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Eating London – Day 2: Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

The first place many eaters think of when they’re making restaurant reservations in the UK is Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck in Bray, and I was no exception. The Fat Duck is one of the world’s best restaurants and serves a fun and experimental menu that showcases Blumenthal’s creativity alongside his culinary expertise. And this is the guy who used a hot tub as a waterbath to sous vide a whole pig…why wouldn’t we want to eat there?

Cost was definitely a factor, especially at £160 (approx. $260) per person and the US Dollar being so weak, and we didn’t want to spend a huge chunk of our eating budget at one restaurant. Plus, we weren’t too keen on traveling all the way out to Bray from London just for dinner when we already had other day trips to Oxford and Warwick on our schedule.

Menu Holder

Then I heard that Blumenthal opened a new restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, at the tony Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge, and I focused my efforts on getting a booking there. The only problem with this plan was that Dinner is one of the hardest reservations in London and was booked solid till July…or so I thought. I gave the restaurant a call and snagged a booking for a Saturday lunch, which was fine with me because we had full access to the menu (there’s a set lunch menu Mon-Fri), and in the daytime the natural light in the restaurant is good for pictures. :)

The focus at Dinner isn’t a multi-course, avant-garde tasting extravaganza but simply the modernization of classic British dishes, and on the menu, every dish has a date next to it signifying the approximate year it originated. I was glad to see this because I wanted to believe that British cuisine had been maligned by cliché stereotypes, and I was confident that Blumenthal could dispel these aspersions.

Two of Dinner’s most talked/written/blogged-about dishes are on the starter menu. The Meat Fruit looks like a mandarin orange, stem and all, but when you cut the mandarin gel “skin,” a creamy chicken liver parfait is revealed. Spread the parfait on toast and you’re in business, and don’t forget to include a little bit of the mandarin skin for a subtle citrusy note.

Meat Fruit (c. 1500)
Meat Fruit (c.1500)
Mandarin, chicken liver parfait, grilled bread

The Salamagundy is made up primarily of chicken oysters, bone marrow and horseradish cream. The original dish was what passed for a salad back in the day, and the name generally means a hodgepodge of disparate items. In this case, these disparate ingredients make a tasty appetizer.

Salamagundy (c. 1720)
Salamagundy (c.1720)
Chicken oysters, bone marrow, horseradish cream

My wife ordered the Cod in Cider, a relatively modern dish compared to the rest of the menu. She said it was “the best-cooked fish I’ve had since Le Bernardin” (approx. three years ago) and liked the way the acidity of the cider complemented the cod.

Cod in Cider (c. 1940)
Cod in Cider (c.1940)
Chard and fired mussels

I ordered the Sirloin of Black Angus with mushroom ketchup, red wine juice, and triple-cooked chips. The steak was outstanding on its own, but the dollops of bone marrow topped with bread crumbs and chives on top of the steak took it to another level. The chips were some of the best fries I’ve ever had.

Sirloin of Black Angus (c.1830)
Sirloin of Black Angus (c.1830)
mushroom ketchup, red wine juice, triple-cooked chips

Dinner’s desserts are also getting a lot of buzz, especially the Tipsy Cake, which is basically brioche infused with creme and served in a cast iron cocotte alongside a piece of spit-roasted pineapple. If you’ve ever had grilled pineapple, I think spit roasting is much better because it’s a slower process that produces a deeper caramelized flavor.

Tipsy Cake (c.1810)
Tipsy Cake (c.1810)
Spit-roasted pineapple

We also had the Baked Lemon Suet Pudding, which is a suet cake filled with lemon caramel pudding. I love lemon desserts, so this one was also a favorite.

Baked Lemon Suet Pudding (c.1630)
Baked Lemon Suet Pudding (c.1630)
Lemon caramel & jersey cream

Service was casual and generally attentive, but they kinda forgot about me when I wanted tea at the end of the meal. I ended up just asking for coffee and the check. One really cool thing was that when we had to pay, we had the option of paying in US Dollars, which gave us the best exchange rate and eliminated at least one credit card foreign transaction fee. I assume this is because the restaurant is in a big international hotel; we didn’t get this option at any other place during our trip.

We liked Dinner a lot and would definitely go back if we had another opportunity, especially because the one dish I really wanted to try, the 72-hour sous vide short rib dish known as the Beef Royal, wasn’t available, and you know how much I love my short ribs. Still, despite outstanding meals from two of London’s most acclaimed (or overhyped?) restaurants within 24 hours of each other since our arrival, little did we know our best meal was yet to come…

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
66 Knightsbridge
London SW1X 7LA (map)
44(0)20 7201 3833
Web site

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beef Bistek Tagalog Filipino recipes

Bistek Tagalog 3.0 (Grilled Version)

Thanksgiving was at my cousin’s this year, and we both agreed we didn’t want to do turkey. I decided that I would make a big batch of Bistek Tagalog, only this time (and inspired by Marvin at Burnt Lumpia) I was going to grill it. Bistek is great as a traditional single-pan dish, but I was confident that grilling the steak would make it even better.

Grilled Bistek

Unlike previous versions of bistek I’ve made that used thinly sliced New York or sirloin steaks, I picked up some flap steak at Costco. Flap steak is very similar to skirt steak, cooks quickly, and is extremely tender. Again, you can use almost any cut of steak to make bistek, but I think that skirt, flank, or flap steaks might be the best cuts of meat for this dish.

I used the same methods as in Bistek Tagalog II (Kalamansi version). I got some more kalamansi from our family friend and ended up needing 60 of them to get almost 1.5 cups of juice. I mixed this with a cup of soy sauce (to ensure there was proportionally more juice than soy sauce) and four chopped garlic cloves to finish the marinade. The meat should be marinated for no more than an hour before putting them on the grill. (Make sure you save the marinade to make the sauce later).

Grilled BistekOn the Grill

I grilled them for about 5 minutes a side on a very hot grill and then rested the meat for 10 minutes before slicing it against the grain. The meat ended up being between medium rare and medium, which is exactly what I was looking for.

Grilled BistekSlice against the grain.

I had a bit of trouble getting the onions onto skewers, so I just put them directly on the grill. I lost a bit of onion this way, but for the most part it worked well. I’m sure you could fry up the onions in a hot, dry frying pan or grill pan if you want to maximize your onion yield. :) When you’re done cooking the onions, mix it up with the meat.

While the meat rests, take the remaining marinade and cook it down to your desired consistency to make the sauce. You might find that you don’t even need the sauce after you try the meat, but it’s always good to mix it in with your rice, too. We ended up pouring the sauce into a gravy boat so that people could just pour it on the meat if they wanted.

Of the three different bistek’s that I’ve made, this one is by far my favorite. Grilled meat always trumps pan-fried in my book, and the flap steak was also the ideal cut of meat to use for bistek. A pan-fried flap steak would also be excellent, but if you have access to a grill, by all means use it.

How did it go over at Thanksgiving? The bistek was the first platter to be finished off, and I also got several compliments on it, so it went very well. :)

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend…now it’s time to focus on Christmas dinner!

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beef Bistek Tagalog Filipino recipes

Bistek Tagalog 2.0 (Kalamansi version)

We’ve been cooking a lot for my parents this week, and when my mom showed me the bags of kalamansi (Philippine musk lime) she got from her friends, the first thing I thought of making was Bistek Tagalog (Filipino Beefsteak).


Bistek Tagalog

The first time I wrote about this, I only had lemons on hand, but kalamansi is the traditional ingredient.

Kalamansi

Kalamansi are really small, and I think I used at least 30 kalamansi (I lost count) to get 1 cup of juice. The kalamansi juice is mixed with soy sauce and minced garlic and used to marinate the steak for about 30 minutes.

My mom said that the bistek she grew up with a had a strong citrus flavor, so instead of the 1:1 citrus/soy sauce mixture that I used before, I reduced the amount of soy sauce to let the kalamansi juice come to the forefront.

When my mom tried my bistek, she said it reminded her of home, which was the ultimate compliment.

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Birthday Dinner @ Alexander’s Steakhouse

I’ve raved about Alexander’s Steakhouse before and have been trying to manufacture excuses to go back. My birthday was as good a reason as any to make my return. My previous post has all the background info on Alexander’s, so let’s cut to the chase.

We were greeted with a nice amuse of cold sunchoke soup with crouton.


Amuse - Cold Sunchoke Coup

I started off with my usual Hamachi Shot of Grade 5 hamachi, red chili, frizzled ginger, avocado, truffled ponzu, which was a great way to get your head in the game and start off the meal. It’s $4 for one and a six pack is $20.

Hamachi Shot

Next up were our appetizers. I ordered the “Steak and Eggs,” which was carpaccio, quail egg, deviled egg, and vegetable salpicon. The presentation was a little fussy, and I really wasn’t sure how I was supposed to eat it. In the end, it was really good, but I don’t think I’d order it again.

"Steak and Eggs"

My wife ordered the Smoked Salmon Pastrami served with Boursin cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and toasted rye bread. She made these into open-face sandwiches that were delicious, although I found the sauerkraut a little subtle. Still, if this is on the menu next time we go back, I think we’d have to get this again.

Smoked Salmon Pastrami

Before our entrees came out, we had an intermezzo—a watermelon shooter with cucumber foam. I normally hate cucumbers (it’s a texture thing), but as a foam, I thought it was great and complemented the watermelon really well.

Intermezzo-Watermelon Shooter with Cucumber Foam

I was really torn about what to order for the main course. I knew it was going to be steak, but there’s so many options on the menu. Do I go with the 10 oz. filet mignon with shiitakes, scallions and candied bacon? Or how about the 2 lb. bone-in ribeye with barbecue demi glace and roasted tomatoes? The Melange had been reconfigured since my last visit and featured a filet steak with green olives and bleu cheese and a Kobe patty melt panini to go with the braised shortrib and brie en cocotte. In the end, I decided on the 28 oz. dry-aged porterhouse with black truffle mousseline. (I requested the mousseline on the side and it got cropped out of the picture.)

28oz Porterhouse

It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (as it should be), and I really loved the filet section of the porterhouse.

My wife ordered the pan-roasted halibut with beurre noisette of porcini, butternut squash, chestnuts, and brussels sprouts. Alexander’s might be a steakhouse, but their seafood is also excellent.


Pan Roasted Halibut

We both ordered dessert, but I also received a complimentary peanut butter chocolate mousse cake, so the table got a bit crowded. Every knows that peanut butter and chocolate are two great tastes that go great together, and this little birthday cake was no exception.

Peanut Butter Mousse Cake

Continuing with the peanut theme, my wife had the Peanut Gallery, which was an assortment of peanut-based desserts, including peanut brittle, peanut butter chocolate mousse, caramel ice cream, and some chocolate popcorn with peanut butter powder, which was the best thing on the plate. The crunchy saltiness of the popcorn combined with the subtle sweetness of the chocolate and the little hit of peanut butter from the powder was pure bliss.

Peanut Gallery

I had the Midnight Train, which was like a deconstructed tiramisu. I forgot to get more exact details about this dessert, but from what I remember it was a tiramisu cheesecake topped with meringue cookies, caramelized sugar strips, whipped cream and lemon zest.

Midnight Train

Overall, it was a great meal to celebrate a late 30s birthday. My wife’s birthday is in a couple months…maybe I can convince her to go back for her birthday, too.

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beef Bistek Tagalog Filipino recipes

Bistek Tagalog

UPDATE 11/29/08:
I made a grilled version for Thanksgiving. Check it out!

UPDATE 11/2/08:
While this recipe is still good, I have a different version that I like a lot better. I’ll leave this recipe up for archival purposes, but for better results (IMO), see the newer post.

Bistek Tagalog (Filipino Beefsteak) is one of my favorite dishes, and it’s so easy to make that I’m actually disappointed in myself for not making it before. Traditionally, it’s a simple marinade of soy sauce, kalamansi juice and garlic, and you can use almost any cut of steak. Kalamansi is a musk lime that’s native to the Philippines, but I only had lemons on hand, so I used those. Next time I make this, I’ll see if I can get my hands on some kalamansi. Otherwise I’ll use the regular supermarket limes or maybe mix lime and lemon juice.


Bistek Tagalog

Many recipes I saw called for chuck, flank, skirt or sirloin steaks, but I used some thinly sliced New York steaks that I found at Safeway. I also saw some recipes that used red onions, but I’m used to either yellow or white onions in this dish. Use whatever you prefer. You can also plate this however you like. I like to mix the onions and sauce up with the rice, so that’s why they’re separate on the plate.

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Alexander’s Steakhouse

Special occasions call for special restaurants, and when a friend and former coworker decided he was going to pack it up and move back home to the ATL, it was the perfect time for some old friends to get together, reminisce about the good old days and send him off in style. We quickly came to a consensus on Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino, a modern American steakhouse with Japanese influences that does some pretty amazing things with meat.

The first thing you notice when you walk into the restaurant is the meat locker on the left that contains huge slabs of dry-aged beef. It’s always nice to know when a restaurant is aging its own beef, and as a meat lover, it’s really a sight to behold.


Beautiful Aged Meat

We were presented with a really nice ahi tartare amuse bouche to kick off the meal. A few of us decided to try the Hamachi Shot off the small plates menu, one of Alexander’s most popular appetizers (it’s also the cheapest at $4). It’s a shot glass filled with hamachi, red chili, frizzled ginger, avocado, and truffled ponzu, and you simply stir it up a bit and then shoot it. It’s quite a rush, and I loved the slight kick you get from the chili.

Salads quickly followed, including my Baby Lettuce salad with yuzu vinaigrette, red radish, ten kasu, and the optional bacon lardons (of course!). The Iceberg Lettuce salad featured living watercress, point reyes blue cheese, and apples and was plated beautifully. Before our main courses arrived, we cleansed our palates with an intermezzo—a refreshing shot of mango juice and chopped strawberries.


[pictobrowser type=”flickr” userID=”arndog” albumID=”72157605037986014″]

Between the eight of us, only three different entrees were ordered—five orders of the 10 oz. filet mignon, two orders of the Melange a Trois (including mine) and one Misoyaki Sea Bass. The filets were excellent and topped with shiitakes and candied bacon. The sea bass was served with sansho crispy squid, tempura green beans, curried trout roe, beurre noir, and their crunchiness was a nice contrast to the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fish.

The guest of honor and I both ordered the Melange for its variety—Prime Rib in Natural Jus, Braised Shortrib with Brie en Cocette, and Bavette Steak with Green Olives and Bleu Cheese. I also added a piece of Seared Foie Gras to “round out” the meal. :-)