Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Dim Sumday

It’s been a little while since the Ewing and I have been out for Dim Sum Day, but a visit down south from my Aunt and Uncle in Yorkshire, combined with the news that my aunt’s favourite yum cha stop in Leeds - Ho’s on Vicar Lane - has closed, made it easy to decide where to meet and eat.

And, as we had also recently discussed walking across the Isle of Dogs and under the Greenwich foot tunnel, it seemed even more fortuitous when I remembered the Lotus floating restaurant, sitting on the Inner Millwall Dock. Its curious waterside location – in the shadow of Canary Wharf and the looming Baltimore Tower, making the perfect starting point for a Sunday stroll to the South of the River, as well as being a curiosity in its own right.

The last time I visited was in the dark and distant past, before I started writing the blog. An almost mythical time where I still took lots of photos of my lunch, but didn’t post them on Instagram or write about it afterwards. I do remember the meal though, if only for the reason that a rather bullish the Ewing ordered curried whelks, being quite adamant that ‘I like all types of seafood’. It turns out that this precludes whelks, a lesson she has learnt from, unlike me, who persists in ordering strange gristly, knobbly bits of protein whenever I see them.

Sadly, the whelks have gone, although they still offer cold baby octopus in curry sauce alongside chicken feet and Sunday specials including jelly fish, trotters, honey roast ribs, and beef shank, which I thought sounded interesting, but was dissuaded by the voices of reason.

In the end we stuck to a more prosaic array of dumplings – there’s nothing wrong with the classics – that included delicate scallop with the crunch of water chestnut; shui mai, with their fluted open tops and minced pork and shrimp filling; virginal har gau, stuffed with bouncy prawns (still my fave); and fragrant Chinese chive, the jade green flecks showing through their translucent wrappers.

Some good roast pork puffs - with their friable lard-enriched pastry and sweet and sticky filling - and a trio of Ewing’s beloved puffy steamed buns, filled with more sticky char sui, quickly followed. 

Customary custard tarts were just so-so, although I still always love the fact eating pudding in the middle of your main course is thoroughly encouraged during a yum cha feast, even if they came garnished with a thoroughly retro sprig of curly parsley.

There were also rolls – deep-fried wonton pastry filled with rich shredded peking duck and hoi sin sauce, and slippery cheung fun filled with sweet shredded pork in a pool of tangy black vinegar and a crispy beancurd and prawn roll that was snaffled before I could get a pic.

And we finished things with an array of fried things including batons of crispy salt and pepper squid, my Aunt's favourite, and some slightly oily prawn croquettes that benefited from a liberal dredging in perky chilli sauce.

Overall the food, while not quite up to the location, was a step up from many jaded Chinatown stalwarts, and service efficient and friendly, despite there being a full house, and everything was ably washed down with pots of very good jasmine tea, icy bottles of Tsingtao and pints of draught Sun Lik. Prices all seemed pretty reasonable, around the four quid mark for each dim sum dish, although I’m not sure what the total damage came to as my Uncle, very kindly, treated us. 

Best of all was the postprandial stroll with lovely people in the glorious sunshine afterwards; the stillness of the city shimmering on Dim Sumday. 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Mason and Co.

Recently the Ewing and I found ourselves meandering down by the canal in Hackney Wick, whiling away some time before the evening session of the World Athletics Championships. While a great many of the spectators we saw amongst us were attired in athletic gear themselves, with many jogging or cycling along the water to the stadium, I saw it as the opportunity to exercise my elbow by sitting in the sun and drinking a few beers at Mason and Company.

Found at Here East - part of a campus on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park including broadcast facilities, office spaces and a state-of-the-art data centre and providing a home for the creative and digital industries – Mason and Co. is a swish - tiled and IKEA-esque Scandi wood - craft beer bar that also offers Italian-inspired food from street food traders Capish?

As it was the start of London Beer City, and Mason and Co. had hosted the opening event, it would have been remiss to not sample both of the festival's official beers.

The first, and the one I was most excited by, was Agadoo - a saison brewed with pineapple and northern hemisphere hops by a team led by Five Points. The second a Pacific Pale Ale, made with southern hemisphere hops in a collaboration led by Fourpure. In the end both were decent enough, if unspectacular, although I was a little let down by the lack of tropical fruit flavour in the former.

To eat I picked the meatball sub, which to some may sound a bit like the kind of American idea that should have remained just that. But, as I spent my teenage years eating slices of cold lasagne wedge in pieces of French stick after a night on the tiles, the idea of homemade pork and beef balls, in a rich tomato sauce and topped with taleggio definitely appealed.

I wasn’t disappointed, with the real standout in the piece being the polenta-crusted sub roll, that elevated the whole shebang to another level and also soaked up the sauce nicely, making it mercifully not as messy to eat as I first feared.

The jalapeño salsa, that comes as an optional extra with the sub, was exceptional. Ferociously, sinus-clearingly hot, yet you could still taste the sweet and fruity notes from the fresh chillies. Genuinely one of the best hot sauces I’ve tried for a long while, and I speak as someone who can barely shut my fridge without something with a slightly dodgy name and a colon clearing effect falling out.

The calco e pepe balls – orbs of deep fried spaghetti - were off the menu so I settled for a side of pickle slaw. While I love slaw as much as the next man, a little more perhaps, it is a little bit harder to get excited about shredded cabbage, especially as there are so many bad iterations out there, this, however, was very good;  crunchy and tangy and with the perfect amount of pickle-flecked dressing (although I couldn’t resist another squidge of mayo across the top #mayo4lyfe).

Despite my best attempts to get her to order the porcheta, The Ewing resisted and instead went for the beef braciole, braised steak, stuffed with garlic, parsley, pecorino and chili, then slow braised with onion and bone marrow. Served on a glazed buttermilk roll with melted Taleggio and pickled red onions.

Again, it was a pretty flawless sarnie, sweet tender beef, oozy cheese and the punch of chilli heat and pickled onions - and again it managed to maintain its structural integrity to the end, despite a decent application of rich gravy.

We also shared a helping of Italo fries that came topped with 6 hour beef shin ragu, provolone cheese sauce and pink pickled onions, which were quite as glorious as their description suggests.

Owner Ed Mason also owns Leeds legend, Whitelock’s Ale House, so they were also showcasing some of the best of the Yorkshire craft beer scene for the Beer City celebrations. Of the one we tried the Yorkshire Dale's Pale - a northern riff on Oskar Blues Dales Pale brewed in conjunction with Kirkstall - and Other PPL, a lactose IPA from Zapato Brewery, were the standouts.

Being well fed and even better lubricated made the evening an even more enjoyable one, even if the climax of the evening saw plucky Laura Muir being hustled into fourth place in the Women’s 1500m final. If only they awarded medals for beer-drinking….

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Full Monty

In its previous incarnation, Monty’s could be found in the railway arches on Southwark’s Druid Street. An auspicious location as it also heralded the end of the Bermondsey Beer Mile (or the beginning, if you like to mix it up a bit). Making it the perfect pit stop for pre-drinking ballast or post-drinking refuelling.

Although I was more than a little sad to see it move, a successful Kickstarter project funded the hop across the river to a much swisher - if less accessible from my endz - location on Hoxton Street earlier in the year. Happily meaning those Jewish deli staple cravings can now be satiated all-week round. 

Originally an East End bakery, interior-wise, it’s hard to fault. Everything just screams out joyful, in a lower East-side, preserved in aspic kind of way. From the pickle-shaped refreshment sign to the bagels strung up in edible necklaces. There’s a slick and shiny zinc counter, hedged by handsome leather stools; Victorian tiled booths with numbered globe lamps; and a black and white harlequin chequered floor.
While you may not be able to enjoy a locally brewed beer in the sunshine with your sandwich as you could at the old gaff, the drinks menu here goes someway to making up for it - offering beers from Wiper and True , Siren and Thornbridge, spirits including kosher scotch and Serbian plum brandy and even Kiddush sacramental wine. As does the bigger food menu including Friday Shabbat suppers of roast chicken and lokshen pudding and a range of home-baked babka, blintzes and bagels.

It wouldn't be a brunch without a bloody mary (as we were eating at 15.00, some people may argue it wasn't brunch anyway) and this was a pretty good one. Poky with horseradish and chilli and garnished with a huge celery stalk that made me feel a little less guilty for missing my green juice earlier that morning as I chomped my way through it.

Latkes are a hugely underrated potato preparation. Perhaps it's because they are normally served with apple sauce or sour cream - or, if you're lucky, like here, both - but to my mind they are far superior to the common garden hash brown. These were no different - light, crisp, greaseless and quickly dispatched.

Chicken soup with matzo balls and noodles - aka Jewish penicillin – was as soothing and restorative as the names suggests. There’s something supremely comforting about a well-made chicken soup; the slight crunch of the carrot discs; the fragrant fronds of dill; the bland matzo balls and noodles soaking up the shimmering broth.

And while on this particular Sunday afternoon, I was feeling mercifully hangover free (although the bloody marys were staring to take care of that), this would also have made the perfect panacea on those desperate occasions where only a T4 marathon on the sofa and several pints of Berocca are going to cut it.

The Rueben special dispenses for the need to choose between salt beef or pastrami, as you get a heap of both. This is a Very Good Thing, as you get the perfect balance between fatty salt beef and the leaner, peppery pastrami. Sauerkraut, mustard and Russian dressing add piquancy; all barely held together by toasted rye bread and accompanied by half a new green pickle.

Despite their being no blintzes on the brunch menu - and being out of chocolate babka when we arrived - Monty’s is still a Jewish gem. And if you’re still craving an after-brunch snifter, you could do a lot worse than the nearby Old Fointain pub, where a pint of strawberry wit beer from BBN, one of Bermondsey’s finest, made the perfect summer pudding.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Boscanova

Thanks to the blog, and what I like to think of as a healthy spirit of adventure (propelled by an even healthier appetite), I don’t often eat in the same places repeatedly. Sure, there’s a couple of local spots where I do seem to spend a large proportion of my time drinking beer flights and eating hot wings, or enjoying mutton biryani or a Friday night thali. And old favourites like Hawksmoor and Chick’n’Sours demand repeat visits - the thought of only eating potted beef and yorkies covered in onion gravy only once is a sad one. But mostly I still enjoy the hunt for new things to try.

One exception to the rule is Café Boscanova in Boscombe, which I committedly (mostly successfully) attempt to visit at least once every time I’m down visiting friends in Dorset. Not only is it an eclectic spot, with lovely staff and a great ambience, it’s also begun to feel like an old friend; a home from home where I can chill out and enjoy great coffee and brunch. Which is ideal as my friend, as wonderful as she is at hosting, doesn’t have culinary skills to match.

Although I’ve made many repeat visits, it’s never managed to make it onto the blog. A situation I’m remedying here, despite the fact it might mean getting an elusive table is that little bit harder on my next trip. (Air Show weekend, if you’re wondering, where everyone has already refused to go with me, anticipating the queues on one of the busiest weekends of the year…)

All good brunches start with good coffee, and here it comes from South Coast Roast, independent roasters who also have their own coffee shop on Richmond Hill, in the centre of Bournemouth. My go to coffee is the red eye, a mug of their single origin drip coffee with a shot of espresso over the top 'for a proper kick'. Normally I don't drink much coffee at all, sticking firmly to a diet of pints of PG tips with a splash of milk, but I do like decent drip coffee, and South Coast Roast is second to none. 

The extra espresso shot is an entirely superfluous addition, but I'm usually in need of a little caffeine kick when I visit, much to the amusement of my friends, who have noticed how wired I get after a mug. The Ewing sticks with drip, she doesn't need any more energy...

As an avowed ouef avoider the first meal of the day can often be a tricky one, as everything seems to come adorned with egg in some guise. Which is what makes the Boscanova vegan breakfast ideal, and is my choice if I've had too many pancakes (doesn't happen very often). 

Alongside the usual suspects – tomatoes, potato and onion hash, mushroom and beans – there is added bonus humus, dukkah, rocket and some avocado on toasted sourdough. A cornucopia of delights that, while unconventional, make the perfect combo. Especially when you add an extra pork sausage, or two, to the proceedings.

They also do a good meat brekkie (slightly less good since they stopped offering black pudding as an extra) and a veggie breakfast with halloumi. Alongside hipster-pleasers such as granola with greek yoghurt and berries, perfectly poached eggs and avocado on toast.

As good as the fry ups are, there's one real reason I keep coming back to Boscanova - their american style pancakes. In fact, these may be my favourite pancakes, which is a pretty bold claim as I do like pancakes. Here they are extra thick and fluffy, and always perfectly cooked through. A surprisingly tricky skill to master; having produced many carbonised discs of dough on a Saturday morning as supporting evidence to that fact. 

They come topped with an amazing organic maple butter as standard, although I always get them with extra blueberries, which are dropped straight into the batter, and bacon.

Just like in a burger, bacon with pancakes should always be streaky, and crisp; here it is both. As I’m greedy, I usually find two rashers aren’t enough to service two huge pancakes. But at a quid for a brace, you can easily throw in an extra portion.

They also have a full lunch time offering - with wraps and burritos and healthy-sounding salads and such like - but with their majestic breakfast menu being available right through until close, I’ve never had recourse to try them. Why would you, when you can be greeted by a warm welcome, stiff cup of coffee and a plate of something so gloriously comforting (and slightly phallic...) all day long.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Italians do it better

There's lots of good things about having good friends, but you know you've got a keeper when they're in the last throes of a painful and difficult break up - devastated and off their food - and you arrange to meet them so you can go and eat ramen; followed by a burger. Of course there was wine involved, and beer, and turkish delight, and possibly even some good advice. Who knows. We're still friends now. so it can't have been all bad.

Not only are we still friends, but Stealth often appears in the blog - at least behind the scenes, to spare any readers from losing their appetites. We're also still enjoying a beverage with our food, so much so that, although we've eaten at Mercado Metropolitano several times before - Stealth's flat being staggering distance away - the only picture of the food I seem to have is this box of cold leftover pizza.

No matter, I knew I could persuade her out for another afternoon visit, lured by promises of cocktails and spleen-venting and melted cheese. It also worked well for me, the weather was far nicer than on our fledgling winter visits - meaning we could sit outside in the sunshine (or in the shade, while moaning about how hot it was). The food and drink stalls have also expanded since then, giving us more options to feed the previous night's hangover, while stoking the one to come tomorrow.

While I'm sure you can get a Peroni, or certainly a Four Pure Pils, there's also plenty of craft here, courtesy of the Italian Job 'the UK's first Italian craft beer bar'. I went for a Neck Oil; not terribly Italianate, but always a delicious, low ABV, drop and a gentle way to ease myself into the afternoon's revelry. 

Stealth went with her favourite cured meat and Italian cheese combo - something blue, something hard and something oozy. A little like our Saturday night... .The oozy one was particularly good; full on and sticky, matching up well with the spoon of spiced chutney, balanced artfully on a prosecco cork.

For me, the pizza here is some of the best in London. The crust is chewy and puffy and blistered, with that lovely sour tang that compliments the sweet milky mozzarella. And, while resolutely being a Neapolitan pie, it retains enough structural integrity to pick up and eat with your hands, not dissolving into tomato soup in the middle like some, often lauded, examples.

The Pasquelina - a white pizza with sausage and wild broccoli -  is wonderfully balanced between bland cheese, bitter greens and spiced meat. Similar is the Ripieno- a pizza bianca with ricotta, cherry tomatoes, salami and parmesan. On this visit I went classic with a napoletana - tomato sauce, mozzarella and anchovies; the hairy little divisive fish giving a salty piquancy to each mouthful.

There was also more drinks, obvs, starting with a negroni (that Stealth had already drunk while waiting for her cheese) before moving on to Aperol spritzes and then London spritzes, which I'm a bit hazy on now. Possibly elderflower and apple? maybe some mint. Definitely, thanks to the photo evidence, some cucumber. 

The Jim and Tonic mobile drinks van was closed when we arrived, much to the disappointment of Stealth. But her beady eye - for possibly the very first time - spied they had opened as we were finishing our lunch. Because I'm a good friend - and even though it went against the very core of my being - I asked, on Stealth's behalf, for 'the one that tastes most like Hendricks'. Not because I dislike Hendricks, but because, having seen Stealth pull this kind of stunt every time we go anywhere, I knew it would cause that awkward umming and ahhing. Which it did, but in a very polite way. 

Still not sure what we actually got, but it was full of cucumber, hence tasted pretty much like Hendricks. Although by that point I'm not sure either us would have known. We then followed it up with another double, this time made with Death's Door gin, because it was the option that came adorned with the marshmallows, that Stealth was by this point eating straight from the jar on the counter.

It wouldn't be Sunday without a sundae, or a gelato at the very least. The gelato here is not any old gelato being from Badiani, one of Florence’s oldest gelaterias, who have launched a new store in the English capital.

So we swung (definitely swaying by this point) past for a double scoop in a cone; one of bright and sharp raspberry sorbet and another of, even better, sweet and nutty black sesame. An Instagrammers dream, and just as dreamy to eat.

Despite our best efforts I still haven't tried the pasta, or the arepas, or the grilled Argentinian rib eye with chips, or the lurid green cassata cakes, or freshly filled cannoli with chocolate chips..... But, no matter; I've got a feeling they'll be plenty more happy news and heartbreak to break bread (and heal sore heads) over.