Kaiseki by Kitchen Theory

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We are renovating the bathroom at the moment so our little flat is covered with dust and no way I am baking or cooking in this mess. Luckily, our foodie friend Wenying invited me to the House of Wolf on Wednesday for the first night of Kaiseki by Kitchen Theory. It was so incredible that I had to share it with you.

To put it straight: 9 courses of japanese classic dishes cooked by 2 chefs who worked in Michelin-starred restaurants (Fat DuckHelene DarrozzeSketchInicio and more….) lasting more than 3h in a beautiful room with an amazing service showing incredible attention to detail. All of this for £55! (Drinks not included)

Be aware the pictures and descriptions might be a bit of a spoiler… but if you want to try it and not sure what this is all about, scroll down and have a look at these wonderful plates of food. Yes yes, you have to go!

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We started by watching a 15 minute film with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a bowl of salty popcorn. For me that was something between me and my dinner and therefore unnecessary, as I am not an arty person in the slightness. But then came the first course and what a sight! Each table got served at the same time, each dish was explained in detail and at no point did I feel rushed or intruded upon, the service was simply perfect.

The first course called Hassun- ‘Night garden’ selection of appetizers was one of my favourites. It shows the different phases of the moon formed by cauliflower panacotta topped with roasted quinoa. The confit garlic dust was incredible and I will never forget the earthiness of the 2 mochi stones filled with Jerusalem artichoke purée. This dish was accompanied by a tapioca and aloe vera cocktail topped with smoke from wheatgrass dry ice. Very molecular and very theatrical!

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The second dish called Mukozuke-Sashimi with smoked dashi pearls is also at the top of my favourite list. The sashimis were blow-torched in front of us while the dish was described to us. It was very fresh and colourful and we loved the salty smoky dashi pearls as a replacement for boring old soy sauce.

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The third dish was Owanomono- Mushroom consomme with an ‘eternal life’ Tofu noodle, a good way to wish happiness and a long life to us all. Again, very theatrical with someone pipping the tofu noodle into a delicious mushroom soup. I loved our little spoonful of extras to add to the soup ourselves.

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The 4th course was Yakimono- Selection of Yakitori grills. Very simple and very delicious. We thought the emphasis was a bit too much on the nori than the beef, and I would have preferred a bigger piece of beef and a smaller one of tofu. I am not a fan of tofu at all but I really enjoyed this dish and the previous one. The honey/plum infused tofu had such a creamy texture like I’ve never had before, it reminded me of a creme brulée. The mackerel was the hit of the plate for both of us, perfectly cooked with a glaze of soy and mirin.

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The next dish was Sunimono- Seaweed salad. It was refreshing and we welcomed back some colours after our brown plate of yakitoris, but it was more of a bean salad for me topped with a few seaweed leaves than an actual seaweed salad. The pink fish-stock coral didn’t really work for us as it didn’t bring much to the dish.

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The 6th and 7th courses were served together. I will forever remember that pickled rhubarb, what a kick! I must admit I am not a big fan of tempura vegetables, but the batter was light and crispy, and I loved the lotus root tempura. Wenying promised she would take me to a chinese place where they do lotus root soup, apparently the best way to cook these crunchy roots.

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Another star for me, the last savoury dish Gohan- uruchimai (Japanese rice) squid ink risotto. Superb flavours, shocking black colour in the only white plate of the night. The scallop biscuit floating like a boat on the black sea of rice rescuing the prawn. A Life of Pi food scene! A surprising dish yet comforting, I could eat this everyday!

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Mizumonno- ‘Land of the rising sun’ dessert or Glory to Rhubarb. Do not make the same mistake as me by watching this beautiful plate too long or the rhubarb granita will melt away and you’ll have to ask for a spoon to finish it off! (which is what I did). Rhubarb tapioca pearls, rhubarb granita, rhubarb jelly, almond crumble, yoghurt meringue and vanilla cream, simply yummy!!

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Buying your flowers at the New Covent Garden Flower Market

Buying your flowers at the New Covent Garden Flower Market

The best way to get a cheap and huge selection of flowers in London is to go to the New Covent Garden Flower market. It will be a mission to get it all done but I did it on my own  so I am sure anyone can do it. Make it easier on yourself and go with someone to help carry things around.

I am hoping this post will help you through your  journey at the flower Market. If you love decorating, creative and pretty things for the house or the garden, this place will become one of your favorite places in London.  They even have these giant martini glasses which one day I will fill with a beautiful Trifle.

FIRST VISIT

First things first, if you have never been to this market, I recommend you to go once to get your head around the place. You do not want to walk around the place looking like a tourist on the day you buy your flowers. It is a huge warehouse full of hidden jewels in tiny corners with shelves mounted to the ceiling full of treasures. On my first visit, my husband and I aimed to be there for 9am on a Saturday.  This is the latest you want to be there: The traders were packing and most of them were already gone. But you get the chance to walk around, explore, and even chat to some of the flower traders to have an idea of prices, how to get your flowers back home etc…without waking up at 5am.

Take this first visit as an educational one and look at the vast amount of flowers that are available. At this time like I said, some traders will have already gone, like the foliage trader usually located outside and some other flower traders, but you will still be amazed (and intimidated) by the choice in shapes, textures and colours still available. If you had no idea what kind of flowers you were going to use, you will find the inspiration and you can trust me on that. My main problem was to restrain my imagination, I just wanted to buy everything. Don’t be shy to ask the name of some flowers and take some notes so you look them up on internet later.

Some people already know about the colour theme of their wedding, which will make the flower choice easier,  or some even know what type of flowers they want. Be prepared to change your mind when you go to this market, anything can happen. The only thing you can be sure of, even though the price is dramatically cheaper there than at the florist, expensive flowers are still expensive: Peonies will still be expensive, and roses too, although make sure you buy the right flower size for your needs (see more about flower size below).

PREPARE YOURSELF TO BE FAST AND EFFICIENT

In the beat case scenario, you have planned the colours: to match the season, or the bridesmaids dresses, or the favours or just because it is your favourite colour. You know what type of flowers you want and all is left to decide is the size of the flowers, which you will easily figure out with  the price of the actual flower and your budget. Roses especially come in all kind of sizes for the same variety with  the price depending on the size of the flower and the length of the stem.

In the worst case scenario, you haven’t got a clue about what you want, you like everything and you are confused. That was my case, and it all went fine at the end, so hang on in there and trust your talent. You will need to first focus on the colours that you want. Check the Flower Marker report, it is a blog written by Rona Wheeldon that will give you a  taste of what is seasonal and available at the market each month. Check the October blog where you can find some of the flowers I chose.

BUY YOUR FLOWERS

I was at the market at 6.15am on the Wednesday before my Saturday wedding. I asked the traders how long I could keep the flowers at home, and they said 3/4 days should be fine, as long as the weather is not too hot and that I have a cool room to store the flowers.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the whole place is completely transformed. Trucks, vans and cars have surrounded the warehouse, every loading bay is busy with boxes, crates and empty palettes and people are buzzing everywhere. This was only outside, my heart started pounding at the thought of what could be happening inside! All space available was now displaying flowers and plants, with traders shouting prices and random instructions to invisible people. Huge trolleys are moving on their own until you realize there is a person pushing it hidden behind the bushes loaded on it. A pencil behind the ear seemed to be the general fashion trend and I regretted immediately not to bring one. At least we were all wearing a massive jacket, since the air con is constantly keeping the warehouse at 12 degree Celsius to keep the flowers in perfect conditions. I must admit, most traders are men, but there was many florist women walking around to do their weekly shopping, and everybody was nice to me. It was very easy to spot that I was a beginner and everybody, traders and customers, were helpful. People are very busy though, most of the trader are constantly on the phone taking orders, so do ask for help because nobody will come to you.

Best tips I got on the day:

-Shop around. I got talking with a trader who was lovely and had a wide range of flowers and roses. He was so helpful and I was so scared to explore this jungle that I thought I would buy it all from him. He was obviously flattered but strongly advised me against it. He gave me one of these giant trolley saying I could keep it next to his stand and send me outside saying I should start by the foliage trader since he didn’t have any foliage himself. I ended up buying lots of things at other traders and he really didn’t seem to mind at all. He actually looked quite proud. Do shop around, mix and match, everybody has something to offer that might suit you.

-Touch the flowers. Florists will constantly squeeze (gently) flowers to check if they are firm and therefore fresh. It is apparently OK to do so, so go ahead and squeeze them. I was always super self conscious if the trader was looking in my direction but no one told me off.

-Long stem+big flower=higher price. Logical, I know. But think about what you want to do with these flowers. You do not need long stem for centre pieces, your bouquet, or boutonniere. And you do need long stem ONLY if you are planning to have bunches of flowers in big vases or decorative buckets. Buying long stem at 80p per stem instead of 50p for shorter stem, and then having to cut it all down to integrate it into a centre piece is a real waste of money.

I went there in September and I was in an autumnal mood. One variety of roses caught my eye when I was wondering around the different traders. When I saw these coffee break roses with their beautiful burgundy colour as big as my fist, I had to have them. After that, all I had to do was to find a clear and bright colour that would match, and I went for light beige wild roses and ivory colour big roses. Lots of foliage to brighten it all up, with Eucalyptus, red Oak leaves, Beargrass (long green grass) and even blackberry branches! I got a little Ruscus to do my husband’s boutonniere, and some hypericum Coco Grando

My roses

Ivory colour roses                         Coffee break roses                           Wild roses

BRING YOUR FLOWERS BACK HOME

If you have a car, use it, this will be the simplest and safest way for your flowers.

On the Market website, you’ll find various delivery option including one that can deliver your flowers in London. Do not count on it, it apparently went bust. So when traders say that they can arrange delivery for you, they will call you a cab: which is fine if it is within your budget, and if it is not morning rush hour.

I found a discarded giant cardboard box and squeezed all my flowers inside it. I then decided to push the box to the bus station and get 2 buses home, which took me 1h20 and was quite painful. The faster you get these flowers home and back in water the better. Traders say they can stay 1h dry before they will start suffering from the lack of water. I took the risk and it ended up fine. Do that on a warm day and you might ruin your flowers.

Another way is to choose the flowers you want, make a list, and instead of piling them up on the trolley, go to your favorite trader and order them from him. He will arrange delivery at your home at extra cost of course but it means you won’t have to stress about the state of your flowers since their truck usually transports them in water. It means you only have to buy your foliage and tuck them in an IKEA bag to bring them home and wait for the rest to turn up.

Once at home, find the coolest room of the house and make sure you have plenty of large buckets filled with a little water. Keep your flowers tied up together if that’s how you bought them. The only thing you should do is to trim off about 4/5cm off the stem and place them in the buckets. You do not want the water to cover half of the length of the stem otherwise it will start rotting. Stay calm and change the water everyday for your flowers to keep fresh 🙂

More on arranging flowers on my next post.

London foraged roasted Chesnuts

One of my favorite spreads on toasted sourdough bread is Chestnut Spread.  I usually bring back a few pots with me back from France, but when I run out, and this usually happens before Christmas, I usually manage to restrain my cravings with a few roasted chestnuts that you can find everywhere around London’s Christmas markets.

Chestnuts from the Ardeche region in France are famous and roasting them at home in the fireplace with the special chestnut pan is a favorite childhood memory of mine! When I was young we used to sit around the fire on cushions and wait for my dad to take them off the hot coals. We would then crack their burned crunchy skins on stacked old newspapers and eat them straight away!

The smell in the house after roasting chestnuts is unforgettable and this is what I wanted RIGHT NOW! My husband mentioned a few weeks before about this chestnut tree on his way to work that had beautiful red and orange colours and that we should go take some pictures. That was it, I had my moment! I am always foraging (yes even in London), and planning a chestnut foraging trip made my day! It turned out this chestnut tree was a maroon tress (chestnut for pigs as we call it in France), but I knew I have seen chestnut trees before and we decided to head straight to Hyde park on our bicycles. It was beginning of November, perfect sunny and crisp day to cycle across London and spend a few hours around the park.

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I love the wilderness of Hyde park and we found chestnut trees near the North entrances on these wild looking fields. It didn’t take very long to find a dead branch and start to dislodge the beautiful spiky pods from the tree. After 15min or so the floor was covered with chestnuts that we happily picked up, with a proud smile on our faces.  DSCN4273

DSCN4290We found so many that day that I left the small ones behind and kept only the big chubby chestnuts to roast at home. We unfortunately don’t have a fireplace but they were still delicious roasted in the oven. Don’t forget to make a little incision in their skin carefully with a knife before cooking them to avoid chestnut explosions, fun to watch but very annoying to clean!