I’ve started helping out at Farm:Shop in Dalston. It’s an exciting and unique project where we’re seeing how much produce we can grow in a disused shop front. And by this, I do mean quite literally, every inch of it. We have aquaponic tanks of fish which feed into lettuce and chard, jars of kefir bacteria (for ginger beer), chickens on the roof and a polytunnel in the back yard, in which we’re planning to plant a cinema screen in amongst the greenery. We’re also thinking of getting a couple of pigs and there will definitely be a great deal of barbecuing if it ever decides to woman-up and stop being winter. I’ll be supplying various gastro-goodies and helping out over the coming months in the café, which officially launches later on this month. I’ve also written a piece for Fork Magazine about what we’re doing, so look out for it in issue 17.
My friend George has this theory about Brick Lane. He reckons there’s a secret factory operating about six feet underground which spends all day churning up two enormous vats of neon slurry. That there are pipes snaking up from the vats to the kitchens of each of the restaurants, which have taps marked “yellow” or “red” depending on the particular hue you prefer your slop. The lane is saturated with naff “Indian” restaurants and it’s so refreshing to see a proper southern place in the area, offering some deeply regional alternatives. Dosa World has been open for three months already, only seats about twenty and the owners hail from Chennai. Although I’m due to visit next week, the nagging siren song of a decent stuffed pancake a mere phone call away proves too much.
I’ve had my fair share of shonky review meals this year, so when invited to sample Michael Nadra’s wares, I was more than a little bit cynical. Located in the heartland of Chiswick, I have to confess I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed.
I enjoyed one of the tastiest pizzas I’ve had in yonks last night. Due Sardi is a tiny little Sardinian gem specialising in stone baked pizzas and fresh pasta just next door to Jaguar shoes, on Kingsland Road. Using family recipes and ingredients from back home, they deliver and offer take aways that you can eat at Jaguar Shoes (if you can bear all those solipsistic fashion students). I’d heard plenty of great things, and my friend Rosie (who’s lived in Cagliari and is a bit of an expert on these matters) told me she’d overheard Italian customers putting in orders for off-menu Sardinian specialities – always a good sign.
Let’s face it, a lot of cookery classes can be a bit of a let down can’t they? Far too often you have all the exciting, fun bits done for you, while you’re left feeling more than a little bit patronised and relegated to stir, perhaps. Like some sort of small child, “your” finished dish is praised and cooed over, even though you both know that you haven’t really made it at all.
Thankfully, the Hashi cooking class is nothing like this. Yes, some of the stuff is prepped (after all, you’d be there all night otherwise) but there is an immediate feeling of engagement and passion – I came away feeling like I’d genuinely learnt something new and useful. In Reiko’s beautiful Wimbledon kitchen, along with Su-Lin, Carly, Kavey , Cara , Denise and Luiz Hara (her trusty assistant for the evening) I learnt how to shape gyoza correctly (instead of my usual Cornish pasty type creations), how to balance flavours and the best place in London for sashimi-grade fish (Atari-ya). We cooked up a garlicky beef tataki with creamy sesame sauce, some of the finest gyoza I’ve had in the West, zaru soba with velvety spicy aubergine and her signature dish of scallops with creamy spicy sauce on sushi rice. All this was washed down with copious amounts of green tea and a selection of fine wines to match, lovingly chosen by @winesleuth.
Living around the corner from Brick Lane means I’m always getting hassled for decent curry house recommendations. Despite being surrounded by a multitude, there really aren’t many in this area that I would actually rate. Most serve up dishes that are either creamed and sweetened beyond recognition or are so authentic, that no one but the most local of Bangladeshis would really want to eat them (dried fish curry is definitely an acquired taste). I quite liked Chaat when it first opened, a little place on Redchurch Street, but my last visit was disappointing. Tayyabs is the main reason I live where I do, and I’ve eaten there regularly for the past few years – so it’s nice to have a bit of a change now and again. I was therefore performing all manner of double take when I spotted “Cafe Kaati” from the top deck of the 205 the other day.
There are very few things in life that give me quite as much of a thrill as stumbling across a new deli. All those cheeses and cold meats you’d never find in your local supermarket, the artisan breads, the teas, the lovingly sourced condiments, those little tubs of pickled garlic and smoked artichoke hearts – it always makes for the most satisfying of browses. Seriously, nothing excites me more. Except perhaps finding a good charity shop, that is.
So imagine my delight when I discovered Green Valley, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of Middle Eastern treats, tucked away in a side street off the Edgware Road. Apparently it’s been here for years. When I asked the owner if it was ok to take a few pictures, he just smiled and nodded in a way that said he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.
My dining room is in Fulham, tucked around the corner from Fulham Broadway station to be more precise. Now, I rarely visit this part of town, but if I lived around here and wanted to eat somewhere that was a bit less manic than say the Harwood Arms, this would definitely be my regular haunt. Formerly a gastropub called “The Farm” it’s been recently refurbished and they’ve recruited head chef Julian Marshall who’s also done time at Anton Mosimann’s and The Lanesborough. The interior is adeck with coffee and cream tones of plushness. Whilst I’m not too sure about the name, it’s very well designed in a spacious-and-sophisticated-without-being-stuffy sort of way –designer Jason Hwang is a bit of a genius.
When I interviewed Francesco Mazzei last summer, he tipped me off about a little-known place he sometimes likes to visit with his wife and daughter. Tucked away in a quiet side street behind the Sainsbury’s in Angel, Tenore is an authentic Sardinian restaurant, with a great little line in wood fired pizzas. Chef Roberto Tonzanu, who worked with Gennaro Contaldo at Passione for many years, has run this little gem in a refurbished Barnsbury pub for the past year.
The decor is all overblown black and white prints, burgundy banquettes, priapic pepper grinders and single roses on the table. It welcomes you in, in an unpretentious trattoria kind of manner. Images of the Sardinian flag greet the eye at every turn, and it’s an image I’m eerily fascinated by. It’s basically a St Georges flag with the severed head of a Moor in every quarter. This represents the execution of Moorish kings after the reconquest of the island in the 11th century and was updated 10 years ago. Now the blindfolds on their heads have been replaced with hip hop style bandanas – I have no idea what this represents but it makes me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable.
Walking into the newly refurbished Avenue should really make me feel pretty sick.
This is predominantly because it’s plastered in photos of royal guards. Not royal guards doing what they’re paid to do, i.e.standing around all day doing nothing, mind you. Oh no. Its bearskin sporting royal guards engaged in all manner of hilarious and “wacky” activities like keeping fit down the gym or playing in steel pan bands, as if they’re actual real people or something. This is something I’d generally balk at, but as Tristan Welch (Launceston Place) explains, it’s a nod and a wink to the local area, we are after in the heartland of Piccadilly. I let it go, perhaps because the rest of the place is so well designed. The bar is pretty glamorous; in a clean and understated way and the floor to ceiling window lends a nice airy feel.
The menu is full of equally chilled but witty “mix and match” treats. Dishes like clam chowder, burgers and mushrooms on toast lounge comfortably alongside poached lobster, rib of beef and haunch of venison; each with the option of having a sharing sized or individual portion at half the price.