I like fried chicken. No, I love fried chicken. And I’d been meaning to try Ma’Plucker after passing it one evening on Beak Street (ha!) and stopping in for just desserts – I knew I’d be back for their main menu and we got that chance one evening in late December. One or two of the tables were occupied that evening – perhaps its the bench seating in the front that encourages people not to linger too much after their meal. We grabbed a relatively quiet table in the back and contemplated their quirky menu. There’s a formula for their chicken meals: choose your chicken style, your carbohydrate or salad, and your sauce. There are other set chicken dishes available and sides too.

They had two or three flavoured iced teas available that evening and both those we tried (lemon and cranberry) were refreshing and tasted very natural. Thumbs up from us!

Iced Teas

We had to have some fried chicken of course and it was to be in the form of Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and a Waffle (£6). MP chicken skin gravy for this one. The fried chicken wasn’t exactly the buttermilk friedness that I was expecting (the coating bit threw me a bit) but y’know, it was pretty good fried chicken. Fried chicken. Yeah. The waffle already had some maple syrup embedded in it and with the savoury gravy, well, that went down a treat.

Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and Waffle

We also tried their Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken in a House Bun (£7.50 for 250g pulled chicken) with Kansas BBQ sauce. Surprisingly, this may have been the winner that evening. 250g of pulled chicken turned out to be quite a bit (a 150g portion is also available for the less greedy) but it was tender and delicious and the barbecue sauce included was very good.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken

We had Seasonal Greens and Fries (£4 and £3.50, respectively) on the side. Both were fine – the seasonal greens were lovely tossed in a slightly spicy butter but I wish they had been a more generous with the portion size.

Seasonal Greens and Fries

No desserts that evening but their cherry pie was lovely the first time we tried it while their apples and dumplings were alright in the past. It’s a good spot to pop into in the area, well, if you’re craving chicken of course!

Ma’Plucker
75 Beak Street
London W1F 9SS

I’m in Leigh-on-Sea again and this time we’re at my brother’s place for Christmas. It’s the first time we’ve headed to another locale in the UK for the holiday season and we’re finding it all a bit novel – and it’s our first time being by the sea (uh…actually the Thames estuary) for Christmas! We’re enjoying our morning walks by the water.

Christmas Eve was a flurry of activity – all food shopping for the days ahead and then a seafood dinner. We had crabs with butter (an experiment with sambal butter didn’t exactly work out) …

Crab

… and one steamed sea bass …

Steamed Sea Bass

… and two roast chili and black bean sea bass.

Roasted Sea Bass with Chili Oil and Black Beans

Rice and purple sprouting broccoli rounded out the meal.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Oyster Sauce

Christmas Day started off with fried eggs for breakfast, fortification for a planned walk to see the remains of Hadleigh Castle. Unfortunately, the route turned out to be very muddy and we ended up walking around Old Leigh instead…which is where we discovered that most (or all) of the pubs in Old Leigh were open on Christmas Day! We ended up having tea there to warm us up before heading back to the flat.

The feasting at home started with pate and a baked camembert…

Baked Camembert

… and finished with a roast chicken, gratin dauphinois, pigs in blankets, and kale braised with onions, garlic, chili and anchovies.

My First Plate

Anyway, Happy belated Christmas to all of you! I hope your days have also been filled with lots of eating! And do keep warm with that cold weather alert on in the UK.

I wanted to treat myself on my last night in Boston and, from what I could see online, Craigie on Main in Cambridge was exactly what I was looking for – serving modern cuisine made from local ingredients. With a James Beard Award winning chef (Tony Maws) at the helm and with other numerous awards, it was certainly going to be good; I booked myself in for a solo dinner on a Friday night. When I arrived that evening, the place was packed, again a consequence of that ridiculously busy weekend, but the hostess, seeing that I was by myself, did her best to seat me as soon as possible (and at a lovely window seat overlooking the entire restaurant too). Service overall was excellent – my waitress had already picked up on the fact that I was from out of town (the mobile phone number for my booking gave that away).

A number of options were available in the evenings, three courses of your choice, a 6-course tasting menu and an 8-course tasting menu. It was the 6-course tasting menu ($98) for me. Bread and butter were promptly set before me and I tried my best not to fill up on it!

Bread and Butter

The meal started with an amuse of green tomato gazpacho with golden raisins and peekytoe crab. I loved the slight tang of this cold soup and the raisins and crab added a good balancing sweetness to it. I never would have thought of eating green tomatoes in this way.

Green Tomato Gazpacho

The first of the tasting menu’s six courses was sashimi of madai with heirloom tomatoes, a confit tomato and crispy quinoa. I enjoyed this light start and could see that this was going to be a good meal. Actually, all the tasting menu dishes surprised me that night as I had originally expected perhaps smaller versions of the dishes on the a la carte. But this wasn’t the case – everything was original.

Sashimi of Madai

Another fish dish came next – slow cooked swordfish and shrimp in lobster sauce with seabeans and chorizo. The textures of the seafood were incredible, both turning out completely differently after slow cooking – the meaty swordfish and the silky shrimp.

Slow Cooked Swordfish and Shrimp

I loved the handmade trofiette pasta with sweetbreads and mushrooms that came next. The mushroom sauce coating the pasta was incredibly rich and the fried sweetbreads made it all even richer. Heaven.

Handmade Trofiette Pasta with Sweetbreads and Mushrooms

For the meat course, I was surprised to be presented with lamb – it’s not a meat I come across very often in North America. Here was lamb two ways – confit belly and leg (I think?) served with couscous, green tomato puree and shishito peppers. And it really was some of the best lamb I’d had all year.

Lamb Two Ways - Confit Belly and Leg

I was then presented with the first of my sweets: a Riesling sabayon with local wild blueberries and raspberries. While this was tasty, I did think the portion size was a bit mean. And with the second dessert being light and fruity, I did wish that this was something richer.

Riesling Sabayon

The light and fruity second dessert was a melon sherbet terrine with compressed spiced melon and mint meringue. This was a lovely end to the meal – very refreshing.

Melon Sherbet Terrine

Overall, it was a great meal and a great end to the trip. By the way, I hear they also serve an excellent brunch (I had originally planned a brunch there but the schedule didn’t allow for it).

Craigie on Main
853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
USA

Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon

Why are breakfast burritos generally limited to, y’know, breakfast time? I love that combination of cheesy, eggy, savoury goodness all wrapped up in a neat handheld package and I reckon it’s suitable at any hour of the day.

I wish breakfast burritos were more of a thing here in the UK; in the States, even McDonald’s serves them (they also have biscuits but that’s a rant for another post)! Luckily, they’re easy and quick to put together. Quick enough for a weekday dinner!

Breakfast Burrito

Breakfast Burritos

In a frying pan, fry some chopped onions and perhaps some chopped bell peppers until soft and then add meat (chorizo, breakfast sausage, ham, bacon – chopped), maybe some chopped leftover potatoes too. I used chorizo and some tater tots first baked in the oven. A couple of tomatoes wouldn’t go amiss here and when it’s all almost done, perhaps some wilt down some spinach in the mixture. Salsa and jalapeno peppers are good too. Beat a few eggs together and season the mixture with salt and pepper. Pour it all over the mixture in the frying pan and throw in a good handful of grated cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese. Gently fold together until the mixture is set. Take off the heat.

In another pan or in the oven, heat a flour tortilla or two until warm and pliable. Pile on the egg mixture and fold up like a burrito. Eat with salsa or hot sauce.

And sure, they’re also good for breakfast, brunch or lunch!

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas! We’re not religious at all but I’ve embraced the whole idea of Christmas and the fact that we get an enforced break from work and well, all of that eating, of course! Our feasting started Christmas Eve with a big Chinese meal for the three of us (Blai joined us this year for his first Christmas in London).

Christmas Eve Dinner

My brother had brought over a roast duck from Four Seasons (our usual duck of choice comes from Gold Mine but they had closed early the day before!) and I added a steamed fish, wontons in chilli oil, kai lan with oyster sauce and mapo tofu (I added some pork to that last recipe).

Mapo Tofu

A couple of the recipes came from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice – and I highly recommend this book! I feel I ought to be cooking more Chinese food and I’ll certainly be using her recipes often.

Afterwards, there were slices of Heston’s Black Forest Buche (bought at Waitrose) for dessert. We’re still eating our way along the length of this excellent chocolatey buche.

Cross Section of the Buche

On Christmas Day, we rose late and started with a breakfast of smoked salmon and crème fraîche on blinis along with scrambled eggs.

Smoked Salmon and Scrambled Eggs

Soon after breakfast, I set out a few bites while the main course was cooking. A bit of cheese, A bit of charcuterie, a bit more salmon. It’s what the Catalans call pica pica, all these little bites.

Untitled

And the main course? Well, we can’t go wrong with another slab of pork belly – it always goes down well in this family. This year, I roasted it with apples and onions and I loved the sweetness and slight tang the apples gave. For a recipe, start with this one and instead of fennel, use a couple of sliced onions and a couple of sliced, peeled green apples and a bit of dried or fresh thyme.

Slow Roast Pork Belly with Apples and Onions

Very buttery mashed potatoes, pigs in blankets, sauteed sprouts, roasted carrots and parsnips and, of course, that pork and there’s my first plate made.

My Plate

And now it’s Boxing Day and that’s all about using up the leftovers… but first, I’d like to hear what you’ve been eating this Christmas! Have you tried new recipes this year or is this a time for sticking to tradition?

To celebrate the launch of The Square Cookbook by Philip Howard, I, along with a group of bloggers, was invited for dinner at The Square, a restaurant I’ve been meaning to visit for ages but never managed to make it there to try one of their set lunches. We dined in their private dining room that night and little did I realise that we’d get to experience their full tasting menu – and what a treat it was! There were wines accompanying each course as well and as I’m totally useless with alcohol, I won’t describe them here.

Phil Howard

To whet our appetites, a few little bites were brought out before the tasting menu started proper. A cone of foie gras mousse was luxuriously smooth and rich. A bite of pumpkin and cepe arancini was creamy and heck, it’s deep fried – can’t go wrong with that. Crunchy squid ink rice crackers stood in a base of delicious taramasalata dip.

Foie Gras Mousse Pumpkin and Cepe Arancini

Squid Ink Rice Crackers with Taramasalata Dip

Autumn Minestrone with a Slow Cooked Quail Egg, Montgomery Stock, Tarte Fine of Savoury Onions and Cepes

This was incredible,with its melting egg at the bottom of the rich, cheesy infused soup. The tarte fine on the side was just utterly delicious and I could easily have tucked away a whole trayful of it.

Autumn Minestrone with a Slow Cooked Quail Egg, Montgomery Stock, Tarte Fine of Savoury Onions and Cepes

Rillette of Smoked Cornish Mackerel with a Vinaigrette of Poole Prawns, Oysters, Sea Water Jellies, Cucumber and Caviar

This may have been my favourite course – the creamy rillettes were hidden under a fresh mixture of prawns and chopped oysters, pearls of sea water jelly and caviar and cubes of cucumber for crunch. It was a great combination.

Rillette of Smoked Cornish Mackerel with a Vinaigrette of Poole Prawns, Oysters, Sea Water Jellies, Cucumber and Caviar

Roast Foie Gras with Crab Apple Glaze and Toasted Hazelnuts

This was served with a tarte fine of apple, a slice of caramelised quince and a schmear of quince paste. The fruits provided a great sweet-tart balance to the unctuous foie. There didn’t seem to be any toasted hazelnuts though…the sprinkles on top were crushed honeycomb.

Roast Foie Gras with Crab Apple Glaze and Toasted Hazelnuts

Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle

This was an incredible piece of perfectly juicy shellfish that was also served with a field mushroom puree.

Sauté of Scottish Langoustine Tails with Parmesan Gnocchi and an Emulsion of Potato and Truffle

Fillet of Turbot with Autumn Truffle and Walnut Pesto and a Smoked Celeriac and Bay Milk Purée

The use of nuts was inspired with this flaky moist Turbot sitting on a bed of Hispi cabbage. The puree was very moreish – I really should try using more bay in my cooking.

Fillet of Turbot with Autumn Truffle and Walnut Pesto and a Smoked Celeriac and Bay Milk Purée

Breast of Grouse with Turnip and Celeriac, Pearl Barley, Pancetta and Blackberries

I’m not entirely sure I’m the biggest fan of this hyper-gamey bird but it was obviousl this was cooked with care. The tubular structure on the left was what I was most fond of – it was pastry filled with shredded leg meat.

Breast of Grouse with Turnip and Celeriac, Pearl Barley, Pancetta and Blackberries

Perl Las and Barkham Blue Cheese with Quince and Walnuts

This combination of two blue cheeses did me in. I’m not a blue cheese fan and to encounter it both in a pastry and scattered through salad leaves was just too intense for me. The little pastry in which the slice of perl las was sandwiched was delicious though with its crabapple filling.

Perl Las and Barkham Blue Cheese with Quince and Walnuts

Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Currants

The desserts were equally impressive. I never would have thought of making cheesecake with Brillat-Savarin (a triple cream brie) but it did end up tasting like a regular, though excellent, cheesecake. Currants were everywhere on the plate: a redcurrent glaze on the cheesecake, a blackcurrant ripple ice cream and a raspberry Swiss roll topped with a blackcurrant jelly.

IMG_022Brillat-Savarin Cheesecake with Currants0

Plum Soufflé with Almond Ice Cream

This was a beautiful end to the meal. What was unexpected was the plum conserve at the base of the souffle but it wasn’t any less delicious for it.  And the ice cream was amazing with its flavour of toasted almonds.

Plum Soufflé with Almond Ice Cream

So it turned out that the petit fours were the final end! This collection of jellied fruits was delicious with my favourite being the orange slice of candied grapefruit peel. In addition, there were some salted caramel honeycomb truffles that we struggled to fit into our already swollen bellies. If this meal was anything to go by, their set lunch must also be something quite special.

Petit Fours

And the book? Well, Howard himself came out to talk us through it and explained that this was a 10 year labour of love and we ended up comparing his cookbook (a seriously hefty tome where each dish requires a lot of time and effort) versus the current trend for super quick and easy recipes. Well, I reckon it would be nice to push myself a little further in the kitchen and see if I could work through one of the recipes. Personally, I’d have to adapt some things for my tiny kitchen: for example, I won’t be smoking my own mackerel to make the rillettes (yup, the recipe for that dish is included) but would rather substitute a high quality already-smoked fish.

The Square Cookbook

The book out now is only Volume 1: Savoury while Volume 2: Sweet is due out next year. Of course, it can be ordered through their website or any good bookshop. In addition, Howard recently recorded a Kitchen Foundation video mini-series and two podcasts. They describe the foundations of a successful kitchen and I view them as bonus material with the cookbook.

Funny story. I was carrying the book back home on the tube that evening when, to my surprise, the man sitting across from me became very excited by the sight of it. It turned out he was a former cook himself and it goes to show the esteem to which Phil Howard is held.

Thank you very much to Philip Howard and Alix at ME:MO Interactive for the invitation.

The Square
6-10 Bruton Street
Mayfair
London W1J 6PU

Square on Urbanspoon

Unbeknownst to us, our Paris hotel on rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud was a short distance away from lots of good eating. Our hotel’s free wifi was a great help, with a quick search finding us Astier, a very traditional French bistro, only a hop, skip and jump away. A reservation was made for our second night and off we went for our dinner date in this quaint red and white checked tableclothed restaurant. A four course set meal (starter, main, cheese, dessert) was on offer for €35 (with about 4 choices for each course, except cheese) and we both chose that. There’s also a choice of going a la carte as well as specials of the day on a separate chalkboard that can be had as part of the menu at a supplement.

My Harengs Marinés, Pommes Ratte en Vinaigrette first came as an empty plate and a bowlful of deliciously nutty potatoes in a tangy vinaigrette. The marinated herrings came separately in a huge terrine dish that was thunked unceremoniously next to me. I love these help-yourself dishes and I certainly did help myself but don’t worry, I didn’t clean out the communal herrings! The herrings were gorgeous – not at all fishy but almost meaty and the pickled pink peppercorns and onions that swam alongside them were so perfect with them.

Harengs Marinés

Pommes Ratte en Vinaigrette

Blai’s Caillette de Canard aux Herbes, Effilocheé de légumes, jus de viandes was slices of what appeared to be a fat sausage of duck on a bed of boiled green beans and it was delicious. It was a great start to the meal.

Caillette de Canard aux Herbes

For mains, a Pressé de Jarret de Veau Braisé, Légumes à la tomate et olives noires de Nyons was very tender and had very southern French flavours – fresh tomatoes, olives – that I never would have thought to pair with veal. It all made up for a very fresh and relatively light dish.

Pressé de Jarret de Veau Braisé

The Cote d’Agneau Rôties au Thym Frais, Pommes de terre et aubergines à l’ail doux was fantastic. These was some the best lamb I’ve ever had and each lamb chop was cooked to a perfect rose inside. The accompanying mashed potatoes and aubergine puree were equally good.

Cote d'Agneau Rôties au Thym Frais

During our main course, we had been watching the progress of the cheese platter around the restaurant with envious eyes! Finally, it was our turn! Two fresh plates were set in front of us and then Le Plateau de Fromages d’Astier appeared! Oh, what a spread – we helped ourselves to a bit of almost everything but my particular favourite (and always has been) was a brilliant Époisses – you can just see it on the small plate at the back.

Le Plateau de Fromages d'Astier

Dessert was of the same excellent standard as the rest of the courses. Blai’s Clafoutis et Sorbet aux Framboises was full of butter and fresh fruit.

Clafoutis et Sorbet aux Framboises

My Biscuit Tiède aux Abricots, Glace à la vanille Bourbon façon Melba was equally delicious with half an abricot baked into the cake and another half roasted and placed on top. Their accompanying ice creams and sorbets are also to be commended.

Biscuit Tiède aux Abricots

We were stuffed. I managed to find some space for a coffee but that was it – roll us out please.

Café

Service was excellent and very jokey (“€200!” announced our waiter as he brought the bill and he laughed as my eyes bulged out of their sockets. Our bill was less than half that.) It’s a fantastic place to take a very traditional bistro meal and yes, it’s good for cosy dates too! Bookings are advised. It was emptier when we went which can possibly be explained by it being the last weekend in August.

Astier
44 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud
75011 Paris

And that ends my posts from our long weekend in Paris. All my photos from this short Paris trip can be found at this Flickr photoset. It’s back to London for a bit before I start writing about the south of France!

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