So good I ate it all twice…

Back to The Dairy at the weekend for my birthday, 21 again….

I took slightly brighter photos.  So for the record, let it be noted – I think that this is the best bread in London right now:

The potted salmon with jalapeno and a touch of cumin, second time round…

The beautiful cod with fancy tomatoes and a perfect crispy crunchy crumb:

And some new recruits!

Crispy beef short rib nuggets with leek ketchup.  How could you not love a crispy nugget smothered in leek ketchup?

And a pasta, just because, it is my birthday damnit and there will be pasta:

And this, that I forgot to mention last week – a tin of treats that come with the bill, including a hibiscus mini donut (tastes of mini and donut, not so much of hibiscus, which suits me fine) – and shards of light  vanilla biscuits, and blobs of apple jelly.

Happy birthday to me. (Except that my irrational fear of getting lost in south London was played out as follows: my dad drove us to Clapham in his car, which has a crappy sat nav system that is stuck on German translation mode.  No one in the car speaks deutsche, so we end up having a delightful tour of Camberwell, Streatham, the South Circular, Brixton, etc – when we could have just turned right shortly after crossing Vauxhall Bridge – which made us all late and stressed and bickery with each other.  But anyway, the second basket of bread helped us all remember that we love each other really.)

It’s been a good food week

I generally avoid trendy food; I live off a steady rota of pasta, curry and burritos.  However, it is the week before my birthday and hence the annual 20 days of birthday celebrations have commenced – and so this week I have had two very fashionable meals – one Peruvian (it’s the new Nordic apparently) – and one from The Dairy – a much praised new eatery in Clapham Common – a place I can only ever be persuaded to go to once a year (because it seems as much of a trek from my flat as Peru) – and only then in order to visit the awesome Trinity.

First things first, to Peru via Rathbone Place, W1.  Lima had amazing reviews when it opened last year and I’ve been meaning to go ever since.  I’m glad I finally did.  This beef loin with yellow aji chile sauce was sensational.

This sea bream ceviche with Tiger’s milk (not from a tiger, not milk) – was pretty ace too – super limey and I do love a lime:

And this octopus with quinoa and some pretty blobs of purple olive dressing was killer too.

I got really quite drunk on a couple of bottles of very cold white Torrontes wine, so the rest of the meal was a blur.  All I remember was insisting on going to Gail’s Kitchen for pudding, for their ridiculously perfect warm chocolate cookies with milk.  Not very Peruvian, though I suspect Paddington would have approved:

I mean seriously, what is better than a molten chocolate cookie with ice cold milk?  Apart from three cookies…

Then, last night, birthday celebration 2! At The Dairy in Clapham.  Book now, it’s bloody hard getting a table – probably because it’s utterly delicious, and very reasonable for the excellence of the food.

Everything we ate was beautiful and fresh tasting and interesting – the kitchen’s use of herbs is amazing, not least lemon verbena, my favourite slightly not mainstream herb.  I’m only posting a handful of pics of dishes, as the lighting / my camera / my drunkeness – were not conducive to good photos – but the best of a great bunch were as follows: the bread, which I could have eaten ten of….perfect texture, oven-warm, served with bone-marrow butter:

almost as good as the bread I had earlier this year at a restaurant called Radio in Copenhagen:

In Copenhagen my friend and I ate three baskets of this bread – served with caramelised onion butter.  They hated us so much at that restaurant but you know what?  If you don’t want customers to eat three baskets of bread, don’t make it so damn delicious.  I did learn my lesson in Denmark, which is that eating 3 baskets of bread is a) – greedy b) – painful c) – can get in the way of the rest of the food.  So we just ate the one basket at The Dairy and saved room for this delicious, delicate potted salmon with Guinness soda bread.  It was touched with cumin and combined with jalapeno – and at £5 was probably one of the most reasonably priced high end dishes I’ve ever eaten.

Meanwhile, this photo does no justice whatsoever to a dish called ‘fresh peas, celery, mint and fried bread.’  It was the prettiest, greenest thing ever – totally fresh tasting, with an amazing textural combo of creaminess from the mousse, super crunch from the ‘fried bread’ which was I believe a sourdough crumb, and then two different textures of pea.  Delish.

This Cornish cod, heritage tomatoes, rooftop herbs and toasted bread was another killer – beautiful yellow and red tomatoes, super fresh fish, awesome crunch, and a background sauce of the most delicate, light cream.  I couldn’t work out what it was – it wasn’t sour like sour cream, but it was not as dairy-ish as cream – and the waiter informed me it was made of ‘ling roe’ – which makes it sound as if it was super salty or fishy, though it was neither.  Utterly delicate and perfect.

It reminded me of this super pretty dish I ate at Story, which was jazzed up with nasturtiums and I believe cucumber balls – seriously, I can’t remember, it’s been a busy year but anyway – it’s a nicer photo than the one above at least.

And then finally pudding.  I really don’t care for edible ‘soil’ – which seems to be a Nordic trend that refuses to die.  Still, given that the menu said this was ‘salted caramel, chocolate, malted barley ice cream’ – I had no choice but to order it

and even though it reminded me of this (from Copenhagen again) – and quite a few other soil-y, deconstructed puddings I’ve eaten this year – I forgave it for its fashionableness – because I’m a forgiving type.  And because it was AWESOME.  And actually it’s trendy texture was justified.

I loved The Dairy so much that I’m going back with my mum and dad next week for lunch.  I’ll attempt better photos and improved coherence then.  Watch this space.

Custard-tastic!

I am all about the custard – usually mainlined out of the carton / tin / pan, often out of the inside of a donut (if it’s from St John) – and occasionally in tart format.  One of the lushest posh things I ate last year was this perfect (too) little custard tart from Dabbous.

Normally I grow impatient when flowers try to come between me and my food, e.g. what are you doing on top of this pretentious yet delicious avocado salad at Craft?  Like, I know you’re pretty and everything, but you’re so not invited.

Still, the Dabbous custard tart could have been crowned with a bunch of petrol station carnations – it would still have been a triumph.

So yesterday I decided to devote my day to making a custard tart – a traditional, non floral one, I hasten to add.  I used this recipe from the world’s greatest baker, Justin Piers Gellatly

Two important things I was aiming for, both of which I failed to pull off: perfectly thin, delicate pastry, and perfectly wobbly custard filling.  Don’t get me wrong – the tart was delicious and brilliant and even though it served 12, and 6 of us polished it off, I have learned from my mistakes.

The first hurdle I stumbled into and bruised my shin on was the pastry.  I am inept and impatient and unskilled at pastry, so when trying to roll out a supremely buttery dough into 3mm thickness, I ended up with a sometimes thin, sometimes thick pastry that I sort of grafted together like Dr Nick on the Simpsons would do if he was a plastic surgeon.  Not pretty; still passable.

The baking went fine.

On the recipe’s advice I let it cook for longer than I felt comfortable with, till it went to a ‘French brown’ colour.

As soon as the pastry’s done, you seal it with an egg yolk, at which point I freaked out – as the egg yolk immediately cooked on the hot pastry – OBVS – which is fine, except it looks not fine.  But it is fine, so forget I even mentioned it…

Then on to the luscious filling: vanilla, vanilla, vanilla.

And cream and sugar and many, many egg yolks…

A word on nutmeg: I hate nutmeg.  I don’t want it in my lasagne.  I don’t want it near my dauphinoise.  I definitely don’t want it near custard – however, it is THE LAW.  But because I hate it it, I don’t know how to interact with it – so I checked with the internet – which said ‘grate it whole.’  Yeah, well thanks internet, for not telling me to take the tough shell off first.  Anyway, this is how one learns – from eating grated hard outer shells of nutmeg.

Anyway, the key to the perfect texture of the tart is to remove this beauty while it still retains a small wobble in the middle.   The recipe calls for an hour at gas mark 1/2…  I decided that this hour would be the perfect time to commence watching Season 1, episode 1 of Game of Thrones.  So yes, I’m stupid because I don’t know about nutmeg.   But I’m seriously stupid for starting to watch THE AWESOMEST FURRY SOAP OPERA EVER while I’m meant to be keeping a minute by minute eye on my wobble.  I blame that fit Danish actor from Headhunters for doing two very wrong things at the end of the first episode – for the fact that my tart was slightly overdone.  Bad Nikolaj Coster-Waldau!

Anyway, the tart was seriously great notwithstanding the above:

Though I am now going to have to watch all available eps of Game of Thrones before I cook anything else ever again.  Far too distracting otherwise.