Archive for November 2009

Ozzie’s Cafe, Peckham

November 29th, 2009 — 12:43pm

Last week I was invited to a free screening at Peckham Multiplex. The film, called Consume Peckham, was a project by students from Chelsea Art College and included 18 short films about local businesses and the people behind them (part of the I Love Peckham 2009 Development Project). The aim was to explore the complex link between culture and commercialism. Apparently the students were pretty disappointed when they found out they were coming to Peckham (as one shopkeeper said to me just yesterday, “we just can’t get away from Del Boy, and it wasn’t even filmed here”)  but soon became smitten with the warmth of the people and addictive buzzing energy of Rye Lane.

The short films focused on businesses like the many food shops, the local radio station, The Bussey Building (full of churches and artists), and my personal favourite, Ozzie’s Cafe. I’ve walked past the place nearly every day but never considered going in. The woman sat next to me in the cinema (Eileen Conn, the inspiring force behind Peckham Residents’ Network), told me she eats there all the time (egg and chips), and when I paid a visit on Saturday morning, I found people from all walks of life: students, pensioners, and of course, the hardcore regulars. One such long timer was interviewed by the students and caused much mirth in the cinema with his poetry recitations. I couldn’t help but feel that some of these people were lost souls, anchored to the community by a place like Ozzie’s. The students describe how, “customers come to sit and enjoy the company of others without even speaking a word.”

Peckham is often a place of division between the people. One of the most striking things about the film was how it so clearly portrayed the divide between the white, middle class residents and the large proportion of people (many Nigerian), who have moved here from other countries and who make up the majority of the population. Most of the well-to-do local art students for example will be found in Bar Story, Peckham’s trendiest bar, with one lamenting, “there is nowhere else to go.” We noted the same predominantly white audience in the screening and I commented that the same was apparent at Frank’s pop-up bar.

Ozzie’s is different. Ozzie’s is the kind of place everyone feels comfortable. This is the role of the local caff: all-welcoming, no pretensions, no frills, no-one hurrying you to leave. All of human life is here. The food at Ozzie’s is pretty rubbish to be honest – questionable mystery meat bangers, tinned mushrooms, cheap juice, you get the idea – but then that really isn’t the point. Places like this are part of a routine, ‘the poetic and mundane details of the everyday.’ They remind us that the world keeps turning, the caff keeps opening and life goes on, no matter what happens in individual lives, and that can be a very comforting thought.

8 comments » | Peckham

A Swift Lunch at Needoo Grill

November 27th, 2009 — 1:49pm

When I found myself in Whitechapel one weekday lunchtime, it seemed only right to nip into Tayyabs for a pile of sizzling meat. Unfortunately, I  ran out of time and ended up reluctantly skulking to my appointment, tummy grumbling loudly, cursing the grill Gods under my breath. Later that day though, when trying to find my way back onto the High Street, I stumbled upon Needoo Grill quite by accident,  nodded a little apology towards the heavens and sailed straight in, cheesy grin, eyes fixed firmly on the prize.

The restaurant is owned by a former manager of Tayyabs, and you’ll find many familiar dishes on the menu: lamb chops, dry meat and punjabi tinda for example. Not wanting to engage in a snore-a-thon comparison with Tayyabs however, I steered well clear and ordered Thursday’s daily special (advertised as a kofta – came as koftas with hard boiled eggs in a sauce), an aubergine dahl, plus a garlic naan to scoop it all up – a change from my usual default choice of roti. The waiter tappy tap tapped it into his nifty electronic ordering pad and 10 minutes later the food was in front of me.

The lamb koftas themselves were excellent: very dense and finely minced, yet juicy, and deftly spiced – each flavour distinct – the main players of cumin and coriander didn’t overpower the sweet meat. The eggs were like, er, hard boiled eggs but the main let down was the sauce, being as it was outrageously oily. As I spooned it onto my plate an orange slick burst forth taking out everything in its path. The smooth sauce of puréed onions, garlic and tomatoes was pleasant but slightly muddy and inaccessible anyway, hidden beneath the impenetrable viscous layer. I picked the meatballs out and left the rest behind as it was, quite frankly, inedible.

The dahl by contrast was a triumph and easily one of the best I’ve ever eaten; silky, smoky, slender baby aubergines melted in the mouth, as did the sweet lentils, yielding to a smooth, spicy paste with the slightest pressure. I wallowed in the layers of spicing and rejoiced in the subtle escalation of chilli fire and depth of sweet, toasted garlic. The dish was completed by an intriguing lemony perfume, which I suspect may be imparted by simmering lemon segments with the lentils, as in Simon Majumdar’s family recipe: Life Saving Dahl (LSD), which I can also highly recommend. The result is a subtle fragrance rather than the harsh acidity you get from adding fresh juice at the end of cooking.

The atmosphere in Needoo has much in common with its nearby inspiration: sizzling, clanging, clattering and banter bring the place alive. The interior designers have come right from the Tayyabs school of bright coloured panels and neon lighting. A Bollywood movie blared loud and proud from a wall-mounted TV, staff members taking turns to watch a portion as they scooped up mouthfuls of lunchtime curry. It is the kind of place where you feel totally at ease taking lunch for one.

The problem with dining alone though, is that one can only reasonably order so much. I thought two dishes plus bread seemed enough, seriously doubting I could finish much more given the nature of the beast: rich, meaty and carb bolstered. I was right. The dahl was the kind of dish you crave for weeks afterwards and order on every visit thereafter, while the kofta special was an oleaginous insult. I am, quite frankly, confused; a return visit I Needoo.

Needoo Grill
87 New Road
E1 1HH
0207 247 0648

Needoo Grill on Urbanspoon

6 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Earl Grey and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

November 24th, 2009 — 8:02am

Too cold for ice cream? Never! I’d rather crank up the heating and jumper myself up to Michelin Man level than stop eating the cold stuff during winter months. After a moderately successful attempt at curbing my previous (and frankly quite disturbing) level of consumption, I’ve relapsed and bought an ice cream maker. All that  freezing, mixing, freezing rubbish is now a distant memory; the thing has powers of mystical magical wonderment. Milk, cream and custard are transformed into the smoothest of operators.

As a child, the practice of eating ice cream for me was a ritualistic one. I would scurry off to a quiet corner and perform a weird routine of  mashing and stirring to just the right consistency, then using the back of my spoon to form it into peaks before finally devouring each at record speed; I’ve had my fair share of brain freezes and then some. Back then, my weapon of choice was strawberry or Neapolitan but now I’ve come to favour more adult flavours (makes sense) and I’m pleased to report that I can eat it in the normal manner. A boozy rum ‘n’ raisin floats my boat, as does a skilfully balanced lemon sorbet or even a far-out candied bacon affair.

Sally Butcher’s earl grey ice cream with Iranian chickpea sweets is top of the list*, and here I’ve given it a citrus twist with some lemon verbena kindly given to me by the rarest of tea ladies, Henrietta Lovell, who advised me to add just a pinch to my cuppa. I wasn’t sure how the dried version would work in an ice cream so cautiously added a  teaspoon infused with each teabag. The resulting flavour was creamed bergamot with a subtle lift of lemon freshness. I ate it for breakfast today.

A bit of practical advice on method before I head to the freezer for another fix: when heating the mixture for the second time, make sure to stay with it and stir. Don’t wander off or be tempted to turn up the heat too much as I have done on several occasions – the eggs will scramble and your mix will be ruined. I did it again just yesterday.

Earl Grey and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream (adapted from Persia in Peckham by Sally Butcher).

150ml strong earl grey tea (I used 2 teabags, sorry Henrietta), brewed with 2 tablespoons of dried lemon verbena and then strained. If you don’t have lemon verbena, use a  strip of lemon peel, adding it to the pan with the milk, cream and tea.
150ml each full fat milk, single cream and whipping cream
1 strip lemon peel or 2 teaspoons dried lemon verbena
3 egg yolks
110g caster sugar

Put the tea, single cream and milk into a pan and bring to a simmer, then whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until they thicken and pale. Remove the milk mixture from the heat (discard the lemon peel if using), then whisk it into the egg mix.

Put the whole lot back onto a gentle heat until it thickens, stirring very regularly. On no account should you let this boil, otherwise the eggs will scramble. Set it aside to cool with a dampened circle of greaseproof paper on the top, to stop a skin forming.
When cool, either churn in an ice cream maker, adding the whipping cream towards the end of churning, or pour into a freezer-proof container, then cover it and freeze until half frozen. At this point, scoop it into a bowl, then whisk up the whipping cream and fold it into the ice cream. Put it back into the freezer until it is of ice cream consistency. You can repeat this as often as you can be bothered, to reduce the amount of crystals in the finished ice cream. Or, buy an ice cream maker and live happily ever after.

* sounds weird I know but the chickpea sweets are incredible – you can buy them in Iranian shops like Sally’s or make them by her recipe below. I’ve never actually used this recipe myself, preferring to buy them.

Chickpea Shortbread/Sweets

50g caster sugar
110g Iranian chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
50g unsalted butter
Crushed nibbed pistachios

Sift the dry ingredients together on a flat, clean surface, then work in the butter with the tips of your fingers. When the mixture starts holding together, roll it into little chickpea shapes (or make into whatever shape you fancy) and put them on a sheet of grease-proof paper on a baking tray. Bake for about 10 minutes at gas 2/150C and allow to cool. Sprinkle with the crushed pistachio.

The shop bought ones usually contain saffron apparently but Sally’s version obviously does not. Do what you will.

22 comments » | Desserts, Ice Cream

More Sichuan Cooking

November 17th, 2009 — 10:35pm

Sometimes there is only one thing capable of cheering me up and that is an afternoon of uninterrupted cooking. Since I twigged that I can have a go at making Sichuan food at home (duh), rarely a week has passed when I’ve not been drawn to its hot, numbing intensity. I’m now happily chomping my way through some classic recipes from what is currently my preferred resource: Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery.

This dish of ‘man and wife meat slices’ or ‘fu qi fei pan’, traditionally includes a mixture of offal (‘fei pan’ translates as ‘lung slices’) but unfortunately, I had chosen to cook it on the afternoon of The Great Offal Shortage of SE London – a thorough scouring of no less than three butcher’s shops turned up not a morsel. I followed FD’s advice to use just stewing steak in one piece. The beefy hunk was simmered gently in aromatic stock – sweet with yellow rock sugar (melted to deep caramel brown in a wok first) and fragrant with spices – star anise, cloves and Sichuan pepper, amongst others. Once cooked and cooled completely, the meat is sliced, then laid out on a bed of celery and adorned with seasonings: chilli oil, soy sauce, sesame seeds and peanuts.

Two hours later I was lost in the scent of anise and beef when I suddenly came to, realising I’d taken my eye off the ball and overcooked it; the meat was dry. I kicked myself briefly then engaged in an emergency spooning of cooking liquor over meat, which seemed to soothe, restore and re-juice. The broth even paid back a double dose of love the next day, as a base for an outrageously hot noodle soup.

We ate it with this fiery cucumber salad (I’m dependent) and some steamed aubergines which were, sadly, practically inedible. I used the small, slender variety but found them incredibly bitter and in need of a good salting; our faces puckered inside out and the plate was hastily pushed aside. The dipping sauce was, teasingly, a definite keeper.

Sichuan food is such an intense experience and one that I find incredibly addictive. A few hours later, I got the bug all over again and set about making dan dan mian: a classic noodle dish with additions of fried minced pork and some typically concentrated seasonings. You arrange your bits and bobs in a bowl, then plonk the noodles on top and stir; nuggets of slightly crispy meat and funky preserved vegetable nestle in a slippery tangle. And so it was complete: a comfort food feast of the highest order and enough to raise a smile from even the grumpiest blogger.

Man and Wife Meat Slices (from ‘Sichuan Cookery’ by Fuchsia Dunlop)

500g beef braising steak, in one piece
30-40g unpeeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon groundnut oil
20g rock sugar, crushed
1 litre pork stock (Fuchsia uses her own recipe here)
1.5 teaspoons salt
2 spring onions, cut into thirds
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
1.2 cinnamon stick or a few bits of cassia bark
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 star anise
4 cloves (pinch off the little powdery heads and discard)

To serve

3-4 sticks celery or Chinese celery
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1-2 tablespoons chilli oil, with chilli flakes (sediment)
1/2 teaspoon toasted (in a dry pan but be really careful, it burns easily) and ground Sichuan pepper
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, crushed
Coriander leaves

Bring a pan of water to the boil and blanch the beef in it for 10-20 seconds then throw away the water and rinse the meat under the tap.

Heat the oil with half the rock sugar in a wok over a gentle heat and when the sugar melts, turn the heat up and boil until it is a caramel colour. Fill a small coffee cup with water and throw it in the wok, standing back as it will steam and spit. Transfer the liquid to a saucepan.

Add the stock, the remaining sugar, salt, ginger (crushed a bit with a heavy object), spring onions and spices then bring to a boil and add the beef. Return to the boil, cover and reduce to simmer gently for about an hour and a half until tender. Remove the beef from the pan, reserving the liquid, and allow it to cool completely.

De-string the celery sticks and slice them thinly and use any small leaves too. Scatter it over the base of your serving plate. Thinly slice the beef (against the grain) and lay it on top. Mix four tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid with the soy sauce and poor over the meat. Add chilli oil to taste, then scatter over the Sichuan pepper, sesame seeds, peanuts and coriander.

11 comments » | Meat, Sichuan

Some Food and Beer Matching: Mixed Results

November 12th, 2009 — 3:07pm

I am a big beer drinker. I love it as much as I do wine and increasingly, I love it more. Nothing can beat the refreshment of an ice cold burst of hops and bubbles. When I was tempted by the offer of this food and beer matching hamper from the people at Innis and Gunn, I put the feelers out a little and asked my beer blogging pal for his opinion on I & G (I’m not familiar with their beers and tend to stick to what I know – Brew Dog) and he directed me to this post where opinions are pretty much divided. It seems many beer aficionados feel they have ‘moved on’ from I & G but some still enjoy it as much as ever. I had to try it.

I must admit, my little face lit up when I received the hamper. Arbroath smokies, smoked salmon, smoked venison; a delicious looking, if rather smoky, range of foods. We laid the whole lot out in one big spread (complete with tartan tablecloth) and got right down to business.

Our first match was the I & G ‘Blonde’ with Inverawe organic smoked salmon: skilfully smoked fish which surprised us with its cheeky waves of smoke, then salmon, then smoke and oaky depth. A slosh of Blonde in the mix made our tastebuds happy with notes of caramel and vanilla winding down to a slight bitterness to foil the rich, meaty fish. Overall I enjoyed this uncomplicated match, although I probably wouldn’t drink the beer on its own as I prefer a bit more of a challenge and punch to my tipple; this was a little too mainstream for my taste.

The ‘Rum Cask’ was paired with cold smoked venison from Rannoch Smokery: wintry, dark and surprisingly sweet with an irony, gamey tang and a texture like the missing link between raw meat and jerky. Together with a slurp of fruit, spice and rum scented beer it combined into something luxurious and festive. My favourite match by a deer-roamed country mile.

After three successful combinations (some hot, buttered Arbroath smokies were also devoured in minutes), we moved on to the cheese. The first to step up, a Strathdon Blue from Ruaraidh Stone, Ross Shire, was very mellow and creamy; easy-going, not particularly sharp or salty but pleasantly earthy and subtle. This was matched with an IPA, which unfortunately didn’t stand up to the challenge very well. The cheese, although mellow, was a blue nonetheless and all we got was a big hit of cheese and a vague taste of alcohol from the IPA, with the exception of a slightly malty false start.

The second cheese match, a smoked cheddar and I & G ‘Original’ fared slightly better, with Chris rather ‘getting into it’ after a few mouthfuls. The cheese had an incredibly light texture almost like it had been whipped and a rich, subtly smoked flavour. For me though, this cheese was a little bit odd; I found the taste and texture rather alien and artificial (Chris finished the lot). The beer did well to punch through with a hoppy bitter finish, but for me the cheeses came last in the race; a shame as I really like the idea of matching beer with cheese. If anyone has any suggestions then do please share them.

Things rather tailed off here, as the oatcakes-jam-beer combo went straight into the ‘let us never speak of this again’ category and we just concentrated on finishing off the beer, which, incidentally, I rather enjoyed. The Blonde was a touch dizzy and vacuous but the rum cask aged number was more of an exciting lean towards the dark side. Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable learning experience and a definite kick up the bum to start matching more food and beer. I’m keen to start using more in cooking too, after success with the Punk IPA batter for posh fish fingers and plans in place to use one of the darker beers in a stew.

I think Innis and Gunn have done well to match these beers with foods but have perhaps been slightly distracted by the concept, which is to use products from the surrounding local area; some of the matches seemed to require too much stretching of the imagination. The savoury, smoked foods (cheese excepted) though, worked an absolute treat and I can see myself enjoying a beer and cold collation come Christmas. Then I’ll switch to sherry for dessert.

11 comments » | Beer, Drinks

Wine: Facing the Fear

November 9th, 2009 — 3:14pm

I am often asked why I don’t write about wine more on this blog, considering the fact that I drink so much of the stuff. Well, that’s because I only drink wine to get pissed.

Only kidding. In the past year or so I’ve been making a real effort to tackle the vast topic head-on but in doing so found something rather unexpected waiting for me: fear. I had identified the problem as akin to standing on the edge of a huge cliff, looking out into a vast sea of information; the bit I already knew was a little speck on the distant horizon. When I came down to the real business of it though, I felt a different kind of intimidation: a fear of the ‘wine world’ in general. There seems to me to be a lot of old guff surrounding rituals of opening, tasting and being ‘qualified’ to even talk about wine, like some of the people involved are trying really hard to make the subject more complicated than it is, with the apparent aim of making themselves feel a bit more important. Are you getting the impression this annoys me yet? Yes it does.

In the past year or so however, I’ve met people who have the exact opposite intentions, who are trying to make wine more accessible, as it should be. These people include my friends Kate Thal, owner of Green and Blue Wines; Dan Coward from Bibendum; Rob McIntosh from the Wine Conversation; Ryan and Gabriella Opaz from Catavino and the other wine lovers you’ll find on my blogroll, including Andrew Barrow, who invited me down to Brightwell Vineyard for my first foray into the world of English wines.

These people also encouraged me to attend the recent European Wine Bloggers’ Conference, in Lisbon. Now that’s what I call throwing yourself in at the deep end. As I set off on my adventure, I counted my lucky stars that a few weeks beforehand, a group of us had a tutoring session on the basics at Bibendum, where I’d stocked up on a few points of reference from the bigger picture. It’s all very well tasting wines from a certain region but if you don’t have any knowledge base to slot them into then you are pretty much screwed. Since then I’ve been tasting, tasting, tasting and feeling slightly more confident that I could take something useful away from the conference.

I’ve decided to use this post to record a few things I’ve learnt. Hopefully this might be useful to someone else out there who finds themselves in the same position. Writing it has also had a remarkably cathartic effect for me. So here we have it, 10 things I’ve realised about wine…

1. Swirling the wine around in the glass before tasting is purely to get more air in contact with more surface area of wine and therefore increase your chances of picking up any subtleties.  Examining the behaviour of the wine on the sides of the glass after doing so, or attempting to assess its ‘legs’ is mostly of no value, except perhaps to get an idea of the alcohol content. More alcohol = more viscous wine. You can of course, hold it up or against something like a white tablecloth, to get a good eyeful of the colour.

2. Just because someone else can pick up a certain flavour or aroma from a wine, it doesn’t mean you have to (and vice versa). We’ve all been there – the person next to you is all, “I’m definitely getting petrol on the nose” and you sniff and sniff, desperately searching for a hint of forecourt only to conclude that your nostrils are Neanderthals. It’s all subjective. I wouldn’t doubt myself when tasting food for example, regardless of whether anyone else is getting a finish of Stilton from the fat on their rib-eye; I know what I taste. Believe.

3. Don’t be afraid to have a good old chew on it once you’ve got it in your gob. Some people do that sucking thing, the idea of which is to coat as much of your tongue as possible to enhance your tasting experience. I’ve developed a sort of half suck, half chew, swilling it around in there as much as I can and generally trying not to worry about what other people are thinking.

4. Smelling the cork is a complete waste of time.

5. I have discovered that I can tell when a wine is corked. It basically smells like walking into a damp basement; a bit musty. Sometimes it smells only slightly musty, and this is when it is only slightly corked. Ta da!

6. Palate fatigue can be a problem. After tasting 18 wines for example, as we did on one occasion at EWBC, the untrained palate simply gets tired out and gives up. Everything starts to taste the same. It is at this point that a person needs bubbles; a person needs beer. There’s a damn good reason we drank so much Bock.

7. You I need to face up to the fact that spitting wine out is part of tasting.

8. Charles Metcalfe is a famous wine critic (and a thoroughly charming chap), who is also famous for enjoying a little sing. I honestly had no idea. Here is a (very bad quality) video of him singing at the EWBC. I think this is a must-know fact, personally…

9. If you work in the world of wine, be nice and don’t take yourself too seriously. See above.

10. EWBC is definitely worth the trip if you are a blogger at any stage of your wine adventures. Ryan and Gabriella Opaz and Rob McIntosh put a huge amount of work into organising the event and I think they should be congratulated on its success.

I would  like to thank all of them for putting up with an ignorant food blogger who is trying her best to learn. I would also like to say a huge thank you to Dan from Bibendum who had provided some amazing tastings for bloggers, and never tires of encouraging us to get involved. Cheers!

21 comments » | Wine

Café Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon

November 8th, 2009 — 11:55am

When visiting a capital city, it is hard, as a Londoner, to resist a little game of matching up the different areas with London equivalents. The area just off Rossio for example, we decided was Leicester Square (high concentration of tourists), and our riverside beers were enjoyed on the ‘South Bank’. Our trip out of town to Belém then, to the home of the Pastel de Nata (custard tart), was rather like heading out to the ‘burbs for a day trip. We also made a classic capital city transport error, by getting the train and changing twice (as TFL would no doubt advise you to do), when just a short bus ride would have sufficed; not all parallels were immediately apparent.

Our destination, Pastéis de Belém, was apparently the first place to sell the tarts outside of the spectacular, dream-like Jerónimos monastery (where they were invented) that stands just a few hundred yards away. The tarts are supposedly the best in Lisbon and only 3 or 4 people in the family-run business are privy to the recipe. From the outside, Pastéis de Belém looked like a regular-sized coffee shop but on the inside we discovered room after cavernous room, not a single one of them empty.

Before getting down to the important business of the tarts, we took refreshment in the form of Bock (of course), and some savoury nibbles. The Portugese seem to have a fondness for foods which have been deep fried and then left to go cold; I found some more palatable than others. These salt cod cakes were warm thankfully and very pleasant; simple and light, with soft flakes of fish which didn’t overpower and a grassy lift of parsley. There were a couple of sizeable yet forgettable quiches too and then it was on to the main event. Of course we wanted to know just what was so damn special about these tarts compared to others we’d tried and I’ll admit to being slightly sceptical. When they arrived however, even on first appearances, they did look different. See the Pastéis de Belém tarts in the top photo below and one of my earlier conquests underneath…

You can see that the pastry is much more delicate in the Belém version, and the custard covers the whole surface of the tart rather than being a smooth, sunken pool as above. The pastry was familiarly delicate and flaky, sending a flutter of shattering flakes all down your top with every bite, but there was less of it, meaning more room for that wobbly baked custard, which was slightly less sweet and pleasantly more eggy than the lesser versions. Cinnamon and powdered sugar are provided for sprinkling at the table but I prefer to eat mine as they come. Top tarts indeed.

If I were to find myself in Belém once again, then I would definitely pay a return visit, although I would probably just order Pastéis de Nata and plenty of them; an indecent, towering plateful in fact. I would suggest that any visitor to Lisbon do the same. A national culinary treasure and quite rightly so; go and eat the original and the best.

Café Pastéis de Belém
Rua de Belem, 84-92,
+351 21 363 7423

Winter opening hours (1st Nov-30th April): 08.00-23.00 Mon-Sat, 08.00-22.00 Sun.
Summer opening hours (1st May-31st Oct): 08.00-24.00

N.B. The nearby monastery is closed on a Monday – we were most disappointed.

12 comments » | Pastries, Restaurant Reviews, Travel

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