Wednesday 15 April 2015

Gaylord Restaurant Mortimer Street

I've been watching a bit of the BBC series Back in time for dinner, where an unprepossessing British family eat their way through British history. They spend a week in each decade from the 1950s onwards, with their kitchen remodelled appropriately, typical gender roles enforced and menus taken from the National Food Survey (an annual survey carried out between 1940 and 2000). Now, originally this survey was only of urban working class households, to make sure that everyone was getting sufficient nutrition during the war, but it was expanded in 1950. So the utterly dire food they showed through the 1950s episode can't just be blamed on class or location (although rationing was still in place).

Mind you, the fact that Rochelle doesn't usually do the cooking for her family may have made a bad situation worse. The look of horror on her children's faces when served a week's worth of liver rations, overcooked, cold and leftover from lunch, was superb. And the relief when, mid-way through the 1960s episode, spaghetti bolognese hit the menu, was palpable.

With that sort of post-war culinary history, I think Gaylord's Restaurant, opened in 1966, hit a sweet-spot where people were ready for a bit of novelty and were starting to develop more of a culture of eating out. I'd love to see a menu and maybe some of the recipes from those early days, to see how they have changed with time. Even with all those years of British colonisation, Indian food must have come as quite a surprise. I was invited with a group of other bloggers to try their new menu though, not the 1966 version.

We started with Sharabi Saffron Thandai, a very rich and very sweet (and reading the ingredients very strong) cocktail of rum, saffron-infused gin, Malibu, saffron and Thandai, a mixture of almonds, spices, milk and sugar. The saffron provided a very necessary bitter edge to the rose, cardamom and coconut sweetness. I'd drink it again, but as an alternative to dessert - it didn't exactly stimulate the appetite.

Much more to my taste was the second drink, a virgin paan mojito. The rose, mint and lime was very refreshing.

We had a series of canapés, which General Manager Sameer Berry explained were examples of the sorts of food they serve when catering parties. I thought they were mixed successes. The Golgappa shots (the Northern Indian name for what I've usually seen called pani puri) were very tasty, but anything requiring detailed instructions in order to eat them - pouring the shot glass of tamarind water into the crisp shell (while leaning well over a plate) and putting the whole thing in your mouth at once - seems like an awkward party canapé.
Golgappa shot
The bhelpuri cone was good, the aloo papri chaat (potato disc topped with chickpeas) was a bit dull and dry but the murg malai tikka and zaffrani chicken tikka were absolutely gorgeous, delicately spiced and very succulent.
Bhelpuri cone
murg malai tikka
If the canapés weren't enough, we then had some starters which were slightly larger than the canapés and again had mixed success. A large tandoori prawn looked impressive but tasted dry and woolly. Murg Gilafi Seekh, a minced chicken kebab, was really delicious (although impossible to photograph attractively). A crab cake, presented like Vietnamese chao tom on sugar cane skewers, was pleasant but a bit too soft to eat on the skewer. For me, the least successful starter was the lamb seekh kebab taco. Elaborately presented, it was a bit of a case of style over substance. To be fair, I really don't like hard shelled tacos, but the lamb seekh kebab wasn't nearly as succulent or flavoursome as the chicken version we'd had, it was awkward to eat and needed a big spritz of lemon juice or something to give it a lift.
Lamb kebab tacos - cute gimmick but not for me
Sameer asked us to choose between two menus for the main courses, although I am not entirely sure why because all the dishes from both menus came out. It was a lot of food and with the best will in the world I couldn't try all of it.
Lamb chops Anardana

I was very pleased to see my second favourite aubergine dish, Hyderabadi Baingan on the table, but I didn't think it was as good as mine. It was very mellow, whereas I prefer a sharp prickle of intense tamarind. Both the Lamb Chops Anardana and the Lamb Shank were wonderful, and the Dal Bukhara was extremely good - rich and thick. I particularly enjoyed the fluffy bhatura bread, which Sameer recommended we eat with the Chana Peshawari, and the garlic naan was excellent as well.
Dal Bukhara
I don't often eat Indian desserts. I like the occasional kulfi or piece of burfi but usually I am way too full to face them. I did manage to have a small spoonful of each in the interests of research though!
Rasmalai was sweet, creamy and fragrant, which are all things I like, although the texture of the curd swimming in milk was a little offputting. The carrot halva was served warm in a charming silver box - this time the presentation was matched by the delicious flavour. My favourite of the desserts, though, was the gulab jamun, flambéed in dark rum. Even without the booze these were the best gulab jamun I've ever had: light and fluffy, drooling syrup but not cloying. But the rum and the theatre of flaming it at the table made it even better.

I had a very pleasant meal. I assume that they chose the most-likely-to-please options instead of taking too many risks: there were several items on the à la carte menu which I thought sounded more interesting (black pepper calamari, rabbit seekh kebab, kid goat keema). As befits the restaurant claiming to have brought the tandoor oven to Britain, their strength seems to be the items cooked on charcoal. The curry house favourites were done very well, but weren't the choices I would make. I would also have enjoyed more variety in the heat levels of the dishes, although a couple of people sitting near me were struggling even with quite mild chilli heat, so I suppose safer not to kick it up more!

Many thanks to Sameer Berry and his team for their hospitality, and to Sarah and Jenny from Salt PR for the invitation.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Pared-down pizza rustica

As well as my Scandinavian-inspired breakfast buns, I decided to make a savoury pie for snacking on over the Easter weekend. Most of the Italian-American pizza rustica recipes I found have at least an inch-thick layer of cold meats, which I decided was a bit over the top. So I made a slightly more restrained version.

Mine was a shortcrust pastry case, with a bottom layer of spinach and mozzarella, bound with an egg. Then layers of mortadella, proscuitto and soppressata. Then a layer of ricotta and smoked semi-dried tomatoes, bound with another egg and seasoned with nutmeg.

It compressed as it cooled, which was good for slicing but left a big gap between the filling and the top of the pastry. But it tasted good.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Raspberry Semlor for Easter

The cherry decided to flower in time to be our Easter tree
Semlor are cardamom-flavoured, almonds and cream-filled buns which are eaten in Sweden on Shrove Tuesday in the same way that we eat pancakes in Britain - a final indulgent binge before the austerity of Lent.

I don't observe Lenten fasting. And I have my dance class on Tuesday evenings so I'm never up for special cooking on a Tuesday. But I was intrigued by the idea of semlor, so I decided to make them for Easter instead of hot cross buns.

I didn't follow a traditional recipe. I used Paul Hollywood's iced fingers dough, because it is my go-to enriched yeast dough recipe, using all skim milk instead of whole milk and water. I added the seeds from 12 cardamom pods, ground in a pestle and mortar as finely as I could manage before I got bored. After the first rise I halved the dough and froze one portion - we don't need that many buns - and shaped the other half into 4 round buns.

When they were baked and cooled, I cut off a lid and scooped out some of the crumb from both pieces. In a perfect world the almond cream filling would be made from scratch, but I decided that was a step too far. I mixed the scooped-out crumb with about 75g grated marzipan, and a small slosh of milk to make a paste.

I packed the almond filling back into the bottom halves of the buns, pressing it in well, then topped it with some lovely fresh raspberries (not traditional, but raspberries go so well with almonds). Then added a mound of freshly whipped double cream. I dusted them with icing sugar once I perched the lids on top of the cream.

I think I could have been a bit more heavy-handed with the cardamom - the flavour was very subtle. And I can see the marzipan nay-sayers (mother) screwing up their noses at the idea of it, but combined with the crumbs it just gave a nice almond flavour and sweetness which balanced the sweet but tangy raspberries and the bland richness of the unsweetened whipped cream.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Salted almond truffles - a work in progress

I had what I thought was a pretty good idea for a salted almond chocolate for Easter. A tempered dark chocolate shell filled with a salted almond praline held together with white chocolate ganache. I bought some Easter-y chicken chocolate moulds and set about it.
Pink Murray River salt crystals
Almond praline in progress
... and then discovered that while the tempering worked pretty well, there wasn't then enough room for a decent amount of filling. It just all got a bit too difficult. So I dumped the rest of the filling mixture into the rest of the dark chocolate and rolled it into balls.

They taste good, but aren't what I had in mind. Back to the drawing board! Probably next Easter.


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