Tuesday, 25 July 2017

REVIEW: Calcutta Street, Brixton

The second venue from chef Shrimoyee Chakraborty, Calcutta Street in Brixton is a slightly tucked away spot yet in prime reach of the market. Taking inspiration from her mother's heritage and cooking expertise, Shrim has created the restaurant collective that celebrates the gastronomic explosions found in Calcutta. Influences range from nations as far afield as Turkey, France and the Netherlands as well as India, creating dishes that are all-at-once foreign and yet familiar.
With a focus on Bengali style home dining, the menu is relaxed, easy, filled with promise and yet not overly flowery. Come weekend brunch-tie, which is when we visited, there are none of the standard 'Indian' expectations (sorry vindaloo fans), but instead tiffins, kati rolls, parathas and sides like Calcutta-style shoestring fries. Flavours are vibrant, often overwhelming but in a good way - like the tangiest mustard dressing you've ever experience and heady cardamom pods in your chai. 

Speaking of, that's what we kicked off with - I sipped on Lebu Chaa (Darjeeling tea, lemon juice, black salt, ginger sugar), while Alex chose a classic black filter coffee. While we waited for our ordered starters, the chef delivered Beguni (sliced aubergine, fried in chickpea flour batter) to our table. Dotted with Nigella seeds and served with a cheek-sucking-in-sour mustard dressing, these soft pillows of veggie yumminess were a fabulous introduction to what was to follow. 
Next, our chosen starter of Corriander & Poppyseed Fritters (classic Bengali fritters) which were a touch dry but when paired with the sweet tomato sauce on the side were just perfect. I wonder if these were made with some of grain or seed as they had a quinoa-like texture. This paired with our smooth, creamy Aam Daal (tangy red lentils with green mango), was a match made in heaven. The difference in textures and complimentary flavours worked beautifully together. We also added, on recommendation, two glasses of Aam Pora - a summertime favourite with green mangoes, black salt, fresh mint, Fever-Tree soda (rum optional).
For the main event, Alex chose the Mughlai Paratha - crispy fried bread enhanced by a stuffing of minced lamb and egg. It's like a Calcutta version of a sandwich, chips and salad! The egg/lamb combination was rich in texture as well as flavour, with a genuine sweetness from the lamb. The spicing was also excellent and how that paratha didn't fall to pieces with the sheer amount of filling is beyond me. 
As we had come straight from an intense gym session, I chose the more protein-focused Dimer Bhurji - Calcutta style spiced scrambled eggs cooked with tomato and herbs, served
with rice, cucumber and smoked salmon. Those eggs were D R E A M Y. Creamy yet not, gorgeously spiced and yet definitive in egg-flavour, packed with veggies - just wonderful! Smoked salmon is smoked salmon but our waitress did run out and buy it especially for me - thanks! I found that I was comfortably full after this dish and the protein punch was just what I needed. I'd love to try recreate these flavours with a tofu scramble as I'm trying to limit my egg/dairy/fish intake to once a week. 
Calcutta Street suits its location in Brixton. It's the home of exciting world cuisines and Calcutta Street fits in just perfectly with it's globe-trotting flavours and Bengali-style hospitality. If you're looking for somewhere to have brunch with a difference, then this is your spot! 

Thank you Calcutta Street for hosting this review. All opinions, as always, are my own. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

REVIEW: Chai Naasto, Hammersmith

Short story: Frankly, some of the tastiest Indian food I have ever reviewed.

Last Friday, post-intense-as-hell-gym-session, Alex and I made the long ol' trek to Hammersmith, south west London, to taste the delights of Chai Naasto - an Indian street food spot tucked away from the main strip. The second outlet from the family following their success in Beckenham, Chai Naasto is inspired by Grandmother Nani's authentic Indian recipes. Originally hailing from Mogadishu, Somalia to Indian parents, Nani began cooking aged 10 and has now passed her unique recipes onto the grandkids that run the collective of restaurants. 
The A3-page menu is divided into three sections: curries, kebabs and chaats (small plates of loveliness). The curries 'from Nani' are updated every 2-3 months with exciting regional recipes - previous months were inspired by the coastal Gujurat region and this month is all about southern Kerala area with plenty of coconut milk and fruity curry leaves. Some of the dishes on offer are so entrenched into Nani's life that you simply won't find them anywhere else.
We began with a cheeky beer (or two) - hey, it's Friday! Chai Naasto recognise that the German's really do make the best beers and offer an array of craft brews by the bottle and can. I went for the Berliner pilsner (crisp, easy to drink) while Alex chose the Schneider Weisse Tap 7 with notes of ripe banana, clove and nutmeg.
Moving onto food, we had to kick things off with chaat. First, Kekda Koliwada; soft-shell crab marinated with spices, battered and fried until crisp, served with a smoked tomato chutney. Unlike many soft shell crab dishes I have tried before, you actually get a tonne of crab and hardly any batter, so the dish's key flavour is beautifully sweet and perfectly compliments the tomato chutney. The pickled veggies on the side helped to add sharpness creating a gorgeously balanced mouthful each time.

Second, Bombay Bhel Puri; a Mumbai street food classic of puffed rice, diced potatoes, diced onions, masala and sev drizzled with an assortment of chutneys. The pops of pomegranate dotted throughout gave added freshness and the balance of spices touched on the spicy side. I would have like a little more chutney or sauce as it was a touch dry after several scoops.

Lastly, Amritsari Chole Kulche; potato and cheese stuffed tandoori flatbread served with a spicy chickpea stew, pickled red onion & mango pickle - truly, the most wonderful dish of the day. Try to imagine a garlicky naan, stuffed with soft potato and rich cheese then dipped in a spicy stew - DREAMY! The chickpea stew was absolutely incredible with plenty of smoke which reminded me of the black bean mix in a burrito. The touches of burnished bread added a bitterness too which worked really well with the smoky stew.
Next up: the curries. I mean, where to begin. You can see in the photo below the difference in texture between the two curries which meant we could eat both on one plate and define between them. The golden yellow curry was Prawn Kadai Masala - with prawns cooked in a spiced tomato gravy with fresh coriander and ginger. The deeper red curry was a special paneer dish with a smokey tomato sauce with a touch of chilli. Both featured plenty of the chosen proteins and I really enjoyed the larger pieces of paneer in the second curry.

Both sauces were rich and creamy which coated the simple boiled rice and tears of garlicky naan beautifully. The prawn curry was more coconut based (as inspired by Nani's recipe) while the paneer option was much chunkier for a more rustic feel. If you come to Chai Naasto please, P L E A S E order the prawn curry - if you eat nothing else, it will give you a real feel for the restaurant's ethos and cooking skill. It's an absolute winner! 
We ended the evening with kulfi on a stick. This traditional Indian dessert is formed around a stick like an Italian ice cream and flavoured with incredible spices. I chose the rose and honey kulfi which was sweet and heady with rose, while Alex chose the pistachio flavour - his absolute favourite. 
I'm pretty gutted that I don't live in South West London as Chai Naasto is an absolute treat of a restaurant. The prices are extremely reasonable for the quality of the dishes and the area so you can genuinely have a great meal for two for between £30-50 (depending on what booze you get). My must tries are: the prawn curry, the potato and cheese stuffed bread, and the rose and honey kulfi but frankly I'd work my way through the whole menu without complaint.

Thank you Chai Naasto for hosting this review. All opinions are my own. 

Friday, 30 June 2017

BRUNCH: Bon Vivant, Bloomsbury

As a certified Francophile (OK, not certified), I go crazy for anything French in London. Breton top, check. Basket on my bike with a baguette in, check. Speaking French at any opportunity, check. And now, I can add French BRUNCH to the list. At Bon Vivant, the naughtiest new arrival in Bloomsbury, our favourite meal of the day, brunch, gets flipped up and renamed as 'drunch' to be reflective of the bottomless booze option. I feel like 'drunch' may be my new favourite word. 
And while it may be my favourite word, we were horrifically hungover from two nights of architecture parties so completely avoided 'drunch', voting instead for strong AF coffee and sweet orange juice. The juice came topped with fresh orange slices and the strong coffee dusted with chocolate, so it was a sugary start to the day.
Our 'pre-drunch' folowed the sugar theme in the form of a beautiful basket of pastries. This is a pretty classic French breakfast of pain aux raisin, pain au chocolate and chunks of fresh bread. As a child, I would always order a hot chocolate alongside this basket of beautifulness when we were in Paris - it makes the perfect dipping partner! Both pastries were soft and rich with butter, but maintained a flakiness that only comes from great pastry. The bread selection was also really nice, mixing up the traditional white baguette with rye baguette and a seeded wholemeal version. The accompanying confitures were also delightful. 
For the main I event I went with.... avocado toast. Please don't hate me; it's literally my favourite dish in the world. This version came topped with two poached eggs (lovely, well-cooked, yolky), a sprinkling of smoked paprika (genius) and fresh parsley (pointless). While the dish was perfectly nice, the avocado was stone cold which really jarred with the warm poached eggs. My advice, take it out the fridge before service.  
 By contrast to my green goodness, Alex went for the utterly indulgent pancake stack with bananas, chocolate sauce and berry compote. The pancake batter was light and fluffy with the texture of a sponge cake which was DIVINE. The chocolate sauce was elevated when paired with the berry compote and the bananas gave even more sweetness. If you don't have a sweet tooth, opt for the egg and bacon version, otherwise I definitely recommend this version.  
 I was also going to like Bon Vivant; it's French, it's in the pretty Bloomsbury district and you can sit outside on the wraparound terrace. But, truly, the food was the real clincher. There's really nothing better than a strong coffee and a perfectly made pastry to start your morning and when you add pancakes you're certainly in for a whale of a time.

Thank you Bon Vivant for hosting this review. All opinions, as always, are my own.  

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

REVIEW: Fire Stables, Wimbledon

Today's review was a real treat and one of the nicest restaurant visits we have had in a while.

Young's Pubs, which finds itself quite happily at home in south west London, is not always the first name one thinks of when it comes to a fish restaurant. Perhaps one of the loftier names housed in Smithfield market comes to mind quicker? Well that's about to change thanks to the return of Fire Stables - a Young's restaurant specializing in impeccably cooked fish in a wonderfully contemporary space. 
Previously a favorite local pub, the venue has recently undergone a remarkable renovation. The restaurant’s new look is timelessly classic with a touch of Parisian cafe charm, in keeping the easy-going sophistication synonymous with the Wimbledon Village area. The dark wood-topped tables make the perfect spot for me to snap our booze - an All Day IPA for Alex, a truly wonderful Picpoul de Pinet for me.
To start, I sank my fork (rather delicately) into citrus vodka cured Chalk Stream trout with tomato pannacotta and Bloody Mary dressing. This trout, seriously, was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. The texture was slightly firm so you could still bite into it and the vodka/citrus flavour was so subtle it simply elevated the exquisite fish flavour. The tomato pannacota, while visually odd, worked really well as did the dressing of celery and cucumber. I am still raving about this dish a week later, I loved it so much. 
Alex went for the slightly more classical starter of perfectly pan-seared scallops with peas, broad beans and scraps - the bits leftover from battering fish. Topped with pea shoots, I personally found the dish could have benefited from a dressing but the scallops were so beautifully cooked that thought was easily forgotten. 
For the main event I, obviously, went for fish - a whole sea bass to be precise. The skin was so flaky, the flesh so, so sweet and soft - it just simply slid away from the bone when touched by a fork. This dish was absolutely dreamy. I also LOVED the sides of fresh fennel salad with apple, chive and radish and crushed Cornish Mids with spring onion, herbs and lemon. Simply put, this is how great fish should be cooked, served and eaten. 
Being a Sunday, Alex by-passed the fish theme and went for the hearty roast of belly pork with roast potatoes, a larger-than-life Yorkshire pudding and seasonal veggies. This all came drenched in the richest gravy we've experienced in a while. The pork was sweet and soft and the roasties again some of the best we've tucked into for a while. I mean, look at that Yorkshire!
Annndddddd dessert! I went for the Black Forest Brownie which absolutely fulfilled all my 1970s dreams. From the criss-cross chocolate design to the macerated cherries and heady, rich chocolate brownie - what's not to love! Alex also went for a classic - the deconstructed tiramisu, which, while delicious, could have been even better if it was reconstructed.
Overall, we were both really delighted with this visit. Wimbledon Village is about and hour and a half away from home but we agreed it was worth the trek. Even if you go just for the trout you'll be in heaven - add a glass of Picpoul de Pinet and you'll never want to eat anywhere else again. 

Thank you Fire Stables and Young's for hosting this review. All opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

REVIEW: Summer Menu at Carluccio's, Spitalfields Market

Is there anything more wonderful than embracing la dolce vita? Come the summertime, there's little I enjoy more than a glass (or two) of crisp white wine, a bowl of juicy olives and some Italian classics in the sunshine. Enter my evening of Italian bliss at Carluccio's last week, where the Spitalfield's terrace became my very own Italian piazza.

This month saw the launch of Carluccio's new summer menu, with special dishes embracing the lighter side of Italian cooking. From burrata to pea shoots, fresh seafood to panzanella salad, the summer offering has plenty of dishes that promise to please any sunseeker.
We began with seasonal starters of burrata from Puglia dressed with pea shoots, fresh peas, broad beans, fresh mint leaves, lemon oil and rich balsamic vinegar. While I would have loved a touch more cheese, the pairing of flavours was so light and refreshing that could be forgiven. I also enjoyed the pane carasau, a Sardinian crisp bread, which reminded my of the very best poppadums from nearby Brick Lane. 
Alex chose the prawns marinara sautéed with white wine, baby plum tomatoes, chilli and fennel seeds then dressed in a tomato and basil sauce - I mean, can you get more Italian! Cooked in their shells for added sweetness, the prawns were wonderfully juicy and balanced with the peppery rocket salad. A sprinkle of salt wouldn't have gone amiss.
For the main event I kept things seasonal with Carluccio's new seafood linguine with white crab meat, prawns, mussels and clams. The heady sauce of tomato and chilli was suitably light, allowing the seafood to sing and the Bottarga (fish roe) sprinkled on top was so rich in umami flavour which, when paired with Parmesan, gave the fish dish a meaty quality. The slippery spaghetti was perfectly cooked and easily slurped up! 
Speaking of meat, Alex went for the unusual duck pappardelle - a thicker linguine style pasta - dressed with slow-cooked duck, pork, pancetta and mushroom ragu. This rich, meaty plate had the natural sweetness of duck paired with tomatoes and garlic with added saltiness from the garlic breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan. There's little more I can say other than it ticks all the carby, meaty, cheesy boxes! 
Not forgetting dessert! I went for the classic tiramisu - which means 'pick me up'! The Savoiardi biscuits are soaked in strong espresso coffee and coffee liqueur then topped with mascarpone and chocolate. The lightness of this dairy-heavy dish was really surprising and the bitter chocolate worked really well with the coffee. Frankly, it's an absolute classic so you can't really go wrong! 

Alex chose the new Cioccolato Fondente - a warm chocolate pudding baked with almonds and Kahlua. Due to the almonds, the cake was a touch dry but there was easily negated with a big scoop of rich vanilla ice cream. 
From the Babylon Bianco Sauvingnon Blanc and olive pairing to start, to the rich pasta dishes and through to the light desserts, Carluccio's new summer menu truly is an exploration of Italian heritage. Updated for the modern diner with smaller portions and effortless presentation, I can't imagine a nicer way to spend date night.

Thank you Carluccio's for hosting this review

Friday, 16 June 2017

REVIEW: Lunch at Maple & Kings, King's Cross

Basking in the sunshine last week was such a joy. Alex and I took a lovely long walk down to King's Cross to enjoy a spot of lunch at the lovely Maple & Kings, the second venue from Maple & Fitz.

Known for their delicious, health-focused menu available at brunch and lunch everyday, Maple & King's is part of the growing foodie hub set behind the two major stations. The cafe boasts a small terrace which is lovely when the sun is blaring down and a small number of seats inside too.
We began with smoothies. I drank my greens with an After The Disco with pineapple and coconut which was deliciously sweet yet balanced with plenty of greenery. Alex went for the Breakfast Smoothie with banana, dates and almond milk, again a sweet choice which we're a big fan of! 
While Alex went for a brunch dish of shakshuka, I went for a lunch box of smoked salmon with softly pickled cucumber, cracked buckwheat, black beans, lime, tomatoes and chopped coriander. The dish boasted all the flavours of a great Mexican plate with the protein-packed addition of smoked salmon. Priced at around £7, it is slightly on the expensive side but hey it's a weekend treat. 
Alex's heady shakshuka with chilli and garlic came topped with poached eggs and filled with protein-rich mung beans. It was interesting to have this classically skillet-cooked dish in a takeaway style cut and it dipped beautifully into the expertly grilled toast. Yum! It was also delightfully filling which, while the portion appears humble, was really pleasing.
Overall, I continue to be a big fan of Maple & Fitz and their Maple & King's outlet. The dishes are completely suited to those looking to combine health and flavour while, of course, getting an amazing Instagram shot too. I'll certainly be back to try some brunch dishes for myself while I'm sure Alex will nab a salad. 

Thank you Maple & Fitz for hosting this review. All opinions are my own. 

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