Monday, 30 July 2012

The Prince of Wales, Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield

I hadn't realised that the Prince of Wales was a chain pub until we arrived, but it couldn't have been more apparent within seconds of walking through the door.

Pleasant interior, but a bit glossy and overdesigned, plasticky mass produced menus, a token effort at serving some interesting beers. All of the obvious signs were there. All of this didn't necessarily mean I was going to dislike the place. I don't have a pathological aversion to chain pubs and restaurants, some of them have served me decent enough food at reasonable prices.

With the pubs I think there's value to be had at the bottom end of the market. I'm never going to complain at a serviceable beer soaking plate of food for little more than a fiver. Gammon, egg and chips or something like that.

What I do have an aversion to are the more upmarket chain pubs in more affluent areas, where the prices are cranked up way beyond any corresponding increase in quality. Those places where you leave feeling like you've been patted down for cash.

Sadly that's how I felt after leaving the Prince of Wales last Friday night. The food wasn't actively unpleasant, just exceptionally mediocre for the prices charged.

My starter was the high point. Chicken noodle soup (£4.50) from the specials menu brought springy noodles and lots of chicken that wasn't just overcooked breast meat, in a broth that was far too sweet but had a satisfying chilli kick.

Other starters around the table included some decent garlic mushrooms and a chorizo and potato hash with a lovely looking poached egg. They were all declared a success.

It was with the mains that things went down hill. Steaks were adequate but served with standard commodity frozen chips, the kind you'd expect to be served with a two for £8.95 meal or under a slick of cheap cheese in a Wetherspoon's. At £17.95 for the ribeye that's taking the piss.

I was in the mood for fish, so went for the whole grilled plaice with scallops from the specials menu.  The fish itself was cooked nicely, delicately flavoured and flaking easily from the bones, but the plate as a whole was a mess. The greasy, tasteless sauce had coated some overcooked asparagus and pointless rocket in an unpleasant film and the potatoes were mealy. The scallops were rubbery, gritty and not really worth eating at all. Poor, especially at over twenty quid.

We didn't bother with dessert, it was a birthday night out so we proceeded directly to cocktails. A round of celebratory champagne mojitos went down well but were light on the mint and lime and too heavy on the sugar.

Credit where it's due, the service was great throughout. Friendly and efficient. But good service isn't enough to make up for half-arsed expensive food. We paid forty pounds each for two courses, a pint and a cocktail apiece, and a bottle of half-price wine (special offer) between four. Presumably they get away with it because they can, the place was heaving.


Ecclesall Road South
S11 9PH

Prince of Wales on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Kebab week: Köfte

It's all very well talking about chicken and chickpeas, but I haven't done kebabs justice until there's some lamb involved. There are endless variations on the grilled, ground lamb theme. Every country and region from the Balkans to Central Asia has it's speciality.

I ended up making a bit of a hybrid, Turkish-style kebabs with Greek and Middle eastern accompaniments. The kebabs are closest to Köfte with a bit of Adana kebap thrown in for good measure.

The spicing is quite gentle with these; cumin, garlic and just a hint of chilli supporting the flavour of the meat rather than taking over. The parsley adds a bit of freshness and lightens things up a bit.

I served them plated up Turkish style on a bed of bread with salad, but also with tabbouleh, hummous and tzatziki. Some grilled onions and charred peppers would have been good too.

Makes 4 skewers, enough for a large meal for two

For the kebabs

1lb (450g) ground lamb
1 scant tsp salt
2 tsps ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

For the tabbouleh

4 large handfuls flat leaf parsley
1 small clove garlic
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp cooked cous cous
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil

For the tzatziki

150ml thick yoghurt
quarter of a cucumber
1 clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Salad, bread and hummous thinned with lemon juice to serve

1. Mix all of the kebab ingredients together in a large bowl, then form the mix around kebab skewers. Put them in the fridge to firm up for half an hour.

2. Make the tabbouleh by chopping the parsley and garlic finely then mixing it up with the lemon juice, zest and cous cous. Add salt, pepper and olive oil to taste.

3. Make the tzatziki by finely chopping the cucumber and garlic, then mixing it up with the yoghurt and lemon juice. If it's still a bit thick add a splash of water. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Grill the kebabs under a hot grill until a bit charred on the edges and just done on the inside. About four or five minutes on either side should do it.

6. Warm two pitta breads under the grill on top of the kebabs so they absorb some of the juice.

7. Prepare two plates with salad and tabbouleh, then sliced pitta bread, then the kebabs, then the tzatziki and hummous.

8. Eat immediately.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Kebab week: Falafel

It's debatable whether falafels can really be classified as a kebab at all. They're not made from meat and they're not grilled. Not a kebab you may say. On the other hand they're often eaten stuffed in a pitta bread with salad and sauces. Is that not a kebab?

Anyhow Wikipedia says they count, and so do I.

Why I've never made falafel before I really don't know. They're ridiculously easy and much nicer than shop bought versions. These were light, moist and really fresh tasting as opposed to the dry, heavy dull specimens you often find. I think the handful of peas really helped.

I don't have a deep fat fryer but a few minutes either side in a centimetre of oil in the frying pan worked fine. I ate them stuffed in pitta with yoghurt sauce, mango and chilli sauce, salad and pickles.

For the falafels, makes 12-14

1 tin chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 chilli
2 big handfuls parsley
lots of salt and pepper
handful of freshly shelled peas
1 dsp plain flour

To serve

Pitta bread
lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion
pickled gherkins and chillies
shop bought mango and chilli sauce
yoghurt sauce (greek yoghurt thinned with lemon juice)

1. Blitz all of the falafel ingredients in a food processor, then roll into little balls about 1 inch across.

2. Shallow fry them in a centimetre of hot oil for about 10 minutes, leave to form a good crust before turning otherwise they'll fall to bits. Deep frying them would probably be better if you've got the equipment.

3. Serve immediately in warm pitta bread with salad and sauce.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Kebab week: Chicken satay

This week on Northern Food I shall be celebrating one of humankind's greatest inventions. Not the wheel or the steam engine; not the internet, sliced bread or the Dyson vaccum cleaner; not even the flushing lavatory.

The pinnacle of civilisation is this: the kebab.

Two points of order: firstly I'm using a fairly loose definition of the word 'kebab' as propounded by the internet Oracle. Secondly there will absolutely, categorically not be any processed doner meat involved.

I'm kicking things off with a South-east Asian classic, a kebab usually eaten as a snack or more often, in Europe, as a starter. An appropriate starting point for kebab week.

Chicken satay, little nuggety bits of charred yet juicy chicken in a salty sweet marinade, dipped in a spicy peanut sauce. These are very delicious, and exceedingly more-ish.

I use chicken thigh meat which won't dry out so much as breast and is tastier anyway. I think chicken livers and hearts would also be good if you can get your hands on them. The recipe is probably inauthentic, but it's easy and tastes great so who cares.

This makes enough for about 6 skewers.

For the chicken

3 tbsp dark soy
1/2 tbsp jaggery (palm sugar)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic
1 small lump ginger (2-3cm)
1 tsp turmeric
2 chicken thighs (about 100 g each)

for the peanut sauce

1 1/2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
1 1/2 tbsp shop bought tamarind sauce
1 tsp garlic ginger mush
1 tsp tsp chilli powder
water to loosen

1. Mash the garlic and ginger to a paste, set aside 1 tsp worth of it then mix the rest up in a bowl with all of the other marinade ingredients except for the chicken.

2. Using scissors, cut the chicken into small pieces about 2 cm across and throw into the marinade.

3. Mix up well and leave to marinade for at least 2 hours, ideally 12.

4. Mix up all of the peanut sauce ingredients in a bowl including the leftover garlic/ginger, then add water and keep mixing until you get a sauce. It should be runny enough to coat the back of a spoon with the excess running off, not sitting there in a big splodge.

5. When you're almost ready to eat thread the chicken onto kebab skewers and grill on the highest setting as close as possible to the heat (or better still, barbecue) until done. They should only take a couple of minutes.

6. Serve immediately with the peanut sauce and cold beer.

Coming soon - stay tuned for falafel. 

Monday, 23 July 2012

Northern Food on tour: Festival food at Latitude

Last year I talked about how much festival food has improved since the dark days of the tinned burger. You'd think with the ongoing obsession with street food that this steady improvement would continue, what with all the dedicated folk selling interesting food from vans and stalls around the country. So how did I get on at Latitude?

Not bad, but could do better I reckon. Maybe I chose unwisely but I think (the much smaller) Standon Calling just edged it. From best to worst, here's what to look out for and what to avoid should you be braving the mud before the summer is out.

Disclaimer: significant consumption of alcohol may have rendered everything in this post misguided, incorrect or at least completely meaningless.

Lamb Kofta, from Kebabylon (£6.50-ish)

I know it doesn't look great, but when did a badly packed kebab ever look great? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and this passed the test. A generously proportioned succulent kofta, interesting salad, bread that wasn't stale and a generous splodge of hummous. Which wasn't really hummous at all, more mashed up chickpeas. No matter, yoghurt sauce, hot sauce, job done.

Malay style lamb and potato curry on noodles, generic Thai and Chinese food stall (£7)

I doubt this was the best quality food I ate all weekend, but it bloody well hit the spot. Probably because there was about 2000 calories in it. A massive meaty carb load backed up with considerable hits of sugar, salt, spice and grease. All things nice effectively.

The lamb was genuinely very tender and quite delicious though, I'm sure of that. A little bit rendang-esque.

Large chilli beef burrito, Flaming Cactus (£7.50)

All aboard the burrito bus. You can't miss it, it's big and silver. I'm thinking a surfeit of carbohydrate may have had something to do with my fondness for this one too. Having said that it wasn't a tedious chore like eating these things often is, the salsa had a zip to it and it wasn't overloaded with rice at the expense of more interesting fillings. Rightly so too at £7.50 a pop.

Margherita pizza, wood-fired pizza place (£6)

This was just a bit too boring. Good texture and nice char to the crust but little flavour in either the mozzarella or the tomato sauce. Little flavour in the chilli oil I administered liberally to liven it up either. Or the basil leaves for that matter.

Footlong dog, Footlong Hot Dog stall (£4)

A bouncy, dense meaty sausage that didn't taste cheap was let down by very stale bread. Shame. Why the hell I put mayo on it I'm not really sure. Most likely a case of 'sauce is free therefore make the best use of it possible'.

Chicken and seafood paella, a Spanish place (£6.50)

The paella of shame. Actually don't call it a paella, it doesn't deserve it. At last year's festival I got real paella, made with meat on the bone and paella rice. This one didn't involve either of those things. Think overcooked savoury rice with dried up bits of chicken breast and added frozen mixed seafood bits. Crap. Sadly I can't remember the name of the stall selling it.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Chennai Dosa, Stretford, Manchester

Chennai Dosa, a small chain of cheap and cheerful South Indian restaurants has opened a branch in the Stretford Mall in Manchester.

I’ve eaten at Chennai Dosa before a few times, most memorably in the Wembley branch before a match up the road. It’s a funny sort of place Wembley, the stadium itself situated in a sort of no-mans land of retail parks, roads and other detritus, apart from the rest of the area.

Most people heading to the stadium arrive at Wembley Park station to the East, and walk straight up the pedestrian precinct of Wembley Way and into the ground without any interaction with the surrounding suburb, but a few fans always end up at Wembley Central on the High Road in the middle of town. 

It’s a fairly typical London high street, bustling with commerce, most of the businesses independent and apparently thriving, and in Wembley’s case, mostly run by British Indians.

You can usually spot those who are stadium-bound but travelled there by mistake. There are often a few small groups of them, first time visitors down from the shires, wandering around in replica shirts, looking a little confused and unsure of themselves. The real Wembley; - scruffy, lively, independent, Indian, is somehow at odds with the corporate bastion of flag-waving Englishness up the road, and has come as a shock to the system.

It’s here that you’ll find a Chennai Dosa outlet, and I love it. The food doesn’t amaze, but it’s assertively spiced, tasty, filling and ridiculously cheap. There’s also the added fun to be had in watching Gladys from Mansfield, who just wants some food before the England game, perusing the menu and wondering what the hell idiyappams and kottu parotta and rasam vadai are.

So Chennai Dosa are expanding northwards, which is a very good thing. More people should know what the hell idiyappams and kottu parotta and rasam vadai are.

There’s still a dearth of Indian food in the North that doesn’t fit the typical British curry house Pakistani/Punjabi mould, particularly at the cheap and cheerful end of the market. There are posher places in West Yorkshire (Prashad, Hansa’s) and a few more mid-range restaurants scattered about (in Sheffield, Liverpool and Ashton-under-Lyne that I’m aware of, there are probably more) but only Dosa Express in Manchester is really a budget caff.

In terms of service, Chennai Dosa is a restaurant, but everything else is canteen style. Stainless steel jugs of water, beakers and school dinner plates; no frills wipe clean surfaces; and the fact that nothing on the menu costs more than five quid, or £4.99 to be precise.

The food at the Stretford branch is exactly the same as in Wembley; spicy, cheap and filling. Rasam vadai (£2.10), lentil doughnuts in a soupy lentil curry weren’t too heavy (sometimes eating vadai can be like ploughing through dark matter mixed with clay) and turned to a pleasing mush in the hot, sour tamarind laced rasam.

Sticking with the lentils (there are a lot of lentils involved at Chennai Dosa) I had a paneer masala dosa (£3.50) next. That’s a rice and lentil flour pancake stuffed with curried potatoes and cheese, served with sambar and chutney’s. 

Crispy pancake scooped up in hot, fresh chutney with the added bonus of cheese. What more could a vegetarian wish for? The potatoes were a bit bland though. Non-vegetarian options are also available by the way, anything with mutton in it will be worth a try.

I drank the tap water that was already on my table, so the bill was just £5.60 plus tip for a two course lunch in a restaurant with actual table service. They’re licensed too, and beer costs £2.99 a pint. Hopefully the expansion plans include Yorkshire.


Unit 119 Chester Road
Stretford Mall
M32 9BH 

Chennai Dosa on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Livebait, Leeds


It's a brave person who takes on a large restaurant in the current economic climate, especially a seafood restaurant in a not particularly prominent location.

Paramount restaurants, the previous owners of Livebait (and other brands) went into administration last year and a start-up group, SBG Restaurants, have now taken on the Leeds and Manchester sites. Although a new company, it appears that SBG is run by people with plenty of experience in the industry, I just hope they're aiming for quality and not the rapid chain expansion that tends to bring about the opposite.

First impressions were good, I liked the cut of their jib when they invited me down to try the new menu. There were none of the subtle (or not so subtle) hints at a favourable review that you sometimes get with this sort of thing, and the menu itself read well too, with just nine starters and nine mains, each of them sounding appetising. According to the website they'll also be seeking Marine Stewardship Council accreditation in the new year.

Of course I accepted the offer, a good seafood restaurant is an asset to any city, so with any luck it'd be good and I'd be able to say positive things about the place. That and I might get to fill my face with shellfish for nowt.

An oyster is always a good test of skill with shellfish. A badly shucked oyster is no fun at all. Gritty, bitty and devoid of juice they can repulse me on the way down, whereas a fat, fresh, properly shucked oyster can be a thing of beauty. 

This one was happily in the latter camp. All the lovely briney juice had been retained and it was plump and cold. With nothing but a squeeze of lemon and a quick chew on the way down it was marvellous.

My starter proper was gazpacho with Whitby crab meat. The soup was great, smooth and bright with a little bite of chilli on the aftertaste. In the unlikely event of a hot summer's day this would be just the thing. The crab was sweet and fresh, but it's delicate taste did get a bit lost in the stronger soup.

AS had the feta cheese, red onion and watermelon salad, also a great summer dish, this time in the tried and tested formula of something cold, sweet and juicy with something salty and savoury (cheese or ham with most fruits I suppose). It worked.

I've eaten plenty of oysters, and quite a lot of crab, but my lobster knowledge is completely lacking. As a consequence you'll have to forgive me for not having a very developed opinion of my lobster thermidor.

The meat was very sweet and mostly tender with the occasional chewier bit. I liked it and thought it worked well with the mustardy sauce and crusty cheese (gruyere or something similar) topping. Being a big fan of fish pie I'm generally in favour of the seafood and cheese combo in certain situations, and this was one of those. The chips, fried to a rustling crispy brown, were tasty but I'd have preferred them cut thinner.

AS had the lamb rump with dauphinoise potatoes, and declared it a success although the meat was perhaps slightly too rare. If you're wondering what the hell she was doing ordering no fish or seafood in a fish and seafood restaurant the annoyance of an allergy is to blame rather than an aversion to the stuff.

My Eton mess was an unexpected highlight. I didn't particularly think much effort would have been made with pudding, but I was wrong. By doing two simple things that many places don't bother with this was an excellent dessert.

Firstly it was made with proper meringue with proper gooey, chewy bits and not the pointless bought in stuff that turns to dust on impact. Secondly it had been recently assembled ensuring that the cream and meringue remained distinct from one another, and not prepped many hours ago and left for everything to soak together into a general sweet mush. Well done.

An affogato was also really very good. Good quality ice cream and a strong espresso. Simple but delicious.

Service was excellent throughout, from Tom the General Manager who looked after us, and from one of the other waitresses. Ok, ok, so this was a complimentary meal and only a handful of other tables were occupied, hardly the most challenging of circumstances in which to look after us, but if they can provide anything like a similar standard at busy times then they're doing very well.

On the prices front, it ain't cheap, but seafood isn't and isn't ever going to be. Once you've got over this fact I'd say the prices at Livebait are probably about right. Starters from £5, mains from £11 through to £35 for a whole lobster, and the wine list has a few bottles for under £20. Our bill would have been around £80 including service, two glasses of a decent Albarino and one of Pinot Noir.

On this evidence I'd definitely return to Livebait and spend my own money. Of course it's hard to tell with a freebie but they have a good team who seem to be doing things the right way, and I'd be very surprised if it didn't turn out to be consistently better than the obvious competition. Give it a try.

11-15 Wharf Street

Monday, 16 July 2012

Pink Lane Coffee, Newcastle

I chanced upon an excellent little coffee shop in Newcastle last week. In need of a quick bite to eat before the train home and with only a few minutes to spare I'd almost given up hope of finding anything decent. A station pasty beckoned.

Pink Lane came to the rescue. I drank a top notch flat white, smooth and strong. It was served in a glass which I'm not a fan of, but tasted delicious which is the main thing.

I ate a tuscan ham, grana padano and rocket sandwich, also very good. Generously filled with high quality ingredients, herb edged cured ham in thin, delicate slices and sharp, salty cheese. The bread was slightly past its best, probably as it was teatime. I doubt that would have been the case at lunch.

Prices are about what you'd expect. The coffee was £2.20 (I think) and the sandwich £3.40. They only had one other customer in the ten minutes I was there so I hope they're getting more trade earlier in the day. The place deserves to succeed. Highly recommended, go check it out.


Pink Lane Coffee

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Hummingbird Kitchen and Bar, Chapel Allerton, Leeds

Like my meal at Hui Wei the previous week, dinner at Hummingbird didn't quite add up. This time it wasn't the ordering that was at fault, rather what arrived on each plate that resulted in a meal that was disjointed and incoherent. Some of what I ate was really very good, but some things were awful.

After drinks at the bar that included a well kept Kirkstall Brewery pale ale we decided to kick things off with a bottle of Gavi.

Our waiter forgot to fetch the bottle after we'd ordered starters (sorry, small plates) for which he duly apologised with the phrase 'my bad'. You what? Oh you mean you're sorry. Fair enough you've fetched the wine now, are you American? He wasn't.

I thought the world had moved east nowadays and that the Chinese were in charge. Apparently not, American cultural creep is alive and well. My bad? What next, Prom night? Prom night as in end-of-term-disco-succumbed-to-grasping-commercial-avarice. Oh yeah, we've got that now according to the news. Brilliant.

Apologies, rant over, onto the food and I promise not to comment further on the waiting staff's turn of phrase. Not for a few paragraphs anyway. The cod cheeks, my first choice starter (small plate, my bad), were off so I went for the pan seared baby squid, scallop mousse, chorizo croquette, squid ink dressing.

It was the appearance of this, as opposed to the taste, that was a little unnerving. I shan't elaborate, just look at the photo. Bit weird if you ask me. On a positive note the squid itself was tender and the mousse inside very smooth. Returning to a less positive one the chorizo croquette didn't taste much like chorizo.

Some of the other starters deserve a mention, a slow cooked beef hash and a summery pearl barley rissotto with broad beans were both declared a great success.

I've had the crispy chicken with fish combination before and enjoyed it, so was intrigued by the ambitious sounding main of pan roasted hake, prawn paella, chorizo dressing and crispy chicken, at least until our waiter described it as a 'deconstructed paella'. Eh? I'm really not sure about this fad for 'deconstructed' stuff. What does it even mean?

I think I might open a restaurant serving nothing but deconstructed dishes. It will be a cunning ruse designed to persuade people it's all about culinary cleverness, when really it's just 'cos I can't be arsed cooking stuff properly. Deconstructed Shepherd's pie sir? Certainly sir, here's your mince and tatties, best get a shift on we need your table back in two hours.

There's a very good reason a paella is usually served 'constructed'. If it's not then it isn't a paella, it's rice and seafood and meat and some seasonings. Of course, as all this rattled around in my brain I ordered it anyway.

Predictably enough what arrived was three different things on a plate, not interacting with one another in any particularly successful way. The fish was excellent. A large fresh fillet, delicately cooked to just flake and well seasoned. The other stuff was rubbish. The paella had the taste and appearance of overcooked, mushy savoury rice and the chicken drumstick was dry and tasteless. The fourth thing, the chorizo dressing, was definitely on the plate (that would be the orange wet stuff) but didn't taste of anything.

The other mains around our table were better than mine, pork and lamb dishes both being declared very good and not having anything obviously silly on the plate as far as I can tell. I tried a bit of pork belly and it was lovely, with the winning combination of soft moist flesh and proper crackling.

The theme of messing around with a classic to little advantage continued with pudding. Lemon meringue pie brought pastry that was past its best, a nice, tart lemony filling and hardly any meringue. What's the point of lemon meringue pie with hardly any meringue? There were just a few strips of dry, crumbly stuff scattered on the top, none of the unctuous gooey loveliness you'd hope for.

At this point I should say something nice about our waiter for a change. He knew his stuff, being well versed on the range of drinks on offer and suggesting a lovely Pedro Ximenez sherry to have as a dessert wine and digestif. An espresso martini type concoction that one of the others had at this point was also delicious.

We finished up quite quickly after pudding, the lights had been dimmed and the volume cranked up, presumably the bar takes precedence late on weekend nights. Including service we paid £40 each in total, not bad given that it included some pricey drinks.

I think the problem with Hummingbird is that they're trying to be all things to all people. It's a friendly suburban restaurant attempting to combine attempts at fine dining with being a noisy late night bar. It doesn't quite work for me. Someone in the kitchen can cook meat and fish really well, but whoever is in charge of the menu is getting a bit carried away with themselves. Simplify things a bit and they'd be on to a winner. Mind you they're probably on to a winner anyway. The place was heaving so what do I know.


Stainbeck Corner
Harrogate Road
Chapel Allerton

Hummingbird Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Stuff on toast (No. 2)

Labneh with gherkins on sliced baguette

Trying to cook the perfect steak [volume 5]

I've finally cracked it. I don't think I can improve my indoor steak cooking method any further. Last time round it was almost perfect, but I just overcooked it very slightly despite using a meat thermometer to keep an eye on things.

This time I corrected that by removing it from the pan a bit sooner, aiming for an internal temperature of between 120 and 125 degrees fahrenheit rather than 130. The thermometer was reading 123 when I took it off the heat.

The meat on this occasion came from Holmfirth by way of the Schoolrooms at Low Bradfield. It wasn't cheap but it was good stuff, well hung with a good thick layer of creamy fat. The butcher is helpful and was more than happy to fetch out a whole rib and cut to order.

Apart from the minor alterations to the temperature I did everything the same. Dry age in the fridge for two days, remove from the fridge as early as possible and salt early too. Here it is after the salt has soaked back in, just before going in the pan.

After just a few minutes turning in the pan the crust is starting to develop nicely.

Nearly done and looking good.

After resting here it is ready to slice. Glossy butter sheen shown up a treat by the flash.

Ooh yes, this is the business. The dark, caramelised surface of the steak forms a crust just a couple of millimetres thick before it gives way to the blush, juicy flesh inside. Deeply savoury, marmitey tastes combining with the iron-y rich meat and creamy, buttery fat. Lovely. We ate it simply with some garlicky sauteed potatoes and a salad.

This time there was enough for leftovers.

So I sliced up the rest for a monster sandwich the day after.

To finish this little series of posts here are my top twelve tips for cooking a perfect steak.

1. Buy the best quality meat you can afford, from a good butcher or farm shop. Don't bother with the supermarket 'best of' varieties, they're still not very good.

2. Buy a thick steak, on the bone, with plenty of fat. Fat and bone equals depth of flavour, and the bone is good for gnawing afterwards, or contributing towards a stock. A two inch thick one rib piece cut from the whole joint is ideal. This will weigh between 0.9kgs and 1.4kgs depending on which end of the rib it's cut from. Don't bother with a T-bone, the fillet section will only end up overcooked.

3. Invest in a meat thermometer, they don't cost much and it's well worth it for the extra accuracy you'll get.

4. Dry age the steak for an extra couple of days by leaving it uncovered on a plate in the fridge, or better still on a wire rack with a plate underneath to catch any juices. This, in theory (I'm convinced it works) helps to tenderise the meat and concentrate the flavour.

5. Remove the steak from the fridge at least four hours before you want to cook it, as it will take this long to come properly up to room temperature.

6. Salt the steak generously and early, ideally about 90 minutes before you start cooking it. Use sea salt from a grinder rather than cheap cooking salt. It does taste better. Salting this early allows time for the salt to really penetrate the meat, enhancing the flavour and tenderising. No pepper until it's on your plate.

7. Cook it in a flat bottomed frying pan, not a ridged griddle. The ridge marks might look pretty but all you're doing is keeping some of the surface of your steak further from the heat source, which means less delicious dark crust.

8. Use a neutral oil with little to no flavour (sunflower, rapeseed etc) and a high burn temperature for most of the cooking time. Olive oil or butter will burn and make your crust taste bitter.

9. Keep the hob on a high heat throughout the cooking time, and keep turning the steak at least every 30 seconds. This helps to build up the crust.

10. Throw in a knob of butter for the last minute or so of cooking time (30 seconds on each side), it adds to the flavour and finishes browning the steak nicely.

11. A steak this thick will probably take the best part of twenty minutes to cook, but there are plenty of variables here so using your meat thermometer is key. Keep a very close eye on the internal temperature of your steak, it will rise very rapidly towards the end of the cooking time, so if you want medium rare take it out of the pan when the temperature says rare (120-125 degrees fahrenheit).

12. Rest for a long time. If it took 15 minutes to cook, then let it rest for another 15, on a warm (not hot, you don't want to keep cooking it) plate loosely covered with tin foil. No matter how delicious it smells do not cut back on the resting time.

Enjoy the beefy goodness!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Hui Wei, Sheffield

Tired and not really paying attention, we must have ordered one of the most disjointed, incoherent meals ever at Hui Wei the other Monday night. The excitement of the Olympic torch relay must have gone to our heads. As soon as we were seated in a comfy dark booth I was ready for bed.

We accidentally ordered nothing but meat and carbs, where a dish of greens would really have gone down a treat. As such I didn't really enjoy the whole meal as much as I should have done, but looking at each dish objectively there was some good stuff here.

I was after the Sichuan dishes, AS was after anything as long as it involved roast duck with pancakes. The duck was fine, but I didn't eat a great deal of it saving myself for spicier, garlicky treats to follow.

Ants climbing up a tree was a new Sichuan dish to me. I'd heard of it but never eaten it, probably because it's not on the menu at Red Chilli. A colossal bowl of crispy thread noodles is brought to the table alongside a gravy boat filled with errr gravy I suppose. Gravy made primarily from ground pork, garlic, chillies and oil that is. That's my sort of gravy. The noodles are doused in the gravy which makes them crackle and pop rice krispies style, reducing down to a spicy, noodly slop. Good fun and good to eat as well. One to share in a group though as it got a bit boring after a while.

Pan-fried beef with chillies and Sichuan peppercorns hit the mark spice-wise, with a three pronged assault. Vibrant, fresh sliced chillies, deep smoky dried chillies and numbing, tingly Sichuan pepper. Lovely flavour but let down by being swamped in too much gloopy, cornflour based sauce. It would have been better dry or oily rather than saucy.

Duck, pork and beef clearly not being enough meat, we had some Northern style pork dumplings as well, just to make sure. The filling was beautiful, tender, savoury and fragrant with chives. The wrappers less so, being a bit too thick and doughy in parts.

Including rice, tea and one glass of wine the bill came to around forty quid. Reasonably good value. I can't quite work out whether they specialise in Cantonese or Sichuan food here, or maybe something else (Beijing?), but either way the food was good although I've had better versions of most of it elsewhere. Service was friendly and efficient.


Hui Wei
221 Glossop Road
S10 2GW

Hui Wei on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Bacon Sandwich Quest: June

Bacon! Coming at ya! I'm on the ball this month. No dilly dallying until the second week of July for June's porcine instalment. Here it is you lucky people.

There were two bacon sarnies in the month. I got off to a flyer with back to back butties in week one, then failed miserably to push on from there. Weak.

The source of this little beauty: Cumbernauld's very own Old Inns Café. The bacon rolls in Scotland are different. The bread is usually crustier, more chew and heft than you'll get in England. Maybe it's the auld alliance at work. Whatever the reason, I like it. The sturdier bread matches the powerful bacon hit within. It's smoked, and coarsely cut, and delicious.

Sauce bottles are provided allowing you to dispense your own perfect measure, and uniquely Scots accompaniments are available should you wish. The tattie scone carb double whammy being a particular favourite of mine.

Service here is also far cheerier than you could reasonably expect from some blokes who spend their life in a wooden hut in the corner of a garage forecourt next to a motorway in a town once voted Britain's ugliest. Excellent, but not enough to knock me off number one spot. £2.20 for the straight bacon.

And this one: Westmorland Farm Shops at Tebay services on the M6. It flatters to deceive a little this place. The quality of the food is markedly better than at most motorway service stations, but that only means it's not completely shite, and not that it's actually much good.

An 'any two breakfast items' sandwich costs £3.95, and isn't really worth it. The bun was a bit stale as well as being too small, and the portion control isn't really designed with construction of a sensible sandwich in mind. Not enough bread, not quite enough bacon and a year's supply of mushrooms. I exaggerate but you get the idea. Good bacon and mushrooms though.

Leaderboard time:

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