Warmed Figs with Crumbled Roquefort, Red Wine & Black Pepper Syrup & Red Wine Salt

It’s  a rare day that I actually cook a coherent meal. You know, traditional fare like a roast dinner, meat and veg or pie. No, I’ve adopted an in house dining style that mimics my bar led dining out style. A little of this, a nibble of that, things on toast. I make a LOT of Things On Toast. Maybe that’s a subject for another post.

Often I find that ingredients speak for themselves and need little more than a spot of prep to create a delightful plate, full worthy of dinner with a little accompaniment. Little dishes on dainty plates please me greatly.

In this instance I stumbled upon some tiny, sweetly ripe figs that were crying out for a salty, creamy counterpart. Scattered Roquefort the obvious choice, I layered sweet upon salty, over again and again. A sticky, reduced red wine syrup pepped up with black pepper and then a smattering of red wine salt that’s pretty purple colour makes up for any questions over it’s flavour. I mean; Purple Salt!

The idea for the syrup stolen entirely from a blog, I think it was Manger, but I can’t be entirely sure now as it was a couple of months ago.

This is more of a simple assembly than a full-on recipe.

To make the syrup, add a couple of glasses of red wine to a saucepan, leftover (what’s that?) or otherwise, with around half a cup of sugar. I didn’t measure to be honest, doesn’t really have to be too precise, bring to the boil with a couple of grinds of black pepper and simmer until it’s reduced to a syrupy consistency and coats the back of a spoon.

Warm the figs in the oven for a few minutes to release their juices and warm through.

Split the figs, scatter over the roquefort then drizzle with syrup. Finish with a good scatter of red wine salt (mine was an impulse purchase from The Quality Chop Shop).

Seeing as it’s the festive season and all that, you could use the red wine syrup in a number of different ways by infusing with different ingredients. Try an infusement of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and orange zest over ice cream stirred with crumbled christmas pudding or crushed mince pies.

 

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Two Twists on the Classic Turkish Egg Dish, Çilbir

I’ve spoken about my love of brunch before, how I will often have brunch for dinner, it’s usually a quick solution combining many of my favourite things. I tend to err towards a balance of comfort and spice, something faintly exotic, transportational, so often it’s influenced by dishes from the Middle East, more recently brought to our attention by Ottolenghi and the like. Shakshuka is a firm favourite as is Çilbir; a Turkish egg, yoghurt and spicy brown butter dish that’s rich, soothing and yet spicy all at once, pretty much the ultimate comfort food, with a necessary tower of buttered sourdough on the side to mop, swish and sweep up.

I recently discovered World of Zing, an online resource bursting with curious cooking ingredients and immediately waved my debit card at it, buying a fairly random selection of flavoured salts, chilli’s and a bottle of Bordeaux Barrel Aged Negroni.

What?

It’s as delicious as you might imagine it to be and is great for lazy moments.

Anyway, back to Çilbir, and I decided to put a couple of twists on it, playing with some of the variables whilst not straying too far from the classic.

The original calls for garlic pepped yoghurt and a paprika or chilli flake spiked brown butter sauce. I softened the raw garlic hit by using smoked garlic, ground to a paste with Sage and Juniper Sea Salt. Aji Limon Chillis have a unique citrussy zing and so I use one of these, finely chopped and seeds removed to spice up my brown butter. I kept the fried sage leaves because, well they’re just delicious aren’t they.

Straying a little further from the classic whilst still keeping it’s form, this is my favourite iteration on the dish yet, inspired by a trip to the gorgeous spice chest of a shop that is Persepolis. A post gym hunger had me prowling around nearby Peckham once again, a grumbling stomach dictating I perform a smash and grab style of shopping for random ingredients that would become the basis of my brunch; goats curd from The General Store, Brickhouse bread from Anderson & Co, Muhammara (a spicy pepper and walnut dip), Dukkah and Sage leaves from Persepolis.

The assembly is simple and quick for what is one of the most satisfying meals; a magical combination of almost ethereal ingredients that’s pure nourishment for the soul. Simply smear and swhirl goats curd and muhammara onto a plate and top with a poached duck egg, plenty of dukkah to season, fried sage leaves (just because, ok) and brown butter. The result is a seriously oomphed version of the classic; rich, a tiny bit decadent and gorgeously nutty.

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Doughnut Takeover at Bruno Coffee & Bakes

Who knew eh?

That the quaint and touristy Kent town of Rochester would lap up the weird and wonderful doughnut brain farts of me and Bruno. But they did. They were even banging on the door for us to open (we were slightly behind schedule) and at intervals throughout the day, there were even queues out of the door until we sold out. Imagine!

I spent at least one day a year in Rochester when I was a kid growing up in the backwaters of Kent, and that was inevitably for the Dickens festival; a strange spectacle whereby many of the shop owners and locals dress up in Dickensian garb for the day. I harbour some pretty warped memories of Miss Faversham forever sat, gathering cobwebs and dust in one of the shop fronts.

I never thought I’d ever return to appear behind one of those shopfronts myself.

Funny how things turn out.

When a friend took a lease on a tiny but beautiful shop to open a cake and coffee shop I planned to visit, of course I did, but almost a year went by in which I simply couldn’t find the time. Eventually, Bruno forced my visit by suggesting we collaborate on a doughnut takeover at his cafe. We put it off for too long, struggling to collide diaries, but eventually we put our lives aside and went for it. As sometimes you just have to do.

I’m so pleased we did, for as tiring as it was. And it was exhausting; I have absolutely zero desire to work in a kitchen full time; an evening of dough prep was crushingly rapidly followed by an early morning of more prep, then hours spent in front of a deep fat fryer and piping fillings. Well, you get the idea. It was also fantastically rewarding, exhilarating, adrenaline pumping fun.

Believe it or not, and I had no idea how they’d go down – if they’d even sell, it was the sweet and savoury beasties that went down the best and if we do it all again I think we’ll focus on these and expand our range. Maple glazed doughnuts were stuffed with fried streaky bacon and either a fried egg or a huge smear of peanut butter. There was one wonderful lady who enjoyed hers so much she returned for a second immediately after her first. Respect.

100 doughnuts in total may not seem much but I can assure you it’s much, much harder than making the odd batch at home and I’m immensely proud we somehow managed to pull it off.

 

We also has pistachio and cherry and black pepper.

There was hazelnut and raspberry.

Coffee, cardamom, rum with a little orange zest.

Finally, there were little bags of sugar dusted, spicy ‘nduja filled doughnut holes

Oh, and there were also blueberry fritters and deep fried cheesecake.

OOOOOF.

Bruno and I shared one of the savoury doughnuts at the very beginning of service and then I had a quiet moment with one of the pistachio and cherry beauts at the end, covered in sugar and reaching of oil. Health.

A couple of Twitter faces turned up and took some much better photos than I was able to – thanks to @Big_Fat_Dan

Maybe we’ll see you at the next one…..

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Brick House Bakery, Bamn Fit and Manfood’s Cocktail Jams

I’ve made two life changing discoveries in the last couple of months. In fact it was making the decision to take up semi private training sessions at Bamn Fit (highly recommended) that enabled the discovery of the second. Yeah. *smug face* (sorry) . Actually, I’m not sorry at all, committing to four, one hour sessions a week is making me feel so much better about myself that I’m going to refuse to apologise. An hour where I can ignore my phone and focus completely on my body and what it can (and  can’t) achieve is something I’m going to let myself have, and hopefully I’ll get a brand new, strong and lean body in the process. I’m not quite taking the nutrition stuff to heart yet, I’m enjoying eating and drinking too much for that, but maybe…everything in moderation and all that. Well, we’ll just see eh?!

Anyway, turns out that if I get my arse out of bed at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning, then I find a food market waiting for me when I get to Herne Hill Station, muscles wobbling and stomach roaring with hunger. RESULT. I don’t have long before my train (only twice an hour when you’re out in the ‘burbs – so you don’t want to miss it) but just enough time to snaffle a jar of Blackwoods excellent marinated cheese, and a loaf of Brickhouse Bakery sourdough, something I’ve been meaning to try for yonks.

Oh! And, What Bread.

It’s become something of a rapidly instigated weekly tradition and I’ve started requesting Sunday morning training sessions almost for this reason alone – madness surely? Or at a least a fairly accurate indication of how good it is. I left from East Dulwich this Sunday rather than Herne Hill and have been feeling BEREFT.

Previously I’ve been a devout fan of E5 Bakehouse’ Hackney Wild, in my opinion it reigned supreme. Elliot’s is also excellent as is Bread Ahead. But this. This is in another league. As a nod to my pummelled and sweaty body, I choose to feed it, not their signature Peckham rye, but the multi grain variety. Not only is it an absolute picture of perfection but it’s got buckets of developed flavour, a chewy bubbly crust, and moist (actual apologies this time, but how else do you expect me to describe it?!) light textured crumb. As with all sourdough loaves it’s heaven simply hewn into and buttered, fresh from the loaf on day one, and then as The Best toast every day after.

My Negroni fangirl stance must precede me as Andre, whom I know through various PR roles and Twitter, thought to kindly send me a couple of jars of his cocktail jams. You heard me right. Cocktail Jam.

Apart from taking umbrance over the whole Man Food name; why should any food be gender specific? Is it somehow not my place to eat beer laced pickles or booze ridden jams?? Hmmmmph. The branding is actually rather nice though.

It took me a while to eat it, not through lack of want. No, definitely not that, in fact I ingested some of it simply via spoon to mouth. But, as with many things, I over think. How could I do something different with this product?

In reality, I simply don’t need to. It already is it’s own new thing.

You know when it’s best?

That’s right. After an evening training session after a long day at work. I can’t be bothered to cook, I can’t even be bothered to stir a cocktail GODDAMIT. Instead I lightly toast a couple of slices of Brickhouse, slather on some salty, unpasteurised butter and finish with a smear of cocktail jam. Carbs, fats and sugar in one fell swoop. It’s every nutritionists nightmare and I don’t do it every night, but on the odd occasion I do, It’s GOOD.

In all honesty the jams are not overly boozy, and actually in my opinion could be fortified slightly, but then I’m a lush so don’t listen to me. The Negroni is a strawberry jam, which may sound strange at first, but is delicious all the same; it’s got an edge of bitterness with an underlying play of orange and a faint hum of booze on the finish. The Bramble is all rich brambles and gin – yeah, that’s right, yum.

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BIRD

It’s very easy to be cynical isn’t it? Especially in East London, when so many places appear to be simply ticking off a list of current trends; industrial fit out, stripped back cool, fried chicken, cocktails, doughnuts etc etc. It’s also right to have your wits about you. But you know what? Sometimes, it’s ok to like somewhere, despite the cliches, when they seem to be so nice and convivial, and the food’s good. Maybe I’m gullible.

I turn up to an invite at BIRD, on the bottom of Kingsland road, the top of Shoreditch in what’s become a strange vortex of essex day-tripper/hen goer meets hipster hell, and I’m half expecting to want to leave as soon as I sit down. Almost. But, as soon as we’re settled,  owner, Clara, slides into our booth and chats to us warmly, genuinely seeming delighted we’re sat in her restaurant, and it doesn’t feel effected or rote, she comes across as a hard working, small business owner. She tells us how despite opening in the second quarter of the year, they only stepped up their PR as of August – it shows; my Instagram feed has been heavy with images of *that* chicken waffle burger. Cara goes on to answer all our questions, explaining that fried chicken was something both her and her partners parents and grandparent all put on the dinner table, it’s something that comes naturally, and here they use the best, British, free range birds and make all their own sauces. The asian influence that’s apparent throughout the BIRD menu is just their own twist on a home staple, in order to lighten things up and cut through what could be an overly heavy menu. My friend notes a tiny BIRD logo tattoo on her wrist, hopefully not a flash in the pan then, and Clara leaves us to our meal, clutching a small takeaway bag of chicken as she rushes off to a parents evening.

I admit that I’d been ready to Write BIRD off as too many cynical marketing exercises, and it’s only after asking a few friends, who’d already been, for feedback, and consequently hearing positive noises, that I agree to visit. I’m not in the habit of going to restaurants I’m expecting to dislike, life’s surely too short?

And as it happens, the chicken *is* really rather good. We order a couple of ‘small’ mixed white and dark meat (nice touch – you can also choose all white or all dark meat) portions from the start of the menu, assuming they’re starter size, and are alarmed when a whopping great basket arrives. Chicken is crisp and greaseless; the gochujang, sticky and addictive, but it’s the classic buffalo that wins with that sharp, hot kick and crispy skin that is faultless whilst the chicken within stays tender and moist. Deep fried pickles are  on the lacklustre side but corn pudding makes up for this as cheesy, stodgy fun.

We’re filling up fast, despite efforts to pace ourselves, when things take a turn for the ridiculous as our chicken waffle burger arrives. You may be thinking that it’s not likely to be the meekest order, yet we’re still not quite expecting and what is easily a double portion; a towering pair of beasts that I’m keener to Instagram than I am to pick up and eat, if I’m really honest. Whilst the idea is extravagant and eye catching, I think it works better as a ‘concept’ to splash across social media than it does in reality. I actually like the soft, stodge of the herby waffles – I’m not normally a fan, but these are rather good. However I think they’d work better not hugging chicken, cheese and bacon feel a bit unnecessary, and on a practical level, I can’t even fit it into my mouth. I’ll stick to the excellent chicken, with a waffle on the side next time, now I’m prepped on portion sizes.

Cocktails are good, my friend and I are both taken with a cheeky, Lolita-esque theme that runs through the menu, a cherry sour is a deceptively boozy number with a true cherry flavour, I switch to well made Negronis as the meal progresses.

Desserts are where we truly find our groove again. As a tray of freshly fried doughnuts is waltzed past, our magnificently delightful waiter packs away a couple for us with our doggy bags (we admit defeat fairly early on so as to squeeze in dessert), effectively knocking my top choice from the dessert menu; a doughnut ice cream sandwich. Going to have to go back for that and cocktails I reckon. Instead we decide to share the cherry sundae that’s so magnificently nostalgia inducing, we forget all reserve when digging to the bottom. Cherry and vanilla ice creams swirl with crushed meringue, cream and a tooth jarringly glorious cherry sauce. Despite our groaning bellies we quickly regret not ordering a whole one each.

Our doggy bags make for a fine lunch feast the following day. It’s the doughnut that I’m most keen to get stuck into though, and generously gifting the vanilla away, I find a quiet moment for the cherry one. I’m not going to lie, it’s not a life changing experience, but very, very tasty indeed; a classic light dough with a subtle hint of cherry in a thick fondant icing. I imagine that caught fresh from their doughnut hatch, with a decent coffee, they’d be even more of a treat.

I intend to do that.

 

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Doughnut Takeover at Bruno’s Coffee & Bakes

Join me and Bruno as we transform his Rochester shop into a fabulous doughnut emporium for one day only!

Following, as I’m sure you can imagine, a highly excitable telephone brainstorming session, we can confirm we’ll have the following doughnut options available:

Bacon & Maple Syrup Doughnut Sandwiches (peanut butter/fried egg optional)

Bags of ‘Nduja filled Doughnut Holes 

Coffee, Cardamom & Rum

Cherry, Pistachio & Black Pepper

Hazelnut Praline Creme with Raspberry

I expect there’ll also be some blueberry fritters and deep fried cheesecake. Well, just because. If you’re going to spend a whole day deep frying, why not go, ultimately, for certain death.

Rochester may sound like somewhere out of a Dickens novel; well, it is. It’s also really not that far out of London and the quaint, historic town of Kent makes for a fine day out. Bruno is a talented French patissier with a passion for fine French patisserie mixed with a healthy dose of Southern American flair. Me? I just like doughnuts.

See you there this Saturday 25th October. I’ll be the innocent looking one with an air of sugar, oil and jam about my person.

 

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Picture

I’ve had Picture nagging at me from my ‘to visit’ list ever since I first came across it, I think on Lizzie’s blog, almost a year ago. It’s a restaurant that I don’t think has ever really reached deserved peak consciousness, falling instead into a gentle undercurrent of awareness. It’s why I’ve not previously felt the urgency to visit, not like you do with the latest hotspots, that aggressively screech for attention, brazenly splashing social media with *that* signature dish like cheap perfume. I’m ashamed to say, like many more no doubt, that it’s due to the hiring of a PR that I finally find myself with no choice but to visit.

I’m just around the corner on a Saturday, post Workshop espresso masterclass, with a gurgling espresso ravaged stomach and in need of something quick and substantial to calm it down. It’s late afternoon, I’m alone and hoping for bar dining, but a cursory peer into Picture reveals a slightly cold and unwelcoming sight; an empty steel bar and a distant flurry of activity past this at the back. I do however clock a ridiculously reasonable set lunch menu and make a mental note to return with a friend, or indeed just a smidge earlier than I am at that moment,  if it’s to be a solo visit. In the meantime I smother my growling stomach with ramen at Tonkotsu.

Before I have a chance to return of my own accord, their PR sends an invite. Well ok, yes, actually I would very much like to visit, thank you; promptly a friend and I are booked in for dinner.

On a Thursday evening, I arrive before my friend, am sat at the bar and greeted warmly by manager Tom who gives me a bit of their background; he, together with the head chefs of Arbitus and Wild Honey had decided to open their own place. They didn’t want to make a song and a dance about it, they just wanted to have their own restaurant, cooking their own thing, and hence that original decision not to hire a PR. Fitzrovia it turns out, is much cheaper than Soho where they originally had sights, the name is chosen simply to fit with the area than for any other highfalutin subliminal reason. Located a fair way up on Great Portland Street, they weren’t getting the passing footfall they’d hoped for and without a PR, they missing much needed awareness, and so the decision was made. I’ve consequently seen a steady stream of my Twitter feed visit now and I hope it makes the difference for them, as I really warmed to Picture and the team behind it.

The evening of our reservation arrives and I come riding in strong on a lunch of Campari and sodas, it seems prudent to order an off menu Negroni to round things off. The barman is a kind looking man with a twinkle in his eye whom I watch with great pleasure pouring, not your la-di-da and reserved wine measures, but great glugging glassfuls, generously splashing in as much as possible. My friend, when she arrives orders a champagne cocktail laced with lemon and mint adorned with a purple flower, it tastes sweetly of fresh lemonade.

I hadn’t realised the restaurant was quite so small, little more than a long corridoor, the first half dominated by this slick looking bar that, to me, feels incongruous to the second half of the room as it has a far warmer, more rustic and trattoria vibe, replete with back wall mural and dappled paintwork. The menu is divided into a la carte on one side with a tasting menu on the other. We decide to leave ourselves in the hands of the kitchen, pretty much always a wise move, and at £35 for six courses seems to be very good value too.

Expectations are raised with a platter of bread and butter; two, very cute, individual baguettes, warm and crusty, are served with whipped butter. We choose a red wine that is on the cheaper end of the list that has a heavy aroma but is surprisingly sprightly and juicy on the palate.

We start proper with a Squash Velouté, I never order soup (boring) but this is a tiny bowl that smells of autumn, tastes of fennel and cumin seeds and has a luxurious texture that is velvety and mousse-like.

Our next course arrives swiftly after; Grilled, tender stem broccoli sits on top of goats curd, finely diced plum tomatoes, capers and a hearty dose of dill, little croutons add necessary texture and interest.

Next up is the triumph of the night; shoulder of lamb is so soft and full of flavour we guess it’s been sous vide-ed, devoid entirely of stringyness, it falls apart at the slightest prod. Chunks of meruez sausage boost richness and add spice, coco beans and tomato make a jus and puree. An astonishing simple and yet vibrant plate of food.

Three perfect parcels of ravioli with Italian greens and ricotta, really benefit from the warming spice and flavour of chilli.

28 Day Dry Aged Beef served in two, well cooked, chunks with curly kale, sweet potato puree and salsify suffers only from it’s position after that lamb dish, lacking quite the requisite punch of flavours that we’ve only just experienced. Not a negative, more of a comment on how good the former was.

Dessert is a heavenly combination of chocolate mousse, diced and caramelised banana with a peanut cream. Combined, the elements remind me of the artificial greatness of foamy banana sweets. I can’t resist hunting down the original sweets a few days later, the idea lodged firmly in my head.

We make pigs of ourselves by ordering a cheese plate to share, having decided, our waiter leaves the choice up to us, to take this after dessert. Oatcakes and three cheeses from La Fromagerie are swiftly polished off, you can tell we’re having a good time as I’ve given up taking photos at this point.

You know my only gripe? It’s with those big, statement-y plates that have become so popular but really grate on me and dwarf food. I’m pretty sure this is a personal quirk though as everyone else seems to like them…

Picture is the sort of place that feels like it would benefit from a different location, as a neighbourhood restaurant on the edges of town it would really have the chance to sparkle, as it is, it feels a bit strangled by the cluttered network of other dining options in the surrounding areas. Above all though I get a real sense of integrity, a warmth and honesty that behaves like MSG to the tastebuds and emanates from the staff. I note that they have a BYO Monday, which seems like the perfect excuse to instigate another wine evening with friends, it’s the sort of place you can imagine laughing and chatting for hours over a few bottles.

Picture is less slick in feel than you might expect from it’s front, though the service is exemplary, and all the better for it in my opinion.

 

Picture on Urbanspoon

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Greengage, Cobnut and Stem Ginger Cake

Harvest is a word that I associate with the rosy blush of autumn, just the very sound of the word conjors the crisp crunch of tiny British apples and juicy bite of plums. No doubt I’ve been influenced by many a school assembly of yore, worshipping at the alter of the harvest festival, whereby we were instructed to shun the actual harvest and instead gather non perishables that lends, to me, dusty store cupboard connotations and rather random, occultish images of straw sculptures. Still though, harvest has remained synonymous with this period, even if my associations with it have changed.

This year, post fig excitement, I’ve mainly been inspired by the combination of greengages and cobnuts, both insistently and persistently catching my eye at the little grocery store by Herne Hill station. When ripe, it seems almost a crime to do anything more with them than to serve together simply with a dollop of Greek yoghurt. The humble greengage almost glows with an internal iridescence that’s more ethereally beautiful than any stained glass window; subtle shades of peachy yellow through bright to dusky, blueish green. Cobnuts are cousins of the hazelnut and akin in flavour but taste fresher and brighter when they’re new, as they are in the shops right now.

It wasn’t a mistake to serve them grilled on toast with a little Comte as a post dinner savoury. Or with a chunk of Comte and a glass of light Jura red. That may just happen again since I brought over 1.5 kilos of the cheese back with me from Jura….(more on that trip when I have a little more time and on harvest too)

This week I decided to try something a touch more elaborate, spurred on by a craving for cake, my current flavour obsessions leading the way. I based this on a plum and hazelnut recipe on the Daily Mail website, not my usual source of anything, but the ratios seemed ok and fruit/nuts interchangeable, I added a smidge of stem ginger for some warming spice that’s not immediately apparent but builds gently on the finish.

Greengage, Cobnut and Stem Ginger Cake – Makes 10 large wedges

200g butter at room temperature, cut into pieces

200g golden caster sugar

4 large eggs beaten

120g self raising flour

80g wholemeal spelt flour

salt

200g cobnuts – roasted and blitzed in a food processor – retain a handful of whole for the top

stem ginger chopped finely plus syrup

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 punnets greengages

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 180 degrees and line a 25cm ish spring form cake tin with baking paper.

Roughly stone and chop the greengages from one of the punnets (250g)

Add the caster sugar and butter to a large bowl and cream together until smooth. Gradually add in the eggs, beating to combine after each addition. Fold in the flours, baking powder and a pinch of salt and finally stir in the chopped greengages, cobnuts and stem ginger (I used just 3 pieces plus a drizzle of the syrup but add more or less to taste), reserving a couple of tablespoons of ground cobnuts for topping.

Pour batter into the cake tin. Stone and halve greengages from the 2nd punnet and lay on the cake surface, cut side down. Mix reserved ground cobnuts with the demerara sugar and sprinkle over the top then finish by scattering over the remaining whole cobnuts.

Bake in the centre of the oven for around 40-45 or until the surface is crisp and golden and an inserted knife comes out clean.

I served simply with a big dollop of natural Greek Yoghurt

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Of Pasta & Figs

I love the transition between Summer and Autumn possibly most of all of any of the other season’s handovers. It’s perhaps no coincidence then that this ephemeral, twilight period is when figs drop auspiciously into shops, causing my heart to go all a flutter due to their fleeting seasonal window. As a rule it’s best to ignore those found in supermarkets, dumbed down and packaged sorrowfully to within an inch of their extended, flavour curtailed shelf life. Head instead to places that aren’t scared to stock rudely ripe fruit that’s close to busting out of it’s skin, droplets of juice oozing from heavy bottoms, begging to be eaten and casting in their wake a pale, damned shadow on their clinically packed cousins. Find them in proper old school markets, food centres (there’s a Turkish one near me that’s good) and even good old Lidl; the best will have to be gorged on the way home, for they’d never survive the paper bag journey, turning quickly to purple and crimson mush.

Fig season, this year, coordinated rather well with my learning how to make pasta. Well, you can probably see where this is going right? Here’s a couple of recipe simple ideas that I can heartily recommend.

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This n’duja, fig, mozzarella and basil dish may be my actual new favourite thing.

Simply boil pasta for around 4-5 minutes until al dente, remove from the saucepan and drain. Meanwhile, cut figs into slices of eighths and grill for a few minutes to release their juices.

Add a lump of n’duja to the pan in order to warm through and melt a little, then return the pasta and toss with the torn mozzarella and basil leaves and three quarters of the grilled figs.

Add the remainder of the figs to serve as they’ll have retained their shape more pleasingly than those that have been smooched with the pasta mess. Season with plenty of cracked black pepper.

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Gorgonzola, fig and cacao nibs – I like that this is a delicate balance between sweet and savoury; the creamy but piquant gorgonzola has enough saltiness to win the tussle though.

As before, boil pasta for around 4-5 minutes then drain, meanwhile grill the eighthed figs lightly.

Return the pasta to the pan, add a large chunk of broken up gorgonzola, a knob of butter, seasoning and most of the figs, then toss to coat.

Finish with the remaining pieces of fig and scatter across the cacao nibs.

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Oh, and here’s a cheeky little toastie. Well, just because; who doesn’t love a toastie? N’duja, lincolnshire poacher & sliced fig; it was GOOD.

 

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Casual Dining Spots; Roti King, On The Bab, Burro E Salvia, Dindin Kitchen

As much as I enjoy a leisurely evening of cocktails and nibbles or a long, lazy brunch at the weekend, there’s also something to be said for cheaper, maybe more perfunctionary eats. Be that a working lunch or an early, or late, snappy evening meal. I’ve enjoyed a number of great spots recently, that I’m too lazy to write up as a whole blog post each, so I thought I’d share a bunch in one fell swoop.

Burro E Salvia is a charming little spot behind Shoreditch High Street which I found on James Lowe’s recommendation and before Lyle’s was quite open itself. A tranquil restaurant that is calming, sweet and whitewashed, the antithesis of what much of Shoreditch has become. Just watching the ladies at the front of the shop hand shaping pasta is soothing and therapeutic in itself. That handmade pasta, along with a small range of Italian grocery items are available to take away, whilst the back section and bar against the wall opposite the counter becomes a restaurant.

I choose a rustic dish of potato and thyme filled pasta with a meat sauce; the pasta is super fresh, well cooked, pleasingly toothsome and the flavours simple and delicious. Comfort food at it’s best. It’s a fantastic hidden oasis of calm for lunch, or they open for dinner Thursday through Saturday.

I was invited to try Dindin kitchen, one of a rash of new Persian inspired places that have opened of late, this one claims to be, PR fail if I’m honest, an Iranian Itsu, like that’s a good thing… I turn up to a late lunch hungry but not prepared for the avalanche of food that’s sent out, luckily they’re more than happy to pack up most of it for me to take away, and boy and I feed off it’s contents for the next day. Ok, so the space is not a remotely glamorous one and yes, I can see the comparison to other high Street chains in this respect, being functional and harsh of light, and for this reason I’d highly recommend taking away, the ambience doesn’t do the food justice.

The food is good though. I try a selection of their dips with some flatbread and love the walnut and aubergine and another smoky baba ganoush type thing best. The wraps are well stuffed and generous of size and hold up well even though I eat mine on day two. It’s the boxes I’d go back for though, a combination of tender, spiced meat served with a side, salad, pickles and sauce, the barberry rice in particular is ace, studded with dried fruit and herbs, I like the combination of flavours all in one box. The fig and goats cheese flatbread and egg pots sound like a good idea for breakfast, but not so sure about the cronuts on display on their counter. Surely they could have come up with something a bit more interesting and, umm, Persian?!

Oh man, I’d been meaning to go to Roti King for so long and it more than kept up it’s part of the bargain. Once I find it that is. So I forgive them for moving it. I turn up at the old site on Charing Cross Road after an admittedly superficial Google search, not twigging that it had relocated to up behind Euston Station, I then proceed to walk past the entrance twice as the dodgy looking takeaway place can’t be The One. Oh how wrong I am.

Once you get past the decor and ignore half the menu (they still have the old residents menu displayed – yeah, confusing) it’s more than worth the effort. There really is only one thing to order here, don’t waste the opportunity to eat the best roti in London and watch mesmerised as the chef pulls and spins gossamer thin pastry with easy dexterity as though it’s not the faerie lace creation it is, that would become a heavy, broken beast in any clumsier hands. The curry served with is more of a dip and accompaniment to that etherial bread, I rarely feel the need to pull pieces of meat from bone, satisfied just to dunk and mop greedily into that satisfyingly fiery sauce. A dessert is a shared plate of more of that bread fried in sugar and butter. OOF. I go with friends for an early dinner and have no trouble getting a table but it soon fills up and I’m told there are adequate queues for lunch.

Despite it’s terrible name, On The Bab is a great little restaurant. I’ve been twice now and it definitely satisfies a desire for something a bit different, I love that you can order light with just one or two items or more heartily. As you might expect, I like to perch at the tall bench along the right hand wall rather than at the squash of tables that fill the room.

The dishes I try err on the sweet and tempered side and I could definitely do with a bit more heat; kimchi pancakes are tasty but perhaps lacking punch and chicken dumplings are nice enough. Kimchi arancini I want to love but don’t blow me away, I think maybe I don’t love arancini that much. I order better on my second visit, drafting in a friend to help share, and in doing so order more.

Bulgogi beef buns are maybe not as good as Bao, frankly I’m not sure any are to be fair, but very enjoyable all the same and fried chicken is lurid red, sticky sweet and like a good sweet and sour Chinese. The winner for me is kimchi Bokeum Bab, essentially a Korean kimchi and bacon paella served in a tin dish and topped with an oozy fried egg, I imagine pretty perfect hangover fodder indeed.

Maybe not perfect but it satisfies a snacky format that I love; a pick and mix savoury assortment.

As this post was.

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

On The Bab on Urbanspoon

Dindin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Roti King on Urbanspoon

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