Last Thursday evening a lovely lady called Priyanka delivered a hot, freshly cooked thali directly to my door – my door which is attached to a cottage in a very small village tucked away in Cambridgeshire. Things like this don’t happen often around here, if you don’t fancy cooking our options are a questionable pizza delivery or trekking out in the car to a supermarket or to the dreaded golden arches.
Really you shouldn’t require a knife and fork…
Pri’s Kitchen is based in Priyanka’s home in Saffron Walden – every Thursday, Friday and Saturday she cooks up orders of thalis for residents in Saffron Walden and the neighbouring villages. She’ll make you a meat thali or a vegetarian thali and deliver it to you in the proper metal tray and bowls piping hot and smelling delicious.
To explain, a thali (Hindi for ‘plate’) consists of various different Indian dishes, which vary from region to region, consisting of several different curries, rice, dahl, raita, rotli or puri, sometimes a chutney or pickle and a sweet too.
We ordered a vegetarian and a meat thali. Both had dahl, aloo jeera (cumin potatoes), chole (chickpeas), gobi (cauliflower), raita, rice, roti and a chocolate burfi as the sweet. My meat thali had a lovely lamb curry and a spinach and chicken curry. The veggie thali had a paneer curry and bhindi – okra.
Spinach & Chicken Curry, Lamb Curry
My god everything was delicious! Everything was perfectly spiced, not too heavy on the chilli which good Indian food should be, perfectly cooked and each dish so different from the next – which is the best thing about a thali. It might sound odd but it was nice to eat it from a proper plate, it was obviously the authentic way to do it but it also just made it more like homecooking, which it is, very much so.
If you’re local, or fancy coming around my house for a thali, you can order directly from Priyanka’s website. She will then contact you to arrange a delivery time and day. And then a week or so later she’ll come and collect your empty plates and bowls – and if you are smart you can arrange it for when your next Thali is arriving!
I visited Paris the week before last, half for work, half for play, and with clear intentions to eat some great bread, a great pastry, a Pierre Herme macaron, try a crepe and do some shopping – I am happy to say I achieved all these things and a few more. I also got to meet one of my favourite bloggers, David Lebovitz, at his book signing on Saturday evening at La Cuisine cookery school – I was probably a bit fan girl about it and I hope I didn’t come across as a weirdo (probably did).
So here goes with my quick round up of a beautiful city, can’t wait to go back.
I didn’t take any pictures of the meals I had during the work part of my stay but I would recommend the brilliant (and very typically Parisien) Chez Prune (36 Rue Beaurepaire, 75010) bar for atmosphere and great wine, we ate at Philou (12 avenue Richerand, 75010) one night where I had a brilliant cassoulet and we all shared a huge and delicious chocolate fondant pudding. I mostly hung around in the 10th arrondissement which is a great neigbourhood, with lots of restaurants, bars and also very chic (but sadly out of my budget) clothes stores from independent designers.
On the first day of freedom (i.e. my first day in Paris when I wasn’t working) I headed straight for the bakery around the corner from my flat – Du Pain et Des Idées – I’d already walked past it the evening before and saw a queue snaking around the corner, so it had to be my first port of call.
This little bakery is run by smiley friendly staff selling baguettes, breads, pastries, but with some inventive additions. I’d read up before I went along and their ‘Pain Des Amis’ seemed to be the one to try – a sourdough bread with a smoky flavour and a great crispy crunchy top. You can buy a huge loaf – which I would assume is for share with your ‘amis’ but they do also sell it in smaller portions.
I also picked up a couple of L’Escargot pastries – one with pink praline and one with pistachio. I do believe they are the sugariest things I’ve ever eaten – which is brilliant. The pink praline was my particular favourite as it had a mixture of caramel stickiness and crunchy pieces of praline amongst the flaky pastry. We tried again on Saturday morning to get some croissants but unfortunately they only open Monday to Friday – next time!
On the Friday evening we were both tired (in no way was I suffering the effects of too much good Bordeaux) so we just chose a bit of an unspiring pizza place across the road from our flat (Canaletto) – if you want to try a better pizza place The Pink Flamingo is fun and the American Italian owners are really nice, they have several branches in Paris (yes I ate pizza twice whilst in Paris!).
On Saturday we hit Boulevard Haussmann for some retail therapy, we spent most of the day in the stunning Galleries Lafayette which is a shopaholic’s dream. The ceilings are also beautiful and even more beautiful with the enormous Swarovski crystal decked Christmas tree through the centre. We of course also went across the street to the food hall where we marvelled at all the cheese, so much cheese, along with lots of other amazing looking food. I particularly liked the little spice market, lots of spices, dried herbs, tea and even paan masala piled up beautifully ready for you to scoop up in to little bags and take home.
The wine section is also a thing to behold, we browsed the vast array of wine including the impressive selection of vintage wines, one bottle was €2300! We picked up a slightly more €13 bottle of Macon Cremant – sparkling wine. Macon Villages ‘Chamorey’ wine is also excellent, we’ve had it before and it you can pick it up in Waitrose and sometimes Tesco.
We also stopped at Pierre Hermé for macarons and a selection of chocolates. The display itself is as beautiful as the macarons themselves – we opted for white truffle & salted caramel (pictured), rose and yuzu, salted caramel, milk chocolate and pistachio. We decided not to go for the foie gras festive editions, he may be a master at flavour combinations but foie gras in a macaron? Hmmm. The white truffle split us – Mr hated it but I thought it was brilliant, the truffle was delicate and earthy – a little strange but I think it worked. The chocolates we took back home feature similar flavours and also some others – one of which is smoked salt – which tastes like bacon and chocolate – a bit like those brownies I made a while ago!
After spending most of the day shopping we wound our way (got lost) down towards the river to La Cuisine cookery school for a book signing with one of my favourite bloggers, David Lebovitz. I’m afraid I was a bit of a superfan geek but I really do love his blog and the way he writes. I am now the owner of a signed copy of David’s book, The Perfect Scoop. *grin*
After the book signing we headed to the trendy district of La Marais to have crepes and galettes at Breizh Cafe.
I’d been recommended this traditional Breton cafe by a friend and been reassured it was very authentic and many of the ingredients sourced in Brittany – also crepes are great if you are with a vegetarian. It’s tough finding veggie food in France! I started with a Kir Breton (breton cider and cassis) which is something I’ve never heard of and it works really well, something I am going to recreate at home.
I had a galette (the difference between a crepe and a galette is that galette is made from buckwheat flour, whereas a crepe from regular wheat flour) with ham, gruyere cheese, a soft egg and confit onions.
The confit onions were my favourite part, so sweet and savoury at the same time, I also enjoyed the dippy egg and galette combo!
Mr had a goat’s cheese galette which came with a large serving of creamy goats cheese, salad and more of those confit onions.
The pudding was the real star, we shared a tarte tatin crepe made with the most amazing caramelised apples I’ve ever had. The apples were infused with vanilla and just a little spice and I think either cider or apple juice – they were gorgeous with the light crepe and homemade ice cream. I kind of wished we hadn’t decided to share a pudding!
For our last day, Sunday, I had plans to visit Saravanaa Bhavan, a vegetarian Indian restaurant just near Gare du Nord. The restaurant was absolutely heaving when we arrived about 12.30, we were told to find a seat where we could, and ended up sitting with others which totally does not appeal to Brits, but it was quite good fun in the end. It was chaotic but the atmosphere was buzzing – full of families – Indian and French, tourists, people alone getting a taste of home. A great place to people watch.
We were planning to eat lightly before we got the Eurostar that evening, so we went all out for lunch. We both ordered a dosa – a classic masala dosa for me and a paneer dosa for the Mr. Both were very very crispy, freshly made with a great spiced potato filling and the accompanying sambar, coconut chutney, chilli chutney and dahl were all perfect. After that we shared a ‘North Indian Thali’ which contained dahl, mushroom curry, rice, potato curry, spinach curry, raita, papar, poori and finally a sweet – sooji. They have restaurants all over the world – including London and randomly Ilford which isn’t too far from home!
After our meal we caught the metro to the Champs Elysees and walked down to the Arc du Triomphe including Jardin des Tuileries. There is a very touristy Christmas market down there where we had some pretty bad churros, I’m sure there are better Christmassy things to do in Paris, I would avoid that. The shops, however, were great and I managed a little more shopping before we had to catch the train back to London.
I think I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Atul Kochar on Saturday Kitchen and said ‘oh I really want to go to Benares.’ Finally last weekend we made it there for our 3rd wedding anniversary. We booked it way back in late August so I’ve been looking back and forth at the menu for weeks and the anticipation was great.
We started with little poppadoms with three chutneys – pineapple, tomato (my favourite) and mango & ginger, they were a good introduction to the style of spicing used at Benares, all very well selected, not too hot but with enough to leave you with a slight chilli warmth when you’ve finished eating.
My started was the ‘Mumbai Pizza’ – I guess they were trying to be lighthearted with the name but I think it didn’t really sell the dish very well! It was tandoori fish kebab (made with the catch of the day which was Hake) on a sundried tomato naan with micro leaves, lovely pink pickled onion and black olives. The olives worked really well, surprisingly so, especially when you added some of the coriander chutney the dish came with. I would have preferred my naan to be a little crispier, the dish had plenty of oil which didn’t make it taste oily but it did make the naan a little softer, but not soggy.
Mr had the roasted autumn vegetable pastries with plum chutney, I of course snuck a taste and they were lovely, possibly a little forgettable but I was concentrating on my starter instead!
For main Mr had the cottage cheese and apricot koftas, which came with herb rice and a tomato and fenugreek sauce, I loved these, a really innovative vegetarian main and despite neither of us being that crazy about cottage cheese or apricots, we both thought they were great!
My main was braised lamb neck fillet with masala turnips and a green peppercorn sauce. The lamb was as I’d hoped, super tender and the spices ran all the way through it. I could have broken into the kitchen and taken home a whole pan of it. Something I definitely want to recreate at home. As part of our mains we also got some tandoori bread, onion rice and gorgeous red dahl – all lovely and a nice touch to have something to share on the table which is so much a part of Indian food.
I’d also ordered some Bhel Puri, which is one of my favourite things to eat, but unfortunately it didn’t actually turn up and both of us didn’t actually realise this til we were half way through our mains so we didn’t ask for it. We probably should have done, but given the quality of the restaurant you’d have hoped they would have remembered! Bit of a shame.
Desserts were chocolate mousse (Mr’s) which was encased in a chocolate globe with raspberries both fresh and dried with extra chocolate sauce and orange. Mine was spiced poached pear with vanilla custard and some excellent pistachio kulfi. Both beautiful and just the right amount of spicing again without being over the top.
We also ordered tea – a light darjeeling tea for Mr and some masala chai for me, and happily we also received some perfect petit fours – possibly not entirely sticking to the Indian them but they were excellent – cinnamon shortbread (which were a lot like Nankhatai), peanut butter filled chocolate domes and raspberry rice crispie squares. Loved the fun element of the rice crispie squares, the raspberry flavour was really fresh and vivid.
The tea menu was extensive, with 6 darjeeling teas alone, many of which are exclusive to Benares. The masala chai was made traditionally, although with honey not sugar, and everyone knows masala chai needs to have plenty of sugar, but luckily I’d been provided with a little bowl of it – I guess they know too!
Overall the meal was fantastic and memorable, really interesting food which uses traditional recipes and techniques but gives them a bit of a modern / western twist. The service was a little slow at times – they forgot one of our dishes and we had to wait a while for the bill, so something to improve upon given they have a Michelin star.
Any good Indian cook will have a ‘dabba’ (tin) of spices essential for making pretty much any curry from their region. My Mum gave me this tin when I moved out of home to go to university – unfortunately I wasn’t a very good cook then (to put it kindly) so it didn’t get used until years later when I got interested in cooking.
These are the spices that are used most often, there are also some others which you’ll find in other tins – things like a few cloves, asafodeita, dried chillies, ground cumin instead of cumin seed. Black mustard seeds are one of my favourite ingredients and I use it in things other than Indian cooking, they are quite different to yellow mustard seeds, if your supermarket doesn’t have them try your local Asian grocer or health food shop.
If you want to buy your own tin you can also find them in Asian grocers or have a snoop on ebay, there are lots on there! Once you’ve got all your spices, remember to replenish them every few months otherwise they tend to go stale and lose their punch.
Just a quick blog post to let you know about a lovely Italian restaurant that has just opened up in Saffron Walden. I’m really pleased because it is hard to find Italian food not dominated by chain restaurants.
They serve pizza, pasta, mains and salads, and importantly puddings.
We stopped by for the very good value lunch menu, £6.95 for a large range of dishes. I had a grilled aubergine & ricotta (the ricotta tasted house made too) pizza and Mr. a panini which was basically a cross between a wrap and a calzone. Both cooked in a pizza oven.
We will be going back again very soon!
Update, January 2013: I walked past recently and it turns out this restaurant is now closed, it is now an Indian restaurant. Such a shame as those pizzas were brilliant.