Lunch at Osteria Waggon and Horses, Milton

Osteria Waggon & Horses in Milton has been on my list for a while since various friends gave rave reviews but despite being deceptively close to where I live it’s just a little far to walk and there is no bus back from Milton after dinner would be finished so the only time I can get there and back easily is Saturday lunchtime when I’m usually out shopping or do other things. I finally managed to get the timing right and visited last Saturday and really regretted not having done this earlier.
The former pub was stripped down to a very simple and clean style with well spaced tables in the dining area and a small bar area. The menu consists of a blackboard of aperitivi, small plates of meat, fish, veg, salad, charcuterie and everything else they can think of on the day, a bit like Spanish tapas. I think there were at least 10 different ones on the board when I was there. Two make about a starter portion. The printed menu has starters, pasta, mains and desserts, all rather more varied than what you usually find at Italian places. There is also a set lunch option on weekdays and a “Taste” menu on weekends.

Aperitivi and bread selection
Squid ink bread

I chose two aperitivi, ox tongue with salsa verde on the left and salted sardines on the right, with their bread selection. The bread was warm and delicious (the black blob was made with squid ink, the standout one was the foccaccia), the ox tongue tender and rich nicely complemented by the fresh salsa verde. The salted sardines were small, more like anchovies, the tapenade was not too strong in olive flavour (proper olives, too, not those dyed ones you often get) and the lemon jelly cut through the richness.

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

My main was a superb vegetarian risotto with jerusalem artichokes, pesto, beetroot and parmesan crisps. Perfect consistency, rice al dente (which might not be to everyone’s taste) and a great balance of flavours and textures. This was a joy to eat, easily among the best risotti I’ve had anywhere.

By this time I was quite full already but I couldn’t pass on dessert:

Gianduja semifreddo, black sesame ice cream

This seemed to be the lightest option (with the exception of the gelato selection), a gianduja semifreddo (the chocolate glazed log), black sesame ice cream, truffles and chocolate soil. The gianduja was rich but not too sweet, helped by the dark chocolate glaze. The ice cream was rather remarkable, too, first time I had one based on black sesame. The truffles were excellent, too.

The experience was rounded up by friendly and helpful service. Osteria might be a little more expensive than other neighbourhood Italians but the extra cost is entirely justified by the quality of the offerings and I can only recommend it.
Next time I want to go with a few friends and go through the whole aperitivi menu.

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[Cooking] Scallops with chorizo and kale

I made this a couple of weeks ago but only just now came around to posting it. The fish van from Lowestoft had some good looking scallops so I picked up a handful.
I sliced a hot cooking chorizo and cooked them slowly over medium heat until the slices were crispy and had given off most of their fat which was enough to cook the scallops in. I took out the chorizo, turned the heat up to high and fried the scallops about a minute on each side, took the pan off the heat, added a generous knob of butter and basted the scallops with the melted butter/chorizo oil mix. In the meantime I had also steamed some kale. I drained the bits of kale and added them and the chorizo slices to the pan, coating everything in the butter and then arranged everything on a plate, took a photo and ate it where I stood, without bothering to sit down at the table. About halfway through I realised I hadn’t even seasoned the scallops but the spicy oil provided enough seasoning so they didn’t really need it. I was very happy with this dish.

Scallops, chorizo, kale

Dinner at Restaurant Story

For my birthday this year I went to Story a relatively new restaurant that had been on my list ever since it opened last year as it offered modern, ingredient-led and unusual cooking. Despite receiving a Michelin star in the same year it opened, the reviews were mixed, some critics giving very high marks indeed while others weren’t happy at all. That just gave me another reason for wanting to try it. Besides, what I’d seen in photos and blog posts, the food looked like exactly my thing. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

The restaurant is a rather unusual location, a former toilet block at the end of Tooley St. It was a bit tricky to find as the street splits into two and Google Maps tells you its on the other half. I got there eventually and on time, too. The L-shaped dining room has about 12 tables, with the rest of the room taken up by the semi-open kitchen. Tables are simple wood without cloth and the floor is bare but polished and treated concrete screed.

The evening menu has only two choices: two tasting menus of six or ten courses. This being my birthday, I obviously went for the larger menu.
Only a few minutes after I had ordered the first “snacks” arrived, little mouthfuls of different flavours and textures from a radish stuffed with “kelp butter”, crispy cod skin, a “rabbit sandwich” and other delights. These gave an early indication of what to expect later. A lit candle arrived as well but not your usual candle. This was made of beef dripping which melts, runs down and collects in the bottom of the stick to be scooped up with bread later. Of course it’s a gimmick but it’s also a nice bit of theatre.

Radish, kelp butter, Maldon salt

Crispy cod skin, smoked cod roe, gin botanicals

Rabbit sandwich, tarragon cream, carrot

Beef dripping candle

Then the dishes on the menu appeared: A fresh onion dish with a gin sauce, pickled scallops with cucumber and dill, and the best potato dish since Simon Rogan’s heritage potato/onion creationa dish of fresh crab with leeks and lovage:

Onion, apple, Old Tom

Scallop, cucumber, dill ash

Heritage potato, turnip, coal oil

Crab, smoked leek, rapeseed, pear and lovage

I was very much tempted by the optional extra main course of beef tartare served in an apple with bits of apple and grated truffle on top, served in a bowl of (dry) ice and did not regret the decision as it was both some excellent theatre and an explosion of flavour, filling my head with umami:

Raw beef, apple and Perigord truffle

And the flavour sensations just came coming. The next dish of raw squid with bitter sea vegetables/leaves and pine honey was equally satisfying and the lamb with grilled salad and sheep’s yoghurt was the perfect end to the main courses. This was the most conventional of the dishes with roast fillet and crispy belly.

Wild stems, squid and pine honey

Lamb, grilled salad and sheep yoghurt

Despite my rapidly filling stomach, the extra cheese course was also far too tempting to decline of which the calavados camembert was my favourite.

Cheese

Then it was time to slowly wind down and move on to the sweet part of the evening. A dish of sea buckthorn and rapeseed cleansed the palate nicely of the lingering cheese and rich lamb, ready for the foie gras brûlée with pear. A similar concept to the dish at Duck & Waffle but far smaller and better balanced with the tart pear. And without the lobster, of course. A bowl of cereal with prune and variations of milk was next and made me wish I could have it for breakfast every morning. Then it was time for the star of the show: Simply described as “almond and dill” on the menu it was one of those dishes that just sound odd on paper and you simply have to experience yourself. I still don’t know why it worked but it did. The fresh, green flavour of the dill was well balanced by the sweet almond creating a quite remarkable sensation. The only dish that did not quite live up to the others’ was the final dessert of a small milk bottle filled with rhubarb and custard. This would have been great anywhere else but just a little boring after what had come before.

Rapeseed and sea buckthorn

Foie gras, pear and sorrel

Hay, prune and cereal

Almond and dill

Rhubarb and custard

Rose teacake

After all the above and almost four hours after I had sat down I was quite full and declined the offer of coffee or tea. I had an outstanding meal, the first one I now consider equal to the one I had at Sat Bains two years ago. The accompanying wines (and one beer) were well chosen and service led by restaurant manager Jon Cannon was both efficient and enthusiastic about the food, happy to discuss the dishes and to answer questions.
I can see that Tom Sellers’ food is not for everyone but f you like the cooking of Simon Rogan, Sat Bains, Ben Spalding or Paul Foster, I’m quite sure you will love the food at Story, too.

A few more photos are on flickr.

A Dinner by Chef Damian Wawrzyniak

I found out about this dinner (as so many others recently) via twitter and in the weeks before started following the chef, Damian Wawrzyniak. The photos and descriptions of dishes from other dinners looked right up my street and I decided to take the plunge and ordered a ticket, not least because it included a free lift from Cambridge and back.
The Cook’s Barn in Bottisham is part kitchen showroom and working kitchen with a dining space. On this occasion there was one long table, supper club style. Weather and traffic were horrible so we arrived a little later than planned but weren’t the last by far and dinner only started when everyone had arrived, almost an hour later. There was, however, opportunity to chat with the chef as he prepared ingredients and getting to know the other diners.
Each course was cooked fresh with Chef Damian explaining the ideas behind each dish. He clearly had done this before as the pace of the evening was perfect between watching the cookery, eating and chatting.
The food was excellent, diverse and rather different and adventurous in places. Even odd sounding ideas, like chocolate covered pig skin turned out to be marvellous indeed. Even simple ingredients like kale and cauliflower were transformed into delicious dishes.
The following photos should give you a rough idea of the experience. There are more on flickr.

Chef Damian in action

Pig skin, chocolate, spices
Pig skin, chocolate, spices

Quail's egg, aubergine mousse, wasabi, sweet potato
Quail’s egg, aubergine mousse, wasabi, sweet potato

Kale, egg, chicken skin
Kale, egg, chicken skin

Wagyu beef cooked on hot marble slabs

Wagyu beef cooked on hot marble slabs
Wagyu beef cooked on hot marble slabs

Langoustine, spinach, chicken mousse

Langoustine, spinach, chicken mousse
Langoustine, spinach, chicken mousse

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar
Cauliflower, burnt onion cream, salmon caviar

Mint on marble

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint
Lamb fillet, beetroot, mint

Scallops in hay
Scallops in hay

Black cod, squid ink, bonito flakes

Black cod, squid ink, bonito flakes
Black cod, squid ink, bonito flakes

Almonds, chocolate, honey, poppy seeds

Bergamot ice cream, marmalade

Bergamot ice cream, marmalade
Bergamot ice cream, marmalade

Chocolate, beetroot
Chocolate, beetroot

Chocolate mousse, dehydrated fruit
Chocolate mousse, dehydrated fruit

Keep an eye on Chef Damian’s website for news on similar future events (two running during Eat Cambridge in May) and his restaurant in London opening later this year.

[Cooking] Two recent fish dishes

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

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.

Bistronomy supper club at The Vaults

As with many food events recently, I found out about this on twitter. I had missed the first one a couple of months ago and heard good things so I booked immediately when it was announced. The venue was The Vaults restaurant in Trinity Street.

Bistronomy: Bread, oil/balsamic, aoili
First there was some simple Italian style bread with olive oil/balsamic vinegar and a nicely punchy aioli. The amuse was a fresh and flavourful gazpacho, a nice idea to get the tastebuds going. As it was served simply in a coffee cup, I did not take a photo.

Bistronomy: Rabbit terrine
The starter was a rabbit terrine with pickled vegetables. This was well flavoured and the combination with the pickled, crunchy vegetables worked really well. The chunks of loin down the middle were still moist, too.

Bistronomy: Pork tenderloin, broad beans, goats cheese
The main was a nice piece of pork tenderloin, perfectly cooked (pink) and beautifully tender. This was served on broad beans with chunks of creamy goats cheese and bits of smoky bacon, an excellent combination. Definitely my favourite dish of the evening and easily one of the best pork tenderloin dishes I have had at a restaurant.

Bistronomy: Palate cleanser
The palate cleanser was a fresh combination of melon and cucumber and did the job perfectly.

Bistronomy: Lemon posset and strawberries
The finale was strawberries and lemon posset with good flavours and not too sweet. If I had to be super critical, I would have preferred a crunchy element as well, perhaps some crumble or crushed amaretti biscuits but that was a minor issue.

Overall, this was a wonderful meal with great flavours and good portion sizes that left you sated but not full. The best, however, was the price: All the above for £25, without service. On the other hand, the glass of Chablis I had was rather pricey at £8.50 but I guess that is The Vault’s pricing and not unusual along the main tourist stretch in Cambridge.

You can follow the chefs Ben Tebbit and Byron Franklin on twitter and facebook. Definitely a team to watch out for and yet another great addition to the culinary scene in Cambridge.

Lunch at Koffmann’s

The next day after a breakfast of pancakes at The Hampshire Hog, I made my way to Hyde Park to meet up with the male half of The Critical Couple for lunch at Koffmann’s which is located within The Berkeley Hotel but has its own restaurant from the main road. The main part of the restaurant is downstairs, away from natural light which is always a bit tricky for photography but as it was rather quiet we managed to get moved to a table by the window upstairs which was much better.
Pierre Koffmann has been a household name in the UK for a long time and quite a number of well-known chefs with their own established restaurants learned the ropes his kitchen like Tom Kitchin, Tom Aikens, Bruno Loubet, Eric Chavot and many others. With a reputation and pedigree like this you might think the food would be over elaborate and potentially pretentious but it actually is brasserie food, just refined and done very well.

Amuse
The amuse already showed us the quality of the dishes we were to expect. This onion tart was light and perfectly crispy. Just two bites for each of us but full of flavour.

Bread
The breads were equally well made and freshly baked, too.

This being my first time, I had to go for the signature dishes:

Squid Bolognaise
Squid Bolognaise: I had first seen this dish on Saturday Kitchen a while ago and it intrigued me. The pasta is replaced by shaved, perfectly cooked squid, served with a bolognaise style sauce that had clearly been slowly cooked for a long time, imparting lots of deep flavour while still not overpowering the squid.

Pig's trotter
The next obvious choice was the pig’s trotter stuffed with morels and sweetbreads. The skin of the trotter turns rather gelatinous but is very tender indeed so it almost melts in your mouth. The stuffing is well judged and adds some crispy bits. This was served with a smooth pomme puree (easily the same amount of butter to potato) and a shiny, well reduced sauce. Not exactly a dish for the faint-hearted as it is quite substantial but it is actually less rich than it sounds and its reputation is more than deserved.

Pistachio souffle
For dessert we both chose the pistachio souffle to which our waiter added a quenelle of pistachio ice cream at the table. This slowly sunk into the souffle without collapsing it and instead almost completely melting on the way. Light and fluffy after the rich main, this was the perfect way to end. It has been a few years since I had Tom Kitchin’s version (who serves the ice cream on the side) but I daresay they were both equally accomplished.

Petit fours
A few petit fours to finish.

You can find photos of my companion’s dishes on flickr but you will have to wait for his blog post to see what they were like. They both looked fantastic, too, so I might well have to come back at some point soon. Considering the location, the quality of the food and the restaurant’s reputation, our meal was reasonable value: 70 pounds including efficient and friendly service and a generous glass of wine. Their set lunch menu is a true bargain which I will have to try soon.