You’d think he would have got tired of the fish section after 20 odd years manning it for the great Bernard Pacaud at L’Ambroisie, but evidently not, as here is Aki san going strong at least 5 years now with his solo gig doing only fish.
Akihiro Horikoshi is the Chef, and you could speculate about his Japanese sensibilities, AKi san’s Shokunin spirit that mastery of one’s craft is a life long mission and perfection is but the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
He pursues excellence in craft under the most romantic circumstance – with the emphasis on solo gig, being a literal one. Aki san preps his MEP, cooks, cleans and generally minds his kitchen alone, with only one other FOH on the floor. He pops in his favourite classical tracks (into his CD player) when guests arrive for service and cooks every piece of fish la minute on hot pans. He chooses to work only with noble wild fish, and really this is the dream.
I have wanted to go here for at least a couple of years now, but somehow couldn’t manage it till this Spring. Since the first visit in April, I tell you, I have fallen deeply in love with Aki’s little gem. It isn’t just the idea of the place, it is that I think Aki’s san cuisson really is wonderful. Given his experience at L’Ambroisie, it is no surprise he knows how to take each fish to its optimum temperature of flaky juiciness, decide which to serve skin on or off and of course to buy nice specimens. Above all, this guy has trained an excellent palate, as his seasoning and sauces display an acute balance of gastrique, with bold but controll use of spice and fruit. There is also much labour as is evident in the shininess of his jus gras reductions with pearls of fat, all this combine to dazzle the taste buds.
Aki san’s cuisine is offered naked so to speak, without bells and whistles and nothing is overworked. He can’t since it is a one man show in the kitchen. This is a restaurant that focuses on pure cooking, and given there are no filters between the diner and the Chef’s handiwork, the delivery of pleasure is astonishing when it all comes together. I feel I need to also make mention of his chantilly – carefully whipped to soft peaks and gently balanced with soft touches of sweetness.
He offers a 5 course carte blanche for €80 for dinner, and keeps an ALC for lunch. For this assembly of the most noble of wild catch off the Breton coast, it is remarkable value for money.
I have visited it 3 times in the last three months, and plan to continue doing so for the next few months. I’ve included details of each of the three meals below. The latest one in June is a special carte blanche (in which we paid €150 pp), where we pre-ordered a few dishes, namely the Seabass caviar and the Lobster navarin, which are in essence L’Ambroisie dishes, slightly reworked to fit the logistics of his grand kitchen staff of only himself. The other two menus are Aki san’s standard €80 dinner tasting menu.
Photos with some accompanying notes below.
La Table d’Aki
French / Fish Restaurant
€80-€100pp plus drinks
49 Rue Vaneau
Tel: 01 45 44 43 48
June 2018 – Special Carte Blanche
1. Amuse of Sole, smoked aubergine caviar, pesto
Beautifully pan-fried fillet of sole, with its firm texture being the major highlight. The aubergine caviar is gently smoked with a luxurious mouthfeel when broken down and harmonises well with the fish. Along with the garlic pesto and cream, this dish’s overall effect on the palate is similar to the satisfaction of say a boudin blanc.
2. Red mullet, gazpacho and pickled cucumber
Once again, the cooking on the fish is the highlight- this one likely pan-fried skin side down, and allowed to slowly come to temperature, resulting in a pearlescent flakes. The gazpacho has strings of pickled cucumber running through it, and provides a counterpoint to the naturally rich flavours of the mighty rouget.
3. Seabass, caviar and spinach
The silhouette of L’Ambrosie, afterall Akihiro san did spend two decades in Pacaud’s fish station. Escalopine cut of double fillets, though thicker and taken to higher temp than at L’Ambrosie. Nonetheless, the heat application is gentle and the skin retains its sparkle.
Served with spinach instead of chokes, aromas of white pepper emanate from the piping hot plate, but it is the Chef’s light-footed and perfectly gastrique cream sauce (presumably, with vermouth and nage) that brings harmony in threading the noble fish and the caviar together. The warmth of the sauce giving the grains this moelleux mouthfeel, like silk. Gastronomy lost in time, but found right here.
4. Blue lobster rosemary navarin, potatoes
Yet another that is a reworked L’Ambroisie dish, the Brittany blue lobster (simply boiled) featuring its characteristic firm, bouncy (almost crunchy) texture. The sauce goes very deep, peppery and rather meaty, I suspect it might have been made from meat bones, rather than lobster shells. The tourné cut potatoes presumably cooked in the same navarin and has fully taken up all the lovely flavours of the stock. Aki san left some of the tomalley in, ‘head miso’ as he pointed out, plenty of flavour. A comforting dish, hearty and soul nourishing.
5. Pineapple, meringue, chantilly and vanilla syrup
May 2018 – Carte Blanche
1. Amuse of Red tuna and orange encased in thin and crispy brik, on a bed of crushed tomatoes.
2. Blue lobster, morels, peas and lobster veloute
3. Red mullet, fennel, aniseed
4. John dory, lightly pickled carrots, artichokes, white asparagus, jus gras
Here, Aki san has turned his considerable talents to an immaculate John dory, a large one with thick fillets, roasted to firm flakes with a beautiful sheen of nacre. With a punchy jus gras, magnificent.
5. Matcha parfait, strawberries, coconut chantilly and dacquoise
I greatly enjoyed this, especially the dacquoise and whipped cream, very light and is made well. It acts as a sort of bridge to the green tea parfait and strawberries which work as foils for one another. It doesn’t look like much, but it is truly a pudding in its essential form.
April 2018 – Carte Blanche
1. Amuse of John Dory, baked turnip and acidulated butter
2. Lobster ravioli, peas, lobster sauce.
The lobster jus is deep and rich, with a touch of sweet, sour, spice, perhaps it is cognac or sherry, with the beurre blanc providing body. The taste, the balance, the cuisson, yes I’ve come across this before… L’Ambrosie. And yes. This sauce is better than Claire’s sorrel veloute.
3. Cod with garlic emulsion, with vegetable medley
4. Turbot, white asparagus, meat jus gras and spices
I’ve always seen roasting a whole duck as a kind of ultimate kitchen challenge, primarily because getting that crispy skin without turning the meat into leather is essentially a paradox, but also that when you pull it off, it is a delicious thing.
While I love a perfectly moist duck breast, I’m still very much thigh guy when it comes to birds. Ironically for dark meat, it takes a monumental fail to mess it up, perhaps that’s why it is seen as a less ‘significant’ cut. But for me, its the tastiest part.
So anyway, back to the paradox on the crown, while I’m sure many cooks have invented a myriad of techniques to get round it, I’ve settled on the following basic recipe (videos of the cook here) which suits my home kitchen, and satisfies my weekend kitchen warrior tendencies.
Day 1. Crown the bird, rub with coarse salt, let air in fridge uncovered (I simply confit the legs in duck fat at 140degC for 2hours)
Day 2. Pour boiling water on skin, and dry it thoroughly with a hair dryer (serious). Pat it dry, put more coarse salt and put it back in the fridge, uncovered
At the end of Day 2, it should look like below.
Day 3. The Cook
I don’t know what you call it, but essentially I ‘slow’ cook it by firstly starting in the pan, and then alternating between high heat in oven followed by extended resting, and then back in the oven again.
I start the bird in a smoking hot pan, and browning the bird starting from its back and move it all around till it is brown all over.
Make sure the pan is dry, and mop up any oils that flow out with kitchen towel
Brush the bird with either some butter or some of its own oils to lubricate
Rest for 5 min
Glaze with honey/soya/mirin glaze and stick it in the oven set to 200C for 3mins
Rest for 3mins, and brush with some duck fat
Back in oven for 3mins
Rest for 3mins, and brush with glaze or duck fat
Repeat steps 7 and 8, for three more turns
Rest it finally for 10mins before carving
Four birds presented below
Roast Challans Duck No.1, with honey/soya glaze
Duck breast, warm salad of blood orange, hispi cabbage, peas tossed in the same pan to soak up the duck juices. Sauce is mirin, sake, soya, chicken stock and loads of fat and juices from confit of its legs.
Confit duck leg, 3 day old koshihikari rice fried in duck fat, fish sauce, soya sauce, chilli oil, peas and Perilla’s seaweed sourdough soaked and pan-fried in duck fat.
Roast Challans Duck No.2, with sugar glaze
Duck breast , jersey butter potato puree, cep, purple kale, baby kiwi and a mirin dashi sauce
If you follow me on Instagram (likely where we both spend most of the time food-hunting these days), then you’ll know I love a good sarnie. It is an art unto itself, and IMHO the pleasure a great sandwich gives, can be equal to the experience of the finest creations by top gun chefs. Although on the other side of the world, a sandwich is merely another vehicle for revered gastronomy (and priced accordingly too). For me, the wagyu sando at Ginza Hirayama in Tokyo is one of those life-changing moments.
I cannot claim to have eaten that many sandwiches around London, so my ‘database’ is shallow compared to the few sandwich gatekeepers online. But I like what I like, and these are some things I really enjoy in London. I hope you will too when you eventually visit.
Since my first visit, I have become very fond of this little restaurant in Stoke Newington and have visited them on average once every two months in the past year. Opened by two passionate young guns, who I feel are at the very beginning of a bright career in hospitality ahead. Chef Ben Marks and co-owner/FOH Matt Emmerson recently went on a minor refurb to slightly expand the kitchen/pass, the restaurant is bright, spacey and welcoming.
Ben has continued to hone his cuisine through his roughly 2 years at Perilla, the menu rotates frequently with the seasons, and he challenges himself with a very competitive price point (£25 for 3 lunch, £25 for Sunday lunch, £44 for 5 + canapes dinner) by applying his considerable talents. It is very inspiring to see a Chef putting his heart and soul into his cooking, while it is not something you could measure objectively, I am a believer that the ‘love’ is something that eventually finds itself on to the plate. This is firmly one of my favourite restaurants in London now, and also I believe one of the best kept secrets of a stonking Sunday roast in town.
Pictures and some descriptions of two meals presented below.
Saturday Lunch, March 2018.
1. Seaweed sourdough with braised greens and goats yoghurt
I love Hedone bread, but Ben’s bread is probably my favourite today. I think it is certainly one of the best house-made breads in London. Soft and fluffy on the inside.
The condiments have gone through a few variations, being brushed with lamb fat , various butter, but this bowl of braised greens is by far my favourite. Once you start you can’t stop !
2. Stuffed Maris Piper with shittake and hen of the woods
Mushrooms and potato – plenty of savoury deliciousness abound, a posh jacket potato so to speak, comfort food especially considering the wet Easter we just had.
I remember the miso aged lamb version, both are stunning.
3. Roast chicken thigh, under ribbons of softened turnips, pancetta, red wine and Spring white truffles
Classy dish. The chicken, nips and pancetta working out like clockwork. Harmony. This dish shows how Ben & co have been continually upping their game in the past year. It is reminiscent of Brett’s iconic carpaccio sliced clay baked beetroot and smoked eel, obviously totally different profiles, but I reckon this would give Brett’s dish, a run for its money. It’s that good !
4. Citrus and Douglas fir tart.
Sunday Lunch, April 2018.
For £28, Ben lays on a fantastic Sunday roast, with your choice of starter, and a bread service with braised greens. For an extra fiver, he’ll chuck in your choice of pudding. You shouldn’t miss it.
1. Mussels steamed and served in a soul nourishing fish soup
2. Rump of beef, salsa verde, ratatouille
Dry aged Lake District rump of beef, perfectly roasted edge to edge pink, on roast endive, with salsa verde and a big bowl of Ben’s take on ratatouille with his excellent seaweed sourdough soaked inside. Hugely comforting.
3. Sorrel & basil tart
Sorrel & basil on a citrus custard tart, that defies logic but works well, as all the components harmonise to deliver a purer version of a cheesecake.
Lunch £25pp ++
Sunday £28pp ++
Dinner £344p ++
1-3 Green Lanes, Newington Green, N16 9BS
Tel : 0207 359 0779
Tube: Highbury and Islington
Photos and some descriptions from an ALC meal at L’Arpege in early April 2018, just as Spring crept up on us. This time round, I was interested in another of Passard’s classics, whole blue lobster with vin jaune sauce.
1. Amuse of Beetroot sushi, black olive tapenade
2. Domaine d’Uza white asparagus wrapped in rhubarb, with rhubarb and beetroot puree, limut pepper and broccoli flowers. ALC half portion
My second Spring with this absolutely stonking dish. A large caliber spear, juicy yet also retaining its texture, I hazard has been firstly steamed, then gently roasted in the mandolin sliced rhubarb wrap around, “enrhubarbees”. Like all dishes here, the aromas are intense, with this I really like how the tart of the rhubarb balances with the subtle bittersweet of the spear. So classy to look at as well.
3. Bouillabaisse Bretonne, saffron, golden roots, sand carrots, Ile de Yeu squid and scallops from Erquy. ALC, half portion
All about the soup, deeply layered, soothing, with a perfectly tuned oxidative-gastrique quality, likely due to the addition of vin jaune, giving it a “body” that is quite special. Eaten with the Parsley, like say a curry or a pho, it leaps into life.
The scallops cuisson is spot on, roasted to golden on one side, with residual heat allowed to gently cook the shellfish to a lovely nacre sheen, as it should be for this capable kitchen. Of course what separates this from the merely good is the sheer quality of the vegetables. The sweetness of those sand carrots, the crunch of the beets, both counterpoint and in harmony with the rest of the dish.
Perfect dish, colour, texture and as with all dishes here, the aromas are intensely effervescent. With top class presentation at the table (swipe to see IG video in link).
4. Aiguillettes of whole Chausey blue lobster, Jura vin jaune sauce, chives, baby leeks, nips and fried potato gnocchi. L’Arpege, April 2018. Full portion ALC
I’ve never seen such a massive plate appear in the context of a fine dining restaurant before (not just misplaced nostalgia for nouvelle era then), especially given the noble Bretonne homard bleu. An entire lobster with its claws on the plate, obviously cooked la minute.
The vin jaune sauce really is something special. Wonderfully balanced, the right level of gastrique and fattiness, with the vin jaune’s nutty oxidative quality contributing to the overall aroma of the dish and supplementing the natural sweetness of the lobster, as well as the vegetables.
As for the lobster, eyeballing, I reckon a 900g (boy) with big claws. As is the now classic Passard method, the crustacean is tied tail to head on a string, prior to boiling, resulting in a lobster cooked with straight tail. Then it is cut length-wise four times, guts removed and some tomalley remaining in the carapace, under a mound of chives, and presented as aiguillettes. Mi-cuit, pearlescent, the right balance of tenderness to bounce, of which Breton blues are famed for. Perfect cuisson imho, and simply the best lobster I’ve been fortunate enough to have ever tasted.
Wishing you 新年快乐 狗年吉祥 一帆风顺 for CNY 2018. Hope you guys are still enjoying yourselves.
This year, it is with great pleasure that I report on an exciting new find; one which, in my opinion, contends with the best Cantonese siu lap, that London has to offer. It isn’t a high end HK import with a monster financial backers, nor is it Alan Yau re-inventing Hakkasan under a new name. This instead is a tiny operation set up by an English chef with a classical background, with a fondness for roast meats and now cooks his passion inside a repurposed shipping container in Pop Brixton.
Oli Brown is the man, with a CV that includes cooking for the esteemed Rowley Leigh at Le Cafe Anglais, and latterly as Head Chef for The Continental in Hong Kong (consulted by Leigh at the time). He was out there for a couple of years, cooking classic food in his day job, but had made full use of his free time out there to sample HK’s mighty siu lap scene. Alan Poon runs FOH, with stints in Nobu London, and perhaps most significantly, he is indeed connected to Poons, his family restaurant, itself I read is getting a reboot by another member of the family, Amy Poon.
In a certain sense, Oli is ‘self-taught’ in Chinese cooking, specifically siu lap. A bold career move to challenge a cooking style that is so rooted with tradition, secret and competition. Put another way, he’s adapted his classical training in his approach to a (modern) dai pai tong. With many things made from scratch in-house, a few of his own twists on classic dishes and an emphasis on product quality. Meats are sourced from HG Walter, the outfit in Barons Court, and as for kit, there’s a dry fridge on-site, and a custom oven for the BBQ
They keep the menu sensibly short, a few key meats, roast duck, roast pork belly (no char siu on this visit), poached chicken, a few dishes from the wok, and of course the rather important steamed whole fish.
There’s 3 chefs in the kitchen, and Alan runs FOH with another pair of hands, the modest shipping container has been cleverly designed (by Oli’s sister Jamie Julien Brown) with soft primary colours of pink ply and vinyl tiles, it reminds me very much of an indie cafes which you might find throughout South East Asia.
Anyway, I had seen some IGs floating on the twebs showcasing the shiny skins Oli had achieved with his roast duck, so we decided to drop in a quick Friday night dinner.
Selection of roast duck and siu yuk, £18.5
Soy chicken, £15
Greens with dried chilli and sesame, £7.50
Highly impressive siulap, it is like being back in HK again.
So starting with the duck, they are hung in a dry fridge, in which they are aged for up to a week. This is part and parcel of how Oli achieves this snappy, crispy, glass-like skin (scroll down for more piccies), with delicious layer of melting fat supplying mouth-watering umami. It is superb work. I didn’t ask about provenance, but a quick glance at HG Walter’s poultry list reveals Devonshire raised ducks. Min 2kg birds, fits the bill (speculation rather than confirmation).
The pork belly has a crunchy crackling, with moist fat under it, ‘three-layer’ meat as it were, was satisfactory. As for the chicken, the soy poach was to a tee, cooked to precisely the temperature in which the underfillet just turns white, whilst staying completely silkened. If I were to nitpick, I’d say he would just need to do a salt rub to polish the chicken’s skin prior to the poach. This allows the soya sauce to take to the skin, but its more cosmetic comment, as the chicken tasted delicious.
Not pictured are their house pickles, pearl onions, chillies and other things, which we really enjoyed as well. Also crucially, his gravy for each of the roast meats taste as they should.
We also ordered their prawn toast ‘revisited’ as a starter, which I thought was incredible, with a generous prawn mince to bread ratio, bniton flakes and oodles of kewpie mayo. Couple of drinks and sorbet to finish came to £65.81 for 2. Considering the quality on show, this is fantastic value for money and certainly a gem of a restaurant.
In fact, I was so impressed that I could think of this duck to celebrate this Chinese New Year with. So I shot Alan an email to ask if they would be able to do us a whole one to take away, to which they agreed. Hooray. £43 for the whole duck.
CNY 2018 – Whole Roast Duck takeaway, £43
The shine on the skin – immaculate! Light, crispy skin a glowing mahogany sheen, with moist breast cooked perfectly to just a suggestion of pink. The work here is incredible.
I was initially worried that the duck may not travel well (they nestled it in a box), but everything was fine when I got it home. In fact, it was best straight out of the box with the gravy heated up and poured over the room-temperature duck. Later on, I blasted portions of the duck in a 200degC oven for 3 mins, enough for the fat to wobble and for residual moisture to evaporate and for the skin to attain its crispy shine yet again.
I’m Chinese so having good siulap around is somewhat important to my diet and in this regard, I suppose it is important to state my own personal benchmarks (which I’m sure some of you will disagree). For London, I like Goldmine, Four Seasons, HKK (now defunct, I suppose Daren at Duddell’s now takes the cake..) and Reindeer Cafe (in Wing Yip Cricklewood) and IMHO, Oli Brown’s roast duck is the best of the lot. I’ll go as far as to say it is the best roast duck in London today. If nothing else, it is my favourite in town right now.
I am excited about this restaurant, given Pop Brixton‘s fluid status, I also wonder how DDG will grow in the years to come. I love A.Wong, not just because Andrew’s innovation, but at its core, the flavours are what they ought to be, which is how I feel about Oli’s cooking. It tastes right. I can’t wait to return for Oli’s wok-fried dishes, I’ll be looking for the all-important wok-hei of course, and I also hope Oli riffs on other classic DPT dishes, dry fried beef hofun would be nice to savour (my favourite in London currently is none other than A.Wong’s).
So there you have it. If you love your BBQ meats, add this to your list.
I’ve included a bunch of photos Of the whole duck below. The quality is evident, I think. Stellar duck. Enjoy the pictures, and I hope you also like it too when you visit.
Duck Duck Goose Brixton <- No relation whatsoever with Duck Duck Goose Swiss Cottage
£20 to 30pp ave + drinks + service
49 Brixton Station Road SW9 8PQ
When I last wrote about this restaurant, James was then the latest Young Turk to successfully transition into his own permanent setup, which takes his mother’s maiden name. Just under 4 years later, Lyle’s now finds itself in That list, holding a michelin star, and alongside fellow YT cohort Isaac McHale, represents the current state of Modern British cuisine.
Even with the fame, what I like about James Lowe and John Ogier’s restaurant, is how they have stuck to their core philosophy, continually building on the minimalistic approach that focuses on harmony of flavour, without the unnecessary flourishes on the plate, nor in interior design. Some might find it all too jarring, but for me, the canteen ambiance is something I really love, especially these media saturated days, it is rather like a reprieve.
With each visit, I find Lyle’s has continually improved its offering, and what I think they have become truly good at, is become this platform for expressing British terroir. While seasonality to some restaurants is more of an aspiration, at Lyle’s, it is the mantra. It fits in with the daily changing menus that observes the seasons, rather than impose, they make their ideologies invisible to diners. Viewed in that light, the starkness is more a sign of humility, to let the food speak for itself.
For instance, you might have see James’ English peas and ticklemore dish do the rounds in IG; an unassuming yet eye opening dish, all down to the quality of the peas, they pop with natural sweetness, the proverbial green caviar. The lengths he goes to source them, is probably why it’s so good – English Spring on a plate. Another example is his in-house smoked wild Lincolshire eel, with a luxuriously full texture and mouthfilling savouriness, quite unlike the industry standard of wares from the Dutch Eel Company (also based in Lincolnshire), itself a top notch product preferred by many London chefs.
All his menus are like that, Native lobsters from the South West in the Summer, apples in the Winter and of course British game in the Fall.
In an age when eating out is about trying out new things week to week, I am pleased to see that Lyle’s has stayed true to itself, honing its craft and looking in the local larder for inspiration. They are one of few places in town that sells Oliver’s ciders and perry, a little fancier than whatever goes in your snake bite, but the quality really is top notch, and worth trying. Only my fourth visit here in four years, but I will look to up the count in 2018.
Pictures and descriptions from my last two meals here:
Smoked eel, seaweed and kale, £14
The aforementioned Lincolnshire eels, smoked in-house.
Queen scallops and blood orange, dried roe £14
A quintessential winter combo right here. Other chefs play on this as well with great effect, including Brett Graham. Here, James has simply grilled the scallops in-shell, allowing its juices to flow out, and be tempered by the blood orange. Simple, but utterly delicious.
Seabass, chicory and bergamot, £27
Spanking seabass perfectly grilled. Wonderful acidity in the bergamot beurre blanc, light and fragrant, with touch of bittersweet from the juicy white chicory. Noble fish, simply cooked and absolutely delicious.
Mallard, parsnip and pickled cherries, £25
Classically done to rare, as is required as most wild game is so lean. I like teal, but mallard really does have wonderful flavour. They will soon be coming off menus across the country as shooting season comes to a close, to be seen again in September.
Honey & beeswax ice cream, apple & rapeseed, £9
Stunning pudding. Simultaneously invoking different aspects of apple tart fine, tatin and millefeuille.
Absolutely incredible work on the puff , this is up there with London’s best. Crazy lamination, very soft and crispy flakes, similar to the likes of L’Arpege. With deep buttery flavour, it also is redolent of fine Chinese egg rolls. Pitch perfect flavours, thin mandolin apple slices presumably dehydrated till soft, provide freshness, whilst the beeswax ice cream is rich & aromatic, yet clean like a sorbet.
We paid £118.13 for 2 people.
English peas, ticklemore. sweet cicely and lovage, £11
Razor clams, sea aster, £13
Whole Cornish lobster tail, cobnuts, mousserons and a bisque sauce from the carapace, £30
Shelled, skewered, lathered in lobster oil and grilled to a perfect mi cuit. Eyeballing it, I reckon it’s from a 700g to 800g crustacean. Gorgeous butter baste on the mushrooms, and overall I really enjoyed this rather rich lobster dish. Just under £30 for a whole tail, and pretty good value.
Autumn Bliss raspberries with brown bread ice cream £8
The quality of the raspberries really quite something else, they have this deep red colour, reflected in its long flavour profile. A more than capable rival to French Tulameens.
We paid £112.84 for 2 people.
Lunch ALC £45pp ++ (ave)
Dinner set £55pp ++
Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High Street E1 6JJ
Tel: 020 3011 5911
Tube: Liverpool Street Station
There are probably better brunch dishes out there, but for me, I can think of nothing more sinfully satisfying than a fantastic eggs benedict. It is fundamentally a simple dish, consisting of only 4 main elements, namely poached egg, hollandaise, Canadian bacon and an English muffin cut in half.
The beauty of any simple recipe is always that it is easily adapted to suit all sorts, a ‘vehicle’ for various combos so to speak. Some of you have asked me to write all this stuff down in one place, so here is my collection of benedicts I’ve made this the year, as well as a quick recipe. Enjoy.
Benedict really is egg on egg if you think about it. Effectively a yolk sauce, on egg with runny yolk, yolk on yolk, which is perhaps the reason why it is so luxurious.
I have one fundamental change, in that I prefer soft boiled egg, over poached egg for benedict. The egg is not wet, and I just think the texture of silkened egg white from a soft boil works better, especially with the sabayon.
There’s 2 things which I think warrant a recipe, after that, it’s simply a matter of stacking it all up, and then spooning over the luxurious hollandaise.
Soft boiled egg
Boil a pot of water, and chuck in lots of salt.
Boil egg for exactly 5 mins (I prefer Burford Browns).
Run egg under cold water and peel shell.
Hollandaise / Sabayon sauce
Separate 1 egg yolk.
Melt half a stick of good unsalted butter (I like butter from Brittany), on low heat until clarified.
Place yolk on bain marie, glass bowl in a saucepan of steaming water on medium heat, start stirring/whipping with egg beater.
When yolk begins to heat-up, stream in warm melted butter slowly.
Keep beating it, the sabayon will start to thicken, as heat slowly works into it
At this point, add in whatever aromats/seasoning you like to taste.
I add lemon juice, pepper, salt, touch of paprika, touch of sherry vinegar.
You can also posh it up, by reducing fancy (pre-moxed) white burgundy or champagne with onions and stream it in (like a Bearnaise basically).
If your sabayon is too thick or splits, add water and keep whipping it to incorporate more air. Be patient as it will come back together and thicken up again. But obviously dont add too much.
Water helps the give the sauce a airiness (the more you whip), and adds a little shine. It also stabilises the sauce after it cools, especially if you want to use the next day.
To use the next day, simply reheat on bain marie, stir and stir (and stir) and it will loosen up.
Get a good english muffin, cut in half and toast it (or any good bread you’d like to use).
Muffin, then ham/fixing, then soft boiled egg, then sauce on top.
Garnish with chopped chives, paprika, spring onion, pepper, caviar, truffle, whatever you like.
Crab Benedict, with chives
Cornish blue lobster claw benedict, with paprika and chives.
My favourite benedict of this lot. Buy a live lobster, I prefer native lobsters from Scotland to Devon, as a good fishmonger can get one for you with least time out of water, and also probably without seeing a tank. Then knife down the head, and twist off the tail and lobster claws. I tend to cook lobster tails over charcoal/pan nowadays as I can control the rate of heat better. For claws, I simply boil and shell.
The carapace and coral, should be reserved and they are what makes this benedict so special.
The hollandaise is made from butter that has been drawn from roasting lobster carapace and then allowing it to simmer with melted butter over low heat. I have taken the lobster coral and made it into a smooth sauce sauce (using Vitamix) and spread on the muffin. Finished with paprika and chives.
Egg benedict with Wild asparagus, champagne sabayon and ham hock cubes
Cheap Sainsbury champagne, reduced with sauteed onions, sherry vinegar and this is streamed into my sabayon. it yields a surprisingly bright yellow colour.
You’ll have to wait till the Spring for the asparagus obviously.
Winter black truffle Benedict, with cooked Wiltshere ham
Now is the season for the vaunted Tuber Melanosporum afterall. Simple is best when it comes to truffle I think. For the hollandaise, I put shavings/trimmings from the truffle into it.
Kangnam Korean Fried Chicken Benedict, with Oscietra Imperial caviar
A nod to David Chang’s (and WD40) hi-lo extravaganza of fried chicken and caviar. Really it works so well together. I like Oscietra Imperial/Gold a lot. The sturgeon are raised in Qiandao Lake, and you better believe it as this particular farm in China really does produce some of the best caviar in the world. as the grains are firm and burst on the palate, whilst its flavour remains very clean on the finish. As for the KFC, Kangnam is in New Malden, I really should double-fry my own, but theirs is IMHO the best KFC around.
Eggs benedict with Dutch Eel Company smoked eel and Oscietra Imperial Caviar
Lyle’s smokes their own eel, but if you look around town, you’ll find that most restaurants will likely be using Dutch Eel Company. It’s superb really.
I like smoked eel (gently) warmed through, rather than cold. It goes slippery and soft, and I think its smoky flavour releases better when eaten warm.
Smoked eel and caviar to my mind is a pretty classic thing, and the yolk sauce helps to tie them both together. I like this a lot, it’s a very robust flavour profile, which showcases the quality of the two (preserved) products. The better the quality of the eel and caviar are, the better this recipe tastes.
Ceps benedict with beurre blanc and beluga caviar
Beluga also raised in Qiandao lake, in contrast, these grains shimmer grey-black, are very soft and the flavours are creamy and long. Luxurious caviar this, almost a sin to eat it with other stuff. Best on its own, on the back of your hand.
Anyway, this was during cep season in the fall, simply roasted in butter. You could use pretty much any mushroom you like really. I coloured my onions, hence why my beurre blanc is that brownish tint instead of a pristine cream colour. Oh well.
Even with Brexit looming, the economic case for this rapidly modernised part of town is apparently still sound enough for a heavyweight F&B player to enter the fray. Perhaps the owners of the original Duddell’s Hong Kong (DHK) see parallels between the two locations, as the original opened in 2013 (at the top of flagship Shanghai Tang on Duddell’s Street), opposite the bling The Landmark. To great acclaim as you know, gaining a star in year one (eventually promoted and subsequently demoted) and even more amazingly, it is but one of many success stories for the restaurant’s owner, JIA Group. The story here is really about JIA’s founder Yenn Wong, in possession of the midas touch with boutique hotels and well researched restaurant concepts. Perhaps coincidence, but likely not, she and fellow Singaporean Loh Lik Peng (backer of Londrino a stone’s throw away, and Town Hall Hotel amongst others) both share a London business partner in Jason Atherton, through his sprawling Social empire which today is spread across 3 continents.
It’s not the first time a high-end HK based restaurant has attempted to crack the London conundrum (in which some of our esteemed tastemakers continue to think the London originated Hakkasan/Yauatcha franchise to be a reliable global benchmark for Cantonese cuisine rather than what it is), though quite unlike the zeitgeist, I rued the loss of Bo London, and believed it was a little ahead of its time. I suppose its not pratical to articulate ‘this is what its suppose to taste like’ with mere words, if it wasn’t part of your childhood, and like all cuisine that travels, it has a tendency to adapt to the local taste. A spot of crispy aromatic duck anyone?
Having said that, good Cantonese food is far from unfamiliar territory in Britain, although I do think that London’s Cantonese food has been in a bit of a decline lately. I’m old enough to remember when Wardour Street cooked decent plates of wok-hei filled hofun, or how the old 1997 still did silky white-cut chicken rice, and do you remember the days when you could choose between TPT and HK Diner for nostalgic Dai Pai Dong feels? While globalisation has consigned some things to history, the shifting sands of soft power is partly the reason we’re now getting direct imports from a crew at the very forefront of Cantonese food today.
I say direct, but rather than transfer one of the chefs working in DHK to this site, the owners have poached Daren Liew instead – the ex-Exec Sous at Hakkasan. Prior to his Hakkasan stint, the Malaysian-Chinese Chef had spent his formative years in Malaysia and Singapore, notably for the Mandarin Oriental in both Spore and KL. I don’t know about the extent to which DHK influences DL’s menu here in St Thomas, since I’ve never been to DHK. Even so, the style over there may itself have changed with the recent appointment of Fung Man Ip as Chef. Stepping in after Siu Hin Chi left to Ying Jee Club.
Back in London, the interior design is rather breathtaking, formerly St Thomas Church, and pretty much still looks like one. Going through their website, there is clearly a lot of effort in snazzing up the dining experience as a whole. There is an art program at DHK, which I imagine will doubt announce itself at DL soon enough. In some ways, the approach to ambiance is a reminder of 山海樓 Mountain Sea House in Taipei. They do both dim sum and dinner menus here, with an apparent use of luxe produce to signify the category it is pitching in. Although it is not quite the same level to match Asia. No sign of bird’s nests, fish maw, ginseng, conscious that a market for those things don’t really exist here.
We went for lunch in Dec 2017, and ordered staples from both the dim sum and ALC menu. I am old-fashioned when it comes to Chinese food, road-testing fundamentals so to speak.
So we start with Dim Sum.
Chicken taro croquette, £7
Pretty tasty filling, but they’ve fried this either too high or too long or both, as the crust is like breaking into cement, and far from light and crispy.
Beef and foie gras on toast, £9
I didn’t expect to see deep fried mince on sesame toast, but yet again here too high or too long. Dense texture, incredibly greasy, I dare say, I rather have a corndog than this.
Har gau, £7
Very good whole prawn, but sadly the skin was jelly-thick and sticky.
Shui mai, £7
You taste mushroom, but it lacks the ethereal balance of pork fat and prawns, tennis ball texture, drying and perhaps even oversteamed.
So dim sum…yeah, hmm. At this stage, my opinion is that the quality is average and that’s going by London standards. It just lack finesse for this price point. In the same way that pastry sections are the domain of pastry chefs, dim sum really calls for a specialist to look after this side of things. Whoever Daren has got on dim sum ain’t cutting the mud just yet. It is early days of course, and not all restaurants can get dim sum and dinner menu to the same consistent level.
Which brings us to the ALC. This on the other hand is much more promising. We ordered the following dishes.
L to R
Honey glazed charsiu using Berkshire pork, £26
…. impressive. Very tender, very moist and a caramelised crust that is well balanced between sweet and salty. I especially like these glazed beans, there is a hint of pei-pai gao to the sweet glaze. This reminded me of siu lap in HK, still some ways off my benchmark, which is Ming Court HK, by London standards, this is solid.
Chilean Abalone rice with shimeji and asparagus, £38
Saucing making is spot-on here, generously poured around the rice, with extra in the jug on the side. Really superb in fact. Slowly braised and reduced stock fully infused with abalone flavour, absolutely wonderful umami to soak in the fluffy rice, which is undoubtedly also boiled in the same stock. I loved it.
I am however miffed about using asparagus in December (Peruvian? Reverse season English?). For a restaurant pitching at this price point, serving out of season ingredients is definitely a faux pas.
As for the abalone, why bother with importing these smallish Chilean shells? How much do they they even weigh? 16 heads? There are a small but growing number of Chefs in London, who do abalone well, and more importantly live Breton and Irish shells. But if you’re importing, may as well go all out and see about ezo-awabi (yes I hear you december not the season) and green lips. Still, it’s a very good dish, and it is good to see the competition for abalone in London is healthy.
Cantonese Soya chicken, £26
A fancy version of one of my favourite siulap, using the mighty blue legged Poulet de Bresse. A careful poach, silkened chicken breast and thigh, moist, and fully infused with the flavours of the poaching liquid. Similar to Hakkasan jasmine smoked chicken. Slightly disappointed it’s all taken off the bone by default. Half a chicken served in parchment, but the portion looks small because they use small birds (ours was from a 1.4kg), so be forewarned. Overall good chicken, good technique, though for sheer QPR, Goldmine and Reindeer cafe are still tops in my book for soya chicken.
We paid £134.44 for food, 2 drinks and service.
If there one thing that bothers me, is for this price point and given their ambition, they really ought to source better ingredients. It’s cheaper to do so, and you get better quality anyway if you sync up with the seasons. Especially seafood. Slipper lobsters in Europe? Do they even come unfrozen, let alone live.
Quality fish (游水 as they say) is at the heart of Cantonese cuisine, being that we are these British Isles, I’m surprised these guys are not taking advantage of the waters. Why not the use of kicking Cornish blues caught overnight, instead of Canadian lobsters stewing in tanks for weeks? Sure, we don’t have garoupa, but wild turbot from the South West is every bit as stunning as Brittany, in my opinion, same waters on different ends of the Channel after all. Where are the Scotch scallops? And there’s lovely crab in Britain, from Devon to Cromer, perhaps some of the best in the world. The interesting bit is not that cock crabs with their massive claws are more popular, rather it is that the females are underused. Some chefs like Ben M at Perilla know this, and it is something that would fit well in Cantonese cuisine. You know what I’m thinking right? Steamed female brown crab, sweet white meat, sweet roe. Velvet crabs, mylor prawns, the possibilities. All in good time I hope.
Overall a good first visit, though I am cautious about the value for money on offer, I would not hesitate to return. Daren likely needs time to get the team up to speed, but at its core, there is good cooking going, and it is important to say that flavours are what they should be. I’m glad they are in London and look forward to return visits to see how they up the ante over time.
£50pp to £70pp (ave)
9A St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY
Tube: London Bridge
Tel: +44 20 3957 9932
In this grand new year of 2018, there is one restaurant that particularly excites me, one which I think has the potential to make a mark in the annals of Gastronomy.
Breaking new ground may not be at the fore of Leandro Carreira’s mind, as the man is a vision of modesty, humility and generosity. A Chef at heart who is visibly happy being able to simply cook and serve his guests, yet groundbreaking is what I believe his cuisine is.
Leo is no stranger to the cutting edge of gastronomy, as he had spent 3 years in the Basque with Mugaritz (ask him about his time living with the Bar Nestor crew) and then latterly as Nuno Mendes’ right hand at Viajante. From there, Leo joined up with Junya Yamasaki and James Lowe for collaborative menus at Koya and Lyle’s respectively. Through 2016, he pitched up at Climpson’s Arch for a long residency to showcase his cuisine, and that is where I first happened upon Leo’s food, of fermenting, salting, smoking and simply on the grill. A combination of flavours that veer away from classical cooking, which I find both subtle and thrilling in equal measure. Of course, this also stems from my own unfamiliarity with Portuguese flavours, though his food doesn’t adhere simply to heritage, rather it is one that’s built from his own food memories, that of his Leiria coastal upbringing, through his time in becoming a Londoner in his adopted city.
Needless to say, his Climpsons residency ended successfully as he’s now received the backing of Hotelier/Restauranteur Loh Lik Peng (22 ships, Socials, Townhall Hotel) to launch Londrino. Cameron Dewar, who was with Leo during Climpsons also joins him here as FOH/Somm.
And this space truly is a blessing, it sits 70 and has an attached wine bar that is open through the day. The ambiance has an air of maturity and modernity, yet is casual enough for you to feel at ease. There are accents of industrial design such as an upcycled turbine as chandelier and the exposed concrete, but these are softened by the mid-century touches, the polished wooden tables, through to the hexagonal douglas fir parquet that overflow to the walls, around the open-plan kitchen.
The ALC menu is loosely framed around canapes + four courses, with 2 to 3 selections in each, suiting solo diners, but it is also clearly flexible enough for those of you wanting to order the entire menu to share. It rotates seasonally, depending on what produce he can get in on the day, with off-cuts going as off-menu specials.
I did both ways, firstly solo and then as a table of 3, across two visits in December.
Bowl of grilled Mylor prawns with preserved lemon oil, £9
I love these little prawns, they are fantastic seasonal English catch and about the only shrimp that arrive in London restaurants alive and popping. Simply grilled until they turn bright orange and lathered with preserved lemon oil. All you need to savour the succulent, incredibly sweet flesh and above all deliciously crispy shells. I ate them whole, a great snack to start on.
Razor clams, garlic, mushrooms (from the Chef)
I nearly jumped out of my seat when Leo brought this to the table, as it was one of my favourites from his Climpsons residency.
The sweetness of fresh raw razor clams palpable, yet freshly shucked, they also exhibit a touch of crunchiness in texture, in contrast to the hearty cooked mushrooms, diced and loose, providing a kind of groovy deep bass for the sweet razor clams. The dish looks utterly simple and minimal, yet the flavours, textures are wonderfully calibrated. The first of many a-ha moments.
Aside from say Lyle’s and Taberna, it is still a rare occurrence to see fish head in London restaurants, due in no part to an enduring culture in this country that attaches a premium to bone-free fillets. There are all degrees of meatiness and gelatinous(-ness) to be found, the cheek, top of head, tongue, throat, behind the eye sockets. All the best bits as they say, and perhaps that best part is this off-cut is sold cheap in restaurants, since fishmongers tend to assign minimal value to it.
Leo’s intervention is minimal, a gentle kiss of the grill, to a caramalised skin keeping the flesh juicy and moist, with oils to keep it so and capers for a bright spark of acidity to lift the gelatinous flavours.
Bisaro secreto, dry buttermilk, salsify, £16
Fantastic marbling and texture from the prized secret shoulder cut of the native Portuguese breed. The rub on the pork has an interesting charcoal yeastiness, faintly redolent of rou-gan, and no doubt it acts both as flavour booster and natural tenderiser. A little funk, acid and saltiness to go with the the sweet salsify.
Background: Isle of Barra cockles bulhao pato, £10
Foreground: Crab steamed in-shell, with pickles (from the Chef)
The cockles were simple and soul nourishing. The natural and light broth of white wine & it’s own juices best eaten with the bread soaked in it.
But it was the crab that had us coo-ing with delight, and yet another example of highlighting the flavours of a ‘off-cut’, this time that of one of Britain’s greatest seafood: the mighty cock crab.
The carapace is steamed whole, without loss of juices, and then the brown meat is made into a smooth and creamy puree and served as kind of cold dip for warm bread. There is not much to look at, but it is in effect a luxurious take on brown crab on toast.
Potato noodles, coriander oil and salted cod, £7
Yet another one of my favourites from Climpsons days. A simple yet uttering refreshing dish of crunchy textures, refreshing acidity and all framed around the saltiness of the cod. Minimalist yes, but this is a dish I find to be thoroughly genius.
Raw squid noodles in potato broth, £8
Following the potato, is a reverse dish of sea and land. Of course, I must credit Pierre Koffmann as the originator of this manner of serving squid (his version a thorough nose to tail with tentacles and ink as ragu), it is truly elevation of a humble, yet fantastic fish.
And here, ribbons of soft and silkened squid are gently cooked in the warm potato broth, gentle being the operative word, as mere seconds can result in tennis ball texture, but not here. Here, it is a luscious al dente, the slightly smoky broth enhancing the squid’s natural flavours.
Octopus, red pepper, daikon, whey emulsion, £15.5
A star dish, showcasing minimalism with maximum deliciousness. The cooking on the tentacle is spot on, superiorly tender, it slides off the knife, and its juices burst on to the palate. Is it steamed or poached? Perhaps the latter, in its own juices. Raw daikon adds crunch and freshness, whilst the red pepper miso works like a romanesco to pair with the octopus. Wonderful cooking.
Grilled cabbage, black garlic and cabbage juice £7
Grilling vegetables as if they were cuts of meat is not new, but if you’ve not experienced it yet, then this is something that will change you mind about the potential of vegetables. Rather like cauliflower, cabbage – especially hispi – cooked on coals develops this moistened meatiness, and done correctly as it is the case here, the leaves flake like that of noble fish, and lead to one of the most rewarding eating experiences you’ll likely have. For me, I think grilled cabbage is more of a revelation than say Clare Smyth‘s potato poached in seaweed.
Raw smoked beef, apple sauce and jerusalem artichokes, £12
Steak tartare with artichokes is a well established and rather magical combination, of which the likes of say Phil Howard and Brett Graham also subscribe to. Leo has given his beef an extra dimension with the smokiness, and balanced the flavours with this tart apple sauce.
Neck of Bisaro, dry buttermilk and salsify, £16
As with my 1st visit, with a cut that stands out in its texture, and somewhat cleaner flavour.
Background: Snipe and fermented pinenut, mushroom crisps (from the Chef)
Foreground: Teal (with heart) and cranberry sauce, cress salad, £25
The best Game of the year right here for me. Looks deceptive, that of simply roasted game birds, but the flavours from both were full yet clean, with a moist and tender texture. I really enjoyed the fermented pinenut, much like a miso, had sweet, salty funk perfectly tuned to the precious snipe.
Of all the wild duck, I think of teal as being the most unique, a small and very lean bird that has a purity rather than gaminess to its flavour.
Later we asked Leo why the snipe tasted so clean, and he revealed that the bird had been aging in-house for a month, periodically turned and brushed with brown butter.
Ice creams, clockwise: sheep’s milk with lovage ; caramel & vanilla; caraway & carrot, £3.50 each
House-made, and all were fabulous. During my first visit, I had a whey and smoked honey one, which is my favourite of the lot.
And finally, Leo’s take on rabanadas/pain perdu, itself a popular dish from Climpsons days.
I paid £68.63 during the 1st visit, solo diner. 2nd visit, we paid £222.19 for 3 people.
It is less than a month old, but already I feel that Londrino is a special restaurant. A shining beacon walking the line between customer satisfaction and practicing gastronomy. The two can be sometimes mutually exclusive, but with Leo’s cuisine, I think they go hand in hand.
Perhaps it is down to the natural way he handles proteins, non-classical so to speak, preferring to keep the juices intact, rather than recombine after the fact in the pan, resulting in minimalist dishes that deliver maximum flavour. There is also his resourcefulness to product handling but without allegiance to prime cuts in the quest for deliciousness, aided of course by training, heritage and the all-important gift of a palate. The bottom line is that Leo is someone who knows good food. But I think the true secret to the comforting quality in his food is it reflects his personality, generous and convivial, cooking the food he loves to eat.
£40 to £50pp + drinks + service
36 Snowsfields, London SE1 3SU
Tel: 020 3911 4949
Tube: London Bridge