Archive for September 2010


September 29th, 2010 — 2:42pm

I’ve had a few requests for the muhammara recipe we served at the Warwick Wingding. I’ve updated it recently so it’s worth posting again. Do try to find the chilli pepper paste* if you can as it has a unique flavour, although regular chillies also work. I often leave out the cumin, too.


8 red peppers
4 tablespoons olive oil
70g walnuts
2 tablespoons hot pepper paste or 2 red chillies, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted until fragrant in a dry pan and then ground to paste using a grinder or pestle and mortar
50g white breadcrumbs blended to a paste with about 1 tbsp cold water
2-4 tablespoons pomegranate molasses (to taste)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

Put the peppers on a roasting tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper then use your hands to mix around until all the skins are covered. Roast in a hot oven (about 170C) until the skins are blackened then place in a bowl and cover with cling film. Leave for 10 minutes. The skins should now be easy to remove. Chop roughly, discarding the seeds.

Put the peppers, walnuts, breadcrumb paste, chillies, cumin, pomegranate molasses and garlic in a blender and blend to a paste. Remove from the blender and mix in the olive oil then taste and add salt and pepper.

* The chilli pepper paste is available from Middle Eastern food shops and is often labelled ‘red pepper’ or ‘hot pepper’ paste. It comes in jars.

7 comments » | Barbecue, Peckham, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads

The Warwick Wingding

September 28th, 2010 — 8:31am

On Saturday Rosie and I set up a mezze stall at local Peckham shindig, The Warwick Wingding. We’d spent all of Friday shopping, solving various mini-crises and grafting away in the kitchen. Pulling off a food stall is a lot of hard work and there are all sorts of issues to consider: what will you serve? Is it realistic? How much will it cost? How many will you feed? How much should you charge? How should you present it? How will you get it there? It goes on and on and on.

We originally wanted to serve jerk chicken but apparently there was some kind of problem with having a BBQ (even though the ribs man had one, so your guess is as good as mine); in the end we decided on mezze, and the organisers were keen to have another vegetarian stall along with Ganapati. We served hummus; baba ganoush; muhammara; fennel, pomegranate and feta salad; lentils with caramelised onions; jewelled cous cous and tabbouleh. Customers picked 5 of these to go with toasted pitta and grilled harissa-marinated halloumi for a fiver. A pretty good deal we thought.

Grill wasn’t quite hot enough for the halloumi at this point…

We’d made big batches of everything and just kept re-filling the bowls; by the end of the day we’d sold out of everything bar bread and halloumi so we started flogging halloumi sandwiches for £3, which also flew out fast. A massive relief. That, and the fact it didn’t rain.

One of the hardest things about doing a food stall is making sure you come up with something you can really be proud of. If you’re not confident in what you’re selling then it’s game over. The best parts of the day were when people came to say how much they’d enjoyed the food or that they had come on someone else’s recommendation. People genuinely enjoyed it and thought we offered good value for money. The banter with customers was brilliant and thanks to all the blog readers who came over to introduce themselves – it was lovely to meet you all.

We didn’t cut any corners with ingredients or effort and it paid off. We left with beaming smiles, high on the satisfaction of having fed people well. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

A massive thank you to my partner Rosie, to all the people who bought our food, to our boyfriends and mates who got roped in at various stages and to Terry, Lyndsay and any other organisers I don’t know of who had a really hard time of it at one point, but pulled through and made the event a success.

The Warwick Wingding
Sat 25th September 2010 (the festival is held annually – it started in 2009)
12-7.30pm (then after-party at The Ivy House)
Warwick Gardens
Lyndhurst Way

10 comments » | Food Events, Food From The Rye, Grains, Peckham, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Stalls, Street Food

Potato pizza

September 26th, 2010 — 6:58pm

I ate  a potato pizza at The Actress recently. This started a carb binge which shows no signs of letting up. The idea of potato on pizza may seem strange, but it’s a classic Italian topping. No tomato sauce and usually, no cheese. I had to have another. Wafery potato slices received a damn good rubbing with crushed garlic, thyme (in the absence of rosemary) and olive oil. I let them sit while I properly caramelised some red onions; long and slow.

I smeared a thick layer of the gooey onions onto an oil-brushed base, followed by the potato slices, overlapping to form a semi-translucent pattern. Very pretty.

The potatoes caramelise in the oven to a highly savoury crust, enhanced with a final sprinkling of rocky salt. The slices crisp and curl at the edges while the overlapping bits maintain some bite.

The best pizzas are topped simply and this is a good example. That said, a little cheese most definitely wouldn’t hurt. I rather like the idea of Josh’s Gorgonzola version.

Potato Pizza

I used this dough recipe as I’ve not come up with a favourite of my own yet. It was fine, not the best I’ve tried but very easy and the results were more than passable. I used half the quantity which made 2 pizzas.

For the topping

3 large potatoes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large sprigs of thyme (leaves stripped). I prefer rosemary to be honest – use about a tablespoon of roughly chopped leaves.
Olive oil
5 very large onions, sliced

Begin by caramelising the onions. Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a heavy-based, lidded pan then when hot, add the onions, turn down the heat to the lowest setting, put the lid on and allow to cook gently, stirring every now and then. It will take about an hour for them to become very soft and caramelised.

For the potatoes, either slice them very thinly using a mandoline or use a knife, as I did. You want them as thin as possible otherwise they won’t cook properly in the oven. Mix them really well with the crushed garlic, herbs and a tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and leave until your onions are ready.

Preheat the oven to its highest setting. Preheat a pizza stone too if you have one. You can also use an upside down baking tray, but don’t preheat it.

When ready to assemble the pizza, brush the base with olive oil, then spread a thick layer of the onions on top. Add the potato slices so that they’re slightly overlapping and there are no gaps. Add a little extra sea salt on top of the pizza.

Cook the pizza for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown. It’s rather nice with a sharp green salad.

13 comments » | Pizza, Vegetables

The Warwick Wingding

September 23rd, 2010 — 2:20pm

This Saturday I will be doing a food stall with Rosie Birkett at the Warwick Wingding in Peckham. It’s a free music and arts festival and runs from 12-7.30pm.

On the entertainment side of things there will be the likes of the Dulwich Ukelele Club (can’t beat a bit of Uke action); a ‘Beer and Talent Tent’; craft stalls from the huge creative community that resides in Peckham; bands; shows and even Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n Dave. Seriously.

Of course I know it’s the food you’re most interested in and the pick of the local crop will be there – Petra with her Chocstar van, Yianni with his Meatwagon, a man called Simon who I’ve yet to meet who’s selling BBQ ribs and Ganapati restaurant serving their beautiful South Indian vegetarian food. Now I hope you’re sitting down because I’m about to drop a bombshell: our stall will also be veggie. We’ll be serving an Ottolenghi-style salad spread including fennel, pomegranate and feta salad; tabbouleh; baba ganoush; muhammara; harissa marinated halloumi and more. Come over and say hello.

If the prospect of stuffing yourself on that lot isn’t enough, there’s an after-party for you hardcore revellers. The Ivy House pub will host an evening of comedy and performance art.

For a lovely little vid of last year’s Wingding, follow this link:

The Warwick Wingding
Sat 25th September
12-7.30pm (then after-party at The Ivy House)
Warwick Gardens
Lyndhurst Way


6 comments » | Food Events, Food From The Rye, Markets, Peckham, Street Food

Wine list launch at Mien Tay, Battersea

September 21st, 2010 — 7:56pm

Can you match wine with Vietnamese food? I was sceptical. It would take some skill to find wines capable of standing up against all those strong flavours but Willie Lebus from Bibendum has managed it, very well.

Willie has been working with Mien Tay to produce their new (and first) wine list, launching in October. This means that BYO will be phased out after a month or so but all the wines are extremely good value and as Willie pointed out, customers will be able to enjoy a wine that actually works with the food rather than dodging the various pitfalls involved in bringing your own.

The food at Mien Tay makes you happy to be alive. It blows the cobwebs away. We started with an appetiser of deep-fried bass, beautifully presented; individual mouthfuls tangled with chilli, bean sprouts and spring onion shreds, heavily scented with ginger. When the meat was gone, our hosts invited us to try the fried bones so I snapped off a piece of backbone: gelatinous and full of extra flavour.

A steamed bass with ginger, spring onion and soy was, we couldn’t believe, even better and so perfectly cooked it drew gasps of admiration. This was our first food and wine match and the point where I ate my words; the Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio had enough acidity to cope with the salt of the sauce but no face-puckering sourness. These are quality wines, first and foremost.

Fresh mango salad with dried beef was astonishing. Chewy jerky-like shreds tossed with slightly under-ripe mango was salty and sweet, juicy with lime and fish sauce, exploding with aniseedy Thai basil flavour. A more perfect mix of textures can surely not exist; chew from the meat, soft fruit, crunchy peanuts. At one point the poor waitress thought we’d finished and attempted to clear the plate away. That didn’t happen twice. I thought that the matched wine however (my only criticism of the wine all night) ‘Picpoul de Pinet’ was overshadowed by the mighty salad, as much of the lemon zestyness and Mediterranean fruit flavours were lost.

A green papaya salad in the same style was even better than the mango version; a lamb dish thrummed with fragrant lemongrass and salt and pepper squid came cased in a greaseless batter, burning mouths which couldn’t wait to gobble it up. Spring rolls were fried with the same skill and accompanied by fresh parilla leaves (shiso), which I adore. We tried to describe their flavour – like a cross between mint, aniseed and oregano.

I’m still a total novice when it comes to writing about wine but what I can say is that almost all we tried slipped down a treat without jarring, which is a pretty amazing achievement considering the force of those flavours – testament to Willie’s skill. I didn’t get to try all of them because after 3 glasses of introductory Prosecco, 5 whites, a rosé and a sherry (try it with the frog’s legs) I had to leave for fear of slumping under the table. There were another four reds to go. It’s late, you’re in a restaurant wearing a conical Vietnamese hat, your face is red, your writing is barely legible any more, you have an early meeting the next morning. It’s time to go home.

I am confident though, that the reds would have gone down just as easily, especially when matched with dishes like stir-fried goat with galangal and grilled quail with honey, garlic and spices. As I’ve said, the wine prices are as appealing as those of the food which reflects the restaurant’s lack of pretension and generous hospitality. A glass of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc for example (elegant gooseberry flavours) costs £3.25 for a glass, £5.50 for a 250ml carafe and £14.50 for a 75cl bottle. The most expensive bottle on our list was a New Zealand Pinot Noir at £20.

I love this restaurant, it’s almost perfect. Most of the food and wine is hard to fault; the people are just really nice; it’s cheap; it’s in South London; it’s, it’s…oh, just go.

Mien Tay
180 Lavender Hill
SW11 5TQ
Tel: 020 7350 0721

Thanks to Chris for the slightly scary iphone picture of the fried fish.

The wine list is available from October. I was invited to a preview.

18 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Tackling lobster

September 19th, 2010 — 5:26pm

Yesterday, I cooked lobster for the first time. My friend Chris wanted to spend an afternoon cooking and he’s not one to skimp and save when it comes to ingredients, so we faced a truly decadent meal of lobster* followed by roast grouse followed by four different types of cheese.

Over a glass of wine, we pondered how to dispatch them. I was the only one in our party of three to consider the freezer method. The RSPCA recommends 2 hours at -20C. I was even willing to get all cheffy and put a knife through the head if that was deemed the right thing to do but advice is very conflicting. Lobsters do not have a brain, just a simple nervous system. It is not possible to ‘kill’ them in the normal sense of the word but there is a debate over whether or not they feel they’re being cooked; some argue that the thrashing they do in the water is a reaction to toxins and not a pain response. I don’t know. Anyway my mates were having none of it – they went straight in the pot.

We wondered how long they needed. Again, advice varies. We ended up cooking them for 10 minutes then panicking and leaving them in for another 2. This was too long; they didn’t suffer hugely but I’d say around 8 minutes would be ideal. Once tonged from the pot it was a frenzy of twisting, cracking, picking and extracting while trying to avoid burns from bursts of boiling juices. A lack of proper tools wasn’t a problem – we just whacked the claws with a knife. Every last morsel of meat was extracted, the shells saved for bisque. It’s a crime to throw them away when there’s so much more flavour to be had for your money.

To serve, a pot of golden mayonnaise (made with two super-rich Burford Brown yolks), a ramekin of clarified butter and some good bread. It’s all about the simplicity with crustaceans. I dunked quivering chunks of lobster meat into the mayonnaise and soaked up silly amounts of clarified butter with the bread. It seemed almost too good to be true.

The tail is of course the largest piece but the claws make the sweetest eating and the legs are the most fun – like lobster straws that make you work for their reward. We saved them until last and slurped and sucked out every last piece of flesh and juice. Perfect.

How to cook a lobster

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add plenty of salt. When you’ve got a rolling boil, drop your lobster in. When it comes back to the boil, start timing. We had 1.2-1.3 kg lobsters and cooked them for 12 minutes but this was slightly too long. 8-10 minutes would be ideal.

Remove and let them cool slightly. This website has detailed instructions on how to remove the meat from a lobster. We just hacked away at ours, twisting the claws and legs off then dealing with the rest as best we could.

Some lobsters contain a green liver or ‘tomalley’ which is edible and considered a delicacy by many.


2 egg yolks
Groundnut or vegetable oil (olive oil is to strong I find and certainly never use extra virgin)
A scant teaspoon mustard of your choice
Lemon juice (start with a tablespoon and see how you go)
Salt and pepper

Put the egg yolks in a clean bowl and whisk them together. Whisk in the mustard. Begin adding oil a few drops at a time, whisking as you do so and making sure each bit of oil is fully incorporated before adding the next. As you whisk in more oil and the mayo starts to thicken, you can start adding it in very slightly larger quantities until you are steadily adding it in a thin stream. The key with mayo is to be cautious with the oil until you get a feel for making it. If you add too much at once, it will split. If this happens, don’t despair. Take a fresh egg yolk in a clean bowl and begin adding the split mixture into it, very slowly, just as if it were the oil. This should bring it back. Add the lemon juice to taste and season with salt and pepper.

*The lobsters Chris bought through Marky Market who had the frankly rather genius idea of setting up a business where he acts as a middle man between you and a market you don’t have the time or energy to go to, like Billingsgate. He buys what you want then meets up with you to exchange the goods.

23 comments » | Seafood

The Actress, East Dulwich

September 16th, 2010 — 6:43pm

The Actress, a new pub just around the corner from me, used to be called The Uplands. It was a bit of a dive. I’d often walk past on Saturday lunchtimes and there would be 3 or 4 customers nursing pints around a solitary table. I went in, once. It was one of those pubs that had a brilliant location in its favour and nothing else.

Transformed, it is now part of a clan which includes Saarf East staples The Bishop in East Dulwich, The Florence in Herne Hill and the recently opened Victoria Inn in Peckham.

She’s quite the looker now, The Actress but the real sight for sore eyes is the pizza oven. The whole interior has been re-furbished, sure; new paint, new furniture, new bar yadda yadda yadda but like I said, there’s a pizza oven. A monstrous furnace. I’d received an invitation to come over and play with it and seriously, who doesn’t want to do that? Making pizza at home is fine and all but the conventional oven isn’t capable of reaching the temperatures required to cook it properly and I’m not about to come over all Steingarten and start ‘modifying’ it myself.

The evening was about experimenting and having fun. We would play around with different toppings, from classics already in-house to the ridiculous, brought in by us lot.

First onto the paddle was one of my favourites – a white pizza with potato slices. This version came pepped with oozy Stilton. Although I thought the slices of potato should be cut much thinner (on a mandolin) and overlapped, I was happy to see an often forgotten topping make an appearance. Carb on carb, it rocks.

We then had a go at pimping our own, with varying degrees of success. I’d been too disorganised to find an ingredient to bring along, so I shamelessly gate-crashed Lizzie’s samphire instead. We ended up with a decadent combination of crab, samphire, ricotta and chilli. Great flavours but sadly, not great pizza.

Straight from the horror box: haggis and potato. I’ve tried it so you don’t have to. See? See what I’ll do for you in the name of research? It was like eating an offaly shepherd’s pie – on a pizza. Just a bit of a laugh on our part though, and definitely not one for the menu, don’t worry.

Highlights for me were meaty; a chorizo pizza was topped with two types, one skinned and crumbled and the other sliced. It was fun and generous. People will always want a spicy meat pizza. Personally I always want one with anchovy, capers and olives.

We shoved every topping going in and out of that oven, including a comedy calzone: someone’s sweaty Star Bar wrapped in a pizza base, which melted into gooey, peanut-studded wrongness. It felt dirty. It was great.

The Actress opens on Monday, and I’m sure they’ll have their recipes well and truly down by then. There will be more than pizza, too. We made quick work of some lamb, scorched and sizzling from the ferocious heat of the wood oven, juices preserved within. Cider-braised spicy ribs provoked moans of pleasure; forcefully spiced with a strong apple flavour. The meat flopped off the bone in huge, sticky chunks.

The Actress is going to make an absolute killing in this location. It sits at the corner of Crystal Palace Road and North Cross Road, which anyone who lives in East Dulwich knows is permanently rammed with yummy mummies and annoyingly beautiful and well-off people. They are going to lap this place up. If it’s not rammed to the rafters in the next few weeks then I’ll eat another haggis pizza and film it so you can see me pay for my shoddy prediction. That is how confident I am.

The Actress
90 Crystal Palace Road
East Dulwich
SE22 9EY

9 comments » | Bars/Pubs

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