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Review: Pachamama Bar and Kitchen

Pachamama London

This summer, with my birthday approaching, I was looking for somewhere nice to have brunch I wanted to try a new cuisine.  After a little searching online, I came across Pachamama, a Peruvian restaurant.  As I browsed their menu I was immediately enticed by the description of their dishes.  There were so many things I wanted to try.

Pachamama are in central London (W1), about an 8-minute walk from Bond Street station.  To get there, I walked through and then past St Christopher’s Place, a buzzing foodie spot with many dining al fresco soaking up the unusually hot summer. Whilst strolling through, I found myself wishing the restaurant was amidst this vibrancy.  It was however located in a basement on a quiet street just beyond this area, and was not very prominent from the street.

Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find a beautifully decorated, spacious and homely looking restaurant.  Parts of it were sectioned off to look like a kitchen or dining room, with traditional lampshades hanging from the ceiling, bookshelves, ornaments and potted and trailing plants. We sat on mismatched chairs around a large wooden table.  In the middle of each table was a vase with freshly cut flowers. Within a few minutes I forgot I was below ground, with limited natural light.

Our waiter, Katerina, presented us with four menus.  It was nice to have a varied choice, but it made it difficult to choose with so many options: the regular Brunch Menu; the Brunch Feast (a set menu for £25  to which you can add unlimited Prosecco for another £20); the Dinner Tasting Menu; or the a la Carte Menu.  Between us we selected from the brunch menus.  We had to ask the waiter to explain the concept for their Brunch Feast, which was mainly savoury and sweet waffles with various toppings to share. I was particularly interested to sample their waffles, as they were  freshly made using alternative healthy ingredients – either quinoa or sweet potato, and were gluten free.  The large and fluffy waffles looked very appealing, however it took a minute for my taste buds to acquire the underlying flavour and firmer density of the adapted recipe.  I’m glad I tried them though as with the toppings (fresh fruit, fried chicken or bacon and eggs) plus the naturally sweet Yacon syrup, I found them quite enjoyable.  Reading through the menu we were uncertain of a few of the dishes but our waiter, Katerina, was happy to describe the ingredients to each person that asked.  Between us we tried a few things.  There was something for everyone: waffles, fish, meats, chicken and salads.

Here are some of the dishes we tried and liked:

Peruvian fried chicken on quinoa waffles with yacon syrup
Pachamama Crab and Yuca Churros
Crab and Yuca Churros
Sea bass Ceviche
Seabass Ceviche (raw fish salad marinated in citrus vinegar with chilli) – Tasty but portion is more like a starter
Pork Belly Chicharrones
Pork Belly Chicharrones – very tender, light batter was succulent, sweet and very crispy
Smoked cheddar Tequenos (Cheese sticks) were not as expected (according to their description, but were very nice. Sweet and crispy
Smoked cheddar Tequenos (Cheese sticks) were not as expected (according to their description) but were very nice.
Pachamama burger
Fully loaded cheeseburger
Sweet potato crisps
Sweet potato crisps

They have a variety of wines and cocktails to choose from.  I had and thoroughly enjoyed the Chicama, a clear coloured Brandy drink (Pisco) infused with, lavender, Early Grey and Elderflower.

Chicama cocktail
Chicama

What I liked

  • Everything was very tasty, the flavours were sometimes unexpected but still tantalising.
  • The atmosphere at Pachamama is relaxed and homely
  • I liked that there were options for those with allergies or specific dietary preference. Many dishes were either gluten free, vegan, vegetarian or made with free-range ingredients
  • Staff were chatty and friendly and accommodating ( I loved Katerina, and the manager Aerve).
  • The toilets were clean and well maintained too
  • I liked that they has a bar area and a variety of cocktails and beverages to choose from

What I didn’t like

  • Too many menus to select from
  • Confusing dining concept
  • that it was located in a basement and away from the vibrancy of the area

I hope to visit again soon to try their dinner tasting menu, as there were several traditional Peruvian delights that were not on the brunch menus. Its also a cool place to just chill and have some cocktails and snacks.  Its worth noting that Pachamama also have a new restaurant in the City of London (Pachamama East) with slightly different menus.

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Review: Bala Baya Mediterranean Restaurant, Southwark, London

Bala Baya Aubergine Mess

I am always looking out for interesting places to dine, where I can sample either traditional cuisines done uniquely, or try out dishes that I’ve never had before.  Bala Baya, in Southwark, ticked both boxes. It serves traditional Israeli recipes from the Tel Aviv region and also incorporates some contemporary twists.  All of this in a very modern industrial surrounding.

I was invited to join few friends for a birthday dinner and was immediately excited when I browsed the very extensive menu.  I didn’t know where to start.

I had never dined out in Southwark before, so was surprised to find that there was a little foodie hotspot called the Old Union Yard Arches a short walk away from the station. There is a row of buzzy looking restaurants, each situated in their own railway arch.  I made a mental note to check out the other eateries in the future. For now, my attention was with Bala Baya.

My first impression was that the staff were extremely welcoming to their guests, most of which seemed to be regulars.  I could also sense a light-hearted family-type bond amongst staff.  Our waiter, Dimitri, was very welcoming and gave us the option to sit either upstairs or downstairs.  Both areas were pleasant, but downstairs seemed to have more atmosphere. Also, it was a warm sunny evening so we opted for downstairs by the window (as no tables were free in their small outside dining area).

Bala Baya outside
Bala Baya outside

For dinner you can choose from several small plate dishes (tapas style).  They suggested 3-4 dishes per person which we could share.  This was perfect for me as it gave me the opportunity to sample a few dishes.  There were 4 of us, so we pretty much ordered every small plate dish and were not disappointed (There were also some large plate dishes in the Feast section).  I like to be adventurous with food, so was happy to give some of the more unfamiliar dishes a try.  The Aubergine Mess was surprisingly tasty, but my favourite dish was the roasted Cauliflower (a popular veg at the moment), followed by the Crispy, Sticky, Crunchy chicken and the and Potato Tempura.  Everything they brought out was extremely tasty and nicely presented on traditional glass tableware.  The food was cooked in an open kitchen and each dish brought out one by one, as and when ready.  Whilst we waited, we were provided with freshly cooked flat bread pitta and hummus to graze on.  Halfway through our meal, the Maître D came over and highly recommended the Kebab Dumplings (semolina ravioli type parcels filled with lamb). She was very passionate and animated in her description of this dish.  It was her favourite, therefore we felt obliged to try it. We enjoyed the dish, however, we each felt that it did not live up to its introduction and flailed in comparison to the other dishes we had tried.  Definitely worth a try though. Although the servings were quite small we ended up with more food than we could finish.  Therefore, between us we ordered one dessert to share.  It was quite a blind choice as we had no idea what some of them were. We decided on The Filthy (Mascarpone, tahini, tonka cream, milk caramel, sesame crumble & banana compo). For me, the desserts were not as appealing as the main dishes.

Cauliflower Bala Baya
Cauliflower Bala Baya
Squid Bala Baya
Squid Bala Baya

Their cocktail list did not disappoint either.  There was a good selection to choose from. Some with middle eastern sounding names like Artichoke Julep and Gazozini.  I went for a simple grapefruit and thyme Gazoz (non-alcoholic), which was very refreshing and needed to counter the many flavours I was encountering.  There was also a good choice of beers, spirits and hot drinks. However I could not see a wine list (despite some of the cocktails being Prosecco based).  Our waiter also gave us all a complimentary digestif cocktail whilst we were waiting for the bill (an Ouzo/Gazoz shot). Nice touch!

Grapefruit and Thyme Gazoz Cocktail
Grapefruit and Thyme Gazoz Cocktail
The Filthy Bala Baya
The Filthy Bala Baya

Bala Baya is also a bakery by day serving sweet and savoury pastries to eat in or takeaway.  They also have a tasting menu and a weekend Brunch and Roast menu, serving larger dishes.  All to be sampled on another visit. The only thing that didn’t quite sync for me was the blend of very modern industrial décor with the very traditional Tel Aviv plates and cutlery etc. It wasn’t in keeping. Just a minor gripe.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Baya Bala.  It’s one of my best dining experiences so far this year.  Good atmosphere, good food with plenty of choice (plus good friends). The perfect formula.  I plan to revisit and recommend you do too.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Spicy Homemade Falafels

homemade falafels

I love falafels, so decided to find an authentic recipe to allow me to make them myself at home.  The only thing I knew about falafels was that chickpea is one of the main ingredients, and that they are a traditional Middle Eastern staple.  I learned that in fact the dish originated in Egypt (North Africa).  I compared a number of recipes as I wanted mine to be authentic. Whilst looking, I learned that the main ingredient was not necessarily chickpea, but that in some regions broad bean (also known as fava bean), or a combination of both are used.  The basic ingredients found in almost every recipe are chickpeas (or broad beans), coriander, onion, garlic and either breadcrumbs or sesame seeds to coat. I noticed that some recipes contained extra ingredients like bicarbonate of soda, flour and egg.  For my falafels I followed a traditional recipe as much as I could, but made some adaptations based on my preferences and the ingredients I had at home. 

falafel ingredients
Falafel ingredients

Here are the ingredients I used in my recipe:

1 cup of cooked chickpeas
3-4 garlic cloves
half a cup of chopped and cooked curly kale
½ a red onion
1 large spring onion
1 small shallot
½ teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
half of a fresh red chilli pepper
1 teaspoon of cumin plus salt and black pepper
Lemon Juice
Flaxseeds

Method

Falafels are quite easy to make. Once you have all of your ingredients ready.  Blend them together in a food processor slowly (with a pulse) so as not to over process.  Some recipes suggest that you blend everything until you have a completely smooth mixture.  However, if you prefer a more wholesome or dense falafel, then you should not make the mixture too smooth.  For my recipe, I separated my ingredients into two halves.  I blended one half until it was a smooth paste (I added the lemon juice to help with this). The other half was less pulverised and had more of a course texture. I then combined them both.  I had to tailor my recipe according to ingredients I had at home. I didn’t have any coriander and therefore used finely chopped curly Kale instead.  Also, because I love onions and garlic I had a high quantity of both in mine.  Most recipes suggest half an onion and maybe 2 cloves of garlic. I decided to include bicarbonate of soda in my recipe to ensure they were not too dense.  Many of the recipes I looked at suggest that you then refrigerate the mixture for about half an hour. This is to make it easier to shape. To do this I sectioned off small pieces by hand (or you could use a falafel scoop). I dusted with flour and then rolled into balls (you can also flatten them out like a patty).  In some recipes, they were then coated in breadcrumbs or sesame seeds before frying.  I liked the idea of sesame seeds, but did not have any, so used flaxseeds instead. 

uncooked falafel
uncooked falafel

Shallow frying is possible, but I soon realised that deep frying was the best option. I used a small pot with enough oil to almost cover them. Once the oil was hot enough they cooked very quickly.  I was very pleased with the end result.  They not only looked good but were very tasty. I served mine with salad and a tahini dip.  They are traditionally served with pitta or wrap breads, salads and pickles.

My family loved them! 

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Review – Sake No Hana restaurant, London

Sake no Hana

Sake No Hana is a modern Japanese restaurant in Mayfair (part of the Hakasan Group).  My first impression when entering the building is that it was a classy establishment.  You are immediately greeted by well-dressed friendly staff, who take your coat and then show you to your seat.  Optionally you can wait in the bar area where several Japanese beers, cocktails or tasty mocktails are available, together with the more classic cocktails and wines.  Entrance to the dining area was up on the floor above via quite a steep escalator. The décor is modern and relaxed. For Spring 2018 the interior had a makeover by a Japanese architect. In celebration of cherry blossom season, hanging from the ceiling was an art installation of paper blossoms, accentuated with a light projection, to create the look of cherry blossoms blowing in the wind.

Sake no Hana dining area with cherry blossom display
Sake no Hana dining area with cherry blossom art installation

We chose the Taste of Sake No Hana menu – two courses for £29 or three courses for £34.  As a pre-starter, we were given white miso soup, which we drank from the bowl.  There were then various options for each course that followed. I chose the tuna tartar with deep fried tofu as my starter.  This dish was very well-presented in a wooden box and was extremely tasty.  The tofu, which I don’t usually enjoy, was particularly good.  Part two of my starter was a sushi selection.  My choice which included salmon, tuna and tofu was again beautifully presented.  This time, in a see-thru Perspex box. I was very content after eating my starters and was at this point hoping that the main course would not be too heavy. I went for the Chargrilled Salmon Teriyaki.  As expected, this was cooked to perfection and beautifully laid out on a hoba leaf. We ordered a rice bowl to share accompany our main. This was more than enough.  The next course was to be their signature dessert. However, I didn’t opt for dessert on this occasion as I completely full.

Starter 1 - Tuna Tartar
Starter 1 – Tuna Tartar

 

Sarter 2 - Sushi Selection
Starter 2 – Sushi Selection
Teriyaki Salmon
Main -Teriyaki Salmon

 

 

 

 

 

What I liked: I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and loved the presentation. I thought the price was very reasonable.  There was a good variety of cocktails available too. The waiters were friendly and attentive and did not hover around too much.  It’s the perfect place for a romantic meal or just to chill with friends.

What I didn’t like: There is only one set of toilets in the dining area, which contained one cubicle each for men and women.  Therefore, potentially one would need to loiter outside the loos if they were occupied. Secondly, on my visit we were celebrating a birthday and wanted to bring our own cake.  However, the cover charge for this was £7 per slice, which I think is too much.

All in all I would recommend a visit to Sake no Hana.  Great food, good atmosphere and very reasonably priced.

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Pineapple, Spinach and Ginger Smoothie

Spinach, pineapple and ginger smoothie

This lean and green pineapple, spinach and ginger smoothie is one of my favorites and is the perfect “pick me up”.  Its packed with everything I need for the day.  The combined ingredients contain a selection of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Its particularly high in vitamins A and C and therefore guaranteed to boost you immune system.  Also, the spinach has a high iron content which should increase your energy levels; the ginger has anti-inflammatory properties; and the pineapple is said to alleviate muscle aches and pains. Making this a good all rounder.

I used a large handful of washed baby spinach, a small tin of pineapples (in its own juice) and about an inch and a half  sized piece of fresh ginger, which was peeled and grated.  This is a dairy-free smoothie so perfect for vegans.

Don’t let the green color scare you. Its very tasty! Its best to drink smoothies first thing on an empty stomach.