Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Book for Burmese Night at The Wild Garlic

The Wild Garlic (logo)

People have always told me I can cook. Even if they've laughed at the fact that I can't swim, drive or ride a bike.

I mean, look at my graduation yearbook entry, written almost a decade ago (maybe ignore the bit about Ann Widdecombe):

Meemalee's Graduation Yearbook Entry

I've dabbled in most cuisines, but unsurprisingly the one that is closest to my heart is Burmese food (been trying to write a Burmese cookbook for years, remember?).

Of course, no-one's ever had the chance to try my cooking except close friends and family.

Until now.

Because for one night only, I'm taking over The Wild Garlic, the highly acclaimed Dorset restaurant of Chef Patron Mat Follas, winner of MasterChef 2009 and all-round good guy who has kindly decided to take a chance on me.

Friday 1st October is the date for my pop-up Burmese restaurant - the menu is yet to be finalised, but it will be authentic Burmese cuisine. It may or may not feature century eggs.

Book now on 01308 861 446.

Hope to see some of you there so you can judge for yourself ...

The Wild Garlic - Inside the Restaurant

Meemalee's Pop-up
Friday 1 October 2010

The Wild Garlic
4 The Square
Dorset DT8 3AS
01308 861 446

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Taste of London 2010 and the Taste Awards

L'Enclume - Colleen Baby Potatoes, Oxeye Daisies, Smoked Eel and Purple Wight Garlic
L'Enclume - Colleen Baby Potatoes, Oxeye Daisies, Smoked Eel and Purple Wight Garlic

I eat out a lot, but not half as much as I'd like. And, despite what you might think, I've not actually been to that many "fine dining" establishments.

I'm stymied not just by cost, but by geography - I live out in the sticks and so if I'm having dinner in town, I need to plan carefully or else risk missing the last train home.

So Taste of London has always been a bit of a thrill for me - in fact, I went to the very first one, back in 2002, which was held in Lincoln's Inn Fields. I mean, what's not to like? It's a festival of the finest restaurants that London has to offer all in one spot at the same time at a reasonable* price. What's more, the head chefs themselves are usually there, cooking and dishing up in full view, and for a chef groupie like me (sorry, Marina), it's pretty damn exciting - like Glastonbury for the food-obsessed.

*I say reasonable - in fact, entry is extortionate, but there are offers, and once you're in, the dishes are more or less fairly priced for what you're getting - and much cheaper than it would be in the restaurants themselves. Mind you, you are standing outside like a numpty using paper plates and plastic forks. Oh well.

Tristan Welch of Launceston Place carving the 1st of 30 Suckling Pigs

So after bumping into tehbus, our first stop was Launceston Place to say hello to Tristan Welch and his crew, and to score some suckling pig.

It came in the guise of Spit Roast Old Spot Suckling Pig and Black Summer Truffles in a bun with truffle mayonnaise and a slab of crackling - a posh pork burger if you will.

Fab stuff and it reminded me why LP is my favourite place.

The kitchen at Launceston Place
Whole Roast Suckling Pig at Launceston Place

We also had a tour of the tiny kitchen where I got up close and personal with the 2nd of the 30 pigs that they had stocked for the festival. Sadly, I failed to try the Goose Egg and Chips (a variant of a dish Tristan made on Great British Menu 2010), but I did have two (count 'em) glasses of Strawberries, Champagne and Clotted Cream, which sounds wrong but decidely wasn't.

I then went for a wander to suss out the other queues. Everyone was doing a roaring trade - the gorgeous weather helped no doubt.

Crowds gathering outside Odette's

I met up with Kavey to check out Tom's Kitchen and Club Gascon.

Both had foie gras dishes up for grabs and I'm a sucker for foie gras.

Tom's Kitchen - Foie Gras Parfait with Grape Chutney served on Brioche

Tom's Kitchen was serving Foie Gras Parfait with Grape Chutney served on Brioche.

The parfait was creamy heaven - like meaty butter - but the chutney was just a fancy Branston's which was a bit less impressive.

Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon

I much preferred Club Gascon's take on it - Pimm's Foie Gras "Plancha".

Pascal Aussignac himself prepared the dish for us - lord knows what the foamy stuff he spritzed it with was, but I liked it.

Club Gascon - Pimm's Foie Gras

The generous lobe of foie gras had been seared to crusty goodness and its caramel flavours married beautifully with the chunks of fruit and alcohol in the Pimm's.

It really, really shouldn't have worked, but it did, and alarmingly well.

Bea's of Bloomsbury making Lychee MartinisCakes at Bea's of Bloomsbury

Next up was Bea's of Bloomsbury, where we marvelled at the glorious meringues, sipped amazing fresh and fruity lychee martinis made by Bea herself and pretended to be cool and dainty (at least, I did).

Salt Yard - Courgette Flowers stuffed with Goat's Cheese and drizzled with Honey

I met up with another friend then, and Salt Yard drew us in with their offerings of Courgette Flowers stuffed with Goat's Cheese and drizzled with honey and Smoked Octopus a la Gallega with Crispy Shallots.

I know I've said I don't like goat's cheese previously, but I'd never had courgette flowers before and couldn't resist. And afterwards I still didn't like goat's cheese. Make of that what you will.

Salt Yard - Smoked Octopus a la Gallega with Crispy Shallots

As for the octopus, it was too salty and there wasn't enough of it - I left the potato clods which made up most of the dish.

Next on the hitlist was Odette's and Bryn Williams (another Great British Menu alumnus).

Bryn Williams of Odette's

There is clearly something about me that means that whenever I ask a male chef to pose a photo, they just stick out their tongue.

I get no respect.

Odette's - Whipped Goat's Cheese, Pickled Beetroot and Regent's Park Honey

We tried Odette's Whipped Goat's Cheese, Pickled Beetroot and Regent's Park Honey first.

The lightly pickled beetroot was delightfully sharp with a good crunch and the delicate mousse-like cheese almost averted my goat's cheese antipathy - but not quite.

Odette's - Braised Welsh Pork Cheek served with Spiced Pineapple

The Braised Welsh Pork Cheek was much more up my street and, though a little heavy for the weather, it was still delicious.

However, there was no sign of the advertised spiced pineapple as far as I could see.

Odette's Rack of Welsh Lamb served with Pea and Mint

Odette's Rack of Welsh Lamb served with Pea and Mint was my favourite of the three we tried.

I could have inhaled the peas quite happily as they were so fragrant and sweet, and the lamb was so tender, I picked up the bone and gnawed at it.

Michel Roux Junior and me

A quick diversion where I was introduced to Michel Roux Junior as "a blogger who writes about MasterChef", and M Roux's face clearly indicated that he thought I was an idiot.

Blue Swimmer Crab and Rice Cracker Croquette

We faced disappointment at our next pitstop Sake No Hana. Though their Blue Swimmer Crab and Rice Cracker Croquette had an enjoyably crunchy shell, inside was just bland bechamel and not a trace of crab.

And whilst the Seared Tuna and Green Tea Soba Salad had meaty fresh tuna, the soba itself was insipid.

Sake No Hana - Seared Tuna and Green Tea Soba Salad

We fancied another dessert at that point, so chose Mexican Doughnuts and Butterscotch Sauce and a Frozen Mojito from Asia de Cuba.

The doughnuts weren't quite sweet enough for my liking and also a little cold and chewy, but the mojito was a veritable slush puppie from the gods.

Asia de Cuba - Mexican Doughnuts with Butterscotch Sauce and Frozen Mojito

At this point, a trip to Dinings seemed in order. I wanted something to balance out the stodge of the doughnuts, so my friend and I chose their Sea Bass Carpaccio with Ponzu Jelly and Fresh Truffle.

This zingy little number was the star of the show as far as I'm concerned, closely followed by Launceston Place's Pig and Truffles (off-topic: I am slightly disturbed that I seem to be getting used to eating truffles. This could prove an expensive habit).

Dinings - Sea Bass Carpaccio with Ponzu Jelly and Fresh Truffle

But the restaurant that I really wanted to visit was Simon Rogan's L'Enclume which was there as a pop-up for Action Against Hunger.

L'Enclume is regarded by some as more innovative than the Fat Duck, so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to try the offerings from this Lake District legend.

L'Enclume - Action Against Hunger Pop-Up

We went for all three dishes - first was Sillfield Farm Pork, Azur Star, Mustard and Wood Sorrel. If you're wondering, Azur Star is apparently a type of kohl rabi - I mean, I knew that, obviously. Obviously.

This was a well-judged blend of flavours and textures - sharp and punchy sorrel and mustard, softly rich pork and crisp kohl rabi.

L'Enclume - Sillfield Farm Pork, Azur Star, Mustard and Wood Sorrel

The Set Lovage Cream with Tornado Tomatoes, Jellied Lamb and Chives was slightly less successful - like a meaty trifle, it was neither here nor there.

The lovage provided an aniseedy touch, but those tornadoes barely raised a breeze and the lamb wasn't a patch on the sviĆ°asulta I'd eaten on the street in Iceland.

L'Enclume - Set Lovage Cream with Tornado Tomatoes, Jellied Lamb and Chives

The last dish from L'Enclume was Colleen Baby Potatoes, Oxeye Daisies, Smoked Eel and Purple Wight Garlic (picture at top).

This was the prettiest dish I'd seen all day, but the taste didn't quite live up to its looks - like the octopus from Salt Yard, there was too much salt and starch, not enough fishy protein.

Taste of London Launch Party

And after all that gorging, I was lucky enough to go to the Taste of London launch party, where Joe Warwick, Charles Campion and Gizzi Erskine presented the inaugural Taste of London awards to the restaurants that offered the top three dishes at the festival.

Somehow, stupidly I'd not managed to try any of the winners, but for what it's worth they were:

Gizzie Erskine presents 2nd Prize at the Taste of London Awards to Fino

BRONZE AWARD - The Modern Pantry with Chermoula Baked River Trout, Quinoa, Tomatillo and Preserved Lemon Salad, Spiced Seeds and Tahini Crowns.

SILVER AWARD - Fino with Cochifrito Suckling Pig.

GOLD AWARD - Trinity with Pig's Trotters on Toasted Pain Poilane, Fried Quail Eggs, Sauce Gribiche and Crackling.

Thankfully, these dishes are all available on their regular menus, so it looks like a few pilgrimages are on the cards for me.

Gizzie Erskine presents 1st Prize in the Taste of London Awards to Adam Byatt of TrinityJay Rayner tinkling the ivories

And then Jay Rayner treated us to a tune or two on the piano and some drinks may have been drunk.

I met the lovely Paddy Plunkett from Neal's Yard Dairy, who kindly offered to give me a tour round his cheese maturing rooms (I will take you up on this, Paddy), and Ed Franklin from the Sustainable Restaurant Association (aka the SRA) - a laudable venture if ever I heard of one; several of the restaurants at Taste have already signed up.

Jay Rayner and fans

And then I realised I still had tonnes of Crowns left (the bastarding Monopoly money you use to pay for everything which you always buy too much or too little of), so I spanked them on six Oysters Naturel from Bentley's - these were enormous, briney nirvana - a couple of macarons from Laduree (salt caramel and rose - faboosh) and this last baby - Colony Bar and Grill's Grilled Scallop with Chilli, Garlic and Yuzu Butter.

I think it was good, but it was so blisteringly hot I damn near burnt the roof of my mouth.

Thus chastened, but still pleasantly full, I left Taste extremely happy, and already looking forward to the next instalment.

Colony Bar and Grill - Grilled Scallop with Chilli, Garlic and Yuzu Butter

Taste of London
Regent's Park
17-20 June 2010

Thank you to Brand Events for the press pass

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The MasterChef Experience - BBC Summer Good Food Show

Cooking doesn't get TOUGHER than this

I've had a blepharospasm for the past fortnight now. That's right, look it up. Lack of sleep is the usual cause, but ocular twitching is also triggered by stress. And what did I have to be stressed about?

Well, you know how I've spent a lot of the past year taking the mick out of MasterChef? Especially the beautifully be-cardiganed Toadie and the remarkable Mr Egg?

So, the other day, the lovely people at Miele invited me to the BBC Good Food Summer Show at the Birmingham NEC where they just happened to be sponsoring the MasterChef Experience.

The MasterChef Stage plus audience

And they said "Would you like to take part in the Invention Test?" And I replied "Sure, why not?" as my brain temporarily disconnected from my typing fingers. Because John and Gregg were going to be there and god's honest truth is - I'm a little bit afraid of them.

Scratch that, I'm a lot afraid of them. Like a naughty schoolgirl playing Knock Down Ginger, I've been happy to tease unseen, but heaven forbid they actually catch me. To add insult to injury, the whole thing was going to be live onstage in front of a paying audience.

And then they told me that, as a competitor, I'd be "mentored" by previous winners and finalists including Dhruv Baker, Mat Follas, Tim Kinnaird and Alex Rushmer.

And the problem with that was:

(a) I've been kinda rude to them in the past, and
(b) I know them well enough to suspect that they'd take the almighty pish out of me.

I get no respect from these people

But I went along anyway. Cos I thought it'd be fun. There was a whole group of bloggers including James from Eat The Midlands, Bron, Ailbhe, Jo and my mate Kavey who loves MasterChef almost as much as me, but doesn't have the weird, abusive relationship with it that I have, ie she's not compelled by unseen forces to deride it online like I am.

The night before I'd been to a fantastic comedy club at Bush Hall, MC'ed by the fabulous Rufus Hound, and starring Kevin Eldon and Stewart Lee. I didn't get home till past midnight, didn't sleep till 2. And I had to get up at 5.45 am. It was a bad start. Kavey was punchably bright and chipper, and I was somehow panicked yet lifeless at the same time.

We got to the NEC at 9.15 where the Miele guys were waiting for us with our tickets. They led us to the MasterChef Stage and then into the backstage area, which had a VIP anteroom where the "Talent" were hiding.

As we put our bags down, one of the "Talent", a certain Dr Tim Kinnaird, hove into view and came to greet us. His first words to me were "Are you feeling nervous?"; my first words to him were "F*ck off". But they came with a hug, so I expect that softened the blow.

Tim likes me really

We put on our aprons, tied our hair back, washed our hands, and it was time to rock and roll. Andi Peters, a childhood hero and former Celebrity MasterChef finalist, was our MC as the ten of us looked in our mystery bags to find chicken breast, peas, bacon, marscarpone, raspberries, celeriac, and a vanilla pod.

As I desperately tried to think of something to concoct, Dr Tim had started to heckle remorselessly from the side. Because I am a nice girl and we were in public, I bit my tongue, but dark, dark thoughts went through my mind as I sliced away with the gorgeous Kin Knives that they'd provided for us.

meemalee the chef

I settled on honey and paprika chicken with a herby couscous - I'd been meaning to make a fancy tortilla, but the only frying pan they'd provided wasn't quite the right shape. Kavey on the other hand decided on American pancakes with marscarpone and vanilla cream and raspberries. I don't do puddings - though my husband wishes I did - and I think Kavey was the only person who made one.

So Dhruv and Mat came round to "mentor" us and taste our dishes, though all I really remember is Dhruv sticking his nose into my marinating chicken whilst I tried to swat him away like a fly and Mat complaining about the amount of mint I wanted to use as garnish.

Dhruv and Mat have a face off with Andi

Then John and Gregg came to talk to us. Oh yes.

John asked me if this was the kind of stuff I'd make at home, and when I replied in the affirmative, he simply raised his eyebrows at me. I silently punched the air, as I thought "I just got a look of disdain from John! It's just like being on the telly!". Even better, he was wearing a cardigan. Bless him.

Gregg's opening words to us were "So you're the mad bloggers!" which made me wince, and frankly I don't recall the rest of our interaction, though I appear to have a rictus grin in the photo which captured the holy moment.

I have no idea what John Torode is doing

And then it was time for our mentors to pick three finalists to present their dishes to John and Gregg. Lovely Kavey was in the final three, but alas, not little old me. I'm not bitter about this at all, although Dhruv and Mat are now permanently off my Christmas card list.

Thankfully, there is a God, because having tasted the three dishes, Gregg and John picked Kavey's pancakes as the winner. I may have jumped up and down in joy at this point. It's a good thing the stage was reinforced.

So it was all over, and I was in the slightly strange position of being the winner's mate. Strange in that people kept coming up to her and saying "well done" and "next stop, the real thing" and patting her on the back. Kavey, the muppet, barely noticed and I became quite protective of her, chivvying her from one place to the next.

Kavey is the Winner!

We wandered around the Show for a while, where there were lots of great produce stands and fab cookery demos and celebrity book-signings going on. All very exciting and a real festival atmosphere - I could have easily frittered a lot of money away.

Lunchtime arrived and though the MasterChef restaurant with its offerings of dishes from past MC winners looked extremely tempting, we opted for pies backstage from Sarah Pettegree, the lovely Pork Pie Queen of Bray's Cottage, Norfolk.

Bray's Cottage

Then it was time for the highlight of the day - a MasterChef cook-off between Mat Follas (as MC winner 2009) and Dhruv Baker (as MC winner 2010) introduced by Jolly Olly Smith and hosted by John and Gregg.

Now I like Mat, and I like Dhruv, but who is better? There was only one way to find out ...

It's a TV Burp Special

They were both charged with making a lamb dish, and we were lucky enough to bag front row seats courtesy of press passes provided by Haymarket, the organisers.

The guys only had 20 minutes to produce a dish of wonder, and John and Gregg constantly chatted to them and tried to psych them out throughout.

John loves MatGregg loves Dhruv

To their credit, as the clock ticked down, both Dhruv and Mat presented stunning plates with apparent ease.

And then to our surprise and delight, little Georgia Bradford, Junior MasterChef Champion 2010, came on as a guest judge.

It's Georgia!

Georgia declared Dhruv the winner for his creative use of spices, and the look of relief on his face was palpable.

Poor Mat to be judged by a child, though it was adorable when Georgia said "I don't want to be horrible, Mat, but..." when she delivered the verdict.

(The video below shows highlights including Gregg talking about the bromance between Dhruv, Tim and Alex, and Dhruv talking about the MasterChef pop-up restaurant that the three of them will be running together - watch this space for more news of the latter)

We managed to blag the leftovers, and I think we agreed that Dhruv's lamb had the slight edge over Mat's - but I loved Mat's smoked mash more than Dhruv's spinach.

Then we were called for our second activity kindly arranged by Miele - a cookalong with Barney Desmazery, food editor of BBC Good Food Magazine.

I rule

It was frantic fun having to keep up with Barney, even if I did get sabotaged (a pan that was meant to be cold had been placed on an active hotplate so I set fire to some toffees. I love making a tit of myself in public, I do).

I did like getting to use the swanky Miele appliances again - my dream kitchen would be kitted out with Miele stuff, especially that magic fridge freezer.

In no time at all, each one of us managed to produce some highly respectable plates of chicken tikka kebabs, tomato and onion salad, and za'atar flatbreads plus a dessert of strawberry and toffee tarts which we took over to the MasterChef Restaurant to share with the Miele team.

The Miele Team and the Bloggers

Kavey and I then decided to take our leftover tarts to Tim and Alex to forcefeed them our efforts.

We didn't tell them which was which, and I'm not remotely ashamed to say I squealed with gloaty joy when Tim (who is a cakey genius) chose my tart, chowed it down and pronounced it lovely.


That's right, Tim ate my cake

And then we went for another little wander through the many stands and stalls, swinging by my cousin's company Yum Yum Tree Fudge before realising we were knackered and that every last bit of us was aching from having been on our feet all day.

But it was a good ache, and we'd had a bloody good time.

So thank you Miele, and thank you Haymarket for organising such a grand day out.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'm never going to go on MasterChef for real.

But this was a nice little taste and for that I'm grateful.

ps I've just set up a Facebook fan page for meemalee's kitchen.

I know it's a bit w*nk, but if you'd like to hurl abuse at me or simply feed my monstrous ego, please join here.

Why can I hear Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol?

Special thanks to Kavita Favelle for some of the photos above