Friday, 26 February 2016

Schmicks vs The Sea

As the sea came crashing forth, smashing wave after tumultuous wave upon pebbled sand, Princess Schmicks, ruler of the beach pixies, rose up into the air and screamed back into the spray:

"You shall not pass!"

And suddenly, the sea stopped.

PS Been a bit quiet on here lately innit but I have been very busy, up to all sorts, including going back down to Dorset. Visited some excellent places down there and drank some right proper ropey ol' cider too. Will report back soooooon... 

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Chifafa, Clerkenwell

It’s not unusual to talk about the meaning of life in a kebab shop. I’ve done it countless times before and perhaps you have too. The delivery can sometimes be confused but nevertheless, I find that the humble doner is a great vehicle for incoherently putting your point across. Seriously, spilt lettuce, red cabbage and slithers of brown leather falling onto the floor are perfect metaphors to describe the act of shuffling off one’s own mortal coil. One minute, there we are, a happy bundle of juicy meat, cosseted in the warm bosom of flat bread and pickles. And in the next, there we lie, desolate and scattered in or on the ground. Withered, dry, lifeless, turned to dust. C’est la vie. Yes, with mouth burning red hot, I have often sprayed this message into the faces of friends. Sometimes it’s hard to handle, hearing soliloques of stark intensity and truth. Often, the same said friends….OK, friend, would soon fall unconscious as a result. Normally at the bus stop. It was the best they could do in such circumstances. Whilst I carried on, shouting and crying towards a blackened sky.

Yet when the very same subject came up in a conversation in Chifafa recently, a kebab outfit on Clerkenwell Road, it was dealt with in an entirely different manner. For a start, I wasn’t 18 and nine sheets to the wind. Nor did I have to contend with a bellowing for ‘extra special sexy chilli sauce’ in the background, residual grime on my elbows or the threat of violence, for having accidently ‘looked’ at someone’s girlfriend in the queue. Of course, I am conjuring up stereotypical memories about kebab shops here. Some of which probably still exist, outside nightclubs in Romford, Basildon and (Jesus!) Southend. No, Chifafa is certainly a world away from all of that and I must admit, I don’t think I was quite prepared for its calm, clean and efficient atmosphere. The death chat was also a complete surprise but still, it was all in keeping with the contemplative mood inside. It was instigated by founder Nick Green by the way, this wander into what it means to die. More about that in a second though.

First then I should give a quick appraisal of what Chifafa actually is or what they are trying to do. Well of course, they are in the business of selling kebabs, with the aim making them not only an affordable bite to eat but also a healthy one. Oh and they want to save the reputation of kebabs in the UK too. Which is a high minded and naive prospect if you think about it. Turkish food does pretty well really, especially in London and no doubt, some chefs over at Green Lanes would relish the idea of nipping over to EC1 with sharpened flat skewers, just to see what these upstarts are doing. However, having taken a lead from Berlin, where they go mad for ‘kebaps’, Nick saw a middle ground between the restaurant experience and late-night elephant leg merchants, that didn’t exist in this country.

They’ve been going for about a year now and from what I saw and tasted, Chifafa has plenty going for it. The unit is small with spartan metal tables, steel flooring and an imposing central bench, that should ensure that people enter, eat and leave in true teutonic style. But the smells of the place are enticing and appealing enough to draw and keep you inside, should you want to; largely due to what is going on under the domed lids of their Big Green Eggs in the kitchen. Namely lamb, chicken, veal (interestingly) and halloumi. With falafel frying away in the background for good measure. A good selection of salads and pickles are on offer too and having been invited as a guest, I got to try a lot. Not the lot, but a lot. All the meats were imparted with a smokey flavour that was slightly different from the char that you get from a regular shish. Smoked all the way through, rather than seared on the surface and the veal was my favourite, purely for the extra element of sweetness. The halloumi salad box was good too, especially the butternut squash with chickpea and sesame.

If I had to gripe, I would say that their souvlaki breads needed to be a bit bigger, to accommodate properly, the generous filling they give. It’s nice to receive something that is bursting with ingredients but it’s not so nice they burst out all over the place after unwrapping. As an aside, a lot of street food vendors seem to do this too. You glory at the amount of stuff going in, then wrap, chomp, bang and you soon find yourself juggling and eating off the back of both your hands, forearms, shoulders, etc.

Anyway, Chifafa still got tops mark for me and part of that came down to the conversation I had with Nick, a natural raconteur. Obviously he can’t give his time to every single person who walks in and talk to them but it was great to see his passion for the business and hear his stories about previously working in the area. The creation of the name ‘Chifafa’ was the scene-stealer; born out of hearing an emotional Dustin Hoffman talk about his mother’s cooking on radio. They were fairly poor by all accounts, yet when the occasion could afford, she’d tell Dustin that she had rustled up something special for the table, with some ‘shifafa’ on the side. Which is turn is related to a line from ‘The Frim Fram Sauce’, a jazz song made famous by Nat King Cole. Dustin, being the Hollywood lovey he is, broke down into tears after playing the damn song on the radio and Nick was suddenly inspired and to cut a long story short, well it all amounts to a lovely hook for the brand and it’s one that they should definitely sell more.

The main point being is after hearing that tale, we soon started talking about our kids, the future and as you do, the Grim Reaper. Loads of stuff in fact and it occurred to me after leaving, that while Chifafa is the ideal sort of place for some quick respite. you could also easily while away some time in there; with a friend or partner and a beer or two. A far cry from the kebab shops that I grew up with. And halfway there to the restaurants whose good food they are eager to emulate.

Just the sort of place to ‘ussin-fay’ about in really.

Selection of kebabs

Big Green Eggs and halloumi salad

Man in cap, looking for prospective ussing-fay

Friday, 5 February 2016

unearthed Blogger Scholarship 2016

Have you just started a new food, travel or (ye gads) lifestyle blog in the last few months? And are you eager to get it thrust out there, into the abyss that is the internets; that vastness of space that seethes with a gajillion voices and cute photos of cats? Do you want people to hear what you've got to say and would you like some help along the way? Are you full of witty ideas, can type imaginative, informative prose and raise a smile or two? Is this going to be a hobby? Or do you want to use your blog as a launch pad into the scribulious, and sometimes pernicious, world of professional writing?

How about tapas, cured meats, olives and most importantly, pork rillettes? How do you feel about those things? Do they float your boat? Can you use these ingredients, along with the very synapses of your mind and create dishes of luminous, ethereal quality? Recipes that will transport people into another dimensions? A parallel universe of flavour and taste?

Or are you currently sat there, reading this and frothing, with a very twitchy eye? And again, I have to ask this, do you like pork rilletes? Come on, what do you want? I mean seriously, what the hell do you want?

I have, perhaps, asked too many questions here and have gone too far, but if you've answered 'Yes' to the majority of them, then the unearthed Blogger Scholarship Programme may just be the thing for you. For these purveyors of exciting and authentic foods from around the globe (well, mostly Europe) have just launched an initiative to help new bloggers to get their foot on the ladder. And I am on board as a judge. Partly because founder Simon Day has promised to buy me a fancy wig. But largely because they are a brand that I have worked with and been enthused by, for a long time now. The team is small but very passionate about what they do and have made great strides in introducing all sorts of unusual products to the public at large. All done in a quirky, entertaining and unobtrusive sort of way.

I like that and as such, unearthed products always make their way into my shopping basket whenever I am planning a special, romantic carpet picnic on a Friday night, for myself and my wife.

Not that kind of carpet picnic by the way, you filthy buggers. I have learned from experience that smearing nduja everywhere stings to high heaven and should never be repeated ever again.

So, if you are new to blogging and fancy your chances, then please do enter. It's a great opportunity to dip your toe in the water, to work with a friendly, co-operative brand and to receive some excellent goodies. But please do also read through the t&cs to make sure that this competition is right for you.

Because if you are already an established blogger, making extra jam alongside your regular bread and butter; then obviously, this is not the right thing for you.

It is very important that you like this sort of stuff

How to enter

Entrants must write and post a blog (on their own site) related to the theme #keepdiscovering. The post must include a recipe, incorporating an unearthed® product with photographs. The post must be a minimum of 250 words. It must then be promoted via at least 2 social networks (Facebook, twitter, Instagram or Pinterest) and mention @foodsunearthed.

All entrants will receive £15 worth of John Lewis vouchers, towards the cost of ingredients bought to create the recipe post.

All entries must be received by midnight on Sunday 21st February 2016.

Important note – we are only running this scheme to mainland UK residents. This is due to the majority of our events taking place in England. In addition, suitable logisitics for sending chilled (unearthed®) products to our bloggers, to create recipes and review, are not available off the mainland.