Turning 26 may not have been the most glamorous of birthdays (I guess the next big one will be the big 3-0 which is a terrifying thought!!) but it did present me with the chance to get a little spoiled by some of my amazing friends who took me to a few eating and drinking spots that had been on my to try list for quite some time, occasions like this better than any physical present to me!
Right on the top of this list was Dandelyan in the rather classy Mondrian hotel, located on the southbank of the Thames. I had been desperate to go not only because it’s been voted best bar in the world numerous times since in its opening but also because of its drool worthy and Wes Anderson inspired interior which I had spotted all over the internet with its plush pink and dark green accents. Having banged on about it on many occasions to one of my friends said friend decided to treat me to a pre birthday cocktail on a Wednesday night here and I have to say as I walked there from my office I had very high (and probably slightly too high) expectations of what Dandelyan was going to be like.
Don’t get me wrong the interior is very nice, all shiny brass, slick furniture and low lighting, but the pink sofas that made this place so insta famous make up a rather small corner of a big bar space, is reserved for big groups and somehow doesn’t have quite the impact at night as in the clearly well lit publicity shots that circulate on Pinterest interior boards.
The menu at dandelyon is inspired by the botanical world and though cocktails are far from cheap (we are talking a hefty £13.5 for a very petite portioned cocktail) they do taste and look utterly delightful. This isn’t a place to get drunk at, it is a place to enjoy every sip of your expertly made cocktail in the same way that I guess you marvel at a Michelin stared dish. Indeed my “Flower of Five” - Belvedere Pink Grapefruit with passion fruit flower, leather, lemon and Bramble Gin Liqueur was one of the best cocktails I have ever had, far too quickly drunk from a small martini glass adorned with a flower and probably not quite in my top 3 ever considering the value for money but no doubt still great.
It definitely is a place for a special occasion and has a uniquely sophisticated air about it and perhaps had I not expected so much beforehand it would have scored even higher with me. Would I go back? Sure as the menu offers a lot more I’d like to try and I couldn’t ask my friend to pay for more than one of these pricy numbers but is it the best bar in the world? Probably not.
Somehow I managed to avoid Thai food for many, many years but looking back wouldn’t really be able to tell you why. Maybe it was one of those subconscious dislikes one develops as a child after a bad experience or maybe it was because it wasn’t really widely available around me growing up, Thai cuisine not as commonly found in Germany as say it’s Italian or Turkish counterparts. In any case until very recently I would have very happily and quite ignorantly turned away a red Thai curry or pad Thai in favour of another Asian dining alternative like Japanese or Chinese. However I stood to be converted...
Thai cuisine indeed, when made properly, is incredibly tasty, not too greasy and full of fresh flavours...and to my surprise not too tricky to make at home authentically.
Of course there are few factors to consider before you attempt the most famous of all Thai takeaway dishes, the pad Thai, at home. Firstly you need an authentic and reliable recipe to go by. A lot of things that come up after conducting a quick google search for pad Thai recipes are far from the real deal and don’t even get me started on those meal kits you can get at the supermarket - yes they may contain a sauce that calls itself authentic but the fact that it has a shelf life of a year really doesn’t scream out fresh to me. Not that I am against it full stop, if you fancy a pad Thai “style” dinner that doesn’t require much effort than this will do the trick. I have however always been of the cooking persuasion of wanting to recreate a dish as convincingly and authentically as I can, getting as close to the original that I love as possible and in a way getting quite competitive in the processes, nailing the prep and execution of an unfamiliar dish.
It was only natural then that when I stumbled across a pad Thai recipe from my all time favourite Thai restaurant in London, Rosa’s, in The Independent to promote their new cookbook that I had to give it my best shot. Ok, some of you may say what’s the point of you making it when you can order the same thing but there is something hugely gratifying about cooking it yourself plus it allows you to tweak the dish to your tastebuds. It also somehow just tastes that tiny bit better fresh out of the wok than when delivered via deliveroo and if you can be bothered to make the effort (and heck I will still be ordering it from Rosa’s once a while when I’m stretched for time or too hungover to even walk to Sainsbury’s) because it is worth it.
One last thing to bear in mind is that you will need to visit an Asian supermarket as some ingredients are little obscure (dried turnip anyone?) but are so, so worth seeking out as they make the dish truly authentic. Plus once you have all the basic Asian store cupboard ingredients like palm sugar and tamarind you can easily make this dish again and again as the other components needed are pretty standard and easily found in even the smallest Sainsbury’s Local (I’m talking rice noodles, eggs, peanut, bean sprouts and some prawns).
The sauce is prepared super quickly and I had all things chopped up ready by the time my friend arrived for supper. After a few glasses of wine all that was left to do was to heat up the wok (I would recommend using one instead of a pan), scrambling your eggs and chucking all the other bits in! The end result was pretty much one of the best pad Thais I’ve ever had (if I do say so myself) and had a real depth of flavour that had me talking about how I had conquered this Thai classic for days after!
I say challenge yourself a little and give this one a go! I for one have firmly added it to my recipe repertoire that’s for sure!
4 eggs, beaten 300g rice noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, then drained 8-10 prawns, shelled, deveined and heads removed 2 tbsp dried turnip (available from Asian supermarkets) 2 handfuls of bean sprouts Chilli powder, to taste (optional) Bunch of Chinese chives or 2 spring onions, chopped 4 tbsp roasted peanuts, crushed Lime wedges, to serve
First make the pad thai sauce. Soak the tamarind pulp in 6 tablespoons of warm water, then stir until it becomes a thick liquid. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok, add the shallots and stir-fry until almost golden brown. Carefully add the tamarind (in case it spits) and cook for 1 minute to reduce slightly.
Add the palm sugar, stirring to break it up, then stir in the fish sauce and continue to cook over a high heat for 1 minute until it has thickened slightly. Transfer the pad thai sauce to a bowl and set aside. This recipe makes enough sauce for about 4 servings, so store any leftover pad thai sauce in an airtight container and use within 4 weeks.
Now prepare the noodles. Scramble the beaten eggs in a hot wok with the remaining oil, then add the noodles and stir-fry until the egg breaks up and the noodles are soft. Add the prawns and dried turnip and stir-fry until the prawns are nearly cooked. Mix in 8 tablespoons of the reserved pad thai sauce and continue to stir-fry until the noodles take on a nice golden-brown colour. Add the bean sprouts, chilli powder (if using), Chinese chives and crushed peanuts and keep stir-frying for another 2 minutes. Transfer the noodles to 2 serving plates and serve immediately with lime wedges.