Category Archives: Brunch

Circle of friends. A Birthday Month celebration

I turned thirty in London. It was a potentially horrid day – not only had I seen enough girlfriends turn thirty, depressed and surly, it was going to be the first birthday I would spend with absolutely no family or best friends with me. Until this year I never really gave birthdays much thought beyond presents, guest lists and a dress budget.

There wasn’t much I could do about turning thirty but I was determined not to get depressed or surly. So I came up with Birthday Month – why wait an entire year for just one day when I could celebrate an entire month filled with my favourite things? This year Birthday Month featured a day on London Underground’s Circle Line. The original version of this concept included youngsters getting out at every stop on this tube line for a pint. Instead, I picked favourite restaurants, cool bars and added a few boozers (as homage to the original concept). I also made up a few rules:

  • Eat or drink only one thing at each stop.
  • Everyone must have one alcoholic drink at least every third stop.
  • We won’t stop at every stop…
  • …and may walk for some of the journey.

Emails sent, announcements tweeted, phone calls made… this Table for One was looking forward to sharing her table with a new circle of friends.

Stop 1: Liverpool Street: Dishoom Shoreditch

I was seven minutes late for our 11.30am start, and boy was I glad not to be punctual. Arrive on time and I would have missed out on this debonair welcome party!

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Stop 1 had us eating Bacon Naan Rolls (Nayan, Martin, John and Thomas), Vada Pav (Naman), Nankhatai and Jeera Biscuits (Serena) and Akuri (me), There were also many cups of chai, a bloody mary and a few Kingfisher beers on the table.

I may have said this before but I’ll say it again. Dishoom’s Bacon Naan Roll is one of the most delicious pieces of genius I have ever tasted. A fluffy naan, crispy bacon, chilli jam and cream cheese. What’s not to love?!

Stop 2: Farringdon: Vinoteca

My original choice for this stop was Burger & Lobster but they didn’t open until 4pm and we had to improvise. Many thanks to our resident winemaker Nayan, for suggesting Vinoteca. It was only right that he chose our drink for this stop – a beautiful prosecco that went down (too) well.

A common Twitter acquaintance introduced me to Nayan Gowda and my first meeting with him was spent in a (different) wine bar. I have to admit, that if you had asked me then whether Nayan and I would become friends, my honest answer would have been no. He was charming beyond words and I spent the entire afternoon wondering if I may be a tad boring for him. Our worlds seemed so different… until I decided to take us both out of these tiny boxes I had trapped us in. Today I am thrilled to be able to call Nayan a friend. A great one.

Stop 3: King’s Cross St. Pancras: Wine Pantry

The Wine Pantry is the cutest new wine and spirit bar and serves purely British products. It is also where I came up with my version of the Circle Line day. We lost Serena to a working Saturday, and were now the Joy of Six who drank Sheep Dip Whisky (John), Old Salt Rum (Naman), Kernel IPA (Nayan), sparkling wine (Martin) and Rhubarb Chase Vodka (me). Thomas cheated and brought in a coffee from next door. Thomas Mielke is my most grown up young friend. From our first holiday together (Budapest in 2007) to our forthcoming trip to NYC (next week) he has been an unwavering pillar in my life. I have not felt so close to someone I am so dissimilar from. Six years later we sometimes resemble a crotchety old couple, and have agreed to disagree on many things (except perhaps my drawing skills).

Just as we were ready to leave we were joined by newlyweds Giulia and Sandy. We were now the Hard Eight!

2013-03-16 14.11.54Stop 4: Euston Square: Mestizo

We had every intention of walking to Euston Square. London rain had other plans for us and the Hard Eight took a rather long tube journey for a rather short distance. Mestizo, one of my favourite Mexican restaurants in town, was chaired by my favourite bartender John Leese. I first met John when he was making cocktails at the Match bar across from my office. Short version of our story: I flirted, he asked for my number, I gave it to him, he took two years to call me!

We may have never been on a date but (now that I have forgiven him for taking his time to call me) I know I can count on John. And I don’t just mean for good cocktails.

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John ordered the group (except Thomas who chose beer, and Martin who wussed it out with water) shots of Olmeca Altos tequila. But this beautiful tequila deserved sipping, and we all had strict instructions not to touch the salt or lime. John seemed to need a personal moment with this drink – as a result of which we got a mini master class (and iPhone-aided slideshow) on agave, mezcal and tequila. We ordered the customary guacamole (photo above by star photographer Giulia) and all agreed that today it was infinitely inferior to the free salsa and chips at the bar.

Stop 5: Great Portland Street: Queen’s Head & Artichoke

Grey clouds gave way to a burst of sunshine and we walked to Stop 5. Giulia and Sandy left us for furniture shopping and we were joined by a frozen Laxmi. It was a round of Timothy Taylor’s ale for everyone at Queen’s Head & Artichoke – a beautifully restored Victorian pub with the friendliest staff I have seen at any pub in the city, and a much needed fireplace.

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Stop 6: Bayswater: Mandarin Kitchen

We lost Thomas to a phone call and John to his job. What you have now, ladies and gentlemen, is the final group that will from hereon be known as the New Famous Five.

It was 4pm and I was craving MSG. The original plan for an Egyptian meal at Edgware Road was abandoned for greasy Chinese at Bayswater. Naman took care of the veggies (aubergine and tofu fried in garlic), Nayan ordered the minced pork with red chillies and Martin made an executive decision about an oyster omelette. All shockingly delicious, considering our location.

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What was shockingly un-delicious was Naman’s choice of rice wine. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so….

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This momentary lapse in judgement aside, Naman Ramachandran’s expertise in food and drink cannot be faulted. I first met Naman nearly ten years ago when my mother published his first book Lights Camera Masala. I have only recently reconnected with him and his fantastic better half Laxmi Hariharan. Many weekends are now spent cooking in each other’s kitchens and I am especially looking forward to my birthday lunch of real Bengali food, personally guided by half-Bong, Naman.

Stop 7: Notting Hill: Kensington Wine Rooms

After the ghastliness our palates were subjected to at the last stop, we demanded proper wine. Good thing Notting Hill Gate and Kensington Wine Rooms’ extensive wine by the glass menu were only one tube stop away. Nayan took charge again and ordered us a delicious bottle of red. I wish I could remember which one it was… It’s the seventh stop and the rules have been well and truly abandoned. Nayan spotted a South African wine made by his friend and ordered a second drink!  We’re definitely not yet drunk but the New Famous Five were now reduced to giggles for pretty much the rest of the day.

Stop 8: South Kensington: Comptoir Libanais

We were hungry again – the Chinese meal had not made a dent in anyone’s appetite. Thankfully Laxmi’s hummus cravings began exactly when we were whizzing past South Kensington and its Comptoir Libanais branch. I have nothing against chains except that unfortunately most abandon any hint of taste or flavour in favour of mass-produced mediocrity. Comptoir Libanais is thankfully different. The hummus and falafel were excellent, Martin, Nayan and Naman were happy with their arak and I loved my Mona cocktail with rose and prosecco.

I announced a new rule at this stop – no phones. So we had no photos, tweets, or people disappearing from the table. For the first time all day I had the chance of a proper chat with Martin. I don’t know if my words can do justice to our relationship. In the six months I have known him, Martin has seen me experience great joy, hit rock bottom, reach out to him, and shun his help. All through this he has been a rock and the best mirror I could have asked for. What more can a girl want? (p.s. Martin Lumsden outblogged me with his artistic view on our Circle Line day; read here.)

Stop 9: Victoria: The Shakespeare

You don’t get more touristy than The Shakespeare at Victoria station. The pub was filled with St. Patrick’s Day revelers and we got our very own four leaf clover.

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Stop 10: Embankment: Wahaca Pop Up

I have a soft spot for Mexican food (it’s the only cuisine to have featured twice on this Circle Line day) and all month long have been looking forward to Wahaca’s pop up on South Bank, and more specifically its fried grasshoppers.

Wahaca is the only restaurant in London to serve this Mexican delicacy. The grasshoppers have an earthy taste flavoured with garlic, smoky chipotle chillies and lime, and served as a baby lasagne smothered with cheese. The insect eaters in the group were not too impressed. There was just not enough grasshopper (or maybe way too much cheese) to have a real notion of what grasshopper must really taste like. Even the other dishes we ordered – guacamole, mushroom quesadilla and pork pibil tacos were strictly average today. We are all Wahaca fans and can only write this off to limitations in their pop kitchen.
2013-03-16 21.42.25The tamarind margaritas on the other hand were ace as usual and Nayan and Martin approved of their mojitos.

One of my favourite views of London is on the walk between South Bank and the Embankment tube station on the Hungerford Bridge. I’m glad this Circle Line day ended here, with my circle of friends, exactly 12 hours since it began.

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I have now had six Birthday Months and wonder why I was so worried about not being with family and best friends. Life always does come to a full circle. It doesn’t happen the way you planned it. But, always better.
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You can view more photos from the day here.

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Birthday Month, Brunch, Chinese, Cocktails, Foodie adventures, Lebanese, London, Mexican, Oysters, Small Plates, Street food, Wine, Wine Bar

To brunch, with love

He left me…” I cry.

Bastard.” said the well meaning friend/parent/sibling.

The first and last time I received a Valentine’s Day anything was when I was 17. Since then I have been in several relationships and as they broke, Hallmark’s most nauseating “holiday” lost its romance for me. The annual appearance of red lingerie in shop windows and Menus for Two at restaurants fills me with irritation – for the stores, the chefs, but mostly for the men who broke my heart.

Each time a relationship ended I was in self-pity heaven and hating them just helped me continue feeling sorry for myself. J Krishnamurti said it best: “So what you are really saying is, ‘As long as you belong to me I love you but the moment you don’t I begin to hate you. As long as I can rely on you to satisfy my demands, sexual and otherwise, I love you, but the moment you cease to supply what I want I don’t like you.’

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Today I am giving up making them wrong. And what better way to bring them back into my happy memories than with a luscious brunch?

Read my blog for One Minute London where, in preparation for Valentine’s Day I revisit three restaurants (Providores, Dishoom & Workshop Coffee Co.) and three romances: http://www.oneminutelondon.com/blog-valentines-day/

Happy Valentine’s Day.

-p

 

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Filed under Aussie, Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee, Indian, London, Tapas

Dock Kitchen. A find

A TV show I watched recently reminded me of something I studied at school. That no matter where we are in the Northern Hemisphere, if we face Polaris we face north. So we always know where we are.

But there are other ways of getting lost. Lost in a job that takes you far away from your dreams. Lost in a relationship that changes you into a person you don’t recognise. Lost, because sometimes it is safer to hide; especially from yourself. Less and less now, but I still find myself lost sometimes.  This time I didn’t know where to look. So I put on my favourite shoes, grabbed my favourite dining companion, and asked him to choose a restaurant for us to go to.

It’s not like me to let TM decide where we eat. Don’t get me wrong, TM is absolutely one of my favourite people in this world, but he isn’t exactly a curious diner. A creature of habit I half expected TM to choose Pizza East. Again. Boy was I wrong!

Dock Kitchen was exactly where I needed to be to unhide from myself. Brand new to me, with no past dining drama, no taste memories, and plenty of sunshine, Dock Kitchen’s home in a converted Victorian Wharf building is a charming retreat in the heart of town. The sunshine that bathed the restaurant’s open kitchen helps a lot, but I think Dock Kitchen has enough personality to even make it special on a dreary day.

After some table tango we found ourselves on the terrace between a dog, someone I can bet is on TV, and a quiet baby. (Also fortunately far away from the ditsy waitress who clearly didn’t know how anything on the menu was prepared). None of that mattered though, once the food arrived.

Prosecco Frizzante (£6.50) and and courgette and aubergine fritters drizzled with honey and chilli (£7) for TM; and a gorgeous Lammershoek  (£7.50) and chicken livers cooked in pomegranate molasses with a lavash bread (£7.50) for me. I love the Persian zeal in this week’s menu, but you cannot put Stevie Parle’s food in a box; with a CV that lists River Café, Petersham Nurseries, and Moro that’s no surprise. But its more than that… I can’t quite put my finger on it just yet, but its more than that.

And then TM chose the lamb biryani (for two at £17.50 each). It looked beautiful. When we broke the dough seal, the saffron floated out of the earthen pot – beautiful. And once we were ready to dig into the prettiness, it tasted… beautiful.

There is so much to come back for. To feed the ducks in the canal, try the cocktails in the Kitchenette Bar, stare longingly at the beautiful things in Tom Dixon’s shop on the lower floor; and collect the piece of me I left behind that day.

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Filed under Brunch, Design, Indian, London, Mediterranean, Open kitchen, Outdoor dining, Wine

Great expectations

I’ve often admonished my mother for putting people in boxes: He’s gay, must be artistic. She likes eating out, must be a foodie. He’s gujju, must be vegetarian.

I’m too harsh. I choose to ignore that maybe she needs these boxes to manage her expectations. Far too often we are told not to expect anything of anyone; apparently, we cause our own heartache by expecting the next person to behave a certain way.

I expect to be included in my childhood friend’s wedding. She expects the vows she made that day to stay true forever. My sister expects me to have answers to all her questions. I expect my new crush to notice me.

So what happens when this doesn’t happen? When a marriage ends in divorce; when siblings don’t stand up for each other just because they are related; when a star chef’s new menu doesn’t dazzle you. What then?

Nopi (for North of Piccadilly) has received only good reviews. Even those who hated it, loved it. I was SO excited about Sunday lunch at Ottolenghi’s new restaurant in Soho. Having spent many happy meals at his kitchen in Islington, I was glad for something closer to home. Gold lamps reflect brightly off the whitewashed and tiled walls, the furniture is simple and waiters, smiley… Nopi’s dining room is like summer.

I started with a North African breakfast dish – Shakshuka – poached eggs with red pepper and tomato (£8.50). The eggs were okay – the tomato was too tart and eggs not eggy enough for me. I moved on to a Kingfish carpaccio with a spice rub (£10). This is an oily fish and really did not need the generous drizzle of olive oil. I couldn’t finish this overpriced dish except for the salad and samphire decorating the plate. I was beginning to lose hope… and ordered a cocktail to help lift the spirits on my table. The grapefruit and lychee cooler with vodka, and mint was clearly the wrong choice. I paid £10 for what mostly tasted of grapefruit juice and lime.

This is not what I expected. I had all but lost hope and then saw burrata on the menu.  Burrata would have to be on my Top 3 cheese list, and Nopi serves it with blood orange and coriander (£12). This Israeli-born chef has single-handedly changed the way I eat vegetarian food – and this dish reminded me exactly why. Finally, a dish that is pitch perfect! Just as I started to smile at my plate again a surly manager asked me to put my camera away. I ordered dessert (sultana financiers with brandy cream (£6.50), but it was too late. Nopi had let me down.

Or did I let myself down by expecting so much from one meal? Should I want less? Concede more? I don’t know the answer yet. What I do know is that my sister’s expectations of me have made me a better sibling. Her expectations of what she wanted for herself have made her a stronger woman. My expectations from a friendship has given my friend the confidence to make demands of me. For now, I want to wait for those moments when not only does someone meet my expectations; they surpass them. I have great expectations.

-p

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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, London, Mediterranean, Restaurant, Soho London, Tapas

Bambai se aaya mera dost

All week long I have tried, unsuccessfully, to write my next Table for ONE at Dishoom – a restaurant inspired by Bombay’s food. Each time I set out on my own the Universe sent along friends, making this post a table for three, four and five. It seems that Indian food, like the Indian spirit is meant for sharing.

I studied at Bombay’s St. Xavier’s college. The favourite days of my week were when we crossed the road to Kyani & Co., where we chatted with the owner Aflatoon Uncle about his childhood in Iran; and Bastani Café, where we would try and break at least one “rule” (see the list below) each time we were there. One of the first things I noticed while waiting for my table at Dishoom was their own list of rules, next to a copy of the Times of India, nestled between old Bollywood and Femina posters.

Dishoom’s design is a tribute to the Irani cafés of Bombay. Marble-top tables, wooden chairs, cutting chai and Bollywood music… if it wasn’t for the sexy open kitchen and less sexy hanging lights I could have sworn I was in Bombay. Each visit to the restaurant was with hardcore Bombay fans and we were not an easy bunch to please. I am so thrilled to share that Dishoom did not disappoint even once.

At last! A place in Central London that serves proper roomali roti (£1.70), lamb samosas (£3.90), perfect black daal (£4.50) and Thums Up (£2.50). It is reassuring to see that the Bombay influence is not purely cosmetic. The menu features dishes inspired by real Bombay eateries… roomali rolls (£6.50) from Bade Miyan, keema pau (£4.50) from Kyani & Co., pau bhaji (£3.90) from Chowpatty, sheekh kabab (£6.90) from Mohd Ali Road and chicken berry biryani (£7.50) from Brittania. I probably won’t order the Pau Bhaji again, nor the Boti Kabab but I have to come back for their breakfast bacon roll, cheesy naan and ice gola.

Owners Shamil, Amar and Adarsh didn’t always run restaurants. You really have to be a special kind of reckless to want to leap out of your comfort zone and commit to something that you believe in so much, that nothing else matters; least of all, logic. My convoys to Dishoom were filled with similar recklessness: a British Asian who went against a traditional family to create beautiful clothes, a gorgeous man who is a magical garden-whisperer, a childhood friend who was born to save lives…

A friend said I was born to have babies, a parent is convinced I was born to write, a boss hopes I was born to be a marketing genius… But I’ve never had that desire to do the one thing I was born to do. Nor did I fortunately ever have to make that choice. I gleefully flow from one adventure to the next in the quest for … well, nothing I suppose. And this has always been more than enough, until recently.

Last week at work I was flung out of my comfort zone and into a cauldron of new possibilities. On any other day I would have leaped for joy. I was surprised, when I finally recognised that what I was feeling was not excitement, but fear. Am I scared because I think I can’t do this, or because I finally feel the need to know what I was born to do… and this isn’t it?

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Filed under Bombay, Brunch, Cafe, Design, Indian, London, Open kitchen

Shattered arrogance and a new dream man(?)

Last breakfast – for now. I wake up late and instead of joining Jai and Madison at their private residence for what will no doubt be a delicious breakfast I venture into Jardin Majorelle’s café. As I pick my way through the botanical paradise of rare cacti, yuccas and water lilies, not for the first time this trip have I felt overpowered by my surroundings. I was simply not prepared for the overwhelming contrasts of the African landscape, and on the train ride from Tangier to Marrakech as I watched the ocean and cliffs melt into deserts and palm forests I fell in love with the magic of Morocco. I have the privilege of being born and raised in the most magnificent country. With this privilege came an arrogance, and little did I know that I would have to travel 5,000 miles to have it knocked out of me.

The café is an oasis amidst the sauna that the rest of the city becomes between 10 am and 5pm; a bijou courtyard enveloped in ribbons of starched cotton and white bougainvillea.  Discreet sprays gently shower the diners with a cool mist and in just a few minutes I was relaxed and ready for breakfast. The omelette is stuffed with a creamy local goat’s cheese and is served with some khobz (a crusty, semolina Moroccan bread), an aubergine relish and roughly chopped salad. Everything is delicious and enchanting, even the ordinary orange tree ripe with juicy globes of golden fruit.

I am on holiday with Madison, Jai and Donna. We grew up in four different cities, are of different ages and at four different stages of our lives. We are as regular as extraordinary and as different as we are the same. I have not spent as much holiday with anyone else as I have with these three beautiful people. The confident American has a sense of humour and will not go out of her way to misunderstand what I am saying. The gay couple are loving and lovely. They gave me the space when I needed it, and forced me to spend the evening with them when I needed it more. I don’t have to wear mascara to breakfast or worry about how silly I sound when I giggle. Like all good girls we talk about love and sex as often as we please  and the words relationship, commitment and forever are not taboo. We can plan our next holiday without the fear of scaring someone off.  No question is too personal and no ego too fragile. It has never been easier to get along with a man (two men, actually).

Not for the first time Jai asked me, “Are you sure your dream man isn’t a gay man?” I have to say, I’m beginning to wonder…

-p

 

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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, Cafe, Morocco

At home

It is only right that my first Table for ONE in New York is breakfast at Sarabeth’s: a meal that is fast becoming the favourite part of my day, at one of the City’s culinary institutions. I first dined here four years ago, and ever since then have craved their Fluffy French Toast ($16). All this time later, the breakfast doesn’t disappoint.

Sarabeth’s is a people-watcher’s paradise. I witnessed 3 birthdays, 2 anniversaries and tens of other celebrations. I forgot for a moment where I was until the guy sitting next to me at the counter asked me how I am (as everyone does in New York), and “Where is home?”

I think a lot about what it means to be ‘home’. Almost everyone in my everyday life is on their way to, or on their way from somewhere else. As am I.

  • My childhood friend left India 20 years ago. She has a new life now but not a conversation goes by when she doesn’t reminisce about home.
  • My colleague grew up in two countries and now lives in a third. It is always interesting asking him where home is.
  • My Aussie friend hasn’t lived in his home country in nearly fifteen years and seems to finally be getting homesick.
  • My sister has had to create a life 8,000 miles from everything and everyone she has ever known. And all this time, all she has wanted to do was go home.

“Home is where your heart is.” But what happens when your heart is in several places?

A giant part of my heart is in Bombay. It rests with my mother, and my two best friends Lina and Foram. An equally large piece of my heart is in Tifton because that is where my sister lives and my heart lives with her. My heart also lives in Hyderabad; home to my father and my happiest childhood. I suppose my heart is in London too, with me :-). And when I leave New York I know I will leave a piece of my heart behind.

Where is home then?

I don’t know yet, and for now it is OK that I don’t know. Until I do, to borrow from Maya Angelou, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
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Filed under Breakfast, Brunch, Coffee, New York, Restaurant