Tag Archives: kensington

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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