Saturday 19 July 2014

5 Cheap Eats in el Born, Barcelona

La Paradeta

Possibly my favourite 'cheap eat' in Barcelona - we've visited La Paradeta the last two times we've visited the city. On entering, you're encountered with a massive fresh fish counter - think monkfish, lobster, sea snails, oysters, mussels, razor clams, tuna, salmon... there's pretty much everything a fish lover could dream of here. It looks busier - and scarier! - than it is; queuing like a well-behaved Brit worked in our favour this time; everything's charged by the weight (though the staff will portion the fish out for the number of covers dining) and you can choose how you'd like it cooked (grilled/fried/steamed).

There's cheap wine (like everywhere in Spain) - and ice bucket stands sit at every table. Don't let that comment fool you - this is a self service restaurant if ever there was one. Your receipt will specify your number to listen out for (in both English and Spanish - phew!) which you collect at the hatch. Don't forget the sauces when you pay, and load up on ailoli. Skip the salad - it's nothing special but grab a couple of breads for the mussels. Beware of the gambas (prawns) - four of these babies cost 8 euros; well worth it for the quality on offer, but some of the shellfish can stop it from being a 'cheap eat'. We've only eaten at the Born location, but there's four other branches in Barcelona.

Carrer Comercial, 7
Barcelona, Spain

La Taguara Areperia

We actually ate here as a "starter" before visiting Mosquito. It's a stand-up kind of joint, with Moritz beer and a large menu for your fillings. Not sure what exactly an arepa is? Check out our pals, Arepa! Arepa! Arepa! in Manchester.

There's pretty much anything you could imagine to stuff in your maize patty - from black beans & roughly a kilo of cheese** to chicken & avocado. Can't choose? Fortunately, there's also "La Mixta", basically a bit of everything. When you've finished your grub hot foot it down the street for a post-dinner Manhattan at Gimlet. You can afford it - none of the arepas are more than five euros.

Carrer del Rec, 10
08003 Barcelona

Pim Pam Plats

Looking for a 'cheap eat' on our last day for lunch, we scouted Pim Pam out for a little while before giving it a go. This casual eaterie was clearly popular for takeaway when many of the options seemed to be available to purchase by weight; there's an impressive looking counter, filled with 10-12 different salads, four fresh pastas, tagines, curries, meat..... well, nearly everything you can think of. We both plumped for one of their confusingly good deals - I chose one of their daily salads with a delicious almond, cream & spinach tortellini (beware, they do heat this in the microwave and mine came out not quite hot enough), whilst Jamie gave me the worst case of food envy with his burger. This simple bun filled with a perfectly pink patty, gherkins, lettuce and mustard blew every other burger we'd eaten in a restaurant out the water. Two salads, a burger, fresh pasta and a beer came to around 18 euros (£16).

Next time we'll be trying the original Pim Pam Burger, round the corner at Carrer del Sabateret, 4.

Carrer del Rec, 8
08003 Barcelona


Nearing the end of our trip and craving a touch of good ol' Mancunian service (a.k.a. hipster service, as described by Good Gobble here), Mosquito was the obvious choice. Situated just a few minutes walk from the main square in El Born, Mosquito is a tiny Chinese style restaurant, specialising in dumplings and crispy duck. Oh, and not to mention a pretty damn good craft beer selection. On the evening we went, they were all out of English menus but staff were friendly and disappointingly un-hipster (though very stylish); we tried three different kinds of dumpling, their crispy duck and rice. Along with two very decent beers, the bill came to under 30 euros (or about £25). We arrived pining for Manchester* and left pining for a place like this in Manchester.

Carrer dels Carders, 46
08003 Barcelona

Pizza Paco

Every time we've visited the Born area of Barcelona, it's been hard not to notice how popular Pizza Paco is. Word has it it's hard to grab an outdoor table in the evening - so we plumped for a completely un-cool dining time of around 5 in the afternoon. The beer's crap in that way that it just about becomes acceptable because you're in a hot country, but the pizza is worth a visit. One between the two of us, with a, um, side of empanada was more than enough for a light tea. The lot came to around £13. This joint ain't gonna knock you out if you're a pizza perfectionist, but it's pretty damn good, with smiley, relaxed service and a lovely courtyard. The desserts sounded good too. No website, but the address is below.

Carrer de l'Allada-Vermell, 11
08003 Barcelona

*obviously I am lying. I have never pined for anywhere in Barcelona.
**I am exaggerating - but the amount of cheese was sort of ridiculous.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Tickets, Barcelona

There are a few restaurants in this world whose reputation precedes them to the extent that the desire to eat in them is surpassed by the feeling that you, in fact, already have. The Fat Duck, for me, is one; The Hand and Flowers another. And outside of the UK, that restaurant, for me, was Tickets. I had digested so many reviews, read so many articles and seen so many photos, that it nearly felt like I had eaten there - without, of course, the pain of shelling out a couple of hundred euros in cash.

...but everyone said, "Go!", "You'll love it!", "It's amazing!". Given the two month waiting list online, and the fact that it was now just a couple of weeks 'til we set off on our jollies, I didn't believe we'd, er, be partaking in a spherified olive in our time in Barcelona. We'd debated trying for a walk-in, but by the fifth night of our stay in the surrealist city, we'd found so many other places we were dying to try (and one that we even wanted to visit twice), we'd crossed it off our list.

Cue charming waiter, who delivered the best service we've experienced at a restaurant, and a suggestion he could bag us a table for a couple of night's time. Well, it sort of felt rude to turn down such an offer.

Two days later, we sat outside the restaurant on a bench, watching staff mill between Tickets and its neighbour, 41 degrees. The anticipation was building and we began to let ourselves get excited. It was Jamie's birthday and I was excited to treat him to a meal in a restaurant that had seemingly nailed mass-market molecular gastronomy.

And, we found, it had. More or less. The food - for the most part - was pretty perfect. Spherified olives with a skin you could barely taste - explosive flavours of brine and garlic hitting the roof of your mouth. Watermelon infused with Sangria - a dish I really didn't want, but that Jamie did - and y'know, it being his birthday an' all. Well, it was... watermelony. Like, the best watermelon with a hint of red wine.

There were the Manchego cheese puffs we painstakingly watched a chef compose. Like Quavers on acid, I could eat a Grab Bag of these things (it might cost 40 euros for the pleasure, but man, I could eat them... coming to a Spanish petrol station near you, soon!).

The little nori-wrapped cone of tuna made me feel like a baby mermaid (would a mermaid eat fish? Hmm.); the anchovy with a film of olive oil was deliciously flaunty, the superficial skin being just that. Octopus with a take on kimchi didn't live up to the tentacled creature we ate at Suculent on the first night of our trip, and the accompanying salad to the crab cannelloni was something we could have made at home (though the crab wrapped in avocado itself was pretty divine).

The mollettes (a sort of soft bun, containing pork and mustard) were wonderfully comforting (and thank fuck they were, after waiting 25 minutes for the buggers) and the basil macaroni was, perhaps, one of the best 'pasta' dishes I've ever eaten. It was almost worth the visit just for that last dish.

But why did the service feel like we were being waited on by dancing bears, kept captive in a circus they wished to be no part of? Like teenagers given detentions in the heat of summer, few staff members seemed to want to be there, let alone permitted to experience fun. With stern-faced managers and steely sous-chefs watching over everything with distaste, it felt difficult to really enjoy the experience - which, I had hoped, would be the main point of this restaurant. A small break-through came when I dipped into the 'cortado', and a chef spotted the smile on my face - visibly pleased at the delight of a diner; and later, again, when the bored waiter made a crack about the 'broken' espresso cup (the crockery was intended to have its side cut away).

The manager appeared to care less that I found the service so dire it impacted upon our experience. Why should he care that we holidaymakers were shelling out a substantial amount of cash on a visit when they had an American TV crew in, filming? Perhaps if they'd mentioned this at the start of the visit, we might have empathised a little more. However, it was hidden from the customers - apart from, of course, the fact that the producers were sat behind us throughout the meal, with earpieces in, demanding shots of Albert Adria through the lobster tank.

Yes, really.

I don't wish to impart upon you the feeling you've already been to Tickets, especially because I wouldn't really wish my experience of Tickets on anyone, so I've gone easy on the photos and light on the description. I'm sure if you go, your dinner will be more fun than mine, and the food is undeniably skilled and tasty; though, if on entering, you spot anyone with a battery in their back pocket, let the curtains fall and exit stage left.

Avinguda del Paraƀlel 164, 
08015 Barcelona, Spain

Bookings via the website here.

Monday 28 April 2014

Recipe: The Manchester Foodies' Big Mac

They don't look that pretty, but they taste damn good

At work the other day, I found myself listening to the dulcet tones of Aaron Lewis, morosely intoning Staind's “smash” hit It's Been Awhile, and I thought: yes it has Aaron, yes it has.

Given that over two months have passed since my last blog post, it's been a while (correct spelling) is a constant refrain in my head. Don’t worry I'm not going to start busy-bragging. As writers of any creed will know, the desire to pen your thoughts inevitably waxes and wanes. It’s just been one of those waning periods.

But here I am. Writing once again. Wax on, as it were.

So, let’s get back to the task in hand.

Burgers. Most of us eat them. Most of like them. But not many of us go to much effort with them. Pre-ground meat from the supermarket or butcher, store-bought buns, the only creative spark reserved firmly for the toppings. For our American supperclub (read Food Geek’s kind review here) I wanted to go a bit further.

The Burger

As always my research started with Serious Eats, Modernist Cuisine and Heston. It would be fair to say that, like some sort of culinary plagiarist, most of my knowledge is culled from these guys. But testing out their processes often leads to new discoveries and slight variations.

Here’s what I learned about burgers:

- If you’re really serious about burger making then you should definitely be making your own mince. Franco Sotgiu was kind enough to donate us a mincer for the supperclub - you can find a good one for around £60 or ask your butcher to do it for you. If you’re not gonna make burgers very often, don’t buy one I guess. But they are useful for making sausages and pasta too.

- The type of cuts you use do matter. You need to find a good balance of fat-content and nicely textured meat. The most common ingredients seem to be chuck, sirloin and rib-eye, which are often augmented by richer, beefier additions: Kenji from Serious Eats uses a bit of oxtail, Modernist Cuisine uses hanger, Heston likes dry-aged shortrib. But no matter what anyone says, I don’t think a burger mince mix should contain expensive, dry-aged meat. Reserve that stuff for steaks and roasts. The cheapest option for a decent burger is to find a well-marbled piece of chuck and dry age it in the fridge for a couple of days. I settled on 50% chuck, 25% sirloin and 25% hanger, but I suggest looking at the Serious Eats guide to the burger blends as a start. We tend to get our meat from Farmer’s Choice, and can vouch for the quality of their steaks in particular. 

Freshly ground mince

- I have made the granulated-style burger a la Heston (laying the strands of mince parallel to each other, shaping into a log, then cutting into patties) but I’m not convinced the mouthfeel is that much better than in loosely hand-formed patties. Using a chefs ring or other type of mould will work fine for shaping, just remember not to work or compress the mix too much.

- Chilling your mincer parts as well as your meat makes the whole process much easier, especially when it comes to grinding the fat. Warm fat plus a warm mincer equals smeared greasy bits that will clog the machine. For the meat, fridge cold is fine but 20 mins in the freezer won’t do it any harm. Put the mincer parts in for as long as you want.

- When it comes to the cooking, Heston is a big advocate of regular flipping. If you have a loosely-formed patty, this can prove difficult. So you’re probably going to have to resort to a few minutes on each side tactics or a normal amount of flips. Sous-vide your burgers to 55 degrees c and pan sear if you’ve got the requisite equipment.

The Bun

New York Cult Recipes Bun

And what about the bun? There’s not time to go into the intricacies of making bread but here’s the upshot of all my googling and recipe testing:

- The three best burger bun recipes I’ve tried so far are Modernist Cuisine’s (which, like Heston’s uses a pre-ferment), the one from New York Cult Recipes, and America’s Test Kitchen’s Potato Burger Buns. The last two are by far the most manageable; Heston overcomplicates things in my view.

- Buns shouldn’t have too much flavour on their own, but like pizza dough should have enough about them to stand up to intense flavours. They need to have sufficient integrity to prevent them falling apart but not enough that they’re dense and chewy. Brioche ticks most of the boxes, and is wonderfully light, but it’s very difficult to work with. Something like a demi-brioche, which will be less rich in flavour, or the above recipes will work well.

- Shaping the buns is the hardest task. Rolling into balls and flattening gives good results but using a ring mould is the best option. Craft your own out of foil for budget-friendly cooking.

- We failed to apply sesame seeds (I know, it's not a real Big Mac without them). To ensure you don't get burnt sesame seeds, apply a little egg white wash to the buns once they've been baked, then sprinkle the seeds atop and grill until set (it won't take very long).

The Sauce

It should look something like this

The Big Mac sauce recipe is no secret: not that long ago, McDonald’s Canada released a load of YouTube videos, designed to answer FAQs. One of these questions was “What is in the sauce that is in the Big Mac”? Dan Coudreaut, McDonald’s Executive Chef, gave viewers and approximation of the restaurant’s sauce, but doesn’t give you the exact ingredients.

Based on the video and a bit of playing around I came up with this recipe:

- 50g Mayonnaise
- 25g Branston’s Sweet Relish
- 10g American (French’s) mustard
- ½ tsp of sweet paprika, onion powder, and garlic powder
- enough pickling liquid from a jar of gherkins to loosen the mixture and to taste

Add all ingredients, except pickling liquid, to a bowl set on scales. Add liquid until you achieve the desired consistency (slightly looser than the mayonnaise). 

Pickles, Cheese etc.

Giant homemade cheese slice 

After trying a couple of gherkins/dill pickles, we settled on the Beit Hashita brand. They were closest we found to the kind you'll find in an original Big Mac. For the garnishes, finely mince the onion and leave it in the fridge for a few hours or soak in iced water to diminish the pungency, and shred some iceberg lettuce. Keep it in iced-water if you're bothered about crispness; McDonald's wouldn't bother. 

It's not essential but you can make your own melting cheese slice with practically any cheese by using an emuslifying agent like sodium citrate. The Modernist Cuisine method has been reproduced on the Saveur website. We used mostly cheddar and a little emmental for ours, but the McDonald's site lists vegetarian cheddar as the only cheese in its cheese slices. The cheesy goo needs to be formed into one thin layer before being cut into slices

Well that's about it. If you have any questions leave a comment and if you want to see someone more anal than me try to replicate a Big Mac, try Kenji's post at Serious Eats.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Dogs 'n' Dough, Manchester

Carefully coiffured males sit cheek to cheek, Gosling-esque arms emerging from their tight V-neck tees, not a trace of five o'clock shadow in sight. Removed from the constraints of their daily lives, these men are here to indulge, to submit themselves to their inner desires - free from judgment and guilt. They speak not of their time here above ground: these men have Tyler Durden's well known rules ingrained into their souls. 

Only, this isn't Fight Club. Nor is it a coming-out story, masquerading as a soft porn webzine.

This, my friends, is Carb Club.

...or at least that's what it felt a little like. Dogs 'n' Dough, an underground, side-street bar and diner, for some unknown reason, appears to be most heavily frequented by preened young men; metrosexuality personified. In my cinematic daydreaming, I came to the conclusion that these fellas must be here to feast as part of a secret society. Gym fiends by day, carb connoisseurs by night.

Whilst these flippant notions are yet to be confirmed, if such outfits do exist, Dogs 'n' Dough would be the meeting venue of choice. The menu, once short but sweet, has now taken a Hulk-like approach to the humble hot dog. Intending to keep punters coming back for more, there's now near-on twenty variations of the things. Personally, I'm a purist - but we happily took a gamble on the Philly Cheese Steak version. It came loaded with peppers, pieces of beef and cheese sauce. The sausage itself is one of the best frankfurter-style ones I've tasted - and that, for me, is why I'll keep it naked next time. I want to taste that meat, not cover it up. If, however, you're somewhat more adventurous than I, then you'll likely be jizzing all over your seat when you see the creations coming out of this kitchen.

'Nuff said on the dogs. Let's not forget the reasoning behind the rest of this joint's name. The dough. No, the staff don't bring out plates of cash - man, what a concept that would be! - but pizzas served straight outta the box, takeaway style. I'll precis this with the fact that over the last few months, I've been treated to pizza cooked in a homemade pizza oven by a man on a mission to perfect the humble slice (a.k.a Bailey of Good Gobble Blog). So, I've eaten a lot of damn good pizza, and sadly, this stuff didn't quite deliver. 

Somewhere, there was a lack of seasoning: hard to work out whether it was the sauce or the base. Another couple of minutes in the oven wouldn't have hurt either. This wasn't a traditional style pizza, and nor, I suppose, is it trying to be. It's not quite the Americanised version either though. Toppings were fine - Jamie chose the Caribbean Dream. I'd like to see how their Margherita compares next time. See: the purist in me pops out, yet again.

Ron Burgundy's the gent on the right. 
The BBQ beans were tasty, although I'm not sure they were homemade. The coleslaw definitely was, and I could eat theirs by the bucket, though a touch less salt here might have my made my liver feel a little happier.

One part of the menu these guys have completed nailed is their cocktails. I was gleeful at spotting the return of an old favourite (from their Corridor days), the Matinee. Unfortunately, they were out of one of the ingredients; no complaints here as I'll happily work my way through this menu. Favourites were the Miss Kitty (rhubarb, lemon, butterscotch), and the Ron Burgundy (Johnny Walker Red, peach bitters, apricot brandy, cinnamon). Yes, it did go down, down, down into our bellies. There's also a decent selection of beers, and the Kona rep was in to give us a full run-through. Their pale ale was my fave - and at less than 6% shouldn't leave you too shit faced. A careful consideration for beers these days.

Dogs 'n' Dough serve food 'til 11pm every night, except Sundays (when it's 'til 9), and have pitched the tone of their offerings just right for punters who fancy a late night bite to eat. Whilst I'm not a massive fan of their pizzas, I seem to be in somewhat of a silo, as others were mighty happy chowing down on these mammoth offerings all night. Hey, you can't please everyone: besides, the dogs 'n' drink are more than enough to keep me going back.

Props to the team for having my favourite looking bar - and menu - in Manchester. These guys know design.

Disclaimer: yup, we were invited for a freebie. Nope, this didn't make me say anything different than if I'd been paying. And I said it to their faces anywayz. Besides, this place is such good value (all pizzas and dogs under a tenner and cocktails at £4.50 in happy hour) that you should make your mind up on it for yourself.

Dogs n Dough on Urbanspoon

Saturday 15 February 2014

The Alchemist, New York Street

Let's start with a confession. I don't really like The Alchemist.

I don't imagine I'm alone in this view. In fact, the thought of giving my patronage to any of Living Venture's establishments rarely crosses my mind. If that sounds harsh, I don't mean it to be. We all have different tastes; The Alchemist simply doesn't press my particular buttons. This is no reflection on the staff (most of whom do an excellent job), rather on LV's aesthetic and attitude.

So when we were invited to review the menu, I'll freely admit I wasn't expecting to be impressed.

It was a Sunday, the day after our American supperclub, and one too many bourbons the night before had left both Anna and me with mild hangovers. Hangovers are like an amplifier to bullshit; things you might ordinarily overlook become irritating.

We are sat near the entrance, directly behind the host, which makes us feel a little uncomfortable, as though any tiny criticisms of the food or service might be overheard and relayed. Living Ventures is Watching You. That turns to be an irrelevant concern, as we realise no one actually seems to know we've been invited for a review. Our position is also annoying because it is a hub and a thoroughfare for other staff members.

To kick things off, Bloody Marys and some edamame beans. A mostly meat-based diet over the previous week has left us with a craving for something green. And, also, you can't really fuck up edamames. They come sprinkled with sea salt, a bowl of soy sauce and sesame oil for dipping. Check: salt craving satisfied.

The waiter had asked how spicy we wanted our Bloody Marys, which is encouraging, but upon tasting we find out that Tabasco is pretty much the only flavouring. I would venture to say it is the blandest cocktail I've ever had. Bloody Mary's are a personal drink, I get that. Some people like a little more Worcestershire sauce, some a good punch of lemon juice. But to send them out almost unseasoned is asking for trouble.

It's easily corrected: the manager spots us adding pepper from the shaker, in a bid to elicit more flavour, and asks us if we would like more seasoning. Anna says yes; I'm now happy with mine.

Starters are a small portion of the chicken caesar salad, which is perfectly adequate though missing a good anchovy kick, and chicken and spring onion pot stickers, which are rather nice, as good as I've had in all but the better Japanese places in Manchester.

Not that I need more red meat in my life, but I opt for a the 255g Ribeye next, as doing a decent steak is something LV have a reputation for, what with their Blackhouse restaurants. I choose to have it medium, as any less and I find the generous fat doesn't soften and render enough. The steak comes cooked to perfection, and I am thoroughly pleased. The chips are a little on the dry side, and serving a whole roasted tomato is just tempting the Gods of Food-related Accidents. A blunt knife, enough pressure, and a jet of molten-hot tomato juice and you've got a potential lawsuit on your hands. Halve them and you're safe.

No, it's not an apple on the side of the plate.

Anna goes for a smoked salmon bagel, which she regrets, mostly because she's staring at my steak. There wasn't enough cream cheese for her liking (but this, she concedes, is not really a criticism, as the bagel is brimming with smoked salmon) and the inclusion of lettuce in the bagel is a bit perplexing. Other than that, it's not bad.

We are too full for desserts. Post-prandial cocktails, however, are a different matter. I choose the chocolate orange Sazerac and Anna the white Cosmo. She had wanted the smokey old fashioned but finds the Alchemist's incarnation too sweet. The waiter tells us it's pre-mixed that way. Too bad. The white Cosmo is pretty in an Outer Space sort of way, but the ice globe bomps her nose. It didn't stop her from drinking it all, however.

My Sazerac is good, although (ex-bartender alert!) I don't think the recipe is open to interpretation where the Absinthe is concerned. Just a dash of the green stuff is obligatory. I like the cookie flavour of this iteration, which reminds me of a gingerbread Old-fashioned I once had.

There is no faulting the place's hospitality. Bearing in mind our servers hadn't even realised we were doing a review, ergo no schmoozing, they were all friendly and eager to help. The Alchemist's USP is not its fancy, show-stopping cocktails, nor its unpretentious service, but rather a desire to please everyone. It is the apotheosis of the phrase: Jack of all trades, Master of  none. And that, I suppose, is the best compliment I can give.

Disclaimer: we were invited to review, and even though it took the team a little while to cotton on we were there for a freebie, a freebie it was. It should be fairly evident from comments made above that this - in no way - affected our honesty.

The Alchemist on Urbanspoon

Saturday 25 January 2014

Nick Griffin: A Far-right Foodie

An overlooked culinary genius?

As a food blogger, I feel it's my job to like food. And I do. But I'm not sure I'd claim that food is an effective cure for the side effects of bad government. Yet that is precisely what bankrupt BNP leader Nick Griffin does in a video cunningly entitled Recipe for beating the Tory blues for the far-right party’s TV channel. I suppose if you’ve got no chance of actually influencing policy, you might as well showcase your abject culinary skills on YouTube.

In what some homecooks might see as a clear affront to Jamie Oliver’s 15/30 Minute Meals output, Griffin takes up over half an hour of my time (surely no one else watched it in full?) to advise his viewers on how to cook what is a relatively simple meal: a beef stew. Judging by the looks of despair on his guests’ faces and their disingenuous feedback - one bloke merely laughs awkwardly rather than give any opinion at all - I don’t think he should quit his day j...oh wait, no I do.

So what’s in this dish, apart from diluted anti-Tory sentiment? It’s “traditional British fare” says Griffin, with such notable additions as onions (originated in central Asia), carrots (arose in the Mediterranean) and potatoes (they came from South America). Interestingly, etymologically, onion comes from the Latin for “oneness” or “unity”, unio, so could be crowned ‘least xenophobic of vegetables’. Of course, these ingredients were all grown in Britannia, that 'green & pleasant Land', but I guess the point I’m making is: what the hell does 'British' even mean, Nick?

With the vegetables I’m nitpicking, but Griffin’s decision to include Tabasco sauce seems like a undeniable slight on ‘Britishness’. Hot red pepper sauce in a beef stew. It’s like Nicolas Anelka 'quenelle-ing' Woody Allen. Perhaps Griffin got the idea from the local Mexican: “We’ve got a Mexican restaurant in a town not far from here. The place isn’t swamped with Mexicans,” he says. Not swamped, you say? Maybe because the Mexican population in Britian is miniscule.

All in all, the video shows that there’s really no need to undermine Nick Griffin; he does a good enough job of it on his own. He talks about scrimping and saving, making a stew with dog bones (that is to say, bones destined to be eaten by dogs) from the butchers if needs must, to a backdrop of what most would consider a plush kitchen, Aga and all. He advocates taking photos of recipes in bookshops rather than buying cookbooks. (I wonder whether only indigenous Brits are allowed to do this in Griffin’s mind? Maybe Muslim offenders would magnanimously be offered voluntary resettlement). He even goes so far as to deny the very existence of pork stock cubes. Knorr will be most displeased.

Just imagine if other politicians got in on the act. We could have Ian Duncan Smith telling us how it really is possible to cook affordable, nutritous meals on state benefits of £53 a week, but fail to show us how. George Osborne would teach us all the meaning of austerity: how to make a burger with shattered dreams while he jaunts off to Byron post-filming. David Cameron would charm us with recipes for the 'real' Eton Mess and street food Kolkata-style, while declaring GM-food to be the right way. Nick Clegg would make a cameo but not cook anything, like a guest judge on The Taste. And, as a sign of the coalition's manifest cruelty, Ed Miliband would be forced to eat the leftovers of all the aborted meals until he vomited.

Sound good? No? Exactly. Let's leave the cooking to the cooks and the politics to, um, Chomsky.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Drunken Butcher: goes posh with Sous Vide

Duck breast, confit duck leg, mash and cavolo nero
Whilst Iain Devine, aka Drunken Butcher, is well-known for his mammoth supper club feasts, encouraging a family style sharing of dinner, he's perhaps less known for 'poncy food'. Just because he doesn't often showcase it though, doesn't mean he isn't a dab hand at it.

Iain joined forces with Sous Vide tools to put on a night demonstrating the versatility of two of their key products: the Sous Vide water bath and the Polyscience smoking gun. Whilst this was obviously a sophisticated ploy to get us all thinking about purchasing the equipment, it didn't really work on Jamie and I: they were preaching to the converted. We already own and use both of these items; useful if you're cooking in large numbers or - let's be frank here - just really love making your own smokey old fashioneds!

To begin, the dainty canapes of mackerel and apple were delicate and pretty, already alerting us to the fact that this wouldn't be a typical Drunken Butcher supper club!

Next up was a smoked salmon dish served in a kilner jar (to retain the smoke), followed by a take on bouillabaisse. Whilst these dishes were lovely, there's no denying the star of the night was the duck breast main. The confit duck leg was artery-destroying delicious, with a rich and perfectly balanced jus (see main photo). If you've been to one of Iain's supper clubs, you'll know that he is the bloody king of sauces (no pun intended!). Iain being who he is, couldn't resist the opportunity to feed and also brought out steak and triple cooked chips. The latter being one of my favourite items of food, I did well to keep the bowl near my side and managed to sneak the crunchy bits out at the end.

A pear cooked in red wine with ice cream came next, followed by another winner of the night: smoked cream cheese with shredded carrot. SMOKED CREAM CHEESE?! Who knew? Imagine, quite simply, eating smoked salmon and cream cheese together and that's what's happening in your mouth. If you're feeling like a pauper just before payday or are without our fishy friend (but handily have a smoking gun), it's a seriously tasty alternative.

As ever, all of the dishes were cooked beautifully, and Iain even managed to prove to us all that he can do poncey! Whilst sous vide machines are exceptionally handy if cooking in large numbers, they don't come cheap, so think carefully before investing. We probably wouldn't have bought ours if we didn't hold supper clubs - and find them much more useful for meat than fish: fish cooks quickly but cools down even quicker. Smoking guns are a good fun tool, and, priced considerably lower, would ultimately be a rather good present for any serious foodies! Our advice? Do your research, shop around, and if you buy one: use it!

Iain invited us over to showcase these products in partnership with Whilst we didn't 'pay' for our seats in the same way we would at a regular supper club, we were asked to make a contribution towards Iain's time.