Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Breakfast at Bill's place

One thing led to another last weekend and we ended up on Youtube.  We ended up on Youtube watching, no that’s not quite correct, watching and singing, Ian Moss’s all time Australian pub rock classic, “Tucker’s Daughter” (1989).

My first innate reaction was to sing louder.  My second was to be thankful I wasn’t the outback daughter of Ole Man Tucker and the object of Ian’s affection.  My third was to set off a multimedia juke box of classic 80’s and 90’s Australian tunes whilst debating: Johnny Diesel’s greatest hit? “Right on the Tip of my Tongue” or “Crying Shame”, discuss.  

Dream Boat Retrospective - Johnny Diesel despite torn off denim sleeves and subsequent identity crisis
Unless you are a foreign member of the Ian Moss fan club or an Australian descending through the 25-40 year old age bracket, you’re probably about as lost as my British friend Jo was while this archive of antipodeon chart toppers played out.  Jo understands that we didn’t attend Erinsborough High, that we call shrimps prawns and that pants aren’t pants they’re undies. But I am fairly sure she didn’t understand why we still, after 20 years, know every word to Darryl Braithwaite’s “One Summer”.  And just who is this Darryl Braithwaite anyway?!?

Contrary to our play list, I was glad I’d crafted a menu for the night that displayed no consistent cultural reference.  After fresh ricotta, Manuka honey and toasted walnuts we followed with a Way to Decadent in a Good Way Rabbit and Pork Lasagne. But it was finally ending on the left-field British high of sticky toffee pudding that gave Jo a brief caramel and culturally familiar reprieve.  We also had to stop singing during dessert as it’s incredibly hard to consume pudding, sauce and ice cream whilst effectively using an air-mic. 

While I’ve been assured Jo did have a great time at dinner (and probably afterwards at our expense recounting our unselfconscious antics to her more civilised British friends) the medium of nostalgic mullet anthems highlighted one of the many or few fissures diverging the British and Australian experience.   This sometimes-cultural divide between we convicts (of which I’ll erroneously include myself despite being first generation Australian) and The Motherlanders appeared before me again a few days later. But this time, it was personal.  

Ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter
While being served an exceptionally tasty butter-rich bacon-crispy plate of breakfast happiness my ears were forced to endure this statement: “Avocado has no place on a breakfast plate.  It’s just wrong!” 

Now hold on a minute Mr!  Avocado is what you say? Why you little [fist raised]….and it was at about that point of incredulousness that I got distracted by the crispy crispy salty bacon and lost my train of thought entirely…and then I was back:  Avocado is the number one draft pick for breakfast plate side orders for 9 out of 10 Australian diners.  That statistic in no way represents thorough or un-bias research but it was as true as it needed to be at the time before I got distracted by the creamy creamy buttery eggs…and then I was back: Avocado makes a breakfast plate, it’s the perfect duvet to a bacon, the greatest spread on sour dough toast, the perfect fresh substitute for over-cooked spinach or slippery slimy button mushrooms which are the eternally sad side-kicks of the core English breakfast characters. Avocado, it’s just right!

Unfortunately, no avocados were harmed in the making of this breakfast bun
I could swiftly see I wasn’t going to sway any voters with my New World argument for the monosaturated monolith so we entered a social treaty whereby the purveyor of that delicious British breakfast accepted the existence of, without agreeing with, my culinary dissent and we both returned to the bacon on which we very happily agreed.

After this polling failure you can imagine my joy when the long awaited opening of Bill Granger’s only European venture, Granger & Co (175 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2SB,, +44 20 7229 9111) came to fruition around the corner from my home here in Notting Hill.  Now Bill, he’s a man who understands the avocado.  In fact, it’s his number one side offering for eggs or toast.  Oh, and look at that, it’s his number two side for eggs or toast too – avocado salsa.  I’ll have both thanks Bill – no mushrooms, no spinach for me please.

The Full Aussie Breakfast: How did those pesky mushrooms get on there? 
The scrambled eggs at Granger & Co are super light and not at all too rich (there could be an argument for or against this state of affairs, but let’s carry on), the bacon is incredible, the breakfast plates loaded with full Aussie goodness and not a baked bean in sight. The ricotta hot cakes are just like Sydney…hang on a second…the whole place is just like Sydney.  The tables, the staff, the menu, the huge windows…should I be judging my own lack of originality in enjoying this replica establishment as much as I do? I am really enjoying it and judging at the same time. But mostly I’m enjoying.

Judging AND stirring as demonstrated by my more competent friend
Looking around, the dining room is packed. The wait for a table is over an hour and the confusing sunshine outside is offering those smug people seated in the window a lame excuse to inappropriately wear their designer frames inside. I detest them, but am too preoccupied trying to stir the Callebaut chocolate chips through my hot chocolate to care. I can’t judge and stir at the same time.

The bustling hum of the largely Australia via Nottinghill crowd is broken only by the intermittent steam of the coffee machine, the odd squawk of a Queensland ex-pat’s laughter or the conga line theme song rolling through my head: “I love av-o-ca-do! I love av-o-c-a-do! Ah dah dah, dah dah, dah dah”. 

Avocado and Breakfast: Best friends for ever xo xo
I haven’t been back yet for lunch or dinner service but the menu looks like a solid Bill-style offering of tasty BBQ and casual fragrant mains. Chilli pork ribs, whole baked fish, crispy duck with plum sauce.  No big surprises, nothing avant-garde but plenty of trouble choosing. 

I still think Peter Gordon's Providores serves up the best breakfast meets brunch in the whole of London.  I’ll also eternally love any breakfast offering me bacon and butter in perfect excessive harmony. Who knows if I’ll ever convince the avocado disbelievers out there that Granger & Co is worth the long wait for a breakfast table adrift a sea of Ralph Lauren? But it’s the simple good food and effortless Australian style of Granger & Co which just made me and Tucker’s daughter smile on that sunny Saturday morning…but please, you in the window, take those sunglasses off!!  


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mustard flares and the eating dress

I returned to the kitchen last Sunday.  It’s been a while.  In fact a really long while.  And just to be clear, this isn’t a smirk-ridden attempt to analogise the kitchen and the bedroom…in the sexy time way…I actually mean the kitchen.

It’s funny how, for someone who thinks about food and eating more than any other subject or act, life has kept me outside my favourite place for so long. I wasn’t totally abstinent, there were a few flings here and there with meaningless pastas and mid week pull togethers.  But proper kitchen time, a bench full of ingredients, hands itching to play and cupboards full of pots, pans and contraptions destined for experimentation – Sunday was proper, fun, sexy cooking time.  I’ve really missed it.

Amuse bouche of cress soup and egg yolk...not loving the styling, but super tasty!
For some weeks now the closest I’ve come to a kitchen is a big family feast at the Chef’s Table at my local (well, loosely local) pub – The Mall Tavern in Nottinghill (71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace, Notting Hill, London, W8 4RU). I find this place classic, deeply stained and lightly exquisite in the evening (in a waist coat and pipe kind of way) so to call it just a local doesn’t seem quite fair. But then again it’s calm and warm, a wooden pub which makes me feel like I belong nestled up in the leather-bound corners of the dining room. Maybe in a bustle and without the right to vote, but nonetheless, a great local.

Cow could I forget the marrow and parsley!!
I first came to The Mall Tavern with a friend who can legitimately call it her local, and we came for one thing.  The Cow Pie.  That’s it.  Pastry, gravy and cow.  I’m a simple girl.  But then I came back for the pigeon pie, their smoked salmon (smoked in kettle on the roof), the roasted wild duck and then the pies again. Hooked.  Apparently, and I’ve never quite got this, other people come here, and they come here a lot, for the Chicken Kiev.  It’s the second highest selling dish on the menu (yes, of course after the Cow Pie).  
Wah, wah. bass pluck, bass pluck, Chicken Kiev, bass pluck wah wah disco Shaft!
Who is 2011 orders Chicken Kiev? Who serves Chicken Kiev after 1973?  When mustard flares, key swapping and perms went out of fashion, so did Kiev - other than in the Bird’s Eye alternative universe where mustard wearing families look very nuclear and smug whilst eating Chicken Kiev.  Maybe that’s why people order Chicken Kiev, it reminds them of a time when they could wear tight fitting clothing and their family wasn’t abstract, interesting or confusing.

"Why Judy, your Chicken Kiev was delectable
and so is your husband...jingle jingle"
I probably shouldn’t write that because my family is entirely nuclear.  My parents will be married for 40 years this December and my sister and I are only mildly damaged from a usual and loving suburban upbringing.  We have two dogs.  I just live on the other side of the world from them all – the dogs and the family – in a spoilt anti-nuclear protest.  

But we ate the Chicken Kiev. As a family, at a dinner table, together, at Mall Tavern.  And we loved it…and then smiled collectively at each other looking very smug.  Snapshot. In fact I think my Dad was actually not smug but trying to remember if he’d been forced to toss out those flares.  The answer Dad is yes, before the tassel loafers and after the Speedo swimwear and all before 1982.  

Attention seeking pink veal
But we’re back to 2011 and there was Chicken Kiev involved in this story…there was also pink veal, served with a dramatic Frenched bone which was prize (be it a little too Bedrock), and the braised beef exactly how you wanted it to taste, but just a little better.  I even have to admit, the vegetarian option – involving quorn (I can’t confidently spell, let alone consume this), butternut squash and my good friend pastry was actually pretty darn tasty.  Damn you quorn, I might eat you, but I’ll never succumb to tofu (other than the silken tofu which is actually pretty darn tasty. Damn you tofu!!). The Mall Tavern serves nostalgia, and serves it well (other than the quorn, nothing nostalgic about that, unless your parents were hippies in the frozen isle).  
Braised beef and celeriac puree, the opposite of tofu
At the Chef’s Table, each dish is shared either from the middle of the table or by rotation.  Sure, there may be some health risks in this approach, but we’re all family…right?  I was granted bell rights (she who controls the bell controls the rotation of dishes) and found it a moment of great struggle to reach and ring when it was my turn to pass the wabba dabba veal to the right.  It was a risky, some may say erroneous, move to trust me to distribute food equally amongst the table.  Unfortunately, I have a conscience and a need for people to share my excitement of a great dish.  Inconvenient but effective in this case. 

Now I know what Arctic Rolls are...
I’m really not a dessert person, born without a sweet tooth I was [click, heel tap, eye wink] but as the meal began to taper off, the table was again packed with every sort of arctic roll, salted caramel, marshmallow, cheesecake, chocolate and hyperactivity generator you might desire.  I didn’t desire though, well, I couldn’t desire.  I’d already out-challenged my eating dress which clung with over-extended desperation to my ever-increasing food baby bulge. So hot! I’m told by my smug family that the desserts were as good as the Kiev but not as good as the cow. More importantly, it was at this point of the meal that my Dad stopped lamenting the disposal of his historic fashion staples.

Toasted marshmallows by Anakin 
My parents won’t be much longer visiting in London which means we won’t leave our next visit to Mall Tavern too long either. Cow pies are not so readily available on Australian summer time menus. And I definitely won’t leave my next quality kitchen day as long between as the last.  I could barely fit my post-Mall Tavern eating dress, but my London mini-fridge certainly can’t fit the product of my post-Sunday kitchen binge.  Sunday dinner at mine anyone?