Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sông Quê Café

Is there really any point in posting another review of Sông Quê Café. Yes and only because I need to fill the gaps that are left on my Pho Mile page. And as for those squiggly and irritating diacritics like circumflexes and acutes, well I have to include them because my sometime Vietnamese friend, Nguyễn goes ballistic if I don’t; he thinks that I and the rest of the world are balking at and dissing his lingo! Too right Gwen, sorry Nguyễn.

If you’re going to try Vietnamese cuisine for the first time in London then you can’t do much wrong here. I simply cannot imagine how anyone can hate this place with a vengeance, well if they do then it’s certainly nothing to do with the food but the service! Hell, this place is the most popular Viet joint in London and during peak times and off’ for that matter, you simply have to queue and be patient. If and when you do get a table, more often than not that means sharing with someone else, just persevere and don’t sigh needlessly- remember you’re not coming here for a romantic interlude! Enjoy the wonderful food, drink a couple of beers, pay your meal, leave the small talk till a little later, make way for those hungry diners waiting outside and reward yourselves by ending the evening at the gay pub in Shoreditch that’s the George & Dragon (a truly joyous place and no, I’m not gay).

The service here is what we might expect of Kingsland Road, it’s a lottery! Often misinterpreted as condescending, the waiting staff at Sông Quê can’t help it, the place is busy and if you wish to get pampered then best be off, and oh there’s also the long long menu. That long long menu has amongst the Vietnamese stuff a load more Chinese dishes. Why do people come here and order things like Crispy Aromatic Duck, Chicken and Sweetcorn swamp, Lemon Chicken (why, why!), Sweet and Sour drivel, etc. Please don’t be undeserving to me or least yourselves, tis’ a Vietnamese restaurant so order as common sense prevails, appropriately!

I’ve been here countless times, but it’s not my fave as both Hung Việt and Que Viet are vastly superior. The pho here is as it good as it gets, alas the servings are not the most generous but what this place is good for is the Bánh xèo, Vietnamese ‘take no prisoners’ savoury crêpe. And I would like to add that the house red tasted like diluted Ribena with rice vinegar thrown in, hangover guaranteed. Repetitious I may sound, stick to tea (Sybil, beer is below me).

Came here last November with her (look if you want to be my dining chum then give us a shout, I promise that I don’t bite but I’m just wearily black and white, I hate bullshit!). What we had-

Monkfish Canh chua (sour soup)- Catfish would’ve been better but it was still delicious.

Vegetarian Noodles- She liked it, but I thought it needed some pig’s liver and something of the dark to make it more consuming.

Bún chả giò (Bun Cha Gio)- Herby/salady cold vermicelli dish served with warm veggie spring rolls. A one dish meal and bloody good it was too.

Spicy Aubergines- Small portion but very good.

Afters- Thing on the left is made with beans, condensed milk or was it coconut, syrup upon syrup and grass jelly. Thing on right is the illustrious Cà phê sữa đá(Cafe sua da)- superior iced Vietnamese coffee sweetened with condensed milk.

Sông Quê Café is established and I’m surprised that it hasn’t expanded and nor does it need the help of PR dorks to map it like Miền Tây or Viet Grill. It’s worth a pilgrimage, enjoy.

134 Kingsland Road
London E2 8DY

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Burns Night at The Underground Restaurant

I was on my way to Kilburn High Road to grab an evil elephant leg kebab for me tea when I decided to pop by Aga Lady’s and say cooee. Well she had this event on and I happened to have my camera (how magnanimously convenient!) on tow. So I stayed on, not as a guest mind you but more of a loitering paparazzo.

No queasy sounding pluck is to be found in these veggie haggis.

MsMarmitelover's very own home cured smoked salmon.

Making potato scones (as bases for the canapes)

Here's some of the Cranachan pudding that was prepared earlier

Slicing the noble fish

This was good, so very good I think MsM should market it and earn a bit more pocket money from it

Aida (excellent FOH BTW!) peppering the finished canapes

I still can't smell dill you know :(

Cock(less)-a-leekie soup
Those truffle looking things are prunes

Steamin' Haggis

Bashed/whopped/whapped neeps

Callum addressing and thus reciting the ‘Address To a Haggis’

28 glorious souls turned up for the evening

''His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!''

Dishing out the haggis

This was actually a pretty good rendition of the real thing. Fiercely peppery and densely packed. I liked it.

Scottish cheeseboard

You've got to try this- deep-fried Mars Bars!

Mandatory whisky tasting for everyone

Final course of Cranachan ready to be served

The bloke made a great effort

MsM's account here

N16 bus ride back to W1 at 2AM. I believe I was the only piss artist on board. And I never got to have that kebab...

Monday, 25 January 2010

Joginder’s Supperclub

To experience home-cooked meals that I have hitherto only dreamt about can only prolong the usual: life’s good, so breathe and seek; for there’s good and honest cooking to be found. I’ve known that my Mum* was an ace cook between the age of 1.8 and ten, till I was sent away to Rottingdean as a boarder together with my even younger brother. During my time there I managed to teach myself how to embrace school dinners and the way the English eat- absolute flavours were hardly omnipotent and strange flaws in cooking (erm like boiling carrots as a way of insulting nature) were normal. But these dishes I had at school were heart-warming, so much so that they brought home the bacon. I’ve learnt to be tolerant on what’s presented on my plate from my mate Jase of Essex (chopped up pepperami and bum-crushed salt & vinegar crisps as a filling for baked spuds) to a life changing tasting menu at The Ledbury. A self appointed reviewer like myself have to take and respect everything in context- like circumstances, constraints and oft harsh, realities.

My ex-wife works in the food industry (more than likely that you’ve probably tasted one of her ready-made meal creations from the posher supermarkets) and it was her who educated me on the not so fine line differences between home-cooked and restaurant food. With restaurant food you’ll need all the necessities that you’re paying for, be it the cooking, freshness, seasoning, presentation and value- no excuses as they have to be mutually related. The agenda for home-cooked meals comes from a different stratosphere, for as long as Denise and Dave Best (from The Royle Family- re. The New Sofa) are not cooking the meal - the resultant experience suggests that the warmth and the homecoming obliterates everything else. She also said that with any half decent home cooking one can be assured that dehydration hardly figures. Restaurants use too much salt and as well as most processed food- we rely too much on it and refuse to accept that it’s harmful to us.

So some of you readers who might me feeling tetchy with my waffling by now then let me at least proclaim that Joginder’s Supperclub is 2 die 4. My best buddy KC (a distinguished restaurateur as well as an award winning industrial designer) concluded his evening there as wonderful for it was the home-cooked meal that made it so. The last time KC and I had an Indian was eight years ago and that was at Rasa Samudra in Fitzrovia. Psychologically (yes I’m damn sure that’s the case), Indian and KC’s digestive system have always been at odds but at long bloody last I think Joginder’s has remedied that! KC, Southall next stop!

I consider myself preposterous for not having enough Indian friends, well not close enough anyway, to invite me to their abodes for some real curry dinners. So when Joginder’s Supperclub was referred to me a couple of months ago by MsM (yes I know her name keeps cropping up and we can never agree on the prenups) I jumped at the chance! JS is a new curry supper club in North London and the brainchild of mum and daughter squad, Rani and Saira respectively. The well-versed Ma Rani is and cooks Punjabi and the exemplary Saira, a gifted front of house. A word of mention deservedly goes to the man about the house, Pa Graham who manages to keep everyone chugging along with some friendly pleasantries. And if cricket is your thing then he’s your man twice over.

I’m a sucker for debut evenings and suitably ensured that a place was put aside for me at JS’s. That was over two months ago when my sensory smells went awol. In spite of the temporary disability I was convinced that the meal I had then was something special, so much so I came back here the second time. So let’s hit it with the food pics.

Debut night, November 14, 2009-

Punjabi Pakoras
What some of us (the uninformed like myself) might perceive as
bhajjis but the above is the correct terminology. These besan (gram flour) battered morsels are made with sweet onion, potato, fresh spinach, yoghurt and spices. Utterly fluffy and near greaseless: delicious with the glass of bubbly.

Lamb Kebab with accompanying five a day
Think seekh kebab that's been shaped into a burger patty. Lovingly made and beautifully spiced. Only appreciable by those who with discerning tastes.

Fresh Masala Chicken
The below description by Ma Rani was copy and pasted from the original November menu on JS's site. It was one of the teases that made my mouth water!

''the meat is on the bone as it is the only way to get the full flavour and it falls off the bone when cooked. It is locally sourced from Indian butchers because the chicken has much more flavour and texture. I learnt to cook this dish from my mother and father and have been cooking it for 30 years for family and friends. My father’s version consisted of going off to buy a ‘fresh’ chicken (somewhere in Kent) which then had to be plucked and gutted. I am not sure how my turn came to do the gutting but I would have been grateful for rubber gloves in days gone by! Thankfully I can now go to my Indian butcher and get him to wear the gloves and come home with my lovely fresh chicken. I am trying to convince him to post pictures on the website so do watch this space.''

This has to be JS's signature dish. Chicken on the bone is the way to go and sadly dismissed by most Indian restos who through no fault of their own (blame the majority of the Brits for that) have to resort to using tasteless and bleached white breast meat. This dish tasted remarkably accomplished and I can no reason why it shouldn't appear on all the menus of JS's future dates.
Might as well reserve the word yummy for this.

Sardines for the veggiepeskyterians
Didn't get to taste it but the smell from the spices was immense.

In addition to the above and not captured by the camera, there were the following-

Spicy Fish Curry- one of the best fish curries I’ve enjoyed and together with the chicken curry, a standing applause for this standout dish!
Tarka Dhal
Channa (chickpeas)
Saag Aloo- I was informed that the inclusion of potatoes was paramount as they soak up the vital juices left by Popeye’s staple and heavenly spices
Spicy Mutton Curry- there was so much food on the table that I didn’t pay enough attention to this dish; it became somewhat perfunctory. I did have a bit but shoot me, as I couldn’t recall what it tasted like! Oh well there’s always another chance.

JS is thankfully BYO, if you want my advice, go and splash out on a bottle of Alsace Riesling or better still Gevootz.

Preparing masala chai
(spiced tea if you don't mind)

If you like Chai Latte then this is the real thing.
Perfect for the digestion after the epic meal.

Indian sweetmeats
Since I went back to smoking my fondness for sweet things has lapsed. Sadly I passed on this.

A hallowed Indian mouth freshner consisting of fennel and anise seeds, nuts, pepermint and other essential oils but no fluoride. I could munch on this all day long and perish my chronic 'ashtray breath' reputation.

Second night January 16-

Vegetable Kebabs

The distinguished Masala Chicken, which tasted as good as the first time but this time with the bones removed (to appease the guests I think, personally I don’t believe in improvisations. I’m a stickler for authenticity and I get worked up by changes that interfere with the raison d'être. And that goes for the level of spiciness as well, if it was meant to be hot then let it be). Other dishes that appeared on the table included another marvellous fish curry, the Joginder’s Fish Bhuna (using a Vietnamese catfish known as Basa fish), loads of delightful Lamb Keema, Paneer Keema (I can’t help but think paneer tastes identical to coarse tofu- love it), Saag Aloo (my Bengali friend Taps keeps correcting people not to pronounce the dish as one word like saagaloo but two separate words shaag aloo!) and dhal. Rice and homemade rotis provided the carb elements.

Well chuffed and well stuffed!

The leftovers.
You see JS lives by its intention. Both Rani and Saira ensure that nobody leaves their dining room hungry.

Fruit Salad with Ice Cream

Experimental Blancmange
I adored this milk pudding and I think Ma Rani called it something like phrini. It had the same consistency as Tau Foo Fah, a sweet soy pudding found in Malaysia and Singapore.

Joginder’s Supperclub rocks. On both occasions I left the place fulfilled and cheery. And re the second paragraph, certainly no dehydration like I normally would going to an Indian (and for that matter, Chinese) restaurant and that includes Tayyabs. Thoroughly recommended and I shall be keeping an eye on their summer dates! Thank you Ma Rani and thank you Saira, see you again.

*Mum stopped cooking at home when my Dad passed away just before my A level results, she lost heart since.

A £20 contribution is suggested. If you want to be my mate please don't forget to tip. (Honestly Adrian**, how could you forget!)
**Another mate (no longer!) who went on the second night

Joginder’s Supperclub Site