London


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.

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

I’ve been wanting to try Kateh, a Persian restaurant near Little Venice (north of Paddington), for a while. And when I joined a few colleagues for a dinner there one Friday night, I was not disappointed. What I didn’t expect was such a tiny yet elegant restaurant and the terrace where we were seated was lovely. Though it was chilly that evening, the heaters were on full blast and we never felt cold.

Back to the elegance, this is possibly the most refined Persian restaurant I’ve visited in London. Portion sizes are more European in size rather than the usual overflowing platters I tend to get at other Persian restaurants in London. But it’s a lovely, rather romantic place, which, of course, I visited with my colleagues (ahem). The menu was full of things I’ve not seen in other restaurants and the grills had a distinctly Indo-Persian flavour to it (chicken tikka?). We stuck to the purely Iranian things.

We split three starters between us. My favourite was the kashke bademjan, a dish of grilled baby aubergine topped with kashke (a dried yoghurt), dried mint, fried onions and walnuts. Oh, that silky aubergine was gorgeous – I could have eaten just a few orders of this for my dinner!

Kashke Bademjan

Less impressive was the Dezfouli salad, a mixture of pomegranate seeds, cucumber, dried mint, angelica powder and lemon juice. While the combination sounded magical, it tasted alright at best. Perhaps we expected that angelica powder to make quite an impact! (I’m still not entirely sure what this is!)

Dezfouli Salad

The mast va khiar damavand was a refreshing combination of thick yoghurt and cucumber mixed with dried mint, raisins and walnuts.

Mast va Khiar Damavand

We mopped up all that yoghurt with a couple orders of freshly baked taftoon, a delicious Persian flatbread that’s just slightly thicker than lavash.

Taftoon

We also split our main courses. The mixed grill (for two) was a combination of their various kebabs: koobideh (minced veal), joojeh (saffron marinated chicken breast), chenjeh (marinated pieces of best end of Organic Rhug Farm lamb), and rack of lamb. The meats were very good but of particular note was the chenjeh – that lamb was incredibly tender and tasty.

Mixed Grill

With everything came perfectly cooked saffron rice, here topped with butter (there should always be butter…especially with kebabs – and perhaps I’ll adopt that as the motto for my life). The only quibble I have is the portion size – I can really down my rice and a larger serving would have been welcome!

Saffron Rice

The classic fesenjan (a pomegranate and walnut based stew) was served here with confit Barbary duck leg. While I thought the duck could have been a bit more tender, the sauce was rich and complex and utterly wonderful. I really do need to learn to make this at home.

Fesenjan

Aloo Esfanaj was one of my favourites that night and a real discovery for me. This stew of baby chicken, spinach and fresh Bukhara plums was a fabulous mix of sweet and sour and I almost licked the bowl clean.

Aloo Esfenaj

We ordered some Persian tea which came in what I believe is not a traditional Persian teapot. The black tea was very welcome after all the rich food though and with dessert.

Persian Tea

Desserts were also shared. A melting chocolate fondant was served with pistachio ice cream.

Chocolate Fondant

A couple slices of baklava cake, though while not strictly Persian (um…neither is chocolate fondant), were fantastic with the tea.

Baklava Cake

The bill came to a little over £30 for each of us (food only, no drinks except for the tea). It’s the kind of price I’d expect for the quality of the food and elegant plating and posh location but it was possibly the most expensive Persian food I’ve had in London. But still, if that’s the most expensive Persian food I’ve had in the city, it makes Persian food still a bargain, no?

Kateh
5 Warwick Place
London W9 2PX

Kateh on Urbanspoon

About a week ago, I found myself heading to Leiths School of Food and Wine (off Askew Road in West London) after work. I had been invited to a cooking and food styling and food photography class there hosted by Microsoft Devices. Ever keen to play with yet another gadget, I accepted the invitation to this blogger event. It turned out to be a fun night!

Phones were lent to us that evening and after the event, the photos taken on them were sent to us. So, all the photos in this post were taken using the Nokia Lumia 1520 (running Windows Phone 8). As you can see, the photos are quite good for having been taken using a phone camera; the only downside I can see to this particular model is its size. It’s massive and I have tiny hands so…cue a lot of fumbling. I was glad for the chance to play around with a Windows phone, however, and can see why lots of people like it.

We started with an introduction by Jessica Mills, who ran us through the dishes we would be cooking that day and who gave us various cooking and styling tips as well. She would also help us with styling the dishes after we had finished cooking them all.

Jessica Mills

We then moved across to the other side of the (gigantic) kitchen where Jenny Dowling then gave us a demonstration on how to prepare a rack of lamb. It was inspiring…so much so that I chose to tackle the lamb myself!

Jenny Dowling

Anyway, we divided up into teams and yes, I did get stuck in with the lamb. My hot teammates were Rosana of Hot % Chilli and Cathia of jingle jungle. While I prepared the lamb, Rosana made the salad starter while Cathia was in charge of the pavlova dessert.

Best End of Lamb

That lamb was a pain to prepare. All that fat had to first be trimmed and then the bones scraped. Scrape, scrape, scrape rasped my knife along the bone. Scrape scrape scrape scrape scrape. After what felt like hours, I had a couple of clean bones, a couple awful looking bones and a bone that was falling off. Brilliant. Jenny took pity on me and helped me clean it all up and I then spread the mustard breadcrumb crust on top and here’s how they finally looked.

Racks, Prepared

By the way, if anyone’s expecting me to prepare this at home, they can dream on; I now fully appreciate everything that a butcher can do.

By the time I had finished with the lamb and the accompanying tomato and mint salsa (there were a lot of tomatoes to chop!), Rosana was already plating her spinach and bacon salad with chilli and mango. Isn’t it gorgeous? Jenny had her think about colours and textures and even the background for the dish. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that this kind of styling is beyond my abilities (and let’s be honest, it’s not fun to eat cold food).

Spinach and Bacon Salad with Red Chilli and Mango

After we all tucked into our salad starters (unstyled for the rest of us), the racks of lamb had already come out of the ovens and were resting, waiting for their turn on the catwalk.

And here’s the love I gave our serving of rack of lamb with mustard and breadcrumbs and tomato and mint salsa. The main thing I really enjoyed about this food styling session? The selection of plates that were laid out for us – wow, I wish I had a cupboard and a budget big enough to house them all! They were beautiful! It was difficult to choose between them when it came to plating.

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Breadcrumbs and Tomato and Mint Salsa

This plate seemed perfect though when it came to my hasty family-style plating of the rack of lamb to serve our team…and I almost prefer it! This is really how I like to style my food at home, though I appreciate how much work goes into one of those artily styled food photos.

Rack of Lamb with Mustard and Breadcrumbs and Tomato and Mint Salsa

Dessert time! The meringues made by Cathia turned out beautifully! I couldn’t help myself and before I knew it, a meringue had entered my mouth. And they really were wonderful – all crisp on the outside and incredibly chewy on the inside. (And that’s the phone there in the shot below.)

Meringues for Pavlova

Cathia had prepared all the fruit – papaya, pomegranate and passion fruit – and we all had a go at plating up our own dessert. Dollops of cream, scatterings of fruit and we had our masterpieces. My mouth is watering as I write this post!

Pavlova with Mint, Papaya, Pomegranate and Passion Fruit

Pavlova with Passion Fruit

Thank you very much to axicom and Microsoft Devices for the invitation! All my photos from the event (taken with that borrowed Nokia Lumia 1520) can be seen in this Flickr album.

I woke up early last Saturday morning. Very early. I was meeting a good friend for breakfast and he had chosen Koya Bar, which surprisingly, with my love for the original Koya, I had not yet tried. This slightly smaller neighbouring restaurant was open all day, from breakfast to dinner, and I’ve been keen to try their morning menu. We found the place half empty that morning, though whether it was because it was breakfast time or because it was a bank holiday, I’m not sure.

Koya Bar

Their breakfast menu is full of both udon and rice dishes and it was one particular rice dish (actually a rice porridge) that was on my list of things to try. Their kedgeree (£9.90).

Kedgeree

What is served to you at the bar is a tray with a bowl of the rice porridge and a side dish of umami-rich fish flakes. Snuggled in the warm embrace of the thick porridge is an onsen egg (a slow poached almost half-cooked soft egg) and next to that were scattered a few shards of crispy fried fish skin and thin slices of spring onion.

Kedgeree

We stirred the fish flakes and all the toppings into the thick porridge and also found pieces of smoked haddock within. We spooned the mixture into our mouths and to my surprise, the curry used in the kedgeree tasted like a proper Indian-style curry powder rather than a Japanese curry. It was excellent, all warm and savoury and soothing. It was gone in no time.

Fish Flakes

I do need to try the rest of the breakfast options at Koya, especially the onigiri I saw on the specials board. Highly recommended for a fortifying yet quiet and relaxing start to the day!

Koya Bar
50 Frith Street
London W1D 4SQ

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

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