Sunday, July 19, 2015

LONDON: Columbia Road Flower Market & Mast Brothers

The thing about most of London's markets is that you can come away without buying a thing and still feel a sense of satisfaction at a day well spent. Columbia Road Flower Market is one of those markets. The flower market opens at 8am, and if you're an early riser, it's highly recommended to visit at about 10:30am if you want "the pick of the crop" and to avoid the crowds. Unfortunately, neither I nor Charlie is a morning person so we hit the market at 12ish after grabbing some hot salt beef bagels on the way. 

Beigel Bake: Hot Salt Beef Bagels at £3.70 each  

The market itself was more crowded than Covent Garden on a Saturday. We dove head first into the moving mass, slowly inching forward as we weaved our way from stall to stall for a glimpse of the bucketfuls of vibrant hydrangeas, roses, orchids and peonies. While I've never been particularly partial to flowers (whether owning them or receiving them; they wilt so fast it's hardly money well spent), they are undeniably pretty and extremely photogenic. I didn't bring my Canon 550D this time, having traded it for the much lighter Canon S95, but it turns out that the latter can be very beneficial for taking quick shots in crowded, slightly claustrophobic situations. Fortunately, having been subjected to Oxford Street's hectic December and July crowds, the turtle pace of the flower market crowd seemed almost gentle in comparison. 

Be prepared to face crowds

I cannot express how much I enjoy watching buskers in London. They perform with such sheer pleasure, it's arresting to watch. When we finally passed the last of the flower stalls along the row, there was already an audience forming around this lively five person band. 

After the market, we headed back towards Beigel Bake / Redchurch Street, when there were plenty of boutiques still holding extremely tempting summer sales. Along the street, we encountered Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers, a chocolate factory with a shop-cum-cafe front offering hipster-imbued, chocolate-inspired items from hot chocolate to cold-brewed chocolate beer. The interior is all clean lines, minimalist furnishes and finished concrete floors, a space dominated by attractively wrapped slabs of chocolate stacked in neat rows.  Were I a younger and more naive version of myself, I would've loved it. Unfortunately, a quick google search revealed that chocolate experts apparently hate the Mast Brothers for their low quality chocolate which, according to one of the articles, is all bark and no bite. Eschewing the chocolate itself, we went for a chocolate beer instead (and as a secret Harry Potter fanatic, this excited me because it reminded me of Rowling's butter beer). It turned out the name was surprisingly accurate - "Chocolate Beer" went down as smoothly as beer, and struck a fine balance between the bitterness of beer and the nutty sweetness of dark chocolate. 

Pretty packaging for the instagram obsessed and Mast Brother's hipster interiors 
Mast Brothers Chocolate Beer: Cold Brewed Chocolate (non-alcoholic) - £4
If you're looking for fresh flowers at a bargain or you have someone special in your life to spoil, I would highly recommend a trip Columbia Road Flower Market. 

Follow me on instagram: @marytmy

Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road, London 
Nearest tube: Old Street Station (Northern Line)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THE BRAY: The Fat Duck

Listening to the "sound of the sea" on iPod shuffles hidden in conch shells as we eat what literally looks
(and tastes) like the sea

This meal has probably been covered hundreds of times in hundreds of blogposts but I'd like to think that every meal at The Fat Duck is a little different. First of all, the dessert menu appears to change every once in awhile. Secondly, I had the good fortune of dining with someone who doesn't eat beef gelatine which meant that we had an even wider range of food to experience (at least visually) than other diners. The Fat Duck is closing this month and reopening in February next year in Melbourne so I was extremely fortunate that my housemate's boyfriend managed to secure a reservation. 

Horseradish cream sandwiched snugly between two crunchy "buns" of aerated beetroot 
Nitro poached aperitifs: Gin and Tonic, Tequila and Grapefruit, Vodka and Lime Sour Mousse
My personal favourite was the nitro poached mousse aperitif. Imagine popping a substantial but bite-sized chunk of gin and tonic into your mouth and having it vanish into a refreshing, pleasantly surprising gin and tonic-flavoured puff of smoke. Icy cool, the mousse was a jolt to the senses and therefore also the perfect start to our 4-hour long meal. If only I could get my hands on a whole bucket full. 

Woody, aromatic "starter" to the chicken liver parfait 
Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream: Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast

Releasing the warm, musty aromas of the wood and my favourite, petrichor - the smell of earth after it rains

Snail Porridge: Iberico Bellota Ham, Shaved Fennel

Roast Foie Gras: Burberry, Confit Kombu and Crab Biscuit

Mad Hatter's Tea Party: Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich

"Sound of the Sea" 
Listening to the sounds of the sea from a conch shell (as we ate what looked like freshly-picked edible paraphernalia from a seabed) felt a little contrived. Also, this was probably the intended effect but at some point I felt like I was really eating gritty sand and fresh seaweed. The salty sea-twang took some getting used to. 

Mock Turtle Soup

Salmon Poached in a Liquorice Gel: Artichoke, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe

Umble Pie: Warm venison so tender it feels like it melts on your tongue.
Almost two hours from the start of the meal, the venison finally made its appearance. It felt like all the previous dishes were building up to this one dish. I've always been impartial to venison with its chewy texture and overwhelming flavours but this particular dish was a revelation. Cooked to exquisite perfection, the venison had a texture was so soft and buttery I could have been eating a pate. 

Umble Pie side: spelt truffle risotto 
Hot and Iced Tea: Hot on the left and cold on the right! 
The making of the scrambled egg ice cream.

"This egg comes from very special chickens. We feed these chickens bacon sandwiches, but only when they are good. And today, they were very good," our waitress / scrambled egg ice cream chef told us surreptitiously. She then retrieved what looked like an egg from an egg carton and cracked it into a pot. With an expression of utter seriousness, she poured liquid nitrogen into the pot and stirred its contents as mystical vapours bubbled over the surface and cascaded down in gentle waves. In less than a minute and with a flourish, she produced the scrambled egg ice cream. And of course, it didn't just look like scrambled eggs, it tasted like it too; the only difference being the subtle sweetness and creamy texture of ice-cream. 

Scrambled Eggs Nitrogen and Bacon Ice-Cream atop french toast
Earl Grey Tea and Orange Marmalade
At a world-renowned restaurant reputed for its breakthroughs in food science, the last thing I expected to impress me was the service. The waitstaff had actually noticed that the girl beside me and I were left-handed and had arranged our cutlery specially so that our forks were on the right. 

At Japanese restaurants it's evident which hand you feed yourself with when you use your chopsticks with your dominant hand to eat your sushi. Then it's not too difficult for the chef to place the sushi at an angle that makes it easy for left-handers to pick up. But this wasn't a Japanese restaurant. We weren't using chopsticks. In fact, both of us left-handers had been eating the "right-handed" way i.e. with our forks in our left hands. When I asked the waiter how on earth he knew that we were left-handed, he informed us that when we were eating our very first course (which was a gazpacho and only requires a spoon), they had taken note of which hand each of us had used and had written it down so that every consequent cutlery arrangement reflected our behaviour from our first course. 

Egg in Verjus 
Heston's egg in verjus is the very expensive, adult version of every child's kinder egg surprise dream. It looks like an egg and might even crack like an egg but it is not an egg. Once your spoon cracks its way through the convincingly eggy but truly chocolatey exterior, you'll find your spoon sinking into a velvety, creamy vanilla mousse. This mousse envelopes a molten citrus centre in a stunning shade of orange to replicate the egg yolk. 

Botrytis Cinerea: Gumball sized grapes filled with a startling and amazing array of textures, flavours and temperatures

One of the best dishes by far was the christmas-themed Botrytis Cinerea. Designed to go with wine, each "grape" is vastly different from the next, yet all of them are anchored by their propensity to complement the rich and deep flavours of wine. Soft, mild cheese is encased in a green-coloured ball of white chocolate and icy dessert wine bursts from an almost-transulent bubble. The entire dessert is a complex, multivalent and deeply satisfying experience; each grape imparts an experience that could justify a single dessert yet it is only together that the dish is truly complete. 

Whiskey Wine Gums

"Like a kid in a sweet shop"

I'm not sure I'd recommend The Fat Duck as a restaurant to go to eat, but it is a place to go for an experience that will delight and surprise you. 

The Fat Duck
High St
Berkshire SL6 3AG
+44 (0) 1628 580333

Friday, November 21, 2014

LONDON Borough Market: Shopping Haul + Street Photography

At the heart of a genuinely delicious meal is its raw ingredients. I've had a list of things I've been wanting to make for awhile including truffle mac and cheese and marinated mozzarella, the latter inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi. Knowing I wouldn't do either recipe any justice without the perfect set of ingredients, I took a 15 minute tube ride to London Bridge,  desperately hoping the overcast sky would hold back its rain until I'd done my shopping. 

My truffle mac and cheese craving was triggered when I saw Courtney Lapresi's version on Master Chef 2014. Sadly I couldn't find the recipe online but I did find the exact clip on youtube. Because I am, after all, a mere student prone to the occasional bout of laziness and not a gourmet chef, I'll be making attempting the dish without the lobster; and instead of three cheeses I'll only be using one cheese (see said cheese in the photo below). Edel de Cleron is a mild, light and creamy cheese which I hope will go well with the intense truffle aroma on my mac and cheese. The vendor at "The French Comte" was extremely helpful when I told him I wanted a mild cheese I could melt into a sauce.

At £7, the tiny bottle of white truffle oil from "Tartufaia Truffles"  seems like a lot to pay until you actually dip some bread into it and try it for yourself. With flavour so intense, you won't need a lot of it to suffuse your dish with the nutty, mushroomy aroma of truffle. 

I've always wondered why burrata costs so much in restaurants. After all, it doesn't appear to me (though I might be wrong) like much skill is required in prepping a marinade and garnishing a plate. Either way, I've had a recipe from Lottie + Doof for Marinated Mozzarella bookmarked for ages so I got myself some creamy, velvety burrata from "The Parma Ham and Mozzarella Stand" to try the recipe out with. By far my favourite type of cheese, burrata is light, delicately flavoured and simply amazing with cherry tomatoes. 

Since this is a post about Borough Market without any actual photos of Borough Market, I thought I'd post the ones I took as part of a photography course assignment a while back: 

Shopping List: 

White Truffle Oil.................£7
Burrata 250g......................£5
Cheese wedge....................£3
Mushroom Pate (Pate Moi)......£4
Custard Buns (Bread Ahead)...£2.50 each

Total: £24

Borough Market 

Tube: London Bridge

8 Southwark Street


020 7407 1002

Sunday, November 2, 2014

LONDON: Brunch at Lantana

Toasted banana bread with mascarpone, banana custard and salted chocolate crumb   
While my brunch partner and I squeezed into a little wooden table at Lantana between a group of indie hipsters (did I get that right?) and a sweet old couple, I wondered how I was going to snap my food shots with my huge camera without embarrassing us. Then again, it helps to be Asian in Europe. I could easily be classified as an over-enthusiastic tourist. 

I learnt two things from my trip to Lantana. 1. The devil is indeed in the details. 2. A few minutes out in the open can be lethal to a freshly toasted breakfast.  

My toasted banana bread (see first photo) came not only with a healthy dollop of velvety banana custard, but also salted chocolate crumbs. These artfully sprinkled sugary flecks gave each bite a lovely crunch that ever so subtly elevated the whole dish. What distinguishes Lantana from other brunch places isn't its service or interior - both of which have some room for improvement - it is the thoughtfulness that has gone into the planning of each dish. 

Nonetheless, with the slowly decreasing temperatures, I feel the food could have been served steaming hot rather than simply lukewarm. With the kitchen so far from the seating area this can be a difficult task but a plate warmer or heat lamp could go a long way. Eating french toast (see third photo) crisp and fresh from the toaster oven is infinitely more satisfying than eating it after a few minutes out in the open. While I enjoyed the banana bread at Lantana, I couldn't quite appreciate the maple french toast until I heated some of it up in the toaster oven at home and tried it again piping hot and devoid of the veritable sea of maple syrup it had previously been swimming in. 

My advice? Go to Lantana with an empty stomach and a craving for something rich and substantial. 

Corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with smashed avocado, a poached egg and crème fraiche   
Maple French toast w streaky bacon, grilled banana and toasted pecans    

Lantana Cafe

13 Charlotte Place
020 7637 3347