Roast chicken: imagining balmy summer nights in Provence

As the gentle but persistent grey drizzle goes on outside my window, I am trying my hardest not to think about summer, or rather the summer we are not having in England at the moment. To cheer myself up, I decide, what the heck, I’m just going to pretend it’s summer, but staying warm and dry indoors rather than soggy and cold outdoors.

Summer feast

I imagine how a balmy night in say, Provence, would be like. I see a big wooden table laden with yummy food, set outside under a big tree. I see a group of friends gathering at sunset, glasses of rose in hand, laughing. The sun has been shining hard during the day, and it only gets cool enough to start feeling the hunger pangs as it gets dark. And just at the right moment, the hostess brings out a beautifully aromatic roast chicken, redolent of the aromas of tarragon and garlic.

And thus I channel summer…

Roast chicken
Roast chicken

Medium – large chicken (depending on how many you are serving)
A handful of tarragon
4 garlic cloves (more or less depending on how garlicky you like it)
1 lemon, cut into quarters
A glug of olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 180 degree Celsius.

Blitz the tarragon, garlic, olive oil, seasoning and a good squeeze of lemon juice in a food processor. Rub the mixture into the cavity of the chicken and try to get as much of it under the skin as possible. One trick I have is to cut a slit in the skin between the legs and the body, to also get some of the mixture into the legs.

The rule of thumb for timing, according to Delia,  is 20mins per lb (450g).  To check that the chicken is done, stick a skewer through the deepest section to check that the juices run dry.  With a larger bird, you may need to take the chicken out, carve the top bits and then stick it back into the oven.  This ensures that you don’t end up with a bird that is half dry on the outside and half moist.

The juices from the chicken make a perfect sauce and are even better when moped up by a crusty piece of bread.

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Bincho Yakitori: BBQ + booze can be such a winning combination

There are certain concepts that transcend cultures, like the idea of drinking while nibbling on small plates of savoury snacks. The idea being that you get hungry from the drinking, whilst the salt from the snacks makes you thirsty and drink more, making for a very enjoyable hedonistic cycle.

Very much like the Spanish and their tapas bars, the Japanese have their izakayas. Izakaya were traditionally down-to-earth places where men drank sake and beer after work, and served small bites to keep the hunger at bay and fuel continued drinking.

Skewers of deliciousness

From left (clockwise): beef tongue, pork belly, chicken livers, oyster mushrooms and beef short ribs

In London, there is Bincho Yakitori which specialises in yakitori, which is essentially grilled skewers. BBQ and sake – it’s difficult to go wrong!

On our visit, the Tummies ordered a bunch of skewers (NB: you have to order a min of 2). The chicken livers and beef tongue were particular winners! Not to say the others – beef short ribs, oyster mushroom and chicken oysters – were lacklustre. In fact, the BBQ technique was perfect in getting the right amount of charcoal-flavoured char on the meat.

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Bincho also offers an assortment of other small plates. We had the grilled aubergine with miso as well as daikon salad. The latter was creamy yet crunchy and refreshing, providing the perfect foil for grilled meat.  (On subsequent visits, we also tried the kimchi ribs, sashimi salad and vegie fried rice which all got our seal of appeoval)

Kimchee ribsSashimi saladVegetable rice

For dessert, we ordered the soya doughnuts with green tea ice cream. Crispy on the outside and fluffy instead, the subtle soya flavour went well with the green tea ice cream.

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If we had any grouses about the place, it would be that it is not set up well enough to facilitate drinking. The sake selection was relatively limited and pricey and the layout was better suited to a dining outlet rather than a drinking outlet. A shame coz Bincho would have been a spot for spending many happy after-work drinking/eating hours. Just ask the Japanese salarymen who frequent the izakayas in Japan.

Owners of Bincho – if you read this, we hope you will take heed coz we are looking forward to many happy hours of after-work drinking after a hard day’s work!

Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Good for: dinner with friends ( the more the merrier so you can get more variety of skewers), after work drinks and nibbles
Details: 2 locations – 16 Old Compton Street (Soho) or 55 Exmouth Market (Clerkenwell)

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Donostia: same same but different

I have mentioned my deep love of José before, probably on more than one occasion, probably anytime anyone mentions the word ‘tapas’ and probably too many times. But that’s how much I heart the place. So any other tapas restaurant already starts from a disadvantage (unfairly or fairly) when having to prove their worth.

I am pleased then to report that Donostia has survived the José comparison!

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So what’s different? For a start, Donostia is located in a relatively more genteel part of town, on Seymour Place, which is currently my London find for restaurants. Vinoteca, Grazing Goat, Red Sun and Sandy’s come to mind for other good spots around the area.

The setting is also quite different. Donostia is all light, white and Scandinavian furniture, whereas José feels much more like a traditional Spanish tapas bar.  With the location and setting as well, also comes fancy toiletries from Penghalion’s.

So how about the food?  Donostia is named after the Basque capital of gastronomy and pays homage to its classic cuisine of pintxos, pil pil cod and fizzy aperitifs. And we made sure to cover the menu comprehensively for you dear reader, at the expense of our waistlines.

Foie gras, ox tongue fritters, braised cod cheeks + croquettas

(clockwise, from top left): Seared foie gras, ox tongue fritters, pil-pil (braised cod cheeks), jamon croquetas

The real winners though were in descending order, the house red, the tortilla and the pluma and I will take each of these in turn.

The house red, a biodynamic rioja – Gran Cerdo 2010 –  was simply outstanding especially at £18 for a bottle.  As a wine dedicated to the bank executives that denied loans to the winemaker, Gonzalo Gonzalo (awesome name!), on the basis that wine is not a seizable asset, this clearly shows how dumb bankers are!   The nose and flavours are an intoxicating combination of red and dark berries, faint lavender (or violets) and a slightly earthy edge.  The best part was this wine went well with everything, including the pil-pil.

Pluma with romenesco sauce, tortilla with salt cod and spinach

(from top): Pluma with romenesco sauce, tortilla with salt cod and spinach

The tortilla was a beautifully oozy masterpiece (as you can see from the picture), probably the best tortilla I’ve had in London.  We had the version with salt cod and spinach, but I suspect the regular version will be just as amazing.

Now the pluma, this piece of pork holds a special place in my heart.  Pork loin from some of the best acorn fed pig.  At José, this is served simply seared and beautifully pink on the inside with a drizzle of the best-quality olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, making for some very tender and flavourful morsels.  One previous visit to José saw five of us fight over four plates of it.  But I digress, this post is meant to be about Donostia.  The version served here is more medium/medium-rare and I am biased towards meat served rare.  The romanesco sauce is pretty good.  Okie, it’s clear which version I prefer…

Overall, I can see myself going back to Donostia a lot, for the wine, food and just because the location is so convenient for me. But as they say, it’s hard to forget first loves…

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 (José would get 5 in case you were wondering)
Good for:  Date night, dinner with smaller group of friends

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Pimm’s jellies: jelly is not just for kids

My mum used to humour me as a kid and let me make grapefruit and vanilla jellies from scratch for her dinner party desserts. I know that all sounds a bit pretentious, but really, I just happened upon a recipe in a magazine at home, we had the ingredients, I needed occupying for an afternoon and remarkably, my first attempt worked!

Sadly, I haven’t made jellies since then – only a packet blackcurrant job about a year ago. So when it came to making a summery dessert for dinner chez Sabby, I took inspiration from my childhood jellies and decided to give it a grown up and seasonal twist… Pimms jelly!

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Made with lemonade, there’s a light fizziness and a gentle alcoholic-ness to these jellies. Served with some strawberries, oranges, it’s a quick make-ahead dessert for summer dinners. That said, I also ate some for breakfast the next day, and afternoon tea… in my world, it’s always Pimm’s o’clock!

Pimm’s jellies
Makes 1 litre

10 gelatin leaves
few sprigs of mint
200ml Pimm’s
700ml lemonade
fruit to serve

  1. Put gelatin leaves in a bowl of cold water and soak until floppy
  2. Meanwhile, gently heat 100ml water in pan with mint leaves and leave to infuse for a few minutes. Remove from heat and remove mint.
  3. Remove gelatin from bowl, and stir into minty water until dissolved
  4. Add the Pimm’s and lemonade. It will froth up – skim off the foam.
  5. Pour into 1 litre mould (I used individual ramekins) and chill until set.
  6. To serve, invert onto a plate and garnish with fruit.

Notes:

  • You can set the fruit in the jellies, but I quite like the pure unadulterated look.
  • If you’ve got a sweet tooth, dissolve some sugar into the warm minty water mix, but I think the sweetness of the lemonade is sufficient.
  • Finally, there’s a lot of wobble to these babies, so if you’re planning to take them to a picnic or somewhere warm, increase the amount of gelatin by a few leaves.
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Foodie postcard: casual chic dining in Sydney, Australia

The Travelling Tummies have recently recruited a friend in Australia who has been sending us many pictures of her meals ever since she heard about our blog.

Here’s a first postcard!  To keep it a little closer to home, we have pictures from Jamie’s Italian in Sydney.  That is sorta an odd combination isn’t it – Jamie Oliver (British) + Italian food + Australian location??!!  But then the doyen of Sydney casual chic dining, Bill Granger, has also upped sticks and set up shop in London, so it’s not such a bad thing after all this globalisation schnick-schnack?

And speaking of Granger who is also the king of Sydney brunch, Jun’s also sent pics from brunch at Bathers’ Pavillion at Balmoral Beach.

In spite of all the globalisation, I am assured the food is still yummy…so *drumroll* with love from Junny!

Jamie's Italian

(clockwise, from top left: Baked mushrooms (Jamie’s), Corned beef, spinach and corn hash, poached eggs and tomato hollandaise (Bather’s), Bucatini Carbonara (Jamie’s) , Baked polenta with Turkish kaşar cheese, sautéed okra and tomato (Bather’s))

P.s. Junny – if you’re reading this, I am still waiting for you to go to Tetsuya and Momofuku Down Under… 🙂

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Gold Mine: feels like home…

Home, that is what Gold Mine can be described as.  Having lived away from home so many years, I have mostly lost my cravings for Singaporean foods.  And instead, I have cravings for a particular style of Cantonese that has seen Singaporean/Malaysian influences creep in through the often Malaysian-Chinese chefs.

Gold Mine is where we (Tummies and friends) know all the wait staff by name, where we know all the menu items and all the off-menu items by heart.  And every time we go, we always order what initially seems like too much food and there isn’t enough space on the table for all our food.  But invariably, we finish everything and make our to a second, sometimes even third, round.

Friends who share roast duck love

Friends who share roast duck love

This blog post is dedicated to all the friends who have shared the Gold Mine love with us, and there have been many over the years.  Especially to all the non-Asian friends who complain they don’t know what to order when they go there without us.  Now you just need to pull up this page on your iPhone and point them to the waiter and you will get the same yummy authentic food you get when you’re with us.  (blog readers -feel free to do the same, we guarantee it will be one of the best Chinese meals you will have in London)

Roast duck

Gold Mine’s signature dish – Roast duck

A bit of background about Gold Mine, it is an offshoot of Four Seasons which came about when the then-chef fell out with the owner and left to set up his own place.  Like Four Seasons, the signature dish is Roast Duck – the flesh is succulent with a crispy skin and a well-balanced sauce made with juices from the duck.  None of that starchy cloyingly-sweet sauce you get at lesser Chinese restaurants.

Trio of steamed egg

Sabby’s favourite dish – trio of steamed egg

And a special mention should also give to my favorite dish – trio of steamed egg.  A delicious savory steamed egg custard made from regular eggs, century eggs and salted duck’s egg. It is pure comfort food with some steamed white rice and it is amongst the dishes I would want to have at my last meal.  Enough said.

Gold Mine

(Clockwise, from top right) Stir-fried french beans with minced pork, pork chop in honey sauce, sweet and sour pork, braised pork belly with yam

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(clockwise, from top left) Braised Japanese beancurd in claypot, stir-fried pea shoots, braised beef brisket, Gold Mine prawns with crispy topping

Rating: I am tempted to say 5 out of 5, but I am probably biased
Good for: dining with friends, casual meals, taking visiting Asian parents out

Posted in Chinese, London, Notting Hill / Bayswater, Restaurants | 2 Comments

Foodie postcard: Goulston Street Market, East London

I was recently spending a fair amount of time around Aldgate for work.  Now you will have realised from the proliferation of reviews of restaurants in West and Central London, that I am a West Londoner.  I occasionally venture to the East – who can say no to the lamb chops at Tayyabs – working around Aldgate would give me a proper chance to sample the best of the East!

After a depressing few days getting lunch from Pret, I stumbled upon Goulston Street Market which seemed to be a popular lunch spot amongst the City workers.  Basically a street food market, without the hipness or Twitter presence of Eat Street, it is a great spot for getting a tasty and filling lunch for less than £5!!!

Notable options include:
Chicken Katsu Wrap ( my colleagues, ravenous young men, were hooked to the HUGE portions and tasty fried chicken filling – only £4.50 for the large including a bottle of water

Chicken Katsu Wrap

GIGA-normous chicken katsu wrap generously packed with yummy fried chicken and other fillings

Chicken satay – tasty marinated grilled chicken available as a wrap or with rice; they can be a little too generous with the sauce so let them know if you are not quite a sauce fiend

Other stalls include Indian, Carribean, Thai, Vegetarian, Chinese and Middle Eastern.  It is mostly a takeaway place but there are a couple of seats available if you want to soak up the atmosphere.

Jellied eels at Tubby Isaac's

Hmm…cold and slimey eels, not quite my thing!

Goulston Street is also home to a famous East End delicacy – jellied eels at Tubby Issacs.  Made by boiling fresh eels, the cooking process creates its own jelly which acts as a preservative, crucial before the advent of refrigerators.  I persuaded my colleagues to try them with me, unfortunately it was 3 votes down.  Not sure we liked the slimy and fishy taste too much!  Though it seems the stall has its regulars, some of whom in their eighties and nineties!

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Falafel Hut at Shepherds Bush Market – a surprise find

One of the things I love about London is that it’s actually made up of many small areas, each with their own sense of community, culture, flavours, distractions and individuals. Last Saturday was quality time for Chun and me in the Shepherd’s Bush Market area. We were there to see The Beloved at The Bush Theatre (last day of the play, but recommended if it’s ever produced again, and reviewed far more eloquently that I’d be able to here).

The Bush Theatre

My first time at The Bush Theatre and I really liked this small space. The front of house and the theatre itself didn’t feel crowded – ok, it was a Saturday matinee – and the staff didn’t seem rushed. Sadly we didn’t have time to dine at the cafe/bar, but I liked the fact that their short cafe menu features special dishes tailored to the show. In this case, The Beloved’s Middle Eastern themes were reflected in Chicken Tagine and a Chickpea Stew. No idea if they were tasty, but at £7 including a glass of wine or a pint, it sounds like a good deal!

Next time, we’ll definitely make time to hang out there pre-theatre: it’s a light airy space, with wooden floors, mismatched vintage tables and wall of books, giving it that relaxed, homey feel. And the wine list curator has such a way with words that I want to check whether the wines live up to their descriptions, my favourites being the Muscadet and the Albarino.

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Shepherd’s Bush Market

Our tummies were a rumbling after the show, and Shepherd’s Bush market next door was beckoning. It’s your ‘normal’ London market (read: Borough Market this ain’t) in that it’s a bit grimey, fruit n’ veg stalls are mixed with hoisery stands, mini kitchenware emporiums, fabric sellers and a rich range of ethnic grocers, primarily serving the local afro-carribean community.
Shepherd's Bush Market

We wandered down the market enjoying the sunshine and chatting to the vendors. I remember how embarrassed I used to be when my mum would strike up conversations with random strangers whilst on holiday. I used to find myself hiding behind her wishing she’d stop talking. And now I find it’s me rabbiting away! As Oscar Wilde says, all women become like their mothers…

But never mind that, becoming like my mother meant that we discovered the nut lady and her family who have been roasting and importing their nuts for 30 years. It meant that we discovered the unfriendly hat man (half way down the market) who wouldn’t let me try on a hat in case I made it dirty. How will I know if it fits or makes me look like a fool if I don’t put it on my head? And it meant we found the much friendlier ladies manning the hat stall by the entrance who didn’t deem me too filthy to try on their hats and to whom I will be returning for future hat purchases.

We also stocked up on dried hibiscus flowers, which make for an incredibly vibrant and piquant red herbal tea. But our discovery of the day was at….

Stand # 49: Falafel Hut

As I said, I’m becoming my mother, whose restaurant ‘trick’ in foreign countries is to ditch the guidebook and follow the crowds. Literally. On this occasion, that trick proved spot on (thanks Mum!) as we discovered a queue of 6 people waiting patiently at the stall and bums on all seats in their makeshift eating area. So we queued too and were rewarded for our efforts with a giant aubergine and falafel wrap.

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Hopefully, the smile on Chun’s face is all you need to see to tell how darned delicious it was! I like that herbs, spices and a deep fat fryer can transform the humble chick pea into something so tasty. I’m sure it would convince even the Irishman (he of “I like chicks; I like peas; but I don’t like chickpeas” fame) to love these chickpea balls. The falafel was accompanied by hunks of soft fried aubergines, tahini, salad and red and green chilli sauce, encased in a wrap that wasn’t too thick, and toasted gently until crispy. A great mix of flavours and textures, and our only complaint, typical asians, is that we needed more chilli sauce but it was gladly and generously doled out.

So, if you find yourself at Shepherd’s Bush Market, say hi to the nut woman, give a shout out to the hat ladies, pass the stalls selling odds and ends, and mosy on down to Stand #49. There awaits a delicious wrap; just don’t forget the extra chilli sauce!

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Shepherd’s Bush Market. Address: right by the exit of Shepherd’s Bush Market tube (note, not Shepherd’s Bush). Good for random wanderings.

Falafel Hut: Stand #49 in the market. 4 out of 5. It was a whopper.

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Banana bread: revealing character flaws

Three things I am bad at: 1) following instructions 2) high-effort cooking (probably because it requires following many instructions) and 3) staying idle (not as bad as rhubarbgirl though, you won’t find me making ice-cream at 2am!).

Recently I found myself at loose ends in semi-rural Germany, there is only some much Net-a-porter I can surf without giving in to the temptation of buying something!  Given 3) above, I decided to bake a cake.  Now bearing in mind 1) and 2), naturally I gravitated towards the easiest recipe I could find given the ingredients I could find and of course, I could not resist modifying it a la Sabby.

The result: a beautifully moist banana bread that is still delicious but healthier.  It’s great served warm with a little butter, but I reckon you could kick it up a notch with some crunchy peanut butter (preferably Calve).

Warm banana bread with just a dab of butter
Oh I should add, there is one more thing I am bad at, being patient enough to take pretty food porn-y pictures of the preparation process, unlike Smitten Kitchen.  So you will have to make do with this picture of the finished product and let me assure you, it was very yummy!

Banana bread
Modified from original at Food.com

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsps olive oil (~90ml)
1/2 cup sugar (half of original recipe, you might want to add more if you have a sweet tooth)
2 eggs, beaten
3-4 bananas, finely crushed
1 1/2 cups flour  (I used 50-50 regular flour and spelt flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Whisk together olive oil and sugar.  Add eggs and crushed bananas.  Combine well.

Sift together flour, soda and salt. Add to wet mixture. Add vanilla.

Pour into greased and floured loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.

You may also wish to add some crushed walnuts (~1 cup) as I did for added crunch.

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Foodie postcard: California ramen dreaming

I have been craving ramen for eight months to be precise, since I moved back to London. Koya was a valiant attempt to get my fix, but ultimately it wasn’t the same. So when I knew I was getting sent to LA for training, I started scouring California-based food blogs plotting my way around the best ramen joints in town.

It was with some disappointment that I figured out that the West Coast ramen scene wasn’t quite as developed as New York. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to Ramen Santouka in West LA whose shio ramen I would have every other week when I lived in New York as well as Ramen HALU in San Jose run by a surf fanatic chef who seemed equally obsessed about making good ramen.

Unfortunately some unforeseen circumstances saw me cut my California trip short, and hence no ramen for me. Boo!

But luck would have it, there was a random Japanese restaurant at SFO’s International Terminal which also seemed to be the busiest eatery there. The fact that it is run by Cantonese-speakers aside, they had ramen on the menu! The thought that I wouldn’t leave California without getting my ramen fix after all brought a big smile to my face.

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When it arrived, it was possibly one of the best meals I have had in recent times. Ippudo it was not, Ramen Santouka it was not. But it came with a milky and tasty broth, tender stewed pork slices and decently-cooked noodles (with less bite than the noodles you would get at Ippudo). It hit exactly the spot.

So whilst I had hoped to bring you reports from the best ramen joints in California, instead I would like to give you a handy tip next time you’re travelling out of SFO, and especially if you’re travelling on a long haul flight on an US airline (which is as bad, if not worse, as all the reports state). Get there early and treat yourself to a bowl of ramen.

And if you are also as greedy as I am, then get a takeaway rice bowl for the flight. I have 8 hours more left on this flight back to London and I am already looking forward to opening up my takeaway gyu don.

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