So, on to our Spanish week initiated by our takeaway from Boqueria and our recent Tapas Room home cooked meal (coming soon). We have a somewhat fixed idea of what should be on the menu, which means the dishes mimic our choices from an Andalucian restaurant. First off was a “tortilla Espagnol” using the basic recipe with fried potatoes, onions, eggs and enormous amounts of olive oil. Cooked on the stove and then the oven. Eaten warm is best, but we were hungry… it was delicious. All the ingredients are readily available from Brixton of course.
Next was an attempt at “Arroz Negra” – rice with a sprinkling of muscles and squid with a squid ink sauce. Despite its rather unappealing photo – it was good to eat. The rice needs to be like a risotto, with a bit of a bite, the main difference being that it doesn’t need constant stirring. Having a crispy bottom – the socarrat – is the objective. Beware of putting in salt too early, as the squid ink has some already. The fish came from Brixton but the squid ink was from packets acquired on a past trip to Spain. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we can restock.
Lastly, we have a chickpea, spinach and roasted pepper dish, which expands on a family favourite with the addition of more tomato and of course chestnuts. This was served with half of a patatas bravas. We were too hungry to wait for the mayonnaise-like sauce, which meant we just ate delicious roasted potatoes. They usually have packets of the ready-cooked chestnuts at Brixton Wholefoods.
Despite living together for many years, we have a great divide in our household. One person believes in the old ways – traditional ways – where Hot Cross Buns are only eaten on the Friday Bank Holiday before Easter – that’s why it is Good Friday. The remainder of the household believes that they are to be eaten as soon as they enter the shops and some even put away in the freezer for when you want “a little something with a cup of tea”.
This year there was a compromise mainly because we visited M&S and saw their new varieties. It was never going to be possible to try them all on one day without feeling very ill afterwards, so this is a review over a few days. The M&S varieties are shown in the main picture. The telltale sign that they can be called Hot Cross Buns is the cross on top ……. although the traditionalist thinks that all should have fruit and spice for the real McCoy……. that discussion took more than half an hour.
Your intrepid reviewers risking their waist (and their credibility) have decided to taste the lot. But there are other varieties so we included a whole research team who ventured far and wide and bought two packets of hot cross buns from – Lidl, the Co-op, Morrisons, Aldi, Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S and Gails. We also bought some from a local bakery in Brixton. It turned out that some members of the team were nubies – never having tasted a hot cross bun before and some had tasted and didn’t like them – but read on we had a few converts.
What do you look for in a Hot Cross Bun (apart from the cross, the fruit and the spice – argument still going on with the traditionalist). It needs to smell like a hot cross bun and toast like one too. So a light toasting is required which means watching the toaster or grill very carefully. Then it needs butter or a non-dairy spread of your choice. This is important as most hot cross buns are vegan – even though M&S sells a vegan variety. All this means that it can’t be too dense, it has to be soft and airy, a shiny top (burns easily) and not too sweet (this was the key factor in decisions about which was best).
So here we go – We are starting with traditional where we had representatives from – Asda, M&S, Aldi, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Co-op Limited edition and a local bakery. This wasn’t a tasting based on a Latin square design (for the statisticians among you) so this is just their comparison test with A.N. Other bun. Everyone who had the M&S one liked it better than others but the Lidl one was also good especially after toasting. The Co-op one had too much fruit. No-one who had a choice chose the one from Sainsbury’s. It was described as too dry, which was also a fault of the one from the local bakery. The Asda one was OK, which is not a ringing endorsement. The Morrison’s one was too dense and didn’t have enough spice. The Aldi one was chosen by someone who isn’t keen on hot cross buns, so chose them because they were smaller (I don’t think that is a realistic endorsement).
Now we are going to take a look at the other varieties with a cross on top. The sweet ones are – M&S salted caramel and chocolate, Asda “scaramel”, M&S apple, M&S blueberry, M&S extra chocolately, Gails Candied Orange, and M&S Gluten free and Vegan. If you are going to call something by a specific name then it needs to live up to it. All managed that except the Asda salted caramel which didn’t have enough caramel. The M&S salted caramel and chocolate was unsurprisingly described as sickly – you really do need a sweet tooth. All the others got a positive vote by anyone who tasted them. The gluten free one achieved “structural integrity” so it could take butter and didn’t fall apart like many kinds of gluten free produce. The blueberry was recommended for anyone who doesn’t like raisins. The M&S extra chocolaty was described as “well balanced” – I think that was the bitterness of the chocolate so it wasn’t too sweet. The apple and blueberry really smelt of apple and blueberry when you open the packet – making them inviting.
But it doesn’t stop there – M&S expanded into non-fruity, not-at-all sweet varieties. We tried the cheese and chilli and the cheese and Marmite. You probably do need to like Marmite, but it just adds saltiness to a cheesy bun and I liked it but this was a split decision……. guess which side the traditionalist was on. If you like chili then this is just the right for a rainy lunchtime watching Bargain Hunt.
We don’t really have an overall winner to offer – if you have a sweet tooth then you will be looking forward to a happy Easter with lots to choose from. If you thought you didn’t like Hot Cross Buns then there are more varieties to try and we did have converts to the fruity-but-not-raisin varieties. If they are in the shops we do advise freezing as you may want to eat one on May Day and they will vanish from the shelves until 2022. In my view their appearance should herald the spring like the John Lewis advert announces Christmas
We are now running low on innovation and so decided on fish week. We would love suggestions. Oily fish is very good for the brain, and we need a restart soon as our brain power has been reduced following all the bingeing on old and new TV series together with zoom meetings. There is plenty of evidence that this passive screen watching is not good for independent thought – may explain why our blogs have a much reduced vocabulary.
Our first effort was fresh mackerel. It was bought from a well known Brixton superstore, even though one of the great things about food in Brixton is the number of proper fishmongers. So apologies to them and perhaps we owe them an update our previous post on the subject – see here – one of our most read. It was served with fresh salads, including the potato salad with some excellent homemade mayonnaise. We probably overdid the size of the serving, as this could have been halved and still enjoyed.
Next was salmon. Another oily fish and easy to get hold of – this is the M&S version – served with fluffy mashed potatoes and broccoli – but importantly a lemon and caper sauce that i am told by the chef is a “doddle”.
Last we have some smoked salmon spaghetti with a chilli and lemon sauce. It came from an online recipe and, to be honest, was a bit underwhelming. It was probably underseasoned and missed the chives that were specified.
We have reviewed Salon several times before (here and here and here, and most recently, here for an earlier home delivery). So another delivery for another celebration apropos of nothing – just to cheer us up. They have started to offer special ‘big night’ menus where the only choice, essentially, is between veg and non-veg. The menu changes with the seasons too, so by now the offer is likely to have moved on from the one described here. Most dishes come in recycled cartons, but also reusable plastic and foil containers. Don’t throw everything away. Labeling is also good, as we have sometimes had to make guesses on other place’s deliveries.
It looks a lot and it was, with four courses. But it was well balanced and it all got eaten that night. Some assembly was required but nothing more than identifying what was what and putting stuff in the oven for the requisite time. Everything that needed heating was in appropriate packaging. To make it more of a treat we made a proper meal of it with candles, table cloth and the posh cutlery.
The first course was actually our favourite – the peperronata mixed roast vegetables with a goat’s curd cheese. It came with plenty of sourdough bread.
Then there was a salad of warm roast calçots, the Catalan green onion, served on the garlic emulsion with radicchio. There was more bread. This time focaccia.
The main was a bean stew, tastier than it looks, with flatbread, not as burnt as it looks, and broccholi tops in a chilli dressing.
Final course was a millefeuille with roasted rhubarb and cream – great way to finish the meal, but beware the crumbs.
The bill came to £63.50, which was a lot, but it was a special ‘let’s have a treat’ occasion. We know that during lockdown we tend to blog about expensive meals, but usually, with smaller appetites and generous portions, they feed us for a couple of days. But this night the food was good and tasty, and we were particularly hungry.
This seems a fitting end to English week. This is a very late post as just after we ate this meal – Clink delivery closed their kitchens because of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the prison. We are posting it now as they have opened up again from 3rd March! So if you live within 10 miles of Brixton Prison you can now get an order – we suggest you do that quickly to support a worthwhile charity.
We’ve visited once – see here – and ordered once before – see here. This order was placed just before Christmas just after moving into Tier 4. We were keen to try it all again as a treat at home and we weren’t disappointed. So, don’t wait to the end of this review – just order as it is wonderful and incredible value. And if you eat it at home. you can also choose the wine accompaniment, which is not available on site.
All dishes come with lids that explains what each one is and how to heat or serve it. This is really helpful, as we have tried other meals and had to guess how they were all put together – sometimes with interesting and unpredictable results. The food has a shelf life of three days so you can put some in the fridge for another day.
There are three in our bubble so for starters – Arancini (sun-dried tomato & parmesan arancini with rocket pesto) for two and a portion of Fougasse with rosemary and garlic garlic butter. There were plenty of really tasty and crispy Arancini – even some left over – but we wolfed down all the bread (beware of the very garlicky butter). The Arancini were as good as the last time we ordered them. Well done guys.
For the mains we ordered three – potato. leek and Cornish yarg pie; slow cooked beef brisket with colcannon potatoes; and barbeque pork ribs with spicy rice and coleslaw. We also ordered (again eyes bigger than stomachs) potato wedges and roast root vegetables. We saved the pie and the colcannon potatoes for another day, as we were overwhelmed by the meat dishes. We have been mostly vegetarian and this was a bit of a treat with the soft and spicy ribs and the really soft salty and “umami” brisket. We ate them with the wedges, vegetables, rice and coleslaw. There were enough ribs to satisfy the three of us and, although we ate the vegetables, there was still some rice left over, as we were absolutely full.
Well not quite totally, as it doesn’t matter how stuffed you are there is always room for the spiced autumn fruit crumble with creme anglaise. Lots of apple and red fruit with a particularly good crumble topping. not the usual crumbs but more shortbread and crunchy. We all loved it – even the person who “doesn’t usually eat dessert”. We still had some for the next day’s breakfast.
We ordered £54.35 worth of food and paid £4.95 for the delivery. This served three people with a really high quality meal that cheered us all up. We had some left over for lunch another day. The intervention of Christmas meant that we ate it beyond the three days that were promised, but we’re still here, so it must have been OK. All in all, brilliant value for money. So order now and if you are in a bubble, this is definitely an easy cheat for a dinner party box.
When we have eaten in the restaurant, the food had compared well with the meals we have had in Andalucia, so we really ordered our favourites which is very easy from the categorised menu – Rice, Meat, Seafood, Traditional, Salads and Charcuterie. We ordered boquerones, arroz negra (black rice with seafood and squid ink), pulpo a la Gallega, croquetos con jamon, patatas bravas, albondigas, artichoke flowers and rollitos costilla iberica (a new addition to the menu). We discovered that some portions are definitely not tapas sized, so of course we had to much …. much too much.
It is always a tense time seeing the bicycle leaving the restaurant and wondering if it will get cold on the way. Luckily most of the food was fine as long as it was eaten straight away, and when we were not quite happy with the temperature we microwaved just a little (beware that this may overcook the pulpo – octopus).
As we said earlier, tapas can be (should be?) a slow meal – its really a discussion interspersed with food and that’s what makes it enjoyable. If there are only two of you in the party then having the food come two dishes at a time is fine. When you order a takeaway you have the whole lot at once, so we had to decide how to slow it down by serving it in waves to give us that holiday feeling.
Boquerones to start with some bread to mop up the oil and then the croquetas (a hit) with the patatas bravas that needed a extra spice and were a little soggy when they reached us (always a problem with steam when packed into the takeaway container). The pulpo a la Galega was lovely with just the right amount of bite and not the rubber tyre variety. We loved the arroz negra which has some prawns, squid and mussels. In fact we ate some the next day, as it wasn’t the conversation but the portions that slowed us down. We nearly gave up on the albondigas as we were so full, but are glad we didn’t – although we would have liked more sauce. The artichokes were left to the next day. The new addition to the menu – the rollitos – were meaty and crispy rolls…. so popular (with us and the public) that they are currently sold out, but I am sure they will be replaced soon.
It cost £53.52 which should have been the giveaway on over-ordering. Although this is about the cost of eating in the restaurant but had no wine. But we could have managed with half the order and it did last two days.
This week started with Olleys Fish and Chips and we always over-order so included “three-fried chips” in this homemade fry-up with a Brixton twist of fried (and caramelized plantain). Fried bread from leftovers, and of course HP sauce. Totally delicious even despite the cholesterol high.
I really like mackerel and we bought some in the market but argued about which stall. We served it with mange tout and smashed new potatoes with “chopped shallots” or spring onions to most of us – also from stalls in the market. It was all topped with homemade horseradish sauce … horseradish from the Chinese supermarket on Electric avenue. Probably too much fish for one plate so next time we will try to find a more taxing recipe than …. grill it.
Peas, brown sauce and Quorn Shepherds pie – onions and some tomatos – Quorn from Brixton Wholefoods
Cauliflower cheese – Tesco’s Cheddar cheese and the green things are the outer leaves of the Cauliflower – as advocated by Jamie. They were cabbagey and did taste of cauliflower – we recommend this no waste tip. Veg from Brixton market or En Root
Casting around for a new theme for the week we decided on British and as we had already had some haggis, we made a beeline for fish and chips. We reviewed Olley’s Fish and Chips in one of our takeaway competitions – see here and here. We have always given it a high rating (if we ever did ratings) despite the fact that it is expensive. They have with several delivery options – last time we went with Uber Eats, but this time chose Deliveroo. Continue reading →
We ate it in Brixton, but it didn’t come from Brixton. Hakkasan is a Cantonese restaurant in Bruton Street, Mayfair – we know it isn’t open, so we couldn’t squeeze it into our five minute bus ride section. But it was a Christmas present and we think that every now and again we need a bit of a boost with a high class meal – this was it for the month. The website talks about the Michelin star and that it has “…dishes inspired by ancient recipes”. It has a fantastic menu and a fantastic way to begin the Year of the Ox
Our set menu for two included starters of Classic steamed dim sum and Crispy pork salad, main dishes of Stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef with Merlot, Grilled Chilean sea bass in honey, Black truffle roasted duck, stir fried pak choi and Steamed jasmine rice. This is a lot of food for one evening so we left the duck for the next day.
I think I will run out of hyperbole in describing the food – the dim sum was pretty and incredible, the pork – just as it is described crispy and the best (I am not prone to over-promising) the best I have ever had). the beef was peppery, the fish just cooked (they clearly solved the scientific equation for cooking and steaming on the Deliveroo journey), while the next day’s duck was easily eaten and came with homemade rice and vegetables.
No more words – just pictures.
We were delighted to receive a promissory note for this posh dinner as Christmas present from a friend. So we don’t know the cost, but we would like to thank him again for such a fabulous gift.
The Year of the Ox has started, so it is Chinese week. It began with a blow-out meal from Hakkasan, which we didn’t quite finish. So with the leftovers we produced a duck inspired meal with wok fried vegetables and jasmine rice – both from the Chinese supermarket in Electric Avenue. None of the pictures looks that appetising, but they were all delicious.
We love mushrooms (Tesco’s finest) so this is again a stir fry with seaweed and coriander – again from the Chinese supermarket
Mapo tofu – tofu again from the Chinese supermarket. They have loads of things to browse but it is difficult to choose one type of soy sauce from the many on offer. But they do have some that is gluten free. The only problem with Mapo tofu is the grit from the ground Sichuan pepper that never seems to be in small enough grains.
To make a change from rice, our last dish in Chinese week was spicy spinach (chili spice) with noodles – an incredibly tasty but fantastically easy dish to make. A long time family favourite that introduced the children to spicy food. Back then the only place to buy oriental ingredients was the little Chinese store in the long-lost Station Arcade.