Sunday, 16 August 2015

Miso Polenta Bowl

Sometimes, an idea can be so bonkers it might just work. It was a Saturday morning and I'd risen from my hovel a bit groggy and absolutely ravenous. There was nothing in the fridge; well, besides half a courgette, an avocado ready to turn and some leftover spring onion and ginger magic sauce that is literally the best thing ever if you can be bothered to chop three whole bunches of spring onion. A lone egg rolled around on the counter-top, bumping together with three pitiful cherry tomatoes. There was no way I could face going outside. What's a girl to do? Improvise.

The nice folk over at The Wasabi Company sent me some of their sauces to try, and I've been actively addicted to the Champonzu (red top) ever since. At £12.20 for a 300ml bottle, it's going to be an expensive addiction but you don't need much of it to bring out the five different Japanese citrus fruits. It has a very savoury base, with zesty orange and yuzu notes. I wanted this in my brunch. A ferret around the cupboard revealed the only carby base available to me was polenta. An idea was born.

Typically I'd look for cheese to enrich the polenta with and give it some flavour, but... no cheese. So instead, miso for a little umaminess to pep that polenta up. It worked an absolute treat, especially once you factor in the molten gold of that soft-boiled egg.

Miso Polenta Bowl

Serves 2

150gr instant polenta
2 heaped tsp light miso
A knob of butter
Half a courgette, sliced into thick matchsticks
Half an avocado, slivered at the last minute to prevent browning
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 soft boiled eggs, peeled
2 tbsp magic spring onion and ginger sauce
1 tbsp + 1 tsp champonzu (you could use a mixture of 60% light soy, 20% mirin, 10% sake and 10% lemon and lime juice at a real push...)
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp chilli oil

Bring enough water to boil (as per the packet of polenta instructions) and whisk the polenta in. Add a lid half cocked and turn the heat low, and let it cook till you hear soft plop-plopping sounds. Then stir vigorously and place the lid on fully to cook for up to 10 minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn't stick to the bottom.

Meanwhile, heat the cooking oil in a non-stick pan on a medium heat. Fry the courgette sticks until they've softened, then add the cherry tomatoes and cook further until they're starting to collapse. Add the tsp of champonzu and remove from the heat.

Check on the polenta - add a large pinch of salt and keep stirring. It should be cooked at this point. Stir in the butter and miso until it has fully incorporated. Check the seasoning.

Assemble the bowls with half the polenta in each, then top with a halved soft boiled egg, the courgette and tomato mixture, the avocado, the spring onion and ginger sauce, and drizzle with chilli oil. Use the remaining tbsp of champonzu sauce to drizzle over the avocado in each.

(Got loads of miso leftover? Not sure what to do with the rest? My book, Chinatown Kitchen, has several recipes for it.)

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Camberwell Arms, Camberwell

I'm pretty lucky to live where I live. Not only is it also the location of my favourite Chinese restaurant in London, Silk Road - it also has my favourite pub, The Camberwell Arms. It's a pub - a proper pub, with proper beer, and no sign of leather banquettes or polished floors. At the front, proper cast iron stools surround the tables, and plenty of interesting beers and wines are on offer. Out the back, a dining room that still retains enough of a casual atmosphere which means I can stop by for a drink with friends, which more often than not leads to a bite to eat. 

The food is really great. They regularly post their menus online, and it changes often, depending on what is available. A blackboard denotes sharing dishes; of these, I've had the double pork chop twice now, and this has served 3 of us amply. Coated in a sweet, sticky glaze, the pork has proper fat to it, cooked just so that the meat slightly blushes, but the fat renders down enough to coat each mouthful. Most recently, it was served on a bed of rainbow chard, shot through with mustard and cream, to be soaked up by boiled, then fried new potatoes pressed into the liquid. 

Giant chickpeas, grilled cuttlefish and a splodge of aioli that bordered on spicy, it was so garlicky has been one of my favourite starters in 4+ visits. They use that charcoal grill well, the scent of barbecue permeating the cuttlefish. 

Potted little shrimps piled on top of a crumpet, absolutely soaked in butter, seeping down into the crevices of the crumpet is a rich little starter, one for sharing, lightened by pickled gherkins (top pic). Pork fat and scotch bonnet on toast is another one of those snacks; the panic-inducing fruity hotness of the scotch bonnet is prominent, the sweet roasted peppers mellowing it out. 

Other times, roasted calcots, those giant Spanish spring onions came with romesco sauce, nutty and fruity. 

Grilled roasted peppers drizzled in sherry vinegar were perfect in simplicity, and a green tomato salad dressed generously and dotted with fluffy mozzarella highlighted the top-quality produce. 

Big, gutsy dishes which sometimes aren't really a looker but taste amazing is what makes this place. A hunk of pork belly, crisp up top and fork-tender beneath came as a giant slab in a dish full of perky, comforting lentils. As a rule of thumb, come hungry. 

Desserts aren't fancy, but are well executed. I can't resist any of their tarts, especially if they come with some sort of fruit compote. Fig leaf ice cream, a single scoop, was all I could manage at my last visit. 

It's not a local pub in the purest sense; mainly because if it came to it I would travel for a meal here. You leave incredibly well sated, stuffed to the brim, probably a bit boozed. I brought my sister here, and when we left she exclaimed: "that's not a pub! The food is way too good to be a pub!" and yet it is. I love it. 

The Camberwell Arms

65 Camberwell Church Street 
London SE5 8TR 
t: 020 7358 4364 

Monday, 3 August 2015

CheeMc, Walworth Road

It's taken me a while to write this up, and I am placing the blame solely on the above. Soju. Freely available at Chee Mc, a divey little Korean place on Walworth Road, walkable from my house - at least I think so, as neither of us remember the journey home - and with an extensive fried chicken menu. I was tipped off by the ever excellent Su-Lin and me and my friend bumbled off there one Saturday night to try it out. 

They are really not messing about with the fried chicken. They sell them as half portions or whole in various different sauces, but you can also order a mixture of two types, which obviously we did. It is my motto in life that one shouldn't have to make a choice if they can just have it all. This one was covered in finely shredded spring onions, so dense and bushy we struggled to separate the strands. In any case, the chicken was freshly fried with a crisp crunchy coating. Tables around us filled up, mostly Koreans, though there was one lady on her own next to us, sniffling and sucking air through her teeth as she negotiated a portion of the chilli chicken. 

We ordered beers and soju, and were talked up to the stronger 19% version by our very sweet waitress who went to great lengths to explain everything to us. That's where things became a little... blurry. I had wondered what these ice-bucket-esque tongs were for, and looking around, people were picking the chicken up with them and eating directly from them. It was a lively atmosphere; lots of people drinking beers with big groups of friends. I liked the place a lot. 

For a little vegetable balance, we ordered some kimchi which was unremarkable but refreshing, spicy and crunchy to cut through the fried-ness of the chicken. At around £4 or £5 a portion it wasn't a great deal, but we also got lightly pickled radish included with our chicken so we were satisfied that we were not going to become vitamin-deficient. 

Our mix n' match was the 'sweet garlic sauce'. FFF me. It was honky. It was so honky, in fact, I feared it would linger until Monday. The garlic was indeed sweet, but wow, that garlic. Let's not forget the amount of spring onion I ingested too. Another bottle of soju to wash it down. The first text message I sent the next day said "I SMELL TERRIBLE". 

Woman cannot live on chicken alone though, so we ordered the cheesy ramen which was exactly that. Instant ramen in a spicy broth (Shin raymun perhaps?) topped with stir-fried onions and spring onions for added breath-effect, and then topped with a melted piece of slappy cheese. Friends, it was glorious. The cheese mixed in with the broth to give it some creaminess and to temper the spice. We hoovered this up. I have a recipe for something similar, called Buddae Jjigae in Chinatown Kitchen and it was developed as a hangover of the Korean War. The Koreans used frankfurters, spam and processed cheese in their cooking, left behind by the American G.Is, which is where this sort of fusion comes from. 

We boxed up the leftover chicken and paid around £30 per head with service. A not-insubstantial amount given it was a tiny little cafĂ© near the Elephant and Castle, but I don't think we went light on the booze since I was so unwell the next day I cried. Yup. Garlicky little hungover sobs. I'd go back though, especially since everyone else we saw had ordered the glistening, sticky red of gochujang on their chicken, studded with sesame seeds. And for that slappy cheese ramen. Hold that soju though.


310 Walworth Road
London SE17 2NA