Saturday, 3 August 2013

Outsider Tart, Chiswick and Southbank

I had first fallen in love with the ‘Two David's’ (Lesniak and Muniz, or No.1 and no. 2, as they are introduced in the front of their book) baking after trying one of their cinnamon-spiked Hepburn brownies at the Oxford Chocolate Festival. Seeing them both on an episode of the Food Network’s Street feasts – using what seemed like a whole vat of Skippy peanut butter to sandwich together their banana whoopee pies – just confirmed that I really needed to get over to South West London to try a few cakes and some brunch at their adjoining Blue Spot Diner.

On our arrival it soon became clear that they are as endearingly colourful in real life as their TV personae suggest; David no. 2 was busy holding court in the main dining area, chatting to a table of guests while feeding the docile Labrador at his feet with a handful of homemade dog treats, while David no.1 had a more serious aura, and was quietly supervising things from behind the cake and coffee counter that runs along the left hand side of the shop.

Although customers were picking up coffees, cookies and some rather tempting savoury pastries to eat in the adjoining diner, we decided to go with the full on brunch with table service. The menu is an endearing mix of American classics including grits, chipped beef (or, as it's more prosaically known, shit on a shingle), biscuits and cornbread, with many choices still seldom seen on these shores.

Refreshment came in the form of good black coffee and glass bottles of creamy Stewart’s root beer. The Ewing also pushed the boat out with a glass of hangover zapping blueberry and lime juice with plenty of ice. Lovers of American pop will be in their element with a fridge full of neon sodas, including Jolly Rancher flavoured drinks, and a variety of US beers to choose from.

I whittled my choice down to pancakes, finally picking the hoe cakes with sorghum syrup over the more familiar blueberry or apple and cinnamon. Unusually, the Ewing fancied something savoury, and (after much gentle persuasion) chose the pulled pork over the baked ham with potato salad.

Hoe cakes were good, soft and springy and smothered in a decent amount of butter and sorghum syrup, a malty and dark confection with an intriguingly complex flavour that reminded me of a mixture of dates, dried figs and toffee. A handful of berries, or even a few shard of crisp streaky bacon, would have made a welcome side to cut through the rich, sweet pile of carbs and whipped dairy.

The Ewing’s pulled pork bun was stuffed with deep and spicy pig; the meat bathed in a piquant barbecue glaze providing the perfect savoury foil to my dish. Just when the heat was becoming too much, a spoonful of creamy, cooling potato salad came in to balance things out again.

If I could think of my perfect Sunday brunch, it wouldn’t be too far away from this. Not just the food (which was good), but the feeling that a long weekend off work and a blue sky can bring. A mixture of pale English legs seeing the sun, dishevelled hair and sun glasses attempting to hide bleary eyes from the unforgiving high summer daylight and the tell tale signs of the night before.

As good as our brunch was Outsider Tart’s strength undoubtedly lies in their monster cakes, brownies and cookies; this is ‘proper’ American baking, no time for fancy swirls of frosting or a light dusting of sprinkles, these are serious slabs of rich and sugary goo that really hit the sweet spot. While there’s a place in life for delicate patisserie, crumbly scones and friable little biscuits that crumble as you lift them to your mouth, sometimes all you really want is a great oozing slab of something thickly frosted or studded through with glorious crunchy morsels.

Our haul from their Chiswick store included a salted billionaire’s shortbread, a confection so deep and dark even the Ewing (almost) couldn't finish it; a peanut butter Krispie cake, that despite it’s impressive roster of ingredients (including peanut butter, marshmallows and chocolate chips) didn't quite manage to live up to the sum of its parts; and a gooey peppermint chocolate slice as thick as a paving slab that still has me salivating now.

My favourite of our selection was the (slightly) more restrained glazed New York coffee cake. This was a coffee cake in the American sense of the word - i.e. something to be eaten along with a cup’o Joe, and not flavoured by the beans themselves. While it was no means a subtle bake, weighing in at about the same as a small child, the swirled chocolate and vanilla crumb cake, topped with a cinnamon streusel and glaze with icing, was buttery, spicy and utterly moreish. Certainly one of the nicest ways to type 2 diabetes I can think of.

As well as their bricks and mortar South West London store, most people know these guys from their presence at the Southbank’s weekly Real Food market; a collection of different food and drink traders ranging from spit roast pigs to curry wraps via Polish sausages and Turkish baklava and all washed down with a pint or two of Meantime ale.

I was there recently with my hippy Aunty Heidi, and despite the huge choice of other sweetmeats and pastries on offer, I couldn't help picking up a couple of their bakes to enjoy later. As usual the choice was pretty overwhelming; there were carrot and cream cheese whoopee pies the size of saucers, cinnamon chocolate snickerdoodle cookies the size of dinner plates and rice cereal confections studded with multi coloured chocolate beans.

In the end I chose a Congo cookie dough blondie and a peanut butter swirl brownie, for the Ewing and I to share later, while my Aunt picked a cinnamon- spiked Hepburn brownie (still my favourite Outsider bake) with walnuts and cherries for a friend. Needless to say they were a wonderful, chewy mixture of sugary, buttery goo that send the spirits and blood sugar soaring.

While their bakes are beautiful to behold, they are not pretty just for the sake of it. There are no fancy swirls or whirls or flourishes, just thick slices of cakes or pastry bursting at the seams with cream cheese icing or chunks of fruit, chocolate chips or peanut butter. Elegant they are not, and there is always plenty of finger licking and crumb-brushing to contend with. But the odd stray drip of icing or blob of jam on your shirt is far outweighed by the first time you sink your teeth into a dense, spicy brownie or a crispy cereal slice. These are the fairy cakes and cornflake nests of our childhood, pimped with more butterscotch morsels, sprinkles and fudge chunks than our youthful minds could dare to dream of.

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1 comment:

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