Wednesday 29 August 2012

Long Nights and Lonely Kitchen - Stir Fried Beef With Peppers And Black Bean Sauce 豆豉牛肉

Coming off two full weeks of nightshift, I thought it's about time to do some serious cooking. But then exhaustion kicked in and I felt as if I have just travelled cross-continents and time zones, still suffering from the effects of jet lagged. Disorientated in mind and heart with aching bones, I just couldn't bring myself  to whip up any enthusiasm. Peering through my neglected pantry, I came across one of my kitchen stable gleaming hopefully back at me. Fermented black beans, my life saviour!

To the uninitiated eyes, they looked like rabbit droppings. But these are actually black soybeans that have been fermented in salt. They have a deep rich salty flavours which give great flavours to many boring stir-fry dishes.

With this wonderful ingredient, I made a quick and simple delicious stir-fry beef with peppers and black bean sauce, which is a typical Cantonese-style dish. To make life easier, you can always get the ready bottled sauce from your local supermarket chain. However, I personally find them far too salty and often lack the same intense flavours. The dried version has a better taste and when stored well, will last for a long time. If you have never tried fermented or preserved black beans before, I strongly recommend you to buy them from your local Chinese supermarket and give them a go. You don't know what you are missing.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

450g rump or sirloin steak, thinly sliced across the grain
1tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
1tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 medium onion, sliced
1 green pepper, deseeded and sliced
1 medium red chilli, deseeded and thinly sliced
1tbsp light soy sauce
1tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
1tsp sugar
3tbsp chicken stock or water
2tsp cornflour, mix with 1 tbsp cold water
1tsp roasted sesame oil
Vegetable oil for shallow-frying

For the marinade:
1tbsp light soy sauce
2tsp Shaoxing rice wine
1tsp roasted sesame oil
1tsp cornflour


In a bowl, combined the beef and the marinade ingredients and leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat until almost smoking. Add the beef and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute (This process is call 'velveting' and give the beef a succulent finished). Remove and drain on some kitchen paper. Do not overcrowd the wok. Do this in batches if necessary. 

Pour away all but 2 tablespoon of the oil. Heat over high heat until smoking. Add the black beans, garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the pepper and chilli and cook for another minute before adding the beef, along with the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, stock or water and the cornflour mixture. Cook for 2 minutes making sure to coat everything with the now thickened sauce. Add the sesame oil and serve hot with some steamed rice.

Monday 27 August 2012

Korean Scorching Bowl - Bi Bim Bap, Soho W1

I have recently been on a series of nightshift (hard work!) and that will explained why I have been slacking in posting any cooking recipes. I haven't done anything exciting that is post-worthy lately and as you can see, have dined out more often than you can shake a stick at. On a recent shift, due to my stupidity (I think it's the disorientation that I felt from all these vampire shifts), I have arrived in work two hours too early and so decided to hunt down a simple dinner destination. I was feeling exhausted and anywhere that were too hype up and busy were off the menu, that included Slider Bar which open that very evening (next time I'll get you!). So wondering around Soho and that is how I stumbled upon this tiny Korean restaurant, Bi Bim Bap, situated along Greek Street.

The pleasure of Bibimbap is that you'll get is this scorching hot stone bowl presented itself in front of you. This will be filled with steamed rice and top with some of the most delicious topping such as Beef Bulgogi or Jeyuk Bekkeum along with some simple vegetables, sometimes raw egg is also cracked over these. To serve, you simply stir all the ingredients together and mix well and the intense heat from the bowl will continue cooking these in micro seconds (especially the egg) and yield a delicious one bowl wonder. This filling and comforting rice dish is popular in Korea and also happens to be this restaurant signature dish, well it is called Bi Bim Bap after all. Perfect for the mood I was in.

Of all the different Bibimbap on offer, I went for the Beef Bulgogi (BBQ beef) and some Kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) pancakes and chilli squid.

The pan-fried Kimchi pancakes appeared first of all and these were light and crispy. There was a good balance of the  kimchi to batter ratio and had none of the stodgy feel. These were served with a fragrant sesame and garlic sauce. A very delicious little bites.

Chilli squid (£5.25) that followed, however, was slightly disappointing, Not only does it not have any kick to it, it was also a bit overcooked. Beneath the crunchy, crispy coating laid some tough chewy seafood which wasn't at all pleasant. The chilli dipping sauce did salvaged it slightly.

The Beef Bulgogi Bibimbap (£6.95) unfortunately too, were rather bland and did not have a lot of flavours to it. I was advised to help myself to the miso (fermented soybean paste) and gochujang (Korean Chili Paste) when the dish arrived and after tasting the rice I did, loads in fact and that did contributed more taste to the dish. I did liked the amount of fresh vegetables which gave a lovely contrasting texture to the dish however.

After the meal, I did felt well fed and the portion sizing were generous so as an economical eats, this had indeed fulfilled that requirement and the food overall, were decent enough, despite my dissatisfaction on the lack of spiciness overall. However, I couldn't help but felt that should the marinated beef not have some flavours to begin with since it was marinated before cooking after all and the overcooking of the squid just seemed sacrilegious to me. I know I shouldn't judge harshly as it has never claimed to be anything other than serving a modern Korean cuisine that is healthy, affordable and tasty but on the taste front, it was lacking on the day. For a quick and cheap meal, I will possibly go back again for the sake of those pancakes and also order something else off the menu. However, I definitely asked for a healthy dosage on the chill front with whatever I order, this is Korean cuisine after all and I do expect a bit of chili kick.

Bi Bim Bap
11 Greek Street

Bibimbap on Urbanspoon

Sunday 26 August 2012

Grizzly Bear Spotted In The City - Red Market feat. Burger Bear, Roost, Hix's Fish Dog

So folk! It's true and Red Market is back and this time there are more lunchtime bliss for those who works within the vin city of Old Street during their lunch. Add if you don't, you can always pop over after work as this market opening long into the evening too. Hailed as East London's original night market, it is fully licensed with its own bar with lots of street food stalls. Situated just off the Old Street roundabout, it promises to provide a relaxed and chill-out art and food premise. And it was within these trendy walls that I stumble upon the great almighty Burger Bear. First of all, what a great name and have you seen its twitter's avatar ?  It filled me with so much warm and fuzziness that I knew I just had to come and give it a hug. And so i met upi with a few friends to pay these cuddly bear a visit.

The mastermind behind the Burger Bear  is Tom who was on site when we visited. The menu featured wittily named burger such as the Angry, Grizzly and Greedy Bear. The Grizzly (£6.50) seemed to be the popular choices and we were told that the bacon jam was freshly made with a healthy dosage of Jack Daniels on the day, in fact it was still warm, proclaimed Tom proudly. With military precision, he went about cooking the orders, grilling, flipping and steaming each brioche-like soft buns with a cloche, giving them the glossy shininess.

Well, the Grizzly Bear was as ferociously tasty as it sounds. Unlike most burger, it utilises a leaner cut which seemed to yield a less greasy and fatty mouth feel but with it being cooked to perfect medium-rareness, it was still juicy and has had a decidingly rich, beefy flavour. The Oak smoked bacon add a touch of sweetness but the addition of the bacon jam was indeed a revelation. Even with a non-sweet tooth like me, it charms its way into my good book. Although I must say it was quite sickly after one, I wouldn't want to have another. Maybe next time!

Follow Burger Bear on twitter for Tom's latest appearance.

Roost, is a buttermilk fried chicken street stall founded by the a co-founder of Canteen. One of the few Buttermilk fried Chicken venture that have been riding the waves on the current craves started by the Spit And Roast guys. I have been known to be slightly partial to a bit of fried chicken so it would have been silly for me to ignore the opportunity to give this folks a miss. But before my verdict, I have to say that I do have high expectation when it comes to the perfect buttermilk fried chicken.

The Wings with Chipotle ketchup (£3.50) were nice and crispy, rather tasty but the sauce seemed too sweet with none of the spicy kick nor smokiness that I was anticipating.

The Buttermilk fried chicken at £5.50 for 2 pieces and £7.50 with side + sauce seemed rather expensive when compared to its competition who offered cornbread and gravy to the two pieces of chicken for just £6. Anyhow, back to the chicken, it was crispy as it should on the outside but I felt that it was slightly bland and rather dry which was a shame as the buttermilk should have tenderised them to make them succulent. I have heard good feedbacks about them from friends and the wings seemed to show great potential so perhaps this was just a glitch. I am however glad that fried chicken is getting the recognition that it finally deserved. My Name is J and I am a BFC addict.

For more info on Roost, click on the link to follow them on twitter

Another new street food venture spotted on the day was Hix's Fish Dog, started by Mark Hix (hence the branded Hix's ). The best way to describe a Fish Dog (£5) is that they are more refined and posh version of fish finger sandwich (another guilty pleasure of mine). Big fillets of sustainable coley (highly underrated fish) were dipped into beaten eggs and coated with breadcrumbs before deep-frying to a sublime lightness. The usual fresh hotdog buns were cut opened, filled with a stream of bright green mushy minted peas before nestling the crispy 'fish fingers' on top. You then helped yourself to the homemade tartare sauce which tasted  miles better than any tartare sauce out there, so fresh and vibrant. Could this be the starting of the new trend?  I'll certainly be back for more of these delectable Fish Dogs.

For more info on Hix's Fish Dogs, click on the link to follow them on twitter

Red Market London
288-299 Old Street

Monday - Friday (midday -11:00pm)
Saturday (5:00 pm - 11:00pm)
Sunday (Closed)

Saturday 25 August 2012

Blanch And Shock at The Endurance, Soho, W1

Blanch and Shock is a trio who have been cooking and catering for over four year and recently as part of the food spectrum initiative, they have been given a temporary residency at The Endurance, Berwick Street, Soho. Using only the best seasonal ingredients often sourced from small scale producer and sustainable source, the menu changes regularly according to the availability of the produce. After hearing good things about them from a friend, I've decided to pay them a visit with the very same friend as my lunching companion.

The Endurance provided a perfectly quaint and cosy setting to this whimsical pop up restaurant. The  dishes on the menu were creative and ranges from £2 - £7. Everything sounded rather tempting and it was quite hard to choose from. With such excellent value, we decided to go for almost everything barred the vegetable options and the Brioche-fried chicken wings with Hayonaise (it was sold-out).

Everything came in small plates so it was perfect sharing food. The first couple of starters that arrived were delicious. The chicken skins (£2) were light and crispy and lightly ducted with the red currant powder which added a bit of tanginess and the Tamworth pork rib with hay (£2.50) was tender and smoky and served with an excellent sweet smoked tomato sauce that was rich and fruity. The only complaint my friend had was that the rib had reduced in size significantly compared to when he was here the week before. I tend to agree that the rib did looked a bit tiny, only because it was so good that I would have like a bit more of it.

The two fish dishes were that followed were just as good in term of flavours and presentation. Hay flamed mackerel (£6) - hay seems to be a common theme throughout the meal - had a robust aromatic smoky taste, which were balanced by the sharp buttermilk and served alongside chervil and hay ash. The cured Bream, disco radishes, wood sorrel and reposed oil (£6) were beautifully light and fresh-tasting.

Ox heart, capers, parsley and green peppercorns were executed beautifully. Lightly charred on the outside and cooked to a wonderfully reddish-pink. It tasted meaty, rich and oh-so-tender. Everything on the plate worked and it was a superb dish, the best I would say, on the day.

A close second contender as the best dish was the 12-hour pork belly (£7) buttery tender and melt-in-the-mouth, served with a fruity and sharp smoked with plums sauce and the charred crispy baby gems. Another dish that has all the right accompaniments and perfectly balanced ingredients to create a sensational dish.

The beets cooked in the fire, gooseberries, lovage and chicken sauce (£4) was good but I wasn't really blown away by it. The beetroots were a tad dry for me.  That said, it was still a very well thought out creation nonetheless.

The pudding were up next. Hay and malt tart, mirabelle plums and mint (£5 ) were visually stunning. The creamy tart were excellent and the short, dark pastry had a hidden chocolatey-flavour which was delightful.

The Brioche doughnut were absolutely sublime served with the sweet cherry sauce. It was light and with just the decent amount of sugar. Highly addictive. The Single origin Choco-milk (£2) tasted like a rich chocolatey milkshake, a pleasant end to a fantastic meal.

At the time of writing this, there is only one week left to their temporary residency at The Endurance ending on the 1st September so for those of you who are tempted to go and try these guys out for yourself, its time to exercise your years of hidden Ninja skills and be quick to act. Even if you do have to battle your way through the groups of lunching crowd along Berwick Street market to make you way here, it's most definitely worth it.

For more info on their next project, follow Blanch And Shock on twitter or visit their website for more details.

The Endurance
80 Berwick Street
W1f 0QB
Endurance on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday 22 August 2012

Return Of The Young Turks - Upstairs At Ten Bells, London E1

Upstairs at Ten Bells, so named because this return pop up restaurant from the Young Turk and The Clove Club collective literally took over the upstairs dining area of this famous old pub in Spitalfields. Having previously successfully fulfilled their last residency and the Young Turks, they came back with a new shake-up to the original team and once again bringing imaginative menu to the dining public. I have heard so much about the Young Turks but due to poor timing, have failed to visit their previous pop up so it was with great determination that I vowed to drop in for a meal by hook or by crook. And so I did.

M and I started off the meal with a couple of snacks. The infamous and highly recommended Buttermilk Chicken (£5.20) were these moist and tender morsels, coated in think crisp batter. It was flavoured with subtle and aromatic pine salt and artfully presented on a bed of pine needles. These were good and very moreish.

The pig's head (£5.10) were braised to meltingly soft consistency and little portions were placed onto serving plate with round disc of lettuce strategically placed over so it can be easily picked up and consumed. Richly flavoured and quite a nice little bite-size snack.

For starter, the crab and cucumber salad (£7.60) was sweet and refreshing and the crunchy Melba toast added a nice contrasting texture. M complaint that the cucumber swirl were a bit style over substance and it proved quite tricky to manoeuvre it into the mouth with everything else. Perhaps finely diced would have been a better choice.

The courgette soup (£5.90) with razor clams were nicely spiced with Indian spices, yielding an aromatic piquant kick to the cold soup. The razor clams were beautifully cooked and tender. However, there was a slight bitter undertone in the dish that I couldn't quite put my fingers on it. It wasn't entire unpleasant but without which I think it would have been a superb starter.

The Gnocchi (£14.70) were so light and delicate and I love the combination of the salty samphire, earthy girolles all lightly coated with seaweed butter. This was such a delicately flavoured and well executed dish.

The Roast lamb saddle (£16.60) were so tender and even the layer of fat tasted melting delicious with no hint of greasiness which was not an easy feat with lamb. The gravy was sweetened with the dates puree and the appearance of bulgur wheat made this a rather nicely portioned and delectable main. The best dishes, by far, on the night.

My pudding was the Poached peach, fragipane and creme fraiche sorbet (£6.50) which I have to agree with M, did looked kind of messy and too rustic. That said, it was very good in terms of  flavours - the fragipane crumbs were nice and light and the peach were sweet. I enjoyed it thoroughly. M had the cheese plate (£7) which had a good selection of British Cheeses.

Overall, the service was amiable and the food served on the night were well thought out. There were loads of exciting ideas and creative execution which I think in time and with some fine tuning and tweaking, will make this a fantastic dining experience.

Upstairs at the Ten Bells on Urbanspoon
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