Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Naked Grocer, Walton-on-Thames

The Naked Grocer, Walton-on-Thames
The 'squeezed middle' have got food wrong in my opinion.  Some of the more socially or ethnically diverse areas ('vibrant' in estate-agent-speak) have fantastic food markets, great street food and really cost-effective cafes and restaurants.  I'm thinking of places like Tooting or Camberwell or Peckham (or even Brixton 'village')

Conversely there are the affluent areas with artisan bakeries or the delis where "Mummy goes to get the good chorizo".  Here is where you'll find a market for tapas bars, sushi bars or food marketed to local-vores where your steak comes with a grid reference and a family tree.

Your average, middling town has a Sainsbury's and a Greggs.

Walton-on-Thames finds itself just on the right side of average-to-affluent in my opinion - which means that although we have to suffer through Giraffe and Carluccio's there are some real diamonds in the rough like The Naked Grocer.  Opened 2 years ago and hidden away in Bridge Street (a hop, skip and a jump from The Thames) I had seen it many times but never actually gone in.  It's second birthday and special events tempted me to make the trip in to see what the fuss was about.

'Officially' the best green grocer in the country according to the RE:FRESH awards I could tell immediately that if this was within walking distance of my house I'd be here at least once a week.

Decent piles of local (or least British) and seasonal produce abound in suitably rustic surrounds.  I was reassured at the somewhat rugged appearance of the fruit and veg which shows that it has thankfully bypassed the supermarket procurement teams and their search for the visually inoffensive.  This is food that you would describe as having a 'good personality' - beautiful on the inside.

Their suppliers were out in force for the birthday celebrations and I sampled some of the Cottage Delight preserves and bought some of their Chilli-lilli.  That this is a familiar brand if you shop around some of the less obvious places should not distract from the quality of the product.  I also was offered a sample and subsequently bought a slice of Surrey's only remaining locally-produced cheese - Norbury Blue.  This is a mild, creamy-tasting blue cheese that is currently stinking my fridge out (but in a good way)

The find of the day though had to be the Isle of Wight Tomatoes.  I came away with a big bag of heirloom (or heritage?) tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colours.  This was in addition to the new love of my life:  Oak-smoked Tomatoes.  Imagine crossing sun-dried tomatoes with smoky bacon and you're almost there.

Well what were we to do with all this lovely produce?  We were tasked with producing a starter for a dinner party and I knew these tomatoes would have to form the centrepiece so with the contents of my fridge in hand an assembly job of a modified Caprese Salad was in order



  • A big bag of heirloom tomatoes - as many different sizes and colours as you can get.
  • A couple of avocados.
  • A couple of Buffalo Mozzarella Balls.
  • A handful of Basil.
  • A few spoonfuls of Oak-Smoked Tomatoes
  • A dressing of 50% Extra-virgin Olive Oil and decent Balsamic Vinegar
  • A handful of pine-nuts browned in a dry frying-pan.

I'm sure you can work it out!  Its all about the presentation!

Isle of Wight Caprese Salad

Monday, 12 September 2011

Review: The Palace (Korean), New Malden.

Korean Beef-rib Soup

I've only eaten Korean food once before - and that was BBQ Beef cooked by a middle-aged Korean couple on a makeshift grill in a random campsite in Moab, Utah.  They were part of our Trek America group and it was obvious that they were struggling with the food being cooked by the group - there are only so many times you can eat chicken pasta and I don't think their palate was trained for the dairy-heavy American pasta sauces.  They made a huge effort when their turn to cook came around but unfortunately I think the local Walmart was lacking one or two key ingredients to make the meal truly authentic.

Since then this cuisine has always been on my hit list but somehow has always been superseded by the latest street food sensation or hot restaurant opening.  I know there are a few Korean places dotted around the West-End - including the well-regarded Asadal in Holborn, the recently well-reviewed Arang in Soho as well as the row of Korean places behind Centrepoint but I was determined to try out a place in London's Korea-town of New Malden.  Although everyone knows where Chinatown is it seems very few people I have come across have clocked that approximately 20,000 Koreans live in this Zone 4 enclave - with the community centered on the Town Centre with its Korean restaurants and supermarkets.

I travel past New Malden every day on my commute - its about 6 minutes by train from Wimbledon or 22 minutes direct from Waterloo.  New Malden high-street definitely has a 'flavour' in the same way that one inhales the smell of a thousand curries cooking upon stepping out of the tube at Tooting Broadway, or the distinctive smell of Chinatown when wandering along Gerrard Street.

After a bit of research on Chowhound I finally settled on a visit to The Palace (which has no website that I can find).  The interior was quite pleasant but it was very quiet when we arrived at 6:30pm - it also has the dubious award of being the first restaurant I've ever been in to schedule in a full-volume screening of East-Enders during the meal.  

The Palace, New Malden

Each table has a grill built-in but ingredients for this seemed to start at around £25 and to be honest we had no idea what to order or even what we were doing - most other people in the restaurant did seem to have some kind of sizzling platter cooking or bubbling away in the middle though - something to revisit another time I think.

First up for the evening was a selection of starters delivered gratis.  I'm not completely sure what they were but we think we identified Kimchee, beansprouts, spicy beansprouts and what was identified by the waitress purely as 'potato' but was actually a rather delicious glazed, cold boiled potato in a sweet sauce.  All was very interesting thus far and our night was being sufficiently lubricated by the rather bland Hite Korean beer.

Free Korean starters

Hite Beer
We had no real idea of how much to order for two people so plumped for 2 pancakes next - one with Kimchee and one a tranditional Seafood pancake.  Both were fantastic with the seafood pancake particularly good with a decent amount of fishy filling in what was quite a dense pancake.  In fact it was so dense that I gave up trying to use the chopsticks and burned my fingers dipping it in the spicy sauce it was provided with.

Seafood Pancake

Kimchee Pancake

As good as the pancakes were they were my epic fail #1 - I think you'd want 1 pancake between 3 or 4 people and unfortunately I was already quite stuffed before we moved on.  My epic fail #2 was ordering something I really don't like because someone else has recommended it.  One of my least favorite things in the world to eat are soup noodles - mainly because I have the chop-stick skills of a  2 year-old.  I detest Wagamama and have only ever ordered Pho once (and never again) in a Vietnamese restaurant.  With this in mind I don't know why I ordered Beef-rib soup - or why I was surprised that it was a bucket of beefy broth with glass noodles and half a dozen ribs floating around.    

The dish itself was served bubbling-hot and the ribs, which due to my limited digital dexterity I had to fish out, were succulent but an exercise in texture rather than spice.  The broth was nice but it was definitely a broth - and by this time I was getting too full on the rice and frustrated by the mass of glass noodles at the bottom.  I get the feeling this is proper home-style Korean food and the soup is a full meal in itself - forgetting any starters or desserts or indeed other dishes.  I'm sure there are people out there who would love this.

I had serious food envy for the Spicy Beef soup my dining companion ordered - by all accounts this was a nice spicy dish, with meat off the bone and kissed by a slick of spicy red sauce.  I was too stuffed to even try it.

Korean Spicy Beef Broth

So I'm afraid I left (read: waddled out of) The Palace rather full but unsatisfied.  I'm not convinced I ordered well or indeed went with enough people to sample the best of the menu.  Do any readers have any recommendations on what to try or indeed any other restaurant to visit?

Our meal for 2 came to approximately £40 including drinks and service.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Review: The Anglers, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

One issue I have found with Walton is that there is no restaurant in the town centre that has really grabbed my attention.  It has the usual chains in any new development; Giraffe, Pizza Express, Carluccio's but a limited selection of independents.  In addition I'm afraid that the town centre pubs are also typical of their kind up and down the country.

Luckily, less than half a mile from the town centre there are two great pubs literally next door to each other on the river towpath.  The Swan is a Young's pub with a fantastic beer garden and what looks like a good BBQ menu.  For this reason it is generally packed on a nice day.  The Anglers is a slightly different proposition being much more food-oriented and a definite destination for a nice meal.

Its a real shame but I don't think we've made it up to the riverfront this summer until earlier this week.  Its a good two mile walk away but that shouldn't have dissuaded us.  I think we have just been distracted by all the possibilities of finally owning a car!

With this in mind and remembering a couple of nice meals enjoyed in the past we waited for a brief lapse in the bank holiday showers and sauntered along the Thames from Cowey Sale to the The Anglers - along a section of the river that we have enjoyed walking along before.  For the history fans out there this is where Julius Caesar is said to have crossed the Thames during the initial Roman invasion of these isles.

The Anglers itself definitely looks like a riverside building, or perhaps something one would expect to find nestling beside a sleepy lake somewhere in the Deep South.  The interior downstairs is from the school of gastropub 101 but the upstairs room must be one of the great places to view the Thames - with rowers from the local clubs constantly zipping back and forth and the lucky owners of small boats enjoying the river.  Outside is what must be an exclusive terrace - exclusive in the respect that it is always full by the time I get there.

The Anglers - Walton-on-Thames

I believe The Anglers may have new menu - its certainly changed and upped its game since the last time we were here.  There were also 3 real ales on tap including an excellent Sharp's Own of which I sampled a couple as well as a selection of Lock Fyne Oysters that went down well with the provided shallot vinegar (£2 an oyster)

The Anglers menu

Sharp's Original

Bread selection at the Anglers

Loch Fyne oysters

My main course was the day's market special; a well-presented Bacon-wrapped Sea-Trout with Parsley Pesto, new potatoes and Samphire.  The Sea-trout was moist and flaked nicely and was set-off well by the piquant pesto.  I have to admit to loving Samphire when its paired with a nicely cooked piece of fish and this didn't disappoint.  

Sea-Trout from The Anglers.

Also tried by me was the pan-roasted chicken with potatoes, broad beans, chorizo crisps and tarragon cream.  Normally chorizo will dominate any dish but here it was tempered well by the tarragon cream laced with peppercorns to give a well-balanced flavour.  A good dish.

Pan-roasted chicken from The Anglers.

Spiced-pork chipolatas, fried potatoes, corn-on-the-cob and tomato and apple chutney did exactly what it said on the tin.  These may not be exciting flavours but it was a well-executed plate - just one that I would not order myself given the other options.

Spicy Pork Chipolatas at The Anglers

I do like the portion sizing for most of the dishes here which should allow most people to comfortably try 3 courses.  Given it was lunch we did skip starters but these look equally good.  There are more substantial options though including that tried by one member of our party.  Scotch eggs were substantial with a rich orangey yolk but the Deep Fried Potatoes would have fed an army.

Scoth Egg at The Anglers.
Deep-Fried potatoes at The Anglers

Desserts were very good.  First up was a deconstructed Sipsmith Gin-and-Tonic trifle; the custard was homemade and the gin-and-tonic jelly tasted potent.  The only thing we thought was odd is that of course the sponge wasn't soaked in booze like it normally is - all in all though it was a thought-provoking dessert well worth the purchase.  Well done to The Anglers on this one.

Sipsmith Gin-and-Tonic trifle.

The other dessert sampled by the table was an Eton Mess with Chocolate syrup.  I'm loathe to write too much about this as I know just how easy these are to make - however that does not take away from the interesting presentation and the quality of the dish.  Recommended.

Eton Mess at The Anglers

On balance I'd say that The Anglers is the best meal out I've had in the immediate area.  Putting this in context I mean that this is a very good example of a gastropub which is a definite local destination - however would I recommend someone travel for an hour across London to go to it?  Not quite - there are  other good examples of the kind in most affluent neighbourhoods and villages both in and outside the Capital.  This should in no way take-away from my view that The Anglers offers a quality meal out in a fantastic location - there should be only one choice if you find yourself in Walton-on-Thames or are enjoying the Thames Path walk from Hampton Court.  If you live locally it is an absolute no-brainer.  

A 2-course lunch for 2 people with drinks and service would be around the £50 mark.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Review: Brazil Flavour at Whitecross Street Market EC1

In many ways I wish I worked in our City office more despite the nightmare commute.  Shoreditch is right around the corner with its eclectic collection of bars and nightlife and the great Vietnamese places on Kingsland Road are not much further.

One of the main rewards of schlepping through the hordes of people is the opportunity to peruse the delights of Whitecross Street Market.   This is the kind of food market that anyone would want 100 yards from your office and given its location between Moorgate, Old Street and Barbican it can get rammed by 1pm with queues of around 20 minutes for the popular Burrito stall Luardos.

With that in mind you can imagine my horror at  having a 30 minute lunch window imposed by inconsiderate organisers of conference calls. I was compelled to seek out a stall that had little to no queue - not normally a good sign but in this case I will put it down to the inability of most people to pronounce what was being sold.

Brazil Flavour do sell sandwiches but I was there for the Feijoada - the national dish of Brazil.  Feijoada is a stew of black beans, and smoked meat - often served with rice and toasted cassava flour (farofa).  This is a culinary cousin of a cassoulet - cooked low and slow over several hours so the meat falls apart and the flavours intermingle into rich, smoky and porky comfort food.  

I can understand why the Portuguese-speaking world roll this out for weekend family lunches.  This example included Chorizo as its primary meat component however I think there may have been some pork hiding in there as well.

I've never eaten this in Brazil or Portugal but have sampled what I think is a good one at Canela in Covent Garden.  This compares very well and for £4.50 is an absolute bargain - albeit one I shouldn't have eaten on a steaming-hot day before a 2 hour meeting!

Feijoada from Brazil Flavour

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Review: Cyprus Mangal, Pimlico

I've worked in Pimlico for nearly 6 years and have seen a big change in the area - most likely driven by the two successful theatre shows in the area:  Wicked and Bill Elliot.  

Over time there have been a number of new restaurants and cafes open to cater towards the pre-theatre crowd.  Pimlico Fresh replaced an old greasy spoon, The Queens Arms provides the local gastropub fare and the fantastic Cask Pub and Kitchen replacing the old Pimlico Tram with one of the best beer selections in London.

For at least the first 3 years I worked in the area I consistently walked past Cyprus Mangal due to the fact that from the outside it looks like a bog-standard kebab shop with nothing to distinguish it from any other example on the average high-street.  One day I decided to step through the front door to see the fantastic grill and smell the glorious scent of the lamb kofte.  Its such a shame I didn't discover this place earlier.

Cyprus Mangal grill
Putting my cards on the table - this is the only Mangal restaurant i've ever frequented.  I'd love to go to the much loved FM Mangal in Camberwell but never really find myself in that part of town.  Anyway - here is the Karasic kebab in all its glory.

The Lamb Kofte here is particularly good - very highly spiced and flavoursome to the point where my regular dining companion is convinced there must be some pork in there somewhere. In all honesty the lamb and chicken shish can vary depending on each visit but most of the time it is grilled to near perfection.  This is the spicy, meaty hit that I really crave especially if I've been subsisting on vegetables for a few days - mopped up with the delicious side dishes.

Karasic Kebab

Accompaniments are a nice bowl of Turkish bread, rice, some garlic and chilli sauces and a salad of red cabbage, spiced-cucumber and tomato and carrot.  They all hit the spot - especially the chilli that I normally scoff in one bite to set the tone for the meat-fest to follow.

I've subsequently learned that this Mangal (which i understand means 'Grill' in Turkish), is well-known to London's hordes of Black Cab drivers.  Experience has told me that cabbies know their way around London's best cheap eats and I have to concur that this offers the best £10 meal in the area.  I've had most things on the menu but please, please order the Karasic kebab or mixed grill from the menu which includes lamb kofte, lamb shish and chicken shish.  I also really like their lamb chops.  If you're really hungry order the Cyprus Mangal speciality selection which is an even bigger mixed grill however this is almost certainly excessive for lunch!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Review: Chula, Tachbrook Street Market, Pimlico

Tachbrook Street Market used to be a relatively poor lunch destination in a relatively poor area of town for food. Something miraculous has happened in 2011 though as Pimlico has seemingly embraced the street food revolution.  Initially the lineup was very changeable - I saw The Dogfather there once who is a darling of the food blogging scene but alas seems to have written Pimlico off for some reason (come back!).  There are a couple of Jerk Chicken places who never have any Jerk Chicken ready.

On the other hand there is a great Thai stall, a Falafel stall that does a roaring trade, an outpost of Gastronomica the local deli and a number of other stalls that seem to rotate around but provide a great meal for around a fiver.  No wonder that the local Subway is perpetually handing out vouchers at the entrance to the market.

Unfortunately I've just paid £5 for a rubbish lamb shish kebab from Tachbrook Street Market.  I really should have gone to Cyprus Mangal round the corner for a proper one.  Alternatively I should have done what I did yesterday and pay almost the same amount of money for an Indian Burrito from Chula (excuse the virtual dissection below but I had a tie on and didn't want to destroy it!)

Chula Lamb Burrito
Chula got a shout-out in The Guardian this week and I can already see that Vinod might be on to something with his Indian Burritos.  In many ways this is the culinary cousin to what is on offer at Moolis in Soho - however this definitely ticks all the Burrito boxes; saucy meat, beans, rice, salad in a tortilla wrap but with a twist from the sub-continent.

On arrival you have a choice between meat or vegetarian options.  When I went there was Chicken, Lamb or Paneer.

As a quick bite it hits all the right notes - we already know that curry and rice is a hit combo so the addition of  beans, carrot and coriander provide a great lift.  The Indian Burrito is an unqualified success as Street Food. These are the flavours that make me miss living in Tooting so if you're in the Pimlico or Victoria area be sure to check it out.  Here's Vinod striking a pose!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Recipe: Corn Bread

I love Corn Bread - its that almost sweet, almost savoury delicious accompaniment that complements other comfort food so well.  Its definitely Soul Food!

Corn Bread isn't part of of the British gastronomic portfolio - its routes lie in the Americas where the Native Americans used Maize as their staple crop before introducing it to European colonists when their unsuitable crops failed.  

Unlike most bread its basically a semi-savoury cake - and can be put together very quickly to provide some hearty stodge for guests - usually involved in mopping up gravy or sauces or spread thickly with butter.  Here it is accompanying Helen Graves fantastic Pork Cheek Tacos

 I use a recipe from Cajun:  A Culinary Tour of Louisiana by Judith Bluysen which I think might be out of print.  If you can get hold of a copy of this book there are some fantastic recipes in it - the author has a Cajun/Creole restaurant in Paris.  I don't think this recipe is that authentic (note the addition of plain flour) but it certainly hits the spot. 

Recipe for Corn Bread:

Dry Stuff

235ml of Polenta
235ml of Plain Flour
4 tablespoons of Caster Sugar
1.5 tbsp of Baking Power
1 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence
half tsp ground sage

Wet Stuff

235ml milk
2 eggs beaten

Other stuff
3.5 tbsp melted butter.

  1. Preheat oven to 220
  2. Mix dry stuff in one bowl.
  3. Mix wet stuff in another
  4. Pour the melted butter in a Loaf Tin ensuring its fully coated (excess butter goes in with the milk and eggs)
  5. Mix the the dry stuff with the wet stuff.  Don't be too anal - it can still be quite a little lumpy.
  6. Pour the combined mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the oven for 11 minutes.
This doesn't last very long in my house.  It tends to get eaten on consecutive nights as a side-dish - although next time i'm going to try spreading it with Jam or Honey for breakfast.  Nom.