Posts

Cannon & Cannon, Market Row Brixton

As you might have guessed, I love Brixton. I rarely venture outside the area these days as it seems to have everything I need. But the one thing I wanted that it didn’t fulfil was a place to buy decent cheese. It seemed like Brixton would be perfect when I heard that Cannon & Cannon were extending their cheesemongering into Market Row. But imagine my unbridled glee when I realised that along with their cheese loving downstairs deli, they were opening upstairs so that you could sit in and eat charcuterie and cheese over a glass of something. It was like wishing for a pony and actually getting one.

Cannon & Cannon are the work of brothers Joe and Sean who hail from Norfolk and have a deep and abiding love of British cheeses and charcuterie and want to introduce everyone else to these undersung food heroes. They’ve been selling at Borough Market for quite a while and offering Londoners to a smorgasbord of meat and cheese treats from the British Isles, but they haven’t been able to keep up with demand and interest so have branched out and opened their own place in Market Row to give people more of a chance to sample their wares.

Just opposite Wild Caper and Rosie’s Deli, it’s Tardis like in size. Downstairs is a nice sized deli draped in beautiful salamis and crammed with mouthwatering British cheeses where you can pop in and pick up a little snippet of something to start a meal with or to make up for the fact the weather has really been too rainy to picnic properly so far. There’s something for everyone including some amazing spicy vegan tofu jerky in the chiller cabinet, but without being such a big selection you feel overwhelmed.

But if you can’t wait to get things home, you can go upstairs and take a seat and sample a selection of dishes and platters of cured meats and cheese over a drink or two. The menu looks deceptively short, but you can construct your own platters with a combination of two cheeses, two meats and two side dressings from a good selection on the blackboard while there are also bar snacks and small plates and a cheeseboard to choose from.

I decided to be sensible and start at the start with some nuts and olives while I tried to decide on my ideal meat cheese selection. Bar snacks can be a simple thing and they can also be overlooked compared to the main events, but not here. The selection of nuts are hand skinned and then roasted by chef Nick Balfe in a sweet chilli and rosemary coating that is addictively flavoursome. The olives are plump juicy green goddesses from Borough Market and you can see why Sean and Joe are perfectly happy for you to pop in for ‘just’ wine and bar snacks when there’s this much thought put into them.

But I defy you not to want to try something else. I couldn’t resist the hot smoked pig’s cheek from Dorset with caperberries for £7 and after much pondering I finally decided on the cheeses and meats I just had to try on the platter for £7.50, picking the Binham Blue and Gorwydd Caerphilly cheese and the cold smoked mutton and the air dried ham from Trealy Farm over the choice of venison salami and wild boar. I managed to miss the list of sherries on the drinks menu first time round so went for a glass of the house white instead.

The smoked pig’s cheek arrived first and I was slightly taken aback by the size of the portion, fearing that I may have ordered too much to do it all justice. But then I sampled the meat and forgot myself in a plate of silky melting pork fat and deep smoky flavours. It was like eating the smoothest slivers of the best bacon around. I heaped it onto the stunning seeded sourdough from Brick House bakery and topped it with plump salty caperberries that brightened the mouth and allowed me to eat more meat and more butter in quiet bliss. The white wine was excellent (especially for £3 a glass) with the smoky fatty meat.

I was even more amazed by the meat and cheese platter which was abundant of both and came with a beautiful fresh green salad on the side instead of bread. Full of curiousity, I started with the mutton and was blown away. Sean had explained to me that the best difference between British and European charcuterie is that the British version has a stronger animal taste and that was immediately clear. The mutton was abundantly sheepy in a rich, slightly sweet way rather than a strong farmyard flavour. It was superb. The quality, care and higher welfare standard shone through and I think it’s the best cured meat I’ve ever eaten. The air dried ham couldn’t quite match those heights, but was still good, as were the cornichons and the date and apricot chutney.

The cheese held its own perfectly. The Caerphilly was a million miles from that supermarket stuff that manages to be chalk and cheese simultaneously while sucking the moisture out of your mouth. This was smooth and creamy but with just enough powderiness to remind you were eating it rather than letting it melt. The Binham Blue was firm and creamy and tangy but not overpowering. It’s a joy to eat good quality cheese that tastes of something but doesn’t frighten you with its intensity. Cheese should be enjoyment not competition as to how strong you like it and Cannon & Cannon have got a good balance. The organic French house red (also £3) was perfect with both cheeses.

Feeling very replete and happy and enjoying trying all these new things, it didn’t take a lot of twist my arm to try the Stichelton and pickled pear plate with a glass of Muscat to round things off for £8.50. I’m actually not a huge fan of Stilton, finding it a bit gaudy in its strong flavour so expected the Stichelton to smack me round the face, albeit in a delicious way. I was overjoyed to discover that it was strong and subtle from the unpasteurised milk, and creamy with all kinds of flavours and enjoyment. The pears were firm and spiked with ginger and vinegar and were fantastic on their own and with the wine. I like my drinks very dry so have shied away from dessert wine for fear of it being sickly, but this was beautifully balanced between sweetness and sharpness and I loved it so much I forgot to photograph it.

I had to go home shortly after and lie down after my feast, but I wish I could have stayed and tackled that sherry list. Even before I’d left, I was plotting what I’d be back to try next. The place was busy with a welcoming and relaxed attitude and I was very happy to sit by myself and eat cheese, listening to the big table next to me try the other cheeses and enthuse about them and spot who had called in for a pre-Ritzy platter. Sean explained that they don’t take bookings per se, but could reserve the biggest table for a party if you ask nicely and that building on the good relationships they have with other market traders, they have outside tables at the Express Cafe on their late night opening, so you can wait or sit outside and sip sherry and eat to your heart’s content.

I really liked Cannon & Cannon. It’s small, but been thought out carefully and with real love. Everything has great detail but doesn’t feel forced. The passion is equal for the meats and cheeses and vegetarians would find plenty to enjoy. Sean used to be a wine buyer and that interest shows in the drinks. There’s everything from bottles of English red to ales from The Kernel Brewery and Ossie’s Fresh Ginger drinks from Brixton along with great fresh ground coffee. And you can drink as much as you fancy as they also have their own toilet…

They’ve carefully brought the best produce in South London together and created a lovely spot in the market where you can really relax. I thought I knew my cured meats pretty well but I found it a treat to discover different things and try new favourites. I urge you to go and suggest you do it soon as I strongly suspect that it’ll be impossible to get a table on Friday nights very soon. See you in the queue!

Cannon & Cannon, Market Row: Mon-Sat, late night Thurs, Fri, Sat

*I was a guest of Cannon & Cannon. Many thanks to them.

 

Warm Octopus Salad

 Warm Galician octopus polpo salad

 The more I cook, the more I realise I want to cook. Each meal becomes a fabulous opportunity to do something I want to and something to be savoured. We all have our trusty standbys and favoured dishes, but when the chance to do something completely new comes along it thrills me. So when Liz* from Brixtonia suggested getting together and cooking fresh octopus, I was all over the idea. I’ve never met seafood I don’t love and it seemed like a perfect challenge.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a clue what to do with our eight legged friend so luckily Liz has access to a stack of cookbooks with some good ideas and emailed me several, mainly from Rick Stein. We pondered over two and couldn’t quite decide on which so thought we’d combine them both. But first up was getting our items. We needed a trip to the market.

Saturday morning saw us up relatively bright and early and in the queue at Dagon’s for our octopus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again many times, Dagon’s is the jewel in Brixton Market’s crown. They have a vast choice, good quality, are excellent value and have friendly and helpful staff. I try to go at least once a week and I must admit I get a real kick out of being recognised by the staff there now. It’s like visiting the 50s high street but with more women’s lib and better banter.

They talked us through buying the octopus and we went for one whole cleaned octopus. I forgot to weigh it when I got home but it cost us a very reasonable £4 for the whole thing. We also picked up some samphire, a kipper fillet for me and a mackerel for Liz and the whole lot came to an even eight quid. Can’t say fairer than that. We got everything we needed and a box of Alphonso mangoes we just wanted and then got down to the cooking.

Galician Octopus Salad (From Rick Stein’s Spain)

  • 1 clean octopus
  • 400g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp paprika (of your choice)
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper if not using hot paprika.
  • 1 tbsp salt

This is so simple it’s untrue. Take your cleaned octopus and put in a pan just covered with water and the tablespoon of salt and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. That’s it. That’s how you cook an octopus. We didn’t tenderise it in anyway, either by freezing and thawing or bashing it against the rocks or anything else. We shoved it in a pot of water, left it well alone and went and had a glass of wine and a good gossip.

Octopus

After an hour, we came back and lifted the octopus out of the cooking water and left it to cool on a plate. It had turned the beautiful mauve we both associated with Spanish octopus dishes and the tentacles had curled in beautifully. We added the potatoes into the remaining cooking water and brought them to the boil until tender but still al dente. Then heat the olive oil, add the paprika and cayenne and fry the potatoes until golden and crispy.

Cooked octopus ready to slice

While they are sauteeing nicely, cut the octopus into inch or so chunks, using both the tentacles and the head and body. Take the potatoes off the heat and add the octopus in for a few seconds just to warm it through and coat it with the paprika. Dish up with some chopped parsley (our concession to the other recipe we had planned as well) along with some vegetables if you so fancy (we did steamed samphire and roasted aubergine and tomatoes) and enjoy!

The octopus was firm but very tender without a hint of rubberiness. It was slightly sweet and very flavoursome, especially alongside the potatoes. Slightly salty, intensely umami and crispy round the edges, these were the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had. Simple and packed with flavour, the whole meal was fantastic. We feasted well, but with a few more spuds, the one octopus would easily serve 3 -4 making it good value as well as impressive and delicious. Until now, all my cephalopod ardour was reserved for squid, but there’s another many legged love in my life now I’ve discovered octopus…

 

*Thanks to Liz for her cooking skills, being an excellent guest and taking that fantastic sea creature shot!

Brixton Marmalade

Walking through Brixton Market is a riot of fresh fruit and vegetables of all colours. Some are familiar, but sometimes your eye is caught by something you don’t recognise, which is exactly what happened when I saw green oranges on many of the stalls. Some questioning and Googling later, I realised these are Jamaican oranges and not just the colour is different. They are thinner skinned than the peeling sort like Jaffas we are used to in the UK with plenty of pith and pips and a bittersweet flavour. I knew immediately that they would make the most fabulous marmalade…

I was sure I didn’t really like marmalade after one too many single serve portions of Golden Shred in a B&B. Sickly sweet instead of tangy and tasty, the commercial version leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Determined to overcome this dislike, I decided to try making my own and see if I could be convinced. Not only was I won over in abundance, I’ve become slightly obsessed, making pots and pots of the stuff from every citrus I can get my hands on, entering the World Marmalade Awards and slathering it on doorsteps of Wild Caper sourdough like there’s no tomorrow. The homemade stuff tastes amazing and is incredibly cheap and easy to make. You’ll never look back.

To make 2 large or 4 small jars you’ll need:

  • 800g of Jamaican oranges (about 4 in total)
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 pints of water
  • 1 kilo of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • jars, empty and well washed
  • muslin cloth (look in the baby section for these cheaply)
  • length of string
  • cellophane jam jar covers, wax covers & elastic bands
  • two saucers or a food thermometer

The marmalade is very easy, but it does take several stages and needs to left overnight. Don’t be daunted though!

Start by cutting the oranges in half and juicing them. You should get about half a pint from this amount of oranges. Reserve the juice in a jug. Keep any pips you came across and soak them in water. Then chop your orange shells. Pull the most fibrous flesh out and then cut the peels in chunks of your choosing. I like my marmalade quite thick cut for flavour and ease of prep, but it’s your choice.

Soak the peels overnight in about 2 pints of water until it turns orange and smells delightfully citrus scented. Bring it all to the boil and then simmer for up to hours or until the peel is soft and squishy, but not pulpy. Add in a bit more water if needs be.

Iron your muslin cloth (and cut it to be smaller if needs be) and gather the reserved pips in it like a purse, tying to the handle of the pot so it hangs down into the boiled peel mix. They contain extra pectin that helps set the marmalade. Turn the oven onto 160℃ and put the jars in, using a baking tray rather than trying to grab individual hot jars with oven gloves and feeling like you’re playing a game fit for particularly sadistic PTA fundraisers. Get your thermometer to the ready if you have one or put your saucers in the freezer if you don’t.

Add the reserved orange juice to the mix, pour in the sugar and the lemon juice and bring the pot back to the boil. This is the stage when you work your magic and turn the mix into marmalade by heating it to 104℃ exactly. The thermometer will tell you this with ease, but you can also tell by spooning a drop or two of the boiling liquid onto a cold saucer, leaving for a sec and testing it with your finger to see if it ‘wrinkles’ when pushed. If it does, you’ve reached 104℃ and if it doesn’t, keep trying with alternate chilled saucers til it does.

Take the pot off the heat immediately. Add the rum (or ginger if you prefer a teetotal kick) and stir well. Leave the marmalade to sit for a minute or two to stop the peel sinking in the jars and then carefully fill the jars you’ve just taken from the oven right to the brim. Both the jars and the marmalade are obviously devilishly hot so keep your wits about you and any small children and pets away. Cover with the wax circles from your little kit.

Allow the jars to cool just enough to handle, then wet the cellophane lids well with a clean washing up sponge and stretch tightly over the top of the jar and fix with the rubber bands. This is fiddlier than you’d think and there may be some sailor’s language to accompany the rum. Let the marmalade cool completely and set before digging in and sampling your handiwork.

You’ll be amazed. It’ll be punchy with citrus and a slight hint of smooth rum with each peel exploding into little chewy nuggets of deliciousness. You won’t be able to stop yourself having a second (or third) slice of marmalade smeared bread, but if you can bear to part with a jar of it, your boss will understand why you are late for work now breakfast has become the highlight of the day again!

Jamaican green orange

* This post originally appeared on Brixton Blog who kindly asked me to write a local recipe and is re-posted here due to popular demand.

In the market for good food…

Sadly I haven’t managed to convince everyone I know to move to Brixton, so at the weekends I tend to go elsewhere in London while socialising. This is something I enjoy hugely, but means that despite living so close by I don’t know Brixton Market especially well at the weekends. Therefore I couldn’t resist spending the weekend close to home when Mister North came to visit and trying to catch up with any many new openings and delicious places to eat as possible.

We started off ignoring the crowds at Franco Manca. This is literally the closest pizza place of any description to my house and I’ve eaten there more times than you can count. I think it’s excellent, but pizza would be too filling to start our day with. Instead we went two doors further up to the newly opened Mexican restaurant Casa Morita.

Nicely minimalist yet welcoming and quite busy, we squeezed in and shared a table with two others, ordering the mole chicken taco and a chorizo and potato quesadilla to whet our appetite. There’s quite a small menu and most people seemed to be doing the same as us and calling in for a taco or two rather than sitting down for a full meal. There was no sniffiness at this or ordering tap water and service was prompt and we didn’t have to wait long.

The mole taco was lovely. The chicken was perhaps a little overshredded, but the flavour was rich and complex with a lovely warm kick of chilli. Our quesadilla actually ended up being chorizo-less by accident (they charged us less though) and was delicious with silky fried onions and fresh coriander infused guacamole to stop it being heavy. We liked the place a lot and I look forward to going back and sampling more.

We called into Wild Caper and got practically the last seeded sourdough loaf for breakfast next day. You need to be quick in there on a Saturday! This was a problem we encountered again when we moved across to Brixton Village in search of our next course. The newly opened Mama Lan’s dumpling boutique closes for lunch at 3 and it was five past. We’d have to wait til 6…

Luckily there was plenty to tempt but we were both drawn to Okan which sells the ‘Japanese pancake’ or okonomiyaki that Osaka is particularly famed for. It’s hard to describe without sounding slightly off-putting, but tastes great. Basically a slightly sour batter infused with cabbage, it is stuffed with anything you can imagine and served like a pancake sandwich. We ordered the special which comes with squid, prawns, kimchi and corn and got some green tea too.

What arrived was a monster sized plate of okonomiyaki laced with Japanese mayo, delicately fluttering grilled onion skin and bursting with seafood and flavour, particularly the tang of kimchi. It was delicious and extremely filling even between us, making it top class value. along with Curry Ono in Market Row, this another restaurant that proves Brixton is becoming great for Japanese food!

Well and truly full and with most places no longer serving for lunch, although busy with those lingering over plates and drinks, we left the market behind and headed up Atlantic Road to the newly Kaff Bar which has taken over the space on the corner of Kellett Road that was La Lupa. They’ve opened it out, done a cracking paint job and made it spacious. It wasn’t that busy at 4ish and we scored a comfy sofa and some nice bottled American ales and passed a hour or two people watching. Friendly and with a nice vibe (although no British beers on tap) I’m keen to go back in the evenings.

Appetites whetted, we made a beeline for Honest Burgers around 6pm before all the tables got snapped up. I want to say unfortunately their gas was off so they were delayed opening, but fortunately it gave us time to go back to Mama Lan’s while it was quiet. Only their second evening open, we ordered two plates of Beijing dumplings, going for the pork and the unusual sounding dill and tofu from the list of three options.

A proper family operation, the dumplings are made in front of your eyes by Mama Lan in a blur of chopsticks and dough and then fried by Papa Lan. I don’t know if it’s the love involved, but they are wonderful. The pork was tender, juicy and flavoursome. But the dill and tofu was the star (and this comes from a tofu-denier). Shredded dill studded with five spice-infused tofu, they melted in the mouth. I wanted more, but settled for eating all the pickled lotus root on the side and keeping space for another course and went back to Honest.

Like Mama Lan’s, all the meat is supplied by the Ginger Pig at Honest Burgers and aged well. This means that the burgers really taste of something and therefore don’t need souped up with cheese to get flavour. I loathe melted cheese on burgers so it is a constant source of annoyance to me that it needs to be added to most burgers to make them interesting these days. We both went for the regular burger and we both liked the onion relish that comes as standard, thinking it worked nicely with the meat.

They do option with cheddar or stilton and bacon too and a tasty sounding veggie fritter. Gluten free buns are available too. All the burgers come with chips included in the price. I think the chips are amazing. Triple fried, properly golden crisp and dusted with rosemary salt, I could eat them three times a day and never tire of them. It’s an effort not to call into Honest everyday for lunch!

Completely stuffed after our day of feasting, we headed home around 8. The market was buzzing. There was a serious queue for Mama Lan’s and no chance of an outside table at Honest, Cornercopia or Casa Sibilla or Kaosarn. There were plenty of families stopping it getting too hipster heaven and it all feels quite relaxed and dare I say it, continental. Make it a destination as soon as you can. Come early, bring a bag, use the market too for wonderful world foods and deli goods. Then prop up a bar or two in the afternoon and reconvene in the market for dinner. As long as you remember nowhere takes cards (try the Brixton Pound) and bring a healthy appetite, you’ll want to move to Brixton in no time!