27 October 2015

Harry Potter & the Kitchen of Secrets

So we all know about my obsession with dinosaurs, which is most specifically linked to having seen Jurassic Park a gazillion times. But I might have failed to mention I am as obsessed if not slightly more crazy about Harry Potter (the books not Daniel Radcliffe) than I am about dinosaurs. It's not something I've purposely kept from you guys, it just never cropped up. That is until Sophie and I confided in each other. Ever since I missed out on going to Kate from The Little Library Cafe's Harry Potter themed Supper Club, I've been dreaming about throwing my own inspired dinner party, a Death Day Party if you will, after all it is Halloween. Finally I just threw it out there that Sophie and I should collaborate and do some Harry Potter baking together.

To say Sophie was keen would be an understatement. Gryffindor scarf adorned, Harry Potter food themed pinterest board at the ready and bag with enough baking ingredients for Hogwarts Halloween Feast in tow, Sophie arrived at my flat. In fact, I knew she'd arrived before she rang the doorbell as I saw her outside peering into my neighbours car. To clarify Sophie's not a car burglar, she was just jealous of the stuffed Ponyo hanging from their car mirror, although I wouldn't put it past her to steal Ponyo. After several cups of tea, the very short flat tour (which includes the cupboard/bathroom under the stairs), and a good hour spent nattering about everything and anything. We got down to baking or at least deciding what to bake.

21 October 2015

Let's Talk About Bao Baby, Soho, London

"Let's talk about Bao baby
Let's talk about Bao and me
Let's talk about all the good food and the bad food that may be
Let's talk about Bao"
Just to clarify there was no bad food at Bao. Literally none, nada, nicht kaput. Or should I say nei kaput, seeing as I just got back from Iceland, which was incredible! And I'm still recovering from the fact that we actually did have to come home, I would move there in a heart beat. Just need to master my Icelandic first, which so far is ekki gott (thanks google). Having been heart broken at returning to England there's only one thing that can make me feel better. Food and lots of it. Which is where Bao comes in.
When we were students and sick of eating leftover roast chicken in various guises and pancakes for weeks on end, my friends and I used to head to China town to eat as much dim sum for as little money as possible. The most notable dish being the deep fried chicken feet we sampled (not something I'd rush out to try again) and our absolute favourite dim sum taking form in the char siu bao. A sweet, marshmallow soft steamed bun or bao to those in the know, filled with sticky bbq pork;  pure heaven. A lot has changed since I was a student spending £8 on our weekly food shop for one of my housemates and me (this actually happened, I'm not sure how but it did) but I'm still in love with bao or as I should say Bao. The street food stall turned restaurant that now has two permanent venues where they serve up their fluffy bao stuffed with moreish fillings with some quirky little sides that is Bao, has fast become my favourite bao eatery.

My friend Alex (who you might have seen creeping about in my blog posts here, here and here) and I decided to head to Bao's Soho branch one Saturday for a lot of goss and even more food. I'd been at a festival  and stupidly not eaten anything all day (very unlike me), and when you've got that food head ache there's only really one cure: Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Thai/Vietnamese food with the paracetamol/ibuprofen combo and San Pallegrino (other sparkling mineral waters are available). So when Alex rang me and told me she'd just walked past Bao and there was a 20 minute queue, and asked if I could get there asap? The answer was to sprint across town from Victoria, grab some drugs (paracetamol and ibuprofen only folks) and voila we were seated in Bao.

You might think I'm a bit crazy for running across town to get to Bao, but maybe you won't judge me when I tell you the average queue time is anywhere from an hour upwards! The first time we tried to go the queue was 2 hours long. I mean I love bao but 2 hours is a long time to stand outside waiting for it, plus by then I would have been incredibly hangry (hangry; han-gr-ee: when you're hungry and angry simultaneously). Anyway now seated, Alex and I proceeded to order off the paper tick box menu setting ourselves up for the meal with the final part of the headache cure (sparkling water) and the tiniest tea pot of green tea you will ever see. You feel like you're playing with a doll's tea set...not that I have done that ever...I'm in my twenties yeah. Moving on, while we waited for our food, Alex and I caught up on the four core chat groups (holidays, work, friends, bitching) and surveyed the room.

Bao, the restaurant not the food, is small, really small. I wanted to take some shots of the inside, but doing so would have been a bit too intrusive as the restaurant was packed and you're in such a small place I could have taken a photo up the guy opposite's nose. It's all bare wood and white walls which some people find quite cold but I really enjoy the clean lines of it all. We sat at the bar that takes up the main part of the restaurant, although there are a couple of tables if you're wanting to go in a small group (we're talking no more than 6 per table at a squish). There's also one restroom, so if you need to go you have to keep a watchful eye on your fellow diners for when it's free. You can't wait outside the restroom as you'll be encroaching on someone's table and they'll probably end up asking you for more mineral water. Then you'll be stuck because you have no waitering experience, so you'll bring them the wrong drink and a fist fight will assume. Just don't do it, remain vigilant and you'll be fine.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken with Hot Sauce

40 day aged Rump Cap with Soy Sauce

Sweet Potato Fries with Plum Sauce

Scallop with Yellow Bean and Garlic

You might be mistaken going to Bao, in ignoring the side dishes they have on offer. This is the biggest mistake you will make. Ever. In your whole life. The crispy fried chicken in panko style breadcrumbs with hot sauce are succulent on the inside, crunchy on the outside with the right amount of punch from the hot sauce. The 40 day aged rump camp slices aka super rare beef in soy sauce is divine, Alex and I had a Mrs Fat and Mr Lean situation going on where I gorged myself on all the fatty bits of this dish and it was just gorgeous. I then became selfish and ordered shellfish for one in the form of a scallop grilled in the half shell with yellow bean and garlic, it was delicious with a great charred flavour, I didn't going solo on this dish and nether did Alex (her motto is fish are friends not food). All of these dishes were great but there was one side that ruled them all. The tempura sweet potato fries with plum sauce, when people ask me about Bao it's the first dish that springs to mind.

I'm convinced every restaurant has that one stand out dish that you'll always order (ahem crab churros at Pachamama), and at Bao despite it's name I think it's the sweet potato fries that are my stand out. You see, sweet potato fries on their own are not new, they're on most menus in some guise, but never have I seen a guise that would tempt me into eating them as much as this one. The plum sauce is something I've been on/off dreaming about ever since visiting. It's tart fruity tang goes well with the sweet salty tempura fries. If you go to Bao, don't skip on it's namesake but make sure you leave a decent sized whole for these cheeky fries. They're 100% worth it.

On to the main event. If you've never tried one of these sweet pillowy buns your first bao is mind blowingly good. We went for all four of the meaty options on offer (the vegetarian option is daikon; a radish that can be coerced into various forms), from left to right these are the classic pork bao with cabbage and peanut powder, the lamb shoulder with green chilli, the confit pork belly with crispy shallots and the fried chicken in a sesame bao.

If I was to pick a favourite out of these four it'd be a toss up between the lamb shoulder bao and the fried chicken, because who can resist succulent on the inside, crunchy on the outside fried chicken, and any dish with lamb is my go to and this one gets extra points for spiciness. I enjoyed all four though, and I implore you to order the four yourself and work out which one is your favourite. Except if you're veggie then stick to the Daikon, although if I'm honest there are probably some better places to eat out at with more options if you're veggie than Bao. With pig blood cake and trotters on the menu it's not the most vegetarian friendly restaurant in Soho (try Ethos and/or the Coach and Horses).

Fellow bao lovers, have you ever had a sweet bao? I've had three, one filled with nutella which was average to poor, one filled with egg custard which was revolting and then this one. A deep fried sesame bao filled with a scoop of malted horlicks ice cream. It sounds unpleasant and medicinal, it tastes awesome. It's so good, the hot bun with the cold ice cream is a taste sensation to put your teeth on edge but who can refuse when it's looking at you with its big creamy scoop. It's so good, its only a matter of time before someone starts a sweet bao stall, I'm thinking PBJ bao (aren't I always), a matcha tea bao and of course good old fashioned nutella and banana. Someone needs to get on that. Pronto. Street Feast/Kerb/Other Street Food Markets that are Available sweet bao needs you.

Go to Bao, try all of their namesakes, pick your favourites and get some sweet potato fries on the side. Maybe some pig blood cake for our more adventurous readers.

What's your favourite place to eat bao? Now I'm back from Iceland I'm trying to conserve my pennies. That doesn't mean I'll stop eating out, more that I'm going to be a bit more choicey about my dining options. If anyone has any restaurant recommendations, bao or otherwise drop a comment below and hook me up. Life's been quite full on recently, so if I haven't replied to your comments/emails, I really appreciate all the lovely comments and will do so asap. In addition, I'm not sure if I mentioned it but I just got back from Iceland, so expect me to go on about that for a couple of months...or at least until December when the topic will change to my birthday and the C word. If anyone has any travel recommends as well, let me know, I'm suffering from post holiday depression and need to book another one stat.

1 October 2015

Peruvian Plates at Pachamama, Marylebone, London

I want to tell you about the best meal I've had this year.
Which is a huge claim because we've had some cracking meals this year. Like when I took Dan (my long-term man associate) to Ink for his birthday, the restaurant of Nordic Cuisine Madman Martyn Meid, whose food I had the pleasure of sampling last year courtesy of Miele (hello 9 about them all here) which Dan had been jealous of ever since I went. Then we also went to Sushi Samba, amazing Brazilian inspired sushi with a killer view, so Dan could thank me for being me and ultimately just being the best person ever (this blog is rich in sarcasm). It's a hard life. Although both restaurants were incredible, I keep thinking back to our visit to Pachamama, a peruvian fusion restaurant serving up some sexy sharing dishes, and what a great night out we had parents. They know how to hang loose guys! And if you're not taking your rents out on a Friday night then more fool you.

I'll lay it on the line, my photos from Pachamama are substandard. But the food was amazing, so amazing I'm sharing my camera phone horror pics with you. Look away now if you don't want to be scared! We'd bought my mum's boyfriend tickets to see Shakespeare in Love (which apparently is also great but is no longer running, sorry guys) and said we'd take them out for dinner afterwards. My mum isn't great on tubes so the brief was to find a place within walking distance of the theatre that had proper chairs to sit on AND would take reservations. This is a lot more difficult than it sounds and after our first booking rang us on the morning of our reservation to say their ovens were broken, it was all family members to battle stations to find somewhere else!

Queue our reservation at Pachamama. Booking made, we grabbed my parents and leisurely strolled towards it. Leisurely because my mum is a magpie or to use Dan's fave (and my most loathed) analogy she's a magnet in a spoon shop. Almost everything we passed by we had to stop and examine, I don't mind it makes you a proud Londoner (albeit part time) when someone is complimenting it every 5 minutes as opposed to the usual I don't know how you could live in London speech (we've heard it, we love London, get over it). Anyway cutting a long waffle short that's how we ended up late for our reservation.

Maybe it's because Pachamama had recently opened and were eager to please, or because I'd emailed in advance and told them I had two elderly relatives coming (sorry mum!) or they are just really nice, but what we experienced was some of the best service I've ever had, if not the best. We were welcomed, shown to our table (which I was positively sure we would have lost as we'd been running so late) and were sipping on cocktails in no time. Mum or as we call her Mama T had to go for the Mama's Pisco a rather fruity number with raspberries, orange and lime. Wondering what Pisco is? Me too, so I googled it (you're welcome) it's a type of refined brandy made in Peru and other places. I also went for a Pisco cocktail because you know when in Lima do as the Peruvians do, mine was a Chilli Pisco Sour and it was all of those things. I'll be honest I switched to beer afterwards because I fell victim to the strength of this drink, definitely not for the faint hearted. The men drank beer, in glasses of course...we're not animals (we are, we all are).

Brown Crab and Yuca Churros

 Cornish Seabass, Samphire and Tiger's Milk Ceviche

Yellow Tuna, XO and Pickled Potato Ceviche

Whole Seabass Frito with Chimichurri 

Following on from our Pisco discovery was the food. As I said Pachamama serves Peruvian fusion plates, focusing on the aspect of sharing. This is my favourite type of dining, I love sharing food and us all digging in. We did have side plates for us to use but they fell to the wayside as we fought over some of the tastier dishes, which leads me on to the first dish or 'snack' Brown Crab and Yuca Churros. I love churros. They're probably my favourite street food (BIG praise) but never had I ever had a savoury one before. Oh My Lord this churro will change your life, it changed mine (I'm enlightened now, and more refined). It's soft and crabby on the inside, crispy on the outside, and rolled in salt and sugar it's a miracle in choux pastry form. There's a lot of great dishes at Pachamama but this is the reason why you'll wake up in the night with wet sheets craving to go back. Trust me, order the churros.

Moving on we went for some 'Sea' options (the menu's split into Land, Sea and Soil, easy dining for veggies and pescatarians alike as you know what's suitable is all confined in one place). The Cornish Seabass, Samphire and Tiger's Milk Ceviche was refreshing from the lime in the Tiger's Milk (FYI not real tiger's milk) and fresh. I've eaten this flavour combination a lot recently and it doesn't get old. We also went for a Yellow Tuna, XO (strong chilli shrimp sauce like tamarind except without any tamarind) and Pickled Potato Ceviche which was incredibly different to the other ceviches I've had, the flavour was strong but not overpowering and the potato which I thought would be a bit gross was delicious, we were left trying to scrape up the sauce it was so good. But the one that had us going tooth and nail at each other was the Whole Seabass Frito with Chimichurri. Picture this, a whole deep fried seabass with a pungent parsley, lemon and chilli chimichurri (my lazy go to condiment recipe at home), juicy, plump flakes of seabass with crispy skin on the side left me thinking I need to deep fry whole fish more often. Served on the bone, it won't be for fussy eaters but it's perfect for a fish lover like me.

Grilled Plantain, Malt and Olive

Warm Quinoa, Garden Peas and Summer Truffle

Fried Aubergine, Smoked Yogurt and Pecans

Soil wise, I could have picked any one of the veggie dishes. However, we narrowed it down trying the Grilled Plantain, Malt and Olive which although nice, I'd pass by next time. The Warm Quinoa, Garden Peas and Summer Truffle was a hit, refreshing simple clean flavours with a nice bit of nuttiness and crunch. And my fave, the Fried Aubergine, Smoked Yogurt and Pecans whose smoky yoghurt sauce won my heart, you could smother that sauce on anything (anything? ANYTHING!) and I'd eat it.

Crispy Lamb Belly with Jalapeno and Green Miso 

Beef Short Rib drowned in Wild Garlic

Land also got a look in with the Crispy Lamb Belly with Jalapeno and Green Miso, and the Beef Short Rib drowned in Wild Garlic. Both courses were good, but they weren't my favourites. To be honest, I was hugely disappointed with the Beef Short Rib. You could tell the meat was good and it flaked nicely but you couldn't really taste it over its bath of wild garlic puree. Don't get me wrong I'm a heavy handed garlic fan and I cook with wild garlic whenever I can get hold of it (hello recipe plug for Wild Garlic Pesto and Wild Garlic, Beetroot and Goats Cheese Tart) but it was just too much. Poured all over the beef short rib, the meat didn't stand a chance. Hopefully they've fixed this dish because it has a lot of potential to be scrumptious.

 Plate of Small Bites of Chocolate Truffles and Plaintain Marshmallows

 Strawberry & Sorrel Suspiro de Limena

Chewy White Chocolate, Rhubarb and Basil

I don't always order a pudding, queue shock and horror, but I'd normally rather have another savoury plate, in this instance crab churros. However, even though we were all so full I could tell my mum wanted one (she's my excuse for being greedy) so we ordered a few to share between us. A plate of small bites of chocolate truffles and plaintain marshmallows was devoured graciously, but the scrapping started again when faced with Strawberry & Sorrel Suspiro de Limena, with meringue, macerated strawberries and a sorrel granita there's no way I can describe the complex flavours except outing it as the best high class pud I've had. Next to this was Chewy White Chocolate, Rhubarb and Basil, a nice novelty that my rents hadn't seen before. Both desserts were refreshing and delicious, if we hadn't have been family I would have fought my Mum and her boyfriend to the death in order to eat them all to myself (and Dan).
But you know blood is thicker than dessert...only just.

My only negative about Pachamama and to be fair for me it's a fairly big one, is that as soon as it hit 9pm, the restaurants music got so loud and electronic it felt like we were sitting in a club, and FYI I hate clubbing. Then people started coming in for dinner, who didn't have bookings and they were just waiting round the tables chatting and pushing up against us. It would have been nice to have been forewarned if this is a regular occurrence at Pachamama, especially because I told them I was with some more senior members of my family but then by 9pm we were just polishing off dessert and we left fairly sharpish afterwards. Overall the food was so good, definitely the best we've had this far!

This post has been a long time coming, excuses aside I just couldn't stomach writing about it last week as I was cursed by the dreaded Norovirus (two words projectile vomiting) and now we're off to Iceland! Can't wait, so excited to try loads of new things and just chill out! I loved Pachamama despite the club vibe and are keen to go again soon, if you've been let me know what your favourite thing to order was below. More importantly have you been to Pachamama for brunch? It's high on my to do list. Supposed to be incredible. Too many good brunch places not enough time. 

To Reykjavik we go!

p.s don't worry I've packed my real camera! No more bad phone photos on this blog!