Dabbous, Modern European, London

IMG_3525In his review of Dabbous, Jay Rayner writes: “Oliver Dabbous is being hailed as the next big thing. There’s only one problem: you’ll never taste his cooking.”

Well I did. Because on the 16th of May, when I was seven and a half months pregnant with the twins, I wrote them (Dabbous not the twins, although it would have been nice to have some email correspondence to agree on acceptable sleeping times) an email and said I would like to come for lunch any day in September. I knew that by September I would be feeling a lot like Pandora and Dabbous was meant to be my hope in the chest of challenges I had opened up.

(My husband went one further booking a non-refundable, 6 day car rally in the south of France. “Networking”. He says. I say. Aha. I play Fabienne to his Butch – can you believe how young Bruce Willis looks in that clip?  My husband did say that I could / should come with him.  Which is a bit like Marie Antoinette declaring “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” when the poor people complained that they had no bread. This is what our trip looked like last June.)IMG_3532

Here is the thing about Dabbous; their lunch menu is £26! It can cost you that much to have lunch at Giraffe if you get enticed into ordering a silly sounding smoothie.

Dabbous serves beautiful food without the pomp.  My starter of peas features a mousse, a granita and tender tendrils. It’s so sweet, it tastes like they must be growing peas on the roof and picking them for every order.  For my fish course I had ling.  It was a pale looking dish, punctuated with 3 petal pink discs, which turned out to be slivers of pickled garlic.IMG_3531 Read more of this post

Canim Ciğerim, Istanbul, Turkey (Guest Post)

Flori was my boss at Melrose and Morgan.  Day one as Executive Chef, Flori sat me down and told me what’s what, whose who and how the chain of command was going to go.  Her at the top me expediting her wishes.  I sat through the speech and nodded and wondered how she would take it if I gave her a hug.  A big squeeze that would make her ribs crack.  Although her CV was long and impressive for someone so young; The Fat Duck for 2 years, Cottesbrooke Estate, and the Admirable Crichton she wasn’t in any way mean or rough but sweet and kind.

We became friends.

Now Flori lives in Istanbul with her daughter and her husband (also a chef).  Since these days I consider it an accomplishment if I manage to leave the house for an hour (I optimistically had a reservation at Dock Kitchen on Monday which I had to cancel when Layla showed signs of falling ill after a horror week of the twins being ill).

After some pestering, Flori has written a guest post for me.  Enjoy!  I am a liver fiend so the idea of liver kebab is right up my alley!….

“Anyone for liver ? (ciger) For most people it’s a bad taste memory but here in Turkey, it is some thing that’s sought out. Tiny cubes of lambs liver are grilled on long thin skewers over hardwood coals. The garnishes and the setting add to the experience.  

It’s Thursday night. A balmy turkish evening.  The three of us wait on the tiny cobbled backstreet for a table. No one complains as we all know it’s worth the wait to be seated  at a low table and stool. The choice is easy: liver or meat (no more information is provided about the ‘meat’) .  Read more of this post

Bubbledogs, Hot dogs & Champagne, Fitzrovia

Imagine being the person who opens the press releases and decides whether they are worth passing on.  There in the stack of burger places (how many more ways are there to present minced meat between two buns?) is a hot dog and champagne bar.  “Oh, that’s new.” I would think and pass it on.

Hot dogs were my favourite food as a child.  (Do you remember that?  Besides knowing your name, age and where you are from.  Your other vital statistics on the playground were favourite colour, food and animal.)Not that I ever got to eat them because until the age of five I was either in Kuwait or Bucharest.  On the few occasions that we would go to the US my father would have to ask in every McDonalds if they had hot dogs.  Later on when we moved to Athens, we could buy sausages  that were too red in hue and put them into crusty bread with non-Heinz ketchup and there was obviously no relish to be found.  It was the poor kids hot dog.  I would wait until International day at school and then get 3 hot dogs and a Welche’s grape soda.  Those American kids had it good.

I still like sausages.  I’ve even eaten them from the street in New York from those stands that allegedly don’t change the water (but that adds to the flavour right).  Then I found Gray’s Papaya and the itch no longer had to be scratched.

At Bubbledogs the hot dogs are beef, pork or vegetarian and are made to a house recipe.  There are 13 to choose from. Like the K-Dwag topped with kimchi, fermented red bean paste and lettuce.  To go with your gourmet hot dog…champagne, what else?It’s an odd pairing.  Is the champagne there to justify the price tag of the hot dogs (Naked Dog is £6) or is this a champagne bar that serves hot dogs in case you get peckish?  (There are 3 sides, coleslaw, sweet potato fries and tots £3.50).  Not that I didn’t think the hot dogs were good – I wolfed down my New Yorker (beef dog with grilled sauerkraut) and not just because I hadn’t fed enough money into the meter.  The dog was savoury and juicy and the sauerkraut better than any I’ve had in Berlin (including the one from the famous Rogacki). Read more of this post

Broadway Market, Hackney, London

I was reading Simon Kruper’s column in the FT “What makes London different?“.  I had been mulling over the same question.  On a daily basis, I am confronted by an uncanny openness of different cultures.  An Indian Tesco’s employee showing two Hasidic jews around the stationery shelf, around the corner a Halal fridge, two shelves away from that row upon row of ethnic foods.  Unlike mainland Europe, you don’t have to erase your origin or culture to live in London.  Rather, everyone get’s to be who they are and somehow live together more or less peacefully (136 murders a year in London as opposed to 536 in New York – researched by Simon Kruper).It’s not only in supermarkets that things are peaceful.  Traffic is refreshingly non-aggressive.  If you see someone indicating that they want to drive in front of you, you don’t accelerate, (inconceivable, isn’t it?) instead you slow down.  They in turn, flash their hazard lights in thanks or raise a hand.  And you know what?  Everyone still manages to get where they want to get to without getting their panties in a bunch or abusing their car horn.I think all this amicable cohabitation of cultures contributes to the vibrant food scene.  Without unmasked prejudice floating about, people are curious to try new things while others are encouraged to share what they know.I got myself to Broadway market.  Where I had 3 destinations; Banhmi11, Lucky Chip and Yum Bun.After all the accolades, Banhmi11 fell well short of my expectations.  This is one instance where I can confidently say you can get better in Berlin at CôCô.

Yum Bun was indeed yummy.  And I say this having had the steamed pork buns at momofuku ssäm bar a couple of times.  The apparent ease with which the slim girl behind the stack of bamboo steamers made up the buns inspired me give steamed buns and their filling of pork belly a go when I return to Berlin.

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Petersham Nurseries, Garden Centre & Restaurant, Petersham-Richmond

IMG_3313The first time I went to Petersham Nurseries was for a Slow Food lunch with the subject of edible flowers. Back then Skye Gyngell had just started to work her magic behind the stove, today she has handed over her wooden spoon (or whatever) to Greg Malouf claiming that receiving a Michelin star has driven her away.I’ve read a substantial amount of grumbling regarding the prices (for example in John Lanchester’s review for The Guardian) which for a la cart is about £50 a head and for the set lunch goes from £28.50 for two courses and £32.50 for three courses. In London and environs that can’t be considered extortionate, surely? Is it because you can also buy pots of lavender that this seems expensive to some? Or because of the bathroom, which reminds me of the composting outhouses from my days at girl scout camp but with running water.The service is faultless. Young british women, wearing flowery blouses and sensible flats. Thick, straight (in spite of the 70% humidity) hair pulled back in ponytails and a sheet of fringe brushing their eyebrows. Their cheeks blushed just like the many heavy-headed roses surrounding us. Our principal waiter is a british man, who looks like he’s come off the set of Chariots of Fire.My sister and I eat outside under a loosely thatched roof, which provides plenty of dappled sunshine. We are close enough to the trickling fountain that it gives us some relief from the sweltering humid heat (what is it with the weather? It can only do 18ºC and raining or 30ºC and humid?).

I am looking forward to seeing what Greg Malouf does with the produce of the garden. And with Middle Eastern food which is still largely unexplored in the west and at its point of origin, very rustic.

I order the 3 course set menu finding it at once good value and a good way to discover the new style of Petersham nurseries. This starts with a fattoush salad, whose usual form is a chopped salad with fried pieces of flat bread but in this incarnation is all manner of greens I don’t recognize and small beets, juicy white radishes, sweet cucumber, even sweeter tomatoes some cherry and some peeled wedges of a larger variety. Instead of deep-fried flat bread, there are crunchy slices of sourdough sprinkled with sumac. Three violet blossoms adorn the salad like a crown. It is beautiful, to behold and to eat.

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Rita’s, Bar & Dining, Dalston-London

I didn’t think you could find food or places like this in London.  Unlike New York where there are original concepts being launched by people who want to have a go, London is (was, to my mind at least) sadly bereft of such things.  A good burger restaurant might open in an out-of-the-way neighborhood and no sooner had I eaten there before 5 more would open.  It would become a chain and the food would end up being rubbish.  If you ask me ‘the chain’ is one of the abominations of Britain.  It means that you can drive for 10 hours and when you get there, the high street will look exactly like the one you left behind.I am not sure what has brought on this flurry of independent activity.  The recession perhaps? Plenty of talented young  people with ideas and energy twiddling their thumbs.  There has been a food truck renaissance for example (Timeout article here or The Guardian here).  Two years ago when I left London, restaurants were flying the flag for British food using local ingredients.  The local ingredients have stuck but there seems to be a seismic shift towards American food.  First we got ‘sliders‘ in places like Spuntino or Bar Boulud.  Pulled pork seems to be everywhere and you owe it to your stomach (although not your waist line) to try it at Pitt Cue.  In fact, just the other day I was in Waitrose looking through their recipe cards and there was one from Heston for pulled pork.At Rita’s, it’s tacos.  Fish (£5) – pretty good or ox heart (£5) – stupendous.  With ox heart you get bundles of flavour without fat or gristle.  The pickled onions and diced tomatoes created enough of a puddle on the plate that I wanted to use my finger to squeegee it all up.   There is also a chicken sandwich (£6.50). It is served in a brown paper bag which instead of feeling gimmicky, contributes to the anticipation as you rip your way through the paper and fried chicken smell wafts up and tickles your nose.That chicken sandwich. Read more of this post

The Counter, Cafe, Hackney-Wick London

NOTE: I am in London until the beginning of October, for Berlin Posts, please visit my Berlin, Favourites page or Places I’ve Eaten In 

I was doing some accounts today listening to Desert Island Discs (as is my habit).  Nick Clegg this time. After choices such as Prince singing ‘The Cross’ for song number three to take to a desert island, David Bowie ‘Life on Mars’ at number 6,  things went wacky with his choice for number 7: Shakira Waka Waka. “Because my one year old loves it.” He explained to Kirsty Young.

Aha. Just the teensiest bit sceptical about that.

Shakira on the radio prompts my father to drive hands free so he can clap as the car veeres perilously between lanes. “I love Shakira! I don’t know why?!”Someone close to me is more specific. As Waka Waka comes on the car radio, the heavy metal fan turns it up. I give him a shocked side ways glance. “When she sings certain refrains I feel a tingling in my balls.” He grins sheepishly. “See listen…”  (Sorry, I did search for an elegant way to say that but failed)

He cranks it up.

“I don’t have balls”. I reply. Turning it back down.It’s all doom and gloom here: wettest June since records began; Olympic lanes with £130 fines for driving in them; surface to air missiles; ‘shambolic’ G4S Security.  The list is long.  This is a congested city, people are fighting for space on the sidewalk or the tube without the extra 4 million visitors due for the Olympics.  So I’m thinking that maybe what London needs is a Shakira song (like the one that she did for FIFA 2010).  At least to get the boys on board.  For the girls…  Ryan Gosling squinting and flexing should probably do the trick.

My sister took me to Counter Cafe in Stour Space for brunch on Sunday.  Across the river from the cafe we could see the Olympic stadium.  Which if you don’t have a ticket is as close as you can get.Even without the looming Olympic Stadium, the Counter Cafe is a nice brunch spot.  With seating over two floors and outside by the river and no reservations there is usually a bit of a wait for a table.  Which is somewhat alleviated because you queue against a cake laden counter watching the barista make coffee, it really gets your appetite going. Read more of this post


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