Thursday, 26 November 2009


A few years ago a dear friend bought me the Moro cookbook. This was when I'd just moved back from the culinary wasteland of Germany (you would not believe how terrible supermarkets are there) and I was beginning to get into cooking big time with my flatmates. I was excited to be back in London - land of farmers' markets, normal markets, global food options. I delighted in skipping up Seven Sisters Road to get the generous bundles of fresh herbs, slightly exotic vegetables and fish to make Moro meals. I read about the restaurant time after time in the Observer Food Monthly and in Time Out, I walked past it countless times, I eyed up the menu online. For our birthdays (in June and July), my partner and I decided we would treat ourselves to a meal at Moro. And last weekend, at the end of November, we finally did!

It all started simply, with delicious sour dough bread olive oil. We munched on that while we contemplated the short, but perfectly mouthwatering menu.

It's worth saying that the service is impeccable at Moro. It was a busy Friday night, the restaurant was bustling with contented, enthused punters and they could easily have been hurrying us along, but were friendly, informal and attentive. We finally settled on a selection of sherries - not the kind of sherries that your grandma drinks too much of at Christmas, but exciting, delicate, interesting sherries served perfectly chilled. The website describes them like so:

"Try this selection to discover the sheer deliciousness of bone dry sherry, from the salty sea breeze tang of Manzanilla, through the more pungent, assertive Fino, finishing with the more complex Manzanilla Pasada whose rock pool aromas are overlaid with subtle nutty age."

For starter I had a pumpkin kibbeh stuffed with sweetly spiced onions, raisins and chick peas. It was served with a radish and pomegranate salad and musky seasoned yoghurt.

Pete had swiss chard stalks with raisins and anchovies. It was earthy, salty and sweet all in one.

My main course was strips of charcoal grilled lamb, served with a smoky, spicy aubergine and bulgur wheat pilav and a shredded cabbage and yoghurt salad. It really was just heaven on a plate - the combination of flavours were perfectly balanced, the meat was super quality and the charcoal imparted just the right amount of smokiness.

Pete had woodroasted pheasant breast, served with onions caremalised in Pedro Ximenez and braised cabbage. I should also say that the wine list was excellent, with a really broad, well-chosen selection of wines by the glass. We had a glass of Gotim Bru and a glass of Mestizaje (described as mid-weight modernist!).

For dessert it had to be the classic Moro yoghurt cake with pistachio and pomegranate seeds. It's something I've made from the Moro recipe book before, so I was keen to try it as it should be. I was pleased to find that my own version wasn't too far off the mark, but this was just stunning: sweet, sour, fruity, nutty, and perfectly paired with a glass of Vino Dulce de Moscatel!

I can honestly say that it was one of the best meals of my entire life. It was a faultless experience, the food and the wine were out of this world, the atmosphere was warm and happy, and punters and waiters alike were equally enthused about the food. Now - to try and replicate at home!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

A little something Caucasian...

In 2007 I spent a month in New York following the end of my finals. I spent every day exploring different neighbourhoods and their unique culture and culinary offerings. One day I went to Coney Island and ate the famous hotdogs from Nathan's on the boardwalk. I walked along the other side of the Atlantic a few blocks and ended up at the other Brighton Beach, a Russian enclave known as Little Odessa. All the street and shop signs were written in Cyrillic characters and when I went into a CD shop I was greeted in Russian. My trusty Time Out guide recommended a Georgian restaurant.

It was the most surreal meal of my life. The restaurant was cavernous and plush, like an empty Las Vegas casino. We were the only people in the restaurant, though the waiters were loading up a massive banqueting table behind us for a diaspora feast.

We started with a kind of Georgian mezze and it was then that I fell in love with Georgian cuisine. Positioned between Russia and Turkey, the influences of both cuisines were beautifully present in the dishes. Copious amounts of dill, parsley and coriander were in the spinach salad, pureed beetroot, potato salad and med veg salad, with ground walnuts adding a earthy richness to the former and dotted with gem-like pomegranate seeds. It really was a flavour explosion.

We drunk traditional Georgian semi-sweet red wine - the vineyards are supposedly the oldest in the world and the wine is just so beautiful, rich, complex, ancient. Fairly typical in Georgian cuisine is to serve food at room temperature - for my main I had spring chicken in a walnut sauce, one of the most exquisite and satisfying thing I've ever tasted. All the while a singer sang hi-NRG Slavic ballads to the almost empty room, adding to the otherworldliness of this periphery of New York City.

London has a couple of Georgian restaurants. For a traditional meal, go to Tbilisi on Holloway Road; a restaurant I love so much that I will blog about it in its own right some point soon. Little Georgia near Broadway Market is also good, though a little bit lighter during the day. My mum gave me a Georgian recipe book for Christmas last year and I try and cook a mini feast every now and then.

Recently, with the aide my lovely Magimix, I was able to re-create the chicken satsivi (walnut sauce). I served it with rice and a salad of roasted med veg, dressed in red wine vinegar, fenugreek, ground coriander and lots of fresh herbs. Delicious. Recipe here.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Japanese food: super kawaii!!

When I think about what I do and don't know about food, I realise just how much I don't know. Japanese cuisine is one that I am keen to get to know better. Various friends and colleagues have 'got into it' and invested in Sushi sets and the whole 'nother world of stock cupboard ingredients you need to make it well. A friend whose brother spent a few years in Japan took me to the Japan Centre at Picadilly Circus. I was amazed to find a veritable superstore of all things Japanese - fresh noodles and soups, chiller cabinets with ready meals, a world of dry goods and, downstairs, a bookshop.

At the bookshop we bought our friend Sabrina a cookbook on Japanese pub food, Izakaya. It tells you all about the very particular and interesting pub food and culture in Japan and, when I went to a new Japanese pub in Clerkenwell, the Crane and Tortoise in August, I was able to tell my co-drinker all about it! Basically, it's a bit like tapas - lots of fried little snacks with exciting Japanese condiments, like wasabi mayonnaise. We had deep fried octopus balls, pork dumplings, and some more conventional potato wedges:

I also went to check out Ikura on Haverstock Hill with my Belsize Park-dwelling chum Tamara who loves raw fish and raves about the endorphins she gets from it. The restaurant is all sleek black and red interiors, but not at all pretentious and expensive. I'm told the food is very authentic, too. We started with delicious spicy grilled octopus, chewy and smoky, just how I like it.

While Tamara gorged on raw fish...

...I opted for a more low-key brothy udon noodles. It was earthy and... gosh, I don't know if I have the vocabulary to describe Japanese food! It made me think of Murakami books - food always features throughout them and I remember various times when a character has been schlurping on udon noodles in the middle of the night in some 24-hour cafe. That strange, somehow health-giving seaweedy taste, the salty both and the bizarre addition of reconstituted seafood bits; it's all other worldly and evocative of Murakami, which is a good thing.

The food was delicious; words fail me right now, but Ikura was good, wholesame, low key and affordable.

After some more sushi for lunch today I have resolved to learn more about Japanese cooking in 2010 and maybe some of it will end up here!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

My Portuguese sweet tooth

My adventures in Portugal at the beginning of July seem like a million miles away with autumn in London getting into full sway. But I'm not too far from Lisboa Delicatessen in Camden where I can buy great pasteis de nata and bring it all back. Looking through my food pictures from Portugal, it struck me how many different Portuguese puddings there are and how integral they are to the cuisine.

Pastries or pasteis are a big part of everyday life in Portugal. Every neighbourhood or town, however grand or scruffy, will have at least one decent pastelaria, where locals will stand at the long bar to have a quick bica (espresso) and a pastry of some sort. When we were in Portugal, we noticed that 3-5pm was a very popular time to engage in this ritual.

The most famous pasteis is the pasteis de nata, or 'Portuguese custard tarts' as some call them. I don't like that description - it puts them on the same level as those insipid chemical custard tarts pensioners buy from supermarkets. Anyway. I had at least 10 in my 14 days in Portugal, and none were better than from the world famous pastelaria in Belem. We had three between the two of us and I could have eaten a couple more!

We visited the town of Sintra, which is full of elegant and dramatic palaces on top of mountains, and were sure to try their local delicacies. These are called queijadas de Sintra and are made with fresh portuguese cheese and sugar and egg and cinammon and have a slightly pungent savoury taste to them, in a good way.

Watching locals ordering and eating is an almost foolproof way of making sure you get a real local taste, so after eating our queijadas, we ordered one of these pastries which was filled with the same cheesy mix as the queijadas. Also delicious.

Pasteis de coco are another popular treat. It's another egg based pastry, this time with coconut and a cherry on top. Ah!

When we were in the Alentejan city of Evora we shared a hefty slice of chocolate cake made by the nuns in the convent. It was as rich and gooey and lovely as it looks.