Hot sour chicken shawarma

The lamb shawarma recipe in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem is one of my favourite things to do with a kilo of dead sheep. It’s rich and deep and tasty, and a great workaround for not having a rotating vertical spit. With its four hours of cooking time and day of marinating, however, what it is not is especially practical.

Chicken is a fuck of a lot quicker to cook, so here’s a rich, spicy, kebab-style dish that’s lightened out a bit to play nicely with chicken thighs and a more realistic timetable. You still need the long marinade, but the cooking’s much shorter. Oh, and the spices are remixed with an achari-influence to be kind of lighter and hot-sour.

Obviously, at this point, everything that would qualify it as shawarma has been reinterpreted, worked around, modified, or otherwise engineered out, leaving only a vague shell of the concept, an association in mind and palate. It’s the wrap of Theseus, if you will. And for those who quite rightly won’t, it’s a tasty thing to put in pita bread with a load of peppers and green bits.

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Hot Mess Poutine, Soho – sleazy cheesy chips, oh yeah

This is a quick update about poutine. Poutine? Poutine! It’s Canadian! Poutine! Why would you even do that? Poutine! Because it’s fucking delicious. Poutine! Get with the programme.

Growing up in the North of England, I’m no stranger to cheesy chips, or chips and gravy. But it took Quebec to really elevate this to something special. Oh, don’t worry – I’m not getting too misty-eyed. It’s still a big bucket full of grease, starch, and gravy (which is, let’s be honest, grease and starch suspended in water), but it’s definitely one of the tastier junk foods, and it’s only just breaking into the UK market.

Hot Mess Moutine

Poutine is chips, gravy, and cheese curds. Think a more solid cottage cheese, though ideally we’re looking for something that tastes and squeaks like the awkward offspring of feta and halloumi.

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Butch Annie’s and The Alex, Cambridge – more burgers

Lagging as it does 2-3 years behind Soho, Cambridge has started to accrete gussied-up burger joints at some speed. I went to two last weekend. I wasn’t even trying to have dinner. It just kind of happened. In fact, you’re probably in one now – slices of structurally-unsound brioche passing through you like crumbly, stylized, cosmic rays.

Seriously though, it’s getting daft. There’s the two here, something in Cherry Hinton, and apparently a Greene King “concept pub” in a similar vein on the horizon.

Here’s a quick look at two new-ish ones. Butch Annie’s, which opened a week or two ago in the dead centre of town, and the latest incarnation of The Alex(andra Arms) out Mill Rd way. Spoilers: they’re both reasonably credible alternatives to Byron.

Extra spoilers: STOP WITH THE FUCKING BRIOCHE.

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Currywurst rolls

Yes, that’s sausage rolls, made with currywurst

…and with apologies to most of Germany, and a chunk of the British armed forces. Probably bits of France and India, too. In fact, this one might be worse than that time I ate a black pudding and cheese bagel.

Look, currywurst isn’t sophisticated. It never has been, and given you can now buy it from a little electric contraption balanced on a burly German’s crotch, it ain’t getting any better.

It is – however – getting wrapped in pastry:

Cuyrrywurst is iconic-teutonic street food of the dirtiest, most delicious stripe, and I grew up wolfing it down the way my dad made it. Which was the way he made it during a stint as an army chef. Which was with a thickened curry gravy, rather than the more traditional spiced ketchup.

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Ember Yard, London – pork and fire

Ember Yard - Iberico presa

Shitty phone picture, because restaurant at night

Ember Yard is the most recent venue (2013) from the Salt Yard Group - a small chain of tapas-inspired charcuterie bars founded by a couple of bored ad execs who thought it might be a laugh to open a restaurant. Now, that doesn’t necessarily end well, and if I’d known in advance, I might not have gone. But I didn’t do my homework.

Instead, I looked at the menu, then spent the rest of the day idly dreaming about Ibérico ham.

That was the right decision, and it wasn’t actually full of assholes, but, well, they list the species of wood used on the charcoal grill, for fuck’s sake. It’s a damn good thing the food tastes amazing.

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Where to eat and drink in Cambridge

Periodically, I get asked where’s good to eat or have a pint in the fair – but slightly dull – city of Cambridge. For convenience, here’s my (occasionally sarcastic) list.

I’ll try to keep it up to date.

(Halibut with peanut and squash, at Alimentum)

These aren’t detailed, and I’ve not include anywhere I haven’t been yet, so there’s probably a few good places missing. They aren’t in any order.

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Green peppercorn chine

With one half of my family from Lincolnshire, and the other from Norfolk, it’s no wonder I consume a harrowing quantity of pork and brassicas. Two Lincolnshire pork dishes I remember very fondly from childhood trips back down there are Haslet and Chine.

Now, this may sound like a rural buddy cop show, but they’re actually serious old-timey cold cuts. When we went to visit my grandmother, she would reliably serve both with an elaborate library of homemade pickles. Haslet is basically sliced stuffing, and chine is a scraggy pork neck cut, with buckets of parsley packed into deep incisions. It serves with these beautiful vivid striations, and the parsley gives it a real freshness.

Of course, there was no way I wasn’t going to muck about with it. So here it is with a more readily available cut, and crashed into a kind of idiot porchetta.

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Mince Pies, with actual mince

It’s Christmas! Mince Pies! Indulgence! Glib broadsides about capitalism! Probably some other stuff!

Yeah. So, with food as with a lot of things, I’m a bit of a fan of anything that gently subverts the form. Crash that into the fact that it is actually Christmas time, and “proper” mince pies were basically inevitable. It’s like my grandmother always used to say: “You just can’t get too much postmodernism in your dinner.

Actually, she’d probably have hated postmodernism on principle, in suspicion that it seemed a bit French. But I’m straying from the point.

If we’re going to believe Wikipedia, Mince pies actually started out a bit like this – a meat pie with fruit, spices, and middle eastern influences. Spoilers: the Victorians ruined it.

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Flesh and Buns, London – overcrowded, infra-dig

Flesh and Buns is the latest venture from the folks behind Bone Daddies, the Soho ramen bar that sounds a bit like an inter-generational fetish night, and narrowly escapes style-over-substance by serving extraordinarily tasty food.

Bone Daddies' ramen

Bone Daddies’ ramen

It’s another Japanese-ish concept joint; this time a kind of elevation of Tokyo drinking hole bar snacks. It’s a repackaged Izakaya with an inexplicable hentai twist, and a name that should really be warning enough.  Like Bone Daddies, the food is tasty, but Flesh and Buns pings a good seven or eight milli-Polanskis on the Good-But-Problematic scale.

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Celeriac rosti

I don’t go in for brunch in a big way. It’s nice to have some things standing between you and the long slide to egregious self-parody, after all. That said, I’m unlikely to be out of bed before 10 am on a sunday, and so the first food into the face hole is, accordingly, Brunch By Default.

When I can be bothered faffing about a bit, rather than just clawing bacon into my seething, hungover maw, these celeriac and potato rosti are just the ticket.

Stick a poached egg and a little hollandaise on top for maximum bourgeois brownie points:

The celeriac makes what is basically a posh hash brown a little unusual, adding a depth and sweetness that really works.

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