Food


Someone at home was hooked on making hot chocolate but wasn’t happy with what mixes were available at the shops. Most of the hot chocolate mixes at the supermarket were too sweet or too powdery. I ended up buying Blai a bar of Lindt dark chocolate for him to make it himself but he couldn’t be fussed to actually prep it and ate the entire bar instead. Huh.

When the opportunity arose to try Hans Sloane drinking chocolate, I jumped at it. This would make our nightly hot chocolate ritual actually happen! Yes, the company is named for the eminent physician and botanist who, in addition to the rest of his work and collecting, developed a way of mixing cocoa with milk to make a drink and pioneered drinking chocolate in Europe.

The company were kind enough to send me a pack each of their milk and dark chocolate beads and also a Christmas special, a single serving dark chocolate bauble filled with more dark chocolate beads. That last little Christmas ball was the first thing we tried.

Hans Sloane Hot Chocolates

Christmas Bauble

Into a mug it went…

Christmas Bauble in Mug

…and we poured hot milk over. Stir, stir, stir and we had a mug of hot chocolate. (OK, we made a bit of a mess.)

Hot Chocolate

What I was particularly impressed with was hot smooth the hot chocolate was – when I’ve made hot chocolate from scratch before, I’ve always had to whisk the mixture but here we only used a spoon. The flavour was excellent – the dark chocolate was rich and coated the mouth nicely. If there was a problem, it was just a teeny bit too sweet but it was still much better than anything available at our local supermarkets. It certainly deserved its Great Taste Awards! We’ll be working our way through the other packs through the winter.

The bauble retails for £2 (it would make a nice stocking stuffer) and the bags of beads are £4.99 each (270g each). Hans Sloane hot chocolate can be purchased at Tesco, Waitrose, some independent shops and through their website.

I only recently heard that the Barcelonan chain Mas Q Menos had opened in London but it wasn’t until they opened their second restaurant on Wardour Street (the first is in Holborn) that I finally made my way there. On first impressions, the place is very promising. There’s an open, welcoming space and the ingredients were all on display in the front and all clearly were of high quality.

It took an absolute age for anything to happen while we were there though. Despite it being quite empty (there were only three tables full that afternoon), orders took forever, drinks arrived at a snail’s pace, even waiters moved in slow motion.

The first dish to (finally) come out was a toasted sandwich with Mallorcan cured sausage (sobrasada de Mallorca), brie cheese, and honey. Ah, one of my favourite combinations! It was a good thing this sandwich was excellent as I was on the verge of losing my patience with the place. This sandwich was generously filled with all my favourite things and perfectly toasted.

Sobrassada, Cheese and Honey Sandwich

One of the well-known offerings in the restaurant is their toasted coca flatbreads, a Catalan flatbread here topped with various ingredients. We had one with small sardines, seasonal tomatoes, rocket salad, piquillo peppers and spring onions. The sardines were clearly from a tin and of very high quality and were delicious. Excellent.

Little Sardines, Piquillo Peppers, Rocket, Tomato, Onion on Coca Bread

A slice of Spanish omelette (tortilla de patatas) wasn’t exactly a dud but it was a bit dull. But fine, it was fine, we ate it.

Tortilla with Tomato Bread

The food, in general, then is very good. Service, however, if you couldn’t guess, was extremely slow and I hope it’s improved since we visited. It’s the perfect place for a light lunch or an after work drink with snacks though and I’m glad it’s so much easier to get good Catalan/Spanish snacks here in London!

Mas Q Menos
68-70 Wardour Street
London W1F 0TB

Mas Q Menos on Urbanspoon

I went to visit my brother in Leigh-on-Sea a couple weekends ago and was utterly charmed by the little town, yes, by the sea. I loved the old fishing village of Old Leigh and I loved the independent shops and restaurants along the Broadway. And I loved all the food I ate while there. Dinner was at Agostinho’s, a Portuguese restaurant I’d identified as promising and we made a booking for the Saturday night.

Agostinho is the head chef in the kitchen and his very chatty and friendly wife leads the front of house team. Agostinho is from Madeira, which as a fact by itself isn’t odd but what is odd is that the other Portuguese restaurants in the Leigh/Southend area (there are three in total, I think) are all run by Madeirans. The only things I knew about this Portuguese island were the basket rides down the hills and the fortified wine. According to Wikipedia, a particularly Madeiran speciality is fish with fried bananas….. ok, I’d see what else Madeira has to offer then!

Do make sure to book a table – the place was packed when we got there at 9am. The menu is full of lots of tempting things but we decided to share just the one starter when we saw the size of the main courses. To start, one order of their homemade Pasteis De Bacalhau (£5.95). These fried morsels sure beat any of the manufactured frozen pasteis many Portuguese cafes use – these were light and fluffy and full of fish (and boneless!).

Pasteis De Bacalhau

We shared two of the mains. A Portuguese Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos (£16.95) was a huge warming bowl of a tomato based seafood stew. Various fishes, mussels, and squid were found swimming inside along with chunks of potato and slices of peppers. The dish is perfect for any seafood lover and the broth was fantastic. We had rice on the side to soak up that broth.

Caldeira De Peixe E Mariscos

Rice

We also split an Espetada a Moda da Madeira (£14.75), a grilled skewer of sirloin and bay leaves in a wine sauce with lots of garlic. If this is Madeiran food, then Madeiran food is insanely delicious. The meat was perfectly tender (medium-rare at our request) and I was mopping up that fabulously winey sauce with the equally perfectly sauteed potatoes.

Espetada a Moda da Madeira

I was feeling guilty about the lack of vegetables and ordered a side of Runner Beans (£4.00 for two servings) for us. Simple (well, simple and butter-tossed) and just what we needed on the side.

Runner Beans

Dinner

Despite the both of us feeling pretty bloated, I insisted on squeezing in a dessert, especially when I saw (from a neighbouring table) that they had a homemade Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds (£5.25). This light and truly very airy dessert is like a regular caramel flan but with the texture and density of clouds. I mean, c’mon, it’s mostly air! I don’t think any of the whipped cream was necessary – if it’s just me and the Molotofe, I’ll be happy.

Portuguese Molotofe Pudding (Caramel Soufflé), Roasted Almonds

It was no surprise then that this restaurant was packed that Saturday night. Service was friendly, the food was excellent, the room was warm and cosy. It’s almost the opposite of many of the newer, louder wine bars in the area but I like it very much for that reason!

Agostinho’s
157 Leigh Road
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
SS9 1JF

Yes, another local to Croydon review! This time it’s the West Croydon branch of Dosa n Chutny, the much beloved restaurant in Tooting. I was keen to see how the Croydon branch compared. I’ll just be upfront and say that service was an utter shambles the Sunday afternoon we visited but luckily the food was excellent. Hopefully the service does improve once the front of house and the cooks all communicate with each other.

Anyway, to drink, we ordered Fresh Lemon Juice (£2.25) and Orange + Ginger + Apple Juice (£2.95). Both were excellent but it was the latter that stood out, having a perfect balance of all three ingredients. Not too gingery, not too thin and appley, not tasting just of orange juice. Just perfect.

Our food all arrived at once. A Special Malasa Dosa (£3.50) turned out to have two kinds of potato mixture in the middle. Apart from the major colour differences, they both tasted pretty similar. The different chutneys were all coconut based and the green and orange ones had a fabulous kick to them. Great sambhar too. The dosa was both soft and crisp and a most excellent specimen.

Special Malasa Dosa

Inside the Special Malasa Dosa

A Bhindi Do Pyaza (£4.75) was well made and helped us with our vegetable content that lunchtime. I can’t resist any good okra dish.

Bhindi Do Pyaza

We ordered a Veechu Parotha (£1.50) to mop up the gravy and it was a good, tasty, if small, flatbread for it.

Veechu Parotha

Despite my seeing our waiter write down our order very very clearly, the kitchen managed to get one of our dishes incorrect (a lot of incorrect orders were also going to other tables that afternoon). There was a bit of a long wait then for our correct order of Paneer Majestic (£4.75). But what arrived was worth the wait! It was indeed majestic! Fingers of paneer were battered and fried and then tossed with a fried mixture of garlic, cashews, spices and …spinach? fenugreek? I’m still not entirely sure what the crispy greens were but the dish was utterly fantastic.

Paneer Majestic

After all of that, we decided to order another dosa to help mop up the rest of the bhindi dish. A Paper Roast Dosa (£3.50) came out swiftly – I do love these extra thin, extra crispy dosas and the one at Dosa n Chutny has the added benefit of being very cheap. Oh yeah, the prices are pretty good here, aren’t they?

Paper Roast Dosa

Good stuff. I only wish it was within walking distance of our house! Oh well, the bus ride is ok too.

Dosa n Chutny
466 London Road
Croydon CR0 2SS

It’s not often I’m in Hackney but I had a tip off from Shu Han that there was a florist there (Grace and Thorn) that sold a particular succulent that I had been searching for online for a while. We headed to the area late one Saturday afternoon, peeped at the animals at Hackney City Farm and then made our way to Little Georgia, a cafe I’d earmarked for lunch.

This was my first time having Georgian food and while I’d read a lot about it (especially about their cheese breads), I had no idea what to really expect nor what it would taste like. Anyway, at the cafe, being relatively late in the afternoon, the only diners were all of Mediterranean descent but we just managed to get the last table upstairs (there is seating downstairs as well but it’s a bit gloomier down there). It’s a tiny and extremely cozy place with a bit of outdoor seating. Service was very helpful and friendly.

We started with a couple of drinks: a fabulous strawberry and mint smoothie and an iced coffee with ice cream blended in. I loved the large drink portions here; nothing like getting a proper pint of beverage for your money. I despise tiny little glasses of juice and whatnot that barely quench one’s thirst.

Strawberry and Mint and Iced Coffee

Their lunch menu is mainly soups and sandwiches and we decided to order off their Specials board, which, in hindsight, was a small selection of what they serve for dinner. Kababi were homemade kebabs of spiced lamb served with mashed potatoes, salad and ketchup mixed with Georgian spicy ajika, a delicious spicy condiment made of red peppers and spices. Did I mention that everything was lovely and spicy?

Kebab

We also shared an Ayap Sandali, described as a hot pot of red peppers and aubergines in spicy tomato sauce, topped with cheese. This was utterly delicious, all stringy melty cheese on a wonderfully spicy mixture of aubergines and peppers cooked to silky softness. A side of toasted and buttered bread was all that was needed to mop up every last bit of sauce.

Baked Aubergine in Tomato Sauce

I had my eye on a cake on the counter and when I inquired about it, I was also shown another homemade sweet extracted from a tupperware box from within the kitchen. We had to have both. While the first cake (a walnut and raisin thing in the background of the photo below) was a bit dry and dull, the pastry cigarette filled with ground walnuts (in the foreground) was fantastic and flaky. It’s a shame I never caught their names.

Sweets

Our total bill? About £30. What a brilliant little gem of a place. I can’t wait to return, but for dinner! I must get my hands on a Georgian cheese bread khachapuri!

Of course, we also left Grace and Thorn with a totally different plant than I originally wanted. I need to go back there too!

Little Georgia
87 Goldsmith’s Row
London E2 8QR

Little Georgia on Urbanspoon

Another travel post! I was in Genoa in Northern Italy for work a few weeks ago (my first trip there) and despite it being a very short visit, I managed to pack in quite a lot of eating. I really wasn’t very prepared for the trip, having to spend more time on the work part of things, but the city surprised me – it turns out that Genoa has the largest medieval city centre in Europe, an entirely rejuvenated old port area, and plenty of affordable and excellent eating. I also had a short list of the food highlights of Genoa and Liguria (thanks for the list, A!) and I did manage to eat all the main things on it!

It all started on my first lunch break when I wandered into Zena Zuena on Via XX Settembre. This “fast food” eatery had a number of foccacias and pizzas on display and locals were crowding the counter to get a couple slices for their midday meal. I joined the scrum and ordered a bowl of minestrone alla genovese and slice of Focaccia di Recco.

Lunch

The minestrone in Genoa is tinged green, being laced with the fabulous pesto of the region, and was served with a slice of the typical bread of the region – focaccia, topped with lots of olive oil and a bit of rosemary (tucked in the napkin in the corner). The foccacia di Recco is also known as focaccia al formaggio; it’s not like the usual thicker focaccia but is made of dough as is used with pizza, rolled very thinly and is used to sandwich a layer of cheese (usually a fresh stracchino). The entirely thing is cooked in a pizza oven until the bread is cooked and the cheese is oozing out.

After work, while wandering around the medieval centre, making the most of the fading light, I encountered many enticing food shops and bakeries and not having a moment for aperitivo, I stepped into one bakery with trays of farinata in their window.

Farinata

A snack sized portion of farinata was sliced off for me – only 60 cents! I think many people do this when alone as they didn’t blink when I asked for it.

Snack Sized Portion of Farinata - 60 cents!

As for the farinata – it was a thin baked pancake made of chickpea flour, not unlike the socca of Nice. I loved it.

Anyway, that little snack was a precursor to a proper meal – I had identified Trattoria Ugo as a place serving traditional Genovese cuisine at very reasonable prices and I went early to ensure I’d get a seat. I needn’t have worried; the trattoria was quiet on a Tuesday night but not worryingly quiet – many locals trickled in through the evening.

In the Trattoria

For my primo, pansotti con salsa di noci, a very typical pasta dish from Genoa. Pansotti are a type of ravioli that’s normally shaped as triangles but here were made into semicircles; they’re filled with wild greens and the intensely creamy and cheesy walnut sauce paired incredibly with them.

Inside the Pansotti

For my main course, I ordered the house special – acciughe ripiene (stuffed anchovies), served with breaded and fried mushrooms, a slice of aubergine prepared the same way, and grilled vegetables. I tried asking what the anchovies were stuffed with but there didn’t seem to be an actual answer – I believe they’re always stuffed with the same thing: cheese, garlic and breadcrumbs. Here they were fried but I saw many delicatessens also selling them roasted. Delicious.

Acciughe Ripiene

For dessert, I chose a budino alla vaniglia con cioccolato fondente – a homemade vanilla pudding with dark chocolate. This smooth pudding was a little firmer than a pannacotta but was no less delicious for it.

Budino alla Vaniglia con Cioccolato Fondente

Three courses (without drinks) totaled €27.

The next day, I used my long lunch break to trek to Antica Sa’Pesta, an old restaurant in the medieval part of the city. The place looks like time stood still from the beginning of the century, with its old wooden tables with shared seating.

Antica Sa' Pesta

I ordered only a single dish, their gnocchi with pesto (there’s usually something with pesto each day) – I had heard great things about their pesto and I wasn’t to be let down. The gnocchi were excellent but it was the pesto that stuck with me – it was an extraordinarily vibrant green and with a great basil and cheese flavour. If it was one thing that surprised me, it was the amount of cheese that went into the pesto here.

Gnocchi with Pesto

Various baked pies and dishes were also on offer for takeaway. I wanted to try one of the vegetable pies that are so common in the region and went with a slice of torta di bietole, made with Swiss chard, to takeaway.

Torta di Bietole

I ate it later after work and though it was a bit on the soggy side, it was fantastically delicious. There was a thick layer of a fresh cheese on top of the cooked chard and the flavour of it all had me wolfing it down with my fingers.

After the pesto lunch, on the way back to work, I grabbed a gelato from Cremeria della Erbe, meant to be one of the best gelato purveyors in the city. I was surprised by how soft the gelato was but was reassured by a local that this was how it’s meant to be. My strawberry sorbet and coffee-ciok (coffee gelato studded with milk chocolate bits) were fabulous.

Gelato number two

That evening, I sought a shop that has been selling candied fruit for centuries – Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano.

Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano

Inside, I found the saleswoman wrapping Christmas pandolce … for Carluccio’s! So yeah, Carluccio’s pandolce is from this most famous of Genovese shops. I’ll be trying one this Christmas for sure! Anyway, I returned home this time with some of their candied chestnuts (scented with a bit of orange blossom) and chocolate covered candied orange peel, some of our favourite things.

On my last morning, I returned to a cafe just a few doors down from Pietro Romanengo fu Stefano – this cafe was Fratelli Klainguti and it and the candied fruit shop were both greatly favoured by Italy’s most famous composer, Giuseppi Verdi, who spent over 30 winters in the city.

Fratelli Klainguti

I decided to try their Falstaff, Verdi’s most loved hazelnut paste filled brioche.

Verdi's Falstaff

With a cappuccino, that was my breakfast that morning. The Falstaff was very good (the hazelnut paste was incredible) but to me, didn’t need that extra sugar fondant on top. Verdi clearly liked his pastries very very sweet!

A Cappuccino and Falstaff

There’s even a signed picture from Verdi himself, proclaiming that the cafe’s Falstaff is better than his own!

Verdi

Right before I headed to the airport, I visited the Mercato Orientale in search of some fresh pasta and pesto to bring home. I did find some but I also discovered a busy, vibrant market with beautiful fish, meat and produce of the region. Oh, how I wished I could have brought it all home!

Untitled

If you’re looking for more Ligurian specialities, the ones I didn’t have time to seek out were: stoccafisso accomodato (a stew of dried unsalted cod), coniglio alla ligure (Ligurian-style rabbit), trippe (tripe). And you know what? The city is extremely pretty too – make sure you find time to visit the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (avoiding lunchtime when it’s closed!) and the numerous palazzi.

Cattedrale di San Lorenzo

Untitled

Porto Antico

All my photos from my short trip can be found in this Flickr album.

There’s been quite a buzz about The Palomar, a relatively new Middle Eastern/Mediterranean restaurant in London on the quiet end of Rupert Street. I understand that this is the latest outpost of a restaurant group in Jerusalem, where I understand the cuisine is truly a melting pot of various cultures. I love this kind of food and booked in a Saturday lunch for me and my friend living in Switzerland. It was empty when we first arrived (we were seated at the back) but filled up later on.

On the recommendation of our waiter, we ordered a Polpo à la Papi (£9), a mixture of octopus, mulukhiyah leaves, chickpeas, spinach and yoghurt. It was fresh and delicious but the portion size was very, very, very small. Very small indeed. It’s difficult to share even between two; I found myself extracting a miniature tentacle and then hoping that there was another for my friend.

Polpo à la Papi

To sample a number of things, we ordered The Daily 6 (£12), a daily assortment of mezze served in cute little ramekins. These were great – I love variety and hence I love mezze. Of particular note were the lentils (under the dollop of yoghurt) and the slow cooked aubergine (middle).

The Daily 6

Unfortunately, no bread was served with the Daily 6 (!!!) which meant we had to order some extra. We plumped for the Kubaneh (£5), a Yemeni pot baked bread served with tahini and grated tomatoes – the other bread available on the menu (I think it was pita) didn’t sound as exciting. And yes, it was excellent, fluffy crumbed bread for mopping everything up. I enjouyed the grated tomatoes (a smooth tomato and olive oil puree) but found the tahini too cloying.

Kubaneh

Around this time, a mini portion of Spring salad was deposited on our table, compliments of the chef. According to the menu, it contained fennel, asparagus, kohlrabi, sunflower seeds and poppy seeds and a feta vinaigrette; unfortunately, I found it quite boring, especially when compared to the luscious aubergines and spreads already at our table. I appreciate the gesture though (I do realise that the kitchen had clearly made up too much for an order and our waiter was told to give away the extras!).

Spring Salad

Our single order of shakshukit (£9.50) took forever to arrive because apparently it’s a “main course” though its size would disagree. This was a “deconstructed kebab” with minced meat, yoghurt, tahini, “The 4 tops” and pita bread. I really had no idea how to eat this, especially with the 4 colourful toppings (I can’t remember what they all were but the red was harissa). We ended up stirring it all together and the prevailing flavour was that of the tahini.

Shakshukit

For some reason, none of the desserts on the menu spoke to us and we ended up going to The Pudding Bar pop up for that. Overall, it was a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a meh from me.

The Palomar
34 Rupert Street
London W1D 6DN

The Palomar on Urbanspoon

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