Our weekly food diary shares on-trend ingredients, fun foodie events, Instagrammable restaurant dishes and must-try street eats.
In December we tried...
Rudolph-inspired Chinese bun
‘Tis the season for festive twists on all kinds of unexpected foods. The latest is this special Chinese steamed bun, inspired by Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer. It’s from Soho’s Bun House & Tea Room, which usually specialises in steamed buns packed with savoury fillings such as lamb, chicken and fish; this new limited-edition bun, however, features a sweet filling. A splash of natural red food colouring gives a nod to our favourite reindeer and a dusting of edible glitter adds a festive touch. The warm, pillowy bun is filled with a black, lava-like mixture, made from black sesame, red bean paste, butter, peanut sauce and sugar. The result is a deliciously gooey, nutty centre, reminiscent of sweet chestnut purée or pecan pie. Tuck into a reindeer bun on its own or wash it down with a steaming cup of mulled Shaohsing wine – a Chinese twist on the festive favourite, made with rice wine and Chinese spices. On the menu until the end of December.
Baklava ice cream sandwich
Behold the best mash-up we’ve seen lately: a baklava ice cream sandwich. The only item on the dessert menu at recently opened Iranian restaurant Berenjak, located in London’s Soho, it’s one of those dishes that once you’ve tried it, you'll wonder why you hadn't had it before. It just works. Traditional pistachio baklava, made up of the perfect balance of crisp and chewy filo pastry layers, is filled with an incredibly neat layer of vanilla ice cream. The creaminess takes the baklava to the next level and makes it feel a bit more like a proper dessert.
Luxury foodie crackers
A joke, a hat and a pair of nail clippers might suit some people, but here at BBC Good Food HQ, we’re much more excited about the latest trend in Christmas cracker gifts: food and drink (naturally). This year has been huge for crackers filled with food and booze, and we’ve seen plenty around, including luxury chocolate truffle-filled crackers by Charbonnel et Walker and a beautiful version from The Ivy restaurant, which each contain a miniature bottle of spirit and a recipe card for one of The Ivy’s signature cocktails (alongside the classic hat and joke, of course). Our favourite, however, has to be this stunning collaboration between London-based creative Matlida Goad and catering duo Lucy Carr-Ellison and Jemima Jones, a.k.a Tart London: each cracker contains an exclusive Tart recipe and a spice mix (blended by Rooted Spices), cleverly designed to incorporate Christmas leftovers – think Christmas porridge, Turkish eggs, spiced New Year ham and turkey daal. Now this is a set of crackers we really want on our table this Christmas.
We may have died and gone to carb heaven, otherwise known as Buns & Buns, Covent Garden’s newest restaurant. Set up by Alex Zibi, it began life in Miami three years ago, with a simple concept: bread. Alex took inspiration from his travels, with every country he visited having a special take on it, from the baguette of his home country, France, to the warm, cheesy pão de queijo of Brazil. Both are on the menu at Buns & Buns, along with many others. There are seriously fluffy Taiwanese bao buns with a choice of three delicious fillings, a lobster brioche roll served with addictive shoestring fries, and this carbonara pizza. Inspired by the classic Italian pasta sauce, it marries eggs, pancetta and pecorino with cloud-like pizza dough to form an oozy, eggy, cheesy pizza. Drool.
World’s best cheese
We’re tempted to go into cheese pun overdrive as we bring you news of fanaost, named World Champion at this year’s World Cheese Awards. From Norwegian producer Ostegården, it’s an aged gouda, reminiscent (according to our cheese-obsessed magazines editor) of an old amsterdam. It’s very gouda! No, seriously though... It's firm and brittle, with a sweet, almost caramel flavour – and remarkably, it’s produced by a cheesemaker with only 12 cows. Jørn Hafslund’s winning cheese is matured for 14 months and beat a record-breaking 3,472 entries in a blind-tasting at the 31st awards, which took place last month at Bergen’s iconic Grieg Hall. Judge Jason Hinds of Neal’s Yard Dairy, said: ‘This was a refreshing thing to taste with none of the confected sweetness that can sometimes be prevalent in this style of cheese. I was looking for terroir and this cheese really delivers a sense of place with a great texture and wonderful marriage of sweet and savoury notes.’
Raw sliced mushrooms
Once the scourge of the salad bar, we’ve been seeing gossamer thin slices of raw button mushrooms crop up on several high-end dishes recently, including at the Hand & Flowers, where they’re drizzled with oil and lined up on a crispy brioche crouton, accompanying mushroom & tarragon soup. At Peel’s restaurant, near Birmingham, it adorns this beef main. Part of a special chef’s supper club that took place last weekend at the BBC Good Food show, the dish was cooked by Michel Roux Jr. Rich winter fare, the beef fillet also came with spinach purée and a savoury bone marrow bread pudding cooked in wagyu fat. This was topped with the sliced raw mushrooms, which added an earthiness that was more pronounced (yet subtle) than would have been the case if cooked. They’re wonderful to eat lightly oiled and seasoned, and an easy garnish to create at home, if you want to get cheffy.
Can’t make it to the slopes this year? It’s now easier than ever to get a taste of the Alps right here. We’re not talking about snow and blue runs though – everyone knows the best part of skiing is the food. Hot, comforting, and usually involving cheese. We’ve noticed a number of alpine themed street food pop-ups and restaurants crop up this winter. This week, we’ve been at Orrery restaurant in Marylebone, where, from 15 November until 31 January, the terrace has been decked out with fir trees, pine cones and plenty of warm blankets for guests to enjoy a special alpine menu. This sirloin steak main is served with a madeira jus, pomme cocotte (potato cooked in lots of butter, herbs and garlic), and served with a super cheesy fondue sauce for dipping. Other cosy classics on the menu include baked apples with vanilla ice cream for dessert and a hot toddy drink.
Mince pie naan bread
Yes, you read that right. A creation by Indian restaurant Cinnamon Bazaar in London’s Covent Garden, this limited-edition festive spin on the classic naan bread is on the menu there until the end of December. The naan is stuffed with mincemeat made from dried fruits, nuts and spices which have been marinated for six months in dark rum, brandy and red wine. Along with the usual festive spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon, there are plenty of Indian spices in the mix too – garam masala, cardamom, fennel, coriander, cumin, peppercorns, mace, bay leaf and star anise. The mincemeat is crammed into a naan dough and cooked in the tandoor, then brushed with a butter, honey and cinnamon glaze. The result is a fragrant, festive naan, a warming treat that’s great served as dessert with cinnamon ice cream piled on top.
It’s game season and one of our favourite dishes on this theme this year has been the game pithivier with quince at Southside Scran, Bruntsfield, Edinburgh, the newest venue from chef Tom Kitchin. Tom is an advocate of using local, seasonal ingredients and has a passion for French cuisine – this dinky little pithivier with its crisp burnished pastry, sweet quince and glorious gravy is a perfect example. Southside Scran is a sibling of the Scran & Scallie in the north of Edinburgh and bills itself as a neighbourhood bistro. The menu has two sorts of dishes – 'comforts' such as very fine fish and chips, Shetland mussels and a wagyu burger, and on the rôtiserrie (which also dominates one end of the dining room), you'll find more rarefied grass-fed Highland wagyu tail with shallots & parsley (serves two and comes with teeny tacos) and hand-dived Orkney scallops with herb butter.