Archive for November 2008


Wahaca

November 26th, 2008 — 8:30pm

Wahaca Table

I’d heard so many mixed opinions about Wahaca. Back in March, it won ‘Best Cheap Place to Eat‘ award in the OFM but then I read mixed reviews and heard negative comments from friends and bloggers. Wahaca was opened by the 2005 Masterchef winner, Thomasina Myers dishing up Mexican market food – not up-market mexican food, which is what I keep writing. I took a long time to get there, but a few weeks ago a friend and I met at the market for a mid-week dinner.

Wahaca Menu

First of all, I must mention that Wahaca has the strangest and most convoluted approach to people getting fed that I have ever come across. When you arrive, there will most likely be a queue, out the door and then down the stairs and into the restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind queueing (I am British after all) and I realise that often these queues move fast and are a good sign (think Tayyabs). When we get to the stairs stage however, a gentleman with a clipboard arrives and asks how many would like to eat. I (obviously), say two and he writes my name down on a list, telling me to come back in half an hour.

My friend arrives to meet me at this point, fresh from work and wet with rain, i.e. in need of a drink and some grub. I bring her up to speed and so we go for a drink nearby. When we return to the restaurant, the clipboard informs me we can now queue jump and so we do. This is a bit uncomfortable however, as the other people in the queue haven’t yet had their briefing and so are shooting us suspicious and disapproving glances.

Margarita

I am glad to have my name located on the clipboard and we are ushered to sit down. Hurrah! Not at a table though (don’t be silly), it’s the waiting area! OK, so we sit and we talk and my friend gives me at least another three restaurants to add to the the list*. We are waiting for so long that we start getting twitchy and the clipboard notices and checks to confirm we want a table for 4/6/8 (I can’t remember), ‘no! (in unison), ‘just two!’ and with this, he finally beckons us in, much to the dismay of the two ladies behind us, whom he shoos back so that we can take their place.

Tostados

Once inside, Wahaca has a good buzz about it. The mixture of music and voices is loud but creates a great atmosphere, the interior is modern, a bit canteeny but in a a colourful and happy kind of way. We sit down and are joined by a waitress who tell us that the dishes we order will arrive ‘as and when’ – we will not be getting everything we order at the same time, we will get it whenever each individual dish is ready. I start to think about the production line system they have going on here – I can visualise the Wahaca employees, whipping up batches of tostadas and burritos, passing them down to a holding area, where they sit, expectantly, waiting to be ordered. Numbed from the hassle of getting in, we smile and order margaritas.

I’d already looked at the menu (during the day, natch) and had clocked the hibiscus margarita, so I ordered that and my friend the tamarind. These margaritas are really very good actually. In the end I preferred the tamarind and my friend the hibiscus so for the next round we swap orders. The waitress gives us the wrong ones, so we swap again.

Quesadilla

So, the food? Well, it depends – on what you order. If you opt for the dishes that are most ubiquitous at a Mexican restaurant, such as burritos, enchiladas – hell, anything beef based then you are in for an oily experience. I find this odd and wonder if this is my ignorance of Mexican food. Is it really supposed to be that oily? But then that is of no consequence really, bottom line is – not pleasant to eat. If you order the ‘lighter’ dishes, such as the fish tostadas, then I think it makes some good eatin. Is it really good enough though, to justify the hassle?

I ordered the cactus tostadas (great texture but a bit flavourless, still really enjoyable), the chorizo and potato quesadilla (delicious) and something beefy (oily as hell). My friend also found her cow-based dish swimming in the stuff. A green side salad was fine, it came with seeds, which I like and everything is accompanied by red and green salsas, which are really good actually, subtly punchy. We are too full for churros (I still wonder if this is possible?).

Wahaca

Throughout the night, I occasionally notice the apparently declining mental state of the clipboard, as he darts frantically from table to queue, to waiting area, to table, to queue etc. The rest of the staff seem busy and move around quickly, but they actually seem truly relaxed, like they are all enjoying some sort of holiday camp. The clipboard seems to be stressed enough for all of them. I wonder how long he’ll last?

So I’m mixed about Wahaca. On the one hand, the things I liked, I really liked. On the other, the staples are way too oily – imagine having to brief your dining partner/s on the oil problem beforehand – this would make for some tedious conversation I’m sure. Mostly though, it’s the entrance fiasco, which might be alright on a relaxed summer evening when the sun is shining and all is right with the world, but not so much on a rainy night in October when you’re aching for things to be easy and want to spend maximum time catching up with a friend (with whom you recently re-connected after, what, 10 years?! and she didn’t mind my taking photos). The way I’m feeling right now about Wahaca though, next summer will probably be about the time I can face going back….

Wahaca

Wahaca
66 Chandos Place
Covent Garden
London
WC2N 4HG
coventgarden@wahaca.co.uk
0207 240 1883

*I keep an ever growing list of restaurants, shops and other food related destinations as long as my arm, probably longer.

**This weeks Fast Food Stories is delayed, by a week! Largely due to me forgetting my camera and iphone pictures being rubbish.

***Wahaca have just opened a new branch at the Westfield shopping centre and, when I passed by a couple of weeks ago, it was completely empty. If you want an opportunity to judge the food independently of the entrance hassle, then this could be it.

Wahaca on Urbanspoon

19 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Good Oil

November 24th, 2008 — 10:13pm


Photo courtesy of Chris Osburnhere’s his photostream on Flickr

Last week I was rather chuffed to be dining with film (and now Good Oil) producers Henry Braham and Glynis Murray along with fellow bloggers and London foodie folk. We all gathered for some delicious home cooked grub, (courtesy of Braham and Murray’s charming son, Ben) – each course showing off the versatility of this splendid ingredient, squeezed, oozed and (cold) pressed from hemp seeds (no, it won’t get you high).

The oil is ridiculously healthy, seriously sustainable to produce and boasts a delicious, unique flavour. The predominant taste is nutty, although not overpoweringly so. You can basically use it just like an olive oil, which is exactly what I intend to do over the next few weeks and, most likely, beyond. You see, the taste isn’t the only good thing Good Oil has going on, it’s packin the essential fatty acids, Omega 3, 6 and 9, contains half the saturated fat of olive oil and zero trans fats – now that’s just showing off.


Pea and pecorino crostini

We kicked off the eating with some pea and pecorino crostini, a rather happy shade of green, smooth and chunky at the same time, fresh and slightly cheesy, with a gorgeous nuttiness from the oil.


Good Oil mash

Next up was a delicious venison and cranberry casserole served with Good Oil mash – I loved the little bursts of sweetness from the cranberries all soaking into the spuds. The oil made the mash feel wonderfully virtuous – I visualised the goodness going in, feeling healthier by the second.

Cheese, bread and salad arrived shortly afterwards and I wasted no time in drizzling some of the oil onto the blue and Cornish Yarg, which I can highly recommend. To finish, we feasted on vanilla ice cream drizzled with, you’ve guessed it – some more of that oil.


Ice cream with Good Oil

Strangely, I wasn’t the least bit sceptical about this combination and I am pleased to tell you with confidence that it works, it really works! If that meal doesn’t show you the versatility of Good Oil then I don’t know what will – although I’m sure to be cooking up a few ideas over the coming weeks. This morning I tried out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s suggestion of sprinkling it on toast and very nice it was too.


Cheese, bread, salad and Good Oil

It was lovely to hear the story behind the oil – from the tragedy of the foot and mouth crisis, through the loss of entire crops and even a visit from the old bill – “growing a big field of hemp are we?” Braham and Murray have spent eight years refining the flavour of the oil – this is not the musty, dusty old bottles of hemp oil you used to see in a darkened corner of the health food shop, all weird and overpowering (hold your nose and swallow, it’s good for you!). It’s always a pleasure to spend time with people who truly believe in their product, and that is certainly the case here. I shall be welcoming Good Oil into my kitchen as will my fellow diners I am sure. All seated around the long wooden table, we couldn’t help commenting on how it felt like one big Good Oil family!


Henry Braham, Epicurienne and the dogs

Check out the Good Oil website for more information about the products and history. There’s also the Good Oil facebook page for titbits and recipes (you can even request a free sample).

10 comments » | Blogging Events, Products

Book Review: The Frugal Cook by Fiona Beckett

November 19th, 2008 — 9:26pm

Doesn’t that stew look comforting? And wouldn’t it feel even more so if it was easy on the wallet? Well, get ready for a big old hug on the inside, because (award-winning) food writer Fiona Beckett has just released her new book, ‘The Frugal Cook‘ and very well timed it is too. As a long-time reader of Fiona’s blog, I was keen to see how her ideas had come together, to share them with you and, importantly, to cook something from the book and tell you about it.

Many of us may be watching those pennies right now but the message here is one we would do well to keep in mind even in times of greater prosperity, the reason being this – there’s some damn good eatin’ to be had in those cheaper cuts, leftovers and general all-round stretching. Who can argue with the idea of squeezing every last drop of flavour out of your ingredients?

Fiona offers guidance for cooking cheaper cuts of meat, like the ‘scrag-end’ of lamb called for in this stew recipe (that’s neck chops to you and me). Given the right treatment, these unassuming chunks of meat can add real depth of flavour to a dish. Here for example, they are first simmered to make a stock before being de-boned and the meat added back to the pot.

You get all the unctuousness from the fat and bone marrow and, cooked together with some one-pot friendly veggies such as leeks, carrot and potato, you end up with something truly warming and flavourful (for the next two days, to feed two hungry people). I replaced parsley with mint and thyme with rosemary as those are the herbs I had to hand – you could similarly substitute vegetables (I added some mushrooms that were threatening to grow fungus of their own) and the next day we even threw in some dumplings. How fantastically old school.

Not all the recipes are time consuming slow-bubblers, of course and I have some earmarked already – warm cauliflower, egg and anchovy salad among them. Fiona says she loves anchovies and so do I. It also pleases me to find she loves ingredients such as prunes, kidneys, and rabbit – it seems we have a lot in common. There is one small thing we disagree on though and that’s the vegetable delivery box. Fiona says they don’t work for her (fair enough) while I, on the other hand, couldn’t live without mine and have absolutely no problem ripping through it. Just proves great minds can’t always think alike! That, and the whole ‘portion control’ section. She’s right though, you shouldn’t all be as greedy as me. Not being as greedy as me will definitely save you money.

Other top tips for slashing your food bill can be found in sections addressing sourcing, stretching, foraging, bargaining, storing, disposing and more – Fiona’s covered the lot. People, parents, friends – if there is a student in your life this seriously must be a Christmas gift no-brainer? Eating well while keeping food costs down (when all they do is keep rising) is a skill, and one which Fiona has clearly mastered. That aside, there is another important point here I think – that of returning to a way of eating somewhat lost over the years. Sourcing carefully, cutting down on food waste, using up leftovers and, as a result, thinking a little more creatively, all makes for meals which are not only rewarding for the soul (and the stomach) but for the wallet as well.

The Frugal Cook is available from Amazon
Fiona also writes www.beyondbakedbeans.com (for more advice on how to manage your food costs).

13 comments » | Books

Sandwiches and The City #1.

November 14th, 2008 — 12:05pm


Image created at www.wordle.net

Those who know me well will be privy to my obsession. I heart sandwiches. Not just a bit, not just a regular appreciation – I am really and truly smitten. Heck, I even eat them for breakfast. Most days. I have been meaning to start this little series for a good six months now – if nothing else, it gives me a way to justify my abnormal consumption levels.

For a sarnie geek like me, London glistens with endless opportunities to find the perfect arrangement of things-in-bread and I have wasted no time in seeking them out since moving here. I have munched my way all over town with the insatiability of a carb addicted pacman and I ain’t about to stop yet. Well, I almost did once, when I thought I had a wheat intolerance – I mean, can you imagine? Turns out it was just a mild overdose.

So, if there’s anyone who knows the building blocks of a decent sanger, it’s me and I consider it my duty to disseminate this information to the masses. Here’s how we’re gonna roll. Each sandwich will be rated on a number of characteristics which must all work in beautiful harmony if the whole is to become more than the sum of its parts.

Outside
Bread: SO important. There are hundreds of varieties available, some gorgeous artisan specimens among them. We no longer have to settle for ‘plastic’ white sliced ‘bread’, tragically soggy from sweating in a plastic packet for three days.

Inside
Flavour: Pretty self-explanatory this one.
Quality: Ditto.
Quantity: Not always about the deep-fill, sometimes less is more.
Textures: The key to a perfect sarnie – s’all in the contrasts y’all.
Spreads/Dressings/Sauces: Or not.
Assembly: Prepared with the appropriate dose of love? Layering is also important (no, really).

Particulars
Value for Money: Extra credit crunch with that madam?
Service: To be fair, I’m not going to be there long but it still counts.

Overall Score: I shall employ the tried and tested, ‘out of ten’ system.


SATC #1: Luca’s Bakery – Serrano Ham, Manchego and Quince Jelly on Ciabatta.

Where: Luca’s Bakery. They are opening in East Dulwich soon but at present operate from a trestle table outside Moxon’s fishmongers, said table groaning under the weight of luscious baked treats.
When: 12th November, lunchtime, hopped off the 185 from Lewisham especially to see them.

Outside
Bread: A fine slab of gorgeous, airy, floury ciabatta. I get flour all over my face. They score extra marks for generously drizzling with olive oil.

Inside
Flavour: Serrano ham – gorgeously melty flavourful fat, slightly sharp Manchego and then sweet quince jelly. A hint of grassy olive oil in the background. Pretty damn good. I’ve not eaten quince jelly in a sandwich before but I will certainly be doing so in the future. There are also leaves, which are pleasantly peppery.
Quality: Really rather good.
Quantity: I could take a little more ham, but only in a greedy way, the cheese is not overdone and I think the amount of jelly is spot on.
Textures: Good. Soft ham, softish to crumblyish cheese, squishy jelly and then a good bite from the leaves.
Spreads/Dressings/Sauces: The olive oil works a treat. I suspect it is Greek.
Assembly: Well stacked. They have prepared the sandwich as one long ciabatta and then cut into suitable wedges. I like this. I visualise them making it.


Let’s take a look inside…

Particulars
Value for Money: I didn’t note the exact price (I promise to do so in future) but I think it was about £3. I think this is excellent value for such a beautifully flavoured, sizeable and quality sandwich.
Service: With a smile. They are such lovely friendly ladies. I tell them I can’t wait for the bakery to open and purchase a macaroon. I ask for pistachio which turns out to be coconut. I don’t mind.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

(A ‘very good’ sandwich, not a life changer but an extra half point for introducing me to the idea of using the quince jelly. I am a strict marker – or a ‘hawk’ as teachers say).

18 comments » | Sandwiches and The City

Pumpkin and Chickpea Burgers.

November 9th, 2008 — 3:15pm

I orginally intended to post these spiced pumpkin patties for Halloween but the first time I made them, the ratio of pumpkin to chickpea was off and they were too mushy. I wanted a bit more texture and nutty flavour from the chickpeas and so had to hold off until I made them again. This time I cracked it by upping the chickpea content and leaving some of them whole which gave the burgers a lot more bite.

Since making the switch from canned chickpeas to dried, I literally cannot get enough of them. The difference in flavour and texture is staggering. I always thought the humble chickpea was a bit bland and boring, having absolutely no idea what I was missing out on. And really, it’s not that much hassle. OK, so it is (mainly the cooking time), but I think the rewards are well worth it.

You could use any orange-fleshed squash for this recipe – you can see that I didn’t use a ‘traditional’ pumpkin this time around, basically because I couldn’t find one – and I have no idea whether the squash I used was even grown in this country to be quite honest – I know, I know, my bad. I was desperate, desperate I tell you!

I’ve subtly spiced the burgers with a touch of cumin, coriander and a scant teaspoon of smoked paprika, which is great with the sweet pumpkin flavour. Be careful though, not to overdo it with this spice, it’s very easy to sprinkle too far and end up with a smokyness that completely overwhelms everything. For herbage, I tried using coriander the first time around and then basil and parsley the second, both were delicious. Some onion and garlic and they’re good to go, couldn’t be simpler. Chuck everything in a blender then shape as desired. Healthy, easy (pumpin carving aside, I really need new knives) and so satisfying.

To serve, I topped them with tzatziki (yes, I categorised this post as ‘vegan’ so just skip this or use an alternative) and a quick salsa made from tomatoes, red onion and lime juice. A nice bit of tang and crunch to contrast the soft and sweet burger. One small bit of advice though – despite using a beautifully crafted and truly delicious baguette for the bun, I actually wanted something a bit more wholesome and, ideally, seeded – alas, I could not find anything. I recommend this option if it’s your thing as I think it would complement the burgers much better.

So, there we have it. A Halloween recipe that is 9 days late. Good job these burgers are far too good to eat just once a year anyway.

Pumpkin and Chickpea Burgers
(makes 6 burgers)

500g cooked chickpeas
300g roasted orange fleshed squash (I like it roasted, which you can do while getting the other ingredients ready. Just splash with oil, season with salt and pepper and stick in the oven until tender – mine only took about 20 minutes)
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
A good handful herbs of your choice (basil, parsley and coriander all work well), roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

– Add everything to a blender, apart from 150g of the chickpeas. Blend everything together until well mixed, then stir in the whole chickpeas. Adjust the seasoning then shape into burgers.
– Fry the burgers in a non-stick pan in a small amount of oil until golden on both sides.

22 comments » | Healthy, Main Dishes, Pulses, Sandwiches, Vegan, Vegetables

Favourites.

November 6th, 2008 — 5:51pm

If I had to choose a ‘favourite meal’, steak with salsa verde would most definitely be up there – top 3. A well-hung and carefully sourced piece of meat – dark, flavourful, flesh well marbled with fat – cooked just how I like it, soft, meltingly tender and rare. The meat is sliced, laid out with a minimal amount of fussiness and then drizzled with the piquant green sauce.

I remember the first time I tasted salsa verde. A perfect summers day and one of my mum’s perfect summer meals. Roast chicken, slathered with herbs and butter – crispy skin and succulent flesh within. Broad beans with bacon and herby vinaigrette (this one) and new potatoes, glistening and flecked green with the salsa. I still make that meal to this day and I know without doubt it was important in cementing my obsession with food. I still like to eat in the same way, long and lingering meals, picking at the scraps as we sip wine and chatter. Well, that’s what I do anyway, Chris wolfs it down like someone’s going to take it off him…

As much as I adore the salsa as a coating for hot potatoes (sometimes with salami), I also love the way it cuts right through the richness of the steak here and boy, what a hunk o steak it was. Yesterday was a special day for us, an anniversary (one of two on consecutive days) and so we decided to mark the occasion thus. Luckily, steak with salsa verde is not only one of my favourite meals, it is also now a hit with my favourite person. And so yesterday was a day of favourites, a celebration of time spent together, a fair portion of that time spent eating/talking about eating/planning what or where to eat.

Just before I go, a couple more things. Firstly, I didn’t let Halloween pass by without marking it with a recipe, it’s just that the recipe didn’t turn out quite right on the first attempt. Second time around though, it was delish and so I will endeavour to blog it over the weekend. And while we’re on the topic of Halloween, I received a little ‘Trick or Treat’ bag in the post last week. It was from a Twitter friend, Jess aka @lovelychaos, who promised to send some home grown chillies to the winner of The Tipped Chilli Cook Off, and we all know who that was don’t we?

Aren’t they pretty? I was very touched by the gesture and so I’ve actually planted the seeds from one of the smaller ones in an attempt to continue speading the chilli love. Thank you, Jess. I will let you all know what happened to the rest of them when I post that Halloween recipe.

Finally, if you want to see me and lots of other bloggers cooking up a storm in The Kitchen at Parson’s Green, watch this video. I can’t believe I revealed my gluttonous nature in such a blatant outburst around the middle of the film!

Salsa Verde

Small handful each capers and cornichons
1-2 cloves garlic
5-6 anchovy fillets (brown, salty kind)
Large handful flatleaf parsley, leaves picked
Slightly smaller handful each basil and mint
1 level tablespoon mustard (I used wholegrain but dijon is better)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 tablespoons olive oil
Pepper

– The key is to chop everything really finely, then put in a bowl before adding the mustard, pepper and vinegar. Then stir in the oil. If you find it too tangy or have a less than great red wine vinegar, try adding a little sugar.

18 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat, Video

Perfect Saturday in London: The Roundup

November 3rd, 2008 — 11:43am

Dancing at Notting Hill Carnival, 2007

A few weeks back, Krista from Londonelicious called for posts from fellow Londoners, the challenge being to outline their very own perfect Saturday in the capital. I loved this challenge, as not only did I get to think about my favourite places (although I agonised when it came to choosing) but I also added some new destinations (mostly food related) to my list (yes, there is a list). If you are visiting London, some of the best foodie and cultural treats are amongst this roundup, so come embrace this fantastic city and eat, drink and be merry like a local!

Firstly, here’s Krista’s original post, where the whole thing kicked off.

ML at SPAstic, Tales from a London Spa takes you around South Kensington and Notting Hill for a culture-filled day that ends in Holland Park.

Su-Lin at Tamarind & Thyme gets some culture AND shopping in as she trolls central London, with the riches she imagines.

Two entries from Mini-et-moi, a great site for modern mums in London. Sarah takes in Marylebone and The London Transport Museum while Michelle explores the South Bank, tots in tow.

Gourmet Chick hits all the foodie haunts–Ottolenghi, high tea at The Ritz, and Borough Market.

Danielle at Bloody Brilliant starts with a full English and then heads east to explore Brick Lane and Spitalfields.

Over at Gourmet Larder, Gregory  begins his day in Borough and then works his way south through Clapham and Vauxhall.

Leah from Curiosity and The Cupcake arrives at Broadway Market bright and early and then enjoys a leisurely stroll through Victoria Park and east London.

Christine over at If Music Be The Food of Love has a musical slant to her day as she explores Hampstead and hits the town with her idol.

Blogger Priyanka begins at Cafe au Lait in Brixton and ends her day at Meson De Felipe and The Beehive in Borough.

Another blogger choosing to start around Borough Market. Helen at Food Stories kicks off her Saturday with a visit to Tower Bridge, wanders over to Borough and then ends her day with a visit to Shunt and by checking out Dinner in The Sky.

Lizzie of Hollow Legs is very busy geographically and takes us through Blackheath, North Greenwich, Trafalgar Square, Belgravia, Shoreditch, Whitechapel, and then back to Shoreditch.

Charles of London guide Tipped.co.uk and his own blog, Grumblemouse, spends his perfect day in Islington, The City, Borough Market, Greenwich, and Shoreditch.

And finally, new-to-the-scene Liz (of Liz Does London, not to be confused with Lizzie above) hits Chelsea, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, and Parson’s Green.

I think that’s everyone. Thanks to all the great bloggers who contributed their perfect Saturday. Please feel free to republish this post on your own blog and add your own perfect Saturday…in London, or elsewhere.

5 comments » | Blogging Events

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