I’d been reading up on Sri Lankan cuisine when I came across a dish called lumprais (or lamprais), a banana leaf wrapped parcel of rice cooked in stock, with curries and cutlets included. The word is supposed to have originated from the Dutch lamprijst, meaning ‘packet of rice’ and I could only imagine how all those flavours melded after being baked together in that parcel. Needless to say, I became a bit obsessed with it and to my delight, I discovered that a Sri Lankan restaurant in west London (Northfields, specifically) served it.

Here was their lumprais (£14). Now, there are set rules as to what a lumprais must contain and whilst this one broke all the rules, it was still delicious – here everything was served on a banana leaf instead of being baked within it. As well, not all the components were present but was included was fantastic. There was the rice cooked in stock and embedded in that mound of rice was a fish cutlet. There was a rich and robust mutton curry and a ‘special’ aubergine curry that was all silky and tangy and seeni sambol, a luscious sambol of caramelised onions, dried fish and spices.

Lumprais

To round out our dinner that night, we also had a couple other dishes to eat with it. Devilled chicken (£7.50) was a delicious dry chicken stir fry with lots of pepper and spice, onions, peppers and tomatoes.

Devilled chicken

Dhal spinach (£5) was a chef’s recommendation and was a soothing combination of dal cooked with fresh spinach leaves.

Dhal Spinach

To eat with it all? One plain hopper (£2) and an egg hopper (£3). I love the crispy edges and soft centres of hoppers, and their slightly fermented flavour reminded us a bit of Ethiopian injera. And yes, that egg on the right hand side had a beautifully liquid yolk.

Plain Hopper Egg Hopper

I couldn’t resist the vattilappam (£5) on the dessert menu. We’d tried this already at the Buddhist temple dinners and this version was equally as good – it’s a creamy set pudding of coconut milk, brown palm sugar, eggs, spices and cashew nuts.

Vattilappam

I can’t believe I didn’t discover this place sooner as it has always been here in West London near where I live! I do suspect that the heat levels had been toned down for us (us loser non-Sri Lankans!) but I’m sure you could get true Sri Lankan heat in your meal if you ask!

Papaya
161 Northfield Avenue
London W13 9QT

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This was one very random concoction. You may be familiar with the Malaysian murtabak, a thin flaky flatbread folded over a mixture of meat and egg and onion. If I’m not mistaken, a few Malaysian restaurants do serve this here in London, one of them possibly being Roti King.

Anyway, I’d been reading online recently of a variant that’s becoming quite popular at the pasar malams (night markets) in the last few years – Murtabak Maggi. There’s no flatbread involved here – the meat, eggs and onions remain – instead, the carbs are provided by instant noodles (the ‘Maggi’ refers to the Maggi brand of instant noodles, known as ‘Maggi mee’). I, of course, became instantly obsessed by this and had to try this at home. The version I present below doesn’t have meat but if you’d like to add some, fry some minced meat beforehand and add to the mixture when cooled.

Murtabak Maggi

My thoughts?…. interesting. I can definitely see the appeal. I accidentally overcooked it a bit and it was a bit stiff but if I’d cooked it as an optimal tortilla (slightly soft in the centre), it would be better. I like the curry flavour. It’s not perhaps my favourite murtabak (that honour goes to the original made with the flaky flatbread) but I like that it’s quick to prepare with readily available pantry items!

Murtabak Maggi

Murtabak Maggi
Serves 1.

Take 1 packet of curry flavoured instant noodles and set aside the curry flavour packet. Boil the noodle block until al dente (Ha! Never thought I’d ever describe instant noodles as cooked to ‘al dente’). Drain the noodles and let cool. Slice one spring onion and add to the noodles. Other additions could be chopped onion, other chopped vegetables, cooked meat, etc. Add the curry flavour packet and crack in two eggs and mix everything together well.

Heat a frying pan, add a little oil and fry the mixture as you would a Spanish tortilla. It should be golden on both sides. Slice and serve with chilli sauce if desired.

My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

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

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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

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