Tuesday, April 26

Pandan whatio?

In my post on Bubbleology last week, I mentioned an ingredient called 'pandan' but failed to elaborate on what it was. In case you were wondering, I fortunately happen to have secured a bunch of pandan leaves to show you.

Pandan leaves

Meet pandanus amaryllifolius, a well-known face in the South East Asian food circuit. Usually appearing at foodie taste parties alongside coconut milk, pandan's role is to give dishes a heady scent and flavours a long finish. It's very distinct as a flavour, though, so it escapes comparisons to other foods. I can't say it's anything like basil or coriander or curry leaf or lemongrass. However, if you try to imagine an open field or a forest in South East Asia with lush vegetation, you might be able to guess at the taste of pandan. In fact, the closest I can get to describing pandan's scent is this: it's what the tropical rainforest in Singapore smells like after a heavy rain shower.

Friday, April 22

Bruegger's Soup

I have been having a lot of soup for lunch lately. Why? Because at the over-ripe age of 37, I am going through orthodontic treatment with braces. Mid-life crisis, you ask? Perhaps. Truffle is worried that it is a form of gateway treatment for other cosmetic adjustments. I have assured her that I will not be having a boob job any time soon, though I might consider Botox in my 50s. Heck, by then, everyone will be self-administering the stuff!

Thursday, April 21

Bubbleology, Soho

On some nights, I wish Central London had an alternative evening-drink locale to the stinky pub (featuring sticky floors and faded upholstery) or the flashy bar (featuring ladies of the night). You know, a nice place where you can just kick back with friends, dress casually, and not be surrounded by bodies pressing into you with their lager-breath or women's voices getting screechier as the alcohol absorption increases. (Admit it, sometimes we all want an alternative to that sort of evening!)

In many Asian cities, this 'alternative' is actually a well-developed genre, and there are hosts of coffee chains, local tea shops and ice-cream parlours staying open late (even well past midnight on weekends), offering young people a relaxed, civilised place to get out of the house. One such place is the bubble tea café.

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and is named for the bubbles that develop on the surface when shaken. It comes in black or fruit tea combos and can feature plump tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup, slurped up through wide straws. For me, bubble tea means shopping in a hot tropical climate and stopping for some cool refreshment, or hanging out with friends after a movie with no one getting drunk around you.

This is why I was especially pleased to be invited to the launch of Bubbleology, a new bubble tea café in Soho. Co-founder, Assad Khan, worked in a New York City investment bank for a few years before returning to the UK. Along with that infectious NYC enthusiasm for commerce, he brought back with him the idea for a chain of bubble tea cafés. Aware of the drink's Taiwanese origins, he approached that country's representation to the UK and was soon dispatched to Taipei, where he learned how to make bubble tea from the masters and identified the best suppliers for the specialist equipment he needed. Back in London, he approached Dan Einzig, designer of the successful chain of young, fun and family-friendly Giraffe restaurants. Not having cash to give him upfront, Assad offered Dan Einzig an equity stake in the idea (the two later brought in angel investors). All in all, from putting the idea in motion to opening the first café in Soho, the process took just 10 months. I don't think anyone can fail to be impressed by that.

Wednesday, April 20

Koya, Soho

Sorry for the long absence, peeps. I've been working on an interesting piece, which still needs some attention. In the mean time, Frangelico and I were in Soho last night, for a press launch of a place I can't talk about yet (online press embargo until Thursday, you see). After the event-that-shall-not-be-named, we thought we'd head to nearby Koya, a Japanese restaurant that's become hugely popular in a very short space of time.

Koya's specialty is udon, which is made fresh in-store every day. You can get it atsu-atsu (hot udon with hot soup - the dashi is made fresh daily too), hiya-atsu (cold udon with hot soup on the side), or hiya-hiya (you work it out). It's very hard to find good udon in London, so I'm not surprised at how this place has taken off. The quality of the udon's texture rivals my previous best-find at Defune (although the taste at Defune remains unbeaten).

Wednesday, April 13

Transatlantic Food Tasting

One of the many benefits of being a food blogger is that people take your tasting skills rather seriously. Within a span of two weeks, I was invited not to one, but to two food tastings - one in Portugal (see earlier post on trip to Martinhal) and the other right here in the country club in our little town of Davidson, NC.  Martinhal was looking to expand their lunch menu for their casual beach and pool restaurant and our country club was looking to hire a new chef. Both food committees were small (10-14 people) and I was honored to have been invited to both.

I was expecting both experiences to be vastly different. I expected the tasting in Martinhal  to include intricate hues of sophisticated tastes and did not expect as much complexity here in Davidson. I was surprised. In Europe, there seemed to be a return to refined simplicity, with basic herbs and simple flavors of garlic and olive oil bringing out the best in high quality seafood and meat. In the US, there is a burning desire to encompass the entire world of taste in one sitting. "Make it pop!  Where is the burn? I want a full flavored meal! What is so creative about this dish?" Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed and cherished both tastings, like one would cherish two very different children.

There was one overarching theme though, the folks who organize these tastings don't necessarily want to know if YOU like the food, they want to know if you think everyone ELSE will. In Martinhal, the one question that was asked a few times was, "but will the Portuguese like it?" The answer? "60% of our clientele are British..."  The question raised here in Davidson was,"yeah, this guy makes excellent seafood.  But how many club members enjoy seafood?" I love seafood, so I swiftly changed the subject both times this question was asked.

Here are some of the highlights of the food tasting in Martinhal.

Tender, fresh from the sea, succulent Portuguese sardines in vinegar and olive oil with slices of garlic.

Medium rare steak with clams - plenty of garlic, olive oil and rosemary. Fan-bloody-tastic! A nice red to wash it down! (Chilli Padi, please send me the name of the wine...)

Shrimp. Whoo boy. Garlic, garlic, garlic, olive oil, olive oil, flavor flavor flavor! Yumm.

Superb lobster dressed in a cotton dress to show its true beauty. So no heavy white sauce with melted cheese to cover it all up!

What were we served in North Carolina?

Top rate sushi! This Mexican chef of Japanese and Italian descent had driven 120 miles to the NC coast to get the best fish for our tasting.

He was indeed creative. This was a lunch salad with a grilled cheese sandwich and fried egg as the main components. One of the best salads I have ever had.

Steak with prosciutto and tomato dressed with a vanilla-bean sauce. I have only had this type of sauteed tomatoes in Indian food. This was the winner that night.

Rack of lamb served Osso Bucco style. Hmmm, I would rather have rack of lamb grilled or real Osso Bucco... But it looked good and it made a statement about his creativity.

My final favorite - Salmon Made Three Ways.

So, that's all folks! If you would like to invite us to other tastings, Cinnamon and Truffle would be happy to oblige!


Sunday, April 3

Martinhal - The Benefits of Being a Sister of a Hotelier

Truffle and I are two sisters out of four. Truffle and I have written about sister number 4, Rice Krispie, but have yet to mention sister Premier, Chilli Padi. The reason is that I had been waiting to visit her in Portugal, which I recently did.

Chilli Padi and I are only three years apart. We grew up together as a pair and Truffle and Rice Krispie, much younger than us were the other pair. Chilli and I fought and argued like typical sisters, but she took care of me too. She always looked out for me at school, took me to her friends' birthday parties and she was my go-to person for homework. There was no way I could compete with her and I knew early on not to bother. She was stronger, smarter, and more outgoing. Teachers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins were all very impressed with her and always commented on how intelligent she was as a child. My fifth grade Chinese teacher once said to me, "Your sister is so smart!  Her Mandarin is so good! What happened to you?" Mind you, I did have a couple of things going for me too. I was the cute one. I had chubby cheeks and a mean pout. I'd also like to think that I had an artistic flair - I was good at drawing, I was pretty good at school plays, and could always make Chilli laugh. 

We also had very different tastes. She liked chocolate ice-cream, I liked strawberry. She liked savory, I liked sweet. She liked meat, I liked fruit. We might have been different then, but not anymore. I loved all the food at her hotel and resort in Portugal.

Err, yes, you read correctly. My sister continued on that stellar path and she and her husband, Mr. Dessert, have developed, built and now run Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel.  Not only that, they managed to pop out four lovely children while building a business. We visited them recently for Spring Break and had the best family holiday ever! The hotel and resort is gorgeous!  The architecture and design is modern-contemporary and just stunning. The place is filled with great art and the spa is top notch. The most memorable for yours truly? The cuisine at Martinhal.

Here are just a few highlights:
As Dunas restaurant (The Sand Dunes). Their more casual restaurant by the beach with the best seafood in the region. Portugal is known for fresh seafood served grilled with a side of potatoes and salad/vegetables.

Seafood lunch platter. You can't have this combo unless you sister runs the place!

 Garlic shrimp! Yum. You have to peel them with your hands which means you get extra flavor on your fingers.

Grilled fish, Portuguese style, but taken a few levels up Martinhal-style. 

Clams with garlic and cilantro/coriander. Would you believe my American kids loved this dish!  

 Portuguese coffee to wash it down.

O Terraco (The Terrace) restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served.

Breakfast. A picture tells a thousand words...

 Porto Branco. Pre-dinner drink in lounge.

I have more pictures but not enough time. Chilli and Mr. Dessert were kind enough to invite us to a food tasting for As Dunas restaurant. So, much more in my next post!

Chilli Padi and Mr Dessert, congratulations on Martinhal. We are very proud of you. Chilli Padi, I expected and will continue to expect nothing less from you. Love you!



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