Sunday, 28 June 2009

Japanese and Jackson night at The Underground Restaurant

Shiso leaf sushi. This is a Japanese herb. It tastes a bit like stinging nettles.

French beans dressed in sesame paste, lemon and mirin sauce

The production line to prepare the katsu kebabs

Prepping the katsu kebabs

Katsu fried in breadcrumbs.

Katsu sandwich with Japanese brown sauce and mayonnaise. Basically Japanese motorway cafe food. In Japan it's considered hangover food.

Making green tea 'matcha' ice cream.

Green Tea ice cream with wasabi meringue and cherry

This is burdock root. I scraped off shavings and deep fried it with fresh sliced lotus root. It has a woody sweet taste. The fresh lotus root is similar to parsnip.

Taka from Tsuru restaurant

Various maki rolls, made by Emma of Tsuru, plus daikon pickles, umeboshi plums, pickled shitake mushrooms.

Emma Reynolds of Tsuru, wearing a skirt. If you know her, you know this is unusual.

Tempura: avocado, sweet potato, red peppers, chili peppers, asparagus.

'Inari' sweetened tofu pockets stuffed with flavoured sushi rice, umeboshi and seeds, and chilli and orange pepper rice on camelia leaves.

Hiro from Akashi Tai sake came to serve and talk about sake and Japanese plum wine 'Umeshu'. As if he was going to get away with that! He was quickly, especially as he was wearing a dark suit and white shirt, press-ganged into service as a waiter.
It was a hot night and the sake was served chilled.
Emma Reynolds of Tsuru Restaurant (do check it out!) and I spent all day prepping a Japanese menu for The Underground Restaurant. I visited a local Japanese shop 'Natural Natural' on Friday, gaining inspiration from the range of products. At this shop the staff speak good English and are happy to explain how to cook things.

The young man at 'Natural Natural' has an ingredients book under the till. He will look anything up and tell you how to cook it.

I would like to learn more about Japanese food and it was great having Emma, Taka and Hiro on hand. I tried to introduce some new ingredients to the standard fare you get at sushi restaurants. Some of the ideas I found in an old Japanese cookery book. I used shiso leaves to wrap rice. I also picked camelia leaves from my garden, an unusual method of presentation.
I bought products such as Burdock root, fresh lotus root, pickled daikon and umeboshi plums which I adore. I like anything umami, the fifth flavour after salty, sweet, bitter and sour. One night I am going to do an entirely umami menu!
As guests arrived, we had Michael Jackson playing.
This is the final menu:

Chilled Sake from Akashi-Tai

Edamame with Maldon salt and pink peppercorns

Ippin Ryouri (Japanese tapas)

Tempura Set including Asparagus, Avocado, sweet potato, peppers, chili peppers

Aubergine, red onion and mushroom skewered kushi katsu in soft white bread seasoned with Japanese mayonnaise and Japanese brown sauce 'tonkatsu'

Cucumber and Wakame Salad

French Beans with white Japanese Sesame paste (the difference between this and tahini is that it's made with roasted sesame seeds) lemon, mirin and ginger dressing

Salmon Sashimi on a bed of Mizuna lettuce with Ponzu Sauce (I told one girl off for not eating her lettuce."That cost me a fortune" I remonstrated. She ate it quickly.)

Shiso leaf onigiri

Maki Sushi

Salmon & Avocado/Carrot & avocado/Japanese pickle selection including daikon, sweetened shitake mushrooms, pickled carrots, umeboshi plums

Crispy salmon skin maki with shichimi chili pepper

Inari Sushi (Sweetened tofu parcels with onigiri rice)

Miso soup with Enoki mushrooms

Deep fried burdock 'Gobo' and lotus root


Green Tea Ice Cream/wasabi meringue/cherry

Green Tea

Chilled Plum wine (this was a massive hit!)

I think that's the most 'courses' I've ever served. A record!
It was interesting getting the perspective of Emma, a professional restauranteur...
"Cooking for this many people on your own with the help of a 15 year old girl is the ballsiest thing I have ever heard".
She continued:
"It's really tiring. It reminds me of catering for a wedding. It's a special kind of tiring. And you are doing it with just a domestic kitchen. One under the counter fridge. That's hard."
I need some more professional kit: a proper full-sized fridge (an Aga one would be nice, you know, matching etc), a decent large rice cooker, a good ice cream maker. Any firm willing to offer these will earn my undying love and a million arse-licking blog posts. Yes, I am absolutely willing to whore myself out for a bit of kitchenalia.
Afterwards I went out with Tim Hayward, the Guardian journalist who has just won Digital Food Writer of the Year award. Cruising Kilburn, I found most of my restaurant 'staff ' and guests (including one lovely guy, a returning guest, who asked me to start 'Loyalty cards' lol) at the North London Tavern.
Tim and I discussed masthead photos for journalists, most of which are at least 20 years younger than the offending hack. Women have their pictures taken from above...reduced weight, double chin etc. The men, however, have a double whammy: shoot from below, you get the jowls; shoot from above, you get the bald patch!
As it closed, we moved across the road to Powers bar which usually has an interesting mix of clientele; drunken pirates huddling in dark corners, Britpop mod-rockers and old Kilburn Irish. It was closing so we ventured next door to Brondesage, the hangout for the Eastern European set; Albanian builders swigging back shots of Jagermeister. The pavement was wobbling, the bouncers had boobs bigger than mine and a smoochy-eyed long-haired male model kept feeling up my pearl necklace slurring seductively "in my country we call these perlahs".
Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' came on the turntable and the whole joint commenced writhing joyfully. As the track finished there was a spontaneous and mass chant "Michael!Michael! Michael!".
The end of a fantastic evening and sadly, the end of an era...

Left to right: Taka, Emma and Hiro, the team out on the piss in Kilburn after a hard night's work. After we took this photo, Taka announced dryly to Emma...
"Japanese tradition. Person in middle of photo, will die first".


  1. i like it. wish i'd been there.

  2. Awesome menu, Japanese food is exciting. Wasabi meringue!! Yer mental! :D

  3. What a great evening I missed! I've been to Tsuru before, so would have loved the special menu. I suppose you are fully booked for the rest of the year now?!

  4. Was an absolutely fantastic menu and a lovely evening...

    Sometimes, eating Japanese cuisine, even with many courses, I find myself a little hungry later, but oh my goodness, everything was so good I just stuffed myself... I could hardly move, I nearly kipped down for the night on your floor!

    How you have the stamina to spend the entire day prepping (and probably the day before too, I imagine), the evening cooking for so many and then go out on the town, I do not know but I'm seriously impressed!


  5. It never fails to surprise me how inventive you can be with food - it is amazing! One day I'll get out of this office and into the kitchen...not long now! Keep meaning to book a date and come see you!!! Once I've got some debts out of the way don't worry I'll be there - even got a few friends interested!!!!

  6. what a brilliant evening!! I loved it, it was everything I'd expected and more. So hardcore that you had the stamina to go out clubbing after all that! P.S. sorry about being late and trashing the tablecloth, Hannah, Audrey and I will be clubbing together to get a new one posted out to you. (Hope you enjoyed the dvds). Let's have that Tayyabs soon! x

  7. Thanks everybody. It was great meeting everyone. Nice to put a face/voice to the blog/column.
    asharpknife: are you from Pogo?
    Helen;I'm taking a break till the end of August...may even do a pop up in France.
    I will start again with a new gin event with tastingsessions on 26th of August
    Curious Cat: hope to see you in September
    Gastro: Lets meet at tayyabs soon

  8. That menu looks fantastic! I have to make it over to The Underground Restaurant soon, Mrs M-L.

  9. Fab food .. fab ambience .. thoroughly enjoyed it!

    Pei Wang
    teanamu - the "eat.drink.tea" weblog

    ~~ sip a good brew, steal a slice of tranquility, glimpse a lingering fragrance, gladden the heart and refresh the mind ~~

  10. Yes it's the orange one! Sorry, I thought you would recognise my email address.

  11. Ah Caz! What a great chef you are!
    Miss everyone at Pogos, especially my gay best friend Daft...

  12. I'll tell him you said so. And I'll take the compliment graciously, thank you! Seeya sometime!

  13. Congratulations on your menu! How did the green tea ice cream/wasabi meringue combination turn out? Sounds/looks exciting!


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