Chipotle Mexican Grill

Looking for fast food with a difference? Chipotle Mexican Grill claim to be pioneers in changing the way we think about and eat fast food. Their philosophy, and essentially their USP, is that all food served is the freshest, finest and most wholesome they can source from local and family farmers, each of which are committed to producing Higher Welfare and Farm Assured meats and vegetables.

A recent change in job has opened up a whole new world of lunching options for me to explore and it wasn’t long before Chipotle caught my eye. Offering a welcome light relief from the usual lunch break suspects such as Pret and Eat, I can see Chipotle featuring quite heavily in my weekday quick eats hit-list.

The concept is so simple, your first of many choices is whether you want Burrito [flour tortilla], Burrito Bowl [Burrito ingredients served in the bowl sans the tortilla] Taco or Salad. Then you move onto the meats, choices being Chicken [no ordinary chicken but Higher Welfare chicken, marinated in chipotle adobo then grilled] Steak [Farm Assured beef, again marinated in chipotle adobo and grilled], Carnitas [outdoor reared Pork, seared, braised and shredded], Barbocoa [Farm assured beef, seared, braised and shredded] and finally a vegetarian option.

Next is the choices of white or brown rice, mild or spicy sauce, guacamole, beans, peppers, cheese, lettuce…the list seems endless. The result [in my case] was a Burrito with chicken, brown rice, lettuce, peppers, sour cream and cheese.

The end result really is pretty damn good, the adobo marinade gives the moist chicken a real kick of flavour. The rice helped add texture, the peppers also packed a bit of spice which was cooled by the sour cream and lettuce. I was left feeling full, satisfied and healthy. Chipotle has evidently put a lot of thought and effort into their “fresh and wholesome” concept, it really shows, and most importantly it works. Slightly more expensive than maybe your average work lunch at £6.70 for a Burrito [surcharges apply for eating in], it is money well spent in my opinion.

The staff are exceptionally efficient and friendly. Please don’t be put off by a lengthy queue when you arrive, this moves pretty quickly. Should you choose to “eat-in” the interior is superior to other sandwich joints. Lengthy, communal metal topped tables run down the middle of the venue in a communal dining style. Alternatively, there are smaller tables for four if you are eating with friends or high tables for two with stool for a more intimate experience [I jest ofcourse!].

For a decent hearty bite at a reasonable price, I recommend checking Chipotle out. I know I’ll be going back to continue working my way through the menu options. 😉

Rosemary Garlic Bread

Having been stricken by the flu, I called my manager to stay at home and work remotely. At this helpless state, I could barely concentrate in front of the PC. The after-effects of the past evening’s night nurse have yet to wear off, too.

At around lunchtime, I desperately needed a distraction. Anything.

Searched the fridge and found some fresh rosemary. Searched Google and found me a recipe for rosemary garlic bread. And as Keith Lemon remarks (in high-pitched voice), ‘Shhhh-tinggggg’!

Foremost, apologies to whoever I based the recipe from, my mind was not at its most alert stage yesterday.  Here’s what I can remember I used:

2.5 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
Quarter cup of milk or so
About 2 heaped tbsp of fresh rosemary (a little extra for topping)

Whole head of garlic
1 tbsp olive oil

1 pack fast-acting yeast
¾ cup lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar

Soon enough, I had the yeast in the sugary water solution. Left it there for about 10 minutes until frothy and smelling of beer.  Meanwhile, I packed the garlic and 1 tbsp of olive oil in foil and baked it at 170C for about 45 minutes. This mellows the garlic taste and turns it into a spreadable garlic paste.

That done, I mixed the flour, salt, oil, milk, rosemary and the yeasty brew. The dough was a little bit wet, so I added just a tad more flour. Then onto the countertop for the kneading process. I did about 7 minutes of kneading, until dough became elastic and smooth, then left it to prove in the boiler room for about an hour.

Break over, I went back to work until the garlic’s done, which I just simply squeezed out of the individual cloves, mixed with a bit more olive oil, and pounded in the good ol’ mortar and pestle.

When the dough’s done proving, I poured it back on to the countertop, divided it into 8 pieces.  I rolled each piece to about 18 inches and twisted each of them to form a braid.  Now, I got this bit of inspiration from the Hairy Bikers the night before. Apparently, the ‘braid’ has more surface area; hence, more crust; therefore, bread is crunchier. Ding-ding! Thanks Simon and Dave!  I laid these on the baking sheets and allowed them to rise for another 20 minutes. I brushed the garlic-y oil mash over them, and sprinkled the extra rosemary and some salt on top, then banged them into the pre-heated oven at 190C for 15 minutes.

Dough at second proving stage, brushed with garlic oil paste and sprinkled with chopped rosemary and salt.

And these were the results:

Enjoy with lashings of butter 😉

Ben’s Canteen

A relative newcomer to Clapham Junction / St. John’s Hill, Ben’s Canteen manages to capture everything you’d want from a local eatery. We were able to book (via Twitter — how cool!) for Saturday brunch with two others.

Friendly and cheerful staff welcomed us and showed us our ample-sized round table. The oversized cutlery hung on the wall, the wooden floors and the mismatched tables and chairs provided a rustic informal dining environment.

With our coffees and drinks sorted, we started on the brunch menu. Ben’s Canteen specialises in British grub and the scotch eggs were decided early on. We ordered two (one for G and one for the table), burger for B, eggs Benedict for J, and Super Food Salad for C.

Served on wooden boards, the scotch eggs were a delight: bigger than a grown man’s fist, the coating was crispy, the sausage meat layer was tasty with pieces of black pudding, and the yolk was runny – perfect! It was a meal on its own.  On the side, G had toasted sourdough bread with baked beans. [B & G: It was in a rich, onion-y (almost spicy with a hint of sweetness) tomato sauce; it was good. Definitely a recommendation.]

J was quietly consuming the eggs Benedict. The bread was nice, the thick-sliced ham was quality, and the acidity of the sauce was just right to complement the richness of the runny yolk. In her words, they were fit and ‘ruddy amazing’.

The super food salad included lettuce leaves, red beetroot, and pickled white beetroot, several soft boiled quail’s eggs, goat’s cheese, and really moist chicken pieces.  C said she never thought she’d like pickled white beetroot, but there you go, she described the salad as ‘amazeballs’. It was a healthy, low-carb option to make room for dessert! She mentioned she wanted it five hours later after a session at the King’s Head. Haha.

The burger was served medium which meant that the patty was really moist. It was served with proper corned beef slices, smoked cheese, sliced tomato, lettuce and a mustard-y sauce. It was a meal and a half, but B downed it anyway. [B: It was arguably the best burger I’ve ever had.] The chips were cut thin lengthwise with the skin on. It was a good side-kick to the burger. 😉

We actually had a couple of additional surprises from the kitchen: calf’s liver with bacon pieces and breaded pork cheeks courtesy of the chef. The former was melt-in-the-mouth and B had about half of it! The pork cheeks were a novelty, and the acidic sauce actually went well with it.    [Apologies we did not finish all of it; we had to leave space for dessert.]

Moving on, three desserts were ordered to share: a rolo tart with peppermint ice cream, winterberry trifle and a white chocolate tart with chocolate ganache.  The rolo tart and peppermint ice cream was a very refreshing combination, like after-eight on a plate. The white chocolate tart with the ganache was as advertised, but I wish the tart base was crumblier.   The crowning glory, as we all agreed, was the trifle. It was served in a screw-cap jar, which drew ‘oohs’ from all of us. Quoting C, “I dug my spoon all the way down to the bottom so my first mouthful would have every layer – booze-soaked lady-fingers, clear jelly with redcurrants and raspberries, and that heaven-made cream – it is one the best deserts I’ve had the pleasure to eat.  The waitress naively brought me a smaller spoon, but deserts like this cannot be eaten quaintly. They need to be enjoyed, all layers in one go.  Refuse the small spoon people, and stick with the big one.”

Ben’s Canteen is a nice venue for catching up over brunch and all-day breakfast. The relaxed atmosphere is conducive for conversations with friends. It is spacious too, good for big groups. The staff members are friendly – the lady serving us was attentive and chatty without being intrusive. The bill came to about £25 each, which actually wasn’t too bad after the feast we’ve had.

Eight thumbs up!

Ben’s Canteen / 140 St John’s Hill / Battersea / London / SW11 1SL

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Franco Manca

A friend of ours pointed out this pizza place once after a Sunday lunch catch-up at the Brixton Village. Apparently, they serve one of the best pizza in London town. Curiosity was further piqued when a fellow blogger (@theswfoodblog) posted a review of Franco Manca. It seemed like we were missing out, so a plan to visit was quickly hatched.

Remembering there was a huge queue outside when we passed by Franco Manca before, we agreed to be there early and were rewarded with seats inside.  As soon as we sat, and lucky for us, the number of people waiting outside grew to about fifteen. No kidding.  Testament, perhaps, of how good the pizza actually are.

I ordered number 4 on the menu, with Old Spot ham, mozzarella, buffalo ricotta and wild mushrooms; G chose number 6, with tomato, organic chorizo (dry and semi-dry) and mozzarella. After about 10 minutes, two whole blistered pizzas (or pizze) were delivered. And the glory of the bases!

Franco Manca pizzas have sourdough crusts, characterised by a slightly more sour taste than the usual high-street / shop-bought / across-the-road versions.  [Technically, it has lactobacillus (think Yakult) in the leavening culture and the sour taste is due to the lactic acid by-product.]  The crust was chewy and moist and thin apart from the edge. These were indeed different from any pizza we have tried before. With rich, heavy, and I dare say, fatty toppings, the acid cuts through and helps to balance the dish.

B. This worked particularly well with pizza number 4, on which the tomato sauce was sparse (see photo). The toppings, too, were excellent.  The buffalo ricotta, in particular, was unlike any I have tried before. Call me crazy but it was intense but mellow at the same time. And the amount was apt – more of which I would have gagged at the richness. FM got the balance just right. I actually drizzled a bit of the chilli-infused olive oil on mine which gave it a kick and a potent kick it was!

G. I opted for the chorizo-topped pizza which had on it an assortment of chunky and thinly-sliced pieces. The chorizo itself was very flavourful and was used sparingly. I feel if there has been any more meat then it may have become slightly over-powering. They judged it just right and was served in a typical base of tomato sauce and mozerella cheese providing an excellent balance of flavours.

One gripe, however, was the one grumpy waitress (bordering on rude). Chill out, we just asked about the seating. We do not expect 3-star curtsey, but service with a smile would make a difference.  Kinda ruined the fun, buzzing atmosphere of the place.  (Last time I checked, smile and manners are still free, unless I missed the memo of the price increase??)  Kudos to the men though, fast, friendly and efficient.

Altogether, we agree that this is quality cheap eats. Most prices are actually cheaper than Strada or Pizza Express. Hard to beat that!!  If you want to try the place, get in there early.  Otherwise, you’ll be tortured in the waiting line by the aroma and sight of the food. Better bit: They DO takeaways. 😀

Franco Manca / Brixton Village Market / SW9 8LD / London

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