Tuesday, 29 September 2009

bincho yakitori: japanese in soho

us two foodinista’s had a girly dinner at bincho to catch up on each other’s lives. because bincho is all about skewers and grilled things both and i had to spend considerable time navigating the menu. we picked a mix and match – there was the traditional sake teriyaki of salmon with a sticky sweet glaze, skewers of a beef tongue is a dark glaze, eringi mushroom that had a deep meaty flavour and akadashi which is red miso soup with nameko mushrooms and sancho pepper. it was a burst of flavours!

we were slightly unsuccessful with one of our shared entrees. a whole salt grilled sardine, which was a challenge to eat not only on account of its tiny bones but the double challenge of chopsticks. the grilled aubergine with miso was curiously comforting. the miso paste that formed a layer onto of aubergine whose flesh had been grilled to softened was not salty like in miso soup. it was slightly sweet and paired well with the soft and yet deep flavour of the aubergine. then there was the fried tofu with chilli and kimchee. here the mellowness of the tofu was broken by a thin gelatinous coating with a hint of chilli and the garlic-laden punch of kimchee.

dessert turned out to be a real gem. although i and i agreed that we have had much better green tea ice cream it was the layered and slightly warmed banana cake, which really shone. the contrast of warm and cold and mild and slightly strong green tea made dessert a real winner.

Friday, 25 September 2009


focaccia tricolore
at cocorino mellow, rather sentimental sounding italian music mutes the voices of chatting people. a long broad counter displays food and a blackboard announces the menu. admittedly, it’s a bit bizarre to find granola and porridge on the brekkie menu of an italian place but i guess londoner’s need catering for. i am here for the focaccia and settle easily on the classic – mozzarella, tomato and basil (pesto) – the pesto tastes good. each of the ingredients shine and the garlic doesn’t over power. i have to abandon reading and eating together as the pesto oozes and luckily misses the book and lands on my bookmark. i find myself doggy bagging the other half as the size is very ample. on the way out i pop into the gelateria next door, a visit to which is in order with o.


it’s a sunny friday and i’m not working. it’s too good a day to stay in doors so armed with a book, my moleskin and a pencil i set out to explore foodie london. there is kaffeine on great titchfield street, one of london’s new square mile serving coffee shops. aussie/new zealand owned/run coffee shops have remarkable similarities in the way they are done up. sharp angular wooden furniture, clean lines and the colour black as an accent. my long black comes served in a black cup. the coffee smells nutty and fresh with a lingering note of summer. i have it with a splash of milk and some brown sugar. it’s actually really really good. i drink it slowly as i read… and while i do so the smell of warm spice and baking wafts through the air…

Friday, 18 September 2009

iranian at behesht

getting to behesht was a bit of a trek. the tube had severe delays and eventually the bakerloo line delivered us to kensal green station into a less than savoury neighbourhood. but for the promise of authentic iranian cuisine by s, o and i would have been unlikely to venture to kensal green. but true to s’ word, it was well worth it!
we started on shallow bowls of a hearty iranian stew called ashe reshteh made of vegetables, beans and noodles topped with slightly soured goats milk yoghurt and texture in the form of fried and crispy onions. along with this were stainless steel dishes of thick creamy yoghurt, spinach and a hint of garlic served with fresh bread from the oven.

it takes us a while to choose our entrees, given there are so many things to choose from. i forgo my oft chosen chello dishes for zereshk pollo ba murgh – essentially rice with chicken and barberries. i love these little red jewel like berries that look akin to pomegranate but are slightly more tart. they are served moistened in butter on top of perfectly boiled fluffed rice – some of which is saffron infused. the chicken, which is hidden in the rice is juicy and so tender that it falls from the bone at the slight nudge of the fork. 

i wasn’t particularly interested in what the boys were having given they had lamb and i’m not a fan of lamb. we spent considerable time post dinner drinking very sweet iranian tea that continued to gain strength from the warm candle base that it was served on. around us are iranian families tucking into oversized entrée’s or enjoying sweet meats with tea. the place itself looks like a cave of treasures. there are lanterns, elaborate carpets and rug cushions, silver pots, arabic calligraphic inscriptions and pictures of the shah of iran. the mesh of colours and objects can be a tab bit overwhelming but should you want a truly authentic and delicious iranian meal i would really recommend behesht. thank you s!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

the gay hussar

o and i finally made it to the gay hussar. tucked into the corner of greek street in the heart of soho, this is an unassuming dining room with a very established reputation. the dining room has a homely feel. its wood panelled walls are lined with framed caricatures (mostly politicians) courtesy of martin rowson. there are book shelves on one side with a range of political biographies and titles. this isn't surprising as the gay hussar is a frequent haunt for politicians, journalists, artists and writers alike. o loved the gay hussar and with good reason, given his political leanings and love for political satire.

on to the food.
dining at gay hussar is a relaxed affair. appetisers, entrees and dessert make it to the table at leisurely pace and perhaps if we visit again it would be wise to have some wine. this time round we had ample time to enjoy the warmth and culture of the dining room itself. most of the people who eat here appear to be regulars. our waitress is particularly helpful when i ask her for recommendations - she says the goulash, which is what i was learning towards anyway but the question was which one; beef or venison? she said the venison as it is very tender so that is what i ordered whilst o went for the beef.

both our entrees came served in shallow white bowls and both our goulash's were rich and bursting with deep flavours of wine and paprika and texture lent by the accompaniments. my venison was a deep reddish brown and was served with red cabbage and tarhonya (lit. egg drops). this is an egg barley that tastes and looks quite similar to wheat berries. it is quite dense and filling especially when eaten with the stew. pickled cucumber added a rather tart and vinegary edge. o's beef goulash came with galuska - thimble egg dumplings that texture wise are similar to gnocchi. they came resting in the stew, absorbing its rich flavours and finished with a flourish of cream.

despite being quite full o and i decided that there had to be dessert. we were split between the sweet cheese pancakes, a dessert made of rum, cream and walnuts and the poppy seed strudel, as they were recommended as being quintessentially hungarian. as we love poppy seeds, it was the poppy seed strudel that we had. i can safely say that this is the best poppy seed strudel i have had so far. paper thin flaky pastry dusted with icing sugar encasing a centre of poppy seed paste - moist poppy seed, soft fruity apple, sultanas soaked to the point that they melted in the mouth. i am pretty certain that there was a hint of liqueur too. the strudel was served warm which seemed to add a depth to the flavours.

we finished on after dinner coffee. mine was a strong cup of filtered coffee that balanced the sweetness of the dessert and o had a cappuccino. if you haven't already been, both o and i would recommend at least one visit to the gay hussar. and if you are having dessert, make a beeline for the strudel. it is well worth it!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

wednesday night supper

wednesday night suppers ought to be simple, quick to put together and shouldn’t require intensive grocery shopping. o had been through a gruelling six hour assessment centre and i wanted to cook a nice mid-week dinner…in my fridge i had a tub of yeo valley crème fraiche with a looming best before date. i also had some lemons and garlic and pasta in the pantry cupboard and on my windowsill are pots of herbs. there had to be a way to make a tasty supper out of this. it didn’t take me long to realize that salmon was the answer. o loves salmon! so off i went to the grocer after work and bought some oak smoked salmon trimmings and some peaches to bake for dessert. it took me roughly twenty minutes to put this whole thing together.

first, i put generously salted water to boil for the pasta. then i peeled some and chopped some plump cloves of garlic, took out the trimmings from their packing, washing a big handful of dill and chopped it up roughly and grated the zest of the lemon. 

i started making the pasta sauce shortly before putting in the pasta to boil. first, i heated a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to which i added the chopped garlic and the lemon zest. i fried this slightly until it released its aroma and the garlic was lightly coloured. after this i added the tub of crème fraiche and heated it gently. it is at this point that i put the pasta on to boil. i used fusilli but penne or linguine would be good too. 

back to the sauce, i added the smoked salmon trimmings and warmed them through. be careful with the heat here. it should be as low as possible otherwise the crème fraiche will curdle and that won’t be fun. the roughly chopped dill should be the last to go in. once your pasta is cooked, drain and add to the sauce. stir it gently to coat evenly and then tuck in. oh, and a dash of coarsely ground black pepper. it does marvels!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

emni: indian rediscovered

i have a one-month trial membership from tastelondon, which i am putting to good use. the other day o and i tried an indian place in islington called emni. emni sets out to rediscover indian cuisine reflecting it in the diversity of its menu that includes regional dishes from around india. let’s be very clear, if it hadn’t been for tastelondon i wouldn’t have tried this place because both o and i are agreed that for the size of the servings it’s a bit on the pricier side. we’re both from the sub-continent and are more prone to eating our indian and pakistani food in the east end that is markedly cheaper and very very good.

so returning to emni. o picked a fantastic starter – a harra (green) kebab. it took a while for the starter to arrive but when it did it was worth it. spiced spinach and lentil kebabs with a centre of fig served with some tamarind sauce.

our mains were a selection of dishes including a west bengali kamla phool kopi: cauliflower and potatoes in a rather spicy and almost reduced sauce. a benarasi rampur chicken korma, which was rich with cream and spices including the infamous red kashmiri chilli, that gives it lots of warmth. lemon rice dotted with peanuts, saffron and onion seeds, which tasted exceptionally good. the rice was perfectly boiled with each grain tender and yet whole. as an after thought we had a punjabi saag paneer (spinach and cottage cheese) given the size of the servings. i have to confess that there was ample paneer and the spinach was well seasoned and spiced.we also had ridiculously over priced tandoori roti.

on the whole the food was really good. the spices were top notch and you could easily detect the different notes as they came through in layers. the korma for instance had a creamy note with a kick of chilli in the end. and the saffron and lemon in the rice didn’t compete for attention but came together in a perfect marriage. having said that i don’t think i’ll be coming here unless i get a tastelondon card. without the 50% off i would rather go to the east end or perhaps even nip into masala zone, which despite being a chain offers some really good indian food.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

square mile coffee caff's

so, square mile’s coffee seems to be all the rage in london right now. independent caff’s seem to be hooked onto square mile coffee beans. i happened to try tina, we salute you and the espresso room this week both of whom use square mile coffee. here’s what i think…and should you be wanting a list of more caff’s serving the same you can find one on the square mile blog

the espresso room which is in the heart of the bloomsbury, london’s leafy and literary borough is literally the size of an average sized room in a london flat. it’s high ceilings however, give the space depth and openness and the illusion of being much much bigger than it really is. there are shelves along one wall, quite high to reach that stock bags of coffee. there are also long slim wooden benches lined up against the wall and window. and you can breathe the coffee in the air. t and i were there friday afternoon at lunch between work… quite keen on trying this relatively new place i went with the flat white and she with a double macchiato. the coffee blend here is a bit like a lazy sunday. not hard edged but rounded and warm. its good on a friday afternoon in preparation for the beginning of the weekend but i’d probably need something stronger in the morning on weekdays. the barrista there recommended a piccolo if i wanted something stronger and t advised on a double shot of espresso in my flat white. in its perfection of coffee the espresso room’s service is a tad bit slow – so you should either be willing to wait in the interest of good coffee, or try and come at a time when there isn’t too long a queue.

saturday found o and i at tina, we salute you. i have to confess, what drew me to going here is the name. i was curious about tina. turns out tina is the woman on a poster who the owners of the café have a soft spot for. this place has a slightly grungy vibe. the music is loudish and there is a cacophony of voices. on this saturday afternoon the communal table is over run by mothers and their children. assorted bottles of preserve, runny honey, peanut butter and squeezy marmite sit around the table. o and i spent a considerable chunk of our afternoon here, reading the newspaper and running through some forms – along with coffee [a long black for me], a flat white for o, a slice of vicky’s sponge and some crumpets too. the coffee was very good and so was vicky’s sponge. it was a pity that we were so full because the sandwiches looked damn good. they were made with extra thick sliced bread. too sad tina’s isn’t nearer to me, but i may just be tempted to make my way there again.