Saturday, 23 July 2011

At Home: Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Another brownie recipe. I just can't help myself.

These take 10 minutes to prepare, and are the real deal: unadulterated, and unbelievably chocolatey. Eat them still warm from the oven, with clotted cream or creme fraiche, or leave them to mature for a day or two in an airtight box, when they'll be chewier and just as delectable.

Buy the best chocolate and cocoa you can get your hands on, and you'll taste the difference.

Makes 12
  • 185g (6oz) dark chocolate (at least 70%)
  • 125g (4oz) salted butter
  • 1 heaped tsp instant espresso coffee powder
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 250g (8oz) golden caster sugar
  • 3 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 55g (1 3/4oz) self-raising flour

Preheat your oven to 180C (160C fan/Gas 4).

Line a 20 x 28cm baking tin or roasting dish with greased baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate with the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care not to let the bowl touch the water. Once melted, stir in the espresso powder and cocoa powder.

Mix the sugar with the eggs in a mixing bowl, beating with a whisk until smooth and aerated (5-10 minutes). Add the melted chocolate, mix well, then sift in the flour and stir gently until combined.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes. You don't want it too cakey and firm. Test it with your finger, and take the brownies out while the mixture in the middle of the tin is still not quite set. Cool before removing from tin and slicing into generous squares.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Hibiscus

Wish lists are for fools. To-do lists, on the other hand, urge participation.

For too long, the back of my little moleskin diary has been home to a scrawled 'wish' list of restaurants I seem destined never to visit. Now it reads 'to-do', I am finally getting on with it. Jon chose Claude Bosi's Michelin-starred Hibiscus from the list, the occasion being my birthday and our first 'date' since baby Charlie made his grand entrance. An excuse for fine dining, if ever there was one.
Two admissions: I took no photos. It was a hushed and intimate place, and there were as many staff as there were diners. It felt inappropriate, so the camera stayed in my bag. Secondly, transcribing the menu would take forever, so you have a photograph of it instead.

Seated at a cosy corner table, hugged by blonde wood panelling, we were presented by a leather-bound two-page menu and some crisp and light cheese goujeres. On Fridays and Saturdays Hibiscus serves a 'Claudi Bosi devised' tasting-menu only: choose 6 or 8 courses, according to your appetite (and credit card limit), from £85 per person. The carpeted room seats less than 50 diners at a time, and is noticeably and thankfully less corporate than nearby fine-dining institutions Locanda Locatelli, Corrigan's Mayfair, or Gordon Ramsay at Claridges.

I'll be honest, I'm a pie, mash, and one-pot girl, and butter and carbs find their way into most of my food. Bosi's food is altogether more ethereal: bright, clear, clean, and precise. It's a shock to the palate at first, as nothing sits heavy in the mouth. Most dishes hardly required mastication.

The dinner began with a shot of Chilled Hibiscus Flower and Apple Soda. It faintly resembled Appletize, and was intensely refreshing.

In an evening of too many 'ooohs' and 'aahs' to mention, only one dish lacked the magic touch, the Slow grilled Goosnargh Duck Breast. The meat was chewy, even the bespoke 'Hibiscus' engraved bone-handle knives had to break a sweat to get through the flesh, and the fat hadn't rendered and was not pleasant to eat. The two fish dishes (see menu above) were far better executed.

The highlight was the Foie Gras Ice Cream, Toasted Brioche Emulsion, New Season Gooseberries and Cardamom. Jon claimed the ingredient composition brought to mind Brian Wilson's Smile, in its sophisticated harmony (who am I to argue...). It was certainly a show-stopper, and the soft yeasty emulsion mingling with the rich and creamy ice cream, punctured by the sharp gooseberry, will not be quickly forgotten. On a par was the Ravioli of Spring Onion and Lime, Broad Bean and Mint Puree. The essence of spring, so deftly wrought. Exquisite.

The flavour combinations thrilled and amused, and a lightness of touch was present throughout, particularly through Bosi's use of herbs and flowers, though their delicate flavours could not always be detected (the bergamot seemed absent from the mackerel dish).

There are few wines under the £50 mark, though we had a wonderful Riesling for £36 (Orea, Saaris Riesling 2009, Mosel, Germany) that hit the mark and worked beautifully with the food. The charming sommelier, Romain Henry, deserves a mention. He put us at our ease, even laughed at all Jon's jokes.

Our bill, wait for it, was £316 (including service charge) for two. You may well consider this obscene, but we judged our night out had been worth the money. And when a decent hotel room in the environs (chi chi Mayfair) doesn't cost much less, I know I'd rather eat like a king and sleep in my own bed!

Hibiscus on Urbanspoon


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Whitstable Oyster Company, and Wheelers

A decade ago, Whitstable showed few signs of the gentrification that has consumed it since, bringing with it locust clouds of city dwellers, Bugaboos, and gastro-tourists. The Old Neptune and Tankerton Arms used to be good friends in my student days, when a predilection for pints on the seafront overwhelmed any desire for good food. A bag of chips would do nicely, thanks.

This time the pilgrimage was for sustenance, sea, and sun, not intoxication. I hardly recognised the place (sobriety could be to blame, admittedly). It was a last-minute trip, giving us no time to book the tremendous Sportsman in nearby Seasalter, Samphire, or JoJo's, so we wandered the seafront, seeking oysters. Spying some rather nice specimens in the entrance of Whitstable Oyster Company, we thought it a safe bet.

The moment the bread arrived our hearts sank (nasty gluey supermarket baguettes with tiny foil-wrapped butter parcels). Heart rates rose when we read the menu. The prices for simple fish dishes are astounding. Deep-fried squid - £10.50, Smoked eel - £10.50, Fish and chips - 16.50, Baked halibut £24.50. We ordered a plate of 6 local oysters (£7.50), half a lobster with potato salad (£16.50), and Fish and chips. We waited. And waited a little more. 45 minutes later these arrived, and our chagrin was not met with an apology:

Better than any oysters I've gulped in London (sorry, Bentley's). Fat, briny, and incredibly sweet and meaty. But credit goes to the seabed, not the restaurant. All they had to do was open them (and it took them close to an hour).

Fish (cod) and chips were frustratingly mediocre, given our proximity to the shore. The fish batter was dense, and the chips soggy. The fish was overcooked. We'd have done better to grab some from the nearby seafood shack for a fiver. The accompanying mushy peas and tartare sauce were so bland I've completely forgotten whether they were any good.

The lobster was succulent and meaty, the potato salad poor (undercooked and underseasoned). Again, little or no credit to the restaurant. Or shall I be generous? They are good at boiling a crustacean.

Our bill for these dishes, and half a pint of oyster stout: £56. We felt well and truly mugged. Whitstable Oyster Company was full of wealthy tourists, who seemed to have no qualms with the pricing. They're welcome to it, but please don't join them.

We dropped in at the famous Wheelers Oyster Bar on the high street a few hours later, to pick up some fish to take home. A fiver's worth of prawns survived the trip back to London in a cool bag, and I ravished them immediately and inelegantly at the kitchen sink, with Wheelers' homemade mayo. The finest, sweetest prawns I've ever eaten. Worth a dozen overpriced lobsters.

Next time, we plan to head straight to Wheelers to pick up a dozen oysters, some prawns, and a pot of mayonnaise, before heading to the beach with a few bottles of local ale, and a bag of chips. I'd be hard-pressed to dream up a better meal.