Posts Tagged With: Comfort food

Riding Shotgun: Catching up over Filipino at Kalesa

Copyright of Kalesa. Sourced from Kalesa website

Copyright of Kalesa. Sourced from Kalesa website

Cuisine: Filipino

Address: 59 Lavender Hill, SW11 5QN

Area: Battersea

Nearest Station: Clapham Junction/Clapham Common

Tel.: 020 3417 5639

Website: http://www.kalesa.co.uk/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Cheap and cheerful, Comfort food, Casual dining, Taste of home, Introduction to new cuisines

You know how I am with my Filipino food. Always banging on and on about it, telling people how good it is, how it’s overlooked gabba gabba hey.

But without somewhere proper to actually take people to so that they can try the real deal, that doesn’t involve me having to cook it all (though The Adobros are pretty good BOOOM), it all becomes a bit problematic to convince the good people of London of the merits of Filipino food… we have a bit of a dearth of good Filipino restaurants in town.

And so here steps up Kalesa to give it all a good shot. Some friends had been here for a breakfast last year, and whilst we all know that Filipino breakfasts are automatically the Breakfasts of Champions and hence amazing (see shamelessly self-promoting photo below), these friends had relayed to me that Kalesa’s version was actually pretty decent.

Enlisting the help of two good friends of mine – an Irish couple who, though not being massively experienced in the ways of world food, are certainly game to try anything – I finally got myself into gear and made it down one fine and balmy August evening and made the long trek to the far end of Lavender Hill from Clapham Junction.

Even though from the outside, the place is nothing special (it’s got that very neighbourhood-café-on-the-cheap feel about it, with added tropical decorations), once through the door the welcome was extremely warm, if a little shy. The guys here are evidently doing their bit to show off the good side of Filipinos and the Philippines – apart from the Filipino hospitality, there are photos and brochures (courtesy of the Department of Tourism) all over the place displaying enticing scenes of white beaches, verdant hillsides, exotic wildlife, fresh produce… oh, to be in the Philippines right now!

But we are in the Battersea/Clapham borderlands, on the drab Lavender Hill. Will Kalesa’s food be able to transport us to the tropics?

Laing: First up on the menu is laing. A dish from the Bicol region, it is typically taro leaves stewed with garlic and chilli in coconut milk. As an aside, I’ve always wondered why chillies never took as big a hold in the Philippines as elsewhere in Asia – after all, chilli was ‘discovered’ by the Spanish in Mexico, and the Manila-Acapulco Galleon was the primary trade route between the Americas and Asia… I digress. Back to Kalesa, and their take on a Bicolano favourite. It was creamy, sweet, savoury and just the right level of spice; additionally, the taro leaves were of the right consistency – think creamed spinach. I was pretty happy with what we had, and so were my friends.

Laing and pakbet - so dainty!

Laing and pakbet – so dainty!

Pakbet: Pakbet, or in its longer form, pinakbet (which I am told is itself a shortened version of the Ilocano word, pinakebbet, meaning shriveled), is a vegetable sauté/stew, often including bitter melon (ampalaya) and flavoured with fermented shrimp paste (bagoong). Still interested? You should be. Again, the vegetables were the right texture, retaining some bite despite being stewed and steeped for some time, and the bagoong provided enough savouriness without being overpowering. And again, it was a hit with my friends, despite their having had no prior idea of what fermented shrimp paste should look, smell or taste like. Perhaps what helped was the liberal smattering of crispy pork belly (lechon kawali), which we ordered as an addition to the pakbet. Before you ask, pork and shrimp is actually a well-established food combination in the Philippines (you will see pork binagoongan i.e. pork cooked in bagoong on many a menu out there), and it’s a brilliant one. The lechon kawali was excellently crispy, providing a good and meaty texture to the stew in all the right ways.

Sizzling Pork Sisig: Ahh, sisig. How do we get the world to love you? After all, people readily eat ox cheek, they have crispy pig ears… so it’s really not that much of a leap to consider eating pig head, is it? Sisig is finely diced pig head – jowls, ears, snout and all – that is cooked with citrus, garlic and chilli, and often served very crispy on a sizzling platter. It is an unapologetic dish, packed full of flavour and texture. Kalesa had it all: the zing of the lemon, the piquancy of the chilli, the savoury depth of the pork, the crispy fried bits and the chewiness of the cartilage. Mix it all in with plain steamed rice, and what you have is good ol’ comfort food. However, I do prefer my sisig to be crispier (Kalesa falls short here), as I can understand how the cartilage can throw some people (myself included) off, but let me tell you: my friends LOVED it. Absolutely LOVED it. It was, in my friend’s softly-spoken and compellingly comforting Belfast brogue, “the best dish of the night”. I think that says it all, really.

Giving the sizzling pig head a good mix-mix

Giving the sizzling pig head a good mix-mix

Leche Flan: My friends may have spoken prematurely, for the leche flan of Kalesa was a brilliant way to end our gastronomic journey through the Philippines, which had so far taken in Bicol, Ilocos and Pampanga. For the uninitiated, leche flan is the Filipino take on Spanish crème caramels, except significantly richer – what, why wouldn’t you use condensed milk instead of regular milk or cream?? Kalesa’s version sat very prettily on its plate, the top that perfect caramelised amber colour and the rest a creamy yellow. Once that spoon went in, you could feel the dense creaminess of the flan, which just melted away in your mouth. It was delightful. It was rich. It was good.

Leche flan. Decadence!

Leche flan. Decadence!

 

And so we left Kalesa on good terms with the place; I felt pretty pleased with the restaurant’s efforts to provide a good introduction to the dishes (the menu descriptions read very well, and even indicate which part of the Philippines the dishes come from), and my friends were glad that I had brought a potential new ‘local’ to their attention.

 

VERDICT – A good place. With a cheery neighbourhood vibe and, most importantly, hearty and fulfilling dishes that are actually well-executed, Kalesa has propelled itself to the top of my list of Filipino restaurants to eat out at in London. Shame it’s not the best-located place; it is, however, definitely worth the visit.

Currently listening to: Protest the Hero – Mist

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Categories: Filipino | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Things have gotten a bit fishy in New Cross: Maddy’s Fish Bar sets up shop

Copyright of Maddy's FIsh Bar. Sourced from Maddy's Fish Bar Twitter

Copyright of Maddy’s FIsh Bar. Sourced from Maddy’s Fish Bar Twitter

Cuisine: British

Address: 397 New Cross Road, SE14 6LA

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross

Tel.: N/A

Website: https://twitter.com/MaddysFishBar

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Takeaway, Casual dining, Comfort food, Fresh seafood, Friendly conversation, Seasonal menu

The past year has been pretty tough: sometime in May or June last year, our local chippie in New Cross closed up for renovation works and then never reopened.

Once patronised by Sir Paul McCartney (no, really), Sirius Fish & Chips was run by a lovely Filipino couple who knew me and my brother quite well – courtesy of our mum introducing us to them, without our knowing about it, not long after we moved into the area. Whilst the fish was not the best, it was decent enough to fill the fish-shaped hole that appeared in my life on the occasional evening, but certainly I enjoyed going there for the conversation and the friendliness.

So yes, with the loss of my favourite Filipino-run chippie, I think it’s fair to say that New Cross suffered heavily for it.

For where was one to go for good fish and chips from a proper chippy (I’m going to leave Sefa Kebab out of this discussion, and for argument’s sake the other places at the far, far end of New Cross that no one ever told me about)? The nearest one I could fathom then was Brockley’s Rock, but as the name suggests, that’s in Brockley, not New Cross and certainly not just down the road from us. The round-trip, including bus ride, ordering and waiting, and loitering at the bus stops at both ends, took at the very least a good 45 minutes, if I remember correctly.

Imagine carrying that on the bus home and not being able to eat it

Imagine carrying that on the bus home and not being able to eat it

The cod was absolutely delightful and crispy, the chips that perfect middle point between overly-crunchy and soggy and the mushy peas a great texture – but 45 minutes is too much effort for a ‘local’ chippy. Brockley’s Rock is a gem that neighbouring Brockleyites can keep to themselves – this New Cross boy needed something closer to home. Desperately.

And so, when the news appeared on the grapevine that the London Particular (brilliant café, FYI) would be backing their friend, Maddy Inoue, in opening a new fish bar venture in the empty shell that was Sirius, of course I was excited. There was even to be a Kickstarter campaign to help her purchase a state-of-the-art fryer. Although hesitant that a ‘fish bar’ might entail grossly-exaggerated prices, my cynical thoughts were over-ridden by a stomach desperate for some really good fish and chips. So my brother and I chipped in (haha!) and backed Maddy on Kickstarter.

That was in the last quarter of last year; Maddy’s Fish Bar officially opened a week ago Tuesday. Suffice to say, it has been a long and tortuous wait. One that was thankfully shortened by just a few days, thanks to our Kickstarter contribution and subsequent invitation to a ‘VIP’ tasting session (ballin’) during their soft launch. Over the course of an evening, set in their bright, clean-cut and rather utilitarian space, we were treated to a wide range of dishes from the proposed menu, which is meant to be a modern twist on British classics.

Look who's in the window!! Sourced from Maddy's Fish Bar Twitter

Look who’s in the window!!
Sourced from Maddy’s Fish Bar Twitter

So what is on offer from Maddy, and how does her fare hold up as a neighbourhood chippy?

Rock Oysters: Not your average chippy dish, but certainly what you’d expect from a fish bar. I’m no fan of oysters, so I’ll defer to my brother on this one: “fresh”. So there you go.

Rock Oysters!

Rock Oysters!

Chicken Nuggets: These were delightful. Moist and tender pieces of chicken in a substantial coating (which admittedly could have done with being just a bit crispier), served with a home-made mayonnaise that was very more-ish. I can foresee these being a rather guilty treat.

Chicken (not Mc)Nuggets!

Chicken (not Mc)Nuggets!

Selection of Pickles – Egg in pickling broth and radish: The aforementioned ex-Beatle was apparently a fan of the pickled eggs of Sirius (no, really), so I’d love to hear his opinion on Maddy’s take on this classic dish.

You call that a pickled egg?

You call that a pickled egg?

Sadly, he was unable to comment, so I’ll blunder on. What we got here was a gloriously warm and soft-boiled egg that spilt its yolk ever so generously into the savoury vinegar-dashi bath that the egg found itself in; it was a real treat, and I can imagine that having one of these alongside your fish would be rather eye-opening. The accompanying radishes, on the other hand, were rather under-powered as a pickle and didn’t really add much to this course. Something to work on, I guess.

Salt and Pepper Squid: Continuing with the injection of Asian influences into a British chippy, Maddy is turning her hand to that favourite Chinese staple of ours, salt and pepper squid. She wasn’t so successful on this one – yes, it was crisp, had great texture and did not feel greasy at all; unfortunately, it lacked real bite and flavour. All I think it needs is just an adjustment to the seasoning – a much easier thing to improve upon than trying to rescue dead and limp fried squid.

Salt and pepper squid... with not too much salt or pepper alas

Salt and pepper squid… with not too much salt or pepper alas

Fish and Chips with Maddy’s Slaw, mushy peas and curry sauce: And here we have the pièce de résistance, the whole reason why I welcomed Maddy to New Cross with wide open arms: crispy crisp fishy fish. You can just see from the photo alone how phenomenal that batter was – light, fluffy and crispy, it covered all the bases. It’s good to see our Kickstarter money was used well! The whiting fish itself was cooked just right and was juicy up to the point before fish starts to fall apart. When I went back on opening day, I was able to have the panko-breaded plaice, which again was delightful and crisp – the picture below does not represent a one-hit wonder.

Crispy crisp fishy fish

Crispy crisp fishy fish

As for the chips – although Maddy did say that she had to go through several iterations of her chip recipe, I was fairly happy with where she’d gotten to that evening, for the chips were, like Brockley’s Rock, hitting that right balance between overly-crunchy and soggy. Really good chippy chips then, perfect for soaking up the delicious curry sauce accompanying the dish.

Maddy’s Slaw was a standard sauced cabbage affair, which adds some freshness and vegetable bite to the dish, serving its purpose adequately as a side dish.

The mushy peas, however, I was not hugely wowed by. Whilst the flavours were perfectly fine (good level of mintiness, even if I don’t like mint with peas too much), when I want mushy peas I want, well, a complete mush. Yes, mixing in whole peas with some mushed ones creates a pleasing contrast of textures, but… I’m just a stickler for a real mush of peas that I can scoop up with a chip. No doubt other people will like these peas – they are welcome to them.

Cornflake Ice Cream: You know that pleasing state, right at the beginning of your bowl of Frosties, where the coldness of the milk really brings the sugary flavour and crunch to the fore? That’s what this ice cream is all about. A shot of freshness, first thing in the morning.

Cornflake ice cream. Inadvisable to add vinegar

Cornflake ice cream. Inadvisable to add vinegar

I was able to confirm this initial impression on opening day, and discovered that Maddy had gone the extra mile by putting actual cornflakes on the ice cream. Winner winner ice cream dinner!

 

So, it all looks good, no? But I am sure you are wondering, “A chippy this fancy don’t come cheap”. And you’d be right in that this is no Sirius Fish & Chips – the standard meal of fish, chips and Maddy’s Slaw comes in at £8.50, and the portions are smaller (healthier!?) – but at the same time it is no pricey Fish and Chip Shop in Islington, which is what I feared the most for the local area. So yes, I think Maddy’s has done just about alright bringing these prices to New Cross… it’s a step up from before, but at least it’s a measured step and in the right direction.

VERDICT – A good place. Maddy’s Fish Bar is a more than welcome addition to the neighbourhood, not just because it fulfils the criteria of existing and being an open business, but because it brings some genuinely good fish and chips to the area. Friday Fishdays are back on!

Currently listening to: Battlelore – Beneath the Waves

Categories: British | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ve got 99 problems… and No. 178 New Cross Road ain’t one of them

Cuisine: European

Address: 178 New Cross Road, SE14 5AA

Area: New Cross

Nearest Station: New Cross Gate

Tel.: 020 7998 6922

Website: https://www.facebook.com/no178newcross

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Loitering over drinks, Community feel, Friendly conversation, Comfort food

New Cross is quite a cool place. There, I said it, and no, I’m not ashamed to have said it. Yes yes, there may be some locational bias, but let’s look at it a bit more, er, objectively: New Cross is a real mix and when combined with Deptford and Brockley (and its fast links to London Bridge, the City and Canary Wharf), you can pretty much get whatever you want – hip cafés, chilled local pubs, interesting and cheap produce, ethnic foods, great and affordable restaurants, greasy spoons, fried chicken shops, farmers’ markets… it’s all catered for.

Throwing itself into the mix and doing its part to big up the local scene is No. 178 New Cross Road. “Oh no, not another pretentious café”, you might say. Not quite: it’s run by a social enterprise, Toucan Employment, which helps people with learning difficulties with work and training, so you could say that it’s plugged into the local community and doing its part to better the surrounding area. A very worthy idea, no?

This all happened very much under the radar for me, as No. 178 is at the far end of New Cross to me and not in an area I frequent often (Post Office sorting centre aside). I can’t even remember the shop it replaced, but whatever it was is a long-distant memory, for No. 178 have done an excellent job in transforming that space to meet their needs. It’s big and roomy, with a great sense of airiness and light. It is a surprisingly large lot, deceptively so from the outside, where you’re presented with a low but clean-cut shop front. Interior decorations and furnishings are de rigueur for local cafés: mismatched furniture, interesting bric-à-brac of a parochial nature on the walls, some art from local artists etc. (at this point, you should start counting how many times I use the word ‘local’ in this review).

Spacious interiors at No. 178 - courtesy of No. 178's Facebook page

Spacious interiors at No. 178 – courtesy of No. 178’s Facebook page

When my brother and I came to visit, we perched ourselves at the end of one of their bigger tables, below a chalkboard with a very helpful roadmap of hunger and thirst and what to do about them on it. Whilst it was not the full and complete menu, it did highlight what are presumably some classics such as the English Breakfast Pizza.

The roadmap to happiness - courtesy of No. 178's Facebook page

The roadmap to happiness – courtesy of No. 178’s Facebook page

Sounds pretty sacrilegious, no? Rather, you should be thinking, “Sacrilicious!” A nice runny egg, generous portions of bacon, sausage and mushrooms on a thin and crunchy base – screw what the Italians would think (though I hasten to add that I did once see a ‘McDonald’s Pizza’ on offer in a small pizzeria in Venice… it had French fries on it), it is tasty. It is meaty enough and cheesy enough to satisfy that search for savouriness, and the crust fulfils that need for crunchy and substantial texture. It was certainly a worthy cure for a hangover – not that mine was particularly potent that day.

Breakfast on a pizza - genius idea

Breakfast on a pizza – genius idea

My brother’s American Breakfast of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup was also well-received: the fluffy pancakes and crisp bacon ended up being rather filling, despite being a deceptively-small portion at a very low price.

To wash both of our brunches down and perk us up a bit, we both had a flat white. Now, I don’t pertain to be a coffee expert and although my brother knows more he is not quite there yet, we both appreciated the flat whites that No.178 served.

So, whilst the food has been good at No.178, one thing I would say that they have to keep an eye on is their service. It can seem a bit slow at times, even when the place does not seem that full. Even though this was not a problem the last time I was there (I was able to have a really pleasant chat with the girl behind the counter as I awaited my takeaway flat white), they should be careful not to let it become habit.

But hey, No. 178 is still young. I expect their staff will, in time, get to grips with things and grow into their roles. It is a great opportunity being afforded to them by Toucan – let’s hope that No. 178 makes the most of it.

VERDICT – A good place. There’s enough character and interesting offerings to make me want to come back to this new addition to the New Cross scene (15-minute walk aside). With a quality breakfast selection and decent coffee at very affordable prices, I hope that No. 178 can really make its mark on the area and become an established part of the community. Going by what I’ve seen so far, I think it’ll do just fine.

Currently listening to: Type O Negative – The Profits of Doom

Categories: European | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment