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.

[Cooking] Twice cooked pork belly, apple & rhubarb sauce, asparagus, Jersey Royals

With a rolled pork belly taking up space in my fridge and no freezer, I had to deal with it rather quickly so on Friday evening, I rubbed with a mix of salt, black pepper and hot smoked paprika, set it in a roasting tin with a generoius amount of cider in the bottom, covered it in foil and slow roasted it (about half an hour on high to get it up to temperature, then two hours at around 180 and another two hours at low), checking every hour or so that it didn’t run dry. I let it cool, transferred the liquid into a mug, wrapped the meat in foil and stored both in the fridge overnight.
The next day, I took off the skin, flattened it out and put it in the oven at its lowest setting to dry out, turning up the heat to maximum about half an hour for dinner to let it crisp up.
About an hour before serving, I cut two generous slices off the roll and let them come to room temperature. I took off the fat that had settled on top of the mug with the roasting juices, and fried the slices in that fat over medium heat until nicely brown on both sides.
During the afternoon I had made an apple and rhubarb sauce (inspired by the one that was served with the ears at Pig Shop) by stewing apple and rhubarb chunks in cider and then blitzing.
I served the meat wtih the sauce, a glug of the reheated roasting juices, Jersey Royals and asparagus fried in the meat pan (yes, I know no shame) with two slivers of crackling on top. The meat was very tender, the crackling crunchy and everything else worked very well together, too. I was very happy with it all, especially as I went simply by instinct with no recipe.

Twice cooked pork belly, apple & rhubarb sauce

I had another two meals from it and had thinly sliced leftovers in a bun for lunch today.

[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

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.

Tanner dinner at Alimentum

Last Thursday was a special evening at Alimentum, another guest night (the first was with Cyrus Todiwala in May). This time brothers Chris and James Tanner of Tanners in Plymouth and Barbican Kitchen in London were the guests and created a number of dishes with Team Alimentum providing the rest.

Proceedings started with an “orange and ginger cobbler” created by Alimentum cocktail guru Joe. This was just right for the weather and almost christmassy, it reminded me of the punch my gran used to make, in a good way. There were also nibbles provided by the Alimentum chefs.

Orange and Ginger Cobbler (Joe Tivey, Alimentum)

Alimentum canapes

The setup was the same as last time or the supper clubs, several large communal tables rather than individual ones with everyone being served at the same time. As each course was served, the chefs came to the tables and explained them which was a nice touch.

Alimentum - Amuse Bouche

This beautiful amuse was prepared by Team Alimentum, a brilliant mix of tomato and herb flavours that did exactly what they were supposed to do, excite the palate for what was to come.

Chris and James Tanner
Chris and James Tanner talking about the starter.

with added brioche

The starter came from the Tanners: Creedy carver duck liver parfait, plum, granola with toasted brioche. A very smooth, soft and sweetish parfait which was balanced nicely by the plum chutney and granola. The brioche was nice but Alimentum’s sage and onion bread worked even better with it.

Alimentum: Plaice, langoustines, fennel, cucumber, seaweed sauce

The fish dish was from Alimentum: Plaice, langoustines, fennel, cucumber, seaweed sauce. I first had this at the August supperclub and it did not disappoint, light and very nicely balanced.

Tanners: Loin of Bodmin Moor venison 2

The main was provided by the Tanners: Loin of Bodmin Moor venison, tarka dal and salt baked turnip. Easily one of the best pieces of venison I’ve had, deeply flavoured, perfectly and evenly cooked, really tender. The sauce was immense, the tarka dal provided some spice and the turnip some crunch (although there could have been a few more slices, I thought) and some token greens.

Alimentum: Confit egg yolk, Mont d'Or sauce, truffle and onion

Then Alimentum provided another flavour bomb: Confit egg yolk, Mont d’Or sauce, truffle and onion. Really strong individual flavours that worked together perfectly.

Alimentum: BBQ orange, mojito, ginger beer

The first dessert came from Alimentum: BBQ orange, liquorice, mojito, ginger beer. This was nice and light, the orange parfait not overly sweet and what sweetness there was was balanced by the sharp mojito and ginger beer gels.

Tanners: Yoghurt pannacotta, caramel pineapple, chocolate soil

The last dessert was provided by the Tanners: Yoghurt pannacotta, caramel pineapple, chocolate soil. Soft, crunchy, tangy, sweet, chocolatey, great fun.

And finally, a portrait of the chefs, from left to right: James Tanner, Mark Poynton and Chris Tanner:

James Tanner, Mark Poynton, Chris Tanner

A few more photos on flickr

This was a wonderful evening, not just gorgeous food but also fine company. I was on my own but the communal table meant there was no shortage in conversation and the food was an excellent starting point. There were tales of interesting and bizarre dishes eaten across the world, travel (there was even a couple who had been to my home town for the china!) and so on.

The next guest chef is going to be the mighty Alyn Williams, on the 12th of October. Mark your calendars, this is one not to be missed. I had a fantastic meal during my birthday binge last year at his restaurant, well before it received its well deserved first Michelin star. I am sure his food will have progressed even further since then.

Dinner at Trishna

Saturday morning, I had breakfast again at The Hampshire Hog as I was staying a few minutes down the road at a budget hotel. As I had no proper lunch planned (or even a time when I would eat), I opted for something a little more substantial, Eggs Benedict:
Eggs Benedict at The Hampshire Hog
They were fine indeed, the eggs poached on the spot, good ham on nicely toasted muffins with a smooth hollandaise. Freshly squeezed orange juice on the side. The few undressed rocket leaves didn’t really add anything. I also managed to catch up with Ed before he leaves the running of the Hog to others and leaves for India to run a big business venture.

I had orginally planned to spend daytime wandering around various markets and the food festival on the South Bank but I really didn’t fancy it in the cold wind (and later sleet) so I spent the day at Leisure Games in Finchley instead playing board games as it was International Tabletop Day. That was good fun but I did need some food so I went to a Persian restaurant a few doors down. The food was pleasant enough but there was just too much of it (and I ate too much) which in hindsight was a bad idea.

I had booked dinner at Trishna early in the evening as it was a bank holiday weekend which tends to be notorious for train travel and I really didn’t want to spend a long time on cold replacement busses. Considering my late bulk lunch I sadly wasn’t feeling hungry enough to splurge on the big tasting menu so I chose the five course one with a matching flight of wines. I had only heard good reviews from both critics and friends so I was really looking forward to it and I was not disappointed.

Bread
Bread with two interesting chutneys, a milder one with mango and a rather hot one.

Koliwada lobster and shrimp
The first course was Koliwada lobster and shrimp which was quite spicy but the spicing so well judged that the flavour of the crustaceans still came through. Needless to say, they were very nicely cooked.

Hariyali Bream
Hariyali Bream with green chilli, coriander and tomato kachumber. Less hot than the previous course despite the green chilli and wrapped in coriander, the fish was wonderfully moist and almost flaked before my knife touched it. Easily one of my favourite dishes.

Duck Seekh Kebab
Duck Seekh Kebab was probably the odd one out. While the duck flavour was excellent, the kebab was rather dense and a bit dry, at least to my taste. The spiced pineapple chutney worked brilliantly with it, however and added some moisture.

Malwani Jhinga CurryThe main was a whole spread of dishes: prawns in a rich, fragrant and somewhat spicy curry sauce, spicy yellow dal, spinach with garlic, basmati rice and two kinds of naan. Brilliant in every way, my only regret was really not being hungry anymore otherwise I would have finished the rice with the sauce and dal. As it was, quite a bit of those elements went back into the kitchen.

However, there’s always room for dessert and truly magnificent that was:
Cardamom Kheer
Cardamom Kheer: The queen of rice puddings, if I ever had one. I could hardly chew and swallow because of the smile it put on my face, a smile that would not fade for quite a few minutes after it was all gone. Indian sweets and desserts can be very sweet and cloying but this was just right with just the right amount of spicing.

Like my friends, I can only recommend Trishna, not just because of the quality of the food and well matched wines but also because it presents excellent value. My menu was towards the upper end and came to 80 pounds including wine and service. For a one star restaurant in a posh part of London, this is very good indeed. Even better value are their smaller and early evening menus.