Let’s have more table performance

Has the art of performing at the table died out? I’ll wager it’s a while since a chef has threatened his eyebrows with a fire throwing incident involving a pancake in your local restaurant. (If you have been singed recently do let me know).
I thought the nearest thing to dining theatre was the speedy but intricate way fish is filleted at the table in some of Chinatown’s better eatreies (The Red Chili’s sea bass particularly worthy of note).
But that was before a recent trip deep into the Welsh countryside.
At what must be North Wales’ best restaurant (definately the best I’ve found anyway), Maes-y-Neuadd , I came across this eccentric performance of bread carvery.
A huge trolley of artisan breads is taken to the table where diners are asked to select their loaves and then the knife wielding assistant does the honours. In a process taking about ten minutes for four people there’s no naked flames to worry about although those sharp knives are bound to come under the scrutiny of the health and safety killjoys at some point.
Unlikely that this little show made any difference to the taste of the bread but perhaps it could be the start of a whole new table performance genre.
Come on you restaurants, get adventurous with the whole idea, I mean how about milking the cow for the cheese board inside the dining room or melting the cholocate for the fondant by placing a small bowl over the candle centre pieces during dinner?

Brunch Frittata

IT may be a gloomy, wet old Bank Holiday but at least the extra day off work means an excuse for a lazy brunch as opposed to the usual breakfast at the desk.
This fritatta is almost an omelette but you finish it off under the grill instead of flipping. It’s healthy too (scoring a green light on the Gi diet) so no more guilty weekends.
What you need;
2 eggs.
A couple of good handfuls of baby spinach leaves.
Small onion, diced.
1 chopped red pepper.
2 chopped garlic cloves.
2 tsps dried oregano.
3 halved cherry tomatoes.
Olive oil slurp.
Salt and pepper.
What you do;
Heat the oil in an omelette pan and add the onion, garlic, pepper and oregano. Cook until soft.
Add the broken up spinach leaves and stir until wilted.
Lightly whisk the two eggs and then add to the pan. Some people also add in some milk but I’ve never found the need for this.
After the frittata has solidified at the bottom, add the cherry toms to the top and place under a hot grill until the top is also cooked.

Good golly, what’s wrong with cauli?

It looks like the childhood favourite of cauliflower cheese is on its way out with the news that one of the UK’s largest growers of the maligned vegetable giving up on producing the vegetable altogether.
What could possibly be wrong with the humble cauli? It can be grown in the UK most of the year (cutting down on those air miles) it’s usually relatively cheap, packed with vitamins and versatile to use.
Apparently its the whole vegetable that’s proving too scary for modern consumers even though they’re still scoffing the cauli in ready meals and florets. Is there a shortage of knives in the country? Are we really so lazy that we can’t remove a few leaves?
In defence of the brassica (which has been linked to prevention of some cancers) I’d like to offer this recipe.
Forget soggy, waterlogged school dinners and enjoy your cauliflower raw, steamed, tempura battered or with a hint of the Mediterranean.
How do you like yours? Has cauliflower been written off too soon? Let me know what you think below or share your favourite recipe below.

Cauliflower with saffron, pinenuts and raisins

If the white of the cauliflower reminds you of school then try this subtle saffron shaded version of the mis-understood vegetable.
What you need
1 medium cauli brokwn into florets.
1 large, thinly sliced onion.
40 strands of saffron in 4 tablespoons of boiling water.
3 tablespoons of toasted pinenuts.
75g of raisins soacked in warm water.
Good slupr of olive oil.
Salt and pepper.

What you do

Blanch the cauli for just a minute in boiling salted water.
Soften the onion over a low heat in oilve oil.Do this slowly over about 15 mins.
Remove the onion and then heat up oil and add the cauliflower florets until they begin to colour.
Add the onion, saffron-water, pinenits and raisons.
Stir and toss for about 5 minutes until the water has evaporated.
Season and serve.

Back, but belly bug still got me

Back from my hols with a helping of holiday tummy and a couple of realisations which are probably a bit late in the day; 1. Cheap air travel really is second only to international veal crating for aspiration and comfort and 2. I’m not really a “full-board” sort of a person.
When the opportunity of the all-inclusive Nile Cruise came along it sounded like a dream come true and in many ways it has been a week of wonderment and enjoyment and an experience I would recommend.
But first the air travel whinge. It seems to be the case that airport food is actually worse than that offered in service stations, an accolade I never believed possible. Where’s the league tables and consumer mag campaigns on this issue? As trapped customers surely we should be entitled to some sort of quality standards.
And the situation is even worse when the appalling food on sale is then provided as compensation for a flight delayed for ten hours plus.
In what way would this coagulated, sweet bread-like pizza slice (left) “cooked” at Luxor airport be any substitute for someone’s time?
Or this soggy effort at a baguette(below) doled out at Corfu airport?

This delight had slimey bread, cheese which looked as if it had been kept in the midday sun for a week and ham undoubtedly scraped from the inside cheek of a pig with leprosy.

Then, to add insult to injury the airline still insists on charging you for drinks and snacks on board despite being able to fulfil their primary service of getting the plane to its destination on time.

Thanks Monarch, you really showed how much you value us.

So, onto the concept of full-board. A choice of breakfast, lunch and dinner every day with no planning or effort (or washing-up) on my part. A true holiday.
After ruling out all the salad bar offerings on the basis of possible food-poisoning (a measure that hasn’t worked), the buffet laid out before us on day one looked interesting enough.
There was a good selection of sautéed vegetables, chicken and/or beef, rice, potatoes and a dish simply marked Egyptian food which I made a beeline for.
How we tucked in. It was all good, wholesome stuff, no processed meat or plastic impressions of food here. The “Egyptian food” was bean based and there was always plenty of fresh fruit.
All well and good but, as the week wore on, the menu options became, perhaps inevitably, predictable. Yesterday’s sautéed veg had a habit of coming back au gratin for a whole new offering. The tedium of always being offered chicken and beef was occasionally interrupted by fish but everything on offer – including the so-called Egyptian food – was without any heat or the floral tones of the Mediterranean spices and herbs you might expect from this part of the world.
Bland and occasionally salty this was food invented for the British palette of another era. (The fact the food was one of the most enthused about elements of the cruise with the mainly over 50s passengers proves the tour operators had got their menus spot on for their audience .)
The spice famine was finally broken when I managed to got hold of one of the staff meals.
Turning down the beef option one evening I inquired of our very attentive waiter whether there was anything else available.
He reappeared from the kitchen with slices of aubergine which had been oven-baked with chilli, garlic and sesame seeds. It arrived far too quickly to have been prepared especially for me and it was never going to be served up to the other passengers for fear of prompting potential denture choking, so I can only assume it was whipped from the plate of a hungry worker toiling away below decks.
After almost a week of the plain and hearty food served up twice a day it was manna from heaven – although the level of chilli did nearly blow my head off leaving me wondering whether some joker among the kitchen staff had expected it to be returned.
I’d just like to apologise to whoever didn’t get their full helping of spiced aubergine that night – I hope they enjoyed the “beef English style” as much as I relished their supper.
* A full review of my trip will appear in the printed editions of the Manchester Evening News in the near future and at www.manchesteronline.co.uk/travel.

Bad week – time for a trip.

On balance, this hasn’t been a very good week. Why? See below. In fact I think it’s time for a trip away! Luckily for me a last-minute opportunity has come along and so I’m heading east again – this time to Egypt. As always I’ll update the blog if there’s internet opportunity but otherwise – see you in a week or so.
It’s been a good week for………..
Winter vegetables – you see I’m even struggling to come up with one highlight on the foodie front this week but I suppose the change in weather means a good excluse to shove the salad and enjoy those celeriac, swede and roast potatoes just one more time.
It’s been a bad week for……..

Soup lovers.
How much salt? Why?

Fast food parents
. Es aren’t necessary for a good night (or day) if you’re a kid. Just say no.
F Word fans. Was is just me or is the “find me a Fanny” just a laddish excuse for a smirk? Get back to the kitchen Gordon and leave us girls alone.
Have a taste-filled weekend!

E number warning

Concerns about the use of E numbers in foodstuffs has been raised again with the experts warning that children shouldn’t be exposed to these potentially harmful substances.
They claim that the additives could lead to behavioural problems such as hyperactivity and poor concentration
A team at the University of Southampton tested the additives tartraxine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow (E110), carmoisine (E122), quinoline yellow (E104) and allura red AC (E129) on both three-year olds and eight-to-nine year olds.
According to the BBC, a University source said that their results supported findings first made seven years ago that linked the additives to behavioural problems such as temper tantrums, poor concentration, hyperactivity and allergic reactions.
So the precautionary advice seems fair enough – but what are these additives used for?
In my search for more information I’ve discovered that many of these substances are already banned overseas.
Here’s a quick guide from the very useful UK Food Guide;
E102; A synthetic yellow azo dye found in fruit squash, fruit cordial, coloured fizzy drinks, instant puddings, cake mixes, custard powder, soups, sauces, ice cream, ice lollies, sweets, chewing gum, marzipan, jam, jelly, marmalade, mustard, yoghurt and many convenience foods together with glycerine, lemon and honey products.
E124 ; A red synthetic coal tar or azo dye found in dessert toppings, jelly, salami, seafood dressings, tinned strawberries and fruit pie fillings and packeted cake mixes, cheesecakes, soups and trifles.
E110 ; A synthetic ‘coal tar’ and azo yellow dye used in fermented foods which must be heat treated. Found in orange squash, orange jelly, marzipan, Swiss roll, apricot jam, citrus marmalade, lemon curd, sweets, hot chocolate mix and packet soups, breadcrumbs, cheese sauce, ice cream, canned fish, and many medications.
E122 ; A synthetic red azo dye used in foods which must be heat treated after fermentation. Also found in blancmange, marzipan, Swiss roll, jams and preserves, sweets, brown sauce, flavoured yogurts, packet soups, jellies, breadcrumbs and cheesecake mixes.
E104; A synthetic ‘coal tar’ dye varying in colour between a dull yellow and greenish-yellow. Found in ices, scotch eggs and smoked haddock. FD&C Yellow No.10; used in lipsticks hair products, colognes; also in a wide range of medications; may cause dermatitis.
E129 ; Orange-red colour used in sweets, drinks and condiments, medications and cosmetics, A red synthetic azo dye introduced in the early eighties to replace Amaranth, E123, in the United States of America where E123 is prohibited.
This site also produces a very handy list of children’s products which contain E numbers.
After reading this site’s findings, I don’t think it’s just the kids who need to worry – how about some research on the long-term effects of these substances? After all, if we start ingesting them at three-years-old, what happens to us as adults?

The art of umami

This week I’ve had the realisation that I’ve got a big umami need. It’s not something to be ashamed of, or for which I need to seek treatment, but it does explain my love of Japanese food.
The concept of umami came up during a conversation with Maya from Yo!Sushi. She’s one of the people behind the sushi chain’s planned move to the new Spinningfields development and we met up at the conveyor belt in Selfridges to take a pick of the travelling food dishes and talk about the next move.
I chose these rather interesting looking sweets which have a fabulous glutenous texture and a filling which reminds me of the bean pancakes they serve in Koreana.
Anyway my appreciation of these very Japanese delicacies prompted her to comment on umami – the appreciation of those tastes which can’t be categorised by sweet or salty – taste with a roundess or fullness all of their own such as soy sauce , mushrooms and even walnuts.
Aside from my taste buds I also discovered that the development planned for what’s going to be called “The Boulevard” (why?) promises to bring plenty of food – right to the doorstep of my desk.
As well as the new Yo!Sushi opening in August there’s also plans for a new Carluccios and other outlets such as Pret.
The new Yo!Sushi will be bigger than the other two in the city, seating 75 people and will offer a take-away and express service too.
Although the food will be the familar selection of sushi and sashimi favourites which the chain is now well-known for, they plan to do something very different from the norm with the inside and there was even mention of wall projections perhaps connected with Japanese cinema.

“At 75 seats it will be one of our biggest restuarants. We hope it can be a great canvas for us to do something a bit different” said Maya.

Watch this space and I’ll update you just as soon as the plans firm up.
During our chat, Maya revealed that she used to eat sushi everyday when she fisrt started working for the company. With 127 dishes to go at, I suppose it would be a long time before you got through all the stock.
Now that’s what I call umami!
* On the subject of food on convoyer belts, this fabulous exhibit caught my eye and made me chuckle during a recent trip to Newcastle’s fabulous Baltic.
by the Indian artist Subodh Gupta and the whole assortment of pots and pans moves along conveyor belts in a rather precarious way – both comic and fragile.
I managed to get this quick snap before being told off by one of the gallery assistants for doing so. Why do they do that? I know that in some cultures, taking a photograph is believed to take something of the soul of the subject but do people in Newcastle believe that too? What could possibly be removed from a display of steel cooking equipment by taking a photograph? In New York’s Museum of Modern Art they seem to positively encourage such activity with families all around taking pictures next to famous works of art or just collecting a little momento. If anyone can explain our strange attitutde towards photography in public places, do let me know.

Shutters down at Suburb

CITY centre coffee shop Suburb has closed up blaming operating costs for its demise. Shoppers are now faced with steel shutters and a bailiff’s notice on the Deansgate store which was known as a trendy hang-out for city workers and visitors.
The New York style café, which also featured local artists and music, is still operating in London’s stylish Covent Garden but bosses there told me that shop may also be closing down.
A spokesman in the London branch, Mike said they hadn’t ruled out finding other premises.

“To be profitable we would have to be turning a 90% profit to pay the rents because we don’t own our premises.
“Over the past three years it’s been very popular and very busy – that’s the sad thing.”

Sad to see Suburb go? Have your say below.

@ The Court, Tottenham Court Road

OK I know it’s a way away – but it’s where I’ve just been. My only real reason for including a London venue here is that it was incredible value. In fact I found the whole dining experience in the smoke good value and good quality – price not reflected by a drop in standards.
So there are some things you wish could be imported north……………..
Batter: Crispy and not too thick but slightly greasy. Obviously fresh out of the frier. To counter this I approved of the way of serving it on paper – apart from the nod back to the days of newsprint, it did help drain the oil as you can see in the picture.
Fish:Good but not identifiable.
Chips: Good and crispy but light on quantity. My companion INET (I’m Not Eating That!) managed to get them all down her in record time and I’m sure she was eyeing up my last morsels too!
Peas: Good enough but nothing special. A bit bright in the colour department but a good texture.
Extras: No bread and butter offered but there was a little paper tub of tartar clinging to the side.
Verdict: Nothing special but tasty and good value. INET prides herself on sniffing out bargains and, at £6.50 for two, is this not the best priced meal in London?
Have you tried this pub? What did you think? Submit your comments below.
The Court is at 108a Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HG.