Friday, September 24, 2010

long overdue

like many of the library books that i borrow, this blog is long overdue. a couple of weeks ago i took the saturday off and went to see wolf parade in bristol. thanks must go to the doormen on the thekla (a boat come nightclub in the harbour area) who gave us the wrong starting time, resulting in us missing the first ten minutes. what a surprise then that 15 minutes into the gig that we saw, the lead singer was letting us know that this was their final number. obligatory chanting and pleading saw them come back for a further three songs but i would estimate that we saw 35 minutes of gig and that everyone who had not spoken to the bouncer had seen 50 minutes. when you have two albums, plus a new one, why limit yourself to 50 minutes when you're only doing four gigs in the UK anyway? we left feeling a little seasick (it sways) and cheated. of course we compounded this feeling by going in to clifton and visiting the albion. when i was a student in bristol, the albion was a little hole in the wall place and had a great atmosphere. nowadays it looks like cast-offs from footballer's wives and the prices match up to that quite well. bizarrely the toilets were disgusting. we left and went back to our hotel, hotel24seven, and this i can give a glowing review. there were no staff, no receptionist etc and everything is done over the web. the key codes that let us in, the key fob for the car park that was left in the room and, best of all, the comfy, very clean rooms with tea and coffee and a fridge. the rooms that we had had an adjoining courtyard and so we stayed up, outside, smoking and drinking late night tea.

the restaurant that weekend was quiet. on the thursday we had our worst night ever, since opening, one table of four. it probably beat the night that buzz came in to review, because that night there was only a table of two, but buzz were also a two and it felt better. that weekend it felt like i was on holiday, not working on saturday and leaving at 8.15 on thursday. the reason for this blog is so that i don't forget my vegan/coeliac shortbread recipe, so this is it. it was for our chocolate pots and you may want to leave out the spices.

75g dessicated coconut
100g doves farm plain white gluten free flour
50g rice flour
50g cornmeal/polenta
150g caster sugar
1 tsp chinese 5 spice
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g pure vegetable marg

put everything in a food processor, with a blade attachment. pulse to incorporate then put on high and let a dough form. once the dough has formed tip it onto a floured surface and bring together. split into 3 or 4 and roll out. i flattened mine with a spatula. cook in a circle, in biscuit shapes, however, at 160C in a fan oven for a minimum of 8 minutes. the more you cook, the crispier the final product.



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

the story behind the menu

Nostalgia eh. Well this menu has something of a nostalgic air to it. Not because we’ve done it before but because I want to give some credit to the people or dishes that inspired me to run down this cooking path.
Perhaps the oldest dish is the risotto. The story behind this dish comes from my days as a student at North Staffs Poly in the mid 1980s. I stopped eating meat in 1985 and for most of the next year lived almost exclusively on beans on toast, sometimes spiced with curry powder and enlivened with slivered almonds, or packet savoury rice, usually taken with six slices of bread. Then in 1985-6 a very good friend of mine, H, who had is own house (bought for £9,000, I believe) started a little cooking soiree for a few of the malnourished on our course. H, myself and rich day cooked up some bizarre treats, including unleavened pizzas (unforgettable for the wrong reasons) and risotto. The only problem was that it wasn’t really risotto because none of us had eaten one, we had only heard the name and rice and vegetables had to be risotto. Well this one will have mushrooms and butternut and sage and lemon thyme and will be delicious.

The next dish will have to be chilli. This is what got me through my years studying for a phd in Bristol. There was also a fair amount of alcohol and other substances as well but the chilli would provide the necessary goodness to allow me to get away with all the other stuff. I could eat this in massive quantities back then. I think we’ll do this with some Mexican cornbread and one or two other little things.
Staying with Bristol, whilst I was there I shared a flat with mozz, whose ability to drink the entire flat dry of alcohol never ceased to amaze. On many nights, and days, we would be joined for marathon drinking and smoking sessions by mad dog murray. We would watch an entire series of auf weidersehen pet and then get peckish and I would knock up a veggie curry with whatever was in the fridge. In honour of those days, the third dish will be mad dog and mozz’s ruby murray.

The final main is a dish that I used to cook for my father when he was going through the latter stages of pancreatic cancer. This was a horrendous illness and my father lost his appetite for most things but the one thing that we could get him to eat was a thai beef curry with plain rice. In honour of my dad, who died before we set up the restaurant, this is the last main.
The first starter we will call Sarah harding’s soup. Many years ago this one one of the first recipes that I was asked for. It was a guy fawkes night and we had 20 adults and children coming around to see the fireworks skewing towards the houses opposite. I was left with the task of coming up with food and decided on a leek and potato soup and a sweet potato, honey, lime and chilli soup. It was the latter for which the recipe was demanded.
The next starter would have to be dedicated to steve tricks. Steve is a larger than life Londoner with a, sounds like a cliché, heart of gold. Knowing that I was vegetarian steve sought out the recipe for his favourite veggie starter at the London restaurant, le petit max. This dish was imam bayeldi and has been a mainstay of our restaurant since we opened, even appearing and being sold, once, in the day. This starter will be steve tricks’ meze with lavash.
The last starter is pea and mint tameyas and is dedicated to paul gayler, to whom we have already dedicated an entire menu. Top chef. We’ll serve it with a smoked chilli and yoghurt sauce, to which a debt is owed to paul bloxham

The desserts have a more current explanation. Cy and celia have recently moved into a house with great quantities of pears and apples, jo pinder also gave us pears, as did Jamie and wendy, ably picked by iwan, so the first dessert is iwan’s ‘folk’ pear and apple crumble. The next is the sticky toffee and we dedicate this to all the vegans who inspired us to try this for the first time. Specifically to the group of anarchists who used to occupy the hairdressers opposite. The last dessert is crème brulee, pure and simple, and I’ll dedicate this to phil, who came to my house about 13 years ago and loved it even though I’d left it in the oven until it had curdled, but none of us knew how it was supposed to be. He is very much missed by us all.

Friday, September 10, 2010

taking a hammering

it's funny, the things you learn whilst cooking for an almost living; that when you're tired you'd rather do anything than write a blog, that you eat better when you're not cooking food and that hitting stuff can be therapeutic. this last few weeks we've had to hit the oven quite a lot. the problem is that it is old and was mis-treated by the previous owner. we had to give it some serious care and attention when we took it on; removing the best part of 5 kilos of grease, both hard and soft. the application of several helpings of moisturiser and a deep clean by a friend who is a gas fitter. however, even with all that care and attention, it still harbours one problem; every now and again the gas feed is disrupted. how, why, when, what for (i guess that's why again) we don't know but when it happens near service it can cause panic. once it happened in service and we had to work on two rings and a hot-plate, fortunately there was only about 20 in, so we managed. but, as the cooker gets older, the frequency of disruptions is increasing. last friday and last night it blew out altogether. the solution, hit it with a hammer. sometimes it works, sometimes not, but it helps. once i kicked it and it came back to life but the door hinge hasn't been the same since, so no more kicking.

on the subject of a kicking, last night was our quitest since the buzz review of 2008. we had one table of four and i left early (on the buzz night it was one paying table and the buzz people, who were not, although we made them pay for drinks and desserts i think). one day, i'll write down the maths of my theory of dining frequency but then again, i probably won't.

Recipe for watermelon and roasted pepper gazpacho.

watermelon, 400g

roasted red peppers, if buying jarred, then buy in oil not vinegar. 200g

couple of shallots or a mild onion

couple of cloves of garlic

veg stock, cold

white wine vinegar

salt and pepper and lemon juice and possibly sugar

blitz first four ingredients with enogh stock to get the consistency you require. in spain it would be thinner than i would serve it. season with the last ingredients to your taste. don't skimp on the vinegar. do you know what, with raosted beets this would make a good borscht technique.