Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Scotch Beef Feast, London

I had the huge privilege of being a guest at the Scotch Beef Feast, held at Plateau Restaurant in Canary Wharf.

The Scotch Beef label is a run by the Scottish Government, so it is a publicly funded promotional body, and enjoys Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status. They really do things properly, and are a cheering example of public sector success.

I can honestly say I was bowled over by the quality of the meat and the preparation of the dishes, by Head Chef Allan Picket.

We were treated to champagne before the meal and a wonderful selection of reds from sommelier, Piedad Tenorio, matched to the dishes. I enjoyed the champs and wine rather excessively, but that did not stop the food from shining for me.

Left to right: My friend Rupert Parker, me and 
the lovely Anna Krzebietka from 
Carat Media - pre-feast drinks.

During the meal, charismatic Scotch Beef representatives, Laurent Vernet (yes, a Frenchman) and Suzie Carlaw explained what PGI means for their product. Among many other things, each animal effectively has a passport that shows every detail of any medication they’ve received, which farms they’ve been reared on, et cetera.

I thought maybe they could introduce the French butcher shop custom of displaying a photo and information on the counter, relating to the individual animals within. But on reflection maybe some Brits would be a bit squeamish about that; maybe Brits aren’t ready for that much reality yet, after so many decades of distance?

Here is the outstanding Scotch Beef Feast menu, with comments:

Amuse bouche - Tartare of Scotch Beef PGI, quails egg yolk, onion bread croûtes

Really good (hard to go wrong with this, if using good beef), but rather enormous for an amuse bouche.

Starter - Scotch Beef PGI tea, tortellini of ox tail

This dish really stood out, not just during this meal but in my bank of general food memories. It was the tastiest tortellini ever. The ox tail was like beef rillettes – mellow, melting and delicious. The beef tea gave a refined umami hit.

Middle course - Salt & sugar cured Scotch Beef PGI, wild roquette, 24 month old parmesan, aged balsamic

Lovely; delicate and moreish. Again, this isn’t difficult to achieve with such amazing meat and raw or lightly cured is the perfect way to showcase its qualities.

Main course - Roast fillet of Scotch Beef PGI, boulangère of cheek, caramelised shallot purée, Burgundy sauce

Wow. Very generous portions of the most tender fillet imaginable, with delicious accompaniments. I was very full by this point but soldiered on as the beef was out of this world.

Pre-dessert - Citrus sorbet, poured champagne
Dessert - White chocolate mousse, raspberries and sorbet

No comment on desserts – I was too full and wined-out, which is very naughty, I know. But this feast was one of the most memorable upscale meals I’ve had in a long time. It also achieved its objective with me, as I will definitely be looking out for and buying PGI Scotch Beef, as well as signing its praises to anyone who will listen.

Scotch Beef PGI tea, tortellini of ox tail

Photos courtesy of Carat Media

Monday, February 04, 2013

‘Dinner Time’ in South London – Indian & Nepalese Restaurant Review

Rating: Impossible to rate, as some of the negatives are reasons to love it.

Cost: Around £25 per person, including 2 glasses of horrible table wine. 

Go there if: You’re open-minded and enjoy backpacking in backwaters.

Conclusion: Clueless and bizarre service but really good food. An experience.


Yes, Dinner Time is actually the name of this odd little Indian and Nepalese restaurant near New Cross Gate. It is a freshly chosen name as the business has just been bought, re-decorated and reopened by the previous owner’s friend.

Most customers’ orders are placed over the phone and delivered, so not many people experience the quirks of eating in.

Points of interest include the décor…

…the friendly and polite but excruciatingly bad service; the extremely talkative Chef/Owner, Phool Prasad Sharma; the strange drinks menu and the really very good food. Eating there made me feel like I was in a local restaurant in a remote backwater or desolate border town somewhere far-flung. I felt I should have had my backpack and a guidebook with me.

The two choices of wine on the list were not familiar to me but the waiter didn’t understand when I wanted to know more or to see the bottles. In the end I just asked for “white wine”. After about 15 minutes of doing nothing in particular, the waiter decided it was time to nip to the off-licence next door to buy my wine - which was not either of those listed on the menu. It was a very generic and cheap Aussie wine and certainly not worth the £7 a glass I paid for it - especially as it was room temperature. The waiter and I failed to find a clean glass on my table (set for four), so he got one from the bar.

Finally, Mr Sharma turned up to cook my dinner, and, after chatting to me for about 20 minutes, he took my order. Then leisurely began to prepare it. For my starter I chose Nepalese lamb dumplings (like dim sum but far tastier) with homemade lime chutney, and they were delicious.

Sharma insisted he would wait until I had finished my starter before beginning to cook my main course. After my starter, and while I was waiting (ages) for him to start work on my main, a telephone order was taken. According to the menu, the “approximate maximum wait time [for delivery is] 45 minutes, please bear with us in busy periods”. Upon concluding the call, the waiter told the customer that the order would take 45 minutes. I was literally the only other customer. It was not busy. Maybe they want to appear busier than they are, but I think they just like to take their time at Dinner Time.

Lots of chopping and sizzling noises ensued from the open kitchen. A long while later I was presented with an excellent hot and aromatic chicken curry (murgh ‘lasuni’), packed with fresh herbs and spices, and a tasty dish of spice-fried okra.

Sadly, the accompanying roti was thick, solid, stiff and raw in the middle – their tandoor can’t have been hot enough, which of course completely defeats the object.

After thoroughly enjoying my meal, and in the absence of any staff, I went up to the kitchen to ask for the bill. There was lovely-looking fresh produce everywhere; bunches of herbs, bags of vegetables et cetera.

While I was waiting for my bill, a couple arrived to eat in. They were visibly very cold and immediately requested cups of tea. 10 minutes later, as I left, the waiter finally asked them if they’d like some papadums. They hadn’t got their tea yet.

I left with my doggy bag, which included some complimentary papadums (particularly nutty and good) with homemade spicy chopped onion salad and chutneys.

If you have time, patience and are in a good mood – and want to be amused – you must try this place. It is an experience. The food is generally fab and I’m sure they won’t mind if you take your own wine.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Celaric, Leek & Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

I made this very simple soup today and it worked really well. Lovely pale pistachio colour, surprisingly tasty, and a delectable light, creamy texture. I was planning to sprinkle it with a load of finely grated parmesan but the soup was so tasty that the cheese wasn’t necessary.


Serves 2
  • An apple-sized piece of celeriac, cut into 1cm cubes
  • A large piece of artichoke (not as much as the celeriac), cut into 1 cm cubes
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • A little rich vegetable stock
  • Optional bay leaf
  • Juice of ¼ of a lemon
  • A good glug of double cream
  • Salt

What to do:
  • Put all the vegetables apart from half the leek into a saucepan with some olive oil and fry over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent.
  • Pour in the stock to cover the veg by about 1cm, and add the bay leaf if using
  • Simmer until the celeriac and artichoke are soft
  • Add the remainder of the leek and the lemon juice, and cook for another few minutes, until the leek is tender.
  • Remove the bay leaf and the soup into a blender with the cream, and whizz up until velvety smooth.
  • Add salt to taste and hot water if the soup is too thick
Serve just as it is or with extra virgin olive oil and some freshly-ground black pepper.