Tag Archives: chelsea

Get Oaty!

You may or may not have appreciated from past posts that I’m Scottish (see here, here, here and here). Our cuisine is, in many ways, quite curious. On the one hand, you have fantastic products like wild salmon and fabulous fresh fruit (like these), but it’s also a nation famed for the deep-fried Mars bar. Contradictions. We love our sweet things (tablet and macaroon bars) but we also love our porridge.

In fact, I think this last comparison is one of the most contrary of all – tablet is about the sweetest things you can imagine, whereas porridge is just about one of the healthiest things you can eat – low GI, higher protein than other grains, low-fat and plenty of fibre. That, and it’s quick, easy and tasty.

I have always been a porridge fan, and it’s the perfect way to start the day when it’s nippy outside. This week we’ve been hit by a cold snap, so I’m grateful for a warming bowl of the stuff before I venture out onto the frozen pavements of Olde London Towne. But last week, I went along to a very intriguing evening, where the world of oats would be lovingly folded into the world of chocolate, thanks to Rude Heath and Demarquette Fine Chocolates.

The evening kicked off with a few wise words about all things oaty and porridgy from Nick Barnard from Rude Health. I would go so far as to say that what this man does not know about oats can be safely assumed to be not worth knowing. How serious is he? Well, he regaled us with tales of his participation in the World Porridge Championships in Carrbridge near Inverness, where he competed against a collection of “gnarly Scots” for the coveted Golden Spurtle. There were two parts to the competition – a “classic” round where participants made porridge from oats, water and salt, and a “creative” section where all manner of fantasy and whimsy could be deployed, provided that the results included porridge.

Now, first things first…if you’re wondering, a spurtle is a special implement (basically, a stick) used to stir porridge. Some people swear by it. I’m inclined to the view that it’s probably one of the silliest things that you could use to make porridge, and you’re far better off using a normal wooden spoon.

We started off with the “classic” version – porridge made from a mixture of course and medium oats, made with milk and water with a dash of salt. Having been identified as a Scot, I was asked what sort of oats I used. I told him I went for pinhead oatmeal, and I think that earned me some serious brownie points – for it seems this is the really hardcore stuff for, eh, gnarly Scots like me…

Now, I should confess that by this stage, having walked all the way from South Kensington tube station in the cold, we had been warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate made with oat milk, whipped cream and whisky (which was delicious, by the way). We’d also been able to nibble on a selection of chocolates and caramels. So by the time Nick had made his porridge, it’s fair to say that the version hearty, savoury porridge was actually rather welcome.

We were also offered some sugar, honey or cream to top it off. As a gnarly Scot, I stood there, skulking, and ate it unadorned…and I’ll let you muse on the idea of me standing in a shop, full of luscious chocolates, eating porridge…

Once we’d sampled the classic version (and I was shocked to see that not everyone devoured their bowl), it was time to see the “creative” section. Now, this was pure fantasy, combining decadence with Dalí: a dark chocolate cup, filled with warm porridge and salted caramel. The trick is that the filling is warm rather than hot, so that everything combines and melts slowly, such that the cup slowly collapses into sticky deliciousness. Think of those melting watches, but tastier.

As Nick made more porridge with an admirable focus of purpose, the resident master chocolatier Marc Demarquette got to work on the salted caramel sauce. In true Blue Peter fashion, everything was laid out ready for work!

I’ve made salted caramel before, but I have to admit that it tends to be a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, and it has, in the past, taken more than one attempt to yield the desired result. Helpfully, Marc shared some tricks of the trade with us, and mercifully for me, in clear and simple terms that I could understand!

Firstly, how to make the base caramel? It’s sugar with a dash of water, heated until lightly golden (too dark and it gets bitter) and you’re looking for “champagne bubbles” – that is to say, the small-ish bubbles you have once the initial larger bubbles subside. Next, adding the butter – the trick here to have it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge, and then drop it into the caramel and then let it sit without stirring. The butter melts, and then you are stirring hot melted butter into the caramelised sugar, which should help to stop things from seizing up. Then move onto adding the cream and salt (or, in this case Halen Môn vanilla salt) and you end up with a lovely, smooth, sticky salted caramel…

…then you fill the chocolate cups with a little porridge (or as the French probably call it to seem fancy – crème d’avoine) and top with a generous amount of salted caramel. As you can see, this causes the Dalí-like slow melting of the cup. Just lovely!

As the cup melts, you get to enjoy all three flavours together. All in all, a fun and very different little dessert. I’m pretty sure that chocolate and salted caramel have never been enjoyed in such a healthy way!

Now, a little damper on all this excitement – Nick told us a sorry tale. He’d fought the good fight last year to win the Golden Spurtle, but he was pipped at the post. Having just tasted this fantastic little dish, I was stunned. However, Nick assured us all that he’s going to have another go – and we all wish him good luck!

If you want to get some idea of the day, check out this film on Implausibleblog.com.

If you’re interested in getting hold of these chocolate cups, either for the porridge-caramel recipe, or for something of your own imagining, they’re available from Demarquette’s boutique in Chelsea, which I can highly recommend. I say this because below you can see some of the other chocolates that we sampled that evening. I know, after all that porridge and caramel (not forgetting the hot chocolate) I should have been full, but they were so tempting.

These little domed chocolates are a range of caramels with exciting flavours like winter berries, festive cinnamon and apple, Scottish raspberry and Cornish sea salt caramels. We also got to try the Medina chocolate, an award winner based on a whipped ganache filling. Given that this was the server’s first day in the boutique, we all think she did pretty well in guiding us through the display and served those chocolates with great aplomb!

Demarquette Fine Chocolates, 285 Fulham Road, London SW10 9PZ. Tel: 020 7351 5467. Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Tom’s Kitchen (Chelsea, London)

That’s kitchen, not diner. Much as we all love the Suzanne Vega hit, try to resist the urge to hum it. Because if you do…it will be stuck in your head by now, and will stubbornly stay there for at least the next 20 minutes…actually, in all likelihood, already too late…

I’ve unexpectedly found myself with a couple of weeks of leisure time in London in the middle of January. I could have gone somewhere, but actually…and this is the big secret…London is a great place to hang out it when you’ve got time off. Sure, the weather isn’t guaranteed, but that doesn’t matter – you’ve got cafés and restaurants galore, and more culture than you can shake a large stick at. I love in particular that so many of the galleries are free, so you can pop in and consume culture in bite-sized chunks. Now, I realise that sounds terrible gauche, but in saying that, I mean you can see a few pieces at a time when your mind is fresh and clear, and really enjoy them. When you’re starting to flag, just step out side and do something else. Our great galleries contain some superb works, and really, seeing them should not be a chore. Hence – bite-sized chunks!

Yesterday I got a call from my friend Kristine to meet up. She proposed Chelsea, late breakfast and some art. The sun was shining and the morning air clear and crisp. A perfect day out.

The venue was Tom’s Kitchen, her suggestion and somewhere that is apparently well-know for its breakfasts, especially the American favourites of pancakes and French toast.

I was due at 11:15, but of course I was not on time. Stoke Newington to Chelsea is not quick at the best of times. Then factor in the randomness of London’s transport network, a seemingly endless wait in the tunnel (which was probably a minute but felt longer) and helping a couple of people with prams, and of course I ran late. So when I emerged above ground I called ahead and asked her to order me some pancakes.

Rushing through the streets of Chelsea, I felt rather happy that I’ve dressed smartly for the day. People probably think I’m going somewhere important to do important things. Of course, the reality was more mundane, just that I didn’t want to arrive to cold pancakes. Depending on what matters, I suppose that is rather important. Still, I enjoyed my little mystery dash down Onslow Square and the very picturesque Pond Place.

I arrived, hot and flustered, and settled down. The place is lovely  – all white tiles and wooden tables, and while it clearly gets busy at weekends and for lunch or dinner, if you get there during the morning of afternoon lull, it’s really quite peaceful. My pancakes were on the way, but we decided that as it was approaching lunchtime, we would order a little more. My timing was bang on – breakfast runs until 11:45, and I had about two minutes to spare. Kristine opted for the Bircher Muesli with fresh berries, and I ordered the beans on wholemeal toast with cheese.

The beans – they are very, eh, ‘huge’. The waitress told us this while at the same time gesturing with her arms that we could expect something rather massive. She was clearly aware that the pancakes plus the beans would be a challenge, and that’s always a piece of advice I’m happy to receive. Suggests they are thinking about you. But, I was hungry, and after this mammoth late breakfast, we were up for a long walk in the fresh air then some culture, so fortification was needed.

The beans came, and they were indeed huge. Lots of toast, lots of baked beans, lots of cheese on top. This was marching food in terms of portion size, so I have to credit our server for giving due warning about the volume of food we had ordered. They were fantastic. Lots of bread, loads of beans, and a lovely great big generous topping of melting cheese. Having stepped inside from the chilly streets of Chelsea, this was all very welcome.

After making short work of those beans, it was pancake time. I’d had in my head that I would be tucking in to a pile of many small pancakes, artfully arranged in a stack. It wasn’t like that. Instead, it was one thick pancake, with lots of blueberries hidden underneath. I mean lots. I can’t stand when you get only a few pieces of fruit in a dish that has the name of that fruit in the title. So today – I was very happy! The thicker, slightly spongy pancake reminded me of the German Kaiserschmarrn. A serious pancake, to provide a solid foundation for later. I probably drowned the poor thing in too much maple syrup, but it happily soaked the stuff up. A sweet, sticky, messy, fruity treat. Delicious!

Our lunch consumed (for we finished late, and well past midday, so it was getting a little silly to pretend it was still breakfast), we had a little wander through the side streets of Chelsea. Now, how posh are the street signs, enveloped in wisteria? We also took in the culture at the Saatchi Gallery just off the King’s Road. All in all, this confirmed that I really am really rather good at enjoying having time off.

So…would I go back? Definitely. Tom’s Kitchen offers some very good food and a relaxed atmosphere. Simple as that, and a great way to set yourself up during the week for sightseeing or shopping in and around Chelsea and South Kensington. But as we left, it was getting seriously busy with the lunch crowd, so booking ahead is probably no bad thing!

Tom’s Kitchen, 27 Cale Street, London SW3 3QP. Tel: 0207 349 0202. Tube: Sloane Square or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

PS…you might also notice that the pictures today are a little different – yes, this is all thanks to Instagram. Now, you may wonder why I am doing this when I am also the proud owner of a DSLR camera? Well, there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, whipping out the bad boy at the dining table is cumbersome and I think really annoying for other diners. Click, click, flash, click. I think it’s annoying, and thus don’t do it to others. The iPhone is far more discrete (well, OK in a cafe or when eating somewhere informal…I think I’ll be keeping it firmly in my pocket when it come to fine dining experiences). Plus – I like the “Polaroid” effect on these shots too, simple as that. If you’ve got a view on the subject – do share!

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On Location: Demarquette (Chelsea, London)

Easter is coming, and that, of course, means that many of us will consume our own body weight in chocolate eggs. So I was thrilled when I received a recent invite to attend a tasting evening at the Demarquette chocolate boutique in Chelsea. A chic part of London that I don’t get to that often, so all the more incentive to attend.

As regular readers might have realised, I have a penchant for nice chocolates from my time in Brussels, and this little place surely did not disappoint. Greeted with a glass of fizz, we then got to sample a variety of the goodies on offer. The selection was great – showcasing the range of what they did, so a glimpse into everything from the classical to the contemporary, old favourites and new twists. There were delectable candied clementines dipped in dark chocolate, which were sweet, plump and conveyed all the flavours of Christmas. There was an utterly delicious salted caramel spread made with Cornish clotted cream. What struck me was that while this clearly contained heroic quantities of dairy and sugar, it had a rich, smooth buttery quality, rather than just cloying sweetness, so it might be appearing in a few gift packs rather soon. The two others that stood out for me were the caramel miniature eggs (of which more later) and mint and green tea chocolates. These were, without doubt, the nicest mint chocolates I have had in quite some time. Forget white fondant filled sweets, these had a rich, smooth ganache filling and tasted just like they had fresh mint leaves in them – this flavour was real, bright and fresh. Absolutely superb.

I was also intrigued by some of the flavours that I saw but did not get the chance to taste – the English Garden Collection (with a range floral flavours – rose, violet, elderflower – and aptly launched during the 2009 Chelsea Flower Show) and the British Summer Fruits (rhubarb! pear! blackcurrant! raspberries!) stood out, and I look forward to getting round to trying these in due course.

We were also treated to a little live demonstration of making ganache, where the owner, Marc Demarquette, shared his technique. This differs from the way in which I have made ganache in the past – he uses warmed cream with melted chocolate – so I will be giving this a try very soon. Needless to say, it was delicious and we were allowed to dip strawberries and brioche in the mixture to our heart’s content, subject to a strict no-double-dipping rule. All this was topped off with the chance to test some of their new creations, including some cloud-like whipped ganache chocolates. I could go on, and on, and on, but suffice to say: lovely shop, lovely staff, and delicious, innovative, creative chocolates. As if all that were not enough reason to head down there, they are also working cocoa growers in Vietnam to source great beans and do a little good for the local community. Sold yet?

Now, from the night, I have to ‘fess up and say that I expected to be more occupied with guzzling sweets and discussing exactly which type of chocolate I liked, so the camera stayed at home and the iPhone firmly in pocket. However, we were also kindly given a little goody bag, so I have used that as the basis of a few pics to share.

Without doubt, my complete, utter and total favourite where the salted caramel chocolate eggs. They had a rich, biting caramel which worked beautifully with the dark, rather fruity chocolate that encased them. I rationed them to one a day, both a massive exercise in self-control and testament to the fact that I did not think it fitting to snaffle them all in one go.

I also loved the two little Easter chicks made of chocolate, and a small gift box of six individual chocolates. In each case, the flavour was just right – just the right strength, and rather impressively, even the banana chocolate tasted pretty good, which I think is something very tricky to pull off.

In short, this was a great evening, and I am so happy to have found this store. I look forward to buying a few more goodies in the future, and popping back to the shop to take in what they have on offer. And if you find yourself in that part of London, I can assure you that it’s worth it.

And just to show a little humour – here are the chocolate Easter chickens!

Demarquette Fine Chocolates, 285 Fulham Road, London SW10 9PZ. Tel: 020 7351 5467. Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington.

LondonEats locations map here.

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Sugar, spice and all things nice – Chelsea Buns

It occurred to me the other day that while I happily call my blog “LondonEats” I have not really looked at London recipes. So time to make a bit of a change, and presenting the famous Chelsea bun.

They are said to originate from the 1700s, and were apparently a particular favourite of the then-new monarchy, the House of Hanover, including George II and George III (he of the “Madness” fame) and Queen Charlotte. History does not, alas, record whether these buns played any role in George III’s deterioration, or indeed in his subsequent recovery.

The name tells you about exactly where they sprang from – a bun house in Chelsea, called – surprisingly – The Chelsea Bun House, located between Chelsea and Pimlico. Even if the original is long-gone, you can still stroll down Bunhouse Place today. Well…actually…this street is now technically in Pimlico, but it’s probably too late to try and change the well-established name of this sticky treat.

So what are they like? Think of an enriched yeast dough (not too sweet), which is formed into swirls and studded with dried fruit, baked in a single tin so that the buns merge into each other as they prove, then glazed with a sweet, sticky syrup which seeps down into the fruit filling. The result is fruity and delicious, and utterly perfect with a cup of tea. Most English cakes are at their best with a cup of tea.

When it comes to exact recipes, there is, as ever, a variety of recipes. Some contain cinnamon, some recipes feature nutmeg, and then there are those with a little or lots of citrus peel, and those that have just currants or sultanas. Even the syrup has lots of variants – ranging from a light glaze through to thick, sticky, sweet  coating with butter and honey.

Taking all this in the round….I came up with my own version. The biggest shock to myself was that I didn’t include any cinnamon. I’m normally a huge fan of cinnamon, but I thought that this could so easily overpower the flavours from the sultanas, brown sugar and honey. In the event, each of these ingredients still imparted a subtle “spiciness” to the finished buns, which was very welcome. The filling was otherwise a combination of mixed dried fruit (currants, sultanas and a few dried cranberries) plus candied peel. But if you want to add nuts, cherries or anything else, then feel free. Spices and fresh citrus zest can also go in there if the mood takes you.

So give them a bash! Perfect to tuck into while you are watching the Royal Wedding on 29 April.

To make Chelsea buns (makes 9, can easily be doubled):

For the dough:

• 100g plain flour
• 125g strong white flour
• large pinch of salt
• 40g butter
• 2 tablespoons white sugar
• 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 120ml milk
• 1 egg, beaten

For the filling:

• 100g dried fruit
• 25g candied peel, chopped
• 50g soft brown sugar

For the glaze:

• 25g brown sugar
• 50g honey
• 1 tablespoon milk

• Pinch of salt

Put the flours and salt in a bowl, and rub in the butter. Add the yeast, sugar, milk and egg. Start mixing with a spoon, then use your hands. Work for around 5 minutes, until you have a smooth dough. Cover the bowl with cling film, and leave somewhere warm until the dough has risen and is about double the size (30-60 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°C) and lightly grease a square tin with butter. Take the dough, knock it down, then on a floured worktop, roll out into a large rectangle.

Now prepare the filling: mix the fruit, candied peel and brown sugar in a bowl. Scatter evenly across the rolled dough. Roll up the dough like a swiss roll (roll lengthwise), seal the edge, and cut into 9 pieces. Arrange cut side down in the tin (the buns might not touch when you put them in the tin – this will change when the puff up, as in the pictures).

Leave the buns to rise for about 30 minutes or until doubled in size. Bake for around 25-30 minutes until the buns are golden-brown. Just before the buns come out of the oven, melt the honey, sugar, salt and milk to make the glaze. Allow the buns to sit for a couple of minutes when the come out of the oven, then brush with the glaze. Leave to cool.

Worth making? If you like fruity breads, then you will like these buns. They are very easy to make (if you’ve got a bread machine, you make the first stage using the dough cycle). The result is rich, sweet, sticky and delicious.

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