Sunday, 23 November 2014

Review - 3 South Place Brunch

I finally got to South Place. I've been trying for a while but various silly things keep getting in the way, mainly hangovers. The inevitable happened of when you're looking forward to something - it disappointed. Firstly, I was ill. I'd just been to Berlin with work and that meant that I felt really rough and was exposed to a whole new set of germs. I had a nasty cough and my throat felt like I'd swallowed some glass. (Actually, that would feel a whole lot worse. But you get the point.) Secondly, another member of the group was hanging. Which meant no drinking. Which was stupid because the whole point of going to South Place rather than everywhere that you don't pay a premium for unlimited refills of prosecco is that there are unlimited refills of prosecco. Duh. Anyway, it gets worse. The tone for the meal was set when the waitress ID'd us. What the eff. Seriously, I know I look young but COME ON. However, I appreciate that it's her job. My non-drinking hungover pal was not so docile. Then there was a whole thing about the waiter pointing out to Contrary that a starter and a dessert would cost the same as any other two courses and it was so patronising and kind of rude. OK, so the food.
The show stopper was the chorizo duck egg toast. I don't know what they did to it but it was bloody good. Similarly - the fish and chips were ON POINT. The best I've had by an order of magnitude. They did a beautiful thing with the condiments too - mixed the tartare with the mushy peas. Wow! But seriously - actually wow. It combined the silky gooiness with the tart brightness. The fish pie was warm and exactly what I wanted to eat. But it was a little lacklustre. Ditto for the chocolate cake - though that redeemed itself with the most sparky sorbet I've had - cherry. Mmm. Waffles were terrible - they really seemed like they'd come out of a packet. The food is great quality but not so great that it justifies the price. The absolutely delicious, crisp and cold prosecco justifies the price. Don't go if you're not drinking. Or if you don't drink.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Review - Dirty Burger

I'm sick of queuing for restaurants. Are we not over this already? It makes planning an evening INSUFFERABLE. That has been my reaction on three separate occasions where I've tried to go to Dirty Burger in Stepney. On the first occasion, I wasn't irate but disappointed. The second time, I was due to go up north for work the next day and was really angry and actually cancelled all my plans. The most recent time, I was on my way back from Barcelona and I was so hungry but I went to meet a friend passing through London and then got EVEN HUNGRIER and also was pissed off at something completely unrelated so I was REALLY ANGRY (proper capitals angry) and was only calmed by the presence of Nandos next door. (There was a brief moment where I thought there was a queue for Nandos too and I srsly almost flipped out.) So with this back story, I was fully expecting Dirty Burger to disappoint on the queuing to taste ratio. I finally got to go before Genesis on a Wednesday. I went for the burger with cheese and bacon and shared onion fries and slaw with my (veggie) dinner companion.
OK - I concede this is the second best burger in London. It doesn't top Honest but it's getting pretty close to the world of perfect forms burger. It's also doing a different thing to Honest - this burger is unashamedly simpler, greasier and saltier. It is sloppy and meaty and makes your hands smell. It comes in a wrapper which I quite like. It is essentially an example of how McDonalds could be if it wanted to spend any money on anything. It is dirty. (Well named and well branded.) The onion fries took convenience / fast food to a genius new level - essentially onion rings cut into a convenient shape. The batter was quite floury but it worked well. The slaw was truly excellent - the right balance of slathered to tart. I begrudgingly admit that it was worth waiting for.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Review - Lobster Kitchen

The moral of this story is don't believe the hype. It's rare that I'll suggest going for dinner way more central than Bow will ever be on a day before Thursday. But when I heard about half price lobster, I was all 'Oh boy! Golly gee! This lobster place sure sounds real nice, I better get there when there won't be a queue!' HOW WRONG I WAS. The evening started pleasantly with a pal who I don't see as often anymore. In fact, I don't really see any of my pals very often anymore. Sad. Lonely. (Not really - well, a bit.) But there we were, hanging out in Vagabond with the vinomatic machines. I was relieved to learn that conversation wasn't stilted, and only mildly tinged with light awkwardness of 'oh I haven't seen you in a while I don't really know how you live anymore!' Anyway, after that, we moved on to the difficult to find Lobster Kitchen. Firstly - there was a queue. Which I don't mind all that much except the waitress was incapable of telling us how long to expect to wait. That pissed me off. Every other restaurant manages it! Then, we queued. Fine. Then, we were sat. OK. Then, they don't take card - terrible. What century are we in? I ordered - lobster roll, shoestring fries, breaded clams, wine.
Wine - the cheapest was still rather nice. Shoestring fries - good enough but definitely not shoestring. The polar opposite. Breaded clams - no. Just no. They were tiny! They were literally like shards of batter. And this annoyed me most because I've been craving breaded clams ever since I read a 'lunch with the FT' involving someone I can't remember and some clams IN JULY. Unimpressed. The lobster - small. So small. Bearing in mind that full price, this will match Burger and Lobster's offering - this was TINY. And no unlimited sides or well dressed salad to match! I went for the cocktail stuffing which may have been a mistake as it was slathered. I could barely taste what lobster there was. I'm not going back.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Recipe - Pinto Bean Salad, Bulgar Wheat Salad, Weeknight Roast Chicken

I was recently struck with something approaching horror when I struggled to remember what ingredients I'd put in a lunch recently. So I have a renewed enthusiasm for blogging about lunch even though it might be a bit of a chore sometimes. I will be diligent. The thing is - I often don't cook my lunches anymore. I've been working late and this has translated to the Explorer 'making a start on dinner' and actually just going ahead and finishing it. 

Bulgar wheat salad
~100g bulgar wheat
1 stock cube
~300ml water

Place the bulgar wheat, stock cube and water in a saucepan.
Cover and bring to the boil. Simmer for around 15 minutes until cooked.

Half a red onion, chopped finely
2 tbsp green olives
1 garlic clove
Handful fresh parsley
Handful fresh  coriander
1 tbsp dates

Place the above in a food processor and blitz until everything is finely chopped. Add to the bulgar wheat once cooked.

10 cherry tomatoes, halved
Half a lemon
Black pepper

Add the cherry tomatoes to the bulgar wheat. 
Squeeze over the lemon and season with pepper.

Pinto bean salad 
1 large sweet potato, chopped into chunks
2 peppers, chopped into chunks
1 red onion, chopped into chunks
10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Toss the veg in veg oil, salt and pepper. Place in the oven for around 30 mins at 200C.

1 can pinto beans
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp paprika
Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Handful fresh coriander, finely chopped

In a bowl, place the pinto beans. Add the roasted vegetables and sprinkle over the ground spices. Stir through the spices. DONE.

Midweek roast
1 tbsp olive oil
1 sprig of rosemary, torn up
2 baking potatoes, cut into cubes

Place the oil in a baking tray and place in an oven that you are preheating to 200.
Toss the potatoes with the rosemary, salt and pepper.
Once the oven has preheated, take out the oil and tip the potatoes into it.
Roast for 40 mins until cooked through and crispy.

1 red onion, chopped into thick chunks
1 skin on chicken breast
50ml single cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Meanwhile, season the outside of a large chicken breast (that you've inadvertently stolen from your housemate) with salt and pepper.
Place in the oven in a deep baking dish for the last 15 mins of the potato cooking time.
Take out of the oven. Set aside the chicken breast.
Add 50ml single cream, 1 tbsp mustard, 1 tbsp water to the dish and whisk until smooth and thick.

Serve with a mix of Italian leaves.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Barcelona

I've cracked the perfect holiday. I had fun on the others but there's always been a small niggle stopping them being 100% perfect. Pre-2012, it was the people. Amsterdam, I was in a strange and floopy place and didn't read travel guides. Prague to Rome I was too broke for the indulgences I like most. I was ill in Berlin, stressed about the house in Budapest. Morocco had sleaze ball men, New York was freezing. You get the picture. But Barcelona in October 2014 was perfect. I was relaxed but not dreading the return. I spent and lived well but without going over budget. There were only positive experiences, both with my companions and with the place. And the weather was glorious. Our b&b was perfect and had quite literally thought of everything. The breakfasts! Muffins and seedy bread, posh cereal and juicy juice. It was a little home away from home. (#cliche) 

We headed out to the Barri Gotic when we'd left our stuff. We walked with a short stop at Granja Mabel for some cheesy chips - delicious but essentially drunk food. Then through the parc ciutadella to the quarter where we headed into the somewhat overshadowed Barcelona Cathedral. We were ready for another drink (or four) by this point so headed to Placa Reial. Pretty place to watch the sun go down if you can avoid feeling guilty and depressed from all the beggars. 

It was time for dinner at El Vaso de Oro, an intimidating galley tapas bar. It was full of Catalan speakers and it was difficult to understand what was going on in all the commotion. We had fishy croquettes, savoury and moist. The peppers were simple - dry and charred. The tuna was a little too dry for my liking, almost cloyingly so. Squid tasted as recently caught as squid from a port town should. We craved something sweet so went to Negro Carbon for some uninspiring drinks and boring pudding. The savoury food looked good here and the atmosphere was a young antidote for the age and tradition of the last place. 

The next day involved lots of metro trips. First, to the Sagrada Familia so we could feel silly for not having pre-purchased tickets. Then to the Parc Guell for a climb to a view. We headed back to town with weary legs - to El Xampyanet for cava and, as always, tapas. The cava, on tap, is the best I've had. And all the fish was so fresh - pungent boquerones, moreish olives, fluffy chorizo omelette. We also had some massive, crunchy sweet prawns as well as tangy tomatoes smarttered with herbs. We then went to the Picasso museum. At this point, I think we're all tired of Barcelona walk through, don't you all agree? Let's just do the rest of the food. 

Tapas 24
We wanted something less traditional having spent a couple of nights in Barceloneta already. This was reminiscent of all the places in London which don't let you book and insist that you queue. The beauty of the Spanish eating so late is you can turn up at 8 and grab the last non-queuing table. The bomba was my favourite - all the beauty of a croquette with a cute little savoury heart of lamb mince. Or was it the mcfoie? Cannily named to pick up on the fact that burger with foie gras combines salt and sweet just as fast food does. The rabo de toro was so heady and dizzying. The tomato bread helped to cure the headache that could be induced.

Bar Pinoxto, La Boqueria
La Boqueria market is a phenomenal place to visit, imbued with all the smells and colours that any self respecting food market would have. I picked Pinoxto on the recommendation of a blog and we feasted. Chickpeas and salty pork - great match. Sloppy vegetables were a miss rather than a hit. The sole was basically almost alive it was so fresh - lightly dressed with olive oil and a balsamic salad.

L'Escriba
After all those small plates, we wanted a paella. We debated at length on whether to go here or to a place a little further along the shore. We picked here because it's only 15 minutes walk from where we were staying. We wanted different styles of paella which I fear affected our meals. I had the mountain - replete with almost alarmingly salty pork contrasted with juicy seafood. The seafood alone I was less keen on, they needed a touch of lemon or something. Both dishes needed that extra touch of freshness or acidity - I think the quantities may have been too strong because we had individual paellas. It doesn't really work.