It turns out that I’m one bus ride away from Crystal Palace, which I’ve been wanting to visit for a while to see the Victorian dinosaur models in Crystal Palace park. Of course, the Sunday I chose turned out to be freezing and wet, all the more reason to stay for a long lunch at nearby Mi Cocina Es Tuya, one of only two Venezuelan restaurants in London (and this was the only one for a long time). It’s a remarkably cosy and friendly place and the owner will happily engage in discourse on Venezuela and music and music in Venezuela.

I love the fruit shakes that one sees on the menus on South American restaurants and Venezuela is no different. I had a guanabana (soursop) smoothie while Blai had the Venezuelan version of chicha. In many South American countries, chicha is usually a maize based beverage that is usually fermented. The emphasis is on usually as there are clearly many different types of chicha. In Venezuela, chicha is a very rich and very thick rice based drink that is not fermented. It was described to us as having cooked rice and condensed milk and came out with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top, being very sweet and tasting like a thick pureed rice pudding. The chicha was almost a meal in itself!

Guanabana Smoothie and Chicha

Brought with the drinks were a pair of sauces that were on every table – I think this was a Venezuelan guasacaca, a garlicky avocado salsa, and a chilli sauce. I like good sauces and of these two, that guasacaca was very moreish.

Guasacaca and Chili Sauce

Between the two of us, we split a couple of things. First, a cachapa with chicken, and a side of cheese. This was a thick fresh corn cake topped with spiced chicken and with a side of fresh crumbly white cheese on the side. The sweet and slightly spicy and salty all went together brilliantly and I loved it with lashings of the guasacaca and chilli sauces.

Cheese and Chicken Cachapa

We also split what was described as Venezuela’s national dish – pabellón criollo. This is a plate of rice and black beans and slow cooked shredded spiced beef. We got some sweet fried plantains on top too. This was especially comforting on that cold Sunday and also ridiculously delicious. I’m a huge fan of rice and beans and this was excellent. It also comes in pork and chicken versions.

Pabellón de Carne

Dessert was always in the forefront of my mind ever since I spotted a massive cake sitting on the counter at the back. In a large casserole dish was said meringue-topped cake, sitting in a moat of the three milks, slowly soaking it all in. This was their torta tres leches and it was utterly luscious. This was indeed one of the best tres leches cakes I’ve ever had.

Torta Tres Leches, from the other side

The total for lunch came to about £30.00 and I recommend getting here either early or late on Sundays to get a table. You may not be near Crystal Palace but eating here does give you an excuse to visit the dinosaurs!

Mi Cocina Es Tuya
61 Westow Street
Crystal Palace
London SE19 3RW

Mi Cocina Es Tuya - Café Latino on Urbanspoon

I’ve been wanting to cook this Japanese dish for a long time. I say Japanese but to be more specific, taco rice originated in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan and where the US military has a presence. I guess it’s no surprise then that this mishmash of Tex-Mex and Japanese cuisines developed there! There’s no carnitas or barbacoa here – we’re getting down and homey with seasoned minced beef. And the toppings are just as you’d find them at any proper Tex-Mex joint – shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes. And all of it on rice.

Taco Rice!

The dish is supremely comforting and I reckon we’re going to have it often. There’s the contrast of the hot rice and beef with the cold toppings and dare I say it? – I think it’s all even better on rice than on a tortilla!

Taco Rice
serves 2.

250g minced beef
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chilli powder/cayenne pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsps ketchup
100ml water
hot sauce to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve:
cooked white Japanese rice
shredded cheese
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
chopped avocado
sour cream or Greek yoghurt
salsa

This recipe makes quite a mild taco beef mixture; increase the chilli powder and hot sauce for more heat. In a hot frying pan, heat the olive oil and fry the minced beef, breaking it up as you go along. When the beef has browned, add the cumin and chilli powder and continue frying for a bit. Add the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, water and hot sauce to taste and let it all bubble together slowly until you get a generally dry yet moist mixture. You’ll just know. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, place some rice into a bowl or onto a plate. Top with the taco beef mixture and then some shredded cheese. Top with the rest of the ingredients as you desire and serve.

A group of us from work recently celebrated a colleague’s birthday at Greek Affair in Notting Hill, a small homey Greek restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try for a while, especially after hearing about their Grand Meze menu. This is a selection of ten starters (meze) and four main courses and is available for a minimum of two people (£22 per person). For our large group, this was a great choice, taking away much of the decision making process that can take forever when there are so many of us!

The restaurant was much larger than expected and our large group was seated in the private room upstairs. We were hungry, we ordered the Grand Meze as recommended, and luckily, we didn’t have to wait long for a lot of good food to come our way. The cold starters came out first. A garlicky tzatziki, a white taramosalata and an excellent hummus were accompanied with lots of warm Greek bread.

Tzatziki, Taramosalata, Hummus

I somehow managed not to get photos of the two other cold dishes but one was a delicious aubergine salad called melitzanosalata and the other was dolmades, those ubiquitous grape leaf wrapped rice bundles (these were just ok).

After a brief pause, the hot starters then started arriving. There was a hot aubergine and potato salad whose name I cannot recall but it was delicious!

Aubergine and Potatoes

Kalamari tiganiko were some very nice fried calamari.

Kalamari Tiganiko

I loved the hot meaty meze that arrived next – soutzoukakia were tender meatballs in a tomato sauce.

Soutzoukakia

Keftedakia were one of my favourites. These fried meatballs were juicy and flavourful and incredibly moreish.

Keftedakia

Loukaniko horiatiko were fried slices of a smoked Greek sausage. As you can imagine, we were already eating possibly too much and too many of the starters, not planning well for the main courses that were to come.

Loukaniko Horiatiko

And as foreseen, the main courses were generously portioned, especially after all the meze. Elliniki Salata was like all the excellent Greek salads I had in Greece, topped with a lovely slab of feta.

Elliniki Salata

Their moussaka had a thick layer of bechamel on top of all that minced lamb and vegetables.

Kleftiko

Kleftiko didn’t look as I’m normally used to but here were chunks of tender lamb served with a massive portion of stewed potatoes. This went down a storm at our table!

Kleftiko

Kotopoulo fournou was a bowl of chicken pieces that didn’t particular excite us at first but upon trying just a bite, I fell rapturously onto an awful lot of it. The chicken had been marinated for quite a while and then braised until it was falling apart.

Kotopoulo Fournou

No dessert this time as we had birthday cake but I was so stuffed that fitting in a sliver proved to be a challenge – I was ready to burst! And there were even leftovers to pack away. Anyway, Greek Affair is a good place for a large group as there’s plenty of good food and they’re very good at taking care of vegetarians in the group, with our friends given extra dishes and plenty of vegetarian moussaka. Thumbs up then for the Greek food at Greek Affair!

Greek Affair
1 Hillgate Street
Notting Hill Gate
London W8 7SP

Greek Affair on Urbanspoon

It’s Chinese New Year on Thursday 19 February and we’ll be entering the Year of the Sheep then (sometimes also referred to as the Year of the Goat). To celebrate this occasion, I was invited to try the Chinese New Year menu at HKK, part of the Hakkasan Group here in London. HKK only serves tasting menus in the evening but from 26 January to 28 February, the menu is one specially designed by Tong Chee Hwee, executive head chef of the Hakkasan Group, with all eight of China’s great regional cuisines represented – a veritable culinary journey through the country. We were clearly going to be in for a treat.

The restaurant isn’t very far from Liverpool Street station and to my surprise (I hadn’t paid much attention to the address until I got there), the restaurant is located at 88 Worship Street. 88! (If you don’t know, 8 is a very lucky number in Chinese.) Inside, the restaurant was smaller than I expected but it’s cosy, not crowded. We were led to our table where we were first presented with a drinks menu and then a beautiful specially illustrated menu for the Chinese New Year meal. To drink, knowing we had 10 courses ahead of us, we chose a medium bodied tea (a Dong Ding oolong) to accompany our meal.

The Chinese New Year menu at HKK London is beautiful! #hkk #hkklondon #hkkculinaryjourney #chinesenewyear

First up was Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly, representative of Su Cuisine from Suzhou and Jiangsu. The light jellied bites were perfectly paired with the sweet and sour balsamic vinegar.

Marinated Duke of Berkshire pork with Osmanthus wine jelly

For Lu Cuisine from Beijing and Shandong, it had to be the Cherry wood roasted Peking duck. Here’s one of the chefs carving up our duck and Pedro plating it up.

Slicing and Serving the Duck

This was some of the best duck we’d ever had in London. We were instructed to start with the crisp skin with sugar, then eat the delectably dressed little salad, move on to the succulent slice of duck meat and skin and finally finish with the duck in the pancake. I could have had another three plates of this (but perhaps just having one is for the best!).

Cherry wood roasted Peking duck

From the south in Guangdong comes Yue (or Cantonese) Cuisine. Here we were presented a steamer basket with a Dim sum trilogy. This was a little sampling of the dim sum they offer at lunch (from an a la carte menu). Pink was a goji berry and prawn dumpling and green was a chicken and black truffle dumpling but the fried king crab puff was my favourite! The paintbrush turned out to be a perfect applicator for soy sauce!

Dim sum trilogy

Fujian’s Min Cuisine was represented by Monk Jumps Over The Wall, a classic broth filled with luxurious seafood – abalone, sea cucumber, dried scallops and imitation sharks fin. The story goes that the smell of this soup was so enticing that it prompted a monk to jump over the wall to get some (and, of course, break his vegetarian diet!).

Monk Jumps Over The Wall

As our waiter cleared our bowls, he announced that that was the end of our starters and the start of our main courses. The first main came from Hunan (Xiang Cuisine) and was Pan-grilled Chilean seabass in Sha Cha sauce. These rolls of fish filled with crunchy vegetables and mushrooms were utterly gorgeous, especially with the slightly spicy sauce and that crunchy sweet potato ribbon.

Pan-grilled Chilean seabass in Sha Cha sauce

Hui Cuisine from Anhui came next. This was Jasmine tea smoked poussin, which while pleasant enough probably didn’t require the black truffled mushrooms underneath. The strong truffle flavour certainly overpowered whatever hint of jasmine and smoke there may have been in the bird. This was the only weak point in the meal.

Jasmine tea smoked poussin

Luckily, the Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot (Zhe Cuisine from Zhejiang) made up for the previous course. That beef melted in the mouth and we wiped up every bit of that luscious sauce. That green flag on top was the stem of pak choi; now I normally consider this to be one of the more boring Chinese vegetables but its juicy blandness here was a perfect foil to the rich beef.

Braised King soy Wagyu beef with Merlot

Finally we travelled to Sichuan for Chuan Cuisine. The Sichuan chargrilled New Zealand scampi was cooked beautifully and there is certainly some good heat in the mala sauce!

Sichuan chargrilled New Zealand scampi

It’s here I’ll pause and point out that the dishes came out quite quickly, without lengthy waits in between the courses. It wasn’t quick enough to feel rushed but I thought it was all very well paced. We were asked if we would like a break between the savouries and dessert but we were ready to soldier on. Bring it.

Desserts were Chinese inspired and were the perfect playful ending to the meal. A Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion burst in the mouth and the rich chocolate was cut with the zing of the infusion poured on top.

Trio of dark chocolate dumplings with yuzu and ginger infusion

Our second dessert and final course of the tasting menu was all sheep! See the spun sugar ‘wool’ on the middle of the plate? This was the Sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelised puff rice, a combination that originally didn’t call out to me but trust me when I say it’s incredible.

Sheep’s milk mousse, pandan curd and caramelised puff rice

Of course, a 10-course tasting menu at HKK doesn’t come cheap (it’s £98) but then again, this isn’t an everyday restaurant. With only tasting menus available in the evenings, it’s clearly for special occasions and we felt the price was about correct for the outstanding food and for a special event. There’s an 8-course menu also available for £68; it’s the 10-course menu but without the pricier shellfish dishes. Vegetarian menus are also available as are alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings for each course. I’m looking forward to returning for lunch one day – perhaps for their 5-course duck menu!

Thank you very much again to HKK for the invitation!

HKK London
88 Worship Street
Broadgate Quarter
London EC2A 2BE

HKK on Urbanspoon

Winter time means soup time! It’s certainly chilly here in London and my frosty lawn is testament to that but I still find myself living vicariously through the east coast of North America and their snowmageddon (I miss the snow – c’mon, London, just one little dusting…). While I continue on in hope that snowflakes will come sometime this year, I’m making lots of soup in my kitchen.

This sweet potato soup was inspired by something very similar we had for lunch a while ago in Bistroy Les Papilles in Paris. It’s very simple too, with the main ingredients being just an onion and the sweet potatoes, of course. And I served it poured over a few ingredients placed at the bottom of the soup bowl. The only addition that is mandatory is the Greek yoghurt/creme fraiche – its tang is required to cut through the sweetness of the tubers. The rest is a bonus!

Greek Yoghurt, Croutons, Chorizo, Parsley

Sweet Potato Soup

Leftovers were even better – this bowl below was thinned a bit more and topped with just a few toasted seeds, a little black pepper and a blob of Greek yoghurt. And now I need to make more!

Leftover Sweet Potato Soup

Sweet Potato Soup
serves 4.

olive oil
1 small onion
1 clove garlic
6 small or 2 large sweet potatoes
a little bit of vegetable or chicken bouillon
salt and white pepper

To serve:
Greek yoghurt or creme fraiche (not optional!)
Parsley (optional)
Chorizo (optional)
Croutons (optional)
Toasted seeds (optional)

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes and set aside.

Heat a little olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Peel and chop the onion and cook in the pan until golden brown. Chop the garlic roughly and add it to the pan to colour a little. Add the sweet potatoes, the bouillon (I just chucked in a teaspoon of whatever I had) and add water to cover everything. Raise the heat to a boil, then reduce it and let it all simmer away until everything is soft.

Puree the soup using a hand blender or in a normal blender or if you don’t have that, mashing it all up works too. Or just leave it chunky – no one’s going to check! If it’s too thick, add water and ensure that it’s all heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, chop up some eating chorizo, make your croutons and chop your parsley. Either (a) place a quenelle of Greek yoghurt at the bottom of your soup bowl, scatter with the toppings and then ladle the soup in at the table, or (b) ladle the soup into the bowls, add a blob of yoghurt and scatter over the toppings. Serve.

One of the newest visitor attractions in Barcelona is El Mercat del Born, a former market and wholesale market in Barcelona that functioned from 1878 to 1977. I remember my first visit to Barcelona, over ten years ago, when Blai took me there to peep through the railings and into the then excavation site. For under the market, the ruins of the preexisting 18th century Born neighbourhood were in remarkable condition. Today, the market is El Born Centre Cultural, a cultural centre, all centred around the ruins and holding exhibitions, theatre space, meeting rooms, a shop and a restaurant.

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It was, of course, the restaurant that caught my eye and a couple days after our visit to the market, we returned with the whole family to try El 300 del Born, the restaurant run by the local major beer company Moritz and with a menu developed by Jordi Vilà of Alkimia. The space is lovely and light and has, of course, a fantastic view of the ruins (there is a separate entrance to the restaurant from outside when the cultural centre is closed). There are photos all around the restaurant of when the site was still a working market, which made for a great talking point throughout the meal.

What really tickled me though were the menus. On the Catalan menu (which is used as a placemat), many of the items refer to either key points in Catalan history or important Catalan cultural events and details of these are provided as references on the back of the menu. Unfortunately, the English menu lacks these – they should be translated as they’re a great read! Lots of thought had been given to the naming of items in the menu, with lots of ingredients reflecting the historic event or whatnot.

Anyway, onto the food – and it was all Catalan food, making the restaurant a good place for those who’d like to try Catalan cuisine. We ordered a whole lot of things to share between us. First on my list of things to try were bombes. Yes, in English they would indeed be bombs! These deep fried potato croquettes are sauced with aioli and bravas sauce and were originally created to resemble those cartoony spherical bombs that were popular with Catalan anarchists in the politically unstable years around the beginning of the 20th century.

At El 300 del Born, they made different types of bombes with different fillings and sauces and named them after groups and military leaders who were actually involved in the bombing of Barcelona at some point in history. Bombes de la Barceloneta (€4,50) were the traditional ones and which, yes, were originally created in Barceloneta. Bombes de l’Espartero (a Spanish general) (€5,00) were made with morcilla, the Spanish black sausage. Both were excellent.

Bombes de la Barceloneta, la tradicional i Bombes de l'Espartero (amb morcilla)

An Esqueixada tradicional (€9,00) was a traditional Catalan salad of tomatoes, onions and shredded salt cod and was delicious.

Esqueixada tradicional

Patates Felip V (€3,75) were described as patatas bravas of Born but what came out surprised us all! Five roasted potatoes were smothered in aioli and a spicy bravas sauce and were simple but delicious. Felip V was the king whose army defeated Catalonia in 1714, during the War of the Spanish Succession. It’s what the 300 oin the name of the restaurant commemorates (1714-2014). But why five potatoes? Perhaps five for Felip V?

Let's get a closeup of the crazy Patates Felip V at El 300 del Born yesterday! Fabulous!

One section of the menu had a variety of things on slices of bread: these things were the conserved foods that the Catalans do very well, from canned seafood to embotits, their cured meats. Llesca de pa amb espetec (€1,90) was a slice of bread (tomatoed in the style of pa amb tomàquet) with many slices of espetec, a thin cured pork sausage.

Llesca de pa amb espetec

Llesca de pa amb pernil pota negra (€6,00) was similar but with melt in the mouth slices of cured ham made from black footed pigs.

Pernil pota negra

Llesca de pa amb sardina i piquillos (€2,50) was topped with canned piquillo peppers and delicious canned sardines. The quality of the little fishes was outstanding – if only all canned seafood could be like this.

Llesca de pa amb sardina i piquillos

A coca de recapte is a savoury Catalan pastry/flatbread with toppings and our order of a Coca mallorquina (€8,75) came topped with grilled vegetables as well as sobrassada and cheese. The pastry was fabulous – very thin and crispy and the toppings generous.

Coca mallorquina de sobrassada i formatge

We ordered repeats of our favourites – well, with a slight switchup to try as much as possible. Another coca was ordered – this time de recapte tradicional de Cardona (of a traditional recipe from Cardona) (€8,50). Again the pastry here was perfect and the coca was topped with grilled vegetables and sardines.

Coca de recapte tradicional de Cardona

More bombes too! Bombes Prim (€5,00) were filled with tuna and sauced with romesco. Bombes del Comte-duc d’Olivares (€5,50) were filled with oxtail and black olives. Both were, again, excellent.

Bombes Prim (amb romesco i tonyina) i Bombes del Comte-duc d'Olivares (cua de bou amb oliva negra)

We stopped with the savouries there to make room for the sweets. We ordered a few different things on the menu. I forgot to photograph the ice cream, which was a very generous portion in a large glass.

The Tiramisú a la catalana were made not with ladysfingers and Marsala but with melindros, soft Catalan sponge fingers, and vi de Banyuls, a fortified dessert wine from Banyuls.

Tiramisú a la catalana (amb melindros sucats amb vi de Banyuls)

My xocolatada de xocolata negra, cafè i melindros i nata (€5,50 and €0,85 for the whipped cream) were fantastic. The dark and rich hot chocolate had been combined with coffee (surely one the best combinations) and on the side were lemon-tinged melindros. I ordered whipped cream (the nata) on the side as it’s just the best thing ever with hot chocolate!

Xocolatada de xocolata negra, cafè i melindros i nata!

And, of course, being run by a brewery, there’s lots of Moritz’s beers on tap and all at very reasonable prices. There’s even a beer that’s only available at El 300 del Born as it incorporates flavourings popular 300 years ago!

I loved El 300 del Born and hope to return the next time I’m in Barcelona. They’re open every day, except Monday, from breakfast time all the way to midnight and there are many other sweets and savouries that we didn’t get a chance to try this time. I also hope to time my visit to get onto one of the guided tours that take you down into the ruins themselves!

El 300 del Born
Placa Comercial, 12
08003 Barcelona
Catalonia, Spain

You can’t turn a corner in Barcelona without coming across yet another hamburger joint. And if it’s not a standalone burger place, it’ll be a hip restaurant with hamburgers showing up somewhere on their menu. I was more interested in a more recent fad that owes its origins to somewhere more local. I was interested in botifarra, the large Catalan sausage that comes in a couple of varieties, some ready to eat and others requiring grilling. It was the latter type that featured at Butifarring, one of the first ‘fast food’ botifarra restaurants in Barcelona.

Butifarring is located very centrally on Carrer del Call right in the Barri Gòtic and the restaurant is only about a year old. The place is tiny with a bit of seating on the ground floor and more upstairs, though when I visited (twice over the holidays!) the upstairs area was always closed. There’s a menu printed on the wall but what’s available actually depends on the season and what’s not sold out yet; it’s best to take a look at the raw sausages themselves sitting in the chilled counter further inside the shop. You make your choices and pay using the fancy machine in the front and then you wait for your meal. It’s just like at any other fast food joint. Well, any fast food joint where the food is cooked in a Josper grill (an indoor charcoal grill) in the back.

Each grilled botifarra in a bun was €5-6 each. Here we tried their classic botifarra and their botifarra with escalivada – here the Catalan grilled vegetables had been incorporated within the sausage. Both were stuffed into a wonderfully toasted crusty roll and I opted for the optional cheese and crispy onions too. That extra choice turned out to be a wise one – the cheese adhered the botifarra to the bread and the fried onions added a great crunch. And the sausages themselves? Excellent! They were meaty and flavourful and so good as only charcoal grilled sausages are.

Entrepans

In addition to their botifarra, there are a couple of side dishes available. There’s salad and these patates al caliu, cooked potatoes that are chopped and roasted again in the Josper grill. Those potatoes were mighty fine with their homemade sauces – here we’ve perhaps gone a bit overboard with their aioli, bravas sauce and spicy ketchup.

Patates al Caliu

The size of the place doesn’t lend well to lingering after your meal – it’s more of a fast food place. Still, it’s excellent for a quick but excellent bite. I need to go back to try the botifarra with calçots! Perhaps when I go back, there’ll be another Butifarring elsewhere in Barcelona – it looks like they’re getting ready to expand.

Butifarring
C/ del Call 26
08002 Barcelona

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