Joe and I had at least one lassi a day while we were in India. In the afternoons, when the heat, dust and constant requests for photographs were beginning to fry the edges of our patience, we would find one of the little fan-cooled cafes, and spend half an hour with a creamy drink and our books, re-emerging into the hustle and bustle much revived. We had mainly plain sweet ones in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Bundi, and I also had a banana or mango one most mornings with breakfast. The best sweet ones we had were from Lassiwala in Jaipur – a little hole in the hall where freshly made yoghurt is blended with either sugar or salt and ice in massive shallow steel bowls, and served in terracotta cups which are then chucked unceremoniously into a pile on the side of the road (although we actually each bought one home. Mine is sitting on my bookshelf, stuffed with a random selection of currencies).
Lassiwala, MI Rd, Jaipur
Yet it is the makhania lassis which we came across deeper into Rajasthan (in Jodpur and Jaisalmer) that we really, really loved. Creamy, so thick that a spoon stands up on its own in the glass, flavoured with cardamon and saffron, topped with sultanas and almonds, and with a big dollop of rich curd floating in their middle, they were absolutely delicious. The noise of lots of spoons simultaneously scraping the last bits of sweet creaminess from their glass is one of the sounds I will now always associate with India. Read more
While Spanish tapas restaurants continue to thrive and procreate in London, Portuguese food is still struggling to find its way out from under the vast omnipresent Nandos umbrella, which has been dumped unceremoniously on top of it. And the chain isn’t even Portuguese, it’s South African. How is that for unfair? So while I frequently find myself having coffee and pastal de nata in little cafes (this one being my favourite), having never been to the country, I’d yet to try a full Portuguese meal. So I was very pleased to be invited to The Notting Hill Kitchen, which was opened on Kensington Park Road (parallel to Portobello for those not familiar with the area) by chef Luis Baena, and serves food inspired by his Iberian peninsular home.
The restaurant itself is a beautiful warren-like space, converted from two town houses, with warm flattering lighting, a cosy atmosphere and charming, if slightly confusing / confused, staff. It is clearly designed for the fur wearing yummy mummies of Notting Hill, and, jarring 90s pop music aside, felt very elegant.
The menu is seasonal ingredient led, with much of the produce imported from artisanal Spanish and Portuguese suppliers, and is split into tapas and a more formal restaurant menu. We opted for the latter, starting with an octopus salad and a sea bass ceviche. The Peruvian classic was sharp with a good kick of chilli, plenty of good quality fish and slivers of fennel and red onion adding crisp texture. The octopus was the highlight of the meal; chargrilled yet still retaining soft insides, it was served with creamy pureed black beans, a black bean salad and drizzled with a lovely sherry vinegar dressing. Our mains didn’t disappoint either. My friend’s lamb shoulder was tender and went perfectly with the herby quinoa salad and lightly blanched broad beans. Bacalhau (slow cooked salt cod) is very typically Portuguese (more so than peri-peri chicken) so I was keen to try it. It pulled apart into soft flakes which I used to soak up the caldeirada sauce, and the sheep’s butter coated purple kale was a lovely accompaniment. We finished with two puddings – a frozen walnut terrine coated in chocolate sauce and a white chocolate mousse with toffee parfait. Delicious. Read more
Sometime early last week I realised that the task of making my flatmate’s birthday cake this year was going to fall to me. We’ve always made cakes for each other, but as a flat of three there is usually another person to bake alongside. But this year, with our third flatmate currently in Miami with work, the task of making Jen an edible, and hopefully delicious, cake was down to me alone. Gulp.
Although I’ve never been a particularly prolific or confident baker, the prospect of having to making a cake wouldn’t have made me quite so nervous a few years ago. My baking life, such as it is, is divided into two chapters: pre-lemon-loaf and post-lemon-loaf. It was 2011 and I was trying to impress a boy. We’d been dating for a few months when I invited some mutual friends over for tea. As he settled down to watch the Grand Prix with a beer in hand, I dutifully put on my apron and set about making Jamie Oliver’s lemon drizzle cake. I thought it would be easy, and feeling smug at my domestication, hummed happily to myself as I beat the sugar and butter into submission. It was a disaster. The cake refused to rise, and was so dense and dry it was loaf-like. I’d also used organic icing sugar which turned a horrible pale brown rather than the desired white. I’ve just searched my archives and found this photo of it. No giggling please. Read more
I was going to start this blog post by talking about how with so many new restaurants opening all the time in London, it is easy to just hop between the latest soft openings and forget about those that have been serving up excellent food for a while. Then I checked when Zucca, the subject of this post, had opened. 2010. That’s since I moved to London. I’d thought that Bermondsey Street’s reputation as something of a foodie Mecca had been in place for many years, but it was only with Zucca’s opening, and then Jose Pizarro’s two restaurants a year or so later, that it was turned from an uninteresting narrow backstreet near London Bridge into the gastronomic destination it now is. It is a sign of how fast moving London’s restaurant scene is that I had subconsciously classed Zucca as an old classic, yet it is also perhaps something to do with the restaurant itself.
Set up by Sam Harris, and inspired by The River Cafe (which opened in 1987 according to the ever reliable Wikipedia) where he used to work, it is the antithesis of many of the brash, gimmick led restaurants that are currently opening in Soho and its surrounds. The restaurant is a very clean space, more like an art gallery in many ways, with bright white walls and tables, a cold gray marble counter and natural light flooding in from the almost full-height Bermondsey Street facing windows. But rather than feel sterile, character comes from the buzz emanating from the open kitchen, glass jars of wild flowers, a couple of bold paintings hung on the wall, and a row of pumpkins (which zucca translates as) on the bar. It’s a lovely grown-up eating space, clean-cut and yes, classic, and perfect for enjoying the simple seasonal Italian food on offer. Read more
When half way through our trip in Amsterdam I posted on Twitter that we were struggling to find decent food, someone (very helpfully) replied that it was never going to be a foodie weekend was it? Well no, but I had rather naively assumed that we would be able to find some food to get excited about. My last European city break was to Copenhagen where I did nothing but eat exceptional food, so my expectations were raised and I found it frustrating that our guidebooks were not providing the usual array of places I actively wanted to eat at. What I hadn’t realised was that I’ve always enjoyed eating the local cuisine when abroad, but traditional Dutch food is very stodgy – lots of meat and potatoes and very little greens – not my type of food at all. The first meal we had was at our hotel (The Lloyd, full review coming) and it was dreadful: a massive, dense, meatball on top of a pile of bland mash potato with a jug of greasy gravy. Apparently the Indonesian food in Amsterdam is excellent, but I was with my parents and they weren’t that keen to try it. However we did find a few good places, and while none of the food we had was standout (apart from the apple pie) plenty were very nice. And, as it clearly isn’t a foodie destination, that was good enough.
“Eyes forward David!”
These were the words my mum repeatedly shouted at my Dad as we made our way through the red-light district in Amsterdam. I thought the first brazenly dressed lady we saw in a window was a mannequin. Then she scratched her crotch and I realised otherwise. I know that prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, indeed it is one of the things the city is most famous for, but I was still shocked to see women in windows on such busy commercial streets in broad daylight. As, obviously, were my parents. Whilst large groups of beer-drinking men stood leering outside, and Japanese tourists tried to take photos of them (all the women hold a piece of black card in their lap to put up over their faces at the sight of a camera), we giggled, put our heads down, and hurried on to our next museum.
My parents and I were in Amsterdam for a long weekend. Those only familiar with its stag-do and stoner reputation might think it an odd choice of destination, but the city has a bi-polar personality. For every brothel there is a museum, (Amsterdam has more museums per square metre than any other city in the world), and for every hash-brownie-selling-coffee-shop there is one that serves a very nice slice of (non-hallucinatory) apple pie. It was this second Amsterdam that we were keen to visit, and the one that we enjoyed immensely.
So here is a list of my favourite Amsterdam experiences: Read more
You may have noticed I took a little break from blogging in December and January. This was, in part, because I picked up a rather nasty stomach bug in India (which only made itself known a few days after I had returned and smugly told EVERYONE that I had skilfully avoided Delhi belly completely. Not so.) It made enjoying food a bit of a struggle and whilst I am now feeling better it’s left me sensitive to dairy and alcohol. I have taken to sniffing other peoples’ gin and tonics whilst mournfully sipping Virgin Marys. Fun times indeed.
However, whilst there are a lot of downsides to this (my flatmate just offered me a slice of chocolate cheesecake. I had to say no. No. To chocolate cheesecake *whimpers*), I have enjoyed trying new, healthier, places to eat. On a sunshine filled Friday afternoon off work, I wandered down to The Good Life Eatery, a cafe opened a few months ago in, where else? Kensington. The window is stacked with an array of mouth-watering ‘healthy’ cakes and the inside is very LA-cool (or what I imagine to be LA-cool. I’ve never actually been). The tabletops and benches are made from reclaimed scaffolding, there is a palm tree in the corner and a vibrant painting hung on a bare brick wall. The lunch menu, scribbled on blackboards, is a mixture of salads and smaller plates, such as avocado chili toast and sweet potato with dukkah dip. It is unlike anything I have come across so far in London, and is clearly fulfilling a gap in the market as it was heaving throughout my hour-long lunch. It was only half way through that I realised all, as in every single one, of the diners was female. Any straight men looking to find a health conscious partner, take note and pack your best quinoa jokes.
Mama Wang’s biang biang noodles are one of my all time favourite Kerb eats. I love the combination of chewy noodles, succulent cumin-spiced lamb and hot chilli oil. So when I saw on Edible Experiences they were running classes teaching people how to make these very noodles, I immediately signed up. I’m not very comfortable cooking Chinese food. While I’ll happily knock together a curry, or some Japanese inspired noodles, for some reason I find the ingredients and processes of Chinese food intimidating. Which, as I discovered in the class, was ridiculous, as the dishes we prepared were surprisingly simple.
The rich and diverse mix of cultures in Brixton means that its trio of markets, and the surrounding streets, have always been a foodie hotspot. But in the last couple of years it has gone from one enjoyed by locals and the knowledgeable few, to an almost foodie mecca, attracting people from all over London. As such, its array of locally run ethnic restaurants and shops have been joined by trend-seeking companies hoping to cash in on its growing reputation. Honest Burger, Wishbone and, most recently, Brindisa, are just a few of those who have set up shop in Brixton. This has led to a tug of war over the future of the area, with locals worried that it will be gentrified beyond recognition, and the people who have made it their home and place of business for many years will be forced out by rising rents.
I think I’m in love. No, not with the cute guy who serves me coffee (although World, if you could let me say just one witty, non-idiotic, thing to him that would be GREAT), but with a rather lovely little wine bar on Hackney Road. It is perfect and when I think about it, which is often, 90s boy band ballads inexplicably start playing in my head. I want to lose myself in its warm embrace for hours, I want to show it off to all of my friends, and maybe even, oh gosh, take it to meet my parents. I think it might be *whispers* The One. Yep, I’ve got it bad.