Word on the street is that ‘boil-in-the-bag’ is back and coming to a kitchen near you – and no, we’re not talking grey cod in an indeterminate flour-based sauce. Every foodie worth their Himalayan Crystal salt knows that the sous-vide (under vacuum) method is a standard in ambitious restaurant kitchens these days, but there are plans afoot to bring it within the reach of your average domestic god and goddess.
Sous-vide flag-bearer Heston Blumenthal spent some time late last year promoting the SousVide Supreme – one of the first attempts to replicate the commercial machines for use in a home kitchen. It produces – as you might expect – outstanding results and food journalists and bloggers went wild for the perfectly scrambled eggs and meat cooked à point at the demonstration. But this acme of culinary consummation will cost you around £499 for the machine itself, at least £50 for the separately sold vacuum sealer and, ooh, £10,000 for the new kitchen you’re going to have to build to house it. Read full post
There’s been a bit of a buzz (you may be forgiven for missing it) about the newest environmentally-friendly restaurant in London Town. Curiously ignoring Acorn House and its kin who have been quietly beavering away for some years on the eco-front, the press have made much of Otarian, a small vegetarian snack bar-cum-restaurant chain opened by Delhi-born Radhika Oswal, who claims it’s the first restaurant to display ‘cradle-to-grave carbon footprints’ for each and every item on the menu.
Great, we say. According to her website each ingredient is painstakingly sourced on the ‘proximity principle’; ie, there’s a no airfreight policy, ingredients are sourced as locally and seasonally as possible and there’s much made of allergy-friendly dishes too. (We shall gloss over the fact their mayonnaise is clearly bought in – check the ingredients on the website – and her statement in a recent Sunday magazine that she doesn’t necessarily source locally or organically as it can ‘throw up some surprises’…). The intention – primarily to provide vegetarian food on the basis that meat is planet murder and to state its total environmental impact – is in keeping with the zeitgeist; whether the practice lives up to the theory is another question. Read full post
Cast your minds back, back into the mists of time when sauces had extravagant rococo names such as bordelaise, soubise or genevoise, vegetables were turned more times than a model on a catwalk and vegetarianism was a dirty word. That, dear reader, was the grand age of la Cuisine Franà§aise. Since then, French cuisine has undergone a lot of soul-searching – perhaps not by the French themselves, but certainly by others in the industry.
The tragedy of Bernard Loiseau’s suicide in 2003 (after learning he was to lose a Michelin star; in the end he kept it, albeit too late for poor M. Loiseau) caused many to question the efforts and money taken to reach the starry heights of Michelin recognition – are customers really driven to a restaurant because of the number of stars they have attained? Once upon a time, the answer was almost certainly yes, but M. Loiseau’s tragic suicide resulted in many chefs both in France and here, including Nico Ladenis and Marco Pierre White, handing them back to Michelin, stating the stars no longer recognised kitchen skill, but rather then number of hand towels in the toilets and so on.
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There’s no reason why restaurants should not be subject to the same concerns for animal welfare and the environment as the rest of us. Step forward The Sustainable Restaurant Association. Launched earlier this year by leading restaurateurs including Henry Dimbleby and Mark Sainsbury, the not-for-profit organisation aims to provide a directory of accredited restaurant members who have signed up to their initial three pledges to commit to a more environmentally- and society-friendly movement.
The pledges themselves are reason personified: Sourcing covers ethical animal welfare; sustainable fish stocks; local, seasonal vegetables and so on; Environment includes commitments to recycling, waste management, energy and water efficiency; and Society laudably asks the restaurant to take care of its customers and staff by introducing accessible menus for vegans, vegetarians and those with food allergies, ensuring proper staff training and tips and looking for ways to work closely with the local community such as apprenticeships, etc.
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Newsflash: Invader alert. No, not giant marauding crayfish but chefs from across both ponds seeking to set up camp on our shores. At first there was the creep of French-style bistros and the odd diner, perfectly attuned to our slightly more straitened circumstances, but now the oven gloves are off and it’s war.
It’s as if the gods have descended from some culinary Olympus on high to show us how to do it all over again. In the red, white and blue corner of La Belle France we have Bruno Loubet, last seen fleeing to Australia on the last ship out and now back to set up shop at The Zetter; Pierre Koffman, whom you may remember seemed surgically attached to Selfridges roof last summer and now keen to tackle the black hole that is the Berkeley Hotel and even Joà«l Antunes is bringing his Brasserie Joà«l to Westminster. And let’s not forget the behemoth that is Alain Ducasse, hell-bent on covering the planet in Ducasse-lets. In the – um – other red, white and blue corner of the USA, look out for Daniel Boulud and his infamous burgers, April Bloomfield of Spotted Pig fame and even the whiz kids behind New York funk-spot Manhattan are taking over Covent Garden with Balthazar. It’s hard to keep track and this is just the vanguard. Read full post
Ever fancied going out to eat and – gasp – not paying? Well, have we got news for you. The hottest trend on the foodie scene is bartering and we’re not talking giant knickers down the market either. Pubs and restaurants up and down the country are mining the seam of local food, but now they’ve tapped into a whole new stream of gold – get the local food to come to you. Yes, if you produce or catch or forage something locally, your neighbourhood eatery might well be eager to take it off your hands and give you something in return.
The Royal Forester near Kidderminster has seemingly very high hopes of what Worcestershire goodies might turn up as they offer credit on food, drink and even accommodation in exchange for local provender, but usually pubs will (including The Artichoke in Amersham and The Pigs in Holt) offer a free glass of wine or a pint in return for something more modest – even your own-grown fruit and veg. Got some knobbly tomatoes or a glut of courgettes? Never mind endless jars of chutney, take them down your local and see what they’ll give you. In fact the Marksman pub in Shoreditch, London has given this a particularly urban slant, holding ‘Barter for a Starter’ evenings where they advertise for services or equipment or food they require and locals are invited to offer up their expertise or goods in return for free food. Some might even give you a free cookery class while you wait. Read full post
Everyone’s a critic, so the saying goes and in the foodie world, that’s certainly never been more true. With the now-established world of food blogging, Twitter and the like, no-one need ever let a bad meal go uncriticised or a good one praised. Just log on, select your restaurant of choice and it’s guaranteed someone, somewhere will have a point of view on it.
Times have changed since Egon Ronay, who’s sadly critiqued his last meal, first started. The story goes that when he first arrived in England at Victoria Station in the 1940s, his very first experience of good old British hospitality was on buying a cup of tea and discovering the spoon to stir it with was both communal and tied to the counter to guard against those pesky cutlery thieves. So outraged was he by the quality of post-war food here that he set up his own restaurant, then went on to found the eponymous guide which changed the eating habits of restaurant-goers nationwide, giving diners a heretofore undiscovered voice against the establishment. Gone (or are they?) are the days when diners were worried of ‘making a scene’ and being patronised by the wine waiter. Read full post