Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: The Eagle, Farringdon Road

It's obscenely early.

It's Sunday morning.

And I write from my lovely new flat in London whilst chomping on a bowlful of muesli packed with gorgeous nuts, seeds and berries. What better time to ruminate on the latest, entirely unplanned, gastro-stumble.

Let me momentarily transport you to my new place of work, just off Leather Lane in London. One week in and I'm already head over heels in love with the location. Bridging the gap beautifully between city suits and edgy Clerkenwell/Farringdon (most definitely not suits), it is an area jam-packed full of taste explorations, as I've quickly discovered. From the market on Leather Lane, which gathers momentum (and fruit stalls) towards the end of the week, snowballing into a full-blown, out-of-control crowd by Friday, to tucked away treasures of ethnic foodspots, gastropubs and seriously swanky eats, the place is guaranteed to keep me amused.

Thursday saw me headed out post-work with a friend, David, for a couple of drinks, though sadly at this stage no food (the menu looked fantastic but we were told it was lunch-time only) at The Hat and Tun, a little old man's pub which rapidly gathers an uber-cool crew post 5.30pm, tucked away on Hatton Place. American readers will no doubt find this English name rather quaint...look at it carefully, squint a bit and compare it with the street name, and you'll see what I mean. East London is particularly rife with these amusing little names. Other than that, given I've not tasted the fare, I can't really comment: genial atmosphere, plentiful drink supply - what more could you want from an old man's pub??

8pm taking my friend and I by surprise, our suddenly insanely empty bellies protested loudly and propelled us rapidly in search of some grub. There was something of a desperate clatter in my high-heeled hobble as we headed on up Farringdon Road in the hopes of a foodie find.

I know it may be hard to believe, but there was actually some method to my madness. Deep in the recesses of my fusty old memory bank, from back in the days when Farringdon was a 'really distant' London area which, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't connect with my mental map of London, I remembered being taken to lunch in a gastropub called The Eagle. Years and years ago. I didn't know if I was way out of date. Thankfully, and more than a little surprisingly, my memory served me well and lo, there in the distance, like a sparkling green oasis in a desert, the pub rose up: glorious, cozy, and full to brimming with enthusiastic, chatty diners and some extraordinarily tasty-looking/smelling dishes.

2 seconds later and I'd found my new best friend: the barman was from Madrid, and I momentarily forgot my hunger in favour of talking (unsurprisingly my 2nd favourite thing) nattering away in Spanish, glad of the excuse to roll the lingo round my tongue after all my months since Mexico. Hunger (and my friend) soon started tapping me on the shoulder in reminder again, so I tracked down the waiter flitting through the crowd, who I'd usefully been informed by my barman friend also Spanish (as, indeed, they all were), and I wasted no more time in a request for two seats. Perched on a shared table, David and I got on with the serious task of menu-study.

Four scrawled chalkboards jubilantly proclaim the day's dishes - mostly made up of a handful of hearty meat mains which are grilled lustily in front of the kitchen for all to see, a neverending array of tantalising smells shamelessly whetting the eager eater's appetite. Not that mine needed any help. By this stage I was practically chomping at the bit, with the thought of the soup of the day, a 'canjo portuguese' (portuguese stew) made of chicken, rice and broth - very reminiscent of a dish Ma Pea makes for me when I'm under the weather and need nourishing - making me drool. Starvation was momentarily forgotten, however, when in the corner of one of the chalkboards I noticed chalked up a rather beautiful little piece of symmetry to my life of London eating, declaring that The Eagle is (yet another) sister restaurant to two of my previous reviews, The Anchor and Hope, and Great Queen Street. Tic, tac, toe. You gotta love that. And so, I threw caution to the wind and decided to let the dishes do the talking. Finally, we ate.

Canjo Portuguese - now we all know I'm ridiculously fussy about my soups, it's one of my staple, old favourite rants that I've covered it time and time again in previous posts. Something, though, about this place, inspired my soup trust. I went with my gut instinct, and I wasn't disappointed. I was, in fact, completely blown away. This was home away from home. Appearing at the table in a fired chunky red clay bowl, a homage to its Portuguese origins, this was a steaming, luscious and deeply fragrant broth, heavily infused with garlic and comforting thyme, and with generous portions of both the chicken and the rice, it was flawless and just the job to both soak up my pre-dinner drinks and provide the comfort of home away from home.

Grilled Pork Chops with cannellini beans and roasted red onions - poor David, his dish arrived a few minutes after mine and, following a paltry few pieces of sushi at lunch, he'd been ravenous even back at the pub. I'm a nice fellow diner though, and shared my soupy treasure with him until his, frankly, splendid dish graced our table. I am not a natural pork fan, and will almost never choose pork when eating out or when cooking myself - I mostly find it a leathery, tough and tasteless meat. That being said, I will happily tuck into a pair of chops if placed in front of me for tea. Again, like the chicken stew, there's something about the dish that is comforting and very reminiscent of home, family and being served your dins by mum or grandma. I had never tasted pork chops quite like these, however. This was the King of Pork Chops, branded with charred marks straight from the grill, succulent, tender and very, very tasty. Or, in David's words, 'really good' (there's a reason why I'm writing this and not disrespect David). The accompanying beans, gently infused with garlic, warming and almost meaty in their protein punch, were perfect, as were the dark purple, sweetly caramelised onions. Heavenly.

We'd both polished off our dishes, full to brimming with appreciation and enthusiasm, and more than a little reluctance to actually come to the end of such heavenly delights, when, I just happened to notice that the soup of the day option that I'd eaten had been wiped off the chalk board, and a new soup chalked up. It was only blimmin' Caldo Verde (green soup) wasn't it, the (other) national Portuguese soup, that I know almost better than any other soup, having eaten it in Portuguese restaurants across London, Portugal and Brazil. A rapid debate ensued - was it too scandalous to go and order another dish purely out of greed and curiosity? You of course already know the answer.

We shared this hug-in-a-bowl - a thick (and usually a standalone substantial) potato soup, with plenty of vibrant green cabbage, chunks of potatoes and wicked spicy, little pieces of chorizo - the red, smoked sausage often seen livening up spanish and portuguese dishes. I have a minor obsession with chorizo, and when David wasn't looking, was secretly ferreting around with my spoon to find the pieces of red treasure amongst the cabbage and potatoes...

As you can see, with a home away from home right around the corner from the office, and with such foodie finds only a stumble away, I'm going to be a happy little working bunny. With an energetic and sparky atmosphere, a media crowd stumbling across the road from The Guardian offices, and very friendly and efficient waiters, not to mention outstanding food, The Eagle is first on my list for the area. Check. It. Out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'm comin' to London!

The latest news in my little world is that, after a YEAR away (and BOY has that year flown fast), I am comin' back to London. Beware, oh former home of mine.

The hot topics that I'll be posting on in the upcoming months will be:

  • Restaurant Crits - (probably with a high concentration on Credit Crunch deals)
  • Healthy Eating and Work - how to combine the two (in continuation of the theme of my last post)
  • Little treats and finds round the city - including 'Five Minutes Peace' - cafes, nooks and crannies where you can enjoy a cuppa tea/coffee and your favourite book away from the crowds
Right now, however, I must stop chatting away and focus on the terrible bore that is packing. Oh, and unpacking the other way.

I hope everyone's remembered Mother's day! Mine's been the lucky recipient of a pretty little homemade card slightly reminicent of six-year old me, though slightly more adept (thankfully) at capturing human body proportions. This time round Mummy Pea doesn't look like a potato. Always a bonus. That, coupled with a handful of silver and gold sugared almonds (her favourite), some beautiful smelling flowers, and afternoon tea later on today, should go a teensy way towards thanking her for being the star Mum that she has been these last 27 years, and particularly this last year.

Thanks mum!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

On a Health Kick

Ok, so you've not heard from me in a while because, to be honest, it took me three weeks to digest all the previous post's food. I've only just started to be hungry again...

Now there's a good excuse for not writing up your foodie frolics if ever I heard (/wrote) one.

And the truth of the matter is, well, I've been exploring an entirely different way of eating. The carb fest that was Italy in combination with months of eating and writing about whatever I wanted (with a frugal focus), not to mention the six months' travel eating the wackiest global foods on offer, I decided it was high time my poor bod/tum was given a bit of a holiday and some TLC. So together we set off on a little jolly jaunt into the world of really healthy eating.

And, I know this may be a little controversial, and I never thought I'd hear myself say this but - I'm actually enjoying it. I'm talking a real focus on eating light proteins (mainly fish), maximising my fruit and veg intake and, for the moment, cutting out all milk, wheat, caffeine and sugar. I know, sounds boring doesn't it.

But I'm here today to tell you that it doesn't need to be boring at all! Especially the fish side of things. Previously a bit naive about the potential of sea produce, I'm now starting to veer dangerously towards pescatarian-evangelism. I could rant and rave for hours about the merits of the fishy stuff, or Sea Bass-bash you. But I'll let my recipes speak for themselves as, over the next few weeks, I'm going to be exploring a few of the interesting options I'm starting to come up with, and demonstrate how healthy eating doesn't have to be all bland, boring dishes with no pizzazz. Quite the opposite!

As a result of my two weeks' healthier eating, I can honestly say I'm a changed woman - I've got energy that was seriously lacking before, I'm bouncing out of bed (actually, annoyingly early), enjoying my exercise, and there are the added benefits of skin, hair and nails which are starting to glow like a lavalamp. Though admittedly not quite so fluorescent.

But enough of my waffle, let's cut to my first fish dish.

Look at thaaaat. Shiny, glistening, silky, silvery. Fish that is so fresh it's still gleaming from the sea. Believe it or not, I'm finding that Waitrose, moreso even than some of the fish stalls, sells the most spankingly fresh fish of all varieties. Impressive every time.

Asian Baked Sea Bass with Stir Fried Garlicky greens & rice

First get the rice cooking, as the fish takes barely any time at all.
Once it's bubbling away, lay the prepared fish on a baking tray - stuff it with roughly chopped spring onions, sprinkling half over the top of the fish. Rub a bit of sea salt on the skin of the fish, and then sprinkle/stuff a mixture of chopped/sliced ginger, lemongrass and squeezed lime over the fish. If you'd like a bit more of an asian feel, add a splash of soy sauce (being careful not to oversalt, as you've already salted previously), and some chopped coriander. Pop the fish in the oven for about 15 minutes on high (245C). I'm still using an aga, so my temperatures are shady - keep an eye on whether the fish is cooked through or not.
Meanwhile, stir fry the garlic in some groundnut oil until golden, and add a generous handful of beansprouts, some of the chopped spring onions and some roughly chopped asparagus. This should not take long to wilt, til the asparagus is al dente.

Serve and enjoy, you healthy, healthy so-n-so.