SW2 Brixton – Boqueria Tapas – Restaurant review

The 101 of writing is that you always start with something to captivate your reader. I tell this to people I’ve taught to write in the past. As we all know, every good teacher lies and breaks their own rules. Every good teacher also however, works long hour days and becomes fatigued with time. So, I trust you are in a captivate-able mood and allow me to bewitch you with my review, as the title of this post suggests, of Boqueria Tapas on Acre Lane in Brixton.

Pan con ali-oli, as you great linguaphile Brits will know, is garlic mayonnaise. Except it wasn’t garlicly enough at Boqueria Tapas, there was very little flavour – even the olive oil flavour didn’t shine. I needed a bit more *hmm*. My compañera and I couldn’t find the right adjective, but we decided if there was an adjective that sounded like a growl, then that’s what the ali-oli needed. More growl please.

Pan con ali-oli

Pan con ali-oli

When the Calamares a la romana (deep fried squid and lemon mayonnaise) arrived, we’d almost forgotten that we’d ordered it. We were still picking at the small plates on our table anyway, so it didn’t matter too much that it had come with a substantial ‘interlude’ between the first set of tapas that had been served. Not to worry, we tucked in. The squid itself was hot and freshly cooked as it should be; tender and nothing like the Michelin-tough cephalopods I’ve had in bygone times. And by Michelin I’m referring to the rubber tyres. So far so good. There were a few little things however, the batter was a bit thin and something was lacking. When I bite into crispy fried calamari I want to jump for joy, and I just couldn’t seem to find the jump in this particular dish. I enjoyed the lemon mayonnaise dip though.

Calamares

Calamares a la romana

Alcachofas salteadas con ajo, perjil y guindilla was a very, very delicious dish. It probably looks the least appealing from all the pictures I have taken, but these sautéed artichokes (served warm) with garlic, parsley and chilli were really fresh and simple. I was struck actually, at how infrequently I eat non-tinned artichokes, so much so that my brain was already expecting the vinegary sour aftermath. It didn’t materialise which made me have second thoughts: “what have I just eaten”? I almost had to do the palate equivalent of a double take. They were a lovely surprise.

Alcachofas salteadas con ajo, perjil y guindilla

Alcachofas salteadas con ajo, perjil y guindilla

The next dish was tortilla española. Could we have chosen anything less adventurous? Probably not. The Welshman sneered at me when I told him that we’d ordered it. But it’s like I said in my last post when I reviewed Amirah’s Kitchen in Wandsworth, you’ve got to check that the establishment is A. capable of the basics, and B. put through their paces. I also need to stop apologising on this blog for what I order. It’s my food and I’m darn well going to eat it.

Tortilla espanola

Tortilla espanola

As the side of my fork pressed into the golden slice of egg, potato and onion, the tortilla crumbled into fluffy semi-aggregated chunks. It was a beautiful, delicate texture and I heaped the morsels into a stable triangle on my fork – like you do when you’re trying to savour every bit of sponge remaining on your plate, long after you’ve finished your allotted portion of cake. The onion, potato, eggs – yes – all the flavours came through and lived up to the very moment I’d pushed through the bronzed top of the tortilla. But hang on a second. What is that? Sweetness. Yes, really sweet! It was not like the sweetness of carbohydrate that finds its origins in a potato. Like caster sugar sweet. This was not good. I hardly ate any more after that, save for the time when I needed a second confirmation on the true seasoning of this dish.

What happened? Had the chef put sugar in instead of salt? It certainly tasted that way. Oh dear.

Patatas bravas were less disappointing. Lovely, perfectly-seasoned potatoes with a millimetre-thin crisp coating were served piping hot.  Naturally they were topped with a piquant tomato sauce (could’ve been a dab more piquant for my taste buds, but then I have an asbestos tolerance to chilli), and ali-oli. Weirdly this ali-oli had the ‘growl’ my companion and I had lamented earlier in the evening.

Patatas bravas

Patatas bravas

Selección de quesos – it’s no surprise I almost forgot to write about the selection of cheeses. They arrived very late indeed. All our plates, cutlery and empty vessels had been cleared. It was a bit odd. Again, my companion and I had forgotten about this dish – tapas is a very distracting meal and we were getting quite full.

Spanish cheese selection

Spanish cheese selection

I asked the waiter if he could provide an description of each of the cheeses. He did. It was vague. “This is manchego. This is goat’s cheese.”

“And what is this one please?” I enquired.

“That is blue cheese.”

Revelatory. I can see that. After he had left, my companion and I looked at each other in the eye, sighed, and then laughed out of bewilderment.

Boqueria Tapas is doing some things very well. There’s freshly prepared ingredients – as we saw with the artichokes and patatas bravas – being executed with a degree of authority. Then we see a few inconsistencies or some attention to detail which is missing – such as the calamari, and the ali-oli (I really did want to jump for that calamari, but I just couldn’t).

Then of course there are the points that I don’t want to have to dwell on, nor skip on the basis of fairness. Sweet tortilla, no thanks. Blue cheese? I know that.

The venue itself was refreshing – a little cold – but so much bigger and more contemporary than I expected; there’s a huge area downstairs which caters for parties and a day cafe annexed next door. But going big is ambitious; they need to make sure they find their growl to fill it.

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I was a guest at Boqueria Tapas.

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SW11 Battersea – Sambrook’s Ale – Brewery Bash

I’m sure you’ve made the joke in your head already. A party? In a brewery? With beer? Well, yes, we all made that joke yesterday. Even the Welshman did – and he’s not known for being the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Beer barrels – disappointingly not made of wood

Although I can feel the wind turning September ever more wintery, yesterday was a cracker of a day – sunshine with the need for a scarf. My favourite kind of weather. Hay bales and the smell of Ginger Pig sausages on the barbecue greeted the real ale fans (some of whom I have encountered before) who came to celebrate Sambrook’s successes, and four-year birthday celebrations.

Sambrooks Brewery Bash

Hay bales and a hoedown!

The usual favourites were on tap; Wandle, Junction, and Powerhouse Porter. Tokens could also be exchanged for the new (ish) Lavender Hill pale ale which was overly drinkable, infused with honey and had notes of orange blossom. Pumphouse Pale Ale was also a winner in my book (glass).

If I wasn’t in drinking an industrial estate in south London, I would have thought I was getting merry at a hoedown in Somerset. A live band on the back of a lorry played jigged up versions of pop tunes that made you want to squeal – yee haaw!

Thought I’d share some of the snaps with you.

A man proffering sausages

Legal tender at the brewery

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SW18 Wandsworth – Amirah’s Kitchen – Restaurant review

Declining popadoms might have been controversial. I think it was controversial because everyone around us was clearly enjoying said popadoms. I also think it was controversial because our waiter did double check – triple check in fact that we were sure we didn’t want any. But that’s by the by. I wanted to see what Wandsworth’s Amirah’s Kitchen had to offer in the way of starters – to fill up on popadoms when the starter menu promised so much would have been ill conceived and irresponsible. Street food marks out the Old York Road Indian’s appetiser menu; small and intricately flavoured dishes pieced together with the grace of a skilled food-Jenga player; seared scallops with spring onions, cherry tomatoes, garlic and cracked pepper; lamb patties with cardamom and spiced yoghurt; warmed aloo tikki chaat with tamarind and mint chutney.

Criticise if you must but I opted for Amirah’s mixed pakora – fried potato and spinach bhajis, onion, and potato pakoras. Unadventurous? No, I beg to differ. When you’ve eaten something with great frequency, and it is that simple, it should be – well – simple. Pakoras can be monstrous in this country and in polarity also ludicrously divine. Eating something again and again gives you a benchmark; you know what to expect, its nuances and even its shortcomings. I had set Amirah’s Kitchen a challenge. The fried potato and spinach pakora was floury and moist on the inside, but getting there was the best part. The inaugural bites inward had texture and a brittle crunch which popped as your teeth anticipated the coarse, toasted coriander seeds on which your eyes had already feasted.

Amirah's mixed pakora

Amirah’s mixed pakora

Again to start; Punjabi fried fish. In detail, tilapia coated in gram flour and deep fried until it’s the colour I like my beer. Golden. In less detail. Melting gloriousness. And so good with the tamarind and mint chutney accompaniment which gave it the spicy slap round the face it could withstand. Tilapia really is a wonderful fish when fresh and well cooked. Haddock and cod really leave much to be desired with their wetness.

Punjabi fried fish

Fried tilapia and a spicy tamarind and mint chutney

Things done not so well? Well the onion ring in Amirah’s mixed pakora was a bit nondescript, and the batter a bit dry and thick for my liking. Plus the advertised mint chutney didn’t quite make it through the pass on this occasion which is by no means a deal breaker but it’s nice to try these things.

My main, kadhai jhinga, was small yet perfectly formed. The congruence of the red chilli, peppers, toasted coriander and the substantial, succulent prawns were not lost in a silver vat that one is often served in Friday Night Curry House X. The tiger prawns were the dish – and the thick sauce clung to them. There was no leftover watery gravy which had to be apologetically mopped up with cardboard naan. The prawns were cooked as their quality deserved. Oily? No. A very good dish, if slightly over seasoned.

Kadhai Jhinga

Tiger prawns, ginger, chilli and crunchy peppers

Amirah's Peshwari naan

Amirah’s Peshwari naan

The Welshman always chooses a lamb curry. At Amirah’s Kitchen his habitual leanings were rewarded in his rogan josh. Large hunks of bone tender lamb sat in an ochre bath of ginger, browned onion, and tomato. Robust and hearty, with only a slight hint of immiscible oil, but that’s if I am being especially fussy.

Piglet – I am. Amirah’s Kitchen was very generous and brought out desert. Shhh, don’t judge. I still had room. The warmed gajjar halwa (carrot fudge) was muted with subtleties of cardamom, and the grains of almond and pistachio gave the carrot sweet threads of texture. Served with vanilla ice cream the hot-cold combination was creamy and rounded. My initial interpretation of halwa is that it is sticky and fudgey, so I was surprised when this desert was wetter and less glutinous and cohesive. It was also not as sweet as other Indian deserts I’ve had experience of – which was no bad thing in my opinion.

Gajjar Halwa

Carrot, cardamon, almond, and pistachio halwa

Amirah’s Kitchen on Old York Road, Wandsworth, is trying to serve authentic Indian street food. Its lunchtime menu offers kathi rolls, shashlik, and other on-the-go bites. The starter menu also nods to the street food scene – like I said before structured, definite flavours stacked around a small bitesize centrepiece. Conquering street food is ambitious – the ingredients must stand out, be entirely fresh, and be of snack-worthy digestibility. There are reasons why Amirah’s Kitchen doesn’t continue their street food manifesto past 5pm which personally I think is a shame. If those reasons are financial or to do with turnover then that obviously must factor in the owner’s business decision, and I can completely see that, especially for a restaurant which has only been open 10 weeks.

For now Amirah’s must build its reputation as a great Indian restaurant in Wandsworth, and from the excellent standard of last night’s meal, I can see that it is doing this. The street food backbone is not lost, but ‘translated’ throughout the post-5pm mains. I mentioned beautifully-cooked tiger prawns, an emphasis on high-quality ingredients, detectable notes of individual spices – oh the ginger! Yes, it really was rather good.

I really hope Amirah’s Kitchen is able to nurture and cultivate its street food promise. There are so many ‘curry houses’ doing great curry very well. It would be a crying shame for Amirah’s to have to directly compete with them. I look forward to seeing a menu that is refined as the weeks and months pass. Street food and fast feasting really are in vogue in the foodie scene so I think they should make the most of it.

Old York Road in Wandsworth feels like a very homely place, and somewhere I would like to unearth in future. Fortunately I will be returning much sooner than I had anticipated thanks to the Old York Road Unplugged Festival which is happening this Sunday (16 September) between 11am-5pm. If I may put the plug back in for a second just to let you know that, as its name suggests, it’s a street festival with an emphasis on music. But don’t let the three music stages distract you from the tens of stalls, cask ale, street food and entertainment that will be lining this small south London street. I’m assisting with the event, and despite having to set my alarm for 4am, I am ecstatic to be part of such an occasion. Please join the Facebook group or visit Old York Road’s website to discover more.

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I was a guest at Amirah’s Kitchen.

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SW12 – Clapham South

This post doesn’t have a title as such. A postcode, yes, and an indicative address in south London but more than that? No. This is neither a restaurant review, an account of a colourful farmers’ market, nor a spotlight on an up and coming south London producer. So why just Clapham South?

Well, I’ve only gone and moved, haven’t I? Come March I will have lived in London three years, and in those three years I’ve hopped and skipped through five flats. You know the drill; every time we Londoners move we inevitably say “well I’m not doing that for at least another two years”.

Well that’s bullshit.

Something happens, good or bad, and we’ve got to up sticks and find another lone (cheap) corner of the Big Smoke. I had come to love Brixton a great deal since moving there in January – the sights, the sounds, the hobos and the hipsters. Times have however changed.

For one reason I find myself in a wonderful one-bedroom flat in Clapham South. The wonderful thing is that I get to live with who I want to live with, which those of you who have had the blessed experience of sharing with inordinate strangers will appreciate.

Now I have my own kitchen, my own pots and pans, a whole fridge – not just a shelf – and – look – space for this beaut!

Pretty awesome birthday present, huh?

Having your own kitchen definitely gives you back your cooking mojo.

“You know what, I think I’ll just whiz up some muffins seeing as though housemate x hasn’t gone and stole my blueberries.”

(She had a blueberry – verging on the side of fetish – addiction.)

Blueberry muffins

Or: “Bugger it. There’s feck all on telly. I think what this flat is missing is homemade bread.”

One would think I lived in a farmhouse or something…

There you go. Non-Instagramed too.

So that’s all there is to it. A new flat, a new location, a new kitchen. More cooking. Someone get me a pinny.

Better change my Twitter bio too; A Brixton dweller’s blog. Nodanymore!

If you’ve got any recommended haunts in the SW12 region, lettuce know. I’m already a fan of Balham Bowls Club; good beer.

Aye.