New addiction alert: Smoked Bacon & Scallop Sandwich

Bacon and Scallops have always been good friends, a tried and tested combination I’m sure many of you have tried before.  Only this time, try it in a sandwich. Salty, smoky, chewy bacon meets sweet, succulent scallop, wedged in doorstep slices of the softest white loaf.  This will make you raise your eyebrows I’m sure – that was my reaction when I first heard of it. But trust me, it’s good.  Better than good.  It’s ‘Up There’ with the All Time Top Weekend Breakfasts.

Don’t mess around with crap bacon for this. It’s got to be good quality and thick cut. I had some of my favourite smoked molasses bacon from Brixton Village Market, and some very fine hand dived scallops from Moxon’s Fishmonger, roe still intact.

The choice of bread is also important – you want a super soft white loaf – cut thick enough to hold everything in place as you munch away.  After frying the bacon, I quickly seared the scallops and roe in the same pan, adding a little butter.  Once cooked I let the scallops rest, and wiped the pan clean with one slice of the sandwich bread before assembling the tastiest sandwich ever. Enough said.

French and Grace (and a bit of Jay Rayner)

The tables were turning in more ways than one when I popped in to get my fill of Jay Rayner at French and Grace (Brixton Village) this Easter. This all came about from a challenge given to Jay by the editor of The Observer Magazine – the challenge was to make as much profit as possible from a mere £100. What with being a food critique and fan of Brixton Village himself, the natural conclusion of course was to devise, cook and serve a cheap but tasty Special to the ogling public (that includes me). Was this kind or crazy for the girls at French and Grace to accept?!?

Jay’s dish du jour was announced a few days before to “a bunch of people on Twitter who are so desperate for a distraction from their jobs that they will read anything” (again, that includes me) – Slow cooked Pork Belly with White Beans – sounds good to me.

Donned in chef whites and a Marco Pierre White-esque bandaner, Jay didn’t look 100% himself in the cosy kitchen, and understandably so for the service was a busy one and the punters were keen to converse. The kitchen is on full display and we were sat close enough to hear the chopping of knife on board and fat sizzling away in the pan.  I’m no stranger to the sensation after working in a french chalet with an open plan kitchen for 6 months, trying to juggle 6 pans, chit chat and children tugging at my apron strings. Alas, nothing that Rosie and Ellie (the founders of French and Grace) don’t have to contend with on a daily basis!

And so the food arrives. I went for the Pork Belly Special and my man chose the Uber Wrap, a Middle Eastern inspired dish with Lamb Merguez (spiced lamb sausage), Halloumi, Hummus and Salad in a flatbread.

The Pork Belly I have to say was really well cooked – gloriously tender meat, no knife needed here, with just the right amount of juicy fat. It was nicely caramelised so full of flavour, and the jus which was flavoured with thyme, oozed into the beans and brought the whole dish together.  Every bean on that plate was squashed to mop up the meaty pork sauce! A simple, no frills dish that was well executed.

I had a mouthful of the the mans Uber Wrap which was equally tasty.  The combination of lamb and halloumi is always a crowd pleaser and I thought the Merguez had a decent amount of spice.  The typical menu at French and Grace has a strong Middle Eastern theme with Mezze platters, Flatbread Wraps and other specials that change frequently.  I’m keen to return and sample more.

Big thanks to the team at French and Grace for a lovely lunch – I hope you enjoyed your post service drink!  Well deserved indeed.

Honest Burgers

Ode to a cheeseburger what a wonderful thing
With pickles, onions tomatoes and cheese 
I’m easy to please
With its buns and seeds it has no needs
Except to fill you up even if you get stuck
And yell oh shucks! 
With its cousin the French fry
It tells no lies
With ketchup in your right 
and the last fry in your left
Its just the burger on your plate
It truly is impossible to hate 

(by Matt Karger)

Poems…..about Burgers…..Really???

I stand corrected, because sometimes it’s justified.  One of the ultimate american indulgences. There’s been a resurgence in the humble burger of late, with a number of establishments offering their take on the ‘Ultimate’ burger. Special attention has been paid to every individual element – from the Bun to the Cheese to the Patty and other accompaniments abound.

Burger Turf Wars have begun.  From the various comments/reviews I have read there seems to be a significant amount of debate on what constitutes the Ultimate Burger, with most of these burger joints being slammed on one point or another.  Rare vs. Medium, American Cheese vs. British, Relish vs. no Relish, Toasted Bun vs. Steamed Bun, Knife vs. Knife & Fork (you can’t please everyone).

So I arrive at Honest Burgers, “A London Restaurant inspired by great British produce”, located in the vibrant Brixton Village on a mid-week night to get my fill. The place is popular, we arrive a little later than planned and break into a frown when we see there are no free tables and there’s a 45 minute wait to be seated (I wouldn’t normally mind but we had somewhere to be). The smile quickly returns when we are told they do takeaway – “2 Specials Please!  And 2 Samuel Smith’s To Go”.

10 minutes later, our burgers arrive and we pull up a couple of chairs at the end of the indoor market.  Chomping away in our own private abyss, with the echo of the band drifting through.  We have nothing to whinge about.

The current special is a Beef Patty with Bone Marrow, a rasher of Smoked Bacon, Red Leicester Cheese, Parsley, White Onion and House Pickled Cucumber, served with House Fries flavoured with Rosemary.

Honest Burgers have received criticism on numerous points (the bun is too dry, I don’t like relish, the burger is too small, I prefer American cheese, my Patty was rare not medium rare, my patty was over-cooked not rare). Perhaps I have too much spare time on my hands but I feel the need to be Honest about these Burgers.   I happen to like British Red Leicester Cheese, and I like my meat rare, and I like relish, and I like Rosemary for that matter.  And I’m not one to fret about why I’ve been given a knife instead of a knife and fork.  It’s a Burger – pick it up with both hands and devour is my philosophy.  Is this the Ultimate American Burger? No.  Is this the Ultimate British Burger? Perhaps.

I enjoyed it.  I really enjoyed it. Biting into the burger was engulfing and unctuous.  I couldn’t especially distinguish the Bone Marrow from the rest of the flavours (I believe it is spread onto the Bun) but am sure it added to the overall umami savouriness of each bite. My Bun didn’t give way and I especially enjoyed the pickled cucumber, left in whole strips and giving a welcome sweetness and acidity to each bite. The Fries were well cooked, with the addition of Rosemary being a nice attention to detail.  Although I agree with many comments that they were a touch over seasoned. For those who say their burgers are too small – it’s not a Wide Boy but a Phat Patty, and for me was a perfectly satisfying amount.

The (take-away) service was friendly and I can only commend their 10 minute turnaround for take-away when they had a full house.  Not the cheapest haunt in Brixton Village – it came close to £30 for 2 Specials and 2 beers to takeout.  But I’ve sampled many of the restaurants in the Village and don’t think this is over priced given the sourcing of their ingredients, home pickling and attention to detail that many other joints don’t offer.

Honest Burgers, I stand by you and I am glad your are on my doorstep.  Till next time.

Casa Sibilla

Born of Paola Sibilla and located in the heart of Brixton Village, Casa Sibilla is a cosy Italian restaurant with a modest range of deli products on offer too.  Paola’s food philosophy is “…exalting food in all its goodness and simplicity, to avoid spoiling it by adding too many ingredients or flavours.”

The core ingredients are sourced on a weekly basis from Italy, hence the menu changes frequently to showcase seasonal produce.  The menu is limited (in a good way) with several choices for starter, main and dessert and a separate menu for drinks and nibbles.

We came on a Sunday afternoon and the restaurant wasn’t too busy, compared to some of the competition with queues leading outside the doors.  A little squashed inside, this was more endearing than annoying with most of the restaurants in Brixton Village sharing the same characteristic.

To start with we shared an antipasti for 1 – the size was much bigger than expected so we were glad we chose to share.  The cold meats were salami and mortadella, accompanied by various warm nibbles – roasted aubergine with tomato and black olive, stuffed mushroom, red pepper and tomato and baby courgettes topped with breadcrumbs, a little square of omelette/fritatta, a meatball with tomato ragu, and finally, new potatoes topped with something (i’m not sure what it was!).  It was all quite tasty – non-fussy and rustic italian flavours.

For main, my sister opted for Ravioli with Tomato Sauce, and I chose the slow cooked Lamb Belly with Parmesan Mash and greens. My lamb was incredibly tender and melted in the mouth, simply cooked with herbs and carrots for a little sweetness. The Parmesan Mash, speckled with fried onions and parmesan was tasty and added a savoury note without overpowering the lamb. Two types of green were served – stems of Chard, and what I think was Barba dei Frati aka ‘Monk’s Beard’.  This was the first time I’ve tried Monk’s Beard, cultivated mainly in Sicily, Spain and Northern Africa from March through to July and I’d like to see more of it in the UK. It adds an earthy, mineral rich flavour and has a more delicate texture than other leafy greens. I think this showcases Paola’s dedication to sourcing seasonal ingredients from her country of origin.

The Ravioli dish was not the one advertised on the menu for the day since it had run out. Unfortunately I can’t remember the filling of the ravioli – I tried one and it wasn’t especially distinctive or memorable but the pasta was well cooked and still al dente. The accompanying Tomato sauce was flavoursome and quite light.

All in all, from the dishes I sampled today I think Paolo Sibilla demonstrates her food philosophy by serving rustic dishes based on seasonal produce without over complicating flavours or sacrificing the essence of an ingredient. The service was friendly but I have to comment on the slow turnaround times – in a restaurant less than half full we waited 40 minutes for 1 starter and another 40 minutes for the mains to arrive which I did feel was excessive given that the dishes we ordered would have largely been cooked in advance. At £41 for 1 starter, 2 mains and a bottle of sparkling water, it wasn’t especially good value for money.  That said, I would try it again – but next time I’ll remember to put that extra hour on the parking ticket!