Food and Drink


I want to break up all these holiday eating posts with something a little more local. Croydon! In particular, Brasserie Vacherin in Croydon, one of our locals; it’s run by Malcolm John who also runs our beloved Le Vacherin in Chiswick. We’re often there for dinner and occasionally for breakfast but recently we stopped in for their relatively new weekend brunch menu. And it’s a cracker! Two courses for 拢12.95 or three for 拢17.50 and it includes bottomless Virgin Marys!

Last weekend we started with a red wine poached pear, blue cheese, walnut, and endive salad for Blai (his favourite and we never have blue cheese at home as I’m not a fan and I do most of the food shopping!) and crispy fried squid with roast garlic aioli for me.

Three excellent courses for brunch at Brasserie Vacherin. Here are our starters: a poached pear and blue cheese salad and crispy fried squid. And bottomless Virgin Marys!

We shared our main courses: a roast beef lunch (Sundays only) and fried eggs with chorizo and avocado and bacon. The roast was alright, just needing a little more seasoning – best not to take my word for it though, as I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday roasts. I’m not sure what compelled me to order it; I always feel like one about once a year. The eggs definitely felt more brunchy and the bacon was a standout.

A roast dinner on my side and baked eggs on Blai's, though we shared everything!

By this point, we were very full! But I wanted dessert (greedy!) and so we split a single crepe Suzette. Only it turned out to be crepes plural and the whole lot turned up on a dinner plate. It was huge! It was delicious.

Crepes Suzette! This was a dinner plate! 馃槣

It’s a brilliant deal and the food is all excellent. There are more traditional brunch options on the menu like eggs benedict or baked eggs or other more lunch items like a burger and fish and chips; we’ve tried almost all of these and so can vouch for them all. There’s something for everyone and I love it. Thank goodness it’s a local of ours!

Taiwanese food! I love it and I loved what we tried at Ho-ja on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. I was first introduced to the restaurant by a friend who organised a karaoke night in one of their two private rooms downstairs. While the karaoke was ok (language variety good, song variety in English meh), the food was memorable. I returned last week with Blai.

The location was one I remembered as being an old-fashioned British diner in times past – I recall having Spam fritters for the first time there! The business has turned over a couple times since then and is now Ho-ja. The space is large and is peppered with wooden benches and tables – we’re shown to the end of a large communal one as the smaller tables are all taken. We have menus but聽one needs to order and pay at the counter and the food is brought out to you when it’s ready.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

Our spread looks good, no? First up was a pork katsu bento – it’s not really in a bento box but is akin to the set meals that are typically Taiwanese. For something like 拢6, we got a slightly greasy fried breaded pork cutlet, some stewed cabbage, beansprouts, and rice. Portions are certainly hearty.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

A side order of their chicken popcorn is surprisingly greaseless by comparison. It’s extremely addictive and it would be worth ordering this as a bento main.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

The Ho-ja beef roll also comes with vegetables (steamed broccoli here) and are flaky scallion pancakes rolled around lots of salad leaves and some stewed beef. Fabulous stuff! We loved the freshness of the greens with the richer bread and beef. Just watch out for the skewers holding the rolls together… it’s easy to accidentally give yourself an unwanted piercing.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

With a bubble tea and a regular jasmine tea, the bill came to about 拢22, a pretty good deal. It’s definitely a place to look out for聽if you’re in search of a聽bite in the area.

Ho Ja
39 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd鈥檚 Bush
London W12 8QQ

Things have been busy and I’ve not been particularly keen to open my laptop to write posts once I’m back home. But I thought I’d give myself a kick today and post a recipe I made last night.聽Nikujaga!

That’s Japanese for ‘meat and potatoes’ and it’s a very common, very simple dish that’s served with rice. Due to its sweetness, it’s particularly popular with kids … and we like it too! Everyone seems to have their own ratio of soy/sake/mirin/sugar and I saw sugar amounts that ranged from 1 tbsp to 4 tbsp for the same amount of meat and potatoes. I went with my gut and the ratio below is what worked for us.

For the thinly sliced beef, to get it fresh, you’re likely to need to visit a Japanese or Korean shop that sells fresh meat. I find a good source of thinly sliced meat is also the frozen section of Chinese shops as the thin slices of meat are frozen in rolls, ready to go into hotpot. I cut them in half and in they go into my pot directly. Easy.

Nikujaga (with a red spoon)

Nikujaga
Serves 2-4 (depends if you have other dishes)

1-2 tbsp sunflower oil
200-250g thinly sliced beef (I use frozen like you use for Asian hotpot)
1-2 large potatoes, cut into chunks
1 small carrot, cut into bite sized pieces
1 large onion, sliced lengthwise
500 ml water
3 tbsps soy sauce
3 tbsps sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp demerara sugar
1 scant tsp instant dashi
A handful of frozen peas

Heat a medium sized pot over medium-high heat and add the sunflower oil. Add the onion slices and saute until just started to get translucent. Add the beef and continue sauteing until the beef loses all its red colour. Add the potatoes, carrot, water and seasonings, stir well and bring it all to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, partly cover and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through. Scatter over the frozen peas and continue cooking for another five minutes before turning off the heat.

Go ahead and leave the dish to soak up the flavourful liquid until mealtime (it’s now a good time to make anything else you’re having for your meal!). Serve with hot white rice.

(Konnyaku noodles are apparently great in here too and if you don’t have peas, green beans work too.)

There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gr脿cia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somod贸 and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly聽recited the choices for that day’s men煤 del dia聽to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mat贸 was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mat贸 Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s 鈧20 for the men煤 del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somod贸
Ros de Olano, 11
Gr脿cia
Barcelona 08012

We spent Christmas and New Year in Barcelona and the days were heavily punctuated by some fantastic eating, as you can expect. Christmas was feasting with family out in the village. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day here in the UK) was more feasting at home. New Year’s Eve was snacking on canapes as we waited to shove grapes in our mouth with each strike of the clock at midnight. On New Year’s Day, even more feasting. Ah, that was the good life.

One thing that always strikes me about Barcelona is the way that chocolate is used with reckless abandon at all patisseries. Croissants, coques, palmiers,etc, come in both plain and chocolate-covered varieties. The chocolate coating is not a mere afterthought but a proper drenching – a thick coating! – that turns the pastry into a hefty, weighty treat. And these can be found at all patisseries! There were a couple of more unique chocolate treats that stood out during my visit though.

We went back to my beloved Forn Mistral聽to try a wide variety of their pastries. I particularly wanted to try their mini chocolate croissants and I wasn’t disappointed. They don’t look very promising from the outside but under that surprisingly thin layer of puff pastry is an equally surprising hefty lump of chocolate. There is a proper 50/50 ratio of pastry to chocolate in these little morsels. And if you pick some up for takeaway, there’s a chance you could get a scoop straight from the oven….mmm…. little chocolate lava morsels.

I'm a little obsessed with the mini chocolate croissants from @fornmistral ... Here's a cross section of one. Look at all that chocolate! And the portion we bought yesterday was hot out of the oven! 馃崼

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume Montserrat.聽The bakery is famous for their coques, Catalan flatbreads that are topped or filled with sweet or savoury ingredients. I noticed that there were many comments online about their coca de xocolata – pictured below – and we bought a large slice to take home. While the chocolate in the mini croissants above was pure dark chocolate, the one here was like a stiffer dark chocolate frosting, probably to hold up to a longer baking time. It was sweeter but I still liked it. I loved it. More please!

Slices of a coca de xocolata from Forn Jaume Montserrat ... Another example of the major chocolate representation at bakeries and patisseries here!

I guess it’s another way of mainlining chocolate that isn’t in liquid form!

First post of the year! Happy new year, everyone! I’ll start the year with a great restaurant that’s local to us, one that’s a short bus ride away from me (though likely more of a train journey for most people in London).

I know that there are a million and one burger restaurants and many of them are of a few particular chains. This restaurant, Dexter Burger, is an independent and has some seriously good burgers. Their prices may seem steeper than other burger joints (拢9 for a hamburger) but a side of their excellent rosemary and sea salt fries are included. Bearnaise and rocket leaves are default, tomato and onion and jalapenos are free, and other toppings (like cheese) are a small supplement. For a supplement, the fries can also be upgraded. On our first visit there, we both got cheeseburgers (+拢1) but I upgraded my fries to sweet potato fries too (+拢1).

I really like their burger – it’s incredibly juicy and meaty and they mix a tiny bit of minced onion into the patty as well. The bun is excellent, holding its structure in the face of all those meat juices. Sweet potato fries are, of course, amazing.

Back in London, having a burger. It's good to be home! Also, Dexter Burger is our latest discovery and we love it.

Do ask for their homemade sweet chilli sauce (photo above, top right) – it’s wonderful and very addictive.

On a more recent visit, we tried their courgette fries (拢3.50) as well and they’re just as good as I expected them to be.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I pushed the boat out and upgraded my fries to chilli rub fries (+拢1.20). I had no idea what to expect but was delighted when presented with my pile of fries topped with a chilli sprinkle (the rub, I gather), a chilli mayo, and lots of pickled jalapenos.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

The dessert list is short (two items) but the one dessert we have tried (their banoffee pie) was fantastic with lots of cream and toffee sauce.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I love them and am very happy to find a local independent burger place that’s excellent. Watch out for their opening times as they close earlier on Sunday evenings. They have a separate weekend brunch menu as well that’s enticing – baked eggs, pancakes, pork burger?! I’ll be seeing you again, Dexter Burger.

Dexter Burger
10 High Street
Purley CR8 2AA

In France, the first of April is also full of pranks in France. The tradition is poisson d’avril (April fish) – children try to stick paper fishes onto their friends’ backs and when it’s discovered, one shouts “Poisson d’avril!”. Simple but effective. On the day at Brasserie Z茅del, they went all out for the event, with paper fish聽to stick on someone’s back at each place, fortune telling fish, and beautiful dark chocolate fish to take home. I was there on invitation – Blai and I actually find ourselves there quite regularly. It almost always has space for a walk-in for two and is priced very well for a centrally-located brasserie…and, of course, we like the food! But this…this was different. It was a one-off for a particularly French way of celebrating April Fools.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And I couldn’t help but giggle at the poor victims of the prank that night, many of whom were the waitstaff!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Then we watched as every fortune telling fish curled up in our palms…. that’s the usual thing right? That we’re all “passionate” people?!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

For my meal, I started with Steak Tartare. It was excellent despite it being not much of a looker – all the seasonings had been mixed in with the meat already.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

I felt an implicit pressure to have fish somewhere in my meal (actually the pressure was all self-inflicted) and chose the Daurade aux Aubergines et Sauce Verte – sea bream. The aubergines under the fish were fantastic!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Brasserie Z茅del’s menu changes ever so slightly through the seasons and it’s most apparent in their dessert menu. I chose one dessert that I certainly hadn’t seen on the menu before: Souffl茅 Glac茅 au Caf茅, Cr猫me Anglaise. The thin custard was poured directly into the heart of the cold coffee mousse. I loved that the combination wasn’t too sweet overall and was a fine ending to the meal, no extra coffee required!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And here’s that dark chocolate fish, made in house by their chocolatier, that was presented to each of us at the end of our meal. I’ve been nibbling on it every day since and it’s ridiculously good.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Thank you very much to Hattie and Natalie and Brasserie Z茅del for the invitation – it was a fun night! I’ve now signed up to the restaurant’s newsletter to get head’s up for their other French celebrations (I hear they do a great Bastille Day).

Brasserie Z茅del
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED

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