Saturday, 19 August 2017

REVIEW: Dinner at Mommi, Clapham

So after my Clapham dig in last week's review, I'm, well, back in Clapham. But not for brunch so my quip still stands - today we're visiting for dinner, and popping by an old friend: Mommi. You may remember that we reviewed Mommi's excellent brunch way back at the start of summer (read it here) and I was so impressed that were returned for supper. 

Unlike those hazy days of May (seriously, where the F has summer gone?), we sat indoors for supper and the lighting is a bit dodgy on my photos so please excuse that. If you desperately want to see better shots of the glorious grub, visit Mommi's Instagram page - it's a dream. 
As per Mommi's lovely brunch, the menu is all about Japanese-Latin fusion: sushi meets giant sweetcorn, if you like, with a mix of raw and grilled dishes available throughout the night. The evening menu was recently refreshed alongside their MOMMI DOES MUSIC concept, where a live DJ jumps on the decks from 8pm on Friday and Saturday. Not only is there hand-mixed tracks blasting through the restaurant, but the occasional brave soul belts out their version of a banger too. We enjoyed acoustic takes on Jason Derulo, Britney Spears, Arctic Monkeys, Major Lazer and loads of 1990s disco music that, frankly, I was too drunk to recognise. Champagne will do that to you. 

Anyway, back to the menu. Mommi has great provision for meat, fish and veggie eaters with three 'set' menus available: Machu Picchu at £21.50pp (DID ANYONE ELSE WATCH GLOW!?!), Fuji at £24.50pp, and Andean for £29.50pp. Each 'set' includes a choice of meat and fish dishes, plus a vegetarian dish, and is designed for two people to share. There is also a purely vegetarian set menu for £14.50pp which I think is fantastically reasonable - nothing like rewarding those who avoid meat. Guests can also order a la carte to create their own 'set' so it's pretty flexible.

Stand out dishes include: sweet potato, choclo, heirloom tomato and sea asparagus ceviche with red onion, coriander and citrus leche de tigre (tiger's milk); spiced Anticucho aubergine cooked on coal with beetroot causa, smoked yoghurt, pomegranate and hazelnuts; lamb cutlets yakitori with green tea miso, aji lomo, coriander and salsa ocopu; and flame-seared tuna tatiki with onion ponzo, truffle oil, heirloom tomato and hazelnuts.

Read the full menu here. It's well worth a read even if you don't visit TBH. 
We kicked off with a glass of Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut NV champagne - recommended by our waiter, I prefer prosecco, and nibbles of chips 'n' dip. These corn and lime tortillas were the same as when we visited for brunch and I'm delighted to see that the dips have been seriously upgraded. At brunch, I felt there wasn't enough dip for the amount of chips, and now, come supper, there's a whole pot of smashed avocado and a second filled with rocoto pepper queso - SO GOOD! This tied us over nicely until the first dishes arrived. 
My first 'raw' dish (sort of) was a true fusion of Japanese sushi and seaweed with classic Latin vegetables. A bed a slightly sweetened sushi rice came topped with creamy avocado, fiery aji amarillo creme fraiche, sweet potatoes and more heirloom tomatoes. I found the rice sadly to be too sweet a bit off-putting, however when mixed with the other ingredients it balanced quite nicely, especially against the uber-spicy chilli peppers. The little physalis on the side wasn't needed and I didn't enjoy it's slightly warm, slightly softened texture - sorry! 

My guest, by contrast, chose a fish dish to kick things off. Seared miso salmon came atop a vibrant orange sweet potato puree, which visually was absolutely stunning, then was topped with edamame, giant sweetcorn, pomegranate seeds, red onion, coriander and a aji panca soy dressing. This was a beautifully balanced dish with sweet, spicy and umami-rich notes throughout. The base of sweet potato was well considered as it's slightly sweet, slightly earthy flavour balanced the other bold notes. The choice of plate too was brilliant. Instagram thanks me. 
Come the mains, I kept things vegetarian with the recommended flame-seared courgette and mushroom with red corn causa, burnt yuzu butter and crushed cancha. Impressive wording aside, this was a dish of bold-flavoured vegetables topped with a smoky sauce and scattered with crunchy bits; what's not to love? I really enjoyed the crushed cancha topping as I assumed these were peanuts, sent the dish back, then had it lovingly returned with an explanation before tucking in to find these were quite delightful. It's hard to talk about this dish in hugely high regard as, compared to my guest's meat-based dish, it was a bit.... okay? The flavours were lovely and well balanced, there was plenty of texture and visually it was brilliant, it just didn't have the wow-factor of my friend's main. Maybe I should have gone with the tempura version of this dish or perhaps the aforementioned aubergine.
So, speaking of this meat dish - my friend went for the braised sticky short rib of beef with quinoa lime picante, ama su roots and teriyaki padron peppers. I mean, is your mouth not watering yet? The meat was soft and deeply flavoured which beautifully complimented the quinoa. Even the padron peppers, which I love anyway, were elevated in their flavour and I think it's thanks to the velvety sauce that held the entire dish together and the whack of lime to wake everything up. Again, visually this one is a stunner, but it really delivered on flavour too - well done chef!
We also went for two naughty but nice sides. First, giant corn with yuzu, sea salt and coriander. This seriously reminded me of roasted chickpeas except when you bit down on each kernel it gave way to a soft, creamy inside. The yuzu, sea salt and coriander topping was brilliant and helped make this more than just a dish of giant corn. Winner!

We also went for the unbelievably indulgent casava fries with melted queso fresco, piquillo pepper salsa and onion teriyaki gravy - long story short, it's cheesy chips and gravy. Now, I was dining with a hardened Northerner; this is the food of her people and we effing LOVED IT. I hate to say it because of the beautiful plates we enjoyed before this but these fries were absolutely the dish of the day. Crispy fries, creamy cheese, deep, rich gravy - oh my god get me some now!! We enjoyed these, slightly drunk (okay, quite a bit drunk) with the first cocktail in this post of Mommi Fizz which tasted just like Haribo Tangfastics. This was a brilliant end to our evening.

Overall, I was absolutely delighted to go back to MOMMI. The staff, the atmosphere and the food is just wonderful and I feel like every visit is slightly different. I maintain that the brunch is still the better option if you've not visited before but honestly the combination of fabulous food, naughty cocktails and lovingly belted out tunes all night is hard to beat. 

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

Sunday, 13 August 2017

REVIEW: Brunch at Autumn Yard, Hackney

Today we venture back to brunch, the best meal of the day, and back into east London to visit Autumn Yard - a healthy-food hot spot hidden away in the heart of a creative collection of sheds. Seriously; from the outside Autumn Yard excludes 'airline hanger' chic, but once inside you'll discover a calm, Scandi-style space with plenty of wood, metal, concrete and white Eames chairs. Lovely. 
This relaxed, laid-back atmosphere is the ethos that drives the team at Autumn Yard. From the menus to the interior design, to the choice of background music and elegant array of veggies on sale, everything is designed to infuse the guest's mind with healthy vibes. Forget the hippie-shit; this is top-class, gorgeous food, beautiful design and clever marketing done well. Can you tell I'm in love yet?

According to their website, and my own observations, the Autumn Yard chefs create healthful, balanced dishes everyday to eat in or takeaway (ideal if you're running to your weaving class next door or yoga across the way). The menu is perfectly arranged to include vegetarian, vegan and meat-containing dishes without isolating them into their own sections (or even their own menus as-per other restaurants I've visited in recent weeks). There is an understanding that within a group of say four guests, each of them will have different dietary requirements and there's no need to single out the annoying vegetarian (me), the picky vegan (sometimes me) or shame the occasional meat-eaters (Alex) for their choice to still consume animals. 
Following the 'balanced' theme, we kicked off our lunch-sort-of-brunch with coffee (a creamy flat white for Alex) and smoothies (a super-charged, vibrantly green concoction with kale, cucumber, kiwi, apple and chia seeds). I mean, just look how pretty they are! Hello, Instagram! I later opted for a cheeky flat white of my own to take away which was perfectly delightful despite not having a lid...
Now's the bit you've all been waiting for - the food! Both our dishes, and the menu on the day we visited, had a slight South American vibe; think supersweet corn, zingy red onions, spicy chorizo, sweet tomatoes and crisp tortilla breads. It's easy to associate this area of the world with predominantly meat, and mostly beef, based dishes like barbacoa but the region actually is home to some of the 'staples' of the modern vegetarian diet. Quinoa, wild rice, açaí, shell beans, squash, tomatoes, a whole host of cheeses, black beans, onions and, the king, avocado. 

Alex went for the smokey black beans on flatbreads with creamy scrambled eggs, fiery chorizo and a tomato and cucumber salsa. Firstly, the portion was massive and we didn't need to eat for the rest of the day. The salsa added a freshness to the naturally rich dish (eggs, chorizo, beans) and the creamy eggs and fiery sausage sang of the classic British fry up. While the bread was a good choice as it was light, some parts were overly crisp but there you go. 
I chose the sweetcorn fritters with smashed avocado puree, fresh spinach and a honey and sweet chilli sauce - one of my absolute favourites. I also added two poached eggs as I'd had a beast gym session the day before. The sweetcorn fritters were light and airy and really, really sweet which obviously complimented the sweet sauce. Even the eggs worked with the sweet sauce but were sadly not runny enough to 'sauce up' the spinach - hello twigs of spinach stuck in my teeth! The colours and textures on this plate were delightful but I do feel the addition of eggs is 100% necessary (if you're not a vegan) to hold the different elements together. 
Overall, Autumn Yard is an absolutely dreamy place if 1) you love brunch dishes; 2) you have a mixed group of people with different dietary requirements; or 3) you're craving a calming spot to catch up with the gals that isn't absolutely rammed to the hilt with millennials getting their avocado toast fix (*cough* CLAPHAM *cough*). So without continuing to slag off my own generation and habits, my conclusion is go to Autumn Yard, go now and go every weekend, because when you find somewhere that makes you feel as welcome as this place does, there's no need to go anywhere else. 

Thank you to Autumn Yard for hosting this review. All opinions, as ever, are my own. 

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. 

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