Monday, 1 September 2014

Places To Eat In London: Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden

As it was on both of our 'to try' lists and in a good, central location for both of us, late Thursday lunchtime found Izy and I engaged in our latest catch up / blogging gossip / cookbook discussion session at Flesh & Buns. She wanted to know how my freelancing was going, I wanted all the gossip about her new cookbook out today (I took mine with me so she could sign it, you can order your own copy (it is rather fantastic and I'll be writing a full review soon) here), and we both wanted to eat our fill of meat, sushi, sashimi and s'mores. 
Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden Flesh & Buns Kitchen, Covent Garden Flesh & Buns Interior, Covent Garden
You head underground through an entrance just off the Seven Dials into a large wine cellar area with the kitchen at one end, bar at the other and a long communal table running the length of the middle of the restaurant. It was a nice, dark vibe for a late and lazy lunch, transporting you out of Covent Garden, and I think it would get quite loud in the evenings. The bathrooms are quite bizarre; they are wallpapered with Hentai. This is the porn style of Japanese manga. And I had to Google that, it was not already researched! 
Juices & Plum Sake at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden
Shall we start with the drinks? We were both very, very impressed with Flesh & Buns' offerings. We both went for the juices, which I think have to be my favourite part of the whole restaurant. They were as good as some of the best fruity cocktails, but something you can drink if you're off the booze for some reason. I had the Sweet Symphony on the left (juiced lychees, fresh blueberries, raspberry syrup and fresh lemon) and Izy had the BD Fruity in the background (passion fruit, mint and orange juice). Flesh & Buns also has an extensive Sake menu, which I honestly could not resist. As I was in a fruity mood I went for Nanbu Bijin's Sugarless Plum offering on the rocks, that was absolutely divine. You knew you were drinking plum sake, but it also very strongly spoke of sloe and damson gin; never a bad thing in my book! Very, very smooth, too. 
Mixed Sashimi at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden
Food-wise we decided to start off with the mixed sashimi set, two pieces each of yellowfin, tuna, and salmon. This was honestly my favourite part of the meal; it was great quality, you got good sized pieces and the wasabi and soy on the side were the only accompaniments needed. I could have eaten an awful lot of this. 
Soft Shell Crab Roll, Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden California Rolls at Flesh & Buns
Next from the small plates part of the menu we went down a sushi route. There was nothing wrong with the Soft Shell Crab rolls, though I felt the crab was lost in the actual rolls, and you only got the delicious crunch and flavour from the bits that were sticking out the top. You would be much better off ordering the Soft Shell Crab by itself, served with the Jalapeño mayo that comes with the sushi rolls. We also went for the California Rolls that were lovely, topped with a simply divine mayo. While the mayos were lovely, I feel they overpowered the rolls a bit too much, so it was harder to tell that it was sushi that you were eating. Looking around at the other diners, I want to get in on the Ceviche and Korean Fried Wings action from this part of the menu, too.  
Flesh & Buns Tabletop, Covent Garden Ribeye Steak at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden Sauces at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden Buns at Flesh & Buns Flesh at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden
Next up, what the restaurant is actually named for: Flesh and Buns. We went for the Ribeye Steak, figuring that when it is cooked in sauces all the different steaks would taste the same, and it was the cheapest! We also went for the 2 recommended steamed buns per person, and the garnishes and pickles all came with the meat. 

The buns were great (hard to get wrong), but I think it would have been good if they'd put a bit of greaseproof paper between them in the steamer to stop them sticking together, and therefore tearing when you tried to separate them. The meat was delicious, juicy and tender, but there was so much of it! Our server recommended a plate of meat each, though looking around at other tables we decided to share, which was the right thing to do. Even cramming them full, I'd think about 3 buns per person would be better as we were eating scrap steak after we'd run out of buns. This probably is not an issue with the Flat Iron or Wagyu steak (maybe also with the Sirloin?) but I also wish there were knives on the table as well as chopsticks, as some of the steak pieces with connective tissue in them were way too tough to chew, but there were still salvageable meat pieces on them. The condiments were all brilliant, especially the pickled onions. 
Tabletop S'mores Burner, Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden Flesh & Buns DIY S'mores Toasting Tabletop S'mores at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden
We barely glanced at the dessert menu; we both knew what we wanted to try. Everyone has told me that the table top, DIY S'mores with green tea white chocolate and very buttery homemade graham crackers are a must at Flesh & Buns, so that is exactly what we ordered. However, before I actually talk about what they tasted like, can we just take a moment to marvel at how artistic Izy's marshmallow toasting skills are?
Toasting S'mores at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden DIY S'mores at Flesh & Buns, Covent Garden
As for the S'mores itself, I think the dessert is more of a novelty factor than anything else. Okay, so it is not too expensive (£6, it works out £3 a S'more), but it was very, very messy to eat. I think the marshmallow was maybe too big? (And you'll usually never hear me saying that about a marshmallow!) Also, while it was a nice novelty and in fitting with the style of the restaurant, we both felt that dark chocolate would have been better to cut through the sweetness; the white chocolate green tea slab was a bit too cloying. 

So, would I recommend Flesh & Buns? While there is nothing at all wrong with them, I don't think their two flagship dishes, the Flesh and Buns, or the tabletop S'mores are their best assets. I'd grab a few girlfriends and settle in for a long lunch ordering delicious juices and a selection of sake, before diving into the sashimi and a selection of sushi and small plates. Then I'd explore the dessert menu a bit more. 

How many of you have been to Flesh & Buns since it first opened, and what did you think of it? I've pretty much read good reviews online, but I heard some mixed reviews when I said where I'd been for lunch at an event for JING Tea that evening. Also, do you have any mid-price sushi recommendations for me in the city? I really want to go to Sticks 'N' Sushi, but I'm rather worried about the bill I'd rack up!  

Friday, 29 August 2014

Snapshots From The Middle Of The North Sea + Reykjavík

There is no such thing as ‘night’ in some of the Northernest parts of the world in early Summer. From my research I knew that during Winter Iceland’s inhabitants were only treated to 3 or 4 hours of daylight every day, but it had not occurred to me that it could work the other way. One evening approaching Norway I was stunned to see that the sun had only started to go down when we were finishing our late dinner at 11pm. Even when the sun vanished behind the horizon half an hour later, it was what we would still call daylight outside. 
Jewel Blue North Sea Nordic Flora
Iceland too, but Norway especially had the most lovely flora. Actually, it was all very similar to what you can find growing in the average English hedgerow, but it all seemed all that vibrant and prolific. And there were some simply beautiful shades of purple (it does not hurt that it is my favourite colour!)
Sail Boats in Southampton Smoked Trout on Rye
Shall we head to Reykjavík? After spending the morning in the Blue Lagoon I headed off into the centre of Reykjavík in hunt of a bit of an Icelandic luncheon. I started off as a charming little cafe called Gamla/Old Island. Iceland has a wonderful cafe culture, so I decided that I'd eat a different dish in a couple of places. I went for the open sandwich of rye bread, Icelandic butter, smoked trout and boiled egg, that was absolutely fantastic. The locally popular trout was much richer, yet still more delicate than Nordic smoked salmon, and went brilliantly with the fantastically dense, slightly sweet bread. In Iceland they traditionally bake the rye bread in tins buried underground using geothermal energy. It was also fantastic value. I'm not the greatest at maths, so I struggled with the currency, but checking my credit card statement back home I find it only set me back £2.61. A tip for eating abroad, try to stick to local looking rather than tourist places. 
Reykjavik, Iceland
Reykjavík itself is such a bright, vibrant young city. It is very pedestrianised, and they have embraced world food with local inflections in places like sushi joints and non-ironic American bars in a wonderful way. With its spas and nightlife, I'd really recommend it for a city bread with friends. American soldiers have been stationed just outside the city, and it is so close to Europe and America, so it has a great mix of both cultures in among the Icelandic. However, which I did manage to find great, cheap eats, it is a little expensive. 
Icelandic Skyr
Ignoring the face I'm not really supposed to eat cow deprived cheese products, for my dessert I went in search of Skyr, a yogurt-like by-product of the cheese making process that has been part of Icelandic cuisine for centuries. They use it in everything from smoothies to yogurt like flavoured pots, but I was after it in its traditional form, sitting in a puddle of single cream or milk, and topped off with sugar. Honestly? I only ate about half of it, any more and I'd have made myself really, really sick, but I thought it would be much better served with fruit or something to cut through the cream. It is honestly not that much different from eating low fat greek yogurt. They use it in the same way also, with fish, in flatbreads and the like in everyday cooking. 
Icelandic Pastries
I finished off with a Cinnamon Swirl Bun, which in Iceland is usually topped off with a slightly caramel icing (if you happen to have had a French childhood I have the exact flavour reference for you. It is basically Carambar flavoured icing!) Way too big to eat by yourself, but totally delicious. With my Skry I also had a shot of Brennivín, the green bottled national spirit which is affectionately nicknamed 'Black Death'. It is an unsweetened botanical schnapps, and it is actually very nice. I can best describe it as tasting like a mixture of vodka (for the hit, and it is made out of potatoes, after all) and gin (for the flavour).  
Painted Houses in Reykjavik, Iceland North Sea Sunset North Sea Sunset Reflection
While we only got one or two of them, on account of heading North and everything, I think there is nothing more lovely than a sunset at sea. Just the way you can see nothing but sea and sky for miles, and how it glows.
Akureyri, Iceland
Our first stop in Iceland was actually Akureyri, where we headed out of the port the moment we arrived for our first glimpse of some lava fields, and to visit the famous and very etherial Goðafoss Waterfall. 
Glacial River outside of Akureyri, Iceland Lava Fields outside of Akureyri, Iceland
Lava fields are unexpected, but when you actually think about what they are, expanses of land that were once covered in hot magma that has since solidified, they make sense. If you've never seen it up close, volcanic rock is like a cross between breeze block and charcoal, with lots of aerated, sometimes shiny bits. If visiting Iceland for the first time you decide that Reykjavík is the right destination for you (it probably is for a first timer), you'll drive through some pretty impressive ones on your way to the city from the airport (and from the airport to the Blue Lagoon), where they practiced for the moon landings.
Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland Goðafoss Waterfall Afternoon at Goðafoss Waterfall, Iceland
The Goðafoss Waterfall was insanely majestic, but I just wish that I'd been there on a brighter afternoon. The story goes that when the Icelandic tribes of the area voted to adopt Christianity in about year 999, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði (try saying that! Also, you've got to love copy and paste!), a prominent community leader threw his figurines of Norse gods into the waterfall to renounce the old ways. 
Diane von Furstenberg Evening Gown Diane von Furstenberg
Finally, in the in between days between countries I wore some very pretty dresses to dinner. Unfortunately, the discovery of a rather wonderful cocktail at the bar called a 'Ginny Hendricks' (muddled cucumber, mint, elderflower liquor and Hendricks gin) lead to not many pictures of the dresses being taken. However, I did get a few shots of one of my favourites, a fantastic black Diane von Furstenberg gown that is one of my favourite things to wear, and makes the most amazing ruffling sound as I walk. I was en-route to a Black & White ball, so I paired it with my (school) graduation shoes.

I’ve done my best to share with you all just a taster of some of the things I saw during my trip up North around Norway, Iceland and Scotland, but I can promise you words and photos will never be able to do it all justice. You can’t capture in a description or a photograph the spectrum of colours you can see shining across the face of, or the pure majesty of what it is to look up from the foot of the mountain at a glacier. I won’t be able to evoke for anyone who has not seen it for themselves the most incredible shades of blue that are to be found in the waters (lakes, springs and seas) in this part of the world, and while I tried to do it justice, bathing in the Blue Lagoon just outside of Reykjavik is an experience that can’t be replicated. If you ever get the opportunity, I think that how I spent the beginning of my Summer this year is something that everyone should try for themselves at least once in their life. Summing up what I have seen I think would defeat the best of us. 

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Recipe: Eton Mess Ice Cream

As it is quite literally the end of Summer, I feel that I owe you all an apology. You see, I've been meaning to share this ice cream recipe I thought up with you since the very beginning of Summer, and I've been a bit useless. However, I have decided that making Eton Mess Ice Cream is the very best way to store a little bit of Summertime in your freezer, so we can claw it back a little on those September days that are still full of sunshine. Or you could just make it this weekend. It is the best ice cream recipe I've invented since my Mint Aero Ice Cream, if I may say so myself. I'm very, very proud of it because it tastes just like the classic dessert, only better because you get to enjoy Eton Mess, and a big bowl or cone of ice cream at the same time. 
Eton Mess Ice Cream How To Make Eton Mess Ice Cream Macerated Strawberries
For some reason, the most exciting part of this whole producing a tub of ice cream process is macerating the strawberries. Not only is macerating an awesome word, but they go all nice and syrupy so that when they freeze, they turn into the most wonderful strawberry nuggets in the ice cream. Also, the leftover syrup makes a fantastic cocktail. Muddle it up with some fresh mint or basil and serve it over ice with a good shot of white rum and gin. Top up with soda water and you're good to go! Stripy paper straw optional, but recommended.
Vanilla Ice Cream Base
The ice cream base I use here is actually the same base that came with our ice cream maker (we use the fancy countertop Cuisnart one) in the booklet and is out family's favourite vanilla ice cream, just add the sugar from the strawberry syrup at the same time as the rest of the sugar instead. Bizarrely, we like this all in one method better than when we make a custard base, which in theory should be better.
Mini Meringues
The meringue you use to make this ice cream is important. Usually I'm an advocate of all things homemade, but the meringue you buy at the supermarket is much stronger, and much more stable than the meringue you make yourself at home. I've had all sorts of disasters using homemade meringue in homemade desserts; it is just not worth it. This takes about a tub of mini meringues, leaving two or three for you to snack on while churning.
Adding Strawberries to Ice Cream Maker Summertime Eton Mess Ice Cream
For the recipe, head over to Great British Chefs. If you're after any more ice cream type things from me, here is another link to my Mint Aero Ice Cream, and you can also click through to find my Easy 3 Ingredient Blueberry Frozen Yogurt. Now, while I always try to cook light and bright food so lots of my upcoming recipes will be Summer suitable, I'm now going to sign off on Summer recipes proper for this year. There is a pumpkin already ready in the vegetable plot that has my name written all over it I have been plotting recipes with for weeks. That is a pumpkin I can lift, that is. We have an epic one down there almost as big as me I can't wait to show you, though I'm not entirely sure how we're going to lift it once it is ready!