Charcuterie at The Bull and Last

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Charcuterie platters. They’re like tapas, right, but where you don’t get any choice, and they just serve you meat and, unless you’re very unlucky, a few chutneys and/or pickles? Actually, this is as much the reason why I tend to have a good time when I order these as why I never do so: because you get a whopping pile of tasty, salty, fatty meat, in a whole variety of guises. So I dove into the opportunity to head to Highgate (gastro-) pub The Bull and Last, visiting with Rachael and my parents.

“My theory was that watermelon pickle wouldn’t work”

The wooden board at The Bull and Last held products from a wider range of animals than you’d normally expect from a typically pig-heavy cuisine. Instead of the usual ham and chorizo and more ham offering, we found duck prosciutto – thin, delicately dried strips that genuinely sat somewhere between duck breast and bacon; chicken liver parfait (okay, it’s never going to be my favourite, but it certainly packed a creamy, indulgent punch – in exactly the way that means I find it a bit creepy and unpleasant); ham hock terrine was spreadable, but in a chunky way that didn’t lose all texture; duck rillettes were stringy and fibrous in just the right to-the-teeth fashion; pig’s head was rendered down into almost a croquette; chutneys and mini-pickles cut through the fatty mass of meat, though the perfunctory rocket salad was pretty bland and didn’t add much.

I was sneaky enough to ask if I could have some of the watermelon pickle that was an accompaniment to another dish. My theory was that watermelon pickle wouldn’t work. I contend that I was right, though Rachael and my parents were a little more generous and felt it was ‘interesting’. We all know what that means.

The selection was well-chosen, and a little different, and the thought that went into the creation and presentation of the whole menu shone through. This creativity was especially apparent in the desserts, particularly my pain perdu with hazelnut cream and a (yes, I’m cheeky) substituted-in (but correctly!) Ferrero Rocher ice-cream. Rachael’s Kernal Stout ice-cream, on the other hand, wasn’t exactly to my taste.

Overall, I’m game for trying more of the menu. You won’t even have to twist my arm!

Fish Pickle at Rasa

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Generally we think of pickling as a way of preserving fresh foods, and creating flavourful accompaniments to potentially otherwise dull mainstays. Usually this would be something cheap and plentiful, so its interesting to see a pickle making use of an expensive protein as is main ingredient. I’d assume this is down to Rasa’s previous incarnation as Rasa Sumadra, a specialist outlet of this high-class Indian franchise with fish taking centre stage. We had to order the pickle specially, since it doesn’t feature on the standard Rasa menu.

“We had to order the pickle specially”

So how is it? At first, you’d be forgiven for not realising that it’s actually fish. The flavour is there, but well masked by the strong vinegary, spicy, sugary additions. In fact, it’s in the texture, with the soft, chewy bite that makes you realise the centimetre cubes are chunks of preserved ex-swimmers. And this is where the fish shines, since it is a great addition to the texture of pickle, creating something substantial, meaty and dense without creating something unrecognisable. It’s definitely not fish curry (and it would be a horribly sour and sweet one if it were). Distinctly pickle, but also rightly something with a bit more right to strut its stuff on the chutney plate.

No, I wouldn’t make a trip out just for this. And given you’d have to phone ahead to get it, it would take planning to come by. Maybe I’ll try to make my own. It has certainly made me rethink the humble pickle.

All Balls at Cinnamon Soho

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It’s pretty unavoidable to point out. As ‘tapas concepts’ go, spherical-foods is a little… odd, even if the food futurologist we saw a couple of years ago at the V&A did predict that the future was balls. C.f. cake pops.

“As ‘tapas concepts’ go, spherical-foods is a little… odd”

The truth is that being round isn’t the only thing that connects these five morsels on offer at Cinnamon Soho. In fact, in common with most Indian-starter treats (at least as represented in British curry houses), they are all deep-fried, and either battered, crumbed, or basically batter themselves.

The least traditional is their take on the scotch egg, with a (quail’s?) egg surrounded by a spiced mincemeat and breadcrumbs. The crabcake is subtle, and if I’m honest, overpowered not just by the other flavours on the plate, but the excellent chutneys individually selected to match each bite. At the other end of the spectrum, the beef example was rather like a beef-flavoured bouncy ball, and whilst it shouted its essential taste, its texture didn’t do much justice.

My favourite was probably the potato fritter, which reminded me of Passover latkes – gentle enough to match their pickle well, and without arguing with the other balls in an attempt to justify its presence on the platter. The final ball, a vegetably-cheesy affair was both the most authentically, challengingly Indian and, I felt, the least successful. Ingredients known for abundance and cheapness don’t naturally scream ‘small dish’ to me, and what might well have made a charming vegetable side ended up an inconsequential and forgettable mouthful that I suspect was just making up numbers.

Overall it feels like full marks for concept and effort, but the end result just isn’t that stellar.

 

Dosa at Dosa n Chutny

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I often forget the concept of Tooting Indian restaurants. Here’s the quick pitch:

  1. (Some of) The best curry in London…
  2. …at absurdly low prices

Okay, so this joint is a little different: it specialises in dosa, the fluffy Indian pancakes filled with potatoes / lentils / onions / vegetables / meat / etc. as you desire, and served with various chutneys and curries or dahls. But the two principles remain the same: delicious food at astonishing prices.

“[W]ith 20 different menu-options, you could certainly get return value”

At £3.50, my Mysore Masala Dosa (spicy potatoes, onions, Mysore-regional spices) is a substantial, warming, filling meal, and offers – with a selection of three chutn(e)ys and sambar (a thin lentil curry) – variety in every mouthful. I assume (I think correctly, but then isn’t that what assuming is) that the traditional (correct?) way to eat this is with your fingers, tearing a chunk off the folded crepe, and attempting to splosh it in one or more of the accompaniments without the filling spilling out everywhere. So this is what I try. Key is to make sure that every bite is different from the last – presumably a mathematically easy task, practically guaranteed if you were to make your choices at random.

It’s hard to say whether this is the best dosa I’ve ever eaten (not that I’ve had a very great number), and it’s difficult to consider them as gourmet food, when they’re straightforwardly homely, cafe-style fare. It certainly hits the spot, and with 20 different menu-options, you could certainly get return value (though it might take an expert to truly tell some variations apart).

Tooting High Street is something of London’s Curry Mile, so I could easily see the possibility that I might not return to this particular joint soon. But if I were a local, this would be a go-to spot, especially if I felt that unique craving for the eponymous dish.