Monday, 29 November 2010


Elephant & Castle shopping centre, while a total eyesore, is quite the hub of ethnic food purveyors. Not long ago, Food Stories reported on a taco van selling incredible Mexican street food within its environs. I spotted a Latin American cafe, tables parked in front of it, with happy families slurping on meaty stews. But we weren't there for that. We came for Polish food, in the shape of Mamuska! Don't ask me what that word means, but I was pointed there by a colleague.

The menu revealed startingly good value. Split into soups and starters, pierogi and big plates, we decided to start off our Sunday afternoon with a 50ml glass of vodka for £3 each, from the freezer. Served with a gherkin, it slipped down easily, warming our frozen selves and bringing a rosy tinge back to our cheeks. With it, we ordered kompot, a home-made fruit drink. It was tinged yellow and slightly cloudy; it tasted mildly of undescernible fruit and heavily of cinnamon. I found it tough going.

We decided on sharing a plate of pierogi Mamuska, boiled parcels which were filled with smoked bacon and cabbage served with sour cream. They were comforting, the dough being lighter than it looked and the porky innards of the dumpling shone through.

A pork loin cutlet, breaded and fried was served with roughly mashed potatoes sprinkled with parsley. Salads to choose from included coleslaw or sauerkraut but we settled on beetroot and it provided a tartness and lightened the dish; I had worried that without a sauce it might be dry, but the pork proved tender and juicy.

At no more than £5 a main dish, this bar mleczny was a brilliant tip. Look beyond the ugly exterior - there within the Elephant & Castle shopping centre lives some gems.

EDIT - I have since been told that 'Mamuska' means 'mama'.


First floor,
Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre,

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Blurry Look at Bocca di Lupo

I won't lie. I was a bit pissed when I sat down at the bar for dinner at Bocca di Lupo, an Italian restaurant in Soho. So that's why the photos are, shall we say, a bit blurry.

Bocca di Lupo has been around for a while now, but I never made the effort to go and visit. Recently, I was pretty jealous after I heard my friends rave about the meal they had there so I hastily booked myself in. On a Friday night, the bar was packed and the place had a nice buzz about it.

Squid, prawns and aubergine were all fried expertly and were greaseless; even the aubergine, which is no easy feat. Prawns were munched heads and all.

Shaved radish, truffle and pecorino salad with pomegranates whiffed of the heady scent of truffle oil. Short sharp bursts of the pomegranate seeds accentuated the peppery flavours of the radish. At first bite I found it agreeable; soon enough I kept going back for more. It was a real grower.

A plate of raw seafood came pleasingly with three slices of each (besides the langoustine) so we could all have a fair share. Rosemary oil gave the seafood a more Italian flavour. The scallop was sweet and fresh but my real favourite was the red prawns.

The leaves of the deep fried artichoke were crisp perfection, and we managed to split the beloved heart into three.

I am a huge fan of pasta, and orrichette with 'njuda salami had the words 'extremely spicy' underlined in the menu description. They weren't lying. It was.

Pappardelle with ox cheek was my favourite dish of the night. Light as a feather pasta bathed in a deliciously meaty, hearty sauce topped off with plenty of cheese. I was loathe to share it.

I've never had teal before; I don't think I will again. Clearly I haven't learnt that anything gamier than pigeon is too gamey for me. My companions devoured this.

The only dud dish of the night was puntarelle, a type of chicory, dressed with anchovy and lemon. It tasted of grass dressed in salty fish. Perhaps if the chicory stems were sliced a little thinner it may have been more palatable, but we largely left this dish untouched.

With two bottles of wine and service, the bill came to about £45 each. It aint cheap, but I loved it. I'm now regretting skipping dessert, but there will definitely be a next time.

Bocca di Lupo

12 Archer Street
London W1D 7BB

Tel: 020 7734 2223

Bocca di Lupo on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Le Gavroche

Le Gavroche is one of those places that I never thought I'd visit. Michel Roux Jr.'s 2 Michelin starred place aint cheap; especially for the tasting menu with matching wines. So when American Express offered to treat me to a meal there I, naturally, jumped at the chance. So if you've got an American Express card, you can also book a table here and at many others via Top Treats, which earns you lots of lovely rewards and points when booking through them.

The dining room, in the basement of the building is heavily upholstered and seemed vaguely Scottish to me. Red and green were the dominant colours, and we slotted ourselves into our table to begin the feast. A glass of Champagne relaxed our work-weary shoulders. First up, teriyaki cod came with bonito flakes lightly waving as our plates were set down. A rice cake, flavoured with curry was stabbed with the crunchiest piece of cod skin. The fish flaked apart beautifully, the sweet sauce deeply tinged with soy. A tangle of leaves hid impossibly thin slices of crisp beetroot.

Next, a scallop dish was garnished with lemon zest at the table. Squid ink-stained tapioca almost fooled us into thinking it was caviar, while a parsley puree brought out the flavours of the sea.

I am a huge fan of sweetcorn but you don't often see it on high-end menus. It came with grilled langoustine and crispy chicken wing; a gorgeous balance of sweet and salty flavours. Buttery lemon sauce lubricated each mouthful well.

Double cheese souffle cooked in double cream. WOW. When I first saw it on the menu my eyes widened; they did again as soon as I took a bite. Each mouthful was like biting into a cheesy cloud. We were gleeful. So rich, so cheesy, so creamy and yet so light. I woke up the next day and subsequently spent much of my time thinking about this.

A slab of foie gras was accompanied by confit duck leg stuffed into a pancake, dusted with icing sugar and with a cinnamon sauce. While my foie gras was cooked perfectly with a gorgeous crust and smooth, creamy innards, my companion didn't fare so well; her foie gras was mealy. This was mega rich and needed something tart to lift it. A sweet Banyuls wine helped things along.

Red leg partridge was well cooked, but I find it difficult to be blown away by the bird - it just tastes like chicken to me. Sorry. The little leg hiding behind the breast was beautifully crisp and succulent though.

A huge cheese trolley was wheeled out and our knowledgable waitress chose well for us. We had to ask for more sturdy receptacles though as the wafer-thin slices offered to us crumbled upon impact.

Finally, a tart tatin terrified us; we were imagining huge dishes of pastry drenched in caramel, but this little number was just the right size. Buttery flaky pastry had softened slices of apple nestled within.

I'd love to be able to tell you all about the wines, but I'm afraid my memory isn't that good. Our neighbouring table sent us a bottle of wine to enjoy as well - apparently stockbrokers are very generous - which only served to add to the wine haze. But I do remember they all worked very well indeed.

We staggered off into the night, fearful of our over-extended bellies. Halfway to the tube station we decided we couldn't take it; a cab was flagged and we flopped ourselves in, windows open, eyes rolling to head home south east. It was an epic experience; no one should be deprived of that cheese souffle.

Le Gavroche

43 Upper Brook Street
London W1K 7QR

Tel: 020 7408 0881

Le Gavroche on Urbanspoon

Monday, 15 November 2010

Mixed Mushroom Ragu with Cheesy Polenta

It's cold. Winter is properly setting in, and with late working hours, it's difficult to satisfy those hearty food cravings. Tender meaty stews take hours and by the time I get home I can't wait till midnight before I get my comfort food fix. The hunger pangs persistent, the eyelids would droop.

But a plate heavy with creamy, cheesy polenta topped with a rich ragu needn't take long. A mere half hour is all this dish took; the polenta plop-plop-plopped away as the ragu simmered down and before long I was wrapped up on the couch, shovelling it in.

It may be vegetarian, but warming and hearty. Mushrooms don't take long to cook and they nestled in with the polenta nicely. Chilli flakes added to the polenta added a kick, making the cheeks rosy and the belly filled.

Mixed Mushroom Ragu with Cheesy Polenta

Serves 2

8 chestnut mushrooms
1 large portabello mushroom
A handful of mixed oyster mushrooms
1 small white onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
A hefty slosh of red wine
Half a tin of chopped tomatoes
150gr cornmeal
A big pinch of chilli flakes
100gr cheddar
400ml veggie stock
A large knob of butter

Heat the stock until it's simmering. Whisk in the polenta and stir well, adding the butter too. Throw in the chilli flakes, turn the heat on low and stir frequently. Add water if it's looking a little dry.

Meanwhile, dice the onion and garlic. Fry in a little oil slowly until softened. Add the thyme and rosemary. Add the red wine and reduce by half. Wash the mushrooms and slice the portabello mushroom thickly, adding to the pan and cook for 4 minutes. Quarter the chestnut mushrooms and add them in. When they've softened add the tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes. Finally, add the oyster mushrooms and simmer for another five minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper and take off the heat.

By this time the polenta should be nice and creamy. Grate the cheese and stir it into the polenta, taking it off the heat. Serve immediately - any leftover polenta should go into a baking dish to set, so later you can slice it up and fry it. Soak that pan in water immediately. Polenta sticks like shit to a blanket otherwise. Plonk yourself down and tuck in.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Lemon Meringue Pie

Generally speaking, I prefer fruity desserts. I'm not a huge fan of chocolate and after a great whopping meal, something a little tart and fresh goes a long way to perking you up. I got the idea in my head that I wanted to make a lemon meringue pie and it wouldn't leave me. Finally, on a rainy Saturday afternoon I gave in and made it; a little sunshine was injected into the room when I had a bite.

Lemon Meringue Pie

For the pastry:

200gr plain flour
60gr butter, cold
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp icing sugar
A pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degress C. Sift the flour, icing sugar and salt into a bowl and add the butter, cut into small cubes. Rub together until breadcrumb texture. Add the water and work into a ball. Don't knead it. Roll out so that it is enough to cover your 23 inch loose bottomed flan tin. Line with greaseproof paper, fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 mins.

For the filling:

40gr cornflour
3 lemons
3 egg yolks
80gr butter
80gr sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml water

Set up a bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water. Zest and juice the lemons into this bowl. Add the water and the cornflour and whisk constantly until it is a thick paste. Take off the heat and whisk in the egg yolks, butter and sugar. Stir in the vanilla extract.

For the meringue:

80gr sugar
3 egg whites
1 tbsp rose water

Turn the oven down to 180 degrees C. Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff peaks. Fold in the rose water and add 40gr of the sugar. Whisk again until stiff and glossy. Using a metal spoon, fold in the remaining sugar, and give it another whisk.

To assemble, spoon in the lemon mixture and top with the meringue, making slight peaks. If you like you can sprinkle with a little extra sugar for a crunchy top. Bake for 20 minutes, leave to cool and turn out.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Wahaca, Soho

I've long been a hater of sweet potato. They are vile things; floury in texture, overtly sweet in flavour. My eyes widened in fear when Thomasina Miers, of Wahaca and Masterchef fame, ordered us a portion when we visited the new Soho-located branch during its soft launch*.

When they arrived though, they glistened with oil and were generously flicked with salt and coriander. I ppped a chunk in my mouth and... it was nice. It was actually nice. I ate at least three. Baby steps, but steps nonetheless.

The new place is on the former site of The Slug and Lettuce, a soulless space of a pub where I've endured many leaving parties. In its new guise, it's airy and colourful, and even has a downstairs tequila bar. I have no doubt it will be just as popular as its original Covent Garden branch, which often has queues snaking out of the door. We kicked off with a hibiscus margarita; fine enough, but far tastier was the tamarind version. Nice and sour, with an edge of spicy sugar garnishing the glass.

Tamales are made with masa harina, traditionally bound into a dough with lard, and then steamed or boiled in corn husks or banana leaves. After we'd released the tamale from it's corn husk sleeve we were instructed to drench it with the accompanying mole sauce; this was no glossy monstrosity of a sauce sickly decorating a shoe-like tortilla, oh no - this sauce was smoky, complex and sweet, enveloping the soft pillowy tamale nicely.

Mackerel tostadas were startlingly cold but none the worse for it. Served atop crisp corn discs, the fish was fresh, the dressing spiked with lime.

Pork torta was a toasted white bun, piled with pork pibil on one side and guacamole with shredded leaves and onions on the other. We slopped the two together messily for the ultimate sandwich. They'd do well to work out a way to get this to take away; the Soho media types would be all over this like a rash.

We finished up with a few desserts, the best of all being the churros with hot chocolate. The batter was slightly salty which worked brilliantly well dusted with the cinnamon and dunked in the sweet sugar.

Wahaca doesn't take bookings. I'm sure soon enough we'll see the Soho streets lined with hungry faces, what with the no-booking policy at Busaba Eathai a few doors down, and Polpetto on the street parallel.

*free food, drinks half price

Wahaca opens officially on Wednesday 10th November.


80 Wardour Street
London W1F 0TF

Tel: 020 7734 0195

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Ledbury - Part 3

It's always a relief to find that after the dizzying excitement of the first time you fell in love with a restaurant, the third visit is just as good. The Ledbury is my favourite restaurant in London and the third lunch we had there was just as stunning as the second and first. After a glass of fizz, these goats cheese canapes topped with black olive tapenade foretold the meal to come; deliciously delicate and it got the mouth watering for more.

From the £33.50 set lunch menu, a raviolo stuffed with grouse and pheasant was sauced by a brown bread veloute, nestled on strands of cabbage and topped with little vibrant purple berries. The gaminess of the meat was subtle, but there. Mushrooms added an autumnal depth to the plate.

Sea bass was nice and crispy, giving way to tender white flakes. In a lightly curried sauce, the florets had been roasted to a dust and had the intense flavour of broccoli. Our waitress had misheard us and so our companion was given the wrong dish; her face flushed with embarrassment but we were the real winners, as the dish was left for us to share rather than it going to waste. Cod with confit squid was very clever indeed; the squid was shaved into thin, translucent strands and were just like pho-style noodles.

Excellently kept cheeses were well matched on fig and walnut bread. Later, when we queried the bill as they'd seemingly forgotten the cheeses, they told us it was with their compliments; along with some decent wines by the glass, they more than made up for their earlier blunder.

Vanilla and prune custard tart with pear sorbet had us all cooing over it. It had an amazingly smooth texture to it, the pastry impossibly thin and crisp.

Coffee and petit fours soon followed, and we rolled out into the night, a good 4 hours after we sat down, vowing to return at least three times next year.

The Ledbury

127 Ledbury Road,
Notting Hill,
London W11 2AQ

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7792 9090