Food


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 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! 🍫

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume MontserratThe 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 (£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 (+£1) but I upgraded my fries to sweet potato fries too (+£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 (£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 (+£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

I was up in Manchester at the beginning of this month for work. There were two nights, a presentation, and walks here and there throughout the city as I made my way from the conference venue to my Travelodge room. Here were the highlights for me.

There was lunch the Thai supermarket Siam Smiles (48A George Street, Manchester M1 4HF), where I had a large plate of khao kha moo (the sweet and salty stewed pork knuckle with rice) for £9.50. There was hot and sweet Thai milk tea too.

Hello, Manchester! My khao kha moo at Siam Smiles (I read the @marinagpoloughlin article on the place!).

A visit to the John Rylands Library was a necessity as I have a passion for libraries and I was not disappointed!

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The Victorian building was utterly gorgeous and I only wished I’d had more time in there. If you do stop by, make time to have a peek at the working original loos in the basement!

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The Christmas markets woven through the city streets were exceptionally charming, lending a festive air to the quiet city. There were plenty of stalls from the European continent as well as more local treats. I wished I had more space to sample the boreks I saw at one stall.

I'm loving Manchester's Christmas markets!

The Mancunian specialty I wanted to try was rice and three and I chose to have it at Kabana (52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP). For £6, I could choose from the curries of the day; my choices were lamb, keema and potatoes, and channa. The food isn’t highly spiced but is very comforting with lots of fresh ginger and coriander. You won’t leave hungry!

Rice and three at Kabana

From a tip from a kind man at the John Rylands, I made my way to Chetham’s Library for a free tour just prior to catching my train back to London. This library is the oldest public reference library in the English speaking world and is part of Chetham’s School (specialising in music). The library dates from the 17th century but is housed in a building dating from the 15th century.

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There was first a glimpse at the freezing cold but impressive medieval hall with its humongous fireplace.

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The library itself is upstairs and looks like something out of a certain fictional wizarding school. It’s such an important bit of history and I’m so glad to have seen it.

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And that’s the very short report of how Manchester fed me and charmed me this festive season!

It’s cold, isn’t it? It’s definitely colder than last year and it certainly feels like a proper winter so far. Winter always brings hotpot to mind and recently I tried a version new to me. I’d heard of dry hotpot but I only got my first taste of it a few weeks ago when a friend organised a dinner at Jinli, a restaurant in Chinatown just a little off the usual tourist path. This is a Sichuan restaurant that used to be China City and when I got there, I saw that every table had a large dish in the centre from which diners were picking out delectable little morsels. This was Sichuan dry hotpot.

Of course, we got our own dry hotpot too, with my friend arranging for the various ingredients from a long list provided to him. This is what appeared! You can see the cans of soft drink around its edges for scale.

Tonight's massive Sichuan dry hotpot! 🌶🌶🌶

It was a veritable mountain of a typically Sichuan spiced stir fried hodge podge! There were dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns for the usual ma la flavour and various other spices that I couldn’t really put my finger on. My friend had ordered thin slices of pork belly, luncheon meat (Spam), fish balls, lotus root, Chinese cabbage, choy sum, tofu skin, and sweet potato noodles. We had a bucket of rice for our table too, necessary for all that concentrated spicy flavour!

My understanding is that this style of hotpot is a newer style of dish in China and is currently very popular. I’ve heard that Jin Li isn’t the only place that serves it in London so do keep your eyes peeled if you’d like to try it. For the five of us, this giant hotpot, two starters of and excellent mouth-watering chicken and fried green peppers, rice and soft drinks came to about £24 each.

Jinli
4 Leicester Street
London WC2H 7BL

You’ll already have heard loads about Padella, I’m sure, but here’s my two cents (pence)! The hype is indeed valid for Padella next to Borough Market – their pasta dishes are fantastic. On a not-so-recent day off a month or two ago, I met my brother there and between the two of us, we split three pastas (most everyone else seemed to be splitting a starter and then having a pasta each).

Their famous pici cacio & pepe (£6.50) lived up to expectations! The thick, chewy pici were coated with the unctuous mixture of cheese and pepper – fabulous.

Pici cacio & pepe

Likewise, there’s quite a following for their pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu (£8.50). I’m a sucker for a good ragu and this was excellent.

Pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon (£12) was wonderfully fresh and the only thing that could have improved it would have been to be having it al fresco by the sea. I loved the different pasta shapes and the way they’ve been thrust into the spotlights here – I definitely don’t recall seeing pici anywhere else, for example.

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon

Even for a weekday lunch, we had to queue but the restaurant is bigger than I expected so it was only a 10 minute wait for the two of us that day. I’m not sure what it’s like on a weekend. Oh, and the menu does change from time to time!

Padella
6 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TQ

I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since I first visited Greece. This time I was there for almost a week – Saturday night to Thursday night – and it was mainly for work. And this time, the quality of the food we had everywhere really made a big impact on me; I came back to London thoroughly missing the food and the weather.

I arrived at my hotel at about 9pm on the Saturday night and after dropping everything off in my room, headed straight out again for nourishment. Nearby to my hotel is Ravaisi, a souvlaki place with outdoor seating (packed) and a long queue for takeaway – promising signs indeed! At €2 for each sandwich, I thought things would be petite and hence ordered one pork gyros sandwich and one of chicken too. They were huge – each the size of London burritos – and, of course, I couldn’t finish them. They were excellent though!

Gyros! At €2 each, I thought they'd be petite and hence ordered one pork and one chicken. They're the size of London burritos and they're fantastic!

The next day was a free day for me before work would kick in. The weather was beautiful and I spent the morning wandering around the Ancient Agora …

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… and then the Roman Agora.

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Lunch was at a suitably Greek time of 3pm and I headed over to Oineas, which seemed to have good reviews on Google. I wasn’t disappointed.

Al Fresco at Oineas

The restaurant had a good selection of meze and main courses and solo diners can still have a selection of meze by just choosing those that are offered by the piece. The cuisine is Greek but with a modern twist. Highlights for me were the incredible cheese pie made with kadaifi pastry and then sat in a pool of melted cheese …

Cheese Pie

… and this homemade little burger patty with a delicious spicy sauce.

Homemade Little Burger

My main course was a tender grilled calamari and homemade fries and its size did defeat me after all that initial cheese and meat.

Grilled Calamari and Fries

I thought I couldn’t fit in another bite but when a little slice of syrup soaked walnut cake was deposited on my table along with the bill, I tucked into that too!

Walnut Cake

That afternoon was spent at the National Archaelogical Museum, which is truly worth a visit if you have the time. The treasures within are indeed jaw-dropping.

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Dinner that evening was with an old friend I was meeting again after many years and he took me to spiti, an Italian restaurant in the outskirts of the city. Now here was where the locals eat! We split a couple of excellent salads. Here’s a tomato and caper leaf salad with a local cheese …

Tomato Salad with Caper Leaves

… and a refreshing salmon and avocado salad.

Salmon and Avocado Salad

My main course was a grilled croaker served with a little mound of Swiss chard and tomatoes and an excellent lemon sauce.

Grilled Croaker with Swiss Chard

We couldn’t fit any more after this, which was a shame as the food really was very good. I loved seeing another side of Athens.

On my first night after work, a colleague brought us to Efxaris, around the corner from Monastiraki station. Despite its super touristy location, our colleague had been brought there in the past by an Athenian and the restaurant was indeed filled with locals. Between 6 of us, we split a fine moussaka, …

Moussaka

… a ridiculous meat platter (grilled meat, more grilled meat, grilled chicken, grilled kebabs, gyros, etc), …

Meat Plate

… an equally ridiculous seafood platter (fried and grilled and boiled things galore), …

Seafood Plate

… a Greek salad (not pictured), and finally a couple mountains of Greek yogurt with honey. Prices were extremely reasonable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a place in the heart of the city.

A mountain of Greek yogurt and honey!

Sometime the next day, I discovered Greek spoon sweets, the jammy candied fruits traditionally served with a spoon to guests as a sweet welcome. These little figs were insanely delicious and I after this introduction, I bought a couple of jars of spoon sweets to take home and we’re enjoying them with Greek yoghurt at home.

Today I discovered Greek spoon sweets. These were little figs candied in lots of syrup. You eat them with a spoon and have them with Greek coffee. Sweet but delicious!

The second evening, another Athens resident referred us to Scholarchio, a highlight of my trip. Yes, it’s quite touristy but you do find locals there too and after our meal, my Greek friend did deem the food very good and the flavours correct. And best of all is the price – for groups, it’s €15 a head for a set number of dishes to share, mineral water, another drink (ouzo, beer, wine or soft drink), bread and dessert. To aid with selection of dishes (we got to choose 17 between 7 of us), the waiter brings a massive plate of the available prepared dishes …

The selection of meze at dinner yesterday! We had 17 dishes between 7 of us... 😬

… and also recites what can be ordered freshly made from the kitchen. You make your selection, start with what’s already ready to go, and wait for the rest of the dishes to be prepared. Let’s see, clockwise from the right in the photo below, we have giant beans, stewed pork in wine, dolmades in lemon sauce, and tyrokauteri (a fantastic spicy cheese).

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Let’s see, left to right below, we have fava (one of my favourite dips, Greek yellow split pea puree), tzatziki, taramasalata, and spicy pork sausages.

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More! Clockwise from the bottom: a new favourite – horta (boiled wild greens), another meat dish (beef?), meatballs in tomato sauce.

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It didn’t end there! The freshly fried stuff coming out of their kitchen was all excellent. Fried whitebait was crisp and non-greasy.

Fried Whitebait

Saganaki (fried cheese) was very popular at our table …

Saganaki

… as were fried aubergines.

Fried Aubergines

One of our other meat dishes was a tigania chicken, a sauteed chicken dish made with lemon and mustard. There was also a tigania pork with balsamic vinegar and honey.

Tigania Chicken

Courgette and feta fritters were also delicious if a bit salty; nothing a lot of tzatziki couldn’t solve though!

Courgette and Feta Fritters

There were other dishes too – too many to keep track of! I recall a Greek salad and fried courgettes and fried potatoes. And maybe another meat dish. How many is that already? Dessert was another slice of the typical syrup-soaked cakes I’d been seeing – this time orange.

Orange Cake

It’s a fun place to eat and to eat well too. I enjoyed working my way through an excellent spread!

On my last day, a quick trip to the supermarket about a 2 minute walk from my hotel ensured that my dried oregano supplies are now at their freshest. I also loved seeing the impressive range of feta and Greek yoghurt available!

Greek yogurt in Greece! #latergram

Before heading to the airport to catch my flight home, I also couldn’t help popping back into Ravaisi to get one last stick of pork souvlaki (they call each souvlaki stick kalamaki) – this was a perfect snack!

One pork souvlaki snack!

Ah, I really do miss Athens and all the amazing food I had there! One thing I did notice was how fabulous all the tomatoes were at all restaurants, even at the cheapest places. Actually, all the ingredients were top notch everywhere…this is some excellent Mediterranean cuisine! As usual, all my photos can be found in this Flickr album.

I’m not entirely sure why we’d not yet been to Karnavar on South End, Croydon’s restaurant street. It’s a more upmarket Indian restaurant and I think we were going to save it for a special occasion. Well, that is, until I discovered they have a spectacular deal for Sunday brunch – five courses for £25, or £40 if you want a champagne brunch, for a massive Indian style roast brunch. The menu is an Indian twist on the Sunday roast lunch but also features classics from their usual a la carte menu, making it a good first visit. We went one recent Sunday when we felt yes, brunch and yes, Indian food, and loved it.

Here we go. Five courses.

Chef Cooking Station and Starter Table

Course 1: Chef Live Cooking Station.
The station was placed at one end of the starter table (photo above). From here, you could place an order (or lots of orders) for freshly made dosas, oothapams, Indian omelettes, or Indian scrambled eggs. We shared a plain dosa (made small, just the right size for a buffet) and a beautifully made Indian omelette. We only realised after our meal that the chef manning this station was the chef-owner – he was just the friendliest!

Indian Omelette

Course 2: The Starter Table.
On the table by the window, there was a good spread of various dishes from which to help yourself. My particular highlights were the Roasted Dokla with Home Cured Sardines and Potato Salad, the fantastic Karnavar Special Golden and Candy Beetroot Chaat with Goji Berry and Moong Bean Sprout, and the Dahi Wada (Black Gram Dumplings with Yogurt, Mustard and Cumin). Take your time over them… it’s a leisurely brunch and you’re welcome to graze for as long as you like.

Starters

Course 3: Intermediate.
This course was brought to your table by a waiter wielding a massive frying pan full of Tulsi Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka. Both were very spicy and flavourful and I probably could have put away a lot more if I hadn’t been worrying about what and how much was coming next.

Seekh Kebab and Chicken Tikka

There was also a separate pan full of Salmon Pakora with Sweet Curry, Capers and Gherkin Sauce. This I loved, definitely putting away a few more than necessary – that sauce was like a fantastic Indian tartar sauce.

Salmon Pakora

Course 4: Mains.
Then it was time for mains. Each diner gets to choose one of the mains from the list but they can have as much of that protein as desired. My Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce was fine but Blai’s Sea Bass Polichathu, Kerala Coastal style served with Mappas Sauce was finer. I think I had been hoping that the pork belly was spiced itself but most of the Indian flavour was from the onion sauce served alongside. Blai’s fish was exactly as I’d hoped for, all dusted with spice.

Roasted Pork Belly Coorg/Kerala style served with Mappas Sauce

Sea Bass Polichathu

It’s not a roast dinner though without all the sides! Garlic and fennel seed spiced roast potatoes were tender and delicious. Vegetables were an addictive Cauliflower thoran (addictive), an excellent Chef’s seasonal vegetables, which that day was Broccoli do pyaza, and my typical Indian meal must-have, Panchmel dal (think tarka dal). Carbs were a Saffron pulao rice and Butter naan (very buttery!). Like the mains, you could get more of the sides you desired. You can imagine how stuffed we were by the end of this course!

Sides

Sides and Naan

Dessert was a tasting plate of (from left to right) Rasamalai (Indian Milk Cheese Dumplings with Pistachio), raspberry sorbet, and Kinnathapan Malabar (Rice and Coconut Pudding with Lemon Sorbet). I do believe this is the only course you cannot repeat but the little sweet bites were the perfect size after we’d stuffed ourselves from the previous four courses. Actually, no, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want another of the amazing rasamalai, some of the best I’d ever had.

Dessert Platter

Bookings are essential for Sunday brunch (it’s very popular) and can be made via their website. What I noticed was that the food was highly spiced and flavourful but not chilli-hot, making it perfect for families, and there were a lot of families that Sunday. Needless to say, go hungry! Oh, and if you’re a vegetarian or dining with vegetarian, there are vegetarian options for the more meaty courses (vegetarian but not vegan).

Karnavar
62 South End
Croydon
London CR0 1DP

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