Friday, 27 February 2009

Restaurant Review: La Trompette, Chiswick, London

After a Monday evening dinner at La Trompette I can definitely understand what all the fuss (and it's Michelin star) is about. We had a marvellous dining experience!

Welcomed warmly and shown to our table we were quickly asked about apéritifs and water, offered advice on the wine menu from the sommelier and offered some rather splendid bread so good that I asked for more shortly afterwards. I went for the walnut and raisin bread, Pete for plain white and my sister for what I think was olive and tomato. I can only comment on mine which was moist, light and flavoursome with generous chunks of fruit and nut; I know I could eat that bread every day for weeks without tiring of it!

When we ordered, I mentioned that I had a dislike for endive and could they either replace it or omit it from my chosen main dish. This was handled with a very can-do attitude and I was impressed when another member of staff popped over a few minuts later to let me know that the chef was suggesting a bed of spinach with some caramelised shallots alongside and would that be a suitable alternative? (It was).

My sister and I both went for a starter of “Crisp fried cod croquette with mussels à la marinière”. The ‘croquette’ was a fish cake, beautifully made with light, firm white flesh within and crispy golden breadcrumbs without. It sat on a bed of unusually plump and sweet (shelled) mussels. The marinière sauce was thicker than in a traditional “moules marinière” which worked well as an accompaniment to both mussels and fishcake.

Pete opted for the “Foie gras and chicken liver parfait with toasted brioche”. The parfait, served in a small clay pot, was light (possibly whipped?) and yet unctuous and rich at the same time, with all the depth of flavour one would expect from foie gras. The thin gelatin layer on top was sweet and mild. Our waiter was very attentive and, when he noticed Pete had just a few bites of brioche remaining, offered to bring him another slice, though Pete decided he didn’t need it.

Pete and my sister both went for the “Roast rump of Scottish beef, shallot purée, pomme cocotte, baby onions, oxtail crouton” for their main. Full of flavour, the steak was also very tender. The oxtail on the crouton was pulled into strands, matted together with the stickiness of it's own sauce and was a deeply savoury few morsels. The accompaniments all worked well with the meat.

I was pleased I chose the “Duck magret, crisp pastilla of confit leg and foie gras, glazed endive, spiced duck jus” instead, served, as previously mentioned, with spinach and caramelised shallots instead of the glazed endive. The slices of duck were just as tender as the beef steak and worked well with my substituted spinach. The pastilla was wonderful, with a crisp exterior of filo enclosing a smooth, highly-flavoured duck and foie gras paste. The spiced ‘jus’ was the star of the dish offering a sweet, rich intensity of flavour and yet never overwhelming the flavour of the duck itself.

I was, once again, the odd one out, choosing the “Pistachio parfait, cherry ice cream, pistachio and polenta cake” for dessert. Pete and my sister went straight for the “Vanilla panna cotta with poached rhubarb and biscotti”. I might have opted for the “Valrhona chocolate marquise, milk ice cream, macadamia praline, caramel, chicory crème” if not for that last element, deciding it was a request too far to ask for the chicory crème to be omitted, though I’m sure they’d have done so with good grace had I done so.

My pistachio parfait was light and delicate, presented between paper-thin sugar crisps. The vivid green pistachio and polenta cake was moist and delicious, with none of the graininess I feared that polenta might impart to it. On it’s own, it would be a perfect afternoon tea indulgence. The cherry ice cream was a touch too sharp for me, though I’m aware that my tolerance for sharper flavours is much lower than normal; I’ve never been able to enjoy a lemon sorbet without my jaws literally locking solid!

The panna cotta dessert came in more layers than expected with the rhubarb compote at the bottom, a generous layer of panna cotta above it and the whole topped by a pale pink rhubarb foam. The expressions on both faces as they simultaneously tasted the foam were magical, as both blurted out surprised delight at the intensity of flavour contained in a medium with absolutely no solidity to it at all, all the more of a surprise because the foam was not obviously so, looking more like a pink cream than the frothy bubbles associated with culinary foams.

Drinks wise, I went topsy turvy by enjoying a glass of Muscat dessert wine as an apéritif (and finishing it with my starter). My sister went for a glass of red and Pete stuck with bottled still water (I rather like that they print the price of bottled water on the main, single-page food menu).

After the meal, Pete and my sister both enjoyed a glass of tawny port whilst I savoured a glass of Pedro Ximinez. And what a glass of PX it was – richer, more unctuous and full of more complex flavours than other PXs I’ve enjoyed in the past.

By the time we finished our meal, we were certainly replete and in very good mood indeed.

For us, this wasn’t a special occasion so much as an indulgent treat, but certainly, I’d return to La Trompette again in a heartbeat for birthdays, anniversaries or any excuse I could find!

I thoroughly recommend it!

La Trompette on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Restaurant Review: Sands Restaurant (Lebanese), Bristol

Sands Restaurant was quiet when we arrived, early on a Friday evening, but became busier as the evening progressed. The whitewashed walls and vaulted ceilings of the basement rooms provide a cozy setting with modern furniture and white tablecloths providing a modern, unfussy look. A glass atrium lets in natural light from above (or gives a view of the stars, at night). Service is friendly and efficient.

For drinks Pete tried the Lebanese Almaza beer whilst Matt and I enjoyed Sands’ homemade still lemonade, lifted by the addition of fresh mint.

We ordered a selection of mezze as a shared starter.

Moussaa’at Batinjan
This cold dish of baked aubergines and chickpeas with tomatoes and spices was delicious, the spices bringing out rather than masking the wonderful strong flavours of the produce.

Zahra Maglia
Not usually a fan of cauliflower, I loved the small hot pieces of fried cauliflower topped with sesame oil, parsley, garlic and lemon juice. A light coating of flour before frying gave a light crispiness to the florets and the flavours were light and fresh.

These tiny maroon Armenian sausages were spicy with just the right kick of heat. Very moreish.

My favourite choice were these little square pastries filled with a seasoned minced lamb and topped with pine nuts. The lamb was practically pureed and so soft and moist, with a wonderful delicate flavour.

For me, this dish, consisting of 4 slices of baked Lebanese flatbread sprinkled with grated halloumi cheese and then grilled, was the only slightly disappointing starter. I wish we’d ordered the grilled halloumi pieces (Jibna) instead.

With the starters we were served three circles of Lebanese flatbread called Khobez. Light, fluffy and soft, these were truly superb and we ordered three more to enjoy with our mains.

For our mains, Matt and I both had the Kharoof Mahshi, a slow-baked lamb shank with garlic and herbs served with rice. The lamb was so tender it fell off the bone. The meat and the sauce were meaty and savoury goodness. The rice too was tasty, almost a dish in it’s own right.

Pete ordered the Kafta Khash Khashi, what I’d call koftas, topped with a spicy tomato sauce. The waitress made a mistake and he was served the plain Kafta dish without the sauce. He decided not to ask for it to changed since he liked it well enough.

Despite being stuffed, Matt and I couldn’t resist sharing a dessert and, since we couldn’t decide on one, we went for the Mixed Sweets platter which included a pistachio and walnut Baklavva, Ataif - mini pancakes filled with cream, pistachios and rose water and Usmalia – baked vermicelli pastry filled with lebanese cream and drizzled in rosewater syrup. Lebanese cream, by the way, is simply whipped cream flavoured with rosewater. The baklavva was nothing special but the Ataif were light and delicate and the Usmalia was an absolute revelation. I’d only previously come across the vermicelli pastry packed tight into a solid layer in pastries similar to baklava, not served as individual fried strands held together only very lightly by the sticky rosewater syrup. Magical!

Not being a fan of nuts or rosewater, Pete declined a dessert and had a latte instead.

The bill, including service, came to a little over £90 for the three of us.

I recommend the restaurant highly and would certainly like to visit again next time I’m in Bristol.


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Banana Cake - Thank you Charles Campion

This is Charles Campion's recipe for a really, really gooey banana cake. I know it could do with a photo; I'll try and remember to take/ add one next time I make it! I first made it several months ago and it's so easy and tasty I now make it quite often. It also proved very popular when I took some in for a work cake bake sale (for charity) and I was ordered, in no uncertain terms, to ensure that I made some more for the subsequent sales over the next few weeks!

Best way to describe the texture is to compare it to a chocolate brownie, where there's a layer at the very bottom that's not quite cooked through, it's still doughy and even more moist than the rest, which has cooked through to become proper cake.

If you want to avoid that, I guess you could leave it in the oven longer, but I love that aspect so I always do it exactly like that.

175 grams caster sugar
225 grams white self-raising flour
100 grams unsalted butter (I always use lightly salted actually)
3 tablespoons fresh milk (I used fully skimmed as that's what we buy)
2 large fresh eggs
3 medium sized, very ripe bananas (today I used 5 wee ones instead, in the past I've used 2 enormous ones)
A few drops vanilla essence

Measure all ingredients straight into your food processor and whizz into smooth batter.
Preheat oven to 185 degrees Centrigade.
Butter a large loaf tin well, then throw in some flour, tap and turn the tin to coat the flour over all surfaces and then tap out any excess into the bin/ sink.
Pour the batter into the tin.
Bake for an hour.

PS Campion says "Because we are looking for a soggy end product, the old-faithful test of sticking in a skewer and withdrawing it clean is not appropriate. With practice you'll simply need to glance at it to tell. In the meantime, because of the style of cake we're trying to achieve, there's a wide margin of error to make things easier."

PPS If it helps, I find the cake rises delightfully and the top turns a lovely rich chocolatey brown (darker than golden brown) and also usually splits, like a lemon drizzle cake. Should have taken a photo but it's all sliced up now, to take into work.

PPS The book is called Fifty Recipes To Stake Your Life On and is one of the few cookery books with no photographs in it that I rate highly.