Sunday, 28 April 2013

lahmacun - turkish street food

If you haven't visited Turkey, then you need to rectify that situation as soon as possible. And if I were to usher you towards any particular destination for your first visit, it would be Istanbul. Biased sentiments aside, it is one of the most stunning cities I have visited - glorious in its aesthetics and architecture; rich in cultural heritage intertwined with the modernities of the west; and with some of the best food you are ever going to get your chops around.

One staple of these and almost ubiquitous in its presence across the city is the humble but incredibly excellent lahmacun (pronounced la-mah-jun) - a Turkish flat bread topped with spiced minced lamb and diced peppers, layered with parsley and red onion, doused in lemon, rolled up into a taste bud torpedo and devoured. Mention this word to any Turk you may know and watch their eyes glaze over as they recall the wonderful simplicity and delicious flavour of one of the best loved Turkish street foods going.

If you happen to live in North London where a large Turkish community thrives, then lucky you. You'll be surrounded by excellent Turkish supermarkets and authentic restaurants, and you'll also be able to buy lahmacuns at about £2 a pop, so Matt tells me. He makes a beeline to the nearest vendor as soon as he steps out of Seven Sisters tube station when he's due to watch Spurs play at White Hart Lane, like a homing missile on a collision course - I can only imagine shoulder barging any obstacles in his way in the fervent frenzy that accompanies the anticipation of knowing you're about to eat one of these.

If you don't happen to be blessed with a lahmacun maker on your doorstep, then I strongly recommend you try making these at home. Once you've created your basic dough, the rest is as simple as deciding if you want go in for seconds or not. Obviously, you do.


Makes 4 portions

For the flat breads
350g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp salt
2 tsp easy-blend yeast
250ml warm water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the topping
500g lean lamb mince
2 x green peppers, seeds removed
2 x red peppers, seeds removed
2 x garlic cloves
4 x tbsp tomato puree
1/2 red onion, finely sliced
2 x tbsp sumac, plus extra for sprinkling
2 x tbsp smoked hot paprika (or pimenton), plus extra for sprinkling
Dried chilli flakes
Large bunch of flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
Strained yoghurt (optional)

Sieve your flour into a bowl. On one side add the salt, on the other side add the yeast. Make a well in the centre and pour in the olive oil. Pour in the warm water and combine with your hand until it comes together.

On a floured surface, knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands or the surface and is smooth and elastic - about 10-15 minutes. Shape into a ball then cup your hands around the dough with your little fingers against the table, and drag the dough to pull the skin taught. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and keep in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

While waiting for your dough to rise, you can prepare your topping. Brown the lamb mince in a pan and then drain most of the fat off - leave a little left. Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside. 

Finely dice your peppers and garlic (if you have a food processor use this as it gets them nice and small). Tip the contents onto a clean tea towel, then twist and squeeze as much of the moisture out as you can. Put the peppers and garlic into the pan and sweat in the remaining lamb fat until soft.

Add the lamb back to the pan and add the sumac, paprika and tomato purée.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in half of the chopped parsley.

Pre-heat your oven to 180C and if you have a pizza stone, place it in there so it heats up with the oven.

Tip A pizza stone transfers heat to flat bread very well in the oven. But don't worry if you don't have one, you can just place your bread on some non-stick baking paper on an oven tray.

When your dough has at least doubled in size, tip it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and fold in half a few times to knock the air out. Divide into four and roll one out into an oval or rectangle, relatively thin but not too thin. Place on a hot pizza stone (or hot oven tray) and partly cook for a few minutes so that it's not raw, but hasn't got any colour yet. While one is cooking, roll out the next piece of dough and continue until all four are partially cooked. If you want to save some bread and topping for the following day, wrap the partially cooked bread in some foil and keep the mince in the fridge. Then just continue with the steps below when you're ready to eat them again.
Raise your oven temperature to 200C. Now take each piece of bread you plan to eat in this sitting, and cover the surface with the mince topping - be sure to push the meat right into the dough with the back of a spoon.  Cook the topped bread in the oven until golden. 

Place a generous amount of parsley and red onion down the centre of your lahmacun, and douse with a load of lemon. Finish off with a sprinkling of paprika and chilli flakes, and you can add a few dollops of strained yoghurt if you fancy it. Roll the bread up, eat it, and then come back on here and thank me for introducing you to this wonderful food.

If you fancy watching one being made by a reputable chef and see just how easy it is, there's a YouTube video of Rick Stein rustling one up from his Mediterranean series a while back. The recipe is similar with the same main components. I'm glad he felt it a dish worthy of his show. I'm also glad that he acknowledges 'If I was 20 years younger, I'd open up a chain of lahmacun restaurants around the country - these would sell so well'. It is the perfect fast food. Maybe there's a business opportunity there - anyone want to go in with me?

Afiyet olsun.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

rosemary and garlic focaccia

This weekend has been most pleasant. Partly because of the sunshine, partly because I've been able to fully indulge in my hobbies. A combination of it being the weekend, spring (optimal planting time) and the sun donning its hat has meant an inevitable trip to my local nursery in Merton. I once again spent too much time and money on plants, but few things give me more satisfaction than putting something in the ground and watching it live and transform, attract wildlife, die back into the earth, and return next year. I can, and do, spend hours just observing my garden. There is always something going on, especially at this time of year. Watching fat furry bees heavy and drunk on pollen meandering from one petal platform to the next; pulsating peristaltic worms burrowing into the dark and cool depths of the borders; watching a male robin 'courtship feed' his mate from the sunflower seed feeder, getting her ready for imminent egg-laying. The list goes on. I don't have a large garden, but the life within it and the immense pleasure it gives me is deeply comforting.

So I got to do a lot of digging, lifting, planting, sitting, watching, listening in it today. The wonderful weather called for sustenance to match, and so in between admiring my anemones and pandering over my passionflower, I decided to rustle up a foccacia to have with dinner, thus allowing me to satisfy another slightly more obvious hobby of mine, cooking (and subsequently, eating). A focaccia is a flat oven baked Italian bread, wonderfully savoury and full with the flavour of good olive oil. It can be topped with a variety of typically Mediterranean toppings of your choice and is one of the e
asiest breads to make. It's also made from ingredients you're likely to already have in stock - a perfect impulse bake.

Rosemary and garlic focaccia

Makes one large focaccia, serves 8-10

500g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting

1½ tsp salt

Pinch of caster sugar

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast

Olives (whatever colour you like)

Small handful fresh rosemary leaves

A bulb of garlic

Put the flour into a large bowl, tip the sugar and yeast on one side, and the salt on the opposite side. Make a well in the centre and pour in one tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil.
Add 300ml of lukewarm water into the well and combine with your hand until it all comes together.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for around 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Shape into a round and drag across the surface with your hands cupped around it to make the skin of the dough ball taught. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in warm place until the dough has at least doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

 You can incorporate other ingredients into the dough when you knead it if you wish, such as chopped up sun dried tomatoes.

before first prove
doubled in size

Once the dough has risen, tip it out into an oiled large sandwich tin or a shallow baking tray (the former will give you a smaller and thicker focaccia, the latter will make it larger and thinner - I did the latter). Push the dough flat and right into the corners with your fingertips so it fills the space. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for its second prove, until it's doubled in size again.

Preheat your oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10, or as high as it will go. When the bread looks puffed up and airy, use your thumb to poke deep holes across the whole surface, almost to the bottom. Fill these holes with olives and garlic cloves. Drizzle the top generously (but not swimmingly) with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Pierce the dough all over with rosemary leaves. 


Tip Tilt the tray so the oil covers the whole surface. Also use the back of a teaspoon to ensure the oil has coated the rosemary too.

Bake for about 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to about 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden brown.

Focaccia is best eaten warm, but not hot; leave to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving, or leave to cool completely.

I also managed to fulfil a third hobby today - blog writing. All in, quite a productive and satisfying weekend.

Alfiyet olsun.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

pearl barley, pork mince and saffron orzotto

Well, I've finally managed to get back into the kitchen - it's been a while. Where I belong, some may say. Also, where I'm in my element. I think the lack of culinary exercise of late is down to a combination of a few nights spent in town trying out possibilities for the '
London Cheap Eats' part of the blog (some have made it, some haven't) and Matt making most of our meals when I have been around, just because I haven't had a chance to or I've been down right lazy when it comes to cooking up a storm. A bit of a hindrance for a food blogger, but it happens.

This recipe is incredibly simple. It is an orzotto which is essentially a risotto but made with pearl barley instead of rice. Pearl barley is my preference for this type of dish as it has a nutty flavour and retains a wonderful bite, unlike rice which can get a bit too mushy if you're not careful. You also don't need to follow the somewhat laborious process of adding one ladle of stock at a time - just pour most of the stock in, stir occasionally and keep an eye on the liquid level. A sprinkle of luxury is added to this dish in the form of delicate golden saffron strands which gives the whole thing a wonderful glow.

Pearl barley, pork mince and saffron orzotto 

Makes 4 portions

Extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
150g pork mince
200g pearl barley
120g spinach, roughly chopped
1 litre stock (vegetable or meat, or combine)
A bunch of flatleaf parsley, finely chopped including the stalks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A large pinch of saffron strands (optional)

Tip Pork mince often comes in packs of 500g. If you want to use up the whole lot, scale up all the other ingredients to make more portions which freeze really well. Great mid-weak saviours when you can't be bothered to cook anything.

Heat about one tablespoon of the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and pork and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and the pork browned.

Stir in the pearl barley and spinach and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add most of the stock (leaving some behind) and the saffron and give everything a good stir. Put the lid on with a slight gap and leave to simmer until the pearl barley is cooked - check the packet timings for an estimation of how long it will take. Keep an eye on the water level - if it gets low before the grains are cooked, add the remaining stock. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the saucepan with a wooden spoon every now and then to prevent the pearl barley sticking and burning at the base.

Tip The saffron adds a wonderful rich colouring to the orzotto but if you don't want to make a special trip to buy some, then you can leave it out.

Remove from the heat, mix in the remaining oil and parsley and season with salt and black pepper. Plate up and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately or allow to cool and portion up to keep in the freezer.

This is one of my favourite mid-week recipes. Enjoy.

Alfiyet olsun.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

quesadillas - a mexican start to the day

It's been a while since I've cooked up a storm. The past six posts I've written have been about restaurant reviews rather than kitchen concoctions. And ashamedly, today has been no different. There are few better ways to start the weekend than with a hearty breakfast and one of my favourites is this Mexican number. This is not something I ever make as it's Matt's recipe, and it's excellent. I urge you to combine this with a coffee - I've discovered that a hot mouth from the chillies combined with coffee is a flavour combination that works spectacularly together.

Matt's Breakfast Quesadillas

Makes enough for six wraps, each cut into three resulting in 18 triangles.
This will feed two for two mornings.

4 avocados
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
2 tomatoes, pulp removed and diced
2 large red chillies, finely chopped
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

Remaining ingredients
180g strong mature cheddar, grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped
Handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Soft flour tortillas

To make the guacamole, remove the flesh from the avocados into a bowl. Add the onion, chillies, coriander, lime, tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Use a fork to mash up the avocados and mix everything together - you can make this as smooth or rough and chunky as you like. I prefer the latter.

In another bowl, mix the grated cheese, chopped chilli and coriander. Heat a frying pan on a low to medium heat, don't use any oil. When hot, place a tortilla in it and cover half of it with guacamole and sprinkle the cheese mixture on top of this. Fold the uncovered side over and turn over so both sides have browned and the cheese has melted. Cut into three triangles and eat immediately. Repeat and enjoy. Serve this with a strong coffee.

If you think eating chillies at breakfast time is a bit strange, give it a try. The slight heat combined with the sour punch from the lime is a perfect way to wake you up and get the blood flowing. Make like the Mexicans - olé!

Alfiyet olsun.

This recipe can also be found on the Your Local Guardian website.

Friday, 5 April 2013

roti joupa caribbean - review


'When de drink de rum, when de girl drink de rum
Dey only want roti, mix it up with some curry'

Trinidadians love their curry and roti, it turns out. They even sing songs about it, which I highly approve of. Catchy ones too; I challenge you to listen to that and not move. Tonight, I was certainly drinking. Not rum, although it could have turned out that way if I had stayed out longer than I did. Mine's a vodka lime and soda if we're on the spirits. It was a good friends last day at work - he is moving to the country to start a new chapter in his life. It was his leaving drinks, and my stomach needed some lining.

While colleagues had noticed and even sampled the Caribbean Roti Joupa in Clapham North before, it only caught my attention when I saw it featured on Paul Hollywood's Bread series which is currently being aired. He paid Roti Joupa a visit to take a look at how they made a certain type of roti there called Bus-Up-Shut (here's a recipe for it I've found online if you're interested in having a go). There was a lot of technique involved of which Paul attempted and spectacularly failed at, followed by vigorous hitting with long sticks so the bread became crumpled and slightly shredded - hence the name sounding like 'bust up shirt'. This place is around a 10 minute walk from where I work and so was a perfect option for a, cheap, speedy and quality meal for the evening - roti and curry was exactly what I fancied.

Roti Joupa is mostly a take-away establishment but does have a few bar seats inside if you would rather eat before moving on, two of which Matt and I managed to secure. Wanting to see what we could get for £8 each (for the purposes of the blog), we probably over ordered and were presented with a huge amount of food. I ordered a portion of goat curry, bus-up-shot (roti), and a macaroni pie (baked macaroni). Matt ordered a chicken curry roti, poulourie (
little balls of split pea flour fried and served in a thin sweet chutney sauce, usually mango or tamarind) and 
a hot double (fried bread filled with curried chickpeas - like a hot chickpea sandwich). We of course tried each others food for future reference.

chicken curry roti

hot double


macaroni pie


The goat curry was my favourite - succulent chunky pieces of moist meat wonderfully spiced and eaten with the thick but light and soft bus-up-shot roti. A very pleasing combination. The chicken curry roti had generous amounts of meat and while it had a good flavour, I had definitely come out top with the goat as it wasn't quite on a par with it. The polourie balls would be quite dry and dense on their own but worked very well with the sweet sauce they were presented with. I expected the hot double to be in the form of two rounds of fried bread with the channa sandwiched in between, but the chickpeas seemed to be wrapped up in roti instead - I didn't mind as the bread here is excellent. The macaroni pie was a welcome mediation away from everything else and I happily dipped a fork in and out between mouthfuls of curry. We packed parts of what we couldn't finish tightly back into their foil wrapping, asked for a carrier bag and marched on back to the pub laden with doggy bags to consume when we would eventually get home.

This is a great choice in place of a filth-burger from the chicken shop 
when the stomach starts to rumble, and for the following reasons: it's truly authentically Caribbean and full of native regulars taking home good food reminding them of sunshine; while there's quite a bit of frying involved, the ingredients are of quality; the roti is truly excellent (if Paul Hollywood visited, you know it must be good); you can get serious bang for your buck; ; they play soca music while you wait. I'm going tomorrow at lunch time before another evening of drinks - I'm already looking forward to it.

Liked lots - bus-up-shut; goat curry; soca music playing; smiling staff
Liked less - lack of seats; homeless person sometimes staring at people eating through the glass
Good for - quick bite to eat; lining the stomach; sampling traditional Trinidadian cuisine

The bill

goat curry £5.00
macaroni pie £1.50
bus-up-shut £1.50
Total £8.00

curry chicken roti £5.00
hot double £1.50
poulouri £1.50
Total £8.00

Alfiyet olsun.

Roti Joupa on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 4 April 2013

tonkotsu - review

Soho Ramen

I’m not one to tempt fate from the sky-dwelling powers that be, but I think it may just about be safe to say that we are finally shrugging off the clinging cloak of winter. And by that I mean it is no longer snowing in April; about time. The daffs have picked up their drooping heads to point towards the source of the unfamiliar and hazy light from the sky, the birds are in full song and pimping out nests ready to lay, and blossom is breaking through buds on the trees. But this was not the case two weeks ago, for when this post applies. The temperature was biting and the wind was bitter, a combination of the two providing the perfect environment for very few activities other than eating ramen.

I shared my desire for a good hot slurping with Mel in the hope that she’d know of somewhere to satisfy these urges and prevent me from going into full hibernation – she always seems to know the best places to eat. And Mel of course did not disappoint – Tonkotsu in Soho had been recommended to her by her Japanese hairdresser and described as ‘excellent’. If you find natives eating in any restaurant, you know it’s going to be good.

Ramen makes up a large part of the Japanese offering when it comes to their excellent cuisine (one of my favourites in the world). It is comprised of a life-giving and deeply flavoursome stock, noodles, a ‘base’ (a concentrated liquor of soy, miso or salt) and toppings. Tonkotsu make no bones (pun intended) about the quality of their stock and the effort they put into making it. The website reveals: ‘Our restaurant Tonkotsu is named after the lip-smacking, creamy ramen typical in Kyushu, Japan’s southern-most island, but found all over Japan.  Tonkotsu ramen’s smooth, silky consistency is created by cooking pork bones for up to 18 hours, which allows collagen and other porky goodness to be emulsified into the stock.’ More of all of that please.

Tonkotsu interiors
- from The Guardian website


The result is a milky and life affirming bowl of liquid providing the perfect medium for their incredible homemade noodles to swim about in and compete for centre stage. There’s a great bit of insight plastered on the wall inside the restaurant, about how a noodle machine was shipped all the way from Japan for Tonkotsu to make theirs fresh each day, and how some of the front wall had to be demolished in order to get it through the door. A small amount of destruction a fair exchange for the promise of daily and impeccable fresh noodles, I think.

After an eventually successful but overly drawn out attempt to realise a misguided vision of trying to park in what seemed to be an entirely ‘parking suspended’ Soho (who knows what I was thinking) and joining Mel and Lea at the table half an hour late, I was more than ready to hang my head over a steaming bowl of nectar to ease away the aches and pains of a cold day in the office, also after having to leave my car on the other side of Soho and brave the arctic elements to reach this well-deserved broth. The restaurant does not take bookings and when Lea and Mel arrived (18.30), there was a short queue they had to wait in before being seated. By the time I arrived (19.00) the queue had disappeared and fortunately, there was space available next to my already seated friends. Even if there wasn’t I would have happily sat on my own as the anticipation to eat all of the ramen was almost overwhelming by this stage.

Mel and Lea’s batteries had almost reached full power by the time I joined, having made good headway with their bowls of bounty.  I speedily ordered without much thought as I just wanted something in front of me as soon as possible – ‘I’ll have what Mel’s having’ which turned out to be the Soho Ramen (£11) – a salt base, pork and chicken stock with medium think noodles topped with smoked haddock, pak choi, half an egg, menma (fermented bamboo shoots) and spring onions. After having previously read that the gyoza dumplings were made by hand on the premises fresh each day, leaving without sampling these in addition was not an option – a portion of pork gyozas too please.

pork gyoza

Both dishes arrived swiftly and there was no person in Soho happier than I at the moment they were presented to me (possibly exclude those involved in any ‘happy-ending’ massages). The dumplings were wonderful – fat, slippery, savoury, fresh, flavoursome and like some sort of magical Siamese quintuplet, joined at the base by a crisp layer of casing that had melted and merged when they hit the hot pan. The ramen was served with a large flat wooden spoon and chopsticks – a combination of both tools allowing for maximum slurping opportunity. The portion was generous and the flavours able to elevate even the most melancholy of souls – deep and warming and meaty and completely wonderful with still crunchy greens floating on the surface. 

After having placed my order in haste, I realised it was likely I would have preferred what Lea had chosen , the Tonkotsu Ramen (£11) where the choice of meat was pork belly. My bowl instead contained smoked haddock and while I was expecting a lack of meaty flavour, I was thankfully proved entirely wrong. All of the ramens on offer also contain half a soft boiled egg – this was almost my most favourite thing in the bowl. I believe they were marinated and were just so savoury. Few things go better with eggs than salt.

mochi ice cream

With a large bowl of broth, a pot of green tea and also water being consumed over the course of the meal, top buttons were discretely undone and my belly was swishing about with all of the fabulous liquid it had devoured. To wrap up the meal we each ordered a pretty trio of ice cream encased in a layer of mochi (glutinous rice). This lends to an almost rubbery outer texture with ice cream within and is certainly a novel dessert for me and quite fun to eat. The flavours if I recall correctly were black sesame, green tea and a third I can’t remember.

When next in town, be sure to pay this place a visit. If it’s a wet, cold or miserable day (often more likely than not), then all the better for it. There’s nothing like a quality ramen to help banish any lingering winter blues.

Liked lots - the outstanding egg; ramen broth; noodles; dumplings; location
Liked less - may need to wait for a table
Good for - catch-ups with friends; solitary meals; kicking out a cold; warming the cockles

Alfiyet olsun.

Tonkotsu on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

saravana bhavan - review

A delicious three course sit-down meal, in a pleasant venue, in London, for under £8? 'Impossible!' I hear you cry. Actually very possible; allow me to share.

The list of establishments to try and test for the new 'London Cheap Eats' section of the blog has been fast growing thanks to my own contributions and that of fellow Londoners I know. The first destination on this pocket friendly journey of culinary discovery was suggest by my good friend Aarti; we were to pay a visit to Saravana Bhavan in Tooting, a vegetarian restaurant serving south Indian food. 

'You can have dinner there for £3.50', Aarti exclaimed. 
'Don't be ridiculous', said I.

kara dosa

 In order to provide a fair and objective review of the meal and to balance out Aarti's preference of legume over loin (she is herself a vegetarian), we invited along another good friend of ours, Chris. I would say Chris is happy to plunge his muzzle into the pleasures of cooked meat slightly more so than the average person, and along with my presence (firmly on the fence when it comes to my preference of a dish with meat over a dish without - I would say I enjoy both equally), the three of us provided a good snapshot of the culinary preferences of the general population.

rava masala dosa

Aarti was familiar with all of the dishes on the menu and so we entrusted her to order whatever she thought was good whilst keeping the £8 budget per head in mind. She advised we each start with a dosa and if we were still hungry, order some sides after. If we were still hungry? This was me and Chris she was dealing with - hunger post just one course consumed is almost a certainty.

A dosa is a very thin and crispy flat bread, almost crepe-like. They are served with dips and often contain a filling. Aarti ordered two rava masala dosas (made from semolina and encasing a spicy potato and onion filling) and one kara dosa (made from rice and with the same filling). These were served on large stainless still plates to accommodate the huge pancakes, along with built-in compartments filled with a range of chutneys. And these were so good,
 so good. The bread on its own was excellent, savoury and speckled with spices and traces of cashew in the kara dosa. Start dipping the bread in the chutneys and side curries and another layer of pleasure is added to the experience; chilli, coconut, lentils, tomatoes. Then you reach the spiced onion and potato filling of the dosas - completely delicious. Chris and I were both very pleasantly surprised at the huge amount of flavour in these dishes containing no meat. Whilst the dosas made considerable dents to our hunger pangs, we had no plans to finish yet and still had money to spend. High-rollers.

hot idly

Aarti went on to order two plates of sides to share between the two of us (three would have been too much after those large first plates) of which she assured were, like the dosas, typical of the south Indian cuisine. The first of these were two pieces of medhu vada - fried lentil flour doughnuts served with a coconut chutney and sambar (curry made of pigeon peas). While these were a little dense and dry on their own, the delightful dips still rendered them completely enjoyable. The second plate consisted of three pieces of hot idly - steamed rice and lentil patties with a wonderful texture served with the same variety of chutneys and sambar as the dosas, and a sort of chilli paste which was my favourite dip on the table. Grainy, savoury and hot.

medhu vada

To help cool off our tongues, Chris and I ordered a pistachio and malai flavoured kulfi respectively - a frozen dairy dessert served in a plastic cone and popular in the Indian sub-continent. One of the waiters noticed us struggling to extract the very cold and solid ice cream from the plastic and swiftly stepped in to assist. He popped it in the microwave for a few seconds and returned it upright on the plate. The malai flavour to me seemed to be the intense flavour of milk and was certainly the better of the two and a fantastic way to wrap up the meal. Aarti's choice for dessert was a large glass of almost luminescent passion fruit juice.


Whilst the façade of Saravanaa Bhavan leaves quite a bit to be desired, the interiors do not reflect the same sentiment - modern, clean and slick with very accommodating waiters. The food we ate was all delicious and filling whilst being reasonably healthy - almost all dishes low in saturated fat.

I'm really pleased Aarti suggested this place because it's great. They have a few branches in London but this one is only a five minute drive from where I live and between my work and home. Handy, that. It won't be the last they see of me.
Chris and Aarti

Liked lots - the food; the obscenely low prices; close free bay parking in the evenings; food is low in fat; clean and modern interior; the staff; the chutneys
Liked less - it's close, but not outside my house - dammit
Good for - vegetarians; a healthy curry; traditional South Indian food; families and friends

The bill

rava masala dosa £3.45
medhu vada £1.45
kulfi £1.50
Total £6.40

kara dosa £3.45
hot idly £2.45
kulfi £1.50
Total £7.40

rava masala dosa £3.45
passion fruit juice £2.75
Total £6.20

I believe that's a three course meal in London for under £8 - done.

Alfiyet olsun.

Monday, 1 April 2013

grand hotel (stockholm) smörgåsbord - review

the seating area in the Bolinder Palace

A s
mörgåsbord is typically Swedish and is a meal served buffet style with multiple courses of both cold and hot food. I was keen to indulge in one reasonably blow-out meal in Stockholm and trying out the smörgåsbord at the Grand Hotel is reputedly the best way to fully appreciate the experience in the city.
They've provided a little excerpt on their website titled 'The art of enjoying a smörgåsbordto whet your appetite:

  • Everything is delicious, but start with your favourites. It’s easy to overdo it
  • Make sure to make room for all the courses. Make several trips to the table, taking a clean plate each time
  • Start with the herring dishes, traditionally served with hot new potatoes, crisp bread and cheese. Accompany it with the perfect libation, a cold beer or home made snaps
  • Then it’s time for the gravlax with hovmästare sauce. Don’t miss the smoked salmon with pressed lemons
  • Now sample the salads, egg dishes and charcuterie
  • On to the hot dishes! Don’t miss our home made meatballs with lingonberry jam
  • For dessert we recommend a little of everything, but he fruit salad is a must. Finish off with a cup of coffee and an ice-cold punsch. Skål!

the buffet area

smörgåsbord is usually enjoyed in the Veranda restaurant but as it is under renovation between February – September 2013, we were instead served in the Bolinder Palace. And I think we were all the more fortunate for it – an opulent and spectacular setting for a lunch with the sun shining through heavily dressed floor to ceiling windows, seated on red velvet chairs and gazing up at frescoed ceilings.

The Grand Hotel has provided five star luxury since 1874 and is situated on the waterfront overlooking the Royal Palace and Stockholm’s old town, Gamla Stan. The Grand is also home to Mathias Dahlgren’s Michelin star restaurants one of which was my initial first choice, but even the lunch time menu prices were well out of reach of the budget I was willing to spend, and far greater than the cost for a London Michelin lunch in comparison; this is Stockholm after all.

A key factor to bear in mind before embarking on the journey that is this extended meal is to understand that it consists of several courses, so if you want to fully appreciate and sample everything on offer, you need to go in hungry. Very hungry. The buffet area was housed in a separate room just off the main seating area with tables laden with everything you could imagine and would want to put into your mouth – herrings served in more ways than you could envisage existing; salmon both cooked and cured waiting to be picked off large silver platters; numerous salads and egg dishes; an array of charcuterie and cold cuts; hot dishes including the ubiquitous meatballs; all of the sauces, dips, pickles and creams imaginable; and a separate table creaking under its own weight of desserts from cakes to compotes and marshmallows to 

Matt thinking carefully
about his next plate

My plan was to attempt to on-board a very small piece of absolutely everything in order to sample all of the flavours on offer, and this started with a first course of herrings served eight ways. This included pickled, with mustard, in a terrine, with eggs and roe, cooked in sherry, curried, and with wild garlic. With a little pile of finely diced red onions and some rye (don’t fill up on the bread!), these were delightful. There wasn’t a single way of herring I didn’t enjoy - a very successful first plate.

First plate - herrings served eight ways

Next up were the salmon and fish cocktails - salmon terrine, hot smoked salmon, cold smoked salmon, poached salmon, gravadlax, a cocktail of prawns and scallops with mango and cucumber, eggs with prawns and aruga caviar, and likely a few more I can't recall. I had eaten so much salmon on this trip already (including a load for breakfast) that I decided to forsake trying all of these to save room for the rest of the buffet, and so my plate for this course was relatively conservative but with everything on it still being quite lovely.

cold smoked salmon

eggs with prawns and aruga caviar

Second plate - a conservative amount of
salmon and fish cocktails

Our third trip to the buffet bar had us reaching for the salads and cold cuts. You'll notice my plate tells a story forgoing salad for meat - a necessary decision when stomach capacity is quickly dwindling. On my plate I arranged slithers of veal carpaccio with parmesan; cold grilled chicken; smoked lamb self-carved from a whole leg; watercress cream encircled in Tvarno ham; cold roast herby lamb with a very garlicky cream; and a prawn, caper and egg cocktail that really should have been taken with the last plate, but who's watching. Quality meat is what it is and everything on this plate was very pleasing to the palette.

Third plate - charcuterie and cold cuts

By this point I had reached my fill of savoury dishes and was determined to reserve any remaining space for a coffee and the sweet-shop setting of desserts looking completely appetising - I had reached the point in a meal when it was now time to move onto the sweet options. I was pleased to see that Matt was still going strong and he happily launched into his fourth plate of hot dishes including chicken in morel sauce; roast veal with spring morels; grilled char with chive sauce, Janssons frestelse (a traditional Swedish casserole made of potatoes, onion, pickled sprats, bread crumbs and cream), hot asparagus with poached eggs, meatballs (of course), and prawn crepes which Matt particularly enjoyed.

Fourth plate - hot meat and fish dishes

Now I don't have that much of a sweet tooth, but I more than a little excited by the display of consumables on offer for this course. Almost every type of dessert you could possibly want to devour was up for grabs and I commend my own sterling effort to try as many of them as possible. These included: a sweet and tart rhubarb and strawberry compote topped with a light and soft meringue; pistachio and coconut marshmallows; tiny milk chocolate boats filled with ganache and with a shard of something sticky with sesame as a sail; crispy toffee popcorn; white chocolate buttons with yellow centres to look like eggs; milk chocolate Easter egg shrapnel sprinkled with pink sugar crystals; biscotti with nuts and raisins half dipped in dark chocolate and with the most incredible crumbly texture - one of my favourite things on this plate; dark chocolate tea cakes with a nutty base housing a wonderful light meringue; cubes of rocky road with green glitter balls; squares of fudge; dark chocolate cookies with soft middles; home made chocolate lollipops; a coconut bavaroise with mango salsa; and believe it or not, quite a bit more.

Fifth plate - a spectacular array of desserts

we all stole the cookie from the cookie jar

Top trouser buttons were discreetly undone about thirty minutes into the meal and by the end of this marathon session of eating, we were understandably fit to explode. The waiting staff were exceptional and the clientèle relaxed and in the throws of full enjoyment. The smörgåsbord is usually SEK 445 (£45) per person for lunch and SEK 475 (£48) for dinner. If you visit during a holiday and they have a certain theme for their smörgåsbord as we experienced (an Easter theme), then expect to pay the evening prices at lunch. Regardless, those prices for at least five courses of full plates is exceptional value in the city of Stockholm, considerating a plate of meatballs in any normal restaurant will set you back a good £20 on its own. So while this may initially look like a high-end lunch, you're getting a lot more bang for your buck than most places in town. And what a sublime way to enjoy the tradition of a smörgåsbord in all its splendour.

Alfiyet olsun.

The Grand Hotel, Stockholm

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