June 29 Update

An Amuse Bouche is the term we use for a small Appetizer, before the proper starter. Not only does it whet the appetite, it gives our guests time to mellow/chill over their first glass of Wine. Most restaurants offer a small appetizer nowadays, it also gives the kitchen time to get your starters (and main courses) going.

I like to change our Amuse Bouches depending on what you have ordered, that way, not everyone gets the same thing. Sometimes I like to offer two or even more small nibbles per person. I can do this because of our special All Inclusive System allows our guests to freely choose from the menu and sample Asiatic cuisine as good as we can prepare it. That means that the effort put in to our “Simple” dishes is lovingly the same as the effort put in to our “Signature” dishes. Because I do not need to make a margin profit on the food, I am free to prepare the dishes using the best available ingredients, which means a higher quality dish, whether it is Foie Gras or a simple Laotian Beef Salad.

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Above (from left to right) a very cold Tum Mak Deng “Soup” Shot, King Prawns and Sesame on Toasts and New Style Goong Che Nam Pla. The Tum Mak Deng Soup Shot is a pulverised version of the classic Laotian Tum, with Anchovies blended in to replace the Padek (which we keep for other dishes). It is refreshingly Garlicy and lightly Spicy. Its taste is reminiscent of Spanish “Gazpacho“, a chilled summer soup that has its roots in Andalucia. The King Prawn & Sesame on Toasts have been Deep-fried twice to make them more crispy. We Deep-fry them at 150ºC for a few minutes until pale gold in colour and then fry them at 180ºC before serving, you have to be careful not to over cook the Sesame seeds otherwise they will become bitter. The New Style Goong Che Nam Pla is one of our favourite pieces.

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As the evening wore on, I changed one of the appetisers to our remake of a Bloody Geisha, which is a Bloody Mary with Sake in place of Vodka, I added a twist in the tail by omitting the Tabasco and adding a dollop of Sriracha!… Nice…

The reason why the King Prawns & Sesame Toasts are served in a cone is because I was missing England´s good old Fish n´Chips, which the latter are sometimes served encased in a Newspaper cone…

(If any of you are wondering, it is freshly cut Cucumber that is wrapped around the shot glass. It is cut, wrapped around the glass and placed in the freezer for a few minutes, that way the glass is very chilled and the Cucumber is a little “Crunchy”)

With the appetisers out of the way, its time for the hot action to start.

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Saki at the Flames…

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Kham joins in to ensure that all our dishes arrive cooked and hot at the same time.

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Above, our Beef with Orange Vinegar which is now in its third evolution and is one of our “Test Dishes“. A Test Dish basically means that it is not ordered but given to the guest to see their reaction, if the reaction is positive, it stays on the menu, if otherwise, the recipe is retried with different combinations until, we think it has the right to be a part of the actual menu. Its always a case of “Quality” over “Quantity”.

June 24 Update

We love to prepare Asiatic “Canapés”. Not only are they easy to eat, they also look elegant and are a perfect accompaniment to a cold chilled glass of Cava.

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When sending out Warm Canapés “timing” is the key, everyone joins in.

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Up front are Squid Boulettes, lovingly made by Sen using fresh Squid and Cuttlefish. The texture is subtlety Chewy, the Boulettes even lightly bounce if you drop them on the work surface…

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Saki and Kuchi had a good time preparing our “TriColour” of Sushi.

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The Asparagus is lightly blanched so it retains Mother Nature´s intended “Crunchiness”. The Ura-Maki (Inside Out Roll, where the Nori is on the inside, and Rice on the outside) is presented with Salmon, Tuna and King Prawn, respectively known as Sake, Maguro and Ebi.

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Our New Style “Goong Che Nam Pla” is a great hit in the restaurant, and at times when we take it off the menu, we like to serve it as an Amouse Bouche.

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Only a small piece is served to tantalise the appetite.

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Coriander (Cilantro) Oil lends the dish its lovely colourful touch. The small dish can be prepared in advance and kept cold until needed, in fact it tastes better having been marinated for 20 minutes or so. Before serving we add a small amount of Caviar.

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Continuing the theme of King Prawns, below is a photo of our Black Sesame Prawn Satay, served with a small amount of Tamarind & Black Sesame sauce.

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Prawns are very easy to over cook, they just need a light grilling or a few seconds in a hot frying pan, otherwise they end up stringy and tough.

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Sen makes sure that the Prawns are cooked “En su punto”.

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There are some guests that don’t like the sight or Raw Beef, in this instant we like to offer our “Nahm Dtok”, which is a Larb Beef which has been grilled but still retains its glorious colour. The Lime Juice will quickly change the colour of raw meats (hence each portion has to be made “a la minute”), and when presented on time, the meat will be within the colour-change transition and still retain its tenderness.

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We love “Nahm Dtok” , its name adoringly simply translated as “Falling Water”, referring to the beef juices that drip out during grilling. Its like a Larb with a Charcoal overtone, we always make a little more than necessary, just so that we can eat what we don’t serve (trick of the trade!…lol)

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Our Salmon isn’t only used for Sushi & Sashimi. We like to grill it and serve it with Japanese style Fried Green Tea Soba Noodles. We remove the skin from the fillet after cooking, brush the fish with some Sweet Soy Sauce and top it with our Roasted Nori Flakes, thus creating a “Fake Skin” which will have a distinct almost “nutty” flavour, whilst we are doing that the real skin is placed back in to the pan and cooked until it is Crispy, we also serve this as a “Salmon Skin Cracker”.

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June 16 Update

Sen cooked up a very nice Larb Gai a few days ago. Sometimes we like to mince the Chicken first, by knife, not machine, other times we like to simply grill a Chicken Breast and thinly slice it. We love all Larbs, and the combination of herbs and spices make it a very satisfying, and simple dish. We always use lime juice instead of lemon, lime adds an accent to the finished dish that lemon can sometimes lack.

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The Larb is served on Crispy Yuca which has been seasoned with Sugar & Salt.

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King Prawns make a welcome addition to any “Yum” . We have been using Japanese Somen Noodles, which are great when served cold. They are easy to cook, and when plunged in to ice cold water they taste refreshing.

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Talking about King Prawns, one of our all time favourites is “Goong Che Nam Pla”.

In the Laocook Kitchen this dish has been reworked many times in one way or another, but appearance may change, but the ingredients remain the same.

Fresh Prawns are essential for this dish, and being near the coast, we have an abundant supply. If Raw Prawns are not to your taste, you can blanch them (ever so briefly) before hand. However, the succulent texture will be lost.

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Above is a version of the traditional recipe, where the fresh prawns have been cleaned and slit open. We found that presenting this dish in its authentic style raised a few eyebrows amongst our diners. Perhaps the thought of eating raw prawns put some people off.

We pondered over this for a while, because once tasted, the dish really speaks for itself.

Carpaccios is well accepted in the west and involve very thin slices of raw beef or fish, drizzled with Olive Oil, Lemon and other combinations.

I wanted people to taste our “Goong Che Nam Pla”, to appreciate its fine texture and flavours, so I decided to present the King Prawns as a “Carpaccio”. The idea worked and Láminas de Langostinos al “Nam Pla” (Nam Pla King Prawn “Sheets”) is now one of our “best sellers”.

Garlic, which is an essential ingredient, can sometimes be too over powering. In the original dish, it is either thinly sliced or chopped and added “raw” to the prawns. I decided to make the Nam Pla sauce, and infuse it with bruised garlic for about 20 minutes, just to get the “hint” of the bulb. A Carpaccio is not the same without some added Oil, and through my testing phases, we found that Olive Oil was too over powering, hence we ended up using Coriander, Roasted Shallot and Grapeseed Oil instead.

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Paper thin slices of fresh King Prawns are briefly Marinated “a la Minute” with the Nam Pla sauce before the oil mixture is added. The Nam Pla sauce in effect “cooks” the raw slices and also renders the meat tender and releases an inherent sweetness, it is best “marinated” for only a few minutes before serving.

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An aromatic body and depth is added with the Roasted Shallots, that have been slow cooked to relieve them of their pungent sharpness. What is left is a dish with complex flavours of the sea that are sweet, soft and earthly all at the same time.

We have worked hard on this dish, it has taken 10 months in its evolution and when we finally get down to measuring the ingredients (yes, we work on taste, in a Vote system, we make it, 4 of us try it and if all agree, it is good, if even one of us disagrees, we remake it until we get it right and all of us agree) we will post it in the Recipes Section. Why?, because Lao Food & Cuisine is all about SHARING….

:)

The Boat Landing

Our friends at The Boat Landing Guest House & Restaurant based in Luang Namtha, in the North West region of Laos have given us their kind permission to recreate some of their dishes that are featured in their restaurant.

This Eco-Lodge is well situated for those looking to discover, or rediscover unspoilt, rural and authentic Laotian lifestyle, set in the backdrops of the various Nature Reserves and Protected Areas that surround the area.

Their wide menu features traditional Laotian fare and also includes Vegetarian dishes. The Boat Landing has 6 wonderful recipes on their site, and we have taken 2 and recreated them in our kitchens. Take a look at the Original Recipes, they are explained in easy-to-follow steps.

Deconstructed Boat Landing “Aw Lam” (Lao Stew)

It took quite a while to take this recipe and look at it in various compositions. We couldnt get some of the ingredients, like Thai Eggplants or Saw Tooth Herb, so we used Aubergines and other Spanish Vegetables.

The Sticky Rice base is a must, that ensures that the sauce “holds together”.

What we basically did is blend the idea of Aw Lam with a Burger, sounds strange but it is not as it seems.

Pounded with a Pestle & Mortar are Lemon Grass Whites, Chilli, Holy Basil Leaves and Roasted Aubergine which are then are stuffed in to a minced Chicken “Patty”, which is then steamed. We like the taste of Roasted Aubergines and use them when we can. The sauce is enriched with lots of Dill, Spanish Parsley and Coriander. A pleasant surprise awaits when the dish is eaten, when you cut in to the Chicken Patty, the wonderful aroma of cooked herbs fill the air. We serve the sauce separately.

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The whole idea of deconstructing a dish to separarate the “layers”, rebuild it at the same time being careful not to take away the original taste.

New Style Boat Landing “Lahp Tofu”

We were very excited about this recipe. We all love Tofu and Lahp, to have them together sounded like an opportunity not to be missed. We started by making The Boat Landing´s recipe, with all the ingredients except the Banana Blossom. In our first trial versions we added diced Red and Yellow Peppers and Shredded Lime Leaves, which added a real Summer touch to the dish. Finally we settled on a combination of the original recipe with a few added ingredients. The Lahp is served on a chilled piece of steamed Courgette & Tofu Ring.

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We first cut the Tofu in to cubes, dusted them with cornflour and deep fried them (this is a Japanese technique), we also used Spring Onion Tails and Shallots.

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This is a great Summer dish to be enjoyed chilled. Just before serving we add some Mint/Coriander Oil Vinaigrette, just to give it a little Mediterranean touch.

We hope that we have done justice to the Original Recipes supplied by Dorothy Culloty and The Boat Landing.

Work is still continuing on a Deconstructed Lahp Tofu theme, which we will advise you of when it is complete and tried on Human Test Subjects…

;)

;)

VTE Revisited and Laocook Coconut “Risotto”

King wanted to make a Documentary of our visit to VTE. So he hired a cameraman and we set off on a day of sightseeing, eating and shopping, with the poor cameraman on tow.

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King explains the origins, historical and sentimental aspects of the “That Luang“.

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There is always someone seeking the attention of the camera…

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Laurene with the Patuxay Monument towering behind.

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Looking for some snacks we headed of through a maze of back roads until we reached a short dirt track were 4 or 5 makeshift BBQ Shops were selling their specialties.

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Hmmm, nothing better than Pork “Organs” and tails to get afternoon going…

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Back to the Present.

I have a foundness for a well cooked Risotto. The rice should be “chewy”, and the texture creamy. Though we do not use Italian rice in our cooking, I have taken the concept and use Jasmine rice with Coconut Milk and Coriander.

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Above, Fillets of Fish on Coconut Laotian “Risotto” with Spicy Lime/Tomato Sauce.

The rice is very easy to make, and should not be rushed. You will need…

Cooked Jasmine Rice (enough for two person, depends on how much you eat!)

Coconut Milk (we use Arroy D in 400ml)

Sugar (to taste)

Lime Juice (to taste)

Fish Sauce (dash)

Mushroom Soy Sauce

Finely Chopped Fresh Coriander

In a saucepan, add about 50ml of Coconut Milk, a teaspoon of Sugar, dash of Fish Sauce and Mushroom Soy Sauce, gentley warm, but dont allow to boil.

Add the Rice and mix well. The Rice will soak up nearly all of the Coconut Milk, so make sure you mix contantly. The idea is to get the warmed Coconut mixture to heat the rice. When the Rice has absorbed nearly all of the mixture, add another 50ml of Coconut Milk and a teaspoon of Sugar. Mix well. Repeat again, this time adding some Mushroom Soy Sauce to personal taste.

Just when you are about to serve, squeeze in some fresh Lime Juice (you can also add grated Lime Zest), adjust the taste with some sugar if it is too sour or salty, remember to be constantly mixing the rice all the time. You have to work pretty fast during the last stages, if you find that the Coconut Milk is being absorbed too quick, turn the heat down and add a few more tablespoons of Coconut Milk. Finally add the chopped Coriander, mix once more and serve.

The taste should be a lighty tangy/sweet Coconut scented creamy Rice. Eat quickly as the rice will harden when cooled.

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When we were kids we we taught “never to play with fire”. Glad to say that we have grown up.

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Hot work on the Teppan Table.

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Life is a Beach, Feria and A Sweet Tooth

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The calling of the sea draws members of the LC Team out. Nothing beats a good hot day, nice sand and clear sea.

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Kham shows that Laotian can play Football.

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A Feria in Spanish means a Local Festival (could be translated as “Boun” in Laotian). It seems that every town has its own unique Feria and reason to celebrate. The Spanish like to take full advantage of parties and reasons to eat and dance, and they make a very special effort when it comes to the Feria. The colourful dresses, flamenco music and smell of cooking Tapas is an incredible one, and has to be experienced to be understood.

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Laurene enjoys an afternoon at Sanlucar´s Feria, perhaps one of the most enchanting Ferias within the region.

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Singing, Eating and Dancing go hand in hand at the Ferias, which last for about 4 days, 24 hours a day.

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Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, the boys are preparing the evenings dinner.

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Rose of Tuna from the Almadraba, its so soft, you would think that you are eating Velvet.

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King at his Table.

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Above, one of our selection of Starters, including New Style Goong Che Nam Pla, a Squid Yum and the mandatory Mini Rolls.

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A good Laotian Tomato Chutney is hard to beat. Our friend Manivan has a great recipe on her site. Grilling (or blackening) the vegetables brings out loads of flavours and aromas.

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Grilled Fish with Laotian Tomato Chutney, Tamarind Sauce and Roasted Limes.

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Our deserts are the fruits of many ideas, and they are prepared lovingly by our Pastry section. As with most dishes, ideas are thrown about, flavours respected and matched with fresh suggestions. Our Pastry Team is led by Japanese Chef Aki and French counterpart Pascal. The deserts, like our menu are changed every 48 hours, so it keeps everyone on their toes.

(Above, Passion Fruit & Mango Mousse Under Minestrone of Fresh Fruits.)

Everyone knows that Rice plays an important role in Laotian food. We cannot dream of a meal that wouldn’t include Rice (or Noodles). When we look at deserts featuring rice, coconut springs to mind, after that Milk. Milk Rice Pudding is wonderfully creamy, and when you use Soya Milk, the taste becomes its own.

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Our Creamy Soya Milk Rice Pudding with Apples, Crumble (that would be the British in me speaking) with Calvados Ice Cream (French Apple Brandy) with Dried Apple. It is served cold, the rice “al dente” to retain its natural texture, the rich Milk Pudding and Sweet Ice Cream add a cool softness.

Pon Pla

Today I asked the A-Team to think of a dish that reminds them of home. Kham got a bit excited and wanted to make Pon Pla, a dish using cooked fish, aromatic herbs and a touch of Padek to lift it. It is all assembled with a Pestle and Mortar, something that we consider the foundation of home cooking. Always thinking, we decided to go ahead with his idea and add a little Laocook touch. The result became a sandwich of East meets West, or in this case, Laos meets Spain.

The Spanish are fond of grilled fish, simply seasoned with Sea Salt and served with a Garlic , Parley and Olive Oil (salsa Verde). What better way to introduce Pon Pla to our diners!.

The Pon Pla is made with Sea Bream, which is abundant in our coastal waters. Roasted Aubergines, Onions and Garlic give the dish body. Padek “Jus” lends a Laotian touch. Fillets of the fish are grilled in the Spanish custom, next a layer of Pon Pla (lovingly made by Kham) followed by another fillet. Instead of the Salsa Verde, I have used Pan Roasted Garlic with Mushroom Soy Sauce, Coriander Leaves, Coriander Oil, Red Peppers and Grapeseed Oil.

This was our recommended dish this evening, to be washed down with a cool Chardonnay…

Welcome to Junior and Team Work

The A-Team offer a warm welcome to our newest member, Junior.

Junior is Lao/French, hails from Paris and has previously worked with my family in the UK. He joins the team under the supervision of King, who will be teaching him techniques for the Teppanyaki Table.

Saki, Kuchi, King and Junior behind our Sushi Bar.

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Like in every professional Kitchen, every cook depends on his or her colleagues. Timing is essential. Every cook knows his responsibility and understands that he is a vital component in the chain of events that will lead up to the final dish.

During the hours of Service, we all speak an unwritten language, we all understand each others gestures, if the whole scene were to be played out in silence, the end result would be the same. Team Work is the key and underlining current that defines the Laocook Team.

Above, we start the assembly of the dishes.

Kham and I continue. The plates are hot and each element of the dish is has been separately cooked and timed to arrive at the right moment.

The four dishes (still hot) are almost ready to go.

A lovely piece of Sword Fish “Toro” which has been sealed sits on top of individual crispy Sweet Potato Chips, Blanched Young Asparagus crowns the dish and adds a vibrant colour.

The finishing touches have been added and a Spicy Tamarind Sauce is carefully spooned over the fish and the dish is ready to go.

King selects only the best cuts of Beef taken from the Tenderloin or “Solomillo”.

Whilst the Beef is being seared over a very hot grill, the rest of the team prepare the dishes. The Beef will be served within a Crispy Potato Ring, painstakingly made by Kuchi.

Each cook knows his task and everything is carefully slotted in to place.

The dish looks simple and elegant, but a pleasant surprise awaits the diner. When the diner cuts in to the food, a warm Heavy Coconut Sauce with Red Spice will ooze out. Enclosed within the Crispy Potato Ring are Sesame Oil Blanched Pak Choi Leaves (not stalks) with Onion and Baby Spinach Leaves (mixed with Oyster Sauce, Sugar and Light Soy Sauce). On top of the leaves are Vinegared Mushrooms, Butter Fried Young Carrots and a Garlic Confit Clove. The Beef has been seared and is served Medium Rare and Pan Fried Foie Gras rests on top.

Though we love to prepare simple dishes with minimum fuss, sometimes we just “let loose” and like to combine various flavours and textures. The dish has been thoroughly thought out. The “Crispness” of the Potato Ring is a contrast to the “Softness” of the Leaves, whilst the “Tang” of the soured Mushrooms cuts the “Fattiness” of the Foie Gras, the Carrots and Beef add texture and body, the Garlic Confit adds a welcome pungent element which is all bound together with the Coconut Sauce.

With so many ingredients to put together, each one having been individually cooked, you can see how Team Work plays an important part in our job. It has taken a matter of seconds for the dish to go from start to finish, all the time the plate remains hot and the ingredients “at their point” or “en su punto”.

Every day during our Morning Meetings we share ideas, some are good, some are great and some never make it on to paper. Sometimes we come up with an idea that is too good to waste. We work on it, test it, eat it, bin it, then try again. Only when we think that it is good enough to be presented do we put it on our menu.

Next time you go to eat at an elegant restaurant, spare a moment to think about what goes on behind the “swinging doors” that separate the restaurant from the kitchen, if your cooks have put in half of the Effort, Team Work and Love that we do, you are guaranteed a memorable meal. :)

“I love it when a plan comes together!”. 

The late George Peppard as Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, leader of the Original A-Team.

3 May Update: Cádiz, Fresh Rolls & Yum, Pla Choo Chee

During our spare time, we like to either sleep, party or get out and about. Cádiz, the ancient (and oldest City in Europe)Capital of the Province is only a short drive away. It is said that the coastal town was the birthplace of Fish & Chips, (I am sure that the British would have something to say about that!.). However, the fried fish and seafood around the town are very tasty indeed.

Sen chills out in Càdiz. You can always tell who is Lao, its bright (note the sunglasses), sunny and extremely hot (note the JACKET!!!)…

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Work continues in our kitchens. We had a delivery of live Lobsters and decided to make some Fresh Spring Rolls with them. We like to add crispy vegetables and some Japanese Somen Noodles. The sauce is punctured with Lime Juice to give it a nice tang.

We serve the rolls with a very summery “Yum” of Squid with Pineapple and Apples. We like paring foods with fruits, the combinations are endless and very refreshing.

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Pla Choo Chee is a Thai recipe which we have reworked. There are many recipes for the dish, but what they all have in common is Fish, Coconut Milk, Red Curry Spice and Shredded Lime Leaves. Most times the recipe calls for the fish to be cooked in the sauce, much like a curry, however, we find that grilling the fish skin side down and adding the concentrated sauce after brings out more flavour and stops the fish from breaking up.

Grilling the fish skin side down over a moderate heat with a little oil makes the skin crispy. Though the otherside is “raw” it will continue to “cook” on the warm dish (placing the hot fillets on top of eachother also helps) and by the time it arrives to the table, it will be “en su punto”.

I have added Sesame Oil Blanched Pak Choi Leaves with and Tiger Prawns to give the dish a more appealing look, flavour and texture.

The montage is quite a balancing trick, which I am assured the waitresses look forward to…

Finally the Choo Chee sauce is carefully spooned around the dish. To get a good consistancy for the sauce, it should be cooked over a slow flame and only seasoned just before serving. Finally sprinkle the dish with finely chopped Lime Leaves.