Monday, 25 February 2013

Square and Compass, Worth Matravers

Although the drizzle, dark winter nights, and the time I seem to spend stuck on the M25 may sometime get me down, I do still love this Sceptred Isle. While the idea of Old England may seem like rose tinted nostalgia, the prospect of walking through a beech forest in autumn, or a bluebell wood in the spring - or knowing that your only two hours on the Eurostar from some Continental chic when it all gets too much - means I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

One of my very favourite corners of this green and pleasant land is the Isle of Purbeck, a glorious part of Dorset that includes such delights as Swanage, Studland Bay, Corfe Castle and Poole Harbour. Fortunately we now have a home from home in Bournemouth - originally when my sister lived down there, and now with our friends the lovely ladies, AKA Leo and Jo G - meaning the charms of this little Peninsular are merely a short drive away when we go to visit.

What seems like a very long while ago, Jo promised to take us to 'the pub with the stones', a fabled hostelry she told us served only pies, cider and ale through a small hatch. We spoke about it so often, without ever being organised enough to actually get there, that I sometimes wondered if this mystical place actually existed. Luckily it did, and finally we managed to coordinate a trip to see the ladies where a visit to the Square and Compass would be top of our itinerary.

I recently wrote about the wonderful Royal Standard of England, and the Square and Compass is hewn from the same stone. It's located in Worth Matravers, one of those idyllic picture postcard English villages that seems to be preserved in aspic, complete with the Swanage Steam Railway passing to the north and chocolate box limestone cottages clustered around a duck pond.

The pub itself is perched up upon a hill side, with gorgeous views out to the sea. The roads around are very narrow and winding, but there's a large public car park available to the right as you drive down into the village (or save yourself a couple of quid and try and nab a spot down by the pond). Walkers may feel smug as they can indulge in an extra pint or two, but there's still that hilly hike home to consider, which always seems twice as far when you're inebriated. 

Luckily for us Jo had drawn the short straw and was in charge of ferrying everyone about for the day, so I headed straight for the bar.

Like the Royal Standard, The Square and Compass has a veritable history, dating right back to 1776, and not much seems to have changed. Customers are still served through two small service hatches, separated by a blackboard listing the ciders, including home pressed by the owners, spirits, soft drinks and real ales that are available. 

There was a constant bottleneck of people jostling to chose their tipple of choice and passing condiments up and down the corridor on our visit, so I can only imagine the crush on a busy summer's day. My advice: make your choice and get out the way smartish. Or, even better, do as Leona and the Ewing did, and find someone to do your bidding while you scarper find a spot in one of the pub's rooms or spacious beer garden.

Service was clearly well oiled and ran with a brisk efficiency, despite our accidental attempts to infuriate the barman by requesting additional pasties every time he thought we had finally finished ordering. As well as three different types of pasty (veg, cheese and meat) there were also some exciting looking pies, which we saw both advertised on the board and being eaten by other patrons, but which the barman seemed reluctant to proffer any further information about (probably a deliberate attempt to be rid of us after the third visit to the kitchen to fetch us more pasties).

Whatever you decide on, the baked goods are home cooked every morning and once there gone there gone. So get down here in good time if you don't want to be subsisting solely on crisps and cider (not that I'm sure that idea sounds all bad...).

Taking the opportunity to soak up some of the, seldom seen, winter sun we sat on the stones, admiring this family of wooden deer while the local flock of hens pecked around our feet for company. Should the weather be a little more inclement then there are a warren of cosy rooms inside, complete with wooden benches, flagstone floors, and roaring log fires that are lit on chilly days.

A pint and a pasty in a sunny beer garden overlooking the sea is surely one of life's greatest pleasures. The pasties were piping hot and hefty, with a proper glossy pastry crust cradling the traditional, thinly sliced, potato swede, onion and steak filling. One of the very best examples I have tasted (despite being two county borders from their original home) and needing nothing more than a glass of the local Palmers Copper ale for accompaniment.

Despite a detour past the petrol station on the way down for a much needed crisp and coke stop (Leona had been at her leaving do the night before), our pasties were soon quickly demolished, save for a scattering of errant crumbs on the grass. Luckily there were plenty of spare dogs around happy to hoover up any stray morsels.

It was also a chance for the lovely Jo G to finally make her, long overdue, first proper appearance on the blog. And, as you can see, she was clearly as enamoured with the home made pastry products as I was. Smoking hot, and the pasties were a pretty scalding temperature, too....

If Palaeolithic objects are your bag, then there is an adjoining Museum with 'fossils and local finds' - started by Ray Newman and now curated by his son, and the pub's owner, Charlie -  featuring examples collected from the surrounding Jussrasic Coast area. I did try and offer up these three unwanted artefacts, but sadly they were rejected and had to return home with me.

As if the pub wasn't already popular enough just from slaking the thirst of locals and walkers alike for more than two centuries, they have also gained a reputation for live music in more recent years. It's also the site of a two week stone cutting festival in the summer, a jazz festival in September, the host of a heaviest pumpkin competition in the autumn, and a bottled beer festival to close the year. A truly eclectic mix of English eccentricities are catered for.

There seems little more to say about the Square and Compass, other than a few apt words from Dorset's most famous son, Thomas Hardy: 'Where we are would be Paradise to me, if you would only make it so'. 

A fabulous part of this country, crowned by this fabulous place.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Dosa World, Bournemouth

There can be few more satisfying things than clocking off from work early on a Friday and heralding the start of a long weekend with copious amounts of curry and lager. This weekend was no different; while we may have exchanged our local Chiltern-based Kashmiri eatery for the exotic South Indian delights of Bournemouth's Dosa World, save from a little tail back on the M4 and a few quibbles on the journey down, we were just as excited about getting a bit of spice in our lives.

This must surely rate as one of the least auspicious entries (certainly outside London) in the Good Food Guide. While the rest of the Dorset chapter seems to feature fancy hotel restaurants, gastropubs and posh beach-based eateries, Dosa World is a no frills strip lit cafe on a rather unlovable stretch of the Christchurch Road. 

Luckily we hadn't been put off by the unforgiving neon glare, sparse interior or reports of maddeningly slow service (which proved to be mostly true, but was made up for with warmth and charm) and were soon nursing large bottles of very cheap and very cold Kingfisher (the Sri Lankan, Lion Lager was sadly out of stock).

From the huge, and slightly bewildering, menu, we decided to start with the Gobi 65; a veggie version of the famous Sri Lankan Chicken dish, featuring small florets of cauliflower fried in an alarmingly bright, but rather moreish batter, and sprinkled with spices, raw onion and fresh lemon. This was quickly followed by the Nethili Fish Fry, delicious little bone-in anchovies strewn with sweet cooked onions. Piping hot, fresh and zingy, both dishes made the the perfect beer snack to whet our appetites.

For mains the Ewing chose the innocuous sounding Kerala Fish Curry while I chose the Chettinadu Mutton. I love mutton and this didn't let me down; rich chunks of meat on the bone in a glorious tomato and onion spiked gravy, with just the right smack of chilli heat. Pieces of buttery light Veechu Parota , a traditional Sri Lankan bread, made the perfect vehicle to greedily transport the remaining sauce to my mouth.

It was only as I paused for breath after the final mouthful of meat that I realised the Ewing had gone rather quiet, save for the odd spluttering sound. Now, I'm used to her regularly proclaiming, 'it's burny on my tongue' (a deliberate misquote of the great Ralph Wiggum) when there's the merest hint of  capsaicin in her dinner, but, having tried some for myself, I can confirm it was hotter than the concentric circles of hell itself.

So hot in fact that after, foolishly, going back for a second helping it rendered me temporarily deaf in one ear. Not brilliant when you only have one half of a pair functioning in the first place. Much sweating, eye watering and spluttering later, I can confirm the plentiful pieces of meaty king fish steak in the full flavoured, thin coconut-y gravy were worth the searing pain and momentary loss of senses. While suffering over your dinner isn't everyone's idea of fun, this food wasn't just all mouth and no trousers; there was real flavour and flair amongst all the searing heat, too.

Luckily the Chicken masala dosa was a little more mild mannered. A delicate and crisp Indian style crepe that proved a welcome respite from the searing heat, especially when combined with the cooling, fresh coconut chutney. Peeking inside revealed a generous amount of delicately spiced potato and meat filling, and it was also served with a strange, sweet orange relish, which tasted more like a microwave tikka sauce, and some, rather nicer, daal and mixed vegetables.

The Ewing rounded the evening off with a, much needed, cooling mango milkshake. Sweet and soporific, it was a little too sickly for me, but it successfully soothed one burnt tongue.

Dosa World is a little gem in a sea of chain pubs and chicken shops. While it may not be fast and it may not be flashy, it is authentic, tasty food that's all freshly cooked to order. With a table overladen with food and a couple of beers each, we still struggled to spend twenty quid a head; top value, and it would be even cheaper if you visit for one of their bargain lunchtime specials. 

So lucky Dorset dwellers, forget your bargain bucket and get down here for a real meal deal. 

Dosa World on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 February 2013

Brick Lane: Lamb Chops and Lox

As Johnson famously said, 'when a man is tired of London he is tired of life', and while I would find it very hard to become jaded to my hometown's charms, I find myself heading back to familiar central haunts; Soho for dinner, the West End for some razzle dazzle, maybe the South Bank for a walk at the weekend. Sometimes the lazy days of browsing record shops in Notting Hill, buying patchouli in Camden Lock, picnics at Kew Gardens, or traipsing to gigs in the wilds of Brixton or Kilburn seem an awfully long time ago. 

In order to get right into the nooks and crannies of this city I love I devised a mission for the forthcoming months, ably assisted by the Ewing and Stealth, to dust down my trusty A-Z and get out and see some more, less familiar, corners of this glorious city; starting with a Saturday in the East End. 

First up was a lunch of our national dish; curry. While the merchants on Brick Lane pedal their wares to unsuspecting tourists, everybody in the know knows that the best place for Indian food is Tayyabs. And I mean everybody. Located down a grimy sidestreet in Whitechapel, this Punjabi hotspot, first opened in 1972, may be one of the worst kept secrets in London. The famed queues at the weekend (and most weeknights, too) spill out down the street, reservations or not. The only saving grace seeming to be the enticing scent of sizzling meat that perfumes the air, and starting on the BYO six pack that they charge no corkage fee for as you wait to finally make it through the door.

As good as the food is purported to be there are also small grumbles about the cramped environs (despite expanding to three floors of the original building) and rushed service, but choosing a late Saturday lunchtime proved to be a wise move, as we were soon lead down to a nearly empty (it soon rapuidly filled up), spacious basement dining area, and swiftly given poppudums, chutney, and a bottle opener for our Cobras. So far so good.

We started with a sizzling platter of the infamous chops; manna for a lamb-loving carnivore like myself and comprising of the perfect ratio of spice, fat, meat and char. The long bones meant plenty of gnawing potential and proved a sticky, smoky, and justly celebrated delight. Although I managed to bag the extra fourth cutlet in our portion, I could have eaten a whole rack of these beauties without trouble.

The Ewing also ordered a portion of decent Tikka Paneer, the crispy, spiced exterior giving way nicely to the mild and milky, squeaky-cheese centre.

Stealth ably modelling our dish of Karahi Keema, a delicious mess of spiced lamb mince and sweet green peas. This was one of my Mum's signature dishes whenever she cooked Indian food when I was growing up, and eating it always makes me feel warm and nostalgic inside, especially a version as good as this.

We also sampled another highly lauded dish, the austere sounding Dry Meat; rather a misnomer as the fiery beef curry that arrived was rich and moist, containing chunks of meat of melting tenderness and a hefty spice kick. The Ewing also chose the Karahi Prawn, a speciality only served on Saturdays that featured perfectly succulent shrimps in a light and sweetish sauce, cut through with a lemon-y zing.

Veg came in the form of Dhal Baingun; smoky, soft baby aubergine served with creamy, sticky yellow lentils and Methi Aloo Gajar; a dish rich and earthy dish carrots, potatoes and fenugreek leaves. I love Indian vegetable based dishes, and these did nothing to change my mind. Absolutely spot on. I was only sad that we couldn't manage to sample some of the spiced pumpkin, Tinda Masala as well.

Foregoing rice for bread also proved a good choice; the puffed up, sesame studded peshwari and buttery plain naans made the perfect vehicles for scooping and mopping every last scrap of sauce from our plates.

To finish the Ewing ordered a banana lassi; a frosty metal beaker of frothy goodness, balancing the cooling tang of the yoghurt with the sweetness of the fruit. Chuck in a couple of the obligatory chocolate mints, some very sweet and efficient service, a pleasing slight bill (coming well within the £20 budget) and it made the perfect ending to a laudable lunch.

Tayyabs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Staggering from the restaurant and across the Whitechapel Road, we decided to have a quick mosey about before retiring for an afternoon nap. The last time I was hanging out with the cool kids in this part of Shoreditch it was on a pub crawl for the Ewing's birthday. A lovely, if blurry, evening that ended up with the obligatory late night beigel, and I couldn't imagine coming to this part of town without a visit to the famous bakers of Brick Lane.

This place is wonderful. Crammed to the rafters on a Saturday afternoon with locals and tourists alike, all eagerly queuing for their platzels, strudel and rye bread. While waiting in line I got a great view of the inner-workings of the place, and could have happily stayed all day watching the two guys in the kitchen churning out trays of bread and rolls while swathed in a fug of steam from the cauldrons of boiling beigels at the back.

We chose a trio of treats each to take home for later; a smoked salmon beigel with a schmear of cream cheese - the proper full fat stuff, no messing here - a salt beef beigel with punchy English mustard, and a generous slice of their baked cheesecake. 

The beigels were perfect; nicely sized, endearingly wonky  and generously filled. They possessed a chewy, dense crumb and faint sweetness that married perfectly with the salt beef, carved in thick, pink slices and so good I felt instantly sad after the last mouthful. The salmon filling was simply perfect; rich and smoky fish, perfectly complimented by the cool cream cheese. The cheesecake was as reliably brilliant as I remembered it, too, the rich and wobbly lactic topping and crumbly pastry base making a fitting finale to our feast.

We also picked up a loaf of freshly baked chola and a loaf of black bread to take away. The spiral of soft, sweet chola bread with its sticky glaze demanded little more than to be enjoyed in thick slices with a little extra butter, but also makes an awesome (if entirely unkosher) smoked bacon and ketchup sandwich.

The black bread certainly lives up to its moniker. The crackling charcoal crust making way to a sinister-looking crumb, deeply perfumed with the anise-scent of caraway seeds. A serious loaf with a bitter edge that is perfectly complimented by topping with corned beef and pickle or pickled herring and cream cheese.

Although, in my heart, I'm still resolutely a West End girl, there is much to be said for the charms of the East. It's an endlessly fascinating corner of town that, despite the (still not without much controversy) regeneration and gentrification that has taken place over the last decade, juxtaposes great wealth with real deprivation. 

Walking these streets provides truly fascinating, vibrant and constantly changing cross-section of human life, with plenty of fabulous places for food and drink along the way. From the Truman Brewery, via the ultra-hip Boxpark and Spitalfields Market, right up to the to the Vietnamese restaurants that line the Kingsland Road. 

'Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London... for there is in London all that life can afford."

Monday, 11 February 2013

Paddington Bear Ice Cream

Me and marmalade have a rather brief history. My Dad used to enjoy his toast slathered in Roses Lime marmalade, in its distinctive mottled glass jar that used to sit, glowing like Kryptonite, on the top shelf in the kitchen; but I always shunned the bitter and bitty stuff, far preferring the savoury tang of Bovril (or Marmite at a push). But, after seeing two magnificent looking ices in quick succession - Nigel Slater's Marmalade and Chocolate Chip and Ginger's Emporium Marmalade and Toast - suddenly orange preserve-flavoured frozen deserts were all that I could think about.

To be honest, I'm still not really what you might call a fan, but as I've got older I've started to warm to the charms of a dark rough cut Seville marmalade, with it's smoky chunks of peel and slightly acerbic edge. (I'm still not convinced by the tooth-achingly sweet and  fluorescent orange stuff, with a one dimensional flavour reminiscent of melted ice lollies, though.) But, when the piquant citrus is tempered with the blandness of thick, sweet cream and chunks of crisp sugared breadcrumbs, suddenly it all begins to make sense.

As it's still Seville orange season, for those of us who are organised enough this makes a great use for any homemade preserves. Dark Marmalade also makes one of the greatest steamed sponge toppings, as well as a very good addition to the fabulous Breakfast Martini; a gin based cocktail with orange liqueur and lemon juice. But I digress...

While I'm not quite sure this would satisfy the small bear from Peru, who is rather partial to a  marmalade sandwich or two and for which this ice cream is named, it certainly satisfied my citrus craving. A little splash of whisky also goes very nicely with the bitter orange. Try and keep a steady hand, though. Too much booze, plus a high sugar content from the preserve and crumbs may stop the ice cream freezing properly.

As the the Ginger's Emporium Melt Cookbook isn't out until April, then I improvised and used my beloved Ben and Jerry's sweet cream base, just mixing in the marmalade, whisky and buttery, well toasted crumbs and churning in my trusty ice cream maker. If you wanted to incorporate a dark chocolate element, as per Nigel's recipe, then I would make the ice cream as below, leaving out the breadcrumbs but adding 70g of finely chopped dark chocolate just before the ice cream has finished churning.

Seville Marmalade Sandwich Ice Cream

1/2 cup chunky white breadcrumbs
1/4 cup brown sugar
Large knob of butter

2 large eggs
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 cup milk
3 heaped tablespoons of Seville marmalade
Splash of whisky

For the crumbs
Melt the butter in a small frying pan.
Add the Breadcrumbs and sugar and cook gently until the crumbs are toasted and golden and the sugar is nicely caramelised.
Remove breadcrumbs and allow to cool

For the ice cream
Whisk the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the cream and milk then continue to whisk until completely incorporated. 
Stir in the marmalade, whiskey and breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly. 
Place mixture in the fridge and chill for a few hours or overnight.
Churn chilled mixture in an ice cream maker as per manufacturer's instructions.
Serve immediately, or place in a lidded plastic container and freeze until required.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Santa Maria, Ealing

I heart the Ewing; not only does she patiently pick up socks, wash up pots and generally clear a path through my mess so I can still find a way to the sofa, but she's also become very accepting of my random requests. I also heart pizza and after waking up early one Sunday a few weeks ago and announcing that I had a craving that only driving over to Ealing for a Neapolitan pie would fix, she merely briefly opened her eyes and grunted in agreement, before turning over for another half an hour's kip.

Now, she could have politely and reasonably suggested that there were many nearer and more convenient places to pick up a pizza - at least seven or eight places well within walking distance of our house - but, luckily, she now knows better than to question any crazy ideas when they pertain to my lunch. And while yes, I could have had my pick of the local joints, with their Hawaiian deep dishes and generic chain pies, my cravings for a decent post Christmas pizza meant they were just not going to cut it. 

And so it came to be that we were hanging around on a misty Ealing Broadway waiting for Santa Maria to open at Midday - For anyone with time to kill, the Red Lion pub next door is well worth a visit. Sited opposite the Ealing Studios it became known as Stage Six during the heyday of the famous comedies and was frequented by the likes of Alec Guinness, Sid James and Peter Sellers. Inside there are posters and film stills adorning the walls, as well as a decent pint of Fullers ale to be had from the bar.

And so back to the Pizza. This tiny Neapolitan style joint was voted London's best pizza by Time Out in 2010, and still regularly crops up in all the best of London's pizza lists. Despite it's huge popularity it's only a tiny place (although they have recently opened a second branch, Sacro Cuore, in Kensal Rise), and I didn't want to miss out nabbing one of the half dozen tables.

Luckily there was no one in West London feeling quite as mad as I was that morning, and we made it first through the doors. The wood fired oven was already cheerfully blazing away, and it wasn't long before we had a glass of the house red and a cold bottle of Peroni in hand, helping make the choice of which toppings to pick that little bit easier.

In truth I didn't need much helping, quickly plumping for the San Giuseppe which comes topped with smoked mozzarella, Neapolitan sausage, friarielli (wild broccoli) and chilli flakes. This was truly a triumph. The bitter greens had been softened in olive oil and strewn between chunks of peppery pork and smoky mozzarella, before being fired in the oven for just long enough to char the crust and melt the cheese into milky pools. The cornicione was puffy, slightly scorched and crisp while the middle was good and chewy. The perfect balance. 

There was really nothing more I could have asked for in a pizza, other than a second one to takeaway and eat cold for breakfast the next morning.

The Ewing chose the Sant'Anna, with Tomato sauce, Italian mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, artichokes and black olives; a good combination of flavours with tiny bitter olives and sweet mozzarella, but the ham came as pink matchsticks and the artichokes were a rather alarming hue. The real problem was the choice of toppings, combined with the Marzano tomato sauce and rapid cooking time made for a crispy outer crust but a slightly soggy bottom at the centre of the pie. (Neopolitan pizzas are traditionally notably less crisp throughout than their Roman bretheren.) 

I didn't mind this much, finding the whole thing a sloppy, messy joy, even if it was a little hard to eat, but the Ewing would have preferred something a little crisper in the middle.

Puddings are a choice between ice cream and sorbets from the celebrated Oddono's, or home made tiramisu. I made sure to leave enough room for a scoop of Sicilian pistachio, before the Ewing and the waitress conspired together and persuaded me to add an extra scoop of chocolate. Both were great, but the pistachio was particularly fine; smooth, milky and mined with sweet chunks of nut.

The Ewing's, delightfully retro looking, tiramisu was frothy and light, but missed that boozy punch that would have lifted up towards the Premier League of puddings. However this family friendly version did leave her mostly satisfied (she also kindly offered to 'help' me polish off the rest of my chocolate ice cream).

While it may not be East Naples this is certainly the best pizza in Ealing, and, indeed, perhaps a long way beyond. Visiting at a quiet time, as we did, there were no issues with cramped seating or harried staff, just sweet and efficient service and great, simple food and drink that fell well within the twenty pounds a head remit for two courses, including salad, drinks and service.

These pies are the real deal; I have eaten plenty of pizzas in many different styles throughout my years, and, although I haven't met many I didn't like, I'm still dreaming of Santa Maria's chewy, smoky-crusted beauties ever since our visit. Anyone living in the vicinity of W5, then lucky you as Santa Maria also do takeout ; for everyone else it's well worth heading West to grab yourself a slice of the action.

Santa Maria on Urbanspoon