Two months in and I’m still alive

The last two months have been full of challenges, frustration and even tears resulting from the dietary devastation that the low FODMAP has caused within my life. But I’ve also learned a lot and that’s what I want to share here. So in no particular order:

• Keep a record of everything you eat from the outset. Even if you eat all the “right” foods you can still accidentally tip over with the amounts of FODMAPS. Keeping a record will help you to identify what’s going wrong.

• Get the Monash low FODMAP app. I could not have done this without it and all the money gets put back into further research in this area.

•Rice flakes and quinoa flakes make a good substitute for porridge.

• Quinoa flakes are great for travelling. They can be cooked just by adding boiling water so they’re great for breakfast (which is really hard overseas). I recommend adding a little sugar and cinnamon and a block of Lindt 90% dark chocolate (all of which are travel proof and can even go in hand luggage) to make it palatable.

• Asafoetida is your friend! Life without onions or garlic is hard! This handy little spice…isn’t the same, but it helps.

• Take the time to make your own stocks. It’s a little extra effort but without onions or garlic it’s an important means of getting depth of flavour into your meals. Save up ends of vegetables from preparing other meals and leftover bones and use these to make your stock.

• Celeriac is a great substitute for celery.

• Don’t trust waiters to tell you if food is ok for you to eat. They deliver the food, they don’t prepare it. Think through how you’d make a meal and whether you’d add any high FODMAP ingredients. Once you’ve decided what you want to eat ask them to check with the chef that there are no high FODMAP ingredients. Ok, that’s a long list but I did that saying no gluten, dairy, onions or garlic is sufficient to throw up a problem.

• Get used to eating a lot of grilled meat and salad or plain vegetables when you go out for dinner. I’m sure once I’ve finished the challenge phase my options will expand (although not that much because I already know that onions are a trigger). However for now it sucks, but it’s the safest way.

Remember that it’s ok to feel down about this diet. As I said I’ve reached the point of tears many times. Most recently on Prague when I watched my friends eating potatoes pancakes and goulash with dumplings while I sat there with my tiny plate of over-priced roasted vegetable. This is a hard eating regime that takes a lot of discipline and has a huge impact on your eating decisions. But if the diet works for you, stick with it. For me every day that I don’t end up so bloated I can’t fit in my clothes is a reminder that I’m treating my body well and this is something that’s worth doing.

Good luck!

Returning under less than ideal circumstances

Well I’ve been away from this blog for about a year for personal reason’s. What’s brought me back all of a sudden? I’ve been placed on the FODMAP diet.

Never heard of it?

This is an elimination (lots of elimination) diet used to address some of the symptoms of IBS. This isn’t about the causes of IBS (apparently still unknown, so every GP keeps telling me), just alleviating some of the symptoms. I’m not going to go into a lengthy explanation of what the FODMAP diet is because quite frankly it’s best to hear it from the horses mouth. Click here to go to the Monash University FODMAP site. Monash did the original research in this area and continue to investigate FODMAP friendly and unfriendly foods.

Being placed on this diet was a daunting experience. I love food and it felt as if all of a sudden I’d lost one of my greatest pleasures in life. I’ll be honest, deep down I hoped that it wouldn’t work and I could go back to eating all of the foods I enjoy. But I’m a week in and my symptoms are pretty much under control, well the ones that the diet addresses at least. So suddenly eating has become incredibly complicated, and because my GP decided against referring me to a dietician, I was left feeling a bit lost and lacking the information I needed to go it alone. I now know that i shouldn’t have let that happen, and if I’d known then what I have since realised, I would have insisted in being referred to a FODMAP trained dietician. If faced with this situation please learn from my mistake. This thing is tough and it is really easy to unwittingly make mistakes. My lifesaver has been the FODMAP diet app produced by the Monash University research team. It’s only available for iPhone at the moment but the android version is coming.

Naturally I have also trawled the Internet looking for recipes, tips about places to eat out, etc. the thing is, there’s not very much out there. Which is why I’m back here. There is a need to build the FODMAP online community. This will be my contribution towards that development.

More streetfood exploration

Continuing my love affair with London’s streetfood scene here are reviews of three of my latest samplings.

Fleisch Mob
I’d heard of Fleisch Mob over Twitter and was intrigued, so was delighted to discover their presence on a recent trip to Eat St at King’s Cross Boulevard. While the frankfurters were tempting it had to be the rare breed pork schnitzel with rocket on a cibatta roll for me. Following the recommendation of the vendors’ I elected to have it with a ginger and rhubarb compote (made from mum’s home grown rhubarb apparently, love it!). The schnitzel was freshly made in front of me, it hadn’t even been pre-breaded. It was interesting to see that it was cooked in a mix of oil and butter. Definitely added to the flavour. As for the taste…fantastic! The quality of the meat shone through and really was something special. It was perfectly cooked with a golden and crispiness on the outside and tender meat inside. The compote was surprisingly lovely. Sweet with a lovely freshness resulting from the ginger. Absolutely delicious and I would definitely recommend giving it a try.

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Bell and Brisket
I came to Bell and Brisket absolutely famished. I’d decided to go to Streetfeast London at the Camden Brewery for lunch after my run. However a change of plans meant I was significantly delayed and didn’t arrive until 4pm. Bell and Brisket offers a range of salt beef options and from them I chose the old timer on rye – a classic combination of salt beef, pickles and mustard. I have to be honest, while it was a nice sandwich, I really wasn’t blown away by it. The most disappointing aspect was the bread. It just had no flavour. What it really needed was a strong sourdough or heavy rye to give it some oomph.

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Bhangara Burgers
Still hungry after my salt beef sandwich I went in search of more food and ended up at Bhangara Burgers. I’d seen them around at many events but just hadn’t taken the step of actually placing my order. Now I’m left wondering why, why, WHY did it take me so long? I think I can safely say this was the best streetfood burger I’ve had to date. Following the chef’s recommendation I opted for the lamb jalfrezi burger, and I had it with every condiment available. The burger is served in a flatbread which works really well because the bread doesn’t get in the way of the taste of the ingredients as much. And boy, was there taste! Such an explosion of flavour in my mouth. The chilli pickle was just the right heat and the lime pickle delicious! Lots of crunchy fresh vegetables – red cabbage was a particularly inspired addition – gorgeous sweet mango chutney to offset the tang of the lime and then a wonderful yoghurt based dressing. I’m drooling again as I write this!

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The Riding House Café

It was my mother’s birthday last weekend so I decided to take her out to lunch to celebrate. I’d been wanting to try the Riding House Café for some time, and it seemed the perfect venue. The café had the perfect ambience for the occasion. It was light, open and had a sense of casual sophistication.

After selecting our wine we set about deciding the menu for the afternoon. We were both in the mood for a leisurely meal so agreed to take a staggered approach to ordering. In addition to starters the café offers a range of small plates affording a tapas-style approach to dining. From amongst these we selected the beetroot carpaccio with sheep’s ricotta and the buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce (naturally). We also ordered an entrée-sized chorizo and squid salad with pickled chillies and saffron aïoli.

We started with the buffalo wings. Meat Liquor take note, they were delicious! While I cannot realistically vouch for their authenticity, they certainly adhered to the descriptions of “real” buffalo wings that my ex-Chicagoan had afforded me. The meat of the wings was full of flavour, and the sauce in which they were covered was genuinely spicy, but not overpoweringly so. The blue cheese sauce was just gorgeous! It had that wonderful rich, sweet mustiness of a blue cheese but was still sufficiently subtle to work with, rather than compete against the rest of the flavours. Just to note there were four wings, we just got a bit excited and I forgot to take a photo before we started eating.

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Judging that it would help to cleanse our pallet we progressed to the beetroot carpaccio next. This was a nice dish. Beetroot and goats cheese are of course a wonderful combination and this was no exception. However, I felt that the beetroot lacked flavour so the pleasurable contrast between the sweetness of this element and the sharpness of the cheese wasn’t as apparent as could have been expected.

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Finally we moved onto the chorizo and squid salad. Different elements were really good. I particularly enjoyed the chillies which were beautifully sweet with a nice touch of vinegariness. I also enjoyed the combination of the saffron aïoli with the chorizo. However, the squid was very disappointing. It was incredibly bland, to the point of tasting watery and was effectively redundant within this dish.

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Although we’d already eaten well there was still room for more and we decided to order a main to share. While there were a number of tempting options, we knew from the outset that it would have to be the longhorn beef burger with bone marrow. As soon as it arrived we knew we’d made the right choice. I’m not sure I have the words to describe how phenomenal this burger was. So much flavour. So much deliciousness. This is what beef is supposed to taste like. I’m not even going to attempt to convey this fully, it has to be experienced!

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Now I have to confess I was the one to ask for the dessert menu. I should have known better. Two glasses of wine in and I was having to convince my mother not to have a little lie down on the couch at which we’d been seated. Clearly will power had left our company some time ago. Probably after the first glass of wine. So instead of birthday cake we ended up sharing two desserts. The first was a chocolate fondant with coconut ice-cream. I have to say I wasn’t a fan of the ice-cream, it was just a bit bland. However the fondant was excellent. It had a wonderful richness and intensity but wasn’t excessively sweet enabling us to really savour the flavour of the chocolate. It also had the perfect balance of pudding exterior and gooey centre.

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The second dessert was cinnamon donut balls with a custard centre served with a glass of chocolate sauce and cream. Utterly decadent. Once again the flavours were well balanced so that it wasn’t excessively sweet. I was really pleased to be able to taste all the different elements in each mouthful.

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Ok, we overindulged. But the food was so good that we couldn’t resist it and will certainly return for another helping.

Wheelers of St James

Some time ago I purchased a voucher (£30 for 3 course mean with half bottle of wine) for a meal at Marco Pierre White’s Wheeler’s of St James. In need of a quiet weekend after working way too many hours during the week I decided to cash in and take myself out for a bit of culinary pampering. I was surprised to be able to secure a reservation on a Saturday night so easily. Arriving a little early for my reservation at 7:30pm, I was also acutely aware of how few people there were in the restaurant. Maybe Wheelers is a place were people come to dine later in the evening? The table was fully prepared for me despite my premature attendance, including my special limited menu associated with my voucher. I was pleased to see five different options for each course, I’d anticipated only three. However, I did notice that there was no vegetarian option available within the list of main courses, something that others looking to make the most of such deals may need to be aware of.

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For my starter I selected the potted duck with peppercorn and toasted sourdough. I chose to scrape the duck fat off the top knowing how much food I had ahead of me. I felt it was necessary to make some concession to calories. The flavour of the patê was excellent. I really liked the balance of duck and peppercorn, such that the peppercorn was an equal partner, not just a flavour enhancer to the duck. The sourdough was nice, but a third slice was really necessary given the volume of patê.

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I opted for the ribeye steak (medium rare) with triple cooked chips and béarnaise sauce for my main course. The dish also included green beans and roasted cherry tomatoes. This is the point at which the meal started going a little awry. The beans were just shy of being clearly overcooked. So although the flavour was fine the texture wasn’t as pleasant as it should have been. The steak had a good flavour, but it wasn’t striking in any way. It was a little chewy and I think in this instance I would have had a better experience if the steak had been cooked medium. The béarnaise sauce was nice, but again nothing exciting in any way (contrasting greatly with somewhere like Gaucho where I quite happily sit with a pot of béarnaise sauce and eat it by the spoonful). I really enjoyed the roasted cherry tomatoes, and it’s possibly quite telling that I felt most positive about this aspect of the dish. As for the triple cooked chips…well actually I good them to be quite inconsistent. A couple were really crunchy, to the extent that you would expect of triple cooked chips. Others were more chewy, and then some were the same consistency as chips cooked in the standard manner. While it was a nice dish overall there was just nothing that really blew me away.

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I was really torn when it came to dessert. I’d seen the rhubarb crumble and it looked really nice. However I’ve tried rhubarb only once before and didn’t really enjoy it. I was also intrigued by the pannacotta but wasn’t sure I’d enjoy the consistency. So int he end I stuck with my standard preference for sticky toffee pudding knowing that at least I’d have some frame of reference for assessing the quality of this dish. Again I just wasn’t sure about this. The flavour was really good, however the texture just wasn’t right. The pudding had clearly been produced on mass and then cut into individual squares, and I was provided with a jug of caramel sauce to pour over the top. The consistency of the pudding was, well inconsistent. In some places it was beautifully soft, in others it was almost chewy. The ice-cream was clearly inferior to that which I’d been served at Hush Brasserie. So although it tasted good, but it just wasn’t quite right.

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Overall I was left with the sense that I’d been served with a solid, genuinely good meal, but not a great meal. I have to say, I expected better. I might have been just a pleb with a voucher, but surely there is a standard to maintain even in such circumstances.

Street Feast London meets Eat Street

The prospect of a whole new array of street food traders lured me back to Street Feast London tonight. I was particularly drawn by the partnership with Eat Street. Unable to get to Kings Cross during the day I welcomed the opportunity to sample some of these traders’ wares. Walking along the street to the carpark I was struck by the aromas of sizzling meat and I knew I was in for some good eating.

As always I did my research beforehand and arrived with a plan of action. Still, I took a little tour just to see the reality of what was available. My first port of call was Spit and Roast. Having read rave reviews of their buttermilk fried chicken, I was compelled to see whether I would agree with such high praise. I started with the sides of a corn muffin and gravy. This was really lovely. The muffin was light and had a savoury sweetness which worked surprisingly well with the meaty gravy. Then there was the chicken. The flavour of the meat was fantastic, but naturally it was the coating that was the star. It had been a beautiful deep golden brown and I was really pleased that it didn’t feel in the least bit greasy. The combination of spices was really good. I loved that the spices weren’t just about conveying heat, but delivered a wonderful flavour the was both complex and harmonious.

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Next on the list was Speck Mobile. sitting on the counter of this mobile van were samples of the grilled herbed Alpine cheese dumplings with sour cream and chive sauce. These were really nice. A strong cheesy flavour with a pleasing crunchy exterior. However, the options that really tempted me were the rare breed pork schnitzel Viennese style with potato and cucumber salad, and the Tyrolean speck dumplings with sauerkraut. Discussing my dilemma with the vendors led to a recommendation of the speck dumplings, their reasoning being that I would never have had anything like this before. It was excellent logic and I decided to follow their advice. This was an excellent decision. The sauerkraut was possibly the best I’ve ever had. It had a wonderful acidity without the overpowering vinegariness that is too often associated with this condiment. The slightly sweet gravy with which this dish was served may have aided this balance of flavours. The dumplings themselves were really tasty. The exterior was soft and doughy without being excessively stodgy. The speck filling was surprisingly meaty. The flavours of all the different elements combined perfectly to make a really enjoyable meal.

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There was one last stop I had to make: The Bowler. You have to respect a man who describes his balls as “sloppy and slutty” to prospective customers. His meatballs that is. Friggin’. Amazing. Meatballs. Having sampled so much already I restricted myself to the meatball shooter, which is a single meatball served with a “tasty tangy tomato sauce”, cumin cream and fresh chopped coriander. I have absolutely no idea how he managed to get so much flavour into this sample-sized portion. I was absolutely blown away. The meat was astonishingly soft. I didn’t really have to chew it, it just disintegrated in my mouth. The sauce was more of a chutney with sultanas and chunks of tomato and..oh lots of wonderful things. The flavours hit me in waves starting with the meat which I swear had a hint of cumin in it, followed by fruitiness, then tanginess, then a final glowing heat of chilli. It was so good that I wanted to go back for a second helping, and only managed to restrain myself by looking at photos of the food I’d eaten to remind myself that I didn’t need to eat any more. I know, this is another gushing review, but it’s totally warranted.

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Hackney Homemade

I’d been wanting to check out Hackney Homemade for weeks but just hadn’t been able to get there. I’d heard about it over Twitter and it sounded like two of my favourite things combined (markets and food). Finally on Saturday I managed to find the time to check it out.

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I purposefully restrained myself at the post-run brunch to ensure that I had plenty of room to sample the different offerings available. This meant that by the time I arrived I was famished. Fortunately I’d done some research beforehand so had a vague meal-plan in mind. The market was smaller and there were fewer people attending than I’d anticipated. Of course this had the benefit that I was able to get to the food straight away, so I wasn’t complaining.

My first port of call was Alley Katsu. I do like a good katsu curry, and I was really pleased with the sample I was given before I made my purchase. I opted for a children’s sized portion, reasoning that although I was hungry, there would likely be plenty of other wares that I would want to try. Even then, the serving was sufficient to be a full meal. The flavour of the chicken was really lovely. I was particularly impressed with the quality and strength of the breadcrumb. Usually I find breadcrumb is about texture, but this clearly brought and added dimension of flavour to the dish. The curry was nice, although I prefer mine with a little more kick. I was able to achieve this with the addition of the sweet chilli sauce made available. However this extra flavour distracted from the taste of the curry. The rice was well cooked and I liked the sweet sharpness of the pickled cucumber slices. This would have been better without the addition of the chilli sauce because this meant the whole dish was pushed towards sweetness, thereby limiting the contrast of flavours.

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I took quite some time wandering around the different options available. Nothing was really calling out to me begging me to try it. Eventually I settled upon El Mosset, which offered a range of croquettes. Rather than deciding for myself I asked for recommendations. As a result I tried one ham and manchego and one mushroom and onion croquette. The croquettes were pre-cooked and reheated in a pan. Unfortunately this method was inadequate and left most of my croquettes still cold. Still I liked that that there were chunks of ingredients like ham and mushrooms, rather than everything having been blended into a homogenous mush. The strength of the flavour of the mushrooms was also particularly pleasing. I also tried a spinach and tomato brioche. It was nice, but to be honest I wasn’t overwhelmed.

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I probably should have stopped eating at this point. However as I was munching my samples from El Mosset I was able to watch a quesadilla being made at Vadasz Deli. I was utterly intrigued and had to give it a try. There were three fillings available:
• pulled pork
• beef brisket
• black beans

I stayed traditionally Mexican(ish) and went for pulled pork with black beans and cheese. The chef, Nick makes his own tortilla as they are needed, and cooks the quesadilla there and then so they’re wonderfully fresh. It was Mexico in a mouthful! Really, really good! Each quesadilla (or bagel, but why would you?) was served with what was effectively a tour around the world of pickles. From sauerkraut to sour cucumbers to jalapeños to pickled cabbage and more, all homemade. There were also some really yummy crisp breads which I think had been seasoned with paprika. While they were really interesting to try in and of themselves I’m not sure they complimented the quesadilla. Still,
although I was incredibly full by the end of the meal I was really glad that I tried this.

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