Food & Drink

How to make Treacle Sponge…

Steamed Treacle Sponge is an absolute classic of British desserts, along with Sussex Pond pudding, Lemon Meringue Pie, Queen of Puddings, Treacle tart and Spotted Dick–all of which probably sound desperately old fashioned and quaint to at least half the people who read this site. Which is a shame, really, because the British have been told that their own cuisine is bad and unsophisticated so long that they’re become even ashamed of their truly great recipes. Treacle Sponge is definitely one of those, and–it turns out–it’s also really easy to make. I got my mother to tell me the recipe she uses so that I could cook one for Cal, Paul, Amy, Yoz, Bob and Elina yesterday. Turned out perfectly, and I can tell you that’s not because of any substantial skill on my part.

Anyway, I thought I’d post the recipe on so some of you people could try it out. This will serve a double function. Firstly, I won’t forget it. Secondly, I’ll have posted something! Over the last eight years of writing here, I’ve pretty regularly come to a point where I get tongue-tied and clumsy and can’t get anything out of my head. Normally, this is because the things I want to write are rather more substantial than the time I have available for them. The longer I wait the higher the weight of expectation I put upon myself until I stop being able to write at all. The only way to break it is to write anything that comes to mind and not worry too much about quality. So here we go!

Equipment you’ll need:

  • A big bowl to mix stuff in
  • An electric whisk / mixer
  • A plastic heat-resistant bowl about eight inches across and six-eight inches deep
  • Silver foil or some kind (or a lid for the bowl)
  • A steamer or a saucepan big enough to fit the bowl in completely when placed on top of a saucer

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • 4 oz of self-raising flour (or one cup of all purpose flour plus a teaspoon or so of baking powder)
  • 4 oz of caster (or superfine) sugar
  • 4 oz (or one stick) of soft butter (properly soft, like you’d left it out for a good four or five hours)
  • 2 eggs
  • Golden Syrup

The actual preparation and cooking is amazingly simple. Get your flour, baking powder (if needed), caster sugar, butter and eggs in your big bowl and mix em up a bit, then pull our your whisk and have at them until they’re all smooth. Try not to dip your finger in the mixture as it tastes awesome and you won’t have any left.

Get your steamer simmering away gently with the lid on, grease the inside of your smaller plastic bowl with some butter, put three or so tablespoons of Golden Syrup in the bottom, then lay on your smooth mixture on top. A spatula will get out all the gooey bits. Grease up a bit of silver foil and wrap it around the top of your bowl to seal it (your bowl will only be about a third to half full), place it in the steamer, put the lid on the steamer and leave it for 90 minutes. Top up the water in the steamer about halfway through to make sure it doesn’t all boil away. If you’re running a bit late, another few minutes doesn’t hurt the sponge.

When you’re done, take the bowl out of the steamer, take off the foil, put a plate on top and turn the whole thing over. Get another couple of tablespoons of Golden Syrup and drizzle them over the sponge. And scarf like a mofo with a bucket of Bird’s Custard (easily preparable in a microwave if you’re lazy). Best dessert ever.

Food & Drink

Paul A Young's new shop in the Royal Exchange…

About eighteen months ago a couple of friends of mine started a chocolate shop in Islington and I wrote about it on Today–in about half an hour in fact–they’re opening their second branch near Bank tube station in the Royal Exchange! If you’re in the area you should definitely go and see how they’re doing. Say hi from me! The address is: 20 Royal Exchange, Threadneedle St, London EC3V 3LP and their official website is I offered my help in getting the place together on Sunday night, but to be honest they didn’t need me so I just sat around taking pictures of the chocolate-making process and letting my belly gurgle instead. You can see a couple below or go and see the full set over on Flickr.

Paul A Young Chocolates

Paul A Young Chocolates

Yum! Obviously, standard disclaimers apply: They didn’t ask me to write about them and I wouldn’t have done had they asked me to. They’re obviously friends, so I’m predisposed to like them and want them to do well. However, they really do make terribly nice things and I honestly feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t require you to go and try the Sea Salt Caramel. If you went along, tell me what you thought…

Food & Drink

On drinking Coca-Cola Blak…

Aha! Finally I’ve got my hands on some Coca-Cola Blak from Covent Garden’s amazing Cybercandy (along with some rather disturbing minty Malteser wannabes, three sugar mice and some chocolate Band Aids) and I have come to some initial conclusions. It is actually not so bad. It has a slightly weird smooth texture to it that feels more like coffee than Coke, is of course ridiculously sweet and feels a bit more adult than Coca-Cola, but not by much. I can’t imagine it’s going to sweep the world before it, but I don’t regret buying the six cans which I will be placing in my fridge and drinking whenever I need to feel a little tiny bit more classy than normal.

PS. I don’t know if this is going to mean anything to anyone, but it sort of reminds me of Camp Coffee, a weird chicory based syrup that I used to love a few years ago. Only fizzy.

Food & Drink

On Paul A Young's very fine chocolate shop…

It’s a little late for Easter, but I thought I should briefly mention a shop that a couple of friends of mine have set up in Islington. It sells the most glorious and award-winning chocolate that I’ve ever had the good luck to wrap my slathering mouth around. I’m not normally one for plugging stuff – too protective of the limited good name that I’ve managed to build up over the last ten thousand years of writing this crap – so please believe me when I say that this little shop is quite extraordinary and well worth a visit. No free chocolate was consumed before this post, other than the stuff that was available to all other passing punters. The shop is Paul A Young Fine Chocolates. It’s in Camden Passage in Islington, and features three chocolates that won prizes (one Gold and two Silvers) at the World Chocolate Awards at the 2005 Chocolate Festival. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will.

I don’t know how normal this is, but when I visited they were serving little cups of hot chocolate served as the Aztecs used to make it. Here’s some being poured for me by the lovely Paula Le Dieu, who doesn’t work in store, but may be tempted to abandon her successful technology career for a new life as an experimental chocolate-taster. God it was amazing. No milk or cream, but delivering an experience vaguely resembling having the dwarf star equivalent of pure burning chocolate injected directly into your heart. Awesome.

Food & Drink

Korean Barbeque comes to London…

I’m so out of practice in writing this thing that I hardly know where to start. The distractions of a new job and conference deadlines and life-organising rubbish have left my weblog lonely and forlorn. And – as usual – the longer you leave these things, the harder they become. Over the last few years I’ve really noticed that my ability to write comes and goes in cycles. Normally the way you break the low cycles is to talk about any old crap. You just get it out there and then the flow comes back. Which makes me think that maybe it’s a weird form of performance anxiety.

So I’ve decided to break this particular cycle of crapulence by talking about my latest London food discovery – Koba on Rathbone Street just north of Oxford Street. I went there a few weeks ago with Jones and Webb and assorted other fun hipster nerds, and liked it so much that I dragged Simon along the other night after work. I’ve only been to one Korean barbeque place before in London, and frankly it kind of sucked. But this one had all the thrill of having food cooked at your table, with some really extraordinary tastes and weird new sensations. Bloody lovely it was. Very much recommended.

We had a really weird starter this time – a mass of raw beef and raw pear joined up with raw eggs yolk, mixed together at the table. I’m not going to pretend that it was a totally joyful experience, but it was fascinating and I suspect I could get used to it. The meat was chilled to the point of having tiny ice crystals in it, and crunched with almost the same consistency as the tiny slivers of pear. Very strange. In the picture it looks a bit like it’s frying on some kind of warm skillet. But it’s not – it’s just a tasty mash of uncooked beef on a plate. I’m not sure eating totally uncooked beef or raw egg yolks is really enormously good for you, but there you go.

Everything else was enormously well cooked in front of our eyes – with an orgy of little sensory pleasures collapsing all over the place. Each type of meat was cooked slightly differently and deposited on our plates to be wrapped up in leaves with a little hot sauce and a mixture of spring onions. Rounds of bacon sizzled in soy sauce, spicy chicken bits cooked in moments, and tiny thin bits of beef were so delicately cooked that they practically evaporated in your mouth. And then there was the little octopi/octopodes that actually wiggled and twisted as they were cooked. Probably a bit weird for some of you, but it tasted pretty good.

So then a recommendation! Go to Koba. Stuff your face and let them guide you through the whole experience. It’s enormously good fun and – although I’ll probably get some unpleasant bowel disorder as a result – really really tasty. Check out Simon’s Flickr Photoset for more details.

And in the meantime, I’ve broken the block, written some old piece of rubbish to keep my hand in and now I’m going to go off and try and write something more useful instead…

Advertising Food & Drink

On marketing and focus groups in schools…

I’ve just been reading an article on a new fair trade chocolate bar that has been launched in the UK [Time Out : Shopping Guide]. All was well and good until I came up against this line:

“Hundreds of schools across the country have been involved in helping to design, taste test and name the new milk chocolate bar, Dubble, which at 35p is around half the price of other fair trade brands.”

I was suddenly horrified by this, as it reminded me of something I saw in No Logo – my current political bible:

“In the eyes of the brand managers, every lunchroom and classroom is a focus group waiting to be focused. So getting access to schools means more than just hawking product – it’s a bona fide, bargain-basement cool-hunting opportunity …

Perhaps the most infamous of these experiments occurred in 1998, when Coca-Cola ran a competition asking several schools to come up with a strategy for distributing Coke coupons to students. The school that devised the best promotional strategy would win $500. Greenbriar High School in Evans, Georgia, took the contest extremely seriously, calling an official Coke Day in late March during which all students came to school in Coca-Cola T-shirts, posed for a photograph in a formation spelling Coke, attended lectures given by Coca-Cola executives and learning about all things black and bubbly in their classes. It was a little piece of branding heaven until it came to the principal’s attention that in an act of hideous defiance, one Mike Cameron, a nineteen-year-old senior, had come to school wearing a T-shirt with a Pepsi logo. He was promptly suspended for the offense.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I honestly belief that marketing and focus-groups should be kept well away from schools – whether or not the product that is sold is environmentally friendly.

Food & Drink

On Barmen…

Barmen are alluring for three reasons. Firstly, they have to be nice to you. Secondly, they are often employed because they are physically attractive (although this could be a condition only in gay culture). Thirdly, they bring you alcohol if you ask them nicely.

Barmen are unobtainable for pretty much all of the reasons above. Firstly, they have to be nice to you. They don’t actually want to be, quite a lot of the time, or they’re tired, or they just resent having to be chirpy all the time. Secondly, they are often employed because they are physically attractive. Everyone knows that the more attractive a man is, then the more selective he can be, and the more unpleasantly arrogant he will become as a result. Thirdly, they bring you alcohol if you ask them nicely. And then they watch you get drunk, from afar, in a detached fashion. Possibly with an eyebrow raised.

I have a long history of being fascinated with barmen. Most recently, I have been trying to strike up a conversation with one of the barmen at Escape which sits beneath the Raymond Revue Bar in London’s Soho. I’m not particularly trying to nail him – I just think he looks cool. But the curse of being a barman is the ongoing assumption that everyone wants to shag you – and hence the complete inability to talk to anyone who, at first glance, you wouldn’t necessarily want to wake up (with a hangover) next to.

Having realised this, of course, my first thought was whether it might be possible to supplement my income with a part-time, day-a-week job behind a bar. But maybe that’s taking things too far.

Food & Drink

Tom's top ten restaurants…

So, I was supposed to go around for dinner at Nick’s house with Emma and John-Paul. However, somewhere along the line someone has forgotten about this fact, and now it is no longer happening, which leaves me at a loose end.

Tom’s top ten restaurants/bars in London:

  1. Maxwell’s (Hampstead) (now closed)
    At least one night in three I can be found sleazing around Maxwell’s. The food is decent and unpretentious and the cocktails are great. It helps that it is about a foot from my front door…

  2. Star Café (Soho)
    Absolutely the BEST place to go around Tottenham Court Road for lunch at the moment. I’m there pretty much every Monday lunchtime to help me get over the angst of working. Solid cheap food (pasta with meatballs) and a lively atmosphere.

  3. The Edge (Soho)
    A mixed crowd of young media deviants frequent this fun and many-floored bar. The food’s pretty good.

  4. Bar Tok (Chalk Farm)
    The live classical music can be a bit oppressive, but the decor is out of a Bond villian’s fantasies…

  5. The Yard (Soho)
    In the summer, there is no better early evening bar in Central London. You can stand outside and eye up the local talent with ease. It can be hard to get to the bar though…

  6. The Lansdowne (Primrose Hill)
    So it’s a bit media-friendly (Zoe Ball and Norman Cook were in there a while ago with Neil Morrissey), but it’s Nick’s local so I have an excuse. Also the food is good quality. Can get VERY crowded…

  7. Belgo’s (Covent Garden)
    I haven’t been in a while, but I always like it when I do. Cheap mussels, and hundreds of types of Belgian Beer…

  8. Retro Bar (Strand)
    The most indie-tastic gay venue in Central London feels a bit like a rowdy pub but with entertaining non-scene people…

  9. Yo! Sushi (Soho)
    If you like sushi, then you can’t go wrong here. A conveyer-belt brings it right under your nose, and it has a robot to bring you drinks. How cool is that!?

  10. Nando’s (All over London)
    OK. I know it’s trashy – but it is also the best cheap satisfying meal that you can get on a Saturday lunchtime or before a movie. Yum.