamy remoulade.

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Followed by pan fried mackerel with shredded cabbage and cress.  Perfect salty crispy skin and succulent oily fish contrasting with bitter leaves and crunchy cabbage. Another plate that was all about balance.

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Grilled tamworth, white beans and turnip tops in a helping that was possibly a bit on the beast-like-side but still demolishable.  Creamy, crunchy, melting with a cape of refreshing greenery.

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At this point we lost half our party due to their timetable that night being dictated by a strict combination of East Coast rail’s discount tickets and a tube strike. Whilst the prospect of browned butter and honey tart pudding was tempting, the bro and I were more swayed by the idea of a liquid dessert; and wouldn’t you be when faced with this menu?

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They also serve this selection in the dining room but, since TFL had decided to throw their toys out of the pram that night, One Leicester Street was unfortunately rather lacking in clientelle and therefore vibe. So off we trotted to the first floor cocktail bar into a world of weird and wonderful digestifs…

Just a casual bit of Monster Munch distillation…

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… for what was quite possibly the most imaginative martini to ever grace my liver

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Complete with oven-dried crisp packet adornment.

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Next up:  Peanut butter pretzel time

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This guy was a clever take on a Sazerac (a bitter Nineteenth Century American muddle based around either cognac or whisky featuring absinthe and bitters).  Reading the menu you’d expect the Pretzel Manger to deliver a taste sensation/ calorific disaster - your classic Sweet Dream/ Beautiful Nightmare scenario (Queen B:  she knows the score); as it is, you get all of the latter without the calgebra guilt.  Distillation for life!

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There was a definite air of the Marie Celeste when we propped up the bar, but this did mean we got to chat cockertail logistics with the bar man.  He goes by the name of the Moonshine Kid, and is one half of the TMF mixology outfit who hail from Purl and Worship Street Whistling Shop - widely recognised in London to be amongst our most technically sophisticated and quality boozers.

After two cocktails a piece we were feeling fairly spent - both financially and in terms of ABV - but, having ticked off neither the served-from-a-bin Urban Foxtail No.1, nor the bone marrow bloody mary, it’s safe to say we’ll be back…

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One Leicester Street, London WC2H 7BL

Open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner except Sunday Dinner

Talented Mr Fox

Open midday-ish till late every day except Sundays

Poached pears with miso caramel sauce

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Now that - that is what we refer to in the industry as a crackin’ pair - sorry!

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A few weeks ago I encountered a recipe for miso caramel sauce on gastroporn hub Food 52 and it’s been on my mind ever since.  With pears being a their peak right now, a poached poire seemed like the perfect foil to this umami adornment.  This is salted caramel taken to the next level

Take some pears, I used Rocha, 12 in number

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Peel and take a slice off their bottoms so they sit upright and stand to attention

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In a pan large enough to accommodate your pears, bring 3 parts water and 1 part sugar to the boil (I was working with a pretty massive pan so used 3 pints water to 1 pint sugar).  Add to this a couple of sprigs rosemary, 1 inch fresh ginger sliced, 1 tbsp vanilla bean extract, 1 heaped teaspoon each cinnamon, mixed spice and cloves and two slices lemon rind.

Gently lower your pears into the syrupy mix and simmer on a low heat for an hour

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When this hour is up, take the pears out of the liquid

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If preparing in advance, leave the poaching liquid to cool completely and put the pears back into the cold liquor until you need them (I transferred mine to a baking tin for ease of re-heating). 

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If serving straight away, keep the pears warm whilst you knock up the caramel. 

Bring 3/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 cup water to the boil in a heavy bottom pan.  Let it bubble away until it turns golden.  Remove from the heat and slowly stir in 1/2 cup double cream - be careful, it will bubble up quickly; keep mixing to ensure it doesn’t overflow.  Whisk in two tablespoons sweet white miso paste (I used Clearspring, for which I paid a fortune in Partridges but is available for half the price in Waitrose).  I also whisked in a few knobs of salted butter at this stage for extra decadence and silky smoothness.  If the caramel siezes up, return to the heat and stir gently until completely liquid.  Let the mixture cool a little before serving as it will thicken up a treat.  This makes enough sauce for 6 pears, I doubled it for my batch.

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If you have a spare pear, you can always blitz it up with some of the poaching syrup for an alternative take on the Bellini.  Quaff on.

Scallops with pancetta and sage

Because fancy titles are redundant; hopefully you’ll be sold on the basis visuals alone. 

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This dish: Oh Yeah.  Yeah.  It moves me, does it move you?  I know it does something for this troublemaker.

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I could go all commercial on you here and suggest that this is the perfect Valentine’s Day dish with which to woo your beloved… but I’m not going to go there; not least because, this year, The Blonde is nearly 6000 miles away making a movie.  My amorous advances will therefore be directed, instead, in the direction of a martini. 

Whether you’re a deux or flying solo on Friday, my advice would be to cook this dish regardless; do it for yourself, because you’re worth it!

Take a chunk of pancetta (50g per head if making as a main, 25g if starter-sized)

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Slice and fry in olive oil until crispy and golden.  Then transfer the pancetta to a warmed plate and set aside. Don’t wash the frying pan up just yet…

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Assemble all your other ingredients:  Scallops (3-4 per person for a starter; 6-8 for a main), butter, lemon (1/2 or whole, depending on how much you dig a citrus flavour), 2 tbsp capers and 1tbsp peppercorns and a handful of sage

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In a pestle and mortar, lightly crush the capers and peppercorns.

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Season your scallops with a little sea salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper

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Return your frying pan to a high heat and fry the scallops for a minute on each side in the flavourful pancetta fat

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When lightly browned throw in your bronzed pancetta, crushed capers and peppercorns, a knob of butter and a handful of sage leaves.

Stir quickly and thoroughly to incorporate the flavours, taking care not to cook the scallops for any longer than you need to (they should take about 3 minutes total)

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Squeeze over your lemon juice and let it evaporate a little

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Plate up your scallops, adorned with a few extra sprigs of fresh sage and a generous drizzle of olive oil

Mop up the juices with some crusty bread

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(Original recipe taken from Homes & Gardens and cooked on the Aga by my Moms, Judge Jules)

Maple Pecan Blondies

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January detox is over, let’s gorge!

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Anti-abstemious is the blondie’s middle name; if you’re going to fall off the wagon, you may as well do so in the glorious company of melted white chocolate, liquid salty butter, soft brown sugar, chocolatey chunks, crunchy pecans with mellow maple syrup.  Friends for life in those guys.

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I’ve had a longstanding obsession with blondies, going back as far as 2006 when we first crossed paths.  South Londoners may fondly recall a hallowed haven of fresh-from-the-oven carbs in the form of The Lighthouse Bakery.  They were based in the heart of ‘Nappy Valley’ on Northcote Road, Clapham.  TLB made blondies and then they sold out of blondies; there was a brief 40 minute window in which you could snare one of these taste sensations.  Or maybe Suze and I, in our inevitably sorry Saturday morning states, just never bothered to drag ourselves out of the flat early enough?  Anyway, minor details.  The Lighthouse Bakery tragically shut up shop and moved to East Sussex before we could get better acquainted with the blondie.  We still, to this day, talk about blondies in wistful tones, such was their effect… Classic case of you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (Joni Mitchell never lies).

…And now, after far too many years, the Blondie is back on the menu:  brace yourselves.

The below version is based on an adaptation of Nigella’s chocolate brownies from How To Be A Domestic Goddess.  For around 25-30 pieces, you’ll need

200g Butter

200g White chocolate

3 large eggs

250g soft brown sugar

1 tbsp maple syrup

1 tsp vanilla extract

125g plain flour

1tsp salt

75g chopped pecans

75g white chocolate chips

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a baking tray (I used one that measured 24cm x 18cm)

Take a saucepan and melt your butter over a low heat until fully liquid.

Switch off the heat and tip in your white chocolate.

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Leave for a few minutes to melt and then stir to combine

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Beat in your eggs one at a time

Stir in the sugar, maple syrup, vanilla, flour and salt

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Add your chopped pecans and white chocolate

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Mix well and then pour into your prepared tin

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Smooth over the mixture

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Bake for around 45 minutes, or until the blondies look like this; a golden dappled cracked top with a fudgy interior.  I say ‘around 45 minutes’, use your good judgment, if the blondie mix is still liquid and molten in the centre leave them in for a bit longer, these guys are a bit more resilient than your regular brownie mix; my oven was accidentally set at 170 degrees so after 35 minutes they were still ridiculously wobbly even after removing them from the oven and leaving them to ‘set’ in their tin for an hour.  I put them back in the oven for another 25 minutes, but alas, still liquid.  In the end I just left them in the oven, switched off the heat, went to the pub, came back several hours later and they’d magically reached a state of chewy caramelised perfection.  There’s surely a moral in that story…

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Slice and serve

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