Le Pain Quotidien – and more of London

You *are* being watched *

And so we walked… and walked…. and walked. I guess that’s what you do on holidays when you actually want to see some of the city. In London it’s pretty easy to get into a rat like mentality. Using the tube system it’s pretty easy to stay underground all day and only pop up in a few places. Super convenient once you get used to where to change lines and how not to get your arm caught in the doors, but not the best way to see the sites.

So we strolled through town, down Regent Street, and Oxford St, though we did not pass go, and did not collect $200 (and there is no such thing as free parking). Then down past the horse guards and over the bridge to the London Eye. Being one of the touristy things I figured I should do, we bit the bullet and got in line. 30 minutes and a couple of cavity searches later we were at the top. Surveying the shabby historic beauty that is London.

Le Pain Quotidien Swirly

With a fierce hunger now brewing but no idea where good food was to be found in Southbank we did a little divining and ended up at Le Pain Quotidien, which looked like a chain, but an up market one. Turns out they are a chain, and in fact have stores in most of the known world… including Australia.

The basic premise at Le Pain Quotidien is quality bread, made on the premises from organic flour, and shareable plates of organic charcuterie and other tastiness. Founder Alain Coumont was apparently a Belgian chef dissatisfied with his choice of bread to serve in his restaurant, so he ended up developing his own loaf and then opening a bakery. From humble beginnings it’s now spread to 10 countries and many stores.

So I went for a simple charcuterie plate loaded with hams, prosciutto, sausage, bread, sun dried tomatoes, pickled veges, and olive. Just what I was after, and a lovely way to relax after a long walk, with a delicious glass of Ch√Ęteau Couronneau Bordeaux to wash it all down.

Probably highly presumptuous, but this may have been my most enjoyable experience in a franchised establishment to date… which normally exude a cold sterile vibe that makes me want to wash myself with steel wool.

Le Pain Quotidien
Royal Festival Hall
Festival Terrace, Southbank Centre
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX
Tel.: 0207 486 6154

Our next destinations were more snapshots of the city. We went to Camden and checked out the infinite row of piercing places and enjoyed the parade of Camden Leisure Pirates swaggering about. A peak through Camden Markets unveiled rows and rows of crap, and then even more crap hidden behind that crap. I did particularly like the “Chinese Food All Mixed Together” sign hanging above a particularly fine example of salmonella fodder, but yes was strong enough to resist the lure of cheap greasy nasty looking food.

We then hopped back on the tube and jumped off at Covent Garden. I forget why, but Amanda said there were some nice places there. Though the only one we actually ended up going into was the Australian Shop, so Amanda could buy twisties… which apparently are no readily available in the UK (the horror).

More walking and now it’s getting late and we pick up another Perth ex-pat, my friend Sam, who proceeds to lead us on another merry dance through the streets once more. Giving the seedy Soho by night tour that every tourist really wants but doesn’t know how to ask for.

A chance to see the London Eye by night as we cross back over the bridge, and then meander our way towards The Cut near Southwark to try our luck with some of Davy’s recommendations. Sadly we couldn’t get in to most of the places on the street as they were completely packed on a Thursday night and not taking bookings meant we were out of luck.

So then, we made our way via Black Cab to Farringdon Road to check out The Eagle, the original gastropub… which is where the story will continue shortly…

The Manwich

Manwich

This one is gonna be a quicky because most blokes aren’t overly fussed on details. In short, here is my version of the kind of meal every self respecting Aussie guy should be able to create without looking like a complete pansy.

I made these the other night when some mates came around to play poker, drink whisky, and smoke cigars… Despite the fact that extensive effort actually went into preparing the food, we managed to have just the right balance of meat, alcohol, gambling, and smoke to make sure we stayed out of the “more than likely gay” category normally reserved for guys that can cook (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The Manwich

  • Steak – the thicker the better
  • Bread – the thicker the better
  • Bacon – the thicker and fattier the better (ok maybe not)
  • Eggs
  • Lebanese Cucumber
  • Cos Lettuce
  • Spiced fruit chutney (I used chilli chutney)
  • Japanese (kewpi) mayonnaise
  • cheeeeese (slices of Jarlsberg are nice, or whatever you got)
  • Onions

Instructions are for wimps of course, but I will humor those of you out there who need a little direction.

Take some nice thick slices of bread. I actually made these twice in a row, the first time around with lebanese bread rolls, and the second time with thick slices from a loaf of soft Italian bread. Whichever kind of bread you use, just made sure you don’t overdo the toasting. I put both into the oven for a little crisping and managed to leave the turkish bread in for too long, meaning the gambling took a back seat to some concentrated chewing to get through the outer shell.

The only other important thing is the steak. The steak must be cooked to perfection. It doesn’t matter so much which cut you use, but it has to be melt in your mouth soft and juicy. I used both a thick rump steak, and a porterhouse steak for my efforts, following my same steak cooking technique for both.

Season the steak well with sea salt (Maldon salt flakes) and cracked pepper, and a generous libation of extra virgin olive oil. Leave it to sit for a little while and then straight into a hot pan. Now is where you need to be careful and not just let it sit there frying itself to a sad dry crisp.

Using your fingers, give the steak a poke and see how much it bounces back to you. I’ve heard two tricks for measuring doneness. First one is to touch your thumb to your forefinger, second finger, and pinky finger, and then touch the palm of your hand next to your thumb. The feeling of your palm as you change fingers from forefinger to pinky, is roughly like the difference between rare and well done.

Gordon Ramsey does a similar test by touching your cheek, chin, and forehead with the tips of your fingers, and equates rare, medium rare, and well done to the softness and bounce of each of those… but if you’ve got a chubby face and/or no chin… you might be in trouble (ala me :|).

So… once your steak is cooked to your level of doneness (which is hopefully between rare and medium rare), take it out and put it on a plate to rest. Resting is absolutely crucial in making sure your steak is as juicy and tender as it can be. The meat needs time to relax and let the juices flow through it. If you cut it up straight away they are all going to drain away and you’ll be left with a dry taudry mess.

When the steak has rested for a good 10 minutes or so, slice it up into lovely pieces, and get the rest of your ingredients ready.

The bacon would best be grilled for crispiness, and the eggs fried however you like them. My trick is to just crack them into a non stick fry pan, add a few tablespoons of water, and put the lid on. Perfect fried eggs in no time at all.

The only other thing to do is caramelise the onions in a fry pan with a couple of tablespoons of raw sugar and a little butter or olive oil.

Cooking done, just assemble all the bits together. My layering went.

Bread (with chilli pickle spread)
Lettuce
Cucumber
Steak
Onions
Bacon
Cheese
Egg
Bread (with japanese mayonnaise)

Now the only challenge left is being manly enough to eat it with your hands without picking bits out… I call that decadence wrapped in bread.

Manwich take 2