Monday, 30 June 2014

Delicatessen Serrana - Stockwell

Finding a Portuguese café in London is easy, there are loads of them. Stockwell/Oval/Vauxhall is a well-established area for Portuguese immigrants and it has been the case for many years. In some ways it is the fact that this community is so well integrated into British culture that has made it harder to find a Portuguese breakfast on the menu. Most of the Portuguese cafes I found served a full English at breakfast time and nothing else, whilst converting to more traditional Lusitania dishes for lunch and dinner.

My first attempt at a Portuguese brekkie was a bit of a false start, I headed to the Porto FC supporters cafe in Clapham only to find it shut at 7.30 in the morning despite a sign on the door to the contrary. So I walked up the road to Stockwell, home to Delicatessen Serrana. It doesn't look like much from the outside but once you step through the door it feels like you are in a cross between someone's front room and an old fashioned 'general store' (it has something of the 'open all hours' feel to it). Portuguese goods are stacked up to the ceiling on all available wall spaces, from wine and port, to biscuits and even bottled water imported from the homeland! In the middle are tables and chairs for people dining in and lots of people were from young families before school and office workers, it was a nice relaxed atmosphere.
I started with what is known as a BICA coffee. It is a bit like an Italian espresso except a more bitter as it is made with Brazilian coffee beans. The name comes from the phrase 'Beba Isto Com Acucar' (drink with sugar) so that is exactly what I did!

For breakfast it was a ham and cheese pastry.  It had a tasty filling, but was a little dry I have to say I wasn't bowled over by it, but fried food first thing isn't the tradition in Portugal.

I was still a little hungry and there 'starring' at me from behind the counter was the Portuguese favourite ‘pastel de nata’ and I just couldn't resist. These little pastries are egg custard tarts and having tried some in Lisbon earlier this year I knew how good they could be. They make a fantastic morning treat, the custard was sweet and the perfect consistency and the pastry was crispy as it should be. It was almost, almost as good as a ‘Pastel de Belem’ and there is no higher praise than that.
The verdict
Family feel cafe that is a great spot for a pastel de nata or stocking up on Portuguese wine, but for a big brekkie maybe try somewhere else.  


Thursday, 26 June 2014

Big Mama Food - Various food events

Breakfast fit for a King! That is always what I’m searching for and seemingly that is what was on offer from Big Mama. The recipe for her spicy mutton sausages apparently dates back over 300 years and was served to the Ghanaian Ashanti Royal Family.

Big Mama Food is a family venture and there stall can be found at some of London’s biggest and best food and drink exhibitions. I found them at London foodies festival on Clapham common, serving breakfast/brunch wraps that were perfect for eating outside. 

Let’s talk about the sausages because they are the black stars (get it?) here. They were described as spicy on the menu board and I can confirm that is an accurate description! The really packed a punch of heat but you didn’t lose the bold mutton flavours which made these sausages so different. You will struggle to find mutton in many supermarkets in the UK and it’s strong flavour isn’t for everyone, but it works very well in these sausages. They were also available to buy and take home and would make a great alternative to use in a toad in the hole or as part of bangers and mash.

The verdict
Great sausages, I suggest you try and get hold of some soon!


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

La Bodeguita - Elephant & Castle

Elephant and Castle shopping centre has been voted the ugliest building in London and many of those haters will be pleased to hear that there are plans for it to be demolished and replaced with flats. I'm not one of that chuffed bunch however, not because I love the aesthetics of the place but because of what is on the first floor: the food hall.
Once you have defeated the colourful maze that is the underpass system and head upstairs, past the busy and vibrant outdoor market you find an eclectic mix of restaurants and cafes serving the local community, from Polish and Cantonese to South American, this place is an unsung foodie destination!
And it is here that I found what I believe is the best representation of a Honduran breakfast that I will be able to get hold of in London. Honduras is not really known for its food, in fact I think it wouldn't be unfair to say it's not really known at all in the UK. One thing Hondurans definitely like to do is eat, three hearty meals a day is the norm and none heartier than breakfast.

I headed to La Bodeguita the biggest and most well-known of the Latin American restaurants in the shopping centre. They are certainly geared up for the World Cup with Central and South American team flags hanging from the windows. Unfortunately they are only open from midday so I was starving by the time I arrived, although that was probably a blessing in disguise...
I chose the Bandeja paisa, which is actually a Colombian dish, but has all the hallmarks of a classic Honduras breakfast, it was huge! A platter of rice, pork belly, minced meat, a sausage, a fried egg, plantain, cornbread and half an avocado arrived at my table shortly after a strong Colombian cafe con leche. If I was to pick a selection of the most filling foods I could think of this would probably be the list.

The pork belly was delicious crisp, the minced meat was flavoured with spice and a little sweetness, it contrasted nicely with the plantain. The sausage was huge and again had a little heat, but it was subtle. The large hunk of avocado was perfectly ripe but I do have a few issues; the egg was overdone, which was a shame and the cornbread… I just don’t get it! I had cornbread on my Ecuadorian brekkie and thought it was bland then, this was just the same, with so much food on the plate it just seems pointless!

Oh, and did I mention a bowl of beans and potatoes in a lightly spiced sauce, just in case you were hungry!

At £12 this isn't a cheap option for breakfast, but considering I now don't have to eat for the rest of the day you could consider it an efficient way to go!

The verdict
Looking for some ‘world cuisine’ and think Brixton is a bit 'old hat'? Try Elephant & Castle. La Bodeguita is a great choice and the portions will have you stuffed for days!


Monday, 23 June 2014

Mamacita - West Hampstead

When it comes to a Mexican breakfast we are somewhat spoilt for choice in London, I had plenty of options open to me for this one. Huevos Rancheros is the obvious dish to have and that is exactly what I when for.

Rather than head to one of the many Mexican chain restaurants we headed up to West Hampstead to try the fayre at Mamacita. Mamacita is slang in Mexico for 'a hot babe' and with a fun poster collage across one wall and colourful furniture scattered throughout the restaurant/bar it lived up to it’s name. They serve brunch all day at the weekends (which is in keeping of the traditions of Huevos Rancheros which would be served on farms throughout the day, although most commonly around mid-morning) before the tequila comes out and the party starts and continues til late.
As well as a coffee I gave the homemade lemonade a go, it was really refreshing on this hot summers day, not sweet nor fizzy but at £3.50 a go out it probably slipped down a little too easily. 

The Huevos Rancheros had all the traditional elements: scrambled egg served on slightly fried corn tortillas alongside a tomato-chili salsa, refried beans, rice and guacamole. The eggs looked a little over done and like they could be rubbery when they arrived but they were actually scrambled with cheese, giving a lovely texture and an extra element to the plate. The tortilla was crisp but without being too crunchy, exactly how you would hope it would be and both the refried beans and guacamole were excellent, the latter made with chunky pieces of avocado rather than purified or fashionably 'smashed'. The salsa had just the right freshness-to-spice ratio for me, although it was served chilled, I think it would have worked better warm.

The verdict
A spot in North London to breakfast and then party, quality and authentic food.


Sunday, 22 June 2014

Belgique - Wanstead

The first thing that strikes you when entering the Belgique in Wanstead is the sheer size of the place. It has got to be the largest cafe I have ever been to! Belgique has a massive outdoor seating area perfect for sunny mornings like today and an equally huge indoor area, you could probably seat half the population of Wanstead in here! Belgique is a small chain of cafe/restaurants all located in northwest London, mostly in zones 4 - 6 on the central line and all keeping classic cafe hours from the early morning until tea time.

Now normally my morning drink with breakfast would be a coffee, but this is a Belgian cafe so I would have been a fool not to go for the hot chocolate. I was not to be disappointed. A grand glass topped with cream was delivered to the table and was absolutely delicious. I think I will go on record to say this was the best hot chocolate I have ever had; creamy and rich with that distinctive Belgian chocolate flavour.

Onto the food then: there was a great selection of fresh pastries on the counter as well as fresh cream gateaux and sweet treats. However, on the menu was something called 'the grand Belgique' and I knew this was the one for me. Smoked bacon with pork & veal sausages were served inside a baguette along with 2 poached eggs (and an elaborately put together side salad?!). The sausages were probably the most interesting part to the dish, the strong flavour from the veal really came through, indeed it rather overpowered it's bacon counterpart, which was a shame. To look at the poached eggs you would think they were perfect and yes the yolks were runny enough to dip the baguette into, but something wasn’t right. The whites of the egg were, well, just a bit weird really; they had a very rubbery texture - rather strange!

The verdict
I'd come back to try a slice of gateaux and definitely for another hot choc, but probably not for the grand Belgique.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Agege Bread Bakery - Deptford

I took a trip to Deptford for the next leg of my round the world breakfast tour

in order to sample some Nigerian cuisine. I wasn't sure what I was going to get when I headed for the Agege bread bakery as I couldn't find a menu on the web, but I knew it was open from 8 every morning so would be perfect for breakfast. Deptford High Street has a busy market on Saturdays and I nearly missed the bakery in the hustle and bustle of the marketplace. A selection of fresh baked goods as well as some fish and meat dishes greet you as you walk in to the small shop. I chose a Nigerian meat pie and some plantain (it seemed to be the order of the day, everyone in the queue ordered a pie!). There isn't really any seating in the bakery so headed outside and found a bench and sat down to sample the goods.
The meat pie looked very much like a Cornish pasty (something I happen to know a little bit about) and could also be compared to a Jamaican patty. The pastry was very soft but not crumbly like a pasty. It’s the ground beef and gravy that are the stars of the show here, highly seasoned with a hint of curry flavours it was incredibly moreish and before I knew it, it was all gone! The plantain slices were probably the best I have had since I started the world cup challenge; fried until caramelised around the edges made it sweeter than I have had elsewhere.
I washed it all down with a bottle of Malta Guinness. Guinness is very popular in Nigeria (fact of the day: Nigeria is the second largest market in the world for Guinness, ahead of Ireland!) but Malta Guinness is actually a non-alcoholic malt drink, popular with kids and adults alike in Nigeria. It tasted as though someone had mixed coca-cola with stout, it was very sweet and fizzy and upon taking my first sip thought to myself, ‘I really like this’. However it became more and more sickly as I drank on and I ended up not being able to finish it.

The verdict
At £3.50 including the drink it certainly a breakfast your wallet will be pleased with and your taste buds will thank you too. The malt drink wasn't for me though.


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Cubana - Waterloo

“This is a Cuban restaurant Lord, Cuba aren’t in the World Cup Lord!” Don’t panic, I’ve not lost the plot (yet). For you see, there are no Costa Rican restaurants anywhere in London, in fact there is only one in the whole of the UK and that is in Whitby (of all places?!), so I have had to deputise.
Gallo Pinto is the breakfast dish in Costa Rica, in fact it is considered the national dish both there and in neighbouring Nicaragua. Gallo Pinto literally means ‘spotted rooster’ in Spanish but is actually just in essence rice and beans. It is also popular in Cuba, but there it is known as ‘Moros y Cristianos’ hence my trip to a Cuban restaurant.
Cubana is situated on Lower Marsh, just behind Waterloo station, a great little high street with a few independent restaurants and a string of street food stalls catering for office workers and commuters. On the corner, with a big mural of a lady dancing painted over two stories of the restaurant sits Cubana;it is difficult to miss. Inside the colourful atmosphere continues with Cuban flags and lots of bright blue & yellow. The replica guns on the walls were a little unnerving, but overall it was a nice vibe.

Unfortunately for me Cubana doesn’t open until midday, so I was straving by the time I got stuck into the Gallo Pinto. I have got to say it was better than I had expected and nowhere near as dry as I thought it might be but if I'm honest it didn’t really get my pulse racing with excitement either. It would probably be fairer to compare this brekkie to a bowl of Weetabix or bran flakes, rather than some of the goodies I have enjoyed from the other nations and it would score well if I did. In fairness to the kitchen, there was a fantastic smell wafting through the place, sweet and spicy flavours from the extensive lunch menu and what I saw on other tables looked great.

The coffee is worth a mention too, Alma de Cuba coffee beans grown on the island, made for a delicious latte.

The verdict
Cool restaurant on a street worth an explore for all you foodies. The rating is for Gallo Pinto at breakfast time, which just isn’t very exciting!


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Blandford’s café – Marylebone

Italian cuisine probably has more influence on the diet of an average Brit than any other. So many Italian foods are staples both at home and when eating out. However, when it comes to breakfast Italian isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. Blandford’s, just around the corner from Madame Tussauds is trying to change that. The former greasyspoon café was taken over by an Italian lady 3 or 4 years ago and whilst the décor and exterior have changed only a little during that time, the menu has been transformed. Pizzas are the popular choice at lunchtime, but before that is an Italian inspired breakfast/brunch menu that will get your mouth watering.

But before that, what else but a cappuccino? Expertly made with Illy coffee beans, it is up to Italian standards, which means it is one of the best that you will find in London.

I ordered the Focaccia breakfast, which consists of two poached eggs, bacon, tomato and avocado served with homemade Focaccia bread. £8.50 pays for the quality fresh ingredients they use here, it was worth every penny. Nicely presented on the plate to represent ‘il Tricolore’ with the green, white and red, the bacon was thick-cut and meaty and the poached eggs were perfectly cooked. The avocado was ripe with a loving creamy texture and the tomato was packed with fresh flavour. The bread added a great crunchy bite and the whole plate was dressed with delicious extra virgin olive oil.
The verdict
The Italian have brought us pizza, they have brought us pasta and Blandford’s is bringing us Italian breakfast, get down there and try it!


The Life Goddess - Fitzrovia

I've headed back to Fitzrovia this morning for a Greek breakfast. There seems to be a lot of genuinely independent restaurants and cafes around this part of town, but it doesn't have the same foodie rep as hip Soho or Brixton for some reason.

This time I visited The Life Goddess, a cafe and deli on the picture postcard Store street just off of Tottenham Court Road. The Greeks are notoriously late for everything hence the phase ‘On Greek time’ and this place is no different. Despite the menu on the website and outside the front of the cafe saying breakfast from 9.30, I had to practically beg the chap to let me in when I turned up at about 10 to 10! Not a good start. I took a seat at one of the little wooden tables, surrounded by the jars of pickles and cans of oil olive, all branded with the life goddess ‘greek.deli.divine’ tagline. There is also an impressive chiller full of geek feta and fresh pastries which fills all available space on the counter. I sat and awaited the arrival of my omelette and Greek frappe coffee.

The chilled black coffee was delicious, not too bitter but not sweetened like the stuff you find at Starbucks or alike. Ten minutes or so past until a chap from the kitchen arrived to fill the counter with mini frying pans filled with eggy treats. I chose the version with geek sausage but the veggie option also looked good. Served with black olives, tomato and 'med bread'. The omelette was thick and fluffy and the sausage was excellently flavoured with plenty of fennel. This isn't the biggest brekkie I've ever had but I didn't go away disappointed because the quality outweighs the need for quantity here. The olives and tomato where fresh and tasty and expertly dressed and seasoned. 
The verdict
Don't come here in a rush but do come to enjoy high quality snacks. I was handed a loyalty card with 3 stamps on (to make up for the late opening) and I reckon I will be back to fill up the remaining spots!


Saturday, 7 June 2014

Bibigo - Soho

Internet research has aided my hunt for many of the places on my World Cup challenge list. If you type ‘Traditional Korean breakfast’ into google, the first return is an article titled ‘South Korea doesn’t do breakfast’. Ahhh disaster! After a bit more digging it seems that actually breakfast in Korea is simply a meal like any other, the same dish you ate for dinner on Tuesday may be on the breakfast table on Saturday morning.
London is blessed with lots of Korean restaurants, it has become a fashionable cuisine with hot stone joints and bi-bim-bap cafes popping up all over the capital. New Malden in south west London is home to a large Korean population and there are plenty of restaurants there but I chose Bibigo in Soho. It is only open from 12 so it is a late breakfast destination but is a busy, bustling canteen from lunchtime right through to the evening.

I couldn’t quite believe my luck when I opened the menu to find something called ‘Soondae’ which was described as Korean black pudding and then another dish ‘Hobak Jun’ a courgette pancake, it was like they knew I was coming. I ordered those two along with some rice (no meal in Korea is complete without rice and breakfast is no exception). And to drink I chose ‘Shikhye’ which is Korean rice punch. It certainty delivered a punch, it was one of the sweetest things I have ever tasted! My first slip was accompanied with a satisfied nod of approval, but it soon became way too much. It also has rice grains floating about in it, which is rather unappetising!

The pancake arrived at our table first and caught me a bit by surprise when I took my first bite. I had been expecting it to have been made with eggs, but instead it was a combination of grated courgette and batter rather than solely eggs. Deliciously crispy with the freshness of the courgette combining really well with the stodgy insides of the pancake. Next up was the black pudding and I wasn’t to be disappointed, 12 slices of the stuff were piled onto the plate. Instead of the oatmeal you might expect in black pudding in the UK, this was stuffed with glass noodles and was also flavoured with basil and coriander.

Bibigo’s tag line is ‘healthy and fresh’ as I’m sure it can be if you pick the right things of the menu but my choices were probably as unhealthy as a full English!

The verdict
Fun canteen-style Korean restaurant – I can’t say I will be back for brekkie but maybe for a bi-bam-bap.