London


About a week ago, I made my way across the city to Old Street – to Tramontina Brindisa – to feast (invited) at their first calçotada of the year. If you’re not familiar with this term, it’s a Catalan celebration of the calçot, a long onion shoot that’s served grilled with a sauce made with peppers and nuts. Apparently it’s only in the last decade that the calçotada has become a big deal, even in Catalunya. The city of Valls is particularly known for their calçots and their calçotades (as well as their castells).

I’d never been to this particular Brindisa but I liked the slightly industrial style space – to my surprise though, I was shown through to the glowing red covered terrace out back. The red glow was due to a copious number of outdoor heaters turning a frigid January in London into a much warmer January in Barcelona!

There’s enough seating for at least 30, I reckon, and those heaters really did make things cosy.

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Now, in case you’d forgotten what the event was, the space was full of calçots and other Catalan vegetables not typically found in this city. Those dried chillies are nyoras, used to make the romesco sauce for the calçots. Do you recognise the tomatoes?

Catalan Vegetables

While everyone mingled and sipped on cava, we watched as head chef Leo Rivera started grilling the long onions over a portable gas stove – very handy! It does seem more convenient to bring out the portable butane rather than go to the trouble of charcoal whilst it’s cold and windy.

Grilling Calçots

We were then invited to find our seats (what beautiful table dressing!) and the calçotada started in earnest.

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Well, almost in earnest! First were a couple of less traditional calçot preparations that are currently featured on their a la carte menu. Fat orange stuffed olives were a nice tangy foil to rich tempura calçots, served with romesco.

Olives with Orange

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My preference was for the calçot croquetes, only because I really cannot turn down a croqueta. These large marble sized nuggets were perfectly creamy and oniony.

Calçot Croquetes

Before we got much further, Leo gave a demonstration on how to drink from a porró – a Catalan device for pouring a thin stream of wine directly into your mouth. Soon there was plenty of red wine splashing down everyone’s chests!

How to Drink from a Porró

Bundles of grilled calçots wrapped in paper were handed to us along with dishes of romesco sauce (or technically salvitxada, a thicker romesco sauce specifically for eating with calçots). After grilling, the calçots were wrapped in newspaper, allowing them to keep warm and steam a little, separating its layers.

Grilled Calçots

Romesco

Another demonstration! How to eat a calçot: Peel the charred layers of calçot skin off to reveal the tender, translucent slips of grilled calçot. Dip this into sauce and drop its length into your mouth from above. Oh, and ensure that your bib is on. I went through my pile in minutes.

How to Eat a Calçot

A massive platter of meat (to be shared between two) was then set in front of us. Grilled meats are the traditional second course after calçots; it seems natural to make use of the grill since you’ve got it fired up! Grilled botifarra (a Catalan sausage), presa iberica, lamb chops, and chorizo were accompanied by a grilled artichoke, roasted red peppers, a baked potato, plenty of toasted bread and aioli.

The Grilled Meats

Everything was of the quality we’ve all come to expect from Brindisa. Extra artichokes were brought out for us as well and I’m not ashamed to say that I managed to have an extra artichoke and an extra botifarra as well! (Botifarra are rare in London as the shops don’t tend to stock them as they perish quickly.)

For dessert, it had to be crema catalana! We were shown how a hot iron is used to burn the tops of the creams and then we stuck in. Brilliant – these were creamy and not too sweet, the sweetness provided by the crunchy caramelised tops.

Crema Catalana

It’s not too late to book a seat at one of Brindisa’s calçotadas – they take place on Saturdays and Sundays in February and March only at lunchtimes and at both Tramontina Brindisa and Morada. All the food plus a glass of cava is £35 per person. I can definitely recommend it; it’s a comfortable space and a calçotada is great fun. Book your calçotada here!

Thank you very much to Brindisa for the invitation!

Tramontana Brindisa
152 Curtain Road
London EC2A 3AT

I’m starting to like the format of these short little posts that allow me to quickly expand on my thoughts of a place or a dish I’ve had recently. I like the instant publication of Instagram but something about it doesn’t allow me to wax on as I do here. One recent meal whose photo I posted was my lunch from Mother Clucker, who I encountered in the monthly KERB street food market in Sheldon Square, Paddington.

My £10 was exchanged for their lunch deal of 3 chicken strips, Cajun fries, and a can of soft drink.

Chicken strips and Cajun fries from Mother Clucker. They are freaking excellent.

Those chicken strips were huge! These tea-brined, buttermilk soaked and twice battered (that’s what their website says) chicken strips were utterly fantastic, very moist and tender and with a great crust. You know I love me some fried chicken and these were hands-down the best Southern-style strips I’ve had in a long time. As you can see, I also put good use to the proffered squeeze bottles of homemade lime mayonnaise and hot pepper sauce. Two thumbs up.

These guys are definitely worth seeking out.

Mother Clucker
All over London – check out their website for details.

I like fried chicken. No, I love fried chicken. And I’d been meaning to try Ma’Plucker after passing it one evening on Beak Street (ha!) and stopping in for just desserts – I knew I’d be back for their main menu and we got that chance one evening in late December. One or two of the tables were occupied that evening – perhaps its the bench seating in the front that encourages people not to linger too much after their meal. We grabbed a relatively quiet table in the back and contemplated their quirky menu. There’s a formula for their chicken meals: choose your chicken style, your carbohydrate or salad, and your sauce. There are other set chicken dishes available and sides too.

They had two or three flavoured iced teas available that evening and both those we tried (lemon and cranberry) were refreshing and tasted very natural. Thumbs up from us!

Iced Teas

We had to have some fried chicken of course and it was to be in the form of Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and a Waffle (£6). MP chicken skin gravy for this one. The fried chicken wasn’t exactly the buttermilk friedness that I was expecting (the coating bit threw me a bit) but y’know, it was pretty good fried chicken. Fried chicken. Yeah. The waffle already had some maple syrup embedded in it and with the savoury gravy, well, that went down a treat.

Crispy Coated Buttermilk Dipped Wings and Waffle

We also tried their Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken in a House Bun (£7.50 for 250g pulled chicken) with Kansas BBQ sauce. Surprisingly, this may have been the winner that evening. 250g of pulled chicken turned out to be quite a bit (a 150g portion is also available for the less greedy) but it was tender and delicious and the barbecue sauce included was very good.

Hickory Smoked Pulled Chicken

We had Seasonal Greens and Fries (£4 and £3.50, respectively) on the side. Both were fine – the seasonal greens were lovely tossed in a slightly spicy butter but I wish they had been a more generous with the portion size.

Seasonal Greens and Fries

No desserts that evening but their cherry pie was lovely the first time we tried it while their apples and dumplings were alright in the past. It’s a good spot to pop into in the area, well, if you’re craving chicken of course!

Ma’Plucker
75 Beak Street
London W1F 9SS

Right, this might be the quickest I’ve ever written anything up. But at lunch yesterday, I got to try the street food purveyor Bian Dang, specialising in Taiwanese lunch boxes (the name means that in Mandarin). I actually sought them out when they came yesterday as part of KERB Paddington – when I heard someone was serving Taiwanese lunch boxes, I knew I had to try it! I loved the lunchboxes that I’d tried in Vancouver (I’ve not been to Taiwan) and I adore Taiwanese pork chops.

Anyway, for £7.50 I got The Beast – a lunch box with everything. Everything was their usual rice, minced pork sauce, stir fried vegetables, pickles and half a slow cooked tea egg topped with all their available toppings: fried pork, fried chicken and fried oyster mushrooms.

The Beast from Bian Dang at KERB Paddington

This was brilliant. Of particular note were the fried oyster mushrooms – these were the best fried mushrooms I’ve ever had – and the slow cooked tea egg. But everything in box was excellent. It’s definitely worth trying them out!

Bian Dang
At various locations. Keep track of where they are with their Twitter feed.

Sometime in the past year, I was saying to Blai, “You know what? If only we had some good Thai food and some good Neapolitan pizza, we’d be sorted here in Croydon.” Well, there’s good pizza at our brilliant neighbourhood Italian joint Bagatti’s but that’s not Neapolitan and there’s excellent Neapolitan pizza in neighbouring Beckenham but that’s not nearby. But then, out of seemingly nowhere two weeks ago, one shopfront on South End in Croydon opened up with a massive wood fired oven by the window and a sign: Pizzeria Pellone.

What was this?! And I could’ve sworn there was nothing there in the first place – it was like a miraculous appearing house (sort of like that one in the Harry Potter books). A quick Google search found a Pizzeria Pellone in Herne Hill and this was to be their second branch. My hopes were high and not long after they opened, I dragged Blai and another friend there for an early Saturday dinner. We were ushered to a table near the oven, a welcome warm spot and where we could watch the pizza chef do his thing. We originally thought of getting some starters but in the end went straight to mains, and we’re glad we went down this route.

Blai’s Napoletana was splendid… and huge! These pizzas were a good size but, of course, we’re not complaining.

Napoletana

My Salsiccia Friarielli was generously topped with the bitter Neapolitan greens. Our pizzas were both fantastic – good crusts, generous toppings, big enough to share.

Salsiccia Friarielli

My friend’s Calzone Fritto, filled with fior di latte cheese, ricotta, tomato, and salami, was impressively non-greasy. This is their signature pizza and their only fried offering. I’m glad to have tried it but I’m going to be more loyal to the pizzas coming out of their wood-fired oven.

Calzone Fritto

But now that I think about it, they have a deep fryer. They could have little fried bits like they do in Naples – the bits that you munch on while waiting for your pizza. I’m just sayin’.

There were some greens too – a pleasant rocket salad.

Rocket Salad

A couple of bought-in, but excellent, desserts (tiramisu and a chocolate coated babà – the latter was well boozy) rounded off our meal. It’s a shame they’re not homemade but hey, it’s all about the pizza here.

Tiramisu

Babà

Our bill for the three of us came to about £35 in total and it even came with a complimentary limoncello each!

In the last couple of weeks, the place looks like it’s getting popular and I hope it goes down well with Croydoners. Service can be a bit sluggish but that seems down to the fact that all the waitstaff were new – I hope this improves. Finally, pizza Napolitana in Croydon!

Pizzeria Pellone
256 High Street
Croydon CR0 1NE

Out of blue one day, Blai requested sushi. He hadn’t eaten it in a while and please could we go for nigiri sushi? That had me baffled as I think this was the first time he’d particularly requested nigiri and after a bit of searching, I originally thought of going to Wimbledon to try one well-known Danish sushi chain but scrapped that idea at the last minute when I found Hashi in Raynes Park. It was off on the trains there and a short walk from the station to the restaurant.

We managed to get a table without booking for Sunday lunch but it was very busy and I’ll probably book next time, just in case. One thing that immediately impressed me was our waiter bringing over two little white compressed towels in a little dish and pouring over hot water, causing them to expand. A hot towel each! I’m not sure when I saw that in London last!

And while waiting for our orders to be taken, we looked around and everything about the place and the service and the food reminded me of Kiraku, one of our favourite restaurants back in West London. Like Kiraku, there’s a variety of Japanese dishes on offer as well as good value set lunches (actually, the prices have gone up somewhat at Kiraku). We decided to split one set lunch and get a few things from the regular menu too.

After placing our orders, our teas arrived, looking all adorable in their little teapots.

Tea

Our dishes came in stages – here were the starters. Tori Kara-age (£6.90) was crisp and sitting in a thin sauce of ponzu and soy. Beautiful.

Tori Kara-age

The set lunch we shared was the Sushi Set (£14.50) and our seven pieces of nigiri were to come with miso soup, salad and two chefs dishes of the day (it’s a great deal at only 50p more than just the nigiri off the a la carte menu). The salad and two little dishes came out first – the latter were salmon and avocado maki and vegetable croquettes. All were just perfect.

Starters for the Lunch Set

Salmon and Avocado Maki

Vegetable Croquettes

Before our main courses came out, we were served miso soup. This would have been the soup we expected with our set lunch but since we were sharing, they very kindly brought out two – a nice touch!

Miso Soup

And then it was onto the mains. Here were the mixed nigiri that was part of our set lunch. Everything was wonderfully fresh and I liked the little extra touches – like the little bit of grated ginger on the tuna nigiri.

Sushi Moriawase

We had an order of Mushroom Medly [sic] (£7.00) as our ‘vegetable’. This mixture of shiitake and shimeji mushrooms, onions and peppers was brilliant, having been cooked in a sweet soy mixture.

Mushroom Medly

A Jun Special (£14.00) was a massive roll with eel, avocado, cucumber and a whole lotta other stuff. Again, excellent. There really was nothing to fault here.

Jun Special

To end our meal, we each got a beautifully presented half an orange which caused Blai to proclaim, “I’m going to cut all our oranges this way!” That reminds me, I’ve got to buy a bag of oranges.

Orange

Brilliant. This place is brilliant. Just go already.

Hashi
54 Durham Road
Raynes Park
London SW20 0TW

We’ve been eating so much Vietnamese food recently! We now have not just one but TWO good Vietnamese restaurants near us in Croydon and we recently visited the hotly anticipated Viet Food in Chinatown, the Vietnamese street food restaurant run by Jeff Tan, who used to be at Hakkasan. The address online listed Wardour Street and as a ‘hip’ new place, obviously I went in search of it down the cooler, hipper end of the street – I couldn’t have been more wrong! Eventually we had to backtrack and head towards Chinatown and there we found it…on the old site of a former, totally rubbish Vietnamese restaurant. Ha! Let’s see how this one would compare.

We waited about 5 minutes to get a seat and to hasten things, we agreed to share a table with another couple upstairs. Even with sharing, we certainly had enough space for all our dishes, though I had to swap seats with poor Blai as he could barely balance on his original tiny stool. Orders were coming out fast and the turnover was quick. Bookings are available as all the choice tables around the windows had all been reserved.

Our dishes arrived as they were ready. Our Coconut Calamari (£5) was very moreish – if you’ve ever had coconut prawns, then you can imagine this dish. Thick rings of calamari were coated with a crunchy coating with lots of dried coconut and the sweet chilli sauce served alongside was a nice complement. On the tables were a couple of other excellent homemade chilli sauces too – a red and a green – and both went well with….fried stuff.

Coconut Calamari

A Slow Cooked Haddock (£7.80) were two pieces of tender fish. I have no idea if they were slow cooked though… they were certainly tender…perhaps just cooked slowly at a very low temperature? The sauce was a slightly sweet, slightly savoury, mild brown sauce.

Slow Cooked Haddock

Our Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice (£5) was excellent, both chock full of ingredients and incredibly good. We’ve not yet met a Vietnamese fried rice that we didn’t like. We cleaned out this cute bamboo container.

Vietnamese Sausage and Prawn Fried Rice

Bun Thit Nuong (£8.20) was a bowl of bun (the Vietnamese rice noodles) topped with vegetables, herbs, pickles, and grilled marinated pork and grilled pork balls. The nuoc cham (the Vietnamese fish sauce dressing) needed a little more of a punch but overall, a very good dish that would be suitable for a one dish meal.

Bun Thit Nuong

Our Crispy Spring Rolls (£4.80) also arrived at about this time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly fond of this new style of very crunchy wrapper. I prefer the usual rice paper wrappers that fry up all light and crisp. The filling was also unmemorable.

Crispy Spring Rolls

There were two options for dessert: a sago dessert and a jelly. We went for the former, which was Pandan Sago with Caramelised Banana (£4). They served the generously sized portion between us with little bowls for us to serve ourselves. This went down a treat, all coconut milk and pandan and sago. The only dud were the bananas which had never been near any heat – no caramelisation anywhere.

Pandan Sago with Banana

Our bill (with a juice and still water) came to £44.90, which included a surprising 10% service charge (surprising because how many restaurants go lower than the usual 12.5%, eh?). It’s certainly not a bad spot in Chinatown and is much better than what was on the site previously.

Viet Food
34-36 Wardour Street
London W1D 6QT

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