Friday, 27 September 2013

Cay Tre, Old Street, Hoxton (Vietnamese)

Vietnamese food is unique and delightful. There are some ingredients and influences which echo its neighbours, but it has a tradition all of its own. I love Vietnamese food and attempted to learn how to cook some of the dishes of this marvellous cuisine from cookbook author, writer, filmmaker and supperclub host Uyen Luu. I wrote about my experience here: Uyen's blog can be found here:

However, it is not easy. Vietnamese food involves many ingredients which are hard to obtain. Fresh herbs are a cornerstone of Vietnamese dishes, using varieties seldom found in other cuisines. Parilla, Cockscomb and hot mint, saw tooth... these have to be bought in specialist Vietnamese stores, and even then you are not guaranteed to find them all. Then there is specialist equipment required for some dishes; banh beo steamer dishes, banana leaves, clay pots. 

Vietnamese food is becoming increasingly fashionable, and we have all manner of small cafes and restaurants popping up. Many think that popping some chili, salad and marinaded grilled pork into a baguette  immediately equals banh mi. Not so! And the crimes against the national dish, Pho Bo, are ones I don't care to chronicle here other than noting that bland stock and meagre toppings are the rule rather than the exception. 

Cay Tre has a long standing reputation in London as being a great place for Vietnamese food, located in the Vietnamese community in the Pho Mile. They have branched out into a couple of other ventures, Cay Tre Soho, Viet Grill and Keu! (all under the Vietnamese Kitchen label), but Cay Tre Hoxton is the original. 

I visited with some friends for lunch and ordered a variety of dishes across the menu. We had a very pleasant and memorable time. 

Chilli Salt & Pepper Squid £8.50
Perhaps not the most exotic of the starters we ordered, the salt and pepper squid was nevertheless very good indeed. Lightly coated in an uncloying batter, these have been fried quickly and over a high heat to leave them perfectly cooked, crunchy crusted externally but yielding on the inside. 

Chef Vinh's Beef £9.50 "Charcoaled ribeye, lemongrass, ginger sauce."
Beautifully marinaded in an aromatic marinade and grilled until just cooked, this was a real highlight of our meal. A lovely starter. 

Grilled Calamari & Okra £9 "Lemongrass, dill and fermented soy bean."
The calamari and okra were marinaded in the lemongrass, dill and soy bean before being grilled until just cooked. The picture doesn't do the dish any justice as the artificial light masks the translucence of the calamari. I had not come across this combination of ingredients and flavours, which worked well together. The cooks here carefully avoid overcooking the seafood dishes, probably the easiest way of ruining good quality ingredients. 

La Vong Grilled Monkfish (for two) £7.50 per person "Galangal, tumeric, dill, cooked at your table."
The monkfish was prepared in small chunks underneath all the herbs in the small frying pan on top of the portable gas burner. 
I'm a real sucker for any dish which is prepared at the table, be it crepes suzette or something similar. It's part theatre, part wonder. 
Thankfully we were treated to so much more than just spectacle. The dish was flavourful, the monkfish having been marinated in the galangal and turmeric before the tableside cooking and was served with rice vermicelli, a sauce made of shrimp paste softened in water, and herbs. 

Grilled Piggy Aubergine £6.50 "Minced pork, spring onion oil, nuoc cham"
This is a treat of a starter! The aubergine is skinless, and cooked until it is so soft it barely needs chewing. The contrast with the gentle meaty chewiness of the minced pork shows you how much of Vietnamese food is about the combination of texture as it is about flavour. The nouc cham adds a balance of flavours which is characteristically Vietnamese; sweet, sour, salty and bitter, the balance which similarly is the aim of Thai dishes. 

Campfire Hanger Steak £12 "Claypot cooked with oyster sauce, onion"
Cooked in a clay pot with oyster, garlic and copious amounts of fried onion, the closed pot is brought to your table on another plate. This plate has a ring of clear substance around it which is lit at your table. It glows blue, keeping your stewed steak hot whilst you sample the other dishes. The presentation, complete with a flourish as the lid is removed, is pure theatre. 
The beef is tender and slow cooked, the sauce full of umami flavours. Topped with lots of glorious finely diced garlic, the beef in clay pot was a complete delight. Garlic is one of my favourite things in all the world, and thankfully my friends think the same. We tucked in with gusto and enjoyment. 

Mekong Catfish Claypot £9.50 "Braised in caramelised in fish sauce."
Another clay pot dish! We just could NOT resist! This is a traditional Vietnamese dish and my friend who spent time travelling there suggested we order it to get a taste of real Vietnamese food. The dish arrived in similar fashion to the steak, with its parafin halo lit at your table to keep it hot before it is unveiled in all of its splendour! The catfish was sweet, light yet with gentle firmness of texture. The sauce had the caramel flavours of Nouc Mau Due Ben Tre (Vietnamese coconut caramel) cooked in fish sauce and spice. Combined with a little steamed rice, each mouthful was heavenly.

Roasted Spring Chicken Royale £12 "Marinated with honey, five spice & dried herbs."
Tremendously aromatic, this was a dish I would love to be able to make for a Sunday lunch with a difference! The marinade permeates the skin completely, giving it wonderful flavours, and all of the meat is scented with the warming five spice. The only issue which this dish will create is who gets the best bits of the whole chicken!

We had the wokked egg noodles at £6 and some Jasmine rice (£5 for a tub) as an accompaniment. 
 The noodles were rapidly stir fried with a little egg, some onion and beansprouts. In other places, the noodles come out disappointingly greasy, but these were not so. I preferred the dishes we ordered with Jasmine rice, because I actually love rice, but the noodles were a good accompaniment too.

The service was polite and friendly. When we needed explanations of what some of the dishes were, there was no issue, we were given that explanation, and sometimes twice with patience and grace. Our party did not all arrive at once, yet the early arrivers were permitted to take our seats and wait for the others with no fuss or objection. Our monkfish was cooked at our table with the care and skill of a server who wanted us to enjoy our meal. A couple of the staff members are a little quiet and shy, possibly because English is their second (although more likely third or fourth) language, but there was no miscommunication, and they wanted to help us as much as possible. I felt that they genuinely cared about our experience. 
 Cay Tre Hoxton has recently been refurbished. It is still an informal and canteeny style place rather than a fine dining restaurant. Actually, that's how I prefer it. When I come to place like this, I don't want fussy tablecloths and fish knives. I don't want fussing about and my napkin being put across my chair back when I go to the bathroom. I've come to the Pho Mile, and I've come for a down to earth and authentic experience. It is all about sharing good food with good friends. 

Perhaps at dinner time when the place is close to being full, it could be noisy. Most Central London restaurants tend to be. Current dining fashion dictates no soft furnishings; no fabric covered seats or carpets or curtains. No wonder the sound bounces off all the hard shiny surfaces! If you don't like noise have lunch here or go somewhere else. During our visit the place was half full with a pleasant buzz of conversation, energy and the sight of other diners enjoying their food. That's the kind of atmosphere I love.

Unless you've booked your tickets for the Reunification Express anytime soon, what have you got to lose? Come and give Cay Tre a go!

Snigdha and her friends paid honestly earned moolah for their meal. 
Cay Tre
301 Old Street
(020) 7729 8662

Thursday, 19 September 2013

September 2013 Favourites List

For me, September means only one thing: BACK TO SCHOOL! I remember the days when that meant getting a new uniform, or seeing if you could get another year's wear out of last year, and the inevitable new pencil case.   More innocent times!

These days, I'm the one at the front of the classroom. It's a whole different ball game. It's not about just me talking or knowing all the answers. It's about getting students involved. Achieving the task of facilitating understanding. Getting students to work out the answers for themselves. 

It's also about encouraging the students to WANT to know more. To inspire them to care about their own education, their own skills, their own knowledge. 

So what is my role? Lecturer, cheerleader, motivational guru, interviewer, devil's advocate. Occasionally a matron (oo-er!) or policewoman. No wonder I sometimes can't tell whether I'm coming or going!

This week was the first week of the new intake coming to study the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). It's a hectic and exciting week. So many conflicting emotions. The final sad realisation that the students who were with me last academic year have finished the course and I have to let them go. The joy of meeting a new batch of fresh faces. 

This month's post is dedicated to my students, old and new. Good luck, good fortune, good health and I wish you the greatest success in everything you do.

This month's pictures are from the rain forest in Costa Rica. A beautiful, lush, green country, I would love to explore properly one day.

Blogs Worth Following:

Bengali people often refer to themselves as "Bong". This super site will teach you how to cook (and shop) like a Bong!

Nicholas Clee wrote a great book, Don't Sweat The Aubergine, here is his blog full of recipes:

Blog dedicated to Nyonya food (Peranakean):


Introduction to Fudge and a Vanilla Fudge recipe:

Besan (chickpea) burfi with cardomom flavouring:

Chicken thighs, leeks and thyme in a perfect midweek supper salad recipe by Angela Hartnett:

Strawberry, vodka and white wine cocktail recipe for 10:

Cyrus Todiwala's Pulled pork with cinnamon and clove from The Incredible Spicemen is something I really want to make:

One of my friends made this over the weekend, and said it was a great, delicious Vietnamese recipe. So here is Spicy Vietnamese Beef (Bo Kho) from Nom Nom Paleo (blog devoted to the Caveman diet):

Liking the look of the fennel and beetroot coleslaw:

How to make a Cantonese style stir fry:

Mackerel with beetroot; simple and colourful, by Nigel Slater:

Articles/Know How:

Methi/Fenugreek: a marauding and powerful herb/spice which can take over your whole house. A really useful video on the difference between fresh leaf methi, dried leaf methi and fenugreek seeds and when to use each.

Some international dishes have difficult names to pronounce. Here is a visual guide to help!

How flavours are interconnected, an interactive article/map from Scientific American (excellent!):

Him Indoors doesn't mind me adding cloves to food.... as long as he doesn't end up being the poor person who ends up chomping on it. Here's a tip from Kavey on how to avoid that - DIY tea bags!


The Incredible Spice Men (BBC iplayer link to episode 1 available until 23 Sept:


Jagwa Ma - Howling

Maps - Vicissitudes

Justin Currie - Lower Reaches

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Cyrus Todiwala Talks Turkey: Turkey Tikka recipe by the Incredible Spice Man

Have you been watching BBC TV’s current cooking programme “The Incredible Spice Men”? I certainly have! It’s been wonderful watching Cyrus Todiwala OBE DL, the renowned chef at London’s Café Spice Namaste and Tony Singh, the kilt wearing Chef-Director of Oloroso and Tony’s Table in Edinburgh, travel round the country doing what they do best: cook. Their mission is simply to enhance and bring a modern twist to classic British dishes by adding spice. The recipes have been innovative, look fantastic and are both achievable and simple, the different landscapes of Britain have been delightful… And then there is the interaction between Cyrus and Tony; jocular, fun, warm and genuinely friendly. 

I have seen Cyrus give a cooking demonstration before at the Real Food Festival on London’s South Bank (writeup can be found here: So it will be no surprise that I was delighted when I was invited to Café Spice Namaste to a British Turkey Masterclass. Cyrus’ love of great British produce has been evident during the Spice Men series, and his mission for the evening was to convince us that turkey is for more than just Christmas dinner.

I was sceptical, but happy to put myself in the hands of such a talented chef and show a little trust. My experiences of dry and bland turkey at Christmas had put me off using turkey in my home cooking. Cyrus was going to have an uphill task convincing me that I could make fabulous, spicy, flavourful meals with turkey!
Snigdha meets Cyrus

Cyrus prepared a number of ingenious creations combining spicing, marinading and currying techniques. He showed us how to make several dishes during the course of the evening, ranging from slow cooked curries, omelettes, and masalas.
Snigdha meets Mrs Todiwala - the lovely Pervin

The Khari Gurdun dish demonstrated how the neck of the turkey can be slow cooked in a casserole or curry sauce base to become tender and tasty. Because the neck has such well developed muscle, it is seen as being tough and chewy, meaning it is often discarded. This was an eye-opener for me, since as we head into Autumn and Winter, I like to change my cooking style to more comforting braised and slow cooked dishes, and Khari Gurdun is just the sort of food I crave in the grey cold weather.
Khari Gurdun
Cyrus made a very quick turkey liver spicy stir fry, a sort of dry curry. The turkey livers themselves are quite strong flavoured, so this would be a good dish to serve in small quantity to give a different texture and mood to an overall meal.

Cyrus demonstrated two types of dish using turkey eggs. One was a simple omelette with lots of coriander, tomato, spring onion and spice, the other more substantial type of scrambled egg dish, containing marinaded strips of turkey.

Here is the simple omelette:

Here is Cyrus making the turkey strip scrambled egg stir fry:

The finished dish:

We had some minced turkey koftas:

Trio of turkey starters
The three dishes were:
A turkey sheek kavaab omelette roll (turkey minced with fresh ginger, garlic, chillies and spices formed over a skewer, chargrilled and served rolled in a turkey egg omelette)
Mini turkey masala pie (diced turkey cooked with chopped shallots, tomato and spices, filled in mini pastry cases)
Bhuna turkey dosa (rice and lentil pancake filled with diced turkey cooked in a traditional Bhuna masala)

Turkey chilli fry
Turkey strips, tossed in typical Goan style with sliced shallot, spring onion, chilli, ginger and garlic with cumin in a light sauce

Potato dosa bhajee
A simple South Indian style potato preparation flavoured with cracked mustard seeds, white lentils and curry leaves. 

Gently spiced but not bland, this would be a wonderful filling in a masala dosa. It would also be a colourful accompaniment to sausages if you wanted to serve an Indianised Bangers N Mash!

Leeli Kolmi Ni Curry
Light green curry with fresh coconut and cashew nuts simmered with sustainably sourced Red Sea king prawns.

Saffron ginger and cardamom crème brulee and fresh fruit salad cup
Just as the Incredible Spice Men have spiced up British classics, here Cyrus has spiced up a typically French dessert. Simply delicious!

The dishes I had were all so tasty, that I left Café Spice Namaste completely stuffed. Some dishes were ones that I had to have second helpings of…. Cyrus was only too pleased to let me have some more. Although he did have the audacity to comment with a cheeky “Madam, your size is somewhat misleading, it belies your appetite!”

One of the treats we sampled was a trio of “turkey tikkas” – marinaded and grilled cubes of turkey. Cyrus was kind enough to allow me to share the recipe of one of them with you. 

You will want to try this recipe, it was moist, flavourful and delightful. It is simple and nothing about it is difficult – you just have to remember to marinade the turkey overnight.

Cyrus Todiwala’s Turkey Tikka


800g British turkey breast                          
¼ tsp Turmeric Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste (white pepper powder is best)
150g Plain yoghurt                                                 
40g Ginger                                       
4-5 cloves Garlic                                         
½ tsp Cumin Powder                                  
½ tsp Coriander Powder                
½ tsp Red Chilli Powder                
2 tbsp Lime Juice                            
½ tsp Garam Masala Powder                    
2 tbsp Sunflower Oil           
Knob of Butter for basting 


  1. Cut the turkey breast into “Tikka’s” or cubes large enough to be skewered roughly 1 ½” X 1 ½”.

  1. Rub salt, pepper and turmeric into the meat and set aside in the refrigerator.

  1. In a blender add all the other ingredients and half the yoghurt and blend to a smooth paste.

  1. When all the spices are mixed in well, remove to a bowl and whisk in the remaining yoghurt.

  1. Check here for spice levels to suit your requirements. Add more chilli only if you so desire.

  1. Mix in the turkey well.

  1. The marinated turkey is best set aside overnight in the refrigerator or at least four to five hours.

  1. The cooking process now can be two fold.  The tikka can either be chargrilled on the barbecue or under the grill and finished in the oven.

  1. Either way it needs to be basted for that juicy appearance.

  1. Under the grill if wishing to cook right through ensure that the grill is not too high and that the meat is on a wire mesh with a drip tray below.

  1. Only if there is no option use a very hot oven at around 190 to 200 degrees C

  1. The Tikka’s will cook well in approximately in eight to ten minutes. Turn them once over if you like for an all-round colour.

I would like to thank Café Spice Namaste and British Turkey for inviting me to the British Turkey Masterclass with Cyrus Todiwala.