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.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

The best fried chicken in the world

It seems remiss not to have dragged Stealth, in some sort of parlous state, down a back alley in E&C in a while, so I am happy to be able to make amends. And I’m even happier it was for the auspicious occasion to eat what London Eater has recently labelled ‘the best fried chicken in London’, and my wife, even more hyperbolically, labelled ‘the best fried chicken in the world’ (and that was before even trying it).

Thanks to the heatwave being in full swing and a slightly over-exuberant night watching the Gossip at Somerset House the night before, I was thankful that La Barra, our destination for aforementioned fried chicken, was only 4 minutes (according to Google Maps) from the flat. Despite this, Stealth still manged to remain unaware of its existence (I’ll give her this one, as it’s hidden down by the railways arches and, from the unassuming frontage, easy to walk past).

Alongside the chicken - listed as being Dominican and available in three sizes - there is a selection of  South American favourites including Bandeja Paisa (meat, rice and beans topped with a fried egg); Chorrillana (the Peruvian version of loaded fries); and Ajiaco (a soup with chicken and no less than three types of potatoes). 

Be warned, the portions are big. Our waiter even warned us we had over-ordered and so we reluctantly reduced the seven piece chicken platter to five pieces. Of course, even with our half-hearted amendment to reduce the amount of food, he was absolutely correct. But it did mean the Ewing and I had dinner sorted for the next night, too.

We started with three empanandas. little parcels of corn dough stuffed, on this occasion, with beef and potatoes and deep fried. These were a huge success with all of us and were improved even further by the hommade ají picante Colombiano, a verdant chilli sauce with onions, lime, garlic, coriander and tomato that had Stealth proclaiming she was going to come back for that alone.

As well as a cold beer (nothing 'local' so we drank bottles of Bud) they have a large menu of fruit juices. Sadly the maracuyá (passion fruit) and tomate de árbol (tomatillo) were off, but the Ewing and I shared a jug of mango juice, while Stealth took down a giant mug of homemade lemonade.

First up was another recommended dish - the Chinese rice Colombian style. A huge heap of rice stir fried with soy sauce and mined through with chunks of chicken and pork, prawns, peas and bean sprouts. If that wasn't enough, it was also served with a huge pork schnitzel, salad and chips. Suddenly, I had a feeling the waiter was probably going to be right....

And so to the piece de resistance, described in the aforementioned Eater article as ‘five pieces of fried thigh, leg, and wings with a jacket of batter that has twisted and spluttered into dark brown curlicues in its death throes upon contact with hot oil’. Memorable if not, perhaps for some, the most appetising description. 

As already might be expected, there are plenty of extra items alongside. Carbs are provided in the form of tostones – deep fried discs of green plantain –and there is also an advertised heap of chicharron, crispy chunks of salty pork belly; and bofes, dark strips of (cow’s, I think) lung that have been boiled and fried. Oh, and a regular old side salad.

Of the variety of mixed meats heaped up on the plate the chicken is, as promised, excellent. Well-seasoned and hot and crisp. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, it probably wouldn’t be the first choice 'Boneless Bucket’ brigade. For all those who appreciate the wrestle with a little bone and gristle to get to the Good Stuff, it’s very fine chicken indeed.

The chicarron are also excellent, who wouldn’t like some bonus pork chunks with their dinner? The bofes are a little more of an acquired taste, although I’m not sure if it’s psychosomatic, as they are broadly similar in flavour to the chicarron – salty and smoky and savoury– just with a slightly different texture. Worth trying, especially with a cold beer or two alongside, which also perfectly accompanies the nutty slices of tostones. Dip them in the chilli sauce for extra joyfulness.

The sleeper hit was the last dish out of the kitchen, a shrimp ceviche that were served with a spicy, onion and tomato dressing, topped with some avocado and served with large saltine crackers (square cream crackers) an iceberg lettuce for scooping.

Unfortunately this ended up being placed on the table far nearer to my wife than me, and she certainly didn’t miss the chance to get stuck in. From the mouthfuls I did manage to snaffle, I’d describe it as like the prawn cocktail my mum makes every Christmas, with a little extra chilli and lime juice added. For those who haven’t had the pleasure of my Mum’s prawn cocktail, this is the very highest of praises.

Is it the best chicken in the world? Well, that's a bold claim and I'm not sure even the Ewing has eaten enough to verify it yet. (Whhhhhaaaaaaaattttt???? - TE). Is it the best chicken in London? Well, I still have a soft spot for Chick King, the pride of North London. The best chicken in E&C? Doubtless, especially when you consider that, four minutes after settling up, you can be settling back and enjoying this post-prandial view from Stealth's balcony.