Archive for October 2012

The Fried Chicken at Mama Lan’s, Brixton

October 29th, 2012 — 9:22am

I must, very briefly, tell you about the wondrous fried chicken at Mama Lan’s in Brixton Village; the best I’ve had anywhere in a while. The skin has the kind of crunch one always wants fried chicken to have, but it so rarely does; I’d kill for the recipe. I do manage to find out a few of the ingredients from the waitress; star anise, coriander seeds, garlic, sesame seeds and to serve, loads of chilli oil, which they make themselves. This is borderline perfect fried chicken; it’s sweet, it’s spicy and it doesn’t so much hit the spot as take a massive run up and face plant it. Five pieces for £4.50.

The dumplings are worth a quick mention; they’re not anything amazing but I am rather fond of the  wood ear mushroom and Chinese leaf pot stickers. The king prawn and water chestnut steamed version are also tasty. A couple of rounds of these, dunked in Chinkiang vinegar and soy bust right through a hangover. Not before I’ve had my chicken fix, though.

Mama Lan’s
Unit 18 Brixton Village Market

17 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Ultimate Hogwich

October 24th, 2012 — 10:14am

The idea of making ‘ultimate sandwiches’ has been brewing in my head for a while now; hell, I started already by making the meatball sub, the best chicken sandwich of my life and the po’ boy of dreams. Since then I’ve been, well, distracted, but when I was recently sent a sous vide machine to play around with, I knew it was time to get it involved. It had to be a meaty sandwich, it had to be extreme, and it had to be made in the Sous Vide Supreme.

I wanted to start with pork so I went down to the new butcher in Peckham, Flock and Herd, and bought a frankly massive piece of pork belly – 3kg. No idea why. The plan was to vac pack it, which is GREAT fun by the way; the first thing I vacced was two tomatoes and a cucumber – I’m sure you can imagine the arrangement. Very mature. Anyway, so I would smother the belly with fennel, chilli and garlic, roll it up like a porchetta, pack it and sous vide it for, ideally, 36 hours. Seems like a long time doesn’t it? It is. I wasn’t going to argue with Serious Eats however, which is where I found the appropriate cooking time and temperature; this is long enough for all the connective bits in this famously gnarly cut to break down into lovely gelatinous goo.

Complete with nipples…

My butcher’s knots need a little work…

So the sous videing was sorted but what to do about crackling? Long slow water bathing isn’t going to achieve that and we all know that crackling is the best bit; what good would the ultimate pork sandwich be without crispy pig fat? This is where the Serious Eats recipe really comes into its own, suggesting that the crackling is achieved by deep frying. Yes. Is deep frying a porchetta excessive? Yes. Is it very unhealthy? Yes. Does it achieve the perfect crunchy crackling we’re looking for? Definitely. So on the inside we have 36 hour (well, 30 actually; I didn’t fancy eating it at 4.30am) cooked ultra soft and succulent pork belly and on the outside the kind of satisfying crunch that can only ever be achieved by plunging meat into a wok full of hot oil and frying the shit out of it. Incredible.

Two versions of the sandwich were made. The first time I tried to be all posh about it, making a fresh mustard seeded slaw and a chilli flecked quince sauce to drizzle; the latter complements the hog in the same way as apple sauce but with a  more interesting fragrance. Piled on to a soft white loaf it was good, but it just wasn’t right. I’d deep fried the pork for goodness’ sake; there was something just too damn clean about the rest of the sandwich.

Round 2. Amendment number 1 = different bread; I’d wanted to keep things British but in the end caved to the superior sturdy chew of ciabatta. Amendment 2 = pimp my shop bought coleslaw, yo. Yeah, that’s right, a mayo laden coleslaw was mixed with shredded spring onions, wholegrain mustard and a little lemon juice until it was just, well, pretty tasty actually. The quince sauce had to stay but needed a filth injection which came in the form of hot sauce and plenty of it (No Joke to be precise – it has the fruity notes to fit with the quince), plus all the glorious golden jelly from the outside of the sous vided pork. Now we were talking. Almost. The pork was sliced and then…guilty eyes met eager ones…a suggestion was made…the next thing I know I’m deep frying individual slices of the pork belly. That’s right, a second deep frying; more surface area to get good and crisp.

Ultimate Hogwich was born.

Ultimate Hogwich (I got like a million sandwiches out of this plus some of the best instant noodle pimpage I’ve ever achieved; recipe to follow)

This is by no means a quick job; 30 hours is definitely the longest I’ve ever waited for something to cook, but it was worth it. The sous vide machine is immense fun and the results are incredible; I can’t stop thinking about what to try next. The recipe can of course be made by just cooking the pork belly without a sous vide machine. Radical.

1 boneless pork belly, about 3kg in weight
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon hot chilli flakes
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
String to tie the pork belly

Heat the sous vide machine to 68.5C (Serious Eats suggested 68.3 but my machine wouldn’t have that) and start prepping the pork. Lay it out flat, skin side down and score the flesh in a diamond pattern. In a dry pan, toast the fennel seeds and black peppercorns until fragrant, moving the pan about over a low heat so they don’t burn.

Grind the fennel seeds and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar, then sprinkle all over the pork belly flesh. Sprinkle the chilli flakes over the pork too, add the bay leaves and grate over the garlic using a microplane grater. Use your hands to work everything into the pork.

Roll the pork and use string to tie it tightly into a roll. Mix 1 tablespoon salt with the bicarbonate of soda and rub this all over the surface of the porchetta. You may then need to cut it into two pieces in order to vac pack it – I did.

So…vac pack it and once the sous vide machine has reached temperature, lower the pork in. Cook it for erm, 30 hours or even 36 if you are more organised than me. Once that’s done, remove the pork and plunge it into a sink full of iced water for 15 minutes, then remove from the bags, and save all the lovely gelatinous stuff round the edge. This is precious. Pat the pork dry, heat your oil for deep frying and really, really carefully, lower it into the oil. The pork should be halfway submerged, not totally. It will need about 5 minutes each side, during with time you should carefully spoon the oil over the exposed side. Just be bloody careful constantly, basically.

Then it just needs a final patting with kitchen paper before resting for 5 minutes and slicing.

For the quince sauce and coleslaw: melt a couple of tablespoons quince paste with some of the pork jelly and some hot sauce to taste. For the coleslaw, mix some shop bought coleslaw with lemon juice, spring onions and some wholegrain mustard. Pile the whole lot into a ciabatta and add a cheeky extra dash of hot sauce if you fancy it.

36 comments » | Main Dishes, Meat, Sandwiches

F M Mangal, Camberwell

October 16th, 2012 — 1:39pm

As I was planning the South London Food Trip with @siepert (do check it out, it’s going to be an amazing weekend), it occurred to me that some of the restaurants I visit the most are the ones I’ve never written about. Having worked in Camberwell on and off for the past 8 years I can confidently say that lunch options are, to put it mildly, limited. F M Mangal has therefore been the staff lunch outing destination of choice as long as I can remember. It will always be the case that some colleagues are more adventurous eaters than others, and while the idea of subjecting some of them to the chilli and/or offal content of the dishes at Silk Road makes me guffaw, F M Mangal Turkish charcoal grill has always been a safe option.

I know not of anyone who has ever less than loved the pomegranate dippy onion garlic appetiser, coming as it does with fluffy spice smeared flat bread and charred, sumac crusted veg (top photo).

The dippy bits and bobs, although nothing to write home about, are soothing in their familiarity; thick garlicky yoghurt and plastic pink Barbie taramasalata. The tobacco in the background doesn’t come with, I’m afraid. The lunch deal however, is my favourite thing about F M Mangal.

It includes a grilled meat skewer of your choice (well you know, one they have on the menu; no Ortolan), a little dome of buttery rice and a few salads (always very fresh; my favourite is the kohlrabi with again, lots of sumac) and, one of my favourite bits, a blistered mild chilli. A dollop of their lovely garlic and chilli sauces on the side plus a drink and you’ve spent £6, including the bread and pom dip. Such good value.

The disadvantage of lunchtime visiting is that one does smell of a charcoal grill for the rest of the day. That could be seen as a disadvantage I suppose but personally, I rather enjoy it…

F M Mangal
54 Camberwell Church Street
Tel: 0207 701 6677

FM Mangal on Urbanspoon

17 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Yipin China, Islington

October 4th, 2012 — 12:29pm

Two visits to Islington within a week; another part of my South London street cred ebbing away every time my tentative steps took me aboard the sweaty Northern line, during rush hour. Teeth were gritted, knuckles turned white and the urge to punch other people was just about suppressed. Thankfully Yipin was worth the trauma. The number of Chinese restaurants serving decent, varied, regional food is ever growing. The menu at Yipin is divided into Hunan, Sichuan and Cantonese sections and it’s huge; I mean in terms of physical measurements, not number of dishes. Everything has an accompanying photograph of the kind that fall in the right place between splattered laminated takeaway menu and glossy PR shot; the kind that are genuinely helpful and importantly, make you want to actually eat the food.

First was ‘spiced fungus’, which was jelly fungus, slipping about in a mixture of sesame oil, red and green chilli and plenty of Chinkiang (black) vinegar, something I’ve not noticed so much when I’ve eaten the dish at other restaurants (Snazz Sichuan for example). It’s a cold dish, and the fungus has a seaweed-like texture, borderline crunchy, ‘like something that should be worn’ said my mate, ‘pieces of macintosh’ said another. Those were compliments, believe it or not. Easily my favourite dish of the evening.

Sichuan mixed pickles were not particularly pickled, but pleasantly soothing every so often when the sweats started kicking in. Hand torn cabbage was markedly different to the version at Silk Road, one of my favourite restaurant dishes of all time; notable variations included slivers of pork belly (never a bad thing), lots of fresh chilli rather than dried and considerably less sugar. A very successful dish but one with a lot to live up to.

Best of the meaty dishes was pork belly with preserved vegetable; neatly arranged slices of soft belly with cm thick stripes of fat. I love the way the Chinese celebrate the softness of a piece of simmered pork like this; bubbly crackling is obviously great, but it’s not the only way to celebrate the fatty underbelly. The sauce was funky with preserved vegetable, very much like the Tianjin preserved vegetable I became hopelessly addicted to at one stage; a unique, intense, cabbagey flavour. A second meaty main, deep fried beef with cumin didn’t seem at all deep fried but was incredibly tender. Despite a heady whack of cumin, it still managed to underwhelm. Again, I’ve been spoilt by the similarly flavoured lamb skewers with cumin at Silk Road and I wish I’d tried the Yipin version.

Dan dan noodles were a little underpowered compared to the Fuschia Dunlop recipe, which I regularly make at home (mine is the second photo). The meat is always presented on top and then the whole lot stirred together at the table. More preserved vegetable and a little numbing Sichuan pepper would have improved things. Still, nice enough, if more appropriate as a lunch dish.

Rice with salted chillies was disappointing, tasting pretty much just like standard egg fried rice, and tofu with salted duck egg had the odds stacked against it, coming as it did at the end of the meal. The slippery texture of the very soft tofu so beloved by the Chinese would have been welcome 20 minutes earlier but was challenging at that stage of the game, particularly in an eggy, gelatinous sauce.

Despite minor grumbles I very much enjoyed Yipin. The room is typically utilitarian, initially lacking in atmosphere but improving as it filled up with customers, the windows getting progressively steamier. We paid £21 each with a few beers, which is cheap by most restaurant standards of course, but more expensive than other similar restaurants, where I’ve struggled to spend more than £15. This is Islington however, not Camberwell (Silk Road) or King’s Cross (Chilli Cool). I’d like to have tried Yipin’s fish fragrant aubergine as a benchmark and also anything with preserved egg, plus the pickled green beans with minced pork which I adored at Shu Castle on the Old Kent Road.

Overall a little more flavour intensity would be appreciated but I think they’ve done a lovely job of making the food more accessible in general, the photos on the menu for example and the sensitive translations which see dishes like the well known ‘saliva chicken’ translated as the more appetising ‘mouth watering chicken’. I’ve been spoiled by my proximity to places in the South East, but if I ever find myself in the area? I’d definitely go back.

Yipin China
70-72 Liverpool Road
N1 0QD
Tel: 020 7354 3388

Yipin China on Urbanspoon

Thanks to Donald for the photos. 

19 comments » | Hunan food, Restaurant Reviews, Sichuan

The South London Food Trip, 7-9 December 2012

October 3rd, 2012 — 3:28pm

Right now listen up, because this is pretty cool.

From 7th – 9th December, I will be teaming up with Food Trips to present a weekend of eating, cooking, shopping and exploring around South London. The idea behind Food Trips is that a load of like minded people get together and pack as much culinary fun into a weekend as is possible.

I think we have some of the most exciting restaurants, markets, food shops and producers down here South of the river and the  trip will take in the best that Peckham (woo!), Brixton, Camberwell and Brockley have to offer. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Check out the plans below:

Friday, December 7th
Travel to London, check in at Victoria Inn Peckham, our modern and unfussy lodgings for the weekend.
Meet Helen and Florian for a welcome drink.
Dinner Crawl of SE London. From hipster Thai in Peckham to Xingjiang chinese in Camberwell and back again by way of Turkish charcoal grills and South Indian chilli assaults.  Lots of places, lots of food to try.

Saturday, December 8th
Markets of South East London: Start with a coffee from the quantum physics nerds at Brockley Market, move on to scotch eggs and charcuterie and haggle for yam on Rye Lane. Meet the wonderful local producers and try their food.
After a little lunchtime digestion break  we move to Anderson’s in Peckham and take over their restaurant and kitchen.
We’ll turn our loot into a beautiful dinner and Helen will give you a bit of insight into Peckham stalwart recipes like jerk chicken, muhammara or bobcat slaw.
The bar at the Victoria Inn will hopefully be able to answer all questions still open after dinner.

Sunday, December 9th
To round proceedings off the will be an extended breakfast at Brixton Village on Sunday. Kick start your day with a scotch bonnet vodka bloody mary at Seven at Brixton and then nibble your way through the holy hallways of one of the most exciting food locations in London.

Ticket prices:
£160 without accommodation
£240 in shared accommodation
£280 with a single room
All tickets include all activities, all food but no alcoholic drinks during meals.
There are 25 seats only for this event. Please send an email with your ticket request to We will let you know as soon as possible if we managed to accommodate you.

14 comments » | Food Events, Food From The Rye

Back to top