18/08/2013

VietEat, 41 Kingsway, Holborn

I imagine that everyone who goes to work in the City for 5 days a week gets very bored of their lunches after a while. Pret = Eat = M&S = Tesco = blah, even if some of them try their best. (Although a concerted and honest attempt at authenticity would be very much appreciated

http://www.meemalee.com/2012/10/eat-and-rise-of-culinary-travesty.html)

I try and bring my own lunch a lot of the time, because then I know what’s in it, and it uses up leftovers. It has been said that I intentionally cook for the leftovers, and people may well be right about that. I do love a good leftover.

But there are times when I need to go out and buy something, and the boredom sets in fairly quickly, so when a colleague mentioned a new Vietnamese ‘street food’ place, I wanted to give it a try. Vietnamese food has always seemed to have such a zing and a clean freshness about it, that it certainly shoves a carb-laden sandwich aside. I’ve often wanted to try a banh-mi (Vietnamese baguette with herbed salad and various other fillings) because people have said that it’s so good, but that certainly isn’t the limit of the cuisine.

We attempted one visit, but The Attack of the Fussy Eater got in the way, so a colleague and I decided to go on our own. After all, a group Lunch is never fun if you want to hit one of your party with a skillet.

Awesome Colleague and I did the world’s most nonchalant Leg It from work at noon on the dot, and walked up Kingsway to find a small but clean and simple restaurant, with the front doors wide open. They do takeaway as well. Wooden tables and benches, much like Miso, each set with a bottle of Sriracha, a bottle of Hoisin, side plates and chopsticks.

Service was polite and speedy. Our choosing was not speedy. We decided to make it easier by choosing something from the set lunch menu and off we went.

Aloe Vera juice and Young Coconut Juice arrived almost as soon as we asked for them, followed closely by our starters.

Coconut juice

AC had summer rolls with tofu, and I chose crispy rolls with pork and crab. Both come with shredded, lightly pickled daikon and carrot, and a small bowl of dip. Chilli and white vinegar for the crispy rolls, and a thick, dark hoisin style one with chopped peanuts for the summer rolls.

We each tried a bit of the other’s dish, and pronounced everything to be extremely good. If you don’t like coriander, then this is not the place for you I’m afraid. Just a friendly warning there.

The summer rolls were so fresh and light. Filled with crunchy herbs and salad, with thin pieces of tofu in the middle. They did tend to fall apart somewhat, as the summer roll wrappers are very delicate.

Tofu summer rolls

My crispy rolls were deeply savoury, far more meat than crab in flavour, and held together extremely well. They also hold the heat!

Pork and crab crispy spring rolls

Pork and crab roll

As soon as we were done with those, the next lot arrived! The place had become very busy indeed, with people queuing out of the door.

AC had honey barbecued pork with rice and salad, and I chose the lemongrass grilled chicken, with glass noodles. I love me some mung bean noodles.

Honey barbecued pork

Chargrilled lemongrass chicken

Again, freshness was paramount here. The salad was crunchy, all the flavours  in the meat came through, none swamped by anything else.

A perfect lunch on a grey day.

I think we will definitely be going back!

http://www.vieteat.co.uk/

Flesh and Buns, Covent Garden

Thanks to a lovely Twitter lady, I had the chance to go to Flesh and Buns. Bone Daddies’ new basement opening in the heart of Covent Garden.

I called a friend, as the reservation was for two people, and we met up at the location in Earlham Street. It was a very hot day, so I was extremely glad to get into the much cooler basement.

Entrance

I admit, I was thinking that I’d not be hipster or cool enough for the place, but oh my, I was wrong. They have a variety of seating options, from long tables with comfortable bench seats – ideal for families to sit together – or table for two or more. There’s also a long, central table with high stools, I assume for a quick munch and run style dinner. I also love the fact that you can see into the kitchen, at one end of the room.

There were already two families with babies and small children, all accommodated for, and none of the children were running around. To be honest, they all were concentrating very hard on their food.

Hello kitchen!

We asked for tap water, because I know how thirsty I get with Asian food, and we didn’t get sneered at, or asked if we were sure. In fact, we were brought a whole big bottle of filtered tap water which made me very happy.

On to the menu. I apologise in advance for the quality, it’s a low ceilinged basement, and I think the lights had a flicker which my camera picked up as stripes. Sorry about that. The actual menu is here, without any annoying stripes!

http://www.fleshandbuns.com/menus/flesh-and-buns/

The staff were really friendly, and willing to please. Happy to explain anything, and quick with our orders. A lot quicker than we were to decide…

It is quite dark, but it’s not cloying. There was music, but it was totally unobtrusive, and certainly didn't disturb us.

You get soy and chilli sauces on every table, with dipping bowls.

Soy and chilli sauces

This just looked way too hot for my blood!

Looking hot

The squid turned up first.

Squid with Japanese pepper

I eat a LOT of squid, and I can safely say that this one of the best dishes I have ever eaten. Perfectly tender, with an excellent crisp coating. Beautifully spiced, but not overpowering, and perfectly seasoned. The squid was as tender as it could be. You get half a lime with it, but the squid really doesn’t need it.

Then came the asparagus.

Chargrilled asparagus with white miso

They had managed to imbue so much smoke flavour into this, matched very well with the sweet white miso paste. I could have eaten a good two or three plates of this one.

Have a poncy arty shot.

Squid close up

The next dish blew me away. Beef tataki with onion ponzu. (I also covet the plate. Lots.)

Beef tataki

I think the garnish was deep fried shallot, or onion, with fried enoki mushroom. Either way, we couldn't get enough. Folding over each slice of amazingly tender beef, so that you had a sandwich of the garnish, dripping with that zingy, clear ponzu. Deeply savoury, and yet very fresh and light. We were both in heaven with this and extremely glad we ordered it. Next time I may try the tuna tataki.

Tataki close up

At this point, we realised that the main was about to arrive. We braced ourselves, and moved the dessert stomachs out of the way to make more room in the Dinner one. We absolutely knew that dessert was not going to happen.

A bamboo steamer turned up with a batch of hot, pillowy ready split bao. Perfect for making your own stuffed bun. You get two buns each, and a large bowl of salad, sauce, plus whatever meat or fish you have chosen. You can also order more buns, but we really didn’t need them.

Up came the meat.

Flatiron steak is much underrated, with people thinking it will be tough or chewy. This one really wasn’t. It had a deep, savoury flavour, intensely beefy, and made a very filling lunch indeed.

Barbecue Flatiron steak with pickled shimeji

We stuffed buns, we arranged shimeji, we drizzled sauce. We sunk our teeth in and vowed to come back for more.

Stuffing the bao

Why yes! It’s another poncy, arty shot! I just loved the way that this slice of cucumber looked.

Very pretty, paper thin cucumber

All in all, we absolutely loved the food. That tataki was my outstanding dish, but I need to go back to try even more. They have such a good mix of flavours and textures, from light, fresh and zingy, to the warm, tender comfort of perfectly steamed bao.

At £40 for the two of us, including service, it is not an every day lunch, but a treat that I would consider every so often.

Thank you to to all concerned, including Charlotte, our waitress, who was efficient, and happy to tell us anything that we needed to know, but who didn’t hover over us.

Perfect.

Flesh & Buns,
41 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LX

020 7632 9500

http://www.fleshandbuns.com/find-us/

02/08/2013

Heroin Wings

 

Baked, herby and cheesy chicken wings, called Heroin Wings for a REASON.

4 pounds large chicken wings
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (the dried works really well!)
2 tbs dried parsley
1 tbs dried oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp salt
½ tsp white pepper
½ cup melted butter or olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F/170C fan

Put wings in a bowl

Pour over the melted butter/oil and mix well

Pour over all the coating ingredients, mix very well until all the wings are coated.

Place on a baking tray lined with non-stick foil or non stick baking parchment.

Bake for 1 hour until done.

Borough Market

I don’t know exactly what it is about Borough Market, but I could spend hours  just wandering through there, lost in watching the stalls being set up, and hearing the market come to life. Yes, I buy things, because I find it rude to take pictures and not buy anything to support the stallholders. They are not just a tourist attraction, they need to make a living. I wish that all the people who stop and take photos felt the same way but that is a rant for another time.

I just like being surrounded by the bustle of the place, and then viewing it from a still, quiet corner.

IMG_1789

Today I was in just such a corner. Maria’s Market CafĂ©. I sat with a cup of good, strong tea and a bacon sandwich, watching the world go by. Admittedly it was only 7.30am, so it wasn’t that full of customers, but from there I could watch everyone set up, greeting the day and each other.

I first ate at Maria’s in July of 2008, when some of the photos for this post were taken. Maria’s has been going since 1961, so I really should have gotten there before then...

That day in 2008, I had the afternoon off work, and so I treated myself to an outing to Borough, and found a place to sit down and eat, plus I had been trying to get used to my new digital camera whilst being blown away by the amazing produce. I needed that sit down. It was certainly an era of discovery for me, I can tell you.

Fruit and veg

Chegworth

Starting to enjoy eating out on my own, whereas I had always been nervous to do so previously, was a very fun piece of learning. Maria’s was perfect. Excellent food, speedy service and friendly. There is a lot to be said for defeating the self-consciousness that a lot of people have about eating in public. I know for many years I was scared to do so, because I would invariably get comments along the lines of “Don’t you think you’ve eaten enough already love?” or “You don’t really need that do you?!”

Then I decided that I absolutely do NOT need the blessing of rude idiots to eat in public. And that was that.

Maria’s was the place to get a luscious Lamb Bap.

Lamb bap

It’s still on the menu today.

I think that lunchtime may have been the proper start of my obsession with food photography. I had a new camera, and dammit I was going to use it. I’ve never really looked back. I know my hard-drive is so full that I almost can’t bear to think about it – or work out the amount of blog posts that I should have written to go with the photos...

I’m not a technical photographer. I don’t understand the minutiae of F stops and ISO settings, I just have a vague idea and I do use the pre-sets on my Canon G9. (My first camera was a Canon A460, so Canon is my go to brand now.)

I freely admit I am more of a point and shoot person, but my brain very naturally frames things. As soon as I see something, a framed shot sets up in my head, and there we go. I get quite distressed if I miss an opportunity, so I am very grateful for the advent of cameraphones. They are less obtrusive in a restaurant than a larger camera, and one never uses a flash. That’s just rude. I am mortified if either the flash or the camera sound goes off!

IMG_1793

Borough remains a place that I love to go and photograph. One day I would like to perhaps go to New Spitalfields, nice and early, or Billingsgate, just to experience the morning start-up there. I enjoy being an observer, but then I also like the fact that I can happily engage in banter with absolutely anyone, and market traders are the very best for that.

This past Thursday, I made the most of the amazing weather, and spent some time meandering around Borough, having a very decent breakfast

Borough Breakfast

and then simply Looking.

Borough in Bloom

Shard by Borough

I am happy to share what a simple phone camera can do.

Pensive Borough Breakfast

Thane Prince: cookbook club

There are some things that you never even think that you will get the chance to do, so when they happen, you spend a bit of time thinking “Is this really me, here?”

Turns out yes, it really was me, sitting in a large, airy room  with Thane Prince, surrounded by food, with a whole host of people, chatting happily about their love of cookbooks, food history, sharing food related experiences and much more.

I used to watch Thane on Ready Steady Cook, and remember thinking she was a dose of much needed sanity on that rather muddled show. I was always happy if it was Thane or Valentina Harris as the guest chef/cook.

Thane started the cookbook club because she needed people to share with, people that didn’t think it was weird to be thinking about dinner as you were eating lunch, or thinking about what to have for breakfast and lunch as you were making dinner. That’s what I do, that’s what many of my friends do, but I do realise that others may find it completely boring and a bit of a strange obsession. Well, it’s the only one I’ve got, and I’m sticking with it.

Some of us are complete amateurs with a passion for food as a hobby, some read cookbooks like they were novels (me! me!), some make their living from cooking, talking and writing about food. All of us certainly have a hunger for tastes and textures and all things food based. To be able to share this with others, and to be able to take photographs of food without anyone thinking you were a crazy lady, was liberating.

The venue was the upstairs room of a gem of a pub, The Draper’s Arms in Barnsbury Street, off Upper Street in Islington. If you can, go. A fabulous pub, with an excellent menu, and a very kind proprietor, Nick, who put up with us all and made us feel very welcome. Thank you for looking after us Nick and staff!

One by one we trickled in, bearing boxes of goodies. More and more goodies arrived until we had two tables groaning under the weight of dishes. Perfectly spiced samosas with nicely puffy pastry, delicately flavoured red wine and fennel biscotti, softly pillowed herbed breads with home made dukkah, moreish macarons with liquorice and chocolate, cardamom truffles that literally melted in your fingers, savoury and addictive Spanish comfort food pasta with tender meat and vegetables, sweet nut brittle laced with cardamom, sweet carrot and cardamom scented jellies, cumin-heavy spiced nuts...the list just went on and on. The pub also presented us with perfect Scotch Eggs. None of that over-runny yolk nonsense, thank you very much.

I do think I need a list of who cooked what, just so that I can say thank you to all of them for making such an effort. Please feel free to claim which dish was yours, and name it here!

 Samosas

Focaccia  Parmesan shortbread  Sausage rolls

There was a wine kitty, so we all put in for that. By the table with the kitty jar was another table with cookbooks that people had brought along to discuss. Well, except me, because I forgot to bring mine in the Get Out of The Door and Go To Work phase of the morning.

There were quite a few Madhur Jaffrey books, unsurprisingly, because I know that when I think of spice that is who comes to mind (closely followed by Claudia Roden) and she does have over 15 cookbooks to her name, plus numerous television shows – but there were others too. One book had the most amazing photos of spices in, including one of beautiful nutmeg, which I have never seen in its original state. That has set me on a quest to find Nutmeg Jam, because I am intrigued as to how it would taste. (It uses the pericarp, the fleshy outer covering, not the seed. I think that might be a bit overpowering!) There are many, many Caribbean grocers in London, and I am sure that I will be able to find it.

Cumin and cinnamon spiced nuts

Parmesan biscuits

Talking of tasting, Xanthe Clay (after rearranging our cookbooks into alphabetical order) brought out two types of houmous for us to taste test. Those of you who watch Simon Hopkinson will know that he touts the ‘peel your chickpeas’ way of making that ubiquitous Middle Eastern dip. I am an advocate of the ‘life is too short to peel a chickpea’ way of cooking. All of us tried both, and were asked to judge simply on which we preferred. We had toasted flatbread to scoop it up, and also some of Lynne’s gorgeous semolina rolls.

Semolina rolls

What can I say? My dear, darling, beloved Hoppy, I am afraid that naked chickpeas lost out to the clothed by majority vote. Sorry. I still love you and your pink duffle coat anyway.

Carrot and cardamom jellies

Liquorice macarons

Proper Scotch Egg

Literally the only downside was that the acoustics in the room are not ideal for lots of talking (high ceilings, bare walls and floor) so that all the sounds sort of crashed in on each other, making it quite difficult at times to discern what everybody was saying. Avid talked all, you see. I’m not sure what we do about that, but I’m sure someone will think of something! Installing a tented ceiling or acoustic diffusers for each book club gathering would be a little extreme I feel. And yes, I may have worked in acoustics for too long. *ahem*

All in all, it was a glorious evening full of like-minded folks who loved love to share their knowledge and their food, and I am very much looking forward to the next one that I can attend.

NEXT COOKBOOK CLUB: September 4th, 7pm, The Draper’s Arms.

£10 to put in for the wine kitty if you drink. Smile