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".