Monday, December 31, 2012

Mandalay


444 Edgware Road  
London
W2 1EG

Sadly J & D have moved out of Islington - but now that they're in their new neighborhood it means there are new restaurants to try (silver lining ahoy!) Since Burmese food is difficult to find, it seemed fortuitous that Mandalay, which has been feted by the food blogging crowd, is one of their new local places. J and I met there to give it a try, and took B & R's recommendation for the fritters to start. What emerged was unlike any fritter I've ever seen - a bird's nest of beansprouts and  shrimp tangled together in a crisp, light batter that coated each strand. Three dipping sauces accompanied it and we eagerly tried all of them. For mains, we had lamb in tamarind sauce, a twice-cooked fish curry and a bamboo and mushroom dish, all accompanied with rice and naan. I particularly liked the lamb, though everything was good and tasted like an interesting cross between Thai, Indian and Chinese. Service is sweet but not particularly responsive - we asked to see dessert menus but they never appeared, so we ended up skipping it. For a casual dinner though, I'd be back to try more.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Salt Cod Stew


I impulsively bought some saltfish from the fruit and veg store at the end of my road - it was sitting on the counter and I'd always been curious about using it in cooking. After looking up several recipes for salt cod stews and soups, I gathered up a few ingredients that I had in the house and went to work. The result was a hearty yet fresh tasting soup that was permeated with a rich seafood flavor - one definitely worth making again if I spot saltfish on my grocer's shelves.

Ingredients

300g salt fish

200g mussels (I had the precooked, shelled version in my freezer)
1 white onion, peeled and diced
2 small carrots, peeled and diced
3 sticks of celery, trimmed and diced
55g new potatoes, diced (I left peels on)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
a small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley

extra virgin olive oil
1tsp dried chilli flakes
2 x 400g tins of good-quality plum tomatoes
425ml chicken stock (I used a stock cube)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon

chunky white bread, to serve

Method

1. If using proper saltfish, soak the filets in cold water for 24 hours, changing the water a few times during this period. This way, the fish will rehydrate and the saltiness will be removed before cooking.

2. Chop the onion, carrots, bell peppers, celery, garlic and parsley stalks. Heat a splash of olive oil in a saucepan, and add the chopped vegetables, parsley stalks and dried chilli. Sweat very slowly with the lid ajar for 15 to 20 minutes until soft, but not brown. 


3. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the stock and bring back to the boil.

4. Break up any larger pieces of tomato with a wooden spoon and drop the salt cod filets into the hot soup. Simmer gently for 15 minutes, just until the fish has poached and flakes apart when prodded with a fork. Pick out any bits of skin. 


5. Add the mussels and then gently fold the flakes of fish and mussels through the soup, taste and season with pepper, salt (if needed) and a little lemon juice. 

6. Chop the parsley leaves and scatter over the soup. Drizzle with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with good bread to soak up the stew.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Grill on the Market


2-3 West Smithfield
London
EC1A 9JX

Tried a new place before the Chick Corea / Christian McBride / Brian Blade concert at the Barbican. Music was way better than the food, though I guess if only one could be excellent, that is the order I would go in. I prefer disappointing food to disappointing music. Is that a weird thing to say for someone who writes about food instead of music? Hmm. Anyway, The Grill on the Market isn't bad, it just isn't that good either. I will confess I was attracted by the 50% off deal on Toptable, so at least it wasn't an expensive steak meal. But now that I'm learning how to get a good sear on my steaks at home, eating out at steakhouses is becoming less exciting. The ribeyes we had here were fine, and cooked to medium rather than the requested medium rare, but what really let down the meal were the undercooked chips and a cauliflower cheese side that was basically some giant florets of steamed cauliflower with some grated cheddar sauce on top. I expect my cauliflower cheese to 1) have bite sized chunks of cauliflower and 2) to have cheese sauce everywhere, completely coating the cauliflower so every bite is equal amounts cheese and veg. So even though the steak was fine (and cheap), I can't get excited about going back, which means I probably won't be.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Workshop Coffee Co



27 Clerkenwell Rd.
London
EC1M 5RN

I always hear rumors that restaurant workers hate brunch. I mean, I get it. A bunch of hungover people, who probably don't care that much about what they're eating, asking for eggs eight different ways, bugging you for coffee refills over and over and over and over again... I would probably come out of that thinking the brunch shift sucks too. As a customer though, I love brunch. I want someone to make me something so much more wonderful than I can make at home. It's hard to find in the UK - often brunch is done only passably well, or terribly - I can make nice eggs, thank you very much, and I am good at frying bacon and whipping up a batch of fluffy American pancakes. So for me to think brunch is special, it needs to be special. Thank goodness we found Workshop Coffee Co - look at my grilled asparagus, smoked salmon, poached egg, truffled mascarpone, corn bread dish up top! I would never have all of those ingredients lying around the house on a weekend morning. And there are enough components to the dish that to get it all done at the same time is way too much hassle. So WCC, you have won me over with that dish alone. A had something normal - scrambled egg, sourdough toast and tomato kasundi, with dry cured smoked bacon (actually now that I'm writing this I realize tomato kasundi is not normal at all, I don't even know what it is, so I guess that dish is ok in my books too). Now if only I could get it to move to a spot at the end of my road.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Holborn Whippet


Sicilian Avenue
London
WC1A

This is one of A's favorite pubs because it is 1) close to work and 2) serves interesting beer. I am a little less enamored with it, especially on Friday nights when it is rammed to the gills and I get pints of beer spilled on me by people who talk with their hands. However, lunch time at the Whippet is a totally different matter. E an I gave it a whirl (and skipped the beer, since we're responsible working adults, yo!) and quickly realized that while £8 might seem steep for a steak sandwich and some fries, when you see the ridiculously large metal plate of food they bring out, it is actually completely reasonable. If you're a giant. If you're not a giant, I would suggest sharing, which is what we're going to do next time, and there will be a next time because it is a damn good sandwich. BRING IT ON.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The North Pole


188-190 New North Road  
London
N1 7BJ

So continuing on my earlier musings about places I go to repeatedly now that I'm in my old age (KIDDING, seriously) - I'm just now getting around to writing about The North Pole which is what A and I would like our local to be. It's just far enough away not to be our local, though we have both expressed gratitude for this, because otherwise I would probably be dead in a year from eating their ribs every day and drinking myself into an early grave. Over a series of visits, I have sampled most of their bar snack menu (love the BBQ chicken wings and chicken tenders in particular, and I will always have a strange soft spot for a pint of prawns) and had a really awesome platter of sliders (beef and pulled pork, which seem to have sadly disappeared from the menu) but what is really outstanding is their BBQ ribs. I will caveat by saying I think Duke's Brew & Que does even better ribs, but I think the beer selection at The North Pole is better, it is slightly cheaper, and most importantly - you can walk in and eat, unlike the must-book-well-in-advance Duke's. But when I think of the two places, all I can do is sigh in happiness that I live within walking distance of two BBQ places that almost, almost, make me miss Texas a little less. Still waiting for brisket though.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Newcastle


A and I have talked for ages about visiting Newcastle, and it happens that P is from there, so we finally got our act together and planned a weekend trip to coincide with one of P's visits home. We certainly lucked out and got one of the sunniest balmiest weekends of August 2012. It's always much easier to enjoy a place when it's aglow with warmth and sunshine, so I don't know if I would've appreciated Newcastle as much without the fortuitous weather, but who cares? We had a great time.



Centurion Bar
Grand Central Station
Neville Street
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 5DG

First stop upon arrival was the Centurion Bar, a pub set up in what was formerly the first class lounge in the train station. The interior is stunning, and a good collection of real ales meant that A was happy to try some halves while P and I arranged a meet up spot. Our first drink downed, we then wandered off to try some of the other pubs on A's list.

Bacchus
42-48 High Bridge
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 1EW

Bacchus was a recommendation that A got from someone (or maybe just from the Good Beer Guide). Again, really nice atmosphere inside, with an even wider range of real ales than the Centurion, so we settled in for a bit. I had a ginger ale from Marble Brewery that I liked (though I always think the ginger flavor could be even more pronounced - maybe because what I really want is a fiery ginger beer).



Brewdog Newcastle
16 Dean Street
Newcastle Upon Tyne
NE1 1PG

No beer crawl list would be complete without a stop at Brewdog - the paddle above shows a range of their beers from light to dark. I have a particular fondness for their Dogma, which is dark and sweet yet still light enough to have before dinner. If it's after dinner, then I'm having Tokyo, which amps up the darkness and sweetness to the point of being what I think of as a dessert beer.

Simla Tandoori
39 Side
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE1 3JE

I realize this makes me a terrible food blogger, but I didn't take a picture of dinner. Let's blame it on the Brewdog beers. Since I am also ridiculously behind in writing this up, I can barely remember what we had, but I'm pretty sure it involved some tandoori chicken, and possibly saag aloo since I always order saag aloo. It was a small meal, as we were pretty full from beer and were meeting up with P afterwards for more drinks, but it was really pleasant inside and the waiter was really nice about the fact we wanted very little food - it came quickly and I certainly ate all of it so no objections here.

Once we met up with P, we continued on for cocktails at Popolo (they were ok, but nothing that special), cocktails on the balcony of a restaurant called Paradiso next to a venue with a pounding rooftop bar, and ended up at my favorite bar of the night, Tokyo - we sat in a stunning rooftop garden and enjoyed some really special drinks. I'd assumed Friday night in the city center would be a bit insane, but instead it seemed to be really calm everywhere. P assured me that this was due to it being summer holidays so all the students were gone, which apparently makes a huge different in the way Newcastle feels since the university is so big.


Willi's Coffee House
23-25, Clayton Rd
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE2 4RP

Obviously after the long list of drinking establishments we visited on Friday night, the first priority Saturday morning was to find a hearty brunch place. I had a ridiculously large omelet at Willi's (but will confess I was pretty jealous of A's choice of a "wimpy" English breakfast which included some damn good bacon.



Properly fueled up, we hopped on the metro to Tynemouth. It's pretty incredible to have such gorgeous beaches only 20 minutes away (and linked to the city centre by public transport).


Bill's Fish Bar
4a Victoria Crescent
Cullercoats
NE30 4PN

Of course, a trip to the beach isn't complete without fish and chips. Seeing the crowded line at Bill's, we joined the queue and were soon sat on a hill overlooking the harbor, happily munching away. We happened to be there during the Cullercoats harbor fair - there were rescue demonstrations (which we saw from afar, not realizing they were demonstrations, so were befuddled for a while as to why you would pick someone out of the water, then lower them back in, and do this repeatedly).

Byker Vista Cafe @ The Biscuit Factory
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE2 1AN

Once we'd had enough sea air and freshness, we headed back to Newcastle and ended up at The Biscuit Factory to have a nose around at the art. There were some incredible wire sculptures of Olympic sports, and then we stumbled upon the cafe and terrace, which had a table in the sun just calling out our names. A bottle of prosecco later, we were all grinning and basking in the beam of light, hoping for a tan.


Mr. Lynch
and
As You Like It
Archbold Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE2 1DB

To cap off a lovely Saturday, we grabbed P's sister and headed off to Mr. Lynch for some pre-dinner cocktails - the interior is all decked out in 50's furniture and wallpaper. Next to Mr. Lynch is a wonderful restaurant called As You Like It, where we proceeded to demolish an incredible baked Camembert to start, and then I had Korean chicken wings which I adored. Definitely worth a trip to the Jesmond neighborhood.



Cafe Royal
8 Nelson Street
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
NE1 5AW

For our last meal in Newcastle on Sunday morning, I looked up brunch recommendations on my phone and came across Cafe Royal, which wasn't too far from the train station. My eggs benedict with smoked salmon was perfect - amazing runny yolk in the poached egg, a bright yellow hollandaise that tasted like the best butter and lemons, and two toasted English muffin halves, with a lovely sprig of dill on top. A and I talked about how enjoyable the weekend was and how we really need to get north more often - scenery! food! drinks! affordability! Newcastle for the win!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Royal Standard


1 Saint Peter's Road
Flushing
TR11 5TP

 I've written about The Royal Standard before here and here, but this recent visit for Sunday lunch seemed different enough that I decided to post again. I'm noticing that I'm making more return visits to places - which is not surprising since you do tend to go back to places when you're living in the same place for seven years, but I think is also due to the fact that I'm no longer chasing after the next best thing to eat. The dining scene in the UK has drastically improved, even over the last few years, and I've discovered places that I'm happy to go back to again and again. I might even do a post on my favorite restaurants based on frequency of visits. Anyway - on another trip to Cornwall, we returned to The Royal Standard for a sunny outdoors roast luncheon, this time with A's Australian family members, and had a great time soaking up some rare rays of sunlight while gorging on platefuls of food. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the carrot mash - there was something else in there too, maybe swede, and a hell of a lot of butter, I think. Point is, get yourself to Flushing if you're in the area, it's worth the trip.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dach & Sons


68 Heath Street
London
NW3 1DN
After a nice long stroll around Hampstead Heath (as usual made longer by our inability to navigate the park without getting tremendously disoriented), A and I headed for Dach & Sons, which Giles Coren had just written about in relatively glowing terms. On his recommendation, we had the bone marrow popcorn, which I loved but A thought was too salty. We also ordered a round of sliders, some mac & cheese, and the fried pickles. The sliders were the best by far - I loved the pulled pork chili slider while A was ecstatic about the bacon and peanut butter jam slider. However, we did think they were quite pricey, and the mac & cheese was incredibly disappointing (tasted like boxed stuff, to be honest) and the fried pickles were overwhelmingly greasy. So all in all, not one I'd return to.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Katzenjammers



The Hop Exchange  
24 Southwark Street
London 
SE1 1TY

For A's birthday, we usually go to a place near London Bridge at it seems to be the easiest place for everyone to get home from. I couldn't tell you exactly why Katzenjammers was chosen, and the fact that Oktoberfest was starting in a few days was coincidental timing - but I was happy to go somewhere to prepare for my Munich adventures. A similar group of us had come here before in its previous incarnation as a normal pub - I think I prefer its new German identity. One liter steins and a full selection of German beers were available, as well as my two favorite German dishes of all time - spaetzle and schnitzel. Both were executed somewhat well here - the spaetzle was suitably covered in cheese, bacon and onions, and the schnitzel was crisp and generous, but I think both dishes were a little on the salty side. Still, they paired well with generous quantities of beer so I find it hard to complain. I think A's birthday was suitably celebrated, and everyone wandered off into the night happy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Orange Buffalo


The Old Truman Brewery
Brick Lane
London
E1 6QL

I am often grateful for the friends I have in London who are willing to go try out food with me, regardless of where it is located or whether there is any choice on the menu. I can basically say to P, hey, I heard of a place doing [fill-in-the-blank], and he'll say, when can we go? And this is how we found ourselves at a buffalo wing truck in East London for lunch. Those who know me (or have read previous entries like this, this and this) know that one of the things I crave is buffalo wings. While living in New York, I would have buffalo wings at least every couple of weeks, if not more frequently. The sudden absence of them when I moved to London was noticeable and I did make efforts to track them down, but they were pretty much always filthy (and not in a good way). All of this to say, I freaking love buffalo wings, and thank god The Orange Buffalo loves them as well. Not only do they do an original sauce, we also tried the Woof Woof which included scotch bonnet peppers and an array of spices that made for a slightly more complex and definitely more spicy experience. The wings were meaty and chickeny, and freshly fried before being tossed in the selected sauce. Fries and onion rings were also crisp and greaseless, and the blue cheese sauce, celery sticks and drink completed an admirable lunch deal for £6.50. If I could get them to park outside my house I would.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pizza Brera


Upstairs at the Lyric Hammersmith
London
W6 0QL

More fun activities with A. This evening, he had suggested that we get tickets to see Morning by Simon Stephens at the Lyric Hammersmith (mixed reactions from the three of us - I thought it was ok, A & F were not impressed at all). F joined us there and we went with the easy option of pizzas at Pizza Brera, eaten out on the roof garden. While this bit of Hammersmith is not exactly lovely, the roof garden did a good job of hiding the less scenic views behind wooden structures and vines. Mine was a Parma pizza with tomato, mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes, parma ham, rocket leaves, and parmesan shavings. I happen to love a forest of rocket leaves on top of my pizza, but A and F were a little less enamored with the greenery. I think A had a Piccante - tomato, mozzarella, fresh chilli, ventricina salami, roasted peppers, fresh thyme, and oregano, though my memory is not too sharp, and F went for my pizza without the heaps of rocket on top. A thin, crispy base complemented the pizzas well and it was certainly a massive step up from most chain pizzerias, so I was pleased. Even my giant appetite was unable to defeat an entire pizza though - I think two people could easily share one pizza with something on the side. I wouldn't head out to Hammersmith just to have this pizza, but it is a decent option if you're seeing a play.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Towpath


Near Whitmore Bridge
Canal Towpath
Islington

So my friend A picked one of the most delightful weeks in London to come visit. It was sunny, it was September so most of the crazy tourists were all gone, and I managed to join him for some adventures around town. I've always meant to check out the Towpath Cafe, seeing as how it's less than 10 minutes walk from where I live and I regularly jog past it when I'm motivated enough to go for a run. Finally, A's visit gave me an excuse, and there was no way we could pass up basking in the sun alongside the canal. Since we mostly wanted a bit of a snack, we chose what we thought would be two relatively light plates of food, a grilled cheese sandwich and a cheese plate. What we got were total gut bombs (in a very very good way, of course). The grilled cheese was buttery, crisp, and packed full of sharp flavored cheese with a tangle of green onions mixed in. Like the grilled cheese you can get at Borough Market (but dare I say, perhaps even better?) The cheese plate was absolutely enormous for the £6.50 we paid. Three doorstopper sized wedges of cheese graced the plate, alongside grapes and a board full of fresh brown bread. As much as we tried, we couldn't quite get through all the cheese, and then we waddled off into the sunshine to walk it all off.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Roast Pork Belly and New Potatoes


I often get lovely big chunks of pork belly in Chinatown - it keeps well in the freezer and is always welcome when you're looking for something hearty, comforting and a bit greedy. This super simple method is one of my go-to techniques.

Roast Pork Belly and New Potatoes
Very loosely based on this recipe

Ingredients

1.5kg pork belly
3-4 tablespoons of Chinese five spice powder
1kg small new potatoes
salt and pepper

Method

1. If the fat is to crackle, you will need to score and season it. This is how. With an ultra-sharp blade, score through the skin at finger-thick widths (to give long, pickupable strips of crackling). Go down through the fat under the skin, but don't cut into the meat. Or you can do it in a diamond pattern as in the picture above.

2. Generously salt and pepper the pork belly. Rub the Chinese five-spice powder into the pork belly, pushing it into any available crevice or slit. You need to give the seasoning time to do its stuff, so leave the meat in a cool place for an hour or so. 

3. Wash the potatoes and tip them into a roasting pan.

4. Set the oven at 200°C/gas 6. You are going to cook the pork directly on the oven shelf above the spuds, so place one oven shelf near the bottom and another two thirds of the way up. When the oven has come up to temperature, pour a little oil over the potatoes, just enough to stop them from sticking, add a wineglass of water, and shake them about a bit, then put the roasting pan on the lower shelf.

5. Pull the top shelf out and place the pork on it, skin side up, then slide it back. Leave the pork and potatoes for an hour, tossing the potatoes once during cooking, so that they turn over. Presumably you want your pork juicy and barely pink. Cut into it with a sharp knife to check its progress. Any pink in there? Then cook it for a little longer. You should find it will be just right in about an hour and half.

6. To crisp the skin, the heat will need to be higher, so turn the oven up to 250°C/ gas 8, or its highest setting, and continue cooking until the skin is puffed and crisp. Remove the meat and leave it to rest--it will be juicier that way--then remove the potatoes, which should be sticky and deep brown.

7. Cut the meat into thick chunks rather than slices and serve with the potatoes.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Mamounia Lounge




136 Brompton Road 
Knightsbridge
London
SW3 1HY

I'll be honest and say that Knightsbridge is not one of my usual haunts, but when I was invited to come to Mamounia Lounge to check out their Moroccan and Lebanese menu, it seemed like a good reason to expand the horizons a bit. A short walk from Knightsbridge station, Mamounia Lounge is decked out more like a bar/club than restaurant, and I probably wouldn't have thought about it as a place for dinner if I was just walking past. Inside, it's all dim lighting and dark, intense colors. We started with the long cocktail list, and I tried a Gold Digger cocktail (passion fruit, vanilla, vodka, champagne) and A had the Mamounia Old Fashioned with Flor de Cana 21 rum. They were both well balanced, though A did realize he'd chosen an after-dinner drink for his pre-dinner drink. 

To start we had the incredibly creamy Hommus Shawarma (topped with grilled lamb), and deep fried squid which managed to be both crispy and tender. The mixed grill and lamb shank tagine mains also showed off the skills of the kitchen - I'm not sure I've ever had a chicken kebab that was so juicy and full of chickeny flavor, and the lamb shank was braised to a fall-apart consistency that just needed gentle prodding with a fork. 

Desserts were not as stellar as the savory dishes though - the Mahalabia, an Arabic pudding garnished with pistachios, tasted mostly of roses to me, which was unexpected as I'd never had the dish before and there was no mention of that flavor on the menu. The fig tart had a rather thick, stodgy pastry, but it was saved by the fabulous cinnamon ice cream. This is going to sound disgustingly greedy, but our waiter was insistent that we try the chocolate fondant and brought it out for our third dessert, and to be fair it was the best of the three. 

For something sweet after a meal that won't stuff you even further, I'd suggest going outside for a shisha - we had the mixed fruit tobacco pumped through mango juice, and it was a more unique, fun experience than the dessert menu. That's a popular option though and there isn't much space outside, so you do need to book in advance.

Since we were there on a Friday night, a stunning belly dancer performed after dinner - a bit of extra entertainment if you're looking for it! It seems to fit the neighborhood well - I would hesitate a bit at the prices, especially as I live close to Dalston where meals like this would be half the cost, but you do get a more glamorous presentation in return, and there are certainly many comparably priced places in Knightsbridge without the quality cooking seen here.

Goodfoodetc was invited to review Mamounia Lounge.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Hop-Namo


Second floor of Boxpark
2-4 Bethnal Green Rd
London
E1 6GY

There is a glut of Vietnamese restaurants in the Shoreditch area, and this newcomer has set up in the "pop-up" shopping area of Boxpark. A bunch of shipping containers have been stacked to make tiny individual stores and food outlets. Being the trendsters that we are, P and I arranged a meetup to look at the stores and see what kind of dinner we could get. After giggling at hipsters in onesies, we decided to pit Hop-Namo against the rest of the places in the area. I ordered a regular beef pho, and it was definitely not the dish I usually think of - the flavor of the broth was quite different and it was missing a depth to it - when I think of good pho, I can feel my bones getting stronger from the richness of the stock that the noodles are in, and this was certainly lacking that feeling. No plate of cilantro, beansprouts, basil, chillies, and lime was served alongside it either - so I just ate what was in my bowl with no adjustments for personal preference. Not to say it was bad - I finished it - it just isn't what I want when I want a good bowl of pho, so I doubt I'll be returning.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Parmesan Celery Salad


So as I was staring at a large bunch of celery in the fridge, I remembered this recipe I saw that seemed incredibly simple and used only ingredients I already had. Of course, I had to go mess with it a lot, since I also wanted to use up a slightly withered carrot, and then to turn it into more of a main meal I wanted something more bulky in there (hence the chickpeas, in a totally different quantity). So basically by the time I was done it was a very different dish, but still, I know exactly where the jumping-off point was!

Point is, you can make the original, which I'm sure would be great, or you can tweak to your heart's content, and still make something wonderful.

Parmesan Celery Chickpea Salad
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients

8 large celery stalks, stripped of strings
1 large carrot
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
2 cans of chickpeas, heated
40 g roasted salted peanuts
sea salt
freshly chopped herbs (or herb flowers), or reserved celery leaves

Method

Slice the celery stalks quite thinly - 1/8-inch or so. Do the same to the carrot. Then, in a small bowl, make a paste with the olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan. Set aside. In a large bowl toss the heated chickpeas with the olive-Parmesan mixture. When well combined, add the celery, carrots and the peanuts. Toss once more. Taste and add a bit of salt if needed. Serve in a bowl or platter topped with herb flowers and/or celery leaves.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yipin


70-72 Liverpool Road 
London
N1 0QD

I've already been back to Yipin, which given the number of restaurants on my must-try list, is quite a feat. There are good reasons for this though - 1) the food is fabulous, 2) they're very nice and never empty but never too full, and 3) it's in my neighborhood. Above you can see dry-fried green beans and braised pork belly. Not pictured is the deep fried beef with cumin, which I liked but A had objections to as he's not a huge fan of cumin. On a different visit with my adventurous friend Paul, we went for some more off-piste items that definitely included quite a lot of offal, and we scarfed down every morsel.

One thing to note - Yipin is technically a Hunanese restaurant, though they also include Szechuan dishes and some more "regular" dishes that you would typically see in a Chinese restaurant. I'm enjoying the trend in London of more specialised Chinese restaurants, as each region really does have very different flavors. I think it's just a level of care that people are taking with their food now - they want to see and eat things that they might not have had before, and especially amongst food-lovers there's a whole new vocabulary around ethnic food. Anyway - if you're curious as to what Hunanese food tastes like, go check out Yipin - you'll at least get an accurate idea (and hopefully you'll get addicted!) 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Vietnamese Shrimp and Quinoa Salad


Another Vietnamese-inspired dish that is being written about completely out of season. But just think what you can do with it next year when the veggies are fresh and you want something light but packed with flavor!

Quinoa, by the way, is one of my favorite grains - it cooks very easily and is apparently incredibly healthy for you, but most importantly, I love the texture and taste it adds - a sort of nutty, lightly popping / crunching sensation between the teeth.

Again, any in-season veggies that you would have in a salad would work below, so just use it as a guideline - the most important components not to forget are the dressing and quinoa. The vegetables and proteins can all be swapped out for alternatives.

Vietnamese Shrimp and Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Serious Eats

Ingredients

For the dressing:
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more if desired

For the salad:
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 cup quinoa, rinsed (or pre-washed)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into thin bite-sized strips
1 carrot, peeled and shredded

1 courgette, sliced thinly
1 avocado, diced
1 small cucumber, diced
 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander


Method

Add quinoa, salt and 1-2/3 cups water to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed and quinoa is cooked. Transfer to a serving bowl and let cool.

In the meantime, make the dressing by combining the lime juice, Asian fish sauce, sugar and crushed red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add shrimp to the dressing and let marinate until ready to assemble the salad.

Once quinoa is cool, add red bell pepper, carrot, courgette, avocado, and cucumber to the bowl. Right before serving, add the dressing, shrimp and coriander and toss well. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt, sugar or crushed red pepper flakes if necessary. Serve cold.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tierra Peru



164 Essex Road  
London 
N1 8LY

I am late to the party, but there has been a sudden appearance of Peruvian restaurants in London. One opened up just down the street from where I live, so J and I arranged to meet up there to give it a try. She has a Taste Card which entitled us to 50% off, making the meal a bargain. Of course we had to start with Pisco Sours - one traditional and one with the addition of algarrobina syrup (apparently made from some kind of desert fruit). They were refreshing but quite sweet - I'll need to try some more before I determine whether or not a Pisco Sour is better for after dinner rather than before.

Onwards to the starters - Anticuchos de Corazon de res (beef heart skewers) and Cebiche de pescado (marinated fish). While I love all weird cuts of meat, I have to say I preferred the cebiche as it was lighter and easier to eat more of. J went for additional seafood in her main - the Picante de mariscos which is described as fresh seafood cooked in a sauce of aji panca, aji Amarillo & fish stock served with steamed white rice and fried potato medallions. It was tangy and fresh and a good counterpoint to my very rich main, the Chicharrones de cerdo con chifles de camote frito y salsa criolla, which was basically deep fried slices of pork belly. Thankfully I adore pork belly, and managed to finish the plate which is pretty amazing given that the pieces of pork were enormous. We were stuffed but couldn't resist a traditional Peruvian dessert, Suspiro a la limeƱa, which is made of sweet milk and caramel topped with soft meringue. I'm not much of a sweets person and this was way too sugary for me, though of course as we sat there chatting, we found ourselves dipping our spoons in, even though each bite made me grimace a bit with the tooth-shocking sweetness.

Atmosphere is not the strong point here, but the food was tasty enough (and interesting enough) for me to go back - I'd say, based on what we had, that the seafood dishes are their strengths, and I'd skip dessert next time.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Nizuni


22 Charlotte Street
London
W1T 2NB

Nizuni is a gorgeous little Japanese place on Charlotte Street. I chose it due to its proximity to the Odeon on Tottenham Court Road, where P&P and I were going to watch Magic Mike, and because there was a Toptable deal of some sort. Turns out it was fabulous and much better than the movie. I admit it was so long ago I barely remember what we ordered - I can see edamame, sliced octopus with citrus sauce, deep fried squid and chicken gyoza in the picture, and we must have ordered some mains as well. But even though I might not have clear recollections of exactly what we ate, I know we really enjoyed the meal and that I would definitely go back if I was craving Japanese and in the area, so that will have to be enough.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Red Chilli


70-72 Portland Street
Manchester
M1 4GU

Red Chilli is one of Manchester's well known Szechuan Chinese restaurants, and ever since Jay Rayner wrote about it I've been wanting to go. On a previous trip to Manchester, G & H took us and a bunch of other friends there, but I had a strange illness that made me lose my appetite and therefore missed out on the joy of all that spicy numbing food. So when I was back in Manchester for work, I made sure to detour to Red Chilli for a takeaway dinner. After some consultation with the waiter about what would travel well and be good with rice, I ordered two of their cold starters: Sliced Ox’s Heart, Ox’s Tongue, Ox’s Tripe in Chilli Sauce with Crushed peanuts, and Special Flavored Shredded Chicken. These were promptly wrapped up and I couldn't wait to dig in - I was starving and could tell from all the red hot chilli oil that I was going to need all the steamed rice and napkins that were included. It was wonderful - and perfect at room temperature, since the stinging/numbing chilli sensation didn't need to be coupled with burning my tongue. I valiantly tried to eat it all but had to give up about two-thirds of the way through. I might demand we go back there next time I'm in Manchester - it's possibly the favorite meal I've had there.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Vietnamese Beef Salad


Apologies for a long absence. There have been a lot of weddings, visitors, and travels recently, and I haven't been able to get myself in front of this blog for long enough to properly write up anything. 

It's a shame, really, since this salad was so delightful, and perfect for the bit of sunny weather we had. A and I were probably going through one of our many phases of trying to eat slightly healthier, lighter meals, and this was a huge winner. I'm pretty sure I used a cut of beef that was not particularly luxurious, but made sure to only sear it quickly so that it wouldn't get tough. I see a mix of lettuce, rocket, cucumbers, and peppers on the plate, so let's assume that is what I used, though really any leafy, crunchy, crispy vegetables would work as well. I think the crushed peanuts on top were the real kicker to this recipe, so try not to omit them if at all possible.

Vietnamese Beef Salad
Serves 2

Ingredients
Salad:
250g beef steak - sliced thinly, against the grain
1/2 head of lettuce
1/2 cucumber, sliced
1 or 2 bell peppers, different colors, diced into bite-size pieces
1 carrot, sliced into thin coins
Handful of coriander (cilantro), mint and basil, roughly chopped
any other salad greens you like (nothing too bitter, I don't think)
1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts, crushed
Dressing:
4 tbsp lime juice
4 tbsp fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp chili flakes

Marinade for beef:
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Method

1. Mix beef slices with marinade ingredients, and set aside for at least 10 minutes but overnight if you wish.

2. Assemble your salad with all salad ingredients except for the beef and peanuts.

3. Put dressing ingredients in a jar or container and shake well.

4. When beef is done marinating, heat a pan over high heat. Toss beef in and quickly sear it on all sides before removing to a plate.

5. Pour dressing over salad leaves and toss well. Plate the salad on serving plates, then top with beef and a scattering of peanuts.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Save A Cheese

I'm all for good causes that also result in cheese eating.

‘Save-A-Cheese’ and help stricken cheesemakers rebuild their lives and warehouses by buying Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) from the devastated artisan cheesemakers in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy hit by 2 earthquakes in a short space of time on the 20th & 29th May 2012.

Go here to save a cheese!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

MEATmarket


The Deck, Jubilee Market Hall
Tavistock Street
Covent Garden
London
WC2E 8BE

E and I have bonded over cocktails, the West Wing, and a deep love of burgers. When I saw that MEATmarket was opening in Covent Garden, we made immediate plans to lunch there. We each ordered a Dead Hippie (double patties fried in mustard, American cheese, Dead Hippie sauce) and I had the jalapeno poppers while E ordered fries. While it was all as filthily delicious as it looks, I would definitely opt for MEATliquor over MEATmarket, as the menu is just too limited at MEATmarket. All of the burgers are double patties, which is a bit overwhelming if you're just looking for lunch, and MEATmarket doesn't have the buffalo wings that I adore so much. Still - we didn't have to wait for our food here, and if you're in the mood for a burger that will make you feel guilty, it still hits the spot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yalla Yalla



12 Winsley Street
London
W1W 8HQ

P suggested Yalla Yalla for dinner, as he loves it. I'd been meaning to try it for ages and was happy to oblige. We didn't have to wait very long for a table, even though it seemed like the restaurant was rammed. P had many recommendations so I trusted him - we got lamb kibbeh (raw lamb mixed with spices and bulgur wheat) and grilled halloumi to start, and then I had a mixed kebab so that I could try both the chicken and the lamb. It was very greedy ordering, I will admit - I would have been fine with just a main - but it was all so delicious that we managed to polish it all off, except for the dish they brought out by mistake - an additional portion of halloumi. When we told the waiter we'd already had some, he just shrugged and left it with us - so that turned into my lunch for the next day. I'd definitely go back - just one warning, it can be quite loud, so make sure you go with someone who has decent hearing!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Daphne



83 Bayham Street
London
NW1 0AG

I managed to get tickets to Esperanza Spalding at Koko for A's birthday this year. Since it was a birthday night out, dinner seemed appropriate beforehand, and after a quick stop at Brewdog, we wandered into Daphne. It was a lovely evening and there was a nice table outside just calling to us, and the charming waiters quickly took our orders. We had some bread, olives and octopus to start - I still love the grilled octopus at La Vina more than anywhere else I've had it in London, but Daphne's version wasn't bad. We then had a mixed seafood grill and lamb kebabs for mains, with a little side salad. Nothing was remarkable, but it was also all properly cooked and just what we wanted for a sunny outdoor meal. The bill arrived with what I would call Turkish delight, but when I exclaimed "Oh, Turkish delight!" the waiter ran off and brought back the box proclaiming it "Greek delight". We ended the meal with a laugh.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Bob Bob Ricard


1 Upper James St
London
W1F 9DF

My lovely (and very generous) friend C took me out for a birthday dinner at Bob Bob Ricard, which is the perfect place to snuggle into a booth with someone you really like hanging out with - the drinks, food and luxurious coziness of the whole place makes it one of my favorite meals in recent memory. The "Push for champagne" button at each table sets the tone for the whole place - whatever you want, whenever you want it, delivered with charm! Due to the multiple drinks and courses, my memory is not the clearest, but I definitely remember having the truffled potato and porcini vareniki pictured above, each topped with a tiny onion ring. For mains we tore apart an Old Bay Crispy Chicken, which made good use of one of my favorite seasonings and paired it with the tenderness of a baby chicken. There was also a Veal Fillet Holstein, which was essentially a schnitzel topped with a tiny fried quail's egg and sitting in an incredible sauce. A shoutout to the truffled mashed potato as well, which we polished off easily, before moving on to the weirdest dessert order ever - macaroni and cheese (don't look at us that way!) and the BBR Signature Chocolate Glory, which had a beautiful dome of gilded chocolate that was then melted by the hot chocolate sauce the waiter poured over it. And of course, being extra thoughtful, my friend had also arranged for a specially decorated mini-birthday cake to appear. I am now slightly embarrassed as I read through everything we ate (and I've missed off some other bits too) - but anyone that knows me knows that feeding me is the best way to celebrate, and this is a meal I'll remember for ages.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Scotland Day 8 & 9 - RAIN, RAIN and MORE RAIN (and Edinburgh)

Here we come to our final day of vacation (I'm not really counting the last half day we had in Edinburgh before catching the train back to London). Thankfully the prior days were more gracious, weather-wise, as this day managed to depress us all slightly with its dreariness.

The drive from Dunkeld to St. Andrews was a steady slate-gray view, and I did experience some reluctance to get out of the car once we were parked. Our umbrellas struggled with the rain and wind as we walked to St. Andrews Cathedral, which is unfortunately a ruin with no sheltered spaces, as you can see below.

A photo cannot capture the misery of this day
A and C were so fed up with trying to keep their umbrellas from blowing inside out that they headed immediately for a cafe. My parents and I attempted to take some pictures at the cathedral and then at St. Andrews Castle, but we ended up crying uncle as well and soon all of us were in the cafe, trying to get warm again.

While St. Andrews was a bit of a disaster (though I'm sure it has many redeeming qualities when you aren't being soaked), we were looking forward to Anstruther, home to some very famous fish and chips.

I found chips at a fish and chip shop that I actually like!
Anstruther Fish Bar was noted on our itinerary as being the best fish and chips in the UK. I was a bit dubious about this as my experience with chippies has not been that extraordinary, but it seemed worth a stop just to check. An order of traditional battered cod and then some haddock in breadcrumbs arrived quite quickly - they were happy for the five of us to share and brought us extra plates to make it easier. Surprisingly, I loved the traditional batter more than the breadcrumbs - it was light and greaseless, and the chips were fried so well that they were actually crisp on the outside and full of potato-ey flavor on the inside.

Our next destination was Dunfermline Abbey, but A the politics geek noticed that Kirkcaldy, Gordon Brown's patch, was on the way, so he insisted that we drive through it. All I can say is that I don't recommend this journey to anyone else. Perhaps the route we took through Kirkcaldy was particularly industrial, but as far as I could tell there was nothing to see.

Again, the rain scuppered most of our hopes of touring Dunfermline - we basically went into the Abbey, took some pictures, and then decided to head off to Edinburgh to make sure we could return the rental car before closing time.

At least we are somewhere dry
After dropping off the parents and the luggage at Abcorn Guest House, A and I had a traffic-jam-filled journey to the rental car drop off, then took a train back into the center of town. By the time we got back to the B&B, my parents were heading out for a walk, so we decided to grab C and head to a local pub with a great whisky list. Leslie's Bar was just around the corner from where we were staying, which made it a perfect place to hide from the rain. It was lovely and cozy inside, with wooden panelling and red velvet upholstery everywhere, and A was delighted by his whisky options.

My parents were pretty excited about more Chinese food, and the street that Leslie's Bar was on happened to be home to Huaxing Chinese Supermarket, as well as two Chinese restaurants. After grabbing some snacks at the market, we chose Good Year for a celebratory last meal. The salt and pepper chicken wings that came as our starter were enormous, meaty, crispy and spicy and boded well for the rest of the meal. As dishes poured out of the kitchen, my parents were absolutely delighted - there was no way we could finish that meal but we did give it a valiant try, and they kindly boxed up the leftovers so my parents could enjoy a second dinner the next night. Another big bonus point - the restaurant is BYOB and doesn't charge corkage, and there is a wine shop just a few doors down called Vino where we picked out a great Riesling and Rioja.

Holy cow, Chinese feast

We waddled back to the B&B for a good night's sleep, and when we woke up we had our last full breakfast (sadly the least appetizing of them all, though that was partially because it was the eighth full breakfast we'd had). A wander around drizzly Edinburgh found us looking at the Olympic rings and the National Gallery of Scotland to duck away from the wetness. Luckily all of us like the Impressionist painters so we spent a bit of time in there, before trodding around in the drizzle a bit more. Our taxi driver had pointed out the Elephant House cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote her Harry Potter books so we popped in there for a coffee break as well. And then, it was time to leave...

Doesn't this make you excited for the Olympics?
Goodbye Scotland. It was good knowing you. You may be grey, wizened and a bit damp, but your redeeming qualities are many as well. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Scotland Day 7 - The Tallest Tree in Britain, More Ospreys, Police, Howie's Bistro

We woke up to a grey and drizzly morning in Dunkeld. After another hearty breakfast, we decided to go for a walk before the rain got any heavier, so we headed off to the Hermitage. Thankfully, the thick covering of trees meant that very little rain actually landed on us, and as we walked past a bubbling stream and some mini-waterfalls, we came across what was listed as the tallest tree in Britain.
Is this really the tallest tree in Britain?
More interestingly, I read later at Dunkeld Cathedral that the reason why this area is covered in Douglas firs is that one of the previous Dukes of Atholl decided to put seeds into cannons and blasted the surrounding area with them. So now, hundreds of years later, there are incredibly tall fir trees all over the place.

After our walk we went to Dunkeld Cathedral which was pretty, and more importantly, dry inside. The rain was really getting heavy at this point so after our very thorough inspection of the cathedral (and an eclectic antiques store nearby), we went back to the B&B for a little snack consisting of some Scottish cheese and crackers we picked up at The Scottish Deli

A and his mom were feeling a little under the weather so we left them to rest at the B&B and headed out to Loch of the Lowes. While checking out the hides on the loch, where you can watch birds and wildlife from the comfort of a shelter, we bumped into loads of friendly birdwatchers who were very helpful at directing us where to look to see all the interesting sights. There are ospreys there, too, and I actually saw this osprey swoop into the water, catch a massive fish (which you can see on the right side of the photo) and drag it up to the top of a very tall tree where her nest is. She's the oldest breeding osprey they know of - apparently almost three times as old as your average osprey.
This osprey will mess you up.
After that, we found a trail that headed toward Dunkeld and went for a wander.
Picturesque moss.
The wander found us going down a rather steep hill all the way into Dunkeld, and we popped out right in from the The Scottish Deli again. What goes down must come up(!) so we trekked back up like the valiant hill walkers we are, and were very proud of ourselves when we made it back to Loch of the Lowes.

By this point it was dinner time again, and Kate, the owner of the B&B, had recommended Howie's Bistro to us. We arrived and proceeded to have one of the best meals of our Scottish trip. A and my dad ordered the Perthshire spring lamb, redcurrant & leek casserole, and the noises my dad made while eating this indicated that he was not going to share. I had Howie’s own lasagne with potato wedges & dressed salad, which was rich and warming and perfect for the chilly, wet weather. Shockingly, my mom's dish, which sounded boring: Leek, mushroom & pannchetta penne pasta topped with a garlic butterflied chicken breast, was anything but - I basically licked her bowl clean when she couldn't finish it, since the mushroom flavor was so intense and creamy. And A's mom's pan seared sea bass had a crisp, savory skin and was cooked just right.
LAMB.
Lasagne (but the chips let you know you're still in the UK)
We shared the lime cheesecake with chocolate ice cream for dessert, which made the cheesecake lovers and chocolate lovers all very happy. When we got back to the B&B, we found out that Howie's Bistro is owned by Kate's two sons - so thankfully we really enjoyed our meal or else that could have been an awkward situation...
Anyway - Dunkeld is a small place, so I was surprised to find such a great place for dinner, but that seemed to be the trend in Scotland, finding really outstanding food in out of the way places.