A Wee Dram in London Town

  
Hidden at the bottom of a dark lane in the shadows of the awe inspiring Shard there is an industrial unit like no other. A former tannery, this winter season it has been transformed into London’s foremost Scottish pop up restaurant Dram & Smoke.
For several years now the lads at Dram & Smoke have appeared on a seasonal basis in various locations around the city providing some delicious Scottish inspired dishes. 

  
This winters menu is something pretty special:
 – welcome whisky cocktail in the form of a warm hot toddy

 – duck donut with irn bru chilli jam

 – Gin punch bowl

 – potted mushrooms and dunsyre blue cheese

 – lobster broth

 – roast rack of pork, chargrilled plums, black pudding, chestnuts and a BUCKET OF CRACKLING!!!

 – whisky bread 7 butter pudding
So having come here as a 2 we were on a table of 10 so lots of new people to meet, fear not by the end of the night it was as if we were all old friends, contact details were exchanged and further nights out planned.

  
The hot toddy on arrival was a welcomed thing, coming in from a cold wet night, naked grouse with honey and lemon. A tried and tested classic.
Duck donut…..irn bru chilli jam. Genius. A proper savoury donut with a sugar coating filled with confit duck meat. The irn bru chilli jam carried the flavour of the famous Scottish soft drink with a really nice heat. Surprising and delicious way to start the meal.

  
Mushrooms and blue cheese, again a tried and tested match, with the lovely crisp bread it was an unremarkable but delicious course.
Lobster broth, every day 10 large Scottish lobsters are sacrificed to make this delicious soup. Well sized as apart of a five course meal it was a joy to eat and served in an innovative way. The cream top really cut through it and yeah it was gooood.

  
NOW, when the menu say rack of pork expectations as to what is going to be delivered are pretty high, they were surpassed. This giant piece of meat arrived at the table on a massive block with carving knife and fork. Alongside a plate of veg + black pudding and a BUCKET OF CRACKLING. I mean I know I keep typing this in capitals but it feels deserved because I mean crackling…by the bucket. This forever should now be the measuring unit for crackling. The meat was succulent and tasty, so well cooked. The veg lovely, the black pudding and plums and great match and the crackling just topped it all off. A large jug of good gravy also passed around made for a satisfying main course.

   
 Desert, the British classis that is bread & butter pudding, again does as a large table serving we then split between the table. It was plentiful, it was whiskyful it was delicious!

  
On our table happened to be a whisky journalist who managed to secure the table each a rob roy and then a bottle of the lovely naked grouse which added to our erm merriment.
If you manage to grab a ticket for this go and be happy! If you miss out make sure you don’t next time! For £40 it is incredible value! I mena crazy good value!!

Battle of the Belly

Well this isn’t about what you might immediately presume it’s about, no this isn’t a post all about weight loss. In fact it’s pretty much the opposite, it’s all about pork belly! This inexpensive cut of meat has frustrated me as a home cook for years, how to to get the crackling just so, how hot should the oven be…..to cover or not to cover it….too many bloody questions quite frankly.

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So on my last Saturday at home before heading back to London I promised mum I would do the cooking, we made our way to the local Kirkcaldy Morrison’s ( no expense spared) and as always started by wandering round the meat and fish section to establish what the key ingredient to our meal was going be. After some deliberation we went for belly, what was once a throw away or butchers cut pork belly has become something of a cult classic, with chefs like Mark Greenaway using it for signature dishes. Having read literally dozens of recipes it occurs to me no 2 recipes on how to do the perfect pork belly are the same. So what I tried to do was draw some general conclusions and go from there. Basing things around James Martina recipe on BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/slowroastedporkbelly_92948

Actually I say I based it on it…..to be fair I followed it pretty much to the letter with the exception of some extra veg I will get onto. To start the pork belly process I scored diamonds across the fat using a sharp knife. Then poured a pint of boiling water over the top, to be honest I’ve no idea why you do this but pretty much every recipe tells you to so roll with it. From here you pad the fat dry using kitchen towels, really press down to make sure you get as much moisture out as possible. With a mortar I crushed some maldon salt with fresh time and peppercorns to get a fine consistency. The key seems to be to use way more salt that you think is reasonable, I guess with all the fat it can take it. I found that as I added the salt more moisture was drawn down so padded it down again and then added a little more salt.

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Onto then boulangére potatoes, apologies if I’ve spelt that wrong, anyone who has ever had a text conversation with me ever or read my blog more than once knows I can’t spell. ANWYAY…potatoes, yes, so start off by peeling them. Then In a pan sauté 2 large sliced onions and thyme, I added garlic but this was my own touch, until the onions are soft and translucent. With a mandolin, if you own one, slice the potatoes as thinly as you can as you would for dauphinoise. Then in a dish layer the potatoes to cover the bottom, then add a layer of onions and repeat as appropriate. Then add approximately a pint of good chicken stock so just the very top potatoes aren’t covered. Unless you plan to let to pork belly sit open over the potatoes add some butter or if you have duck fat on top.

Get your oven on an up to 170 degrees Celsius, many recipes vary on this point with many suggesting 200 or even 210 but I decided this time I was going low. Cooking time, well the belly weight 1.5kg so with the low temperature I went for just over 3 hours. Placing the pork on the middle chef I put the potatoes on the bottom and left it alone.

Next, the old favourite apple sauce. Simples….so 3 x bramley apples peeled, cored and diced, 25 gms of butter and the same of sugar, pinch of cinnamon & salt and some lemon juice. Started out with melting the butter, as it foamed added the sugar and let it dissolve in the pan. In with the apples and covered with some foil to let it start to break down. After 5 minutes or so in with the other ingredients and continue to cook over a low heat. Job done.

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Next up, vegetables to go with this feast. I fancied honeyed parsnips and carrots but it’s something I pretty much always get somehow just a bit wrong or certainly not as good as I felt it could have been. Well ladies and gentleman I’ve cracked it, yes after many carrots and parsnips I’m happy to say I got them to a point where even I was happy. I always par boiled and then then roasted drizzling on honey before they went in the oven. Well this day I tried something different, same batons but this time i just sautéed them, plenty of butter, rosemary and then honey all in early over a low heat in with the veg and I basted them in the pan! Tremendous if I do say so myself.

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Many hours and a few glasses of red wine by, we watched at the fat on the pork puffed up and started to crisp, stock in the potatoes bubbled and I crossed my fingers. After 200 minutes……I finally removed the pork and hoped for the best, the result? Well actually it was pretty damn good. The crackling was light and crunchy, the fat well rendered down in the meat leaving lots of oozing tender goodness. The boulangére potatoes which were new to me had the garlic goodness without the cream in dauphinoise allowing it to cut through the fatty pork and along side some apple suace and honey veg it made for a very tasty last supper.

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Lessons I learned…..low and slow is best….more salt the better…..no need to cover the pork. Pan roasting veg is tasty.

All in all a meal that I would modestly say comes highly JD Recommended.

“It’s so light it’s as if it were made by angels” – San Carlo Cicchetti

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Wow…just wow wow wow!!! This goes down as one of the best dining experiences I have had since making the move to London. Genuinely, the whole experience was a pleasure. San Carlo Cicchetti is located literally a stones throw from Piccadilly Circus. When my friend Zoe suggested having dinner there I looked up the location and wondered what I was in store for.

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As soon as you step through the door way you immediately feel as if you have been transported to another place, a side street perhaps off Via Condotti in Roma. With seats at the bar we relaxed and took in the atmosphere. The staff are all Italian from what i could tell and speak to each other in Italian, when at the bar it just sets the tone wonderfully. We agreed that the overall atmosphere of the place is perfect, the background music is just below the level of the chatter and if there is a lull in conversation it fills the space. Small touch but shows an attention to detail.

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The restaurant concept is in a sense similar to tapas, a full Italian menu but the plate sizes are small and designed so that you can try 5 or 6 different things between two. From memory we had the calamari fritti, the truffle croquettes, spaghetti bolognaise (made to Mums recipe) and gnocchi with fresh crab. Each dish comes as it’s ready so you never feel rushed or worry that it will go cold, you just relax and enjoy what is in front of you. The star dish for me was the gnocchi and crab, wonderful combination of flavours and the crab was clearly as fresh as you could ever hope for. When it came to the wine we shared a lovely red from Puglia, it drank very smoothly and was very quaff-able .

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To finish I had the tiramisu which was served with a glass of marsala and Zoe the pistachio sponge cake. Both were to die for, Zoe’s (@zoemcclymont) description of the tiramisu said everything, “Its so light, its as if it were made by angels”! What else can you say to that other than this is an incredible place with great staff and its the first of many visits I will be making.

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San Carlo Cicchetti comes Highly JD Recommened.

N.B. Side note Bill Nighy was there on the same night, we were slightly star struck :o)

JD’s Guide to the Perfect Midweek Dinner Party

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So this week I stopped by at a friend of mine Zoe’s for dinner, as per usual when I go to someone’s for dinner I was doing the cooking :0)!

Midweek dinner party’s are always an interesting one, you need something that’s minimal fuss while obviously still be interesting and tasty. Zoe has been a frequent commenter on my foodie photos since we met so I was keen to make sure the food was up to scratch. Added to the mix Zoe invited her friend Harini, a passionate foodie and lover of whisky. A new friend for life has been made!

To the food, after some consideration I went for a menu of tuna tartar, reisling coq au vin and a desert of pear and cinnamon tart tatin. The benefit of this menu was the cheats and short cuts that save time and don’t compromise the flavour.

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For the tuna tartar it’s straight out of the book from Michel Roux Jnr. Start by removing and discarding any dark parts from the bloodline of the tuna. Finely dice the remaining tuna and place in a large bowl. Stand the bowl on ice to keep chilled. Add the spring onions, chilli and ginger to the tuna and mix well. In a separate bowl mix together the honey, soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. Toast the slices of ciabatta on a griddle pan. To serve, press the tuna tartare into a 7cm/3in chef’s ring on each serving plate. Carefully remove the ring, arrange the toast and lime wedges around the tartare.

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Before you have even done the starter prepare and get the coq au vin going, unlike the red wine version this lighter white wine dish requires no marinating and is almost completely made in one roasting tray. Ideal for midweek meals.

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The recipe for the coq au vin comes from Aussie chef Bill Granger. Not as widely known in the UK but his food is great and has some very interesting ideas.

For the coq au vin, preheat the oven to 220C/430F/Gas 7. Arrange the chicken pieces in a large roasting tin and scatter with the bacon, shallots, thyme, rosemary and chilli flakes. Season, to taste, with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle the contents of the roasting tray with two tablespoons of the olive oil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. When the chicken has been roasted, add the wine to the tin and cook for another 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Heat the butter and remaining tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the mushrooms and garlic and fry for 3-5 minutes. Tip the mushrooms and garlic into the tin and scatter with the parsley. Meanwhile, for the crème fraîche mash, boil the potatoes in a pan of salted water until tender. Remove from the heat, drain well and return to the hot pan. Mash the potatoes until smooth. Heat the milk and butter in a small pan over a medium heat, until the butter has melted (do not allow the mixture to boil). Beat the hot butter and milk into the potatoes, then fold in the crème fraîche or cream. Season, to taste, with sea salt. To serve, pile some of the crème fraîche mash onto each of four serving plates and spoon the coq au vin on top.

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Onto desert, tart tatin is a favourite of mine. I would normally go down the usual route of apples, but it’s autumn and pears are at their best just now. The recipe for this is one of James Martins, it along with the rest can all be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/food. 8. Meanwhile, for the pear tatin, get the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Place the pears, 25g/1oz of the sugar and all of the lemon zest and vanilla seeds into a saucepan. Fill the saucepan with enough water to just cover the pears. Heat the pears over a gentle heat until the mixture is simmering. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pears are just tender.

Drain the pears and pat dry. Heat the remaining 85g/3oz of sugar in a 24cm/9½in ovenproof frying pan over a low heat until is has caramelised. Add the butter, cream, star anise and cinnamon to the pan and heat gently until the mixture forms a smooth caramel. Discard the star anise. Place the pears into the caramel, cut-side up. Roll the chilled pastry out onto a floured surface to a 0.5cm/¼in thickness. Cut the pastry into a circle slightly larger than the frying pan. Place the pastry circle over the pears, tucking the edges of the pastry inside the pan to surround the pears. Transfer to the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is risen and golden-brown and cooked through. Once cooked, remove the pear tatin from the oven and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes. To serve, invert the tarte tatin onto a serving plate. Slice the tatin into wedges and place a slice onto each of 4 serving plates. Top each slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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What made the night really great was spending it with two people who share my love of food and wine. On top of that my love of jazz and whisky, sharing this and some great conversation and it was a better than average Thursday night!

Dinner party’s are highly JD Recommended!

Borough Market – London’s Farm Shop

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OOOOooohhh Heaven is a place on Earth….and that place is located surprisingly close to London Bridge. Having made the move to London and as a self confessed foodie (yes I know…its surprising) going to Borough market is one of those things I have wanted to do for a long time. Wasnt really ever sure what to expect, other than what friends had told me and the specific Must Do’s.

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Having been there 4 or 5 times now it’s amazed me the difference in each visit and what I’ve taken away from it, some more surprising than others. For example, haircut for £18…..and it was good.

Let’s call it out. This market is unquestionably here to entice tourists and in places exploit their wallets…SO WHAT? That is one of the very stark realities of London, what you can’t doubt is the passion of many of the producers.

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Going round a market with a glass of prosecco and eating cheese? What about this wouldnt I like..? All in all this is my kind of place, fresh fish…meat and vegtables of all descriptions in one place!! You can shop…eat and be merry all under one roof.

Borough Market is Highly Jd Recommended.

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French & Affordable – The Balcon @ Pall Mall

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Hi everyone, finally back to blogging and now a London resident. To say the options here are endless is an understatement, but I will give it my best.

Well then…..hello!! Found the Balcon on OpenTable with a cracking sounding deal of 3 courses for £23. When looking for a meal on a Saturday in London this ticket all the boxes.

Located on Pall Mall this was my first trip to this part of town, the resteraunt is beaififul as are the surrounding buildings. Having arrived a little early the maître de happily welcomed up and sat us.

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With the deal you could chosese a starter from their “small plates’ menu which is different to their starts menu…anyway….then a main from a choice of three on the market menu and any of their deserts.

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Mum and I discussed some tactical odering and went for the brevette steak tartar and the foie gras terrine. Oh my these were unbeleivably good. The foie gras was insane…..so so so so so so GOOD! Mum and I have had our fair share of their controversial delicasy and both agreed this was excellent. I sort of felt sorry for the tartar, it was brilliant just out gunned. Great start to the meal.

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For the main I went pork fillet and mum went salmon. The pork as an overall dish was great, the meat for me was a little overdone, I like my pork fillet to be slightly pink. I really am just trying to pick fault there thoufg. I tried the salmon and again a great dish and very enjoyable.

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For desert I went fot the profiteroles – Mum just for a change went cheese. I was a little diappointed here…these were not profiteroles, they were overcook schoux pastry cut in half and stacked with a scoop of vailla icecream. The cheese was great but really thats hard to get wrong.

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For wine we went for the house Rothschild Viogner, at £27 not cheap but a great accompaniment to our meal.

The Balcon comes Highly Jd Recommended!

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Leaving Edinburgh – Hello London

2 weeks from now I will leave Edinburgh on a train for London to start a whole new chapter of my life. Edinburgh has given me 7 of the best years I could ever have hoped for.

When I moved here aged 23, I knew what love was, I knew who I was going to be, I knew what I wanted my career to be and I knew who I would spend the rest of my life with.

I’m 30 now, I’m not sure what love is, I don’t know what I will do with the rest of my life, I don’t know who I will spend my life with….

But…..I now know who I am, I know I deserve someone who makes me happy and that I in turn can make happy, I know that a job is only a pay cheque and that happiness comes from the people around you.

I guess in summary I came to Edinburgh as a boy and I leave as a man. I’ve made mistakes, you all know that, most I’ve learned from, some I’m still trying to understand. I’ve been lucky that true friends have forgiven me when I have taken a wrong turn or listened to the wrong advice.

In the words of A.A.Milne, “how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard

“!!

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