Monday, 18 March 2013

The Hideaway

The Hideaway on Urbanspoon
114 Junction Road,
London N19 5LB

All pizzas: £8-9.50

As disparaging as I am about Archway, I've had some truly delicious food there these past few weeks.  First was the roujiamo from Mama Wang's, and a few days ago I experienced the media-vaunted pizzas at The Hideaway.

Sandwiched between an off-license and a bin-lined alleyway are some of the finest pizzas that London can offer, even in these days of Franco Manca's cross-capital expansion and every louchely lit hipster market offering up gourmet slices.  The restaurant is cosy and undemanding with sofas, comfy chairs and the lights turned down low in comparison to the stark lines and lighting of the nation's favourite pizza chains.

The menu keeps it simple: fourteen pizzas, two calzones, six salads, two desserts.  All are simply done with good quality ingredients at reasonable prices.  I had the Caprino pizza, a tomato-based pizza with mozzarella, goats cheese, juicy sun-dried tomatoes and a heavy scattering of teeny-tiny capers.  The mozzarella provided a creamy background for the salty pops of the other ingredients, none of which were skimped on.  R had the Originale calzone, a meaty punch of chorizo, salami milano, roasted peppers and mozzarella that was let down by a bowl of watery tomato sauce that tasted of little more than de-canned passata.

The Hideaway is worth a visit, especially if you're hungry and in Archway.  Although the calzone's side sauce was a disappointment, every other aspect of the meal was top-notch. For an area that otherwise seems more a staging-post than a destination, Archway is swiftly proving me wrong.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Chennai Dosa, Wembley

Chennai Dosa on Urbanspoon
529 High Road,

Special Masala Dosa: £2.99
Sambar Idli: £1.99
Masala Butter Paneer: £3.50
Chapattis: 85p apiece

Being such a fan of East Ham's plethora of South Indian restaurants and shops, I had wanted to check out for some time what Wembley, a similar area but in north-west London, had to offer.  It was a flying visit, but I will return in the future for more sampling.

Chennai Dosa is a small chain (11 outlets) of South Indian restaurants scattered mostly across the South East.  R and I went there because it was right by the bus stop, we were starving, and I had eaten an excellent meal at the one in East Ham before.  The menu is comprehensive and has a good selection of South Indian standards (dosas, oothapams, idlis etc) with a few options for each dish.

R and I chose sambar idli (steamed rice cakes in a thin vegetable curry), masala butter paneer (paneer cheese in a sauce), chapattis, and the special masala dosa.  We ordered the special masala dosa mainly because it was only 14p more than the normal masala dosa, and we wanted to see what special ingredient cost 14p.

The sambar idli was superb: the two dense rice cakes soaked up the sambar but retained their shape, and the large chunks of vegetables in the sambar made it seem healthier than it probably was.  The masala butter paneer was rich and flavoursome, pungent with a tomato acidity complemented by the creamy paneer.  We ate it with nothing-special chapattis rather than rice. The special masala dosa came as a large semi-circle with the usual complement of sauces - sambar, a cooling but spiced coconut, a red one that tasted of caramelised onions and a green one that tasted clean, peppery and hot.  The magic 14p ingredient was a heavily cinnamon-ed mashed medley of vegetables plonked on top of the curried potatoes and onions.  It did not add anything to the dosa and the heavy flavour of cinnamon compromised the other spicing in the dish.

Overall, the meal was good, although some aspects could be improved.  Eating South Indian is almost always a cheap but tasty option, and we were stuffed for the princely sum of a tenner. Wembley has a lot more to offer, including outdoor dosa stands that were deserted in this March's biting winds and snow flurries.  There will be more food forays into the northwest of the capital once the weather improves.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Dosa Deli

Various locations (info on Twitter - @dosadeli)
Prices around £5.

Thinking about it, dosas (large and crispy South Indian pancakes made from rice and lentils) make the perfect street food.  If made correctly, they hold their substantial fillings well while retaining their own texture.  They are usually stuffed with a variety of spicy vegetable fillings, whether lightly curried or fiercely hot, and can be eaten with one hand while you hold a much-needed drink in the other.  No faffing around with spoons or forks, dosas are the more challenging version of those bland stodge-fests that call themselves burritos.

So imagine my pleasure when I came Dosa Deli's light, crisp and aerated dosas. They are on a par with what you'll find out in East Ham or Wembley, just more accessible because Dosa Deli is a food truck that plies its wares in Kings Cross, the City and other central locations. Their fillings are more unusual than the "masala" or "Mysore" mixes on every menu, with multiple layers constructed with chutneys, sauces and pickles on top of a toothsome, flavour-packed chana masala (chickpea curry) that sings of long-cooking and care.  They give you the option of adding paneer, but the chickpeas are a delight all by themselves.

Their new option is based on Singapore laksa, which I will be checking out shortly.  These guys are worth watching, and tasting, and will surely have notched up a full-time restaurant soon enough.  Top-quality dosas without having to schlep out to zone 3/4? Yes, please.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Lucky Fried Chicken at The Grafton

The Grafton Pub,
20 Prince of Wales Rd,
Kentish Town,
London NW5 3LG

Jumbo Box - £12.50
Potato salad - £3

The newly gastro Grafton pub in Kentish Town has decided to host pop-up and food-truck stalwarts Lucky Chip in their kitchen in the coming months.  Their first venture is Lucky Fried Chicken, which serves the dishes of an upscale chicken shop for prices that are still cheap for a filling dinner.

R and I went for the jumbo box - £12.50 for five large pieces of fried chicken, creamed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and two rolls - and added a tub of potato salad for £3.  This box represents very good value as, even without a side, it would make a satisfying meal for two people.

Having spent almost all of my summers in South Carolina, I am familiar with the upper echelons of fried chicken: herbed and spiced flour that makes the crispy skin pop and plump chicken meat brined into tenderness.  Lucky Chip succeeded on all fronts; R was particularly happy that the batter was light rather than the main feature, as it allowed the chicken to be a flavour in itself.

The coleslaw was so more-ish I considered ordering it as a salad all by itself.  A light covering of mayonnaise lets the vegetables be the focus along with the slightly peppery dusting of herbs.  The potato salad, on the other hand, was almost all sauce, which, to me, does not a good potato salad make (obviously, this is a subjective judgement).  It might have been tangy but it overwhelmed the chunks of hard potato and slices of cornichons.  The potatoes and gravy were far too salty, which spoiled the contrast between the creamy potatoes and meaty gravy.

Despite the heavy-handed salting and saucing, the meal was one of the best I have eaten recently and should be chalked up as a success.  Apparently the Grafton's next culinary adventure (from 13th March) is into gourmet burgers.  Considering the standard of Lucky Fried Chicken, it should be well worth checking out.

Saturday, 23 February 2013


Takoyaki: £2.50

Takoyaki stall,
Newport Place,
Chinatown, London

Takoyaki are octopus balls.  Get your mind out of the gutter, you filthy thing.  The takoyaki man pours batter, octopus pieces and shredded cabbage into a converted waffle iron and then fiddles with them in a casually flirty manner.  After determining that everything is as it should be, he plops them into a bowl, artfully dashes Japanese mayonnaise and a sweet soy sauce around them, adds some shredded fishy bits, and hands over the food with a come-hither eyebrow.

They are piping hot and hard to eat and contain cross-sections of octopus tentacle.  The fishy, salty, punchy flavours are strong yet complementary. And even though three-quarters of the octopus is rubberier than it should be, the fourth piece is a meltingly soft delight.

As more and more street food stalls open in and around Chinatown, selling the pancakes, dumplings and waffles of various nationalities, it is worth keeping an eye out for the more unusual offerings.  There might be an abundance of low-quality high-priced food in the area, but the street stalls rarely disappoint in their cheap and cheerful offerings.

Mama Wang's

Roujiamo: £4 (small), £5 (large)

Mama Wang's Kitchen stall,
Opposite the Archway Budgens on Holloway Rd.

My friend Z reminded me that I hadn't written anything since October. Truth be told, it's because I've been on poverty rations while trying to find paying work. No luck yet, but hopefully I'll be able to wangle my budget so I can make the occasional foray into street food.

Today's visit was to Archway market. Jammed between high-class Highgate and hard-to-like Holloway, Archway is little more than a comfortably middle class junction.  Raising it from its torpor is the Saturday market (opposite Budgens....such a middle-class direction).  Here you can get hand-milled Irish breads, free-range duck eggs, salted caramels and roujiamo.

Hold up...I know you were following me until that last one, so let me explain.

Roujiamo are Chinese sandwiches.  Specifically, northern Chinese sandwiches of long-braised pork or lamb, some lightly pickled vegetables, a slathering of piquant tomato chutney and a few crispy bits. An English muffin struggles valiantly to contain the ingredients, but fails: porky sauce covered my hands for the rest of the day while chunks of meat and veg slipped from my grasp and onto the pavement. I'd recommend a two-hand grab, plenty of napkins and a firm bite.

Enough on the logistics.  The flavours are all there: well-spiced pork lost something in having little texture, but otherwise was a pleasure to eat; the vinegar from the vegetables lends a clean undertone to what would otherwise feel like a fatty meal; the tomato sauce needs more punch, but that's probably a subjective statement; and the English muffin holds up well in the face of so much sauce and stuffing.

Archway may not be the most thrilling of suburbs, but it is developing a top-notch market.  Go there to buy the ingredients for the Guardian's latest Ottolenghi recipe, sure, but make sure you grab a cheeky roujiamo, too. It'll make even the Northern Line worth it.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Indonesia Mini Market

57 Charing Cross Road

Mie Bakso: £4.50
Nasi Pedang: £5
Canned drinks: 50p

It's not often you find a cheap, filling, fantastically flavoured, expertly cooked lunch slap-bang in central London. However, for lunch or dinner for a fiver or less, head up a gaudy Chinese shop's escalators, turn past the tattooist and the massage parlour, until you find shelves filled with Indonesian products.  Propped up against the counter is a list of dishes and the man behind it will explain their particulars for you. Indonesian food doesn't yet have the same cultural cognisance as Indian or Chinese, but this shop could single-handedly reverse its fortunes.

When I first went, the only dish available was Mie Bakso - a meatball soup with two kinds of noodles, various crunchy bits and a sprinkling of green leaves.  The broth is clear, flavoured to the hilt, and absorbs the complimentary spicy sambals nicely.  The meatballs are spongy - apparently this is traditional, as tapioca flour is added to stretch the meat further - and this is slightly disconcerting to a Westerner unaccustomed to Indonesian food. Overall, this is a dish that packs many surprises - from the flavours to the textures to the quantity crammed into what looks like a small bowl.

The second time was for a late Sunday lunch.  The cafe was packed with laughing Indonesian students who, according to the owner, had eaten almost everything. The only dish left was Nasi Pedang - a large-portioned taster of curries, rice, sambal and poppadoms.  The curries - a hump of curried potato, an earthy and intense beef redang and a searingly spicy chicken curry - showcased different flavours and textures and schooled us in the basics of Indonesian cuisine.  The green and tangy sambal added another layer and worked well with both meat dishes.

With such cheap, delicious and plentiful food in the heart of London, this place is a gem of a find.  As usual, thanks to Chowhound for the tip.  Most people would ignore a small sign reading "Indonesia Mini Market" or, even if they did follow it up the stairs, would be diverted by the depressing "Brazil by the kilo" restaurant next-door.  Finding and eating new cuisines at low prices is part of the joy of living in London. Let's all get out of our Indian-Chinese-Italian bubbles and open our eyes.