Saturday, September 28, 2013

Crodough from Rinkoff Bakery

I've been hunting down the Crodough (Cronut) from Rinkoff Bakery for ages, or as long as I've heard of it.

Sure, this isn't my first experience with cronuts, that honor was bestowed to Cocomaya - and oh, what an honor it is to be eaten by me - but I knew that I wasn't finished with these pastries. I love doughnuts, I love croissants, I love trends that other people roll their eyes at - so of course I'm all in with the cronut craze.

Among the cronut providers in the UK (here's a great guide for those of you who don't know them off by heart) the one that seems to get the toppest of top marks is Rinkoff Bakery. They have two locations, but unfortunately for me they're both sort of out of my way and in areas of London that I feel I'd just end up lost in.

So, I've just been hanging my head and trying to convince my office to make an order for delivery, haha.

I follow Rinkoff on Twitter, so I've been keeping track of their stockists across London; again, up until recently they've been in areas of London that I'd just never be at early in the morning, haha.

I noticed sometime last week that they were being stocked at a Shoreditch coffee house, Translate, and that's a much more reasonable trek for me to make during the workday. So, I added the coffee place in question on Twitter, and thought I'd stop by on a morning when they mentioned having cronuts in, assuming they wouldn't always be there.

A few hours after I added Translate on Twitter, they made the best decision a business has ever made: they tweeted at me about brownies. That's when I knew I was going to be there within an hour - because these brownies had Oreos crammed into them, and Translate had enough confidence in their tastiness to specifically call them to my attention - that's a real good sign. Or rather, 'goo' sign. Get it, brownies? Goo? Ah, you get it.

So at lunch I headed off, for the brownies - but with the idea that maybe, just maybe they'd also have a couple cronuts in.

As you've probably guessed by everything I wrote so far, yeah, they had a couple left!

I got the chocolate fudge variety, and it is super big! The topping is all a delicious chocolate icing, sort of like fondant in that it stays cool on your tongue. The chocolate flavor is more along the lines of dark chocolate than milk, which is a great combination with the crodough itself - which is covered in cinnamon sugar.

I'd say it is more similar to a croissant in texture than the Cocomaya version was, flakier, oilier, and less dense. When I cut a bit of it off for the photo, it cleaved in flaky layers - whereas the Cocomaya one was a bit more on the cake doughnut spectrum. Believe me, it was plenty good - this one from Rinkoff just did a slightly better job of appearing to be a cross between a croissant and a doughnut.

Inside there were globs of chocolate, similar to what is found in a pan au chocolat - somewhere in between solid and liquid. Goo? A nice, firm goo.

Since it is a bit oily (not a bad thing), flaky, and covered in cinnamon sugar it does remind me a bit of a churro - which is only magnified by the dark chocolate on top! It is softer than a churro, so the texture isn't exactly there, but the taste certainly is. If you like cinnamon sugar & chocolate, which you should, you'd love this one. It tastes a bit like 'Mexican chocolate' tastes - if you've had Abuelita, you know what I mean.

As for the brownie, well, that was incredible. Pure goo, pure fudge, pure squidge, with a few soft cherries or raisins inside...and an Oreo on top. I'd already eaten 75 percent of it by the time this photo was taken!

Perfect texture, if you ask me. Cake-y brownies can go straight to the bottom of a sundae! There, I said it! Feels good.

I suggest if you're near Shoreditch you stop by Translate. I'm no coffee expert, but the latte I had was also quite nice, so get one of those and a crodough if you're lucky, a brownie if you're a bit late, or both if you are me/gluttonous.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stick Menu, Blendy Cocoa au Lait

OyatsuCafe has recently introduced an awesome new product line - or rather, a new way to order some existing products. The stick menu is great for sampling different 'stick' type drinks from Japan, varieties from both Maxim and Blendy without having to commit to an entire box of one flavor.

I was sent a few to review, and the first one I tried was Cocoa au Lait - or, chocolate with milk...or, chocolate milk...or hot chocolate. I had it as hot chocolate.

As you can see it is in fact a stick. The packaging is small and convenient, just about the size of an Options hot chocolate sachet, maybe just a bit thicker.

There was a very good amount of powder inside, with little flecks of lighter colored granules that I presume was dried milk powder, as this drink is meant to already include the milk - so you just mix it with hot water. I thought it was interesting that you combine it with hot water regardless of the temperature you want your final drink to be: when you want it iced, you add slightly less hot water and more ice cubes. I went with hot chocolate as the weather is a bit chilly & it meant a larger drink, haha.

I was surprised at how well it blended in, much better than your average hot chocolate sachet mixed into water. There were no lumps and there wasn't a bunch of unmixed syrup at the bottom.

The flavor wasn't terribly sweet, and the texture was thicker than usual hot chocolate mixes made with just hot water, making it feel like a much richer drink than your standard make-at-home hot chocolate.

Will it replace a hot chocolate made from real chocolate? No. Will it replace hot chocolate made with milk instead of water? Hm, a fair comparison can be made. I would buy them again if I worked in an office that only had a kettle, certainly - you can't beat the taste for the convenience of it. I had an above average hot chocolate in as long as it takes a kettle to boil, so that's pretty good! I'm looking forward to trying the more exotic varieties I picked out, like the matcha lattes and a caramel macciato.
(OyatsuCafe so kindly provided me with some products for review, but all opinions are just my own!)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dinner by Heston

It was my 3rd wedding anniversary last week, and in keeping with our tradition of gorging ourselves sick & going into debt to celebrate, we went to Dinner by Heston!

We had made these reservations maybe two months in advance? At least a month, and at that time we were left with only one timeslot on a Wednesday - 9:30 pm. Yipes! So, definitely book well in advance, considering at one month we were just skirting in at the eleventh hour...or rather, the ninth hour. So, clearly this place is still popular a little over two years on from it's opening. Good sign! I expected no less from Heston Blumenthal's cheaper and more central restaurant, as the Fat Duck is significantly more pricey and is certainly out of the way - unless you happen to live in Bray. I do wonder if there are any plans for more London openings, I haven't heard any rumors - but I think given how congested Dinner is still after two years, the audience is there.

About the audience, though...We had a couple next to us that were the UK equivalent of these obnoxious SNL characters. Of course we didn't have any direct interactions with them, but the woman cussed solidly through the meal, only breaking up the monotony of her "this is so f'ing good" and "taste this shit" by accosting her boyfriend for not talking to her. After awhile they started arguing about whether or not she was cheating on him. It was really an unexpected conversation to eavesdrop in on at a top tier restaurant, I expected to hear...I don't know, political discussion or stock tips, not the background chatter of a Gregg's. On the plus side, a woman sitting across from me looked like Arianna Huffington! I'm sure it wasn't, but still, that's a classy look to be dining alongside.

We ordered the starter that everyone loves, the Meat Fruit.

The coolest thing about Dinner is that it is all dishes from Olden Tymes, and apparently back then it was quite the trend to make food look like different food. I'm all for it, personally. So, you might see where this is going - especially if you already know about this dish...

That's right, the inside is pate - specifically, chicken liver and foie gras parfait. I've never eaten pate before, I always felt that soft meat spread sounded kind of...dreadful, but turns out it is actually quite nice! The outside is a mandarin jelly, which blends really well with the meaty and 'dark' taste of the pate. Liver tastes a bit metallic to me, very 'earthy' and incredibly rich, but the mandarin cuts through it and livens the whole thing up a bit. It was a massive portion for as rich as it was, and I struggled to finish my half. Additional bread was offered up until the pate was all gone, which was much appreciated as it was so rich I used quite a bit of bread.

I also used a lot of bread as an excuse to eat more of the delicious butter that was served alongside it. Apparently unpasteurized -or at least less so- and only slightly salted, it reminded me of butter I had tried a few times as a kid that had been hand churned or shaken up in a little Mason jar. Yes, I come from a state with Amish people, why do you ask?

My husband had the Earl Gray Tea cured Salmon, and liked it, but felt a bit disappointed in the softness of the earl gray flavor - he said it might as well be citrus. He wished he had gone for a slightly more esoteric dish. I didn't try any because I'm not that into salmon, and I was struggling to finish my meat fruit as it was.

Onto the main courses, I had the Black Foot Pork Chop, and my husband had the Spiced Pigeon.

Hope you weren't spoiled by the meat fruit photos, which were halfway decent. Sorry for the false hope! The pork chop was massive, bone-in, and served pink. Absolutely delicious - definitely the best pork chop I've ever had - probably about 5x the size, as well. The fat was soft and delicately tasty, and the flesh was tender and really porky. A great combination. The side of spelt, hamhock, and turnips tasted mostly of pork, but had an interesting blend of textures - basically all textures. The Robert sauce, which is a brown mustard base, was perfect with the pork - gently pungent from the mustard but softened up and meatier-tasting, kind of like an au jus.

I can't really comment on this one, as I didn't have a taste - but my husband certainly seemed to enjoy the pigeon.

By this time I was quite full, and disappointingly felt that my very own dessert was impossible. Luckily, we had ordered the Tipsy Cake at the start of the meal and I had just enough room for half of it.

I messed about with the levels on this one to get it bright enough to see, the pineapple wasn't actually that lurid. The Tipsy Cake is a brioche soaked in rum and cream - which turns the brioche into basically solid-state rum & vanilla cream. The pineapple was really good too, but if you've had roasted pineapple it isn't going to be a mind-blower. The tartness cuts away the brioche very nicely, though.

All in all, we were quite happy with our meal at Dinner. The service was attentive, friendly, and considerate, with just a tiny couple hiccups.

For instance, we ordered a side of fries and didn't receive the mushroom ketchup whereas the couple next to us did alongside their steak and fries. We also didn't receive the final ganache that I had read about in reviews, which it seemed every other table was enjoying. To be fair, I do think that might've had to do with the kitchen closing, as we were one of the last bookings. Still, it was a bit of a shame to see other tables tucking into their last sweet delivered alongside the bill. I'm sure had I mentioned it at the time they would've brought one out, had they been able to, but I was pretty full and I don't like to complain. Just an observation, too niggling to bring up in person or to even consider for more than a minute. It wouldn't stop me from going back, but I think I'd specifically request the ganache next time, haha. The bread, banter, and water refills were very solid, so obviously it was just a small mistake in the grand scheme of things.

I think the price at Dinner is comparable to a three course meal & drinks at most popular London restaurants, really - it isn't as grand or unreachable as might be assumed. For our meal of two starters, two mains, a dessert and two glasses of wine & water it was around the £140 mark. We would've been fine to split a starter (if it were the meat fruit, that is) and we were certainly fine to split a dessert. I'd recommend it for a special occasion, especially if you're looking for a reason to get dressed up.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Puku Puku Tai, Cheesecake Flavor

This was one of the bits I was most looking forward to that I had received from OyatsuCafe, so I've been waiting to eat it. Ya see, I'm a bit of a hoarder of snacks, Exhibit A. Today was particularly gray and horrible, the first in what is sure to be a long series of them this fall, so I needed some cheering up.
And who wouldn't be cheered up by a grumpy looking fish-cookie stuffed with cheesecake? Nobody I'd like to meet in dark alley.

The packaging shows a very accurate illustration of the biscuit, and it is extremely shiny. I can't imagine many people walking by this snack and not at least taking a second glance. It's made by Meito, a company in Japan that I hadn't heard of before that has a particularly horrible website. Looks like the cheesecake flavor is no longer available in Japan, but strawberry and chocolate are still going strong.
This is an unbelievably cute fish. Looks like at any moment it's just going to say 'Harumph!'

I was surprised at how strong the smell of cheesecake was - it smelled like cheesecake the way lots of Japanese cheesecake and 'cheese' products do: Sweet lemon & cream.
Looks like an Aero bar, doesn't it? Well, I suppose it looks like all of the bubble-ized chocolate. The texture was sort of a firm mousse - like an Aero, but it melted a bit more in my mouth than Aero, which can leave a bit of a coating & just sit around on your tongue. I really liked the crispy wafer, it wasn't at all stale tasting and had a great crunch rather than a powdery or otherwise crummy texture. It cleaved apart like a very fresh waffle cone, not like some of the cheaper wafer chocolates I've had.

It tasted like lemon cheesecake, and was very easy going down. The combination of a wafer 'crust' and inner 'mousse' made me feel like I was eating an actual dessert, not just a snack. Really a great combination, I'd happily eat these more often. I'd like to try a green tea version, if it ever existed, or the chocolate variety.

(OyatsuCafe so kindly provided me with some products for review, but all opinions are just my own!)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Flesh & Buns

Flesh & Buns has been open for a bit now, and I've been quite excited to give it a try. I'm lucky to work very near Yum Bun, so I get to enjoy the trend of steamed buns anytime I like. They're a bit expensive, but I think good food is worth splashing out for every once in awhile. Or often in my case. Sure, you could get a really sticky pork bun from Chinatown for probably about 80p, but I can tell you the texture won't be as nice, nor taste as meaty as the more expensive options like Yum Bun, Bao, or Flesh & Buns.

So, me and the ol' flesh 'n' bun (sounds awkward) booked a table for two for yesterday. Imagine table in inverted commas though, because it appears that couples are brought to a really large communal table where we sit across from each other, haha. Luckily I've never been one to mind shouting across a room at somebody (being a red-blooded A'murcan and all) but if loud music and a bit of distance between the other member of your party is annoying, maybe skip at least the dinner service of Flesh & Buns - or go with a group of four or more.

We ordered a couple cocktails, the Watermelon & Kaffir Lime Collins and the Frozen Yuzu Margarita.
We were both super into them, although in hindsight I feel that mine was a bit weak for being nearly £10 - not that I expect to get sloshed after one cocktail, but maybe something. Can't fault the flavor though, it was lime and watermelon as promised, and very tasty. You might notice a trend in this review of me thinking some things are just that little bit more expensive than they should be.

We were advised that two or three small plates and a main 'flesh' would be good for two to share, so we ordered the Softshell Crab & the Tuna Tataki.
It was the first time I had tried softshell crab, so I coudn't really tell you if it was any better or worse than it usually is, haha. It was a bit strange to eat an entire like, crab's body, but then again it was only recently that I even tried lobster, so I'm still coming around to the whole seafood game. The jalapeno mayo was tasty in its own right but I felt like it sort of overwhelmed the taste of the crab. The crab by itself was very nice - with a bit of lime and deep fried, how could it not be?
The tuna tataki was very good - tataki is not the same as sashimi, its very briefly seared so if you are apprehensive about raw fish you might find this to be a good entry point. Now me, I quite like raw fish (never tastes nearly as 'fishy' as the cooked stuff) and this was just as good as it usually is. The grapefruit acts as a different take on your classic citrus zest to sashimi, and the yellow peppercorn-looking things tasted like popcorn. Not sure what they're supposed to be, actually - the only things listed on the menu for the tataki is grapefruit, coriander, and chili. It tasted very nice, though! I'd say the level of preparation and taste made this  one quite worthy of the £10 asking price. I don't know the going rate for softshell crab, but taste and amount wise the £9.50 price of the crab seemed alright. We both felt pleasantly sated after splitting these two plates, but with room left for the main course.

There was some minor debate between the two of us as to which flesh to get. I was in camp pork belly as I really like the pork belly buns I've had previously, and my husband was interested in the duck leg. In the end, he won me over to the duck leg side by promising that we'd try the pork belly next time. I'm an easy sell - I like duck, anyway.
It wasn't so blackened and purple like a lot of crispy duck I've had previously - I assume that it is better for it not to be so carcinogenic looking, haha. It tasted just great, like crispy duck should - fatty with a crispy, flavorful skin. The sour plum soy sauce was also great, similar to hoisin sauce but a saltier and definitely less sweet, probably due to the soy. It was also nice and thick and easily dolloped onto the buns. The maroon rose petal looking things to the right of the duck were pickled turnips, which didn't have a strong taste on its own, but nicely cuts the natural sweetness of the duck meat. The buns aren't pictured, but if you've seen one you've seen 'em all. In this case they were the slightest bit stickier than say, Yum Bun - more on par with your classic dim-sum type steam bun.

The quality of the meat was what really shined through here, and we definitely had more than enough for two buns each. So much so that we had some to finish off after the buns. Cost wise, this was about on par with what I'd expect to pay at any of the fancy London-type bunneries at the moment. Four of the duck leg buns worked out to be about £3.50 each, which is almost exactly what you'll pay at Bao or Yum Bun. Of course, if you opt for a different meat you may end up paying quite a bit extra. So, I can't knock Flesh & Buns on cost when it comes to their main courses, lest I knock all of the London buns that aren't being fished out of an ancient cabinet in Longdan.

Anyway, the nice thing about Flesh & Buns versus the rest of them is the dessert offerings. Well, for me anyway. I love dessert, and I think having a pillowy soft, already slightly sweet steamed bun filled with Nutella, ice cream, or peanut butter would be amazing - but I don't know, maybe it's just too inauthentic for the still burgeoning 'bun' scene, haha. Feel free to steal that idea, bunsmiths. Just serve me one every time I come around. You don't even have to put it on the menu.

Anyway, Flesh & Buns is a place where I can eat a bun or two, and also have dessert, thus elevating it.

I was most excited for the s'mores, which seemed to be the big hit off the menu anyway, as I saw about a dozen of these little tableside s'mores kits get delivered to various groups.

My husband decided on the relatively boring chocolate fondant with strawberry shochu ice cream. "Shochu ice cream? This I've gotta try!" he was heard to me, at least.
My suspicions that it was going to be kinda dull were confirmed - even though it was a perfectly tasty chocolate fondant, that's just what it was. The strawberry shochu ice cream was more of a sorbet in texture, and even though I expected that the shochu flavor wasn't going to come through, my husband was surprised & disappointed by the apparent absence. Perfectly decent strawberry sorbet, though. I just rarely ever order a chocolate fondant because I think they're a bit boring. This was a good one, if for some reason you don't want to try one of the more adventurous desserts. I personally wouldn't waste the opportunity though.
Now, if you like your desserts with a just a bit more fanfare, perhaps even enough to make the person across from you gesticulate wildly, go for the s'mores. The waitress asked if I knew how to do s'mores, and I'm like "Honey...don't even get me started." Well, I didn't actually say that, I actually just said, "Yes, thank you." There's really not much to it. Hold a marshmallow over the fire until it gets to your preferred level of gooeiness, and then smush it up with chocolate and graham crackers.

Now, I've heard a lot of people say that the s'mores were expensive for what they are - and yeah, it works out to be £4 a s'more (which if calculated into dollars would probably make Lady Liberty weep) but considering how hard it is to get anything like a s'more here, and the little white box all nicely presented, I say its fine. I've spent more money on dumber stuff.

Besides, I'm sure the matcha chocolate and graham crackers are a bit difficult to source - I don't know if the matcha chocolate is being made in house, but it was paper thin and just perfectly balanced between the sweet taste of white chocolate and the slightly savory grassiness of a good green tea. It was like the best matcha chocolates I've had from Japan, so no complaints there.

 The marshmallows were normal, I was a bit disappointed by how slow they were to brown, but I think that was due to the heat source not being a raging bonfire in Minnesota, but instead a little white tinderbox in a crowded restaurant in central London. Can't expect the full experience, I guess. They did get warm and squidgy, and were starting to brown a bit before I got too impatient to wait.

The graham crackers were a nice surprise, too. Not sure how they were made, but they were thin, crispy, and salty-sweet like a good graham cracker should be. I'd like to know more about them, as graham crackers are one of my top missed staples from the USA.

I'd absolutely get the s'mores again, and maybe skip out on a cocktail or an appetizer to make up for the cost.

All together, we had two 'small plates' to share, two cocktails, one main split, and two desserts - for a total of over £70. I'd definitely say the cost sneaks up on you here, but if you skip the cocktails, split one dessert, and just fill up on the plates & a set of buns you'll come away spending around £40 or so. I'd say we would've been fine with just one 'flesh' and two plates, splitting a dessert - and that's what we plan to do next time we go.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Coris Whistle Candy, Blue Soda

Readers, I have many secret shames. From never learning how to ride a bike, convincing myself I was allergic to celery just because I don't like it, to starting almost everyday off with a sugar free Mountain Dew since they've been released over here - but chief among them is that I don't know how to whistle.

Whistling seems physically impossible, even though people tell me how to do it all the time...well, whenever the topic comes up, I guess...either way, something about tongue placement and mouth shaping just eludes me. If you could see that I just googled "How to Whistle" and spent about 15 minutes blowing air out of my mouth in between that last sentence and this one, you'd understand just how much I don't get it.

That's why I was pretty excited by this Whistle Candy by Coris - from OyatsuCafe.
Cute packaging, for sure! I love the sort of 60s tiki room wallpaper vibe from the cardboard backing, and the mouse and duck look like this isn't their first time 'round the promotional cartoon character block. They're seasoned vets - probably not even the first time they've driven a bi-plane.

This flavor is Blue Soda, which I'd wager is quite similar to cream soda.

The little disks are quite a bit fatter than you might realize from this picture, and have the slightest baby blue tint to them. Inside the little box with the duck and mouse was a truck stamp, which I don't think I'll have much use for, but in the realm of free prizes inside candy, it's actually pretty good! At least it isn't made of paper.
Here's one of the tablets being lifted by the truck stamp. I should've had it on the crane side, d'oh.

The whistle really works, which is cool. I used to get Melody Pops back in the day, and only occasionally would the whistle work - you'd have to get just the right level of moisture in the pop, and you'd have to make sure you got one that hadn't half-melted in the sun and reformed into something that couldn't whistle, for example. Since these are pressed-sugar tablet type candies, they won't get damaged in hot weather, so if they whistle in the winter they'll whistle in the summer...and whistle they do! It was really cool, I wasn't expecting it to be as loud as it was, but it's like a referee's whistle. I can see where they might pose the slightest choking hazard, but if you press them in between your lips but in front of your teeth you'll probably be fine, and you'll be whistlin' Dixie all day, if you want. Or until the tablet starts to dissolve on your teeth.

They're a bit softer than Sweettarts or American Smarties, and definitely softer than say, a Polo mint. You could crunch them straight away and feel like your teeth were in no danger.

This flavor was Blue Soda, which I had expected would taste like cream soda - and it kinda does, but it tastes a lot more like bubblegum, or Mitsuya Cider, which tastes a bit like bubblegum, in my opinion. I really enjoyed these! I ate the entire package, barring one tested by my husband, within about an hour or so of opening them. They're extremely easy to eat, because they're sort of delicately flavored but very sweet, and soft on your teeth for a crunchy candy. I'm looking forward to the Cola variety that OyatsuCafe also sent along, and I'll probably throw a pack of the Grape ones on my next order.

(OyatsuCafe so kindly provided me with some products for review, but all opinions are just my own!)