Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Warming our cockles

On our recent drive down to Margate to visit Stealth and Regina's new pad the Ewing proclaimed ‘we need to get all our friend’s to move to the sea’. And while I still love the charms of her home in E&C (no, really) there is something exciting about a visit to the Isle of Thanet that reminds me of my halcyon days at university where the housemate with the car (always the best kind of housemate) would drive us here on Sundays to eat pots of vinegary cockles on the bleak sand, while hoping the sea air would somehow aid our hangovers.

Things are obviously much more fancy now, even at the Clintonville end, and after a glass of fizz while admiring the new view – complete with a running commentary from Stealth about the boats currently in the harbour; everybody needs a hobby when they leave London - we wandered along the sea front to Angela’s for a late lunch.

A tiny place with a big reputation, it has been featured everywhere from the FT to the Good Food Guide and I was already very excited about an afternoon heavily featuring the joys of booze and seafood. Starting with a bottle of vinho verde, chosen by the Ewing and appropriately named Chin Chin. Check out the bottle too – I know you should never judge a book by its cover, but how can drinking a couple of bottles of a wine with a label like that, on a sunny afternoon, be anything but pleasurable.

One sign that you know you are going to get a good feed is when the menu is found chalked up on a board hanging on the wall, that can be unhooked, as here, and paraded around if needed. One of the only flourishes I really don’t mind in restaurants. Even if their ever-changing nature often means I can’t look at them online before my visit. The good feed theory was backed up by the fact that we all eagerly wanted to eat it all, despite mainlining the Co-Ops salt and vinegar crisps (the best salt and vinegar crisps, don’t @ me) before coming out.

Fortuitously we all decided on different mains, just like proper food bloggers would, which was hardly a hardship when we would all have happily eaten any of them. Looking at it now I'm just sad we didn't have a fifth mouth (although we were with the Ewing, which pretty much constitutes the same thing) so we could enjoy the halibut and girolles. But then, there's always next time.

Little gratis nibbles of salmon pate on toast were wonderfully retro and completely delicious and we also ordered a basket of sourdough bread which came with butter that was mostly eschewed in lieu of dragging the hunks around our main dishes to soak up the sauce.

Ray has been one of my favourite fish since I went to Madrid with my Aunt as a teenager and ordered it, only to be told by the waitstaff that I - very awkward, very English - definitely wouldn't like it. As well meaning as the advice was my Aunt was indignant that I did want it and I would like it, and of course she was right. 

I still remember the congratulations I received from several excited Spanish women after methodically stripping all the flesh from the cartilaginous skeleton. Here was no different, with every last scrap of flesh divested from the bones and every last drop of swoonsome cockle vinaigrette, full of garlic and parsley and salty shellfish, scooped up with said sourdough.

The Ewing's hake was a perfectly cooked tranche of fish with burnished skin sitting proudly on top of a heap of sweet, slow-cooked fennel ragout and a big and beefy crab sauce. I was lucky enough to get a taste of this (not just because, when I asked the Ewing how it tasted for the purposes of the blog, she replied 'hake-y'), and it was quite as excellent as it looked.

Regina chose a grand hunk of monkfish on the bone on a bed of curried lentils, which she kindly modelled with an action shot, fork raised, so I could take a picture.

Stealth had no option than to let me take a picture of her fish stew, but you can see from her hand position she is getting good at modelling a plate. Both ladies seemed very happy with their choices, the sourdough coming in handy to make sure every plate was left pretty much spotless.

What was even more impressive than my greed was seeing the size of the kitchen our dishes came from. Making my house seem palatial.

Now, a few days before, I had sent Stealth a picture via Instagram (as has now become the customary way of contacting each other) to point out that Angela's' sister restaurant - Dory, just around the corner - were selling sourdough doughnuts on a Saturday morning and that I would very much like one on my visit.

While Stealth had not managed to procure a doughnut before our arrival (or let's be honest, attempted to...), she did ask one of our charming waitresses whether they thought there might be any left. While they said it was probably doubtful, they were more than happy to go and see while we finished our  lunch. The, incidentally absolutely delicious, bowl of greens we ordered to the side going someway to offset the scoring of any potential fried carbs.

After our dishes had been cleared Stealth announced that 'I don't want pudding, I'll just have a cup of tea' before, after a Pinteresque pause 'I'll just have a bite of yours'. Since Regina and I had already decided we were going to share a piece of the chocolate cake with caramel I told her, in no uncertain terms, that this was not happening.

Finally we decided on two slices between three of us, which worked out far better for me as Regina was sitting  closer to Stealth's roving fork. And while I did have to contend with renowned chocoholic the Ewing trying to get a look in, I wolfed down the fudgy yet ethereal mousse-style cake with a lake of burnished caramel without the need of much help at all.

The Ewing snagged the last slice of plum tart although, sadly, there were out of creme fraiche sorbet so she had to soldier on with a jug of pouring cream to douse it with instead. This was a lovely, light thing with sharp fruit and sweet custard and a slightly bruleed top bringing a little touch of bitterness.

We finished with good cafetiere coffee while having a giggle with the two waitresses who were a hoot and had lots of memories of old and new Margate to share with us. The food and atmosphere at Angela's were superlative and it comes highly recommended. And at fifty quid a head (with two bottles of wine and the doughnuts for later)  it might not have been cheap lunch, but it certainly felt like good value. A big thanks for Stealth and Regina for making it happen. No, I'm still not sharing my pudding next time.

Even after managing most of the chocolate cake on my own, old habits die hard and it was off to Manning's Seafood stall after lunch for a second cockle fix to attempt to negate the effects of a two bottle of wine lunch. I may be older than when I originally used to visit for my tray of bivalves, but clearly still no wiser.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Good Korea choice

I've written before about how my social media feed is constantly filled with food, which in turn compels the Ewing and I to traverse the country seeking these exciting morsels out. Well, the same thing happens with my Instagram memories. While most people get reminders that it's been four years since their child started school, or four years since they got married, or half a decade since that life-changing backpacking trip across South America, I get a pop up commemorating which restaurant I ate at this time last year.

Which, most recently- in Bournemouth, on the Monday after the annual air show extravaganza, hungover and bickering about where to go for our customary last lunch in town (an annual occurrence) - it turned out to be very welcome aide memoire with the restaurant in question being Kori, a Korean on the Holdenhurst Road pretty much opposite the Asda superstore, where we would stumble to for late night supplies of Jaffa Cakes when my sister lived in the student halls opposite.

While we very much enjoyed last year's lunch it failed to make it onto the blog. Mostly because of my hangover, following several days drinking espresso martinis and Thai Red Bull, and the fact I was distracted writing about our visit to Di Mario, after what felt like years of trying.

So lets's start with the first visit (of course there were photos), which began with a Korean iced coffee for the Ewing, who was off the booze after the aforementioned big weekend, and a Hite beer for me. Some may consider Hite to barely qualify as a beer, but I quite like its malty, buttered corn sweetness against the salty, spicy flavours of Korean food.

And indeed the refreshing fizz made a perfect match to my main, Kimchi jjigae - a kimchi stew with pork, tofu, onion and spring onion. The broth was rich and salty, full of rich chucks of fatty pork belly and tangy pickled cabbage, topped with wobbly, bland tofu slices that soaked up the spicy broth. Alongside was plain rice and banchan - side dishes, here brightly coloured pickled veg - that typically accompany Korean food.

The Ewing was very virtuous and went with the grilled salmon with sesame seeds and radish salad, with more steamed rice and pickled veg. Notable (even when asking her a year later, and considering she normally has no recollection of what she had for dinner) for it's generous portion size, this was just what was needed after a full-on weekend.

On our most recent visit we were both off the pop (thanks to an spontaneous night at Vodka Revs). The Ewing stuck with her Korean iced coffee and I tried a refreshing roasted barley iced tea while looking longingly at the list of shochu.

I ordered the bossam, which is described on the menu as a sharing platter, but I do relish a challenge. Bossam means 'wrapped' and traditionally consists of pork belly, boiled in spices and served sliced thinly, served alongside the wrap element which in this case were beautiful butterhead lettuce leaves. It came with a dish of ssamjang, or wrap sauce, made of soyabean paste, chilli sauce, onion, garlic and spring onion and, along with a bowl of fragrant, sticky rice and some dishes of pickled radish, beansprouts and some kind of spinach-like greens, this was pretty much my perfect lunch.

The Ewing was also very happy her dish of dakgangjeong - small chunks of chicken battered and deep fried before being tossed in a spicy sweet chilli sauce and served with walnuts. Korean fried chicken is some of the very best I have tried and this was no exception. Like the best spicy nuggets you have eaten (ever, in your life, or could dream of eating, they were exceptional - TE). Maccy D's take note. 

This was also a gargantuan portion, although it proved no match for the Ewing, who found her metal chopsticks proved a handy weapon when I attempted to assist her in finishing it.

We also ordered soothing bowls of miso soup and a dish of fiery, bright kimchi. Convincing ourselves that the fermented cabbage would be just what we needed to sooth our stomachs while not properly considering the fact we still had a two and a half hour drive home after lunch to contend with... It tasted delicious, though.

Some people may not like the idea of an omnipotent presence lurking deep within the internet and second guessing their very deepest thoughts (more a puddle in a drought, in my case). But one advantage of AI knowing me better than I know myself means we now already have the destination for our final lunch in B Town following next year's air show sorted. And well before an argument can ensue. As Grace Jones probably wouldn't sing, sometimes I'm happy to be a slave to the algorithm.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Being basic with Bernie

When I first met Stealth, many years ago now, I considered her to have impeccable taste. Not just in the choosing of friends, but also when it came to eating and drinking. As time has gone on I have concluded that this may have been a somewhat misguided assumption. 

While she is still the only person whose mother left a loaf of M&S rosemary and potato bread, a leg of lamb and a pot of caviar in the fridge when they went on holiday, I have realised that culinary skills are not always hereditary. (I do have to admit, though, that I’m pretty sure no one could made an off-menu individual stuffed crust pizza quite as perfectly as Stealth used to, and probably a good reason our friendship endured throughout our teenage years…).

So it was with some surprise that I found an image in my Instagram inbox of a sandwich that - unbeknown to Stealth, the sender - was vying to become the most Instagrammed thing between two slices of bread. She had captioned it 'I need this in my life'. 

Not only was Stealth voluntarily showing me interest in eating something exciting, I also knew that you could find said sandwich in the Arcade Food Theatre. The new food court housed on the ground floor of the Brutalist Centre Point building. You don't need to tell me these things twice.

It’s taken me so long to get around to writing this (partly because of how I felt in the following days, for reasons you will see shortly) that Grace Dent has already got the boot in. So you could probably save time by reading the reprise of her visit. Clearly her account doesn’t feature any nugz though. So, if you have an interest in chunks of deep fried poultry, then read on.

For clarification, they don’t sell spicy nuggets in the Food Theatre, although there is a Maccy D’s across the street, where I picked up a sharing size box for Stealth after she had sent me another message before we met up. This time of the poster advertising them in the window of the McDonald’s on the Walworth Road.

Inside it's now a shiny labyrinth of concrete surfaces and confusion., with various concessions with counter seating, or central tables if you want to mix you meal up and try a few different things. There didn't seem to be any staff to bring food to the tables, but they were very eager to try and remove things we hadn't finished with yet...

Thankfully Stealth managed to get us both a beer (available from the central bar, the end bar is for cocktails only, or so she found out after queuing there initially), before heading up to the stairs to TOU, housed on a level described as 'incubation-focused mezzanine', to procure the fabled sandwich.

And here it is, in all it's wondrous glory. You can see by Stealth's reaction that she didn't quite know what to be happier about, the katsu sandu or the big box of contraband nugz I had pulled out of the bag, literally, to surprise her with while she was gone (and also because I was concerned all my things were going to be irreparably imbued with the smell of chicken).

Nugz safely stowed in her rucksack for now, we cracked on with the main draw, the, as she had described it in a message to me 'delicious fatty pork sandwich'. AKA the Iberian Katsu Sando, made with toasted brioche, slow-cooked and deep-fried Iberian pork neck, shredded cabbage, raspberry brown sauce and xo shallot sauce. 

In all honesty, looking at that list of ingredients how could it possibly not be an incredible butty? And indeed it was. Sweet, salty, fatty; a joyful marriage of fat, crunch and carbs. Was it worth 14 quid? Well, the three bites I dispatched my half in worked out at about £2.30 a mouthful. Make of that what you will.

This time it was my turn to order and, as it was a Tuesday, it seemed remiss not to grab another round of beers and eat some tacos. These were the pastor version from Pastorcito, the latest off shoot of the El Pastor family.  Twenty-four hour marinated pork shoulder and caramelised pineapple, carved from a rotating spit served with taquero salsa, white onion & coriander. Good, if a little underwhelming and, at seven quid for two, hardly a bargain.

While many of the dishes served at Arcade were to be on the bijou side, the bowl of guacomole, also from Pastorcito and served either with chicharrones or totopos (obvs, I chose the former), was pretty vast. Although it may have proved that we really belong to Generation Z, instead of being Millennials, as there was so much avocado we couldn't even finish it.

While eating our giant bowl of guac and putting the world to rights, we moved onto a bottle of white. Which we quickly made short work of.... It was when discussing what to drink next that I, retrospectively, feel the night somehow turned into one of those Fighting Fantasy role playing books I was obsessed with as a child. If you roll an even number, down a pint of water and go home for an early night. Roll an odd number and have a look at the cocktail menu....

Of course the odds were against us, as we were soon enjoying one of their Chocolate and Cherry Old Fashioneds. Made with cocoa butter washed Bulleit bourbon, sour cherry liqueur, demerara sugar and chocolate bitters, garnished with a cherry and so good we quickly ordered another one each.

This was followed Followed by a Pine Negroni with Tanquery 10 gin, lavender vermouth, pine liqueur, and Arcade bitters. Which, thankfully, carefully straddled the line between being reminiscent of a disinfectant or a drink. It was also pretty strong.

While waiting for our drinks to be made (thumbs up for both the bar tenders that served us at the end bar, who were both lovely) it seemed remiss not to order some pudding from near by Lina Stores, an offshoot of the Soho stalwart.

This was their cannoli stuffed with ricotta and adorned with pistachios and chocolate chips. Very good, pretty substantial - even when you have to share it with your fork-wielding friend - and yours for a fiver.

While the negroni had subtle lavender notes, Stealth's next beverage choice, the lavender soda, was proper full on granny's drawers level. Unsurprising, as it was made from Old Curiosity Lavender gin, lavender cordial and soda, finished with a sprig of dried lavender.

The floral flavour was nicely offset by the special edition nuggets, which we had cracked into due to excessive imbibing and started to covertly tuck into, aided and abetted with a dunk into the accompanying spicy nugget sauce. Worth a try, but the young pretender can't match up to the original.

We finished with our fifth cocktail of the evening, a Honeyflower Flip, made with walnut pampero rum, wildflower honey, coffee, milk, lecithin, and bitters, and which reminded me of drinking Baileys at Christmas. Sweet, creamy and good fun this was entirely superfluous after all that had come before and all the more enjoyable for it, The perfect nightcap, for a perfect night.

I made my train, sans leftover nuggets, which Stealth took and then taunted me with by sending a picture of her polishing the remnant off. As envious as I was, what I really wanted was an individual stuffed crust pizza.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Holiday at home

We're all going on a summer N17. Who wants two weeks in Benidorm, when you can have an afternoon at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, watching them lose on penalties to Inter Milan in the International Champions Cup (what would have once been called a pre-season friendly).

Luckily, not my wife, who was far more excited about a visit to Chick King, followed by the footy, a few beers and a kebab on the Seven Sisters road and night in the glamorous Finsbury Park Travelodge. 

I decided to extend the enjoyment by planning a day in town as tourists. Starting with a walk around the corner (a good thing as, bearing in mind this was London in August, it was chucking it down when we woke up) to the Happening Bagel Bakery. Notice I was wearing my Spurs colours in enemy lines, we are firmly in A*senal territory here (Cuckoos in the nest in my opinion, back to Woolwich with ya! - TE), and there are multiple flags and banners in the bakers.

I would happily put up with their allegiance to the Woolwich for their poppy seed bagels, a plethora of poppy seeds firmly adhering to both sides, stuffed with smoked salmon and a generous schmear of soft cheese.

We also shared a huge hunk of 'baked cheese', a wobbly, claggy (in the right way), creamy cheesecake, which reminded me of my Nan's recipe from the Hellmann's Mayonnaise cookbook. The very highest praise. It took a bit longer, but I also enjoyed a hulking wedge of sticky coffee cake, adorned with slivered nuts, that we bought home and then promptly forgot about until later in the week.

The next stop of the day (the sun had kindly decided to make an appearance by this point) was the London outpost of Mikeller, in Shoreditch. I particularly wanted to bring the Ewing here as the bar was opened in conjunction with Rick Astley, one of her childhood favourites. 

She doesn't sing often (she doesn't get a chance with me around) but she does give a cracking rendition of Never Gonna Give You Up, especially after a few beers. So this seemed like the perfect place to get her in the mood.

Our first beers were Rick's Berliner, a berliner weisse with passion fruit, and an organic cherry sour. I enjoyed the Berliner, finding it an easy-going summer sipper, but the Ewing found the promised cherry and expected lip-puckering punch in her choice slightly underwhelming, especially at £5.80 for a half. 

These were followed quickly by half of Hazesan Allihops, a hazy NEIPA, and a glass of hop-infused Riesling, which went particularly well with their honey roasted cashews. Even better were the Marmite hazelnuts that accompanied my half of their classic Beer Geek Breakfast stout. A bar par excellence.

While we were sat there enjoying our drinks, the Ewing was trying to follow England's day five collapse in the first Ashes test. So she was pretty happy I was camouflaged (I was wearing my best summer shirt, obviously) behind the cheese plants. Unfortunately she could still hear me talking....(but if you weren't talking, you wouldn't be there and life would be so boring, so keep talking x - TE)

With England all out before tea, we decided to head across town for an early dinner. Some of my best holidays (certainly some of the hottest and most drunkenly) have been in Italy; not to mention that pizza is still, on balance, my favourite food. So, to bring back some of those summer vibes I chose 50 Kalo Di Ciro Salvo as our next stop.

Owner Ciro Salvo is a third generation piazzola of a family-run pizzeria near Naples. The first branch of 50 Kalo opened in Naples in 2014, and this is their first UK outpost; located on a rather uninspiring stretch at the top of Northumberland Avenue. 

Inside is all faux Italian marble columns and high ceilings, with the back of the restaurant dominated by a huge red-tiled, wood-burning pizza oven. A vibe, along with a cold bottle of their house lager, that obviously made the Ewing feel peckish. To  be fair, most vibes make the Ewing feel peckish.

We started by sharing a frittatina di buccatini. Described, rather oddly, on the menu as an 'eggless pasta omelette', this was essentially a deep fried macaroni and cheese ball with smoked provalone and chunks of ham. However it was described, it was absolutely delicious. Cheesy, crispy, salty, and the perfect aperitivo while waiting for the main event.

Our first choice was the carciofi e capocollo, a pizza bianca with artichokes and pork neck. This looked the part when it arrived at the table. A puffy crust with a leopard-spotted cornicione, and generously topped.

The Ewing's main criticism of the Neapolitan pizza is it's tendency into a central soupiness, but this avoided any soggy bits. If I had a criticism, it would be that I found it a bit heavy going towards the end; the richness of the toppings calling for a foil of chilli heat or a touch of acidic tomato.

We also ordered a red pizza - this time a classic margarita, despite the Ewing's meek protestations that we should add anchovies or olives or anything other than just cheese and tomato. Maybe it is a sign of my old age, but I've really started to appreciate the simplicity of a margarita over the last few years (although I'm still partial to a good good slug of chilli oil).

This version was even better than the artichoke and pork neck; the blistered spots on the base bringing a bitterness than set off the sweet tomato and milky mozzarella. Perfect simplicity and a very good pizza.

All holidays have to include an ice cream and our last stop was a scenic walk across Trafalgar Square, to Grom, another Italian export, this time from Turin in the north. Committed to making gelati and sorbetti free from artificial additives, stabilisers, or thickeners, they use fruit from their own farms and milk and cream for all their gelati sold across 40 locations worldwide still comes from Piemontese dairies. But will it match up to a Mr Whippy?

Flavours are very much old school with classics such as as the famous Torino gianduja (chocolate and hazelnut), Italian nougat, Sicilian pistachio and Crema come una volta, translated as 'the way it used to be', a simple cream base with a hint of lemon.

I chose the signature Crema di Grom, a plain cream base mixed with Ecuadorian chocolate chips and Grom's own polenta cookies and a scoop of Piedmont hazelnut, while the Ewing plumped for the coffee and the salted caramel.

Who said beige food was boring? While the crema di Grom was a little too sweet, and the biscuity chunks were a little less chunky than I'd have liked, the rest were superb. A special shout out must go to the incredible coffee that was both intense and creamy and the hazelnut, made without any cream to let the flavour of the nuts shine through.

And the great thing about having a holiday in your home town? You don't have to pack up your suitcase and go home.