Category Archives: Oysters

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.
-p

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

In search of magic. Newman Street Tavern

Contentment kills curiosity that kills creativity. I was trying to draw parallels with the Indian school syllabus… but my friend Sam was talking about my writing. It’s not that I didn’t get what he was saying – of course I did. But I did not like the implications of the argument : I would either be happy, or be inspired to write. That day I was happy.

But I travel around life in circles and it wasn’t too long before scenes of London replaced the lover’s photo on my desktop and sad songs from Grease  ruled my iPod. And my diary is full of scribbles like: So much of Me is locked into You & I still love you unconditionally, but why is it that I cannot love myself?

And so on and so forth.

It’s like I had a nasty gremlin on my shoulder who would not shut up. I tried crying, meditating, chick flicks and reality TV, cooking, then running… When nothing worked I knew what I had to do.

An easy 35 minute walk from my flat is a gastro pub that someone mentioned a few weeks ago. As I stepped into The Newman Street Tavern I felt its plush yellow curtains brush my gremlin away. I immediately loved the dark wood floors and banquette seating (my Achilles’ heel).

The wait staff is beautifully pleasant but not much help with the wine selection. The Mâcon-Loché, Domaine Clos des Rocs (a Burgundy white at £6.50 a glass) that I guessed at was thankfully perfect.

I also imagine that the two looking after me that day had not served too many single diners. They fumbled between too much attention and ages without anyone coming near me.  But that day, I didn’t mind. Depending on whom you want to be on the day, there is enough to distract and entertain you in The Newman Street Tavern. A wall of beautiful photographs that is an appetizer to what you will see on the menu. A gay couple talking love and Kenzo trousers (or was it a love for Kenzo trousers?). A small bar, well stocked. A gossipy family out to Sunday lunch. It’s cosy, approachable, old and new all in one breath.

Their Raw Bar menu looked fantastic: West Mersea oysters, mussels and clams by the pint, and Russian caviar. But I didn’t want to linger too long on my own today and so ordered a main immediately. Red mullet and shellfish bisque (£19) or Woodcock and fried bread (£24). I was hungry enough to eat both, but I didn’t want to linger. Sorry, did I already say that?

I ordered a jig caught squid with seafood broth (£18) and a side of carrot and fennel (£4). The squid arrived looking like a beautiful pearl from the ocean. It was so delicate… I think I mmmed out loud. The vegetables were butterly delicious and I wanted to lick my plate clean.

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Newman Street Tavern may not be the most affordable pub in the neighbourhood, but it has magic powers against nasty gremlins. And their Blood Orange and Campari granita (£5) is especially perfect for a day when you let someone break your heart.
-p

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Filed under Bar, Bar food, Gastro Pub, London, Oysters, Seafood

M. Wells. When you just know

There are cities, bigger cities, and then there is New York. I’m a Bombayite learning to be a Londoner but cannot deny how much in awe I am of this most cinematic of any city I have ever visited.

I just knew this was going to be a special trip.

For the first time a charming stranger flirted with me all the way from Heathrow to JFK. For the first time I have a plan. And for the first time ever I have a response for when someone asks me “what is the best thing you’ve ever tasted?

The boss said he was taking me to a diner in Queens. Once I got over the dread of another meal with the boss that day, curiosity took over.  A disastrous dinner at London’s Kopapa aside I have never had a bad meal with the boss. Plus I’d never been to Queens, so…

This is M. Wells; a diner that used to serve as a pit stop for truckers until French Canadian chef Hugue Dufour and his Queens-raised wife Sarah Obraitis took over. They started out serving only breakfast, then brunch, then dinner and still don’t serve every meal every day. The wait for our table was over an hour. We grabbed our free beers (on the house to make up for a busted AC) and sat down outside for some people watching.

One beer turned into a few, as did the diners on the waiting list. M. Wells is a diner, sure, but even a cursory glance at the menu will tell you that you are not going to be served any sloppy sliders here. I haven’t seen oysters and foie gras on too many diner menus, have you? The boss calls their food “kooky”. I’d say its eccentric. Both mean the same thing – it doesn’t belong to any school and you can’t put this chef in a box.

I’m glad I was dissuaded from ordering the ribs. We ordered cocktails and salad and maybe something else too but all that is a blur. All I can remember is the pure pleasure of a BiBiM Wells ($40). No description of mine will do this dish any justice so all I will do is list out the ingredients: oysters, scallops, gravalax, and foie gras on a bed of white rice, topped with a poached egg, avacados, julienne of green apples, carrots and zucchini, drizzled with yam chips and a stunning Korean chilli maple sauce.

This is the best dish I have ever tasted. Ever.

You take a job that changes you forever, walk into a diner and eat the best meal of your life, meet someone – and you just know. You don’t recognize the biggest day of your life until you’re right in the middle of it.

-p

M Wells on Urbanspoon

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Filed under American, Bar, Design, Diner, French, New York, Oysters, Seafood

Oysters ahoy

I have just broken the first rule of an eat-right-and-look-hot food plan my friend Foram wrote for me. I started my day with a glass of champagne.

The Wright Brothers started with an oyster farm in Cornwall and now supply fish to restaurants across the UK. I first heard of them when I found myself slurping delicious oysters at their Oyster & Porter House in Borough market one sultry Saturday a few years ago.

Their new Wright Brothers Soho evokes the atmosphere of a Dickensian bar. Planned over three floors the restaurant has a cosy combination of banquettes and high tables. I asked to sit at the bar around their open kitchen in the lower-ground floor. This is a basement like none I’ve seen. Massive windows allow ample light to stream onto the two open kitchens, and also offer passers-by cheeky views into the restaurant. High tables are lit with candles on old fashioned candle sticks and the white walls are decorated with black and white photographs and blackboards with daily specials.

I love being the single diner at a bar counter. Its like being a fly on the kitchen wall – close enough to hear the chefs talk. And I do exactly that as I order my glass of Billecarte-Salmon (£9). The quiet Russian, loud Indian and flirty Frenchman spent a good part of lunch service deciphering accents for each other. They also did lovely things like walk ten feet across the kitchen to slice a lemon right in front of me.

I began with what I came for – a platter of Duchy natives, Colchester, Maldon and Spéciale de claire oysters (£15). This is very much a restaurant that lets you be. I wasn’t rushed through my oysters; the chefs didn’t mind my staring as they sent out one fish after another; and fashionable Soho diners smiled back from their tables laden with Cornish crab, crispy squid and Monocle bags.

The rest of my meal included a fantastic white bait with tartare sauce (£8.50) paired with a glass of Sancerre (£9.50), and a disappointing hazelnut chocolate pot (£5.50). I am glad I stopped by the washroom on my way out… love this brand of TP!

I first tasted oysters at a stunning restaurant on Hong Kong’s Peak. I was with someone very special and trusted him with my heart and palate. Things started to go wrong a little after that trip and never got right again. Now, many years later from that night, I can finally eat an oyster without being transported to that night. I still haven’t been able to go back to Hong Kong though.

Call someone you trust and try something new today. It is always, eventually, worth it.

-p

Wright Brothers (Soho) on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Communal tables, London, Open kitchen, Oysters, Restaurant, Seafood, Soho London