Monday, 15 October 2012

Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

By Natasha Lunn.

There are some days when a vodka tonic just won’t do. When a glass of champagne feels too light-hearted and a cognac feels too heavy. When you cock up at work, when you’re caught unexpectedly in the rain, when a relationship doesn’t turn out the way it was supposed to.

For one of those days, there’s always Absinthe. Otherwise known as the green fairy, Absinthe is the heralded emerald spirit, which bewitched Hemingway, Picasso and Degas. Oscar Wilde compared it to a sunset. Raymond Queneau said it was like a hot-air balloon that “broadens one’s imagination as the balloon broadens the view of the earth’s sphere.” What better antidote could there be to a day-gone-wrong?

First time round, the ‘Absinthe elixir’ had a bad rep. Initially banned in the US, it was labelled as an addictive, hallucinogenic drug. But these days if you’re looking for a Hunter S. Thompson style acid trip then you might be a bit disappointed. When my brave friend and I performed an Absinthe ritual at Brasserie Blanc in Covent Garden, we needn’t have been hesitant. Half an hour in, after dripping water over sugar cubes into Pernod’s Absinthe, we were setting the world to rights sip-by-sip.

We didn’t feel drunk. But by the time we’d reached the bottom of our ‘Green Beasts’ - which blurred Absinthe, cucumber and lime - life plans were afoot and lovers were understood. It seemed like Absinthe really did make the heart grow fonder.

As well as Brasserie Blanc’s selection, you can also find the elusive spirit below Brompton Bar and Grill in west London. Or, if you ask very nicely, the bartenders at Viajante in Bethnal Green might just serve you Hemingway’s favourite cocktail: Death in the Afternoon. (Ernest recommended 3-5, but 2 is my limit.)

Every now and again, we all have a day that we’d rather forget. It might be on the Monday you accidentally send an email to a client labelling them a tosspot. It might be on the Wednesday a downpour leaves you with panda eyes and hair like Monica off Friends in the Las Vegas episodes. It might be on the Sunday you realise you’ve lost someone who could have been something.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Top 4 London Restaurant Cookbooks

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Been there, dined on that. But you want more, don’t you? Don’t be bashful. London restaurants are meant to come up with a winning menu that will entice you into going back through their doors. You can identify your favourite starters, mains and desserts simply by sniffing the air. The aroma of hot bread rolls fills your nostrils as you weave your way through the crowd of diners and reach your table. It’s becoming a regular habit. It’s your mid-week treat to dine out in your favourite restaurant. But although your stomach is saying yes, yes, YES, your wallet is saying no, no, NO. Your tummy may be rounding off nicely but your bank account is starting to look as emaciated as a nineties heroin chic catwalk model. We are all still poop deep in a recession after all. The cheapest thing to do is dine-in rather than dine-out. But you’ve perfected your basic pasta dishes while at uni and your granny showed you how to make the perfect roast before you could even spell potato. The reason you go to these restaurants is because you want that kind of food. Marmite on toast is all very well but a meal from a top London restaurant it is not.

So, what’s the solution? Well, thankfully, some of London’s best restaurants have created cookbooks so we can all dine on their signature dishes. It’s all due to popular demand. Here are our favourite recipe books from the London’s best restaurants and caf├ęs. Christmas presents: sorted.
Tibits, Heddon Street, Mayfair: Tibits at home, (£25)
Today sees one of the UK’s leading vegetarian restaurants launch its own cookery book. Tibits at home is a sumptuous cookbook, split into four seasonal sections, containing 50 recipes. Mouth-watering dishes to try in your kitchen include the hearty leek and quinoa soup, a scrumptious apple and ginger salad with tofu, and the luscious coconut chocolate pudding. Wash it all down with tibits’ famous ginger lemon punch and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were sitting in the fashionable Heddon Street food quarter in Mayfair rather than in your own dining room. Influences from around the world, from Asia and India to the Mediterranean and good old Blighty. All the recipes cater to vegetarians, with many that suit those with vegan, gluten-free and nut-free diets. Staunch carnivores, tibits at home will prove to you that veggie dining need not be dull.
Polpo, Beak Street, Soho: Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts), (£25)
One of the most anticipated cookbooks from this year came from the man behind London's hottest restaurants. Russell Norman's Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) is without a doubt some kind of luscious love letter to the city of Venice. His string of hit London restaurants: Polpo, Polpetto and da Polpo are based on the tiny bars you find in the city of bridges and water that serve snacks, named bacaros. Diners who love Polpo (polpophiles) will find the answer to the daily question: what should I have for lunch today? The first in what must be a series of cookbooks (a recipe book for Mishkins must be on the cards, right Russell?) include recipes for a pretty pizzetta bianca, the popular pork belly radicchio and hazelnut dish and the signature warm octopus salad.
Wahaca Mexican restaurants: Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home, £20
MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers (or Tommi as she’s often called) spiced up our summer with her latest cookbook, Wahaca: Mexican Food at Home. It’s a gorgeous new collection of recipes inspired by her everlasting love of Mexican cuisine. Tommi’s aim is to make people realise that Mexican cooking is not as daunting as it looks. As well as simple snack recipes there are also some delectable dinner dishes for those who want to get stuck in and fully explore Mexican cooking. The breakfast chapters are fun and include a recipe for Mexican hot chocolate, sweet buns and avocado milkshake. Every page is so fresh, full of colour and promises meals with the Yum-factor.
Ottolenghi, Notting Hill, Islington and Kensington: Jerusalem, £27
When Ottolenghi first graced the capital, the place did much to change Londoner’s perceptions of Deli dining. Owned Yotam Ottolenghi with the kitchen run by Head Chef Sami Tamimi, it’s one of the most successful food chains in London. Now the guys have taken over the cookbook world too with Jerusalem: A Cookbook. Both Ottolenghi and Tamimi share their knowledge of the tastes and flavours from their native country that blend together to make some delectable dishes. The recipes are inspirational and you can almost taste the fusion of flavours simply by turning the pages and reading how to make meals such as the saffron, date and almond rice and the comforting yellow pepper and Jerusalem artichoke soup.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Don't Play With Your Food, Toy With Technology: Dining With Digital Style

By Nina Koo-Seen-Lin.

Decadent drinks are getting a digital design overhaul. Think 3D art installations, touch screen menus, and credit-card shaped waiters that actually make cocktails. Tis the future of London’s bar and restaurant scene, Fluid friends. Embrace it.
Graphic, 3D bar, Soho
From September 2012 for six months, Graphic, Soho’s highly popular gin bar, has a new art installation designed by the renowned and innovative 70s 3D artist, Jim Sharp. Collaborating with Bombay Sapphire, Sharp has produced a set of thought-provoking 3D paintings. On first sight the works have a mesmerising yet simple depth to them. Gaze at them through 3D glasses and the perception alters adding new layers of intrigue. Even the menus have had a 3D facelift. Graphic’s signature gin cocktails are as great as ever. The paint pot punch range is phenomenal: Paint the town blue (Millers gin, Briottet blackberry liqueur, fresh lime juice, orange bitters, Fever-Tree ginger ale) or pink (Bombay Sapphire gin, Briottet apricot liqueur, peach bitters, fresh lime juice, pomegranate syrup, Fever-Tree lemonade).
Inamo, Interactive Japanese restaurant, St James
Inamo is insanely brilliant. Even if you don’t know the name you’ve definitely heard of its innovative and interactive concept. The oriental food and bar uses E Table, the world’s first interactive food ordering system. Customers have complete control over their dining experience. The steps are simple: run a finger around a laptop-like mouse pad to bring up a cursor and some icons. Click on them and pictures of menu items are projected on to the table. You order your food. It arrives. You eat it. As well as being able to order food, customers can opt their preferred virtual tablecloths, view the chefs in real time using Chef Cam and take advantage of some fun and practical facilities such as games taxi services and local information. I think the only thing the table doesn’t do is go to the toilet for you (but it does give you directions to the facilities).
Vapiano, plastic credit card waiter Italian restaurant, Fitzrovia
Italian interior design, food and wine combined with a German chip-card ordering system creates a winning foodie formula. Vapiano is one chain that’s definitely worth visiting. Serving pizza, pasta, a selection of Italian wines and iced tea arrived in London following its phenomenal success in Germany. Besides the high standard of food, it’s success is down to a switch: waiters have been replaced by a bit of plastic. The system is simple. Diners arrive and are presented with a white chip card. Order what you fancy and with everything you order you swipe your card. After your meal, the total's totted up and you pay on the way out. It’s a time-saving and money-saving (no waiters means no service charge). Take advantage of the vibrating Pizza Pager that buzzes when your food's ready. 

And if you think that’s cool, you should read about Thai restaurant chain, Busaba Eathai and their leap into the world of the future.