Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Icecreamists

Whoa momma. Remember the blizzards London has seen in the last two winters? I wonder if they were really made of ice cream seeing the craze that has exploded in this city. The Big Smoke could now rival Italy with some seriously good ice cream or gelato, owing to the success of institutions such as Gelupo, Scoop and Chin Chin Laboratrists. And then someone comes along and pushes everything to the next level.

The Icecreamists opens officially this week on Maiden Lane, Covent Garden and boy do they do it with every flourish and extravagance. The melange of bright fuchsia, gun metal, gothic black, and references to S&M in their brand is an immediate sensory playground.

From the playful quotes that adorn the walls from luminaries who’ve dabbled in the creamy delight, the erotic names of their items, to their awesome mission statement of “To Liberate the World from Ordinary Ice Cream”, I dig their strong, wild and hedonistic brand. And this doesn’t get lost in the ice cream itself.
As part of their preview invitation, their tasting menu consisted of a helping of ice cream followed by an ice cream cocktail.

Now a Malaysian can’t really turn down the offer of a Chilli, Ginger and Lemongrass ice cream. It was actually spicy with proper chilli flecks! Yowza! It immediately inspired a need for Pad Thai. Adored the consistency which was a cross between a sorbet and an ice cream.

We were also surprised that the Choc and Awe, in it's divine dark decadence, made of 70% Ecuadorian Dark Chocolate, had no cream in it. After those two, the equally rich and vanilla-flecked Vanilla Monologues almost tasted meek. 

And those sensational flavours were just the warm up. The headliners in this scoop are by far the cocktails. Amongst the most flamboyant is the Molotoffee Cocktail, which is a banoffee baked alaska, flambed at the table and finished off with some rum spray. Uh huh, uh huh!

The baked alaska was egg white perfection and definitely very boozy. By the time we got to the ice cream it felt like we had drowned in a toffee river. 

And this seductive, velvet red temptress was the berry dominatrix of the Icecreamists' erotic world. Miss Whiplash not only had a lasting effect, I even felt slightly tipsy after. Smooth and glossy, it's almost a sorbet made from berries soaked in vanilla vodka. Whoopah!

Lastly, the Toast Mortem was a pool of molten chocolate gelato with Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) and hazelnut bits, served with toasted panettone. This decadence clearly doesn't end. Two slices of panettone wasn't enough to soak up all that chocolate! I really enjoyed the subtle peanut note in that. 

Making an impact on the London dessert scene would be an understatement. The Icecreamists have done a Lady Gaga, strutting their stuff on the cream catwalk with ludicrous abandon, heady frivolity and pure fun. Indeed their Baby Gaga flavour is reportedly made of real breast milk. I LOVE IT! These are premium products, and with serious prices: £2 something for an ice cream scoop and just under £15 per ice cream cocktail. I promise this is a memorable trip though. Viva la diva.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cheddar & Spring Onion Cupcakes, inspired by Sweet Paul

There's been an awful lot of baking going down at Hungry Female HQ. For years I steered away from it as I naively thought baking was all about sweet things with pink icing. Lo and behold, I've discovered some fabulous recipes for the savoury lover.

Amongst them, is one by Sweet Paul, an American food/design/lifestyle magazine. I have to take my hat off to these Americans for fabulous food porn. I say an "inspired" recipe as I was too lazy to get chives, and improvised with some spring onions I already had. I also assumed "Sharp Cheddar" could be replaced by Extra Mature, and there's always some faffing around between imperial to metric. I'm told that if you change three things in a recipe then it's yours. Ah, such artistic license, but I'll still make sure to paraphrase my sources. Find the original recipe here.

They turn out with a light, fluffy texture that is best eaten warm from the oven, though were also fine when reheated. Terrifically salty from the melted cheese inside and a lingering after taste of spring onion.

Hungry Female's Cheddar & Spring Onion Cupcakes
Makes 12

189g (1.5 cups) plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
70g (4 tbsp) cold butter, cubed
3 tbsp fresh spring onions, chopped
85g (3 oz) mature cheddar, grated
250ml (0.5 cups) milk

1. Preheat oven to 180 deg C (350 deg F).
2. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Add butter, and with hands, mix till it resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Add spring onions, cheddar, milk and mix well.
5. Divide batter into a well-greased muffin tray.
6. Into the oven for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown (the edges get lovely and crisp!)
7. Enjoy warm from the oven with nice cheese, meats and a delicious wine.

Chorizo & Thyme Fougasse a la Lorraine Pascale

Can you guess I'm in love with Lorraine Pascale? She's the sole reason for me buying bread flour for the very first time. I'm sad her little series has ended on the BBC but I have a sneaking suspicion she'll be back soon...

After an uber successful Rosemary & Sea Salt Focaccia recipe by her, I just had to do the Chorizo and Thyme Fougasse. Muchos delicioso and another bang on attempt! Find Lorraine's recipe here.

This is truly a foolproof recipe, if yours truly doesn't stuff it up! It's super great fun pressing in those chorizo pieces into the risen dough.

The whole flat wafted with chorizo and thyme for a couple of days. MMMmmmm. The crust was wonderful and brown, the inside like a proper loaf! Pat on the back.

We enjoyed ours with Serrano Ham, Super Strong Cheddar and a glass of Rioja. Sublime. Come back, Lorraine, come back!

Khon Thai

I have a very duplicitous nature about approaching food. Whilst swooshes, liquid nitrogen and a famed name above the door is an occasional treat, when it comes to Asian food I return to my brazen and primitive roots. I don't require ash, acrobats hanging from ceilings or immaculately trained waiters, just seriously delicious, straightforward food. That doesn't make it simple, it means one has to rely solely on the tastebuds.

And my tastebuds tell me good things about Khon Thai, a modest outfit in Swiss Cottage. By modest I mean abominably stark and bare in terms of decorum. Behind a translucent green curtain at the front, are two long tables, a counter for ordering food and so many plastic flowers it's like a Frida Kahlo parade. It appears like your typical local take-out, so why the fuss? HOW does it even make it to a blog post?!

Because flavour-wise, it's probably the most memorable Thai I've had in a long time. You may remember in my local NW neighbourhood, we're starved of good Asian places, so I'm rearing to check any new openings in this genre no matter how humble. Though humble in taste, these dishes are not.

The dish that caught our attention was the Hor Mog, a fish paste mixed in with egg and red curry paste, then steamed in a banana leaf. This brought me straight home. Sweet and slightly spicy from the paste, the texture of a good steamed egg is light, puffy and maybe even velvety. Small pieces of fish added extra texture.

A sharp and tangy papaya salad kept us peachy and cut through any heavy curry flavours.

And we just had to try the Green Curry. Just one word: perfect! Richness from the sauce, and enough kick to get that nose at a healthy run.

So that was visit number one. We had visit number two very shortly after...

If there had to be one let down, the Steamed Sea Bass Thai Style was that black sheep. Good sweet and sour going on from the limes, Thai basil and lemongrass, but this little fish was cooked from frozen, totally affecting the texture.

At our previous visit, the insider tip from the front of house were the homemade corn cakes ("All our starters are homemade, madam"). Nice crunch and soft inside, but sliiggghhhttlly over-cooked.

The winner this time though was the Laab salad (Minced Chicken). I class myself in the Super Spicy Chilli League, and this made me reconsider my pride. Loaded with that acute chilli blast upon first taste, it does dissipate quickly, but man does it make an impact. A very good impact. Beautiful Thai tangyness that makes you think of sunny beach holidays.

And to end, a Massaman Duck Curry. These guys do their curries well. Often Thai restaurants in the UK serve watery slop that is truly sad, but this perky and coconutty version was the real thing.

My goodness, it's a turning point for NW. Khon Thai is a family run business, which began as a stall in the Swiss Cottage Farmer's Market. I dare put my South East Asian card down and say this is probably the most genuine Thai place I've been to in the UK. I just love its humility, which further adds to the authenticity. Fantastically warm and cheerful service, it's one of my favourite local spots. You'd be pushed to spend more than £12 per person for about 3 shared dishes and rice. It's also BYO, with a massive basket of complimentary spicy prawn crackers!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Junction Tavern

I rarely go to a pub on Sunday if it's not for a Sunday Roast, but I could be swayed if there was more food like this.

Speaking of rare occurrences, I don't usually frequent Kentish Town despite being four minutes away by train.    The Junction Tavern has given me a new reason and inspiration. The Pork Belly was bursting with ambrosial piggyness, cushioned by floaty mash and accompanied by a bean casserole that had spice and stewed goodness.

For some reason I was craving fish and chips, and was initially disappointed when this wasn't on the menu. Well, there was no real need for it to be there, and otherwise I wouldn't have discovered these plump and hearty Smoked Haddock Fishcakes. Their rotundness made me gaze in adoration. And those were good fishcakes, nice ratio of smoky fish with potato cake. It's chunky tartare sauce was neither overloaded with capers nor too creamy. 

And what a Sticky Toffee Pudding to remember. I can't remember a time before when the top and bottom of a Sticky Toffee was still crisp from the oven, whilst every moist crumb in the middle soaked up a glossy toffee sauce like a mother clasping a child to her bosom. This was the absolute business. To bring us all the way to heaven was a rum and raisin ice cream, why have we always been eating this with plain vanilla?!

This is what Sundays are all about. A carefree amble to eat homemade food cooked with pride, and a buzzing ambience amidst engaged customers and an open kitchen to see the action. The service is seamless, they weave in and out without much fuss and with much efficiency. For two mains, one dessert, and several drinks, it was circa £23 per head. To call it a destination pub might be a tall order, but local residents should delight. And let's not forget the Sticky Toffee Pudding....

Junction Tavern on Urbanspoon