Sunday, 30 January 2011

Eating Non-Veg at a Pure Veg Restaurant

I normally enter Chennai Dosa from the Ealing Road side, as I always start my shopping for Indian food products from Alperton, but this was the first time I entered from the Wembley Central side. I began wondering why things looked different as we sat down. Maybe they have had the builders in and tarted up the place a tad. Well it had been a year or so since we were last here. But so much fluorescenty lights. So India.

Then as we looked at the menu, it contained meat. Mutton and chicken were on the menu. What the f@*k had happened since we were last here. Has the world gone mad? Have all the veggies in the world finally seen the light and finally understood that meat was where it was at. Or was I tripping.

So without further ado, we began ordering as much meaty product as we could before they realised it was a pure veg restaurant and were about to tell us that they were playing a joke. I was half expecting an Indian Jeremy Beadle to jump out and surprise us. That would have been a good thing as I could have smacked him one, as I always wanted someone to do that when I was young. Never happened. Shame.
As it was before 12, and still officially breakfast time, I ordered my favourite South Indian breakfast. Idlis. Damn those black lentil and rice cakes are awesome. My last ones were at Delhi airport as I was ready to board my Oman Air flight back to London. They normally come in two’s or three’s, but Chennai Dosa gave me four. Awesome. With it came a thick coconut chutney, and I ordered some chicken gravy for me to dunk my idlis in. No chicken, just the gravy. Man it was tasty, thick and had a little kick to it. Yum yum.

Lina had to wait an age for her Dosa. By the time it came we had finished off my idlis, and the two thick mango lassis we had ordered. Damn they were good.
The dosa when it did arrive was worth the wait. It was full of a spicy crushed potato masala and a thick unxious mutton curry inside. Man, that was good. You could really taste the spices in the sauce.

The pancake was freshly made and was still quite hot when we started tearing it apart and devouring it, the potato masala and the mutton curry. Not that we were particularly ravenous, it was just so good we could not stop. People at the other tables were looking at us in bemusement, until they got their dosas, then they understood.

I was still waiting for them to apologise for serving us meat as we left, until I saw the “Sorry, we serve meat here” sign, and next door was the pure veg restaurant that we had eaten at all those times before. Damn. Now I know I can have great dosas and great meat currys. Brill. I’m coming back.

I wouldn’t say Chennai Dosa is a destination restaurant, but if you are ever shopping in Wembley or Ealing Road, then I would definitely hold off until you can get to the top of the hill, and either go for the pure veg or the non-veg restaurant. I’m now in favour of the non-veg now I know it exists. 

Chennai Dosa Pure Vegetarian on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A is for Argentina @ Buen Ayre

I hadn’t eaten at Buen Ayre for quite a while, especially after discovering Garufa, which is very close to our house. Then again Broadway Market is just a bus ride away. I do enjoy where I live.
I first went there not long after it opened, oh so many years ago now, to celebrate an ex work colleagues birthday. That was a great Sunday afternoon, and I met a few Argentineans there, who subsequently kept inviting me to their weekly asados. Heaven.

This return trip to Buen Ayre, was because our Colombian friend and her Polish husband were in need of some serious steak action. We had recently returned from a weekend in Paris, where we tried but failed to find some good steak and frittes. The quality of meat in Paris has seemingly declined over the years. Disappointing. So after Buen Ayre was suggested we jumped at the idea of eating some good red meat.

For some reason I had my apprehensions about eating here. No idea why, but I have become a major fan of Garufa, and having eaten at some of Buenos Aires best restaurants over the years, that any restaurant being hailed as a true Argentinean steak restaurant I take it with a pinch of salt. Sometimes over hype is never a good thing.
But former eatings at this restaurant should have reminded me that I had nothing really to worry about, as it’s still pretty damn good. That wood burning parrilla churns out steak after steak all night and all of them are cooked to perfection.

People think it’s an easy job to cook a steak on a bar-b-q as they do it once a year, whenever the sun comes out. But to do it perfectly for several hours time and after time, day after day is a real art. In Argentina these artists are not called chefs, but Asadors or parrilleros, as they are the maestros of the asado.
As we were on for some serious meat eating tonight we went straight for the Parrillada Buen Ayre. A fine selection of chorizos, morcillas, mojecas, rinones, steaks and ribs. Man we were in meat heaven.
The steaks were cooked just as we liked them. Rare and juicy, but with that smokiness from the fire, that always makes any steak taste a whole lot better. The offal were gorgeous and as I like them. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside.
The accompaniment of chips and an onion and tomato salad, the quintessential side order of any asado. Actually they were some of the best chips I’ve eaten in a long time. Damn good, as good as Garufas, if not better.
The parilla was as good as you would get in any no frills restaurant in Argentina, but for over here, it’s pretty bloody fantastic, and to be still producing great food on a constant basis for many years is one hell of an achievement.

As we were finishing the decent bottle of wine, we decided to start this crazy thing that may or may not last. But we’re gonna give it a go anyhows. Well we had just started with A, so why not go onto B. Well we were pretty drunk by this point, so any idea seemed like a good one.
So onto B. Let’s hope it will be as good as A was.

Buen Ayre on Urbanspoon

Friday, 28 January 2011

Foto Friday # 35

This chicken shop had some genius ways of displaying their wares. Best thing of all was the plucking machine they had out back. Brilliant.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Christmas Days Out - The Sportsman in Seasalter

I ate many memorable meals in 2010, but really only three of them were truly memorable. In no particular order they were at Trinity in Clapham, Aux Lyonnais in Paris and The Sportsman in Seasalter.
All three of these meals were far superior to everything else I had eaten last year that they are forever embedded in my memory.

It wasn’t just the food at the Sportsman, or even the restaurant itself, or even the quirky manor that the menu is on a blackboard in the main bar that you are mixed with the other diners choosing your meal and then ordering it at the bar. Or even the fact that our view was looking out over the back garden of oyster shell paths. Or the surrounding area of deserted beaches and marshy fields. Or even the amazing drive through deserted roads that no restaurant should be at the end of it, or even that I had reserved it a month prior and was looking forward to it everyday. It was plain and simple everything.

The minute we walked inside I fell in love with it. What’s not to like about the place. Its quirkiness appealed to my weird sense of playfulness.
I like places where it’s my way or the highway. It’s a chef’s dream to be able to do something like this. To be able to serve the food you want in a style you want and also buck convention as well. Plus to win a Michelin star as well. I can just imagine those snotty Michelin reviewers having to get up from their tables and waddle over and choose their meals off a back of a door. Quality.

Our starters were light and beautiful. My chestnut and smoked goose soup lived up to and exceeded all expectations I had. The velvety texture of the soup with the slices of smoked goose delighted my taste buds. It was properly the best soup I had ever eaten. Ever.

Lina’s onion tart looked the part, but somehow it was not oniony enough for me. She loved it, but I like my onion tarts to pack a bigger punch. But don’t get me wrong the subtle flavours and the smoothness of the filling were of Michelin standard.

For the mains we went for a plate of Seared Thornback Ray, Brown Butter with Cockles and a Sherry Vinegar Dressing, the other was a Braised Brill Fillet with Chestnuts, Bacon and Parsley Sauce.
I really cannot fault either dish. Both were cooked fantastically. My Ray was probably the best piece of fish I had ever eaten. That soft white flesh came away with no effort from the bones. I love ray wings as it just never ends. You finish one side and then you just flip it over and begin again. Brill. The cockles with the sherry vinegar were a perfect combo. The chefs nailed this dish on the head. Perfect.

What I had of the brill fillet, which was not a lot, but it was damn good. They seem to have perfected those traditional combinations and taken them to new heights. Why do bacon and chestnuts work so well when paired with fish. So glad it does though.

We had no room for dessert, but I wish we had shared one, as they all looked really good as a string of them went to the large table in the corner. Next time.

We had a wander afterwards down to the beach. It was not a beachy day but who cares. It was the seaside and I kinda prefer beaches on cold, wet and windy days.

It doesn’t really matter to me that the Sportsman has a Michelin Star or not, as that book is kinda old hat now and has no relevance on the majority of diners in London today. The Sportsman however does serve great food in a quirky atmosphere, and should be on everyone’s list to dine at as soon as possible. I want to return as soon as I can.

Sportsman on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 January 2011

Foto Friday # 34

For some reason I am now craving one of these babies. I'm on the first flight to Luang Prabang this afternoon.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Christmas Days Out - Cambridge Chop House

A week of driving around the outskirts of London was pretty amazing. The only problem was going anywhere from Islington took an age, especially when you gave no idea where the shortcuts are.
Just to drive up to the M25 through Edmonton took an hour. Well we learnt our lesson the hard way.
Cambridge was a joy even with the freezing cold weather and the thick fog that allowed us to see about 5 metres in front of us. We were wondering if we would ever make it or see anything when we arrived.
U never realized that the centre of Cambridge is a shopper’s paradise, which kinda depressed me a tad. I came for the Colleges and the Imperial architecture not to look at a branch of so and so that I see everyday back home. So we kinda steered clear of the centre and walked around it.
I’d not done any research about where to eat in Cambridge as I just assumed we would find a few places worth eating at. How wrong we were, apart from your chain restaurants and quite a few places selling jacket potatoes, there wasn’t that much on offer. Luckily we found the Cambridge Chop House, and it was a damn good find at that.

Wandering around the old college’s reminded how lucky we are to have such a heritage and history in this country. Makes me proud it does.
We found out the Cambridge Chop House is part of a chain of Chop Houses and other restaurants in Cambridge.
Its menu of hearty English fare was a welcome sight after a day of wandering around in awe at the beauty of this town in near arctic conditions. Damn it was a cold day. We were offered the punting tours, but in this weather you had to be either insane or a Japanese tourist. So being neither on this day anyhows we declined and scampered off for some nosh.
In true Chop House tradition the menu is big and hearty. Looking at it evoked a time of Edwardian debauchery and over eating. A time of big meals, large trousers and larger braces were the sign of a good Chop House.

This modern version still serves up some large portions for damn reasonable prices. The chalkboard of daily specials spell meat heaven. I was pretty tempted to have one of the veal or baby tortured cow chop but somehow the lure of some thick cut bacon and a duck egg with chips was too good an offer to turn down. Sometimes I just want food I enjoy eating at home, nothing fancy just plain simple good food.
The bacon was as it said thickly cut, with a lovely duck egg and some hand cut chips. It looked a small portion but by the end I was pretty well stuffed. But I had just eaten the whole basket of bread. This was all washed down with some local ale from the kegs behind the bar. Wondrous warm and comforting meal

Lina had the fisherman’s pie with a side of greens. This tasted really good and very freshly made. Lovely chunks of mixed fish along with a velvety béchamel sauce and a smooth grilled and crispy mash potato topping made this the star of the show. It was an award winning pie. One of the best I’ve eaten in a long while. I’d even go so far as to say it was better than mine. Modest I am sometimes.

I want to return to Cambridge in the Spring or Summer where we can punt down the river in between the colleges admiring the fantastic architecture. But more importantly we can try the other Chop House in this chain. 

The Cambridge Chop House on Urbanspoon

Friday, 14 January 2011

Foto Friday # 33

Traditional London food. Pie n Mash, as seen here in Cooke's window on Broadway Market. Great to look at and delicious to eat.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Christmas Days Out - Hinds Head in Bray

Between Christmas and going back to work we rented a small car to travel to a few spots outside of London, to see that there is more to this world than this fair fine city. Guess what. There is.
I was going to write a tonne on our Xmas day meal detailing all the courses I cooked for our epic all day 5 course eating fest. But if the truth be told I can’t be arsed, and it’s a bit tacky anyhows so I shelved that idea, but I am going to bore you to death with a few of the places we went to on our little jaunts outside the capital.
We never had turkey on the big day itself, we had duck, as I am not a fan of this white meat. Too many years of too dry breast meat has put me off it forever. So my meals on the 25th contain anything but turkey. So far duck has ruled supreme over the last few years. For Boxing Day I am a stickler for tradition, and in my household as a child we always and I mean always had cold cuts, mashed potatoes and salads. No idea where this tradition came form but we have been doing it since I was a wee little bairn, and I will not have it any other way. There are some things that must never change. Never.
So on the 27th we left sunny Hampshire and headed to Berkshire and the small village of Bray. Anyone reading this thinking we were going to eat at the Fat Duck, can stop right here. It was a Monday and it was closed. No we were here for his posh pub, The Hinds Head.

It was exactly how I imagined it. A typical old English style pub in the countryside manner. I.e. it has very low ceilings, and yes I bumped my head even as we walked in. The sign told me to duck or grouse. I groused. Damn.
We were seated upstairs, which is a shame as it was a tad lifeless up there. Downstairs next to those open fires looked like a dream. Shame.

The menu is very simple and easy to read and eat. We ordered a started of pea and ham soup, and a scotch egg and devils on horseback.

To say the portions were small is an understatement. Pretty tiny, but with big boy prices. But the flavours out gun those prices 5 – 1. The soup was a tad watery but the flavours were awesome. Now that is how pea soup is supposed to taste. Wow. It’s pretty hard to put it into words, but imagine a really intense pea flavour, now times it by ten. The Scotch egg was well cooked and still had a runny quails egg inside. 

The devils on horseback were nice but one bite wonders. I only got 2 and I wanted more. But these were pre-ordering tasters, but I knew what I wanted and I was just amusing my stomach to get it active for the treat to follow.
For mains we ordered the oxtail and kidney steamed pudding, with sides of potatoes and green beans. Plus a rump steak, marrow sauce and triple cooked chips.

The oxtail and kidney pudding was unxious beyond belief, maybe a little too much as I could feel my mouth slowly sealing shut. The suet pastry was the right thickness, anymore and it would have been too much. The gravy, same as for the steak was fantastic.
The potato’s were a tad bland, and some of the green beans squeaked a little. Both were under seasoned. Not what you would expect from a Heston joint.

The rump steak up to that point was the best steak I had tasted since we came back in March. I never knew a steak could taste so good. I had lost faith after a weekend in Paris trying to find good tasting steak. It had so much flavour. No idea where he gets his beef from but that farmer cares for his cows. 

The marrow sauce was some of the best gravy I have ever had. The chips were good, very good, not sure if that was just the triple cookedness in them that made them good or what, but damn fine chips to go with an awesome steak.

We were pretty stuffed when it came to puddings, even with our waitress tempting us, but we just couldn’t do it. Even the coffees took their time going down, especially with the little truffled chocolates we had to eat.

The service was swift, smart and efficient in a very friendly way. I would have preferred to have sat downstairs in the bar area, but hey ho.

All in all it was a pretty bloody good meal. Small portions at big boy prices. But the flavours, textures and tastes all made up for it, even with one or two schoolboy errors.
I am now either saving up to come again, or to visit the Fat Duck across the road. Something I always said I would never do, but after this, I am very very curious.

Hinds Head on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Big Boys Steak Night at Goodman

This was definitely the best steak I have eaten since leaving Argentina at the end of February 2010. Even the steaks at Garufa, BuenAyre, Hinds Head (although that comes in a close second), and our short recent trip to Paris, which I still have to write about if I can remember any of it now, didn’t come close to these babies.
I’m not going to say too much about the décor, as everyone in London bloggerland has eaten there already and knows how it is. Its dark woods lend it to a tad corporate or even clubroom feel. But it has a nice vibe to it, especially on a Saturday night.
So let’s get down to business shall we. The steaks and cuts. You can also read a more in-depth write up of Goodmans here and here, so I shall dispense with the technicalities of how the meat is bred etc.
Our table of three were very impressed with the service, our waiter a French sounding guy from northern Brasil. It knocked us for six I can tell you. The training at Goodmans must be pretty good, as he was very knowledgeable about the cuts, the feed and taste, texture of the different cuts they had on offer.
The plate he brought us to show their prize cuts, consisted of two USDA ribeyes, one bone in and one boneless. The same with the two sirloin cuts and also a grass feed fillet from Scotland.
It’s quite an impressive thing to do, it’s braver than having an open kitchen, although that is very in vogue these days. Yawn. The marbling on all the cuts was pretty good I have to admit, and it showed the quality of the meat to you in one fail swoop.

We opted for two ribeye, bone in, and a sirloin bone in. I think my two friends ordered theirs medium, where I went for rare. A gasp of approval from the waiter. I guess not too many people order their meat rare these days. In Café Boheme, we used to get a lot of people asking for their steaks medium rare, and then sending them back asking for it to be well done. Idiots.
Sides were truffle chips, green salad, honey glazed carrots and some creamed spinach. Not sure if I could taste the truffle oil on the chips, but they were damn fine chips none the less, which is what you need when you are eating a great steak. The salad was good and in the Argentine style. Glazed carrots were sweet and carroty. I never tried the spinach, as it was gone before I thought of trying it, so I gather it was jolly nice.
OK the steaks. My bone in sirloin was amazing. Just to get a 400g piece of meat alone on a plate definitely has the wow factor. Nice cross hatch grill marks, the hallmark of a good American steakhouse. Although this is a Russian one, but you get my gist. It was cooked perfectly rare, just how I like it. It had been properly rested so there were no juices flowing freely on my plate. These boys know their stuff.
The fat had been trimmed and nicely rendered and had a smoky crispness to it, that was a pure delight to eat.

The meat itself was tender, juicy and well flavoured. You can almost taste the sweetness of the meat through the cows being grass fed on large open pastures. I’m sure they led a happy life and they would have been proud that the chefs treated them with respect and cooked them to perfection, and equally pleased that we enjoyed them so much. Well maybe not, but it’s a good dream to have none the less.
We each had a pudding, I had the American Cheese Cake, which was too cheesy and heavy after a glorious meat fest meal. I actually couldn’t finish it, but then again I am not much of a pudding guy.
All in all including tip (well deserved), a couple of bottles of wine, some desert wine and a meal fit for a king we spent about £85 each. Money well spent. I now have to take the wife here, as she was cursing me for going without her. Now there won’t be any problems with me returning here that is for sure. 

Goodman on Urbanspoon