We’d heard a few good things about this five-week old restaurant in Shoreditch with former St John hotel head chef Luke Cleghorn at the helm. Well, Dabbous was booked; Bocca Di Lupo only had space at the bar. This was our next option, and having worked at St John Bread & Wine myself, it seemed like a good one.
Despite the annoying/playful take on the S&M name this down-to-earth small diner has brick walls and bistro-style wood chairs rather than chainmail and body spikes. Or at least it’s as down-to-earth as anywhere can be on Hoxton Square.
A loud Scottish woman behind us was bellowing about how she had to leave her man; kids in orange trousers and massive blue trainers sloped by. But we dived into a fine pair of starters with gusto.
Cracking open the half crab, cooked on the open grill, revealed pink-white flesh inside the slightly charred shell. Memo to self: grilling keeps the flavour far better than poaching.
Back fat was sliced paper-thin on top of sour dough. Now I know why the chef has done this, because it looks beautiful. Luke and his staff cure the meat themselves, rubbing in salt and herbs over the course of three months. But all this work, plus the surely delicious flavour, was lost amidst strong toasted bread. Thicker slices required!
A piece of lemon sole was complemented by some delicious cured cucumber in dill.
But the real standout was the main course ox cheek with celeriac. Cooked for 24 hours, thick strands fell away with the brush of a fork, yielding rich, salty flavour. And the spaghetti-like strands of vegetable that sat alongside were a step up again, the earthy flavour in an inspired pairing with fennel seed, tarragon and horseradish additions. Knock out!
Onto puddings and a rhubarb posset with spiced biscuit captured some of the sour-sweet flavour but not enough. Also people tend to overcook biscuits, says Mary Berry, and this was the case here – just.
But peanut butter ice cream combined soft richness with crunchy peanut pieces in a masterpiece of contrasts.
Service: eager, friendly, knowledgeable and considerate. Overall, Master & Servant gets a 7.5 out of 10, one of my best scores since I started blogging reviews. And by the end even our Scottish neighbour had been silenced!
APPLE FRITTERS WITH HOXTON STOUT BATTER
It’s been a terrible last six months for apple farmers, and they’re getting even worse with the season at an end. So why not make the most of a bad run with this method? It’s a version of apple fritters courtesy of the wonderful British Regional Food by Mark Hix, using the deliciously smoky Hoxton Stout in place of Guinness.
110g self raising flour + a little for dusting
1 tbsp caster sugar
Vegetable oil for deep frying
4 or 5 well flavoured eating apples
Caster sugar for dusting
Thick cream to serve
•Whisk the stout into the flour to form a thick batter, add the sugar and leave to stand for 1 hour (crucial tip – you need the thickness to cling to the apples).
•Pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large heavy based pan.
•Dust the slices of apple in flour and shake off the excess, then dip 4 or 5 slices at a time into the batter, shake off any excess then drop them into the hot fat. After a minute or so, turn them with a slotted spoon so they cook evenly.
•When they are golden all over remove them from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.
•Dust with caster sugar and serve with thick cream.
And very tasty they were too!
JAMIE WINS OUT v DAN LEPARD AND HUGH FEARNLEY IN THE CHRISTMAS CAKE STAKES
The Christmas cake is up and running!
A little burnt because it’s a Smeg oven in our new house and there are some familiarity issues. But after two and a half hours of slow baking, it’s now packed away happily for the big day.
We’ll revisit with some feeding of the Calvados from time to time. But essentially it’s on the path to maturation for those crucial six weeks.
The choice of recipe was the most interesting part of the whole operation. I assumed Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s version would be the best, because he performs well on trad English food and his Simnel cake is a cracker.
But there was not enough zip in the mixture. It looked like one his mum had made for years. Plus I’m never a fan of ‘mixed spice’ as it tends to sit around in cupboards for years before applying a dusty texture.
Dan Lepard seemed the best next stop, with his extreme baking skills. But I’ve noticed that he seems to be getting ever more elaborate and doing the ‘fancy icing’ thing. Not at all the right thing for a hearty cake such as this.
So – and some people won’t like this – I went for Jamie. He really does understand aspects of the cooking process, and this version combines named spices rather than the generic ‘mixed’, soaking the dried fruit overnight with a good quantity of alcohol, and some careful wrapping and unwrapping of the cake post-baking.
As usual it showed that he had tried and tested his recipe a number of times and it wasn’t just banged out for the publishers to hit a deadline – as with a few I could care to mention.
And so far so good, although the wrapping business has led to a slight crack in one part. Fingers crossed the Calvados heals it!
AND THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF WINNER IS…THE BBC FOR TAKING CAKES SERIOUSLY
So John took the main prize in the Great British Bake off, surprising most who have taken even a passing interest in the show, and proving one in the eye for his mum who said, “he never wins anything”.
Brendan had appeared a shoe-in a few weeks ago, but then James came up on the rails and appeared the likely winner after the semi-final, before messing up two of his three attempts last night, with the ultimate sin of a soggy bottom in his pithivier.
Even then, on the basis of his consistency over the course of the programme you thought Brendan had to take it, but perhaps his Disney-style house cake from an earlier round was still fresh in Paul Hollywood’s memory.
Despite a slightly strange look in her eye when she mentioned John’s inability to triumph at anything in his life so far, his mum was in tears as the result was announced at the set-piece unveiling, a British fete-style gathering of folk roped in, with the customary downpour from the early summer filming.
And I have to admit I shed one as well – and I’m not quite sure why. There is something moving about this show which could be down to the fact I’m into cooking myself.
Or it could be the judges: Mary Berry is wonderful, a counterpoint to Paul Hollywood’s accurate but harsh pronouncements. Presenters Su Pollard and Mel Giedroyc stop just short of being annoying.
But there’s something else. I’m not normally a fan of Brian Sewell in the Standard. However his description of the appeal of GBBO is perfect:
“…it is that rare thing, a perfectly balanced programme in which the presenters are retiring and sympathetic, allowing the limelight to fall wholly on judges who really know their subject and on competitors content to suffer their judgment.”
All too true and one of a number of reasons I grew to love it. It’s not quite the done masculine thing, even though the final was for the first time, all-male, but hey I’m not ashamed. What else do I like? The competitors who don’t hate one another like they do in the Apprentice.
Also the technical brilliance via the once-weekly challenges. The mini-documentary on the Fraisier cake was fascinating, along with the story of Soyer, the French patissiere who came to London and literally cooked on gas despite it being the early 19th century.
The viewing figures, at 5.5m for the semi-final, show I’m not alone, and that the BBC have a surprise hit on their hands. And although numbers aren’t in for the last episode, there were plenty who were switching over from the football to take a peek if Twitter is anything to go by.
Apparently the BBC plan a Christmas Great British Bake Off, and one for Comic Relief. And all I can say to that is, ‘yes please, but just don’t do a celebrity version.’