Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Number 67: Yet another South East London gem

Number 67, Peckham

If you, like me, are ruled by your belly, I don't think there has been a better time to live in the south east of London. There have been so many new restaurants and revamps that eating out around here has become an utter joy. I always try to look out for new places opening near me, and when I heard that there was a new cafe (from none other than the Camberwell Blog) opening next to the South London Gallery a short stroll from my house, I had to go and check it out.

Number 67, Peckham

The cafe itself is integrated with the South London Gallery, taking up various rooms and areas inside and out. I was slightly confused with the layout, but it is just meant to be a cafe, so I headed out towards the back and got a small table outside. The menu itself is quite an interesting beast. It's definitely on the slightly pricy side, with its "Full Spanglish" hitting the dizzy heights of £8 for breakfast. Definitely not Peckham prices! Then again, the selection on the menu had my mouth watering and I opted for a few smaller plates to see what this place was all about.

Number 67, Peckham

Saturday is brunch day and I wasn't letting the fact that it was nearly 2pm stop me from getting some sort of eggs and pig. The jamon and scrambled egg won that contest easily and arrived perched on a massive slice of toasted sourdough. I had to stop myself from scoffing this all immediately and making an unholy mess out of myself. The velvety scrambled eggs and what I think was Serrano ham was a modern twist on the more traditional ham and eggs. With the eggs slightly underseasoned, but coming together with perfect balance once the ham was added to the mouthful, I quietly devoured this all.

Number 67, Peckham

On the side, I ordered a portion of their pork rillettes, a personal favourite dish. When it arrived, I was seriously worried that I had over ordered but as soon as I took one mouthful of that silky pork, the food stood absolutely no chance. The pork arrived in a huge mound with some cornichons on the side to provide a vinegary contrast to the smooth and rich meat. More slices of sourdough were doused with an intensely grassy olive oil, bringing together an excellent contrast in flavours and textures.

Suffice to say I really enjoyed No 67. It has been a long time since I found somewhere which actually made me smile, and having it so close to my front door is just an added bonus. Open for lunch during the week and brunch at the weekends, you even get to take in the delights of the gallery next door. Another great addition to an already fabulous area.

Number 67 - 67 Peckham Road, London SE5 8UH


No. 67 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ice Cream Season: Gelupo and Chin Chin Laboratorists

Llandudno Beach
(Llandudno Beach, Cape Town. Not London)

It is a God given fact that the Sun and London do not go together. Hardly a summer passes by where we don't hear at least one complaint of how rubbish it all was. Imagine my chagrin as I sat on a sunny South African beach, revelling in the fact that this year I didn't need to cope with London's highly changeable weather, only to find out that my home had been bathed in sunlight for days on end. However, as much as I was enjoying my trip, the thought of a sunny London just made going home a lot easier.

Pistachio Ice Cream @ Selfridges
(A very respectable pistachio ice cream from Oddono's)

Nothing complements the sunny weather better than an ice cold ice cream to cool you down. Ice cream has been proven to contain medicinal qualities (this may be made up) and can be prescribed as a cure for heat stroke or melancholy (this is a fact). As the sun appears to have crept up on London, so have a handful of ice cream parlours. With Scoop initially leading the way with their branch in Covent Garden and now one in Soho, we have seen various other ice cream parlours or "gelateria" (for the softer and creamier Italian versions) pop up.

Gelupo, Archer Street

One that has received a flurry of good reviews has been Gelupo on Archer Street. Little sister to Bocca di Lupo (a "regional Italian restaurant") across the road, the premises are dedicated to "gelati, sorbets and granita" with a shop selling a smattering of Italian comestibles. With the waitress thrusting tasters upon me (it would have been rude to decline), I had a taste of the pistachio (nutty and sweet) and the slightly less standard Bonet (essentially a combination of rum, amaretti, coffee, chocolate).

Gelupo, Archer Street

Soon enough, a choice had to be made so I opted for another firm favourite flavour in hazelnut and something a bit different with the ricotta, coffee and honey flavour. The hazelnut was all I could hope for. I am a big fan of nut based ice creams, and this had all the nutty characteristics you would expect, alongside the sweet creaminess that only a good gelato can deliver. The ricotta, coffee and honey was a stunning combination of flavours, with the coffee and honey being two quite unexpected but entirely complementary bedfellows.

Gelupo, Archer Street

My compatriots opted for a variety of the sorbets and granitas, and although they commented that their offerings may have been erring on the sweet side, I was incredibly satisfied with their creamier offerings. At £3 for a medium cup, it's not totally extortionate and the perfect remedy for a hot stroll around Soho.

Chin Chin Labs, Camden

A few days later, it was time for another (totally different) adventure, this time in the badlands of Camden. After strolling past the hordes of tourists perusing shops offering piercing, tattoos and leather goods (an interesting assortment of London souvenirs, I’m sure you will agree), we approached the iconic Camden Lock. Here you will find the Chin Chin Laboratorists, apparently Londons first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour.

Chin Chin Labs, Camden

My ultra scientific explanation is that liquid nitrogen is seriously cold. Mixing it together with cream whilst it is being whisked around makes ice cream in mere minutes, with the liquid nitrogen turning into gas and evaporating off. Trust me, go and listen to the explanation given by Ahrash, one half of the duo behind this venture, it will make a tonne more sense. As he studiously prepares the ice cream, he chats to you and answers any questions that you may have. This just added to the charm of the place.

Chin Chin Labs, Camden

The choice isn't vast but with two standard flavours (vanilla and choc I think) and one guest flavour every day (with other flavours in development) it should get your whistle well and truly whetted. And besides, once the show with the liquid nitrogen is over, you get to chat with Nyisha, co-owner and partner, who will jazz up your ice cream with whatever you desire from the toppings that are available. I opted for salted caramel sauce and some nibbed hazelnuts.

Chin Chin Labs, Camden

I can't say that the ice cream taste any different than what I would expect from a premium ice cream, but it was still an excellent rendition of vanilla ice cream and the toppings were a wonderful addition. At £4, this is a bit more expensive than other ice cream parlours, but then again, do you get theatre and education there? As well was chatting to the two lovely people behind the counter? I thought not.

There are tonnes more ice cream places in London and I will endeavour to check a few out before the summer is out and we are back in our thick warm winter coats (so probably some time in September). If you have any personal favourites, please let me know!

Gelupo - 7 Archer Street, London W1D 7AU

Gelupo on Urbanspoon

Chin Chin Laboratorists - 49-50 Camden Lock Place

Chin Chin Laboratorists on Urbanspoon

Gelupo on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 19, 2010

NomNomNom 2010: Yup, I entered a cooking competition and it didn't end well

NomNomNom 2010

All that was running through my head was "What am I doing here?". After two and a half hours slaving away, chopping, slicing, freezing, boiling, mixing and other things ending with "-ing", I surveyed a sloppy custard tart in front of me and could have cried.

So how did it come to this exactly? Actually, it all started approximately 12 months ago. Back in the day when I was a blogging newcomer, a fair few of my new found friends entered a competition called "NomNomNom". A competition with that many "Nom's" in its name has got to be worth entering, right? With tales of madcap dashing around in the markets, burning things and general tales of drunken antics, I told myself that this would be the stage to prove that I could cook, to prove that I wasn't a total buffoon in the kitchen, to prove that I was capable of more than just writing about restaurants.

DSC_3089
Courtesy of Tikichris

Twelve months later and the trumpet sounded. "All who would dare compete for the prize of most illustrious NomNomNommer, please apply here". Finding a partner was easy. I have already cooked with Carla from Bribedwithfood a few times, and although often considered no more than her "bitch", we entered together under the moniker of "The Cultural Hotpot", two people with more cultural ambiguity than a Benetton ad.

The prep did not start well. During the four weeks between entering and the actual day of reckoning, I spent 3 of them traipsing around South Africa, leaving me woefully underprepared. Thankfully, Carla had put in a few trial runs of the starter and the main, with the rather ambitous Strawberry Custard tart with Pimms sorbet in my hands. Two and half hours to make pastry, a set custard and a sorbet? In hindsight, this was a pretty insane proposition as I was soon to find out.

NomNomNom 2010

NomNomNom 2010

Arriving early at The Cookery School on Little Portland Street on a Sunday morning, we gathered our shopping bags, outlined our stock ingredients and set off for the market at a feverish pace. Marylebone farmers market can be found hidden away behind Waitrose every Sunday (10am to 2pm) and we managed to purchase some delicious (if pricy) vegetables and fruits before heading to the Ginger Pig for some pork to be used in the main and Waitrose for the last few ingredients we could not locate.

NomNomNom 2010

NomNomNom 2010

A swift return and a health and safety briefing later, it was time to show the world what a culinary genius I was. That was the moment everything started to go wrong. After calmly telling Carla that it didn't matter if we won, my insanely competetive instinct took over but I could not avoid the juggernaut of relative failure. First there was too much sugar in the sorbet, then I had run out of yolks for the custard and had to borrow one, then the cornstarch wasn't getting cooked. Error after error presented themselves to me, all of which could have been avoided with a simple trial run or two. Carla calmly went about her business and presented two excellent plates of food, whilst I surveyed my sad sloppy tart. I was a broken man, staring down at my custardy mess as others around me presented plates upon plates of highly "nommable" plates of food.

NomNomNom 2010

We didn't win, but we certainly had put our heart and soul into our food. I was severely disappointed with what I had done, but I always learn from my mistakes and next time I can guarantee that my strawberry custard tart will be error free (or at the very least, served in smaller pastry cases, and maybe a seperate glass for the Pimms "granita"). We proceeded to stuff our faces with everyone elses food and sat around a huge dinner table, chatting and drinking. After an agonising wait, the winners were announced and the rather hefty prizes were dished out, with a triumphant Food Urchin and Rachel McCormack taking first prize.


This is not where the story ends. The competition had many kind and generous contributors for prizes and the ultimate aim is to raise some cash for Action Against Hunger, a very worthy charity. If you want to do your bit, and maybe win a selection of amazing prizes, click right here which will take you through to an excellent raffle where you can win an array of food, kitchen utensils and...well....more food!

NomNomNom 2010

Thanks to Mex and all at the Cookery school (especially Ros and Claudine) for giving up their free time. Oh, and we can't forget all the lovely people who donated prizes and lovely things to put into our heaving goodie bags (a full list can be found here). Next year, I will be better prepared and will (maybe) win. Be warned ;)

p.s. If you want to see any more of my photos, you can find them here. Recipes to follow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Taste of London 2010

Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the Taste of London food festival in Regents Park by rather sinister and shady means. My sisters friend had won two VIP tickets after entering a competition run by a well know purveyor of orange juice. She couldn't go so my sister and I were the lucky owners of two VIP passes and £50 worth of crowns. During a day where I watched a very hung-over Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall screw up almost everything he attempted, met Jun Tanaka and ate tonnes of great food, I vowed I would go back.

Roll on 2010 and this time, not only was I a punter (having been lucky enough to be invited back, this time bestowed with a press pass) but I also offered to put in a shift at Beas of Bloomsbury, purveyor of cupcakes and stonking Lychee martinis. Here are a few highlights of a fab few days.


Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

I was hanging around with the delectable MiMi for much of the day and as she is "bezzer" mates with Tristan Welch, we headed on over to say hi and try out what turned out to be one of the biggest sellers of the festival, spit roast old spot suckling pig and black summer truffles, served like a pork roll. Inviting us to come round the back and check out the hive of activity, we surveyed the rotating pig and headed back out the front to sample the produce. I can say with no favouritism what so ever that this was my favourite dish of the festival. So good, I had to come back the next day when I was working and have another. Crisp skin, succulent pork and earthy truffles and truffle mayonnaise. Heavenly.


Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

I am a big fan of the Great British Menu (regular readers probably know this already), and it was through watching this programme devotedly every day for weeks that I came across Bryn Williams. When I had heard that he had taken over the kitchen at Odette's, I vowed that I would go and sample some of his food. As with so many other restaurants, I haven't made it that far yet but jumped at the chance to sample some of his food at the festival. Whilst chatting to the laid back and affable Bryn, we sampled some excellent lamb and I tip off my hat to his version of beetroot and goats cheese. The addition of Regents Park honey was excellent and the subtle sweet honey really brought out the flavour of the dish.


Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

I spied a few people walking around with some very appetising looking beef and after a few enquiries and a break of will, I wandered over to Le Pont de la Tour to sample their steak au poivre and frites. With a deep char and a beautifully pink and tender centre, this was perfectly cooked. How they can replicate this for all the punters that they would receive throughout the day, I do not know. Excellent, grease free and crunchy frites, the overall dish was only slightly let down by a watery peppercorn sauce.


Taste of London 2010, Regents Park

When Bea put the call out for help on her stall, I thought I would throw my hat into the ring and help out. After all, how hard could it be, right? Oh, how wrong I was. My temperamental feet wilted under the pressure as I tried to knock up as many lychee and raspberry martinis as I possibly could. At the other end of the operation, the team worked tirelessly, selling cupcakes as quickly as they could. A very tiring day but a great experience. And those martinis were bloody good and all.

So those were my highlights. Obviously a tonne of other things went on too, and I managed to miss a few things I really regret (like Adam Byatt of Trinity's pigs trotters!), and if you are that way inclined, I have some more photos up on my flickr site. The only real downside for me is that it can become quite an expensive day. I was lucky enough to be comped entry, but even then, most dishes are between £4 and £5, and sampling them becomes quite addictive. Roll on Taste 2011!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Cafe Luc: Overpriced "blah" in Marylebone

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

The hardest thing I find about writing blog posts are those first few paragraphs. You know the ones, setting the scene, adding a bit of back-story of they whys and why nots and a maybe a throw a little snippet about me into the mix. Sitting here trying to come up with those few paragraphs about Cafe Luc has been hard. I simply heard about a new place opening up in Marylebone on the grapevine and then my good friend Charmaine asked me if I wanted to go with her for work. Underwhelming stuff, and unfortunately, this is probably the most exciting thing you will read from this point in.

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

Located just round the corner from Harley Street, Cafe Luc (an offshoot from the Le Pain Quotidien) is a brasserie charging Harley street prices. With the interior as sterile as the medical facilities the next road along, we perused the menu and chose our starters. Averaging around a tenner each, I ordered a simple goat’s cheese starter on croutons, a snip for a mere £8.90. Pleasant, but not £8.90 pleasant. Charz's crab tian was alright, and for someone who dislikes the crustacean as much as I was palatable. The centimetre thick layer of crème fraiche, however, was an unnecessary and cloying addition.

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

My main course of chicken supreme was tender and combined with the sweet champagne sauce made for a very average main. The mushrooms were advertised as black trompettes but look suspiciously like chestnut mushrooms. We perused them quizzically and If I had known what they were meant to look like, I would have kicked up a fuss for sure. Oh and a mysterious looking hair was dismissed by the maitre'd as a hair from the mushroom. Do mushrooms even have hair? The addition of a lemony pappardelle on the side was the highlight of an otherwise droll main, freshly made and with good bite, this was excellent pasta.

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

Cafe Luc, Marylebone

Desserts were another disappointment. Crème Caramel was sloppy with air bubbles throughout, watery caramel and probably the most alcoholic grapes I have ever had the misfortune in trying. It should have come with a warning to keep away from open flames. "Pineapple" was just that, a hunk of pineapple with a pineapple mohican and some coconut sorbet. The advertised pistachio was absent, but by this time, I don't think either of us could give a monkeys.

So there it is, a boring if expensive meal. I'm not sure as to the final bill as C paid, but I anticipate it was about £40 a head without alcohol. Over priced, underwhelming and unsatisfying. Dull.

Cafe Luc - 50 Marylebone High Street, London W1U 5HN

Cafe Luc on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Eating in Durban, South Africa

Durban, World Cup 2010

It’s been nearly a year since I was given carte blanche to travel again and boy have I taken advantage of it. In the last 12 months, I have visited countries from 5 different continents, visiting New York (North America), Dublin (my token Europe visit), Sydney and Melbourne (Australasia) and Bali and Malaysia (Asia). Adding South Africa to my bow, that makes 5. I was excited. Even when I was able to fly and jetting abroad at each possible opportunity, I had never made it as far as Africa. A whole new continent unexplored by my palate.

Durban was my first stop on my World cup road trip and a great place to start my journey. With an interesting mix of cultures (including the largest Indian population in any city outside India) and a quite stunning stretch of beach, I happily spent the first four days of my trip taxiing around (as walking in city centres is ill advised in South Africa) discovering things on my own.

World Cup 2010, Durban

As I was here for the football, I headed down to the beach where the fan park was located to start getting into the swing of things. With music blaring out before kick off to get the fans in the party mood, I headed down to the rather large food section to get my first fill. The stalls stretched out as far as the eye can see. Comprising of predominantly Indian foods (with bunny chow’s, a half loaf filled with curry, and samoosa’s being particularly prevalent), I decided to opt for the other local favourite, the boerwors, a heavily spiced sausage which can be made from venison, pork, beef, mutton or a combination of the above. It’s not to everyone’s taste but smothered with the local condiments of neon yellow mustard (less sharp and more piquant) and ketchup goes down rather well with a local pint of Castle. Alternatives include a kaasegriller, which is a hot dog made with cheese IN IT and of course the regular versions. Basically, a lot of sausages.

World Cup 2010, Durban
World Cup 2010, Durban

Most of the places I saw to eat were predominantly restricted to outlets of popular local franchises such as Spur, Steers, Nandos and most commonly of all, Wimpy. I put the word out on Twitter and was sent to 9th Avenue bistro in the Morningside district of Durban. Located in a forecourt of a local shopping centre, I wasn’t expecting much. It appeared extremely simple from the outside and barring one other table enjoying their meal, I was the only other person eating. I needn’t have worried as all the food was actually very good. My starter of calamari was excellently fried. Greaseless and with a crisp batter, the squid was fresh and tender, with a perfectly balanced chilli aioli to accompany it. The steak came with a watery pepper sauce but was a pink medium hunk of meat sitting on a stack of crispy chips. Grilled with a sweet but peppery baste, I made my way through my meal, enjoying every bite until I could eat no more and called it a day. With a bill of just under £20, this felt expensive by Durban standards but you would struggle to find a meal as enjoyable in London for cheaper.

World Cup 2010, Durban
World Cup 2010, Durban

After a few days completing tourist duties and generally sunning myself on the beach (even in winter, it can reach up to 30 degrees in the midday sun), my friends arrived, one of whom is an Indian Durbanite. Other than eating some excellent meals at his parents and family, including chilli bites made from pea flour and probably the best mutton curry I have ever eaten, we were taken to Sunrise Chip n Ranch, or Jonnies as it is known to the locals. Selling a myriad of interesting local Durban delights 24 hours a day, it is renowned for its filled rotis and often has queues down the street waiting for theirs. Sent in blind, I wisely left my non Durban English partner in crime to order first. With no menu bar a few specials scrawled over the wall, I went for a base of chicken curry (the curries appear to be much drier and packed with spices, no coconut milk in sight) and triple cheese (nearly everything in South Africa appears to be served with cheese) and was shortly presented a wrapped roti as long as my arm. Carting it back to the car, I sat on the pavement and slowly peeled the wrapper away and took a big bite. All I can say is that the combination of slabs of cheese with curry is genius and the abnormally large roti was absolutely delicious. I ravenously tore into it but I was soon stuffed with a third of the roti still staring up at me. I looked up at my friend who was eating his off the car bonnet and he had admitted defeat at halfway. With a drink, mine came to around £4, an absolute steal.

Durban, World Cup 2010
Durban, World Cup 2010

After all this uncultured gluttony, we opted to go for something a bit more civilised on one of our days away from football and headed to the botanical gardens. Whilst home to some stunning flora, it also houses Charles and Mabel James Tea house, a little tea hut run by elderly volunteers serving famous home baked scones and “crumpets”. The local versions vary quite significantly from its British counterparts. The scones are light and airy whilst the crumpets are more like small pancakes. All arrived smothered in home whipped cream and the scones were served with local preserve (apricot jam, I think) with the crumpets drizzled with maple syrup. A good place to see the local birds (as they try to scavenge any errant crumbs) and relax with a comforting mug of tea.

World Cup 2010, Durban

Durban had been an interesting place to visit and with three matches at the quite stunning Moses Mahbida stadium under our belt, it was time to hit the road and explore outside Durban. Next stop Port Elizabeth and then onwards to Cape Town.

"Jonnies" Sunrise Chip n Ranch - Sparks Road, Overport
9th Avenue Bistro - 9th Avenue, 2 Avonmore Centre
Charles and Mabel James Tea house - Durban Botanical Gardens

If you fancy taking a look at a few more Durban pictures, they can be found on my Flickr page.

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