Saturday 22 April 2017

Picture restaurant and thoughts on blogging

For Christmas, Paul gave me a day-long silver jewellery making course. Which I thoroughly enjoyed. One thing that startled me, though, was that when we were introducing ourselves at the beginning of the course, a couple of the other participants announced that they were doing this (absolute beginners) course because they intended to make a career out of it. Without any real background in jewellery making or knowing whether they had any aptitude they were determined that this was going to be their thing. On the one hand I admired the confidence, but on the other that just seems bonkers to me.
Warm sourdough rolls and whipped butter
And I have to say that I am feeling much the same way about food blogging these days. Back lo, these many years ago, when I started blogging, it mostly seemed to be people who liked food or liked writing or both, using a free platform with a shitty layout and rubbish photos. And enjoying it. We made friends with people with similar interests, spent time commenting on other people's posts and took our time over things.
Delicious basil martini
Now it seems like a lot of people have decided that there is money to be made and they decide they are going to be Food Bloggers. They come in with professional-looking headshots in their profiles, a business plan, a brand identity and an SEO strategy. They have media kits. They have business cards. They hustle. It's a valid approach, but it's not my approach and it does make me a bit wistful for the days when we made friendships, not networking opportunities. I deeply admire, though, the people who started around when I did who have actually been able to cope with change and adapt to the new environment.
Beef bites
The whole landscape is different. I've stopped accepting PR invitations and removed myself from a couple of databases, because if you want a blog to promote your thing I'm really not your girl. I don't care about my reach. I don't know how many, if any, readers I have. I seldom bother cross promoting my blog posts on other channels (I will put them on the Foodycat facebook page but I won't pay to boost posts, so not a lot of people will see that). I'd rather leave that stuff to the people who are passionate about making their blogs pay.
Asparagus, pea and wild garlic veloute
It also occurred to me this week, that while there are products that I have continued to buy and use after initially being sent them to review, there's only one restaurant that I have been to for a blogger event that I have subsequently been back to on my own dime. Since I don't have a lot to offer a restaurant in terms of generating buzz, the point of me really is going to a place, being inoffensive to staff and paying for my dinner - so I have a pretty terrible track record.
Beetroot tartare, goats curd
I first went to Picture, on Great Portland St, with a bunch of bloggers in 2014. And then again less than a week later. Then somehow I hadn't managed to go back. I knew they'd opened a second restaurant in Marylebone, but I'd never made it to that one either.
Pork, pickled carrots, granny smith apple
This week, though, I was looking for a venue for a dinner with a friend (same friend I'd had lunch with at Picture before, as it happens) and Great Portland St ticked the boxes for her to get to Waterloo or Vauxhall and me to get to Baker St or Marylebone after. I'd assumed we'd go a la carte - didn't think I could stretch to the £45 6 course Spring menu (still very reasonable, but once you add drinks and service charge that's probably £65. Not on a Wednesday). But then when I booked I discovered they were doing a Taste on London deal of the Spring menu and a cocktail for £35.
Roast cod, charred gem, salsa verde, merguez
It was all wonderful really. In a perfect world the skin on the cod would have been crisp. And the merguez tasted more like chorizo. But plate after plate of delicious, well-seasoned food with interesting contrasts of taste and texture can't really be sneered at. The first time I was there I noted that the menu had moved from veg to pork to fish in a slightly confusing way, but that the fish had been a necessary palate cleanser between rich pork and rich beef. This menu went with a similar formula with the clean, pearly cod breaking up the lightly smoked, meltingly tender pork and the voluptuous lamb. But even so I couldn't possibly have faced a cheese course, either before or after the chocolate mousse.
Lamb, sprouting broccoli
Chocolate mousse was the pudding the first time I ate at Picture too. But they make such a good one it hardly matters. The presentation was better this time! I wasn't quite sure about the blob of cream being almost the same size as the mousse, but it actually concealed the delicious milk jam (basically condensed milk, for those of us who adore it). The mousse was very light, just the right sweetness and although I had my doubts at the beginning I actually managed to finish the whole dish. In addition to the £35 deal, we had a beef bite each and shared a carafe of wine. So with the service charge it came in at £50 a head. Definitely worth it.
Chocolate mousse
Showing the milk jam

Monday 17 April 2017

Easter Weekend

We're on the last day of the blissful 4 day Easter bank holiday weekend. I love this weekend. It's spring, so there are lots of flowers blossoming and a sense of promise and excitement, but at the same time there's no real pressure to do anything.
My cooking for the weekend made respectful nods to a variety of traditions without being absolutely traditional.
Saffron, sour cherry and pistachio buns
Saffron crocuses are an autumn crocus, but at the same time crocuses are such a sign of spring that it felt right and proper to flavour some sweet buns with saffron. The dough was studded with sour cherries, then rolled around a pistachio and cinnamon filling and finished after baking with a hot, tangy lemon glaze. They didn't feel a million miles from a hot cross bun, but also reminiscent of baklava. Just the thing for the luxury of lingering over coffee on a long weekend.

I also made a savoury pie. Sort of nodding to some of the Mediterranean ones. This was filled with ricotta, feta, watercress, chard and wild garlic, with eggs cracked on top of the filling to bake under the crust. I should have blind-baked the base - the bottom was a bit soggy - but the flavours were excellent.

On Saturday we went for a walk from Latimer through the Chess Valley. About half way along there is a watercress farm (the last working watercress farm in the Chilterns), with a farm stall and honesty box. The farmer had just brought out a fresh batch of watercress so we grabbed a bag.
Watercress farm
That watercress formed the base of our salad on Saturday night (with a beautiful Galician bone-in sirloin steak). And left enough for a second salad on Sunday - with radishes and British asparagus (asparagus season, hurrah!). Which was all we needed to accompany a boned leg of suckling pig, rolled around a wild garlic and fennel paste, and barbecued for 6 hours until the meat was jelly-soft and the skin crisp as glass. The leftover pork will form our lunch in an hour or so, but I haven't quite decided how. There's plenty of time to think.


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