Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Slightly Peckish Snippets: Q1

One thing that’s for sure: in-between working 13 hour shifts at work and sweating copiously in Bikram yoga sessions (our new hobby), we haven’t forgotten about food.

A few months into 2013, we’ve found ourselves left with the odd photo here and there of food we couldn’t resist snapping at the time, and which is too good not to share, even if briefly.



Sometimes we don’t have enough snaps of a restaurant visit to warrant a whole blog post, but it’s a bit of a shame when this means that it doesn’t get a mention at all – especially when it’s well-deserved. Here’s a new little project, then: every quarter, we’ll post a brief round-up akin to an “and the rest” – other places we’ve visited over the past few months and want to shout about. Expect a miscellaneous bunch.

Here are our Q1 snippets of great food:

Del Aziz


C visited Del Aziz with her old school friend C a while back (aforementioned on the blog here). Del Aziz is a London-based small chain, which sells itself as “showcasing the very best of the exotic Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa”. The Cs popped along to the Southwark branch, and were pleasantly surprised by the food here.



 


We started our meal with a Vegetarian Meze Platter (£14.95), which consisted of hummus, dolma, tabbouleh, falafel, cheese borek and tzatziki. The standouts really were the cheese borek (salty, slightly gooey and a little greasy – but very moreish) and the hummus, which was excellent, and gobbled up in no time. For a main, C’s friend went for the Chicken Shish – a traditional choice, she reported back that it was a good one, marinated with saffron and onions, and the portion size was certainly generous.

C herself went for the minced lamb spiced with saffron, garlic & onions, which was served with grilled tomatoes & finished with sumac, and she enjoyed it with saffron rice. In all honesty, for what sounded like such an interesting dish, she was a little disappointed: perhaps it’s just that she’s used to quite authentic Perisan food in places like the Mahdi, but she was expecting it to be bursting with flavours and aromatic herbs and spices. Instead, it was pleasant but a little on the bland side: pleasing, and recommended, but not outstanding.



With a bottle of wine to share, the meal came to around £40pp – C found this a bit pricier than she would have liked, and in all honesty thought the food didn’t warrant the price tag.


Little Bay


A and C made an impromptu visit to Little Bay a few weeks back, after passing it at Farringdon and C enthusing that it was not only cheap but also good. She’s been to the Croydon branch a few times, and the Farringdon outlet also lived up to expectations: we had starters, mains and a glass of wine each for under £30, which we think represents excellent value.

 


A opted for Baked Mushrooms with Garlic & Thyme Filling and Red Pepper Finish and a burger for main, both of which he made very short work of and enthused about, particularly in light of the price tag associated with them (a reaction C has often witnessed at Little Bay – people are genuinely amazed at the affordability).

 



C has a standard dish she always goes for – the Confit of Duck Leg with Leek Gratin and Ginger Sauce, which she heartily recommends. However, it’s quite a large dish and given that she was only slightly peckish (see what we did there), she went for a lighter bite instead: Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce with Cauliflower Mornay. A good choice, she’d recommend it but would emphasise that it really was on the light side: five meatballs with rather a lot of tomato sauce might not be too filling if you’re anything more than just a little hungry. Her starter, though, was outstanding: a generous and perfectly cooked portion of Baked Goats Cheese with Mixed Leaves and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.



Pizza Pilgrims


 A mention really has to go to Pizza Pilgrims – technically not a restaurant (although news is that they’re opening one in Soho very soon, which we can’t wait for) but some of the best pizza in London.





We’ll do a proper post on them soon, we promise, and will try to make it along to one of their pop-ups soon too (we’ve been meaning to for, oh, about a year), but in the meantime here’s a few tempting photos, and a recommendation to get down to Berwick Street market and grab a pizza as soon as you can.







And finally, a last and extra special mention to the macaroons at Kahve Dunyasi. We know we've posted on them before, but the biscuits deservce a special mention. Colourful, delicious, the perfect consistency and the best A and C have found in London – we think they probably even beat Ladurée, they’re that good. We shared a box with A’s family recently, and general consensus was excellent all round.



 Odds and Sods

Other eateries we'd recommend but which we didn't take any photos at include:
  • The Pier: Google reviewers seem to give it a pretty mixed reception, but when we went to this chippie in Greenwich for a quick take-away on the way to the flicks, we were quite impressed. The fish was evenly battered, the chips were chunky, hot and crispy and the portions were ginormous. £12 well spent on a filling (if not exactly healthy) supper.
  • Hakkasan: C took A for a special anniversary meal. Word in the blogger community is that they can be a bit tetchy about taking photos and we decided to enjoy a meal without being bloggers for a change. The meal was outstanding: if you only have one Chinese meal in London, make this it. This was C's first Michelin starred experience, and we are glad to say she approved.
  • Gram Bangla: You couldn't get further away from Hakkasan if you tried with this place. Formica tables and loud Bangladeshi TV greet you at this, one of the most unassuming places on Brick lane's famous curry strip. Essentially a local's caff, Gram Bangla reheats hearty portions of Bangladeshi curry, daal and rice which you select from the chiller cabinet at the back. Quick, delicious and mind-bogglingly cheap (think £15 for a meal for two), give the more typical curry houses up the road a skip. Among other things, the food isn't laden with ghee or MSG here, which is a big plus.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

C Bakes: Jammie Dodgers

We may have mentioned before that both A and C have particularly vociferous inner children, and so when C decided to bake something for A this week to cheer him up a little (it's been a sleeping-in-the-office kind of month for him), she turned to her childhood for a bit of inspiration.

Jammie Dodgers - who couldn't love them? For any non-Brits, Jammie Dodgers are a bit of a British biscuit institution: essentially two shortbread biscuits with a strawberry or raspberry flavoured jam filling. They're incredibly moreish, and if you haven't tried them, you're missing out. C has fond memories of having them for 'elevenses' as a child thanks to her grandparent's magical biscuit tin which always seemed to stock them, and she's had a real thing for them ever since.



When she bought the Peyton and Byrne's British Book of Baking recently, then (a drool-worthy compendium of deliciousness, if you haven't heard about it already), and turned to the first few pages to find a recipe for Jammie Dodgers, she knew she had to give it a try.





And here we have the results! Perhaps not quite the same size as normal Jammie Dodgers (C's came out very large) and definitely not as neat, but almost as delicious in a "lovingly handmade" kind of way - or at least C will claim. All in all, she was quite pleased with her first effort at making them, although a learning point is definitely to be cautious with the size of the biscuit cutter and the amount of jam used, if you don't want it splodging out the sides.




So, here's what you'll need to make the Jammy Dodgers yourself. Note that C made twice the amount, as this recipe is only for 4 large biscuits, and in her opinion that wasn't quite enough!
  • 125g of unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 60g of caster sugar
  • 125g of plain flour
  • 50g of fine semolina flour (alternatively, ground rice)
  • Strawberry jam (alternatively, raspberry jam)



And here's what you do (tweaked slightly):

1. Cream together the butter and the caster sugar until pale and light in texture. Stir in the flour and semolina flour and beat until it forms a soft dough



2. Roll the dough out onto a floured board until it's about 5mm thick. Use a cutter to cut an equal number of biscuits and make small holes (a circle, a heart or otherwise - your choice!) in half of the biscuits. Line a baking tray with baking paper and place the biscuits on top







3. Sprinkle caster sugar on the biscuits with the holes cut out and place the tray of biscuits in the fridge to set for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180c or gas mark 4

4. Bake the biscuits in the oven for 10-15 minutes until they are just turning down. Leave to cool



5. Once the biscuits have cooled completely, spread jam on the biscuits without holes cut out. Don't spread the jam to the edge to avoid the jam squidging out of the biscuits later: leave a space of around 1cm around the edge. Gently place the top biscuits (with holes) on top of bottom biscuits (with jam). Push them together gently so that the two sides sandwich the jam together and stick

6. Leave to set - and then tuck in and enjoy!

Honestly, these are fantastic biscuits. If you're looking for a good Jammie Dodger recipe, trust us that Peyton's British Baking is for you... 

Monday, 8 April 2013

InSpiral: Vegan in Camden

C loves Camden; it reminds her of Brighton, the town by the English south coast where she lived for four years before meeting moving back to London and meeting A. For the uninitiated, Brighton is a quirky, kooky, liberal place where individualism is heavily celebrated; in terms of food, the percentage of the population who are vegetarians or vegans is apparently much higher there than in other areas of the UK, and there are a wealth of great eateries catering for these demographics. Though a meat eater, C opts for a mainly vegetarian diet just out of preference - and out of a habit which can mainly be attributed, she's sure, to the four years she spent living by the sea. Restaurants like Terre a Terre and Food for Friends are topics for other posts, but suffice it to say that if you don't believe vegetarian and vegan food can be equally as good as meat-based dishes, you definitely haven't been to Brighton enough.

Or Camden, apparently. C's from south of the river and it's fair to say that, apart from a few trips to the place as an angsty teenager, she hasn't spent much time there. When veggie L (who C met in Brighton, and who has appeared on the blog in places such as Amico Bio and The Water Poet) suggested meeting there, though, as she'd heard there were some good vegetarian and vegan eateries, C was more than happy to comply. The pair found vegan café InSpiral and delved in, with C cooing within the first few minutes that it "felt like Brighton" - praise indeed.



InSpiral is a very relaxed, individual kind of place. If you're comfortable in that kind of scene, then you'll love it; for others, it might take a bit of getting used to. However, C loved it and would heartily recommend giving the place a visit; if you've never had vegan food before, it'll almost certainly surprise you.

C and L started their meal with two cups of hot spiced apple and cinnamon; this was unbelievably good, so much so that C went back for a few more cups afterwards. Even if you're not eating, pop into InSpiral for this drink: it's worth it.



To eat, C went for a vegan lasagne - obviously made from vegetables, with layers of special vegan pasta too (no eggs or cheese present in the dish, though, of course). It had a good depth of flavour and was generally very pleasant, although not outstanding: the problem really being that it was rather on the thin and sloppy slide when it came to consistency, and there weren't so much layers as just a mass of vegetables scattered over each other.



L tried a kind of organic uncooked tart, which was certainly visually appealing with layers of various vegetables throughout, and an elegant leafy garnish on top. L's verdict was overwhelmingly positive, and much more so than C's opinion on her choice of dish: the layers apparently complemented each other well and L reported back only good things about the textures and flavours.



We also opted for a plate of side salad: essentially, the concept here is that you can order a plate of sides and then choose which three or four you want from a big selection of containers of fresh, delicious-looking ingredients at the front of the café. Portion sizes are generous, too: we went for beetroot salad, potato and butternut squash wedges, a spinach salad and a kind of roasted veg selection, including carrots and cabbage (C's all-time favourite). This kept us going for a while, and for C was certainly the highlight of her meal here.



We were still a little peckish (read: greedy) after dinner, and as a treat to ourselves for staying off the alcohol that night we decided to indulge with a piece of cake instead. C was rather intrigued by the concept of raw cake: the phrase conjures up images of raw eggs and such, which of course isn't the reality in a vegan recipe, but left her feeling slightly perplexed all the same. The reality, though, was incredibly good: she predictably opted for the carrot cake, which was very dense, moist and quite chewy - more so than a cooked cake - but really quite delicious. L went for a raw cheesecake (obviously minus cheese) and reported back similarly. The trick, C would suppose, is not to compare this to cooked cake: think of it as a different concept entirely, and don't expect the same consistency or flavour, and you'll enjoy something similarly delicious but quite distinct.



One of the things that C really loved about InSpiral was the atmosphere, though: it feels completely chilled, but very liberal (dare we say quite hippy-ish); a combination which is sometimes hard to find in London. If you can, sit by the windows here: at night, there are beautiful views of the river, of Camden Lock and of the twinkling lights of the boats. Lovely.