Monday, 7 May 2012

Seasonal spring cheer

The skies may still be gloomy, but the signs of spring are all over the market.

Not knowing what you're going to come home with at the end of the market on a Sunday is one of the endlessly enjoyable things about going. Most Sundays you'll find something new and delicious to take home, whether it's something newly in season...

Wild garlic at Eden Farms

Asparagus at Ted's Veg

Rhubarb at Eden Farms

a jar of luscious lemon curd or one of the many irresistible chutneys from Rosie's Preserves such as
this spicy tomato and pepper

or perhaps a weighty, warm sausage roll from Little Jack Horner's. In response to endless requests from his regulars, this week pie man James unveiled his shiny new oven and offered warm sausage rolls to queues of very happy customers.

My bounty this week included a bagful of juicy Isle of Wight tomatoes, a chubby, free-range chicken from Pastures Farm Poultry in Northants, and seasonal bundles of rhubarb, asparagus and wild garlic.

Plus an 11am lamb burger from March House Farm, do have one if you visit, a big bunch of parsley - which makes a nice alternative to flowers when thrown in a jug - a pot of coriander from Geoffrey Daumerie and, I can't believe it, not a single crumb of cake! Here are some to whet your appetite from Miriam's Munchies, she'll be there next Sunday with plenty more delights.

Now, time to get cooking my Spring bank holiday menu, which is
  • Isle of Wight tomatoes with wild garlic and rapeseed oil
  • Roast chicken with French tarragon, wild garlic and salad leaves to mop up juices
  • Rhubarb and cardomom fool from the Riverford Farm cook book.
See recipes for more. 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The duck, the whole duck, and nothing but the duck

For tree-top views, an easygoing atmosphere and authentic Chinese menu, Min Jiang is the perfect spot for a springtime Saturday lunch

Leaving behind a sun-bathed balcony, stack of cook books and next door’s piano playing to catch the dreaded circle line did not appeal on the first hot Saturday of the year, even if it was to go and try Beijing duck that’s been fantasised over by many.

The journey from Tulse Hill into town was every bit as irritating as it could be with Saturday hold-ups a-plenty, an Oyster card to top up, long queues, slow crowds, and, probably the last thing you want to hear while delayed on a drafty platform, a most insistent trumpeter. 

Arriving at Min Jiang on the tenth floor of the Royal Garden Hotel erased all irate-ness in an instant, and as the lift went ping I went from rat-bag to regal. I don’t know if they pump out pure air up there or whether it’s just the amazing view, but the sparkling brightness, calm and sense of space make you feel as though you’re breezed into a retreat.

We’re seated at a good-sized square table overlooking Hyde Park and all the collective picnickers of spring. A magnifying mirror above the windows reflects the activity in the park below, and with a full spread of London landmarks to identify, there’s even more to be gleeful about than the promise of a good lunch.

We’d pre-ordered the legendary wood-fired Beijing duck which, according to the menu, is meticulously prepared by Beijing chefs following an ancient recipe. Reassuring words indeed!

Whereas I was half expecting starch and a bit of formality, thankfully Min Jiang is anything but. At the far end of the restaurant a family party is in full swing and other than that the place is full of families, friends and couples and it’s good, buzzy and relaxing. Beside us are three Russian ballerinas, one with wrists not much bigger than the chopsticks and I doubt they’re here for the legendary duck.

The excitement of plenty of courses to come is one of life’s never-ending thrills so we can’t resist a few appetisers. One was hot and sour vegetable salad with seaweed, vegetarian ham and agar-agar. Anything with hot and sour in the description makes me want it, even if it is with vegetarian ham. I had absolutely no idea what to expect but when the staff feel obliged to mention that the dish is authentic and ask if you’re okay with that, you know you’re onto something good.

It’s unusual tasting and I haven’t really eaten anything I could compare it to, but it’s definitely something you want more and more of, with a nice range of textures combining crunchy, soft, tacky and chewy. There are several dishes on the menu I’d like to order out of curiosity, especially those with ingredients I haven't a clue about. I’d order the hot and sour salad (left) again in a shot.

The other appetisers, one with marinated turnips, right, were good too, but it's the authentic hot and sour salad I'd really want again.

Once the appetisers are done and dusted, out comes the carver to slice the duck at your table and it’s time to bring out the camera. People seem to be having too nice a time to tut so I have a merry snap away.

In this wood-fired duck dish, every bit of the bird is used, from the first serving of slivers of crispy skin for dipping into fine sugar….

… to the beautifully soft, glossy slices of meat served with their finely sliced adornments; shredded leek, cucumber and sweet sauce, and garlic paste, pickled radish and Tientsin cabbage.

You can then choose from four dishes which incorporate the rest of the bird in some way. These include spicy minced duck with a lettuce wrap, salted vegetable soup with duck and tofu, fried rice with diced duck or fried noodles with sliced duck.

Though there's plenty to admire with the dishes, I can't stop noticing how clean everything appears and with the snowy white linen, shiny white crockery and glistening glasses, our food looks even more appetising.

The first serving of skin
It’s incredibly juicy! One sliver alone would almost quench your thirst. I’d expected the crunch and dryness of a small pork scratching but my goodness, one bite into the skin quite unexpectedly releases sweet, warm juice into your mouth and it’s a lovely surprise. Dipped into the fine sugar these slivers are very elegant titbits.

The meat
What I love about the duck slices and plates around them is 1) The beautiful presentation,
2) The slices are small so you don’t feel guilty eating all of them and 3) The glossy, rich-coloured skin against the finger-width, creamy fat.
The meat tastes every bit as good as it looks, very sweet and succulent and it’s nice to try the slices with the various accompaniments, though the traditional sweet sauce, shredded leeks and cucumber is the most satisfying.

The noodles
Though they're cooked in broth made from the duck bones, they didn’t actually taste a whole lot different to takeaway noodles to me. However, that could have been because I’d already had plenty to eat and wasn’t fully appreciating them. If you were ravenous and ate these first, you’d no doubt notice the difference.

Although there is plenty to excite with the Beijing duck, other items on the menu that grabbed me were:

  • pan fried soft shell crab with curry leaf in buttermilk (appetiser)
  • steamed scallop with fermented chilli and black bean sauce (appetiser)
  • Alaskan black cod fillet in roasted Sha Cha sauce (don’t know what the sauce is but love the name)
  • Sichuan Double Cooked Pork Belly with Chinese leek
  • Min Jiang seafood fried rice with salted fish and XO sauce
  • Stewed pork ribs and chestnuts in superior soy sauce.

And if ever I’ve got £60 in my pocket with time to kill in High Street Kensington, I’ll be back in that lift for the native lobster steamed with Osmanthus flower in Shaoshin wine, shell off!

Min Jiang is definitely a restaurant I’d go back to, especially to make more new discoveries. Apart from the a la carte menu, there’s a set lunch menu for £40 per person for a minimum of 4 people, featuring the wood-fired duck, double-cooked sea bass with shredded chicken and sour plums and many more delights. There’s also a Monday to Friday express lunch for £19.80 per person.

And if you ever want to put paid to a grumpy mood in an instant, you know exactly where to go.
Min Jiang
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street
London W8 4PT

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Always a treat in store

The fingerless gloves made a comeback today as grey skies, heavy downpours and the COLD cast a very different mood over today’s Parson’s Green farmers’ market compared to the bright sunshine last week. Brollies, soggy dogs and dripping gazebos were the sights for those who ventured out today.

But was it worth it? Of course. Here’s why. The first lettuces made their appearance at Eden Farms …


… as did rhubarb at Ted’s Veg

..and gorgeous herbs for planting from Geoffrie Daumerie’s much-loved plot in Kent.

Chervil is very nice in salads, adding a bright, aniseed flavour and also sprinkled on soups. Purslane has a mild salty taste and its small, juicy leaves are also good in salads, and with seafood, apparently.

Fennel, pink garlic, broad beans, French tarragon and plenty more pots were on display.

Other delights included oysters (can’t beat one for breakfast), scallops, whelks, squid and hake from the Handpicked Shellfish Company in Weymouth

and, for lovers of cheaper cuts for slow cooking, this exciting array from one of Janet Mutter's tasty wild boars at Animal Farm in Bellingdon, Bucks. On the table is pork belly, hand, cheeks, tail, trotters and, on the right, two big ears. The pics were actually taken last week though when Janet's boars are slaughtered she makes use of the whole animal, so you can expect to find these cuts every Sunday.

Her burger’s are also a big attraction on Sunday mornings.

Under the orange glow of Celestial Cakes' golden gazebo on the other side of the market were plenty more temptations. Butternut squash and orange cakes, carrot cakes with a cream cheese topping, pistachio friands topped with lemon icing and chocolate and beetroot brownies were among this week's sweet treats. Needless to say, they swiftly sold out.

And to further lift the mood, a few blooms, as seen at Ted's Veg.

Finally, a few picture highlights from last week too to show you what you missed.
Do pay a visit next Sunday, we'll be there from 10-2, as ever.

Lardy-Da's pork pies encased in flavoured jelly,

Isle of Wight tomatoes,

          a most excellent Victoria sponge with fig jam at Aston's bakery,

plus their very good bread, and Chegworth Valley's crispy apples and juicy, juicy pears.  


And finally finally, one of my favourite regulars, always happy to be fussed over, though haven't found out his name yet. Next time! Though he does quite suit Old Spot.

Monday, 13 February 2012

There's no place like the market

There’s no place to be like the market on a cold, grey February Sunday. If you think staying in is the best option, think again! Far better to brave the cold and head out to Parson's Green farmers’ market, where you’re guaranteed a warm welcome and lots of delicious food to stock up on for the week ahead.

Full service was resumed this week after a few of our traders got stuck in snow the week before and couldn't make it. Hearty thanks go to all the traders who did make it and helped shovel a whole lot of snow from the playground before we got going. It was a full-on workout from 8am onwards (so busy there was no time to take pictures) and well worth the effort because customers were thrilled to see us when we opened at 10. As if a bit of snow would put us off!

This week we welcomed Mad-Ass chillies to Parson’s Green for the first time (this is Tony on the right). He sells 18 different chilli sauces and chutneys using Scotch Bonnet, Naga, Chipotle and Habanero chillies grown by Edible Ornamentals in Bedfordshire. The garlic in their sauces is from the Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight, who were also at the market this week. 
Some of their best-selling smoked garlic bulbs below.

Mad-Ass sauces are supremely flavoursome and they are a very welcome addition to Parson’s Green. They’ll be with us every second and fourth Sunday of the month so be sure to come down and sample the Lip Tickler, Green Eyed Monster, Double Smokey, Thyme N Lime and many more. Great for marinating meats, eating with cheese or just dipping, while the Naga and Chipotle syrups can be used as toppings for ice-cream, pancakes or as sweeteners. How can you resist?

Say cheese
Other delights among the 23 stalls this week included three cheese stalls to satisfy the cravings of all cheese lovers. Nut Knowle Farm in Horam, East Sussex specialises in hard and soft pasteurised goats cheese. On the table was their new rind-washed cheese, the powerful and pungent Martlet Gold, a range of the soft and creamy Wealden and Wealdways (pictured right, good for stuffing chicken) and the Sussex Oaties, which you pop in the oven for five minutes and enjoy warm on toast – maybe with a little honey drizzled on top.

Bath Soft Cheese from Somerset brought three of their award-winning organic cheeses to market this week, all sold with a smile by Lizzie, above. Their original Bath Soft Cheese (the recipe was found in an old grocer’s store in Kelston in 1760 and eaten by Nelson) has a mushroomy flavour with a hint of lemons. The semi-hard, succulent and nutty Wyfe of Bath scored gold three times last year, at the British Cheese Awards in Cardiff, the International Cheese Awards Nantwich and the National Cheese Awards at the Royal Bath and West Show. And the splendid Bath Blue was also going down well among shoppers. The cheeses are made by the Padfield family at Park Farm in Kelston.

Last but not least is the Alham Wood Cheese stall, which is at the market every Sunday and has a loyal following of Buffalo cheese lovers. The have a wide range of fresh cheeses, as well as feta and mountain style cheese, fresh unpasteurised milk and thick and clean-tasting Buffalo yoghurt.

Fancy a Firecracker?
This is just one of the 30 entries in our Love your Local sausage competition. With less than a week to go to find the best banger in the capital before voting closes on 20 February, we’re asking people to visit any of London Farmers’ Markets, sample the sausages the stalls are putting forward, then go online to vote (see below).

The competition is being run by London Farmers’ Markets and The Jellied Eel magazine. Among the entries from stalls taking part are the Breakfast marmalade sausage from Downland Pigs, the Beef and Guinness from Boarstall Meats and the Wild Poacher from Radwinter game. On offer from our very own Parson’s Green traders are the Firecracker from March House Farm, (pork, beef, white wine, tomato, parsley and onion), the Plain Pork from Galileo Farm and the Liver, Bacon and Onion, full of wild boar goodness, from Janet at Animal Farm (pictured below left).

A short-list of the sausages with the most public votes will be put to an expert tasting panel and the winning sausage announced in early April. Prizes include a meal for two at a top London restaurant, a bag full of packs of the five short-listed sausages and other prizes donated by the winning producer.

To vote, visit But do head to Parson’s Green market next Sunday if you want to sample some first! We’re in the playground of New King’s School on New Kings Road between 10am and 2pm, every Sunday, rain, shine or snow.

And finally – what’s in season?
Here’s a list of some of the seasonal delights you can expect to see at our farmers market at the moment. Apples (from stores), beetroot, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrots, celeriac, celery, chard, conference and comice pears, crabs, hare, Jerusalem artichokes, kohlrabi, leeks, mallard, oysters, parsnips, partridge, pheasant, purple sprouting broccoli, swede, radishes and turnips.

This week’s featured seasonal vegetable is celeriac. See recipes for ideas about what to do with it.