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

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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

Untitled

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.

Most of London woke to a light dusting of snow this past Sunday morning but while there are Narnia like scenes outside, we’ve got a bit of the Mediterranean inside. We’ve still got a handful of so of tomatoes grown in our garden and harvested last autumn.

Tomacons

Now what kind of tomato keeps for months like that?! Hanging tomatoes do – let’s ignore the fact that I haven’t actually hung mine. These thick skinned tomatoes are the kind to use for the famous Catalan pa amb tomàquet (literally ‘bread with tomato’) and are generally not available outside Spain, maybe not even outside Catalonia. In Catalan, these go by the names tomàquets de penjar (hanging tomatoes) or tomacons.

Have you tried making pa amb tomàquet at home with regular tomatoes? There’s not much to squish out of those fleshy salad tomatoes, is there? Many Spanish restaurants here, either unable to get the original tomatoes or who need to make lots in advance, tend to puree tomatoes and premix the puree with olive oil and salt and when it’s time to serve, brush this mixture onto toast. It really doesn’t taste the same.

These tomacons have lots of liquid and seeds inside their thick skins, making them absolutely rubbish for eating like a salad tomato but perfect for rubbing onto bread. Cut them in half around their equator, and rub their flesh vigorously onto a slice of gently toasted bread. You’ll find the tomato flesh give and release itself all over the bread, leaving empty skins between your fingers. Drizzle with olive and a bit of salt (and you could also rub a little garlic on the toast before the tomato) and you’re feasting.

We've gotta eat pa amb tomàquet while watching the Catalan election results! These are our home grown tomacons - the usual tomatoes used for this. I'll write a blog post about them one day.

And here's our pa amb tomàquet! #27s

Here’s a photo of another variety in a market in Barcelona. Oh look, they’re being properly hung for storage!

Hanging Tomatoes

You’ll notice that they look a little different than the ones I grew. Ours were tomacons of the variety mallorquí, which are quite distinct with their pointy bottoms. I’m growing a different variety next year – Domingo.

If you’re looking for seeds to grow them, you can, of course, get them in garden shops in Catalonia but I’ve also found them at Real Seeds – they’re listed as the variety De Colgar (Spanish for ‘hanging’). Ignore what they say about them being nearly extinct as that may be the case in the rest of Spain but it’s definitely not the case in Catalonia; you can buy them from pretty much any grocers. I believe those are the correct seeds!

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,809 other followers