a merry Christmas meal at home

Goose and I didn’t go out for Christmas dinner, somehow it seems wrong to expect someone else to work when its a holiday and anyway, we can both cook pretty well. I am excited because Goose bought me a (and her) a butchery course with dinner at Ginger Pig and I am really looking forward to it. She also bought me a copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book so I can learn how to cook meat properly.

Having been a vegetarian for most of my adult life I am still discovering meat and how to prepare it. For Christmas I had bought a pound of top quality beef fillet from Elliot’s the butchers in Kislingbury. It was a superb cut and I made a beef wellington with it. The mushrooms were small portabellas with a small bag of Waitrose dried wild mushrooms mixed in (rehydrated of course!). To this I added plenty of seasoning and chopped chicken livers. I was following a Jamie Oliver recipe and made sure the meat was well rubbed with plenty of salt and rosemary.

We had the wellington with roast potato and parsnips, heritage carrots and beetroot cooked in foil steam bags, two sorts of brussels and Yorkshire puddings. I’m not good at making gravy but this time I think it worked ok. Goose was happy anyway!

Not surer what 2015 will bring us but we do have a booking at Hibiscus in February: this was my treat for her and I hope it lives up to expectations. Two star Michelin dining should be good but we’ll be sure to share our experiences with you.

Happy New Year to anyone reading this!

Barnacles

Gemelli’s in Newport: not your ordinary Italian

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Newport in Gwent doesn’t have  lot to recommend it – a bit of Chartist history aside – but tucked away next door to a huge Tesco Extra  is a restaurant that is well worth the time and trouble to find. Gemelli‘s  is an almost hidden treasure. Goose and I were lucky enough to be taken there by my mother and her husband earlier this year, and they took us back there this weekend as a pre-Christmas treat.

Gemelli’s is much more than a restaurant and it sells a range of Italian gifts and food. In fact its interior is so packed with products it resembles a sort of Roald Dahlesque wonderland. The sweet counter alone could keep you spellbound for hours and unwary diners might easily get sidetracked on the way to the (one) toilet (which is disguised as a bookshelf…).

What Gemelli’s serves is good Italian food. Lots of pasta, risotto, well cooked meat and fish. Its not a pizza house but then pizza isn’t really a part of Italian cuisine anyway. So expect chicken with a a choice of a dozen different sauces, or a variety of steak served however you might like it. But if the menu contains all the things you might expect it is the way this food is interpreted and presented that makes Gemelli’s such a unique experience.

Goose had only just recovered from a migraine and was a little fragile when we arrived but she was determined not to miss this. So I have to say (and let’s get this in early and move on…) the Marilyn lookalike chanteuse by the bar was a little too much. singerThe singing was fine, quite nice in places, and the woman put a shift in! But a little less volume next time please, it was quite hard to think let alone talk and if I want live music I’ll go to a bar or a club.

However, don’t let this put you off because that aside it was a great evening with tremendous food.

The theatre is evident from the moment you sit down. The table was crammed with stuff: glasses, bread-sticks, crackers (it was xmas) and golden menus – nothing is understated here! It took us ages to decide what to have because there were at least two pages of starters and I’d have happily eaten any of them. Eventually I plumped for scallops and sea bass (Pan seared sea Scallops served with a fresh black Ravioli of Sea bass, Razor clam, Prawns , Sea-food consommé) at about £9.   The scallops were soft and the ravioli was delicious, packed with favour. I could have done with a hunk of bread to soak up the consommé (hint hint) but that was a lovely way to start the meal.

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The little sticks sprouting from the scallops are baked pasta so you can eat them – a very nice touch!

Goose went for smoked duck  fillet (“Cherry -wood smoked at the table with Tropea`s onion chutney, grilled polenta and Bellini foam”)  which arrived on a cheese board under a smoking dome which was revealed at the table. A shot of Bellini (or Proseco?) on the side set it off nicely. duck You can see what a beautiful colour the duck was and this is another Gemelli’s signatures: the vibrant colour of their dishes.

Diana and Martin both had the Funghi Arrabiati (which had tempted me) and that looked wonderful. This was a hearty starter and well worth the £8.90 it cost. Emmush

Service was quick even though the place was really busy. D & M come here quite often for lunch when they have a much more relaxed and cheaper menu. I can imagine they have lots of regulars and when you consider the rubbish that passes for food at many British retail parks Gemelli’s is a little oasis of indulgence!

There are 8 pasta dishes on the dinner menu and Goose and I decided to pick one each and then swap halfway through. She chose the Sea Shell and this was basically seafood linguine but with spaghetti. It was fabulous to eat and there were huge amounts of it. Prawns, razor clam, shrimps and more all served in a huge conch shell. What a centre piece!

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My main (or half of it anyway!) was a lamb bolognese with tagliatelle. I would have expected this to be served in a bowl but it came on a plate – and as a rectangle. IMG_14181They call it Tagliatelle Cymru  and it is rich and simple. I’m not sure about the presentation as it doesn’t make it that easy to eat but that’s a minor grumble. We could have gone for their penne Catherin Z. Jones which as you might imagine was created especially for the actress.

Starter and main (and a glass of house red) was enough for me so I ordered a Manhatten to finish but Goose decided to visit the ice cream bar. I have to admit to wishing I’d followed her lead. She picked coconut ice cream and it was really good, but she might have had a whole host of different flavours. Italians can certainly DO ice cream and this one was light and packed with real taste.

icecreamOne final thought: we probably wouldn’t normally order a side dish with pasta (a salad perhaps) and certainly not chips. But this time we were recommended to try Gemelli’s chips – as something different.

They don’t resemble chips, in fact they are more like pomme soufflé (perhaps that’s what they are). Round and light and very well seasoned (as all their food was) – apparently they won’t let on how the make them so something for us to experiment with.

chipsGive Gemelli’s a try if you are in Newport or nearby, they have another restaurant in the city centre as well so perhaps we need to visit there one day…

Barnacles

Tayyabs: an unmissable experience in Punjabi dining

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There are ‘Indian’ restaurants and there are others. Memsaab in Northampton is an excellent Indian in sophisticated surroundings. But at Tayyabs you get a quite different experience.

Tayyabs is on Fieldgate Street in Whitechapel just behind the East London mosque. When Goose and I arrived yesterday it was about 4 o’clock and the local Muslim community was hurrying in to  Friday prayers. We had just been drinking at the Ten Bells pub on the corner of Fournier Street, by Christ’s Church having just taken my 3rg years history students on a Jack the Ripper tour. A couple of them chose to accompany us to Tayyabs but most chose to head off for something less exotic than an authentic Punjabi feast.

What first strikes you as you enter is the size and the bustle. This was a Friday afternoon not a Saturday night but the place was heaving. Despite have space upstairs, downstairs and a ground floor level we still had to wait (not long) for a table. So if you want to be sure of a table (and there are several of you) make sure you book.

Tayybas is not licensed so you can take your own drink in with you – we didn’t bother as we’d already had a couple of drinks at the pub but plenty of others were enjoying a beer or a bottle of wine. We satisfied ourselves with soft drinks; Goose asked for her usual lime squash which confused them, she got a glass filled with lime wedges and a jug of water!

FullSizeRender(15) So to the food, we ordered pakoras and samosas to start while our friends had sizzling chicken  pieces (and lots of them!). The vegetable samosas were crisp and hot (spicy hot too) but not at all greasy. The pakoras were soft and went well with the dips and a proper salad (not the bagged rubbish you occasionally get from a takeaway). Everything was very fresh.

We were sat near the kitchen which is open, so we could see the chefs hard at work as seemingly  endless plates of food were sent out from the pass to the hungry diners. I would say the service is fast and efficient rather than personal. We had no complaints but you feel a little like you are in a production line; I certainly wouldn’t opt for a busy time if you want a quite or romantic dinner.  But perhaps that is to miss the point, Tayyabs is a lively, exciting and vibrant place, not an exclusive (expensive) restaurant.

Goose and I both went for lamb (or rather mutton in her case0 but we shared anyway. We had an odd pulse side dish which resembled large yellow split peas. It was dry and very spicy and made a good foil for the rich lamb curry. The mutton was interesting as I’d not tried that before. We both expected it to be tough but it wasn’t; it didn’t melt in the mouth like the lamb did but it was really well cooked and easy to eat. Both dishes were hot but not excessive and again, they tasted very fresh and clean. Goose’s was Karahi Mutton Tikka Masala made, as the menu says, with “Marinated mutton Tikka, karahi masala, coriander, chopped tomato, sliced onions and chillis.” I had Karahi lamb, the karahi refers to the traditional deep pot that is used to cook it, and the depth of flavour this achieves is much superior to many inferior ‘Indians’ you might have experienced.

We had pilau rice and a peshwari nan and while these were both absolutely fine they weren’t as good as Memsaabs (whose nans are unrivaled!). We were all stuffed though, and ready to cope with a trip up to the West End so I could visit my favourite London whiskey shop (Gerry‘s in Soho). Tayyabs was good value: we paid £15 a head for starters, mains, sides and soft drinks so given that I paid over £50 for a bottle of Kentucky bourbon I reckon this was a good deal.

FullSizeRender(14)So if you happen to be in Whitechapel try and avoid the curry houses on Brick Lane and walk a little further to find Tayyabs, you won’t be disappointed.

Coffee heaven in Camden Town

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If you can avoid the flow of the crowds (no easy thing on a busy Saturday) and turn left out of Camden Town underground station you will soon be in for a coffee shaped treat. I’m not talking about the Costa/Starbucks/Aanotherbrand of coffee shop that charges you a small fortune for a Macchinolattiacano in ‘tall’, ‘grande’, ‘regular ‘or just plain ‘overpriced’ form; in fact I’m not talking about you getting to taste any coffee at all. Well not immediately at least.

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A five minute’s walk from the station (in the direction of Mornington Crescent tube) there is a right turning named Delancey Street. At the top there is an almost hidden gem for anyone that values their coffee. Here George Constantinou has been selling freshly ground coffee and beans since 1978. Its not a fancy place, it looks like its not be decorated since 1978 (or earlier!). He sells coffee in about 6 different varieties (but of course you can blend them).

For the price of a latte at one of the insipid high street chains you can get 250g of pure caffeine joy that you can take home and brew yourself. I tend to go for the Costa Rica or the Colombian but George supplies restaurants across the capital so the Continental blend , Brazilian (Santos light)  or Kenyan AA might be more to your taste. IMG_1039The beans are roasted on the premises and George will often push past the customers crowding into his shop to check the roasting beans or load or empty the machine.

If you want the beans grinding he’ll do that while you wait. No pre-packs here and no fancy packaging either. There is nothing fancy about the Camden Coffee Shop, it sells coffee (and some filter papers) and that’s really it.

What you also get from George (as I remember from my first visit) is advice on buying and keeping coffee. Buy it from him, not a supermarket: the other stuff is inferior, and he’s right. I live in Northampton so to buy coffee in Camden Town I have to make a 120 mile round trip!

Keep it in the freezer (or the fridge) and only grind as much as you need. A simple electric grinder won’t cost you much these days and you really will notice the difference (and so will your friends – all of whom comment on my coffee) but if you do prefer the hassle free ease of ground coffee you should still keep it cold. It won’t freeze and you can use it directly from the fridge or freezer.

George is getting on a bit, I know he’s been in and out of hospital in the last few years and I don’t think the family business will outlast him. The Camden Coffee Shop might just be one of the last proper coffee shops in London (there is a good one in Soho too) so do make a point of visiting if you can.

But be warned. George is a one man band. If he needs to go to lunch or the post office he shuts up shop. He won’t be long so wait. It will be worth your while and you won’t buy better coffee anywhere else

 

when an Indian is not just an Indian: Mem Saab, Northampton

Sorry for the gap between posts but since Goose returned from Cambodia the pair of us have been hyper busy at work and haven’t managed to get out anywhere to eat. We did have a superb roast at the weekend with friends but since you can’t all dine there it seems a little unfair to write out it (but thanks Fiona!)   FullSizeRender(11)

Finally this week we made back to Mem Saab, one of my favorite places to eat in Northampton. Mem Saab is not your average curry house; Northampton has several decent Indian restaurants from the traditional and mid priced (like The Star of India or Imperial Raj), through the slightly more interesting (Tamarind), right down to the cheap and cheerful (Imran Balti or the Balti King). One day I’m hoping my most excellent colleague (@HistoryMatt) will write a comprehensive guide to them all. Northampton is not as blessed as Leicester but you can certainly get a good curry here.

Anyway, to the (highly spiced) meat of the matter: did Mem Saab deliver?*

When you arrive at Mem Saab you have a couple of options: you can get there early early and enjoy a drink in their own cocktail bar (Corkers) next door. Or you can wait to be seated in their lounge area and have a drink while you wait, and peruse the menu at the same time. So we say sipping a John Collins (Goose) and a Manhatten (me) and people watched.

The decor in Mem Saab hasn’t changed at all in the ten years or so its been open. Its a fairly neutral beige affair, not at all like trad Indians but not really very ‘modern’ now either. The clientele is fairly smart and at this time of year often involves office parties. Goose thought the large group making the noise were from a hairdressers, maybe Toni & Guy. But it is rarely if ever boorish in there – something you can get in the other Wellingborough Road balti houses.

The cocktail are good – there’s a wide range of them and they are generous, cost is about £6 each. Hic :). We ordered our meal and wine ( a full but dry French Malbec) and waited to be seated. I guess we sat in the lounge for about 25 minutes but it was Friday night (8pm),  very busy, and thereafter everything came very promptly.

To start I had pan fried duck breast, cooked with red  and green peeper and onions. They call it ‘crispy duck’, no idea why because it was lovely a soft and well seasoned. It came with some torn lettuce and a drizzle of yogurt sauce. FullSizeRender(13)No complaints, I’ve tried most things on their menu and when I come again (for a xmas works do) I might opt for the Goan mussels which I remember fondly.

Goose decided to have the prawn puri and was very happy with it. They served quite a lot of it though, and we were glad we didn’t have any of the ubiquitous poppadoms that waiters seem to insist you buy. Poppadoms are basically crisps, Indian style. How often do you go out to dinner and sit down and say…can I have a bowl of crisps and dips first please? There’s a great south Indian in Stoke Newington that offers a medley of crispy fried treats with dips that serve as a starter to share; THAT is worth having, poppadoms are a waste of valuable food space.

(Picture: Crispy duck starter, £5.95)

We didn’t have to wait long before the mains arrived, in fact I might have given us another ten minutes to digest the starters  because they later gave us plenty of time to chat post meal – there was no sense that they wanted us out of there.

FullSizeRender(12)(Picture: Prawn Puri, £4.95)

Goose really liked the crockery, round and white with the Mem Saab logo and reminiscent of the Police place in Lisbon. Everything is very clean here, and the staff (a mixture of family and Eastern European waitresses) are attentive and know what they are doing. Mem Saab has a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere and works as a romantic venue, fun place for a work’s party or just a good place for friends to eat.

But on to the mains. We both went for lamb: I plumped for the lamb karahi with cayenne and jeera (cumin). Goose picked the lamb jaipuri. The karahi delivered a kick, a dense heat (a ‘sauna heat’ Goose said!) but the meat was a little tough. By contrast the jaipuri was soft and earthy and melted in the mouth – we shared and  I was very happy we did. IMG_1021

(picture: Lamb Jaipuri, £8.95)

We ordered a side dish, arbi with mushrooms and this was possible the little star of the show. Arbi is a yam like root vegetable, it had the texture of roasted chestnuts more than potato and I’d consider having that as a main in future (side are £2.75, veggie mains are about £7)

Rice was extra and we had a plain basmati – perhaps not up to their usual standard but still good – and a peshwari nan. Mem Saab’s peshwari nans really are worth having. Smaller than the huge things you can get elsewhere but smothered in rich pinky orange coconut mixture – absolutely delicious (its almost worth leaving them to the end and treating them as pudding). We didn’t have coffee or liqueurs, and took the remainders of our bottle of Malbec home with us.

The damage? £65 for two including wine and £12 on cocktails, pretty reasonable overall. Mem Saab is a reliable higher end Indian where you are guaranteed a good night out, great food and service.

Barnacles

* In fact after years of not doing so they have a take away service too 🙂

When in Lisbon…….Cervejaria Ramiro

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There are very few things Barnacle would queue for. There are even fewer he would queue for more than an hour and a half for. Luckily top notch seafood is one of those things.

We were in Lisbon for work (Barnacle) and pleasure (me).

Following my usual policy of eating where the locals frequent and a bit of canny trip advising we found ourselves stood in the balmy drizzle in Lisbon on a Friday night in August.

As usual my innate sense of direction meant asking an elderly Lisboan waiting for an early evening bus for directions. He seemingly feigned deafness and ignorance, which I put down to my non existent Portuguese. But the Marcel Marceau gesticulation and Ramiro? must have just taken a while to register. Barnacle and I had continued along the street some way when the old man virtually sprinted after us to gabble, ‘Yes, yes, Ramiro! Very good. There go once. Very good.’ And pointed the way.

He was right.

So having found Ramiro, the queue does rather give it away, we settled in for what we knew from my culinary homework would be at least an hour wait. Fortunately there is plenty to keep you occupied while the queue ever so slightly snaked though the drizzle. (Don’t worry you won’t get soaked there is an awning to keep punters dry).

Locals seemed to drive past simply to look at the queue which on this evening was a buzzy but eclectic mix of young couples in groups and local extended families with a smattering of foodie tourists like us salivating expectantly.

But aside from being the object of a bit of culinary curb crawling, Ramiro has its own brand of mainly valve mollusc voyeurism. It ain’t for the faint-hearted but giant tanks and trays of ice displayed the oh so fresh they are still, urm, alive sea food you will eat once inside. Huge langoustines waved their claws through the glass and crabs eyeballed us.

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So, you inch forward and celebrate inwardly as you reach the doorway and then judged on the size of your party you are quickly ushered though to a suitable table. We had made it. It had only taken us an hour and a half.

Once inside it is a temple to seafood. Don’t come here if you’re allergic to shellfish. Merely sitting in the dining room would probably be enough to bring you out in a mild rash.

Anyway, sorry Barnacle, back to the food itself..

I had done some homework on the menu too as it is difficult ordering in a foreign language so we were able to impress our extremely friendly waiter by ordering comprehensible and immediately. We had been waiting for an hour and a half so were pretty peckish by then anyway.

So we had the famous persephones, yes the very same goose barnacles that named this blog as they embody our love for foods and trying new experiences away from the norm, usually involving food. We also plumped for clams cooked simply in white wine and garlic and even plumper prawns cooked in yet more garlic. Oh and a big crab too.

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Pay no attention to the prices on the menu as it is per weight of the shellfish so misleading in dish terms, so just trust your waiter and instincts.

The clams, prawn and goose barnacles together with a dressed crab arrived quickly accompanied by a tower of garlic buttered bread; perfect for loading up with oozy brown crab meat or sponging up the caramelised and sticky garlic from the prawns.

Btw Barnacle had ordered, as always, a great wine. A punchy Vino Verde and this was bought out with a carafe of water and two squares of white plastic and two white gavels.

These were our weapons of mass crab destruction to get every white meat morsel from the legs of the beast. I set to smashing claws and legs with some vigour and managed to send a large shard of shell across the restaurant. It avoided vital organs and merely grazed, well ok it just bounced off the sinewy forearm of a fellow dinner some distance away. The middle aged local simply cheered and smiled back at my brief embarrassment.

Our waiter also showed us how to eat the goose barnacles by twisting off what looks like the toenail of a prehistoric creature and then gently squeezing out the fleshy phallic foot. Some fellow Irish diners found them hard to eat without a bit of mild sniggering. But get over that and enjoy the taste of the sea, pure and simple.

If you want to find out more about goose barnacles this footage shows exactly how dangerous gathering them is and is reminiscent of a Guinness ad and makes salting a few razor clams out of sea look like child play. Oh and here’s Gordon cooking them.

I take eating what the locals eat almost as seriously as where they eat so knew it was derigeur to follow your fishy feast with a steak sandwich and then a slab of chocolate pudding. So we shared one of each. It was the best steak sandwich ever with brilliant picalilyesque mustard.

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So was the food at Ramiro great? Yes it was amazing and almost as importantly the atmosphere created by staff and fellow dinners made the total experience, well just total.

It was my turn to pay and the fact that the total bill came to under 50 euros made it an even greater experience.

But it is always about much more than the food or the price – the whole place was just extra special, a member of staff even ran out into the rain to secure a taxi for us to get back to the hotel.

So there you go. If you do one thing in Lisbon go to Ramiro. Unless you hate queuing and shellfish. Hell, even go there if you hate queuing. It will be worth the wait.

PS Did I mention that they don’t take bookings?

Goose

What have they done with Maria? La Pergola in Northampton

Goose is back from her travels (and has promised to post some articles soon!) so last night (Hallowe’en) we went out to celebrate. We opted for for La Pergola, one of two Italian restaurants on Wellingborough Road (we reviewed the  other one here).

When we came here before we had enjoyed a wonderful meal (after jumping out of an airplane) but it was the atmosphere and the staff that made our evening. Maria, the more than eccentric waitress, had entertained us with the sheer force of her personality and her sparring with the elderly proprietor added something unique to the experience. Goose met the chef and we had one of the best (homemade) tiramisus you could imagine.

Last night though things were quite different. When we arrived there was a massive pizza oven in the entrance way – rather like having a mini sauna at the front of the restaurant. This had cost them covers (they now seat 38 people and not 42) and throughout the two hours we were there we only saw two pizzas go out; the dedicated pizza chef was mostly stood twiddling his thumbs.

Some alarm bells began to ring when our waiter appeared. He was very nice but clearly very new to the place (and indeed to waiting!). He didn’t really have  a clue about serving wine and we didn’t ask his opinion on any of the food – no worries, he’ll get better.

The wine was excellent anyway so we needn’t have worried, a good robust Malbec bursting with berries.

FullSizeRender(8)We both had exactly the same food for a change but it had the advantage that we could swop notes easily. On the specials menu there was a starter of bacon and blue cheese tortellini with sage. This arrived promptly (as all the food did despite them being busy) and was nicely presented. They might have fried the sage leaves, that would have added some crunch, overall this was a tasty beginning. The flavours were strong and well balanced but the pasta was too thick. It compared badly with shop bought fresh pasta and hopefully this is just one of several teething problems for La Pergola, which is, we later discovered, three weeks into new management.

The interior had changed since our last visit with deep red walls replacing the cream. I commented that if Maria (a diehard Chelsea fan was there she’d never had sanctioned that! So the mystery of Maria continued…

FullSizeRender(7)After the (slight) disappointment of the starters we moved on to the mains, which was the restaurant’s signature meat dish: fillet steak, wrapped in pancetta and served in a red wine sauce. We ordered it rare (I had to because the waiter didn’t ask us).

The steak came resting on a superfluous piece of bread and smothered in sauce. At first it was hard to make out the meat at all but a bit of digging revealed a large filet that was indeed, cooked rare (phew!)

The sauce was tasty, the meat properly cooked, the pancetta a tad unnecessary and the vegetables that accompanied it were fine. But why pour a load of sauce over such a decent steak? A small jug on the side or just slightly less sauce, carefully positioned around it would have been so much better. The sauce had split too, it wasn’t the unctuous delight it might have been. Good marks for flavour chef but attention to detail and presentation let’s you down!

FullSizeRender(6)(the steak in red wine…where are you?)

So finally we came to dessert, and obviously we went for the tiramisu because it was still advertised as ‘homemade’ and it had been so good here before. Sadly it wasn’t. It was nice, and there was lots of it but rather too much sweet cream and not enough body elsewhere. Not as nice as before and not as good as Gianbiaz either.

FullSizeRender(10)When we came to pay the bill was £76 which is not cheap but not outrageous either. We had a decent meal in a nice environment but it was nothing special. We spoke to the waitress who took the payment and she told us that the older owner had retired and they had taken the opportunity to buy the place. Maria has been retained but she now works in the kitchen. What a shame, she is wasted in there. Before La Pergola had something special, something different, at the moment it is just a perfectly good Italian eatery on a Northampton street where there are many other alternative places to eat.

They need time to bed in, to cultivate their own atmosphere and to rediscover the magic. I’d have a word with the kitchen – an Italian needs to serve soft and delicate pasta not lumps of chewy dough – and if you want to be a pizza place well, trade on that. To be honest in the summer an oven at the front of house is going to render half your covers unbearable. Bit most of all they need to get Maria back, and soon!

Barnacles

Getting very well fed (Irish style) on the Holloway Road

FullSizeRender(5)Saturday afternoon means football for Tony and I so once again we made the long journey south to watch the Arsenal (a disappointing and very frustrating 2-2 draw with Hull City – but this is not a football blog*). Strolling down from Archway tube and looking for a place to eat we decided to wander inside The Quays.

The Quays is a large and distinctively decorated pub in the London style. I stands out on the Holloway Road because of its colour (sort of purple/blue) and equally colourful interior. We’ve walked past it loads of times but never braved the front door.

Inside is a vast pub, lots of plasma screens (today showing rugby union and football) with lots of seating and old signage advertising whiskeys and all manner of other liquors and drinks. Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to see if they had all (or any) of these in stock as we were there for lunch, not a drinking session.

So I restricted myself to a glass of Merlot (our useful pre-match tipple) and we perused the menu. The Quays serves all the usual fayre: burgers, sausages, pies, steaks, fish etc – all with chips if you want them. But it also does a a roast and an Irish stew. Tony opted for roast beef, while I plumped for stew.

quaysThe first thing to say is that the service was quick and the portions (especially the roast) are enormous. You won’t go hungry at the Quays. Tony struggled to make any real impact on his roast beef. Three huge slices atop a pile of mash and gravy, with a generous side order of vegetables included for about £8. He enjoyed what he ate – honest unfussy food if not cordon blue cuisine.

FullSizeRender(4)My stew was equally good and it came with two slices of soda bread. Soda bread has a very distinctive, slightly chemical taste, which I like a lot. It goes well with soups and stews. The meat in the stew was very tender, soft and well flavoured and there was plenty of it. The rest of stew was made up on potatoes, onion and carrot. It was warm and comforting and just prefect on a blustery autumn day.

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It was pub food but when it is possible to eat good honest grub like this for less than a tenner it does make me wonder why all pubs and cafés can’t manage to do it.

I bet they are busy on Sundays because a big plate of roast dinner, washed down with ale or Irish stout, maybe followed by a bowl of crumble and custard, with friendly staff and the footie on the big screen sounds like a cracking weekend day out to me.

Barnacles

* visit Untold Arsenal if you want a very good one of those

Canteen food at the canteen

IMG_0977Goose is away and so I have no one to dine with for a few weeks. I doubt she will get the chance to read this while she explores Cambodia but just in case… I miss you Goose and I hope you’re finding some interesting tasty food experiences to share on your return.

This Tuesday I was working in East London, researching for my next history book (which is on the Whitechapel murders) and this took me to Tower Hamlets. Having spent most of the day pouring over maps and street directories I took a bus down the Mile End road towards Spitalfields.

I had a mooch around Brick Lane and a few moments of tranquility inside Nicholas Hawksmoor’s magnificent Christ’s Church before meeting an old friend at the Ten Bells pub. The pub is very old with strong links to the Ripper case (it is said that some of the victims were regulars there). Now it is (like most of the area) quite trendy and Camden Pale Ale at £4.60 a pint is hardly the sort of tipple that East End costers, prostitutes and even thirsty bobbies could have afforded. Still, its very nice and the blues playing on the sound system added to the ambiance.

Having slaked our thirsts we went in search of food. We probably should have ventured a bit further to Tayrabs (the best Indian in a curry house district by far), or taken the hefty hit to the wallets that St John’s Food & Wine would have caused. Instead we crossed in Spitalfields Market where there several chain eateries. Giraffe, Wagamama, the Gourmet Burger Company, and half a dozen others vie with each other for the early evening dinner trade.

We picked Canteen, because he’d eaten in one before and liked it, and I’d never been. The menu looked interesting enough and it wasn’t too dear either.

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Francis chose two starters: breaded chicken with a lemon mayonnaise dip and potted duck with homemade piccalilli. I had the Arbroath smokie with a poached egg, and a side order of chips. He had more pale ale but sadly I was driving home later so selected a zingy lemonade. That was probably the best thing about the meal.

IMG_0973The smokie was tasty but ever so dry. The flesh didn’t so much as fall off the bones but cling desperately to it. It was overcooked and the egg wasn’t seasoned. I don’t much care for these poached eggs that feel like they’ve been dried off around the edges. I’d almost rather have one made in a mould like you can get in a greasy spoon café. Grilling the lemon was just a bit pretentious. So I was fairly unimpressed.

The chips were those rustic efforts, but cut like fries. Done well these can be great but I ate these because i was hungry not because I enjoyed them. At the bottom of the dish were some crispy bits – these were nice. I dunked the chips in Francis’ mayo but nothing was served with them otherwise.

IMG_0974His food looked better, particularity the potted duck which came with some hearty brown bread. I don’t eat chicken but he seemed happy to polish off his nuggets and the beer was good too.

My final gripe is about the service. Now they add 12.5% onto the bill and you can of course challenge this or take it off, but I doubt people often do. I’d much rather tip for good service than be expected to pay regardless. Just include in the food prices. Our waitress was Spanish and very pleasant but having cleared away and asked if we wanted desserts etc she didn’t listen (or didn’t understand). We asked for the bill and off she went. There were only two other covers in the place and so we were surprised at how long it took her to bring us the damage.

Ten minutes later we resorted to waiving at her. Then she must have twigged and after another five she brought it. £40 including service. We paid and headed off to Liverpool Street. I find it frustrating when restaurants can’t get the basics right. Canteen may have had an off day and they are only as good as the chef that works there but on this showing I won’t be rushing back. And in a few weeks time I’ll be in the Market with about 30 hungry undergraduates – I won’t be recommending Canteen to them.

It may be called Canteen – but you can eat better in our university canteen than I did this week

Barnacles

of fish pie and Cambodia

Goose is off to Cambodia on Monday for a little over two weeks. Its a holiday she’s been looking forward to for some time and she’s going with a good friend. But both of us are a little sad that we are going to be apart for that long 😦

Still, she has promised to take her notebook and write up lots of Cambodian food reports when she returns at the end of October. I will just have to eat out with other people until then I suppose.

So I thought I’d write up the meal she cooked for us last night as Goose is an excellent chef and we can dine in style home and away. We had a Jamie Oliver fish pie recipe, but not the one I usually make (which is a mash-topped affair with eggs) but this one instead. This recipe uses fennel and fennel seed which add a nice aniseed depth to the flavours. You don’t mash the spuds but par boil them and use them sliced. Sometimes a fish pie can be a rather texture-less mushy affair but here the veg holds up nicely. She made sourdough breadcrumbs for the topping which (with added Parmesan cheese) was wondrous!

The fish was salmon and trout but you could use whatever looked good or was on offer, with or without prawns. That’s the beauty of fish pie you can go and see what the fishmonger has, and mix and match. I tend to avoid the supermarket ‘fish pie’ mixes because they look a bit sad and dried out.

Goose served her pie with asparagus and green beans, tossed in Guernsey butter (quite the best butter you can get) and I brought a Marlborough NZ Sauvignon blanc to go with it.  Once we had digested the pie we finished off the meal (in front of the telly by now) with Pots & Co. Salted caramel & chocolate puds, which I can certainly recommend (don’t eat them cold from the fridge though, let them warm to room temperature).

It’s going to be a long two weeks for me while she explores  Angkor Wat and Cambodia’s other highlights, and hopefully rests and enjoys her break, but I have plenty to do including writing a new book on Jack the Ripper, so hopefully the time will fly by. In the meantime i need to find her the perfect dinner for Halloween, when she returns. 🙂

Barnacles