- NEWS & ACHIEVEMENTS -

2011
Delicious Magazine Recipe Feature Recipes published in Princes Trust Charity 'Trusty' Cookbook Guest panellist on UKTV Food's 'Market Kitchen' Recipes published in 'Come Dine With Me Special Occasions' book Blog named as a "Media Must-Have" in Jan & Feb issue of Olive Magazine

2010
Launch of Sabrina's one-to-one private cookery tuition Guest critic on Gordon Ramsay's 'F-Word' series finale Organised Top Chef Charity Banquet for Haiti raising £70,000 for 'Action Against Hunger' Seasonal Food & Recipe Writer for 'Blue Tomato'

2009
Winner of Channel 4's 'Come Dine With Me' (West London) 'Bronze' winner in professionally judged 'AA Home Cooking Competition 2009' Appointed resident cookery columnist for Foodepedia

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Japanese Rice Risotto with Miso, Lemongrass and Scallops

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Seasonal Penne Mediterraneo

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Persian Split Pea, Dried Lime and Lamb Stew

Monday, 24 August 2009

MORE 'CLANGERS' THAN 'BANGERS' AT SandM CAFE

No stranger to Sand M Café, I arrive and wait at the sign that asks patrons “Please wait to be seated”. A flurry of waitresses shuffle past me as if I was invisible. Two other diners walk in and are shown a table. I keep calm but interrupt the conversation of 3 waitresses standing inches away from me, who seemed to be startled by my presence as if to suggest I had crept up on them, and I ask to be seated. They walk me downstairs into the stuffy, air-less basement. From one empty room into another empty room and offer me possibly the worst table in the house, right opposite the volcanic temperatures of the Chef’s pass. The rickety fan in the corner of the room is doing very little to aerate the room. I decline that table as ask to be seated in the previous room and I’m shown a small table against the wall adjacent to the bottom of the staircase.

The words “Hello Lady” greet me as my upbeat Scouse waiter welcomes me. “What do you fancy?” he chirrups. “Ooh, perhaps a drink first?” I nod and order a Diet Coke. He yammers on a little more… “So you ready to order then? Know what you fancy?”. What I fancy is you stop chatting in my ear and give me at least 20 seconds to scan the menu to choose my lunch. “Shall I give you a minute then love?”. Yes please, I reply. 2 minutes later, he is back “Have you decided what you fancy?” Grrrr.

As I’m nursing a sore head from the previous nights partying, I decide to go for a steak and ale pie with mash, baked beans and gravy on the side. I couldnt possibly leave without having a sausage or two, so i chose two varieties, the classic ‘Lincolnshire’ and the rather quaint ‘Steak and Marmite’. My food arrives in less than 10 minutes, which was great as I was starving. I take a honking great dollop of Coleman’s English Mustard and prepare to tackle my sausages. The first bite, without mustard, of the Lincolnshire sausage was almost alien to me. A dark greyish meat content which made me think it couldn’t possibly be made of pork. The Steak and Marmite, was not any better, in fact it was worse. The salty character of the Marmite was subtly evident, but it was rock solid and as crude as it sounds, looked like a rather poorly-filled condom. The casing was disappointingly not a natural casing and where the sausage meat had not fully filled the casing, there was baggy bits of clear plastic casing, which just made it so much less appealing and gave it that 'baggy condom' effect. What a complete and utter let-down. Still, it could have been far worse… I could have chosen the ‘Steak and Marmalade’ sausage. God, what were they thinking? It’s the kind of ‘wrong-on-so-many-levels’ combination that makes you think they ran out of seasonings, looked in the cupboard and though “Oh look… Don’t panic, we’ve got Marmalade. We can use that!”

My steak and ale pie was pretty good though. A nice light, crispy and flaky puff pastry casing, housing generous chunks of tender cooked beef in an ale gravy. It’s a bit ironic that the pie is good, when the place is supposed to be famous for sausages! (S&M standing for ‘Sausage and Mash’) My pie was served with a very stingy portion of mash and my side of baked beans contained two rogue peas in them, all topped off with an authentic slap-dash glug of gravy, which in true ‘east-end-caff’ style trailed off the plate. Lovely jubbly, as Del Boy would say!

Having finished my food, I wait (and wait and wait) for someone to clear my plate. The whole time, waiters are running around like headless chickens in the now hectically-busy restaurant. Inconsiderately jumping down the staircase, resulting in a horrendously loud thump that shakes my fragile and hungover head to its very core, scaring the neighbouring table of tourists half to death. With the absence of my waiter and after about the fifth thunderous thump, I can begin to feel myself consumed with rage and I finally manage to grab my waiters attention by shooting him a furious look and request the bill. He keeps me waiting for 5 minutes, then another 10 minutes whilst I wait for him to stop chatting to other patrons. When presenting me with my bill he says “Oh and just to say that we don’t add service charge to your bill here at SandM” in order to ensure he gets a tip! What a flaming liberty!

Perhaps if my psychotically chipper waiter hadn’t spent the entire lunch time gassing to every single diner like they were life-long friends, service would be greatly improved. I found it ironic that he was conversing with the table behind me and he was actually recommending ANOTHER restaurant to them! “The food is great, they put a big slab of meat in front of you and its all you can eat at £22.50 per person!”. Still, I leave a 10% tip (and not my normal 15%) and get out of there.

I used to really like these quirky little cafés but hand on heart, I shall NEVER step foot into that branch again. If you are going for the sausages, I would say don’t bother! There is nothing quirky, fun or cheap about these little cafés, for £8.50 for a standard main course and £3.00 for 2 extra sausages, I know I could get better value elsewhere. Which is EXACTLY what I shall be doing next time!

If you want PROPER sausages that are top quality, reasonably priced and taste great, visit: http://www.simplyrealsausages.co.uk/

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

RELAIS DE VENISE

At times I find myself craving a simple meal. Something straight forward, that does not require a lot of thought or deliberation. But just because I crave simplicity, it does not have to be something plain or un-special. I want something fabulous, but I don’t want to have to think about it endlessly or make decisions whilst flicking through a 6 page menu, bemused at how many dishes I have to choose between. This is where next little 'gem' steps in.

Relais de Venise is not a new concept. The very first Relais de Venise opened in Paris, initially as an Italian restaurant, which was later taken over by a Frenchman named Paul Gineste de Saurs. The restaurant sits in the 17th Arondissement of Paris in Porte Maillot and to this day is my absolute favourite branch of this wonderful concept. But Relais de Venise itself was modeled on a restaurant in Geneva named ‘Café de Paris’ which opened in the early 1940’s and served a single 2-course menu, with no choice for the diner other than a salad followed by simple steak, with French fries and a special ‘secret’ sauce bearing the same name as the restaurant in which it was served, namely Café de Paris.

I remember the first time I ever had that classic ‘Entrecote’ steak with special Café de Paris sauce… I was just a kid, maybe eight years old. My Uncle opened the Café de Paris restaurant in London back in the 1980’s and we would always congregate in noisy groups of 20 or so Iranians, causing plenty of annoyance to fellow diners, as we waived our hands expressively whilst laughing loudly and yammering endlessly over dinner. Being a kid in London was fun and most of my memories involved my two favourite things… food and family.

The concept is simple enough… You start with a simple green salad with walnuts enveloped in a delicious and creamy vinaigrette dressing. The main attraction is Entrecote cut of steak (which traditionally is cut from the rib) served with an endless supply of thin cut, crispy French fries (or Frites) and that velvety-buttery-garlicky-oozily rich sauce that ensures every last bite of your meal melts in your mouth and ends with a stream of “Mmmms” and “Ahhhhs”. The sauce remains a secret to this very day and in all the restaurants that make this dish, only the Head Chef knows exactly what goes into it and they are sworn to secrecy. The best part of the meal is when the waitress comes over to you with a silver platter which holds the the second portion of your steak and sauce... Sacre Bleu!!! As if one portion wasn’t enough, the culinary Gods bestow a second serving on you. If that’s not great value, then I don’t know what is!

Dessert - generally - is for the foolish. (So where do I sign???) Never one to know the meaning of ‘limitation’ or ‘sensibility’, I order the house special dessert of profiteroles. But not just any profiteroles, but very special ones filled with vanilla ice cream, instead of the boring Chantilly cream and swimming in what can only be described as the most superbly decadent and devilishly unctuous slick of rich, dark chocolate sauce topped with a few flaked almonds. HEAVEN in every bite. This statement comes from a girl who isn’t big on desserts generally and would always choose savoury over sweet, but no matter how stuffed I am, I have to end the meal with their profiteroles.

At this point the button is popping on my jeans and my belly is screaming for mercy. If you poked me with a pin, I’m sure I would burst from being so full! But full of garlicky, meaty, potatoey, choux-pastry-chocolatey goodness… The kind that comes around once in a blue moon (or whenever I can’t be bothered with Weight Watchers) Its not such a bad life after all, is it?

Get yourself down to Relais de Venise and try this wonderful concept for yourself. £19.50 will buy you your starter salad and steak and French fry main course. The dessert will cost you a little bit extra, but it is worth every finger licking penny.

There are two branches in London to choose from in Marylebone and the City, visit their website at: http://www.relaisdevenise.com/ Bon appetit!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

LAMB SHAWARMA WITH POMEGRANATE SAUCE

These days we all seem to be rushing around so frantically, always stuck with a million things to do, when there don't seem to be enough hours in the day to do them. Times like this and cooking is literally the last thing I want to have to do. But not one to shirk responsibility - and more importantly - not one to settle for a crap meal, I have discovered that there are easy ways to create a great meal that is still quick and simple.

I mad this recipe up this evening...see? Creativity is important in life and what is even more important is to be able to use whatever ingredients you have in your store cupboard to 'jazz' something up and give it the 'Oomph' it needs. I love Shawarma sandwiches, those deliciously greasy, but oh-so-good Lebanese staples that now seem to be sold on every street in good old London town. Lebanese flat bread filled with either sliced lamb and a garlic tahini sauce or sliced chicken with a garlic yoghurt sauce and the obligatory, albeit often soggy, salad. My cheats version is similar, but a tad more up-market (or so I'd like to think!)

Using a cheap and cheerful 100g-150g trimmed neck fillet of lamb (or the more expensive lamb loin fillet, if you prefer) I marinade it simply in 2 tablespoons of pomegranate syrup and 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Leave it for 30 minutes to 1 hour tops. Pomegranate syrup is high in acidity and will ‘cook’ the lamb slightly if you over marinate it when undiluted. In a preheated dry frying pan on a medium-high heat, place the lamb in the pan and season with salt and cook for approximately 6-8 minutes on each side. It will caramelize and blacken because of the sugar content and colour of the pomegranate syrup, but this is fine. Once cooked on both sides, remove from heat and allow the meat to rest for a good 5 minutes at least.

Take a plain round flour tortilla wrap, using some Greek yoghurt (I use 0% fat Total) smear a layer of yoghurt over the wrap. Then thinly slice the lamb into juicy slivers, which should be nice and rare in the centre and arrange in a straight line on to the centre of the wrap. Slice up some cucumbers, red onions, fresh mint or salad of your choice and top the lamb with it. Drizzle some pomegranate syrup, directly over the lamb (don’t be shy, but don’t over do it) and wrap the sandwich up and slice it in half, ready to eat!

Easy, quick, healthy and delicious fast food at home! You can adapt the recipe and use beef, duck or chicken if you prefer. It works just as well. Dinners need not be a lavish affair, something quick, cheap and simple is often just the ticket. Sometimes we just lack inspiration, but if you have the patience, you can truly create something wonderful and make it your own.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

'E&O' - STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE???

It seems the summer has not entirely left us yet and with the sun shining brightly in the blue cloudless sky, what better way to spend a Saturday then lolling around in Notting Hill with a friend, beginning with a nice leisurely lunch and a few cocktails to boot.

“Meet me outside E&O” I said “There are lots of restaurants in that street, and we will go on from there”. I arrived on Kensington Park Road, grabbed the first Al Fresco table I could find at the first restaurant I could see and called my friend to smugly let her know I’d snagged a table for us. “You’re not at E&O?” she replied “I thought you said we were eating at E&O?” Somewhere along the line ‘meeting’ at E&O and ‘eating’ at E&O must have gotten mixed up. Still, who am I to tell the birthday girl, where she can and can’t eat.

I walk into the dark wood-clad restaurant and ask if there was any possibility of having an outdoor table for lunch. I was even willing to give them the old “Its my friend’s birthday” sob story to make sure I got the table. No need, apparently, the table was ours. Score! I sat at the table and peeked at the menus whilst waiting for my friend to arrive. “Nothing has changed here then!” I thought to myself. It’s not that I dislike E&O, I've always had great meals here, its just that I hate the idea of being suckered into paying over-the-odds at a restaurant just because its deemed as a ‘See and be seen’ type of hang out.

Once settled, our overly-friendly but funny waiter comes and takes our order, stopping to compliment me on my green eyeliner, that apparently matches my dress. Overkill? Hmmm, perhaps slightly. Most of my friends, it seems, have abandoned the concept of ordering food for themselves in favour of (much to my chagrin, at times) 'trusting' me to take the reigns and order way too much food for however many people we are at the time. Its not so much that I’m greedy, its mostly because I enjoy variety. A wise man once said “Variety is the spice of life” and who am I to argue with William Cowper?

The ‘Eastern and Oriental’ (E&O) feast commences with peppered tuna sashimi with a spicy aioli sauce, thick glistening slices of fresh yellow fin tuna, wrapped in a layer of crispy cabbage encased in a crunchy tortilla-like pastry outer shell. Tuna tartare with its own beautifully ornate ‘ice bowl’ that had delicate little flowers frozen into it. The tartare itself was superb, such a simple dish, yet it hit all the right levels of spice, sweet and sour that you could hope for, simply topped with a soft-boiled quails egg and a smattering of tobika caviar. Visually, it caught the eye of every passer by and the flavour was every bit as good as its appearance. We also chose the soft-shell spider crab sushi rolls, packed with deep-fried crunchy yet sweet crab meat and creamy avocado, were perfect with a fiery addition of fresh wasabi and soy sauce.

Next came salt and pepper chilli squid, served in a dainty little paper cone with a side of sweet chilli sauce. Crispy little morcels of tender squid which would have been more enjoyable had they been a tad less oily. We also had the signature salad, which was the perfect medley of crunchy cashew nuts, juicy and refreshing watermelon studded with meaty chunks of juicy duck mixed with a herb salad and a slightly sweet soy dressing. Steamed prawn and chive dumplings were a tad disappointing with a heavy rice pastry dough which let them down. Our recommended side dish of thin noodles with bean sprouts was again too oily and didn’t really deliver the promised ‘oomph’, but the leafy green ‘Po Xoi’ in a garlic sauce were a much better choice.

Whilst E&O is definitely no longer the ‘New kid on the block’ or by any means the ‘Coolest cat in the neighbourhood’, I can definitely still see the appeal and understand why it attracts hoards of trustafarians through its doors, year after year. I am not on these people though, it must be said. Style-over-substance is my biggest peeve when eating out. I believe food should always remain firmly top of the list of priorities when you choose a restaurant. The waiter confided that many locals often come here and push a few lettuce leaves around a plate or eat nothing at all! I just cannot understand why someone would go to a restaurant if not to eat! Surely a bar would be a better destination? Either way, E&O is still a great place for food and cocktails alike. Service is attentive and despite its perceived ‘snootiness’ and pricey reputation, it still beats the local competition and has much to offer. Its even better when you are sipping a tall vodka-spiked pomegranate cooler, basking in the Portobello sun on a lovely summers days. Dont believe me? Then see for yourself.

If you find yourself in the neighbourhood, or just want a great meal with friends, then visit their website for more information on E&O and its sister restaurants. http://www.rickerrestaurants.com/

Thursday, 6 August 2009

VIETNAMESE FOOD, BUT NOT AS I KNOW IT

“Wicked Crispy Frog”, “Piggy Grill Aubergine” and other such exotica await you at ‘Viet Grill’ restaurant in the east end of London. Nestled amongst a dozen other Vietnamese restaurants, I would say that Viet Grill is most definitely a cut above the rest. The interior is covered in a modern and chic flocked wall paper and the room is simple in décor, but the unmistakable sizzling of the woks, smell of the grill and – somewhat annoying – clattering of china and cutlery remind me that “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto”.

I had worked myself into a proverbial lather at the thought of having some authentic Vietnamese food and if I can’t get to Hanoi, then what better place to eat it in then the London equivalent of ‘Little Vietnam’ on Kingsland Road, London E2.

Printed paper placemats proudly display the menu, a confusing plethora of dishes, each with the correct Vietnamese text above. Strange little smiley faces dotted all over the sheet and, unhelpfully, dishes aren’t numbered, which adds to the mayhem of trying to remember your place on the menu. Confusion confirmed when instead of ordering grilled sirloin steak served with pancakes, I had clearly lost my place and ended up with stir-fried Monkfish! Great. I did manage to correctly order some Vietnamese prawn rolls to accompany the Monkfish. I was pleasantly surprised that the Monkfish dish was actually a very lucky find for us, marinated with galangal, saffron and sautéed with fennel and dill it was fresh, light and delicious. The disappointing part being the bland, plain rice noodles it was served over. Nothing a dash of soya sauce and some chilli couldn’t fix.

More confusion with main courses, as all the dishes have Vietnamese names, which making absolutely no sense to me, made it all the more difficult to locate our agreed choices. A classic beef ‘Pho’, ‘Feudal’ sirloin beef steak and Sake lamb skewers with cumin and fennel all made the cut. The Pho arrived and straight off it looked unappealing. Thin quivvering slivers of meat, iridescent with oxidisation, yet grey and flabby with bits of unappetising, untrimmed fat and other unpleasant bits floating in a dull looking stock, covering some rice noodles and a few sliced spring onions. A side dish containing a few bean sprouts, some holy basil and a single small red chilli – that for me personally – couldn’t do any damage or impart any heat of flavour whatsoever. So I smash the chilli, bruise the holy basil and toss everything into the broth along with more of that soya sauce and chilli paste, but the result is still pretty inedible. My advice would be to steer clear of the ‘Classic Pho’ as it merely marrs what has the potential to be a perfectly good meal.

On the upside, the Sake lamb skewers were superb and had they brought the rice in time, perhaps I would have been able to enjoy them hot, but even cold, they were delicious and still very tender with a depth of spice infused by cumin. The ‘Feudal’ beef, whilst not strictly the Sirloin steak it has been advertised as, comes with a delicious sauce, which although flavoursome, was not as spicy as the waiter had promised. I'm beginning to think they are holding back on the spice factor to accommodate us Brits. Down with flexibility, i say! Up with tradition and authenticity!

At the end of the meal, I was definitely a little disappointed. The waiter was sweet enough to come over and ask what I thought about all the dishes and I told him quite honestly that I loved the meat dishes and was pleasantly surprised that the unplanned Monkfish dish was so good, but judging from my untouched ‘Pho’ he could see it definitely hadn't been the greatest of successes.

I guess I have always thought that Vietnamese food is a combination of fresh flavours, fresh ingredients and lots of heat from chillies and depth from spices. I don’t feel Viet Grill was a true reflection of the slice of Vietnam that I was after. However there is still hope, as their more authentic sister restaurant in Hoxton ‘Cay Tre’ is incredibly popular with queues outside the door! So why didn’t I go there? I was sucked in by the contemporary décor and slick menu…. Proof that you should never judge a book by its cover! How 'Hanoi-ing'... Get it?

Check out both restaurants at: www.vietnamesekitchen.co.uk

Sunday, 2 August 2009

COMFORT FOOD WITH A SPANISH ACCENT

I have created a monster by fusing Yorkshire pudding batter with top quality Brindisa cooking Chorizo to create a very different 'Toad-in-the-hole" - Spanish Style. The recipe is simple and the result is superb.... I'm not big on method and structure of recipe writing, but more on simplicity and ease! So here goes...

First, take your cooking Chorizo, whether you used the full size sausages or the mini ones like I did, in a hot pan, brown them off quickly in a dry hot pan, just to get some colour on them and extract some of their natural fat content. The idea is not to cook them through, but just to brown them a bit, as they will be cooked later along with the batter. Remove from heat and drain on some kitchen roll to remove excess fat.

Now onto the batter mix... My rule of thumb with Yorkshire pudding batter is equal volume of flour, as to eggs and liquid. I cracked medium sized eggs into a measuring cup, which totalled 200mls of liquid. Then I added 100ml of milk, 100ml of room temp water and about (roughly) 250g of plain flour. Mix the ingredients together well, until batter is quite thick but smooth and still fluid. Then add a dessert spoon of vinegar (I used red wine vinegar because that’s what I had, but white wine vinegar and malt vinegar also work) and mix well again. Using an ovenproof dish (I chose Pyrex) add a generous amount of oil into the dish, until it covers the surface, but not so much that is a pool of oil and place it into a preheated oven at 200 degrees. Let the Pyrex dish and oil heat up for about 8 minutes and in a very swift, but extremely careful motion, remove the dish from the oven and pour the batter mixture into. This will begin to bubble and spit a little, do not worry, this is just what you want, as it will make for a better and lighter pudding. Then dot your batter mix with your browned chorizo and bake for 20-25 minutes without opening oven door.

That’s all there is to it! It so simple, there really isn’t much else to do other than sit down with a few friends and tuck in to, although i have discovered, it keeps incredibly well overnight in the fridge and with a quick blast in the oven to reheat, it is quickly restored to its former glory. If wine is your thing, I would go Spanish and enjoy a nice robust Tempranillo, because the Chorizo aspect of the dish can most definitely hold its own.