Haché

(Reviewed by G. Holland, @holland_greg)

Haché is a family business established in late 2004 by Suzie and Berry Casey whose mission statement was to “produce the best and most innovative burgers to be found anywhere”. Rather a bold statement. With a branch recently opening on my local high street, I was keen to see if these burgers lived up to the hype.
 
With the majority of local high streets packed with the usual suspects – namely GBK and Nando’s – ,  I’d say Haché is a level above these in both appearance and service. I really liked the fact that Haché actually felt like a restaurant rather than the typical “burger joint”, the decoration was neutral and tasteful without being bland [I did rather like the chandelier style lighting] and the furniture comfortable, solid and of good quality.
 
The service was bright and breezey, no waiting in line at the till to place your order [don’t you just hate that?!]. Our waitress was well-informed about the extensive menu and happy to advise us on menu choices. We started by sharing a portion of Chicken Wings, our first pleasant surprise. Smothered in a light but fire-y sauce, these wings pack just enough kick to be pleasant without overpowering. The meat was moist, plentiful and tender, we were left wishing we’d ordered a portion each.  It was served with a minty yoghurt dip (if memory serves me well) to cool the tongue.

My dining partner, on a Lent driven no-carb diet, chose a monster of a Chicken and Avocado salad. Mounds of moist chicken, lashings of avocado with warm roasted peppers, roasted pine nuts and mixed leaves provided a hearty alternative to the burgers.

I followed up the wings with Haché Steak Milano Burger [burger topped with buffalo mozzarella, parmesan shavings and sun dried tomato tapenade]. I requested the burger be cooked medium and it was served – surprise surprise!!! – medium. Great, just the way I wanted it! The combination of mild mozzarella and mature parmesan sat really well together, throw in the deep savoury sun dried tomato tapenade, sandwiched between a brioche bun and I was pretty much in heaven. There is also decent choice of sides from onion rings to sweet potato frites. I opted for dirty fries.


 
There are several alternative burgers available aside from the typical beef including fish, chicken, lamb and crispy duck, as well as several vegetarian falafel burgers. This vast list surely caters for every taste.

And you get colourful candies with the bill 😀


 
So, does Haché really produce the best burgers in London? In my opinion they must be pretty damn close, great venue, great food and great service. I know I’ll be heading back soon to continue working my way through that menu.
 
Burgers priced £6.95 to £12.95
Sides priced £2.95 to £4.95

Haché / 153 Clapham High Street / London / SW4 7SS

Pork Meatballs

A lot of people never really consider pork as an option when they are cutting down on calories.  One thing I discovered, is that lean pork mince has less fat than lean some versions of lean beef.  I would normally use beef for chilli con carne, bolognese or meatballs.  This time, however, I thought I would give pork meatballs a go.  And as an added twist, I will use chorizo flavours to make this hearty dish! The broth I made with this is lighter than what I would normally do (there was no tomato sauce / passata in the cupboard, ha! tut tut!)  These are what I used:

Meatballs:
500g minced pork
4 tsps smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cloves of garlic (grated)
pinch of salt and pepper

Sauce:
3 plump tomatoes (chopped)
1 large onion (sliced / chopped)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
1 chicken oxo cube  (dissolved in a pint of water)
4 dried bay leaves
pitted black olives
chopped parsley
2 dried chilli (optional ;))

Mix together the ingredients for the meatballs and shape into bite-sized balls.  This portion made about 30. Place under the grill, turn around a few times to get even colouration. (You can fry these little babies but it just defeats the purpose of low-cal.)

Meanwhile, fry the onion over medium heat until just translucent then add the tomatoes, and further cook for about 3 minutes. Pour in the stock and everything else, and simmer.  When the porkies are ready, dunk them into the sauce and simmer until, say, 10-15 minutes or about a quarter or half of the sauce has evaporated.  The sauce will thicken slightly during the process.  Adjust seasoning, as appropriate, and serve to the hungry!

 

 Of course, I HAVE to have rice. 😉 Enjoy!

Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

Inspired by a Jamie Oliver 30-minute meal episode, I tried my hand on this recipe for puttanesca.  The name literally translates to ‘whore-style spaghetti’, apt for the guest I’m having tonight. (haha joke Ric!!!)  I’ve had this dish before ages ago, and it actually packs a strong punch from the anchovies and capers.  Easy and simple to make, you would need these:

400g spaghetti, cook as directed
4 cloves garlic, crushed / grated
5 fillets anchovies
2 cans tuna in oil
pitted black olives, halved or sliced
capers
cayenne pepper
700mL passata (sieved tomatoes)
stock
parsley

As the pasta is cooking, fry the garlic in a little bit of oil for about a minute in medium heat.  Add the anchovies and mix until the fish disintegrates.  Throw in the olives and maybe 2 tbsp of capers. (I added some sliced mushrooms last time I made it.) After a minute or 2, put the tuna in, pressing on the chunks to break them. Cook for about 3 minutes and sprinkle in the parsley and some cayenne pepper if you fancy. If you have oregano, add half a teaspoon of it. 

Thereafter, stir in the passata and stock. For the latter, I just dissolved an Oxo chicken cube in about 100mL of water.  You can buy some ready-made stock but this dish shouts convenience, hence the cube. 😉  Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Now, spoon about a quarter of the sauce into the pasta to just about lightly coat each strand with a red tinge.  Divide on plates and pour more sauce on top.  Serve. Best enjoyed with a glass of red and good company.

Del’Aziz (Clapham)

With its colourful and abundant displays, one can’t help but take a second glance at the merchandise of Del’Aziz. I noticed this new eatery / deli one Saturday on the way to the gym in Clapham.  The mound of giant meringues particularly. Actually, I went in once before to check out what’s being sold one morning – oversized flapjacks, glazed fruity cakes – hmmmmm, not very good after work-out replenishment.  And price-y too.

Well, just this past Thursday, we had the chance to check out what Del’Aziz is all about over a catch up with friends over dinner.  Front of house was friendly and efficient. Ambience, quality.  Then, it’s downhill from there.

I’m relatively easy to please and I am not normally critical, but the waiters don’t seem to know about the food on the menu. One of our friends asked the difference between sirloin and rib-eye, and the waiter did not have a clue. Considering these were the only choices for the steak, it shouldn’t have been that difficult.

Anyway, onto the food.  We had mezze platters to share – humous, tzatziki, tabouleh, meatballs and sausages. There were 3 choices of bread, we treated ourselves to one each 😉  Starters weren’t too bad, I must say.

I had rib-eye (medium rare) for my main. This was served on a wooden board with skin-on chunky chips, one whole roasted tomato and watercress. That was it. No sauce or anything. I initially thought this must be really good for them to serve it out without any embellishment.  Then I had my first bite. Hmmmm. Pretty underwhelming. Literally unseasoned. It was flavour-less, it could have been soaked in water overnight. Seriously, Sainsbury’s steak would win hands down.  I only finished it coz I was marvin’. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

The other three guys had desserts afterwards. The portions are humongous. Sickly gargantuan. I had a bit of the banana (& apple?) cake but I could only have 2 mouthfuls of that. The massive portions are really unnecessary.

Overall the food was distinctly average with the main draw card being the desserts; however, the massive portions are just too much!  We appreciate the Del’Aziz only opened within the past few months and of course teething problems are to be expected but the waiting staff really should be better briefed on the menu.

With a bottle of wine, a couple glasses of prosecco and coke, the bill came in at around £45 each.  We left feeling this really wasn’t good value.  Not sure if I would go back again for dinner but it may be worth a trip for those with a serious sweet tooth and a serious appetite to match!

Del’Aziz / 55-57, The Pavement / Clapham Old Town / London / SW4 0JQ

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Upstairs

If you live in the Brixton / Clapham area, appreciate good food and haven’t been to Upstairs, you are definitely missing out. In fact, regardless of where you live in London, dinner at Upstairs is well worth the trip.
 
This was our third time dining at this secluded little eatery: located above Opus coffee shop on Acre Lane, the entrance is discreet doorway on Branksome Road. On the first floor lies a relaxing bar area [which doubles as an additional dining room on busier nights] and a second flight of stairs takes you to the main dining room. Intimate is probably the best description of both the size and ambiance. There must be approximately 12 tables neatly packed in but not so close that you spend your evening listening to the neighbouring table’s conversation.
 
One of the many things we really like about Upstairs is the simplicity of the menu which offers a choice of only three starters, mains and desserts. Some people would regard this as limited but if anything, it makes your choices more difficult as everything sounds so damn good and you really can’t go wrong whatever you pick. Also, with this menu format, you invariably end up eating something you wouldn’t normally choose – great for expanding the culinary experience!
 
At the time of writing, Upstairs was offering a tasting menu throughout January & February which consisted of smaller portions of 2 out the 3 dishes for each course. We figured the opportunity to sample 66% of the entire menu was too good an opportunity to let pass.
 
Drinks in hand, we settled into the starters. We must add that Upstairs offer a great selection of aperitifs [£8.50 each] the Prosecco and Peach Liquor cocktail being a particular favourite. [The Frangelico drink is dangerous, it crippled me once – cost me a day! haha].

The amuse bouche was smoked mackerel, a rather pleasant surprise. The starters were parsley root soup and confit of rabbit. The soup was thick, smooth and hearty, served with shavings of truffle and walnut royale. The truffle lent it an earthy taste, and was fit for the cold winter night. The rabbit was served with pieces of heritage carrots with rhubarb. Again, excellent.


First of the main courses was salmon, served on a bed of haricot beans, foam and fennel. The fish had a very delicious crust on it. The fennel provided a sweet-ish aniseed-y undertone to contrast with the well seasoned and robust salmon.  Second was the lamb, sliced and served on a bed of smoked butter mash, shredded greens, mint jelly and cubed root veggies. The lamb was perfectly cooked pink, but the stand-out was the mash, hands down. Rich, delicious and more-ish. It could have been served just on its own. 😉  [Upstairs, we want the recipe please. :D]


 
Desserts were poached pear and chocolate mudslide.  The pear was poached in star anise and topped with amaretto granita. The white wine jelly and the olive oil biscuit added depth to the dessert when gently wolfed down together.  The chocolate mudslide was a revelation. It was light, paired with vanilla ice cream, marshmallow, crumble and pumpkin seeds. The salted caramel sauce is a treat on its own. (I wish there were more of it though, but that’s just me. – Baz). A great way to end the meal, indeed.
 
 

All in all, a trip to Upstairs never disappoints. The food is consistently great, the restaurant itself has a real charming quality about it, and husband & wife team Philippe and Stephanie are friendly and attentive as front of house. 

As one actor / politician said: I’ll be back.  (clue: he’s the Terminator)

Upstairs / 89B Acre Lane / Brixton / SW2 5TN
 2 courses: £27.00
3 courses: £33.00
4 courses [incl cheese] £38.00

Upstairs Bar on Urbanspoon

Vanilla / Coconut Macaron

This love affair started when I saw Lorraine Pascale make French macarons.  I have tried several shop-bought ones and yes, they are good. Stand-outs so far are ones from Yauatcha and Laudree.  The lemon ones are a favourite of @holland_greg. I personally prefer the coconut and vanilla varieties. Demolish a dozen?? Easy.

So, I tried my hand in making these little pieces of heaven. I have actually done this before, although I didn’t get to document that one. Of course, there were duds along the way, can we just pretend they didn’t happen? LOL.

I used:

3 large egg whites
25g caster/granulated sugar
about 1 tbsp vanilla extract (one with seeds in it)

225g icing/powdered sugar
100 g ground almonds
25g desiccated coconut

Sift the last 3 ingredients together and set aside.

Thanks to the handy whisk owned by @GillyJA, making the meringue is a not forearm-breaking anymore. Worked the egg whites (best at room temperature) to a soft peak and slowly added around 25 grams of caster sugar until it forms stiff glossy peaks.

Then, very gently fold in the dry ingredients (sugar/almonds) into the meringue, maybe 2 big tablespoons at a time. The key is to gently fold; otherwise, the meringue will lose a lot of air. Ms. Pascale recommended around up to 50 folds. Add the vanilla extract halfway through the folding.

Pipe batter into little circles and let stand for a while.  I find that the longer you let it stand, the better the results, roughly 20 to 30 minutes, or until a ‘skin’ forms on top of the batter.

Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 115C and bake for about 15-18 minutes.  A lot of recipes call for around 140C to 160C and 9 to 11 minutes cooking time. I find the lower temperature is appropriate as I use a fan oven and the longer time allows for the shells to cook without burning.

Now, while this is all happening, blitz about half a bottle of coconut sport jam (available in Chinese / Asian shops) and some desiccated coconut. Add more dried coconut if the mixture is a bit runny until you get a thicker-than-jam consistency.

Fill the shells with the jam mixture and you’re done. Ta-dah!Image

BOQUERIA Tapas

(Reviewed by Bazzimus and Greg. Follow us on twitter @barriowalterio and @holland_greg)

This sleek, contemporary-looking newcomer on Acre Lane in Brixton couldn’t help but catch a passer-by’s eye. Having opened only a mere 8 weeks ago (their website is still under construction as time of press), we were keen to sample what Boqueria had to offer in the hope that it would go some way to fill the current void of quality tapas venues south of the river. We weren’t left disappointed.

The whole look and feel of Boqueria is completely different from your typical tapas joints: bare wooden floors, simple uncluttered table arrangements and the neutral contemporary décor was a refreshing change. Hints of fiery red adorn the walls: bare picture frames on one side and a selection of scenes ofSpainon the other. We were sat at the dining area at the back, although punters can also choose to have their grub served at the bar. Being a Saturday lunchtime, it was relatively quiet although I can imagine the bar area being a great place to sit and soak in the atmosphere on a weekend evening.

Drinks ordered, we tackled the menu which not only offered a combination of the classics but also a great selection of special dishes detailed on large chalk board at the end of the dining room. We opted for 5 tapas plus a plate of paella to share. The more traditional dishes were done well: Spanish style eggs served with chorizo and mushrooms were tastefully presented in a stack, the calamares had lovely light, crisp batter which was cooked to perfection and served with garlic mayonnaise. The aubergine cannelloni (thinly sliced aubergine wrapped around a mushroom filling and tomatoes, and topped with the goat’s cheese) offer a particularly tasty vegetarian option.

 

From the “specials board”, we chose a delicate dish of monkfish “fishballs” (albondigas) sympathetically spiced with saffron.

 

The paella negro (squid ink paella) was as good as expected, full of sea-goodness, albeit the portion was on the small side. We expected it to be served on a traditional paella pan but it came on a similar plate other tapas were served on. The clam stated on the menu didn’t make an appearance, only to be replaced by slices of shrimp. A bit of a disappointment there!  😦

 

The stand-out dish, without a shadow of a doubt, had to be the slices of pork shoulder served on a bed of sweet potato puree. This really was something else: the Iberico pork was ever so slightly pink in the middle and it simply melted in the mouth.  The light salt seasoning indeed brought the flavour out. One word: QUALITY!

  

All in all, Boqueria Tapas is a great addition to the emerging Brixton eating scene. We’re pretty sure this venue will continue to flourish with such delicious food and friendly, attentive service. Roughly spent £23 per person, not exactly cheap eats, but a moderately-priced treat we would say!! Will definitely be back very soon to sample the other special dishes on offer. 

 Boqueria Tapas / 192 Acre Lane / SW2 5UL /London

Boqueria on Urbanspoon

Mama Lan

(Reviewed by Bazzimus and Greg. Follow us on twitter @barriowalterio and @holland_greg)

How annoying is it when you suddenly realise you live a mere 5 minutes down the road from such a fine collection local eateries? Having lived around the Clapham / Brixton border for the past 6 years, we were kicking ourselves at only just discovering Brixton Village Market.  Located behind Brixton tube station just off Electric Avenue, the market is home to 20+ cafes, restaurants and takeaways. So taken by this gem of a find we’ve been two weekends on the bounce and plan to continue making visits until we have systematically tried each and every option. 

On our first trip we ate at Mama Lan’s and immediately fell in love with this tiny family-run joint. The menu focuses on Beijing dumplings, popular street snacks and noodle soups. You can’t really go wrong with anything you chose. 

After a morning gym session, we started the tiresome job of refuelling with one of each flavour of the Beijing dumplings [beef & carrot, pork & Chinese leaf and dill & spiced tofu] all of which sported a lovely golden colour, crisp bottoms and were equally delicious. Served simply with pickled vegetables and variety of dipping sauces, these little treasures didn’t last long. It would be a tough to call a favourite but if pressed on the matter I think we’d have to opt for the beef & carrot (Greg) or the pork (baz).  All the dumplings are made right in front of you, which kind of added to Mama Lan’s charm.

Two servings of beef noodle soup quickly followed, the broth was rich in both colour and flavour, the beef was plentiful and perfectly tender and noodles cooked just right. The dish was simply garnished with coriander and chopped chilli (which lent some heat appropriate for a cold Sunday afternoon) without being over-powering. We were left feeling full and satisfied. Four thumbs up!

All in all, Mama Lan is good value with the dumplings priced at £4.00 for 5 pieces and the beef noodle soup priced £7.50. Uncomplicated menu, cheap eats, very straightforward. We would definitely recommend a visit should you find yourself in Brixton.  We know we’ll be returning very soon. 😉

Mama Lan / Brixton Village Market / Coldharbour Lane / SW9 8PR

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Nusa Dua, Pan-Asian

Planned a catch up with a friend yesterday.  It was after work so decided to grab an early light dinner. As he cancelled on me previously, he had the burden of choosing where to feed the tummy at.  So, it was either Japanese or Indonesian. As I really have not had much experience in Indonesian gastronomy, I went for that option. It turns out, the Japanese he had in mind was Koya. ha! I’ve just very recently been to that eatery (see last post) so I am quite glad I opted for the other.

This restaurant, Nusa Dua, turned out to be pan-Asian with heavy Indonesian touches. The expansive menu ranges from several curries in the region to pad Thai, Vietnamese chicken to roast duck. It really is heaven for lovers of Southeast Asian grub. 

By the time we sat down, I was marvin’! Chop, chop, I’m heading for the main. After a bit of silent deliberation in my head, I opted for Ayam Bali, strips of chicken in Balinese sauce.  A bit of excitement there, ordering something I’ve never tried before! Of course, I had to order coconut rice. ha!

I grazed on prawn crackers while waiting for the food to arrive, coversing over a bit of Tiger beer, imagining the sunset in Boracay. Life, int it? 😀

Snap! Back to reality. Food arrived quite promptly (at this time, we were the only customers in there), and these are what I got:

Image

Ayam Bali has in it chilli, lemon, sugar, lots of garlic, pineapple chunks, a hint of ginger, coconut milk, some cashew nuts, and a bit of coriander and some peas.  It had a bit of shrimp-y taste to it.  I could only posit that some shrimp paste was added along the way. The chilli was surprisingly mild. I am not sure what variety it was, but not birds eye definitely.  It was a nice salty / sweet / sour mixture typical of the food from the region.  Went really well with the coconut rice*. 

Overall, the experience was pleasant, service was attentive and very friendly. I have already lined up a next visit to explore the rest of the items in the menu. To top it all off, it was less than £12 for my share.

So, when are you going???

(*Coconut rice deserves a post of its own.  One weekend, I will try and decipher the secret in making a perfect serving. It is truly a hug in a bowl :D)

Addendum: Back for the second time on 24 February 2012 — received the same warm welcome and great food. The curries have depth to them. The spicy lamb chops were spicy indeed. The beef penang was very comforting and satisfying. And it was around £25 / person, with tiger beer and all. Definitely a treat in the middle of town.  Coming. Back. Again.

Nusa Dua on Urbanspoon