Wednesday, 17 November 2010

City Snacks

When in Rome…we drink tea in London as well as the mighty Blighty in its entirety. And we’re not talking Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, White Monkey Arse, etc and heaven forbids the pointless rooibos! We’re asserting with fervour a tea that’s robust and full-bodied and proceeds well with the addition of FULL CREAM milk instead! A cuppa that assuages thirsts and at the same time equilibrates your well being, ‘tis the builder’s tea we’re ‘arping on ‘bout mate!

It’s an absolute pleasure to pen my tuppenceworth about City Snacks. Like so many other caffs and eating joints in London, it remains unsung and neglected by my contemporaries. So if I may, grant me the Lancelot status; this post isn’t about the biggest and rarest breed Porterhouse steak or the freshest blow-torched otoro sushi you can ill afford to eat and certainly none of the frivolousness surrounding matcha niceties. I’m only here to champion a cup of tea and a bit of egg and bacon on the side. Friends, Londoners, countrymen…pay attention FGS!

I assume that City Snacks have been around since time immemorial. I do accept that assumptions are often precarious but the second one suggests Italians run it, what with the posters of De Niro and Pacino on the walls and no indication of Bruce Lee or the Hagia Sophia to confound matters. Like the extortionately pricey Bar Italia, the interiors of City Snacks warrant a Grade II listing by English Heritage. The wonderful red formica tables hemmed within pygmy booths poignantly justify the case. City Snacks is by AM a greasy spoon, by lunch a sandwich bar and from then till four, a haven for skivers in suits or dismisplaced tourists scotting around for the Soane’s museum. I usually turn up here before 08.00, the frequenters are usually blokes, but if you’re lucky, you might witness the odd Madam barrister scouring over her notes before being restored to full battle readiness by her cappuccino! Table service, quite unlike the ignoramus maximus collective of the nearby Modern Pantry or St John is well meaning and efficient. The praiseworthy service is due to the young Eastern European girl, who takes your orders, makes your drinks and waits.

A real cup of builder's tea resides here and it’s yours for a mere 70p a mug. Builder's tea has to be made from super industrial strength tea leaves, or sacks or bags. PG Tips come to mind. It has to brew longingly, stewing withstanding, in a catering tea urn. The dispensed dark red infusion is now added with the right amount of milk to make Ralph Lauren shriek in horror that he never invented khaki beige. Blessed sugar. Only processed white sugar rules the wave, and none of that poncy and raw demerara whatchamacallit, one or two teaspoonfuls a bare minimum but if you’re purist like I am then three’s magical. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." So stir forth, rest the cup, sip therefrom…satisfaction vouched.

Peckish? Fair enough but don’t cloud yourself with preposterous esoterica sarnies like crayfish and arugula or breast of roast Poulet Anglais and micro salad, Let’s just stick to summat real; egg and bacon roll. Providence defying, you know and I know it utopifies! And much more as it’s served warm and at only £2.50!

I’m of the ketchup brigade and thus less so of the fruity brown variety.

A supposedly full fry-up (without black pud, we’re Southerners after all!) to include toast (nowt but white) and a cup of tea or Lavazza (yuck!) coffee is available for a fiver. Or you could construct your own like I did here with a couple of greasy eggs over easy on buttered toasts accompanied by a lonesome banger that hardly complies with any attributes The Soil Association might dictate.

You done? Now pay at the counter and tip generously. Walk across the road and onto the best cake shop in London and buy some of these. Because elevenses beckons in a couple of hours.

Don’t tarry, your mug of bulider’s best awaits. Highly recommended.

As I was writing this post England lost to France and of all places it had to be at Wembley! #&%*! England captain Rio Ferdinand said: "We can do better, we didn't play until the last 15 minutes and it's a bit disappointing. We didn't play to our strengths, didn't retain possession and there are things to work on when we next meet up. There's room for improvement." I say Rio- get a grip, have a cuppa tea and sort your boys out!

29 Theobalds Road
City of London

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Wahaca, Soho

Tommi Miers is beautiful, successful and an immense proponent of a cause that’s Wahaca. With the latest opening in Soho we can now anticipate Wahaca to standardise the running and practices of all their restaurants. The long and the short of it- Tommi’s baby has evolved into a monster restaurant chain. Expect the worst.

Since there’s going to be an onslaught of reviews cascading from elsewhere I might as well do away with mine and bore you at will.

Three things stood out during the evening I was there.-

Men’s loo- where art thou? This is where modern interior design takes the piss proverbial, blissful ignorance resulting in undeserving annoyance to the public. Every bloke should be rewarded with a bottle of tasteless Sol beer if they manage to navigate their way to the little boy's room.
(Chaps, the above might resemble a sight for sore eyes but it’s actually the communal wash basin shared with the girls. You’ve been warned!)

The air conditioning. Sit under one of them and your bottles of beer will thank you for it but any food sitting on the table will begin to freeze into some congealed gloop in no time.

Dehydrated rice- nothing infuriates me more than rice that has been cooked hours (or perhaps days) before and, left drying and subsequently roasting under a heat lamp. The grains were inedible and hard enough to take out your fillings. Poor.

Less memorable was the food we had.

Black Bean Tostadas-

The only palatable dish but drowned by the excessive watery content from the tomato salsa.

Autumn Burrito-

A vegetarian option that promised feta and avocado. Unfortunately the two featured components were lacking, it was just a wrap full of rice and black beans- soulless and bland beyond belief. To be honest the much lambasted Chipotle serves up a much better one here.

Chicken Enchilada-

Mole poblano (a sauce from Oaxaca) was ordered but the salsa verde version appeared instead. Seeing that I was about to throw another wobbly I somewhat restrained and tolerated what was placed in front of me. This was the dish that came with the aggrieved rice. Having taken the woes of the cold air blasting from the air conditioner into consideration, the not so piping hot chicken filling was plainly pedestrian and the roasted onions were basically raw. Disappointing, so much so it reminisces a ready meal so beloved by the microwave oven devotees. I wouldn’t be surprised to see such Wahaca products appearing in the supermarket chillers soon.

Chorizo and Potato Quesadillas-

OMG, this was the kind of last resort thing you had to eat that has been dispensed from a vending machine. It was impervious to deliciousness, period.

Two things worth noting. The service is charming and efficient. Secondly Wahaca takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to the speed of which food is served, like my enchilada turning up before I could verbalize Cuauhtémoc Blanco Bravo. Honestly a Big Mac meal takes longer at McDonald’s!

I’m perturbed, as I’m also worried about my more favourable experiences at the Covent Garden and Westfield branches. What I had here in Soho was pure and simple chainslop. Is Wahaca becoming a victim of its own expanding success? I rest my case.

Wardour Street

London W1F 0TF

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

What the Dickens?

Lower Clapton Road has its dues but most often, validly misunderstood. It’s home to the following-

Britain's Murder Mile

More un-muzzled pit bull terriers (masquerading as Staffs instead to exploit the weak loophole that’s the Breed Specific Legislation) panting and menacing around the hood than a rogue Crufts show.

A disconcerting amount of chicken bones (courtesy of the innumerable chicken shops dishing out 4-5 hot wings for 99p) strewn on the pavements that makes Tracey Emin’s Bed appear clinically tidy.

It’s also the last stop of the bus with the greatest frequency that TfL blesses us with. The glorious 38, the bus route favoured by the promising uncompromising yoofs of Britain engaging in full-time barrages of hatred and insults (utilising a limited vocab of 33 words and most of them obscenities), and their bleeding sodcasts*!

And my GF; she lives yards from Lower Clapton Road.

But this post isn’t about Lower Clapton Road. Chatsworth Road is another major street in Hackney that’s east of and parallel to Lower Clapton Road. It’s more sedate than LCR because of its forsaken status. It’s a model high street that would both make the bourgeoisie abandon whatever discreet charms they might have and present a perfect case study for students of the built environment. But as with most buts, Chatsworth Road is changing. And it’s all down to this. Chatsworth Road is now home to a growing amount of independent shops and good honest eateries. Thankfully for the time being and albeit still in its virginal state, there are no McDonald's, Star*ucks, Boots, Tesco Metro, Nando’s or the odd Chinese medical centre to be found here. Well not yet anyway but they soon come dare I say, so visit Chats before Kirstie Allsopp starts to saunter here. In order to rev up Chats’ status, its Traders & Residents Association decided to re-launch the Chatsworth Road Market of which Alan Sugar was one of its most famous sons back in the 60s. The revival of the market with 20+ stalls last weekend was a resounding success.

But this post isn’t just about Chatsworth Road Market either. The inherence of this food blog inspired the post as a requisite. As it was indeed the devilled kidneys I had that deserved a championing of droolworthy praises.

Reportage time-

Lest I forget the street entertainment was memorable. The tunes played by the jazz duo were wholly apt and enjoyable.

And just as well no rendition of Neil Young’s Walk On was heard (I cringe every time!).

Thai stall, part and parcel.

This was the stall that caught my eyes.

What the Dickens?

And one of the most defining English dishes- Devilled Kidneys!

Run by three affable chaps resembling Sebastian Flytes without the teddy bears. They were appropriately coiffured and suitably well versed. I was informed by one of them, they live locally and this was their first venture. I say go and seek out a nice bank manger now!

Now I’m not one for enjoying street food in Britain, what with the lack of seats and the unpredictable nature of the weather. But repetitiveness withstanding, dishes like the kidneys placate in a different manner and outcome.

Here we go and for 4 quid 50 it’s served with a posh bread roll from an artisanal baker in Clapham to soak up the juices.

GF, who’s a Guardian reader and a veggie, gesticulated with a degree of horror that it could only taste of…

Yes I said, of passing water, as well as delectably sweet with underlying bitter notes, tender and beautifully piquant. The generous amount of cayenne pepper added was well judged, consummate warmth as required by the term- winter fodder. This was one of the best dishes I’ve had this year. As a consolation I told GF even if she wasn’t aware of it in the first place, devilled kidneys resemble mushrooms on toast and she could inadvertently munch and rejoice!

Her friend had the kedgeree and pronounced it nice, as non-foodies would.

GF didn’t go hungry as she had this ‘beans of all sorts’ wrap from a vegan stall.

Now back to Dickens for some hand cranked coffee. These boys have got it all sorted!

Filtered and all, and a quid a cup! The beans may not be a pedigree blend from Monmouth or Square Mile, it was more than passable.

What’s next guys? Mulligatawny or dumplings and stew? Keep it up and hope you thrive.

Chatsworth Road Market is still pretty much experimental, so if you’re reading this please give it a go. Their twitter feed here.

*"Sodcast [noun]: Music, on a crowded bus, coming from the speaker on a mobile phone. Sodcasters are terrified of not being noticed, so they spray their audio wee around the place like tomcats." As brilliantly coined by Pascal Wyse from the Guardian.

Chatsworth Road Market, E5

Saturday, 6 November 2010


"The urge to wider voyages . . . caused I to stumble upon Şömine"
(to quote and unquote Kenneth Cragg).

About eighteen months ago I made an epic trip by bus to experience the much hyped grilled meats at the Mangal Ocakbasi Restaurant in Dalston but was eventually let down by my geographical incompetence. In those days (and yes as recent as that) one had to rely solely on a hard copy of the A-Z (mine was inexplicably misplaced during the journey involving three buses) and my mobile was (and still is) satnav-less. Thereafter I had as much chance with Mangal as Scott did with the North Pole. Thankfully the despondency was short-lived,
I noticed whilst getting off the 149 on Kingsland High Street a bustling cafeteria a few feet away from the stop. The alleviation from the Mangal fiasco came in the form of Şömine.

Like Vietnamese the Turkish language and depending on one’s provenance it’s either blessed or riddled with an abundance of diacritics. Şömine (sh-me-nay), or without the cedilla and umlaut, Somine (albeit ignorantly as so-mine or so-meenie) is Turkish for a fireplace or grate. Şömine perceives and typifies as a workmen’s café, populated by strong taches of Anatolian persuasion and Hackney luvvies. It’s a canteen serving Turkish food without denting your wallet. Hearty meals can be had here for under a tenner. Similar to Wonkys, it epitomises a 3/5 stars rating, neither lower nor higher simply because it’s thus so. And again like the Soho stalwart and Khan’s for that matter, the service at Şömine would appear to be conniving if you wish to encourage it in the first place. So lay down your arms and be sensible, we’re talking cheap eats and communal dining here and not about a place that appraises your whims.

The menu. This is important, as it’s the only printed one the restaurant has in its possession and it can only be viewed from the shop-front. In fact the menu is only indicative, abolish all intensive-ordering plans as Şömine decides what dishes they decide to serve that day.

Back to the window display and you’ll need to decide from a lamb, lamb, chicken, lamb, lamb or a token vegetarian dish. Şömine serves pre-cooked classic Turkish dishes served from food warmers from dusk till dawn. Turkish food is not just about…look if you’re after kebabs et al here, then you’re barking up erroneously.

The Soups- now this place is an absolute haven for soups. They’re served with a large basket (kitschy plastic jobbies) of warm floury Turkish bread (more than enough for the die-hard carb dependants), olives and pickles. Additionally they cost no more than 4 quid each and I thought Ricky Tomlinson was generous! Oh before you harp on about blandness and lack of this or that, please do pay a bit of attention to the condiments on your table of malt vinegar, pepper, salt, dried chilli flakes and lemon wedges on the table. They’re there for a reason!

Mercimek Çorbası
Lentil Soup. Had this recently when my tummy was still rumbling after a disastrous evening at Thăng Long. The wonderful tasting soup with its authenticated graininess was placative and remedial. If sanctified is too strong a word then so be it.

Tavuk Çorbası
Chicken Soup with rice. Not bad but certainly not as memorable as this.

Paça Çorbası
Trotter Soup. Yes I know, Sybil, halal and what not, ‘tis only a literal translation, it’s actually goat’s or sheep’s feet soup. An absolutely delight, if you get to eat this über umami-laden dish then you’ll love this as well. Don’t forget to spice and tang it up, it’s brill!

Lamb casserole with aubergines, tomatoes, onions, etc. Excellent. This dish is great for peeps that harbour an aversion to all things bleating!

Lamb on the bone or shanks with potatoes and tomato sauce.

Juicy, melting, and tender- the best pirzola I’ve had in London. I believe that like the Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad at St. John, this dish is sacrosanct at Şömine.

It’s worth noting that all the mains are a fiver each.

Saray Burmasi
Walnut and pistachio baklava. Achingly sticky and sweet dessert but universally delectable!

Wanna a decent coffee now? Then head off nearby to either Mouse & de Lotz or Tina, we salute you and immerse oneself in Huxley’s Brave New World.

Hail Hackney, hail Dalston, and hail Şömine! Enjoy.

131 Kingsland High Street
London E8 2PB