Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Regency Cafe, Pimlico

My Dad isn’t quite my go-to person for the hottest new restaurant openings.  He does, however, know London very well and occasionally suggests great long-standing London gems that I should try. 

He’s been saying I needed to visit the Regency Café ever since I started the blog, and a few weeks ago we made it to this Pimlico institution.  It was established in 1946, and is a bit of a café design classic - it was used in the film Layer Cake and the Vogue shoots taken inside are put up on the walls.  

The menu offers any kind of traditional fry-up you could want, alongside home-made pies, sandwiches, and my favourite kind of British classics like ham, egg and chips.  They also have daily specials, including curry and fish on a Friday, all washed down with mugs of tea.  Diners order at the counter before sitting down, and collect the food when it’s ready – announced with a gentle booming across the room.  It’s the perfect system, with the steamed up room full of a mixture of people from civil servants to kids on the rainy Friday, but only a short wait for the food.

My Dad went for a delicious mushroom omelette, chips and beans (a great stodgy combination), while I had the perfectly cooked cod with crispy batter, golden hand-cut chips and good old mushy peas.  It’s a bargain – my lunch was the most expensive thing on the menu at £7, with lots of dishes around the £4 mark.  It would be the ideal fry-up destination, and I will definitely be back.  If a traditional British café like this is as good as the Regency Café, it shouldn’t change a bit.

Regency Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Chinese-style Lamb Dumplings

Chinese potstickers, Japanes gyozas, Russian pelmeni, Argentinian empanadas and Italian ravioli.  Everyone loves dumplings, with the little parcels filled with something delicious.

Asian dumplings are my favourite, and I love squidgy steamed ones, or ones that are then fried until golden and crispy, dunked into a spicy dipping sauce.  Whenever you order in restaurants they seem one of those things that are a little complicated to recreate at home, but apart from a bit of assembly, they are pretty fool-proof. 

Last week I came back from one of the Asian supermarkets in China Town with some mysterious vegetables, great fresh red miso paste and a packet of dumpling wrappers, so decided to have a little experiment in the kitchen.

I was using up bits I had left, including some minced lamb (from my version of lahmacun, the Turkish lamb pizza with lots of herbs, lemon and sumac) and some curly kale (a rather more British ingredient).  I added some cumin, coriander seed, soy sauce, chilli flakes, chives, black sesame and red onion, and after steaming, fried a few and served with a tangy dipping sauce.

The important point is not to put too much filling in each dumpling, as you want to be able to seal easily with no splitting.  The dumpling wrappers also freeze well, if you want to make a smaller batch. 

Dumplings (makes around 18)
1 tsp flavourless oil (I used sunflower)
1 red onion, finely chopped
50g curly kale
150g minced lamb
2 tsp ground cumin seeds
2 tsp ground coriander seed
2 tsp sesame seeds (I used black, but white would do)
1 pinch dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp soy sauce
Small bunch chives, finely chopped
Dumpling wrappers (my packet was 18)

Dipping Sauce
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp chinese rice vinegar
1 green chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds
  • Gently fry the red onion for 5 minutes or so until soft and translucent, before adding the kale and cooking for a couple more minutes
  • Add the onion and kale to the lamb, spices, sesame seeds, soy sauce and chives and mix until well-combined
  • Take a dumpling wrapper, moisten the edges with a finger dipped in water, before putting a small teaspoon of the filling in one half of the wrapper, with a gap for the rim (see picture above)
  • Fold the wrapper to seal, before crimping with your fingers
  • Place about 5 or 6 in a bamboo or normal steamer, with greaseproof paper on the bottom, and steam for around 8 minutes (until the wrapper is translucent all the way through)

  • While they are steaming, mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce together
  • You can fry once steamed for a different texture – just heat a little oil over a moderate heat, and fry on one side until golden and brown

These are a few of my favourite fillings that also work well:
  • Raw, de-veined and de-shelled prawns, chopped and mixed with lots of chopped spring onions, and a generous slug of sesame oil
  • Minced pork with finely shredded Chinese leaf, chilli flakes and chopped water chestnuts

I’m not sure how authentic any of my combinations are, but dumplings like this are a great example of how you can turn a few leftovers in the fridge into something rather more exciting.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ceviche, Soho

Soho is one of my favourite parts of London for eating.  It’s full of great places, often tucked in next to the neon-lit seediness, and always feels vibrant and busy.  But lots of the good restaurants are often so busy that you either need to eat at 5.30 or 9.30 in the evening, which can be a bit frustrating.  Especially when lots of the places don’t take bookings, and the only choice is to turn up hopeful, with a back-up plan.

I’ve read lots about this no-bookings trend, and I’m not going to debate whether I think it works or not, but it does make it tricky to go to new places if you turn up around 7pm.  A few weeks ago L and I tried to go to Flat Iron, as I’d heard good things about this £10 (no-booking) steak place.  There was a waiting time of 2 and a half hours – not good if you’re hungry.  Then to Pitt Cue Co (fabulous pulled pork) with their bar also crammed with people waiting, and then the same story at Spuntino (delicious shoe-string fries and truffled egg and cheese toast).

We ended up at Ceviche rather un-optimistic, but were given a table straight away.  It’s a cosy spot on Frith Street, with a little bar at the front.  My recent trip to Coya introduced me to Peruvian food and the wonder of pisco sours - those at Ceviche were smooth and citrus sharp, with a number of different types on the menu (including a lovely passion fruit one).

The menu is made up of small plates designed for sharing, which we studied while munching some of their Cancha, a crunchy Peruvian corn that’s a little like un-popped popcorn, but much nicer and rather less teeth-shattering.  We then shared dishes that included good cassava chips (a bit like woodier potato), cheese and chard taquenos (little crispy parcels, molten inside), and a quinoa salad that was interesting, but in a dressing that was a little sweet.

Ceviche is typically raw fish marinated in citrus and chilli, and it felt only right to try a few of the namesake dishes.  The Don Ceviche was seabass in Amarillo chilli tiger’s milk (the ceviche marinade), limo chilli and red onion, and was fresh, tart and tangy.  The mushroom and sweet potato ceviche was less successful, but maybe ordering any non-fish ceviche just isn’t the best idea.  I was surprised that the more wild-card choice of beef-heart was my favourite dish.  Grilled with a lovely smoky char, this was tender and full of beefiness without being offaly, and a great match with the spicy anticuchera sauce and giant choclo corn.

We shared a dessert of cinnamon sponge soaked in pisco syrup, with creamy dulce de leche ice cream.  The bill (including a couple of pisco sours each) was around £70, so it’s not the cheapest, but definitely an affordable option if you don’t go mad with ordering (it’s easy to get carried away in ‘small plate’ places).  It’s a fun, colourful restaurant (my photos make the inside and the food dingier looking than in reality), and feels a little piece of Lima in the middle of a rather greyer London.  

Ceviche on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Table Cafe, Borough

Italian food is often at is best when kept simple.  Beautiful, vibrant flavours if great ingredients are used.  The River Café (on the Thames in Hammersmith) has played a bit part in bringing simple, yet high-end Italian food to London.  It was founded over 25 years ago, and is a rather iconic part of the restaurant scene (with fabulous cookbooks too).  It is rather pricey though – I haven’t yet been, but would love to go (another to add to my list – not enough time or money to quite get through it!).

There are a few newer places that have been hyped as having similarly pared back and delicious Italian food, but rather cheaper than the River Café.  Zucca on Bermondsey Street has been much lauded, which has meant every time I have thought to book, there has been no space.  The Table Café, just behind the Tate Modern on Southwark Street, has also been mentioned as having a similar offering.

The Table Café was founded 7 years ago, and has recently  undergone a progression with the new chef (ex Duck Soup, Angela Hartnett and Zucca).  I went last Saturday evening for an early supper – we were the first to get there just after 6pm, and the warm focaccia with  a shiny, salty olive oil crust was a great start.

From the smaller plates, we shared a light and summery dish of grilled octopus with fregola (Sardinian pasta that’s a little like giant couscous), tomato and basil (£7.50), and chopped lardo and rosemary on sourdough toast (£6).  Lardo seems to be one of the current on-trend ingredients (I’ve seen it on a few menus, and there's even a restaurant in Hackney named after it).  It’s cured strips of fat, so is essentially fancier sounding lard as the name suggests.  A little bit was tasty with the rosemary, but rather too rich and fatty (surprisingly enough), even shared between three.

For the mains, the roast pork belly (£14.50) was juicy, with the little castelluccio lentils brought alive with the salsa verde served alongside – not the softest pork belly tried, but a good meat to fat ratio.  The potato gnocchi with gorgonzola and toasted hazelnuts (£12) were soft pillows in the mellow sauce (I hate blue cheese but liked it), but a little rich (probably to be expected from the description).

The homemade parpadelle was delicious comfort food with the meaty Tuscan sausage and chicken liver ragu (£13) – not too livery, and with plenty of parmesan (the perfect antidote to a lot of cheap white wine at my work do the night before).

I liked The Table Café – it is a friendly, relaxed place with hearty, simple Italian food.  I need to visit a few of the other Italians mentioned to compare, but as lots of the South Bank is full of rather more boring chain restaurants, this is an affordable place to have up your sleeve if in the area.

The Table on Urbanspoon

Friday, 12 April 2013

Balthazar, Covent Garden

I love a good notebook – it’s currently a black Moleskine filled with my food notes.  I have a list of new restaurant openings, which has quickly got very long – it’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the new places.  Occasionally though, there is somewhere that’s the hot new opening, with lots of buzz.

The London outpost of the New York institution Balthazar opened recently, and seems to have been one of the biggest launches of 2013.  Which means it’s very booked up.  Yesterday I went for a work lunch, with a reservation at 12, as there was no way to get a reservation at the usual 1pm (fine by me, I’m usually hungry by 10am anyway).

It’s in Covent Garden, just down the road from the Royal Opera House, in the old Theatre Museum site.  They serve food all day, with a large French Brasserie/Bistro inspired menu, including bread and patisserie from their bakery next door and lots of fruits de mer.

We didn’t end up trying any of the seafood – our starters included a warm goat cheese and caramelised onion tart (£8) and an indulgently rich lobster black truffle risotto (£10) with cauliflower cream and black truffle butter.  I had the Bayonne ham with celeriac remoulade, mustard, cornichons and grilled bread (£9) which was nice but could have done with a bigger pile of the tangy remoulade.

For mains we went for classics - a good cheeseburger (£16) and steak frites with herby maître d’butter and lots of the lovely, skinny, crispy fries (£19.50).  My lamb T-bone (£21) was enormous and nicely pink, with flageolet beans, chantenay carrots and little slices of sausage in a meaty jus. 

The only dessert we tried was their homemade raspberry sorbet and chocolate ice-cream (£7), but the baked cheesecake with a warm cinnamon and apple doughnut sounded delicious (the pastries in the bakery next door looked great too).

Amid all the hype, I had read very mixed reviews of Balthazar – overall the food was good solid brasserie/bistro fare, and it’s a buzzy space that feels like it’s been there forever.  It has had lots of comparisons with The Wolseley and The Delaunay, with its all-day brasserie feel – I prefer the shiny marble and glamour of The Wolseley, but I’m sure Balthazar will become a Covent Garden stalwart to pop-in for a coffee, or a great Steak Frites.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Moro, Exmouth Market

The last few weeks have been taken up with moving (packing/unpacking/cleaning/traumatic Ikea trip), and lots of late night working.  Although I haven’t been writing over this time, I have still been eating, and finally got the chance to sit down today and put some blog posts together.

The first is about my lunch at Moro a few weeks ago for my brother’s birthday.  Although I get the chance to go on great lunches for work, another opportunity for a free meal is if my parents are payng.  I might be nearly 25 with a job and flat, but I’m hoping I can eke out their generosity for a little longer (I have promised to treat them to fancy meals when I make my fortune – my way of doing so is still rather TBC unfortunately).

I recently blogged about their next-door tapas bar Morito, but this is the first time I have made it to the original Moro.  The room is a lovely space, and the menu has both Spanish and Moorish influences, with a heady mix of spicing and intriguing flavour combinations.

One of the most interesting dishes was the Mansaf, a silky, lightly tangy yoghurt broth with lamb kifta, chickpeas, almonds and pine nuts (£7).  The Pulpo a la Gallega (£8.50) was beautifully tender octopus and potato with a spicy orange slick of paprika oil.  The seared pork fillet with pomegranate molasses and sesame seeds was also very tasty, and came with their brilliant crispy fried chickpeas (£8.50).

From the mains the roasted pork (£18.50) with turnips cooked with sherry vinegar, red onion and black beans was a nice alternative to a more traditional roast pork (but still came with crunchy crackling).  The chicken with slow-cooked shallots (£18.50) was moist and tender, with creamy mashed potato and giant muscatel raisins (although it did mean they had giant seeds inside).  

My main was smoky charcoal grilled bream with koshary (£18.50), an Egyptian dish of rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni with a sweet tomato sauce, that was comforting and delicious (never mind people who sniff at double carbs on a plate – I’m all for embracing quadruple carbs). 

We then tried all the desserts including the yoghurt cake with pistachios and pomegranate seeds (£7), and the lightly fragrant rosewater and cardamom ice cream (£6).

I loved trying new completely new dishes with the bold flavours used – I’ll continue cooking from the Moro cookbooks, but would be very happy to return.  (Just on a final note – if the photos look better on this post, it’s because they are taken with a proper camera rather than my slightly battered digital compact.  Thanks T for the photography!).

Moro on Urbanspoon