Sunday 19 December 2010

Belize: lourobbo's kitchen

Boring, bland, Belize, I'm afraid. The first of our ventures into the world of Rice and Beans. Of which, I think there are many still to come.

No joy with finding a restaurant, I settled on a couple of recipes which seemed common across several web sites. Rice and Beans, to accompany a fish tea. (Unfortunately, not a patch on the fish supper available from Adam's fish bar at the end of my road).

I'd not go as far as saying this is the worst we've eaten since starting the challenge (that definitely sits with Caribbean coconut goo to date), but it won't be one for the recipe book. Too much effort (those beans take some time to cook), for what wasn't a memorable meal. Sorry, Belize.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Belgium: Brouge

What a find! We had struggled to find anything other than Belgo's for our Belgian session but were keen to find somewhere new. James remembered a place that used to be in Smithfields, but that seems to have closed.

We did however find various references to Brouge, a "chain" of 2 restaurants in Twickenham and Richmond. Being fairly close to home, we booked for Sunday lunch at the Richmond branch. It's right on the high street in Richmond, slightly tricky to find as it's actually a basement restaurant, so reached by some well hidden steps. A lovely Belgian Beer bottletop sign marks the spot.

There are plenty of typical dishes you associate with Belgium, and Brouge had them all. We started with beers and canapes, a selection of meats and pickles. Suzanne sampled the Brouge Pilsner and I had a glass of the Delirium Tremens, a blonde beer. Delicious.

Then moving on to the mains. Suzanne and I both had moules frites, with different sauces and James had slow cooked French rabbit (not strictly Belgian but hey, that's what he fancied).

The mussels were fantastic, plump and juicy with plenty of sauce. And a generous helping in a smart moules pot too. 

We were feeling quite full by this stage, but how can you go to a Belgian restaurant without finishing with some waffles (washed down with some cherry beer).

A beautiful end to what was a particularly good stop on this world eating tour.

I hadn't been to the centre of Richmond for a long while, when we do go, we tend to end up at the Dyshart pub out towards Petersham. But Brouge may now become our favourite stop if we're over that way. I would certainly go back. It wasn't completely packed while we there, although did get busier as the afternoon wore on so is probably worth booking a table to ensure you're not disappointed.

Excellent effort from Belgium!

Food ****
Atmosphere ****
Value for money ****

Belarus: RealJimBob's kitchen

Belarus really is all about pork and mushrooms. No restaurants found (although maybe there are some lurking in London somewhere......just no web presence).

Sunday lunch for us was Country cutlets with mushrooms. A breadcrumb coated pork dish with a mushroom filling, served with mashed pumpkin and potatoes and savoy cabbage.

I don't really have much to say about this dish, other than it tasted delicious and was relatively easy to make (finding cocktail sticks in Sainsbury's to pin the pork together with the mushroom filling was a significantly harder challenge)

Saturday 30 October 2010

Barbados: Cottons Rhum Shack and Restaurant

Wooooo, we're going to Barbados! Finally found a Caribbean restaurant that had some (albeit tenuous) link to a specific island. In that it had a named Bajan dish on the menu.....and a Barbados room (although we were actually seated in St Lucia, they only open Barbados when it's full). But hey, no cooking coconut pudding for me this week!

Suzanne, James and I took a trip to Chalk Farm to Cottons Rhum Shack and Restaurant on Thursday. It's situated right on the main road between Chalk Farm and Camden, a few yards away from the Roundhouse (where Elton John happened to be playing as part of the Electric Proms series that night).

We started with a selection of cocktails from the "rhum" shack. Cottons serves over 250 different rums in a bar area that certainly did resemble a shack on a Caribbean beach . If it hadn't been for the constant rumble of London traffic and plunging temperatures outside, instead of gently lapping waves, white sand and hot hot heat, we could have been in Barbados.

The restaurant is actually quite a jumble, in that there are 3 separate rooms named after different islands and they are all on different levels. A tight squeeze to get in there, it was relatively busy for a Thursday, but not packed, so we didn't get to sit in Barbados. It was quite a relaxed atmosphere, but I wouldn't say there was a huge buzz about the place. The mood was marred for me by the constant R&B droning on in the background. Urgh. Still, we're here for the food for the most part.

The starters were, it has to be said, outstanding. We shared a West Indian Meze and Cripsy shredded pork between the three of us. The meze had some tasty morsels - Bajan fish fritters which were lovely and crunchy, a sweet yet highly spiced chickpea and pumpkin curry, with roti, jerk chicken, creole prawns and tabbouleh. The pork, also delicious, had a hot sweet glaze.  Starters, a hit.

Moving on to the mains, James opted for a mixed jerk meat grill, Suzanne had Cottons beef pepper pot and I chose a whole sea bass, served with saute potatoes and a paprika cream. All the dishes were good sized portions, tasty and very filling. Suzanne particularly liked the pepper pot, the sauce was extremely rich.

Now, how much of this meal was actually traditional to Barbados is debateable (perhaps even just the fish fritter starter), but I needed a change from cooking Caribbean, so am mighty glad we found this place. Overall, I'd really rate the food, filling and yummy. This may well be somewhere we come back to before gigs at the Roundhouse.

Food ****
Atmosphere **
Value for money **

Cottons on Urbanspoon

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Bangladesh: Reema Balti House

There was no real decision to be made for Bangladesh, where else would you go for a curry but to Brick Lane? Together with a group of work pals, we headed off to Shoreditch on a Wednesday night. Originally, we'd planned to try a restaurant that Umbreen had been to a few years before for her sister's wedding breakfast....but alas, it had closed down and been replaced by a Chinese.

We ran the usual gauntlet of waiters trying to tempt us in, eventually settling on Reema Balti House, actually on Hanbury Street, a side street off Brick Lane. It was probably the £10 deal that settled it - a starter, main, rice, naan, sides and 2 beers (yes, I'll say that again, 2 beers! Although admittedly small ones) all for a tenner. Originally quoted £12, magically it dropped to £10 as we got nearer the restaurant. We know a bargain when we see one!

Oops....I actually forgot to take any pictures of the food. But here are a couple of the happy diners:

Overall, the food was pretty tasty, certainly excellent value for money. I had what was described on the menu as a traditional Bangladeshi dish - chicken tikka ureebisi gatta. The atmosphere picked up as the evening went on and more people were dragged in off the street, initially it was pretty quiet.

If you're in the area and looking for a reliable place to stop for a ruby, I'd definitely recommend the Reema. And don't forget to haggle...

Food: ***
Atmosphere: ***
Value for money: *****

Reema Balti House on Urbanspoon

Sunday 17 October 2010

Bahrain: lourobbo's kitchen

More home cooking this Sunday.  On the menu today, a traditional dish from Bahrain, Chicken Machboos (or sometimes written as machbous). Effectively, that globally recognised combination of chicken and rice

I like one pot cooking, and that's what we have with chicken machboos. It took some time to prepare, starting with the trawl round Wimbledon supermarkets for cardamom pods and rose water. Eventually,  I ended up at the fabulous Spiceways Supermarket on the Kingston Road, opposite South Wimbledon tube. I love that shop, you can find every type of spice/vegetable/paste imaginable and it seems to be open 24 hours a day. It's proving to be essential for the A to Z eating tour.

A key ingredient in the machboos is a complex mix of spices called Baharat. I had to make this from scratch, and now have enough to make this dish for about 50 people. Maybe I should have a Bahraini themed party sometime soon?

The actual cooking isn't difficult, but takes a while for all the flavours to permeate the chicken. I swapped in fresh limes for the dried limes mentioned in the recipe and that didn't seem to detract from the taste.

Very happy with the outcome and this is certainly one I'll be adding to my recipe book. Besides, I'll have to make it again to use up all that Baharat spice mix!

Bahamas: lourobbo's kitchen

Here we are at the start of B, and it begins with another 700 Caribbean Islands, the Bahamas.

I chose a quick dish to make for a Friday night in at mine - Fettucine Nassau. I'm not entirely sure this is an authentic Bahamian dish, but it does use ingredients found in abundance in the Bahamas, lobster and crayfish.

It was extremely simple to make and there were clean plates all round.

Stop the press! I've just been looking ahead at the next few countries. Looks like I might have found a restaurant for the next Caribbean "B", Barbados. At last, someone can show me how those coconut puddings are really done.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Looking back on "A"

It's been an exciting start to our 5 year journey eating round London and before we move on to the thrills and spills of  "B", I thought I'd summarise the highlights of country cuisines beginning with "A".

Let's look at the scores on the doors. Overall, out of a total of 15 (5 for food, atmosphere and value-for-money), here's where our "A" restaurants landed:

Afghanistan   11
Albania           6
Algeria          13
Argentina      14
Armenia          8
Australia        10
Austria          12

Top marks for food - Khamsa (Algeria) and Santa Maria del Sur (Argentina)
Top marks for atmosphere - The Tiroler Hut (Austria)
Top marks for value for money - Afghan Kitchen (Afghanistan) and Santa Maria del Sur (Argentina)

Overall, the winner for me had to be Santa Maria del Sur. That steak just blew me away.

Looking at the cooking experiments.....a few dishes were a real success. Think my favourite had to be the lobster cakes from Anguilla. But I also really enjoyed the Dolmasi of Azerbaijan.

It was a complete thumbs down for the disgusting Antarctic Old Fashion. And the same has to be said for any coconut based puddings. It might take me all the way to the end of the alphabet to get these Caribbean sweets right!

We've really enjoyed "A", but now to "B".  I'm most looking forward to Faith hunting out a Brazilian gem, although there are a fair few cuisines to fit in before then.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Azerbaijan: lourobbo's kitchen

I'm quite proud that we have got this far.... we are at the last of the "A"s, Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, the one and only Azerbaijani restaurant in London, Azeri, closed up last year, therefore we finish with another home cooked meal.

Suzanne is on holiday, so I took the opportunity to use lamb, given it's appears to be a constant in Azerbaijani cuisine. Found a great website that detailed an extensive range of recipes for Azerbaijan. For mains, I opted for Cabbage rolls stuffed with lamb mince, rice and fresh herbs (Kelem Dolmasi)

The dish was extremely tasty, the filling made with handfuls of dill and coriander, giving the dolmasi plenty of zing. The little parcels cook for over an hour, plenty of time for the lamb to soak up all the flavours. The only thing I might change if I cooked this dish again, would be to add  more sun-dried tomato paste to the filling.

For afters, I chose Easy Baklava. Although I followed the recipe to the letter, I seemed to have ended up with a bit too much filling, so when I cut through the slices, it all oozed out. Baklava on steroids, certainly not the dainty little pastries they are meant to be. Still, first attempt, and they don't taste at all bad! Plenty left for office buddies next week.

Next week, we'll be onto the "B"s. There are loads of them and it begins back over in the Caribbean with the Bahamas. But, before then, a roundup posting on the highs (and lows) of  "A".

Thursday 30 September 2010

Austria: The Tiroler Hut

This is the perfect place for a work Christmas Do (if we get one this year). What laughs we had on Thursday at The Tiroler Hut in Bayswater. Big thanks to Anke and Kat, Suzanne's pals from choir, for recommending the restaurant and for accompanying us on our Austrian night along with their other halves. This place needs a party crowd, it's not the venue for a romantic dinner for two (although one couple did announce their engagement half way through the evening). You must book well in advance - it was packed all night and it is a full evening's entertainment.

The restaurant is in the basement of a large property on Westbourne Grove. It's decked out as an alpine lodge, complete with corrugated "snow" roof, and a fake window with views of the Alps. The walls are covered with photos and pictures of typical Tyrolean scenes. Straight out of the 1970s. To complete the look, waiters wear cord lederhosen and our waitress was dressed in a traditional dirndl. The tables are squashed, no room to swing a cat. (But maybe a goat...I'll explain later).

The food was of a good standard, our German friends were quite impressed. We chose a variety of dishes, but tried to stick to typical Austrian fare. The highlight of the starters had to be James's "Mir ist alles Wurst", a mixed fried sausage ensemble. I tried Champignons, Tiroler Hut. Huge dish, very tasty.

For mains, I felt I must try the Wienerschnitzel (see right) which was certainly a good choice. Suzanne had a Jagerschnitzel (pork) and James opted for a roasted knuckle of pork, Gebatene Schweinshax'n.

The portion sizes were excellent and the beers so enormous, you could barely lift them

Once we had finished the mains, the fun started. Our host began with some jangly tunes on his clarinet,  interspersed with karaoke Austrian style. One particular favourite had to be "The girls in the woods, they got the goods". Snort.
More clarinet and hammond organ (although no Charlatans covers) including Edelweiss, Do-Re-Mi and My Favourite Things.

And then the piece de resistance. The Singing Goat. No idea what he was singing, but is obviously a hit at the Tiroler Hut.

Last on the bill, a very entertaining set of  "Extreme Cow Bellringing"

We finished up our meal with a lovely slice of Apfelstrudel. Flaky pastry with generously cinnamoned soft juicy apple slices.
It's a shame we all had work the next day, we had a few beers but I'd have liked to have finished with schnapps. Although maybe not as many as the people on the table next to us managed to consume throughout the evening. Birthday drinks for a girl with 6 of her best male friends....go figure.

It was a terrific night, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the fabulous subterranean Austria of Bayswater. Here's to many more years of the Singing Goat at the Tiroler Hut!

Food ***
Atmosphere *****
Value for money ****

Tiroler Hut on Urbanspoon

Sunday 19 September 2010

Australia: Lantana

I'm disappointed. Given the number of Australian friends and colleagues I have living in London, and having visited Down Under a couple of times and witnessed first hand their obvious passion for good food.....there really doesn't appear to be a great deal of choice for Australia on our journey round London eateries. I refused to resort to Walkabout (or is that Billabong now?). Square Pie... hmmm, just doesn't seem authentically Australian. This could be a problem, I might have to track down some kangaroo steaks.

However, a little bit of searching uncovered one place that featured on several other foodie blogs, a newish cafe in Fitzrovia. Lantana was set up by a girl from Melbourne a couple of years ago and fills a big breakfast and lunch gap in the area North of Oxford Street.

Owing to the limited opening hours, we decided to make a trip for brunch on a Sunday, thinking it might be quieter than a Saturday morning. Mistake, big mistake. As we turned into Charlotte Place, we knew immediately where we were heading. Everything else shut around it, Lantana had a sizeable queue snaking out the door. We joined the back and started our wait, no alternative if we were going to fit in Australia before our trip to the Tiroler Hut for Austria this week.

Thankfully, despite the compact and bijou nature of the cafe, the owners have packed in as many tables as is humanly possible, so the wait only ended up as 25 minutes. There were also a limited number of tables on the pavement and the weather being sensational, these were also in use.

Once inside, we quickly got our drinks order in and browsed through the brunch menu. Coffees turned up quickly. And I drank mine in one go, as although it looked delightful and quoting James "This is a good coffee", it just wasn't hot enough for me. Luke warm at best.

The food was hot though. James chose "The Bert", closest thing to a fried egg and bacon sandwich. Unfortunately, they had run out of the black pudding side he would have liked, but he added extra sausage to make up for it.

I had an unusual corn fritter dish with a lime aioli. Topped with an extra poached egg. This was a huge plate of food, very filling and tasty too.

Suzanne had poached eggs on sour dough with a Sicilian ratatouille, the only complaint being far too many olives.

Suzanne and James ensured their future weekend breakfasts at home by claiming the poached eggs were good....but not as good as mine. Right answer.

This was a very pleasant breakfast experience - generous portions and tasty food, although with Fitzrovia prices to match (who can blame them when the place is so packed). I'd like to try their lunch menu too, but would have to have plenty of time on my hands, I suspect this place is busy all week long.

Although it was a nice change to be eating in the morning on our tour, I do wonder if this really is the best Australia can offer in London?

Food: ****
Atmosphere: ****
Value for money: **

Lantana on Urbanspoon

Aruba and Netherlands Antilles: lourobbo's kitchen

Urghhhh..... another Caribbean island. A trawl of the internet found no specific Aruban establishments (in fact, I don't think we'll get to eat in any Caribbean restaurants until Jamaica) so it was back to the kitchen. A great site provided me with a long list of recipes to choose from but I really couldn't face attempting another failed coconut pudding, so this week stuck to a main: baked sweet and sour beef.

It's a throw it all in the pot type recipe with a multitude of ingredients. Even used a bay leaf from my enormous tree in the back garden (I could supply the whole of Wimbledon with bay leaves). Here's everything bubbling away.

Overall, it was a hit. Served with plain rice, pineapple chunks provided the sweetness and the beef was tender having been stewed for a couple of hours. Yep, I'd cook this one again.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Armenia: Erebuni

We are nearing the end of the "A's" only a few more weeks to go and this Wednesday we went in search of Armenian. Erebuni in Lancaster Gate came up a few times on other food blogs and there didn't seem to be a great deal of choice again, so we headed West to sample the delights of Armenia. The restaurant is actually in the basement of a fairly unassuming hotel, right on the Gate and serves a mix of Russian, Ukranian and Armenian food.

Suzanne was quite excited, as the restaurant website suggested that the film Eastern Promises had been shot there. She's a huge Viggo Mortensen fan, and oddly we'd only seen the film a couple of weeks ago. (Don't go in the sauna!). However, it looks like the cast might have eaten at Erebuni or the restaurant provided the food for some of the scenes....the eating area certainly bore no resemblance to the grand Russian dining room shots in the film. Rather disappointingly, owing to it's basement location and low ceilings, the restaurant felt dingy and the ambiance was not helped by the Eurovision trash blaring from from the TV. "Nil points" for atmosphere

The redeeming feature of the evening was the food. Handily, the menu clearly indicated which dishes were Armenian in origin and was fairly extensive. The service was also friendly and efficient. The waitress gave us a buzzer for when we were ready to order or needed more drinks which seemed like a neat idea. We drank Viru beer, actually brewed in Estonia rather than Armenia.

James started with Basturma (cured beef), Suzanne chose Karmir Bibar (marinated pepper) and I opted for Emanbajady (vegetarian dip). Sara was also with us, but we let her off the Armenian requirement, so she plumped for a Russian salad. All good.

The main courses had a heavy lamb bias, so Suzanne chose Chicken Tapaka, James went with lamb mince stuffed vine leaves (Dolma Echmiadzin Style) and I had Ischkan, an Armenian trout dish, baked in a tomato based sauce, which was very tasty. Sara went Ukranian with a large portion of Chicken Kiev.
For dessert, we shared cake - Armenian Honey & Walnut and Armenian Chocolate (they were out of Baklava). A nice little extra with the bill - cranberry vodkas.

Erebuni was quiet when we arrived with only one other table occupied. But by the time we left at about 10pm, the place was filling up. Armenian's obviously like to eat late compared to us Brits.

Overall, this was not the worst restaurant experience so far on this A to Z of Eating in London... but nothing special either. So from a former republic of the Soviet Union, we're now travelling back for another visit to the Caribbean - Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles

Food: ***
Atmosphere: **
Value for money: ***

Erebuni on Urbanspoon