Shirataki style Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 

When browsing the Holland and Barrett website to take advantage of their 1p sale recently, I came across packets of shirataki noodles. Although they weren’t in the 1p sale, I was intrigued, and did a bit of reading around. The reason for my intrigue? They claim to be calorie-free yet filling, and so the perfect diet food. While not currently dieting, I’m always looking for low-calorie fillers that also taste nice, so thought I would give a packet of these a whirl.

But what are shirataki noodles exactly? The love child of rice noodles and angel hair pasta, they’re translucent noodles made from yams. This means they consist entirely of fibre and water, and so have virtually no flavour of their own. They have a long shelf life (up to one year), although tofu-based versions are also now becoming popular, which have a shorter shelf life and need to be refrigerated.

Today I took out my packet and awaited the moment of truth as I followed the cooking instructions, which stated that rinsing under warm water and then boiling for 4 minutes was required. Very easy – no issues here. However, from a little more reading around, I have also discovered that for a more pasta-like consistency, it’s also possible to dry-fry the noodles in a wok. Once you have cooked the noodles, you then serve them with your sauce of choice. As mentioned above, the lack of flavour in the noodles themselves mean they’ll only taste as good as the sauce you serve them with. I opted for leftover pasta sauce (tomato and basil, if you’re interested) with extra sweet chilli sauce.

Flavour, therefore, was not a problem. However, the texture may put some people off: the noodles don’t stick in your throat or mouth, but thanks to their stiffer and more elastic texture, do take longer to chew and do not always feel pleasant in the mouth.

The noodles do, however, deliver on their ultimate promise, which is to make you feel fuller for longer. Whether they would allow you to lose weight long-term, though, depends on how often you would be willing to consume them (or the shirataki pasta, which is also available), and nobody likes monotony in their diet: even if I were to vary the sauces you used, I’m still not sure that I’d want to eat noodles (or pasta, or even a mixture of the two) every single day. Only time will tell if this type of ‘diet noodle’ will continue as a popular trend, or fade into obscurity.

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*is properly French today* Saturday, Jul 28 2012 

I just ate carpaccio!! And I liked it!

ImageNote that this is not a picture of the one I had. But the concept is the same. Carpaccio is usually very thin slices of raw beef, although you can also do it with other meats and even fish (e.g. tuna). I tried it as it was being served up at my inlaws’ place for lunch and was surprised to find that I liked it. High quality meat is obviously a top priority in terms of texture and flavour, but the seasoning helps too: try lemon, vinegar, olive oil or chives as well as the standard salt and pepper.

The trick, too, is to slice it thinly enough to make it palatable. You can slice it manually with a sharp knife or use a meat slicer. Some recipes recommend slicing the meat while it’s still in a frozen or semi-frozen state to make this process easier.

It’s a big leap as a Brit to eat carpaccio when for years you’ve eaten your meat cooked well done. As I’ve now been living in France for nearly 4 years, I’ve weaned myself off this now and now always order meat medium rare. While not quite into “saignant” territory (this is how my husband always orders his meat, and the term is generally translated as ”rare’), I’m still happy to have tried carpaccio and liked it. A good standby in case of any awkward dinner party or restaurant situations, and not such a big leap now from steak tartare either. Or indeed from “saignant”!

Knowing that I now like this could also be helpful in other culinary spheres, such as Japanese food, where chunks of uncooked salmon are not an uncommon sight. And since we’re in all likelihood going to take a holiday to Japan in 2013 or 2014, I’d better get practising my sushi skills. In the meantime…bon appétit!

Restaurant review: Bissoh Saturday, Jul 14 2012 

Every place has their own ethnic communities and concentrations, and France is no exception: from the town where I live, which boasts a high population of Brits and Americans and sports several English and Irish pubs, to Paris’ Italian and Chinese districts, there is without doubt a good mix of nationalities to be found.

Although good Chinese food and Indian food can be tricky to find in France despite this, Asian cuisine is still widely appreciated, with Japanese food being the most popular. It shouldn’t have been of any surprise to us, then, to find the gem that is Bissoh just five minutes’ walk from the main city centre of Beaune in Burgundy. More famous for its wine and annual baroque music festival (the latter is why we were there), the town has more to offer than this – and you, like us, will find it’s worth it to go off the beaten track away from the usual hordes of tourists.

We dined quite early for France (7pm) due to the concert we were attending, and so as a result the place was completely empty, with us having the restaurant to ourselves for most of the meal. Consequently, service was extremely efficient throughout, while remaining discreet (arguably an even more impressive feat given the restaurant’s emptiness, which could have led staff to be overattentive or overbearing). Diners can choose from the traditionally-decorated interior seating or the equally serene outdoor terrace, which has optional roofing and is replete with greenery. We chose the latter thanks to the balmy July evening (the likes of which we were not to see again for quite some time thanks to the torrential rain we would go on to experience in England).

Bear in mind that this is not a cheap option: the menus at Bissoh start at €37 each and there are no à la carte choices. Nonetheless, we found it to be worth every penny – not just due to the competent service and tranquil surroundings, but also thanks to the food’s intense flavours and innovative way in which the dishes were served. I opted for the pork menu, while my husband chose the tempura version. In spite of the different names, our meals were virtually the same up until almost the final moments.

To begin, we were served an aubergine amuse-bouche which totally changed my perception of this vegetable, which can often be grey and stringy. Instead, in the context of a tiny Japanese bowl, it was brown, soft, and full of multidimensional flavours of salt and ginger. We then had another aubergine course, which was the first item on our official menus. The end pieces of a whole aubergine had been cut off and roasted in the oven, leaving a crispy ‘bowl’ made of the aubergine skin. The skin could be eaten with chopsticks (warning to amateur chopstick users: it’s chopsticks most of the way here), while a small wooden teaspoon was provided to scoop out the flesh. Stimulating all five senses, it was a creative pleasure from sight to consumption.

After this, we had the second course of the main meal: veal, which had been seared first and finished to French standards (read: if you like your meat “well done”, you can forget it). Again, this came in chopstick-ready pieces and was a real feast. Then came the divergence of our meals: the pork menu featured a pork fillet that had been breaded and then cut into elegant slices, and again did not disappoint in terms of texture or flavour. The tempura course on the other side of the table retained the flavours of the ingredients used (vegetables and seafood mainly) brilliantly, even if the tempura batter itself tasted a bit bland. Both went excellently with a bottle of St Aubin 2010, whose lemongrass, wood, buttery and slightly sharp flavours proved a highly complementary choice from a superb wine list.

However, the pièce de résistance was yet to come: dessert continued to deliver in terms of both innovation and taste thanks to a green tea and sesame panna cotta, and ginger ice cream served with a red fruit sorbet – both remarkably intense yet cleansing at the end of an already excellent meal. And even after all that, there was still time for us to put away some Japanese green tea before our concert, proving once again just how professional the staff were given our early arrival and our time constraints (we had an hour and a half to dine, which could have proved tricky for any restaurant on a Saturday night, especially in a location as touristy as Beaune in the height of summer).

We were left with a bill of €118 for two after this culinary extravaganza, but it was worth it thanks to the memories of a truly extraordinary meal left behind, as well as our renewed desire to visit the country of this marvellous cuisine forthwith.

www.bissoh.com

1 rue du Faubourg St Jacques

21200 Beaune

Chain Review: Yo! Sushi Saturday, Apr 28 2012 

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Lunchtime. Mum and I had just arrived at Paddington Station with my dad as a precursor to his 2pm meeting at the in-station Hilton. We needed food, and fast. The station has many options, including a pub, a Garfunkel’s, Boots Meal Deals, and McDonalds. But we decided instead to plump for Yo! Sushi instead; neither of us had ever been before (although we had eaten sushi) and Mum was quite excited at the prospect of going somewhere she would never get to go with Dad (he doesn’t like sushi).

The concept of Yo! Sushi is simple. Bowls are colour-coded by price, ranging from £1.70 (green) to £5 (grey). You take what you want off the conveyor belt, or buzz for a member of staff to bring you what you want (if you can’t find what you want off the menu or are just lazy), and at the end of your meal your plates are added up. Plates include everything from salads and sushi to duck and desserts, and what’s more, you can have unlimited refills of green tea or water for a mere £1.50 (other drinks are available too, of course). The menu clearly explains the pricing structure and breaks down the dishes into their constituent ingredients. Those with allergies or counting calories need not worry either as these concerns are also clearly marked.

We got four dishes between us, but shared them so that we were able to taste as much as possible. We plumped for prawn and chicken katsu with pumpkin korroke (nomtacular is NOT the word), salmon maki, duck gyoza (dumplings), and spicy chicken salad – and loved it all. There is really something for everyone here, from vegetarians to hardened sushi fans – even those who just don’t like raw fish (there’s enough cooked meat here for my BBQ-loving dad to shake a stick at).

The system of colour-coded plates, which are used to work out your bill at the end, has several advantages. One: as mentioned above, you can always share plates. Two: those with certain dietary requirements or preferences don’t bother anyone else that they’re with. Three: you have the freedom to pick what you want if you’re alone, or to socialise and share if you’re with others, and not feel freakish in any situation. On a less related note, staff don’t give you any hassle, but are quick when needed, meaning you can stay for as long or short a time as you want or need. And four: there should be no arguments about splitting the bill afterwards!

After all that we eschewed dessert (although the black sesame ice cream was VERY tempting – despite the fact that it was peeing it down with rain outside) and settled the bill, which was very reasonable indeed, coming in at around £20 for two (and we were more than satisfied).

Yo! Sushi also offers a host of other services, including takeaway and delivery; they regularly run competitions and promotions; they have an effective loyalty card scheme; and they also throw parties for large groups on request (although of course this comes at a cost). In short, they do everything they can for just about every group of people, whether they’re commuters or trying to throw a Christmas party.

Affordable, delicious, healthy, quick, and with a variety of locations (although sadly not in France yet!) – I’ll definitely be back.

http://www.yosushi.com/

Locations: truckloads across the UK, Ireland,  Portugal, the UAE, Bahrain, and Norway

Restaurant Review: Watatsumi Tuesday, Aug 30 2011 

We came to Watatsumi on a Sunday evening in July wanting just a light meal to complement our stay at the Club Quarters Hotel on London’s Northumberland Avenue. There are two entrances – one through the hotel, and one from the street, and we were impressed to note the towers of fire greeting guests at the street entrance. We entered through the hotel, though, and with some trepidation, as most of the other establishments in the hotel (primarily a business destination) appeared to be closed. Nevertheless, even though there were no diners inside, I spied members of staff and laid tables, so went in and asked if they were doing dinner. The waiter I approached was quite sarcastic in his response (something along the lines of “errr….yeeeees, this IS a restaurant *rolleyes*”), which arguably doesn’t give a very good impression of the place. So we went in, took our seats, and started combing the menu for something that would just hit the spot in the evening, having had a gut-busting lunch at L’Autre Pied in Marylebone (more of which another time). Inside, the restaurant is elegantly and opulently decorated without being vulgar, and definitely has a sense of place.

The menu veers between standard British choices with a Japanese twist (such as miso Gressingham duck breast with kumquat compote) to truly traditional Fuji burgers, tempura and kushiyaki. I personally plumped for the tempura prawns, which came in crispy batter to die for, although I was hoping that the tempura sauce would have a little bit more zing. My husband went for sashimi, and having eaten out at Japanese establishments on multiple occasions in Paris (where the cuisine is very popular), I had the impression that he was a little underwhelmed. Nevertheless, there seems to be something to cater to every taste, whether you are part of a large party and want an adventurous tasting menu, or whether you are a conservative type who is inexperienced in the way of Japanese cuisine.

Watatsumi promises to go ‘beyond sushi and sashimi’, but while I certainly saw plenty of things on the menu that I didn’t recognise, the dessert menu was disappointingly entirely recognisable – with its choices of ice cream, chocolate fondant, and cheesecake, the only even remotely Japanese thing hiding in the list was mini mochi (a sticky rice, ice cream and lychee liquor concoction). If I’d wanted dessert that evening, I probably would have tried this, but if you’re hoping for a more extensive range of Japanese desserts, don’t come here. Things fare better on the beverage front, with more traditional Japanese teas being offered alongside more familiar coffees, which we did sample. The Japanese teas offered a nutty, rice-like flavour that was a little strange at first, but strangely did seem to round off the meal nicely, acting as a sort of cleanser.

We did not sample any alcoholic beverages, but it seems that the mix is about right, with sake and rice wine sitting on the menu alongside champagne and rosé. Japanese beers and whiskies are available, too, as is a string of exotic fruit juices.

While arguably a little on the expensive side (£9.50 for 5 tempura prawns), the restaurant’s beautiful Zen-like setting and premium central London location certainly go some way to making up for it. A great place to go where all of the family – whether Volcano virgins (a Volcano, to you and me, is a salmon, avocado and tempura mix) or sure about sashimi – can definitely find something to like.

7 Northumberland Avenue, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5BY

reception@watatsumi.co.uk

020 7036 8520