Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Bayou Soul, Camden

I make a pretty big stink on this blog about how I'm an American. Well, it's my right as a freedom-loving, red-blood-having, flag-waving American to make a big stink about it, damnit. Ever hear of freedom of speech? It's my blog, and I'm going all the way to Washington DC to take back the White House!


Anyway, I miss the USA - I consider it my home, obviously, and I think it's fair to miss home sometimes. So whenever I see something opening up in London that seems authentically 'American', I get excited. Our cuisine isn't so hard to mimic, put cheese on this, put hot sauce on that, but yet it still often is missing that certain je nais se quoi from back home. Whether it's a lack of certain ingredients, something being considered not to UK tastes, or what have you - even the most 'American' of dining establishments here are doing one or two things pretty wrong. I'm sure it's the same for Italian, Spanish, and Korean restaurants when serving elsewhere in the world - and I can personally tell you that anything calling itself an 'English pub' in America ain't an authentic experience.

The interesting thing about The Bayou Soul though, is that they're not doing the 'classic' American fare from my region (the middle): stuff like burgers, hot dogs, ribs, macaroni & cheese, things you would immediately associate with the USA. They're actually specializing in a style of food that I loved in America, but never really expected to find much of here: Cajun! I'm not talking about a 'blackened Cajun' burger, although those are fine too, but stuff more like jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee, Louisiana grub. Now, I'm from Indiana - not exactly Creole capital of the world, but we have a restaurant back home that I adore called Yats.

Take a look at that menu and transport yourself to Middle America. Imagine you're a teenage girl, chubby with a passion for food. Who eats peppers on a dare without breaking a sweat, and who has on multiple occasions mowed down entire bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Who loves starch & chicken, and trying foods that are different...That teenage girl is me, and the restaurant you love to go to is Yats. It's the place for me in Indiana, even now. So, have I had Cajun food in Louisiana? No, but I have had it in abundance in another iana, and that means something - hey, the owner of Yats is from New Orleans. It's just so good. So once I heard a Cajun place was opening up here, I was off like a match.

I was lucky to be able to attend the soft launch of The Bayou (Soul?), as I read about it in Hot Dinners. 50 percent of food, so I won't speak to prices except to say that they seemed reasonable for London. The service was also great, which isn't always the case on a soft launch - I'm sure they'll maintain the friendliness!

 The drinks menu was very cool, lots of interesting cocktails. I tried two, but only seemed to remember one (heh heh, funny how that works) which was the first. I can't recollect the name, but it was sweet & strong with popcorn on top.  Okay, maybe I don't remember the first one either.

I remarked multiple times to my dining companions that I would be having the biscuits & gravy with ham, as if they were disputing me. I was just so passionate about seeing 'sausage gravy' on a menu that I went nuts. Unfortunately, here is the only problem we ran into at The Bayou Soul, and it's one that I think only an actual American who loves sausage gravy like I do would care about.

The biscuits were great, soft & milky just the way I remember having them as a kid, and the ham was lovely - pink & smokey. Here's the problem...that gravy wasn't what I'd call sausage gravy.

This is what I call sausage gravy. It's a thick, white, buttery roux made rather disgustingly from the fat off of crumbled up breakfast sausage. However, it is the tastiest thing on Earth. Savory, thick, meaty, salty - perfect with slightly sweet biscuits. What was served alongside the biscuits here, however, was salty, meaty, and thin. Not bad by any means, a better gravy than most with nice bits of English sausage - but it wasn't traditional sausage gravy.

 Don't get me wrong, I ate it and enjoyed it, but I was surprised. Looking back it's even more surprising considering how accurate everything else was. I know you can't buy American breakfast sausage here, but I think you could make it. Buy ground sausage meat, add the traditional spices, fry...I feel it could be done, and I'm planning on trying it myself someday. Regardless, a tasty starter that was 2 outta 3 on the authenticity scale.

My sister in law got hush puppies alongside fried calamari, and they were more authentic. Fried spiced cornmeal, soft & tasty without that unpleasant polenta tang you get with faux puppies. I appreciated that, as polenta is an easy-to-find substitute when cornmeal is actually much nicer!

I forgot to mention another nice aspect of the soft launch, we were given lots of extra food! There was a tasty bread appetizer that was topped with a savory olive mix & then some fried chicken. The fried chicken was great, moist & well seasoned fry atop. Felt authentic, and very plentiful - also a sign of authenticity in an American restaurant, haha.

My main was the andouille sausage & chicken jambalaya and we ordered extra cornbread. Again, the cornbread was great - they're clearly using cornmeal in the kitchen and I really commend them for that. It's the basis of a couple of different American staples that otherwise taste completely different. I'm looking at you, polenta substitute propagandists. It's totally different.

The jambalaya was delicious, perfectly cooked rice that was well seasoned & incorporated beautifully into the sausage and chicken. It was just the way a good jambalaya should be - different textures, meat more flavorful, but everything having one unifying tasty flavor. Spicy without lots of heat, just right. I loved it. The only thing that made me chuckle a bit was on the menu it says 'often referred to as creole paella'...Yeah, they are very similar dishes, but I've never heard that phrase so I don't know how often it's actually being said, haha.

My husband had the shrimp etouffee, which was thick and well seasoned accompanied by rice - a nice seafood broth with plenty of large shrimps in it. I only had a little bit, but I might choose it as my main next time.

My sister in law had catfish but I'm not a huge fan, so I skipped trying hers - she seemed to like it, though!

We managed to have enough space for ice cream - well, I had enough space for ice cream and I think I spotted one of my buddies take a spoonful...but it was mostly me. I was looking forward to trying the root beer ice cream, however it wasn't available that night (d'oh!) thus sealing fate that I will be back. Instead we opted for two scoops of the Jack Daniels & Coke and the chocolate & cream. The JD&C ice cream was really nice, a sweet vanilla cola flavor with just the tiniest hint of alcohol. It was a bit like a coke float (the foamy half ice cream/half coke portion, AKA the best part) with a splash of Jack Daniels. Really great! The chocolate & cream was surprisingly tasty - I'm not usually a chocolate ice cream nut but this had a strong flavor to it where most other chocolate ice creams are quite dull. It was a nice combination!

That was my experience at Bayou Soul - the drinks were lovely & strong, the food was amazing and mostly authentic, and the service was super! It must be mentioned again that the staff was really nice, accommodating, and didn't mind that I took so many photos. Being so smiley & pleasant, they really made me feel at home too. I'll definitely be back again sometime. If you'd like to check out their menu, and I suggest you do, they uploaded it to Facebook. If you download the image you can open it up and zoom in to your heart's content.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Crosstown Doughnuts, Sea Salt Caramel & Banana

The area where I work is tantalizingly close to many cool food markets at lunch time, but just far enough away that getting there would almost always be a risk to my hour long break. That's why I was so excited when I saw on Twitter that Bishopsgate was to have it's own market - I'm quite near there, so huzzah!

I was doubly excited that a dougnhutterie I've heard much about had a van there - so I headed out, first day. When it comes to retrieving doughnuts, french fries, or burgers...I'll walk fast. I think I knocked over a few pedestrians on my way. Hey, thems the breaks when there is a new doughnut place around me - they should've known.

There was a great variety of flavors available, and you can see them all on the Crosstown Doughnuts website. My eye was immediately drawn to the salted caramel variety, and the addition of banana basically made me tent my fingers and laugh evilly. The friendly fellow manning the van let me know that it was the very last one, so my fate was sealed. I live by one rule; if there is only one left of something - get it.

So I scurried away with my sea salt caramel & banana doughnut, and sat at one of the provided tables. It's a very nice market, by the way! Lots of seating, and of course some of the best vans I know of all in one place...conveniently located near me, best of all.

I felt a bit silly taking pictures of a doughnut all by myself, but I know that taking pictures of your food is quite the 'in thing' these days. I do it, but then I also will write about that food - does that make me better, or worse? Frankly, I think people should take pictures of whatever they want and we should all stop judging each other based off the perceived quality of our Instagram feeds.

Back to the doughnut - I hadn't realized while I was eating or when I bought it, but it's meant to be a chocolate dough base. In my experience, it's quite hard to imbue doughnut batter with the taste of chocolate, unless it's a cake doughnut. It was the same here, with the doughnut tasting most like a regular, if not delicious yeast-raised doughnut. You don't need to tart a good doughnut up with too many extra flavors, anyway, especially when you've got a solid cream or topping. This doughnut had both!

The topping is salted caramel & chocolate 'soil', which seems to be crumbled dark chocolate cookies, there is also a bit of a caramel-flavored frosting, probably to keep the salted caramel sauce on. The salted caramel was delicious, as usual, not too sweet & and sticky textured - without any need to chew, and no tooth-sticking. Really perfect stuff!

The filling was banana, which had a bit of a gel/cream texture to it. It wasn't purely whipped up banana cream, as it's legitimately made from banana. You know when you pulverize a banana it has a certain texture? It's like that, mixed with a bit of cream and smoothed out. It tasted very natural, just like a sweetened banana. I don't know if it was actually sweetened, or if it just tasted sweeter based off of the caramel, but either way the smooth banana filling was just lovely.

I'm looking forward to trying more Crosstown Doughnuts! I had my eye on a couple more; the Creme Brulee and the Peanut Butter & Currant doughnuts, specifically. Check 'em out on the site!

You can find Crosstown Doughnuts at the new Bishopsgate Market on Tuesdays & Wednesdays, and at Leather Lane Market every weekday. I highly recommend you seek them out, and follow them on Twitter - they're out and about in London, and some of their doughnuts are stocked at various coffee shops around the city, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Birthday Cake M&Ms

Aw, M&Ms, it's not even my birthday! You shouldn't have.

Oh, it wasn't even that much effort? They're kinda just regular M&Ms with vanilla extract or something? Oh well...I guess then it's not a big deal. Thanks anyway, it's the thought that counts.

Sorry, final thoughts ahead of the meat of the review - but I guess I'm the fool for thinking these M&Ms would taste much like birthday cake. Chocolate is always going to be an overpowering flavor, and birthday cake flavored things I've had that translate well are always vanilla based - so things like birthday cake ice cream, the cream of birthday cake Oreos, and frosting.

I'm a supporter of the birthday cake flavor emergence in the American snack market, but it's a very USA flavor so I can see why it hasn't made it over here. Don't people have like...Victoria sponges for their birthdays here? With..."icing"? Pah! As a person who requested a cheesecake one year to the shock & horror of my family, I'm not a great traditionalist...but a plain sponge cake with a little bit of cream and jam? No thank you! Wait, I take that back - I'll have it for everyday cake-eating, but a birthday requires frosting. Let's get real. Put some frosting on it, and I'll start listening. I need to get that printed up on some tote bags.

M&Ms is no stranger to 'strange' flavors in the USA, and I've loved & lost many. The PB&J M&Ms to promote Transformers, the coconut variety, pumpkin spice (reviewed here by me previously), candy corn, carrot cake, and my personal favorite - Wild Cherry which as far as I knew was discontinued but it looks like it can be ordered online in bulk!

M&Ms kind of seem to have taken over for Kisses as America's go-to weird flavor distribution chocolate...The problem is that you can't really 'fill' them with anything like you can a Kiss, so it makes a lot of these flavors get a bit lost in the strong taste of Hershey's style milk chocolate.

These Birthday Cake M&Ms suffer from that - they smelled just like regular M&Ms, pleasantly sweet chocolate, but there was no hint of a different flavor to come.

I was surprised by this, but crunching them actually made the birthday cake flavor stronger - sucking them is the same experience as with regular M&Ms. Even when crunching though, it just tastes a bit like vanilla-hinted chocolate M&Ms. Generally, if someone gave you these and said "Enjoy these regular, plain ol' M&Ms" you'd eat them and ask no further questions.

Not really the experience I was looking for, I think if white chocolate was used instead it would've been a bit stronger & more like classic American 'birthday cake'. As it stands, it tastes like a decorative M&M on a cake that had a bit of icing stuck to it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Kajitte Kajitsu Gumi, Peach

Gummies & me, it's kind of a lady doth protest to much situation. I say, oh, well, I don't really like gummies. They're not my style. Forget 'em. Yet here I am, approaching what must be my double-digits for gummy reviews.

I think they're just easy to ignore - it's not so much that I dislike them, it's just that they make up such a large part of the candy landscape that they just sort of blend in with the crowd. Sorry for the rep, gummies. You're allllright.

The translation for this candy is apparently something along the lines of "fruit & biting" - maybe a reference to the fruit flavors & the chewy nature of them? Also it's got a cool bit of alliteration - something along the lines of Foamy & Fruits or Chewing & Candy in English.

I remember that I was so interested in them at Candysan because they looked like little marshmallows & they may have been described as being sproing-y like mallows, but looking at them now they appear more like little pates de fruit, but smooth without the sugar coating.

I've never had a pate de fruit, but I imagine they're quite natural tasting since they're made from actual fruit - they share that in common with these gummies! They're very delicately flavored like an actual peach would be, and aren't too sweet.

The texture inside is very smooth like jelly, and similar to the chew of a marshmallow. Bouncy!

There isn't much to say about these, the flavor is natural, they're coated in a bit of a cornstarch coating, and they're smooth and soft. I'd try another flavor that sounded nice, but it'd be hard to beat peach.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Artisan du Chocolat, Original & Yuzu Salted Caramels

I was strolling along in Selfridges the other day, and they've definitely expanded on their food hall offerings. There were two competing macaron stalls, and an entire wall of exotic bars of chocolate - in addition to the classics like Prestat & Cocomaya. The wall of chocolate bars is a new feature that was pushed a while ago, called 'The Chocolate Library' which is apparently the largest collection of chocolate bars in the world. Intriguing. There were tons and tons, apparently 180, but I didn't get the chance to really take a look as there was a hovering sales person who was offering up chili dark chocolate...
my greatest foe.

I didn't want to turn it down and then explain why, and then get him talking about other chocolate bars - forced social situations being my second greatest foe. Looking at it online, there are a lot of interesting bars but most seem to fall into a more 'pure' camp - whereas I'm more of a 'camp' camp when it comes to chocolate. Peanut butter and banana filling? Sold! Exclusively Vietnamese cocao beans? nice. If you're into that sort of thing, I'd recommend taking a glance through before Selfridges, just because they've got nicer prices & they're a very friendly bunch.

 Artisan du Chocolat has had a section at Selfridges for as long as I can remember, and I'm glad to see that it's still there. So glad in fact that I bought a box of chocolates - that's how I show my gratitude always.

I was under the mistaken impression that these were limited edition, but it would seem they're quite readily available. Shows me right thinking that the world wasn't ready for yuzu caramel!

There are four rows alternating between the yuzu & salted varieties, making 10 of each flavor. There was a strong cocoa-powder smell once the box had been opened - unsurprising since they're heavily dusted.

They're just a bit sloppy to eat since they're dusted, but not as bad as I've had in the past - I would eat them at home rather than on route to a fancy ball-gown & black tie event, just because you might smudge.

I was surprised at the crunch of the outer shell, for some reason I had anticipated something either soft or quite thin, but in reality it's a bit of a thick, hard shell. I think this makes it all the better for sucking rather than chewing, but some people who appreciate a good 'snap' would probably enjoy the crispness here. The dark chocolate is a nice combination of bitter & sweet, and not too fruity or woody like it sometimes can be. Just a nice, standard dark chocolate that is just bitter enough to offset the salted caramel.
Warning, my nails are chipped in this picture!

The caramel itself is incredibly liquid-y, so it was basically impossible to get a photo! The salted variety was as you'd expect - saline & sweet, a little more sweet than the Paul A. Young variety, but more salty than let's say a Hotel Chocolat version.

The yuzu variety didn't have any salty elements that I could pick up on, which is probably for the best. Yuzu is a pretty zesty citrus, somewhere in-between a lemon & an orange, and the caramel captures this zinginess quite well - they're even a bit pepper-y. These were nice, but I couldn't help but feel that the dark chocolate sort of over-powered the yuzu. Maybe if it would've been a yuzu cream, or a milk chocolate it might've been a bit nicer - that could be my personal taste, though! I still very much enjoyed them.

I'd probably get just a box of the regular salted caramels next time, but it was certainly worth trying!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Baked Custard Pudding KitKats

Finally. I get around to reviewing these KitKats that can be baked - everyone else already has!

You can see some great reviews & pictures from the likes of Grocery Gems, Yummy Unchi, and Chocolate Mission. I'd love to see anymore reviews that have already been done too - these are such exciting and strange creations I'm sure there have been tons!

The KitKat brothers have truly had a banner year. In Japan they've opened up the very first shop dedicated purely to KitKats with the KitKat Chocolatory (English language & great photos here) which has seen coverage all over the internet & inspired even more KitKat lovin' folk with the fresh limited batches of some favorite flavors like green tea & chili. They've had some success here at home as well with the launch of the 'new' orange flavor Chunky for summer, and the KitKat cones arriving in shops. Of course, the big KitKat news this year that got everyone at the factory a company sponsored pizza party was the invention of the Baked Custard Pudding KitKat - from Japan, as you might guess.

This got press all across the world - after all, it sounds quite insane. Put a KitKat in the oven and take out a two-finger bar of creme brulee? What madman genius would even think of such a thing? Yasumasa Takagi, apparently! If you take a look at the cover his book available on Amazon, you might guess that he's a bit of a maverick pastry chef in Japan. He's got a few patisseries in Japan and this coming August, if I can remember, maybe I'll try & visit one!

So, I ordered my bag from OyatsuCafe - who had it for the cheapest price at the time but is no longer shipping due to the hot weather in Japan. I understand why, but I as a person living in the UK I can't help but think to myself "Well, they'd firm back up by the time they arrived at my house." It just barely ever reaches chocolate-melting temperatures here. Hey, fair enough though; I'm sure they've had enough experiences with people ordering in the summer & being annoyed at receiving goo that they just put a ky-bosh on the whole thing.

However, UK & EU readers are in luck because TofuCute is still stocking & shipping these! If you're interested, I'd snatch them quick as I've seen them sell out on the other UK based Japanese snack shop, sushinoms.

Once I opened the bag, I was already able to smell the strong vanilla extract scent emanating from these. It really did smell like baking, or rather unbaked vanilla sugar cookie dough. The color scheme is attractive, but I am a bit surprised that they didn't go with any sort of yellow & brown theme around the custard pudding/caramelizing uniqueness of these. The blue color reminds me more of the rum raisin KitKats than anything else.

I was lucky to get the 13-count bag, so I tried one 'raw'. It wasn't mind-blowing - it tasted like a more vanilla white chocolate, maybe a touch sweeter. While it was nice raw, it didn't really get me too excited to try them baked - it was a bit of a let down, actually. For that reason I'd recommend even if you have a large bag to just bake them all up. Believe me, you'll be regretting that wasted unbaked KitKat the second you try one warm from the oven.

I followed the direction of Grocery Gems blog post, but put them on the highest rack (as if I was grilling) and kept my oven a bit lower as mine is fan-assisted. Though when I checked after three minutes and saw they were sort of just melting I blasted it all the way up as high as it could go for the last minute or two. I have a feeling these can quite quickly go from melting & non-caramelized to burnt & wasted, so keep your eye on them!

I also highly recommend putting foil down, as they spread considerably and any mishap might lead to an oven or pan mess that would be hell to clean up. I mean, where do you find the instructions on how to clean up burnt-on KitKat goo? Stick with foil and a pan with sides and you should be fine.

The smell of baking vanilla had gotten even stronger as they stayed in the oven, definitely like a custard or baked vanilla sugar cookie.

The spread layers looked nice and 'burnt', in the way a good creme brulee appeals from it's burnt crust. They form a nice little lattice, and though I was worried about getting the whole kit & kaboodle off of the foil it was incredibly simple once I let them cool for about 2 or 3 minutes. Really, just wedge a fork underneath them and tilt up - or flip them directly into your mouth. You'd be happy you did.

It's amazing how these work, I have no idea how it happens but they truly get a crispy sugar crust and a pastry feel to about 80 percent of the bar. The rest is the cream from in between the wafers, and in my experience just a little melted chocolate still remaining in the section that joins the two fingers.

The taste was like a creme brulee - very very sugary outside, but with a delicate vanilla base & after taste. A fair amount of butteriness as well, and well - it just reminded me a lot of custard! A creme brulee, or a custard in a flaky pastry...either of those comparisons will work.

I think the photos do a better job if explain the textural madness at hand here than words ever could. These come with my highest recommendation, they were both incredibly tasty & really fun to 'make'. Grab them while you can at TofuCute, or wait until summer's over (for Japan, unfortunately - as here in the UK we'd just have to wait a matter of weeks) and get them from anywhere KitKats are Japan...that ship abroad.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Meltykiss Royal Milk Tea Chocolate

You might recollect from my final Singapore food round-up that I'm a huge fan of Royce chocolate. The smooth melting, fudgey & strong tasting chocolates are some of my absolute favorites. Meltykiss is sort of the shelf stable and therefore more easily accessible version of these. Since they're not fresh & they're made with cheaper ingredients, they're not necessarily as good - but you can actually get them here in the UK (JapanCentre stocking online & in store, TofuCute stocking for cheaper online & at festivals) and they come out with a variety of flavors.

Flavors like Dark Rum, Blueberry, Green Tea, Cappuccino, and also an offshoot known as 'Whips' that I've never tried and look like that might have a bit of sauce in the middle in addition to the chocolate & cocoa powder coating that is classic to Meltykiss. This one is Milk Tea, non-Whip.

Another way to look at these types of chocolates, both Royce & MeltyKiss, is that they're similar to classic French-style chocolate truffles. Rolled up, dusted in cocoa powder. Royce is significantly softer than classic truffles, but Meltykiss is quite a bit firmer. At least the ones that are exported from Japan - it could be that they harden up a bit in the travel. They're all individually wrapped, and there were about 15 in the box, perhaps? Somewhere more than 10.

If you left them on your tongue, they would melt - so, MeltyKiss. If you've never tried one before, I really recommend it. As far as the Milk Tea flavor, I was a fan!

There was a nice tea-like savoriness that paired well with the chocolate - if you like dipping milk chocolate in tea this will really appeal to you. It basically tastes & even has a similar texture to chocolate dipped in PG Tips! Sorta melty, a tea-like taste.

These are a fairly good substitute for Royce, and with some intriguing flavors & pretty easy availability, it's certainly worth a few pounds!