Thursday, 19 July 2012

Spice of Life, Blackheath

This could be a perfect local Indian restaurant. Spice of Life is an unassuming looking place on Lee High Road but gets understandably packed most nights of the week. 
The interior has quite the 80s flavour, from the carpets to the booths - the napkins are even in those cool fan shapes. As we sat down we were descended upon by chutneys and papads and dutifully tried to determine which chutney would blow our heads off, a bit of "Indian Roulette" if you will. Pleasingly none of them were too vicious and it was a perfect start to the meal.
Now, the rest of the food. Allow me to assist you if you're in here from a Thursday to a Sunday. You'll be given a menu, by all means give it a scan. Take a look. Have a read. Then, put it down, wait for the owner, Moody to come on over and tell you what's on their special offer instead. It's £10pp for a starter, main dish and side dish with rice or bread. Thankfully I was with a regular who informed me that this was the drill. We each ordered something different from the choices on the special menu and split it fiddy fiddy. 
Here's what we got:
This is the onion bhaji, pretty standard but nice and crispy - not like those crap ones that are all batter and taste like sponges. And it came with a nice dollop of imli. On the right is some tandoori chicken wing nice and charred, seems to have been cooked in a proper tandoor. 
Curry everyone! The left is a beef curry, a little odd for an Indian place but the beef was so tender and soft we didn't ask any questions. On the right is a spicy prawn curry - sadly with weeny prawns instead of nice huge ones but the sauces itself they were both cooked in were great. 
I've been sick of visiting Indian restaurants in the area and being given curries full of cream (korma), chillies (vindaloo) or heinz tomato soup (tikka masala), often without even a whiff of real spice. Spice of Life does things properly though - you could both see and taste the cooking that went into the dishes.
This was easily enough rice for two people but we also got a huge bit of naan bread that I didn't manage to get a photo of as we pretty much ripped it up as soon as it was put in front of us.
The sides were good, on the left is some Aloo Saag, which was lovely and soft, the right is some cooked swede in cumin. That's the great thing about the Special menu, though choices are fairly limited, it changes frequently and is often more experimental than your bog standard curry house.
With pretty decent specials also running on their drinks (we shared a nice bottle of red for a tenner) you chumps have no excuse to not go. There I said it. Not sure about the stuff on the rest of the menu is like but I am confident I shall be returning for a CHA-party or two so I will keep you most dutifully informed!
Spice of Life
260 Lee High Road
SE13 5PL
Tel. 0208 244 4770
Opening Times
Mon: 18:00 - 22:00
Tues: Closed
Wed-Thurs: 18:00 - 23:00
Fri-Sat: 18:00 - 23:30
Sun: 18:00 - 23:00

Monday, 2 July 2012

Stockmkt Night Market, Bermondsey

Holding an outdoor night market was always gonna be risky. Rain. Wind. Pigeon excrement. But thankfully last Thursday the heavens didn't open, and the pigeons held it in, for Stockmkt, a travelling night market - this time round in Bermondsey Square. It mainly focusses on street food from around the globe but other knick knacks including jewellery, vintage clothes and crafts were on offer AND there was a cool DJ. People were calling it Little Glastonbury. Drunk people. Anyway, the food was the real star of the show, here's the lowdown on some of the stuff we sampled:
This is takoyaki from the guys at Pom Pom Takoyaki. I first had it not long ago at Curry Ono in Brixton, but they had 3 different types this time - a traditional octopus one, a pea and potato, and chicken teriyaki. I insisted we keep things authentic and get some octopus. They were lovely if a smidge tricky to eat in the ladylike fashion I am so accustomed to. 
This is a rather dapper looking chap from Kamm & Sons, makers of a new ginseng spirit. It's also made using grapefruit peel, echinacea, manuka honey and goji berries - how exotic! (they're based in Clapham). It sounded suspiciously like a health food but it didn't take much persuading for us to try a couple. We had a lychee cocktail and one with bitter lemon. It tastes quite similar to gin and both cocktails were splendiferous. Thank you, dapper man.
We visited Indian street food outlet Horn OK Please, who were selling dosas, thin South Indian pancakes usually made from rice flour, filled with a mildly spiced potato mix and traditionally served with a fresh coconut chutney and a thin lentil daal. Usually they look like this but these ones were made with lentil flour instead, so the pancakes were much thicker in consistency:
Their version of bhel puri was great, a crunchy, soft, sweet and tangy indian snack made from chickpeas, crunchy sev, yoghurt, a little red onion and most importantly an imli chutney, a thin, sort-of dressing - made from sour tamarind and sweetened with dates or brown sugar. HOP added pomegranate seeds to their bhel which was cool, lovely bursts of sweetness. Sadly I didn't get a pic but below is my friend's b-e-a-ut serving of chickpea chaat, the best veggie dinner one could hope for.
Really quite full by this point, we made a Ginseng spirit-induced decision to visit Fleisch Mob for some sausage action. Look out for them, they show up all over South London - Brockley Market, Brixton Market and other foodie festivals that pitch up over the summer. 
We settled on sharing the hot dog with a sausage that had Emmental cheese running through the middle. Because sausages need to be that little more suggestive. It was great, and as good as you'd get in Austria or Germany, the proper curry sauces and ketchups were there to go with it and everything. 
We had zero space left for the sweet treats on offer, but did manage try a sample of the cupcakes from Chai Cupcakes which were amazing, and were tempted by the shakes at Retro Shakes via Yummy Boutiqueone of my friends had the CANDYFLOSS milkshake which sounds like a match made in Heaven. And then sicked up from Heaven later. 
All in all a brilliant evening, and judging by the size of the crowds there, Stockmkt will definitely be back. See you there.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Hand Made Food, Blackheath

Call me old fashioned, but I expect quite a lot from a £7 slice of tortilla. It had better do some mad good unicycle tricks or something. Unfortunately, the tortilla at Hand Made Food can't cycle for shit, but as a lunch: pretty tasty. After happening upon their pop up cafe at Cockpit Arts Open Studios in Deptford last weekend, I decided it was high time to pay a visit to the proper shop.
At the pop up, HMF hijacked what looked like a school staffroom, set up camp and began selling a selection of salads, pies, pastries and cakes. I went for the salads combo for £6.50 - they can do to the humble tomato what I could only dream of, but it still felt pretty steep. I had the Jamaican style slaw, a Moroccan tomato and bread salad and a bulgar pilaff with spiced yoghurt and roast tomatoes. Oh, and a bit of tomato focaccia with it too. The slaw was not particularly Jamaican, but light and crunchy and fresh, the tomato salad was great - sweet tomatoes, plump olives and chunks of crusty bread that soaked up all the juices. 
And the pilaff was so good I thought it might have been laced with cocaine. The yoghurt was in thick splodges throughout and was wonderfully smokey, the pilaff itself was delicately spiced and strewn with fresh herbs, and slow roasted red onions were soft and sweet.
We ended up flirting outrageously with this slice of Victoria sponge - at £3.50, little pricey, but we succumbed and I have to say it was bloody lovely, thick vanilla cream and fresh raspberries with a tasty vanilla sponge - add a cup of tea and if that's not true happiness I don't know what is. 
Anyway, the place itself is a cheery shop in the heart of Blackheath, with a selection of delectable treats on display on the ground floor. You sit upstairs or outside at HMF, the upstairs is lovely - bluebell wallpaper, battered metal jugs of water and huge jars of sugar are on wooden tables so you can sit with a pot of tea and watch the world (or the Holland and Barratt across the road) go by for hours.
Ok, the pic below is the potato and garlic tortilla, around £5.50 to eat in, but something the waitress mysteriously described to me as 'The Special' was £7.15. Intrigued, I went with that. Turns out what turns a slice of tortilla into 'The Special' is some lettuce. Quality lettuce, but definitely lettuce. The tortilla was delicious though - perfumed with roasted garlic and that's all it needed. It was perfectly crispy on the outside and the thinly sliced potato was stacked high amongst the egg and was moist and silky. Now, the lettuce was very nice, but wasn't worth over £1.50 extra. 
Come to Hand Made Food for lunch, whether you get a sausage roll, the lamb moussaka or a slice of coffee and cardamom cake, it'll be made from the best possible ingredients and be freshly made with care - the food won't be a particularly cheap date, but it might just be the best you ever had. 
Hand Made Food
40 Tranqil Vale
Tel. 0207 297 9966
Opening Times:
Mon: 09:00 - 17:00
Tues: 09:00 - 14:00
Wed-Sat: 09:00 - 17:00
Sun: 10:00 - 16:00

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Curry Ono, Brixton

Brixton Village Market is a bit of a foodie jizz-fest. Not literally - that wouldn't be hygienic. It's an indoor maze of restaurants and shops, all of the restaurants being pretty tiny and none taking bookings, so it becomes a kind of 'every man for himself' type operation. You really see the dark side of satchel-wearing media professionals when you're after a table at Franco Manca at 8pm on a Friday - and it isn't pretty.
Curry Ono is a little off the beaten track, and as a result hasn't been reviewed by any of the Big Guns. Or, the Big Gun. It's sat opposite some fruit and veg crates and next to a quirky looking Thai place. In relative terms, it's a little bigger than some of the neighbouring restaurants but still probably only seats around 30 in total. The inside is basic but artistic, with bright red lamps pretty stings of origami birds hanging from the ceiling. Crafty!
Curry Ono specialise in Japanese curries, as well as serving quite a big selection of other tapas-style starters. They also have a decent happy hour that runs from 6-8pm - you get a glass of wine or bottle of beer with a choice of starters for between £4 and £6. So, we took them up on it and got a bowl of edamame beans and a portion of Takoyaki with our drinks.
This is the takoyaki. They're a thick ball of batter surrounding a chunk of octopus. There's mayo on top, takoyaki sauce (a Japanese version of Worcestershire sauce) and the stuff that looks like I threw down a bunch of Rizla papers on my plate are actually Katsuobushi, or bonito flakes, ie. dried and fermented paper thin shavings of tuna. Very nice it was too, freshly fried but not greasy and the octopus inside was wasn't rubbery or chewy. Most of the menu comprises of a curry, with a selection of meat or vegetarian options, and a choice between rice and udon noodles. We got a chicken curry and 'menchi katsu' curry, described as a beef croquette, a coarsely ground beef pattie in panko breadcrumbs. Both were £7.70, pretty reasonable.
Our mains took 40 minutes to arrive, which was a little annoying but eventually they both came, swimming in a Katsu sauce, with rice, three sad looking green beans, some pickles, a wedge of lime. The beans were pretty overcooked but the main components of the dishes were great. the beef was a good texture, and the sauce was exactly as it should be - mild and comforting and thick. Generally the food we had was pretty damn authentic, despite our slightly chaotic visit, I would defo come back to try some of their smaller plates. 
The whole meal came to around £28 with service, which is bloody good given that we both had starters and drinks. They haven't had a great deal of press, but it looks like John, Roland, Hamish and Brett all had a pretty damn fantastic time here. Fine dinning indeed!

14C Market Row
Tel. 0207 326 1399
Opening Times:
Mon: 12:00 - 18:00
Tues - Wed: Closed
Thurs-Sat: 12:00 - 23:00
Sunday: 12:00 - 16:00

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Gyoza, Brixton

We came to Brixton on a warm Monday evening at around 8pm and Gyoza was pretty much the only place we could find that was open. Weird, no? It's a small Japanese and Chinese place on Coldharbour Lane that would be quite easy to walk past. In fact, we did, and then came back. It was pretty quiet, and felt a LITTLE like we were crashing two other couple's dates when we got in. Sorry guys, hope you all got lucky.
It's pleasantly small though. They have Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and a tiny bar at the back. Sushi mats sit on the tables and the chairs are heavy and ornate, making the whole place feel cosy and a little retro. They were playing all the classics, bit of Sugababes, bit of Norah Jones. Very romantic. Gyoza used to do sushi as well - it's even advertised on the menu outside - but it's been taken off the menu, so we were left with a choice between Japanese bento style dishes, Japanese noodles and the typical Chinese takeaway shabang - chicken, pork and seafood with more noodles and rice. 
We had to order some gyoza, it is the name of the place afterall, their 'special mixed' one sounded the most exciting and was £5.90. We got 6 pieces, 2 chicken, 2 pork and 2 prawn as listed, though they were pretty indistinguishable from eachother. Went down very well with a bottle of Sunlik though, which wasn't bad at £3.30.
The Chinese stuff on the menu didn't really set my heart aflutter, although they did have something called "Chicken in O.K. sauce", which was described as 'sweet sauce cooked with onion using vegetable stock', and it sounded... well you know. The noodles came with nori on top and a little pickled ginger, but other than that were pretty standard. The portion was pretty huge, as was the bento box ordered.
The bento was £9.20 and came with teriyaki chicken and rice, miso soup and a small salad. Sadly there were no tsukemono (those bits of pickled vegetables you often get in a bento), and the miso soup was particularly bland. The chicken, though, was very good - a rich teriyaki marinade, and the chicken had nice charred patches of black and brown where the sugars had caramelised. The sauce was thick but still managed to seep into the rice a little - perfect. There was also a layer of french beans underneath the chicken which was a nice touch and added a good bit of crunch and colour. 
There's something endearing about Gyoza - they clearly used to be very popular with locals, it was even winning awards in 2010 - but it's finding it harder and harder to compete with the market. Maybe the management has changed, by the sounds of it the food used to be much better, but it still has a lot of charm and food is patchy but reasonable. Even the website couldnt help but win me over:
If you're in the area on a day when everything is more lively I'd give it a miss - especially with the foodie heaven that is Brixton Village about 5 seconds away (and is probably cheaper) - but late on a weeknight when you just want some comfort food and a warm shelter from the elements, you might as well. 
426 Coldharbour Lane
Tel. 0207 274 1492
Open Mon-Sun, 12:00 - 23:00

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Bishop, East Dulwich

There are bajillions of gastropubs in East Dulwich. It's gastropub galore. So The Bishop on Lordship Lane has a lot to contend with, and quite frankly, I wouldn't bother. It's owned by The Capital Pub Company, who have a number of successful pubs in the area - including The Florence in Herne Hill and The Victoria Inn, which has lodgings as well, in Peckham Rye. The Bishop advertises itself as 'The best pub on Lordship Lane', and if that's the case, there's an Iceland down the road that may be worth a punt for an evening tipple instead.
It looks pretty promising from the outside, with a giant chess piece (a pawn. Joking it's a bishop) sitting imposingly above the door and huge windows looking out onto the heart of Lordship Lane. But The Bishop suffers from Monet Syndrome - the artist I mean. That is, it looks alright from a little way away, but the closer you get to the inside, the shitter it becomes. Ok maybe not exactly like Monet, but you catch my drift.
The inside is pretty big, booths that are a 90s shade of mustard leather sit on the side and by the windows, and uncomfortable looking stools around tables are scattered about. It's half-heartedly gone for that quirky bric-a-brac vibe, but it's like it bought all it's "quirky bric-a-brac" from IKEA. There looks like there's a huge wall of books right at the back in a quieter corner that might have added some character, but it's actually just fancy wallpaper. There are candles above the bar in the shapes of chess pieces but they're not allowed to be burned.  Most of the pictures on the walls are dull posters advertising Weasel Beer, an ale brewed by The Florence, there's just something quite corporate about it. It generally just gives off the vibe of being a little soulless - aiming for sophisticated charm and failing.
Surrounding shops include a deli, a Cafe Nero, a maternity wear shop, and across the road is Green and Blue Wines, which advertise themselves as an 'Organic and biodynamic wine shop, bar and deli'. Let's not even go there. The pub has a loyalty card for mums in the area which is good. It offers them different deals every month, so at any one time the place usually has a fair few, spritzers in hand and pram handle in the other. To give you another idea of the area, I was sat by the window looking out onto the road where, not once, but twice saw a brand new white Porsche drive past. TWICE.
"That was probably just the same one though."
Yeah alright.
The menu isn't cheap, mains are around £10 and patchy. The squid and chickpea salad had perfectly cooked squid and was nice and spicy. For lunch I ordered the 'Roast chicken, fresh peas and raddichio salad with a yoghurt and mustard dressing', £9.50. The leaves were overdressed and underseasoned (there's no salt and pepper on the tables either), and the dressing tasted more like salad cream than yoghurt and mustard. The chicken was fridge cold and came as if it had picked off a roast chicken from the day before. It probably had - their roasts are actually quite good, but this chicken didn't taste of anything either. I felt pretty cheated having been charged almost a tenner for a salad I could have made at home from leftovers. It came with a few sugar snaps, several of them browning, as if they were about to go off so may as well be shoved in there. Oh, the peas were fresh though, so that is something. 
This place gets pretty packed on weekends, more yummy mummys sharing a bottle of vino (I find it really strange they don't do cocktails, they'd make a killing), and a few guys sitting resolutely at the bar chugging Jaegerbombs on Friday nights, trying to impress the female staff 20 years their junior. They also have a dog that lives in the pub, Clarence, who walks round bewilderedly, getting patted and prodded by punters in the evenings.
Drinks aren't cheap, especially the beers - their cheapest pint is £3.60, and it's £4.50 for a pint of Erdinger. On top of this, food is average at best, overpriced and the atmosphere isn't great. Spend your cash somewhere else, you worked hard for that. 
The Bishop
27 Lordship Lane
East Dulwich
SE23 8EW
Tel: 0208 693 3994
Opening Times
Mon-Thurs: 11:30 - 00:00
Fri: 11:30 - 02:00
Sat: 11:00 - 02:00
Sun: 11:00 - 00:00

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Garden Cafe, New Cross

Sitting right by a greasy spoon and a fried chicken outlet in the middle of New Cross, The Garden Cafe looks ever so slightly out of place. With it’s ivy covered front and tiled balcony, it looks more like it should be somewhere in the Mediterranean. I mean, I have definitely been hearing that New Cross is fast becoming the St Tropez of South East London (not really), but worry not folks, we are still quite firmly in SE14. 
The terrace sits on Lewisham Way under a handy roof and tends to be frequented by stressed students having a cigarette during term time and other locals in for lunch. Once you get in, the staff couldn't be friendlier, they make you feel like one of the family. The inside is spacious, with shisha pipes and other Turkish knick knacks on display, as well as the odd lizard dotted about the walls. By FAR the best part of the whole inside is the fact that the salt and pepper shakers are actually miniature Corona bottles with holes jabbed through the top.
The Garden has an extensive cocktail list, all for £5, which I have yet to see anyone actually order from, except me, which naturally had to be done for the purpose of this review. We sampled a Mai Tai and a Tequila Sunrise, let's keep things classic. They are served in big wine glasses with plenty of ice, they didn't have much of a kick but were nice and refreshing. They also do a selection of wine and beer, some disappointing milkshakes, and a selection of teas and coffees - including an Irish coffee for £3.80 which is pretty lethal in a "why-am-i-drinking-what-is-basically-a-mug-of-hot-Baileys-in-the-middle-of-the-day?" type way.

But it’s the food here that hits exactly the right "cheap and cheerful" mark. Being directly across the road from Goldsmiths University, it’s wallet friendly, jacket potatoes and a selection of freshly made sandwiches are less than £5. New Cross has some pretty strictly divided lunchtime eating options, most of the places nearby serve lunches comprised solely of either fried chicken and questionable "meat" kebabs or of quinoa and rocket - I'm looking at you London Particular and Cafe Crema - The Garden is different though.
Chicken Enchiladas are £4.50 and not exactly authentic, but packed with veg and chicken and covered in plenty of melted cheese - one of the best budget lunches you’ll find. They also have a selection of burgers, a cheeseburger and chips is £4.50, it's the only known cure for a hangover I have managed to find. Especially when coupled with a good old-fashioned G&T (£3.50). Or maybe a cheeky Mai Tai if you're feeling fruity.
The Garden also accommodates well for the vegetarians amongst you, Veggie Lasagne and Mousakka are firm favourites, as well as the Meze platters which include salad, olives, hummus, tzatziki, dolma (stuffed vine leaves), halloumi and garlic bread. Good enough that you don't even miss the meat (much).

They've recently started taking card payments which is a godsend in New Cross, Land Devoid of the ATM, so it is now the perfect lunch break cafe.

The Garden Cafe
29-31 Lewisham Way
New Cross,
SE14 6PP

0208 692 6357

Open Mon-Sat, 10am-9pm

P.S. Many thanks to my dear friend Daisy for her photography skills and cocktail company on this! Her blog is here, I urge you to check it out.