The theme for May’s BSFIC challenge was chocolate. I invited bloggers to be liberal with their interpretation – not only chocolate ice creams, sorbets and lollies but also chocolate ripple and chips, chocolate sauces, even encasing ice cream in chocolate à la choc ice!

True to expectations, we have some wonderfully diverse and delicious entries:-

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Jo from Comfort Bites has shared her carefully honed recipe for chocolate ice cream served with hazelnuts. Although she’s only had her ice cream machine a month, she’s already made this a number of times, adjusting her recipe each time until she hit on her perfect chocolate ice cream. To achieve the best flavour, she advises using really good quality chocolate – you’ll taste the difference!

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Foodycat Alicia has come up with a delicious mocha almond semifreddo, combining the BSFIC theme of chocolate with We Should Cocoa’s theme of almonds. To these, Alicia added coffee following a request from the other half for a coffee ice cream. The poor weather put paid to her plans to smoke her almonds, so instead she blanched and roasted them and added them to the mocha mixture, with thick layers of chocolate fudge sauce.

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Kate from The Little Loaf helped me decide on the chocolate theme for May’s challenge and so I knew it would be one she’d enjoy herself! Her entry is a chocolate & honeycomb semifreddo and she includes a recipe for homemade honeycomb though advises that you could use ready made such as a Crunchie bar. She has used milk chocolate, vanilla and frangelico to flavour the semifreddo base and mixed the crumbled honeycomb into it before freezing. Serve in scoops or slices.

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For my own entry, I made a quick and easy triple mint choc chip ice cream layering flavours from fresh mint, a homemade crème de menthe substitute and the filling within chopped after eights. The latter also provided the chocolate, of course! To my surprise, given the completely made up nature of my recipe, both in terms of ingredients and amounts, this proved to be one of the best ice creams I’ve made; The flavour of both fresh herb and peppermint flavouring comes through, and the way the after eights go chewy once they’re frozen is fantastic!

Choccy Philly Frozen Yogurt

In BSFIC there’s room for showy, complex, pull-out-all-the-stops recipes and there’s room for the quick and easy ones, the ones that are simple yet delicious, the ones you make if the “hordes of ravenous Unexpected Guests wandering the country looking for victims” decide to drop in for dinner. Phil, author of As Strong As Soup, shares his wonderfully straightforward recipe for choccy philly frozen yoghurt made with Philadelphia Cadbury and yoghurt. Simples!

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Laura from How To Cook Good Food has combined some lovely flavours in her white chocolate saffron & cardamom sorbet with candied walnuts and black pepper white chocolate though she wants to work further on the texture of the sorbet itself. I love her idea to balance the sweetness of white chocolate with two such exotic and fragrant spices, and who can resist home-made candied walnuts? The recipe is broken down into three, the sorbet, the candied walnuts and the black pepper white chocolate.

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I love the name of Lora’s blog – Diary of a Mad Hausfrau – it well suits her eclectic life story and the varied content. Like Laura, Lora has also turned to white chocolate for her entry of white chocolate marzipan ice cream. She first makes the marzipan from scratch before making a white chocolate custard base which she churns in an ice cream machine, adding more white chocolate pieces and the marzipan. The finished ice cream sounds wonderfully intense!

Jennifer Brown - Smarties Icecream

Jenny from Bake is an ice cream fanatic, ever since she started making her own last year. For her BSFIC entry she has submitted a wonderfully simple Smarties ice cream, made with just 4 ingredients. I’m very pleased to see I’m not the only one taking the shortcut of using ready made custard! I’m also in love with Jenny’s bright and beautiful photographs; the styling is very appealing!

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This is one for the romantics; Kathryn from London Bakes relates how she and her boyfriend met and how they used to finish almost every meal together with a bowl of ice cream. With no ice cream machine at home, Kathryn was keen to try a no-churn recipe her friend Sarah over at The Vanilla Bean Blog posted earlier in the month. She adapted the recipe into a rhubarb and white chocolate ice cream by replacing the vanilla pods with a cup of white chocolate chips. The chocolate gave a pleasant creaminess to balance the tart rhubarb.

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Tiffany from Kitchen Conversations put in a lot of effort to make her raspberry-cassis ice cream sandwiches, after being given an ice cream machine by a friend. The idea was inspired by another friend who returned from a trip to New York enthusing about ice cream sandwiches. But instead of making a straightforward vanilla filling, Tiffany used raspberries and crème de cassis to make a glorious pink custard. And once it finally froze, she made chocolate cookie layers in which to sandwich it. Mmmm!

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What is not to like about chocolate, almond and amaretto? Yes, Debs from The Spanish Wok combined three of my favourite ingredients to make her chocolate, almond and amaretto ice cream. I’ve never used almond milk before; I like the idea of replacing regular milk to add more almond flavour. And I like that Debs also gives instructions for those who don’t have ice cream machines, so anyone can make this. And do try her suggestion of adding amaretto to chocolate syrup and drizzling that over the ice cream before serving.

Her original plan was for a chocolate and peanut butter ice cream but an upcoming dentist appointment for Mr Kitchen Princess Diaries lead Millie to switch to chocolate ice cream with a salted caramel swirl instead. There was, so she tells us, some bickering over the recipe, which they amalgamated from several sources. And for the sauce, they used a Nigella recipe. Adding salty caramel to chocolate definitely appeals, and makes it a more grown up ice cream than chocolate on its own.

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Aveen from Baking Obsessively likes ice cream with chocolate stracciatella or swirls or sauce, but doesn’t like chocolate ice cream itself. So for the challenge, she decided to make chocolate coffee ripple ice cream. First she made a delicious coffee custard base for the ice cream, then the chocolate syrup. Next, she churned her ice cream until soft, transferred the ice cream to its final tub, poured in some syrup and gently swirled it with a fork so it created ripples rather than mixed in. And of course, served it with some extra sauce drizzled over the top!

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Sharon is the author of Smithycraft, a blog in which she shares crafts and recipes “from the croft” where she lives. Her challenge entry is called shards of salted chocolate ice cream and is a rich vanilla ice cream into which she’s dribbled salted melted chocolate during the churning, so that it hardens against the cold ice cream and breaks into tiny pieces. She’s even made home made ice cream cones and baskets in which to serve it!

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Christina at Little Red Courgette’s post about hot summer weather makes me giggle, not least when she reveals how a trip to Asda resulted in her revealing her knickers to the neighbours! This ice cream took longer than planned – the first custard curdled and then Christina forgot to freeze the ice cream machine bowl – but eventually she was rewarded with a delicious coconut choc-chip ice cream that’s “a bit like a posh frozen Bounty”. Sounds gorgeous!

Jennie

As usual, Jennie from All The Things I Eat slipped in just before the deadline (as did all the entries below)! She and the husband collaborated on her entry of a home made ice cream lollies inspired by Feast bars. In the centre is a chocolate butter ganache. Then a layer of vanilla ice cream with butterscotch sauce swirled into it. And on the outside is melted chocolate with chocolate cookie crumbs. The final results may not have the sleek shape of a commercial Feast but I’m considering showing up at Jennie’s door and begging for one of my own!

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In a wonderfully circular reference kind of way, Ireena, author of Oh! Not Another Food Blog has taken my triple mint choc chip ice cream recipe above as inspiration for her own simple mint choc chip ice cream. She’s gone for my non-alcoholic suggestion, using peppermint extract instead of crème de menthe, and she’s switched after eights for a bar of delicious Green & Blacks dark mint chocolate. And she tells me that she took a tub along to some friends to watch Eurovision and they scarfed the lot! So happy you liked the idea, Ireena!

As one of the hosts of the long running and very popular We Should Cocoa challenge, Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog just had to find time to enter this chocolate ice cream challenge and I’m so glad she did. Her non-machine recipe for chocolate brownie ice cream features chunks of freshly made almond toffee brownie in a rich chocolate ice cream base. And just in case that hasn’t got you salivating already, she served it with a white chocolate sauce. Looks fabulous!

Chocolate Overdose

Taking inspiration from that 1990′s ambassador and his parties, Jacqui from There’s Proper Food In There Somewhere created an ice cream version of The Ambassador’s Balls! To her basic vanilla custard recipe she added chocolate and frangelico liqueur and then, once the ice cream was churned and frozen solid, created round scoops which she rolled in chopped hazelnuts. I don’t know about you, but I’d happily go to Jacqui’s parties, if she served me these!

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Donna from Beating Limitations has just returned back to London from a trip to Texas – seems as though both cities are experiencing a bout of warm and sunny weather, perfect for ice cream! Donna made a coffee enhanced chocolate sorbet based on a River Cafe classic. I can imagine how well strong coffee and dark chocolate work together in a sorbet, with no diary to mute the robust flavours.

 

As always, a wonderful set of posts … thank you so much to everyone for entering.

Do look out for June’s challenge, to be posted soon; in a first for BSFIC, I have a super prize to give away to my favourite June entry!

 

One Friday a few weeks ago, I made an enormous pot of Boston Baked Beans & British Bangers. I doubled up the recipe, substituting chopped onions for the shallots and let it cook for a few hours extra, allowing the liquid to reduce to a proper thick consistency. All day, the smell made my tummy rumble!

We took it round to friends for dinner, our turn to do the main course this time. Forgetting quite how filling the beans are, most of the ficelle and baguette I sliced were left uneaten. Inspired by the lovely chocolate marmalade bread and butter pudding my friends made for dessert, I brought the sliced bread home with me.

A couple of days later, when the sliced bread was well and truly stale and hard, I made it into a delicious bread and butter pudding, using my homemade clementine curd to add flavour.

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You could use lemon curd (or any other fruit curd) or even a favourite fruit jam instead.

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I love a bread and butter pudding to have crunchy bits, so I left the crusts on the bread. This was a good decision, and Pete, who is usually a bit meh about bread and butter pudding, said he really liked this one, because of the contrast of crunchy crusts with soft custard-soaked bread.

 

Clementine Curd Bread & Butter Pudding

Ingredients
Approximately 1.5 baguette (or similar), sliced
Butter, enough for one side of all slices
100-150 grams clementine curd, or other curd or jam
300 ml double cream
300 ml full fat milk
3 large eggs
2 + 1 heaped tablespoons light demerara sugar

Note: Amounts in the recipe are approximate; do adapt them to fit your leftovers.

Method

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  • Butter all the slices of bread on one side, then spread a layer of curd onto the same side.

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  • Arrange the slices of bread in a baking dish, with the curd sides facing the same direction.
  • Mix 2 heaped tablespoons of the sugar with the milk, cream and eggs and whisk to combine.

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  • Pour the liquid carefully over the bread.
  • Leave the pudding aside for at least an hour, to allow the liquid to properly soak into the bread.

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  • Before baking, preheat the oven to 180 C (fan) and sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top.

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  • Bake for about 25 minutes, until the top is nicely browned.

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As is so often the way, by looking at several very different recipes on the internet and then coming up with my own to fit the ingredients I wanted to use up, I’ve remembered how easy it is to ring the changes by adding different flavouring ingredients to the bread and custard.

Do you have any favourite bread and butter pudding recipes or ideas to share?

 

Just a quick heads up to my readers about a competition Pete has launched on Pete Drinks today, to win a mixed case of Daas Beer. Daas is a young British business brewing Belgian beers in Belgium, using traditional methods and recipes.

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The prize includes 4 each of Daas Ambre (organic gluten-free), Daas Blond (organic gluten-free) and Daas Witte (organic) and delivery to any UK mainland address.

Good luck!

 

Since our weekend in Amsterdam a couple of months ago, I’ve shared a comprehensive list of Amsterdam food specialities and my recommendations on where to find great coffee, cakes and snacks.

In this post, I want to share a few tips on restaurants and bars:

Getto (Burgers & Bar)
Brouwerij ‘t IJ (Brewery Bar)
Lab 111 (Bar Restaurant)
Cafe ‘t Arendsnest (Pub)
Cafe t’ Smalle (Pub Restaurant)

 

GETTO

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Getto is a burger bar with bling. Describing itself as “an attitude-free zone, for gays, lesbians, bi, queers and straights”, the space is both a restaurant and a drinks lounge and has more disco balls hanging from the ceiling than you’d find in a disco balls shop. All the burgers are named for drag queens who perform there, though our early evening visit meant we missed them.

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The burgers are all priced between €12.50 and €12.90 and come with a portion of home made chips, a little salad and a pot of sauce and include such beauties as the Jennifer Hopelezz (melted cheddar cheese, bacon and guacamole), The Lady Bunny (bacon, sautéed mushrooms and gorgonzola sauce) and the Windy Mills (grilled chicken breast with warm goat cheese, bacon and honey, served with whole grain mustard).

The burgers were decent, but not stellar. The main let down was the patties themselves which I think must have been deep fried. They had a hard crust on the outside and were a little tough throughout, though the flavour was good. However, what won the day were the stonkingly good house chips, skin on and cooked till beautifully brown and crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy inside. The secondary fillings and sauces were also spot on.

By the time we left, a few more customers were finally arriving, and I’m sure this would be a great party spot for those with open minds and open wallets.

Getto
Warmoesstraat 51
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 4 pm to late.

 

 

BROUWERIK ‘T IJ

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An obvious destination for beer lovers visiting Amsterdam but is it a worthwhile one?

The Brouwerij ‘t IJ is located in an old bath house, grain store and windmill, however it’s not as old as you might expect, founded less than 30 years ago in 1983. Today, the brewery still brews all its beer on location here, and visitors can enjoy scheduled tours, should they wish.

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The best way to sample their offerings is to start with a taster of five beers for €7.50. Pete really enjoyed these, and afterwards, a glass of the 6th beer on tap that day.

For me, a number of the beers had a distinctly urinal smell (and no, I wasn’t sitting too near the toilets) which I found off putting but everyone else seemed to enjoy them immensely, and of course, I’m not a big beer drinker.

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The bar also sells a range of snacks, including peanuts, eggs, cheese, salami and a specialist local raw beef sausage.

There’s also a neighbouring cafe called Langendijk which offers a more extensive food menu. I particularly enjoyed the meatballs I had there as we waited for the brewery bar to open.

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Long communal tables make for a friendly experience and we enjoyed chatting about Amsterdam food and drink to a local couple who visit the brewery regularly.

Opening hours mean this isn’t an option for a late night session, so best to visit during the afternoon and take advantage of the outside tables in good weather.

Brouwerij ‘t IJ
Funenkade 7, out east past the Scheepvartmuseum
Open: daily 3 pm to 8 pm

 

 

LAB 111

Lab 111 “media cafe” is located within the SMART Project Space. SPS is an cultural centre offering a continuously changing programme of exhibitions and events.

SMART opened in 1994, in a former Pathological Anatomical Laboratory located in a deprived urban neighbourhood not far from the city centre. The website talks of civic improvement, of providing high quality municipal service and creating a new cultural platform. As well as several galleries for the exhibition of art and events, it also provides 12 artists studios of which 6 are reserved for Dutch artists, and the rest for artists from abroad. Patrons, sponsors and an in-house team support the artists in developing, producing and realising their projects.

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But we didn’t go because we’d heard about the worthy arts centre. We went because I’d read good things about the food.

We walked from the tram stop deeper into a large housing estate. It was dark; at first there were no other people on the streets, then a group of teenage boys, loitering. When we failed to find our destination, we pulled into the lighted entrance hall of a block of flats to check our map and I started to feel conspicuous, nervous, even vulnerable. I had no reason to be – the boys weren’t showing any interest us, let alone doing anything to warrant my fear – but still, we swiftly decided on a direction to try next and quickened our pace.

Just I was about to curse myself and my plans to try something a bit different, and give up, Pete noticed a large red brick building and a tiny sign for Lab 111.

As we entered the main reception, it reminded me of a school. No one was about, the floors and walls had that low budget public building look to them. We followed signs and quickly found ourselves inside the bright, light space of Lab 111.

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Bizarrely, though I kind of liked it, the walls were covered in photographic print mimicking the stacked shelves of a supermarket. All around us were food, drink and household supplies, all with their shelf price labels

Tables and chairs were utilitarian, and not the most comfortable, but OK. Part of the space was given over to a stage area. During our visit it had extra tables set up on it, but it’s used regularly for live performances, we were told. As well as the more formal dining area, there was a large bar and a big green communal table underneath what looked like medical operating theatre lights. As I said, a strange place, but likable.

The review I’d found online suggested a more unusual menu than we were given, things like salt cod fritters with paprika ketchup and wakame seaweed. However, the most unusual thing on the menu was kangaroo and that’s common enough, these days. Still, there were plenty of appealing options.

Pete had the soup of the day (€6.50), a rich squash of some type. It was decent.

I went for the scallops with red and yellow beet carpaccio and lobster gravy (€9.75) which was generous and delicious. My three large scallops were plump and beautifully cooked, with caramelised surfaces and soft flesh. With them came the paper-thin slices of beetroot and a well dressed salad. A good dish.

For our mains, we both ordered the beef steak with potato gratin, mushrooms, beans and garlic gravy (€19.50). Plating was pretty sloppy, even given the casual nature of the place, but the cooking and flavours were good and the portion very generous. Both of us enjoyed it well enough.

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The biggest disappointment was my dessert, a banana cream pie with dulce de leche (€7.50). It sounded like banoffee but had very little flavour and the layers of bread between the cream and banana were dry and tasteless, having not been soaked in anything for flavour or moisture.

Overall, our meal was good not great, but we really enjoyed it.

Within an hour of our arrival, the place was packed, and I’d imagine none of the other diners felt the slightest hesitation on walking to the restaurant. When we left, walking back along the same route, through the estate, across a canal bridge and back towards the busy main road and the tram stop, I chided myself for my irrational and judgemental reactions earlier. The estate might not be wealthy, but the properties were well looked after, and I had no reason to consider it any less safe than anywhere else we visited in the city.

Certainly, Lab 111 is not in a conventional location, nor easy to find for tourists like us, but it’s clearly popular with people who come from much farther than the small local neighbourhood for the food, the buzz and the art.

Lab 111
Arie Biemondstraat 111
Open daily from midday until 1 am (3 am on Fridays and Saturdays)

 

 

CAFE ‘T ARENDSNEST

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Pete has already written about the wonderful Cafe ‘t Arendsnest which we visited twice during our visit, so much did we like it the first night.

To our surprise, most of the bars in Amsterdam serve Belgian beer. Not so Cafe ‘t Arendsnest which serves a huge array of only Dutch beers, claiming to have at least one representation from each of the country’s 50+ breweries. And better still, the bar has 30, yes 30 taps so there’s a superb selection on draft as well as the wide range of bottles.

‘t Arendsnest means The Eagle’s Nest and is also a pun on the name of owner Peter van der Arend, a Dutch beer enthusiast and expert.

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A huge blackboard lists all the draft beers (with ABV and prices provided) but you can also ask the “beerologists” for advice; the cafe is staffed by men and women who know and love their beer and are happy to help customers discover new favourites.

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For a proper meal you’ll need to go elsewhere but bar snacks include various Dutch cheeses, meatballs and nuts.

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There are non-beer drinks, for those who want them. I absolutely loved the Speculaas Liqueur by Zuidam, and their Amaretto was very good too. Pete enjoyed a wide range of the draft beers over the two nights.

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I should say a word about the look of the place too – all comforting wooden panels and polished brass, with enormous lights that look like something out of a ship.

It’s not a big place, with a long row of bar stools and just a few tables, but as the leery drinkers tend to head for the bars selling cheap lager and playing loud music, serious beer lovers should be able to find a corner to squeeze into.

Cafe ‘t Arendsnest
Herengracht 90, corner of Herenstraat
Open Friday 4 pm – 2 am, Saturday 2 pm – 2 am and Sunday 2 pm – midnight.

 

 

CAFE ‘T SMALLE

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Located on a pretty canal in the city centre, Cafe ‘t Smalle is a cafe pub restaurant located in a tiny space within a building originally built in 1780. Many of the beautiful vintage brass features date back to its origin as the Hoppe distillery, and there are old oak casks stacked above the bar, opulent chandeliers, lots of wood panelling and the most beautiful lead glass windows.

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Unlike ‘t Arendsnest, ‘t Smalle doesn’t specialise in Dutch beer, and indeed much of the offering is Belgian/ international. Staff are friendly and prices are normal for Amsterdam.

The ground floor bar area is for drinks and bar snacks and the small restaurant dining room is located on a mezzanine up a narrow staircase at the back. In warmer weather, the tables outside are very popular.

Cafe ‘t Smalle
Egelantiersgracht 12
Open Sunday to Thursday 10 am – 1 am, Friday & Saturday 10 am – 2 am

 

Eurostar UK provided Kavey Eats with return train tickets to Amsterdam and the first night’s hotel reservation.

 

The surprise winner of my recent Jaffa Cake Taste Test, in which a panel of tasters helped me rate 12 brands of jaffa cakes, was Asda Chosen By You Jaffa Cakes.

Yep, a 65 pence packet blew all the others out of the water, including one brand that was virtually double the price!

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In response to my blog post, Asda ran a fun competition inviting readers to win their height in jaffa cakes! If you’re the same height as the member of Asda staff in the photograph, that’s 9 boxes of jaffa cakes, maybe one or two more if you’re really tall.

But here on Kavey Eats, we’re offering you the chance to win 77 packets – yes, seventy-seven!

That’s £50 worth of gloriously delicious jaffa cakes with a soft tasty sponge, a generous layer of jammy orange jelly that tastes of real fruit and a thick, glossy coat of dark chocolate.

924 of the little darlings!

And it’s up to you whether you keep them all to yourself or share them with your friends, family and work colleagues!

Chosen By You Jaffa Cakes

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter the competition in 2 ways.

Entry 1 – Blog Comment
Leave a comment below, answering the following question:
What other jelly flavour do you think would make a good jaffa cake alternative?

Entry 2 – Twitter
Follow @kaveyf on twitter and tweet the (exact) sentence below:
I’d love to win 77 packets of @Asda jaffa cakes from Kavey Eats! http://goo.gl/yls2C #KaveyEatsAsdaJaffa
Existing followers are, of course, welcome to enter!

RULES & DETAILS

  • The deadline for entries is midnight GMT Saturday 9th June 2012.
  • The winners will be selected from all valid entries using a random number generator.
  • The prize is 77 x 150 gram packets of Asda Chosen By You jaffa cakes, and includes delivery to a UK mainland address only.
  • The prize cannot be redeemed for cash.
  • The prize is offered directly by Asda Stores Limited.
  • One blog entry per person only. One twitter entry per person only. You do not have to enter both ways for your entries to be valid.
  • For twitter entries, winners must be following the @kaveyf account at the time of notification, as this will be sent by Direct Message.
  • Blog comment entries must provide an email address for contacting the winner.
  • The winners will be notified by email or twitter. If no response is received within 7 days of notification, the prize will be forfeit and a new winner will be picked and contacted.

*If you don’t have a secondary email address already and are nervous about sharing your main email address on the internet, why not set up a new free email account on hotmail, gmail or yahoo, that you can use to enter competitions like this?

The winner of this competition was “craftilicious”. See her post about winning, here.

May 222012
 

In celebration of the annual Chelsea Flower Show and the Open Garden Square Weekend, Le Cercle restaurant is currently offering a Flower Menu, available now until the end of June.

The day before it launched, Pete and I went along to sample all five courses (£35), and the matching wines (£25).

My first hurdle was the tiny entrance lobby, where the reception and cloakroom is located. The space is so tiny that more than two people is a squeeze, which isn’t ideal if you arrive as other guests are leaving.

Additionally, the stairs down to the basement dining room are poorly lit (a number of the floor level lights were broken on our visit), the steps don’t extend the full width of the stairwell and the bannister is troublingly thin. These in conjunction with my vertigo meant I my heart was thumping by the time I reached the bottom and we were shown to our table.

Most tables are in the open central area of the room, but I spotted one very private table in a curtain-protected alcove and there are two larger booths on a platform level a few steps above the main floor.

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Both types of bread (plain brown and one made from an eggier dough full of plump spiced dried fruit) were lovely.

They were served with a pat of butter heavily sprinkled with multi-coloured dark crystals. On asking, I was told it was a home-made mélange du trappeur (trapper’s mix) including sugar, salt and pepper, dried garlic and onion. Whatever was in it, I absolutely loved it, particularly with the sweetness in the fruit bread.

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The idea behind the flower menu is to use local flowers and herbs in all five dishes. For me, the theme was a little tenuous in the starter of confit salmon, white beetroot, horseradish granite and borage, with only a single borage flower as edible decoration.

Still, I enjoyed the dish. The salmon had a decent strong smoke and was oily soft.

I loved the cold white horseradish granita which worked on texture, taste and temperature fronts.

Inside the salmon was grated white beetroot with a semi-crunchy texture which reminded me of celeriac remoulade.

Instead of seasoning, fat orange salmon roe provided mouth bursts of saltiness.

Lastly, there was a tiny spoon of a brown jellied substance. I’ve no idea what it was, nor did I like the flavour, but wonder whether it was an additional use of borage?

The first wine, a very “fresh, green” dry white from Alsace, did a good job of cutting through the strong, oily fish.

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Next came the pan fried seaf bass, green almond coulis, black aubergine and daisies. I’m not sure that green almonds are either local or fit the flower theme, but the smear of puree was alright, if not thrilling.

The sea bass was beautifully cooked and very enjoyable; soft flesh and crisp skin.

But the aubergines were the best thing on the plate, marinated or basted in something sweet that intensified their flavour during cooking, resulting in rich, sticky, sweet and savoury goodness.

Again, the single daisy on top struck me as decorative rather than integral to the dish. I know daisies are edible, but I didn’t eat mine.

Pete commented that he’d had a moment where he came over all “Mastercheffy” and put a little of all three main elements on his fork at the same time. It was, he said, “very tasty”!

This dish was matched with a really fruity organic rosé from the South of France. Pete liked it’s “dry fruitiness” with the fish.

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The plate of roasted lamb chump, polenta fries, confit tomatoes and rosemary flower was generous, with two large pieces of meat. The lamb was very full flavoured, so much so that I thought it might be hogget, but its tenderness belied that possibility; it was super soft. The surface was properly browned, giving lots of flavour, with the inside a deep pink.

I dislike polenta; there’s something about that granular texture that simply doesn’t sit well with me. Pete thought the fries were OK but we both agreed we’d have enjoyed potato ones far more.

The gravy, still with flecks of meat clearly visible, rather than strained and made to gloss, was deeply savoury.

Again, the flower theme seemed a bit of an afterthought with just one single flower on the plate, which I failed to capture in my picture. Instead of the rosemary flower listed in the menu, a pretty purple-pink chive flower was used, with a delicious raw garlic bite which was lovely with the lamb. A couple more would have been nice.

Pete wasn’t as sure about the choice of a full bodied Bordeaux red which he felt was too big a wine for the sweetness of the lamb, with its punchy tannins knocking that aside somewhat.

 

Though the menu listed St Maure and lavender it hadn’t come in on time so we were served a slice of Langres, preserved figs and rhubarb pate de fruit. Langres is a cheese I love, a mild smelly sock odour and matching taste. The figs were preserved like a chutney, spiced and brown, but whole or halved rather than chopped up small; very good. The square of green jelly was apparently made from rhubarb, though it didn’t taste like it to us, with a herbal rather than tart fruit taste.

The cheese was served with a dry red from Saumur, a wine Pete really liked, describing it as “a proper lip-curling Saumur”. That said, he didn’t rate it with the Langres, though liked it better with the fig chutney and jelly. We suspected it had been chosen for the original dish of St Maure and lavender.

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Finally a dish where the chosen flower was integral – a dark chocolate tart and violet ice cream.

The pastry shell was thicker than one often encounters in posh restaurants (or patisseries) but it was so buttery soft and crumbly, and perfectly cooked, that I liked having a little more of it. The chocolate filling was deliciously dark and certainly melt in the mouth smooth.

The faintly purple ice cream was subtle but at the same time, the perfumed flavour of the flower came through clearly. I’d have liked it to be just a touch stronger to hold its own against the chocolate, as it was lost a little when the two were eaten together. On it’s own, it worked well.

The Gaillac dessert wine was a good choice, not quite as syrupy sweet as some, but still sweet enough not to be rendered unpleasantly acidic by the tart and ice cream. Pete felt it reminiscent of mead.

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With tea and coffee, chocolate truffles and very mini macarons were served. The macarons looked adorable but tasted of very little. The truffles were good, though.

 

We enjoyed the special menu, but didn’t feel as strong connection with the proposed floral theme as we’d hoped for.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Le Cercle restaurant.

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Let me be candid for a moment. I’m a little bit of a snob when it comes to restaurant chains. Over the years of eating out in such places, whilst I’ve only occasionally had truly awful experiences, neither have I encountered truly great food either.

I’m not such a prat that I refuse to set foot in such places, and I’ve eaten my share of meals in Pizza Express, Wagamamas et al. They’ve been fine. And of course, I’ll grab a coffee and croissant from the various chains or a quick lunch on the run. But when it comes to choosing where to spend my hard earned cash for a nice meal out, it’s not usually a chain I turn to.

But there are upsides to chains, not least the expectation of a familiar menu, delivered in a consistent way, at prices that have benefited from economies of scale in purchasing. Many chains do a pretty good job of providing food that their public enjoy and can afford, in well-managed spaces run by well-trained staff.

Recently, I accepted an invitation to review Thai Square, a small chain of 17 restaurants in London and nearby towns.

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Existing commitments made it easiest for me to visit the St Albans branch, located in the heart of the town centre, on the junction of the tiny George Street and Verulam Road.

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It’s housed in a really beautiful 15th century timber-framed building which has been refurbished sensitively to retain original features. Large windows along the George Street side let in plenty of natural light during the day. It’s a very pleasant space.

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To start, we both went for freshly blended non-alcoholic fruit drinks. My Melon Mint (£5) was delicious, like a glass of summer, full of the freshness of melon and mint. The layer of froth was enormous though, which meant that the glass contained far less drinkable volume than it appears. Pete’s Kiwi Berry (£5) fared better on that front, and was equally fresh and tasty, combining kiwi fruit with red berries for an altogether sweeter result. Both benefited from being light rather than smoothie thick or sticky; too many places make their non-alcoholic options too dessert-like.

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Our first starter was the Giant Duck Spring Roll (£6.50). These were decent, crispy without being greasy and with a nice filling of duck, cabbage, carrots and vermicelli. The hoisin sauce alongside was a decent one, with pleasant slightly smoky flavour. Pete commented that it was like a fried version of aromatic crispy duck pancakes.

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For our other starter, we actually ordered a main dish, the Yum Nua (Beef Salad) (£8.95). Described as thinly sliced grilled sirloin with a “fresh cucumber salad, Thai herbs and spicy dressing” I was a little disappointed that there was more celery than cucumber (but that’s because I dislike it and picked it out – the husband didn’t mind its presence at all). The textures and flavours were great, with lovely freshness from cucumber, tomato, raw onion and shredded lettuce, a nice bit of chew from the beef and great heat and flavour from the dressing and herbs. Another plus point is that the salad had been properly tossed, ensuring that all the components were nicely coated in the dressing.

The portion was decent, and would be ideal on its own for a light, healthy lunch.

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For actual mains, we quickly selected a (Chicken) Gang Penang (£8.50) as it’s a dish we order regularly and have tried at many Thai restaurants over the years. Described as a “dry curry” it was served with a thick sauce, thicker than we’ve encountered elsewhere. Although the menu listed this dish as relatively hot, with the same two chilli icon as the beef salad, it was actually milder than we expected and could have benefited from a touch more heat.

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Wanting to try one of the many fish and seafood dishes on offer, I asked for guidance from the staff and was directed towards the Chu-Chee Goong (King Prawns) (£13.95), recommended for the enormous size of the king prawns. Sadly, although our waitress had just written down our order for Penang chicken, it didn’t occur to her to point out that the sauces are virtually identical. Indeed, when I asked after the dishes had been delivered and tasted, staff confirmed that the only difference was the addition of extra lime leaves to the Chu-Chee. The lack of variation in flavours was a disappointment, but still, the prawns were good, and as promised, the four giants on the plate were truly enormous! Serving them in their shell underneath a thick sauce did make them difficult to eat, but I persevered!

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A side dish of Pak Choi With Garlic And Oyster Sauce (£5.95) was excellent, cooked to just the right point of softness and crunchiness and coated nicely in the sauce.

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Chicken Fried Rice (£7.50) is another dish we often order, a plain and simply comfort dish that we occasionally crave in place of richer offerings. Although egg fried, coconut or sticky rice might be a more appropriate choice to go with the rest of our order, we wanted to see how Thai Square’s version compared to those we know well. In short, the flavours were right but there was not enough chicken and the portion was much smaller than we’ve encountered elsewhere.

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The Kooneow Mamuang (Coconut Sticky Rice With Mango) (£6.50) was surprising and delicious. Surprising because the faintly green rice was not only wonderfully chewy (which I expected) but also salty rather than sweet (which I didn’t). This dense, mildly savoury rice was a great contrast to the fresh mango, though the latter wasn’t as sweet as the best mangoes can be. The coconut cream on the plate served more as decoration than ingredient for me, as it had very little flavour of its own.

So, as you can see, we had a good meal. I’d rate it as decent rather than stellar, but I’m not trying to damn with faint praise. What we ate was certainly better than we’ve had in many (independent, non-chain) Thai restaurants, though not the very best we have experienced.

My only remaining issue is that the prices seem a little high, and that’s even to someone accustomed to London prices. St Albans has a great many dining options, and whilst there’s a large enough population (and visitors) to support them, I can’t help but feel most of the prices are £1 or £2 too spendy for what we ate.

On the bank holiday Saturday lunch time of our visit, we weren’t the only diners, but only 3 other tables were occupied in a space that can seat many, many more.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Thai Square.

 

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This week is National Vegetarian Week (21st – 27th May). The idea is to promote inspirational vegetarian food and raise awareness of the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle.

Whilst one does occasionally come across the odd vegetarians who seems to subsist on little more than beans on toast, cheese and chips, I am sure most of us know that it is perfectly possible to follow a healthy, delicious and varied vegetarian diet, if one chooses.

Indeed, my mum was a vegetarian until she moved to the UK in her early 20s, and most of my relatives in India follow a vegetarian diet. Although she did eat meat for a couple of decades, mum has moved back towards vegetarianism, though she is most accurately described as pescetarian, as she has retained fish and seafood in her diet.

Whilst I can’t see me giving up meat any time soon, there are certainly many reasons to reduce the amount of meat I eat, including my health, the environment (it takes more energy and land to produce meat than fruit and vegetables) and of course, my wallet. (What meat I eat I want to be good quality, responsibly reared and delicious and that means paying more for it).

With so many vegetarians in India, it’s no surprise that the cuisines of that country – I use the plural because there are such enormous regional differences – offer a great way for vegetarians, and those simply wishing to reduce their meat intake, to enjoy meat-free meals that look, smell and taste great.

I know this and yet, I’m not very good at putting it into practice.

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Recently, I heard about the special menu that Cinnamon Kitchen has devised in celebration of National Vegetarian Week, and was invited along to sample it ahead of it’s launch today. The set menu features 5 vegetarian courses, is priced at £25 per person and is available from the 21st to the 31st of May.

Cinnamon Kitchen is is the 2nd restaurant in a group of three, the first being The Cinnamon Club which opened a little over 10 years ago. Cinnamon Kitchen opened in 2008 and the latest sibling, Cinnamon Soho, just a couple of months ago.

Executive chef of the group is Vivek Singh but CK’s menu is the work of head chef Abdul Yaseen. Yaseen worked with Singh for almost a decade, before taking the head chef role at Cinnamon Kitchen when it opened.

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Cinnamon Kitchen has an enviable location within a beautifully modernised old warehouse complex located in a leafy square a stone’s throw from Liverpool Street station. The restaurant entrance opens into the enormous glass-covered Western Courtyard where outdoor tables benefit from lots of light (or a view of the stars) yet are protected from rain and wind.

Inside, to the left is the Anise bar lounge and to the right the main dining area, with space for over 100 covers. As is common for Indian restaurants these days, it’s an attractive space with warm brick walls, modern furniture and enormous globe light fittings. Along one side is an open tandoori grill with a long row of bar stools, like a Japanese sushi bar. Behind, frosted windows give hints of frenzied activity in the main kitchen.

My friend Rachel and I chose a table in one corner, from where we could watch the restaurant fill to bursting with local office workers and empty again only an hour later.

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Whilst I do often order vegetarian dishes when eating out, it’s rare for me to choose an entirely vegetarian selection for all courses, so I was genuinely curious as to whether I’d miss meat during the meal.

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Before we started on the set menu, we were served an amuse, sent to all the tables. A spherical bread-crumbed potato fritter served on a stick, with gooseberry chutney and a little natural yoghurt, the fritter was soft and crunchy, and the gooseberry chutney a perfect balance of tart, sweet, spiced fruit. My only suggestion would be to be more generous with it, as just the tiniest smear was dabbed onto the potato fritter.

As the first two dishes from the set menu were served chef Abdul Yaseen came to tell me more about the dishes themselves and shared his cooking philosophy for Cinnamon Kitchen.

I tasted of one of the dishes and commented on how absolutely familiar and authentic the taste was, a surprise given the modern presentation of the dish. He responded that his “food is very much within the roots of Indian cuisine“… he aims to share a “modern Indian cuisine” which is “not fusion but innovation“, that is to say he “stick[s] to traditional recipes but play[s] with textures and presentation“. He wants to create “layers of flavour” and “to highlight the ingredients“, which themselves are “adapted to the seasons” here in the UK.

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A shot glass of ambi panna was served ice cold. Chef Yaseen told us how he uses the first of the season’s raw mangoes, smoked in a hot oven before being combined with mint, fennel, cumin. Such a lot of flavour in such a small glass! I assume there’s also some chilli to create the intense combination of chilli heat and ice cold temperature… This amuse bouche really slaps the palate awake before the meal to come!

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The menu describes the starter as smoked tomato & morel soup, pickled mushroom salad, coriander and lemon cress but chef Yaseen referred to the soup as rasam, a popular South Indian soup featuring tamarind water, tomato, pepper and chilli.

As we tasted it, we immediately thought back to Yaseen’s words about layering flavours and using texture to present traditional dishes in a new way. Slices of morel and a few micro herbs gave more substance to the thin, fragrant and incredibly rich soup. The pickled mushrooms and salad added bouncy chew, sharp vinegar and fresh vegetal notes. Salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami – all five taste sensations were present in this one dish and all were perfectly balanced.

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The “middle course” of hara kebab, chickpea and sesame cake, English asparagus, curried yoghurt, aubergine crush was also very good. The first thing both of us tasted was the aubergine, deeply, deeply smoky and silky soft, and with a little crunch in the form of diced raw red onion. The spinach kebab was soft and rich with a hint of crispness to the surface. The chickpea and sesame cake was cleverly lifted by sweet pepper. The asparagus spear was perfectly cooked with just the right amount of bite, and with lovely charred flavour to complement the aubergine. I liked the curried yoghurt better than Rachel, though it didn’t have as much flavour as it could have, I liked its tartness. This course really was superbly conceived.

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I loved the presentation of the main course of stir fried baby aubergine, cauliflower stuffed potatoes, curried petit pois, slow cooked onion gravy; simply plated, just like it might be at home, but taken to another level by the clever use of a hollowed out potato as edible bowl to the stir fried cauliflower! All the flavours were once again excellent, and very much familiar to those who’ve grown up eating Indian home cooking. The pea curry was probably my favourite, with the peas cooked just enough, bursting freshness in the mouth. The gravy pulled the plate together nicely. I even enjoyed the rice, served plainly but with that distinct delicate flavour of good basmati. My only criticism is that whilst the tomato-y flesh of my baby aubergine was soft and tasty, the skin was very tough, actually difficult to chew.

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For dessert, Chef Yaseen stepped away from the Indian tradition and served a lemon grass panna cotta, seasonal berries compote, toasted fennel seeds. Those fennel seeds were the only nod to India, and actually I think they were superfluous. The panna cotta was superb, with wonderful wobble and the most delightful lemon grass flavour, gentle at first but singing by the end of each bite. The berries were cooked so briefly that they had a concentrated compote flavour but were still full of fresh juiciness and perfectly matched with the mint. I loved this and could happily eat it again and again.

Full to bursting, we ordered masala chai, which was served with petits fours. As we drank our delicately spiced tea we reviewed the wine choices sommelier Carlos Pinto had chosen to match with the special menu.

With the first two courses, he selected a pinot blanc from Alsace (Domaine Dopff). With the main, he served a Burgundy pinot noir (Domaine Chanson). And with dessert, a Bera Moscato d’Asti from Piedmont. Rachel felt that the matches were very well chosen indeed, and really worked well to bring out the best in both food and wine.

By the end of our meal, we agreed that the menu was a big success. Neither of us had missed meat for a moment, and the variety of flavours, textures and visual presentation were hugely appealing. For £25, it was also excellent value.

The menu is available until the end of May, and I hope it proves sufficiently popular that Cinnamon Kitchen decide to offer something similar on a permanent basis.

Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Cinnamon Kitchen.

 

I am a chilli wuss. For someone of Indian descent, this can be quite embarrassing. People are constantly surprised by my inability to tolerate chilli heat and even my mum has to tone down the heat a little when cooking for me. And North Indian cuisine isn’t that hot to begin with!

It’s not that I don’t like chillies at all – the wide variety of flavours can be wonderful. But anything too hot burns my taste buds and lips so badly that not only am I in genuine pain but I’m also quite unable to taste any of the other flavours of the dish in question.

So I’ve been left pretty cold by the current craze for extremely hot sauces.

I do use chillies in my own cooking, where I can carefully control the heat levels, and have enjoyed experimenting with dried Mexican dried chillies.

But ready-made hot sauces? I’ve steered clear of those!

I met Grant Hawthorne, highly talented and experienced master chef, when he lead the enormous brigade of chefs for the Kai We Care charity dinner last year. Grant hails from Cape Town but has been living and working in the UK for 12 years. He’s one of those people you can’t help but warm to – hugely knowledgeable and talented yet quiet, thoughtful and unassuming in mannerism, with a genuine warmth and concern for others that is heart warming.

Grant has recently developed and launched a brand new product, his African Volcano Peri Peri sauces and marinades.

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Peri Peri (also known as piri piri and pili pili) is a marinade and seasoning sauce of Portuguese origin and is particularly popular in parts of Southern Africa (presumably as a result of the culinary diaspora that occurred during the centuries of European empires). It’s usually made from chillies, onion, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper and a mix of spices and herbs.

Grant’s version uses a variety of chillies including Scotch Bonnet and Dorset Naga. All are sourced from Edible Ornamentals in Bedfordshire. The good news for me is that Grant, like me, is not a fan of extreme chilli heat. So he’s developed his peri peri products to give flavour first, which lingers pleasantly in the mouth, and then a gentle heat that warms rather than burns the mouth.

Since South African chain Nando’s opened in the UK, in the mid ’90s, peri peri chicken has become far better known here than it used to be. What you may not know is that Nando’s originated within the Mozambiquan Portuguese community in South Africa, as Mozambique was part of Portugal’s East African empire.

Grant originally learned how to make a great peri peri from a Mozambique-born woman who fled the revolution in Mozambique and settled in Cape Town. Since then, he’s modified the recipe gradually over the years, resulting in today’s African Volcano.

The sauce (which is a cooked version of the marinade) we use on its own straight out of the bottle and, as long as I don’t dip too generously, the level of heat is just within my comfort zone. Good with nachos or home made chips.

The marinade does just what a good marinade should do – imbues the meat with wonderful, deeply delicious flavours.

Note: don’t worry if the oil separates from the rest of the ingredients a little during storage. This is a natural product and a vigorous shake will emulsify the oil back into the rest of the sauce very quickly.

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Breast fillets in neat African Volcano marinade; boned chicken thighs in full fat crème fraiche and African Volcano marinade

As Pete can tolerate more heat than I, we use the African Volcano marinade neat on his preferred chicken breast fillets. For me, I mix it with either full fat natural yoghurt or crème fraiche and liberally coat my preferred chicken thighs.

Both are either grilled or baked in a hot oven.

This time, I doubled up portions, so we could enjoy the rest with a salad the next day.

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You could grill or barbeque the meat, but so far, we’ve baked it in the oven, which has worked very well. The meat remains incredibly moist (even the breast fillet, which is a dryer cut) and the flavours are just wonderful.

Please don’t think I’m recommending African Volcano to you because Grant has become a personal friend over the last year. He has, but, as he and other friends know very well, I’m always honest about what I like and don’t like, and that’s probably even more so when it comes to products and services offered by friends and family rather than by strangers.

If I didn’t genuinely love African Volcano Peri Peri, I would not be suggesting you buy some for yourself. And in case it’s not clear, I am!

And if that weren’t reason enough already, Grant is donating 30 pence from every bottle sold to support the work of Habitat for Humanity, a South African charity that encourages those with money and skills to work alongside members of South Africa’s poorest communities, providing capital and co-workers in building affordable housing.

To buy your own African Volcano Peri Peri, either visit Grant at his stall in Maltby Street Market on Saturdays, or purchase from one of his retail stockists. You can also drop him an email via his website, to organise mail order.

 

When I was first sent a press release about Namaaste Kitchen in Camden, I was intrigued. Owner, director and “patron chef” Sabir Karim has described the restaurant as an “Indian grill and bar”, with the grill open to view from the restaurant.

Unusually, drinks, bar snacks, and an all-day menu are served seven days a week which could prove useful when trying to dine outside of regular meal times.

But the main attraction for me was the year long regional food festival featuring dishes from a different part of India each month. In February diners tasted the delights of traditional Hyderabadi dishes; in March Karim showcased the cuisine of Goa; during our April visit we sampled specialities from Lucknow; in May diners can try food from Mumbai.

Karim has worked in the restaurant industry for many years, including time at Chutney Mary (which also offers food from across India). His first restaurant, Salaam Namaste in Bloomsbury opened in 2006 and Namaaste Kitchen was launched last year.

Incidentally, am I the only one slightly bothered by the two different spellings of namaste/ namaaste in the restaurant names?

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2 images from restaurant website

In a continuing trend away from flocked wallpaper or faux Raj, Namaaste Kitchen boasts exposed brick walls, cream leather banquettes and seats and colourful modern art and light fittings.

Settling in, we quickly ordered drinks. A rich, thick Sweet Lassi (£3.50) for me made from good quality natural yoghurt with a decent tangy flavour. Mum enjoyed her Noon On The Equator non-alcoholic cocktail (£4.50) which included Tabasco, salt and pepper to spice up the orange, tomato and lemon juices, with grenadine for sweetness.

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As we ordered, our waiter suggested we try their poppadoms and chutneys (£2.40 per person). We were particularly impressed on asking whether the poppadoms are fried or cooked in the oven, to be told they could accommodate either.

The chutneys were excellent, with one that was so good that mum and I spent a considerable portion of our lunch tasting and re-tasting in an attempt to work out what could be in it. Understandably, Mr Karim kept the recipe close to his chest!

He did tell us that the mango chutney was enhanced by the addition of pineapple. Certainly this gave a rounder flavour.

The green chutney was freshly made but fairly standard and not dissimilar to mum’s green chutney recipe, though we found it a touch bitter.

The tomato one is the one that blew us away! It was sweet and rich with a really distinct spicing. The tomato was still fresh tasting rather than cooked down long and slow. Mum guessed that it had turmeric, fennel seeds and perhaps smoked nigella.

I am going to be begging Mr Karim to reveal his secrets or at the very least, start selling it in jars to enjoy at home!

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From the regular menu, Spicy Soft Shell Crab (£5.95) was OK. The texture was both crunchy and very soft, but let down by an excess of greasiness. The crab was very mild indeed and the key flavour that came through was of the green sauce dolloped over the crab. Listed in the menu as a “green pepper corn lemon sauce” to me it tasted the same as the green coriander chutney served with the poppadom. I guess the contents of that spoon must have been the “spicy fig n prunes sauce” and was nice enough, though not sure it was a particularly good match for the crab.

As we were still exclaiming over the last of the tomato concoction served with the poppadoms, a second dish of this was kindly brought out for us, and this worked better with the crab than the chosen condiments.

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Also from the regular menu, the Chingree Samosas (£3.95) were disappointing. Described as “spicy prawns wrapped in home made filo pastry” the wrappers were very thick and soggy. The filling was stodgy with little taste of prawn, though I did spot one. The “crystal raw papaya chutney” served alongside tasted good but was a little lacking in moisture.

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Our third starter was chosen from the special Lucknow menu. The Dal Chini Macchi Tikka (£5.50) made up for the other two starters. Three generous chunks of salmon fillet were nicely coated in spice and additionally flavoured using the dhungar (smoke) method of tempering that infuses the food with a pleasant smokiness. The fish was soft and moist within a crunchy, spicy coating.

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For our mains, we stuck more closely to the Lucknow menu, as mum grew up in this region of India and would be able to comment on the authenticity of the dishes. Our first choice was the Lucknowi Shahi Kofta (£10.95). Shahi translates as fit for a king (or Shah) and usually describes a rich sauce often thickened with ground nuts as well as cream or butter. Kofta is often translated as meatball (or meat kebab) but in India it can also refer to vegetable croquettes, as in this case. The deep-fried balls of vegetables were fabulous, with the textures of the different mixed vegetables still distinct, having not been overcooked to a mush. The sauce was suitably rich and beautifully flavoured and it was nice to find large chunks of cashew nuts left whole for additional bite. Both mum and I were impressed with this dish and mum agreed that it was certainly like versions she’s had in Lucknow.

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Also from the Lucknow menu, we chose the Peethiwali Macchli (£13.95). The menu explained that sea bass fillets are coated in a rice batter before being fried in mustard oil and simmered in an Avadhi sauce. (Lucknow is located in what was originally known as the Avadh region and hence the cuisine of the area is often referred to as Avadhi). Again the fish inside the crispy coating was soft and moist and the flavours in the coating and sauce were delicious. I was a little disappointed to encounter quite a few fish bones in this dish, but again, we both enjoyed it very much.

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From the regular menu side vegetables dishes we tried the Sesame Baby Aubergine (£3.50). Cooked with mustard and curry leaves this reminded me a lot of mum’s stuffed aubergine recipe, which is best made with small sized vegetables. The only negative here was that my little aubergine was undercooked, with that slightly tongue-furring texture that aubergine has until cooked through. But mum’s pieces were cooked all the way through. Good flavours.

We also tried a South Indian style stir fry Vegetables (£3.50) which we quickly realised wasn’t a good fit with anything else we ordered.

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Roomali roti (£2.25) was nothing like the soft, draping ones I so enjoy at Dishoom. Rather it was dry and brittle, and we left it to one side.

But the Sheermal (£2.95) from the Lucknow menu was lovely. A rich, thick and soft bread baked in the tandoor and flavoured (and coloured) with saffron milk, this was like a sweet naan and very nice with the fish and vegetable curries.

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As mum’s a pescetarian, I’d intended to avoid meat dishes as there were plenty of seafood and vegetable ones for us to choose from. However the friendly restaurant manager Mannu Dahiya recommended that I try the lamb chops, and since the restaurant prides itself on its grilled offerings, I agreed to try a half portion. They were pretty good, with robust spicing and soft meat, cooked deftly to retain a touch of pink inside but with the lovely flavour of charring on the surface. My only disappointment was that, typically for Indian style, every last scrap of fat had been trimmed away, denying me the very special pleasure of lamb chop fat cooked over charcoal. London Turkish restaurants get this right, always leaving a tasty layer of fat on their lamb chops.

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Full to bursting, but when we learned that the Rasmalai (£3.95) is made in house, we ordered one portion to share. This sweet dessert is made from paneer or milk curds, cooked in cardamom-flavoured milk or cream. Usually, the balls are served in the cooking liquid, but Namaaste Kitchen presented the dish in a more modern way, with the liquid served chilled in a small shot glass. The liquid was thinner than usual, though this worked well given the way it was served. The curd ball was well flavoured, and not as sweet as it can often be in India. This was definitely a good thing!

We finished with Masala Chai (£2.50 per person) which was served in individual tea pots. We both liked that the tea is made unsweetened, allowing customers to sweeten to their taste, enjoy unsweetened or use artificial sweeteners if they prefer. As mum’s diabetic, this is really helpful.

 

In the main part, we really enjoyed our meal with some dishes really standing out above the rest. A few let downs mean the meal wasn’t wholly fantastic, but I’d certainly visit again.

We were looked after by a friendly team including Johnny, our waiter and Mannu, the manager who took our order and was able to give us some extra information on the dishes. It was good to see that the owner, Mr Karim, was also on site, and he answered a few more of our questions about the special menu in particular.

 

Kavey Eats dined as guests of Namaaste Kitchen.

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