Saturday, 23 September 2017

Spinach & Chard Manti - Turkish Dumplings

I LOVE DUMPLINGS. I was helping a friend out with a pescatarian supperclub recently, and in doing so we made manti - a Turkish dumpling that's also found in Russia and Central Asia. The origins of the dumplings are uncertain, though it is believed that the recipe was carried from Central Asia through the Silk Road to Anatolia and China by Turkic peoples (thanks Wikipedia!). Essentially, they're dumplings made with an egg-enriched wheat dough, filled with a spiced meat mixture, and often served with yoghurt.

I tested the recipe first because I LOVE DUMPLINGS but also dumplings can be notoriously difficult to fold, and vegetarian fillings can sometimes be a touch on the bland side. We made this up completely as there weren't many of its vegetarian kind to be found on the internet and I'm not sure how traditional they are given our tweaks, but it has warming spices like cinnamon in them, mixed with the zest of lemon, the zip of parsley and a robust minerality of spinach and chard. Balanced on garlic yogurt, drizzled with chilli oil and dusted with sumac, these dumplings were swept off their plates hungrily. They're not too much of a pain to make, either, as long as you have a bit of patience.

The dough and garlic yoghurt is largely taken from this recipe, though we had a couple of tweaks - I'm not a massive fan of the flavour of dried mint, so I reduced it down. You need to roll the dough as thinly as you can, using a long, thin rolling pin and work to small parcels so that they're light and delicate rather than huge and stodgy. These are tips I picked up from Helen, so hat tip to her as well.

The folding of the dumplings is wonderfully simple - you take opposite corners and you pinch together to form a cross shape. This one was one of my first; you'll want to make them a little smaller. This recipe makes many many manti, but they're freezable and because they're baked first, they keep in the fridge a while. I have no idea why this is baked and then boiled, while most recipes straight-up boil but the baking means they do last longer - if you're going to eat them right away, you can go straight for the boil and miss out the baking stage. 

Spinach & Chard Manti

Serves LOADS

300gr plain flour
A pinch of salt 
1 egg, beaten with 100ml water
2 tbsp olive oil

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, then add the egg and the oil and bring together to form the dough. Knead for 6 minutes, until you get a smooth dough, and then cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling. 

A bunch of spinach
A bunch of chard, leaves and stalks separated 
A bunch of flat leaf parsley
20 walnut halves
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 large pinches of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Palestinian za'tar (available at the Turkish Food Centre) 
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp breadcrumbs

Blanch the spinach, refresh in iced water. Blanch the chard by adding the stalks 40 seconds before the leaves, as they take longer to cook. Refresh in iced water. Drain and squeeze the moisture out of both vegetables thoroughly, and place in a food processor. Add the walnuts, parsley, garlic, cinnamon, za'tar, lemon zest and olive oil and pulse until well pulsed. If it's looking too wet add the breadcrumbs - it should hold together well but not be sloppy. 

3 cloves of garlic, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute 
500ml yoghurt, at least 10% fat
1/2 tsp salt

Mince the garlic well with the salt and add to the yoghurt. Stir well. 

150ml olive oil
1 tsp pul biber (chilli flakes you can buy in the Turkish Food Centre) 
1 tsp urfa chilli flakes (again, buy in the Turkish Food Centre) - these are slightly darker, and milder and smokier than pul biber. You can use just pul biber if you wish.
1 tbsp hot pepper paste (biber sulcasi) - you can sub in half tomato paste half harissa paste if you like
1 tbsp sumac
1 tsp dried mint (kuru nane)

Heat the oil up in a small saucepan and add the hot pepper paste. Fry until fragrant, around 2 minutes, on a medium heat and then add the chilli, sumac and mint flakes. Simmer for around 3 or 4 minutes, then take off the heat. 

1 tbsp sumac
Chopped flat-leaf parsley

Line up a baking sheet or tray with greaseproof paper. Split the dough into 3, and re-wrap the other two. 

Working with one ball at a time, roll out as thinly as you can and then cut squares out of it - working to around an inch size. Maybe start slightly bigger until you have the hang of it. Use a pizza cutter to cut the dough as it's slightly easier. 

Add a teaspoon or less of filling to the centre of each square and bring the opposing ends up to join into a cross shape. Seal well and place on the baking tray. Repeat until the dough or the filling is gone or you're bored shitless. 

Preheat the over to 180 degrees and bake for 10 minutes, until slightly golden. Wait for them to cool if you're going to saving them for later - they last about 3 days in the fridge, or can be frozen - otherwise then simmer them in water for 8 minutes, before draining. 

To serve, add a generous amount of yoghurt to each dish. Place the manti on top of the yoghurt and drizzle with the spiced oil. Garnish with a hefty pinch of sumac and a sprinkling of parsley.  

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

A Week in Western Sumatra

When I was a kid my mum took me to Singapore - well, she snuck us to Singapore - on one of her business trips. It was just a skip over from Hong Kong, so not so far really, and we were taken to the hotel pool, left with the room key card and off she went to her conference while we happily splashed about. I imagine she would've got away with it, except of course, we lost the key. A knock on the conference room door revealed two dripping wet children, asking could we please have Mum's key so we could go back to our room now, as my mother covered her face with her hands. The conference stared. Luckily we were cute kids, and her colleagues insisted on taking us all for black pepper crab every single night that we were there. I remember coming home and announcing I was quite sick of crab now, thank-you-very-much. What a brat.

Anyway, since then my main goal in life has been to get a job where I get to travel and stay in nice places and eat platefuls of crab. So far that has got me to a fair bit of crab-less Eastern Europe, a restricted military island where the coconut crabs are reportedly extremely delicious but illegal to eat, and now, Indonesia. I've been before, in 2014 - Indonesia is huge and this time our destination was Western Sumatra.

Padang is a large, sprawling city. Situated on the coastline, the beach and the sea beyond were not recommended for swimming in due to what the city puts in the sea at that point. There are far better places to do this - we were here to see the markets and the hustle and bustle of daily life. It was sweltering, and as we picked our way through we noticed the distinct lack of foreigners. Tourists usually arrive into Padang as a jumping off point for the islands, such as the Mentawai, for popular surf spots but judging by the attention we were receiving, they don't hang around much. Full of smiles and curious glances, we were celebrities with the locals and were often stopped to have our photo taken, a novelty value on the streets.

The architecture of this particular part of Indonesia is particularly note-worthy - spiked like horns, many buildings took this form. This was a football pitch, no big deal.

We wandered around night time food stalls and ate plenty of satay and mee goreng - the Indonesians really love the instant noodles - but for a more comfortable and air conditioned dinner, Apollo Seafood was so good we went twice. Sure, it's a Chinese restaurant but it serves beer too which is pretty rare in Padang. My beloved crab in chilli sauce was sweet and fairly mild, the claws cracked for ease. I was absolutely covered in sauce by the end of it but you try eating that and staying pristine. They have a huge menu of Chinese classics - depending on how much fresh seafood / crab you order the price can get quite high, though that's only relatively speaking to, say, London.

I had an afternoon to myself so I wandered off in search of Pak Tri, a warung recommended by many on the internet and a local guy we met. It was sweltering, and after a 20 minute walk I arrived dishevelled and lightly glowing. The place was huge, and given it was 3pm no one was in there - I sat down and began a very broken exchange of ordering lunch. They were very sweet and patient, and showed me the fish straight off the ice to check are you sure you really want that much yes thank you I do.

It came grilled over an open barbecue, slathered in a sweet and spicy sambal, with more on the side should I need it. Stir-fried morning glory with a little garlic and more chilli and some rice accompanied it, and it was possible that this was the best meal I'd had in a while. The fish was smoky, charred but expertly cooked, the sauce on the verge of making me suck in air periodically. It was £4.

We headed inland to Bukittinggi, a couple of hours drive from Padang. Our brilliant guide, An, took us to see cow racing, which consists of everyone bringing their prize cows to a mud pit. They have wooden constructions, much like skis, to stand on. The tail goes into the mouth for a quick nip to really get them going, and they're off. There is no such fun-sucks as health and safety, no barriers. Spectators line the sides watching. I stood there terrified as the cows came thundering towards us, eventually leaping out of the way. I was told to stick with the majority of people leaping out of the way, as the cows will go through whichever gaps, and it's better you're not the loner in said gap, for obvious reasons. It was a proper family day out, crowds were there to spectate, and food stalls were set up. Sticky drinks in plastic bags filled with various tapioca shapes (cendol-like) refreshed us.

Bukittinggi itself was all interesting horned temple architecture, lush verdant rice paddies and incredibly kind people. We navigated wet markets and shopping centres, we went to a football match and I've never had so many selfies taken. We were local heroes. All we did was turn up. (Okay we did have a film camera with us.) Unfortunately we missed out on Lake Maninjau which is the reason most tourists head there, but we were on a rigid schedule.

The tradition in Padang, Bukittinggi and the environs is that restaurants have many big bowls of food in the windows - when you arrive they spoon a serving portion out onto tiny plates and place them on your table. They all stack up and you eat what you want - some, you leave completely if it doesn't take your fancy - and you're charged for whatever you eat. I have no idea how you don't get sick from this. There's no refrigeration and the food is out a while, meat and fish alike; we didn't though, and we ate like this a lot. All the dishes were heavily spiced, and the rendangs were especially incendiary and delicious. Fish head curries delighted and challenged our group, and a mystery sausage that was definitely cased using cow guts had the consistence of a firm tofu mousse. Shredded vegetables were tossed in soothing coconut, and nasi goreng and mee goreng (fried rice and fried noodles) were made to order, along with fresh, hot steamed rice. Invariably, every time we neglected to leave anything behind.

Desserts were few and far between but we did have this insanely delicious banana pancake-esque cake - smeared with chocolate, it was fluffy and felt like the insides of a crumpet. They were served warm with a crisp top. I ate them until I felt queasy because if there's one thing I've learnt about travelling abroad, never do the "oh I'll have some next time when I'm less full" because you'll never find it again (Nicaraguan banana cake, I'm looking at you).

We set off to find some beach. Never in my life have I seen so many utterly gorgeous deserted beaches, which was particularly frustrating as I actually needed an abundance of people for the work we wanted to do there. Nevertheless, forget traversing the Thai islands, the place you want to get to is Ricky's Beach Huts, south of Padang. We were picked up in the dark and we were jiggled around for about an hour and a half on a very rustic road. We then met Ricky and his friends in a terrace surrounded by bathtubs of turtles swimming in a foot of water. It took me about 10 minutes to work up the courage to ask if they were for eating. Turns out Ricky also runs a turtle sanctuary.

We were then taken in the pitch black night, in a tiny boat we had to scramble into around the coast for a few minutes. I laughed hysterically, half submerged in the rain, as this was my idea and I was just wondering what I was going to tell our bosses / insurers when we all ended up drowned or murdered. We stumbled into our huts and fell into bed and when dawn broke I woke up to an almost 180 degree panoramic of sand and the sea from my bed. It was pretty amazing.

Go here if you want to sit on a beach, or go on a couple of boat trips but otherwise be largely left alone. It's run by Ricky and his friends, and evening entertainment consists of guitar music and you might get coerced into singing Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd ALL ON YOUR OWN due to a series of bad decisions. Thank god they also have beer.

For somewhere a little less secluded, the Painan is a great jumping off spot to get a boat to neighbouring islands, also incredibly unspoilt but without the commitment of the hour-long jiggle-jeep ride.


Roni's Tours looked after us, and An in particular was brilliant. Very very patient and fun and took us to all the best spots.

Ricky's Beach House also runs tours, though we just stayed in their huts.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Motu Indian Kitchen - Delivery

The Sethi Family are on a massive roll. Michelin-starred Trishna and Gymkhana, both on the high end of the Indian restaurant scale, are absolutely smashing it. If you haven't tried that wild muntjac biriyani served at the latter, get down there quick-smart.

Then they took the old Koya site and in its place opened Hoppers, a Sri Lankan casual restaurant that has seen 2 hour long queues from day 1. The only time I've eaten there it was gone 10pm, I'd whiled away the queue time in the company of margaritas and I don't remember a thing. Not their fault.

They invested in Bao, helping them open their first Soho site and consequently the larger Fitzrovia joint. So it's safe to say they know their stuff.

When they announced Motu Indian Kitchen, a delivery-only outlet in Camberwell (and Battersea, and now in Canary Wharf), I fizzed with excitement. My ends! Delivery! From the comfort of my own home! Right away I got myself as drunk as possible so as to be incapacitated the next day, to be able to justify ordering a takeaway. That's how it works in my house.

Kashmiri lamb shank rogan josh arrived whole, on the bone, resplendent and bathed in sauce, slivered ginger on top for fresh zing. Fluffy naan bread to mop, and a side combo of aubergine masala, tadka dal and samosa chat. God that was good; the samosa came nestled in a fresh, herbal green sauce and shaved coconut. The dal was soothing to the spicy, creamy aubergine masala. More bread mopping. That lamb shank though, a bit one-note. Not much depth too it. And, oh - £20.50 total for the order is a bit punchy.

All in all, not bad, an impressive spread, if a little underwhelmed with the shank. Then I got an email from the PR offering me some credit to try it out - woo! More to try. This time I went for the 'feast box for 1' - "from £16.00" at the time, and you had more prices to add on dependent on which option you went for for the main - which meant you were hitting around £21 for the feast box. They seem to have done away with this now, so it is just a straight-up £16, far better value. It includes kachumber raita, mango chutney, poppadoms, naan, pilau rice and you main of choice. Saves you fannying around trying to decide what to add (though my previous local threw in poppadoms & chutneys gratis). I added the grilled seekh kebab too, because why not. It is a TERRIBLE picture. Soz.

It's quite the feast, and I was properly stuffed. The chicken tikka masala was rich and smooth - not my usual order, but one I enjoyed. I was a little put out that there was only a few pieces of chicken, but that was more in aesthetic in a large, shallow bowl than desire for more. Fluffy rice and a well-spiced kebab made me happy.

It happened again. It had sort of turned into a Sunday ritual now. A feast box jumped into my order, along with 6 tandoori chicken wings and that spicy-ass aubergine masala again, and this time, lamb biriyani. Well spiced, fluffy rice with generous chunks of slow-cooked lamb, garnished with a little mint on top, especially good with the kachumber raita. Holy shit I spent £32 on a takeaway! I justified this that it fed me a further two lunches, but £32!

So having had 3 takeaways from Motu (one of which the PR paid the £25 for) I can safely say it's a very delicious meal made using high quality ingredients. This isn't your typical takeaway with a film of ghee / oil floating around. And thank GOD they've stopped calling them 'cuzzas' on their online menu, and otherwise I really like their branding - slick. But, for the money which is not inconsiderable, Rajah Rowing Team pip it for me, especially as they have a wider menu selection. Their prawn puri is the stuff of dreams. But we're in a very privileged position to have two very fine contenders.

Order via Deliveroo only. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Man Behind The Curtain, Leeds

I don't think I've ever waited 10 months for a restaurant reservation, but 10 months I waited, which is about standard for The Man Behind The Curtain, in Leeds. I have absolutely no idea why it's called that, and I really expected to be sitting at a darkened spotlit bar, velvet curtain flung back dramatically while each dish is served with a flourish, face forever hidden. My expectations were poorly researched (if at all).

No, The Man Behind The Curtain is a large, white space on the top of a department store, splattered with paintings much like the dish plated in the opening photo. Staff don leather aprons with either muted or fluorescent straps, possibly to denote seniority? It reminded me of Street XO Madrid, similarly located, and similarly what would become an attack on the senses. 

We were seated, one of only three parties in the room. Sunlight shone directly into my eyes, and the staff hurried to close the floor-to-ceiling black curtains, clearly used to it. Strains of Placebo played, and we opted for the full tasting menu, a secret to us and one that would remain to be so for the duration of the meal, save our server's explanations as the plates come down. Bathrooms are alarmingly furnished with egg yolk-yellow toilet roll, so notable my friend brought some (clean I hope) to the table for us to all goggle over.

We started with an oyster served with strawberry kimchi. So delighted was I with the spicy strawberry pickle, I barely registered what was a plump and juicy mollusc, briny of the sea. 

Raw langoustines, served tartare style, arrived within a tree soon after. We all cooed over the pretty presentation, though the slippery, sweet seafood was unfortunately tainted by the blood-like tang of metal, the base of the spoon itself worn until tarnished. My companions were not as unlucky as I was, and loved theirs far more. 

We were served in a flurry, perhaps to keep within the 2hr 15 min timing stated on the menu. A tiny little bao, fluffy and garish red, nestled veal sweetbreads in XO sauce, pickled shiitake mushrooms and kimchi mayo. The mint and basil mentioned were absent to my palate. A cute mouthful, and one I could have repeated several times over. 

Wagyu beef tartare arrived in a cosmic bowl, slightly suspended with gordal olives and some sort of creamy sauce. I really wish I'd asked for a printed menu, or had one proffered. The fatty beef with the rich metallic flavours melted on the tongue, and while I found the transparent potato starch sheets balancing on top impressive in looks, it brought nothing to my party. My appetite was appropriately whetted, and I impatiently awaited the next course. 

The chef, Michael O'Hare, clearly has a colour scheme going on; it's not often you see this much red amongst savoury courses, and this was the most surprising. Within the shards of Sriracha crackers (which didn't contain even a hint of the now-ubiquitous condiment) was a spider crab, wonton skin and lardo 'lasagne' - layers of rich crab flavour, crisp crunch and rich pork fat. Underneath the sheet of bilberry jam (what the hell is a bilberry?) was a tiny, fried quails egg which I didn't especially know what to do with. I sort of wish they'd wrapped the crab, wonton and pork fat combo in some silky pasta and bathed it in a cream sauce. I started to long for comfort and warmth.

'Fish & Chips', made famous by O'Hare's appearance on The Great British Menu, was probably one of my favourite courses. Buried under a pile of crisp potato, was a perfectly seemingly steamed piece of cod, swimming in squid ink. The entire thing was dusted with malt vinegar powder, and topped with sprayed, golden prawns. I love sour flavours, and I loved this. Each mouthful was intensely seaside, that distinct flavour of fried, the lip puckering balance. 

'Polpo' was what this one was called, after the crockery it was served in. Shared between two, three pieces of beef rib were braised until tender - too tender, really, to be picked up with chopsticks and dipped in one of the mustard, coriander or truffle sauces, especially when you're sharing. Still, I enjoyed the burger-like flavour of the mustard combination especially. 

The last of the main courses looked like a piece of modern art, or something someone might have dropped. Depends how you feel about art, I suppose. Iberico pork, cooked until blushing pink, with a boquerone anchovy, anchovy cream, slow cooked egg and charcoal shavings. There was a gooey, sticky, reduced meaty jus hiding in there too, which was sweet and delicious and definitely not enough of it. The anchovy was the imposter here, one that clanged my palate and jarred my flavours that I was enjoying so much - the smoky, the rich, the porky. 

And like that, we were on to dessert. I was disappointed. It didn't feel like 8 courses, and I felt a little lacking. But no matter; dessert looked like it was sent from space. Lavender and chocolate ice cream came sheathed in white chocolate sprayed silver, a potato custard dotted with beetroot vinegared rice crispies. 

Not your typical colours of what one might find naturally, but the combination was pleasant. The potato in the custard contributed only towards texture, a silky smooth feeling in the mouth. 

Petit fours delighted and disgusted our group in equal measure. Cupcakes, edible entirely including its casing, hid a liquid passionfruit centre that exploded in the mouth, sending giggles all around the table. The wannabe Daim bar was dusted in cardamom and caraway, reminiscent of those handfuls of aromatics you grab on your way out of the local curry house to chew on to freshen the breath. 

Just like that, and £120 each later, we were done. There was nothing about the room or the staff (though pleasant) that made us want to spend any longer there, and we disbanded to a nearby pub. My overall and overwhelming experience was one of muted whimsy. The food felt discordant, not so much ecstatically pleasurable but wilfully provocative. I have no doubt that Michael O'Hare is a talented chef, and several courses excited me, but overall I was left with a sense of dissatisfaction. I wished for a hot dish, perhaps some bread and butter. I was there for an event, a procession of art, not to be fed. 

I ate a McDonald's on the train home. 

68-78 Vicar Lane,
Top floor Flannels
Leeds LS1 7JH

 For better pictures and quite a different opinion to mine, check out Chris' post here

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Weeknight-Friendly Duck Ssam

I love any kind of Ssam dishes. Ssam means 'wrapped' in Korean, and was most famously introduced to the masses by Momofuku of New York. Typically, it takes the form of lettuce wrapping rice, meat, kimchi and sauces. David Chang's recipe for Bo Ssam marinates and pretty much cures the pork shoulder in sugar and salt, roasting it low and slow with a final sugar rub into the pork fat and a high blast, rendering the fat crisp and sweet. It is incredible, but it does take the best part of two days and quite the occasion to warrant it.

I've always loved this way of eating. Sang choi bao is the Chinese version, often made with minced meat and piled into rigid Iceberg lettuce cups. You get all the textures; crisp fresh vegetable, rich meat flavours. The all-in-one mouthful.

When I had a friend come for dinner on a Friday night, I set out to recreate my favourite meal in an easily doable space of time to still be hospitable. It worked a treat. Duck breasts were slung in a marinade of mirin, soy and sake for the duration of preparing the other ingredients, roughly half an hour. The marinade itself was utilised afterwards, as a sauce for the glass noodles to soak right up. Duck being a very richly flavoured meat, benefitted from a mint, coriander and jalapeno dressing along with my favourites of ginger and spring onion sauce, and kimchi. A lovely combination of flavours, one we customised to each mouthful.

Duck Ssam

Serves 2 generously

2 duck breasts
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp cooking sake
1 inch of ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, grated

Mix the marinade ingredients well, and place in a shallow bowl. Place the duck breasts into the marinade, meat side down. Try to keep the skin dry.

1 head of Little Gem or a small butter lettuce, leaves separated and washed

4 stalks of spring onion, minced
2 inches of ginger, minced
1 tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
A hefty pinch of salt

2 tbsp store-bought or your own kimchi in a bowl

A small handful of mint leaves, picked off the stems
A larger handful of coriander
2 green jalapenos
A hefty pinch of salt
A squirt of lime juice

30gr glass noodles, soaked in hot water until softened, then drain

Whizz up the mint, coriander, jalapenos, salt, lime juice with 1 tsp water until you a smooth sauce. Place in a bowl.

Add the ginger and salt to a heatproof bowl and heat the cooking oil until smoking. Pour over the ginger so it sizzles a lot. Add the spring onions and vinegar, and mix well. Set to one side.

Dab the marinade off the duck and dry both sides. Salt the skin and then place in a cast iron or non-stick pan skin side down, then place on the heat. The key to a good, crisp duck skin is starting it from cold. Gradually heat up the pan, rendering the fat out, and checking frequently. You can tilt the pan and spoon some of the accumulated fat over the meat side, but you may need to remove some too as duck is super fatty. Do this until you have a rich, golden brown skin, then flip. Fry on the meat side on a medium-high heat for around 3 minutes, pressing it down for even contact. Remove immediately and place on a plate to rest for 15 minutes.

Drain the fat out of the pan, then add the leftover marinade and bring to a bubble. Remove from the heat and add the glass noodles, constantly moving them around to soak up the marinade and prevent from sticking in clumps.

Slice the duck breast finely and place back over the noodles to serve with the lettuce, sauces, and kimchi. Assemble the perfect mouthful with a lettuce leaf, some glass noodles, a slice of duck and whichever sauces take your fancy. Serve with napkins.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Chinese New Year 2017

Chinese New Year starts this Saturday, 28th - the year of the rooster. Here's a round-up of places to eat during the celebration, which lasts for two weeks. Time Out has a great list of things happening in London to mark the new year.

TaTa Eatery, in Haggerston, is having a 9 course collaborative feast with chefs from Koya Bar, Taberna de Mercado, and BossLady to present a Chinese sharing feast rooted in "pairing European ingredients with Asian attitude", as is TaTa's concept. Running from 12 noon until 11pm on the 28th Jan, you can book via their website for £48pp. I visited TaTa's pop-up and their new site, and if you're looking for innovative and incredibly delicious cooking with Asian styles, this is sure to be a belter.

Soho's Yauatcha has created specialist red coloured pastries, as well as a red dim sum platter and cocktail to celebrate the new year with this traditionally auspicious colour. Available until 11th February.

Hakkasan is celebrating with a limited edition menu, featuring very traditional dishes, such as braised abalone, double-boiled soups, steamed turbot, and other premium ingredients - obviously this comes at a high-end price of £88 pp. This runs until 11th February.

The Duck & Rice have an additional menu available, from 23rd Jan - 5th Feb - Cantonese lobster, stir-fried curry crab, salt-baked chicken and potted rice, amongst others.

Raw Duck in Hackney have 'Dumpling Mondays' where the first Monday of the month is, well, dumplings. Their dumpling recipes have come down through generations, and the first Monday of February just so happens to be the 6th, during Chinese New Year.

Sambal Shiok are doing a £20 pp special tasting menu of prosperity salad, a snack platter, one of their great laksas and dessert, Jan 28th to 11th Feb. 24 hours advanced booking required - here are the details.

Crosstown Doughnuts are offering 6 x Pandan doughnuts for Chinese New Year, for £19 - available 27th - 31st Jan.

Otherwise, get a bunch of you together and head to Gold Mine for a shiny, lacquered roast duck Cantonese bbq blow-out.

Things to order:

Turnip Cake (loh bak goh)
Roasted meats
Whole fish, normally steamed
Lobster noodles with ginger and spring onion
'Lo Hei' - a raw salad mixed by tossing ingredients up high with chopsticks. The higher you toss, the more good fortune you capture.
Rice cakes, or 'nian gao'
Sweet rice balls ('tong yuen') for dessert

Recipes for lots of these are in Chinatown Kitchen, too.


Clean your house before the 27th.
Try and see as much family as you can.
Wear as much red as possible. Even your pants.


Cut your hair. You're cutting the wealth out! Some even don't wash their hair for the first few days.
Snip long noodles shorter. Noodles resemble longevity.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Mercato Metropolitano, Borough (ish)

Last November I cycled 480km across Ghana with Child.Org, a brilliant charity doing great things in Africa. I'd wanted to do something of the sort ever since I was due to cycle London to Paris over three days in 2014, but a silly accident on a trampoline involving a lot of rosé curtailed that challenge, and my ankle for a good 6 months. All that training (questionable) needed to be put to use, so I bullied my friend into coming to Ghana with me. In the lead up to the trip, we spent many weekends gawping at huge houses as we hauled our arses repeatedly up the Surrey Hills, pedalled across the Essex countryside in the freezing pissing rain, and negotiated the A21 and miles of traffic through Kent.

Nothing could really prepare us for the heat and humidity that awaited us, though. No amount of training in England's Autumn can make you comfortable with 38 degrees in the shade, and 90% humidity. It was like cycling through soup. Some cried. Some almost fainted (hello!). There's no pretence of being comfortable; coupled with the factor 50 you have to slather on thickly, you soon become one big soggy mess. It was hard, and tiring, and at points a bit scary, and frustrating, and sometimes really tedious, and invigorating, empowering and joyful, and by day 3 I wanted us to extend that 5 days by another 5. Turns out you do get used to it. All that lovely sponsorship money powered me through too. And jelly snakes.

Anyway, there's nothing like a really challenging shared experience like that to help you bond with your companions. It wasn't even day 2 and we, almost perfect strangers, were asking each other "how's your bum?" On our long, sweaty days over many kilometres I'm fairly certain I talked shit to all 60 of my fellow riders, one of which was one of Child.Org's trustees, Ben, and we gleaned that I like food, and Ben works with Mercato Metropolitano on their social media side, so thus we arranged a tour of this exciting new food market. (There was a point to this story, see?)

Mercato Metropolitano is on Newington Causeway, a bleak road that connects Borough and Elephant and Castle. There's not a lot going on there, but what with Bankside and Southwark regenerating faster than you can say the word, it's only a matter of time before it becomes the hot new place. The market is a shining beacon of warmth and deliciousness; it is huge - housed within an old paper factory, it has a definite warehouse feel about it. Braziers and stoves burn in outside spaces, while inside was toasty warm, street food vendors lining the edges, and benches providing ample seating in the middle. I've long lamented street food festivals which now seem to be all queues, smoky from bonfires and balancing plates while awkwardly standing and trying not to splash burger juice on my coat. God I sound like a grumpy grandma.

We visited before Christmas and Mercato Metropolitano was festivity personified. A small choir sang carols on a stage, and a huge beautiful tree dominated. I noticed that none of the stalls had any branding - all of them remain largely generic, which seems slightly peculiar to me. Our first stop was an oyster and bellini truck, and our bellinis were made with the rim of the glass being painted with liquid chocolate. This was a new one on me, and goddamn it was delicious. I'd like all my rims painted with chocolate please (too much?).

What followed was a whirlwind of food, a flurry of dishes and the only thing to do in this situation is to eat as quickly as possible as it takes a while for your brain to catch up that the body is full, so that once it does register you're fit to burst. Nothing a sluggish cycle home can't fix. Argentinian steak sandwiches came first, from a menu that hovered around the £7 mark for a hefty sandwich. Amusingly the 'vegan grill' consists of aubergines and Provolone. This one was surprisingly light, the bread crisp and airy. The steak was so tender that you don't get that thing where when you bite into it the whole steak comes out and is left flapping against your chin. Drives me mad, that.

One of the stalls, called Tiny Leaf, was absolutely beautiful; plants grew out of the walls, and it was living greenery and health and freshness all in one place. They're vegetarian, organic and work on a zero waste principle. The bubble and squeak cake, served on top of romesco sauce was further topped with pickles and herbs.

The chap manning the rotisserie chicken stall went to great lengths to describe their French, slow-grown chickens, so deeply flavoured they're sometimes mistaken for guinea fowl. The skin came burnished, the meat juicy. A ginger and chilli sauce was incredibly moreish, and even more so with a double-dunk of sauce and aioli. A very Frenchly dressed salad had a big hit of mustard. If I still worked at Bankside their chicken, chips and a green salad for £6.50 would be a difficult lunchtime option to beat.

I was less keen on their pulled pork burger. The sweet, glazed brioche bun was a good example of its type, but the combination of mashed avocado and chicken was a little bland, and in any case I'm not sure why you'd 'pull' chicken when you could deep fry or simply roast it.

We were hitting defcon 9 levels of stuffedness by the time we got this tapas board, but the little empanadas were deceptively light, given their deep fried status. Boquerones were soused in vinegar and the meats were of high quality, served as is traditional with those little bread torpedoes. I've sampled better croquettes elsewhere - it's really hard to beat José's, or Barrafina's.

Still though, there were arepas to be had. I've never had one before and I wasn't expecting much - it just looks like a pitta pocket? - but I was blown away by this one. Cooked in front of us, the circular rounds of bread were pressed onto the flat grill, then split open and stuffed with chicken, tomatoes, and salsas. The bread was crisp and light - made with maize flour, they take on a light corn flavour and a great texture, light and fluffy inside. I wish I could have eaten more of this, my favourite of the night.

We threw the towel in at this point - the pizza and fritto misto stalls would have to wait for another visit, the fresh pasta and mozzarella bar for next time - and we headed for dessert.

Build your own tiramisu. Hello, second stomach! 

Yup, it is just as glorious as you'd imagine. You can choose from a selection for every stage of this dessert, from the sponge finger base, to fruit, chocolates and custards. I was the literal kid in a sweet shop, face pressed up against the glass, jabbing at my selections.

Mercato Metropolitano isn't going to win any trend awards. You won't find the next hot young taco-slinger here, nor will you come across many kimchi-chicken-chipotle-bulgogi-sushi-doughnuts. Predominantly European food, with a couple of Japanese and Vietnamese stalls dotted about, the emphasis here is on good, high quality produce. They have a big grocery shop where you can buy cured meats and cheeses, fresh pastas, dried pasta and speciality Italian products. I've already bought Sicilian sausages, and fresh burrata to eat at home. They host events such as pasta making workshops, or ukelele sing-a-longs, and string quartets play. It feels like a grown-up version of Street Feast, one you can take your mum to for a glass of wine and a pizza and have a comfortable and warm sit down, or stop off on your way home from work for some good charcuterie, or bits for dinner. Maybe with a sneaky arepa on the side. And a tiramisu.

Mercato Metropolitano
42 Newington Causeway
London SE1 6DR

Open Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 11pm, Sunday 10am - 9pm

I was Ben's guest so I didn't pay for anything but as always all views are my own.