Of meat on skewers

If all else fails, we eat - that seems to be the motto for our Malaysian Society. It really doesn't feel at all like it's been a year since the rather disappointing end-of-year dinner in Melur last year. This year, we opted for the safer option - a meal at the tried and tested Satay House.

Satay House
13 Sale Place

London W2 1PX

With the name of the place being Satay House, I suppose a trip to the restaurant would hardly be complete without a round of satay. While not quite like the ones served in my favourite satay place back home, the mutton and chicken meat skewers were still good enough to satisfy the deprived. Served as a starter, we quickly dug into the tender chunks of meat served with peanut sauce. If anything, the little teaser that we got that night has made me miss the smell of satay being cooked over an outdoor grill with a man staying over it, fanning the flames.

"What's lamb mysore?"
I brought this up with Anusha upon going through the proposed menu the day before the dinner as lamb mysore has always been one of those dishes that I see listed on menus so frequently but have never really been able to identify. I quite liked my first real introduction to lamb mysore, regardless of how accurate a depiction of the real thing it was. This one was mainly a tomato-based dish, slightly on the sweet side and with a good helping of spices.

Ayam masak cili api. I have to admit that despite our constant complaints of the greasy food we used to get back in college, one of my favourite combinations was that of ayam masak cili api and salted egg. I remember how the salted egg used to play off the creamy richness of the chicken so well. This was a throwback to those days, except without the salted egg and perhaps with a little less oil involved.

Sambal tumis udang dan petai. This was probably one of my favourites for the night. While most people found it a little too spicy, I enjoyed the kick it had but then again, I've always had a soft spot for anything involving sambal petai.

We capped the night off with banana fritters and ice cream - again, one of those things that just tease your tongue and leave you missing those huge bags of banana fritters sold at the side of the road back home.

Food is generally good in Satay House, with everything being a fair representation of the sort of food we can get back home. The only gripes I have though is that everything is on the slightly expensive side and that portions are rather small. I suppose Malaysia does spoil us when it comes to things like this as a meal out would almost always guarantee leaving one feeling too full to move.

Noodles and ice cream

It's time to break out the flip flops and shorts (or in our case, just find any excuse to do so). Armed with our sunnies and trusty cameras, we joined the throngs of people by the Tower Bridge pier one afternoon to soak up some sunshine. What was initially an idea for a picnic turned into lunch in one of the restaurants followed by ice cream while lounging around on the grass. We were hungry even before we got onto the bus so lunch was the first thing on our minds when we got to the pier. After a quick survey, (and after taking in the unmistakable aroma of vinegar and grease coming from the pub), we decided that a light lunch in Wagamama would be ideal.

Wagamama (Tower Hill)
2b Tower Place
Tower Hill

With floor to ceiling windows that let the sunshine in, the restaurant was quiet, quite unlike the over-flowing pub next to it. We put it down to the fact that everyone else preferred to be outdoors instead. With Wagamama being well-known for its noodles, we naturally settled on noodle dishes after a quick look-through of the menu.

Yaki Soba - teppan-fried soba noodles with chicken, shrimp, egg, beansprouts, peppers, onions, garnished with fried shallots, pickled ginger and sesame seeds.

Amai Udon - teppan-fried udon noodles in a tamarind sauce with prawns, egg, tofu, beansprouts, red onion, leek, garnished with peanuts and lime. Always one for the tangy and spicy, I think the words "tamarind", "peanuts" and "lime" were what caught Anusha's eye.

The thing about Wagamama is that the food is always on the lighter side, especially in terms of flavour - perhaps in line with its healthy eating theme. Flavours are generally mild (perhaps, except for the noodles in spicy coconut based soup range) and this includes the chilli oil. I personally don't mind quick noodle stir-fry once in awhile but based on past experience, it's really not the sort of place for someone who's got a hearty meal in mind.

Feeling content, and Sapna with her take-away package in tow, we took a stroll by the river and made our way over the bridge to settle down onto the sunny patches of grass, ice cream cones in hand - because really, that's ultimately what we were there for.

Don't you just love spring?

Posted by Picasa

Little kitchens

At the end of my mini-break in Nottingham, we made a stop at a little diner just off one of the main streets for a quick bite before I got onto the train for London. The unassuming little place, with hand-made signs lining the windows and rows of little tables promised some good old fry-ups.

Gingham Kitchen
10 Lincoln Street

In Nottingham, where bus drivers smile and give you a cheery greeting and where the people seem to be nicer and a lot less harried, one can really get used to the laid-back vibe that the city gives off. Gingham Kitchen seems to really embody that relaxed spirit - a cosy little place where everyone seems to know everyone by name.
Lasagne and chips

Cheese and tomato quiche with beans and chips

While I expected larger portions, the portions that came were deceivingly filling and I found myself surrendering to the chips at the end. I would have appreciated a more generous portion of the main dish, however. The food is nothing fancy, just simple comfort food that's good for a quick fix on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Posted by Picasa

From the sea

Getting out of bed (and in some cases, not sleeping at all) at 5am to go to a fish market is not exactly your typical student behaviour but that's really how much the thought of food motivates us. Yes, us, who only begin the day at noon any other day. Inspired by some cookout photos put up by some friends, we decided that a trip to Billingsate Market was in order for our very own cookout to celebrate Hanad's birthday. Having been away for the week, I came home to find that the we had purchased enough food to feed the entire neighbourhood - but then again, when it comes to the amount of food we consume, nothing surprises me anymore.

We got right down to business, the kitchen bustling with activity as we pottered about - slicing, dicing, frying, chopping, tasting, tweaking. It's an organised sort of chaos when the whole house attempts to work in tandem in the kitchen and that's perhaps my favourite part of a cookout.

The freshness of the seafood from the market was absolutely worth waking up at the crack of dawn for - a mountain of prawns, crabs that were still moving about on the kitchen floor, oysters that could lick your hand while you cleaned them and huge slabs of fish.

The oysters were exquisite - I don't think any of us had ever had such fresh oysters before. A squeeze of lemon and a drop of Tabasco sauce - nothing has ever come close.

The crab curry was what set the ball rolling when we first decided we wanted a cookout. Sapna's craving for the chilli crab she had once in Singapore propelled her to search rather feverishly for the perfect recipe on the internet. In the end, we went with a recipe emailed to me by mum, tweaked, of course. A generous amount of shallots, chilli powder, garlic and ginger laid the foundation for the dish. With enough crab to fill a whole bathtub (I kid you not), the cooking needed much strategising. From the initial execution of the crabs and the shower that we had to give them to having to separate the crab out into buckets and cooking them in batches, it turned into quite a mission. It's true what they say however, that nothing worth it ever comes easy.

What's crab curry without the fried mantou? First steamed then deep fried (well, as deep a frying as we could do), the buns turned out really well much to our surprise. Dipped into the thick curry gravy, they were delicious.

"This tastes like Malta"
Mediterranean-style squid - this was the dish that provided a little something different to our predominantly Asian spread and it truly reminded us of the fantastic food we had while on holiday in Malta.

We decided to deep fry the squid tentacles in a batter made out of pre-mixed "cucur" flour. Upon seeing how well they turned out, we decided to turn the dish into a snack in the midst of cooking. We munched on the crunchy, golden squid as Sapna went around re-hydrating the kitchen crew with helpings of pineapple juice.

Butter Prawns - deep fried prawns that were tossed into a butter and curry leaf mixture. Digestive crumbs were added to the batter to give the prawns more texture.

Har Lok - another recipe emailed by mum.

Curry Laksa. This took a whole lot of tweaking, stirring and tasting to get just right - and just right, it was. Creamy and reminiscent of home, this was the sinfully indulgent dish that had everyone drinking out of their bowls. My favourite bits were the tofu and fish cake slices that had absorbed the gravy.

The best part about having a cookout at No. 42 is the fact that there's always enough food to last a few more meals after. There's nothing better than knowing you have a seafood feast waiting for you for brunch the next day. We've developed a new-found respect for Chinese restaurants and their busy kitchens and have absolutely no idea how they do it on a daily basis. At the end of the day, I wasn't sure if we had chosen to have a cookout for Hanad's benefit or for our own greedy reasons but whatever the reason was, we sure had a feast to remember.

Because it's Friday, everyday

It came down to a choice between Friday's and Nando's as we made our way from the train station to the city. With neither of us having been to Friday's before (and with pork constantly topping Gary's list), it was an easy choice. We pushed open the double doors and settled ourselves comfortably by the window on that rather quiet Monday afternoon.

With the both of us having heard so much about the ribs, ordering was a no-brainer.

I picked Friday's BBQ ribs while Gary went for the more adventurous sounding Jack Daniel's Ribs. The half-rack of ribs came with chips, Cajun-battered onion rings and a tangy smokey BBQ sauce and the Jack Daniel's sauce respectively. The ribs had a fall-off-the-bone-melt-in-your-mouth sort of tenderness and the sauces were perfect complements to them.

The ribs were good enough for a return visit the next day. This time, we had the option of picking a combination from the Take 2 menu, two courses for 9.99 GBP (with a 3.49 GBP top-up to upgrade to some of the more popular main courses).

I opted not to go with the ribs and instead, picked the Cajun-Spiced Chicken Quesadilla as my main. Chargrilled chicken, Colby cheese, onions and peppers came in flour tortillas alongside Cajun-spiced rice, pico de gallo and some Southwest sour cream. I loved the tangy cheese that held the tortillas together but was not a particularly big fan of the rice which I thought was rather dry.

I don't think the thought of not having the ribs even entered Gary's mind as he immediately went for a full rack of Jack Daniel's ribs which he polished off with absolutely no difficulty at all.

"But the chocolate one sounds nicer, right?"
Chocolate was the name of the game when it came to dessert choices with the both of us abandoning the idea of getting two contrasting desserts pretty quickly.

Chocolate Fudge Fixation - rich chocolate and fudge sandwiched between three layers of chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream on the side.

Chocolate Brownie Temptation - warm, gooey slices of brownies with hot fudge topping and vanilla ice cream.

Dessert probably couldn't have gotten any more indulgent than that - there's just something about warm hot fudge and chocolate that puts a smile on my face. After our rather huge mains, we had a bit of trouble finishing dessert and I do admit that the vanilla ice cream was quite imperative to striking the sweetness balance. Still, I couldn't think of a better way to end the meal.

One thing's for sure though, when at Friday's, go for the ribs and you'll never go wrong.