Thursday, 25 December 2008

lunch on christmas day

breakfast on christmas morning was a glass of bubbly after which i threw together a fruit salad (a guilt free alternative dessert with melon that was honey sweet, segments of orange, a handful of blueberries and a kiwi. i dressed it with honey, the juice of a lemon and lime and a grating of zest to add a citrusy kick).

lunch started off with hare pate for the family and smoked salmon with a side of leafy greens for me. this was followed by a turkey, just roasted and hot out of the oven with a medley of vegetables – broccoli that was steamed lightly, carrot batons that were a fresh bright orange, parsnips that were roasted to bring out their natural sweetness and potatoes mashed to fluffy and velvet smoothness. there was classic bistro gravy with the addition of some whole cranberries for the festive season and cranberry port sauce with bruised whole berries in it. aunt i’s ruby pink-red cabbage had the bite of apple and a hint of cinnamon that matched perfectly with the turkey. uncle g served an amber colored white wine that had a dark honey-ish flavor recalling that of stringy bark honey. 

the consequence of eating such an extensive lunch is that none of us had space for pudding…

Friday, 19 December 2008


sofra and its oxford circus chef named branch ozer is somewhat of an institution with my pakistani friends. so much so that it is the inevitable starting point for most nights that i have made plans with b and co. in fact come to think of it i celebrated my twenty-sixth there too. so i finally decided to take fellow foodie i to give ozer a try. an eight thirty reservation on a friday night the weekend before christmas found i and i at ozer.

despite the credit crunch ozer was packed and perhaps one of the reasons for that is ozer/sofras menu aptly titled the ‘credit crunch’ menu to reflect the sentiment of the day. upon being seated a bowl of hummus and bread appeared. since i wanted to sample we ordered some hot and some cold mezze and an entree to spilt. there was beef kofte from the hot mezze menu and red lentil kofte and imam bayildi from the cold. for the entree we choose the chicken kulbasti which comes highly recommended from the restaurant itself.

the beef kofte were delicately spiced and was accompanied by a tangy slightly chilli dipping sauce. the meat itself was juicy and moist and the kofte disappeared almost instantaneously. the red lentil kofte were reminiscent of homemade dahl which had been mashed and then squeezed in the palm of the hand to create an uneven longish kofte. once again the seasonings brought out the flavour of the lentils. imam bayildi features stewed aubergine with red pepper and tomato, with the three vegetables being tossed in a generous glug of seasoned olive oil. the combination of flavours is common to middle eastern cuisine and never fails to deliver.

i have had the kulbasti on the number of occasions and love the basic seasonings and flavours. the fillet of chicken is grilled and served on a long strip of slightly toasted bread, a mild salsa-ish sauce, vegetables in a light sauce (a bit like a rue) and a mound of basmati rice that is steamed to perfection and tastes of salted butter.

to end the dinner we had mint tea, served in glass cups. it was fragrant and refreshing, basically a bunch of mint leaves on which boiling water had been poured to draw out the essence of the leaf. there was also dessert which despite having eaten so much i and i decided to order. in the words of i it was gluttony – and gluttony that paid well. dessert was an almond and coconut pudding which was served chilled and with a thick crust which gave way to a creamy rice pudding – there was a strong hint of coconut cream and the crunch of almond in every mouthful.

it was a pre-christmas treat with a lovely surprise – a foodie notebook constructed by i resembling our blog as i had printed and collaged the front cover. it allows me space for recipes and other notes. here is to the beginning of a new year and a new chapter of culinary adventures.

p.s. ozer/sofra’s menu’s are good value and especially helpful when dining in a group of friends all of whom have varied tastes and requirements.

Monday, 15 December 2008

sakura for sushi

i had japanese with italians and despite the fact that i speak no italian and aside from two out of a dinner party of four spoke no english we had a perfectly wonderful time. i and i were left to navigate an oversized sakura menu which if you have been to sakura you would know is not exactly an easy job to do. however we managed to get it all sorted and the result was an assortment of japanese dishes from sushi to sashimi, teriyaki, cold soba, some grilled squid and tempura.

i should at this point pause and say that the waiters are slightly linguistically challenged and you may find yourself repeating your order. also the service is patchy at best and some things with happen in quick succession whereas others (like the tea service) is ridiculously slow. my advice to you is to bear with it because the food more than compensates for it. in fact what goes in favor of sakura is the presence of a japanese clientele which to me is generally a fair indicator of the authenticity of the food.

so to return to the food; sakura uses good quality fish and both the sashimi and sushi were made up with fish that felt silken in the mouth. the beef ginger was thinly sliced and had heaps of flavor and in keeping with the rest the salmon teriyaki had a lovely rich glaze and flaked with ease at the touch of chopsticks. i and i tasted some cold soba which was refreshing. they say that making cold soba is an art and each strand must reveal itself independently. i am no expert but if the rules of pasta apply this soba definitely lived up to what little i had read. i wasn’t particularly fussed with the tempura which is always good. however it was a last order of grilled squid that was really hit the spot. it came with a wedge of lemon and something akin to wasabi in taste but which was yellow in color and added extra flavor to the already tasty squid. 

at some point during dinner our attention was caught by the hot pot on the table next to ours and for a while the memory of china town’s hoco held my imagination. suddenly i was in islamabad on a winter evening in a grubby room. there were peanuts marinated in chili oil and pickled radishes and carrots for starters whilst waiting for the signature copper brazier to arrive along with a platter of raw meat, seafood and vegetable. the waiter would get the hoco started by adding thin slices of meat and leafy greens that would wilt dramatically in the hot soup. he would then use a chinese soup spoon to measure out steaming white rice into the base of soup bowls. to this he would add peanut sauce and chili (depending on preference) and then meat and vegetables would be added from the hoco with generous ladles of soup. he would then give it all a rapid stir and place it in front of you, ready to be eaten. and i returned to the present only when the discussion about dessert required my attention. i and i settled on some shared guilt in the form of azuki bean ice-cream which is this curious brownish-pink but tastes quite nice. 

i just wish i had gotten more tea.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

via condotti

a two course meal at via condotti entails carpaccio crowned with a baby spinach salad glistening in its vinaigrette toss – with the accent of walnut halves and a thinly sliced salmon with flecks of dill and triangles of grilled bread.

entrees of pasta that were a medley of colour, served in shallow white plates. squid ink tagliatelle which was charcoal with hints of colour – carrot and zucchini shavings and rings of creamy white squid curled on top. chestnut ravioli – parcels of warm beige with strips of venison which were a darker brown contrast. the sauce comprised the juices of the meat, olive oil and a hint of butter. the flavours in both revealed themselves in complex layers with an over arching hint of extra virgin olive oil. 

dessert was a glammed up version of tiramisu and although i am traditionalist i could not fault the taste of it as it was truly sublime. to go with dinner was a deep dark merlot with a dark winter berry flavour. 

end note of the meal: satiated.

Monday, 1 December 2008

the afghan kitchen

to me afghan food is the offerings of kabul restaurant. kabuli pilau made from long grained sayla rice whose centre is a piece of tender beef that comes off in strips when pulled to eat. it if further garnished with raisins and julienned carrots pickled in sweet syrup. there is mantu essentially dumplings stuffed with minced meat and onion, steamed and then topped with a garlic spiked yoghurt and lentil sauce. better yet are the kebabs pulled from seekhs with a fork and wrapped in roti and eaten hot. each kebab is separated by a grilled tomato which benefited from the juices of the meat when it was grilled. afghani roti itself is long flat leavened bread that is just as good eaten hot and washed down with a cold coca cola. i love this food so much that bearing the salty thirst that accompanies and lingers after the meal doesn’t deter me from it one bit.

with all that in mind you can imagine my surprise at the afghan kitchen’s menu which bore no resemblance to any of the food i’ve described above. on its contained menu are several meat and veggies options from which i and i selected the lavand-e-murgh and borani kadoo. borani kadoo combines pumpkin with a yoghurt sauce. it is basically thick slices of pumpkin that have a delicate flavor of cinnamon draped in a thick yoghurt with a slightly salty edge. lavand-e-murgh combines boneless chicken with a yoghurt and mint base. it is cooked till the chicken is tender and has a slight undertone of chili. sadly there was no pilau so we settled on the naan. the food was simple and yet flavorful and both dishes complimented each other. although the eating space is constricted and doesn’t lend itself easily to conversation it’s communal nature reinforces the sharing spirit that i have found to be a hallmark characteristic of the afghan people. 

and inasmuch that it doesn’t resemble the afghan food from home it is very good and characteristically afghan too. i find that the brevity of the menu adds to the charm of the place making it easy to choose and enabling a perfection to the food that is sometimes impossible with a lengthy menu.