Thursday, 9 January 2014

Recipe: Bagels

My bosses live up in Prestwich. I can only assume they enjoy inflicting pain on others, as I regularly watch them eat, in envy, as they devour authentic, sturdy-looking bagels. They assure me I must partake in a bite should I ever venture north of the river. The River Irk, that is, of course.

For, living in Levenshulme as we do, great bagels are in short supply. Until the brilliant Trove get in on the act, it's either trusty old supermarket-shelf New York Bagel Co or make our own. So I decided to rise to the challenge, mainly with the aid of a Christmas present from my sister, Marc Grossman's New York Cult Recipes, and insight from a few twitter foodies (twoodies, anyone?).

Upon initial inspection, bagels look like they could be tricky to make. And, though baking bread has become quite fashionable of late (so much so that I can't count the number of people I've spoken to recently who keep their own sourdough starter), it's still rare to overhear a bagel-related discussion. Whatever apprehensions you might have, making a bagel is actually pretty damn similar to making bread, but with the added simmering stage to give them that classic chewy crust.

The following recipe is almost 100% Marc Grossman's with very small variations. Thanks to Eddie Shepherd for the bicarbonate of soda trick and to Ashley Clarke for an alternative to Grossman's shaping of the dough. Bicarb is great at accelerating Maillard reactions, which helps the dough to brown when baking; there's also great fun to be had spinning bagels on one's fingers to create a hole.

A couple of notes on ingredients: you can buy potato starch from Unicorn in Chorlton and online; malt syrup isn't the easiest thing to find but Unicorn again and Holland & Barrett are your best bets.


Dry Stuff
750g of strong (i.e. bread) flour
7.5g (1.5 tsp) dried yeast

Wet Stuff
375ml lukewarm water
15g (3 tsp) salt
30g (2 tbsp) malt syrup or sugar (not surprisingly, malt syrup gives a darker crumb and maltier flavour)
22.5g (1.5 tbsp) olive oil

For the poaching
3kg water
15g (3 tsp) potato starch
15g (3 tsp) malt syrup
5g (1 tsp) bicarbonate of soda


  • Mix the dry stuff with the wet stuff to form a dough. Make sure to dissolve the salt and the malt syrup in the lukewarm water so they distribute throughout the dough more evenly.
  • If using a stand mixer, knead with the dough hook on a  medium speed until you get a smooth elastic dough which pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If kneading by hand, flour or oil your work surface and work until you get the same effect.
  • Divide the resultant dough into 10 portions (weighing the whole thing, dividing by ten, then portioning out on a scale works well).
  • Shape the portions as per the following picture, rolling into a log and creating the hook:

  • Alternatively, make a ball of dough, poke a hole through the middle with a couple of fingers and spin it around carefully to get the same shape (as advised by one Mr. A. Clarke).
  • Now you're free to place the bagels on a sheet of baking paper or silicone mat and leave to rise for about 1 hour.

Bagels pre-rise

  • Roughly half an hour before you're ready to make the bagels, preheat your oven to 230 degrees celsius.
  • Blend the potato starch with about 250ml of the water and then mix with the remaining poaching ingredients and bring to a boil in a large saucepan. The bicarb might make the liquid foam wildly so keep an eye on it.
  • Lower the heat so the water is simmering and poach each bagel (I imagine cooking more than two at once will be impractical in most household pans) for around a minute on the first side and then flip over for 30 seconds on the other.

Poaching bagels

  • Remove bagels and place on your baking paper/silicone mat where you can top them with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or anything you like (sprinkles?).

Sesame bagels

  • Place the bagels in the oven and lower the temperature to 210 degrees.
  • Cook until done and dark brown about 20-25 minutes.
  • Let cool for a while otherwise the crust will be a little too chewy (as we impatiently learnt!)

The finished article

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Baltic Bakehouse, Liverpool

Bread, it's simple stuff, isn't it? Well, it sort of is. It also sort of isn't. Ever tried making it? I'll be honest, I haven't - fortunately for me, Jamie is a dab hand at making it (see here). We're also rather lucky: living round the corner from Trove it's easy to get hold of a good loaf. We'll still travel for a well proved roll though - hence our recent journey to Baltic Bakehouse in Liverpool.

I've been admiring them from afar for some time, on the ol' Twittersphere. Their cakes and bakes look completely delectable - so much so that when we found out they were still closed for the Christmas break on the Friday we planned to visit Liverpool, we delayed our visit until they were open again the next day!

We weren't to be disappointed - my only gripe being that bread is, of course, rather filling - and so we couldn't actually try as much as we would have liked to.

First up - a simply toasted mozzarella, tomato and pesto sandwich. Rich in its filling (no skimping on the cheese here, thankfully), the bread was thickly sliced, holding the lot together without seeping molten hot cheese lava onto my hands (like mine often do at home).

There was a reasonably sized selection of Chelsea buns, pear tarts, croissants, pain au chocolat - but this pretty little chocolate and walnut tart caught our eye. Rich without being overfacing (perhaps because we shared: January austerity was thinking of our waistlines), the pastry was Mary Poppins-esque (y'know, practically perfect in every way!).

There's no espresso machine here but they do serve up excellent HasBean cafetiere coffee - complete with timer, ensuring you're brewing it right. Served in camping mugs, my only complaint was that the enamel kept the heat so well, it was hard to drink for a while.

Everything we'd consumed thus far was so good, I couldn't resist leaving without trying one of their croissants. Much better than anything you'll get in a supermarket, Jamie (modest as ever) compared them to the ones he made for our brunch club supper club, a little while ago.

The menu is short but sweet: a changing daily selection of sandwiches, breakfast stuffs including bacon and sausage butties and granola. Oh, and toast of course - you can even DIY at the table. Located in the 'Baltic Triangle' it might seem a little out of the way, but it's en route to the Tate (and there's an intriguing looking antiques shop nearby) - a perfect stop off before an afternoon exhibition. We even spied another couple at both places who seemed to be making the same journey around Liverpool as us. Anyway, go eat bread. They sell loaves to take home with you too!

Baltic Bakehouse
46 Bridgewater street, Liverpool
L1 0AY

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Neon Jamon, Liverpool

Neon Jamon wasn't intended for my first blog post in 2014 - I've been meaning to write up a trip to the Clove Club since early December. It's failed to materialise thus far, and since Jamie kindly took my iPhone for a swim in my handbag, there's little chance I'll have photos to compliment the post, should I ever get round to writing the meal up.

Anyway, surely it's nicer to start the year with a restaurant I love - not one I mildly despise (sorry, CC). Neon Jamon had been recommended a little while ago by Pedro, a beer and food lover we met at Liverpool Food and Drink festival. Regularly pining for the little dishes I've enjoyed on several trips to Barcelona, a day trip to the 'Pool to dissipate January blues seemed the perfect excuse to visit.

A little way from the city centre, a black cab journey took about 15 minutes and was under a tenner. We arrived early, around half 6, as there's a no bookings policy - except for larger parties (I'd like to think in a very Spanish way, rather than in a 'that London' way). It's a narrow space, with tables over two floors. A convivial atmosphere, complemented by an excellent playlist (Joy Division, Elvis Costello, the Black Keys), if tables weren't so in demand, I'd have happily stayed there all night - I know: I'm selfless, right?

In true Spanish style, all four Cavas are served by the glass - not a one over four quid. A lovely aperitif - accompanied by a generous portion of plump boquerones nardin (anchovies in olive oil, garlic and parsley). Seeing huge plates of pan con tomate drift past made it hard to resist the beloved staple - but I knew I'd be hard pushed to eat everything I wanted to if I filled up on dough first.

We could easily have spent the evening devouring the charcuterie and cheese platters - and I'm fairly certain we'll be back to do just that - though on this occasion we chose a small plate of the Trevelez IGP jamon. The menu explains the meat is cured at altitudes of over 1,200m; I'm no curing - or altitude - expert, so can't quite tell you why this is done - but it has a sweet depth of flavour which left Jamie and I fighting over the last pieces.

L-R: bravas, padron peppers, ribs
Padron peppers and patatas bravas practically order themselves as soon as we step foot in a Spanish restaurant - and the latter are usually a good judge of the kitchen's standards. For the first time in my life, we both finally experienced a flippin' spicy Padron. They say eating these fried capsicums is a bit like Russian roulette, as supposedly around 1 in 5 should blow your head off. On this ratio, I feel sorry for the folks who've been eating my mouth-burning share, as the meal at Neon Jamon was the first time I'd ever tried a truly hot one. I think I preferred life mild.

Patatas bravas were crisp and salty, topped with a rich, smokey tomato sauce. Lemon alioli was served on the side and eaten so indulgently one would have thought we'd been starved of decadence over the Christmas period. The Malaga style little squids were perfect little fishy bites, used to mop up the garlicky mayonnaise as if gravy at the end of a roast.

Malaga style little squids with lemon alioli
The only dud dish was the left-field ordering of Iberico pork ribs in membrillo & sherry vinegar. Though not unpleasant, some proved tough to eat and the sauce tasted too heavy on rosemary for my liking. A slower cooking time and using smoked ribs could improve the dish tenfold, I reckon.

There was also a specials menu, which we were saving for the end. I tried to persuade Jamie to share the cheese platter (I'm tempted to resort to veganism as an escape route for my affair with dairy), but he sensibly suggested choosing only the semi-hard goats cheese (name forgotten, possibly La Flor de la Hiniesta), accompanied by a Moorish chutney (raisins, apricots, spices, you know the score). Possibly the star of the meal, the waitress's suggestion of a Manzanilla La Goya, a dry, light and nutty sherry complimented the cheese wonderfully and served to ensure the meal ended as perfectly as it begun.

The service at Neon Jamon is friendly and knowledgeable. Despite our visit taking place on the first weekend in January the restaurant was heaving, demonstrating the popularity of this place. Prices are reasonable - though certainly not as inexpensive as tapas bars in Spain - and their wine list shows real attention to detail. I drank a beautiful Catalunyan white with my meal, which I'm desperate to seek out again! From my sole dining experience here, I'd suggest Neon Jamon is as authentic as they come in the UK. If you're used to the tapas of La Tasca or - at the other end of the spectrum - Tickets, this place might not be for you, but if simple and well executed floats your boat, then get eating.

Neon Jamon on Urbanspoon

Monday, 30 December 2013

Recipe: Perfect Fried Chicken

Making fried chicken should be a simple activity: take jointed chicken, dip in some kind of binding agent (milk, buttermilk, egg or plain water), dredge in seasoned flour, then fry in fat.

But, in the pursuit of an idealised version, there are always plenty of other questions vying for attention. To brine or not to brine? Skin on or skin off? Which flour or flours? Will plain flour suffice or should you reach for more advanced starches? Which type of fat? Shortening, vegetable oil, soybean? What temperature to fry at? And, perhaps most important of all, what seasonings?

These issues can send an obsessive mind into feverish overdrive. More often than is healthy, I lie awake at night mentally running through the various iterations of fried chicken recipes. And my aim by doing so? To approximate KFC’s recipe.

When put like that, it sounds rather sad, I know. Yet I’m far from alone in puzzling over the secrets that yield such a delicious coating. And the benefit of approximating KFC-style chicken is that you can use decent, organic/corn-fed chicken and have greater control over what you're putting into your gob.

Before we come to a recipe, let’s address the aforementioned issues in turn:
  • Brine by all means, but it’s not really necessary. The coating tends to keep the chicken pretty moist even after a prolonged fry (assuming we're talking about legs and thighs here). If you do brine, make it a really light one: since the coating needs to be over-salted, salty meat can be a case of over-egging the pudding. Go for a 1-1.5% equilibrium brine (i.e. weigh meat and water together then calculate the salt in grams as a percentage of the total mass) and soak for 12-24 hours. Add a couple of bay leaves and crushed garlic cloves for a little extra flavour. You can also brine with milk, buttermilk or yoghurt – these not only tenderise the meat but also give the meat a noticeably white hue.
  • Skin is good. The only flaw is that it can slide off whole, taking the coating with it, leaving naked flesh. If you’ve given your chicken a good brine this shouldn’t be as much of an issue. Skinless chicken should be reserved for burgers in my opinion.
  • Flour is a difficult topic. It depends on how much crunch you want. Pure cornflour, tapioca or potato starch will yield loads of crunch but, while good for wings, too crunchy a batter is not quite what we want for pieces. 1:1 plain flour to cornflour is a good starch but 75% to 25% is even better. Modernist Cuisine’s KFC-copycat recipe suggests a mixture of cake flour, plain flour and wholemeal flour. Cake flour is a low-gluten flour that can be approximated by adding cornflour to normal flour, so that makes sense. I can’t really detect what difference the wholemeal flour makes.
  • Fat is another complicated subject. Shortening was originally used if you believe the KFC instructional video from the ‘80s. What you really want is oil that doesn’t oxidise easily when heated and re-heated (so a stable one), drains easily, and has a neutral flavour. Apparently, KFC now use soybean but groundnut oil is your next best bet.
  • I’ve never had any problems frying at 180 for 12-15 minutes. That tends to yield moist chicken legs and thighs with the right degree of colour on the batter. You're aiming for that almost-orange colour of KFC batter. You can invest in a pressure fryer as used by chicken shops but units start at over £1000. (Some crazy fools use their pressure cooker as a fryer, but we're too, um, chicken to do this).
Modernist Cuisine's Fricken recipe

Seasoning really deserves to be discussed in a place of its own, away from bullet points. Firstly, you need lots of salt. Lots. Typically, using 1-2% salt for batter or dough recipes is a good bet, such as 10g of salt in a 500g bread dough; seasoned flour for fried coatings however need more like 9-10% salt. It sounds excessive but you have to think about how thin the layer of batter is. Using pure table salt yields too harsh a flavour, so go for sea salt like Maldon but ground fine so it disperses in the flour evenly. 2 parts salt to 1 part MSG also works well and will get you closer to fast food style. I tend to put all the seasonings (salt, pepper, herbs and spices) in a grinder together, powder them, then add to the flour.

When it comes to other additions, unless you’re a super-taster I think you’ll be hard pushed to pick up much more than salt, pepper and oil in the average fried chicken batter. However, there's obviously more to it than that - namely that elusive blend of herbs and spices. You can easily Google 'KFC recipe' and find people who claim to have reverse-engineered the Colonel's secret recipe. And, in reality, it's not that difficult a feat if you really set your mind to it. The ingredients of these recipes are hotly disputed nevertheless, with some calling for Jamaican ginger and nutmeg, others for marjoram and mustard powder.

The 'secret' recipe
These herbs and spices are always going to be background flavourings so as long as you don't add too much of a strongly flavoured element (nutmeg or sage for example) you'll stay out of trouble. Don't get bogged down in the exact proportions - a certain degree of spontaneity is fine.

Here's my best attempt at fried chicken thus far:

Awesome Fricken
A mix of chicken legs or thighs (enough for 8 - or even more! - pieces)


2 garlic cloves, bashed
2 bay leaves
Water to cover
Salt (1-1.5% of the combined weight of chicken and required water i.e. 500g chicken and 1kg of water would give 15-22g of salt)


Seasoned flour:

300g plain flour
100g cornflour

30g sea salt
10g MSG

15g black peppercorns
5g white peppercorns

1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp caraway
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Generous pinch each of sage, allspice, thyme, cayenne, ground ginger, marjoram, bay leaf (tear off a piece of leaf)

- Combine brine ingredients and mix to dissolve the salt
- Submerge chicken in brine and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. The longer you leave it, the more pronounced a flavour it will have

- Remove chicken from brine and allow to drain a little
- Preheat oil to 180 degrees celsius in deep-fat fryer or pan-thermometer combo
- Combine plain flour and cornflour in a bowl (using a clean washing-up tub is a good idea if you're making a big batch)
- Meanwhile, grind seasonings to a fine powder in a spice/coffee grinder, then whisk into flour mixture until evenly distributed
- Dip the chicken pieces in the buttermilk then place in the seasoned flour
- Shake the bowl/tub to coat the chicken (this way you avoid sticky flour hands - a lid also comes in handy here)
- Remove chicken from the flour and shake off excess coating
- Fry in oil until golden/orangey and cooked through (approx. 12 minutes, though it depends on how fresh the oil is and whether you're using a deep-fat fryer)
- Drain on kitchen roll (and dab off excess oil)
- Consume with unrestrained joy (see Mr Bean above)

Thursday, 28 November 2013


Cap'n Manchester

I'm pretty sure we all know SoLIta by now. So I'll skip the preamble and get down to it.

We were invited by Franco Sotgiu ostensibly to try out the new chicken wings menu, and as such were not asked to pay for any of the below.

Let's talk about the good things first.

Now, I'm a wing aficionado. It's a fact Anna can testify to, having watched me devour them by the hundreds - Chinese-style, Korean-style, Jamaican-style, deep-fried, BBQ-d, Buffalo-d, you name it. When Janelle Monae sings "But we eat waaangs [yeah I know what that sounds like] and throw them bones on the ground", she talking about me and her on a night out. I'd say, without exaggeration, that somewhere in my hypothetical last meal there would be some variation on deep-fried chicken wings. You get the picture.  

Ain't no thing but a PB & J chicken wing
SoLIta's wings are good. The range of 'toppings' is far beyond the usual scope of the spicy (read doused in Frank's Hot Sauce) and the sticky barbecue variant that most establishments limit themselves to. Sure, Solita do those too, but they've also got PBJ (Peanut Butter & Jelly), Kiev, BMW (Bacon & Maple), and the Naga-based 'Cry for Help' amongst others.

Anna went for the PBJ and I for the BMW. The skin of the wings had taken on a lovely, uniform golden-brown hue and a gelatinous quality that I love. The meat pulled away from the bone easily, which is more than can be said for a lot of the fried chicken joints I've visited. Despite most of the sauce pooling at the bottom of the bowl, the flavours were still evident and well executed. It's messy work but that's always been part of the charm for me. The peanut butter and jelly isn't as wacky a wing flavouring as it sounds, coming out tasting like a sweetened satay sauce. The BMW had me thinking of american pancakes. In a good way.

My burger was thoroughly tasty too. I opted for a special, the Captain Manchester, on the basis of the photos I'd seen on Twitter. Two mighty patties, lancashire cheese, and a horseradish and ketchup sauce (so Russian dressing without the mayo). It was a beast. I'd expected to manage it all but could only stomach three-quarters. It comes with a free comic too, and you can't say that about many burgers in town. 

Now for the not so good...

Unevenly cooked and bloody steak
We've had issues with steak here in the past: a hanger that had been quite rudely treated, overcooked and unrested. This time Anna ordered the 10oz Prime Rib on the recommendation of a fellow blogger-diner in the hope of a better experience. The waitress informed us it was quite a thickly-cut steak and was probably better served medium. All fine there. Unfortunately, when it came and Anna cut in, it was evident the steak had seen too much of the grill for its slender frame. To call it medium-well would have been kind. With credit to the staff, when this was pointed out a new one was swiftly ordered. However, the kitchen, in their haste to get another one out, didn't rest the steak, leaving the plate swimming in meat juices. Good for dunking chips in, not so good as a salad dressing.

Now this pains me most not because the steak should be cooked correctly, not even because this might happen to plenty of other customers who might otherwise keep quiet. It pains me because it's wasteful. 

Much like last time, the trip has left us in two minds.

The best conclusion to draw is that they do burgers very well. And wings. Despite the Inka grill - the steaks aren't this joint's USP from our experiences. As good as the grill is, the chefs using it need to get a grip with their steak cooking, if we're to consider dropping £16 pounds on one in the future.

The service was friendly, without any of the aloofness which is rife in this part of town (and that was evidenced in our observation of tables other than our own). Atmosphere-wise, I suppose it doesn't help that the place was full of groups as everyone gears up to Christmas. Our feeling is that it's a great place to take your mates, rather than have any intimate, post-work catch-up with a partner.

From all our dealings with Franco, he has been nothing less than accepting of criticism, always keen to get to the root of any problem. And I've always liked SoLIta for not seeming as try-hard as Almost Famous. We'll be back, just not for a steak. 

SoLita on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Seasons Eatings Supperclub, Trove

Venison, oyster, beetroot, gin

Oh, supper clubs; how I love thee. You feed me well for little money and introduce me to food I'd never normally eat and places I never normally visit. Sure, sometimes you may leave me in the middle of nowhere with no public transport home, having stayed for a few too many whiskeys after, or with a rip-roaring hangover after dancing in kitchens in West Didsbury with marrows 'til 3am, but you're always such fun. You're such fun that you made us start our own! And yes, ours have been fun, and we've even tried to get a bit fancy making our own croissants or canapes that take 3 hours from start to finish... 

...but then you go to one that casts a shadow so large over every other supper club, you wonder whether you (meaning us!) can really charge people for what you're dishing up when there's ones like this out there. You know: like the ones you've read about, like the ones they have in - *whispers* - that London, ones that would definitely be called 'pop-up restaurants' if they were south of Droitwich. 

If you haven't already guessed, I'm talking about Seasons Eating, brainchild of two fabulous female chefs, Suzy and Isobel, who have taken residency once a month in our new favourite place, Trove, a bakery housed on the A6 in Levenshulme. The dedicated duo, both chefs by professional, create restaurant-standard menus for very reasonable prices.

November's saw us chow down on course after beautiful course - every dish plated up with precision, with flavours to back up the presentation. The evening begun with a warming spiced apple soup with bay leaf foam and thyme jelly - evidence already that this was no ordinary supper club. The next dish, a sous vide poached egg, with black pudding 'crumb', pickled enoki mushrooms and shallots, finished off with watercress. Almost a take on a full English, though I'm not sure that was their intention - the dish was light and tart enough to awaken the palate for the next course.

The menu stated that there would be venison, oyster, beetroot and gin; in reality there was tempura oyster sitting atop perfectly pink venison, beetroot pearl barley, slices of beetroot, deep fried onion and gin jelly. I wasn't a huge fan of the gin jelly to begin with, but by the time it melted it slipped into the background and didn't overwhelm the other flavours. A teensy bit more salt on the meat would have been lovely (though anyone who has read this blog before will know we are salt FIENDS) but when eaten with the juicy, sea-borne oyster and the deep fried chopped onion, it was perfectly balanced. A dish worthy of any fine dining establishment.

Finally, the dish we were admittedly apprehensive about: szechuan, mandarin, brown butter. To be honest, the unusual pairing of ingredients was one of the main reasons we'd booked on to this supper club: I couldn't wait to see what they were going to do. Chefs always seem to say that desserts should be playful and leave diners with a smile on their face - well this certainly did. Szechuan pepper infused curd filled light, mini doughnuts with segments of mandarin as well as a gel, all finished off with the most delicious ice cream I have ever tasted. It was so good, I'd happily buy tubs of this ice cream every weekend if it were on sale. 

Look: if you like food, and you like championing the 'little guys', book yourselves on to their next supper club before they bag themselves a restaurant and a star to boot. They're hosting one at Fig and Sparrow in Manchester city centre on the 14th December - £30 for four courses and a cocktail - its up there with the best food Manchester has to offer at the moment. Follow them on Twitter to find out more. I should point out that we paid for our tickets - this write-up sounds so positive that I'm worried someone will think we've been paid in gold to say what we have, but it's all blummin' true!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Hunan, Chinatown

Clay pot lamb belly - our favourite dish!
It's been so long since I've written a blog post about food that I feel like I've forgotten how to, um, write about food. Unfortunately, the photographs I have to accompany this post certainly ain't the best, so I'm really going to have to pull my socks up if I'm to keep you engaged for the next 5 minutes. We've been a bit sloppy with the ol' blog writing recently - Jamie's been busy dividing his time between two very different writing jobs and I've been preoccupied with finding a new job, and then starting it (oh, and then starting another one too - apparently one just ain't enough no more). We've also managed to move house in the last month; cue silent weeping as we say goodbye to our Swedish show-home style kitchen and hello to a pokey little space so small that we're currently hanging our pans from a curtain pole (supper clubs will certainly be interesting here!).

In celebration of starting aforementioned new job, we thought we'd make the most of my last weekend before entering back into 'normal' working hours and try a new restaurant. I, slightly hungover, really craved Chinese. The only problem was choosing where to go: my knowledge of the cuisine in this city is pretty limited, save a few dodgy takeaways and the delicious seafood in XO sauce from Laughing Buddha in Didsbury village. Thank God then, for Twitter, or more accurately for Aka Hige (Paul) who suggested Hunan in Chinatown. 

Braised taro in chilli and garlic
Hunanese food is apparently known for its plentiful use of chillies and garlic - SOLD. Despite the multitude of both in all of the dishes we had, each plate still managed to differentiate itself from the rest. The menu is extensive so it was difficult to choose, although Paul had recommended the braised taro. Not something I'd ever come across before, we were more than happy to give it a go. Taro is a root vegetable (not dissimilar to a potato) and when braised took on an almost dumpling-like consistency; it came flecked with chilli and spring onions, and turned out to be even better when reheated the next day. 

Our favourite dish was easily the clay pot lamb belly - hot without being overtly spicy laced with the deep, warming spice of star anise, the tender meat fell from the bone (mostly! this was chopped very small, so sometimes it was a case of sucking the meat from the bone...). Lamb belly is a favourite of ours, which we've only recently discovered after making the equivalent of Moroccan ribs with the underused cut - but please don't tell everyone, lest its arrogance overtake its beauty, like the fate of its now-expensive cousin, pork belly.

Duck gizzards ('glandular' stomach) with white chillies
We also - bravely - opted for duck gizzards with white chillies as well as 'fragrant and hot crab'; the latter, something the restaurant draws attention to on its website in the Hunan cuisine section and so we assumed it would be a dish done well. Unfortunately not. Though the crab came with the accompanying tools to extract the salty flesh it proved to be a time consuming task which was not entirely worth the wait. When I finally managed to get hold of enough to eat with the sauce, though generally tasty, I would have guessed the crab were cooked from frozen, and was certainly overdone. The leftfield choice of poultry stomach, though not something I would necessarily order again, was enjoyable and amongst the spicier of the dishes of the night - Jamie was fairly certain it contained salted chillies, which added an extra dimension of heat!

We ploughed our way through four dishes over the course of an hour (as well as a few beers) and landed up with a bill under £40. We're keen to head back to Hunan to try some more of the menu - I think the pork with smoked tofu, five spiced pigs intestines and one of their dry-pot dishes (a speciality of Hunan cuisine) are next on our to-do list. It's worth mentioning that the portions are large and cheap (average price is around £8) so it's an ideal place to visit with friends who enjoy sharing! 

Well, if you managed to make it to the end of this post - thanks for bearing with me as I meander back into food blogging and I promise to try harder next time! No gold stars for me I think, but at least there's one for Hunan.

Hunan Restaurant on Urbanspoon