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Benares restaurant, 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.

Gujarati Recipe Series – Essential Spices

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.

Lime Tree Court Restaurant, Saffron Walden

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.
Yum!

We will be going back again very soon!

http://www.lime-tree-court.co.uk/

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.

Christmas Feast at Dishoom, London

Earlier this month I was very lucky to win the competition on Kavey Eats for a Christmas Feast for 2 at Dishoom (named from the comedy ‘dishoom’ punching noise you so often get in Bollywood fight scenes). I’ve seen lots of tweets about how great Dishoom is, and I have spent time drooling (and reminiscing) over the menu on their website. So I was really excited to win the prize, plus I never win anything!

The menu is a mixture of Christmassy items (turkey, mince pies, warm spiced pimms) and classic Indian dishes (bhel puri, roti and naan, dhal and chai). Everything was beautifully spiced, just the right amount of heat and lots of aromatic spices, and authentic too but with a little twist.

We started off with a Winter Pimms for me and a Mango and Fennel Lassi for Mr. Giraffe. The pimms was like Christmas in a glass – lightly spiced with a dash of calvados and apple juice. The fennel with the mango lassi was surprisingly excellent, not overpowering at all, it worked just right.

First up we were served a selection of chutneys to go with our meal. Tamarind chutney, a cooling yoghurt and mint raita and a very hot house made chilli chutney.

Next up, bhel puri. This is one of my favourite things to eat in the world ever, everyone should have this at least once in my life – either made by my Mum or at Dishoom – I get the pleasure of being able to try both! Bhel is a mixture of puffed rice, spiced chickpeas, onion, lots of coriander and tamarind chutney. Sometimes with potato as well. At Dishoom the bhel had roasted crunchy chickpeas (a nice alternative to the normal kind) and pomegranate seeds which gave a lovely sweet flavour and extra crunch. I wanted to lick the bowl clean but we were in a public place, so I didn’t.

The mains all came at once so at this point we definitely felt like we were feasting! The centrepiece was the ‘flaming turkey raan’. A whole turkey leg slow roasted with spices and then shredded, served with crispy crushed Bombay potatoes and charred chilli green beans. Everyone should cook turkey like this.
We also had a lovely vegetable biryani and an amazing deeply savoury and excellently spiced black dhal. . We were also given a selection of roti and naan, all house made, I could see the man at the other side of the restaurant shaping and cooking them fresh to order.

All the food is perfectly spiced, nothing is just pure heat, it is spiced too – quite a different thing and hard to achieve well.

Pudding was some chilli mince pies, lovely crumbly pastry with rich mincemeat and flecks of red chilli, served with spiced custard, yummy! We also had a passionfruit ‘gola ice’ which was lovely shards of fruity ice, perfect to cool off after the mains.

We finished up with chai, naturally. I had a Baileys chai which does an amazing job of warming you right through. Mr. Giraffe had an ordinary chai which was pretty authentic, and lovely.

We’ll definitely be coming back to Dishoom for their normal menu. The bhel puri and the house dhal are worth going back for alone.  The Christmas menu is served until the 24th December, so hurry!

Thanks so much for having us Dishoom, we had a great time trying your menu out!

The British Larder, Suffolk

The British Larder blog has been one of my favourites for a long time, I love the recipes and the focus on local food, as well as the stunning photography. When I heard they had opened a pub restaurant last year it was on my list of places to go.

It is about an hour and a half from Cambridge, two if you go the scenic route (and your sat nav diverts you through all the horrible bank holiday traffic in Ipswich), so we tied it in with a trip to Orford and Aldeburgh for foodie shopping and a walk on the coastline.

We ate in the bar and had a deli board each, which is a really good way to sample all the different flavours the British Larder has to offer. They are incredibly well thought out and everything is perfectly made, exceptional. And for £12 they are really reasonably priced.

I had the Dingley Dell Pork Tasting Board which featured the most impressive scotch egg I’ve ever seen and tasted. Shredded slow cooked pork with a perfectly cooked egg and crispy exterior. My platter also had a chicken and pork terrine, puy lentil and ham hock salad, the most beautiful celeriac remoulade (with whole mustard seeds in, something I am going to do next time I make it), a vibrant and sweet pea and ham soup, locally made bread (from the Pump Street Bakery) and a perfect green salad.

The husband had the vegetarian deli board which was also excellent. Aubergine and tomato cavair, pearl barley salad, gorgeous spiced sweetcorn fritters, Suffolk Gold cheddar straws, olives, broad bean and white bean hummus, homemade tomato mayonnaise (I didn’t let him call it burger sauce!) more local bread and that lovely green salad again.

The little additions like the mixture of different breads, soft creamy butter and perfectly cooked thinly sliced beetroot were lovely.

Naturally I had to opt for pudding, I always leave room. I picked what was hailed as their ‘famous’ treacle tart, and it was amazing. It was huge, just the thing for a pudding lover like me. Served with white chocolate ice cream and caramel sauce. The inside of it was lightly spiced, it reminded me of the Indian dessert ‘gulab jambu’ - which is a pretty impressive thing to achieve in a treacle tart.

We also had coffee and tea which was served with little cocoa dusted meringues.

We will definitely be going back, the Sunday roast looks fantastic, the British Larder hasn’t been open long and I think is still getting its name out there, so go and support them, everything is as local as possible and cooked perfectly. I can’t wait to go again!

We also visited Orford whilst we were there for bagels and doughnuts from the Pump Street Bakery and scallops from Pinneys of Orford. And then on to Aldeburgh for goodies from Lawsons Deli. A lovely day out! Suffolk has fantastic food.

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