Bite Street Food at Chrisp Street Market, Poplar

Street food has been around in London for longer than you think.  Long before the Thames ceased to be a working river, oysters were sold on the banks for hungry dockers.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, baked potatoes were sold from shop fronts and house windows in some of the more notorious London slums as a form of cheap sustenance.  And we all remember the ubiquitous kebab vans outside of late night bars and gig venues in the more recent past.

In recent years, however, street food has taken on a new form offering affordable gourmet food to Londoners.  Whether on their lunch hour or lazily meandering around markets at the weekend, the street food van is never far away.  Once, Borough Market was the only real option for street food, but more recently markets have begun to pop up across the capital, some in rather unexpected places.

Poplar, in East London, is not the first place you think of as a gastronomic destination; but the new Bite Street Food collective are seeking to rejuvenate the culinary reputation of the area right at its centre:  Chrisp Street Market.  With traders hailing from the local area, and across London, and entertainment from local performers, a charmingly frayed town square is transformed into a market to rival any lunchtime markets across London.  I was invited to come down and check it out.  And told to come hungry.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

We Walk the Line Coffee.

My first stop, as always, was for coffee.  On the far side of the market, I found a man making coffee seemingly whilst cycling.  We Walk the Line is a social initiative to encourage disadvantaged young people and ex-offenders become entrepreneurs through selling coffee.  The bike powers the grinder, which grinds up the Nude Espresso beans for the coffee.  A very good cup indeed.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

An humitas empanada: corn and chilli.

After this, I popped to Boca Empanadas, which sell those little Argentine pastries I love so much.  My favourite is the humitas, which contains corn and chilli.  These were perfect – crispy pastry and both sweet and spicy in the middle.  Limiting myself to one was very difficult.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

Jerk chicken. Bargain.

My plan was to try a number of small items, so that I could sample as much as possible.  On the hunt for my next snack, I came across the bargain of the century:  three jerk wings for ONE POUND.  My weakness for good jerk is well documented and I couldn’t resist.  These were really good.  Spicy with the unmistakable hit of scotch bonnets, with an underlying kick of lime and allspice.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan burger from Ruperts Street.

Vegan street food has been growing in popularity in recent years, so I was not surprised to see a vegan vendor on the site, Ruperts Street.  I managed to snag the very last item of the day: a vegan burger.  A sweet potato and lentil patty with a smear of relish on a wholemeal seeded bun.  It came with a delicious kale salad, for extra health points.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

The lovely Cat and her cake creations.

Never one to end a meal without having dessert, I popped over to Cat Food Cakes, to see the lovely Cat and her crazy creations.  The market took place on Hallowe’en, so there were some beautiful cupcakes and brownies with spiderwebs, pumpkins and ghosts.  Spying a chocolate cupcake decorated with candy corns, I quickly nabbed it.  A candy corn in the UK is a difficult thing to find.  Sadly Cat did not have a supplier: her boyfriend brought them back from a trip to the states.

Bite will be taking place on the last Friday of every month at Chrisp Street Market in Poplar.  If you should find yourself free on a Friday lunchtime, it is definitely worth a trip over to check it out.  The vendors are not those that you will find at the bigger street food markets, such as KERB, Brockley or Broadway; but they are an excellent representation of cooking in the diverse east end.  I also spied a Ghanian lady selling jollof rice, and a young man making Louisiana gumbo, but could not manage all of these in the same afternoon.  It seems another visit is in order.

Also: Canary Wharf office workers, take note.

For transparency, I was invited to visit Bite Street Food.

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

Double espresso and brazil nut cake

I seem to be making a lot of cakes lately.  Perhaps it’s making up for lost time in the lead up to my wedding where I barely made any.  Also, making cakes in the summer is a bit of a nightmare, isn’t it?  I made four for a friend’s wedding this year and had to ice them in a marquee on the hottest day of the summer, whilst decorations were put up around me, bands soundchecked and the wine began to arrive, also needing fridge space.  My icing kept melting, which resulted in several dashes to said fridges to try to chill it before the cakes were ruined completely.  If I ever came close to understanding the stress of the contestants on The Great British Bake Off, it was then.  Worth it in the end, though, as the wedding was amazing.

Anyway, last weekend I made this cake for my brother-in-law, his girlfriend and her parents who were busy renovating their flat.  They’re not just painting and doing a bit of moderate DIY, this is the ripping-down-walls-rebuilding-new-ones kind of renovating which, I imagine, is pretty hungry work. 

This cake is one I have made time and time again, and it comes from my favourite baking book, Dan Lepard‘s Short and Sweet.  It is a great alternative to a coffee and walnut cake and uses so much coffee that the flavour is really quite strong.  The finely chopped brazil nuts and spelt flour give it a coarse texture all the way through, rather than a cake studded with nuts, which is often the way. 

It also has coffee water icing.  Which is basically espresso and icing sugar.  What’s not to like about that?

Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake

For the cake
100ml whole milk
2 tsp instant espresso powder
1 tbsp fine-ground coffee beans
175g unsalted butter, softened
100g soft light brown sugar
100g caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g plain flour
100g wholegrain spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g brazil nuts, finely chopped, plus extra for decoration

For the icing
200g icing sugar, sifted
3 tbsp strong espresso

Preheat the oven to 180ºc.  Grease two sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. 

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, espresso powder and ground coffee and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little. 

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated.  Beat in the coffee mixture.

Fold in both flours, the baking powder and the brazil nuts until you have an even smooth batter.  Do not overwork it. Scrape the batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes until risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, mix together the icing sugar and espresso until smooth and thick.  If it is too runny, add more sugar; similarly, if it is too stiff, add more coffee, a little at a time.  Using a palette knife, spread the icing over the top of the cooled cakes.  Place one cake on top of the other and decorate with the remaining brazil nuts.

Three Good Cafes Near BBC Broadcasting House

Trying to find a moment of peace in an ordinary working London week is like trying to find a two-bedroom flat in Zone 2 for less than £1,000 per month.  You know it exists because other people have it, but it just doesn’t seem to happen for you.  Non-city dwellers find it difficult to understand the way we Londoners rush from place to place, walking faster than many can run and trying  to squeeze on to already packed tubes when another one will be along in two minutes, but it’s just because we have so much to do.  When we do finally arrive home for the evening, there is no guarantee of peace as due to the astronomical property prices, we’re all living on top of each other.  Last night my next door neighbour came home a little worse for wear and dropped his keys on the mat four times before he finally got them into the lock.  Cursing creatively each time.

This week, trying to make it to the weekend has involved an obstacle course of a full working week, two blogger events, an impromptu pub crawl with old friends and a Band of Bakers meeting.  I’ve been to almost every corner of the city and have the blisters to prove it.  Even my precious night in last night involved budget planning, wedding planning and who knows what else.  Eating dinner in front of my laptop is becoming a habit.  Friday has never felt so good.

One thing that I have been thankful for this week is the abundance of good cafes close to my office.  It’s only when you’ve worked in an obscure part of London you realise the beauty of the West End and its many eateries.  When you’re too tired to make breakfast, need a mid-morning pick-me-up or simply want to have coffee with a friend, there they are.  So this may not be useful to many of you who do not work in this lovely little part of London, but here are some cafes close to BBC New Broadcasting House that will always save the day when you’re having a tough week:

Attendant, Foley Street
This was my main discovery this week, so it warrants two blog posts.  I had often been curious about the little cafe in the Victorian converted toilet and, this week, I found out just how good it was.  It was their first birthday on Tuesday, so I popped along to have a flat white and little salted caramel brownie and enter their raffle (which, sadly, I didn’t win).  The following day, with a bit of a headache caused by necking amaretto sours in The Palmerston, I popped in again for breakfast.  It’s a great little place and, one you get over the idea of drinking coffee in a cleaned-up urinal, one you will keep wanting to come back to.  They use Caravan coffee and have a small but perfectly formed range of pastries, cakes and sandwiches.  Plus the staff are bloody lovely.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, Great Titchfield Street
There are few people who work around here that have not been to the Scandinavian kitchen and, in recent years, it has become something of a Fitzrovia institution.  Often they have a board outside offering ‘free hugs’, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s a nice change from the general soup/sandwich lunch options in the many chain cafes on Oxford Street and Regent Street – they do a lunch deal of three or five items that you can select to make up your own smoregsboard.  On my last visit I opted for egg on rye, a smoked salmon wrap and a pickled cabbage salad.  Their coffee is good and their cinnamon buns pretty damn excellent.

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Kaffeine, Great Titchfield Street
This antipodean-style cafe is one of the best-known coffee shops in London and is famous for the quality of their coffee and the experience of their baristas.  They use Square Mile beans and have a delicious range of breakfasts and sandwiches which, admittedly, are a little on the expensive side.  It is a local favourite and is always packed out around breakfast and lunch.  If you get the chance, try the Anzac Biscuits for a taste of down under.

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Attendant Cafe, Fitzrovia

I have been often curious about a little cafe behind my office that was once an underground public toilet.  Today was their first birthday, which seemed like a great opportunity to satisfy that curiosity by meeting my friend Jon there for coffee.

The former toilet that houses Attendant Cafe was apparently built in around 1890 and fell derelict in the 1960s before being converted last year.  The cafe’s owners have stayed true to its origins by keeping a number of the original features.  As you walk through the doors and down into the depths of Foley Street, you are greeted with a wall of graffiti, an amusing nod to how most public spaces are often treated.  The walls inside are lined with the archetypal white tiles you might expect from a public convenience and one of the main seating areas is a row of converted Victorian urinals complete with a (hopefully) decorative flush.

Sadly a lunch meeting prevented me from trying any of their delicious sandwiches, but I did manage a sneaky miniature salted caramel brownie (a little bargain at £1), which had the right amount of salt and sweetness.  The coffee is Caravan, which I am already a huge fan of, and the flat whites expertly made.  Being a mere three minute stroll from my office, it is very likely that this will become a regular spot.

Attendant Cafe, 27a Foley Street, LondonW1W 6DY.  @Attendantcafe

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Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

I have been trying to blog about this for a couple of days but, typically of the past week, life has gotten in the way. Yesterday was my last day in my job so as well as tying up loose ends and handing over unfinished work, I was taken off to The Mitre in Holland Park and bought many G&Ts by my colleagues. I lost count of how many I had but, needless to say, this morning I had the kind of hangover that only a couple of strong painkillers and a Mike & Ollie lamb shoulder wrap could cure.

Prior to the carnage, Thursday was my final turn on the office baking rota. The baking rota has been a long-standing tradition in my office – each Thursday, different colleagues bring in home-baked goodies for the team. This is looked forward to and enormously well-received. In fact, I have never baked for more excitable recipients than my (now former) team.

As it was my last turn on the rota, I took in a few things: the sausage rolls with apricots and caramelised onions, the classic old rhubarb and ginger cake and a batch of coffee and walnut cupcakes. I had initially intended only to make the first two, however on finding I had all of the ingredients in the house, and two cupcake boxes taking up valuable space in the cupboard, I decided to add these to the list.

Coffee and walnut is one of those retro favourites, loved by tearooms everywhere. I have made countless coffee cakes over the years – it is my Dad’s favourite, so I make one for his birthday every year, although he hates walnuts, so I always leave them out. I also love Dan Lepard’s recipe for Double Espresso and Brazil Nut Cake  and James Martin’s Coffee and Cardamom Cake. Whatever your preferred variationof this old classic, the golden rule is not to skimp on the coffee. I like a strong coffee flavour so will make a strong espresso with the coffee machine or use powdered instant espresso, a recent discovery. A good coffee and walnut recipe is a great addition to any baking repertoire, and can easily be converted to cupcakes.

Coffee and Walnut Cupcakes

For the cakes:

  • 125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 40ml espresso
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g walnuts, finely chopped

For the icing:

  • 100g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 30ml espresso
  • Walnuts, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 175ºc / 350ºf / gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cupcake cases.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture begins to look curdled at this point, beat in a tablespoon of the flour until it comes together. Beat in the espresso.

Fold in the flour and baking powder until just combined. Gently fold in the walnuts.

Divide the mixture between the cupcake cases and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minute until risen and golden. A skewer inserted into the centre of a cake should come out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, beat the butter in the bowl of a freestanding mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the icing sugar and beat until a smooth icing is formed.  Add the coffee and beat until fully mixed.  Pipe on to the top of the cooled cupcakes and top with some walnut pieces.

Makes 12 cupcakes.