The Most Beautiful Bridge in London

In DonQui’s opinion it is not Tower Bridge – although it is pretty impressive.

It is certainly not London Bridge, which is in Arizona.

Waterloo Bridge

Neither is it Waterloo Bridge, despite the Kinks’ eulogy and the rather magnificent views.

Albert Bridge

In DonQui’s view it is Albert Bridge which has to take top spot

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He always feels inspired whenever he sees it or crosses between Battersea and Chelsea

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And if he is trotting along with others he is always careful to break step – after all he would not want to cause it to fall down.

A Roast Chicken Dinner

DonQui has guests coming over. Immediately his thoughts turn to supper.
Should he cook something?
Yes, please.
Chicken?
That would be great
Roast Chicken?
Yum!
So while Duchess goes to Southwold to select a bird from his friends at Mills and Sons Butchers,  DonQui goes up to the allotment to pick some curly kale, pull up some carrots and go to the farm shop for some potatoes (as he did not grow any this year).

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Now DonQui believes that the trick to a good roast dinner is getting everything ready well in advance. Potatoes and vegetables parboiled, gravy base prepared and then everything can be finished off at the end with no stress.
When it comes to gravy he is a bit of a stickler. He likes to make it all from scratch without any packaged stuff — most of which tends to be salt and various additives.

So with the guests arriving in a couple of hours, DonQui gets to work.

His basic plan goes something like this:

1. Parboil the potatoes and set aside.
2. Prepare the gravy base.
3. Put the chicken in the oven to roast
4. Prepare and parboil the carrots and kale
5. Put the potatoes in the oven to roast when there are 45 minutes remaining for the chicken
6. Take the chicken out and set aside to rest
7. Finish off the gravy and vegetables

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And here are his recipes:

For the Roast Chicken
1 good quality chicken (approx 1.5 kg)
1 onion
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
1 lemon
olive oil
salt
freshly ground black pepper
a mix of fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage.

Method
Take the chicken out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking so it comes up to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 240°C.
Roughly chop carrots and celery, quarter the onion, then place vegetables onto a roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil.

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Place chicken in the middle of the roasting tray on top of the vegetables. Drizzle with olive oil and rub salt and pepper all over it.
Cut the lemon in half and put in the cavity along with the herbs.
Put the chicken into the preheated oven and turn down to 180°C.
Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Baste the chicken halfway through cooking and if the veg look dry, add a splash of water to stop them burning.

chicken resting

Take the chicken out of the oven and put it on a carving board to rest for 15-20 minutes. Some people like to cover it with tin foil while resting but DonQui does not like doing that as it makes the nice crispy skin go soft.

While the chicken is resting finish off the gravy and vegetables.

Ingredients for the Chicken Gravy
2 table spoons butter
2 table spoons flour
500 ml chicken stock (preferably unsalted)
salt and pepper to taste
a bunch of frush herbs (such as thyme, rosemary oregano, sage).
a chopped mushroom (optional)
a couple of chopped tomatoes (optional)
vegetables from the roast chicken
a good splash of white wine

Method
Make a roux by combining the flour and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan.

chick2Cook over a low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until the roux begins to darken slightly.

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Remove from the heat and let cool for about a minute then whisk in the stock. Add vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt. Some chicken stock is often already heavily salted so it is better to taste it and gradually add the salt. It is easy to add more, impossible to take any out.

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Cook on a very low heat for 20-30 minutes then strain.
Put the strained gravy base back into the pot and wait until the chicken is cooked.
Once the chicken is resting, place the roasting pan with the vegetables on the stove top on low-medium heat.

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Deglaze the pan with the white wine making sure to scrape up and disolve all the brown bits.
Strain into the pot, pressing any residual juices from vegetables through the sieve. Whisk together with the rest of the gravy base and then simmer very gently until everything else is ready.

Roast potatoes
Wash and quarter a couple of medium potatoes per person. You can peel them if you like but DonQui often likes to leave the skins on as he does on this occasion.
Parboil in salted water for 10 minutes, drain and set aside until you are ready to begin roasting. All of this can be done well in advance.
Place the potatoes on a roasting pan, drizzle with a goodly amount of oil — DonQui likes using a mix of oils, and goose or duck fat if he has some. Put them in the oven with the chicken when there is about 45 minutes of cooking time left for the chicken. The potatoes should take about an hour to get nice and crispy brown. Turn every 15-20 minutes and sprinkle with salt in the just before serving.

Curly Kale

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Wash the kale, strip the leaves from the stalks and roughly break apart into small pieces.
Bring a small amount of water to the boil in a pot, add the kale, put on a lid and simmer for 5 minutes.

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Don’t worry if it seems like a lot of kale at first. It will reduce down.
Drain and set aside until the chicken is out of the oven and resting

Carrots
Wash and scrape the carrots. Cut into relatively even pieces. DonQui prefers carrots cut lenghwise rather than across but it is a matter of personal taste. Boil the carrots in salted water for 7 minutes. DonQui also likes to add a bit of sugar to the carrot water.
Drain and set aside until the chicken is out of the oven and resting.

The Finishing Touches.
With the chicken resting, the potatoes done and the gravy simmering it is time to finish off the kale and carrots. In both cases the method is the same.

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Simply melt a bit of butter in a pan, add the partially cooked vegetables and stir around in the butter until heated through. This will take around 3-5 minutes.

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DonQui thought is all went rather well and his guests seemed to quite enjoy the meal…

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…which was rather nicely washed down with a fine bottle of Côtes du Ventoux which DonQui had picked up in the South of France a few months ago.

And to finish off…

strawberries and cream

…strawberries from DonQui’s autumn crop along with a few grapes from the garden and clotted cream.

Trout with Sea Vegetables

On his way back home from London to the Shires, DonQui decides to pick up something simple but tasty for supper.

As it so happens he has to pass by the nice Mr Waitrose’s shop on the way, so he drops in to see what is on offer. As is always the case when he stops off at Waitrose, DonQui ends up buying far more than he had intended. His shopping basket is filled with buttermilk (for pancakes) and Canadian maple syrup (amber mind you not just the ordinary medium) to go with it. Some coconut cream for stir fries; liquid unsalted stock for sauces; and thin streaky bacon (difficult to find in the UK) for breakfast. As it happens there is also a Rioja, a Chablis and a Calvados on offer at reduced prices and so these too manage to find their way into DonQui’s shopping basket.

At the fish counter there is one remaining large trout filet. This will do for supper, DonQui thinks, adding a medley of ‘sea vegetables’ (samphire, sea aster and okahijiki – or Japanese land seaweed) to his purchase.

trout

DonQui cooks the trout ‘en papillote’ baked in the oven for 15 minutes with herb butter, lemon and parsley. Waitrose seals the fish in a parchment parcel for him in store. Previously DonQui has cooked fish like this by simply placing it in an ovenproof dish and covering with tin foil. He serves the trout filet with boiled charlotte potatoes tossed in parsley and butter alongside the sea vegetables. The latter are incredibly easy to prepare as all they need is a 2-3 minute stir in butter.

A Stroll Through Soho

Avid readers of his blog will not be surprised to find DonQui in Soho. After all he made a promise to himself yesterday while wandering around Piccadilly.

DonQui likes Soho. Full of eating, drinking and entertainment establishments there are plenty of possibilities for a decent lunch or a good night on the town. There are still even a few naughty places left over from its 1950s-70s heyday as London’s capital of sleaze, not that DonQui knows anything about such matters. Although rather gentrified now, there is just enough grit left for DonQui to feel that that the area has not become too sanitised.

Bypassing the tourist hell of Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, DonQui heads straight for the back streets to the north of Shaftesbury Avenue.

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A stroll up Berwick Street reveals plenty of options for good  food. From the fruit and vegetable sellers…

Soho2 to pseudo street-food stalls offering everything from burritos…

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to salads…

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and even fish and chips; there is plenty on offer if you don’t have the time for a sit-down lunch.

Before too long, DonQui finds himself on Dean Street. This is where he usually finds himself when he is in Soho as it houses some of his favourite stopping off places.

Prix Fixe

Prix Fixe is an excellent lunch or dinner spot in the manner of a French brasserie. They have a set menu offering incredibly good value in a relaxed atmosphere. Inevitably DonQui ends up having a steak-frites as his main course. The frites are proper thin french style — crispy on the outside and soft in the middle.

French House

The French House, a bit further down Dean St, is one of DonQui’s favourite watering holes. During the second world war it was the unofficial headquarters of de Gaulle’s Free French and this is the root of the name. The French House still retains its character and is a perfect place to meet for a drink before going to dinner or for turning a lunch into an all afternoon affair. French and Belgian beers are on tap, served in half pint glasses only, and they also have some excellent Breton cider.

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Favoured by actors, writers, bohemians and all sorts or reprobates it is about as far as one can get from a blonde wood and chrome chain pub. There is no music, no slot machines, no sports on television and woe betide anyone who uses a mobile phone.

Just the sort of place DonQui likes.

Coach and Horses

The Coach and Horses around the corner on Greek Street used to be another haunt. It was a ‘proper boozer’ and one of the few remaining Soho stalwarts. Sadly, since the departure of Norman in 2006, it has begun to tidy itself up. Norman, who ran the pub for 62 years was the self-proclaimed ‘rudest pub landlord in Britain’ and would not tolerate boring people nor anything that might get in the way of lively conversation or proper drinking.

DonQui drops in for a quick pint and is horrified to learn that it has now become a vegetarian pub. He shakes his head in disbelief and thinks that Peter O’Toole and Francis Bacon (who were once regulars) must be turning in their graves.

DonQui also Recommends
Andrew Edmunds 46 Lexington St for a cosy, intimate atmosphere, high quality food and a great wine list — a good place to take a date.
Ronnie Scott’s 47 Frith St, for a night of top end jazz with big names often playing there. A Soho institution since 1959
Bar Italia 22 Frith Street for a proper Italian espresso in a proper Italian atmosphere. Across the street from Ronnie Scott’s it has been running since 1949
Pizza Express 10 Dean Street for both good pizza and good jazz. Although DonQui generally avoids chains he makes an exception for this one. There is nothing chain-like about the Jazz Club downstairs.
La Boheme 13 Old Compton St for a lively atmosphere from breakfast through to dinner and then late drinks. The public face of the original Soho House (once a fine members club and now an industry) it is a good place to go for the buzz rather than an expectation of exceptional or good value food.
Ain’t Nothing But the Blues Bar, 20 Kingly St for a lively buzzing atmosphere and great live blues until the wee hours of the morning.

Passing the Time in Piccadilly

DonQui finds himself in London and at a loose end for about an hour. Now an hour is rather an annoying amount of time to have free. It is not enough to do something really interesting like having a proper lunch but it is too much to simply kick ones hooves and do nothing.

In his view, time wasting is an art form which should be cultivated. The more he observes humans rushing around in a constant state of busy-ness, the more he thinks they could learn from donkeys — most of whom are perfectly happy to laze around in a field all day.

Piccadilly

So with this in mind DonQui heads for Piccadilly where there are lots of places to waste time in a pleasurable and productive manner.

Fortum & Mason’s is always worth a nose around.

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Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason have sorts of delectable delights very attractively arranged,  and DonQui rather approves of their old fashioned formality. Although tempted — he doesn’t buy anything as the prices are a bit on the steep side.

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He wasn’t even tempted by Japanese Wagyu beef at a mere £195 a kilo!

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The tea selection is pretty impressive and they even have tastings. DonQui had no idea that there could be so many different varieties

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— even a blend to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo.

Hatchards

Next door to Fortum & Mason, and boasting one more Royal Warrant, is Hatchard’s — Britain’s oldest bookshop which was established in 1797 and is now owned by Waterstones. Packed full of great books, and not just the latest bestsellers, Hatchard’s is a great place to browse as well as picking up a good book or two.

Waterstones

A little further on, the five floors of books at the Waterstones’ flagship store could absorb DonQui for ages. There is a café upstairs and there are worse ways to pass the time than picking up an interesting book or two from the shelves and then retiring to the café to leaf through them.

rest pic

There are plenty of good places to stop for a bite to eat although some may require taking out a second mortgage on the stable in order to pay the bill.

DonQui simply goes for a coffee and croissant at Paul — one of an increasing number or rather welcome French boulangeries and pâtisseries  that have crossed the channel in recent years.

Piccadilly_Arcade

Then he takes a stroll through the Piccadilly Arcade with its impossibly quirky and expensive shops. These range from bespoke tailors to Maille mustard; militaria to Russian icons.

RA

If he had more time DonQui might have considered dropping into the Royal Academy across the road for a bit of artistic culture. On the other hand it is probably more likely that he would have made his way over to Soho for something to eat and drink.

In fact that sounds like such a good idea that he resolves to go to Soho tomorrow,

Wild Boar DonQui Oaty style

Ever since tasting the delectable wild boar filet steaks on a bed of potatoes at Puerta Osario Restrobar in Seville, DonQui was determined to try to reproduce it at home. The Aldeburgh food and drink festival gave him the opportunity to purchase a couple of wild boar filet steaks and now he was ready to experiment.

wild boar

He remembered a few things from the meal at Puerta Osario Restrobar. Firstly that the steaks were coated with something that reminded him of balsamic vinegar. As they had been topped off with a balsamic glaze and a pesto dressing he thought that a wine and balsamic vinegar glaze might just work.

The second memory was of the delicious slice potatoes which seemed to be neither fried nor boiled. He decided to try a combination of both. After searching on line he thought that a slight modification of the recipe for patatas pimenton con ajillo might just be the answer.

So here is DonQui’s own invented recipe for Spanish style wild boar filets. Recognising the difficulty of obtaining wild boar filet steaks DonQui suggests beef filet mignon as a more than acceptable substitute. Farmed boar will not work as it tastes more like pork.

For the Potatoes
2 medium sized potatoes of a firm waxy variety such as Charlotte. Floury potatoes will not work as they will simply fall apart.
1/2 a chicken stock cube
1 teaspoon paprika
1 garlic clove
water
olive oil

For the Steaks
2 wild boar filet steaks (or beef filet mignon) 2-3 cms thick
salt
pepper
a small amount of cooking oil
a good splash of balsamic vinegar
an even better splash of red wine
a dollop of pesto mixed with olive oil (optional)

Potatoes first

Scrape and slice the potatoes, putting the slices in a bowl of lightly salted water (optional but recommended if you don’t start cooking right away). The soaking also helps to remove starch. Drain and dry.

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Heat the olive oil in a pan and gently fry the potato slices.

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After a minute or so put a lid on the pan and let them simmer gently for about another 7 minutes.

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At this point they should be partially cooked and not too browned. Take out of the pan and set aside.

Crush the garlic clove and mix with the paprika. Then dissolve the bouillon cube in a small amount of hot water and set both aside.

The Steaks

Take the steaks out of the fridge at least 45 mins before cooking and let them come to room temperature.

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Put the balsamic vinegar and wine into a jug or glass and have ready to hand.

Sprinkle salt and pepper on a board or plate and press the steaks into it, coating both sides.
Oil a heavy bottom pan and heat it up until it is very hot.

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Sear the steaks at very high temperature. About 2 mins on each side for medium rare. Then take them out of the pan.

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Pour the wine/balsamic vinegar mixture into the hot pan. It will bubble fiercely. As soon as it begins to reduce to a thick, sticky syrup add the steaks back to the pan.

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Take out the steaks when they are nicely coated and set aside to rest for 5 minutes while you finish off the potatoes, reserving the remaining liquid for later.

Resting Meat

DonQui has learned that letting meat rest is very important, and very convenient. When cooking under high temperature the muscle fibres contract, as it rests the fibres relax and the meat continues cooking slowly resulting in an even tender pinkness rather than well done on the outside and blue in the middle. This also allows you to finish off the vegetable while the meat is resting and can be advantageous in all meat-vegetable combinations.

Finishing off the potatoes

Put some more olive oil in the potato pan then add the paprika/garlic mixture and stir it around for a couple of seconds. Add the potato slices and coat in the mixture.

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Throw in the bouillon and put the lid on the pan, letting the slices cook gently for about 3-5 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the potatoes are done but still firm. If there is still a little liquid left in the pan then take the lid off and let it cook a minute or two more until it is absorbed or evaporated.

Presentation

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Arrange the potato slices on a serving dish.

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Place the steaks on top and garnish with the reserved wine/balsamic vinegar syrup and the pesto/olive oil mixture. Surround with your choice of vegetables. DonQui used beans, kale and cherry tomatoes from his allotment. He prepared the green vegetables by par boiling, setting aside and then warming up in butter at the last minute. He put the cherry tomatoes in the oven and warmed them up to the point that they opened up but not turned to mush. He thought that they added a nice splash of colour to the final dish.

The Verdict
It worked.

Indeed DonQui thought that it worked rather well.

The potatoes were delicious and this coming from a donkey who is not overly fond of potatoes. He will cook them again this way in the future to accompany other dishes. The two part process lent itself rather well to finishing off as the meat was resting.

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The wild boar filet steaks were delicious but not quite up to the standard of Puerta Osario Restrobar. By the size of them DonQui is fairly certain that the steaks he had came from the larger end of the filet and were not quite as melt in your mouth wonderful. The ones he tasted at Puerta Osario were smaller and much more tender, suggesting that they came from the finer tail end.

DonQui will try the recipe again with beef filet mignon.

Strawberries in October?

…And we are not in the southern hemisphere.

strawberies

DonQui had seen the new crop ripening on the allotment a few days back but he was quite surprised to see so many now ready for eating. Not being an expert gardener he is not sure how often strawberries have a second crop in autumn but they were rather delicious and there are many more on the way.

Chateaubriand for Two

DonQui felt like it was time to get reacquainted with some of his local food haunts. The Anchor in Walberswick is one of his favourites.

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Now Walberswick is an odd sort of place. Once a thriving small port it is now mostly a holiday destination which rather resembles the set of an Agatha Christie film. Known as “Notting Hill on Sea” for the number of film and TV celebrities who have taken up residence, it can be pretty crowded in summer but off-season it starts to regain its quiet charm again.

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Just across the Blythe river from Southwold the crossing to Walberswick is by ferry — if you can call it that.

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It is actually just a small boat. There is a foot bridge a bit further up river but if you want to go by car from Southwold to Walberswick you have to make a detour of over 8 miles to get around the Blythe.

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Named amongst the 50 best gastropubs in Britain, the Anchor has managed to maintain a good balance between top-end food and a relaxed country atmosphere. Prices are on the steep side but the food and drink are well above average.

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DonQui prefers sitting in the bar area when he can get a spot there. There is a table reserved for locals (on the right of the photo) which has caused some consternation amongst the many tourists. DonQui, however, supports the idea which is very similar to the Stammtisch found in many German Gasthäuser. Although not exactly a local himself, DonQui now has a standing invitation to join the table.

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On a warm day the back terrace is very nice and some weekends they have entertainment. There is, however, one side room by the toilets which if you sit there feels a bit as if you have been ‘Sent to Coventry’ (non British readers may need to look up the meaning).

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As the hectic summer season had come to an end DonQui manages to bag a table in the bar and settles down to enjoy the local Adnams’ Ghost Ship while contemplating the food options. It turns out to be “steak night” and what is more a chateaubriand is on offer.

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Chateaubriand is perhaps slightly out of fashion these days but DonQui always finds it a rather special treat. Cut from the centre of the beef filet it is cooked whole and then divided up between two of you. From local Red Poll beef (a Suffolk breed) the Anchor’s chateaubriand was perfectly cooked and served with both Béarnaise and peppercorn sauces on the side. Alongside were grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, beans, carrots and a choice of dauphinoise potatoes or chips.

Washed down with an Argentinian Malbec it was a most enjoyable meal in a great atmosphere.