Category Archives: Food

Dinner (by Heston Blumenthal)

The concept behind Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, Dinner, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is an interesting one. While his other restaurant, The Fat Duck, pushes the boundaries of modern cuisine, Dinner takes its inspiration from recipes from Britain’s past. He explains why the restaurant was given its name;

It is never easy naming a restaurant. On this occasion, I wanted something that represented our menu that is inspired by historic British gastronomy, so I searched for a name that had a bit of history, but was also fun.

In the past, the main meal -dinner-was eaten at midday, before it got too dark.  But affordable candles and, later, gaslight saw dinner shift.  By the mid-1800s people were dining later.  People working in the cities were taking a ‘lunch’ to work and having their main meal at 5.00pm when they got home, while in rural areas the main meal was still taken at midday.

Even today, depending where you are in the British Isles, ‘dinner’ might be served at lunchtime, suppertime or, indeed, dinnertime!

This made ‘Dinner’ the natural choice for its typically British quirky history and linguistic playfulness.  If nothing else, I hope it’s easy to remember.

– Heston

Though, I suppose, because I live in London rather than the Scottish Borders these days we had “lunch” rather than “dinner”. Anyway the older of my two sisters was down from Scotland on her annual pre-Christmas trip to London and my younger sister suggested that we go to Dinner. Grace and I said “yes please”.


The Room

You walk into the restaurant through a bar area, which looks a pleasant enough area to have a drink while you are waiting for friends and/or your table. The restaurant itself is a large open room with a view over Hyde Park (a strategically placed hedge hides the road that runs between the hotel and the park. A glass wall runs down one side of the room allowing you the see into the kitchen and the famous pineapple spit.

The dress code is pretty relaxed, at least at lunch time, but I doubt that it would change for the evening. While most people, including ourselves, had dressed up a bit, there were a few diners wearing t-shirts and jeans and very few men were wearing ties.

Grace declared the chairs to be suitably comfortable, so on to the food.

The Food

We decided in the interests of economy to have the set menu, which is only available from 12:00 to 14:30, but at £38 for three courses is good value. Neither of the two choices of main course were suitable for a vegetarian,so Grace was given a dish from the A La Carte menu called “Braised Celery” She also went off piste with her pudding, but more of that later.

A very comprehensive wine list was proffered and flicked through. Possibly I missed it but I couldn’t see the £12.50 House Red. Wine by the bottle is not cheap. There are few, if any bottles at less than £50 and an awful lot over £100. We decided to go with the suggested wine pairings at about £10 per glass.

The set menu offers a choice of two starters, two mains and two puddings, if you are interested click here to see the full menu.

The Starter

Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast (c.1750)

My starter was the Ragoo of Pigs Ear on Toast. The recipe it is based on comes from around 1750. The pig’s ear is cooked in red wine and Madeira with onions and anchovies until it is falling apart. The sauce is heavily reduced to a slightly sweet syrup. My sister who also had the dish suggested that it had the texture of pulled pork, she was about right. It is served on a slice of toast, which soaks up the juices and saves asking for bread to mop them up. The wine that went with it was a full bodied Rioja. The intense meaty flavours would have completely overwhelmed a more delicate wine.


Lemon Salad (c.1730)

Grace (being vegetarian) and my other sister chose the Lemon Salad which dates from around 1730. It consisted of smoked artichokes preserved lemon, beetroot and goat’s curd. They both pronounced it excellent.
(The photo is borrowed from my sisters Facebook page)

The Main

Roast Quail (c.1590)

My main course was Roasted Quail, which was served on a bed of cabbage with a celeriac puree, smoked chestnuts and a quail sauce. This was a lovely dish. Quail is quite a delicately flavoured bird and because of it’s size not the easiest to cook, it is very easy to over or under cook and even easier to dry out. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a two Michelin Starred kitchen managed to cook it perfectly, but it was. The puree was smooth as silk and the smoked chestnuts added a complimentary flavour and texture. What they did to the cabbage I am not quite sure, but it was simultaneously creamy, crunchy and had more flavour than any cabbage I can remember eating. The wine that was served with it was something I had never tasted before. A Corsican red, made from two grapes that I had never heard of and whose names I cannot remember, I really should have taken notes from our very (pleasantly) chatty and informative sommelier. When we tried it the first reaction of my sister and myself were exactly the same “That’s different, but pleasant”, when it was drunk with the food it was perfect. I don’t think I have ever had a wine that went with the food I was eating as perfectly as that did.

Grace had the only veggie main on the menu;
Braised Celery (c.1730) with Parmesan, girolles, vinaigrette, cider apple & smoked walnuts. Unfortunately the restaurant got the idea that she was a Vegan rather than Vegetarian (she’s not it’s just that she doesn’t like too much egg or cheese and lazy cooks have a tendency to produce a cheese omelette) the kitchen left the parmesan sauce off the dish. She said it was fine and that the carmelised smoked walnuts were something else, but it probably did  need the sauce or something to bring it together.

My other sister decided to have the Roast Pollack (c.1830), Admiral’s sauce Parsnip puree, shrimps, shallots, brown butter & capers. She is married to a fisherman so knows what a good piece of fish should taste like. She pronounced it the best bit of fish that she could remember eating.

The Pudding

Spiced Christmas Custard Tart (c.1850)

My pudding was a Custard Tart, but that doesn’t really do it justice. Yes it was a perfectly made custard tart, the pastry was thin sweet and crisp and the custard, well, custardy soft and not too sweet, but what lifted it to the special was the intense thin layer of mincemeat with a good kick of brandy between the pastry and the custard, oh and the brulee type topping.

My sister had the Millionaire Tart (c.1730), which when it arrived at the table I said “oh it’s just like mum used to make”. Apparently, it had similarities in that it had a biscuit base, a caramel layer topped by a chocolate layer, but that was where it ended. Mum I’m afraid that your Millionaire’s Shortbread is now only the second best ever. (Though I don’t think they could top your Apricot Tart.)

Grace decided that she would like the Tipsy Cake (c.1810) with Spit roast pineapple from the spit that we could see revolving away from our table. She didn’t like the pineapple, but that was because for some reason she has developed an aversion to acidic foods, so she left it to the rest of us to try, it was perfectly fine, but I didn’t think the taste justified the hype. The tipsy cake on the other hand brought a huge silly grin to her face with the first spoonful, which stayed there ’till we got home. She was generous enough to let the rest of us try a little bit. It was a brioche filled with creme anglaise and soaked in rum, pure indulgence. She described it  as the best bread and butter pudding ever.

We finished our meal with coffees which came with a caraway seed biscuit and a little pot of chocolate ganache to dip them in.

The service throughout was excellent but unobtrusive, I don’t think my water glass remained unfilled for more than five seconds. Actually our sommelier wasn’t that  unobtrusive, but he was informative and fun, so I forgave him.

The bill, including drinks and service came to £75 per head, not cheap but I think for a one off occasion worth it.



Vegan Peanut Butter & Banana Superpower Muffins (that happen to be flourless and delicious), 10p each

I borrowed this from Jack Monroe’s blog – I actually meant to save it to my food blog so I had it easily available, but put it on the main blog by mistake – but it is good enough to share with the world. If you are interested in eating healthily and economically her blog is worth a follow.

Jack Monroe

These are my sad black bananas. I wanted to make them happy again, by making them into supercake. These are my sad black bananas. I wanted to make them happy again, by making them into supercake.

What do you do when you have a pile of black bananas sitting in the fruit bowl? I don’t even know how this happens – I generally work from home, bananas are my go-to snack because I can reach them and don’t have to do anything except peel them and shove them in, yet all too often my darling other half leaves a small pile of them on the chopping board with a hint to Do Something About Them. Sometimes they get sliced and flung in the oven to make dried bananas for the kids, sometimes I whizz them with yoghurt, milk and oats for a breakfast smoothie, but today I fancied neither of those things. It’s freezing. And raining a bit. And I’m a bit tired and gloomy. What I wanted…

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Have you ever wondered what the next food that will change your life will be. The one that promises to make you ten years younger, rejuvenate your sex life, prevent or cure all cancers and make you rich and famous. My money is on either raw tripe or more likely some semi-inedible berry from the Afghan foothills of the Pamir Mountains. Jay Rayner is eagerly scanning is in-box for the news.

I was scrolling through my spam email folder one day dreaming about how life would be if its contents were only true. Oh the Nigerian oil millions I would have; the glorious women who were out there, waiting for me; the private jets I could buy at a knockdown price. Then I flicked back to my normal inbox. Suddenly it struck me: life wouldn’t be too shabby if many of these were true as well.

According to these emailed press releases food wasn’t just stuff you ate for nutritional purposes. It was the elixir of life, the very wellspring from which immortality might flow, a cure for cancer, acne and heart disease. My email inbox had become superfood central. A new superfood snack had been launched. Someone else was flogging a new range of superfood products. There was news of wonder berries, of offers to feed your immune system, of medicinally potent grains.

Or possibly not, as he explains in today’s Observer Food Monthly.

One thing that has always annoyed me is the claim that foods can act as medicines. No they can not. A healthy diet can help you to stay healthy, but it is not a guarantee, but trying to claim that for example food “x” will cure disease “y” is patent nonsense and fortunately illegal in the EU.

No wonder the European Union has banned the use of the term on packaging unless it can be backed up with scientific chapter and verse. Cancer Research UK calls it “just a marketing tool”. Sure, some so-called superfoods contain chemicals that, in the lab, have been shown to affect cancer cells. But that’s very different to what happens in the human body. For example to ingest the same volume of the active ingredient in garlic as used in laboratory tests you’d have to eat 28 cloves a day. Weirdly, no one has tried.

In addition, applying the active ingredient to a cell in a Petri dish is not the same as trying to apply the same active ingredient via the digestive system.
Jay Rayner loves food, and as he says treating it as medicine strips all joy out of it. He concludes;

I’m not a trained nutritionist but I know trash science when I see it – and the superfood cult is exactly that. Here, then is my advice to anyone wanting to take care of themselves through food: eat a normal balanced diet. It won’t stave off cancer. It won’t make you immortal. But it will keep you generally healthy. Which is about all you can expect from your lunch.

He does make on minor mistake here though, he is as qualified as a nutritionist as the people who make the claims about Super-foods. In the UK any one can call themselves a nutritionist. This is why, to try to get a bit better control over my blood glucose levels (I’m diabetic), I will be going to see a Dietician next week.

Eating out with Vegetarians

Barbara Ellen has a rant in today’s Observer at people who won’t go out with a vegetarian because they are “too picky” and make dining out “nightmare”.

Would you date a vegetarian? I ask, because it’s still evident that there are people who’d prefer not to, because they feel that dining out would be a nightmare and that vegetarians are “too picky”.The cheek of it, yet such judgment is widespread.

Now I have some sympathy with her views, having gone out with, indeed been married to a vegetarian for the best part of the last 30 years. Admittedly it does need a bit of reading of menus outside restaurants in France, and (in France) often ends up eating in an Italian or Vietnamese restaurant. But generally, no they are not picky they can’t afford to be.

It’s time to fight back. Vegetarians don’t ruin meals in restaurants – we are angels who meekly accept the one dish (max) we’re offered (these days, either the ubiquitous goat’s cheese tart or dreaded risotto).

It is slightly better than it used to be, when the choice was generally the vegetarian lasagna. Or with one memorable, for all the wrong reasons, meal in a pub on the A303, tagliatelle in “mushroom sauce”. They had boiled the tagliatelle for about an hour and the “mushroom sauce” looked and tasted like Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup. An Anglo-Italian family had made the same mistake as us. Their teenage daughter was overheard saying,
“Mama you will not believe what they have done to the pasta”.
My meal wasn’t much better.

We don’t kick off when male omnivores use every pan in the house, lost in a fantasy that they’re Anthony Bourdain.

Yes you do, but we’ll leave that for another day. Anyway in my case the fantasy is that I’m Heston Blumenthal

No, the time when vegetarians are picky and a pain in the backside in restaurants is when you go to a vegetarian restaurant with them. Normally it takes her two seconds to decide what she is having to eat ( because there is only one choice) but take her to Terre à Terre and Grace can take half-an-hour making up her mind what to have.

Terre by the way comes highly recommended by this omnivore. Only the most blinkered carnivore could fail to enjoy their food.

How To Make Your Pancakes on Tuesday

Fed up with the arm-aching tedium of beating your pancake batter? Get yourself one of these marvellous automated pancake making machines and your worries will be over.
(Courtesy of The Happy Egg Co.)

Perfect fried eggs

I used to think that i knew how to fry an egg. I mean every one knows how to fry an egg. For Pete’s sake a fried egg was just about the only thing that my dad could cook for himself. Then I read Felicity Cloake’s article in the Guardian. I decided to try her method last weekend and discovered that until now, I didn’t actually know how to fry an egg.
Here is how to do it.

1 fresh egg, at room temperature
1 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper

1. Crack the egg on to a saucer to make it easier to slide into the pan. Heat the butter in a heavy-based frying pan over a low heat, and find a slightly domed saucepan lid, ideally slightly smaller than the pan itself, so you can place it over the cooking eggs.

2. Once the butter has melted, but not begun to foam, swirl it around the pan to coat, then slide in the egg. If you’re cooking more than one, be careful not to crowd the pan.

3. Cover and leave for 3½ minutes, then check the white is cooked, lift out, season gently, and serve immediately
I served my eggs on a round of sourdough toast.
Try it, it does make a difference.

The correct way to use an iPad

This, I am reasonably sure, is how Steve Jobs intended iPads to be used. After all they are supposed to be versatile devices.
The video isn’t in English, but it doesn’t really matter.

(h/t to Token Skeptic)

Maisie’s Baby Courgette Chutney

This is the tale of a courgette that grew too big.

In my garden there is a courgette patch that resembles a small jungle. Venturing down to the bottom of the garden scares small children – “because there might be tigers in there.” This courgette (or zucchini if you are Italian or North American) started growing in the jungle quite while ago. It was a very clever little courgette and managed to hide itself very effectively.
There’s more including the recipe

My Personal (South) London-Surrey Cycle Classic.

My Touring Bike.

I spent last Sunday morning watching the professionals taking part in the pre-Olympic test event the London – Surrey Cycle Classic. This week I thought I would give it a try myself. I was in a mood for comfort and not for speed so I took my Touring Bike instead of my “racing” bike. I don’t race, I have never raced, but I call it my racing bike because it is lighter and faster than my touring bike. Bike choice made I headed out into the Surrey Hills.
Read on


Because last week and Friday in particular were quite hectic, I couldn’t be bothered to go shopping on Friday evening. Mrs johnm55 suggested that we go out early on Saturday morning and have breakfast in the café at Tesco before we did the shopping.

One of the great things about a traditional British breakfast is that it is almost impossible, even for Tesco, to mess it up. So before shopping I had a full, heart-attack threatening, plate of bacon, fried egg, sausages, black pudding, hash browns, and to add a bit of healthy eating, some baked beans. The breakfast was fine, and set me up for the grocery shopping, but beyond that was nothing memorable. However it started a train of thought, because a lot of the meals that I truly remember have been breakfasts.

Breakfast below the fold