Thursday, June 26, 2008


Tues 24 June 2008

A discussion at work about how hard it is to get a steak cooked properly in a restaurant prompted our visit to Blackhouse. That, and the fact that I was forwarded a 30% off food voucher.

Blackhouse has taken over the spot formerly inhabited by Est Est Est on East Parade. It has been quite a revamp, too: the interior is all dark wood and leather, with a sort of ranch-like feel, as the dining areas are, literally, fenced off from the bar.

We arrived a little late for our 7pm booking so I was disappointed to be told that our table wasn't ready and that we could have a drink at the bar. I was even more disappointed because there were plenty of tables free.

Things weren't starting too well. The barman didn't come across as overly efficient (although he might have been hampered by working alone and having to deal with a large group that seemed to be just having drinks). We weren't given a drinks list so Andy asked what beers were available. They were rattled off and it was only when I asked about wines by the glass that a menu was produced. This suggests that there is an additional selection of wines by the glass on the 'guest list' ... but before I had an opportunity to ask about this, the barman had disappeared. And just as he was about to take my drinks order ... our table was ready.

Eventually I got my glass of Arium Reserva from Valdepeñas, Spain: a Tempranillo billed as an 'amazing alternative to Rioja'. Maybe it is, but I'll never know because the wine was served so warm it was like a slightly jammy, rich cordial. I was convinced it must have been body temperature and Andy agreed that you could almost bathe in it. Now - a full bodied red wine should be served 'room temperature'. Which means nothing. But 16°-18°C ... surely that's understandable? I'm starting to wonder if sending a wine back because it's too warm is justifiable ...

We started with some bread which was served warm, in a small loaf (or large roll), on a breadboard (with knife, obviously!). The bread we both rated quite highly but I was underwhelmed by the olive oil and Balsamic vinegar dipping combination. Blackhouse would be better served by paying more attention to the quality of the olive oil and using less Balsamic vineger (or omitting it all together).

As a starter we shared the chicken skewered on lemon grass with a Thai red curry paste. I felt (and remain) ambivalent about this dish: nothing wrong with it, utterly inoffensive ... but ... I don't think I'd order it again. Andy was a lot more enthusiastic.

Moving on to the main course, we both ordered 8oz rump steaks, cooked rare. We both had chips - although mash or jacket potato were alternatives. Although the chips were good, Andy was convinced they'd been frozen at some point in their lifecycle - I have no opinion on this! I ordered Béarnaise sauce, while Andy ordered a side of spring greens (£2.95 - quite a small portion, but a definite thumbs up in the flavour department).

Now - the steaks were ... perfect. They were actually rare. They were chargrilled, and had that great, smoky flavour. The Béarnaise sauce was creamy, and while I initially thought the portion a little stingy (at £1.95) I have to eat my words because it was actually the perfect amount.

But the main course was where our meal ended ... not because of poor service, as we had one waitress throughout the meal who was fantastic, not because we thought the desserts or coffee might not be up to scratch, but because we couldn't hear ourselves think. The restaurant is hard surface central and by fitting all the diners into the front section - with big glass frontage onto East Parade - it almost felt as though there was no breathing space for all the noise. And the noise added an edge to the evening: the staff seemed almost frantic, the sense of pace was frenetic. This is clearly not dinner date material!

While Blackhouse isn't cheap, it is offering you a good steak. You won't leave feeling hungry. And maybe at lunch time, you won't leave feeling deaf!

Bottom line: £55 (without discount) for 1 bread, 1 starter, 2 mains, sides and drinks.

1. Blackhouse, 31-33 East Parade, Leeds, LS1 5PS, phone: 0113 246 0669

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Gateau Opera

My last recipe (for a while) from the excellent One Perfect Ingredientby Marcus Wareing. This is the very last recipe in the book and, unlike the others, actually is a bit of a bother.

But it's worth it.

Well, I would say that because it's cake. Not just any cake, but Gâteau Opéra. Apparently created in honour of the Paris Opéra in the 1930s, Wareing's version is a coffee, chocolate and butter cream cake that's exceptionally good.

I had two goes at this, because my father volunteered me to make the birthday cake for my grandma's 90th. The first effort resulted in four huge portions of cake ... which were very good, but not particularly dainty and totally unsuitable for handing around to about 40 guests.

The cake is made in parts: sponge, ganache, buttercream and a glaze. The order in which you make these parts is incidental - the first time around I made the sponge last, but for the big event I made the sponge first.

So, let's start with the sponge. Cream together 100g soft unsalted butter, 100g caster sugar and add 2 medium eggs. When well combined add 100g plain flour, sifted with 1 tsp baking powder. Finish with 1tsp of instant coffee dissolved in 1 tsp hot water.


The tricky part is baking this. You need to bake it in a preheated oven (160C fan, 180C) in a 22x36cm rectangle for 4-5 minutes, or until done. What you're aiming for is a very thin (but still light) sponge, that is nice and flat. On my first pass, my sponge was far too thick (hence the monstrous final cake). Second time around, I used a much larger baking tray (baselined, of course) and just spread the mixture across it. This was much more successful.

Once the sponge is done, leave it to cool in the tray and move on to the other parts.

Next - the ganache. Scald 100mL of whipping or double cream, take it off the heat and add 100g of dark chocolate, chopped. Beat until the chocolate is fully melted and finish with 20g of soft unsalted butter.

The buttercream is the really tricky part, and I'm still not entirely happy with how mine turned out looks-wise. Fortunately, looks don't matter, as it will be sandwiched between cake and ganache.

Beat 1 egg with 2 egg yolks, until thick. In a pan, dissolve 75g of caster sugar with 2tbsp of water and boil for 3 minutes. Now ... Wareing's recipe says to turn off the heat and allow the bubbles to disappear before beating the sugar syrup into the eggs. When I did this I found the sugar was too cool and I ended up with toffee stuck to the end of my whisk. My solution was to just pour the sugar in, hot and bubbling. Now, you need to keep on beating so you don't end up with scrambled sugary eggs. If you're doing this by hand, I feel really sorry for you. If you're using a stab mixer with a whisk attachment (as I did the first time) it will still be hard work. Use a Kenwood Chef and it's pretty painless. Once your sugar is all mixed in and the mixture is starting to cool, beat in 125g of unsalted butter, softened and diced. Finish the cream with 1 tsp of instant coffee dissolved in 1 tsp of hot water.

My mixture tasted FAB but did look a little curdled. I suspect had I followed the instructions more to the letter (beat the sugar and eggs until completely cool, and then add the butter, for example) it might have looked a little prettier. But the fact is, I stayed sane, I didn't shout at anyone and it tasted really really good.

Finally, the glaze. I actually passed on this for my final cake as the first time round I wasn't happy with the consistency or appearance. Scald 1tbsp of whipping/double cream, remove from the heat and add 25g of dark chocolate. Dissolve 10g of caster sugar, with 1 tsp of cocoa, a further tbsp of cream, and 50mL of water. Simmer for 2 minutes and then strain on to the chocolate and cream mix. Mix until smooth.

By the time you've done all of this this, your sponge will be cool - if you made it first. I tend to make the sponge and fillings the day before and then assemble the next day. It breaks the process up a bit. If you do this, DON'T refrigerate the filllings, as they'll be impossible to spread!

Take your sponge and spread with the buttercream. The aim is to have an even, flat layer of buttercream. You use all the buttercream. You don't need to do this again.

Refrigerate the cake for at least half an hour.

Now spread the buttercream with the ganache. You need to be a little careful here: don't rush. Again, use all the ganache to form a flat, even layer.

Refrigerate the cake.

Now you need to decide how big or small to make your cakes. Marcus Wareing opts for stacks three high: doing this I ended up with just four portions! For grandma's birthday, I only made stacks that were two high. Much daintier.

You need to cut the cake into the right size cubes (use a hot knife, and I found that using a chef's style knife easier than using a long thin knife, like a ham knife). Stack your cubes of cake, top with the glaze if using, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The flavour improves and the cake keeps really well. I also enjoyed eating it a lot more when it was at room temperature rather than straight from the fridge. Wrapped in foil and taken to work for afternoon tea it develops a really delicious sticky, gooey character ...

Yes, it is a fair bit of work, and quite fiddly - but I think quite worth it!

Here's a summary of the important bits:
  • you're aiming for a thin sponge. Not so thin it turns into a biscuit, but the thinner and flatter it is, while still being a bit cake-y - the better.
  • don't refrigerate the buttercream or the ganache - you'll struggle to spread them
  • DON'T RUSH - break up the making of the cake, as you really won't be able to spread the ganache over the buttercream if it's not set, and you won't be able to cut the cake if the ganache isn't set
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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Frivolity

Sun 22 June 2008

Such a shame it's not a Friday (purely for alliterative purposes) ... Nonetheless, it's been a busy day as Andy and I enjoyed yet another round of house moving - and an arrest right on our doorstep!

This means that I've only just settled down to read the paper and have a glass of wine. And there, on page 21 of the Observer, I spy the headline "Chip shops to display fat content".

After my shouty rant, all I could do was have a giggle.

The actual story is a little less ludicrous: "when asked where respondents would expect to see nutritional information for it to be most useful, 81% of people said they would like to see it at the point when they order food, such as on the menu in a restaurant, or visible when they are buying a sandwich or a muffin in a coffee shop or café". So, immediately to hand rather than in corporate printed or internet propaganda.

Let's face it - we all KNOW that a chip butty, a portion of fish and chips or a large muffin is bad for us. But in many cases, that large muffin will be bad for you not only because of the number of calories, but also because of the use of hydrogenated fats or high fructose corn syrup. And the fact that you've had a mayonnaise laden sandwich for lunch and fish and chips for your supper. The responsibility for what an individual chooses to eat lies with that individual. As with so many things, shouldn't we be aiming for education rather than legislation?

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Hardy's Wine Tasting

Wed 18 June 2008

Hmm, the tickets to the Hardy's wine tasting arrived announcing that I would learn everything I needed to know about wine in just half an hour. I guess it all depends on your definition of 'need to know'.

Not one to knock back a free night out, I dragged Andy along to the Smokestack on Lower Briggate. This is a quiet little bar (well, on a Wednesday), apparently run by the same people as Sandinista, and its only nod towards pretension is not having any beer on draught.

We didn't have to worry about that, as we were greeted with glasses of bubbles and settled ourselves down, before being inundated with canapés. Overall, there wasn't too much to get excited about here, although I was taken with the pineapple which had been grilled with five spice: I'll be tucking that one away for later use!

The real show started at 7, when we were ushered upstairs and seated, wines set out in front of us. I think that less than half the expected number turned up, which might have been a good thing: too many more people at my table and I would have ended up spilling more wine than I did!

The presentation was in the form of a romantic comedy. Yes, bear with me on this one. On the small stage area sat a man and a woman, both gazing at their laptops. "Is this a BLOGGING wine tasting?" said Andy incredulously. No, these were the protganists in our fable which took Miss Wine Expert and, through the magic of internet dating, introduced her to Mr Average Guy. Along the way, the audience got to learn about wine, thanks to the enthusiasm of the narrator, Chris Scott, of ThirtyFifty.

In just half an hour he covered an awful lot of ground, and while I was happy (it was all factually correct) Andy suspected that the amount of information that might sink in was limited. On reflection, I'm inclined to agree: cool climates might mean higher acidity but what does "cool climate" mean? And higher acidity compared with ... what exactly?

What I did like was that we tasted five different wines, all from Hardy's Nottage Hill range. Andy wasn't sure about the wines: he thought we should have had a cheaper Pinot Noir and a better quality (and no doubt more expensive) one as a compare and contrast type exercise (ha! I've turned him into a wine snob without him knowing it!). However, bearing in mind this was a marketing event, and that the average spend on a bottle of wine in the UK is about £5 (or is it £4), I was quite happy.

So ... to drink (all Hardy's Nottage Hill) we had the Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz, and Shiraz Tempranillo. We did different things with the wines: the Chardonnay we tasted holding our noses and then sucking in air through our mouths to open the flavours, the Riesling was for acid and the Pinot Noir and the Cab Shiraz were to learn about weight. A neat trick for describing the mouth feel of tannins to non drinkers - run the tongue over the roof of the mouth. Tannic wine will make it feel 'grippy'.

In terms of the wines ... the winner was the Riesling, followed by the Pinot Noir. Andy was pretty happy with the Shiraz Tempranillo, but I thought both the 'big' reds were simply too hot. But these are wines that retail around the £5 and they were all basic, clean, reasonable examples (apart from maybe the Chardonnay - or is it just me that dislikes oaked Chardonnay so ureasonably?).

At times the action on stage was a little cringeworthy. At times, members of the audience laughed too loudly at an 'in' wine joke (that would be me). In case you didn't absorb everything you need to know, Hardy's offer a text service (64007) for food and wine matching.

I came away thinking that it had been a far more enjoyable couple of hours than sitting in front of the telly ...

And now, Robert of the Wine Conversation knows all about it!

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Trio of Restaurants

While we were in Adelaide we visited a few restaurants (unsurprisingly). Some of the eating out was casual and some of it wasn't.

So, today we have a quick trip around three small Adelaide restaurants. Our first meal out was at Yakumi, a small Japanese restaurant on Glenelg's Jetty Road. Things didn't start off too well, as our reservation had gone missing. Even though it's a tiny restaurant the staff managed to fit in our table of six, and soon the South Australian Riesling was flowing. We started by sharing a couple of plates of gyoza: Japanese dumplings stuffed with pork and dipped in soy sauce. Our main courses seemed to be a little bit of a hotch-potch. My grilled eel was absolutely delicious: sticky glaze, soft meat, plenty of rice. But dad's tuna was quite disappointing: a large piece of fish doused in a strong sauce. Mum found her squid uneven but Andy really enjoyed his beef and salmon. The service was a little indifferent: it seemed to suffer from a general lack of interest in things related to food, although the staff were pleasant enough. However, the bottom line tells you everything you need to know: just $AU40 (£20) a head for more than enough food and wine.

Next stop was Sunday yum cha at Ding Hao in the city centre. Reservations absolutely required! We arrived at 11 to find the footpath crammed with eager diners waiting for the doors to open. A massive group of 15, we squished around our table and let the food arrive. Too early for wine, we drank tea and ate and ate and ate until our slot was over and we were booted out - squeezing past the people anxiously waiting for the next sitting. As far as I'm concerned, I would have been quite happy to sit and eat the salt and pepper squid for an hour or so but there were plenty of other tasty dishes which appeared on the table. Somehow we managed to eat pudding midway through the savoury dishes but that didn't seem to matter. We left well fed and having parted with just $AU20 (£10) a head.

And finally, back to Glenelg for a meal at the Glenelg BBQ Inn. I pretty much grew up in this restaurant and while it's morphed into a slightly shinier version of its 1980s self, the cornerstone of the restaurant - it's great meat - remains the same. You start by munching on bread because, the chances are, you don't need to look at the menu. I can't imagine having anything other than the lamb shaslick with a kidney on the side, dad always has a pork chop with two kidneys on the side ... you get the idea. When the plates arrive, the meats are accompanied by chevapchichis (small Serbian skinless sausages) and salads: cabbage, potato and tomato. And all washed down with plenty of red wine. Vegetarians should probably not attend.

1. Yakumi, 109 Jetty Rd, Glenelg, 5045, phone: +61 (08) 8376 1366
2. Ding Hao, 26 Gouger St, Adelaide, 5000, phone: +61 (08) 8211 7036
3. Glenelg BBQ Inn, 160 Jetty Road, Glenelg, 5045, phone: +61 (08) 8294 3432

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Broad Beans

Sun 15 June 2008

Someone at work (with an allotment) commented on how many broad beans he had. The next day, I had a pile on my desk.

Now, I'm not so keen (at all) on huge, floury broad beans which have been boiled out of existence. But young, tender, small beans, with a taste somewhere between pea and asparagus ... that's different.

For a moment I almost tried to do something curried with them, but sanity prevailed and I headed towards The Silver Spoon. While we could have just eaten the beans raw, with some Pecorino, I chose the fave alla piemontese: Piedmontese broad beans. I decided it would serve well as a simple pasta sauce, and, with some left over very Italian style salad, we would have a more than serviceable light supper.

Beans podded, I cooked them in boiling water for about 5-10 minutes. The recipe says 10 minutes, but they were so tiny and fresh, I figured I could get away with less. Beans cooked and drained, they were tipped into a frying pan and plenty of cream was added. The cream simmered and thickened and finally I added some grated Emmenthal (the recipe said Fontina, but we couldn't find any). A good stir allowed the cheese to melt through and finally, I tipped in cooked pasta ... and away we went. Parmesan and pepper optional!

Not a lot of visual interest perhaps!

I loved it. A simple sauce dressing a load of pasta and I'm as happy as the proverbial pig in mud. For Andy, it's just bread and cheese. "Well, you could have put some ham or bacon in it", "It would be alright without the pasta as a side dish" (hmm, as intended, then).

We did manage to agree on the wine. I was after a really green wine to go with this dish: something high in acidity to cut through the cream and cheese, and something that would really pick up on the pea, broadbean, asparagus, vegetal theme. I thought a reasonably obvious choice would be an Old World Sauvignon Blanc. We ended up buying a Henry Pellé 2006 Menetou-Salon from Oddbins (link goes through to 2005 vintage), for £9.99. A very pale wine with a not overly pronounced nose. Principally gooseberry, with some green vegetable notes like pea. The palate was more pronounced, with the same green vegetable notes, as well as citrus, gooseberry and even some lychee. The acidity was pretty high and the length wasn't bad either. Certainly a lot more approachable than the £5 Argentinian Viognier from Wine Blogging Wednedsay. And it didn't go too badly with the food.

But. £10? Really? Not worth it. One of my friends is (almost exclusively) drinking an £8 Sancerre which, if my memory serves me correctly, represents much better value for money.

If I were to reproduce the meal again, I'd serve the creamy beans (minus pasta) and salad as side dishes to a juicy steak. And to drink, I'd be tempted to revisit a Cabernet Franc. The Chinon we enjoyed a couple of months back had the right vegetal notes, and it would work well with both the steak and the beans (OK, I might have to rethink the salad). And I'd still be spending £10 on wine. Oh well, I'll know for next time ...

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

National Wine Centre of Australia

Tues 3 June 2008

While in Adelaide, one of my priorities was to visit the National Wine Centre of Australia. This institution (now run by the University of Adelaide, my alma mater) has had something of a chequered history and at one point it almost closed down. It has only taken me five or six trips back to Adelaide to get around to visiting ...

The (stunning) building is set in Adelaide's very beautiful Botanic Garden, adjacent to the very cosmopolitan East End of the city. If you're particularly lazy, you can catch a free bus (the City Loop) from the train station down North Terrace and jump off at East Terrace: a journey of under a mile. Although the City Loop is well used by locals, it's also an excellent way for tourists to get a potted guide to the city, as the stops are announced and the driver narrates the journey. It's a short, sign posted walk through the Botanic Garden to the Wine Centre.

Hackney Road Entrance

I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting from my visit. Whatever it was, the Wine Centre didn't hit the mark. The Wine Discovery Journey is a relatively simple affair if you already know a little about wine. I really liked the massive map of Australia with wine producing regions pin-pointed and details of technical information (like rainfall and hours of sunshine) spread around it. I thought the "smelly" things (where you could smell specific aromas associated with particular grapes) diverting. My favourite part of the exhibition (in a very wine-geek way!) was the large wall, divided into boxes, each with a large photograph of a bunch of a different grape. For the grapes most commonly found in Australian wines, an actual bunch of grapes was mounted, an individual grape was dissected and even the pips were on display!

The exhibition finishes with a virtual, interactive meet-the-winemaker display, which I had a quick look at but didn't delve into in any detail.

Unsurprisingly, the reception area features a vast amount of information about South Australia's wine regions. This alone makes it a worthy stop for any wine-tourist.

There is also a café, and they have various wines available to taste. The tastings are all done in flights (of about 4 or 5 wines) and, while you have to pay, you do apparently get a tutored tasting and material about the wines to take away.

However, I very much got the feeling that the Wine Centre is there for the locals. There's a nod to tourism, but the impression is that it's all about pretty serious wine education. A raft of courses are available (including, impressively, one dedicated to the many overseas students studying in Adelaide). There are wine dinners (coming up, Penfolds on 27 June, hosted by Penfolds winemaker Steve Lienert), and Wine Fridays (fortnightly after work, featuring a different winery each time). I picked up a brochure for a day of cheesemaking. There are conferencing facilities. And if you're super keen on wine, you can hold your wedding there.

For the tourist: the National Wine Centre is a diverting half hour or so if you're in the Botanic Garden. It's a beautiful building, it has a café, and entry to the exhibition is by gold coin ($1 or $2) donation.

For the local: if you're interested in wine, you should be on the email list. 'Nuff said.

1. The National Wine Centre of Australia, cnr of Botanic and Hackney Roads (but accessible through the Botanic Garden), Adelaide, SA, 5000, phone: +61 8 8303 3355.
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Thursday, June 12, 2008

WBW #46: Rhone Whites

Wed 11 June 2008

Just a tad late posting for this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday ... but I promise I did do the drinking yesterday! This month, those of us not caught by surprise, are being hosted by Dr Debs, and she has chosen Rhône whites.

In fact, I was so unprepared that, initially, I thought I'd take a more academic slant and just discuss a couple of wines I've enjoyed in the past. Fortunately, a change in Wednesday evening plans meant I was actually able to source a new wine, specifically for the event.

The three principal white grape varieties of the Rhône are Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. Viognier is added to Shiraz in the Côte Rôtie blend, as well as being used in white blends and appearing by itself. This is also the case in my native Australia: and you have no idea how tedious some Australian Viogniers could be in the 1990s. Funnily enough, Tahbilk's Marsanne was, and still is, an interesting, different and good value wine. After Chardonnay, Viognier was something I would not drink.

And it still, more or less, is.

However, 19 June 2007, I discovered Condrieu. I attended a Rhône wine dinner and was devastated to discover that any whites on offer would, most likely, be Viognier. The wine was a £20 a bottle La Galopine 2005 and I really liked it. A lot. In fact, so much, you would have thought I'd have taken greater care of my tasting notes and been able to find them, but apparently not!

Interesting, just 2 days prior to this dinner, I'd walked into my favourite wine shop, announced "I don't like Viognier, sell me something which will change my mind". The £5 bottle of Fox Wood Dawn Picked Viognier just didn't hit the mark.

For WBW my local supermarket obliged with a £5.19 bottle of Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia Viognier, 2007, from Mendoza in Argentina (13.5% abv). There were a couple of Chilean and South African examples to choose from, but I opted for Argentina because the proportion of wine imported into the UK which comes from Argentina is very small. Sort of like rooting for the underdog.
In the glass, this is a very pale wine, but with a pronounced nose. Definite stone fruit, erring towards peach rather than apricot, with subtle hints of tropical fruits, like pineapple. After a bit of consideration, there were also some vaguely smokey, minerally notes.

The palate isn't quite as complex: good acidity, a tiny touch of residual sweetness, and plenty of stone fruit. The length was good and the flavours did develop in the mouth, although still very much staying in the stone fruit department.

Initially, I really liked this, but a glass or so in, something about it started to ... wear ... a bit. As an apéritif, I think one (two, tops) glass would work really well - as it is a crisp and refreshing wine. I paired it with some pasta and pesto, and while the acidity worked a treat with the pesto's oil, it wasn't really up to the sauce's salty, strong flavours. If you are drinking this with food, I'd go the chicken or pork route, and add in a creamy, rich sauce. I think fish would be a no-no, as would anything too salty.

The wine doesn't seem to last well: tonight, it's drinking a lot more harshly. The fruit has been replaced by acidity, alcohol and the mineral notes that were subtle last night. But that's my fault for leaving a bottle partly drunk!

At £5 this is a pretty solid wine and not a shabby example of a Viognier. If you spot it on offer, it will represent a bargain.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether I'd have preferred to drink a £20+ Condrieu!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ami's Fish

Tues 27 May 2008

Someone at work (named Ami) suggested this way of preparing fish. It's light and simple (if a little messy) and certainly tasty.

If you can get it, Ami recommends using mackerel, but as we were preparing the dish in Australia, we opted to use snapper. Basically, you'll need a fairly firm fleshed fish, preferably a bit oily, and one that can handle a few spicy flavours. You'll also need a few prawns too - preferably green, but if you can only procure cooked things will be OK as long as you don't over cook them.

Firstly, prepare your fish. Head and shell your prawns, and (if using mackerel) cut your fish into steaks or good sized chunks. Place the seafood in a colander and salt generously. Leave to sit for about an hour and then rinse well.

Meanwhile, make a mix of equal parts of turmeric and chilli powder blended with lime juice to make a paste. Cover the rinsed fish with the paste and leave to sit for a few minutes while you heat some oil (peanut oil is good as it has a high smoking point) - you need enough to cover the fish. When you're ready to fry, take your pieces of fish, roll them in rice flour, and fry (in batches) until golden and cooked. Drain on paper and serve immediately.

My camera ate part of my 'pretty' photo (used as a header) ... this one looks slightly less appetising!

As a main course, serve with plain dahl and plain rice. Or, as a starter, serve with either mint chutney or a simple cucumber raita. Cold lager will go well as a drink - if you want to choose a wine you'll need to be a little clever, as the mixture of spice, seafood and fat is challenging. To be honest, I'm not sure I have any smart suggestions, although I do wonder if something like a Muscadet or a very light Italian white (perhaps a Soave) would work.

Note, that while this is a simple dish, requiring few ingredients, ensure your extractor fan is in excellent working order and that you are prepared for cleaning up the next morning!

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Bistro Saigon

Fri 23 May 2008

About a year ago we went up to Ilkley for a day out and a bit of a walk on the moor, and Andy spotted a Vietnamese restaurant near the station.

Armed with that information, and a good year to think about it, we finally made it to Ilkley for a meal at Bistro Saigon.

I've had plenty of Vietnamese food before in Adelaide, but I wasn't really sure what we'd find in the Yorkshire Dales ... I needn't have worried. To sum the experience up in one word, I'd have to say it's "GO!".

The restaurant itself is quite small, but with an impressive attention to detail. The front area contains the majority of the tables as well as the bar. Tables are set with real linen (both table clothes and napkins), and the staff are friendly and efficient. This is also a busy restaurant - I wouldn't head there on a Friday night without a reservation. The staff will do their best to accommodate you but they'll also make it clear if your table is required by a specific time.

Food wise, there's quite a lot of choose from, and the dishes range from the vaguely familiar through to the more unusual. We started with a salt and pepper squid and a beef and pomelo salad with tamarind dressing. The dishes were generous, light and tasty. The salt and pepper squid didn't wallow in grease and was tender and the salad was a good combination of flavours and textures (although I wouldn't have minded a bit more tamarind-sour).

Almost full from our starters, we moved on to mains: a roast pork belly for me, and spicy chicken with mango salsa for Andy. The size of these dishes continued what the starters had ... started. The pork was fantastic: rubbed with a variety of spices and then roasted and served with a dipping sauce it had crackling, flavour and succulence. It was served with steamed greens (of the far east Asian type!) which added a vibrant colour to the plate. Personally, I thought I'd won, but Andy's chicken was also pretty tasty.

The one area I'd suggest Bistro Saigon needs to revisit is its wine list. The choice of wines by the glass is a little limited and, critically, the list lacks some of the wines you'd expect to find paired with far east Asian food. Nothing like a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer, and very few of the lighter reds. While breadth of a wine list is important, I think it's more important to feature wines that are going to be friendly to your food.

We rolled out of Bistro Saigon extremely well fed and watered - and happy to boot! We spent just over £50, but certainly didn't skimp on the wine or beer. And to be honest, we could have easily shared a starter. But when the food's good, why bother short changing yourself?

1. Bistro Saigon, 1 Railway Road, Ilkley, LS29 8HQ, phone: 01943 817999

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Sunday, June 08, 2008

And We're Back!

Sun 8 June 2008

After 2 weeks in sunny Adelaide, we're back in Leeds and should return to normal service soon! I've got plenty of partly written posts to finish off and loads of new material so June should be a busy month for Eating Leeds. If you want to make sure you don't miss out - subscribe to the Eating Leeds RSS feed.

After something like 30 hours of flying time, and a very long, hot shower, I'm not really in the right frame of mind to start on the mammoth task of getting up to date. However, I do want to bring readers' attention to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Tesco Chicken Checkout Challenge. To cut a long story short, he has just over 2 days to raise almost £90 000 (which he's kickstarted with his own £30 000 donation) in order to get a chicken welfare resolution before Tesco shareholders at the company's AGM.

The chances are you've read about this elsewhere (for example, here's the Independent's take on things, or see The Foodie List), and I don't particularly want to start ranting about my personal opinions on either chicken welfare or supermarkets or Tesco in particular. But I would urge anyone who has an interest in any of those issues to do a bit of reading and either bid on one of Hugh's prizes or donate. Even if it's only £1.

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