Monday, 28 November 2011
Friday, 25 November 2011
Much has been made of the pop-up restaurant craze blazing an untraceable trail through London, piquing the curiosity of gung-ho diners with its catch me if you can playfulness. So I was keen to check out Suka’s pop-up effort at its Sanderson outpost. I remember the restaurant’s former incarnation, Spoon, fondly. It was there where, as a food novice, I was first introduced to the delights of foie gras, which arrived in its seared guise atop a perfectly pink fillet steak. Perhaps loyal to that life changing experience and introduction to fine dining, I never returned once it became Suka.
Embracing the trend for fleeting eateries, Suka has flown in Malaysian chef Ahmad Shuib for three months in a bid to usher the restaurant back to its street food roots. Priced lower than the standard Suka menu, the street food offering (available until late January) is based around small sharing plates. Bypassing the Long Bar, with its curious one-eyed stalls, my friend and I are seated outside in the covered courtyard, which, with heaters blaring and dance music pumping, feels more like an Ibizan chill-out lounge than a Mayfair restaurant midwinter.
We begin with two tiny cups of traditional lemongrass tea served cold with brown sugar, inspired by the infusions Shuib’s mother used to make, which both cleanses and invigorates the palate. Moving on to something with more bite, I order a thirst-quenching cinnamon and apple Martini from the Malaysian Classics menu, which is the perfect marriage of sharp and sweet. The almost uncomfortably helpful waitress suggests we order three dishes each to share, kicking off with juicy jumbo Satay prawns marinated in lemongrass and turmeric. Slightly charred from the grill, their smokiness works well with the turbocharged peanut sauce.
Next to arrive is the Sotong Goreng crispy squid with coriander, ginger and green peppercorns that explode unapologetically on the tongue. The crispy shells reveal butter soft squid, so moreish, we devour the entire bowl in under a minute. Though there is little time to mourn the loss, as a steaming bowl of Laska Johor expectantly awaits our spoons. Its fresh crab and creamy coconut contents warms my insides, but the accompanying noodles look suspiciously like spaghetti from a packet. One of the most impressive dishes is Kai Lan – a modest side order of Shrek-green steamed broccoli with shitake mushrooms and sesame. The pleasingly crunchy broccoli pair well with the unctuous mushrooms and nutty sesame.
Taking a breather from the culinary marathon, I refresh my tastebuds with a Sweet Thing cocktail, muddled with strawberries, vanilla and apple. Bright pink and tooth-tinglingly sweet, it’s soothing and nostalgic – like something Shirley Temple would sip in a Sunday, the alcohol all but hidden behind the strawberries and cream. Born to be mild, the main event – Kapitan Kambing lamb and coconut curry is too hot for me to handle, but we were forewarned of its fiery nature. Much more appealing is Char Kway Teow, wok fried flat rice noodles with my faithful friends, king prawns. Silky smooth, gently spiced and satisfyingly savoury, it disappears quickly from its dish.
I somehow manage to find space before dessert for some seriously sexy slithers of barbequed pork belly slathered in soy, honey and hoisin. A standout dish, the comforting morsels are baby soft and packed with flavour, the sweetness of the sauce never cloying. Though decidedly un-Malaysian, I opt for the apple tart for dessert. The size of a small planet, it arrives drenched in caramel sauce and orbited by an accompanying ball of vanilla ice cream. Replete, I penetrate the tart’s epicentre but am unable to demolish it entirely. At two courses for £19 and three for £23, Suka’s street food lunch menu offers impressive value, and a glimpse into an exotic, spice-filled world.
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
Sunday, 20 November 2011
I’m in a tiny dolls house of a hotel with an ice pink façade, built on a slope by the roadside in Lyme Regis. Barely mid-afternoon, it’s already dark, and the wind is howling outside like an untamed beast, causing my window to crash against itself, as if out of sympathy for the giant waves in the distance, cascading up the harbour. Rain lashes relentlessly, the cool air from the drafty window filling my room with a ghostly chill. I feel like Emily St. Aubert in The Mysteries of Udolpho, scared to open my wardrobe for fear of what I might find.
Earlier that day I’d braved the wind-swept beach in search of sea creatures to cook. A group of us had taken the train from London, leaving behind bright blue skies for a tempestuous Jurassic Coast, shrouded in gray. We’d descended upon the “Pearl of Dorset” to forage with Bridport-born celebrity chef Mark Hix, who splits his time between London and Lyme Regis, home to his Hix Oyster & Fish House. Stepping off the train into the rain, we dump our bags at the Mariners hotel, don Wellington boots, and weave our way down to the beach.
The unrelenting wind makes it impossible to get near the sea, which would have gobbled us up without spitting us out, so we have to make do with what’s growing between the pebbles, which includes sea spinach, sea kale, sea cabbage, sea purslane, and my favourite, the spicy, celery-like rock samphire. Shakespeare referred to the dangerous practice of collecting rock samphire from cliffs in King Lear: "Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" Munching on a sprig, I begin my ascent to Hix’s hilltop restaurant, prodded up the hill in my soporific state by fellow hack Ben Norum’s umbrella.
Safely ensconced in Hix’s hideaway, we refuel on Talisker-laced hot toddies, dispensed into copper cups by master mixologist Nick Strangeway. Hix launches into a pep talk about the joys of foraging, handing round mushrooms he’d picked before the rain hit, including the ominously titled “Trumpets of Death”. We then dine like kings on deliciously fresh seafood platters dotted with lobsters, oysters, razor clams, muscles and jumbo prawns, followed by a meaty fillet of Torbay silver mullet accessorised with cockles in their shells and a forest of foraged seashore vegetables. Dessert reaches a decadent crescendo with a Talisker-drenched walnut tart with Dorset clotted cream, which matches wonderfully with accompanying drams of Talisker 10-year-old and 18-year-old. Glinting gold in their glasses, both have a powerful nose of peat-smoke, pepper, citrus and toffee, lifted by salty, sea air notes.
The next morning, the landscape had transformed. I awoke to the sound of birds chirping, and a view of a calm coastline welcoming the rising sun, piercing through the clouds. The sky was blue, the sea unmoving. It felt like a different place. I sat on the window ledge taking in its beauty for a minute or two, transfixed by the tranquility. How much my horizon had changed in a day. At breakfast, I learnt that Beatrix Potter had stayed in the hotel aged 17, during a visit that served as the inspiration for The Tale of Little Pig Robinson, which, though her last published book, was one of the first to have been written. Having never heard of the book, I chanced upon a copy at an antiques fair a week later. Dipping into it, the pages were interspersed with illustrations of the Lyme Regis coastline, bobbing with boats.
Friday, 18 November 2011
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Monday, 14 November 2011
Wednesday, 9 November 2011
If you haven’t already seen Woody Allen’s latest flick, Midnight In Paris, I urge you to do so, if only for Adrian Brody’s spectacular cameo as Salvador Dalí. In the film, a nostalgic Owen Wilson is ushered into a vintage car at the stroke of midnight and taken to a party where he meets the literati of ‘20s Paris, including a brooding Hemingway, ebullient F. Scott Fitzgerald, and his unstable but enchanting girlfriend Zelda. A chance encounter in a café offers Wilson a glimpse into the hyperactive mind of a young Salvador Dalí. Brody’s imitation of the Catalan painter is so pitch-perfect, it feels like you’re encountering the real thing. So what better way to toast Movember, than with a glass of the mustachioed maestro’s favourite Cava, Castillo Perelada. For the next two weeks, Spanish gastronomic pleasure dome Iberica in Marylebone is offering customers the chance to take flight with a trio Castillo Perelada Cavas; the jewel in DO Empordà's crown.
While Rioja, Ribera del Duero and Priorat are well-respected wine regions, Empordà is still a young pretender striving for global recognition. Situated on the northeastern corner of Catalonia at the foot of the Pyrenees, Empordà benefits from a mild Mediterranean climate and has mixture of soils, from slate slopes and red clay to sandy valleys, which make for complex wines. Originally known for its sweet wines, the region is now more famous for its rosés, with Macabeu and Garnacha Blanca making up 80% of plantings. A local of Empordà, Dalí was a close friend of Perelada's founder Miguel Mateu, and was known to welcome guests at his house in Port Lligat, which he shared with his wife and muse Gala, with a glass of Perelada Brut Rosé.
Safely stowed from the bracing autumn night in Iberica’s warm bosom, my flight took off with the Brut Reserva NV, matched with a raspberry-coloured beetroot gazpacho. Dotted with olive oil, the ice-cold soup was punchy, playful and utterly delicious, while the Brut NV was bone dry and bursting with green fruit – tart apples and juicy pears. A severe Cava, I looked on lustfully to Dalí’s favourite, the Brut Rosé, a painterly pale ruby. The nose was equally pretty, displaying attractive summer fruits – squashed strawberries, ripe raspberries and red currants. The palate was generous, cassis liqueur-like almost. To match was a bowl of curious, childlike, chorizo lollipops served swimming in a sea of pear aioli. Devourable in one bite, hidden beneath the battered shell lay a juicy chorizo coin, lifted by the pear kick in the aioli.My landing was smooth – Gran Claustro 2007, a blend of Macabeu and Chardonnay aged for two years in barrel, which scooped the best Cava award at this year’s New Wave Spanish Wine Awards. The most interesting of the trio, a toasty nose gave way to a stewed apple palate. Smooth and full, and at the same time direct and deliberate, the complex Cava was matched with moreish squares of crunchy calamari that disappeared disappointingly quickly from their dish. Still hungry, and with Dalí on my mind, I was tempted to order the lobster telephone, but the waiter was otherwise engaged.
Monday, 7 November 2011
Thursday, 3 November 2011
A besuited JJ Goodman, of London Cocktail Club fame, emerges and delivers an ebullient speech about the joys of mixology, whizzing through how to make the first concoction of the night: the Honey Bee Ceviche, which went wonderfully well with our scallop ceviche starters, the former bursting with citrus, the latter tasting pleasingly of the sea and resting on a textured bed of hazelnuts and fennel, much to the delight of Sadie Whitelocks and Stylist's Amy Grier (below).