Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Sandwichist: Chiltern Rooms Chorizo and Crayfish

Finding London's best sandwiches since sliced bread

Chorizo and crayfish poppy seed baguette chitlern rooms

The Chiltern Rooms is only a short stumble from the office, so it makes sense to start the quest for London's best sandwich here. Tucked away behind Baker Street, on a street with 4 shops selling oversized ladies shoes is the Chiltern Rooms. Commonly regarded as the best sandwich shop in Marylebone (apart from by my colleague who found a worm in her salad) it made sense to lay this down as the benchmark.

My favourite sandwich isn't on their menu. It's what I like the call the "Brown" but most, less idiotic, people would call a chorizo and crayfish baguette. It's not a winter sandwich. Nor is it a sandwich for autumn or spring. No. This is unashamedly a summer sanger. Light and slightly fishy it's designed for the sort of optomistic people who see a glimmer of sunshine and put on their sunglasses strip off most of their clothes and go and lie in the freezing cold.

The baguettes are always fresh. I can never resist their poppy seed number. Mainly because my Mum never let me have poppy seed bread because I would cause too much mess. The only downside is that it rasps the top of your mouth.

This one minor criticism aside - the chorizo and crayfish poppy seed baguette may not be on their menu. But it is my sandwich of the week. At £5.05 it isn't cheap. But it is worth every penny.

The Chiltern Rooms
27 Chiltern Street
London, W1U 7PJ
Nearest Transport: Baker Street

020 7935 2911

Nasturtium and Prawn Salads


Inspired by our experience at Roussillon and have bought Mum some edible flowers in Selfridges, I decided to incorporate them into a light, tasty salad on a warm Saturday.

Simply marinate some large prawns in chilli, garlic and olive oil before quickly frying them. Then add them to a bunch of salad leaves and sliced avocado and sprinkle your nasturtium flowers on top.

Edible flower salad close up

Serve with some rapidly fried garlicy cougettes with a good squeeze of refreshing lemon juice.

Cougettes close

Who ever said cooking with flowers was weired or difficult! It looks beautiful and tastes fantastic. Using flowers also stops you from cooking anything too heavy, which if you are me is a very good thing! Apart from cakes of course!

Edible Flower Tasting Menu at Roussillon


If you read regularly you'll know that my Mum is an expert in the world of edible flowers. She's even started a blog to go with her garden website.

A while ago Charles Campion referred to Mum's book on Edible Flowers as being the seminal book on the subject. This was in an article about how London's restaurants jazz up their menus with edible flowers for Chelsea. I wanted to find a special restaurant for us to go to for Mum's birthday...

I tracked back through the article and found Roussillon. I'd wanted to go there for a while - ever since Oli went about a year ago. So I emailed Alexis Gaultier the chef and asked very nicely whether they would be able to feed us with edible flowers. To my shock Alexis replied almost immediately saying how excited he was to prepare such a meal for us.

Roussillon Happy Birthday

Menu illustration

We arrived and were treated like a family of Gods. The rest of the evening was incredibly special. Alexis came to visit us at the end of the meal - we were very privileged indeed because he doesn't always man the stoves himself!

We weren't given a menu (until the very end). Instead Alexis had prepared a special menu just for us that featured a different flower for each course. We didn't know how many courses were in store and weren't allowed to order any wine because they had a unique wine in store to match the floral qualities of each dish. All the waiters had been told not to share the chef's secrets until the end of the meal. So essentially we were completely in their hands.

After a glass of champange and a few amuse bouches of raw scallop and chips made from chickpeas we started on our voyage...

A jellied broth with summer vegetables appeared first. Tasting like a cold roast lamb sandwich it played second fiddle to a floral wine that tasted and smelled like drinking in roses. Like almost all of the fabulous wines it was from the Roussillon region. We failed to pick out the presence of green tea which cost us a rare black mark.

The next course was one of my favourites. (You know your having a good time when you get to write a sentence like that one!) A solitary langoustine had been deshelled and tossed in sesame seeds and placed precisely next to a tempura cougette flower. As Mum pointed out the beauty of cougette flowers isn't for their taste but for their silky texture which was drawn out by the crispy batter. Very clever stuff. The relatively blandness of the cougette flower was contrasted by the full bodied flavour of the deeply fishy langoustine. A wonderful dish that was matched by my favourite wine of the evening. It tasted like an oilier, more fragrant version of a Mersault but was from Roussillon. I am hoping to find out what it was.

So far we were very impressed. Then came Cowie's favourite dish. A tranche of white fish that we thought could have been cod, haddock or halibut steamed and topped with what tasted like lightly smoked tofu. Mum yet again identified the flower correctly. This time it was borrage. Rather than use the flowers Alexis had salted the buds and used them like capers. They burst with flavour. We didn't manage to identify the green sauce as being chlorophyl jus, so you'll have to let us off. Neither did we manage to detect the lapsang souchong tea that had smoked the fish. Although on reflection the tofu wasn't smoked so that was what we were tasting. The dish was a complete triumph. The textures were, once more, very clever. The delicate tofu enhancing the softness of the fish. Given the bolder flavours in this dish the sommelier paired our halibut with a glorious red burgundy that was light and bouncy. Another triumph. This was the only wine to not come from Roussillon.

Our next course was Dad's favourite. A few small lumps of veal served pink, with roasted tomatoes and minted potatoes. Very subtle. I can't remember what the flowers were in this dish exactly. But whatever they were Mum guessed them! I was probably distracted because the wine was so good. A rich, dark, looming red from Roussillon. It had no teeth and was like compote on the palette. Gorgeous.

The next dish started to signal the meal beginning to wind down. I love goats' cheese. So the tomato veloute with goats cheese was delicious. Sweet and salty notes loved each other. Thyme flowers were the star of the show here. This dish was paired, if my now slightly squiffy brain remembers rightly, with a glass of sweet white Roussillon - which for all the world tasted like a petal infused glass of d'yquem.

After the cheese we were served a beautfiul plate of watermellon carpaccio topped with some pretty flowers. Cooling and refreshing this tasted gorgeous with the intriging alternative to dessert wine they poured out like nectar.

At this stage it should have been all over. But the Maitre D' had overheard Suzy, my sister, complain about the lack of chocolate from seriously long range. So along came a special course of dense chocolate with some gold leaf which was washed down with what I can only describe as single estate fortified cider from Normandy. What a meal!


But it wasn't over. Alexis and Michael came over to talk us through our experience and gave us each a personalised menu to commemorate the special occassion. Mum and Alexis exchanged floral stories and techniques for cooking flowers. And we even landed up inviting Alexis over to our house for dinner. So Mum and I had better get our edible flower cooker hats on!

Pink macaroon

As a leaving gift the girls were given a sweet box of macaroons to take home, whilst Dad was left with a huge bill and I was left feeling very guilty for haivng organised it all. That said it was one of the most memorable meals of my life and is something that the Brown family will talk about for many years to come. I have no doubt that my son will do the same to me one day. Sorry Dad! But thanks for a fantastic evening.

Glorious Gastronomic Trip to Burgundy

Back in June we went to Burgundy for a long weekend of delicious food and wine. We were treated fantastically by the weather Gods as the sun shone down like a reliable angle poise - almost changing direction when it started to make you squint.

I don't want to write a long post - I simple wanted to share a few shots These are from Avallon market. The produce on display was stunning...



Skinny Peaches


Apricots on offer

Apricot 2

Horse sign

With such fantastic produce we all got very excited about cooking in our respective teams. Cowie and David teamed up to cook a blindingly good cote de bouef...

David and Sarah 2

Cote de boeuf

with David doing a scarily good impression of Daniel Day Lewis in Gangs of New York

Whilst Tamsyn and I created a showstopping slow roasted guinea fowl with a girole and garlic sauce...

Me cooking

Giroles 2

...followed by an absolutely classic medium rare apricot tart.

Apricot custard tart

The whole holiday was idyliic. Sheer bliss. I wish I could snap my fingers and be back there right now sipping a nice glass of Puligny Montrachet having just gone for a swim in the river.

Dinner in the dark 2

Sweet Chilli Sauce

Those of you who read at all regularly will remember the excitement of our chilli plantation in our office courtesy of Thomasina Miers winner of MasterChef and owner of Wahaca.

This is the post showing how our chilies have developed... and here is a post showing how we use a special technique, know as the Barry White technique, to pollinate our plants.

Now that we have chillies we are all cooking with them on a regular basis. I made a spaghetti ala amatrican the other night which was so tasty I didn't have enough left over to feed the guys at work. But Oli was far more sensible and made a delicious sweet chilli sauce. It was so good we bought some spring rolls to take away from Royal China next door and ate them at our desks - whilst discarding the Royal China sauce!

Olis chilli sauce for spring rolls

Delicious sauce. Very garlicy. Quite mild chilli heat. Good consistency. Slightly like a chutney. Better than the stuff in the polystyrene cup from Royal China!

Ed is busy drying his chillies in order to make some mega hot chilli oil to slosh on our food at lunch time. As ever, thank you Wahaca for the chilli seeds. The best technique involves drying them in a sunny window on a length of thread as per the picture below. If you don't dry your chillies apparently the chilli oil goes mouldy.

Chilli on a string

And I am thinking about making some spicy mexican sausages... or maybe something Italian... Any suggestions?

Brockwell Park: Lambeth Country Fair

I must admit, I thought the idea of going to the Lambeth Country Fair was a joke. A warped joke to make us all get mugged and just drive around the destitute South Circular for a whole Sunday as a way of reminding me of the endless traffic jams that greet the hockey season.

As we drove past the entrance by mistake for the forth time we noticed a sign with Tom PB's smiley face on it praising Olley's restaurant for being one of Tom's top 5 fish and chip shops in London. At this point things started to pick up!

Tom PB Fish and Chip shop

We eventually parked and set about exploring. Any hint of dount evaporated as soon as my nose picked up that magnetic whiff of jerk chicken. Plumes of spicy smoke wafted over the park as countless stalls grilled up the same food! The first stall we visited was even using environmentally friendlt charcoal from Croydon of all places. Apparently it is much better for the environment. Or so the Observer says.

Croydon Eco Friendly Charcoal

But probably more important was the fact that they were cooking with organic chicken - Hugh your campaign is working after all!

Organic Jerk Chicken

The only draw back inevitably was the price. With only a fiver in my pocket and some shrapnel this was going to have to a Country Fair on the cheap.

But it was only a matter of moments before my eye was almost wrenched out of their sockets by the sign of all signs: Carnivorous Plants for sale.

Carnivorous plants

At last... a solution to our greenfly problem at work. Within seconds I had bought a man eating. Sorry green fly eating plant for our chilli plants. The only downside is that is has similar dietary requirements to an anaemic, celiac with a lactose intolerance and a small issue with solids. Fussy doesn't even come close!

Man eating plants

Our Wahaca chillies are going to be so pleased when the meet their new friend! And those greenfly are going to extinct.

Having shelled out most of my money on essentials such as carnivorous plants it left only a few coins for lunch. So we went for some jerk chicken from the stall with the longest queue. Apart from the dried out skin, fragments of sharp bone and questionable meat it was delicious. I sort of wish I had an extra few quid to get the organic stuff at the top of the post. But this was probably more authentic. I would have felt a bit like someone with their own VIP toilet at Glastonbury.

Jerk Chicken bbq

Aside from the man eating plants, choke worthy jerk chicken, drug deals, petting zoo and falconry demonstration the best thing was definitely the plant tent. Lots of lovely plants and then to top it all... a vegetable competition. The highlight was definitely these very impressive red onions. From now on I am always going to present my onions on disks of toilet roll tubing. Genius! This is what makes Britain great.

Red onions

As a collection of hooded black youths were frogmarched out of the fair by 12 stab proof vested policemen, a couple of queer chaps were presenting the prizes for the best vegetables in Lambeth. If you want a snapshot of Britain you could have found it in the plant tent at the Lambeth Country Fair!

Sauza Agave Recipe Challenge: Blueberry Pie

We found an awesome book about cooking with agave nectar at work on Slashfood and have decided that a different member of our team will cook a different recipe each month from it.

The book is called Baking with Agave Nectar and can be bought from Amazon.

Jenny bought the book so had the honour of cooking the first dish from the, now cherished, agave cooking book.

Rather than waffling on, I am just going to let the pictures do the talking...

Sauza agave and blueberry pie

Blueberry pie close up

Slice of Blueberry pie

Ed odd look

Thats it give it a sniff

Slosh on the cream

On a plate

Ed inpressed

If the pictures above tell you nothing else, it's that Ed likes cream on his pie!

Jenny's blueberry pie made with agave nectar was stunningly good. The rest of us have got our work cut out to top Jenny's opening gambit. Another fresh and unexpected use of agave from the Beam team.

Monday, 21 July 2008

What makes a good sandwich?

Beef and horseradish

I am starting a new and hugely exciting project involving sandwiches. That's all I can say for the time being. But, you, my wonderful readers, can help! I've created a poll designed to find out what you think is important when it comes to judging the quality of a sandwich. If the answer isn't on the poll please leave a comment. And if you have any thoughts that can't be captured in the poll leave a comment too.

Here's the poll:

Create polls and vote for free. dPolls.com

I will keep you all informed as this develops. Ultimately we need to develop a method of judging the quality of a sandwich in a repeatable way.

Please help!

Friday, 18 July 2008

Cha Cha Moon, W1

Firstly, I must apologies to regular readers of the Paunch, for my lack of posts over recent weeks, or dare I say it... months. Work, revision, triathlons and general wear and tear is my only excuse!

And so lets turn to the interesting bit.. the food, and in this case cheap, efficient fast Chinese food in the heart of the West End.

When I first read about Cha Cha I was extremely excited. Since I was on a another carbo mission before the Blenheim Triathlon, it seemed only fitting to feast on copious amounts of noodles and other Chinese goodies.

The set up is very much like your standard Wagmamas, but this place certainly has abit more style and snazz. Once seated, the service was efficient and helpful.. even if Browny and I had trouble concluding what sex our waitress/waiter was!

The food... £3.70 for everything.. yes everything.

Its simple concept and one that works, but inevitably you are tempted to order far for than really necessary. To accompany our delicious green tea, we selected a mix of goodies... a soup, a steam noodle dish, a smoked dish, a fried noodle dish all with either duck, pork, beef or prawns, plus some dim sum style dumplings .. which were by far and way the star of the show.

For me the food was fair. No, on reflection it was good, but there is certainly room for improvement. Some of the rich sauces where abit gloopy, the soup was lack depth and flavour, some of the noodles were over cooked and on occasions the meat was a touch on the tough side.

But that said, this a great place for a quick feed to fill you up. The place was buzzing, full of trendy media esk customers all enjoying themselves.

I don't think it will ever win awards for its food, but if you after some quick, cheap, pretty Chinese grub this place will definitely work for you.

Cha Cha Moon on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Chilli Pollination

Our chilli plants are doing brilliantly at work. The first batch of chillies have been harvested so we are now at the stage of pollinating the flowers for a second growth.

To see our unique way of pollinating our plants have a look at the video below. Be sure to turn the sound up nice and high.

Dug a dug a dung.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Gaucho Grill

Victoria and Alex gave us a very good pre meal analysis. Expect glitz and glamour; immaculate mear; slick service; steep prices; good chips. But occassionaly watch out for inconsistent service, greasy vegetables and listen to how you should have your steak.

Armed with this wealth of advice it all seemed to correct as we shown to our table amongst a dark and sultry dining room. A huge space, crawling with money and girls who had spent hours getting ready and men who were about to spend a fortune.

We settled in and were shown the array of steaks on a wooden board. The waitress gabbled through the description so rapidly we didn't catch a word she said. But Victoria had given us a good sumamry so we weren't too fussed. I ordered a 400g lump of rib eye which the waitress advised me to have medium. I insisted that it should be pink and she said it would be. Cowie ordered a trout ceviche and a prawn and palm heart salad.

The trout ceviche wasn't. It was a collection of three generous slices of cured trout. But it hadn't been cured in citric acid. Now I am clearly no Peruvian but I did think that lemon or lime juice was the central ingredient. A bit like ordering toast and getting bread. It was very tasty, just a bit of a problem for anyone who gets annoyed by misdescriptions.

Then onto the main show. The warm up was over and the headline act was taking the stage. My mega steak arrived with great cermeony. Lots of bernaise. Some chips. A big hunk of....

O dear....

Massively overcooked steak. Grey and rigid it stood lifeless like those a performance artist in Covent Garden. And the chips were cold.

We called over the waitress with a smile and a firm look. She whisked it away and told the chef to cook a fresh one. Meanwhile Cowie devoured her prawn and palm heart salad. It was tasty but incredibly stingy. Cowie counted six medium sized prawns. And then realised that they had all been sliced in half so she had actually only had 3! Three prawns! Not good enough.

10 minutes later my replacement steak arrived. I could hear it mooing as it arrived. As I sliced it in half I could hear the staff collectively sigh with relief. Or maybe I could hear myself. It was tender, juicy and tasted of animal. You could really taste the beef. A delightful piece of meat. The bernaise sauce was fantastic but the second bowl of chips were as cold as the first. Disappointing.

Our carafe of Malbec was delicious. But we didn't need it pouring for us. If you are given a jug of wine the protocol is that you pour it yourself. Cowie only wanted one glass. Having finished her first glass the waitress steamed over and agressively filled it to the brim leaving me with 3/4 of a steak to eat with no wine. Yet another irritant. Cowie and I swapped glasses. But we shouldn't have had to.

Scanning the room we completely agreed that this is one of the best restaurants we have been to for people spotting. Over Cowie's left shoulder was a girl tarted up to the nines wearing a short black dress, some scary heels with a tattoo on her foot. The both fesated on well done steaks whilst drinking glasses of rose topped up to the brim. Kissing and fondling their way through the meal they were having a great time.

It's also great fun to watch the chef at work on the grill. With an earpiece wedged into the side of his head I was surprised he managed to completely balls up my steak.

It was one of the best steaks I have had in London. But given that the first was awful the overall mark averages out as being well below par. Add to that Cowie's measly prawn salad and the abysmal service and you've got glitzy money trap. Give me the steaks we had in Buenos Aires or the USA anyday.

Gaucho Grill on Urbanspoon

Firefly Drinks

Just a quick post to say that Firefly drinks are on to a good idea with the packaging. For each of the drinks in their range they feature a photo on the front of the pack that sums up the mood that the drink is intended to generate. For "Wake Up" below the picture is of a bloke jumping with energy...

Firefly drink front

The photo was taken by someone called Phillip Spears

Firefly drink back

What a stroke of genius from Firefly. Simply take an inspiring photo that sums up the mood that their drinks are trying to evoke, send it in and if they think it is better than what they already have they use your picture instead. Great marketing idea. Basically it is a much better version of what Jones Soda and Veddett beer do. I can imagine it working really well for Sharyn Wortman's Today was Fun teas.


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