Category: Restaurant

Asian food is everywhere, but there’s something missing

Asian food is everywhere, but there’s something missing

Asian food is everywhere in London with Thai Green Curry fast replacing Chicken Tikka Masala as our national dish. Ten years ago, we didn’t know our Pho from our Tom Yum, now your local pub probably has them on the menu.

I lived in Thailand for 8 years and love cooking Thai food, but frankly what passes for Thai food in the UK is often industrially produced rubbish with a lot of it not really Thai, but an unlovely mix of Thai, Chinese and Malaysian cooking. What is sold as Pad Thai is often just a gloopy mess. Part of the problem is that restaurants find it hard to source all the essential Thai ingredients. Thai aubergines are not so easy to come by in London town.

One small London restaurant chain that does quite a reasonable Som Tam or papaya salad is Rosa’s Thai Café. (Som Tam is the benchmark dish for me, if they get that right I’m in) I’ve been to their restaurants in Spitalfields, Soho and Brixton and while not perfect, their food is recognisably Thai. Try their pork grapou, som tam and gai ped met ma muang or chicken and cashew nuts.

If you fancy a try at cooking Thai then most supermarkets carry the essentials:  fish sauce, galangal, lemon grass and green curry paste. It’s also worth a trip to the Longdan supermarket on Kingsland Road, which specialises in ingredients from all over Asia and the Orient. They even have Thai aubergines on occasions. It’s open on a Sunday so you can combine a visit to Columbia Road flower market.

I also highly recommend all Blue Elephant products, particularly their Massaman curry paste. These are now available in the UK.

So what’s missing? Well there’s one essential element of Thai, Cambodian and Laos cuisine, that hasn’t made it over here: fried bugs. Stroll past Asian street-food sellers and there’s usually a wok full of deep-fried crickets, grasshoppers, worms and beetles. For some reason we are quite happy to eat prawns, which are just aquatic bugs but not so keen on eating their land-based brothers. Asian’s enjoy these delicacies as a snack food combined with a beer rather in the way we eat nuts or crisps with a chilled lager.

I have a feeling it’s going to be an uphill struggle to make these snacks popular here, but in many ways, they should be. As we attempt to feed an ever growing world population, bugs have a lot going for them. They are full of protein with little fat or calories, are easy and cheap to raise and require little technology to do so. They are a far more sustainable food source than livestock, which accounts for nearly a fifth of all green-house gas emissions, plus they’ll eat almost anything.

Still not convinced? Westerners find bugs hard to swallow, but would you eat an energy bar made with extracted bug protein? The people at Eat Grub clearly hope you will and are out to convince you that bugs are a sustainable, nutritious and above all delicious source of food.

But if bug related food is not your thing, go and buy a pack of Blue Elephant Thai green curry paste, some strips of chicken, jasmine rice, a bottle of fish sauce, substitute peas for Thai aubergines and you’ll have a feast of your hands.

The best Thai food in London is often served at our house, but I’m afraid we don’t have room for you all.


 

Stockwell Continental

Stockwell Continental

A new Italian restaurant in Little Portugal

Anyone who has read this blog knows I don’t like to criticise – it’s not an attack blog. But sometimes gentle criticism is appropriate.

It’s probably unfair to review a restaurant that’s only been open for a few days, but really Stockwell Continental you had better up your game.

Friday night supper with friends and family is something of a tradition with us. So, it was with real enthusiasm that we descended on this newly opened pizzeria deep in the heart of Little Portugal on South Lambeth Road. It comes with an excellent pedigree and is owned by the group that runs the much-loved Canton Arms which is just over the road. We are knee deep in Portuguese restaurants, so were delighted to welcome an Italian outfit into our midst.

The restaurant is on the site of the old Rebato’s restaurant which was famous for about five minutes a few years ago when a tired and emotional MI6 agent went AWOL from his HQ up the road and left a laptop full of state secrets behind. The restaurant dined out on this until it closed with newspaper articles and cuttings festooning the walls.

Menu

Looking at the Stockwell Continental menu we discovered it sold mostly pizzas, and as one of our party remarked they had better be good as it’s not exactly difficult to get a pizza in this town.

Unfortunately, things did not get off to a good start; as we came through the door we were met with the smell of eau de drain, with high notes of muck. The restaurant is long and narrow with bare white walls and is over lit. It has the mood lighting of a Chinese takeaway.

The staff seemed distracted, not rude but just not very helpful. One of our party, a coeliac, has to maintain a gluten free diet. None of the pizzas are gluten free and so we asked whether the risotto was suitable. The waiter went away to find out but didn’t return with an answer.

Latterly, we discovered that none of the main courses were GF and when I pointed out this was something they really needed to fix I was told in a quite belligerent manner, by someone who may have been the manager, that some of the starters, mostly the salami, were GF. It seems that at Stockwell Continental the customer is not necessarily right. We were made to feel we were the problem. Clearly the restaurant was not part of the solution.

Antipasti

And to be fair some of the starters were passable particularly the Roast pumpkin, chestnut and ricotta. Starters cost between £4 and £7 with the most expensive pizza coming in at £10, so pretty reasonable prices

Struggling for authenticity the menu does not wear its Italian heritage lightly. I had a Nduja pizza which was new to me. It came with Fior de Latte (soft cream cheese), Nduja (spicy salami) and pickled red onion. It also came topped with some unidentified green kale like substance that neither looked nor tasted appetising. Once I had swept much of the topping to one side I discovered a passable pizza lurking underneath.

Although it has since closed I remember when Counter at Vauxhall Cross opened a pizza restaurant, they announced it was a soft opening, that pizzas were half price and comments and criticism were welcomed. It’s a shame that Stockwell Continental didn’t adopt this approach.

As we were leaving the general consensus among our party was that we would not return, when we could get much better at Pizza Express. However, I think everyone deserves a second chance and I will go back in a couple of weeks to see if things have improved. We would love an excellent Italian restaurant in the neighbourhood and we all really wanted Stockwell Continental to be good. Let’s see if they can up their game.