Chile

Rica Rica, 15 Whitcomb Street, WC2H 7HA

29 July 2015

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The Cornish pasty of the New World

Chile. Chile, Chile, Chile. Chile. Sounds like a fantastic place to visit on a gap year doesn’t it? And then, the food reminding us of happier days in warmer climes as it does, why not open a pop-up restaurant serving authentic street food, like a less ambitious Wahaca. That, presumably, was exactly what the owner/occupiers of Rica Rica, ‘London’s Only Chilean Restaurant’*, thought, and indeed, did.

We first headed over to Rica Rica in mid-July. “First headed there?” I hear you mutter, “so you went back? It’s that good?”. No. In fact Rica Rica is not open when you think it is. It sometimes is, and sometimes isn’t. It transpires that you should follow them on social media in case of ‘we didn’t make it out of bed today, lol!’ updates. If you’ve got other plans; if you’ve taken a guest to enjoy the food with you; if you’re eating your way through world cuisine in alphabetical order and you’ve already got a Chinese meal booked in for that very evening, then Rica Rica is a dangerous choice.

Rica Rica: 'open'

Rica Rica: ‘open’

We stared blankly at the opening hours on the door. We double checked our watches. We marvelled at the cognitive dissonance brought on by being both right (in that the restaurant should’ve been open), and wrong (in that it was locked and deserted). We cancelled our plans for the evening, and rearranged.

Our second visit to Rica Rica was in late July – our first and probably last ever ‘super Wednesday’ – when we dared to take on two foods of the world in a single day: Chilean lunch, Chinese dinner. To put that in perspective, there are only three meals available in a given day, and one of them is breakfast, which barely counts. Our waistlines and wallets were in for a pounding.

Like any good restaurant, Rica Rica was open as per advertised, and so in we went. The atmosphere was pleasant enough, with a few nods to Chile and the street-food vibe that is achieved with beaten furniture and orders taken by a semi-open kitchen. There was a relatively small lunchtime crowd, but service was a bit slow nonetheless, with a team of two doing all of the cooking and serving. The menu was refreshingly short, so we could try everything on offer, though it was a shame the only drinks available on the day were cans of Ting. I like Ting, and I’m sure you like Ting, but Chilean it ain’t.

We started with a couple of empanadas, the pastry parcels ubiquitous across South America. It has been interesting to compare the different national takes on a snack that can be mouth-wateringly good (see our Colombia post). These Chilean versions were quite pastry-heavy, but the filling of the first was a nice combination of beef, onions, and cumin; the second, vegetarian iteration, had lentils, sweet potato and spinach. The latter filling was more interesting, as it tasted less like a Cornish pasty of the New World. They both contained merkén, a smoked chilli, though this was somewhat lost in the mix. Pretty good, if not much of an eye-opener.

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So far, sopaipillas

Next came Beef and chicken sopaipillas, and these pumpkin dough mini-pancakes were really the stars of the show. I was particularly fond of the spicy chicken offering, with succulent, smoky marinated meat paired with fresh avocado and tangy salsa. The pan fried steak alternative brought similar flavours, but with slightly less depth than the chicken. Delicious, and we’d have eaten more of each if we didn’t have so much eating to do later that day.

We were warming to Rica Rica, only to be betrayed by the non-availability of avocado ice-cream, which looked an interesting option on the short list of dessert offerings. Those offerings were on a chalk board, one of nature’s most-easily updated information points. No matter though, we went for the other option: sweet sopaipillas. Well, we’d established that we liked sopaipillas, so what harm could it do? These were miniature versions, topped with salted manjar (dulce de leche, as far as we could tell), mint and strawberries. A simple but enjoyable combination.

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Mini-sops.

I vowed to go back one day and try the avocado ice-cream, but never did, which just goes to show that, like opening hours, we all make promises we can’t keep. We enjoyed at least one new foodstuff from Chile in the form of sopaipillas, and we were left with the sense that Chilean food could be elevated to the same prominence other South American cuisines have achieved over here. The ingredients are all there, even if Rica Rica only offers a taste of their potential.

‘London’s Only Chilean Restaurant’?

Food: 3.5

Atmosphere: 3

* El Vergel in Southwark serves predominantly Chilean food, so would probably dispute this claim.

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Chad

The hottest Wednesday since records began finds us at Joe & Sophie’s for some Chadian cookery. It’s 35ºC today – the same temperature that it is in Chad itself at the moment – so we eat outside on the balcony.

In the usual search for country facts to cover the numerous lulls in conversation, we turn to the internet. Steve’s flatmate has made some wild claims about the great amount of paved runways than Chad possesses, but these are soon debunked by no lesser authority than the  CIA World Fact Book, which says that as of 2012, Chad had an estimated 58 airports, only 9 of which had paved runways. As you probably already know, there are at least 5 African countries with more paved runways than Chad.

That matter resolved, we investigate the infamous Chad-Romania flag contretemps. The countries share the same blue, yellow and red tricolour, and with the removal of the crest from the Romanian flag after the death of Ceaușescu, the flags were virtually identical. Romania made a fuss about this apparently, which is a bit rich given that they were the ones who changed their flag, and meanwhile Moldova and Andorra are a lot closer and also parading around with the same colours. In the end, each kept their flag, when closer inspection revealed that the Chadian blue is indigo to the Romanian cobalt.

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Our minds positively bristling with ‘interesting’ ‘facts’, we turn to the meal. Sophie’s starter is Courgette with Peanuts. This sounds worryingly simple, but in fact it has that Italian simplicity: surprisingly successful and a good combination of flavours. The courgettes are soft and close to melting, while the crushed peanuts bring texture that contrasts well. IMG_2456 Joe’s main course is a stew of river perch, or would have been if river perch were in any way available. Sea bass is much the same taste and consistency, he avers, saying he “read it on the web”. Frowning with doubt, suspicion and some disappointment, we tuck in, and find that what it may lack in authenticity, it makes up for with flavour. The fish has certainly had the full Chadian treatment, coated in flour, flash fried and then softly simmered for a worryingly long time with only a handful of tomatoes and a little liquid. It is served with plain rice, since fufu is the alternative, and there’s no call for that. Fearing the fish may have rubberised, Joe has forced the rice into silly little cylinders in an attempt to mask substance with style. Yet ultimately the course comes through with flying colours. The fish is well cooked with a crispy edge and has taken in much of the intense flavour of the slow-cooked tomatoes. IMG_2462 Finally, Steve’s dessert is a sort of custard made from cooking sweet potatoes for hours and hours in milk, cream and sugar, flavoured with cardamom and saffron. It’s sweet but strangely perfumed; Steve announces that he’s glad he ate it, and he doesn’t need to eat it again. Joe goes back for seconds, since it reminds him of grandma’s pumpkin pie. Sophie isn’t sure what to think. It’s divisive, but in a good way. The feeling is that it might be good as a filling for a Portuguese custard tart, or as a quirky breakfast topping…

Scores

Food: 3/5

Recipes

Courgette with Peanuts

  • 3 small courgettes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 120g peanuts, ground to a fine powder
Method

Simmer the courgettes in salted water until very tender (about 10 minutes). Combine the courgettes with the butter and mash to a smooth consistency. Top with the nuts and serve immediately.

Chadian Fried Fish with tomatoes and rice

6 medium-sized fish (river perch, or equivalent – for our version we used two sea bass fillets per person) 2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers 2 tbsp flour 5 tbsp oil 3 tomatoes salt, pepper, cayenne pepper Serve with: plain rice, fufu, or fried plantain.

Method

Clean and scale the fish and then cut into steaks. Pierce the flesh of the fish and insert garlic slivers. Dip the fish in flour. Heat the oil and fry the fish on a high heat. When the fish is golden brown all over add the halved tomatoes. Add a little water, cover the pan and simmer for 40 minutes. Add a little more water if necessary – you should have enough liquid for a small amount of sauce at the end. Serve on a bed of rice.

Safran patates douces pudding

Steve thought he was being clever here, finding a recipe in a French cookbook and translating it. However, upon translation it turned out to be the same recipe that was on Celtnet, which is somewhat less exciting.

  • 1kg sweet potatoes
  • 750ml milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 100g white sugar
  • ½ tsp saffron
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • Cinnamon sugar to decorate
Method

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1cm cubes Bring 1l water to the boil in a saucepan and add sweet potatoes. Boil for 25-30 minutes. Drain and return the sweet potatoes to the pot. Add the milk, cream, sugar, saffron and cardamom, stirring to mix the ingredients evenly. Bring the mixture to a boil, over moderate heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 1 hour, until the mixture is of a thick enough consistency to maintain its shape. Using the back of a spoon, force the mixture through a fine sieve, into a serving bowl (or, in the absence of a sieve, just put the lot into a blender). Serve at room temperature or chilled. Sprinkle with icing sugar, ground cardamom or cinnamon sugar before serving.

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Chadian treat breakfast

Central African Republic

Steve’s house

22 April 2015

I can’t pretend that we were looking forward to this one. The menu didn’t look promising at first, with the dreaded fufu (tasteless dough made from cassava flour and water) poised to take centre stage. However, lowering our expectations to rock bottom paid off with pleasant surprises all round.

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Joe started with Ragout d’epinards aux arachides, a stew of spinach and peanut butter that worked out nicely, the butter part forming a rich sauce around the spinach, cut through with chili and tomato.

IMG_3932Then came Steve’s Kanda, meatballs in a tomato chilli sauce, but no ordinary meatballs. These were formed of almost as much ground pumpkin seed as meat, which created a surprisingly light and moist consistency. Normally they would be served with fufu, but we saw no reason to ruin it.

IMG_3935Finally, Sophie deep-fried her delicate banana fritters in a lime-tinged batter, which were light and crisp outside with meltingly sweet interiors.

An impressive performance across the board. We should be slower to judge (and avoid fufu if at all possible).

Scores

Food: 3.5/5

Recipes

Ragout d’epinards aux arachides

400g spinach
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper
1 red chili, chopped
1 tbsp peanut butter
80ml water
1 medium tomato
salt and pepper

Fry onion on low heat for 5 mins. Add pepper & tomato & fry for 1 minute. Add chili & spinach. Cover to wilt. Add water and peanut butter and mix into sauce. Cover and simmer for 15 mins until thick.

Kanda

350g steak mince
350ml pumpkin seeds
1 onion, 1/2 chopped and 1/2 sliced
3.5 cloves of garlic, mashed
2 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
1 red chili
1 small bunch of parsley
50ml iced water for the meatballs
175ml water for the sauce
50ml groundnut oil
salt & pepper

Slightly roast pumpkin seeds in a pan, then grind to a powder. Put mince into a food processor and add pumpkin seed, garlic and chopped onion and mix up. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir in the iced water and knead well for 3 minutes. Refrigerate for 30 mins.

Fry onion slices in oil for 2 minutes over medium heat in a large pot. Add the tomatoes and chili and cook for 5 minutes.

Pour in rest of water and bring to a boil, then simmer. Meanwhile, make meatballs, each about the size of a golf ball. Turn up the heat and place each meatball in the sauce very carefully.

Cook over high heat for 10 minutes, then on medium heat for 20 minutes, and finally simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with plain rice.

Beignets de banane

3 ripe bananas
6 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg, separated
finely-grated zest of 1 lime
100ml milk
1 tsp water
1l oil, for frying
icing sugar, for dusting
Sift together the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl. Form a well in the centre and add the egg yolk. Stir to combine then add the milk and water. Beat until the batter is smooth. Add the egg white to a clean and dry bowl, then beat until stiff. Gently fold into the batter along with the lime zest. Cover and set aside to rest in a cool place for at least 60 minutes.
Peel the bananas and cut into slices. Heat the oil in a pan and when hot, dip the banana slices in the batter and immediately drop into the hot oil. Fry until nicely browned and heated through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper as you cook the next batch. Serve hot, dusted with icing sugar.

Cape Verde

Joe & Sophie’s flat, Deptford

23 January 2015

Steve's 'Calamar a modo ze de lino'

Calamar a modo ze de lino – a twist on a Cape Verdean classic

The wonderfully free Cape Verde looks and sounds like a lovely place. An archipelago of volcanic islands, quite far off the coast of Senegal, it was colonised by Portuguese explorers in the 15th Century, and gained its independence from Portugal in 1975. We focussed our search for a restaurant on the South Lambeth area, reasoning that Cabo Verdeans in London might gravitate towards the Portuguese-speaking community there, but we failed to find anything serving food specifically from the island nation. So it was onto the Internet, to find a fairly encouraging range and quality of recipes, and over to Deptford to cook them, with our special dinner guest Bish in attendance.

Cachupa rica - a revelation

Cachupa rica – a revelation

Steve’s starter should have been Polvo a modo ze de lino (an octopus stew), but failing to find any octopus, this became Calamar a modo ze de lino. This was tasty and hot with chilli, and a good appetiser for the heavier main course, Sophie’s Cachupa rica. This is Cape Verde’s national dish, a hearty stew of beans, polenta and chorizo with a big black pudding stuck in the middle. It was delicious, most of us going back for seconds.

Pudim de Queijo - better than you'd think

Pudim de Queijo – better than you’d think

Finally, Joe’s baked pudding was Pudim de Queijo, which was like a cross between baked cheesecake, creme caramel and pannacotta, refreshingly simple to make and also delicious.

So, even our inexpert take on Cabo Verdean food turned out well, which suggests that the real thing must be even better. Definitely somewhere to consider for our next holiday.

Scores

Food: 4/5

Calamar a modo ze de lino

Ingredients

  • 8 baby squid
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 vine tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 green chilli, chopped finely

Instructions

  1. Wash squid, pull off tentacles and slice bodies
  2. Put squid in saucepan with the bay leaf and oil and cook on a medium heat for 5-10 mins
  3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, shallots and chilli and cook down until stew-like.

Cachupa Rica

Ingredients:
1 cup polenta
1 tin sweetcorn
1/2  tin kidney beans
1/2 tin lima beans
1/2 cup shell beans
half a chorizo sausage, sliced
1 blood sausage (ideally morcella but blood pudding works)
pack of bacon or pancetta, sliced
1/2 a cabbage, chopped
1/2 squash, peeled and sliced
4 sweet potatoes, peeled and chunked
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chopped coriander

Instructions:
1) Add two tablespoons of olive oil, onion, garlic and bay leaf to a pan and fry until soft.
2) Heat six cups of water. Bring it to a boil and add the sweetcorn, polenta and beans. Simmer until the corn and beans are almost tender.
3) In a separate large saucepan, cook all the vegetables, except for the cabbage, together with the chorizo, and bacon.
4) Add the cooked vegetables and meats into the large saucepan on top of the sweetcorn and beans. Add in the whole blood sausage. Cook on low heat for approximately one hour.
5) Add the sliced cabbage and cook for a further 10 minutes.
6) Turn off heat and let sit in the covered pot for at least one half hour.
7) Place on a large platter, cover with the coriander, and serve.

Pudim de Queijo

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • 250g of smooth cheese, such as mild goat’s cheese or ricotta (or a combination of the two)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • 250ml of double cream
  • 8tsp liquid caramel or runny honey

To finish (optional): crème fraiche, fresh fruit

Instructions

  • Preheat fan oven to 160°C. Mix all of the ingredients (either in a food processor or by hand) until they are well combined and form a smooth, custard-like liquid.
  • Grease individual pudding moulds/ramekins – or, for a more traditional shape, a single large bundt tin – with butter. Pour a small amount of cool liquid caramel or runny honey into each mould, so that it just covers the base.
  • Fill the moulds with the Pudim mixture, no deeper than 1cm from the top. Stand the moulds in a baking tray full of water (ideally deep enough to cover the lower half of the moulds), and bake in the oven until golden brown on top – approximately one hour.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool before turning out. Serve with crème fraiche and fresh fruit if desired.

Canada

Stacks Poutine, at Birthdays, 33-35 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 8BJ

31 October 2014

For Canadian food, the obvious venue is the Maple Leaf on Maiden Lane, but a look at the menu was not very encouraging, since the Canadian credentials of the dishes is largely achieved by sticking the names of Canadian cities onto the front of bog-standard pub food. Fortunately, we have got to this part of the world at the same time as the hipster food meme that is Poutine. Poutine is a French-Canadian dish comprising chips in gravy, topped with curds, and is surprisingly good. The current trend for Poutine means a few places serving it have popped up in east London, so we headed for Stacks in Dalston.

inevitable

Pulled pork poutine: inevitable

For aperetifs we tried the local specialities of Cocovino (coke and red wine; weird) and Lagerita (lager with tequila; good). Then for the poutines themselves, which came with a range of toppings. There was a kimchee option, which Steve considered but eventually bottled out of, choosing instead the pulled pork (making its inevitable appearance on a Dalston menu). Sophie and Joe chose the Coq au vin and Bacon and sour cream toppings respectively.

And it was all pretty good. The restaurant itself is just a ‘cool’ bar, so not much in the way of Canadian atmosphere.

Scores

Food: 4/5

Atmosphere: 2/5

Cameroon

Le Maestro, 45 Deptford Broadway, London, Deptford, UK SE8 4PH 9 October 2014 This was a combined “foods of the world” and “2D film club” meeting, where we would eat the food of Cameroon while discussing the film club film, which was The Draughtsman’s Contract. Poor turn out from the rest of film club, but Jamie did join us. The restaurant was empty apart from us and a couple of guys drinking on the other side of the restaurant. The walls were painted bright orange, and the tables simply laid out with starched white tablecloths. On the walls, large TV screens showed French sport TV, and a picture of national icon Samuel Eto’o hung near the toilets. A mix of African (and less African) music was playing (except when England-San Marino game came on, and they switched to that with the sound right up). It all felt pretty authentic – I imagine a restaurant in Yaoundé might be just like this.

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There’s a fish in there, and he’s not happy

We skipped starters (other than pints of Heineken) and went straight to mains, Joe opting for Poisson à l’arachide (fish in peanut sauce), which was rich, thick and sweet, with a pleasant tang of tomato. Jamie went for Viande à l’arachide, and Sophie for the Poulet roti (with plantain).

 

Ndole

Ndole

Steve went for the characteristic dish of Cameroon, Ndole. This was prawns and lamb chunks in a morass of oily green vegetable, spinach-like in consistency but more bitter. This was interesting at first, but the bitterness became too much eventually, and there was an awful lot of it. In fact, portions were very large all round.

Fungee tentacles: different shape, same old problem

Fungee tentacles: different shape, same old problem

With eyes bigger than our bellies, we also ordered side dishes of fried plantain and fungee sausages, which looked – and tasted – like something out of Alien: thick, cloying and sticky. It could be sliced into rubbery coins but, left on the plate as it ultimately was, it no doubt reassembled itself and went in search of another unsuspecting diner.

The waitress was very pleasant, as was another chap who may have been the owner, but service was very slow indeed.

Scores

Food: 2.5/5 Atmosphere:3.5/5

Cambodia

Lemongrass, 243 Royal College Street, London NW1 9LT

18 September 2014 (day of the Scottish independence referendum)

Unfortunately, we have few memories of this, and no notes. The menu claims that the secrets of Cambodian cuisine were lost in the 70s during the Khmer Rogue purges, and the cuisine offered here is a new Cambodian food based on the chef’s memories of his childhood meals.

We do remember that the experience felt a bit like eating on garden furniture in someone’s front room, and I seem to remember the windows being very steamy. I think we had the set menu, with some buddhist cabbage on the side. Overall, I suspect the food was “OK”.

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Buddhist Cabbage

Mixed starters

Mixed starters

Lok luk fillet steak

Lok luk fillet steak

Flambe!

Scores

Food: 3/5

Atmosphere: 3/5