Archive for London

Whitechapel – Brick Lane Beigel-Off

Posted in Brick Lane, England, London, United Kingdom, Whitechapel with tags , , , , on March 14, 2011 by gannet39

Aah beigels, little gluten-packed balls of pleasure. What distinguishes the London beigel, apart from the spelling (the rest of the world spells it ‘bagel’) is its harder surface (achieved by boiling the dough before baking) and the coarser texture of its interior. Originally Jewish, they are ideal for breaking fast after the Sabbath because they can be prepared beforehand and left to prove on the day of rest.

Beautiful beigel

Two shops have been fixtures on Brick Lane for donkeys years Beigel Shop (to the left as you’re facing the shops) claims to be Britain’s first ever beigel shop, opening in 1855, and the Beigel Bake (aka Brick Lane Bakery, to the right) which opened in 1974. Along with the local synagogue, they are last historical vestiges of the local Jewish community, many of whom settled here after escaping persecution in Eastern Europe during the 30s.

Beigel Shop

Legend has it that the Beigel Shop at #155 was owned by two brothers who fell out and one went off to open the Beigel Bake a couple of doors up at #159.  Still others say they are the same business. I’ve never had the courage to ask the stroppy staff which story is true but I suspect both are just urban myths! Here’s a video about the Beigel Shop.

Brick Lane Bakery

 

Both shops are open for 24 hours and  sell bread and cakes as well with most of the baking being done in the small hours.

Sweet stuff

This was how I first discovered them, at 4am in the morning after a hard night on the town, as part of a long queue of hungry clubbers, policemen, refuse collectors and other assorted nighthawks. There’s something very warming about coming into a bakery while it’s still dark outside.

stack em high

What blows me away are the huge tidal waves of beigels pouring out of the ovens and moving glacially down the production lines (the Bakery alone produces 7000 a night).

Ready for boiling

I try to drop in whenever I’m in nearby, eat two on the spot and take at least a dozen plain home for breakfast and the freezer.

Beigels for days
So which one is the best? I decided to have something from each to decide.

First I had the classic Hot Salt Beef beigel from the Brick Lane Bakery; thick slabs of hot salted meat, topped with fiery mustard and a cooling slice of pickled gherkin on request, although they forgot the gherkin (A-). The beigel itself was perfectly baked with a nice shiny firm surface all over, uniform colouring both top and bottom and a softer yet firm interior that was a joy to bite into. I bought half a dozen plain beigels here as well.

Hot salt beef and mustard
At the Beigel Shop I had the Chopped Mackerel option, the pickled vinegary taste of which appeals to my Nordic taste buds (A). Sadly however, the bun was disappointing, nicely firm and browned on the base but overly soft, pale and squashed on top, as were the half dozen plain ones I bought on the side.  It seemed I’d been unlucky and hit a bad batch. At 25p a throw you can’t complain too much though. Not that you’d want to, as service can be brusque (but generally friendly) in both places.

Mmm, chopped mackerel

As you can see, quickly filled beigels aren’t particularly photogenic but I can assure you they are much tastier than they look. Equally classic would have been the Salmon and Cream Cheese version but you can make those at home. I also had a huge apple turnover from here too which was hearty and tasty if lacking in finesse (B).

Price listThe next step was to cross reference my findings with a couple of local friends who I had blind taste the two plain versions as well as tell me their usual preference. The results were split, with current tastes conflicting with historical experience. It seems the Brick Lane Bakery at #159 had the best tasting beigels on the day, but usually the Beigel Shop is better.

However, it was pointed out that my testing was fundamentally flawed due to not having the same fillings from both shops. Seems that I’ll have to rerun the tests a few times to be completely sure. Bear with me.

Butty Boys at Borough Market

Posted in Borough Market, England, London, Southwark, United Kingdom with tags , , on March 9, 2011 by gannet39

 

Legend has it that Borough Market began life at the end of the original London Bridge when it was built by the Romans. Or was it King Canute? Anyway, the first written record of its existence dates from 1276 and it moved to its present site nearby in 1754, which at over 250+ years, still makes it London’s oldest market.

Under the arches

The surrounding Victorian streets and buildings have been used as set locations for several films, including Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Richard III and the Elephant Man.

Things have changed a lot since the good old days of course. Now Borough is justifiably famous for its farmer’s market which attracts an upmarket crowd, ready to pay top dollar for quality produce. On Saturday when we went it was heaving with Londoners and tourists, all hungrily perusing a massive range of artisan food stalls.  As well as handmade Melton Mowbray pork pies, Lincolnshire sausages and Wakefield rhubarb, this is the place to come for your German bread, Spanish charcuterie, Greek olives and fresh Mozzarella di Bufala (flown in every morning), and it’s all top tackle.

Cheesus!Pig piecesCrumblesOlioLebanese treatsSour doughsMuch shroomsShoalQuality mouldPorcine pleasureBread breedsMushroom freakDon't fancy yours muchThat's hanginRhubarb from Wakey

Stick and I were here to graze rather than to gather and, after a starter of samples of exotic cheeses and bread dipped in various grades of cold-pressed olive oil from several stalls, we settled down in the yard of Southwark cathedral next door to devour delicious grilled koftas, sandwiched in French bread, topped with charred halloumi and dripping with harissa. These went down with hearty tumblers of hot, spiced red wine and cider and a duo of Portuguese egg custard tarts finished things off nicely. Multi-cultural munching is the way forward.

Chilli and tuna tin installationWholesale is from 2am every day and retail from midday on Thursday and Friday and all day on Saturday. Many of the traders here can also be found at the much smaller but equally excellent Broadway Market on Saturdays in London Fields. Get to both if you can.

Covent Garden – Rules rules

Posted in Covent Garden, England, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , on November 3, 2010 by gannet39

Rules Restaurant (A+), 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, Tel. 0207 836 5314

Rules is the quintessential English restaurant, specialising in preparing the highest quality meat, game and fish for the moneyed classes.  Tucked down a Covent Garden back street, it was founded during the Napoleonic wars in 1798, making it the oldest privately owned restaurant in London.

Rules

They even have their own country estate in Lartington, Teeside from which they source much of their produce. What better place then to treat my old mate Andy on the occasion of his 40th birthday.

Ham Hock Salad and Duck Egg Mayo

After gaining admittance from the top-hatted doorman, we were advised by the accommodating Maitre d’  that our reserved table would not be ready for a few minutes so we adjourned upstairs for some pre-prandial martinis in the plush surroundings of the cocktail bar.

Bar

Mr Silva the head barman made us feel very at home and mixed us perhaps the finest dry vodka martini I have ever had.

Stirred never shaken

 

After a short while our table was ready so we moved downstairs to the opulent dining room. The decor is in a brasserie style with lots of red velvet, dark wood and stained glass.

Dining Room

On the walls, old prints, deer and antelope skulls compete with many other kinds of eclectic memorabilia collected over the last 200 years.

Hatstands

 

 

Dear deerFireplaceAs well as various kings, notable customers have included Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Graeme Greene, Evelyn Waugh, John Le Carre and Dick Francis, and consequently the restaurant has been mentioned in several novels.

Because of its history Rules could easily be a tourist trap but, while you might hear the odd American accent, it seems to have avoided being overly commercialised. Indeed, many Londoners have never even heard of it, unless they have a fair bit of disposable to burn that is. The table next to us were bemoaning the fact that mummy had been worried about the health of the family dog so she had sent it urgently to the vet, by helicopter!

To start proceedings we decided to compare the two kinds of oyster on offer. We found the Maldon Rock oysters to be much sweeter and creamier while the West Mersea Native variety had a firmer texture. Both benefitted from the wonderfully pungent shallot and red wine vinegar dressing that came in a gravy boat on the side.

Rock and native oysters



It was at this juncture that we had our only disappointment. The bottle of Sauvingnon Blanc we ordered was not chilled enough so we sent it back and went instead with an excellent Albarino from Galicia.

Albarino

This was also a good match with my Ham Hock Salad with Quail’s Eggs, Chickweed and Split Pea dressing and Andy’s Duck Egg Mayo with Wild Watercress.

LambGrouseFor my main I got the Whole Grouse with Game (parsnip) Chips, Bread Sauce and Savoy Cabbage. The bird was seated on a piece of toast covered in delicious grouse pate.  My friend had the more interesting looking Roast Salt Marsh Saddle of Lamb with Carrots and Rosemary Mash.

The wine was a great Tempranillo from Ribeiro del Duero which also went well with the complementary spoonfuls of Cropwell Bishop Stilton we wheedled from our kindly waitress.

Stilton

To finish, my Perry Jelly with Poached Pears and Pear Ice Cream was wonderfully clean.

Jelly on the plate

Andy’s Sticky Toffee Pud with dates and walnuts was rich and full of flavour. These went down with two glasses of  excellent Sauternes dessert wine (Chateau Rolland A.C. Barsac 2003). A fine end to a fine meal.

Toffee pud

Rules is not cheap of course, expect to go into three figures per head if you’re doing it properly, but the service, surroundings and the food are exemplary and we left glowing with contentment.  All you need to do is find a special occasion.

Funky food with a soul brother

Posted in Dalston, England, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by gannet39

Need to give a big shout out to my mate Andy who always noses out a good place for us to eat when I visit him down in London.

Gourmet San, 261 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 6AH Tel. 020 7729 8388. GEM ALERT!

Here we are Gourmet San, a ‘real’ Chinese cafe/restaurant. in East London It’s good for gizzards, lungs, tongues and intestines, but we stuck to their famous chilli crab, aubergine with cucumber and a brace of Tsing Taos. It’s become a bit of a cult place for lovers of Szechuan cuisine as any Google search will tell you. Here’s a great review from the Guardian.

Mangal Ocakbasi, 10 Arcola St, off Stoke Newington Rd, London, E8 2DJ, Tel. 020 7275 8981. GEM ALERT!

Another top place he’s taken me to is Mangal Ocakbasi, a cafe-style Turkish place in Dalston. We had the chicken wings which were great but they couldn’t compete with the marinaded lamb chops which were just stunning. The best Turkish food I know of in the UK, Rick Stein agrees apparently.  Bring your own beer.

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