Joe & Sophie’s, Deptford
16 January 2013
Tiny Himalayan Bhutan was never likely to have a representative restaurant in London, although we were briefly seduced by the Tibetan place in Woolwich, before deciding that Bhutanese food was sufficiently distinct that this just wouldn’t wash. So we convened at Sophie & Joe’s for another do-it-ourselves session.
The menu began with momo dumplings, which are dim sum as far as I’m concerned. Joe made them with beef and onion filling and a dip of soy, coriander and chili, and they were delicious. So far the evening didn’t feel distinctively Bhutanese, apart from the Bhutanese music provided by Spotify (plus their excellent national anthem).
That situation was rectified by Steve’s main course, which I doubt we would have eaten under other circumstances. Ema datsi is basically large chillis and cheese, boiled together into a stew. The chillis are supposed to be explosive Bhutanese red ones, and the cheese a sort of cottage cheese, but we replaced these with a mix of jalapeños and those big mild green ones you get in kebab shops, and various mild white cheeses. This was served with a side order of kewa datsi, i.e. potatoes and (more) cheese with red onions, and red rice.
There are different types of red rice and I didn’t want to get the Camargue stuff which is like risotto rice and not really like the Bhutanese stuff. When Sophie managed to find some red rice in a Deptford store, we convinced ourselves that this was probably more or less like the real thing. However it seems there is a third form of red rice – Thai cargo rice – and this is probably what we had. The Thai rice is long-grain, unlike the Bhutanese stuff which is more like Japanese rice.
Anyway, the red rice was delicious, the kewa datsi really quite good, and the ema datsi surprisingly edible given the method of preparation. The chillis become quite mild through boiling, and the cheese pleasantly stringy. We all went back for seconds.
There’s precious little evidence of Bhutanese puddings online, so for dessert Sophie resorted to a cocktail of fruits that are apparently available in Bhutan – papaya, banana and mango – though the author has his doubts that all of these actually grow there…
Accompanying dessert was another Bhutanese speciality, butter tea. This is what it sounds like: tea with butter in it. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant either. We should probably have used yak butter.