Sunday 30 September 2012

FM Mangal, Camberwell

I've never been much good at Turkish food. Every single time I've been to an ocakbasi, without fail, I've stuffed myself silly on mezze, filling up on hummous and taramasalta, those grilled breads shovelling various dips and paste until I'm too full for my main course. The grilled meats take a back seat while I forlornly pick at them, willing my digestive system to hurry up and do it's thing. 

The same was almost true of when I visited FM Mangal, in Camberwell. A favourite of the critics, I'd heard much of the grilled onions in magic sauce (top photo). We managed to refrain from over-ordering, probably much down to Cherry who had been before. She carefully guided me towards one shared starter and a shared main. I was doubtful - are we sure we don't want more? - she was confident, and I am pleased I took heed. 

Those grilled onions, complimentary at the beginning of the meal, were indeed magic. Charred and slightly bitter, they bathed in a sweet and sour sauce that was pink from pomegranate. Thin breads dusted with spice and glistening with fat were excellent dunkers. 

Grilled aubergines were slathered with a spicy tomato sauce. Falling apart with tenderness, they were a good example of a well-treated aubergine. Our mixed grill main had tiny little lamb ribs, succulent chicken wings, a chop and a kofte or two. The rice, plump with butter finished us off. 

We both walked away with change from a £20, after a couple shots of Amaretto-like liqueur on the house; the straight-forward but smiling waitresses waved us off into the night. It's not going to win any Michelin stars, but I'm pretty damn pleased to have a local that serves me a magic sauce - and no, they won't give you the recipe. 

FM Mangal
54 Camberwell Church Street
London SE5 8QZ 

020 7701 6677

FM Mangal on Urbanspoon

Sunday 23 September 2012

Asian Red Cabbage Slaw

I gained half a stone in Toronto. I KNOW. I could hardly believe it either; what with the burgers, the all-you-can-eat sushi, poutine and deep fried pickles. Upon my return, a health drive was top of the agenda and I started off with making a batch of red cabbage slaw. 

I've found it hard to decipher where it's from so let's just call it Asian, though with the mint, lime and coriander I would crudely lump it in the Vietnamese category. This isn't a claggy, mayonnaise laden affair - those have a place in my heart too, usually when I don't resemble a fattened goose - but instead it's dressed with citrus, making it tangy, crunchy and lively. Served with salmon steamed with ginger, I felt pretty healthy and smug after eating it.

Asian Red Cabbage Slaw

Serves 4 as a side

1/2 a red cabbage
3 carrots
2 spring onions
2 inches ginger, minced
1 red birds eye chilli
1 lime
3 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp white sugar
1 handful of mint
1 handful of coriander
1 tsp sesame oil

In a large mixing bowl, add the soy sauce to the juice of the lime, the chopped up chilli, minced ginger, vinegar and sugar. Mix well. 

Halve the red cabbage and remove the tough white core. Shred finely and add to the big bowl. Julienne the carrots (I have a nifty peeler that does this) and shred the spring onion. Add to the cabbage with the finely chopped mint and coriander. Toss well with the dressing and add the sesame oil, and toss again. Use your hands for this, it's easier. Leave to stand for 5 minutes before serving. It keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Eating in Toronto, Canada

I spent just over a week in Canada - mainly Toronto, with a countryside jaunt to Penetanguishene. Yes, I can't pronounce that either. Toronto was perfect for sightseeing (EATING) with 25 degrees and sunshine every day. We wandered around happily, devouring bags of pickle-flavoured Doritos and bacon chipotle popcorn, willing our digestive systems to do its thing so that we could stuff another meal in. Here's some of the things that made me fat. 

Upon our arrival we headed for Chinatown where we witnessed a spring roll eating competition. Two of the three competitors managed a pitiful 4 in 6 minutes. We heckled, and then headed for Mother's Dumplings. Well-flavoured with thin skins and decent crisp bottoms, the pork and prawn potstickers came as 10 priced at around £5 (top picture). Siu long bao, those broth-filled dumplings that are so hard to get good were listed as 'juicy pork buns' on the menu. Left to cool down for as long as we could bear, I caved in and delicately grabbed one, with only mild burnage from the exploding dumpling. It's a real skill, judging and being able to wait until the dumplings are of temperate heat. The dumpling skins were just the right thickness to hold their contents, and the broth was appropriately porky and full of ginger flavour. 

Mother's Dumplings on Urbanspoon

We were staying in Koreatown so a lunch there was inevitable. It was a particularly hot day which prompted me to order the Naengmyeon in an empty Korea House - buckwheat noodles, served in an icy cold noodle soup. The soup even had ice floating in it, so cold it was. The noodles had a great chewiness to them and I was pleased the waitress had come with scissors to cut them into manageable lengths as I was victim of the noodle flap. Garnished with half a boiled egg and a seriously chewy, dry piece of beef, this was a vinegary dish; the slices of radish are pickled, and it was served with a bottle of vinegar on the side so that you can add more to your taste. Refreshing, though I found the one-flavourness of it all a bit dull by the end of it. But no matter, as little dishes (provided FREE, as it should be - you hear, London?) of banchan - two types of kimchi, some seasoned bean sprouts, seasoned seaweed and a totally awesome potato marinated in something salty and sweet - broke up the monotony. I have no idea whether this is the best place to eat in K-Town, but my friend's stew and a noodle dish were pretty good too. 

Korea House on Urbanspoon

Banh Mi Boys was recommended to me by the lovely Shayma and happily it turned out to be almost next door to where we had arranged to go boozing that evening. It was meant to be. Inside, you park a friend at one of 10 or so seats while you go and place your order and wait for the food. The menu reads well, with a selection of banh mi, Korean-style tacos and steamed baos. I went for a classic lemongrass-grilled pork banh mi - a bargain at £3.50ish - with a side of kimchi fries. The banh mi was excellent, properly airy and light baguette with intenselyporky pork that was juicy from its marinade. Pickled carrot and daikon was in abundance and provided a crunchy contrast to the meat. Kimchi fries were thin skin-on chips topped with pulled pork, kimchi, spring onion and mayo; despite its name, the kimchi seemed an ingredient too far but they were still hoovered up quick smart.

Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon

Speaking of chips, we couldn't very well go to Canada without trying poutine, could we? Chips topped with gravy and cheese curds was never going to sound massively appealing, but they were awesome drunk food, and I imagine it would also be awesome hangover food.
Poutini's House of Poutine serves only that, with standing room to enjoy your gravy-drenched chips interspersed with squeaky curds. We went for the classic, while my friend went for 'the works' - topped with bacon, sour cream and chives. I'm surprised he didn't die of a heart attack then and there. Compared to another poutine we had (at Holy Chuck), the gravy was more peppery but had decent beef flavour. 

Poutini's on Urbanspoon

It was at
Holy Chuck that we had awesomely beefy burgers. The only day it rained, we took shelter by stuffing our faces with them, poutine and bacon panko-crusted deep fried pickles. The menu (PDF alert!) is massive and daunting as well as slightly terrifying (check out the Go Chuck Yourself) but I finally decided on the Big Bad Wolf. At around £6, it was two patties fried in 'ball park mustard' and topped with caramelised onions and cheese. Cooked medium as standard, it was so juicy and beefy the juices ran down my hands almost to the elbow. The deep fried pickles, thick cut and served with a spicy mayo were glorious. The poutine was addictive. I'm drooling a little, recalling this meal actually. 

Holy Chuck on Urbanspoon

La Carnita was recommended to us and we popped by for a taco snack before our dinner plans. Once a street van and now a permanent fixture, La Carnita was opened by a couple of chaps from a digital design agency. We sat outside so I can't comment much about the decor, but the tacos were far from authentic Mexican street food; instead they were presented prettily, with modern takes on them such as using apple and mango as part of the toppings. We were big fans of the ox tongue tostada (back left) and the battered fish taco was greaseless and light. I wish we'd gone back for a more thorough work out of the menu. For a more traditional take on tacos, we liked El Trompo on Kensington Market. Good margaritas too.

La Carnita on Urbanspoon

A trip to St Lawrence Market saw us eating three lunches. We started off with a Canadian speciality; peameal bacon. More like a ham steak these were half an inch thick and crusted with corneal. It was like an awesome ham sandwich. 

Downstairs, we couldn't resist the meatball godfather. Holy god. In a soft bun, firstly breaded and deep fried aubergine slices covered the base of the bun. 3 meatballs, sliced in half and topped with red sauce went on top of that. Another slice of aubergine followed, with hot peppers (which were really freaking hot) softened with onions and mushrooms. More red sauce. Then the lid. It was bigger than my face. 

Back at ground floor level, Buster's Sea Cove offers various fish in sandwich format or to serve it with salad, fries or rice, mostly under a tenner depending on what type of fish you  choose. We opted for a sandwich - beautifully fried fish with tartare sauce and a little salad in thin, crisp bread. We also got grilled calamari that was dressed in a garlicky, lemon and parsley sauce. The squid took on the flavours of the charcoal grill, and was tender and smoky. The slaw was thankfully mayonnaise-free, and I was only sad we couldn't fit in a portion of fries as they looked like the skin-on, crispy, curly version. Who doesn't love curly fries? (Don't say you. Then we couldn't be friends.) Be warned; the market isn't open on Sundays or Mondays.
Buster's Sea Cove on Urbanspoon

And finally, I had to indulge in my guilty pleasure. McDonald's fillet o' fish. But in Toronto they have DOUBLE fillet o' fish! Double deliciousness. Don't judge me. 

Sunday 2 September 2012

Duck & Waffle

If you follow the people I do on Twitter, you'll have heard an awful lot about Duck & Waffle. An awful lot indeed. It almost put me off going, so much were people wanging on about it, and then I realised that it must be quite good to generate such a buzz, and I should stop being so grumpy. 

My vertiginous friend and I gingerly stepped into the glass-walled lift that would take us up the 39 floors of The Heron Tower in Bishopsgate, to deposit us in the bar area. Orange-dressed women wafted us up a curved flight of orange stairs, as we stared agape at the view. Hello, London.

The restaurant itself was smaller than I imagined, with a open kitchen where you might want to watch the chefs at work. I'm unsure as to why you would, with the view before you; the three of us were mesmerised by it. Later, when it became dark, the fireworks of the Paralympics Opening Ceremony were visible. 

The head chef, Dan Doherty, was previously of The Old Brewery in Greenwich and we've long chatted over Twitter, though never actually met. He kindly sent us some crispy pigs' ears (£4), spiced with barbecue flavours and served in a paper bag with a wax seal. These were chewy and salty, nicely spicy, sometimes crunchy. They were seriously addictive, and possibly better than tooth-shattering pork scratchings. Maybe. 

We'd given this burrata, served with pickled pink onions, capers and leaves (£9) a good poke by the time this picture had been taken and it spilled its contents all over the place. The bland creaminess paired with the sharp, peppery salad was a delight, and I wished we'd ordered some bread. 

An oozy Scotch egg was jazzed up with using smoked haddock (£6) instead of pork, and served with a curried mayonnaise. This was pleasant enough but a bit on the salty side with a slightly chewy crust and I wondered whether anything really could beat pork wrapped around an egg. 

Bacon-wrapped dates with dandelion salad (£7) was a flavour bomb. The dates were actually stuffed with a spiced sausage before being wrapped in bacon, so it was pure meatiness with some background sweetness. I really enjoyed this - it needed the bitter dandelion salad to help you along the richness - and you couldn't really eat more than one.

Mussels & clams with 'nduja and fennel broth (£10) was served with the house bread. Puffy and soft, we alternated between using this for the burrata and the shellfish juices, and it soaked them up like a dream. The mussels were small and sweet, the broth meaty and moreish. I wished more of the clams were open. Octopus braised with chorizo (£11) was smoky and tender, a generous portion.

Ahh the eponymous dish, the duck & waffle (£13). It sounds awful on paper; confit duck leg? Egg? Waffle and maple syrup...? But actually it was freaking delicious. The more mustardy maple syrup I drenched on it the better it was. It's a sharing dish, due to its richness (3 of us shared it) but what a dish it is, and well worthy to be the star of the show. 

Desserts for me are usually an 'oh fine, if everyone else is', and it is not often I get excited about them. However, the torrejas with maple caramel apples (£7) was ordered for us to share and glad I am we did too as it was one of my favourite dishes of the night. The torrejas was a brioche-like French toast type thing, soaking up the maple apple juices. It smelled amazing, and tasted as such with the ice cream tempering the sweetness of it all. 

Service was friendly and attentive throughout, and the room was nicely buzzing without being too noisy. There was a good mix of couples and friends dining with no sign of the braying suits that SushiSamba a couple floors below is reportedly plagued by. I loved Duck & Waffle quite a lot and we all tripped out of the elevator headed homeward and grinning. 

In the interests of full clarity, the kitchen were very generous and we were unexpectedly sent a few complimentary dishes. We paid for the rest. My full Flickr set of the meal is here

Heron Tower
110 Bishopsgate
London EC2

Tel: 0203 640 7310