Wednesday 31 July 2013

Andy Oliver's Thai Grill @ Bar Story

Andy Oliver was a 2009 Masterchef finalist whose career has span from a six months stint in Bangkok's Bolan restaurant to running a street food van serving kanom jeen noodles and the more recent sous chef at Naamyaa. His latest venture is a temporary pop up grilling event at Bar story. Last Monday, a group of us decided to venture down south London to join a few southern folks and give this Thai grill event a go.

Bar Story is situated in one of the arches directly below Peckham Rye station and it has a rustic, nonchalant charm. The basic narrow indoor seating area along the bar opens up to a rather lovely beer garden, filled with bohemian south London crowds.

We were there from 6pm onwards as on the top of out list was the one and only grilled duck and so we got there early to reserved this. The feast began with a scorchingly hot grilled chilli relish. This had some serious bite to them and was the hottest dish of the evening and proofed to be a rather tantalising start. The homemade pork scratching were a nice little touch. Bo la lot, a Vietnamese style minced beef rolled in betel leaves were aromatic and well seasoned.

The Som Tam Thai were crunchy and refreshing and had that classic sweet, sour and salty balanced. It wasn't spicy enough for me, but then again I am accustom to chilli. My fellow dining companions on the night found this to be too spicy for them. So it's all boiled down to personal preference. But it's seriously good nonetheless.

Nam Prik Nuum - Roasted green chilli relish, served with soft duck eggs and homemade pork scratchings (£5)

Bo La Lot - Vietnamese style lemongrass beef in betel leaves (£5)

Som Tam thai - Bangkok style Green papaya salad (£6)

Chicken leg were juicy and packed with flavours, so good that we order three more portions of these (and everything else it would seemed, I've lost count toward the end). These were served with a sweet chilli sauce and a tangy dipping sauce. Mu ping were just how it should be, skewer of smokey pork with hints of charred fatty bites. Best eaten as soon as it arrived and piping hot.

Gai Yaang - Grilled chicken leg with two dipping sauce (£5)

Mu Ping - Grilled pork skerwers (£4)

Naem - minced pork and boiled pig skin, fermented with cooked glutinous rice - were lightly grilled and it's sweet, tangy and salty, simply scrumptious! A pity there weren't many portions of these as they were sadly all sold out by the time we tasted this and wanted more...

The same goes for the grilled whiskey marinated pork, another divine piece of pork heaven that we were unable to 'top up'. Sadly I can only console myself by mopping up the remaining sauce with some steamed sticky rice. These were £1 each portion, but free when you order a couple of dishes.

Naem - Fermented pork, cabbage, peanuts and ginger (£5)

Mu Yaang - Whiskey marinated pork shoulder with chilli and garlic (£5)

Both the seafood options were good enough to rival the meaty options. Fresh whole sea bass were stuffed full of fresh herby goodness and grilled to it's blistering glory. Crispy scorched skin and soft flaky flesh, served with a zingy nam jing dipping sauce made with fish sauce, green chilli, garlic and coriander. The sweet juicy prawns were marinated in turmeric and coriander before grilled. These too, were a delight, although I would gleefully paid more for some jumbo size prawns. And in true Asian style, the severed heads were devoured of all it's unctuous goodness....*audible sucking noises in the background*

Pla Yaang - Stuffed seabass with seafood nam jim dipping sauce (£12)

Gung Kamin - Turmeric prawns (£4)

Pièce de résistance of the evening was Pet yang - the ultimate grilled duck. A truly magnificent beast this was. The meat was tender and moist, and the golden bronze skin was smokey with moreish caramel sweetness, most definitely worth getting in early for.

Pet Yaang - Whole grilled duck, served with a special jaew (£25)

Overall, everything we had on the evening ( and I do mean everything off the menu) were delicious. For me personally (and I do like hot food), some of the dishes can do with upping the chilli heat a notch or so. Although the weather were not on our side as there were some on/off serious downpour during our feast but hey ho, what's a good British BBQ without some rain to go with it, eh? And this was an excellent piece of grilling feast. By the end of it, we were happy and not at all dampened by the weather, just show what good food can do to you.

The pop up is on every Monday evening from 5pm onward but do get there early to avoid any disappointment. Some of the dishes do sell out rather quickly, especially the specials. There are only three weeks left to this pop up so hurried down to Peckham and try for yourself. Follow Andy on twitter for any additional info and the latest menu.

Bar Story on Urbanspoon

Saturday 27 July 2013

Chinese Crullers ( You Char Kwai 油炸粿 / You Tiao 油條 )

No doubt you would have come across these popular Chinese doughnuts/doughsticks, known as You Char Kwai 油炸粿 or You Tiao 油條, a familiar sight in many Chinese bakeries in Chinatown. They are typically eaten during breakfast, freshly fried doughstick are often torn and dunk straight into hot Kopi (black coffee) or soy milk. My nan would often stuffed them with minced pork and deep-fried for a delicious nibble and sometimes she filled them with tuna mayo or Kaya for a quick and easy sandwich, sound bizarre but utterly scrumptious. To this day, I still spread Kaya onto mine thanks to my nan.

They are also frequently served with Tau Suan 豆爽 , one of our nation favourite dessert made of mung  beans. It is also a familiar ingredient often found in the making of Rojak. My absolute favourite is when served with Bak kut teh, perfect for dipping into the rich herbal broth to soak up all those umami flavours. And a bowl of juk or congee (Cantonese rice porridge) will not be the same without slices of this crunchy toppings.

Making these crispy batons take some serious planning and practice as it is a lot harder than it appears. It uses 'wet' dough which means that it is trickier to handle and has a tendency to stick so getting that signature 'twins' look require skills. And like making a loaf of fine bread, it is not something that can be knocked up in a hurry. The dough need a minimum resting time of at least 9-10 hours. Anything less than this and your dough stick will be heavy and stodgy, not what we are after here. The best way is to prep the dough a day beforehand and allow them to rest in the refrigerator overnight.

Some recipes I've encountered in the past includes yeast. Although this does encourage the dough to rise, it produces evenly distributed air pockets which is not a characteristic I would associate a you char kwai to have. The uneven holes are what give them the light and hollow texture. Personally I find the presence of yeast just doesn't give it the right flavours. Crullers made with yeast also tends to lose it crispiness once cooled so I omitted this completely in my recipe.

I would, however, highly recommend that you seek out the ammonium bicarbonate for this. This whiffy powder is what give the cruller it's distinctive taste. You can find this in many good oriental supermarket or online. Do not panic when you open the package as that familiar 'odour' will dissipate once heated leaving only a very faint aroma. Not as off-putting as you might think. But I recommend that you store this away properly in an airtight container once open. I'm sure I don't have to give you the reason for do so.

Last but not least, make sure the dough is pulled and stretched to its desired length as it enter the hot oil for frying. This is the true secret to an ultra-light, thin and crispy you char kwai. Don't worry if this seems a bit tricky at first, you'll soon get the hang of it. It took me at least 5-6 ruined crullers before I finally got it right. And although the ruined crullers looked like the inferior shorter cousins, tasted absolutely fine. So not all is lost.

Ingredients (Makes about 8)

200ml hot water
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
450g white strong bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ammonium bicarbonate
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for deep-frying


In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water.

Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl. Add the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, ammonium bicarbonate and mix well to combine. 

Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolk. Gradually pour in the water and mix well to combine and form a wet dough. Adjust the water accordingly.

Add the oil and knead the dough in the bowl for 10 minutes until smooth. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight. 

The following day, lightly dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Divide the dough into halves. Roll out one dough into a 24cm x 12cm rectangular, about 2 cm thickness. Cut into eight 3cm wide strips, and gently scored the centre of each strip with a sharp knife. Do not cut all the way through. 

Lightly brush the top of 4 strips with water and place the other 4 strips on top, scored side facing to form 4 stacks. With a thin skewer (or chopstick in my case), gently press on the centre of each stack lengthwise so they stick together.

Repeat with the remaining dough and allow the stack to rest for 20 minutes before frying.

Fill the wok with enough oil and heat to 180ºC. Test by dropping a small piece of stale bread, it should sizzle and browns in 30 seconds. 

When the oil is ready, fry two stack at a time and do not overcrowd the wok. Gently stretch each stack lenthwise by pulling both ends in opposite direction to about twice its original length before gently drop into the hit oil ( I do this over the wok as it is trickier to move the stack once it is stretched). 

Turn the dough sticks continuously and push them down every now and then with a tong or spider sieve to make sure they are submerged into the oil for as much as possible. Fry for 5-6 minutes until gold brown and crispy. 

Remove with spider sieve and transfer to some kitchen paper to drain. Repeat with the rest of the stacks.  

Serve the cruller warm on its own or with a bowl of congee. 

Monday 8 July 2013

Puttanesca Trout and Fried Rosemary Potatoes - Fish and Chips

I get quite excited when I'm faced with fresh fish and seafood in the market. It is by far the most versatile protein around. It lends itself well to be grilled, poached, baked, fried and even served raw like in sushi or cured in ceviche. It is quick to cook and extremely healthy and good for you. And for anyone on a diet, steamed fish is by far, the best and most delicious way to go.

Growing up in Singapore, seafood was highly revered and much loved. Nothing beats the weekly trip down to East Coast Park (a strip of coast line along the island) where we will spent the day cycling along the coast and swimming in the cooling sea. The day will always end with a trip to the nearby seafood restaurant for some stonkingly good grilled stingray, smothered with spicy sambal belacan and a twist of calamasi lime. And food like the Singapore chilli crab and cereal prawns are just some of our national treasures that elevated these humble sea life to another level.

Generally speaking, I don't think seafood is consumed enough here in Britain, considering this is an island surrounded by the sea (much like Singapore but on a bigger scale). Most of the seafood caught appeared to be exported to nearby countries like Spain, France and Italy where they are much celebrated. And most fish consumed here are actually imported from Iceland and Norway. It doesn't quite compute and such a same!

I like to cook with whole fish as I think it this give you a sweeter and juicier fish. It also makes for a much grander presentation if you have dining guests. When picking whole fish in a fishmonger, it's worth making sure the fish smell of the ocean and not fishy. The overall look should be shiny and glossy and the flesh is firm to touch and not mushy. The eyes must be crystal clear and avoid any that looks cloudy.

This recipe make use of a classic pasta sauce, puttanesca a.k.a. lady of the night. But instead of serving this with the traditional pasta, I have smothered the beautiful fish with this feisty and zingy sauce and baked in the oven instead. It might not seem like an obvious choice, but it absolutely works. I am using trout here which has a more robust flavour  that will stand up to the flavoursome sauce but take care not to overdo it if you are using more delicate fish like the sea bass. And for a very English twist, I have made some rosemary fried chips to complete that classic ''Fish and Chips combo.

Go on, give this a try and most importantly, eat more fish and support your local fishmonger.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

2 x whole fish of your choice (I used trout here but sea bass , bream will also work)
plain flour, for dusting
50g butter

For the Puttanesca sauce:
4 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
1 x 400g tin chopped plum tomatoes
1tbsp tomato paste
6 anchovy fillets, chopped 
pinch of chilli flakes
100g black olives, stoned and sliced into rings
1 tbsp salted capers, rinsed and chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

For the Rosemary chips:
2 large potatoes, peeled and roughly cut into large chunks
a few sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
100ml vegetable oil, for frying
sea salt, to taste


Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped  garlic and sauté until golden, about 30 seconds before adding the chopped onions. Cook gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until softened. 

Add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, anchovies and chilli flakes. Season with a little salt (remember that the anchovies are quite salty) and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce has slightly reduced. Add the olives and capers and cook for another 2  minutes.

Remove from heat and allows to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC.

Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Wash the fish thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen paper. 

Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Lightly dust the fish with some plain flour and brown the fish for about 2-3 minutes on each sides, until the skin are golden brown.

In a baking dish, ladle in half of the sauce, place the fish on top and then spoon in the remaining sauce over the fish and baked for 20 minutes in the oven.

For the rosemary chips, parboil the potatoes for about 5 minuets, then drain. 

Heat up the oil in a saucepan when smoking, add the potato chunks and rosemary, fry until crispy and golden brown. Remove, drain and season with salt, to taste. 

Garnish the fish with chopped fresh parsley and served with the rosemary chips.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Chesapeake Bay Crab Cakes

I love fresh crabs and when I'm not cooking my national dish, Singapore chilli crab with these beautiful crustacean, I tends to make these delicious crab cakes. Chesapeake crab cakes hailed from Maryland and is a specialty of this America east coast state. The traditional crab of choice for this is blue crab which is widely available in Chesapeake Bay, but unfortunately not as common here in the UK so I use the native variety for this instead.

The secret to a great crab cakes is that unlike the normal fish cakes, these should be packed full of crab meat with little fillers. So no mashed potatoes to bulk up the patties and keep the breadcrumbs to a minimum so as not to lose the sweetness of the crab. Another secret to a good crab cakes is the Old bay seasoning. Old bay is a Creole spice blend that contains celery seed, mustard, bay leaves etc and is vital for giving the crab cake its distinct flavours, without which it will not be authentic. This is also an integral ingredient for making the famous Southern Fried Chicken or the traditional crawfish boils. You can easily get hold of this online or if you live in London, this is available in the USA Foodstore in Notting hill.

If you haven't the time to cook a whole crab and pick the meat yourself, try to go to a good reliable fishmonger and ask for those that been professionally picked and replaced in shell. These will generally have a better amount of big lumps of white meat. Use those that comes in tub as an alternative but tin crab is a definite no-no as the end results will be insipid and disappointing. Make sure you give the formed crab cakes ample time to chill and set in the refrigerator before frying. This will prevent them from losing their shape and falls apart.

This is delicious with a simply dressed salad or try it in place of beef patties for a burger with a twist. Here, I have served mine with a cannellini bean stew which makes for a more substantial meal but however you want to serve it, make sure you have plenty of fresh aioli to go with it.

Seeing that it's American's Independence day, why not give this or my Southern fried chicken a go to celebrate?
"Happy Independence day to all my American readers ! "

Ingredients (makes about 6-8)

For the crab cakes:
450g crab meat 
40g breadcrumbs 
2 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp chopped tarragon
2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 medium free range egg plus 1 egg yolk
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
plain flour
vegetable oil

For the Aioli:
3 free range egg yolks
1 tbsp dijon mustard
5 garlic cloves
juice of 1/2 lemon
400ml olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the canellini beans: (optional)
250g dried cannellini beans, soaked in water overnight (alternatively use a tin of cooked bean)
100ml dry white wine
juice of 1/2 lemon
400g spinach
50g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Combine the crab meat, breadcrumbs, old bay seasoning, mustard, paprika, cayenne pepper, tarragon, parsley , eggs and season with salt and pepper.Go easy on the salt as the old bay seasoning already contain salt. Mix well and form into 6-8 equal size cakes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to help the cakes bind.

To make the aioli, blend the egg yolks, mustard, garlic and lemon juice in a food processor and whizz. Gently pour in the olive oil gradually, until they are completely incorporated and emulsified into a thick mayonnaise consistency.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Dust the crab cakes in flour. Heat some oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and fry the crab cakes for 3-4 minute on each side until they are golden brown.  Serve with a dollop of the aioli and a light salad or the optional cannellini beans for a more substantial meal.


To cook the beans, boil the soaked in plenty of water for an hour, until soft and drain. Skip this step if using tinned beans.

In a large pan, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the cooked beans along with the white wine and lemon juice and cook for 3- 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the spinach and stir to wilt in the residing heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the crab cakes.

Monday 1 July 2013

Paris (Part 4) : Café in Paris - 10 Belles and La Caféothèque

To end my current series of Paris dining scene, I thought it's only appropriate to end with a post about coffee. Generally speaking, most coffee served in Paris are considered by many as dire but I have found most to be rather decent when compared to a lot of the coffee chain available in London. I am saying this mostly because I tends to ask for espresso rather that the cafe creme which is normally laden with UHT long-life cream which repulses most  coffee drinkers. But to be fair, this is not what the typical Parisian café culture is about. When you talk about having a coffee in Paris, you immediately envisage a terrace seating on a buzzing pavement, abrupt waiters, cigarette smokes that fill the passing air and people watching. However, for a touch of the familiar excellent strong roasted flavours that I normally get in London, there's only a handful of places that I've found which caters to my caffeine palette.

The first is Ten Belles which opened only less than a year ago. With modernist facade and minimalist interior, this tiny little venue, situated just off the canal Saint-Martin exudes a sense of nonchalant atmosphere and won't look out of place in the heart of ubercool shoreditch or trendy soho.

You can perch yourself on one of the designer foldable stools and sip an excellent cup of coffee made with Has Bean coffee beans. A narrow staircase through the back of the café will lead you up to the mezzanine or if the weather is good, grab a seat outside, relax and watching the worlds go by or just generally soaking in this cool, bohemian atmosphere.

Not content with serving just great coffee, they also have an arrays of delicious cakes and patisserie displayed at the counter to tempt the coffee drinkers. Freshly made sandwiches and sometimes even sausage rolls are available from the kitchen, all prepared by a chef who used to work in St John's.

Ten Belles, 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles 75010 
Tel: 01 42 40 90 78
Métro: Goncourt, Jacques Bonsergent 
Open: Mon-Fri (8:00am-6:00pm), Sat-Sun (9:00am-7:00pm)

Another great coffee hot spot for me is the well established La Caféothèque. What I love is the aroma of freshly roasted coffee from their in-house roaster that greet you as you walk though the door. This is one of the few rare cafe which roast their own coffee beans here in Paris, which is not a common sight.
This cafe also has the advantage of being quite central, located on the north side of Seine along Rue de l'Hôtel de ville. 

Here you'll find a wide selection of coffee beans varies from different origins, Peru, Ethiopia etc. Come here for you own special blend of coffee to take with you, freshly roasted in-house and prepared by folks who are passionate  about coffee. 

Unlike the trendy feel of Ten Belles, this is more rustic and chill. It is divided into different rooms, each with a very different feel. For the best experience, find yourself a spot by the main open room and rest your weary feet on the sofa, kick back with a book or gaze out of the wide window onto the street life of Paris. Go for classic like a noisette (short black coffee with a small amount of milk froth) and avoid anything too milky like latte, if you do, remember to ask for a double shots of espresso for a stronger taste. There are also a selections of fresh cakes and patisserie available if you craves for a little something sweet to go with your brew.

La Caféothèque, 52 Rue de l'Hôtel de ville, 75004 Paris
Tel: 01 53 01 83 84
Métro: Pont Marie
Open: Mon-Sun (9:30am-7:30pm)

There are a few more good cafe like these that I have discovered during my travel. Like Coutume Café in the 7th arrondissement and  Café Télescope in 1st arrondissement who also happens to provide Ten Belles with their house blend. I hope to discover more in my future visits and I will share these in my future Paris post.

As I've started this Paris series with a view of the romantic Eiffel tower, I shall end this with an equally romantic Pont de l'Archevêché,  a.k.a. the love-lock bridge. For years, lovers have been declaring their undying love by attaching pairs of padlocks inscribed with their names on this bridge that link Notre-Dame Cathedral to the Left Bank of the Seine.

For now, au revoir Paris, till we meet again.

See also:
Paris (Part 1) : Fish La Boissonnerie, Le 6 Paul Bert and Le Bistro Paul Bert
Paris (Part 2) : Chez Georges
Paris (Part 3) : La Régalade, St. Honoré and Carette


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