I first learned of The Lunchbox, an Indian romantic film where tiffins play a big role, through a friend on Facebook, where she posted the trailer and her thoughts on the film. I was intrigued enough to even mention the possibility of our going to the cinema to see it one day to Blai. To my surprise, an invitation to attend a screening of The Lunchbox popped into my inbox a few days later and I didn’t hesitate in accepting it.

Here’s the international trailer for the film.

It’s a lovely and sweet story, modelled around the whole system of dabbawalas in Mumbai, the highly efficient tiffin delivery system. It’s so efficient that it’s said that only 1 delivery mistake is made in 6-8 million deliveries. Well, this plot only happens due to one of these rare mistakes! Anyway, I don’t want to give away anything of the story – go see it yourself! Watching it made me wish that Ram’s was next door for an Indian vegetarian lunch!

The screening was quite fun too – in the funky screening room in the basement of the Soho Hotel.

What a fantastic screening room they have at The Soho Hotel

We were each provided with a dabba (tiffin) of Indian snacks that went perfectly with the film. If you’re curious what was in the dabba, here’s a link to photos of all of the snacks.

Thank you very much, Jake and Curzon, for the invitation!

Every so often, I need to make a trip up to Kenton (zone 4, Bakerloo line) for work and if you’re familiar with the area, you’ll know what a dearth of restaurants there is there. Luckily for me, there is Ram’s, a pure vegetarian Indian restaurant that specialises in the food of the Gujarat.

For £4.99, one gets access to the lunch buffet in the back of the restaurant. There’s always some kind of rice, salad, poppadoms and freshly fried puris brought straight to your table. There’s at least two curries and some kind of starter and some kind of sweet too. Everything tastes fresh, service is friendly and there’re always a few people tucking in. I’ve been a number of times now and here are photos from a few visits.

Bhel puri, tomato curry, channa masala, jeera rice.

Indian vegetarian buffet for lunch

Potato bhaji, mung bean curry (one of my favourites), paneer tikka masala, vegetable biryani.

Freshly fried puris at lunchtime

This was not the buffet but my friend’s lunch thali – two veg, rice, rotis. It’s a little pricier but then you get the choice of what veg curries you want. It’s now changed a little according to their latest menu and it’s £6.90 for two veg, rice, three puris, dal, papad and pickle.

My friend went with the lunch thali

Back to the buffet. Spring rolls with chutney, potatoes, chickpeas. The puris are addictive!

A late lunch at Ram's in Kenton

This was my latest meal there a couple weeks ago. I’m a bit upset that they switched their lovely compartmentalised trays for these giant platters – I like keeping my curries separate!

Dhokla, mung bean curry, dhal, green bean and potato curry. The carrot thing turned out to be dessert (gajar ka halwa), all sweet and highly scented with cardamom.

Buffet Lunch at Ram's

They’ve got an a la carte menu but I rather enjoy the lack of choice with the buffet! Don’t let the fact that the restaurant serves vegetarian food put you off – everything is wonderfully spiced and I love trying out the different curries. And come on, I mean, puris! Deep fried breads! Highly recommended if you’re in the area for lunch.

Ram’s
201-203 Kenton Rd
Harrow HA3 0HD

Ram's on Urbanspoon

I can’t believe this was my first time at Donna Margherita in Clapham – I really do believe I must be the worst and most un-up-to-date of the London food bloggers out there. Whatever. We were there one weekday night as part of a large group from work to try their Neapolitan specialities. At our table, we chose to share a few starters before moving onto mains.

A Neapolitan selection of fried goodies (A’ fritturin) kicked off our meal – I found these even lighter than those I encountered in Naples, and hence enjoyed these greatly. There were potato croquettes, bite sized arancini, fried polenta and fried matchsticks of aubergine and courgette.

A' fritturin

Meatballs (E` purpett) were fine…. sorry, not mindblowing but perfectly fine in a simple tomato sauce.

E` purpett

Finally, a parmigiana di melanzane (A’ parmigian e mulgnan) was silky and cheesy and gorgeous (have you ever encountered a bad version? I haven’t.). I could have had a large portion of this for my main course.

A’ parmigian e mulgnan

Blai and I split two main courses. Porchetta was an innovatively spiral cut bit of tender herbed roast pork belly layered with aubergine puree and served with spinach. I can never turn down a good bit of porchetta and this was indeed a most tender and crispy-edged good bit.

Porchetta

A side of friarielli was just as I remembered it in Naples. The wonderfully bitter green had been braised to melting softness in plenty of garlic, chilli and olive oil.

Friarielli

A pizza Romana was pretty solid but by this point in the meal, we were feeling a bit too full to enjoy it.

Pizza Romana

From what I could see of my colleagues’ dishes, it looked like their pasta dishes were also excellent!

I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of the tiramisu we shared (as usual, we found our second wind for dessert)! As it was already quite late that night (our dishes took quite a while to come out as we were such a large group), there were only a couple of tiramisus left. Our tiramisu was excellent.

At our table, we ended up tucking into our friend’s Tortino di ricotta as well! This was a dense cheese cake that was utterly gorgeous.

Tortino di ricotta

It’s a fun buzzing place with excellent Neapolitan food; I can’t believe I never visited before – actually I had no idea that they served specifically Neapolitan cuisine. There are still a few things on the menu that I’d like to try and I hope to return sooner rather than later!

Donna Margherita
183 Lavender Hill
London SW11 5TE

Donna Margherita on Urbanspoon

Earlier this year, I met Vi Vian for lunch at Old Tree Daiwan Bee, the relatively new Chinatown offshoot of the Old Tree Bakery up in Golders Green. You may remember that I visited the latter once and loved their pork chop rice and I was very keen to try their more centrally located restaurant.

The place itself is tiny with only bench seating for about 20 people. The small menu is full of Taiwanese favourites and as we couldn’t decide between it all, instead of ordering a ‘proper’ lunch, we ordered a few bits and pieces to share between us. Taiwanese sausage was served with slices of raw leek and were the sweet meaty sausages that I remember from my youth (the Chinese roast meat shops in Vancouver sold long links of them).

Taiwanese Sausage

An oyster omelette was, of course, the Taiwanese kind, with the gloopy red sauce on top. This was quite tasty with its layers of oyster, vegetables, egg and fried starch. Yes, it tastes better than it sounds.

Oyster Omelette

Taiwanese style salt and pepper crispy chicken may have looked dry but was anything but. Whoever’s in charge of the deep fryer knows what they’re doing – we were popping these into our mouths like they were going out of fashion. Wow.

Taiwanese Style Salt and Pepper Crispy Chicken

We still had space for sweets! I’ll admit that Asian attempts at Viennese cream cakes are not my thing (I always find the taste and texture of the cream to be a bit odd) but I was willing to try anything. A big puffy coffee cream bun was first to be ordered. There was a good coffee flavour in the cream inside (of which there was a lot!) the big choux puff.

Coffee Cream Bun

A matcha and red bean cake was also alright – again, this is more a reflection of my taste that the cakes there. I liked the matcha and red bean combo though!

Matcha and Red Bean Cake

Service, however, is surly and you’ve got to be quite assertive to even get your order in. Luckily, the food makes up for it. Still, it would be better if they could train their waitresses a bit better (this also goes for the Old Tree up in Golders Green) as they do occasionally go out of their way to ensure that you feel like you’re being a nuisance to them. I do hope to return though to try their other rice and noodle dishes.

Old Tree Daiwan Bee
26 Rupert St
London W1D 6DH

Old Tree Daiwan Bee on Urbanspoon

A friend of mine went on a last minute trip to the Dominican Republic last year and brought back a most interesting jar of cocoa balls for me. After a lot of questioning on Twitter, it turned out that this wasn’t for hot chocolate but for a Caribbean chocolate drink they call cocoa tea.

Cacao Balls from the Dominican Republic

I believe this is pure processed cacao, complete with cacao butter, in ball form. From what I gather online, they also come in sticks, which, though less aesthetically pleasing, are easier to grate.

Cacao Balls

Well, after many months of procrastination, I finally thought about making us some cocoa tea and opened the jar. I cobbled together a set of instructions based on what I found online and what was on the side of the jar. In a small pot, I placed half a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf and grated in about 1/8 of a nutmeg. In went 500ml of semi-skimmed milk and the whole pot was set on a medium heat to simmer.

Spices

Meanwhile, I grated up one of the cocoa balls (each is about the size of a walnut). When the milk was simmering, the grated cocoa was added and whisked in until well combined. As there’s no sweetening in these balls of cacao, some sugar was also added to taste (about 1-2 tbsps, I think).

A Grated Cocao Ball

Finally, a little bit of cornstarch slurry gave the thin mixture a little thickness.

Cocoa Tea

The result was delicious! Not too sweet, a bit bitter, very deeply chocolaty but not in a cloying way. I might try to grate the cocoa ball a little finer as we were chewing a little on the larger cocoa nibs but this was not unpleasant. If you do manage to find cacao like this, do try it!

I was on the lookout for a little something different. We wanted some brunch before heading to the British Museum and I’m not sure how things connect up in my head but I recalled passing Maroush Bakehouse on Edgware Road on the bus and looking at it in curiosity. What did they serve? Was it just bread? A little googling helped to answer my questions – they did indeed have lots of bread but they also served savouries and sweets inside. In particular, their breakfast was highly rated. I had to try it.

We arrived at about 11:30 on a Sunday morning and it was packed with a mix of locals and tourists. We managed to find a quiet table at the back. Ordering mint tea got us this very grand teapot.

Mint Tea

We split a few items on the menu. A lahem b’agine was as I remember from my university days – it’s flatbread  topped with seasoned minced lamb and the only thing that would have been better is if they’d heated it up prior to serving it. Or perhaps put some pickles on top.

Lahem B’agine

We also got a Lebanese breakfast, which every other table also ordered – and we could see why! It looked brilliant, all full of colours and very appealing to the eye. This huge plate held an omelette, labneh (strained yoghurt), ful medames (cooked dried broad beans), cucumber sticks, tomato slices and a big pile of wonderfully bitter olives. And there was lots of olive oil drizzled over everything. It’s all wonderfully healthy and I have to give special mention to the ful medames because I really could have consumed just a giant bowlful of that that morning.

Lebanese Breakfast

To scoop up everything, a basket of freshly baked flatbread is also provided. Brown or white.

Freshly Baked Flatbread

It’s a great place for a breakfast that’s not your usual fry-up.

Maroush Bakehouse
45-49 Edgware Road
London W2 2HZ

There are other branches on Earl’s Court Road and in Knightsbridge and at Hyde Park Corner.

Maroush Bakehouse on Urbanspoon

Here’s another one from last year. I went to Southall one Saturday in search of a particular crunchy snack to bring back to my father in Vancouver. That search ended in failure (dammit, I can’t find that brand from Leicester anymore) but that day, I discovered a fantastic Sri Lankan place that served an a fantastic, budget-friendly lunch.

The place was Palm Palace, the lone Sri Lankan restaurant amongst all the Indian and Pakistani restaurants all around it. It’s a little grotty, a little dark…but my goodness, its food is fantastic. I ordered a seafood thali – and my choice of seafood was prawns (crab and fish were available too).

This is what arrived.

Sri Lankan Thali

This is the thali underneath the poppadom. That hard boiled egg is a good indicator of scale.

Under the Poppadom

It was fantastic! All the curries were medium-hot (which can be made Sri Lankan hot by request) and all were very uniquely spiced. The prawn curry had lots of curry leaves, there was an aubergine dish that was insanely good, that fried vadai on top was just like a gorgeous spicy lentil doughnut. And dessert! There was even a little portion of watalappam, a delicious coconut milk and jaggery custard, that you can see in the bottom left corner. There was plenty for one person and unsurprisingly, I couldn’t finish it all. Kudos to the waitstaff who offered to pack up the leftovers!

Remember that I said this was a budget meal? The thali cost £6.50. This and a glass of mango juice gave me more change than expected from a tenner. Definitely one to try if you’re not in the mood for the usual heavier grilled meats and creamy curries in the area.

Palm Palace
80 South Rd
Southall, Middlesex UB1 1RD

Palm Palace on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,887 other followers