Sunday, 27 February 2011

L'Escargot: No Match for Parisian Snails?

Chinese cuisine has always been about experimentation; with many of its dishes consisting of stewed animal body parts, I was convinced that no other cuisine would succeed in turning my stomach. But as they lowered my dish of escargots au beurre d’anchois in Paris, the smell of anchovies combined with the bright green paste sealing the entrance of each escargot was enough to turn even the toughest stomach.

Parisian escargots au beurre

I took a while to summon the courage to fork out the insides, chew on the flesh and swallow. However, the texture resembled seafood, and the rich flavour of butter and fresh taste of garlic / herbs managed to distract me from feelings of uneasiness. Subsequently, the escargots became the highlight of my trip.

Three years later, I sat at Marco Pierre White's L'Escargot in Central London, eagerly awaiting my escargot en coquille ‘Bordelaise' starter. The restaurant had a romantic ambience, with Parisian decor and Matisse paintings on the walls. 

We did not wait long for our food (bearing in mind there were far more waiters than diners), but I was beyond disappointed with my escargots. Bordelaise sauce comprises of dry red wine, demi-glace, butter and shallots, but the escargots were completely flavourless and the flesh was mushy; charging £9.50 for it was unjustified. The smoked Gressingham duck breast with pickled girolles and grain mustard vinaigrette was also a disappointment; the duck was dry and stale whilst the salad was hardly fresh. To our relief, the velouté of parsnip, almond and honey crème fraîche was creamy and to our satisfaction.

The main courses were more enjoyable and came in generous portions. The pan fried gnocchi with aautéed wild mushrooms and autumn truffle shavings was absolutely delicious whilst the roasted fillet of pork with sautéed spinach and pomme fondante (served with sauce moutarde a l'ancienne) was cooked to perfection. The pan fried fillet of black bass with al forno potato, swiss chard and crème fraîche was beautifully presented and had a firm texture, yet very tender. Last but not least, my seared diver caught scallops with tarragon and tomato risotto was also pleasing; whilst the risotto was velvety, the scallops were soft and meaty, although I must point out that there was an unexplainable sour after taste.

Dinner at L'Escargot was a pleasant experience, albeit not outstanding (having lost its Michelin star a few years ago). However, they do offer a pre-theatre three course meal at £18, which is very appealing as dessert alone cost £7.95... I just don't recommend the escargots. (Photos up on Flickr)

NB) A recipe for escargots au beurre d'anchois can be found at for anyone who is interested.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Cream Soda and Yakult

Although I have never been a fan of carbonated drinks, I have always loved the vanilla flavour and sweetness of Schweppes Cream Soda. When first introduced to the idea of mixing Cream Soda in a 1:1 ratio with milk, I was apprehensive of the taste and what effects it would have on my stomach; to my surprise, the result was so tasty and creamy that I have rarely had Cream Soda on its own since.

During my last visit to Hong Kong, I came across something on a café menu which looked like "Cream Soda and Yakult Slush"; after confirming this (just to make sure my Cantonese wasn't failing me), I ordered one. I am one of many who have often wondered in frustration why Yakult comes in such small bottles and why we are restrained to only one a day, so understandably, I was beyond excited to stumble across this. The mixture turned out just as creamy as the 1:1 with milk, and the probiotic nature of Yakult gave it a yoghurty flavour; the carbonation was also watered down to leave a nice subtle tang.

I was in a reminiscent mood the other weekend and decided to recreate the drink; it tasted just as good as when I first tried it. I'm aware that Yakult is not cheap to buy in the UK, but I definitely recommend this peculiar mixture to anyone who is willing to try it out; and whilst you're at it, maybe you will also try mixing milk with Pepsi as I have heard good reviews on that too.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Chinese Meal of the Year

Chinese New Year for the Chinese is equivalent to Christmas for the Western culture; it's all about spending quality time with friends and family whilst preparing and enjoying a variety of good food.

The New Year's Eve meal is one meal of the year that you just don't miss.

Every year, my mum goes to extremes to prepare the most elaborate meal, always ensuring that there are more than enough dishes on the table. Certain foods are consumed with the belief that luck will be ushered in and have names that are actually homophones for Chinese characters bearing good meanings.

One of my favourite is the lotus roots, black seaweed, dried oysters and lettuce dish. When pronounced in Cantonese, lotus roots sounds like abundance year by year; black seaweed means wealth (fat choi as in kung hei fat choi); dried oysters sounds like good fortune whilst lettuce symbolises growing prosperity. Other dishes that are served include chicken, fish and uncut noodles, resembling long life.

Whilst this is all very superstitious, it has been passed down through so many generations that it has become tradition and taken very seriously in the majority of households. One thing that features during Chinese New Year is the leen go which is a sticky rice pudding cake normally pan fried with a small amount of raw egg; this symbolises advance and growth year by year. We have always bought our leen go from the oriental stores and it satisfies my sweet tooth without fail; however, the sweetness can be determined if being made at home. (Recipes for leen go can easily be found on Google)

Aside from the wonderful red decoration and mass of tangerines, the food and dishes served during this time of the year are most intriguing and truly represent the Chinese culture. On this note, I hope everyone enjoys the rest of this festive period; Happy Chinese New Year.

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