Saturday, August 22, 2009

Indian Fish Festival

Kasturi are having a fish festival in September, and I was very privileged to get a sneak preview of the festival menu (plus a some chicken), this week.

Kasturi’s Aldgate premises are unassuming from the outside, but elegant and fresh within. The food looks fantastic and tastes even better...

Starting with a dreamy creamy mango lassi (for £2.10) was very enjoyable, especially as the lassi was not too sweet. We were then served an assortment of little starters on one big platter. These included a wonderful crab kebab, packed with fragrant herbs and hot spice, that did not drown the delectable crab flavour. There was also salmon tikki, which I would never have chosen from a menu, (salmon and tikki not quite matching in my head), but which was absolutely delicious – beautifully cooked, as well. Pieces of marinated chicken were the tenderest chicken I have ever eaten, again beautifully cooked. My fellow diner and I were quite stunned by it. I am told that 15 hours of marinating is the key to that tenderness. I don’t know why, but I think I subconsciously assumed that you go to an Indian restaurant for flavour rather than perfectly cooked meat and fish, but this extra dimension of care took the meal onto a whole new level.

Back to the platter, because there were also little chicken joints in a sweet red sauce that had caramelized and gone gooey and crispy during cooking – too sweet (for my taste) to have that alone, but a thoroughly delicious contrast to the other light, fragrant and spicy starters. The starter platter came with a punchy salsa and a gorgeous green sauce, which tasted almost like freshly cut grass, and was apparently made with a mix of herbs, green fruits and seeds.

For our main course, we tried the seafood biryani (£11.95) and mahi rolls (£9.95). The Biryani had a rainbow of flavours, the memory of which are making my mouth water as I write. It included perfectly cooked seafood, of course, with the unexpected addition of dill, which worked really well with the other flavours, and tied the salmon to the rest of the biryani.

Mahi rolls, seafood biryani, vegetable curry and ochra with shallots

The mahi rolls were something else; delicate fillets of fish, encasing a mixture of herbs, spices and chopped fish, and all covered in a fragrant coconut sauce - a very special dish.

Our main course came with a vegetable curry for the biryani, and some addictively scrumptious crispy fried ochra and shallots.

We finished off our delectable meal with mango kulfi to share. I so wanted to try the delightful-sounding dessert with cardamon, saffron, cream and carrot, but just didn’t have room. After my experience of Kasturi, I am not surprised that this multi award-winning restaurant is getting so many rave reviews.

So, if you fancy trying some of the dishes I so enjoyed sampling, make sure you don’t miss the Kasturi Fish Festival! While I was enthusing about the food to the restaurant’s passionate owner and manager, Bashir, he reminded me that the samples I was tasting were not as good as if it were cooked for the festival, because mine was done individually that evening – if cooking in big batches for the festival, the food would have longer to marinate, and flavours would develop further in the larger quantities.

Kasturi specialises in Pakhtoon cuisine, with grilled dishes that make the most of the cooking juices from meat and vegetables. They serve an exciting range of dishes, and place lots of importance on colour and texture, without “changing the true nature of Indian food for the sake of undefined modernisation”.

The service I experienced was good. Some of the junior members of staff seemed a bit nervy, as if it was their first day of work, but the management made sure everything ran smoothly, and general manager, Rahman, was warm, kind, and very helpful.

For more information, visit

Monday, August 10, 2009

Tomato Fest, France

I'll soon be off to catch the end of the French tomato season. However much you pay, wherever you shop, whatever you grow, it is literally not possible to have a true tomato experience in the UK. Toms in Britain are more acidic and the textures are all broken up into skin, seeds, liquid, and solid flesh. In France, in season, they are juicy, fruity, smooth and soft. Not pappy, mind, just with synergistic textures that are tender but satisfying.

Tomato jelly with goats' cheese, France

Anyway, there are some growing in my garden in France, so I am very excited about making the most of them while I'm there. They are the montfavet variety, and I am also looking forward to buying some luscious marmande ones from the village market - they come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and the stall owners ask what you are going to use them for, before selecting suitable specimens from the pile.

Here's what I did with homegrown French tomatoes one year, when I had a glut (see photo above). Now, though, they will be a novelty again, so will probably all end up as tomato salads, which are a completely different and a stupendously delicious dish, if made with the French tomatoes. Hmmm and atop pizzas, and maybe a few gazpachos, and in more imaginative salads. Yeah, well I might play a bit, but no jelly - I'll need all my time to eat tomatoes, and won't have any left to fiddle around with them.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Beer Bread

I am brewing some ale. Today, I siphoned it out of the fermentation bin, leaving the velvety sludge of yeast behind. The sludge smelt so incredibly delicious, filling the senses with powerful beery, yeasty, malty fumes, that I couldn't bear to chuck it all away.

I used a couple of dollops in with wholemeal flour, a spoon of malt extract, slosh of fermenting beer, pinch of salt and some milk, to make bread. It was a complete experiment, because I had no idea if the yeast would work well enough to make the bread rise, or what it would taste like.

Toasted beer bread, buttered

It was a brilliant success! It smelt like a dream bakery from a century ago, as well as a bit of pub carpet (in a good way). Honestly, though, it was such a wonderful smell. Tasted damn good, too! It had a really full flavour that was miraculously similar to the smell.

One slight draw back; my bread had a bitter aftertaste. With butter and jam or cheese, the bitterness wasn't noticeable, but the beery flavour still was. Next time, though, no actual beer, and more malt extract.

The yeast took longer than packet yeast to start working enthusiastically, but after a couple of hours it was really going for it. I kneaded it again, made it into a twisty loaf, left it under cling film to rise again, and then baked it at 180˚C for about 20 - 25 minutes. It came out with a moist and crumby texture, and you know the rest.

I left the lovely, pretty beer loaf on the kitchen surface, and when I went back to take photos, this was all that remained. Which must be an excellent sign.

Bread remains :)

Now, what to do with the rest of the sludge... There's way too much to use just by making another non-bitter loaf. Any ideas?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Plums & Mirabelles

Another non-adventure, really, but it was at least a very rewarding stroll down the garden. I found that the first victoria plums and mirabelles are ready. This means crumble etc, but also some magical eau de vie (distilled alcoholic drink), made with the fallen and half eaten ones...

Today's plums

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Rasperry Pavlova

My ma made this pavlova this evening, with hazelnut meringue, thick cream, toasted hazelnuts and fresh raspberries. Such an enjoyable combination of textures and flavours. It was ideal after a rare roast beef feast.