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.


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 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).

62 South End
London CR0 1DP

This recipe comes via Blai’s mother and has become one of our favourites. It’s simple to put together, we almost always have all the ingredients lying about at home and the end result tastes fantastic with the tender chicken and almost caramelised onion and tomato pieces. The Catalans rarely roast chickens whole, preferring to cut them first into pieces; I like this – it gives each piece a chance to get its skin nice and crispy. The recipe can easily be scaled to feed more too.

Catalan Roast Chicken

We like to serve it with kale cooked in the Catalan way with raisins and pine nuts and either some good bread to mop up the delectable sauce or some fried potatoes or, even better, both. I’m also particularly fond of squeezing out the roasted garlic onto some bread. I know I’ll be serving this recipe up a few times over the Christmas season this year!

Catalan Roast Chicken
serves 3-4.

4 chicken legs, separated into drumstick and thigh
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
dried oregano
1 large onion, sliced thickly
2 tomatoes, sliced thickly
3-4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
about 100ml of white wine or cognac

Preheat your oven to 220 Celsius.

Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in a roasting pan (they should fit in one layer). Rub them all over with olive oil and then dust with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Arrange the onion and tomato slices in between the chicken pieces. Snap the cinnamon stick in half and then also arrange that, the garlic and the bay leaves around the chicken. Drizzle olive oil over all and then splash on the wine/cognac.

Place in the oven and roast, turning twice throughout the cooking process (they should finish with their skin sides up), until fully cooked, skin burnished brown and much of the liquid has cooked down to a thick, almost gravy (this will take somewhere between 1 hour and 1.5 hours). Serve, spooning the sauce and the roasted onion and tomato over.

It’s great to be cooking on the weekends again! In a bout of cleaning and clearing the kitchen, my eyes set upon a half bottle of maple syrup that needed to be used up. I thought first of pancakes and waffles but then to sweet potatoes as I’d been wanting to try the combination of sweet and sweet to see if it would work as a savoury (do two sweets making a savoury? Nah…).

What came out of my experiment was this side dish, which we had with chicken last weekend. The sweet potato and the maple do go well together but there’s a bit of lime juice preventing everything from getting too saccharine. I do love pecan nuts so but you could also use walnuts.

Sweet Potato, Maple and Pecan Bake

This was the recipe I was making when I sliced a bit of the tip of my finger off with a mandoline. Pay attention when using these things, folks! They’re sharp and if you’re not paying attention (and I certainly wasn’t), it’s stupidly easy to slice off something unintentionally. In my case, there was just some bleeding and nothing that a plaster couldn’t sort out but it could have been much worse – mandolines are very useful but do take care!

Sweet Potato, Maple and Pecan Bake
serves 2-3 as a side dish.

2 sweet potatoes
salt and pepper
2.5 tbsps maple syrup
1 lime
a few handfuls of pecans

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Peel the sweet potatoes and then slice into thin rounds – I used a mandoline. Arrange in a suitable baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Combine the maple syrup, the juice of 1 lime and 3 tbsps of water and pour over the potato slices. Cover with foil and place in the oven.

After 45 minutes, take the baking dish out of the oven and peel off the foil. Chop the pecans roughly, scatter on top of the sweet potatoes and continue baking for another 20 minutes. Serve.

A few weeks ago, Cathy the Gastronomer was in London for a short stop before her big trip to France with her husband and mother and we arranged to meet at Maltby Street for St John’s vanilla custard filled doughnuts. We also arranged to meet the next day for lunch at The Mall Tavern – it was a Sunday and I convinced them that they needed a proper roast lunch! It would be a first visit to this pub for all of us.

We were seated in the bar area – every table available had been booked up. Our waitress was efficient but quite gruff while we were ordering. We refused to let this ruin our meal though and started cooing over the cute tea towel napkins at each place.

The slightly disturbingly named Cow Pie (£14.50) came out looking glorious. Crisp golden brown pastry topped an excellent beef and ale filling. And in the centre of that pie was a big marrow bone whose marrow had been scooped out, mixed with garlicky, herby breadcrumbs and then stuffed back in – it was fabulous.

Cow Pie

A Chicken Kyiv (£14.50) came out looking marvellously spherical and sat on top of a potato rosti and some slaw. And yes, as expected, a lot of delicious garlic butter came gooshing out when we cut into it – I’m such a sucker for a good chicken kiev.

Chicken Kyiv

The roast dinners were very good but to me, still not a patch on the two previous dishes. The Roast Beef (£15.00) was flavourful and was a generous serving (4-5 good slices) with lots of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and a good Yorkshire pudding.

Roast Beef

The Roast Pork Loin (£15.00) had come recommended by our waitress and the loin was indeed tender. It was very good and was perhaps even better than the beef that day. Both roast dinners came with the appropriate sauces (horseradish and apple for our two roasts) and plenty of gravy.

Roast Pork Loin

Our waitress very kindly packed up the leftovers for us and we set to sharing just one dessert between us (we couldn’t handle any more). It had to be the restaurant’s signature Arctic Rolls (£6.50) – slices of ice cream covered in a thin layer of sponge cake – and we could choose three flavours of the ones available. We chose the Mango Lassi, Original and Tart Lemonade Tart. Mango tasted very much of alphonso mangoes, the original was vanilla ice cream with raspberry jam, and tart lemonade tart was full of the flavour of delicious bitter peel.

Arctic Rolls

Not sure why but by the end of the meal, our waitress seemed to have warmed to us and we even got a bit of a smile. And phew, I’m glad that Cathy did enjoy the meal! Bookings are essential on a Sunday afternoon.

The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace
Notting Hill Gate
London W8 4RU

Mall Tavern on Urbanspoon

Last week, I came home from work just early enough to catch the tail end of an episode of the Great British Food Revival on BBC2. It was the pork episode and I watched Clarissa Dickson Wright drone on rather soothingly about various rare breed pigs and how tasty they are (I can confirm they are!). One recipe she made was a slow roasted pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts that looked mighty appealing and I went onto the BBC food website to get the accompanying recipe. The recipe listed online was clearly missing a step or two and quantities seemed a bit off; still, I thought perhaps they know what they’re talking about. Well, they didn’t and I had to throw some more beer and water into the bottom of the pan to prevent all the goodies at the bottom from burning. This recipe just confirms that we all need to go with our own knowledge and intuition when it comes to cooking.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

Anyway, I suppose it was the curiosity about whether chestnuts and anchovies go together that piqued my interest with this recipe. Surprisingly, they did – the sweetness of the chestnuts mixing with the saltiness of the anchovies and really, one can never go wrong with a slow roasted pork belly. While my pork wasn’t from a rare breed pig this time, I did get it from the farmers’ market and it was loaded with flavour. We served it with kale and celeriac puree, the latter recommended by the television show. I’d never cooked with celeriac before and while it’s not perhaps a puree I’d serve with just any old roast, its celery sweetness complemented the savoury sauce created here.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Anchovies and Chestnuts
adapted from that on the BBC Food website.
serves 4.

A good slab of pork belly, skin scored (I think mine was about 1kg but you can definitely use a larger slab; I’ve used up to 1.5kg in the past)
3 tbsps olive oil
1 tin anchovies in olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
200g precooked chestnuts (mine were vacuum packed)
freshly ground black pepper
400mL dark beer
1 tsp salt
50mL brandy

Preheat your oven to 230 Celsius.

Take a roasting pan that can be used on the stovetop and heat it over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the oil from the anchovy tin. When hot, add your chopped onion and fry for about 5 minutes. Chuck in the garlic and fry for another minute. Roughly chop your chestnuts (or not…I quite liked them whole if small) and the anchovies and stir those through. Season well with lots of black pepper and pour over the beer. Stir and take off the heat.

Dry your slab of pork belly thoroughly, especially its skin. Rub the salt into the skin, getting it into the scored skin. Place it on top of the mixture in the roasting tin, ensuring that the skin doesn’t get wet.

Place the roasting tin into the preheated oven. After 20 minutes, turn the temperature down to 160 Celsius. Roast for 3 hours. Check it every once in a while to ensure that the stuff at the bottom of the tin hasn’t dried up (and burnt!) and if it’s looking a bit dry, chuck in some water, making sure not to get your pork skin wet.

At the end of the time, check your crackling. If it’s not crackly enough, place your pork (in the tin) under a hot grill and watch it closely. Mine took about 15 minutes under the grill this time but yours might be faster. Crackling!

Let the pork rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the chestnut and anchovy sauce.