Sunday, 6 May 2012

Recipe: Strawberry Sponge Cake

I was lucky enough to get the Primrose Bakery recipe book for my birthday last year, and have been working my way through the recipes ever since.  For Christmas I also got a good food processor and all the trimmings, so I now have no excuse not to be baking with every inch of my spare time.  One of the first things I wanted to try was their Strawberry Cake, and having given it a couple of goes I've amended the recipe a little to make it better (in my opinion anyway).


Ingredients:

(for the sponge cake)
. 3 large eggs (have a 4th spare just incase)
. 210g self raising flour
. 25g cornflour
. 1 tsp baking powder
. 225g unsalted butter (can use margarine if you like)
. 225g (or just a regular punnet) of fresh strawberries
. 1 tsp of vanilla extract

(for the butter icing)
. 70g unsalted butter (can use margarine but you will get a runny mixture)
. 350g icing sugar
. 60ml semi skimmed milk (cannot use skimmed as it won't have enough dairy in it)
. 50g finely chopped strawberries

(for the centre)
. 1/2 a jar of strawberry jam, good quality
. 100g of strawberries, sliced - for the centre and to decorate

Firstly, prepare the butter-cream icing (to allow it to cool in the fridge whilst the sponge is cooking).  Simply put the butter into a bowl and stir, gradually adding in the sugar.  Once you have got any lumps out, pour in the milk and the strawberries.  Mix until the mixture is even, and even you lift the spoon out if shouldn't drip - if so add more sugar.  Put into the fridge for later.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and prepare two 20cm baking tins. Next (if you can, use a food processor - failing that then be prepared to mix hard!) put your butter into a large bowl/food processor and pour in the brown and caster sugars (brown is good for fruit cakes - you can change this to combining the weights of both sugars for golden caster sugar if you want).  Mix until even, don't let it get too soft.  Continue to mix and spoon in the flour tablespoon and corn flour (vital as absorbs the moisture of the fruit) at a time, and add the vanilla extract.

Once the mix is even again, crack in each of the eggs at a time - if once the you have added the 3rd it still looks a little doughy, add a 4th.  The mixture should be quite runny.  Finally, add in the strawberries and mix until even.

Separate the mixture into the two baking tins and put in the oven for 20 minutes.  Test if the sponge is ready by putting a knife into the centre of the sponge - if the knife comes out clean then it is ready.  Take the sponges out, allow to cool and then take the base sponge and cover in jam, to taste.  Then place the sliced strawberries on top.

Take the butter icing from the fridge and spoon 1cm thick on top of the strawberries, and then place the top sponge on top.  Put icing on top, as thick as you would like, and you should have enough to cover the sides if you wanted it to.  Eat straight away - will last a good few days.

South Molton St Starving
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Monday, 12 March 2012

Review: Bentleys Oyster Bar and Grill, Mayfair W1

We have long been fans on Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill - I sampled my first ever oysters there, and my other half went to a fantastic Cigar and Whisky tasting evening with them over Christmas - we really didn't think it could get any better.  In case you don't know of it, Bentley's is hidden away on Swallow St in Mayfair - near Piccadilly Circus.  

the huge selection of Oysters  and Yorkshire puds / beef the size of my head

Since February they have started doing a Sunday Steak and Lobster Club - £45 for nibbles, oysters, crab salad, enough meat to start up a farm, pudding and tea/coffee.  When we arrived we were given a drink in the bar and then were taken upstairs to have a look around the kitchen.  The chef team went through the history of the oysters and the meat and gave his some great little canapes (anchovy cheese straws, yum) before seating us in the rather lovely dining area where we were given big Bellini and some yummy breads.

plate of oysters, between two

First course arrives - two plates of oysters between the four of us.  A real mix of flavours - from baked with breadcrumbs to garlic and spinach infused raw ones.  We were already full by the end of that course, thank goodness there was a little break before the crab salad arrived - which was good, but nothing to write home about. Crab meat was exceptional quality though.  Next up - the beef.  My god it was incredible.  Out of nowhere a fleet of staff surrounded our table filling it with mash potato pots, roasted parsnips and gravy boats.  Then along came two of these...


The meat was sensational - tasted so amazing, and mixed with all the vegetables and horseradish it tasted unreal.  We had lots of meat left over, that the waiter put into a doggy bag for us and the chef came around to say hello and talk through the meal and the idea behind doing the Sunday lunch club.  We then had a lemon meringue dessert and tea and coffee - and rolled out of the restaurant 3 hours later.

the menu / Bellini on arrival

If we were really picking them we'd say two things: the horseradish mousse melted too quickly on the plate, and secondly when we asked the waiter what his favourite part of the meal was he said, 'I don't like any of it, I don't eat any other meat than chicken.'  Not very good - but we were 4 bottles down by this point, and the food tasted so good we didn't really care... The bill was expensive,  (£350 for 4 people, with 3 bottles of wine and drinks on arrival) and for that price I do think a waiter should at least pretend to like his menu... But we wholeheartedly recommend a visit to Bentleys... We are still full 24 hours later.

So, our survey says:
Style: 7
Service 8 (would be 10 was it not for the waiter's comment)
Pricing: 8
Taste: 10
Fun Factor: 10
Total: 43/50

Book here: Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill, 11-15 Swallow Street, W1B 4DG, 020 7734 4756

South Molton St Starving
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Monday, 27 February 2012

Review: Hereford Road, Bayswater W2

We went out last week for our anniversary, and decided to avoid the crowds of the West End and do something a little more local.  So with the power of Google and not very creative search terms, I found Hereford Road (on Hereford Road, Bayswater).  We wanted British, organic, local food - and boy did we get it!


Smuggled away in Bayswater, this restaurant was opened in 2007 by Tom Pemberton (previously head chef at St John Bread and Wine) with an aim of creating a little local with a big, bold British menu.  With dishes varying from steak and kidney pie to a wood pigeon, you really do get that vibe.  Walk down the quiet street and Hereford Road kind of stumbles upon you - the open kitchen at the front is rather exciting (you really can see your food cooked before you eyes), and the 2 seater booths in the bar area are probably the best seats in the house for couples.  At the back is a larger dining area that I would guess seats around 50?  Oh, and the waiters were just lovely.


I chose the squash soup with pancetta and chestnuts which was amazing, and my other half went for a pate with grilled ciabatta (I think following on from our trip to Dinner by Heston, he's taking any opportunity to eat pate!).  Both were lovely, decent size without filling you up too much - which was a bl**dy good thing as we decided to share the whole seabass with a side of fresh greens.  It comes with a head, tail and all the bones - but after a fairly feeble attempt at making it edible, our waiter kindly stepped in and made it look easy.  The fish was incredible, how on earth they made it that tasty I have no idea - and it tasted so, so fresh. 


After a little break from eating we decided to tackle the dessert menu, and ordering was quite a task! You name the home-cooked favourites, they were all there.  I went for the apple crumble and custard, and He went for the plate of British cheese.  Both were amazing - the custard was just right, and the portions were enough to allow us to get home without busting at the seams. Also, cannot forget to mention their very good wine list and British beet range - as my other half is a Yorkshire man he knows his bitters, and Hereford Road apparently had the best.  The restaurant was buzzing by 8pm, and they were turning away business later on in the evening so do remember to book ahead. Overall, we had an amazing dinner here and it was lovely to part with money for a local business rather than a chain - without the massive price tag.  I would definitely recommend this to friends, and to you all!

Style: 7
Service: 10
Pricing: 10
Taste: 9
Fun Factor: 8
Total: 44/50

Book here: Hereford Road, 3 Hereford Road, Bayswater, W2 4AB

South Molton St Starving
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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Knightsbridge SW1X

This is a restaurant I was genuinely very excited about going to - when you eat out quite a lot it is easy to become a little bit used to it.  But I'd heard so much great stuff about this place - I knew it was going to be good.  We had waited a good few weeks for this - and thank you to American Express's Concierge we got a great table on a Saturday night, which is apparently very hard to do.  So we were a little surprised when we walked into a half empty restaurant...


Having walked through the hotel, and it's bar, we were seated and provided with a very impressive menu, wine list and bread and butter to die for.  I'm not sure what Heston puts in the bread - but it's enough to distract you from the fact that service is a little on the slow side.  On the completely Non-PC front, it was lovely to be served by English people.  I'm sorry to say, but in most restaurants in Central London orders often get 'lost in translation' so it made a refreshing change.  The waiter knew the menu incredibly well, explaining that all staff get to taste and review dishes on a weekly basis...


The restaurant itself is surprisingly modern and 'hotel like,' and I'd be lying if I said we weren't a little disappointed.  What with the Tudor menu, we were expecting something a little grander and perhaps a little more historic.  However, we ordered and given the size of the gin and tonic I was well on the way to having a good time.  I ordered the 'meat fruit' - because I was told that was what you should have by hoards of friends who have been lucky enough to get tables here through the guise of 'client lunches.'


It arrived (above).  Now, to your right their appears to me an orange.  Wrong!  This is an entirely edible pate - and my god is it good.  Completely smooth, rich and with a hint of orange - this was absolutely amazing.  My boyfriend glared me the whole way through - his snail porridge was quite nice, but nothing in comparison and he ended up eating most of my pate.  (He did the man-thing and wanted to order the most crazy dish - for which Heston is renowned).  The bread was 'chargrilled' and although you could guess by the weight of it how much oil they'd used to make it, it tasted unreal.


Following on from the spectacular starters, mains were a little bit of a disappointment.  Although they tasted superb, whichever way you looked at it, it's fish and vegetables.  Other options included a burger and steak and chips - which seemed criminal choices when you are eating in a Michelin star restaurant (but looked amazing as they went past).  But dessert was outstanding, and the highlight of the meal.  We both had the tipsy cake, which you need to order at the start as it takes 25 minutes to make.  Every 3 minutes whilst baking, cream and rum is added to the mix.  My god it tasted out of this world - and the flambĂ©ed pineapple accompaniment is perfect.


Overall, Dinner is worth a go.  It isn't that pricey either, in comparison to other restaurants in town with the same formal rating.  Don't expect much from your surroundings, but in truth - I do wonder if that is so that you focus more on the food.  We had a great time, and 3 courses with spirits and wine came to £170.   

So, in total our survey said:

Style: 5
Service: 7
Pricing: 6 (would be an 8 if the drinks hadn't been so expensive)
Taste: 9
Fun Factor: 7

Total: 34/50

Book here: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal - Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Review: Mango Tree, Victoria SW1X


I've long been a fan of the Mango Tree but had been years since I'd last been - it's on Grosvenor Place near Buckingham Palace, Victoria and Belgravia and I don't find myself around there very often.  But I was seeing a friend who was staying in town close to the restaurant so it was a perfect opportunity to go.

When you walk in you can smell the flavour from the word go - the restaurant is always busy, and feels almost like a hotel or corporate space when you walk in.  Make time to go and have a drink at the bar first, as it's more intimate and a nice way to start.  Booked through toptable, the Mango Tree always has excellent deals on - we got 50% off the food bill. As an FYI, the restaurant's food is always excellent value due to the toptable offers - but they make up the bill with drinks.  Their cocktails are brilliant, but are between 8 and 15 pounds each so don't guzzle them down.  Unusually for a pan Asian restaurant, they have a very good wine list.


Even the prawn crackers in this place are good, which are on the table when you are seated.  I had the Tom Kha soup (coconut milk based, with chicken, mushroom and red chilli) which was gorgeous and has inspired me to have a go making it, and my friend had the giant prawn spring rolls which were presented beautifully and tasted divine - they didn't scrimp on the amount of prawn - it made up most of the roll!

For main, I had the garlic chicken with cashew nuts and onion (not that adventurous but always a good dish to test out a restaurant) which was cooked to perfect, and the sticky rice accompaniment was exactly as it should be.  Good portion size, enough for you before your guests start pronging their forks in!  Now, my favourite bit - Mango Tree does have a great dessert menu.  I had the cooked Mango with vanilla sticky rice which was sensational.  Service wise, it was very good considering how busy they are too - although they did keep asking if we wanted our plates cleared when we hadn't finished (pet hate) - the restaurant was packed and had a small queue by the time we left.

Overall this place is fantastic, great for large or small gatherings and considering how central it is, it's fantastic value.  Great broad menu with something for everyone - as spicy as you want it to be.  Recommend with confidence!

Style: 7
Service: 6
Pricing: 9
Taste: 9
Fun Factor: 8

Book here Mango Tree, 46 Grosvenor Place, Belgravia, SW1X 7EQ

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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Recipe: Leek, Potato and Pancetta Soup


Continuing the potato loving... making soups is a new venture for me, ever since I stumbled across the Covent Garden Soup recipe book a few weeks ago - they are ridiculously easy to make and you really can put whatever you want in them, great for clearing out the cupboards.  Plus, they freeze well.  I use my leftover takeaway boxes to make servings and keep them in the freezer.  Perfect for a cold autumn evening - plus if you're a bit of a tidy-nut like me, it's quite therapeutic to 'waste not, want not.'  This recipe came about after making a standard leek and potato soup, and wanting a little more punch/flavour..

Ingredients:
(for 4-6 portions)

. 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
. 1 large onion - preferably a few days old for additional sweetness
. 225g/8oz of boiled-till-soft potato (sweet potatoes work brilliantly too)
. 2 large leeks - sliced
. 2 pints of vegetable stock - homemade is best, but if bought buy fresh not granulated/OXO
. 150ml of cream, creme fraiche or unsweetened yoghurt
. Salt and ground black pepper
. 100g of pancetta (bacon and salted ham works well too)

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Having boiled the potatoes, heat the oil in a large saucepan and lightly fry the pancetta and onion (and spice if you wish - suprisingly cumin or a pinch of cinnamon tastes amazing).  Add the leeks and potatoes after 2 minutes. After a few minutes more (when the ham is cooked pink and the onions are softening) add the vegetable stock and allow to boil.  Simmer until the vegetables are soft/tender - test using a fork.

Pour mixture into a new, clean pan and add the cream/yoghurt.  With an electric blender (you will definitely need one of these, for sanity's sake) mix until ingredients are altogether.  Heat until cooked through, and serve.

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Friday, 28 October 2011

Recipe: The Perfect Roast Potatoes


If you aren't a potato lover in my family, you might as well have three heads.  Being brought up as a true meat and two veg English girl - we know our 'spuds' and know we like lots of them.  Here is a great, simple roast potato recipe that even I have managed to stick to.  I think it started life as a Delia Smith recipe, but has been handed down on various pieces of paper, each time adding something to it in a Chinese whisper type fashion.

According to my father, it's all in the type of potato.  Use Desiree if you can, as they are perfect for all things baking when it comes to potatoes.  They make great roasts, chips and even baked potatoes.  Price wise, they are not the cheapest but certainly not the most expensive.

Ingredients:

. 250g of potato (Desiree or another 'floury' type) per person
. 20g lard/fat per person
. Salt - cut rough
. Chives or herbs to taste

Preparation time: 25 mins
Cooking time: 50 mins (if making for 4 people) add 10 minutes for each additional serving

First place the roasting tray with the fat in it on the highest shelf of the oven while it pre-heats (gas mark 7). Peel the spuds using a peeler, then cut them into fairly even-sized pieces, leaving the small ones whole. Place them in a saucepan, pour over boiling water, just to cover, then add salt and simmer for about 10 minutes. After that lift one out with a skewer/fork and see if the outer edge is fluffy. You can test this by running the point of the skewer along the surface – if it stays smooth, give it a few more minutes.

Drain off the water, reserving some for the gravy.  Shake the saucepan vigorously up and down (with the top on, obviously). This shaking roughens up the cooked edges of the potato and makes them floury and fluffy – this is the secret of the crunchy edges.

Remove the roasting tray containing the fat (which should sizzle) and transfer to the direct heat (medium) on the hob. Then use a long-handled spoon and quickly lower the potatoes into the hot fat. When they are all in, tilt the tray and baste each one so it's completely coated with fat. Place them back on the highest shelf of the oven and leave them unattended for 40-50 minutes or until they are golden brown. There's no need to turn them over at half-time – they will brown evenly by themselves. 

Sprinkle them with the salt before serving; they lose their crunch if you keep them waiting. If they're ready before you are, turn the oven off and leave them inside - open the oven door if you're worried they'll burn.

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