Saturday, 7 September 2013

Croatia: Riviera

We're on the home run now for C (only 4 more to go) and we're going to try and squeeze them in before our holiday in October.

I can't remember the food being particularly memorable when we visited Croatia a couple of years ago and the cuisine certainly doesn't seem to have taken London by storm. Having scoured the internet without much success,  I came across a fellow blogger on a similar challenge, eating his way round FIFA countries. who had discovered Riviera, a small restaurant on the outskirts of town in Acton.

We invited a couple of local friends, Helen and Stuart, to a Friday night trip to the West and although I was fairly confident that we'd be fine for a table, rang up to book a couple of days before. How embarrassing...I swear I'm going deaf. "Have you been to Croatia before?" the friendly man on the end of the phone asked. "Yes, I have!" (that's me). What in fact he had said was "Do I speak Croatian?" so then proceeded to talk nine to the dozen in the language. I caught the word sea bass and quickly tried to extract myself from the conversation. Friday night arrives and we meet in a Wetherspoons just up the road (The Red Lion and Pineapple) after work. A few beers down and then onto Riviera

It was a little quiet when we arrived (like empty), but we received a very warm welcome from the chef - Dara Ivanovic. Once seated at a nice central table, he asked who it was he'd spoken to on the phone. "You don't speak Croatian at all do you?" I blushed and admitted my mistake, laughed a bit and sat back down fast. Dara's wife, Tomislav, runs front of house. She had popped out when we arrived but was now back to tend to our every need. We were treated like honoured guests and she certainly made the whole evening a pleasurable experience.

Unfortunately, no Croatian beer was available, so we switched to wine, of which there were a couple of different Croatian varieties, a white and a red:

Yep, it's true what they say, you have to be drinking this stuff in the sun on holiday. It doesn't travel all that well...
But the food at Riviera is a different matter - all freshly cooked by Dara and with some good ingredients. The starters we sampled that evening included some tasty calamari (Przeni kolutici od lignje) and whitebait (Girice). Superb batter.

And the mains definitely had that Dalmatian twist. I went for Dara's pork skewers (Raznjici) which were full of flavour. James had a dish that we certainly remember on the menu of several of the restaurants in Dubrovnik we visited - Dalmatian style entrecote steak (Brzolica po Dalmatinski), steak in a rich sauce with gnocchi as a side.

A couple of our party also had the sea bass with a lovely garlicky dressing (Lubin brancin) which went down well. Good helping of veggies and potatoes to accompany the dish.

The portion sizes were pretty hefty and we certainly felt like we were getting value for money. The restaurant unfortunately didn't really get much busier for a Friday night (another couple did arrive about 9), and Tomislav explained that since a large pub opposite had closed a couple of years previously, trade had dropped off. On the bright side, a new micro brewery is due to open on the site, so there is hope that customers will return to Riviera once that is up and running.

We rounded off the meal with some pudding - unfortunately the Dalmation style crème caramel was off the menu that night - so plumped for some home made carrot cake, ice cream and some chocolate pancakes. All delicious and as you might expect, highly calorific.

A treat at the end, as our hosts brought out some walnut liqueurs to finish (tasted like coffee).

All in all, this was a lovely evening and it would be a real shame if unique restaurants like Riviera had to close through lack of custom. I hope that the microbrewery opens soon and brings a bit of life back to Acton and the Ivanovic's restaurant benefits from that.

Scores for Croatia and Riviera:
Food: ****
Value for money:****

Another one that doesn't appear to be on Urbanspoon, but would definitely have received a thumbs up!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Cote d'Ivoire: lourobbo's kitchen

We've had a bit of a go slow in the early part of the summer (mainly due to the glorious weather we've been having), but back on the A to Z now and we're on to the Cote d'Ivoire. I really thought that I'd find a restaurant in London for Ivory Coast, but no such luck. Therefore, a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen produces the following menu:
  • Ragout de Porc aux Potates Douces  (Pork stew with sweet potatoes)
  • Tarte aux citrons verts meringue  (Lime meringue pie)

I'm not sure they invoked in my mind what I would consider to the be typical African dishes (and remember, I've cooked a few now!), but no one seemed that keen on me making yet another peanut butter curry. And who doesn't like the sound of lime meringue pie?

I started off with the pastry. This is a novelty as I've taken Delia's advice and usually just buy a ready rolled packet of shortcrust. But hey, let's do this properly for once. So, here's me, remembering what my nan used to say: "Get some air in it"

While that rested, I turned my attention to preparing the Ragout de Porc. First mistake....ooops, apparently this should have been marinating for 6 hours. We were planning to pop out to watch the Surrey Classic riders zip through Wimbledon before dinner, so it ended up with a mere 2 hours to soak up the flavours.
A simple marinade of garlic, onion, clove, ginger, oil, salt and pepper. Then add some water and simmer away for an hour on the hob:

While the stew was stewing, I blind baked my pastry pie case and made the delicious lime curd filling. The juice and grated rind of 3 limes, 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk, sugar and butter. Yum.

Nearly ready to serve, last stage is to boil the sweet potatoes, in their skins, peel, cube and add to the stew for the last 5 minutes, with yet more garlic and the juice of another 2 limes. (This was a very limey meal). Out on to a plate...and the verdict? Meh. Really not worth the effort. Maybe it would have tasted better with longer marinating. But the sweet potatoes were a touch on the hard side, the pork was a bit chewy. And overpowered with garlic. This isn't one I'll be making again.
However, THIS I will definitely be making again. I was very pleased about how my Tarte aux citrons verts meringue turned out. Even the pastry was pretty good - nice and crumbly. As you can see, we were a touch impatient to eat this one, ideally I would have left it a little longer to cool and let the lime curd set some more. But it smelt so good. Plenty of leftover for breakfast too!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Costa Rica: lourobbo's kitchen

Another trip into the kitchen for Costa Rica, and thankfully a tad more successful than the previous foray to the Cook Islands.

Costa Rica certainly seems to have a Spanish influence over it's cuisine. For the main event, I chose Papas con Chorizo (or potatoes with sausage), both being particularly favoured ingredients in this household. It was an easy one to cook, basically fry the chorizo for about 15 minutes, then add the cubed potatoes and a heap of spices and fry some more.

The final result was tasty, but perhaps a bit too much and actually quite dry. It could have done with a nice tomato sauce.
It did however go very well with a cheeky bottle of malbec.

On the menu for afters, I attempted Empanadas de Pina (pineapple). These were made using a corn flour dough which was extremely difficult to work with. I'm not sure I had the dough quite wet enough as it kept crumbling when trying to roll out and fold the little parcels. The filling was pineapple jam, something I'd never noticed on the shelves of the supermarket, but Morrison's came up trumps, and it's quite delicious stuff.

Once cooked, they didn't look too bad and they certainly smelt nice. But once again, just a bit dry and I hadn't got the pastry rolled thin enough. I'd be tempted to try these again sometime.
I reckon I'd quite like eating in Costa Rica...but these were not necessarily the easiest of dishes to cook at home.

Cook Islands: lourobbo's kitchen

What a complete disaster! You would have thought with such an auspicious name as the Cook Islands, that this was going to be a great meal. Sadly not.

But a cook should not blame her kitchen implements. It was probably  a combination of factors - poor choice of recipes and a distinct lack of the "right type of fish" left in Morrisons on a Sunday afternoon.

For main, I decided to try a pan-fried fish coated with coconut and spices. The fillets I did manage to get hold of (not even sure I can remember what they were now) were quite small and here comes mistake number one, I cut them into chunks rather than treat them as whole fillets. So when it came to rolling them in the desiccated coconut and spice mix and shallow frying, what a mess!

Although it didn't look that appetising, it didn't taste too bad. But not really what I would call a success.
A traditional dessert for the Cook Islands is something called Poke. Poke  is cooked bananas mixed with milk, thickened with arrowroot, and sweetened with sugar that's then baked and served in coconut milk. The recipe calls for you boil bananas until they go purple and then blend them with the other ingredients and bake.  After about 45 minutes of boiling and boiling, there was no sign of my bananas turning anything like a shade of purple. I tried to add the arrowroot and carry on with the baking, but again after much cooking, it was so runny and ended up straight in the bin.

Not good cooking at all. Sorry Cook Islands, I'm sure you all do much better with your Poke!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Congo (Democratic Republic of and Republic of): La Kinoise

Cheating a little here and combining the two recognised countries of Congo - The Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and the Republic of Congo. The main reason why? I could only actually find one restaurant in the entire of London that claimed to serve Congolese food, although I am sure there are actually lots. As mentioned in previous posts, trying to find African restaurants that specialise in a particular country's cuisine is like looking for a needle in a haystack, there are so many out there but the majority do not have web presence and unless you can find it on another blog or it's a personal recommendation, a tricky task! So, I'm being a little lazy, La Kinoise is covering off two countries for me....and I still have no idea which one it really belongs to.

La Kinoise is in Forest Gate, far over to the east of London. This just so happens to be the home patch of a couple of friends, Umbreen and Adrian, so James and I took the tube and train from work over to the station on a random Thursday night to meet up with them. We started off the evening with a few beers from the local Wetherspoons, The Hudson Bay, before a short walk down Upton Lane to the restaurant.

La Kinoise is right on the edge of town in a mostly residential part of Forest Gate, and therefore, unsurprisingly, pretty empty when we arrived. A couple of people were propping up the bar so we ventured inside.

"Errr.....hi, can we have a table for four please?".

"You want to eat? We usually only cook on Friday evenings. But hey, sit down". Or something like that. Anyway, buoyed up with a couple of beers under our belt, we pulled two tables together and sat down. The lovely lady owner/chef/waitress brought over some menus for the drinks, and the food - well she could do us goat and cassava ("Have we got any plantains?" "Yeah, yeah, we got plantains"). Let's have goat and cassava then. Definitely proper Congolese dishes, she assured us.

Unfortunately, there didn't appear to be any Congolese beer or other drinks on offer, so I settled for a big Leffe, James and Adrian had Heineken and Umbreen had her own carton of pineapple juice. We actually think they even ran out to get these....although the bar looked well stocked with spirits. We were treated to a Congolese music TV channel showing endless videos of Tabu Ley Rochereau, an ageing yet prolific songwriter from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So we cracked on with the beer. Our hostess disappeared into the kitchen. And we waited. And waited. And eventually, the mountains of food started to arrive...

There was an enormous plate of goat (with onions and lemon) and plantains EACH. Plus a plate of cassava bread - this is where the cassava root flour is boiled and made into a doughy substance. And plates of the cassava leaves, stewed up with smoked fish (anchovies).
There was a mixed reception amongst our diners to the dishes. I quite enjoyed the goat, expecting it to be similar to lamb, but in fact it wasn't as fatty and a stronger flavoured meat. I'm not sure how the chef cooked it, but it had a slightly spiced/BBQ flavour. The downsides, it had lots of bones and to be honest the quantity was a little daunting. Everybody liked the plantains, and having had a few varieties of these on our Eating the A to Z tour, they were up there amongst the best I've had. I don't think we were that enamoured with the cassava, maybe it was due to being full up with goat. The leaves were heavily flavoured with the anchovies, salty and not that tasty. The dough - tasteless.
But overall, I applaud La Kinoise for pulling out the stops for us - showing up on a Thursday night with no reservation and expecting to be fed. I'm not sure we'll be hurrying back, but anyone who lives in the area or fancies some authentic Congolese food, I heartily recommend it. Cheap too - even with a few beers, the whole shebang only came to £54. And it was a LOT of food.
Food: ***
Value for money:****
Can't find La Kinoise on Urbanspoon. But I'd be giving it a thumbs up.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Comoros and Mayotte: lourobbo's kitchen

As I had never even heard of the islands of Comoros and Mayotte, it was no great surprise that I couldn't find any restaurants purporting to serve cuisine from there. So, once more into the kitchen, dear friends...

It does sound like a beautiful place, white sandy beaches in the warm Indian Ocean, just off the coast of Madagascar. The cooking influences being French, African and Indian. I chose Poulet au coco, a chicken curry with coconut base. Followed by a dessert of banana fritters.

The chicken dish was very easy to prepare, the usual mix of chicken, onion, garlic, curry powder and coconut milk. With thyme, parsley and spring onions in for flavour. I let it cook a bit longer than the recipe suggested, for over an hour, just to let the flavours soak into the meat. Served over basmati rice with a spring of parsley. The dish had quite a kick and was a hit with the guests!

Gary and Gaby were over for dinner so I wanted to ensure we had a dessert on the menu as well. It was a night of firsts, I'd never attempted to deep fry anything in my kitchen, having an irrational fear of burning the house down. But the only vaguely Mayotten dish I could find was for banana fritters.

I hate bananas with a passion, so thought that my fellow diners would be polishing them off. But, thought I really ought to try them. And I liked! Can't say that they retain the health benefits when they have been smothered in sugar and flour and immersed in hot fat, but definitely the first time I can say I actually enjoyed eating banana.
All round, a good filling meal. With excellent company!

Friday, 29 March 2013

Colombia: La Bodeguita

On a cold and snowy Saturday afternoon, we set off for the Elephant & Castle to find ourselves a taste of Colombia. There are a few places dotted around London selling Colombian fare, but La Bodeguita appeared on several blogs and websites, and looked like a good bet to experience that authentic taste.

Finding the restaurant was a minor challenge. La Bodeguita is actually right in the middle of the Elephant & Castle shopping centre. We were temporarily confused by the delicatessen and café belonging to the restaurant, but then spotted the restaurant proper in the corner of the shopping mall. And it's certainly the most lively joint there. There doesn't really seem to be much shopping on offer at the Elephant these days.
It was pleasantly busy for the middle of the afternoon on a day that was so bitterly cold, I'm surprised anyone had ventured out. We were seated by a very jovial host who quickly got us some drinks. We opted for a jug of Refajo, a beer and irn bru mix. Yum! Not unlike a Belgian fruit beer (duh...that might be the fruity taste of the irn bru).
We shared various starters including empanadas that had a lovely crispy pastry. Croquettas de pollo that were moist and delicious and also a plate of Chorizo y Arepa - or chorizo sausage and cornbread to you and I. The tapas were very well cooked, hot and spicy. A perfect start to the meal.
We then moved onto the main event. Suzanne had Arroz Especial a La Bodeguita, a Colombian version of Paella served with some fried plantain. A huge plate of tasty seasoned rice with king prawns. I had Chuleta de Cerdo, or pork escalope. With more fried plantain. This was a beautifully thin pork steak with crispy breadcrumb coating. And James had an enormous plate of food, pretty much every ingredient they had on the menu - Bandeja Paisa. The central piece was a large succulent cut of pork belly, with more chorizo sausage, more plantain and the deal sealer for James, a fried egg on top.

You can't come to a Colombian restaurant and not have a coffee, so while James indulged his caffeine habit, Suzanne and I sampled one of the few home made desserts on the menu. This was literally a huge slab of cheese (tasted like a sheep's milk cheese, crumbly in texture and very mild) with a huge dollop of dulce de leche (condensed milk caramel, if you have never tried it, it's totally delicious but must have about 2000 calories in a teaspoon full, ridiculously sweet). Looks revolting, but it worked very well, although definitely a sharing dish.
By the time we'd lingered over our late lunch, the blizzard was easing outside, so we waddled back to the Northern Line and home. I have to say, I really enjoyed La Bodeguita. I think it would be a great place to come in the evening with a large group of people, as they take their live music seriously, it's open very late of a weekend. Excellent food and friendly service...I'd visit again.
Scoring time...
Food ****
Atmosphere ****
Value for money ****
La Bodeguida on Urbanspoon