Tuesday 28 May 2013

Red-Braised Beef with Noodles

Well... They were supposed to be hand-rolled noodles. You see, I went to Mama Wang's supperclub at The Dead Dolls Club and I was totally taken by their biang biang noodles, served with cumin-braised lamb (photo below). The noodles were chewy and rough around the edges, made by rolling long sausages of dough and slapped on a work surface to get a flat shape out of them. When I came to do some slapping of my own though, my heavy-handedness and eagerness to eat them shone through and they slapped straight out of my hands and into pieces. 

I improvised. In absence of a rolling pin, I rolled the dough out with a mezcal bottle, smirking at the indentations the bottle gave it. Still too thick and quickly losing patience, I eventually put the dough through a pasta machine to give it a more uniform thickness. Perhaps not entirely traditional, but it worked well enough and I was left with sheets of noodles, ready to cook. It wasn't until after I ate them that I remembered that I'd made noodles before, and a recipe much closer to the one I was trying to achieve was here.  

Still, the noodles made a damn fine change to rice, which I normally eat with this red-braised beef. Probably more suited to Winter climes, it's rich and comforting, spicy from the Sichuan chilli bean paste. Any cut of beef suited to slow cooking works here, though I find cuts like shin and ox cheek preferable to give some gelatin to the dish. Pork works perfectly well in place of the beef; a cut like belly would take it to ultimate decadence. 

Red-Braised Beef

Serves 4 with sides and rice / noodles

450gr beef for slow cooking, cut into bitesized pieces
20gr ginger, whole and skin still on, whacked with the side of a knife
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
2 tbsp chilli bean paste
1 tbsp yellow bean paste
1 star anise
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
2 spring onions, white only (reserve the green bits) 
500ml stock / water

Blanch the beef in boiling water then rinse and rinse the pot out. This is to get rid of the scum that clouds the broth. Place the beef in a claypot or a snug saucepan.

In a wok, heat up a little oil and stir fry the chilli bean paste with the ginger and garlic and the spring onion. Add the yellow bean paste, rice wine, then add the star anise and the stock / water. Bring to the boil and add to the beef. Put a lid on it and braise very slowly for 3 - 4 hours, until the beef is tender. Top up with a little water (or the stock if it didn't all fit) if it is looking dry. 

Serve garnished with the spring onion greens leftover, on rice or on noodles. 

Wednesday 15 May 2013


Exmouth Market is one of those places where when it's sunny, I'm sure it's lovely. On this particular May evening, it was hammering down with rain. Equidistant by about a mile from any tube station, it is what is known as a right pain in the arse to get to. When you walk inside Morito though, you can't help but feel immediately happier, from both the smells coming from the grill and the sunny orange tones that decorate an otherwise quite spartan room.

The baby sibling of Moro next door, couples are invited to sit at the bar (my preferred spot for dining, if I'm honest) while larger groups huddle around small tables that line the wall. Space is at a premium here; music is lively but the hum of conversations is at a decent level. 

It is described as a tapas and mezze bar; to me it was more familiar as tapas, with a few Middle Eastern touches thrown in. We were given samples of various sherries to taste as we had uhm'd and ah'd over the selection, the padron peppers a decent accompaniment. Alas, not a hot one in our batch, they'd have benefitted from a hotter pan but were otherwise pleasant enough. 

Salt cod croquetas were well fried and light, their insides flavoursome and nicely accompanied by the lemony mayonnaise. Spiced shreds of lamb with pine nuts and pomegranate was served on a creamy bed of mashed aubergines, and I wish we'd ordered some of the delicious-looking flatbreads to scoop it up with. Forks sufficed. 

Fried baby squid, called puntillitas, were perfectly crisp and tender, sometimes juicy in their little bodies. Sprinkled with sumac, they cried out for some sort of aioli or sauce to dip them in. Palermo prawns (below) with mojo verde were pretty stunning; sweet flesh and grilled with garlic, it was livened by the sprightly coriander sauce. A Mexican stand-off of hungry eyes met over the plate for the remaining fifth prawn. We begrudgingly shared.

Seafood seems to be a strong point of theirs, as demonstrated by a pretty plate of octopus salad and incredibly sweet tomatoes. Capers and red onion were boosted by fronds of dill and monks beard. An accomplished dish, it was a nice change from the usual paprika-dusted octopus you often see at tapas bars. 

Meat dishes, on balance, were less successful. Duck hearts and gizzards (back dish) sounded interesting on the menu but sadly weren't up to much on the plate. While the pork belly was well cooked with tender flesh and crackled skin, it was unbearably salty. The waitress gave me a shrug when mentioned. The morcilla that arrived atop the vibrant braised peas and orange was largely ignored, though we scooped up the vegetables hungrily. We were revived with meaty grilled asparagus spears, tarted up with chopped egg and dill. 

A meal of ups and downs food-wise, but we enjoyed it nonetheless. It might have been the bottle of Txakoli, poured at a height to emphasize the fizz, that did it. More likely that was the seafood dishes that really were very good, and the staff friendly and engaging. Oh, and that boozy finish of raisin ice cream drenched in sticky Pedro Ximenez to send us off out to the gusting rain. That helped too. 

Not cheap, as decent tapas rarely is for those of us with appetites. When I was approached by Match.com (who sponsored this post) to eat out at a date venue with an £80 budget, my research suggested that these days, £40 a head doesn't get you far unless you're teetotal. And no one wants to be on a teetotal date now do they? We smashed that budget with our £125 bill, but really a couple dishes less wouldn't have killed the mood. 

32 Exmouth Market
London EC1R 4QE

(No bookings. We turned up at 7:30pm which was fine - any later and it was packed)

Morito on Urbanspoon

Monday 13 May 2013

Malaysian Deli

One of the more vivid memories I have of my time in Malaysia in 2011 was a lunch prepared by my friend's aunty. In preparation for our 23 hour train from Penang to Bangkok, curried prawns in their shells were packed into plastic tubs along with rice, a boiled egg and some vegetables. Hot at 7am when we set off, it preyed on my mind that the rice was cooling, sitting in the Malaysian warmth for a few hours before it would be eaten. Some would call that dangerous - see bacillus cereus - but no one else seemed fussed. I threw caution to the wind and, some hours later, wolfed down my incredibly delicious lunch. No doom befell me.

I bring this rather gnarly story up as the food at Malaysia Deli, a new place in Crofton Park, reminded me much of the lunchbox Aunty packed up for me in its composition. For only a fiver, you get a box of rice with a meat or fish, some vegetables and whichever sauce you choose. I uhm'd and aah'd over each one, asking the nice lady behind the counter which was which while she patiently explained the choices. I finally settled on salmon with sambal sauce; when asked if I wanted it heated up, I elected not to. Hot rice was layered into the box, two crisp salmon pieces next and that fiery sauce. On the cycle home, the hot rice heated up everything else in there, making my lunch perfectly warmed and ready to eat. 

It doesn't look like much (I went over a few speed bumps...) but it was lovely - tender salmon, crunchy beans and perfectly cooked rice. But HOLY MOTHER that sambal. I wish they'd sell it as a jarred sauce. Sweet and spicy, I started off feeling a tingle of heat; by the end of my lunch I was sucking air through my teeth while my housemate laughed at me. Worth it, and I'd do it again. Though I might try the percik next time - described as a mild, sweet, tangy coconut sauce. 

Cute and colourful inside, they sell ingredients as well as meals. They have a few tables and open 12pm - 8pm Tuesday - Saturday, 12pm - 6pm on Sundays; I'm looking forward to revisiting, especially for the nasi ulam, a dish I haven't come across before. 

Malaysian Deli

338 Brockley Road, London SE4 2BT