Five good meals and four decidely meh ones in London lately…

Posted by Krista on March 5, 2015

Remember that time when I said I hadn’t had a bad meal in London in ages and I was like “WOW! What is going on in this world?” Well, I have paid the price for that. Recently, London has disappointed me, saddened me, made me mad. I’ve had more than a few decidedly average meals lately. The sun is out now though so let’s hope that spring has truly sprung and the best is still to come. Here’s where I’ve been eating lately, roughly in order of deliciousness.

Koya Bar, Soho: You cannot go wrong with Koya Bar or Koya. You really can’t. My tempura prawns were PERFECT. They were amazing. They were HUGE. How do they do it?? Also…one cup sake. Gotta love it. I love Koya Bar! The Verdict: Go!

Koya Bar on Urbanspoon

The Delauney, Aldwych: Shnitzel as big as my head. Veal Holstein, actually. (I am still mad that Bob Bob Ricard stopped doing their Veal Holstein.) That and a green salad came to an eye-watering £32 quid or thereabouts. I took half of my Holstein home in a box, expecting to eat it later. I ate it as soon as I got home. Bad Krista. Very bad. I liked the spacious room, the floor tiles and the polished service. The loos were strangely a mess when I visited though. The Verdict: Go!

The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

Merchants Tavern, Hoxton: Have I written about Merchants Tavern yet? I forget. I have been eating her a lot lately. Particularly all the bar snacks. I have been eating a lot of bar snacks at Merchants Tavern. Last night, they had the most delicious of potato skins with aioli for £1! £1!! Amazing. I’m still mad at them for getting rid of the Sunday afternoon DJ — the DJ only starts at 4 pm now — but it’s still a fab place to hang. The Aesop in the loos also makes me want to wash my hands all the time. And the parquet floors! Delightful. The Verdict: Go!

Merchants Tavern on Urbanspoon

J. Sheekey, Covent Garden: Is there anything not to love about J. Sheekey? Sit in the bar and order some oysters and hang out. (And contemplate the dwindling balance in your bank account.) That’s what I like to do. The Verdict: Go and go again.

J Sheekey on Urbanspoon

Jackson & Rye, Soho: Sunday brunch at Jackson & Rye was a popular affair. The place was jam-packed to an almost annoying degree, particularly right by the front door. Oh, to be that person who assumes that any popular restaurant in town will have a table for six people free if they just wander in with their friends at lunchtime on a Sunday! (In the rain no less.) Cheap cocktails, decent grub. Very personable service. The Verdict: I’d go back for a good time but I’d steer clear of the tables in the front by the door and the people with no reservations.

Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon

Bonnie Gull, Exmouth Market: I really wanted to like Bonnie Gull because I do love seafood more than most things. However, the stools by the window were precariously high. Who designs these things? Don’t people know that there are bar-height and counter-height stools for a reason? Anything else does not make sense. And while my croquettes were good, I did not enjoy my baby gem and salted anchovy salad. I think they tried to burn the lettuce? I am not sure. But it was a failure. Also affecting the experience but completely out of their control was the young mother who repeated her infant son’s name every two seconds repeatedly throughout my meal as she tried to stuff food in his gob. (Seriously, I counted.) The Verdict: I feel like I should give this place another try and get a table and not order the salad.

Bonnie Gull Seafood Bar on Urbanspoon

Morito, Exmouth Market: Another place I really wanted to like but didn’t. They drenched my pork belly with raw cumin. Have you ever eaten a lot of raw cumin before? I don’t recommend it. The crispy aubergine was great, but I wasn’t dying over the sweetness of the date molasses. Picky, aren’t I? Note I was in a cranky jet-lagged state during this lunch. I had decided not to sleep at all after arriving back from the US. Maybe that was a bad idea. The Verdict: Unsure.

Morito on Urbanspoon

 Hoi An, Off Brick Lane: Another place I really wanted to like but didn’t! My bowl of pho was too heavy on the spring onions for my tastes. A good value overall though. And a pleasant, peaceful homey atmosphere with sweet service. The Verdict: Unsure.

Hoi An on Urbanspoon

We Grill, Leadenhall Market: Another place I really wanted to like but didn’t! (Are you sensing a theme here?) I was initially attracted to We Grill by its graphic design. All white space and nice fonts. However, once I got in for a closer look, I really had to question their information design. I wish I had taken a picture of the menu. Yes, let’s list out all the daily specials from other days of the week THAT YOU CAN’T HAVE in 500 point font. Also, I am tired of quinoa. The Verdict: Meh.

We Grill on Urbanspoon

 

Tune in next time when I return to Morito and try to get the taste of raw cumin out of my mouth. Also, maybe I go someplace that’s not between Soho and Shoreditch.

Lost in Translation: The Midnight Train to Poland #TravelLinkUp

Posted by Krista on March 4, 2015

Midnight Train to Poland

When I was 19 years old, my friends and I took a night train from Innsbruck, Austria to Krakow, Poland. This was a long time ago, before mobile phones and before the EasyJets and RyanAirs of the world. Train travel was the only option for starving students like us and we would say things like “Meet us in front of the Hauptbahnhof at midnight on Thursday,” and if you weren’t there, we waited ten minutes and left for Poland without you because we didn’t want to miss our train and we had no way of knowing you had overslept your alarm. And hey, maybe we’d get to Poland and you’d be there already and there’d be Australians involved. Or something.

We had booked ourselves a compartment on the night train to Krakow…the kind with the six worn red leather seats that fold out to become one large bed-like-thing. Luckily, we were all good friends. I remember tall men in gloves knocking on the cabin door throughout the night and asking for our passports. Blindly, we unlocked our compartment door and handed them over. Even though we had heard all about the gypsies who would gas train cars and take everything while their victims lay unconscious, we still handed our passports over.  There is only one country between Austria and Poland, but there were many tall men in that night.

There was a porter on our train car who controlled the samovar. If you wanted hot water for anything, you went to him, an unwashed man. We must have made a few trips to the samovar through the course of the train journey: us in our unnecessary hiking boots, J. Crew corduroys and matching roll-neck sweaters concealing our not-very-concealed neck wallets of passports, Sprint PCS calling cards and dollar bills and Austrian schillings. He was a bit prickly, our porter, but he provided the hot water when we asked for it.

As dawn broke, we left our cabin and stood in the hallway of our train carriage, hot coffee and tea in hand, watching Poland go by. It was springtime in Poland and all was green and lush and beautiful. Later, we would see the hundreds of brides of Christ (the grooms too) in their best of white garments, weaving their way through the green lanes of Oswiecim. It was Holy Communion time, wasn’t it?

Our porter, who had spoken no English (or German) with us the night before, approached the six of us in the hallway as we watched Poland go by. He was visibly aggrieved, with us in particular. “I am not an Indian!” he shouted. And then he disappeared back to his samovar and we got off the train in Krakow and never saw him again.

This post is part of a travel link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Sam. Head on over to any of these blogs to read about their lost in translation moments. I used to have another blog where I wrote narrative like this, but I closed it down last year for reasons I happy to explain over cocktails. 

Look, I Made Veggie Noodles with a Spiralizer!

Posted by Krista on March 3, 2015

Spiralizer Results

Experiments in food continue! I have bought a SPIRALIZER on Amazon. There are many different kinds of Spiralizers. I bought the most basic kind — the black handheld kind — so I could see if I really used the thing and if I liked it. There are more sophisticated table-top ones with multiple blades for you more advanced people. Me, I’m just making zucchini noodles.

Surprisingly, courgette/zucchini in a Spiralizer tastes somewhat like spaghetti. The main difference I found was with the water content. Courgette/zucchini noodles are a lot wetter. There is probably a way around that…one friend recommended I put the resulting noodles in a colander with a bit of salt and push some water out. I haven’t gotten that far yet.

I am still working on this but basically here is how I use a Spiralizer right now:

  1. Push two fat courgettes through the Spiralizer. The thing is…they can’t be that fat because then they won’t fit. And they can’t be that skinny because then you don’t really get leverage in the Spiralizer as I learned with my first batch. Size, as they say, is key.
  2. Take the noodle-like results and throw into pretty hot frying pan with a little olive oil for like 30 seconds. Not a long time. If you leave the noodles in too long in the hot pan, they get mushy and even more watery.
  3. Remove from heat. Add some pre-heated store-bought pesto sauce. Voila! Dinner without all the carbs! Feel the virtuousness! If you’re super-fancy, you probably make your own pesto. I am not there yet. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

Today I am planning on making a version of linguine and clam sauce, using my Spiralizer. Check back later for details on how it turned out. I have a good feeling about this.

Got any Spiralizer recipe tips? I am all ears.

My Two Weeks with HelloFresh

Posted by Krista on March 2, 2015

If you live in London, chances are, you’ve been handed a voucher for HelloFresh outside some tube station or another within the last few months. (I understand HelloFresh operates in the U.S. too.) HelloFresh is a meal-delivery service that packs up everything you need to make at least three nice meals during the week and delivers it to your door on a Monday or Tuesday morning. One of my friends has been raving about the experience so as I’ve tried to get more seriously about cooking for myself instead of eating out, I thought I would give it a try.

I am lucky that I live in a building with a porter because he was able to take delivery of my HelloFresh box and keep it in a safe place for me while I was at work. I’m not sure how people who work during the day and live in buildings without porters would take delivery. In my old building, for example, my neighbors and I had more than a few parcels stolen.

That being said, the box is light enough so perhaps you could have it delivered to work and the schlep it home on the tube or bus.

My first box came with three recipe cards and all the ingredients for three meals. My recipes during the first week were chicken with dijon mushroom sauce, smoky burritos and then pan-fried salmon with new potatoes. During my second week, my recipes were chicken paella, fish and chips, and lamb koftas with tzatziki and rice.

Here’s a high-level overview of what I liked about HelloFresh as well as some of the challenges I experienced:

Pros…

  • Generally healthy recipes.
  • Fairly easy to prepare. For someone who doesn’t cook much like me, this was reassuring.
  • Fresh herbs with each delivery. I really liked this. They sent nice packages of rosemary, dill, parsley, etc. Fresh herbs really do make a difference.
  • Very large portions. You could call this a pro or a con. I got three or four meals out of what was meant to be a meal for two.
  • Decently priced. With the discount I received because I purchased on a friend’s recommendation, I spent £19 on my box the first week. That’s £3.16 a meal if you assume two meals per recipe. (But remember I got three if not four servings out of each recipe.) During the second week, my box was £39, or £6.50 a meal, which may seem pricey but remember I normally go out to eat. Just to be clear…I paid for these boxes myself.
  • They use Zendesk for customer support, which is an excellent platform that prevents customer emails from getting lost and gives companies all sorts of good stats on their support levels. I am a dork about things like this. I was glad to see they have a system in place.

Cons…

  • Clean-up. The paella, in particular, was a bitch to clean up. Lots of pots and pans. After a long day at the office, the last thing I wanted to do was dishes.
  • Vague instructions at times. For example, for my first recipe — the chicken with dijon mushroom sauce — I ended up with a ton of watery sauce, even though I feel like I followed the recipe pretty closely. I ended up siphoning off a lot of the water, which unfortunately took the dijon with it because there was only one tiny take-away packet of dijon. Another recipe told me to boil a large pot of water, but didn’t say how large.
  • Related to the above, poorly edited recipes. One recipe told me to turn on the oven, but yet nothing ever went into the oven. (Imagine my existential crisis!) The paella recipe told me to throw in one-half of the rice, but never told me to put in the other half of the rice and I knew I had to. I pointed out the oven thing to them and they were aware of it…which begs the question…why not email your customers who received that recipe and let them know of the error before they attempt the recipe?
  • They forgot to send me the chorizo for the paella but by the time I realized it, it was too late. (I was mid-recipe.) The paella turned out okay, but I know it would have been better with the chorizo.
  • OK, call me Judgey McJudgerson but they used basmati rice for the paella and cheddar for the burrito. (When I complained — with love — about the cheddar for the burrito, they suggested I try feta instead. BLASPHEMY.)
  • Customer support: I think this changed during my subscription but while I was making my first recipe, I wanted to call and speak to someone about the dijon mushroom sauce but their phone lines were already closed. So I had to write them an email instead and didn’t hear back from them for 23.5 hours. Personally, for something time-sensitive like cooking, 24 hour response times are kinda high.
  • Too much food for one person. This is one of the main reasons why I am not continuing my subscription. I just couldn’t keep up. To be fair to HelloFresh, this is not really a meal service for one. It’s meant to be for two. I just thought that I could stretch out the six meals over the course of a week.

The Verdict: My two weeks with HelloFresh made me a better person, I swear! It helped me conquer my fear of the oven, although I still wouldn’t say I am entirely comfortable. It also made me think a lot about why I don’t like to cook and I think what I’ve come up with is a different explanation than the explanations I’ve used before (laziness, not knowing how).

See…I have always been a hard worker. I tend to work long hours and I am always thinking about work. This is a bad thing about me, but probably not something that will change overnight although I am always trying and I do think I’ve gotten better over the years. For example, in the old days, I would always go into the office for a few hours on a Sunday and prep myself for the week ahead. I don’t do that anymore and I really try to maximize my weekend and relaxation time because I know I need it for my brain to function well.

What I am trying to say is that after a long day at work, the last thing I want to do is come home and chop up vegetables and meat. I am tired of working at that point. I want it to be easy. And I think what didn’t work for me with HelloFresh is the amount of chopping pre-meal and the amount of cleaning post-meal. I want to maximize my relaxation time and while cooking is relaxing for many people, it’s not relaxing for me. It’s work. I am not sure that feeling will change anytime soon for me. So I think what I need to do is find super-quick and super-easy recipes that I can make in like 10 to 15 minutes that require minimum clean-up. (I think this explains why I like making quesadillas so much. So easy! And just one pan!) If you have any recipe suggestions along these lines, please let me know because much like I know I really shouldn’t go into the office on a weekend, I also know I should probably stop dining out so much.