Archive for the ‘Food’ Category
Archipelago is the place to go if you fancy something different for dinner. They specialise in the weird and wonderful – from bugs to exotic meats to seriously strong drinks. Happily, however, there is more to the food than just its novelty value.
I started with crocodile marinaded in chilli and garlic, wrapped in blackened vine leaves and served with a plum dipping sauce. Two of the other diners had eaten crocodile before and both proclaimed that it had been fishy-tasting and not very pleasant. This, however, was delicious. The meat is dense and white and satisfyingly filling, and the charcoal taste of the vine leaves took the edge off the heat of the marinade. A caramelised duck breast served with pomegranate and pistachio nut salad was also excellent, the sweet sauce being particularly good. Peacock-on-a-date served with a tomato and vanilla confit, however, failed to excite. The vanilla was overpowering and the peacock meat itself somewhat dry.
For the main course, I plumped for peanut-crusted wildebeest, served with a lemon balm soba noodle salad and a garlic and ginger dipping sauce. The meat was disappointingly tough and the salad insipid. Zebra served with a port, juniper and blackcurrant sauce, however, was fantastic, the meat being like a particularly succulent beef steak, and the sauce providing a sweet, tangy contrast. The love-bug salad which many of us decided to try was also good, being a green salad in an enjoyably spicy warm chilli dressing, served with two crickets and three locusts. The bugs were, from the taste of them, marinaded in garlic and then deep fried. There is actually very little taste to the insects themselves – it was rather like eating somewhat substance-less king prawns.
For pudding, the obvious choice was chocolate-covered scorpion served with a shot of Sauternes. Once again, there was very little substance to the scorpion. If it hadn’t been for the extreme crunchiness of the shell, one would be forgiven for thinking that it was merely a chocolate mould. A rather more exciting choice, taste-wise, was the baby bee brulee. This was an orange-blossom honey and stem ginger creme brulee, served with white chocolate honeycomb and a tiny bee with the sting removed. The bee itself burst in the mouth like a ripe berry, releasing a surprisingly tangy, honeyed taste. The brulee was deliciously creamy, the ginger counteracting the richness.
Looking back on the evening, Archipelago wasn’t the best choice for a large group (there were 13 of us). All dishes are cooked to order and the space itself is small. I would happily go back again, but only as part of a much smaller group – four maximum, although I think the ideal would be an intimate tête-à-tête. Just make sure that your date has a strong sense of adventure.
(This review was originally published 27 June 2007)
My mother and I have just been discussing Jerusalem artichokes, which we both love, and which she currently has an abundance of in the garden. I tend to use a Nigel Slater recipe (the man is a god to me), which calls for pan roasting in butter, with garlic, bay and thyme. She has a rather more complex way of cooking them, which involves leaving the artichokes for 24 hours before the final cook; allegedly it removes their windy tendencies. I can’t say this is top of my list of priorities – I might change my mind if I had a hot date, I suppose, but seeing as this is unlikely to happen any time soon I’m not bothered.
Recipes are rarely written down in this house. Even if they are, they are rarely referred to in the written form once we’ve cooked the dish once. We are both quite instinctive cooks, who enjoy the process just as much as the finished product. It’s one of the reasons I adore Nigel Slater – his books are a feast for the senses. His writing borders on the erotic and I can quite happily just read, even if I’m not intending to cook.
Anyway, I started to talk Mum through his artichoke recipe, but then began to wonder how much I had changed it along the way. It’s something that I often do, not even intentionally much of the time. There have been plenty of occasions when I’ve been cooking a dish for a while and for some reason flick back to the original recipe and realise that I’ve changed various details to suit my way of cooking, or the ingredients that I tend to have in the house. I rarely measure things out, for instance – it’s all done by eye. A splash of this, a handful of that, add a bit more or less depending on my mood. It’s exciting and enjoyable and I have enough of a sense of what works and what doesn’t that I rarely have any unmitigated disasters. It does mean, however, that I’m a rubbish sous-chef. Neither, in fact, am I good at having somebody helping me in the kitchen. You may peel vegetables, sure, but once you’ve done that your most useful function will be keeping me topped up with gin and staying out of my way – you’ll only get shouted at, otherwise.
(Originally published elsewhere in December 2006)