Thursday, 27 June 2013

Peckham Bazaar - Pan Balkan Meze & Grill

Frog on the Green in Peckham are doing a series of weekend pop-ups. Owned by John Gionleka, he's doing these to give people a tester of the food that will be served at his new restaurant, still in the pipeline. I was invited along to a tasty testing session of dishes that will be on the menu. 

The table was groaning under the weight of colourful dishes. Spheres of a soft creamy cheese were dusted with spices, spreadable on bread. Watermelon and sorrel salad was a refreshing combination of sweet and citrus. 

I'm something of an aubergine fanatic, so I zoned in immediately on the imam bayaldi. Turkish for 'the imam fainted', I felt a bit swoon-some myself when I had a bite of it. Soft and luscious, it was sweet and balanced with sour.

Cacik (top) was soothing, creamy, dill-spiked and garlicky. It was punchy, crunchy bits of cucumber in there, and without that tell-tale sweetness you can get from commercially mass-made versions. This is the proper kind of meze, much like what I had in Istanbul, much removed from lazier, lesser mangal places in London. 

Skordalia, a type of dip made with garlic and mashed potato, was silky smooth and had enough garlic in it to keep the vampires away for a good few days after consumption. HHHHHHHHHHello. 

Salads are of the colourful, interesting variety; later on in proceedings, the cucumber and tomato salad was garnished with a melting block of baked feta. Phwoar. 

I didn't find many dishes needed it, but if you wanted some flavour perks dukkah, homemade za'atar and smoked chilli salt were available. They'd work great with the grilled fish and meat, though I couldn't stick around for it (curse my double-booking!). I walked past the outdoor barbecue with amazing smells billowing from it. 

So, in short, you should go. It's great value, it's delicious, and you know, Peckham's great. The menu for this weekend is here

Peckham Bazaar

Frog on the Green
119 Consort Rd  
London SE15 3RU

Follow John or Donald or Peckham Bazaar on Twitter for more details over the coming weeks. 

Friday, 21 June 2013

Pick n' Mix: Part 4


Islington's got a new fish n' chip shop. Unlike more traditional joints where you might find a greasy ketchup bottle on a formica table top, The Fish & Chip Shop is a rather more snazzy affair. Filament lightbulbs hang above the bar, red leather banquettes line the bare brick walls and at the front of the restaurant there is another bar for raw seafood. Their menu is atypical to a chippie too - of course you get your requisites but that also sits side by side with crab salad, rock oysters and fish curry. We visited during their soft opening for a preview and, armed with a Lady Marmalade cocktail, enjoyed a lobster roll immensely. Scampi and cod were both well fried and greaseless in a crunchy batter, though I was slightly miffed that 'mushy peas' were in fact crushed petit pois. Their curry sauce which we ordered to go with our chips was properly excellent. I loved the place very much.   

189 Upper Street, London N1 1RQ

The Fish and Chip Shop on Urbanspoon

We made a brief, if slightly tipsy visit to Mayfields on Wilton Way, Hackney. The whitewashed room is stark and it only serves to make the beauty of the food stand out more - everything we ordered looked so pretty. Duck hearts with green sauce were tender and perfectly pink inside, intensely seasoned and had us scrabbling for more. Braised ox cheek with herbs and jersey royals was bathed in a light but flavoursome broth - so often a heavy and rich meat, on this one day we had some sun, it was light and refreshing. I fully intend on returning soon. Sober. 

52 Wilton Way, London E8 6GG

Feast are back in town from 4th - 7th July, this time at Brick Lane Yard. Always a brilliant day out (especially in warmer climes) - I recommend gathering friends to tackle and share dishes to ensure you get to try everything. They have some new vendors joining them - Bonnie Gull, Pig & Butcher, etc. You can buy tickets here.

We went for a quick dinner at Dishoom, Shoreditch. On a balmy evening it was lovely and cool in there, though I wasn't so keen on everything we ordered turning up all at once, crowding the table and even before my cocktail arrived. I suffer from a chronic dislike of my food becoming anything but optimal temperature, so you can imagine my indigestion after I tried to stuff everything in before it got cold. 

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the spiced skate cheeks with tamarind dip; a good portion size for £5.20. From their specials, a lamb raan bun (£12.50) pleased us greatly; stuffed full of tender, spiced slow-cooked lamb with pickles, it was served with fiery blistered chillis and a soothing slaw. 

7 Boundary Street, London E2 7JE

Dishoom Shoreditch on Urbanspoon

Forza Win's press launch showcased two fiercely burning wood-fired pizza ovens. Atop a new rooftop in Shoreditch with dramatic views of the city, we sampled all the pizzas they'll be serving as well as a lovely Summery, fresh starter. Tickets are £30 and include a cocktail, starter, more pizza than you can shake a stick at and dessert, as well as entertainment. Pre-sold tickets are gone now but they release 10 tickets every Monday - follow them @forzawin.

Friday, 14 June 2013

A Quick Look at Baiwei, Chinatown

If I had to pick a cookbook that I refer back to time and time again, it would be Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop. The pages of my copy are well-used, splattered with oil and various bits of debris, and while I also loved Every Grain of Rice, Sichuan Cookery is an altogether more serious tome. Less pictures and more in-depth, it encouraged me to explore Sichuan cuisine further. Dunlop herself has a fascinating background as the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu, China, so she knows her stuff. 

Baiwei is a new restaurant on Little Newport Street and Dunlop consulted on the menu. Originally, it was controversially named 'Big Leap Forward' (by its Chinese owner, Dunlop claimed) but they've now decided upon Baiwei - Chinese for 'a hundred flavours'. When we visited for lunch I was surprised by the interior - I had expected something sleeker like Dunlop's other consultations, Ba Shan and Bar Shu. Instead, the room was spartan save for some Maoist propaganda decorations. Our table on the ground floor faced the dumbwaiter, but the star table appears to be the one in this photo, looking out onto the street. Other diners were directed upstairs, though I didn't think to poke my head in to have a look around. 

The menu is lengthy, divided into cold dishes and hot. Pictures accompany descriptions to give a better idea of presentation and portion size. Once we'd ordered, the dishes came quickly; we kicked off with cold sliver salad. Surprisingly wide chewy noodles were mixed in with slivered vegetables and pork in a vinegary, sesame-spiked dressing. Incredibly garlicky, incredibly moreish, though I do wish it was a touch spicier. 

We couldn't resist the cold aubergine dish, mainly because it was served with preserved egg (century egg). This came mixed well into the dish, the grey/brown translucent egg whites appearing every other mouthful. Eaten with some hot rice, this dish was really great. 

Lamb with roasted rice (made by steaming the meat and ground rice together in a bowl) didn't look entirely appealing on the plate being the big brown cluster of meat it was. Looks aside, it packed some serious flavour and the meat was chop-stick tender, though again while we could see the chilli flecks, it was lacking in any spiciness. 

Dan dan noodles with beef was the only dish that had any chilli-heat to speak of, with a slight tingle of Sichuan peppercorns on the tongue. The noodles were appropriately chewy. Once mixed together, the spicy sesame dressing made this a rich and delicious bowl of noodles definitely made for sharing.

The beef and coriander wontons 'in a rich beef broth' was the only dish that disappointed and I wouldn't order it again. Though the beef and coriander filling was nice enough, the broth was a bit unpleasant, a bit too reminiscent of dishwater for my liking. 

Baiwei had some really interesting dishes on the menu that I'd love to go back to try - indeed, the table next to us ordered a big dish served with flat-bread-like pancakes that looked pretty special. I'm slightly confused by the tameness of the dishes; at least two of the things we ordered had a big red chilli next the to menu listing, but it all seemed very mild to us. One can only hope it's not the oft-typical dumbing down of dishes for the Westerners. 

Their pricing seems a little off too - potstickers were listed on the menu at £6.90, while the dan dan noodles at their considerable size were £4.90. Similarly our lamb dish was at £6.90, though the gong bao tofu £8.90 - same with the 'pressed tofu and vegetable stir-fry' - it seems odd to me that vegetarian / vegetable dishes are more expensive. As it was, we paid £20 a head with (very good and polite) service for 5 dishes, 1 shared rice and a soft drink each. Pretty good value for the standard of food we had, though definitely at the higher end of what one would usually pay in Chinatown. 


8 Little Newport Street

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Licky Chop, London Fields

Last Summer, one of the most enjoyable afternoons I've spent was at Burnt Enz, a pop-up barbecue under the arches at London Fields. When one thinks of barbecue it's easy to conjure up images of long, slow-smoked pork and sticky ribs, as is currently in vogue. Burnt Enz had none of that; seafood and meat cooked quickly on charcoal grills, doused with interesting sauces and pretty dressings. And then they buggered off to Singapore. Sob.

Licky Chops, offshoot of Lucky Chip, has taken over this site this year. The grill area has moved across the yard, and big brick ovens installed. Not a burger in sight, the menu is just as interesting as its' predecessor. 

A lone octopus tentacle was smoky, charred and tender. It yielded easily under the knife and fork on a bed of jet-black garlicky sauce, to be mopped up by a few firm and buttery new potatoes. 

Mackerel had that same level of smokiness, and our plastic cutlery was defeated by the structural strength of the toast it lay upon. Bright, acidic tomatoes balanced the richness of the fish; it's not a new combination, but one done well. 

Asparagus, new potatoes and wild garlic was tasty, but a bit of a rip for the £6 price tag as it warranted around a mouthful each. Still, with the sun uncharacteristically blazing on us, the green freshness was welcome. 

Onglet steak with chimichurri was served very rare and seasoned generously with a good char. The chimichurri sauce could have done with a bit more punch. Fat, plump and juicy scallops in their shell came with dill and cucumber and while my friends weren't entirely convinced by hot cucumber, I thought it a clever combination.  

The ovens were put to good use for the aubergine, smothered and baked in tomato sauce and covered generously with cheese. Hake with coco beans that day was a beautiful chunk of fish, though the beans were over-salted. So while the meal wasn't entirely perfect, at around £15 - £20 a head for the food, it was really reasonable for it not to bother too much. The next time the sun comes out to play, I'm going back for more; their menu is always changing.

Thursday 5.30-10pm
Friday 5.30-11pm
Saturday 12.30-11pm
Sunday 12.30-9pm

Climpson & Sons Coffee Roastery, 
Arch 374 Helmsley Place
E8 3SB


Friday, 7 June 2013

Rochelle Canteen

When London's sunny, it is a wonderful place. It happens so infrequently that when I got an email from a friend inviting me along to his impromptu lunch booking at Rochelle Canteen, I ditched everything and jumped at the chance.

Rochelle Canteen is a well-kept secret, unusual, perhaps, for its location. Situated inside a school down the backstreets of Shoreditch, it is converted from an old bike shed and manned by Melanie Arnold & Margot Henderson. I skipped towards my lunch date armed with detailed instructions, for it is not exactly straightforward to find. Tables were set out in the sunlight, overlooking a pretty grassy courtyard; sun hats hung on pegs inside. A simple menu keenly priced and devoid of any fussy adjectives made me want everything, while a blackboard of specials tempted further. 

A whole globe artichoke with a bright yellow, creamy vinaigrette got us started while we deliberated on how best the four of us could try out as much as possible. Pork crackling was a crunchy, fat-laced delight, while Bantam egg mayo was soft-yolked and seductive. Carrying on an egg theme, a dollop of brandade (above) was whipped to impossible lightness, the accompanying pheasant egg adding a little richness. The toast soon ran out but no matter, we shovelled it straight from the fork. 

Initially I was a bit apprehensive of the rabbit offal salad with snails, mainly through ignorance of said offal. I needn't have worried as the liver and kidneys were cooked to a blushing pink, delicate and inoffensive in flavour. Each mouthful alternated happily between soft comfort and the crunch of a crouton, near-soaked with dressing. I'm totally down with the rabbit offal, though I felt the earthy snails perhaps a bit superfluous. 

From apprehension to downright excitement, barbecued quail with celeriac remoulade was the dish I had zoned in on instantaneously. Quail is one of my favourite things to eat - Barrafina's version perhaps being the best - but this one was damn close. I marvelled at how the skin was crispy and had the flavour of smoke and charcoal from the barbecue, while the meat inside was juicy and pink. Cutlery was abandoned for feral fingers, an inane grin on my face. 

They obviously know their birds at Rochelle; the chicken with green beans and aioli was a handsome dish. The chicken was a breast and a thigh, both crisp-skinned and juicy. Lemon-yellow aioli was punchy and a handful of green and yellow beans, generously dressed, retained their squeak. It was a fine example of simplicity in decent ingredients cooked well. 

Bream with cucumber and samphire was as well cooked, the flesh pulling easily off the bones. Happily served whole, it gave me the opportunity to have a dig around the head a little to extract the sweet nuggets of fish cheek (classic Chinese...). Meanwhile, the kitchen was near closing and thankfully one of the party begged and pleaded with the staff for a bowl of potatoes. I wasn't that fussed (and was, if I'm honest, borderline full) but when the potatoes presented themselves, simply steamed and dressed with butter, I had a little 'moment'. The Potato Moment. It was the sweetest, most potatoey, silken potato I'd ever had the pleasure of eating. I tried another to make sure - yep. Best potatoes ever.

After such a potato high, perhaps it wasn't the fault of the lamb that I didn't find that dish particularly remarkable; braised until the meat fell apart with fat, olive-green peas, the hint of mint was pleasant but I found it all a bit same same. 

After a little breather over some cheese (one variety only is offered - that day it was a goaty number) desserts sounded ordinary enough on paper. The ice cream was the very essence of strawberry, while a peach meringue with ice cream was both decadent and well-balanced with fruit. 

Rochelle Canteen is BYO and we'd enjoyed some fantastic wines by this point. By the time we'd paid (our bill came to a meagre £30 / head before service) the offices of Bishopsgate were belching their staff homewards. Not even the hustle and bustle of everyone trying to elbow their way home fazed me, and I remember thinking 'GOD life is good'. Not a lot of meals make me do that. I blame my sentimental turn on Those Potatoes. 

Here's the kicker though - they're only open on weekday lunchtimes, 12pm - 3pm (though you can also have breakfast there 9 - 11:30am and tea, 3 - 4:30pm). Whatever - find a sunny day, some hungry friends and clear your diary.

Rochelle Canteen

Rochelle School   
Arnold Circus  
London  E2 7ES
020 7729 5677

Rochelle Canteen on Urbanspoon

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Begging Bowl - Revisited

I'm as guilty as the next blogger of rushing to restaurants when they first open and making a snap judgement from them, as was the case of The Begging Bowl in Peckham. When it first opened I was there with a large table of friends and though their Thai food was nice enough, it was just that - nice enough. Their dishes were, I felt, well conceived but lacking a little in punch. Therefore, when I came home to find my housemates slumped in front of the couch on a Saturday night, wrapped in blankets and watching The Titanic, I commanded them to get up and join me for dinner. Anything to escape an evening of Cameron's drudgery (I saw it at the cinema THREE times, and sobbed all the way through on the last two watchings...).

Pretty damn pleased I did so too, as we nabbed the last table outside under the heaters. It was a difficult menu to choose from. Deep fried pork belly kicked things off, crisp yet tender, the spicy dip helping things along. We squabbled over the last pieces. 

Grilled sardines and raw vegetables came with a caveat that this was a fishy dish, and indeed it was. The dip had the fermented funk I've smelled / tasted before, and while one housemate found it overwhelmingly so, I thought it brave to serve something quite so... rotten tasting. It brought me right back to the meal we'd had at Nahm in Bangkok. 

Show-stopper was a whole deep fried seabass, garnished with deep fried basil leaves, shallots and chilli. The fish was decimated by us, prising out nuggets of moist and crisp flesh. Each dish was accompanied by sticky rice and jasmine rice, the former perfect for the drier more salad-like dishes, the latter more suited to soaking up an incandescently spicy vegetable curry. Air was sucked through teeth and sweat broke upon brow. The curry was pretty phenomenal - something so seemingly straight-forward and ordered really to fill the vegetable quota, it had so many flavours going on, perked up by a garnish of chilli and cucumber. 

Marinated raw salmon salad came with sweet and sour strips of green mango, quelling those flames the curry had set us alight with. Service was harried but sweet, and the packed out restaurant smelled reassuringly of spice and fish sauce. 

With a bottle of wine, we were stuffed to the gills (7 dishes is, in hindsight, one too many for 3 people...) for a princely sum of £35 a head. I feel quite blessed to have such a brilliant restaurant local to me, and quite smug that I got over my initial judgements to revisit, as it's a restaurant that's served one of my favourite meals in 2013 so far. 

The Begging Bowl 

168 Bellenden Road
SE15 4BW

No reservations

Begging Bowl on Urbanspoon