Monday, December 31, 2012


444 Edgware Road  
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.


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


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

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.

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

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  
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


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

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.

42-48 High Bridge
Newcastle upon Tyne

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

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

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

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
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

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
As You Like It
Archbold Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne

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

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!