French and Grace (and a bit of Jay Rayner)

The tables were turning in more ways than one when I popped in to get my fill of Jay Rayner at French and Grace (Brixton Village) this Easter. This all came about from a challenge given to Jay by the editor of The Observer Magazine – the challenge was to make as much profit as possible from a mere £100. What with being a food critique and fan of Brixton Village himself, the natural conclusion of course was to devise, cook and serve a cheap but tasty Special to the ogling public (that includes me). Was this kind or crazy for the girls at French and Grace to accept?!?

Jay’s dish du jour was announced a few days before to “a bunch of people on Twitter who are so desperate for a distraction from their jobs that they will read anything” (again, that includes me) – Slow cooked Pork Belly with White Beans – sounds good to me.

Donned in chef whites and a Marco Pierre White-esque bandaner, Jay didn’t look 100% himself in the cosy kitchen, and understandably so for the service was a busy one and the punters were keen to converse. The kitchen is on full display and we were sat close enough to hear the chopping of knife on board and fat sizzling away in the pan.  I’m no stranger to the sensation after working in a french chalet with an open plan kitchen for 6 months, trying to juggle 6 pans, chit chat and children tugging at my apron strings. Alas, nothing that Rosie and Ellie (the founders of French and Grace) don’t have to contend with on a daily basis!

And so the food arrives. I went for the Pork Belly Special and my man chose the Uber Wrap, a Middle Eastern inspired dish with Lamb Merguez (spiced lamb sausage), Halloumi, Hummus and Salad in a flatbread.

The Pork Belly I have to say was really well cooked – gloriously tender meat, no knife needed here, with just the right amount of juicy fat. It was nicely caramelised so full of flavour, and the jus which was flavoured with thyme, oozed into the beans and brought the whole dish together.  Every bean on that plate was squashed to mop up the meaty pork sauce! A simple, no frills dish that was well executed.

I had a mouthful of the the mans Uber Wrap which was equally tasty.  The combination of lamb and halloumi is always a crowd pleaser and I thought the Merguez had a decent amount of spice.  The typical menu at French and Grace has a strong Middle Eastern theme with Mezze platters, Flatbread Wraps and other specials that change frequently.  I’m keen to return and sample more.

Big thanks to the team at French and Grace for a lovely lunch – I hope you enjoyed your post service drink!  Well deserved indeed.

Thit Heo Kho Trung (Braised Pork Belly in Pear Cider, Coconut Juice & Egg)

A comforting and indulgent Vietnamese dish, often cooked at New Year.  Traditionally kept on the stove top and reheated twice a day (add a little water if need to stop it being too salty). Recipe courtesy of Uyen Leluu.

Ingredients (serves 4)                                                                  

500g pork belly, chopped into inch or less cubes
5 shallots or 1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch black pepper
4 birds eye chillis, deseeded and finely chopped
1/2 bottle pear cider
1 can coconut juice
150ml coconut milk – optional (to thicken and make creamy)
12 quail eggs and/or 4 hen eggs
1 tbs coconut caramel
Three Crabs fish sauce to taste
pinch black pepper

Method

Remove the rind from the pork but leave some fatty bits.  Marinade in the blended shallots or onions, garlic, chilli and fish sauce.  Leave for at least half an hour.

Sweat off the shallots, add the meat to brown off, then pour in the pear cider and coconut juice.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Remove scum, cook on simmer.  Season with Three Crabs Fish Sauce to taste.

Meanwhile hard boil and peel eggs.  Add to the pot and simmer for at least 2 hours (4 is better).  If you want a creamy texture and taste, add coconut milk.  Make sure you have a good balance of sweet and savoury, add some black pepper and the coconut caramel for colouring.

Serve with steamed rice.  Also nice with a fried egg.