La Rocca…A Sicilian Gem in Winchmore Hill

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It’s a Saturday afternoon and my father and I are heading towards Winchmore Hill, following a tip-off from our long time Italian food suppliers, Salvino. We’re looking for 250 mini Sicilian Cassata to form part of my wedding cake. I’ve been to all the regular central London Italian bakeries, contacted wholesalers, considered making them myself but the thought of constructing 250 sticky cakes the night before my wedding leads me to pre wedding despair. La Rocca is my last hope.

We drive through Green Lanes, pass Wood Green and after another  ten minutes or so reach Winchmore Hill broadway. I see La Rocca’s glass front and a stream of people heading in and leaving with content smiles. We enter, are instantly greeted by the busy owner, Salvatore, his  Sicilian charm prevalent and beaming from behind a well stacked counter. My senses feast; there’s a large ice cream counter with authentic and loved flavours, and importantly for  me, less known Italian flavours such as Hazelnut, Honeydew Melon and Tiramisu. Wafts of good strong espresso and tomato sauce induce a need to feast. And fest we did!

Read about the best sfogliatelle, cannoli, and arancini outside of Italy here…!!

Haydari

Whenever I go to eat in my favorite Harringey restaurants, I always make sure haydari is part of my mixed meze. I get so carried away, scooping it up with fresh steaming bread, that by the time the main course arrives I’m full. Perhaps I’ll never learn!

Now that I’m living back in West London I have no choice but to make my own haydari. The thick cheesy yoghurt dip is so simple and delicious I have no problem with making vat-loads.

Click here for my recipe… Afiyet Olsun!!

A Day with Aldo Zilli

I don’t ever recall waking up while the dawn chorus welcomed the coming day, unless I needed to catch a flight. On a cool Saturday morning my sister and I woke with a different purpose; to learn. I seldom have the motivation to do anything ‘extra curricular’ with precious little time off but when me and my sister are together she encourages me, especially when it comes to food and fact.  A day with Aldo Zilli was on the cards, a rare chance to immerse ourselves in all things food related with the likeable Abruzzan by participating in one of his masterclasses.

After a strong espresso we crawled into a taxi, bleary eyed and silent.

“Billingsgate please.”

The driver also seems to be memorised by the dawn light but as we reach the old core of London all three of us awaken with anticipation. Pulling into Billingsgate car park, there are traffic jams and crowds of dedicated food lovers sporting pleased expressions and full bags. Above us, gangs of seagulls circled on the hunt for fishy morsels.  It’s 6am and the market is already beyond mid-swing. At this time I’d usually be in bed, totally oblivious to the early morning and it’s people. Today I am living in another world on the other side of town.

Read about our food-packed, deliciously fun day with Aldo Zilli here…

Borek / Burek / Byrek / Pite / Rustico – Mediterranean Pies

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Warm, crispy and satisfying, filled pies are the ultimate in comfort food. Wherever you go in the Med you’ll find different versions. From Turkish Borek, Balkan Burek / Byrek / Pite and Mantija, Boureki of Greece to the Rustico of Southern Italy – fillings and shapes vary to form indulgent meaty feats, cheesy delights, simple vegetable snacks or sweet treats.  The possibilities are endless and the end result always satisfying.

It’s one of those foods which is loved; a staple from warm-hearted family kitchens or consumed from kiosks and simple eateries with mopeds whizzing by. I’ve always struggled to find the authentic stuff, reminiscent of the Med in London until I stumbled upon Akdeniz Gida Pazari on Station Road, Wood Green. For £1 a pop you can buy different types of Borek fresh out of the oven, made by the hands of two smiling Bulgarian women behind an abundantly stacked counter. Safe in the knowledge I have a place to go for a quick Borek fix, I usually prefer to make my own.

In the Balkans I  watched as women made dough from scratch, tirelessly kneading and rolling with the thinnest of rolling pins. They’d work the pastry to unbelievable elasticity, picking up the delicate sheets and stretching with careful plucks.    The pies were finished with neatly pinched pleats.  Needless to say my first attempt at this was disastrous.  To make pastry by hand is indeed a labour of love. I prefer to buy ‘Yufka’ pastry which is widely available in Mediterranean supermarkets.

Here are my Borek recipes;
Sevkiye’s Borek – Oven baked layered yufka pastry with various fillings (Meat, Cheese, Herby Courgette)

Village Style Borek – basic filo dough layered with white (feta) cheese

Pan Borek – quick borek made in pan with yufka pastry.

Mantija – Meaty Balkan parcels

Perhaps a Bold Statement But… The Best Falafel in Town!

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Admittedly I almost always steered clear of Falafel in restaurants – in my experience falafel meant tasteless, dry mouthfuls which rolled around the palate, resisting with all its might at being swallowed. It wasn’t that I was eating in the wrong places, it was simply that the falafel on offer didn’t fill me with joy. Then one day a colleague of mine, Mohammed, placed a foil package on my desk. On opening this steaming parcel, I discovered a falafel which changed my world. Mohammed’s vibrantly green homemade falafel were juicy and aromatised with garlic and herbs. They weren’t made with ground chick peas either, but a mixture of chick peas and dried fava beans. These falafel told the story of a man who emigrated from Cairo in his twenties. Now pushing 50, Mohammed never abandoned the food his mother taught him how to cook before he left. I guess his falafel were made with love.

Since that moment of falafel revelation most attempts to find such mouth wateringly moist falafel have failed. Until I came across a jewel in the midst of Central London, tucked away in the cobbled courtyard otherwise knows as Goodge Place Market.

To claim to have found the BEST falafel in a city so richly diverse is a bold statement but one I feel I can confidently make. Hoxton Beach has reaffirmed my love of falafel with its freshly fried offerings. Every mouthful of the wrap delights with crispy yet moist falafel, tahina sauce and homemade pickles. It is now 11:14 am and as I write this article I am salivating in anticipation of the wrap I will eat for my lunch today.

Goodge Street is heaving with eateries which supply the hungry office workers of Fitzrovia – yet why pay for an over priced burrito or faddy salad when there is nutty deliciousness on offer.  Hoxton Beach’s wraps are not pre made and heated in microwaves like a certain trendy Middle Eastern restaurant nearby. The men who work at Hoxton Beach are the real deal, themselves Middle Eastern and perhaps have the best understanding of how falafel wraps are meant to be. They churn out freshly fried balls of deliciousness and dress them just how we want them to be. No tahina? No problem. Extra pickles? Sure! There is always a polite good morning / good-bye / thank you and smile too. They are welcoming and hospitable even for the few moments it takes to prepare your wrap. Patrick Matthews, founder of the Hoxton Beach company, fell in love with Middle Eastern cuisine after studying Arabic in Damascus. (I on the other hand fell in love with Damascus after eating at Abu Zaad!) With a particular love of falafel, Patrick wanted to popularise them upon his return to Blighty. Good job Patrick and thank you Hassan, (the company chef) for your tasty recipe which has reignited my love affair with humble falafel.

Falafel is one of those foods to which many people lay their claim. From Israel, to Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond, falafel crosses cultures and perhaps unites people beyond borders. ‘It’s only Falafel, there’s no need to be so dramatic!‘ I hear you say. Well, I’m putting so much importance on this street food because food is life, food is what we cherish when there is nothing else. Its something we all have in common despite our differences so when one dish stretches itself over a large geographical area notorious for upheaval why not celebrate something which unites the area rather than divides?

Check out Hoxton Beach stalls in Goodge Place Market, Whitecross Street and Exmouth Market or click here for stockists and try to recreate your own wraps.

From Istanbul with Love – Kahve Dunyasi in London

Trendy Turkish coffee house, Kahve Dunyasi, has landed in Piccadilly Circus.

Step into a dreamy world of coffee and chocolate . But this time Willy Wonka is cool, and Turkish.

Read about it here…

Pizzica in Mayfair, W1

One blustery Autumn evening in the back streets of Mayfair I heard the beat of a tambourine dancing on the air. When I near La Masseria I see people spilling out onto the streets, chattering like sparrows at dusk… Read on…

Portobello & Golborne Road – West Sometimes IS Best.

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As a West Londoner I don’t have to travel far for a fiery culture fix.

Read about Portobello and Golborne Road, West London’s eccentric and worldly hot-spot here

Maison Souss, London W12

Maison Souss Sweets

Honestly, some of the best Middle Eastern sweets I have found in London’s entirety.

Click here for full article

Raki…

Raki Spread

In anticipation of visiting Istanbul, my other half laid out a ‘Raki Table’, in essence a party for two.  This kind of spread is best when accompanied by suitable Turkish/Balkan music and good company.  On the table aside from the Raki itself is melon, cheese, dried fruits and nuts and crisps.   After the first two drinks, we could easily have been overlooking the Bosphorus, not in the back streets of London.

Raki is an aniseedy aperitif like Ouzo, Arak and Sambucca. It is drunk in the same way, accompanied by ice and water and often diluted to a dreamy cloud colour.  But beware, especially of the homemade stuff, once you start to feel it you may have perhaps over done it!! It’s a potent drink which can either bring your mind to the presence of angels or demons.