16/05/2015

Chop Bloc, Chelmsford

I heard about Chop Bloc via Gary on Twitter. I’m not sure how a new steak place opening up not that far from us managed to pass me by, but it had. We’ve eaten at Miller & Carter in Chelmsford quite a few times, and have always found them to be of excellent quality, and good value, so we decided to check out Chop Bloc to see what they were like too. And, you know, because Steak.

Their location is a little tricksy, as they are in the town centre, so the SatNav got confused, then so did we. (I called them. Park in the carpark by Mothercare, head over the bridge, and they are just beyond Giraffe)

They’re in a corner with a few other chain restaurants, but they are built into an 18th Century grain house, so they look sufficiently different.

It has a dark feel, lots of exposed brick and wood floors, but it feels comfortable. I do love a good bit of brick.

image

We were shown straight to our table (they have a staircase, but they also have a lift. Yay Accessibility!) We sat for a bit, breathing in the smoky scent from the Josper charcoal grills/ovens.There’s a lovely roasting beef scent to the place, as you would expect. And they really know their beef.

To quote Gary;

“Sourced from an supplier of Hereford cattle, they take the unusual (for the UK) move of dry aging the meat onsite. There’s storage for over three tons of beef in the building, which gives the chef great flexibility to portion the meat when it’s at its finest.”

THREE TONS. Sounds like a beautiful thing to me.

Now, when steak is sold by the gram, I get confused, and preoccupied with working out how much it is in ounces, and then thinking “Would I really pay that much for a steak?!” quite a lot. It takes a while to get over that.

image

It would be very, very easy to spend well over a ton here, without really noticing, in the first five minutes.

However. We eventually settled on the ribeye, as that’s our benchmark steak. Medium well for Tex, medium rare for me.

I love that each steak has a stick in it so you know which is which.

20150425_184943

I am not sure a starter would be wise, even though they all sounded very tempting, especially the Panko Pork Belly.

Tex got chipotle fries with his steak, and a side salad. I had poutine, because I’ve never had it, and plain corn.

The Ribeye

I was very, very happy with my steak. Very.

The corn was very nice. A smoked taste to it, which can get a bit samey if everything has it, but then I love smoke, so I didn't mind at all. The small pieces of spring onion give it a nice tang.

WARNING KLAXON: The Poutine is huge. It really is a dish to share. Honestly. We did point out that perhaps a warning should be put next to it on the menu.

20150425_184953

That’s fries, with cheese curds, drenched in an amazing gravy. It’s rich, very dark, and made from all the bones, including veal bones.

The Gravy

That’s not simply the bottom of the pot in there, that’s beef jus. If they sold just a cup of that with some bread, I’d buy it. One of their sides is mash and gravy. I am so having that next time.

I do think that a side of a simple salad would be useful. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber. Just that. Tex’s salad had lots of things in it, half of which he picked out. (Green pepper shouldn’t be thing.) Miller & Carter do an Iceberg wedge, with a choice of dressings, and that’s perfect. Good and crunchy to cut through the richness of the steak.

Have another corn photo. Yes, I liked it that much. It didn’t need butter, it was tasty enough on its own.

Barbecue Corn

The only drawback was the noise level. The room that we were in seemed to be exceptionally echoey, not helped by a table of shouty men by us. The lack of anything, acoustic-wise, to absorb the sound, was extremely noticeable and, to be honest, it hurt my ears. Everything seemed to be amplified. It needs some nice carpet! (I know it doesn’t go with the look. But it does. Or at the very least some acoustic dampers like wall hangings.)

image

All in all, it was a very nice dinner. I think, for me, it would be a destination more for a special occasion, as yes, it is a bit expensive, but this is very, very good meat, and worth paying for.

15/05/2015

Mabel’s. Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

I can’t remember now how I heard about Mabel’s. I think it might have been on Facebook, but I am ever so glad I did hear about it.

I signed up to their site, and got given a 50% off voucher for my first visit. We booked it up for the 14th of May, there and then.

It’s walking distance from work for me, which is a bonus, so I wandered along, went in and fell in love with the way they have decorated the place.  I very much mourn the demise of the Covent Garden Bar and Grill (sister restaurant to Porters, also sadly gone) on Henrietta Street, because I felt so comfortable there, but I think Mabel’s might replace it in my affections.

Maiden Lane needed some new blood. There’s the English plushness of Rules, which must never, ever change. A very good Thai restaurant called Thai Pin, and the Italianate hipness of Polpo, with its sharing plates, tattooed staff and scrubbed wooden floors.

Now there’s the Big Easy, looking like a be-neoned club, pumping smoke and grilled seafood scents into the street.

I think there’s still a GBK in the middle, and at the other end we have The Porterhouse which is a quite nice pub but very busy, and the inauthentic but still tasty La Tasca. La Perla do Mexican style food, and Fire & Stone are also along there. I admit their pizzas are very good. I’m just not a huge pizza fan. I might eat it once a year.

Mabel’s has taken over what used to be a cocktail bar, I think. They’ve done the place out in a very nice fashion, with lots of old pictures, mirrors

2015-05-15 17.56.18    20150514_123145

and a terribly overblown chandelier.

20150514_123251

It all sounds a bit twee, but it really works. Not every chair is the same, but they blend in.

Now.

THEY USE PLATES. This is very important. If the food comes on a board or a tray for serving, as our first course did, they also give you a small plate.

There are no jam jars with handles to drink out of. Thank goodness.

When you first walk in, you enter a bar area, with high tables and stools. I thought someone was sitting in there working during their lunch, so didn’t pay proper attention, but it turned out to be a staff member trying to get my attention. Oops.

She was lovely, and was quite happy to seat me at a different table on their mezzanine floor, so that I wasn’t sitting with my back nearly up against a fire extinguisher, and almost in the doorway.

There’s a bar on this floor too, and the coffee machine is also there, which leads to an awful lot of banging when they thwack the coffee ground holder very hard to empty it. [narrows eyes] Yes, I jumped every time they did it as by Jove it echoes in there.

All very minor blips though.

There’s yet another seating area beyond the bar, so I might go in there next time!

Full marks ahoy for the food which, let’s face it, is what we were there for.

There’s a decent amount of choice on the menu, without being overwhelming. We had quite a hard time choosing, everything sounded so nice.

These are just the sandwiches. I wanted them all. I also want a cheese called Ogleshield. Because Ogleshield.

image

I want to go back and try the salads.

image

Finally we made a decision.

Duck Egg and Chive Mayo with Asparagus and walnut bread to share, then I chose Half a Smashed Chicken, and K had Battered Whale Haddock and chips.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

image

The egg mayonnaise is rich, but not cloying. The chives lift it, and the eggs are very tasty. The Lincolnshire Poacher cheese is a perfect addition, and the asparagus was very nicely cooked. Tender, not soggy at all.

There was a lot of the mayo, so I am glad we shared, because oh my there was a lot of the main dishes.

image

Salt baked potatoes are a thing of wonder. They retain all of their goodness, and the skin is soft, but beautifully flavourful. Not overly salty at all. The chicken was very tender, with properly crisp skin, and a hint of smoke to it. It was also very nicely chicken-y. Not bland in any way.

The apple and fennel coleslaw needed to not have large chunks of spring onion, but for a fennel hater, the rest of this was a revelation. Fresh and light, with hardly any anise flavour at all but with a gorgeous crunch. I loved it. Once I’d pulled out the onion pieces.

We were a bit taken aback by the fish. Cor, mate.

image

Yes, that batter is as crisp a shell as it looks. It was light, not greasy, and the fish inside was perfect.

Now I know everywhere does chips, but these were lovely. They tasted properly home cooked, very, as Kath said, Chip-y. Nicely done all round.

Dessert wasn’t going to happen. So we’ll have to go back.

My only complain, if you can call it that, is that the drinks options for non-alcohol people are a bit limited. They have an extensive cocktail list, and wine/beer/champagne list, but no non-alcoholic ones at all.

Tea, coffee, Fentimans juices, which I find way too sweet, or water, really. You do get tap water without asking, which is good.

 

image

I would have loved to see a small list of pretty mocktails, like Hush has, but they aren’t on there yet. Ok, ok I am being picky, I expect but not everyone drinks.

We were told that of an evening you can ask the bartender and they'll make you something.

I love this list at Hush. It’s seasonal too, I believe.

image

Overall, it’s a 9.5/10 for Mabel’s. I honestly can’t wait to go back and try more things from the menu. I very much enjoyed the experience there, it’s a very nice place to sit and chat, and eat lovely food, so thank you Mabel’s!

12/05/2015

Southern Fried Chicken

A few weeks ago, Alicia posted this.

It stuck in my brain, because it seems a far less messy way of cooking something that I love. Obviously my brain decided it want something else after a while, because it sort of slipped away. My brain is always filling up with recipes and ideas of what to cook, so something’s bound to fall out somewhere along the way.

Today I am home alone. Husband doesn’t really like chicken on the bone, and I love it, so on the way home from work I found some juicy looking chicken thighs in the trust Co-op, and decided there and then that I wanted Fried Chicken for dinner. The drawback being that I hadn’t had time to marinate it in buttermilk, but I figured it would work out okay in the end. I did my usual make it up as you go along.

I also read this article to get the method, and off we went.

It did indeed work out okay in the end.

3 large chicken thighs, skin on.

1 tbs Old Bay Seasoning (This is a wonderful spice mix, and integral to my cupboard)

1 tsp celery salt

4 cloves garlic, whole

3 tbs wholemeal flour

1 tsp fine polenta

Light olive oil (NOT extra virgin)

Pour 1.5 cm of oil into a high sided pan, with a lid. I used my mock Le Creuset casserole dish. Good and heavy.

Heat the oil with the garlic cloves in it, until it slowly comes to a heat, and the garlic cloves turn golden brown.

Remove the cloves, and turn the heat up.

Mix the spices, flour and polenta together in a bowl, then smoosh the chicken into it to coat it all over. (A low carb way with coating is to use dried parmesan, not flour. Omit the celery salt though or it will be too salty.)

When the oil is hot enough to brown a cube of bread quickly, put the chicken in.

Put the lid on, turn the heat down and simmer for 6 minutes. (A timer is your friend.)

Turn the chicken over, and simmer, covered, for another 6 minutes.

Take the lid off, turn the heat right up, and fry the chicken until properly dark golden on all sides, uncovered.

Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a rack. 

Fried Chicken.

The high sides of the pan reduce splatter to almost nothing. I felt quite safe cooking this way! I had put newspaper down on the floor just in case, but it wasn’t needed at all.

Ok, I will admit that the skin on the thighs curled up on two of them but OMG CRUNCHY SALTED CHICKEN SKIN.

I dusted some green beans in the spice mix too, and chucked them into the hot oil once the chicken was out. Nice and juicy, with crispy bits!

Southern Fried Green Beans

06/05/2015

Sunday 3rd May

My chap isn’t feeling too well tonight so, as we’re staying in his Bexhill flat, and thus have more room, he’s tucked up on the sofa in the living room, and I’m sat at the kitchen table – OH the joy of that – reading cookery books and listening to the sound of the sea.

 View from the living room windowBexhill at night

There are a lot of books here, more than our last visit, and I have spied the one for me. Nigel Slater’s Real Food.

Real Food 1

The glory of his writing never fails to capture my cooking heart. There’s a simplicity in his words but also a certain gloriousness to be found, too.

I do feel like I’m having an illicit liaison, sitting in a darkened kitchen, only the cooker hood light on, ‘listening’ to his voice reading aloud from the pages. This is the marvellous part of having television cooks. Now when I read their works, I can hear the words in their own voices.

Waxing lyrical about the sinful luxury of velvety pork fat, or the joy of a chip butty after the pub – bought chips, thickly buttered white bread – with the salaciousness of licking “salty, buttery fingers” when a bit drunk. “especially someone else’s”, he suggests. I believe I am blushing while I read that, even though I’m alone!

Sitting here, with this lovely book, I realise that it’s to Nigel’s books, and shows, that I turn when I need to slow down and take stock. I can switch off, and focus only on the sensuality and enjoyment of the food for a while.

Hiding away in my room on certain nights, it’s a very good way to not feel alone, and to lose myself in the sheer pleasure that cooking can bring to me, and to others.

I admit, it’s a little like having a secret boyfriend. One that I can summon forth from the television with only a flick of the remote control. Finding moments to read his words on the journey in to work, on the journey home, on the bus, at night whilst waiting for my husband to come home, or watching on catch-up TV when nobody else is home.

There he is, cooking all of the things that I like, and also challenging me to try the ones that I think I don’t.

I thought I was the only one who had to deeply inhale the aroma of her food before  she ate it, until I saw Nigel interview Richard E Grant, and realised that I was in very fine company. I will no longer be embarrassed about it.

There is a slightly shy, but mischievous smile underlying his writing, and a definite cheeky twinkle, combined with a real love for what he does. You do get the distinct feeling that he knows exactly what he’s doing when he references certain things.

Real Food

Not for me the raw, cheek-boned Marco Pierre of the White Heat era. No, this tousle-haired man with his gentle eyes and undeniably flirty personality, so often sharing the beauty and wonder with his army of adoring fans when on his travels – that right there, that caught me. There is a kindness, and a sincerity. A feeling he truly cares for the hundreds out there in the internet world who interact with him. 

The ease with which he took to Twitter like a natural medium of communication and became, almost overnight, like an old friend whose life you were peering into and catching up with.

Nigels wineberries

Wine berries in Nigel’s garden, digitally rendered by moi.

I revelled in his recent trip to Japan. Each Tweeted photo was a vignette of calm and beauty, a window into the obvious happiness that he was generously sharing with us all.

Kinosaki

Celebrity can mean a loss of privacy, but I think he has managed to retain his. I do hope so, as anyone encroaching on beloved Nigel, to me, would be beyond contempt. Both he and Nigella share a lot of themselves, and to try and take more than they offer is very unfair.

I remember watching him years ago, talking about eating a whole tub of ice cream in bed, back when he had short cropped hair and Nigella wore dungarees-style dresses. My kind of man, there, waxing lyrical about that chip butty after the pub.

Friendly, approachable, with a childlike joy on occasion but also, you feel, a man who knows exactly what to do with a bit of asparagus and a lot of butter. And yes, he’d infer a lot into that sentence too.

When I read Toast, drawn deep into the history of this TV cook that I’d watched for years, my heart broke for that small boy, and then rejoiced for the young man who finally found his passions, in all things, and pursued them.

I am well aware that TV personas can be totally misleading, but I am pretty sure that is not the case here.

Twitter has allowed me to get ‘close’ with cooks that once I could only watch on the television. None of the satisfaction of interaction there.

Gizzi, liking my food photos on Instagram, Nigel replying to me on Twitter like an actual friend, not just a fan, and then getting to meet some of my food idols too?

Carluccio is still, and will remain, my food hero, rogue that he is, but Nigel is my not-so-secret crush.

There’s a new show, and a book too. That will be going on the Kindle asap. Kitchen Diaries I bought hardcover, then also put it on the Kindle so that I could carry it more easily on the train.

My commute is a happier place with him along for the ride.

So. To you, Nigel.

Love,

Posset.

Posset, douglas fir, almond, apple

Edited 20.06.15

The new show, Eating Together, is absolutely lovely. All colours, creeds and peoples, sharing what makes them happy, and at home. In some cases, sharing personal memories that clearly move them, and which moved me to tears more than once.

To quote a Tweet from Nigel today “They were peaceful, gentle and benign. We need more of them and their sort in today's world.”

We were actually talking about the return of The Clangers, (do go and check it out, they are adorable) but it just struck me that this applies to the Eating Together contributors and the show, too. Well done all.