Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Namaaste Kitchen - The Parkway, Camden NW1

Camden isn’t normally the first place I’d head for a curry.  So when we got the invite down to try Namaaste Kitchen I didn’t really know what to expect.  It’s been a long time since I’ve actively headed that way for anything other than a drink.

So it seemed like a good idea to check out the area properly and in day light.  The restaurant is actually surprisingly easy to find and less than five minutes after from the tube on the Parkway. It’s definitely a little haven of tranquillity away from the crowds flocking to the Market to say the least.

We caught the end of a Saturday lunch service but quite a few people were still sat eating and chatting so the atmosphere was good. After we got our drinks we got down to the difficult task of deciding on the food.

The menu is broken up into starters, mains and grill sections. Whilst I concentrated on the Grill section the Lady looked at the rest. I can’t resist lamb chops so it was difficult for me to decide where to go...

Starter wise we went for the Kadhai Spiced Pan Seared Scallops and Chingree Samosa. The Scallops were well cooked and lightly spiced, anything more would have taken away from the natural flavour and sweetness so less was definitely more where they were concerned.

The Samosa’s were good but the home made pastry case let them down as it was slightly thick in places. The filling was rich and well spiced and I loved the use of Prawns. I couldn’t help thinking though that I would have been happier with a couple of larger Samosa.

Onto the mains and in the end I decided to go for the Kebab Platter, I hope that tells you all you need to know about me... It had a Lamb Cutlet, Sheek Kebab, Malal and Salmon Tikka. The Lady chose the Pan Seared Monkfish Tail and we shared one of the Dhal’s as well.

The marinades and sauces on the Kebabs were light, fresh and really tasty. The Lamb Cutlet and Sheek were really good and I’d definitely come back for them. The Salmon was perfectly cooked and the Chicken was tender. It was a very well put together plate of food.

The Lady’s Monkfish looked pretty good as well but with the Kebab, the Dhal and some pretty tasty Naan bread I was too busy try it... Namaaste Kitchen is definitely a good example of how fresh modern Indian cooking can be.

Would I come back if I was paying? Yes, definitely. Though I’d come back at night to enjoy a few drinks round Camden afterwards as well...

Namaaste Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Pizza News - V I Pizza at Prezzo

Last Thursday I was invited to try the new V I Pizza from Prezzo.  This new range is a collaboration with Aldo Zilli so I dutifully popped along, in the name of science of course, to check them out.

Walking through the door I was greeted with Prosecco and I knew immediately it was my kind of event!  The pizza swiftly followed so I got stuck in, mingled and knocked back a couple of cheeky drinks.

The Pizzas come in four varieties – Meat/Fish/Veg and Light...  You can also go North and South which is half meat half veggie.  Looks wise they are very similar to the Zizzi Rustica offering but thankfully the similarity ends there. 

I have been known to be a bit of a pizza snob but I couldn't fault these at all.  The toppings are fresh, the bread thin and crisp basically everything was spot on.  I really loved the meat pizza, great spicy sausages and fresh chilli; I could have quite happily eaten a whole one!

I was really surprised by the fish pizza I have to say.  Normally when you put prawns into a Pizza oven you’d expect to pull out some little pink bullets but these were perfectly cooked.

After to speaking with Paul Lewis, the Prezzo Executive Chef, I got a really good feeling for the development process as well.  Zilli was very hands on and it’s clear that both these guys really do love their pizza.

The evening was fantastic and I stayed far longer than I should have.  It ended drinking Sambuca with the kitchen team...  I woke up drunk on Friday, smelling of pizza and thinking it was Saturday.  It was not a great start to the day but it made me smile all the same!

Monday, 14 March 2011

Captain Beef-heart Curry

I love the idea of nose to tail eating, wasting nothing from animal’s appeals as I’m essentially a very thrifty person!  Heart for me these days is a rare treat though and can sometimes be on the pricey side.

When I was in kitchens professionally most butchers were more than happy to throw a couple my way.  The odd cow heart was always seen as a chef’s treat when you are spending a fortune on meat every day.  You can understand then why I'm loath to pay for them these days...

That said I’ve been aching to cook one for ages now so with the help of Marky Market I got one ordered and delivered to work.  There’s nothing quite like walking through a packed office with a cow’s heart in a clear plastic bag...

This recipe owes more to french cooking than it does Indian (ignoring the fact we are cooking a cows heart here) due to the addition stock and the slow but quite heavy reduction.  The end result though is a punchy sauce and tender but very beefy meat.

1 Cow’s heart – Mine was 3 kilos in weight and Mark reliably informs me it was fresh from a Dexter that morning.
3 medium Onions - Sliced
2 tins of Chopped Tomatoes
500 ml of Beef Stock
2 tbsp of Chilli Powder
2 tbsp of Coriander Seeds
2 tbsp of Cumin Seeds
1 tbsp of Turmeric
1 tbsp of Cinnamon
4 Cardamom Pods
4 cloves
A handful of Black Peppercorns
4 tbsp of ghee or vegetable oil

Butchering the heart takes a while; you’ll need a couple of very sharp knives.  I’d recommend a filleting knife and a smaller paring knife to do the fiddly bits.  When deciding what’s good to use and what’s for the bin always consider “Would I want that in my mouth?”

Pull off the membrane; remove the valves and hard white fat from the outside.  Work methodically and thoroughly through the meat and you’ll end up 3 or 4 steak sized lumps of meat.  Then chop this into cubes and leave it to one side for now. 

You know when you are done when it stops looking like a horror movie and starts to look like food!  Start the cooking by getting a heavy pan on the heat and toasting the Coriander and Cumin seeds lightly.  Put all the spices and the seeds in a small blender or spice grinder and blitz thoroughly.

Slice your onions, put them in a large pan with the oil and soften on the heat but don’t colour them.  Throw in your spice mix to start to cook them for a few minutes.  Doing this allows the sometimes harsh dry spices to mellow and come to life again.

Now after four or five minutes on a gentle heat add your meat.  I’m not colouring this first as I don’t want to make the meat go tough by putting too much heat into it early on.  Let it cook gently for a few minutes in the spices and add the rest of your wet ingredients.

Cook this down for a good four or five hours on a low heat.  You want to liquid to reduce by about half and you’ll be left with a deeply flavoured sauce and tender flesh.  It’s good now but even better after a day or so in the fridge.

Serve with plain rice, a good home made crunchy onion bhaji and a cold lager!  If you are a bit on the squeamish side maybe try this with some stewing steak first or some shin both would work equally as well.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Kuchi - Gippstrasse, Mitte, Berlin

We almost didn’t come here...  The last thing I wanted to have was bad sushi on holiday and I wasn’t sure it was worth the risk.The Lady wanted something healthy though and after several days of eating Curry Wurst my stomach and I had to agree.

Kuchi like most of Berlin’s establishments is well hidden off the beaten track.  This might have had more to do with my somewhat drunken map reading but it did take us quite a while to find.

When we did find it we were both more than pleasantly surprised.  Kuchi feels young, friendly and very trendy.  The decor is minimal with splashes of eastern charm dotted about the place and there was a good crowd on the Sunday night we’d visited.

The menu is varied and it seems they’ve taken influence from most of the orient.  I’ve got to say this normally rings alarm bells to be honest.  Huge menus mean huge stock and that usually means stuff sits around longer than it should if you aren’t careful.

I could see into the open kitchen though, just two guys working like machines turning out plate after plate of beautiful food and my confidence was well restored.

We went for the Dim-Sum starter.  Six pieces on seasonal rotation the menu said which could have meant anything really.

I was really pleased we’d gone for them though, they were delicious and easily the best dim-sum I’ve ever had.  Silky parcels filled with intensely flavoured meats, seafood and veg.  I wanted more immediately!

Mains wise the lady had chosen the Imperial Sushi plate, a huge selection of some very fine sushi indeed.  The Tuna was top class, the rolls fantastically constructed and tasted really good.  I’m not a massive sushi buff but the Lady was very happy.

One thing that did strike me as odd though was the Sushi Prawns...  Literally raw prawns albeit well presented and well prepared prawns.  The texture was interesting, the flesh sweet but I think I need to try them again to decide whether I like it or not...

The main event for me was the Yaki-tori, little skewers of grilled meaty goodness, with rice and Kimchi.  I’d gone for the Chicken skin, heart and breast as well as Pork Belly and Lamb.  Now for me meat plus grill equals perfection so I was well pleased.

The Chicken Hearts were really tender, like juicy thigh meat and perfectly cooked.  The Pork Belly was again beautiful and the Lamb was pretty good as well.

The Chicken Skin was incredibly crunchy and I honestly thought it was Pork Crackling to start with which was a shame as I’d kind of wanted some slightly chewy skin to gnaw on.

All in all the meal was fantastic, service was efficient but could possibly be described as indifferent at times.  Possibly as half way through I didn't even bother trying to speak German but over all the positives far outweigh any minor negatives!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Proper Lancashire Hot Pot

I love a bit of neck!  It’s a woefully under used cut of meat but deliciously good to cook with.  It has a near perfect mix of fat and meat which lends it well to a variety of cooking techniques.  I love slow cooking it but it grills or fries well and is a good substitute for chops or cutlets for a cheaper meal.

For me Mutton has the most flavour but it’s easier to get hold of rocking horse shit than a good bit of Mutton these days without knowing a good butcher.  If you do your shop at a reputable supermarket you’ll easily find Lamb neck and its ideal for a Lancashire hot pot.

The humble hot pot is part of that dying breed of traditional British food.   Sadly it’s not that fashionable anymore and disappearing from menus across the country in favour of more cosmopolitan dishes.

This recipe takes a bit of time to cook but the preparation is simple and the finished dish is definitely worth the wait.  It’s great for Sundays instead of a roast and in my opinion it’s a bit of a treat.

2 Lamb Neck Fillets
2 Good Sized Carrots
1 Good sized Swede
1 Parsnip
1 Large Onion
500ml of well reduced Lamb Stock (you can use beef or chicken if you have fresh or you can get away with a couple of cubes if you have to...)
1 Large Potato for the topping
Butter to brown the meat and some left over to glaze the potato.

Start by peeling everything apart from the potato, chop it all into 1 inch cubes and put to the side.  Chop the neck into 1 inch rounds and dust in seasoned flour.  Get a pan onto the heat and melt a knob of the butter in the pan.  Throw your meat into the pan to brown well on all sides.

Add your vegetables for a minute to put some colour on them as well.  Throw in your stock and cook down till the veg has begun to soften.  It’s at this point you want to then transfer this into an oven proof dish or “HOT POT”. 

Peel and slice the potato into as fine rounds as you can.  If I was in a professional kitchen I’d have used a Mandolin for this and probably lost the end of my fingers but you want the slices to be as paper thin as you can get it...

Arrange the potato in an aesthetically pleasing manner to form a lid and glaze with a little melted butter.  Put the meaty goodness in the oven for an hour or so on a medium heat and sit back and relax.  Serve with something green and preferably a pint of bitter!

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Bird - Amfalk Platz, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

Until I’d moved to London and tried the delights of the #Meateasy and the like there is no way you’d have ever got me in a boiger joint on holiday.  I just wouldn’t have actively sought out an American restaurant but I’m really glad we took the time to find The Bird!

This bare brick neighbourhood joint is tucked out of the way just off the Schonhauser Allee but well worth a visit.  Just walking in the door you know you’ve made the right choice as the atmosphere is buzzing.

On our visit it was rammed, you couldn’t even stand at the bar...  Thankfully the hostess offered to take our number and call when a table was free.  Already I loved the service and we hadn’t even been sat yet.

Thirty minutes later and we were back through the door and being guided to our table.  They don’t fuck around here and within minutes we’ve got beers and are ordering food!

Timeout tells us that The Bird is owned by New Yorkers and judging by the menu they are straight out of Brooklyn…  The burgers come medium rare, you start off with the Ghetto Burger and work up from there. 

Add cheese and it’s the Ghetto deluxe.  The Big Crack is a meaty take on the McDonalds classic, You want it all?  Well that’s Da Woiks and you kinda get the picture. 

We start with a portion of the wings; a disclaimer on the menu tells us they used to be buffalo but you can’t always get the ingredients so now they are just plain old wings.  They are simple, spicy and moist!  They are exactly what I want them to be.

What about the burger then?  I went for the Ghetto Deluxe and added bacon.  It would have been rude not to really?

The meat is juicy, well seasoned and there is lots of it.  The patties thick and really well cooked.  The American cheese on my deluxe oozes round the meat and spills out onto my hands as I get hold of my prey.

The bun, if you can call it that, turns out to be a muffin.  This is one thing that lets the otherwise perfect meal down but it stays together well and defiantly absorbs a lot of the juices.

The fries are hand cut and as you can see there are acres of them.  They do not get eaten despite being delicious as the burger alone is enough to fill me up.

The price for this massive feast?  Well with four beers it was barely above forty euro so it’s gentle on the wallet as well.  Definitely one to try for the hungry tight-fisted traveller.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

How not to do Berlin...

Berlin doesn't need much of an introduction for most people.  Centre of some of the most dramatic events of the last century it's a city that has dealt with a lot of change.  It’s seen some dark days and still has the wounds to show it but I think this makes it all the more interesting.

Old and new sit comfortably next to each other and modern Berlin is vibrant, young and definitely very confident.  It’s easy to forget that only a little over twenty years ago it was divided by a huge great wall!

I’ve just got back from five days there and I think I barely scratched the surface.  With so many bars, clubs and galleries there is a lot to see.  It's almost like a cleaner, friendlier East London at times!  Food is odd one though...

The pig is king here and Wurst is a staple and you’ll have probably heard about Schnitzel as well?  It’s technically Austrian but they love it in Germany...  Cheese dumplings were a new one on me though, Käseknödel mit Parmesan sauce anyone?  Exactly!

Weird cheese-balls aside there is a lot of good food available if you know where to look.  Grab a guide book and jump on the U-Bahn and you can get some amazing treats but more on those later!  I'll write some reviews of the places I think you should try soon, so you don't have to make the same mistakes as me.

In the mean time though you can check out some of my more interesting photos over at hownottodoa.tumblr over the next few days or so as well.