French meets Japan supper club at Mirey’s Restaurant

My friends Gerry and Ko have set up a popup restaurant in south London, showcasing their creative talent and delicious food.


The event took place in the London Cooking Project, a community-run culinary initiative in Battersea aimed at fostering budding catering talent in the area.


We signed up and were provided with this tantalising menu.


During a fairly manic pre-Christmas week it was lovely to get a chance to relax and enjoy someone else’s cooking – especially given its sophistication. What a treat!


On arrival guests were provided with a glass of French cider blended with a fruit syrup.


Otherwise it was BYOB, although Ko and Gerry brought back a case of sake from a recent trip to Japan and I was highly intent on trying some. 


I chose a dry sake from Hokkaido (where Ko comes from) which went very well with our first course: generously sliced tuna carpaccio with a tongue-tingling garnish of shredded daikon, green apple and fragrant herbs spices. It wasn’t just diverse in terms of its flavours; the inclusion of shiso leaves (perilla) and pink peppercorns turned it into a full-mouth sensation.


Next came a delicious steak tartare, with croutons, edamame, spicy sauce and a raw quail’s egg among other things.


Delicious and light, it was a real treat of contrasting textures, including the croutons which were served inside the tartare.


Next came a delicious lamb dish. Encrusted in pistachio nuts, the cutlets were sat on a bed of aubergine in spicy miso sauce.


A truly international dish, the lime really enhanced and united all of the flavours.


The aubergines were also particularly spicy which I loved.

For dessert we were presented with a trio of sweets. From the left to the right we had a yuzu cheesecake biscuit which was light and refreshing, followed by a matcha green tea Yule log, then sweet adzuki beans with a sweet sake jelly.


The latter was my favourite, with its surprising, light textures.


The atmosphere was also really fun – relaxed and friendly, I made several new friends from Europe and Japan.


I’m very pleased to report that Ko and Gerry will be resident at the Cuckoo pub in Islington from the new year so be sure to check out their food and stay up to date with their work here!

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Chilled scallop canapés with smoked paprika, seaweed-butter and lime

These sound fancy but they were quite easy to put together and can be made in advance, so they’re easy to serve if you’re having a party.


Get about one scallop per guest (or two if you want to make it a more substantial dish than just a canapé).


I love scallops. My dad was a scallop diver so they’ve never been far away from my consciousness.


Shell and lightly clean them.

Separate the coral. You can cook them at the same time as the white flesh and eat them when you like but don’t include them in the canapé itself.

Put the white flesh into the freezer for about 40 minutes. This will allow it to firm up.


Remove then slice horizontally, so that each scallop produces two or more thin discs of tender flesh.

Dry each piece with a paper towel.


Season both sides with a little salt and some paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it).

Heat some olive oil in a pan on relatively high heat.

Add the scallops and coral (in batches if you have a large amount).


Cook for about 40-50 seconds on one side (or at least until that side starts to brown – as in the above image) then turn over. Cook for about 30-40 seconds on the other side, or again until it starts to brown.

Remove the scallops from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Put them in the fridge.


Add a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin and half a teaspoon of honey to the pan. Stir and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and pour the sauce into a small dipping bowl.


When the time comes spread some seaweed butter onto a ritz cracker, or better still some miniature blini. Top with a slice of scallop and if you’re serving immediately pour a little of the dipping sauce over the scallop and garnish with a tiny sliver of lime peel. TINY. 


If you’re not serving the canapés immediately save the dipping sauce until right before you serve, cover the canapés and keep them in the fridge.

You can just eat the cooked coral on its own (I did; and I felt no guilt) or you can serve them separately with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

The fresher the scallops, the better.


And naturally this goes very well with a martini. It’s an exquisite snack for even the most esteemed of guests.

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec in Kennington, 3/5

 
The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is no ordinary venue. People travel here from all over the world for its live music performances. It also serves fantastic food.

However – the martinis do not hit the mark just yet, but with a little re-adjustment this place could be a cocktail bar with real punch – a Moulin Rouge of south London.

  

I would struggle to describe the venue accurately: the friendly, strange, shabby-chic, bohemian, French, Anglo-French, theatrical, run-down yet sophisticated Kennington brasserie and jazz bar caters to many tastes.

It’s not gimmicky or faddy, it’s more established and reputable than that. It’s got the staff and the skilled chefs and musicians too. The food is excellent by the way – and they deliver, although you wouldn’t get to experience the atmosphere.

  

The bar doesn’t seem to fit in with its Elephant and Castle environs (this is a good thing). Indeed it seems to have survived much longer than any of the other buildings in this part of the city. 

  
Something about it gives me the impression that we might have to sign petitions in the coming years to save it from ‘gentrification’ and being turned into a soulless block of luxury apartments. Londoners – you know what I’m talking about!

For now though, it enjoys a crammed timetable featuring live acts every night. This three-floor venue can get very busy. However, during the ‘violet hour’ – that precious cocktail moment that lasts somewhere from 5pm until dinner time – the venue is often virtually empty. In-keeping with continental culture, the diners tend to arrive later in the evening to eat.

I feel that some sort of invigoration of the cocktail bar, maybe the creation of an ‘aperitif happy hour’ could boost this place no-end, increase profits earlier in the evening, while enhancing rather than compromising its French ambience. For instance, they could name their happy hour cinq á sept (which literally means ‘5-7’ and is usually used to refer to a post-work drinks event in Quebec) or l’heure du bonheur (literally ‘the hour of happiness’). I would definitely attend.

  

Of course, the aspect I would focus on most prominently would be the martini. This bar has great potential. The servers ask all the right questions: which gin would you like it made with? Shaken or stirred? Sweet, dry or dirty? Olive or lemon twist?

  

However, neither the glasses nor the gin are cold, while excessive stirring and shaking the drink with ice left it noticeably watered down. The bar was also left unattended for fairly long periods of time. I believe the staff were helping out elsewhere. Perhaps if they had a dedicated cocktail waiter here during the crucial martini o’clock period this place would have a much higher footfall at that time of the day and we wouldn’t be left waiting around for service.

  
 
I liked the lemon garnish – an appealing shape to watch spiralling and contracting as you swirl the drink. I don’t think it was properly squeezed into the glass before pouring but it was long enough for the oil and citrus flavour to permeate the drink quite nicely.

I must also point out that their Negronis are excellent. Bravo.

  

The nibbles we ordered were also delectable. The Henri Toulouse Lautrec really excels at its food. I would otherwise prefer blinis that you can eat with one hand while you hold your glass with the other, but I will forgive this inconvenience purely because of the taste of this smoked salmon dish. It was delicious.

So, in summary:

Pros

  • It’s a great venue with charm and character
  • The food is excellent
  • It has huge cocktail potential

Cons

  • The gin wasn’t cold enough
  • The martini was too watered down
  • The bar was unattended for long periods
  • The place was empty during cocktail hour – perhaps the latter could be fixed by addressing the former three issues.

The Henri Toulouse Lautrec is worth many visits and I am very fond of this venue, so I hope that my criticism is seen as a demonstration of its huge potential from a martini perspective rather than a damnation. I will definitely be calling back for an encore or three.

  

A Martini made with Absinthe

“Oh god… is my face melting?”

 

I didn’t invent this one. Some other crazy person did.

What’s more, it’s evidently been ordered and drunk often enough to have earned itself a name: the Mystic Martini.

  
Absinthe is typically 45-74% ABV and therefore highly potent.

Invented in Switzerland, its alleged psychoactive properties led to its prohibition in many countries for decades, before decriminalisation led to a comeback in the 1990s.

Flavoured with botanicals including sweet fennel and wormwood, the drink is anise-flavoured and usually green or colourless. It turns milky/cloudy when mixed with water.

  
The drink was traditionally served via ‘the French method’ whereby a slotted spoon holding a sugar cube was placed over a glass containing a measure of absinthe. Cold water was then poured over the sugar cube, running into the absinthe, turning it cloudy and bringing out its complex flavours.

  

Social folklore and urban legend, now largely disproved, claimed that the effects of absinthe on the drinker were different to that of other types of alcohol, such as hallucinations and temporary insanity.

The ‘absinthe fairy’ is also associated with a wide variety of artists, writers and other cultural figures, earning the drink a reputation for bohemian creativity – as well as danger.

  
So back to the cocktail. The Mystic Martini is basically a classic martini with approximately one teaspoon of absinthe added to the mix.

Some bartenders rinse the glass with the absinthe before pouring the martini, others stir the absinthe into the martini after it has been prepared. I prefer the latter method, so you can watch the absinthe swirl into the already hypnotic drink. To evoke ‘the French method’ you could serve a classic martini with a measure of absinthe separately in a silver spoon, so the drinker can add it themselves and watch it ooze into the mixture.

Traditionally you are supposed to garnish this martini with a single green olive (largely for appearance purposes) but I actually think a wrinkled black olive goes better with the anise flavouring. I made the above drink with lemon peel which doesn’t compliment the anise flavour quite so well. If you really want to appreciate the complex botanicals of the absinthe you might also want to prepare this drink using vodka instead of gin – sacre bleu!

Personally anise is not my favourite flavour so this isn’t a drink I will be revisiting, but if it’s your thing, give it a go. Just make sure you’ve got life insurance first. 

The Gypsy Martini

A sweeter alternative to the classic martini.

  
This one is very straightforward. 

You will need gin/vodka, sweet vermouth and a jar of maraschino cherries. The following recipe is for a 150ml glass:

  • Add 3 teaspoons of maraschino cherry liqueur to a chilled martini glass.
  • Add sweet vermouth to taste (between 2tsp and 30ml).
  • Add chilled gin/vodka (between 120-140ml depending on the amount of vermouth used).
  • I would recommend that if you are using a 100ml martini glass aim for about 15-20ml vermouth and around 80ml gin.
  • Stir and drop a single maraschino cherry into the drink.
  • Serve.

  

Because of its sweet nature this martini could be served as a digestif instead of an aperitif.

  
I first tasted maraschino cherries at a very young age in the back of the Mishnish Hotel (above in yellow). A long-standing family-owned venue, a cousin sneaked me into the kitchen during some sort of gathering (a christening or wedding or something). I remember being confronted by a stern but caring member of staff who presented me with a cherry on a silver teaspoon to try before ushering me out and back to the family event. What a treat! I’ll never forget the taste.

  
Maraschino cherries were historically seen as a royal luxury in parts of Europe. A produce of Croatia, they have been picked, salted, pickled and sweetened in alcohol for centuries. What a luxurious addition to the classic martini.

Quite why it’s referred to as a Gypsy martini remains unknown to me. If anyone has any idea please comment below!

 
I also have to thank my latest martini guest CatLoud for some of these beautiful photographs. A former regular at the Mishnish, Ms. Loud is a cabaret singer (a perfect martini accompaniment) and a veteran of the Edinburgh festival. She will also be performing at the Canal Theatre Cafe in London in January.

 

Enjoy!

 

L’Escargot Restaurant, Soho, London, 3/5

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I went with some friends to this French restaurant in London, located on Greek Street in Soho. It was an occasionally perplexing and even tense experience, although the martini I drank before my meal was nice.

The staff were friendly and pleasant but there was a strange, intense and even chaotic element to the service. It was difficult to book a table, despite the fact that the place was empty when we turned up at our allotted time.

When I ordered two martinis for the table there was a terrifying episode when the first waiter couldn’t tell if I was saying two martinis or two ‘martinez’ (a variation on the classic martini recipe). The situation escalated until another waiter was called to assist in the translation but he was equally unable to understand my order. There followed vigorous pointing at the menu and eventually they seemed to understand, although during the time they were making the drink I was on the edge of my seat, terrified that they had made a mistake and that I would have to do the British thing of not mentioning it to them once they had served me. The trials of life!

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Fortunately one of the waiters soon returned to ask me how I would like the martini (sweet or dry? Olive or twist?). The drink arrived 10 minutes later and while I don’t think the gin or glass had been kept in the freezer it was still very cold. They had made the effort to serve a good quality martini.

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It didn’t come with any nibbles but we ordered snails which I have to say were utterly delectable and definitely the highlight of the meal.

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The decor of the restaurant was nice, my pate starter was tasty although the main of trout was a little underwhelming. Nonetheless, I will stick to reviewing the martini which I thought was a good effort. It wasn’t just a drink option the management had put on the menu out of pretension. It was made attentively and with care, despite the stressful ordering process.

In short, I would recommend you drop in for a martini and escargot, but probably eat your main course elsewhere.

The Vesper Martini

The Vesper martini was invented by James Bond in Ian Fleming’s classic novel Casino Royale.
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He named it after the character Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green in the 2006 film version of the book.

The original recipe is as follows:

3 measures of gin
1 measure of vodka
Half a measure of Kina Lillet

Shake with ice then strain into a glass and serve with a thin slice of lemon peel.
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However, Kina Lillet is nearly impossible to acquire today without a time machine, so one must improvise with Lillet blanc, to which you could also add a dash of angostura bitters once the drink has been poured.

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Lillet blanc is a French aperitif ‘tonic’ wine, blended with citrus liqueurs and Cinchona bark. The citrus liqueurs include Mediterranean limes and oranges from countries such as Spain and Morocco, while Cinchona (which contains quinine) comes from Peru. Combine this with Russian or Polish vodka, British gin, perhaps some Sicilian olives, Middle Eastern pistachio nuts, Bombay mix and say, some ‘izakaya’ style snacks from Japan (see here for more ideas) and you’ve got yourself a perfect international fait accompli, synonymous with Britain’s favourite spy, played here by Daniel Craig:

You can’t beat a classic.