Monday, 30 December 2013

2013: Round-Up

How is 2013 over already? Here are our foodie highlights of the year:

Best Restaurant: It's been a good year for us and restaurants: we've sampled The Delaunay (so good we went back a second time), Hakkasan, afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel, Hix Mayfair and Galvin La Chapelle. However, beating all this (just) was the champagne Sunday brunch we had at Aqua Hong Kong - so good that A labelled it "maybe the best dining experience I have ever had". The combination of such indulgence straight off an intercontinental flight, delightful food, stunning views of the HK bay, top service and, oh, a bottle each of champagne and cocktails made for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 


"Possibly the best dining experience of my life" (A)

Best Cafe: A tricky one, with two top contenders in the form of The Mock Turtle in Brighton and Kopapa in London's Seven Dials. After a spot of deliberation, we'd have to go with The Mock Turtle as grand winner: it's been more popular with our readers, is technically just a café (debatable whether Kopapa is actually more of a restaurant) and it's been C's favourite place for cake since she was 18. Can't say fairer than that.


The Mock Turtle's only scone and won our best café award...

Best Recipe: Another toughie here. While our readers would appear to think that our Country Vegetable Soup and Tabbouleh are rather good, our personal favourite from the year was probably C's Jammie Dodgers: so good they've been made multiple times and shared around A's colleagues at work too. 

Jammie Dodgers!

Best Travel Post: Although ever so simple, our post on Sichuan teahouses holds a special place in our hearts. Sichuan province was fantastic, and the teahouses a delightful place to spend an afternoon.

Tea in Sichuan

Best Photograph: Perhaps not best technically, but one of our favourites from the year:

YUM

Most popular post: Who would have thought that - amid the decadence, the travel, the restaurant reviews and the cakes - it would be a country vegetable soup which was our greatest hit of 2013? This simple little soup recipe beat off the competition this year and, while we can't pretend to understand why, we'll hopefully provide a little more of the same with a January project we've got in the pipeline.

Officially more popular than a two Michelin-starred restaurant


Finally, a big thank you to everyone who's read our blog this year. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we've enjoyed writing it!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Shakshuka: Recipe

So, you might have guessed by now that we love all Meditteranean, Middle Eastern and North African food, and Shakshuka is no exception.

As a fanboy of Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, A was bought his cookbook Jerusalem as a Christmas present last year by C. We've tried a fair few dishes from it, but not nearly enough, and so we decided to rectify this by trying Shakshuka: baked eggs in an aromatic, warming sauce.


We've both been over-eating at work recently (C as her job involves tonnes of free food - what a hardship - and A in nervous preparation for a pretty intense period at work) and so we've been trying to keep evening meals light and healthy. While A's fail-safe "healthy dinner" option would always be cottage cheese, chicken soup and a salad (yes, really), C's being persuading him to branch out a little with evening food choices. There are so many great healthy veggie dishes, and particularly in a book like Jersualem: vegetarian food doesn't have to mean a few lettuce leaves and a tomato soup.


Hailing from Tunisia originally but now popular all over the Middle East and North Africa, including especially in Ottolenghi's native Israel, shakshuka is a fail-safe, easy to make dish. It's also ready in about 30 minutes, meaning it's perfect for a mid-week meal. We think it was traditionally a breakfast recipe, but we've found it works well for brunch or a light dinner too with its gooey baked eggs and spicy sauce.

Also, just a warning: if you're serving this up for guests, make it in a wide frying pan and place this on the table so they can admire how pretty it looks before serving. It's not so pretty on the plate!

Here's the recipe - thanks Yotam!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Pide: Another Very Turkish Lunch

We've talked a lot about Turkish food on the blog before, but one part of the cuisine that we haven't yet covered in a lot of depth is pide. 

A light snack, it's something that A and C fell in love with while backpacking around Eastern Turkey during summer 2012 as it was quick to eat, easy to pick up and very tasty. Only used to eating it as a grab-and-run snack on the side of the road in places like Trabzon and Kars, C was surprised to see on her most recent trip to Turkey in August this year that there are whole restaurants catering to the foodstuff on the Aegean coast.



Whether this is due to a stronger preference for pide in this part of Turkey, or whether because it appeals to tourists in its familiarly pizza-like appearance and consistency C can't say, though she suspects the latter. In any case, wherever you eat pide in Turkey, it makes a great lunchtime treat.



In the pide restaurants of the Aegean coast, it seems customary to be served up a large flatbread as a starter with a fresh (and delicious) salad: as ever in Turkey, the tomatoes are especially juicy and ripe.






Next comes the pide itself: essentially a Turkish version of pizza, it's a thin, slightly greasy large boat-shaped dough which gets traditionally cut into three and then sliced further into strips. Toppings, like with gozleme, can vary from anything from cheese to meat to vegetables.



C's favourite pide topping is always Turkish unpasteurised sheep's milk cheese (beyaz peynir or kaşar) with sucuk, a spicy sausage resembling chorizo in taste and texture. And ok, so pide might not be the healthiest of lunches, but like all Turkish cuisine it is delicious.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Bagels, or why people wish they were Jews...

There's an old Jewish joke that explains that there are only two types of people in the world: Jews, and those who wish they were Jews.  While this is a rather dry take on 5,000 years or so of persecution, if there is one thing in A's experience that does tend to get gentiles excited about Jews, it's the food. The typical Ashkenazi food is no exception (see our recent post on breaking the fast to get an idea of what modern Jewish cooking looks like).

Salt beef! Bagel! Deliciousness!

For those who wish they were Jews and who don't know where to go for a decent bagel, the strongholds of Golders Green, Totteridge and Stamford Hill provide inspiration but are perhaps a little way out of town. Fortunately, two bagel bakeries on Brick Lane still do a roaring trade, and though other Jewish institutions such as Bloom's have bitten the dust, the bakeries provide a glimpse into the old Jewish East End.

One of the two bagel bakeries on Brick Lane
Jews moved into the East End in the 19th Century but they have slowly been replaced by Bangladeshis (and more recently by hipsters and City-boys). For those in the know, there are still  a few remnants of the Jewish East End left: an old synagogue still holds services on the Commercial Road, Glickman's still operates in Watney Market (albeit under Bangladeshi management), the sign for CH. N. Katz's string and paper bag shop is still visible on Brick Lane, and there's an active Jewish cemetery tucked behind the Sainsbury's in Whitechapel.

The other bakery on Brick Lane
Among all this hidden culture, the Beigel* Bakeries of Brick lane are the only obvious fly the flag for Jewish culture in the area. Up at the top of the main drag just south of Bethnal Green road, these two places are institutions in a way that Bloom's once was (though without the grumpy waiters): one of the two even claims to have never shut since 1988 or something crazy like that.

The places aren't kosher - they're 24 hour and the will make you a bacon sandwich - but they are the real deal. the bagels are made the traditional way, with results that make the mouth water. Each batch is gleaming, chewy and absolutely comparable with the best of the North London bakeries.

Packed!

The brisket that comes in the bagels is also cracking. It's beautifully salted, and has clearly been cooked forever. It flakes very easily and almost melts in the mouth. They also pack the rolls very full here, and will even chuck in a couple of pickles and some mustard if that kind of thing is your bag.

For under £4, a salt beef bagel works out cheaper than your average doner. Given that it's open round the clock and is near a host of clubs, this place is a way better pitstop on your way home from a boozy night in Shoreditch than the plethora of chicken shops and kebab places in the area. 

C had already tucked in by the time A got round to taking a photo of hers...

The other thing this place does really well is the biscuits.  Jewish biscuits have a particular texture and consistency.  A suspects this is something to do with the fact that they are often made out with dairy-free ingredients so as to allow for the maximum flexibility within the Jewish dietary laws but he doesn't know this for sure**.

Despite not being a kosher bakery, the biscuits are still made the traditional way and we heartily recommend picking up a bag of them on a visit. As this is the East End, you can now get pies and pasties here too so amongst all the exotic food, there's still scope to get something familiar. Ever enterprising, the places have even started catering to the current locals, and bizarrely the bagel bakeries also make samosas now. We can't vouch for their quality though.


The only warning we can give is this: the place will spoil you. Once you've tried the real deal - and these bagels are the real deal - you will never want a New York bagel from the supermarket again. These things are a cut above, and suddenly those rolls with holes which roll off the production line in, er, Rotherham (true story) don't really seem quite as good as they did before. You have been warned.

* Beigel is an alternative spelling and pronunciation of Bagel - depending on whether you're of Polish or German extraction will determine what you call these things. A's grandfather of Polish stock (who grew up round the corner from the Beigel Bakeries) calls them "Beigels". His other grandfather who is of Austrian ancestry, insists that they are called "Bagels".

** Comments are welcome on this point.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Gözleme: A Very Turkish Lunch

What with two pretty culture-heavy trips to Turkey in two consecutive years, C's starting to become quite experienced when it comes to Turkish cuisine. While she can't pretend to be any great expert yet, she at least knows a good kebap when she sees one, can tell a patlican from a pide and has enough Turkish to order food and drink when out.

On both trips to Turkey, one of C's favourite things to have for a light meal has been gözleme, a wonderful, salty, doughy (and probably very unhealthy) savoury dish, topped with whichever filling you so desire and folded over so the insides are oozing out between the dough. After all, apparently 'goz' in Turkish means compartment, so it follows really.

You've just goz to try them

During the most recent trip, up in the mountains near the Aegean coast C stumbled across an Ottoman-inspired eatery, serving up excellent gözleme which were being cooked by a group of older women with headscarves, lined faces and clearly very skilled hands by the side of the cafe. Sitting around a large furnace - a traditional saç griddle (pretty unbearable in August, one would imagine), the women were rolling and cutting and rolling and slapping the dough until it turned into delicious gözleme.

A dough-licious lunch


Without a moment's hesitation C took a seat. Having stayed in Ottoman places before in the eastern part of Turkey, she knew the custom, and slipped her shoes off at the entrance to the place before padding over the wooden floors and the Turkish carpets and cosying into one of the cushioned seats on the ground around a low table. This is, and will always be, C's preferred way of dining: there's something utterly relaxing about dining on the floor, cross-legged, surrounded by cushions.

Ottoman-inspired interiors
As mentioned, gozleme comes with all sorts of fillings - meats, vegetables, mushrooms, potatoes and so on - but C went for her old favourite, the Turkish beyaz peynir cheese, a salty white variety made from unpasteurised sheep's milk and quite similar to Greek feta cheese. Melted inside the gozleme, she also added in some spinach for good measure. Just thinking about it is making her hungry...

A slice of heaven
To drink, she went for her old favourite, the Turkish yoghurt drink Ayran. Delicious, thick and frothy, she was also pretty amused to see it turn up in a kind of clay cup, which provided great amusement for drinking out of. The cafe was, though, the kind of place that begged for its guests to sit, drink tea and play chess or cards to while away the afternoon: which is exactly what C did...

Interesting clay cup with obligatory Ayran...

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Advisory, Hackney

We like to pretend they we're trendy from time to time, and so when on a walk through rapidly gentrifying Hackney we stumbled across an incredibly trendy place, we knew we had to review it. In fact, the Advisory is so trendy that A was the only man in the place wearing straight cut jeans and with a symmetrical haircut. It also just happens to be a place that's quite highly rated by people in the know, such as Timeout, which gave the place a rave review.

Poutine a touch of trendiness into snack time
We weren't that hungry and so both of us plumped for the Poutine, a dish from Quebec (ooh, trendy!) which is basically the poshest chips and gravy you've ever seen in your life. A plate of chips turned up smothered in what was basically a warm lamb stew and with some kind of curd cheese and parsley. It wasn't perhaps the most sophisticated thing we've ever eaten but it really hit the spot on a long walk and warmed us up on a cold and drab day, and was so delicious we contemplated ordering another round each too.

While we didn't eat them, we also saw a number of frankly awesome burgers go by - see their profile pic on Twitter for an example. The sides looked pretty amazing too, with stacks of onion rings some six inches high going past the table. Again, while we can't vouch for them, the diners sitting around us looked pretty happy.


The coffee rocks as well and is not overly expensive. A didn't quiz the baristas on the finer points of the coffee (as he has been known to do in the past, pedant that he is) but it was pleasant, not too bitter and had pleasant nutty and chocolate notes without being one of those extremely dark roasts that is almost overpowering. For a couple of quid, it was a lot better value than some other coffees A has had out recently (such as at Workshop in Clerkenwell).

While this place is out on a limb away from the tubes, seems like quite a nice little diner and is relatively inexpensive: our poutines were £5 each. Also, did we mention the place is a little bit trendy?

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Breaking the Fast: Yom Kippur

While many British families get together around Christmas time, for English Jews (and indeed Jews everywhere) one of the most important times of year is the autumn, when the so-called High Holy Days occur. A raft of festivals fall over the course of September and October and with Jewish culture revolving very much around the kitchen, each has its own special foodstuffs. For example, apple and honey cake are very traditional fare for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish new year), the first festival of the season.

One of many salads

Arguably the most important festival of them all though is Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), where Jewish communities gather at synagogue to repent for the sins committed by the community as a whole. The day is spent at prayer and one of the key prohibitions of the day is one against food and drink. For twenty-five hours, no food or water is allowed to pass one's lips.

Understandably then, the meal to break the fast on the evening the festival ends is a big occasion to celebrate. Typically Jews gather with family and friends to break the fast together, and the collective noshing at the end of the festival is an important part of the day, though it plays no significant religious role.

P's special coleslaw

A's family is no exception to the tradition of breaking the fast with others. P and J invited cousins and family friends who live in the area to eat at their home in North London.  P didn't fast, but she was keenly aware of how hungry the guests were and with that in mind, P laid on a fabulous spread.

The kitchen was piled high with old Ashkenazi favourites: challah (ceremonial white bread for the sabbath), smoked salmon, fresh salmon, chopped fried gefilte fish balls, pickled gherkins (one of A's particular favourites), rollmop herrings and egg and onion (a form of egg mayonnaise with fried onion made to P's special recipe) all featured. These are a regular feature of the central European Jewish table and were probably on many a North London menu that night. None of this food can exactly be called calorie free, but after a very long day without nourishment, all were most welcome.

Fresh Salmon

There were also a number of less traditional foods: P had produced a celeriac coleslaw, and potato salad and tomato and mozzarella salad, all of which were delicious and whose vibrant colours lit up the table. For dessert, P also surpassed herself. She made her own chocolate and banana bread and a traditional honey cake. While the latter is traditionally eaten 10 days earlier at new year, it's common to eat it throughout the Days of Awe (the period between new year and Yom Kippur) and these too went down a treat.

Chopped Fried

All of the above provided the foundations of a raucus evening with people eating, drinking, joking and telling stories. Though the affair was very light on alcohol, by the end the party was very much in full swing and all left satisfied and full of cheer. While the Yom Kippur fast can't be said to be a pleasant experience in itself, the evening meal is always hotly anticipated. When the food is a plentiful and delicious as P's, it's little wonder it's such an occasion.

Challah, rollmops and egg and onion

Sunday, 6 October 2013

T's Birthday Cake (Or: Lemon, Blueberry and White Chocolate Cake)

It was housemate T's birthday a few weeks back and, since we sadly couldn't make his birthday brunch, we decided to treat him and girlfriend L to dinner at East End curry institution Tayyabs instead. With a little spare time before dinner, we also thought he deserved a birthday cake, and so grabbed whatever was lying around the house and decided to rustle something up.



A and C are both big fans of blueberries and lemons, so these are commonly found hanging around the flat and lend themselves very nicely to a cake flavour combination. We also found some white chocolate chips lurking in the back of the cupboard (but thankfully in date), and so added them in as well - after all, a cake can never have too many calories...



The recipe's pretty easy, and is made much easier still by a well-functioning, pretty-looking bowl. The very lovely people at House of Fraser kindly sent us a nice big Shabby Chic Jolie mixing bowl to try the other week, and this served as its first baking outing. A liked it for its sturdiness while mixing as he's fairly heavy handed with beating ingredients, and C has to admit to being immediately wooed by the fact that it's light blue - her favourite colour.

Vigorous Stirring
The cake itself is a pretty simple recipe, but does taste really quite delicious, as birthday boy T, girlfriend L and long-suffering flatmate N - chief taster of most of our baking produce - testified. We did have a mild case of soggy bottom, which put a bit of a dampener on things, but all in all it's a pretty good bake and a fairly fail-safe recipe adapted from this Allrecipes one.

Here's how it's done:


Ingredients

  • 75g butter, melted
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 120ml milk
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 150g fresh blueberries
  • A large packet of white chocolate chips

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/Gas mark 4. Grease and flour a shallow cake tin. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and 200g sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Mix in the juice of 1 lemon. Add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk. Fold in the lemon zest, blueberries and white chocolate chips. Pour into the prepared tin.
  3. Bake for 60-70 minutes. Make lemon drizzle by combining 4 tablespoons sugar with 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and drizzle over cake while still warm.
And enjoy!


Disclosure: A and C did not pay for the Shabby Chic Jolie large blue mixing bowl. A and C enjoyed the Shabby Chic Jolie large blue mixing bowl courtesy of House of Fraser and did not accept additional payment for this post.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Champagne Afternoon Tea at Browns Hotel

So, C's been rather spoiled. It was her birthday a while ago, and A decided to treat her to a weekend of lovely things, including a fancy surprise champagne afternoon tea at Brown's hotel in Mayfair. Lucky girl!

We usually make it a policy not to blog food we have for occasions. We've recently been to places such as The Delaunay and Hakkasan - both delicious - but we usually make it a policy not to worry about photography when it's a birthday or anniversary. This time, however, C insisted we make an exception: the platter was too pretty and the room too suited to photography not to capture it - and not to mention that the food was so good that both A and C agree everyone should know about it.


Think of afternoon tea in London and the likes of The Ritz and Claridges spring to mind. A's been fortunate enough to try both venues for tea, but confessed he actually liked the spread more at Brown's: perhaps it's precisely because it doesn't quite have the name that it knows it has to be absolutely top-notch with the food to get away with charging similar prices.

On arrival, we were a little early and so propped up the bar behind the tea room and had an eye-wateringly expensive Bloody Mary (A nearly fell off his chair when the bill came, and then downed his drink rather speedily for a bit of Dutch courage). The craftsmanship that went into it almost made up for the sky high price, though, and C savoured every sip before we took our seats in the main lounge.



A had kindly decided to treat C to the champagne tea option (you can opt either for non-alcoholic beverages or to make it a little boozier) and as we took our first few sips and toasted to C being one step nearer the big 3-0 (errr), the platter of treats arrived. Both A and C's eyes widened in anticipation: it is quite a spread.



First up were the sandwiches: incredibly neat little stacks of egg mayonnaise, ham, cheese and tomato, smoked salmon and, of course cucumber, all served on various different types of bed and with deliciously generous lashings of butter, which A and C would never normally have at home. We finished the first lot off in a flash, and no sooner had we done so than we were presented with a second plate of sandwiches. And then a third. And then even a fourth.


As delicious as the sandwiches were, as our stomachs filled up we knew we'd better move on. After all, there were a whole plate of petit fours to tuck into...

But before that, a tray of warmed small scones arrived, complete with cream and jam. We almost cooed in delight eating them, and then had a second plate of scones too. The jam was wonderfully gooey with real, large pieces of fruit, and the cream was soft enough to melt slightly into the warmth of the scones underneath, which were perfectly light and fluffy. Mmm.



Next up was the last of the platter: the petit fours. These were all so delicious, and there were so many to choose from that we had a second platter of these too (see a pattern here?). As the birthday girl, C got the first choice of petit four, and so predictably went for the perfect raspberry macaron, which was crunchy on the outside and wonderfully soft on the inside - just right.

A finished off a chocolate mousse ball and a jelly shot, while C also tucked into a light lemon cake. We tried our best to finish off the small raspberry tart which made up the last of the platter and then sat back, food babies and moans of "never eating again" aplenty.


After a while, as A got the waitress' attention and asked for the bill, she smiled coyly and ushered him away. "But sir," she said as she sashayed past, "you haven't had your cake yet!". With that, a waiter approached with a tea trolley, loaded with various types of cake, each looking equally tasty. We both opted for a Victoria Sponge, and squeezed in as much of it as we could, until we really couldn't eat any more, even though we desperately wanted to. 

We practically rolled out of Brown's Hotel: fed, watered, fed some more and very contented, with C feeling very spoiled. Thanks A!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Lake Bafa: Fresh Fish in Anatolia

One of the reasons it's been a little quiet around here is that C's actually been out of the country: in Turkey, no less, holidaying there for a second year running. Over a year on and still inspired by Turkish breakfasts, the spice markets of Istanbul, treats such as lokum and baklava and, of course, a good old cup of Turkish tea, she couldn't resist a family holiday to Anatolia. While A and C had explored Istanbul, the north and the east last time they visited, this trip saw C and her family exploring the sights of the beautiful western Aegean coast.


While there was still lokum, baklava and Turkish tea aplenty in this region, C also discovered something a little more rustic one lunchtime on a spontaneous road trip. Hiring a car, C and her parents decided to venture to somewhere C's father D had spotted on the map - a large lake called Bafa, now a little inland, and which used to be part of the sea.

After what we'll call a short (4 hour, accidental) detour through the stunning mountains (and treacherous mountain roads) of the Anatolian countryside, we three weary travellers ended up finally finding Lake Bafa - although it's actually so large it's pretty bafa-ling (groan) that we couldn't find it sooner.


Nonetheless, as we parked up on the beach, we saw a sign painted on the side of a little white house next to us. "Balik", it said. Fish. Outside the white cottage was an older man sitting next to a samovar of tea on a patio, casually sipping out of a tulip cup, sitting in the sun. He looked down at us quite alarmed, and then echoed the sign on the side of his house: "Balik?". Fish? We nodded, and no sooner were we seated on a small wooden table on the terrace outside the house, awaiting a meal that we only knew to include fish - and no idea what fish.


After a few glasses of peach juice while we waited, we were then presented with a real feast. Three whole fish turned up, presented simply on a plate, along with a huge plate of chips, hunks of bread and a wonderful, bright salad.


The chips were clearly homemade and pretty chunky, but the salad was what really hit the spot in terms of accompaniments: with lettuce, red onions, cucumber and the super juicy Turkish tomatoes that C loves, it was finished off with a squirt of lemon juice and some olive oil. Delicious.


The main event, though, was of course the fish. None of us had any idea what fish it was (if anyone can enlighten us by photo identification please do leave a comment!) but it was undoubtedly some of the best fish we'd ever eaten. It had obviously just been caught that morning, and was wonderfully fresh and incredibly tasty.


And ok, so when the bill came it was pretty expensive (for Turkish standards) - 25 lira a head, which works out to a bit over £7. But hey, we were probably the guy's only customers for the day, and when you're eating such fresh food and overlooking a view like this, who can really complain?