Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Malmaison Brasserie

Thurs 19 February 2009

There are plenty of good dining deals on at the moment and one which caught my eye was the Malmaison's 'two thousand and wine' deal. For the princely sum of £29 two people can enjoy two courses from the Homegrown menu and a bottle of wine: bargain!

Back in summer 2007 we enjoyed an excellent meal at the Mal so we were keen for a repeat treat and headed off last Thursday night, stopping for a swift pre-dinner drink at the Adelphi.

Things were out of kilter at the Mal from the start. There was a bit of confusion about our table (the restaurant was nearly empty as we had a 6:30pm booking) but we were eventually seated and began with beer and Champagne. The drinks took a little while to arrive and when the two remaining settings at our table were cleared one of Andy's forks made a break for the floor. We were promised a replacement.

The Malmaison's wine list is impressive but our food choices were such that wine was difficult. Ordinarily, in this situation, we might have opted for glasses rather than a bottle - but because of the 'deal' we decided to 'upgrade'. The Domaine du Moulin Favre 2007 Brouilly was, to our minds, a bit unbalanced: both alcohol and acidity were a bit aggressive, washing away any fruit there might have been in the wine. Still, dissecting wines certainly gives us something to talk about and prevents me (briefly) from staring (usually open mouthed) at fellow diners.

Anyway, I'm prepared to shoulder the blame for my poor choice of wine. For me - the meal began well, with black pudding hash served with a poached egg and a mustard sauce. It was a good size portion and ticked all the boxes. I was looking forward to my beef bourgignon.

Andy began with what were billed as Thai fishcakes. Neither of us could decide where the 'Thai' came in as they appeared to be salmon rissoles. There was no ginger, no lemongrass, no lime, no hint of chilli. And they were served with mayonnaise. There was a bit of discussion about the provenance of the mayo: was it from a jar or really from the kitchen?

The tables were turned for main course. After our dishes were unceremoniously plonked in front of us ('Fish?', 'Beef?'). From the first piece of meat I speared in my beef bourgignon I knew this was no lovingly prepared, slow cooked beast. The meat was so resistant to the fork I knew my jaw was in for a work out. Close inspection of some of the pieces of meat showed some very dark patches, suggesting to me that someone had tried to prepare this dish far too quickly. The sauce was pretty tasty but the accompanying horseradish mash was a real disappointment.

As I pushed my food around the plate Andy tucked in to his sea bass with prawn biryani. Although the portion looked quite small he said it was enough and that it was pretty good. The biryani part confused us. Andy labelled it a risotto and it was so mildly spiced you'd certainly not recognise it as a curry.

Oh - and Andy's fork? Despite reminding various waiting staff, a fork never appeared so he took one from another table.

With our main courses cleared we still had some wine to finish before contemplating coffee. This gave me a good opportunity to look around and check out what everyone else was doing. While the restaurant was busy it certainly didn't look as though it were full of contented diners. From my seat I could see people trying to order drinks, trying to get orders sorted out and generally looking as though the whole experience was a bit of a hassle.

So it should come as no surprise that, when we ordered our coffees, the order was somehow lost. The sommelier, who was a very friendly young woman from Adelaide, spotted they hadn't turned up and chased up the order for us. Apparently, there was a problem with the till.

After careful checking of our bill, we made our escape, our wallets approximately £70 lighter.

This experience highlights many of the perils of dining on a 'deal'. Firstly, the restaurant seemed to forget that customers dining on the deal probably eat out a fair bit anyway and probably also have friends. Will I rush back to the Malmaison? Er, no. Will I take visitors? Definitely not. Did I tell everyone at work all about my experience the next day? Absolutely.

Secondly, as a diner, it's very easy to think that, as you're on a cheap deal, you'll treat yourself to a glass of bubbly or an upgrade on the wine, or dessert, or coffees, or liqueurs and so on. If the meal is lovely, you don't resent spending the extra money. If it's like Thursday night - well, to be honest, you're a bit annoyed.

So - Malmaison - must do better!

1. Malmaison Brasserie, 1 Swinegate, Leeds, LS1 4AG, phone: 0113 398 1000, map.
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Monday, February 23, 2009

Shrove Tuesday

Monday 23 Feb 2009

Yes - tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day/Mardi Gras. The chances are that, yet again, it's snuck up on you and you're tootling around the internet for a recipe and pancake related ideas.

Last year I actually followed a recipe, and produced sweet crêpes, as found in Escoffier's Ma Cuisine. I also posted after the event.

This year, I'm not only posting my own recipe, I'm also letting you know about it in advance.

But first - the hints and tips.

It's better if you can make your batter a day in advance and leave it overnight in the fridge. I don't know why but it all seems to work better. In addition, this has the happy side effect of making it all seem like less work: literally, a few minutes tonight to make the batter, and then it's only the effort of making the crêpes tomorrow. The batter may separate out a bit overnight, but just give it a quick whisk before you start frying.

If you don't have a dedicated, well seasoned crêpe pan then use a non stick pan for frying your crêpes. Use plenty of butter (add to the pan between crêpes) and be prepared for the first one being a bit of a mess (again - I don't know why, that just seems to be the way things go).

Finally - if you make a plain crêpe mixture then consider making a little more. The crêpes freeze well (keep them separate with baking paper) and you can either eat them plain (defrost and then re-fry with some butter) or make a savoury dish (perhaps chicken with spinach and ricotta as a filling, topped with a Béchamel sauce and lashings of cheese, baked in the oven).

All you will need is 2 medium eggs, whisked. Add 1 cup of plain flour. Whisk - and do not be too fussed about getting out all the lumps. Finally, add milk to let down the mixture - I think I used about half a cup tonight but the exact amount you'll need will depend a lot on your flour. You want quite a runny batter as crêpes are thin, delicate little things: about the consistency of pouring cream.

And ... voilà - that's it! Once cooked top with whatever you fancy - sugar and lemon juice every time for me!
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Sunday, February 22, 2009

WBW54: Passion for Piedmont

Sat 21 February 2009

Wine Blogging Wednesday has been one of my more consistent efforts at blogging events over the last year or so. What this says about me ... I'm not entirely sure. Last Wednesday, the event was hosted by McDuff's Food and Wine Trail and the theme was A Passion for Piedmont.

I won't bore you with why I didn't post on Wednesday but, as the round up is not yet posted (providing I type quickly!) and weekend also begins with 'w' I bring you my efforts in the hope that I sneak in at the last minute!

Piemontese wine is not tricky to come by in the UK although you might struggle for variety if you are limited to visiting one or two stores. You also might struggle to keep costs down. I was tempted by a £25 bottle of Barolo in Weeton's in Harrogate but commonsense saw me spend less money at Oddbins. Setting me back around £8, I opted for a Balbi Soprani Barbera d'Asti 2006. Yes, that's the same Asti otherwise famous for a much mocked (but also, arguably, much maligned) sparkling wine. Barbera is the grape and the wine comes from the environs of the town of Asti, east of Turin in north western Italy. Unlike Nebbiolo (from which the handsome, but expensive, wines of Barolo and Barbaresco are made), Barbera is a more forgiving grape. Being less difficult, wines made from Barbera are cheaper.

WBW54 - Piedmont

However, difficult is the word I am tempted to apply immediately to this example. This is not an easy wine to drink. Again, we struggled with the wine's temperature. The bottle suggests serving between 18-22°C: we were no where near that. So, this meant that the nose was not forthcoming. There was cherry and some other red berry fruit, some quite marked warmth from the alcohol (13.5%abv) and a few earthy, woody notes. These more developed aromas matched up with what we observed in the glass: a wine ruby in colour but not particularly dense and with a noticeable pale rim.

It's unsurprising that the wine is no ripe fruit bomb. The palate begins with tart, tart, tart cherries which do mellow and do develop into some slightly riper, red berry fruit flavours which then progress on to the more mature earthy, woody, vegetal notes already spotted on the nose. The acidity is high for a red (which you'd expect, not only because of the extreme tart cherry action, but also because that's Barbera for you) and it balances out the alcohol really nicely. There's some very soft tannins but, in the context of the wine, they're really unremarkable. The length is really good verging on excellent.

I realise that this reads like an extremely positive tasting note but, thanks to that high acidity, this is a wine that needs careful matching to food. We were eating pasta with a tomato based sauce and this just didn't have the richness and fattiness to counteract that acidity. Ironically, tonight's dinner (which is pork and is going to be paired with something altogether different) would probably be a better match. If you were sitting down to a roast duck this wine would probably be a great match. It is most certainly not a quaffing wine!

In terms of value for money my gut feeling is that it is perhaps a tad on the expensive side. Had I been eating different food, that opinion might have been different - but I'm going to assume my ambivalence suggests it's a bit pricey. However, one thing I do think this wine shows is how intimately connected to food Italian wine is!
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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Seghesio Zinfandel

Sat 07 Feb 2009

It's been a while since a straight wine tasting note and that's really because we've not been drinking anything too fascinating. A couple of weeks ago Banrock Station's The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz was on offer at Somerfield for £4.49 a bottle ('normally' around the £9 mark) which represented sensational value. I don't think you'd want to pay full tote odds but if you spot it at a reduced price it's definitely worth trying.

If you're looking for a treat and a wine which is worth its price tag (discount or no) then you could do worse than part with £17 (yes, I know, it's a lot of money, but you can't take it with you and you should really spoil yourself every now and then) for the Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2006. This is a huge 16%abv so make sure you have plenty of good food ready to go with it!


Zinfandel doesn't seem to make too many appearances here in the UK (well, unless you're in a pub drinking blush!) - but it's stupidly popular in America, and much of it (like this wine) is grown in California. However, you may find it easier to spot some Italian wines made from Primitivo which is exactly the same grape. And Zinfandels are even starting to come out of Australia (I recommend you keep a look out for Kangarilla Road, from McLaren Vale, which I've seen once or twice).

The wine was a dense ruby colour and I noticed quite a pale rim - it was probably more remarkable because of the intensity of the wine otherwise. In terms of the nose, I struggled a little bit because we were in the middle of freezing weather, snow and chaos and there was no way of getting the wine warm enough! However, I did manage to pick up black berry fruits with some vegetal undertones, some chocolate and just a hint of something aniseedy or licquorice-y.

What was gratifying was that all these (and more!) came through on the palate - especially the chocolate. Masses of chocolate with the black berry fruit in the background and softened by cedar and old leather. The aniseed flavours came through on the finish.

I was a bit alarmed by the alcohol content, but it was really well integrated: the wine finished with heat on your lips rather than catching in the back of your throat. The wine really filled the mouth: the tannins were soft and there was some pretty good acidity which not only provided structure but probably helped balance out the alcohol.

With all of this, there was a lot going on with this wine: the interplay of chocolate and fruit, moving to the developed cedar and leather and finishing up with aniseed and warm alcohol made it very enjoyable to drink. I always find that it takes me longer to drink a better wine: a complex wine with great length makes you want to savour and enjoy what's going on in your mouth, rather than rushing on to the next mouthful.

We drank this with a hearty lamb and lentil dish: it's a bold wine so you don't need to be shy with big flavours. If you need to impress with a red wine - definitely keep this in mind!

1. Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, Family Vineyards, 2006, £17, Latitude Wine.
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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wine for Weddings

Tues 10 Feb 2009

No, this is not a subject about which I'm going to write with any great authority! However, those of you who are getting hitched this year may be more than interested in winning £1000 worth of wine for the big day, from Naked Wines.

Of course, such a generous prize doesn't come easily and, in order to win, you will need to produce a video re-enacting the proposal AND you'll need to garner the most votes on the Naked site ... If you win, your wedding must be taking place in 2009/2010 and you'll be able to choose the wines yourself. £1000 will go quite a long way: as far as 125 bottles of Cloudy Bay Sav Blanc apparently.

If you do enter the Naked Wines competition (and you need to do so by 1 March) then do let everyone here at Eating Leeds know!

While we're on competitions, at the end of January I mentioned the Best of British and Irish Food competition. I've had confirmation that you'll need to have your videos in for that one by 19 March.

Finally - just some good old fashioned money saving. Thresher is, yet again, offering a 40% off voucher. This time the discount's on sparkling wine with the offer finishing on Valentine's Day. And if you're looking for bar and restaurant discounts in Leeds (though I wouldn't recommended discounts bubbles and a discounted meal if you're looking to impress on Saturday ...) check out the relaunched Team Gopher.
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Monday, February 09, 2009

Banana Cakes

Sat 07 Feb 2009

As I've already mentioned, Friday was Eating Leeds' birthday which was, if nothing else, an excuse to make cake. Not that I ever really need an excuse.

I'd recently acquired a large number of bananas from work (don't ask - in this day and age a supplier thought it fit to tell our catering staff to 'throw out' the huge number of rock hard, bright green bananas they'd received ...). As far as I am concerned bananas are pretty much the devil's food. A banana is only good if in a cake, in a smoothie, or mushed up with plenty of cream and sugar. I had far too many bananas for cake alone, so it's a good thing Andy is happy to eat them.

Over at The Goddess's Kitchen, Maria had yet again worked some baking magic, but this time with a honey loaf. Bananas and honey is a good combination (well, when found in a smoothie) and even though the family banana cake recipe is bullet proof I figured there was no harm in a bit of tinkering.

So - preheat your oven to 180°C and, either prepare your 1lb loaf tin or sort out your cupcake pan.

Begin by beating together 125g of unsalted butter with 125mL of runny honey. Add 2 eggs and 300g of self raising flour. The mixture will be very stiff. Add 3 mashed (very) over ripe bananas. And finish with 1/4 cup (60mL) of milk with 1 tsp of bicarb of soda dissolved in it. I also added a splash of rum.

Bake for 30-45 minutes (loaf) or 15-30 minutes (cupcakes - depends on how large your cupcakes are!): cake should be golden and a skewer, as always, should come out cleanly.

The preferred way of finishing the cake is with chocolate icing and walnuts. However, because I had an apple to use up, I topped my cupcakes with a very thin slice of apple and a sprinkling of muscovado sugar just as they went in the oven.

banana cupcakes
Ready to go in the oven!

They're lovely, light tasty little cakes. In this recipe I've really cut back on the honey (the 'normal' recipe has 175g of sugar) so don't feel bad if you do want to slather them in icing!
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Sunday, February 08, 2009

Happy Birthday to Us

Friday 06 Feb 2009

Friday was Eating Leeds' third birthday! I had all the best intentions of posting on the day but my ISP had other ideas and I spent the evening internet-less.

The very first post was a round up of a weekend out in Leeds, written while I was still living in Guildford. Since then I think the posts have become a lot more focussed (well, I try to stuff less into a single post!). I also 'met' a lot of interesting people (in real life I refer to you all as 'my imaginary internet friends'!), learnt a great deal (about food, wine, SEO ...) and cooked and drank more widely than I would have done without Eating Leeds.

I've got lots of plans and changes lined up for 2009 but you'll have to wait to find out about that ... what better excuse that to subscribe to our RSS feed, follow me on twitter or sign up for our emails (don't forget that if you sign up for an email you'll need to verify your subscription by clicking on a link in the first email you receive!).

And yes, I did make cake to celebrate ... and that's why you'll have to come back tomorrow!
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Thursday, February 05, 2009

London Restaurants

Thurs 5 Feb 2009

We seem to have spent a lot of time in London this year so it's time for a quick scout around some of the venues in which we've spent our hard earned pounds.

So ... to begin, a revisit to L'Accento in Bayswater, first visited by me in summer 2007. I was impressed then and, in the interim, the restaurant seems to have produced a web site and got itself recommended in the Michelin Guide. More importantly - standards haven't slipped. This was a huge relief, since I'd recommended it for an impromptu dinner! L'Accento now offers a cut down menu of two courses for £17.50, but three of our party of four ordered from the à la carte menu. Everyone was happy. I started with the pumpkin ravioli with sage butter which, while a little on the sweet side for me, was still really good. I followed this with osso bucco served on risotto milanese which was fantastic. Also sampled were the calve's liver, the squid salad and the lamb shank. We washed our main courses down with Sardinian Cannonau: a light to medium bodied red wine that went will our combination of dishes (wine choice was complicated by a fish focussed main from the set menu). The wine list is a study in diverse Italian wines and I would have been quite happy to work my way through the whole lot. We also went for puddings and coffees and the final bill ... £45 a person. Bear in mind, this was no exercise in moderation and it would certainly be possible to dine at L'Accento for a lot less.

Next up, another evening meal, this time at The Mercer on Threadneedle Street. Recommended to me a while ago on the basis of its good quality house Champagne, we arrived shockingly late for our 9pm reservation. Having been at a drinks function already our palates might have been a little ... um ... jaded, but the Bruno Paillard Champagne was enjoyed by all before we launched into our food. I started with a smoked eel salad followed by scallops on artichoke puree, washed down with a glass of Albariño. What really stood out was that the service was flawless when we were far from perfect guests. We turned up as the kitchen should have been closing and we might have been a little boisterous but not once did we feel hurried or that we were imposing on staff who were, in hindsight, probably thinking they were going to get an early night. Again, a good wine list with a good by the glass offering. We didn't have pudding and we came out just over £50 a head poorer. Based on this experience, I would head back to the Mercer in an instant.

Finally, on Monday I had the misfortune to find myself in London. Yes, Monday, when snow closed the city. Having got up at 5am to catch the 6am train from Leeds, I was rather disappointed when day 1 of my WSET Educator course was called off. Not that I'd actually figured out how I was going to get from King's Cross to London Bridge with the tube cancelled! I spent the morning drinking coffee in Islington (walking distance, in the conditions) before thinking about lunch. My first instinct was to head to the Charles Lamb, but then I thought I should really try out somewhere new. I drew up a short list and, thanks to Krista's report from September 2007 (and the fact it was closest) I headed to Mucho Mas, even though I wasn't entirely sure I fancied Mexican. It's easy to find: it's on Upper Street, near the big pedestrian crossing. On Monday staff were busy grilling in the snow. As you do.

I ate inside. A chicken burrito is £4.95. The burrito is put together in front of you so you can specify which type of beans you want, and the combination of cheese, sour cream, salad, chilli sauce and guacamole (an extra 80p) that you desire. I also had a beer costing £3.40, so this wasn't the cheapest lunch known to mankind (even by London standards!) but it was very good. The burrito was very generous in size and very tasty. If you're having a normal day, you could easily eat one of these for lunch and just a snack for dinner (or vice versa). Again - I'd return without thinking about it.

Of course, while it was the worse snow in London for 20 years (or perhaps that is 19?) I probably should have been traipsing around taking photos of Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge and so on. However, I wasn't so you'll have to make do with this shot of Upper Street!


1. L'Accento, 16 Garway Rd, London, W2 4NH, phone: (020) 7243 2201
2. The Mercer, 34 Threadneedle Street, London, EC2R 8AY, phone: (020) 7628 0001
3. Mucho Mas, 27 Upper Street, London, N1 0PN, phone: (020) 7704 2123
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Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Sat 24 Jan 2009

Another video for you!

I know gougères have made a previous appearance on this site, but this time you get a slightly simpler recipe AND video instructions. I made this video with two purposes in mind: firstly, late last year I made these for my friends Matt and Parminder who had trouble replicating them. What better way than to be able to show them how it's done? Secondly, I used this as my (rather last minute) Market Kitchen Talent Search entry. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone!

A handy list of ingredients is after the video.

To make the quantity shown in the video you will need:

75mL water
20g unsalted butter
pinch of nutmeg
cayenne pepper/chilli powder/paprika to taste
salt to taste
20g plain flour
1 medium egg
20g grated Parmesan (or other hard - medium hard cheese of choice)

These quantities will do two not very hungry people for a snack. The quantities scale up easily. For a substantial afternoon tea for 2, double up! They're great for serving unexpected guests, but bear in mind that you do need to serve them straight from the oven.

Of course - ensure you have a bottle of good red wine to hand. There's your excuse to buy a lovely bottle of Burgundy!
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