Saturday, 27 September 2008

fernandez and wells: coffee bar

i’s return from india was christened by a hasty lunch at ‘the clock’ – a local café located on highbury grange. come the weekend we had chalked out a full day the beginning and closing note of which was food.

(we were supposed to indulge in jo’s cakes at tea-time at the photographers gallery café but were too sated from our fernandez and wells experience and had to forego it)
fernandez and wells has two branches just round the corner from each other. both are small spaces, constructed in a way that maximizes on natural light giving the spaces an open feel. the walls are white and the large shop windows allow natural light to flood in as well as a view of soho street life. we happened to visit on what in england is known as an indian summer day when large panels of sunlight threw itself into the café.
the closer to brunch timing of our breakfast excursion complicated the choices available. the muesli with dried berries and roasted almonds was as inviting as the greek yoghurt with heather honey and nuts… eventually i settled on a toasted poilâne sandwich which when presented itself oozed montgomery cheese accompanied by leeks and red onion. the choice dilemma extended to coffee as well. i ordered a stumpy (what to me is a new-fangled coffee) – the description offered was of a coffee that is stronger than a flat white, a sort of complex latte served in a small glass.

when it was served i was not disappointed. it had a dark nutty flavor with full cream milk and a flourish of fern in its foam. it was a real coffee treat.

Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

the five senses travel to india

a trip to india is, as it might be expected, a trip that awakenes your senses. the colours , the smells, the flavours are all so intense that risk to be overwhelming.

as a foodie, i was obviously eager to experiment the flavours of real indian cuisine, but partly due to hygienic precautions and partly having to trust the uninspiring recommendations of western guidebooks, who assume all tourists are craving for bland omelettes and dubious versions of shepherd's pie, so far i hadn't been impressed. the food had always been delicious but the menus seemed repetitive and, after all, i couldn't taste such a marked difference between these "authentic" dishes and what's served at masala zone in london.

in kochi, however, the monsoon changed our travelling routines. soaked to the bone and stranded in the old part of the city, an island off the coast of kerala, we left our guidebook at home and picked the restaurant next door for dinner. it seemed nice from the outside and turned out to be allegedely the "best boutique hotel in india". a wonderful, if quite random , choice.

honestly, a touch of class and elegnace were welcome after ten days spent on the road in dusty rajasthan. the service and the decor were truly flawless. tek carved ceilings, a few hindu statues, white tablecloths and pinapple flowers on the table were key for the chic but unpretentious atmosphere. reading the menu was a pleasure in itself. except for a few pasta dishes, appertizers and main courses denoted creativity, but also an attention to local ingredients. seafood played a central role and we were happy to deviate from the usual diet of vegetables and chicken.

dishes were too elaborate to describe in details, but they were all artfully mastered concoctions of prawns and squids, avocado and curry leaves, ginger and mango. the carefully adjusted plates invited to try and get lost in unkown flavours, as any attempt to recognise familiar ingredients was soon replaced by the pure enjoyment of such delicate creations. the dessert, a crumble of caramelised pineapple with green and black pepper, was the perfect conclusion for the meal, combining local spices with foreign methods of preparation.

surely, this wasn't the most typical indian meal, bringing together keralan ingredients and european standards with a touch of thai perfumes. however, it is refreshing to know such high standards of cooking, and creativity, are reached all over the world. malabar house in fort kochi was definitely a most welcome parenthesis in our usually more down-to-earth trip through the smells, colours, sounds and flavours of india.

Friday, 12 September 2008

raavi kebab house

when i am missing home i usually make a rip down to raavi.

it is famous for it’s grilled meats but since i am not a huge fan of meat (particularly lamb) i usually find myself dabbling in its vegetarian and lentil offerings. there is also the tandoori roti (flat leavened bread baked in an earthenware oven) that i am particularly partial too. i definitely like roti more than it’s white flour constituting partner called naan. as a child i was fascinated by tandoors (the place where naans, roti’s and the numerous types of pakistani breads are made and sold). the jouney home from school often involved a stop at the tandoor to get fresh roti. i loved these trips to the tandoor watching in fascination as the tandoor wala would take a ball of dough, roll it out, slap it onto a solid cushion with a moistened surface which he would then lower into the oven in order to transfer the roti to the rounded wall of the oven in startlingly fast pace. he would watch over the roti whilst repeating the process with dough balls lined up in front of him. the roti would cook on the heated wall swelling unevenly in places with the pressure of the heat. once it was toasted all over the tandoor wala would prise it out with a steel rod whose end is shaped like a spatula. he’d then toss the hot roti across to another man who would roll it up in a sheet of newspaper and hand it over to the customer. even now every time i return to visit pakistan i am impatient to go to the tandoor – there is nothing better than a roti hot from the tandoor accompanied by a cup of strongly brewed tea.

but i digress, to return to raavi. for veggie lovers i’d recommend the okra, lentils and spinach dishes. and for those who like a bit of meat with there veggies there is the murgh chana masala (chicken and chickpea) and the chicken karahi (chicken with a stir-fried masala of tomatoes and fresh green chilli and garnished with julienned ginger) that are really good. i am afraid i cannot give you a vote on the lassi as i am one of those pakistani’s upon whom the love of this creamy drink is lost. other than that raavi will give you a bit of a taste of home (for those of you who come from the sub-continent) and some good curry (for those of you who like it).

Friday, 5 September 2008

diwana bhel poori house

m and i eventually managed to assuage our chaat cravings although our choice of evening was far from promising as it was on a very rainy friday. chaat is indian street food and includes a medley of ingredients; a bit sweet and a bit sour, lots of tang and crispness and lots of yoghurt too. our choice of place, diwana on drummond street has a reputation for good chaat.

we landed up ordering a couple of starters (papri chaat, pani puri and aloo chana chaat) and for the mains we split a dosa. papri chaat brings together crisp and crackle with the sweet tang of tamarind sauce and the coolness of yoghurt. it’s also got chickpeas in it. eating pani puri is a messy yet very satisfying affair. you take one of the puri’s, tap into the surface to make a small hole into which you drop a few chickpeas, you then take the little puri and dip it into the sweet tamarind water (pani) after which it should follow to your mouth in quick succession. you have to eat the whole thing in one go otherwise there will be tamarind water all over you. aloo (potato) and chana (chickpea) chaat is just what it’s ingredients say. it’s got yoghurt and some tamarind sauce in it and all the flavours come together to make a wonderful treat.

a dosa is a south indian pancake (albeit much bigger in size). it’s made of rice and gram flour and is usually stuffed with vegetables and accompanied on the side by chutney and pickles. ours came to us on trademark indian stainless steel dishes and was long and stuffed to the brim with mashed potatoes, fried onions and spices. along with it was a sweet and salty coconut chutney and some chilli chutney too. we worked our way slowly through all the food we ordered by the end of which we were utterly full.

we rounded the meal of with masala chai which was a failed experiment. either the cook was having a bad day and added too much masala or it was just the tea itself but the peppery hotness of it burned our throats. i can say it must be good for someone who had a sore throat because a couple of sips down and i felt like i had been cleansed. so… avoid the masala tea next time…but if you are in a mood for good indian street food this is the place to be.