You consider yourself a gourmand and want to make your opinion known? That may be an ambition but there has to be a better reason than personal vanity. Ask yourself in all humility and with an open mind whether you really have a fine palate and, more importantly, if you are ready to study various culinary cultures and trajectories of chefs that you meet? In short, are you interested in food as a discipline beyond its consumption? How to taste and judge dishes Skillful cooking This is the first thing you should examine going beyond the presentations: Is the pasta al dente? Is the masala bhunoed properly?
Is the steak medium-rare? Is the cake dry? Needless to say, to determine this, the reviewer needs to possess sufficient experience to recognise whether a dish is technically sound. God is in the detail What separates great cooking from mediocre is the attention to detail. In Indian culinary traditions, for instance, detailing becomes apparent in how flavours are artfully layered. Instead of indiscriminately tossing in spices that many restaurants surviving on generic masalas and tomato-onion gravies do, there are specific spice combinations used at different stages of cooking an ingredient: Even a simple sweet and sour pumpkin preparation is not just sweet and sour but has an underlying bitter element that comes with the use of fenugreek seeds at the beginning of the cooking.
Inventiveness and the thinking chef An important criterion on which I judge food is not only how inventive it is but on its conceptual clarity. If the chef has merely done something to change form and dazzle diners, it is less impressive if there is an underlying thought or narrative that comes through on the plate, it becomes elevated. For instance, I recently tried a new dish by chef Manish Mehrotra at Indian Accent--lamb chops with baigan bharta made into a pate that was smoked and bits of roasted papad. It worked wonderfully not just because of the contrasting textures and the unusual aubergines-with-meat combination, but because the smokiness of various elements on the plate united them and accented the meat.
Some chefs may not know kitchen secrets like sprinkling some milk on biryani before cooking it on dum. Too much or too little Sometimes chefs try too hard to be chef-like. You must be able to call that out. Why is dim sum served on a piece of astroturf that you obviously cannot eat?
On the other hand, some dishes may not taste sublime because the chef does not know the small kitchen secrets that accomplished cooks do — like a biryani benefitting from a sprinkling of milk before being cooked on dum. For instance, I ate an avocado and chocolate dessert recently which was obviously relying on the fattiness of the avocado for a rich, silky feel. However, the avocado used in the dish was neither optimally ripe nor fatty enough.
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The chef may have got the idea from an international trend avocado and chocolate is fashionable but he needed to balance the ingredients at hand with the addition of another fatty ingredient. Ingredients, ingredients, Ingredients It is obvious that the best ingredients give you the best taste. So do take into account how the chef is sourcing his greens, meats and fish. Is there alternative grain being used, are the sauces and seasoning made from scratch in the kitchen and are there local and seasonal ingredients on the plate or horrific carbon miles being notched up? I am still appalled at the guchi kofta that was once served to me — an astonishing waste of a prized ingredient.
How to judge a restaurant Is it copying someone or something? The first thing you may like to consider as a reviewer is how unique is a restaurant. In fact, given how many copycat restaurants tend to come up by borrowing themes and concepts that are already successful, it may be a wise decision to only review places that attempt something original. You would of course need to keep track of what is happening in the restaurant business not just in your local market or even within the country but globally, to be able to make comparisons.
Do take into account how the chef is sourcing his greens, meats and fish. Is the food, service and experience in sync with what it claims to be? If it is a dhaba, do not crib about a limited menu with a handful of dishes. If it is a tapas or small plates restaurant, do not complain that portion sizes are small and your family went hungry even though you ordered four dishes.
Is the sashimi not sliced thinly enough? Is there basa on the menu? Are most of the expensive champagnes on the wine list not available? For a restaurant to be authentic, it must be what it promises to be. While food is subjective and you may be fond of some chefs and their cooking, a reviewer cannot be a fan. A chef is a subject and must be studied as much as his work. How is he evolving? Is the new restaurant better than his last? A boned saddle of lamb is stuffed with a mixture of ciabatta breadcrumbs, sunblushed tomatoes, black olives and garlic.
The only problem was, this time, it had to come out pink. Normally I'd chance it but nothing could be left to chance: Then take it out half an hour before you need to carve and wrap it in foil.
Central Dairies - Steve Watson
And if that doesn't work I'm changing my mobile number so you can't shout at me. As to the pudding I would do peaches roasted in Muscat wine with a lemon mascarpone cream. There was only one problem with this brilliant wheeze: I had forgotten that peaches were out of season and therefore much like rocks. Finally, after two days of non-stop cooking it was dinner time.
Bruce arrived and announced he would pass on the fine Alsatian Riesling chosen by our own Tim Atkin, also in attendance to go with the onion tart. He asked instead for the can of Red Stripe he had spotted in the fridge. And you make all that effort.
The cook, the chef, the critic...
I'll leave Bruce to comment on the food. Save to say that the onion tart tasted of onions, the lamb was indeed pink thank you, Richard Neat and the redcurrant and Dijon mustard sauce I did to go with it didn't seem too overwhelming. Then again, what the hell do I know? I'm only a restaurant critic. Finally, of course, there were those peaches. They simply hadn't worked. Digging around I found two that were less than diamond hard. They would go to Bruce and Fay. Unfortunately each time we tried to give Fay hers she politely passed it on around the table.
The one she received was like granite. I admitted to the table that pudding was a total screw-up and graciously took their soothing words. I think I'd better stick to writing about the food rather than cooking it. It's so much less effort. Sift the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the centre.
Put the other ingredients in the well and gradually mix together, drawing in the flour from the edges until it forms a coarse crumb. Gather together all the pieces with a pastry scraper and then, on a lightly floured surface, knead until it forms a putty around two minutes. Roll into a ball and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour. Grease and flour a 10 inch tart tin with a removable bottom. Line with the pastry and then prick the bottom with a fork. Heat the oven to C. Bake the tart shell blind by lining with greaseproof paper and then filling with dried beans, to stop it from rising.
After 10 minutes at full heat, turn the oven down to C and cook for another five or so minutes until just lightly browned. Remove the beans, allow to cool for about 10 minutes and then carefully remove from the tin. Slice the onions and shallots into rings and separate. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and add a knob of butter.
If the pan looks at all dry, add a little extra butter. When the onions are soft but not brown add two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Turn up the heat and, stirring the onions, burn off the vinegar until the acidic edge has gone. The onions should be sweetly caramelised but not burnt. Allow the onion mixture to cool. Fill the tart shell with the onion mixture, smoothing it out to the sides.
Grate the parmesan finely into the egg and then pour over the onions, again smoothing it out to the edges. Bake for about 10 minutes. Cool for 15 minutes before serving with a green salad. Amanda's lamb saddle of lamb, boned one loaf of cibatta g sun-blushed tomatoes g black pitted olives large bunch fresh basil. Grind up the bread in a mixer to a loose crumb.
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Roughly chop the tomatoes, olives, basil and garlic. Mix in with the crumbs, then pour in two tablespoons of olive oil more if necessary to bring the crumbs together. Get your butcher to bone the lamb for you and keep the bones. Fill the cavity with the stuffing and then roll and tie up the meat. Ideally do this 24 hours before the meal and then return to the fridge wrapped in greaseproof paper as some of the oil might leak out. Caramelise the outside of the meat in a roasting tin on top of the hob, giving it a minute or so per side until it is a golden brown.
Put in the oven for around 10 minutes per pound. Take out half an hour before you want to carve and fully wrap rather than just cover with foil. It should come out pink. Serve with roast potatoes.
Redcurrant and Dijon mustard sauce lamb bones and off-cuts an onion garlic olive oil flour mls lamb or beef stock the ready made kind is perfect redcurrant jelly Dijon mustard 50gms butter. In a roasting tin place the lamb bones and off- cuts, quartered onion and clove of chopped garlic with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and a grind of salt and pepper. Roast in a hot oven until caramelised. Remove the bones though leave the onions and any meaty pieces and pour off most of the oil, leaving a tablespoon or so. Brown a teaspoon of flour in the oil on the hob and then pour in mls of stock.
Stir until the liquid thickens slightly.
Strain into a saucepan and then add the rest of the stock. If the flavour is not intense enough reduce for a short while. Just before serving whisk in a good teaspoon each of redcurrant jelly and the mustard. Finally, whisk in the butter to give a glossy sheen. Peaches roasted in Muscat wine one firm but not rock hard peach per person a bottle of sweet Muscat wine demerara sugar. This is how it should work. Score the skins of the peaches. Place in boiling water for a minute and then straight into cold water.
The skins should peel away. Place in a casserole with a lid.
Pour in the Muscat to a depth of about an inch. Sprinkle a liberal amount of sugar both on to the fruit and into the wine. Cover and roast in a hot oven until the peaches are still holding together, but break up on a teaspoon. I have no idea how long this should take and I'm making no promises. Cool until just warm. Lemon Mascarpone cream g Mascarpone mls single cream zest of one lemon, juice of half a lemon tbsp caster sugar. Work the thick Mascarpone together with the cream until soft. Then mix in the other ingredients. This is really all a matter of taste. I cook for a living and either my friends are daunted by the prospect of cooking for me in their homes, or I am a miserable bastard totally bereft of any mates from whom such an invitation might be forthcoming.
To avoid the growth of a sizeable crinkle cut on my shoulder, I must assume the former scenario applies, although realistically I suspect it is a combination of the two. This is a great pity, because every chef I know is as happy as a pig in its element to receive a call which might result in the consumption of food and wine in goodly quantities. It doesn't even need to be good food and wine; it is simply a case of it being, as I was brought up to believe, the thought that counts.
When I do receive such an overture, I look upon it with both reverence and excitement, although my prospective host may not adopt the same stance. Here follows in no particular order of importance, my very personal guide to staging a successful dinner party:. Keep the menu simple. Straightforward combos can be very pleasing - a plate of Parma ham with good crusty bread and butter is a sure-fire winner.
Never try to cook a dish to 'impress' your guests. If this is your sole motive, the reverse effect will usually be achieved.
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