Saturday, 29 January 2011

London - Silk Road

49 Camberwell Church St
London SE5 8TR

Big plate chicken: £15
Dumplings: £2.50 for ten
Skewers: £5 for four
Tsingtao beer: £2
Only takes cash.

Ask most people what a Uighur is, and they will look at you funny.  Ask most people what Chinese food is, and they'll mention General Tso's chicken, sweet-and-sour pork, or another dish in a gloopy orange sauce.  Luckily, a trip to Silk Road will improve your cultural and culinary knowledge.  A restaurant run by people from China's Xinjiang region, the people of which are known as Uighurs, serves to emphasise the diversity within Chinese food.  You will not find any of the standard dishes available at your local Chinese takeaway.  Instead, meat is flavoured with spices that echo the Uighurs' Central Asian roots - the skewers are not dissimilar to Middle Eastern kebabs.

Meat is Silk Road's forte.  You can get it on skewers, in dumplings, with noodles, or in stews.  It can be chicken, beef or lamb, and it can be spicy or mild, but it's best to become a carnivore for a couple of hours (especially since a friend said that the vegetarian TEP Noodles dish was one of the more disgusting foods she had ever experienced).

The real star is the big or medium plate chicken.  A stew of chicken and potatoes cooked to tenderness in a sweetly fiery soup, the waiter comes and dumps a couple of handfuls of peppery belt-like noodles into the remaining sauce.  The big plate chicken is a feast for four, but is incredibly reasonably priced at £15.  Although none of Silk Road's dishes are expensive, the big plate chicken is an especially good bargain.

The skewers of hot and spicy cubes of lamb and fat, which are brought sizzling to the table, are another stand-out dish.  The lamb and onion dumplings, eaten with vinegary soy sauce and chillies, are solid and hearty, providing a substantial starter for £2.50.  We wanted to try more dishes, but after these three we were too full and satisfied, a testament to both the quality and quantity of Silk Road's cooking.

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 23 January 2011

London - Spinach and Agushi

Exmouth Market
London EC1R

Two stews and jollof rice (small portion): £4.50

As a nation, we regularly eat food from almost all parts of the world, but most people have never even thought to try food from African nations south of North Africa.  This long-standing culinary ignorance may be because we associate Africa with famine, or because we're so busy shovelling curry, fajitas, kebabs, couscous, noodles, hamburgers and roasts into our mouths, that we don't have time to venture outside of our already broad culinary parameters.  A meal at an Eritrean restaurant in 2007 opened my eyes to the vast number of cuisines I had not yet tried, but despite the substantial African communities in cities and towns across Britain, it is still difficult to find restaurants serving Nigerian, Ghanaian, Ethiopian and Somali food in most places.

Spinach & Agushi, a food stall in London's Exmouth Market, is bringing African food - their dishes are Ghanaian - to the mainstream, as evidenced by the long lines of City workers queueing for jollof rice, plantains, pepper beef, chicken in peanut sauce, and spinach and agushi (ground melon seeds) each lunchtime.  Taking my place in the queue, I noticed that most of my fellow line-dwellers were white and, judging from their clothes and the smart phones clutched in their hands, wealthy.  There were six or seven choices of stews to be served with a ladle-ful of jollof, and all were disappearing at an equal rate - there were no "safe" options, and people were gladly accepting large quantities of fiery chilli sauce on top of their already well-spiced dishes.

I ordered jollof rice with spinach and agushi and chicken in peanut sauce.  Despite ordering a small portion, I would not have needed dinner had I not been intent on getting a Jamaican patty.  The chicken was korma-like: rich and creamy, with large chunks of tender chicken smothered by a nutty sauce that provided only a slight spice-infused tingle.  The spinach and ayushi provided a contrast with a dry mixture of a granular agushi paste mixed with a large quantity of baby spinach.  Being new to agushi, I had no expectations, but its slightly bitter and nutty flavour lent itself well to the spinach, preventing it from tasting too much like the wilted salads you can find in every other swanky cafe bar around the Square Mile.

The only disappointment was the jollof.  I have eaten a substantial amount of this tomato, pepper and rice dish in my time, both from restaurants and my own kitchen, and Spinach & Agushi's version was too dry and contained few flavours beyond the chilli skins I kept finding.  A good jollof retains strong tomato and onion flavours that could not be found in this version.  In addition, it was too dry, and while jollof is not meant to be sloppy, it is often moist, making it stand out as part of the meal rather than being a foil for the stews and vegetable dishes served alongside it.

Now that African food is moving into the mainstream, I want to see more stalls and restaurants serving food like Spinach & Agushi's.  Their introduction to African food is flavourful but recognisable, not scaring off the uninitiated with too much chilli or too many unfamiliar ingredients.  Maybe soon, people will start going out for a Ghanaian or an Ethiopian on a Friday night.

London - Mixed Blessings Bakery

12-14 Camberwell Road
London SE5 0EN

Beef Patty: £1.00
Bread: £2.00 - £3.00

With a different name and in different circumstances, I probably would never have visited this Walworth bakery.  But I was disappointed after having had a mass-produced chicken patty (like a Cornish pasty but with better fillings) from Bagel King further down the road (the filled dumplings looked home-made, though), and I had been staring at Mixed Blessings from the top of buses ever since I first noticed its unusual name.

Mixed Blessings' beef patty canceled out the mistake I had made at Bagel King.  Whereas theirs was gloopy and bland, with a stodgy and slightly soggy crust that tasted of wet flour, Mixed Blessings' patty was a peppery and meaty beef filling encased in a flaky shell that maintained some stretch and didn't wetly disintegrate once in your mouth.  If I hadn't been so fixated on getting a patty, and if I hadn't been off to visit friends for the weekend, and if I hadn't been full from the substantial Ghanaian food that I had eaten for lunch, I would have investigated Mixed Blessings bread selection more thoroughly.  The shop's sign says that they sell Caribbean and English breads and pastries, but I only saw Caribbean varieties (although it was close to the 6:30pm closing time) - bulla cakes and Jamaican hard-dough loaves dominated the shelves.  I don't know how many people initially go to Mixed Blessings because of its name, but I imagine that it gains more than a few converts to its products that are hard to find home-made elsewhere.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Soup Kitchen

31-33 Spear St.
Manchester M1 1DF

Soups: £2.85 - £3.25
Soup and a Sandwich: £6
The Soup Kitchen on Urbanspoon

This post was meant to be about Koffee Pot, but as they were closing when we arrived (2:45pm), we ducked across the road into Soup Kitchen instead.

Soup Kitchen is cool. You only have to see the neon initials in the windows, the arty magazines on the walls and the stripped-down communal tables to know that you have landed slap-dab in the middle of hipsterville. Luckily, the style does not dictate the food. Hearty soups and sandwiches (bread should come measured in slabs not slices) rub shoulders with vegetarian tarts and meaty stews. If you have ever become despondent whilst choking down a limp and lifeless supermarket (or, God forbid, newsagent) sandwich, then you need to turn in whatever direction will take you to the corner of Spear Street and Hilton Street and run there as fast as your under-nourished legs will carry you.

Although I usually review places alone, this time I was with an American friend, a New Yorker nonetheless, from Brooklyn. Soup Kitchen was, therefore, the perfect storm of style, substance, and low low prices, a combination that everyone can appreciate. Between the spicy, tomatoey, comforting mulligatawny, and the creamy-yet-flavourful leek and potato, I was hard-pressed to pick a favourite. My friend's hummous salad sandwich was declared "nothing special" (the hummous had little to set it aside from the supermarket kind) but was saved by the inches-thick slices of multi-grain bread, which made it worth eating. The poppy-seed whole-grain roll that came with my soup was also a delight: a stretchy crust and dense insides soaked plenty of soup up with each dip, resulting in a spotless bowl when it came time for me to deposit it on the tray rack for collection.

Since it opened, Soup Kitchen has provided Manchester's workers with a port in a storm. Reasonably-priced food and large portions in a place that feels like a friendly local even if many of its patrons wear skinny jeans, is not something often found in the heart of Manchester. Soup Kitchen remains the cool yet accessible friend you wish you'd had when you were younger, but this time it's up to you to make the first move.

Monday, 3 January 2011

New Britannia Fish Bar

109 Heaton Moor Rd
Heaton Moor 
Stockport, SK4 4HY

Small Chips: £1.10
Large Chips: £1.60
Fish: £3.00

Bank holiday and fish and chips, can it get any better?  Not if you get them from the New Britannia on Heaton Moor Rd, that's for sure.

The New Britannia used to be just the plain old Britannia, and was owned by an old Greek couple who were very generous with their portions.  Then their sons came along and added the "New," changed the signage from orange to white, and were slightly less generous, but the £1.10 small portion (small being a misnomer) and the £1.60 large portion are still well-priced for the quantity and quality of the food.

The chips themselves are fat and fresh out the fryer, crisp on the outside from the oil and soft and floury on the inside.  You'll never find an oily or greasy chip here, and their Crispy Bits:Whole Chips ratio is spot on.  The fish (£3.00) is moist inside its light and thin batter coating, falling into satisfying chunks as you plunge in with your fork.

The New Britannia proves that you can still get cheap and good-quality fish and chips even in an area where every other eatery's offerings are either organic, hand-reared or stone-rolled.

Sunday, 2 January 2011


Mancfoodian is now on Twitter. Just another way for you to find tasty places to eat in Manchester and occasionally elsewhere. Follow food here at!/Mancfoodian