The Savannah launches at the Wesley Hotel in Bloomsbury

Hearing that the new Savannah restaurant at the Wesley Hotel aims to be eco-friendly and socially conscious, one could be forgiven for thinking that this would roughly translate to a vegan restaurant serving raw fruit and vegetable smoothies where diners sit on upturned crates and spiralise courgettes. Pleasingly however, this is not the case, and the Savannah takes a more rounded approach to the moral commitment – with the exception of the courgette spaghetti, which appears to be inescapable at the moment and does find its way onto the menu. Food is carefully and ethically sourced from sustainable suppliers and artisans who care about their carbon footprint, furniture is built from recycled materials and the company promises to divert some of the restaurant’s profits to social causes in the local area.

The bar downstairs is spacious and welcoming, complemented by a striking wall covered in dozens on clocks, all stopped on different times, intended to represent the fact that the hotel wants people to come here, relax and just let time stop. As well as a wide range of spirits, the bar will aim to carry a changing selection of eco-friendly and bio-dynamic wines.

Upstairs, the 50-cover restaurant space continues the same design theme. Looking through the menu, which the head chef informs us is just in its final stages of tinkering, the culinary style reads as classics with a twist. Risky, given some things are classics for a reason, but with Asian, African and European influences, there is certainly enough choice on offer that anyone will be able to find something that appeals.

Whilst vegetarian options such as Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Truffle Cheese Sauce are scattered throughout the menu, there is plenty of meat on offer too. Steak tartare is a classic dish to see on London hotel menus, but here it is paired with pickled ginger, watermelon, wasabi, soy sauce and coriander. Similarly, pork belly and scallop are given a new lease of life with African spices and a carrot and miso puree.

So whether you want to sip one of their bio-dynamic wines with a few small plates, or head upstairs to the restaurant and indulge in a full three course meal, the Savannah is one to check out.

http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2016/05/13/the-savannah-launches-at-the-wesley-hotel-in-bloomsbury/

The dawn of a new era - Or just me redesigning the website

So as is no doubt, hopefully, evident, the new website is finally up and running. I fully anticipate that I have done something very foolish during its creation and that there are broken links or pages that don’t exist etc, so bear with me whilst I fix these things as they arise.

I’d love to know what you think of the site…….is what someone who pretended that other people’s opinions mattered more than their own might say. I won’t even bother pretending to be that person, who is pretending. We will skirt that whole issue. The site is made. It cannot, and shall not be unmade. Deal with it.

An actual blog post about food will follow this one shortly, but I felt that I couldn’t possibly allow the birth of the new site to happen without some kind of written announcement. Consider this said announcement.

There is however space for a quick gardening update. The random frost a few days ago and my lack of anticipation for it successfully managed to kill off my first few beetroot seedlings. But that’s ok. We’re operating a Sparta-like system in my garden. Only the strongest will survive. Perhaps I will just become a radish farmer. They seem to grow whether you want them to or not. To the extent that I have had to start eating them myself simply so as not to be overrun.

The first supperclub

So after only several months of procrastinating, coming up with excuses and generally avoiding it, I finally held my first supperclub on Saturday.

Lessons were learnt, washing up was generated, stress overflowed all over the floor. But overall I have to say it did seem to go rather well. Perhaps helped by the fact that my guests were friends rather than strangers, so inevitably were more lenient in both their demands and criticism. Except James, the drama queen that he is.

That is not to say it wasn’t a steep learning curve though. Although I had obviously cooked all the dishes on the menu before, I had never done them in sequence, for 8 people, so I didn’t necessarily plan accordingly for some of the challenges (mostly washing up related) that I would run into as I went along.

So I learnt quite a lot from the first attempt. For example, whilst I am generally a big fan of the list (I derive immense pleasure from crossing things off ), it is possible to have too many.

And although I was pleased with how almost every dish turned out, in a domestic setting, cooking on my own, I may need to rein things in slightly with regard to the scope of my ambition at the next event, which should help to both improve the quality and make for a less stressful experience. The intention has always been to do around 4 courses plus an amuse bouche. As the menu below demonstrates however, things got rather out of hand as I kept finding new things I wanted to cook.

The decision to do a fruit soufflé for dessert was particularly naïve as I’ve never found a recipe that I felt carried enough fruit flavour whilst managing to maintain enough body to have a pleasing texture instead of just being ‘eggy’. So the family suffered through two weeks of daily soufflé variations including some less than stellar efforts, but I am pleased to say that it did seem to pay off in the end with all 8 coming out consistently risen and cooked just how I wanted them. The recipe will be accompanying me to my grave.

But overall it was a positive experience and I’m looking forward to getting my next one sorted in a couple of weeks and ironing out some of the kinks. Watch this space.

 

Also, I realise that after a promise of gardening updates, there have been no gardening updates. I will not lie to you internet. It is cold, and wet, and I do not wish to be cold and wet, hence, limited gardening. That being said, rain cannot stop my radishes taking off.

I have created life. I'm basically God.

I have created life. I'm basically God.

And even this unfathomably small beetroot seedling.

Await further updates.

The joy of the unrefined pie

A recurring theme of this blog is my tendency to write about something vaguely ‘relevant’, but to do so with such laboriousness that the relevance has passed by the time the blog is ready to be posted. Yet again this has happened, and national pie week is just a distant, fond memory. But let’s just say it wasn’t. Let’s just say that it only finished yesterday rather than two weeks ago…….

 

“We’ll make apple pie – with apple spaghetti, vanilla extract and cinnamon and no pastry. It’s delicious.”

Let’s remove the words no pastry from that sentence. So in other words, you’re making apples. Not apple pie.

I don’t think anything further really needs to be said about the above quote except that no, it’s not a joke or part of a weird satirical food commentary, it is a genuine quote from some…. ‘cooks’.

I’ll just let it hang there, irritating all who actually enjoy pies and have no time for such nonsense.

 

That quote brought me great sadness, to the extent that I was unsure whether I could bring myself to write more about pies this week as national pie week comes to an end (did you enjoy it? Did you know it was happening? Do you even care?). So given it’s also national cheerleading safety month, I considered looking into that. Turns out I don’t especially care about that, so as pie week is now over the pain has subsided enough for me to go back to my original intention of writing about pies.

There are some things that need to be refined. Eliza Doolittle. Prose. These blog posts – if you think they ramble now you should see them before they’re edited, they’re usually twice as long and several times more incoherent.

One thing that I don’t think needs to be refined is the pie. Pies are where my inner cooking laziness really comes to the fore, I am just not that particular when it comes to pies.

NB. This is what I originally wrote. I then read back the blog and realised that it is in fact a flagrant lie. My tendency with pies is undoubtedly to lean towards the lazy, but I am very particular about the form that the laziness must take, and actually, achieving the correct lack of refinement in a pie is perhaps not as easy as it seems.

 

When I’m having a pie, I’m not actually looking for one that always adheres to my normal requirements of ‘well cooked’ food. I don’t want perfectly cooked pastry. I want a pastry lid that is slightly too thick, and slightly undercooked so that it’s crisp on the top but still stodgy underneath. And as far as fillings go, I’m pretty lazy as well. Beef or chicken for savoury pies (in the form of ox cheeks or chicken thigh meat), some veg, not too much if it’s supposed to be a meat pie. I am also very unconcerned with presentation when it comes to pies. Is there a filling? Is there pastry vaguely covering that filling? Great, it’s close enough then.

However it is perhaps my preferences for sweet pies that truly exemplifies my pie laziness. Cherry pie filling. And not good cherry pie filling. Tinned cherry pie filling. The cheaper the better. Yes it has no discernible cherry flavour and a consistency that is mildly disturbing at best, whilst being probably 90% sugar, but that is quite beside the point.

It’s at this point that I feel most food blogs would now provide you with several pie recipes that, realistically, no one is going to make but which make people feel like they are putting something useful into the world. I will not be doing that. Instead I will simply encourage you to wrap in pastry, or at least cover with pastry, more of what you eat. Because something with pastry is unquestionably better than something without.

 

Easter Sunday Lunch - Laziness/preparation is a virtue

This article was originally written for the upcoming and can be found here: http://www.theupcoming.co.uk/2016/03/17/a-survival-guide-for-easter-sunday-lunch/

Christmas dinner? Done. Mother’s Day? Sorted. Only one big cooking hurdle left for the first half of the year then: Easter lunch. Luckily it’s also one of the simplest to do well, and whilst the traditional choice may be roast leg of lamb, some minor variations can make for a more interesting menu and, perhaps more importantly, a more relaxed day, especially if you’re cooking for a group. The key is not to overcomplicate things.

Keeping all this in mind, lamb remains our meat of choice for Easter. If you’re cooking for smaller numbers, rabbit might make a reasonable alternative if you’re looking for something slightly more left-field with a springtime connection, but cooking rabbit well can be fraught with difficulties, especially if you’re catering for a large family. Lamb, whilst being seasonal, is also an unusually forgiving meat insofar as it has a very distinct flavour, whether you manage to pull of the perfect medium-rare or the third glass of wine leads to you overcooking it. This flavour can go a long way to compensating for an overdone piece of meat, compared to say chicken or beef which can become tasteless and dry.

Our main piece of advice when it comes to lamb is to forego the traditional Easter leg altogether and choose a slow-cooking cut instead that you can just forget about. Lamb shoulder is a good option, braised slowly for a few hours on a bed of onions and garlic, and for that matter any other veg you wish to serve with it. Or use even more flavourful but relatively inexpensive cuts, such as neck or breast, which offer meat that can be eaten with a spoon after a few hours’ cooking.

When it comes to potatoes, why not branch out from roasties and throw open the door to more exciting preparations? After all, Escoffier lists over 50 different ways to cook potatoes, so there are definitely other things worth trying. We like boulangère potatoes; there are infinite variations, but in essence thinly sliced potatoes are layered with fried onions, covered in chicken stock and baked until cooked through. Think of it as a variation on the sometimes too rich dauphinoise potatoes.

 

For many, Easter comes with a surplus of chocolate, and it is for precisely this reason that you should not serve a chocolate dessert. The idea that it is only children who will manage to eat an entire Easter egg before their lunch is a fallacy. Go with a fruit-based dish to cut through the richness of the lamb, and the very probably cloying aftertaste of an entire chocolate egg. Forced rhubarb is still in season and, besides maintaining its vibrant, beautiful pink colour, it offers a freshness and acidity that will contrast with the fattiness that has preceded it and cleanse the palate. For a simple dessert you could cook down the rhubarb with a little sugar to make a compote and stir through some lightly whipped cream to make a rhubarb fool, then serve with some shortbread. Or, for something more substantial, perhaps try a rhubarb crumble with a little apple in the mix as well, depending on the tartness of your rhubarb.

 

The best part of this menu is not necessarily the food, but the fact that it can all be done in advance, and will actually benefit from it. Slow-cooked meats are universally better reheated the next day after they have had the chance to sit in their braising liquor overnight. Similarly, cook the boulangère potatoes on a low heat till cooked through, chill overnight until set, then just put in a high oven for 45 minutes when you want to eat, to crisp the top and warm through. And finally, the rhubarb can be made well in advance and stirred though the lightly whipped cream just before serving.

So there you have it. Get the prep out of the way on Saturday and, come Sunday, your focus can be placed where it well and truly should be: on seeing how much chocolate you can eat before the meal.