Tuesday, 31 January 2012

How was your Sunday?

Croydon Fun Weekend or #croydonfunweekend is the brainchild of @kake. It’s an event that lasts for three days and brings together a gathering of friends to appreciate what Croydon has to offer. The inaugural CFW began last weekend and the itinerary was devoted to the pleasure of good food and drink. It was all too tempting to turn down an invite that included the likes of wine, curry houses, dim sum, sushi, pub crawls, cooking and of course great company.

As I couldn’t make it on Friday and Saturday the following reportage is about the final day.

Started the day with a ‘breakfast’ lunch at a greasy spoon.
The sausages were piss poor.

Grocery shopping on London Road followed-

Palm oil
Apparently the Ghanaian variety is the best.

Head and shoulders

Knees and toes

A certain person’s idea of Hell.

Back at Kake’s for the prepping and cooking-

There’s nothing more laborious and tedious than removing the skins from black-eyed beans.
For a kilogram or so of the beans, it took the five ladies approximately 45 minutes to complete the task. So based on the National Minimum Wage, the effort alone was worth £23! I exempted myself from the chore pleading stinky hands due to being a heavy smoker.

Dried zobo leaves and petals (a species of Hibiscus).
The above is the primary ingredient of the popular Nigerian beverage also known as zobo.

What goes in the blend.

The zobo tasted essentially of a non-alcoholic fruit punch.
Refreshing when iced cold and heart-warming when hot.

Kake’s fridge.
It was like an exhibit being showcased at the Tate Modern. The individual labels remind what’s currently in her fridge/freezer and further depicted by the quantity left of each item!
I can see Damien Hirst ripping this off.

Rinsing the meat
I had to include the picture because I’m fully paid member of the Tripe is Beautiful Society.

Akara (black-eyed bean cakes) time-

Blend of peeled black-eyed beans, onion, scotch bonnets, sweet peppers, and seasoning.

Blitzing the mixture

Meanwhile the other dishes are on schedule

Here’s another painstaking task, this is Pern mashing the Iyan or pounded yam.

Deep frying the akara

Et voila, the golden bean cakes.

The Spread

NB notice the bottled drinks on the top left corner, well I can’t put it better than the following- ''If you had to look up what a Supermalt is, you’ve proven my point. One time, I saw a white dude drinking a Supermalt. It was like… like… seeing a unicorn...''

Tomato Stew (comprising of chicken and lamb)
Don’t fall for the plain jane name, this delicious dish is not for the chilli sissies.

The Draw Soup flanked by the bowl of pounded yam and fried plantain.
The soup is made with okra and Ogbono seeds (bush mango) and whilst tasty it was rather challenging to eat, it had the same kind of consistency as a bloodhound’s drool.

Egusi Soup
An amazing tasting protein-rich dish of goat, oxtail and tripe generously thickened with dried melon seeds. The addition of the bitter leaves was IMO, sensational.

Pepper Soup
With oxtail and tripe. This was the standout dish of the evening. It was herby, spicy and meaty. I’ll certainly try and attempt to cook it at home.

The young ladies who led the kitchen
Denise (sous chef) and Rafee (chef executive)

My first foray into Nigerian cuisine and I’m hooked. I’ve also learnt that the Indians and Thais are not the only ones who have a total disregard to the Scoville scale when it comes to spicing their dishes, the West Africans are right up there with them. And not forgetting the use of cheap cuts of meat and justifying it to its full potential, Nigerian cooking is perhaps the original soul food with heat.

Fun can be found in Croydon. Thank you Kake.

Additonal thanks to-

Rafee and Denise- great dinner and I shall retain the seeds in future when cooking with scotch bonnets.

Pern- your work ethic in the kitchen was mightily impressive.

@AlisonW- for suggesting I’m still young at 47 and giving me lift back to the West End.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Granger & Co

Of late I’ve been solo dining a lot less as I’ve recently rejuvenated my dinner dates with MsMarmitelover. Of my entire regular dining companions she’s the most fastidious nitpicker and quite rightly so for she’s a prolific and thoroughly informed cook. Through her supper club and book, she has become influential and therefore deserves her place on the pedestal. But she’s also one who wears her heart on her sleeve and doesn’t suffer fools gladly…ask her a stupid question and she’ll hit you well below where it hurts with a snappy answer. She has a simple and very certain opinion about food related things, she’s my kinda pal.

My intense craving for eggs one Sunday morning led to my initial suggestions of either this or this, but they were vetoed because she’d ‘been there and done that, where else?’ We ended up at Granger & Co, we'd fallen for the rage about it.

In a manner that doesn’t encourages a longwinded prose, we both found Granger & Co disappointing. In fact MsMarmitelover more so than I, she felt let down by the blandness of the food and the lack of feedback from the waiting staff. Personally I thought the service was more than ok, the white T-shirt-clad staff were still acclimatising and burning in, they were polite enough to all the diners and I daresay worryingly too meek to report back about our disgruntlement to their managers as well. This is after all an allegedly all-perfect but casual eating joint created by an all-perfect geezer (who can do no wrong) for the near-perfect chi chi luvvies of Kensington and Chelsea. Like Daylesford Organic and Nicole Farhi’s 202 on the same road, Granger & Co has become a sacred hangout of the Notting Hill fraternity and so to speak negatively about it would result in immediate deportation from the area.

Bill’s Bloody Mary with Belvedere vodka.

Frigging expensive at £8.50 a glass! Any tomato juice bought off the shelf should have at least 20% salt in it to give it bite but the juice utilised at Granger & Co was probably of the usual organic sort sanctioned by the health-nazi brigade with absolutely no extras added; it tasted diluted at best
. And as for the posh vodders - being forever and unashamedly uncouth that I'm, I couldn’t tell the difference between it and this. Incidentally my favourite Bloody Mary resides here.

MsMarmitelover’s ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana & honeycomb butter.

This was a dish Lisa Markwell for The Independent described as ‘sweet pillows of joy’. Most pillows, whether as a slumbering accessory or purely edible, are a joy anyway but not the above. It was sadly less satisfying than this humble effort. And what took the final piss was the total absence of Ms Markwell’s ‘unadvertised but very welcome jug of syrup’ to go with her pillows…MsMarmitelover, you’ve been undeservingly denied!

Fragrant fish curry with jasmine rice & cucumber relish.

First and foremost, the cucumber relish was simply pathetic and lamentably perfunctory. The curry itself was Indian-inspired but the omission of fenugreek, garlic and additional chillies was hugely disappointing. I’m not denying that the dish was fragrant enough, the sprinkling of the fried shallots and coriander leaves were enough to assure one’s olfaction was still sound. This was one slapdash creation of mercurial proportions that took the piss of out my taste buds and wallet.

White Men Can't Jump and nor can they make a curry. If Bill’s intention was to create the best curry that’s both virtuously mild and bland then he’s been beaten a long time ago by the Japanese. He’s better off borrowing a few recipes from the Aussies’ neighbours of South East Asia or since he’s living in London now, traipse down to Southall and sample some proper masala fish.

Scrambled eggs with sourdough toast.

I left the saving grace till last. Bill, the redoubtable ‘egg master’ managed to live up to his tag. It was the silkiest, creamiest and eggiest egg dish I’ve eaten. It was fantastic. When it comes to scrambled eggs, the man’s a genius!

But would I come back, no not unless someone’s footing the bill. Granger & Co is affectedly trendy, fashionable, unavoidably pretentious and indignantly expensive.

175 Westbourne Grove
London W11 2SB


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Grand Imperial

I remember a time when Golden Wonder Cheese and Onion Crisps were the bee's knees, when Bovril actually gave you strength with its original recipe, when a can of regular Lilt contained no artificial sweeteners but good old sucrose and when green-top milk was sold at corner shops. I am of course talking about a period that was a little over two and a half decades ago. Sadly for me these foods don’t taste the same to me now; they suck. They have either succumbed to the pressures imposed by government policies which ultimately led to a revision and overhaul of the respective ingredients used or in the case of the unpasteurised milk, totally removed from shops or supermarkets. Thankfully the song remains the same with the traditional Dim Sum chow I’ve grown accustomed to courtesy of Chinatown’s stalwarts like Joy King Lau and Harbour City. The Har Gau and Siu Mai served at these places still taste essentially the same today as they did back in the late 80s when I first had them, it’s perhaps the expectation, consistency and the underrated mediocrity of the related dishes that tempt me back time and time again. What I detest most is when people start to moan about the authenticity of ethnic foods served in the capital like the genuine articles are only to be found in their spiritual homes. Well fuck that for a laugh, I’m grounded here in London and I have to make the most of it. Londoners, trust me, we are blessed with restaurants out there serving bloody good Dim Sum (and as good as the ones found in Hong Kong) such as Harbour City’s ethereal White Flower Fish Maw Dumplings or this highly divisive Xiaolongbao and not forgetting the great all-rounder.

On New Year’s Eve and as nobody likes me I chose to elect solitary confinement for myself. I snacked on worms that were long, thin, slimy ones; short, fat, juicy ones as well as the itsy-bitsy, fuzzy-wuzzy varieties. And all ably digested with the help of a magnum of third growth claret. I fell totally intoxicated before I had a chance to pop a bottle of Clos du Mesnil (a blessing no less) and inevitably missed the countdown to 2012. As a testament to good wines quaffed, I welcomed the New Year without a hangover and proceeded with my usual routine of breakfast and planning my usual Sunday lunch of Dim Sum.

I’ve been meaning to go Grand Imperial since its opening a few months ago. I came here not so much for its fine dining concept but was simply intrigued by the name of the chef; not Randall or Randy (witty remarks withstanding) but abruptly Rand, yes Rand Cheung! So take heed, to disregard macheteed first names like Lol Jenkins, Geo.F. Trumper, Malc Elliot and now, Rand Cheung would be churlish.

Grand Imperial is conjoined to the west wing of Victoria Station. It’s the flagship restaurant of the Thistle Grosvenor hotel; to me the Thistle Group spells two stars and the name Grosvenor, an esoteric five stars which makes the hotel 3.5 stars. The restaurant displayed a fair bit of opulence and grandeur, but since it’s a Chinese restaurant Sarah Lund jumpers and Simon Cowell's V-Neck will not be frowned upon. The service hierarchy is based on the Brave New World’s caste system-

The suited Beta males are highly selective about who they serve (it was probably them who gave Giles Goren a nosebleed because he was ‘being white in ANY chinese restaurant’- Twitter 4/1/12) and they absolutely don’t engage in small talk.

The black-uniformed Gamma males were simply there to honour your whims, top your drinks, hold your hands or clear the tables. They were efficient and friendly, and enlightened the diners with a weensy bit of small talk.

Deltas were unfortunately an all female affair clad in off-white cheongsams. Their job is to deliver the dishes from the kitchens into the dining room and transfer them to the Beta males who gently plonk what you ordered on the table with a sanctimonious sigh. The Delta ladies were sadly an entirely muted lot.

I’m confident that kitchen elves exist for a reason so Epsilons don’t figure at the Grand Imperial.

And what of the Alphas? Well there can only be one and that’s Rand Cheung.

Grand Imperial currently offers eat-as-much-as-you-like Dim sum lunches for £16.80 (weekdays) and £18.80 (weekends) per person. One’s presented with a short but tempting menu of Dim Sum dishes and a self-tick order form of what you desire. Can I just remind everyone to be responsible and not go nuts about ticking every single box, I suggest four to five dishes per person initially and if you’re still up for some more then you’ll be welcome to polish off the rest of the menu till you drop. Grand Imperial is not a registered charity therefore any requests to do with a doggie bag are profanely sacrilegious.

If you’re au fait with the following-

Thicker pastry skins than usual.
Fillings that are densely packed (not machine-ground but hand-chopped).
More steamed varieties than fried.

Then Grand Imperial answers your prayers and you’re in for a treat.

Prawn Cheung Fun
OMG moment...the start of something brill! The big fat prawns and the sweet soy sauce were responsible for the above.

Steamed black cod dumplings
I wasn’t convinced this was the ‘slippery’ black cod as suggested, it reminded me more of the usual haddock or plain cod instead. But whatevs’ it was unmistakably fresh and exceedingly delectable.

Stir-fried turnip cake with egg, bean sprouts and XO chilli sauce
The majority of Lo Pak Koh served elsewhere reminisce of rancid poo but the above was beyond moreish.

Har Gau
Very nearly the Mother of them all.

Pan-fried foie gras and beef dumpling.
An absolute waste of effort, the foie gras was totally obliterated by the five-spice seasoning and sickly sweet beef.

Dim Sum is best enjoyed with three or more persons.
Solo diners need not apply.

Shumai (hate that wiki spelling!)
Brilliant and on par with this.

Lotus leaf rice
Beautiful succulent chicken pieces and perfectly cooked rice. Exceptional.

Barbecued pork pastries
Not as good as Harbour City's but still praiseworthy .

Pokey poke time …this is strictly Yum Cha time.
We’re not at Ping Pong or Yauatcha now so don’t order any fancy pants cocktails or anything alcoholic for that matter, stick to tea please! There’s none better than the above; kook poh tea (blend of Pu-erh tea and chrysanthemum).

Congee with shredded chicken and conpoy
When it comes to a bit of cheering up the Jewish have this and the Cantonese have the above or chook. Thank you Mum Rand!

Congee with century egg and pork
The best 'chook' in London, sorry Richard!

Steamed prawn dumplings with XO chilli sauce
The best of any dumplings I've had in yonks. Spicy and mind-blowing.

Beef with coriander Cheung Fun
This might finally sway Mr Noodles.

Spare ribs and chicken feet rice
I couldn’t work out the atheist equivalent :(

Steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce
Proper Cantonese peeps love their pork fatty and this fulfilled. Salty, spicy and shamelessly oleaginous.

Xiao Long Bao with Crabmeat
Despite the near absence any soup seeping out when the dumplings were punctured, they were still excellent. The profusion of crabmeat provided an additional but wonderful sweetness.

Deep-fried chicken straws (or spring rolls)
Not brilliant, it was too heavy tasting and both the curry spices and fish sauce were unnecessary. The kitchen would've been better off with good old Vietnamese spring rolls instead.

Char Siu Bao
Eat while it's hot and savour the delicious pillow-soft buns at its almighty best.

When it comes to Dim Sum I’m decidedly old school and I deplore intrusions that embrace a twist of fusion. So apart from the two ‘misses’ on the menu, the Dim Sum dishes I had at Grand Imperial were astoundingly good and this could well qualify the restaurant as one of the finest in the country serving the best dumplings and more. Highly recommended and especially so before they change their minds about the eat-as-much-as-you-like offer.

101 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 0SJ