Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SCOTCH EGGS @ The Princess Vic

There is something addictive about the Princess Victoria.

Round, oblong, oval wooden tables lit by nightlights in glass jars; tall ceilings; a fireplace big enough to sit in. On sunny days you can sit on white iron tables and chairs in a small walled herb garden at the back.

The staff are lovely. They don't hang over your table like newspaper-peekers on the tube, but appear just as you need them. Ice-cold water. Very good bread.

The menu picks out the best of good pub grub - scratchings, rillettes, whitebait with aioli, pickled onions - and the chef, James, makes damn sure it's done well. The meat is sourced from Turnham Green's Machen Brothers and Huntsham Court Farm, and each time I go back there is a different cut - any old bit - of their favourite Gloucestershire Old Spot.

The wine list is long; there are more than 350 different bottles held in the cellars beneath. As much as I'd like to try them all of an afternoon, the Pinot Rose is for me; a light fragrant pink that arrives in a wee 50cl glass caraffe...

All this is definitely worth the wander down the Uxbridge Road. But there's more.

The real thing that makes me go back is the Middle White Pork Scotch Egg.

It's the crisp, buttery, breadcrumb crust and the sweet aniseed taste of tarragon in the pork that makes this Scotch Egg so unbearably good. You can smell it coming.

The pork is soft - not too bready - and holds tight around a soft and perfectly cooked free-range egg. It is salty, but sweet too with wholegrain mustard mixed in with the meat. Sizing up nicely to a large apple, it makes the perfect starter or light lunchtime nibble. Have two and you'll be pleasantly pork-heavy. You eat with your hands, so it's absolutely OK to lick your fingers afterwards. And you'll want to. The knife that comes with it is pretty lovely too.

The smaller Oxtail Scotch Quails Egg is sweet and scrum, but I'd go for the bigger Middle any day of the week...

I could rave on about this place and even more so about their pig'n'egg - I may have already been too sickly - but it's my favourite local and I can't just keep it to myself.

The Princess Victoria pub is situated at the Chiswick end of the Uxbridge Road (No.217), Shepherds Bush.
T: 0208 7495886

Monday to Saturday Lunch: 12 noon - 3pm. Dinner: 6.30pm - 10.30pm.
Sunday Lunch: 12 noon - 4.30pm. Dinner: 6.30pm - 9.30pm.

The Middle White asks a very reasonable £5.90; the Oxtail £3.50

Sunday, March 20, 2011


There's something about radishes that makes me laugh...

Sweet, petite, with a peppery kick, they have an all-too similar nature to teenage girls. Moving in stubborn, intimidating bunches, never daring to be seen alone, it's almost as though if one split the pack the others would follow behind, teetering along on their little pointy roots. The thin outer shade of a little Cherry Belle - a solid layer of bright pink - matches that of post-first-kiss cheeks and sheer embarrassment; on the inside all colour drains, hiding a pale and translucent white, freaking out inside. Ha. Girls, we all remember the feeling...

Mild globe-shaped radishes (the easiest to grow in the UK) are slowly creeping into the markets, ready to bowl into April with full whack. The ones I bought were sitting pretty on Cheryl's Portobello fruit and veg stall, amongst spring greens, purple sprouting broccoli, fresh garlic and early rhubarb, and I couldn't resist an early bite into Spring.

The flavour of our modest radish is so fresh it's best eaten raw. So for a sweet, spicy, crispy crunch I thought I'd make a Goats Cheese and Radish Raita to spread over my freshly baked wholemeal sourdough. Great seasoned with a bit of salt and a few mint leaves. And delicious with new season lamb for a heartier bite.

You can either mix the radish and mint in with the yoghurt and cheese or just layer it on top. Last-minute layering keeps the Raita fresher and thicker for longer, otherwise the water from the radish tends to seep into the yoghurt. It's also a great excuse to get everyone making their own starter at dinner!


75g soft welsh goats cheese
75g natural yoghurt
200g mild (or strong if you like a kick in the teeth) small radishes
bunch of fresh mint leaves
8 slices of fresh wholemeal sourdough
sea salt to taste

Mix the goats cheese in with the yoghurt and serve in a large bowl and season with a little salt. Thinly slice eight radishes, removing and keeping hold of the leafy stalks for a wilted salad later on. Serve with mint and thinly sliced sourdough on a large board. Leave some radishes whole so that when the bread has run out diners can dip the whole thing into the Raita. Place in the middle of the table and dive in. Beautiful.

Don't be alarmed if a bunch of radishes start screaming and disappear together to the loo...

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Mari Lou and I made a pact. If I turn up early an hour early for work, keen to cook, she'd teach me how to make steamed buns for our lunch. Without hesitation, I greedily agreed and hauled myself out of bed the next morning, elbows greased, ready for a knead.

And Boy! was it worth it and Oh! what a lunch we had. Gorgeous little steamy parcels stuffed with sweetly spiced onions, soft roasted squash and salty feta, with Clara's beautiful green lentil salad on the side. Slicing into a dumpling with its gentle puff of air and sinking teeth slowly into the dough with its soft texture and springy bite was nothing other than Faint.


makes 10-12 medium sized dumplings

The dough:
750g self raising flour
300ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 sachet Easy dry yeast
Pinch salt

The filling:
1 large butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2cm x 2cm cubes

10 white onions
2 tbsp sweet chilli
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp Kikkomam soy sauce

200g feta, crumbled

Mix the dry ingredients with the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Fold in the wet ingredients and delicately mix the ingredients with your fingers. When the dough is fully combined, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, adding flour to prevent it sticking to the table and your hands.

Cover, and leave to rise for almost 2 hours in a warm, draught-free spot (on top of a cooling oven or in the airing cupboard) so the dough has doubled in size. Then, knock the air out, pulling the dough gently so the gluten becomes active. The dough should be soft and spring back when you press it. If not, knead a little more, and leave to rise, covered, for another hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Place the butternut squash in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 25 minutes until soft. Set aside

Soften the onions in a pan with a large knob of butter. Add the sweet chilli, oyster sauce and soy and reduce down for about 10 minutes so the onions have caramelised. Set aside.

When the dough is ready, cut off equal sized pieces with a sharp knife. Roll out into circles on a floured surface with a rolling pin. Place approx. 2 tbsp of the squash, onions and feta into the centre, and fold the edges round it like a little handkerchief bundle. To seal the corners dab a little bit of water and twist together so there are no gaps. Leave the buns to rise for 30-45 minutes in a bamboo steamer, off the heat.

Heat a pan of enough water so that, when placing the steamer on top, the water does not touch it. Bring the water to the boil and steam the buns for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve. They will be very hot inside so, after slicing, leave a few seconds to cool before sinking your teeth in. The dough should be white, soft and moist and the filling hot, salty and sweet.

Truly dumpling-scrumptious and always room for another. Thank you Mari Lou, you genius you.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Thursday night's supper was Mattie's foraged risotto with fennel, wild Alexanders and the first of the wild garlic from the Heath, served with fennel seed sausages. Dribble and drool from a true hedgerow-er.
So, you can imagine how excited I was stumbling upon a wood of young wild garlic leaves on my evening walk today. I took a few stems - no flowers yet - put one in my mouth BOOOOM and saved the rest for the kitchen. One small bite makes for a fierce after-burner on the taste buds. You don't need much.
Home and desperate to use the leaves before they wilted, I chopped the leaves with parsley into a pan of melted butter and let it infuse to be poured over lightly blanched purple-sprouting broccoli...



200g farmhouse butter
handful of fresh parsely, chopped
10-15 leaves of wild garlic, chopped

Melt butter, and chop in the herbs. Rest off the heat for two minutes to infuse. Use wet or...

Cool the leftover wild garlic butter in a glass lined with baking parchment. Pop it in the fridge. When the butter has solidified you can slice it into mashed potato, make a parsley sauce to pour over hot ham or spread it over a warm sourdough...

Freeze it, still in the parchment, for melting at a later date.
Sad to freeze it away? Take a whiff of my coat pockets and you'll be carrying eau-de-garlique on the end of your nose for hours...

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Choosing five of my favourite cookbooks, as I am about to do, has been a much chirpier task than I expected it would be. No ripping up endless lists, no pros and cons, no testing of recipes (most of them have already been cooked again). The books that I love have left me wishing I had written them myself.

There are about thirteen books which I can easily say I consider brilliant - they look good, they read well and, most importantly, they work. Annie Bell's Soup Glorious Soup, Spooning With Rosie by Rosie Lovell, Maddhur Jaffrey's Curry Easy, and Green and Black's Ultimate have all slotted smoothly into a competitive ten. But they haven't quite cut the mustard.

I've chosen the books I always turn to, those whose pages have to be prised apart from leftover remnants of the recipe I've cooked and cooked and cooked; recipes which I know by heart, but have me leafing through the book for new inspiration. They are not all new - some very old - but they have been loyal and I love them.


1. Food From Plenty by Diana Henry

Beautiful, delicious, foolproof, easy and efficient. A recipe is followed by a leftover recipe, just as mouthwatering as the first. Just my kind of cooking. Undoubtedly my favourite book of the last year.

2. 30-Minute Supper Observer Penguin 60s by Nigel Slater

40 recipes, each one 30 minutes. A pocket-sized piece of heaven which I would take anywhere with me. From Baked Potato to Poached Skate to Hot Peaches - hearty recipes from such a small book. Every page reveals a classic and, in return, every page is splattered with bits from the ingredients list.

3. The Apple Source Book; Particular Uses for Diverse Apples by Sue Clifford and Angela King.

A new discovery. Recipes are sandwiched between lists of apple varieties, the history of cider and darling illustrations. Try the Hot Beetroot in Apple Sauce and the Braised Partridges with Apples and Figs.
I don't even like Apples...

4. Books For Cooks 4, 5,6 by Books For Cooks

Not a biased decision in the slightest, but one made purely because I love every single recipe in the book - a rare thing when you look back at some of the old dears sitting unloved on the kitchen bookshelf. I haven't made them all, but I've tasted many and all of them have been winners.

5. Tender 1 and Tender 2 by Nigel Slater

Cheating I know. 3 Nigel's on the list? And two in one category? Well, you can't just have one!
These books may seem beasts to tame but whether you cook from every recipe or not there are words, equally as exciting, to get lost in. The photography is lickable, the produce is seasonal, and the Pork and Rhubarb is unmissable.

All books are similar in many ways but each have their own character. I'll have them for life. Happy World Book Day.