Monthly Archives: July 2012

Restaurant review: The Garage Lounge

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Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest – so it’s a shame there aren’t more coffee and cake shops that open early, then stay open until 11pm.

If you’re like me and don’t much go for pubs, having somewhere to meet friends where you can sit and chat and eat cake is the most cunning of cunning plans. And finding a café which does something more than cheese omelette or the ubiquitous goats cheese sandwich is sometimes something of a challenge.

The Garage Lounge is very Southsea. No, it doesn’t specialise in cupcakes. Yet. But it’s quirky and full of students and yummy mummies. As its name suggests, it was once a garage – the door on pulleys is still there at the side. But it’s been decorated and kitted out with comfy mismatched sofas and chairs. And the crockery looks like it came from your grandmother’s cupboard – although cake is, for some reason, served on something that looks like a mini cheeseboard.

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You eye up the cakes in a cabinet, then order at the counter. Service is cheerful but slightly shambolic – there seem to be a lot of people drifting around but your cake never arrives terribly promptly and rarely at the same time as your drink. And if you’re there with friends, whatever you’ve all ordered will turn up in dribs and drabs. But there’s free wifi and no one seems concerned if you sit there for an hour or so, although I’ve always been at fairly quiet times.  And the top guy will often wander over and ask if you enjoyed such-and-such a cake or soup because it’s the first time they’ve tried it.

The cake range is pretty impressive, with gateaux, meringues and cheesecakes galore. There are also panini-style snacks and some rather appetising-looking salads, which I have yet to try. There’s not loads for the vegetarians and nothing that I could see for vegans, but the halloumi and pomegranate seed salad has my name on it at some stage soon. If I was running the place, though, I’d think twice about having samples of the paninis out on display – by 8pm they’re looking like something you used to see in a train buffet in British Rail days.

It’s not screamingly cheap – a slice of cake and a large glass of the very nice raspberry and elderflower cordial will set you back £8. And it’s probably heresy to say so, but the sponge cake at the Royal Marines’ Museum is half the price and much nicer – the Garage Lounge products look wonderful, but tend occasionally towards the bland. And because there’s no menu, it’s a bit hit and miss trying to decide what you fancy.

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But if you fancy somewhere to meet friends in the evening where you can hear yourselves think and talk, then the Garage Lounge is a good choice.

PS: There’s no website for the Garage Lounge that I can see, although it has a Facebook page. But you’ll find it on Albert Road in Southsea, Portsmouth, almost opposite the Kings Theatre.

Recipe: Baked Falafel

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There are some kitchen activities I seem doomed to failure at – long-grain rice and keeping home-made burgers or rissoles together in the frying pan. Falafel falls into that last category. No matter how hot I get the pan for the first sizzle or how careful I am at not poking at them, they always break up in the pan and I end up with falafel mash with a few burnt bits. It’s tasty, but not what I’m after. Then I found the concept of baked falafel while looking for low-fat falafel recipes online. It sounded like a good idea worth trying.

Baked Falafel

Ingredients
1 tin of cooked chickpeas
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp sumac powder (optional – I used it because I didn’t have any lemon juice)
3 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper

Method
Preheat oven to 180C.
Put ingredients in a food processor and whizz until coarsely smooth.
Form into patties (this amount makes 6).
Put on to a baking sheet.
Bake in oven for 30 minutes, turning each patty over half-way through.

Baking the falafel makes them lighter in colour than frying them and they are a bit dry on the outside. However, the flavour is much better than shop-bought and they’re still moist on the inside. They are a bit delicate though, but at least they made it to the plate in one piece – which is a big improvement for me.

Serve with pitta bread and a nice, juicy salad.

Restaurant Review: Satsuma

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After our visit to Inamo, we still had a craving for Japanese food. The next restaurant on our list of ones to try was Satsuma down the road from Inamo on Wardour St. No gadgetry here, just a large menu with an impressive vegetarian selection and good service.

I went for the Tofu Steak Bento Box, with a side order of seaweed salad.

Tofu steak bento box

The bento box had fried tofu with a sprinkling of toasted almonds with a teryaki sauce, a couple of pieces of cucumber and avocado sushi, salad, crispy fried potato cake, rice and pickles. There was also a bowl of miso.

The tofu was great, crispy on the outside with a sweet teryaki sauce round it, a satisfying focus to the meal. The sushi was fine. The lettuce salad had that tangy salad dressing that I’ve only ever had in Japanese places. However, I question the whole ring of yellow pepper on it – how are you supposed to eat that with chopsticks? The potato cake was a bit bland, but then it’s a potato cake! A bit of wasabi and soy helped it along.

Seaweed salad

The great revelation of the meal was the seaweed salad. It was served over ice in a sundae glass. It achieved a mixture of crunch and slipperiness that tasted a whole lot better than it looks written down. It had a cooling dressing that had to have mint in it somewhere. It was completely refreshing and I think would work better than ice-cream to cool you down on a hot day.

I was impressed with Satsuma’s vegetarian selection. There were at least a couple of options in each section to choose from, so there were other bento boxes I could have had, which is great compared to the standard solitary veggie option you too often get. The only questionable item was the miso soup that came with the bento box. The standard miso soup on the menu wasn’t marked as vegetarian. I asked the waiter about it and he went to check. He came back, a little too quickly for a trip to the kitchen, to say that yes, the miso soup was vegetarian. I wasn’t convinced (and neither were my companions) so I took a quick sip. It had too deep a flavour to persuade me that it was based on a veggie rather than dashi stock, so I left it be. There was enough to eat without it so I didn’t miss it. Next time I go I shall make further enquiries.

Dodgy miso soup aside, it was a very satisfying experience. The service was quick and plentiful. The ambience was lively (for once I wasn’t on the loudest table in the place). There are great veggie options. It was very reasonably priced for Soho and Japanese food. Dinner for three, including wine and service came to £101.

Satsuma
56 Wardour St
London
W1D 4JG
020 7437 8338

Leave it out, guv …

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We promised everyone when we started this blog that we wouldn’t swamp it with poncy, arty pictures of food, taken in pristine kitchens with marble worktops. Good job, really, as finding some clear workspace in mine is impossible, and you can’t swing a hamster in Anth’s kitchen …

So I was royally traumatised this week by a pic on an otherwise rather good vegan recipe site (in this case no names, no pack drill). The silken tofu omelette oozed so ickily I had to navigate hurriedly away from the page. I will spare you my friend Mark’s unsubtle description of it, but can assure you his comparison wasn’t inaccurate.

But then I can take or leave quorn, soya and tofu. I haven’t eaten meat for 34 years, so I have no memory of its taste or texture. I never liked it much anyway, so I’ve never had the urge to recreate bacon sandwiches or chicken strips. I’d rather make something I like from scratch.

There does, though, seem to be a fixation in some quarters with recreating meat-based favourites for vegetarians. I do admit to getting very over-excited when I found a fish-free Worcestershire sauce that actually tasted something like the original – but then toasted cheese and my favourite nut roast recipe are naked without it, as it has a very particular flavour.

And as an occasional treat I make a bacon-free BLT sarnie that uses halloumi instead. But then no one is ever going to mistake it for the real thing when you spread hummus on a ciabatta roll and then dump halloumi, tomatoes, rocket and lemon juice on it. The taste and texture is a million miles away from pig products …

One of the things I find weird with Slimming World is the constant trying to recreate forbidden foods as something syn-free. There’s the infamous quiche that isn’t a quiche, as mentioned by Anth on this blog a few weeks ago. Isn’t a quiche without pastry a Spanish omelette? The chocolate mousse using quark and a sachet of hot drinking chocolate should have been strangled at birth. And as for the cakes made with the cardboard-like crispbreads they sell at meetings – let’s not even go there.

Anth took one for the team the other day by sampling vegan cheese. And I can confirm after an ill-advised foray into buying vegetarian parmesan that it shouldn’t be touched with a bargepole. It reinforces what I’ve felt for some time – sometimes it’s just easier and more pleasant to do without and to find something else that’s satisfying and tasty to eat.

Recipe Tryout: Mapo Doufu

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I love Chinese food, but I have to admit that when I cook it for myself I normally stick to either black bean sauce or a packet sauce. I generally associate ‘authentic’ with ‘complicated’, so I was very pleased to come across this tofu recipe in the Guardian.

Mapo dofou

I like spicy food and it seemed simple enough so I decided to give it a go. I could get the chilli-bean paste easily enough in my local Waitrose, but not the fermented black beans. However, I decided that black bean sauce would probably be a reasonable substitute.

I have to say it worked pretty well. I didn’t end up with as much sauce as the website photo, because I forgot to add the water, but it didn’t taste dry to me. I also added half a little gem lettuce as I’m always trying to keep up my intake of green leafy stuff. I also didn’t bother with boiling the tofu before using it. It broke up a little bit, but as you’re simmering rather than stir-frying it didn’t make much of a difference to the finished product.

It’s hot, salty and easy to make. I’ll be cooking it again.

There are, however, two words of warning:

1) Chilli bean paste is freaking hot! Without being a masochist, I like my chilli. My favourite sauce on rice salads etc is the Encona Hot Chilli Sauce. But Sichuan chilli bean paste beats that. Taste before you cook with it, I ended up halving the amount used.

2) Be careful about how hot the oil is before you add the chilli paste at the beginning of the recipe. I went on automatic and let it get as hot as I would for normal stir-frying. Big mistake. When the paste hit the oil it turned into splatter city. I was wearing sandals and my feet were getting splashed with the hot oil. Keep it medium heat as per the recipe.

I don’t know about Pock-marked Old Woman’s Tofu – I think I’ll call it Hot Foot Tofu from now on!