Peruvian Scallop Ceviche Starter

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When I was travelling a couple of years ago I spent a few happy weeks in South America, one of the places I enjoyed the most was Peru – the people were warm and welcoming, the scenery was stunning (if you haven’t been to Machu Picchu, or more specifically trekked the Inca Trail, it’s an absolute once in a life time, must do trip), and the food was great. No fuss cooking and quality ingredients were the order of the day.

Whilst I was there I discovered ceviche, which is essentially seafood marinated or ‘cooked’ in citrus juice. The fish never even goes near a hot pan; the citrus juice cooks it right through. How long you need to cook it for depends largely on the quality and freshness of the fish, but also on the size of the pieces. Sashimi grade fish would probably only need a minute.

I wanted to design an elegant starter that would be easy to prep and could be ‘cooking’ whilst I’m prepping the main course. You can see the final product below – a fresh and tangy mixture of scallop, red onion, chilli, cherry tomatoes, coriander and of course lime.

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Serves 2 as a starter

Ingredients:

2-3 fresh scallops, roe removed, each scallop sliced into 3 thin discs

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

¼ red onion finely chopped

A handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered, deseeded and finely chopped

A small bunch of coriander, chopped

2 limes

Salt

Place the sliced scallop, chilli, onion, tomatoes and half the coriander in a bowl along with the juice of both limes, the zest of one and a pinch of salt. Give it all a good mix to make sure everything gets coated in lime juice.

Cover and place in the fridge for 30 – 60 mins depending on the freshness and size of your slices.

After ‘cooking’ remove from the fridge and drain away any excess juices. Set the scallop slices aside and spoon the remaining mixture on to your serving plates in a line. Carefully place the scallop slices side by side on top of the bed and scatter with the remaining coriander.

Enjoy with a Pisco Sour!

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Sunday slow roast lamb

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It’s a Sunday afternoon, I have a hangover and England kick off in the Euro QF in a few hours time. I need to eat something but last night’s over indulgence means I have no desire to spend hours in the kitchen. Not wanting to sacrifice flavour I decided that I needed something requiring the minimum of effort.

A slow roast shoulder of lamb means I have to spend 10 mins prepping in the kitchen and then 4 hours sitting on the sofa just waiting and smelling the incredible aromas wafting from the oven. Easy.

INGREDIENTS

1-1.5kg lamb shoulder, boned

For the rub:
Several sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked
1 clove garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, toasted
1/2 lemon, zest only
salt and pepper

For the carrot and sweet potato mash:
500g carrots
500g sweet potato
Butter
Cumin
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper

For the mint sauce:
A handful of leaves, picked
Red wine vinegar
Caster sugar

Heat the oven to full whack.

Slash the fat side of the lamb with a sharp knife in a criss cross pattern Put all the ingredient for the rub in a pestle and mortar and crush until fine. Rub the powder all over the lamb, working it into all nooks, crannies and cuts. Leave for the flavours to set in for at least 30 mins.

Crush some more garlic cloves with the heel of your palm and place them and some rosemary sprigs in a large casserole dish, placing the lamb on top. Put a lid on it.

Put in the oven and immediately turn down to 170 degrees. Leave for 3 or 4 hours until soft and juicy, the meat should flake away with just a spoon!

Cover with foil and a tea towel for 10 mins to rest

Serve with a sweet potato and carrot mash: peel and chop both into small pieces, boil until tender then drain. Mash in a pan with a large knob of butter, a pinch of cumin seeds, a grating of nutmeg and salt and pepper.

If you want to add a mint sauce, roughly chop a handful of leaves and bash up in a pestle and mortar with a splash of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon of caster sugar and a splash of water if it needs loosening.

Best served with an England victory!!

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I’m English, I’ll queue thanks

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I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for food this week. If it had been in a ‘we ordered 30 minutes ago, where’s our food?’ way I’d have been pretty irate about the whole thing. As it is I’ve actually been queuing to get into restaurants. 

No reservation restaurants have been in vogue on the London restaurant scene for a while now. Some chain restaurants have been doing it for years but the likes of Russell Norman and his ever expanding empire (Polpo, Da Polpo etc) have been making it the in thing to do. Opinions seem to be divided between it being a gimmick to make the place always look busy and thus increase demand and get people talking about it, and actually being a useful way of not having to plan your meals out in advance, offering a spontaneous alternative to reservations. 

I don’t object to queuing for something that’s worth the wait but there’s always the risk that you could be wasting your time. I figured a visit to Meat Liquor was a pretty safe bet given the rave reviews that it’s been getting. From the team behind Meat Wagon and #Meateasy the place started life as a burger van, then evolved to a pub before moving to it’s current premise above a strip joint. These days the very mention of Street Food is enough to get London’s collective foodies salivating and blogging so expectations were high. 

What I didn’t expect was for the demand to be so high that I’d have to wait patiently in line when I arrived at 6pm on a Monday. Seriously, the queue was long when I got there. What time did these people finish work?? Fortunately the weather was nice and the wait wasn’t too long. I’ve since read reviews of more disgruntled critics who had to wait for hours in the freezing cold. That might have tested my patience. 

Stepping inside welcomed the sight of a dimly lit and rather sleazy, grungy looking pub that sure enough was packed full of happy looking punters munching away. The place is heavily stylised – from the graffiti on the walls to the cocktail menu with a sense of humour (names like ‘Donkey Punch’ and ‘Time of the month’) to the toilets labelled as Dicks and Chicks. You could accuse them of trying a touch too hard to be cool but the service was friendly and the food excellent so that’s easily overlooked.

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Burgers should be sloppy, messy and unhealthy. Any attempts to add finesse or dietary acceptability to proceedings rather misses the point in my view. With that in mind Meat Liquor serves up an exceptional burger. Juicy and delicious, I enjoyed every last bite of it along with skinny fires and the biggest onion rings I’ve ever seen. 

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To say that it’s the best burger in london (as one might be tempted to do as an attention grabbing headline) is a bold claim but given the price I’m comfortable saying it’s the best value.

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A foodie’s Stokie day out

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Inspired by a recent Time Out feature on the bestLondonmarket’s I decided to investigate the local Stoke Newington Farmer’s market that inexplicably didn’t make the T.O. final cut.

Undeterred, I chose a beautiful Spring Saturday to go exploring. Alighting from the bus south of the market onStoke Newington RoadI ambled along taking in the sights like a lost tourist; as close to home as this might be I’m guilty of not visiting regularly. I passed the usual grocers cum mini supermarkets, pawn shops and blocks of council flats mixed in with (the presumably much more recent) trendy bars and clothes shops. I marked out both The Dot Bar (cafe?) and a huge looking Beyond Retro store for future investigation. The not so gradual gentrification of the area is even more obvious when you look at the passing locals: a good mix of trilby-wearing, beard-sporting, skateboarding men, and festival chic young women mixed in with residents that look as if they were born in the area or who immigrated here decades ago.

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The market itself is situated in the forecourt of St Paul’s Church on Stoke Newington Roadand is run by the good people at www.growingcommunities.org. Comprising of about 15 stalls each run by producers selling their wares of bread, cheese, raw milk (unpasteurised since you ask, I had to), fresh veg, meats, mushrooms, chocolates, cakes, coffee, homemade pesto; you name it. It’s certainly too small for a proper shop but is amazing for something different to the usual Tesco run and gives you the chance to stock up on beautifully fresh and local treats.

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Customers seem to be an interesting mix of parents with kids in tow, many of whom seem to know each other and uber trendy types in their late 20’s upwards. The general crowd are decidedly younger and more middle class than Ridley Road Market down the road, and will certainly appear more to the recent influx of wealthier professional residents that have made London/Hackney their adopted homes. It’s more expensive than RRM, perhaps due to the clientele, but is still decidedly cheaper than the always over priced Whole Foods store on Stoke Newington Church Street that is surely aimed at the same audience.

On the day I visited, there were just as many people lounging about on picnic table benches drinking coffee and chatting in the spring sun as there were people bustling around stalls, shopping and eating. Some stocking up on fresh food to take home and others munching happily on Turkish pancakes or slices of cake. I stopped for an espresso in a paper cup that left me buzzing for a good few hours and then went for an exploratory wander.

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I’d never tried raw milk before, so courtesy of Hook & Son I indulged and was pleasantly surprised; it made me realise just how bland and tasteless supermarket milk can actually be. Of course the supermarket variety is more convenient but, goddamit, the raw stuff is sooooo much better. Hook & Son can even arrange to have the stuff delivered to your door.

The Bath Soft Cheese Company treated me to the creamiest camembert-esque cheese that has ever passed my lips, and the guy at The Mushroom Table (kudos for his amazing beard by the way) will cook you up a warm and earthy mushroom sandwich.

The stall holders all seem more than happy to take the time to stop and chat to you and wax lyrical about the particular appeal of their products; right down to the detail of production methods should you care to know.

All in all this was a worthwhile venture, there is plenty more of the neighbourhood for me to explore and I’m a convert to the farmer’s market. Give it a go and I’ll bet that you will be too.

Days like this remind me why I first moved to Londonand why 8 years on I’m still discovering more and more.

Given that it was such a beautiful day I decided to walk home and as I did I passed Gallo Nero II which turned out to be a lovely little Italian deli stocked to the rafters with the usual meats, cheeses, pastas, oils etc that you’d expect. Small but beautifully formed is the slightly lazy description that I’ll opt for here. There was a queue already forming in the shop so I squeezed past (I did say it was small) to join the line. Hoping that I might be able get to practice my pigeon Italian with the commessa behind the counter I eagerly rehearsed the phrase that I hoped would result in me going home with a lump of parmesan. Somewhat unfortunately, I was served by a different (English) assistant but none the less I left with both my parmesan and a tub of lovely garlic and lemon olives.

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This place was a great little find and the smugness that my purchases had produced was further enforced as I passed a big brand supermarket 50 yards up the road. The juxtaposition was clear – the ubiquitous chain was the antithesis of today’s culinary journey.

Further distracted on my route home I discovered Datte Foco, a great little pizza restaurant-cum-café-cum-takeaway. Selling pizza al taglio, or by the slice, you’re charged by weight rather than size. Most seem to be roughly £1 per 100g so mine came to £2.90. I opted for an artichoke, salami and mushroom topping and took a pew at a high table near the front of the restaurant while it was reheated under the grill. Despite the overly crunchy base that was hard to cut through, the pizza was made from beautifully light dough and used fresh ingredients for the topping.

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I’m keen to return with friends to sample other combinations and most likely to take advantage of their aperitif menu – between 6pm and 8pm it is £5 for a drink and ‘pizza bites’, or the slice of pizza and a beer for £5.

I was curious to investigate the weekly film night (typically the next viewing was to be The Godfather) but when I looked around all I could see was a small-ish wall mounted TV that didn’t inspire me. Either way I’ll be back soon, and judging by the line that was snaking out of the door as I left I’ll need to get there early to get a seat.

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Welcome to London Village

Welcome to London is a village, where I’ll share with you my favourite things about London. Restaurants, shops, markets, cinemas, theatres and music venues all float my boat – ideally they’ll be independent and locally run.

With the recent rise of all things hyper local I’m inspired by local business. I find that the level of service and value for money that you get from say, a local butchers or independent record store is incredible. Even if some cost a few extra pennies occasionally it strikes me as worthwhile; the money stays in the local economy opposed to going to a multi-million pound multinational. Plus, the knowledge and passion that comes with it can often be a cut above. I’d rather my food bill went to Hubbub (www.hubbub.co.uk) rather than Tesco, or my music collection expands thanks to Flashback (www.flashback.co.uk) and not HMV or Apple. Not only do the staff for these companies know their products intimately but the very obvious passion that they have for food/music etc can really come across and inspire my own choices.

So, I implore you to shop, eat, drink and spend locally. Get to know your butcher, befriend market stall holders and take the time to learn the staff at the local cafe. Hopefully the businesses that I talk about on here will inspire you to do just that.

Remember, locals aren’t (just) pubs.