Saturday, March 17, 2018

Express Pasta Masterclass at La Cucina Caldesi

One of the offers as part of the Marylebone Food Festival was a Pasta Masterclass at La Cucina Caldesi. I had heard about them before, but I was hesitant to spend upwards of 100£ on a cooking class without knowing what to expect. So this 30 minute express class was a great way to check them out.

The cooking school is in a separate building from the restaurant (2 doors down).

As I entered, I saw that it has a proper set up for classes. 2 long wooden tables for participants to work at and a long counter with induction cooking hobs. Since they specialise in Italian cooking and pasta and pizza which need cool surfaces to work on, this is a perfect set up.

Our tutor for the evening was Chef Stefano Borella. He greeted us as we walked in. They have a large closet in the adjoining room, to drop bags and hang coats on hangers, before scrubbing up, putting on an apron and getting set to begin.

Given that this was an express class, the dough and filling had already been prepped, but after Chef Stefano demonstrated the technique, we all got to try our hands on the pasta rolling machines, and to stuff and make our own ravioli.

Once we were all done, our raviolis went into a large pot of boiling salted water. The sage was warmed in melted butter and the cooked ravioli was tossed around in this sauce. This was then garnished with toasted pine nuts. We all got to try a few pieces of the ravioli sprinkled or smothered with grated parmesan cheese and I have to say that it was absolutely delicious.

Since the servings were already in takeaway boxes, I carried half for my husband who was meeting me at Marble Arch for dinner. Given the weather, it had cooled down, by the time I met him. It was still tasty, but not half as good as it was when it was hot and fresh off the pan. It however, was good enough for him to tell me to go ahead and book a full day class with La Cucina Caldesi and to buy a pasta machine if I was serious about making fresh pasta at home.

Chef Stefano has a wonderful sense of humour and is very encouraging. If the other chefs who teach here are equally patient, I heartily recommend this cooking school even if you are a complete novice to the kitchen. They are helpful, non-threatening and make cooking a fun, relaxing endeavor, not a stressful one. About 20 of us did this class and were in and out within 30 minutes. Not once did we feel any kind of time pressure, nor did I feel rushed.

There was one participant who said that she was lactose intolerant. They got her some plain spinach filling without the ricotta and made a sauce with olive oil and sage for her. This was right on the spot. If you sign up for their other classes, they check for food allergies and intolerance at the time of sign up and prepare for that too.

They have their own series of cookbooks, each with a focus on a different region in Italy. These can be bought directly on their website:

I absolutely loved the experience and I would love to go again for a whole day pasta masterclass.

Rating : 5 / 5

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Lecture - Demonstration at Hankies Marble Arch

As part of the Marylebone Food Festival, Hankies Marble Arch at the Montcalm offered a demonstration of two of the most popular items on their menu - the bhindi bhel and spinach roomali stuffed with spiced feta, roasted tomato and homemade garlic herb oil.

This was a much smaller group than the other events that I attended during the Marylebone Food Festival, so it was easier to keep an eye on and listen to Chef-Founder Anirudh Arora.

Hankies first opened as Hankies Cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue. I had ordered home delivery from this location and found the flavours quite authentic, despite their unusual twists. So I was quite excited at the chance to view the Chef in action.

We were greeted by his wife Ishita as we entered the rather stylish looking restaurant. There is plenty of Indian work on display, from the stunning portrait at the entry to the beautiful crockery and glassware. All of it is very beautifully curated with an eye for detail without being in the least bit kitschy.

The name Hankies comes from the literal translation of their star dish - the Roomali/Rumali roti. Roomal in Hindi means a handkerchief. While the Chef's interpretation is that the name comes from the way that the bread is folded, I have heard another interpretation which says that the name comes from how thin the bread is - as fine as a linen handkerchief. No matter the etymology of the name, this is not an easy bread to make. Chef Anirudh said it took him a year of practice to be able to make this himself. I do not know of any households in India, that make roomali rotis at home. This is a bread best eaten at highway dhabhas or at restaurants that specialise in it.

Bhel Puri is a standard street food in India. The ingredients and flavour profile vary across the length and breadth of India. It does however contain a few basic ingredients, no matter where you eat it. Its the proportion of each flavour that varies. The base is the puffed rice and deep fried gram flour (roasted and powdered chickpeas) noodles. To this is added freshly chopped onions, tomatoes, green chillies and corriander (personally, I love bits of boiled potato and leave out the tomatoes). The twist here is that they add spiced, fried okra/bhindi to this mix.

Then comes the tamarind sauce and the coriander + mint sauce. All tossed up and sprinkled over with chaat masala powder. A final garnish or fresh pomegranate and nylon sev. A crispy confection, just beginning to get a bit soft with the addition of the sauces and wet ingredients. The flavour is an explosion of salty, spicy, sour and sweet.

Since the puffed rice mix and the chaat masala can be bought from most Indian stores, this is an easy dish to make at home.

The roomali roti however, is a completely different ball game. At Hankies, they flavour the dough with a bit of spinach water to give it the lovely green colour. Its a joy to watch the chefs in action, and if you visit this location, you will always get to see it for yourself as they have a live counter for the roomali rotis in the dining area.

The stuffing is a unique twist, because feta cheese isn't native to India. However, the salty smoothness of the feta, pairs well with the roomali roti and the herbs and spices are beautifully balanced in this stuffing. One stuffed roomali roti is quite filling and I suspect that 2 of these with a side of dhal will be a full meal.

I loved the food and will return soon. We often have guests who want to eat at Indian restaurants and Hankies has now made it to my very short list of authentic Indian food in London.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mothers Day - Burmese Supper Club by Wincie Wong at Darjeeling London

As I have previously written, we absolutely love the food at Darjeeling Express in Kingly Court - Carnaby Street. It is one of our favourites for authentic flavours from the Hyderabadi and West Bengal styles of cuisine.

Asma runs an all woman kitchen, providing employment opportunities with single shift scheduling enabling women who otherwise would not be able to work due to time commitments.

Darjeeling Express is shut on Sundays, so the staff can spend time with their families, unless Asma runs one of her occasional biryani supperclubs. She now offers her kitchen and premises to other women who want to try running a supperclub out of a professional kitchen. What a wonderful, supportive way to encourage new entrepreneurs. And what a fantastic way for us customers to get to try new styles of cooking.

Our first supperclub experience (after 3 whole years of living in London) was Philippino Cuisine at Mae's - Pepe's Kitchen. I'm now constantly on the lookout for supper clubs that offer authentic homestyle cooking, especially those cuisines that are under represented in the restaurant arena.

Wincie Wong's Burmese Supper club on Mothers Day, was a fantastic fit to what I was looking for. She promised to cook some of her Mothers favourite dishes for the day. What a wonderful way to honour, remember and celebrate her memory.

When we arrived, there was a bowl of Burmese spiced nuts awaiting us on the table, made by Wincie herself. So moreish, we could not stop eating them until the bowl was wiped clean. Being in public, we restrained ourselves, from the next step.

The first course was Palata with Burmese Chicken & Potato Curry - the famous Burmese "thousand layer bread" called Palata was a favourite in her household growing up. It was served with a bright chicken curry made with flavours of turmeric, ginger and lemongrass. This dish was a cross between a paratha and a samosa. As much stuffing as a nice plump samosa, but the dough was more like a paratha. I'd say the closest I have come to something like this in Indian cusisine is the Hyderabadi lukmi.

It was served with a side of pickled radish/mooli and cucumber. The sweet tartness of the pickles and their crisp texture, was a wonderful contrast to the fried palatas.

The main dish was the Mohinga. One of the most famous dishes of Burma, usually eaten for breakfast, surprisingly it is not as well known as khao suey outside of Burma. Mohinga is a fish (fish balls actually) stew with rice noodles served with all the trimmings: yellow split pea crackers (beh kyaw), hardboiled eggs, coriander, chili flakes and a wedge of lime. Each diner, mixes their choice of toppings on the noodles and stew. Then you can either mix it all up so that the flavours mingle and diffuse, or sprinkle a little at a time on each spoon.

The soup was coconut based, but very light - more soupy than curry. We obviously added a generous amount of chilli, lime and coriander for a powerful kick. The chopped red onions were a good touch too.

Dessert was Coconut Pancakes. I was expecting Asian style thin pancakes, but Wincie's mother (who relocated from Burma to USA) loved eating American style pancakes on the weekend. Wincie's twist on it was Coconut pancakes, served with a warm Jaggery Butter and blueberry (her mothers favourite fruit) compote.

I'm not a fan of the thick American pancakes, I prefer crepes, but these were the right size, the baking soda wasn't over powering and the jaggery in the butter and the compote was absolutely delicious.

This was followed by milky Burmese tea. I don't drink milk with tea, but the husband quite enjoyed this at the end of his meal.

I know that she catered for a vegetarian on the table next to ours. Just check with her, if you have any dietary requirements before booking. She responds very quickly.

There was no shrimp in this menu, but Wincie assured me that she could substitute shrimp or skip it in her 25th March supperclub. Something else came up, so I could not book that supperclub. I do however look forward to her next one.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Umbrella Brewing - Craft Ginger Beer brewed in Central London

What is your favourite tipple? I know I like something warming in the winter and something cool in the summer. Once I moved to London, my summer tipple has tended to be cider or a chilled cocktail.

I love ginger beer, but was not very happy with the selection available in the market, so I often have a ginger ale mixed with vodka or a white rum.

London is amazing in terms of craft beers, but I'm not much of a beer drinker. So imagine my surprise when Joanne of Love Pop Ups London told me about Umbrella Brewing which makes Craft Ginger Beer. Matt the creator/founder of Umbrella Brewing had invited her to a private tour of his brewery on Holloway Road and told her she could bring a few other bloggers along.

I don't think I've ever been so excited about any other event as I was for this one.

When we arrived at the brewery on Holloway Road, we were greeted by Matt Armitage - who used to be a bartender until he decided to create drinks rather than just mixing them.

While we were waiting for the group to assemble, Matt mixed us some cocktails with Umbrella Ginger Beer and I have to say that the combination of gin, lime juice and ginger beer was simply fantastic.

2 degree temperature weather aside, with the Barbeque going, and the gin cocktail in my hand, one could believe that Spring was almost here. The sausages marinated in jerk sauce were finger licking good and the Ginger Beer paired wonderfully with Grilled/Barbequed food.

After tasting the Ginger Beer, we were now invited on a tour around the restored Victorian industrial building to see how it was made. As is the case with most craft beer operations, the size of the brewery isn't large, but it is sufficient for two 3800 liter drums in which the beer is brewed as well as space to carry raw materials, the finished product (pre-bottling) and crated bottles.

Umbrella Ginger Beer is made with Lemons, Ginger and Cane Sugar. Yes, fresh, natural Lemons and Ginger, not essence or flavour! With nearly 75 kilos of ginger going into each 3800 liter tank. All these ingredients are fermented together with yeast.

Then comes the highly scientific testing of each batch. Given that the ingredients are natural and flavours can vary based on the time of the year and where the ingredients come from, this is an extremely important step to be able to keep the quality and flavour uniform across batches. Chemistry and Mathematics are definitely subjects worth paying attention to in school.

They are also experimenting with ageing ginger beer in whiskey and rum barrels.

We were lucky enough to try the first batch of cider - the next product that Umbrella Brewing is hoping to bring to the market. This fits into their vision of being a British Brewery making British drinks other than beer and wine. The cider was lovely and crisp. I'm a sucker for the sweeter Swedish Ciders and find British ciders quite dry and tart, but this was a happy middle ground.

While they initially bottled their own Beer, the process has now been outsourced. At this point, I have to mention their labels. Each one is painstakingly designed and is either inspired by a record label or part of a collaboration with brands like Dewar's, Studio Ruuger and Dead Rabbit. Behind each label is a bar code and if you are so inclined, you can head to their website, key in the code and read more about the inspiration for that particular label.

We ended the tour with another taste of pure unadulterated ginger beer. It is very fiery and reminded me of my favourite ginger ale (non-alcoholic): Luscombe's Hot Ginger. This pairs well with spicy food or Barbequed food. If you have a lower spice tolerance, you may prefer it over ice or mellowed down with gin or lemon juice.

As this is a Craft Beer Operation, it is not easy to find this product everywhere, but they are available in most Odd Bins They are also available in some independent bars. Check this page for more information. If you can't find it easily, you can also buy a 12 pack online, directly from Umbrella Brewing.

Do try them out, if you are looking for something new, something different, something fiery, something natural and completely vegan.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Leave the Herd Behind - Coffee Masterclass - Black Sheep Coffee

I was so excited when Jane offered an opportunity for a Coffee Masterclass at Black Sheep Coffee at Regents Place.

I hadn't heard of the particular brand before, but this weather is perfect for fueling my caffeine addiction and I quickly said yes.

The evening began on a perfect note. As we signed in, we were handed freshly made espresso martinis and cups of popcorn. Very practical for participants like me, that had survived the whole day on just coffee, snicker bar, a piece of fruit (all true stories).

I caught up with some of my friends, Joanne from Love PopUps London, Joice and Jason while sipping our cocktails and waiting for the others to arrive.

While Black Sheep Coffee functions as a coffee shop during the day, they also have a couple of bar tenders and depending on the day of the week, they start filling in cocktail orders whenever their mainly office going customers request them for it. They have a huge space that's quite comfortable for business meetings, so they said that they have people who come in for meetings requesting coffee and as they get don with work, they segue to the alcoholic drinks. What an amazing concept!

Black Sheep Coffee has quite a few branches around town, mostly concentrated in the business districts. I can't wait for them to come to Paddington.

Once everyone was assembled, we were addressed by Tony and Monia. They showed us how to smell and taste coffee and gave us a few tips on what to look for when buying coffee grounds. We did the slurp test to try out a couple of different varieties.

We were then split into 2 groups. Our group headed to the heavy machinery first. Matt here was extremely patient with us as we tried our hands at some latte art.

Hint : Its not as easy as your Barista makes it look! Both your hands have to constantly move, but in completely different motions. Tougher than playing the piano I tell you.

We then returned to our table with our lattes. We now learned how to use a simple filter at home and a few tips to make better coffee at home.
1. Brew coffee at 93C. Anything higher burns out the sugars in it.
2. Let all the bubbles dissipate from your kettle before you pour hot water on your coffee.
3. 7 gms of coffee per 100 ml
4. Use really good quality coffee beans.
5. Coffee should be light caramel colour
6. Coffee loses taste and aroma within 15 minutes of grinding. So best to grind freshly when you want to make some coffee.
7. Brew for 3.5-4 minutes.
8. The longer you brew your coffee, the higher the caffeine content.

Through this whole process, we kept sipping on coffee and cocktails. The velvet martini was outstanding.

I have to say that the coffee was amazing. We sampled the Love Berries, Robusta Revival, Blue Volcano and Swiss Decaf. While I loved the smell of the Decaf, taste wise the Robusta Revival was my favourite.

They have a coffee that is combined with coconut oil for a whole day slow release of caffeine that sounded very intriguing. The peanut butter hot chocolate also piqued my interest. I will have to return soon, to try these out.

I'd definitely recommend the coffee here and if you have the chance to attend a masterclass, I'd say 'jump at it' and 'leave the herd behind'

Monday, January 15, 2018

Blue Lotus Inspirations - Thai Supper Club - London

Blue Lotus Inspirations is a venture by Urmi Shah that offers Thai & Indian Food supper clubs.

I found her online and after clarifying that my shrimp/prawn allergy wouldn't be a hindrance, we promptly booked 2 places for her Spice Away the Blues - Thai Supperclub, last Friday.

I often find myself at a disadvantage in Thai restaurants because while I love the cuisine and the spice, their use of shrimp paste in the basic spice pastes, precludes most food from the menu. So I was very excited, when she promised me that I would be able to eat everything on that nights menu.

We arrived at their home in time and were warmly welcomed into their beautiful home by Urmi and the Delectable Mr G

We sat down to a table with an eclectic mix of people and Urmi explained her background of living in Thailand and which regions our menu for the night stemmed from.

Thai food needs to be eaten as soon as it is cooked. Its not meant to be reheated. So there was a bowl of shrimp crackers on the table while she quickly fried up our starters. I had to wait patiently, but that obviously gave me an advantage over the others. I could focus on all the home cooked goodies and eat more of them.

The fried tofu was so light, I've never eaten such a lovely version before. Often tofu gets tough and rubbery (not that I order it often), but this version was light, delicate and spongy on the inside of a crisp exterior.

The meat eating me reveled in the umpteen platters of fried chicken (Kai Thod Krob) that were brought to the table. So moreish. They were my second favourite dish of the evening.

My favourite dish for the day was definitely the  fish ball soup (Kwa Tiew Look Chin Naam) which she assembled in front of us! Customised to individual tastes. I asked for a little extra chilli and lemon in mine. I could live on this soup. Such a light flavourful stock, the fresh herbs, the smooth slithery noodles and the delectable fish balls.

Even if the meal had ended right here, I would have been very happy and contented, but there was even more food to come.

The main course was egg fried rice (Kaw Phad Khai) served with a pork jungle curry (Gaeng Par) and a stir fry of morning glory (Phat Phak Kiew) with lovely caramelised bits of garlic? 

Urmi had made a separate batch of pork curry for me without the shrimp paste which made me feel very special. I was just embarassed that I could barely begin to make a dent in it, as I was already quite stuffed. Others at the table were also waving the surrender flag. 

But I knew to keep a little space for dessert. It was pumpkin stewed in coconut milk (Fucktong Buat). I was so happy that it wasn't a dessert with fruits in it (I'm not allergic, I just don't like the taste or texture of most of them) This was a really delicately flavoured dessert. No added sugar and a lot of slow cooking love.

The food was absolutely amazing. There were a couple of pescatarians  at the table and she had alternative options for them for the pork curry and the fried chicken. 

Michael is a wine connoisseur, so they offer the option to buy wine that goes well with their food at their house and quite a few took them up on their offer. 

We aren't wine drinkers and the weather is too cold for cider, so we stuck to water. Therefore the palate cleanser of rose and lemon was really welcome midway through the meal. Absolutely refreshingly delicious.

At 35£, we were served a phenomenal quantity of food and so much variety, while catering to a myriad dietary restrictions, which is commendable for a home based operation.

Urmi also offers Cooking Classes and Demonstrations and also has an option that fulfills the skills section for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. Her other options include supplying food and cooking in your home.

They are very genial hosts, so I would recommend trying them out if you have a hankering for Thai food. Contact Urmi on or follow her on facebook : to be informed of her next offering.


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