Monday, 25 January 2010

It's Burns night but there's no haggis!

Week 4

Happy Burns Night to all you haggis lovers!

To everyone else, don't panic! I'm not going to mention the 'H' word again. Having spent my formative years staring at a tea towel that explained in detail what it's made of and how to make it, I'm not the greatest fan. It's a bit like foie gras where you're better off not knowing the background story!

So instead, I'm going to talk about something that many people love, an idea of where to spend a romantic evening, and a suggestion for a quiet tete-a-tete at home, all in the interest of planning (and booking) ahead for Valentine's Day!

Yes, it's three weeks early but there's nothing like forward planning! And it means I can talk about my Food of the Week which is...


According to Wikipedia (sue them not me please) who in turn cite a BBC report, melting chocolate in one's mouth produces an increase in brain activity and heart rate that is more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasts four times as long after the activity ends.

Wikipedia then goes on to say that there is no proof that chocolate is indeed an aphrodisiac but is of course associated with chocolate heart type gifts at Valentines

Take from that what you will but for me it's all about a little of what you fancy does you good and if I was choosing to buy chocolate in London, I would consider the following three shops:

1) Melt, Notting Hill. Great chocolate lollipops and Valentines gifts but the shop is too white. It's chocolate, it should be darker!
2) l'Artisan du Chocolat, Notting Hill, Sloane Square, Borough Market, Selfridges. Weird and wonderful flavours from banana to sage and thyme to balsamic vinegar, beautiful heart shaped selections for Valentines, lots and lots of salted caramels
3) Paul A Young, The Royal Exchange at Bank and Camden Passage.

Paul A Young is my favourite. I love this shop at the Royal Exchange - it oozes chocolateness and quality at the same time. It's tiny and wood panelled and full of amazing products. Everything is beautiful.

So what's the difference?

Paul A Young's shop is the only shop in London where chocolates are personally handmade on the premises. They are so fresh they have a shelf life of just seven days!

Paul was the first to bring his award winning salted caramels to the London market and consistently innovates with concoctions such as his take on the much loved walnut whip (he calls it a caramel pecan mallow!), gold, frankincense and myrrh chocolate at Christmas time and the latest 'love it or hate it' Marmite Truffle!

An extra bonus is for those people who suffer from dairy intolerances as his bar and pavé ranges are dairy free. (Pavé are boxes containing about 7-8 layers of chocolate about 10 cm square)

Best Way to Serve

Pair these chocolates with cognac, rum, single malt whisky, dessert wine or even cabernet sauvignon. But not all at the same time.

Where can I buy it and what's it going to do to my bank balance?

Paul A Young, Royal Exchange, Bank

This chocolate is expensive because it's the real thing. Fortunately it's very rich so you'll only eat a little bit at a time but it's definitely a special occasion product to purchase just after payday. But you won't regret it!

Price: £11.95 for 200g pavé or £14 for a box of nine fresh truffles

Restaurant of the Week

The Thomas Cubitt

This week's choice is The Thomas Cubitt at 44 Elizabeth Street, London, SW1W 9PA between Victoria and Sloane Square tube stations inb the heart of Belgravia.

Why is it good?
1) It has everything all in one place - a pub with the gastro section downstairs, a white tablecloth restaurant upstairs and a private dining room by arrangement
2) It's all about great British food and seasonal produce
3) The upstairs section is perfect for a Valentines table for two and it's only s ahort walk back to Victoria station afterwards!

The downstairs pub is more informal and quite noisy with a slightly upmarket gastropub menu offering organic beef burgers, rib eye steak, beer battered fish and chips, Gressingham duck - around £10-15 for a main course.

The upstairs dining room is quieter, with much more of a real restaurant feel about it. It even has white tablecloths (unusual in one of my picks) and serves dishes such as oysters, belly of pork, wild venison fillet, stuffed saddle of rabbit between £17 and £25. For me this is somewhere that feels like quite a treat but is still quite casual in its approach so it doesn't make you feel out of place. Average dinner spend £40-50.

Thomas Cubitt on Urbanspoon

And finally...

If you're just looking to have a great night in and want something special without too much preparation or hassle, here is this week's suggestion (including a veggie option!)

Parma Ham with slivers of fresh orange

Ideally, get parma ham that melts in your mouth, freshly and properly sliced - try the affable and informative Philip at Borough Market
Avoid melon or figs which are out of season. Decorate with slivers of fresh orange segments and drizzle some olive oil over the top.

Serve with proper bread and real butter (see first blog of 2010 for details!)

Lamb cutlets gently grilled so they are still pink in the middle (5-6 minutes each side) served with broccoli and roasted parsnips (you can get the parsnips going early to avoid last minute stress)

If really necessary, do a very seasonal blood orange and rosewater jelly. Allegra McEvedy has a great recipe that you can do in advance. If you put it in a champagne glass, it looks like you're really clever.
Otherwise and obligatory are decent chocolates and cognac (as above)

Veggie option
Buffalo mozzarella (see Philip again) with a wasabi and lime dressing. Yes it sounds odd but it's refreshingly delicious and the standard tomato accompaniment is just no good in winter. Don't go overboard with the lime and add a little olive oil.

Serve with proper bread and real butter (see first blog of 2010 for details!)

Roasted squash stuffed with goats cheese and mixed peppers/courgettes (again you can get the squash going early to avoid last minute stress)

Pud - As before

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