Tips from the professional kitchen

Published on Love Food on 30th April 2012:

Also syndicated on Yahoo News SingaporeYahoo News Maktoob, and Yahoo Entertainment Malaysia on 30th April 2012:

Qin Xie shares tips she learnt as a stagiaire in the kitchens of Roganic and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

Easter break – that nice little interlude between winter and spring. Some people catch the last of the ski season while others over-indulge on chocolate. I spent mine working in the kitchens of Roganic and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal as a stagiaire. It’s probably not the most orthodox way of spending your holidays but as a Diploma student at Leiths School of Food and Wine, I needed to do some work experience and where better than at two of the most avant garde restaurants in London?

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London Calling: Where to eat during the Olympics

Published in The Tomato Magazine March/April 2012 Issue number 146:

Going to the Olympics this summer? Got your hotel resos? Check. Event tickets? Check. Dinner reservations? Gahhhh!

To prevent the convenient but boring prospect of falling into the nearest Prêt a Manger or the perfectly dreadful idea of a burger at Wimpy, we asked two London food journalists to give us the goods on their fave spots. From Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s London outpost, to vegan eatery Counter Café close by the stadium, journalists David Constable and Qin Xie offer their takes on where, and what, to eat to guarantee you a full-on London experience.

There has never been a better time to visit London, home to some of the world’s best restaurants and bars, as well as host of the 2012 Olympic Games. This year, the city’s culinary landscape, bolstered by a whole score of new openings, is as international as its visitors — from the Russian Mari Vanna to the Peruvian Lima and Ceviche, there’s bound to be something for everyone.

Visitors don’t have far to go either. Right outside the main Olympic Stadium is the recently opened Westfield Shopping Centre, offering a small cluster of eateries. The likes of Franco Manca, Pho and Comptoir Libanais, all part of small chains, wave the flag for good food at accessible prices. For something more unique in London, visitors should head west on the Central Line.

Stop briefly at Bethnal Green to sample Nuno Mendes’ creative fare at Viajante and Corner Room. Mendes, previously of El Bulli, never fails to plate up interesting flavour combinations. Close by is Shoreditch, more easily accessed via Old Street Station, the area of London where some of the trendiest bars paint a unique map of cool. Callooh Callay and Nightjar are some of the East End’s favourites.

A constellation of gems can be found around Soho, where eating and drinking integrate seamlessly. Oxford Circus is your portal to this gastronome’s paradise. This is where you will discover Italian wine bar and restaurant Dego with its unusual Champagne and Franciacorta list. If wine is really your thing, do stop by Terroirs near Charing Cross for some of the most interesting natural wines around.

Proceed further south to discover NOPI, the restaurant that’s a unique Yotam Ottolenghi blend of Mediterranean, Middle-eastern and Asian cuisines, where the restrooms are as much a talking point as the food. Nearby is Hix, the bar and restaurant that feeds London with some of the meatiest feasts and the most potent cocktails.

Just to the east of NOPI is where you’ll find Polpo, part of Russell Norman’s mini-empire of small plate eateries. Always busy, this bacaro offers Venetian décor matched to Italian cichetti and Aperol Spritzes. And across the road from Polpo is Bob Bob Ricard, described by some as a “pleasure palace,” where sumptuous delights await in the form of champagne and caviar. But, interestingly, it’s often celebrated for having the most accessible wine list in London with some of the lowest mark up rates.

Further east still is Yauatcha, known for dim sum, tea and faultless Michelin meals at a fraction of the price you might expect.

Speaking of Michelin, The Ledbury, St John and Hibiscus are all worthy of that detour and all are named in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Equally, Roganic, a two-year pop up by Michelin-starred Simon Rogan, and Dinner, Heston Blumenthal’s London outpost, also require your attention. But make sure you’ve left enough room and time for a reservation at Rules, London’s oldest restaurant, before you leave.

How to cook like Heston

Published on Love Food on 11th January 2012:

Also syndicated on Yahoo Lifestyle UK&Ireland and Yahoo News Singapore on 11th January 2012:

Perfect steak, rocket, parmesan, triple cooked chips

My friend Oli had been extolling the virtues of Heston Blumenthal for years – ever since he went to the Fat Duck for his 21st birthday in fact, where everything was “amazing” and “incredible” and “so good”. He raved about it for weeks, months even. When I went to Blumenthal’s lecture during Bristol University’s Centenary, I finally understood why.

Blumenthal showed us video clips of The Fat Duck dishes being created and explained the concept and science behind it all; very apt considering we were sitting in the University’s physics department and was accompanied by the lecturer who Blumenthal was working with. Every single thing that was plated up was done in a very specific way, meticulously, and every aspect of the eating experience (taste, texture, sight, sound, and smell) was covered.

Back in my kitchen

Garlic, rosemary, lemon juice and olive oil

I considered the prospect of cooking like Heston. Having just started the Two Term Diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine, I was fairly confident that the recipes weren’t going to be too taxing. After all, they were intended for the home cook. My only worry was the store cupboard of equipment that I’d need in order to attempt the tackle.

Sure enough, looking over the recipes a few days earlier, three of the four recipes were eliminated. Does the average household really own a pressure cooker or mincer? So it was on to the “boring old steak”.

Weighty matters

It seems that the average weight of sirloin in Waitrose lingers around the 200/300g mark, a healthy serving but short of the 400/500g which the recipe asks for. I opted for one which had “seriously good marbling” but fell shy of 300g, vowing to adjust the cooking time to the lower end of the range.

Perfect steaks cooking

Usually taking liberties with recipes, I followed this one to the T. The steak was brought to room temperature and air dried, the ingredients for the dressing were prepared and ready to go, the hot olive oil was rolling and the pan was smoking. As soon as the steak hit the pan, there was an explosion of sizzling followed by momentary silence every 15 seconds or so when it’s being flipped. While the steak started to take on a gentle colouring, I worked to avoid the spitting oil. Two minutes later, the ordeal was over and the steak rested happily on the wire rack as I made the dressing.

Dinner’s ready

Sitting down to dinner less than 20 minutes later, my friend and I evaluated my hard work served up with a side of triple cooked chips (whatever else?).

Parmesan over perfect steaks and rocket

The steak was on the side of rare but not at all bloody and where it was slightly more well done, it was somehow still tender. Despite the heavy usage of olive oil, the lemon and rosemary in the dressing lightened the whole affair and gave it a refreshing aromatic twist. I wondered if I hadn’t flipped the steaks, the dressing would have still made it work. But for a few minutes of work, the reward was certainly worthy.

The chips proved to be a bit of a distraction though – my friend would happily have had just a helping of those.