Saturday, 16 May 2009

London Food Adventures Part I

I came back from London on Thursday, and should have posted this ages ago, but I am lazy and easily distracted by shiny things.

I had a day out with Jess, and we went on a bit of a culinary odyssey.

The Spice Shop

First stop was the Spice Shop in Portobello. They had fresh Kafir lime leaves, which I've never seen before, and every spice blend imaginable. The pure spices came in cute little yellow tins, while the blends seemed to come in bags. I bought some sumac, and noticed that they had beet powder on special offer. I asked if they had any raspberry powder too, and the woman behind the counter seemed shocked.

"What do you want that for!?"
"It's a flavouring and colouring, I wanted to make raspberry meringue"
"I've never heard of it. Could you not just make it at home with a coffee grinder?"

Well, yes, but as mentioned before I am lazy.

I was upset that Books for Cooks across the road was shut, but that was poor planning on my part, as I had totally failed to see the big sign on their website that says they are closed on Mondays.

Black Bottom Cupcake

While meandering back to Notting Hill Gate, we passed the Hummingbird Bakery. We weren't planning on going there, but it was a happy accident. The cupcakes looked very pretty, but I am still suspicious of them. I was impressed that they also had a couple of loaf cakes without icing, as this suggested they actually made good cakes rather than rubbish cakes with shedloads of frosting on. I was tempted by the ginger cupcakes, but went for black bottom instead. I saw this the other week online, but had never heard of it in the UK. It's basically chocolate cake with a dollop of cheesecake thrown in. When it came to the tasting, I was impressed. The chocolate cake was moist, with a light texture, and the dense cheesecake made a nice contrast. These are going on my "bake at home" list.

Jess went for red velvet. While we were queuing up, some other people in the shop were going on about how red velvet is their favourite flavour.

Me: "It's not a flavour! It's just chocolate with red in it!"
Man Behind Counter: "Yes, it is our best seller"
M: "Why is it red?"
MBC: "So it looks nice"
M: "But why?"
MBC: "Just because it looks fun with the white icing"
M: "I don't get it. Why put colouring it when you don't need to?"
MBC: "So it looks pretty, and it's traditional"
M: "I guess I'm just a total killjoy..."
MBC: *silence*

Jess enjoyed the cake, which was very red and pretty looking, although I think she was also a bit baffled as to why it is coloured red. Or maybe I just lectured her into submission. Moving on...

We then went on to Bond Street, where we checked out Laduree and Fortnum and Mason, although Jess has the pictures from then so that will have to be part II of this post.

After all the food porn, we were tired and *hungry*, so we wandered into Soho to check out Fernandez and Wells. Jess had an empanada, which was one of my favourite snacks when I went to South America many years ago. I especially liked the mini deep fried ones, which you usually found at truck stops in the middle of nowhere. This one was baked, but still tasty.

Empanada with chili sauce

South American cuisine is not well represented in the UK, and I still dream of the ceviche I had in Peru and Chile. I had a pastel de nata, which is Portuguese, although I'm sure I had stuff like this in Brazil, so I guess it was imported along with the language.

Pastel De Nata

It was one of those dishes that tastes much better than it looked. I loved the custardy filling, and the pastry was crisp and flaky, which was surprising as for some reason I was expected more of a shortcrust style case. I had a cappuccino, although in hindsight I should have gone for a cafe cortado.

Being back in London made me realise how much I missed the buzz of the big city, and also how poor the Edinburgh food scene can be at times. I guess it is better here than a lot of places, but you don't get the variety and choice that you get in London. Having grown up there, I am used to the noise, crowds and know the tube almost off by heart. While I like the villagey feel of Edinburgh, I sometimes feel like it has all the downsides of city living, but with few of the perks.