January 27, 2010

Gastronomic Ultra-Marathon Part III - Chez Bruce

The third installment of the never-ending Gastronomic Ultra-Marathon that was Eugene's farewell. After hearing him rave about it for the longest time i.e. since I arrived in London, we had to make this one of the stops on the list of must-eats. Since it's tucked away in some corner of Wandsworth (SW17!!) and not exactly accessible by public transport, we rented a Streetcar for the evening for our journey there. The journey there and back was another adventure in itself since it entailed me trying to drive a manual car (but that story is not for here).

Chez Bruce is located on a street of quaint shops and restaurants, Bellevue Road, in a quiet fairly residential neighbourhood. The dining room itself was cosy, and was surprisingly full for a Monday night. After we were seated, the first thing I noticed was that the crowd was predominantly female, probably 90%. There were groups of women laughing, enjoying a good girly catch-up over good food and wine or perhaps Bruce is an exceptionally charming man!

We ordered the prix fixe menu, priced at £42.50 for 3 courses, which is very reasonable considering that you get a good selection of dishes to choose from, about 8-10 for each course. They change their menu very regularly, in fact I just looked online for the menu, and it's almost completely different! Great for diners who eat there often!

For starters, we had a beef cheek tagliatelle and two types of fish cake and fritters. I can't recall exactly the menu names and items, but I do recall that the tagliatelle was full of flavour and really left you wanting more and the fish was very fresh. Eugene had a panfried seabass for his main and I ordered a wild mushroom vol au vent. While I was very pleased with the medley of mushrooms and puff pastry, what blew me away was the jerusalem artichokes that was served with it. It wasn't even listed on the menu, probably something seasonal they threw in but I loved the texture and deep chestnut-ty flavour of the jerusalem artichoke. I think it was the first time I ever tasted it and forgive my gastronomic ignorance, I didn't know it wasn't an artichoke! Well, guess I liked it because it didn't taste like one (though somehow I had guessed it was an artichoke, without knowing they weren't related)!

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For dessert, because we were both very stuffed, we ordered the lighter ice-cream (honeycomb ice cream and passionfruit ice cream) dishes on the menu despite there being amazingly delicious sounding desserts like fondants, cakes and puddings. Next time perhaps, and there will definitely be a next time because Chez Bruce is a restaurant I can imagine myself going back again and again.

Chez Bruce
2 Bellevue Road
London, SW17 7EG
020 8672 0114

January 18, 2010

Mango & Lychee Mousse Macarons - Mactweets Challenge 3

This post has been a long time coming. While I made the macarons quite a few days ago, I haven't had the time to photograph them in natural daylight as I'm always rushing to work in the morning and there's hardly been any sun. Finally I manage to sneak a few minutes yesterday morning, despite it being a really really gloomy and grey day.

Dec 19, 2009

The Mactweets Macattack Challenge 3 hosted by Jamie and Deeba was to make macarons with a new element that you've never attempted before. And frankly, I have been reaching some sort of plateau in my macaron making in terms of flavours and base recipes. I always use my usual recipe adapted from Cannelle et Vanille's basic recipe (but as I mentioned in the previous post, I've been having a bit of problems with the texture) and usually I make a ganache filling. So in line with the challenge, I decided to do two things new - first, the colour of the macarons. I've never made aqua (turquoise, tiffany blue, duck egg blue?) macarons before despite it being my favourite colour :) so I decided to colour my shells a pretty aqua (but it turned out a little stronger than I would have liked). Second new thing was the mousse filling. I knew I wanted something pastel and light to go with the aqua shells and I had some mango and lychees lying around so I decided to make mango-flavoured and lychee-flavoured mousse as fillings. Yes, two different types, one light yellow and one light pink.

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I did some research online and flipped through some cookbooks and came up with a basic recipe as below:

Lychee/Mango Mousse
(one portion makes enough to fill 20-24 macarons)
140g lychee or mango puree
20g castor sugar (you can add more if your puree is sour like my mango was, so I used 30g)
100ml double cream
1 sheet of gelatine (2.5-3g)

Soak the gelatine sheet in ice cold water.
Whip the double cream to stiff peaks.
Add the sugar to the fruit puree in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to ensure there's no burning. Once it boils, turn the heat off.
Squeeze the water out of the gelatine and add it to the warm puree mixture and let it dissolve. If you're colouring your puree, add it at this point (I added a tiny drop of pink colouring to my lychee one). Let it cool to room temperature.
Add the cooled puree to the whipped cream and gently fold to incorporate together.
Put in the fridge to set a little before filling piping bag to fill the macarons (or put into little cups for mousse treat!)

As you can see from my pictures, I had a lot of mousse leftover and so I made a layered lychee and mango mousse verrine, topped with ground pistachio. I should have piped a lot more filling into my macarons but it was a little runny when I was piping them so I didn't want to risk it overflowing. It did set once I put it into the fridge so I think next time I'll put more. The mousse filling was very light and actually didn't make for a very strong tasting filling (unlike a ganache). My macaron shells were also softer than usual, as I have mentioned in great lengths in my previous post, so I will be embarking on some sort of macaron texture experiment in the near future (once I find time!) so look out for it!

January 13, 2010

Chewy or Moist Macarons?

I'm getting obsessed with the texture of my macarons. I made some macarons with mango and lychee mousse filling for the Mactweets challenge and they were quite soft. Basically my macarons used to be pretty chewy and I was trying to figure out how to get them more moist and soft and now they're TOO soft and almost falls apart when you bite into them. For the life of me, I can't figure out the changes I did other than always trying to lower the sugar content, changing ovens (since I moved), or maybe it's just English eggs!

Ok, let's take them one by one. I think the most consistent thing I've been trying to do is to lower the sugar content. I started baking using the basic recipe at Syrup and Tang though I can't remember which one but I think the ratio of egg white : almond : castor sugar : icing sugar was 1: 1.25 : 2.3 : 0.3. This meant that the total sugar content was 2.6x of the egg whites. I found that too sweet and now I use a basic recipe which is 1 : 1.3 : 1.7 : 0.5 which is a total sugar content of 2.2x. So is sugar the main determinant of how chewy or moist the macaron is? Since a macaron shell is basically a meringue with ground almonds, i.e. a meringue with less sugar will result in a less stable and softer meringue as opposed to one with more sugar. With less sugar content in my macarons, I was weakening my meringue structure, resulting in a softer shell. Does the type of sugar and the proportion matter? Perhaps I should be using more castor sugar in whipping the meringue and reduce the icing sugar, thereby keeping overall sugar content the same but with a stronger meringue for a harder finished product.

However, there are a couple of other observations I made - when they come out of the oven and are still fresh, the shells are chewy. Even after a day in the fridge (plain shells sans filling) they are still chewy (too chewy in fact). It is only after I fill them, stick them in the fridge to rest, take them out and bring to room temperature that they start softening. Now what does this mean? Perhaps it is the moisture in the filling that is the main cause of the softening of the shells? But then again, previously I did the same (fill them and let them rest) and they were chewy.

Or could it be the oven temperature and cooking time? According to Syrup and Tang, a too chewy macaron is the result of overbaking (too long or too hot), which means I might be underbaking my macarons currently (@135C/convection or 150C/convention for 14 min). Or it could be just the macaronage (mixing method), or too little almond meal. The variations are endless!

This is why I'm obsessed and going nuts. If anyone knows why macarons are chewy/moist, let me know. I'm going to have to experiment much more but it's so much effort making multiple batches! Going macaloon-y!

January 10, 2010

Gastronomic Ultra-Marathon Part II - Battle of the Japanese Restaurants

I love Japanese food. I think I could keep eating Japanese food and not get sick of it, because there are just so many different types of things to eat - ramen, sashimi/sushi, teppanyaki, donburi, tempura, hotpots, grilled items, salads, small plates and the list goes on! Sadly I've never been to Japan, it will definitely be food heaven for me!
I was very excited to be going to Sake No Hana as part of the eating ultra-marathon. With Connie knowing what the best dishes were to order, we were definitely going to have a huge feast! We had quite a number of dishes between 4 of us - from sashimi, grilled dishes and handrolls to udon and other cooked dishes. My favourite dish was definitely the special udon. It wasn't the usual fat one, but almost like thin rice sticks but what really blew me away was the soup base it came with, which made it a real comfort food, perfect for cold wintery weather. Best of all, it was one of the cheapest items on the menu! I think I could go back there and just order the udon (although the staff there would probably give me dagger looks). I also liked the aubergine, grilled chicken and yellowtail cheek. Overall, the meal was good but would have been quite pricey if not for the discount we got. Would probably go back for a special occasion meal.

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That same week, I also went to Roka. As usual, we ordered too much food - 9 dishes between the 3 of us. I think the waiter was quite shocked by the amount of food we were ordering but well, it was part of the marathon and we had to satisfy Eugene's appetite for variety right?

Roka has a lot more grilled items as that is what they're known for. They have an open grill/kitchen right in the dining room, which means you will come away smelling of food. We had some tuna tataki and tartar as starters, followed by grilled black cod, chicken wings, glazed baby back ribs, king crab kamameshi (rice) and 2 different aubergine dishes. My favourites here were the aubergine, ribs and king crab kamameshi. I had ordered the latter thinking it would be like the one in Sun and Moon (which I love), which is like a claypot rice dish but the Roka version turned out to be a lot more like mui fan, almost porridge-like with a starchy sauce. Nonetheless, it was very very tasty and we were savouring every bit of it with all our different dishes. Roka does their grilled dishes very well and till now, I am still thinking about their baby back ribs.

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Between the two, I have my favourite dishes at each place but overall I prefer Roka for slightly better value and more contemporary style of cooking.

Still to come - Chez Bruce and the Ramsay Restaurants!

Gastronomic Ultra-Marathon Part I

Happy New Year everyone! After some new year house troubles with my heat and hot water, I'm finally not cold and homeless anymore, just in time for the big London snow-in (or so the media puts it).

I still haven't blogged about the eating ultra-marathon that was Eugene's farewell. I seem to have been eating non-stop since November and I definitely have put on quite a few pounds, definitely need to start exercising. Anyway, there are too many restaurants so will do it over a few entries.

First up - Galvin Bistrot. This is the bistro, a slightly more casual sibling of Galvin at Windows. Simple french fare at quite reasonable prices. I had a mousseline with wild mushroom soup for my starter, which was an interesting play of textures. I had a simple sage and saffron butter pasta as a main. No surprises there, well-executed but not mind-blowing. Which is probably what summarises the restaurant. I probably won't go back since it didn't really stand out, but it was relatively easy to get a reservation even on the day itself.

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Next we went to Hawksmoor. The rest had been raving about it for the longest time and I was curious to taste for myself what was supposed to be one of the best steaks (with very good cocktails) in London. Well, it didn't disappoint. I can't really remember what cocktails we ordered but I remember the guys had this big girly punch which was much yummier than the strong drink I had (and then gave away). For starters, we had the shrimp cocktail, some scallops and the grilled squid salad. While they're known for their shrimp cocktail, I really liked the grilled squid salad. And of course there was beef all around for mains. Other than the usual cuts on the menu, they had special cuts by weight on the daily menu, like the huge huge prime rib (? or was it the porterhouse) Eugene and Connie shared. The beef was juicy and flavourful (i.e. full of fat) but I couldn't help but compare it to the steak I had at Robert et Louise in Paris. I think that was better, though this was pretty close.

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By the time it got to dessert, we were all way too stuffed to properly appreciate the dessert - sticky toffee pudding, super sinful and super rich. The next time we go, I'll have to save space for dessert.

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Next up - Battle of the japanese restaurants!
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