London’s Hot Cross Buns: Gail’s Bakery

Hot cross buns, garibaldi bunnies, Easter cupcakes

Hot cross buns, garibaldi bunnies, Easter cupcakes

With Easter growing nearer, the quest for a good hot cross bun is becoming ever more important.  Of course, we baking types often make our own, with various twists and unusual ingredients to try to stand out from the crowd. This year I am soaking my fruit in Earl Grey tea, a slightly more subdued version of last year’s bun, for which I soaked the fruit in Morgan’s Spiced rum.  London’s bakeries are also quick off the mark to get their own seasonal offerings out there.  A few years ago, The Ginger Gourmand, on her other blog, Eats Dulwich, rated all of the hot cross buns in and around East Dulwich, which is one of my favourite blog posts ever.

As this quest began to gather momentum and suggestions for bakeries came from far and wide, I received a box of Easter goodies from Gail’s Bakery to try. Much to the delight of my ever-hungry colleagues.  Since Gail’s opened a branch in my nearby Dulwich Village, I have been a bit of a regular.  Sometimes to pick up a loaf of their excellent bread, and sometimes to get a coffee and a pastry to enjoy whilst dodging the children on the recumbent go-karts in Dulwich Park.  My favourite is a savoury pastry with cherry tomatoes, basil and goats cheese they sometimes sell.  With their reputation of great bread and pastries, their Easter range must be top notch, non?

My colleagues (selflessly) agreed to taste and give their verdict.


Hot Cross Buns

The first thing that the tasters noticed was the enormous difference between a freshly-baked hot cross bun and the packaged ones you buy in the supermarket.  On opening the box, the smell of both freshly baked bread and spices was enough to leave everybody salivating.  The buns were soft, but without that airiness that you sometimes get from a processed bun, and they had a very shiny and sticky glaze.  We were divided on whether there was enough fruit in the buns – some preferred a sparsely-fruited bun, whereas others longed for more.  The fruit was a step above the usual currants and candied peel, though, I spied a few sultanas and cranberries in the mix, which made it a little more luxurious than your standard bun.  We all agreed that the buns had the perfect amount of spicing and were not too overly sweet.  One of my colleagues commented that they would benefit from a touch more salt.  All in all, an overwhelmingly positive verdict and an excellent bun.

Garibaldi Bunnies

OK, so my reaction to the surprise garibaldi bunnies was a little overblown, but finding my childhood favourite ‘squashed fly’ biscuits in the shape of rabbits was almosy too much to bear.  These had the delicious chewiness of old-style garibaldi biscuits with the addition of a delicious dusting of cinnamon sugar.  Perfect if you couldn’t eat a whole hot cross bun.

Easter Cupcakes

Cupcakes aren’t really my thing. I am partial to one once in a while, but will nearly always choose a little friand or financier over one when given the option. It’s just all. that. icing.  The Easter cupcakes from Gail’s are the kind to give you quite the sugar rush – a sponge cake, topped not only with vanilla buttercream, but with two iced shortbread bunny ‘ears’.  They are a little too sweet for me, but the quality is superb – a light sponge with a good-quality and well made vanilla buttercream.  The ‘ears’ were my favourite part – I could have eaten a ton of these on their own.

These products were a gift from Gail’s Bakery.


Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart


Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

I’m not really sure that my blog needs another chocolate recipe, but as chocolate is the theme for tonight’s Band of Bakers event, there is one.  In any case, it is good to get this one in before Easter gets any closer and the blogosphere is awash with chocolate recipes.

It seems like a very short time since our last Band of Bakers gathering, when we were all at The Crooked Well eating far too much cheese than is healthy to eat in one evening.  Tonight’s event is a rather special event as we will be hosting it at The Chocolate Museum in Brixton.  Yesssss, there is a whole museum devoted to chocolate.  It’s run by the lovely Isabelle who also brought gourmet chocolate to the streets of Peckham in the form of her chocolate shop, Melange.  If you haven’t been over there yet, do go, their hot chocolate is to die for.

My offering for tonight’s event is a chocolate and salted caramel tart with chocolate pastry.  The filling comprises a layer of firm salted caramel, topped with a decadent dark chocolate ganache.  Both layers are chilled rather than baked, so were it not for the pastry having gone in the oven, I wouldn’t be able to bring it to the event (we aren’t called ‘Band of Assemblers’, after all).  Adding salt to chocolate and caramel is kind of old hat, heck, there probably a salted caramel product in every cafe and supermarket in the land.  Twinings have even brought out a salted caramel green tea, which I am highly skeptical of.  When done right, though, the combination of sweet and salt can be wonderfully tantalising and appeals to those who claim not to have an overly sweet tooth, my boyfriend included, who has already snagged a slice of this tart for later.

There are about 25 bakers attending tonight, all bringing chocolate bakes.  Something tells me that the combination of caffeine and sugar might lead to a sleepless night indeed.

Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 140g cold unsalted butter
  • 2 egg yolks

For the salted caramel:

  • 225g caster sugar
  • 100g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 100ml double cream
  • 1½ tsp sea salt

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 250ml double cream
  • 65g chocolate malt powder

To make the pastry, sift together the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and icing sugar and pour into a food processor.  Cut the cold butter into cubes and add to the food processor.  Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg yolks, one at a time, mixing until the mixture comes together in a firm dough.  Turn out on to a floured surface, and gently knead for a few seconds.  Form the dough into a disc and wrap in clingfilm.  Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry on a well-floured surface and use to line a loose-bottom tart tin.  Gently push the pastry into each of the grooves, but do not trim the edges.  Return to the fridge and chill for a further 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat of the oven to 150ºc / 300ºf / gas 2, remove the baking parchment and baking beans and bake the pastry case, uncovered, for a further five minutes.  The bottom of the pastry case should be dry and cooked through.  Trim the edges and allow to cool.

Whilst the pastry is cooling, make the caramel.  Put the sugar and 75ml water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and cook over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat to medium and add the butter, stirring until it melts, then let it bubble away until it turns a light toffee colour, about 10 minutes.  Add the cream and the sea salt flakes and boil for a couple more minutes until thickened.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so before speading over the base of  the cooled pastry case and setting aside to cool completely.

To make the ganache topping, break the dark chocolate in a glass bowl and set aside.  Heat the cream in a saucepan until it almost reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate malt powder.  Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and stir constantly until the chocolate has melted and you have a smooth ganache.  Leave to cool for a few minutes before pouring over the cooled caramel.  Place the tart in the fridge for one hour to set the ganache before serving.

Cheese and Bacon Scones

Cheese and bacon scones

Cheese and bacon scones

On Saturday night, our friends John and Heather invited us over to their flat to help finish off the drinks cupboard before they move into their new house next week.  Apparently we were just the people for the job, you know, the ones who could be relied upon to drink the place dry. What a nice reputation we have.  Before our foray into the depths of the booze cabinet, we celebrated our last night out in Crystal Palace with dinner at a new American-themed burger place on the triangle, Antenna Diner.

There’s no #burgerleague review for this yet, although I may pop back to do one.  It’s definitely not the most refined burger I’ve had, but OK if you really can’t be arsed to go into central London in search of one. One thing to note is that they do not sell alcohol.  They do make a rather good vanilla and maple syrup milkshake, mind, but it would have been far better with a double shot of bourbon in it. Just sayin’.

Antenna Diner

Antenna Diner

Anyway… the scones.  When visiting people, I often take them something home-baked.  In this case, it was something that could survive the journey on the 363 bus around the bumpy roads of Sydenham Hill, and something that could stay in my bag throughout dinner without slipping, melting or beginning to smell.  I have been making a lot of savoury scones lately and have found myself preferring them to the sweeter varieties.  These are almost the same recipe as the cheese, chive and mustard scones I made for the January Band of Bakers, but with the omission of the chives and mustard and the addition of some very crispy smoked bacon.

Without meaning to blow my own trumpet, these are the most outrageously moreish thing I have ever baked.  The punch of the strong cheddar, combined with the smoky crunch of the bacon creates a salty, savouriness meaning that you both find it difficult to stop at one, and find yourself craving a cold lager.  Split and spread with some good butter, these are a wonderful hangover cure after a night of drinking your friends dry.

Cheese and Bacon Scones

  • 5 rashers smoked back bacon
  • 250g low-fat plain yoghurt
  • 25ml whole milk
  • 15g caster sugar
  • 400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 200g strong cheddar, grated
  • 1 egg, beaten

Start by frying the bacon in a pan until very crisp.  Set aside until cooled and then chop or crumble into small pieces.

In a small bowl, mix together the yoghurt, milk and sugar and set aside.

Sift the flour, salt, cream of tartare and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.  Rub in the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the cheese and bacon.

Using a palette knife, stir in the yoghurt mixture until a sticky dough is formed.  Use the moisture in the dough to pick up any loose bits of flour from the bottom of the bowl.  Turn out on to a floured work surface and pat into a round approximately 4cm thick – try not to knead the mixture as this will create a tough texture.  Cut the scones out using a metal cutter and place them on the baking tray.  This mixture should yield about 12 scones, but it will depend on the size of the cutter you use.  Brush with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes until golden brown and risen.

Mussels with Punk IPA, Curry Leaves and Coconut

Mussels with Punk IPA, curry leaves and coconut milk

Mussels with Punk IPA, curry leaves and coconut milk

As the year speeds along at a frightening rate, two things came to mind: next weekend the clocks go forward, stealing a precious hour in bed but giving us our beloved lighter evenings, and mussels season is coming to an end.  Back in November I posted the recipe for Ollie’s moules marinière and spoke about the rule of only eating mussels when there is an ‘r’ in the month.  Realising that this left me a mere six weeks or so to enjoy my favourite seafood, I popped along to the excellent Moxons in East Dulwich to pick up a bag of mussels for dinner.  A bit of a bargain at £4.50 a kilo.

I seldom make moules marinière at home as my attempt is always far inferior to Ollie’s spectacular efforts, so am often looking for new ways of cooking mussels.  The classic combination is, of course, white wine, creme fraiche and parsley, but what I had in the kitchen was a can of Brewdog Punk IPA, a can of coconut milk and a huge bag of curry leaves from SMBS Foods.  These, along with some shallots, ginger, garlic and chilli would go into make a very different moules dish altogether.

The cooking method is more or less the same with the mussels steaming in the hot liquid for a few minutes until they open.  The addition of a hefty amount of beer to the cooking broth cuts through the coconut milk and prevents it from having the sweet, cloying taste that some coconut based sauces have.  Due to the Indian influences in this dish, I thought it only right to choose an IPA (India Pale Ale) for inclusion in the dish.  Brewdog has been something of a religion in our family since, ahem, some shares were purchased, so their classic Punk IPA was the brew of choice.  You can use another beer if you prefer – IPA gives a wonderful ‘hoppiness’ to the broth, but another pale ale, or even a good-quality lager, would work just as well.

To be eaten with loads of chips and bread, and more Punk IPA, obvs.

Mussels with Punk IPA, Curry Leaves and Coconut

  • 1 tbsp vegtable oil
  • 2 eschalion shallots, finely chopped
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 12 fresh curry leaves, sliced
  • 2 dried green chillies (I used birds eye as we like the heat)
  • Pinch salt
  • 250ml Brewdog Punk IPA
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1kg fresh mussels, cleaned and debearded
  • Coriander, roughly chopped

Put a large cooking pot with a lid over a medium heat and pour in the oil.  Gently sweat the shallots, ginger, garlic, curry leaves and chilli for around 5-10 minutes until the shallots are translucent.  Be careful not to let them brown.

Turn the heat up to high and add the beer, letting it bubble up vigorously for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol.  Turn down the heat and stir in the coconut milk, gently bringing it to a simmer.

Add the mussels to the pot, turn the heat up to high and put the lid firmly on.  Cook the mussels for about five minutes, occasionally gently shaking the pan stir them, until they have fully opened.

Ladle into serving bowls and sprinkle with the chopped coriander.  Be sure to discard any mussels that have not fully opened during cooking.

Adapted from a recipe by the Indian Culinary Centre.

Breakfast at No. 67 at the South London Gallery, Peckham

Breakfast in the sun

Breakfast in the sun

Another belated post, I’m afraid, but with the sun shining so brightly in London this morning I couldn’t resist writing about a bit of alfresco dining.  One week ago today, just before we flew out to San Sebastian, Ollie and I went to the registry office in Peckham to register our intent to marry.  It was a pretty painless process really, but we still felt that anything that required us getting up early on our day off and bringing along our passports deserved a big breakfast afterwards.  Just across the street from the registry office is the excellent South London Gallery and it’s in-house cafe/restaurant, No. 67 – so named because of its location at 67 Peckham Road.

The good weather arrived in London a couple of weeks ago after months of torrential rain, and last Friday was the best day of all.  The sun beamed down on an empty picnic table on the front terrace of the cafe, where we quickly established ourselves and started to look at the menu.  At that moment, I received a text from my Dad to say that Southampton, a mere 75 miles away, had been enveloped in fog.  If there was a moment to develop weather-smugness, that would have been it.

The breakfast menu at No.67 is similar to what you might find in other smart south-east London cafés: good coffee, juices, organic yoghurt and muesli and a range of scrambled egg dishes with ham, salmon or spinach.  One anomaly, however, caught my eye – a baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew.  There is something wholesome yet rather decadent about having a stew for breakfast and at the weekend, if I have time, I will often make a the classic Mexican egg dish Huevos Rancheros (literally: ranch eggs) or the middle-eastern equivalent, Shakshuka (David Lebovitz’s version with chunks of feta is my favourite).  Both involve making a thick, spiced tomato sauce and cooking the eggs in it – either on the hob or in the oven – so that when served, the yolk spreads throughout the sauce.  Can you think of anything better?

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

The baked eggs, tomato and pepper stew at No. 67 arrives with two slices of lightly toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil, which I set aside for mopping up the remnants of the sauce later.  The egg, sat in the middle of the dish, is fresh and, although perhaps a touch overcooked for my liking, yields a little yolk into the sauce.  The stew itself is rich and thick, made with what I suspect to be the best quality tinned tomatoes, rather than fresh, which for this time of year will give a more substantial flavour.  A strong kick of black pepper and a smoky hint of paprika give it a deep flavour that works alongside the richness of the egg.

A very substantial and tasty breakfast.  If you want something that sets itself apart from the usual Eggs Benedict / Florentine / Royale, this could be the spot for you.

No. 67 Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pitt Cue Co, Soho

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Without trying to solicit any sympathy for my current situation, I’m finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things following my recent trip to San Sebastian.  Despite returning home two days ago, I seem to be unable to shake off that holiday laziness; the kind that is in no rush to get up in the morning and gives you decisions no more complicated than what to eat for dinner.  A distinct lack of pintxos bars and ice-cold txakoli in the Fitzrovia/Marylebone area has sent me on an internet-searching quest of where to buy Basque wines in the UK instead of getting on to more pressing matters like unpacking my suitcase and updating my blog.

On my last day in the office before going on annual leave, I met Claire for lunch.  I have a terrible, and much-documented, track record of trying and failing to get a lunchtime table at Pitt Cue Co., so was pleased when I turned up early one Thursday lunchtime to find that I was first in the queue.  Pitt Cue Co. is notorious for its queues and long waiting times – partly because the food is excellent, its reputation first built upon a successful food truck based on the South Bank (among other places) and partly because their dining room has a mere 30 covers, mainly in tables of two.

Having strategically skipped breakfast and ordering a Soho Sour whilst waiting for Claire, I was ready for as much BBQ as I could eat.  The cocktail was a tastebud-stinging blend of bourbon, amaretto and lemon juice with ice and a fresh cherry.  Perhaps not the best option for lunchtime, but good to waken up the senses after a morning of terrible office coffee. 

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

The focus at Pitt Cue Co., understandably, is on the meat.  On arrival, the waiter and I gave each other a little smirk when one diner asked if there were vegetarian options.  The meat is served, largely, in two ways:  in a meal or in a bun, both with a side dish.  The former has the meat placed on one of their trademark vintage white tin bowls with the side dish and a few pickles, the latter serves the meat in a shiny brioche bun.  Claire and I both opted for the pulled pork, mine in a meal, hers in a bun.  Pulled pork is one of those food trends of the past few years that seems to have sprung up on menus all over town, although few manage to do it well.  I am lucky enough to live with a man who takes his pulled pork-making very seriously (although it is perhaps a little spicy for my taste – he is the Chilli Fiend after all).  Far from the dried out offerings of many a BBQ restaurant across the city, it is clear that the pulled pork at Pitt Cue Co has been seasoned and slow cooked with a great deal of care – it is moist, flavoursome, well-spiced and has that soft, almost gelatinous quantity that allows you to devour a great deal without even noticing.

Of the sides, the green chilli slaw was tasty enough, but the name led me to expect a lot more heat than was actually delivered.  The star of the show, however, the ultimate dish of the day was the bone marrow mashed potato.  I had heard from many others just how good this mashed potato was, but had never tried it for myself.  A swirl of perfectly smooth and buttery mashed potato arrives in a small tin dish with topped with a ladle of incredibly rich bone marrow gravy and a slab of garlic butter.  Not one for somebody who is watching their weight, but for the rest of us, sheer heaven.  It’s like the mash and gravy you wish came with every meal.  Be prepared to share though, as your dining companion will not be able to resist dipping their bread in, not matter how much you try to edge the dish to your side of the table.

My only real complaint with Pitt Cue is that a lunch of this size will generally render you immobile for the rest of the afternoon.  You will also smell like a BBQ as no amount of washing your hands will really get rid of that smoky meat smell.  Best to save it for a day when you can head home for an old movie and a snooze on the couch.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – it is dark in there!

Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Stuffed Squash

On Monday I attended the charity pub quiz at The Actress to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease. Quizteama Aguilera, despite our exemplary knowledge of lost 90s britpop tunes, did not manage to wint he quiz but, due to the generosity of local people and businesses there were a number of prizes, so we came away with vouchers for MEATLiquor, which we will all very much enjoy spending.  The pub’s landlord, Neil, is also running the marathon for this cause. His JustGiving page can be found here.

Due to a few Monday-night G&Ts and a full-on fridge raid when I got home, I have been trying to eat relatively healthily for the rest of the week, especially with the first fitting of the wedding dress looming.  A lone round of goats cheese in my fridge was threatening to jeopardise this, particularly due to its proximity to a jar of home-made red onion chutney and half a packet of crackers.  If I didn’t turn this into a meal, the temptation to have yet another midnight snack would be too high.

This week, the John Lewis Food Hall had a delightful basket of various different kinds of squash: pale butternuts, the teeny yellow ones and some beautifully vibrant orange acorn squashes. I popped one of the latter into my basket along with a leek, a red onion and some reduced-priced mushrooms.


Once home, I halved the squashes and scooped out the seeds and stringy mush from the centre, which left very deep scoops.  I scored the squash, rubbed it with olive oil and roasted in the oven for about half an hour until tender.  In a frying pan, I lightly sautéed the thinly sliced onion and leeks and finely chopped mushrooms in some butter, thyme, salt and the tiniest pinch of chilli flakes and used this to fill the cooked squash.  A crumble of the delightfully smelly goats cheese and a sprinkle of pine nuts later, it was ready to be returned to the oven for ten minutes.  The cheese melted and pine nuts lightly toasted, all it needed was a little drizzle of olive oil before eating in front of the TV.

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap using sauce from the Vini and Bal's range

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap using sauce from the Vini and Bal’s range

This week, spring arrived in London.  Of course, none of us have yet had the courage to venture out of the house without our coats as the London weather has a tendency to surprise us with a little cold snap when least expected but, as the old wives’ tale goes, March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, so this is definitely a sign of good things to come.

Good weather and large lunches, for me, often go hand in hand.  With so many great places to eat around my office, and many with outside tables, there is no excuse for eating al desko, as I generally do throughout the whole of the winter.  Great Titchfield Street has been a hive of activity during lunch this week, with people sitting out on the street drinking coffee around the entrances of Kaffeine and Scandinavian Kitchen.  After work the crowds generally drift to the outside spaces of the nearby pubs.  This week I discovered Gitane, a lovely little middle eastern cafe that makes vibrant salads and beautiful-looking mini cakes.  I ordered the special of the day, which was a fillet of salmon marinated in harissa and yoghurt and topped with a sprinkling of black onion seeds, served with rice and green salad.  At £8.90 it was a little more than the average take-out lunch around here, but it was really delicious.

Lunch from Gitane, Great Titchfield Street:  harissa and yoghurt marinated salmon with rice and salad

Lunch from Gitane, Great Titchfield Street: harissa and yoghurt marinated salmon with rice and salad

Whilst on the subject of salmon, I wanted to share another recipe I have concocted with the Vini and Bal’s sauces.  After a large lunch, a light dinner is definitely in order especially when, like me, you will need to squeeze yourself into a wedding dress in the coming months.  I had a pot of the Vini and Bal’s Fiery Mirchi sauce in the fridge, that had always been intended for seafood of some kind, but now became destined to become part of a spicy salmon wrap, perfect for a light supper on a day you have overindulged more than is necessary. 

The Fiery Mirchi sauce is the spiciest in the Vini and Bal’s range, perfect if you live with a chilli fiend.  Although most traditional spicy curries use meat as their main ingredient, I always think that seafood lends itself well to a more intense level of heat.  In this wrap I have used a salmon fillet, cooked in the sauce until it gives it a thick coating.  By the end of the cooking, there is only a little bit of sauce left, which can be spooned over the wrap during its construction.  To add a little bit of sweetness, I have included a smear of mango chutney (a store-cupboard staple I could not live without), although you could use yoghurt or raita if you preferred.  I used wholemeal tortilla wraps for this recipe as that is what I could find at my local bakery, however an Indian flatbread, such as a chapatti would work equally well.

Fiery Mirchi Salmon Wrap
Makes two

  • ½ cup basmati rice
  • Olive oil
  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 1 pot Vini and Bal’s Fiery Mirchi sauce
  • 2 wholemeal wraps, or chapattis (see above)
  • 2 tbsp mango chutney
  • 2 large handfuls salad leaves
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
  • ½ red chilli, finely chopped

Cook the rice according to packet instructions and set aside.

Heat the olive in in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.  Gently cook the salmon fillets, skin side down for a couple of minutes.  Add the Fiery Mirchi sauce and lower the heat to medium.  Continue to cook, spooning the sauce over the salmon fillets to coat them.  Gently turn the fillets to cook on each side, spooning the sauce over as you do so, until the salmon is fully cooked.  Be careful not to break up the fillet if possible.  This should take about 10 minutes or so and the sauce will have reduced a little.

Place the wholemeal wraps on to a plate.  Spread the mango chutney over the centre of the wrap and place the salad leaves and rice on top.  Gently place the salmon fillets on top of the salad leaves, in the centre of the wrap, and spoon over the remaining sauce from the frying pan.  Sprinkle over the chopped coriander and chilli and contruct the wrap by folding the bottom up over the filling and then folding over the sides.  The top should stay open.

More abut Vini and Bal’s here

Two Weekend Lunches: Ganapati and Cafe East

Whilst working from home on Friday, head in my hands and surrounded by piles of paper, Ollie suggested that I take a break and join him for lunch.  I was about to say that I didn’t have time when he suggested Ganapati, so I closed my laptop and off we went.  There is no shortage of Indian restaurants in our little part of south east London, however Ganapati sits head and shoulders above the myriad of curry houses on Lordship Lane and the Old Kent Road and is a real local favourite.  Ganapati has recently set up a take-away kitchen around the corner from its main site just off the Bellenden Road, which has caused a great deal of excitement in many a delivery postcode.  They also have an extremely good value lunch deal.


We started by sharing the vegetarian street snacks:  a plate containing two mysore bonda, potato and cashew dumplings fried in chickpea batter; and two vadai, ground chana dal with curry leaf and green chilli, shaped into patties and fried.  Both were perfectly hot and crispy without the greasiness that often accompanies fried starters.  We both agreed that we could not choose between them but, in hindsight, would have ordered a plate each.


The vegetarian thali main came on a large metal tray separated into sections.  The tomato-based vegetable and lentil curry had a huge kick of spices and curry leaves and was far hotter than I expected – so much so that Ollie the chilli fiend kept trying to sneak forkfuls when I wasn’t looking.  The accompaniements were great, by far my favourite part of the dish was a sweet and slightly spiced beetroot pickle that complemented the heat of the curry perfectly.  Ollie ordered the kingfish curry, which has perfectly cooked soft pieces of fish in a coconut and tamarind sauce. 

Most of the main courses on the Ganapti lunch menu are under £6, which makes it an excellent value lunch, especially as the prices are considerably higher in the evening.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, Peckham, London SE15 5DF

Having a rare day off together on Sunday, we went over to the Museum of London Docklands for the afternoon, where I have not been since my first year at Goldsmiths.  London’s history is so fascinating, especially that of the communities that lived and worked by the river.  I found this amusing piece of information about the women that worked at the fish market.

“Fish, espeically herring, was the staple food of the London poor.  In the 18th century, boats brought their catch bacl from fishing grounds off the coast of Norway, the Baltic and north of the Shetlands.  Women working at the fish market had a reputation for toughness and sharp language.  Some even earned additional income as bare-knuckle fighters.”  – The Museum of London Docklands

The museum is rather enormous, so by the time we got to the bit about rebuilding the docklands we had worked up quite an appetite, so headed over to Cafe East in Surrey Quays for a late Vietnamese lunch.  When you first get off the Overground, this seems like the last place you are going to find one of south-east London’s gems.  To get to it, you have to walk past all of the usual horrors you would expect to find in a retail park:  Frankie & Benny’s, Pizza Hut, generic-American grill restaurants et cetera.  However, when you get right to the back, there is a little unassuming brick hut that makes some of the best Vietnamese food south of the river – obviously the Kingsland Road is the go-to destination for pho but sometimes you just don’t want to go to Shoreditch…


After the customary chuckle at the “We do not serve tap water” sign at the entrance, we took up a table and ordered some Vietnamese iced coffee.  It’s always a bit of a shame that they don’t offer hot coffee with condensed milk as other restaurants do, as I prefer this to the iced stuff.



We started with an order of banh cuon, steamed rolls filled with minced pork and chinese mushrooms and topped with meatloaf and some delicious fried shallots; and the goi cuon, known to the rest of us as ‘summer rolls’, filled with pork and prawn.  Both were generous in size and very fresh.  The summer rolls were not overloaded with fresh mint, which many often are, so the other flavours were able to come through.  They came with a peanut sauce and a ferociously spicy chilli dipping sauce.



I ordered the lemongrass pork chop, a sweet, slightly spicy, sticky sliced pork served over boiled rice, which was just the right combination of moistness and chewiness.  Despite being well-coated in the sauce, the flavour of the pork still came through well.  I thought a splash of the summer rolls’ dipping sauce might ruin it, but the pork actually benefitted well from the extra spice.  On the side were some innocuous looking pickles – shredded carrot and daikon – that were so perfect I wished there was more than the little pinch put on the side of the plate.  Ollie ordered the Pho Bo Hue – a slightly spicy variation of the traditional beef pho.  The beef brisket, cooked in the heat of the soup, were sliced perfectly thin and the slippery noodles and crisp vegetables made it a very substantial dish.  The little bowl of red chillies accompanying the soup were for the very brave only – even Ollie, who has the highest heat tolerance of anybody I know, only added three-quarters. 

I didn’t eat for the rest of the day after that.

Cafe East, Surrey Quays Leisure Park, 100 Redriff Road, London SE16 7LH.

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Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Peach Pancakes with Chai Syrup

Peach pancakes with chai syrup

Yesterday was sheer pancake pandemonium.  During a little trip to the John Lewis food hall at lunchtime to pick up some lunch and my free coffee (hurrah!), I ended up in a scrum of people desperately grasping for the bisquick, maple syrup and nutella.  The fridge containing the ready-made pancakes and raspberry coulis had been utterly decimated.  Luckily, they thought ahead and put everything into convenient little displays.  Gotta love John Lewis.  They did the same with the haggis and whisky in the run up to Burns night.

The pancake display in John Lewis

My Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds were full of pictures of pancakes, videos of people successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) flipping pancakes and an array of imaginative toppings.  Despite there being far too much squirty cream for my liking, I loved the fact that there were so many people all indulging in the same thing on the same evening.

Whenever Shrove Tuesday comes around I wonder why I don’t make pancakes more often, especially at the weekends when I have more time in the mornings to whip some up for breakfast.  My favourite kind is the American-style pancakes – the ones containing baking powder that fluff up when in the pan – stacked up as high as possible and drenched in syrup.  I first had them in the states about eight years ago and rejoiced when we all became culinary Americanophiles and they started popping up in diners here.  I love crepes too, but am terrible at making them.  Ollie worked in the John Lewis cafe whilst at sixth-form and his spell on the crepe stand made him a master crepe-maker.  Just a shame he often works through dinnertime.

I found the recipe for these pancakes in a magazine I picked up at JFK some years ago, it was called ‘Comfort Food’ or something similar.  Knowing I was going home to sub-zero temperatures in the UK I found it quite apt.  The magazine has since been discarded, save for a couple of recipes that were cut out and stuck into a notebook I use to house interesting cuttings.  So it is not really my recipe, but I know not whom to credit.  I have also converted the measurements into metric – I do have a set of cups at home, but prefer my scales.  Puréeing the peaches means that you get a smooth batter, however you could instead chop them very small if you are a fan of the fruity pancakes, like the ubiquitous blueberry ones.  The addition of wholemeal flour (I used half wholemeal wheat flour and half wholemeal spelt flour as that was what I had in the cupboard) gives it a more wholesome and grainy texture, although you could use entirely white flour if you wished.  The peach flavour is fairly subtle, however the addition of the chai syrup, made with the reserved juice from the can amps it up a little.  If you’re not into the flavour of chai, you could make it without the teabags or simply add a scant teaspoon of your favourite spice.

Peach Pancakes with Chai Syrup

For the pancakes

  • 2 tins of peach slices in syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • 125ml whipping cream
  • 180g wholemeal flour
  • 125g plain flour
  • 80g dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp fine salt

For the syrup

  • 250ml reserved peach syrup
  • 60g dark brown sugar
  • 65ml water
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 2 chai teabags

Start by making the chai syrup.  Combine the peach syrup, dark brown sugar, water and cornflour in a small saucepan and stir over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.  Add the teabags and cook and stir until the mixture is thickened and bubbling.  Cook for an extra two minutes before removing the teabags and allowing to cool.

To make the pancakes, pulse the peach slices in a food processor until puréed.  Transfer to a large bowl and, using a large balloon whisk, whisk in the eggs and cream until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, spices and salt.  Add this mixture to the peach puree, stirring until just combined.  The batter may be a little lumpy, but that is OK.

Lightly grease a small skillet or frying pan and place over a medium-high heat.  Ladle some of the batter into the pan and gently spread out with a spatula.  Cook until bubbles start to form on the surface and the edges look dry.  Gently flip the pancake over using a large spatula and cook on the other side.

Served stacked and drenched in chai syrup.