Food


My garden! I never thought that I’d have my very own garden! Of course, it’s Blai’s too but he’ll be the first to admit that I’m the crazy one who insisted on growing almost all our vegetable plants from seed (our living room is south facing with lots of light and I’ve been treating it like a greenhouse). It’s a modest little patch (about 10 square metres plus a number of pots – the rest of the garden is lawn and herb/flower bedding) but so far I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to harvest from it, even this early in the season.

The tally so far in our garden is: 9 tomato plants, 2 courgette plants, 8 cucamelon plants, a small patch of carrots, 3 purple bean vines, 3 runner bean vines, a tiny patch of wild rocket, a small patch of cime di rapa, countless radishes dotted everywhere, a few spring onions looking like string, 2 little cavolo nero plants, 5 rainbow chard plants, 1 pot of pea shoots, 2 pots of cut and come again lettuces, 1 pot of strawberries, and 1 small potted fig tree. As you might be able to tell, I’ve aimed for variety and experimentation with yields in this first year and we’re not in any way looking to be self sustained from this little plot.

We’ve had a few great salads, radishes with butter, cime di rapa pasta, and quite a few strawberries. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

And the courgette flower this morning!

Our first itty bitty (unfertilised, I think, as there were no male flowers alongside) courgette and we ate it!

Yesterday's bowl of homegrown salad leaves!

Our first cima di rapa harvest!

And our little patch of wild rocket always seems to look full, even after picking lots for salads

Pre-breakfast radishes in the garden

🍓🍓🍓

Of course, not everything has gone to plan. My aubergine seeds didn’t germinate earlier this year and now I suspect that some of my tomatoes in pots are damaged by possible herbicide in the compost I purchased. But what really surprised me was how much I’m enjoying gardening and how happy the garden is making me. And the bees! I love seeing the bees do their thing with the flowers. I do know, of course, how lucky we are to have some green space (we have had no green space whatsoever prior to this), especially in London…

I should say that I really had nearly no experience whatsoever before embarking on this wild and crazy sowing scheme! Books that have been helpful include The New Vegetable and Herb Expert, the same in the series for fruit, and Alys Fowler’s The Edible Garden. The last book has an accompanying television series that’s watchable on YouTube. Useful websites and blogs are You Grow Girl (I’ve been reading this one for years!), Mark’s Veg Plot, Grow Your Own, the gardening section of the Guardian, and the Royal Horticultural Society.

If you have any tips/suggestions on what I ought to grow, do let me know!

A couple of Sundays ago, I had pizza on my mind. Now, without a local Neapolitan pizza place nearby, I had to turn to nearby Beckenham, the home of Sapore Vero, a traditional pizzeria that was recommended to me by Selina of Taste Mauritius (another Croydon local!). From East Croydon station, we took a tram all the way to Beckenham (TFL zone 4) and found ourselves upon a quiet little high street with a few restaurants. Sapore Vero was tinier than we expected but later on in the night, they opened up the cafe next door as well to customers (I guess they own that too!).

I was thrilled to see that the Italian fizzy water Ferrarelle was on the menu! I like its fine bubbles and it’s difficult to find over here; it was certainly a good start! And we didn’t have to wait too long for our meals from the huge wood burning oven at the front. Blai’s spinach and ricotta cannelloni (£8.65) was delicious, all covered with what was clearly a homemade tomato sauce.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

My Milanese pizza (£12.95) was excellent. Tomato sauce, mozzarella, DOP Nduja sausage from Calabria, aubergines, fresh Italian sausage – a fantastic combination and altogether a delicious Neapolitan-style pizza. Good dough, good toppings.

Pizza Milanese

We couldn’t turn down dessert when we heard that like the rest of their food they were homemade! My order of their homemade tiramisu (£4.95) turned out to be the largest I’d ever been served! It was so huge I could barely finish it. Good stuff though, if a tiny bit dry.

Tiramisu

Blai’s homemade panna cotta (£4.95) turned out to be an entirely more modest affair. But though it was small, it was perfectly set and not too stiff, as some panna cottas can be.

Pannacotta

Excellent pizza in Zone 4, South London then! I’m glad I finally got around to trying Sapore Vero.

Sapore Vero
78 High Street
Beckenham, Kent
BR3 1ED

From a Chinese colleague, I received a tip about a relatively new Chinese restaurant near Euston station that’s popular with the Chinese students – Murger Han. It’s a restaurant featuring the food from Xi’an, which is the province of Shaanxi, so you’d expect lots of strong flavours, thick noodles and breads. We rocked up to the restaurant at about 6pm on a Sunday evening and were surprised to see a queue. Luckily, we managed to get in quite quickly but many tables had been reserved and that queue just kept getting longer. We were surrounded by Chinese students (everyone was approximately of student-ish age) and Blai was the only non-Chinese person in the restaurant. It felt like we were back in China!

After my taste of liang pi noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods in New York, I was keen to try more. An order of glass noodles with vegetables in sesame sauce (£6.00) was slippery smooth and tasty. Apparently sesame sauce is one of the traditional toppings for liang pi and here it complemented the thick noodles well. Underneath the pile of noodles were also tofu and beansprouts. It was cold and refreshing, with a lovely zing from an additional vinegary dressing underneath. This dish was probably Blai’s favourite dish of the night.

Liang Pi with Sesame Sauce

We also had to try their murger (apparently it’s the Chinese name for the chopped meat) in bai ji bread – the restaurant’s rou jia mo. We had one of pork (£3.20) and one of beef (£3.50). Both had apparently been cooked in some kind of ‘special herbal sauce’.

Pork and Beef Rou Jia Mo

This was my first time having rou jia mo proper! The bread was denser than I expected but still quite good (especially if dunked in a bit of some noodle sauce). The pork was a bit on the dry side but the beef was wonderfully moist and everything that I expected from rou jia mo.

Spinach noodles in stir fried tomato sauce with eggs (£8.00) was probably my favourite that evening. Lovely noodles topped with that Chinese classic of stir fried egg and tomato and there was some bok choy too for extra greenery. You can just see the green noodles at the top left of the bowl below. They were a little unwieldy though with the metal chopsticks provided and we left with tomato sauce splashed all over our shirts.

Spinach noodles in stir fried tomato sauce with eggs

There are also biangbiang noodles and spicy liang pi (rice or wheat) noodles and paomo available and I need to go back to try them all! Now to also try the other restaurant my colleague recommended…

Murger Han
62 Eversholt Street
London NW1 1DA

It took us a month (mainly my fault) to find a date that would work for me, Krista and Mr Noodles to meet for lunch and we finally met up at Rex & Mariano on St Anne’s Court (on the site of a former Vodka Revolution and across from the Good Housekeeping Cookery School) a couple Saturdays ago. Mr Noodles had been rapturous about the place and we were looking forward to tucking into some very affordable seafood. And I’d not seen either of them for a while – it turned out that it had been 5 years since I last saw Krista! Crazy!

For a Saturday lunchtime, we’d made a reservation but the restaurant was much larger (and brighter) than I’d expected and also quite empty. It seems it’s like that on weekends – fine by me, I like the idea of dropping in for some impromptu seafood. Ordering was via iPads, one left at each table when you sit down (and swiftly whisked away at the end). This allowed us to order as and when we liked, controlling the order and timing of our dishes, as well as keeping a running tab of the bill. We ended up ordering two rounds of cold and one of hot dishes.

One thing about the restaurant is that you have to buy your own bread. A delection of homemade breads (£3) is four huge tranches of bread: a focaccia, white studded with garlic cloves, white, and wholemeal. Our favourites were the first two and at the end of the meal, our waitress told us to request the specific breads we wanted next time. Alright! And the breads also arrived with a little ramekin of tuna pate. Good stuff.

Homemade breads with tuna pate

We started with a seabass ceviche with coriander, yuzu, red onion, and tiger’s milk (nope, me neither) (£7.5). This was extremely moreish, with its citrus and mild onion tang.

Seabass ceviche - coriander, yuzu, red onion, tiger's milk

There was also an excellent tuna tartare with chilli and chives and sitting on a swipe of pureed avocado (£8).

Tuna tartare - avocado, chilli, chive

Second round! Raw red prawns (£10) were beautifully fresh and beautifully arranged.

Raw red prawns

To begin with, a salmon carpaccio (£7.5) looked like the cured fish had been hacked at with a blunt knife; actually it had been topped with grated tomato, lemon, olive oil and micro-basil. This was probably the weakest of the raw fish dishes we tried but still was very good. You can see from the menu that the raw fishes available were tuna, salmon and sea bass and by having different variations of them on the menu, I guess that’s how costs can be brought down.

Salmon carpaccio - olive oil, lemon, tomato, basil

Third round – hot food! Sweet little clams had been steamed with white wine, parsley and chilli (£7).

Clams - white wine, parsley, chilli

The red prawns made another appearance but this time cooked and drizzled with olive oil, dusted with salt and served with a grilled lemon half (£10). I think I preferred these cooked ones as there were more juices to suck up and mop up with the bread.

Cooked red prawns, olive oil, salt, lemon

Fritto misto had been well seasoned with old bay seasoning (£9) and was a massive portion. There was plenty of calamari, a couple of whitebait and lots of chunks of fish (yup, you guessed it – salmon, tuna and sea bass offcuts!). It was a huge pile of perfectly fried seafood for an excellent price – thumbs up.

Fritto misto - old bay seasoning, lemon, aioli

Fried courgettes with aioli (£5) were not perhaps the most thrilling of vegetable dishes (this is one that Byron does better). While the outsides were crisp, the insides were a bit too soft and mushy.

Courgettes - fried, aioli

But otherwise I love the place! I love that one doesn’t really have to queue, I love that the restaurant takes bookings, I love the seafood. Prices are very good though and we could even have done to order perhaps 2 fewer dishes for the three of us (we were rolling out of there). I’ll be back.

Oh, it’s probably good to mention that unless you like/love seafood, there’s really no point for you to go here – there are no meat options nor vegetarian ones.

Rex & Mariano
2 St Anne’s Court
London, W1F 0AZ

Over the last long weekend, we found ourselves in our old hood, dropping by on old friends. We lunched at a new Mexican restaurant I’d spotted a few months ago – Habanera, a Mexican restaurant on Uxbridge Road, close to Shepherd’s Bush. The place was empty that Monday and we found a seat in the back, under the skylight, easily.

To take the edge of our hunger, we started with some chips and salsa (£3.50) – I liked that we could choose our salsa and we went with their excellent salsa verde with its tomatillo, coriander and chilli. The chips were whole small corn tortillas that they’d clearly fried themselves – good stuff.

Chips and Salsa Verde

To my delight, there were lots of non-alcoholic options on the drinks menu. A Sandía (watermelon, raspberry & tarragon) (£3.95) was refreshing, as was a homemade lemonade with mint (£2.50).

Drinks

Chicken tinga quesadilla (£5) turned out to be two and they were generously filled with spiced chicken and lots of perfectly toasted cheese.

Chicken Tinga Quesadilla

Carne asada tacos (£5.50) were topped with grilled steak, avocado, and salsa verde. I would have liked some extra hot sauce for these but I didn’t see any bottles until later, behind the counter. Our waitress could have been a bit forthcoming with this.

Carne Asada Tacos

Huevos rancheros (£7) were a generously sized portion of eggs, tomato, avocado and salsa verde again. This would make a fine brunch for one and I liked that they’d properly warmed the flour tortilla on the side.

Huevos Rancheros

The only thing is…we were eating a lot of salsa verde! I wish our waitress had actually looked properly at our order and warned us that the dishes we’d ordered all had salsa verde (they only say that there’s salsa on them). We would have switched the salsa with our chips at the beginning if we had known.

For dessert, I was thrilled to see an impossible cake (£6) on the menu. It also goes by the name chocoflan as, yes, it’s half chocolate cake and half flan. What makes it impossible is how it’s made – one of the batters is poured over the other but it magically separates while in the oven. We got a huge slice to share between us and to make it even more insane, there was a drizzle of dulce de leche or some other caramel on top!

Impossible

Overall, good food and generous sized portions but service needs some stepping up. It’s a great addition to Uxbridge Road though.

Habanera
280 Uxbridge Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London, W12 7JA

Last Wednesday, Blai and I met in the evening after work under a tree in Ham Yard, the rather swish Soho courtyard that’s home to a few new shops, the Ham Yard Hotel, and Engawa, a Japanese restaurant specialising in Kobe beef (that’s Ham Yard below but it’s a photo taken about a month ago). We were, of course, visiting this last and we were there to sample (at their invitation) their 8 course tasting menu which costs a not insubstantial £100. There are £60 and £80 menus for fewer courses.

Ham Yard

The restaurant, it turns out, is part of the Japanese Salt Group, which owns a number of high end restaurants in Japan. This, I believe, is their first venture into London; well, we’d get to see how the food translates over here! It’s only since last year anyway that Europe was allowed to import real Kobe beef from Japan again.

We sat by the counter and had a great view of everything being made in front of us by a number of white jacketed chefs. However, what I didn’t expect was how tiny the entire restaurant was. Apart from the counter seating, there were a few normal tables and then by the window, more counter seating. And things were tight – with the tables full and the counters full too, it was a struggle for the waiters to get through. It’s a shame the place isn’t bigger.

Anyway, we ordered our teas to drink and made our selections from the menu (on the 8 course menu, there are three courses for which you have to choose). Apart from the choices listed on the menu (for certain courses), we were also presented with this box of a couple cuts of beef and were asked to choose for our main course.

Kobe Beef

After getting our drinks (green tea for me and iced tea for Blai), we watched as two small glass bowls were filled with various bits of beef and dressings before being set into a large block of ice. It then occurred to us that perhaps those were for us! And they were!

This was the first course and the first with a choice (we, of course, shared between us). A Kobe beef yukhoe was a Japanese-style Korean beef tartare – raw Kobe beef had been chopped and served with a bit of jellied stock and a bit of slimy (but in a good way) grated Japanese mountain yam.

Kobe beef yukhoe

The Kobe beef with ponzu sauce was cold cooked slices of Kobe beef with a bit of ponzu jelly on top. These cold dishes were a nice way to get our appetites going.

Kobe beef with ponzu sauce

Choices again for the second course; it was eggs all around this time. A Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup was a beautiful egg roll sitting in a pool of Kobe beef dashi stock and topped with a bit of shaved truffle and a thin slice of kumquat.

Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup

Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup was steamed egg custard made with that same Kobe beef dashi stock and again topped with a bit of shaved truffle. Silky.

Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup

The next course was a fried one, with it changing each day. That day we got a prawn and asparagus Kakiage, a crisp ball of the ingredients bound together with a bit of batter. Lovely but I could have eaten two!

Shrimp and Asparagus Kakiage

Sashimi next. We were both presented with these beautiful compartmentalised boxes, with each compartment containing another beautiful little porcelain dish. Oh yeah, and the sashimi in those. There was a wide range of fishes represented: tuna, salmon, sea bass, red snapper, scallops, squid, salmon roe, sea urchin. It was beautiful to behold and beautiful to eat. Everything was extremely fresh.

Sashimi

And then again some choice between a few cooked dishes involving Kobe beef. Kobe beef daikon was supremely melting slow-cooked beef and daikon cooked in Kobe beef dashi stock.

Kobe beef daikon

Kobe beef sukiyaki was a different cut of beef cooked with onions and the sweet soy broth so characteristic of sukiyaki. While both these dishes were excellent, I just have no idea how the dish would compare with the same cuts but from…y’know…a cow that hasn’t had as good a life. Would the slow cooking tenderise everything?

Kobe beef sukiyaki

Choice again! These were the cuts of Kobe beef available for the Kobe beef main dish that had been presented to us at the beginning of the meal. Two are available each day and they change often as they get sent the whole animal and have to break it down themselves. That day’s choice was rump or top round and we got both. The steaks were grilled to their recommendation (medium and medium rare, if I recall correctly), sliced, and served with lemon, salt, wasabi and ponzu (with a chunk of pink Himalayan salt for…saltiness) on the side.

Grilled Kobe beef

Salt, Wasabi and Ponzu

Now this was a great way to appreciate Kobe beef and its tenderness and succulence. This was what I had been expecting! Now, strangely, the one takeaway message I got from this course was that wasabi is excellent with steak (which you would have thought I’d have figured out already what with the amount of Kodoku no Gurume I watch).

Kobe beef

Kobe beef

Each steak was served on a beautiful kidney-shaped ceramic place that turned out to the be cover of a box and within the box was grilled vegetables: okra, asparagus and green tomato. It was my first time having a grilled green tomato – I liked it!

Grilled Vegetables

Sushi was the final savoury course. There was some nigiri (tuna and salmon), a couple of sushi “balls” (scallop and eel) and a vegetable maki roll topped with Kobe beef. Apart from the previous course, this was my second favourite course. The sushi was overall quite excellent; it was some of the best stuff I’ve had in a while.

Sushi

And we made to course number eight: a Deluxe Engawa fondue. We received a box of fresh fruits, tofu cheesecake filled with sweet red beans, and a small wedge of dorayaki. And the best part was the matcha white chocolate dipping sauce on the side.

Fruits and Tofu Cheesecake

Matcha white chocolate sauce

In order to get every last bit of that sauce, Blai smashed up the last couple of bites of cheesecake into the green goop; and I followed suit! Genius!

It’s expensive, I grant you. While the food was lovely, I’m not sure I can see myself splurging on the £100 menu… perhaps the £60 or £80 menu is more like it for me. I suppose most of the cost is down to the import of the Kobe beef; gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to try Kobe beef in Kobe though? But still, it was a fun evening.

Thank you to Engawa for the invitation!

Engawa
2 Ham Yard
London W1D 7LT

Engawa on Urbanspoon

Do we need another review of BAO? Probably not but here’s mine anyway! Last week we tried our luck in the queue at 7pm and 90 minutes later, the three of us (me, Vivian, Felicia) finally got in. There’s always a queue here; be prepared for it or be prepared to find another place to leave. Every time we thought we’d vacate the queue, we’d move forward one spot and then we’d wait again. There are only 30 seats inside.

BAO

Anyway, 90 minutes later, we were finally in (while in the queue, I did feel quite sorry for the couple seated right by the window as everyone was ogling their food). Anyway, we’d already made our selections on the order form in the queue so we handed that over and waited impatiently.

With three of us, we were able to sample almost the entire menu. Sides and small eats (xiaochi) arrived first. Turnip Tops, Salted Egg (£2.5) turned out to be raw turnip greens in a spicy black vinegar dressing with, yes, grated salted egg on top.

Turnip Tops, Salted Egg

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup (£3) were beautifully fried and perfectly crisp. The frying in this restaurant was top-notch.

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg (£4) – I loved this dish. The mushrooms had been thickly sliced and grilled and topped with a couple of slices of the black jelly that is century egg.

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg

Pig Blood Cake (£3.5) was a slice of something like black pudding topped with an egg yolk. This was fantastic – all earthy darkness brightened by the sun. Sorry, that probably sounds ridiculous but it really was very very good.

Pig Blood Cake

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce (£5) was. just. fantastic. Ah, I’ve never met a fried chicken I didn’t like but this really is near the top of my list.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Now, I adore aubergine but the Aubergine, Wonton Crisp (£3.5) didn’t exactly light up my life. While I enjoyed the silky vegetable on top of the deep fried wonton skins, perhaps it was overshadowed by that fried chicken that arrived at the same time.

Aubergine, Wonton Crisp and  Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce (£6) is probably one of their more famous small eats and for good reason. This was some seriously good beef – very tender and flavourful. I’m not entirely certain what white soy sauce is but whatever sauce there was was delicious.

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce

Trotter Nuggets (£4) were melting little morsels that reminded me very much of David Chang’s pig’s head torchon…only this was made up of the other end of the animal. That green sauce on the side packed a surprising heat!

Trotter Nuggets

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice (£5.25) was one of my favourites that night. This bowl of rice was topped with lots of lovely things and an egg too. We were told to mix it all up together before tucking in and little bits of fried shallots and pickles peaked through the mixture. Fabulous.

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice

Of course, we had some of their baos too. Their Daikon Bao (£3.5) was rather inspired. Inside the soft pillowy steamed bun was stuffed a deep fried patty formed of grated daikon. And there’s a thin slice of daikon on top of that to remind you of what’s inside.

Daikon Bao

A Classic Bao (£3.75) was fine with lots of pork in there and peanuts on top too.

Classic Bao

Lamb Shoulder Bao (£5) was braised lamb covered in more of that green sauce.

Lamb Shoulder Bao

Confit Pork Bao (£4.50) – well, at this point, I wasn’t entirely sure what differentiated the confit pork from the regular pork as the mound of fried shallots somewhat overwhelmed it all….and I normally really like fried shallots.

Confit Pork Bao

And for dessert, I was by myself with my Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao (£4). The ice cream was brilliant – I do like me some Horlicks – and the pairing with fried bread was fantastic. I would have liked a little less bread but I was pretty full by that point and perhaps this was my stomach crying out for help.

Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao

Overall, I preferred the sides and small eats to the main baos; of all the baos we had, my favourite was the daikon one. Perhaps next time I’ll try their fried chicken bao (I can’t see how I’d ever dislike that). I’ve heard the queue is much shorter earlier in the week; I’ll try anything to shorten the length of time I’m queuing!

BAO
53 Lexington Street
London W1F 9AS

Bao on Urbanspoon

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