Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review - Tayyab's

Moving into house has been a mixed bag. To begin with, I was very pleased to see the flat is really big and light and roomy. Then I was stressed at all the unpacking and the expense from having to buy stuff to make the House a Home. Then I was pleased again because I made a pie (it was far too salty and not a patch on the first time I made it but that was three years ago) and felt homely and thrilled at London. Then I was again stressed and despondent because there was no hot water and the dishwasher broke and I was upset by my filthy floor and broken vacuum. But then it turns out the filth was actually ingrained in the carpet so won't come off on my feet and I bought a small mirror and I felt happy again. This happiness is occasionally boosted with little bursts of remembering I don't live in Sutton Coldfield anymore. These are exaggerated when I think of all the places which I read about and wanted to go to but couldn't because London's a big place and even being there for a day didn't mean necessarily eating somewhere I'd read about. One of these places was Tayyab's. I've read about it on various food blogs, Tome Out and been recommended it by the creepy old guy from the unnamed law firm's vac scheme. And now I live a twenty minute walk from it! I went after a day of trying (and failing) to sort out Internet and then being in a distressed strip at all the things that weren't quite right about the flat. We'd booked and that was a wise move since it was so busy. We ordered lamb biryani, karahi chicken saag, lamb tikka kebabs and pumpkin curry side dish. The usual poppadoms, relishes and salad came too.

As indian subcontinent restaurants go, this was a cut above the rest. It's true that it emulates home-style cooking of the region: the dishes are priced so you can get a range of different dishes as you would at a meal at home. And the style is reflective of home cooking too, nothing too flashy; good, honest, strong flavours. The relishes made your tongue dance with chilli and spice. Unfortunately, the place suffers from overhype. While a cut above most restaurants of its ilk, I didn't think it was as overwhelmingly great as the reviews (framed and stuck on the walls) vowed. It still very much deserves a recommendation, as well as being better in quality than all the other crap Indian places, it's cheaper and BYOB. NO CORKAGE. All the above cost £25 and fed two to the brim. It's second only to Aziz in the rankings of 'Indian subcontinent restaurants which Ari's tried'.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Review - Bangkok House

Hey, I went to Oxford again. I'm still not That Guy though (I don't think). It's not term time yet so it's not like I'm just longing for my undergraduate days and being unable to let go. I worry that might happen though. Enrolling reminded me of how other universities are very different and how I'll just be one of thousands of anonymous students. There were no older years who knew you and your Facebook photos intimately well there greeting people. There were helpers who I assume are current students but they didn't know anything about me whatsoever. Quite refreshing really. Unfortunately, there was no difference in their manner. They were still full of overly, unnecessarily helpful but sort of useless vim. I hate vim. There was a lot of pep around too. And I overheard some of those awful 'I'm so desperate for friends I'm going to take the phone numbers of everyone I encounter' conversations. I can see why that's tempting since I'm going to be living in a house several miles away from halls with ex-Oxford people so when I think about it, it seems like there's really not much opportunity to meet new people at all. Especially since my course just means two days of lessons a week. But what's the point in worrying about that? Like possibly-gross-because-it's-cheap-for-a-really-fun-area house, I've made my bed and now I must lie in it without stressing. Anyway, it's time to tell you about the meal I had in the familiarity of the 'dreaming spires'. It was at Bangkok House on the way from the train station. It was particularly familiar since it had the same style going on as Chiang Mai and Shanghai 30s where the old English thing is combined with pretty oriental ornaments.
Unlike the other two, they have a thrifty little lunch menu with dishes starting from £5.50 on it. We ordered drunken stir fry noodles with beef and red prawn curry.
At those prices, I really wasn't expecting much. But actually, it was almost as good as Chiang Mai kitchen. The noodles were full of zingy fresh chillies and crunchy beans which cut through the slightly too drunken sauce. The beef had clearly been marinated and was appropriately succulent. The curry was a balanced blend of coconut creaminess and citrus sharpness. There was a nice hum of heat to the whole thing and, as with the beef, perfectly textured prawns and just cooked vegetables. It's a shame that I've vowed not to return to Oxford (much) in term time.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Review - Cafe 1001

I've finally seen my house. Well, not quite. I've seen the environs of my house. That's lovely. I could be worried by the fact that we're paying relatively little to live in such an area and how that could indicate a gross inside. But since I'm contracted to live there for fourteen months, I'm going to not think about that. Anyway, it came to me in a dream that the insides are reasonably lovely. It's very close to Brick Lane so afterwards we went window shopping and stopped off for lunch. It made me very sad to have made the vow not to buy anymore clothes. Whenever I'm packing or unpacking I feel stressed and sickened by the mountains of cheap fabrics which surround me. I've therefore made a resolution to avoid buying any new clothes. It's true that anyone with as many clothes as me doesn't need any new clothes. But I still want them since most of my clothes are horrible and tacky and faded. Visiting Rockit and Urban Outfitters (cliched, I know) reminded me of this fact whilst at the same time screaming out YOU CAN'T AFFORD ANY OF THIS STUFF NOT EVEN WITH ALL THE MATCHED BETTING IN THE WORLD. I could afford the food though. £4.60 for a burger with cheese and bacon, wedges and salad. The vegetarian option (grilled stuffed mushrooms and aubergine) looked pretty great too and was only a pound or so more.
It was very good value for money. The patty of beef had a glorious taste half way between the fatty, horrid deliciousness of a fast food burger and the meaty goodness of an actually good burger. The plastic cheese added to the fast food element whilst the slightly sweet, crisp bacon shavings swung a little to the gourmet. The wedges and salads were all natural. Obviously handcut and roasted, you could see the herbs and salt granules sticking to the outside of the potato skins. The salads covered all the colour bases: red onion, olive green gherkins and red tomato. The wateriness of the cucumber and lettuce cut through the otherwise heavy flavours. I was very pleased with everything; this place is definitely not a tourist trap.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review - Chutney's

I think I will be an adult once I stop doing truly idiotic things. I know everyone regrets doing things and have a particularly high frequency of regrets between the ages of about twelve and twenty one (and probably past that too) but, as I'm sure everyone feels, I feel like mine are particularly soul crushing/embarrassing/moronic. Some of them still haunt me when they catch me unawares by popping into my head when I'm falling asleep or on a bus or something. Some of them make me feel so, so bad in my own skin that I have an audible repulsed reaction. It sounds a bit like 'ohh' mixed with 'mm'. If I make this noise in your presence, know that I am DYING INSIDE. It's because I have a particularly bad gauge for knowing how I'll feel about things at a more sensible/less drunk/less stupid time in the future. Usually this is in the form of telling everyone again and again that I'm totally happy with my choice and think it's definitely the right (not usually morally) thing to do. Usually, I am convinced of this myself too. This is what happened with my piercings. Remember those? They were stupid. I don't mind how they look but really, they're a bit unnecessary aren't they? I've gone through considerable pain for them. More annoyingly, I've spent a lot of time looking for the tiny earrings when they fall out (which they do a lot because I always play with them) because I'm determined not to let them heal. The earrings are really why we ended up at Chutney's at this lunchtime. I'd lost my earrings but this time irretrievably so buying some more went on my list of errands with fixing the glasses I broke in a fit of rage. (I threw them at a wall.) After a tour of most of Oxford city centre's restaurants we ultimately chose here because it was close to the piercing place and because it's £4.95 for the express lunch. That includes starter (samosa and pakora), main (lamb madras and bhuna) and rice, naan and salad.
We were pleased. Chutney's unfortunately has a reputation for being popular with young, louty (by Oxford standards) students who like shouting about their friends' quite boring sexual misdemeanours. I'd discovered it before being subject to this joyous experience and so knew that actually, if you eat there in a small group or get takeaway, the curry is the second only to Aziz in Oxford. They think about their flavourings and combinations. And make fantastic dosas. I'm partial to the lamb and pumpkin curry too. The madras and bhuna are to be found on the 'unabashedly Indian' section of the menu. Whilst not original in the sauces, the same level of care goes into their flavourings as with their better dishes. The right hum of spice is found in every dish and lunch was no different. Go here! Not in a big group though. In case anyone cares, I've lost the earrings I bought before lunch in the three days since I ate there. Sigh.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Review - Indulge

Speaking of things we didn't get to do while studying at Oxford (I'm following on from the last post as if it's a conversation), a dessert parlour which looked like a sex shop opened while we were doing our crappy, crappy exams. We planned to go after they finished but actually there wasn't much time. Sad. Not anymore though! We've been there now! Because we don't go to a ridiculously high pressured university anymore! Yayyy. So anyway, the dessert parlour which looks like a sex shop. It's great. Really, really great. I'll admit, I'm not the biggest fan of dessert. While I might go mad for a tarte aux fruits, I'm not one to ever really want ice cream. Partly because I have sensitive teeth and partly because I don't think it's as amazing as everyone else seems to. When people said HEY LET'S GO TO G&Ds I thought 'Oh God again really must we' whilst pretending to be all 'yeah ok yayyy ice cream'. Indulge actually inspired that reaction. It's so cool. It looks like a 70s sex den with plus chairs and black and pink and high stools and mirrors on the ceiling (I think my imagination is running away with itself) and I love it there. The menu has about fifty different types of delicious dessert. I managed to whittle down my decision to apple pie and ice cream.
God, if was good. The pie was glossy and full of cinnamony apply warmth. The ice cream was really cold and really hurt my tooth but that's Sensodyne's problem, not Indulge's. It tasted good though. I'll admit that the outstanding taste was sugar but it's a dessert so that's fine. And afterwards I had a sugar rush. I was awake for so long! I watched lots of Office.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Review - The Perch

Hey, being back in Oxford isn't weird. Maybe it would be if it was term time but I'm not planning on visiting too frequently then. Fear of being 'That Guy'. Anyway, it's very nice being in Oxford with no worries and no looming spectre of degree hanging over like the sword of Domocles or something. I have lived a life of leisure whilst here. No getting out of bed 'til 12. Followed by doing nothing much but watching all of the american Office ever. A key component of leisure is taking long, lazy lunches in far away places and that is what we did. The Perch is far away and has cows and grass on the way to it. It also has a lovely garden, nice ciders and great service. Although I heard conflicting reports about the service but our waitress was very obliging and told us about how this waiter was very bored so made all these cranes. Look!
But yeah, the service was good. And the food matched. We got through two ciders, calamari and chips, chicken liver parfait with gherkins and loads of bread and wine.

I'm bad at wine so all I can really tell you about it was that it was reasonably priced for wine that didn't have a horrid after taste. Everything else, which I'm slightly more qualified to comment on, was fantastic. Presented in a really lovely way with well thought out details. Like the gherkins that came with the pate to cut through its richness. God, the pate was so rich. In a good way! It was packed full of iron rich meaty flavour. Slathering it onto the pieces of bread was lots of fun. The calamari was equally well executed. Crisp batter encasing perfectly textured squid. And it came with a strong contender for the best tartare sauce I've ever had; sharp and citrusy without overpowering to contrast with the almost creamy velvetiness of the mushy peas. All of this came to about £50 with tip which is in the region of £50 more than I'd usually spend on lunch but it was worth it since it includes a countryside walk, a drink in a beautiful garden and good value, quality food served by nice people who make cranes.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Review - Pitt Cue Co

Hey, I've finally eaten at Pitt Cue Co. After trying and failing for two years to see what the deep fried, pulled Southern hype was about, I finally got to try some. I tried going there as recently as earlier this summer but it was all out of boxes. So instead we had strange sausages from a place further down the South Bank and drank so much (actually, it really wasn't that much) that I spent the next day throwing up all day. TASTY. That day was part of what switched me onto going to bed notoriously early. I'm pleased to announce I've rediscovered my love of pursuing stupid courses of action and, consequently, staying out late. However, there are now conditions on it. Only if there is no one to facilitate retiring (i.e. no one to bring me young water/hot chocolate/hot Bovril (I've never actually had that)) and the drinks don't cost (at least) £4 and any venture outside is walking distance/free taxi away. Anyway, hopefully this means I won't not-make new friends because I prefer watching MasterChef and bed to alcohol and conversation. Anyway, I digress. But that's good, right? Maybe blog will rediscover its spark and the half audience it lost while I went to bed at ten. Blogging about the place which everyone else talked about two years ago seems a great place to start my 'general reviews of things I do in London' blog. I had the much-raved about pulled pork with soda bread, slaw, beans and pickles.
I WAS UNDERWHELMED. I'm sorry to disagree with far more widely read blogs than mine. Wait, am I sorry? I'm surprised and a bit tentative because these people clear eat out and cook much more than I do. But I don't think I'm sorry. Anyway, everything was a bit lukewarm. And by 'everything' I mean my reaction and also the food. It was in no way, shape or form unpleasant to eat. It just didn't blow my mind. It was very, very forgettable. I'll start with the good things. The slaw was fresh and crunchy and had a slight zing to it. The pickles were nicely stewed so they had a little acidity but not too much. The beans were fun to look at (lots of different types in there) and mellow. The soda bread was GREAT especially after it had been soaked in the juices of everything else. The pulled pork is what I was mainly underwhelmed by. But it had a great underwhelming capacity since most of the box was pulled pork. Usually, I'd applaud this non-stinginess. But unfortunately, that just meant there was masses of it to get through and I found that a bit of an effort by the end. I liked the flavours well enough, I could taste the smokiness and the sweetness but it was all a bit lacklustre. It wasn't 'OMG WHAT IS THIS IS THIS AMAZING I WANT THE RECIPE' it was more 'oh this is pretty good for £7.50 on the South Bank'. I think if everyone had said it was a pretty decent deal and definitely in the upper quartile of food in London, I'd accept. But it's that everyone was all WOW and I was not wowed. I'd still go there again, mostly to try the curiously gloriously unhealthy sounding Trailer Trash burger. 

Friday, 7 September 2012

Recipe - Makeshift Jambalaya, Gumbo

Remember how I said I made jambalaya? The time has finally come to share the recipe. What exciting times we live in. Jambalaya and gumbo are very similar in concept (both stews with a variety of meats and shellfish, peppers, Cajun spices and fun names) so I thought I'd wait to make the gumbo before sharing my secret recipes. They're not really my secret recipes though. Well, I made them up myself but influencing factors included the fact that I was restricted ingredients-wise with jambalaya and had muslim(ish) sensibilities to cater to with the gumbo. They both tasted pretty good. So good that I burnt my tongue horribly on the gumbo. Of course, I underseasoned both. But I never give salt quantities anyway so that's fine!
4 chicken thighs
Vegetable oil
6 beef sausages, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
4 tbsp flour
3 bay leaves
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp Marmite, dissolved in 200ml hot water
1/4 of a bunch of supermarket parsley, coarsely chopped
175g okra
1 tin chopped tomatoes
2 fresh tomatoes, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
250g raw peeled prawns
A handful of parsley chopped for garnish

Season chicken thighs all over with salt and pepper.
Brown chicken thighs over a high heat in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Remove and set aside.
Brown sausage pieces, remove and set aside.
Turn the heat down to medium and add a couple more tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Add the onion, garlic, celery and pepper and fry for about 10 minutes until tender.
Remove and set aside.
Add the flour and whisk thoroughly until a deep brown colour, about 7 minutes.
Add the Marmite water into the pan slowly, whisking constantly so the mixture remains smooth.
Once smooth, add the bay leaves, parsley and spices.
Return the meat and vegetables to the pan.
Add the okra and tinned tomatoes.
Season with salt and pepper, cover, bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes.
About 5 minutes from the end of the cooking time, add the fresh tomatoes, spring onions, prawns and remaining parsley.

Vegetable oil
4 chicken thighs, seasoned all over with salt and pepper
1 chorizo cooking sausage, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chilli powder
1 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp mixed herbs (inc. bay, thyme, sage, oregano, marjoram)
6 vine ripened tomatoes, chopped
250g easy cook rice
Enough chicken stock to cover and cook the rice
250g raw, peeled prawns
Handful of parsley, chopped

Brown the thighs and chorizo over a medium high heat remove from the pan.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion, garlic and peppers to the pan. Fry until tender.
Add the cumin, chilli powder, chilli flakes and mixed herbs and let cook for a minute.
Add the rice and coat with oil thoroughly for a minute.
Return the meat to the pan and mix thoroughly.
Add the tomatoes and stock to the pan and season with black pepper and a touch of salt if necessary.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until the rice is cooked.
Stir in the prawns and parsley.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review - The Pie Maker, Ye Olde Inn

Although returning to Edinburgh has left me open to much mockery, it did present an opportunity to try proper, 'hearty' Scottish fare. On my list were haggis and pie. Last time I was here, I tried pie from the Auld Jock's Pie Shop. The pie was average and far too heavy but it was very cheap. My experience of The Pie Maker is very similar. I picked the wrong pie, I realised too late that they had haggis pie and its famous (apparently) bridie. I'd just chosen another scotch pie. Too salty and heavy but edible, just. If I'd been hungrier, I'd have enjoyed it more. But I wasn't. So I didn't finish it. I could've done but we were promised a meal out by Dave's uncle and it's rude not to finish your food when someone else is paying. Nevertheless, I still didn't manage to finish it. Haggis, neeps and tatties. Presented 'classily' in a stack.
Despite being presented in a stack, it was still much too much food. It might have been manageable had there been something other than carbs. I know haggis isn't carb but it has various carby stuff added to it. It also might've been manageable if I found it more enjoyable. I have been known to eat until I can't walk if I like the taste of the food. This haggis was very, very peppery. Much too peppery. I don't know if that means I just don't like haggis or that this was bad haggis. The haggis I'd tried at the food fair was much less peppery (and much more pleasant) though. There was also a texture issue. Haggis is crumbly but also kind of soft and that didn't sit well with the pulped mashed potatoes and turnips. Perhaps the creaminess of the root vegetables and the whiskey sauce was supposed to cut through the pepper? It didn't succeed which meant you were just left with lots of stodge to try to work your way through. Food should not be a chore.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Recipe - Chicken Potato Salad, Stuffed Peppers

After a short stint in London, I returned to Edinburgh. The prolonged time spent with family in Bangladesh didn't lend itself to me wanting to spend lots of time in Birmingham. Also, I've alienated everyone who I used to be friend with and even if I hadn't, there is nothing fun to do. I do have lots of boring admin to do but since in all likelihood I'm going to do that for a job, I should avoid it now in favour of more fun things. It sort of ruined my emotional train goodbye to be all 'hi I'm coming to Edinburgh again' but not dying of boredom far outweighs making all endings perfect. As we've learnt, I'm not really a 'best in the long term' actor. Being back in Edinburgh without any money of course lent itself to cooking. Oooh, do you feel like this is familiar? Freaky. (Or not.) We even went on another picnic. This time on an island you can get stranded on if the tide's wrong. The trip demonstrated just how boring I have become. I like doing things in the daytime and keeping my affairs in order and have grown tired of drinking and like going to bed by midnight. (This is reflected in my blog stats. Half of you have stopped reading.) I've completely stifled my sense of adventure; I reiterated at least 2839505 times before this trip that I really didn't want to get stranded on the island. LAME. Anyway, this time, picnic was much simpler. It was unplanned, you see. It's very unlike me to not make plans at the best of times but now I'm starting to act middle-aged, I cling onto them even more. Anyway, unplanned picnic. We drank Tennents (like louts) and I made a fun salad. I cooked that evening too; a meal to use up the various ingredients there were. I chose to put them in some peppers and roast them. Not a very inspiring recipe but do you care? Do you ever read the recipes? I don't mind if you don't but you should know that most of them are very simple and low maintenance.

Chicken and Grape Potato Salad
2 drumsticks chicken, roasted and shredded
7 fairly large new potatoes, quartered
2 tbsp mayonnaise
7 grapes, peeled and halved
Rocket (a handful or so)
Salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes until tender.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly.
Season with salt and pepper.
Stuffed peppers
1 onion, chopped
2 red chillies, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
250g beef mince
1 courgette, cubed
6 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp oregano
250ml beef stock

200g rice
4 peppers
75g strong cheddar, grated

Fry the onion on a medium heat until browning.
Add the chilli and garlic and fry for a further minute.
Turn heat to high and add mince, brown mince all over.
Add cumin, oregano and chilli powder.
Add mushrooms and courgettes and fry for a further five minutes.
Add tomatoes and stock and simmer for at least half an hour until quote a thick mixture.

Cool rice as per packet instructions.
Mix rice, meat and cheese.
Chop the top off the peppers and deseed.
Stuff with the filling to the top, pour over some grated cheese and replace top. (Leftover filling can be eaten alone.)
Place in an oven preheated to 220 for one hour.