Tuesday, 21 February 2012

romancing root vegetables (and butternut squash)

salad of yellow and red beetroots with feta, walnuts, pomegranate 
february was fiercely cold and although the sunshine was glorious it was as cold as its silver light. my eyes and nose streamed constantly every time i went out. with weather like this it’s the perfect time to romance root vegetables and the squash family. i love the irregular globular shaped beetroots with their bright stalks and leaves with pink veins. the knobbly pale cream parsnip has its place as it lends itself well to curried spice. even without spice, root vegetables have the quality of comfort food which is winter food by another name.i know that butternut squash isn't a root vegetable but its elongated body with a bulging end has sunflower coloured flesh that tastes as good as its brightness. i was listening to the food programme on radio four about comfort food and it struck me that these vegetables are basically ‘sugary smooth and carbo-calming’. along side that, the colours are a reminder that spring will come again.

seoul bakery

cold winter days make me want to eat clear soups coloured red with chilli. i do not want broth that has been interfered with by coconut milk or creamy elements to dim the strength of chilli. as i was near tottenham court road i headed to seoul bakery. this tiny eatery is made more cramped by a proliferation of sticky note graffiti. even the front window hasn’t been spared. the menu is short and features things like bibimbap and pajeon which most people are familiar with. i have the soft tofu hot pot which is less formidable than it looks. it gently warms and restores balance to my breathing made laborious by the ice cold wind. the mildness of the tofu along with an egg cooked in the hotpot reduce the strength of the chilli. the kimchi is the cooling element. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

babur restaurant

the mughal empire has fascinated me since i was a little girl. i was named afte the famous mughal empress begum nur jehan. nur jehan (literally light of the world) was a titular name with her real name as mehrunnisa, which is what mama chose for me. my brother murad is also named after a mughal prince. i read mughal history at school and in the summer vacations mama took us to the mughal architectural wonders in lahore fort. now, years later as i write about food i recall bits and pieces from the baburnama, especially his pining for afghanistan. he lamented the food, especially the fruit of afghanistan. of hindustan he writes ‘hindustan is a country of few charms. there are no good-looking people, there is no social intercourse, no receiving or paying of visits, no genius or manners. in its handicrafts there is no form or symmetry, method or quality. there are no good horses, no good dogs, no grapes, musk-melons or first-rate fruits, no ice or cold water, no good bread or food cooked in the bazaars (my emphasis), no hot baths, no colleges, no candles, torches or candlesticks’. i am certain though that if emperor babur were to time travel and take the over ground to honour oak park station to dine at his namesake restaurant he would be pleasantly surprised by the distance that indian cuisine has travelled. the wine flights matched to the different courses would indulge his love for wine and if he is feeling particularly adventurous he could have an indian inspired cocktail. the mango brulee would be a perfect sweet conclusion and celebration of one of the few sub-continental fruits he loved. he would also be pleased with the art and design concepts of the restaurant especially the large kalamkari that flanks the entrance, a workmanship that was introduced and patronised by the mughal’s during their reign.

Friday, 3 February 2012

saturday at maltby street

st john bakery custard doughnut 
i had been waiting for my sibling to arrive in london to make an excursion to maltby street. he’s an early riser, loves walking and has a handsome appetite like me, and since maltby street requires all three he was the perfect companion to explore with. you could of course go to maltby street by noon as it runs from nine to two pm. however, if you want to get your hands on one of those infamous custard doughnuts from st. john bakery then you need to be closer to the earlier half of the morning. i got lost on my way in and was most concerned that we wouldn’t make it on time for custard doughnuts. arch seventy-two on druid street is cavernous and home to st.john bakery. a line of rudimentary tables hold loaves, rounds and batons of freshly baked bread. two kinds of doughnuts (custard and jam) along with eccles cakes and brownies take up one side of the table. there is a queue of twenty strong people ahead of us and the custard doughnut supply was perilously low. the doughnuts are stacked horizontally, seam side up, the custard seeping out. fine granules of sugar cling to their plump little bodies. luckily we make it to the head with ten custard doughnuts still on the tray. we get two of these, a brownie just because it looks good and a hundred percent rye sourdough that m carried to pakistan. we intended to eat our doughnuts the perfect way with a cup of monmouth coffee. on our way to monmouth we got sidetracked by kaseswiss oatcakes. it was the aroma that drew me to the large heavy bottomed griddle that held a thin layer of oat-heavy batter. the oatcakes are like pancakes made with oats. they are a north staffordshire speciality and are usually served with savoury fillings. we had ours with gruyere from jacob’s ladder as the kirkham’s lancashire was finished. the nutty cheese is melted on the griddle along with finely chopped red onion. m and i shared the folded buttery and cheesy goodness whilst walking towards monmouth coffee. 

pitt cue co.

net curtain pattern reflected in the menu
pitt cue co is about bold, gutsy and assertive flavours. it is strictly a vegetarian hell so please don’t make the mistake of taking your animal loving friends there. in terms of its sexual orientation this food is truly heterosexual. (if you don’t know what i am talking about then read this article on simon doonan and you will know what i mean). to be sure there are delicate notes to be found, although they are few and far between. the barbecue sauce for one has an overarching molasses note that recedes to leave a delicate fruity and aniseed note. an american diner seated next to us said to me that the barbecue sauce is mumbo sauce. in american speak this refers to an east coast speciality with very addictive flavours. then again, the pickles are served wafer thin rather than whole and chunky. they have a sweet-sour taste and are refreshing against the meat. the baked beans are made with turtle beans whose dainty little bodies are bound by a smoky and sweet sauce. the smooth and comforting mash is made manly by a crown of dark brown burnt ends and barbecue juices from the brisket. the bourbon sticky toffee pudding is a large irregular slice lacquered with bourbon caramel, the bourbon smoothing the cloying sweetness of toffee. on the side is a delicate quenelle of salted caramel ice cream made textural but the addition of pudding crumbs. both m and i like a slightly melted ice cream which adds more moisture to the already moist pudding. the pudding was pure indulgence on our part as neither of us could justify the space for it. it seemed unfair to not treat ourselves though, as m is only in london for a couple of days and we had queued for an hour to eat… 

lunch at the rib room

in december twitter gave me a christmas present, a lunch at the rib room courtesy of roche communications. given the scale of our pre-christmas gluttony i figured it would be best to take up the lunch in the new year, and so i booked us for january. a fortnight prior when i was looking up some reviews on the rib room i came across jay rayners less than enthusiast one, and since i highly trust his reviews i suggested to o that we should cancel the lunch. but o said that we must try it for ourselves and so we headed to the rib room for lunch on the first saturday in january. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

pars restaurant

pars restaurant
west london seems to have a proliferation of persian restaurants and since it is one of o’s favourite cuisines i always keep an eye out for ones that are authentic. fortunately me for me, a wonderful toronto based twitter foodist called spicespoon of iranian heritage recommended pars to me. i specifically asked her for recommendations as to what to eat. it turns out that we have similar loves as she said to try the kashk-e-bademjan and khoresh-e-gheimeh bademjan both of which feature aubergine.