Saturday, 31 May 2014

Janetira, Soho

The best food I have had in Thailand was the cheapest.  The kind cooked up at the side of the street, in tiny but incredibly efficient makeshift kitchens.  Fragrant, rich massaman curry in cheery plastic bowls, crispy chicken skewers wandering through sticky Bangkok and tangy Pad Thai.  All the perfect mix of spice/salt/sour/sweet.

I haven’t been very exhaustive in my search, but the Thai food I’ve had in London has mainly just a bit lack-lustre, lacking the vibrancy.  I need to explore more (including The Begging Bowl, and Som Saa).  I’d also like to cook more from my copy of David Thompson’s Thai Street Food – an absolutely beautiful book, but the giant size and giant lists of ingredients/recipe steps seems to have stopped me so far.

But in the meantime, the very good (and inexpensive) Janetira on Soho’s Brewer Street is where to go for a fix.  I had seen a few mentions recently, all name-checking the scary sounding mackerel curry.  It gets 6 chilli symbols on the menu (most dishes with one, two or none).  There’s a board that lists their recommendations, including the mackerel, labelled as ‘super duper spicy’.  We wussed out, and instead went for the other three on the board.

First - the crispy pork, rather confusingly on the ‘vegetable section’ of the full menu.  There was kale, but rather big chunks or tender pork belly with crisp fat too.  The other smaller plate was the excellently titled son in law balls, which is actually crispy fried eggs, with a sweet/sour tamarind sauce and sprinkling of crispy onions.

From the bigger plates, the Moo Ping pork skewers were tender, crispy on the outside, with a neat parcel of sticky rice, and a little dish of spicy sauce packed with chilli and fish sauce.  The final dish came from the noodle section on the full menu, the noodles bobbing in a delicious, deeply-savoury red curry sauce, complete with golden fried shredded wanton and a chicken drumstick.  A really comforting bowl.

The bill was £20 each, with service and a bottle of Singha.  Before I (finally) get round to cooking from Thompson’s Thai Street Food, I’ll be back to try more of the dishes.  It’s the best Thai food I’ve had in the city to date, and a good start to a bit of further exploration this summer.

(We sat under a red light, hence the lovely glow to all the above photos)

Janetira on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Cheat’s Butterbean & Sumac Hummus

Just a quick post with one of my new favourite snacks.  My cheat’s hummus (to escape soaking dried chickpeas overnight), uses tinned butterbeans, which gives a gloriously creamy texture.  I have been adding sumac, with its zesty lemon tang, but you could equally use cumin seeds, a sprinkling of paprika or dried chilli flakes. 

Simply warm a 400g tin in a pan (complete with the tinning water), then blitz in a food processor with 3 tbsp of the liquid, 1 tbsp tahini paste, the juice of ½ a lemon, 1 heaped tsp sumac (or alternative) and a good pinch of sea salt and black pepper. 

I like to serve this with pitta crisps, a brilliant alternative to naughty crisps - split length-ways, cut into wedges and bake for 10 minutes or so with a little oil until golden and crisp.  Or even cumin seed roasted mini Chantenay carrots, to help with that tricky seeing in the dark.  You could also add a mashed avocado at the end, for a delicious hummus/guacamole hybrid.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 3 May 2014

It might now be mid-way through the month, but here are my top three eating/drinking favourites and tips for May:

Asparagus – At Borough market a couple of days ago, there was a stall only selling bunches of the green spears.  It’s definitely the time to get hold of British asparagus.  It goes especially well with anything buttery/creamy/cheesy/eggy, like Hollandaise sauce, or simply steamed and used in place of soldiers in a dippy egg.  My favourite way is actually griddled or roasted, with a gentle charring on the outside.  Before using, just bend the spear, and discard the woody end that naturally breaks off.

Sourdough – I’m now the proud parent of a sourdough starter.  I just need to make sure I don’t kill it.  It’s a lot of responsibility, with the feeding and all.  I went to a half day course at the recently opened Bread Ahead school in Borough at the weekend, and will be ready to bake my first loaves this weekend.  May will therefore be all about sourdough bread – more photos and thoughts to come.

Peg & Patriot
Typing Room and Peg & Patriot – After the end of Viajante (with chef Nuno Mendes off to Chiltern Firehouse), the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green has a new restaurant.  Lee Westcott’s menu offers a tasting menu (six courses for £55), or a la carte, including a snack section with delicious sounding bites like courgette and basil profiteroles and crispy fish skin.  I asked for a menu nicely when at the hotel’s new bar Peg & Patriot (by Matt Whiley), which is a brilliant spot for cocktails.  They distil their own spirits, with innovative mixtures – my favourite was the Barley Legal, with burnt pineapple rum, buttered banana, barley, cultured coconut and lime.  It’s what a Pina Colada would be when it grows up.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The 10 Cases, Covent Garden

It’s finally very sunny.  I’ve ditched the black opaque tights.  People are spilling out onto pavements this weekend, and everyone is generally in a much better mood.

Friday plus the sunshine was the perfect reason for an alfresco lunch.  J had been raving about 10 Cases, so we nabbed a table outside.  It’s been there on Endell Street for a few years, and the name comes from the ever-changing wine list – they only ever buy ten cases of each wine, and when it’s gone, it really is gone.

Wine featured at lunch.  Four kinds no less.  A light sparkling, dry Riesling, pretty pink (not sweet) rose, and another made from sherry grapes (I think).  I should have made a note of each, but chances are there might be new cases on the list anyway.

The menu is made up of small and larger plates (small £5-£10 ish, large £15-£20ish).  We started with the charcuterie board, with rows of excellent smoky chorizo, salami and Parma/Serrano type ham (meant to check which), dinky radishes and pickled artichoke hearts.  The padron peppers were perfectly charred, with a spicy sprinkling on top, and the squid came as delicious long curls with a beetroot relish.

From the larger plates, the first was beautifully spring green, with pearly halibut on top buttery asparagus, slivers of pickled cucumber and a green sauce.  The salad of pork cheek, bacon and poached egg was just that, with the three things on top of the lettuce.  A little strange as a combination, but the pork cheek was very tender indeed.  A little bowl of courgette fritters on the side came crumbed in polenta, apparently not as light as usual, but still tasty nonetheless.

The fourth type of wine clearly needed a plate of cheese.  The selection was well-chosen (including a gooey St Marcelin, ash-coated wedge, and tangy cheddar), all with a sticky/sour cherry chutney.  A few tiny blips in the food, but I loved 10 Cases, especially the wine (because of the wine drank, and the great selection – the staff are really knowledgeable and happy to recommend).  Grab a table outside in the sun and work your way through the list this spring/summer.

The 10 Cases on Urbanspoon

Monday, 12 May 2014

5 best places in London for a bowl of pasta

Pasta is one of the most comforting foods.  A bad bowlful is very sad, but there are a few brilliant places in London.  Here are my five favourite places:

Trullo – This is one of my top Italian restaurants in London, up in Highbury & Islington (nearly next to the lovely Le Coq, and a few minutes from Prawn on the Lawn).  Along with their charcoal grill, the pasta is brilliant on their simple and seasonal menu – have the beef shin ragu if it’s on the menu.

Spaghetti al Cartoccio at Ciao Bella
Ciao Bella – A traditional and always packed local, tucked down Lamb’s Conduit Street (one of the nicest shopping roads in London if you have never been).  If you like seafood, the best pasta dish is the Spaghetti al Cartoccio (essentially spaghetii in a grease-proof paper bag).  They artfully tip it out at the table, with plenty of prawns, mussels and squid with the al dente spaghetti, and either a white wine or tomato sauce (both very good).

Burro e Salvia – The shop on Redchurch Street  has beautiful silky fresh pastas (including little golden ravioli) and sauces to cook at home, but you can also sit in for bowl.  They do courses too, if you fancy a few hours to perfect your technique.

CafĂ© Murano – This place from Angela Hartnett is a more relaxed (and cheaper) sister of her fancy  Murano (still very chic).  The Northern Italian menu changes daily, with delicious pasta, gnocchi and risotto (including a sunny saffron-rich risotto Milanese with sticky Osso Buco last time I visited).

Pistachio Casarecce at Rotorino
RotorinoThe most recent addition of the list, the just opened restaurant on Kingsland Road has interesting bowls (small and large size), including a fresh, nutty pistachio casarecce at the moment.  Worth a mention for the blue and white paint spattered enamel bowl alone.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe, Exmouth Market

A whole crab is messy at the best of times. Put a hammer into the mix along with the usual cracking tools, and you are guaranteed to get even more covered in bits of crab meat/shell, with a lingering crab smell for the rest of the day.  If you go to the second Bonnie Gull on Exmouth Market (the first is on Foley Street, with my write up one my starting blog posts), you get one to deal with the whole Dorset cock crab. 

It comes part taken apart, with the brown meat flame grilled (bringing out its strong flavour) before being returned to the shell, a slice of toasted sourdough and pot of tangy cocktail sauce for the £18.  Along with the good hour of entertainment spattering the rest of the table with flying shellfish, extracting the sweet white meat.  It’s also worth trying a few sides – there is a tart vegetable slaw (£4), chunky beef dripping chips or the skinny kind, with rosemary salt (both £4).

Back to the hammer-less dishes – from the starters, you can instead have the crab with avocado on beef-dripping toast (£8) as one of the options.  We tried the queenies (little queen scallops, from the Isle of Man) two ways.  I had the half shell queenies, fried golden on top a blob of cauliflower puree in their pretty shells (£9), with pangratta (essentially breadcrumbs, which I thought were usually pangrattato – feel free for any Italians to confirm), and thin slices of more cauliflower.  The second were beer battered (£8), fried until golden and crispy with a good sprinkling of paprika, and more of their cocktail sauce for dipping.  A very moreish way of serving (and converted a scallop suspect  at the table).

Alongside the crab, from the mains we also tried the whole Looe lemon sole, on a very spring plate of asparagus, peas, broad beans and mint (£17).  The fish and chips sailing past to other tables looked excellent – of course with scraps and obligatory mushy peas.  There are rolls too (also for takeaway) – we tried the fish finger sarnie (£7) with tartare sauce and mushy peas stuffed inside (apparently peas in a sandwich is a good addition), along with the picturesque native lobster bridge roll (£15).

Picking crab meat out the body and your legs for your dinner is a perfect diet solution.  You could be there for hours, and eventually give up.  So it was quite late by the time the mess of hammered crab was done with.  We just fitted in sharing a bowl of excellent crumbly Cornish fudge (£3) and a slab of the Millionaire shortbread, with crunchy candied hazelnuts (£6).  If you want even more seaside fun, they do homemade ‘whippy’ ice cream, in the foamy cones with toppings, or a stick of Brighton rock.

The drinks are very good too.  Pisco makes excellent cocktails but a little underused in bars, so it was nice to see it on the Bonnie Gull menu in the Pisco Aviation – strong, and a beautiful moody grey/blue colour.  Their Bonnie Marys are also an excellent version of the classic.

Their brilliantly fresh, British and sustainable seafood (there’s a map showing where the catches come from) with the fun of the seaside is a great addition to my favourite restaurant street in London.  Bonnie Gull have been very considerate opening here, as it is also five minutes from my flat. It’s therefore handy for weekend brunch – there are great sounding things like devilled eggs with smoked cod’s roe and potato crisps, or omelette Arnold Bennett with Arbroath smoky (along with non-fishy options).  

Bonnie Gull Seafood Cafe on Urbanspoon