Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In that London

You know, there are sometimes in life when only a well made Scotch egg will do.

I'm not talking about those monstrosities common to most British newsagents and motorway service stations, all overcooked rubbery egg rattling around in a sphere of breezeblock grey offal coated in an unappetising orange fur. No, I mean a proper hand made Scotch egg, where the yolk is still a bit soft in the middle, the meat is made from actual bits of actual pig rolled in breadcrumbs and fried until amber brown.

The Scotch egg at Canteen on Baker street in London hits the spot. While the accompanying pickle lacks punch, each quarter of scotch egg is a taste of Great Britain. A taste of mum's kitchen, long summer evenings sitting outside the pub drinking ale, jumpers for goalposts...

Yeah, OK, it's been a while since I had a decent Scotch egg. It's a bit of a shame that Canteen is so, well, canteeny. The food served up here has got decent British pub written all over it, and is priced to suit.

It suits me and my Oldest Friend though, as they have a nice spicy drop of Meantime Pale Ale on tap. Our waitress is friendly too, showing enthusiasm for the spicy meat pies on the specials board, and enjoying a spot of banter. Showing us to our table by the window she warns us that a large party are about to take the table for 12 adjacent to us.

"It's OK, we won't disturb them" notes OF.

This appalling bit of humour actually provokes a smile. From a waitress. In London. Did I miss a meeting?

Being growing thirty-something men we both opt for the special of spicy lamb pie. There is the risk with 'spicy lamb pie' of being presented with some sort of horrific car-crash of Anglo-Jamaican fusion food, but thankfully that wasn't the case. The kitchen at Canteen stayed within the tried and tested traditional pie format. A spot of gravy, a fringe of cabbage, gutsy lamb, a soft pastry hat. Excellent.

OF finishes off with trifle of the kind that neither of us has seen since childhood, while I take on a well balanced plate of Neal's Yard English cheeses, just as the large table adjacent fills up with jovial foreign students wondering what the hell a Scotch egg is.

Canteen has two other branches on the South Bank and in Spitalfields, and I'd recommend visiting for something straightforward and quick. As a visiting ex-pat the menu really cheered me up and reminded me that British food is worth missing. Whether this is a unique thing or not I don't know - perhaps London is packed with places knocking out the kind of food that makes me nostalgic these days?

55 Baker Street
London W1U 8EW
(+44) 0845 686 1122
8am-11pm Weekdays, 9am-11pm Weekends

Del'aziz Fulham
I wake up the following morning at a fancy hotel at the Chelsea football stadium to discover that somehow, by some astonishing luck, I've escaped any serious drinking injury. Mrs Jiffler is slightly more worse for wear though, having been learning how to cook chicken kiev at The Kitchen in Parsons Green. Judging by the hangover, I think the cookery lesson leaned more towards the supping of white wine and chatting than actual cooking. A fry up is in order.

The staff at Del'aziz in Fulham deserve credit for accommodating our wet umbrellas, large suitcases, and my arsing around nipping out to the post office as soon as we get settled. The place itself is one of those unselfconciously smug establishments, all gourmet coffee, bare wooden tables and fancy cakes in the window. A choice of yoghurts and alpine muesli. The sort of place I secretly enjoy going to even though they make me feel like a class traitor.

despite this, their £8.50 (£8.50!!!) full breakfast is ungreasy and both sausages and bacon are well up to scratch. Fried eggs could do with another 20 seconds to firm up to the white, but it didn't kill me.

Dining is at shared communal tables, so everyone pretends to ignore each other while secretly listening. To our right are a family of V-necked Times reading bores while sharing our table are a group of young Australian women who are naturally louder and more obnoxious. One of the women is talking loudly into a mobile phone to family back in Australia, clearly nobody has explained to her that self-amplification is unnecessary with pay as you go.

"Yeah, we're flying to Austria this afternoon"


"No Austria. In Germany. We're going skiing"

Another pause, slightly longer.

"Yeah, that's the best thing about London. It's so close to Europe".

Indeed. Actually the best thing about London is that it's pretty bloody far from Australia.

Del'aziz Fulham
24-32 Vanston Place
Tel. 020 7386 0086

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


If the British broadsheets are to be believed, a truly relaxing weekend should involve handing over enormous amounts of money in exchange for a stay at some beige hotel close to a major road where you will be subject to any number of dubious 'spa treatments'. I love a massage as much as anyone, but I can't seem to get excited about making it the focus of a weekend.

The Collines de Niassam lodge in Palmarin is more my style. Here you can relax without having to apply slices of cucumber and listen to new age forest dolphin music in a room smelling of pot pourri. There is nothing to do at Collines de Niassam. You are a bumpy drive away from the nearest anything, so all that is left is to indulge in a bit of sunbathing, perhaps have a pootle around the lagoon in a canoe or, for the more energetic, a spot of birdwatching among the baobabs. You can choose a hut suspended over the lagoon, or perhaps a pokey little treehouse. There are no TV's, radios or car rapides at Collines de Niassam, just fresh air, fresh food, and a fresh breeze.

The staff lay on three meals a day, each using ingredients sourced locally. This is not for any high-minded eco-friendly middle-class crusading reason, but out of practicality. Making the trip to the city, and preserving imported chilled or frozen goods w
ould just be too much of a hassle. When you run exerything off solar power and scrapyard assembled wind turbines, you have to make sure every joule of energy is spent wisely.

Bread and Jam for breakfast was a bit tight. It was nice bread, and great jam, but it was the same nice bread and great jam every day. Any chance of a boiled egg? Things perked up at lunch and dinner time though (there, I've done it, used the words 'lunch and dinner' instead of 'dinner and tea'. It's a slippery slope.), when
more substantial meals are presented to us - crisp salads, smoked fish, smooth desserts, and healthy measures of home made fruit-flavoured rum to wash it all down with.

One night we kick off with boulettes of zebu on cabbage.

These get the ball rolling for a number of jokes ("I didn't know Zebu's had three balls" etc etc).

Curried monkfish with taglietelle comes next:

We'll overlook the pasta for a moment (this is a weird francophone thing, serving pasta with curry. Perhaps they just think it's all 'Orientale' and therefore the same thing), and focus on the meaty chunks of monkfish, one of my favourite fishes for throwing in a curry (expensive in the UK, but ten a penny round these parts). While the curry itself was mild, it didn't suffer the usual Senegalese fate of being loaded with jumbo stock cubes. It tasted clear and sharp, and let the subtle (some might say bland) flavour of the fish speak for itself.

But my word, they just knock you out with dessert:

A whipped, creamy chocolate ganache with alternating layers of white and dark chocolate. Richer than Roman Abramovitch and thicker than Wayne Rooney. This one even beat Mrs Jiffler, and left us with our eyes rolling in our heads in need of a stiff glass of rum to sort us out.

I tried to pop my head in the kitchen for a nosey around and to give my congratulations, but was chased away by laughing ladies. Perhaps I caught them licking the chocolate off their spoons.

Lodge des Collines de Niassam
Palmarin Ngallou, BP 08 JOAL - Sénégal

Tel: 77 639 06 39