Monday, 18 February 2013

Shelina Permalloo's Mauritian Pop-up - Review

Following on from my previous post, another cuisine rarely suggested when considering a night out on the town to sample the delights on offer, is Mauritian. My mum is from the motherland itself, and despite this I don't believe I've ever eaten in a Mauritian restaurant. Not because I haven't wanted to, of course. I just don't think I've ever come across one.

Course 4: spiced soft shell crab with mango and fennel
salad and sweet and sour tamarind

Actually, that's a lie of sorts. Since moving to South West London around a year and a half ago, I was almost beside myself with excitement when one day I found myself wandering through the stalls of Merton Abbey Mills (next to Colliers Wood tube station), only to hear a conversation in that oh-so familiar language and accompanying accent; a sound I only ever associate with being around family from my mother's side - Mauritian creole. With ears pricked, I was directed straight towards the source of this warming and unmistakable exchange of words and I soon found myself standing in front of a stall - a Mauritian food stall. Laden with home made Mauritian food. Including butter bean curry with roti, gateau banane (deep fried banana fritters), little jars of tiny bullet chillis, seriously hot Chinese chilli oil, and all sorts of other excellent edibles. Almost squealing with excitement, I systematically began to purchase my way through the produce on display whilst getting to know the lady holding the fort. If you're ever in those parts on the weekend, be sure to say 'hi' and grab a curry laden roti or four.

Shelina Permalloo -
Masterchef 2012 winner
One person who I believe has done great things for the cuisine is Shelina Permalloo, the very lovely winner of Masterchef 2012, a British-Mauritian and a self-proclaimed mango addict (who isn't?). I recall watching the series and feeling a sense of pride when she would throw back to her Mauritian roots during invention tests or when they had to come up with three course meals for the judges to sample. In most of the episodes she managed to treat the audience to vibrant and colourful plates of food from her heritage and every time she did, I was left writhing in stomach-growling pain from knowing just how good they would taste, but not being able to get my chops around the spectacle on the screen. Torture in its modern form.

So when I recently noticed a tweet from @shelinacooks herself speaking of a Mauritian pop-up restaurant she would be hosting (and more importantly cooking at) in London, I almost smashed into my laptop in a fervent frenzy to purchase tickets. This was perfect - it was my turn to arrange dinner with my two good friends Mel and Gavin, and what a better introduction to a cuisine they probably hadn't sampled before and that was so close to my heart. And let me just check those details again - five courses for under £30? I didn't even bother confirming the availability of my friends before buying the tickets - as if anyone could turn that down.

'So Mauritian food - it's just Indian cooked by French people, right?', at least an attempt from Gavin at deciphering this underestimated and lesser-known cuisine. But incorrect, all the same. Sort of. As I've mentioned in my Mauritian butter bean curry post, Mauritian cuisine is a wonderful mash-up of the tastes from a range of far flung lands. The tiny island manages to churn out people from all different ancestral heritages due to the numerous settlers that have made the island their home over the ages. In Mauritian food you will find influences from France, Africa, China, Portugal and India with many of the dishes completely unique to the island.

The meal was held at 
The Thatched House - a pub in Hammersmith and a part of London I don't venture to all that frequently. The front of the pub and bar area were soon heaving with clientèle,  the majority present for the culinary delights soon to be bestowed upon them alongside what were most likely a few regulars no doubt confused by the sudden influx of people anticipating a slap up and exotic dinner. On entering, I immediately spotted Shelina and what I believe to be the two other finalists from Masterchef 2012, feverishly toiling away in the open-fronted kitchen. Once it seemed full headcount had arrived and the kitchen was ready to begin service, we were soon ushered towards the back of the venue where tables were laid for 60-odd guests ready to receive their dinner.
Course 1: Chilli Cakes with Mauritian Coleslaw & Mango Mayo

The first course consisted of chilli cakes with Mauritian coleslaw and mango mayonnaise. These were harder than expected, in fact proving quite difficult to pierce with a fork in order to cut into bite-sized chunks. While the texture wasn't quite there, the flavour was good but all three of our palettes would liked to have been on the receiving end of a bigger hit of chilli in the cakes themselves. With our table being from Chinese, Tamil and Mauritian backgrounds, none of us are afraid of heat but I think the meals may have been tailored to a more Western palette, which I supposed is understandable.

Round two delivered to us a plate of f
ragrant king prawns with Creole sauce (rougaille) and pickled papaya. Vowzers. In all it's simplicity, this was one of my favourite dishes of the evening. A bed of a wonderfully flavoursome rougaille, taking me right back to the smells from my mum's kitchen, topped with some big fatty bombom prawns. Rougaille is a typical Mauritian sauce using plum tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and chilli and it was quite excellent. Add to that pickled papaya and you have a winning dish in my eyes - pickled anything always slides down my gullet with little resistance. Mel and I had no problems dipping the prawn heads into the sauce and sucking out the brains with gusto, even stealing some of Gavin's - his fire for prawn entrails burning less brightly.

Course 2: Fragrant King Prawns with
Creole sauce and Pickled Papaya

Third up was a course I highly anticipated after first reading the menu when booking the tickets - open roti with mutton curry, pickled red onions and a coriander and coconut chutney. I challenge anyone to tell me that doesn't read fabulously. And in reality, it met expectations. The roti was perfect - not too thin and happy to encase chunks of tender mutton devoured with fingers - no use for cutlery with this dish. Flavours were defiant and this pleased me. There was still room for more heat for my own personal palette, but this lacking did not detriment the overall quality. The only real faltering is that I could have done with more of it for the amount of roti there was. Or in other words, being greedy.

Course 3: Open Roti with Mutton Curry, Pickled Red Onions
and Coriander & Coconut Chutney

Course four certainly looked the part - a whole soft shell crab encased in a spiced batter, a mango and fennel salad and sweet and sour tamarind. However it was a little disappointing when it came to the eating. While the latter two mentioned were tasty enough, I felt the crab itself was lacking something, something to really wallop the chops. Was it acidity? Spice? Chilli? Seasoning? Maybe all of the above. Unfortunately, I found it leaning towards bland when compared to the other dishes and what I was expecting.

Mistakes can be permitted and that aside, the five courses were topped off with molasses biscuits, mango, lime, toasted marshmallow and a rum caramel. Yes please. Densely chewy sweet biscuits sliced through by the citrus from the lime and all beautifully complimented by the other flavours on the plate. My companions found this course to be too sweet for them which was interesting as I didn't, and I am severely lacking in a sweet tooth. I soon relinquished a position of defence once I realised the situation meant more dessert for me.

Course 5: molasses biscuits with mango, lime,
toasted marshmallow and rum caramel

The five solid courses were topped off with a sixth liquid - a shot of spiced (and strong) Mauritian rum. While I'm almost certain it was supposed to be sipped and savoured, Gavin decided to hark back to our university days and launch it down the gullet in one swift movement - and each respectfully to their own.

All in, the food was a delight. A couple of the courses could have been improved (namely the chilli cakes and soft shell crab), but an equal proportion of the dishes were quite magnificent (the praws with rougaille and the mutton curry). Shelina made sure to visit each table after service was over with a beaming smile and tentatively asking 'was it ok?' - I think she did great. As someone who is half Mauritian, I'm proud of Shelina's achievements in helping raise the awareness of this wonderful and diverse cuisine and I hope she continues to do so. I'll be waiting in line to taste anything else she plans to cook and share for the future. Did I mention she also lives down the road from me in Tooting? I may knock on her door for a cup of rougaille some time.

It's worth visiting her website as she has many recipes on it (including some from this evening) and I believe most of them to be Mauritian. It's not a difficult cuisine to try out and I'd suggest everyone to give it a go:

To sign off, a quote stolen from Shelina's website:

"You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius" - Mark Twain, 1896.

I should probably get myself over there at some point.


Alfiyet olsun.

Note: as the venue was quite dark I have stolen some of the photography from Shelina's Facebook page. Apologies for the two grainy ones that are still my own.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

korean at cah-chi - review

bulgogi - Korean barbecue cooked on the table top
There's a vast range of cuisines from the Far East and South-East Asia that are now almost omnipresent in our 'eating-out' repertoire. They provide flavours we have come to find familiar and actively crave. The hot, sweet, sour and saltiness of Thai; fat slippery udon noodles, spanking fresh sashimi and nose-busting wasabi from Japan; the fragrant Pho broths from Vietnam; and the aromatic noodles, light soups, colourful stir-fries and steamed delicacies from China. But when was the last time you heard someone express their desire to ‘go out for a Korean’?

It's likely you haven't, and this is probably because the Western world just doesn't know that much about the food from this country yet. It's a shame because I've had Korean a few times before, and had it again tonight at Cah-Chi in Earlsfield, and it is a cuisine that is yet to disappoint. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes that accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Commonly used ingredients include sesame oil, fermented bean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger and fermented red chilli paste.

If you're not sure if you've had Korean food before, you almost certainly have if your meal contained kimchi - the national dish of Korea. Almost ubiquitous in its presence at a Korean meal, it is fermented cabbage coated leaf by leaf in a delicious spicy mix of hot pepper flakes, garlic, chives, onion and more. As it ferments it develops a rich and slightly sour flavour - something akin to German sauerkraut but with spice. It whets the appetite like pickles do, and it's a little addictive. Quite glorious.

kimchi - fermented spicy cabbage

Along with the kimchi, I was hankering for some crispy seaweed and so ordered it roasted. It was delivered in a small pile in all its wafer thin saline glory. We were also presented with a complimentary egg roll, potato salad and soya beans. The latter were small, hard and nutty in a sweet sticky sauce - each individually snapped up and feverishly popped into the mouth between chopstick ends at great speed, they were very pleasant indeed.

soya beans in a sweet sticky sauce

Appetisers devoured, our starters soon arrived. At the point of ordering I asked the very accommodating and smiley waitress what she recommended for this course. Once informed that the pork and vegetable dumplings were made on the premises fresh every morning, I didn't hesitate to order them. And they were quite lovely – golden, light and delicate with a very flavoursome filling - dipped in some soy they went down a treat

kun mandu - fried pork dumplings

The waitress then began to prepare our table top for the bulgogi – an extremely versatile way of preparing beef and one that most Westerners have sampled at Korean restaurants. Typically in the West it’s cooked on a Korean barbecue on a hot plate in the middle of the table which is what we had at Cah-Chi. Bulgogi is very thinly sliced beef sirloin marinated in spices such as garlic, soy, ginger and more. Along with the beef we also ordered pork belly that had been steeped in similar flavours - both meats were delicious with the beef being particularly tender.

The waitress talked us through the journey of the food from plate to mouth which was best undertaken via a parcel of meat, rice, julienned spring onion speckled with chilli flakes and pickled radish wrapped in a lettuce leaf and dipped into some soya bean paste. A journey with a delightfully satisfying destination.

Accompanying my meal throughout was an alcoholic drink typical of both Korea and its neighbour Japan – plum wine. In Korea it’s called maesil ju and is often presented with whole plums in the bottle, one of which found its way into my glass. I’d describe it as a strong alcoholic fruit juice in the sense that it’s sweet, but not a sickly sweet. Having a palette that does not care for sweet wine made from grapes, I find plum wine delightful and it works wonderfully with the other salty, spicy and bitter flavours you’ll find in a Korean meal. It's also worth mentioning this place is in fact BYO on alcohol with a small corkage charge - yet another reason to visit.

If you happen to be a little further out in South West London, then Cah-Chi is without a doubt well worth a visit. With sophisticated interiors, incredible service, beaming staff, and delicious food, it’s not a place that will disappoint. A colleague of mine used to live close by and visited with his wife almost every week without fail and it was through his recommendation that I first tried it a while back. A recommendation I’m eager to pass on to many more.

Liked lots - food cooked at your table; plum wine; very friendly staff; great appetisers; kimchi; beautiful dumplings; free bay parking close by in the evenings; BYO

Liked less - the pork belly was a little fatty
Good for - date night; sampling this cuisine for the first time; exploring other areas of London

Alfiyet olsun.

[object Object] Cah-Chi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 10 February 2013

chinese new year in london

There are certainly perks to being friends with people who 'know people'. The friend in question in this circumstance is my very good friend Mel, and the 'knowing' is her adorable and very generous father Stanley Tse who just happens to be the President of the London Chinatown Chinese Association.

In case anyone missed it, this weekend hosted Chinese New Year festivities across the globe, with the biggest celebration outside of Asia taking place in and around Trafalgar Square and Chinatown in London. A fond farewell was said to the year of the Dragon, and a welcome '
Nǐ Hǎo' to the year of the auspicious Snake. Lea and I were fortunate enough to be invited along to share in the celebrations as VIP guests.

Each year these celebrations host a spectacle of Chinese culture where hunderds of performers take their place on the Trafalgar Square main stage, including the world-renowned Chen Brothers Flying Lion Dance and a variety of performers from Guangdong and Sichuan provinces.

We three had front row seats at the opening ceremony with the traditional 'dotting of the eye' ritual. 
According to Hakka tradition, the public cannot see the dragons until their eyes have been dotted - they did not come alive until the irises of their eyes were painted by several of the esteemed guests on stage.

The puppetry of the dragons was pretty fantastic and not something I'd witnessed before, complete with blinking eyelids, animated eyebrows and wagging tails. The acrobatics displayed on the tall, thin and very wet poles in front of the committed crowds was a great spectacle. The sky may well have been haemorrhaging for the whole day but the turn out was more than commendable.

Chen Brothers Flying Lion Dance
Upon receiving my invite a week or so ago, the print that immediately jumped out were those two often sought after words when reading any event description - 'buffet lunch'. And after listening to the speeches and watching the opening ceremony exposed to the bitter and wet February elements, the sustenance provided along with some hot tea hit the spot.

We laugh in the face of cutlery - go chopsticks or go home

Unending mountains of char siu pork - so very delicious

bean curd spring rolls filled with crunchy fresh bean sprouts and water chestnuts
Steamed buns filled with whole Chinese sausage

Pleased with our loot - this was only round one

These next items were my absolute favourite of the day, unable to get enough of them - even though I was fit to bursting I was successfully squeezing in more. They consisted of a char siu pork filling that you would usually find at the centre of a steamed bun, but were in fact encased in some sort of golden, light filo pastry parcel perfection and topped with sesame seeds. Oh my.

A half eaten close up - why not
Mel and Lea with the Chinese Money God
handing out red envelopes to the younger generation

If you've ever watched a HSBC advert around this time of year, you'll be well aware of the Chinese tradition where the older generations hand out red envelopes containing money to symbolise luck, protection and good health.

We said goodbye to our childhood many moons ago, but Stanley couldn't help but sneak us each a beautifully embellished red envelope as we bid our farewells. How chuffed was I - I've never received one before.

It was a great way to celebrate the new year celebrations, sharing it with the vast Chinese community present in the capital and the excellent show that Stanley, the LCCA and company put on. Bravo.

Kung hei fat choi and afiyet olsun.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Chorizo with spinach and garlic

Some of the best meals are the ones that have the most minimal of ingredients - simplicity is a virtue best found in food (as opposed to people). It allows each ingredient to individually grab its five minutes of fame on the centre stage of your plate, whilst still providing an all singing all dancing ensemble for you to savour.

I had the weekend to myself and so indulged in quite a lot of food related activities - my default pastime when nothing else is occupying my hands or mind. Making cakes, catching up on this months Delicious magazine, planning meals for the week, booking tables at restaurants, and so on. Time on my own often entices me to succumb to my every whim and fancy on the culinary front. I already knew on Friday that I'd want this dish for lunch on the Sunday, one my mum used to make often when I was younger. It has four ingredients and is really quite delicious. It doesn't get much simpler.

Spinach, garlic and chorizo with bread

A perfect weekend lunch or very quick dinner.

Serves 2

Two small sausages of chorizo
4-8 cloves or garlic (I'm always heavy handed - choose to taste)
200g spinach
Quality bread

Toast your bread under the grill while you get on with the below.

Chop up your chorizo into small pieces and dry fry for a couple of minutes. Add a bit of olive oil and add the thinly sliced garlic - fry on a medium heat until the garlic is cooked but not browned.

Turn down the heat, add your spinach and toss until it's all wilted. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

You can replace the chorizo with spicy Italian sausage if you happen to have access to a good deli - that's what my mum makes it with and it's equally spectacular.

Spinach and garlic have always been the best of friends in my eyes. Add the smoky heat from the paprika laden chorizo and you're onto something really good. Pile up little mountains of the spinach goodness onto the bread and get your chops round it quick time.

Alfiyet olsun.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Marmalade Cake

'Tis the season for Seville oranges, in case you didn't know. The observant among you may have noticed a new crate in the cirtrus arena of the fruit aisles displaying these lumpy and quite dull looking wonders. These aren't oranges you want to eat without cooking - they're not at all sweet, and are in fact quite bitter. While the season for them remains and we continue to find them in our greengrocers and supermarkets, kitchens across the land will have their weekends occupied with the making of that wondrous toast, panettone and brioche topping, my favourite of all the conserves - marmalade. That is what Seville oranges were bestowed upon this earth for.

In celebration of this annual event and to play my part, I wanted to make something involving some Seville orange marmalade without making it itself. Cakes and citrus have always been the best of friends, and so a marmalade cake it would have to be.

I've been lucky enough to visit Seville
- this is a photo I took of the world famous oranges

Marmalade Cake

A sticky orange cake not shy on the orange front. Marmalade, orange juice and zest in the sponge, topped with caramelised orange slices, and drizzled with a marmalade glaze. There's a few recipes out there but this one by Jamie Oliver fully embraces the orange in all its glory, and I like that.

Makes about 10 slices

200g butter softened, plus a large knob for greasing
4 tbsp demerara sugar
2 small oranges, thinly sliced
200g golden caster sugar 
6 heaped tbsp fine-cut Seville marmalade
4 large eggs, beaten
200g self-raising flour (or 200g plain flour with 2.5tsp baking powder)
50g ground almonds
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 oranges

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Grease the base and sides of a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Sprinkle the base with the demerara sugar. Arrange the orange slices on the base of the tin in a slightly overlapping layer.

Cream the butter and caster sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in 3 heaped tablespoons of marmalade, followed by the beaten eggs. Fold in the flour, ground almonds, a pinch of salt, and the orange zest and juice.

Carefully pour the cake batter into the tin. Place in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, until golden and firm to touch.

Remove from the oven and allow to stand for a few minutes. Very carefully, while it’s still slightly warm, turn out the cake onto a serving plate.

Prick holes in the cake with a skewer. Make a glaze by warming the rest of the marmalade in a pan with a little water. Spoon this over the cake. Serve warm or at room temperature with yoghurt, cream or ice cream. Or my favourite, with a cup of tea.

Alfiyet olsun.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Cheesy Veg Bake

I've been a bit unlucky over the past two weeks on the health front - wiped out for a few days by flu, shortly followed by a couple of days of mild food poisoning. Hence the infrequent posts of late. I blame the oysters from Tuesday's meal for the latter. Delicious as they were, I suppose eating raw shellfish will always be a game of Russian roulette to an extent - an interesting article on the risks from the BBC here. Enough to put anyone off, but don't let it. My standpoint is they provide enough pleasure to outweigh the possible infrequent bout of sickness - an occasional unwanted by-product that just comes with the territory.

For the past two days I had consumed three Weetabix, some milk and a biscuit - cramps and a complete loss of appetite prevented me from eating much more. However, this evening and thankfully in time for the weekend, my hunger finally returned and after initially forcing myself to cook with no desire to eat, the smells from the kitchen soon got the juices flowing and in no time at all, I was back to my usual self - hungry.

I was down almost two days worth of calories and dousing some vegetables in a cheese sauce and baking until golden and bubbling was as good a way as any to redeem them. And was also excellent. A cheesy veg bake it would be.

Cheesy Vegetable Bake

1 x cauliflower head
1 x broccoli head
4 x small leeks
50g cheddar
50g parmesan

For the white sauce
45g butter
45g plain flour
600ml full fat milk
150g strong cheddar

Preheat your oven to 200C (fan).

Cut your broccoli and cauliflower into florets and thickly slice the leeks. Boil in water on a full roll for a few minutes until just nearing tender. Drain well.

In the meantime make your cheese sauce. If you haven't done so before, it is incredibly easy.

Melt the butter in a saucepan - when foaming and the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until you get a sort of paste.

With the heat still on medium, add a big splash of milk at a time, ensuring you thoroughly mix with the wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth again, before adding the next bit of milk. Keep doing this until all the milk has been used. You'll be left with a smooth white sauce. Season to taste.

Take the saucepan off the heat and add your grated cheese, stirring until it's all melted. You now have your cheese sauce.

Tip your drained vegetables into an oven proof dish. Pour over the cheese sauce. Grate the remaining cheeses and sprinkle on top. Bake in the oven until golden and bubbling.

Superb on it's own and just as good as a side to a piece of beef perhaps.

Enjoy with a touch of guilt.

Alfiyet olsun.

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