Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Viet Baguette

14 Charlotte Place

Met J for what will hopefully become a regular Wednesday lunch date. She had seen this place that does banh mi and wanted to try it, so we headed off to Viet Baguette. They've got a few options for fillings - caramel chicken, lemongrass beef, BBQ pork & pate, roasted veggies and grilled tofu. I chose the pork version and J went for the beef. We also got cups of fizzy plum lemonade to drink. Sandwiches are 3.70, and the drinks (which also include lemongrass tea and iced coffee) are 1.30, making it a 5 quid lunch deal.

I liked the banh mi, though admittedly I am not an expert at all and have only had a couple of them in my entire life - baguettes are fresh (they remind me of the baguettes from Pret sandwiches, actually) and the pork pate and BBQ pork filling is really tasty. Pickled carrots, cucumber and cilantro completed the stuffing and I thought the ingredients were well-balanced. Would go back if I was in the mood for another banh mi!


Saw this recipe and realized I had all the ingredients for it already so decided to give it a try. I halved the recipe but stupidly did not look up what the equivalent of 1 stick of butter is in grams and instead made a vague estimation with my eyes, so I'm pretty sure these cookies don't have enough butter in them since they didn't flatten out like they're supposed to and they weren't soft in the middle at all. Oops. Still taste good though - they're more like cookie nubbins rolled in cinnamon and sugar. Maybe next time I will try to be more precise. Also, the tray in the top half of the oven cooked faster and suddenly looked burnt (though they taste fine, what's up with that?)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dinner in Brighton

Lucky me, A's uncle and aunt R&S are wonderful cooks and made us a fantastic dinner when we were in Brighton visiting them! Started with salt and pepper squid, then had a cauliflower curry and chocolate-almond cake to finish. I have recipes for the first two dishes that I'll share below, but for the cake you'll have to ask S since it's both dairy and gluten free, and therefore may be revealed one day in a special cookbook...

Adapted from Rick Stein's Seafood

Stir-fried Salt-and-Pepper Squid with Red Chilli and Spring Onion

750g squid
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp Maldon sea salt flakes
1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium hot red chilli
2 spring onions sliced

salad leaves
2 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp roasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp caster sugar
pinch of salt

Dry roast spices and crush with sea salt flakes in mortar. Score squid and cut into slices. Fry in oil in two batches. Put all of the squid back into the pan together over high heat. Toss in 1 tsp of salt and pepper mixture, then add red chili and spring onions and toss briefly. Make a salad dressing with soy sauce, sesame oil, caster sugar and pinch of salt. Dress salad leaves with dressing and plate alongside squid. Serves 4.

Adapted from LEON: ingredients & recipes

Leon Gobi

1 medium onion, cut into medium chunks
1 carrot, cut into chunks
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 red chili, sliced
2 thumb size pieces of ginger, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Madras curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black onion seeds
1 medium sweet potato, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
4 heaped tbsp ground almonds
1/2 small cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 400ml tin of coconut milk
150g frozen peas
juice of 1/2 lemon
really big handful of coriander, minced
2 heaped tbsp desiccated coconut

Cook onion and carrot in oil over medium heat for 15-20 minutes with lid on, season with salt. Blitz chili, ginger and garlic to a paste. Stir paste into onions along with spices. Cook for 5 minutes. Add sweet potato and almonds and mix well. Turn heat up and stir in 500 ml of water. Simmer for 10-15 minutes with lid off. Add cauliflower and coconut milk and simmer for 10-15 minutes covered. Check that sweet potato and cauliflower are cooked, then stir in peas and turn off heat. Add salt to taste, plus lemon juice and coriander to finish. Sprinkle coconut on top to serve. (Original recipe includes sultanas but R decided not to include them as he doesn't like sultanas, and I wholeheartedly agree with the omission!) R&S served this over wild rice which added a great nutty flavor and texture to the dish.

P.S. Also discovered that Harbourne Blue is a blue cheese made with goat's milk rather than cow's milk. We were pondering earlier in the day if there were any blue cheeses made with goat or sheep milk and lo and behold, the one we had sitting around was actually what we were looking for!

Saturday, September 26, 2009


14 East St
On a visit to Brighton to see R&S, we decided to try Aloka during their special late lunch deal - between 3 and 4 pm the food is 2-for-1. They have a buffet-style setup with loads of vegetarian, vegan and raw selections, and you weigh your plate to find out how much you pay. The plate above is a little bit of everything I saw - avocado and cucumber salad, seitan bake, tofu tarts, olives, red lentil curry, roast potato wedges, roasted vegetables, rice, and a lot of varied roasted seeds. There's probably a few more things but I can't remember it all. Very tasty and light - we came out full but not uncomfortably so, and it's a pretty good deal with the 2-for-1 deal. Not sure if it would be worth full price though, as the plate above would have been about 8.50.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Benito's Hat

56 Goodge St
London W1T 4NB
P and I met up for some belated celebrations and decided that Mexican food is entirely appropriate for congratulatory meals, which is how we ended up at Benito's Hat. The sudden influx of burrito places in London has made me very happy so trying out another variation on this theme is always encouraged. It's quite simple here - you ask for a burrito, tacos or a salad and then choose a filling (beef, 2 kinds of chicken, pork or roasted veggies) and a bunch of toppings. I went with the pork along with black beans, rice, lettuce, cheese, pico de gallo, salsa verde and guacamole. This place does the most generous serving of guacamole I have ever seen! It's wrapped up in foil (I approve of this method as it makes it so much easier to eat) and then served in a basket with tortilla chips (which were nicely salted). Seeing as how we were in a festive mood, we also had margaritas to go with the burritos.
This burrito is different again from Luardo's and El Burrito, but I think it may be my favorite so far - lots of options for toppings and the tortilla chips on the side push it slightly ahead of Luardo's. P pointed out that it rice is often slightly undercooked in burritos in London and I'd have to agree. Margarita was decent but nothing special. One flaw in our plan - burritos make you so full it is hard to have drinks afterwards! Oh well.

Uncle Lim's Kitchen

Upper North Arcade
Whitgift Center
Croydon CRO 1UZ
I volunteer with a group called ASAP at the Asylum Support Tribunal which is in East Croydon (at least until the end of this week, when it moves to a new home in the Docklands). On the days I go, it's usually frantic and at most, I manage to pop across the street to get a sandwich or something at lunch so that I am not too grumpy all afternoon. But one day while reading about yummy things to eat in London, I stumbled upon this post about Hainanese chicken rice and realized it was only a 5 minute walk from the tribunal. So yesterday, on my last day in East Croydon, I decided I had to go try it out. Sadly, I found out they only do Hainanese chicken rice on weekends. But the woman behind the counter was incredibly friendly and when I mentioned that I was hoping to try it, she told me that they're going to start offering it on Monday or Friday as well so that the office workers in the area would have a chance to have it for lunch. Alas, still no hope for me, but she recommended their special of the day, the curry laksa, and wrapped it up very nicely for me so I could drag it back to the tribunal for lunch. Boy am I glad I took her recommendation, this was absolutely delicious! The rice vermicelli noodles and bean sprouts were packed separately so I could mix in the curry laksa when I was ready to eat, and the curry laksa had pieces of fish cake, a few king prawns, sliced chicken and fried tofu in it - the best lunch I have had in East Croydon by far. It was spicy but also really rich with coconut milk, and she packed a small container of sambal on the side in case I wanted to add even more spice. I'm almost a little sad I won't be going to East Croydon any more - if only I had found out about this place a year ago.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tay Do Cafe

65 Kingsland Road
E2 8AG

Went to Tay Do Cafe (this is different from Tay Do at 60 Kingsland Road) for lunch with H, since we were planning to go to an art gallery close by afterwards. I had the special beef pho and H ordered the spring roll and crispy pork skin bun. I liked the pho - good broth - but next time I may stick to the pho that doesn't have meatballs in it since I think I prefer the thin sliced beef on its own. Iced milk coffees were fine, but nothing special, and sadly it did not wake me up at all - this may have been due to how full I was after the pho though! As usual, photo was taken after eating most of the food - still trying to remember to take a picture before I eat. Sigh.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dinner Party! Pesto, Quiche, Cobbler, Cheese.

As a reward for a productive rehearsal of a musical number for an upcoming Amnesty party, we had a bit of a feast last night. A made fresh pesto with a recipe from Jamie Oliver's Italian cookbook - all amounts are in "handfuls" which is funny when you think about the different sizes of hands in the world, but it was very tasty. Up next was a spinach and mushroom quiche - my first attempt at making pie dough seemed to turn out ok even though the food processor broke in the middle of the process. The filling was just chopped spinach (the frozen stuff is easy), sliced button mushrooms, spring onions, and four eggs with a bit of milk. It was a rather intense green color as the picture above shows, but tasted really nice. Plum and blueberry cobbler for dessert, made by modifying this recipe - one punnet of plums and one punnet of blueberries, mixed with sugar, cinnamon and flour (instead of cornstarch). Then doubled the cobbler dough recipe (which was very runny, I don't understand how you're supposed to make little rounds of cobbler dough - instead I had to pour the batter over the whole dish). Baked for 35 minutes - it was lovely and not too sweet.
But the real star of the evening is thanks to J&A, who sent us the most ridiculous cheese selection from Neal's Yard Dairy as a gift. The picture above is only about 1/3 of the cheese that arrived - from the top left, there's Doddington (a bit like Comte), Wensleydale (so much better than any of the Wensleydale I've had before from the supermarket, it's almost creamy rather than crumbly), Harbourne Blue (sadly I still hate blue cheese, but everyone else loved it), Milleens (soft, slightly stinky cheese that is GREAT) and Ragstone (soft goat's cheese, one of my favorites). This magnificent cheeseboard also came with England Preserves Red Onion Marmalade (consensus among the others was that this was really good as I am not a fan of condiments) and Stockan & Gardens Thin Oatcakes (perfect as a cheese vehicle). Thanks J&A!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

El Burrito

5 Charlotte Place

J's workplace is surrounded by tastiness so I met up with her today to try one of the three burrito places within walking distance of her office. El Burrito has a lot of options for fillings, and I went with the chicken tinga today. They pack a lot into these burritos, including pickled jalapenos. Quite different from Luardo's, since the rice looks like basmati and the beans are more of a bean paste than individual black beans. Also not wrapped as tightly so they're a lot messier to eat. Still tasty though, and they come with a few tortilla chips on the side (helps to scoop up all the filling that will inevitably spill out). I still slightly prefer Luardo's but then again I haven't tried all of the interesting fillings here (they even have a chicken mole). There are also tacos, quesadillas and nachos on the menu, but if you call a place El Burrito, it makes it hard to pick anything other than the namesake dish.

Huong Viet

An Viet House
12-14 Englefield Road
N1 4LS

M&S are thinking about looking for a place to live in our neighborhood, so to help sell them on how great it is, A and I took them to a couple of our favorite pubs and the Vietnamese restaurant Huong Viet. A successful attempt to show off the charms of the area, I think!

Between the four of us, we ordered prawn summer rolls, half a crispy duck with pancakes, chargrilled squid, fried spicy squid, fried spare ribs, steamed sea bass, rice vermicelli noodles with pork, and chicken with cashews. This resulted in a feast where as usual, I ate too much, but it was all very tasty - I think my favorites are the chargrilled squid, crispy duck, sea bass and noodles. All for a very reasonable 16.50 per person, considering how much we ordered (we brought our own wine, for which they charge a 1.50 per person corkage fee). I think we probably could have ordered half of what we did and still been quite satisfied, but when you're trying to convince someone to move close by, you have to pull out all the stops!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Scallion Pancakes

As soon as I saw this recipe for quick and easy scallion pancakes I knew I'd have to try it - my only other attempt at making these was a good 15 years ago and it was terribly time consuming, with only average results. This method looked incredibly simple though and this has been one of my favorite dishes ever since I was little. Success! I think the only tweak would be to add a bit of salt to the dough, though I suppose with the soy/vinegar dipping sauce it's not absolutely necessary. Plus, since you can freeze the extras it's a good recipe for making ahead of time and just pulling out when you'd like a snack (or lunch, in my case).

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brazil Flavor

Went to Whitecross Street today in an attempt to get a burrito with W but the burrito truck wasn't there! They're probably on their summer vacation or something - so instead, I decided to try the Brazilian stall - I think it's called Brazil Flavor but could be wrong. They had feijoada, a traditional Brazilian stew made with black beans, pork and sausage - this is served with rice and a sprinking of cassava flour on top. Mixed it all up and it was delicious! Really hearty and flavorful and the beans were cooked really well. They also offer sandwiches but why bother with that when they've got something so much more interesting to try?

Sunday, September 13, 2009


So I took a little break from taking pictures of everything I ate while I was on my honeymoon - I think the photographic evidence of a week of indulgence might horrify everyone too much! But I thought I would at least tell you a bit about what tastiness we encountered.

We started in Split, which is quite a large sprawling port, but we stuck to the picturesque UNESCO part which includes Diocletian's Palace, which is beautiful. The first night we went to a recommended seafood restaurant, Nostromo, from which I have the only picture of food from the entire trip. It was a good place to start - next to the fish market, it sells grilled seafood by weight, so the waiter recommended we get a 1/2 kilo of grilled squid and a 1/2 kilo of grilled dorade between the two of us. The squid was a revelation - not rubbery at all, crisp on the outside, with a few almost creamy bits inside. Fish was also grilled perfectly - these came with some lemon wedges on the side and a big bowl of frites. Delicious (but pricey). We also discovered Ojusko beer, one of the most popular in Croatia, which was often served in half liters (and once in a liter mug!)

We also went swimming at Bacvice beach where we had pizza for lunch - I'm not sure there's such thing as bad pizza in Croatia - some were better than others but everything I tried was better than the pizza I've had in London. The Dalmatian coast also has good smoked ham (Pršut, which is similar to prosciutto), which we asked for on our pizzas quite often. Dinner was at a restaurant in Diocletian's palace, at an outdoor place with grape vines for a ceiling - decent food but the atmosphere was what really made it special.

Took a ferry to Hvar, where we had a light lunch of octopus salad and burger at the hotel. The octopus salad was amazing - it was so tender that A couldn't stop being surprised by how much he was enjoying octopus. On a little walk to explore the town, we discovered Faria, which is where we decided to come back for dinner later in the day. More grapevine ceilings and candlelight -the grilled squid here was also tasty (but not quite as good as Nostromo) and A's pasta carbonara was very good.

We then had a one day sailing trip to the Green Cave and Vis island, where our skipper produced an amazing lunch with various salads, crisp breaded chicken cutlets, zucchini fritters, and white wine. Absolutely amazing trip - the snorkeling was great since the water was so clear and warm. Also got a tip from our skipper to try wine from Ivan Dolac, which is only found in Hvar - we managed to get a bottle at the grocery store since we couldn't quite stomach the price of a bottle in a restaurant, and it did turn out to be the nicest wine we had in Croatia by far. Back in time for a pizza dinner right on the harbor, where we watched a group of men on a yacht try to entice girls walking by to join them for drinks.

Back to Split, where we had a quick lunch at a place right by the ferry terminal, and then out to the resort where we were spending the rest of our time being as lazy as possible. Food at the resort was a little expensive but all pretty good, at least. Most remarkable was the seafood buffet we tried on our last night, where loads of fresh fish was laid out in front of a grill and you could have it cooked right in front of you - we tried tuna, swordfish, scorpion fish, squid, whole sea bass and whole dorade. Quite an experience.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gingerbread Cake

Had F&A over for dinner last night and wanted to try making something new. We were having Chinese food so I was thinking about ginger-related desserts, and ended up finding Smitten Kitchen's recipe for Gramercy Tavern's gingerbread (I know, I know, that's not Asian at all). As is often the case, I ended up substituting a few things - a round cake pan for a bundt pan, black treacle for molasses, Meantime stout for Guinness, and allspice for the cloves and nutmeg. Also ended up using only 3/4c of sugar rather than 1 since that was all I had. And when I tested it after 50 minutes, it was still raw in the middle, so I ended up baking it for 65 minutes, which resulted in a wonderfully dense and moist spicy cake. Served with some Greek yogurt, it got thumbs up from the testers. Very easy to make, as long as you don't use an electric whisk and splatter treacle all over your kitchen!