Foodcycle’s Forgotten Feast

This evening I attended Foodcycle’s Forgotten Feast at Fleet River Bakery. I’d heard about it on Twitter via Edible Experiences and was drawn by the prospect of obscure food.

Due to overcompensation for tube closures I arrived a little earlier than I intended. However I was invited in and quickly offered a glass of prosseco with beetroot purée. The beetroot brought a fruity sourness to the drink which was very interesting. Ok that doesn’t sound appealing, but it was nice if somewhat unusual. I took this as indicative of the evening ahead. Other guests arrived and the canapés soon followed. First offering was peperonata crostini: roasted red peppers on crisp bread. The peppers were beautifully sweet and the crostini perfectly crispy and full of flavour.

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Next out were bowls of beetroot hummus with more of the crostini for dipping. The dip was really smooth and creamy, far looser than a standard hummus. It was really sweet, taking on an almost candied quality. Yet there was the lovely savoury undertone of tahini which pulled it back to being a savoury starter.

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My favourite canapé was the courgette and feta fritters with spiced labneh. You can tell they were my favourites because I was so busy stuffing my face that I forgot to take a photo of them. The fritters had a touch of mint mixed into them which was really refreshing and complemented the feta really well. But the star of this dish was the spiced labneh. Something I’ve never had before but will make sure is part of my culinary experiences on the future. Just a wonderful mix of spices and the slight sharpness of the yoghurt. Exquisite!

At about 8pm our attention was drawn to Calvin from Foodcycle and the chef, Tom. I won’t recite their speeches but definitely check out Foodcycle’s website to find out about the inspirational work this charity undertakes in tackling food poverty. Also have a look Tom’s Feast to learn about his fantastic approach to food. To give you a hint 90% of the food we ate was donated from surplus and there was also a healthy (literally) dose of donated foraged food.

Having had our meal explained to us the salivation glands had kicked in and I was glad to be led to our seats. The evening centred on communal eating so we were seated at tables of eight. After sufficient time for introductions and for the conversation to begin to flow we were served our starters. This was a foraged wild salad of sea acer, orache, mustard, sweet cicely, and garlic flowers with mackerel escabeche and pickled carrots and courgettes. Vegetarian and vegan options were also available. All of the salad leaves were foraged and fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the sweet cicely which has a slightly furry texture and a subtle aniseed taste. The garlic flowers, as well as bringing the expected flavour and a slight pleasant nuttiness. The preserving process made the mackerel incredibly soft and also softened the intensity of flavour. Overall it was beautifully constructed dish, and unlike anything I’d had before.

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The main meal was served on serving platters an we spent our time chatting munching and passing plates up and down the table. We were treated to:
• rolled pigs head porchetta with wild horseradish, foraged watercress an rocket.
• home salted pollock and sole with mussels, butter, spinach, sorrel, wilted samphire and sea purslane
• roasted yellow peppers, capers and balsamic reduction
• oval tomatoes with salsa verde
• mushroom with oloroso and breadcrumbs
• grilled courgettes and radicchio, sesame seeds, labneh and cumin
• roasted carrots with cumin and parsley
• Ed’s lettuce salad
• Cleo the sourdough

Yes I did just write “Cleo the sourdough”. You’ve got to respect a chef who cares so much about his sourdough the he names it. Even better he very generously offered a portion of the starter to anyone who wanted it and encouraged us to pass it on ourselves. I’m exceedingly excited to try! Friends and family, if you want your own portion, just let me know.

Back to the main course. The pig’s head porchetta was really strange. Great flavour, but the consistency was a little challenging. Gelatinous and crunchy at the same time. Loved the pollock dish. Such a great flavour an the mussels were large and delicious. I particularly enjoyed the greens that accompanied it. Actually overall I think the vegetable dishes outshone the meat, they were that good! I loved the salsa verde. The dominant herb was mint and it had a wonderful freshness to its the mushrooms were so flavoursome an I wish there’d been more. The grilled courgettes were also fantastic, but with more of that wonderful labneh it couldn’t really go wrong. just a fantastic meal. We all ate way too much, conscious that this food ha all been forage or reclaimed, so we didn’t want it to go to waste.

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Despite having already eaten way too much, is there anyone in the world who wouldn’t find room for salt chocolate torte with caramelised beetroot and chantilly cream with beetroot syrup? If anyone can answer yes then I wish you’d been there so I could have eaten your portion too! It was amazing! The caramelised beetroot was fantastic. I want to learn how to do that to a beetroot. The torte was…I’m not sure I have the words. It was intense rich and chocolatey without being excessively sweet. So intense that the chantilly cream was needed to cut through it. Sorry, I’m salivating at the memory as I write this.

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It was a really lovely evening with interesting food that I would never have had the opportunity to try otherwise. Thanks to Foodcycle and Tom’s Feast. You’ll be seeing me again!


Read more about FoodCycle Forgotten Feast on Edible Experiences

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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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The Balcon

It was my birthday on Saturday and what better way to celebrate than a three course meal with a very dear friend? The venue for the evening was The Balcon. A three course the Marché menu with coffee and a glass of wine on a gorgeous art deco setting for £25 each seemed to good a deal to pass up.

The Marché menu offered a choice between three dishes for each of the courses. Well I had three options but as a vegetarian my companion was effectively working with a set menu. I drank red wine and he drank white and we were both happy with our selections. We were soon presented with a basket of rye, olive and white bread rolls and a choice of salted and unsalted butter. We both agreed that the olive bread was the best. However the real star (oddly) was the salted butter. It had a wonderful richness and an underlying sweetness reminiscent of honey. I could have eaten it all night!

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As an entrée I had a salad of rocket, croutons, and cornichons surrounded by slices of Parma ham. The quality of the ingredients was excellent, although I still felt that it could have benefited from a light dressing. My companion devoured his cauliflower soup with evident relish, commenting on its pleasing cheesiness. I was surprised by the strength of the aroma of cauliflower wafting towards me from the opposite side of the table. Clearly this was excellent soup.

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After pausing to focus on the wine and conversation we moved onto the second course. I had opted for a seafood sauerkraut with salmon, cockles, mussels, and I think sea bass, from memory. It sounded like an unusual combination and I was pleasantly surprised by the combination of flavours. The sauerkraut had a very light pickled flavour and had been dressed in a white wine and cream sauce. This meant it was far less acidic than is typical for this condiment. The result was really lovely and it worked incredibly well with the seafood. Both pieces of fish were unfortunately slightly overcooked, but retained a strong and appetising taste. The quality of the cockles and mussels was outstanding! One mussel in particular had me laying down my cutlery to concentrate on the depth of its flavour. Amazing! Unfortunately my friend’s vegetable biriyani did not rate as highly. He described it as vegetables and rice, lacking any clear sense of having being spiced according to the description. In once sense this was fortuitous because he doesn’t enjoy firey foods. Still it was a little disappointing.

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The staff were happy to allow us to sit and digest our meals over more wine and conversation until we were ready for our desserts. This time we’d agreed that the pear charlotte was the only way to go. This was a layered sponge and mousse cake served with dark chocolate sauce. I thought it was nice, but nothing spectacular, but my friend thought it was the best course of the meal, which surprised me given his evident delight in the soup.

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Overall I was quite happy with our meal at The Balcon. Obviously some areas for improvement, but in terms of value for money, it was definitely a good choice.

Moou

Before catching an overnight bus to Valencia, I went out for a final meal in Granada. Having had a reasonably large lunch, I didn’t want anything too substantial, so tapas seemed the obvious choice. It was a cold wet and miserable day so I went to the nearest place that was open. I’d spotted Moou on my first day in Granada. It looked a little modern and I wasn’t sure what would mean for the quality of the food. However, it had a range of free tapas available with a glass of wine and combined with the state of the weather this was sufficient impetus for me to give it a try. Fortunately, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the food I experienced. This was definitely a “don’t judge the food by the decor” kind of situation.

In addition to my wine, I selected two tapas:
• Berenjanas con miel de caña
• Castillas a la barbacoa

The former was slices of aubergine which had been lightly floured and deep-fried until golden. They were served topped with salt crystal and drizzles of cane sugar syrup. A really simple dish that tasted fantastic! The clash of salt and sweet was perfect, and combined particularly well with the sweetness of the cooked aubergine. I was surprised by the flavour of the cane sugar syrup. I expected it to be almost sickly sweet, but this was in no way the case. It is a far more savoury condiment than honey. I was also really impressed that the aubergine were in no way greasy. Absolutely delicious!

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The castillas do barbecoa were mini barbecued ribs. The neat was incredibly well cooked. I was able to place the meat in my mouth, bite into the flesh and pull the bone away clean. I even took a photo as proof! Unfortunately whatever process that was used to make the meat so tender also took away a lot of the flavour of the meat. However I really liked barbecue sauce. Usually I find this sauce to be really sweet, but this version was tangier. Really nice. The ribs were served with bread, which I happily used to mop up the sauce. However, for once I managed to resist the accompanying chips.

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Clearly, it was the aubergine dish that was the star of this meal. It was so good that I bought some cane sugar syrup while I was in Valencia and found a recipe online to make it at home. This is link to the recipe I used. It was just as good!

http://gowithcuriosity.com/2011/11/25/a-recipe-worth-frying-for-berenjenas-fritas-con-miel-de-cana-fried-eggplant-with-dark-cane-syrup/