Right, here’s yet another Japanese TV show that I’ve been watching that I can definitely recommend. This one is Lunch ON!, an NHK World television show that is the English translation version of a NHK television show called Salameshi, dealing with the subject of lunches eaten by the working man/woman.

And yes, weekday lunches in Japan are just as exciting as you’d expect them to be. There are no sad sandwiches to be seen here; instead, there are noodles and dishes with rice and onigiri and, of course, bento. Oh, how I wish our work cafeterias served the dishes that I have seen on this show! Of course, it’s more likely that more unusual or quirky lunches and lunch traditions and customs are featured on the programme but it’s still a good insight into the country. Not so cool is the waking up an extra hour early to put together that bento, or in some cases, the making of many bentos for others. Just as interesting are the different jobs they cover, from various salespeople to archaeologists to scientists to shopkeepers, etc. Also of interest to me were the clearly delineated gender roles in Japan and it was heartening to see some men subverting these roles, making their own bento.

I’m not going to lie – the narrator’s voice is infuriatingly grating. I just sucked it up and watched everything I could though…my interest in the subject trumped her voice. I’m mentioning it here so you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Here’s one example episode on Youtube. Others can be found by searching for ‘Lunch On NHK’ on Youtube. Sadly, I’ve watched all that I could find already and I hope to catch new episodes on the NHK World app.

I first came across Hawaiian oxtail soup…well…via unconventional means. I saw our hero, the Solitary Gourmet, tucking into this apparently common Hawaiian dish in Japan. There are many cultural links between Hawaii and Japan and it makes sense that one can find the former’s dishes in the latter country. Hawaiian cuisine is a bit difficult to find in London and what’s available is all just a little bit more dressed up from what I can see is available on the original islands. No loco moco, no Spam musubi, no plate lunches. And certainly no oxtail soup, which apparently is commonly found throughout the state.

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup

Luckily, it’s an easy soup to make – essentially you dump everything into a pot and play a long game. There’s a tiny bit of fiddlier preparation with the oxtail where you parboil and trim the fat and I’m definitely going to do this with oxtails in future recipes too as it makes things all clearer and less fatty. Oh, and most importantly, it’s delicious – the oxtails were falling off the bone and the soy and ginger were perfect with it. It’s perfect for a cold day.

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup

Hawaiian Oxtail Soup
Adapted from Simply Recipes.
serves 4.

1 kg oxtail
1 piece dried orange peel
2 star anise
2 inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
A half cup of shelled and peeled raw peanuts
Fresh mustard greens – a good sized bunch
Salt to taste

To serve
Coriander, chopped
Spring onions, sliced
Grated raw ginger and soy sauce
White rice

Place all the oxtail into a large pot and cover with boiling water. Set over high heat and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes. Drain the oxtail, rinsing them under cold water – do ensure you get all the tiny bits of bone off. Trim the oxtail of fat and then place them back into the now empty pot.

To the cleaned oxtail, add the dried orange peel, star anise, and ginger. Cover with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer, half covered, for an hour. Add the peanuts and some salt and continue cooking until the oxtails are very tender – this will be about 2-2.5 hours longer. Adjust the salt to taste. Cut the bunch of mustard greens into large pieces and add them to the soup. Let them cook for 10 minutes and the soup is ready.

In the meantime, prepare the stuff to serve with the soup. Chop up lots of coriander. Thinly slice lots of spring onions. Cook some white rice. Grate some ginger.

When the oxtail is ready, ladle some into a bowl and top with the coriander and spring onions. Serve the rice in another bowl. In a dipping bowl, place some grated ginger and top with light soy sauce (adjust to your taste). To eat, pick out the meat from the oxtails and dip into the soy/ginger mix. The rice can be eaten alongside or dumped into the remaining soup to be eaten like a congee. Enjoy!

I’ve been procrastinating writing up my lunch at Hoppers because…well, it was a very meh meal. I’ve been looking for an occasion to go as I knew we’d need to queue for a table but I was really looking forward to our Sri Lankan/South Indian meal once a date was set. We waited for ages on a Saturday lunchtime for a table as we were four people – things moved quicker if you’re just two. When we finally sat down, it was at one of the tiny tables at the back and I hope they’ve been improved since our visit in late January. Drinks came quickly though watch out as the juices really are minuscule.

Drinks

Our starters were a mixed bag. The Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti (£5.5) looked brilliant and while the curried bone marrow was indeed amazing, the accompanying roti was somewhat hard and chewy. Well, that didn’t stop me spooning the marrow directly into my mouth.

Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti

Mutton Rolls (£4.5) were excellent and served with a spiced ketchup-like sauce.

Mutton Rolls

Lamb Kothu Roti (£8.5) was fine – quite a nice kothu roti though this could have done with a bit more of the roti!

Lamb Kothu Roti

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol (£4) were generally very good. The kiri hodi, a coconut milk gravy, was lovely but the pol sambol, a fresh coconut sambol, didn’t have the freshness and flavour I expected.

String Hoppers, Kiri Hodi, Pol Sambol

Chicken Heart Chukka (£4.5) was amazing – this spicy stir fry of chicken hearts, chicken bites, tomatoes and beans hit the spot.

Chicken Heart Chukka

Our plates were cleared and trays then arrived with our main dishes – the hoppers and dosas and the curries too. Hoppers! Here’s a Hopper (£3) with a Black Pork Kari (£5.5). The pork curry was excellent and had us (ok, me) scraping the bowl clean.

Hopper

Here’s an Egg Hopper (£3.5) with the chutney set – Pol Sambol, Seeni Sambol, Coriander Chutney (£1.25).

Egg Hopper

And here’s a Dosa (£3) with its chutney set – Coriander Chutney, Tomato Chutney, Coconut Chutney (£1.25).

Dosa

And here’s a Podi Dosa (£3.5) – it’s a dosa but with podi on its inside surface. Podi is a spicy powdered mixture of chili powder and lentils that is lovely and here it was fiery hot. Fish Kari (£6) was good but not as good as the pork curry.

Podi Dosa

Unfortunately, it was the curries that were the stars rather than the hoppers, dosas or chutneys. Their namesake hoppers were tough rather than crisp at the edges. Likewise, the dosas were hard and chewy. The chutneys were generally ok but weren’t as flavourful as the sambols I’ve had from other Sri Lankan restaurants and takeaways.

Now this is the part of the post that is like the nostalgia bit…for desserts are no longer available at Hoppers. We were told that the kitchen is very small and desserts were going to be removed from the menu for them to concentrate on the savouries. Well, we took that opportunity to share a roasted rice kulfi

Roasted Rice Kulfi

… and a Sri Lankan classic, wattalapam. Both were excellent! The wattalapam was smooth and sweet while all the bits and pieces and jellies and fruit and rose flavouring with the kulfi made it a fun eat.

Wattalapam

Overall, it was a mixed bag which is such a shame. Well, on second thought, it’s saved me from queuing again for yet another trendy restaurant in central London!

Hoppers
49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG

I returned from that trip to Arundel with a slight obsession with cheese scones. We had them twice there – a sturdy savoury one at Motte & Bailey Cafe and a tender flaky one at Belinda’s. Both were served warm and with plenty of butter. Hot savoury salty strong cheesy scones with cold butter… I fell in love.

Alas, we still don’t have an oven at home but I discovered, after a bit of searching, girdle scones… a Scottish type of scone that’s cooked on a girdle, i.e. a griddle. Perfect! Essentially all I’d need is a flat surface over heat – I had that at least! It’s exactly like a scone – simple ingredients, minimising handling of the dough, quick cooking. And even if you do have an oven, with this recipe, there’s no need to preheat it! The scones I made were perfect and puffed up nicely over the heat. Flaky, savoury…. oh boy, time to make another batch.

Cheese Girdle Scones

Cheese Girdle Scones
Makes 8 (serves 2-4)
Adapted from a recipe from Sunday Hot Pants

1 cup plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tbsp cold butter
A pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated mature cheddar
A scant 1/2 cup milk

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt well. Cut in the cold butter until the butter pieces resemble rolled oats. Stir in the cheese.

Add the milk a little at a time, mixing it in each time – you may not need all of it. If it feels too wet, add some flour. But don’t overwork the mixture; use a light hand. Form the soft dough into a round about 1.5 cm thick. Cut this round into 8 wedges.

Heat a frying pan (I used nonstick but I think cast iron would be good too) over medium low heat. Place the round into the pan, keeping the wedges tightly together. Cook them on both sides until they are cooked through and golden brown on their sides. This will be about 5-7 minutes per side. If you’re concerned about the centre not cooking through, you can also put their cut sides directly over the heat.

Serve warm with butter!

For a sweet version, skip the cheese and add some sugar and currants. I reckon these can be easily customised.

We both happened to have the Valentine’s weekend free and thought we’d have that weekend away for a bit of a mini-break. We chose the town of Arundel with its magnificent castle though our timing was entirely wrong – the castle doesn’t open to the public before Easter! Still, there was plenty of walking through Arundel Park (bordering the South Downs), various antique shops to browse, and many excellent cafes to while away the time.

There was also one excellent dinner at The Parsons Table, run by a very experienced couple who spent time in London and Canada before returning to the UK to start their own restaurant.

I loved the space, which was apparently the former stables of the castle. The restaurant has only been open for a couple of months, tucked away between little boutique shops, and it’s larger than its exterior suggests, with tables spaced generously apart. Do book ahead; all the tables were taken that Saturday evening, which wasn’t a surprise given the occasion. I had chosen this restaurant based not only on reviews but also that they didn’t force a Valentine’s set menu on everybody that weekend. The only concession to Valentine’s seemed to be a big vase of red roses and a small selection of extra dishes only available that weekend. We mixed and matched selections from their regular menu and this Valentine’s one.

Warm bread and butter was set down after we ordered. Slices of sourdough and a rosemary bread were brilliant. Good start.

Bread and Butter

Pulled Ham Hock Croquetes, TPT Piccalilli were beautiful. These perfect spheres were chock full of shredded ham with the tangy pickles perfectly matching the croquetes’ richness.

Pulled Ham Hock Croquetes, TPT Piccalilli

Quail Ravioli with Mushroom Juswas off the Valentine’s menu. These fat parcels were clearly homemade and were served with a good amount of wild fungi.

Quail Ravioli with Mushroom Jus

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek (Bourguignon) was a special that day that had nothing to do with Valentine’s day…. They just happened to have some nice beef cheeks in, I guess! And I’m glad we ordered this as that beef check was just melting away and its gravy was perfect with the pureed potatoes and vegetables. A couple of lardons and mushrooms were the nod towards the Bourguignon style.

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek (Bourguignon)

Pan Roasted Loin of Sussex Coast Cod, Saffron and Cured Tomato Risotto, Padano Cheese was from the regular menu. The combination sounded like perhaps an odd mixture – I don’t think I’ve ever had fish with risotto or risotto with tomato. But it worked as the tomatoes provided the acidity for the fish.

Pan Roasted Loin of Sussex Coast Cod, Saffron and Cured Tomato Risotto, Padano Cheese

Again from the Valentine’s specials was the Assiette of Desserts, a selection to share for two. There was a chocolate ganache tart, a slice of lemon tart, a white chocolate cannolo on poached rhubarb, and a scoop of rum and raisin ice cream. Everything was excellent but of particular note was the cannolo with rhubarb. I’ve only just recently learned to appreciate rhubarb and these tender pieces were superb.

Assiette of Desserts

With Blai’s post-meal tea also came a couple of perfectly crumbly buttery biscuits. I think I may have scoffed them both!

Biscuits

The bill for all the food (but not service) came to a very reasonable (approximate) £60. I’m not sure what I expected from Arundel but they’re lucky to have such a fabulous place on their doorsteps.

I definitely hope to return … perhaps later in the year to see the castle too!

The Parsons Table
2 & 8 Castle Mews
Tarrant Street
Arundel, West Sussex
BN18 9DG

I’m not doing a very good job of writing up everywhere I’ve eaten recently; there’s just not enough time in the day and I’ve had to prioritise my writing a little. Was the restaurant meh? – well, that one can wait. One place though that did make a bit of an impact was Warung Padang London, which I visited a couple weeks ago. Now, you may remember my writing up an Indonesian stall in Chinatown a few years ago. That place is currently under refurbishment (or is it being destroyed? I have no idea) and it and the Malaysian cafe that was also housed in the centre have had to relocate. I found the Malaysian place recently serving street food lunches in Spitalfields. And now I’ve found the Indonesian place too – in a proper bricks and mortar building in Bermondsey.

At the corner of Scott Lidgett Crescent is the very unassuming joint that is Warung Padang London – and it’s not just a cafe/restaurant but it’s also a bit of a hostel at the back. It’s a casual restaurant that also offers takeaway and a (very) few Indonesian groceries. It was freezing that afternoon and we headed for the large shared table at the back of the restaurant, away from the door.

For our lunch, we first shared a vegetable rissole, which was a smashed croquette (I think the smashing wasn’t deliberate) which must have been introduced during the Dutch colonial rule in Indonesia. This was tasty with a flavour I cannot put my finger on…. but it was clear this wasn’t a Dutch kroket.

Vegetable Rissole

My ayam penyet was a smashed (deliberately) and fried spiced chicken leg smeared with a very hot sambal made with plenty of belacan, that wonderfully fragrant and pungent fermented shrimp paste. This was excellent! And you can’t tell from the photo but it was huge!

Ayam Penyet

My friend had her eye on a vegetarian rice meal but they’d run out of tempe and were expecting some more to be shipped in. She had to change her order to a soto ayam but she was very pleased with this replacement. The thin spiced broth was chock full of lontong (pressed rice cakes), chicken and vermicelli. The condiments also presented to her allowed her to customise it to her liking – it all went in!

Soto Ayam

Soto Ayam Fixings

We were stuffed but my friend was pushing for a little dessert, which was how we ended up sharing a steamed banana cake. This turned out to be banana in sticky rice, all wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. And it was served hot with a scoop of ice cream and some palm sugar.

Steamed Banana Cake

Service is a little slow (perhaps one could call it ‘relaxed’) but friendly. And, of course, I cannot vouch for the hostel in the back! But I know I’ll return to try the rest of their menu – I have my eye on their nasi Padang (rice with dishes), nasi goreng (fried rice), and pisang goreng (fried banana)!

Warung Padang London
Prince of Wales P H
Scott Lidgett Crescent
London SE16 4XF

I pass through the Victoria area most days on my way into work. When I heard that a pop up restaurant (Laos Café) serving Laotian food was in the area, well, my ears definitely perked up. With one dinner home alone late last month, I popped in for some takeaway. The cafe itself (run by Rosa’s Thai Cafe) was small and absolutely rammed and I’m glad I got some takeaway as I hadn’t booked beforehand. It wasn’t long before I was clutching my bag quite excitedly on my train home.

Laos Cafe

Back home, I opened my packages with glee. There were Isaan sausages (£5), …

Isaan Sausages (Saigrok Isaan)

… papaya salad (£8), …

Papaya Salad (Som Tum)

… and beautifully fragrant sticky rice (£3). A very decent dinner for one.

Sticky Rice

Everyone was excellent. I didn’t ask for any specific heat level but the papaya salad (som tum) had a good burn to it and was one of the better ones I’ve had in London. The sausages were very moreish, with a slight fermented tang, and were served with the traditional peanuts and sliced ginger – oh, and chilies too! I’d like to go back to try their laabs and grilled sea bass but I’m going to have to hurry. The pop up cafe is open until the end of February, after which time it will revert to another branch of Rosa’s Thai Cafe.

Laos Café
25 Gillingham Street
London SW1V 1HN

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