Denmark

Snaps and Rye, Golborne Road

29 September 2016

In true ‘food of the worlds’ style this was our second attempt to eat at Snaps and Rye. The first time we’d set aside a Wednesday evening for our Danish meal, only to discover on the day that Snaps and Rye, which brands itself as the only Danish restaurant in London, only serves dinner from Thursday to Saturday. So we rearranged and made our way through the slightly autumnal air to the cosy Snaps and Rye on a Thursday evening a week later. It has a gorgeously furnished Scandi interior with open shelves full of artfully designed tableware, glimpses of copper light fittings, bare wood and white and red artwork on the walls. Having been to Copenhagen last year it felt as though we could have stepped off the London street straight into a Christianshavn eatery.

Dinner at Snaps and Rye is seasonal, with a four course set menu which changes weekly. The food was beautifully presented and felt authentically Danish. We started with a Northern Gold cocktail (Prosecco • Nordguld Akvavit • Angostura Bitters) and some small canapes served in a smørrebrød style. For those not in the know, that’s an open-sandwich usually served on rye bread, it’s pretty much the Danish national dish.

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Leek risotto • Parmesan puddle • Deep – fried egg

Our first course was a leek risotto with a deep-fried egg served on a ‘parmesan puddle’. I struggled to find the puddle although Joe and Steve assured me it was there, but it was incredibly delicious. The deep-fried egg was still runny in the middle which I found very impressive. This was followed by a fish course for Joe and Steve of Mackerel with Kohlrabi. I had the vegetarian alternative (call ahead if you want a vegetarian version of the set menu as it includes fish and meat) which was a beetroot and goats cheese salad. On first glance I thought this sounded pretty boring but it was by far and away the best beetroot and goats cheese salad I’ve eaten. Alongside the two main ingredients were small pickled mushrooms, walnuts and a seed crumb which gave it a lovely crunch. I actually think this was the better dish as the mackerel was ever so slightly overdone.

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Mackerel • Kohlrabi • Black radish

Steve and Joe had a choice of main course. Steve opted for the braised pig cheeks which were beautifully tender, served with confit celery and artichoke. Joe gambled and risked the cooked oysters with kale and potato – the risk was worth it. I had a warm mushroom, almond and pistachio pate on rye bread. This turned out to be more of a terrine made with briochey bread crumbs and chunks of mushroom and nuts, it was comforting and I’d go back again just for that. Dessert was lemon cream with ginger snap and sorrel sugar. The lemon cream was very good although not unusual but the sorrel sugar gave it an edge and made it feel more Danish than your average lemon dessert.

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Lemon cream • Brandy snap • Raspberries • Sorrel sugar

We enjoyed our meal so much we were tempted by an after dinner drink. Joe and Steve sampled the Danish beer –  an Ærø walnut beer and Ærø IPA. The walnut beer was particularly unusual and very pleasant. I had a coffee snaps which was an excellent pallet cleanser.

Overall, delicious, beautifully presented food with excellent, welcoming service and an authentic feel. We’d go back.

Menu for 29th + 30th September & 1st October

Leek Risotto, Parmesan Puddle, Deep-Fried Egg, Burnt Onion

Mackerel, Kohlrabi, Black Radish

Braised Pig Cheeks, Confit Celery, Pickled Tarragon, Crisp Artichoke

or

Oysters, Vermouth, Shallots + Gamle Ole Cheese, Kale, Potato, Seaweed Tuile

Lemon Cream, Ginger Snap Crumb, Raspberries, Sorrel Sugar

Vegetarian alternatives:

Beetroot + Goat’s Cheese • Walnuts • Pickled Mushrooms + Seed Crumb

Warm Mushroom Almond Pistachio Paté on Toasted Rye • Spinach • Kale on the side

Scores

Atmosphere: 4/5

Food: 4/5

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Cuba

Escudo de Cuba, Dalston

5 May 2016

We were all pretty excited for Escudo de Cuba having fond memories of an excellent evening spent there, post-our-Poutine eating experience in nearby Dalston. At the time the cocktails went down nicely – the Pornstar Martini being the highlight – and we’d admired the food coming out of the kitchen to nearby tables. So having researched alternative Cuban restaurants, we were secretly relieved to find that Escudo looked the most promising. Visit the website for an idea of the vibe and some excellent blaring Cuban music.

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Thumbs up for the plantain chips

The night started well when Steve and Joe realised that their happy hour cocktails arrived with a moreish plate of plantain chips. So moreish that when I arrived 15 minutes later they’d all disappeared and I was entreated to get on and order some drinks so we could have some more. I had a ‘Ginger Latino’ which was refreshing and sufficiently intoxicating that I thought it was a good idea to drink two.

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The Ginger Latino – largely gin and ginger beer, yum!

We opted for a sharing starter titled Aperitivos ‘Escudo de Cuba’ – a selection of the house specialities. We gleefully munched our way through grilled and spiced chicken, beef, red peppers, baked plantain and yuca chips (quite similar to plantain) and Cuba’s take on the empanada (more pastry than bread-based and very delicious).

Our mains were carefully selected to get the maximum range of intriguing Cuban sides. We ordered the quintessential Cuban dish, according to our waiter, Ropa Vieja A La CubanaPescado Fresco Del Día, the fish of the day which came with Yuca Con Mojo which we were keen to try, and the Patatas Asadas Al Horno Enchilada which came with rice and beans. Steve had done his research here and impressed our waitress by asking whether the rice and beans were ‘moros y cristianos’ (a rice and beans dish where the beans are cooked in with the rice) or ‘arroz congri’ (basically rice and beans cooked separately and mixed together). She laughed and told us it was moros y cristianos, although when it arrived we were pretty sure it was actually arroz congri.

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Fresh fish with Cuban sides

The Ropa, when it arrived, was a shredded braised beef stew, cooked in red wine. Very rich and delicious although it became a bit sameish by the end of the dish – it was good to rotate for some alternative flavours. It was, however, definitely the best main.  The Enchilada was good but not definably different to other enchiladas I’ve had. I couldn’t tell you how a Cuban enchilada differed from others across the world. The fresh fish was nicely cooked but the sides were disappointing. We decided yuca was much like plantain but we were glad we’d tried it. Overall, good filling food although more bland than our starters which had promised much more. We washed it down with a couple of Cuban beers from the extensive drinks list.

Feeling very full, Steve and Joe managed to find space for Banana Al Compo Con Ron, a banana dessert cooked in orange, cinnamon and rum. A tasty end to the meal.

Overall, we decided that the starters were by far the highlight of the meal and we’d be tempted, on that basis, to return to try their tapas menu, which featured some of the Cuban starters, plus the extensive list of cocktails which wash everything down nicely and merit a return-visit on their own. A great place to spend an evening: friendly staff, great Cuban music and a nightclub downstairs if you find yourselves staying until the early hours – what’s not to like?

Scores

Food: 3/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

 

Congo, Republic of

Joe & Sophie’s house.

11 February 2016

The second Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville. The first Congo was pretty good, so we were trepidatious about cooking this time. Luckily Steve has a friend who is an academic who did fieldwork research living in Congo-Brazzaville with pygmies. He told us to get some forest leaf (gnetum Africanus also known by multiple names such as Eru, Ukasa or Afang and Fumbua) and mix it with some peanut butter, river fish or deer for an authentic Congolese experience.

So I set off for Deptford High Street to track down some forest leaf. After several failed attempts I found a shop with multiple wicker baskets full of leaves out the front. After being commended for eating African food by a fellow shopper I gathered up the courage to ask for forest leaf (trying a number of alternative names). ‘Ah’ said the shopkeeper ‘yes, we have that, I’ll get it’. From the back of the shop appeared a cardboard box full of a pre-chopped leaf. It looked not unlike those balls of finely shredded cardboard you get in delivery boxes to protect your purchase. I was then asked how much I needed ‘enough for 3 people’ I quavered. ‘Nigerians?’ she countered. ‘No,’ I said, ‘English people’. ‘Mmm’ she said, ‘how you gonna cook it?’ ‘With some spices maybe?’. ‘Mmm’ she said.

I left the shop with £3 worth (about 2 large handfuls) of the stuff, none the wiser as to whether it was enough or how it should be cooked.

To book end our forest leaf extravaganza Joe started with ‘Fresh meat of Pork with sauce’ sourced form the Star Du Congo, the newspaper of Congo Brazzaville. It was passable and quite pleasant. A sort of soupy pork stew which was oddly buttery given there’s no butter included in it. We agreed it was pretty good, particularly as it might be the only good thing we’d eat that evening.

Steve’s main was to be accompanied by ‘powdered bitter manioc’ which we were momentarily excited about until we looked up manioc and realised it was fufu again. It’s been a while since we’ve cooked fufu and I had forgotten how awful it smells (like a mixture of cheesy wotsits and wallpaper paste.) And it just won’t get any less dense. It sort of sticks to the spoon like a rubbery gelatinous brain. Steve fashioned it into gnocchi style balls which he planned to fry in the hope that it might improve what we know to be bland and rubbery gunk. In reality they were like small rubber bullets with a weird gritty crunch to each mouthful. “You know how they cut cocaine with washing powder, I reckon they’ve cut this with sand” was Joe’s summary.

Delicious ... if you're a pygmy maybe

Delicious! … maybe if you’re a pygmy

This fufu disappointment sat alongside a peanut fish stew, the boiled forest leaf and a baked yam. Baked yam, we thought, that’s got to be good, surely it will be like sweet potato? How wrong we were. The first mouthful told a story of disintegrating dehydrated starch. It stuck to the roof of your mouth like a claggy mouthful of powder. The forest leaf started badly. We made the mistake of smelling it whilst it was still boiling in the pan in a pool of seeping black water. I gagged. When eaten it was unclear whether the waxy leaf would ever break down to anything other than its original shape despite endless chewing. We later learned gnatum Africanus is a member of the fir family which explains a lot. We decided it was just about edible when combined with the peanutty fish but that in itself was not good. It started with overwhelming peanut, followed closely with the cloying taste of palm oil and finishing with bitter grassy taste of forest leaf.

Dessert had the potential to lift up what has to be the worst food we’d ever eaten. Congolese doughnuts – surely they couldn’t go wrong. Sadly they could. It’s unclear whether it was the recipe or my attempt at deep-frying but the ‘dough’ was oddly liquidy and seemed to be a sponge to the oil, no matter what temperature it was at.

It was a bad end to a bad meal.

Food score: 0.5 / 5

Recipes: 

Fresh meat of pork with sauce

– 500g of pork;
– 1 ripe fresh tomatoes ;
– 1 onion, sliced in rounds;
– 1 garlic clove;
– 1/3 nutmeg, grated;
– A handful of chives;
– 1 red peppers;
– vegetable oil;
– salt.
Clean the meat and put it into a bowl. Rub in the crushed garlic and nutmeg. Put the meat into a pan with a little hot oil, the sliced onions, pepper and all the spices. Stir briefly and add about 250 ml of water. Simmer for 30 minutes and serve.

Note: the website we sourced this recipe from added the following advice:
You can eat this tasty dish with plantains as present here and add the safu. Hmmmm! ‘What delights !!!!!’

Mbendjele Pygmy Dinner

– 250g smoked pangasius*
– 2 tbsp peanut butter
– palm oil
– gnetum africanus (a.k.a. eru) leaf, sliced thinly
– 1 small white yam
– 200g cassava flour
– water, boiling
– vegetable oil

Bake the yam at 220°C for 45 minutes. Mix the water into the flour, stirring so it forms a dough. Break off gnocchi-sized lumps of the dough, roll in cassava flour and fry in the vegetable oil. Boil the gnetum in water for 20 mins. Cook the fish in a small pan with the palm oil and peanut butter, then add the boiled leaf to it.

* Pangasius is not to be found anywhere near Congo. However, it is a river fish, and the Congolese definitely eat smoked river fish. I couldn’t find smoked tilapia, so this had to do.

Congolese doughnuts

250g flour
100g sugar
2 sachets of yeast
1/2 tsp salt
3 packets of vanilla sugar (or some extra caster sugar with vanilla essence if you can’t get it)

– Put the flour in a large bowl with the sugar and salt. Add the yeast to 250 ml water of warm water gradually mixing. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and stir until it is elastic.
– Add the vanilla sugar and a little warm water to get a consistency a little limp but not liquid.
– Leave to prove for 1-2 hours
– Cooking: Heat the oil to 170 ° C. Scoop small balls of the dough and plop into the oil. If the oil is hot enough, the donut will rise to the surface quickly.
– Let the doughnuts cook until brown. This will take about 5 minutes.

China

Hunan, 51 Pimlico Rd, London SW1W 8NE

29 August 2015

Pork and mushroom soup

Pork and mushroom soup

China. A rare treat for us mouthful of earth eaters. For once we had the prospect of an unprecedented amount of choice of where we could snap up our Chinese eating experience. So we took a slightly different approach with this restaurant choice – rather than simply, can we find a restaurant, any restaurant, to eat this food at, we went for where can we eat the BEST Chinese food in London.

There is of course, an unlimited range of possibilities. There’s a Chinese takeaway on every London high street, village and next to every underground or bus station. There are also the streets of London’s China town – a wealth of Chinese supermarkets, dim-sum dineries and tempting restaurants nestled between Leicester Square and Soho. These are streets we’d all dined at many a time and always have the same dilemma – which one to pick? Which is the best restaurant in China town, do you go for a safe choice you’ve tried before or try somewhere new with the possibility that it could be even better? After much research Joe settled on Hunan – off the beaten track, well-away from China town and a pricey choice but one we thought would be well worth it.

You arrive, having walked through a luxurious part of Belgravia to a rather unassuming white doorway which ushers onto a narrow passageway looking not unlike the hallway of someone’s house. This feeling stays with you as you take the first door on the left into what looks suspiciously like someone’s front room. That, however, is where the comparison ends. Once settled into your seat amongst the throng of other excited-looking customers you begin to appreciate the seamlessness of a high-end restaurant. Plush white table cloths and napkins, beautiful glassware and cutlery and the genteel hum of happy dining. We’re given a menu which tells us that there is no menu – you simply choose vegetarian or non-vegetarian and then are presented with 16-20 small dishes in small clusters, each more interesting and unusual than the next.

Because of the lack of menu I’ve given an account of the dishes we ate largely based on what ingredients were in them. These descriptions don’t give full justice to the complexity of the dishes but they give you a flavour for the make-up of the meal.

Prawns stuffed with spinach and battered green beans

Prawns stuffed with spinach and battered green beans

The first dish to be presented to us was an individual delicate silky dumping, filled with pork in a warm sloop of soy-flavoured broth. For several courses this remained my favourite morsel. Next came a pork and mushroom soup. More a stew than a soup, this beautifully presented wooden beaker contained a floating cylinder of mushroomy-porky goodness floating in a broth filled with spring onion and soy. I still haven’t worked out how this feat was achieved but I was mesmerised by it throughout consumption. A lettuce roll of minced chicken followed, reminding me of a similar dish I’d eaten in Hong Kong as a child, alongside crispy green beans in a tempura-like batter and the plumpest king prawns, stuffed with spinach.

Lemon chicken and chilli squid – two takeaway favourites were fresh, tangy and delicious, nothing like the gloopy takeaway fare. Prawn toast made an appearance, looking and tasting unrecognisable – delicate prawn pate shaped into cylinders and rolled in crispy breadcrumbs. Even more unusual was a plate of sliced ox tongue and thinly carpaccio-ed duck with a red bean sauce.

'Spinach rolls' - this description does not get even close to how delicious these were

‘Spinach rolls’ – this description does not get even close to how delicious these were

Sesame-encrusted and sat in a sweet red sauce, a dish rather unglamorously described by our waitress as ‘spinach rolls’ quickly overtook the pork dumpling for me as the stand-out dish of the meal, with crispy lamb fairly close behind.

When we all thought we couldn’t eat another delicately-prepared morsel our waitress asked us whether we would prefer duck or seabass. Having seen the eponimous crispy duck with pancakes being served on a neighbouring table we opted for the seabass. Less than 10 minutes later a whole baked seabass was whisked onto our table. The glistening flesh falling off the bone, we somehow made space to pick it clean, even managing to polish off a plate of apple and banana toffee fritters with ice cream afterwards. Well, you’ve got to have the full experience.

My favourites were the pork and mushroom soup and spinach rolls. Joe and Steve were big fans of the pork char sui buns, which are I can safely say, the best char sui buns I’ve ever eaten. Chicken in lettuce was also a big hit. Not everything was universally loved – I wasn’t a massive fan of the lamb and celery – but put together the menu was fantastic. Everything was unusual and authentic and felt genuinely different. And all three of us made it through 19 dishes despite having had our three course Chilean meal for lunch.

Miles away from the Chinese takeaway you can find on every London street.

Pork char sui bun

Pork char sui bun

Minced chicken wrapped in lettuce

Minced chicken wrapped in lettuce

Our menu

Shanghai soup and pork dumpling
Pork and mushroom soup
Chicken in lettuce
Crispy beans
Prawns stuffed with spinach
Lemon chicken
Ox Tongue
Spinach rolls
Duck with red bean sauce
Chilli squid
Chicken rolls with asparagus
Steamed scallops and cucumber
Beef and morning glory
Crispy lamb
Prawn toasts
Lamb and celery
Pork char sui buns
Seabass
Apple and banana toffee fritters

Prawn toast

Prawn toast

Scores

Food: 4.5/5

Atmosphere: 4/5