Friday, February 19, 2010

Curtis Stone/Take Home Chef on the Asian Food Channel

Video by culinaryherb

Otherwise known as the Pick Up Show on the Asian Food Channel (AFC). Alas, I'm told these are actually old episodes. Nonetheless, I was kinda entertained by a tall, dreamy Aussie chef going up to chicks at supermarkets in the US, offering to cook up a storm at their dinner/cocktail party for a loved one. And offering to foot the bill. What's not to like, eh?

I don't get AFC in London, so sprawling on the couch at my folks and watching foodie programmes during those jet-lagged hours is bliss. I have all the time to decipher Curtis' body language towards these women. I say women cos I haven't seen him approach a dude yet. He's chilled, confident, flirty and effortless, both with the ladies and the food. His targets openly say "Oh Curtis, you are definitely coming back with me" followed by hair flicks, giggles and sudden helplessness. My favourite part is when he's back at theirs, dispensing tips and advice on what he's making and they decide to "freshen up". Butter would melt on those outfits.

He must actually be able to cook - his target's loved ones appear to have a wonderful meal and his recipes are simple though interesting enough. There's a true passion for ingredients and cooking inherent in his charm so those who are skeptical, well some are just lucky to have it all. Jean Christophe-Novelli, eat your heart out.

I do try and deliver pretty food pictures! Image from Discovery Communications

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese New Year Reunion Dinner / Kuala Lumpur

Gong Hei Fatt Choy! It's that time of the year when the Chinese wear red, play Mah Jong like there's no tomorrow and get reminded by aunties that this is the last year you're getting ang pows*. Chinese New Year Eve is when families return to their home towns, to gorge on a multiple course meal of auspicious dishes.

We usually gather at one of my uncle's who has taken on the huge task of cooking up THE slap up meal to set the next lunar year off. My family are also fierce food lovers whose commentary would make Simon Cowell look like a pussycat. However, this year we break tradition and go to the Overseas Chinese Restaurant on Jalan Imbi. Let the restaurant take the heat! Here were the highlights...

Low Hei! Low Hei! (Toss Higher!) A raw fish salad with various vegetables, fruits with a sweet and sour dressing and little fried crackers is always the first course of the marathon meal. Each ingredient is neatly arranged on a large platter, waiting to be tossed with vigour. Whilst tossing, diners yell happy wishes for the coming year, and higher and more vigorous the salad is tossed, the greater the chance of these wishes materialising.


Braised Chinese Mushrooms, Black Hair Fungus, Sea Cucumber with Dried Oysters in soy sauce. None of those things sound remotely enticing, and what a brown pile of flavours and textures that really alien to most palates. Oysters impart a deep smokiness, earthy mushrooms, slight crunch from the Black Hair Fungus and the absorbent Sea Cucumber make it intriguingly weird. The Chinese love wild and hard-to-get ingredients to signify wealth and prosperity.


Now something less intimidating: a favourite celebration dish you'll find across many Chinese special occasions is the steamed fish. Usually a seabass, we enjoyed a plump, silky promfret with white flesh that just loves the classic groundnut oil and soy sauce combo.

My personal favourite, Butter Prawns! Prawns are fried whole in a wok, and a blend of evaporated milk and butter is whirled around slowly. This somehow creates hair-like and crispy strands to coat the prawns. Curry leaves are added for extra kick and I'd need handcuffs to stop me eating up that sinful crispy butter.

*Ang Pows or Red Packets are given from older to younger during this festive period, it's a bit like downward-only only Christmas presents. It's meant to be good luck for both giver and receiver, and one qualifies to give only when married. So if you're nearly 30 and still receiving, take the hint!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Restoran SS2 Murni / Kuala Lumpur

I'm back in KL for the Chinese New Year holidays, yippee! With food typically going over the top to usher in the Year of the Tiger, hear my belly roar!

Tonight was a first at Restoran SS2 Murni in SS2. Be kind, in KL culture I know this means I haven't lived till now. For those that are not native KLites, this is well and truly one snazzy jewel in the crown of Mamak-dom. Mamak being the local term for Malaysian street food where all Malaysian cuisines come together, usually an extremely basic, sweaty, noisy and often open-air environment. Despite its chaotic surroundings, this is very much a destination venue for those in the street food know.

Mamak menus don't tend to vary tremendously, so typically you just have to know your dishes. Like going down to your local boozer, you already know your poison without a menu. So when you feel like you need one, you know it's a little different. This was also a glaringly obvious example of how long I've been living away from home. The food has evolved far beyond the good ol' mixture of Malay, Indian and Chinese, it's now incorporating cuisines of further-flung origins. For example, the guy in charge of roti canai was making something resembling a calzone! I swear it was a tandoori-filled calzone.

Surfing through other Malaysian sites, I find other examples of these mad concoctions like Roti Hawaii or Cheese Naan (served with Condensed Milk!).

Though very tempted to try these exotic creations, I returned to my own stubborn rule that a place is best judged by a classic dish, so I chose the Nasi Lemak. Firstly because it's a staple that a mamak MUST get right, secondly because there were about 5 in the table across from me and it's blackened, caramelised chargrilled chicken leg was hollering my name out.

And oh, did this luscious siren get her victim. Chicken was fragrant from the pandan leaf that it was grilled with. Breaking the perfect fried egg to release it's yellow goo into the coconut rice was a deadly kiss. Finally the zappy sambal belacan cut through the creamy mixture. Super. Spicy. Harmony.

Aside from the alternative take on mamak food, Murni's is famous for these lurid-hued drinks that are both fascinating and scary. Essentially a fruit smoothie, fruit juice crushed with ice taken from a massive container looking like a small skip, and topped up with lychees, cubed jelly and fresh fruit pieces. I wanted to be brave and try the Ribena Special (Ribena syrup swirled in with other juices), but its bright punk purple colour put me off! My brother's tame looking Mango Special however, was actually wonderfully refreshing.

Whilst paying on the way out, the lady in charge handed us flyers for their new opening in Sunway. She said they are so popular they can't cater for the crowds and proudly mentioned the new place was air-conditioned. But what's a mamak without pespiring into your Maggi Mee Goreng? A super-fun and tasty find, I will definitely drop by again before the holiday is done.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Queen of Sheba

I find it hard not to get excited about curries and flatbreads. I love that primal satisfaction of finger lickin' goodness that lingers even after a few handwashes.

Ethiopian or Eritrean food is an area where I don't have a lot of knowledge on, such as if the restaurants in London are at all authentic or not, but I have enjoyed every encounter with this genre. What makes such a good introduction for those that enjoy hands-on eating is injera. It's a sour, puffy and spongy pancake used to line the plate, a perfect soak up device of stews and curries that are placed on top. Most dishes automatically come with.

Queen of Sheba in Kentish Town went a little further - there were extra injera rolls on the side in case the large one underneath got too soggy. Our meat dish was Yebeg We't, a spicy lamb curry made with red peppers and garlic. Ethiopoan curries are characteristic in their lovely layering of spices, and the unctuous butterliciousness that laces them. I remember having a very buttery lamb curry at another restaurant, although this one wasn't much further behind.

We also had a Vegetarian Selection from the Chef's Specials which were Misir We't (a spicy lentil dish), Kik Alich'a We't (Yellow Lentils with Ginger, Turmeric and Green Chilli) and Alkelt We't (Cabbage, Potato and Carrot). And what is a we't, you may ask? Apparently it's a type of barbeque sauce.

Injera is literally is a food sponge!

A sweet and unpretentious place, I recommend trying this for when you want something easy-going with a kick. Service was efficient and by a glamourous leggy waitress, and very reasonable at less than £30 for 2, including a glass of wine each. Roll those sleeves up.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Prawn and Mussel Tagliatelli

This is what the Boy cooked up on Tuesday night. I'm doing something right!

I'm told they are New Zealand Green Bay Mussels and proper Tiger Prawns. Fry up some pancetta, toss in shallots, crushed dried chillies and a splash of white wine (ours was a Riesling). Add prawns and let the mussels steam on top. Fold into pasta. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

The Castle

Note to self: Do not go to King’s Cross on a Sunday for Sunday Roast. Nothing will be open. I wondered if I was missing a trick when 3 consecutive pubs we went to around the area were firmly bolted and gated. 

As Lady Luck would have it, if we’d never been locked out, we’d never have ventured further up Pentonville Road to The Castle pub. I had sudden flashbacks of early days in London when salsa dancing with dodgy men and scary women (the type slightly past their prime but believing their daughters’ outfits would sort that out) was what friends and I were into. I swear this place had a salsa night in the first floor.

Admittedly, the main reason for this post is because all the staff were so genuinely friendly, which is a rarity in London. We were greeted with smiles and hellos from the bar as we walked in, and were politely informed that the roast beef was no longer available if we wanted food. And this did not waver during service. Aw.

Now this was not to say the food wasn't good. The food was good AND the service was friendly. That's how Londonised I've become. My chicken roast above was excellent: chicken that tasted like chicken, vegetables that weren't boiled to pieces, crispy roasties and a glossy, rich gravy. The type you would order bread just to soak it up with.

The other dish: Chicken stuffed with Brie and Spinach, wrapped in Parma Ham, served with Green Beans and a Bacon Potato Cake was great gastropub food. The chicken actually took me by surprise as it was a breast, and I hate breast meat with a passion. 

Later that day, I searched Time Out for a review but alas none to be found. Though what a find for me. 

The average price for a Sunday Roast dish was £11. During summer there is a terrace on the first floor. Goodbye dodgy salsa nights.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fernandez & Leluu

It had been one of those weeks, I had been chugging throughout and was actually shocked it was Friday. And I love Fridays even more when there are exciting dinner plans to look forward to. I'd never been to a secret or underground supperclub anywhere before, so Fernandez & Leluu was going to be my maiden voyage into this fashionable restaurant scene.

I wasn't sure what the USP of a supper club was meant to be. Interestingly, Wikipedia (LOVE Wiki!) almost suggests the idea springs from Latin America where they are known as restaurante de puertas cerradas or a "locked door restaurant". We are naturally apprehensive when ringing the bell, but were greeted by lovely Uyen (suppose she was Leluu?) who was a warm host from start to finish.

It's a charming space, tastefully decorated with hints of Asia, vintage, and even country chic. There must only be enough seats for 20, and us three (Boy & Best Friend) are seated at the long communal table. Whilst we are offered a welcome drink, it's a BYO arrangement. When everyone is seated, service begins and not much later than the suggested start time.

Borrowing from their site, this was the menu:-

Summer Rolls of Egg, Barbequed & Cured Pork, Shredded Pork Skin, Mint, Corriander & Lettuce
Lemongrass Beef With Vermicelli
Shredded Chicken With Coriander & Lime Salad with

Prawn Crackers & Puffy Sesame Rice Paper
Woven Spring Rolls With Prawns, Pork, Black Fungus & Vermicelli
Braised Ham & Quails Egg In Fish Sauce & Coconut Juice Served With Rice
Beef Pho Noodle Soup
Banana With Tapioca in Coconut Milk

I was impressed. Every dish was served with care, and each course had distinct presentation. I hate to imagine the washing up pile later! They were classic Vietnamese dishes in small to medium portions of which ingredients had not been scrimped on. 

Summer Rolls: Beautifully wrapped. I guess there are infinite combinations of what you can put inside, this one had chinese sausage and barbequed pork meat. I loved the sauce that had generous amounts of garlic and peanuts for added texture.

Lemongrass Beef on Vermicelli: Super tasty beef, though traditionally the meat tends to be more caramelised. I'm really nit-picking, that shows the standard they were at anyway.

Apologies for the slightly blurry picture. I might steal this as a dinner party idea. Juicy, tangy Shredded Chicken with freshness from the herbs on top of crunchy Prawn Crackers.

Woven Spring Rolls with Black Fungus and Vermicelli: Really delicious. Super crunchy and light on the outside and the filings were ideal to soak up the sour sauce. Boyfriend had to fight me for the last one.

Braised Ham with Quail's Eggs in Fish Sauce Soup: I've had Chinese versions of this which just have regular chicken eggs, so I thought the richer Quail's yolk was a nice partner to the smoky tea-esque stock.

Beef Pho: Again I'm nitpicking - if I had to choose I would have said this was the most "ordinary" dish of the evening. I'm probably used to the uber Ajinomoto versions in Vietnamese restaurants a la Kingsland Road.

Banana in Tapioca Milk: Rather pleasant and simple end to a meal, and am afraid I can't remember that much at this point! I blame it on a very friendly but self-absorbed thespian sitting next to us. Whilst he jabbered on about himself and his great knowledge of wine (which in fairness, he had some), he kept mixing  sherry (apparently the saltiness complements spicy food dahhling) with the same white wine he generously poured earlier. As the Boy would say, "Character". 

I'm kinda keen to try others. For £30 a head I'd encourage you to meet some funny folks, and enjoy the relaxed vibe and yummy food. Bravo Fernandez & Leluu!