Friday, April 29, 2011

Los Angeles Day 4: Being a big kid and an Animal dinner

LA - Universal Studios

On the surface, I may look like a thirty year old man, but deep down, I am one big kid. I still love playing games and have a fascination with Lego, and I definitely couldn't leave LA without visiting Universal Studios.

Located up in the Hollywood Hills, it is still a live set with movies and TV shows still being filmed here all round the year. As alluring as all the film history is, I was here for some rides. To be fair, it all feels a little dated. The rides were fun, but nothing special and by the afternoon, with nothing more than a dirty hot dog to keep me going, I was starving and building up a proper hunger for my evening reservation at Animal.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Delhi Grill: A taste of India in Islington

Delhi Grill

According to my cousin-in-law, a Texas lad living in New York, America's Indian restaurant scene is pretty rubbish. Quite surprising for such a cosmopolitan city to have such a low incidence of quality Indian food when London is scattered with great food originating from around the Indian sub continent. So, when they came to visit this past weekend (2 young children in tow), it was left up to me to find a suitable location for us all to eat.

Delhi Grill is a self styled "Indian canteen" (or dhaba), and serving a small (albeit focused) menu from the tandoor and from the pot, and seemed a good place to take my family. After a small issue with numbers (my fault due to more people turning up), we managed to get all 9 of us round a table and started to tuck in.

Delhi Grill

We managed to pretty much order everything. An assortment of grilled meats from the tandoor were delicately spiced and rather delicious. The sheekh kebabs were extremely tender, falling apart but packed with flavour and the lamb chops had a similar melt-in-the-mouth consistency. All meats, I am told, are marinated overnight in a traditional recipe and are packed with spice. The assortment of chutneys are well received, with the beetroot based chutney especially popular with the three year old (we told her it was special ketchup, she devoured it).

Delhi Grill

From the pot, we ordered all the meat curries and a selection of the veggies off the specials menu. Out of all the food we ordered, I think I was probably least impressed with the curries. They appeared very heavy on sauce and we were often left fishing around to see if there was any meat left towards the bottom of the serving dish. Personally, I like my curries a little on the drier side.

Delhi Grill

The veggie dishes were rather good though. I believe that it was during the Indian harvest festival (baisakhi) so the majority of the specials were vegetarian dishes and bloody great they were too. Saag (spinach) came with two lumps of butter to really make it rich and velvety, and the aubergine (baingan) was smoky like a Lebanese babaganoush, but rich in Indian spices. Best of all was the tarka dhal which is made from yellow lentils, packed with garlic, coriander and cumin. It has always been a personal favourite and between my dad and I, we mopped this all up with the wonderful naan bread.

Delhi Grill

I can certainly see what the fuss is about at Delhi Grill. The food is great and is definitely a step above your standard curry house fare. I liked that it concentrates on a few good dishes and the rotating specials board should not be ignored. They coped admirably with the demands of our rather demanding table and costing just under £100 for a table of 7 adults (and two children), I think it smacks of exceedingly good value.

Delhi Grill - 21 Chapel Market, Islington, London N1

Delhi Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

North Cross rd Market: The home of the Dogfather, East Dulwich

North Cross Rd Market

It's been a good 10 years since I lived in East Dulwich. Back in those dark days, it was still relatively affordable, with none of the high street chains cluttering Lordship Lane that you see now, and still grotty enough to keep out the families. Times they are definitely a changing. The regeneration over the last ten years has seen an influx of investment and East Dulwich is packed to the brim with cafes, boutiques and child friendly bars. On most days, you can't walk down the high street without unknowingly walking into the back of a pram.

North Cross Road was always a bit of a wasteland for me, bar a few highlights. Thai Corner cafe was a popular tiny Thai restaurant where we would treat ourselves when we were feeling rich in those cash strapped post-university days. Some of the shops sold a few interesting trinkets, and on Saturdays, there was a little market with a few stalls, mainly peddling second hand furniture. Not much to get you too excited.

North Cross Rd Market

Roll on this Saturday which is almost 10 years to the day that I have returned to North Cross road market (give or take) and what a transformation. The man with his second hand furniture and slightly creepy dolls is still there, but he has now been joined by a myriad of other stalls selling food and crafts. Smells of roasting pork, pulled Vietnamese pork, ready to be made into banh mi, and coffee from the mobile coffee van filter down the street. As tempting as they were, I ignore them all, I was here for one thing, a hot dog from the Dogfather.

North Cross Rd Market

Tipped off about the hot dog stall a couple of months ago, I thought nothing of it (see previous preconceptions of North Cross Rd Market). Cue not that long ago and Helen (aka Foodstories) took one for the team and verified it was worth trip, so yesterday, I took the plunge.

North Cross Rd Market

The Dogfather stand is basically one man and his dog (real). Here he peddles a variety of four speciality dogs (alongside more standard options), ranging from the slightly odd sounding Slum dog (a curry and hotdog in a bun) to the Mexican Elvis (which is covered in home made chilli and very messy). I opted for a Snoop Dog, which is a 100% kosher all beef dog, grilled onions, strips of bacon, corn mayo and BBQ sauce, sat on a few slices of cheese.

North Cross Rd Market

Chatting to Cooper as he prepared his dogs on his griddle, he expressed his passion for diner food. Having previously worked for a diner, he professed that the dogs were just one part of his repertoire and he yearned to have the opportunity to open up his own diner. Personally, I really enjoyed mine, and with a few tweaks, you would have a kick ass dog. North Cross rd market has come a long way in 10 years. I'll be back, and next time, I am bringing my appetite.

North Cross road Market - Open 6 days a week, but Saturday is where it's at. Northcross Road market is located off of Lordship Lane and Crystal Palace Road in East Duwich, SE22 9EV.

You can reach the Dogfather on twitter @dogfatherdiner

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Los Angeles Day 3: A farmers market in Hollywood, brunch and a US popup

Hollywood Sunday Market

Over the first few days of my visit, all I heard in relation to food pretty much every where I went was "organic", "healthy" and "local". I guess I shouldn't have been that surprised, since the city of Angels is packed to the brim full of aspiring actors trying to look their best. What did surprise me was how easy it was to get your hands on all this great produce. All through the week, you can spot farmers markets around the town, with a seeming abundance of them on Sunday. Chatting with Charlie the night before, he encouraged me to visit one with him right in the heart of Hollywood, home to some of the suppliers of his restaurant.

Hollywood Sunday Market

Lining the streets for a couple of blocks either way were rows of stalls selling fresh fruit, veg, meat and even live seafood. As with most markets, we went along, checking out the stalls, snagging tasters when on offer. Apart from freakishly large strawberries, most of the fruit and veg tasted pretty great, with the oranges in particular tasting like no orange I had ever tasted. Sweet and delicious. Some blueberries, some of those oranges and some apples bought, we headed down to Silver Lake for some coffee.

I don't know a whole lot about coffee, but I know I love it. It seems the Angelenos love it to, and with the queue heading out of the door at Intelligentsia, I knew it had to be good, people normally only queue for the good stuff. When I finally got my lips around a cup, I knew it was. A deeper and slightly more bitter brew, but delightfully smooth. It didn't last very long, so once we were done, we gave up our seats to the waiting hordes and headed for lunch.

Omelette at Canele

Charlie assured me that the food at our next stop Canele was good. He knew the owners who had very much the same ethos in food as he had, try and use the freshest and most seasonal ingredients in the best way that you could. As it was Sunday brunch, I ordered conservatively with a cheese and mushroom omelette, and a side of home cured bacon. The food was certainly good, with a faultless omelette, garlicky crisp home fries and a well dressed salad. The sad thing was that it took over an hour to turn up and the staff were looking sadly flustered with all the people they had to serve. Disappointing, but at least the food was good.

LA - Meg's Moveable Feast

LA - Meg's Moveable Feast

I really wanted an opportunity to meet other "foodies" and when I learnt of a pop up food and cocktail evening at the Roosevelt hotel held by Made by Meg, I signed up. What followed were lovely cocktails by mixologist Matthew Biancaniello paired with plates of food by Meg Hall. Some pairings were great, some were good, and some dishes were a little disappointing, but on the whole, the night was a great success. The chocolate terrarium to end the night was quite a delicious show stopper. I met a gaggle of LA food lovers who kept me company and were lovely to chat to, and all in all had a lovely evening. A really great day seeing and meeting a less touristy side of LA.

Silver Lake Intelligentsia - 3922 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90029

Canele - 3219 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039-1831

Canelé on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Los Angeles Day 2: In-n-Out and pasta with the Village Idiot at Osteria Mozza

The recreation grounds at Venice Beach

Day two in LA saw me really embrace my inner tourist. Being a non driver, and facing up to the lack of public transport in LA, I decided that the best way to see the city would be to hop on a city tour and let them drive me around. My tour of choice cost $65 for the day, starting at 9am, picking me up from my hotel and proceeded to take me around LA, delivering me back to my hotel at 4pm.

The canals in Venice

Throughout the day, I travelled far and wide. The morning took in the highlights of Santa Monica and Venice Beach (where the area was designed to be like Venice, Italy, canals and all) and headed on downtown, where the streets were empty bar a group of protesters. With not much going on there other than large buildings housing the cities offices, we swung back to Hollywood to check out the walk of fame, famous theatres, but more importantly, to have lunch.

LA - In-n-Out

In-n-Out has picked up quite a following in London. Burgers have been growing in popularity over the years, and the influential Meatwagon, Byron and Hawksmoor burgers are amongst the many who have been leading the charge. In-n-Out are not a gourmet burger, but are much more fast food, focused on using good ingredients with each individual burger cooked fresh. With a limited menu (and a few “secret” additions), the burgers are good, and are head and shoulders above anything you would get at your local McDonalds. Freshly ground beef patties, cooked to order and expertly covered in a slick of day glo yellow American cheese, accompaned with fresh garnishes.


After devouring my burger and animal fries, I proceeded down Hollywood boulevard, where I proceeded to be assaulted by street performers, scarily reminiscent of the stars that they were hanging around, and snapped away at some of the well known landmarks on the Hollywood strip. Next stops were a tour of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, prying into the homes of the rich and famous, with my personal highlight being the home of the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air". A stop on the world famous and ridiculously expensive Rodeo Drive, and I was back where I began, outside my hotel.

LA - Osteria Mozza

My evening stop had me pretty excited. When I put out my call for help, the word Mozza came back at me from numerous sources. The brainchild of Mario Batali and Nancy Silverton, the Mozza group are dishing excellent Italian dishes to the hungry hordes of LA every day from four different outlets. I was lucky enough to secure a table at the Osteria and met up with Charlie who runs the nearby Village Idiot (thanks to the Pubgeek for putting me in touch). It was great hanging out with yet another local, and getting a steer for what the city was about from one of its residents.

LA - Osteria Mozza

The food was definitely memorable. Steering away from mains and ordering a selection of appetizers and pastas instead, I was extremely happy with what we got. First up were "happy sticks", breadsticks slathered in truffle butter and wrapped in ham. A lot to be happy about, I am sure you can agree. Burrata served with speck, peas and beans was light and fresh, the mussels were incredibly addictive floating in a light tomato broth, but it was the crisped pigs trotter which left me a little speechless. The gelatinous trotter was perfectly encased in a light crumb and fried, giving way to an almost liquid center when eaten, with the light and perfectly balanced mustard sauce, and the salad balanced with shards of apple all coming together and singing in harmony.

LA - Osteria Mozza

The pastas were also exceptional. The egg yolk ravioli came wrapped in light al dente pasta, resting on a pillow of ricotta. The nutty brown butter sauce finished off a rich but enjoyable dish. The meaty ragu dish set your tastebuds tingling, although the depth of seasoning was verging on the overpowering. The last dish we had were a plate of gnudi, a pasta I had never had before, but the ricotta based gnocchi were pillowy light and smothered with garlic, butter and greens, each component making this even more delicious.

LA - Osteria Mozza

At this stage, desserts were definitely superfluous to requirements, but we ordered a few anyway, with my assorted ice cream filled cannoli varying from ok (espresso) to bloody great (caramel). Paying the bill (about £65 each with a few drinks), we headed on down Melrose to the Village Idiot where I partook in one last Junipero and tonic to round off a day where I had acted like a tourist, but eaten like a king.

Osteria Mozza - 6602 Melrose Ave, LA, CA 90038

Osteria Mozza on Urbanspoon