Monday, 8 February 2016

Oka Restaurant, Kingly Court, London

Located in Kingly Court, in London's Carnaby district, Oka Kingly Court is a dinky little restaurant I visited for lunch recently with Him Indoors and my brother in law. 



Oka lists itself as a Japanese, Pan-Asian and Fusion restaurant. However, I would suggest that other than a couple of dishes, it is very much a sushi and robota restaurant, with strong Japanese character. We did try a Mongolian and a Korean influenced dish

We decided to begin with some sushi, with the intention of moving to cooked and hot food later on in our lunch.

Tuna Hosomaki, £4.95


These home made, hand made sushi rice rolls were wrapped in nori seaweed, served with pickled ginger and kizami wasabi. This type of wasabi is not the same as in your standard sushi joint. Here the wasabi is chopped into tiny pieces and pickled with herbs. Given that many sushi places do not use actual wasabi and use horseradish dyed green, this was a fascinating difference. The Hosomaki were generous on the amount of super fresh fish, where other restaurants might try to skimp on the seafood. They were, in addition, not overly heavy on the rice. The nori was crispy since the Hosomaki were made to order and brought to us immediately. 

Tuna Nigiri (usually £3.95 for 2, we ordered three and paid pro-rata for one extra)

I'll confess: tuna is currently my favourite fish for sushi. I've tried eel, salmon, prawns, sea bass, squid, octopus, and mackerel. But fatty tuna and tuna are my favourites. I therefore demanded tuna nigiri as a non-negotiable part of my lunch. (I'm one of those people who has certain "non-negotiable" food items... When I go out for Spanish Tapas, Padron peppers are a quid pro quo!) 



Look at that fish! Nigiri is often a sliver, an apology for a slice of fish on top of a large block of rice. The rice is often just like the towering stone monolith on the front cover of "Who's Next"; huge and out of all proportion. Rice is cheap, fish is not, so there is usually a lot more of the rice than fish. I was impressed with the amount of tuna, which was fresh and flavourful. More of the kizami wasabi and pickled ginger, and a good amount too (don't you hate it when they skimp on the condiments?!) and I was a very happy bunny. Yes, that is a cup of cold sake you can just about make out. Delicious, floral and clean tasting sake to wash my sushi down. My idea of heaven. 

Salmon and Unagi nigiri

Salmon nigiri (£3.50 for two), Unagi (eel) nigiri (£5.50 for two), we ordered three and paid pro-rata for one extra.


The salmon was flavourful with great "bite", any fan of al dente pasta will know what I mean here. Nothing is worse than mushy seafood! The freshwater eel was served cooked and bound to the sushi rice with a band of nori. Before you exclaim about the fact the eel was cooked - this is necessary as raw eel can cause health risks. The tender eel had delicate flavours and was perfectly cooked. 

Dragon roll with prawn tempura, asparagus, spicy mayo, topped with avocado £8.50


This is a sushi dish made up of interesting clashes, contrasts and combinations. Like the "yin/yang" symbol often seen in Far Eastern culture, the idea is to achieve balance of opposing forces. The soft, ripe avocado contrasted softness with the al dente just-cooked asparagus. The tempura, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The rice bringing the mayo and competing flavours together. The protruding prawn tails were a wonderful presentational device, making the dish look exciting and vital on the plate. 

Seared tuna Tataki with spicy ponzu served over daikon salad £11.50


I am a new convert to Tataki. Usually you will find either beef or tuna options. This is unsurprising given their relatively red and meaty characteristics. Coated in sesame seeds or as it is, the tuna or beef is seared rapidly on a hugely hot grill, so that the first couple of millimetres of thickness change colour and texture. The middle remains red and reassuringly raw. I wouldn't dare make it at home without better knowledge of how to make it safely, but in these capable hands, I was pleased to give it a go. The spicy ponzu sauce gave some sweet, spicy and slightly citrussy tart flavours, a great foil for the meaty fish. 

Spider roll with kimchi mayo, topped with avocado and tempura crumbs £8.50


"Spider rolls?! I'm not eating spider!" I sense the scepticism and resistance. But please, don't worry. Hear me out! Battered and fried soft shell crab are the filling to these intriguing sushi rolls. The legs curl when cooked, forming the strange, other-worldy "spider" legs protruding from the two centre rolls.

The shell and batter outside is crispy and crunchy, but the middle remains soft and moist. Ripe avocado adds richness, along with the kimchi mayo (spicy!) and the whole ensemble works with the house made kizami wasabi and pickled ginger. 




Bulgogi beef fillet served over salad with plum sauce £9.95


This is one of the "fusion" dishes; bulgogi being a traditionally Korean dish and plum sauce being Chinese influenced. The meat had been marinaded with the bulgogi marinade mix, full of soy sauce flavours and a touch of sweetness. The meat was tender and had been infused with the flavours of both the grill and marinade. 

Mongolian rack of lamb served with homemade kimchi and spiced mayo £16.50


Another fusion dish, it is interesting to note that the majority of fusion or pan-Asian dishes on the menu are main courses. This rack of lamb was not so much a rack as some cute little cutlets. At £16.50, it was not cheap, but the meat was beautifully marinaded with spice and gutsy flavours. Spicy, with considerably heat, the lamb was seared on the outside and yielding, tender and beautiful on the inside. Frankly, there was no need for the mayo given the wonderful tastes in the lamb and the fiery kick of the homemade kimchi.

We had a great lunch here at Oka. The restaurant is small, but because we went on a weekday lunchtime, we didn't need to worry about it being crowded. I would recommend booking if you intend to go for dinner, as there are few tables and I imagine it is popular in the evenings. We enjoyed being able to see the dishes being prepared before our eyes.  The service is very good; staff are knowledgeable about all of the dishes, sensitive that some of the menu items are unfamiliar to many, and genuinely helpful and enthusiastic. 

I would definitely return to Oka. The location is very good for the West End, the pricing whilst not cheap, is reasonable given the quality of the food. I'm delighted to have discovered the place!

Oka Kingly Court, Soho
1st floor Kingly Court,
Carnaby Street,
London,
W1B 5PW
0207 734 3556
Email: kingly@okarestaurant.co.uk

Snigdha paid for her meal and that of her companions. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for writing this review.

Friday, 29 January 2016

South African Wineries; Snigdha’s selection

South African wines are capable of turning the head of the most hardened European wine buff. Producing utterly world class wine, the wines of the Rainbow Nation can give the greatest producers from anywhere in the world a run for their money. Whether you love rich reds, young light reds, mineral whites, fruity whites, method traditionelle sparkling wines, Summery roses, ripe raisiny dessert wines, there is something for your palate to find delight in here.



There are hundreds of great wineries in South Africa, so I do not pretend to have visited them all or have sampled all their wares. I have my liver to think of! But these are my picks of the wine estates I visited recently. There were others which were fun to visit or where I had great food, but do not make the cut on their wines. I hope that these are representative of the best large and small producers, but further research will be necessary. I will be going back for more one day!

If you are visiting South Africa with a view to sampling the viniculture, then Platters wine guide is a great reference for you. Updated annually, it has a helpful writeup on each winery, with reports and ratings of their best wines. A five star review in this “wine bible” is a very big deal in South Africa, and an indicator of a very special wine.

Groot Constantia, Cape Town














The Groot Constantia estate is the oldest in South Africa, dating back to 1685. Its wines have been world famous for centuries and legend has it that Napoleon’s final request was a glass of Constantia wine. Now run as a wine farm producing excellent wine but with emphasis on preserving the heritage of this estate, you get a sense of history without being trapped in a museum.

The beautiful estate is a pleasure to walk around and you can take in views of Table Mountain as well as the vines. 


Wine tastings and meals are available, but why not try something a little different? A bespoke chocolate and wine tasting is available, where the white, milk and dark chocolates and their flavourings have been developed to match with Groot Constantia’s white and red wines.





Clos Malverne, near Stellenbosch

Making wine since 1986, this winery was one of the first to make a “classic Cape blend” wine, making use of the grape varieties which are more characteristically South African.


The grapes have their juices extracted by an antiquated and labour intensive process; the basket press. This method, done completely by hand, does not denigrate the grape skins, vital for adding colour and tannins to their red wines. 















The Auret red wine is spectacular. As is the food in the superb restaurant with vineyard views. Very popular with locals, you need to book. If you want a table on the veranda looking directly over the vines and mountains, you should book early.


Warwick Estate, between Stellenbosch and Paarl

This is a family run winery, famous for its prizewinning “The First Lady” unoaked Chardonnay. Norma Ratcliffe is the “First Lady” of Warwick; the first woman to become a member of the Cape Winemakers Guild and the first to be its Chairperson.


The First Lady Unoaked Chardonnay is a revelation to those of us who convinced ourselves we didn’t like New World Chardonnay in the 1990s due to the industrial strength oaking of these wines.
Research, naturally!
I had a super picnic here at Warwick, carefully selected, locally sourced light bites, cold cuts and salad (grown in the gardens) in the sunshine looking over the lovely scenery, washed down by the wonderful “Professor Black” Sauvignon Blanc.
















Aaldering, Devon Valley, Stellenbosch

Fons and Marianne Aaldering set up this wine farm in 2004 with big ambitions to be one of the best in South Africa. This very small, almost “boutique” winery is punching well above its weight, having won awards in both Europe and China. 













The red wines are the star here, with their Pinotage and their Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend being some of the best I tasted. 


The peace and quiet of Devon Valley are another draw for this cute little wine estate.


You can stay in one of three traditional Cape Dutch lodge houses if you plan on spending time in the vicinity of Stellenbosch.



Bramon, Plettenberg Bay (near Knysna), The Garden Route

Most of the wineries of South Africa are in the Stellenbosch/Paarl area. However, this winery is located on the “Garden Route”; the expanse of woods and greenery you reach as you leave the Karoo, sandwiched between the hills and coast. 


“Bramon” is the conflation of the names of brother and sister owners Bram and Manon Thorpe, the winery being a real family concern. 


The proximity to the sea adds coolness and sea breeze to the superb “MCC” wines. MCC? Methodé Cap Classique, the same method used to make Champagne (being a protected region, no-one outside of the Champagne region can use the word “Champagne”, which is why you may see “method traditionelle” used elsewhere in the world).













Bramon run an eatery with great house-made tapas, inspired by local ingredients. The Bobotie cigars are a novel spin on a quintessentially South African dish.



Snigdha has not received any incentive, financial or otherwise for posting these recommendations. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

January 2016 Favourites List

Happy New Year, readers! Please forgive me for expressing this wish fairly late in January. I have sadly had little time for blogging this month, which I hope to correct as the year progresses.

For me, 2016 started excellently. I was travelling around the Western Cape area of South Africa, enjoying Cape Town, the Wine Country and the Garden Route. Beautiful places, full of natural beauty, with wonderful food, world class wines and fantastic people.

Coming home to the cold is always a bit of a shocker. But I returned to the cold (and the arduous commute from South East London to the centre of town) and then was struck the blow of discovering that David Bowie, a musical hero of mine and an undoubted legend, had passed away. I hope I won't be ridiculed, but I cried real, large, heartily sobbed tears on the day his death was announced. I don’t intend to write a eulogy or obituary here. Many have already done so, and in better fashion than I can manage. I simply trust that this disclosure may explain the unifying theme to the music section of this month’s Favourites List. 

To cheer you up, since I know many of you have been mourning the loss of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, I thought I’d share some fun and colourful pictures of Cape Town’s Bo Kaap area. This is a Muslim neighbourhood of Cape Town where the residents celebrate their heritage and nationality by painting their houses in vivid and vibrant colours. In the intense and bright sunshine of the Western Cape, the colours appear more pure and searing. I hope you like them.


Recipes:

Spicy, marinaded pork belly you can cook indoors in the cold Winter but can be upgraded to grill cooking outdoors later in the year. http://eatlikeagirl.com/korean-pork-belly-bulgogi/

Sea bass is in season, try Cyrus Todiwala’s Indian stuffed sea bass with a tomato patia, influenced by his Parsee heritage. Don’t fear cooking fish! http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/kolmi_ni_bharaei_34818

Seasonal persimmons baked into a fragrant cake by Lisa at Cookwitch Creations: http://www.cookwitch.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/persimmons-everywhere.html


Risotto reimagined: pearl barley is the star here, in place of risotto rice. http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/pearl-barley-risotto-with-roasted-squash-red-peppers-and-rocket/

Wahaca's Thomasina Meirs' new recipes: chicken in fragrant broth and udon noodles with spring greens, for post festive season light eating: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/26/asian-poached-chicken-recipe-udon-noodles-sesame-greens-thomasina-miers

Finger food is always more fun! Minted lamb lollipops with mint sauce dip: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/recipes/minted-lamb-lollipops-with-mint-sauce-dip/


Articles/Know How:

As the temperature drops, a mug of hot chocolate is like a warming hug. Here are some tips on making fab hot chocolate: http://food52.com/blog/15460-how-to-make-the-best-hot-chocolate-according-to-the-experts

Jay Rayner nails what goes wrong in restaurants. Only a couple of weeks ago, I had my order taken "sans notebook". Him Indoor's dish was forgotten by our waiter. Unless you are a memory champion, write my order down! http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/14/12-things-restaurants-must-stop-doing-in-2016-jay-rayner



A very different view on the food trends for this new year. Restaurants you can hear your conversation in? South Indian/Sri Lankan hoppers? I like what I see! http://www.olivemagazine.com/just-in/22-hot-food-and-drink-trends-for-2016/13163.html

Diana Henry on stir frying, including seasoning a wok (only works with steel woks with no non-stick coating): http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/recipes/how-to-cook-the-perfect-stir-fry/



Other lovely stuff:


Film:

Mr Holmes

Testament Of Youth

Invictus

The Martian

TV:

Sherlock (New Years Day 2016 Edition)

Luther (Season 4)


Music:

David Bowie – Hunky Dory

David Bowie – The Next Day

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)

David Bowie - Blackstar




The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Monday, 21 December 2015

December 2015 Favourites List

Last month I shared my pictures from the beginning of 2015 where I found enjoyment and inspiration in the street art of Penang, Malaysia. 

(If you didn't see it before, you can see that earlier instalment here: http://snigskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/november-2015-favourites-list.html)

But the energy, free expression and beauty of their heady and superbly creative art scene cannot be encapsulated in just the one set of photos. 

As a result, I am going back to Penang to bring you some more amazing street art images, encompassing humour, romance, whimsy, technique and soul.

Recipes:


Lentil and apricot pilaf with spiced cauliflower: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/recipes/lentil-and-apricot-pilaf/




Crap at baking like me? How about making a mug cake! With either a creme egg or Lindt choc ball melty middle? http://metro.co.uk/2015/05/15/1-minute-mug-cake-recipe-triple-chocolate-and-oozy-salted-caramel-5198413/


Fantastic collection of the key dishes of my parents' amazing culinary heritage. Remember many of these dishes with great fondness. http://brandife.com/food-and-drinks/best-bengali-dishes


Sprouts are not just for Christmas. Don't take my word for it, here's Cookwitch Lisa with a mushroom and sprout salad for Winter: http://cookwitch.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/sprouts-are-not-just-for-christmas-salad.html




Comfort food vegetarian supper from Nigel Slater - butterbean mash with sauteed mixed mushrooms: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/01/nigel-slater-sauteed-mushrooms-butterbean-mash-recipe


This Chinese style stir fry recipe is vegetarian, using cauliflower. I might add some king prawns. http://www.purewow.com/recipes/general-tsos-cauliflower


For Christmas dinner accompaniment or just a side for Sunday lunch, the flavours of the Eastern Mediterranean make this original and exotic: http://food52.com/recipes/39332-roasted-sweet-potatoes-with-merguez-persimmon-and-za-atar-yogurt




Hot rum punch - Rum, cognac and sherry, with cinnamon
 spicing. http://www.deliciousmagazine.co.uk/recipes/hot-rum-punch/

Angela from Patisserie Makes Perfect posts a gorgeously festive Christmassy bake recipe - Raspberry and white chocolate kugelhopf: http://www.patisseriemakesperfect.co.uk/cranberry-white-chocolate-kugelhopf/



Articles/Know How:


Baking hacks and tips, for those of you who are baking competent: http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/article/5-minute-baking-cheats-make-your-life-easier.html


Food, drink and cooking Christmas present inspiration from Kavita: http://www.kaveyeats.com/2015/11/the-kavey-eats-christmas-gift-guide-2015.html


Good Things magazine selects its top restaurants for the Winter; Sexy Fish, Orange Elephant, Smith & Wollensky, among others. http://goodthingsmagazine.com/our-top-winter-restaurants/




The best new restaurants and bars in London according to the Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/uk/london/10432229/Londons-best-new-restaurant-and-bar-openings.html


The best cookbooks for Christmas and the New Year as selected by Kavita at Kavey Eats: http://www.kaveyeats.com/2015/12/kaveys-2016-cookbook-collection.html


Obviously the *only* (ie my way!) is white br
ead, lightly buttered, tartare sauce (mayonnaise if you've run out) and a slice of cheddar cheese. The fish finger butty is a British food classic! http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/dec/15/how-to-eat-fish-finger-sandwiches

What you might have missed at Snig's Kitchen:

Planning for 25th December? Let Waitrose wines help you choose your wines for Christmas: http://snigskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/waitrose-wines-christmas-picks.html




Recipe blog post - creamy pork and mushroom pasta for cold Winter evenings, "Woodland Pasta": http://snigskitchen.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/woodland-pasta.html


TV:

Les Revenants (The Returned) Season 2

Sounds of the 70s



Music:

Pet Shop Boys – Actually
Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
FKA Twigs – LP1
Billy Bragg – Tooth and Nail

Please note: as with every monthly Favourites List, all of these items have been selected by me simply because I love them. I do not receive any money, benefits in kind or other incentive for posting these links or recommendations.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Woodland Pasta


We have almost made it to the end of the year, and we are well and truly in the big run up to Christmas. It's a hectic time. Shopping needs to be done, plans made for the big day, presents to be wrapped. Some of us who still bother to send Christmas cards have to get them written out and sent in good time. Then there's the Christmas party season, work shingdigs with employers old and new, the spouse's work party that you HAVE to go to, the overdue catch up with friends "before the New Year starts". It's easy to fall into the takeaway and microwave meal pattern of evening dinners when life is so chaotic.





What I have here is a simple dish which is relatively quick to make. It is warming and rich. Although I dislike Autumn and Winter weather, something I put down to feeling the cold very intensely, the food of the late seasons I enjoy very much. And I love cooking them as much as I enjoy eating them. Winter calls for comfort food, and this is comforting and satisfying.



This is food which should reassure and relieve the lack of sunshine and complete lack warmth of the season, providing the necessary "central heating" for the body when not indoors.



Pasta provides the base to many simple dishes for post-work suppers. The immense versatility of pasta, its ease of cooking make it perfect for quick and easy dinners. It is also perfect for Wintry dishes, whether served with a simple sauce or baked into a sumptuous, hot, bubbling comfort dish made in heaven!



My "Woodland Pasta" is inspired by the Italian dishes Pasta di Bosco (pasta of the forest) and Spaghetti di profumo di bosco (spaghetti with the smell of the woods). The common thread between these dishes being mushrooms, raw pork or ham and cream. Mine is luxuriant and indulgent through the addition of beautiful and fragrant fresh herbs, grated parmesan cheese (for extra rich umami flavours) and truffle oil for richness.



This is a simple dish, despite the list of ingredients, and as long as you soak the porcini as soon as you get in from work, is a very achievable worknight supper dish.



Woodland Pasta



Serves 3 people (or 2 very hungry/greedy people)



Ingredients:



350g Minced pork

5g Dried Porcini mushrooms

3 Chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced

200ml White wine

150ml Double cream

3 cloves Garlic, very finely diced

1.5-2 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped

3 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

5 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese

150g pasta (I used De Cecco fusilli)

Olive oil

Truffle oil



Method:



You need to rehydrate the porcini first. In a large mug, soak the porcini in boiling water for at least 20 minutes to half an hour. 



Put a large pan of unsalted water onto the heat for cooking the pasta.



Drain the soaked porcini and chop finely.



Cook your pasta in boiling water until al dente. In the meantime, you will need to work on the steps below.



In a non-stick frying pan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and mix for one minute.



Add the rosemary, sage, porcini and chestnut mushrooms. Stir occasionally and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove from pan and put aside on a plate.

Heat pan, and fry the pork until it has changed colour. Drain away excess liquid.
Put the mushroom mixture and pork back into the pan.
Add the white wine, parsley, salt and pepper, turn up the heat until you cannot smell the wine strongly. (Until the harshness of the alcohol has gone). About 5 minutes.
Now add the double cream, continue cooking for about 5 or so minutes, as you are trying to get the sauce to thicken a little.
When the pasta is cooked, drain. Reserve 3-5 tablespoons of cooking water, just in case.
Mix the pasta with the sauce, combining thoroughly.
Serve up into bowls. 
Top with a drizzle of truffle oil, adding as much as your taste prefers. Sprinkle the grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Enjoy immediately.