The season of rhubarb…

A good friend of ours recently made us one of the best muffins we have ever tasted – rhubarb and apple (vegan muffins!). We were discussing about how he bought an overload of rhubarb as this is the season (May!) to have them. I often refer to Eat Seasonably website to see what’s in season and after being inspired by Richard’s muffins, I decided to have a go at making something with rhubarb before the season’s out.

Each fruit or vegetable has a prime time when it’s at its seasonal best. That means extra flavour, extra crunch, extra juiciness – all super-fresh and great value.

Eat Seasonably website

Having made rhubarb crumble before, I decided to try and make rhubarb jam after Shuhan from Mummyicancook mentioned about them. I always love the home made jams, marmalade and chutneys made by the dude’s family. Perhaps it was done with love or maybe the handmade element of it all makes it so much tastier than those you get at the supermarket.

I had a lot of qualms on my ‘virgin’ try at jam making. The whole sterilising of jars and ensuring that it’s properly sealed freaked me out at the beginning. I had some advice from a fellow food blogger* on twitter during the jam making process which calmed me down a little. It was as simple as washing the jam jars in hot soapy water before putting them in a low oven, as advised. It didn’t turn out as hard as I thought!

Rhubarb and Vanilla Jam Recipe:

To make 3 lb. worth of jam,
1kg rhubarb – cut into 3cm chunks
1kg jam sugar (or 1kg caster sugar & 1 x 8g sachet of pectin)
2 vanilla pods halved lengthways
juice of 1 lemon

3 x 1lb jam jars

(Recipe adapted from BBC good food)

Place the rhubarb into a large saucepan with the jam sugar and vanilla pods. Meanwhile, place a bowl or small plate in the freezer.

Heat gently, stirring constantly until all the sugar are dissolved. Ensure at this point that the heat is not too high as this may cause the sugar to burn.

Once all the sugar is dissolved, pour in the lemon juice and increase the heat. Boil for around 10 minutes. The rhubarb should be soft by now.

Test for setting point by spooning a little of the solution onto the chilled bowl or plate. Let it cool back in the fridge, then push it with your finger – if a crinkly skin has formed on the jam, then it has set. It if hasn’t continue to boil for another 2-3 minutes, then do another test. If you have a sugar thermometer, it should reach 105 deg C.

When the jam is ready, let it cool for about 15 mins before pouring into clean, dry, hot jars and filling them as near to the top as possible. Place a waxed disc (baking paper) over the surface and then seal with the lid. Wipe the jars with warm, damp cloth.

*Some key tips from Delia’s ten steps to jam making which I found useful (after making the jam that is!)

– The sugar should be completely dissolved before the jam reaches the boil, otherwise it will be difficult to set and the finished jam will be sugary. To test if the sugar is dissolved, dip a wooden spoon in, turn it over and if no sugar crystals are visible in the liquid that coats the back of the spoon, it has indeed dissolved. (To be quite sure, stir well and repeat this test a couple of times.) To speed up the dissolving process, you can warm the sugar in a bowl in the oven before adding it.

– Don’t worry about any scum that rises to the surface while the jam is boiling – if you keep skimming it off, you’ll finish with no jam at all! Instead, wait until you have a set, then remove the jam from the heat and stir in a small lump of butter, which will disperse the scum.

(I wished I read this before hand as I skimmed off quite a bit of the jam!)

– If things go wrong: if the jam hasn’t set after cooling and potting, tip it all back into the pan and boil again, adding the juice of a small lemon; if mould develops on the surface of jam in a jar, remove it with a spoon, along with about half an inch (1 cm) of the jam underneath – rest assured, the rest of the jam will not be affected – and place a waxed disc dipped in brandy on top.

There were some things that I missed out, for example, placing a waxed disc on top of the jam. A few advice were found on the world wide web on how to create that vacuum in the jam jar – example, turning the jar over etc. It was quite confusing for me at the beginning but overall, it was quite an easy process and for a first timer, I think the jam turned out quite well. I am definitely going to be trying out more jams, chutneys and marmalade soon!

Like they all say, practice makes perfect!

*Thank you Jason of Feast to the World for the advice on twitter!


The Ledbury

Two Michelin Stars, 14th in this years The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, hundreds of fabulous reviews…  The numbers were stacking up and I was one excited little Dish Piglet!

Friday night and The Ledbury is humming.  Seated at our table, I took in the beautiful surrounds: huge windows looking out over Ledbury Road, crisp white table cloths, shiny cutlery and – the clincher for girls – a handbag hook to hang my bag.  This place oozed class, with all minor details covered.

The service was exceptional.  Friendly, knowledgeable, and not-at-all pretentious (as can often be the case with restaurants of this league).  It’s a well oiled machine where waiters appear and disappear at exactly the right time.

There are two menu options – degustation or three courses.  We chose three courses, which was more than enough considering the endless flow of amuse bouche which graced our table.  In total we tallied up 11 dishes that arrived (12, if you include the soufflé eaten in the kitchen with the chefs at the end of the night… More on that later!).

First up, the bread.  Ooooh, that bread.  Warm, crusty, soft, brown – heaven.  If that wasn’t enough, soon after we were offered mouth-wateringly delicious bacon and onion scrolls which were straight from the oven.  I am a bread-lover from way back, but I’m convinced not even the strictest carb-free dieter could resist this bread!

A delicate amuse bouche of foie gras on an oat shortbread set the tone for the evening.  Next was a taster of salmon and caviar served on a dollop of crème fraiche.   Then, a beautifully runny quail egg wrapped in flaky kataifi pastry, coupled with an asparagus and baby leaf salad.  These three tasters showcased the talents of the chefs – they were all delicate bites, interesting flavours, and brilliantly executed with incredible attention to detail.  It set the bar high and we awaited our entrees with anticipation…

For my entree I chose Scottish roasted scallops with Jersey Royals.  The thick, succulent scallops were cooked on a bed of seaweed which gave a lovely depth of flavour.  As a devoted quail lover, Chappy chose the roast quail with peas, Iberian ham and mousserons.  The quail was cooked in chicken broth for six minutes, then gently pan-fried, resulting in an incredibly tender piece of meat.

Choosing a main was a tough job.  Eventually I settled on pork with nashi pear, celeriac, dried chicory and dandelion.  Once again, blown away.  Can The Ledbury do anything wrong?   I don’t think so…  The pork was divine and the crackling, well it was cracking!  As a lover of the pork and apple combo, it was a refreshing twist to couple the pork with pear.  The flavours complement each other perfectly – possibly even better than apple.  Must try pear sauce next time I have pork sausages!

If I thought choosing a main was difficult, let’s just say that when it came to choosing a dessert I was completely stumped.  I guess it must be the same as choosing between which of your children you like most…  The lovely waiter recognised the stressful situation Chap and I were in (how can one choose between white chocolate, soufflé, brown sugar tart, chocolate pave, mille feuille, a daughter or a son…?!) and took our menus away declaring “I’ll choose for you”.   Oooooh, boy did this get me excited.

While we waited for our ‘surprise’ desserts, another amuse bouche arrive.  This time a smashed and ‘burnt’ meringue with tangy citrus sauce.   When The Ledbury say ‘burnt’, it’s not the type of burnt charcoal toast I often throw in the bin…  Here the term ‘burnt’ has an entirely different meaning.  Rather, the meringue was slightly ‘brown’ and ‘caramelised’.  The textures were amazing with gooey, chewy and crunchy bits throughout.

As we sat and played the ‘guess what dessert we’re getting’ game, three plates arrived.  Three desserts…  It was our lucky day!  The brown sugar tart with grapes and ginger ice cream was sweet, velvety smooth and addictive.  The chocolate pave was dark, incredibly rich and heart-stoppingly good.  However, the dessert that stole the show was the passionfruit soufflé with ice-cream.  This wasn’t just an average soufflé.  It arrived with a small production – the waiter presenting us the soufflé, and then plunging a dessert spoon laden with ice-cream right into the middle of it.  The soufflé was so light and airy, it melted in your mouth.  And coupled with the ice-cream – the hot and cold combo took this dessert to the next level.

Completely full and thoroughly happy, we paid the bill.  While munching on petit fours (delicious, of course), our lovely waiter came to us and asked “would you like a tour of the kitchen?”.  WHAT?  Could this experience get any better?!  Coincidentally two of our great friends were also dining in the restaurant that night, and they were offered the exclusive kitchen tour as well.  We excitedly bounded down the stairs into the kitchen.  Brett Graham – head chef – immediately came and introduced himself.  What a lovely guy.  While chatting, a chef whipped us up another soufflé which we ate off the pass surrounded by the entire kitchen team.  A memorable end to an amazing night. 

My lack of photos can only be explained by the fact I was having too much fun.  On my next visit, both me, and the camera, will be focused.

The Ledbury.  My new favourite restaurant in London.  Possibly the world.  Simply incredible.

Our meal with wine came to £228.

Dish Piglets’ Rating: 10/10.

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill. London. W11 2AQ.
Tel: 020 7792  9090.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

The first of the supper clubs…

Having only been in London for eleven months, it wasn’t long before I went looking for authentic Asian food. The usual Asian buffets that lined chinatown definitely did not fool the Singaporean in me. I actively read up on London food blogs, in hope of finding an authentic plate of hainanese chicken rice, a reliable Sunday yumcha restaurant and perhaps even a good bowl of heart warming pho. I needed to locate the MUST-TRY places in London in search of that familiar taste in my mouth. The key was to find a few reliable food blogs who have the same taste palette as me.

Having never heard of supper clubs, I was intrigued when I came across Plusixfive. Gozgozgoz, the guy behind Plusixfive (dialling code for Singapore actually…) holds a supper club at his home in Islington serving:

“badass Singaporean street food cooked the good ol’ way, presented with minimum fuss and maximum taste.”

It didn’t take me long to make a booking after I heard about the “FISH HEAD CURRY” that he was wanting to serve. My fellow Dishpiglet, Celia, was a little intimidated by the fish head namesake so I took the dude along instead.

We were amongst the first few to arrive. We exchanged a few awkward “hellos” to several others who were behind us and found ourselves in a living room filled with 2 tables (of about 8 seats each). Our eyes wandered to the cleverly set tables with old school milk bottles and chinese calendar paper folded into boats – filled with bitternut crackers and spicy tapioca chips. The memories of my 12 year old childhood flooded back when I bit into the spicy tapioca chips. Gone were the good ol’ days when I was able to share a packet with a few friends in the school canteen and savour this as an afternoon snack.

Shortly after 7.30pm, most of the guests arrived and we shared a few more hellos with those who mustered the courage to accept the challenge of the fish head curry. Funnily enough, there weren’t many Singaporeans/ Malaysians in the crowd and I was quite impressed. We proceeded to take our seats and were served our first course of deep fried fish skins and bones. The crunch of the fish bones was pretty impressive and extremely tasty. Goz presented it with a tangy kaffir lime mayo-like sauce to go with the fish bones and it was quite a good match. As for the fish skin, I found mine quite chewy but still tasty all the same. It was interesting to hear the others on the table describing it as pork scratchings. As for the dude, he couldn’t get enough. (Note: This was his first time trying the fish bones & skin)

Next up, we had spicy sardine puffs served to us by Shuhan (MummyIcancook), a special guest for the evening. The buttery puff pastry melted in my mouth only to reveal a spicy sardine filling inside. The only criticism I had was that there wasn’t enough around for seconds! Totally digged the sardine puffs… Recipe please????

The dude’s favourite ‘chwee kueh’ came served a la Singapore brown paper hawker style complete with toothpicks. It was finger lickin’ good ‘rice cake’ with substantial oil and preserved turnip toppings. A little chilli accompaniment would be great but who’s complaining? Everything was spot on so far and the corner where we were seated polished the food off faster than everyone else. It clearly showed that we were a hungry bunch with an appetite for more of Goz’s creations!

Having lived in Australia for ten years and now, London… I never understood the curry powdered vermicelli which they call Singapore fried noodles… To tell you the truth, there is no such thing as Singapore fried noodles! The fried vermicelli we have back home is pictured below and as served by Goz, complete with spam, belachan chilli and fish cake. None of the curry powder stuff!

The main dish – Fish head curry was served next, complete with free flow steamed rice. The aroma of the curry was a delight to my senses. By this time, you could hear the room go quiet. It is always a good sign when people stop chatting and get on with their eating. It tells you simply that everyone was enjoying their authentic fish head curry. I was practically stuffing my face by this time… and I am hoping that no one took a photo of me.

Shuhan from Mummyicancook served her ‘spicy deep fried sambal eggs‘ soon after the fish head curry. I advised the dude to scrape the sambal clean from the bowl as it was extremely delicious and little did I know… that it packed a PUNCH! The dude’s mouth was flamin’ but he thought that the eggs brought out the flavours of the fish head curry. (Realised that I didn’t have any photos of the eggs!!! I was so engrossed with the curry and the eggs that I didn’t even take my camera out!)

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat anymore… the crunchy cereal prawns were placed in front of us, served on authentic banana leaf. The nestum cereal and curry leaves complemented the prawns and gave it crunch and fragrance, fulfilling both the sensation of bite and smell. We couldn’t ask for more, really.

As for those who haven’t heard of milo ‘dinosaur’, it is a simple milo drink which we get from our local 24 hour mamak store back in Asia, topped with a whole lot of milo powder, to give the drink some crunch. Goz presented his version in ice-cream form, complete with condensed milk and a surprise element of corn flakes. When I finished the last of the dishes, I wanted to stand up and give a standing ovation but I kept my cool and continued chatting with fellow food bloggers and lovers.

The night was a roaring success and we had the best time. We came not knowing what to expect and left with happy and extremely full tummies, stuffed with the night’s goodness. Not forgetting our doggy bag with the leftover fish head curry, courtesy of Goz…

If you are Singaporean and missing out on some home cooked food, you HAVE to get yourself down to Plusixfive‘s supper club. Even if you aren’t but have a love for Asian delights, forget about Chinatown and just come along for a night of great cuisine with fellow food lovers. It is an experience not to be missed.

We will be back!

To get yourself a seat at the next Plusixfive supper club, you can sign yourself up at Goz’s website.

Read more about Fish Head Curry Supper on Edible Experiences

That brown sourdough loaf of bread…

Growing up in Asia, I never quite got into the idea of bread. Our staple is rice and our consumption of bread is usually limited to breakfast or tea time. Afterall, when you could have wanton noodles, why would you want to have bread? On the other hand, one of my fond memories of growing up in Singapore in the 80s is the extremely soft white bread spreads with Planta butter and kaya by the local old man in white tee and a push bike with a box at the back. This bread is soft, light and fluffy, nothing dense like the breads in Australia nor London.

Having lived in Australia for a good ten years and being a poor student, I have done quite a few sandwiches for lunch with the usual ham and cheese. The dryness of bread usually gets me gagging and it isn’t the tastiest thing around when I am dreaming of prawn noodles. Of course, when you get a chance to have a sumptuous breakfast with poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, the good ole’ toasted bread with butter is the perfect accompaniment.

The day of revelation came when I first tried Irrewarra Sourdough in Australia.
Have you ever had bread and thought that it is the BEST bread you ever had in your life? Irrewarra sourdough was it. Priced at AUD$6 a loaf, it does not come cheap as compared to your usual loaf of $3 wholemeal sliced bread from the supermarket. I do assure you that it makes your sandwiches more delicious than ever. It is wholesome and tastes perfect.

Having moved to London Jun 2011, I have been trying all sorts of breads but haven’t come across anything that good. Just three weekends ago, I was catching up on twitter and saw a photo of St John’s Bakery baked goods and boy, I was intrigued. Within an hour, I was on my way to St John’s Bakery somewhere in SE1, Arch 72. My main aim was to try and see if I could get my hands on some hot cross buns, given that it was just a week before Easter.

When I got there, there was a small crowd and though there weren’t any hot cross buns in sight, I dived straight into the custard buns (recommended by The Skinny Bib) and as the baked goods looked way too good, I couldn’t resist getting a brown sourdough loaf as well.

The custard bun was coated with sugar and when I bit into it, the vanilla bean custard was light and absolutely delicious. The bun was perfect and the custard oozed out when I took the first bite. I spent a good time licking the delicious creamy custard. My recommendation is if you ever get yourself out to St John’s bakery on a Saturday, be sure to get your hands on one. I hear they go pretty fast!

As for the brown sourdough loaf, I didn’t try it until the next day when we prepared poached eggs on toast. When the dude (my other half) was cutting the slices, he was quite impressed with the density of the bread. In fact, we were pretty sure that we found an equivalent to our favourite bread in Australia. The dense brown sourdough tasted perfect with a good dollop of butter and poached eggs. We felt like we could do quality breakfast at home instead of out at a good brunch place. For £4 a loaf, it went the distance and we couldn’t quite get enough of this bread!

St John’s Bakery (Open Saturdays only!)
Archway 72
Druid Street

Bocca Di Lupo

Share plates?  Tick.  Italian cuisine?  Tick.  This restaurant had my name all over it.  Bocca Di Lupo is where I’m at.  After struggling to get a table big enough for an all-girls catch-up at this popular restaurant, we were finally here.   Seated at our table in the main part of the restaurant, I have to admit I gazed longingly at the big white marble bar when we walked in…  Maybe it’s my wannabe Spanish/Italian attitude that breeds my love of sitting at bars, watching the chefs at work, but for me I always have more fun when I’m seated there, rather than a formal setting.  It’s more casual, it’s more chic, it’s where I want to be.  I made a mental note to book the bar next time I’m there in a smaller group.  Regardless, I can’t complain, we were in a lovely dining room, sitting at a table that was big enough for our brood of chicks. 

It wasn’t long before some excellent bread and olives were delivered to our table.  While munching on the addictively good bread we glanced over the menu and decided on a mix of starters, pastas, seafood and sides for the table to share.  The majority of the dishes on the menu can be ordered as either small or large plates – we went for large on all occasions.

A barrage of dishes arrived all at once.  It would have been nicer if the kitchen had spaced them out for us into starters, then pastas, then fish and sides together.  Instead we were delivered starters, pastas and sides all at the one time.  Nonetheless, I launched into the soft-shell crab which had a light batter outserhell and a sweet and juicy interior. 

The orecchiette with ‘nduja, red onion, tomato and rocket was a favourite.  I have a soft spot for oricchiette, and the little discs of al dente pasta did not disappoint.  ‘Nduja (authentic spicy pork sausage) provided heat to the dish and went artfully well with the sweet red onion and peppery rocket. 

The tortellini of prosciutto and mortadella with cream and nutmeg sauce came in second fiddle to the orecchiette but was still lovely.  Cream and nutmeg is a powerful combination (I’m yet to try something I don’t love with this combo… don’t get me started on bread sauce at Christmas!) and there were no complaints as we fought for the last morsels of tortellini. 

The sides were a little disappointing.  At the time of ordering, I was a strong supporter of the Merinda tomatoes with olive oil and salt, however when they arrived they did not live up to my high hopes.  They were dry, hard like apples and had incredibly thick skins. I suspect they were large and tough tomatoes, whereas smaller and younger tomatoes would have been better.  

I was intrigued to try Romanesco broccoli, purely because I’d seen it in the grocer and it looks weird!  The dish was described as ‘chilled’ on the menu, but it was so cold that it was difficult to taste anything.  The smattering of parmesan helped the dish, but it needed some seasoning – and warmth – to bring out the flavours.

The sea bass grilled in a charcoal salt crust was a standout.  Incredibly fresh and perfectly cooked.  The salt crust served as a barrier to keep the fish wonderfully moist throughout the cooking process.  Note to self: I’d like to learn how to cook fish with a salt crust one day.

The mussels were forgettable.  They were small, and their topping of breadcrumbs, chilli and parmesan left me wondering if there was any mussel under there at all. 

We went crazy on the dessert menu, and pretty much ordered everything.  Consensus from the table was that the ‘bomba calda’ was the pick of the bunch.  A soft and fluffy donut with fresh custard filling. 

Second place to the donut came the ‘gelato cup bonet’.  It arrived in a cafe latte glass and I have to admit, I thought it was coffee (not ice-cream) when it came to the table.  Silly me. The flavour at the bottom of the glass – amaretti soaked in rum – really packed a punch.  Those Italians know what they’re doing with gelato and I look forward to frequenting Bocco Di Lupo’s gelato bar over the road, Gelupo, in the coming summer months. 

So, does Bocca Di Lupo live up to the hype?  No, not in my opinion.  Perhaps if my expectations weren’t so sky-high I would have enjoyed it more.  It was a pleasant meal, but I wasn’t blown away.  The servings were all rather small, and service was lacklustre (forgotten drinks, timing of meals etc.).  With a handful of dishes being rather forgettable, and only a couple of standouts, I’m not rushing back as quickly as I would have predicted.  Our meal came to £35 each with service (not including drinks).

Dish Piglets’ Rating: 7/10.

Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street London W1D 7BB
Tel: 020 7734 2223

Bocca Di Lupo on Urbanspoon