Tuesday, 27 September 2011

the little greek pie company

good food is always good. but good food that is well packaged is even better. if there were a category for on-the-run friendly packaging, the little green pie company would win the top award without a doubt. if you live, work or happen to be around goodge street area make sure you give them a visit. the little greek pie company's twitter gives you a list of the pies of the day. on the day that i was around goodge street they had spinach, fennel and mint, squash broccoli and ricotta and a meat option. i picked the squash, broccoli and ricotta. the crust for the pie is made from spelt flour and is remarkably non-greasy. 


a little over a decade ago, my family and i had a summer vacation in greece. despite the heat we all loved athens and santorini and more than anything i loved the food. on the ferry from athens to santorini our hearing was assaulted by the loud and persistent cry of a man selling loukoumia, a soft sweet and gelatinous square reminiscent of turkish delight. we bought home boxes of the honey and apricot kind. whilst in greece we ate lots of seafood, souvlaki, moussaka and the cooling tzatziki and taramosalata. i was partial to the thick and cold frappes as well. what appealed to me most was the simplicity of the food and the strength of the taste of the olive oil. i have not since been back to greece but there is a memory that lingers on of an evening in plaka of a particularly good dinner of large dolmades cloaked under a blanket of avgolemono sauce. since then, the only really good greek food i’ve had is in arizona. it strikes me as strange that for all its cosmopolitanism, london does not have a single decent greek restaurant, a fact that is affirmed by my greek friends.
a couple of weeks ago we had a reunion – m square, k sans p, o and i. m and i had been going back and forth with a list of chinese and thai restaurants but in the end settled on retsina as k cannot have chilli food. o and i were familiar with retsina from our days of watching the f word. i must confess that having tried another f word restaurant which did not live up to its expectations so i wasn’t entirely sure it would be a good choice. the fact that the restaurant didn’t have m’s reservation listed was a rather inauspicious start.

o and i gladly left the ordering to the greek contingent of the dinner party so to start there was haloumi, dolmathes, spanagopita, tzatziki and kalamari. of the five it was only the spanagopita that was worth a mention which had a nice balance of salty feta with spinach encased in a thin flaky filo. the kalamari was overly oily and chewy, the hauloumi had been over grilled and was tough to eat and the tzatziki suffered from a lack of garlicky boldness. the dolmathes were nothing like the moist and flavourful ones that i had had in athens and what i missed the most is that lovely creamy and thick avgolemono sauce made by thickening broth with egg and lemon.

the mains were mousaka, soutzokakia (meatballs) and chicken kebab. i tried the mousaka which was fair enough but needed a slightly thicker blanket of béchamel sauce. the meatballs were very good and packed an earthy flavour of oregano. to finish there was the really nutty halva made with sesame, some baklava and loukomia, easily the best part of the meal. 
i left retsina extremely disappointed with the awareness that i’ll have to forgo my craving for greek food until i go there again.

Retsina on Urbanspoon    


lb was due in london this weekend and i was looking forward to an evening of wining and dining. the only issue was, i wasn’t sure where we should go to eat. see, lb is a vegequarian (a fusion of a vegetarian and pescatarian). now, it is very easy if you are firmly in one camp i.e. vegetarian or vegan or omnivore because that makes it easy to pick a place to eat. i was not aware of the rules that surround vegequarians, for instance my more militant vegetarian friends would not tolerate going to an omnivore restaurant even if there are lots of vegetarian friendly options. but i am not sure whether the same is applicable to a vegequarian. so i did what i do best. i started a gmail conversation on potential choices for dinner. our shortlist looked a bit like this. vanilla black, a number of small plate and tapas places including the salt yard, dehesa and the russell norman polpo etc variety and for good measure the indian trishna. luckily for me lb picked dehesa which has been on my list of places to try for a long long time. i think it was the courgette flowers with monte enebro and honey that decided for us.

manchurian legends

it is fairly correct to say that i am likely to try most places that jay rayner recommends (at least those which my pocket can afford). it is also correct to say that i have never been disappointed by his recommendations, and if my dinner experience at manchurian legends hadn’t been as disastrous on saturday evening thanks to service and language barriers i probably would have been able to favourably add to that list. what happened is that o made a reservation for three at eight o’clock. when i and i arrived at manchurian legends we were told that we’d have to sit in the karaoke room, a claustrophobic wood panelled box on the second floor with a table that was far from suitable for eating. since the waitress was challenged not only by her accent but her english as well there was much confusion. then the hungry husband arrived in a not so good mood having been jostled at the tube and having to negotiate the errant crowds of chinatown. he was however able to successfully get us a normal table on the floor downstairs.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

la gelatiera

the gelato at la gelatiera is smooth and definitely much creamier than most gelato that i have eaten and there is good reason for that. la gelatiera uses jersey milk from the somerset dairy ivy house farm. monmouth aficionado's would know this milk. it's what gives their milk based coffee's like cafe au lait and flat whites their creamy and rounded edge. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

an ottolenghi inspired amuse bouche for the hungry husband

that the occupants of thirty-two love ottolenghi is no surprise. i am the proud owner of both cookbooks; ottolenghi- the cook book and plenty (which was a birthday present from the hungry husband). i am also a faithful follower of his recipes in saturday's guardian. with autumn increasingly asserting itself in london through the shortening of the days, the change in the tones of sunlight and the changing colours of the leaves in london's parks, it is time to bring out the warmer coloured vegetables in the kitchen. butternut squash to me is a quintessential part of the autumn kitchen with it's dark yellow flesh, its deep caramel notes and it's ability to stand up to spices like cinnamon and clove. 

federation coffee

if you want a caffeine fix in brixton village go to federation coffee. there is much to love about federation coffee. the brightly stenciled sign board, the menu that is constructed in a colourful scrabble tile fashion and the flat whites and mocha's themselves. however, there is a slight problem and that is the lady who served us. now i know we all have bad days and i don't expect people to be perennially good tempered. but this lady, she looked like she would bite our heads off. so impatient and disgusted was she that i was almost afraid to tell her that we had changed our mind and wanted to stay and have our coffee in rather than take it away. 

the carrot cake tasted more like a carrot bread with an excellent frosting so we won't be ordering that again. the cheese cake on the other hand was just perfect. cheesy, not too creamy with a buttery biscuit base. the mocha's were excellent, with a really deeply roasted coffee complimented by the sweetness of chocolate. now, if we could just have better service next time, the experience would be perfect. 

but i have a feeling that i'll go back anyway, only because the coffee is really very good!

Federation Coffee on Urbanspoon

roti chai

i really wanted to like roti chai. to start with, i love the indian touches to a very modern indian canteen. in addition, much thought had been put into the presentation of the food. in customary indian style it is bright and cheerful. the menu looked good too. it's got the customary street foods; bhel puri, papri chaat and samosas. the katori (literally, a small container) with it's kabuli channa, tarka dhal and roti appealed to us. we sub-continentals love our dhal's, chaat's and bun kebab's. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

turkish eggs from changa at thirty-two

changa eggs at home
o first ate changa eggs at the providores in marylebone in the early part of twenty-o-nine. a couple of weeks ago he brunched on them at kopapa. kopapa and providores have in common peter gordon and michael mcgarth. gordon is a new zealander and mcgarth (originally british) moved to new zealand. they were both consultants to changa in turkey. this is how changa eggs came to be in london, first at providores and now at kopapa. the description of changa eggs provides enough of a deconstruction to allow one to reconstruct them at home. o asked for them this morning and so i made them for the first time. on a scale of one to ten he scored them at seven. i think that's pretty good for a first try. our observations were the same, that is the consistency of the yoghurt was not right. i only had regular yoghurt at home and i am pretty certain what was needed was greek yoghurt. the creamy and heavier texture of greek yoghurt stands up to whipping and allows the yolks to settle on top rather than blending away. i had these reservations in mind even before i started.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

ecc chinatown

you'd be forgiven for believing that there could be a bar behind a worn down and weary grey door with a large splatter of paint on it in chinatown. in fact the combination of a door that looked so sorry for itself along with the fact that we were right in the middle of chinatown meant that i had some serious reservations about z's. plan. however, a love of cocktails and a sense of adventure mean that i will gladly give anything a try. 


in february this year i did the guardian masterclass on eating your words. a necessary corollary of eating our words was to be eating. after all how would we write about food if we we didn't eat it. now you may be wondering why i am talking about the masterclass when i should be writing about mark's but you'll understand the relationship when i tell you that it was during the eating your words that i was introduced to hix. and we really got the best treat as we ate hix in mark's. to clarify hix is the restaurant and mark's is the bar. for our lunch we had a special menu that was served at mark's. 

chula fused foods

vinod patel's indian burrito has finally arrived at a location closer to me. as of thursday september eighth chula fused food will be at covent garden market from eleven to seven pm. az and i have been waiting of the arrival and despite having a rather heavy work load made our way to covent garden on thursday afternoon to get ourselves some fusion burrito's. i must tell you now that we ate them on the run stopping only when we reached the very end of the burrito by which point we were at the edge of trafalgar square. passengers on a bus at the traffic light near trafalgar square stared at us as we negotiated the ends of our burrito's, surveying each other's clothes and mouths to make sure we had no stray remains on ourselves.

Friday, 9 September 2011

#breakfastmyway at the big chill house kx

i was given this really nifty little card from a lovely lady called kb at fourteen ten to try #breakfastmyway at the big chill house near kx. it has taken me a while to get round to using it as when the card first arrived the only breakfast i could face was a hot honey, lemon and ginger thanks to a sore throat that cost me my voice and a weeks worth of sleep. summer is turning a page in london so that although today was a warm day, the seriously grey sky made it seem closer to winter in spirit than autumn. it was just the right day to try the cheer of the big chill house. 

i took myself down to the big chill house for breakfast before heading into work today. for a while now i have been thinking about boiled eggs and soldiers. i haven't eaten a soft boiled egg in a long long time, possibly since kindergarten. mum had these rather uninspiring but very functional brown two toned egg cups that i dreaded, partly because of the insipid nature of the egg cup and mostly because i detested soft boiled eggs. not only did i dislike egg yolk, i detested runny yolks. now i love eating poached eggs specifically for the runny yolks. 


eggs and soldiers are quintessentially english. in fact the first time i heard of them was when i moved to london. they are basically thin sliced sections of toast and are the perfect accessory to dip into a runny yolk. i do believe that boiled eggs and soldiers are somewhat of an art. when it comes to the egg it has to be boiled just to point when the yolk is runny and the whites just set. the toast soliders have to be thick enough not to be fragile and thin enough to be able to be dipped into the hollow of the yolk. in fact so important is the toast soldier that a couple of years ago an electronics engineer invented a device to perforate toast into the perfect soldiers. he used to hate cutting up toast because 
"it is fiddly, messy and time consuming. there has always been a danger of cutting your soldiers too fat or too thin. if they are too fat then obviously they can't fit into the opened neck of the egg which is infuriating. but if the soldiers are too small then there's the risk of a catastrophic failure after they're dunked into the yolk. the simple act of withdrawing the soldier may cause it to break in half, forcing the person who is eating the egg to resort to a teaspoon." 

fortunately for the big chill house, they manage the perfect soldiers.erect slim fingers of perfectly toasted toast with a side of butter and markedly salty marmite (yes, i am a marmite lover). however, it was the boiled egg which turned out to be mixed experience. unfortunately the egg was too done and so i couldn't really dip the toast soldiers into the yolk. instead i had spread the yolk onto the soldiers. the white was done perfectly and it was a real pleasure running the spoon against the shell to release it and eat it whilst it was still warm. 

the space itself is spacious and airy. i love the expansive windows that look out onto the traffic whilst filtering the sound of the traffic. i can definitely see myself coming back with o in tow and a newspaper too. next time round i'll be trying the big chill house's version of rosti. and perhaps the next time a perfectly boiled egg too. 

Big Chill House on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

rarebit redux

in mid august, o and i went to the seaside town of llandudno in wales. i was excited by the prospect that my other half would finally get the chance to eat a welsh rarebit. we had no such luck, not in llandudno and not even in nearby conwy. i thought perhaps asking a local might help but even the chef at the hotel where we had a lovely three course dinner one night said that the rarebit is extinct in llandudno, and as we discovered later, in colwyn. instead we found panini's all over the place. o teased me throughout the trip that the welsh rarebit was at best a figment of my imagination or something that babcia had concocted as part of our polish-english-pakistani tradition. 

rarebits (or more likely a variant thereof) had been a staple of my childhood. the one that i ate was a cheat version that babcia (my maternal grandmother) used to make for me. central to it was her orange toasted sandwich maker. i don't like using the sandwich makers of today because they get the ratio of the crimped edge to the cavity which holds the filling wrong. babcia's toasted sandwich maker had the barest crimp, just enough to seal the edges to hold the filing inside. her rarebit involved white bread spread thickly with nurpur butter. she would wait for the plates to be smoking hot which is when she'd put the bread slices buttered side on the plate, then add thick slices of cheddar cheese and perhaps some left over chicken roast. then she'd clamped the sandwich maker tightly so that the cheese would melt with the heat and the butter would seep into the bread turning its face golden brown. plated and cut into half the liquid cheese would seep so quickly that despite scalding the tips of my fingers i'd hold the halved sandwich to let a superficial crust form on cut edge to contain the cheese. so in love was i with babcia's rarebits that i even wrote about them at university for the family section of the guardian

i know that the original rarebit is quite different. it is a savoury sauce of melted cheese made rich by the addition of eggs, put on toasted bread and then browned under a grill.  most traditional recipes include worcestershire sauce and ale/beer.  i always wondered how the term welsh rarebit came about. it turns out that it is an 'etymologizing alteration', basically a corruption of the term welsh rarebit which was first used in 1725, although no-one quite knows how the term came about. there is some speculation that it was a reference to poor man's food by way of english analogy. for the english, rabbit was poor man's meat and for the welsh, cheese was equivalent to meat hence the welsh rabbit. 

whatever the origin, welsh rarebits hold their own in the league of (cooked) cheese sandwiches the likes of croque monsieur and madame. i call my redux rarebit a lazy rarebit because it does not involve a sauce base. instead it uses some artisan bread, sea salted brittany butter, mature cheddar and beetroot chutney from brixton cornercopia toasted in a pan. 

{m's lazy redux rarebit}

serves one
two medium slices of good quality bread; i used gail's sultana and fennel sourdough.
a generous amount of butter; i use sea salted brittany butter
slices of mature cheddar cheese
a chutney of your choice; i used beetroot chutney from brixton cornercopia

start with the heavily buttering the slices of bread. don't skimp on the butter as the bread has to be toasted in a frying pan and you want it to brown nicely without getting burnt. just a small note here. avoid slicing the bread too thick. if you do that it will be difficult for the heat to reach the cheese and it won't melt. 

turn over and spread one side with beetroot chutney then top with the slices of cheddar cheese. i like a fair bit of cheese. 

heat a frying pan large enough to accommodate the sandwich. the heat should be medium. toast each side for around two minutes, watching it carefully to make sure that it doesn't over-brown.

when it is done, put it on a plate and tuck in.