Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for October, 2009

The food: Fish and chips in London

Plaice and chips at Fishbone

Plaice and chips at Fishbone

The story:

During my recent visit to London, I went to see the current West End revival of Oliver! Oliver! is not one of my favorite musicals, but what better venue to see a show based on a Dickens novel, with a score written by an English composer, than at the historic Drury Lane theatre in the city where the show is set?

When I read in reviews beforehand that the crucial roles of Nancy and Oliver had been cast through a British reality television show called I’d Do Anything, I was even more dubious, but the show I saw was worth every penny of the discount orchestra (stalls) ticket I bought for 38 pounds at the Leicester Square TKTS ticket booth.

Never in all my show-going days have I seen such a lavish production – there were at least 50 talented and energetic cast members singing their hearts out in and around breathtaking, complex sets that depicted a romanticized but vividly realized version of Victorian London. And Lionel Bart’s score was more pleasingly melodic and packed with bright and shiny pop tunes (some of which can be heard here) than I’d remembered – especially notable this time was the haunting counterpoint of Who Will Buy.

In keeping with the spirit of Oliver! I felt compelled to eat at least one traditional English meal in London, which is how E and I ended up one evening at Fishbone, a slightly shabby chippie in Fitzrovia that I’d read good things about in London’s Time Out magazine that happened to be a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

The weather was fine enough (and the interior of the shop depressing enough) that we sat outside at a sidewalk table to wait (and wait) for E’s haddock (fried in a matzo meal batter) and chips, my conventionally battered plaice and chips, a tomato and onion salad, and some coleslaw billed as homemade.

Haddock and chips in matzo meal batter

Haddock and chips in matzo meal batter

Turns out the 20 minute wait was because the cook had freshly battered and cooked our fish (not for us the prefried cod sitting under heat lamps that several people picked up for takeaway while we waited). Sure enough, the fish was sweet and flaky, the batters crisp, not greasy. The chips were also crisp, if bland – they lacked the soft center I look for in fries, while the fresh-tasting salads added a welcome light counterpoint of their own to the fried food. Who will buy, indeed.

Creamy coleslaw from Fish Bone

Creamy coleslaw from Fish Bone

Fish Bone on Urbanspoon

Read Full Post »

The food: Homemade Arancini

Flattened but still tasty homemade arancini

Flattened but still tasty homemade arancini

The story:

After extolling arancini in general in my last post, and happening upon a recipe for citrus arancine in Bon Appetit magazine, taken from a Georgia restaurant called Cakes and Ale, I decided to attempt making my own.

In my (lack of) wisdom, I did not follow the Cakes and Ale recipe (too complicated) and devised my own mashup recipe, which began with leftover oven-baked sage and saffron risotto made according to a favorite Martha Stewart Living recipe.

Leftover risotto and spinach and ricotta mixture for stuffing

Leftover risotto and spinach and ricotta mixture for stuffing

I stirred some minced lemon rind into the risotto, whipped up a stuffing made of 2 T. ricotta cheese, 2 T. chopped spinach and a sprinkling of nutmeg, beat an egg and laid out some panko breadcrumbs on a plate.

IMG_0419

The assembly process that followed didn’t go too well –  the risotto was sticky and hard to work with, I had trouble inserting the spinach and ricotta mixture into the misshaped balls I devised, and more trouble reforming the balls after the insertion. The next steps – dipping the mal-formed lumps into the beaten egg and the breadcrumbs – were not smoothly executed either, as you can see from the sorry looking results before frying.

IMG_0420

Having come this far, I went ahead and pan-fried (not deep-fried – I didn’t have the strength to deep-fry) the balls, or should I say, patties, in 2 T. olive oil, and made a sauce of strained pureed tomatoes mixed with a little cream and some chopped basil.

Eh, voila! Citrus sage saffron arancini stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a basil tomato cream sauce.

Once more, with feeling

Once more, with feeling

Okay, they were more like pan-fried stuffed risotto cakes than real arancini, but they tasted good, and made me appreciate all the more the artistry of the restaurant chefs who make the genuine article way better than a mashup cook like me ever could.

 

 

Read Full Post »

The food: spaghetti margherita

Pasta Margherita at Da Corrida

Pasta Margherita at Da Corrida

The story:

While on vacation last week in London, England, E and I went to see the documentary film The September Issue, a behind-the-scenes look at American Vogue’s 2007 September issue. The film looked – and sounded – interesting, but I was unable to watch most of it head-on (I spent much of the time peeking at the screen from behind my hand) because it contained many shaky hand-held camera passages, of the kind that make me nauseous.

When the film ended, and we emerged from the Curzon Mayfair Cinema, I was dizzy, pale, and not hungry, so when E suggested we duck into a old-fashioned-looking Italian restaurant around the corner called Da Corradi, in Shepherd’s Market, that bore a sign promising homemade pasta, I said fine, whatever, and ordered the simplest thing on the traditional menu: spaghetti margherita, with tomato sauce and basil. E ordered a spaghetti bolognese, and so we could eat something approaching a green vegetable, some deep-fried zucchini sticks.

By the time the pasta arrived (within ten minutes, though the small main floor space was full, at 8 p.m., of customers, almost all eating large servings of pasta), a lemonade had restored some of my equilibrium, and I’d noticed the celebrity endorsements on the wall, which featured signed photos from Julie Andrews, Bob Hoskins, Al Pacino, and Kevin Spacey.

Looks a little stodgy, but was actually tasty and light.

Looks a little stodgy, but was actually tasty and light.

The appearance of the fried zucchini gave me pause, but it was surprisingly good-tasting, and not greasy. And my spaghetti was the perfect choice after the dizzy-making film – the fresh pasta had a lovely chewy yet soothing texture, and the tomato sauce it had been tossed in was sweet and light. E also found his bolognese to be simple and good,

Spaghetti Bolognese from Da Corradi

Spaghetti Bolognese from Da Corradi


and both dishes were much better than the blah pastas we had another night at Carluccio’s, a popular and stylist restaurant chain recommended by Elaine Louie of the NYT in her book Savoir Fare London: Stylish Dining for under $25.00 that should be avoided for pasta, but did feature delicious arancini.

Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside arancini from Carluccio's

Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside arancini from Carluccio's

The multiple morals of this story? 1) Hand-held cameras should be banned from moviemaking, 2) A simple dish made with fresh ingredients at a traditional restaurant can trump a fussy creation at a stylish joint, and 3) always order arancini.

Da Corradi on Urbanspoon

Carluccio's Covent Garden on Urbanspoon

Read Full Post »

The food: a delicious vegetarian dinner

IMG_0171

Angelwalk Theatre, a new independent theatre company, has opened up at the Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio Theatre., and the first show in its inaugural season is a local production of the long-running off-Broadway hit Altar Boyz.

I’ve heard Altar Boyz described as a funny, all-singing, all-dancing parody of boy bands, and I’ve often thought about seeing it in New York, but I never did. Partly because there were always shows higher on my priority list to see during my brief trips to the city, and partly because for a show to spoof Christian pop/rock, as Altar Boyz does, it has to feature Christian pop/rock (proselytizing not being my favourite thing).

The good news about the Angelwalk Theatre production of Altar Boyz is that its production values are high. A talented group of actor/singer/dancers work their asses off onstage, and hit all the (mostly corny) jokes, the notes, and the many energetic dance routines (how my heart is stirred to see a dance-based musical comedy where actors actually move while singing!).

The direction, by Tim French, keeps the show funny and lively, and his choreography is a delightful combination (and knowing send-up) of boy band hip-hop lite moves.

Most of the songs are pleasingly melodic (and parodic), and one of them, the pro-sexual abstinence “Something About You,” beautifully sung with cheesy faux sincerity (and tongue firmly in cheek) by Ken Chamberland as Matthew, sounds so sweetly schlocky it could have been a boy-band hit back in the day.

Other highlights of the production were the lovely choirboy soprano voice of Jeigh Madjus as Mark; the comedic acting of Aidan deSaliaz in the largely thankless (and sadly stereotypical) role of Juan; the athletic and accomplished dancing of Stephen Roberts as Abraham, the cutest and lone Jewish (don’t ask) Altar Boy; and Eric Morin (Luke)’s spot-on white homeboy impersonation (complete with doorag and basketball jersey).

With all that talent assembled and on display, an avowed atheist like me could almost tolerate the omnipresent Christian messages in the show. Almost. But what the hell, I recommend the show to musical theatre fans anyway (see it before it closes on October 11, 2009!) and I commend Angelwalk Theatre for putting on such a professional production of this rather weird concept of a show.

And if your idea of being virtuous runs less to sexual abstinence and more to interrupting a string of decadent, rich meals with an occasional delicious vegetarian meal like the one E and I cooked up recently and pictured here – featuring warm orzo with tomatoes, feta, chopped mint and olive oil; broccoli and cauliflower pan-fried with grated old cheddar, and eggplant slices coated with egg and panko breadcrumbs, drizzled with olive oil, and oven-roasted – then eat away, say I.

Read Full Post »