Archive for October, 2011

In the past, TOE has been a lone voice, crying out in the wilderness, possibly the target of old shoes and older vegetables as I pass by, when I’ve said I don’t like Hawksmoor. The Spitalfields and Seven Dials restaurants are almost universally fetishised in the blogosphere and the broadsheets – it’s nigh-on impossible to find a negative review* – and the announcement of a new outpost opening in the City was met with breathless excitement by carnivores across the capital.

I posted a while ago about our disappointing – in fact abortive – visit to Hawksmoor Seven Dials last year. Although we didn’t take them up on their lovely offer of a complimentary dinner to make up for our bad experience, we have since been to both Seven Dials and Spitalfields. It’s hard to fault the food, the cocktails are fantastic, the service efficient and cheery. But I suppose the memory of that first visit has stayed with me (especially as we were given the identical, deeply unsatisfactory table at Seven Dials), because I simply haven’t been able to warm to either restaurant.

I think part of the problem is that the boyfriend and I were always there as a couple, and there is something about the meaty, testosteroney vibe of these restaurants that’s not conducive to romance or intimacy (unless you’d like to become more closely acquainted with the next-door table for two). So when a group of foodie friends invited us to join their table for ten and sample the much-vaunted beef tasting menu at the softly launching Guildhall restaurant, we were eager to give it another go. (Much as I loathe the smugness with which lines like “So there we were, the cream of London’s food bloggers…” get trotted out, it would be inappropriate not to thank the lovely Victoria of Alphabet Soup for marshalling our group of meat fiends together for the occasion, and a hat-tip is also owed to the intrepid Malcolm Eggs of The London Review of Breakfasts, who had arrived early and got outside a Hawksmoor brekkie before squaring up to the beef.)

At Seven Dials, the room is arranged with the large tables in the centre and the smaller ones squashed (there, I said it) along the sides of the room. At the Guildhall restaurant the arrangement is reversed, with the larger tables in booths on the side and smaller ones in the centre. This is great as far as acoustics are concerned, but has some major drawbacks, as we were to discover. Still, who doesn’t love a booth, massive round table, squashy curved banquette and all? Things were off to a good start.

The beef tasting menu kicks off with beef tea, which I’d only encountered before in Victorian fiction as something used to “build up” recuperating invalids and pique a listless appetite. It’s served from teapots, in pretty blue willow-patterned cups, and it’s fantastic. You know when you have really, really good gravy, so good you want to drink it but etiquette forbids you? This is like that, except you can, and of course it isn’t gravy, but more a kind of uber-Bovril.

Next up were oysters, served with kimchi and braised shortrib. Kimchi is something of a favourite with Hawksmoor – the love-it-or-loathe-it kimchi burger is a standout item on the bar menu, and if its purpose was to get the food writers trading blows with one another, it certainly succeeded. I have no quarrel with the pungent Korean cabbage pickle, but I wasn’t convinced that it added anything to a perfectly good oyster. Those who tried the (excellent) braised beef atop the oyster and kimchi were even less persuaded that the combination worked.

On to course the third: “tongue and tail” salad – cured, poached beef tongue and braised oxtail salad with oyster mushrooms and chestnuts. To my mind the mushrooms and the chestnuts suffered terribly and the oxtail only slightly less from being served cold – a cold, cooked mushroom has a sluglike texture that I find deeply unpleasant, and the flouriness of chestnuts is best enhanced by being mouth-blisteringly hot. The third course is a tartare-off of beef versus veal. Our table delivered a 60/40 verdict in favour of the beef – the veal lacked the necessary punch of flavour to stand up to the robust seasoning.

By now we were beginning to realise that practicality had been sacrificed on the altar of conviviality in the design of the outsize booths. It’s impossible for the staff to reach the diners on the far side of the table, so everyone has to muck in and pass wine bottles and clear plates and hand food. It’s great fun, but I suspect that after one dry-cleaning bill too many when a drunken diner accidentally tips beef tea over his companion’s Versace frock, the management may regret their “we’re all in this together” approach.

Perhaps the most talked-about of Hawksmoor’s new dishes is beef shin macaroni. Allow me a moment’s indulgence as I take you back in time to my childhood, when family feasts often featured a dish nicknamed Jo McFatty. This consisted of onions, mushrooms, minced beef, condensed tomato soup, macaroni and obscene amounts of cubed cheese cooked together to savoury, unctuous, so-wrong-it’s-right deliciousness. Gentle reader, this dish is that dish, only uncomplicated by the addition of tomato and benefitting from a huge hunk of marrow bone-in, meltingly tender shin of beef instead of mince. This is comfort food at its best – a hot water bottle on a plate. There was silence around the table as we wallowed in the stuff**.

By this point even the doughtiest of us was beginning to flag, and we faced the realisation that the main course was yet to come: prime rib, porterhouse, chips, salad, bearnaise sauce and, hilariously, sausages. There comes a point in a marathon dinner like this at which one has to simply submit, set aside any thoughts of moderation, and eat all one can, and we’d reached it. This is what Hawksmoor does best: impeccable quality meat faultlessly cooked. The chips, cooked in beef dripping and more like junior roast potatoes in size and shape, were perfect. We fell on the salad like polar explorers on a nice cup of hot tea, so welcome was a bit of green after all that meat. The sausages were delicious, but undeniably a bridge too far.

Huge kudos to Hawksmoor though, for offering to provide takeaway bags and boxes of the uneaten sausages and macaroni, without making us feel like they wouldn’t put it past us to go through their bins if they didn’t. It would have been a tragedy to waste food this good and it’s giving me great joy knowing that more of that macaroni is reposing in the fridge as I type this.

After months of self-imposed sugar starvation on the Dukan diet, I would probably have fallen in love with just about any dessert, but the sticky toffee pudding, with a salted caramel sauce and a sizeable quenelle of clotted cream, really was a thing of wonder and delight. I can’t wait to try to make a version myself. By this point we were all as replete as pythons, sated with protein and red wine. “Ah, the meat coma,” observed our waiter as he cleared the plates. As we emerged shortly after into the late afternoon bustle of the City, I wondered whether I would ever be able to eat again.

Will I eat at Hawksmoor again? There’s no doubt it’s broken its duck with me. We has a brilliant time – although not every course worked for me, the overall experience was a huge amount of fun and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. At the promotional rate of £375 for ten of us, it also represented fantastic value – but double that and the normal price of £700 starts to feel a little steep.

* AA Gill dissed it, but who cares what he thinks?

** The recipe, along with many many other good things, can be found in Hawksmoor at Home


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Maisonette pie

Yet more delights for Dukan dieters.

This isn’t strictly Dukan-friendly, because butterbeans aren’t on the list of allowed veg, but I reckon a bit of flexibility is no bad thing, and you can always leave them out, although you may then need to reduce the amount of creme fraiche in the topping so it doesn’t turn out too sloppy. I’d also normally add a few frozen peas to the mince before adding the topping, however on this occasion I was playing with the cat and I forgot.

500g lean minced beef
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 carrot, grated
2 large sticks celery, chopped
A few button mushrooms, chopped
250ml red wine
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp anchovy sauce
3 bay leaves
Squeeze of tomato paste
1 beef stock cube
Salt and pepper

For the topping
1 cauliflower, separated into florets and steamed
1 tin butterbeans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp fromage frais
1 tbsp half-fat creme fraiche
1 tsp horseradish (I use the plain grated kind but I expect creamed would work fine too)

Brown the mince well. Remove it from the pan and add the vegetables, stirring and cooking until the onions are transparent. Return the meat to the pan along with the other ingredients and 250ml of water. Cover and cook slowly for a couple of hours, removing the lid near the end of the cooking time to allow the sauce to reduce – the cauliflower mash topping isn’t as absorbent as potato so you want this to be quite dry.

Put all the ingredients for the mash into a food processor and process until more or less smooth – a bit of texture is quite nice to have, I think.

Add your frozen peas if you’re using them, spoon the mince into an ovenproof dish, top with the mash and cook at about 180°C until the topping is lovely and brown.

I served this with gem squash – they are among my favourite of all autumn veg. Just prick their skins (otherwise they burst, which is quite fun really, so don’t worry if you forget) and cook in boiling water for about 20 minutes, until a knife easily pierces the skin. Cut in half, scoop out the seeds and discard, then scrape out the flesh and season.

Honestly, the photography on this blog gets worse and worse. It’s because we’re generally too hungry at the time to be messing about with tripods.

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Is there some kind of “lamest-ever name” award? Look no further than this autumnal recipe for Dukan diet types.

It looks a bit carroty. Sorry about that.

In the Guardian last weekend the ever-wonderful Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had a delicious-sounding recipe for goulash. TOE took one look at it and thought, yes, Dukan! This is a brilliant recipe to Dukanise, because it needs very little modification – less fat for frying, no potatoes, and no sweet paprika, because Dr Dukan strictly forbids it, as any fule kno I didn’t have any, and nor did the deli.

Hugh uses shin for this, and I applaud his choice – it’s lean, achieves melting tenderness, and is the cheapest cut of beef my butcher sells. I’m sure you could try it with chuck or any similar stewing beef but I love the richness that shin provides once its bands of cartilage have given up and dissolved into the sauce.

I served this with cauliflower rice with a few chilli flakes added, and creamed juniper and caraway cabbage. Here’s how.

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Dukan (again) blinis

Sorry, sorry, but (some of) you did ask. These have been a huge success, I’ve made them several times and they’re lovely.

2 eggs, separated
3 tbsps oat bran
1 tsp dried yeast
3 tbsps fat free natural yoghurt
1 tsp sugar*
Pinch salt
Butter, oil or non-stick spray for frying

* I know the inclusion of sugar in this recipe will horrify hard-core Dukaneers, but it is there to feed the yeast, not you. You can leave it out but I think allowing the yeast to do its thing more enthusiastically than it would if restricted to the small amount of sugars in the yoghurt and oat bran, is worth making a compromise for. Ditto the butter for frying – you only need a tiny bit, and it makes a massive difference to the flavour.

Mix the egg yolks, oat bran, yeast, yoghurt, sugar and salt together and leave in a warm place for several hours until puffed up and spongy. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and mix everything gently together. Heat a pan and add a little butter, vegetable oil or non-stick spray. Cook tablespoons of the mixture until golden brown, turning once.

Serve with smoked salmon, fromage frais, caviar (or the cheap alternatives – Ikea is great for knock-off caviar), finely chopped capers, cornichons, parsley and red onion, salad or all the above (guess which we have?).

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Goan – get in!

Since some readers have been v kind about my Dukan recipes and asked for more, here’s what we had for dinner last night.

Goan fish curry – mmmmm!

1 small onion
3 mild red chillies
Thumb-sized piece of ginger
4 cloves garlic
1 tsp coriander seeds*
1 tsp cumin seeds*
1/2 tsp mustard seeds*
5 cardamom pods*
1 tsp dried red chilli flakes*
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 can low fat coconut milk
1/2 can chopped tomatoes
3 tbsps fat free natural yoghurt
300g White fish fillets (ideally pollack, I couldn’t get any so used haddock – sort it out, Sainsbury’s!)
1 pack raw prawns
1 small butternut squash
1 pack baby spinach leaves

Toast the cumin, coriander, mustard seeds and cardamom seeds in a dry pan until they start to pop, then grind in a pestle and mortar. Process the onion, garlic, fresh chilli and ginger until finely chopped. Saute in a little oil for a few minutes, then add the ground spices, dried chilli, tomatoes, coconut milk, yoghurt, butternut squash and a little water. Cook until the squash is tender, then add the fish and cook for a few minutes until the prawns are pink and the fish is flaking. Add the spinach, cook for a minute, season and serve.

We had this with cauliflower rice and a rather afterthoughty salad of finely chopped yellow pepper, red onion, tomato, cucumber, carrot and basil. Lovely.

* Take all my spice measurements with a generous fistful of salt. I have a heavy hand with spices and you may want to emulate me!

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It’s been three months now since the boyfriend and I hurled ourselves so wantonly on to the no-fat, no-carb bandwagon. I have to confess that at this stage I am far from rigorous about following the diet: I have bread, with butter, most days and wine with dinner most nights. However, I’ve definitely cut the amount of carbs and fat in my diet way down, and all but eliminated sweets, chocolate and the like. The boyfriend has been super-strict, only having a few nights off over the whole period. I’ve lost over a stone; he’s lost more than three, and shattered his half-marathon personal best time. He’s got about 8lbs to go to get to his goal weight; I’m at the stage where if I don’t start eating cheese I’ll have no chest left.

A few observations about what waftier bloggers than I would no doubt term our “Dukan journey”.

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