Sunday, 31 August 2014

Mien Tay: where a bowl of noodles gave me a moment

In a previous half-life before this blog, my former housemates and I would frequent Mien Tay on Lavender Hill. This cheap and cheery hole-in-the-wall was quite a trek from where we lived but our intense craving for good Vietnamese would will us to go. When they had a BYOB policy (which ceased around Fall 2011), it served as our own black hole of verbal diarrhoea when girly woes were as lethal as the bottles of inebriation we'd consume. Nobody judged us as we gorged on noodles, wept about life and chugged away like sailors. 

Mien Tay visits became less frequent when our house contract ended and we had to go separate ways. Coincidentally after moving out, things finally fell into place for each of us - S is now happily married, H is a proud  homeowner in Newcastle, K has finished a degree, and I have been a very, very, very blessed lady. Oh, how far we've come and all that jazz.

Few months ago, on an aggressively wet Spring day, I found myself longing for something warm and comfortable so I hauled a couple of friends to back to Mien Tay. I guess I didn't clock in that inevitably, this cheery little place would change a bit, too. 

We were greeted by a type of service that was more huff-and-puff than the cheeky-and-cheery I was accustomed to. I shrugged it off and blamed it on the rain. But as we went along with our orders, the servers just seemed a bit disinterested and it took them forever to grab when it wasn't a particularly busy day. 

The spicy soft shell crab (£8.30) was more batter than crab meat. Half of it seemed to have been dipped in salt whilst the other half begged for seasoning.

The chargrilled quail (£6.20) was cooked well; it was very succulent for such a small bird. But it didn't blow my mind the way it stopped my tears many years ago.

Most of my friends ordered pho and said they've had better. Hmm. Has Mien Tay lost its magic?

My usual Vietnamese staple, bun thit nuong (£7) came and finally, things were right again. It looked, smelled, and most importantly, tasted the way I remember. The (room temperature) noodles were firm (even after soaking the nuoc cham), veggies were crunchy and fresh, pork was beautifully cooked. On a rainy day like that, it was exactly what you needed.

After our meal, a server came with plates of orange segments and our bill. It may not be the cheery restaurant it once was but at least, it's still very cheap.

I looked over our old table by the corner (near the bar, but of course) and a gloomy wave of nostalgia washed over me. I miss S, H & K, but I'm quite convinced those days of lambasting life prepped us for the happiness we now have. This place may not be the same, but then so are we. Perhaps the magic of Mien Tay lies in the fact that it's comfortable and dependable. Sure, you'd have a few hits and misses every so often (our visit was a bit more of a miss), but you know it's just around the corner to give you some sort of comfort - like a good friend at any given day.

Mien Tay - Battersea
180 Lavender Hill, Battersea, London SW11 5TQ | +44(0)20 7350 0721
Mien Tay on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Six tracks for August 2014

Well.... better late than never! Finally coughed up time to do this!

Zola Blood - Grace
There's a lot to wonder about Zola Blood although there's not a lot of information about them lurking on the web. I thought they sounded a bit like this band I followed a few years ago (as a fan, not as a roadie!) and as it turns out, two of them are in this new group. EP's on the brew, and I can't wait to hear more. Watch this space, folks.

Real Estate - Had To Hear
Summer's kissing people goodbye and as people try to book in last minute holidays and road trips somewhere coastal, I hear Real Estate's 'Atlas' CD in the background. Slightly dreamy in that shoegaze pop feel, it's a decent lazy listen.

John Butler Trio - Only One
A fairly old but happy track. Just because I seriously miss The Walking Dead, and because I think this track is quite underrated.

Mammals - Codeine Eyes
I think we're kissing summer goodbye and it's calling out for hearty soup, furry slippers and bedtime cuddles. This whimsical track off the band's Animalia EP is as good as the first single Circles. It brings about a surreal sense of contentment which is quite apparent in the whole EP.

The Knocks
- Classic (feat Powers)
This is my happy track of the month, which has been super busy and super well spent with super people. I think the "Don't be shy" part rubbed off nicely.

Bag Raiders - Nairobi
Found out the story behind Shooting Star, the duo's most famous hit to date. All I can say is, WOAH.

Enjoy! x

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Lutong Pinoy revisited: where we satisfied some cravings

My friend K had mega postpartum Filo food cravings so we decided to have a mega postpartum catch up over dinner. The trek-worthy Port of Manila in Hammersmith has closed shop (although they still cater) so we booked a table at Lutong Pinoy. 

I realised how I've learned to appreciate more Filipino dishes when I left the Philippines. I ate a lot growing up but was quite picky. I'd have anything inihaw (grilled) or prito (fried) but wouldn't touch anything with tomato sauce such as menudo and afritada or clear soup like nilaga or tinola. I still have my preferences now, but my palate for Filo food has definitely evolved. 

Chicharon bulaklak (£6) for starters. I never used to eat these fried pork intestines as my mother prohibited me from doing so for 'health reasons'.

Longanisa (£6.25) Growing up, I wasn't a fan of these Filo-version of pork sausages. However, I've developed a taste for the garlicky ones over time and have started to enjoy the sweet version. 

Laing (£5.50) is my favourite Filo dish of all time. It came swimming in a pool of coconut milk during our previous visit. Thankfully they got the balance right this time around.

I only started liking lechon paksiw (£6.50) in college. It's a stew made with the leftovers of lechon (that's roast pig for you Filo food newbs, aka Anthony Bourdain's "best pig ever"). Granted, it is not the best I've had but it was good enough to satisfy a craving.

We also had lechon kawali (£8). That's deep fried pork belly for you lot. I was slightly disappointed that the skin didn't crackle to our liking, but... deep-fried pork belly. Come on. And you can never go wrong with lechon sauce.

To break our swine intake overload, I ordered daing na bangus (£9.50). This is something Filipinos would eat for breakfast... with garlic fried rice. It's 'butterflied' milkfish marinated in vinegar and garlic, then fried. I never liked this before as I was a cereal eater as a child.

We ended up getting halo-halo (£3.50) for dessert, something else I didn't really like growing up. For Filo food newbs, this is a shaved ice dessert similar to kacang. It wasn't as mind-blowing as The Pen's halo-halo, but I liked that it was not overly sweet.

Looking back at our orders that night, my tween self would have probably only eaten two dishes. Thank God my palate's a bit more mature now and I get to enjoy all these (and a lot more) dishes I used to ignore.

From a global point of view, Filipino cuisine is really the poster child of 'fusion' cuisine. It's odd, unfamiliar, and definitely different from its more popular Southeast Asian counterparts. But if you experience it yourself, you may find how it's a reflection of Philippine history. If you dig your forks a little deeper though, I think you'd find it's quite like the Filipino people - bold and excitable, familial and welcoming, and absolutely evolving.

Lutong Pinoy
10 Kenway Rd, London SW5 0RR | +44(0)20 7244 0007
Ave spend pp: £20
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Friday, 15 August 2014

Girl Next Shore Cooks: Pasta Negra (a story about learning how to cook)

I grew up not knowing how to cook. Women in my family are no chefs; we've never bonded in the kitchen in aprons which means we do not have recipes handed down through generations. I'd like to say the men experimented a bit more but really and truly my Kuya J is the only one who ever did (and he can only do tacos - although to be fair his tacos are the best in the world). Cooking was a job beyond my family's skill-set so we've always relied on our house angels for survival.

When I moved to the UK, I survived by living with my cousin's family in Bournemouth (her dad cooked amazing stuff everyday). I moved to London a year later and my mates sent me off with a care package that included a student cookbook, a chocolate recipe book, and a book on cheesecake. I didn't really get to use them because the friends I moved in with cooked most of the time. Not that I was completely useless, I think - I'd buy groceries, chop stuff here and there like a sous chef (albeit very slowly) and do the washing up. On random occasions, I'd make "stirred noodles". Nothing particularly impressive, because I just boil everything and, uh, stir them all together with a bit of oil and seasoning. I didn't want to touch a pan because I'm scared of oil talsik and burns.

But then I had to live with new, random housemates who cooked separately. I had to fend for myself by eating out and grabbing takeaway. Unfortunately in a city like London, living off fancy dinners, bread and dips and packet crisps is unhealthy for the pocket and the body so one must really learn how to cook.

I finally opened my student cookbook and decided to make the most basic spaghetti bolognese because pasta, apparently, is easy. Unforch, the pasta was overcooked (and stuck to the pan), beef was raw, sauce was too tangy. Needless to say, it was shit and I cried so much that night feeling useless.

But I was undeterred. I tried again (shit). And tried (still shit). And tried again (slightly better). Until I finally got the timings right, the methodology correct, the seasoning perfect. That humble beginning was a massive victory on its own. Since then, I've started experimenting with other dishes, other proteins, other flavours (if you follow me on Instagram you'd find me using #girlnextshorecooks every once in a while). I can even cook Filo adobo which never fails to perk me up when I'm missing Manila.

But pasta has always been my go-to dish. It's quick and easy to make, which is exactly what you want after a long day at work. I prefer using fresh pasta as it cooks quicker and tastes better. Admittedly, I haven't had the courage to make my own pasta yet (because it involves eggs), but I've experimented on heaps of sauces, preferring to make them from scratch instead of getting jarred ones. 

A few weeks ago, I've been gifted a hamper from Carluccio's which included a pack of dry squid ink pasta. I was determined to make something fantastic out of it.

I always cook dry pasta for ten minutes in salted water to get that al dente texture (fresh pasta for two minutes). True enough, the squid ink pasta had enough bite to it. It smelled strongly of cuttlefish ink, but the flavour was quite subtle. When I get over my egg phobia, perhaps I can work on making my own using this recipe.

I wanted a garlicky sauce for the pasta. I used:
- 280g king prawns (raw and peeled)
- a whole small garlic bulb, chopped
- 1/2 a small red onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup sauvignon blanc
- 1/4 cup seafood broth
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 Tbsp soft cow cheese
- 2 tsps cup olive oil
- 2 tsps chilli flakes
- chopped flat parsley
- lemon juice

The sauce is easy to make. First, sauté the prawns, garlic, onion and chilli flakes in olive oil. Take the prawns out when they change colour then pour in your wine and seafood stock. Turn the heat up to medium-high and let the sauce reduce in half. When this is done, lower the heat and stir in your butter. When it's all silky enough, adjust the taste to your liking - squeeze in a bit of lemon juice or go nuts on the pepper. Then pour in your pasta and prawns. 

I added some soft cow cheese to make it creamier. This bit is optional, but I tell you it adds a nice texture and flavour to the dish.

This, by far, is the best pasta I've cooked. 

And quite possibly, the best dish I've winged. Ever. 

I was extremely overjoyed with how it turned out. Every forkful burst with flavour and as I scooped more pasta into my bowl (what carbs?) I realised it was something I was really proud of. Sure, there are plenty more dishes that involve more technical processes but hey, I'm not gearing up for Masterchef. It's simple but hearty, and was brought about by years of learning. 

Now isn't that something to hand down to the future spawn/s?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Chocolate Alchemist: an inspired lesson on choccy c/o The Indytute

The Indytute offers "brilliantly inspired" classes on really cool stuff. From ping pong to poker, swing dancing to making neon light art, you're sure to find something that would tickle your fancy. Check out their classes here.

When Sarah at The Prosecco Diaries asked if I wanted to attend The Indytute's chocolate masterclass at The Power of Summer pop-up park (Battersea Power Station), I could NOT say no (she had me at chocolate, after all).

I was inspired alright, especially when I learned about a SHOCKING revelation about the cacao industry. Unfortunately, most of the five million small-scale cacao farmers (who supply 90% of the world's cacao) have traded their beans for a more economical route (ie rubber) due to the disregard of their welfare. This means there may not be sufficient supply of cacao to meet the forecast of increasing demand. CAN YOU IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT CHOCOLATE? Everyone would be PMSing like crazy! We need to support these farmers more. Help them help us make the world a better place by means of chocolate!

The Chocolate Alchemist class was conducted by Paul A. Young's awesome team, Phil & Cesar, it was a refreshing take on the bean-to-bar story of chocolate.

Paul is a British chocolatier who is ranked as one of the world's best and finest. He's well known for his award-winning, experimental, original, daring artisanal creations that are truly fantastic. Some of his innovative truffle flavours include beer, stilton, seasonal fruit, marmite (!!!), and - for the life of me - pizza.

Presenting - the cacao pod! 
A pod may contain between 25-60 cacao beans and it takes about two of these to make a single bar of chocolate on average.

A semi-dissected cacao bean. 
The cacao bean is quite incredible. Cracked open, you get the absolutely gorgeous scent of chocolate (which I honestly believe is one of the most divine in the world) but once you chew, you get an entirely bitter taste. It's like nature's very own Heston!

Back in the day, this was how chocolate was eaten: pure and unadulterated. It was only until the Spaniards discovered chocolate that sugar and milk were added to make it sweet.

Notable names: Daniel Peter is an ex-candle maker turned chocolatier who was one of the first to make milk chocolate by using some sort of powdered milk by Henri NestleRudolf Lindt is the mastermind of the conching machine which improves the texture and quality of chocolate. These days, revolutionary chocolatiers (other than Paul) include The Mast Brothers and UK's own Duffy Sheardown.

Now, it wouldn't have been a proper chocolate masterclass if it didn't involve any tasting, would it?
All hail the scone, jam and cream truffle! Clotted cream ganache and some sort of berry jam encased in milk chocolate truffle covered in a dusting of scone crumbs. I don't usually like fruit with my chocolate (I'm the bitter type of girl, har) but this knocked me off my feet. It's seasonal, so best get them before Autumn comes around!

And then you get this super shiny truffle that's won praises from critics and hearts all over. It's Paul's award-winning sea salt caramel truffle. I'm not even a caramel fan but it was a flavour party in my mouth.

I wanted to nick a few more truffles, but that would be greedy. Oh, but they gave us discounted tabs to use at their stores so all is well! =) If you yourself fancied learning more about and tasting super good chocolate, feel free to check out the classes/events at the Paul A. Young shops in London.

And if chocolate's not your thing (are you serious?????) I'm sure you'll find something from The Indytute's classes that would definitely inspire you.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Power of Summer at Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station may have ceased operations thirty years ago but it remains to be one of London's super iconic buildings. I pass by this Grade II* listed building on a daily basis and honestly, I never thought I'd be in so much awe of something quite... derelict. Really and truly though, when you see it from the side (walking on the pavement) or from above (riding a train), there's something quite fascinating about it.

Photo credit: Alex

The ongoing redevelopment means this is the last summer the public will have access to the area before it's all converted into private apartments (not to worry - it'll still look the same!). So, The Power of Summer celebrates this sort of closure through a pop-up park! Woohoo! Featuring Street Feast feeding and filling stations, Everyman open-air cinemas, and really cool events by The Indytute, you can NOT miss this at all. It's an awesome place to spend a few hours with friends and family and a good way to toast to Battersea Power Station's new beginnings.

Opening times and prices: 
Thursday & Friday
FREE ENTRY Before 6pm
£4 after 6pm (advance from here) or £5 on the gate
Closes 11:30pm

Saturday & Sunday
Open all day from noon.
£4 (advance from here) or £5 on the gate
Closes at 11:30pm on Saturday and 10pm Sunday

The pop-up park runs until 31 August, so there's plenty of time to head down that side of the river. Seriously worth the trek!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

FEAST 2014: Food Festival @ Tobacco Docks, London

FEAST is an "unmissable" (Grazia)"epic food fest" (Time Out) that's apparently "taking the food revolution a step further" (The Independent). Last week, the 4-day festival returned to Tobacco Dock for its third year, with over 150 of London's finest food traders exhibiting their goods. I was ecstatic to have been given free passes by Nuffnang.

Upon entering the docks we were greeted by hot, hot, heat in the literal. A circus ringmaster drew our attention to a young fire-breathing chap but my eyes went straight to the Fire Eater whisky shots they handed out to sample (honestly not my cuppa - or shotta? - due to its aniseedy taste).

We saw a few food trucks along the docks including Lickalix (cocktails on sticks) and Happy Maki (sustainable sushi).

Dessert comes first, and as it was hot, it was only right to grab a green apple sorbet from Black Vanilla.
The salted caramel gelato was a winner (I'm not into salted caramel!) and the other flavours they have on the website look so good! Best thing? They deliver!

We headed indoors and it was just... sensory overload! The smell of delicious stuff hit us immediately and suddenly we were alert to the sound of sizzling, blow-torching, squeezing, brewing, etc. The sight of all the glorious food made our mouths water even more and our inner bellies instantly felt the magnitude of hunger. Most of the time I believe in delayed gratification, but not when it comes to my appetite!

So what did we see/taste/sample/have?

Craft beer from Mean Time Brewery

Notting Hill Kitchen's croquetas and pastel de natas

The Fat Bear's Brisket Po' Boy Sandwich may be a crowd favourite, but their pimiento cheese was so good! They called it the "caviar of the south" and aptly served them in blinis.

Anna Mae's Mac & Cheese was quite punny

I've been craving so much for iced tea this summer so when Jasiminne raved about Harry Brompton I had to give it a go. Yum! My mind went on overdrive thinking about the super cool cocktails we can create with it.

Aqua Shard & Hutong had a stall, too. They served confit duck bloomers with lime mayo (too pretty!), grilled pork belly with Guinness caramel, and a crab salad (which I thought was meh).  

Salvation in Noodles showcased some prawn salad, Vietnamese noodles, and really good and really juicy fried chicken wings with some sweet and spicy sauce.

Downstairs was quite a pretty sweet affair starting with The Marshmallowists whose little squares of pillowy goodness were just too darn cute to eat. They're egg-white free, gluten free and dairy free! Had the matcha and coconut marshmallow and it was good.

The Merengue Girls had an awfully sweet booth, which comes to no surprise as the ladies are pretty darn good food stylists. They've got the prettiest merengue kisses I've seen. Who knew you can create a banana split and an Eton mess with merengue?

My favourite pudding was from London's first brulee specialists, The Brulerie. Coffee & Cigarettes is a coffee creme brulee with scotch whiskey (woohoo!), waffles, pecan and salted caramel (I'm beginning to convert aren't I?). Super balanced, super smoky, super yum!

We also tested Pontoon's pre-made cocktails, which we wore on our necks (they gave us lanyards!), Dusk is a sweet peachy concoction and Tommy's is a modern-day margarita. I do like the Gotham though (similar to a Manhattan)

After dessert, we headed upstairs to find the black paella from Negra Y Mor. I had to resist myself from grabbing a large portion as I was already stuffed to the brim but the tiny portion was enough. It was pretty yummy, especially with the aioli they served on the side.

Overall, a good day for feasting. There was a lot to see and a lot to taste - even my gigantic belly storage couldn't handle it. Went home with a jar of Gran Luchito smoked chilli paste and a lot of stuff I can't wait to buy online. Congrats to the Feast team for a geat job. I can't wait til next year!