There’s something irresistible about good fish and chips. What is it about that maddening waft when someone brushes past with a steaming bouquet? My death row meal would definitely feature whisper crisp chips, slathered in Sarsons and a big hunk of freshly battered piscine protein… So imagine my delight when I heard that Poppies had sprung up at the end of Hanbury Street, just next door to Rosa’s.
The fish is all sustainably caught and fried in groundnut oil.
The decor is uber-retro.
The waitresses are decked out in 50′s style uniforms and there’s even a 6 foot juke box.
It’s clear that a lorra love has gone into this.
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.
It’s a bit of an urban fallacy to think that all the best places are tucked away in the ethnic enclaves and fringes of a city. Of course, some fantastic dishes can be found out in the sticks, and often at a fraction of the damage of their Zone 1 counterparts. But like anywhere, you’re always going to come across a fair old amount of chaff. And conversely, not every curry house or noodle bar in the centre of town is automatically going to rip you off with some watered down approximation of the real thing.
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.
I don’t know about you, but the merest rumour of sunshine and eating outdoors suddenly becomes an absolute priority. This sounds great in theory, if you’re in Hampstead say, or in a nice patch of green, but let’s face it, here in le smoke you’re more often than not going to find your plate attacked by some anabolic pigeon and your bag pilfered by that soap-dodging type who’s been surreptitiously loitering around all evening. The chorus of sirens wailing in every direction generally renders any thoughts of conversation to little more than lip reading and that rogue gust of wind means its pretty much game over before the waiter has even started offering your starter to the wrong table. Suddenly, locking yourself indoors with a nice valium sandwich starts to seem like a champion idea. When I was invited to check out Tom’s Terrace, a pretty little spot in the majestic grounds of Somerset House I was relieved to note that it harboured absolutely none of these elements.
Presented with a table denting spread cooked by Mr. Aitkens himself on a golden summer’s evening I was prepared to be thoroughly spoilt and not reminded of just how spoilt I have become.
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.
When did it all get so manic? I find myself with so little time on my hands these days that I rarely make it to foodie launches or parties anymore. In fact, I hate to admit it, but I’m rapidly becoming more of a bolted-salad-on-the-way-to-the-next- board-meeting kind of woman. Last night however, I decided to ditch the shoulder pads and found myself at the launch of Wahaca’s new summer menu. The thing I love about Thomasina’s food is the way in which the dishes are all so unpretentious, authentic and secretly quite good for you.
Highlights included a mouth popping ceviche tostada, a ridiculously intense hibiscus and passionfruit jelly and my favourite fryer-fresh, cinnamon-scented churros y chocolate. I do luff the fried dough.
I’d never tried cornbread before- our seemingly endless feast included warm buttercup yellow hunks of the stuff. The texture was lovely, like savoury Madeira cake which came replete with a fat slick of rich mole sauce. I also loved the new cactus taco with courgette and cheese – the cactus flesh was a revelation; subtle, savoury and yet simultaneously bursting with freshness. What’s more 20p of the cost of each of these beauties goes to the EDNICA Charity, supporting the street children of Mexico. Never before has doing it for the kids been quite so delicious…
I’ve written a little something about the Joe Allen burger in this week’s Le Cool
You can read all about it here:
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.
I never win anything. And to be honest, I secretly prefer it that way. Maybe it’s the raging Brit in me, but I’m always elated when it rains and my money’s on the underdog every time. Winning just seems like something vulgar competitive types might do. Not real people. Not real people like me.
So when I was selected to judge the Brick Lane Curry Competition I was fairly incredulous. I too was going to get my turn to be a little smug one. As the next few hours descended into a hyper real parallel celebriverse, I had a hasty sip of the frankly insane world of being papped and gawped at like a prize pakora. I was duly lined up with the other judges, Nina Wadia, Andy Varma and the Mayor of Tower Hamlets (A-listers every one of them) as we ploughed through 36 curries in what felt like no time at all. Nina suggested we pair up and it was interesting to note that our likes and dislikes were so obverse. I sensed that she hailed from a more Northern part of the sub continent as she seemed drawn to the more robustly spiced chicken and lamb dishes, but appeared to be less enamoured with my favourites the platters of vegetables and curried fish.
Despite living within gobbing distance, I’ve been put off most of the curry houses on Brick Lane in recent years. More often than not I’ve been served some generic tourist fodder, rudely spiced and adrift in its very own floatation tank of ghee. And of course, the entries included a fair representation of these pappy confections gilded with sugar or fruit, (pineapple?!?) and engineered to dulcify a timid and pusillanimous Western palate. I always find this bizarre, as most of my non-Asian friends can out-Scoville me under the table any day. Having said that, the authenticity of most of the dishes was truly “incroyable”.
Drop dead delicious plates included succulent bay and cardamom infused kofta spheres, sopping with stout, beefy gravy. The spices were almost charred and the subtlest touch of naga chilli muttered away in the background, just enough to form a deeply smoky flavour. I also swooned over a traditional fish curry, each delicately spiced steak of ruhi brimming with curried roe, the kind of grub I’ve only ever witnessed at big family get togethers. Overall the standard was up there, some of the seekh kebabs were chop and chop with the Tayyabs hallmark. However we also tasted a truly retch-inducing tandoori lamb dish. Squatly floating, Jabba-like in a lake of its own horrid juices, we both gagged simultaneously upon oral contact. It bore hardly any seasoning and tasted of nothing more than tepid, liquefied lamb fat. It was mystifyingly bad. My immediate reaction was to spit it out, but I realised the perpetual artifice that constitutes celebrity life as Nina insisted that we smile and look cheerful while desperately trying not to vomit as the cameras clicked away.
Nina was lovely, she advised me to try just a tiny morsel of everything – she’d clearly done this before. We marked each dish on presentation, texture and of course flavour. We talked and giggled our way through most of the dishes, but when I glanced up I was met with an ocean of jostling searching glances, all analyzing our every move, trying to decode the messages transmitted from our tastebuds to the scoreboards. It made me realise the gravity of the competition – for most of these entrants our decisions would make or ruin a livelihood.
The winning dish was a torso above the rest, masterfully roasted tandoori king prawns in a stunningly well-balanced masala sauce, speckled with the ivory and emerald of coconut and chillies, the creation of the brilliant Amir Uddin from the Eastern Eye Balti House.
Later, over dinner in the winning restaurant, the Somali Mayor tells me how he grew up in Bethnal Green. As a young boy in the seventies he would see hoardes of BNP members on a daily basis standing at the top of Brick Lane chanting about “whites first” while the police turned a blind eye. I glance out of the window and try to picture what the street must have looked like then. He’d never in a million years predicted the thriving, cosmopolitan guide-book destination it’s become today. He reminisces about stones and shit and petrol bombs through letterboxes. I notice a skinny blonde guy wearing lime green jeggings with a proper 80’s flick and a wedge; the sort I’d usually mock mercilessly, chatting away and laughing with one of the neighbouring restaurant owners. Perhaps those Nathan Barley types aren’t so bad after all.
The chef gently cradles the fuzzy purple sphere, as if presenting his first born. He beams at us.
“It’s a peach” he explains, before slicing it open to reveal the juicy indigo flesh that bleeds softly into a pale white heart. We’ve just had one of the most spectacular lunches in the history of ever and now 30 year old head chef Brett Graham is introducing us to his tiny kitchen. He bounds into the back room and proudly pulls out a tray of green leaves from beneath a sodium lamp. I stare at him.
“Don’t worry, it’s not weed” he laughs. “These are my herbs”.
7-9 Exhibition Road
020 7590 0008
On Monday night I made a rare trip to West London for a Dine with Dos Hermanos hosted dinner at Casa Brindisa. I very nearly decided against going as it was £40 and I have exactly £45 to live off until the end of this month, and after all this was a school night. I then found myself more than a little intrigued as I am a fan of their blog but have never met them (or indeed any food bloggers) before. A quick glance at the menu and I was sold:
287 Upper Street
London N1 2TZ
I’ve been meaning to visit Ottolenghi’s for such a long time – there’s been many a time that I’ve admired those pretty rose-hued meringue stacks and luscious looking salads; the red and white exterior sleekly defined next to the plethora of cafes and restaurants on Upper Street. I usually glance briefly and longingly over from the other side of the road before rushing along, late for yet another appointment, only to be met by an impatient beautician instead of one of those friendly (yet frazzled) white pinafore-clad waiters. I’ve been reading Ottolenghi’s recipes in the Guardian for years now, have made his gorgeous macadamia and caramel cheesecake recipe at home and read endless glowing reviews of his food – so yes, my visit was well overdue. An impromptu visit from my future in-laws provided the perfect excuse to finally make the pilgrimage to Angel on what was an absolute scorcher of a Bank Holiday Monday.
I had the most amazing meal at Salt Yard – a rabbit dish so good that it made me laugh, fried parsnips with truffle and rosemary honey and padron peppers were all stand out tapas that I couldn’t wait to try to recreate at home. It’s really hard to get hold of padron peppers, the only place I could source them was from Brindisa in Borough Market, where you can get a bag of 30 for around £3.50.
Read the rest of this entry »
25 Newport Court, Chinatown, London, WC2H 7JS
Baozi Inn is the latest offering from Fuschia Dunlop, the extraordinary chef who trained at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu and also consultant to the extremely popular Bar Shu which serves authentic Sichuanese fare. Unlike most people, I am not a big fan of the place, finding the dishes a little too spicy for my wimp of a palate. Her books are amazing though and I love the fact that she has brought and encouraged authenticity to a Chinatown that was rapidly becoming just another tourist trap.
Situated on the corner of Little Newport street, Baozi Inn is slightly off the beaten track of the brasher restaurants on Gerrard Street, and fits comfortably into the surrounding shops and restaurants. The dishes are photographed and displayed on the window in a traditional manner and the interior is cosy and enticing. I went just after the lunchtime rush so the place was fairly empty and the staff were incredibly friendly. The menu was a delight, it had “this is a real find” written all over it.
For some years now I’ve been coming to Chinatown in the day, perhaps after shopping or more often before going to watch a film at the Curzon cinema around the corner. Over these years I have progressively managed to annoy most of the restaurants in the area by going in alone and asking for just a soup and maybe another starter. And nothing else. This has caused me no end of embarrassment, eliciting a range of responses which trough from sighs, pity and dirty looks, peaking at outright disgust. But at last there is a place that caters for people like me, people who sometimes might be hungover and perhaps just want small amounts of nourishing Oriental food.
This menu was my idea of heaven, offering tapas style small dishes, an impressive salad and soup section and also slightly more substantial noodle dishes with sauces. There was even an intriguing “special drinks” section which looked like something straight out of a Club Tropicana video (in a good way). Baozi are steamed Chinese buns filled with various fillings from char sui pork to red bean paste, they were offered here with pork, egg or radish for £1.20 each. I wondered what the popular but very cheap-looking stall that has been opposite for time-immemorial made of Baozi?
I opted for the radish baozi, only to find that it had sold out. Instead I went for the hot and sour soup and a lotus and mushroom salad. The waitress was really helpful and asked me if I wanted to try their home-made soy milk drink and also explained the fact that the soup contained their own home-made tofu. My food arrived and I have to say I almost wept it was so good.
3 Great Titchfield Street,Fitzrovia,London.W1W 8AX
This tiny café on Great Titchfield Street looked promising enough, packed full of media types and office workers when I went for a rainy weekday lunch. Aptly enough it specialises in Pho; the traditional street food dish of choice in Vietnam. A broth of beef broth, noodles and thin cuts of brisket, tripe with various garnishes Pho is heralded as a hangover cure, an aphrodisiac and is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
On the website there are some rather deceptive sound bites from the national press describing this national dish as if these glowing accolades are attributed to the restaurant. (This is a bit like opening a chippy in Laos called “fish and chips” and then creating a website full of international acclaim for the term “fish and chips” and then basking in that glow). Anyway, encouraged by the restaurant’s boast of offering a stock which takes up to 12 hours to prepare I ordered a bowl of the “vegetarian pho” with tofu and mushrooms. So many restaurants make the false assumption that just because you are ordering vegetables you must be a vegetarian and then proceed to make up for it by concocting some god-awful over-seasoned meatless stock, so I was delighted at the novelty of being able to order chicken stock with vegetarian ingredients .
Cha Cha Moon is the latest offering from Alan Yau, the man behind Yautcha and Hakkasan. I went to Hakkasan just after it had first opened in 2001 and had the most incredible meal. I recall being blown away by the reception area, the dark sexy décor a perfect dish of tea-smoked poultry and the little tobiko flying fish roe on my sashimi. I took my other half there for a birthday treat more recently only to discover that this is now a “sex in the city” recommended venue, i.e. it has been given the utter kiss of death.
Address: 25 Ganton Street, W1F 9BP
Tel: 020 7494 4170
Situated on the corner of Ganton Street, Dehesa brings what initially appears to be a welcome addition of “Italian-Spanish” food to this lively spot in Soho. On a balmy Friday night the boyfriend and I found ourselves attracted to the outside tables, and tried our best to ignore the raucous crowd from the pub opposite, who were practically sat at our table with us. Despite the fact that we couldn’t really hear ourselves think and resolutely sat through the din in the name of chilled café culture; there was actually something rather fun about sitting down to a civilised meal while people got completely rat-arsed next to us.
32 Canonbury Street, Islington, London, N1 2TB
A lot of my friends moan about how Islington has become a touristy hell in recent years, with many of its “original” residents fleeing to Stoke Newington or Crouch End. It certainly does seem to be full of pubs and wine bars, most of which are trendy enough but not exactly known for being relaxing or serving decent food. Thank god then, for The Marquess Tavern. Situated on a tree-lined side street off the Essex Road the small pub brightens up the corner like a proper local.
When I arrived the place was fairly empty, there were a few middle-aged couples but I found the atmosphere warm and welcoming. The French bar-man was particularly helpful without being overly flirty or annoying. The main dining area is a small light-filled area at the back of the pub with huge chalk boards proudly announcing classic seventies delicacies in the mode which seems to be de rigeur right now, you know things like sardines on toast and devilled lambs kidneys.