Wednesday, 14 May 2014

TOTA, Tooting Broadway

When I say I like this restaurant I can do so safe in the knowledge that it wasn't just the mood I was in that day, or, warm fuzziness of two bottles of wine behind me.
Tota is on my doorstop, I eat there often and when they first opened up it was to a grateful sigh from us Tootingers? Tooters? people who live in Tooting Broadway.
When the Evening Standard said "Tooting Broadway is the next Shoreditch", I laughed and then when that subsided I looked out of my window perplexed.
I have a strong suspicion that the people who think "Tooting Broadway is the next Shoreditch," are the ones who bought flats here before the recent boom and want to rent them out for more than their worth, to unsuspecting hipsters.
It's only in the last year that there has been anywhere to get an edible weekend breakfast. Previous choices for dinner were the kebab shop which had a weird picture of a baby in a nappy on the front (hopefully not a clue to their ingredients) or, what I think must be the country's largest Chicken Cottage, (honestly, it's huge).
Apart from curry of course, there is admittedly some good curry here.
Then came Tota, the Soho House venture, Chicken Shop, the Tapas kitchen of Graveney & Meadow, Meat & Shake (that's more Bec admittedly) and many others, Tooting Broadway now has nice places to eat.
In fact, rather than go to Balham, or, Clapham I can have some really good food, on my doorstep.
This however, does not mean it's like Shoreditch, i'm still struggling with that comparison.
I mean, we have streets filled with rubbish because of our lack of wheelie bins, but in Shoreditch, their rubbish is ART, no really, that is a thing, look here.
The bad thing to come out of all this hype is that my landlady has put the rent up significantly, the good is that we finally have some decent food here and Tota is the best of it.
I have had breakfast, lunch and dinner at Tota (on different days I must point out) and each time I left praising the place.
It has some of the most friendly, thoughtful and helpful staff I have ever encountered, who seem to enjoy their jobs and are interested in their customers. WEIRD, I KNOW.
If, like me, you chatter away to anyone, they will hang around for a natter but will equally leave you to it if they sense you are less than chirpy* (*read hungover).
They decor really transforms throughout the day, breakfast and lunch is relaxed and informal but dinner feels slightly more intimate with the elegant candlelight and hushed music.
Their menu is creative but classic, it's local, fresh produce, home curing but most importantly a little gluttonous.
Breakfast offerings are what you would expect from a bistro, there's the fry ups, eggs florentine etc but with added flair, you can add bubble and squeak cakes, or, chorizo sausage. I've had many breakfasts here, they've all been well executed but their American buttermilk pancakes are particularly good.
Lunch is, again, standard fare but done well, sandwiches, salads etc.
In the evenings there's a constantly updated menu with ever changing specials and a half price steak and ribs night every Tuesday.
Particular highlights are their burgers with buttermilk onion rings, calamari, fritto misto, pork ribs and their delicate treatment of their fresh fish special, which changes daily.
The people behind Tota have put the focus on big plates of simple but delicious food, this is not true of many of the food establishments in Shoreditch.
In Tota there isn't a weird post-modern blah concept that was born from some creepy looking man with a biblical beard. The staff do not grunt at you from behind their achingly ironic NHS glasses. Tota have a big sign so that you know where it is, it's not a 'pop-up' and you can book here, they are deliciously reliable.
It's not such a trendy attitude to eating but judging by their busy dining room, it's popular.
Hipsters please stay in Shoreditch, there is nothing for you here.

Tota on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Flesh & Buns, Soho

If I hadn't needed a quick wee before I left Flesh & Buns, you would be about to read an entirely different review.
I would have said that the concept is fun, the novelty of their fire pit pudding and pick your own filling, steamed buns, was jovial and whilst it wasn't the best Asian inspired food I'd ever eaten, the experience was on the whole, okay.
Instead, you are about to read a review solely focused on their toilets. Please bear with me.
I never imagined politics, loos and food would be the focus of a restaurant review but that was before I was within the four walls, of the warped mind behind the interior of Flesh & Buns.
Within each individual toilet the walls are covered with 'Manga porn'. A type of Japanese inspired cartoon pornography which because it isn't 'real' is able to get away with scenes depicting violent and under age sex.
Girls in school uniforms grimace as older men tug at them, young faces peek out from behind men's bodies, one I saw even referenced a step-father who wanted to have sex with his step-daughter. The women look fearful, some are in tears - all of them look incredibly young.
Whilst I can't control what someone wants to view in their own home (and to some extent have no problem with that) the idea that this would be viewed as an acceptable decoration in a family restaurant is, quite frankly, a terrifying indication of how skewed our perceptions are and further evidence of the pornification of mainstream society.
Flesh & Buns take that the objectification of women will help them sell dumplings, is, whilst puzzling, not new. Female's bits have been used to flog all sorts of food, from burgers to chicken thighs, it's a sad reality.
But they go one step further, this isn't a close up of a woman's heavily lip-glossed mouth, or, heaving bosom, they picture very young girls in violent sexual relationships, even hinting at incest.
No matter how the food tasted (it was okay), I left Flesh & Buns with a bad taste in my mouth and rather puzzled about what on earth they were thinking.
Perhaps it was an attempt at an ironic, tongue-in-cheek talking point? It's not.
Especially not for the children who I saw eating in their restaurant who were surely in for some mental scarring if they need the loo.
We talk about needing to protect children from the images they can find online, now there is a new concern, protecting them from hipsters who think that hints at paedophilia are a snazzy way to decorate a bathroom.
In the words of an Australian writer, Chloe Papas, who reviewed convicted woman beater, Chris Brown's album, 'NO STARS EVER'.

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Learning To Cook Like A Proper Cook....

Last year, for Christmas, my now husband bought me a cooking course at Leiths. I know some friends/family were offended on my behalf and expected me to promptly, upon opening the gift card, shove it down his throat and mutter the words bon appetit.
However, I did specifically ask for it so instead met the gift card with glee and excitement then shoved it in the kitchen draw that holds cocktail umbrellas, lots of keys that have no lock and takeaway flyers.

After a busy year of planning and having a wedding, finding and buying a house, I only recently came around to having time to go on the course.
Leiths is famed for being one of the most prestigious cooking schools in London, if not the UK, so courses ranged from bread and cake making, to Indian cuisine and everything in between. But for me the choice was clear.

As previously discussed, I have an entirely unhealthy and obsessive relationships with pasta.
This is a slightly abusive union as is well known, it has a deactivating quality that makes the diner want to curl up and have a little nap immediately after eating it.
This characteristic is so threatening and dangerous that Fillipo Marinetti, a writer who founded the Futurist movement, sought to ban pasta in 1930 because it "led to lassitude, pessimism and general absence of get-up-and-go".
Whilst this is true, a night out on the vino rosso leads to, the more dangerous, face-in-pillow syndrome and I certainly wouldn't want to do away with that.
So, throwing all pasta caution to the wind, I attended Leith's pasta workshop, armed with tupperware and an only slightly dirty apron.

The instructors were affable, patient and made the phrase 'waiting for the pop' (very posh pasta-making terminology) seem almost totally serious.

I've attended a few courses over the years but nothing quite as informative, or, extensive as Leiths.
Our group of thirteen watched the instructor prepare three pasta dishes from scratch, before, in pairs, recreating each one ourselves, with help provided as and when needed.
We made a betroot and goats cheese ravioli, a fresh flower open lasagne with a creamy mushroom sauce and parsley ravioli with prawns.

Wild Flower Open Lasagne w/ Mushroom Cream Sauce

Whilst these recipes will exist in cooking books, the art of making pasta seems to be something you need to be guided through. No book can quite tell you the exact science of what the dough should feel like when it's ready, or, the best technique for using a pasta machine. It's the sort of thing you need to learn in person from someone who knows what their talking about so, unless you have an Italian Nonna locked away in the cupboard kitchen (you shouldn't do this) Leiths is the next best thing.

All the items were helpfully packed away before the workbenches were turned into a dining table so that we could eat one of the items we made and glug some wine to recover from all the hard work.
At £140 for the day course it's not cheap but there are a few extras thrown in, coffee and pastries on arrival, wine with lunch, a recipe book and the luxury of having someone else do all the washing up.

What's more, having never made pasta before, in just under five hours I learnt the recipes from memory. Now, I can make pink/flowery pasta at home which really does make me feel very clever indeed and who can put a price on that?

For courses visit Leiths

These look like plasticine Stegosaurous but are actually ravioli

Betroot and goats cheese ravioli

Monday, 28 October 2013

Meat & Shake, Tooting Bec

A lot of people tell you about how stressful buying a house is. It's just one of those things, like weddings and break-ups, that you go into knowing you may, somewhere in between searching for your dream home and realising your going to have to settle for an ex-local authority one-bed in Croydon, become a raving lunatic.
I accepted that and having not very long ago carefully packed away my bridezilla tiara, prepared to gain a house-hunting-bitch hat.
What I did not expect is the effect buying a house has on your diet.
With every evening spent viewing awful flats came the inevitable, I'm-going-to-kill-myself-if-I-have-to-meet-another-estate-agent comfort meal. Which, as you are usually a long tube journey away from where you actually live and in a rush, means fast food.
For me and the area I was trying to buy in, the nearest late-night pit stop was Pizza Hut
How can I declare myself a foodie and eat at Pizza Hut? Well, it started with a group viewing of a bedsit in the dark because there was no electricity and ended with a mouse running over my foot.
By the time I heard the estate agent mutter the words 'desirable location,' as I watched someone cycle past us with what I can only guess was a stolen TV, I was ready to kill myself with every type of complex carb.
Now our house hunt has finally come to an end I'm a good dress size larger and through lack of any good food, have been blogging MIA.
So, how did I celebrate finding a tiny little London shoebox to call my own? With more comfort food, except this time some really good stuff.
For the whole time I've lived here Tooting has been a bit barren for good places to eat if you weren't after Indian. Mirch Masala has long been hailed the best Indian in South London but recently a few gastro pubs have popped up like The Antelope and there is now the tapas restaurant at Graveney and Meadow.
But the area is transforming and following 2013's obsession with poshed up American fare, Tooting has it's very own burger joint to add to the mix, Meat & Shake.
As a resident of the area, although not for much longer, I can vouch for the genuine excitement that surrounded the opening of Meat & Shake, not least for all the home owners around here who took it as another sign the area is going the way of Balham et al.
From my experience, Meat & Shake did not disappoint and although I'll soon be moving, I'm coming back just to Tooting just to visit this place.
The focus is definitely on the burgers, along with the usual, cheese, bacon, caramelised onions, other toppings include tacos, turkey bacon and aoili. More unusual offerings were the lamb'ardo, a lamb patty served with feta cheese, pickled onions, sweet pepper yoghurt and coriander. Or, the mouthwatering rib & cheese, pulled beef rib, montery jack cheese and barbecue sauce.
Hot dogs, ribs and wings are also on offer as well as an intriguing grilled beef bone marrow served with crostini.
Shakes, as the name suggests are taken seriously here, it was definitely a beer day for me but my husband told me, through slurps and after wiping the white ring off his beard, that the Oreo milkshake is incredible.
We went for the meat & shake (£8.90) beef patty, cheese, tomato, matchstick fries, turkey bacon, stanton sauce and the johnny (£7.90) beef patty, sauteed onions, creamy mushrooms and swiss cheese.
They were served in delicate, soft brioche buns and though the dressings were delicious, the real star, as it should be, was the burger, which is ground on site freshly every day.
The fries (£2.50) were thin and soft but the real stonking side is the onion rings (£3) which are perfect. Light and crispy instead of dense and greasy, the onion is soft and almost caramelised inside.
I never imagined I would be telling people to go out of there way to visit Tooting if they want a good meal but Meat & Shake is worth the burger commute.
Not only are the burgers better than most of the over-hyped places in central but you won't have to queue for ages, the atmosphere is relaxed and the service couldn't have been better.
I guess it would be silly not to visit the place as much as possible whilst I still live here.
See, moving house really is bad for the waistline.

Meat & Shake on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 September 2013

Brunch - Balthazar, Covent Garden.

As soon as it was confirmed that London would be home to it's very own Balthazar, an extremely popular French inspired brasserie in New York, expectations began to grow.
When it finally opened and food critics scrabbled to be the first to review it, the accounts weren't exactly positive.
Jay Rayner said "Balthazar has arrived in a cloud of hype, a shame then that it fails to live up to expectations".
Zoe Williams said the food was "undistinguished" and Giles Coren gave the food a 0 out of ten in his review.

Before it had even opened I was a bit bored of hearing about it and by the time it was physically possible for norms like me to get a table I had been convinced by the reviews I had read that it was a massive dissapointment.
The whirl of excitement was over before I had even got close to enjoying it. A bit like when I got into the Lost TV series, a year after everyone else, only to find, after devoting whole days to binge on the programme, that everyone else was over it.
So, I can't say I went into Balthazar with a huge amount of expectation when I visited for brunch this weekend. However, perhaps naively, I assumed that whilst the dinner service had come in for heavy criticism they surely wouldn't struggle to provide a more than adequate brunch.

The decor is like an upmarket Cafe Rouge, with it's false 'authentic' French feel most prominent in the yellowed wallpaper made to look as if it's absorbed a century of Gaelic chain smoking.
It had the rousing hustle and bustle you would expect from a brasserie set right in the heart of Covent Garden, at the weekend. Although, the majority of the activity was by the fleet of waiting staff, colliding, crashing and fumbling over the brunch service.
Our waitress was affable and cheerful but she seemed to be juggling too many tables which lead to myself and diners around me receiving our coffee and teas after we had finished our food.
I ordered the scrambled eggs with Cornish crab (£11.50) and my partner had the New York pancakes with banana (£8).

Having walked past the Balthazar bakery next door, on the way to the restaurant, we opted to try their breakfast pastries based on how impressive the bounty in the bakery window is.
When they arrived the pastries were cold. At the risk of sounding like a right diva, a cold pain au chocolat, or, croissant is a devastating thing. You take each bite knowing how much better it would taste if it had been warmed up and the delicate layers of pastry were crispy rather than hard.
Le Panier (£15) consisted of one pain au chocolat, one plain croissant, one almond croissant, a pain au raisin, some rye bread and a white flute. All were cold and extremely average especially considering the price. 
The 'selection of homemade jams, marmalades and hazelnut chocolate spread,' did not arrive. After ten minutes of fighting to get the attention of the waiting staff we received a strawberry and raspberry jam (nice enough but definitely not superior to the Tiptree brand I buy in the supermarket and a marmalade (the star of the breakfast it was zingy and fresh). The other spread never arrived and no-one explained why.

The second part of our breakfast arrived (my tea didn't) and it was also cold.
The crab was clearly good quality but because the eggs were cold (partly thanks to the large dollup of creme fraiche on top) it was impossible to enjoy.
What had probably been a light and fluffy brioche was, by the time I received it, a lump of dough sodden with cold eggy residue and absorbed crab juices.
The pancakes were enjoyable but no more than those served at The Breakfast Club for half the price.
When we had finished our food and it had been cleared away my tea arrived.
All credit to our waitress, she removed the cost from the bill and was very apologetic but really, as a basic right, breakfast should come with tea, I mean, i'm pretty sure even inmates aren't deprived of  tea with their sloppy porridge.
Balthazar will continue to be busy because of it's location and recognisable brand but I wonder how many diners will be returning guests.
Next time I fancy an indulgent breakfast I'll return to The Wolsey, always sublime and they care about tea far too much to forget to serve it.

Balthazar on Urbanspoon

Monday, 9 September 2013

Italian Pulled Pork

I've always loved cooking, ever since I was a little girl. 

Grabbing a bunch of vegetables to cook from our family vegetable patch, baking cupcakes that I could decorate with hundreds and thousands, my very first dinner party which I produced when I was seven and contained a completely random combination of ingredients but everyone ate happily because I had been so thoughtful.

Or so they thought.

In truth, whilst I loved cooking, I worked out pretty early on that mixing a few things in the kitchen, fluffing some flour about and looking busy can pretty much get you off the hook for doing anything else at all.

It seemed pretty obvious to me that cooking was far more fun than doing chores and by doing one I could avoid the other.

As I teenager I escaped having to do the washing up by baking cakes and as an adult I have alluded most domestic duties by distracting my Husband (still getting used to writing that) with delicious things to eat.

Every now and then, usually when he's cleaning the bathroom, or, chasing me around the sitting room with a hoover, he realises that he's been hoodwinked into cleaning the entire house with the promise of a home cooked meal.

It's at this point, when he's just about to insist I take the bins out, or something similarly horrible, that I bring out the big guns....Man food.

This is how I came to cook this Italian pulled pork last week, in freshly baked baguettes, with melted mozzarella and wilted spinach, to basically distract my husband from the fact I don't do any cleaning.

The next morning I reheated some of the pork and served it on brioche with a poached egg for breakfast. So, that should keep him sweet for a week at least.


I adapted a recipe from Saveur which is the BEST recipe website in the world, even if you do have to translate the Americanisms and work out what the hell a broiler is (it's basically a grill pan and what we call a grill). I kept my pork shoulder whole instead of butterflying and used mozzarella cheese instead.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Chubbily Ever After

I have been MIA for some time having been kidnapped by my own wedding.

A need to fit in a very tight vintage wedding dress meant I had to...with much regret....go on a diet. As a result, my love for umptious piles of gluttonous yum had to be forefeited for months of 'fry lite,' fat-free and teeny mouse-sized portions of food.

Well huzzah. I have a ring on my finger and a burger in my hand. Ding dong the witch is dead and I can eat until my little fat-clodden heart is content!

Almost as soon as I said 'I do' I was wolfing down as many canapes as I could lay my emaciated (possibly a slight exaggeration) hands on. Our wedding reception was spent with me manically eating everything, only taking my focus away from chewing every now and then to randomly shout things like, "GOD I'VE MISSED CAMEMBERT," between mouthfuls.  As in most of my life, I was a vision of elegance and beauty.

On honeymoon the ladylike dining habits continued and after eating my way through Indonesia I was lucky enough to get to do some cooking in Lombok during a lesson with The Lombok Lodge's Chef Jiwa.

Cooking overlooking the beach was certainly more exotic than doing it back in my cramped flat in South London but I'm hoping to recreate these when I get home.

I'm also pretty stoked that I can now pig out forever and ever, happily every after, so will be posting lots of restaurant reviews and recipes over the next few weeks!

Prawn skewer with a tomato and lime foam

Coconut, Prawn and Clam Soup

Coral Fish Confit with AMAZING mashed potato