Anna Hansen at the Friday Food Club

Anna Hansen, a New Zealander who started her career in London with Fergus Henderson at the former The French House in Soho and then with fellow New Zealander Peter Gordon at Green St, The Sugar Club and with him opening The Providores. She bravely decided to open her own restaurant. A scary venture and not without it’s perils along the way. Whilest setting up The Modern Pantry, in Clerkenwell, Anna was told to ‘forget it’, ‘cut your losses’, before she even opened but I’m glad she has a persistent drive, that spurred her on, and so The Modern Pantry was born.

This was my second visit to The Friday Food Club, the first being the Mark Hix Takeover. So I knew I was in for a treat. They were generously hosting another dinner in support of the charity, Chance UK.  Anna had also given up her free time to help them raise some money. Friday Food Club hosts, Lee and Fiona are lovely, welcoming and fun. They have a beautiful historic flat and in Blackheath. I knew the way.

The usual Friday Food Club welcome a glass of de Chanceny Cremant de Loire Brut was accompanied by some Krupuk quail eggs with a chilli lime dipping sauce. Perfectly cooked little balls of quail egg covered in egg yolk and rolled in crumbled Krupuk and crispy deep fried. Krupuk? I hear you say, what if I said it is what prawn crackers are made from. Oh ahha I hear you say. So when deep fried they puff up around the egg, clever huh. The thick chilli lime dipping sauce coated and stuck to the krupuk so it reached your mouth without dripping off everywhere.

Sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette, spring onion, coriander with a smoked chilli sambal is a signature dish at The Modern Pantry. A softy fluffy omelette encasing flavoursome prawns, nudged into fusion with a smoky sambal. I have to say, I think prawns from the Pacific are some of the best in the world. They seem to have so much more flavour.

Pan fried cod, chorizo and clams, squid ink mash with samphire. This was my favourite dish of the evening. The squid ink mash not only looked interesting but tasted fantastically creamy with a hint of natural squid ink . Little clams from Cornwall, soft flakey cod, salty samphire and little bites of chorizo all holding their own big flavours but together not over powering each other.

I can’t think of a better way of getting your hands dirty than in a big sharing bowl of Singapore style wokked crab with Thai basil.  Big Cornish crabs wok cooked in a fantastic sauce of sweet palm sugar, soy sauce, sour tamarind, smoky pimento,and a hint of a chilli.  I love getting stuck into food like this. A little bit more chilli for me please.  Breaking the long crab arms to scoop out the sweet crab meat, it’s a voyage of discovery. The sauce/broth at the bottom of the bowl was too good to leave behind and I slurped it up with my dessert spoon. No one else at the table seemed to be interested in the bowl then. I sound like such a glut, but it would have been a crime to leave it behind.

A new spoon in hand and I was ready for dessert. Sticky coconut balls stuffed with umeboshi and palm sugar, coconut sorbet, tamarind caramel topped with micro red shiso leaves. What I like about Anna’s cooking as that it is never boring. Her coconut balls were filled with umeboshi, the japanese pickled plum sauce,  interesting but not my favourite dessert. In Japan umeboshi is commonly served as a condiment to rice or tucked in a rice ball wrapped in a nori sheet. The coconut sorbet complemented the sweet/sour caramel very well.

Anna describes her food as fusion, and she realizes that it’s not for everyone, but a style you should not dismiss. She certainly pushes the boundaries in terms of unusual flavours and textures, but she makes them work. If your a fusion fan, you will love Anna Hansen’s style of combining unusual flavours. If your not a fusion fan, why not? Don’t be boring, try something new.

Mark Hix at the Friday Food Club

A lucky last minute call from Lee of the Friday Food Club and I was on the train to Blackheath to have my dinner cooked by Mark Hix!  Yes, Mark Hix!If your not sure who Mark Hix is and wondering why I was so nervously excited, I’ve linked his website here.  Mark  has such a long, illustrious history in British food I would hate to miss anything out.

The Friday Food Club is very close to Blackheath station and in the apartment of Lee and Fiona Behan. Their bespoke apartment, the old GPO studios, was once and art hall, a film studio, a ‘hotel’ of sorts and home to the London recordings of  the WW2 bomb sirens. I was intrigued, needless to say, and completely in love with the old glass windows adorning their lounge come dining room

Mark, who had been there all day, and Lee were still busy in the kitchen.  Most people had eagerly arrived, 16 people in all.  I sat at our table to read about the reason Mark agreed to cook (aside from being friends with Lee),  Chance UK.

This is a London charity who aim to help reduce crime and antisocial behaviour in 5-11 year olds, by providing mentoring programmes.  Seems even more relevant since Lee and Fiona had their bicycle and golf clubs stolen from the entry to their flat the day before. All proceeds from the night went to Chance UK and Mark gave his night up for free as well. The first tasty morsel to arrive at our table was a Friday Food Club amuse bouche, Deep Fried Quails Eggs with an Asparagus Puree. These were delicious! The breadcrumbs had been well seasoned and crispy! The yolk meltingly soft. I loved it so much I had to copy the recipe from their website. (click here and you can have it too).

Mark brought the next dish to our table and had decided to sit with us for dinner. Popping up and down to the kitchen, he still managed to look relaxed as though he was just having friends round for dinnerHow beautiful does this sharing plate look! Full of duck, chicken and quail eggs, some shelled, some not, sitting on a bed of cress, adorned with baby fennel and chervil. To accompany this Lee had made loaves of white bread, homemade celery salt and mayonnaise.All the dishes of the evening were paired with wonderful wines, chosen by Phillip Mouche. The seasonal mixed eggs were paired with Cremant de Loire De Chancenay 2008, France.De Beauvoir smoked salmon ‘HIX cure’ with shaved fennel salad. A simple, delicately smoked salmon, served with a Sauvignon Blanc Domaine Pont du Livier 2009, Loire, France.  The most interesting aspect to this dish being that Mark smoked this salmon himself. Actually he smokes all the salmon for his restaurants!

He had us all gripped in his story about how he used to smoke it at home but trundling down the backyard with trays full of salmon at 3am was not a good idea. You will never guess where he has his smokers now….on the roof of Selfridges!!! I’m inspired, although there is the slight problem of the absence of a backyard or access to Selfridges roof. The main attraction was Pan Fried Ling with Summer Vegetables, paired with a Sancerre Domaine de la Rossignol 2009, Loire, France. The conversation then turned to the ling, a fish you rarely see on a menu and one alot of us had never tasted. It was cooked perfectly, as you would expect, with an interesting texture. It was a kind of chewy fish, not in a bad way, just unusual. I always love a bit of nutty butter drizzled over my fish too. The broad beans, peas, beans and pea shoots, very British, were a good example of the great produce we have here.

Mark, who is known for his strong support of British food, believes we should be sourcing our fish from small quality producers. I agree, this will thus support not only our environment and economy but encourage the ‘comeback’ of good British fare.Dessert was one you might remember from ‘The Great British Menu’ where Mark served this for a banquet hosted by Prince Charles.  Perry Jelly with Summer Fruits and elderflower ice cream, served with a Prosecco Rose Follador Di Valdobbiadene 2009, Col San Martino, Italy.  Delicious! seriously delicious, not an morsel left on anyones plate.  Lee had made the ice cream in his Gelato 3000, and wouldn’t I love one of those!  I think Lee can’t help but experiment with it because the ice cream was actually a rich custard, elderflower and raspberry ripple delight!

To finish the meal Mark and Lee served a selection of British cheeses with a Cote du Rhone Domaine Bouvachon Nomine 2008, Rhone (organic).  I was too busy taking the opportunity too have my photo taken with Mark, and too full to taste it for that matter. Then I spotted something very sweet!How cool are these chocolates! Made by a friend of Lee and Fiona’s, Angel, from Vintage Patisserie.

I didn’t leave empty handed either. I got a little cherry and ginger muffin to take home (a Friday Food Club regular gift), which came in handy for breakfast the next day. Chance UK also gave each of us a card, to say thanks.BUT that’s not all, I left with such a buzz, I had such a great time! Lee and Fiona are such wonderful hosts. They really looked like they were having a great time too. Mark was relaxed and it was lovely of him to sit at our table and join in our conversation and food, cured salmon, and how to build your own wood-fired oven.

I wish I could pop along to all the dinner’s Friday Food Club are planning (yes i know the chefs they have lined up to come over)! When they are not having fun inviting fantastic chefs to come and cook, Lee (who is a trained chef) does do dinner. I hear his food is superb. You will definitely have a good time, enjoying good food and fun company.