Friday, 29 October 2010

The Drapers Arms

Minutes away from Upper Street on a quiet norf Laandan street, lies the Drapers Arms. Occupying the vaguely uncomfortable spot between public house and restaurant, it's not the sort of place you'd go for relaxing pints on a Sunday, nor is it an all-out Saturday night bank-buster. If you're looking for a mid-week treat, however, the DA is your man.

We get off to a cracking start with a board of complimentary bread and butter. Decent brown bread - good amount of chew, nice crusty crust - and quality unsalted butter. The latter brought debate; I enjoy unsalted butter as it allows me to go nuts with the grinder, Mr Shed prefers his butter avec salt and sans effort. The bread was replenished after we devoured the first lot, a very good sign indeed.


I started with brawn, enjoying the look on (non meat-eater) MrS's face when I explained what it is. A little fridge cold, but loose and silky once it warmed a little, and most importantly tasted of good quality piggy. On it's own I would have found it the teeniest bit under seasoned, but paired with salty, acidic little cornichon, the whole thing was balanced beautifully. More of their lovely bread, this time toasted which helped to warm the terrine. MrS had a bowl of luscious squash and sage soup, very well made, even perhaps turning the tide on my sage hating ways.

We looked to the sea for main courses; gilt head bream and creamed black cabbage, and lemon sole with salsify. Both were PERFECTLY cooked, total A grade skillz. Stonkingly fresh, seasoned well without any heavy handedness, finished with a browned butter and nice crispy skin to boot. My salsify didn't do an awful lot for me, but did provide a nice enough vessel for transporting fish to mouth. A little squeeze of the lemons provided rounded both dishes off nicely.

After his whopping great bream - the size of the beast! -MrS eschewed dessert. A glutton to the end I had a wobbling, unctuous buttermilk pudding, a panacotta in ye olde Englishe if you will. The buttermilk gave a lactic, lemony note which I loved, something I'll be recreating at home. A dependable blackcurrant compote was perfectly nice, but to be honest it was a little superfluous: the pudding was good enough without. A pretty decent double espresso and we're done.


Niggles? Very few. I was a little disappointed to note that they've yet to add any of our superb English plonk to the wine list, especially with the menu championing British stalwarts like brawn, Arbroath smokies, smoked eel and beef and ale pie. If I were to nitpick, the main courses were a little long in arriving, but all is forgiven when the food is so pleasurable, and the dining room was very busy.

The damage: a very reasonable £65, including drinks and excluding service, the latter of which was friendly, and efficient on the whole. It represents, for me, a fairly extravagant mid-week haunt, but one which I hope to revisit in the not-too-distant-future.

The Drapers Arms

Thai sweet corn noodle soup

Yet another bad iPhone pic

It's the night before pay day and the wallet is bare. There is an assortment of ingredients in the fridge, none of which quite go together. Smoked mackerel, halloumi, feta - it's all salt, no subtlety. There, hiding at the back, is a jug of grade Awesome chicken stock, the kind that needs slicing once cold. Let dinner begin.

This is proper store cupboard cooking, so long as your store cupboard (or freezer) includes some thick, gelatinous chicken stock made from a flavoursome free-range chuck. The slow cooking of the onion, ginger, and garlic is crucial and shouldn't be hurried.

A particularly satisfying dish to eat alone, slurping to your heart's content.

Serves two (or one, twice)
2tbsp groundnut oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3cm piece of ginger - you want quite a lot - finely sliced
1tsp chilli flakes
750ml bestest ace chicken stock
300g sweetcorn (frozen / tinned / whatever)
1tsp palm sugar
Pinch salt
2 handfuls cook noodles
Handful fresh coriander, chopped
4-5 mint leaves, finely chopped
Fish sauce, to taste
Lime segments

Heat the oil in a saucepan big enough for all of the ingredients, and cook the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli flakes over a low heat until soft, sticky, ever so slightly golden and sweet. This will take about 30 minutes, and you may need to loosen with a tbsp or two of the stock (rather than more oil) if the contents get too sticky and start to catch on the pan. Add the chicken stock and sweetcorn, and simmer for a few minutes. Taste, and sweeten to your liking - start with a tsp of palm sugar and add more if desired. Add a small pinch of salt - the salting of the dish comes with the fish sauce - along with the noodles, and fresh herbs. Ladle into bowls before adding fish sauce and lime juice to taste.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Potted crab

Butter, spice, seasoning and seafood. What's not to love? Be careful when buying dressed crab; you don't want anything overly fussed with and freshness, of course, is paramount. By all means cook and pick your own if you can do so without eating most of the meat in the process. I can't.

Serves two as a generous lunch, a modest starter for four.
100g butter
2 medium banana shallots, finely diced
Cayenne pepper
Mace
Tiny splash of Pernod
1 dressed crab
Generous squeeze of lemon juice
S&P to taste
50g butter, clarified

Melt 100g of butter and gently cook the shallots without colouring. Add the spices - I useabout half a teaspoon of cayenne and a little shake of mace - and the Pernod (you do only want a tiny bit, half a cap full at most) and cook for a further 5 minutes over a low heat. Add the crab, lemon juice, and season. Add whatever you think it needs more of, before transferring to ramekins. Once it's cooled a little, cover with a fine layer of luke-warm clarified butter and refrigerate. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving with decent warm bread and a bit of leafy poncing should you wish. It'll keep a couple of days in the fridge, if not devoured in one sitting.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Orange cured salmon and herby maple salad

Like a seared beef carpaccio, cured salmon is one of those god-send dishes where the tastiness belies the absolute doddle it is to make. The most difficult part is finding decent raw ingredients, after which only a total pleb can muck it up. Probably.

For the first in what we're hoping will be a series of Shex Eats Food and Likes It supper club meals, Lex Eat and I prepared an early 'Christmas' meal for a group of lovely girlies, one of whom is moving far, far away so won't be here for the real deal. This was the starter; soft, orangy salmon, fragrant herbs - go heavy - a sweet maple dressing and crispy potato cakes. Even if we say it ourselves, it's a winner.

For the salmon
Bestest, freshest fillet of fresh Scottish salmon you can find
3 tbsp sea salt flakes
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 juicy oranges, cut into rounds

Slice the salmon in half down the length and cover with the salt and sugar. Lay the oranges on one half, then sandwich together, skin outer facing. Wrap tightly with cling film, place on a flat surface in your fridge, then weigh down with a chopping board and/or a big book. You want pressure applied along the length of the fish, but not so much that you actually squash it. Leave in the fridge for three days, flipping the fish over every 16 hours or so.

You can play around with the texture; the higher your salt to sugar ratio, the firmer the finished salmon will be.


For the complete dish, make;
- skinny, crispy rosti. Grate potato, salt, squeeze the moisture out, add grated onion, more salt, pepper, squish into large flat discs, fry over low heat until soft in the middle and crisp on the outside, which will take around 20 minutes. Keep warm in a low oven.
- a salad with lots of basil, parsley, and mint, with a little baby gem lettuce.
- orange segments, two or three per person
- Maple dressing (adapted by Lex from the Ottolenghi book)
60ml olive oil
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
Big squeeze orange juice
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Assemble with the potato cakes on the bottom - they want to be warm, not hot - then sashimi style strips of salmon, topped with dressed herby salad and segments of orange. We served pots of La Fromagerie creme fraiche on the side which was nice, but not essential.