Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Fresh Falafel

If you’re anything like me, you will have cooked many meals, both for yourself and your family. I thought I was doing an ok job of it, until M – my lovely wife – bought me a “cooking experience” at a place in Fulham. Hmmm …. perhaps my own cooking wasn’t all that great then? Anyway, it was fun and I enjoyed spending time with a Michelin starred chef, and making several dishes to take home. It was he, the French chef, that casually mentioned the fresh fish shop on North End road, which sits between Fulham Broadway and Earls Court. On Saturdays, one end of the road is a market, specialising in fruit and veg’, but as much of a bargain some of it seems (a whole tray of Braeburn apples for £2.50), much of it doesn’t last much past Sunday evening, ending up in the compost bin.

The fish shop, however, turned out to be something pretty special. I bought several items for a paella I was cooking for my Dad’s birthday, as well as two fairly healthy sized crabs for my children to ‘try’.

It was while visiting the market for the aforementioned fish, that my generously proportioned nose caught a whiff of something rather delicious. Following my nose, so to speak, I happened upon a tiny falafel stall, cunningly whittled out of the inside of a metal shed and painted red. As I approached, I inwardly groaned at the distinct lack of a queue - not a good sign for any street food vendor. Regardless, I stepped up to the 'stall', and briefly chatted with the two gentlemen that were stood behind the business bit of the stall.

While agonising over whether to order a medium or a large falafel wrap (it was always going to be large - the agonising was just for effect), Ali and Mahmoud introduced themselves, and what a likeable couple of guys they turned out to be. Having gotten talking, they explained that they are Palestinian by birth and live in the West Bank; well, I nearly swooned. Could it be true? A street food stall, selling one of my favourite 'snacks' (when they're made well, naturellement), who just happen to be from an area of the world that is one of my favourite topics?

Anyhoo, I ordered, they made – by the way, the falafel mix is already made up, but they scoop up the required amount and drop ‘em in the oil “fresh”, if you know what I mean – and I stood and ate, as did wife and child 1 (child 2 being averse to anything that’s for sale in the same vicinity as freshly chopped tomatoes).

Obviously, being freshly cooked, they were lovely and warm, the salad was delicious and looked as if it had also been recently prepared. I’m a big fan of khobbez bread as it is, and again, this was slightly warmed before the falafels were squished down into it. A pre-requisite squirt of tahini sauce, a brief “no thanks” to the offer of chilli sauce, and the wrapping could begin.

Wife, child 1 and myself agreed that they were delicious; the falafels perfectly cooked, the lettuce crunchy, the tomatoes juicy, the pickles sharp, just wonderful. And all of this service with a bit of friendly banter from the gentlemen behind the jump.

I admit I’m still getting used to asking the world to wait while I take photographs of my food to share with you, so these aren’t the most adventurous pics, granted. But you get the idea right? Small shack in an ordinary street market, selling tasty food that they’re proud of – a little bit of their heritage? – and selling it with a smile.

To top off this wonderful new discovery, who should happen along just as I was taking a picture? Well, see for yourself, my old friend Roger Moore. He was researching his new role as a Chelsea pensioner and was wearing some of his wardrobe from the set, just up the road. There he is, look, in the red cardigan. I think he’s perfected the walk already.

Marvellous actor, we’ve been chums for donkeys years!

North End Road
(Saturday market)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Hare & Tortoise

I can’t actually remember the very first time we ate here; we’ve eaten here a lot over the past 10 years. It’s almost the very last shop/restaurant as you head out of Putney towards Cheam. It’s one of a small chain and I do know that my monster-in-law ate in the Kensington branch, saying it was very good, and that “the sushi was very fresh”.

We always try to get there as close to midday on a Sunday as possible, as it gets very busy. Also, if you get there just that little bit too late, you end up with one of the two tables in the window – the huge, plate glass window that welcomes the sun all afternoon, dazzling you throughout your meal. We always ask for whichever free table is furthest into the restaurant towards the back of the large room.

The staff are, according to reviews of the restaurant elsewhere, stereotypical insofar as the females are polite and occasionally smile, whereas the males are gruff, unsmiling, bordering on rude. I must say though, that no behaviour has put us off going. Yet.

When we eat here, we are subconsciously saying “let’s eat something delicious but familiar. We always eat the same thing, but we love the place for that. Why order something else when what we get is so tasty?”

Experience has taught us that just because you order in the order you would like to eat – you state your starter first, then your main course - doesn’t mean that’s the order this meal will come in. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that you will all receive you food at the same time.

I should apologise, even at this early stage, for my photographs. They look a bit washed out, a bit pale. I’m not entirely sure why this has happened. My camera, albeit a point and shoot, normally makes my food look far better than this. I think I’ll blame that sunlight I was complaining about earlier.

M and I both ordered green tea, water for Annabel (her favourite drink, honest!) and Carrot and Apple juice for Joseph.

Come to think of it, my son has more refined taste buds than me, so I will report what he had to say about his thirst quencher.

“Mmm …. delicious”.

Our order went something like this. We ordered a mixed sushi box, which consists of 7-8 pieces of sushi, along with 6 maki rolls. Although the sushi box option works out cheaper overall, I really think we have to start looking at other alternatives. Allow me to explain. With M being allergic to egg, I get the omelette sushi by default. The children love the fish eggs which sit upon the ikura, so that piece looks a bit sparse by the time they’ve finished with it. The eel goes to M, thanks to my main course being entirely made up of exactly that. Add to this the fact that Annabel likes the maki rolls and BANG, what am I left with? A bit of tuna or a piece of salmon which are a bit everyday, although delicious, admittedly.

My main course, as I’ve touched on, is Unagi Don, or curried eel. If you’ve ever eaten in a pie and mash shop and hated the jellied eels, trust me, these are nothing like those. The eel is served on a large bowl of sticky rice, with pickles and covered in (I believe to be) kabayaki sauce and a small covered bowl of miso soup. No surprises but consistently delicious. Superb.

Joseph and Annabel both take prawn tempura; 3 very large prawns in a deliciously light batter, albeit a little greasy, and is served with a dipping sauce. Both agree this is, “delicious”. I agree this is the same adjective as Joseph used for his drink but to be honest, I don’t manage to get a great deal out of them when they’re hungry. It’s for the best.

M is the one person among us who often orders slightly differently but not this time; Singapore noodles with no egg. Unfortunately, no comment came from her general direction, but this should be taken as a good thing. I must admit to not taking a single shot of M’s dish for your reflection for which I apologise. However, I can report that she thinks her dish had, “the right balance of tang and spice”.

As you can see, tasting and describing food comes easier to my wife than it does me. I did ask if she would be kind enough to tell you all about our eating out experiences but she is a tad busy right now.
Perhaps next time.

Or the time after that.

As we were finishing, my good friend Michael Caine and his wife Shakira stopped in – I told them we’d be there – and astonishingly, they ordered exactly the same dishes as us.

Their verdict?


296-298 Upper Richmond Road
SW15 6TH