Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Mushroom Roulette

After a wonderfully rustic-chic meal at Petersham Nurseries, we left feeling like uplifted and so poor that we needed to forage for our supper... that led us like a truffle hunting spaniel to Richmond Park.

No sooner than we had entered the Park, had I spotted a crop of mushrooms... then some more... and then just one solitary parasol mushroom that simply had to be picked. Cowie agreed to stop the car. I ran out and found not just the delicious parasol mushroom, but also a red, yellow and green mushroom with pores rather than gills! The excitement of finding a mushroom wearing Ghana's football kit was almost too much for me. Was it poisonous? Was it full of polonium? Was it going to contaminate the other, benign mushroom? These were questions to ask John Wright later...

On our walk around the woods we came across loads of fungi in the leaf litter and discarded chestnut casings... it was a picture of Autumn with that deep smell of earth that anyone who lives in the countryside becomes addicted to.

Brown mushrooms

We found some puffballs and a huge "beefsteak" type mushroom that weighed around 2 kgs and was attached to the trunk of a decaying tree. It smelt slightly of vinegar, but had a lovely texture.

We laid out our mushroom haul along the back seat of our car and headed home - unsure whether our cargo was deadly, tasty or just toadstools!

A cup of tea and some nerdy mycology reading later (John Wright's River Cottage Mushroom Book) and we'd managed to identify most of our mushrooms... and to our delight they were not only classified as edible, but also as good eaters!

Common Pufball

We were fairly confident with the Common Puffball, having identified some of these on our mushroom expedition with John Wright. All you have to do is peel the spiney skin off and saute them in some butter and garlic. They are small and a bit fiddly. You're much better off with the Giant variety if you can find them.


Likewise, we were pretty happy that our Parasols were not only edible, but a really good mushroom. Apparently they are great deep fried in breadcrumbs.

Bay bolete book

Now, Cowie was very disturbed at the thought of the Bay Bolete mushroom above. Green, red and yellow - like a traffic light. But as you can see from the picture above, Halloween appearances can be deceptive! It turns out that the Bay Bolete is an excellent mushroom. Similar to a cep. I'd never seen one before so was very excited!

Having identified our shrooms we plucked up the courage to cook them up! I'll let the pictures do the talking...

Bay Bolete

The shrooms

Sauteing Mushrooms

Mushrooms in the pan

Mushroom omelette

Richmond Omelette

It tasted deliciously of danger. Of fear. With a hint of narcotic pleasure. We were a bit underwhelmed by the mushroom flavour. But what it lacked in muchroom taste, it made up in slippy autumnal texture.

We spent the rest of the evening watching the Bourne Ultimatum fearing the worst. I had some psychosomatic tingling in my feet and legs. My throat felt tight. And our tummies did a couple of triple salcos! The noise from our tummies during the night kept most of Balham awake... but we made it through the night and survived to tell the tale. I was a great pains to explain to Emma which mushrooms we had eaten - I even left the book out and the camera with it so Emma could explain what we'd eaten to the toxicologist had it all gone tits up!

We are now keen to visit Mrs Tees, the "Mushroom Legend", down in the New Forrest.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

The pain is finally over.... my exams are done. This has given us not only an excuse to celebrate and dine at fantastic restaurants, but I also now have some time on my hands to dedicate to the Paunch.

Since my birthday weekend I have been spoilt rotten by Mr B. And this weekend was no exception, when I was taken on a secret lunch at a secret location.

I have a love / hate relationship with surprises.. they excite me but equally infuriate me! Despite failing to guess where we were going, I was over the moon that the exclusive Petersham Nurseries was the target, where chef Skye Gyngell works the stove.

We didn't know quite what to expect on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Due to the grind of revision, I have spent most of my recent weekends in a woolly jumper and Jack Wills trackie Bs. So I was delighted to have the excuse to glam up somewhat for lunch... but someone should have warned me not to wear my fav snake skin heals... as we had to wade through slusshy wet, muddy gravel to get to the 'restaurant', which did in fact resemble a glorified green house!

But this was the charm and style of the place. The staff we equally as welcoming, trotting about in black skinny jeans and wellies. It had a lovely relaxed Boho atmosphere and the food certainly did not disappoint.

The menu was brief, with only 4 options for each course. Scottish girole mushrooms on toast and 3 epic, massive grilled sardines were both superb starters. Its not every day you pay £12 for a starter of sardines, but the portion was vast and they were truly scrum.

Scottish Girolles from Petersham Nurseries

Sardines from Petersham Nurseries

For mains, as predicted, Brown was true to form and had the slow roasted shoulder of pork, accompanied with endless veggies, beans, and a very herby salsa verde. Simple, tender and beautifully cooked. However I was pretty smug as the Monk fish stew was actually astonishingly good! Big, plump, meaty chunks of fish, sweet roast peppers, fennel and tomatoes, almonds, all infused with lashings of garlic, saffron, plus a naughty blob of aioli.. YUM!

Monkfish Stew from Petersham Nurseries

Pork shoulder from Petersham Nurseries

As you can imagine our bellies were feeling pretty stretched at this stage, so we shared a delightful and refreshing clementine sorbet to finish.

A fantastic way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon. Delicious, honest feel-good food... if slightly on the pricey side. Great place to treat someone with earthy, stylish qualities, who doesn't wince at a speck of mud!

Petersham Nurseries Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Poisonous and Tasty Mushrooms at Stevington

It's Autumn and I've got a semi about all the fun fungus growing in the hedgerows. Little outcrops of joy. Wondering around our garden I only found a few mushrooms... Dad was far more successful. As he was mowing the grass he kept on unearthing more mushrooms. Here's a selection of the tastiest and most deadly...

Field mishrooms

Field mushroom text


This first set smelt nicely of aniseed. I am relatively confident that they are field mushrooms... or possibly horse mushrooms.. either way I am pretty sure they would have been edible and tasty too. I never plucked up confidence to eat them... and found that they were riddled with little insects which had eaten a fine matrix of little holes.

The second set of shrooms were even more exciting. Dad yelled and I ran out. He'd found a green mushroom growing beneath a cherry tree. The more we looked the more we found. Within 10 minutes we'd found bucket loads. They were all thriving in the mulch all over the garden. Excited at the prospect of an adventurous free lunch.

Verdigris Agaric in situ

As you can see they were a weird green colour and covered in white specks... enough to make me refer to a proper text book.

Verdigris Agaric

I am glad I did because it turned out these green bad boys were poisonous, called Vedigris Agaric. Thank God I didn't fry them up and serve them on toast!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Cowie's Birthday: Peninsula

Fresh on the heels of a wonderful night at Trinity, I wangled a day off from revision for Cowie. Eating on Sundays normally means 3 things for us Brits. Either a solid fry up for breakfast, a slap up roast or a blinding curry. But one of the best things to eat on a Sunday is dim sum.

Cowie and I had a wonderful time feasting on dim sum in Hong Kong. We love their little parcels of joy. It's interesting that dim sum literally means "to touch the heart". It;s a bit like the concept behind the Cadbury's Gorilla advert... it's all about the sheer feeling of joy. Uninhibited euphoria.

I met Lizzie from Hollow Legs at the Trusted Places blogger meetup. She's great fun and recommended that I should take Cowie to an obscure dim sum restaurant in a Holiday Inn somewhere in the region of North Greenwich. I drunkenly made it home and woke up realising that Lizzie had answered my long search for what to do for Cowie's birthday. Lizzie you're a genius.

Bravely Cowie and I ventured off to the back of beyond.. in search of the ideal dim sum birthday lunch. The whole of North Greenwich was deserted. Acres of car parks. Miles of dual carriageway. Like a scene from 28 days later... there was no-one. Anywhere,

But then we arrived at the very impressive Holiday Inn Express. Resplendent in its green and blue livery.


And we saw people. Lots of Chinese people wearing very smart clothes... all piling into a very municipal looking building with hilarious concrete lions guarding the entrance.

Peninusl Grenwich queue

We queued for around 20 minutes, surrounded by loud and eager customers. Some more irascible than others. One enormous Indian gentleman landed up having a row with the brusque gentleman in charge of queuing before we'd even sat down. That takes some doing... and explains why any review you read of this place will mention the aggressive service. Charm isn't a word that's understood at the Peninsula!

We were shown to a comically large table and presented with what can only be described as a cross between a computer accessed driving test paper and a nationally lottery ticket. After a while we realised that we needed an English menu and proceeded to transfer our choices across to the dim sum ballot paper.


Cowie, went with the safety first option... but I was keen to test out the menu with a little more recklessness. This wasn't wise. The pork knuckle I bravely ordered arrived first in the form of thin, salami esque strips of cold meat... topped with what looked like sauteed onions. Wrong. One weird mouthful later and realised that the onions were actually jelly fish! When can you say you've ever accidentally eaten jellyfish as the first thing you put in your mouth on your birthday! After this brief bout of culture shock things soon got much more palatable. All of their dumplings were brilliant. None of them stuck to the bamboo steamers like you find at places like Ping Pong. In particular, the cheung fun was extraordinary. Almost worth the trip on its own.

It was a truly brilliant experience and we can't recommend it enough to anyone who wants to step out of their comfort zone for a mind opening experience. We're definitely adding dim sum to our list of Sunday must dos along with squash, The Observer, bacon sandwiches, lie ins and curries from the Holy Cow.

Peninsula chopsticks

This is a great list of the top 10 places to go for dim sum. I'm keen to experience the joys of dim sum in Chinatown next. If anyone's got any recommendations please let us know.

Cowie's Birthday: Trinity

Cowie has been revising like a geeky dervish for the last few months in preparation for her surveying exams. It's important stuff and quite stressful. So I wanted to do something local and relaxing with a touch of glamour. One of our first London dining experiences was at Polygon through TopTable. We had a wonderful meal. Canon of perfectly rare lamb and a luxurious fillet of beer if I remember rightly. But then Polygon disappeared and we almost shed a tear.

Trinity emerged in it's place with a flurry of great reviews and a menu that just begs to be guzzled up. I've been cycling past it on a daily basis and have to really concentrate to stop myself from lurching through their front door wearing my lycra and hi-vis jacket!

We were treated to a near perfect meal. The service was the best we've ever had. Everything was just right. We were given the best table in the restaurant. They remembered it was Cowie's birthday. They filled our glasses at the right time with just the right amount of wine. They didn't rush us. They even laughed at my attempt at banter! Legends!

We knew instantly what each other would choose. It's always the same and is a brilliant part of our relationship. Cowie chose the crab and tuna salad followed by a wonderful looking piece of monkfish. It was perfectly cooked. So often monkfish is over cooked, too meaty or dry. This was the opposite.

If Cowie's choices were delicate, feminine, light and the essence of Cowie. Mine were very me. Rich, meaty, a biz grizzly and sensuously deep. My starter of pigs head was sensational. Better than at Wild Honey. It oozed flavour. Not to mention a drop or two of fat!

My main course of hare two ways was almost as good. The slow-cooked, pulled leg meat was strewn in a semi circle over the top of the plate, interwoven with silky mash and brussels sprouts. And a circle of saddle meat anchored the rest of the dish. My only criticism would be to question whether the thin sheath of fat that coated the saddle shout have been seared off...

All of this wonderful food was accompanied by a classy chardonnay from the Langeudoc/Roussillon area of France. Think of a really good St. Aubin, but with a bit more to it.

Things at this point were stunning. But we were slightly underwhelmed by dessert. The lemon cheesecake arrived in a kilner jar an hour too early. That hadn't had a chance to cook it! They left the construction work up to us. Now call me old fashioned, but don't we go to restaurants to be cooked for? I'm all for a bit of interactivity... but only when it tastes good. A good baked lemon cheesecake is a thing of heart stopping beauty. This one tasted like it had come from a down market supermarket. I don't want to be too rude because they had gone to the effort of writing "Happy Birthday" in toffee on Cowie's plate!

My Valhrona chocolate pudding was fantastic. But enough for an entire family! I tired to only eat on person's worth... but landed up eating my own body weight in rich, warm chocolate!

We're delighted to have finally made Trinity's acquaintance and are already planning our next visit.

The Restaurant Show: Adnams Ale and Drink Pairing

Food and drink matching

In search of the perfect demonstration for how to pair food with drinks, Jess and I explored the art of pairing beer with food. Interesting territory. Whilst the demonstration from Adnams itself was perfectly fine, it wasn't terribly inspiring. Pairing their brilliantly refreshing eco-friendly new beer with crab seemed a bit strange to me. Chorizo and cheese worked far better.

Beer pairing

I am really interested in the science of pairing different food with drinks. I wish I had been invited to the recent sherry evening with Heston Blumenthal that Chris from the Londonist has been getting very excited about. It's a fascinating area to work in. I just feel that Adnams could have done a more interesting job in explaining why their choice of cheese, crab and chorizo work with their beers. But maybe the publicans that surrounded us didn't really care.

The highlight came on my return to the office. Adnams sent me a crate of their beer having won a competition for simply putting my business card in their pot! I love it when I get lucky! So I am now the very proud owner of 12 bottles of some of the most interesting beer on the market: East Green Carbon Neutral Beer. All the bottles are lighter than normal and are made with very locally grown hops in the most green and efficient machinery known to man!

My Adnams

The Restaurant Show: Luscombe Drinks


Just a quick note to say that the guys at Luscombe are brilliant. Not only do their drinks taste brilliant, but in many ways they look even better! Plus they tend to be served at the best places such as Riverford Farm where we first spotted them. Their firey ginger beer is brilliant. We're really interested in their cocktail list. I've tried their cool ginger beer with some Courvoisier cognac and it's pretty special.

I also tried their Sicilian Lemonade which is brilliant. As is their raspberry lemonade. So tasty. And such cool packaging. Apparently they are about to be stocked in Harrods and are gaining some brilliant distribution. Good luck!

And better still the lovely lady on the stand had read my review from the Real Food Festival! How fun.

The Restaurant Show: Mrs Tees

Mrs Tees

You know how when you learn a new word you are guaranteed to hear it non stop for next week or so. Coincidence is a strange thing. And I am sure there must be some sort of sociological mumbo jumbo to explain it.

It happened to me last week. On Monday Ed told me a story about how his Dad had just come back from a brilliant trip to a BnB in the New Forest. It's run by a brilliant woman called Mrs Tees who is one of the leading mycologists (and exotic mushroom supplier) in the country. She is the only person in the UK to have a license to forage for mushrooms in the New Forest. She's been to court several times and has won each and every time. Just google her. It's amazing! But it gets better. Her husband used to be Jimi Hendrix's manager. Never a dull moment.

Her BnB looks brilliant. It's completely built around mushrooms. You can attend mushroom seminars, go on mushroom masterclasses, walks and tours before coming back for a charming 3 course mushroom extravaganza. Awesome. Probably my idea of mini break heaven!

So, roll forward 24 hours. Jess and I were pottering around the restaurant show trying to find a chef to come up with some food pairings for Courvoisier. We were chatting about food and I told Jess the story in the paragraphs above. Just as I was talking about the mushroom seminars and 3 course mushroom dinner we stumbled across a stand selling mushrooms from the New Forest. Shock, of all shocks, there was Mrs Tees herself! A living legend!

We had a wonderful chat about all things fungal. I guess it's a bit like talking about football with Arsene Wenger! (Can you tell I'm writing this with Match of the Day on in the background?!) Mrs Tees told me a slightly strange story, which I almost certainly misunderstood, about how the best mushrooms grow by the road side because the enjoy feeding off the diesel fumes! I don't know that much about mushrooms... but I have met enough mcyologists to know that they are nothing if not brilliantly eccentric!

I can't wait to take Cowie to Mrs Tees's BnB. If it's anywhere near as charming as Mrs Tees is, we're in for a fungal treat!

Inner Temple Floral Fancies


Mum and Hannah have now recovered from their phenomenal project at the Inner Temple Flower Show: Floral Fancies.

Their concept was brilliant - English afternoon tea with a floral twist.

IMG_6866_JPG_Thumbnail1 Suze

Imagine cupcakes with rose petal icing. Brownies with a violet glaze. Ice creams with lavender and gin, raspberry and rose petal. I had the honour of helping out on a very busy Saturday. From 10am onwards we were completely swamped with people greedily wanting to try our cakes. According to Hannah, "we sold 1,000 floral cupcakes, 1,000 brownies, 250 almond croissants, 675 mini foccacia, 300 loaves of bread and lots of tray bakes, ice cream and prosecco with violet liquor." Pretty impressive stuff.

I am enormously proud of Mum and Hannah. Their venture was extremely brave and has taken a huge amount of effort on top of Hannah writing her debut book and Mum has been busy with the garden and appearing on Gardener's World and Britain's Best House and Garden TV shows.

I am looking forward to Floral Fancies going from strength to strength in the future. You can read more about the whole thing on Hannah's blog here.

Pie Off

3 pies

We've been planning to do a culinary competition for a while now. And what better food to get competitive about than pie. Puns all round.

There was an ample sur-pie of puns and banter. We all like puffing our chests out and won't roll over easily. Oli even went to the extraordinary, and possibly illegal, level of asking the lovely chaps at Great Queen Street for their ham and chicken pie recipe. And the bastards gave it to him - hence his awesome pastry for his game pie.

The rules were simples. 2 pies per couple. One savoury and one sweet. Both made with pastry. (You wouldn't believe how long it took to agree on these rules!)

The teams were selected carefully... but not as meticulously as the team names.

Erin and Ed: American Pie
Mariana and Oli: Paela Gavella
Cowie and Brown: Cow Pie

To clear up any name related confusion... Erin's American and Mariana is a proud Spaniard.

The competition took place at Erin's amazing flat in Islington. So Oli and myself were at an immediate disadvantage given that we were on foreign territory,,, albeit in the best kitchen I've ever had the pleasure to cook in.

American Pie opted for a highy creative opening dish - a chicken fajita pie. The likes of which I have never heard of before. If the taste of this bad boy is anything to go bye.. this pie could become a 21st century classic. Rich, spicy, sweet, creamy and smoky; the filling was exceptionally fun. Oli and I are really hoping that our new nickname for Ed, "EID", sticks.

Chicken fajita pie


Delicious filling. Great decoration.

Paella Gavella's Pie was in a different league in the pastry department. And completely stole the show from a creative stand-point. Oli nailed it. It was a game pie, cooked with pigeon, rabbit and venison with a rich gravy topped off with the most professional suet crust pastry you will ever see... probably even better than you'd find at GQS where he stole it from! But the best thing was the heat resistant board he chose to present it on. Ed and I normally try our hardest not to offer the slightest bit of praise to Oli. But unfortunately we had to eat some serious humble pie here. Fair play to Oli - this game pie was top class.

Game Pie

Cowie and I, in the form of Cow Pie, played it relatively safe. We concentrated on the filling. I spent 8 hours cooking a fabulous shoulder of lamb with anchovies, rosemary, bacon, red wine, dried porcini and a touch of cognac for good measure. It fell of the bone and had great depth of flavour. We topped it off with some of Sainbury's best puff pastry and hoped for the best. We were pleased with the result. Meaty and full bodied. Just how a good pie should be.

My Pie

So by this stage we were completely stuffed. What better way to push on from this than to have 3 more pies! Talk about punishment!

American Pie delivered a very flavousome all American classic Apple Pie with sultanas and cinnamon. Bursting with flavour, or should I say flavor for our American audience, it was a lot of fun.

Paela Gavella yet again pulled off a masterstroke. Their pastry was exceptional and we loved the numerical reference to Pi on the lid. It was packed full of autumnal fruit that bled across our plates like some sort of masacre on a pheasant shoot. Good pie.


Cow Pie did some last minute improvisation and rustled up a pie from no-where. Imagine how tasty a mango and pineapple strudel would taste! Well that's what came out of the oven!

It was one of the most fun evenings I've had in a long time. But, the embarrassment of losing a couple of buttons from my shirt and a gentleman offering me his seat on the tube home because he thought I was pregnant mitigated against this! If oysters, sea food and sushi are good romantic foods... pie is the polar opposite!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Dans le Noir

In a sudden fit of bravery we decided to take our wonderful Client out for an adventurous dinner. She is based in the States so we rarely get to see each other face to face.

This will now seem like a non-sequitor...

So we took her to Dans le Noir in Farringdon for a fabulous night of dining in the dark. We are working on a project that is all about sensual experiences, so it made perfect sense to finish the day's hard work with a meal that would push all of our sensual boundaries.

Arriving at the restaurant we were greeted in the foyer by a collection of very engaging maitre d's. They made us put all of our kit in a locker so that no mobile phones or watches with illuminated faces could disturb the sheer blackness of the dining room.

I don't think any of us were ready for the attack on our senese that was to follow. After a quick cocktail to instil a bit of Dutch courage in all of us, we queued up behind a blind waitress/guide and were led into the pitch black room. Some squealed. Others were a bit more stoical. We found our table using our hands and all sat down around what we all thought was a round table, but turned out to be oblong!

We groped around the table looking for water glasses and bottles. The only way you can pour everyone's wine is to put your finger in the glass and keep pouring until your finger gets wet! Not very hygenic. But great fun.

We all spoke very loudly to begin with as we acclimatised to the dark. Towards the end of the meal our voices became more calm and we shouted a lot less! It's bizarre just how reliant we all are on our sense of sight.

I found it really hard to determine what I was eating and to be honest can't quite remember. Memory works very badly when you remove the sense of sight. My starter may have involved something resembling spring rolls filled with what I thought was minced chicken and somebody else thought was tuna - which turned out to be duck.

Likewise I got terribly confused by my main course which I still swear to the this day was lamb, but turned out to be a mixture of ostrich fillet on one side of the plate and venison on the other. But we all recognised the distinctive smell and flavour of the truffled risotto that acted as a division between the two meats.

Personally I loved the whole experience. There is something very liberating about being in the dark. It may have been the amount of wine I was drinking because I was thirsty and couldn't find my water glass... but I found myself saying things at a work dinner that I would never otherwise have said. I've never had so much fun chatting a joking around a (now clearly rectangular) table. Everything seems funnier in the dark.

Be careful about coming here if you know people are claustrophobic or are a bit strapped for cash as it isn't cheap. But remember you are coming here for an experience and not simply a meal. In many ways this is the idea of a restaurant pushed to the extreme. It's not about the food. It's about opening your mind and having an entertaining time. We learnt a lot about each other during the course of the meal and feel like we all bonded along the way.

Will any of us return? Unlikely. But not in a bad way. We've all been talking about the experience ever since and won't ever forget that crazy meal we all had in the dark! It's a great place to come if you want to break the ice.

Dans Le Noir on Urbanspoon

Caffe Caldesi

Cowie and I once spent a brilliant evening learning to cook glorious Italian food at Cucina Caldesi just down a mews off Marylebone Lane. And it fills me with a sense of warmth and memories of birthdays past when ever anyone suggests going to Caffe Caldesi for lunch.

The onset of financial disaster meant that we had held back from visiting Le Gavroche in favour of the much more modest, but still excellent, Caffe Caldesi. After we had got the bitter taste of not going one of London's best restaurants out of our mouths we had a complete riot... far more fun in fact than we would have done otherwise.

Our table for 5 could barely support the weight of the contents of the entire anti-pasti menu! All 6 of their starters appeared on our table and were devoured with a combination of greed, starvation and foodie curiosity. As you'd expect all of the wonderful hams and cured beef were exemplary. But the joint stars of the show were the ball of mozerella and the cougette matchsticks with calamari - a sqeeze of lemon transforms them into little sticks of joy.

Main courses were good too. My haddock was fine, but the spinach and tomatoes stole the show. The skin on the fish could have been crispier and the flesh was well cooked but its integrity had been compromised - maybe it fell apart as it left the pan and was carefully reconstructed. It didn't affect the taste - but as we all know we do eat with our eyes.

The girls had linguine with tomato, chilli and cream which looked great. I've had it before and can testify to its depth and kick. Jess had a vast veal escalope which was large enough to feed the whole of Northern Italy. Tasty though.

My panacotta with passion fruit was perfect. I am a complete sucker for passion fruit. Handled correctly I fall head over heels for it. It wobbled sexily before disappearing inside my already bulging tummy. Yum and twice yum.

We probably didn't need any Calvados - but it added to the fun of the occasion and put me in the mood for the Pie Competition to follow!

Our only gripe was the lethargic service. They didn't get anything wrong. But they just took an age doing everything. And it didn't help that we were obviously all wearing our invisibility cloaks. Probably best not to wear them next time.


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