Saturday, 26 March 2016

A review and a recipe - Hill Station, Rabo De Toro (kind of)

I had my first work related freak out of the year! It had to happen sometime, and I'm glad to be over with it in Q1 (lol) - feel that this is indicative that there will be max four this year. And this one wasn't even that bad and only manifested itself as me distributing some panicked comms to ensure that I have a set of keys in London somewhere lest I get locked out while my housemates are all in different countries. A combination of factors led to this: so tired (this was when I wrote the maudlin blog) due to weeknight fun of the ilk that should be saved for the weekend, realising that some close pals were going on holiday and I had no idea so felt like a shit friend / guy who never listens and just charges around doing what I do, having a moment of 'FUCK. I'm an ADULT, this is ALL DOWN TO ME. I am playing pretend and now I have all of this responsibility aghhhh'. But some vegan food and a nap later and I was back to being vaguely highly functioning and able to do fun. But it got me to thinking (that should be read in SJP a la SATC style voice when she's reading from her shit heteronormative column) that while it's great to be able to compartmentalise successfully, actually what would be better is to not have any selves that have freak outs, and actually that might mean some more severe structural changes to the not fun bits. Not something to worry about, but maybe something to think about. So anyway, let's talk about the lovely, charmed bits of the weekend which inevitably involve food.
The Hill Station
I went for breakfast at Hill Station and it was so idyllic! It's just on the right side of ramshackle and silly furniture without being annoying about it and then an old man started playing some music and I found the perfect toothbrush holder (yes, I've been looking for a toothbrush holder to replace my broken mug with a rusty nail in it for a while) and I just thought the feeling that you feel that makes you want to inhale. It's the classic response that Kahneman warns about joining up too many dots and seeing stories when really they're just coincidences. But, the circumstance of 'I found a perfect cafe and I'm having a great time' is a perfectly fine one to feel that in rather than 'aren't I such a skilled trader and therefore totally worthy of being paid all this green' so whatever. Also - the food! I'm regretful that I say 'best thing ever' so much - but this wins the Oscar in the category of fancy 'free range' breakfast. The meat was SO meaty and man, you could really taste how happy those animals were. Eggs set on the bottom and gooey on top. Garlicky mushrooms and door stop bread which tasted like it had been drowned in butter. But really, it's the meat that made it.
Rabo de toro
And later that day, I managed to finally discharge my 'not being a shit housemate / guy' duties and cook. Sadly, as with 'bolognese that I didn't add enough onions too so wasn't quite naturally sweet enough' and 'paella that was a little bitter either from the pith of the lemon or from the skins of hte peppers', I didn't pay enough attention to the rabo so there was a little tooooo much burn. But, I think the balance of ingredients was on point. Oh, except that you would usually make this with oxtail, not just beef...
2 onions, finely chopped
4  carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 strands (what do you call one bit of celery?) of celery, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
600g beef, chopped into bitesized chunks

In olive oil, fry the vegetables over a medium heat until nicely browned, about 15 minutes or so. Turn up the heat, add the beef and brown. 

1 tablespoon or so (I never use spoons) smoked paprika
2 tsp or so dried thyme
1 bay leaf
A third of a bottle of red wine

Add the herbs and paprika, and the wine and let simmer on a high heat for 5 mins or so. Turn the heat down to a simmer, add a wine glass of water and cover, for about an hour and a half. I would probably stir occasionally to avoid the burny bits too at this point.

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, roughly chopped
2 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
Half a bunch of parsley, roughly chopped

Add the pepper and tomatoes, and at this point I also added another wine glass of water to mitigate the burny bits situation, and simmer, uncovered, for a further 30 mins. When ready to serve, stir in the parsley and serve with bread.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Review - Mamuska, Viet Grill

Some notes on time and spreading oneself too thinly:

- It's tricky to have headspace when you're career busy and I'd forgotten about that. Still doing OK, just about
- I spend a lot more time scrolling Instagram in the mornings when career busy as if I need to seek out the lowest, easiest form of everything, including social media, in my leisure time when I'm stressed cos any thinking = just can't deal 
- Hair and face have taken a back seat once more because sleep is more important rn
- There is only so much best self to go around and deciding how to apportion it is painful
- It is surprising to me that university and its immediate aftermath (relative to a whole life, not relative to life elapsed so far) were only training wheels to being aware of and comfortable with aloneness (as distinct to loneliness)
- It is so confusing that a sense of a place / feeling / time can feel so set and then it evolves and changes without any location change to trigger it. Maybe this is why people move to the suburbs?
- Finding a way to balance the new with the old and not feeling too homesick is an adjustment, and probably only one that I'm learning about now because I'm past the cyclical 'let's buy some shiny new toys and throw away the old ones' approach
- One should apply similar principles to friends as partners re: keeping it fresh, trying, making quality time, especially if you're feeling homesick for a time
- I should get more sleep when I'm on projects so I write less maudlin blogs

I have a surprising knowledge of South London restaurants thanks to Helen Graves but living in Bow means that I rarely, if ever, made the journey. So I'm enjoying the opportunity to go to some of them five years on. Mamuska is pretty basic as a restaurant but has hit the nail on the head in terms of my favourite brand of restaurant: cheap, bustly, feels 'authentic' (whatever that means), good food. I tried restaurant bigos for the first time (richer, saltier, less fruity). Unsurprisingly, given my love of children's frozen food, the schabowsky was my favourite. But actually, this was down to the leek salad that come with it - slightly sweet and almost aniseedy? Mama's own pierogi were filled with a surprising amount of flavour given that list of crowd pleasing ingredients. Pancakes with goulash were maybe my least favourite, but that's OK because if everything was good, maybe I'm not reflecting on what the food actually tasted like enough.

Viet Grill
Trying to find somewhere to eat near work that's not too expensive, not full of city wankers, not full of people I work with that I haven't been to before is almost impossible. In fact, to be honest, I kind of have been to Viet Grill before given the number of times I've been to Keu and Cay Tre. (They're all in cahoots - and actually I use the term in cahoots because the first time I went the pal that I went with described them as being in cahoots and it's become imprinted.) And I had my most frequently ordered thing from there too - lemongrass chicken curry. Which I don't regret as it is really great and that lemony potato flavour makes me want to kiss my fingers in that an Italian 'delicioso' way. But actually, the star of the show was the piggy aubergine. It managed to be both pungent and subtle in how it balanced the acidic vinegary taste with sugar and the aubergine was so fluffy and went REALLY well with the minced pork. The papaya salad with beef was almost as well dressed and scattered with tender bits of brisket. My only regret is that they don't offer the red sea prawn curry here which I was craving.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Review - Hawksmoor

My relationship with steak: a 'kind of like but don't really get it' story
2008: Ari has her first steak, probably in a Harvester, aged 17. The novelty of eating 'white person food' makes it seem really enjoyable, but what really sticks out is the salad bar. (To this day, Ari loves the Harvester salad bar coleslaw)

2008, again: Ari makes her first steak, probably aged 17 again, with a Dijon mustard, cream and mustard sauce. Ari doesn't really know much about resting meat and how you need to cook onions for a long slow time to make anything taste good. But probably the novelty of cooking steak was enough

2010: Ari makes her first steak when drunk, aged 18, at university. It was steak sandwiches. (It was in summer, I was Pimms day drunk, I had no exams.) It was not good. Ari is much better at cooking when drunk now, and sometimes even at not getting drunk before cooking.

2011: Ari has her first fancy steak. It's at Gaucho and some corporate big dogs for some firm she has no intention of working for are paying. This was in the days before the food blog, but if she wrote about it now, she'd comment on how the side dishes were way tastier than the steak itself, and actually, this is the experience that turns her off steak for many years because who wants to chew a slab of meat until it gets boring? (There is actually something way more gross that chewing a steak reminds me of, but I'll leave that to the imagination)

2015, early: Ari ventures into steak territory once more. (I don't know why, maybe an iron deficiency leading to the craving?) She goes to Bouchon Fourchette with her pal who's recently returned from France and has rediscovered a carnivorous streak but mainly for steak. Ari doesn't drink any of the delicious red wine which her friend is really enjoying because she has a mild drinking problem and is trying to abstain.  (Abstinence did not last long. Should have had a glass of wine.) Ari is real miserable.

2015, later: Ari tries to go to Hawksmoor with aforementioned carniverous pal. It's meant to be a birthday treat. Instead, Ari has a panic attack in Bank station sparked, in the immediate term, by rush hour and not being able to navigate the exit. Something about walking down different alleys but being unable to escape seems to have a triggering effect (lol). (Obv I don't usually freak out at tube stations.) Ari cries in a Costa next to the station for a while and considers that she really needs to make some changes to her working life.

2015, later still: Ari has the first steak where she realises how people do the whole 'GRR MEAT YES I AM CAVEMAN' thing. It is a Porterhouse cut and it is so moist and soft and just ON POINT.

2016: Ari finally manages to take carnivorous pal for birthday steak, closer to her half birthday. The rump steak is, frankly, underwhelming. The chips are too salty. The mac and cheese is rich (this is a positive) but the spinach is a little waterlogged. The second cheapest wine goes down a charm. The gigantic Ferrero Rocher style pudding tips them both over into sleepy sick territory. Ari is not sold on Hawksmoor, however, she is sold on doing birthday steak as a tradition.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Review - Persepolis, Maloko

As I write this on a Friday afternoon, I am considering how much more tiring a week is when you have to be there all five days. I mean, come on. So unreasonable. Two four day weeks in a row thanks to Porto had made me forget quite how easy it is to get into a 'live for the weekend' mind set. (And by 'live for the weekend', I mean 'all I really want to do tonight / forever is destroy my body until I fall into a hole where I can drown in my own misery and there are no obligations stopping me from doing that on a Saturday'.) So, anyway, I appear to have made myself a hole in blog terms that I can't escape and segue to what I want to talk about. Which is: vegetables. After Porto, my body felt so full of the fat from that lovely pork sandwich that I just wanted to be fresh and clean and eat mildly spicy vegetarian food so I ate marrow and lentils all week and on the weekend went to TWO vegetarian restaurants.
Persepolis is undoubtedly the better of the two. Top tier meze (especially the beetroot), bouncy bread. Menemen which makes me just want to give up trying to make those things which are simple and middle eastern that taste great when you make them but pale in comparison to anyone who can actually make them, like here. Fattet (chickpea and spinach and fried bread) that was maybe slightly less good than the eggs but still incredible. I wish I could remember / describe all the flavours more distinctly. And it fed 2x people for 2x meals (even if one meal was more like pudding for dinner) for £20 which is about the best value place I've come across in London so far.
Not that Maloko was bad, just more limited. This had more of the feel of a friend who is a very good cook but can only really make pancakes. It does galettes, which (fun fact) are traditionally made of buckwheat flour, and I had one filled with different vegetables inc asparagus, spinach and tomato. Oh, and cheese! It was stuffed full, the vegetables were fresh and still crunchy as required and the water was well contained and drained so that there was no soggy pancake (gross). Basic, but fun.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Porto, the best couple holiday

One of the few ways in which boyfriends can be useful is that they make easy holiday partners. In the words of Earnest 'yeah, if you get bored you can just hold hands or have sex'. True. Plus there's the practical benefit of knowing you have a partner in crime who will follow you into an idea that you're excited about without having to do the herding cats dance to get people to book. (By the way - totally fine and reasonable for friends to not want to commit to holidays that they're not 100% on until there's significant traction.) I've been talking about going to Porto for the best part of a year and, having come a breath away from booking after doing all the availability admin, it all fell apart and I gave up on the idea with a sigh. But then my new boyfriend-not-boyfriend, another largely straight girl, stepped in and saved the day and I have to say, this is the best couple holiday I've been on. We didn't hold hands or have sex even once and didn't get bored after 3.5 days!

We did, however, miss our outgoing flight. I don't want to bore you with the story of how it's not our fault but it definitely wasn't because we were drinking prosecco in a Wetherspoons like wankers, it was down to easyjet failing to meet our reasonably formed expectations about boarding times and trust me when I say I'll do a Bennett Talking Heads style modern day Lady of Letters thing until I get the money back or I get sent to prison. But, we handled it like champs on the day, and got to Porto only a couple of hours later with some BA luxe to help to help swallow the 'oh God what the fuck what real life adults miss flights?'

As we got to Porto, it turned out our Airbnb host actually thought we were arriving 12 hours later (in the middle of the night) and wasn't in the city. At this point, I got a sense of dread of 'shit, missed flight, can't get into apartment, what if this holiday is doomed?' But, to pass the time, we went to Casa Guedes to get their famed pork sandwich. For around seven euros, we got two of the most delicious pork stuffed sandwiches I've had. I don't know what they did to this but it was gently flavoured with fennel and so deliciously fatty that the drips on the table congealed almost immediately. Sounds gross but was amazing. It was a strong contender for the best meal of the holiday and set the pitch in terms of great, inexpensive food.
So, we ate a pork sandwich then ambled out to the beautiful Harry Potter bookshop. Now you will see the theme of the holiday: ambling, mild culture (35%), food and wine (65%). The ideal balance. We walked through the town with the intention of going to the Casa da Musica to see some film music, not realising that, much like the Barbican, there is not much going on around it and we were stuck in a City-esque dead zone. But a search later ('restaurants near Casa da Musica) and we ended up in Casa Agricola that seemed to be full of locals. We both went for the special, prawn panade, and by the end of it, think we were both happy to never ever see any prawn or garlic or bread or food ever again. I felt completely out prawned . Yet we found room for pudding - pillows of puff pastry filled with almond custard. And, in true couple holiday form, by the end of it, we had lost all appetite for bar hopping and decided to go home and lie down instead.
The next morning we were still full. But a long old walk down to the Serralves museum and its well put together garden, we wanted both lunch but also were happy to revisit prawns. We stumbled upon Casa Marlindo which we chose for its well designed logo. Inside, we got several small plates including prawns, squid, chickpea salad and tomato rice. That bread! And pink bubbles. Despite what I said about being prawned out, I could (and did) soak up that garlicky prawn juice with that bread until the cows come home. (Side note - the Serralves garden farm has an idyllic set of farm animals just hangin' out together, it's very cute.)
After that, we went for a fun cable car trip down to the port cellars. Missed the port tour, but had three delicious Taylor's ports. Can't tell you anything about their origins or what make them ports though. Some time, many drinks, a debate about vomiting and a red bull altered night's sleep later, it was Sunday. Everywhere on my offline map was closed and we  ended up in Nata, a Portuguese chain, where we had the perfectly structured hangover lunch: fresh juice, salty sardine and red pepper sandwich, custard tart and espresso. This lunch served as a reminder that there's no need to be listy because even the worst thing (missing flight) is fine and not planning means unexpected fun which has its own value. Equally, it could just mean that Porto is a great place to eat and drink and you can't go wrong. A vertiginous tower climb that tipped me back to 'ergh so hungover please kill me' meant that we wandered home to give me an opportunity to nap. We went via a charity shop where we both got great new coats.
A nap, a visit to the Cathedral and a walk along some stairs later, we went to the river front. This is where the tourist traps are - but still, the tourist trap we settled on had great service and I had the first salt cod of the trip here in little balls and they hit the spot like the right on emoji. Then came the low light of the trip of a horrible man getting all gross on our walk to find a bar. The bar we eventually found that I can't remember the name of but could probably navigate back to was very date and way too expensive to consider in London. Yet here we had two very refreshing Porto tonics for ten euros.
And then we ambled home to a very traditional Portuguese restaurant which was full of nandos chicken. And by that, I don't mean peri peri chicken - I mean little trinkets of the Nandos logo which, as it turns out, is just some sort of Portuguese emblem. We went full hog here - salt cod to start, veal, pudding. The pudding, a crème caramel and a panacotta were where this won. I think the restaurant was called O Escondidinho but I can't be sure. Anyway, it was a short roll away from home.
We were very keen to get a francescinha, Porto's specialty sandwich, before we left but we were more keen not to miss the flight. But, as a francescinha is a cheesy, meaty sandwich, we figured that not having the best example of a cheesy meaty sandwich was a fine compromise. So in the airport, we chowed down on a slightly bitter but still delicious gravy soaked cheese and many meat layered sandwich. And we didn't miss the flight!