India Week – in Lockdown

Although you can now visit outdoor restaurants it is chilly and rainy for May. So, as we head towards indoor eating, we decided to focus our weekly food on India. Or, more accurately, our interpretation of Indian cuisine based on that staple recipe, “whatever’s left in the fridge, with spices”. I hope that explains what we have here with two types of roast cabbage, plus a mixed vegetable curry. In truth, this approach became the theme of the week.

Then another vegetable curry. It might look the same as yesterday but this one had mushrooms, aurbergine, more spinach and lots of chillies. It came with a dhal, but we forgot to take a photograph.

We always cook more potatoes than we need so the remaining ones were spiced up and with added coriander and a relatively short memory it was a “bit different from yesterday. For this dish we added one of our home grown chillis (surprisingly easy to keep alive) and we also added tamerind.

Finally we had spicy lentil and tomato soup, using leftover dhal as the base with the addition of what were rapidly becoming time-expired tomatoes.

Dishoom (our inspiration this week) was wonderful but expensive, so this week’s options were a balance. Not all vegan but all vegetarian and definitely an introduction to those “layered” flavours, as they say on Great British Menu.

Dishoom – the lockdown delivery

This is Bombay comfort food but also elegant. It pays homage to the Irani cafes. There are five restaurants in London and they offer delivery from breakfast to dinner, as well as a store where you can order a marmalade mimosa and bacon naan roll kit (or the vegan version) – good for birthdays as well as lots of other cocktails in dinky bottles.

To start off our Indian week we ordered from this more upmarket restaurant which has always been advertised by friends as a great place to eat. So we gave it a try. Ours came by Deliveroo (we had no choice!). We tried a lot of dishes just to get the hang of it, and this is not a cheap restaurant so it is definitely buyer beware. They also advertise that the delivery dishes are those that can abide travel. We agreed on that – everything was in peak condition despite the lengthy delivery.

The menu comes in separate sections, but is long so order when you are not starving. There are small and larger plates, rice, bread and puddings. It is also easy to order vegetarian and vegan and there is lots of advice about the ingredients that might cause some people a problem (e.g. Black Daal contains milk). We ordered Jackfruit Biryani (with saffron’d rice with mint, coriander and sultanas), Chole (spiced chickpea curry from the Punjab), House Black Daal (a Dishoom signature dish which is cooked over 24 hours), Vegetable samosa (pea and potato spiced with cinnamon and cloves) served with a small pot of tamarind chutney, Chilli Broccoli Salad (half portion) and a plain naan. We also ordered rasmalai (milk curds with almonds, in saffron-cardamom cream) and mango lassi for dessert.

Yes you can see that we over-ordered and this was after we had filled our plates. There was nothing that we didn’t like and we were really impressed that an Indian restaurant could be so different even on a delivery. So well done.

For dessert – a rare treat – we ordered ras malai (sweet cooked cheese in sweetened milk) and a mango lassi. This is the half portion.

The following day we finished the ….. by making it into a toastie

The bill came to £51.60 which was enough food for two for at least two or three days. Will definitely order again.

The Tapas Room – cook yourself kit

Website: https://www.thetapasroom.co.uk/find-us

Phone: 020 3770 8808

When take out just isn’t giving you enough of a buzz, then swap to “cook at home” and this one, hosted on a Sunday evening, was great. It’s from The Tapas Room in Brixton Village, which is rapidly becoming a favourite of ours and, glad to say, is now open for “outside” dining. See our visit last October here. But this time a small group of us joined a Zoom call and followed the demonstration.

It was their “Dia de Pascua” menu and as well as the ingredients in tubs (ones with stickers went into the fridge), we also received lots of truffle oil, virgin olive oil and old, slightly sweet PX vinegar and three – yes three – bottles of wine. There is nothing complex about this meal. The most difficult issue was finding the Battersea restaurant to pick up the “hamper” – it is behind a Tesco Metro – when I say behind you really need to use your GPS.

If there is anything too difficult then they have already prepared it for you. We failed to take pictures of the final plates – we were too hungry and wolfed it down without a thought of where our phones were.

The mouthwatering menu begins with Lustau Puerto Fino (dry sherry) with a set of tapa – Marcona almonds, Catalan fuet (sausage), caperberries, picos (dried bread pieces) and pan con tomate. The only thing we had to do was to slice the sausage and prepare the pan con tomate – fresh grated tomatoes with garlic and seasoning on half a lightly toasted ciabatta roll. We were advised that if you leave the tomato mixture overnight then the garlic infuses and is even better. But we ate it straight away and it was fresh and delicious.

The next tapas – although quite a hefty portion – was wild mushrooms with quails eggs. You saute the mushroom mixture in olive oil and then place them on the two pieces from another toasted ciabatta roll. The quails’ eggs are a little tricky to extract from the shells, but we got good instruction from the Tapas control room. The quails’ eggs are lightly fried and go on top of the mushrooms with a drizzle of truffle oil, salt and PX (vinegar). Really tasty and easy to do.

Next came the lamb chops on peas and panceta with anchovy butter. Here we were glad of the anchovy butter. It would be easy to make it ourselves, but so much better to have it in a pot. The panceta and the finely diced shallots (again another time saver) come in one pot with the frozen peas – put them in a pan with a splash of water. Then you need to cook the lamb in a frying pan using the olive oil. It doesn’t take long – it was recommended as 2 minutes per side but that depends on how hot the pan was when you start. Too little time and the lamb will be too pink. This then needs resting for at least two minutes but five would be better. Serve the dish together with the pea mixture on the bottom and the chops artistically placed on top (as we have no photos you will have to take our word for it). Then the pièce de résistance, anchovy butter spooned onto the lamb. This was eaten with the Sabina Estate Crianza – a fruity Spanish red.

The final course was a Tarta de Santiago with cherry compot. A lovely end to the meal, as the tart (an almond cake really) was light and not too sweet and the cherry compot was tart. We ate this with our favourite wine of this meal – a not too sweet red called Libamos Dulce de Mencia. It describes the wine as flavours of redcurrants, red cherries and a mineral background – we just thought it was fantastic. We like to drink something with pudding and most are far too sweet, but this was just right.

The cost – £80 for two – was expensive, but we did get three bottles of wine, as well as the food and many of the ingredients, the truffle oil, olive oil, the PX vinegar and the salt, are stock for the cupboard. We hope they will do this again, although we note that at least three of their restaurants are now open – including Brixton, so book soon.

Spanish Week – In Lockdown

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.

Hot Cross Buns

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

Fish Week – in lockdown

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.

Salon – lockdown takeaway again

Address: 18 Market Row, Brixton, London SW9 8LD

Website: http://salonbrixton.co.uk/

Phone: 020 7501 9152

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.

Clink@Home – delivery from Brixton Prison

clink21The Clink Restaurant at HMP Brixton

https://athome.theclinkcharity.org/

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.clink22

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.clink23

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.

Boqueria – the takeaway

address: 192 Acre Lane, Brixton, London, SW2 5UL

telephone: 020  7733 4408

http://www.boqueriatapas.com/

info@boqeriatapas.com

Delivery by Deliveroo

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.

English Week During Lockdown

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