Posts Tagged ‘restaurants’

IMG_2889

I know this is probably an over-generalisation but in my travels in the USA (both in the past and more recently) I feel as if eateries in USA make a great deal of brunch as opposed to a normal breakfast – like a pumped-up breakfast; on steroids – You still get fresh OJ and a cup of coffee but you’ll also get fries with that!   Ask for plain toast and butter and some establishments would be offended that there was nothing in their extensive brunch menu that you wanted and they would struggle to provide this measly option for you as the toast would be considered a side to accompany your pancakes, Eggs Benedict or ommelette!

Some of the simpler breakfast options were a French patisserie and a cup of coffee to eat on the go, however, these occasions were few and far between.  Hence, on some days we were only able to have brunch and dinner as we were so full-up.

Eggs Benedict
IMG_2576

Eggs Benedict

One of my all-time favourite breakfast/brunch dishes is Eggs Benedict.  Poached eggs sitting on roast ham, resting snugly on English Muffins and covered with hollandaise sauce.  At least that’s the way they come in New York; which is magnificent.

On the West Coast, Eggs Benedict was an adulterated version of the classic and arrived on food platters to feed a family of four!  In LA, these were served with a side of oil drenched French fries and toast!

Hash House a Go Go; Las Vegas

Hash House a Go Go, advertises itself as “Twisted farm food” – saw its popularity rise after IMG_2355a Man V Food Challenge and is almost as much a tourist attraction as it is a 24hr cafe.  The menu choices and portion sizes are out of this world; if somewhat vulgar.  Drink combos such as their BLT Bloody Mary which arrives in a tall glass with a romaine lettuce leaf and a slice of bacon sticking out of the glass – I could do with one of those now – are just as obscene.

HHaGoGo’s extensive brunch menu of pancakes and waffles also has 4 different versions of Eggs Benedict.  I gave Andy’s Sage Fried Chicken Hash House Benedict a go – the very same one that Adam Richman ploughed through on Man V Food.  I was amazed that the waitress could carry the huge platter in her hand with such ease and set it down delicately in front of me (let’s not forget she was carrying two dishes to the table at the time).

I remember holding my head in both hands and whispering, “Dear Lord, what have I done?!”

Picture a platter, filled with mashed potatoes topped with wilted spinach, slices of tomato, more bacon and a mountain of scrambled eggs; sitting proudly on this, a huge sage fried chicken breast escalope skewered in place with a rosemary spear, all smothered in a chipotle cream sauce.  Oh I forgot to mention the English Muffin that was in there somewhere as well…

IMG_2356

…as you’ve probably gathered, on 19th July; food won.

Seafoodseafood risotto OLIVES

The other ubiquitous West Coast food staple is seafood, more specifically prawn and lobster.  In Vegas, most restaurants have a plethora of lobster/prawn inspired dishes on their menu – you could devour a plate of prawns whilst playing on the slots if you wanted.

Of all the meals I had in Vegas, the stand out dish was at Bellagio’s Olives by celebrity chef Todd English.  A stunning seafood risotto that arrived loaded with clams, razor clams, shrimp, fish, crab and lobster set in a saffron broth.  Delicately divine.

Los Angeles

San Francisco

I’ve never experienced a winter so cold as a San Francisco summer!  – Mark Twain.IMG_2789 (Edited)

And on cold, misty days by the sea – a bowl of heart warming soup hits the spot.  I know
that clam chowder is a New England culinary creation but serve it in a hollowed out Boudin sourdough bread and you’ve got something that is totally San Francisco.  Even though the locals don’t eat this, tourists queue up at all of Fisherman Wharf’s seafood establishments for a taste of their chowder.  Boudin’s Bakery being one of the most popular.

Another delicacy is crab – Dungeness Crab – served whole either steamed or roasted in garlic butter or in crab cakes, or served with garlic noodles.  I enjoyed my snow crab legs thoroughly as they poked out of a mountain of shrimp and whitefish in Bubba Gump’s “Boat Trash”.

Cycling from Fisherman’s Wharf, through the Marina district, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the village of Sausalito, you work up a pretty good appetite and the Seafood Peddler’s Daily Special of Clam chowder (in a bowl) and pound of lobster served with ‘slaw and corn on the cob was exactly what I needed.  Clearly not conducive to cycling back.

Therefore, a ferry trip back to Fisherman’s Wharf is essential to help the food settle as well as breathing in the sea air to open up your appetite for the next onslaught of sea-crustacean delights.

Please note that the photos above are only some of the food memories I’ve experienced throughout the past two weeks, more often than not, either excitement or greed, or a little of both would take over my usual self-control and I’d forget to take the photo before ploughing through the dish.

It has now been a week since I got back from my hols in Las Vegas, LA and San Francisco and even though I enjoyed every mouthful of food I am glad to return my belly (and gout!) to a proper food regime with enforced portion control.

Little Bay5

Whilst the refurbishment took place through the long drawn out winter months, the team at Little Bay made sure to keep tantalising people with morsels of information about their warming exotic food menu, enticing cocktails and ultra modern decor.  When they finally opened in April 2016 people were intrigued and couldn’t wait to sample Little Bay’s alluring Eastern delights as presented to us through social media.

“Cumin, cardamon and clove.”

I eventually made it down there one Thursday evening in mid-May and the place was buzzing: groups of friends, individuals, couples – of all ages.  I think we may have even been the second or even third sitting that evening!

“Comfortable decadence.”

Little Bay1

Dominating the centre of the restaurant is the heart of Little Bay – its circular bar.  The bar staff shimmering between the glinting glassware and beaten copper water jugs, mixing enticing cocktails.  Guests are encouraged to sit at the bar on plush stone coloured velvet bar stools studded with metal rings hanging off the backs whilst waiting for their tables to be set.  Masala Mules being everyone’s cocktail of choice.

The menu is varied but not extensive; 14 starters and 16 main dishes – a good balance of chicken, lamb, seafood and vegetarian options, as well as the ubiquitous rice dishes, naans and sides.

My menu choices were as follows:

Little Bay2Starter – Chicken 65 (Chilli Chicken)
Marinated pieces of chicken breast, stir fried and tossed in spring onions, chillies and coriander.  This was a very generous starter.  Succulent chicken pieces, fresh zingy ginger coming through the heat of the chillies.  Like popcorn chicken – but grown up; delicious.  With some rice or a naan this could have been a very decent lunch.  I would have liked to have been encouraged by the waiter to have perhaps ordered some raita to go with, not because it needed to be tempered but just as another texture/sensation on the tongue; hot chicken pieces, fridge cold raita.

Main – Keema MattarLittle Bay4
On the menu there is a “Little Bay recommends” next to this dish and I was not disappointed.  Spiced, minced lamb cooked in a tomato and spice infused sauce, freshened up with vibrant green peas. Rich and full of body, this dish was perfectly accompanied by a plain naan and steamed basmati rice.  Any other flavours would have conflicted with the musty-heavy scent of cumin, cardamom and clove.

We decided to forgo dessert as I didn’t really want chocolate cake, carrot cake or pecan pie after a delicious Indian meal.  What happened to the Indian desserts normally served in Indian restaurants?  Mango kulfi? Mango Lassi? Kheer (milky rice pudding)?

Gibraltar desperately needed a proper Indian Restaurant in the leisure areas.  Since Masai Grill, Viceroy and then Laziz shut down, we’ve had to succumb to the Indian takeaway.  Little Bay, which I can’t help but feel, should be called, The Bay Leaf, is a high end Indian Restaurant with high quality food.  A restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place next to London’s The Cinnamon Club or The Red Fort.  Its Directors have worked hard to create an image of comfortable decadence.   Their dynamic team of managers, exciting bar staff and committed waiters making the place buzz with youthful exuberance.

There is an Indian tapas menu which has many dishes from the a la carte menu so that guests may discover the menu, however, I would like to see more “Little Bay recommends” next to different dishes to encourage diners to choose something delicious but unfamiliar.  All tables should be offered a copper pot of poppadums and accompanying chutney whilst diners peruse the menu – we weren’t.

Little Bay6

Masala Mule

I, for one, can’t wait to return.  Promises of exotic spice and Eastern delights did not disappoint.  Next time though, I’d make sure it was in a large group so that I could try lots of different dishes!  And I’d make sure that I tried one of those Masala bad boys!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As some of you know I’ve recently been on holiday in Italy.  Of course Italy is drenched in history and there are some quintessential Italian tourist spots that you can’t miss but when you start planning your trip you don’t realise that Italy is quite a large country!  And with all things Italian – eating is a large part of the experience!  Italy is made up of regions with each region bringing their own traditions to Italy’s culinary table.

Eating is a large part of the experience

So where best to go at this time of year? Naples and the Amalfi Coast appealed to my summery needs and may I say, did not disappoint.  Driving along the Amalfi coast with its lemon groves sidewinding from cliff-tops to beaches in the 36°C sunshine was like something out of an old Italian movie.

each region bringing their own traditions to Italy’s culinary table

Having done some research before I travelled to Naples I came across information about Vesuvius and its proximity to Naples – Pompeii (if you pardon the pun) being just a stones throw away.  And it is evident that the volcanic ash that settled on and around the area has created some of the most fertile soil around.

The prime example of this is that nowhere on the Mediterranean do tomatoes (Pomodoro) taste as they do in Italy:

From the simple tomato and ricotta for breakfast (divine), to the tomato sauce used on pasta and pizza!  Ripe plum and cherry tomatoes can be seen growing everywhere around Naples and its surrounding areas – easily grown in pots and off private terraces. Any that don’t make a fresh appearance in the kitchen are dried to increase their longevity.

Naples was also the birthplace of the pizza

An often recounted story holds that in June 1889, to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita,” a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag.

IMG_3409And yes, once you’ve eaten a Neapolitan stone-baked  pizza, any other just won’t measure up!

But what strikes you the most about Neapolitan cuisine is how much it is reliant on fresh fish and seafood.

The Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Naples providing an abundance for everyone’s needs.

IMG_3452

You won’t find Spaghetti Bolognese nor a Ragu on a Neapolitan menu, these a more northern Italian, instead you will find the ubiquitous Spaghetti a la Vongole (spaghetti with clams) a traditional Neapolitan dish, and seeing as I was in Naples it would just be rude not to!

Throughout my week I tried themes and variations on this and found that each restaurant served a beautiful version.  All versions were bianco (without tomato sauce) but some added a few cherry tomatoes to add sweetness to the dish:

My favourite though was the Spaghetti Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia being the area the restaurant was in) with its clams and mussels and a couple of prawns and langoustines hidden under the tangle of pasta.  I know that bread and pasta are a major no-no but who could resist plunging a salty, crusty slice of artesan bread into the garlicky, briny juices – chin drippingly delicious!!

Another delicious concoction was the traditional sweet sfogliatelle ricci – shell-shaped, sweetened ricotta filled pastries.

sfogliatelle ricci

Crunchy on the outside and then sweet and creamy on the inside.  These sfogliatelle make up part of the Pastiera Italiana of which the rum baba is also a big player.  In the hot early evenings everyone dresses up and goes around coffee shops for an espresso and sfogliatelle; filling a hole until it is cool enough to sit down to dinner which with its procession of courses and liqueurs (limoncello and meloncello) may take some time to get through.

But as with everything Italian – food is the centre of the social occasion uniting young and old.

Food is important; not something to be rushed.  Not just fuel for the body.

Looking through my holiday snaps other than those of ruins and columns the rest seem to be about food.  So at least if you cannot make it to Naples and the Amalfi coast you can travel culinarily with me:

Salute! Buon Appetito!!

Licking my lips, I alighted from the Heathrow Express at Paddington and made my way to the Southbank Centre to check out the Cheese and Wine Festival.

Having arrived late-afternoon (I had just flown in from Gib!) I had missed the ‘food theatre’ and even though there were not many people jostling around the food stalls it was still good to see the amount of different artisan cheeses on display; I tried a few mature cheeses that bit back!  There was other produce too: ice-cream, cider and ales.

IMG_2594Clutching a pint of cider I made my way around the food stalls (approx 20 in total) and stopped at a small Italian stall that didn’t look as if were attracting that many people.  Here I selected a ‘Cheeseburger’ wrapped in pancetta to eat on the spot.

This was wonderful – a hard goat’s cheese wrapped in pancetta and placed on a hot grill; cooked until the bacon was crispy and the cheese warmed through!

With a belly full of cheese and cider I then made my way to meet up with some friends who were looking forward to playing along with the theme of ‘Foodie Weekend.’

After several ales at different pubs including a really hoppy Ruby Red at the Jerusalem Tavern,

StJohn

Clerkenwell and some fruit of the vine at Vinoteca before dinner, we made our way to St John Restaurant and Grill.

Now this place is very unsuspecting from the façade as it looks like a butcher’s shop or even an industrial building.  However, you should not be fooled by this as a lonely Michelin star graces each dish that you eat.  A fantastic nose-to-tail eating experience with seasonal dishes such as Roasted Bone Marrow on toast, the understated Terrine (made with offal -superb!) and Braised veal with chickpeas.

If you ever get the chance to dine here do so.  I was left wanting more!

On Saturday after a quick walk through West Hampstead’s Farmer’s Market – again full of beautiful home grown, artisan produce, I made my way to Food at 52 where I attended a food course.

Food at 52

Food at 52 is like walking into a friend’s house and sitting in their lounge whilst you can smell the comforting scents of food wafting up from the kitchen.  As you meet your other ‘friends’ you start to get to know eachother’s reasons for being there.  Most of us had the experience bought as a birthday present or as a wedding gift but talking to John, they get lots of corporate clients.

Once in the kitchen, John and Jess provide coffee/tea and freshly made biscotti so that you can all introduce yourselves to eachother as this is a relaxed homely environment.

Working together we combined forces and produced a beautiful meal that we all sat down to at the end of the afternoon.

One of my favourite recipes that day was the Cauliflower Cake:

IMG_2634

At first I was slightly taken aback by this, as the idea of cauliflower, as anything other than in its veg form as part of the meat and 2 veg Sunday roast, left me thinking of water-logged cauliflower cheese that people always tell you tastes great but really is a bit blah!

But I was the only greedy person at the table to eat two slices!

The ritual of putting it together, even though seemed complicated, was actually quite simple as I managed to rustle this one up from memory at home the other night.

I’m not saying it looked identical to the one we made at foodat52 but otherwise it tasted just as good!!

After a great day’s cooking at Foodat52, my friends took me to Arbutus, Soho, London to have dinner.  May I just say that everything on this menu appealed to me!  From their melon and vodka martini, to their squid and mackerel burger with razor clams right to its Pied et Paquets (lambs tripe, shoulder and trotters!) everything was amazing!

I’m hoping my friends never leave London so that I can keep on notching up  Michelin Stars!

So with a bellyful of 2-Michelin-Stars-worth-of-food, a host of new recipes to try at home and an increased passion for food, I came back from my Foodie Weekend, a very full but happy man!

Already looking at another cookery course – who’s in?

IMG_2511

I can’t wait for Ian to either email me or send me a text message letting me know about the next food and wine matching event at El Capote.

Talking to Ian about the direction the events are now going in, he admitted that they are no longer food and wine matching evenings where the wine flows from beginning to end and the amount of food leaves you feeling stuffed.

El Capote is performing food theatre; Chef Lede assisted by Ian prep all the dishes infront of their diners.  Subsequently, quality and the way the food is being presented calls for greater finesse in the diner; dishes where quality not quantity is key.  Simply, the food is the focus of the evening.  The wine is there just to accompany the food.  And once again, Chef Lede created some amazing dishes to tantalise our taste-buds and minds.

No Szechuan button to cleanse palates this time nor copious amounts of Prosecco to make everyone incredibly happy to be there!

3 Maki Sushi El Capote

IMG_2525Armed with breadsticks and chopsticks we were presented to the first dish of the evening. 3 maki sushi rolls in the style of El Capote.

Ian explained to us that they needed to be eaten in a specific order:

1) Hurta a la roteña wrapped in nori, 2) Apple confit with foie wrapped in jamón de bellotas to be eaten with salty breadsticks, 3) Sobrasada de caballa served with honey.  Everyone had their favourite but the one that I enjoyed the most was the third one.  The spicy nature of the sobrasada drizzled with sweet honey, that was almost augmented by the saltiness of the breadsticks of the previous maki roll, was very well put together.  Wrapped in pastry for crunch and topped with pine nuts.  Leaving a slightly warm and spicy sensation in the mouth.

IMG_2524

Minestrone de verduras, chicharrones y una bombón de queso payoyo

A very light, clear broth with cubed vegetables.  The addition of the chicharrones ‘pork scratchings’ added a necessary saltiness to the dish as well as providing another dimension of texture and flavour.  However, it was the Payoyo cheese flavour bomb that made this dish so beautiful.  Looking like a mini buffalo mozzarella floating in the middle of the minestrone, the artisan queso payoyo was rich and flavoursome as it exploded in my mouth.  Some diners broke the cheese into their broth whereas I ate it whole!  The dish was beautifully presented with micro-flowers decorating the cheese and the dish.

IMG_2539

Salmonetes hasta las espinas!

Now this dish had me intrigued from the minute that Ian sent me the menu.  This was literally a deconstructed red mullet served on a beautiful herb and lime risotto.  The magic of this dish for me was in the execution.  Whilst we were dining on the Minestrone soup, Chef Lede proceeded to cook the herb and lime risotto.

Like something that Top Cat might consider fine dining, the mullet was served in three ways.  Salmonete tempura which was crispy on the outside and soft and flaky in the middle served with a pear mayo.  A cured fillet of red mullet which had been marinated in soy, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar was served with its roe.  The salty, fishy roe cutting through the marinade.  Finally, the deep fried fish bones which whilst initially frightening disintegrated in the mouth with every bite.  I found it funny that whilst we were all willing to eat the entire spine no-one wanted to eat the tail!  This hurdle was quickly overcome.  The herb and lime risotto was creamy yet nutty.  Its lime tang helping to cut through the richness of the dish.  Flavours and textures balanced and complimentary.

Top Cat would have been impressed – I know I was!

IMG_2550

Rib-eye steak, marinated in miso and honey, served on a white chickpea puree with olives of goat’s cheese and Perdro Ximenez sherry

Chef Lede plated up each houmous swirl looking identical to the next.  He then delicately lay 3 slices of marinated, rare rib eye steak on top of the puree.  There was an earthy sweetness to the dish so far..  This was off set by the olives of goat’s cheese.  The ‘olives’ marinated in perdro ximenez sherry added a tang to the dish.  The miso in the marinade seasoned the steak.  The steak cut with a single slice and disintegrated with every bite – beautiful.

IMG_2557Avocado and Lime Mousse

What a simple but amazing combination.  The avocado providing a great base to carry this dessert.  The lime, as well as keeping the avocado vivid green, providing a citrus tang that could not have been achieved with any other citrus fruit.  Served over pineapple, but actually this could have been served over other fruits too.  One diner at the table mentioned that they felt the addition of fennel added a subtle aniseed flavour that they could taste coming through, whilst another made the comment that they did not normally like avocado but the combination of the avocado and lime over pineapple was delicious.

There are times when you want to eat loads, down an OK bottle of wine and waddle to your car and feel that you’d had a great meal.  The reality is that when dining out we should be thinking about quality not necessarily quantity.  As far as Gibraltar is concerned, only El Capote is raising the bar and thinking about food in this way .

I urge you to book yourself in for the next one.

Please leave a reply.

When it comes to food, Gibraltar should be very proud of herself.  Not only do we have a celebratory food festival “Calentita” in June where we celebrate food from the different backgrounds that make up our unique heritage but now we can add Rock Chef to our food culture.

“Passion for food, fierce competition, a unique challenge, fun and a race against time: Just some of the ingredients for ROCK CHEF”

Is the Facebook information given about the competition.  The most important fact though is not included and that is that this is a competition for amateur cooks.  So after weaning out those that have had professional experience and then setting a level for the competition the GFSB picked 12 contestants to appear on the TV show produced by GibMedia.

rockchef

taken from the Facebook page “RockChef” GibMedia (c) 2013

Having then to complete several challenges such as working service at local restaurants, three contestants made it through to the semi-final.

Semi-Final

I was present at the Caleta Hotel for the semi-final and all I can say about the three courses without giving anything away is that we were treated to superior home cooking with one dish in particular delivering aspects of fine dining.  When you watch the dishes on TV you will see what I mean by this.  We then had to decide which course we thought was the best created dish based on creativity, technical ability, how it complimented the overall menu as well as flavour.

“superior home cooking”

The person with the least votes would be eliminated.  We were not informed of the outcome of this; even though we all had our suspicions based on the question and answer session that followed.

IMG_2355Final

The final was held at the Mons-Calpe Suite at the Cable Car Top Station.  May I just say that this venue was incredible.  We arrived around 7pm and the sun was still shining with the surroundings being lit up in gold.  The Mediterranean Sea to one side and the Atlantic Ocean to the other.  A truly magical venue for a finals dinner.

I was invited to attend by Gemma Arias, President of the GFSB, to whom I am eternally grateful.  My luck however, didn’t end there, as I was sat at the centre table surrounded by some of the contestants who had been knocked out in the previous rounds.

“sheer passion for food”

Their company was fantastic!  I marvelled at the anecdotes about the competition itself but ultimately it was their sheer passion for food that impressed me the most.  Listening to them tell the rest of us stories about their home cooking (suckling pig, dishes with height and architecture, chocolate fondants) had me salivating before the cameras started rolling!

2 Menus

So with two finalists cooking their winning 3 course meal for us, how were we going to award the title of Rock Chef?  On this occasion we were not responsible for picking a winner.  A famous celebrity chef was given that daunting task.  And no we were not going to eat 2 x 3 course meals either!  Out of the two menus, we were meant to pick which we wanted to try.  At our table we collaborated and thought we’d share all the courses to get the best impression of who we thought should win.

12 contestants, 3 semi-finalists, 2 finalists, 1 winner!

And the winner is….

So as not to give you any clues as to the finalists and dishes that were created I’ve not included food photos but will upload a photo gallery after the TV series has aired.

Think you’ve got what it takes?  

Why not compete next year for the title of Rock Chef!

Thursday saw the return of the eagerly anticipated El Capote evening of food and wine matching.  Before anyone gets upset that I didn’t tell them about it – I had been invited along by Ian at the last minute, it was a small gathering of us and once again it did not disappoint.

This time around the menu was Japanese/Mediterranean fusion menu.

Normally, fusion cuisine is cuisine that combines elements of different culinary traditions.  This was perhaps not so much fusion cuisine as a fusion concept.

The food which was delicious, was the type of cuisine served by El Capote but presented in alternative ways, aiming to represent Japanese cuisine.

Fresh Calamari California Roll served with caramelised onions

20121117-234042.jpg

This is now the second time that I have eaten fresh calamari at El Capote on these foodie evenings and I have to say (I may have said it the last time too)

that with a product this good, the less you do to it the better.

And Ian knows how to get the best out of his product.  A quick flash fry on the hot plate and served with caramelised onions.

Showing a level of innovation in the kitchen, the Calamares were rolled into the shape of California Rolls and filled with sticky, plummy, jammy, caramelised onions. The idea being that the Calamares’ white flesh represented the rice and the caramelised onions the salmon/tuna in the roll itself. Sadly, and you could see Ian’s enthusiasm for this dish deflate, as the Calamares did not retain their round shape.  As on the flesh touching the heat of the hotplate, it just opened out spilling its onion insides. But this dish was sublime. Served with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc to echo the sweetness of the dish.

Noodles a la Gallega

This was a winning dish!  Galicia’s signature dish served as if taken out of a Japanese cookbook.  The octopus served in thin strips with thin chips (fried in oil!) and mixed with the characteristic pimienton of Pulpo a la Gallega.

Each diner was presented with their own individual nest of chips and octopus to savour.  As the idea was that the strips of potato and octopus were meant to represent noodles, I would have attempted to serve the dish in little bowls to try and recreate the noodle experience.  But having said this, ‘noodles’ a la Gallega was a flavoursome dish that was brilliantly accompanied by a Penfold Shiraz.  The complexity of spices in the Shiraz enhancing the pimienton in the dish.  I could have easily eaten another of these nests washed down with more of the Penfold.

Tuna pan amb oli (pa amb oli)

Roughly translated as bread with olive oil it can also have tomato sauce.  This is traditionally a peasant dish of bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil and topped with tomatoes and seasoning.  Usually served as an appetiser or tapa, this can also be a great breakfast (my Friday breakfast of choice).  However, Ian served this over tuna steaks – gorgeous!

The bread, garlic and olive oil fried/oven toasted added texture and crunch to the otherwise delicate tuna and tomato.  Served rare (some pieces needed to be even more rare) but with thin tuna steaks this is a hard one to time when cooking on a large scale.  My solution was thicker steaks.

The only part of the combination which tasted/sounded Japanese, was the wine “Hito.”  Served slightly chilled, this red was subtle and carried the flavours in the tuna pan amb oli without necessarily taking over the dish.  Hito, is a new young wine of the Emilio Moro, Cepa21 range.  I have tried this wine before and thoroughly enjoyed it, however, several people at the table were put off by the idea of a chilled red.  What are your thoughts on this?

Fillet Steak Sashimi

This beautiful thinly sliced blue beef was exquisite.  Seared on the outside, each slice of beef boasted a quiveringly rare centre encased in a charred crust.  Reminiscent of a beef carpaccio but slightly thicker and with more texture and depth of flavour.  Served with roasted red peppers and fried Jamon de Bellota crumbled on top.  The roasted red peppers adding a sweet jous and the fried jamon providing a necessary seasoning to the meat; under-seasoned meat is vile.

The Septima Malbec was a good choice of wine to accompany this dish – it stood up to it but let the fillet and its jamon-seasoning do the talking.

We ended the evening with a Reserve Chedder Cheese and blue cheese with crackers and a Special Ruby Port.  Neither Mediterranean nor Japanese but a worthy ending to the evening.  Especially as the port kept coming!!

Sitting in the heart of the Medina sipping a mint tea and smelling the scents of the souk, I reminisce over the food memories created during my mini break in Marrakech.

On my first night in Marrakech, I was tantalised by a beef and prune tagine.  Tagine is the quintessential Moroccan dish.  Tagine refers to the succulent dish which is slow-cooked inside the cooking apparatus.  It can be cooked with a variety of ingredients, typically, a tagine is a rich stew of meat, chicken, or fish and most often includes vegetables or fruit.  Vegetables can also be cooked alone.

Tagine refers more to the wide, circular, shallow earthenware container with a distinctively shaped rounded dome or cone that the dish is cooked in rather than the name of the dish.

The Tagine is a humble dish.  As the dish is slow cooked cheaper cuts of meat can be used, maximising on flavour without needing prime cuts of fillet steak to enhance the dish.

The beef and prune tagine; juicy and flavoursome, rich and sweet.  The beef was flaking off the fork and at the same time gelatinous in consistency.  Beautiful.

 Another gorgeous Tagine was the Tagine du Poullet (Chicken Tagine) I had whilst overlooking the Djemaa El-Fna Square with its myriad of alleyways.

No the photo has not been oversaturated, the saffron content of the dish must have been set to psycadellic levels!

Another Moroccan delicacy is couscous.  These baby grains of semolina are sweet but very bland making them a great vehicle to carry bold flavours.  At a restaurant overlooking the Djemaa for 10MAD we ate a Starter: Moroccan Salad, Main: tagine/couscous & Dessert: Oranges.

                   

Unfortunately we were in a rush and the pace of the service at this restaurant was also quintessentially Moroccan!  We had to forgo the oranges.  Priscilla and Henry would be appalled at our total lack of respect but as you can see from the couscous both the need for speed and greed meant that I started attacking the plate before I remembered to take a photo of it!

WARNING: Moroccan food is delicious, yes, but very rich and sweet.  At some point you are going to need a break from all this tagine malarky.  There are two great restaurants outside the Medina in the Ville Nouvelle, La Rue Yougoslavie; Azar and Le Chat Qui Rit (both recommended by Lonely Planet Guides) are a break from all this.

Azar, is a Lebanese restaurant that serves amazing food – I recommend going for one of their Mezzes to share and a bottle of wine.  We tried the Local Vin Gris (Grey wine) which was a great accompaniment to the mezze.

Le Chat Qui Rit is an Italian restaurant – I recommend you share a starter and pick any main off the menu as they were delicious but whatever you do you MUST leave room for dessert.  Pick the Profiteroles!  Choux Pastry wrapped around a huge ball of vanilla ice cream covered in the most decadent chocolate sauce and topped with toasted almonds!  Sorry, no photo, greed, once again is my excuse!

Pack your bags, get yourself over there, have a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice on the Djemaa, walk around and eat at the different stalls, establishments and restaurants.  Smell it all in, savour each bite from the slow-cooked tagine to the street food brochettes (pinchitos) then wash it all down with a glass of hot, sweet mint tea.  Marrakech, a crazy city full of mystique, culture but above all, food.

C’est bon – Bon Appetite!

“Good company, good food and good wine!”

That was the welcome and introduction that we received at El Capote’s 5th wine and food matching held Thursday 7th June.

The theme for this evening’s dining experience was Italian.  As pretty much everyone had already been to at least one of the previous four evenings, they knew the ritual that we were about to partake in.  And a most enjoyable ritual it was!  From the familiar board advertising the wines and food we were to enjoy to the charismatic interaction from Ian Gareze (and ourselves) about the sumptuous offerings we were about to be treated to.

To get our Mediterranean pallets going we were welcomed to an aperitif of sweet mosto (Manilva).  We all know this was not Italian but it most certainly got everyone in the mood for a great night of delicious food and wine, and we were proved right, once again.

1) Prosecco Teresa Rizzi with Gambones Frito and a Pesto Dip

The Prosecco, light, floral and fruity was very well suited to the gambones.  Admittedly I could drink sparkling wine as if it were water!  However, they were very well matched.  The Prosecco’s citrus notes cutting through the fried gambones almost cleansing the pallet with each sip (glug!).

The homemade pesto was delicate but heady with basil; bringing out the Prosecco’s floral notes.  I would have perhaps added more olive oil to slacken this and it would have gone a lot further, leaving it on the table to accompany several of the other dishes.

The gambones (King Prawns) were beautifully cooked.  Crispy on the outside but ever so delicate in the centre.  Every mouthful a feast!  The only downside of this was that there were only two gambones per person.  My voracious appetite desperately wanted more but the next course was nothing to be sneered at.

“Every mouthful a feast!”

2) Santi Pinot Grigio de Venezie with Calamares a la Plancha served with a tomato and olive salad

Simple; the natural culinary beauty and taste of this dish’s only ingredient was sublime.  Fresh, succulent and beautiful; to top it off caught be a local fisherman!

What an exultation of a dish – calamares a la plancha (grilled squid).  From cooking to tasting this dish was delicious.  The smell of grilled squid permeating every corner of El Capote; arousing the senses as we chatted and even attracting passers-by to venture inside to marvel at the delicious spectacle.

When it finally arrived to the table, with everyone in the room salivating like Pavlovian dogs, it was heralded by a metaphorical sounding of trumpets.

The calamares were so good the wine had no choice but to know that it was not the star of the show – hence keeping a very low profile throughout this pairing.  After discussing this dish with the other diners at my table – the tomato and olive salad, although fresh and light, also went severely unnoticed.  When considering the time spent on food preparation as part of the whole evening’s menu, the calamares a la plancha needed nothing else to make this a triumphant dish, therefore tumbling some lemon wedges around the dish would have been the way to say,

“Calamares a la plancha – enjoy!”

3) Melini Sangiovese, Toscana 2006 served with Sarde a Beccafacio & Caponata

A good unobtrusive red wine to be complimented with fish.  There is much wine snobbery that fish should only be matched with white wine.  Whilst the command is ridiculous, the sentiment is not.  Reds tend to be slightly more full bodied and overpowering than white hence its partnership with fish needs to be carefully monitored.

The food served to complement this red was rolled sardine fillets with a pine nut stuffing.  Never having heard of this before I discussed its origin with Ian (who having done his homework) explained that it was a Sicilian dish and were meant to represent birds.  Were they served with mouths pointing upwards and gaping at the diner?  No.  My research explained that warblers (beccafacio) were hunted in ancient time from Sicilian nobles and cooked with their own entrails. Common people began to copy this luxury dish adapting it with sardines and swapped the entrails with the filling that is currently used.

I thoroughly enjoyed this but would have preferred this served with the pesto as it would have matched the sardines’ pine nut filling, with its lemon backnotes cutting through the richness of the sardines.

Many of the other diners were raving about the Caponata.  I have to say, whenever I make Caponata, I take the easy way out and plonk all the veg into a saucepan and let it reduce gently until I’m happy that it’s the consistency that I like.  Ian, I could tell, followed the stages properly.  The aubergine was fried before being added to the onion and tomato mixture.  There were also acidic tones to this so I imagine that vinegar must have been used to help this dish develop the depth of flavour that is required of its simplicity.  However, what we were all in agreement with was that the Caponata was a dish in itself.  It just needed some bread sticks or Italian crostinis.

“This was a double-dish.”

4) Prunotto Dolcetto D’Alba, Piemonte (2005) served with Polpete al Forno

What wasn’t to like in this pairing?!  Meatballs in tomato sauce with penne pasta and finished in the oven with a soft, fruity red to go with.

Sadly we were all so full by this stage many of us could not eat another bite.  Everyone would have been happy to have finished on the previous course and go straight to the last pairing.  The noise levels in the room dropped a bit whilst everyone considered how full they were and realistically how much more they were going to be able to eat.

Nonetheless people did manage to eat and drink their way through this course.  Myself included!

I dare say that as a result of us taking a bit too long on the previous courses this overcooked in the oven.  I say this as I found the meatballs on the dry side of cooked.  Oh and some grated parmesan at the table would have earned some brownie points, but considering the veritable banquet we had just gorged ourselves with this was an error we were all more that willing to forgive.

5) Antinori Peppoli, Chianti Classico (2007) served with Roasted Rack of Cerdo Iberico and Patatas a lo Pobre

As I watched Ian bring this joint of meat out and carve it infront of us I was once again taken over by greed.  I immediately forgot how full-up I was.  I also pushed to the back of my mind how Spanish this part of the menu sounded!

The pork was succulent and flavoursome.  Rubbed and sealed with herbs and seasoned well.

I could imagine this dish served as a main course at a wedding.

The Chianti; rich, fruity with vanilla on the nose was a beautiful wine to drink in support of this dish.

6) Limoncello and Biscotti

My first comment to Ian as this came to the table was that these were not biscotti!  In fact they were clearly amaretti biscuits as the smell of amaretto filled the air and was present in every bite of these delicious biscuits.

Traditionally, biscotti are oblong shaped almond studded biscuits and dry from being baked twice in the oven.  Limoncello is served with the biscotti as they absorb the alcohol without it changing the flavour of the biscotti.

Indeed it was a shame that they were amaretti biscuits as I do have a fondness for biscotti, and ending the evening dunking my biscotti into a glass of chilled limoncello would truly have been Italian bliss.

Not that I didn’t drop several of these into my glass and sip the limoncello whilst having them bobbing around my upper lip!  Delicious!!

“Less really is more.”

As always, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at El Capote.  Ian once again outdid himself with the food he cooked for us and the whole evening was great fun but I have to be honest; there was too much food.  I can’t believe I’ve just said that.  The polpete al forno was one dish too many.  In reality the Sarde a Beccafacio should have been served independently from the Caponata as these were two dishes which were tasty, delicious and could have stood proudly by themselves.

Not very often but sometimes, less really is more.

Well done to Ian Gareze and everyone at the Capote who made the evening possible.  I honestly can’t wait for the next one.

When I was in Hong Kong back in 2005, one of my first meals was a Dim Sum lunch washed down with warm jasmine tea (check my “Oriental” post).

Eating dim sum is known in Cantonese as “yum cha” (drinking tea 美味) as jasmine tea is traditionally drunk with this snack.

Able (Rick’s fiancée) ordered dim sum for us. She chose those which were sure to cater to our Western palates.

7 years later and my chance to experience dim sum returned whilst on holiday in Malaysia. We went to Pappa Rich for “Malaysian Treats” and lo and behold there was dim sum on the menu!!

Back at home – holidays over – I rediscovered my Asian Kitchen.

How difficult could it really be to create dim sum? A pastry case filled with a small amount of filling; steamed.

Admittedly the only reason why I was able to create these at home was thanks to the Mecca for Asian ingredients that is Ramsons!! I hit the jackpot when I found packets of frozen wonton wrappers in their freezer section.

Pork and Prawn Dim Sum

1st: Add the minced pork, shelled and uncooked prawns, spring onions, garlic, ginger, flour and soy sauce into a food processor and blitz until you form a smooth paste.

2nd: Line up the wonton squares on your work surface and using a pastry brush (my fingers did the job fine!) moisten the edges.

3rd: Place a teaspoonful of the pork and prawn mixture onto the centre of the square. Do not try and overfill as this will cause your dim sum to spill over in cooking.

4th: Pick all four corners of the wonton square and gently squeeze out any air still in the dim sum. The shape you choose to create is totally up to you.  I read somewhere that in Asian culture each shape has a different meaning or is created for a particular filling or occasion. I however am neither Asian nor deft at creating pastry shapes, hence my army of pork-prawn hobo sacks!

5th: Place the dim sum into a bamboo steamer for a few minutes.  I however, did not have a bamboo steamer so therefore chose to cook my dim sum gyoza-style.  I placed the dim sum into a frying pan with a little oil and fried the gyoza until the base was browned.  Then poured a glass of water into the pan to create steam and covered the pan for 3 mins.

I served my dim sum with sesame prawn toast and washed it down with warm, fragrant jasmine tea.

Delicious 美味