Finding tastiness in and around London... and sometimes at the back of the fridge...

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Who said that hearty has to be unrefined?

My new, audit-free life kicked off in September to the marvellous and meandering sound of Renaissance music, which, as wonderful as it is, has meant that I have missed both the turning of the leaves (*sob*) and the best food season of the year. That said, the times I have eaten out recently have been even more exciting than usual. Inevitably, there have been a lot of noodles (sticking one's head over a giant bowl of ramen is possibly the best thing you can do for your voice), but when I'm not singing I have been trying to indulge in the best of British. When there's a chill in the air and a crunch underfoot, only hot and filling grub will do: sorry France, but you just don't cut it at this time of year.

Brunswick House Cafe, Vauxhall

Living in Vauxhall has its issues, namely the fact that there never seems to be anywhere decent to eat, drink and chat at the same time. You could try 'Tamesis Dock' in the summer for a bog-standard burger coupled with decent beer and a beautiful sunset, but who wants to sit shivering on a damp boat in the dark of winter? Or how about the cute but undeniably boring Bonnington Cafe, a place where the definition of vegan food is a massive pile of grated carrot? Good god, I have never been so pleased to be a meat-eater, which is saying something; watching Babe sing Christmas carols is the one and only time I ever feel the tiniest bit of remorse for indulging in endless amounts of pig-based food.

So I met up with my favourite art history-extraordinaire a few weeks ago to test the lunch menu at this incongruous listed building tucked underneath St George's Wharf. Brunswick House is full of antiques for sale, which would actually make it the ideal place to take someone who you don't know very well. We...I... always have a lot to say, but after catching up, my friend and I enjoyed playing the 'how much?' game ("Say, how much do you think this poorly-made 1970s stool is 'worth'?", "£50?", "Wrong! It's a steal at £320."), so allow for an extra half hour or so to wander around the house itself. The cellar is full of old toilets priced in their thousands. Jus' sayin'.

Now, I will point out straight away that there are no beers on tap, so anticipate forking out a lot for bottled beer: this is definitely a place for eating, not drinking. The wine menu isn't bad, so have a bottle with your meal.

My friend and I decided to share both a starter and dessert, taking advantage of their 'two courses for £14.80' deal. This cut the price of lunch down a lot but not so that we missed out on the full three courses. I will say this now: the food is so good here that you do not want to skip anything. The fresh, seasonal British food is served beautifully: each plate strings together a melody of familiar flavours to create something both unpretentious and fabulous.

To start we had crispy kale with goats cheese and parsnips, where the ingredients did all of the talking for themselves.

This was followed by an utterly triumphant pork dish. The breaded pork (I forgot to ask but it seemed like a shoulder cut) was divine and served with delicious vegetables, fresh parsley and a delicate apple jus. Both light and hearty, rustic and refined. Ugh, I was so happy that day.

To finish we shared a wonderfully smooth lemon posset. I have had possets that tasted faintly of vomit, so it's generally not a dessert that I get over-excited about, but Brunswick House really pulled this out of the bag.

It takes confidence to serve up such familiar, simple food and charge as much as Brunswick House does, but they pull it off with aplomb.

My little autumn treat: Scallop 'roses'

Just because I haven't been out much doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking up some yummy things!

• Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

• Cut filo pastry into at least 4 circles (I lay out 4 sheets on top of each other, place a bowl on top and cut around it with a knife.

• Butter both sides of each circle.

• Place 2 muffin cases in a baking tray. Put two circles of pastry in each. Don't worry about 'foldage'. Put to one side.

• Peel and core either one large Bramley apple, or two smaller apples. Cut into small pieces and place into a saucepan with two tablespoons of water and one teaspoon of thyme leaves. Cover and simmer for about 5 minutes, or until the apples are soft.

• Purée the apples either with a large spoon, or a hand blender.

• Spoon the purée into the bottom of each pastry case. Don't be tempted to spread it too thickly; if you have excess purée then spread it up the sides of the case. Pop it in the oven for a few minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.

• Cut up some streaky bacon and fry in olive oil until golden. Set to one side and use the same pan to fry up a scallop or two for each pastry case. Make sure the pan is hot before you put the scallops in, and only fry for a maximum of 45 seconds on each side. It's always better for your scallop to be underdone than overdone!

• Place your scallops in the pastry case.

• Mix up your bacon with a little baby watercress. Season and/or dress the salad to taste and chuck it on top of the pastry case.

Peach and Thyme Mousse

• Peel and cut up 6 ripe peaches. Place in a pan with two tablespoons of water and a teaspoon of thyme. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, as you did with the apples.

• When done, purée with a large spoon or a hand blender. Add a teaspoon of glucose syrup and a teaspoon of sugar. Simmer for a little longer, until the mixture is thick in consistency.

• Pour a thin layer the thick mixture into the bottom of your mould (I'm using an old 'Gu' ramequin for this, but a proper mould would be way better!). Put in the refrigerator to cool.

• Peel and cut up one more peach and purée with the juice of an orange.

• In a separate bowl, whisk 200ml of double cream until soft peaks are formed. Fold this into the peach and orange mixture with some icing sugar and a pinch of cinnamon powder.

• Once the mixture in the moulds is cool, carefully dollop on the mousse. Leave in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Go and practice your scales, have a glass of wine and maybe watch an episode of Modern Family.

• Once done, put a plate on top of the mould, turn, and tap out the mousse. Decorate with delicious slices of fresh peach and maybe a sprig of thyme!

Have a nice autumn everyone x