Monday, 28 September 2015

Review - Elephant, The Plough

How was I feeling four weeks ago when I went to eat at Elephant and the Plough? I think I was bored and had that weird feeling being de-sensitised which is hard to break because you can't jump start enjoying social activities but at the same time wasting precious weekend time is not an option. Still, it's difficult for me to say how good the Elephant or the Plough were as a result...
I've tried to go to Elephant a couple of times and I forget why it's been so difficult now. It was Friday night and all the other places were busy but Elephant had a table for five people straight away. Peculiar. I went for the chicken thali and it had a very homey feel to it in that it was mildly spiced and seemed like the restauranteurs pulling out unspectacular family recipes for yuppy cunts to overpay for and feel like they're getting a good deal. (Which is fine, btw, both parties in that exchange leave happy.) But I found the whole thing a bit lacklustre because: (a) they used breast meat instead of thigh, (b) my mother can do better, (c) Curry 2000 and the Indian YMCA both do better for cheaper even if it's not the same vibe of atmosphere. The dahl was memorably warming though and it's definitely one of the better little places in Brixton market.

The Plough 
In the chronicles of living with someone that you're not going to be living with soon, our visit to The Plough fell into the category of times where it's weird because it's fun and nothing's changed (rather than one of the other three types of weird I've counted so far). We got fish tacos and a burger and did our halves. GREAT tacos. Lightly battered, zingy slaw, I'm running out of adjectives. Boring chips. Sweet bun on the burger - burger a bit grainy but all in all a winner. Special props to The Plough for being just on the right side of wanky with the exposed outside lightbulbs and decking and all those other things that people exactly like me with no imagination enjoy. That sounds insulting - but I'm saying that The Plough has the balance right and it's lovely.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Paris - Castiglione

'You're a sociopath but I don't think I'd realised before.' 

ate snails and spent loads of time with someone who is Internet famous but I didn't realise.
Snails are awful. They tasted like bad mussels. The veal was ok. This was probably the most expensive meal I've had in recent times and, my god? It was a rip off. The mashed potato was way too smooth, the spinach not garlicky enough and the tart a fuckin let down. 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Recipe - Duck Boulangere, Stuffed Aubergines

I've become more like my mother in such subtle ways, I'm terrified that this will continue as I get older to the point that I fail to be self aware about it. This particular chain of thought has been encouraged by Olive Kitteridge, where you can see a cantankerous old woman slowly losing grip of reality and feeling like a victim with no purchase on that fact. A mark or what not to become. Unfortunately, it seems sometimes like I have limited control over it. I don't care about if my sheets match and struggle to imagine when that'll change. I hate waste and wash my hands too much and get anxious when things aren't just so. I would probably be a better cook if only I could stop adding ingredients. On the other hand, it works out quite well sometimes - like adding molasses to the stuffed aubergine recipe below. That being said, Ottolenghi's version probably still beats it. 

Duck boulangere
4 duck legs, washed and patted dry 
3 baking potatoes, very thinly sliced 
3 onions, very thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced 
A few sprigs of rosemary, stalks removed and torn  
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180. 
In a rectangular casserole dish, layer the potatoes so they're slightly overlapping. Sprinkle onions, garlic and rosemary over each layer then season with salt and pepper and repeat.
Place the duck legs on top, seasoned thoroughly with salt and pepper. 
Add enough boiling water to come just below the top layer of potatoes.
Bake in the oven for 1.5 - 2 hours, until the potatoes are soft and the duck is tender. (Cover with foil if it's looking burny)

This is good with garlicky spinach. The duck is also good as leftovers stir fried with onion, noodles, cabbage and hoisin sauce. 

Stuffed aubergines with molasses and pine nuts 
Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
Half 4 aubergines, place cut side up in a deep roasting tin and drizzle well with salt and olive oil.
Place in the oven for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop 2 onions and fry over a medium heat in a tablespoon of olive oil with 1.5 tablespoons of paprika, 1.5 teaspoons of cumin and a tablespoon of cinnamon until the onion is translucent - about ten minutes.
Add 500g lamb mince, 50g pine nuts, a teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of tomato purée. Fry until the lamb is browned.
Add about 40g of finely chopped mint and parsley. 
In a cup, mix the juice of 1 lemon, 50ml water and 50ml grape molasses. 
Spoon the lamb mixture over each aubergine.
Pour the molasses mixture into the bottom of the tray.
Bake for 1 - 1.5 hours, tightly covered with foil, until the aubergines are soft. I served this with an adapted version of Ottolenghi's basmati with chickpeas and lettuce with broad beans salad.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Review - Nile Valley Cafe, The Dogs, Kampung Ali, Spoon

...and then as soon as 6.30 hit, I felt like a completely new Edinburgh opened up. (#cliche) Seeing an avant garde (a term which I now know the etymology of) was the best way to get into the swing of things. It was so weird and despite trying, I didn't quite get into it enough but I still felt flush with the satisfaction of knowing that it was so far from anything I could ever suggest in work-Edinburgh-world where Mistress America is considered niche. But then being in that Edinburgh brought back strange, floopy reminders of happier times and practicalities that don't pertain to paying cheaper rent in London but of other practicalities that I don't have much reason to think about anymore like what it's like to have a family (even if not your own) and family home to hang out with without any hint of soured memories and teenage years. Modern love is modern.

Nile Valley Cafe
Nile Valley Cafe is the antithesis of Cafe St Honore. It's cheap, BYOB and very scuzzy on the inside. I went for the lamb shish: chewy (but not in a bad way) cubes of dry marinated lamb. Cous cous which was so nicely executed it reminded me how bad I am at cooking cous cous and how all supermarket examples are just a travesty. Fresh salad and a little yoghurt to add some cool and bring it all together. I really enjoyed this place.
The Dogs
On the second night, we weren't able to get a table at The Scran and Scallie so went to The Dogs again. I was craving mash but none on the menu so I went for fish and chips. Oh man, it was so great. The fish was so meaty and thick that it was like someone had taken a fillet, poached it perfect then teleported it into a light batter with no weird sticking bits. 
Kampung Ali Malaysian
Then it was Friday and I was seeing a university friend after several months. It felt only appropriate to go for BYOB curry. Since the Explorer was there, I chose a Malaysian place. Of course we went for rendang, roti canai, satay and fried rice. In the rendang stakes, it's nowhere near the greats of Rasa Sayang but still retain the moreish quality that slow cooked beef should. I wasn't a fan of the greens they had running through it, they gave it a kind of stringy, jarring texture. All the rest was exactly as Asian fast food should be: brash, a little greasy and spicy. Enjoyable!
Having finally got to Spoon, I was largely underwhelmed. I don't know if that's the consequence of having tried to go several times before and it being too busy meaning it's been overhyped or because I've become immune to the taste of fairly good hipster brunch, but it just didn't do it for me. Yeah, the meats in the mixed grill were all clearly high quality. Yeah, I was pleased it included haggis. But was it really any more than fine? No. To its credit, I like the bright, airy set up and the coffee was delicious. 

Review - Papii, Cafe St Honore, New Town Deli

I've been in Edinburgh for days and days and days, partly for work and partly for the fringe. I was initially going to talk about it all in one mammoth post but that would sully the new principle that I'm aiming to live by of delineating sharply home and work things. It's going well - no work laptop on the weekend, no Friday hangovers, no gloom, no feeling of being cleaved. All good things. So, this is work post one, taking me from my 5am City Airport start to just before seeing a bizarre fringe comedy drawing inspiration from Yoko Ono. The places I eat with work are wildly different to where I eat with peers.

Papii was suggested as a lunch place by some list that came up when searching for 'best lunch Edinburgh'. I don't think it deserves a place on that list. My ham and emmental sandwich was so boring I can't even remember it. Plus, they put mustard in it when I didn't ask for it...

Cafe St Honore
As I've joined my new team, I'm trying not come across as immovable and bossy immediately. The problem is, I really despise eating at terrible places even if I'm not paying and so on balance, I'm happy to take the hit and go down as the girl who marched in and decided to dictate where everyone eats all the time. It was a real struggle to stay polite and keep smiling instead of just saying 'I am not wrong you are the one who is wrong' when a colleague was all 'are we SURE we want to eat here, it's so far from the venue...' (No, you just have the wrong venue in mind. (I told you so.)) Anyway, with this background, there was a lot of pressure on Cafe St Honore to bring its game. And it did. My venison was perfectly rested, my dauphinois were a compressed, melty, buttery CAKE. Mmm. The black pudding had a moreish texture and I didn't get any of my usual 'pig's blood what yuck'. Crunch to the beans, just cooked cabbage. 'Great choice.' YES I KNOW.

New Town Deli
Often being insistent about choosing where to eat doesn't mean I'm unwilling to take suggestions. I had no hand in choosing where to get lunch the next day and still loved New Town Deli, a cafe in the new town (as you would expect). The lunchtime burrito came in one of those healthy feeling, green-specked tortillas. It was filled with slow cooked chilli and fresh, bright salad. Work travelling isn't all that bad.

Review - The Ship on the Shore, Anima, Kyloe

The other added bonus to travelling to Edinburgh is that it removes some of the potential tension of living with the Explorer in the midst of 'scaling back and modernising'. I compared it recently to the bit in We Need To Talk About Kevin where they've decided to divorce and in the aftermath of that, everything is quite filled with relief and content. But then in real life, this just makes you prone to reassessing if you've made the right call. Or, it rapidly disappears and you fight even more and mentally resolve to keep everything amicable. (It probably helps that we don't have a psychopath son to contend with.) So, anyway, it can be handy to have to travel to Edinburgh. Not so much when you get in from London City Airport on a Thursday evening wanting to be alone and asleep.

So on this trip to Edinburgh, I revisited The Ship On The Shore where I got my hands all mucky from clawing open three plump, wonderful langoustines. I am so sad I didn't make more of a dent in that plate.

The next evening, we ended up at Kyloe. Everything about Kyloe made me think I would hate it. It's a large, brash steak restaurant decorated with cow skin on the walls. The menu was explained in an informative but slightly tacky way - a man coming round with a board of meat explaining about marbling and its impact on flavour. So it really says a lot when I say that my porterhouse steak was the best I've had. I got none of that gross sense of 'jeez this used to be alive' from chewing too much which I usually get with steak. It was just unmitigatedly delicious.

Apart from these, I went to Anima which was cheap, Italian and wonderful. And Yo! Sushi at the airport which was way expensive and the most plasticky fast non-fast food I've had.

Review - Malabar Junction, Jose Pizarro

August has passed in a flurry and I forgot to post even though I've eaten out loads due to a mixture of work travelling and Edinburgh-fringing. But because I need to keep my SEO ^^^ I'm splitting out the posts and giving each a theme. I will try to cast myself back to the time of eating for the first paragraph. The first of those posts is on Malabar Junction and Jose Pizarro, two meals that I ate about three weeks ago. The overall feeling of three weeks ago was fresh and vulnerable and chaotic, juggling work with doing scrabbling around with scraps of paper to frantically do sums when I haven't done any arithmetic for two years. Between spinning plates, I went to Malabar Junction with a friend who I barely have time to see since the working world sucked up both our lives. (Side note: I have a new favourite book which is just ON POINT with capturing modern corporate culture, everyone should read The Mark and the Void, I love Paul Murray, he is my new favourite person that I've never met.)

I've unfairly categorised curry into two camps: that which I would not describe as curry strictly that my family cook and that you get from a takeaway. Both delicious, if in different ways. This has completely neglected all the other types of subcontinent curry there are. Malabar Junction is South Indian and I imagine even there alone has hundreds of varieties to which I've failed to give any thought. Which is a shame, as the Keralan mutton curry I had was EXQUISITE and played my palate like MJ on a dance floor. My only criticism is that seeing so much sauce wasted makes me sad.
The following day, I went to Jose Pizarro for the leaving lunch of a colleague. (Side note: this is the same colleague that started a woefully unsympathetic conversation about refugees trying to make their way over to the UK and I just sat there, biting my tongue and contemplating whether it makes me morally culpable to stay quiet rather than challenging.) The basics, pan con tomate and padron peppers demonstrated nicely how (depressingly) there really is a difference in taste proportional to price between different tapas bars. Ditto for the croquettes. The spinach and pine nut empanada was actually a bit limp and reminded me of wetness. The lamb with olive oil mash was nicely cooked and had that crisp fattiness to it - but it was nothing to write home about. The saffron and mushroom rice was similarly lacklustre. However, the basics were good enough that I'll return.