Category Archives: FOOD

Top five London restaurants for delicious dumplings

My friend Barbara, food expert and traveller, has just written a mouth-watering book: Dumplings: A Global History. She’s eaten her way from her native northern Italy to the yurts of Mongolia, sampling everything from gnocchi to wonton. Just like the dishes she describes her book is stuffed with tasty morsels: anecdotes of her trails, the evolution of exotic dishes, ceremonial feasting, rituals and recipes. Lucky Londoners can follow in Barbara’s footsteps without heading for Heathrow:  I’ve asked her to share her top five London dumpling restaurants.

New Culture Revolution, Angel, Islington

Food writer Barbara Gallani checks out the dumplings at New Culture Revolution, Islington.

Over steaming bowls of jiaozi at New Culture Revolution near Angel station Barbara explained how most world cuisines include some form of dumpling: dough made from ingredients including flour, bread and potatoes, and served in broth or with a filling. They are usually basic “comfort food”, but can also be highly refined and require complex preparation. Barbara’s top five cover them all, as she explains below.

Asian New Culture Revolution, Angel. “Everything here is home-made, including the broth. The dumplings are chunky and packed with tasty, simple ingredients. I usually order the jiaozi or what Americans call pot stickers—wontons that are steamed then pan-fried.”

Italian Locanda Locatelli, Marylebone.  “The ravioli here change with the seasons. Locatelli always uses the best and freshest ingredients. My favourite is the ravioli brasato, filled with tender meat—usually beef—that has been slow-cooked for around 12 hours. All the dishes are rooted in Italian traditions, but Locatelli cooks them in his own style, making the flavours really jump out. I also recommend Jamie’s Italian in Covent Garden. The ravioli-making machine at Jamie’s entrance is a good sign!”

Polish Zamoyski, Hampstead. “Zamoyski is a neighbourhood restaurant that has been serving dumplings for decades rather than years. I usually have the very reasonably priced 12-course set menu. Try the uszka (“little ears”) pierogi stuffed with mushrooms or the ruskie, filled with cheese and onions. The restaurant is also known for its excellent beetroot borscht soup and long list of flavoured vodkas.

Pierogi from Baba Jaga

Pierogi ready for the pot, from Baba Jaga, East Finchley.

“You can find pierogi to cook at home in the many Polish delis dotted around London. My favourite is Baba Jaga in East Finchley, next to the Phoenix Cinema. Boil the pierogi in broth for five minutes and serve with a knob of butter.”

West African African Torch Restaurant, Tottenham. “This is a small, simple, authentic restaurant near the station. They serve delicious dishes with fufu, an unfilled staple in a stew of meat, fish or vegetables. The dumplings are quite substantial, and are mainly used to mop up the tasty soup.”

Hungarian Gay Husssar, Soho.  “Head here for a taste of real Hungarian dumplings, just like the ones I had in Budapest. The décor is exquisitely old-fashioned and the waiters attentive. The menu includes large fish dumplings (halgaluska) served with dill sauce and smaller wheat-based dumplings (galuska) teamed with a deliciously thick vegetarian goulash of paprika and mushrooms.”

The restaurants above are Barbara’s long-standing favourites, but new places are springing up all over town. One of her lunch favourites is the Japanese gyoza dumplings in a vegetable soup at the Strand branch of Itzu. So keep an eye out for the onward march of dumplings: Turkish manti, Austrian knödel and more.

Fast dumplings all over town: Japanese gyoza at Itzu.

Fast dumplings all over town: Japanese gyoza at Itzu.

Dumplings: A Global History by Barbara Gallani. Reaktion Books, The Edible Series. Published on 15 April, £8.79. Pre-order and find out more at https://www.facebook.com/barbaradumpling.

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London Slant: Bournemouth—art, fantasy and haddock by the beach

Art is now as much a part of the English seaside as fish and chips on the beach. Margate has Turner Contemporary, Hastings has The Jerwood Gallery and then there’s Bournemouth—with the granddaddy of them all. So, one sunny Saturday found me heading out of London Waterloo bound for a splash of culture on the south coast.

Russell-Cotes Museum

The Russell-Cotes Museum, set in beautiful gardens.

Jumping down from the train, I made straight for Bournemouth Pier—then turned to look back inland at what I’d come to see. Perched high above the promenade was the flamboyant former East Cliff Hall—now the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum—the treasure-stuffed extravaganza of wealthy Victorian entrepreneur Merton Russell-Cotes. Owner of an adjacent grand hotel, he built the mansion in 1901 as a gift for his wife, Annie.

Russell-Cotes Museum

The Dining Room of the Russell-Cotes Museum.

If I was impressed by the turrets and balustrades of its fanciful exterior I was even more dazzled when I went inside. This was once home to a couple who travelled the world and brought back curiosities from every continent. When they went to Japan in 1885 they returned with 100 packing cases stuffed with objets d’art, many now displayed in The Mikado’s Room.

Russell-Cotes manga

Page from a “manga” produced by the museum, based on Annie Russell-Cotes’ travel journal of the couple’s trip to Japan.

The couple’s enthusiasm for culture and life itself pours out of every artefact and architectural flourish. Golden peacocks strut around the wood-panelled dining room ceiling. A fountain surrounded by torchères sits at the centre of the Main Hall, its walls hung with lavish paintings including Rossetti’s sultry Venus Verticorda. There’s a Moorish alcove inspired by their visit to the Alhambra, a fanciful boudoir where Annie had tea with Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice and a room full of memorabilia associated with Shakespearean actor Henry Irving whom Merton greatly admired.

Russell-Cotes Museum

The grand staircase leads down to the Main Hall, with its exotic pool.

Victorian portraits, landscapes and genre scenes cover every surface; four art galleries unfold one after another, with sculptures, ceramics and works by artists like Alma-Tadema and Lord Leighton. Ethnographic pieces range from a Norwegian sleigh the couple brought back for their children to an Ashanti wisdom stool and an impressive model of a Maori canoe. It’s a heady mix, but there are seats among the palms in the conservatory to take a break and admire the sea views.

Russelll-Cotes Museum

The Upper Gallery, crammed with art.

Russelll-Cotes Museum

Even the elaborate ladies’ loo is a work of art.

As if the permanent collection was not reason itself to visit, the Russell-Cotes is currently hosting an exhibition of works by William and Evelyn De Morgan: The De Morgans and the Sea.  This display of paintings and ravishing Arts and Crafts ceramics is every inch as exuberant and colourful as the house in which they currently find themselves.

Russell-Cotes Museum

William De Morgan: sea snake tile panel.

 

Rusell-Cotes Museum

Evelyn De Morgan: The Sea Maidens.

The Russell-Cotes sits in beautiful grounds that include a small Japanese garden and a grotto. I sat there in the sun, then wandered down to the beach below. And there, right on cue, was a Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips shop offering haddock in crunchy batter to complete my classic day out beside the sea.

 

Journey from London Waterloo to Bournemouth takes just under 2 hours, then 15 minutes’ walk. The De Morgans and the Sea continues until 28 September 2014.

 

 

London Slant: Prepare for takeoff on a gastro-journey into the unknown

What sort of crazy person would stump up £50 weeks in advance for an unspecified dinner at an unknown London location anywhere between Highbury and Croydon?

It turns out there are lots of us about. I was lucky to get a slot: tickets disappeared with a swoosh.

And so, one evening at 6pm I was anxiously awaiting a text to tell me where I’d be eating that night. Please, please, don’t let it be Croydon, I thought—a one-hour-plus schlep back home. I couldn’t believe it when my phone pinged with instructions to hot-foot it to a location ten minutes from my front door. My secret themed dinner, part of a season of wacky gourmet evenings by event organisers Gingerline, was off to a flying start.

Planet Gingerline

Arrival at the entrance: let the evening begin.

The given address might have been my stomping ground, but it wasn’t easy to find. After circling around a dilapidated community centre I eventually arrived at the appointed place. I shuffled down a concrete ramp, into the basement of a disused council building that had been kitted out like Thunderbirds.

Planet Gingerline

Our flight attendant hosts, who provided drinks, dinner and dance.

An orange-haired flight attendant checked me in. It was cocktails all round before I and my fellow 80 or so ‘travellers’ took our seats at tables ready for our journey into outer space. Safety instructions for the gastronomical voyage were issued and with much whooshing and juddering we were off.

Planet Gingerline

One of the innovative courses: a mix of unexpected tastes.

My heart sank when the first course arrived in polystyrene containers. But when I started eating I realised it was all part of the spacey show—not a foretaste of packaged food to come. Amazingly, the concoction of goat’s cheese lollipops and a salad with dressing served in a syringe was rather good.

Next up was a dish called UFO: a seafood ravioli with a roast pepper coulis and a dash of cumin—mmmmm. Now I started to concentrate on the food. An illuminated glass dome arrived, showcasing a duck confection in billowing dry ice. Then came chocolate with explosive ‘space dust’.

In between dishes we were led behind the scenes on sundry research missions: the evening rocketed past at the speed of light. All too soon we were ordered to prepare for landing, urged to keep the event a secret so as not to spoil the surprise for others—and disgorged back into the east London night.

Gingerline is taking bookings for its next series, somewhere along the Jubilee line, from today. Previous dinner scenarios have included a magical wood, a gothic Christmas and a casino. What will they come up with next?