Sunday, 12 June 2011

A first time for everything

Trying something for the first time is often a daunting prospect, but usually one worth considering. You never forget your first time, so they say, and life is all about making memories. When it comes to food, there is so little to lose: you either like it, or you don't; either it works, or you'll need to try it again; at any rate, the worst result is you go hungry and the best is a fantastic success to brog about. 'Brog' is a new term I'm trying out for 'brag through the medium of blog', by the way.

Recently, I've experienced both. Although it was a deliciously moist affair that tasted divine, my attempt at Pam 'The Jam's honey and almond cake sank in the middle and so wasn't one for photographing. Fear not, intrepid followers, for I shall venture again soon and share further findings! I just need to buy a new electric hand whisk first in case this was a beating-by-hand issue, although that didn't cause problems with the lemon madeira cake so we could be in the realms of dodgy oven temperature. I will let you know.

I have been waiting for an opportunity to pay Ottolenghi a visit for some time now, and a very gracious friend helped me take that step. I didn't realise until later that he was using me as collateral for carrot cake due to a serious addiction but hey, he needed help and I was in the right place at the right time.
I didn't think a place that basically served salads could be worth writing home about. But, Mum and Dad, weather is lovely, and Ottolenghi is splendid. I won't write too much as it's been reviewed to pieces, so just go. Preferably at lunchtime. Try anything that has aubergine in it. Have the carrot cake. I promised the addict I'd try to recreate it and I have a suspicion that coconut makes an appearance. Perhaps as a soaking liqueur for the sultanas, perhaps to grease the baking tin. I also have a feeling there is some angel-cakery going on in order to make that crusty outer surface. All suggestions welcome.

And you know that famous saying, you never forget your first okonomi-yaki? Well, it's true. N has spent months in Japan, knows her stuff, and took me to Abeno as a special treat a few weeks ago, so I thought I'd share it with you.  For those not in the know, okonomi-yaki is basically a type of pancake. The tables at Abeno have a hotplate in the middle: you order your 'pancake' and it is made in front of you. We kicked off proceedings with gyoza....

I enjoy making these at home; they're a bit fiddly but this makes them therapeutic and so worth it; Ken Hom has a good recipe here:

After our gyoza, we had tonpei-yaki:




This is 'organic fried pork in an egg envelope' but we were most excited by its 'squirt of lemon'. The sauces are traditional - Japanese mayonnaise, Okonomi-yaki sauce and tomato ketchup. 

By now I was wishing that all tables had a hot plate in the middle. Think of the possibilities! Although this would not be ideal for romanic dinners and could lead to blistered elbows. You have been warned.

We decided to push the boat out with our main course and have noodles atop one of the pancakes. We ordered two - the Inaka mix, with pork, Konnyaku and corn, and the Spicy Naniwa, with pork and kimchi, to which we added noodles. The omelette ingredients are mixed in front of you before being poured into a perfect round to cook on the hotplate before flipping:




The good thing about places like Abeno is that there is no risk of table-turning. It's a very sociable way of eating as you need to be patient whilst your food cooks and you can share the anticipation and fascination involved. It's also made to look impossibly easy but I know I wouldn't want to try flipping one of these bad boys any time soon! 

The finished, flipped article, once cooked through, was decorated with the obligatory sauces as well as bonito flakes and powdered seaweed. It was very filling, especially due to the time taken to eat it with chopsticks!

As for dessert, I have been discussing with friends cooking and baking with matcha. I shall be buying and using some soon, due in no small part to my dessert at Abeno: a Matcha hot cake with maple syrup, anko (adzuki beans) and shiratama (sweet rice dumplings), served with matcha ice cream. Don't be fooled by the slightly suspect appearance, it was delicious:

I hope that has encouraged you to go and try something for the first time today, whether eating or cooking, or just something new. My next post will also recount tales of an exciting first, so stay tuned!

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