Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sutton and Sons – A Stokie Fish n Chip Shop

I don’t understand Sutton and Sons. I’m confused. One day I get sublime fish and chips and another time it’s just average and a tad greasy.
It’s the same cooks, same great fish from their fishmongers across the road. So I really don’t know why some days it’s much better than others. Why are you so inconsistent. Why? Tell me!!!!!!!!
I have figured out that the best time to eat there though, are either Friday night or anytime on Saturday when they are ay their most busy and the food is being turned around pretty quickly.
On a wet windy Wednesday night, the fish seems to be left hanging around for a while waiting for someone to eat them. It’s then that the fish is not up to its best.
But I just want to focus on the positive, the way that the batter is so crispy and the fish inside is so moist and when your fork cuts through it flakes apart.
The portion sizes are nice and generous, just as I like them to be. The one thing I hate about fish n chip shops is a meagre portion, just when you are enjoying it, it’s all gone. No I want to be full and still see I have more heaven to eat.
The chips are nice and chunky, and when they are cooked well are some of the best around. Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Brilliant.

The menu is pretty varied, including some real old favourites like yer battered sausages and some good pies.
But as they are part of the fishmongers across the road, you can also get a good selection of grilled fish, which I haven’t had myself, but from looking at others peoples plates they look pretty damn good.
They even sell bitter as well. Now there isn’t nowt better than fish n chips with a pint of bitter. Heaven sent.
Sutton and Sons when they are on form are a fine modern chippie, but they are nothing as good as the Beach Café in Highbury Barn, which when it is open are the best by far.
But Sutton and Sons is open all the time and more times than not they do serve some bloody good fish n chips. But please guys keep it up.

Sutton and Sons Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 28 January 2012

China Videos - Part Three - Hongjiang

Sorry for the delayed upload of this video, but I've been real lazy of late. I do need to address this and get my arse in gear.
Anyhows enjoy a longer than expected video of a real gem of a town. Hongjiang.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Sandwiches @ Moo! Grill

Every once in a while I have a strong need for certain foods, whether they are curries, sausage rolls, jacket potato's or milanesa.
Since last Wednesday for some reason, I have had a hankering for milanesa, either as a dish or in a sandwich. After reading a review recently about Moo! Grill, I knew where I was going to eat this weekend.
It’s a small place, pretty close to Spitalfields market and Brick Lane where we’d been trying to find me some clothes for a 1920’s gangster bash I’d agreed to go to.
Anyhows to cut a long story short, all I managed to buy was some trousers and not much else. Although I now have more of an idea of the total outfit now.
So after all that I was famished and was in need of some carbs. I was asked several times where the fire was, as my speed had picked up on the way to Moo! Grill. Sorry but it’s a silly name and really is the exclamation mark really needed.
I was just after a sandwich to go, but was forced to sit and eat it inside. But this did give me an excuse to drink some Quilmes, something I hadn’t done for a while.
The menu is different from an older version I had seen, it never had the milanesa, but did have a milanga, which is really the same thing. Veal or beef, who really cares. It’s breaded, fried and served in a ciabatta with mozzarella, ham and tomato. Damn it was good. Probably the best milanesa sandwich I’ve had outside of Argentina.
There is something about breaded meat, mozzarella and ham that rocks my world, and this did just that.
The fries I also had were, well thin and fried and pretty good. I’d gotten so used to having big chunky chips in Argentinean restaurants in London that I was a tad disappointed, but they were salted oh so fine.
The choripan, basically a sausage sandwich looked the part, and I was told it ate the part as well, but as I was not willing to share mine, I never got a taste of it.
But as the person eating it had lived in Argentina for 2 years, said it was good I believe her.
The one thing I didn’t like and only realised when the bill came was they charged £2 for the chimichurri. An outrage, the cheek of it.
Chimichurri is a typical side dish in all Argentine restaurants and it comes as a basic accompaniment. It’s like being charged for using the red or brown sauce in a greasy spoon. So bloody cheeky.
But as I was having milanesa, chimi is not needed, but on the choripan it is essential to cut through the fatty sausage.
I’d definitely come back here for the milanesa sandwich and to try the choripan, but probably not for one of their steaks, and I’d definitely take my own chimi.

Moo! Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, 20 January 2012

Monday, 16 January 2012

Hunan Province – Part Three – The Hongjiang Old Town of Mr Nie.

Hongjiang was definitely the highlight of our trip to China. We’ve never thought we would go, but at the last minute we made the decision to visit the town, and thankfully we did, as it is definitely a bit of a dark horse of a town.
It’s a bloody nightmare to get there as well. It’s not even on any reasonable route, which has kept it as good as it is.
To get there we had to take a bus from Dehang to Jishou, and then a train to Huaihua, then another bus from there to Hongjiang. It’s an all day mission, but bloody well worth it.

Upon arrival we were left at what seemed like a disused bus station, which actually turned out to be the bus station. Out of season, Hongjiang does not see many visitors and everything goes quiet giving an almost deserted feel to it.
As with a lot of heritage towns in China, there is an entrance fee, which is normally anything from 50RMB to 100RMB. But to be honest I don’t actually mind paying it, as from what I can see the money is actually spent on the upkeep of the towns and does give quite a bit of employment to local people.

We were assisted by the lovely Grace in buying our ticket, who not only scorned us on our choice of hotel, by literally calling it a filthy shithole, but she even rallied round the town to find us somewhere else to stay. As I said, lovely girl.
Looking back on it, it was fate that we were to stay at the home of Mr Nie. Him and his wife were the perfect hosts. They allowed us into their home, they made us feel so welcome, that when it was time to leave, I actually didn’t want to. I wanted them to adopt me.
Hongjiang used to be a prosperous financial centre during the early Qing Dynasty, and thankfully with the policies of the now Chinese Government, making this one of the many towns to obtain help in preserving the ancient buildings, which we were told there were over 300. The home of Mr Nie being one of them as well.

The Ancient Commercial Town is like a living museum, it has a distinct character with narrow, high walled lanes all in the same grey colour. Each corner leading you into a new area to discover. We spent 2 days just wandering around wondering what it must have been like in its heyday, as these days it has a very relaxed feel to it.
As a keen photographer Mr Nie wanted to show us the best parts of his town, which he was so proud of. In fact I think all the residents are very proud of this town. Only thing is, all the residents are old. There are not many young people living there. They have left to find work elsewhere, as locally there is not much around this area.
Not only did Hongjiang surprise us with its character, but also it surprised us with some damn fine food.
Mr Nie had a big part in this as well. For dinner he offered to take us somewhere to eat. We jumped at it.

We weren’t sure where he was taking us, but we figured out it was it was his favourite restaurant. The Yao People of Hongjiang.
We thought he was going to eat with us, but it no, he just ordered for us, and then departed. We feasted well on the advise of Mr Nie.
This was one of many times that animals had been dispatched on my orders. In two days, they chopped up a fish and a duck for us.
Both dishes were cooked with a sizeable quantity of chilli, as is the Hunanese way. But surprisingly they were not scorchingly hot, it was more of a gradual build up, so you got a glowing feeling by the end of the meal.

The fish was cooked to perfection. Soft mounds of flesh falling away from the bones, and even though there were vast amounts of chilli, it was not that hot, but added a great flavour to the dish.
The duck, which we thought was just going to be a portion, but turned out to be the whole thing. It was even cooked with pork belly as well. We even met the lady who did the deed and chopped it up for us. She was mighty happy that we were enjoying her duck.
Actually it was bloody good, and when I say we had the whole duck, we really did. Even the feet and beak were on that plate.
I think this was the first time in a long while that we had lotus root, it was cooked as you would expect with chilli, but also with chives as well. Man they were good. I had not seen them for sale here in London, but maybe I am blind. Please let me know where I can buy them if anyone knows.

The other place Mr Nie took us to was his favourite noodle shop run by Mr Yang. The shop was just on the edge of the old town along the main road. It was as we’ve found out in Asia, that 99 out of a 100 places that do not look the part are far from it. This was one of those hidden gems.

He basically did two types of flat noodles, wheat or rice, plus two toppings, pork and beef. We had all combo’s are they were fantastic.

I still hanker over the pork, just unxious pieces of soft juicy fatty pork belly in a slightly spicy hot sauce. Man it was good. If this was sold in London it would rank as some of the best, and be charged at least £10 a pop, instead of the 20RMB we paid.
The other surprise the town had for us was when we finally managed to leave the lanes of the ancient town and venture into the new town.
To be honest the new town is pretty dull. At night not a lot happens, most people just wander around seemingly lost, as there didn’t seem to be a lot to do. We did witness a bust up between 2 motorists, which had a crowd of at least a hundred people watching as well. It all finished peacefully as soon as the police arrived on their mopeds. Boring.
During the day we took a stroll down by the river and discovered a whole new world. This was where everyone was hiding. The local fresh food market.
This long street with small shanty like wooden warehouses on one side, which now doubled up as tea houses for all the old folk of the town, who spent their days playing mahjong with friends, and concrete buildings on the other with all manner of shops in them.

In the middle were the market stalls, with the stallholders doing their darndest to sell everything they had to all and sundry, including us. One poultry seller was on the little aggressive side with some prospective buyers, when their first offer was put in. She was not impressed and literally scolded them for their bare faced cheek.

We found the people in this area to be some of the friendliest folk we encountered in China. None of us could communicate with each other, but they were happy to chat with us about who knows what, but a smile goes a long way.

I have a thing about markets, I love them so much, that even just wandering down them and looking brings me great joy.
You may be wondering that Mr Nie spoke English to a good level. He did not. We communicated via his laptop and google translator. A wondrous piece of software that allowed to very different people from different cultures to learn things about each other and become friends.

If any of you are in this area of Hunan, please make the side trip to Hongjiang for a day or two and enjoy the city. You may not get to stay at the home of Mr Nie, but you will experience something totally different and unique.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Sunday Roast @ The Flask in Hampstead

I’ve been meaning to write this for ages now, but with things happening at the end of last year, Christmas, New Year blah blah blah, it all got forgotten about. But finally here it is.
The Flask ticks all the boxes for a good Sunday Roast. It has the appearance of an old time boozer, how it was in yesteryear, even though the brewers gave the place a refurb a few years ago. They did a good job for it to keep its original character.
There’s a nice dining area out the back, which has a lot of space and is better for large groups to dine away. Which we were, and we did.
The ales on tap are a sight to behold. I’m a big fan of Young’s Bitters, so I was right at home here.
The staff are friendly, although some do look mighty young and not too bright neither, but we’ll forgive them as they did a good job of keeping us content, plus the chefs cooked a storm.
Yes, we were here for one thing only. A bloody good Sunday roast, and yes we got it. It’s a little on the pricey, but we are in Hampstead so you cannot expect much different.
It had been a while since my last roast, so I had to have the Roast Rump of Beef. A fine cooked piece of meat it was as well. Nice and pink, slightly drowned out by the nice gravy, but still good none the less. The veggies and tatties were well cooked and seasoned.
I never got to try the lamb, but it did look and smell a fine specimen indeed. But I did get to sample a lot of the Schweinehaxe. A roasted pork knuckle cooked in beer. A fine example of an unused piece of meat that, with a bit of love and care can become your star dish.

I really wished I’d have had this. Tasted heavenly, and with some fine crackling that actually crackled as you ate it. Delish. It reminded me of what you can get at Opa y Oma, a small family run restaurant in the countryside outside of Medellin. Ahh memories. 
I’m also reliable informed that their steak and ale pies are some of the best in London. This maybe worth coming back another time to see if the boast is true.
All in all it was a good Sunday roast with some fine ales, witty conversation and wittier, finer friends, but that is what Sunday roasts are all about.

The Flask on Urbanspoon

Friday, 6 January 2012

Foto Friday # 84

A dish made in heaven. Fish n chips, mushy peas and a pint of ale. Heaven I tell you, bloody heaven.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

My Favourite Coffee Shops ……

There was a time when I didn’t drink coffee. It is so long ago that I cannot remember those dark, non-caffeine fuelled days. I also cannot remember the moment when this neo addiction started. Maybe it was sometime around 1992, that I am pretty sure, but when or where, who knows. As the years go by, the memory fails you see.
Like most people with a dependency I am willing to travel far and wide to get my shot. Thankfully I am very happy that I’ve not discovered any places outside of London where I feel a need to go for a double espresso. Phew.
Well apart from half a dozen places in New York city, one in Alexandria in Egypt, and at least 20 places in Vietnam, and also not forgetting that cafe in Kuching. Ohh and that small but oh so fine place up in the mountains in Filandia in Colombia. But apart from them, everywhere else is in London. So far.
I’ve been thinking for a while now which is my favourite coffee shop, but it is so difficult as they all mean something very personal to me.
So I thought I would just write about them all, so in no particular order here goes.

Monmouth Coffee Shop in Covent Garden
Their double espressos in ceramic are heaven on earth. I’ve only ever sat inside once and never really enjoyed it. I much prefer to stand outside come rain or shine and watch the world go by. Great for people watching.
I used to come here a lot when I was doing my stint as a chef at Café Boheme.  On my 4pm break, I was always fucked and needed a quick fix to try and revive and relax me a tad. It never failed. Nowadays I can fully appreciate the bitter sweetness of their coffees a lot more, plus the staff are great and know so much about each and every coffee that it makes choosing which one to buy so much easier. My coffee of choice is their espresso mix.
Monmouth Coffee Company (Covent Garden) on Urbanspoon

Fernandez and Wells on Beak Street
Out of the 3 closely knit Fernandez and Wells this is my favourite by far. Not that the others do not have their virtues, but Beak Street has a lot of what I love. People and odd ones at that.
But it’s those double espressos that keep me coming back, and either the low tables by the window or the high stools opposite the counter. It’s also their orange and lemon flavoured waters that give life back into these old weary bones.
The sandwiches and rolls that are toasted are pure heaven on earth. My current favourite is the black pudding and egg breakfast roll. Damn it is good.
We always go to share, but hey when a roll is this good you have to have one for yourself. They also do a particularly good egg custard tart, which I try and keep down to once in a while. Even writing that seems a lie.
The coffee is sweet and nutty and gives me that oh so good boost at any time of the day. Highly recommended.
Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Federation Coffee in Brixton Village
I’ve unfortunately only been here a few times, but I was a fan from day one. They have moved premises now. Well is diagonally opposite and into a larger shop, which means there is more space to sit back and watch the now hordes of people who are discovering how good Brixton is.
A part of me wishes the press hadn’t discovered this place, as I felt it was my little secret just for me, and a few other people only. But now I have to share it with everyone else. Damn.
The staff in Federation are well knowledgeable on all things coffee related, and sadly now a little harried on a Saturday afternoon. Poor souls. I saw a woman who was in front of me in the queue, and sat outside waiting for her coffee and came inside to demand where her coffee was after a few minutes.
So rude, people like that do not deserve to be able to drink good coffee.
Federation Coffee on Urbanspoon

Allpress Espresso
I wish I lived nearer to here. Damn their coffee is good, roasted on site as well. The paninis are amazing as well with such great fillings.
It really depends on which way I’m heading to Brick Lane or Colombia Road as whether I drink here or at Nude Espresso. But if I’m gonna move east next time this is where I want to live.
They also do coffee sessions, where you can learn to make the perfect cup of coffee at home for yourself. I’m still waiting for this as an early birthday or late Xmas pressie. Still waiting.
Allpress Espresso on Urbanspoon

Monmouth Coffee Shop in Borough Market
I am really beginning to hate Borough Market. The hordes of tourists who come here to look around and not buy anything more than a few olives and bread. Grrrrrr …
The queues outside this outlet of Monmouth coffee are outrageous. But a fix is a fix and sometimes if I’m desperate I have to queue. I hate it though but I have to, but it is great people watching standing outside listening to people brag about what they have just brought and going to cook.
Monmouth Coffee Company (London Bridge) on Urbanspoon

Nude Espresso near to Brick Lane
If I’m heading into Brick Lane from Spitalfields then this is my coffee shop of choice. The place has a great vibe and serves a great flat white, actually one of the best in London in my view.
I’ve not eaten in here, but I should really, as I’m sure the food here beats a lot of the rubbish that is sold in and around Brick Lane and the indoor markets.
Nude Espresso on Urbanspoon

Noridc Bakery
What can be beaten than to sit down with a book, drink great coffee in a relaxing shop with a pickled herring and egg roll. Heaven.
Nordic Bakery on Urbanspoon

Tinder Box in Angel
This is the best shop in north London that I have found. I actually preferred their old shop on Upper Street. It was just a mishmash of seats that never should have worked but it did. Thankfully in the newer shop with its clean wooden seats they still brought along two of the old airline seats and plonked them by the window. They really don’t go, but it’s a blast from the past.
There is also a branch inside Westfield out in Strattford if you are ever shattered and need of a sit down before venturing out to do some more shopping.
Tinder Box on Urbanspoon
Tinder Box on Urbanspoon

Foyles Café on the 3rd floor
I love this place, it is bursting at the seams on most days I’ve been. But even with the noise, the hustle and bustle, the constant chattering form the tables around, I can still sit here with a book, read, drink a cup of coffee and relax, and I mean really relax. Shame you cannot take the books from the shelves in here.
Borders Cafe on Urbanspoon

Photographer’s Gallery Cafe
Another great place to sit and ponder on life’s great mysteries over a mug of coffee. Plus you get to look at some great photography. I’m getting impatient and cannot wait for the gallery to reopen. It’s been far too long.
Photographers' Gallery Café on Urbanspoon

I am still searching out more great places to drink a cup. If you know of anymore or want to share your favourites please let me know, as you will make an old addict very happy. Thanks.