‘Secret Recipes from the World Famous New York Bakery’ by Dominique Ansel

Dominique Ansel Secret Recipes from the World Famous New York BakeryLast year I had this great spate of productivity – I promised myself that I would read at least one book a month and often managed two. I was trying to get through the classics, the Nobel prize winners and the smart books that every intelligent thinking person should be able to casually boast about.

To be quite honest, it got pretty boring. Some of the books were so tedious, that I had to splice trashy novels, sometimes several, in between them just to get through. On occasions, I did the sane thing and just gave up.

Then things got busy and I soon dropped the charade.

But at the end of last year, when I moved into my new home and had months without internet, I started to read again. Looking through the books I had on my tablet, I saw Dominique Ansel’s book, Dominique Ansel: Secret Recipes from the World Famous New York Bakery.

I had, evidently, downloaded it at some point and then proceeded to forget about it.

Now, I’m not much of a cookbook reader – I like to flip through one now and then (Phaidon’s Coco is my favourite), look at the stunning photographs and try to inspire myself to cook something fancy. I almost never follow a recipe but I might steal an idea here and there to liven up my repertoire, usually because I’ve become so bored of eating the food I’m cooking on a day-to-day basis.

Having just finished another novel, Ansel’s book, a representative of a different genre, looked pretty good.

Unlike your average cookbook, which starts with a couple of pages of introduction before launching into a hundred or so recipes, Ansel’s book has chapters and chapters of text before running onto a handful of recipes (I didn’t count them but there aren’t that many).

But what I liked about it is that it wasn’t just some authoritative drivel about how you should prep your baking tray or why organic stone-milled heritage flour is the only kind you should be using. Instead, it explained the best way to do things through a series of stories.

These were stories about failing to make the perfect macaron, emigrating to the US and discovering the cookie and creating the iconic cronut. Yes, a version of the cronut recipe is in the book.

It was a realistic, and well-written, account of life as a pastry chef. And even though I generally shun fads, I suddenly found myself wishing I had a cronut at 3am. In any case, I gained a whole lot of respect for Ansel through the writing in his book.

As for whether I’ll be making the cronut at home, the answer is in all likelihood no. Having made croissants at Leiths, I don’t need to look through the cronut recipe to recognise how time-consuming and technically challenging it is. I would much rather travel to New York to have the real deal, made by professionals who really care about and know what they’re doing.

Still, it was a nice interlude between light and heavy reading.

El Poblet and Restaurante Quique Dacosta

On a night in the last week of March this year, I had a bizarre dream. No grand political visions but rather, a blissful nightmare of sorts about eating at a fine dining restaurant with my mother and vanquishing demons in between courses.

Make of it what you will.

In the morning, I posted a solitary photo of one of the dishes from my dream – one that I had enjoyed in real life also – to Instagram. It’s recognisable enough if you know the chef but it was inconspicuous in all other respects. And like all dreams, this one soon fluttered out of my mind.

I received an invitation in the post a few weeks later in a surreal dream-come-true scenario to discover the Fronteras menu at Restaurante Quique Dacosta in Denia – the very same restaurant that I had been dreaming about. And by July, I was back in Valencia and ready to take up on the surprise offer.

El Poblet, Valencia

Leaves, El Poblet, Valencia

There was a prelude to my visit – a dinner at El Poblet, Quique Dacosta’s one Michelin-starred restaurant in the heart of Valencia.

Situated above one of his other restaurants in the city, Vuelve Carolina, El Poblet was in a flamboyant bubble of pink embossed wallpaper. There were just a handful of tables where dishes from Restaurante Quique Dacosta’s past menus were served alongside head chef Luis Valls Rozalén’s creations.

For eighty odd euros, you get a tasting of around 12 courses – a steal compared to any offering you might find in London.

But it’s hard to judge El Poblet on its own merits given that so many of the dishes were in essence recycled but if you don’t get an opportunity to travel out to Denia for the three-star experience, El Poblet comes pretty close. Certainly, it is deserving of at least two Michelin stars.

It’s impossible to miss Dacosta’s signature dish, the petals of rose – the very one that I had dreamt about. On my visit, there were also revisited recipes like the red king prawn from Denia and Cuba Libre de Foie Gras. Crowd-pleasers if you will.

Perhaps one of the most visually appealing dishes was the head chef’s creation – The Haze.

It’s not a complicated dish – a small platter prettied up with peas, mushrooms, peashoot, lardon and crumbs. But it’s made theatrical with the addition of a bubbling mist from the dry ice.

In an instant, I was transported back a moment in the Basque Country when winter was approaching. Biting frost was as much on the grass as it was in the crisp air and the sun’s rays struggled to penetrate through the atmosphere. As the car I was in emerged from a tumble of fog, a flock of birds flew past overhead, breaking with the sun. A simple but glorious moment.

I very much enjoyed El Poblet. It was easy to get acquainted with but offered a few twists and turns too.

Restaurante Quique Dacosta, Denia

Strange flowers 2015, Quique Dacosta, Denia

While El Poblet was a cocoon of red hues, Restaurante Quique Dacosta was a vision in white.

The amuse bouche were taken outside the main restaurant with a choice between an air-conditioned room or the white garden.

It’s impossible to imagine devotees to summer picking anything but the exterior where white wicker furniture sat under the shelter of floaty white canopies. With each passing breeze, the fronds of the canopy waved and danced without a care in the world. It’s chic and joyful at the same time.

Delicate little dishes came out in no time at all and brought with them an assault of citrus and smoke flavours that danced with the cava that was served. I would have happily stayed in this state long into the night.

Raim de pastor and kalanchoe, Quique Dacosta, Denia

Inside the restaurant, more tiny dishes followed in quick succession.

Some of these focused on ingredients in minute detail, like the spoonful of fish roe and paper-thin slices of octopus tentacles. Others, like the tomato skin creation, broke the mould of what an ingredient ‘should’ look like. Others still, crossed the line of how many flavours or colours should be on a single plate.

Dish after dish arrived to assault my palate with hardly any time to savour the experience – it was overwhelming to say the least. But even more confusing for the mind, there didn’t seem to be a thread connecting the dishes, except perhaps this single idea of Fronteras, or borders.

By the end, I felt dishevelled and ravaged and was glad to be out in the sun to enjoy the Petit Fours. It was a return to normality after the delivery of a focused and intense symphony.

I’ve held this piece for the best part of a year while ruminating over what I thought of my experience at Restaurante Quique Dacosta.

The impeccable style, from the well-chosen ties of the wait staff to the precise choice of the décor were all so Quique Dacosta. The food, bold, challenging and thrust upon its diner, reflects that. Honestly, I still don’t know if I liked it.

But one thing is for sure – it’s an experience you won’t forget.

Inspirations

Much later, I was researching an article in earnest when I stumbled upon something that I thought was very interesting.

During my visit to Restaurante Quique Dacosta, I was told about how the theme of the restaurant changes every year and has done for the past decade or so. And with the closing of this year, I suppose Fronteras will come to an end and give way to something else.

New for this year was also a chef’s kitchen, one created in partnership with Porcelanosa, where Dacosta could invite selected guests to dine.

Like other development kitchens, this one boasted a workspace filled with hidden equipment. But it’s also a space where Dacosta has started to experiment with lights and sounds akin to what’s happening at Paul Pairet’s Ultraviolet. I can only pretend to imagine what might come out of these experiments for the menu for next year.

But the thing that I later discovered, which impressed upon me a new appreciation, was the fact that Dacosta started working at Restaurante Quique Dacosta in his mid-teens. Of course, it wasn’t his restaurant then and it was known as El Poblet. Eventually, Dacosta took over the restaurant and made it his, gaining Michelin stars and a whole host of other accolades in the process. But he has only ever worked in one restaurant, a feat that’s matched by few.


In Pursuit of Food travelled to Valencia with flight support from the Spanish Tourism Board and was a guest at El Poblet and Restaurante Quique Dacosta. For more information on what this means, read our Editorial Policy.

Jidori – Dalston, London – Review

89 Kingsland High Street, London E8 2PB www.jidori.co.uk

Kumamoto oyster at Jidori, Dalston

Jidori was Plan C. Not in earnest, as it was always the plan to visit after Lyle’s and The Clove Club, though there was a Plan D.

I’m not sure there’s anyone who found it on the first go. This Dalston restaurant lives in the stripped down shell of another establishment, the tell-tale sign of which is still over the entrance. The only thing that advertises Jidori is a simple branded print out of the menu, stuck on the window.

It feels like I’ve been there before though. Perhaps in it’s previous incarnation as a Vietnamese restaurant. Now it’s a yakitori joint with tiny tables that make the cavernous room look huge.

There’s enough of us to try just about everything on the tight menu, with just eight yakitori options, a set of sides, a smattering of small plates and one dessert.

A couple of things weren’t available. Like the liver for example, which was replaced by the much more delightful oyster. They were kumamoto oysters, and I really ought to have had them without the dressing, but shallot and vinegar is just so god damn good.

I also rather enjoyed it’s vegetarian options of king oyster mushroom and aubergine and miso butter. The onsen egg was gracious, as was the koji fried chicken, though I think I preferred the wings. You’d be spoilt for choice if you loved chicken or rather sick of it by the end if you’re not.

There’s only one dessert on the menu, a ginger ice cream. It came loaded with sweet potato crisps, miso caramel and black sesame. It’s unusual, but not necessarily in a bad way. I think the Jidori pickleback, a shot of whisky followed by a shot of pickled ginger juice, was made for it.

And after that solitary dessert, it was onto Plan D. A different Plan D.

Ginger ice cream at Jidori, Dalston

Bao – Soho, London – Review

53 Lexington St, London W1F 9AS baolondon.com

Pig's blood cake, Bao, LondonI finally made it to Bao.

After a morning of tasting German wines and months after everyone else has already paid their dues in the queues.

I got there shortly after 2pm thinking that, as it’s a week day and there’s just an hour left until it closes, I should be able to avoid the queues.

But I was wrong. And so I ended up standing behind two groups of people, staring across the road at the people staring back at me through the window. In no time though, I was waved through the doors, and dodging traffic to get there in one piece.

My coat, hung up high in front of me at at the table and my bag underneath the bench, I sit down.

Pig's trotter croquette, Bao, LondonThe menu is compact. I vaguely recall trying the buns at an Observer Food Monthly party but I can’t be sure. So I order the old faithful – confit pork bun. For my adventurous side, I chose the pig’s trotter croquette. And for Instagram, I chose the blood cake.

There were no surprises with the bun. It is what it is and similar versions can be found all over. The blood cake I could have done without. It’s sexy for Instagram with its runny yolk suggestively trickling down, but beyond that, well, my palate failed to be titillated.

The croquette however, I loved. Rich and fatty but cut through famously by the dipping sauce. I almost ordered a second serving straight away.

Pondering over getting the bill, I opted for a second bun instead. This time the lamb with cumin and it came with a surprise but pleasant stash of jalapeños. The tangy heat backing the light spice of the cumin actually made me like this bun more. If nothing else, it was more interesting.

As I step out 30 minutes later, leaving a half empty restaurant, I spot more diviners queuing up at the Bao stop.

Duck & Champagne at HKK, City, Review

88 Worship St, London EC2A 2BE hkklondon.com

HKK's Cherry wood duck with Louis Roederer Champagne

Duck and Champagne is a pretty random combination, isn’t it?

Food and wine matching common sense would probably suggest that a gamey fowl like duck is best served with a red wine of some sort, say a Pinot Noir; or at the very least, a bold white wine like Chardonnay. But let’s throw the rule book out of the window for a while to consider the new(ish) Duck & Champagne menu at HKK.

For £49, you get two servings of their famous cherry wood roasted Peking duck, an amuse bouche and a dessert. Oh yes, and a half bottle of Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV Champagne – a very good non-vintage. It’s a startlingly good deal just for the wine since, at retail rates, a bottle of the Louis Roederer costs in the region of £40. And then you get the delicious food thrown in.

So let’s talk about the food.

Kicking things off is a tiny but exquisitely presented blue crab salad. A sliver of crab meat is served on top of a baby treviso leaf. Beneath it is the second part of the bite – cubes of tropical fruits that fills a fried pastry shell. At first, like me, you’ll resent it for being so small. But trust me, once the duck arrives, you’ll be glad it was no bigger.

HKK duck carving

The duck is of course the main attraction and HKK have successfully made a big deal out of it. A whole roast bird, beautifully browned and glazed during the lengthy cooking process, arrives at the table on a service trolley. The room is immediately perfumed with the rich smell of the roast duck and, if you love crispy duck as much as I do, things get pretty exciting.

A chef starts carving into the meat with a cleaver in front of you while another member of the staff plates it up so that when it arrives on the plate, it’s nothing short of elegant. It’s certainly details like this that rewards HKK with its Michelin star.

Chef carving cherry wood duck at HKK

As I said, there are two servings.

The first serving is with a steamed black truffle mantou, a classic Chinese steamed bread (minus the black truffle, of course) and a dollop of Imperial caviar. A portion of the crispy skin is eaten separately with a dipping sauce first, so you can savour the subtle, smokey flavours, before you tuck into the pillowy bun of the mantou. The Champagne really helps to cut through the richness of the meat here and, even though the sauce is lightly sweet, it doesn’t jar on the palate.

HKK's Cherry wood duck with mantou and caviar

Meanwhile, the chef has returned to the kitchen to prepare the meat for the second serving – with sesame pancakes. A steamer full of handmade pancakes, that more closely resembles tortillas, is placed to one side as a plate of precisely portioned duck with julienne of cucumber and spring onion takes centre place at the table. This is when you can take as much time as you want to enjoy the feast as the attentive staff tops up your glass.

HKK's Cherry wood duck with pancakes

I want to take a moment to mention the service. In short, it’s excellent. The food is introduced with just the right amount of detail and care is taken to never intrude while always being at hand.

Served with the duck and pancakes, there’s also the side of an egg fried rice. A bejewelled bowl of rice is topped with a duck and abalone supreme stock that you have to combine before eating.

Supreme stock, in Chinese cookery, is a rich stock typically made with chicken meat and vegetables – it’s supposed to be more complex and flavourful than regular stock. You can use it as a soup base but it’s more frequently used for stir fry dishes for added flavour.

In this case, the duck and abalone stock was a glossy, chestnut colour and resembled gravy in consistency. I wondered if it might be too salty but the flavours were just spot on.

Finally, to round off the meal, a nashi pear and Champagne mousse arrives with Champagne sorbet, spun sugar and a Champagne sauce. The delicate and clean flavours were a fabulous way to round off the lavish meal. And if you still have Champagne left in your glass, you’ll find its fruit notes well-accompanied by the intense pear flavours.

HKK's Nashi pear and Champagne dessert

There’s a restaurant whose tagline is ‘come hungry, leave drunk’. Well, I’d much rather do it the HKK way. It’s just a shame the Duck & Champagne menu is only available on Saturday afternoons.

My advice is, go with your favourite Champagne loving friends and don’t make plans for afterwards.

Photographs c/o HKK


In Pursuit of Food was a guest of HKK. To find out what this means, please refer to our Editorial Policy.