Sunday, 29 May 2016

The London Guide to eating your way around the globe


So it's one of those weekends when you've got a serious case of  the munchies but a bucket of chicken from the slightly suspect chicken shop round the corner isn't going to cut it. Instead you're dreaming of dining in Denmark, feasting in France, chomping your way through China and munching your way across Malaysia. You've mentally mapped out a route and then....... reality hits you like a ton of bricks that...........

1) Your bank balance won't get you past the M25
2) It's a Sunday morning and have to be back for work by tomorrow

[sigh!]

But before you fall into a bottomless pit of despair, be cheered by this thought -  you live in London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, a city which people from every corner of the world have made home, where a smorgasbord of flavours awaits you just outside your front door. 

Of course good food is easy to find when money is no object, but wherever possible I am instead going to focus on cheap and mid-range restaurants which allow you to enjoy a champagne lifestyle on a bucks-fizz budget.

So let me be your guide, as together we head out into the world for a spot of gastronomic globe-trotting.


TURKEY

Address: Gokyuzu, 26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, London, N4 1LG
Nearest tube station: Manor House
Price: Approx £12 per person for 2 courses




All aboard? First stop (Little) Istanbul, otherwise known as Green Lanes in Haringey, North London. There's a mind-boggling selection of Turkish restaurants in this area, so it's a testament to Gokyuzu that it is packed with people at all hours of the day. Gokyuzu has even been named one of the top restaurants in London on TripAdvisor, leaving Michelin started restaurants eating their dust. 

Your meal starts with an incredible array of freebies including a plate piled high with salad coated in a sweet dressing, a basket of bread cooked in the wood fired oven on the premises and a moreish tzatziki dip. I always get excited about free food but don't fill up too much as the best is yet to come. For main course my personal favourite has to be Sarma Kuzu Beyti (marinated mince lamb seasoned with garlic grilled over charcoal, wrapped in lavash bread with cheese and topped with tomato sauce, drizzled with butter and served with yogurt and bulgar), which is insanely good. Once you've licked your plate clean you'll be served a free little glass of Turkish tea to wash it all down. Perfection!!


JAPAN

Address: Misato, 11 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PG
Nearest tube station: Leicester Square
Price: Approx £6 per person for one course



A tiny inconspicuous Japanese joint just of Leicester Square, Misato is known for serving huge portions at affordable prices. Despite the location, you won't see that many tourists here, as they are usually drawn like moths to the neon lights of nearby fast food joints or to the all you can eat buffets in Chinatown, but Misato has a faithful following of Far East students and locals alike which ensures that it does a roaring trade.

Sushi and sashami are a great value as are the bento boxes. My guilty pleasure is the chicken katsu curry which is absolutely HUGE, and served with a portion of rice and salad. It's not healthy but it is too good value and tastes too damn good to care. Photos are thanks to my friend and fellow blogger Marie as I was too busy tucking in.

Affordable restaurants are few and far between in Central London, and affordable Japanese restaurants that serve more than ramen are even more of an enigma, so for all this and more, Misato I salute you.



SRI LANKA

Address: Apollo Banana Leaf, 190 Tooting High Street, London, SW17 0SF
Nearest tube station: Tooting Broadway
Price: Approx £15 per person for 2 courses



Next stop Colombo, Sri Lanka. An Aussie Sri Lankan friend introduced me to Apollo Banana Leaf in Tooting describing it as her go to place when she was in need of a fix of authentic Sri Lankan food. It's a good 15-20 minute trek from the nearest tube station and some of the decor is undeniably questionable but fortune favours the brave and your perseverance will be rewarded by some top notch South Asian cuisine at very reasonable prices. My default is to start with the mutton roll, followed by the egg and onion fried stringhoppers and crab masala (served with whole piece of crabs cooked in the shell which is incredibly delicious and messy in equal measure). This place is so good that when I lived in North London I would make a 3 hour round trip to visit it when I couldn't resist the cravings any longer. Oh and did I mention it's BYO too. Cheers!


FRANCE

Address: Le Mercury, 140a Upper Street, London, N1 1QY
Nearest tube station: Angel
Price: Approx £15 per person for 3 courses 




Flying in the face in geographical convention, our next stop after Sri Lanka is of course..... Paris (naturally). I have eaten at several fantastic and expensive French restaurants across the city (courtesy of my generous siblings) so it would be disingenuous to say that Le Mercury is the best French food I have eaten outside France. That said, it is unsurprising that the owners needed to set up an overspill restaurant (Le Mercury Deuxieme) just minutes down the road because it absolutely hits the mark on French bistro food at affordable prices such as roast barbary duck with garlic mash, savoy cabbage and red wine jus (pictured). 

The service is friendly and welcoming and the interior has a quaint, faintly romantic air about it, with candles in green bottles with wax dripping down the sides and cosy tables. However this works just as well as a spot to catch up with family and friends as it does for date night. Oh and did I mention the prices? £4.75 for starters, £9.95 for mains and £3.45 for desserts - Sacre Bleu!!



USA
Address: The Lockhart, 22-24 Seymour Place, London, W1H 7NL
Nearest tube station: Marble Arch
Price: Approx £15 per person for 1 course (based on 2 sharing 1 portion)







The final stop on the first leg of this culinary jaunt is my favourite American restaurant in the city, the Lockhart, which serves mouthwatering soul food straight out of the Deep South. The grits (hard to describe but something between polenta and mashed potatoes), buttermilk fried chicken and cornbread are to die for. This is the kind of food which forces you to politely explain to whoever you are eating with that you won't be speaking to them for at least the next 20mins as you savour every mouthwatering morsel. Admittedly the Lockhart can't really be described as a cheap eat but my advice is to order one portion and split it between you. That helps keep the price down and also lowers the risk of you falling into the fried chicken induced coma which is the inevitable result of trying to eat a full portion yourself.



Hope y'all enjoyed the first leg of our grand tour. Tune in again for more globe-trotting gastronomic adventures around the Big Smoke. In the meantime, Bon Appetit!  


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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Life and other pursuits - a round-up from the last few weeks


After a hiatus from the blogosphere I wanted to share a wee taster of some of what I have been up to in the last few weeks in those free moments between starting a new job and whiling (or perhaps more accurately wine-ing) away evenings in the pub with friends.

The day that music died....

If you passed the iconic Ritzy Picturehouse in Brixton on 21st April you will have no doubt seen a simple and touching tribute to the passing of a musical juggernaut - "This is what it sounds like when doves cry. RIP Prince". It would be fair to say Prince definitely wasn't to everyone's taste (in fact his lyrics offended the Parents Music Resource Centre so much that they led to the introduction of the little black and white Parental Advisory stickers on CDs) but for me he will always be a complete legend. Music had always been in the background of my life, punctuating memories from my childhood (I can't listen to Roxette for example without thinking of my friend lending me her lipstick and bright blue bomber jacket in an attempt to look old enough to get into a over 16's club. We never actually made it inside, I chickened out when I saw the bouncer and spent the rest of the evening kicking an empty coke can around the carpark - rock and roll baby!) but in truth music was rarely something which made any lasting impression on me. Discovering two musicians (Bruce Springsteen and Prince) changed that for me forever. Much has already been written in the last fortnight about Prince's songwriting ability from the theatrical (When Doves Cry), to the iconic (Purple Rain), the unbelievably catchy (Raspberry Beret), to the romantic (The One and Most beautiful girl in the world) to the downright filthy (Darling Nikki and Get Off), his undoubted musical ability (he could play at least 27 instruments), his unique dress sense and those iconic Prince moments such as when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol. It is for all of these reasons and much more that I for one will miss Prince. He was unapologetically original, unafraid to be different and to chart his own course. For a shy, introverted kid still figuring out who she was that fearlessness was inspirational. In a world which tries to get everyone to confirm to type he screamed from the rooftops to just be yourself. The Purple Reign may be over but I hope I never forgot that lesson. 

In the meantime check out this video of various musicians playing the Beatles's 'While my guitar gently weeps'. Skip to 3m29 and you will see Prince steal the show. RIP Purple One.





The day I decided to go on a healthy eating kick.........
It all started with a photo, or more accurately a series of photos where I was undoubtedly looking a little rounder than I had been a year or so ago. After admitting that the last 100 photos hadn't simply caught me at a bad angle, it was time face the truth and step away from the bacon rolls and all those other deliciously fattening treats. I read that losing weight is 80% diet related so if I wanted to ditch the pounds I would have to stop making my body a temple to Chicken Cottage and instead feast on veg. To give myself a bit of an incentive I watched 'Vegucated', a guerrilla-style documentary following three carnivorous New Yorkers converting to veganisam which explores the ethical and environmental argument for veganism. While it didn't convince me to go vegan, it definitely succeeded in convincing me to at least start by replacing some of my meat filled meals with veggie alternatives. The big challenge was finding recipes which wouldn't leave me thinking, "Hmm... that was nice.......but it would have been so much better with a wee bit of meat". That led me to try the tasty little South Indian vegetable curry below. I love it so much I thought I would share it with you all too.


SOUTH INDIAN VEG CURRY RECIPE
- Heat oil in a saucepan
- Add 1tsp mustard seeds, 3 cloves, 1 cardomn pod and 1 cinnamon stick and fry
- Add 1 onion, 1 teaspoon ginger paste, 1 teaspoon garlic paste and cook until onion is brown
- Add 1/2 tsp turmeric, 1tsp corriander, 1tsp garam masala, 1/2tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp chilli powder
- Add 1 medium beef tomato
- Add 1/2 bag of frozen veg (carrots, peas, green beans)
- Add 1 cup thin coconut milk (1tblsp coconut power mixed into a cup of warm water) and 1/2 cup of thick coconut milk (3tblsp coconut power mixed into 1 cup warm water - half to be used now and half to be saved for later)
- Simmer for 20mins, covered, on a low heat
- Add the other half a cup of thick coconut milk and salt to taste
- Cook for a further 10mins and then serve with brown rice

I know it might seem a bit expensive to buy all these spices and ingredients if you don't already have them in your cupboard but you only use very small amounts and they last for ages so it's definitely worth the investment and after you make this once it will definitely become a staple meal.


The day that I decided to be a hermit...........
It was a singularly miserable day, the kind of day where venturing outside for anything at all was essentially a fool's mission. The only answer was to retreat to the couch, curl up with a good book, Netflix, tea and of course chocolate. As a classic introvert I love having time like this to recharge after a crazy week.

Reading: I go to extremes with reading, from gorging on up to 5 books at the same time, to avoiding reading anything more strenuous than the free paper I get at the train station. But a friend recently encouraged me to re-join the wonderful world of books again by trying 'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow. I am only on chapter two but already it has me hooked. Part crime story, part historical novel, it tells the story of America's so called War on Drugs through the eyes of a cast of characters including an American Drug Enforcement Agent, a Mexican drug lord, a prostitute and a New York gangster. It's brutal but totally gripping. This isn't my usual kind of read at all but I highly recommend it if you're up for something a little different.



On the box: I know the thought of watching a documentary may not sound like your ideal way to spend an evening but this one is worth it even if you're not usually a documentary fan.  Virunga tells the story of those fighting to protect the world's last mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park in the DRC against poaching, the war and oil exploration - between the heroes, the villains, the action and the incredible wildlife, it could give any Hollywood movie a run for it's money and it's completely true - essentially it's utterly unmissable!



The day when I remembered why I love London...

I was waiting for the train one day when I spotted an advert for a new play at the National Theatre. I knew nothing about it and the poster gave little away but irrelevant of those minor details I decided it was a the perfect birthday gift for my flatmate and that's how ended up watching, 'Les Blancs', one of the best plays I have ever seen. This is immersive theatre in the real sense, transporting you through sights, smells and music to an unknown African country on the brink of revolution, unleashing itself from the shackles of colonial rule. It starts with a young African woman walking slowly around the stage - she never speaks but her every movement is so deliberate and filled with emotion that everyone in the theatre was utterly transfixed. It's the only play I have seen which got a standing ovation from the entire theatre. I don't want to say too much more other than WATCH IT before it finishes its run on 2nd June. You won't regret it. It reminded me why I love this city. Where else can you stumble upon such incredible theatre on your doorstep. London, sometimes I really do love you! 





Well there ends my mammoth round up blog from the last few weeks. So tell me what have you been up to?







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