Sunday, 23 November 2008

oqo on the green [now closed]

angel is always a favourite for a quiet dinner or a quick drink, as it’s conveniently located halfway between me and everyone else. so far though i hadn’t really come across my favourite bar there. sure, the cuban restaurants makes mean mojitos but they aren’t quite enough to compensate for the complete lack of atmosphere. last night though, m and i met for an early dinner, which turned into dinner and drinks as we hadn’t quite exhausted the gossip by the time the restaurant bill came.

so we walked over to oqo, which tempted us with elaborate drinks and interesting prices for early birds like us, 3.50 for selected (but still very intriguing) cocktails. the place ticked all the boxes in terms of atmosphere. nice, dim lighting, funky furniture, excellent music and an unusually friendly staff for a cocktail bar.

our drinks came fast and well presented. being experimental with my drinking i went for a jasmine and ginger caipirinha, while m had a love tap, some red and fruity concoction topped with champagne. they tasted just as good as they looked. sweet but not overly so, we could taste the alcohol in them but only to appreciate its quality and the perfect balance between all ingredients.

being only nine o’clock the place wasn’t packed and although the music kept our head moving it was still possible to have a decent conversation without damaging our vocal cords. having a more careful look at the menu we discovered a plethora of unusual drinks, some tremendously tempting, others that seemed just a bit too experimental for our tastes. still, we really enjoyed the whole experience and we’ll definitely go back for more drinks, more relaxed conversations on the red leather couches, more pleasant music.
we’ll just be careful not to have a drink too many and then attempt to reach the futuristic toilets we might get lost on the way.

oqo| 4-6 islington green| london n1 2xa

princi: the prada of bakeries

walking into princi on wardour street has nothing to do with the familiar feeling of walking into the warm, fragrant local bakery back home. the suited cashier doesn’t remind me of the sweaty and loud baker i visit daily in turin at all. princi looks more like a jeweller’s than a bakery to me, but i guess that’s how it got the reputation of “prada of bakeries” in london.

the large store in the heart of soho is, indeed, classy and impressive. warm lighting, uncluttered tables, artistically arranged counters...even a fountain decorating the long wall. spending half an hour here with a warm coffee or a filling slice of pizza is certainly a stylish experience that no other italian bakery offers in london, or italy for that matter. the choice is vast, ranging from pastries and cakes to pizza slices to more complex salads and dishes. little baskets on the counters allow you to sample the different kind of breads kept behind the counters, expensive delicacies enriched by walnuts, raisins, olives and so on. everything is elaborate but classic at the same time, nothing strikes me as an unnatural adaptation of italian favourites to the english taste. i am actually tempted by most of the sweet and savoury options on display.

in the end m and i decide on the tiramisù, the ultimate test, and foamy lattes, while o chooses a pear and chocolate tart and a small cannoncino (milanese term for cannoli apparently). i’m no coffee expert, so i focus on the desserts. the chocolate and pear tart is nice and crunchy, the pastry strongly reminds me of home-made crostata. the cannoncino is a delicate affair which disappears in two bites, leaving behind a sweet memory of custard and breakfasts on the run. finally the tiramisù is a contentious affair. m is terribly disappointed by the dry sponge and the addition of a hint of orange. it’s definitely not a classic, but i can easily imagine it being served in fancy restaurants back home as an ingenious reinterpretation of an overly common desserts. all in all, i like it, although i don’t love it, the flavours merge well and match the sophisticated atmosphere.

to complete the test, i take some walnut bread home. a bit heavy, but still successful with my italian guests. i remain curious to try the cold and warm dishes that were tempting me from behind the spotless glass counters, and i wouldn’t mind coming here for a real italian aperitivo, if only they started offering those tiny but oh-so-yummy nibbles that clutter bars and cafes on any italian evening.

princi doesn’t resemble any italian bakery i know, but their loaves and pizza slices and croissants do remind me of family sunday lunches. the prices are also far from “authentic”, but that shouldn’t be a surprise in soho. after all, we’re in london, where everything is possible. then why not a trendy bakery serving tasty italian delicacies with a fountain in the background?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

kati roll

kati roll is reminiscent of t.r.p (a pakistani roll enterprise) albeit a more sophisticated version of it. this soho eatery is incredibly cheap and very tasty. it is also one of the many wrap places that populate london’s quick, cheap, food-to-go options.

a kati roll is a sub-continental inspired wrap. it is essentially a paratha (a thin round of bread griddle fried in oil). to this the creators of kati roll have added a number of flavorful meat or veggie fillings. the roll itself is presented in a foil wrap with red onions and a generous amount of mint chutney – o had an achari paneer kati roll whilst i had a beef tikka one to assuage my red meat cravings. achar is an oily indian pickle a bit heavy on the spice but is tasty accompanied by bite sized cubes of fresh indian paneer (cheese) akin to tofu. the two offset each other well. my beef tikka was bite sized cubes of meat that was well cooked and wrapped with onions and chutney. both of them were finger licking good, almost as good as t.r.p

t.r.p, the shortened version of taimoori roll paratha , when it arrived in islamabad was a roadside kiosk offering similar rolls and was located in f-10. it was so good that it warranted a trip from f-7 to f-10 when the t.r.p craving hit (islamabadites will understand the zipcode syndrome). t.r.p was much spicier than kati roll but they are both are a calorific tasty treat.

i am definitely going back for an aloo tikki (potato cutlet) sandwich for no other reason than the invocation of food memory. mama’s aloo tikki’s were a wonderful affair of well mashed potatoes seasoned with a smattering of asian spices – coriander and cumin seed, fresh green chilies, sometimes pomegranate seed. they were formed into tikki’s, dipped in a lightly beaten egg, then rolled in bread crumbs and shallow fried until the breadcrumb coating was a reddish brown. i loved eating these on toast, mashed slightly under the fork to spread them over the toast. they were great cold as well and were a packed lunch staple, either crimped in toast like a pakistani rarebit or between untoasted white bread.

Friday, 7 November 2008

food isn't everything

villandry is not the cheapest breakfast option in town. it had been on our list of things to do in london for over a year now, but we never managed to fit it in our student lifestyle, no matter what our foodie heart was telling us. finally, the other morning we elected it as the location of a debrief meeting to celebrate an eventful week. it was clear from the beginning, we were there for the eggs. the menu was simple but classy, as one would expect from a rather fashionable place such as villandry. i ordered scrambled eggs and bacon, m went for poached. twinings tea was a slight disappointment, as you would expect something rarer from a restaurant attached to a fancy grocery store, but no one is perfect so we welcomed our beautifully arranged plates with true excitement.

the eggs were, indeed, perfect. just the right amount, the ideal texture and colour, resting on crunchy brown bread. m’s eggs looked like a work of art, smooth round balls with a bright orange liquid heart, it was hard to resist the temptation of stealing them from her plate. my bacon was abundant and perfectly cooked, crispy on the edges but not crumbly, a rarity in most english breakfasts today. up to this point, we were delighted by villandry’s famous breakfasts and we were already planning our next visit.

but then, we decided to order dessert. getting the attention of a waiter proved an exhausting ordeal, although there were only three occupied tables in the restaurant. asking for a menu, ordering a (scrumptious) croissant and getting the bill required three long waits, a lot of pointless gesturing and tons of patience. after the bill was paid, we waited another fifteen minutes for our change, as service was included in the bill, but instead we were asked for more money as we were putting our coats on because the slowest waitress in the world had given us the wrong bill. 

villandry’s breakfasts are certainly something worth considering, but the delicious food might actually not be worth the steep bill and theterrible service that come with it. if you would do anything for perfect eggs, then at least bring a good book to read... 

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


leon has disappointed some of my friends, so i don’t get the chance to go there very often. today though, as i was looking for refuge from a cold and dark winter day, the cosy and warm decor of a leon behind the tate modern won over all my reserves and i walked in. although i prefer its smaller branches, which don’t get as noisy and look less like fast foods during lunch breaks, this large and industrial eatery is still blessed with warm lights and colourful advertising, simple wooden tables and a familiar atmosphere.

the menu wasn’t as exciting as i remembered, probably because they have eliminated some of the most complicated dishes since the last time i ate there. so i settled for a classic leon gobi and the ginger and lemon crunch, which represented the real attraction since i remembered it as one of the best desserts of last year.

the first bite truly made me wonder “how can my friends not like this”? the gobi was nice and warm, rich with raisins, the flavours well mixed, the rice cooked to crunchy perfection. after the fifth bite though i started to get a bit bored by the harsh corner of the cardboard box out of which i was eating and, to be honest, by what i was eating as well.

i was really looking forward to the dessert, but unfortunately i had to agree with my friends. leon can be disappointing. something was simply not right, not the right consistency, not the right combination of flavours...not sure what, it simply wasn’t the sweet miracle i remembered.

although leon is still marketed as the revolutionary fast-food, it’s losing its appeal. disappointing then, but honestly still a decent choice for a quick lunch, a warm soup, a cosy break in these gloomy winter times.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

the beigel chapter

my affair with cream cheese and bagels owes itself to a trip to chicago in 1998. during my undergraduate days in london i rediscovered them but as part of a chain called bagel factory. for a while i was addicted to sunflower seed bagels with honey, or peanut butter on granary, sesame seed with cream cheese and salmon or cinnamon and raisin with cream cheese. but as much as these were good what i really wanted was a bagel that was crisp on the outside but easy to bite of rather than be torn – and for this a bagel factory bagel didn’t play the trick. this is where london’s hidden gems come to play –

all over london are nondescript looking bakeries whose insides smell like they are an oven themselves. where through the open door you can see the baker putting the bread in to bake (or in the case of bagels, to boil)… with that in mind here is a short guide to good bagels in london.

beigel shop (apparently the oldest beigel bakery in london) is on brick lane. it is an east london institution and is open 24 hours. when i went in on a tuesday night at 10 pm the kitchen was as if it was early in the morning. rows and rows of dough, the smell of freshly baked bread and sadly a sold old sesame seed beigel rack. i settled on plain beigels (22p each) and rye bread (and a brownie which was more like a slice of heaven). the beigels went home in a brown paper bag and were my breakfast on the run the next day, split toasted, smothered with cream cheese and utterly delicious.

once again in east london jones dairy café served me a smoked salmon bagel. the waiter behind the counter cuts the bagels through the centre, butters them thick and then adds paper thin slices of salmon overlapping them. i asked for mine unbuttered and accompanied by a half pint mug of argentinean coffee (strong and hot after a roam around columbia flower market). even untoasted the bagel gave away easily to the bit and was scrumy with an addition of coarse black pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

in my old neighborhood in north west london roni’s bakery made some excellent bagel-wiches – cream cheese that set itself thickly in the fridge with salmon draped over. it was wrapped in cling-wrap and great on the run. i hear that north london is home to the best beigels outside the east end so there is a trip scheduled to happening bagel at some point.

notwithstanding every so often i get a craving for bagels from lox stock and bagel. this is a bagel deli on paseo village (a strip mall near my house in scottsdale arizona). its bagels rival its british cousins in size (i usually eat half at a time). mum loves poppy seed bagels and i love the american cinnamon and raisin ones. lox stock and bagel also do a dozen variation of homemade cheese. there is cream cheese with honey and almond whipped into it and berries too. we usually have a tub of plain lite, veggie and chives at home to spread thickly onto our bagels on sunday mornings. 

for bagels on the go london has a host of bagel chains from bagel factory to ixxy’s bagels to offer you all manners of bagel-wiches. but i can tell you now that as a rule of thumb if you see a small jewish bakery somewhere dash in to get a bagel. it won’t ever get better than that. and remember a bagel is a donut with half the guilt –