Ozlem, Dalston

Monday, 28 December 2009 | |

Let's start this post off with quite a big claim: Ozlem Restaurant on Prince George Road in Dalston is the best Turkish restaurant in an area where there are plenty of examples of the genre, and therefore the best in London. The efforts of those in Green Lanes come close, but none of them can match Ozlem for pure deliciousness when it comes to the eating.

We visited on Christmas day and unsurprisingly they were open. Calling early on the 25th to find out if they would be open, the man on the other end replied sharply that of course they would. Upon arriving it was pleasantly busy and everyone in the restaurant was Turkish - always a good sign. That's the thing about Ozlem. It's full of people who like authentic Turkish food cooked brilliantly, unlike other more hyped restaurants nearby, perhaps due to the side street location, or perhaps not a lot has been written about the restaurant. I'm not sure, but it should be a lot busier.

Anyway, on to what we ate. There was a lot of food, and a lot of it on the house. Not a case of special treatment for regular patrons, but rather an act of both courtesy and hospitality for their customers.

Out first was the esme salad. I suppose this is kind of a Turkish rendition of a tabbouleh with an added kick. The hot chilli comes from fresh green peppers, while a fresh zing not too dissimilar to a pico de gallo comes from lemon juice and tomatoes. A great, fresh tasting salad.

Hummus is a starter that perhaps orders itself and is always welcome on the table, particularly here where they do it particularly well. Packed with more garlic than a Lebanese version and topped with sumac, it provides a great dip for some of Ozlem's warmed-up pide bread.

The main starter ordered for the table was lahmacun, otherwise known as Turkish pizza, only resembling a pizza in it's circular shape. Topped with a light smear of tomato sauce, minced lamb, onions and peppers, this thinly rolled bread is great when done well. In my opinion no where does it better than Ozlem, which specialises in lahmacun (they call themselves a lahmacun salonu). Each triangle of the lahmacun is a joy when packed with the regulation salad which counteracts the full buttery mouth feel with an acidic zing.

My mum went for the special of the day, which was an aubergine filled with mincemeat and onions and sitting in a tomato broth. Rather bland sounding but executed well with great ingredients and clear flavours that complimented each other. The broth proved great for dipping bread in.

A grilled onion salad was brought out (gratis) to accompany and counteract the fat of the grilled meats we had ordered for our main courses. The salad consisted of a plate of onions in pomegranate molasses, sumac and parsley. Surprisingly delicious.

I decided to go with my favourite, the adana. The Turkish name for kofte, which had a beautiful charred flavour from the ocakbasi grill, while the parsley, onion and pepper provide enough flavour to compliment the minced lamb. The two skewers of meat arrived sitting on a piece of bread that soaked up the juices, while some beautifully buttery rice sat in a mound on the side with some pretty pointless tomatoes and a chilli pepper.

Ordering a dish from the 'kebabs' section of the menu results in the plates looking pretty similar apart from the choice of meat sitting on the bread. My brother went for the cop sis, cubes of lamb cooked on the grill and then topped with butter. Beautifully rich meat and perhaps the strongest item on the menu. Seriously delicious, the best lamb shish I've ever tasted.

My dad went for the lamb chops (pirzola). Cooked perfectly, seasoned well and incredibly tender, these are also a good choice but not something I'd personally order. For lamb chops I can't look much past those at Needoo Grill, though these are tasty.

Some complimentary tea is brought out at the end and there's never any room for the desserts on offer, such as baklava and rice pudding. This meal for four people to stuff themselves silly comes in at £55 including a sizeable tip, though that's without any alcohol. Seriously cheap however you look at it. Time Out would do well to recommend this place instead of those they said would be open on Christmas Day with ridiculously expensive set menus. If you're looking for a great Turkish restaurant then I can't recommend Ozlem enough. Great staff and great food.

Ozlem Turkish Pizza on Urbanspoon

Masters Superfish, Waterloo

Wednesday, 23 December 2009 | |

I bloody love fish and chips. I especially love fish and chips from Masters Superfish, on Waterloo Road. Their lunch special keeps me coming back; £6.50 gets you a plate of cooked-to-order cod, plaice or huss (also known as rock salmon) and a mountain of just cooked chips, plus a tea or a coffee. £7 will get you fish and chips plus a soft drink.

One of the joys of eating in at Masters is the ceremonial aspect of things. After placing your order, one of the charming waitresses brings out a basket of passable bread and butter, then a plate of three cold cooked prawns; sometimes these will be pregnant and will come with roe and all. Some people dislike the prawns but I quite enjoy them. Shelled and put on a buttered slice of the French bread, it makes for a nice amuse-bouche. The roe can be an added extra. Furthermore, the waitress will bring two buckets, one full of pickled gherkins, and the other full of pickled onions, all free and deliciously sour and crunchy.

That's about it for starters though, as my stomach isn't as large as one might suppose from looking, and instead I always go for the main course straight away. Instead of the usual plaice lunch special, I decided to go for the calamari main (£7.25) which comes with about a dozen calamari rings and that mountain of chips again. I go for a pot of tea for one (£1) which is a teabag and a pot of water, nothing fancy but a great accompaniment to the lunch. The calamari is quite good. Crisp batter hides rings of slightly chewy (and therefore overcooked) squid, but with a squirt of lemon and a tiny bit of tartare sauce, it's tangy and slightly like fishy popcorn. The chips are once again great. I'm a bit of a chips geek and I believe I've perfected them at home, but those at Masters are brilliant, perhaps the best to be found in London, which sets this place above The Golden Hind. Crisp on the outside, fluffy and soft on the inside, the perfect size - my sort of chip.

My girlfriend Sam goes for the cod and chips and ever the jealous type, I try some and it is great. Fresh fish that flakes away with ease and is steamed under the great, crisp batter. A marvel in frying! We also have a bowl of mushy peas to share, which are good but slightly watery on this visit.

It comes to £14.95 for the two of us, incredibly cheap for fish and chips of this quality that is made to order. If you've never been before, you'll have to wait until they're back from their Christmas break, but once they're open again I advise you to pay them a visit and enjoy their incredible fish and chips.

Masters Super Fish on Urbanspoon

Franco Manca, Chiswick

Thursday, 17 December 2009 | |

Lucky Chiswick? Perhaps that is the case, as the residents of W4 can now claim to have an outpost of probably the best Neapolitan pizza London has to offer. Along with Ground the dining-out scene is looking very promising, with the second branch of Franco Manca offering locals a taste of their now famous sourdough pizzas.

My pizza was not without fault, carrying on the inconsistencies I experienced at the Brixton original. I ordered the number 6: a Neapolitan marinara (£4.50) which consisted of their signature sourdough base topped with tomatoes, garlic and oregano. I decided to forego the addition of buffalo mozzarella due to a recent decision to cut out all dairy and in all honesty, the flavour of the pizza wasn't lacking in any way because of this. The sauce was, well, very tomatoey and well seasoned. The oregano and garlic (rather harsh) adding to the complexity, while the three or four leaves of fresh basil on top rounded things off. In terms of taste, it was a little bit like a pizza with za'atar on top, with some tomato sauce. Not necessarily a bad thing, if you like the flavours.

My main problem with the pizza was regarding the base which is usually a contentious issue among visitors to Franco Manca. This is usually due to the thinness of the pizza dough at the centre which causes the crisp underside to go soggy when the watery mozzarella is added. With no cheese on my pizza, this was not an issue, but the centre of the pizza was far too thick and was subsequently slightly undercooked. It seems the pizzaiolo could have been doing this to combat the sogginess issues, although it was slightly odd.

To drink I chose a large lemonade (at £3.60, almost as much as the pizza!) which was pleasant and tangy, but too large and too expensive; more expensive than I remember it being, anyway. This brought my bill to £9 including the service (already put on) which isn't bad for a pizza of this high quality, but a little too much for a weekday lunch. The room is much larger and has better opening times for those who cannot get to Brixton between 12pm and 5pm, from Monday to Saturday. This branch is open from 12pm till 11pm every day. The service was fine although I wasn't informed of any specials and the waitresses understandably looked a little bored, unlike the servers at Brixton whose movement would make a Premiership striker proud.

This is fast food. Unless you have a long wait for a seat, you'll be done fairly quickly; I was done in around fifteen minutes, due to the speed at which my pizza was cooked and the emptiness of the restaurant, unlike it's Brixton counterpart. It will get busier, and it deserves to, despite some early niggles and I'll definitely be back soon.

Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Pacific Plaza, Wembley Park (A New Oriental City?)

Monday, 7 December 2009 | |

UPDATE: http://willeatformoney.blogspot.com/2010/02/pacific-plaza-wembley-park-updated.html

I don't know how your weekends panned out when you were a kid, but for me and others who grew up in north west London, Saturdays and Sundays meant one thing: Yaohan Plaza, which later became Oriental City and eventually became a vast empty complex on the Edgware Road in Colindale. The demise of OC, as it is colloquially known, was one of the most disappointing stories for citizens of the aforementioned areas and those from around London who would visit from far reaches of the city. Luckily the old shop owners and restaurateurs fought hard and some even reopened in different locations, though the feeling was that it just wasn't the same. After reading a blog post by meemalee which suggested a new opening for Utsuwa Tableware would be imminent, my brother and I decided to check it out for ourselves, living only a short walk away from the Wembley City complex.

Surrounded by giants of middle England's favourite superstores, such as Land of Leather, Carpet Right and Wickes, Pacific Plaza evokes the old charm of Oriental City from the first glimpse; strangely located in the shadow of Wembley Stadium in a retail park, but a gem nonetheless.

A sign indicates that the Plaza opened on 5th December, though some of the restaurants have been open since the 1st of December.

As soon as we entered, the smell of bread filled the air and we turned left into one of the only store-fronts that was up and running. Tetote factory is a Japanese bakery and coffee shop, with about 7/8ths of the store dedicated to the baking area, equipment and coffee machines. We tried a couple of pastries to see how they fared.

Curry pan was great. Crispy outside from the panko breadcrumbs which gave way to a soft, doughy bread inside and then the curry filling, which was subtly spiced and very more-ish. A great rendition, better than the version at the Japan Centre and Wonderful Patisserie, as points of reference.

Epi was also very, very good. Something I've not tried before, this was a sort of sourdough plait, filled with a cheese (cheddar, perhaps) and studded with bits of smoky bacon. Most easily compared to good Neopolitan pizza crust, this was chewy, salty and greasy…in a good way.

Finally, we tried the Custard pan. Another success, this time the custard filling came in a satisfyingly soft bun topped with three flaked almond pieces which gave a pleasing crunch to the overall consistency. The custard filling was essentially a creme patissiere, smooth and flecked with vanilla beans.

We then headed to doki, the new tableware company that was previously Utsuwa. This has a larger range of plates, bowls and cups than the Japan Centre, with pleasing prices as for now a lot of the items are half price. Great for Christmas gift buying, especially the tea sets which come with a teapot and cups.

Also open on the ground floor is O's Beauty, which deals with all things…beautiful. Hairdressing, waxing, manicuring. You name it, they do it.

Most of the other places on the ground floor were unoccupied at the time of writing, but there was a sign that one of the shops (8am Healthcare) was going to be selling 'Chinese herbal medicines and acupuncture'.

Finally on the bottom floor, a large space will be occupied by a supermarket, just as with OC and it's J-Mart.

Walking upstairs reveals even more to get excited about, with a  glimpse into the past via a food court that resembles its Colindale cousin. The similarity stops with the plaza type setting though, as this is a much newer and shinier edition. As of now, only two places had any signs of life: NP Star Snack Bar, which will do takoyaki and will open at the end of this week (7th-13th December).

The other restaurant open on the first floor is a place called Hot Korean, which does the usual Korean classics, such as galbi, bulgogi and kimchee.

The Korean rice punch was something I'd never tried before but fell instantly in love with. With my first sip it was quite like what I'd imagine drinking the water you wash rice in would taste like, if you added a sack of sugar. Also quite like a cup of sugar cane, but more ricey.

The bulgogi deopbap was slices of short ribs, marinated in sugar, sesame oil, garlic and soy sauce, then stir fried with julienned carrots, spring onions, courgettes and cabbage, then topped with sesame seeds. Served with a mound of sticky rice, this dish was garlicky, smoky, sweet and delicious. The rice was pleasingly bland, picking up all of the flavours of the marinade. At £6.50 it's still rather cheap and in line with old OC prices. Dishes range from £2-4 for starters, then £4-8 for larger plates.

By the end of this week there should be some more places opened and hopefully by the beginning of next year, there will be a new destination for foodies to go in north west London, apart from the wonderful Alisan which has great dim sum nearby.

Doki Limited
Japanese Tableware
020 8903 0235
Open 7 days a week 10.00-18.30

tetote factory
Japanese Bakery
020 8903 2559
Open 10.00-19.00 except Tuesday

Pacific Plaza
Unit 16
The Junction
Wembley Retail Park
Engineers Way

Kèkè, Spitalfields

Tuesday, 1 December 2009 | |

Opened recently, Kèkè is a new take away stall which accompanies a few others that have opened in Spitalfields, though on my visit Kèkè was definitely the busiest of the lot. This may be down to the man at the front of the shop, perhaps the owner, handing out menus to those waiting and interacting very welcomingly.

The dim sum items looked interesting and I'll be back to try those, but today I was craving some meats roasted and topped with sweet sauce, perhaps on a bed of noodles. Luckily, they had just the thing! Char siu and roast duck chow mein came swimming in oyster sauce, with bits of water chestnuts dotted about along with button mushrooms. The roasted meats were good; the pork was satisfyingly sweet and juicy, while the duck had a slight crunch on the skin and was suitably ducky. The noodles were not as good, as they were quite honestly drowned in the oyster sauce. A little less would have worked better for the dish as a whole, but it wasn't unpleasant in any way, just a slightly negative note. Not bad value at £5.50, but not the cheapest noodle dish around. A good option for lunch, though, as noted by Good For Lunch in their review.

The dim sum bento is next on my hitlist (unsurprisingly the most expensive thing on the menu at £10) as it features a bit of everything and seems a good way to sample all of the different types of dim sum here.

A return to blogging

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Hello there Ibrahim Salha fans. I'm going to start blogging again. For all four of you that care (if that), expect a new post very shortly.