Vijay, Willesden Lane, Kilburn

Whilst my corner of NW London isn’t awash with restaurants, it is a reliable source of good Indian cuisine. Ruchi in particular is a fantastic spot with their Goan green masala (green with coriander and mint) and soft garlic naans. Something new is always good though, so we headed down Willesden Lane past Kovalam (another South Indian staple of mine) to Vijay.

Also specialising in South Indian cuisine, it looks comfortably unassuming but has received some very good press in the past (see this Independent review). On arrival we had a very warm welcome and were seated quickly with menus.

A cold Cobra beer is always welcome whilst perusing the menu. I should mention my dining partner Phil is temporarily Vegan (don’t ask) but being South Indian there were a huge number of vegetable / lentil focused dishes (as well as a lot of seafood). The staff were great at checking what was vegan and if ghee was being used which was appreciated.

A couple of poppadoms were nicely crisp and unusually thick. They were served with a mango chutney, a raita and fresh onion. Given Phil couldn’t eat the raita, they very kindly brought a special chutney which was sweet with lots of fresh onion, a nice touch.

My main was a prawn spinach dish. Reasonably small prawns but they had a nice texture with lots of spinach and fresh herbs. The dish was fragrant with a mild-medium heat, I don’t agree with the menu’s description of medium-hot quite though. The pilau rice was fluffy and tasty. Phil’s Tarka Dal right at the back was well flavoured although it had a runny texture (I prefer a slightly firmer dal personally).

A couple of sides topped off the meal. The paratha was delicious, nicely crisp on the outside with flaky soft layers inside. The Bombay potato was another great dish, spicy hot with a touch of citrus and large chunks of tomatos and peppers.

The grand total for all that food, a couple of small Cobras each and service was £28. A cracking local then, the food was all hot, fresh and flavoursome, great service and a congenial atmosphere. I’ll be back!

Vijay on Urbanspoon

The Breakfast Club – Liverpool St

The Breakfast Club“, that’s a bold name for a restaurant and certainly implies a serious level of expertise in the morning food department. I was heading off to help Ferdie at Ferdie’s Food Lab prep and wanted some good sustenance to take me through the day. A late brunch seemed a good call and after a quick search The Breakfast Club came up.

I arrived about 12:30 and given its proximity to the city and re-development of Spitalfields it was already full with a loud mix of suits and trendy Hoxtonites. The neon light was glistening off the oversized glasses of the hipsters and the oversized watches of the suits. But I digress, the welcome was not particularly warm and took a good 6-7 minutes to even be noticed, I daren’t sit down given the big sign telling me to wait.

Once I was attended to the waiter was friendly to be fair and took me to a seat at a shared high table. Flat white and orange juice ordered whilst I perused the menu. There were sections for classic fried breakfasts, pancakes, eggulars (egg based dishes), things in bread and oaty things. I ordered an apparently brand new dish, chilli lime avocado on toast with a poached egg and side of chorizo.

Drinks arrived and things looked good. Decent foam on the coffee, even if it was a slightly large for a flat white. Unfortunately the coffee was a tad watery and bitter which warranted a dash of sugar, not the worst coffee but not quite up to standard for a brunch specialist. The orange juice was freshly squeezed which I was hoping for, unfortunately that also meant it was warm and overly tart. A new choice of oranges would help I think.

The food. Tasty wholemeal granary toast with plentiful seeds made a good base. Loads of avocado on top. Strangely also a thick lime slice which should have been a clue, the avocado was overly tangy unfortunately and slightly under-salted. I can’t fault the texture which was great, it was a shame the chilli wasn’t chopped finer and could have been hotter. The avocado was also cold (fridge cold, not room cold) which sucked the heat out the dish very fast.

Poached eggs should be the lynch pin of any breakfast establishment and this didn’t disappoint, with a runny yolk and (very almost) fully cooked white. The chorizo side was an odd texture, I nearly sent them back since I couldn’t determine if they were even cooked but they were slightly warm and had a slight char, I think a more aggressive cooking would help a lot.

The bill came for a bargain £7.50 which seemed fantastic, then I noticed the main dish had a price of £0.00 (it was new). Being scrupulously honest I had it corrected which brought it up to £14.50 without service. Given the location not outrageous but hardly cheap. Definite potential and nothing too bad but I left feeling a bit disappointed.

Classic Cake Time

Birthdays and cakes, is there a better combination of celebration and food? Even more so when the cake in question is a home-baked classic to bring back nostalgic memories of childhood treats and blowing out candles. Add seasonal sweet sharp raspberries into the mix and I’m in heaven.

That’s why I went for the Mary Berry (she of the Great British Bake Off) Victoria Sponge . A nice precise recipe to follow which is very particular about something as simple as making a vanilla sponge. The extra precision pays off with a light fluffy sponge you can smother with jam and fruit. Served with a side of cream (none in the cake to satisfy the purists) makes for a great birthday cake.

Steak and mustard green beans

Cooking fussy dishes and fine dining is all very well, but ultimately food is something we indulge in 3 times a day. That means a repertoire of meals is important to fit around our lives, then even when food isn’t a priority for your day you can still create something tasty in a short time.

This was a last minute lunch I prepared. Start to finish will take under 20 minutes (assuming you’re handy with a knife) which is half the time a pizza delivery takes and less than most ready meals (cooked in the oven at least).

Ingredients for 2

  • 1 quality dry aged rib-eye steak, 12oz (some may prefer 16oz or more, I think this is enough for a light meal)
  • 200g runner beans
  • 4 shallots
  • Wholegrain mustard
  • White wine vinegar
  • Castor sugar

Firstly put a small frying pan on a low-medium heat with a splash of oil. Put the heaviest pan you have (ideally a nice cast iron grill pan) on a high heat. Also start the kettle boiling for the beans. Peel and finely slice the shallots and add to the small pan to gently fry.

In the meantime lightly rub the steak with a high-temp oil (e.g. groundnut / vegetable) and season generously with salt and pepper. If you have some foresight you can season the steak early, but make sure it’s at least an hour before (for the science you can read this fascinating article on salting steaks ). Place in the hot pan and turn once a minute to your taste (for a thick cut rib-eye 4-5 minutes is probably about right). To my mind medium-rare is better for fatty cuts, to allow it to start rendering some fat and crisping up a bit. Take off the heat and let it rest for at least 5 minutes in a warm place.

Top, tail and de-string the beans (I found it quickest just to “peel” the edges off) and chop fairly finely on a slant. Boil for 3-4 minutes in a pan, drain and set aside. When the shallots have softened (6-8 minutes total) take off the heat and add a tablespoon of mustard, a tablespoon of vinegar and 1/2 tsp of sugar along with the beans. Season and mix together well.

Once the meat has rested, it’s vital to cut it the right way. Find the grain of the meat (pull the top a bit and look for long strands) and then cut against the grain (i.e. slice over the long strands). This means the knife does the work your teeth would have and the steak will appear far more tender. Serve up the beans and place the steak slices on top. Enjoy!

Ida – Queen’s Park

I was feeling a little uninspired by the selection of restaurants in my corner of North West London, and wanted somewhere new for lunch. A small Italian restaurant, Ida, has been at the back of my mind for about 3 years to try now, it’s a little out of the way but I often end up going past it and being intrigued. Hence off we went.

Ida is in a very pretty corner shop towards the back end of Queen’s Park. We walked in to find a basic dining room with open kitchen and lots of vintage accoutrements adorning the walls. To my mind just what you want in a neighbourhood restaurant. Around 1/2 the 12 or so tables were full which was a good sign for a weekday lunchtime. That was probably helped by the lunchtime special, 1 course for £5.95 or 2 for £9.95 from a good selection of antipasti, primi, secondi and dessert. We ordered the ubiquitous Peroni (Moretti was also on offer) and they also had a blood orange Pellegrino drink which I hadn’t seen before.

We ended up opting for the normal a la carte since it sounded so good. First up was a shared classic starter, mozzarella with tomatoes and green beans. It was a large portion of mozzarella and tasty enough, it had developed a bit of a skin though and could have been fresher (or ideally home made). The green beans were still warm and it wasn’t a combination I had before, but I was pleased with it. At £8 it was quite heavily priced in my opinion, although the quantity made up for it.

Onto the main event, we were really here for Ida’s renowned pasta. One of the regional specials on offer was “guitar string” pasta with a classic tomato, garlic, basil and anchovy sauce (£7.50 for a small portion). Spaghetti in tomato sauce essentially, but one of those dishes that if done right can whisk you back to a backstreet restaurant in Naples. And it was done well, the hand-made pasta had just enough bite and a rough texture to the outside that gave it real character. The tomato and anchovy gave a gutsy rich umami hit to accompany the punch of garlic and chili. Simple, delicious and comforting, it felt like authentic Italian at its best.

I opted for another classic, tagliatelle al ragu (£10 main). Once again the hand-made pasta had the perfect bite and a touch of texture. The ragu sauce was deep and satisfying, a perfect comfort dish. It came with a sage bunch on top although I couldn’t detect any in the sauce which was a shame. Small complaint though, it was a great dish.

So, the pasta at Ida is incredible and certainly worth heading out for. It blows away any of the usual chains or slightly cheaper Italians that fill most high streets, with far more authentic and flavoursome simple dishes. A great neighbourhood restaurant, I’ll certainly be back.

 

Ida Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dabbous – Soho

“Hot” restaurants are a growing trend in London. It’s good because it shows a maturing and evolving restaurant scene with some of the best dining options in the world. It’s bad because it means you can’t get a bloody table.

However I saw slightly ahead of the scene and booked a table at Dabbous just before the hype hit, admittedly still 2 months away. Then we booked our holidays and the inevitable clash occurred. Could I really justify cancelling a week’s surfing in North Lanzarote. Perhaps but it wasn’t an option with the wife. Hence persistent online attempts and calls finally resulted in a Friday lunchtime table a further 2 months later. We were in!

 

They have a small well designed a la carte section (of smaller dishes we were told, hence you probably want 4 courses each) and a very reasonably priced set lunch (£22 for 3 / £26 for 4). But given how elusive the booking was the tasting menu seemed the only way forward. At £54 it’s not cheap but for an 8 course menu it compares very well to other London tasting menus. We also opted for the matching wines (£40 for a glass with each course), the wines complemented each course and I had no complaints. None of them were stand out amazing but for the price it’s a good option. Unfortunately I didn’t pay enough attention to recall them here.

The bread was a nice touch in its own date stamped paper bag. Very tasty as well with hazelnuts although I found the texture a little heavy, good soft creamy butter.

A beautifully simple and intriguing menu title, peas and mint. What we actually got was a delicate pea mousse, peas in a pod, pea shoots, mint granita and edible flowers. The peas retained their delicate fresh flavour wonderfully, this dish clearly took a light touch in terms of flavour and delivered spectacularly.

Mixed alliums in a chilled pine infusion. The softly cooked (poached?) onions were sweet with softness and just a hint of bite. I found the chilled pine infusion slightly too light personally although the oil added flavour as well, but still a good dish and certainly innovative and intriguing. Edible flowers added to the look and taste of the dish. There was also a flavoured mayonnaise (or butter?) which I found a bit strange texture wise in the liquid.

Next was what is perhaps becoming their signature dish, the coddled egg. It is served in the shell with mushrooms and smoked butter. The perfect texture of the egg, smokiness and rich butter made it very decadent. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Fish next, a well cooked piece of halibut atop a lemon verbena sauce, with celery. A solid light fish dish with good lemon and herby flavours. The celery is a classic addition but was prepared and cooked precisely. The sea herbs (astor?) gave even more freshness to the dish.

Onto the meat. After the light and elegant dishes I was looking forward to a hunk of red meat. Which was certainly delivered, even if it was pork. A nice chunk of Iberico pork barbequed to sear but left pretty rare. The sides reflected the diet of the pigs, with acorn (sauce) and turnip tops (pickled). The pork was rich, tender and meaty. The slightly sweet and nutty sauce mingled with the sharp green pickled tops and meaty slab to provide a balanced mouthful.

We were offered cheese next, at a supplement (£9). My concern for being too full and also the fact I personally prefer cheese after dessert meant we put off the decision for now and went to the first dessert, peach in its own juice. When it arrived it didn’t look particularly swimming in its own juices, that is until they brought around the small carafe full of juice and ceremoniously poured it on top. The clean sweet peach taste was accented by slivers of almonds and coriander shoots, a surprising but successful combination. The biggest surprise was a marigold leaf which provided a punchy earthy and slightly spicy tang.

Onto the final dessert, which on the menu didn’t appeal hugely to me, a custard cream pie. It was served in crisp brik pastry (I think it was salted?) which gave a richness to the banana puree and cream sitting inside. More edible flowers both for flavour and very attractive presentation.

Cheese was the final course (I couldn’t resist but you probably guessed that). It was a good selection and we were given two generous glasses of port even though we only ordered one portion. Unfortunately due to the matching wines I can’t quite remember which cheeses we had but suffice to say it was an excellent and British selection!

Finally a very good coffee, and a herbal tea together with two mini canales. Quite a lunch for sure! Dabbous succeeds in creating clean, elegant dishes that sing with pure flavour, and adding a few subtle twists along the way. The essence of each dish is focused and clear, and barring a few tiny quibbles all tastes amazing.

The final bill was around £115 a head, which to my mind for an accomplished tasting menu with matching wine in London is excellent value. It’s obvious why it’s booked up, get a reservation now and you won’t regret it (whenever you finally get to use it).

Dabbous on Urbanspoon

Sour Times

Bread baking has become an enjoyable part of my repertoire, after some frustrating early attempts. The River Cottage Handbook No. 3 (Bread) was a fantastic introduction to the confusing world of yeasts and glutens with clear simple explanations to the magic.

I was keen to get into sourdoughs, but each attempt at cultivating my own breadmaking army resulted in enemy invasions taking over, with the inevitable yeastocide (i.e. tipping them down the sink). Fortunately my cousin-in-law very kindly donated two of her yeast starters for me to cultivate, and being already established means they are now thriving even in my care.

I picked the classic River Cottage white sourdough recipe. It’s a long recipe with the “sponge” being left overnight and then allowing time for 4 rises and a final long proving. The bread still didn’t look huge but I placed it quickly in the super hot oven along with a dash of hot water for steam. The results were great, it puffed up nicely with some decent air holes and a fantastic flavour.

Bread baking at home is very satisfying, and not as hard or mysterious as people think, so I would encourage every one to give it a go. Even a slightly awry loaf is still SO much better than the awful, light as a feather, thin sliced breads in the shops.

 

Prosciutto wrapped cod with mustard cauliflower, peppers and flowering chives

Here’s a delicious mid-week recipe to cook, and for those of you with carb (or lack thereof)-obsessed partners it should work even better. I’d say it’s pretty healthy with white fish and veg, the prosciutto isn’t essential but adds seasoning, texture and sheer damn tastiness.

Ingredients to serve 2

  • 1/2 cauliflower
  • 1 red pepper (Bell or Romano work well)
  • 2 cod fillets
  • 4 slices of prosciutto (parma ham would work nicely as well)
  • Chives (flowering if you can get any) or some spring onions
  • Whole grain mustard
  • 1 lemon

A nice easy recipe, you’ll just need one large and one small pan. Heat up the large pan over a medium heat with a decent splash of cooking oil (olive / vegetable is fine). Chop up the cauliflower into small florets, halving any particular thick ones to ensure even cooking. Add to the pan. Chop up the pepper into short slices and again add to the pan. Keep moving occasionally to brown evenly for 12 minutes.

In the meanwhile wrap each cod fillet in two slightly overlapping slices of prosciutto and place the smaller pan over a medium-high heat with a splash of cooking oil again.

Once the peppers and cauliflower are looking close to ready (12-15 minutes) add 2 teaspoons of the mustard, plus season with sea salt and ground pepper. Lower the heat and add the juice of the lemon / chives, you just want to keep it warm at this point now.

Add the wrapped cod fillets to the pan and turn every minute or so until cooked. This will depend on the width of the fillets but will be between 5 and 8 minutes roughly, assuming a decent heat in the pan. Plate up a few large spoons of the veg mix per person and place the cod gently on top for a classy, tasty, healthy low effort meal.

 

Let’s get eating

Hello, and well done for finding my slice of the food blogging pie.

I’m a man in London on a mission to eat and drink his way through the best recipes, dishes, drinks and experiences I can find. Hence eat, drink, man, London stupid! Food and drink isn’t what I do for a living but it is all-consuming of my free time. Tasty meals, aromatic coffee, enriching bread, punchy beers, elegant wines and peaty whiskeys are what makes life that much sweeter (for me at least).

I’m going to be writing a whole variety of posts, including recipes, restaurant experiences, food news and drinks experiences. Enjoy and comment away.