Food


When an invitation to review a lighthearted novel about a Catalan chef who gets together with a mysterious Canadian, I first laughed – I’m Canadian and my husband is Catalan and ha, what are the chances of that. So yup, I thought I’d give my first book review a go. Unfortunately the Catalan chef was a right wanker while the Canadian struck me as a bit of a hippie so there’s really no real resemblance to us whatsoever (I hope!).

The novel is the first by Ada Parellada, a Catalan chef who’s based in Barcelona. She has opened a few restaurants and written a few cookery books but this is her first venture into the world of fiction. I wasn’t familiar with her or her restaurants prior to this so it’s my first introduction to her work.

Vanilla Salt

As I mentioned previously, the novel focuses on a Catalan chef: Àlex. Annette, the Canadian with a secret, enters his life via a blogger friend (his only friend – remember how I said he was a bit unpleasant?) and works for him at his restaurant. Despite being critically acclaimed, the restaurant is on its last legs – Àlex refuses to cook anything other than foods native to Europe (yes, that leaves out tomatoes and potatoes) and there aren’t as many customers as there used to be. Annette’s arrival triggers a lot of events, the rebirth of the restaurant and there’s some love thrown in too. It’s a love story set in a restaurant background.

While descriptions of the food are brilliant, the plot is a bit jumpy and highly improbable. And it’s not the easiest to read as the text doesn’t always flow well but I’m not sure whether the fault lies with the author or the translator here. For example, there’s a literal translation of a word used in Catalonia on the first page: ‘Crisis’. In Catalan, ‘crisi’ refers to the current state of the economy and the translation doesn’t make this context clear. It just looks odd there on the page.

I guess it’s not exactly what I was expecting. If you’d like to read it for yourself, the book is available at all good booksellers. Thank you to Alma Books for the review copy.

So it turns out there’s a fantastic Malaysian restaurant in Croydon! Well, it’s in Thornton Heath, which is in the London Borough of Croydon and from what I can see, it’s quite the local favourite. Bunga Raya has been open for over 30 years and while the decor does look a bit aged, the food is still alive and kicking. We visited on a Sunday for lunch, when we discovered that they only served a “hawker style” Sunday lunch buffet. Yes, why not? It was only £11.50 a head.

The Buffet

Here’s my first plate. Char kway teow, fried meehoon, fish curry, chicken satay and yong tau foo (vegetables and tofu stuffed with meat or fish paste). That chicken satay was excellent, with a brilliant marinade, and you’ll soon see that we went back for seconds and thirds. The meehoon was better than the char kway teow but I think it’s just that meehoon (rice vermicelli) survives under heat lamps a little better. The curries were excellent and there were at least four or five on offer.

Char Kway Teow, Fried Meehoon, Fish Curry?, Chicken Satay, Yong Tau Foo

As we ate, the room kept filling up and many of the diners were Malaysian. Most were families, gathering together for a taste of home.

Next plate! Nasi lemak, chicken rendang, satay again, fried wonton, sambal okra. This plate was all sorts of excellent. The nasi lemak, while the grains of rice were a bit broken, had a good coconut flavour and the sambal okra, not too spicy but with lots of flavour and a touch of sweetness, was probably the best I’ve had in London.

Nasi Lemak, Chicken Rendang, Satay, Fried Wonton, Sambal Okra

Something I need to mention at this point is that everything tasted homemade. That fried wonton was chock full of a well seasoned chicken mixture and everything about it screamed homemade – it was excellent! It felt like eating in a Malaysian family’s home – they even welcomed all their regulars by name.

I had a laksa interlude at this point. It was a put-it-together-yourself affair – rice noodles and beansprouts in your bowl and then pour over the rich and creamy soup.

Laksa

Back to the big plates! Satay again (it was excellent!), more nasi lemak, fried Malaccan chicken wings (I think they’ve got something fishy in the marinade that gave it a deep savouriness), kari kambing and more sambal okra.

Satay, Nasi Lemak, Malaccan Winglet, Kari Kambing, Sambal Okra

There were lots of savouries I didn’t manage to try – somehow in my sambal okra excitement, I forgot to stop by the pigs trotters, the steamed dumplings and lots of other things too! I was impressed that they even had Penang acar (a pickled vegetable mixture) though, of course, it’s not as good as my mom’s!

There were desserts too. In addition to a huge platter of sweet orange wedges, there was a platter of banana puffs (kuih kodok, and they were ok) and a lot of refreshing mango and sago. And a platter of carrot cake as well though its texture and serving style was more reminiscent of a Malaysian cake – so perhaps it’s really a kek carrot?

Banana Puff and Mango with Sago

Before we left, I was invited to provide them with my email address so that I can be sent information about further buffets. It turns out that every fortnight, they change what’s on offer – one weekend was Hokkien mee and Hainanese chicken rice, another weekend was asam laksa and won ton mee! I just received the email with highlights of the buffet for the next two Sundays – mee rebus, bak kut teh and gula melaka!

Oh yeah, I’ll be back. Often.

They do have a regular a la carte menu for most other days – please see their website for their opening hours/days. They also advertise buffets on certain nights and also curry and karaoke nights!

Bunga Raya
785-787 London Road
Thornton Heath
Surrey CR7 6AW

Bunga Raya on Urbanspoon

Are you all watching the World Cup? I’ll be honest – I haven’t been watching all the matches but I am following along. What I’m definitely doing rather than watch Brazil is eat Brazil. I was invited a couple weeks ago to a one-off Brazilian supper club, sponsored by Tilda rice and run by Rosana McPhee of Hot & Chilli, Dhruv Baker (you may remember him from Masterchef) and Luiz Hara of The London Foodie, at Luiz’s beautiful house. Tilda has a new limited edition Brazilian samba rice out for the World Cup and it would be featured in this meal.

We were ushered into Luiz’s patio garden where we were fed lots of little goodies (which I stupidly gorged on, not realising that we had a long menu ahead of us). Bolinho de arroz were fried rice fritters with seafood, served with lime and saffron mayonnaise – I adore all fried things and these were no exception. Gorgeous.

Bolinho de Arroz

Little bite sized empadinhas had a flaky pastry and a palm heart filling. I’d always thought of palm hearts as a salad ingredient and never knew they were commonly used elsewhere.

Empadinha

Caracao de Galinha were an acquired taste – chewy little grilled chicken hearts!

Caracao de Galinha

And fresh from the oven were one of my favourite cheesy snacks ever, pao de queijo. These warm little puffs are made with tapioca flour which gives them an addictive chewiness. I had to stop myself from overindulging on these.

Pao de Queijo

We then moved into the dining room to start the meal proper.

Dining Room

The tables had been set beautifully and at each place was a menu…

The Menu

…as well as a ribbon! We all tied these wish ribbons onto our wrists, making the requisite wishes, and soon the food started coming out.

We had feijoada, that classic Brazilian black bean and pork stew, served with Tilda’s Brazilian Samba Rice, shredded greens, a slice of orange and toasted cassava flour for texture. Rosana’s recipe is delicious and it paired well with the rice. (I tried a bag of the rice from our goody bags alone at home and was surprised at how spicy it is.)

Feijoada

Moqueca was a Bahian stew with white fish, palm oil, coconut milk, tomato, onion, coriander and annato. It’s delightful and brought a welcome lightness to the meal.

Moqueca

Served with it was pirao de peixe, moqueca’s traditional accompaniment. This glutinous stew was made of fish broth, onions and herbs and cassava flour and I loved its starchy texture and great flavour.

Pirao de Peixe

Earlier that evening, we had watched as Dhruv grilled huge hunks of beef outside; the cut was picanha (rump cap), a very popular beef cut in Brazil. They had had plenty of time to rest and were now served sliced with pimenta de bico (those adorable tiny Brazilian chilli peppers), roasted garlic, and drizzled with manteiga de garrafa (Brazilian clarified butter). Yes, this was as delicious as it looks and sounds.

Picanha

Starch came in the form of sauteed cassava and fried plantain, the latter being one of my favourite things to eat.

Cassava and Plantain

In addition, there was a beautiful palm heart, tomato and red onion salad to keep us all vaguely healthy.

Palm Heart, Tomato and Red Onion Salad

We finished the meal with a trio of Brazilian desserts: caju sorbet (cashew fruit sorbet), brigadeiro de copo (the famous Brazilian chocolate balls but now in a cup), and quindim (a gorgeous coconut and custard tart). The caju sorbet was a revelation – the cashew nut hangs from the fruit and I’d heard great things about its flavour…and it lived up to it! It’s difficult to describe but if you get a chance to try it, do! The quindim was also absolutely fantastic.

Caju Sorbet, Brigadeiro de Copo, Quindim

It was a fantastic night and I’ll definitely be getting all the recipes from Rosana’s blog! That quindim!

Luiz, Dhruv, Rosana

The dinner was a fantastic Brazilian feast with lots of new flavours and dishes. Thank you very much to Rosana, Luis, Dhruv and Tilda Rice for the invitation! All my photos from the dinner can be seen in this Flickr album.

I recently was invited to sample a cheese box from The Dairy Girl, Rachel, who offers a monthly cheese box subscription with lots of flexibility. Now, I’m not the biggest cheese eater but I do appreciate it, and this appreciation most likely increased since I’ve been with Blai as he loves it. He loves cheese and this opportunity to try new cheeses was not one to turn down. I’ve also been tempted to try one of these monthly box schemes (I’ve been sitting on the fence as to whether to try Birchbox).

Rachel travels the country visiting producers and discovering cheeses that she introduces to customers via her boxes. You can tailor the boxes to your preferences – different scales are available when it comes to blues, sheeps, hardnesses, strengths, vegetarian, etc. Of all that was available to me, I chose ‘Blue cheese – Not convinced, introduce me gently.’. I’ve never tasted a blue cheese I enjoyed; forgive me but I think they taste of mould and feet (which, of course, is exactly what makes it blue – the mould I mean, not the feet).

The courier delivery arrived on the day agreed. Nestled inside the box were these four cheeses as well as ice packs to keep them cool. Four cheeses – four generously sized cheeses that were going to last us almost two weeks.

Cheese from The Dairy Girl

We had plans the night we got the cheeses so they first went in the fridge until the next day, when we made the cheeses the main focus of our dinner, accompanied with bread, crackers, hams, dried fruit, nuts, a salad. What helped us that night were the cheese cards that accompanied the box – each cheese card describes the cheese, where it’s made, what it’s made, suggestions on how to serve it and what to drink with it. Very helpful!

Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire, made by Graham Kirkham in Lower Beesly Farm in Lancashire, was that crumbly rich cheese that goes well with strong pickles. A classic.

Mrs Kirkham's Lancashire

My nemesis showed up as a Badentoy Blue, made at Devenick Dairy in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It’s a mild blue cheese so perfect for nervous losers like me!

Badentoy Blue

See that little square below? OK, so this turned out to be my least favourite but that’s the square I managed to consume without gagging. To the cheese’s credit, Blai (a blue cheese lover) declared it delicious and he ate most of it!

Badentoy Blue

What I really liked about the box I received was that while there was clearly a focus on UK producers, there was also a sampling of what’s best from the continent. A Délice des Crémiers from Burgundy, France was an amazing triple cream cheese that stumped us at first. When cold, straight out of the fridge, the cheese has the texture of … cold butter. And eating it cold made it melt like … cold butter.

Delice des Cremiers

The trick is to have it have room temperature when it oozes and is beautifully creamy. Do make sure to take it out of the fridge early!

Delice des Cremiers

Finally, there was the Rachel (this is the same name as the founder of The Dairy Girl – coincidence?), a washed rind goats cheese made by Roger Longman and Peter Humphries at Whitelake Cheese in Somerset.

Rachel

This was our favourite of that box – it’s a very versatile cheese that’s good for both eating and cooking and had a mild, nutty, goaty flavour.

Rachel

We actually worked it into a salad that night too.

A Rachel and Flat Peach Salad

For two people, cut up one or two large little gem lettuces, slice a flat peach and toss in some chunks of Rachel cheese. Extras that really work here (we tested it out the next day again) are dried cherries or cranberries and something quite crunchy like toasted seeds or croutons. Dress with only extra virgin olive oil and good balsamic vinegar. I think we almost cried when we used up all the Rachel.

Now, the cost. A box like this one (4 cheeses, about 900g in total) costs £24.95 + delivery. 3 cheese and 5 cheese boxes are also available. I think it’s a little more than you’d buy elsewhere but then I appreciate the fact that it comes to my door and that it’s a surprise every month (or so, like I said, you can tailor how often you’d like a box). And then Rachel also chooses cheeses to your preferences and provides lots of information on each one. All in all, I think it’s an excellent box.

Thank you very much to The Dairy Girl for the cheese box! Rachel has kindly provided readers of Tamarind and Thyme with a discount that will give you £10 off any monthly box (that’s a good deal!). The code (‘T&TCHEESE‘) can only be used once per address and must be used by 9 August 2014.

It’s not everyday that one is invited to the Ritz. I’d never even stepped into the hotel prior to this invitation and I’ve been in London for 15 years! When one thinks of The Ritz, afternoon tea is usually the first thought that comes to mind (they serve 400 teas each day), not fine dining and I certainly never thought I’d ever see their kitchens, let alone dine there. But there I was on a Saturday morning, down in their basement kitchens, taking part in a pastry masterclass with The Ritz’s head pastry chef, Lewis Wilson.

Lewis Wilson

I forgot to ask Lewis whether he did this on a regular basis but he was a very very good teacher. He had an infinite amount of patience and explained everything very clearly. And everything was laid out, ready to go. We were going to make a vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut ice cream bombe. See that copper mould? It’s a Victorian one, sourced on ebay!

Untitled

We went through all the steps, from making the ice cream to making the hazelnut nougat parfait, to filling the mould all the way to decorating. It was fun and I certainly learned a few tricks here and there. We also learned how much work went into one of these pastries!

Here were the decorations, which had been prepared for us in advance (I mean, look at them!!!).

Chocolate Decorations

Here we are pouring the chocolate shell over the finished molded ice cream (a hazelnut core, followed by chocolate ice cream, followed by vanilla ice cream and the bottom was a hazelnut daquiose).

Pour

Here’s Lewis teaching us how to pipe (I did the other one and was quite chuffed with my results).

Piping

And here’s the fiddly decorating. It’s very fiddly and the kitchen was a bit warm so the decorations kept falling over.

Decorating a Bombe

And there’s one of the finished bombes – I say one of because we obviously weren’t working on just the single bombe that entire morning as the ice cream and chocolate needed to freeze and set in between stages. Lewis had carefully organised many bombes at various stages of production.

Chef's Finished Hazelnut and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe

After all that hard work, we were brought up to the restaurant for lunch – what a treat! Here were all things classically English and I’m not just talking about the food! The dress code is smart…and smart for men means a jacket and a tie, as one in our party discovered. He was lent the suitable pieces that he was missing. Women, of course, can get away with a lot in the name of ‘smart’.

Anyway, dessert that afternoon would be, of course, the bombe that we made.

The Table

But first, the bread basket. A fabulous selection was brought out and I selected these two: a crispy thin white flatbread and a pancetta and caramelised onion brioche (very similar to that at The Ledbury). The white flatbread also turned out to have a thin layer of parmesan baked into it, rendering it into quite-possibly the best cheese cracker ever.

Breads

A tray of amuses was a good start to the meal proper – here were cheese gougeres, prawn crackers topped with prawns, and a curiously melting macaron of smoked salmon.

Amuses

Our starter of Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange almost looked raw but was most definitely cooked – was this cooked sous vide? Anyway, it was a fabulously moist and tender piece of fish that had some lovely accompaniments. The tiny little cucumber flower was particularly memorable.

Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange

Our main course was Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas. What I didn’t expect was the other parts of lamb included. There was the beautifully cooked crusted loin. There was a roll of pressed confit lamb belly (gorgeous) and on top of that was a meltingly soft sweetbread.

Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas

And then there it was! A serving table had been set up behind my chair and the bombe was brought in and shown to us – was there ever a dessert so photographed? There’s something so old-fashioned and yet fun about having something large brought to you and served tableside (I also saw lobster served this way at another table and later crepes suzettes being prepared tableside).

The Chocolate Bombe

That ice cream bombe did look quite tricky to portion out, what with its solid chocolate shell and if you take too long, there’s a risk of it all ending up as a very expensive puddle. But our waiters did magnificently – here’s my portion:

A Portion of Bombe

Mmm…. the hazelnut, vanilla and chocolate layers were all distinct yet blended together beautifully. I’m not normally a fan of chocolate covered ice creams (Magnums in particular as their shells are too thick) but the layer of chocolate here was much more delicate.

We finished the meal with coffees and “frivolities”, the Ritz’s way of saying….sweets. From the front, we had salted caramel filled chocolates (they use Amadei), vanilla macarons, passion fruit jellies, and little almond cakes topped with raspberries. All were delicious but as you can imagine, we were struggling to put them down by this point.

Frivolities

Needless to say, service at The Ritz was phenomenal. Every waiter always had on a smile, could always see when we needed something, was always there with the small talk required. I would love to go back but, of course, the only thing holding me back is the cost of the meal – though I can imagine saving up for a special occasion. Or perhaps first I should go for tea!

Anyway, it was a magnificent lunch – it was a fantastic opportunity to visit the kitchens at The Ritz, to learn from their head pastry chef and to dine at their restaurant. Thank you very much to Sauce, Lewis Wilson and The Ritz for a wonderful day! All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr set.

The Ritz London
150 Piccadilly
London W1J 9BR

The Ritz Hotel on Urbanspoon

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