Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Restaurant review: Anzu, St James's Market

On its first official night of trading, following a soft launch for a few weeks, the fit-out is immaculate and Anzu is giving off the restaurant equivalent of ‘new car’ smell.

We arrive at 7pm on a Monday night that will prove too cloudy to see the supermoon, for a spot of Japanese to celebrate our anniversary.

Anzu is a new addition to the Tonkotsu stable. It’s pitched as a smart but affordable Japanese brasserie, and it feels like their fight-back to the Shurya chain. The two have much in common in terms of the sleekness of d├ęcor and service.

Anzu means apricot, which is a misnomer. It’s nothing like a squidgy, slightly furry fruit.

It’s actually clean, spare, swish. In hues of natural wood and stone.

The food is very nice but rather unchallenging.

To its credit, there’s a generosity of spirit here. That might be a show of opening night goodwill, which may harden and shrink over time. But I found it to be good value.

The Teishoku main courses were substantial.

I had a generous portion of salmon teriyaki. The fish was good quality and deliciously seasoned. Sartre’s seafood katsu consisted of two big pieces of white-fish and a giant prawn, lightly tempura-battered. We each had a big bowl of rice, that I had no hope of finishing, a well-dressed miso soup and some seriously moreish pickles.  Our little pot of green tea was refilled for free, several times.

We saved room for a very pretty apricot and blackberry cheesecake, the tangy fruit offsetting the creaminess perfectly. Despite its perfect presentation, it had a touch of the pre-formed about it. Like something you would get served in Emirates upper class.

Afterwards, as we walked through the cranks and tourists in Leicester Square, we mused on Anzu’s chances of success.

Sartre is convinced it’s a bad site. And that Planet Hollywood as your nearest on-street marker is not a good thing.

He may have a point. The restaurant was quiet – four other tables were in.  But it was a Monday night in that mid November deadzone between bonfire night and Christmas. Often a quiet period, as people tighten their belts before the excess that December wreaks on your wallet and your waistline. 

I’m minded to see what the rest of the St James's Market redevelopment brings. Once finished, it might bring the footfall that Anzu deserves.

We concluded that we hope they do well.  Perhaps partly to assuage our guilt about accidentally smashing an expensive looking soy sauce dish on our way out.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Six things you can learn from a 1980s cookbook

Magimix Cookery, published 1982
Magimix Cookery was a sequel to a 1978 bestseller Magimix and Food Processor Cookery Book. 

Back then, books clearly didn’t need snappy titles to sell in numbers.

Written when food processors were a completely new and revolutionary bit of kitchen tech, the book is a guide to all the things the home cook can do with their new gadget.

Reading it now, it’s an anthology of long-gone dishes, quaint techniques and pointers to what society, and its attitude to food, was like back then.

Here are a few things that stuck out. 


1/ Early 80s home-makers were seriously industrious

This schedule puts that of Maggie Thatcher’s to shame. A call to Gorbachev and a cabinet meeting before lunch? Pah! This woman has made enough cakes to embarrass the W.I. and three different sorts of terrine by then.

And wait til you hear about her pancake handling:

2/ Food photography was unsentimental

In this littoral scene, a grieving family of crabs visit their slaughtered relatives, who are now in the form of crab soup.

On the next page, these kippers and mackerel have beached themselves in order to attend the wake of their shoal-mates, who were turned into smoked fish pate. 

I flick to the Game section expecting the characters from Watership Down to be mourning a rabbit pie.

3/ The food supply chain has changed a lot in 30 years

This entry really shows its age:

I’ll repeat that. She froze leeks in winter, so she could use them in summer.

It says a lot for our understanding of food these days and how far it has become separated from seasonality.  So much for harvesting in season, to eat out of season. 
Now we eat what we want, when we want.

The food miles debate turned up for a bit in the mid nineties and looked like it might return things back to this kitchen -garden idyll. But it proved no match for the forces of globalization. And in any case, in more recent years, the food miles argument has been challenged.


4/ Poussin came served ‘smothered in cottage cheese and butter’

Sounds like a dish out of Brian Jacques’ Redwall, and you’d need the metabolism of a hummingbird to digest it. But this dish was the answer to ‘what to cook for an unexpected supper party’ back then.

Special Abbey trifle? Shrimp n' Hotroot soup? Turnip and Tater Deeper n' Ever Pie? Cottage Cheese & Butter Poussin would have fitted in famously 

5/ Supper parties were never more showy than in the 80s

At dinner parties today, showing off about food is verbal. Just tune into the conversations around the cramped tables at Rok in Shoreditch and you’ll see what I mean.

Have you been to Uchi yet? Is Bellanger the start of the end for Corbin & King?  Will the Clove Club team pull off Italian with their latest foray? Is Sexy Fish ironic good or just bad?

But in the 70s, the food itself did the showing off. Boasting was visible, not audible. Vol au vents. Jugged hare. Curried chicken and ham served in a rice ring.

Those were the days.

 6/ You can build up your cheffy vocabulary 

Agree that showing off about food these days is all talk, but don’t know where to begin?

Simply grab yourself an old recipe book and watch your cheffy vocabulary soar.

This book gives us the following terms that will have your tryabee foodie mates lunging for their Larousse Gastronomique:

A list that would give Fergus Henderson a frisson of excitement.