Sunday, 30 May 2010

A Mighty Fine Prize: An Evening With James & Mary

Just in case you'd forgotten (as though I'd let you!), back in March I was the proud (and extremely surprised) winner of the first Food Debate, shouting out for cheese. Although there was no prize proffered beforehand, when I stepped down from the stage, organiser James came over to tell me that there was a prize, if I wanted it, of two places at his newly launched supper club, The Secret Larder.

If I wanted it? IF I WANTED IT? I was absolutely thrilled to be awarded such a generous gift. Not only had I been able to participate in a worthwhile fundraiser, not only had I experienced the adrenalin rush (and fear) of debate, not only had I won but now I had a great evening to look forward to! Result!

The first few dates of the supper club were already fully booked so I put my name down for mid-May and waited, (impatiently) for the date to roll around. My friend Jen of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours joined me for the evening and we made our way to a top floor flat in a converted old school building somewhere in North London.

James shares the flat with his very lovely sister Mary and they run the supper club together, along with service and washing up help from friends.


It's a gorgeous flat. A huge open-plan living area with high ceilings, vast windows, a modern kitchen along one wall and plenty of space and light. A stunning room and one that's giving me house envy, big time. I love the warm and quirky decorating style too with an eclectic mix of furniture, paintings, pot plants and fairy lights.

Jen and her moscow mule chatting to James

The Secret Larder has a BYOB policy (no corkage but a glass for the hosts wouldn't go amiss) so first things first, various bottles were squeezed into the fridge or popped onto a side table. Warm welcomes out of the way, we were surprised with a tall glass of vodka, ginger beer and fresh lime. This divine concoction is apparently known as a moscow mule. Why have I never come across this before? With my sweet tooth and dislike for beer and wine, this is right up my street!

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James working on the crackling

As the rest of the guests arrived, we mingled in the seating area (popping over to peer at James toiling away in the kitchen now and then). One of the joys of attending supper clubs is the opportunity to meet fellow guests and there were some fascinating people including a professional photographer who I wished I'd had more time to chat to.

To my delight, another blogger friend, Louis was also attending and better still, James had seated him with Jen and I for the evening. The only downside was that the three of us were at a tiny table of our own. Whilst I had a blast chatting to Jen and Louis I would really have liked us to be on one of the two large tables, to enjoy the full social side of the supper club scene.

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James making the ox tongue fritters

Once most of the guests had arrived (minus the two no-shows, James' first such cads) we were shown to our seats where pre-starters of ox tongue fritters with horseradish were served. Also on the table were radishes and some fresh butter to go with the home-made soda bread served shortly afterwards.

ox tongue fritters with horseradish

The ox-tongue fritters were decent, though much better when sprinkled generously with the sea salt provided on each table. Some guests seemed more willing to eat them before being told what they were, but overall, they went down well.

With the soda bead came the first great entertainment of the evening. Beautifully presented in pretty serving dishes lined with thick napkins, James held the bread dish over the table for us to help ourselves. As we were chatting about the ox tongue fritters (as you do) we suddenly noticed the napkin had caught fire from the candle below. The wide-eyed, panicked wail for big sister, Mary, who subsequently averted disaster, transformed our unflappable and usually debonair host into helpless little brother. I was laughing far too hard to capture any of this on camera!

cucumber soup with salmon tartare and cucumber pickle

The starter was my favourite course of the night – the chilled cucumber soup with salmon tartare and cucumber pickle was stunningly well balanced refreshing cold soup, fresh, oily, delicate salmon and wonderfully sweet, light cucumber pickle. It took will power not to race around the room stealing everyone else's portions of this lovely dish.

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Jen and Louis

By this time, the room was buzzing, everyone's bottles were flowing, faces were smiling… James, Mary and Hero (tonight's helper) brought out generously piled plates of roast pork belly with Jersey royals, savoy cabbage and cider vinegar. With crackling, I cannot forget that crackling! My pork was actually dry and a little tough, but I could see that I happened to receive an edge bit – the meat on my companions' plates was perfectly moist and fall-apart tender. The vibe was relaxed enough that I knew I could have asked for a swap but I was already so full (and aware that dessert was still to come) that I was happy enough with the very lovely potatoes and cabbage, a couple of mouthfuls of the pork and that delicious crackling (extras of which were brought around shortly after the mains were served). For me, a fair rather than amazing course.

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the buzz; roast pork belly with Jersey royals, savoy cabbage and cider vinegar

During the breaks between courses, it was nice to look around at the lovely arty knick-knacks including a sweet little display of random keep-sakes on a shelf in the bathroom. The little typed message is by Mary, but never made it to the intended recipient, though I forgot to ask whether the teacup did!

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arty knick-knacks

The team were still hard at work in the kitchen and James put the finishing touches to his lemon polenta cake. It was every bit as delicious as it looked, the polenta (and the talents of the cook) locked in lots of moisture and the citrus kick was delightful.

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worker bees; lemon polenta cake

Already full to what I thought was capacity before the lemon cake, I somehow managed to squeeze it in. At which point James mentioned petits fours. My reply that I was so full I'd really like to lie myself flat on the floor groaning resulted in a comment from James that I was welcome to lie down on his bed instead. The millisecond of silence followed by hysterical (and somewhat drunken) guffaws from all three at our table resulted in James' second (and much more extreme) panic-stricken look of the evening as the poor young lad realised it might sound rather too much like a proposition. Many flustered protestations followed, which only made the giggling worse. Don't worry James, I'm happy to remain firmly in cyber aunt territory and have no designs on your boudoir!

petits fours

To round the evening off we were offered tea or coffee (served to the table in cafetières) and the beautiful petits fours. The amaretti biscuits dipped in chocolate were my favourite, though the crystallised ginger cubes and physallis fruits similarly treated were also lovely. And wow, those home-made truffles definitely stole Jen's chocolate-loving heart.

James showing off his chocolate-dipping talents

The meal over, some of us moved back across to the seating area to chat amongst ourselves, and with our lovely hosts. Sadly, it was a school night, so it wasn't long before the majority made moves homewards, though James and Mary were in no rush to chivvy anyone out.

All in all, a lovely evening and even more so being an unexpected and wonderful prize. More than worth the £25 donation James and Mary suggest – I can readily understand why some guests leave more. New dates book up very quickly once announced, so if you want to visit, keep an eye on the website or ask James to add you to the supper club's mailing list.


Friday, 28 May 2010

More from Matcha Chocolat

I have posted before about Matcha Chocolat, one of the new quality chocolatiers on the block launched just a few months ago by Katie Christoffers, who is keen to marry the delights of good quality chocolate with the equal wonders of tea.

Since we met for an interview, after she first sent me her original Emperor's Selection box to review (I subsequently put in an order of my own) I've been keeping in touch regularly, keen to show support for this fledgling business, one I admire greatly. You can read more about the inspiration for and launching of the business on my original post, and you can find lots more information on Katie's website, including a page on ingredients, Matcha's green policy and of course, her product range.

What I'd really like to draw your attention to today is Katie's absolutely fantastic blog featuring beautifully written articles on tea history, culture and processing as well as a selection of delectable tea recipes. Not many new blogs are so well presented and such an enjoyable read. Don't be fooled by it's integration into the business website into thinking it's a thinly veiled commercial blog – not at all, it's a rich and fascinating read and quite separate to the beautiful chocolates on sale in the shop. I absolutely recommend this blog to any fellow teaphiles out there.

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Her new Jade Collection is going on sale in June and includes delicious china rose beauties, white chocolate green tea squares with a pretty gold design imprinted on then, dark chocolate domes filled with green tea liqueur and matcha, dark strawberry chocolates and the popular masala chai variety in the centre.


Thursday, 27 May 2010

Happy Birthday, Pete!

Wishing my lovely husband a very happy birthday!

Pete with the lovely cake presented to him at the pre-birthday birthday dinner at Bob Bob Ricard a couple of nights ago!


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Learning to Cook Japanese + Hashi Cooking's Recipe for Beef Tataki & Creamy Sesame Sauce

I first learned of Reiko Hashimoto-Lambert's Japanese cookery lessons, held in the spacious kitchen of her Wimbledon Park home, by way of Luiz, the London Foodie's blog post last year. Luiz has attended most of Reiko's Hashi Cooking classes during the last 3 years and often puts what he's learned to good practice, much to the delight of lucky dinner guests.


I, on the other hand, have always felt quite nervous about attempting Japanese cooking at home and have no experience of it whatsoever. So I was absolutely delighted when Luiz invited me to attend a special blogger session he and Reiko put together to show us what Hashi Cooking is all about. Yes, please, count in me for that!

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Tamarind & Thyme, Gourmet Chick, Greedy Diva, Gastrogeek, The Wine Sleuth and myself duly arrived to a warm welcome from Reiko and Luiz, who was playing the part of Reiko's class assistant for the evening.


Usually, Reiko offers four different evening courses, each of which run across four sessions – these are Beginners, Home Cooking, Gourmet and Master Chef. In each course, students are taken through four dishes (plus countless techniques and tips) during each of the four sessions. At the end of each session, students enjoy the dishes prepared and Reiko also provides tips on presentation and traditional table manners. Also available are her single session Saturday Sushi & Sashimi classes.


For our special blogger session, Reiko took two dishes from her beginners course and two from the gourmet to give us a great overview of her wide repertoire, a range of ingredients, lots of different techniques and a great insight into her relaxed but meticulous teaching style.

The four dishes we learned during the evening were beef tataki with creamy sesame sauce, gyoza dumplings, grilled scallops on sushi rice with creamy spicy sauce and cold soba noodles with spicy aubergine.

On arrival, our places were set with folders containing all four recipes as well as a handy glossary and a suppliers list of stores where we could find the more esoteric ingredients. I appreciated having these in advance so I could scribble extra tips and notes onto the pages throughout the evening.

In order not to waste precious teaching time, Reiko prepares all the basic ingredients in advance. This means the entire session can be devoted to the interesting stuff allowing us to cover four dishes without feeling rushed in the slightest.

As some dishes needed resting, marinating or cooling time, we switched between the dishes during the evening, but each of the recipes remained really clear and straightforward.

The class provided a mix of demonstration (for which we all had a great view - the advantage of small class sizes around a large central island) and hands-on so we could properly get to grips with the tricky knack of correctly folding gyoza. I made a few I was proud of but some of mine looked rather ungainly next to those made by the nimblest fingers!

Anytime any of us had a question, Reiko took time to answer it fully and all the extra information and tips she crammed in made this single session very rich in terms of what we learned.

It was also a pleasure to learn about Reiko's background as an air stewardess, during which time she really learned about good food, travelling the world and eating out wherever she went and also preparing high quality food during her time in the first class cabin. From this start, it was a natural progression for Reiko to share her passion with food and she began teaching Japanese cooking to the foreign community in Tokyo before moving to the UK, where she has been teaching for over ten years.

What's next for Reiko? A project I'm rather excited about as I can't wait to read it; Reiko is working on a cookery book featuring many of her tried, tested and much-loved recipes which should be coming out next year.

Find out more about the classes at Hashi Cooking's website or call Reiko on 020 8944 1918. The Saturday sushi and sashimi class costs £120. The evening classes cost from £240 to £280 for four sessions.

The first dish we learned - seared fillet of beef served on a bed of onion and radish with a creamy sesame sauce and deep fried garlic chips - was definitely my favourite of the evening though I really enjoyed all four. It's the first one I'll be trying at home!

Reiko's Beef Tataki with Creamy Sesame Sauce

400 gram beef fillet
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
¼ daikon (mooli radish), very thinly sliced

For garlic chips:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3-4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

For the sesame sauce:
4 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon water (optional, depending on thickness of tahini paste)

Note: Beef fillet is usually quite thick, so Reiko usually cuts it into quarters along it's length.


  • First make the garlic chips. Heat oil in a small frying pan, add the thinly sliced garlic and fry gently over a low heat, for about 5-6 minutes. Once the garlic begins to colour, remove and drain on kitchen paper. Be careful not to cook until golden as they will continue to cook after draining.
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  • Soak the thinly sliced onion and radish in salted water for 10-15 minutes. Then rinse well and squeeze the water out completely.
  • Heat a frying pan until hot. Brush the beef with the oil (use your hands!) and cook in the hot pan until browned all over. It is important to seal the beef all over, including the ends, first and then continue cooking to desired level.

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  • Once the beef is cooked to the level you wish, remove from the pan and marinade in a mixture of soy sauce and mirin, which will be re-used for the sesame sauce later. Make sure all the juices from the pan go into the soy sauce mixture as well.
  • Set the beef aside for at least 30 minutes. This makes it easier to slice and also allows it to absorb flavours from the sauce.
  • To make the sesame sauce, remove the beef from the soy and mirin sauce (and set aside). Add the tahini paste, sugar and water and mix well. (Reiko warned us that the sauce may split initially but if you keep mixing, it will re-combine into a smooth creamy sauce).


  • Slice the beef (about 5mm thick).
  • Plate the dish with mounds of onion and radish, a slice of beef, a generous spoon of the sesame sauce and a sprinkle of the garlic chips.

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Here are some pictures from the other 3 dishes we learned:

Gyoza Dumplings

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Grilled Scallops on Sushi Rice with Creamy Spicy Sauce

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Cold Soba Noodles with Spicy Aubergine

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