Tag Archives: London

The last one

There is a time and place for every meal. Like at the end of a day full of suckage, in the middle of a heartbreak, when I’m homesick, and especially when I’m sick of home, absolutely nothing sets my world right like a bowl of Maggi noodles.

There have been trysts with the likes of Spuntino, Bombay Canteen & M. Wells on the days when nothing could go wrong. And travels for one that led me to adventures in Café Jardin Majorelle, Los Salones del Piano Nobile and Joseph Leonard. I’ve spent afternoons at Dishoom and Bar Termini and been transported to another place and feeling.

From the very first table for one at Viajante, to my first rodeo with Michelin dining on my own at Daniel, the right meal always came along when I needed to break through a (usually self-imposed) barrier.

Over the past six years, these meals have been a witness to my life. I fasted and feasted through stories, patching up old wounds and documenting new ones, with my writing always keeping me safe, like a trusty Band-Aid. I never quite had the courage to check if the wounds were still open; or worse still, if they had actually begun to heal.

But there is a time and place for everything. As I bring in the last of my 30s in the city where they began, it seems to be the right time to rip off the bandage.

This is the time to say goodbye.

-p

p.s. Life is too short for a bad meal and old bandages.

 

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The Petite Coree. Time to unblur the lines

Love. Passion. Compassion. Do you remember when these words started infiltrating job descriptions? It is no longer enough to be excellent. We must be empathetic, endearing, and enjoy the hours we spend in the office. Isn’t it ironic that we are expected to give our 200% at work, in the same breath that we are lectured on work/life balance?

If you love what you do, then it won’t feel like work.” I hear it all the time. I say it all the time. Doesn’t feel like balance to me. Fact is, for most of us who don’t work for ourselves, no matter how much we love what we do to make money, it still is work.

Did I just spend 10 days straight working more than nine hours a day? Yes.

Could I have done an excellent job in fewer hours? No.

Did I love every minute of it? Yes.

Do I love the exhaustion I feel right now? No.

All I could think of at the end of day 10 was that I did not have the energy to cook myself a meal, I did not want to go home to an empty flat, and for a very long minute, I questioned why I spent the last few days the way I did. I may not have anyone to speak to when I get home, but for the first time in my London life I have a local “where everybody knows my name”. Where my extra chilli sauce arrives even before I realise I want it.

The Petite Corée and I are unlikely friends. I was wary of a restaurant with an Asian chef and a French name. I can’t speak for them, but can only imagine what they must have thought of an Indian customer telling the Korean chef his kimchee wasn’t Korean enough. I’m glad we both moved past first impressions because tonight, there was no place more welcoming than my neighbourhood bistro.

This restaurant serves popular European dishes with a Korean twist. I have now eaten my way through their entire menu (several times over) and haven’t had a single bad meal.

No visit is complete without an order of Mandu (steamed pork & glass noodle dumpling, rocket, balsamic), £6. This dish is as Asian as they come, with the rocket and balsamic hesitant European sidekicks to the dumplings, the delicious stars of the dish.

Mandu IITheir version of arancini swaps the traditional filling for kimchee flavoured rice with mozzarella and served with gochujang dressing, £5.5.

Kimchi Rice, panéed kimchi rice, mozzarella, gochujang dressingAnother favourite is the Italian cheese appetizer with honey and a spicy Korean sauce, £5. I’ve had this with mozzarella, burrata, and most recently with pecorino cream cheese – all luscious, moreish and so very clever!

downloadFresh on the menu is a Smoked Sword Fish, £6, with fish chunks that come wrapped in gem lettuce, drenched in a zingy wasabi & lime dressing and shiso. Then there is a butter roasted “Kimchee”, £5. One could spend the entire meal just on their appetizers, as I often do.

Smoked Sword Fish, wasabi & lime dressing, shisoOn the rare occasion I order a main it is always the pork belly in Korean “BBQ jus” (£13.5). Chefy terms aside, this is one of the best preparations of pork I have ever had the joy of tasting. If I was one to make lists this would be on my London top 10 without any hesitation.

The modest bistro is run by Chef Jae and his lovely wife Yeon. Jae trained in the hallowed kitchens of Nobu and Hélène Darroze before choosing exhaustion for himself rather than someone else. Chef Jae chose to blur his lines between work and life; but each time I dine here too exhausted to cook for myself, I know its time to unblur mine.

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If you live in London, get yourself down to The Petite Corée for Jae and Yeon’s heartwarming food and service. For added incentive they have BYO Tuesdays and Wednesdays!

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Filed under Bistro, Italian, Korean, London

Bocca di Lupo. About time

A man I love very much said to me, “If you were 30, I would give our relationship a go. But you’re 37 – if I go out with you, you will start expecting marriage soon.

I still haven’t found the words to respond to this, but I did add him to a long list of my people obsessed with age. Nobody I know seems to want to be their age at the moment – through mind-numbing food plans, bad hair dye jobs, inappropriate sexapades, and best-selling alter egos, I have found myself in the midst of a lot of people’s age-crisis. So it wasn’t quite by accident that I was drawn to the New Year Day release of The Theory of Everything – a film about Stephen Hawking and his theories of time. Hawking writes an equation to prove that there was a beginning of time. He then proposes the end of time. We go about our lives quietly accepting beginnings and ends of sunrises and sunsets, of days and meals, of relationships and jobs; and yet, we get so sensitive about our age. We fight it – everyday.

As I wandered around Soho and pondered my people’s preoccupation with age, I walked past a restaurant, I’ve always enjoyed visiting. Bocca di Lupo has a chef-owner who has written a wonderful book on pasta through the ages – The Geometry of Pasta. A book that was born of a preoccupation of a more delicious kind – of the Italian’s obsession with the right shape of pasta for the right sauce.

I love a little time travel as much as the next person. Especially if I can taste my way through the travel, as I did tonight.

Agnolotti dal plin

AgnolottiLike all interesting food history, the origin of the agnolotti, a semi-circle stuffed pasta from Piedmont, is attributed to several legends. Some say it’s name comes from the tool that was used to cut the pasta – the anolot. Other stories give credit to its stuffing – agnello (lamb). Or perhaps it was named after the chef, Angeloto, who first made these to celebrate the end of a siege? The version I ate – Agnolotti dal plin (£9) was pinched into delicate pleats and stuffed with pork and veal. Not the best bowl of pasta I have ever had, but tonight I wasn’t after excellence. Instead, reading about its history added texture to my meal – about how this pasta used to be made mainly for festive occasions, given the dainty pleating; or in the winter, when “housewives had to fill long winter evenings with some sort of activity.”

Wine: Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, 2012 (£7.70)

Pappardelle with venison ragú

Pappardelle“They are best served with a chunky, flavoursome, oily sauce in Tuscany; with a chicken liver or hare ragú, in the Veneto and Romagna with a pigeon one.” I had mine with a venison ragú (£9) – a wholesome sauce that lovingly attached itself to luscious ribbons of hand made pappardelle. The book talks about how this pasta has been around since the medieval times “when they were cooked in a game broth, thickened by blood.”

Wine: Primitivo Fatalone, 2010 (£7.50)

KitchenAs I watched 4 chefs cook traditional recipes for a 100 diners, I had to wonder if they ever stopped to think about how old they were. Working in unspoken conversations, the only place they could be was in the moment.

In this moment, it is exactly the time it is. We are exactly the age we are.

-p

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Filed under Italian, London, Pasta, Soho London

Koya Bar. Living in is-ness

I left London three months ago; in as much as I could leave a city that had become part of me over the seven years I lived there. As I began to map my two weeks back, around meals and friends I would eat them with, I realised that I have spent a lot of my life going back. Back to the same cities, back to favourite restaurants, back to old lovers. It’s never the same though.

The city doesn’t change, a favourite meal still tastes good, and old lovers are just as happy to see me – but it’s never the same. I remember London as picture perfect, sans the years of lonely meals and freezing walks in the rain. I am excited about dinner with a lover, having clearly forgotten his refusal to commit any feelings. I order cocktails in my favourite bar, and then…. reality kicks in.

The truth is that today rarely matches up to my airbrushed memory of its yesterday. And yet, I spend so much time trying to recreate perfect experiences; seldom focusing instead, on what is.

On a day when London was especially bleak, I abandoned the temptation of puncturing the memory of a comfortable old favourite with its reality. Not convinced I could revisit a place without “going back”, I chose somewhere new. I walked into Koya Bar – a cosy collection of 24 low stools arranged around an open kitchen. The noodle bar almost forces you to eat in the moment, urging you to leave your baggage at the door.

I started with Otsukemono (homemade pickles), £2.90 and a delicious Kakuni (cider braised pork belly), £6.90 washed down with a chilled Kirin, £4.60. Then I waited patiently as the chef decided on the right moment to serve me Kinoko Atsu-Atsu (mushroom with walnut miso in hot broth), £11.60. The beautiful bowl arrived with hot udon noodles that are made in the traditional manner, dough kneaded by foot. “This is such a leisurely dish,” I said to myself several times as I mixed the large lump of walnut miso into the broth. After my first slurp I was lost in the dish, coming up for air only when the last mushroom had disappeared.

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Each dish is layered with complexity, but presented with such an effortless style, that you can’t help but pay attention to what is. This spirit of is-ness comes from the kitchen and its attention to detail. The dashi would not be as fresh and their umami-rich stock would not have the power to cleanse away your worries if the chefs were somewhere else in spirit.

I left inspired. Determined to not let would-ness and was-ness from taking over the is-ness of my life.

-p

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Communal tables, Japanese, London, Noodles, Open kitchen, Soho London

London’s Bombaywallahs. The chefs of Dishoom Shoreditch

London's Bombaywallahs

1993, Bombay: Ten-year old Yashpal Gusai begins plotting a career that would not involve mathematics or science.

1996, Gurdaspur: Rishi Anand peers into a tandoor that stands taller than him as he plays sous chef to his father in their back garden.

2005, Kathmandu: Tanka K.C follows a friend into a part-time job, cooking Indian food for tourists visiting the Pashupatinath Temple.

2011, Varkala Beach: Agra-born Saleem Khan gets on a plane to Heathrow, leaving the beach shacks of Kerala for the love of his life.

2013, London: Fourteen strangers work together as long lost friends, recreating the spirit of Bombay in a Shoreditch kitchen.

Fourteen chefs that were handpicked from across the Indian subcontinent by Dishoom’s Executive Chef Naved Nasir. With each one he was looking for three things – skill, personality and the talent to work a tandoor. “My chef interviews begin with making bread,” Naved shares. “The moment they touch the dough I know whether to take them or not.” As a result the kitchen has a strong team of tandoor experts that knead, roll, twirl and flip over 800 roomali rotis each week.

Growing up in Meerut, one of India’s most ancient cities, Naved never imagined he would one day be responsible for a team of chefs in London that serve 7,500 guests over 21,000 portions of food each week. Not even when he, at age five, took over his mum’s kitchen, cooking the family his favourite meal of mung daal khichdi with desi ghee and dahi. Naved fell into hospitality by accident. Adamant not to follow his father’s footsteps into medicine, he took up hotel management as a lark. Sixteen years later, as he begins to recounts some milestones – training in the hallowed kitchens of Dumpukht and Bukhara; working with Master Chefs Mohd. Shareef and Imtiaz Qureshi; leading a banquets team serving 3,000 guests a day; ITC Hotels’ youngest Executive Chef of the time – he almost sounds as if he is talking about someone else.

On a balmy Monday morning not so long ago, the exceptionally talented and unassuming Chef Naved treated me to a day with his chefs in their Shoreditch kitchen. This was my one chance to understand just what makes one of London’s busiest kitchens tick.

7am: I am assigned to Chef Sandy Shanmughan in the curry section, responsible for the daal, curries, biryani and chai. After “opening” the spotless kitchen, his first task of the day is to begin brewing the tea with Dishoom’s secret combination of masalas. He next turns his attention to the masterpiece on their menu – the Dishoom Black Daal. Their daal – the process for which begins at 6pm the evening before – takes nearly 24 hours to make.

Dishoom Black DaalBy the time Sandy has got to the daal this morning, it has been washed for an hour, boiled for a couple more, and then left to cook in its steam overnight. Without giving away much more of their secret recipe that I had the privilege of witnessing in action, he never strays too far from his vat of daal for the rest of day. It’s been a long journey for Sandy, from his mum’s Kerala kitchen to joining Dishoom three years ago. Listen to him explain the nuances of cooking his favourite dish on the menu – 50 litres every day – and it becomes clear how he is in the job destined for him.

9am: Breakfast service is in full swing and I adjust myself into a safe corner to watch Chef Tanka K.C expertly manoeuvre his way from fryer to grill to tandoor as he sends out order after order of Full Bombays, Bacon Naan Rolls and House Porridge.

11am: I now get to hang out with the only woman in Dishoom’s kitchens – Chef Sapna Macal – their powerhouse of a pastry chef. I aIMG_2930m mesmerised as Sapna swiftly kneads, cuts, measures and rolls 150 pillows of pau, whilst telling me about growing up in Hyderabad and spending afternoons watching Sanjeev Kapoor cook food on TV. Sapna barely pauses for breath as she tells me the story of how she earned her spot on the Dishoom team with her version of a chocolate mousse, all the while baking a Pineapple Crumble, piping cream on to a Memsahib’s Mess and serving up a dozen Mango Kulfis. (I compare this to how all the other (male) chefs had to stop what they were doing to answer my questions!)

More chefs begin joining the kitchen. Each one announcing himself with a distinct war cry. Each one flying the flag for a different part of the Indian subcontinent. Dishoom’s kitchen is a poster child for national integration – a lot like you see on the streets of Bombay.

Chicken Berry Biryani1pm and a food trial: Every Monday, Head Chef Yashpal Gusai, Manager Rob Ferne and Bar Wizard Carl Brown test a few dishes and drinks from the menu. The Chicken Berry Biryani didn’t quite cut it this week as the chicken pieces were too large. And the Chilli Cheese Toast lost a lot of points for “uneven browning”. This is a tough panel to please! From the cocktails we tried, my favourite was the Monsooned Cobbler (“Malabar espresso, bamboozled with spices, Cognac”) that you drink in two stages. First, black, as it arrives. Then you add cream, taste and pause as the drink transforms itself in your mouth. Genius!

I return to the kitchen with Yash. Even though he grew up watching his father cook, it wasn’t until he was faced with a potential career as an engineer that he considered a hotel management degree. A similar story to Naved’s, Yash shares, “I hated maths and science so decided to become a chef. Only, I didn’t realise how much time I would have to spend out of the kitchen and in the classroom!

The handsome chef towers over the rest on his team, taking in every station at all times, jumping in to help when the number of orders gets the better of a particular station. As the head of the kitchen Yash’s day is taken over by admin more than anything else. “I couldn’t change a light bulb before, but now am a mechanic and magician all rolled into one.” The only time he does cook is when he goes home to his mum’s kitchen, “but they don’t appreciate my restaurant-style cooking.” He was head hunted for Dishoom while working in Bombay’s Kabab Factory and almost didn’t go for the interview “because the name – Dishoom – was a bit weird.” But three years on he hasn’t once regretted his decision to move to London and Dishoom.

Chef Mobarak2pm: I am at my favourite station – the tandoor. Chef Mobarak Sheikh wowed Naved with the technique and speed with which he made his roomali rotis. The Orissa-born roti genius is all smiles all the time and even humoured me with a lesson in roomali rolling. He is joined by Chef Purna Prasad. You can hear and smell this section before you see it. The two chefs work like magicians, filling each order that comes in with soft roomalis, crisp naans, and my favourite – the moreish cheese naan. Growing up in Kathmandu, Purna always wanted to work in Bombay one day. That he is today working in a Bombay Café in London is such a lovely irony!

5pm: Dishoom is one of the few restaurants that has a dedicated grill chef. A genius move considering the 2000+ portions of kababs they sell each week. As I helped Chef Jaffer Khan skewer over 20 kilos of the Dishoom Chicken Tikka (for dinner service) he told me about his life as a computer operator in Delhi before his career took a more delicious turn. When he isn’t prepping for the Murgh Malai and serving up mountains of Paneer Tikka, Jaffer is on Skype with his new bride, counting the days before she joins him in London.

I return to the curry section to meet Chef Saleem Khaan.  A Dishoom success story, Saleem began as a kitchen porter and in two short years was promoted to a section chef. He takes over from Sandy and begins the Black Daal process for the next day. Like every other chefs, he also made sure I was well supplied with chai and chat even as orders flew in.

The kitchen’s second in command is Chef Rishi Anand. At 24 he is one of the youngest chefs in the room, but comes with experience that belies his age. He grew up making tandoori chicken at home with his father but went on to specialise in Pan-Asian cuisine first with Indian hotel giants Oberoi and then at Tamarai in London. He joined Dishoom to open their Shoreditch restaurant but still misses cooking Chinese food sometimes. His Orient-inspired staff meals seem to be everyone’s favourite!

The next few hours are a blur as dinner guests flood Dishoom Shoreditch and the kitchen is enveloped in a melodic flurry of sounds – claps of rotis, hissing kababs, crackling calamari, bubbling daal, and the chefs secret language to make sure that every dish in an order is finished at the same time.

Naved ensures his team is always involved in the creation of new dishes, “They have to produce the dish for the thousands who walk into our doors – I need my chefs to be happy. My only instruction to them is to ‘Think of Bombay and dream up an honest dish’.”

Can I now explain what makes one of London’s busiest kitchens tick? Can I explain what “Bombay food” is? Probably not. Bombay has many foods, each with a distinct personality. Yet the city has made that food its own. A lot like the fourteen chefs who travelled the world to make the kitchen of Dishoom Shoreditch, their own.

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This feature was first published in the online magazine The Non-Resident Indian. Read the original post here.

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Filed under Bombay, Daal, Foodie adventures, India, Indian, London, Open kitchen, Restaurant, Shoreditch

Bone Daddies. Food for thought

Except for a trip to the hospital and a short hobble across the street, a sprained ankle ensured I did not leave my apartment for over two weeks. This was the longest period of time I have spent in a small space, mostly on my own. And in this quiet, silent place I realised that there are many things I don’t say even to myself because I’m afraid of what they would say about me.

I am envious of her success.
I don’t have a single original idea.
I cheated on my first boyfriend.

The noise in my head was deafening and I had to leave for somewhere so loud that I would not be able to hear myself think. London’s Soho is exactly that. An area I would never venture into by choice on a Saturday night, today this tourist hell provided just the comfort I needed. After several hours wandering streets where frozen yoghurt parlours and cupcake shops fight for the same footfall as sex shops and The Pleasure Lounge, I finally got hungry.

Bones Daddies isn’t exactly new but London has been noodle-mad for over half a year and this ramen star by ex-Nobu & Zuma chef Ross Shonhan was still rammed. The best part about being a table for one is that even when a restaurant has queues around the block, they will always find a seat to squeeze me into.

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Thanks to almost every London restaurant reviewer and food blogger having already waxed eloquent about Bone Daddies, I knew exactly what I was goin to eat even before I was seated. I skipped the starters (soft shell crab and fried chicken have most votes) and went straight for the Tantanmen ramen (£11) and Pickles (£3) (It says homemade pickles on the menu, but that term looks ridiculous on restaurant menus. Urr… whose home exactly?)

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I started with the pickles (eight different kinds and all yum) and a Maiken-Me cocktail (£7.80) of shochu, umeshu and watermelon. It was more mandarin-y than watermelon-y and a bit too sweet for me. In anticipation of my ramen I reached for the bottle of rubber bands to pull my hair back (a genius idea apparently imported from Japanese izakayas). The table also has other cute extras like a garlic crusher and a sesame grinder.

You can choose from seven different broths and I recommend you begin with the chicken-stock based Tantanmen. When the bowl arrived, it looked too glorious to disturb with a spoon and chopsticks, A few seconds of that, and it was too glorious for me not to attack with a spoon and chopsticks. The broth is fragrant with sesame and so delicious that I could not slurp/chew fast enough. The pork was juicy and while it could have done with a little more chilli one wasn’t complaining. I really do prefer this to the more common Tonkotsu broth. The purists say the ramen is better elsewhere, but I’m no noodle expert and in this instance, taste trumped truth.

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My excellent waiter suggested a black sesame soft serve to end, and even though it was exactly what my heart needed… I had to listen to the tummy this once.

There is nothing subtle about Bone Daddies. But even the luscious meal and pounding rock and roll soundtrack couldn’t drown out my thoughts forever. So as I reluctantly leave, I wonder…

Am I curious enough?
Will I ever be good enough? (For what?)
Sometimes, can just love be enough?

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Filed under Cocktails, Communal tables, Japanese, London, Noodles, Soho London

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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