Sunday, March 30, 2008

Smiths of Smithfield (SOS)

In terms of lifestyle, transport and dining, London probably fares best with the latter with so much to offer in terms of eating out. You get to taste some of the world's best culinary creation here, but more importantly to me, there is a general higher quality of eateries even for the less pompous/celebrity chefs loaded restaurants. No one could really afford those expensive dinners all the time, and even if you see them and wonder, they're probably on company's expenses for client meetings etc :)

Here's a continuation of my quest to search for non pretentious, interesting and of course delicious food across London. I usually give those big Michelin dudes a miss since they've already enough media attention and cash flow for the moment, time to search for underdogs worth supporting. However, this time I chose to try out John Torode's Smiths of Smithfield (SOS) in trendy Clerkenwell, a place famous for nice pubs, bars and good nightlife. Seems like a perfect place to bring a friend who loves meat or a good steak.

John Torode is a well known food writer and TV presenter, and more recently one of the judges of the chef spotting talent show in BBC Two called "Masterchef Goes Large". Born in Australia, he is acknowledged as one of the player who introduced Australasian food in the UK. I would say he marketed himself as a meat specialist, sourcing fresh quality produces from farmers all of UK.

SOS is located near London's Smithfield market, boasting a 4 floor restaurant with a different theme to each, with formality increasing the higher you go, interesting eh? So the ground floor has loads of comfy couches, a comprehensive bar and some DJ-ing, good for breakfast, lunch or a quick bite anytime of the day. 1st floor focuses on wine/champagne tasting and appreciation, accompanied with exquisite light bites to match the drinks. There is a floor dedicated to private parties too, where you can hire private rooms for those special occasions. 2nd floor is the place to be for a nice ambiance, solid oak tables and chairs with candlelights, with the ability to peep at the chefs doing their work at the semi-opened kitchen. The highest floor is for those who crave a fine dining experience with breathless rooftop view of the city, completed with an extensive wine list and broader fresh seafood/meat selection.

Talk about price discrimination eh? This guy is probably the first I've seen that applies this economic principle to restaurants! Anyways, its good to book in advance and they do online booking which is handy. Up to 2nd floor we went, and for starters we chose something true to the Australasian theme, which is Lucky Squid, Chilli Jam and Chinese Broccoli. With a hint of hot, salty yet sweet spiciness of sambal, fresh squid with lightly blanched crunchy leaves - done to perfection. Apologies for the bad lighting of the photo, ambiance was dark and I don't Photoshop them, its as original as it gets :)

For mains, P decided to forgo the steaks and try something different - Crisp Belly of Pork, Mash Potato and Green Sauce. Presentation wise a bit odd, mash potato was all right, and the belly pork was crispy and nice, but I would say the green sauce didn't really go that well with it. Missing something that plays down the good work done on the pork really. Nothing outstanding.

I had something memorable as well, but that is two-fold. I think it was Roast Cod on a bed of PuyLentils, taste wise unmemorable, bland tasting lentils and cod was safe, lightly salted and pan fried till crisp, nothing exciting. But what was MEMORABLE was the really bad tummy ache that it gave me on the way home on the tube. Imagine having to stifle the pain and persevere till you run (with a bad tummy ache) out of the tube to the nearest loo and pray to the toilet god in many ways.

But yes I shall digress from going into too much details into that, but it is just so disappointing with a place capable of offering so much more ends up failing in hypocrisy. This is why time and time again I feel that all these publicity sometimes has adverse effects on a good chef, breeding complacency and being too business-like, starting to lose the very key passion or role of an excellent chef - to prepare and share a good culinary creations. This is not a generalization however, there are some level headed chefs out there that maintain or even increase the level of their work with pride, upon the recognition for their work.

To end things with a less serious note, I saw the name of this random lane that made the dinner memorable for sure :P

Smiths of Smithfield
67-77 Charterhouse Street

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Roadhouse Tex Mex Mania

Time to revive the American fast food days, with a Tex Mex twist! The Roadhouse near the Covent Garden market fits the occasion perfectly. It gives the whole authentic experience, with the American diner deco, food quality AND quantity a class above the TGIF chains! There were special Happy Hour deals with buy one get one free cocktails before 7pm too, combined with a half price offers on mains, definitely one good value place for excellent Tex Mex selections.

Starters was Nanchos Grande, and they do mean every bit of that phrase. Definitely an overload of melted cheese with crisp tortilla chips, served with a cheese fondue, sour cream, salsa and fresh guacamole!

P had Philly Steak Sandwich, a tender 8oz prime sirloin steak with caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, red & green peppers and topped off with melted cheese dipping gravy. Comes with a little salad garnish and some fries on the side too.

I on the other hand, was feeling more carnivorous that day. Given that I don't take beef pretty much limits the menu (majority is steak/burger variety) to chicken, pork or fish. And there's no way of having fish in an American diner (leave it to the French :P), so it's definitely Smokin' Ribs and Chicken: half rack of bbq ribs and a grilled breast of chicken basted with smoky bbq sauce, served with french fries and onion rings. I did try to minimize the guilt by swapping the fries and onion rings with mashed potatoes and some salad :P Looks pretty mighty to even finish both chunks of meat, but we both did a pretty good effort at it in the end. The nachos had probably taken more space that we thought, haha

A place that I'd highly recommend, especially for big groups of party, since its hard to find restaurants in London that actually fits big groups of people. Fun place for Hen/Stag Nights out too, I did spot a table or two of those whilst there. Cocktail selection is vast, encompassing most of the famous American ones like Cosmopolitan, Big Apple Martini and Texas Fizz.

On the way back I spotted these interesting scooters as well. Which would you prefer? A Spidey one or classic green Vespa? You know me, choice is always the latter :) Happy Easter to all of you!

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Variety? Spice? ... Whatever you choose to call it.

Such a vital thing in life, yet easily overlooked in the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily routine. You go to work from Mon-Fri, have the same thing for lunch everyday, or even do the same thing after work everyday, without realizing it and always wonder why you seemed to have lost some sort of direction in life, what purpose are you doing these for, gloomy and feel lost on weekends?

Sounds familiar? I certainly hope not for most of you all out there. But it sure is easy to focus all your energy on something at inception, get immersed so fully in the bubble, and somehow forgot why you're doing it for. It's good to self reflect once in a while I suppose, to remind yourself the purpose and what you want to go for in life, looking at the bigger picture.

So if you've been wearing the same sort of shirt color, doing the same sport, meeting the same type of people etc... it REALLY pays to give it a try to do something different. Something out of your comfort zone, something random, something that inject some sort of fresh spirit in your life, new experiences, new people, visit new places ... Come on, you only live one life, make the freakin' most of it!

Keeping the spice in life (and food of course! :P) in key to keeping sanity. Since the theme is change this time, let's try something Western for a new twist, how about fish? Something quick to cook, but easy to destroy at the same time due to fragile nature. But please don't let that deter you, the result is pretty amazing since it's easy to prepare.

So all you need, is a bunch of closed cup mushroom, a bit of potatoes, fresh green beans (from local grocer hopefully!), big red tomatoes, and a cod fish fillet, some salt and pepper, that's pretty much it! Ah, and some aluminum foil of course, and a working oven :) My original intention is to pan fry the fish, but that'll be for next time, as this is a no frills introductory to seafood cooking. Start of slow and steady, yea?

So we'll bake/grill/roast the fish, I never really know the terms or the difference, that's besides the point. First, preheat the oven at 180C-200C for about 10 minutes. In the mean time, wash the mushrooms, green beans and tomatoes, set aside. For the potatoes, once washed, pat DRY with tissue or a clean cloth, this is important for good potato wedges! With a fork, poke the skins of the potatoes evenly before you chop them into nice wedge shapes. Put the potatoes in a baking tray and season with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and mix to coat the potatoes evenly. I personally prefer to add a pinch of Italian herb seasoning as well (oregano/basil/rosemary), works well too if you fancy.

With that done, chop the ends of the green beans to make equal length strips. Tomatoes can be sliced into thick quarters as we're going to roast them with the fish too. I like my mushrooms huge and unsliced, personal preference, you can cut them if you wish. Finally, all you have to do is cut out a big piece of aluminum foil, place the fish (I used cod here, plaice, mackerel, haddock, salmon, rainbow trout etc is good too) skin side up, mushrooms and tomatoes together. Before you wrap them up tightly in a parcel, season with the usual salt and pepper again, and I added a bit of lemon infused olive oil n rub against it to the skin of the fish. So we are now all set once the foil is sealed properly.

Put the tray of potatoes and the foil containing the fish and vegetables in the oven simultaneously. It should take about 15-20 minutes before the potatoes are brown and crispy. I didn't forget about my french beans by the way :) I prefer to steam them separately for a reason. They would have been overcooking if placed with the fish, and probably soft, brown and lumpy, uninteresting color. Gently steam (it's criminal to boil vegetables!) them over a pot of boiling water for 5-7 minutes or till cooked but crunchy. It gives a nice finishing touch and color contrast for this healthy dish!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bento Boxes?

Call me odd, but there's just something about food being presented in tiny proportion in many dishes that I really enjoy, not just because of the variety (having a bit of everything), but presented delicately in little boxes/plates & bowls that somehow enhances the dining experience.

In particular, Japanese bento boxes. Yes, it may seem uncool as it feels like your lunch box in the olden school days, but they do make it a point to have a good color balance as you see below from a Chicken Teriyaki set I had a while ago. And yet somehow, I only get this feeling when having a bento set. Not from Chinese dim sum, Spanish tapas, or even the French way of food presentation. That's because in all those, the norm is that you share the dishes or take it as starters. But for bentos, all the variety in front of you is ALL FOR YOURSELF.

Yup, maybe I'm a greedy monster, maybe not, I don't know. It's the only difference I can observe thus far. What do you think?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Going Italian

There's nothing more relaxing than listening to Moondance on a lazy weekend, cozily snuggled under the sheets, with a good book and a cuppa aromatic coffee ... :) (plus a lot of cooking!) What's your idea of a quiet, relaxed weekend?

This weekend was great, went out with a bunch of corridor mates to see the Tuthankhamun exhibition at the O2 Arena, interesting really as I never thought I'd be intrigued by the ancient history of Egypt. Would definitely like to visit there someday ...

Slow cooking has always been one of my favorite method of cooking as it involves minimal supervision and usually achieves maximum flavor! It's also very ideal for students/working young adults as a healthier/cheaper alternative of eating out. It's worth considering investing in one of these smart cookers with 3 heat adjustments!

I got mine earlier this year and so instead of doing my usual Chinese, I stumbled upon this Italian pork stew while flipping through one of the cookbooks in Borders with my usual latte :) The ingredient list is straightforward, with non of the complicated foreign-sounding spices that tends to discourage people to abandon the recipe altogether.

So here's the recipe list, if memory doesn't fail me:

Italian Pork Stew


1 large onion, cut in wedges
2 bell peppers (orange and red ones), sliced in long matchsticks
300g-500g potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 can of tomato puree (400g)
1 litre of chicken stock (or use chicken stock cube for convenience)
Slabs of pork, about 800g-1 kg (shoulder/spare rib), do not cut into cubes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Thyme, 2 tsp
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Pasta (optional)


1. Heat oil in pan till hot and brown each side of the pork slabs quickly (not cooked). This should take about 1 minute each side of the pork. Remove the pork slabs once its slightly cooked on the outside.

2. In the remaining oil, stir fry the onions till soft and slightly translucent.

3. Add in the potato chunks in and continue swirling them around the pan occasionally for about 5 minutes

4. Then add the tomato puree with the chicken stock in to boil for about 10 minutes. Don't forget to and salt, pepper and thyme to taste too!

5. Finally, add the colorful pepper in the mixture and let it cook for about 1 minute. Then, bring transfer the whole mixture into a pre-heated (3 minutes or so) slow cooker, placing the pork slabs on top before covering it.

6. Set the heat to 'High' for about 3-4 hours or 'Medium' for about 6-7 hours and it's done! The beautiful aroma should linger about the whole household and perfect for a cold winter's dinner. Serves 6.

I served mine with some pasta too and the soup was amazing. The pork slabs don't need to be cut as it might turn mushy after slow cooking. It does that automatically after the long cooking hours, soft and tender, falling off the bone!