Sunday, 16 August 2015

Miso Polenta Bowl


Sometimes, an idea can be so bonkers it might just work. It was a Saturday morning and I'd risen from my hovel a bit groggy and absolutely ravenous. There was nothing in the fridge; well, besides half a courgette, an avocado ready to turn and some leftover spring onion and ginger magic sauce that is literally the best thing ever if you can be bothered to chop three whole bunches of spring onion. A lone egg rolled around on the counter-top, bumping together with three pitiful cherry tomatoes. There was no way I could face going outside. What's a girl to do? Improvise.


The nice folk over at The Wasabi Company sent me some of their sauces to try, and I've been actively addicted to the Champonzu (red top) ever since. At £12.20 for a 300ml bottle, it's going to be an expensive addiction but you don't need much of it to bring out the five different Japanese citrus fruits. It has a very savoury base, with zesty orange and yuzu notes. I wanted this in my brunch. A ferret around the cupboard revealed the only carby base available to me was polenta. An idea was born.


Typically I'd look for cheese to enrich the polenta with and give it some flavour, but... no cheese. So instead, miso for a little umaminess to pep that polenta up. It worked an absolute treat, especially once you factor in the molten gold of that soft-boiled egg.

Miso Polenta Bowl

Serves 2

150gr instant polenta
2 heaped tsp light miso
A knob of butter
Half a courgette, sliced into thick matchsticks
Half an avocado, slivered at the last minute to prevent browning
A handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
2 soft boiled eggs, peeled
2 tbsp magic spring onion and ginger sauce
1 tbsp + 1 tsp champonzu (you could use a mixture of 60% light soy, 20% mirin, 10% sake and 10% lemon and lime juice at a real push...)
1 tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp chilli oil

Bring enough water to boil (as per the packet of polenta instructions) and whisk the polenta in. Add a lid half cocked and turn the heat low, and let it cook till you hear soft plop-plopping sounds. Then stir vigorously and place the lid on fully to cook for up to 10 minutes. Keep stirring so it doesn't stick to the bottom.

Meanwhile, heat the cooking oil in a non-stick pan on a medium heat. Fry the courgette sticks until they've softened, then add the cherry tomatoes and cook further until they're starting to collapse. Add the tsp of champonzu and remove from the heat.

Check on the polenta - add a large pinch of salt and keep stirring. It should be cooked at this point. Stir in the butter and miso until it has fully incorporated. Check the seasoning.

Assemble the bowls with half the polenta in each, then top with a halved soft boiled egg, the courgette and tomato mixture, the avocado, the spring onion and ginger sauce, and drizzle with chilli oil. Use the remaining tbsp of champonzu sauce to drizzle over the avocado in each.

(Got loads of miso leftover? Not sure what to do with the rest? My book, Chinatown Kitchen, has several recipes for it.)

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Camberwell Arms, Camberwell


I'm pretty lucky to live where I live. Not only is it also the location of my favourite Chinese restaurant in London, Silk Road - it also has my favourite pub, The Camberwell Arms. It's a pub - a proper pub, with proper beer, and no sign of leather banquettes or polished floors. At the front, proper cast iron stools surround the tables, and plenty of interesting beers and wines are on offer. Out the back, a dining room that still retains enough of a casual atmosphere which means I can stop by for a drink with friends, which more often than not leads to a bite to eat. 



The food is really great. They regularly post their menus online, and it changes often, depending on what is available. A blackboard denotes sharing dishes; of these, I've had the double pork chop twice now, and this has served 3 of us amply. Coated in a sweet, sticky glaze, the pork has proper fat to it, cooked just so that the meat slightly blushes, but the fat renders down enough to coat each mouthful. Most recently, it was served on a bed of rainbow chard, shot through with mustard and cream, to be soaked up by boiled, then fried new potatoes pressed into the liquid. 


Giant chickpeas, grilled cuttlefish and a splodge of aioli that bordered on spicy, it was so garlicky has been one of my favourite starters in 4+ visits. They use that charcoal grill well, the scent of barbecue permeating the cuttlefish. 


Potted little shrimps piled on top of a crumpet, absolutely soaked in butter, seeping down into the crevices of the crumpet is a rich little starter, one for sharing, lightened by pickled gherkins (top pic). Pork fat and scotch bonnet on toast is another one of those snacks; the panic-inducing fruity hotness of the scotch bonnet is prominent, the sweet roasted peppers mellowing it out. 



Other times, roasted calcots, those giant Spanish spring onions came with romesco sauce, nutty and fruity. 



Grilled roasted peppers drizzled in sherry vinegar were perfect in simplicity, and a green tomato salad dressed generously and dotted with fluffy mozzarella highlighted the top-quality produce. 



Big, gutsy dishes which sometimes aren't really a looker but taste amazing is what makes this place. A hunk of pork belly, crisp up top and fork-tender beneath came as a giant slab in a dish full of perky, comforting lentils. As a rule of thumb, come hungry. 



Desserts aren't fancy, but are well executed. I can't resist any of their tarts, especially if they come with some sort of fruit compote. Fig leaf ice cream, a single scoop, was all I could manage at my last visit. 

It's not a local pub in the purest sense; mainly because if it came to it I would travel for a meal here. You leave incredibly well sated, stuffed to the brim, probably a bit boozed. I brought my sister here, and when we left she exclaimed: "that's not a pub! The food is way too good to be a pub!" and yet it is. I love it. 

The Camberwell Arms

65 Camberwell Church Street 
Camberwell 
London SE5 8TR 
t: 020 7358 4364 


Monday, 3 August 2015

CheeMc, Walworth Road


It's taken me a while to write this up, and I am placing the blame solely on the above. Soju. Freely available at Chee Mc, a divey little Korean place on Walworth Road, walkable from my house - at least I think so, as neither of us remember the journey home - and with an extensive fried chicken menu. I was tipped off by the ever excellent Su-Lin and me and my friend bumbled off there one Saturday night to try it out. 


They are really not messing about with the fried chicken. They sell them as half portions or whole in various different sauces, but you can also order a mixture of two types, which obviously we did. It is my motto in life that one shouldn't have to make a choice if they can just have it all. This one was covered in finely shredded spring onions, so dense and bushy we struggled to separate the strands. In any case, the chicken was freshly fried with a crisp crunchy coating. Tables around us filled up, mostly Koreans, though there was one lady on her own next to us, sniffling and sucking air through her teeth as she negotiated a portion of the chilli chicken. 


We ordered beers and soju, and were talked up to the stronger 19% version by our very sweet waitress who went to great lengths to explain everything to us. That's where things became a little... blurry. I had wondered what these ice-bucket-esque tongs were for, and looking around, people were picking the chicken up with them and eating directly from them. It was a lively atmosphere; lots of people drinking beers with big groups of friends. I liked the place a lot. 


For a little vegetable balance, we ordered some kimchi which was unremarkable but refreshing, spicy and crunchy to cut through the fried-ness of the chicken. At around £4 or £5 a portion it wasn't a great deal, but we also got lightly pickled radish included with our chicken so we were satisfied that we were not going to become vitamin-deficient. 


Our mix n' match was the 'sweet garlic sauce'. FFF me. It was honky. It was so honky, in fact, I feared it would linger until Monday. The garlic was indeed sweet, but wow, that garlic. Let's not forget the amount of spring onion I ingested too. Another bottle of soju to wash it down. The first text message I sent the next day said "I SMELL TERRIBLE". 


Woman cannot live on chicken alone though, so we ordered the cheesy ramen which was exactly that. Instant ramen in a spicy broth (Shin raymun perhaps?) topped with stir-fried onions and spring onions for added breath-effect, and then topped with a melted piece of slappy cheese. Friends, it was glorious. The cheese mixed in with the broth to give it some creaminess and to temper the spice. We hoovered this up. I have a recipe for something similar, called Buddae Jjigae in Chinatown Kitchen and it was developed as a hangover of the Korean War. The Koreans used frankfurters, spam and processed cheese in their cooking, left behind by the American G.Is, which is where this sort of fusion comes from. 

We boxed up the leftover chicken and paid around £30 per head with service. A not-insubstantial amount given it was a tiny little cafĂ© near the Elephant and Castle, but I don't think we went light on the booze since I was so unwell the next day I cried. Yup. Garlicky little hungover sobs. I'd go back though, especially since everyone else we saw had ordered the glistening, sticky red of gochujang on their chicken, studded with sesame seeds. And for that slappy cheese ramen. Hold that soju though.

CheeMc

310 Walworth Road
London SE17 2NA

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Xi'an Impression, Holloway


I've long lamented that New York gets Xian Famous Foods and we don't. I crave those cold skin (liang pi) noodles, jelly-like in texture and served cool and refreshing, with a light kick from the sauce. The chang-an tofu is the stuff of dreams; slippery fresh tofu with a sweet, sour and spicy sauce on top. 


But, no need to lament now because Xi'an Impression has arrived and it is almost as good. I say almost because they don't have chang-an tofu. I was tipped off by this write-up on Fuchsia Dunlop's site, and I made arrangements immediately. Located directly opposite the Emirates stadium, I visited on a match day and the tiny restaurant seating 20 at most was full. They've obviously had the sense to capitalise on the volume of people passing by, and they also had heated dishes at the front of the room offering sweet and sour chicken with fried rice. There were plenty of people there having it, and I wondered if they weren't even a little bit curious as to what all these vibrant dishes were that everyone else was eating. 



Our waiter explained to us that all the noodles are hand-pulled, and they had a selection both dressed or in soup. These are biang biang noodles, so called because of the noise made when they are being made, by slapping the dough on the table. They were pretty fantastic - a great elasticky chew, and dressed with a fragrant, spicy oil rich with coriander seeds and anise, complete with a small mound of raw garlic to flavour but not overwhelm. They're mixed table-side, carefully turned over and over until the noodles are well dressed. A head of bak choi adds required vegetal crunch, but I wondered if a little more wouldn't go astray. Cabbage, perhaps, or a little coriander. 


"I call it a Chinese burger but it's really more of a kebab..." Our waiter insisted that we try both the spiced beef and the pork 'burgers'. Rou Jia Mo is the Chinese name for it, and they come simply as meat inside bread, no further embellishment. It's not just about the meat, the quality of the bread is important here and it was toasted until crisp, sturdy enough to withstand the rich juices from the beef. A great little snack for £3.80. 


The pork version was entirely different, being a little drier and resembling pulled pork. It was still packed full of flavour, though less heavy on the cumin and spice of the beef version. 


There they are. Liang pi noodles, so called 'cold skin'. God, I love them so. These are served cold and sliced thickly, alongside some spongy wheat gluten and julienned cucumber. Beansprouts nestled within the folds of the noodles. This was one of my favourite dishes there; the spice level was subtle, but it built up the further down the bowl we went. 


The fried dumplings, these with pork and seaweed, are typically left open ended, as is traditional for Xian-style dumplings. We had black vinegar, soy sauce and chilli oil to make up our own dipping sauce. I can't get enough of dumplings, so naturally, I loved these. 

I loved Xian Impression, and I could eat those cold skin noodles every day forever and not get bored of them. The menu is extensive, and includes many more noodle dishes, so plans are afoot to go back and try more already. The service is sweet - our man told us excitedly that someone from The Guardian had called to arrange a photo of their food, which can only mean one thing... He looked a bit scared when I told him to prepare for the rush. 

At £35 for two with service (no booze), it was really great value, meaning I can go as often as I like! Holloway, though. Holloway. 

Xian Impression
117 Benwell Street, N7 7BW
Tel: 0203 441 0191

Sunday, 19 July 2015

New Noodlings in London


These are by no means new restaurants, so apologies if the title is misleading. No; instead, these are places I've been going to repeatedly that I love for their noodles, but I haven't talked about here for some reason or the other. But sharing is caring. 

First up, Kanada-Ya (opening pic). A Japanese import, with branches in Hong Kong and the US, I like this little place a lot. At first it was because of the gumption it takes for opening almost directly opposite the behemoths that are Ippudo (I wrote about my New York experience here) and within the same month. They're everything Ippudo are not - they are austere and unfussy, with a limited and traditional menu. They don't have the snazzy sides that Ippudo does, and they offer their noodles cooked soft, medium or firm. What they lack in choice, they more than make up in flavour, though. The broth is rich and flavoursome, but doesn't sit heavily on your stomach making you feel a bit overwhelmed, unlike other tonkotsus I've tried. The noodles have a good spring to them. In short, it's a damn good bowl of noodles. Get there at 12pm though, or you will queue. 

64 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LE
WEBSITE


Chang's Noodle is a little place on New Oxford Street. It's so basic I can't find a website for them. The cuisine is Hubei, Henan and Sichuan, and the menu is littered with items like 'tasty fungus'. Helpfully there's pictures. I haven't been there to give the menu a thorough working out, but what I did have is their famous lamb noodle soup. This is not Summer food. It's a milky, lamb-flavoured broth with hearty wheat noodles, rough and torn into the soup. Deep within, glass noodles and tofu skin noodles also lurk. I couldn't finish it. But it was so good. 

35-37 New Oxford St, London WC1A 1BH



Joy Luck Restaurant are smack bang in the middle of Chinatown. Their menu reads with spring rolls, prawn crackers and all that shit, but skip straight to the specialist noodle page and therein lies the Shanxi Oil-Splash noodle. And they will splash. The sauce is sweet, it's sour, it's spicy. The noodles are slightly frilly at the edges. I love this dish. 

47 Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London W1D 5QJ


Lastly, Sanxia Renjia. Say that after a couple of beers. An unassuming front, I'm pretty gutted I discovered this place in my last month at my job that was a mere 5 minute walk. I'd missed out on 6.5 years of this place! The lunch menu is a laminated card of noodle dishes and one-plate rice dishes. On my first visit, we had a scrambled egg and black fungus dish with rice, which was very homely. My dining companion found it bland, but I thought it comforting. We also shared some dumplings which were fine, and this 'Soup noodles with stewed spare ribs Sichuan Style'. As I suspected they were little ribs with bone in them which I think is fine as you pop the thing in your mouth, chew around it and spit it out, but some might find it fiddly. Anyway, the soup was FIESTY. They're not messing. It was Sichuan peppercorn-tingly, and packed quite a punch. 


I returned and the 'hot & sour rice noodles' were not rice noodles, they were glass noodles. It was a good job he was wearing black because those things are slithery. This dish was not for the faint-hearted; the incandescent chilli oil slick lingered on top, staining each mouthful. It was great. 


Their rice dishes are good too. The sea spicy aubergine in particular is excellent. We're talking about noodles though. Anyway, nothing on the lunch menu tops £7, so it's really great value too. 

29 Goodge Street, W1T 2PP 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Corn, Mushroom & Feta with Polenta


IT'S NOT ASIAN! Yup, sometimes I cook and it doesn't involve rice or noodles. It's strange and peculiar.

So polenta. Polenta is a thing I love, because it's sloppy like baby food and it's actually a requirement to cook it with enough butter and cheese so that it actually has some flavour. Alternatively, you can make an incredibly flavoursome topping (like lamb ragu...), so flavoursome that you need to cut a bit of the richness with the bland polenta itself. Since there's no lamb happening in this house this week - and maybe we should leave that for when the chill sets in - butter and cheese was the way forward.

I chose these vegetables for their combination of sweetness from the corn and tomatoes, with a little bitterness, from the cavolo nero. I bumped up the flavours a touch to really bring them out.

Corn, Mushroom & Feta with Polenta

Serves 2

150gr polenta
450gr vegetable stock (I used half a Knorr stock pot. They're actually pretty good.)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
50ml white wine
1 ear of fresh corn
3 large chestnut mushrooms, chopped into 6
5 large oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 stalks of cavolo nero, stems removed and shredded
8 cherry tomatoes
1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of salt
Pepper
A knob of butter
70gr feta
A handful of parsley, minced
1 tbsp olive oil

Bring the stock to the boil and whisk in the polenta. Bring to a low simmer and stir every few minutes, scraping the bottom. Cook for 12 minutes - it should be a little runny. Stir in the butter and put the lid on, and leave while you prepare the rest.

Heat the olive in a frying pan on a medium heat, and add the garlic. Turn onto low and using a knife, cut the corn kernels directly into the pan carefully. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring every so often. Turn to medium and add the mushrooms. Cook for a minute or so, stirring, then add the white wine. Simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, then add the cavolo nero and cook for a further 3 minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes, the sugar, the salt and pepper. Place the lid on and cook on a low heat for 5 more minutes, stirring intermittently. Add the parsley, take off the heat and leave the lid on.

Dish out the polenta, then add the corn mixture on top. Garnish with crumbled feta.

(Got leftover ears of corn? There's a recipe for Miso-Buttered Corn in Chinatown Kitchen!)

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Sesame Peanut Noodle Salad


Admittedly this would go well with a nice piece of barbecued chicken. Or the hoi sin and ginger ribs from Chinatown Kitchen. I am the worst vegan ever. BUT I still ate this all on its own and it's incredibly satisfying, due to the quantity of rich, creamy peanut butter. Mmm.

Because you want the garlic flavour without the harshness of raw garlic, there's an extra step here that requires a BIT of faff but also some lovely crunchy non-honky garlic pieces. If you don't care about your breath then just add it in raw. You can add whatever crunchy vegetables you have - sugarsnap peas, snow peas, cucumber, peppers - as long as you julienne them thinly. This noodle salad keeps incredibly well and travels very well too, so it's perfect for lunch boxes (careful of the honky garlic) or picnics. As I write this it's lashing it down. Hmm.

Sesame Peanut Noodle Salad

Serves 2

150gr dry weight wholewheat noodles
3 tbsp chunky peanut butter
1 tbsp tahini
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sesame oil
50ml vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, thinly and evenly sliced
1 carrot, julienne
2 Romaine lettuce leaves, sliced thinly
5 radishes, julienned
2 spring onions, greens only, julienned

In a small saucepan add the garlic in with the oil cold and heat it up gently, stirring all the while. When the garlic starts fizzing and starts turning the merest golden, take off the heat, as the garlic will continue to cook. When it becomes more golden drain the oil into a heatproof container and scatter the garlic chips on kitchen towel.

Cook the noodles as per the packet instructions, and then drain and run under cold water. Toss with 2 tbsp of the garlic oil.

Whisk together the peanut butter, tahini, water, light soy and sesame oil until it has combined. If it's too thick - it should look like emulsion paint (?!) - add a dribble of water and continue to whisk.

Add the vegetables to the noodles and add the sauce, tossing well. Garnish with the deep fried garlic chips. Serve cold.