Hywel fawr jet stream

There are lots of things which make me happy. Is it the smell of home made bread in an oven warmed kitchen? Is it playing an unnecessarily long-winded game of Uno with the kids? Or is it getting them involved in the kitchen with food colouring and a sponge mix, whiling away a few hours to make this?

Rainbow Cake

Rainbow Cake

Perhaps is it sitting out in the evening sunshine, with a barbecue on the go, and a cold beer in hand?

That one ranks pretty highly actually.

All of those things which make me happy happened this weekend. Yeah, although I sometimes like to give the Welshman a bashing in my blogs, a long weekend away in the Brecon Beacons is one of the few perks I get from going out with someone whose balance oft becomes a daily liability, and whose sense of humour can be childishly inane.

Having lived in Cardiff, I know that Welsh weather can be tremendously shit. I’ll take this weekend’s glorious sunshine as a small life win and I’ll lift up my chilled Peroni and bid adieu to the jet stream which has festered around us for weeks like a bad smell.

My trip to Mid South Wales has given me a bit of blog fodder; it has made me want to write about working hard and what you can achieve from scratch with drive and talent. I wanted to write this post because although I am effectively giving a plug to the Welshman’s ma,  she is also a mighty fine baker and cook who has worked astonishingly hard to get her business to where it is today. Regardless of my connection with her, she deserves the recognition in this small humble blogpost (trust me, if she wanted to promote herself she could – she’s got an audience of several thousand Twitter followers). In the beginning she just made bread and cakes for friends, and with word being spread as quickly as the jam that buttered them, she quickly gained a reputation for melt-in-the-mouth Welsh cakes, flapjacks, juicy pork-filled sausage rolls, in addition to so many other things. Then the business started expanding, and for a while she catered for a local society, stood outside Crickhowell Market every Saturday come rain or rain (remember this is Wales), and catered for well-attended local events.

Then came Welsh Cakes Online. It does what it says on the tin, but you’ll have never had a Welsh cake like hers before, I can guarantee.

Deb’s Kitchen opened in March. Initially she’d wanted it to be just that, a kitchen shop; a place where you could pick up a light bite to take away and have a browse at kitchen utensils and equipment made by local traders. A few enquiries for a fresh coffee with their sausage roll, and a a couple of patio chairs later, Deb’s Kitchen is fast becoming the honey pot cafe of Crickhowell.

Deb’s business started off from home; long hours spent quite literally over a hot stove, 4am starts, midnight finishes. It all started in her home kitchen. Despite all the hard work that has, and still does go on, I love coming here. There’s fresh eggs from the chickens and in the corner and you can guarantee there’s leftovers waiting to be picked at on the family-sized table. The shelves alternate between clear glass containers of sultanas, dried coconut, demerara sugar, and family photos. Pots and pans hang from the ceiling; everything has its own space and is tightly packed in – I dare you to remove something – it’s like kitchen Jenga that Debs has perfected.

Free range eggs

Free range eggs

Country kitchen (with the cricket playing in the background, naturally)

Whenever I leave Wales I get an irrepressible urge to cook more at home, be more experimental, and just generally make more of an effort. Working can quite quickly shake that sort of idealism out of you. However, I do appreciate the time spent in here to give me that kick up the backside every three months. And let’s not forget, when you see a view like this for the past four days, with a cold beer in one hand, there’s no finer way to recharge.

A view from the Breacon Beacons

A view from the Breacon Beacons

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SW17 Tooting – Dosa n Chutny- Restaurant review

Where is the ‘e’ I ask you? Where is it? I am always dubious about restaurants who give themselves oddly spelled versions of everyday words. Chutney? Chutny? And, well, using ‘n’ as a grammatical conjunction is something best left to the pop ups who serve ‘mac n cheese’.

“Mac n cheese?”

“Why yes, I’d love a portion of macaroni and cheese.”

That aside, I’d heard good things about the dosas at Dosa n Chutny on Tooting High Street. I invited a friend to come along – let’s call him the Pseudo Frenchman – seeing as though I give most of my friends these semi-biographical pseudonyms for the purpose of this blog. Don’t ask me why. Anyway he and the Welshman joined me on my excursion to Tooting.

Dosa n Chutny is like a truck stop cafe. Candy floor tiles, lurid peeling orange metal chairs, and communal metal water jugs arranged with uniform precision on every table. I was fooled by the age-old trick of lining one wall with floor to ceiling mirrors too.

The dishes are so cheap on the menu that all in my party were confused about how much we should order. Having lived in London for nearly two and a half years, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if a bowl of olives came to £3.50 on my bill. It’s a shock to be faced with dosa dishes on the mains section which range between £1.95 to a *whopping* £4.25. The boys were baffled; the Welshman ordered two main meals while the Pseudo Frenchman willingly gave in to adding a starter to the order, just in case. I hate to be a ‘told you so’ kinda person, but I was more reserved with the quantities I ordered.

OK, I love to be the ‘told you so’ person.

Shortly after a lot of food arrived at our table.

A starter of crispy fried vegetables was first up. Colourful and showcasing all the colours of a Sri Lankan market, I could tell it was going to be hot just looking at it. This may or may not have been something to do with the dried and fresh chillis which liberally sided every fried potato and onion. The fried coriander and cashew nuts sprinkled on top gave the dish a decent crunch; think of an Indian / Sri Lankan version of crispy fried seaweed and you’ve just about nailed the texture.  The array of vegetables were not worth writing home about; a bit of potato, mushroom, onion, and pepper. Moreish though.

Crispy Fried Vegetables at Dosa n Chutny

Crispy Fried Vegetables at Dosa n Chutny

The special masala dosa was thin and even. While being crisp enough on the edges, it was also rippable and spongy enough in the middle to soak up the sambar, raita, and coconut. I really liked the dosa. The filling of pulpy potato and carrot didn’t do it for me however. Mushy and wet, I felt it could have had a bit more flavour to it. Although the sambar was quite mildly spiced, and perhaps a little too salty for my personal consumption, it was oddly comforting. What is with the luminous green mint chutney though?

Masala dosa

Masala dosa

I ordered a vegetable kothu paratha which is basically an Indian bread (denser and oiled unlike a traditional chapati) that has been shredded on a hot tawa. It’s then mixed with vegetables and spices. I found it chewy and doughy, and after about five mouthfuls inordinately filling too. It was served in a large bowl with raitha and ‘gravy’ – a runny lentil dahl on the side. These provided a distraction to liven it up. I found it bland and not really appropriate to have solely as a main – possibly as a side dish for the very hungry. The regimented carrot cubes gave their origins away; mixed frozen veg packet!

Vegetable kothu

Vegetable kothu

When one pays so little for a dish, it’s probably no surprise to find that some of the ingredients have been watered down, and in that respect I’m willing to ease off on the criticism. I thought the dosas themselves were pretty good and I rate our fried vegetable starter too. I think I’d like to experiment with some of the starters, perhaps they’d put a bit more fire in my belly rather than doughy dosa. Between the three of us however, we were only £26 worse off.

*Shrugs* Meh. I’d go back.

Dosa n Chutny on Urbanspoon

SW4 – Clapham – Venn Street Market

I am fortunate enough to work as a freelancer – legitimately – this is not code for unemployed. Technically I can wake when I like, wrap up the working day when I like, and take arbitrary random days off without aeons of notice.  I also used to work from home; in my pyjamas, mostly. Officy people are curious about the world of freelancing.

Officy person: “Do you work set hours?”

Me: “I try to keep as closely to a working week as possible, it’s easier that way.”

Officy person: “But what motivates you to work?”

Me: “Money, mainly.”

You see, if I don’t get up and work, then I certainly don’t get paid. And any time I take off – those arbitrary random days I mentioned earlier – is not paid either. Like any form of employment, there are pros and cons. I always like to look on freelancing positively though.

However, times are a changing. For the last two months I have been invited to work in an office which belongs to one of the companies for whom I freelance. Conveniently, the office is about a mile from my house, so even the commute walk into work isn’t bad. I’ve lost at least half of you now, haven’t I?

A short stroll from my desk is Clapham High Street, which even when I lived in Battersea, was a misnomer to me. I think the only thing I have ever successfully done on the High Street was to have a haircut under £25 (successes are relative). The bars are dire, the restaurants (save for Fish Club) leave much to be desired. There are barely any decent shops either.

Now that I work in the vicinity I have forced myself to try to seek out the diamonds from the (my own self-perceived) rough. Clapham High Street must have some interesting foibles which a food fan like me could entertain?

The most obvious (and middle class) of intrigues is of course, Venn Street Market. I’ve not blogged about it properly before, so where better to start? Just off the Clapham Common end of the High Street, this petite marche consists of a handful of stalls. Cheese, cake (Brixton’s Ms Cupcake too), some live action – a hog roast, burger flipping and rotisserie chicken – are the stands which stand out, if you will.

Chocolate chip

Une Normande a Londres

Une Normande a Londres

Unless one is buying mild cheddar for a child, there’s no excuse for going supermarket for cheese. You buy cheese at the supermarket? How could you? Get off my blog! You must try before you buy (it also appeals to one’s inner freebie seeker) and there’s no finer place than a market to do it. I’m no expert on cheese, but I knows what I likes. Plus, the person behind the wheel of cheese knows their shit. Ask them, try different things, chances are you’ll end up buying something which you can barely pronounce but you’ll thank me for it when you’re in the la la land of a cheese coma. The Borough Cheese Company were really helpful when I bought some of their Tomme de Savoie; initially creamy and sweet finished off with an earthy mushroom kick. How their stall supports the huge wheels of Comte I’ll never know. I also got a pretty awesome pecorino from Italian cheese specialists Gastronomica.

The Honest Carrot is another producer which intrigues me. Think vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free burgers and morsels; chickpeas, beetroot, and carrots creatively and attractively made into falafel and patties. I haven’t yet ventured to trying any, so if anyone has ever bought from The Honest Carrot then let me know what you think.

Although they weren’t at Venn Street Market when I was getting inspiration for this post yesterday, the Arancini Brothers frequently make an appearance. Fried risotto balls in a wrap. Need I say more?

The Honest Carrot

It’s a carrot, only more honest.

I don’t need to add my voice to the hype about Bahn mi 11, and I won’t because I’ve not tried them, but they had sold out of baguettes which pissed me off (I was hungry, OK?). I want one!

*Sad child’s face*

So Venn Street Market is the first contender to add its voice to the ‘save Clapham High Street from Room 101’ campaign. But who’s next? All suggestions will be seriously considered, unless you try to convince me about trying the Shalamar kebab house which plays Backstreet Boys videos on a loop.

I’ve already tried it.

Venn Street Market is open 10am-4pm every Saturday.

www.vennstreetmarket.co.uk