Thursday, 30 January 2014

David Cook at Wright Brothers, Old Spitalfields Market E1

I've written in appreciation of the cooking talents of David Cook several times so I was really pleased to see him installed in the kitchen of the new Wright Brothers restaurant in Spitalfields. Having enjoyed his cooking at Moro, Bocca di Lupo and 40 Maltby Street, and spent a convivial evening cooking with him at Leila's, he is without doubt one of my favourite chefs.

Until now I only thought of Wright Brothers as a place for a good plate of oysters and a glass of porter hard by Borough Market.  Their new Spitalfields opening, on the run-up to Christmas, has them stepping up not one but several gears.  I've eaten there more than once, as is my rule, so it's time to give you the lowdown.

Smoked cod's roe and fennel

Located on the East side of Old Spitalfields Market, it sits squarely between Bishopsgate in The City and Tower Hamlets' Brick Lane.  As you'd expect from Wright Brothers, oysters and mussels are excellent.  Seawater tanks in the main restaurant and continuously refreshed holding tanks in the basement keep the crabs, lobsters and bivalves in peak condition.  You can sit at the beautiful deep Carrara marble bar and order half a dozen oysters, a plate of Fruits de Mer, a whole crab or half a lobster at any time of day but it's well worth seeing what the kitchen can produce.  The cooked menu changes in line with the catch.  Dishes I've enjoyed on my visits include a creamy Smoked cod's roe perked up with a seasoning of paprika served with sliced fennel and flatbread;  Salmon pastrami with lemon & rye; deep flavoured Crab croquettes; Fresh anchovies, butterflied, crumbed and fried served with tartar sauce; and Scallops on the shell simply served with a salsa verde.

Whole sea bass baked in salt

On one visit a whole sea bass was baked in salt and served up in juicy fillets dressed with good olive oil and lemon which makes you wonder why you'd ever want it any other way.  Smaller salt-baked sea bream were on offer on another visit.

Fillet of salt-baked sea bass

The salt-baked fish is always going to be hard to resist but there is one dish I think I'll return for again and again - a pillowy omelette of crab served with a jug of heavenly shellfish bisque. If you get to puddings, there might be a lemon granita with chantilly cream or a chocolate, caramel and cream pot.  To drink there are craft ales, ciders , wines, sherries and cocktails.

Crab omelette with shellfish bisque

This is one of those rare places where eating on your own would be a pleasure.  The staff are as friendly as you want them to be and that bar is exceptionally inviting.  It's difficult to say what you can expect to spend here as the market price for fish fluctuates but looking out my bills I'd say £35-40 a head including a couple of drinks and service.  What I can say with certainty is, with David Cook in the kitchen, you will eat well.

Update 2015: David Cook is no longer in the kitchen here.

Wright Brothers
8/9 Lamb Street
Old Spitalfields Market
London E1 6EA

Monday, 20 January 2014

Potluck harvesting and planning to plant

Cabbage January King

The allotment is no place to be on a January day.  Especially this year when rain and wind have done there worst  Boots squelch in the sodden ground and over-wintering alliums sulk in a watery grave.  Still it takes only the promise of a sunny day to feel the tug of temptation to 'just check everything is OK'.  The "everything" right now being the aforementioned onions and garlic and a row of leeks, a few brassicas and some frustratingly small parsnips.  It's a potluck visit at this time of year.

Potluck:  " take a chance that what is 
available will prove to be good "  

Fat-bellied wood pigeons heave themselves into airborne flight at my approach.  So far their efforts to strip my cabbage patch have been successfully thwarted thanks to a fiendish construction involving a wooden frame, heavy mesh and tent pegs.  These are possibly the most expensive greens ever grown but at least I'm winning, and that's what matters - right?

Leeks and chard

There's little to be done, save for checking that I tied-in all the summer-fruiting raspberry canes to avoid wind damage, but now is when there's time to think and plan.  The bed currently hosting those oh so tempting brassicas will, this year, I decide, be turned over to fruit growing.  The rhubarb crown I split has taken well, there, and a delicious crop of blackcurrants last year has convinced me you can never have too many blackcurrants.  Yes, the blackbirds love them but I've got the measure of them now.  Maybe a redcurrant bush would be good?

There's time to consider what else grew well last year - it has to be all the soft fruit and the borlotti beans; what wasn't worth the effort - peas (those blasted pea moths!); what I'd like to try this year - celeriac "Prinz", for one; and whether growing an old favourite is the 'right' thing to do.

The crop I'm agonising over is potatoes.  The very first vegetable I planted when I took on my plot - mostly because it's such a good crop for breaking up the ground.  Although I didn't have any problems with the two varieties I planted in 2013, incidents of blight seem to be increasing.  In response I lifted my maincrop "Pink Fir Apple" quicker than I would have liked.  I could grow a blight resistant variety like "Sarpo", but it's not a potato I'd choose to eat, so why would I.  I've reached a compromise.  Blight needs warm, moist conditions and usually strikes from mid-summer onwards, so this year I'll sow 2nd early Charlottes only.  I'll be digging them up in early July and they keep pretty well, so we'll see how much we miss a main crop.

I'll also be trying some comparison planting using my own saved seeds versus bought seed - Borlotti bean and pumpkin, in particular.  This year I will label diligently and not mix them up, so hope to have some conclusions for you.

Today there are signs of good things to come.  The blackcurrant bushes bear fat buds and the ever-reliable gooseberries can't wait to get going.  The spring broccoli plants are thick-stemmed and leafy, though not exactly upright.  In protecting them from marauding pigeons I failed to notice their sideways trajectory until it was too late - a novice mistake.

The fate of the over-wintering alliums is in the balance in this sodden ground.  I can live with an onion failure as I'll be planting more in spring.  Garlic is another matter as spring-sown garlic is never successful on this ground.

Six months seems a long time to wait before I'll be bringing home a varied harvest.  In the meantime, my potluck haul today is leeks, black cabbage, parsnips and a few leaves of chard. The makings of a 'potluck soup'.  A couple of shop-bought carrots and a little pearled spelt grain and I have a filling winter lunch.

Potluck soup with pearled spelt grains

Nobody needs a recipe for 'Potluck Soup'!

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed I've gradually cut down on the frequency of my postings as I've had less time to devote to it.  In 2014 I plan to post on this blog monthly unless there is something urgent I want to talk about.  

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Quality Chop House Shop

The Quality Chop House Shop 1

From its new incarnation towards the end of 2012, The Quality Chop House (QCH) has had a 'shop' incorporated into the wine bar side of the business.  Lack of space restricted this to the opportunity to buy kitchen-made produce such as pork pie, sausage roll or sandwich, and pick up a bottle of wine.  The ambition to offer more has now been realised with the acquisition of a shop next door to the restaurant.  Opening without fanfare on the run-up to Christmas, I noticed its lights spilling out welcomingly onto the Farringdon Road pavement.

The Quality Chop House Shop 2

Now, not only can you buy those wonderful pies or a hot sausage roll without weaving through a sea of diners, but there's all manner of other good things coming out of one of my favourite London restaurant kitchens.  It starts with the butchery occupying one half of the shop where Oliver Seabright, formerly at The Ginger Pig and Barbecoa, is in charge.  Right now, alongside the sides of British beef, pork, lamb, veal and venison, butchered how you want it, are game birds such as woodcock, snipe, widgeon, pheasant and mallard. There may even be a hare or two.  Having their own butcher, of course, means head chef Sean Searley has a ready source of quality meats for the restaurant, they can offer a butchery service and add value by producing cooked meats, pies and pates for the shop.  Other good things coming out of the kitchen might include tubs of smoked cod roe, remoulade or mayonnaise.  There could also be a treacle tart being sold by the slice, a tray of chocolate brownies or custard tarts on the counter.  QCH jams, chutneys, pickles and marmalades have shelf space alongside a small selection of the wines available.

The Quality Chop House Shop 3

Bread comes from Elliot's Bakery producing one of the very best sourdoughs in the capital.  Until recently, to get my hands on a loaf, I had to go to Elliot's Cafe on Stoney Street, Borough Market, and ask one of the staff to fetch one from the kitchen.  In the new QCH shop you'll find British cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy and Blackwoods Cheese Company, British, Italian and Basque charcuterie, Hanson & Lydersen smoked salmon and Nardin smoked anchovies alongside the staples of milk and eggs.  There'll be a few seasonal fruits and vegetables too as well as some lovely little treats like chocolate from The Pump Street Bakery and, maybe, a bag of honeycomb or marshmallows.

The Quality Chop House Shop
Vegetable crisps

The shop is still evolving so it's well worth keeping an eye on it.  Now if they could only fit in a fish counter and spare me some of that fabulous fish they manage to get for the restaurant ….

The Quality Chop House Shop
90 Farringdon Road
London EC1R 3EA
Open 7 days a week