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My friend KK is so organised. Again he visited from Switzerland and he’d already made a lunch booking for us at The Dairy before I even learned he was going to be in town that weekend (we had discussed visiting on his prior visit here!). And two Saturdays ago, that’s where I met him, at The Dairy in Clapham Common. It’s a tiny place from the front (blink and you’ll miss it) but there’s enough seating within. I very much liked its pseudo-rustic cosy atmosphere.

Along with the menus, we received the following little snack: a Marmite crisp topped with cheese and onion. It was a very promising start, with the usually very assertive trio of flavours toned down into a very pleasing amalgam.

Marmite crisp, cheese, onion

There were a couple of menus for us to peruse. We didn’t choose the tasting menu (£45 per head) but instead chose a number of things we liked the sound of from the a la carte menu. We were originally advised to choose a snack, a vegetable, a fish or meat and a sweet for each of us but we ended up all over the shop on the menu. Just the one snack, one veg, two fishes and two meats between the two of us and we’d decide on dessert later!

Straight after putting in our order and returning our menus, we received bone marrow butter on a stone and a little canvas bag with a small round loaf of homemade sourdough nestled within. Oh, it was warm and cosy within that bag! This was one of the best breads I’d received in a restaurant in recent memory and I could have made a meal of just that and the luxuriously meaty butter.

Bone marrow butter, homemade sourdough

Our only snack was what we thought sounded like the most exciting thing on the snack menu – the Cured Iberico presa, parsnip, hazelnut (£6.50). The slices of  tender pork shoulder were here topped with parsnip crisps and shaved hazelnut. Delicious but yes, snack sized!

Cured Iberico presa, parsnip, hazelnut

Our vegetable was the Hay smoked curd, Jerusalem artichokes, roasted onions, chanterelles (£8.50). What impressed me was not only the flavour combinations but the variety of different textures too. The Jerusalem artichokes showed up in three different ways on this plate: braised to a slippery smoothness, mashed into a puree and fried to a crisp. Inspiring!

Hay smoked curd, Jerusalem artichokes, roasted onions, chanterelles

Our fish dishes both arrived together. The ‘Lady Hamilton’ smoked cod, charred leeks, sorrel, fried bread (£8.50) was delicious. I loved the way everything combined – the smokiness of the fish, the sweet and smokey leeks, the zesty zing of the sorrel and the crunch of the fried bread.

'Lady Hamilton' smoked cod, charred leeks, sorrel, fried bread

The ‘Julie Girl’ monkfish, toasted cauliflower, romanesco, dulse butter (£10) was equally excellent. Neither was “better” than the other; they were just different. I loved the way cauliflower, a normally kind of dull vegetable, was here again used in different ways – there was roasted cauliflower, fried crumbs, puree, and raw shavings. I’m still not entirely sure what dulse butter was but the slick of butter was quite nice under everything.

'Julie Girl' monkfish, toasted cauliflower, romanesco, dulse butter

Onto the meats! The Chicken oyster, crispy skin, cellar kimchi, burnt kale (£9) was a fabulous combination of two of my favourite chicken parts with homemade kimchi and the fashionable crispy kale. That pressed chicken skin terrine thing….wow. That was one of the best chicken skin things I’ve ever had. I have no idea what to call it. This plate was perfectly put together with the rich and the sour balancing ever so well.

Chicken oyster, crispy skin, cellar kimchi, burnt kale

We finished with the Suckling pig belly and cheek, cabbage, apple & walnut chutney (£10) which was also very good. The cheeks were braised and tender and the belly was roasted and also tender and both matched well to the sweet and tangy chutney. The cabbage came in large strips which were visually pleasing but y’know, they were just large strips of blanched cabbage. That said, I can see why they were included – their blandness were a foil to the richness everywhere else on the plate.

Suckling pig belly and cheek, cabbage, apple & walnut chutney

Of the three desserts on the list, only one really shouted out at us (we weren’t in the mood for rice pudding or pannacotta). Our choice of Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream (£6.50) was just incredible. It was all very moreish without being too sweet and cloying.

Salted caramel, cacao, malted barley ice cream

We were very happy with our meal. We were made even more happy with the lovely petits fours that came before our coffees. What struck me about their sweets was how they all weren’t too sweet – and the petit fours were no exception. Tucked within the folds of an old menu were pieces of short and buttery biscuit, a herby green cake with a red berry centre, and a pear jelly coated in sherbet powder.

Petits Fours

With a large bottle of sparkling water, 2 double espressos and service, the total came to about £37 each. I’ll be back – I can’t wait to see what other dishes they come up with!

The Dairy
15 The Pavement
London SW4 0HY

The Dairy on Urbanspoon

The owners of The Dairy have recently opened another restaurant in Clapham – The Manor. If you’re visiting London, I wouldn’t recommend trying both the restaurants on the same visit as there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two menus. My friend KK learned that the hard way.

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

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

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

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.

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