Friday, 29 October 2010

Foto Friday # 23

It's Autumn, and it is mushroom time. I just wish we could buy porcini's fresh, and this cheap in our markets, like they do in Bologna.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

An Italian Sunday Lunch

It’s kinda surprising that I have not posted more recipes here, as I feel I am a better cook than I am a reviewer of restaurants. If that is what I am doing. Who knows.
But I am definitely a better cook than I am a photographer. As you can see from some of my fotos on these pages.
So in a way to put matters right, I am intending to put a few more recipes on this blog. Starting with last Sunday’s lunch that we had. I had intended to cook this on Saturday night, but a cinema outing laid waste to any thoughts of cooking late at night.
So I decided to cook on a more casual basis on Sunday afternoon. We had two courses, Gnocchi in a Tomato Sauce, and Fennel Sausages and Lentils. I was in an Italian mood.

So for the Gnocchi and Tomato Sauce, just to make a note here I brought the gnocchi from Camisa and Sons in Soho. I don’t see the point sometimes of making things, when other people make then fresh for you at such low prices that it isn’t worth it.

100 – 150g Gnocchi per person
1 Tin of Italian plum tomato’s
1 Garlic clove, crushed with a back of knife and salt
4 Shallots
A few good glugs of good olive oil
Parmesan Cheese

  1. Pop pot on low flame. Layer the bottom of the pan with the olive oil. Let it gently warm up.
  2. Add the diced shallots, stir around and turn down to lowest possible flam and cover.
  3. You will have to stir once in a while, but the lid on will help sweat the shallots. Once they are soft enough to squish between your fingers, add the garlic.
  4. Stir for a minute or two until you can smell the garlic.
  5. Add the tomato’s and a pinch of sugar. Stir. Bring to a simmer and lower heat and cover.
  6. After about an hour or less, you will have a good thick tomato sauce perfect for some gnocchi. Season to taste and set aside.
  7. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add salt. When on a rolling boil, add gnocchi, cover until returns to a rolling boil.
  8. As you do this heat another small pan with a glug of olive oil in it. Add a couple of spoonfuls of the tomato sauce to heat.
  9. Drain the gnocchi and add to the tomato sauce. Increase heat to evaporate any excess liquid. Swirl or flip the pan constantly as you do not want this to stick.
  10. Pour into bowls, grate over fresh Parmesan cheese. Eat and enjoy.

For the second course, a classic dish of sausages and lentils.

Olive oil to coat the pan
1 onion finely diced
A garlic clove, skinned and smashed with the side of a knife
100ml Wine
50ml water
2 Italian sausages each
100g Lentils per person

  1. To cook the lentils. Warm a large pan and add some olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the diced onion. Cover, lower heat and leave to sweat, Stir once in a while.
  2. Once the onion is soft, add the lentils. Raise the heat a little and stir the lentils until you think they are beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. Cover with water. Simmer till cooked.
  3. When the lentils are nearly ready, put a frying pan on the heat. Add more olive oil and the garlic clove.
  4. Cook for a minute or two then add the fennel sausages. Brown on all sides. Add the wine and let it bubble up for a few minutes. Add the water. Cover and cook on a gentle heat for about 10 – 15 minutes.
  5. With a fork, mash up the garlic. Season.
  6. Put the lentils in a warm dish, add the sausages then pour over the garlicky winey sauce. Sprinkle with some chopped parsley y voila. Enjoy.
We absolutely love this dish, and it is a perfect main course for anytime of the year, but works wonders on the soul on a cold autumn day. Enjoy.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Stringray Cafe

I had never expected much of the Stringray café mainly because of the name, but also the look of the place didn’t feel with me with culinary delights. I’ve no idea why but I knew one day we would give it a try. It was just too close to our house not to.
The day had come. We arrived late from work, tired, hungry, couldn’t be arsed to cook, and didn’t want to go far to eat.
Stringray is the nearest place to our house. Just beating the Beach Café and Iznik by only a few metres.
The menu is Italian. I am always dubious of eating Italian food in restaurants, mainly because I know I can cook it better myself. Arrogant, no. Truthful. yes.
So looking down a pasta driven menu, I opted for a pizza. I still need to find a good pizza close to the house, after moving form Liverpool Road and the Regent. I need good close pizza.
So a margarita pizza and a calzone were ordered along with a glass of house red and a leffe. Something about continental beer and pizza just clicks for me.
The interior of Stringray is rather homely, nicely coloured walls gives a cosy feel to the place. A good cheap neighbourhood restaurant, which every street needs really, rather than those bloody chains. So glad I do not live in Chiswick.
The pizza was ok, nothing special. Thin crust, nice tomato sauce and quite a bit of mozzarella on top. The calzone was a bit doughy but again was quite good. Huge portions.
The bill came to £20 with added tip. So all in all not a bad option if we are find ourselves in a position where we in need of a quick bite to eat.
But I am still looking for that close to hand good pizza

Stringray Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, 22 October 2010

Foto Friday # 22

A really good classic breakfast. Boiled eggs and soldiers. Except we had it in Paris.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Mahdi - It was like coming home

I was a little apprehensive to return to Mahdi, mainly because of all the places I had eaten at before and revisited recently, they have all let me down. Badly. What if Mahdi was to do the same to me. What if it had changed. What if had gone downhill. What if… I didn’t like it anymore.

I have eaten at Mahdi more than any other restaurant in London or anywhere. I mean we are talking at least once a month, sometimes a lot more, for at least 5 years maybe more. I mean we are talking well over a 100 times. I was nervous.
Back in 1998 we went to Asia for a while and when we came back we moved to Islington for a bit, then a year in Latin America followed, and again back to North London. This meant Mahdi became a thing of the past. But as we now both work in West London, I was hoping Mahdi would be visited more often. Not quite as much as before, but maybe I was hoping for too much.

My Mahdi sits on an interesting part of King Street in Hammersmith. It’s far enough away from the shopping arcade so it is a little quiet, but not too far that people don’t know it is there.
It’s on the other corner from the cinema, and like most restaurants in this area it caters to them a lot, although unlike the other ones, Mahdi has a steady following of fans, so it doesn’t need those cinema goers to survive.
Another restaurant we used to eat a lot in this area was the Green Chilli, a fantastic Indian that unfortunately could quite never break into the market, whilst serving great contempory Indian food it was always empty. I passed it the other week and saw a big wooden door in place. It was definitely closed and for good. This saddened me.

My Mahdi is a small family run restaurant and has grown over the years. When we first started eating there all those years ago, the service was slightly erratic, but the warmness of everyone made up for any shortcomings. The décor has changed from simple to slightly more artistic. Plus they have grown into the shop next door, which gives you more space. No more waiting for tables, and a better atmosphere.
The food is simple, well cooked, well priced, large portioned and fantastic. It’s mainly made up of grilled meats served with freshly baked bread, (the oven is by the door as you walk in, so you are hooked from the off) a simple salad and/or rice. It’s mostly lamb with some chicken thrown in as well for good measure.

They also have a good selection of Persian and Near Eastern stews as well. I think I’ve tried them all. I think. Oh well I will just have to start going through the menu again to make sure.
In winter I always steer clear of the cold starters, like in summer I do not even look at the hot ones. Their hummus whilst not having tahini in it, is one of the few things on the menu I never did like. I just prefer my own. Fussy like that.
But their baby lamb kebabs are what it all about. Juicy, seasoned perfectly, cooked to the point of OMG. Utterly good.

Over the years we have got into our own little habits there. I’m more a bread and rice fan where as Lina is more salad and a little bread. They serve a creamy yoghurt sauce, which Lina drizzles over her salad, where as I pop it on my kebabs. They also give you small sachets of butter. I never knew what you were supposed to do with them, but over time I have been mixing them in with my rice. Unxious is the word, and with a shake of the chilli powder it works a treat.

Before, when we were greedy guts we used to eat everything there and then, but as now we are maturing in years and have more control. (Can’t believe I just wrote that. Me, control. Never) We take at least half home for work the next day. Perfect. Plus as it is kinda on the route home from work, I have their number in my mobile, so we can order take away and have a feast at home. Just feel sorry for the other tube passengers.

I am truly a happy man, as entering Mahdi the other week was like coming home. It felt the same, it felt comfortable. It was as if we have never been away, the food was the same, the waiters who were there from before recognised us and welcomed us back. I was a happy man. We ordered the same as before. It was as I remembered it. The meat was tender and juicy, the bread was hot from the oven, the service as ever, friendly and warm. I was a happy diner.

I am back and Mahdi never changed. Hoorah for same same. I just wish the other places I used to love wouldn’t have changed. If only.

Mahdi on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 October 2010

A Day South of the River

We’d had quite a busy day, especially with Lina venturing into a street photographic project with the Photography Gallery. Each week for a year there is a new instruction posted on the web. You then go and see what you can come up with based on that instruction. She is being pretty open minded about the instructions, and churning out some good fotos. 
This weeks one was “Take a Bus. Do weekly shopping. Pop into a public loo” Normally they are quite normal. But this actually fits in well with us re-discovering London, as we now get to go all other on this mad photo journey. So Saturday morning we found ourselves in Brixton market to take a few snaps and more importantly to see where we could lunch.

I was keen on having a pizza at Franco Manca, and the queue when we arrived before noon was ok. So we wandered around for a bit, snapping and the like.
Brixton market has everything that you could want in a street market. Good veggie stalls, a tonne of meat shops selling every cut under the sun. But it's the quantity of fishmongers that is amazing. All the fish looks so good, and at very good prices also. Damn we really have to move. I wish there were more places like this all over London, especially on this scale. Damn those supermarkets.
After a while snapping all and sundry we stopped off for a coffee at Rosie’s, a place I had bizarrely read about whilst we were in Colombia.
Rosie’s has that feel of a floppy old English teashop, with loving cakes in the window and loads of delish produce to buy on the shelves.
We sat outside watching the world go by as you do, or as I do. The coffee was served in 1950’s teacups, ahhhh just like out of Enid Blyton. I also fuelled my addiction and had one of their sausage rolls. Pastry was really nice and flaky, terribly greasy though, and even had some cartilage inside the meat as well. But apart from that it was ok. I wish we had eaten brunch here, but I was thinking pizza.
Wandering around some more I was again in need of a coffee. I have forgone coffee at work this past month to drink green tea, and I am feeling all the better for it. But when I start drinking coffee I need more.

So I stumbled upon Federation Coffee. A great little place serving good coffee in Brixton Village Market. You can tell these guys love their job. The barista made my flat white with care and attention. A rare thing these days. T’was a damn good flat white as well. I wish this place was closer to my home. Maybe I should move. Now that is an idea.
We were tempted by a few places in there to eat. Especially as we’ve discovered it is a little Colombia inside. We counted at least three Colombian eateries. All serving the food I lived on for 8 months. It’s not been long enough yet, although I was tempted to have some Ajiaco. That great potato, corn and chicken soup. Hmmmmm.

By the time we made it back to Franco Manca there were at least 50 people in the queue. Now really is the pizza that good or is it just to see and be seen. I can name many a place like that. So we wandered off. I will try the one in Chiswick and see how good they really are. Although atmosphere plays a big part in restaurants, and Chiswick will be more un-atmospheric than in Brixton. That I can say for sure. I cannot imagine those yummy mummies from Chiswick queuing for more than 5 minutes for anything. I have found that to be a Chiswick thing. They do not queue.
No idea what happened next but we found ourselves in the Railway Tavern in Clapham. I think walking and talking we lost sight of where we were or where to go.
I have been to the Tavern before but just for drinks. There was a reason for that.
They have a good selection of beers. Draught and bottled. But what can I say about the food at the Railway Tavern, apart from it wasn’t very good. I was feeling a bit under the weather at the time. This is my excuse. Maybe it was a punishment for not queuing at Franco Manca, or maybe I have lost my Karma for a bit.

Lina opted for a fish pie, and I and the burger with added cheese and bacon. Well, the fish pie had boiled potato’s (with skins on) mixed in below the slightly burnt crust. More padding, less fish. It actually wasn’t bad. Had a nice flavour but really it was underwhelming. But we were in a pub.

My burger was pretty poor to say the least. The only redeeming feature was that the bun had been toasted. The meat was over cooked and burnt around the edges. The bacon had shrivelled so much I only found it and the cheese with the last bite. The chips were ok though. Nice and crispy on the outside and floury on the inside.
But as I said the pub has some nice beers on offer and for a place just to drink it is pretty good. Just don’t eat there.

Rosie's Deli Cafe on Urbanspoon

Federation Coffee on Urbanspoon

The Railway Tavern on Urbanspoon

Eating Camel Meat in Oman

I’ve been meaning to finish writing about my trip through the sub-continent and Asia soon after I returned, but being home, settling back in to normal life has meant my priorities have been elsewhere.
But now I’m kinda settled I hope to get those blogs up and running in a few weeks or months.
I’ve eaten some weird stuff in my time, and sometimes I’ve paid the price for it as well. I do not recommend eating goat’s brains from a hole in the wall in Kathmandu, unless of course you have one hell of a strong constitution. I thought I did, but you live and learn.
One of the things I thought I would never eat was horsemeat. We ate it in Parma one time. Best meat I have ever tasted. Such great taste and flavour. It would have become my meat of choice, if only we could buy it here in England. Damn those animal rights people.
In Oman, those same animal rights people, that have more or less stopped us from being able to buy kangaroo or ostrich meat here, (although you can still get it from a stall at Borough market.) are thankfully nowhere to be seen in Oman.
Camel meat is readily available in Oman, although it is quite expensive and a luxury item in Muscat. But head out to Salalah near to Yemen’s border and camel meat becomes an everyday staple.

On the outskirts of this desert cum coastal city is a mini tent city that sells bar-b-q’d camel meat cooked on top of hot coals, and I mean on the coals, to a very hungry and demanding audience.
It’s a strange meat, it has plenty of gamey flavour, but this cooking method leaves a lot to be desired, especially as the cook whose tent we went to, was not really paying that much attention to the meat. I think he was too interested in a group of female students who had come for some camel meat also. His priorities were elsewhere for a while.

The meat was a tad over cooked and therefore was a bit chewy and stringy, but the flavour was there. The best bit was the smoky, charred fat that we ate as well. Oh My God I was in paradise. Imagine a piece of fat with a real gamey taste to it. Perfect.

The next day we tried another tent and the kid (he couldn’t have been more than 16) was cooking his camel on skewers over the coals. These were tender and juicy.  Those little cubes of delish camel meat alternating with cubes of small chunks of fat were a real delight to eat.
I never got to eat anything quite like this until we headed up towards Tawang in north east India, and had a few Yak dishes. Cannot wait to go to Kenya and eat at Carnivore’s

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Tube Strike Monday @ Mangal 1

During the last tube strike it became apparent that I was lacking some good karma in this world for I chose a real crap place for us to eat.
So I made amends, I helped old ladies across roads, even though they walked back across the road swearing at me, I gave up my seat on the tube to pregnant women one stop before I got off. But it felt like I was making amends.
So when I woke up last Monday and saw again that the Piccadilly line was suspended I knew it was going to be a good day. And yes it was.
The last time we managed to wriggle our way out of babysitting duties, was the day we were shown where Mangal Ocakbasi was. I’m still not sure how much longer we can get out of those duties. But the longer the better if you ask me. We’re not cut out for looking after small living things. Just look at the plants that have died in our care.

The London district of Dalston is Turkish food heaven. If you are not into carbonised grilled meats, lovely warm bread, zingy salads then give Dalston and especially Mangal 1 a big miss.
It’s like any small family restaurant that you would find in a town across Turkey, but thankfully this one is damn close to my house. There is a god in this world and he’s called Ocakbasi.

Mangal 1, in comparison with its posh sister Mangal 2 is simply decorated and set out. Old waiters trundle between the grill and the wooden tables delivering plate after plate of great food.
Lunch was coming to an end when we turned up, so we thought we’d make it easy for the guys and order the mixed meze and the mixed grill. This would showcase everything good the place had to offer. Plus the grill master with his arsenal of skewers was about to show us what he was made of.

The mixed meze had all those great Turkish starters that you’d expect to find on any menu, and probably do. Cacik, hummus, patlican salata and an ezme salata. All were fantastic, although I am not particularly keen on hummus with tahini as it’s the lazy way out. Hummus should be without tahini, as it’s a lesson in seasoning.
The mixed grill was incredible. All the meats were juicy and grilled expertly. Those hot coals of the grill imparted a lovely smoky taste on all the different meats. Those lamb cutlets were the best of show by far.

Oh I forgot to mention that hot Turkish bread we had given to us as we sat down. The waiter knew what I liked and gave it to me instantly. Good guy.
I would return just for the bread, but everything else was perfect and brill to eat, that I’ll be doing it all over again very soon. Next time the quail, this will show me that this grill master is just that. A master of the grill.

Mangal Ocakbasi on Urbanspoon

Friday, 15 October 2010

Foto Friday # 21

The sign for stall number one at Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh, the greatest show of street food on the planet.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Zigni House - A Little Bit of East Africa in North London

A dull Friday afternoon at work with me watching the clock, and twiddling my thumbs with nothing to do. This is a common theme with me at work at the moment.
My ramblings on skype were not going down to well with my friends who had things to do at work before the weekend.
Then a crazy message came from Lina.
“Diana wants to meet up with us tonight”
“OK, where?” I replied
“No idea, but she likes eating different foods”
“Well what about Baozi Inn in China Town?” was my reply
“Nah, she mentioned African food, what about that place on Essex Road?”
“Ahh yeah, Eritrean I think it is. OK, I’m sold”
So that was how we came to eat at Zigni House. I love the spontaneity we have sometimes. Keeps you alive.
Zigni House is kinda baffling. On the one hand it is a good restaurant serving from what I can make out pretty authentic and tasty Eritrean cuisine by very friendly staff. On the other hand it was a Friday night and there was only one other table occupied. Odd. A few people came in for takeaways, but it was pretty dead. I know the stretch of road that it is on, is a bit of a nightmare, but surely word must have spread about this place. Obviously there are too many people not willing to leave the comfort of Upper Street and venture further a field. Shameful.

Our lovely host who offered us tips on what to order was very patient with us, as one or two of us were pretty slow in ordering. She was also very proud to tell us about each and every dish, which was good, as we knew nothing about Eritrean cuisine.
It does seem that everything and I mean everything comes with Injera, a sour bread, more like a pancake than a bread, but its sourness goes so well with the curry’s. I was a very happy man.
You learn a lot about people when you are put in a situation where you have to share your food. Me, I love to share, as I love trying different things. Other people do not like to, so I never got to try all the food on our grand platter. A shame.
Our food came on a massive tray with the injera on the bottom and the food was ceremoniously put on top in our own little corners.

Between us we ordered a Begi Curry with Zigni sauce. (An on the bone lamb curry in a semi hot sauce). It was really unxious and using the bread to eat it was a pure delight, especially as I was now a kind of an expert at eating with my hands. So those 10 weeks were good in a way.
Goden Tibs (spare ribs fried in garlic, rosemary and spices). This I never got to try, but I was told it was very good.
Derho Cotelete with an Alicha sauce (fried chicken breast in a mild sauce made with onions, garlic, turmeric and curry powder). The sauce was very subtle and was a nice combo with the juicy chicken.

One of us had a small combo with about 4 different items form the veggie and curry menu. I only got to try the dhal, which was really rich and filling.
The best thing about all of this, that being served on the injera as you worked form the outside in, the bread was soaking up all the sauces and it was purely unxious and dreamy. Every morsel of the last bits of bread was soaked with the sauces that it was very difficult to stop eating it. I mean very difficult.

All this was finished off with some traditional coffee. The beans are roasted in a clay oven and brought round for us to smell. Oh my god I was in heaven. It is served in a traditional coffee pot made of clay with a little bit of hay stuffed in the spout to keep it hot. The coffee was pretty strong, and had such a lovely nutty flavour that I had to have some more. Actually polished off 3 cups. Maybe that was the reason I could not sleep that night.

We chatted with the owner for a bit afterwards and from what I can gather they are just surviving. Which is crazy for such a great restaurant. A big pity. But it is all down to location. Shame really, but I will be returning for more of that bread.
I hope you will give it a try also. 

Zigni House on Urbanspoon

Monday, 11 October 2010

Camino - Puerto del Canario

We were guests of Camino.

Camino in Canary Wharf opened about a month ago to a big party and the now infamous “Sherry Ferry”. To which I wasn’t invited.
I was however invited to come and sample what this new branch has to offer. This I jumped at, after eating and drinking at the original one in King’s Cross and loved it. I haven’t been back though since we returned in March. Must correct.
So we booked a table for the day after the recent “Tube Strike Monday”, damn those tube drivers from keeping me from my work a second time.
I’m not a fan of Canary Wharf, I find it a pretty soulless place to go to, never mind work. But for a restaurant serving good food here it’s a win win situation.

The new branch is on the riverfront, and has a bright and airy restaurant with a large bar for those big spending money type people to hold big money spending parties to celebrate their latest bonus.

We decided not to be seated right away, as there was a nice vibe in the bar, so we choose to have a drink and chill for a bit. They have Estrella on draft, and the staff make a mean mojito. Although way too limey for me, but La Latina likes them that way. So she was happy.
These drinks we paid for, I felt kinda happy to pay for something tonight, as I now feel I can give an unbiased view of the place. Although I would have done that anyhows. We met the owner Richard Bigg, who is a very passionate man, with a good knowledge of everything in his restaurants. We chatted for quite a while, mainly shooting the wind about the company, Spain and life in general. A really nice guy. I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone, so it was a surprise to meet the man himself. On my entire 10 weeks on that trip, I only ever met two GM’s from over 200 hotels. Sometimes it’s nice to meet the big man. You get a better feel of the place.
He asked us what we would be eating and drinking. Politeness always rules and I asked if he could make some recommendations for us. His suggestions were so good that I think we ordered them all. For the wine, he insisted on ordering for us. OK. Not gonna argue with the boss on that one.

He ordered for us, a fine bottle of Pintia from Toro, which is northwest of Madrid. This wine has some large tannins and deep concentrated blackberries, which I love in wines. This came from the big guns menu. For those guys with big bonuses to spend. Lucky buggers.
So after looking at the menu, we literally stuck with Richard’s suggestions. Damn good choices they were as well. We also took on some recommendations from our waiter, Augusto. Who had a good deal of knowledge of the food on the menu.
To wet our appetites we ordered the selection of embutidos, and some croquettes de Jamon. The cured meats were thinly sliced and at a room temp so the taste was exquisite. The croquettes were perfectly cooked. And had a strong Jamon flavour. Perfect.

We also had some Txigorki’s (please do not ask me to pronounce this.) Basque style sandwiches with sun dried tomatoes and goats cheese. I wish some deli’s would sell things like this. They would make a killing.

For our mains we ordered the Presa Iberica, (the shoulder blade of the black trotted pig) which comes medium rare and was the best thing we tasted that night. Truly awesome, a great smoky flavour, as it is cooked over live coals. Not like another restaurant not a million miles away.

We also ordered Pulpo a la Parilla, which is a whole octopus tentacle draped over some olive oil mash. Both were perfectly cooked, but the mash was slightly too over powering for the delicate pulpo. The mash worked perfectly with the Pork blade. Really that was our only criticism of the night. Not a big one.
We decided not to pig out, as we wanted to sample some of the puddings. Originally we were told we could order what ever we wanted, but not to go crazy. I’m not a greedy person anyhows. Ok let me correct that. I am a greedy person. I just hate waste, even if it I am not paying.]

The only puddings we were tempted by were the Torta de Santiago, and the Crema Catalana. Well they are Spain’s most famous puddings, and it would have been shameful not to sample them.
We were offered a couple of desert wines to complement the deserts. A moscatel for the Torta, and a Pedro Ximenez for the Crema Catalana.

I’ve never been that big on desert wines, mainly because I find them too sweet, but the muscatel went like a dream with the torta. It rocked my boat. The Pedro Ximenez just didn’t do anything for me. It has too a strong flavour for my palette, but they went perfectly with the respective deserts.
At the end of the meal we were offered a liquor to aid our digestion. Patxaran is typical liquor from northern Spain made from sloe berries macerated in anis. It’s sharp and will cut through anything, and perfect for an after dinner shot.
I know we were treated very well, and maybe but I don’t think that the chefs cooked our meals any better than they would do for any other client, as I’ve eaten at the other branch. The food is damn good.
Even if this hadn’t been a free meal, I would have been very happy to have paid for it. It was that good
Camino on Urbanspoon