Thursday, 28 May 2015

Eat: Taberna do Mercado - Spitalfields, London

We really wanted to love the new restaurant, "Taberna do Mercado" by Nuno Mendes (former head chef of the beloved Viajante at Bethnal Green Town Hall where he first made his name).  Nuno, riding high on his new-found celebrity chef status, left to set up camp at the Chiltern Firehouse in Marylebone, thus making it out of reach for us simple Eastenders, given that it quickly established itself as the celebrity haunt for the likes of I dunno, Harry Styles, Lindsay Lohan et al.

So when Taverna Do Mercado opened a few weeks ago in Spitalfields, we whooped for joy at welcoming Nuno back to what I feel he must call his spiritual home in East London. Things were promising when my friend announced via text that "OMG Keira Knightley is here and sitting on the next table!". Sadly, we were wrong. Look, I've read Fay Faschler's review in the Evening Standard. I suppose this blog doesn't quite get the same circulation figures, so I guess it will be safe to say without pissing off anyone that we thought it was all a bit crap.  Between us, our group of four ordered nine dishes to share and were still famished by the end. If it were the case that the food was delicious we would have happily ordered more but instead we decided to cut our losses and head over to Ottolenghi (also new in the Spitalfields area) for a reliable portion of salads and cakes.

Interiors at Taberna Do Mercado. OK so the photo is a little fuzzy but it is definitely Keira Knightley.

Espadarta and picadio Algavio £14
Whilst the food was served on a series of delicately mismatching blue china plates, it didn't quite compensate for the inadequate portion sizes, even taking into account the small-plates eating style that we are well accustomed to. The above is a dish of swordfish with a light tomato and cucumber salsa which frankly wasn't quite spicy or piquant enough to generate any lasting memories or merit commendation.

Wild Garlic, asparagus and fennel migos £8

For £8 I dare you to try a mouthful of what transpired to be soggy breadcrumbs infused with a meaty garlic aroma, skilfully hidden under a mass of shaved fennel. Sorry, when the menu says 'asparagus' I take that to mean more than just the one sliver of asparagus hiding under the dill sprig.  Again, Fay Maschler exhorts the values of soggy bread  ("wet bread achieves iconic status"?!) but it really did not add up for us.  The soggy bread did not hold as a base for any interesting flavours and the shaved fennel on top seemed to exist solely to look pretty and/or apologise for what horrors were lurking underneath.
Peas, broad beans and egg yolk £8
It wasn't until I re-read the menu did I realise that this dish is supposed to contain egg yolk. In fact it was a dish of broad beans, peas, and some crunchy bread crumbs on top.

Tinned fish: Monkfish £7
Portugal is famous for the quality of their tinned fish and as a result the restaurant does its own take on it, with options including tinned mackerel, cod, and scallops.  We went with the monkfish, and as shown above it was served in what is clearly a green sauce but aside from that, lacked any distinct flavour.

We also had the runner beans, which were oily, and one of the cheese plates which although was perfectly serviceable one couldn't really classify it as requiring any culinary skill given it was just melted cheese and bread.  At some stage, the waiter came over to our table, holding yet another side plate with what I thought would be our next dish. It turned out that he had cleared the table next to us and was holding a plate bearing half a lemon.  The situation had clearly become so bad that I had come to expect our dining experience to include a dish comprising of a lemon garnish.  Nuno, we are simply bereft. We loved you for such a long time. Tell me I'm wrong, tell my three friends that we have misunderstood your genius.

Food - Istanbul's best breakfasts Part 1 - Mangerie in Bebek.

Turks in general, are pretty good at the whole brunch thing. I'm sure the Ottomans had it all worked out centuries ago that lazing about on a Sunday morning with the papers, an endless supply of coffee, and little meze dishes of delicious morsels of olives, fresh vegetables, bread, honey and clotted cream was truly the only civilised way to spend one's precious leisure hours.

Here is a low-down of the our best brunch places in Istanbul, starting with:

Mangerie - Bebek

Mangerie is an über-hip place in the affluent suburb of Bebek. If coming from central Istanbul, a short bus or taxi ride down the coast will take you to this hidden oasis. It is actually really quite hidden, as Google Maps does not help. You need to walk down the high street towards the intersection and find a small flight of stairs that takes you up to the top floor. If in doubt ask the nice lady at the homewares and design store, who will point you in the right direction.

Upon arrival, we were seated on the balcony, facing directly into the view below.  After we quite got over ourselves at how cool we were for finding this place, we perused the menu and opted for the a standard Turkish meze style breakfast, or as we have now coined it, the 'full Turkish'. Out came generous portions of bread, fresh clotted cream with honey, cheeses, nutella, jams, and a bowl of fresh tomatoes with thyme. In addition we also ordered some eggs with Turkish sausage. All of this with some pretty stunning views. The restaurant itself, with long wooden communal tables, fresh flowers and bookshelves along the walls, invites its customers to stay awhile - not least because their breakfasts are so delicious.  If you're not in the mood for breakfast, Manger also serves a range of Western and Turkish style salads, sandwiches and quiche.

Breakfast with a view

Mangerie Bebe
A delectable spread at Mangerie Bebek

Trendy interiors with an assortment of mid-century furniture and George Nelson lighting
Bebek itself is interesting to have a walk around; it is clearly a suburb for the well-to-do.  Continue down the Bosphorus coastline heading back in the direction of Istanbul, as there is a footpath leading directly to the next town, Arnavutköy, whilst, being slightly less fancy than Bebek, holds its own in terms of interesting side streets and traditional architecture.

Perfect day for a stroll in Bebek


The ornate and brightly painted exteriors of homes in Arnavutköy

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Art & Music - David Bowie Is - Paris exhibition

"Ultra violence in Liberty fabrics" - David Bowie (on his costume for his performance of Starman on Top of the Pops.

I cannot tell you how excited I was to see a poster for the "David Bowie Is" exhibition I when arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris the other day. When the exhibition premiered in London in 2013 it was essentially impossible to obtain a ticket in advance. Hence the delight in logging onto the Paris Philharmonie website to find that tickets were not only available but in abundance!

The Paris Philharmie

David Bowie Is - is a retrospective spanning the length of Bowie's career (in both music and film) and which started in his birthplace in Brixton, south London.  I loved the super-techy audio guides because the music and commentary automatically switches when one moves to a different part of the exhibition space.  The audio guides helps to put us younger Bowie fans into the sounds of the 1960s, setting the scene for Bowie's musical influences as he grew up.  The visual feast continued as we move into the 1980s, with throw-back TV performances of Bowie on 'Top of the Pops'. True Bowie fans spent hours poring over Bowie's handwritten lyrics and sketches.

David Bowie costumes

I'm coming to the Bowie party late - when I grew up, my first encounter with Bowie was his performance of the Goblin King in Labryinth. I was a rather sensitive child and the film scared the bejeezus out of me and he's been largely banished from my memory since.  However seeing the collection of Bowie's work in one place has ignited an interest in his genius; it brings home how brilliant, elegant, chameleonic he was and still is.
David Bowie Is exhibition

David Bowie costume design

If you didn't manage to catch the exhibition in London....Go! Go! Go! The Paris Philharmonie is immediately in front of the Porte Pantin metro station, and as it is only a few stops away from the Eurostar station so you'll be there quicker than you can say Ziggy Stardust.

David Bowie Is, Paris Philharmonie - exhibition in Paris until May 31 2015. The exhibition then tours to Melbourne, Australia from 16 July 2015.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

The Lost Lectures, Lost on Trial at Hornsey Town Hall

There's an L at the top of that. 

The lovely folks at Lost Lectures (fronted by a bubbly chap called Julian) host themed lectures around London (and NYC, and Berlin!) at secret locations. Tonight we hiked out to Hornsey Town Hall in North London to see:

  • Elizabeth Pisani - a woman who was an expert on Indonesia but spoke about corruption(ish). 
  • David Allen Green - a lawyer who spoke about law and magic
  • Killing Kittens - the founder of a sex party business who talked about herself
  • Andy Zaltzman - satirist for hire 
  • Andrew Logan - the founder of Alternative Miss World who introduced us, by slideshow, of all the Alternative Miss World winners from the 70s to 2014
  • Rafe Ofer from Sofar Sounds - introducing a concept of bringing music, gigs and music lovers together

The concept of the Lost Lectures is certainly appealing and clever, if one is up for a night of unexpected twists and turns, with interesting and engaging speakers. Sadly, this evening's speakers ranged from being amazing, funny and inspiring (Andy Zaltzman and Rafe Ofer) to endearing (Andrew Logan) to.....the lady from Killing Kittens. She runs a sex party business that is supposed to engender women to embrace their sexuality. That started off being really promising but then descended into toe curling disaster once she went on some convoluted tangent on feminism. I worry that she might be sad that I didn't enjoy her talk, but then again, she did quote Coco Chanel, "I don't care what you think about me. I don't think about you at all." Fair enough, so I don't suppose she would be concerned that my friend described her as "amateur TED Talks".

The star of the show was definitely Hornsey Town Hall which is now being used as an art space. It's a beautiful example of modernist architecture. The building was closed down in the 80s and despite the art centre having a short term lease, the long term future of the Town Hall is still undecided. Hopefully it won't be turned into luxury flats, as on our visit this evening, when the building was rammed full of happy and excited people, bringing to life the faded grandeur of the Town Hall.

The Lost Lectures
Details: Tonight's Lost Lectures was £45 per person. Drinks and food available. See their website for forthcoming events.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Food - Kebab hunting in Istanbul - search for the city's tastiest kebabs.

For the food-obsessed it is practically an impossible task within the confines of a 3 day city break, to figure out where/when/and how much to eat. Having said that, we made it our mission not to waste precious calories on tourist-trap kebabs but to seek out the best and finest of what Istanbul could offer. After scrupulous research of all the Istanbul foodie blogs, we settled on two very different, but equally terrific establishments.

Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu

The Karadeniz Pide ve Döner Salonu is located within the hustle and bustle of the Beşiktaş shopping district. Without really trying we managed to stumble upon the restaurant as our attention was drawn to the customers sitting at the tables spilling onto the street, the GINORMOUS beef and lamb kebab rotating around the spit, the delicious smells wafting into the air, and a small army of waiters making sure that a constant stream of food was dispatched to the hungry lunchtime crowd. As we approached the restaurant we were warmly greeted by its owner, and given a table upstairs. A Turkish-only menu listed about half a dozen items (none of which we could read except for the eponymous 'kebap'), but on inspection of what everyone else had on their plates clearly the most popular items were the kebab in pide bread and kebab meat on a plate with salad. After an initial negotiation between us on whether to order kebab on a fresh crusty bread roll, or in a pide, I was overruled and we went with a pide filled with kebab meat. It’s difficult to describe the elegant simplicity arrived on our plate a few minutes later - a fluffy pide, better than anything I’ve ever had in London, which served as a means to contain slivers of fresh kebab meat, tomato slices, cucumber pickle, and green chilli. There is no secret to it other than fresh ingredients, presented simply.
The Karadeniz restaurant is located in the Besiktas district which is within walking distance from Taksim Square, with the added bonus of having the Dolmabahçe Palace en route. Alternatively, there are numerous buses from Taksim square and taxis are cheap (except in our case when we were taken on an extended scenic route version). We had a great time absorbing the frenetic activity of the Saturday shopping trade, which gave us a little insight of what real life is like in Istanbul outside of the main tourist areas.

Address: Sinanpasa Mah. Mumcu bakkal Sokak No 6, BesiktasIstanbulTurkey

Şehzade Erzurum Cağ Kebabi

"When you eat once, you have to come back to it. It's addictive." - owner of Şehzade Erzurum Cağ Kebabi.

Later in the day, we continued our quest for meat on sticks, by visiting Şehzade Erzurum Cağ Kebabi is located in the Old Town area of Sirkeci. The restaurant specialises in cağ kebab, which means that the lamb is roasted on a horizontal rather than vertical spit. From our table we had a great vantage point of the kebab master at work. In one hand, he wielded a large carving knife, which was deftly used to cut slivers of lamb, which in turn were transferred onto smaller wooden skewers. The smaller skewers handed to his sous chef, who gives the individual skewers a final sear over the charcoal grill. These skewers are served directly on a piece of thin, crepe-like flatbread called 'lavash bread'. After the fluffy pide I had in the morning at Karadeniz, I was initially skeptical as to whether the lavash bread would equal my expectations. In fact, it was a nice accompaniment in that it was fresh, soaked up all of the lamb juices.

Address: Hocapaşa Sokak 3/A, Sirkeci

Thanks to Istanbul Food blog for the recommendations!

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Places - George Tavern, London E1 - Yvonne McDonnell

A group of us went down to the George Tavern on Commercial Road last night. It's such an atmospheric and beautiful old pub. Candles lit in old wine bottles. Group of friends clustered around tables, soaking in the music.  Yvonne McDonnell is a singer songwriter who launched the release of her new single 'The Savages'. She's got such a lovely folksy voice, and she reminded me a bit of Tracy Chapman.  

Meanwhile, the fight to save the George Tavern continues, as the latest news has been that the council have granted the development company permission to build flats in the adjoining space, which means that in the future, the use of the George as a music venue is likely to be severely curtailed. Last night's gig embodies the spirit of the George Tavern - to have a venue for young talent, creative thinkers and poets. 

Yvonne McDonnell is on Soundcloud, my favourite song of hers last night was 'Would you Do it Again'.

The George Tavern, 73 Commercial Road, London E1 0LA.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Places - Netil360, Netil House Hackney

So the rooftop space at Netil House has re-opened this weekend as Netil360 and it's looking pretty good! Given the last time I'd been up to Neil House it was for a Prince themed silent-disco in the middle of winter, I was slightly disorientated, squinting in the midday sun, confused by the shiny new astroturf and deckchairs.

It was a pretty chilled-out afternoon with reggae backing track included. From their website it seems as though Netil360 will be open every day, serving coffee, snacks and drinks well into the evening. I did chuckle though at the 'Make your own Terrarium' workshop that was being set-up out back, and made a quick escape for fear of actualising all the hipster cliches in East London. So I left, on my Japanese step-through bike, but shall return when the weather heats up some more, fully intending to park myself on a deckchair on the first sunny day.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Food - Crust Conductor, Peckham Rye

Sadly, yesterday's 'Crust Conductor Closing Party' (CCCP) called to an end the symbiotic union between the Pizza Bus and the Brick Brewery where it has been parked for the last few months.  We traipsed along to snare a table on the top deck and sampled four of their finest slices. It's fun, it's easy, it makes us think that being a Pizza Bus Conductor is a seriously viable career option.  The Crust Conductor is making most of the summer: he will be seen dishing out pizza and music at a bunch of music festivals (including Glastonbury), I've been told.

Somehow pizza tastes better when you're eating it on a double decker bus. My friend chose his namesake, the Peckham Princess, as it matched his super spicy, reggae-rollin' attitude. Jerk sauce, jerk chicken, green mango and jalapeños.

In the absence of its current parking spot next to the brewery, you should be pleased to find that The Crust Conductor comes the Gowlett Arms in Peckham, the original home of their pizzas. 

Friday, 1 May 2015

Food - Japanese Supper Club, Brazilian Nikkei Cuisine with the London Foodie, Islington

Brazilian Nikkei cuisine represents the influence of Japanese diaspora adding to the delicious melting pot of Brazilian cuisine.  I don't know why Luiz Hara hasn't been approached to open a restaurant, because the slick operation he runs in his beautifully furnished home in North London far surpassed to many other supper clubs I've been to previously. Luis produced 7 beautiful courses which demonstrated an instinctive feel bringing together different types of ingredients.

Starter 1: Salmon Tiradito - Peruvian Sashimi of Salmon, Passion Fruit Leche de Tigre, Crispy Kabocha & Espelette Pepper. Hidden underneath crispy bits of Kabocha (like sweet potato) were several slices of sashimi grade salmon. Luiz's passion-fruit marinade was sharp and smooth at the same time. Perfection.
 Starter 2: Deconstructed Sushi - Grilled Scallops on Rice, Wasabi Flavoured Tobiko Eggs, Nori and a Spicy Creamy Sauce. The outstanding dish of the evening for its interest factor. The fake cheese like exterior is simply a mask for what is actually a gorgeous lemon and light cream sauce, enrobing little nuggets of grilled scallop on a bed of sushi-rice.

Starter 3 - Nasu Dengaku - Grilled Aubergine with Miso, Mirin and Sugar Dressing, Topped with Mozzarella Cheese. The addition of cheese on top of miso grilled aubergine sounds wrong but tastes, oh, so very right.

Starter 4 - Nimono - Daikon Fondant, Soboro Chicken and Blow-Torched Foie Gras. The daikon acts as a sponge, soaking in the rich flavours of the chicken. The foie gras was a little indulgent addition.

Starter 5 - Tempura - Courgette Flowers Filled with Scallop, Tofu and Lemon Mousse, Oyster Mushrooms and Petters. You'll just have to take my word that the courgette flowers were incredibly fresh, and the scallop mousse worthy of the fine ingredients.

Main Course - Yakiniku - Brazilian Beef Picanha in Rock Salt, Crispy Onions, Soy Sauce and Lime Dressing, served with Japanese Stir Fried Garlic Rice and Japanese Mushroom in Truffle Ponzu Butter.

Dessert - Banana and Nutella Gyoza, with Black Sesame Caramel Ice Cream.

You can check out Luiz's blog at The London Foodie which lists his forthcoming supper club dates. At £45 a person, the price is genuinely worth every penny. Luiz's passion for cooking really stands out in the design of his menu.  I have been slavishly following his food and travel blog for years and clearly the influences of his travels to Brazil is reflected in what he shares with his guests at his supper club. Bravo.