London has brought me a number of successes. Food is one of them. Dating is not. My latest review demonstrates acutely why I am destined to die fat (happily) and single (jury’s out).
I was excited to try well-known Beirut street food restaurant, Yalla Yalla. I’ve walked past its Shoreditch pop-up often and admired its lofty, open plan bench arrangements. Plus any cuisine involving numerous plates of food, family style and open for picking, is always going to be a win with me. And so, when invited to dinner by Mr P (20-something, moderately hunky rugby type, met at a press event) and asked where I’d like to go, Yalla Yalla seemed a fair pick.
I’ll admit...the timing wasn’t ideal. I’d slept 3 hours, possessed that kind of port-hangover that qualifies one for a disabled parking pass, and had spent the entire day at an oyster festival recording with the radio. This latter fact was causing me anxiety on a few fronts. A) There was a reasonable likelihood likely that I smelt of fish (yum, and no time for a shower) and B)…what about their well-known aphrodisiacal effect?! Moreover, that Saturday saw Indian bloody summer come to London in the form of sheeting monsoon rain. I don’t own an umbrella.
British, aka endlessly practical, I bundled myself up in a protective ensemble: bobble hat, full coat and woolly scarf, turban-style around my head, defending coiffed hair and snazzy outfit. In summary, I looked great.
Yes. An actual Bedouin warrior.
But it was okay, really it was! I planned to arrive and whip off my eccentric gear, emerging sleek, smooth and nymph-like for my date. Simples. Anyway, Yalla Yalla’s steaming plates of sautéed pomegranate chicken livers (one of Time Out’s Top 100 dishes 2013) and lamb pastries motivated me.
Arriving to Oxford Circus early, I decided to time my arrival and wait out the storm inside. Feeling more than a little ridiculous and rather the subject of Spanish tourists’ amusement, I prepared to jokingly text friend a photo of my enrobed-self.
Disastre Uno: As I was taking the charming above photo, Mr P came up the stairs and caught me. Caught me A) looking like (insert famous Arab) and B) taking above-evidenced ‘selfie’. There are a couple of As and Bs in this story, but sadly it was A) revulsed shock and B) regret that visibly passed across his face.
Gingerly he pressed on with the date. More fool him. But luckily there was decent food to distract us. Hummus topped with tender lamb, deliciously smoky baba ghannouj and an absolutely excellent tabboule salad were the dishes we began with. Tabboule is a middle eastern salad of cracked wheat, garlic and mint with lots and lots of chopped up green parsley. Delightfully fresh, deep in herbs. I wolfed it down.
Hummus, Tabboule, Vine Leaves
The rest of the meal passes in a blur of heady flavours; lamb, spice, salty cheese. Crisp, buttered pastry and flaking bread. Accompanied by a surprisingly decent Lebanese white, then a second and some sticky, sweet backlawa, conversation actually starts to flow and, dare I say, even a little wine-lubricated flirting. And because I’m a flirting-pro, I’m regaling him with a most beguiling story of my awkward teenage years of braces and head-gear. Disastre Duo
: Mr P smiles wolfishly (I knew that story was a panty-dropper.)
and croons ‘Well, Lucy, your teeth are beautiful now (Yes, win! I knew I had this flirting business down!)
, but (...but??!?!...)
…Do you ever get stuff stuck in them?’. Oh, God, no.
Yes. A full two hours with the parsley that made up the Tabboule, and our very first course, on my front tooth. You’d think Yalla Yalla
could have issued a warning with the order.
And so, excruciatingly, we come to the third of my series of Yalla Yalla
After an evening of beetroot-blushing embarrassment, but rather nice food, the bill welcomely arrived. Removing my purse from my bag in a flourish betraying my eagerness to escape, I brought with it an unfortunate friend that fell into the middle of the table between us. Monsieur Durex, ribbed and ready for duty.
I’d like to say that was the end of it, but I can’t. The same thing happened again onto the restaurant floor when I got my coat out. A quite literal representation of the phrase ‘get your coat, you’ve pulled’.
I think, in summary, this evening succeeded in a few things. Affirming my destiny of well-fed celibacy, for one. For two, and on the half-full side of the spectrum, discovering a good little spot for middle-eastern street food, tolerant of contraception-tossing and liberal with the wine.
If I could face the staff, I’d be back.
http://www.yalla-yalla.co.uk12 Winsley Street, London, W1W 8HQ
020 7637 4748
Tucked away on a neat little street in Islington, lurks my new favourite hidden London gem. Public House, a boutique restaurant and bar, serving up classic food and somewhat jazzy cocktails with a cheeky little personal touch.
Cheeky? Each cocktail on the menu comes with a short, somewhat cryptic blurb which, after some persuasion, Host Simon revealed references to a piece of Public House’s history. The Boomerang Sour, for example, ‘a pokey tipple that hits you right between the eyes’ which quips about an Australian bartender whose flair failed one evening when he mistakenly hurled a bar blade across the room, smashing the drinks of some unfortunate bystanders. I didn’t ask about the Donkey Club Punch…
Gin Martini + Stilton
In a city which sees literally hundreds of restaurants open in any given year, Summer 2013 has seen an exciting new arrival to its culinary rostra. Or is it new? Boulestin by Joel Kissin, which opened last Friday, takes its inspiration from a previous acclaimed Boulestin that reigned in Covent Garden until 1994. This original restaurant was owned by legendary chef Marcel Boulestin, famous for bringing French cooking to the English masses in the early 1900s.
With such a culinary heritage to live up to, Boulestin, St James Street has both big boots to fill and a big belly, which I happily supplied at its Sunday launch.
When work gets tough, August monsoons over my bank holiday weekend and the news is full of doom, gloom and Syria, all, really, that there is left for me to do is eat. And certainly, nothing turns that metaphorical frown upside down faster than a smashingly awesome platter of food. Preferably with portions on the larger side. Accordingly, I turned my sad belly to Tony Kitous and his restaurant, Levant, Wigmore Street, London, to revive me from my gloom.
I’ve never met a man more impassioned about Lebanese food than Tony. He’s on a mission to bring home style Lebanese cooking to the mainstream UK and opened Levant in 2000, following it closely with the acclaimed Comptoir Libanais restaurants that now sprinkle London. Hearing Tony talk about food makes me forget my deadlines, botched romances and inspires me, simply, to happy appetite.
Set in a beautiful Middle Eastern underground dining room with cushioned, private nooks bejewelling its corners, it beams Eastern welcome by candlelight. It feels….like a home far more exotic than my couch in Clapham and has perhaps a couple more belly dancers. Faced with this, a stiff vodka with mint and a generous menu, my troubles melted, feasting commenced.
Watch out London, there’s a new kid in town. And guess what, she can cook! The Cook Club brands itself as being a ‘new kind of night out, one where you can learn how to cook, meet people and eat a dinner than you had a part in making’. Essentially, a combination of cookery class, pop up restaurant and night-on-the-ritz-pregame, The Cook Club is my idea of a bloody good Saturday night out.
I went along to check out its launch; the charmingly entitled ‘America F*** Yeah!’ evening. On the menu was a whole rostra of those things I will happily gobble down if dished to me somewhere red, white and blue, but that wouldn’t be accustomed to my own kitchen. Devilled eggs, buffalo chicken wings, smoky coca-cola (say whaat) pork ribs and corn bread, to name but a few. Hayley, The Cook Club’s young (and rather smokin’ herself) host took us through each recipe, cheerily demonstrating the ins and outs of them and disclosing a few choice tips along the way (microwaving limes to get more juice out….who knew?!).
Sushi and Sake; that most natural, elegant of pairings, but also perhaps the one, at first glance, most alien to a domestic kitchen. Dirty burgers, elaborate milkshakes, BBQ; these recent food crazes I’m more than happy to whip up at home in my kitchen. I’ll even make a stab at pairing it with something from a vine. But face me with preparing sushi, pairing it with sake? It might as well be nuclear physics.
But, hoorah, no longer! Inamo, St James, through Lime & Tonic is offering a series of Sushi Sake Masterclasses to the general public, costing scant 29 pounds and including 3 pieces of nigiri, 5 maki and four sake pairings. I went down last week to check it out…
Inamo itself is an interesting place, set just on Lower Regent Street, it boasts a distinctive form of ordering. Instead of menus each table has a projector suspended above it, projecting the menu, plus between-course games, onto your laps. Kind of snazzy, right? The sake tasting itself is set in a private room off the back, complete with sliding bamboo door and handsome, young (and surprisingly French) sake sommelier.
Summer in London for me is heat, spice and outside drinking. Of course, interspersed with the monsoon rainstorms and occasional flash floods customary to our fair isle, but in general as soon as that tarmac starts baking my step gets tapping along to the nearest open air bar for cocktails and something scrummy to eat. The spice? In a city inhabited by over 270 different nationalities speaking 300 different languages (and in my inability to afford a holiday), it would be rude not to…and let’s be honest…who actually wants to eat a summer’s salad? Over something spiced? No competition. Accordingly, set just off the common and with a decently priced menu, open front, deftly handed barmen and an August Jamaican pop-up, The Jam Tree in Clapham South has hit a most niche spot for me in London’s short summer of 2013.
Jamaica Jamaica is a temporary Jamaican food (no shit) pop-up taking place in The Jam Tree’s two locations in Clapham and Chelsea. Bringing island food to the south west, plus a rum orientated cocktail list and frequent Reggae bands, it is happening from August 6th-20th.
I went down last week to check out its opening. Having not eaten much Jamaican food before, whilst the opposite being true with the rum, I was psyched to get those greedy chops of mine around some good island grub. And indeed, I was not to be dissatisfied. Reasonably priced, toweringly massive mounds of well spiced, tasty food awaited me.
Salt cod fritters
Goats Cheese, Jerk Pineapple
Now, being a classic French sort of girl with a penchant for Indian, this next recipe is probably as good a representation of my personal style as any you’ll see on this site. Achingly classic tarte tatin, a French dessert traditionally made with caramelised apples, although here using lip-smackingly bitter-sweet blood orange and juicy fig. A touch of cardamom in an Indian style ‘Chantilly’, to bring in the east and compliment the fig. Crunch from pistachio, a less caramel-bitter sweetness from the honey. I think it is fabulous.
It needs nothing but the cardamom Chantilly to pair with it, although you could always swap that for an ice cream if you wanted.
Ingredients (makes a tart for about 6):
2 blood oranges (unwaxed), sliced very thinly into rounds, pips removed and skin on
3 ripe figs, halved
100g caster sugar
500g all-butter puff pastry
100g pistachios, toasted and roughly crushed
1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthways in two and seeds scraped out (and used at the same time as the pods)
Seeds of 1 cardamom pod (green)
200g double cream
1 level tablespoon icing sugar (you don’t need more in the cream – the tart is sweet enough)
2 teaspoons honey
1. Heat an oven to 200 Celsius. Tip the butter and sugar into an oven proof frying pan about 20cm in diameter. See below for what to do if you don't have an oven proof frying pan. Heat over high heat the butter and sugar caramelise to a toffee brown colour. Stir in the vanilla pod seeds and add the pod.
2. Once caramelised, remove from the heat. Layer the orange rounds and fig halves around the pan. You might not need all the orange, just make sure that the base of the pan is covered and there are no gaps. Try to layer them neatly so that it looks pretty when it is tipped out at the end. Season with a small pinch of sea salt (trust me). Allow it to sit in the hot caramel for a minute or so.
3. Roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a 2 pound coin. Put a plate that is just about bigger than the pan on the pastry and cut round it.
4. Lay the pastry over the pan and tuck the edges down into the pan and around the oranges/figs with a spoon so that it hugs the fruit and keeps the tart compact. Poke a few holes in the top of the pastry to let out the steam.
5. Place in the oven for approximately 25-35 minutes, until the pastry is golden and crisp. Keep an eye on it after about 20 minutes – if the pastry is crisp and golden remove it early. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes to cool.
6. Put a large plate on top of the pan and carefully flip the pan over, to turn the tart out onto the plate.
7. For the cream: Whip the double cream until thick. Crush the cardamom seeds and tip into the cream. Add the icing sugar and stir in.
8. Drizzle the top of the tart with the honey, scatter the pistachios over the top and serve with the cardamom cream. Delightful.
NB - if you don't have an oven-proof frying pan, don't worry. Make your caramel in a normal frying pan and then transfer, in a nice pattern, into a 20cm flan case or circular oven proof dish, put the oranges and figs into that and then put the pastry over this to cook.
If you have been following this blog even with the smallest modicum of interest, you will undoubtedly have picked up that, well…I like butter. For me, it makes almost everything taste nicer. This is excluded from those occasional Mediterranean healthy type recipes I occasionally like to indulge in, mostly when in the Mediterranean or when feeling exceptionally guilty about my food intake.
Consequently, I was always going to love this recipe. Croque Monsieur is a classic French recipe, although actually describing it as such bestows it a glamour that its reality does not in fact possess. Croque Monsieur is literally the French Parisian ham and cheese toastie. Legend tells us it came about as a work man’s lunch. The work men one day left it by a radiator and came back to find it all hot and melted. They enjoyed it so much that the recipe stuck and the Croque Monsieur which we all drool over today was born. Farmhouse white bread spread with Dijon, good ham, gruyere cheese. There the Croque Monsieur recipes differ – some have a béchamel on top for extra goo (but consequently can’t fry it in butter), some (Raymond Blanc) opt for wholemeal bread, others INSIST on crusts off, some grill, some free, etcetera, etcetera, slobber slobber slobber.
My method is fairly simple. Essentially, you construct your sandwich and then fry it in a pack of butter and truffle oil. Only a casual whole pack. Best served with truffle mayonnaise and a light salad (to keep your calories down). This gives it a deliciously melty inside, strong with the cheese and pungent from the mustard, and a buttery crisp outside that isn’t oily at all.
This will fill you for the day. Great lunch or dinner.
(If you want to hear this cooked - check out the radio show that we cooked it on at the bottom of this page).
Ingredients (Serves 2):
4 thick slices of fluffy white farmhouse crusty breads
Gruyere cheese (approx. 100g, but who’s counting)
2 slices good quality ham
200g salted butter
Serve with salad & truffle mayonnaise (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 180 Celsius.
2. Slice the bread.
3. Spread the bread with Dijon. Add a slice of ham and the cheese. Top with the remaining slice.
4. Heat the butter in a pan until frothing. Add a drizzle of the truffle oil. Add the sandwich. Fry on both sides for about 2-3 minutes, until golden brown and crisp on both sides.
5. Remove from the pan and dab with paper towel to remove excess grease. Put on a tray and put in the oven for 5 to properly melt the cheese.
6. Remove, slice and serve.
melted and delicious
tuck into me
Recently I published a review of Dabbous
, the hot new eatery by Ollie Dabbous that has taken London by storm in the last 2 years. Only three weeks after opening Fay Maschler gave it a groundbreaking 5/5 stars and then within 8 months it had won its first Michelin star. I won't duplicate my review here but, let's just say that I loved it. Read the full spiel here. Their signature dish is a beautiful 'coddled hen's egg with woodland mushroom and smoked butter'.
Coddling is an old method of cooking eggs, seldom seen nowadays. Essentially it means barely cooking the eggs, either by steaming them or placing them in a special egg coddling pot. In a bid to
keep reliving the wonderful evening I spent in Dabbous
, I have recreated the recipe.The results, I must say, are pretty good. Texturally, mine is a little different to Dabbous', but I think the taste is pretty bang on. Eggs are one of my favourite ingredients. As is, now I think about it, butter.
Barely cooked, luxurious silky eggs stirred through with an absolutely filthy amount of butter, together with deep, earthy mushroom and a warm edge of smoke. Texturally...almost obscene. Served with some toasted farmhouse bread (please, no more butter), this is just the best brunch, lunch, dinner, breakfast, etcetera
etcetera, dish. Seriously though - you can eat this whenever - as a brunch or as a dinner starter. If you want to listen to this recipe too you can do - it features in the weekly food radio show I present for! See the link at the bottom of this page.
Ingredients (Serves 3):
300g mushrooms, mixed types if you can - e.g. chestnut, trompette, chanterelles, etc. - finely diced
4 eggs (AND their shells)
Lemon juice, a squeeze of
Smoked salt (optional)
Bread, to accompany, if desired
1. To prep the egg shells (for serving); the easiest way of doing this is with an egg cutter. One of these devices will perfectly remove the top of the egg without breaking the rest. If you don't have one, no problem. Take a sharp knife and gently tap around the top of the egg about 1cm below the summit, to remove the top of the egg. Collect the egg yolk and white in a separate bowl. Gently snap off any jagged bits, to leave as smooth an edge as possible. Wash out the inside of the egg shells with some water and keep until needed later. Do this for all the eggs needed - one per person.
2. Next prep the mushrooms. Melt about 60g of the butter in a pan and then saute the mushrooms on medium heat for about 6 minutes until they are cooked through. They'll release a load of water as they cook and then soak it back up. Season the mushrooms with a pinch of normal salt and with a squeeze of lemon. Leave until later and reheat just before, if required.
3. Now for the eggs. Gently break up all your eggs in a bowl with a fork - don't over whisk them. Then melt all the rest of your butter (yes, all the rest) in a frying pan. Turn the heat all the way down low. Tip in the eggs and stir them into the butter. Now, cook the eggs and butter on the very lowest heat possible, gently moving the eggs about with a spoon occasionally. Try to make this stage take as long as possible. When the eggs are barely set, and still runny, immediately take them off the heat. They should be on the very edge of being undercooked - and remember, they will continue to cook even when you take them off the heat. Season with a little of the smoked salt and stir through a heaped tablespoon of the mushroom.
4. Spoon a little bit of the mushrooms into the bottom of the empty egg shells. Next the coddled egg, then some more mushroom, and then more coddled egg. Serve with toasted bread, or by itself.
You'll have absolutely loads left over that won't fit in the egg shells, but have that on the side to top up!