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I have been lax in posting my own cooking to my blog recently which was mainly due to not having cooked anything new, exciting or worthwhile to post but here are two:

Mackerel and orange salad


I had picked up a mackerel from the wet fish counter at Sea Tree in Mill Road and wanted to make something very simple and quick. I filleted the mackerel (which is very easy compared to other fish), rubbed the skin side with rapeseed oil, seasoned the flesh side with sea salt and pepper and fried the fillets skin side down in a hot pan for about a minute, took the pan off the heat and flipped over the fillets to cook the other side.
To serve I arranged the fillets on simply dressed leaves with orange segments. The bitterness of the leaves with the tart orange worked well together. Blood oranges would have been even better but those weren't in season.

Poached Dover Sole


My friends Heidi and Carri had told me of a van that sells fresh wet fish from Lowestoft next to the Portland Arms pub on Mitcham's Corner on Wednesdays (from 8:30 to 15:00, I think) and yesterday I finally got up half an hour earlier and took a detour on the way to work. Yesterday, they had cod, haddock, salmon, plaice, Dover sole, herring, sprats, whole squid, prawns, rainbow trout and a few other bits and pieces. Everything looked excellent and fresh. As I knew I wouldn't have much time in the kitchen, I picked a Dover sole with the plan of poaching it. They even had a few that were already skinned which saved me some time.
Home after work, the fish was still in excellent condition, ever after 9 hours in the office fridge. I made a poaching liquor from white wine, water, a fish stock pot and a couple of slices of ginger and garlic, brought it to the boil, switched the heat off and let it cool down for a while, taking out the ginger and garlic at the end. On a Saturday I would have made my own stock from the bones but I was quite hungry and didn't want to wait that long. I filleted the sole (you get four fillets from a flat fish) and poached the fillets in the liquor for about five minutes. Then I took them out, seasoned them with salt and pepper and served them on dressed leaves and boiled new potatoes. Next time, i'm going to let the liquor cool even further so they don't cook quite that much. They were firm but still moist. The flavour was subtle and clean, just what I wanted.

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As Fitzbillies opened for dinner again after a summer break, they introduced a "feasting" menu (see bottom of the dinner menu), available to groups of four and above and consisting of a starter (from the current menu, and the whole group has to agree on one), a main which is usually a whole cut of roasted meat to be carved at the table or a "dish of birds" and a dessert (selection as with starter). When I read this, I immediately knew this would be good fun so after a few weeks of herding catsfriends, we had decided on a date and a menu.

Cured rabbit loin, celeriac/hazelnut remoulade
We started with cured rabbit loin and celeriac/hazelnut remoulade. The meat was superb, tender and flavourful, another example of Fitzbillies' excellent cured products. The crunchy remoulade went nicely with it.


Sweetcorn chowder, queenie scallop
A little extra course in the shape of an espresso cup of sweetcorn chowder with a roasted Queenie scallop was next. The chowder was fresh and subtle in sweetcorn flavour, the scallop cooked perfectly.


Dish of birds
The main event, Dish of Birds: A quail each and a half each of pheasant and poussin, all perfectly roasted with crisp skin and juicy flesh. Not in the photo are the sides: roast potatoes, dandelion leaves, carrots, bread sauce, cranberry sauce and an excellent gravy. This was as delicious as it looked and after we'd finished, everybody was groaning with full stomachs.


Pear and chocolate cake
The dessert, however, was still to come and it fit in, too, as the pear and chocolate cake was rather light.


All the courses were served on sharing platters.

It was a really fun evening and I highly recommend it for a family celebration or just a reason to bring friends together. With a few bottles of wine, coffee and service, this feasting came to 50 pounds a head.

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Being incredibly behind the times the first time I heard (of) The Coal Porters was when they played a sesson on Bob Harris' Country Show on BBC2 a few months ago. Their version of "alternative bluegrass" music is fun(ny) and engaging, the muscianship is superb and they play in the traditional setup without amplification (except fiddle but that might have been because of the cramped stage) around a communal microphone. As each musician takes a solo or sings they step towards the microphone and then back again.
The Green Note in Camden is a tiny venue, an oblong room with the tiny stage in a front corner, tables along each long side and the bar at the end. Luckily I was early so managed to grab the small table directly in front of the stage. While there was a reasonable amount of light for such a venue, it was mostly red, the bane of all photographers because it washes out all skin tones so I had to convert them to black and white and crank up the contrast to get a reasonable result. A few impressions below, many more on flickr.

The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13 The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13
The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13 The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13 The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13
The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13 The Coal Porters at the Green Note, 02/03/13


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Last weekend I joined a number of old friends (you might be able to spot fractalgeek, queenortart, undyingking, pengshui_master, sesquipedality and others) in The King's Musketeers, set during the reign of King Louis XIII of France, with characters both from real history as well as literature (e.g. Alexandre Dumas' novels). As often during these weekend events, costuming was at a very high level, many self-made and a number of players even were wearing several different costumes. If you'd like to know more about freeform games, the UK Freeforms website is a good place to start. Here's a selection of photos, with many more being on flickr. The great and sometimes daunting thing about these freeforms is that the plots are written into the characters who then go and try to resolve them (find lost characters or items, resolve old rivalries, make profit/politics/war, toppel those in power, empower the people and so on) mostly by social interaction. Character sheets can be five or more pages long (background, character description, goals, people you know) and there are additional materials to read, too, so preparation for a game like this takes a while.
This was my first weekend freeform for a while (since Queen Vic's Jubilee) but I got into it quite quickly and, unlike some previous games, it went really well for me and I kept thinking something had to go horribly wrong any minute but I not only survived but also resolved most of my goals. My only disappointment was that the mob didn't get to overrun Paris. ;o)

Here's a selection of photos, with many more being on flickr.



Next year's game is going to be Café Casablanca, with characters from Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon and other Film Noir films. It's almost completely booked already and registration is currently on hold while the organisers are figuring if they can fit in any more players. You can always register your interest as there are sometimes dropouts which will need to be filled.
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crocodilewings mentioned recently he needed a new avatar and yesterday we happened to be in the same area so we met up at a pub and took a few photos:

Rikk Rikk Rikk

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Eat Cambridge is a food festival this coming March. The main event, an all day fair at the Guildhall will be held on Saturday, the 9th of March from 10:30am to 4:00pm. Throughout the previous and the following week there are many fringe events like popup restaurants, cooking demonstrations and classes, tasting sessions and so on. You can find all the details and information on how to book in the programme.

I will be joining the food debate panel at the McCrum Theatre in the afternoon on Sunday, the 17th of March. From the programme:

Food debate hosted by Tim Hayward
Time: 2pm to 4pm Location: McCrum Theatre, Bene’t
Street, (through the Eagle pub courtyard and on the
right hand side) CB2 3QN Price: £5.50 in advance,
£7.50 on the door
Description: To round Eat Cambridge off nicely we
will be holding a debate between food writers, bloggers
and restaurateurs. Covering issues such as reviews,
freebies and marketing in today’s social media world,
the debate will take on a Question Time format with
a panel of well-respected local food experts taking
comments and questions from the audience. Things
promise to get lively and you’re guaranteed to come
away with some food for thought (sorry, we couldn’t
resist!).
To book: Visit http://www.wegottickets.com/event/206087

I am really excited about this festival and I hope so are you if you live in or near Cambridge or at least visit regularly. Its main aim is to showcase local and independent producers, businesses and activists. Cambridge has long been slated as a clone town but if you know where to look, you will be able to find hidden gems run by passionate people who are worth supporting.

So, what are you waiting for, get booking! 

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The Cambridge Brew House opened today in the former premises of the Bun Shop and its various incarnations in King Street. What used to be two rather cramped spaces is now one large open one with diner-style booth seating along the window front to the right of the door with tables and chairs filling the rest of this area with table service. Opposite the door is the bar with quite a wide selection of beers, including currently two house brand ones and a few other locals as well as a few well known beers. In the back to the left of the bar is the onsite brewery bit behind glass. This is not operational yet, their own beer is currently brewed off site until it's all set up. This is also a bit more casual area with a wild mix of seats (chairs, armchairs, bar stools and even a wooden vaulting horse) with low and high tables. I'm not sure if there is seating upstairs as well as it was quite busy and a grabbed one of the last seats on one of the bar tables before ordering a King's Parade and a chicken and mushroom pie. There were lots interesting things on the menu including home smoked and cured meats/fish but I thought a pie would be a good dish to get an idea of their cooking.
The King's Parade is an excellent bitter and one that actually deserves that name, really fully flavoured. I was just about to dig into my pie when Caroline found me and took me to her table. They had already had starters ("British Tapas") which they had enjoyed so I tucked into my pie while they waited for their mains. My portion was a quarter of a bigger pie, rather thick with excellent, crunchy pastry. The filling consisted of large chunks of well cooked, i.e. still nicely moist meat and mushrooms, not as liquid as you often get which also helped keep the pastry crispy. There was also a pile of fluffy chips and a little copper pan with gravy. I only realised now that there was no veg or salad but I didn't really miss it. I really liked it.
I'm looking forward to reading what Heidi thought of her excellent looking pork belly.
The second beer I had was the Misty River, a pale ale that wasn't quite to my taste but I prefer a darker beer, anyway. Heidi didn't fancy the bitter so it's definitely a matter of taste.
I also wanted to try a dessert but there wasn't that much exciting (chocolate/orange torte, "winter berry" Eton mess, and toffee pudding as well as ice creams and a cheese board with three or six cheeses). I'm not a fan of either orange with chocolate nor toffee so I picked the Eton mess which was not bad, not too sweet but with strawberries and blueberries it went a bit against their claim of using local and seasonal ingredients.
We agreed that the desserts needed some work but were rather happy with everything else. Considering it was rather busy indeed and their first day, I couldn't really find fault with the service, either.

The Cambridge Brew House is going to serve food all day, from 12 noon to 9:30 in the evening which makes it ideal for both early and late-ish dinners, lunch or an afternoon snack. I am definitely looking forward to returning soon.

Oh, and they are still offering 50% off on food today (Thursday) so you really can't go wrong.

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Kavey Eats has a monthly ice cream challenge called "Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream" in which I have taken part twice so far. This month's challenge is any theme from the last year so I thought I'd try my hand at a sorbet.



My Riverford box contained blood oranges which were ideal. I zested the oranges then instead of juicing them I peeled them and blitzed them with my stick blender. In a saucepan I combined the juice, zest, half an inch of grated ginger, half a vanilla pod, two short cinnamon sticks, one star anise, five or so bruised cardamom pods and quite a bit of demerara sugar (don't ask me how much, I did this by eye but enough to make the mix taste really sweet), heated the mix until the sugar was dissolved, pulled the pan off the heat, put a lid on and let it cool off and infuse with the spices. After the mix was cool, I strained it into a tupperware container to remove the spices and put it in the freezer.

I don't have an ice cream machine so I took the container from the freezer every hour or so and stirred it through with a fork to break up any ice chunks that were forming. In my low rated freezer compartment it took almost 24 hours until it resembled sorbet or, to be honest, more like a slushie as it melts quite quickly. It tastes nice, though, fruity, tangy and spicy so I'm really happy with it.

Spiced Blood Orange Sorbet
Served in a tumbler with (shop bought) brownie pieces

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On Friday evening Jo Kruczynska aka The Afternoon Tease, cake baker extraordinaire and regular club host held a special night of boozy baked goods and cake inspired cocktails at Hot Numbers in Gwydir Street. Despite her only initial advertising being her blog and twitter, the tickets were already sold by the time it was advertised in Cambridge Edition.

Menu
Click on the menu for a larger version


Marmalade Martini
We started with a "marmalade martini" which was a lot less sweet than it sounded and was a great way to ease us into the evening.


Amaretto Sour Macaron
The first bite was an Amaretto Sour Macaron, which was crunchy and light with good almond flavour.


Sweeteasy
The next drink was a "Hot Gingerbread Punch" which tasted rather like a hot toddy and made sure the last of the cold was driven out of our bones.


Polish donuts Polish donuts
These Mojto Doughnuts were the highlight for me as they while flavoured were exactly like the Faschingskrapfen my grandmother used to make. They were fantastically fluffy and a little crunchy from the sugar glaze. I've already ordered a box of them for my birthday party. The punch was great with this.


Sweeteasy
The last baked round had two bite sized offerings: Dark chocolate Margarita Truffles which had been sprinkled with salt, creating the perfect balance of sweet and savoury; and a brownie with a Kirsch soaked cherry and cream. Needless to say, the brownie was rich and moist.


Espresso Martini
The last drink was an espresso martini which was quite strong both in coffee and alcohol but thankfully it was still relatively early in the evening (just after 9) or I wouldn't have been able to sleep.


The evening was also accompanied by live music, James Brotherston on the piano and Phil who occasionally sang as well.

Sweeteasy Sweeteasy


The atmosphere was jovial and fun. I think pretty much everyone asked when the next one is going to be and rumour has it there will be one in a couple of months' time so keep your eyes open.

Here are a few more photos:

The tables are set Sweeteasy
Sweeteasy Sweeteasy
Sweeteasy Sweeteasy


Still more photos on flickr. You can read about the evening from Jo's perspective on her blog.

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On Friday I needed a quick dinner before my next engagement and as The Sea Tree on The Broadway section of Mill Road had been recommended to me by various people I decided to try it. The Sea Tree is part traditional fish&chip shop, part fishmonger (one of the very few independent places selling wet fish in Cambridge) and part eaterie with a handful of small to medium sized tables where you can order both from the fish&chip shop menu and their "alternatives" menu with pan-fried or grilled fillets of or whole sea bass, gilthead bream with a choice of sauces and sides as well as a specials board.
I picked the "whole baked Whitby crab thermidor" which was served with a mixed salad (leaves, peppers, red onions) and chips. The picked and mixed crab meat was served in the shell of the body and was carefully seasoned so the flavour of the crab still came through and it was cooked on the dot, lovely and moist. There was a nice crust on top, too. The chips were crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and not soggy at all.
If they can cook something as tricky as crab so well, I'm convinced their other offerings will be just as good. It's a bit out of the way for me but I will definitely be back, most likely for one of their lobster nights. It's not a place to linger because the shop is unsurprisingly rather busy but if you want a quick quality bite before a night out, this is definitely the place to go. They even have an alcohol license and serve beer and wine but I only had orange juice and water because I had a night of cake and cocktails ahead of me.
The bill came to around 13 pounds without service.

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On Monday, I went to the Arts Theatre for The Woman in Black which is currently touring the UK. While not really terrifying as the blurb makes it out to be, it was very well done, atmospheric and a very good adaptation of the source material with the proper ending (not the stupid one from the film). The stage design was very simplistic and the same set of chairs and wicker trunk served as various locations. The curtain in the back was solid when lit from the front and translucent when lit from the back which was used to create different rooms (staircase, nursery). I wasn't frightened but thoroughly entertained and slightly annoyed at the woman in front of me jumping and screaming all the time.

Last night I finally saw Django Unchained, the new Tarantino film starring Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz as well as a host of other great actors incl. Samuel L. Jackson playing a slave owner's faithful old servant. Watch out for the original Django (Franco Nero) turning up in one scene (he comes to the bar after the wrestling match). Tom Wopat (Luke Duke), Tom Savini (Sex Machine in From Dusk Till Dawn) and Southern villain staple Walton Goggins (Boyd in Justified) are all part of the cast, too. As often with Tarantino, the music is excellent. It's a very long film (2:45) and it's currently shown at inhumane times (8:30 in the evening at both Vue and Cineworld) but it's worth it. It's also really funny in places. Oh, and for once, the German is correct. :o)

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[Edit: This was originally a post about the immediate area where I live but various twitter friends have suggested I expand this to north of the river]
Various bloggers and websites have written about independent shops in Cambridge but those usually concentrate on city centre and Mill Road (which of course is the mecca of shops offering produce from all over the world) and not where I live (King's Hedges/Arbury). While cheap(er), this area is not as poorly supplied as one might think and there are a few local gems.

The Art of Meat (Arbury Court)
This is my local butcher with a good selection of various cuts and joints of high quality beef, pork (from Dingley Dell, no less), lamb, chicken and sometimes game. Their own sausages (three main varieties and a number of changing specials) are superb as is the bacon that is cured on site. Service is friendly and superb, always happy and willing to accommodate special requests and recommending substitutes should something not be available. The little extra cost is easily outmatched by the superior quality. Highly recommended.

Les Ward (Arbury Court)
A family run greengrocer offering very reasonably priced veg and fruit, some dry goods and preserves and, er, fresh flowers. So much better and even cheaper than Budgens opposite.

There's also a baker's in Arbury Court but for me it's not very good, I still have rather continental tastes when it comes to bread.

The Daily Bread Co-op
This place in an industrial estate between King's Hedges Road and the green behind Nun's Way (accessed either via KHR or a footpath from the green off Campkin Road) offers only organic or at least fairtrade goods. Mostly dry goods like muesli (a selection of varieties mixed on site as well as the basic ingredients to mix your own), flour, pasta/rice/couscous/grains, tinned goods, soy products, gluten free and vegetarian alternatives. A little bit of veg, too, but they do not get regular deliveries so it's always quickly gone or looks a bit sorry. There are also artisan breads (also not always fresh, depending on when they get their delivery) and non-food supplies like eco-friendly cleaners/detergents, reusable nappies etc. I get most of my dry and tinned goods there.

Cambridge Quality Meats (Arbury Road)
This butcher is a bit further from me so I don't go there often but they have a similar selection to the Art of Meat, own sausages (incl. biltong) and they tend to have more non-chicken poultry and game. If you're on Milton Road/bottom end of Arbury Road/Chesterton, this is the butcher for you.

Al Noor
This Asian grocer has a good selection of fresh (and sometimes unusual) vegetables and fruit, dry goods, spices and tinned goods as well as a halal butcher. They are inexpensive and also open until 8 which is great as I can drop in on the way home from work. All the others are available (to me) on Saturdays only.

Radmore Farm Shop (Chesterton Road)
I haven't been there but various people have recommended it.

Nasreen Dar (Histon Road)
Asian supermarket that also offers takeaway curries.

A Waller & Son
A butcher's on Victoria Avenue, just before the bridge. A prime address for game and more "exotic" choices like hare.

Maskell's (Akeman St.)
Another independent but basic baker's shop

If you happen to know any others in the area, feel free to comment/recommend. If you would like to provide a short description of the shop (a couple of lines, as above), you'd be more than welcome. The post is set to allow anonymous comments so feel free but leave a name. If you have a blog yourself, please log in with Open ID.

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I'd always thought the idea of food programmes on the radio a bit strange until The Kitchen Cabinet came along, a travelling panel discussion led by restaurant critic Jay Rayner with four guests from the food world (writers, chefs, scientists, historians). The discussion topics are a mix of specific themes related to location and trends and questions from the audience. When a while ago tickets for Cambridge were released I applied for a ticket (the BBC run a system for their shows where people send in applications from which the audience is selected) and was lucky to get one. Knowing that they always send out more tickets than there are seats, I wanted to get to Clare College way ahead of time but was delayed by chores and a very slow bus so when I got there there was already a very large queue and when the person putting stickers on tickets came through she stopped just three people ahead of me, explaining that anyone behind the line was in the "reserve" and wouldn't be guaranteed a seat. Thankfully, I had run into Tom Lewis, a Cambridge based wine blogger, who was on the guest list and was able to get me in as his +1. Thanks again, Tom!
When the queue finally moved, we filed into a holding room where I ran into a few other familiar faces (Mark Poynton, head chef of Alimentum, and @ythos). I filled in the survey but couldn't think of a question to the panel.
Then it was time to enter the auditorium where I managed to get a reasonable seat about halfway up. After more waiting, the producer said a few words and then introduced the host, Jay Rayner, who in turn then introduced the panel: Tim Anderson, beer and Japanese food geek, winner of Masterchef 2011 and soon to be head chef of Nanban, a new ramen restaurant to be opened in London later this year; Angela Hartnett, head chef of Murano in London; Dr. Annie Gray, food historian from Ely and local hero Tim Hayward (with the best buns in broadcasting), owner and resurrector of Fitzbillies, journalist and magazine editor.

BBC Kitchen Cabinet recording


The topics discussed were as varied as new year resolutions, Japanese food and its role/reputation in the UK, what to do with leftover cheese, port and celeriac, fasting, the point of swans as a foodstuff (it turned out that two members of the audience had actually eaten swan and neither had been impressed), the worst student meals the panel had cooked, and which kitchen innovations the panel wanted to see.

There were interesting bits on the various types of miso by Tim Anderson, the fact that pork and curry were introduced into Japan by the British, or that burnt cream wasn't invented in Cambridge as it is sometimes claimed. We discovered that putting a large slab of stone (possibly not a gravestone, as Tim Hayward suggested) in your oven can improve heat distribution.

We also discovered that Wisconsinites are raised on a healthy diet of Mac&Cheese, that High Table (at old universities) isn't just the table where the bigwigs sit but also an occasion where the exchange and discussion of ideas between faculties is encouraged, that Angela Hartnett had never cooked a bad meal in her life and that some of the yet to be invented kitchen gadgets should be a mini Aga and an entirely safe to use mandolin.

All in all, the recording with pickups/re-recordings of some sections lasted about an hour which then was edited down to the half hour you heard on the radio. The whole thing was really enjoyable as there was lots of banter that will most likely not make the cut but helped involve the audience.

The programme is also available as a podcast with a few extra bits of chatter before and after. ETA: The podcast also includes bits I mentioned above but didn't make the broadcast (stone in oven, miso, Tim H's note on High Table and college kitchen equipment, parsnips, celeriac, burnt cream and the kitchen innovations).

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On my way back from the recording of Kitchen Cabinet (more on that in a separate post tomorrow), I walked past St. John's Chophouse and having not been (and remembering I didn't have time to marinade that Barnsley chop I had bought in the morning), I decided to have early dinner.
The restaurant with its bare wooden tables and low lighting has a cosy feel to it. There's a huge fireplace which sadly didn't contain a fire but a selection of meat cleavers hanging from a rack(!). I guess that makes it a good place to be when the zombie apocalypse comes.

I wasn't that hungry so started with a main, a "t-bone" pork chop. The meat was cooked a bit more well than I like but was still reasonably juicy and flavourful. I guess they err on the side of caution as food authorities are still unconvinced about the safety of "undercooked" pork so that was fine. The combination of apple sauce on top and spicy mustard sauce around worked well with it, as did the bubble and squeak. The slither of crackling on top was excellent.
By the time I was finished, I was glad I hadn't chosen a starter but I had room for a pudding so chose the "Cambridge burnt cream" (in quotes as we had learnt just a few hours earlier during the Kitchen Cabinet recording that it wasn't a Cambridge invention, after all). This was a generous portion in a coffee cup, a bit dense but not curdled, good crunchy caramel topping and a crumbly, sugary biscuit on the side. With that I had a small glass of Pomona which is now a new favourite drink. It's basically a fortified cider, if you will.

The bill without automatic service charge came to just under 28 pounds for a main, a pudding, a pint of ale and the Pomona so about the same as you would pay for a similar meal at The Punter opposite but in my opinion The Punter is better. However, it's not a chain (part of a local restaurant group) and uses mostly local produce so definitely has its place as an independent offering, which are rare in Cambridge.

No photos as it was too dark and I only had the G10 on me.

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I've been wanting to do this for a while so I finally bought a pack of Gressingham duck legs and some duck fat on Monday.
To prepare, I rubbed the duck pieces with a mix of chopped garlic, sea salt, cracked black pepper and thyme, wrapped the bowl in clingfilm and let it sit in the fridge.
After about three hours, I took the legs out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature. Meanwhile, I melted the fat in a saucepan that was big enough to fit the two legs snugly. I scraped off most of the seasoning and dropped the legs into the fat, put on a lid and let them simmer on the lowest setting my cooker offers for three hours or so, checking now and then that the meat was still completely submerged and the fat wasn't boiling.
Now came the tricky part, taking out the legs without them falling apart. I managed this mostly with one leg but the other was in pieces. I let the legs drain on plenty of kitchen paper for a few minutes while I preheated my little grill oven on its highest setting (probably around 220°). The intact leg as well as the skin from the one that fell apart went onto a rack in a tray under the grill for about 15 minutes until it was nicely browned and crispy (possibly a touch too long). It looked like this:

Confit duck leg and scratchings


The meat was soft and the skin crispy without being fatty as all the fat had rendered. Being very lazy I just had a mixed leaf salad and some ciabatta with it. It was very good indeed.

I took the rest of the meat off the other leg, shredded it, wrapped it in foil with some of the fat and kept it in the fridge for lunch today.

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Friday
Around 2, I went over to raggedyman's where his mother picked us up and drove us to Stansted. There we waited at the Krispy Kreme stand for the others (mansunite, razornet, devalmont, Graham, robinbloke and finally Jon). After a few donuts and checking again we had everything we made our way through customs where razornet was the unlucky one to be picked for special treatment but we made it through in one piece. A quick "pizza" and a couple of shots later, our flight was finally called and we trekked to the far end of the airport (Gate 54, where no handy train thing goes). We waited in the queue for what seemed like ages but miraculously, when things finally got moving the plane actually left on time and arrived in Krakow 10 minutes ahead of time. The two hour and a bit flight was relatively painless and was spent chatting and reading.
Going through customs and arrivals in Krakow was OK, too, although there was quite a queue. The airport is tiny so while some of us got money out of the cash machine (exchange rate was 5:1), others went for a smoke and raggedyman even found a flask of vodka for robinbloke. After looking for the nonexistent hotel shuttle and asking a helpful member of staff we decided to take two taxis to the hotel which worked out quite cheap for the journey (our hotel was at the other end of Krakow). We got to the hotel just after 10, checked in and were told that the bar would close in a few minutes' time so we quickly dropped off our bags and then proceeded to make a good dent into the bar's stock until around midnight because we had an early start the next morning. Nobody asked us to leave and they kept serving us so I guess their opening times are arbitrary (as are other rules as you'll see later).
Getting ready at the airport Hotel bar Hotel bar

The hotel rooms were basic but functional and clean (two beds, wardrobe, desk, two chairs, bathroom with shower, loo and sink), all we needed for a weekend.

Saturday
The breakfast buffet had hot sausage and "scrambled eggs" and lots of more continental style items like cold cuts and cheeses, rather good bread and bread rolls, boiled eggs, salads, cereal etc. perfect for providing the base for the day's (drinking) activities.
Our first item was a Crazy Guides tour of the communist legacy of Krakow. Our guides were Yoolka, Kielbasa and Nyzio and we were driven around in the Red Devil (standard Trabant), The Frog (Trabant Kombi and the Polski Fiat. How they managed to fold devalmont into any of them, especially the Fiat was a miracle. We visited Nowa Huta, a huge part of the city build during the Stalin era to house 100,000 steel workers. For communist architecture. this was quite beautiful (if all covered in soot from the pollution) and positively huge and still the biggest district in the city. All communist trappings like the Lenin statue in the main square have been removed so it all looks quite pleasant. In an old restaurant which was the main attraction during the communist era and still makes a lot of business we had a drink (two different shots of vodka) and a bit of a history lesson of the years after WWII until the late 80s. As a centre of heavy industry, Krakow was also one of the major centres for Lech Walesa's Solidarność trade union.
The steelworks itself we didn't visit, just the main gate as there was some celebration going on (some anniversary related to Solidarność. After the steelworks, we stopped at a random street corner where an old Soviet tank was parked which we had a good look around and posed with.
Tanktastic Communist Krakow tour Tanktastic

We were dropped off somewhere in town (at the Square of Ghettos Heroes as I now know) from where we wandered around a bit until we found a small restaurant where we stopped for lunch. We had two flavours of pierogi (pork and sauerkraut), breaded pork neck and other delicacies as well as a couple of beers and more vodka (I held back a bit there as I can't drink much during the day without falling over). After finding out where we actually were, we made our way into the old town proper. Apparently because Hitler loved it, Krakow was never destroyed during WWII so there is a lot of historical architecture from all eras, mostly Central European so not much different from, say, Berlin or Vienna. We walked around, watched the fattest pigeons we'd ever seen, visited the very impressive cathedral which among other lush features has a huge altar piece by Veit Stoß, a German sculptor who also worked in Nuremberg and Bamberg and then had a couple of drinks before wandering more to find The Wodka Bar where they didn't serve food so we went around a couple of corners until we found a restaurant where more excellent food and cake for little money (by UK standards) were had. The menu mentioned mushrooms on my veal escalopes that turned out to be girolles so that was nice. This was also when we discovered that tax often isn't included on the price shown on the menu but the added surprise wasn't that big. The rest of the evening we spent at the vodka bar sampling a variety of vodkas guided by robinbloke and the very helpful barman. Having had quite enough around 10, we got taxis back to the hotel where we propped up the bar for a bit until midnight or so.
8 do Krakow Cathedral Cathedral Wodka Bar


Sunday
After the previous night's heavy drinking, we had a bit of a lie-in before breakfast. The historic part of the day was Wawel, a castle complex that has been in use since the 9th century and continuously rebuild and expanded over the centuries in a hodgepodge of styles (quote raggedyman, "When you become king, you just stick on another bit to live in"). The whole complex is huge and you can walk around the outside areas and most courtyards. Various inside areas are ticketed but separately so you can pick the things you're really interested in. The weather was rather grey and rainy so we just picked up tickets for everything. We started with a guided tour of the royal apartments which were very impressive and lush. Some walls still had original, unrestored murals around the top edge of the walls. Other items like huge tapestries and furniture were equally well preserved. Our lovely guide covered quite a bit of history during that good hour and I learned a lot I hadn't known about Poland.
The armoury was equally impressive. As Krakow used to be the seat of kings, there were the crown jewels and other items from that era in one part of the building and the armour proper with a huge selection of weapons, armour and artillery in the other. Photography was prohibited in all the inside areas so sadly you'll have to take my word for it how interesting and fascinating all the items were, like the gunblades (short thin swords with double barrelled guns built into the handle) and firearms with intricately carved and/or inlaid stocks. One of the rifles looked like a Dwarven blunderbuss from Warhammer and there was a double-action wheel lock handgun, too. The most surprising aspect to me (remember I didn't know much about Polish history other than 20th century) was the strong Central Asian influence especially in the armour. The day before we'd seen a number of people in armour and uniforms wandering around the city center and posing for tourists who looked almost like Mongols to us which we found strange but was then made clear that it was actually local.
We took a break from all the wandering around the castle and then visited the oldest part of the castle (the "Lost Wawel"). For the most part, this is a walkway suspended above excavated walls and ruins as well as cases with items found in the ruins from arrow heads to shoes.
When we came out the sun had come out and on the way to the baggage area (you couldn't take bags into most of the inside buildings) I retook a few photos as things looked even more impressive. Then we climbed up Sandomierska Tower from which we had an impressive view over the city.
We exited through the Dragon's Den, a natural cave underneath the castle, said to be the legend of a great beast that was slain by Krakus, the legendary founder of Krakow. Randomly, as we came down the winding staircase into the first chamber, a short old bearded man in chainmail came the other way who very much like the old Knight Templar guarding the grail in the third Indiana Jones film and pretty much all of us thought, 'Did I just see that?'.
Outside, beautiful weather over the Vistula greeted us as well as a multi-headed statue that actually breathed fire every few minutes. This was a bit hard to photograph in bright sunshine but I got a reasonable shot, even on the G10. There were enough parts of Wawel we didn't see so could easily have spent another day there but we wanted to see some more parts of Krakow and were slowly getting hungry again so we made our way into town again.
Stepped privies Wawel Wawel Fire-breathing Dragon!
Wawel Fancy gargoyle Wawel

We wandered back into the old town and then found a veritable heaven of meat in the shape of Miod i Wino. The menu outside had things like veal shanks and pork knuckles but we went for the Hunters Feast for 8 which included wild boar, deer pierogi, poached venison roulade, breaded pork, red cabbage, pearl barley, ghoulash, various gravies and potato dumplings. As a starter there was bread and lard with crispy bits which amused my Brit friends greatly but was something I was perfectly used to from Germany (we call it Griebenfett). The whole meal was like a journey into my youth in Germany as I couldn't actually remember the last time I had roast wild boar. Suffering from the meat sweats (raggedyman tweeted "We have managed to give ourselves meatpoisoning by having a "Hunters feast". Currently we are sweating gravy.") we staggered back past the cathedral to the Southern bit of the Jewish Quarter to Singer, a bar raggedyman had found during his research. It was dark and cosy and the smaller tables were all antique Singer sewing machines. Many a vodka, beer and Slivovitz (damson brandy) were had before we got taxis back to the hotel and ended the night in the hotel bar (which again stayed up a lot longer than advertised). I turned in around 11 as I wanted to pack in peace, shower, rehydrate and write a couple of postcards and was in bed just after midnight.
Bread and lard with crispy bits Hunters Feast Hunters Feast
Singer Singer Singer

Monday
Up at 6:45, I crawled out of bed and dressed and stumbled downstairs as I felt the weekend's excesses in my bones. Seeing an ambulance outside made the feeling even worse but thankfully none of us needed medical attention and everybody was ready when the taxis arrived to take us to the airport. Tiny as it is, getting through security/customs was rather quick and painless (although the guard looked at my passport/me a lot longer than the others') and as we had been early we had to wait for quite a while. Getting on the plane was more annoying as there was only one bus and by the time the other half of us got on there were seats but no space in the overhead compartments left so I had to squeeze my bag and jacket between my feet. However, we left on time and got to Stansted ahead of time (that fanfare is really annoying). Getting through passport control with a chipped passport was quick as well and we ended where we started at the Krispy Kremes stall until everyone had made it (the queue for standard passports was much longer). Then we split up again, Andy and I got a lift to Cambridge and I collapsed at home, catching up with internet and TV, reheated dinner and processed photos.

A very good weekend indeed and I definitely want to go back to Poland to discover more of this wonderful country. There are many more photos on flickr.

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karohemd
After a number of friends and fellow food bloggers had only good things to say about it, a visit at The Ledbury had been on the cards for a while so I booked a table for lunch this Saturday. When I arrived at 13:45, the dining room was packed with a lively atmosphere. I had a table overlooking the dining room with the window in my back so I had both plenty of light and a good view of what was going on elsewhere.
The choice of what to eat was obvious: the tasting menu as that would both give me a good selection of Brett Graham's cuisine and had roast grouse, a game bird I had yet to try. As it was daytime, I didn't feel up to taking the flight of wines as well so asked the sommelier to recommend a glass of white (Alabrino) and red (Sequillo) wine that would take me through the menu which worked rather well.

The meal started with an amuse bouche of which I can't remember the details but contained scallop and wasabi among other elements. Really fresh and full of various flavours. Fresh bread was served as well, an excellent sourdough and one with bacon and onions that almost looked like a Chelsea bun. The rest of the menu follows in photos with a short description. A few teaser photos:

The Ledbury - Heritage tomato The Ledbury - Lobster The Ledbury - Figs, pistachio, lemon beignet


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karohemd
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to shoot my friends of the Dark Wave band Last July at a fantastic location in Limehouse, London. This multistory abandoned warehouse is being kept as a film and photo location so despite it being in disrepair and rather filthy due to the missing roof and roosting pigeons, there is someone who looks after it and makes sure there aren't any dangerous spots. There's also a working toilet and running water. There are various areas well lit by daylight, not necessarily by windows but by missing bits of wall and roof, but also a few dark bits that would require some artificial lighting.
Here are a few examples that should give you a good idea of what the location can offer:

Last July Last July
Last July Sepia ghost Heather


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karohemd
On Saturday I took photos of Last July at an abandoned warehouse in London and I've been working on them this evening. I usually don't do a lot of extreme image processing, a bit of a crop, some exposure, contrast and colour adjustment, that's it. Then I came across this image of Alix almost floating in air so I decided to play with the effects in Lightroom a bit and this was the result:

Sepia ghost

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Current Music: Last July - Steal You Away (piano version)

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karohemd
Yes, I know, another post about Alimentum but this one is a little different. Last Sunday was the first of head chef Mark Poynton's "supper clubs", an informal evening during which he trialed new dishes. Instead of the usual individual tables, there were three long ones which encouraged talking to the other diners about what everybody thought about the dishes.
Thanks to the efforts of Stagecoach, the bus operator in Cambridge, I was almost too late but got there just in time to grab a glass of welcome fizz before taking my seat. Proceedings started with a few nibbles, onion rice cakes, cheese puffs (neither of which I don't have a photo) and red mullet parfait on toast.

Red Mullet parfait
The parfait was soft with the fish coming through nicely.


Rabbit
Next up was braised rabbit with avruga. This might sound unusual but the saltiness worked well with the soft, sweet meat.


Whipped cep butter Milk loaf
The next item was a treat. Freshly baked bread (milk loaf) and whipped cep butter. You only needed to spread a thin layer of the butter to turn a slice of bread into a mushroom. Superb and one of my favourite dishes of the night.


Wood pigeon, liver on toast
The wild theme continued with wood pigeon, a perfectly cooked piece of breast and liver on toast.


Smoked eel, apple, cucumber, horseradish granita

Then, the fish course and my favourite: Smoked eel, apple, cucumber, goat's cheese, horseradish granita. I love smoked eel which is usually a treat around Christmas in my family but there was some apprehension among my fellow diners. However, this changed when the dish arrived and everyone I heard loved it. The apple/cucumber salad helped counteract the inherent greasiness of the fish, making it lighter. Horseradish is a classic accompaniment to smoked fish, anyway.

Beef cheek, variations of onion
The main event was braised beef cheeks with variations of onion, onion mash and onion juice. Soft, flavourful meat, excellent onion bits but not enough juice.


Tarragon, yoghurt
The pre-dessert was tarragon granita with yoghurt, a lovely palate cleanser and siimilar to a dish I had at Tuddenham Mill earlier this year.


White chocolate mousse, mango, black olive caramel
The final act was white chocolate mousse, mango, black olive caramel. I was apprehensive about the black olive having had a sweet dish with olive at Midsummer House but this worked as it had a similar effect to salt to bring down the cloying sweetness of the caramel. The white chocolate and mango harmonised very well, too. Loved it.


The dishes were paired with excellent wines, two of them English (a white and a sparkling rosé) and a superb sherry with the pre-dessert.
A very enjoyable evening indeed and I've already signed up for the next one.

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karohemd
This steak looked so good I cooked it a lot less then usual, about a total of one minute on each side, then rested for 10 minutes while I braised the chicory in the same pan. I added some veg stock to the pan, then the quartered chicory and put on a lid to let cook until tender but still crunchy and most of the liquid was gone.

Sirloin steak, braised chicory, horseradish mash

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karohemd
I found myself in town on Saturday so had a look around the market and found a lemon sole at the fish stall. I still had some broad beans from my veg box and new potatoes so that was dinner sorted.
I skinned and filleted the sole which was quite fiddly but I persevered and produced four reasonable fillets. My cooking liquid was a generous glug of vermouth, two generous glugs of white wine, some fish stock and a big knob of butter, seasoned with salt and pepper. I bought this to a boil in a frying pan, turned off the heat and when it stopped boiling added the fillets, turned them after a couple of minutes until they were evenly cooked and removed them to a warm dish to keep warm, while I turned up the heat again and cooked the (double-podded!) broad beans in the liquor until they were tender and the liquid was reduced to a sauce.
I served the fillets on a warm plate, with the beans spooned over and around, with new potatoes on the side. Very nice indeed.

Lemon Sole

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karohemd
Writing this on the train as i was out drinking with Sarah, Andreas Marschall and the last few stragglers so didn't have time before needing to sleep.
Sunday morning started with Red Sonja which was quite as bad as I remembered but still quite bad, especially in the acting department. Some of the mechanical effects like the "fish machine" were actually quite well done. Perfect cheese for a Sunday morning.

Next up was something I had been looking forward to since it had been announced, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in Cinerama. Not necessarily because of the film but because of the format. The National Media Museum is only one of three venues worldwide (two more in Seattle and Hollywood) who still support this format and it was only the second time this print of Brothers Grimm was shown in the UK. The print consists of three strips that are projected onto a curved screen, giving a certain amount of depth to the picture which, considering when it was conceived is quite remarkable. Probably closest to a 3D film I personally will be able to see, unless they come up with holographic projection in my lifetime.
The film itself is a take on the brothers' life story (until they become famous), interspersed with lesser known fairy tales. These were quite twee and not that exciting, except for the one in which Terry Thomas played a cowardly knight who had his manservant fight a stop-motion dragon with painted cartoon breath and then claimed victory for himself only to have the table turned on him later. The film broke at one point and instead of silence, there was an emergency reel half the size of the central frame of a man talking to the camera, apologising and talking about his travels. Odd but funny and the second best bit of the experience.

Then, another Hammer rarity that hadn't been shown for something like 40 years, dug up from the Universal Studio archives by Robert Simpson (who programmed the Hammer strand this year): Shadow of the Cat. This was brilliant and really funny because five grown adults who had murdered the owner of a big estate were afraid of a simple house cat who was the only witness to the murder. During the course of the film, the cat kills (usually indirectly) all the bad people until only the true heir remains. This was especially funny as the cat was just an ordinary tabby and not some evil looking black cat. Excellent entertainment.

After a quick curry at Omar's, the first evening showing was Masks by Andreas Marschall, a German director who not only worked with J&oml;rg Buttgereit but also directed music videos and designed album covers for a lot of metal bands, especially Kreator with whom he also did a documentary. Masks was a rather excellent hommage to the Giallo genre on a shoestring budget (he mentioned later that he'd had better budgets for his music videos than thsi film), using mainly film and acting students (and teachers) as the cast. This didn't show at all as the acting was brilliant and the production values were also very good indeed, the visuals and themes keeping very much in line with films like Suspiria. The interview with the director afterwards was also very interesting.

The final film was Four Flies on Grey Velvet by Dario Argento, in which a rock band drummer is harrassed/blackmailed by persons unknown. Amusingly, the cast included Bud Spencer in a serious role. i'm not sure how well known he is in the UK but in Europe and especially Germany he's well known for comedy Spaghetti Westerns co-starring Terrence Hill (both are Italian actors) and other action comedies from the 70s and 80s. The film was a bit slow but not bad and I didn't fall asleep which was quite remarkable for a Sunday night.

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karohemd
Saturday started with The Toxic Avenger, the Troma classic. Unfortunately, this was a museum archive print so the then UK theatrical release meaning it was cut to shreds but still enjoyable in that hammy, schlock horror way, even if some bits were a bit iffy by today's standards. Overall fun, though.
Next up, Captain Clegg, a classic Hammer feature with Peter Cushing playing a vicar but not a real horror film (despite having phantoms) but a tale of smuggling and defiance in the late 18th century. Good production values for the time, excellent acting, good story and a secret that wasn't too obvious. Deserved applause afterwards.
Then back to the Eighties with Vamp in which a group of college students get in the way of Grace Jones playing a stripping vampire (or a vampire stripper?). Very cheesy, sometimes a bit slow at times but ultimately passable.
After a look at a few pieces of the museum's Hammer collection, the next treat was Barbarella which needs no introduction but has an appalling rating of 5.8 on imdb. I think this was the first time I saw it in one piece, a great piece of cinematic history.
After a quick hop to Subway for sustenance, Grindhouse was the theme of the next film, I Drink Your Blood with a band of satanist and later rabid hippies terrorising a small town. The hydrophobia symptom of rabies was used to great comedic effect and despite the print suffering from a strong magenta cast and a breakage in between, it was rather excellent. More a proper horror film than full on exploitation.
The final bit for me today was first an interview with Harley Cokeliss, a rather prolific director, writer and producer in the genre, incl. second unit director of Empire Strikes Back. This was very interesting indeed, especially (at leaset for me) when he talked about his work on Empire which gave a fascinating insight into the making of of the film, for example in how the scenes in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon were shot (shots facing into the cockpit with no windows visible were directed by Kershner, while shots facing outwards, i.e. requiring blue screen and post processing were shot by Cokeliss). I only realised when it was over that the interview lasted almost an hour. He obviuosly also talked about Battletruck the film that was shown afterwards, anecdotes about the making of and defending some critics' opinion that it was ripping off Mad Max when both films were actually conceived independently at the same time.
Battletruck (also called Warlords of the 21st Century) is a post-war film set in a near future. The titular Battletruck is the villain's vehicle which the heroes of the film fight against. The film featured mayhem, murder, betrayal and action, the vehicles were brilliant and it was a good Saturday night romp, deserving more than the 4.5 it has on imdb. The film was scheduled against The Rocky Horror Picture Show and while that is good fun, I wanted to see a film I otherwise might not be able to and I'm glad I did because the interview was superb.

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karohemd
First, I caught the first half our of Flesh and Blood, a documentary about the history of Hammer. This would have been rather interesting, especially with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing narrating and it being a proper cut (not what shown on TV) but I really wanted to see Big Trouble in Little China in 70mm, one of my teenage favourites so it was good to see it on the big screen again and a cut that continued a few bits I couldn't remember having seen.
Next up was The Monster Squad, a teen horror comedy that was completely unknown to me and it was right up my street. Of course it was cheesy and played off all the stereotypes but it was good fun. Considering there is no German Wikipedia entry for the film and according to imdb it's only been released on DVD in 2011 in Germany, that might be the reason I didn't know it.
The short films are usually a mixed bag but except for Buddy Yeah! which was one of the most disturbing stop-motion animation pieces I've seen. Chomp! was a brilliant very short film about a zombie couple, Decapoda Shock was a quirky mixed media space exploration/lobster mutant film (and has a well deserved 8.5 rating on imdb), Perished was quite run-off-the mill zombie flick, Once it Started it Could Not End Otherwise was another quirky bit constructed from photos with subtitles, The Hunting Ground was a Finnish film about two men's fate in the countryside, The Little Mermaid was another rather bizarre story without dialogue and finally Bear was an Australian short about a surprise going horribly wrong. All good entertainment.
Shockingly, I forewent the original Fright Night for the screentalk with Renée Glynne (one of Hammer's continuity ladies) and the restored print of The Quatermass Xperiment. The interview was interesting and fun and the film was excellent for its age, just marred when halfway through audio and picture went out of sync more and more until the delay was over two seconds by the end. ETA: I later found out this being due to an NTSC picture with a PAL audio track.
The last film of the day was The Casebook of Eddie Brewer, a new Brtish documentary style POV film following the work of a paranormal investigator. As it wasn't in the programme, I didn't know what to expect and when it started, I thought "Oh no, not another shaky cam film" but it turned out to be excellent, so much better than any of the recent big productions like Paranormal Activity etc. and the rest of the audience shared my opinion. The director and producers were there as well and talked a little about the film. It was only the second showing in the UK (first the Flatpack Festival in Birmingham) and after this they're touring the US. Not sure if it will get a UK wide release at the cinema but there will be a DVD.

So yes, an enjoyable first day at FFW. Bring on tomorrow with lots of Troma and Hammer films and Barbarella. :o)

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karohemd
Ceviche is another of the rather recent openings I wanted to visit and finally had a chance when I was in London and had enough time to go before a late starting gig. It's on busy Frith St. in Soho and the restaurant is equally busy with tightly packed wooden tables and chairs/stools. I was there on a Thursday at 6:45 and mine was the only free table, even the pisco bar (where you can also eat) in the front was packed so booking is highly recommended. There aren't starters or mains as such but the food is served as sharing plates (or non-sharing if you're on your own) and they recommend three or four plates per person. Have a look at the menu to get an idea. I had three and a dessert without extras and was thoroughly sated.
Now for the food. I obviously wanted some ceviche so I chose sea bass which I enjoyed. The fish is sliced and mixed with "tiger milk" (a mix of lime juice, chilli and spices) which tenderises the fish and basically cooks it without heat. A very fresh and light dish with just a little kick at the end.
The other cold dish I had was chunks of Pulpo (octopus) grilled on a skewer with slices of chorizo. Octopus is hard to get right and this was perfect, lovely and tender, the rich and chewy chorizo a nice contrast.
I also had Solterón, a salad of palm hearts, spinach, alfalfa, feta and olives in a lime dressing. Also very nice, although the flavour of the palm hearts is a bit odd at first.
For dessert I had the most disappointing dish, at least in value: Lúcuma ice cream with crumbled alfajores (a sugar confection). 5.25 for two scoops of ice cream is a bit steep, even in central London, I thought, but the taste was brilliant.
I couldn't leave without having a cocktail with pisco (the national drink of Peru, a grape brandy) and I chose one with passion fruit. Fresh and very enjoyable.
The bill for this meal (three dishes, one dessert, a glass of the house white and the pisco cocktail) came to 43 pounds which is OK for the location. With exception of the dessert, the food prices are fine and drinks were priced well, too (4.35 for the wine and 7.50 for the cocktail).

So, if you fancy something a little different (but apparently Peruvian cooking is up and coming) and don't mind to be packed into a place with a lively atmosphere (and the odd wobbly table), I can only recommend Ceviche and I will definitely be back as I want to try some of the other dishes.

Sorry for the lack of photos but I was going to a gig afterwards so couldn't take my camera. There are stunning ones by Paul Winch-Furness on their website.

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karohemd
It had been a while since my last meal at Alimentum (my birthday at the end of March) and I had heard very good things about the new dishes Mark Poynton and his brigade have come up with so I went for a nice lunch on Bank Holiday Tuesday and wonderful it was. The new dishes are fresh and light while still being packed with flavour, some classic, some new and adventurous but always exciting. I had a Chef's tasting menu with matching wines to be able to sample most of the new dishes:

Gougères and popcorn Pea</a>

Proceedings started with fresh gougères and crunchy popcorn and then a bowl of very light and fluffy pea mousse with cottage cheese and crispy Parma ham.

Asparagus

The first starter was asparagus (green and white) salad, hazelnut and truffle. I could have eaten this all day, so light and fresh (and slightly bitter) this was with the crunch of the hazelnut and the earthy slithers of truffle. Brilliant.

Pork

Pork: head (the round slices), cheek (the dark piece on the right), pineapple, acorn and chorizo. The cold ballotine of head reminded me of what is called Pressack in Germany (bits of pig's head cooked in the stomach and usually served as a cold cut). The cheek was braised and so soft you could have eaten it with a spoon. The pieces of pineapple added acidity and sweetness. All quite dark in flavour but not heavy.

Lemon Sole Veronique

Fish is always fantastic at Alimentum and this "Sole Veronique" was no exeption, perfection in a bowl.

Lamb

The main was lamb, rump and belly with broccoli and cous cous. Perfectly cooked meat, the rump soft, the belly crispy and the extras with the beautiful sauce pulling everything together.

Fresh ricotta

Palate cleanser: Fresh ricotta, pineapple and sweet cicely sorbet. Fresh, light, bitter, slightly sweet. Huge smile on my face.

Passionfruit

First dessert: Passionfruit (curd and granita), coffee ice cream and saffron meringue. The coffee might sound a bit strange but it worked really well with the fruitiness and the earthy saffron meringue.

And then, a bit of theatre:
Milk Jam Mousse Milk Jam Mousse

Smoked milk jam mousse, lime, banana and honeycomb. Just glorious, the smoke was really noticeable even minutes later. The dish looks quite substantial but it was really light.

Strawberry

Final dessert: Strawberry (mousse and jelly), apricot sorbet (inside the canneloni) and basil meringue. After the saffron with the passionfruit, the second savoury meringue. Basil goes well with strawberry, anyway, so this was spot on. It's rare that I like meringues as they tend to be too sweet for me but these were both lovely.

Every time I eat at Alimentum, the food is just getting better and their prices are hard to beat considering the quality of cooking. Even after having eaten at Midsummer House, I still maintain this is the best restaurant in Cambridge.

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karohemd
This long weekend was perfect for some experimentation in the kitchen so on Monday I used up the rest of the asparagus (I had sauteed spears with my lamb steaks on Sunday evening), cooking the front half of the spears in lemony butter, removed them from the butter and kept them warm. Then I cooked the chopped stems in the same butter with some veg stock. When those were tender, I blitzed them with a stick blender, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, stirred in a good dollop of double cream and blitzed again, tilting the blender head to get in as much air as possible. The result was a light, smooth, fluffy soup. The flavour was spot on, too.
I served the soup in a deep plate, with the cooked spears and a poached duck's egg yolk on top. Probably the technically best dish I've ever cooked. Very happy. :o)
Cream of asparagus soup, poached duck&quot;s egg yolk

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karohemd
After something like two years on the waiting list, I was finally lucky and got into the stage in which I could apply for tickets and I got some for the recording of episode 6 of the J series!
Figuring that demand would be high (they are giving out more tickets than seats), I took half the afternoon off and arranged to meet Blaze at Waterloo tube at 5. After some positional confusion (I waited at the South Bank tube exit, she was in Waterloo train station), we found each other and wandered over to London Studios where there was a huge queue already. Two queues in fact, one for QI and one for Alan Carr (it was slightly chaotic but we had joined the correct one after all). While we were waiting, the weather turned and it started to rain but thankfully didn't last long.
The queue finally started to move at around 6:40 (10 minutes later than scheduled) and we got in. They were in an obvious hurry, they just grabbed the ticket off me without checking how many we were or even if the printout I gave him was an actual, unique ticket and there was no airport style security check as in the BBC buildings, not even a bag check so up the stairs and into the studio we went. The auditorium is quite large and we were about halfway up and had a reasonable view. There were also loads of monitors that currently showed bits of trivia and during the recording the picture of the active camera (which was useful as sometimes the dolly arm was in the way).

The QI set
This is what the set looks like in ambient light

(This will be the spoiler free version. I'll be typing up a lot more but only publish that after the episode has aired.)
Proceedings started just after 7:30 with the floor manager giving a pep talk about when and when not to applaud etc. and then Stephen Fry came on, talked a bit, recorded the audience participation audioboo (can you guess what we were saying? I didn't even know the word but it begins with J), and introduced the presenter of the Swedish version which will be aired in September. He then introduced the panelists: the ubiquitous Alan Davies, Sue Perkins, Ross Noble and an Australian nobody knew (Julia something, Spanish sounding last name). There was some banter between them and then the recording proper started with the QI theme being played in and Stephen Fry starting his Goooooooooooooooooooooooooood evening thing, introducing the panelists and buzzer sounds, just as you see it on TV. The whole actual QI bit ran in one go without interruptions but for almost 90 minutes so a lot of it will end up on the cutting room floor. As I said there were no breaks but obviously bits where some of the panelists (especially Ross Noble and Alan Davies) would go off on a tangent or throw in some other remark that was highly entertaining but obviously not really suitable for the end product. They might even take out one or more of the questions entirely.
The whole thing went smoothly and there were no pickups at the end, either. It was really enjoyable and very funny, especially Ross Noble was on high form. The chemistry experiment was fun, too and nobody died. Details after the episode has aired. :o)

I'm very glad I made the journey (ticket was free, anyway), had a brilliant time and another little insight into how one of my favourite TV programmes is made.
Even more lucky, I managed to catch the 22:15 train and the last bus home so was home well before midnight.

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karohemd
The website with day/weekend passes and programme for the Fantastic Films Weekend in June (15th-17th) is live!
Apart from the usual suspects like pmoodie, who's in?
A very rare Cinerama showing of The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, Big Trouble in Little China in 70mm, Troma and Hammer specials and a showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Saturday night are just a few of the exciting items this year.
As usual, I'll be taking a leisurely train on Thursday afternoon, have a nice curry for dinner and possibly take in a "regular" film at the NMM in the evening before getting an early night as the following nights are going to be rather short. Back to Cambs on Monday and then straight on to London for the first kickstarter only AFP gig.
It will be good to see friends I only see once a year and enjoy some awesome and cheesy films with them.

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karohemd
On Saturday I met up with skorpionuk at Jose Pizarro's sherry/tapas bar José for lunch. I had been to Pizarro (his restaurant) before and loved it but I fancied more variety this time. José is on a corner on Bermondsey St. There aren't any tables with chairs but counters along the windows with stools and a few tall bar tables as well as the bar itself. It's open all day on Saturdays from 12 noon and it will be packed very soon and it became apparent why very quickly.
Our first pick was "Pluma Iberica", seared iberico pork served rare. This might sound unusual or even dangerous but the quality of the meat is so high that the rawness is no cause of concern. On the contrary, cooking this superb meat any further would be a crime as it is wonderfully tender and flavoursome, almost melting on the tongue.
The other dishes we shared was a salad of radicchio with walnuts and blue cheese (well balanced flavours), sweet and tender squid with allioli and chilli, gently cooked chicken livers that were almost like paté and a fillet of seabream with morcilla (Spanish black pudding) and red peppers. The final reward was Crema Catalan, equally as good as the one I had at Pizarro. Everything was perfectly cooked, flavoured and seasoned, a joy to eat.
With two glasses of sherry and good conversation, almost two hours went past very quickly indeed.
Apologies for the lack of photos but it was a bit cramped and the food and company were just too good that I forgot, despite actually having a camera with me.

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Restaurant Sat Bains has been on my "to do list" for a while because his food always sounded and looked interesting when featured on TV, reviews or food blogs. A couple of months ago I mentioned my desire to visit and a friend who lives in Nottingham offered to come along and a roof over the head for the night so I took the offer and booked a table for yesterday.
When we arrived we were shown to comfortable seats in the cosy bar/lounge for our pre-dinner drinks. Sat Bains only offers tasting menus, one with seven and one with ten courses with optional matching "wine packages". We decided on the full experience of ten courses with matching wines and we also chose to share the duck egg, ham and pea dish, with which Sat Bains won the starter in Great British Menu 2007, as an additional starter.
Now I have to admit I have a problem, I simply lack the words to describe what followed. The horseradish amuse bouche in two parts, the "ice cream sandwich" and the pannacotta, were already oozing with a variety of perfectly matched flavours. This theme would continue throughout the menu and quite often change while eating a dish, especially when having a sip of the matching wine. In the case of the main, the flavour of the venison tartare developed black pepper flavours when eaten with the treacle bread (the darker of the two you see below). A few dishes tasted differently to what your brain told you they should taste like, especially the chocolate/olive/balsamic dessert.
After our main we were offered a cheese course which I asked to be served at the end (my German genes, I guess). This was not a traditional cheese board but two prepared cheese dishes, both excellent.
Service throughout was spot on, friendly, unassuming and happy to discuss the dishes. The sommelier's wine pairings were also perfect, enhancing, supporting or even sometimes changing the flavours of the dishes in an entirely pleasant way.
We must have made an impression because we were invited into the kitchen to have a chat with Chef Sat Bains who showed us the surprsingly small kitchen, introduced us to his brigade and talked about the food and his philosophy/approach to cooking. Not only did we get to meet this thoroughly charming and gracious chef but were also served an additional off-menu dessert, a treacle sponge with parsnip and apple. The sponge was quite big but so fluffy and light it was almost not there. With this we had a glass of sparkling sake which was again a wonderful match.
It was only when we left the kitchen that we realised that it was already 11 o'clock meaning we had spent over four and a half hours eating and drinking without really noticing the time passing as we were so involved in the whole experience. It wasn't over yet as coffee and chocolates were still to come which we took again in the lounge going full circle around the restaurant if you will. Called "chocolate log" this was again not what you would expect as you can see in the last photo below. Each shard of chocolate (from white to dark) was flavoured differently, a beautiful end to a wonderful experience.
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The First and Last opened last year in Cambridge in the premises that used to be The Cricketers, reverting to the name of the original pub in that location. I've been a couple of times but for some reason haven't blogged about it yet. The menu contains both pub grub (things like burgers, fish&chips etc. cooked to a high standard) and dishes you would more expect at a restaurant.
I was in town this week for a photography group meetup (more on that in another blog post tomorrow) so dropping in at the First and Last for dinner beforehand sounded like a good idea. Everything sounded exciting but I wanted a lightish starter so went for the chicken roulade with asparagus and red onions.

Chicken roulade with asparagus, red onions, sourdough

Chicken mousse wrapped around asparagus spears, wrapped with parma ham and then fried. Nicely cooked, excellent flavours. The stewed red onions and dressed leaves worked well with the meat.

In the afternoon, they posted a photo of a hake on twitter so I knew what I'd be having as I love that fish and it's hard to find in the shops.

Beer battered hake, thrice cooked chips

The beer batter was crispy and the fish was flaky and moist. The chunky, thrice cooked chips were superb, very fluffy inside and very crispy outside. The home made tartare sauce was lovely and I even liked the peas (no mean feat)! A huge portion, too, I had to leave two chips behind and sadly didn't have any room for pudding, something I will have to amend next time.

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After my light lunch, I fancied a nice piece of meat for dinner. I'm pretty confident in cooking steak my usual way (fast sear and then finished in a low oven) but I wanted to try the method Heston Blumenthal demonstrated in his last TV series.
The steak had quite a chunk of fat on one end so I cut that off, chopped it up and rendered it on a low/medium heat. There was enough fat to lubricate the steak so I didn't need any oil. It most likely helped with the flavour, too.
With the extractor fan on full and window open, I added the steak to the smoking pan and flipped the steak every 15 seconds (roughly, by counting, I didn't actually use a timer), seasoning with salt and pepper halfway through. After four times on each side, so for a total of two minutes, the steak felt as if it was done so I removed it from the pan to a warm plate to let it rest for five minutes. I poured off the fat as suggested in the linked recipe but made a standard red wine reduction instead to which I added the resting juices later.
After resting, the steak was just how I like it, dark pink throughout, wonderfully juicy and with a really nice crust on the outside, quite possibly the best steak I have cooked.
This I served with boulangere potatoes and fresh, blanched asparagus.

Sirloin steak cooked the Heston way, boulangere potatoes, new season asparagus Sirloin steak cooked the Heston way (cut), boulangere potatoes, new season asparagus


I remember watching this episode on TV and myself and many others on twitter found it a bit odd but it really works. I mentioned this to nikkita422 and she thought it completely normal. Different cultures, different ways of cooking steaks.

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karohemd
Last night I bought a pack of salmon fillets at the supermarket (from the saucy fish co.) because I needed something quick for dinner. The first fillet I pan-fried and had some leftover mediterranean couscous with it. Perfect quick evening meal.

This morning I had bought fresh asparagus from my greengrocer and thought I'd attempt something fancy with the other fillet for lunch:
I took off the skin, laid it flat into a frying pan, with a sheet of baking parchment on top and weighed down with a saucpan and then turned on the hob at medium heat. After five minutes, I turned the skin over and cooked the underside for a further five minutes. The result was a perfectly crispy piece of salmon skin.

I split the fillet lengthways to create two equally thick slices, set them next to each other on a sheet of clingfilm, added a spear of asparagus split lengthways, seasoned with salt and pepper and rolled it up tightly, twisting the ends of the clingfilm. This I wrapped in foil in a similar way and poached it in hot water for about five minutes. After unwrapping (ow!), it came out rather well done but still juicy and flaky. I will need to reduce the temperature next time but for that I will need a thermometer...

I also had cooked some lentils in water and seasoned with salt and pepper and dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I sliced the ballotine (more difficult than it sounds with flaky fish) and arranged the slices on the lentils, with the skin on the side.
Despite the fish being on the well done side, everything tasted really nice and as a first attempt I call this a success. One of the more "cheffy" things I have attempted.

Ballotine of salmon and asparagus, crispy salmon skin, lentils

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karohemd
On Saturday I finally had the chance to go back to Tuddenham Mill near Newmarket. My first visit was brilliant but in the evening the lighting is so low you can't really appreciate the prettiness of the food and we only ate a la carte so deciding what to have was really hard. So this time I went for lunch on a bright spring day and had an 8-course (counting extras) tasting menu designed by head chef Paul Foster.
As I was just a bit early I had some excellent elderflower cordial (made on site) in the bar, nibbling on parmesan twists and pork crackling.
Parmesan twists, pork crackling

As you can see, those aren't your regular pork scratchings but it's what's left when you render a piece of crackling fat very slowly indeed so all the fat disappears. Very light and crunchy.
Then I took my seat upstairs and the meal proper started:

Bread and Butter

Freshly baked bread and Lincolnshire Poacher butter.

Watermelon, Feta, fried pumpkin seeds

The amuse bouche was very thin slices of watermelon with feta and fried pumpkin seeds and did its job (exciting the palate) perfectly because of the contrast of sweet/acidity from the melon, the saltiness of the cheese and the crunchy seeds.

Organic salmon 40°C, asparagus, peanut, chickweed

Organic salmon 40°C, asparagus, peanut, chickweed. The fish was just cooked and especially when it's this good quality, that's all it needs. It is soft and retains its natural flavour. The asparagus was equally simply cooked and the peanuts added the crunch it needed.

Slow cooked hen&quot;s egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress Slow cooked hen&quot;s egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress

Slow cooked hen's egg, hake brandade, bacon, watercress. What a way to raise the humble egg to new heights. It sounds quite rich but was surprisingly light. Lovely combination of flavours and a nice crunch of bacon on top.

Duck hearts, rhubarb, celery, wild rice

Duck hearts, rhubarb, celery, wild rice. I'm a huge fan of poultry giblets and offal in general so this was great and one of the few instances I liked celery. The rhubarb was really interesting in this, too. This was one of those dishes that just keeps growing in flavour as you eat it.

Lamb rump and shoulder, yoghurt, fennel, quinoa

The main event was lamb rump and shoulder, yoghurt, fennel, quinoa. The piece of rump was cooked on the spot pink and very flavourful indeed. There was a nice bit of fat on it, too. The piece of shoulder was slow cooked and fell apart at the touch. The braised fennel, quinoa, yoghurt, wild garlic and a leaf I couldn't identify tied everything together beautifully. Very easily one of the best lamb dishes I've had.

Goat&quot;s milk, tarragon

Goat's milk, tarragon. After the rich lamb dish, this was the perfect palate cleanser. The milk was set similar to a pannacotta but almost like curd cheese in texture and very light. The granita on top wasn't too strong in tarragon flavour and worked really well.

Bitter chocolate textures, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, mint

The main dessert was bitter chocolate textures, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, mint. There was soft mousse, crumbs and more solid bits of really excellent dark chocolate. The bits on the other side added a really good fruity tang and some texture. Sea buckthorn seems to a controversial ingredient as people seem to either love or hate it, a bit like coriander or marmite. To me it's fruity and tangy (I'm not a huge fan of just sweet desserts) but fellow Cambridge foodie @ythos doesn't like the "aftertaste of month-old corpse". ;)

At this point Chef Paul invited me to have a look around the kitchen where we had a chat about the meal while I had my final dessert, an egg custard tart with butermilk, apple and nutmeg (this is the reason there's no photo as I left my camera at the table). The salted Granny Smith apple brought down the sweetish taste of the tart again. The perfect, light finish to a fantastic meal.

Tucked away in a village outside Newmarket, Paul Foster is really pushing the boat out in terms of flavour. While he does use modern cooking techniques, there are no molecular gimmicks, foams or other nonsense. Paul demonstrates that you don't need luxury ingredients like truffles and foie gras to create a luxury dining experience as long as you treat the ingredients well to bring out the maximum of flavour. It's a bit of a shame this fine restaurant is so far out of the way but it's worth the effort and I encourage everyone to try it. Paul Foster's appearance on Great British Menu on BBC2 this week should help boost awareness, too.

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karohemd
My butcher had nice pork tenderloin portions so I picked up one and they also had cooking chorizo and morcilla (Spanish black pudding) which I thought would go well with it. I also picked up potatoes and sprouting broccoli from Les Ward across the court and my shopping was done.
I first sliced the chorizo and morcilla and fried them in a dry pan over medium low heat until the slices were crispy and a lot of the fat had rendered. I removed the sausage with a slotted spoon to a warm plate and seared the piece of tenderloin in the rendered fat until browned on all sides and then put it into a low oven to finish.
I deglazed the pan with a glass of cider, seasoned with salt, pepper and a bit of thyme and let it reduce down to a sticky sauce.
After letting it rest for a few minutes, I carved the tenderloin, arranged it on top of the mash, crumbled the chorizo and morcilla over and around it and drizzled with the sauce. A few Maldon salt flakes and a few twists of pepper were the only seasoning (apart from the flavour of the chorizo fat).
Served with simple mash and steamed purple sprouting broccoli.
The crispy chorizo and morcilla provided not only extra flavour but also texture. I was really happy with how it came out.

Pork tenderloin, Chorizo, Morcilla

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In my previous "baking" post, I mentioned I'd try making a savoury tart with the shop-bought, ready-rolled puff pastry I bought Saturday (JusRol).
I'm pleased to say it worked really well as you can see below.
I didn't have quite enough left to fill my tray so I patched the last piece together with some offcuts from the weekend and it worked (although you can see the wonky lower right corner), scored a rim into the pastry, spread some diluted tomato puree on the pastry, arranged courgette slices, quartered cherry tomatoes and bits of crushed garlic topped with bits of goats' cheese and finishing with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Maldon sea salt and a few grinds of pepper. Into my toaster oven for about fifteen minutes and out came this:
Courgette, Tomato and Goat&quot;s Cheese Tart
Photo taken on my phone and processed with instagram, I quite like it.

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For my overnight stay I had more or less randomly picked a hotel just down the road from The Hampshire Hog, a "pub and pantry" I had been wanting to visit for while as I know the owner Ed on twitter and had heard good things about their food. Breakfast wasn't included in my stay so rather than subjecting myself to chain hotel fare, I walked five minutes to the Hog and I'm glad I did. The main room is bright and airy with rough wooden tables and mismatched chairs. When you look at the menu you realise it's a place where you could spend hours having brunch with a variety of dishes but I had lunch coming up at 12:30 and been told to arrive hungry so I only chose a portion of buttermilk pancakes with blueberries, banana and honey butter.

Buttermilk Pancakes, Blueberries, Banana, Honey Butter

The pancakes were crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and the fruit were lovely, too. With it I had a pot of excellent Earl Grey tea (loose leaf, no less, from The Rare Tea Company). As the light was perfect to read by and I didn't have to check out of my hotel before midday, I spent another hour or so with a large glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. A perfect morning.

My lunch destination was Axis at One Aldwych in Covent Garden. I live in this slightly bizarre world where as a "foodie" on twitter and other social networks I'm in contact not only with other like-minded people but also chefs from around the country. They regularly post menu updates and photos of new dishes and are happy to chat with their followers so I had "known" executive chef Tony Fleming for a while. I even booked my table through him and he promised me an interesting menu after checking for any allergies or dislikes. As I will try everything at least once, I love this sort of arrangement when chefs offer to "cook for me" and I don't necessarily know what I'll be having and the chefs love it when they can exercise their ideas without restriction.

Axis is one of the two restaurants at One Aldwych and situated in the basement but has also its own entrance from street level via a sweeping marble staircase. The dining room is well lit and furnished with tables dressed in white and comfortable chairs. On my table was a personalised printout of my menu entitled "Surf and Turf Tasting" and it looked very exciting indeed. Again I asked the waiter to recommend a couple of glasses of wine to go with the majority of the menu and again his choices were perfect as was service throughout my almost three hour meal.
This was my meal:

Lamb, Lobster, Pea

"Lamb, Lobster, Pea" BBQ style piece of crispy lamb with soft meat and a piece of perfectly cooked lobster tail, brought together by the pea. The antenna, although inedible, was a nice touch.

Scallop, Pork Belly, Prune

"Scallop, Pork Belly, Prune". A soft scallop sitting on a piece of braised pork belly and prune puree. Rather soft and sweet but not overbearingly so and I loved the flavour combination of scallop and pork.

Turbot, Duck, Broccoli

"Turbot, Duck, Broccoli". This combination might sound slightly strange but it worked really well. The turbot was roasted on the bone, the duck cooked dark pink, just how I like it. Some of the best broccoli I've had, too.

Rabbit, Langoustine, Carrot

"Rabbit, Langoustine, Carrot". This was, to my mind, the most inventive dish. The loin meat was wrapped around langoustine which meant it was protected and remained perfectly moist. The other piece was slowly cooked leg meat. The carrot and beet leaves rounded off the dish nicely.

Veal, Crab, Asparagus

"Veal, Crab, Asparagus". The piece of braised rose veal had almost the flavour of beef and fell apart, a truly remarkable piece of meat. It sat on top of the best crab cake I have ever had, it was fresh and light with excellent flavour and flake. The asparagus was tender with a bit of crunch. Lovely.

Gingerbread, Banana, Salt Caramel

"Gingerbread, Banana, Salt Caramel". An excellent gingerbread soufflé, fluffy and light and cooked thoroughly. The piece of banana was crusted with lovely caramel, the ice cream and the salted caramel sauce brought everything together. With that I had a superb Australian dessert wine called Xanadu (the only one I remember, I need to get better at this).

Chef Tony Fleming came out for a chat and gave me a quick tour of the kitchen and the other parts of the hotel. Many thanks to him, his brigade and the front of house staff at Axis for looking after me so well. I walked back to the tube and then to my train to Cambridge a very happy man and didn't need anything else that day, despite clubbing all night and celebrating with friends.

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For my birthday I usually treat myself to a new gadget or some camera equipment but as I didn't need anything this year, I decided to visit a few more restaurants than usual. On my actual birthday I went with a group of friends to Alimentum in Cambridge who treated me to a tasting menu of new dishes. I've written extensively about Alimentum's food before so I won't write a separate post but you can see the photos here. While everything was excellent, the halibut dish was everybody's favourite.
The next day I took a train down to London to have lunch at Alyn Williams' restaurant at The Westbury in Mayfair. I had read quite a few reviews both by journalists and fellow food bloggers who were all praising Alyn's cuisine. No wonder, really, as he'd spend the last few years as Marcus Wareing's head chef at the Berkely before he decided to set up his own restaurant at The Westbury so his reputation was already excellent.
The restaurant is set in a windowless but well lit room on the ground floor of The Westbury. The setting with well spaced tables dressed in white is elegant but not overbearing. Service was equally pleasant, friendly, efficient and invisible when not needed.
Considering the setting and area, one would expect a rather pricey menu but this is not the case. The set lunch menu is £24 for three courses, à la carte is £45 for three courses and the seven course (with two options for main) tasting menu only £55. This, considering the level of cooking and location, is a bargain (a service charge of 12.5% is added to the bill). Also, you have the option of replacing dishes from the tasting menu with one from the a la carte in case one isn't to your liking. As I'm unlikely to have the opportunity to go back soon I chose the tasting menu to be able to taste a good variety of Alyn Williams' cuisine. There are also separate à la carte and tasting menus for vegetarians.
As it was lunchtime and I don't process alcohol well during the day, I did not choose to have the wine flight with my menu so instead the sommelier suggested a glass of white and red each that would go well with the main sections of the menu. Just before my first course was served, Alyn Williams dropped by my table and said Hi before he went back to his kitchen.
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As a general rule, I don't bake. There are three main reasons: I don't have a proper oven, baking is a precise science which doesn't go well with my intuitive approach to cooking and a real cake is just too big for just one person. I've made crumbles before because the mix is just equal amounts of flour, sugar and butter so easy to scale down.
Today I tried something else. I bought a pack of pre-made, rolled puff pastry from the chiller cabinet (JusRol), cut a piece of pastry for a tartlet, scored a line for a rim, arranged some sliced apple dusted with cinnamon on it and shoved it into my toaster oven. Out came this:
Apple Tartlet

It was a little overdone (will need to watch more carefully next time) and dry (an extra layer of filling would have done nicely, or thicker apple slices). Also, the pastry is a litle salty so a little dusting of sugar should do the trick there.
All in all, not bad for a first attempt. I'll be attempting a savoury version tomorrow as I have cherry tomatoes and goat's cheese.

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karohemd
I first had a taste of Russell Bateman's food when he provided the main for the Tommy's charity dinner at Alimentum last year and since then I'd been wanting to visit Colette's the restaurant he heads up at The Grove hotel in Watford. After a series of public transport failings (half an hour for a bus, signal failure outside Cambridge), I made it to the hotel just in time for my booking. Kyle (who used to be sommelier at Alimentum) kindly gave me the grand tour of the sprawling building with its various lounges, bars and restaurants, all held in a simple, elegant style. I also had a quick peek into the kitchen before taking my seat in the restaurant. This is also held in mostly white with very low lighting (fellow food bloggers, take heed) and widely spaced tables dressed in white cloths.

I'm going to keep this review relatively short as there is a lot to go through (counting all the extras, I had 16 courses) and let the photos do the talking. In every dish the ingredients were perfectly cooked/prepared, stood out on their own while harmonising wonderfully with the others on the plate and offered an interesting mix of textures, just what you want in a fine meal. The following spectacle of culinary delights took almost four hours. In addition to a glass of champagne with the canapees, I had a different wine with almost every dish (a few were paired with the same wine) so I think it was a total of 12 glasses. Not very big ones but definitely enough to make me very happy by the end.

Colette&quot;s - Canapes
Canapees: White ham, pork and mustard, crab, samphire on squid ink biscuit


Colette&quot;s - Bread

The bread deserves special mention. Not only is it freshly baked on the premises but it's served in a warm linen sack with hot baking beans in the bottom that will keep the bread warm. The butter and olive oil were superb, too.

Colette&quot;s - Pea amuse bouche
A pea based amuse bouche. Lots of clean, fresh flavours.


Colette&quot;s - Scallop
Scallop, peanut, radish, lime. If I had to pick a favourite dish, this would be it.


Colette&quot;s - Jerusalem Artichokes with Truffles
Jerusalem artichoke, truffle, truffled soldiers


Colette&quot;s - Pig&quot;s Cheek
Spicy braised pig's cheek, coconut. This was served with knife and fork but could easily have been eaten with a spoon so tender was the meat.


Colette&quot;s - Foie Gras
Foie Gras terrine with apple and celeriac


Colette&quot;s - Cod
Another fish dish: Cod with heritage carrots


Colette&quot;s - Pigeon
8 spice squab, Grove honey, apple


Colette&quot;s - Lamb
Salmon cut of lamb leg, Jalfrezi spices, sweetbreads, glazed aubergine


Colette&quot;s - Cheese
A small cheese course. just one variety (Colombier) but this had everything I love about cheese, elements of brie, blue and washed rind.


Colette&quot;s - Lid Colette&quot;s - Palate Cleanser
A palate cleanser: Mango and papaya salsa, yogurt foam, passionfruit


Colette&quot;s - Cheesecake
The tiniest slice of cheesecake ever but it was great. I couldn't have eaten a normal slice, anyway.


Colette&quot;s - Lemon Parfait
Lemon parfait and little meringues


Colette&quot;s - Chocolate
Jivara chocolate, thyme ice cream, Seville orange, black pepper to finish.


There were some petit fours, too but I had to pack up quickly to catch the last train from Watford Junction so didn't get a phot. They were pretty and delicious, like everything else. There are a few more photos on flickr.

Many thanks to the teams front and back of house at Colette's for looking after me so well. I won't forget this meal anytime soon.

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karohemd
The last time we were at Alimentum, puddingcat said that she wanted to go at some point and only eat desserts. That gave me an idea so as it was her birthday last week, I arranged just that and it turned out the perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.
We started proceedings with an Espresso Martini (which I neglected to take a photo of, oops) and we opted to have a starter so we didn't only have sweets.

Sweetbreads and Chicken Wing Confit

Sweetbreads and chicken wing confit with wild garlic. Brilliant little dish with crispy sweetbreads and very soft chicken wings. On to all the desserts:

&quot;Black Forest Gateau&quot;

"Black Forest Gateau" Obviously not the rich cake from the 70s but taking the various elements and presenting them in a modern way. The sponge was as light as a feather and the cherry elements varied from sweet to tart, all balanced beautifully.

Next, we shared a portion of the Battenburg which I had last time so have a look here for a description.

White Chocolate Parfait, Passionfruit Rhubarb, White Chocolate Panacotta

On to two dishes featuring white chocolate. On the left a white choc parfait (the ball) with passionfruit and on the right a white choc pannacotta with rhubarb. In both dishes, the tartness of the fruit/vegetable was counteracted by the sweetness of the white chocolate, creating a wonderful balance. Each element on its own would have been too sweet or too tart. We only had one of those and swapped halfway through.

The pernod foam with pineapple and fennel was next. Again, a photo and short description are in this post.

Chocolate and Passionfruit Terrine

Then, the killer: A chocolate and passionfruit terrine with honeycomb. A very rich, dark chocolate ganache with more passionfruit elements. The honeycomb crumbles on top provided a light crunch rather than sweetness. Superb.

Birthday Girl
A very happy birthday girl.


Blackcurrant Crumble, Vanilla Ice Cream Crème brûlée

During the final course we again shared two dishes: On the left, a blackcurrant mousse with crumble and vanilla ice cream. Very light, very fruity and flavourful. On the right, a Crème Brûlée was a sweeter dish but not overpowering. The layer of melted sugar on top was almost transparent. Beautiful.

I am going to amend this with the wine list if I manage to find out what we had, I can't remember them all (one with each course, except the starter and the pernod foam), my memory became kind of hazy after a certain point. I think I have to take photos of the bottles on my phone to help my memory along.

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karohemd
My butcher had some nice looking belly pork today so I picked up a piece.
I first scored the skin, rubbed some salt into it and let sit for 20 minutes or so before wiping off the resulting moisture. The flesh side I rubbed with salt, pepper and thyme and then sat it in a roasting pan with a slosh of cider in the bottom. First I cooked it on the highest setting for about 20 minutes to get the skin going and then turned it right down to roast gently for about 4.5 hours.
I had first intended to serve it with mash but GigerPunk, a twitter friend, mentioned he used to cook belly pork on top of potatoes and onions which sounded like a brilliant idea. So I sweated off some red onions which I alternated with sliced redskin potatoes in an ovenproof dish, adding some well-seasoned chicken stock cooked with more cider and the juices from the roasting tin. This I roasted on medium high for about half an hour and then added the belly on top to roast for another half hour or so until the crackling blistered. I removed the dish from the oven to rest while wilting some spinach in butter, seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg. The finished dish looked like this:

Pork belly, boulangere potatoes, spinach

I'm really happy with how this came out. The crackling was crunchy, not chewy at all and the meat was soft. The fat had almost completely rendered but could possibly have done with a little more cooking. Still, not bad for a first attempt.

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karohemd
Very quick dinner tonight:
Chopped a cooking chorizo into little chunks, cooked them in a pan on medium heat until crispy and the fat had rendered. I removed the chorizo and cooked the cod loins in the rendered fat (around 3 minutes on the presentation side and another 2 after flipping and turning off the heat), seasoned with salt and pepper.
Then I deglazed the pan with a slosh of Fino sherry and whisked in a few knobs of cold butter until emulsified to make the sauce (a bit like a beurre blanc but red from the paprika in the chorizo, hence the above name).
Served with the chorizo sprinkled over, braised spring greens, fresh baguette and a glass of Fino.
Cod loin, braised greens, chorizo, &quot;beurre rouge&quot;

Just a phone photo while I was eating.

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karohemd
On Wednesday I took a train to London and then a tube to Highgate to take part in Porklife, a celebration of the pig by last year's Masterchef winner Tim Anderson and co-finalist Tom Whitaker.
The two nights only event was held at The Bull, a lovely brewpub in Highgate. I arrived well on time so could pick the table with the best light. People arrived very slowly so we didn't get started until after eight but I had my kindle so waiting wasn't so bad.

Tom and Tim

Tim and Tom appeared briefly to introduce themselves and then headed to the kitchen again.

Starter selection

The first course was the "little board" with deep-fried crumbed brawn and a spicy Korean mayo, a blood pudding roll (genius idea), a shotglass of "pea soup" and "hoggis". The first two were my favourites, the brawn soft with a crunchy coating and the roll with a well flavoured, crumbly black pudding. The hoggis (pork haggis) came with pickled neeps and whisky tatties, sitting on a biscuit. This was a nice idea but could possibly have had a bit more flavour. The pea soup contained bone marrow and pulled smoked hock. Very tasty indeed but probably not that healthy. ;o)

&quot;Sandwich and Soup&quot;

The "Soup and Sandwich intercourse" consisted of a nicely flavoured broth with pulled pork, savoy cabbage and butter beans served in a glass tumbler and rillettes of smoked hock, slithers of homemade guanciale wedged between thin toasted slices of bread. Especially the guanciale was superb but I enjoyed every element.

Then, the main event. First, there was a complimentary pint of Old Major, a "Bock Ale" created by Tim and the Bull's brewers specifically for the event. It wasn't as strong as a German Bock but had the typical sweet notes and a nice hint of smoke. I liked this a lot, if they sold this in bottles, I'd buy it regularly.

Mains selection

The main board had a portion of smoked, slow cooked belly which apart from the smokiness was rather similar to what you would get in Germany. Then there was slow cooked jowl with excellent meat wrapped in a rather tough skin. The spicy andouillette sausage would have been very nice if it hadn't been for a rather sharp sourness which put me off a little. The fact that it's offal stuffed into the large intestine didn't bother me at all.
Then there was a salad with crispy bits of ear and trotter, peanut, chilli and a fish sauce dressing. This was mainly a texture thing and pleasant enough. Other accompaniments were a fennel cream, barbecue sauce, apple mash, cornichons and a sort of coleslaw (called parsnip and celeriac remoulade) I really liked as well as a handmade caraway pretzel that tasted very similar to the ones from our baker in my German hometown.
There were some timing issues serving the mains, various items arrived a bit late but I was lucky that my food was still warm, I think a table or two were less lucky. Granted, there were a lot of items, though and I really enjoyed most of them.

By that time I was thoroughly stuffed but the desserts were still to come and of those I got a double helping for some reason.

Desserts

The cinnamon sponge wasn't stodgy and a little bit sticky, just enough for me and the boozy cherries were a nice contrast. The rhubarb jelly could have been a bit tarter for my taste (I don't have a sweet tooth) but the vanilla and fennel ice cream was lovely with just enough aniseedy flavour to make it interesting. The bits in the ice cream was "crackling praline with walnuts" which, strangely enough, actually worked.

I briefly considered trying a shot of Chauvinist Pig, Tim's bacon infused bourbon but I had to walk back to the tube and then my train and wasn't sure what it would do to me. ;)

I also had a brief chat with Tim and Tom afterwards. They are both really nice blokes who clearly love what they're doing and were happy to chat about the food and beer and things.
While there a few hiccups along the way and not all dishes worked brilliantly, it was a great celebration of the allegedly so humble pig. Pork doesn't have to be just loin, chops and big roasts but you can use every part of the animal to make something tasty, you just need to spend some more time on the more unusual cuts.

A few more photos on flickr

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karohemd
I've written about The Punter in Cambridge before (apologies for the horrible phone shots), which is my favourite gastropub in Cambridge, not least because it's on two convenient bus routes so I can get there easily from work and then home. I've been a few times since the post linked above and the food has always been superb. It's on the pricier end of the scale for pubs (starters 3-8, mains 11-14.50, puddings 5.50) but the quality of the food is worth it and the £5 lunch specials are hard to beat. The place also feels more like a restaurant than a pub as the bar on one end of the pub is rather small.

Last night I had a bit of time to kill before a gig I was shooting so I had dinner again:

Whitebait

Deep-fried whitebait with chilli mayo. Crispy, crunchy little fishies served whole (but without heads) with a nice kick from the mayo. I think they serve this as bar snack, too.

Pheasant Breast

Rolled, slow-cooked breast of pheasant with a generous slice of dauphinoise with mushrooms and leaves on top and a nice jus. The meat was very tender and flavoursome and the sides were perfect. A joy to eat.

Chocolate Terrine

The dessert was a rather decadent "chocolate terrine". Good dark chocolate, similar to a chocolate pot in texture with a nice bit of tart fruitiness from the passionfruit jelly.

I fully intend to make a visit to The Punter a regular affair.

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karohemd
It's Pancake Day in the UK but I'm not a huge fan and always preferred the thicker, fluffier version called Kaiserschmarrn (Wikipedia has a few theories as to the origins of the dish).
There are of course as many recipes as there are families for this dish but the below works best for me. Good quality free range eggs are essential, not just for ethical reasons but also for the colour.

Kaiserschmarrn with home made icing sugar


Ingredients: (1 person as main for dinner, 3 for dessert)
Eggs (3 large, 4 medium or 5 small)
milk
plain flour
caster sugar
icing sugar
butter
raisins or similar (optional: soaked in rum or whisky)

Method
Separate the eggs, whisk the yolks with ca. 3tbsp of sugar, add about two parts milk and then about 3 or 5 tbsp of sifted flour (whisk in the flour one by one until it's the consistency of double cream). Beat the egg whites with a small pinch of salt to stiff peaks. Let the batter rest/expand for about 20 minutes then fold in the beaten egg whites until incorporated.
Heat a large, thick bottomed frying pan (cast iron is ideal), melt enough butter to generously cover the bottom, pour in the batter. Turn the heat down to medium after about a minute. When the underside starts to brown, chuck in a handful of raisins into the still liquid batter. Cook until just set on top or the bottom is dark brown and turn the pancake over. Let brown for a bit then break up into bitesized pieces with your spatula, turn the heat down to low and continue frying for about five minutes or until cooked through. Plate generous portions and dust with icing sugar.
Instead of turning over the pancake, you can also put the pan onto the top shelf of a hot oven (top heating element/grill only) and cook the upper side that way.
Serve with apple sauce or other fruit compote/preserve and possibly some ice cream. :o)

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