Sunday, 28 July 2013

a tapas feast - recipes

Surprises in the fridge are almost always exciting. Unless they’re in the form of disintegrating lettuce-slush at the bottom of a salad bag - is there anything more gross? Probably.

Returning home from work the other day and making a beeline for the fridge, I opened it to find a bag of
Padrón peppers beaming up at me. Not something I had purchased, but produce Matt had found in the supermarket near his work.

Any tapas lover worth the salt on their Padrón peppers will know all about the dish pimientos de Padrón, the only real way to treat these little green bites of delight.

It is blessed with simplicity as is so much of Spanish cooking, in that the dish in its entirety are these peppers fried whole with olive oil and then sprinkled with coarse sea salt. They’re the first things I request when placing my order in a tapas restaurant (without even needing to locate them on the menu) and
Fino in Fitzrovia do them deserved justice. 

But it’s only in restaurants I’ve ever eaten them, as until now I’ve been unsuccessful in sourcing these little Galician peppers. And the purist in me will be damned if I was going to attempt the dish with anything but. 

A solitary tapa consumed in isolation goes against the very essence of what it means to eat tapas - tasting many different flavours, sampling small amounts of a wide range, enjoying and sharing with others. And so from this little bag of capsicums an entire Spanish feast was born.

A Spanish Tapas Feast

The below dishes all served in one sitting will feed two hungry people generously. If you're cooking for more, just scale up the ingredients. I've ordered them according to how long they take to cook, starting with the longest. They are all incredibly simple to make with very few ingredients. Some (such as the above pimientos de Padrón) require nothing more than a quick fry.

For almost all the dishes you will need olive oil so do ensure you have a good amount to hand before you begin. Salt and pepper goes without saying.

At any one time you will need four hob rings on the go - one for the chickpeas and chorizo, one for a griddle or saucepan for the seafood, a small saucepan for the tortilla, a final pan to first cook the potatoes and then fry the peppers.


My suggestion in terms of timing to serve everything hot and simultaneously (or as close as one can get to that) is as follows:

Earlier in the day
  1. Marinate the prawns and keep in the fridge
  2. Toast the almonds and set aside
  3. Create your topping for the mushrooms
  4. Prepare your squid, asparagus and peppers so they're ready to be cooked and keep in separate bowls in the fridge
Start cooking
  1. Get the chickpeas and chorizo on first as they'll need half an hour. Pre-heat the oven and grill
  2. Finely slice the potatoes for the tortilla and get those cooking
  3. Plate up any of the no-cook tapas and take to the table
  4. When the potatoes are done, remove and set aside. Drain the oil from the pan ready for the peppers later
  5. Put the mushrooms and asparagus in the oven to cook. When they have done so, leave the asparagus in there to stay warm but turn the oven off. Top the mushrooms with the cheese mixture and place under a hot grill. When complete, leave under the grill to stay warm but turn the grill off
  6. Now give your full attention to the tortilla. Leave in the pan when cooked until ready to serve. If the chickpeas are now soft, turn the heat off but leave the lid on to keep them warm.
  7. Whack the prawns and squid on the griddle right at the end, which will take a couple of minutes to cook. Fry your peppers in the previous potato pan at the same time.
  8. Plate everything up, relax and enjoy

Garbanzos con Chorizo - Chickpeas with Chorizo

100g of cooking chorizo 
200g canned chickpeas 
2 tbsp tomato puree
100ml passata
Pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) 

  • If a paper skin comes off easily from the meat then remove it. If it doesn’t, don’t bother
  • Chop the chorizo into 2cm chunks
  • Add to a dry pan on medium heat and cook until form to bite and slightly crisp
  • Add drained chickpeas and stir for a couple of minutes
  • Add the tomato puree and enough good quality passata to just cover the chickpeas
  • Season with salt, pepper and a good pinch of paprika. Taste and adjust seasoning accordingly
  • Cover and cook for 30 minutes on a low heat 
  • Pour any condensed water that has formed on the lid back into the pan and stir
  • Cook until the chickpeas are soft and the passasta has reduced to a thick sauce
  • Serve hot

Tortilla - Spanish Omelette

1 small King Edward / Maris Piper potato
¼ small white onion
3 eggs 
Olive oil

  • Peel the potato and slice finely (approximately 5mm) - a V-slicer will do this wonderfully and in seconds. Thinly slice the onion aswell
  • Lightly fry the slices of potato in enough extra virgin olive oil to just cover them and season with salt. Move them about regularly so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pan
  • When the potato is soft, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper
  • Add the onions to the oil and fry gently until caramalised, soft and golden. Remove with the slotted spoon and also drain on kitchen paper
  • Remove most of the oil from the pan but leave a little, enough to coat the base.
  • Using a fork, lightly whisk the eggs and then gently mix in the cooked potato and onions, and add a little salt
  • Pour the mixture into a hot pan set on low - medium heat and spread the onions and potato out evenly. Keep scraping the egg away from sides and into the centre whilst cooking, to stop it sticking and to create room for raw egg to occupy and cook
  • After a few minutes the bottom will be brown and the whole tortilla almost set, but still with uncooked egg on top. At this stage, get a spatula under the tortilla and carefully flip it over so the uncooked side is now face down 
  • Tip This is a little tricky and if the bottom isn’t brown, it will break up and become a mess. To aid the flip, tip your saucepan on its side while you gently ease the tortilla out onto your spatula to flip
  • Cook for further 10 secs to ensure a runny middle and serve immediately

This recipe makes a mean tortilla. Who knew eggs, potato and onions could make something so entirely delicious - no doubt something to do with all the wonderful frying.. Either way, this was one of my favourite things on the table.

Gambas a la Plancha - Grilled Prawns

160g pack of fresh prawns in shell
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil

Tip you can purchase the prawns either already cooked (pink) or raw (grey) - it makes little difference to the cooking time.
  • Thoroughly rinse the prawns, drain and place in a bowl
  • Add the garlic, a glug of olive oil, salt and pepper and mix so the prawns are well coated. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for a few hours
  • Tip If you fancy a bit of heat, you can also add some finely chopped red chilli to this mix
  • When ready to cook, heat a frying pan or griddle on medium heat and place the prawns on the base so they sizzle
  • Cook each side 1-2 minutes until they turn pink (if cooking raw prawns) and then brown.
  • Serve with a squeeze of lemon and chopped parsley

Pimientos de Padrón - Fried Padrón Peppers

130g pack of Padrón peppers
Coarse sea salt
Olive oil (you can use the leftover oil from the tortilla)

  • Put the peppers in a bowl and coat with a little oil
  • Fry in a hot pan until blistered black and soft
  • Sprinkle with good quality sea salt to serve and eat while hot

Champiñones Rellenos - Stuffed Mushrooms

2 x portabello mushrooms
100g Manchego cheese, grated
Small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped (including stalks)
1/2 clove of garlic, crushed

  • Place the mushrooms on a baking tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper 
  • Bake in hot oven for 10 minutes until brown and soft
  • In the meantime, combine the parsley, cheese and garlic in a bowl
  • Top each mushroom with this mixture and put under a hot grill until bubbling
  • Serve immediately

Calamares a la Plancha - Grilled Squid

2 x prepared squid bodies (approximately 200g)
Juice and zest from one unwaxed lemon
Capers (optional)
Salt and pepper

  • Thoroughly rinse the squid and pat dry
  • Butterfly to open up the body into one large piece and score diagonally on one side with a sharp knife to create a diamond pattern, but make sure you don’t go all the way through the flesh
  • After scoring, cut each body into quarters
  • Place the squid into a bowl and coat with a little olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and generous helpings of salt and pepper
  • On a hot griddle or frying pan, place the squid scored side up and cook for a minute. Turn them over and cook for another minute.
  • Turn them back to scored side up again and they will begin to curl up - squeeze with tongs to encourage them to do so
  • Cook for further minute until lightly browned
  • Serve immediately with a sprinkling of capers and more lemon
Espárragos con almendras tostadas - Asparagus with toasted almonds

100g young asparagus spears
50g skinned and blanched whole almonds
Olive oil

  • Gently toast the almonds in a dry pan on medium heat, constantly tossing them so they don’t burn 
  • When they have taken on a golden colour, remove and set aside
  • In the meantime, coat the asparagus in a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper
  • Place into a hot oven for five minutes or griddle until soft and cooked.
  • Serve the almonds and asparagus together 

In addition to the above, we decorated the table with a few other no-cook tapas dishes including: roasted artichokes, fresh anchovies, mild noceralla olives, ripe tomatoes, sliced Manchego, and
jamón ibérico de bellota.

Altogether, an entirely heavenly Spanish spread. And a huge thanks to Matt who cooked it all this evening.

Afiyet olsun.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

food, friends & funkin’ cocktails with the crew

How does one seduce a bunch of lovely ladies to brave the stifling depths of the Northern Line during rush hour on one of the hottest days of the year, to pay a visit to Old Street? With the promise of dinner and booze of course - particularly appropriate when the ladies* in question are all food bloggers. I think I speak for most when I say the way to our hearts is a full-throttle culinary steam train bulldozing its way to our stomachs. 

The crew at had an intimate evening planned, inviting ten to twelve of their favourite food bloggers (more than humbled to be included) to a supper featuring some of the recipes from Jamie Oliver’s website. The purpose of this event was to share with us the delights that can be achieved with ingredients people often find more difficult to cook with (based on the traffic in these areas on the Jamie Oliver website) such as game, seafood, vegetables and cheese. The idea is to get people to try cooking what may sit just outside of their comfort zone, or differ to what they may be accustomed to.

* It’s worth noting that while the main organiser of the event, Merlin Jobst, is quite the sweetheart and lady charmer, the single sex occupation was not intentional. Alas, some of the male bloggers that had been invited unfortunately could no longer make it. I believe that meant more food for us. Result.

The fabulous food bloggers invited to this event included the following - do take the time to check them out:

Rosana McPhee @Rosana_McPhee
Sally Prosser @MyCustardPie
Selina Periampillai @yummychooeats
Ren Behan @renbehan
Regina Sabur-Cross @gastrogeek
Rachel Smith @The_FoodIEat
Su-yin @breadetbutter
Tess Ward @tesstheyeschef

Location and Graduates

The location of this banquet was the space above Fifteen and incidentally where most of Jamie’s cookery shows are filmed, such as 15 Minute Meals. A large, white-washed expanse straight out of the window of a Shoreditch estate agents looking for well-to-do artists to occupy, flooded with natural light from floor to ceiling sash windows and kitted out with tableware and sharing platters typical of Jamie’s cooking style. Unfortunately, the man himself was unable to make the evening but was kind enough to record a short film thanking us for our attendance and insisting we have a blast. Not to mention, accrediting Merlin entirely for the inevitable success of the evening. In the meantime, through an opening into the bare-brick walled kitchen, Merci and Tyrone, a couple of past graduates from the Fifteen Apprentice Programme, were toiling away over hot stoves rustling up our dinner. 

Head Chef Cooking Demonstration
The Head Chef of Fifteen, Jon Rotheram, was kind enough to take time out from his hectic kitchen schedule downstairs to give us a private demonstration of how to address game. He spoke at length of his first four months in the restaurant, his love of offal (particularly sweetbreads), different ways in which it can be cooked, and the benefits of choosing it over alternative and more expensive cuts. With flare and finesse, he rustled up in the blink of an eye devilled lambs kidneys served on toast. Flavoured with spices and finished with a few drops of homemade curry oil, these were served pink in the middle on a slice of crunchy sourdough, with warm flavoursome juices soaking into the bread. We were all urged to dive in. It was so moreish I went back for a second and third bite. Standard behaviour.

Supper is Served

Whilst I was entirely engrossed in Jon’s sautéing skills, I’ll admit I was more than a little distracted by a completely irresistible volume of fat and glistening king prawns piled high on a large plate, beckoning with black beady-eye come-hither glances, feelers motioning me towards them with their extension. One after another and with hypnotic repetition, I ripped off the legs, head and shell, dunked them into the accompanying Marie Rose sauce for a lick of seasoning, and popped each juicy morsel into my mouth. So simple but goodness, they were entirely glorious. I estimate my consumption of that entire platter to be approximately 37%. In addition, we were presented with mounds of herb salad with goats cheese. Generous creamy chunks of cheese mixed with rocket and fresh herbs and delivered with a wisp of heat on the tongue from finely chopped chilli. It took an enormous amount of self-control not to gorge myself on this single course alone.

Pint of prawns with Marie Rose recipe here
Herb salad with goats cheese recipe here.

The mains involved of a South Indian crab curry. Would you like any curry with that crab? There was so much crab. Certainly not too much crab though, it’s not possible to have too much crab. Creamy from coconut and gently spiced, it slid down with very little resistance. The vegetarian option was an equally flavoursome cauliflower Keralan curry complete with chickpeas and pineapple chunks. Both were paired with an oven dish full of zesty lemon rice - fluffy white mounds punctuated with the yellow and green from lemon rind and coriander leaves respectively.

South Indian crab curry recipe here.
Keralan veggie curry recipe here.
Lemon rice recipe here.

Dessert was made by Merlin the Magnificent (not an actual wizard) himself - a baked vanilla cheesecake with a (very boozy) cherry compote. With a smooth creamy middle and flavoursome biscuit base, it was a perfect way to round off the evening's eating. Alas, I didn't get a decent shot of it so there is none here. Lack of cheesecake photography and increase in alcohol consumption no doubt correlate quite nicely, I'm sure. 

Bloomin' easy vanilla cheesecake recipe here.


Which leads me neatly onto the booze. Spoilt with a choice of wine and beer, glasses were never empty. 

The San Patrignano brand of wine available that evening ironically has a very sobering backstory. San Patrignano is based on the Amalfi Coast in Rimini and is one of Italy’s largest rehabilitation centres for recovering drug addicts. It welcomes all young men and women and even whole families who have serious drug abuse problems regardless of their background – and completely free of charge. Since 1978, the centre has taken in over 20,000 people, offering them a home, healthcare, legal assistance, and the opportunity to study, learn skills, change their lives, and regain their status as contributing members of society. I vividly recall an episode of Two Greedy Italians when Contaldo and Carluccio visit San Patrignano and listen to the residents talk of the institution saving them from certain destitution and even death - it was moving to say the least.

Danny McCubbin has worked with Jamie Oliver for many years in various roles and in addition, volunteers at San Patrignano. Wine making is a result of one of the 52 different skills the residents learn during their rehabilitation and these rather quaffable bottles are the result. Danny spoke passionately and with emotion about San Patrignano (whilst serving us Merlin's cheesecake) - a force of pure good if ever I heard one.

All in, the evening was a riot. The thing that really struck me were the people involved from Jamie's side - from the graduates, to the Head Chef, to the online staff, they were all wonderful individuals completely unashamed of the immense amount of passion they have for what they do. We ate until our bellies were full, engaged in raucous conversation and eventually relocated the proceedings to the Fifteen cocktail bar where we were very generously treated to pisco sours, gin from teapots, cocktails with face-busting chilli and indulged in bad jokes and inappropriate conversation.

I like to think new friends were made here and I want to give a particular shout out to the talented and gorgeous Merci @Murrrcii, the suave salt shaking Joe Gray @JoeGray_, and my new favourite person Merlin Jobst @merlinjobst. Along with my sister from another mister Selina @yummychooeats, we'll see you kids for cocktails next week to carry on where we left off.

Afiyet olsun.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

sorabol, new malden - review

There is a rather stunning new food and culture journal I’ve been enjoying of late called The Gourmand, binding ‘inspirational words, images and ideas with the humble and universal subject of food’. It looks pretty haughty - unfamiliar typography, high-end and provocative photography, and a hefty price tag of £10 (explained by the solitary page of adverts located at the very back). 

But when you give it a chance, it’s anything but.  Articles and their topics are accessible and very well written; some are laugh out loud hilarious. Interviews are interesting and thought provoking and reflect the type of conversations I like to think I have with new people I meet. 

The magazine is also international with stockists across Europe, USA and Canada, Australia and East Asia. So when, in issue three, I came across no less than six pages dedicated to an article entitled ‘New Malden’s Delicious Secrets’, I was a little puzzled. 

It turns out this unassuming south-west London suburb, situated just a 10 minute drive from where I live, has secrets The Gourmand felt interesting enough to share with the rest of the world. New Malden has the highest population of Korean expats in the whole of Europe, around 20,000 by some counts. And that can only mean one thing - excellent Korean food to go with it. Invaluable insight that had managed to go unnoticed by me for the almost two years I have lived where I do.

I need little persuasion to venture into new culinary hotspots, and references to the many fantastic Korean eateries by an international food journal I hold in high regard is only going to get me there quicker. 

The day I read the article was the hottest day of the year so far (outdone by almost every other day since), and what better way to celebrate these warm climes than by sticking my face over a molten bowl of bibimbap. A table was reserved at Sorabol for that same evening.


The façade of the restaurant is as uninspiring as the high street it’s situated on, and on approach it looked like it could be shut with closed full-window blinds concealing any view of the interior. But with a gentle push of the door, we were met with a wave of uplifting babble typical to a heaving restaurant packed with clientèle in the full throws of pleasure from both food and company. Every table was occupied and at an initial glance, I estimated half of them as Korean and half of them not - a promising start.

We were first greeted with an array of complimentary appetisers along with the portion of kimchi we requested. Steamed seaweed with bite and a sweet and hot sauce, cold bean sprouts, firm soya beans, and spicy kimchi leaving a pleasant recollection of heat on the tongue. These were all crunchy, fresh, light and very appealing to the palate.


A generous portion of eight dumplings came next, filled with minced pork and spring onions, retaining their soft texture despite their fried treatment and served with a light soy. To follow was a wonderfully gratifying kimchi pancake and the stellar dish of the evening

The colour of burnished gold from chilli paste, it was seasoned with spring onions and the finely shredded fermented cabbage ubiquitous in Korean cuisine. It was spicy, savoury, served hot, looked great and very generous in its proportion. I suspect I could have had three to myself. In all honestly, the fiery piquant flavour of kimchi is so entirely addictive that any dish introduced to it will be elevated to new heights, be it a pancake, a plate of noodles or a roast dinner. It is just so very excellent.

kimchi pancake

For our mains both Matt and I selected a bibimbap. Literally translating to ‘mixed rice’, this signature Korean dish includes steamed rice topped with sautéed vegetables and chilli pepper paste. Ours also consisted of the additional common ingredients of a raw egg and thinly sliced raw beef, all served in a stone bowl so hot it was verging on changing physical state. The ingredients are combined at the table by the waiter with the searing heat from the vessel cooking both the egg and meat on impact. 

These dishes came with the warning that as well as the bowl, the accompanying chilli paste was very hot. Turns out I used the whole portion and barely felt any spice, whereas Matt’s was reasonably fiery. Who knows why I was after another excuse to swelter on such a stifling day - you would think the kimchi spice and the hazy view above the stone bowl was enough to get my sweat on, but apparently not. In all fairness, the air conditioning did a sterling job keeping the whole of the bustling interior cool, despite brimming with people, tabletop barbecues and many bibimpaps. 

The key ingredient missing from my bowl was kimchi. And on my return, I will definitely order the kimchi bibimbap, another option on the menu. The pleasant surprise in this dish was the flavoursome crust formed around the edges by rice continuing to cook at the table, and the bowl of cloudy miso it was served with, complete with finely sliced spring onions and small cubes of tofu.

mixed bibimbap

The service was very welcoming and I believe most if not all the members of staff were Korean - I suspect it’s a family run establishment. Korean cuisine, as I’ve mentioned before in this review, is one that has some way to go to match the popularity of its Asian neighbours. 

It’s a shame, as it’s as big a player in the flavour stakes as the rest of them, with unique offerings that would appeal to most palates. If you are yet to sample the delights of this cuisine, you can get to Sorabol’s door in under 30 minutes from Waterloo. Jump on the fast train to New Malden and visit London’s ‘Little Korea’, probably the best place in Europe to get initiated. 

Liked lots: kimchi, kimchi pancake, kimchi, the appetisers, kimchi, miso, kimchi, service, air conditioning, the kimchi, they use Dettol to clean the tables, value, kimchi
Liked less: bibimbap needed kimchi
Good for: kimchi, supporting local businesses, visiting the numerous Korean supermarkets while you’re there to stock up on kimchi

My rating: 4/5

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

Afiyet olsun.

Sorabol on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 13 July 2013

falafels with salsa

Considering Turkey’s close proximity to the Middle East alongside my love for chickpeas, you’d think I would have rustled up a batch of falafels in my time. But I haven’t. My permanent pyramid of chickpea cans in the cupboard, by default, gets used on houmous at least once a week and old habits die hard.

The thought of frying them in inches of oil also puts me off a bit. Contrary to what my dining habits may suggest, I do like to keep at least one lazy eye on my saturated fat intake. So I’ve been looking for a recipe that ticked my boxes and the ever reliable Jamie Oliver has come up with the obvious solution of squashing them into thin patties rather than balls, requiring much less oil to cook them in.  I also particularly like the inclusion of harissa in the mix which adds welcome heat. Not to mention I coincidentally had exactly a tablespoon left in a jar that’s been waiting to get used and taking up valuable shelf space in the fridge - I get a lot of satisfaction from finishing jars.

The original recipe can be found here under the 'vegetable recipessection of Jamie's website and includes the falafels alongside a salsa and some sides

In this instance, I just made the falafels and salsa and devoured them with leftover houmous from the weekend’s BBQ (chickpeas with a side of chickpeas - I told you I like chickpeas) rather than the tortilla wraps. Either way, they're really tasty bites. You almost forget you're handling pulses and not mince. They're a great meat pattie substitute; it's good to abstain from the flesh once in a while.

Falafels with salsa

Serves 4

For the falafel
1 x 400 g tin of mixed beans
1 x 400 g tin of chickpeas
1 lemon
1 tablespoon harissa
1 heaped teaspoon allspice
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
bunch fresh coriander
olive oil

Alteration: instead of mixed beans, I used a can of kala chana which are brown chickpeas. Also instead of allspice, I combined a little ground clove, nutmeg and cinnamon as a replacement.

For the salsa
1 big handful mixed-colour ripe tomatoes
½ –1 fresh red chilli
½ clove of garlic
1 lime

Drain the chickpeas and put them into a food processor. Finely grate in the lemon zest, then add a pinch of salt and pepper, the harissa, allspice, flour and coriander stalks (reserving the leaves). Blitz until smooth, scraping down the sides of the processor if needed. Scrape out the mixture and use clean, wet hands to divide and shape it into patties about 1.5cm thick. Put 1 tablespoon of oil into the frying pan and add the falafels, turning when golden and crisp.

To make the salsa, put the tomatoes, chilli and half the coriander leaves into the processor. Squash in the unpeeled garlic through a garlic crusher (or grate it), squeeze in the lime juice, whiz until fine, then season to taste and pour into a serving dish.

Afiyet olsun.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

makiyaki, south wimbledon - review

sushi and sashimi

As I’ve harped on several times before (of which you are all duly sick of), I have a regular weekly column on the website of my local newspaper, Food Bites with yours truly for Your Local Guardian. The other week I submitted my entry as usual to a lady who works there. She takes my articles, portions them up into more digestible parts (long paragraphs are not aesthetically pleasing in narrow columns) and publishes them on the site. She of course also reads through the whole thing to, I assume, check I haven’t misspelt, cursed or offended any powerful figures. The submission that particular week was ‘the 10 most hated foods of the nation’ and her response to entry number six reflected my own, ‘How on earth did sushi get on this list? People are mad.’ Yes, yes they are. Another individual after my own heart - rejoice.

She went on to elaborate, ‘Being long-term sushi fans, my husband and I visited Japan a few years ago in search of (supposedly) the best sushi fresh from Tsukiji Fish Market. But we actually discovered the best sushi we’ve ever had is from Makiyaki in South Wimbledon! I defy anyone to try the ‘Ocean’, ‘Lion King’ or ‘Crispy’ rolls and not become addicted’.

A quick fumble on the keyboard and it turns out Makiyaki is just a 20 minute stroll from my house. Hard to resist a meander culminating in sushi on a balmy evening after an acclaim like that, especially with a menu item named after the best Disney movie ever made.

gyoza dumplings

Makiyaki is situated on a busy Merton Road a mere five minute walk from South Wimbledon station on the Northern Line, positioned next to a set of billboards. Step inside and you’ll be greeted with pleasant interiors, smiling staff and a sushi chef dressed in traditional Japanese garments behind the counter; no doubt to delight the clientèle hoping to experience something close to an authentic Japanese experience, whatever that may be. I like to think in restaurants in Japan, belted samurai swords are whipped from holders at the call of an order and in a blur of metal and kimono silk, fresh fish is portioned up with exacting precision. That would be so cool..

We started with chicken yakitori skewers that are boiled and coated in a sweetened and thickened soy sauce ready for the grill. These were chewy and tasty and perfect to whet our appetites. Gyoza dumplings were served as six and crunchy from the deep fried treatment, containing a filling of minced pork and chives. The salmon and avocado salad was quite simple in its content - cubes of raw salmon, iceberg lettuce, avocado and topped with a creamy dressing with a hint of wasabi heat. It wasn’t particularly sensational and on my next visit I’ll likely skip this for an extra sushi roll instead.

chicken yakitori

salmon and avocado salad

And onto the maki (sushi rolls). There’s a long list available to choose from, with such creative names as ‘scallop volcano’, ‘spider’, ‘rock ‘n roll’ and ‘999’, the latter an incarnation with the word ‘spicy’ present twice in its short menu description and so its name perhaps an indication of the dialling action required after consumption. We of course selected Lion King, a ‘California roll with salmon, wrapped and baked’. What we were presented with on an unfurled piece of tin foil was hot cooked salmon, wrapped in soft rice that had absorbed the ambrosial slightly sweet and spicy sauce it was doused in, topped with roe and something else we couldn’t quite decipher (or at least bring ourselves to accept our initial analysis of).

‘It’s cheese’ said Matt. ‘It’s been topped with cheese that's melted during baking’. I was quite adamant there was no way this topping could be one of cheese. It did look a lot like cheese, I’ll grant him that. But cheese and fish is considered by some a culinary cardinal sin, surely and especially when it comes to Japanese cuisine (noted for their lack of dairy) and sushi? I had to enquire and guess what, it was cheese. And it was all the more excellent for it. Luscious and savoury and a joy to eat - the recommendation was spot on.

the exceptional 'Lion King'

We moved onto a sushi and sashimi platter, the colour from the bright and firm flesh rendering the plate a picture to look at. Spanking fresh fish is what it is, and the salmon, tuna and mackerel were all a pleasure to devour, particularly their textures; they were so firm they were heading towards crunchy. Accompanied by shredded daikon radish for additional texture and with the ubiquitous eye-watering hit of wasabi and seasoned with soy, it was a fantastic plate of food.

Great service was fully exercised with a beautiful young Japanese girl tending to our needs, pouring and topping up our green tea. Is it the best sushi I’ve ever tasted? It’s certainly very good. Although I am yet to try sushi within Japan itself (I’m fortunate enough to have a trip booked in next year which will soon see to that). The huge variety of maki rolls on offer and the pleasure derived from the first and only one we have so far sampled is enough to entice us back repeatedly to work our way through the list, as I’m sure is the case with other customers. It also offers something unique to the restaurant, helping it to stand out from other quality sushi establishments. And considering it’s so close to my home, it’s now down as a solid entry on my ‘local favourites’. Without a doubt worth a jaunt down the Northern Line.

Liked lots - maki rolls, chef attire, service, value
Liked less - salad
Good for - casual dining, regulars, fresh fish, regular visits to work through the huge maki offering, venturing to Wimbledon for something other than tennis

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

Afiyet olsun.

Maki Yaki on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Sunday, 7 July 2013

elBulli: ferran adrià and the art of food - exhibition review

a giant meringue bulli (French bulldog)
made for the final day restaurant celebrations

'Head chef and Catalan-born Ferran Adrià is universally accepted as the world’s greatest chef ever to have been. He has contributed to the art of gastronomy, dining and haute cuisine the equivalent of what the ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians have contributed to our daily existence, put together. Elevating cooking beyond the familiar boundaries and experiences of eating and the pleasure derived from it, according to the frequent diner and late artist Richard Hamilton, Adrià has in fact created an entirely new language of food, along with the grammar and syntax to structure it. Eating his food, for Richard, was an experience comparable to reading the works of Shakespeare.'

You can find my full review of the exhibition written for Your Local Guardian here:

Somerset House
Runs until 29 September 2013
£10 ticket (£8 concessions)

photographs of some of the 1846 dishes created at elBulli

Saturday, 6 July 2013

turkish spring lamb with green beans

I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently. Which is great, because I don’t half love it. Sharing my dining experiences at restaurants I think the world and his wife should eat at, writing up my weekly Food Bites column for the website of my local paper (on which it seems I am yet to offend; that, or no one is reading it), informing the nation they’re mad for not liking sushi, and so forth. But it’s time intensive. Each piece is a process and a labour of love and to be frank, a pain in the arse in the firm grip of self-doubt. I can imagine it’s akin to the doting parent wanting their child to succeed academically, once they are able to exert the authority to stop said child running about with their pants down and a crayon up their nose. Each piece presents a certain amount of stress that needs to be managed and contended with. My personal process for a piece of food writing, with no applied science or order, goes something like this: find an interesting and relevant topic, conduct necessary research, think of an introduction angle, spew my thoughts into the glaring abyss of a blank white screen, realise I haven’t actually made a point, make a point, panic at required deadlines, apply a filter to discard the crap, find better ways to phrase sentences, get rid of more words, find better ways to say ‘delicious’, attempt and fail at humour, mutter inaudibly ‘this is really shit’, insert hyperlinks, edit photographs, contend with the wretched personality of Blogger’s formatting, proofread, remove more words and finally a good few hours later, I’ll submit. And I’ll do so with a sense of achievement, despite the aforementioned tribulations. Chaotic creativity at best. Ignored online fodder at worst.

These increased hours spent at the laptop of late have inevitably resulted in less time spent in the kitchen. I’ll often find myself writing about food, with self-inflicted hunger pangs due to the nature of the content, only to find I’m surrounded by a food void, a culinary abyss. I have coined this predicament The Food Writing Paradox - writing about food when the presence of anything decent to eat is absent in my immediate surroundings. Like shopping for food on an empty stomach, it is not advised. 

But I made a point this weekend to busy the fingers with a different activity and one that would result in stomach satiety. And here it is, a Turkish regular on the weekend dinner table when I lived with my parents. A one pot wonder perfect for when the hankering is for a light but hearty meal on a summers evening.

Turkish spring lamb with green beans

Makes 4 portions

600g lean diced lamb
500g potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
350g green beans
1 onion, diced
3 tbsp concentrated tomato purée
Meat stock (lamb or chicken), enough to just cover the contents
Olive oil
Juice from two lemons to serve

Top and tail the beans and then carefully split each one lengthways with a knife.
In a large saucepan or casserole dish, fry the lamb in a little olive oil until browned. Add the potato chunks, the halved green beans and the tomato purée and coat in the meaty juices for a couple of minutes.

Pour in your stock until the contents of the pan is only just covered. Season with salt and pepper and leave to blip away on a low heat until the lamb is tender and the potatoes and beans are cooked.

Serve in warmed bowls and with a tablespoon or so of lemon juice over each portion. Accompany with crusty bread to mop up the juice and a simple side salad of flat leaf parsley, cucumber and mint if you fancy it.

Afiyet olsun.

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