"It's not much but it's ours"

Friday, July 30, 2010


One of the continuing quests of Dos Hermanos is to find a replacement ocakbaşi restaurant for the late, much missed Angel Mangal which quite simply did the best Turkish style mixed grill in London.

Some have come close: Testi was enjoyable with its smoky-flavoured meats and an interesting selection of lambs bits. Anatolia was even better with good fatty meat and generous portions. Some were poor or merely disappointing like the popular Mangals 1 and 2 in Stoke Newington which have always seemed a bit whitebread to us.

Meze Mangal has been on our radar for a while but its location (I mean, South of the river AND New Cross/Brockley borders??? It just ain’t gonna happen) mitigated against a visit, however the opening of the shiny new East London line meant journeying between the wilds of South East London and fashionable Shoreditch is now a doddle.

So it was that I found myself sitting outside The Talbot pub drinking a well-kept pint of Rudgate Ruby Mild with buddies Scott and Gavin – the latter who has now forsaken his preacher look for that of Mob accountant. He was very reluctant to remove his tie.

Meze Mangal is one of an anonymous strip of shops on the main drag and as we approached I did begin to wonder how well I’d chosen. Once inside though I felt immediately at home. The place was packed and buzzing: a good sign. There, the ocakbaşi master at his grill, concentrating intently whilst tending skewers of lamb sis and adana threaded on flat blades; a metal dome for cooking the flatbreads; over there, the oven for cooking Pide and Lahmacun.

Laminated menus were dispensed but my dining chums deferred to me for the ordering. A quick scan and I located the special mixed kebab, pleasingly appended “with quail".

To begin with some starters to keep us distracted while our meats were grilled. A cold salad, Patlican Soslu, chunky and oily (in a good way) and a plate of alarmingly coloured tarama with two sorts of their hot bread and lashings of the Buzbag (believe me Turkish wine while not the best goes perfectly with this sort of food).

Eventually, the main event arrived, a large platter, piled high with meats interspersed with peppers and a large plate of salad. We ate Dos Hermanos style which meant that each person in turn got to nominate a piece of meat and the others have to follow suit. This ensures a fair distribution of said meats but still allowing for the element of surprise wherein a chosen piece might be quite small. This usually leads to much joshing and merriment amongst those who have chosen larger bits. All great fun.

In the taste stakes vying for first place were the Adana - perfect texture with spicing just so - and the freshly grilled quail halves which were hot, sticky and salty. I could have done with a little more of the other lamb components but ribs and chops were done well with crisp fat and properly seasoned. Kidneys were a little over pink but fresh tasting and not at all rubbery.

Cop Sis was good too although it's always at the bottom of the pile and by the time you get to it you're usually stuffed. Too full as well to try the base layer of bread which had soaked up all the meaty juices although it didn't go to waste as they kindly bagged that and the little of the meat that was left.

Grilled Peppers had a good char giving them a beautifully smoky taste followed by a surprisingly big heat kick. Salad was a bit style over substance, majored in cucumber and remained mostly untouched: not a patch on the composed salads at AM although I’m always pleased to see a little sprinkling of sumac.

We finished with three good medium Turkish coffees, some lokum and a bill that we vastly overestimated. Most of the difference went into the tip that was well deserved as the service had been so friendly, willing and attentive.

So there we have it – what started out as tentative foray into regions unknown ended up as a classic DH night out of old: a few pints of mild and a trip to a Mangal which if not perfect got all the important things right. Not quite up there with our best ever but bloody close. That’ll do for me.

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Friday, July 23, 2010


Road Trip USA 2010 has begun. In the next month I will head off on a trip which will take in New York, Chicago, St Louis, Louisville, Pigeon's Forge, Little Rock, Montgomery, Memphis, Nashiville and New Orleans. But, where else was there to start my exploration of the US other than the Big Apple?

For the last few days I have been in NYC. I am here primarily for work and have not had much, if any, time to go in search of great things to eat.

Today, however, I had a day off and decided to treat myself to lunch and cross off my list one America's true classic dishes, the lobster roll.

Lobster has an interesting history in the US. Like Oysters in the UK, it was often considered a poor man's food. It was fed to people in alms houses, children in orphanages and there are even records of prisoners rioting in protest at having to eat lobster three times a week. How times have changed and the lobster is now considered one of America's true luxury ingredients carrying with it a price that can make the eyes water.

The lobster roll is an East Coast thing and particularly associated, I am told with the state of Maine. I have tried a few in my time, but never very good ones. So, when I had a bit of time this afternoon, I ducked into Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street for what is considered one of the best lobster rolls in the city.

POB makes a very traditional lobster roll, which comprises of little more that a toasted split hot dog bun filled with big chunks of lobster claw and tail meat wrapped in plenty of mayonnaise and sprinkled with chopped chives. That, apart from a squeeze of lemon juice and a crack of pepper, appears to be about it. It is served with a couple of salad leaves and a mound of crisp, piping hot shoestring fries which remained largely untouched given the richness of the lobster roll.

The elevated culinary status of lobster means that this sandwich is no longer a cheap option and my bill with tip and a drink came to $35. But, it was worth it for a gloriously indulgent lunchtime treat.

If the rest of the road trip lives up to this beginning, I have some good eating ahead. Watch this space.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010


It would have been easy to miss it. My beloved new Mrs stopped dead in her tracks and began to stare at a book display with all the horror normally reserved for a woman who comes home to discover her husband enthusiastically fellating a muscle bound Eastern European man called Serge.

What was it that filled her with such dismay?

It was the above book, spotted on the shelves of a local Barnes & Noble as we wandered around perusing the cookery books. With my background in publishing, I of all people know that there appear to be books on just about every aspect of cooking these days. But, there are so many levels of wrong with "Vegan Cupcakes:Take Over The World" that it is actually quite hard to know where to begin. Let's start with the cover which promises "75 Dairy Free Recipes For Cupcakes that Rule"


Anyone who reads the blog with any regularity will know that neither HP nor I have much truck with vegetarianism let alone veganism, but we are both happy to let those who do follow these odd little cults well alone as long as they refrain from thrusting pamphlets in our faces and promise not to frighten the children.

However, now they have added cupcakes, another of my least favourite foods, to the mix making possible the most horrific sounding combination since the day Mr Milli met Mr Vanilli. By the name of all that is holy, something has to be done. Someone has to make a stand or these folks really will take over the world.

Sybil and I ran home as fast as we could and decided to draw our own line in the sand. Well, in fact, we decided to suck down 1lb of my baked crisp chicken wings and a large dairy filled slice of terrific Banana Shortbread from Valerie's Confections. It was a small step, but the first salvo in our personal war against those who would seek to suck every last ounce of joy out of the food we eat.

Will you join us?

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010


In 1990, I watched Martin Scorsese’s movie masterpiece, Goodfellas for the first time. Memories of that viewing have stayed with me ever since.

These memories are not of the plot, which if I am honest, I can barely remember. They are not of the performances, however blistering some of them obviously are. Nor are these memories of the violence, which if I recall correctly turned my stomach at the time. No, my abiding memories of this cinema classic are all, unsurprisingly about food.

A short way into the film, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, has his first experience of time in jail. Even taking into account cinematic licence, it does not appear that he had too hard a time of it and came away with a useful little kitchen tip for later. His fellow inmates showed him how to cut wafer thin slices of garlic using the sharp edge of a razor blade and he put this skill to good use making “Sunday Gravy” or "Sunday Sauce". This is an American Italian take on a Sicilian tomato sauce and involves a great deal of meat slow cooking in the pot while the family went to church, hence the name.

I have wanted to try and make that sauce ever since and even splashed out cold hard cash on the rather dreadful “The Wise Guy” cookbook which the real Henry Hill published during his thankfully brief moment of fame. For whatever reason, in the intervening two decades, I had never got around to making it and the book was soon deposited at the local charity shop to make someone an offer they are probably still refusing. It apparently also reared its head again during episodes of The Sopranos, but as I was never a fan, it passed me by.

Last week, I tuned to America’s Test Kitchen on television. It is an interesting if slightly patronising cookery show and their recipes are proving to be very reliable as I explore traditional American cooking. On this show, they were making the Sunday Gravy and my interest was piqued once more. Taking their recipe as a starting point, I began to do some research and yesterday finally got around to making a dish which had stayed in my memory for so long.

Traditionally, Sunday Sauce would always include beef or veal meatballs, sausages and flank steak which had been pounded thin and then rolled around a stuffing. Given that sybil is not so fond of the cow, I substituted turkey for the meatballs and used pork spare ribs as well as sweet Italian sausage. It's a labour intensive dish , to be sure and dates back to a time when family roles were more separated and women were not trying to hold down the roles of employee and motherhood at the same time.

However, it is well worth the effort and makes a delicious, rich sauce perfect to be slurped up with pasta and a glass or three of red wine.


INGREDIENTS (Feeds an Army)

1lb Spare ribs
6 Sweet Italian sausages
1lb Ground turkey

1 Large white onion (finely diced)
3 Cloves garlic (finely minced)
1 Green Chilli (finely minced)
1 20 Ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 Tablespoon tomato puree
1 Cup red wine
1 Cup beef stock
2 Teaspoon dried oregano
½ Cup Fresh chopped basil
Salt & Pepper (to taste)

FOR THE MEATBALLS (made with the ground turkey, but you can use Veal, Pork or Beef)
1 Cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ Cup grated Pecorino cheese
1 Teaspoon dried oregano
1 Teaspoon red pepper flakes.
¼ Cup Buttermilk (or use yoghurt mixed with milk)
1 Egg Yolk
Salt & Pepper

Olive Oil for frying.

Your choice of Pasta.


Cut the ribs into two rib sections, trimming off excess fat.
Sear the ribs in olive oil until they are golden. Do this in batches so the temperature of the oil does not drop.
Remove the ribs and set aside catching all the juices.
Sear the sausages until golden and remove from the pan.
Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook for five minutes until it has slightly softened.
Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the chopped green chilli and cook for one minute.
Add the tomato puree and cook for three minutes.
Add the crushed tomatoes and mix well with the contents of the pan.
Season with Salt & Pepper and add the oregano.
Add the red wine and beef stock.
Add the chopped basil and mix well.
Return the meat to the pan along with its juices and bring to a simmer.

You can either, as I did, transfer this to a slow cooker for four or so hours or place in a 325oF/160C/Gas Mark 3 oven for two and a half to three hours.

Make a panade (a paste of bread, milk and herbs) by blending together all the ingredients with a fork until well combined.
Add the ground turkey and mix well with your fingers.
Separate into twelve portions and roll into meatballs between the palms of your hand.
Place on a plate, cover in cling film and leave to chill.

One hour before the sauce is cooked, remove the meatballs from the fridge and allow to come back to room temperature.
Sear the meatballs in a pan until completely brown on all sides.
Remove from the pan and then add to the sauce with all their juices.
Allow the meatballs to cook for at least thirty minutes by which time the sauce and sausages will also be cooked and the meat from the ribs will falling off the bone.

Remove as much of the oil that has gathered on the surface of the sauce as possible with a spoon.
Remove the meat from the sauce and keep warm. Some people shred the meat from the ribs at this point. I didn’t bother.
Cook your pasta, strain and lightly dress with two or three spoonfuls of the sauce.
Serve with a good helping of meat, sausages and meatballs piled on top
Sprinkle with freshly grated pecorino or parmesan

Decide amongst yourselves who you are going to whack for disrespecting the family.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


A couple of weeks ago I had one of those lightbulb-on moments. When Swedish supergroup ABBA sang SOS they weren’t talking about a love that had gone but were in fact relating how much they missed the Swedish national dish: S.O.S. aka Smör, Ost och Sill (Butter, Cheese and Herring), a dish that is pretty much available at any restaurant where the cuisine could be reasonably described as Swedish.

During a short weekend break in the Swedish capital Stockholm I had it three (count ‘em) times. With your SOS comes several different types of pickled herring, sometimes in a creamy sauce, sometimes not. There’s potatoes. There’s some indifferent cheese and a big basket of bread and knäckebröd. I liked it a lot, not least since you get to drink chilled schnapps with it which is never a bad thing.

Really, though, Swedish cuisine doesn’t get too much more exciting than that. Yes, I know Stockholm is home to several Michelin starred gaffs but I didn’t really want to eat food that looked like an allotment and with names like My childhood visits to Djurgården. In fact, it’s usually a good idea in restaurants to avoid food that doesn’t explain at least some of the ingredients in the title like, you know, Steak and, er, Chips.

No, what I was after was what’s known as husmanskost, a sort of Swedish home cooking style. I did find some although the fact the holidays were starting meant some of the places I was interested in were closed.

Still, Stockholm was a pleasant enough place to spend a few days in. It’s clean, safe and apart from the downtown pretty easy on the eye. Everything works and people seem very urbane and happy that things are as they should be. It reminded me a bit of Vienna but without the annoying tendency to vote ex-Nazis into power.

From an eating and drinking point of view you’ve got to work a bit harder. Your liquid-downing options consist of handing over huge wads of Krona for a glass of ordinary wine or handing over slightly smaller wads of money for a glass of the aptly-named Pripps Blå.

There are a few exceptions: most of the restaurants I went to had a decent beer list where you could get porters, ales and the like. There was also a great pub called Akkurat in Södermalm which had some nice hand-pulled Swedish ales. Although sitting in a darkened room drinking beer when it’s 30C outside doesn’t seem quite right (what am I saying?!).

The first restaurant I tried and probably the best in terms of quality was Mathias Dahlgren’s Matbaren in the Grand Hotel. He has a fancypants restaurant in the same building but the more casual operation is pretty good. Small plates have reached Stockholm but Matbaren hasn’t seen it as a means of ripping their customers off. You order a plate at a time from a small menu of Swedish-influenced and International dishes and they cook them up to order with no little refinement in the big open-plan kitchen.

A dish of Baltic Herring was that fish covered in Whitefish Roe and a creamy horseradish cream. Apart from being beautifully delicate it had some of the tastiest new potatoes I’ve ever eaten. These sort of things can really lift a dish.

There was more creaminess in a dish of steamed Coalfish – similar to cod in taste and texture. The fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce, or emulsion as they would have it here, was light and made more luxurious by the little woodland mushrooms.

Corn-fried chicken surprisingly came under “From Our Country” section. It had the unfortunate smell of a Fried Chicken shop which you’d find hundreds of in the UK (South London reprezentin’). However, it was decent finger-licking, chicken, all the better for being cooked freshly and served piping hot. I liked the crisp, fresh veg that came with a little Oriental-influenced dip. Altogether odd but interesting.

Incidentally, the freshly baked selection of crispbread was wonderful and I ate far too much of it. But only because the nice young women serving me kept offering more of it.

Puddings were of the type you can find the world over when you don’t have a proper pastry chef working for you. When the bill came I got that pit of the stomach feeling when you miss the last step, but hey, this is Sweden right?

Östermalms Saluhall is an impressive building in the centre of town that is home to a tidy little food market. It isn’t worth more than a quick tour apart from the fact a lot people come for their lunch here and many of the food vendors have tables or bars where you can plonk yourself down for a little nosebag.

My choice, Lisa Elmqvist, seemed to be the most popular one and soon after opening there were a mixture of locals and tourists tucking in. Their Silltarik or Herring plate was pretty generous, came with a big basket of good bread – they lurvvvve their bread round these parts – and was the perfect accompaniment to some more beers and aquavits. Although taking a ferry shortly afterwards wasn’t exactly a Nobel prizewinning idea - unless there was one for extreme stupidity.

Unhappily, in the evening I found my chosen restaurant was closed for the holidays (or maybe they were just being verrrrry quiet until I’d buggered off). Plan B was Bakfickan another bar-based restaurant at the back of the Operakällarens which specialises in husmanskost. You were paying attention earlier, right?

Their other specialities: tired food, tired service and tired atmosphere. Whoever put the SOS together looked as if they weren’t really putting their all into the job at hand. A more desultory plate of food would be hard to find.

That other Swedish staple, meatballs, came in a gloopy sauce with a taste that owed more to the Royal House of Campbell than Bernadotte. But maybe your average Stockholmer likes them like this.

One thing that proliferates all over the city are hot dog stands. I’m sure they’re fine but I found the lack of queues of people eager to chomp down on one less than a massive vote of confidence so I gave them a miss.

What there weren’t so many of, but which I did try was a stand doing Nystekt Strömming wherein our old friend Mr Herring is fried. The stand I chose was run by the only person in Sweden who doesn’t speak English but then she was Icelandic so that’s ok. Sitting in the sun, eating the little fried fillets with a can of pissy larger (you can only get stronger stuff from the state-run shops) was hugely enjoyable and is the sort of food experience I really rate. It’s all about context you see.

Stockholmer’s are also very good at is coffee and I don’t think I had a single cup that was less than very good. And all with less of the attendant hype and fuss that you get in London. I can especially recommend Café Nero on Roslagsgatan where the coffee is good and strong and the service friendly. They also have a licence if you fancy a bit of grappa action.

My visit was coming to an end and I still hadn’t found anywhere that felt particularly Swedish in the sense of something you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world. Then I lucked out with a visit Pelikan. Located in the hip Söder region, Pelikan is a fine old Swedish-style pub and dining hall. It feels like it’s been going about its business for years. I’m not sure what the Swedish word for it but it has that cosiness that the Germans call gemutlikeit.

Anyway. They served me a decent SOS and a plate of Pike-Perch with a Beet Salad that was surprisingly refined. The baked Goat’s Cheese went well with the salad but with the fish – not so much. Still, as a gesture of generosity to the customer it was spot on. Usefully, it’s also open on Sunday evenings. A fine place and a fine way to end my break.

Like all my little jaunts just as I feel I’m getting the hang of a place I have to go home. So it was with Stockholm: the more I discovered of it the more I liked it. As I was going back to Billet a part of me wished I was going on to explore more of this country and indeed other parts of Scandinavia and investigate the clear and mysterious spirits they distill there. Maybe another time. I hear it’s particularly nice in the winter.

And in case you were wondering - yes, Swedish women are all incredibly blonde and incredibly attractive.

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