Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Thing

We have this great local fishmonger, Fish Tale, in Streatham Hill and the family who run it are friendly, chatty, and helpful. They're always busy now, which is a heartening sign of the well-deserved welcome they are getting from the local community. We don't visit as often as I'd like, but have been in there maybe four or five times and have always been greeted with a smile and a genuine hello.

Last Sunday we went in at around 5.30pm and they were almost sold out of the fish on their ice counter, but the proprietress assured me they had more in the chiller. In the end we bought some gorgeous cod and haddock fillets marinated in chilli and herbs (which were delicious, but we'll have to get to that another time).

As we were paying up, by way of conversation, the nice lady mentioned that they would soon be getting a lobster tank in store. Excited by this, I asked her how much a lobster would be (she didn't actually say, but looking at their website I can see they're normally £9.99) - and she said they would have live crabs, too. At this point, I exclaimed, "I love crab!" Quick as a flash, she was on her way out the back again."Wait there," she said. "I'll give you one." Catching our uncertain glances to one another, she added to the Mister and I, "for free!"

The Mister gave me a look that said, BONUS. I didn't argue, and before we knew it she was handing us a weighty carrier bag with a huge orange crustacean staring up at us with beady, dead eyes.

"I had a customer who ordered it," said the diminutive shopkeeper, "but she couldn't cook it live, so she asked me to do it, and said she would collect it on Friday. That was two days ago, and I can't sell it, so have it. Tell me how it is," she winked, "but don't eat it if it smells funny," she added, with a look of warning.

"But how do we get into it?" I asked. "And aren't there some bits we can't eat?" I was vaguely remembering something about dead man's fingers.

"Naaah, darleeen," came the reply. "Just put a sharp knife into it (she mimed a straight-down, stabbing motion) and it will be lovely."

Well. One hour later, we were staring at our new Cornish friend in the kitchen sink.

"I feel sorry for it," I said.

The Mister started to try to split it in half as per the instructions given, but succeeded only in dulling our sharpest kitchen knife. So we did what any pansy-assed, lily-livered city slickers who didn't know our crab's ass from its elbow would do:

We youtubed it. (You have to watch this. It's the least enthusiastic instruction video ever.)

Following our nasal young instructor's method step-by-step, we (well, I say we)  dissected the primeval, alien creature, bit by bit. We had to keep stopping to rinse it, because it was pretty horrible and all covered in brown goop.

I documented the Mister's disgust, mild nausea, and sheer incredulity with great interest.

Eventually we got the hang of getting the meat out, using our ill-equipped kitchen implements such as chopsticks, knives, and our garlic crushers. After an hour of hard toil, we ended up with this much meat.

What a crock.

It did make a lovely crab linguine, though. But your bin doesn't half stink the next day.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Can Totally Manage Another Year Older...etc, etc. Part 2 of 2.

Image credit:

So. Where were we? Oh yes. It was rainy and far too cold to be the end of August, and I'd worn silly shoes and my feet were wet. We'd just been to see Le Refuge at the Renoir, and were in the Marquis of Cornwallis having a drink to warm up before the damp journey home. I was wondering why we were in the pub and not just on our way home already, but it seemed important that we killed some time in the pub. The Mister was being twinkly-eyed and mysterious in that cute mischievous way he does so well.

Me: It's been a lovely day, but my feet are a bit wet now. (Cursing stupid sandals.) Shall we go home?
Mister: No, let's just stay here a bit longer.
Me: Why? The weather's not very nice. Let's go home and get cosy.
Mister: Are you getting hungry?
Me: Not really. Well, a bit. But I can wait until we get home. (Not wanting to appear to expect any other treats, like a restaurant dinner. Although of course, not wanting the day to just end there, all soggy and emotionally pummelled by enjoyable, but strange, French cinema).
Mister: Oh good. Because I'm afraid we're not going to a restaurant.
Me: Oh.
Mister: Sorry.
Me: That's OK! (A little too brightly.) It's been a lovely day. Thank you.
Mister: Let's give it ten more minutes here and then we'll go.
Me: O..kay. (Still expecting that he's pulling my leg and that we're going for dim sum or something. He knows I love dim sum.)
Mister: We've just got to call in on a mate of mine before we go home.
Me: What? Who? (mildly incensed)
Mister: Just a guy I know, called Arno. In Brixton.
Me: Really? I don't know any mate of yours called Arno...(smiling knowingly - thinking I've cottoned on to an alternative plan)
Mister: Yep. Sorry. (completely po-faced). I've got to pick up some weed for my friend Lila. Arno's a mate of a mate, if you know what I mean. I promised I'd stop by this week.
Me: Can we not go see Arno some other day? Surely Lila can wait?! It's bleeding horrible outside. In case you hadn't noticed, I wore terribly inappropriate footwear and I'm a bit cold and soaking wet all over. And I don't really want to visit some dealer! And... (bottom lip trembles a bit at this stage)'s my birthday!
Mister: It's on our way home. I promise it won't take long. Just a quick 10 minute detour and we'll get warmed up with something lovely at home, I promise (flashes his winning smile).

And so we were on our way, deep underground until we got out at Brixton in the rush hour home, rain still streaming down,making the high street look like a watercolour canvas. We stopped at a cash point and I saw the Mister take out a small wedge that made me begin to question just how much weed we might be buying. And why on earth Lila couldn't buy her own. The twinkly-eyed thing had definitely worn off. By the time we were past the Ritzy, I was raging.

We turned the corner onto Saltoun Road and stopped somewhere near the middle. The Mister rang the doorbell. I muttered something bad-tempered about it looking like a drug-dealer's house. Gosh, I'm petulant. How would I know? Of course it didn't. Then the door was opened by a very salubrious-looking young man in an apron. He was all groomed in that East London kind of way - you know, brylcreemed and retro-cool. I had to admit I still had no idea what was going on, until he beamed and invited us in. "I'm Will," he said. "I'm filling in tonight. Do follow me upstairs." It was then that I began to twig (yes, I'm pretty slow) that this probably wasn't a drug dealer's house at all. Part of me did wonder if we were entering a den of meditation or some kind of new-age therapy; and given that I was being so mare-ish, I wouldn't have been surprised if it was a couples-counseling session we'd walked into. But the Mister's face told me everything I needed to know - that it was going to be fun.

We walked upstairs, past a few bicycles hanging up, past a few arty knick-knacks including a Gilbert & George swear box, a fluorescent Virgin Mary in the bathroom, and lots of books. And then we arrived in the kitchen/diner, which was absolutely gorgeous.
The room was impeccably turned out - romantic lighting, laid out for dinner with four tables, two seating two, one seating four and the largest seating seven. There were things to look at wherever you turned your head - woven baskets on some of the walls, butterflies and bits of fishing tackle on others, vases, flowers, just lots of bits of somebody's life who obviously likes to collect. Will offered to take our coats and I was still looking around,open-mouthed, taking it all in. The Mister explained that it was my birthday, it was a surprise visit for me, and that it was our first time here. Will saw the need to elaborate. "It's a supper club," he explained. "Twice a week we can seat up to 16 guests. Let me introduce you to the chef, Arno." Sure enough, there was Arno - stylish, moustachioed, nothing like a drug dealer - busy in the kitchen. He took time out to shake our hands and greet us before turning back to his work.

It was at that point that the Mister realised he had forgotten to pick up a bottle of wine (which would have given the game away), so he nipped out and I was left to explore the sensory feast that is the Saltoun Supper Club. We were the first to arrive, so I was free to explore the 'smoking room' upstairs, a large loft conversion that houses many of Arno's history books (there's a theme: if you visit, see if you can spot it). As guests began to arrive, and the Mister arrived with our wine, we chatted a bit to our fellow diners, asking them how they had heard about the place (one diner was Arno's downstairs neighbour, who had family visiting from Australia and wanted to show them his nearest great local restaurant - they hadn't realised just quite how near it would be, another had just google-searched 'supper clubs'). The atmosphere was quite different to that of any other ordinary restaurant, with everyone making a concerted effort to chat, much like at any dinner party - you could almost imagine everyone playing a game of cards or scrabble in between courses. I immediately fell in love with the idea of holding one: although I'm sure it would be much more stressful than Arno made it look.

Soon, the first of five courses was served - a fresh summer vegetable salad with blanched julienned courgettes, romanesco cauliflower and feta, served with a drizzle of lemon, olive oil and black sesame seeds. Everything was fresh, with the vegetables sourced locally from the market in Brixton. It was a great start to the meal and cleansed the palate nicely with fresh, summery, zingy flavours that made us forget the biblical rain outside. We were given a basket of fresh bread which helped us mop up the last of the dressing. Yummy.

The next course was duck rillettes served with cornichons, pickled onions and more of the lovely bread. We chatted and relaxed, with Will keeping us topped up with wine, and enjoyed the atmosphere. I apologised profusely to the Mister, who had outdone himself. I'd forgotten all about the rain, my shoes, the proposed drug deal, and was slipping nicely into an overindulgent cordon-bleu coma. He'd enjoyed the whole thing immensely and maintains that I'm just too much of a control freak to really enjoy surprises. He may be right. Anyway, that's beside the point.

The next course was the main: whole sea bass stuffed with herbs and served with sugar snap peas, potatoes and a creamy saffron sauce. I didn't get a very good picture of this, but you get the idea: charming and delicious. Arno's presentation is first-class. I learned by reading Jay Rayner's review of the supper club that he is also a food photographer/stylist, which makes a lot of sense.

The evening lazed by, with breaks upstairs in the smoking room to chat with others, browse the books, or actually have a smoke. How very civilised. The rain pounding the smoking room's velux windows actually began to sound terribly romantic and Parisian, that's how cosy (and tipsy) I was. Before we knew it, we were already at dessert. By then I was completely stuffed, and so I did my level best with the delicious homemade chocolate brownie with fresh raspberries, but just couldn't finish the homemade chocolate slabs with ganache. A shame, because patisserie and desserts are clearly Arno's forté.

Arno, bless him, came around to the tables once everyone had finished and was having their coffee or mint tea and petits fours with fresh fruit, to check on our enjoyment of the evening. Not in a militaristic way, but in a way that said, 'I love food, and I've enjoyed cooking for you tonight, so I hope you've loved my food this evening'. When he came to our table, Will had presented me with a tiny plate of square miniature sponge birthday cakes decorated with fruit and fresh cream, which I had to ask if I could take home in a box, just because my cake-intake levels that day were off the scale -see my previous post. They were delicious - we enjoyed them for an indulgent breakfast treat the next day.

It was all so lovely, and Arno and Will (or whoever usually helps Arno out) deserve as much great publicity as possible. I know that there's a birthday sheen on this review, but I'm definitely going back with 6 friends to fill up that big table.

You can read some other great reviews of the Saltoun Supper Club here, here and here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I can totally manage another year older (if it comes with cake and Jennifer Love Hewitt's blessing). Part 1 of 2.

Birthdays are strange things. It seems that people want them less, the more of them they have. Like socks. Or jobs. Or reality TV shows.

I'm still within the commonly acceptable age range which is allowed to welcome birthdays, but I think I'll have to give up the right to annually self-worship in approximately 730 days. Unless, of course, I take some well-thought-out, cogent advice from the Femail section of the Daily Mail, which quotes that veritable woman-mountain of inspiration, Jennifer Love Hewitt :

Last year when Jennifer Love Hewitt was 29 she was quoted as saying: ‘I'm so excited! It's my dream age. I don't know why but, literally, since my 12th birthday I've wanted to turn 30. There's nothing more graceful or elegant than the beauty of a female when she has figured out who she is.’

So until then, when I've figured out who I am (?@!&$*) Love Hewitt, I've decided to go all out.

This year was all organised as a series of little surprises by the Mister, who deserves an enormous medal for not bowing to the continual pressure I subjected him to whilst trying to find out what we'd be doing on the day, and for managing to involve my mum as well, whilst keeping everything a delicious secret from me. Our conversations the week beforehand went mostly like this:

Me: Tell me.

Mister: No.

Me: Oh, go on.

Mister: Do you really want to know?

Me: No.


Me: Oh, go on.

(repeat ad nauseum).

So in the end, the day went like this.

We met my mum at a secret Piccadilly location at 11am which turned out to be Fortnum & Mason. She and I had a treatment each - me, manicure, she, pedicure - in their Beauty a la carte rooms. It was heavenly. My nails have never looked so spiffing.

The Mister went and had a pint and read his book nearby. We reconvened in an hour, then we all went up two flights of stairs to the St.James's Restaurant for proper afternoon tea.

I know. I'm a fiendishly lucky woman. Look at the cakes!

We ate a lot of cake. And sandwiches. Delicious little sandwiches for rich people with tiny little hands that couldn't hold a real-sized sandwich. It was really quite illuminating. And lovely. Did I say lovely already? I think I'm still having sugar highs.

After lunch we went to Oxford Street. That was a bad idea. By then it had started to rain. But we persevered, for my mum's birthday promise to me was a new pair of shoes. I know! It's like I had died and gone to some kind of Femail-sponsored heaven. It almost made me want to buy something fashionable. Eventually the rain reminded me that nothing is worth Oxford Street in the rain, not even new shoes. Yes, I'm cancelling my subscription to Grazia as I type.

So then mum called it a day, because we were going to see a film, and because, in her words, 'the evening is for lovers'. Aw. Don't you love mums?

The film we went to see was called 'Le Refuge' and it was on at the Renoir, which is another brilliant move from the Mister because he knows I'm a sucker for those Frenchies and their art-house sexy addiction films about drugs and babies. Anyway, more about that another time. You can read a review of the film here.

Then, suddenly, it was nearing dusk and I thought the day was over. But oh no. There was more to come.

For that, you're going to have to wait, because it deserves a sparkling post full of joy and now it's a Monday night at 11.43pm a few weeks later and I'll have to remember every detail to do it justice because it was a lovely evening. Ok, so it rained. A lot. But that didn't spoil a thing. It was lovely and warm and sunny inside. Oh, did I mention it was lovely*?

*All, right, I'm aware this sunniness may be getting annoying. Just one more post and then it's back to food and grumps.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Last of the summer cake

Its been bloody ages since my last post. But, just to prove I haven't slipped into a late-summer-early-autumn-birthday-cake-induced sugar coma, I present to you: my second restaurant review for streathampulse. Enjoy.

I shall be back with a self-indulgent dose of post-birthday loveliness as soon as I can move again for all that cake.