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.