Steam Bags

Chop, zip, steam and serve.  What could be easier?  Nothing.  These most excellent microwave steam bags are worth every penny and can I say that I’m so glad my nearest Lakeland is in Brent Cross and I don’t have a car.  Lakeland is my guilty pleasure and I’m as addicted to their catalogues as a chocoholic is to cocoa.

You’ll have seen bags in a similar vein with frozen vegetables inside but Lakeland have found a supplier for home use.
The two steamers I own, one electric, the other basket, are going in my next bootie – they haven’t been used for years, have accumulated as much dust as Miss Havisham and are, as such, totally redundant.  I bought a glut of reduced rhubarb – Dutch Meels – today as I’m currently on the Dukan Diet.  For those of you unaware it’s the diet apparently every French woman follows and am abridged version has appeared in the Daily Mail.  Everything, you might say to make an intelligent woman run as far away from it as possible but I need to get bikini-slim, follow a structured daily plan and I don’t want to exercise.  A short, sharp shock of proteins as I don’t have a heap to lose, then a cycle of protein and vegetables every other day.  No carbs, no fruit, no alcohol.  I’ve got very creative with minced beef and you should see what I do with oat bran!   The food I bake following the restricted ingredients isn’t really worth photographing, I’ll bake some lemon muffins next week and show you what I mean.  Dairy is a large part of the diet and so I’m allowed custard – the art of which I have perfected.  And, as rhubarb is a vegetable, very shortly it will form layers in a bastardised fool.
I digress, back to the bags.  They come in two sizes.
Large – 25 x 25cm.  Pack of 20 single use bags.  £5.49
Medium – 20 x 25cm.  Pack of 20 single use bags.  £4.49
They are single use but are freezable so you can cook, cool and freeze which I intend to do with this batch of rhubarb.  The other batch I’ll keep in the bag in the fridge and use it as and when.
I’ve tried the cheaper imitation bags and they just don’t stand up to scrutiny.  The zip locks on these bags are great and don’t break after the first use.  Surprisingly, you can get a bundle of asparagus and a crown of broccoli in the large bag and two servings of veg in the smaller bags.  I’ve cooked salmon with butter (not recently) with a chunk of fresh dill atop for four minutes and the results are spectacular.
These bags are complete cheat, do what they say on the bag and takes a lot of pain out of producing a decent meal really quickly.  Some will say they’re expensive, I’d disagree.  No mess, no washing up and a flavour-locked meal in a thrice.
Rhubarb Fool – Dukan style
Traditional fool is one of the simplest, but finest puddings in the world.  Pureed fruit is gently folded into whipped cream and as soon as you taste it you are transported to the Camomile Lawn on a balmy Summer’s day.  I always use custard in mine – it harks back to my days of Mrs Anton’s Home Economics classes and making your own custard is as easy as mixing up a Bird’s powder – trust me on this one.  Here I take all the fun out of the recipe because you can’t have cream on the Dukan.  If you want to add it, beat 250mls double cream separately and then as it begins to set fold it into the fruit.
For 4 people you’ll need
500g rhubarb, cleaned trimmed and cut into slices
2 tbsp low calorie sweetener, I’ve been using Tesco low calorie granulated sweetener
Juice of 1 lemon
For the fresh custard
250ml Skimmed Milk
2 eggs
1 tsp Vanilla flavouring
1 fresh Vanilla Bean Pod or vanilla flavouring
Granulated Sweetener
Put the fruit in a large zip steam bag with sugar and lemon juice in a microwave on high 1000w for three and a half minutes (or until contents have become pulpy).  You can heat the ingredients in a saucepan on a stovetop until the fruit becomes pulpy.  Allow it to cool then blitz with a hand blender or food processor.  If you haven’t got either roughly break down with a fork.  Now to the custard.  Open up the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds.  Add these to the milk.  Bring the milk to the boil. In a clean bowl, using a whisk, beat the eggs together then slowly pour over the hot milk.  Transfer back to the saucepan and heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens, making sure not to let it boil. When the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon, it is ready to remove from the heat and add the sugar substitute, according to taste.  Stir the custard in with the fruit or layer custard, rhubarb, custard, rhubarb in a small glass., as I have.
I also put a teaspoon of ginger powder into the rhubarb to give it an extra dimension.
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The Devonshire Arms

Ask any of my friends, I have not stopped talking about a) The Ginger Pig opening in W12 and b) the reopening of the Devonshire Arms in Chiswick.  Now I promise bullet point b will cease.  I’ve been and I dragged three friends along to try the menu with me, and pay, result!
The menu is varied and seasonal and there really is a good mix for every palate.
The interior hasn’t changed much since Nick Gibson took the reigns but to be honest, there’s not much to work with and the space isn’t easy to create an intimate dining experience.
At a quick glance, the bar menu was fun, a bowl of radishes with a dip of sorts made me smile, but it was the sausage roll that made my eyes pop and my stomach roll, even if we were going to sit down to dinner in thirty minutes.
We started with drinks outside on what was a lovely sunny evening. There are three tables at the front of the pub for the taking. There is also a rather nice garden space at the rear but the sun had disappeared when we arrived.  I trilled on the discovery that they stock Sipsmith’s gin (distilled locally in Hammersmith), but Nick you need to stock Fever Tree mixers, I promise you, the difference is quite apparent. Still, you can’t have everything but “A good drop” of Woodfords was the reaction from the boys and a well-mixed fruity Pimms kept my female chum more than happy.  Drinks sunk and it was time for the sausage roll.  Our Northern pastry expert gave the flaky 10 out of 10 “Pastry as good as Greggs” was praise indeed from a man who knows his flaky from his short and a light and non-greasy casing kept the contents of the haggis and pork sausage roll (£4.50) nicely bound.  Well-seasoned meat complemented each other, the spicy oatiness of the haggis and the sausage-meatiness of the pork. This was served with a tomato-salsa-r-y sauce which was sweet, tomato-ey and worked well with the heartiness of the meat. No greasy fingers either.  Seriously, am I going a little ga-ga over a sausage roll?  The simple answer is yes, it matters, it was very very good.
Now, we were getting a cut-price meal – the soft opening meant fifty percent discount on the food.  This was the pub’s first week of opening so as you’d expect there were going to be teething problems.  On the whole it was almost there, but there are a few points I think are worth making. Even with a half priced food bill four of us managed to spend £112.50, without the added tip.
So, here’s a breakdown of the meal from start to finish.
A lovely platter of fresh, nutty bread arrived with unsalted butter and was immediately demolished.
Two starters were ordered and both arrived promptly. The half pint of prawns with a rose marie sauce (£6.50) was a real treat and the spiky fronds overflowed the mug. Silly things were forgotten like plates for shell remnants and finger bowls. The sauce was delicious, a thin yet flavour-packed rosy pink dipping partner.
The second starter chosen was smoked eel, smoked bacon and quails egg (£6.50). Pretty on the plate but the over-riding taste of the smoked bacon put paid to the individual tastes of both the delicate eel and boiled egg, so that was a little disappointing.
For the mains, I took a punt and ordered the bavette without chips and a salad (£14.50). In my opinion, as a diner and a cook, it’s one of those much maligned “forgotten cuts” but one that needs careful cooking, close guarding, a lot of seasoning and a certain level of skill for medium-rare. The punt was lost. It was tough and leather-like, so I thanked God for the serrated knife. The peppercorn sauce was indeed a well suited accompaniment if not to help down the bavette – a sublime, creaminess with a subtle pepper after-taste. The confit of garlic was sweet and oozed with little force from the plump pillows it popped from. The salad leaves were unwashed and gritty and, on reflection, I really shouldn’t have gone off-menu and stuck with the scripted chips.
The braised breast of lamb with summer vegetables (£15.00), was the winner of the meal. One of those dishes you wish you had ordered, and there’s always one on a table.   An intensely flavoured lamb was cooked to perfection, the flavour stood alone from it’s well seasoned gravy, which in turn was topped with some well prepped and cooked vegetables – carrots, runner beans and broad beans. A glass of the Rioja Albergarda (£5.00) worked well with the richness of the lamb.
The whole roast poussin with new potatoes and runner beans (£13.00) was good. An added bonus was a little cabbage, which in itself would have been a welcome addition, there’s always more bones than meat on a poussin, but alas the vegetables must have been dipped in hot water for a nano-second, blanched and then failed to get their second, longer dip. However, the poussin was stuffed with fresh herbs (thyme, bay and fat cloves of garlic) as many as the groaning cavity could cope with, and the chicken oozed moistness and flavour.  Table manners were out of the window and bones were being sucked left, right and centre, all the more scrumptious was the flavour the closer to the bone.  The new potatoes were cooked well and well seasoned with rock salt.
The slow roast pork belly, savoy cabbage and cherry tomatoes (£12.50) was fatty, as expected, but the recipient left a quarter of the dish in fat.  Well seasoned and perfectly edible.
We ordered a side dish of Heritage Sharp’s new potatoes (£3.00) and two pathetic orbs were delivered in a bowl. Queried, this was rectified immediately and were soon replaced with a heap.
The puddings were to-die-for.
The Hendricks gin and tonic jelly with a blueberry compote (£6.00) was pretty fabulous to look at and it tasted pretty good too.  I even asked for a side of custard – weird but I fancied it – and a wee jug of that arrived with no issue. Smooth-vanilla-creaminess at it’s best.
Now, the brownie was probably one of the best I’ve ever eaten (£6.00). The top needed a good crack to reveal a dense, chocolatey, warm gooey, oozing middle, studded with pecans and I want the recipe.  The jug of chocolate sauce was unnecessary but eaten, of course, and I was in custard-y, cocoa heaven, fighting the actual person who ordered it as their own dish. They ate the vanilla ice cream and managed to duel me for a couple of spoonfuls of brownie.
The cheese plate (£8.00) was generous, and made up of Montgomery cheddar, blue Lee blue (although I cannot find this at all on the internet and have tried various spellings) and Finn organic cow’s milk cheese.  Never enough biscuits are there, but nowhere near enough for the huge hunks which were brought to the table.  A small dish of the homemade chutney went quickly and the staff brought more biscuits when requested. A red wine request was left to the manager and he paired well with a glass of Rhone Feraud (£5.25).
I asked about sourcing and suppliers but was told “we have so many and the head chef is off”. Shame.
Both men and women’s loos were clean and the hand wash divine, Green and Spring have an order coming their way, but it’s those little things, the attention to detail that really do make a difference.
Would we return? A resounding yes. We’re giving the odd hiccups the benefit of the doubt.  So my wishlist Nick is short and is as follows: Stichelton on the cheeseboard and Fever Tree mixers in the bar, and finally, the staff to have a little more knowledge about the food being served but I know they’re all new.
Apologies for the photo quality.  Not up to their usual spec but I took them with my phone.
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Ginger Pig Butchers

The rumours are true I can confirm that I have just finished a call with Tim Wilson from the Ginger Pig and he is definitely bringing his excellent butchers to Askew Road.  So, the former furniture shop at 137-139

will undergo a total transformation and open as The Ginger Pig on Wednesday 5th October 2011. They’ll sell meat, hams, pies their awesome sausages and they may even host their famous butchery courses there – where you can learn to butcher beef, lamb or pork – but that will be subject to demand.  Even if they don’t they intend to join up with Leith’s Food and Wine – just around the corner in Wendell Road – and offer some butchery courses on site there.

A massive thank you though to Fran Warde, otherwise Shepherds Bush could have lost out to Muswell Hill or Barnes.  She co-wrote the Ginger Meat Pig Book with Tim and lives nearby.   Although her original suggestion to open up a branch on Askew Road was very much tongue-in-cheek, Tim has taken the plunge and her advice and joins independents and  knowledgable locals Askew Wine and Lavelli Bakery.

If you’ve not heard of the Ginger Pig then here’s a short synopsis of what they’re all about. Primarily, they’re farmers who raise Longhorns and Tamworths, Swaledales, and Texels and Dorsets in a commercial manner.  With farms based in Yorkshire, they insist upon traceability which means they don’t buy animals for breeding – they are entirely self-sufficient, don’t feed their livestock artificial feeds and the animals grow more slowly than those raised by more industrial farming methods.

Everything they make they sell in their shops – big fans of nose to tail butchery – and Les is their baker who makes the most spectacular pies. Check out the savoury pie wedding cake on their website.

They’ve got shops in Marylebone, Hackney, Waterloo and Borough Market.

Here’s Tim’s view on what the Ginger Pig does (stolen entirely from their website).  “There is no great secret to what we do: we simply raise the best animals, in the happiest of circumstances, on the finest stretch of the Yorkshire Moors we could find. Only by ensuring that our pigs, cattle and sheep receive the highest level of care can we be sure our customers will receive the quality they have come to expect. It’s not a philosophy or mission statement. It’s just what we do.”


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Devonshire Arms

I was upset that the Devonshire didn’t survive – for whatever reason – not least because it was a gem in the back streets of a chain-filled High Road – offering a seasonal menu at reasonable prices in an unpretentious setting. OK, I wasn’t a regular but it was a great place to meet. You could have a three course meal or opt for a decent bar snack and I don’t mean a bag of Tyrrells and a pickled egg.

You can imagine then how delighted I am to hear that Nick Gibson is taking over the pass Gordon Ramsay Holdings once occupied.  Nick is behind the Drapers Arms in North London and I think us foodies living West could be in for a real treat. If Nick pulls off what he’s done in Islington I know I’ll be a regular fixture.   I was sold when I saw the ‘haggis and pork sausage roll’ but now I’m even more convinced on hearing the chef is David Philpot – he of Le Caprice in New York and The Dean Street Townhouse.

I’ve been watching the transformation of the pub interior – stalking Nick’s Twitter account (you can too @devonshirepubw4) and it’s been given more than a lick of paint.  It seems the only thing that remains is the shell and the name.  I tried to get a look first hand so wandered down Devonshire Road hoping to chat up a builder or two but was unlucky.  I can tell you it’s been given a lovely green exterior so you won’t miss it and end up at Fullers Brewery on the Hogarth Roundabout – although always a nice place to get lost! Talking of which I hope he continues to stock decent ales and wine.

You won’t have to wait too long to find out what’s in store.  A bonus is that the very generous Mr Gibson is offering a 50% discount from the 4th to 11th July.  Can you tell just how excited I am?  All this AND the Chiswick Food Festival – what a week!

UPDATE: The Devonshire Arms sadly didn’t survive – I can only assume it’s the location.

The Devonshire Arms, 126 Devonshire Road, London W4 2JJ


0208 742 2302


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Dishoom Chowpatty Beach

I didn’t just like Dishoom’s Chowpatty Beach on London’s South Bank I loved it.  In fact, I’ve not stopped banging on about it.  Even colleagues at work are going just to see what I’m making all the fuss about and thankfully, they agree.

So, what do you get when you shift 48 tons of sand to the South Bank, construct a pop-up beach bar-cum-restaurant and serve authentic Indian beach food?

Well, in anyone’s book it’s a pretty good effort at recreating Bombay’s Chowpatty Beach,sadly without the astrologers and monkey shows,  the lively carnival beachfront in Mumbai, which comes alive at dusk.  The owners of the Leicester Square restaurant Dishoom decided that this year they’d bring London an Indian summer and the best of what beach food from that region has to offer.

Slap, bang, next to the Royal Festival Hall a stretch of the concrete jungle has been occupied by what was once an office prefab, transformed into a brightly coloured tapestry on a dull fifties backdrop.

With just ten weeks to bring their idea to life the designers were incredibly resourceful.  For example, the outdoor seating are former Scottish Railway sleepers, the bar made from recycled plastic bottles, a wall made entirely of newspapers and the lampshades are old jars even the exterior cladding keeping the elements at bay are recycled palates.

On arrival you order a drink at the bar and at the same time you order your food.  You find a seat inside or outside and then staff issue you with a food ticket.  It’s cooked fresh-to-order and vocal waiters scream out your number – some more vociferously than others – and the order is delivered in brown take-away bags.  Corrugated cardboard keeps in the heat and protects the delicate contents.   If you aren’t a fast eater, however, I’d pace yourself and maybe order in small amounts as it could be a race to eat the food whilst it’s hot.   There’s no pre-booking either, it’s a case of rock up and chow down.

The menu is split into four – Famous Naan Rolls, Beach Snacks, Rubies and Hot and Cold. Here’s a little of what you can expect.

Famous Naan Rolls

Who would have thought a Cumberland sausage wrapped up in a fresh naan would provoke as many oohs and aahs as it got?  Was it the home-made chilli jam, the quality of the herbed sausage in the Sausage Naan Roll (£4.50) or the price tag that left me wanting more.  The Bacon Naan Roll (£4.50) had a couple of thick rashers of smoked back bacon which was also treated to a dollop of that spicy jam and the Egg Naan Roll (£4.50) again was a well fried egg with the even the egg, yolk breaking free in all the right places.

The Dishoom Frankie (£6.00) was a freshly baked naan filled with a spicy lamb mince and red onion.

Beach snacks 

Pau Bhaji (£4.50) ‘mashed veg’ had a really nice consistency, the spicy masala-like sauce was delicately flavoured and served with a soft bun.

Bhel (£4.00) is a Chowpatty Beach special and the recreation here was a cupful of flavours. Crispy rice, juicy pomegranate, mint, peanuts and a tamarind dressing.

The Vegetable Samosas (£3.50) x3 were lightly spiced with cinnamon again packed with filling and I was pleased to bite into the pastry binding and not be greeted with a mouthful of surplus oil.

Vada Pau (£4.00) the Indian chip-butty was fried to perfection and popped onto a soft bread roll, the only real sense of spice here was the chutney but a delicately flavoured potato patty – I have to say I ditched the bun.

Dishoom Calamari (£5.00) was by far my favourite.  A large portion of calamari was dusted in a sweet and spicy coating and deep fried, the subtle intensity hit me after my first mouthful and stayed with me.


Ruby’s (Ruby Murray, rhyming slang for Curry) are tomato based, again served in those corrugated cups.  Whilst they are spicy, the flavours were by no means overpowering and would be easy on the palate of any heat-hating diner.

Chicken Ruby & Naan (£7.00)  No shortage of tender chicken which, I’m assured, is all free range.  A soft naan with perfectly crisp outer acted as my scoop.

Veg Ruby & Naan (£6.50) Chunks of my five-a-day were peering through a chilli and saffron sauce – potato, crunchy French bean, and corn with strips of freshly-grated ginger as a garnish was a nice touch.

Daal and Naan (£6.00) a slow cooked black lentil, comforting and creamy with not too much spice.

The drinks range from Indian Pimms, mixed with Saffron gin and ginger beer with tons of pomegranate seeds and mint which was truly delicious to spiked or Virgin Gola ices, the traditional shaved ices.  Indian brands of cola Thums Up and Limca have also been imported for your pleasure.  Nice to see too that there was Greenwich Union ales available, keeping the Thames theme firmly on the menu.

The House Chai (£2.50) was perfectly spiced with cardomom and as expected teeth-rottingly sweet.  The Kulfi (£2.50) was something else.  I had the pistachio, but you can pick from classic Malai or Mango,  and it was so creamy, very naughty, but over too quickly so I had two!   And as I waddled over Hungerford Bridge I regretted it.  That one dish too far.  I’ll order a whole lot less next time and there will definitely be a next time.

Special praise to Richard who looked after me incredibly well and the bright, bubbly, well informed staff who clearly enjoy what they do.  Surely the sign of a well oiled machine and more importantly a well-paid contented bunch of employees.

So, if you want a bit of heat on the beach and can’t afford the flights to Mumbai, then get yourself over to Dishoom’s Chowpatty Beach.   Bombay on the Thames will stay until October 4th.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Terrace, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX

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