I had been waiting impatiently for last night's outing with the summer school program (2 week gig at my college) for dinner at one of Oxford's newest restaurants - the High Table. It is owned by the same group that operates the Quod on High Street, Gee's, and the Old Parsonage Hotel. Cuisine at all four venues is typically characterised as 'British contemporary'. Spacious and elegant, there's been a serious amount of buzz about this place.
We were a group of 18 American business and education students, three professors, myself and another St. Peter's student. I had called in the pre-order a few days in advance to make everyone's life a little easier. The price tag? £19.99 for a three-course meal (the pre-theatre dinner menu), excluding wine of course. Not a bad deal at all.
Leek and Potato Soup
Chicken and spinach terrine with chilli jam
Loch Duart Salmon gravadlax with lemon and dill crème fraiche
Char-grilled Pork T-Bone with wholegrain mustard mash, green beans and jus
Pan-Fried Sea Bass fillet with crème fraiche potatoes
Cherry tomato and basil risotto
Iced Mango parfait with Raspberry sorbet
Sticky Toffee pudding with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream
Classic crème brulee
As we sat down, ordered some bottles of French whites and reds, and started to enjoy the truly flavourful and quality balsamic and Cretan olive oil, we had a little surprise. Electricity went out on the block. This happened right before we were about to receive our first course. We were told they wouldn't be able to prepare the soup, which was fine. I think more people went for the salmon option than the chicken. I had the salmon. It was a quality starter. Loved it. Great on the palette.
Our French waiter (or manager, I couldn't exactly discern) was a bit stressed, despite his attempt to hide it. Nonetheless, Mr. French man and the rest of the staff were very pleasant. This was consistent with the service at Gee's (which I experienced on my birthday). We were told that it was a power outage in the entire block, and that it would take about 1-2 hours to get power up and running again according to the electrical company. At this point, we're heavy on the wine, and trying to come up with a decision as to what to do. Mr. French man said that Quad up the street could accommodate us for our main and dessert. In the meantime, one of the professors in the programme wanted our attention to inform everyone about an earthquake of severe magnitude between Los Angeles and San Diego.
The lovely American students were in fact from LA. As they got on their iPhones to their loved ones in the States, we got word that it was an earthquake of 5.4 magnitude, and that it wasn't as severe as the BBC had just made it out to be. Thank G*d. At this point, we decided to get up and make our way to other restaurant. As half the group steps outside, epiphany! Lights come on, the AC kicks in, and people start laughing. Round two. We manage to sit down once again, and get served our main. I had the sea bass, which was not warm enough for my liking, but still enjoyable and perfectly salted. Presentation was simple yet striking. Apparently the pork option was a huge hit with those who ordered it. A minority enjoyed the vegetarian option, risotto with cherry tomatoes and basil.
For dessert, I had basil myself. I didn't expect it. I ordered the mango parfait with raspberry sorbet, but the parfait base had an overpowering taste of fresh basil. It was kinda wrong. I am all for novelty, experimental dishes, but this particular marriage was not a success. I should have gone with the toffee pudding, since that's what my gut instinct hinted. Oh well.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience, despite the drama that ensued us from the onset. Do I recommend it? Yes. Was it the best food I had in Oxford. No.
Are Pret sandwiches it really just made?
If you think you are getting a good nutritional value when you reach for a sandwich at M&S instead of a cheeseburger at McDonald's, you may be surprised to hear otherwise. Most of the sandwiches consumed by Brits today during lunch hour are loaded with salt, fat, and calories.
The latest Channel 4 show Dispatches aired a special last night on the British sandwich industry and it's strategic manipulation in getting the consumer to think that what they are eating is a better health alternative. To some degree, it may (if you compare it to KFC). However, I was really surprised to see chains such as Pret a Manger not faring well when they conducted a survey of various nutritional contents. You can't judge a book by it's cover, and Pret is a classic example of that. With pretty packaging with colors and buzz words on the labels that are more chatty than informative, one can see how Pret has deviated from its roots. It's a big business, and it's got a great marketing strategy. Boots rated consistently as having the healthiest sandwiches (although their packaging is a bit flat in my opinion, but it's about wellness not look that I'm advocating for).
The Channel 4 website for Dispatches has some great information for consumers. I am left a bit disturbed by what I saw last night.
News alert! Breaking news from Harvard's School of Public Health. Dr. Jorge Chavarro and his colleagues found a significant association between increased consumption of tofu and lower levels of sperm in male subjects. For more on this rather interesting finding, please check a piece by Tasmin Osborne in New Scientist. I tried doing a pubmed search for this article published in Human Reproduction, but I couldn't find it.
On Sunday, at around 11am, I woke up to breakfast (and the realisation that my legs were sore from dancing) by the veranda with the rest of the family there. Sofia had managed to get at up 7am. The life of a baby, go figure. As if I hadn't eaten enough from the night before, my aunt Sofi organised yet another luncheon for 35-40 people. There were this time 3 sections. A table for children 5 and under. A table of 30-somethings. And then everyone else. Leftovers from the catering, coupled with fresh salads, was the perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon. It was quite hot by 2-3pm, and an iced cold beer jug filled with Heineken from the tap made for the most refreshing drink of my life.
I ended up coming to the Motherland for the weekend (the perks of living in Oxford, England, and not Seattle, USA). My cousin Dimitra is baptasing her daughter tomorrow, and I couldn't fathom missing a Mameletzis celebration. I've been so busy with things that only about two people knew I was even making a trip. I went straight from the airport to my Aunt Litsa's house (not before helping a BBC reporter who had locked his mobile phone in his rented car at the airport), where I was met with this beautiful rabbit stew. The meat was incredibly tender, and I was surprised at the uncharacteristically large and soft bay leaves. My auntie had picked them that morning from her backyard. Go figure. I tend to boast about having fresh Greek basil by my kitchen window in England. Not as impressive as fresh bay leaves, however. We sat outside on her balcony with my uncle George and the rest of the family, including my Aunt Vivi who had just arrived from the States. On a beautiful Mediterranean summer's night, we caught up on life, enjoyed the most satisfying meal, and drank a sweet red Greek wine as we engaged in a heavy debate about the pace of life in America versus that of Greece.
Tomorrow is the baptism. I can't wait. God I love this country.
Moving on. The following recipe is just for a single tummy. Perfect for a quick lunch or dinner post-gym.
Serve immediately. For more recipes on this super-duper health food, check Susan Jane Murray's website, where the stunningly wondrous Irish cook, colleague, and friend offers plenty of wonderful recipes.
There are many who insist that there is a higher, more complex form of Greek cookery to which we mere tourists are not exposed. I'm sure there is. (The mischievous part of me is tempted to say: yes, it's called Turkish, which has a truly fabulous tradition. But that would merely be courting controversy, and you won't find me doing such a thing.) I do know that Greek wines go far beyond Retsina, that there are some intriguing reds to be had if you know where to look.
At some point in the feast, diced fatty flesh of tuna fish and crab made their way to the G8 table. And in terms of drinks, Le Rêve Grand Cru Brut champagne and fine wine were in abundance.
One gallon of milk to boil (whole milk!), bring to a boil. Turn off the fire. Let it cool down to the temperature where your finger can be comfortable in it. Then, 2 cups of plain yogurt, then take 2 cups of the warm milk. Mix together and then put it back in the pot with the rest of the warm milk.
Heat your oven to the smallest temperature you can do it. (200° F). Then once it's at 200° F, shut off the oven, then place the yogurt into the oven overnight. The day after, put in the fridge, let sit for a couple of hours (to chill), then strain with a cheese cloth.
And Happy Birthday Saturday
Lentils are legendary for their nutritional value, and there is recent scientific literature to support the benefits of incorporating lentils in one's diet. They are good for your heart, and stabilize sugar levels as well. The lentil plant has its origins in the Near East, and has been part of our human diet for a long time now (I think since the aceramic Neolithic period). In addition, this healthy vegetable has the highest level of protein after soybeans and hemp. High in dietary fiber, vitamin B1, and other minerals, lentils are somewhat ignored in northern European/American diets in my opinion. The people of India adore it, as it is an important staple of their vegetarian diet. Greeks as well. You can find a variety of lentils in most shops (from brown, black, yellow, to red-orange), with/without their skins, split, or whole.