Friday, 29 June 2012

Recipe - Sizzling Korean-style Beef with Sesame Rice

Billy Connolly once quipped 'whatever to do with that leftover venison' whilst having a dig at a posh food journalist, well last night I had my own 'leftover problems' although maybe not quite on the same levels as the aforementioned deer.

A few weeks ago I had bought some nice fillet steaks for a Saturday night dinner. Having misjudged the amount of meat that I required, I ended up with a solitary steak not being needed. No big problem, into the freezer he went until I could think of something to do with him. Nicola had been looking through some of my many recipe books over the last few nights and had highlighted this dish as something that she would like to see make its way to the dinner table, which meant that my fillet steak could now live out his beefy destiny.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 300g rump steak (or whichever cut of beef you wish)
  • 2 tsp sugar, any type you want
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp mirin (in the absence of mirin, sweet sherry is a good replacement)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 4 spring onions, sliced lengthways
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
  1. Start cooking your basmati rice using packet instructions. When cooked, stir a drizzle of sesame oil through the rice.
  2. Slice the meat as thinly as possible. Mix the sugar, soy sauce, mirin, garlic and sesame oil before adding the beef and stir.
  3. Heat a wok until very hot, add 2 tbsp vegetable oil. When the oil is beginning to smoke, add the beef, searing for a few minutes before adding the spring onions.
  4. Stir fry for a couple of minutes then add the sesame seeds.
Serve the stir fried beef on a bed of rice and garnish with some finely sliced red chili.

This dish is so easy to prepare, in fact the preparation and cooking of the beef can be done in the time that your rice is cooking. Nicola gave this dish a top score of ten so it looks I'll be making it again in the near future. I better make sure that there's plenty of leftover fillet beef close to hand!


Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review - Afternoon Tea @ Laguna Kitchen & Bar, Cardiff

Last weekend, Nicola and me were fortunate enough to attend a black tie gala dinner at Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales. As our return flight back to Glasgow wasn't until 8.00pm, it gave us time to wander the streets of Cardiff before enjoying a lazy afternoon tea at Laguna Kitchen & Bar, which is housed within the Park Plaza Hotel.

The weather on the Saturday had been awful and had rained continuously. Fortunately, the sun decided to make an appearance as we made our way back through to Cardiff. We had previously enjoyed a night punctuated with pink champagne, so with the sun beating down on the Welsh capital we wandered about the Edwardian and Victorian shopping arcades in an effort to clear our heads before lunch.

After two days of luxury, relaxation and celebration, it didn't take too long before we were feeling weary from the walking so we made our way to the Park Plaza. We were a little early for our booking so whilst we waited for our table to be prepared, a quick glance at the watch told me that it was cocktail o'clock.

The cocktail menu had a great selection of classics plus a few interesting adaptations. Nicola ordered a Spiced Apple Martini while I decided to go for the Sweet Chili Collins. Nicola's martini was a potent mix of vanilla vodka, apricot brandy, ginger liquor, spiced Kraken Rum all shaken with a splash of fresh pressed apple juice. Whilst the traditional Appletini is a fresh blend of sweet and sour, Nicola's drink managed to recreate the true flavours of a spiced apple, although I personally think these flavours are more suited to a cold winters evening rather than a warm summer's day. My drink was a brilliant twist on the classic Tom Collins with Tanqueray gin shaken with mint, chili, basil & lime juice, all poured over crushed ice and topped with soda with a garnish of fresh chili. The balance of the fresh flavours of the herbs and lime with an earthy chili heat, made this a truly refreshing drink.

Once the cocktails were finished, we were shown through to our table for the main event. Whilst the bar area was a laid back & cosy affair, the restaurant had a much more formal feel to it with well dressed waiting staff,silver cutlery and plenty of clean lines.

This was the first time that I had ever had afternoon tea so was unsure of the correct protocol, fortunately for me, Nicola is a bit of a seasoned professional and kept me right by guiding me through the extensive selection of teas before the waiter came back to take our order.

Pretty soon, two teapots arrived with Assam for Nicola and Earl Grey for me, these were followed by a lovely three tiered cake stand which was fully loaded with tasty treats.

The bottom tier carried a very nice collection sandwiches on soft white and brown bread. A great selection of locally produced Severn & Wye smoked salmon, Cucumber with soft cheese & dill, Free range egg mayonnaise & cress, and Home roasted ham with English mustard, prepared on thick cut finger sandwiches. They all tasted fantastic, the bread was soft and fresh while the fillings were full of flavour. Both of us declared the smoked salmon as our favourite, although in fairness they were all top quality fillings.
I was enjoying the slow pace that afternoon tea seems to dictate as it gave us time to reflect on our two nights at Celtic Manor and start planning a return trip to Cardiff.
Once the sandwiches were finished it was time to work our way up to the middle tier...... Welsh cakes and Tea infused sultana scones with Jersey clotted cream and strawberry preserve. Until the day before, I hadn't heard of Welsh cakes. The best way I can describe them is that they are a cross between shortbread and a scone. The recipe is very similar to that if a fruit scone but the batter is then cooked on a cast iron griddle, in the same way as Scotch pancakes. Anyway, putting that knowledge to the side, Welsh cakes are now my favourite new thing. Absolutely delicious!
We moved onto our scones next and as Nicola started to spread clotted cream and jam onto hers, I had to call our waiter over as my scone was solid on the inside! After much apologising and a trip to the kitchen, our waiter returned with they chefs apologies and reassurance that the problem would be rectified. Moments later I had not one scone, but two delivered alongside the largest scoop of clotted cream that I had ever seen. This time my scone was light and soft, and worth the extended wait.
As we moved onto our third cup of tea, it was time to get to the petit fours. On the top tier we had sliced of rich fruit cake, miniature lemon meringue pies and little shot glasses filled to the top with a lovely Eton Mess.
Afternoon tea is very deceptive, when the cake stand was delivered to our table I honestly thought that we would be finished in no time at all. However after making a valiant attempt at our Eton Mess, and I did manage to squeeze in my lemon meringue pie, we were both finished.
All in all, I enjoyed my first afternoon tea and look forward to doing it again. Nicola has told me that I need to go with her to The Corinthian Club in Glasgow to try their afternoon tea, this is the benchmark that Nicola uses to rate other places. I don't think this will be a big problem for me, as regular readers will know from a previous review that any excuse to get back to The Corinthian Club will work for me.

The time was pushing on and our train back to the airport was leaving in 40 minutes so we asked for the bill ,and for our remaining cakes to be wrapped up to take away with us. The cakes came back in a delicate bag shaped from tin foil which was nice, what wasn't nice was that for the second time in Cardiff, our bill had an "optional" 10% service charge added. Is this a Cardiff thing? I know that lots of restaurants add a service charge for larger groups, but to automatically add to a bill for two people especially after part of the meal had to be sent back to the kitchen, is ridiculous!

Maybe someone can let me know if this happens anywhere else in the country? Anyway, putting my little gripe aside, our afternoon tea was very good value for £15 per person. The quality of the food served was excellent, the drinks in the bar were fantastic, and the service received from the moment when I asked the hotel reception desk to look after our suitcase while we walked around the city centre through to the dodgy scone incident onto settling our bill was very good. Overall, Laguna Kitchen & Bar was very good and I'm sure if we ever get back to Cardiff I think we would definitely think about heading back.


Saturday, 16 June 2012

Review - Mocka Lounge, Mill Lane, Riverside, Cardiff

Myself and Nicola are currently at The Celtic Manor Resort to attend a black tie event arranged by my employers. Before we checked in yesterday, we had a few hours to kill so spent a little time in Cardiff city centre. Neither of us have ever been to Wales so we seen this as an opportunity to a do little research for a possible future city break. Our whistle stop tour of the city centre certainly gave us enough reason to come back and spend more time, with a huge range of shopping, tourist stuff and loads of places to eat and drink.

It made sense that we stopped for lunch before we left the Welsh capital and after checking the menu boards of the usual suspects of national chains (Wagamama, Ask, Carluccios, Pizza Express etc), as well as an excellent array of independent bars, bistros and restaurants, we decided to to get in out of the rain and try lunch at Mocka Lounge.

The general feel of Mocka Lounge is laid back and funky, with black and red being the main colouring both inside and out. The menu offers a good range of snack and light bites and main course choices but as we would be having a full three course meal later in the evening, we kept our lunch simple with Nicola ordering the chicken club sandwich and me ordering the bacon cheeseburger, both coming with chips.

From a presentation point I can't fault Mocka Lounge, the burger was stacked high and accompanied by thick hand-cut chips served in a little replica frying basket, all on top of a wooden serving board. It's not the first time I've seen chips served this way but you know what, I love little quirky ways of making the food look fun.

As for the burger itself, where do I start? A 6oz home made burger, well seasoned and cooked perfectly, topped with mozzarella, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a lovely piquant tomato chutney. The burger was cooked well and deliciously, the smoked bacon worked well with the mozzarella although I would have preferred the bacon to be crispier! The only other criticism that I have is that the toasted burger bun was a little dry. I think this juicy and well stacked burger would have worked much better with a nice floury bap, but overall it was still a very good cheeseburger.

As I tucked into my burger, Nicola started to make good headway into her club sandwich. The traditional club sandwich is served with three pieces of toasted bread, but Mocka used huge slices of a thick white bloomer and only used two slices. Perhaps a little unconventional, but what was served was well filled with lots of thick sliced roast chicken, plenty of smoky bacon, sliced tomato and pickled cucumber slices. As I mentioned earlier, this was served with the same thick cut chips that I had. In Nicola's words, "these chips are magic " and although there was no sign of Paul Daniels about, was there anything left on our plates? Not a lot!

Whilst we enjoyed our lunch, I noticed that there were card on the table offering a 20% discount on our bill in return for us completing a feedback form. This is a fantastic idea as I think every restaurant should be encouraging customers to be giving feedback in order for them to gauge response and make improvements where necessary. I happily filled our own feedback card in and asked for the bill, happy to see that the 20% discount had been applied but less happy to see that an "optional 10% service charge" had been added! Don't get me wrong, I'm all for tipping waiting staff when I dine out, I'm just not happy on a charge being added regardless, especially when there were only two of us dining. I would have been tipping anyway, possibly more than the equivalent of 10% but by automatically adding it, I gave no further tip.

So to sum things up, would I go back to Mocka Lounge? The answer is yes! The food was well priced, well flavoured and good value for money, whilst the service was efficient, polite and attentive. Myself and Nicola hope to come back to Cardiff in the coming months and we will definitely be back to Mocka Lounge.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Seasonal Vegetables - Peas

As the asparagus season begins to come to an end, June sees the arrival of fresh peas. Frozen peas are available all year round, but fresh garden peas are available from early June until the late July. Mangetout out are undeveloped garden peas, picked while the pod is still edible. Similarly, petit pois are young garden peas , picked and shelled when small, young & tender. Unlike mangetout pods, the pods of garden peas are too tough to eat, but popping fresh peas from the pod into your mouth is one of life's great pleasures.

Recipe - Peas & Spring Cabbage with Pancetta


  • 300g fresh peas, you'll need about 600g fresh peas in the pod
  • Knob of butter
  • 350g diced pancetta
  • 1 medium spring cabbage, shredded

  1. Cook the peas in boiling water until just tender, drain and cool under running cold water.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan before adding the pancetta, cook for a few minutes before stirring in the cabbage. Cover and cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes or until tender.
  3. Add the peas and heat through, season with salt & lots of black pepper before serving.
This makes a fantastic side dish with roast chicken or roast beef. Why not put this easy dish on the table tomorrow with your Sunday roast dinner?

Monday, 4 June 2012

Review - The Olive Branch Bistro, Broughton Street, Edinburgh

As the country either celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee weekend or just rejoiced in the fact that they had an extra couple of days off, myself and Nicola started our weekend with a trip to Edinburgh to see Oliver! at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Normally we would have turned this trip into an overnight theatre break but as we are away later this month on another trip, I made the decision to drive and do the Park'n'Ride from Ingleston.

We have a few restaurants that we like to visit when in Edinburgh but on Saturday we wanted to dine somewhere that was closer to the Playhouse than our regulars. With this in mind, I started the usual Internet searches and after trawling through the results from the various restaurant websites, I booked a table The Olive Branch Bistro on Broughton Street, which is just a short walk away from the theatre.

After a slow stroll through John Lewis and Harvey Nichols, where Nicola began making plans for the next addition to her designer handbag collection, we arrived at the restaurant ten minutes early for our booking. After being shown to our table, our waiter/front of house manager arrived with the menu and a couple of glasses of iced cold water, scoring brownie points from the off, before drawing our attention to the specials board as well as making a recommendation of a few main menu items.

The well constructed menu made it difficult to choose what we wanted, in fact I don't think there was anything on the main courses that I didn't like the sound of, but eventually we placed our order and began to enjoy our wine.

Before long, our starters arrived and immediately had our mouths watering. I had ordered the Warmed Brie with Serrano ham and Tomato Relish from the specials boards. What arrived was two thick fingers of brie wrapped in Serrano ham before being fried just enough to allow the soft cheese to begin to melt. This was accompanied by a deliciously tangy, home made tomato chutney and dressed salad leaves. The combination of salty ham, mild brie and slightly spicy chutney was wonderful.

Meanwhile Nicola had chosen the Goats cheese mousse with beetroot purée, which looked stunning and tasted delicious. The mousse was light and creamy and well seasoned with the just right amount of goats cheese to leave a slightly sharp taste at the end of every bite. The mousse was accompanied by a wonderful beetroot purée packed with earthy flavours which seemed to be the perfect partner to the sharp goats cheese, and a scattering of hand rolled oatcakes. As it happened, Nicola had to ask for a couple more oatcakes to finish off her starter, this was no problem and a side plate with fresh supplies was quickly delivered.

As the restaurant started to fill up with more pre-theatre diners it gave us a few minutes enjoy our wine and let our starters settle before the mains were delivered. When they did arrive, they were both visually stunning! I had chosen Pan-Fried Sea Bass with a warm Jersey Royal & caper salad, roasted cherry tomatoes and salsa verde. Only one word can describe the plate of food that was served to me...Wow! I could have eaten this all night, deliciously sweet sea bass served on a bed of buttered Jersey Royals, peppery rocket and salty capers, all pulled together with wonderful roasted sweet cherry tomatoes. To further compliment the fish, a tasty home made pesto was dotted around the plate. Everything on the plate had a reason to be there, but believe me when I say that they didn't stay there for too long!

As soon as Nicola spotted lamb on the menu, it was a foregone conclusion that she would be ordering the Herb Crusted Lamb Chops, Black Pudding Dauphinois, seasonal greens and mint jus. While my main had been fresh and light, the dish presented to Nicola was a more homely affair. Two thick herb crusted lamb chops which were cooked to perfection, served slightly pink, with the most delicious mint infused gravy. This was accompanied by perfectly al dente broccoli and peppery spinach, and an ingenious side of black pudding dauphinois. This was quite simply a slice of spicy black pudding topped with light, garlicky sliced potato. Again, everything on the plate worked well together and made it easy for Nicola to almost clear her plate. Fortunately for me, she struggled to finish off the dauphinois so I offered to help.

After big two courses of fantastic food, neither of us had room for puddings, oh well it just means that we need to go back another time. Our bill for dinner, including a large glass of wine each, was £47. Fantastic value when you consider the quality of food served, as well as the courteous staff on duty. Both Nicola and myself agree that the meal that we had on Saturday was one of the best that we have eaten in a long, long time and I can't wait until our next visit to the capital.

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