Tag: London

Jaflong, East Dulwich

November 15th, 2010 — 6:45pm

There are probably 10 Indian restaurants on Lordship Lane in East Dulwich, if not more, but in the 3 years I’ve lived within spitting distance I’ve visited only 1 (Tandoori Nights if you’re interested – massively overrated). For some reason though I developed a ‘feeling’ about Jaflong, part of which was based on my completely incorrect assumption that it’s new. According to the waiter I’ve been walking past it for 2 years. Huh.

The outside looks modern, but inside it’s classic curry house circa 1990: doilies in abundance, carnations in white vases and pink napkins folded into the shape of birds. This worried me slightly, but the starters looked promising, with some unusual dishes I’d not come across before.

Chingri meerchi was stir fried prawns with mountains of shredded spring onion, coriander and green chilli. I worried it might be like munching on a bag of grass but it was surprisingly well balanced; light and fresh. The two brown, disk-shaped things are pakra: ‘avari’ leaves layered with a spiced chickpea paste, rolled, sliced and deep fried. They were unusual, blissfully unhealthy and moist despite their dessicated appearance. Murgh tikka lasania was chicken marinated in spiced, strained yoghurt which formed a thick outer crust and rendered the inner meat supremely soft, as if double-brined. It might have looked anaemic, but the flavour was powerful. I clapped my hands with glee whenever I wasn’t stuffing something into my face.

As we moved on to the mains though, it began to fall apart. Every dish that arrived contained an alarming amount of sugar. I wondered if it might be an accident, but each of our choices – the same. The mixed grill was otherwise fine, I suppose. A bit timidly spiced and oh I just can’t help myself, no Tayyabs, but seriously, just so sweet. A pinch of sugar can work wonders, no doubt about it, but this was like curry for kids.

Shah Jahani (smoked Bangladeshi fish cooked in the tandoor) sounded great but suffered the same problem. My accompanying gajar-e-naan sounded brilliant on paper (‘naan stuffed with grated carrot and smothered with mashed garlic’) but there was no carrot inside, just a stingy grating on top. It was good and garlicky but guess what? Yeah, too sweet. Even the raita was sickly.

Jaflong are trying to offer something different rather than banging out the usual ‘lamb, beef, chicken or prawns in masala, balti or vindaloo sauce’  and there are genuinely interesting choices on the menu. The meal started so well I was ready to rave about the place but they are serving a serious swerve ball with those mains. It was a meal of two halves, like the chefs swapped halfway through. I wanted to like it so much that I dreamt up excuse after excuse but there was no denying the fact that we were one of only 2 tables at prime time on a Saturday night.

There’s a lot of competition on Lordship Lane and Jaflong are trying to stand out from the crowd. What saddens me, is that they’re doing it for the wrong reason.

41 Lordship Lane

SE22 8EW
Tel: 020 8693 6353

The meal cost around £55 for two with a couple of Cobras.

4 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

Big Lunch Update #3

July 16th, 2010 — 8:11pm

It’s getting close now. I’m really excited and tomorrow is all about The Big Cook Off. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers; a gent who runs the ED Warehouse saw my appeal on The East Dulwich Forum and dropped off some perfectly sized tables and catering tea pots; a charming lady brought round some old plates she didn’t need and on Tuesday I found myself in student digs in Elephant ridding some departing graduates of unwanted cutlery.

Here’s a little vid featuring some of the other locals who’ve kindly donated their wares. At this rate, with such cool people involved, we’re going to raise a good whack for Maggie’s. Big Up Peckham!

5 comments » | Food Events, Food From The Rye, Lovely Food Producing People, Peckham, The Big Lunch

Cocktail masterclass at Rules

June 10th, 2010 — 11:48am

Brian Silva. What a legend. This guy is what you call a ‘serious’ barman. He is most definitely from the old school. His cool, smooth, easy manner oozes the quiet confidence of experience – 30 years of it. Soft, Anglicised-American tones soothe you into your bar seat as he mixes, muddles, shakes and pours. The man seems part of that bar and it is his own, really; he was coaxed from The Connaught to re-open an historic space – once the favourite hideaway of the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry; ’tis the stuff of lore and misty daydreams.

Which all makes me feel even more embarrassed that I said the word “fuck” in front of him. Not intentionally you understand, it just slipped out. I was nervous, you see – jittering together a Margarita ‘the Rules way’ (with a touch of Cointreau) – Brian’s mellifluous instruction guiding me and my foul mouth towards green, salted nirvana.  The alcohol had loosened my tongue – we’d had rather a lot by that point, being two thirds of the way into a three hour class which had started with a straight liquor tasting.

The classes take place on weekday afternoons between 2 and 5pm and cost £135 per person for up to four people. It’s a lot of money. So how much bang do you get for your buck? Well, first Brian shows you around behind the scenes; the bar varnished and twinkling with promise of alcoholic alchemy, framed by dark wood, gilt mirrors and animal horns. He whooshes you through spirits; garnishes; the speed rail; the glasses, tools and potions and curios of his own creation. And then it’s down to consumption. You learn how to make at least four classic cocktails, and finally one or two of your own choosing.

Declan McGurk, supplier of liquor (Speciality Brands) to Rules bar, had started the session with a little spirit tasting. Jensen’s Old Tom Gin, made in Bermondsey, was first to blow me away. Jensen developed the recipe by combing the history books and found that traditionally ‘Old Toms’ were never sweetened with sugar (too expensive); the raucous spirit was instead tempered with extra botanicals, which is just what you get from Jensen’s – a sudden spicy thwack on the nose and lengthy herbal flavour. Grant’s Morella Cherry Brandy was another stunner; a scarlet sweetheart, smelling powerfully of Bakewell tart – all almonds and cherries and sticky summer fêtes.

The ‘classics’ were the best I’ve tasted. There are just 10 on the menu – all Brian’s recipes and all with subtle twists. Of course he can make anything you like, as long as it doesn’t contain any kind of fruit purée, or tacky garnish. In the back room he shows us a plastic bag full of paper umbrellas, which he keeps for the people who hack him off; receiving a drink from Brian topped with such a vulgar appendage could only ever be intended as an insult. Martini’s are always stirred, never shaken and come served in traditional, squat conical glasses. A Blue Moon, made with crystallised violets tastes vaguely of the parma sweetie versions I used to neck as a kid. Brian rolls his eyes when I say this and as well he should – this drink is elegant, mysterious and very grown-up.  These cocktails, from this bar, made by this man, are the antithesis of a jug of ‘sex on the beach’ during happy hour at the student union.

There will never be any throwing of bottles, neon lighting or even music in the Rules cocktail bar. It’s the very definition of understated glamour, an oasis amongst the gaggles of teenage tourists, street performers and gift shops of Covent Garden. If you’ve got the money, this city is your playground and if you can afford this class then I urge you to go. If your budget has more in common with mine, then I recommend you treat yourself to a cocktail every now and then – much more accessible at around the £12 mark.

As we were released back into reality, fuzzy warm and unsteady, eyes blinking through the shock of sunlight, I felt as if I’d emerged from the set of an old movie; the star of the show – Brian Silva.

35 Maiden Lane
Tel: 0207 836 5314

Rules on Urbanspoon

For information about the Rules cocktail master class, contact Brian at brian@rules.co.uk and please see his comment below.
Classes costs £135 per person, take place on weekday afternoons  from 2-5pm and you can have up to 4 people in a class.
I was invited to try the masterclass free of charge.

18 comments » | Bars/Pubs, Drinks

My top two London restaurants

June 6th, 2010 — 6:37pm

The Ledbury and Chilli Cool. Couldn’t be more different. I often have a little mental wrestle with myself about which style of food is ultimately more satisfying; is it the exacting refinement of fine dining or is it the generosity and un-fussed comfort of home-style? I find it seriously hard to answer that question.

The Ledbury is Brett Graham’s elegant double-starred restaurant in Notting Hill; Chilli Cool is a cheap, slightly scruffy and oil-slicked (literally, all over the floor – be careful on the stairs) Sichuan joint in King’s Cross. The sleek theatre of the higher-end restaurant is addictive, but there’s something about the less formal meal that feels so nourishing. It zooms in on your comfort zone and harpoons it, right at the heart.

My recent birthday lunch at The Ledbury was exquisite – squid in ravioli sounded weird but was just the right kind of bouncy, like an understated Thai-fish-cake-bouncy. Teeny ribbons of wild garlic peeped through skin thin pasta; crisp baby radishes bobbed in sweet squid consommé. It looked like a plate made for a princess. Duck was just the softest meat I’ve ever eaten, garnished with glassy slices of sweet and sour grape. A honey and gingerbread souffle was, well…just look at it. The most perfect tower of eggy fluff I ever ate; whipped through with nuggets of gingerbread, the honey waiting golden and sticky down below. Thyme ice cream steadily pervaded, perhaps a little too much. This was all the set lunch by the way (£27.50, 3 courses), although you still feel as special as if you’d ordered the tasting menu.

While The Ledbury coddles and cossets your belly to capacity, Chilli Cool hits it running. Crispy fried chilli pig’s intestines anyone? Tubular chunks of pork bomb, plain and simple. The best pieces crunch then yield to a gelatinous chewy interior. Contrast is everything in Sichuan cuisine. A typical table bears the weight of hot and cold dishes. Shredded raw potato is lustrous and slippery; dry fried beans, blistered and hot; chunks of grouper and tofu swim in the oil of a fiery hotpot while cold slivers of pork belly suck up a mashed garlic sauce which will stain absolutely anything indelibly. Fiery and numbing dishes buddy up with cooling cuke salad and wobbly fungus dappled with sesame oil. They do things with aubergines that make me want to shed a little tear of joy. Oh, and I’ve never spent more than £20 in there, including beers.

There’s no hint of pretension or ego, the food has serious complexity and above all it’s a blast. This is what my top two have in common.

Consider The Ledbury’s celeriac baked in ash – ceremoniously cut open at table before plating; an exciting little show. Bacon and onion mini brioche rolls are to die for and have that sugar and swine combination that makes me giggle with delight; think Bompas and Parr’s bacon doughnuts, or candied bacon ice cream. Their strawberry and hibiscus Bellini and doughnut at last year’s Taste of London was the dish that hooked me in; we giggled and chattered over it like a pair of excited monkeys.

So many places disappoint with the mundane. Food may be perfectly cooked and yet duller than the thud of the neighbouring fat cat’s wallet hitting the table. And don’t get me started on atmosphere; I don’t care how life-changing the food is supposed to be, if the place is stuffy, I won’t be visiting. I need it to make me smile. The best restaurants are playful but not gimmicky; confident and slightly cheeky. In the end I suppose I’ve managed to answer my question: it’s not really a case of preferring either style, but one of accessibility and heart and most of all, fun.

Chilli Cool
15 Leigh street
0207 383 3135

Chilli Cool on Urbanspoon

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Road
0207 792 9191

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon

15 comments » | Restaurant Reviews

A (Long Overdue) London Sandwich Post

September 28th, 2009 — 9:01am

You know by now I have a  ‘healthy’ (bordering on obsessive) appreciation for sandwiches. I find it so satisfying to sink my teeth into a slice of crusty, fresh bread which yields to layer on layer of textures and flavours; it is a perfect self contained meal. Earlier this year I began to blog about sandwiches I’ve found around London but for some reason this slipped and I’ve now got a backlog. Here’s a little round-up, just to get us back on track.

First up, a London classic: the chorizo roll from the Brindisa grill at Borough Market. A ciabatta roll is stuffed with either a single or double portion of Alejandro Barbacoa chorizo (obviously I had the double) plus roasted Navarrico piquillo peppers and a good handful of rocket (£4.50 ish?) A drizzle of olive oil is all it needs in the way of lubrication as all the beautiful spicy fat from the sausage seeps into the bread, coating everything with its smoky, paprika flavour. This sandwich is intense and addictive, which is why the queue more often than not snakes right back into the market. The picture below represents a rare moment of quiet at the grill; when they are moving at full pace it is quite a spectacle of sizzle and smoke.

Next, a sandwich from my favourite local bakery, Luca’s. This is not one of their greatest creations unfortunately and would have been more enjoyable toasted. I mean, look at the size of that bread! Tim Hayward would hate this sandwich. The filling of brie and pesto was, as ever, fresh and high quality; the brie was ripe and pongy and the pesto tasted home made (it cost around £3).  Despite some ongoing problems with slow service, the staff are charming and endearingly ditsy and the baked goods are a cut above the norm. They also do cheese and charcuterie plates, an absolutely triumphant rye bread, preserves, biscuits and cakes.

There are a couple of irritating things about Luca’s though – one being the fact that their coffee is a bit watery (according to trusted sources) and the other that, as with most places in East Dulwich, you have to have a high tolerance for the presence of small children; this means lots of noise, mess and rows of increasingly alien looking pushchairs. I am practically immune to this now. If you can’t bear the thought however, I’ve recently heard from the charming Rosie Lovell that her deli (Rosie’s Cafe Deli in Brixton) will soon be stocking Luca’s bread and they will also be selling their goods at Brixton Farmers’ Market in the near future.

Next, another Borough Market offering: the salt beef from Roast to Go, which is one of those places I’ve always meant to visit but never felt particularly inspired by. To be honest, this wasn’t a particularly remarkable example of the classic. To me, thick hunks of meltingly tender brisket should be bursting out of the bread; this was just a bit rubbery and meagre in size and the miserly stripe of mustard down the middle wasn’t enough to invoke even a mild case of ‘mustard nose’. Pickles were present and correct but it pales in comparison to a classic salt beef from Bagel Bake on Brick Lane, which costs around £3 I think in comparison to Roast’s version for a fiver. The bread was sweet and soft though, almost bagel-like in chewyness. I think they could be onto something there…

Finally, a sanger from an Italian deli and restaurant called Tentazioni that Chris discovered down in Shad Thames. The deli seemed well stocked although I do have to question their choice of location. Are they really going to drum up enough business tucked down one of those dark side streets otherwise filled with estate agents and over-priced, under-sized apartments? It’s a shame really because the lady inside was very charming and keen to help, even if she did work at the most incredibly slow pace. As the place is not geared mainly towards making sandwiches, it was a bit difficult to see what was on offer and a language barrier issue meant we just had to point at a few things and hope for the best. We got some fennel and pepper salami and parmesan with cracked black pepper and salad. The ingredients inside were delicious but the sandwich on the whole, a little dry and bready.

That said, the place is definitely worth checking out. I spied some gorgeous looking (if ridiculously expensive) smoked mozzarella along with Sicilian fennel sausages, pastries, a range of Italian cheeses and meats and also dried products like good quality pulses. You can see more pictures in my Flickr sandwich set here.

So there we have it, a few sandwiches to digest while I search out the next victim. Londoners, I call out for your assistance in directing me to the best sandwiches in the city. Share your favourites please!

FYI: Jonathan also writes a great series on sandwiches in London: ‘The Sandwichist

24 comments » | Sandwiches, Sandwiches and The City

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