Mexican fare at El Pastor in Borough Market

Today’s London story is about my visit to El Pastor alongside Borough Market for some Mexican delights. But first, something less pleasant.

I write this two days after the horrendous attacks in London when three murderers in a van ploughed down pedestrians on London Bridge and then ran through Borough Market stabbing people. In fact, one of them stabbed a woman in the chest in El Pastor before customers managed to push him out of the restaurant by throwing chairs and bottles at him. At  last count there are seven people dead and 48 injured.

This carnage happened on a warm summer Saturday when Londoners were out and about enjoying the many pleasures the area has to offer. I’d eaten in El Pastor the Thursday before, followed by a meander through the wonders of the market. Two days later people were being stabbed on those same streets. I admit it, it makes me scared. Are our lives in danger every time we step out onto the streets of this great city?

I was on the Underground on Thursday 7 July 2005 when four Islamist extremists separately detonated bombs on three Underground trains and a bus. 56 died and 784 were injured. Luckily for me I wasn’t on one of the targeted trains – it was still a truly awful day. And I was scared then, too. In the weeks following I got off trains several times because I felt someone looked “suspicious” – whatever that means. As it happens it was just me being paranoid and, well, scared. So while we all #wearenotafraid I am standing up and saying yes, I am scared but it’s not going to stop me. Being scared is okay.  Being sad at the random hatred is okay. Shedding tears over lives lost is okay.

Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London in 2005 and  after the bombings he said: “You will see that people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. Nothing you do, however many of us you kill will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. ”

That speech was about me (among many others). I moved here 32 years ago and have built my life in a city that offered me myriad opportunities, freedom and a home. I plan to visit Borough Market again soon and pay tribute to the bravery of the police and medics and ordinary people who helped fight off these fanatics. They are the sort of people we should aspire to be. To show that we can fight the evil around us. And that while we may be afraid, we will stand together and show these madmen we will not let them win. It’s the best that we can do.

After all the city offers many delights, especially if you like eating out. London’s restaurant culture reflects the wide diversity of people who have come together to create an exciting, vibrant city with  much to savour. So it seems fitting that today I’m writing about a new Mexican addition to the London scene – El Pastor.

And what better than a chunky guacamole to start with? Served with two-tone tortillas (or totopos as they call them here) and some extra salsa for dipping.

El Pastor: guacamole

Chunky guacamole to keep avo lovers happy

The core of the menu is a tacos choice. Well, you are in a taqueria after all, where all the tortillas are made fresh on-site every day. The signature tacos, Al Pastor, is made from 24-hour marinated pork shoulder, caramelised pineapple, guacamole vaquero, white onion and coriander. Melt-in-the-mouth pork with the crunch of fruit and veg all makes for a wonderfully zesty little package.

Es Pastor: Al Pastor taco

Luscious and tasty pork with crunchy veg

In the choripapa, your taco is filled with chorizo, potato and salsa verde. I hadn’t thought that chorizo and potato could be such a stunning combination, it’s the perfect mix of soft and spicy richness.

El Pastor: chorizo and potato taco

Potato and chorizo – a heavenly taco combo

Today’s pudding sounded so exotic we had to give it a try. The fresh pineapple is served with hibiscus granita, chilli and mint. You bite into the sweet juiciness of the pineapple, get a touch of mint flavour and are then hit by the chilli. It’s certainly a dessert with impact.

Borough Market: pineapple dessert

Pineapple, hibiscus and chilli dessert – how exotic!

Today’s price point

We paid £27 for our food selection (not including drinks).

Wine starts from £18 for a bottle and cocktails from £8.

And here are a couple of my favourite images from my visit to that wonderful market.

Borough Market: Saucisson

The prettiest Saucissons ever

I can’t leave Borough Market unless I’m clutching a bottle of the delectable truffle honey. It’s irresistible.

Borough Market: Truffle honey

You simply have to treat yourself to some truffle honey

El Pastor is at 6-7A Stoney Street, London SE1.

Delightful dishes down by the riverside at Bistro Vadouvan

I’ve lived in London for most of my adult life (so far) and totally feel like the city is my home. It’s a bustling, somewhat crowded city but I love its energy and attitude and the fact that there is so much to do and see. And I particularly love it in summer – well in summer when the sun comes out. Which it did this week! And what better way to spend a sunny summer evening than dining overlooking the River Thames.

Bistro Vadouvan is set on Putney Wharf’s Piazza and on such a lovely evening it felt more like we were dining in Spain than England. It’s the brainchild of two friends who grew up in the same town in India but only got to know each other years later at college (weird how that does happen)!

What’s on the menu

Their interesting dishes combine classic French cuisine with Middle Eastern and Asian flavours – making for some wonderful plates of food. The prawn, crab and cucumber salad was served with yuzu kosho and a hint of green chilli. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit and this is a simply stunning, summery dish. So light and zesty with plenty of crunch and beautifully fresh seafood. Reminded me of some of the beautiful salads I ate in Vietnam last year. And doesn’t it look amazing too.

Bistro Vadouvan: crab salad

The spiced Bouillabaisse Provencal was a classic with a twist. Plump rope mussels, chorizo and Middle Eastern flavours gave the fish soup added depth. Love the fish-shaped bread, too.

Bistro Vadouvan: Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse made even better with Middle Eastern flavours

It seemed like it was going to be hard to follow those starter choices – two of the standout dishes of the summer so far. However, this fishy main was stupendous. Cornish brill was poached in coconut milk and served with prawn ravioli, gnocchi, shiitake, spring onion and chilli salad. I can’t say I’ve eaten much brill – I certainly plan to in the future. It was beautifully soft and sweet, the broth was creamy and was topped with a fabulous combo of mushrooms, salad and herbs.

Bistro Vadouvan: brill and prawn ravioli

A wonderful fish concoction with fresh Asian flavours

One of today’s specials was a rib eye steak topped with salsa verde. It was served with what the restaurant calls well-dressed whole baby gem lettuce topped with an incredible dressing and a bowl of perfectly crisp chips with rosemary and garlic.

Bistro Vadouvan: Ribeye steak

A lusciously juicy steak with amazing salad and chips

Bistro Vadouvan has a wonderfully intriguing list of desserts on offer, we just couldn’t resist. I opted for the mango soup which was served with basil leaves and seeds. A bowl of refreshing, liquid mango with luscious little chunks inside and topped with a mango sorbet. Mango and basil is a heavenly contribution and as a lover of both this is a pudding that’s right up my alley!

Bistro Vadouvan: Mango soup

My absolute dream dessert – a cornucopia of mango

The other delight that caught our eye was called Floating Island. Basically a soft meringue floating in creme anglaise and topped with crunchy, caramelised nuts. Wow, what joy! We even tried combining the two and the fruity, sweet  and creamy result was incredible. What wonderful summer desserts.

Bistro Vadouvan: Floating island

A floating masterpiece of creamy sweetness

Today’s price point

A three course dinner for two cost £70 not including wine or service.

Wine starts from around £20 a bottle.

Bistro Vadouvan is at 30 Brewhouse Lane, Putney Wharf SW15 on the river near Putney Bridge.

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Contemporary British food at Native in Neals Yard

Today I’m heading to Native in picturesque Neal’s Yard in my favourite part of London – yes it’s time for lunch in Covent Garden.

Neal’s Yard owes its name to Thomas Neale who created the Seven Dials area of Covent Garden where it’s located. It wasn’t always the beautiful oasis it is today – in fact it had been a dark, rat infested, derelict yard behind the Covent Garden fruit and veg market. It didn’t even appear in the London A-Z until the mid-70s! This was after Nicholas Saunders started the Whole Food Warehouse there and the Yard became transformed into the secret Covent Garden space it is today.

In the courtyard you’ll find a collection of bars, restaurants and cafes set in a cute and colourful surrounds. Native is tucked away in the corner, a mini, stylish establishment with an open kitchen and small bar upstairs. We went down to the little dining area with its whitewashed walls and rustic tables. It’s a calm and relaxing sort of space.

Native’s dishes are all made from ingredients that are native (well, obviously!) to the UK. They focus on game, foraged and wild food which leads to a menu of delicious and somewhat exciting choices.

On Native’s Menu

There’s a choice of three dishes for each course. My Dorset crab was the prettiest plate I’ve seen for a while and came with thinly sliced Wye Valley asparagus. It’s asparagus season in England – so any excuse to eat as much of it as I can! The bitter herb veloute was poured over my dish at the table adding vibrancy and zest.

The beautifully delicate crab dish

The veloute adds a vibrant green-ness

The wild boar ragu was served with buttered satisfy, native curds and pickled walnuts. How’s that for an intriguing-sounding combination. Wild boar simply makes the best ragu – it was rich, packed with meatiness and oh-so-satisfying. You eat the root of the salsify plant which is sort of like a parsnip but different! It has a creamy sort of texture and a good bite to it.

The richness and depth of a wild boar ragu

Today we went for the special which was mutton served with sweetbread, garlic and jus. And an order of carrots and mushrooms on the side. It’s very rare to see mutton on menus – or even in shops – these days. I remember eating it all the time as a child on the farm. So I was very keen to have another mutton taster. It didn’t taste anything like I remembered – and I don’t think that’s anything to do with my memory! Certainly the chefs at Native have more skills in the cheffing department than our family cook (though he was very good). This tender, flavoursome mutton was served medium – medium/rare and I savoured every mouthful. Do love an occasional sweetbread, too.

Mutton, sweetbreads and a luscious gravy

A plate of multi-coloured roast carrots made for the perfect companion for the mutton. I love that carrots come in so many hues these days. They certainly brighten up any meal.

A cornucopia of carrot colours

And then there were the deeply earthy English Portobello mushrooms that were roasted with garlic. Portobellos done properly are almost like eating a juicy steak – simply delicious.

Earthy, juicy mushrooms with garlic

Neal’s Yard couldn’t be more removed from its history of dereliction. It’s the sort of place I could imagine living – right in the heart of much loved Covent Garden, surrounded by great eating! What more could anyone want?

The colourful warehouse-style buildings of Neal’s Yard

Today’s price point

It’s £25 for a two-course lunch or £32 for three courses.

White wine starts from £21 a bottle and red from £20. There’s a selection of English wines on offer, too.

Native is at 3 Neal’s Yard, Covent Garden, London

Tasty Scandinavian fare at Aster

I love that you feel you can travel the world while living in London – well in a foodie sort of way you can. My last restaurant story was about Portuguese food and today we’re heading into Scandinavia. The food of Aster is a mix of Executive Chef Helena Puolakka’s Nordic heritage and her French training.

The Nordic countries comprise Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Denmark – and would you believe I’ve been to four of them! Norway is the only one currently unvisited. And I have eaten fabulous food in all of these countries – most notably Denmark and Iceland recently – so I was very keen to visit Aster. In addition, my lunch companion was to be Amanda, who I travelled to Sri Lanka with last year, and whose parents are both Nordic. Love starting with a bit of inside knowledge.

Aster has a restaurant, cafe and deli and we chose to eat in the downstairs cafe. Because I preferred the look of the menu. It’s in a shiny new building right near Victoria Station. I’m amazed at how many of those there are these days, another part of London that’s been transformed. There’s a warm welcome and a stylish, modern interior and a very exciting menu to ponder.

After much deliberation we decided to go the Smorgasbord route (now there’s a good word…smorgasbord)! Not an easy decision with all the fabulous fish and meat dishes on offer.  Like wild reindeer sausages, venison pie, hot smoked plaice, arctic char and baltic fish pie. But smorgasbord it was and what a great move that turned out to be.

What’s on the menu

From the Jar section we opted for the hot smoked potted salmon and the pickles which arrived in these stylish little jars. Stylish is a word you’ll use often on any visit to Aster. There’s some beautiful food plating going on here – and it’s all kept so simple, letting the distinctive flavours shine through.

Beautiful glass bowls of pate and pickles

You really can’t go Nordic and not go herring. Luckily I’m a pretty big herring fan and even had curried herrings on my waffle for breakfast in Iceland (absolutely delicious it was, too, and I even convinced some of my fellow travellers to give it a try). Today they were done three ways with sherry, blackcurrant and dill and served with new potatoes and toasted rye bread. A totally spectacular combination of flavours – I particularly loved the blackberry marinated ones.

Herring three ways with dill potatoes and rye bread

From the top of the Smorgasbord menu we chose two dishes. This luscious sliced pork belly which was served with apple and mustard butter on more rye. The richness of the pork matched so brilliantly with the tart apple, spicy mustard and earthy bread.

The most succulent of belly pork

And then there was this colourful plate of mushroom and potato ‘hash’ served with lingonberries. The berries added a lovely tartness to a warming dish – they are a distant cousin to cranberries, smaller and juicer, and are a wild fruit native to the Northern hemisphere and abundant in Scandinavia.

Our final choice came from the Meat section and was this beautifully soft and salty salami flavoured with a bit of fennel. Fennel salami gets me every time, and this was right up there as one of the best I’ve tried.

Delicately flavoured fennel salami

Amanda’s local knowledge also came in useful when it came to the liquor! Hence she recommended that we order a glass of aquavit each. It’s a Scandinavian liquor (obviously) that gets its distinctive flavours from the spices and herbs used. The main ones should be caraway or dill. Aquavit is not for the faint-hearted with its 40% alcohol by volume – and I absolutely loved it. Served chilled in these stunning little glasses it certainly added to the whole Nordic experience. Most of all, I can definitely visualise more aquavit passing my lips.

Plenty of pale liquor to keep us going!

Today’s price point

And finally, the money.

Aster is very reasonably priced with our six dishes from the Smorgasbord today costing us £31.50. It was plenty of food for two people.

If you eat off the a la carte menu a starter is going to cost you between £4.50 and £9.00.

Mains are between £11.50 and £22.00.

Aster is at 150 Victoria Street, Westminster, London SW1.

They also do a fabulous-looking Nordic Afternoon Tea available from 3pm to 5.30pm for just £15 per person.

The taste of Portugal at Bar Douro

Time for some authentic Portuguese dishes at Bar Douro.

I’m having a bit of an exciting time discovering newly created parts of London! Sounds strange, but this City is constantly evolving and today when I walked from Waterloo Station in search of Flat Iron Square everything looked totally different from when I worked in the area a few years back. New buildings had popped up, old ones been demolished, whole streets were closed to construction work…let’s just say I ended up getting a little lost, it was like a brand new world!

Anyway, after some interesting meandering I arrived at the New Flat Iron Square. Wow! There’s a range of food stalls, bars, restaurants all nestling under the arches. The delicious aromas would have been enough to guide me there if I had really got completely lost. Today’s destination is Bar Douro where owner Max Graham has transported local culinary secrets from Portugal and matched them with a carefully chosen Portuguese wine list. He and his family have been making wine and port for two centuries in the Douro Valley (hence the name, I guess). I have spent very little time in Portugal (should do something about that really) so was delighted to learn more.

Bring on the Portuguese flavours

The menu’s all about sharing and there’s a mix of snacks and small plates. Patanisca de Bacalhau – salt cod fritters – were light and fluffy with a perfect crunch and just enough fishy flavour.

Tender salt cod fritters with their spicy dip

Gambas a giulho – garlic prawns came with heads and tails on but deshelled for easy munching. Beautifully luscious, this simple dish is one of my favourites. Love this plate too – that blue and white combo totally does it for me.

Bar Douro: garlic prawns

Tasty garlicky prawns to savour

The croquettes de Alheira – croquettes of smoked Portuguese sausage were cleverly presented on this beautiful tile. Alheira is traditionally made from any meat other than pork and has that beautiful smokey intensity, here all wrapped up in a crunchy little bundle. Must find some of these sausages as I think they’d make a great ingredient for cooking with.

Bar Douro: sausage croquettes

Smokey croquettes served on more blue and white

Then from the small plates section we went for the Prego no prato Bavette steak with confit egg. An exotic sounding and looking dish that also came with vibrant spinach puree and matchstick fries. A great combo of ingredients that was sadly served a bit too cold which took something of its deliciousness away.

Bar Douro: Bavette steak

Steak, egg and chips Portuguese style?

We sat at the stylish marble counter (something I seem to be doing a lot of these days), so could watch the chef’s preparations while we sipped on some delicious Portuguese rose.

Bar Douoro: rose wine

A touch of Portugal, with wine, in Southwark

The interior is modern and light-filled with those fabulously Portuguese blues and whites.

Bar Douro: the view

Looking down the counter

Bar Douro: outside

Look for the Bar Douro Sign on the wall and you’ve arrived

As I said there’s a world of food choices outside, too, and plenty of seating space. Perfect for a chilled summer lunch in the sun. I particularly like the look (and aromas) of this Vietnamese food truck.

Bar Douro: what's outside

Vietnamese offerings from the van outside

Today’s price point

And finally, we paid £33 for our four dishes. Wines start from £23 a bottle.

Bar Douro is at Arch 35B, Flat Iron Square, London SE1 1TD

South-East Asian tapas at Yuu Kitchen

Today we’re heading east to Yuu Kitchen in London’s Commercial Street. It’s the road that runs north to south from Shoreditch High Street to Whitechapel High Street though the East End district of Spitalfields.

Carved out of slums in the mid-19th century it was soon made notorious by Jack the Ripper and is home to The Ten Bells pub where The Ripper is thought to have partaken in a drink or two. At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find Christ Church Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Baroque masterpiece.

Until pretty recently the street was mainly known for its street walkers, but that’s all changed. Now it’s emerging as a great place to eat and drink with its markets and plenty of bars, coffee bars and restaurants to choose from.

Yuu Kitchen opened late last year and serves food inspired by the flavours of South East Asia and the Pacific Rim. Some of my very favourite flavours! It’s a bright contemporary space with counter seating and walls decorated with vibrant pop art.

What’s on the menu?

The menu is divided into sections entitled: Bites, Crunch, Grill ‘n Wok, Fish and of course Bao. There’s a selection of small plates to share. We sat at the counter overlooking the happy busy-ness of the kitchen and munched on some edamame beans (Bites) while we pondered our choices.

Yuu Kitchen: edamame beans

The popping of edamame beans got us started

Some decisions are easy – I mean who can resist Bao? Described as Chinese steamed bread rolls, they can be filled with myriad stuffings. Today we tasted the special offer – Bao with baby back ribs and an Asian barbecue sauce. It’s hard to put the pleasure of eating Bao into words, the rich tastiness of the filling wrapped in a delicate cushion of deliciousness. Kind of like a really exotic sandwich – a taste and texture sensation.

Yuu Kitchen: Bao with baby back rib

The beautifully soft bao filled with baby back rib meat

Vietnamese vegetarian Ssam from the Crunch section offered a plate of spring rolls filled with corn, mushroom and noodles, wrapped in lettuce and served with herbs and a homemade sweet chilli sauce. The flavours of Vietnam exploded in my mouth, how I love this type of food.

Yuu Kitchen: Vietnamese spring rolls

The crunch of spring rolls with herbs, lettuce and chilli

Tuna tataki is one of my absolute favourite dishes. Today’s offering of seared, succulent sashimi-style tuna was served with pickled radish, spring onion and spicy mayonnaise – oh and pomegranate seeds to make it look even prettier. The best way to eat tuna – melt-in-the-mouth tasty.

Yuu Kitchen: Tuna tataki

Beautifully seared tuna with a delicate Asian dressing

Time for Bao number two –  soy and buttermilk crispy chicken served with carolina reaper chilli sauce and daikon pickle. Piping hot chicken in a crispy batter with a wonderful chilli bite from the sauce. I could eat a plate of these.

Yuu Kitchen: Chicken Bao

The best chicken sandwich ever? Very likely

Heading for the Grill ‘n Wok section we had to try the BBQ octopus as we’d seen the chef preparing several portions in front of us and it looked too good to resist. Braised with Sake, mirin and soya and served with a ginger and garlic sauce it was beautifully tender and absorbed the flavours perfectly.

Yuu Kitchen: BBQ octopus

Tender octopus in a lovely gingery garlic sauce

And now for dessert and time to dive into another Bao offering. This time the little beauty was deep fried and served with your choice of ice cream. We went for pistachio. A dessert to dream of with its mix of hot and cold, soft and crunchy, creamy and nutty. And doesn’t it look good!

Yuu Kitchen: Ice cream Bao

For dessert – an ice cream sandwich – so delicious

Yuu Kitchen: Interior

The modern funky look that is Yuu Kitchen

Today’s price point

Our lunch cost £53 including two glasses of wine. It was a feast of food for two.

There is a selection of beer, wine and sake on offer.

Yuu Kitchen is at 29 Commercial Street, London E1. Aldgate East is the closest tube station.

 

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