Eating in London

The new:

Dishoom. It’s taken me a while to get there and more’s the pity. Dishoom succeeds on every level. To a certain extent I mean that literally. It is an enormous area with four floors to choose from and yet it oozes atmosphere. The last few years I’ve been sacrificing, if necessary, food quality for ambience. I am not prepared to eat while shouting – like here and here – and my boycotts know no geographical confines.

Yesterday we decided to give Caravan a try; it being one of the said boycotted cafes, we hadn’t been there for years. Walked in, sat down. Noise from speakers being pumped out, like it’s a night club for the hard of hearing. People shouting over it. And it’s breakfast time. Seriously? I can’t believe all these people actually think shouting during breakfast is the right way to start the day. But apparently they do. Far out.

We went far out before we’d even started looking at the menu. Well, not that far, really. Just around the corner to Dishoom which has been on my list to try for a long time now. For those who don’t know, it’s a homage to the Irani cafes of Bombay and it’s visually stunning. In keeping with the vintage feel is layback jazzy sound at a level which can be heard or ignored. Voice level is at a happy buzz, not the loudspeaker shout of Caravan.

We were in our element, so bring on the food. Everything on the breakfast menu is tempting, but I couldn’t go past:

KEEMA PER EEDU
A Parsi power breakfast: spicy chicken keema studded with delicate
morsels of chicken liver, topped with two runny-yolked fried eggs and
salli crisp-chips. Served with home-made buns. (S) 9.50

Is chicken liver in keema a traditional touch or a Dishoom innovation? I don’t know, but it was genius. The eggs were runny, as advertised. I wasn’t taken with the buns, but that’s because I’m not a Brit. I ordered a plain naan, possibly an extravagance at £2.90, but the dish was worth it.

The other breakfast dish we ordered was:

KEJRIWAL
Two fried eggs on chilli cheese toast. A favourite of the well-to-do
Willingdon Club, the first such Bombay institution to admit natives; the
dish is reputedly named for the member who kept asking for it. (V) 5.90

That and a drink: a £10 breakfast of excellent quality.

We went back mid afternoon for a late lunch. Post breakfast, there is a full menu which is available all day. We were torn between almost everything on it, but in the end settled for:

HOUSE GREEN SALAD
Toasted pistachios and shredded spearmint leaves are jumbled with finest, greenest broccoli, fresh red chillies, pumpkin seeds and dates. All is dressed up with lime and chilli  (V)(N)(S)9.50

JACKFRUIT BIRYANI
Delicious, savoury jackfruit and delicately saffron’d rice, potted and cooked with mint, coriander and sultanas. (V)9.90

CHOLE PURI
Puffed puris lay next to a hearty bowl of spiced chickpea curry, with sweet halwa alongside. Eat altogether. (V)9.50

These came with a variety of chutney/raitas.

Fantastic. And a special word for the service here, it was perfect.

The revisited

Lantana It’s been a few years since we last visited this Fitzrovia cafe. It’s appallingly noisy, but doesn’t offend the way Caravan does, as long as you don’t want to talk, that is.

We were particularly taken with:

Smashed Avocado
on sourdough with poached egg, labneh, hazelnut & pistachio dukkah, courgette & fresh herb salad with your choice of
Bacon 11.5 or Halloumi 11.5 or Beetroot cured salmon 12.5

and

French Toast
Spiced poached pears, orange mascarpone & pistachio crumble 11

Coffee, tea and service were all excellent.

The reason we hadn’t been to Lantana for a while is that we felt like they’d dropped their ball. Like Dishoom, Lantana started out as a small venture, one cafe, and became an empire. Does anybody manage this and not pay a price? If the interest is in food, in having a cafe, why are so many of those who set up a cafe planning to take over the world? I much prefer cafes which are there for the love of it, not the empire building. Nonetheless, I have to say that both these mini-London empires have, at the moment, in their flagship locations, impeccable standards. I do hope they can be maintained.

The real indie

Savoir Faire We happened to walk past this slightly eccentric establishment and the menu looked both excellent and cheap. Their website proclaims:

This is neither a chain restaurant nor a franchise, it is a family owned and run restaurant and has been in business since 1995.

We cook all our food, sauces, bread, pates and desserts on the premises. Everything is homemade with fresh and natural ingredients. If we can’t make it, we don’t have it! We never use precooked food, flavour enhancers or preservatives. We only use natural butter, cholesterol free oils or olive oil.

Our wine has been sourced from the best wine producing countries in the world and the wine list has been put together with care, to offer the best value for money wines. The price you see is all you pay. There are no hidden charges and all the meals come with vegetables and a basket of freshly baked bread. We have no happy hour or buy one get one free. We try to give the highest quality food at the lowest possible price. There are very few restaurants that can make this claim.

And indeed, our meal attested to the veracity of the claims. We were in time to try their pre-theatre menu. A very nice selection of entrees and mains for £15.95/two courses. Lamb kidneys and bacon in a mustard sauce for me followed by pork belly with spiced pears and roasted vegetables. Oh, if only we could get French food like this in Geneva.

 

 

 

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Neighbours – Oz film #20

I’ve never seen Neighbours, but having been shown this extraordinary description of it by US writer Ann Patchett I feel as if I’ve missed out big time.

She and her friend Lucy are travelling around at the time, and are in Aberdeen Scotland:

After we finished up at the Royal Infirmary we had just enough time to make it home to see Neighbours, an Australian soap opera starring Kylie Minogue that the whole city was enslaved to. The streets emptied out when Neighbours was on. It was completely spellbinding because, unlike American soap operas with their split-personality amnesiacs, this program showed a world in which nothing happened at all, a world not unlike Aberdeen. In the two weeks I was there a character brought a guest into the boardinghouse where she lived and the guest spilled a little nail polish on the living room carpet, where she absolutely no business painting her nails in the first place. That drop of polish reached the level of Greek tragedy. Men discussed it in the pubs. Lucy and I talked about it for years. Truth and Beauty p.68

Wow. Just WOW!

Moong dahl soup

When we were in Leiden recently, I ordered the lentil soup at Voorafentoe, expecting the worst. Actually, it was a pleasant surprise. Good consistency, not a ‘kitchen sink’ experience. The curry flavour was rounded. In particular it was interesting to see that toasted pine nuts through it worked really well. I never would have thought to do this. As the soup had coconut milk in it, even less so – I guess I restrict my use of pinenuts to Italian food, and that’s for no good reason, I would seem.

Anyway. It made me come home with thoughts of making it. I decided to on something which could be a sort of master soup base, with variations to be added from meal to meal.

Ingredients

  • Moong dahl
  • ginger peeled and chopped
  • garlic peeled and chopped
  • onions peeled and chopped
  • ghee
  • tin of chopped tomatoes
  • coconut milk
  • water
  • chili
  • Julie Sahni’s Master Curry powder, which is my steady companion. Recipe here.

Method

Fry the onions in ghee to soften, add the ginger, garlic and fresh chilli if using and then on gentle heat, the curry powder. Fry for a minute or so and then the tomato, dhal and water go in. Bring to the boil and then simmer for an hour – that is to say, until the moong dahl is soft. Cool a little and puree.

That creates the base – refrigerate for a day to let it all develop a coordinated flavour. From then on, it’s a question of how you want to have it. Last night I added coconut milk, and served with salt and pepper on top. I didn’t want to salt the original soup as I thought it may depend on what one wanted to do with it next. But certainly salt and pepper transformed the flavour at the table.

Other thoughts: coriander leaves on top, as served in Voorafentoe. Yoghurt instead of coconut milk. I’m planning on adding swiss chard leaves, finely chopped to the next batch….And at some point I’ll try the pine nut idea too. Moong dahl is quick to cook and has a relatively mild flavour, which may favour the addition of other ingredients, letting them play a leading role, not be submerged by the lentil taste. Having said this, I don’t know what sort of lentils were used in my cafe experience, but I suspect it was the standard red lentil.

Tracks – Oz film #19

Tracks
Director John Curran
2013

What DO you have to do to make a buck in the film industry? I don’t understand what makes money and what doesn’t. How can this movie have failed?

The story is one of those truth stranger than fiction affairs. One could almost say that deciding as a young woman to cross Australia with a few camels for company was not a remarkable thing for Robyn Davidson. Her life’s story was not downhill from there. But it was a huge story which gripped the world at the time. Later she stayed with Doris Lessing whilst writing the book. And much later again, we have Mia Waskowska playing Davidson in the film.

What a versatile actor she is. Unrecognisable going from Only Lovers Left Alive to this, in the same year. And reading of her background, one imagines she might have been born to play Davidson. To think there was talk of Julia Roberts playing the role. There should be some sort of rule for movies with camels in them. The lead human shouldn’t have a bigger mouth than the camel’s.

If good acting and heroic true stories aren’t your thing, then you might watch this for the scenery and the animals. Truth be told, my impetus was to point out to Manny there’s nothing out back. He keeps wanting to go and look at it. Well, now he’s seen every darn dune of an entire desert.  I’m hoping that’s changed his mind.

The Rover – Oz movie #18

The Rover
director: David Michôd
2014

I’m a total sucker for post-apocalyptic films, this being no exception. The stars – and yes, I’m a sucker for Guy too – are backed by the amateur actors that make so many Australian movies. Eisenstein, eat your heart out.

The film’s website quotes Tarantino: “A mesmerizing, visionary achievement. The best post-apocalyptic movie since the original Mad Max. With the one-two punch of The Rover & Animal Kingdom, David Michôd proves himself to be the most uncompromising director of his generation.” High praise.

It isn’t surprising that South Australian is the setting of such movies, haunting, eerie and plain terrifying for town folk like me. The movie, like the setting, is unrelenting. The viewer doesn’t get a second’s reprieve. Maybe that’s why it has not well-liked? Mad Max had that weird humour, which is totally lacking here. I liked the movie a lot, but I can’t blame those who don’t.

 

Chicken in Red Wine

I’ve been the recipient of many a dish of this as it’s one of Manny’s regular offerings. It’s a relatively time-consuming affair, you flour the chicken, fry it, separately fry a whole lot of shallots, eventually the whole thing comes together and meanwhile he serves it with vegetables done in the oven with rosemary and garlic, which also takes a while. Lots of chopping.

However, he’s too busy all the time to cook now. Hence this extremely pared down, low effort version by me.

Ingredients

  • chicken pieces as you please – NOT breasts!!
  • red wine
  • onions finely chopped
  • garlic finely chopped
  • ghee (or butter, or olive oil, or other oil as you prefer or have available)

Method

I used thighs, drumsticks and wings. Wings will add to the thickening of the sauce, though my sauce is runny. For 2 x drumsticks, 2 times thighs and 5 wings I used about a third of a bottle of wine. Jacobs Creek, readily available in Geneva.

Heat a wide pan, add the ghee and when hot add the onions. Fry until quite soft, don’t burn. Add garlic towards the end. Throw in the chicken pieces and brown, turning. Now the red wine, bring to a bubbling boil, let it reduce a bit, cover the pan, turn to a simmer. You can turn the pieces a few times and/or baste, as the liquid won’t cover the chicken.

It made such an excellent lunch, it’s hard to believe that it will probably be even better tonight for left-overs.

Vegetables: in the olden days when Manny cooked this, we had potatoes, carrots and maybe brussel sprouts in garlic, rosemary and olive oil, done in the oven on a tray. Divinely good,  makes a meal on its own. I boiled baby potatoes and topped and stemmed green beans which were steamed and then quickly sauted at the finish in butter in which I’d toasted almond slivers. Needless to say, mash is perfect.

Options: I think a very simple risotto – garlic, parsley, lemon, chicken stock if you have it – is a great on-the-side for this. But having some cooked Jasmine rice in the fridge, I fried finely chopped garlic in a little butter (non-stick pan), added the cooked rice, and then the parsley. The juice of half a lemon was stirred through just before serving. Almost as good and much less work.

Tips: hard to overdo the onion in this. You want to fry them until they are soft without browning. This will have a thickening the sauce effect, along the lines of how Indian sauces are done. The original dish in our house had whole shallots fried separately and then added. I think that again, finely chopping shallots and then frying them until very soft before adding the wine, will be better from a melding into the sauce point of view. And shallots cook much more quickly than onions, useful to know if you are in a hurry.

The moral of the story being sometimes shortcuts work.

 

 

 

 

 

Four greens pasta sauce

Wanting some sort of variation on this green vegetable pasta sauce, I ended up with zucchini, broccoli, parsley and chives as my greens. This was a strictly vegetarian version with white wine. I also wanted the broccoli to be overcooked. Love the way Chinese dishes make almost raw broccoli work, but those aside I think it sucks if it’s underdone.

As it happened, we were in Leiden last week and I tried one of the top rated cafes where, as a change from soup and sandwiches (so often the offerings there) I had their pasta dish. At the time of writing, Bistro Noroc is rated #3 on Trip Advisor of all restaurants in Leiden. It is tiny and therefore has nothing like a proper kitchen. Food is kept very simple. The pasta included pesto, sun dried tomatoes and other bits and pieces. For me the zucchini which featured, was undercooked in large pieces which were hard to cut through and too big to want whole in one bite. It made me come back thinking next time I put it in a pasta sauce I’m going to cook it ’til it’s given in.

The advantage of over-cooking such a sauce is that the vegetables take on the taste of the sauce’s liquid, white wine and olive oil in this case. But you can have your cake and eat it. Overcook these, then add parsley near the end, just to wilt. And snip the chives onto the top when serving. Toasted pine nuts went in this too.

I suppose in general that using four greens rather than one for such a sauce gives more balance to your food consumption. And it’s a good way of using up bits you might have sitting about the crisper.