Thursday 31 May 2012

Some Wolves Have All The Luck - Bocca Di Lupo, London W1

For our anniversary recently, M and I went for an Italian feast at Bocca di Lupo, which is situated on a back street in Soho. From the outside,  it stood out against the dreary run-down surroundings. With it's  terracotta bricks facade and giant window glass mounted by sleek black frames, it is both modern and visually refined. On the inside, there was a long bar counter by the window and situated at the back are table seating dining room area. We were given a choice and being an open kitchen enthusiast, I quickly jump at the chance at opting for the two seats by the counter nearest to the window which appeared to have the best view into the entire kitchen.

The decor were beautifully thought out, low hanging pendant lights adorned the entire stretch of sleek, marbled-top counter, only interrupted by giant vases of stunning floral arrangement. Spacious walkway, lit by a chandelier of little baubles and the surrounding white walls added to this charming and decidedly contemporary ambiance.

The menu consisted of a vast choices of diverse regional dishes from across Italy and the best thing was that they came in both small or large portion which was perfect for sharing and because there were so many options, we opted for a small selections of small portions.

Within minutes of ordering, both the wine and some perfectly baked plain and sweet caramelised onions foccacia bread appeared before us. Fresh as if it had just came straight out of the oven. We were in the perfect spot for watching the chef as he masterfully thinly sliced up some Lamb prosciutto (£9.50, Toscana) for our first order. These came with crunchy sweet raw broad beans and earthy but mild Pecorino rosso. From this point onwards, the rest of the order came thick and fast and very quickly filled up any existing table space that we have. Crescentine (£7, Bologna) - warm, puffed up, triangular fried flat bread, when paired with the wafer-thin and salty speck and the creamy squaqurone cheese were a blissful mouthful of joy.

An appearance of the in-season grilled asparagus(£8, Emilia) adorned with the classic marriage of sweet balsamic and salty Parmesan, were a real treat (I am a huge fan of these green spears). The Parmigiana di melanzane (£7, Campania) - rich and intensely flavoured aubergines baked with sweet tomatoes and creamy mozzarella - were utterly delicious. It also had a sponge-like texture which makes it light and very moreish.

The plateful of fried cuttlefish, courgettes, artichokes and red prawns were so pile up that there war a few getaway attempts made by these battered delights. Both juicy and crunchy, the red shrimps were so good that I ate the whole thing, shell and all (ooops, was I not supposed to?)

Both the braised octopus (£8.50, Molise) with peas, spring onion and basil and the Baby chard (£6.50, Liguria) were excellent but the magnificent Linguine with spider crab, tomatoes and basil was by far, the standout dish. The pasta was al dente and the sauce was rich and robust. Each delectable mouthful sent a wave of excitement that swept across the tastebud. Sweet juiciness of the tomatoes and the crab flesh were a fine match, absolutely perfect!

For the pudding, M opted for the Chocolate and marzipan ball with rum and raisins (£3, Erice) while I've gone for the more adventurous Sanguinaccio (£6, Calabria) - a sweet patê of pig's blood and chocolate on the amiable waiter's recommendation. The chocolate ball was a delightful bite size although M did complained that it was rather small; the pig's blood concoctions, as horrible as that sounds, was actually delicious. Rich, bitter chocolate, in a thick and almost creamy consistency from the blood; together with bits of candied orange and pine nuts were like a posh Nutella spread on the accompanying sourdough bread. It was definitely a brave attempt on my part for trying as well as the restaurant for serving this imaginative (unless it is a truly typical of its origin) pudding. I did not regret and will definielty be back for some more of those in the near future. M and I both agreed that the puddings served were one of the best we have had in a while.

For celebrating a special occasion, this is without a doubt the perfect place for that. Sitting at the bar counter watching the chef worked their magic added a fascinating theatrical extravaganza which made this truly memorable. Together with the excellent food and amiable and attendtive staff, including the manager, who took very good care of us makes this a restaurant well deserved of it's singing praises from critics and bloggers alike.

Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street

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Wednesday 30 May 2012

An Auspicious Dim Sum Breakfast - Cantonese Loh Bak Goh 蘿蔔糕 ( Fried Radish/Turnip Cake)

I must admit that I am a terrible shopper, especially when it comes to grocery. Whenever I'm doing my food shopping in a large supermarket, my eyes will lit up and all sense of proportions and quantities goes out of the window. What makes it worse is that I do not like list making, therefore, a shopping list that will keep me in check is never at hand to curb my frivolous way. Yes, every interesting thing I see, I will poke it to within the last inch of their life and then without thinking, chuck them into my basket. Before I knew it, it will be full and I would have gotten more things than I initially set out to buy. When I'm at a Chinese supermarket, I'm at my worse. Everything just looks so enticing, and can you blame me?

Last week, I went to Chinatown to buy some ingredients for my Singapore Chai Tow Kway/ Fried Carrot Cake and as usual, decided to get two large daikon/mooli. Not entirely sure why as I only needed one but after making the carrot cake, and being left with a lonely white radish sitting solitarily on my kitchen top, I've decided to make the Cantonese version as well. This is the frugal side in me coming out, kind of equivalent to a buyer's remorse. I simply cannot let it goes to waste. 

The Cantonese radish cake/ Loh Bak Goh 蘿蔔糕 or sometimes known as the turnip cake is a very popular Dim Sum dish. It is also commonly found over the Chinese New Year festival as this creamy radish delight is considered to be very auspicious for the Cantonse. It is essentially rather similar to the white radish cake for the Chai Tow Kway but instead of being just plain, it is full of delicious savoury ingredients such as the Chinese cured sausage/lap cheung, dried shrimps/hae bee, shiitake mushroom and many more. The end product is much more fragrant and flavoursome and all it need is to be gently pan-fried and is ready to serve. So Lucky me, two tasty carrot cake breakfast in a row and I'm not complaining.

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

750g grated daiko/white radish
800ml boiling water
25g dried shrimp
20g dried shiitake mushroom
3 Chinese Lap Cheung/sausage
1 tbsp sunflower oil
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander
200g rice flour
Sunflower oil, for frying
light or dark soy sauce for serving
chilli sauce, for serving


Place the grated daikon in a large pan and pour over enough boiling water to completely cover the daikon. Leave for 10 minutes and drain in a colander, reserving 400ml of the soaking water. 

Soak the dried shrimps and mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Drain and add the soaking liquid to the reserved daikon water. Squeeze out any excess water from the mushroom, cut off the tough and chewy stalk and finely diced the cap.

While the shrimps and the mushroom are soaking, place the lap cheung/sausage in a steamer and steam in a wok or a large pan, over simmering water  for 10 minutes. Remove and finely diced.

Heat the oil in a wok until smoking. Add the lap cheung/sausage and shrimps and stir fry for 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the spring onions, rice wine, sugar, salt, black pepper and then the drained daikon, rice flour, coriander and toss well to combine. Finally, pour in the reserved soaking water and mix thoroughly. 

Line a 9 inch cake with cling film. Pour the mixture into the pre-lined cake tin and smooth with a spatula. Place the tin in a steamer and steam over simmering water for 1 1/2 hours, until firm. Remember to replenish the boiling water every so often, do not allow the steamer to dry out. Remove the tin from the steamer and leave to cool in the fridge overnight.

Cut the cake into 1 cm thick slices. Heat some oil in a frying pan until smoking and pan fry the radish cakes in batches for 2 minutes on both sides, until golden and crispy. Serve immediate with you choice of either light or dark soy sauce, along with some chilli sauce.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

It Doesn't Matter If It's Black Or White - Chai Tow Kway 菜头粿 (Fried Carrot/Radish Cake)

One of my all time favourite breakfast dish back in Singapore was Chai Tow Kway 菜头粿 or fried carrot cake. Every Saturday morning, I would go to my local hawker centre in the market and ordered this to takeaway. The uncle or auntie who manned the stalls would cooked this on the spot with tremendous skills and then wrapped them up in brown papers secured by some rubber bands. Along with this would be some toothpicks which act like cutlery for you to pick up the food and eat them with. Not the easiest task as the Kway/cake were soft and always crumbled whenever I attempted to bring them to my mouth. Over the years, I have learnt that to succeed in this feat, you have to be quick and using the poke and lift, then straight into mouth action. Any doodling in-between will result in a catastrophic mess.

Despite it being named carrot cake, it is actually made using the Japanese daikon or white radish and not the orange root vegetable that we know of. So if you have stumbled upon this post looking for some delicious baked moist cake topped with cheese icing, you have come to the wrong place but feel free to stay on if you wish to discover a parallel world of tasty savoury alternative.

There are two types of Chai Tow Kway 菜头粿 , and these always causes great divisions and arguments as to which version is better. The 'white' version is salty from the fish sauce and slightly lighter in taste while the 'darker' version is sweet from the addition of kecap manis or sweet soy sauce. It is also denser and more robust, which is amazing considering only one ingredient set them apart and yet the difference in flavours are quite pronounced. Fan of either will argued that their preferred choice will be the better of the two but in my opinion, they are both delicious. Other ingredients include preserved turnip or chai poh, as it is known in Singapore which provide a sweet and crunchy texture; eggs, beansprouts and garlic chives etc.

It's been a while since I last had this delectable breakfast dish and over the weekend, I thought I will make some just to satisfy my little carrot cake cravings. A little planning beforehand is necessary as the cake itself has to be prepared the day before. Once steamed and cooked, the cake will then need to be cooled down in the fridge overnight. This helped to firm up the cake and makes it easier to cut into bite size. And since I couldn't quite make up my mind, I decided to treat myself to both versions. It was a very enjoyable breakfast, perfect for a spot of al fresco dining out in the garden, well, the current warming sunshine did helped too.

For the Carrot/Radish cake: (makes enough to fill a 9in cake tin)


750g grated daikon/white radish
800ml boiling water
200g rice flour
1 tsp sea salt


Place the grated daikon in a large pan and pour over enough boiling water to completely cover the daikon. Leave for 10 minutes and drain in a colander, reserving 350ml of the soaking water. Return the daikon to the pan, add the rice flour, salt along with the reserved water and mix thoroughly to combine. 

Line a 9 inch cake with cling film. Pour the mixture into the pre-lined cake tin and smooth with a spatula. Place the tin in a steamer and steam over simmering water for 1 1/2 hours, until firm. Remember to replenish the boiling water every so often, do not allow the steamer to dry out. Remove the tin from the steamer and leave to cool in the fridge overnight.

Clockwise from top left: Radish cake, eggs, preserve turnips/chai poh, chilli sauce, garlic, bean sprouts, garlic chives
For the Chai Tow Kway/Fried Radish Cake : (Serves 4)


1 carrot/radish cake (from above), cut into small bite-size
3 tbsp sunflower oil
4 tbsp chopped preserved turnips/chai poh
3 tbsp chopped Chinese garlic chives
5 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp fish sauce
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Good quality chilli sauce, to taste (depending of how spicy you want)
4 medium free-range eggs, beaten
a large handful of beansprouts
2 tbsp sweet soy sauce/kecap manis (omit if you are making the white version)
2 spring onions, cut into rings, for garnish on the white version
a small sprig of fresh coriander leaves, for garnish on the darker version


Heat up the oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Frying the chopped carrot/radish cake for 1 minute, until lightly browned. Add the chai poh/preserved turnip and garlic and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, until fragrant before adding the fish sauce, black pepper, chilli sauce and stir to mix thoroughly.

Pour in the beaten eggs and leave for 30 seconds, until the eggs are slightly set, before adding in the bean sprouts and * flip the egg mixture in sections. Fry for another minute and dish out if you are serving the white version and garnish with the chopped spring onions.

* For the darker version, drizzle the sweet soy sauce/kecap manis before flipping the egg mixture and mix well to coat. Transfer onto a serving plate and garnish with the fresh coriander.

Sunday 27 May 2012

Singapore Nyonya Fried Hokkien Mee With Sambal Belacan - Stir Fry Egg Noodles and Bee Hoon in a Pork Broth

Singapore Nyonya Fried Hokkien Mee With Sambal Belacan

This is the dish I always think of whenever I come across any menu that boast a 'Singaporean Noodles'. Simply because there is in truth no such thing as a Singapore noodles. Or should I say, there is but not as you know it, thanks to all these bastardised concoctions of luminous yellow-tinted rice noodles. The infamous dish itself came from not Singapore but Hong Kong. The only reason why it is called Singapore noodle is because of the inclusion of curry powder in the ingredients. This fusion of Chinese and Malay style of cooking is indeed very much a Singaporean cuisine style. But truth to be told, I have never eaten this bright yellow bee hoon (rice noodles) dish anywhere in Singapore.....ever!

Singpore Hokkien Mee on the other hand, is a genuinely authentic 'Singapore noodles'. This is widely popular and is available from all hawker centres dotted around the country. A particular favourite of mine as I recalled many a late nights feasting at this brothy stir-fried treats when I was studying and prepping for my examination. Very often, I would be peckish and popped down to my local hawker centre to da bao (takeaway) a packet of this for my midnight supper, both tasty and nutritious.

This is essentially very simple and quick to prepare. The only time consuming part is the making of the pork broth which formed the cornerstone to this delicious noodles dish. Even that requires no efforts at all, just a pan of boiling water and some pork belly. Let it sit simmered for half an hour or so and there you have it - porky-flavoured broth that will liven up your Hokkien mee. The using of fish sauce might sound strange in this dish but unknowing to most, it is actually rather commonly used in a lot of our Singapore favourites such as Chai Tow Kway and Oyster Omelette etc. And of course, I have also included a recipe for the must-have condiment for this noodles, the Sambal blachan/belacan, best made on the day and served fresh. A spicy delight!

For the Sambal Blachan:


1 tbsp Blachan/Belacan or shrimp paste, toasted in a hot oven or dry pan
8 medium red chillies
juice of 1 lime


Pound all the ingredients in a mortar and pestle to a paste or alternatively blitz in a food processor.

For the Fried Hokkien Mee: (Serves 3 - 4)


400g pork belly
500ml water
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
300g fresh egg noodles
125g dried rice noodles/bee hoon, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes to soften
12-14 raw tiger prawns, shelled and deveined
1 piece of Chinese fried fish cake (from oriental supermarket), thinly sliced
1 medium squid, cleaned and cut into rings
a handful of Chinese garlic chives, cut into 4 cm lengths
a large handful of bean sprouts 
2 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
4 medium free-range eggs, beaten
Sambal blachan, to serve (see above for recipe)
1 lime, cut into quarter wedges, to serve


Bring the water to the boil in a pan over medium heat and add the pork belly. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, turn off the heat and let the pork sit in the stock for 10 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove and cut the pork belly into thin, bite-size pieces. Reserved 300ml of the stock and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add the garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds, until golden and fragrant, before adding both types of noodles. Toss the noodles thoroughly to heat through for 2 minutes.

Add the reserved stock, prawns, fish cakes, squid, chives and bean sprouts. Stir fry vigorously to combine before adding the fish sauce, black pepper and sugar and continue to stir fry for another 3 minutes, until the noodles has absorbed most of the stock.

Add the beaten eggs and allow them to set slightly, about 1 minute before turning to combine. The dish is ready when the seafood are coked and the noodles become moist but not soggy. Transfer to individual serving plate and serve with the sambal blachan/belacan lime wedges.

Singapore Nyonya Fried Hokkien Mee With Sambal Belacan

Saturday 26 May 2012

The Sign Of Good Marriage - Babi Pongteh (Nyonya Braised Pork Belly With Fermented Soy Bean Sauce)

Babi Pongteh is one of the most famous Nyonya dishes in a Peranakan household and a dish I grew up eating loads of. Not entire hard to prepare as the ingredients that required for this are not demanding. Unlike a lot of other Nyonya dishes, the rempah/spice paste which is often seen in a typical Peranakan dish is very much absence here. So no tedious amount of pounding your life away with a mortar and pestle, trying to get the right consistency out of all the chillies, shallots, spices etc. Instead, this dish make use of the fermented soy bean paste or Tau Cheo, which happens to be a very typical Nyonya ingredients too. The pork is braised slowly for a long period of time in the Tau Cheo and dark soy sauce to produce a wonderfully rich and sweet tender meat.

The significance of this dish is very apparant from it's vital inclusion in a traditional Tok Panjang. This is a formal dining experience adopted by the Peranakan for any grand celebratory occasions such as weddings or birthdays. The feast will be laid out onto an immaculately presented table and friends and family will be invited to sample the culinary skillfullness of the host. It is also a way for the household to showcase their wealth and fortune as well as upbringing.

For a young Nyonya girl, this is the one dish that will be taught to them by their mother with upmost emphasis. It is a tradition for a Peranakan family to determine if a potential Nyonya is suitable for marriage into the household simply by asking her to prepare this dish. Failure to produce a delectable dish that will wow the future mother-in-law will means a rejection to the marriage. So in order to marry well, a Nyonya will have to master this dish.

Normally, Babi Pongteh is made with pig's trotters but on this occasion, I've decided to use pork belly which is more accessible. Pork belly is without a doubt my favourite cut of the pig. The beautiful thick layer of fat on this particular cut not only keep it nice and moist when cooked but also give the most succulent and delicious flavours.

Ingredients (Serves 4-6)

800g Pork belly
3tbsp sunflower oil
20 shallots, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp fermented soy bean paste (taucheo)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
650 ml water
sea salt, to taste


Cut the pork belly into large chunks.

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Lower the heat and add the shallots and garlic and stir fry for 1 minute, until golden and fragrant.

Add the fermented soy bean paste and stir fry for 2 minutes before adding the pork and cook for another 3 minutes. 

Add the dark soy sauce, palm sugar and the water. Bring to the boil before covering with a lid and simmer for 2-3 hours, until the pork is tender and the sauce has reduced and deepen in colour. Season with salt to taste. Serve with some warm steam rice. This is also delicious the following day.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

The Best of Dough World - Kaya Doughnuts (Coconut Custard Jam-filled Doughnuts)

When I found out that it was the National Doughnut Week last week, I couldn't have been more excited. Yes, Fact! I love doughnut. These sugared crusted delights are one of the best baking invention ever. Biting into a perfectly formed doughnut yield a light sponge-like texture and if it's jam filled, river of runny oozy sweet purée dribbling down your mouth. Nothing beats a fresh doughnut. And in the words of Homer Simpsons - 'Doughnuts. Is there anything they can't do?' Well, apparently not!

My recent discovery of the St. John Bakery legendary custard-filled doughnut got me into thinking, why don't I make some  Kaya-filed version with one of my own homemade Kaya.  So it was this in mind that I set up to kneading the dough, spent hours proving it and then deep fried them into balls of doughiness. The best part was definitely filling them with the fragrant Kaya, I might have gone a bit overboard with the filling of some of them, but as this is for my own consumption, why not? Nothing beats a freshly homemade doughnut, I say.

Ingredients (Makes 6)

100ml full-fat milk, warmed
1 tsp fast action dried yeast
1 medium free-range egg
25g caster sugar
250g strong white flour
25g unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
sunflower oil for frying
8tbsp of Kaya jam, warmed
caster sugar or icing sugar, for dusting


In a bowl, mix the warm milk and yeast together and leave to stand in a warm place for at least 30 minutes, until frothy.

Whisk the egg and sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale before sifting in the flour. Add the melted butter and salt and mix to make a soft sticky dough. Knead for 10-15 minutes, until the dough has lost it's sticky texture and turned smooth. Leave in the bowl, cover will a lightly oiled cling film and leave to prove for 2 hours, until doubled in size.

Knock the dough back before dividing it into six equal balls.  Place onto a lightly oiled tray or parchment paper, cover with a lightly oiled cling film and leave to prove for 1 hour, until once again, it has doubled in sizes.

Heat up the oil in a deep saucepan to180ºC, until a piece of bread turn golden brown in 30 seconds when dropped into the oil. Fry two to three doughnuts at a time, for about 2 minutes on either side, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the rest of the doughnuts.

Make a slit on the side of the doughnut with a knife or scissors and spoon in the Kaya jam. Alternatively this can also be done with a piping bag fitted with a nozzle. Dust with caster sugar and serves.

Monday 21 May 2012

The Road To Maltby Street Market - Where Quality Prevails Indeed

Maltby street market is a Saturday only market quietly tucked away in a corner of Bermondsey. It operates weekly from 9:00am to 2:00pm. Despite being only a stone throw away from the overwhelmingly busy Borough market, it is surprisingly relatively unknown to the generally public except for those in the foodie circle. The market stalls occupied the converted arches underneath the railway bridge, surrounded by neighbouring warehouses. The rumbling of overhead trains above the arches that runs every so often gave this market a quirky and artisan charm. A place where passionate stall holders sells their produce in an amiable surrounding. Not perhaps the most obvious choice of a food destination but for those in the know, this is where a visit every Saturday morning become a must.

A perfect day will start with some gorgeous breakfast in Bea's diner or a doughnut or two from St. John's Bakery along Druid street. These can then lead to some beautiful top-quality meat from Jacob's Ladder Farm butcher or fresh, seasonal vegetables from BoothsObviously for any true coffee aficionado, a cup of Monmouth Coffee's flat white will quench that caffeine crave nicely, before continuing their day with impeccable fresh seafood from Christchurch Fish. For those who want to savour the fruit de la mer at their best, they also have a stall nearby cooking all these freshly caught seafood on the spot.

In case you are too enchanted by these amazing displays of food heaven and ended up staying longer than you planned to and felt a bit peckish, there is always the popular Monty's Deli's pastrami sandwich. Even the famous José has a stall selling their signature classic tortilla and other Spanish tapas for you to nibble at. If there's a sweet tooth that need to be catered for, there's the delicate patisserie treats from Comptoir Gourmand or Bea's Of BloomsburyFine Cheeses from Neal Yard's Dairysmoked salmon and some Iberico ham will also be a lovely addition to someone's grocery basket. And of course, a bottle of the brilliantly spicy African Volcano Peri-peri sauce from the Chef, Grant Hawthorne is a must for the chilli fan and a block of the finest Colombian drinking chocolate will not go amiss either.

For a more substantial meal, there's always the 40 Maltby Street where one can partake in some fine wine tasting along with simple tapas-style small plateful of fresh delights.

Finally, to top it all off, take a short stroll to the The Kernel Brewery on dockley road to sample some of the best perfumed beer that you will ever taste and walk away a some sweet honey from The London Honey Company. Sounds like a perfect day ? It was indeed.

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