Baked Alaska at The Lawn Bistro

BakedAlaskaFlambeing

So I’ve a confession: I’ve never eaten baked Alaska!

That does mean that I’ve long known the ‘trick’ to the dish, which slightly diminishes the surprise of its cold-on-the-inside baked-on-the-outside magic. But The Lawn Bistro adds an additional flourish: pouring over liquor and flambéing the meringue at the table. This resulted in some impressive flames, heat, and a deliciously tart caramelised exterior.

“The Lawn Bistro adds an additional flourish”

We’ve rather painted ourselves into a corner with one of our principal rules of Chowdown Showdown Londontown – namely that ‘size matters’, so we each have to have one of the particular dish. Largely the problem with this has been that it means you end up with two large bowls of lacklustre cabbage (sorry Rasa and your Thoran!), but this can also be a problem when we come across sharing platters, and are forced to down the lot. This time, however, we nudged the rules in our favour. Having asked the waitress whether the dish (on the menu as for two) would serve three (since Alex had joined us in this outing), we opted to have a single portion. This was definitely the right decision: how they could expect two to manage this I don’t know!

To return to the spectacle of the fire: this restaurant does aim to impress. I really struggled to choose starters and mains, switching repeatedly between options, every one of which had some stand-out parts among a long-list of ingredients. And, indeed, the food was delicious, if risking allowing the best part to be drowned out among a plethora of other contributions.

Sadly, the Alaska didn’t especially stand out for me. Whilst it was certainly a reward to sweet-toothed eaters who’d made it as far as dessert, it rather lacked depth. The ice cream was plain-old-vanilla and the meringues plain-old-egg-white and plain-old-sugar. I was left feeling they could have gone an extra mile, but settled for just sloping over the line. At least I’ve reached the having-eaten-baked-Alaska winning post.

Friands at Lantana

image

You may have noticed the proliferation of New Zealand coffee shops in London. “No sir, we don’t serve lah-tays. Would you like a flat white?

“Biting into them, you get a delicious marzipanny-macaroony nut hit”

Apparently friands are to New Zealanders as teacakes are to Brits. At least, they would be if the British still ate teacakes. These (originally French) almond buns, a close cousin of the financier, arrive in pretty oval shapes, with inclusions (at least at Lantana) of a variety of different toppings. We dutifully try the pistacio and pear varieties. On another occasion, I saw date and hazelnut versions, so your mileage may vary, though I suspect all the different ones on offer are delicious.

They remind me of my mum’s almond cake, made without flour to be kosher for passover, though these are dried and less pudding-like. Biting into them, you get a delicious marzipanny-macaroony nut hit. The icing sugar on top is unnecessary (is it ever not?), as they have a deep sweetness that makes me think I couldn’t manage another without feeling very nauseous. That said, as an indulgent (second) breakfast [we arrived here right after the Turkish Eggs as Kopapa], one certainly hits the spot.

I think it’s fairly likely that these would be easy to replicate at home, but with the fantastic coffee (as you might expect from any of these Kiwi joints), and the other treats on offer – including savouries – I’m sure I’ll be back.

Tarte Tatin at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe

image

Having made the rookie error of opting for Mother’s Day to eat a Chowdown Showdown dish, and without even booking months in advance, we ended up in Galvin Bistrot de Luxe. It turned out to be not such an error, since they were serving a three course set menu for much less than ordering three courses would normally cost a la carte, including in the evening (it appears people take their mothers out for lunch, not dinner).

“As French as apple pie”

Okay, so going to a French bistro and ordering roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and roast root vegetables was a mistake. Especially when the restaurant in question takes its attempt to mimic the typically English dish so seriously that it refuses Rachael’s request for her beef to be served pretty much bleu, and instead insists we have it medium rare (and proceeds to serve it to us medium).

The Jerusalem artichoke soup with a truffle cream (and artichoke crisps!) to start was genuinely delicious, and they poured great wine as you might expect.

All of this was, of course, an irrelevance, since we’re here to judge a single dish alone – namely the tarte tatin.

“Enough to make even the harshest Great British Bake Off judge happy”

Happily, the (mischosen, but still disappointing) main was unreflective of the dessert, which was genuinely formidable. The pie was caramelised to the point of almost being burnt, which isn’t a criticism since it had developed earthy as well as sweet notes. The pastry was flaky (and not soggy) enough to make even the harshest Great British Bake Off judge happy, offering a crisp riposte to the tender apples that had bite but little resistance to a spoon.

Overall, an indulgent, comforting sweet as French as apple pie!

Malaga raisin ice-cream with Pedro Ximenez sherry at Morito

image

Don’t make the mistake we did! On reading Time Out’s listing for what to eat at Morito, we misinterpreted the “Malaga raisin ice cream with Pedro Ximenez sherry” as a cheeky demand on the magazine’s part for us to construct our own hybrid dessert by ordering sherry to accompany our ice cream.

“In actual fact, it wasn’t such a bad error to make!”

On tasting the sherry it was clear that this was a pudding in itself (in a way I’ve never before appreciated of a ‘dessert wine’) – super-sweet and with an amazing raisin taste which surprised me with how little it tasted of fresh grapes. When the ice cream arrived – or rather was scooped into bowls and had a thick red-brown liquid poured over it (should I say ‘constructed’?), we realised our mistake! In actual fact, it wasn’t such a bad error to make!

And then, something extraordinary happened. After the first mouthful Rachael uttered the words ‘this is in the top ten’. Completely matter-of-fact, completely unprompted.

The ice cream was a relatively straightforward, simple offer, with a light vanilla punctuated by the punch of Malaga raisins. Complexity, richness, a shaper edge, and, frankly, a lot more sweetness was added from the shot of sherry poured over.

I don’t really rate rum and raisin as an ice cream flavour, but this raisin and sherry I could certainly get used to. In fact, this is a great dessert I might make at home, for those times when I have an elaborate starter and main and want a simple sweet as much for my cooking sanity as to avoid overpowering guests’ palates. Vital to get really good quality ice cream and a top notch (sweet!) sherry. I’ll definitely try it!

12/100 of Time Out’s recommended list

Cinnamon Bun at Nordic Bakery

image

The first two things to say about the Nordic Bakery’s cinnamon buns are superficial: firstly, they’re enormous and, secondly, they’re not in your average ‘swirl’ shape, but have more of a pain au chocolat appearance.

The first bite of these treats hits you, initially with its treacly, uber-sweet blast, and then with a warmth pungent with spices, not just cinnamon – arguably not even mainly cinnamon – but instead with cloves and nutmeg and maybe cardamom. You know after this single mouthful that this isn’t your average cinnamon bun.

“So is this haute cuisine?”

The amount of glucose packed into one of these cakes makes them chewy, and stick in your teeth. I’m not convinced I find this especially pleasant, and they could definitely have eased off on the sugar to my taste. The mix of spices certainly make the bun a bit different, and a distinct change from a plain old cinnamon bun, which has an attractive simplicity but also an ‘easy’ nice taste that is more pop music than Beethoven.

So is this haute cuisine? Well it isn’t clear that the mix of flavours is straightforwardly pleasant. There’s a complexity that I’m not sure quite works. I guess ‘challenging flavours’, like ‘challenging music’ make for variety, but I wouldn’t rush back for this as a reward…

86/100 top London dishes according to Time Out.

Matcha bubble tea at Boba Jam

image

Hello Kitty. Dressing up as characters from Manga cartoons. Fluorescent drinks with lumps of goo? There are some things so exotic and quintessentially Oriental that westerners just aren’t going to get it. But is bubble tea one of them?

“Vulgar, sugary cocktails of fruity milkshake plus tea… what’s not to like?”

The concept is straightforward, and, to unaccustomed eyes, straightforward barmy enough. Take balls of sticky, translucent tapioca, plonk into milky tea and add flavours, anything from fruit to chocolate, so long as you can think of an appropriate bright colour to identify it.

Two members of the Chowdown Showdown Getsaround crew already disliked these drinks. I generally love them. Vulgar, sugary cocktails of fruity milkshake plus tea plus fat straws with ideal dimensions for firing sticky blobs at your companions if you’re so inclined / bored of drinking (/eating?) them – what’s not to like?

I get the picture that they’re a bit odd, but they come in such varieties of flavours that, unless you’re inured to inoffensive lumps that just add fun (I don’t think they even take on the flavour of the liquid), how can you object?

My problem, though, is that this just wasn’t the best bubble tea I’ve had. It also wasn’t the best matcha I’ve had. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood, but rather than being vibrant and indulgent this was more grainy and dull. The lychee milk someone else had was more interestingly flavoured with a strong fruity punch.

I’ve been there before, I’ll probably be back. But I reckon there’s a better bubble tea to be found in London. Answers on a postcard, or in the comments below.

67/100 best London dishes

Custard Doughnut at St John Bakery

image

It’s a bit of a trek to St John Bakery, whichever direction you’re approaching from. It’s perhaps a surprise, therefore, to find a hole-in-the-wall outlet under the arches serving only around a dozen baked goods which sees patrons flocking from across (south) London.

“Ultimately, how good can doughnuts be?”

The dozen products are loaves, Eccles cakes, and jam and custard doughnuts. Our mission: the custard doughnut.

In short: I enjoyed it. It was fluffy and light, and the custard was more whipped cream than a traditional doughnut sludgey custard, and the whole affair didn’t leave me with the greasy, heavy feeling you often end up with after your standard doughnut.

image

Ultimately, though, I’d have to agree with Tom’s feeling – it was, in the end, just a doughnut, and how good can doughnuts be?

Nice, but nothing to write home about.

85/100 best dishes in London

Chocolate Macaroons

image

To me, macaroons means the delicious sunken sand-coloured hemispheres with a slight chew that we got at Pesach (/ Passover) that were pipped to the post for my favourite festival treat by cinnamon balls.

These delicious, ganache-filled sandwiches, which have recently become the new cupcake (though I’m sure something else has in turn become the new them) have always been “macarons”.

In fact, of course, the two are the same – and the latter feature two of the former sandwiched around whatever flavoured filling (of the right consistency) you might like to pair with the shells. In spite of the reputation, I don’t think these are super-hard to get right. Have a go!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Chocolate Macaroons
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
This makes a boatload of macaroons (see the picture) - they bake so quickly that making a huge batch is little more work than making far fewer, so you might as well go all-out. That said, I've never managed to pipe anything without making an amazing mess, and no doubt this mess rises exponentially the more you make. I think this might be the most I could manage without coating the entire kitchen with batter. Some recipes suggest almond flour rather than ground almonds - but I think these should have a nice, slightly gritty texture, so would push for the latter.
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 40
Ingredients
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 250 grams ground almonds
  • 250 grams icing sugar
  • 50 grams cocoa
  • 250 grams caster sugar
  • 250 grams super-dark chocolate
  • 300 ml double cream
  • 50 grams butter (salted will add flavour)
Instructions
  1. Whisk (use the electric!) the egg whites, along with half the caster sugar at a medium speed for a couple of minutes, then even faster for a bit. Once the mixture starts to firm, add the rest of the sugar, and keep beating to stiff peaks. The stiffer it is, the more room you have to 'lose air' as you fold this is, so take your time. It should look glossy and brilliant white.
  2. Mix the ground almonds, icing sugar and cocoa powder, and fold into the egg whites with a large spoon, using a figure of eight action, until completely incorporated.
  3. With a piping bag, pipe large-marble-sized blobs onto baking paper, leaving space for these to flatten themselves. You'll probably need several batches, so have a large table or surface to lay out a number of lots ready to bake.
  4. Important: leave the blobs to sit for 25 minutes, until slightly drier.
  5. Bake on a baking tray for 12 minutes at 165 degrees C. Be brave about believing that they are done at this point.
  6. After cooling for ten minutes, the shells should be easy to lift and set aside.
  7. For the ganache, melt the chocolate in a bain marie (a bowl sat atop a pan of boiling water), add the cream and stir quickly to mix in. Add the butter, and stir this in too. Allow to cool until thick enough to spoon, but not set.
  8. Press the tip of your thumb into the flat side of a shell to make extra space for ganache, and generously add ganache, pressing another (intact) shell on top. Twisting may help to spread the filling evenly.
  9. Refridgerate overnight before serving (oh, go on, you can have one!) and store up to a week (genuinely) in the fridge in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before eating.

 

Swiss Millionaire Shortbread

I love millionaire shortbread – but I only recently discovered just how easy it is to make. In fact, shortbread is such a cinch that I can’t understand why anyone would buy it.

The vanilla brings out the taste – and who wouldn’t use salted caramel now we’ve all been made aware of its existence?

Hat tip to BBC Recipes for the basic mould of this one, though I use vanilla essence rather than pods (who can afford / find them easily?) – and I make it Swiss by using Toblerone, an easy way to make yours stand out.

The certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it’s not guilt-free, but sure to go down well.

Swiss Millionaire Shortbread
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Recipe type: Treat
Serves: 20
Ingredients
For the shortcake:
  • 175g butter
  • 225g flour
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
For the caramel:
  • 400ml tin condensed milk (though, oddly, it's generally sold in 397ml tins - anyone know why?)
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 200g butter
To top:
  • 400g Toblerone (I used the normal milk one, that comes in the golden box)
Instructions
  1. Rub together 175g butter, flour, sugar, vanilla essence, until it’s dough. Press into a 23cm square tin, prick all over with a fork.
  2. Bake for 5 mins at 175 degrees, then 35 mins at 150 until golden brown (though still a little soft). Allow to cook for ten minutes.
  3. Heat condensed milk, golden syrup and salt. Add 200g butter slowly, then boil for ten minutes stirring constantly. Where the sugar ‘catches’ at the bottom it will become dark brown, but will mix back in, making a dark golden brown caramel. Pour the caramel over the shortbread, and cool in the fridge.
  4. Melt Toblerone in a bain marie (pyrex bowl on top of simmering pan of water) and pour over the caramel. Cool outside the fridge and cut while the chocolate is still not rock solid – this will allow you to create squares without cracking.