There is a lot of truth in the old cliche that ‘food brings people together’. Without food being involved, it is likely that I would never see half of my friends, nor would I have met half of the new ones I have made in London. Any food usually works, but I think it is the most familiar and comforting ones that do the ‘bringing together’ the best. My proof is in the pizza. I can think of nothing else that would bring four food-loving, photograph-taking, blog-writing ladies together more enthusiastically or religiously than the simple pleasure of a good pizza. Meeting for pizza has become such a ritual, we turned it into a club and happily hold our meetings anywhere a decent slice is served.
Our latest meeting took us all a little out of our ways (these are the extreme lengths we go to for Pizza Club) to a cosy corner of Fulham which has been transformed into a slice of the Italian south. Meridionale, which literally translates to mean ‘from the South’, aims to showcase the best of the Southern regions such as Naples, Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia so we were excited to discover some new dishes or curious tweaks to well-know favourites. But first, we had to pop the prosecco to adjourn the meeting… we don’t have too many rules at Pizza Club however that is definitely one of them!
Did I really think I could escape the UK without setting foot into a British chippy? Quite naively, yes. Some locals say it is a rite of passage if you choose to set up home here, while many tourists have it firmly on their British bucket-list, but me? I would happily trade that spot on my bucket-list for more time at that other British institution, the pub. With less than two months left in the country, I was smugly certain I had dodged a greasy bullet, but some of my darling blogger friends had other ideas. The Brit half of our bunch had a couple of points to prove to the Kiwis, and they chose the charming Mayfair Chippy as the place to do it!
All the die hard chippy fans out there will probably be tutting in despair and wagging their fingers with distain, adamant that the Mayfair Chippy is too posh to be considered a real chippy. However, as someone who doesn’t want to leave the shop smelling like they’ve just been dunked in the fryer themselves, a bit of posh suits me just fine. And besides, we had bigger fish to fry… (that terrible pun was most definitely intended). The challenge was to convince one Kiwi that chips were worth the calories and the other that British fish and chips were not only good, but perhaps even better than their New Zealand counterparts. Tall order indeed.
As I am an incorrigible drama queen, I have on more than one occasion professed my undying love for a loaf of freshly baked bread. I’m only a bit sorry that a certain someone had to find out this way. The smell, the warmth, the taste… the perfect combination of all these elements would cause that same drama queen to go so far as to proclaim that her life would be over if she couldn’t eat bread again. You may think I am labouring my point but those who have seen me tear into a crusty baguette will know that my feelings are real. I feel utter sadness for those who truly (no, not you gluten-free fadsters) can’t eat real gluten-laden goods again… and not only because of the loss of that bready loveliness from your life. But really because gluten manages to sneak into so, so many foods!
I know that some of you didn’t care much for bread in the first place, and many of you are happily coping with alternatives but even the saints must admit it’s annoying how gluten finds its way into the most unexpected of things. I salute you for staying calm when you look at a menu and consider what you can or cannot eat, as opposed to what you want to eat. I obviously can’t solve this for you but I can tell you about a magical place in Clapham where they’ve banished gluten for good. Gluten-free folks, meet Mommi.This casual spot on Clapham High Street serves Nikkei cuisine, a delectable fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavours which results in a fresh, vibrant style of food.
London-dwellers, if you are ever in need of a reminder that French cuisine is not just about fine dining frou frou, then a visit to Casse Croûte will sort you out. One minute you’ll be standing in a busy but ordinary street in Bermondsey and moments later you’ll be transported to a bistro somewhere in France. There’s a special place in my head and heart for all the finicky techniques and unpronounceable sauces of French haute cuisine, but there’s nothing more comforting and soul-soothing than rustic French fare. Casse Croûte is dripping in quaintness and kitsch; with all the red and white chequered tablecloths, knick knacks cluttering the shelves, and vintage signs adorning the walls, I should be describing it as a tad tacky. But instead I find myself grinning from ear to ear at the sight of it and telling everyone I know that it’s positively charming.
Of course it helps that the food is remarkably good. Looking the part will only get a restaurant so far, it has to taste the part too and every mouthful here had that ‘ooh la la’ factor. That’s my French for ‘my goodness, that was good…’, by the way. Like all the good French bistros, the menu at Casse Croûte is sparse if you like options, or wonderfully succinct if you’re a menu ditherer like me. Three starters, three mains, and three desserts – the offering changes daily and is written only in French in the big blackboard in the centre of the dining room. If your high school French is a little rusty or you’re a bit slow on the Google translate, you needn’t worry because the bubbly front of house staff are always on hand to translate…
When did cooking become a spectator sport? I can just remember the days when chefs had reputations for being sweary, pot-swivelling hot-heads who were best kept behind the closed doors of the kitchen. In my youth, I had ventured beyond those doors into my dad’s restaurant kitchens a few times… they were hot, sweaty, generally loud, and usually frenetically paced. To the uninitiated, they were chaotic, but my dad assured me that there was always a rhythm in amongst the noise. Times have changed since those days. I’m sure that many chefs are still as hot-headed but the doors have been flung open and not only do people want to taste their food, people want to see the chefs cooking it too. How many restaurants have we all been to where the kitchens are visible from the dining room? How many times have you not so subtly rejoiced in that discovery?
Perhaps not as many times as me but admit it, you enjoy being a beady-eyed kitchen watcher as much as the next person because the inner workings of a professional kitchen can be fascinating. More and more restaurants are being designed with these ringside kitchen seats in mind, while others are choosing to let a select few be up close and personal at the chef’s tables they put inside their kitchens. Then there are restaurants like Kitchen Table who really take it to the extreme – one kitchen, one u-shaped bar wrapped around it, twenty chairs – that’s it. It doesn’t sound like much, but there is a bum on every seat, every night the restaurant is open and diners willing to pay a not so insignificant amount for the pleasure of sitting there, especially when you throw caution to the wind and opt for the wine pairing too.
You wouldn’t think it but I’ve always found pub crawls to be quite educational. In my early twenties, they taught me that I could indeed keep up with the boys and manage be to fresh-faced and chipper for my retail gig at 9am the next morning. By my late twenties, they taught me that those magical abilities had disappeared. And now, in my thirties they’ve finally taught me something worth sharing at my next dinner party. Some history of the London Docks; yes ladies and gents… I went to a pub crawl, didn’t get smashed and actually learnt something. Early-twenties me would be shocked, surprised and just a little bit impressed, I think.
I’d like to pretend I changed my ways all on my own but that would hardly be plausible. In reality, I have Eating Europe Tours and our very enthusiastic guide Nicole, to thank. We walked, we talked, and we ate and drank more than enough during this four hour experience… it was filled with lots of fun facts and stories about a part of London I don’t know well at all so the time literally flew by! We started our tour somewhere in Rotherhithe looking out onto one part of the Thames, ended down by St Katherine’s Dock, looking out onto another part of it… and saw a lot along the way. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to join the London Old Docks Historic Pub Tour…
A few weeks ago, I found myself embroiled in a discussion about the office tea club, rummaging through my bag for an umbrella, and harbouring a deep hankering for a curry. This seemingly innocent combination made me stop mid-rummage in a state of shock; after almost three and a half years of living in London, was I turning just that little bit British? Back in Wellington, I never had lengthy debates about the tea round (we just made our own), umbrellas were destined to be discarded in a bin partway down Lambton Quay, and the only curries I had a stomach for were Malaysian curries… But look how London’s changed me. By about 3pm that day, I was actually looking forward to, craving even, our dinner at Mango Indian because I hadn’t had my dose of curry and roti in quite some time.
The restaurant is at one end of a less than enticing street and round the corner from Borough Market; as a result, we both instinctively pitied it for its seemingly unfortunate location… I honestly couldn’t imagine many people bypassing Borough Market and then finding their way down to this derelict looking lane. But I would be wrong. From our window table, we got a front row view of couples and groups making a beeline for this cosy little curry house… as we sated ourselves on the poppadoms and chutneys, we mused that this was not such an unfortunate location after all, and definitely not the undiscovered gem we had chalked it down as.