Sunday, 27 May 2012


I’d like to think I’m a deft hand with pasta dishes and I’m not even Italian.
But I’ve tasted the best bowl of pasta ever. Hats off to the chap who concocted it and he’s not Italian either.

The chap in question is Sam Harris and his restaurant Zucca is quite possibly one of the main reasons why London is currently the most exciting gastronomic capital of the world. Zucca serves food à la The River Café style but without The River Café’s atrocious prices.

My best tip to secure a lunch reservation would be to skip breakfast and go for the 12 o’clock sitting; otherwise you could be waiting weeks on end for a table.
Breads of the gods.
Chef’s complimentary brown crab bruschetta.
 San Daniele ham with Red Cow Parmigiano Reggiano*.
*(It’s costlier and more life enhancing than regular Parmesan)
Rigatoni, venison ragu and Parmesan. 
The said best bowl of pasta ever.
Roast cod with borlotti beans, clams and ransom.
Veal chop with spinach and lemon.
If the pasta dish was legendary then the above was historic.
Think semifreddo.
Zucca is outrageously good. Highly recommended.

190 Bermondsey Street

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

10 Greek Street

Oh no, not yet another review of 10 Greek Street! Ok, less of the text but the following is worth noting-

The negative-

Onion bread- is it a bread or cake? 
Doughy, stodgy, sometimes wet, sometimes dry and ultimately unsatisfying. It also happens to be their 'in ting' from the in-house bakery.

The positives-

Our Dave can chillax here anytime without a bovver
The folks who work here treat you like a friend of a friend of another friend i.e. pleasant and never overbearing. 

Unheard-of pricing with reference to the wine list. Where else can one enjoy either a bottle of Ata Rangi Célèbre or Leung Estate Pinot Noir for thirty quid? I’ll tell you where, at home!

Unavoidable small plates like-

Padron peppers.

Well-executed first courses like-

Potato, leek and nettle soup.
Lamb sweetbreads, artichokes, peas and Marsala wine.
Grilled squid 
Admittedly plated up to appease the restaurant’s accountant. 

Excellent mains-

Tiger prawns and saffron aioli. 
Not as impressive as this but still very good.
Grilled sardines. 
The best of its kind in London.
Tamworth pork, chick peas and purple sprouting broccoli.
Beware of embarrassing and projecting shrapnel moments when attempting to portion the excellent crackling with cutlery, use your hands instead. 

The afters-

Cheese board.
 Salted chocolate and caramel tart with crème fraiche.

So what kind of cuisine should 10 Greek Street be classified as? 
Methinks ‘de saison’. 
10 Greek Street is a tremendous place. Add to your list and enjoy.

10 Greek Street

Friday, 18 May 2012

Mirch Masala (Commercial Road E1)

During my recent ten day visit to Lahore the head of the delegation would often insist on wrapping up the daily proceedings at one of the restaurants of the hotel we were staying in.  It was always a choice between the Chinese, Japanese, International and Barbecue; they were all dreary, overpriced, shit and took the Mickey out of when in Rome…

Head of the Delegation- Right tonight we’re having Italian at the Avari and we can discuss the ‘way forward’.

Me- What! Can’t we have something more authentic and savour local dishes like Nihari or Haleem?

Head of the Delegation- No, you can have Pakistani back in London!

And so I did.

Mirch Masala is a largish chain of restaurants based in London. Its East London branch is located in the same vicinity as the two giants offering excellent Pakistani Punjabi grub in London:

It’s not that I’ve abandoned the two restaurants altogether, I suppose they’ve both become too popular for their own good and the quality of the food served can be alarmingly average at best. And whereas Wong Kei in Chinatown has more or less given up their legendary offhanded service, New Tayyabs seems to have taken over its mantle and relishing in it.

Mirch Masala ticks all the right boxes for me- great authentic Punjabi dishes, laid-back atmosphere, relatively warm service (believe me that’s bloody brilliant for a restaurant of its ilk), never too packed and downright affordable too. The crux is, and that might annoy a lot of other bloggers, Mirch Masala beats the proverbial out of both New Tayyabs and Lahore Kebab House! 

Lahore Kebab House

New Tayyabs

I’ve been going to the Commercial Road branch of Mirch Masala for more times than I can count and that’s partly due to my preference of lunching alone on Sundays, so what better than a relaxed curry luncheon whilst reading a fine broadsheet. I decided to post the review as a way of alerting any potential pilgrims heading to Tayyabs or LKH whom might experience a disappointing time at either place. Tourists, Londoners and Lahoris for that matter, please mark my words- Mirch Masala is magnificent.

What I’ve enjoyed eating here-

The grilled stuff

The lamb chops are a must- greaseless, tender and stupendous. Four chops for £6.50, outrageous value!

  Karahi Aloo Saag
Spinach and potatoes. Actually I have to be careful with the issue of spinach, I once met a Bengali chef in Shoreditch who informed me that saag, six out of ten times, is made with common spring greens instead of spinach because the latter is too expensive. Two of my regular dining companions and one including my feisty daughter can never get to grips with the texture of the annihilated spinach. But I love it nonetheless.
 Karahi Aloo Corn
Potatoes with sweet corn. Every time you complete the order of your meal the waiter would ask whether you want your dishes cooked medium or spicy. The above was spicy and I lost a litre of sweat just gloating at it!

 Karahi Fish
Excellent sauce but perennially let down by the overcooked fish!

Stick to this instead, Mirch Masala Fish. 
Spiced-up battered fish and suitably wondrous. Think of fish and chips but Punjabi style and without the spuds.

Deigi Methi Chicken
Chicken curry served on the bone. Fenugreek heaven! Ever so bitter but intoxicatingly aromatic and terrifically spicy. The chicken (something about halal meats) was tender and ultimately first-class. This is a world class dish, order at will!

Lamb shank curry or the national dish of Pakistan. If cooked long enough, like 10 hours or more the meat should pull of the bone with ease and ‘melt’. If you’ve sampled this dish at its best then the usual suspects of Lamb Bhuna or Rogan Josh simply pale into insignificance. Mirch Masala’s effort is to be applauded with.

If anything this lentil and lamb dish is considered sacred. Haleem involves a long, long cooking process and the binding all the ingredients is aided with the addition of wheat and barley.
When concocted properly it should be thickset and paste-like. It’s acquired and not for everyone. If one can tolerate porridge and make do with trebling its consistency then Haleem is right up your street. It’s a sinful dish, full of ghee and protein-packed, but also one that’s memorably heroic. Haleem represents the Indian subcontinent deliciously in one bowl.

I believe that any Pakistani national visiting the capital of Englandstan would be impressed by their cuisine that’s currently on offer. Mirch Masala is one of those joints to do so and it comes highly recommended.

111-113 Commercial Road
London E1 1RD

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Blind Date with a Swedish Chef

Blogging has its perks and one of them is befriending MsMarmitelover. We met when we both started to blog at the same time more than three years ago and we have remained chums ever since. She knows me well; I deplore and object to freebies and ‘invites’ to review restaurants but a blind date with a Swedish chef at her place sounded entirely plausible and exceptional. It rekindled memories of the 10-10-10 Menu at the Blueprint Café.

 The above ‘date’ was organised by the folks from the West Sweden Tourism Board and VisitSweden. It was one of four dinners cooked by well-known Swedish chefs and held simultaneously at the homes of four leading London food bloggers: Tamarind & Thyme, CookSister, The London Foodie and of course, Marms. It was a memorable event that I’ll treasure to bits!

The chef assigned to cook using Marm’s Aga was Gustav Trägårdh (Sweden’s Chef of the Year, 2010). He’s Sweden’s definitive fish guru and a classically trained chef who plies his trade at Sjömagasinet, a famous seafood restaurant in Gothenburg.

The meal-
First course. Contrary to what the menu suggested a medley of sill (herrings) was served instead of prawns. But the latter was retained as a kind of a token dish to break up the monotony of the pickled clupeids.
It came with a basket of wonderful crisp breads and the mother of all rye breads. The rye bread was reminiscent of our malt loaf but tasted fresher and less stodgy.
From the horse’s mouth- 
Chef Trägårdh’s own hand-written description of what to expect of the first course. Can I just add that chefs write like GPs do, i.e. illegible and indecipherable.
1. Inlagd sill- plain pickled herring. Please do not confuse this with the rollmop crap one finds at Tesco’s or Asda’s!
2. Senapssill- mustard sauce herring.
3. Prästost- literally priest’s cheese and has been matured for three years.
4. Kaviar matjes- herring in cod roe mayonnaise, I believe.
5. Basilika- basil sauce herring.
6. Rökt tomat- herring with smoked tomatoes and made even more enticing with the addition or fresh miniature tomatoes.
7. Räksallad- literally prawn salad. Or alternatively Skagenröra or Skagen salad with shrimps. I see it as an authentically posh prawn mayo.
8. Kumminost- cumin flavoured cheese loaded with additional allspice and cloves.

NB it’s worth noting the entire sill dishes listed above involve the herring being faithfully cured in a solution containing the three vital ingredients of water, sugar and ättika (strong Swedish vinegar). The Swedes call the procedure ‘1-2-3 lag’ (thanks Maria H.).

The first course was served with a refreshing Riesling from the Alsace ('Les Princes Abbés' 2009 Domaines Schlumberger) and a strange beer.
The Lunator hails from Grebbestad on the western coast of Sweden. And it’s brewed during the first full moon night of the year. It was fruity, smooth but ultimately too lightweight for my liking, give me a pint of Moorhouse Black Cat any day!

Everything on the plate tasted memorable, so much so that I’ve decided to include herrings as part of last meal. My favourites were the basil infused sill, the crack-like caviar variety and that outstanding cumin cheese.

Main course of West Coast cod served with smoked quail eggs, golden citronette butter, Grebbestad anchovy and oysters, and not forgetting the carbs element of new potatoes. A buttery and fragrant Meursault (forgot the name) accompanied the course.
I don’t usually order cod when I dine out, I prefer the oily varieties like mackerel or the humble sardine but if I’m forced to choose from a menu consisting only of white fish then it has to be turbot (I'm currently skint) haddock. Lobster is bland and overrated when compared to a good king prawn, well the same goes for cod when pitched against the much more flavourful haddock. The cod dish served by Gustav implicated it was time for me set my prejudices against Britain’s favourite fish aside. As expected the cod was flawlessly cooked; the richness of the herb-infused oyster, umami-laden anchovies and pickled cucumber sauce lifted the fillet to a level beyond words.
Oh did I mention the smoked quail eggs; well they were equally emotive as well! If I’m going to sample another cod dish in the future it has to be cooked only by Gustav, that man understands cod like no one else.
Meanwhile, in between the mains and pudding course-

A night at MsMarmitelover’s wouldn’t be complete without experiencing one of Kerstin’s historic moments. Here Gustav was accosted and challenged. As recalled by her-

''I just remember me shouting and drinking and laughing and asking if salty liquorice gave Gustav erection problems''

Gustav’s facial expression suggested all Vikings are naturally impervious to the said dysfunction. Desserts!
The pudding- Chef Trägårdh’s signature vanilla cheese cake with a rhubarb trio and white chocolate praline filled with liquorice. It was paired with a sweet and an intense Monteolivo Moscato d'Asti.

Disclosure- I’m not keen on rhubarb but the salty liquorice somewhat contributed to me licking the platter clean.

I had a great night and it was one of the best dinners I’ve been to in a while. Thank you MsMarmitelover for the invite, big hugs and thanks to Gustav and his intern Jay for the amazing dinner. And likewise to both the lovely Maria Zihammou and Anna Hjerdin from West Sweden Tourism Board and VisitSweden. As well as hey! to my two other dining companions, Maria Grist and Sienna.

Tack och adjö, does anyone have the phone number for Saga Norén?