Sunday, 30 November 2014

What Joanna Ate Top 3 November 2014

After mild neglect in a busy November, I’m just sneaking this post in.  Before December 1st and Christmas taking over, my top three list of Thai barbecue, new favourite Bar Termini and one of the ugliest but nicest root vegetables.

Smoking Goat & Som Saa - Thai in London is looking up, with two new places bringing smoke and spice with barbecue/charcoal.  Smoking Goat on Denmark Street is a pretty tiny room, most seats a little crammed around the bar, and a small yet perfectly formed menu, coming from their barbecue at the back.  

At dinner earlier this week we started with a salad of crispy pork belly with cool chunks of pickled watermelon (£6) and coal roast scallops with red nam yum (£3.50 each), followed by smoked lamb ribs and slow roast duck legs (£15), all served with Som Tam (crunchy green papaya salad) and sticky rice.  It’s a bit squashed, hot and smoky when crammed full, but great food (I was expecting a little more chilli though, with all we tried really mild).  There’s also Som Saa winter residency at Climpson’s Arch, their charcoal frills and wood fired ovens bringing a North/North-East Thai menu (wider than at Smoking Goat, and also open for brunch at the weekend).  It’s on my list of places to visit, but hoping to add to Smoking Goat and Janetira as London Thai favourites.

Bar Termini – Tony Conigliaro is behind two of my favourite bars (69 Colebrooke Row and The Zetter Townhouse).  His new Bar Termini on Old Compton Street brings more of the smart white jacket uniforms and exquisite drinks, in the way of the nicest kind of plush Italian cafe. They serve coffee in the day (there will be a menu of cured meats, cheeses, sandwiches etc), with cocktails from 11am.  Do try the Marsala Martini, with a home-pickled almond at the bottom of the glass. 

Celeriac – Cold weather means root veg.  My favourite is the gnarly celeriac, faintly celery like, fantastic raw or cooked.  If raw, for a lighter version of remoulade, cut into match-sticks with apple, dressed in lemon juice and hazelnut oil (pairing with nuts brings out soft nuttiness of the vegetable), maybe a handful of fresh parsley or mint too. Cooked, it’s great in a creamy, garlic rich gratin, or mashed with lots of butter.  I love it roasted, either as a potato alternative, or mixed into hearty salad of nutty grains (farro works particularly well) with other vegetables and a good spoon of wholegrain mustard.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Mission E2, Bethnal Green

A brief brunch post.  An escape from torrential rain at Mission, complete with its leafy palm stretching up to the top of the railway arch ceiling. 

The second place from the people of Sager + Wilde (the wine bar on Hackney Road, with delicious snacks too) is just down the road from the tube station, a bit of a dubious view of flats on Paradise Row.  There’s a fabulous wine rack behind the bar, with an excellent accompanying wine list (lots by the glass).  We managed to fit some in during Sunday brunch/lunch, our choices split by more breakfast (11-2) and roast (as part of the other lunch choices, 12-4).

The ‘nduja baked eggs (£9) were from the former.  The spicy Calabrian sausage was almost melted into the tomato, black cabbage snaked around the just runny-yolked eggs, with toasted sourdough on the side.  The roast (£14ish) was a very good example, tender pork, golden crackling and roast potatoes, plus a spoon of quince jelly.  We shared a sundae glass of beautifully creamy salted caramel ice-cream, sweet with the bitter edge of a properly amber caramel.

A place to return for a few glasses of wine and a plate of charcuterie/cheese at the bar, or for a wintry dinner under the palm (especially with a plate of the venison pappardelle).

Mission Wine Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

4 days in Marrakech (sausages/slippers/souks/spices)

4 days in Marrakech last week were generally made up of the following 4 things:
  1. Souk/Medina rage.  The seemingly impossible to navigate terracotta roads/lanes/alleys, which made no sense to my general feeling of direction.  One day it took us approximately 2 hours to find our Riad.  We then couldn’t even find wine to ease said rage.
  2. Lots and lots of round loaves of bread. Most white, some chewier crusted, some a little more wholemeal, but served with every meal.  Used for scooping up food, or even stuffing full of rusty coloured merguez.  I had to self-impose a complete bread-ban once returned, after what felt like 3 mini loaves each day.
  3. Hamman and messages.  Do go to a hammam if you visit (we did the fancier spa ones rather than the very traditional, and perhaps the more scary).  A little sniggering from buckets of water poured on heads/lots of all-over scrubbing, but super soft skin and very relaxing combined with a massage (until the exhausts of motorbikes once outside).
  4. Mint tea.  All day, every day.  Just ask for it without sugar (there are lots of dentists in the medina).

I think Marrakech needs a little bit of searching/researching to find excellent food, with lots of reports of just rather passable tagines and/or mild food poisoning.  I’ve put together my recommendations from the long weekend, for a few ideas if visiting:

Do go to the main square for dinner one night.  A smoky, intoxicating bustle of dried fruit sellers, rows and rows of orange juice places, food stalls with steaming make-shift kitchens, snake charmers and maybe even a monkey on a lead.  The places to eat are crammed next to each other, most with the trestle tables boxing in the little kitchens.  Grilled meats seemed to be the key thing at most, piles of sausages at the sides, with a mini loaf of bread and dish of crushed up tomato at your place, tangy harissa at some.  The stalls are numbered, so head for either 32 (my favourite, with delicious mixed kebabs), 31 (very good aubergine and spinach alongside the sausages) or 1 (great harissa, spicy merguez). 

The strangest thing we had was a scoop from a sweet brown mound, a bit cake like but quite indeterminable, full of spices and sesame maybe.  Served with even sweeter cinnamon tea.  Maybe not quite as daring as lamb head or stuffed camel spleen, which I maybe avoided.

When we got hopelessly lost on the way back to our Riad on the first night, we stopped at Café Atay, firstly for directions, for wifi to help the first, and also a drink (not booze though) and plate of Moroccan pastries.  It turned out to only be about 5 minutes from where we were staying when we did eventually find the way, and we went back, partly out of gratitude, partly because the pastries were some of the best we had.  Dinner was very good value (I think £4 or so for the main course) – try the meatball and egg tagine.

Souk Café
Souk Café
Our favourite restaurant was Souk Café, one of the cheapest, with a lovely little roof terrace on the top (even if it was in the middle of a building site of next door).  Along with the beautiful mixture of Moroccan salads (6 little bowls of delicately spiced vegetables and lentils), we had a really tender lamb and prune tagine with fluffy cinnamon couscous.  They do brilliant smoothies too, especially if you need a break from tagine/sausages.

Café de la Poste
Riad el Fenn
We were slightly bad tourists in searching the (predominantly dry) city for the best place for a drink of wine.  After souk rage one day, we gave up on our search, but felt a little smug once we had a few glasses of gris (their very light rose), on a beautiful roof terrace, watching the sun set over the medina the next day.  Our favourite in the medina was the roof of Riad El Fenn (absolutely beautiful inside – a very stylish place to stay), but we also loved Café de la Poste outside of the medina walls.  A great terrace at the front for people watching.

I left a little ready to say goodbye to tagines/sausages/motorbikes/getting lost, but after having some brilliant food.  Obligatory tasselled slippers from the souk and questionably cheaper than at home spices tucked in my bag. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Forza Winter, Peckham

Bus people-watching balances out the slightly unglamorous mode of travel.  Friday’s 11pm route home on the 63 provided excellent examples of terrible (i.e. too small/tight, rather than scary) Halloween outfits (lots of teeny mini-skirts and fake blood).  Starting at Peckham Rye and stopping nearly outside the front door, on the way back from a night of Fonduta at Forza Winter.

Forza Winter (from Forza Win, their previous and ongoing pop-up dining, in their words, all wood fired seasonal dining experiences in odd places) has just set-up for the season, in a lofty, almost-shed, in the maze of buildings just off Rye Lane (others included art galleries/raves/African clothing/martial arts on Friday).  It’s a little less popped-up than the previous, the Peckham location Forza Win's ongoing home. 

Their winter offering is centred around the bubbling pots of fonduta, the cheese fondue made of fontina cheese and double cream.  They apparently use 4kg per night, with lots of delicious things for dipping.  The pans of the fonduta were put on the tables (long trestle tables, everyone sharing), with little mushroom arancini the first to dunk (light, with lots of earthy mushroom).  Then polpette, the meatballs excellent with the salty tang of the fontina, followed by roasted romanesco cauliflower.  A bit like a posh cauliflower cheese smothered in the fonduta. 

The next platters were beautifully moist porchetta, complete with curls of dark caramel coloured crackling, roast squash with chilli and lots of just-charred red onions and bitter radicchio with walnuts.  You could have dunked in/drizzled on the cheese for any of these three, but they were very good without.  And after eating some of the fonduta as soup in the bowl (very decadent soup), I was just about ready to stop with the cheese.

Dessert was little pots of a dark chocolate and orange mousse. Boycotted by me (with my irrational orange dislike), but gladly finished by another and declared excellent.  The £30 ticket also included a hot cocktail at the start – I had the port and pomegranate (a sweet, intense mulled wine), with a bar for extra drinks (all really reasonable).  The music was great, with relaxed but fun service to match the room, complete with a bike hanging from the ceiling

Uploading photos, I realised I forgot to take one of the pots of fonduta, in all its 4kg of cheese glory.  But it’s definitely worth a bus trip to Peckham for (it's running Thursday to Sunday until 20th December) – just arrive hungry.