Plum Valley Restaurant, Chinatown

I’m a creature of habit. I not only frequent the same restaurants, but I also order the exact same thing most of the time. Unsurprisingly, I have my list of favourite Chinese/dim sum restaurants in London. In fact, I don’t think I have tried dim sum at any place that isn’t on that list in recent years.

Having said that, I do like discovering other good restaurants, and had the opportunity to do so recently, courtesy of Cox and Kings. Cox and Kings are one of the world’s oldest travel companies, and pride themselves on specialising in high quality cultural (both group and private) holidays all over the world. In particular, they have a wonderful selection of holidays to China (a country I am yet to explore!). In line with the whole “China” theme, they invited a group of bloggers to review a selection of restaurants in Chinatown – with the aim of showcasing the range and standard of Chinatown eateries.

So this is how I ended up at Plum Valley.

Plum Valley offer both an a la carte and dim sum menu, but we chose the latter as it would allow us to sample a wider variety of their dishes. It also enabled me to perform a fairer assessment of the food, as dim sum offerings tend to be fairly standard (with a few exceptions, naturally!)

plum valley har kau

Prawn dumplings (Har kau). These steamed dumplings are a dim sum staple, and are personally a must order for me, especially in a new restaurant. These were good, with thin skins and a succulent prawn filling.

plum valley siu mai

Pork & prawn dumplings (Siu mai). Whilst the prawn dumplings were good, the siu mai unfortunately fell a little short. The pork used for the dumpling fillings seemed a tad too gelatinous, which resulted in a rather chewy texture.

plum valley black cod dumpling

Black cod dumplings. I was intrigued by these, as it was something that’s not seen commonly on dim sum menus. I was rather excited when they came to the table, as they looked rather intricate and pretty! Unfortunately they did not taste as good as they looked – the dumpling skin was very doughy, which led to a rather sandy texture. The black cod filling also seemed to be slightly overcooked. A shame, because this held much promise.

plum valley crispy eel cheung fun

Crispy eel cheung fun. I am a huge fan of contrasting textures, and this certainly delivered. The crispy fried eel worked well with the soft cheung fun – although it admittedly tasted a little more Japanese than Chinese!

plum valley scallop dumpling

Scallop dumplings. I was surprised to see them using some gold leaf on the top of these – pretty yes, but rather un-Chinese really. These tasted fine, but I would have preferred a larger piece of scallop – I suspect a whole scallop had been sliced into three to top these, which is a little stingy. I would prefer to pay more and get a whole scallop, but perhaps that is just my greed talking.

plum valley chicken feet in black bean sauce

Chicken feet in black bean sauce. This was cooked well, and had good flavour.

plum valley venison yam puff

Venison yam puffs. A slight tweak on the classic yam puffs. The ‘yam puff’ bit was rather well executed, but the venison filling lacked that ‘oomph’ I was hoping for.

plum valley xo fried rice

XO fried rice. The humble fried rice, which should be easy to whip up, is in reality quite a hard dish to get right. One of the most important aspects of any wok-fried dish is something called ‘wok hei’, which not-so-literally translates to “breath of the wok”. This dish had plenty of this, and was something I’d order again. Doesn’t look like much, but it delivered on taste.

A quick note on other aspects of the restaurant: Service (which is often poor or non-existent in many Chinatown restaurants) was actually pretty good – the food arrived in good time, and all requests were promptly dealt with.

Lastly, decor was fairly modern, with a decent amount of space between the tables. A little too posh perhaps, but in all fairness they market themselves as a ‘fine dining’ restaurant. I would have preferred it if the dining area was slightly better lit though – this is purely a personal preference stemming from the fact that I never saw a dimly lit Chinese restaurant growing up!

pplum valley dim sum

So yes – there were highs and lows of the meal. I cannot say I would rush back to dine here, but I would not rule out returning to try other offerings on their menu. At the end of it all, I feel that the quality of food is similar to the other Chinatown restaurants I have tried – but I maintain that better dim sum can be found outside Chinatown itself.

plum valley

Plum Valley
20 Gerrard Street
Chinatown
London W1D 6JQ

Disclaimer: I dined at Plum Valley courtesy of Cox and Kings, and also received a wine voucher as a token of appreciation. However, all views expressed above are my own. This review will also be published in ‘Compass’, their in-house travel magazine.

[instagrammed] – Asparagus & avocado pasta

avocado asparagus pasta

I almost forgot about my grand plans to chip at the backlog with some ‘instagrammed’ posts.. So here’s one.

This asparagus & avocado pasta is something I’ve made many (many) times, especially on a weekday when I cannot be bothered to make something too involved. Am so glad I happened to have both asparagus and avocado in my fridge at some point, or I might have never discovered this delightful combination.

You can find me on instagram as @breadetbutter – where I post a lot more regularly than I do here. ;)

Asparagus & avocado pasta
Serves 2 (generously)

  • 250g pasta of your choice (I usually use linguini or spaghetti)
  • 2 avocados
  • 150g asparagus (I use asparagus tips), cut into 1cm lengths
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Bunch coriander (approx 30g)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
1. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. 1 minute before the pasta is done, add the asparagus to the pan. When draining the pasta, reserve some of the pasta cooking water – you may need it later.
2. Whilst pasta is cooking, halve and peel the avocados. Chop one avocado into small 1cm cubes, and the other into larger chunks.
3. Place the large chunks of avocado into a blender, along with the coriander, lime juice, and olive oil. Blend until it forms a thick smooth paste.
4. Place drained pasta and asparagus back into the (same) pan you were using earlier. Add the blended avocado mixture. The mixture may be quite thick and gloppy, if so, add some pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired sauce consistency. The sauce should coat every strand of pasta.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
6. Serve pasta onto plates. Top with small cubes of avocado. Other ingredients you can use are pine nuts, extra coriander, sesame seeds, chilli flakes.. An endless list really! Drizzle with some olive oil (if you wish), and eat.

Chocolate chip cookies – without chocolate chips!

It’s been a while. However I don’t think I shall launch into my “I have been a terrible blogger lately” ramble, as it’s all becoming rather repetitive!

So let me get right down to it.

Lindt Hello range

I recently received some chocolate balls from Lindt’s new “Hello” range. As I have yet to see in stores, I was naturally excited to try these out. My first thought was “I love the packaging”. It deviates slightly from the more formal packaging of other Lindt products, but I like the playfulness of these – and really, it would be nice to give someone a thank you gift which says “Hello, just wanna say thank you” wouldn’t it? Sure it’s a little bit cheesy, but we need cheesy in our lives sometimes.

Lindt crispy balls

I tried the “Crispy balls” and the “Chocolate balls” from this range. Now I should say that I absolutely LOVE Lindt’s Lindor balls, but these crispy little balls are my new favourite. Crunchy pastry balls, coated in chocolate and hazelnuts, rolled in cocoa powder to finish. They taste similar to Maltesers, but I think they are better. It’s the hazelnuts that do it – think a crunchy Nutella chocolate ball. So good!

Lindt chocolate balls

The chocolate balls (nougat crunch & cookies and cream) were also good, but a little too sweet for my taste. They’re great for a quick sugar hit, but I found that I couldn’t really eat more than one at a go. And I like eating more than one in a go. The packaging of this was brilliant though, as you can open the box without needing to untie the ribbon – meaning the box looks pretty all the time.

As I found the chocolate balls a little too sweet, I decided to experiment and use them as “chocolate chips”. I simply chopped the balls up into small chunks, and substituted them into a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Thankfully it worked out pretty well. (Phew).

chocolate ball cookies 2

chocolate ball cookies 5 copy

Please excuse the terrible photo – I was too lazy to arrange everything prettily, thus the use of the ugly chopping board/horrendous lighting. 

I used a mix of chocolate balls and crispy balls – the crispy balls didn’t retain as much of their crispiness once baked, but the chocolate balls were perfect. I’ve modified the recipe below to only include the chocolate balls.

I thought I’d be a little bit adventurous and stray from my usual chocolate cookie recipe, and tried out one of Nigella’s. Interestingly, my cookies came out more crunchy than chewy (the recipe stated that this was a fudgy chewy cookie, with and edge of crisp bite). I suspect my cookies were a little smaller than hers, which might explain it. Still good though.

chocolate ball cookies 4
Chocolate “ball” cookies
Adapted from a recipe in Kitchen, by Nigella Lawson
Makes 20 cookies, measuring approximately 2″ diameter

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 80g soft brown sugar
  • 80g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk, fridge cold
  • 300g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 300g Lindt chocolate balls, chopped into 1cm chunks
  • 100g chopped nuts (I used almonds)

1. Preheat the oven to 170′C.
2. Melt the butter, and let it cool slightly. I used a microwave to melt the butter, but you can do it on the stove if you wish.
3. Place the brown and caster sugar into the bowl of your stand mixer. Pout the melted butter over the sugars, and beat with the paddle attachment until just combined. (Or use a regular hand held mixer)
4. Add the vanilla extract, cold egg + egg yolk. Beat until the mixture is light and creamy.
5. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda to the bowl in two parts, mixing until just combined.
6. Carefully fold in the chopped chocolate balls and chopped nuts.
7. Shape the cookies into mounds of dough, and place on a parchment lined baking tray.(You can use an ice cream scoop/a spoon/measuring cup to do this, depending on how large/small you want your cookies to be.) Leave at least 5cm between the mounds as they will spread whilst cooking.
8. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until edges are lightly toasted.
9. Cool slightly on baking rack, then enjoy!

chocolate ball cookies 1

chocolate ball cookies 3
Disclaimer: I received the review samples courtesy of Lindt, but all the views expressed above are my own. 

Non watermarked photos are courtesy of Lindt.

Chinese New Year: Almond cookies, with crunch!

Most Malaysians equate Chinese New Year with a few important things = family, friends, FOOD, and well, food. And let’s face it, it wouldn’t be Chinese New Year without all those typical CNY cookies – pineapple tarts, peanut cookies… and so forth.

I made some almond cookies last year, but wasn’t altogether pleased with their texture. You see, to me almond cookies should have a slight crunch, yet be slightly melty. My version from last year tasted good enough, but it didn’t have much of that ‘crunch factor’. I know I’m being pedantic, but if you’re going to stuff yourself with cookies, it might as well be ones you love!

chinese new year almond cookies 3

I found this recipe in one of the cookbooks I bought in Penang (oh yes, I totally buy local cookbooks whenever I go home – then lug them all back to London), and thought it looked promising. And it did deliver!

These cookies have a nice crunchy/firm exterior, with a slight melty interior. If you have never tasted such almond cookies, you must think I am completely bonkers. I know it sounds mad, but it works. Remarkably well, might I add.

chinese new year almond cookies 5

As always, I managed to eat 5 cookies in the first hour post-baking. I then had to take fairly drastic action to keep them all away in a sealed container, so I can’t get to them before Chinese New Year comes along! Yes, I am THAT lazy. If it’s sealed/hard to get to, I rather not eat it. Ha!

If you prefer a soft/completely ‘melt in the mouth’ almond cookie, you’ll prefer my recipe from last year. But if you prefer one with a slight crunch, try this one. I think you’ll like it!

chinese new year almond cookies 2

Chinese New Year Almond Cookies
Adapted from My Secret Recipe Series: New Year Cookies by Alan Ooi
Makes approximately 50-60 cookies, depending on size

  • 100g ground almonds
  • 150g plain flour
  • 100g caster sugar (I might cut down the sugar to 75g next time, as I prefer a less-sweet cookie)
  • 3/4tsp baking powder
  • 3/4tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 100ml corn oil, or other flavourless oil (you may need a little more/less oil depending on the climate you are in)
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten

1. Sieve the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into bowl of your stand mixer.
2. Add the ground almonds to the flour/sugar mixture.
3. With your mixer on medium speed (with the beater attachment),* slowly trickle in the corn oil into the bowl containing the flour/sugar/almonds. Mix until a cohesive dough forms. You may need more or less oil depending on the humidity/moisture levels – the aim is to reach a dough which is just able to hold it’s shape (and doesn’t crumble) when you attempt to roll it into a ball. It’s rather dry here in London at the moment, so I had to use an extra 10ml of oil before the dough came together.
4. Heat the oven to 180′C.
5. Roll the dough into ~2.5cm balls, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper/a silpat mat. Repeat until all the dough is used up.
6. Using a pastry brush, lightly glaze the tops of the cookie balls with the beaten egg yolk.
7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cookies become slightly golden.
8. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then tuck in.

* You don’t need a stand mixer to do this, you can use a handheld mixer/food processor/a spatula. I use my stand mixer because it’s permanently out on the counter, which makes it the easiest option. I told you I was lazy.

chinese new year almond cookies 4

Gingerbread Cookies

As cheesy as it sounds, I love homemade Christmas gifts. Over the years, I’ve come to love making gingerbread cookies – I would be kidding myself if I said they aren’t one of my favourite Christmas cookies.

Another obsession that has become fairly evident in recent years is my love for cookie decorating. I still remember the mess I made the very first time I attempted piping royal icing onto my cookies… *shudder*. Thankfully I am now much more organised, which makes the whole process go much more smoothly.

gingerbread christmas snowflakes 5

gingerbread christmas snowflake 4

I decided to make something different from last year, and made 1) snowflakes, 2) stars and 3) Christmas ornaments. Because, you know, I get bored easily. It was also a good excuse to add to my growing cookie cutter collection. Ha.

Take care to not roll out your dough too thinly if you decide to make ornaments for your tree though – they tend to be rather fragile (as I have found out).

gingerbread christmas ornaments 1

gingerbread christmas ornaments 2

And it’s not just the ornament-shaped cookies that can be hung on the tree – I also hung up some snowflakes. The snowflakes are actually a little more sturdy than their ornament counterparts, something I didn’t expect before I started this baking-icing-gingerbread-madness.

gingerbread christmas snowflake 2

A large snowflake…

gingerbread christmas snowflake 1

…And a mini snowflake. For balance.

I also pondered over whether I should dust glitter onto the snowflakes (because anything glitter during Christmas has to be a good thing), but decided against it as I felt it made the piping stand out less. When you’ve put in so much effort into piping, you will most definitely not want it to fade into the background! Trust me.

gingerbread christmas snowflake 3

I swear by this Peggy Porschen recipe for my gingerbread cookies, as I find that they keep their shape very well (which is what you want if you’ve spent all that time cutting out lovely shapes from your dough!). Another handy tip is to refrigerate your cut (pre-baked) cookies for 5-10 minutes, and bake them from chilled.

You can pipe with or without a piping tip – I prefer using a piping tip (with a coupler) and a large-ish piping bag, as I find this gives me more control over how my icing flows. I use either 00, 0 or 1 tips, depending on how small/large the cookie is. Some people prefer to use a smaller sized piping bag without a piping tip (i.e. just snip off the tip of your piping bag), but I tend to not do this as I have to keep on refilling/make more piping bags… and I am too lazy for that.

I also highly recommend having toothpicks to hand, as they come very handy when you make mistakes! ;)

gingerbread christmas star

Here’s wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season – may it be a wonderful one filled with love, laughter & food!

Spiced pumpkin cupcakes

It seems that an increasing number of my posts now start with “So I’ve been a terrible blogger…”, doesn’t it? What can I say? I want to say I blame Instagram (where I post very regularly), but truth be told, Instagram can probably only be held partly accountable for the lack of posts. After all, it is me who decides whether or not I want to whip out my camera to take photos of the food I make/if I measure out my ingredients!

Despite a rather sizeable backlog, I thought I would post the recipe for these spiced pumpkin cupcakes which I made fairly recently (i.e. within the last month, as opposed to last year). I suspect some of you may have some leftover pumpkin puree from Thanksgiving, so what better way to use it than in a delicious not-too-sweet treat?

I adapted Aran’s recipe for beetroot and poppy seed cupcakes to make these. And by the way, if you have yet to try Aran’s original recipe – please do! I’ve made them countless times now, and everyone always loves them. I’ve even tried making banana cupcakes using her recipe as a starting point. :)

Another plus is that these little babies are gluten free (though you can easily make them with normal all purpose flour). Interestingly, I have found that using gluten free flours seems to enhance the texture of cakes/cupcakes – not sure if I’m the only one who feels this way?

I use a fair bit of spices in these cupcakes, but you can always use more/less depending on how ‘spiced’ you want these cupcakes to be. You may also add some chopped walnuts or pecans to the cupcake batter if you wish.

Alternatively, you can whip up a quick cream cheese frosting to top these cupcakes – I usually whisk together 200g cream cheese, 100g softened butter, 3/4 cup icing sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. I then add a teaspoon of lemon juice at the very end.

Spiced pumpkin cupcakes
Adapted from this recipe by Canelle et Vanille
Makes 12 small-ish cupcakes, or 9 medium cupcakes

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour (you may use normal all-purpose flour if you wish)
  • 1/2 cup ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup corn oil (or any other flavourless oil)
  • Demerara sugar, for sprinkling (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 180′C.
2. In a small bowl, mix the coconut milk with the lemon juice. Leave to stand for 5 minutes.
3. Sieve the brown rice flour, allspice, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium sized bowl. I usually don’t sieve my ground almonds, because they usually aren’t ground finely enough to easily pass through the sieve.
4. Add the pumpkin puree, egg, sugar, coconut milk mixture and corn oil into the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix with the paddle attachment, until it forms a nice smooth paste (this should take only 1-2 minutes). You can also do this with a handheld whisk or a spatula if you don’t want to use/don’t have a stand mixer.
5. Add the sieved dry ingredients (and the ground almonds) to the wet pumpkin mix. Mix until the batter is just combined.
6. Scoop the batter into cupcake tins. If you wish, you may sprinkle some demerara sugar on top of the batter – this will give you a nice crunchy cupcake topping.
7. Bake the cupcakes for 15-18 minutes until cooked. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcakes should come out clean.
8. Leave to cool slightly on wire racks, then eat!

Billy Law’s vinegar-braised pork belly & eggs

Well technically, it’s his mum’s recipe. But “Billy’s mum’s vinegar-braised pork belly & eggs” seemed a little bit long for a title!

For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Billy Law is a Malaysian (like myself) based in Australia. I first got to know of him through his food blog “A Table For Two”. Not long after, he appeared on one of my favourite shows – Masterchef Australia! For those of you who haven’t watched the Aussie version of Masterchef… you’re missing out! :) Most people I know prefer the Australian format of the show, so it’s definitely worth watching to see if you like it.

But I digress.

Billy recently released his debut cookbook, aptly titled “Have You Eaten?”. I think he explains his choice of title very well here: “In Malaysia, it is quite common for Malaysians to greet each other saying, ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of the usual ‘Hey how are you’. I simply couldn’t think of anything more appropriate for the title of a cookbook that reflects my background, my culture, and my food.” And you know what, he is absolutely right. Though to be perfectly honest it usually comes out in typical Manglish (Malaysian English) as “Eat already ah?” ;)

I must admit that I was impressed by his cookbook after a quick flip through the book. Here’s a little confession: I almost never buy cookbooks that don’t “look” nice. Photography (and the way recipes are laid out) are the most important aspects of a cookbook to me, and I immediately loved the photography of this cookbook – which was, by the way, mostly styled and photographed by Billy himself. Some people have all the talent, hrmph!

The cookbook is divided into several chapters: “Snack Attack” (smaller bites e.g. Brie en croute with cranberries & walnuts); “On the Side” (e.g. Roast spiced cauliflower & corn salad); “Easy Peasy” (simple dishes e.g. Cola chilli chicken); “Over the Top” (more adventurous recipes e.g. Nonya spicy tamarind snapper); “Rice and Noodles” (all Malaysian/Chinese recipes e.g. “Nasi lemak”); and “Sugar Hit” (desserts e.g. Popcorn & salted caramel macarons). There is a good mix of both Malaysian/Chinese (think “Assam laksa” and “Kangkung belacan”) and non-Malaysian recipes (“Smoked ham hock baked beans”, “Lamb shank pie”, and “Rocky Road”). Now I know “non-Malaysian” isn’t exactly descriptive, but I have no idea how else to put it!

I cooked “Mum’s vingear-braised pork belly & eggs” from the “Easy Peasy” chapter, and it turned out remarkably well. I usually don’t put vinegar in my braised pork belly dish (called “Tau Yew Bak” in Hokkien), so I definitely learnt a new trick! I made a few tweaks to the recipe though – I used less sugar, and more chilli. A lot more chilli.

This is a remarkably easy dish to make, but it does have to be slow cooked for at least 2 hours to ensure the meat is meltingly tender. I can’t complain, I love dishes that don’t require much attention!

P.S. Scroll to the bottom to find out how to win a copy of this fabulous cookbook!

Billy’s Mum’s vingear-braised pork belly & eggs
From Billy Law’s “Have You Eaten?”

  • 2 liters water
  • 500g pork ribs
  • 500g pork belly, chopped into 3cm chunks
  • 5cm ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 whole garlic, unpeeled
  • 10 star anise
  • 5 dried chillies (the recipe states this is optional. I used 10. Haha!)
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy caramel (I used a mix of kecap manis + dark soy sauce)
  • 100ml light soy sauce
  • 1 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
  • 6 hard boiled eggs, peeled

1. Boil the water in a large pot over medium high heat, until it starts to bubble.
2. Add the pork ribs, pork belly, ginger, whole garlic, star anise and chillis to the pot of boiling water. Bring to the boil again.
3. Scoop out any impurities that float to the surface – I find that it is quite useful to use a small fine metal sieve. Alternatively, use a spoon.
4. Turn the heat down to low (until the liquid is simmering), and add the vinegar, dark soy caramel, light soy sauce, and sugar. Stir well.
5. Add the hard boiled eggs to the pot.
6. Cook on low heat for at least 2 hours (stirring occasionally), or until the pork is meltingly tender. I cooked it covered for the first hour, then left it uncovered for the remaining cooking time.
7. Once the sauce starts to thicken, taste, and adjust the seasoning accordingly. If it is too sour/too salty: add more sugar. If it is too sweet: add more light soy sauce. Billy notes that extra water should not be used, the exception being if the sauce is drying out too quickly!
8. Serve with rice (noodles work well too).

Have You Eaten? by Billy Law, £25 hardback, published by Hardie Grant, is now available at http://www.hardiegrant.co.uk/books/have-you-eaten-paperback

If you’re not convinced by what I’ve said here, have a look at what some other bloggers thought about the book (my post is part of a 5-part blog tour, ending today):
Monday 1st – http://junglefrog-cooking.com/
Tuesday 2nd – http://englishmum.com/
Wednesday 3rd – http://www.babaduck.com/
Thursday 4th – http://www.millycundall.com/
Friday 5th – Me!

And now – how can you WIN a copy of Have You Eaten?, thanks to Hardie Grant Books? Simply follow Hardie Grant on Twitter @hardiegrantuk and RT the relevant tweet – simples! Competition is only open to UK residents though (apologies to everyone who isn’t in the UK!). Winners will be announced on October 8 2012.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the cookbook, but all the views expressed above are my own.