Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

My local fruit and veg shop, SMBS Foods in East Dulwich, sells such enormous bunches of herbs – far bigger than those packets that you get in the supermarket – that I always end up with a week of meals planned around them.  After picking up a bunch for yesterday’s lentil soup, I find myself with an abundance of sage.  This is far from a problem as common sage, or salvia officinalis to use its Latin name, is an excellent winter herb as its pungency lends itself to a range of meats and root vegetables.  Sage and onion stuffing and butternut squash and sage risotto are seasonal classics.  I also love a scattering of crispy sage leaves on top of a white pizza with sausage. Cold weather heaven.

This particular dish was a triumph in the game of let’s-use-up-what’s-in-the-fridge, played by those too lazy to brave the abominable London weather and make a trip to the shops.  It used up the last of the Christmas ingredients still hanging around from before our trip home, most notably a few scratty old parsnips and the end of a wedge of Stilton, far past its best.  Making a risotto is a great way of saving these kinds of odds-and-ends from the bin, so I usually keep a stash of arborio rice in the cupboard (it can also be used to make rice pudding).  I roasted the parsnips first in a little olive oil and sea salt and then stirred them in towards the end of the cooking as they taste much better than if you try to boil them in the stock with the rice.  The crumble of blue cheese at the end means that you can forgo the usual risotto staples of parmesan and butter, making it (very) slightly more virtuous.

Parsnip, Sage and Blue Cheese Risotto

  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into large dice
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 2 eschalion shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stick celery, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 large sage leaves, finely chopped, plus extra for the topping
  • 350g arborio rice
  • 125ml dry white wine
  • 1l vegetable stock
  • Black pepper
  • A chunk of blue cheese

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Place the parsnips on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until they are tender and brown.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan (I use one with straight sides) and saute the shallots, carrot, celery, sage and garlic until soft – do not let them brown.  Add the rice and stir until thoroughly coated in the oil.

Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine.  Allow it to bubble away and cook until it is almost evaporated.  Start to add the stock, a ladle at a time, adding the next ladle when the previous one has evaporated. Stir constantly.  When most of the stock has been added, stir in the cooked parsnips breaking them up just a little.  Add the remaining stock if necessary.  Check the seasoning.

When the risotto is cooked, remove from the heat, crumble over the blue chese and stir through.  In a separate pan, heat some oil and quickly fry a few sage leaves over a high heat until they are crisp.  Crumble these over the risotto and serve in large warmed bowls.


The Post Christmas Bulge

Homemade Soda Bread and Lentil Soup

Homemade Soda Bread and Lentil Soup

After a lovely Christmas break in Hampshire, we arrived home to find that five days of festive excess had made us considerably fatter than when we left.  Of course, eating and drinking is what Christmas is all about, but the endless roasts, bottomless tins of Quality Street and countless glasses of port are enough to tire out even the most committed glutton.  On the way home on the A3, car piled high with suitcases and gifts, Ollie and I agreed that we would not eat anything soaked in brandy for a very long time.

Coming home is always rather lovely: your own bed, full control over the remote and being able to cook in your own kitchen.  Inevitably, the fridge was bare, but we managed to pull together a lunch of toasted almost-stale bread, a packet of supermarket coleslaw lurking at the back and the last truckle of cheese, an applewood cheddar.  The last hurrah of excess before a few days of healthier eating, if only so we can squeeze back into our jeans in time for New Year’s Eve.

In the few days before Christmas and New Year, I always make a large batch of lentil soup.  I read somewhere that it is an Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve, their rounded shapes are said to resemble coins and encourage prosperity for the year ahead.  With my bank balance always severely depleted by the end of December, it can’t hurt, right? In any case, a wholesome lentil soup is the perfect tonic for several days of overindulgence – this particular recipe contains nothing more than vegetables, herbs, lentils, stock and the tiniest slosh of vinegar.  Homemade bread is always the perfect accompaniment for soup, but with all of those new Christmas presents to play with, who has time?  A loaf of soda bread can be made in a mere half an hour.  Saves a trip out to the bakery.

Lentil Soup

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 350g brown lentils, rinsed
  • 2 large sage leaves, chopped
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the vegetables on a medium heat until soft.  The onions should be translucent but should not brown.  This will take about ten minutes.  Add the lentils and herbs and cook for a further few minutes.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, the reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 35-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are soft.  Remove the pan from the heat and transfer two ladles of the mixture to a separate bowl.  Blend the remaining soup in the pan with a hand blender (or transfer to a stand blender if you don’t have one) until smooth.

Return the pan to the heat and stir in the reserved lentils and the cider vinegar.  Serve in warmed bowls with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

Adapted from a recipe by Giorgio Locatelli.  Serves four.

Soda Bread

  • 225g plain wholemeal flour
  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g porridge oats
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 400ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven t0 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7.  Lightly oil a baking sheet and dust with flour.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir together.  Add the buttermilk and mix with your hands to make a smooth dough.  Turn out on to a floured side and shape into a round with your hands.  If you like, you can add the traditional cross using the blunt edge of a sharp knife.

Sprinkle a few porridge oats on the top and transfer to the baking sheet.  Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.  To test if the loaf is ready, take it out of the oven, turn it upside down and tap the bottom.  If it makes a hollow sound, it’s done.

Dinner for a Time-Poor Christmas Shopper

I don’t have a great deal to write about this dish, and wasn’t even going to post it, but I fell in love with it so decided to share it with you.  This week has been a chaotic flurry of Christmas lunches, Christmas drinks and Christmas shopping and, sadly, meal planning has been put somewhat on the back burner.  The evening meal has either consisted of leftovers from the freezer or concoctions I can make from whatever I have in the cupboard or fridge.  Of course, throwing together ingredients and hoping for the best can have disastrous results, but sometimes they produce something so wholesomely perfect you wonder why you ever used cookery books at all.

This is a simple assembly of purple-sprouting broccoli, chargrilled to bring out the best of its nutty flavour, dressed in anchovies, chilli and garlic and sprinkled with pine nuts.  I stirred mine into a pan of cooked linguini with a healthy glug of olive oil, but it would work just as well as a side dish.

Chargrilled Purple Sprouting Broccoli with Anchovies, Chilli and Pine Nuts

  • 200g purple sprouting broccoli
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 8 anchovy fillets
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts

Blanch the purple sprouting broccoli in boiling water for three minutes, then refresh under cold water to stop them cooking.  Shake the broccoli dry and place on a hot griddle.  Cook for a few minutes on each side until the broccoli is charred but still retains its firmness.

Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan.  Add the anchovies and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the anchovies have broken down into the oil.  Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a couple of minutes more.  Do not let them burn.

Add the broccoli to the frying pan, along with the pine nuts, and toss in the anchovy, garlic and chilli mixture.

Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

As far as eating goes, this was a pretty good weekend.  On Friday night I went to the wonderful Mien Tay in Shoreditch for the second time this month.  One of the friends I was dining with travelled with me around Vietnam in 2009 so it has become our tradition to eat Vietnamese food whenever she is in town.  I have been to many of the Vietnamese restaurants along the Kingsland Road, but recently this one has become my favourite.  I feasted on my usual starter of quail cooked in honey and spices (so good!), followed by a main course of tamarind prawns and steamed rice and ending with the traditional, insomnia-inducing Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. We discovered these one hungover morning in Hanoi and have enjoyed many since.

Saturday morning rolled around and the wine and coffee had given me a peculiar kind of hangover that I knew only food could cure.  I dragged myself out of bed, trekked over to Brockley Market and treated myself to a buttermilk fried chicken bap from poultry maestros Spit & Roast that definitely got me back to full speed.

Whilst wandering around the market, I spotted a couple of packets of bone-in beef shin at The Butchery‘s stall and my mind turned to slow cooking.  £9 later and I had procured enough beef to make an enormous amount of stew, and so headed home.  Beef shin is a cheap cut of meat that comes from the front leg of the cow.  It is incredibly tough and incompatible with many cooking methods, but is subject to a wonderful transformation when slow cooked:  the fat and sinew marbled through the meat breaks down to give a soft, almost gelatinous texture to the beef.  When slow cooked with the bones, the all-important bone marrow also melts to give a strong, meaty flavour to the gravy.

This particular dish is a bit of a hybrid: the cooking method indicates a stew, but the ingredients are chilli all the way.  The beef shin is marinated in a dry rub of herbs and spices, before being browned and cooked along with some soaked black beans, in a mixture of tomatoes and chipotle paste.  The chipotle, especially, gives it a spicy, smokiness found in so many modern southern American and Mexican dishes.  Chipotle is one of my favourite flavours; I use it in glazes for chicken wings, my marinade for pulled pork, and recently tried some chipotle-pumpkin bread made by Lauren Garland for Band of Bakers that completely blew my mind.  In this stew, the chipotle lends itself well to the richness of the beef and gives it that all-important and much-needed kick.

If you’re going to cook this in a slow-cooker, you will need a good seven or eight hours for it to be perfect.  I haven’t tried cooking the recipe on the hob, but you could probably do it in a shorter time if you are good at converting these things (I’m not), or in the oven if you’re really brave.  You will notice that there are also a few vegetables in this recipe – I hadn’t initially planned to add any, however found that I had a few parsnips and half a swede in the veg drawer.  I added these about two and a half-hours before the end of the cooking time to stop them breaking down too much.  Any other root vegetables would work just as well.


Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

  • 150g dried black beans
  • 1.2kg bone-in beef shin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely choppped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp chipotle paste
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Fresh coriander, chopped

The day before you start cooking this recipe, place the black beans in a bowl and cover with cold water.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and soak the beans for 24 hours.

To make the spice rub for the beef, combine the paprika, cumin, oregano and chilli powder, along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Rub the spices into the meat pieces and leave, uncovered, in the fridge for an hour.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the pieces of beef shin for a few minutes on each side.  Turn the slow cooker on to a high setting and place the meat in the bottom.  Leaving the oil in the saucepan, gently fry the onion until translucent, about five minutes, then add the garlic and chilli and fry for a further couple of minutes before adding the mixture to the slow cooker.

Add the drained black beans and tinned tomatoes to the slow cooker.  Fill up the empty tomato tin with water and add to the mixture. Stir in the tomato puree and the chipotle paste and crumble in the stock cube and cook on a high setting for seven hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the sauce looks as though it is drying out.  By the end of the cooking time, the meat should be falling from the bone and the bone marrow should have melted into the stew.  Remove any remnants of meat from the bones and set the bones aside.  Stir in the red wine vinegar and half of the coriander.  Serve in bowls, using the last of the coriander as a garnish.  Add sour cream or sliced avocado if you wish.

Street Food Saturdays: Spit & Roast

This morning I woke up with a slight hangover and a hankering for chicken.  It overwhelmed me to the point where I dragged myself from my bed and persuaded Ollie to join me in a walk of four miles across south east London to Brockley Market so that I could buy the best chicken sandwich in the world.

Buttermilk fried chicken bap with slaw and Korean hot sauce

Buttermilk fried chicken bap with slaw and Korean hot sauce

Spit & Roast have been trading at Brockley Market for a year or so and quickly became my favourite street food vendor.  They specialise in chicken: luscious birds spinning on the rotisserie until they have beautifully crispy skin, and some very special buttermilk fried chicken that gets put into a bap with coleslaw and some spiky Korean hot sauce to create a particular kind of sandwich heaven.

The buttermilk fried chicken bap costs £6 and comes piled high with perfectly moist chicken – they will even give you a slick more hot sauce if you ask.  Spit & Roast also offer a quarter, half or whole chicken with chips and will, occasionally, add a pork belly bap to their menu.  This week they had a festive offering with pork, stuffing and cranberry jelly that I saw many market-goers tucking into.  On my next visit, I am going to try the intriguing-sounding turkey poutine.  Roll on next Saturday.

Half a rotisserie chicken and chips

Half a rotisserie chicken and chips

Spit and Roast can be found some Saturdays at Brockley Market and at other street food markets around London.  Check their twitter for details.

London Lunches: Savage Salads


You may have noticed that I have stopped complaining about the lack of lunch options close to my office.  There has not been a sudden influx of eateries around White City, instead I have started a new job and have moved to an office in Portland Place.  As you can imagine, I was ecstatic about the myriad of lunch options within walking distance of my new desk and barely let the door shut behind me before I was planning which ones to get to first.  With my ever depleting bank balance in mind so close to Christmas, I have limited myself to one lunch out per week – very sensible for such a glutton – and have resolved to bring in packed lunches the rest of the time.  So far I have feasted on brie and lingonberry on rye and the best cinnamon buns ever at Marylebone’s Nordic Bakery and trekked over to Grillshack for a sneaky lunchtime burger.

Berwick Street Market is not really that close to my office – it is about a 15 minute walk – but it is the closest street food market and I have not seen one of those at lunchtime for a long time.  I love walking down Berwick Street as the old record shops, fabric stores and little cafes remind me of times of old. Ollie and I used to go looking for records before heading off to one of the pubs for a drink when we were first together.  The market has been there for many, many years, but the street food is a fairly recent addition.  It has been the springboard for some great outlets – Pizza Pilgrims, who now have their own restaurant nearby, and the fabulous Banh Mi 11.


I stumbled across Savage Salads by accident when looking for a slightly healthier street food option.  The night before was all about gin and burritos and I was craving some nutrients.  The giant bowls of beetroot with quinoa and lentils with pumpkin called out to me from among the grill smoke and hot sauce, a shining beacon of health ready to revive my poor hungover body.  Savage Salads offer two options for lunch: a large salad, or a soup and salad, both priced at £5.  You can have any combination of the salads on offer which, I am told, change regularly.  In addition to this, you get a choice from the grill – on this occasion halloumi or chicken – and some pitta bread.  The chicken was beautifully spiced and the roasted pumpkin with puy lentils was a particular delight.  It was a very difficult walk back to my office knowing I had such a delicious lunch in my hand. I only just resisted the temptation to open the box and scoff it very ungracefully whilst dodging pedestrians on Oxford Street.  It was well worth the wait.

Dinner for One


Sometimes I fail spectacularly at having any decorum around mealtimes. For example, if you had visited me on any evening this week you would have found me curled up in the corner of my enormous couch with my plate perched precariously on the arm, eating what can only be described as a TV dinner.  My defence for this kind of sluttery rests on two main factors: one, my new job requires me to watch a fair amount of television; and two, we currently have a very temperamental boiler and heating system, so sitting at the dining room table looks less and less appealing as the temperature starts to drop in London.  Also, I have been dining alone for the past few weeks whilst Ollie has been working late and have been far too tired from my own work to set the table for one. Justification over.

Making dinner for one is also an exercise that has varying results.  I became quite au fait with solo dining when Ollie was touring with his band. Often I would be invited to friends’ houses for dinner, or would entertain people at home, but I would also crave my own company and nights in alone.  Whilst I love spending hours in the kitchen, I initially found that cooking a meal only for myself was a big effort and would often simply stir some pesto into some spaghetti or fix myself a sandwich.  After a while, I realised that there was a possibility for making excellent dinners for one, and began adapting recipes to make quick and easy single portions.

This recipe is one by the majestic Nigella Lawson from her most recent book, Nigellissima: pasta with mackerel, Marsala and pine nuts.  At first I was unconvinced about the combination of smoky mackerel, sharp pine nuts and sweet Marsala but after reading that her inspiration was one of my favourite seafood dishes, pasta con le sarde, I decided to give it a go.  In fact, it is utterly delicious – the many different ingredients create complex levels of flavour and texture that far surpass that of many other pasta dishes.  I first thought that the addition of pine nuts was a touch unnecessary, but they add a little extra oily richness to the oiliness of the mackerel.  This dish is also astoundingly quick to make – in fact, boiling the dried pasta is the most time-consuming part – the rest can be whipped up in a matter of minutes.  The quantities in the cookbook are for two people, but I have adapted the amounts and proportions slightly to make a generous meal for one.


Nigella Lawson’s Pasta with Mackerel, Marsala and Pine Nuts

  • 100g dried linguini
  • 30g sultanas
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Marsala
  • 1 large smoked mackerel fillet, broken into large flakes
  • 1tbsp capers, drained
  • Few drops of cider vinegar
  • 25g pine nuts
  • Dill, roughly torn

Cook the pasta in a pan of boiling salted water according to packet instructions.  Drain the pasta, reserving a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, and set aside.

In the meantime, warm the olive oil in a frying pan and cook the shallots until translucent, about two minutes.  Add the Marsala and let it bubble before immediately adding the mackerel, sultanas, capers and cider vinegar.  Once the mackerel is warmed through and the liquid absorbed, remove from the heat.

Put the drained pasta back into the pan with the reserved cooking liquid, the contents of the frying pan and half the dill and pine nuts.  Toss together until well combined before transferring to a warmed bowl.  Scatter the remaining dill and pine nuts over the top of the dish and season well.

Burger League: 7Bone

The bacon cheeseburger and chilli cheese fries at 7Bone

The bacon cheeseburger and chilli cheese fries at 7Bone

The  Restaurant:  7Bone, 110 Portswood Road, Southampton SO17 2FW

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Ollie (Burger King), Mike (Hungry Sotonian)

Gemma, Ollie and Mike ordered: Prince Charles is Overrated, Chilli Cheese Fries, Sipsmith Gin and Tonic, Kernel IPA, Corona lager.

The Scores:

My first review of 7Bone can be found here.

Nestled among the Indian restaurants and kebab shops of Portswood is an absolute gem: Southampton’s first gourmet burger restaurant: 7Bone.  My first outing there during its opening weekend back in October gave me much cause for excitement: there was a whole paragraph on the website about the meat, the drinks menu was excellent and you could rock up without a reservation.  Happy times indeed dining out in my hometown, which has not really seen anything of this kind before.  My first 7Bone experience was, on the whole, overwhelmingly positive, but I did long for a pinker burger and some bloody jalapenos.

We returned on Saturday night to celebrate my brother Mike’s 19th birthday in his favourite fashion: a big dinner and copious amounts of drinks.  It seemed that the word had got out about 7Bone as we were told that there would be a 35-40 minute wait for a table. Instead of being relegated to a cold queue, we gave them our number and went to the pub across the road for a couple of G&Ts to build up our appetites. Once seated, I ordered the same as my last visit: the bacon cheeseburger, chilli cheese fries and a gin and tonic.  Sipsmith’s Gin, I might add, which, alongside the beer option of Kernel IPA makes me think tht the proprieter is a bit of a Londonphile.  When the food came, I was very happy to see that the little opening-weekend snags had since been ironed out perfectly: my burger was delightfully pink in the middle and had a good amount of cheese and crisped bacon. The chilli cheese fries were not only covered in little green nuggets of jalapeno (hurrah!), but were housed in a far spicier meat chilli than before.  It is reassuring to know that this is a place that listens to their customers.

Perfectly rare

Perfectly rare

There is very little to fault about 7Bone: as I have said before, the burgers are the best that you will find in Southampton and are starting to sidle up alongside some of the London giants in terms of quality.  The value is excellent – £6.50 for a burger, £4 for an enormous portion of fries and a mere £3.50 for a gin and tonic makes for a very cheap dinner indeed.  The bill for the three of us came to about £44 – not bad considering they also kindly threw in a free ice cream for the birthday boy.  If I lived in Southampton, I would be here on a very regular basis.  That being said, the price of a return rail ticket from London Waterloo to Southampton Central is a mere £25 with a network rail card, so I’m sure I can be tempted down more often.

About Burger League

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

The more eagle-eyed among you will recognise this as a bit of a flashback from last year.  Some time in the summer of 2012, Band of Bakers was approached by delicious. magazine to provide some recipes for their Christmas issue. The nature of publication schedules being as it is, I spent two weeks of the summer developing this recipe and then a blisteringly hot early September day in a studio, wearing winter clothes and pretending to drink mulled wine.  As you can imagine, it was very difficult to get into the spirit of Christmas when your photographer is wearing shorts and you can see people sunbathing in a car park through a window.  The magazine came out that November and we were very excited to see our recipes in print.  Naomi made the mince pies; a delicious cranberry and orange version on an almond pastry, Charlie made an excellent rum and raisin Galette des Rois, Juliet made beautiful little Italian riciarelli biscuits (see also my post on some favourite Christmas recipes) and Jassy made an unusual and scrumptious Christmas cake made with walnuts and an obscenely generous amount of sloe gin (her blog is called Gin and Crumpets, so it is hardly surprising).  My recipe was the dessert for people who hate Christmas pudding (and there are many!), a chocolate and salted caramel yule log.

I have yet to sit down to a Christmas dinner where there are not two desserts:  the traditional Christmas pudding and an alternative option for those that refuse to eat it.  In my house, it is the men that have an aversion to it.  The women, myself included, adore Christmas pudding and eagerly anticipate the time of year when it is acceptable to eat one.  My favourite recipe is Dan Lepard’s Simple Christmas Pudding from Short and Sweet, served hot with an enormous dollop of extra-thick double cream (the kind you have to extract from the tub with a spoon).  When a dessert is required to please the naysayers, it is difficult to go wrong with chocolate.  This chocolate and salted caramel yule log can be sliced up and served on its own, with cream or with some hot custard.  The leftovers are robust enough to be kept and sliced up with tea for any afternoon guests.  It does keep for a few days longer than a regular yule log as the filling is a meringue buttercream, rather than fresh cream which has an extremely short shelf-life.

The recipe has a lot of processes and can look daunting on first glance, but it need not take too long to make.  When you consider the length of time it takes to prepare, bake, ice and decorate a traditional Christmas cake, you are scarcely worse off.  Last year, not counting the ones I made when developing the recipes, I managed to churn out four of these: one for my colleagues, one for my family, one for Ollie’s family and one for some pre-Christmas visitors who scarfed a whole yule log in an afternoon.  Salted caramel was the big flavour that everybody was going gaga over in 2012, so that was the inspiration for the filling, but any other flavoured buttercream would work just as well – you could add booze or even make a chocolate buttercream for ultimate decadence.  Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just fill it up with fresh cream and a jar of Nutella.  If you’re really pushed for time, you could even omit the ganache and finish off the log with a mere sprinkling of icing sugar.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Yule Log

For the sponge

  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 30g plain flour
  • ¼tsp fine salt
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

For the salted caramel meringue buttercream

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 120ml double cream
  • 1 tsp Maldon sea salt
  • 2 large egg whites (about 75g)
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 200g unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the chocolate ganache frosting

  •  200g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease and line a swiss roll tin (approx. 25cm x 35cm) with baking paper.  To make the sponge, whisk together the three egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks form.  Add the cream of tartar and whisk until stiff.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the caster sugar and egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow.  Add the milk and whisk again until just combined.  Sift the cocoa powder, plain flour and salt on to the egg yolk mixture and, using a metal spoon, fold together until just combined.  Gently fold in a third of the egg whites, being careful not to knock too much of the air from them as you fold.  Once fully combined with no streaks of egg white, repeat with the other two-thirds of the mixture. 

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes until the top is springy and the sides have shrunk away from the edge of the tin.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.  Whilst still warm, roll up the sponge from the short end with the baking paper still on.  Leave to cool completely then carefully unroll.  This will help when rolling the cake.

To make the buttercream, combine the caster sugar, golden syrup and 120ml cold water in a heavy based saucepan.  Stir with a wooden spoon over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 3-5 minutes until it becomes a dark caramel (watch it closely to make sure it doesn’t burn.)  Immediately remove from the heat and carefully add the cream and salt, stirring until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool completely.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two egg whites with the granulated sugar.  When soft peaks form, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl) and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture begins to resemble a runny marshmallow.  Remove from the heat and whisk with an electric mixer until the bottom of the bowl feels cool.  Add the butter, about 25g at a time, whisking continuously until thick.  Add the cooled caramel to the buttercream and whisk until just combined.  Transfer to the fridge and chill until needed.

For the frosting, break the dark chocolate into a heatproof bowl.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it is just about to boil and pour over the chocolate.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick enough to spread.  Allow to cool completely.

To assemble the cake, peel the baking paper from the sponge and place, smooth side down, on a fresh piece of baking paper dusted with icing sugar.  Spread the buttercream across the sponge and gently roll up from the short end, as before. Place on a serving plate and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Spread the ganache on to the cake, leaving the ends bare, and use a fork to create a bark-like texture.  Dust with more icing sugar and serve.

Burger League: Grillshack

The bacon cheeseburger a Grillshack

The bacon cheeseburger a Grillshack

The Restaurant: Grillshack, 61-63 Beak Street, London W1F 9SL.

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Gemma and Claire ordered: Buttermilk chicken nuggets with smoked chilli mayonnaise, hamburgers with cheese and bacon, unlimited refills from the soda fountain.

The Scores:

When Grillshack first opened a few months ago, I couldn’t help but think that new burger restaurants of the same ilk were starting to reach their saturation point.  As I was about to file it into my ‘one day’ pile, I became intrigued by the revelation that they are the first burger restaurant in London where you order your food by app.  And the restaurant is a short walk from both Claire’s office in Mayfair and my office in Portland Place, so I decided to go.  I downloaded the app on my phone in advance, thinking I could save some of my precious lunch hour by ordering in advance, only to realise that you could not place an order until you were inside the restaurant.  There are also computerised screens inside for those who do not have a phone compatible with the app (which is free to download, by the way).  Once seated, we put our order through, paid by card, and within a few minutes at the most, a waitress appeared with two frosted glasses for our drinks.  We were instructed to help ourselves from the soda fountain and to revisit as many times as we liked.  Who doesn’t love a free refill?

Buttermilk chicken nuggets at Grillshack

Buttermilk chicken nuggets at Grillshack

Unfortunately, that was where my love affair with Grillshack ended.  First to arrive at our table was a bowl of buttermilk chicken nuggets, which were fine, if a little processed.  If there was any smoked chilli in the mayonnaise it would take a more sophisticated palate than mine to detect it.  The burgers arrived shortly after and were not up to the same standards as other nearby restaurants offering similar products and charging more-or-less the same.  The patties were nicely seasoned and cooked a little rare in the middle, but were quite thin and reminded me a little of McDonalds quarter pounder, and the buns would have been acceptable were they not a little stale. Just as we were about to send the burgers back for not containing any bacon, we found it: a few small chunks nestled under a slick of melted cheese.  We could overcome the shock of having no ketchup and mustard as standard as we could fetch some from the ‘help yourself to sauces’ stand, but we could not get past the fact that there were no pickles, either in the burger or as an optional extra.  Even McDonalds give you a sodding gherkin.

It’s a shame, as I really like the concept of the place.  As far as I’m concerned it has two big selling points: the convenience of the app and the bottomless sodas from a rather snazzy-looking fountain.  There is something that gives me the overwhelming feeling that this is a rushed jump on the bandwagon, rather than a serious attempt to add something new and innovative to an already crowded market.  People will go as a novelty and, due to its location, it will always attract tourists and passers-by, however it falls far short of its competitors and I would even recommend dining at the Byron across the street instead.  Hopefully in time it will improve, but until then, it’s unlikely I will be going back.

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