Thursday, 27 September 2018

September 2018 Favourites List

Hello everyone!

I hope you have had a happy and pleasant September. For me it marks the start of the academic year, and because I teach on a one year course, it means a complete fresh start. It's a time of great excitement as I meet new students, and introduce them to new skills, new knowledge, new ways of thinking. For me, it is like a New Year's day, deferred to the ninth month.

However, I know you lot aren't interested in "back to school" pictures with my Favourites list. You probably saw all your friends' kids in their school uniforms on social media a couple of weeks ago. You don't want to see my inane grin as I wear my work suit!

So this month I decided to share my pictures of a true wonder of the natural world, the truly awesome Victoria Falls. Straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, it is 1.7km wide (1,708 metres to be precise) and 108m tall. It isn't either the highest or the widest, but it is so large, that the eye and the mind cannot fully comprehend its size at ground level. 

Of course, it wasn't originally called Victoria Falls, that name was given to it by explorer David Livingstone (whose statue is at the start of the trail on the Zimbabweean side). The falls had the original name Mosi-Oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders). If you are in the small town of Victoria Falls, wherever you are, you can hear the rumble of the water. I visited in the dry season and could hear it clearly. In the rainy season up to 3,000 tons per second tumble down the sheer face, which must make quite a racket!

Botoka Gorge is round the corner from the falls, and you can see the mist rising from the falls from the gorge's lookout post. A nice little place for a quiet beer, contemplating the view, or an adrenaline filled bungee jump, depending on your temperament!

The vast majority of the falls is visible from the Zimbabwean side, and the Mosi-Oa-Tunya park on their side has 19 viewpoints to see the different angles and vistas of this astonishingly vast sight. Getting wet is inevitable! Even when it is the dry season, the volume of water is so enormous, the mist is thrown in every direction.

I hope you like this month's pictures and my selections of favourites. Do scroll down to the bottom of this post. The last one is a doozy!

(If you do visit Victoria Falls, I'd like to recommend Mama Africa restaurant. Their African hot pots must be tried! Each is served in a little metal pot with legs. Memorable and delicious!) 

Food writing and articles: 

"Together" is cookbook by the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire, who are using food as way of rebuilding their community. Here is a recipe from the book; Green Chilli and Avocado Dip, by Munira Mahmud, from the Hubb Community Kitchen:

If you buy new cast iron cookware, here are some cooking tips from the experts at Le Creuset:

Bargain cast iron cookware - for those who would love to own Le Creuset but don't have the budget (although I have discovered TK Maxx do some discounted Le Creuset and Lidl have their own budget cast iron range):

New study analysing 41 previous studies suggests a causal link between a high junk food diet, inflammation and depression:

Looking for somewhere new to eat in London? Olive Magazine has compiled this mouthwatering selection of the best new London eateries:

Food and travel, the perfect combination - a foodie postcard from Weymouth:


Chicken Karaage is a Japanese Izakaya classic. Fried chicken, inititally marinaded in soy, sake, sugar, ginger and garlic. Coated in potato starch to make a crispy batter:

Deena Kakaya's spin on Macaroni Cheese borrows from Indian cookery - mashing up a samosa filling with cauliflower and sweetcorn with the baked pasta classic:

Chef Simon Rogan, the brains behind Roganic and L'Enclume has published a cookbook. Naturally, it is every bit as fancy and cheffy as you would imagine. Here is a sneak peek at a couple of the recipes:

Some gorgeous Middle Eastern recipes from Bethany Kehdy who has just published her cookbook "The Jewelled Table":

Lou's one pot prawn and couscous with its courgette, corn and tomato is colourful and simple:

Bolognese meat sauce should be served with tagliatelle, not spaghetti. But what about Spaghetti Bolognese? Believe it or not, it's a tuna and tomato pasta.

So, the true “Bolognese” sauce is called “Ragu”. Here’s a recipe, straight from a restaurant in Bologna.

Fancy a fresh weekend brunch idea? How about Tash's Baba Ganoush with eggs? Recipe blog post from Tash:

A variation on the traditional Salade Nicoise - this is a homecooked Salmon Nicoise:

Cooked ideally in a banana leaf (alternatively in baking paper/parchment), Meera Sodha’s aubergine pollichattu both steams and bakes, to make a dish traditional to Kerala in south India:

An Alternative Sunday lunch - Middle Eastern style spatchcocked chicken by Karen Burns-Booth:

Soba noodles are made with buckwheat and have a delicious nutty bite to them - here's a salad recipe combining them with Summer radishes and broad beans:

Sweetcorn with its sunshine yellow is a Summer treat - here are Anna Jones' recipes for a chowder and a salad:

What you might have missed at Snig’s Kitchen:

My Darjeeling Express restaurant review – Asma Khan’s all female team makes memorable, authentic homestyle Indian food:

Unforgotten Series 1
Unforgotten Series 2
Unforgotten Series 3

Tony Scott - Music For Zen Meditation
Alt-J - Relaxer

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, 10 September 2018

Darjeeling Express, London

Darjeeling Express, on the 3rd floor of Kingly Court is something rather different. It is no ordinary Indian restaurant serving up your typical Madras, Vindaloo and Dhansak dishes, cooked up from an industrial jar of Patak's sauce mix. This is a place for homecooked style Indian food, a thing you weren't able to find unless some nice family invited you to their home or you had such food at home when you were growing up. 

Founder Asma Khan started the concept of Darjeeling Express in a supperclub at her home for many years. Later, she transferred to a pop up at The Sun and 13 Cantons. Now Darjeeling Express has a permanent home; a light, bright and relaxed restaurant environment in London's Carnaby district. Asma's food is the cuisine of her roots in West Bengal, and Kolkata in particular (which some still call by its old name, Calcutta). Kolkata is a city of dreamers, writers and poets. Their food is delicately spiced, often with a touch of sweetness.

Asma's kitchen staff is famously all female. Not only female, but real cooks rather than trained chefs; the mums, aunties and sisters who make the best Indian food happen. These women's wealth of cookery knowledge has been passed down to them through demonstration, explanation and experimentation. They bring dishes from their own regional traditions, expanding the menu to include dishes from south India and elsewhere. Asma also donates some of her profits to the Second Daughters Fund, to send celebration packages and educational funds to second daughters born in Kurseong in Darjeeling, as second daughters are often treated as unwanted or second best. 

I visited Darjeeling Express for a Summertime lunch. This meant that the large front windows were opened out fully, giving an Al Fresco feel to to proceedings. 

Dahi Vada (vegetarian) (£6)

A Summer special, this dish was described as "lentil dumplings in yoghurt spiced with roasted cumin and rock salt", but that doesn't really do this Chaat dish justice. The lentil dumplings are light and unstodgy, covered in thick yoghurt. The toppings are what bring everything together; a tangy sweet and tart thick tamarind sauce, freshly ground roasted cumin for warming spiciness and chilli powder for a little heat.

Channa Chaat (vegan) (£7.50) 

Chaat dishes are always sour, with a touch of sweet. Some are spicy, some hot, and some incendiary. It is always about the combination of contrasting flavours and textures. This chick pea (Channa) chaat dish has chick peas coated in a gently spiced sauce, covered in chopped red onion (for crunch), sev (fried lentil flour noodles for crispiness), chopped coriander (for herby fresh flavours), chopped green chilli (for heat) and tamarind sauce (for mouth pinching sourness). Hot enough that it doesn't feel "dumbed down", this had us licking our lips for joy. Plus, it is vegan, so you can share it with a group and not worry about any sneaky banned ingredients. 

Tangra Chilli Garlic Prawns (£8)

Kolkata is the only Indian city with a "Tangra" - a Chinatown. Indians love the flavours of Chinese food, often with a little extra heat added. These Indo-Chinese prawns were perfectly cooked (in other words, just cooked to keep their texture), with chilli and spicing reminiscent of Szechuan cooking. These were truly special and we almost fought over them! 
Pakora Platter (vegetarian) (£6)

Lightly battered potato and aubergine fritters, this was a bit of indulgence for us. But every now and then you need to treat yourself to something naughty and fried. The tomato chutney was very hot and spicy, which went particularly well with the potato bonda.

Murgh ka Saalan (£14)

Boneless chicken thigh meat (a cut of chicken very well suited to Indian cooking, for the home cooks who read this blog), cooked in a tomato and dill sauce. These tender chunks of  chicken were in a medium hot sauce, in which they'd been cooked. If you are sceptical about the use of dill, it is balanced by the tomato tang. 

Goat Kosha Mangsho (£14)

A slow cooked curry, this has been gently braising for hours. The result is meat which is utterly tender. Spiced with coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin, this is sumptuous. If you are unfamiliar with eating goat, please do not fear. This is like the best lamb curry you have ever tasted. We all went back for seconds of this dish. It is astonishingly good. 

Beetroot Chop (£4)

In Bengali cooking, a "chop" is something specific. Cooked minced meat or mashed vegetables, coated in breadcrumbs and fried, rather like a croquette. Lamb "chops" of this time are a treat I wish you could all try at some point. These beetroot chops are soft on the inside with a little crispiness on the outside, with the earthy loveliness of beetroot. If you like beetroot, you'll love this. The chutney accompaniment was very thick and intensely sweet, making a great foil for the delicate little croquette like chops. 

Puris (vegan) (£4)

These fried handbreads, even though risen, are unleavened. Made from a very simple white flour dough are crumbly and deceptively light. Perfect for mopping up all the juices of the sumptuous mains.  

Bhapa Dhoi (£5)

It is hard to explain this dish, as it is a dessert made by steaming yoghurt, which causes it to solidify and concentrate the sweetness of the milk. The closest comparison is with creme caramel, but even that is a poor comparison. Richly sweet, with a slight bite, don't let the slight browning of the yoghurt put you off. This is old style Bengali food, reminiscent of what your grandmother might make if you grew up in Kolkata with the dreamers of that city. 

Hyderabadi Khoobani ka Meetha (vegetarian) (£5)

Cute little Hunza apricots stewed in sweet cardomom flavoured water, served with cream, this is intensely sweet and moreish. A dessert to share for a sweet finish to a memorable meal.

There are a small number of truly good Indian restaurants in London. Darjeeling Express joins that select list with ease and style. Watching the chefs (untrained they may be, but chefs they most definitely are) work industriously gives you a feeling of how much love has gone into this food. I can't believe it has taken me so long to get round to eating here. But one thing is for sure; I will be going back. 

Darjeeling Express
Top Floor, Kingly Court
Carnaby, London

Mon to Sat  12 – 3pm, 6 – 10pm

Snigdha and her companions paid in full for their meal. This review represents Snigdha's genuine experience and opinions. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for posting this review.