Tag Archives: Grub Club

Lemongrass Pop Up Vietnamese Vegetarian

Image

Been a busy month organising a new pop up event on the 10th August with my pal Fran at Una Bicicletta Verde. We’re hosting Lemongrass, a 3 course Vietnamese Vegetarian banquet, and our restaurant/cheffy name is Jade and Verde (Jade being my Viet half and Verde being Fran’s Italian half). And we’re doing it all in the private red room of the the Vauxhall Griffin Tavern.

Here’s the menu for Lemongrass:

  • Vietnamese Lemonade (chanh muối)
  • Starter Platter
  • Summer rolls with marinated mock duck (Gỏi cuốn)
  • Mango Salad (Nộm xoài)
  • Main Course
  • Lemongrass and chili marinated tofu curry, served with jasmine rice (Cà ri chay)
  • Dessert
  • Fruit Cup – tropical fruit with condensed milk and ice (hoa quả dầm)
  • A scoop of lemongrass ice cream (Kem Xả)
  • Sweet black bean and rice pudding (Xôi chè đố đen)

The menu is 14.50 without a Vietnamese beer and 16.50 with, the booking site is here on Grub Club, and follow us on @jadeandverde on twitter and facebook/jadeandverde. As it’s our first time we’re aiming to cater to a maximum of 24 so places are limited, and you have to book in advance!

Advertisements

Asian Food In London: Old Saigon Review and Biang Biang noodles with Mama Wang

Authentic, regional Chinese cuisine – this is a hard gem to find in London as many will know. In fact, I’m just going to put it out there and say good East Asian food is very hard to find in London, certainly if you’re like me and have a £8 mental (and financial) barrier for how much you can bring yourself to spend on the main course at a restaurant. Home is often still where you’ll find the best tasting East Asian food – learn to cook it yourself or find someone who can and barter with them, especially if you’re a vegetarian.

Only last week I went to the new Vietnamese restaurant in Putney, Old Saigon, with high hopes, and I was initially very impressed: the decor was fresh, the shared noodle benches felt modern and convivial. The Banh Xeo was crisper and more textured than I’d ever tasted and a beautiful deep orangey turmeric colour, the lotus stem salad and the green papaya salad both were stunning with strips of fried tofu arranged around the top. Yet they both came only with nuoc mam (fish sauce), not vegetarian at all, and the dressing made the salads taste almost exactly the same. Then came my plate of fried lemongrass tofu, which was initially tasty but after a while all the deep fried tofu started to go down rather heavily, and I even thought I could detect a faint, residual raspy lick of MSG.

IMG_1604

The golden orange Banh Xeo is accompanied by nuoc cham and plenty of lettuce and fresh herbs to wrap around the pancake

Shards of crispy banh xeo made from mung beans, rice flour and turmeric break off to reveal fried tofu and beansprouts.

Shards of crispy banh xeo made from mung beans, rice flour and turmeric break off to reveal fried tofu and beansprouts.

IMG_1607

Fried tofu marinated in nuoc cham based dressing line this lotus stem and shredded vegetable salad.

Fried Lemongrass Tofu

Fried Lemongrass marinated Tofu with fresh chilies and spring onions.

I wish you could go to a Vietnamese restaurant and have tofu that wasn’t deep fried to within an inch of its life. Saigon Saigon in Hammersmith is the only place I’ve been to that serves tofu in more than one way – soft in a claypot with aubergines and mushrooms, or battered in lemograss marinated cornflour to have a thin crust on the outside and a soft interior. And so Old Saigon in Putney gets a 6.5 from me – who knows, if you were eating the meat dishes you might have loved it, but for veggies it was pretty limited – I mean, I would have tried the vegetable curry but I wanted some protein, damnit! I think I even prefer Pho Saigon in Twickenham, another small, West London new Viet place, because even though they also cheekily used fish sauce in otherwise vegetarian dishes, their green papaya salad was a little more fragrant and less flat/swimming in dressing. Pho Saigon is also a little cheaper – our bill at Old Saigon for 4 fairly straightforward dishes, including two light salads, plus rice and a smoothie came to £40, really not that cheap.

And so into this Asian restaurant void is where Grub Club strides, taking home cooking to the max, bridging the gap between amateur and professional cooking. Indeed, many people are excellent cooks, but will tell you that the last thing they’d want is to work in a restaurant – the job is tough and intense and not for everyone who loves food. Liv who heads Grub Club has been great in helping me to hook up as a volunteer with some excellent Asian pop ups, and Mama Wangs one one of the most impressive looking based on their website, almost daunting, their food so refined, their marketing so well considered… They’d already done an amazing, well reviewed 9 course banquet at Asia House, and so I went to help out at a one off dinner in Dalston’s Dead Dolls Club.

The Dead Dolls Club is a great venue because the kitchen is open plan at the back of the dining area, and so you can really tell how much work is going into the food. Jess and Chris, the head of the team, had prepped dozens and dozens of different components and ingredients for the night: there were boxes of different toppings, freshly chopped herbs, dressings, sauces, stews, syrups, buns, cakes… The detail was so thorough and impressive compared to conventional restaurant fare, with the results meaning that each of the 10+ dishes tasted quite unique.

IMG_1627

Behind the scenes: Just a small selection of all the prepped ingredients for the 9 course menu at Mama Wang.

IMG_1640

Yunnan mint salad

Jess and Chris both worked in China for several years, which I’m sure has helped them develop their recipes to such a full degree. I was particularly blown away by a Yunnan salad of large, green mint leaves dressed simply with chilies, pine nuts, sesame oil and vinegar that really spring cleaned the palate. I was in charge of, amongst washing many many dishes, deep frying lotus roots with minced pork in a pork batter, which went remarkably well (apart from that the lotus stems kept sticking to the bottom of the deep fryer…) and plating up the dessert of lemon and red bean cakes drizzled with ginger syrup. But the signature dish, hand made ‘Biang Biang’ noodles, that you have to ‘bang bang’ on the table like pizza dough, was the most visually impressive to see being made by the deft hands of Jess, who kindly made me a vegetarian version at the end of the evening…

Vegetarian Summer Rolls (Gỏi cuốn)

Image

The mint leaves are rolled into the last layer of the wrappers, so that the green shines brightly through the translucent rice. Strips of carrots give the summer rolls a pink hue.

Last week I was lucky enough to help out at my first Grub Club pop up event, hosted by the brilliant and energetic Sharon and Eliza at Miss Manchu. Sharon is Malaysian Australian and an expert in Pan Asian cooking, and she designed a 6 course menu ranging from a starter of deep fried son-in-law eggs and Vietnamese prawn summer rolls to Chinese style pork buns and Thai pandan pancakes with lychee ice cream and bubble tea. We were catering for 40, and so as soon as I arrived at 1pm I was put to chopping 40 chilies, gutting 40 prawns (a slightly uncomfortable new for me) and rolling 40 summer rolls.

As soon as that was done I set about making as many green pandan pancakes, which took about an hour and a half because the pancakes needed to be cooked slowly on each side to avoid them from browning, and then needed to be rolled with a sweet coconut filling just like the summer rolls. We finished cooking that night past 11pm! And I left happy and satisfied with a tub of Sharon’s delicious home-made lychee ice cream in tow.

So as you can see I have summer rolls and rolling in general on the mind, having picked up a tip or two from both Sharon as well as Nhu – a lovely and skilful fellow sous-cheffer. Urged on by the late onset of spring, since then I’ve been making batches of summer rolls at home, and so here’s my recipe using tofu, mushrooms and peanuts:

Recipe (makes 8 rolls):

20g rice vermicelli, soaked in boiling water for 4 minutes then refreshed under cold water.
3 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes.
1 carrot, sliced into julienne strips
100g tofu
1/2 jicama (optional), julienne sliced and then fried gently for 3 minutes.
16 mint leaves plus extra for serving
8 Thai basil leaves
5g of coriander, coarsely chopped.
8 circular dried rice wrappers
Nuoc Cham Sauce (click here for recipe)

Slice the tofu into thin strips, about 1 cm thick and 5 cm long, and shallow fry them in a wok in hot oil until they begin to turn golden. Remove and place them on kitchen roll to absorb excess oil, then slice lengthways again to make them thinner. Set aside with other filling ingredients. Slice rehydrated mushrooms into thin strips, about 2 mm wide.

Soak a rice wrapper in a bowl hot water, turning the edges like a wheel so that the whole sheet becomes wet. As it starts to soften, place the wrapper carefully on a hard, moistened work surface. Then place 4 strips of tofu horizontally about 5cm away from the bottom edge. On top of this add two slices of mushrooms, about 5 batons of carrot, a couple of batons of jicama if using, a sprinkle of chopped peanuts, two mint leaves, a sprinkle of coriander and about half a tablespoon of vermicelli. The shape should be that of a small, horiztonal sausage.

Now, carefully roll up the bottom edge of the wrapper until it has covered the ingredients, and then do another half roll over the top. Then fold each side edge of the wrapper to the centre over the sides of the filling, trying to avoid any creases or folds. No carefully go back to rolling the filling towards the top of the remaining wrapper. Before the last roll of the filling, place a Thai basil leaf face down about 2 cm from the top edge of the wrapper, which will then be rolled in at the top of the summer roll as in the picture above.

Invite eaters to wrap the rolls in crispy lettuce to add a crunch to each bite, and dip in the nuoc cham sauce as they go.

(Photo by Luke Walker)

Yan Kit So Memorial Award for Asian Cookery Writers

During my month long hiatus from The Jade Cave involving a couple of rushed house moves, I am thrilled to announce that I was awarded Asia House’s Yan Kit So Memorial Award for budding Asian Food writers.

The award is a generous travel grant that will get me to Vietnam this Autumn, where I’ll continue my work on this blog, researching Vegetarian Vietnamese recipes, gathering enough material to develop a cook-book proposal when I’m back in the UK! The award was judged by an array of intimidatingly Michelin starred chefs specialising in Asian cooking. Thanks to the generous support at the Asia House team I’ve already had the chance to speak to one of them, Fuchsia Dunlop, who’s kind of The Queen of Sichuan and Sichuanese cooking.

Fuchsia’s basic advice to me was that the beauty of a cookbook is that it can be as weird as you like – it’s not a particularly rigid genre – as long as your research is thorough and your recipes excellent. And so just how Fuchsia discusses Maoist history in her books, I hope to write about Buddhist Vegetarian cookery, with winning food quotes from Vietnamese literature, as well as plenty of region-by region delicious vegetarian recipes.

In May I’ll be attending Atul Kochhar’s ‘Curries Of The World‘ demonstration at Asia House, which should give me a good idea of what to expect when I come to present my own findings there next year. And I’m also going to be working with Grub Club, helping other Asian cooks and hopefully leading to hosting my first public event. So watch this space…