Monday, 11 April 2016

THE ART OF DINING OUT




There is an ongoing campaign to “bring back plates”, a crusade against restaurants serving food on bits of wood, roof slates, jam jars and yes, even dustbin lids, God forbid not literally for the latter!  There’s also a general longing amongst diners for the traditional way of dining if AA Gill’s review of Shuang Shuang is anything to go by. He bemoans the lack of simple old soup on menus, a carving trolley and old waitresses to name but a few. If I may add to the list, the joy of dining out at leisure!

By golly, whatever happened to the world.  There’s nothing I hate as much as the smug “voice” behind the phone telling me “you will have the table for two hours”. Two hrs my foot, surely that’s just time enough to say hi to each other, go through the menu and swap items in my case. God knows I won’t look at a menu before I visit a restaurant, spoils the whole fun of discussing the dishes on offer, part of the fun of dining out with friends surely!

I can remember a recent date almost turning into a disaster due to this time limitation malarkey. Of course the fact that I turned up at the wrong restaurant is beside the point.  By the time I turned up at the right restaurant, I think we’d already used up 20 minutes of our two hours! I was actually oblivious to the fact that we had to vacate the table at someone else’s pleasure rather than by the need for either one of us to escape. Come to think of it, this could be brilliant for first dates when one wants to escape without claiming a headache! I digress, on said night, the restaurant which shall remain nameless as they have since made up for it after my very public grumble, brought us dessert menus whilst we were still having our main course and proceeded to tell us that we had very limited time left.  Everyone knows I have an extremely sweet tooth and having seen a dessert I was determined to have, I went on and ordered it. You can imagine my indignation when the maître d’ came over to ask us to leave the table as our time was up. I have never been so insulted in my whole life, well maybe I have, but that’s not the point!

There was no way I was going to leave my dessert. What happened to simple good manners!

Imagine my delight therefore when I recently decided to pay a visit to a city restaurant I’ve been longing to visit but haven’t quite got round to it as it is in the City and I live in the South West.  I know right!  I booked an early table but the “voice” did not tell me I had to vacate it after two hours, already a good start.

A girlfriend and I decided to go to Wentworth Street to buy some African fabric, you’ll be amazed at what you can find in London. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to visit L’Anima in the city and make a whole day of it.


We are first to arrive and so have a welcome committee, the maître d’, several hostesses, a lady who kindly takes our coats and someone who looks like a manager, I say this as he was the only one wearing a suit! I immediately like the glass fronted restaurant with tables covered in white linen strewn around in an orderly manner. The only decoration on the table is a small glass tumbler with a single rosebud. You can see the kitchen on one side of the restaurant, a thing favoured by many  restaurants these days. I have to say, there’s something quite reassuring about seeing the people who are cooking your dinner. 




A bread basket with lovely warm bread is immediately brought to the table with the most delicious green olives and of course good old balsamic vinegar immersed in olive oil. The maître d’ is appalled when I go to put my handbag on the floor. He’s obviously used to dealing with ladies who are fussy about their bags whereas I really couldn’t give a hoot but I appreciate the little cat (who I immediately name Felix)used to hang the bag by the table.

We struggle to pick our dishes due to the vast choice on offer and being foodies we of course want to try everything on the menu. The maître d’ turns out to be a real gem when we tell him we would like to try each other’s dishes. He suggests a sharing menu, basically the dishes we picked but served to each of us, I think we actually end up eating more food than we would have had we not been sharing.

We start with a raw Tuna, Avocado and Mango Salad. I have to say, I love raw Tuna and avoid ordering it in most places as I always end up disappointed, not this time!


The Tuna is meltingly tender and the mango so tasty it reminds me of those I had in my childhood. Coupled with the avocado smear, yes, looks like smearing is still the done thing, and a sprinkling of squid ink dust, it is a marriage made in heaven. I then realise we are in for a treat. Did  I also mention that there is a little edible pansy on the plate.

By the time our “middle” course of Beetroot Tortelli with smoked Burrata, Ricotta and aged Balsamic Vinegar arrives, the maître d’ and I are best of friends. I know he owns a Vespa, but of course, he is Italian after all and that he lives in Croydon. How I wish I was polite enough to have asked for his name.


What a dish, and if I’m sincere, my favourite of the night. .The Tortelli arrives on a sheer black plate which off-sets its deep red colour beautifully. It is open at the top so one can see the cheese on which the vinegar is drizzled at the table with aplomb. Beetroot and vinegar work beautifully together and combined with smoky Burrata, whose smokiness I can actually taste, it very easily asserts itself in my mouth. One can also taste the beetroot whose juice was used to provide both flavour and colour to the Tortelli. Definitely something I’m going to try at home!


Then comes the Marinated Black Cod in Prosecco and Paprika. I’ve always thought Black Cod overrated so this wasn’t my choice but I am happy to try it. The colours of the dish are incredibly vibrant.  The Cod has a beautiful orange paprika crust but is soft and flaky and is accompanied by a purple mash potato with rich green Kale. It isn’t a bad dish but didn’t blow my mind away. Then again, Cod has never been my fish of choice.


I must admit that by the time the Lamb arrives, I’m ready for dessert so my recollection of it may be a bit jaded!  The lamb is perfectly pink in the middle with a lovely crisp outer ring. It’s served with a lamb and raisin jus, pear and a saffron potato. I felt the pear could have been left to cook a bit longer in order to absorb more flavours and also be just that bit softer. Nonetheless, my girlfriend seemed to have really enjoyed it.

A meal isn’t complete without dessert in my opinion and I’m glad she also agrees as we proceed to place our orders. We have no doubts over this one and there is no way we are going to share, other than a spoonful taste.


I of course go for the white chocolate Soufflé which I remember being as light as cotton candy and comes with a scoop of very delicious vanilla ice cream and some melted dark chocolate.



I almost regret my choice when my girlfriend’s chocolate smeared plate of hazelnut and chocolate sphere arrives. But definitely envious as the waiter proceeds to pour a hot caramel on the sphere which enticingly melts away to reveal a hazelnut encrusted in beautiful sugar work.

The service was flawless, atmosphere hospitable and food devilishly divine.  We even receive an extra pot of tea each and the offer of a lift home on the Vespa, as the skies have just opened up and we can’t leave. We linger over this surrounded by the comfortable hum of voices from the now filled up restaurant and the sound of splattering rain.

L’Anima is operated by a team that are obviously proud of what they do which you can tell from the little things they do to make your experience special. Definitely worth a second or even a third visit.

Note to self, never turn down that 6 pm table, you may just be in for a treat.


Monday, 10 August 2015

Those "Complicated" Dishes

TUNA TARTARE



Have you ever had a dish in a restaurant that’s blown your taste buds away and wondered how they did it, most probably you can actually do it too. The secret is to get the best of ingredients available and viola, you’re half way there.

I love Tuna tartare but it had never occurred to me that I could actually do it myself. I’m currently trying for a surfboard tummy (don’t ask) which means I’m trying to eat as healthily as possible. I had a dinner party last Saturday which involved a dish of seared Tuna for one of the courses with outstanding results (more on that later). So for this Monday night, I decided I would attempt a Tuna tartare with avocado and mango.

You’ll be surprised at what you can find at supermarkets these days, especially places like Waitrose, my local one actually sells yellowfin Tuna, which is meant to be the best variety!

This dish is simple and fast (about 15 minutes excluding shopping) and needless to say very healthy. Amounts will of course vary depending on how many people you are preparing the dish for. Mine was for one.

Ingredients:-

·         Piece of yellowfin tuna
·         Half an avocado
·         Half the flesh of a ripe mango
·         Freshly ground black pepper
·         Pinch of salt
·         Juice of half a lime
·         Balsamic reduction
·         Drop of olive oil
·         Sprouting salad to garnish
Mousse Ring



Method:-

1.       Garnish a plate with sprouting salad
2.       Finely slice and chop the Tuna into a bowl and mix with the olive oil, black pepper, pinch of salt and the juice of the lime
3.       Place a metal mousse ring on a plate and spoon the tuna mixture into it
4.       Slice the avocado into tiny pieces (no need to season) and add to the tuna in the tian
5.       Slice the mango flesh into tiny pieces and again add to the tian
6.       Remove the metal tian and drizzle with the balsamic reduction

I had mine with Melba toast which is so simple to make. Simply toast some slices of bread and cut each slice into two pieces, toast them again and you have your Melba toast.

PS!
You can also garnish with a bit of coriander, mango and coriander make amazing bed fellows!


Happy eating.