Friday 23 January 2009

Dish Dash - Slap Dash

I dearly wanted Quantum of Solace to be incredible. But it wasn't. It was merely a poor man's Chinatown with Daniel Craig and Judy Dench left to carry what turned out to be a pretty flimsy film. It's always a shame when high expectations aren't met. It's like pricking a balloon. One moment you're riding high, hoping for the best. The next it's burst and your realise that your expectations were artificially high in the first place.

We love Balham to bits. Gazette, Paddfield, Tagine, The BBC, Harrisons, The Exhbit, Cattle Grid, The Fat Deli, Trinity Stores, Holy Cow, etc. are all brilliant in their own ways. We're regulars at all of them but for some reason had never been to Dish Dash. It's Balham's answer to Persian food and has been talked of quite highly by a number of close friends. So on a bleak january evening we pottered along to check it out.

Despite being almost empty at prime time on Wednesday the staff were friendly and very helpful throughout. We were guided through the menu and ordered a collection of starters including an excellent hot aubergine paste, some perfectly cooked squid rings and hummous accompanied by a tower of village bread that looked like a witches hat! The aubergine was terrific - smoky, earthy and extremely moreish, reminding us of our trip to Korfez in Istanbul. The squid was amazing. Top marks for that one and the hummous was hummous. At this stage we were feeling excited about our kebabs. It's a bit like when you watch the opening sequence to a Bond film. It always gets you all revved up and you hope the rest of the film lives up to it.

Sadly, things went downhill rather rapidly. My lamb shish was criminally overcooked. I don't want to be rude but it was terrible. And just to show that it wasn't a fluke, they nuked Cowie's delicate fish kebab as well! Whoops! It was a real shame. I rarely get to eat kebabs so I was very disappointed. I've since spoken to a few people who have had similar experiences. If only they had told me in advance. Surely kebabs are not that hard to cook?

Our advice would be to go along for a nice glass of wine and some fantastic meze dishes and then save yourself for a kebab at the Kebab Kitchen if you are still feeling peckish.

Dish Dash on Urbanspoon

The Sandwichist - The SandwichMan's 65p Sandwiches in Clerkenwell


January is tough, so this month I have been trying to cut back. I've been guzzling tins of perfectly edible Waitrose soup which never cost more than a pound. In fact most are around the 40-60p mark. So it made sense for this month's Sandwichist column to follow the same tack.

Thanks to some nice people over on Chowhound I found The SandwichMan, over on Easton Street (23 - 34 Easton Street, London, WC1X 0DS).

The SandwichMan has a novel business model. It was set up 20 years ago by a lovely man called James Hill who you can see below.

The Sandwichman

They send bikes out around the offices of London, heavily laden with freshly made sandwiches. (You can sign your office up here by the way.) The sandwiches they deliver on their rounds are really very good for the price (£2-2.50). And on days when it's raining or a bit cold they sell out completely.

Delivery man

The bikes then return to their depot in Clerkenwell where the remaining sandwiches are sold off at a cut down price of 65p. Apparently they are the lifeblood of the Amnesty Interns who work nearby as well as saving the workers at Mt Pleasant sorting office from starving as well.

Counter 2

The number of left over sandwiches was staggering on the day we visited. We almost had a full array of flavours including Emmental Bagels


Chicken Tikka

Tikka opened

Beef and Horseradish

Beef and horseradish

I recommend their Chorizo Cob and have heard on the sandwichvine that their Chicken Piri Piri and Mexican Tuna bad boys are the ones to watch out for.

Whist I wouldn't describe the sandwiches as being the world's best, at 65p a go, you really can't complain. They are freshly made and very good value. Just avoid anything with too much salad as it doesn't stand up to being kept in cellophane very well. For more sandwich analysis please pop over to Londonist to read the full review.

Miso Trout with Broccoli and Pak Choi

Please, please, excuse the terrible photographs. It just shows that I need to get one of those clever lighting devices that Dinner Diary uses to make their photographs so awesome.

We had a sushi party last week which was awesome. But just in case it wasn't that awesome, I had prepared some miso trout as a backup. Luckily the sushi went down well so the trout went back in the fridge for some extra marinating. Apparently 2-3 days is optimal.

Here's what you do. Go to Waitrose or the Japan Centre and buy a packed of miso paste. Place a pan of water on the hob and bring to a simmer. Put a glass mixing bowl on top and empty the gooey miso paste into the bowl and add some water to thin it. Also add sugar, mirin, some vinegar and stir continuously until it has changed consistency to being more like a sauce. It should smell toasty and deep.


The reason this is in caps, is to remind myself. This time I forgot. In my haste I just chucked the trout fillets into the hot paste. Basically they cooked in the heat of the marinate. Schoolboy error from me. But I've done it right before now, All you have to do is have some patience and wait till it has cooled before adding your fish to the marinate and leaving it for between 1 and 3 days.

Miso trout marinate

Remove the fish from the marinate and grill until the skin is slightly crisped but the fish is flaky and tender. If you can try to undercook it. You will be astonished at how delicious and gorgeous the fish tastes. It falls apart and makes you feel like a pro. Or at least it does if you haven't made a big blunder like I did! Luckily it still tasted great, even though the pictures look TERRIBLE.

Miso trout

Serve with sesame oiled noodles, a passion fruit for acidity, exoticism and fruitiness and some stir fried broccoli and pak choi. For the veggies, fry some onions, add some chili, then some garlic and ginger, then some florets of broccoli, then some soy, then some water and then lob in your pak choi. Add a lid of some sort to semi steam the greens and garnish with sesame seeds. In my panic I forgot to photograph this but you can see the work in progress below.


Or better still you could just follow the original recipe from Gastronomy Domine.

We finished up with what turned out to be the star of the show. A lime mousse, cooked to perfection by Cowie, from Ramsay's new book, Cooking for Friends. It's just a shame he could be arsed to write the book himself yet still adorns every other page with a cheesy lifestyle shot of himself.

Lime mousse

It was a great way to end a really exciting meal. The photos ma be a let down, but the flavours weren't. Whatever mistakes have been made have been learnt from. My next purchase is definitely going to be one of those clever lights.

Chorizo, butter bean and pasatta stew

On Sunday we Christened Victoria's slow cooker with an epic stew. January calls for rich, warming dishes. Oozing with depth and not without a hint of gluttony. If anyone accuses you of over eating just tell them your about to hibernate.

This stew is one of my favourites and is heavily lifted from Nigel Slater. But I've done it so many times and adapted it so much I reckon it is now firmly mine.

Here's what you need to do.

First things first, buy a slow cooker. They are awesome. Once you've got one, turn it on. And then flame some red peppers as so...

Charring in process

Charred peppers

I adore the smell of them burning over the gas flame almost as much as I love the colours when you photograph them.

Then sweat a shed load of onions until they are beginning to colour and then add a good couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika. The one in the red tin is excellent. They sell it in Brindisa. Chuck in some finely chopped garlic and watch the pan turn red and feel your nostrils stand to attention. It's a captivating smell that I'd dearly miss if I ever stopped cooking.

Smoked paprika onions

Pour 3 tins of butter beans (having rinsed them first) and as much pasatta as you can get your hands on into the slow cooker. If you run out of pasatta don't be afraid of unleashing a few tins of chopped tomatoes. I bought some great tomato "sauce" in Borough Market which was idea. Otherwise just use the stuff from a carton as it is less heavy to cart home from the shops.

Tomato sauce hand

Add the parika'd onions to the stew along with the peppers. Pop the lid on and bring up to the heat. Once it has been simmering for a while add your chorizo. Ideally it should be a soft picante version. This will ensure a rich, spicy, oily stew which makes you yearn to be called Juan. If it just the bog standard hard chorizo that is only slightly spicy, you'll want to add some chili. Our chorizo came from the French market that was held in Balham just before Christmas. It was packed full of flavour which really held its own later.


Replace the lid and allow to burble for 5 or 6 hours. We went for a coffee, played squash and went cycling whilst our stew was cooking. But this is optional. As is the playlist below. But I find Four Tet, A Guy Called Gerald, Mr Scruff and Massive Attack are ideal for cooking to on a Sunday.


Once you've returned from your day out you'll be rewarded with a scarlet stew, burning with flavour and bursting with a heady smell of tomatoes, pork fat and paprika. It's a sure fire way to make people hungry. It's quite a good idea to take the lid off the slow cooker for the final half an hour or so to allow some of the water to evaporate. This helps to concentrate the flavour and make the stew a bit thicker. Test the seasoning and add chili and smoked paprika as appropriate.

You've now got a few options:

1. Serve as a soup with some crusty bread

2. Boil some rice and treat it as a chili con carne but with out the mince

3. Or do what we did and make some mashed potato, steam some cabbage and poach and egg. I've tried it each and every way but can proudly report that the egg and mashed potato option is by far the best way. The egg yolk bursts over the stew and adds an extra layer of flavour, whilst the cabbage adds a welcome burst of green, iron to an otherwise very red plate of food.

Chorizo stew

Serve with a sprinkling of parsley and be prepared to dish out seconds. It's such a delicious meal. And better still it matures brilliantly. I've had it at work for lunch twice since and it has been even better each time.

If you are as obsessed with chorizo as I am, here are a few other ways of cooking with it:

Chorizo lasagna
Chorizo stew
Chorizo pie

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Munnar's epic tea plantations

Our bus chugged out of Ernakulam station and headed east towards the magnificent Western Ghatts. For two hours we snaked in and out of manic traffic before we emerged at the lucious green fringes of the mountains. The once diesel clogged air vanished leaving us gasping at the pristine fields of rice and the sight of mountains trying to out-do each other stretching into the distance.

Our bus revved up at the challenge ahead. It accelerated around every hair pin bend and seemed to try to barge oncoming vehicles off the road. Cowie and clung on to the bar in front of us like my mother would do on a rollercoaster! Luggage veered across the bus. Epic scenery whizzed past our glassless windows.

The vegetation at the base of the mountains was mainly rice but quickly changed to banana plantations and rubber trees which had plastic bags tied around their thin waists. After 4 hours of driving Cowie was becoming disappointed that we hadn't seen any tea plantations yet. And no sooner had she said the word tea, than we'd rounded a particularly dangerous bend and seen this view...

Tea scenery

The air was cool and misty. So different from the hot, muggy air of Fort Cochin. Just the sort of climate that would suit British people in need of some respite. I guess this explains why Munnar was once such a favourite with the British! The climate is obviously perfect for tea as well. Once you get past a certain altitude every visible slope is covered in Camellia sinensis plants.

By the time we'd settled into our room the sun was beginning to dip glowing with a yellow hue first...

Munnar sky 3

... before departing for the night with a purplish burst...

Munnar sky 2

As far as I could work out, we were at the highest point that this latitude has to offer anywhere around the world. Looking west every hill was below us.

The next day we were taken on a tour of the tranquil tea and cardamon plantations. Each tea bush is trimmed every 50 days to ensure that they only ever get the young shoots. The plants are around 125 years old and were planted by the British and are now run by Tata.

Tea terrace


The plants below which look a bit like banana bushes are cardamon. They grow in the shade of other trees with their fragrant pods nestling at the base. We were fascinated to see the juicy pods - whenever we see them in spice packets they are normally shrivelled up and ugly. But these were fresh and attractive.

Cardamon plantation

Cardamon grows at the base

We also stumbled across passion fruit...

Passion fruit growing

And coffee growing casually...

Coffee brans on stick

We were amazed at the fact that the plants that we consider exciting and tropical at home just grow carelessly on a mountainside in India...

Yellow flowers

Pink flower - Lampranthus

We finished with a cup of cadamon tea before zooming off in a rickshaw to have a look around Munnar. I say zoom. That's far from accurate, given the fact that we were too heavy to go uphill - I had to get out for small stints and then hop back in again when we got moving!

Munnar itself is hardly a tourist playground. There's a bad tea museum and some dodgy cafes. The guidebooks did their best to sound enthusiastic but they failed to mention the fact that Munnar has a brilliant market. We found it by mistake and were amazed by the range and quality of the produce... not to mention how friendly all the traders were...

Aubergine market

Man lurking behind the aubergines

Watch out for the chickens

Man absent mindedly watching his flock

Market shot

Better than Sainsbury!


Loads of ginger

Green chillies

Green chillies galore




Very neat beans - probably where the expression, "bean counter" came from


More garlic than a Frenchman's larder



Goudon Bennett

Bitter gourds looking grarnly and unfriendly

Cow in rubbish

This cow loitered by the exit to the market feasting on the leftovers looking like the happiest cow in the whole world!

We bought as many spices as we could lay our hands on and stocked up on local tea. To our joy we later found out that the goodies we bought in Munnar market were a tenth of the price than they are elsewhere! Smugness is all!

Given the state of the bustimetable below, we decided to spurn the bus for a trip to Alleppey in favour of a taxi which, whilst less fun, ended up transforming our holiday.

Bus timings

Munnar is a gorgeous place. Relaxed. Idyllic. Tranquil. Green. Verdent. And spectacularly beautiful. If you are spending any time in Kerala please find time to pay this area a visit. And make sure you arrive by bus!

For more information about Munnar have a look on Trip Advisor. We stayed at the Shamrock but wish we'd been able to get into Olive Brook. Both offered free tours of the plantations and cooking lessons.

Saturday 10 January 2009

India - Afternoon tea and a very sordid Indian massage

Fort Cochin is a tranquil, colonial coastal town with a charmingly relaxed approach to life. It was the first port of call for our epic Indian adventure and didn’t fail to deliver some interesting stories!

Our afternoon started gently with a walk along the sea front to admire the Chinese fishing nets and get a feel for the coastline. These nets are one of the iconic features of the Keralan landscape – or so the Rough Guide told us. But to be honest they were a bit of a let down. We inspected one rig and were keenly encouraged to observe them haul in their whopping catch which consisted of one large pebble! Our chat with the head fisherman revealed the truth. These nets aren’t for catching fish… their main prey are tourists! And once you’re on one of these you’ve got to pay to get off.

Chinese fishing platform

BW Fisherman

As soon as we escaped from being strung up by the Chinese fishing net crew it started to rain. And not just any old rain. Each drop fell like a watery bomb soaking everything with its shrapnel. Wave after wave of damp artillery shells rained down on us to the extent that the gentleman in the picture below took pity on us and offered us his stall’s parasol as an umbrella. He escorted us through town like royalty to a quaint tea shop called Teapot. Before I’d had a chance to thank our umbrella man or give him some money for his kindness he’d disappeared like some sort of “angel of dryness” – one of India’s 36,000,000 Gods.

Parasol for Cowie

Cowie and I share many passions… but one of our strongest bonds has to be our mutual love of tea. I love tea as much as I used to hate Henry James’s “Portrait of a Lady” which famously begins,

“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

Our very own Indian tea ceremony couldn’t have come at a better time… giving us respite from the pouring rain and allowing us a chance to plan the rest of our afternoon.

Teapot is mad. But brilliant It’s as if the Mad Hatter and the Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland were in charge. It’s the kind of place that should be featured in travel magazines and TV programmes because it is so unusual and cool.

They have a collection of teapots from around the world ranging from the stylish white and blue set below…

Blue teaset reflection

to the kitsch but awesome Siamese set here.

Siamese teapot

But my favourite piece was their special tea clock which constantly says it’s “tea o’clock”. Step aside Pimms… Teapot got there first!

T oclock

I loved the tea inspired sketches that adorned the crumbling walls almost as much as Cowie loved the tables that were made from tea chests.

Teacup sketch

BW Tea table

Our afternoon tea which came with a slice of coffee and walnut cake was brilliant. They realised we were from British and served our tea in a London themed tea pot! So civilised and quaint it’s a memory that will stay with me forever.

London tea

Feeling greedy and curious (plus ca change) I ordered some Indian rarebits which aren’t particularly like Welsh rarebits! They’re a sort of deep fried eggy spicy savoury nibble that isn’t too far from being like a samosa or baaji. Very tasty indeed. Much more my cup of tea than Cowies!

Indian rarebit

Feeling recharged, dried out and utterly engulfed by Teapot’s charms we did something quite reckless… we went for a full body Indian massage. This may not seem terribly “out there” but if you carry on reading you’ll see why!

I’ve never been a big fan of massages… Cowie loves them but I don’t really like being touched very much. But what could possibly go wrong?

We walked next door to the Ayurvedic centre and booked ourselves in. Cowie was immediately whisked upstairs to the women only area and I was left downstairs to await my fate. I think my parting words to Cowie were, “I don’t really like being touched… but don’t worry they’ll probably just rub my shoulders a bit and it will be fine”.

A red faced Brit emerged with a big grin and an even bigger bounce to his step looking like he’d just emerged from a Formula 1 pit stop. No sooner than he had paid up and zoomed off than I had taken his place. I was led down a dark, narrow, dusty corridor to a low ceilinged room with some mosquitoes, a sordid black mattress and a hard wooden bench for company. It was as if I was about to be tortured by Jack Bauer.

A podgy Indian man wearing just an orange loin cloth instructed me to take my clothes off which I did automatically, but not completely enough for his liking. This was the first indication that I was about to get a bit more of a “full body” massage than I had bargained for.

Massage table close

Now naked, I was invited to sit on the hard wooden bench whilst two loin clothed Indian men rubbed “aromatic oil” into me from the front and behind. Now, I’m sure this oil has special therapeutic qualities but as far I could tell I was being basted in curry oil and prepared for the grill.

Massage oils

I struggled to keep a straight face as various naked men wondered through the room. I was wishing I was still having tea and cake next door! After they’d oiled me up and given my back and shoulders a go pounding I was moved to the black mattress on the floor which is when things started getting super weird.

Massage bed

It all began innocently enough with the men taking it in turns to do a series of rubs that travelled from the chest up to the hands and from the foot to the knee. My groin was off limits. But then it all got a bit odd. If you’re under the age of 18 look away now or get parental consent.

Whilst lying on my back they manoeuvred my legs vertically into a pseudo lotus position which left me terribly exposed. I felt like a trussed turkey. They played with various positions before I was allowed to lie normally again. But the relief was short lived.

You need to know that I was hanging to the left… so I was very anxious when the chap on my left started doing his sweeping massage moves that stretched the length of my body. To begin with it was fine. He took a wide berth around my groin and my raging fear subsided. But this caution didn’t last very long. Each time his hands smoothed past my groin the end of his finger very gently caught the end of my cock. The first time it happened I just ignored it and thought he must have made a mistake. But after this has had rhythmically happened for 5 minutes on the trot I was getting seriously worried! If I wasn’t careful I was going to get a stiffy in front of 2 naked Indian men who I’d never met! I could feel ever increasing amounts of blood flowing down south… I could feel my cock begin to lift ever so slightly off my leg. O my God. This was serious.

So I concentrated like I’ve never concentrated before and tried to think of something so un-sexual that it would put an end to the brewing disaster! My mind selected vegetables as it’s subject. WHY?!! Potatoes. Balls. Cucumber. Cock. Melons. Breasts. Banana. Cock. Orange. Boobs. Holy shit… we’re almost at half mast.

And then my mind stumbled across broccoli and cauliflower which seemed to work. Simply thinking about steamed broccoli and cauliflower cheese worked perfectly. I could feel the blood gushing out of my willy and crisis being averted. I simply can’t tell you how relieved was or how grateful I am to both cauliflowers and broccoli – they saved me from being utterly humiliated.

I emerged from my massage a broken man and was greeted with the world’s biggest hug from Cowie who couldn’t believe my ordeal, or that I didn’t just walk out! Travelling is all about collecting new experiences and trying new things that you can wheel out at dinner parties. I’ve now got an absolute show stopper up my sleeve!

Hopefully this now means I’ll never have to have another massage ever again! Unless we go to Thailand of course…


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