Monday, 21 March 2016

My 5 minutes with Michel Roux Jr at The Balvenie Craftsmen Dinner

I have great respect for Roux brothers Albert and Michel Snr as they've certainly given Britain a great legacy of amazing chefs under their training. Albert's son Michel Roux Jr is someone I admire not only for his culinary achievements but also for his contribution to society. 

So when I received an invitation to spend time with him at the launch of The Balvenie's "Craftsmen's Dinner" film series, I immediately signed my holiday forms and took the arvo off. 

I mean, whisky and MRJ?! It's a foodie dream come true and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

The Craftsmen's Dinner is a film series produced by The Balvenie featuring six gifted artisans with the aim of showcasing their talents and exploring the true meaning of craftsmanship. It's very true to The Balvenie's brand of mastering crafts, as it's also the only single malt still handcrafted the traditional way.

In the series, Michel meets and trades skills & secrets with the craftsmen and eventually cooks a dinner for these talented people, using elements of their crafts for a seriously enviable experience.

What an absolute honour it was to be there, in celebration of skills - and people - that often do not get the recognition they deserve.

First up was Simon Roberts, a sparkling wine producer from Ridgeview Wines (who reminded me of an uncle in the 80s). 

We were served three glasses of wines in their relatively raw forms (a chardonnay, a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Meunier) all waiting for maturity. After tasting, we were instructed to mix all three to produce our own concoction and the blended drink actually tasted decent.

It felt like we made something out of nothing, and for a minute there we were all craftsmen too.

Next up was Will Ferraby who is one of the last of his kind. Ferraby Knives are extremely special, lovingly made with care and legacy.

The sharp test: Find a tomato, drop tomato, watch it get chopped. A case of now you see it, now you don't, it was quite fascinating how the tomato literally bounced on a normal kitchen knife and how it perfectly went through the Ferraby knife. Very cool.

See? Fascination.

We were then served the first of the canapés: smoked salmon with sorrel. The fish itself was beautifully fresh and the sorrel gives it a balanced acidity.

We then met Ole Hansen of Hansen & Lydersen, the smoked salmon producers. Ole had a rather nostalgic story but he's a funny music-loving chap who often sings to his salmon. If this is what makes the fish taste delicious, then I pray all fishmongers take vocal lessons.

Ole's salmon was paired with the Balvenie Carribean Cask, a 14-year old whisky matured in American oak and finished in a rum cask. It was quite an easy and pleasurable whisky to drink, with notes of vanilla and honey (Michel likes this a lot, too).

Next up was Naine Woodrow, Master Potter at North Street Potters in Clapham. She talked about her training in Japan and her process in making her beautiful pottery (which seemed like a very, very, very hot feat!)

Naine's ceramics were not just beautiful but functional, too. Michel actually uses them in his restaurants. 

Sascha Grierson of Grierson farms presented us with a beautiful shin of cow. I can't tell you enough how passionate Sascha was talking about their farm and how important it was for them to produce everything organic. It almost felt like listening to a homage to the beautiful animal which gives us such beautiful dishes.

We got to sample the organic Grierson farm fare - in three ways! First in tartare form which was melt-in-your-mouth delicious (and I may as well have eaten someone else's portion... oops!) Supergrass-fed beef is definitely yummy in its raw state!

We were also served a consommé made with the beef broth and whisky. The beef was so tender and you can say it was of premium quality.

But the most beautiful of the savoury canapés was saved for last: cubes of beef served with an utterly creamy mash. This is my type of food, and this is my type of beef.

Last but not the least, Michel introduced us to The Balvenie's Head Cooper. Ian McDonald has been making casks and barrels for a while now and he told us of tales how people used to steal stuff from distilleries. Essentially, they "dip a dog" (copper pipe that holds liquid) inside a barrel attached to their belts then easily slipping it out unnoticed.

I even got to dip the dog myself! (Thank you Angie for this photo!)

Last of the whiskies was The Balvenie 25-year old single barrel. Now this, I absolutely loved. Released in batches and drawn from a single American oak cask, a bottle is no more than 300 which is why retail price is around the £350-400 mark. There's a slight hint of sweetness to it, but it's much bolder and smokier in flavour.

And of course, a sweet ending of chocolate fondant with a gorgeous whisky-infused custard was necessary. 

(Photo by Tin Man Comms)
But the sweetest ending was actually spending time with the culinary craftsman himself. I got to chat a bit more with Michel about The Craftsmen's Dinner and how awesome it was to celebrate people who have dedicated time and effort to master their crafts - just like him, and his family of chefs (his daughter Emily is in the industry now, too). 

I also got to commend him for his culinary work and socially relevant projects particularly Kitchen Impossible. I got to talk to him about my sister (who has Down Syndrome). He fondly talked about Annalie, one of the stars of the show and how she's still working at a sushi chain in Hammersmith. He says we still have a long way to go in terms of helping people with disabilities join the workforce, but every little helps and there ain't nothing wrong with baby steps. 

When I asked him what he thought of food bloggers and the idea of "1000 food snaps before a spoonful" he said he was absolutely okay - as long as people do not use flash - because we are, after all, the same punters they aim to please. 

And then the cutest moment happened. He said "Oh, I take photos of food, too!" then pulls out his phone to show me a snap of some prawns he ate earlier in the day. TEEHEE!!! I saw his apps! Hahaha.

Lastly, I couldn't resist asking him to recommend three of his favourite places to grab a bite in London - other than Le Gavroche. His answer? The Dairy, Trinity, and Gymkhana. 

(Photo by Tin Man Comms)
What an incredible experience meeting these craftsmen in the flesh. They were all equally as good as their skills and products and their stories are just fantastic.

The films are released at
- 15th March 2016 (Ferraby Knives)
- 29th March (Grierson Organic)
- 12th April (North Street Potters)
- 26th April (Ridgeview Wines)
- 10th May (Hansen & Lyderson)
- 24th May (Craftsmen Dinner)

The shorts go live on a fortnightly basis, so mark your diaries and discover the beauty of craftsmanship. It's emotional and absolutely fascinating.

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Friday, 18 March 2016

#NyonyaSupperClub with The Boy Who Ate The World

I love Anthony Bourdain, and if I were to set sail on things the man's touched then I'd float away a happy, fat, well-fed woman. So when A invited me to try Guan Chua's Nyonya Supper Club, I grabbed the opportunity and bagged a seat at his dining table. 

Long story short, Guan (aka The Boy Who Ate The World) is one of those former banker dudes who gave up the day job in pursuit of an unequivocal passion for food. He trained at Cordon Bleu and then appeared on Channel 4's The Taste under the tutelage of Mr Kitchen Confidential himself. 

Team Bourdain all the way.

Growing up in South East Asia, my taste palate is used to (and often tends to crave for) bold flavours. My childhood consisted of dishes based on sauces and gravy built from flavour profiles of soy, fermented shrimp paste, rice wine vinegar, exotic aromatics and a whole lot of chilli. Because of this, I was really excited to have Nyonya food as in some ways, this type of cuisine takes me back home. 

But I was a bit nervous too, as it was my first ever Supper Club. 

A prayer before I pressed the buzzer: May I not embarrass myself and ramble about random weird things that pop out of my mouth when I'm a) shy; b) nervous; c) hangry; and d) all of the above.

Guan and his partner Jo let me into their home with such warmth so I immediately relaxed. Also, there were familiar faces at the dining table, and even the not-so-familiar ones were rather friendly-looking. 

Yee sang was on the menu which was nice. It was just a few weeks after Chinese New Year and I missed out on the celebrations. This is essentially a traditional Chinese prosperity salad made with raw fish and veg. 


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Comical lessons from making chicken pie & french peas a la Jamie Oliver

Happy Sunday, folks... and happy British Pie Week! 

What's your favourite pie? I do like a classic creamy chicken and mushroom beauty, and I'm always down for pumpkin pie. This awesome weeklong celebration has definitely inspired to kick off the experimental kitchenomics. Finally, those recently purchased cookbooks have been opened... and put to use!

LESSON 1: Jamie Oliver's 30-minute meals actually takes 30 minutes... after 30 minutes of mise en place, that is (45 if you're as skilled as I am at chopping). If you can flip through his global bestseller and create any of his full meals (ie mains + sides + dessert) in half an hour from start to finish then you're either a) very organised and have OCD; b) a mutant with three extra arms; or c) actually Jamie Oliver. 

LESSON 2: This is what you need for a quick meal of chicken pie and French peas.

4 x 180 chicken breasts. 3 if they're bigger, because some chicks are blessed with bountiful bosoms.

Ready-rolled puff pastry, a heaped tablespoon of creme fraiche, a knob of butter, two teaspoons of mustard, egg white (to glaze the pastry), thyme (but I didn't have any so rosemary it is!) and a heaped tablespoon of flour.

For the French peas: 500g frozen peas, a whole baby gem lettuce chopped, a few sprigs of mint, a few stalks of spring onion, a tablespoon of flour, some lemon juice. (The mushrooms in the photo were for the pie but I couldn't be bothered to un-style them off the wooden board.)

You'll also need about 600mls of chicken stock: half for the pie, half for the peas.


Friday, 11 March 2016

The Portman (Marylebone): where comforting classics got us curious

When I walked into The Portman, I genuinely thought it was just a typical pub because it looked like a typical pub. 

Quite frankly, it is a typical gastropub.

But then we were directed to go upstairs.

And I was pretty surprised. Whilst the downstairs area is more watering hole and gastro, the dining room upstairs is a bit more of a proper resto, with those French bistro booths and soft lights that make everything and everyone look pretty.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Salvation in Noodles (Finsbury Park): where SIN becomes your saviour

Last Thursday was a story in the making. It was a cold, cold, night after a long, long day. My brain was relatively fried and all I wanted to do was climb on my bed and get sushi-rolled into my duvet. 

However, I ended up climbing on the northbound Victoria line and sushi-rolling out of Finsbury Park underground station instead. As luck may have had it, sanctuary was to be found just a stone's throw away. 

SIN is the brainchild of young restaurateur Colin Tu. Remember Big Dirty Burger? That was Colin's baby. And now he's branched out to his roots (har har) of Vietnamese cuisine served to the likings of Londontown.

I was greeted by this board hinting a special cocktail for the night/weekend, which reminded me of how awesome London bartenders are. Yes, the espresso martini was born and raised in London by a chap called Dick Bradsell (RIP). A model walked up to him and asked him for something that would "wake me up and f*ck me over". Hence the espresso martini.

Teehee. I digress.

The Finsbury Park branch is the second of SINs with the original SIN housed in Dalston (that was rather enjoyable to type). It's tiny, a 30-seater at most but it's quick to feed and has a decent vibe.

Sit by the bar and enjoy some of their delicious cocktails, each cheap at £8. The Hanoi sling is sharp, tangy and refreshing (Wyborowa vodka, apricot brandy, triple sec, Kamm & sons, ginger beer, raspberry syrup and lime juice) whilst the espresso martini is one of the best I've had, made with Vietnamese coffee which makes up for its chocolatey taste. Yum.


On Colin's recommendation, my guest and I opted to share the phu quoc wings and the goi ngo sen. At £6 each, these starters are of generous portions. Happy days.

The last time I've had these wings was in Feast 2014 (gasp!) and they've changed quite a fair bit. Though the sauce tastes exactly of the sweet stuff, the batter is definitely crunchier and the chicken itself is not oily at all.

Despite my preference for hot, spicy wings, I ate this with much gusto and wouldn't be surprised if it's listed as some of the best wings in town.

The goi ngo sen is essentially a salad made with pickled lotus stems, shredded carrot and daikon with prawns and pork belly, garnished with nuts and fried shallots. Holy hallelujah, I could eat this in bowlfuls. Refreshing and substantial yet light on the belly.

Not so light on the belly - but very light on the pocket at £9.50 - is the bun nem nuong. Colin says it's a crowd favourite and I see why. It's a generous bowl of bun noodles, shredded veg and a well balanced nuoc mam, plus three massive grilled pork patties.

I liked this enough as I felt I was seriously eating a healthy bowl of goodness. That said, I feel like it was one patty too much. But that's just me.

B ordered the classic Vietnamese dish of bun bo hue (£9.80). I had some of it and it was very comforting. The broth was full on beefy with a hint of lemongrass and the aromatics of herbs lifted the dish nicely. B says the noodles are traditionally different, but that's one thing you have to understand about SiN - they serve old school concepts with a modern-day twist.

Can this be the poster child of comfort, please?

I've had a very enjoyable meal at SiN and I don't even think I've had the best things on the menu yet - and if that's the case then I'm excited to have more. I've already got my eyes on the bun rieu, goi ga, and the Vietnamese dumplings for the next visit.

I rolled out of the restaurant feeling I've been hugged ten million times and I rolled back home with a big, happy belly and a feeling of satisfaction. I have SIN-ed but I felt saved.

Salvation in Noodles
2 Blackstock Road N4
Ave spend pp: £20
Square Meal

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BLOG GIVEAWAY ALERT: A Kenwood Chef Sense c/o Pasta Remoli

Hi guys! Just to let you know, Pasta Remoli, the food chain that highly promotes the use of nothing but the freshest of pasta, is running a super exciting competition in conjunction with Kenwood and Forever PR. If you're a foodie who loves to cook, or if you know someone who is geared to make a difference in the kitchen, then this competition is perfect.

They're giving away a Kenwood Chef Sense Machine (worth £499) and vouchers to dine at their restaurant!

I mean, look at this beaut:
Gorgeous, non? It comes with five dedicated bowls and tools, including creamer beater, dough hook, K-beater, whisk and folding tool. The folding tool together with the folding function are designed to overcome recipes known for their technically  difficultly, such as  macarons and soufflés, by gently incorporating heavy ingredients into light ingredients, whilst maintaining the maximum amount of air and volume for the ideal texture and consistency.

You can join in three simple steps:

1. Sign up to their mailing list here.  

2. Enter on Twitter
  • Follow me (@girlnextshore) and @PastaRemoli on Twitter
  • Post the event flyer image on Twitter
  • Tag @PastaRemoli in the tweet
  • Use the hashtag #LoveFreshPasta to your tweet
3. Enter on Instagram
  • Follow me (@thegirlnextshore) and @PastaRemoli on Instagram
  • Post the event flyer on Instagram
  • Tag @pastaremoli in the photo
  • Use the hashtag #LoveFreshPasta to your Instagram post caption
Here's the flyer:

The competition ends Friday 18th March and the winner will be announced on social media. This is all part of Pasta Remoli's #LoveFreshPasta campaign, which is aimed at healthier eating.

Join now and revolutionise the way you eat pasta. Because everyone needs carbs. The fresh kind, of course.

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