I’m sitting here at the keyboard, still drooling a little remembering last night’s dinner at Koffman at the Berkeley Hotel, courtesy of bookatable.com’s special offer of 3 courses and a bellini for £32 per person. The set menu, though small, was varied enough to cover most tastes and included brasserie favourites like brandade with soft-boiled egg and parsley foam which was soft, luscious, but delicate.

We had high expectations of the food, what with it being the renowned Pierre Koffman’s latest outing in London. By and large we weren’t disappointed. Amuse bouches of cauliflower flan with parsley foam and baby croutons were light, crunchy, highly flavoured mouthfuls of joy. Cheese creme brulee was light and richly cheesy, if a little on the large side for a starter. Yes, you don’t have to eat it all, but who is going to leave something that good sitting on a plate? The mackerel tartare and scallop ceviche was art on a plate with a taste to match.

Mains didn’t quite live up to the promise of the starters. The duck in the confit duck legs with lentils, rather than being meltingly soft and falling off the bone was chewy and dry; the puy lentils fared a little better although they were also a little overcooked. The dish was rescued by the Chateau Lucas Cuvee Prestige 2005 we’d ordered (thank you for the great choice Mick). Good tannins, full bodied and a deep plummy, slightly chocolatey base made for a very drinkable wine. The vegetable accompaniments were cooked well past the desirable point of a slight bite (I call it a l’Anglais). The liver was fine, and the pommes purees that came with it were silky smooth. The sole was cooked well but the highlight of that dish was the fregola with chorizo. The golden frites that came in a metal basket wrapped in paper were very moreish. Presentation across the meal was well executed.

Desserts brought us right back up the quality scale. My chocolate mousse was the lightest, airiest, most delicate but chocolatey mousse I’ve ever had. Tarte au citron had a good lemon bite and the crunchy base you’d expect from a good tart. The meringue in the pavlova was shiny and crisp, with just the right amount of sugar. The Coteaux du Layon Saint Lambert Domaine Ogerau 2010, recommended by Alvin the very able sommelier, was the perfect accompaniment. The trio of ice creams was beautifully presented in a tuille basket.

Service was excellent, the seating comfortable and well spaced so we were able to really enjoy the evening. The bar area, rich with mahogany, has a little sitting area by the stairs which invites one to stay for a while and an interesting, if expensive, selection of drinks. I’m only sad to say that the kir didn’t live up to the benchmark (the one I had at the Dorchester, which remains unbeaten), but it’s a heck of a benchmark to live up to!

The overall experience was a delightful one. From the moment I walked through the door I knew we were going to be well looked after, and we were. The food overall was very good. As importantly, the atmosphere allowed us to get on with the important business of enjoying good friends, good food and good wine!

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Hi all,

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything – things have been a bit crazy for a few weeks. That’s partly because we’ve been helping my folks move to their new home, partly because things at work have gotten busier and partly I’m developing a new site and it’s awfully hard work! That doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking though! We’ve had the first crops of the season come through and they have been just delicious.

Wednesday night we had salmon with creamy, buttery beurre blanc and veg freshly picked in the morning: sweet, sweet, bright green peas, baby carrots and the creamiest, tastiest baby potatoes I’ve ever had. I’m not just saying that because Mick grew them. They were seriously good. I’ll get him to post the type for anyone interested.

We’ve had a few chicken dishes along the way: in a cream, port wine and mushroom sauce, in Vietnamese pho rich with soy, baby bak choi and rice noodles which I adore, and fresh lotus root for a texture. Just roasted so we can enjoy the great flavour of the Label Anglais chickens we buy. In curry. Breaded with panko breadcrumbs – juicy on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Last night we had Julia Child’s chicken with port, cognac (flamed), mushrooms and a gratifyingly large amount of cream. With that we had broad beans from the allotment and more peas. You can never, ever have too many peas. And jasmine rice, which soaked up the sauce beautifully. Just the thing after a long grumpy-making day at work.

I’ve also played with frittatas made in muffin tins. They make a great single portion. I’ve tried them with spinach and goat’s cheese, dusted with parmesan. Crammed with smoked salmon and mascarpone. This weekend it’ll be peas, cucumbers and aged feta cheese with a sprinkling of Moroccan mint. I can’t wait to try it with other veg from the allotment: courgettes (making excellent progress) and cherry tomatoes (not loving the weeks-long deluge we’ve suffered in the UK so not growing very fast).

The joy of these things is that you can try any combination that sounds interesting to you. Beat 2 eggs, add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add the solid ingredients and any cheeses you’re using. Sprinkle Parmesan on top if you like. Pour into a muffin mould until it’s not quite full. They will rise, so don’t overfill the moulds. Bake in a 19oC/375F oven for around 10 mins (depending on your oven – mine is aggressive so I put mine in for 8-9 mins), until the eggs have puffed up and the top is golden. They make a great weekend brunch with a salad and some crusty French bread.

Mick here. It’s been while since the last post in plot to plate, mainly because of the rain and consequently little to do on the plot. That said we’ve not been idle and for the past month or two the Thurman household has been awash with seed trays and plant pots, starting off all sorts of yummy veggies – brassicas, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn and melons to name a few.  So much so that we’ve also invested in not one but two temporary greenhouses to house all the little babies as they germinate and grow. There was much angst a couple of weeks ago when, after arriving home late one stormy night, I noticed a bulge in the side of the first greenhouse. Turns out that the wind had blown over the shelving inside and all the plants had come crashing down! Luckily we only lost three tomato plants, though many of the others were shocked and in disarray. Things were soon straightened up nonetheless and the two greenhouses are now firmly tied together and secured to the fence.

K’s herb garden is coming along. She’s now has oregano, thyme, basil, parsley and rosemary on the go. Along with a box planted with some lettuce to go with the tomatoes when they come on-stream, and some burdock root.  Seems though that we may be competition with the slugs and snails.

On the plot side of things, due to our move we have to forego the plot we (I) have lovingly tended for the past five years in Harpenden. I did though manage to secure access to this plot until the end of the growing season and have also been allocated a new plot closer to where we now live. It’s twice the size of our old one so Karen’s been busy upping her veggie order for the summer!  You’ll see from the picture there’s some work to do before we get anything off of it as it’s been a little neglected over the last short while. In amongst the weeds though I have found a couple of nice strawberry beds so we look forward to some rich pickings there.

Back in Harpenden with the assistance of my little robin helper, the spuds are now all planted. Seven varieties in all – Casablanca, Charlotte, Trixie, Toulca, Sarpo Mira, Arran Victory and Pink Fir Apple.  This will give us a great mix from new/salad potatoes to mashers, roasters and bakers to sustain us through the winter. I’ve also planted are some brassicas – Chinese cabbage, red cabbage and Brussels sprouts – plenty of onions and garlic. In the legume bed the broad beans are now in flower so should give us so nice tender young beans in a month or so. The first row of peas is now nearly a foot tall and netted to keep off the pesky pigeons. I have also put in the first of the some French green beans – hoping the worst of the frost is now over.

All this should help reduce the food miles for our Supper Club, which launches in July. It will be interesting to see if we can source the protein locally too and how low we can actually get them – any bets? Less than 10, 20, 30 miles? You can read more the supper club in K’s main 60 day challenge blog.

I have been very remiss about posting over the last couple of weeks, but Mick and I have been involved in a very exciting new project. We’re starting up a supper club in Luton – a sort of underground restaurant. We love entertaining, I love cooking and feeding people so it seemed like a natural thing to do. The idea is that people pay to eat at your home in an environment that it less formal than a restaurant.

Robin’s Nest Supper Club’s inaugural dinner will be on July 28th and we will be offering a great 4-course menu in a relaxed and really friendly atmostphere. Supper clubs are also a great way to meet people so we hope that our guests make new friends as well. We’re going to start with 8 guests and see how that goes.

I’ve been knee-deep in preparation, making sure we’re ready for launch date. We’ll be away helping my parents move to their new home for the first half of June and time really does fly so I’m trying to break the back of the prep before we head off. We are becoming expert Ikea shoppers, and I’m getting through all the health and safety training that needs to be done before I start up.

I’ve been having a blast testing out possible candidates for the first menu. Highlights so far:
– French onion soup a la Julia Child, rich with onion sweetness and a little bite of cognac
– A succulent, super tasty filet steak (thank you Jelley Butchers) with black pepper sauce and lovely creamy little Ratte potatoes
– Persian-style chicken, full of spices and with a little bite of chilli, tempered by Greek yoghurt and citrus juices
– Thai-style sweetcorn cakes with a chilli dipping sauce
– little butternut and feta filo bites with a yoghurt and dill dipping sauce
– dark chocolate mousse with Grand Marnier – light, a little tangy and, well, mousse-y. Very moreish
– little chicken dim sums
and much more…

Yesterday it was so beautiful out, we were able to have breakfast and dinner on the patio, watching the robins who have built a nest in one of our trees. They are the most engaging little birds, and the male is quite a character. Somehow food and wine taste even better when you’re enjoying nature in your garden 🙂

Mondays can be such dreary days for me – the weekend is gone and the next one is still days away. So I decided to pep up a rainy Monday night with a little bite of chilli, by way of sauteed shrimp with herbs and chilli. This dish is from the gulf area of Iran (formerly Persia). It’s unusual in its use of tamarind instead of the lime used in many other regions.

The ingredients: one sliced onions, 10 crushed garlic cloves, 2 tomates skinned and crushed (or tinned tomates), a large handful of chopped coriander, chopped basil, 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp dissolved in 1/2 cup of water, 1 tsp chilli powder (but adapt to suit your taste buds), 2 teaspoons curry powder (as hot or mild as you like), 1lb shrimp, salt, a pinch of sugar (my addition), black pepper. The full recipe is in Najmieh Batmanglij’s A Taste of Persia: An Introduction to Persian Cuisine. I served it with plain rice.

The result? Yum!! (I know I use that word a lot but I do love good food). A vibrant, very moreish dish with  lovely, complex flavours of hot, sour, a little salty and a little sweet. The bright greens and reds invited us to tuck in and enjoy, which we definitely did. I’ll definintely be making that again!

This pub on Goldhawk Road looks just like a million other pubs in the country from the outside, so we went in expecting yet another thoroughly average meal with just about drinkable beers. Well, we were wrong. Chicken in mushroom sauce was delicious; the chicken was cooked to perfection, the mushroom sauce well balanced, the mash veering towards puree but with a little mustard kick to make it more interesting. The sausage n mash was equally successful. There were 8 beers on tap and a really varied collection of bottled beers. I tried a Belgian blond which turned out to be the most unusual beer I’ve had yet.

The price for the food is right, bearing in mind this is London and portions are very generous: £9 for a chicken main, £8.00 for the sausage. Beer is a little on the expensive side but not unbearably so.

The pub is large with plenty of seating. Unfortunately it was quiz night so it was noisy but the eaters did have a separate section which reduced the level a little. Lighting levels are just right – bright enough to read the menus but not so bright as to kill the atmosphere. Seating is functional but comfortable. Service was efficient and pleasant enough. Toilets were very clean and in good condition.

60 DC DAYS 23-25

It’s turning out to be impossible to cook every night. Monday and Tuesday evenings we’re on courses and don’t get home until 11pm. By the time Wednesday rolls around all I want to do when I get home from work is crawl into bed – mostly I fall asleep on the couch. So I really look forward to the second half of the week when I get to enjoy the kitchen again!

We started the cooking spree with grilled salmon, beurre blanc sauce a la Julia Child, served with mashed potatoes and leek sautéed with a touch of coriander powder. I use the white and green parts of the leek since they give different textures and I love the vibrancy of the darker green

I experimented with gougeres, a puffy cheesy nibble that makes a great canapé. Water, butter and flour with Parmesan and gruyere cheeses (I use an aged gruyere for extra flavour). Flavoured with herbs of your choice and a smidge of nutmeg or paprika (which Martha Stewart uses in her recipe) it makes a very moreish snack.

I tried a recipe from Saraban, a Persian cookbook I bought last week. Actually the book is half travelogue, half cokbook. Anyway, I decided to start with a soup. Called sop-e jo it’s a barley based soup flavoured with leek, onion, carrots, orange rind, lemon rind, ginger, thyme, bay leaf (I used wild laurel instead), sugar, lime, salt and pepper. The result has an unusual, but not unpleasant, taste. The lime is quite noticeable and it’s a little sweeter than I like, but then I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I’ve left some in the fridge to see if the flavour develops further if left overnight.

I made my favourite granola: oats, pecans, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds,sunflower seeds, oil, maple syrup, vanilla extract, dried sour cherries and dried blueberries (until the fresh ones come into season). I use groundnut oil since it’s light and so doesn’t leave a greasy feel which some of the heavier oils do. I eat it with greek yoghurt and a fresh banana for a filling, yummy breakfast full of crunch, softness from the banana, sweetness from the granola and tang from the yoghurt. Thank you La Tartine Gourmande for the idea.

Sunday finished with a quick-n-easy dinner: chicken and chickpeas in a tomato sauce. I started by preparing the chickpeas by soaking them overnight then boiling them with a little baking soda. When they were ready, I fried an onion until it was soft, then added some dried cumin for a minute. Then came the chicken breast, which had been cut into chunks, which I sautéed until browned. One tin of chopped tomatoes followed, along with a little splash of homemade chicken stock. That cooked for 5 minutes after which I added he chickpeas to warm through, and a good tablespoon of tomato purée for a touch of thickness and a stronger tomato punch.

Now it’s Monday morning again and the cycle starts again!

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