All Boar, No Bore…

Up bright and early and filled with the joys of summer on Sunday I headed into Brixton to take advantage of the season’s finest. Already chuffed to bits about getting some very reasonably priced donut peaches and baby plum tomatoes at the fruit and veg stall opposite the back of Brixton Village on Coldharbour Lane by the bridge, my day was made when I discovered a stall at the Farmers’ Market selling, (amongst other things) wild boar and duck eggs. Almost before I knew it, my money had found its way out of my purse and a bag with a rolled wild boar loin and two double yolked duck eggs was nestled in my hand. Suddenly dinner seemed a long way away…

Back home, I tucked into a delicious cooked breakfast with the eggs and the tomatoes and set to reading the Sunday papers. Seeing Jay Rayner compare Red Dog Saloon and Pitt Cue Co in the Observer got me thinking that I just can’t have enough pig and pulses in my life and that slow roasting the boar loin over beans would be the perfect twist on that American classic this Independence Day weekend.

Being all organised when I made the root beer beans a few weeks ago, I soaked and cooked more haricots than I needed at the time and then froze them. So while the oven heated to the maximum temperature to blast the boar skin into crackling, the beans defrosted and I prepared a rub of salt, butter, oilve oil and home grown fennel seeds for the skin. Once the meat was at room temperature I slathered the skin with the rub, working on the premise that the only thing better than pork fat, is pork fat with butter on it!

The loin went into a very hot oven for 20 minutes to crisp up. I also chopped up fennel, red onion and some of those baby plum tomatoes and some cloves of garlic to mix with the beans as a bed for the meat to slow roast on.
I then took the meat out, set it aside, deglazed the pan with some water and then tossed the beans and veg well in the juices, put the meat on top and popped in the oven at 160℃ for about two hours. Or until I remembered about it again…

It smelled amazing when I opened the oven, but I was worried that the fennel was the wrong side of caramlised and would just taste burnt. But the meat looked so mouthwatering moist and tender I didn’t really care. Slow roasting on the bone had turned this into something really special. I left it to rest to make sure I didn’t miss those precious juices and chopped up a quick slaw of white cabbage, fennel, carrot and golden beetroot to go on the side.

If you aren’t just as fennel obsessed as I am, feel free to leave it out of the beans. But do keep it in the slaw where the anise cuts through the sweetness of the beets and carrot and tempers the mustardiness of the cabbage. The fresh crunch of the slaw is its selling point, so don’t be tempted to chop too finely or drown it in dressing like a shop bought version. I used a tablespoon of yoghurt, a dessertspoon of mayonnaise, cider vinegar, fish sauce and a tiny bit of Dijon mustard to make a light yet flavoursome dressing that coats the vegetables well without being overwhelming.

Then after all the chopping, shredding and roasting, I dug in. It was so good. The meat was so juicy and tender even compared to the equivalent piece of pork, falling off the bone beautifully. The crackling wasn’t just as shatteringly crisp as pork can be, but the slight chewiness and caramelly finish from the butter made up for that in abundance. The beans were deliciously meaty whil even the slightly burnt fennel was very enjoyable. Everything just burst with flavour, especially the boar itself.

And best of all, it didn’t feel like a heavy dish thanks to the refreshing crunch of the slaw and the fresh flavours of the beans so you could eat a hefty portion of the meat with feeling defeated. It’s dishes like this that remind me why seasonal food is so worth the wait…

Kaosarn, Brixton

Brixton Village (formerly known as Granville Arcade) has had a reversal of fortune recently. Once a dilapidated rundown covered area with empty shops and a slightly forlorn atmosphere, it has been revived to become a thriving community of shops, stalls, coffee joints and places to eat, opening late on certain nights and attracting a crowd who love good food. And nowhere more so than the new Thai restaurant Kaosarn.
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Outside the Duck Egg Café on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

The Duck Egg, Brixton

Outside the Duck Egg Café on Coldharbour Lane, Brixton

Thanks to the lovely (and informative) iheartbrixton on Twitter, news reached me that the premises that used to be Honest Foods and latterly the Burning Bread Cafe on Coldharbour Lane has been reborn as The Duck Egg Cafe. So when hunger struck while the fridge was empty this Saturday morning it seemed like a good excuse to go and try it out…

The cafe is so newly opened that there’s no sign out front declaring it, but the whitewashed tables and chairs and light interior make it inviting enough that you’ll want to go in anyway. We went about 11.30 and had to queue for about 5 minutes for a table, but didn’t mind too much as it gave us time to peruse the menu.

There is a good choice between breakfast dishes (which I think are served all day) and an ‘everyday’ selection of dishes. I had my mind on breakfast though and now can’t remember what most of the other dishes actually were, but did note that they do a Sunday roast too which sounds promising.

The breakfast menus is extensive, but won’t be for you if you don’t eat eggs. Pretty much everyone comes with eggs, but the twist is that you can choose between hen’s eggs or duck eggs even with your fry up. I narrowed it down to a choice between eggs Florentine and eggs Forestier, having established I wasn’t in the mood for anything with scrambled egg or smoked salmon. A moment of rock, paper, scissors with myself meant I went for the eggs Forestier in the end. This is poached egg on English muffin and grilled Portobello mushroom with hollandaise sauce, grilled tomato and a hash brown on the side and sounded just the ticket for a Saturday morning treat, especially with a cup of tea on the side.

G went for a double Full English with extra hash brown and a cappuccino. The waitress was pleasant, but didn’t ask whether we wanted duck or hen’s egg. We forget to state that we wanted duck eggs and then had to go up to the counter to request them before she placed the order. Between all of us it seemed a bit disorganised. But our drinks arrived promptly. My tea was good and strong and G was very pleased with his cappuccino which was made with Illy coffee. We also rather liked the fact the cutlery came wrapped in duck egg blue napkins.

Although it was busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for our food, but we were disappointed to see that our eggs were hen’s eggs rathe then the larger duck eggs we had requested. The waitress was off serving someone else before we could complain and we decided to just go with it.

Both plates of food were attractively served, but I was a bit let down to see that my eggs had the shape of a poacher rather than being done ‘freehand’ in water. The yolks were also overcooked for my liking and the mushroom and muffin missed the extra lubrication a bit. Apart from this, it was a lovely plate of food. The big flat mushrooms were tasty and juicy, the hollandaise was appeared to be homemade and the grilled tomato was beautifully ripe and packed with flavour. If the yolks had been runnier, this would have been just a perfect breakfast.

G’s fry up looked great and the plate was groaning. The sausages looked to be good quality and he said they were very tasty, as was the bacon. His fried eggs were much runnier and more appealing than my poached numbers and he had lots of wholemeal toast on the side. The one disappointment of the fry up was the beans which looked rather watery and made the toast a bit soggy. He also thought the HP sauce wasn’t the real deal despite being in the square bottle and that the ketchup wasn’t Heinz (although it was a Heinz bottle). This wasn’t per se a criticism as he thought the ketchup was nicer than regular old Heinz and since G is the condiment king, I’m inclined to trust his word!

We both cleared our plates and enjoyed the food immensely, but we did remind our waitress as she cleared the plates that we hadn’t got the duck eggs to make sure we weren’t charged the extra for them. Each dish has a one pound surcharge for these larger eggs. She was pleasant and slightly embarrassed by the mistake, saying it had been a kitchen mix up.

When it came to paying the bill, we had been charged the slightly higher price and we decided to pay the £6.50 for mine and the £7.95 (plus £1 for the hash brown) for G’s double fry up, remind them we hadn’t had the duck egg and leave the £2 extra as a tip since they were pleasant about the mistake and we generally felt the food was good quality and the coffee was excellent (although note that only regular tea and coffee are included in the price of a breakfast). They apologised again and seemed pleased with the tip and lack of fuss about the small error. This was only the second weekend they’d been open so we felt kindly toward them finding their feet and since I enjoyed it so much I’ll be back fairly soon, I’ll be able to see how things progress.

If you’re in the mood for a breakfast that feels like a bit of a luxury of a morning then The Duck Egg is a great spot. It is more expensive than The Phoenix across the road, but the ingredients are better quality and the vibe is moe upmarket plus it offers fancier coffee and a range of fresh juices. I think the two will compliment each just fine, but I hope The Duck Egg doesn’t succumb to the bad luck that seems to afflict this particular spot as I think it’s a great addition to Brixton.

PS: I’ve been back several times since and had duck eggs every time. I love the poached eggs on toast as a simple breakfast, but can’t resist their homemade hash browns for a treat. I love The Duck Egg. It’s bedded in very well!

Algerian Heaven at Khamsa, Brixton

The recent World Cup didn’t leave many people in England with a feeling of anticipation, but it did serve the useful purpose of introducing me to Khamsa, the newly opened Algerian restaurant in Brixton. The only Algerian restaurant around, it featured heavily in press coverage of the England/Algeria game and it became tricky to get a table for a while. But since Mister North was down this weekend, we thought we’d try and squeeze in and sample its home cooked delights.

This small, but perfectly formed restaurant just opposite Lidl on Acre Lane were able to fit us in for a 8pm booking on Saturday night and we went along, appetites whetted by a Caesar or two, keen to sample this underrated cuisine and bolstered by excellent reviews. We took a bottle of red as Khamsa is BYO and were pleased to see that we were made most welcome despite being early for our table.

We were seated at a corner table with a large Berber serving plate in the middle and North African style cushions on a bench to sit on. These are quite slippery to sit on and there isn’t a huge amount of leg room, so if you’re in need of a bit of extra breathing room, ask for one of the other tables when you book. This minor quibble aside, we fell on the menu eagerly and tried to decide what to order from the amazing sounding juice menu alone. There is such a delicious selection on offer that we kept the wine for later and chose the pear and basil and the spinach, cucumber and lime to cleanse our palates.

These drinks were freshly made before our eyes while we perused the food options. The starters consist of a large selection of salad dishes and can be ordered as 8 dishes for 2 people for £12. Despite there being three of us, we thought this would still be the best option as it allowed us to sample widely yet keep some room aside for the sensational sounding main courses. We checked that the portions were suitable for three and when assured that they were ordered the starters before deciding on our mains.

This gave us time to try the juices and make sure no one ordered the same main course since G and I had both gone for the same pear and basil juice. This was delicious. The pear was sweet and succulent with the slightly spicy hint of basil stopping it from being cloying. I found Mister North’s cucumber, lime, spinach and mint a bit too wholesome for me, but tasty all the same. Over our juices, he chose a beef stew with chickpeas and pomegranate and walnut couscous while G went for the Couscous Modern or a choice of chicken and lamb kebabs with merguez sausage and vegetable couscous on the side. My choice was a parcel of salmon with courgette and aubergine or hout fi razma.

Important decisions made and an impromptu language lesson later, we just had time to get settled before the starter arrived. Eight teardrop shaped dishes of brightly coloured vegetables, jewel like pulses and creamy dips with a plate of Berber bread on the side filled the table and we got stuck in without ceremony. Everything was excellent, but we felt that that the whole platter suffered slightly from being fridge cold which stifled some of the flavours a bit. But it is testament to the cooking at Khamsa that everything was still excellent.

For me the stand out dishes were the cooked carrot and cumin salad or zroudia amcharmia and the chakchouka modern or slow cooked onions with merguez sausage. The carrots were deliciously sweet without the slightly bitter aftertaste so many of them seem to have these days. They retained just enough bite and the cumin lifted them without overpowering. They worked beautifully with the meltingly soft sweet onion dish with its lingering kick of tomato and chilli. The sausages were fantastic, the coarsely chopped meat spiked with chilli and spices. We could have eaten a whole one each…

The other starters were good. A dish of lentils and green olives was a savoury revelation while black eyed beans soaked in olive oil were sensational. The baba ganoush and hummous were light, creamy and very tasty and went beautifully with the olive rich Berber bread. Only the ajhroum di felfel or roasted pepper salad and a vegetable couscous didn’t hit such high notes. The couscous was a little bit bland and the pepper salad bitter due to it mainly being green peppers. But overall, we were most impressed by the selection and left very little behind despite the portions being more than generous for three people.

We had high hopes for the main courses after that and I was certainly more than pleased with my salmon fillet. Steamed in foil, it was beautifully cooked, flaking with just the edge of a fork. It came on a bed of couscous and harissa and coated with a knockout good paste of aubergines and garlic on top and courgettes around the edge. It was light, tasty and full of flavour and I could see why the waitress had told me it was her favourite. I found it hard not to bolt it down in seconds.

Mister North was also pleased with his beef tagine. Meltingly tender chunks of beef and fat chickpeas came in a rich gravy that coated the beautifully bejewelled looking pomegranate and walnut couscous and left a lovely chilli tinged kick behind. G was less impressed by his main. The meats were generously portioned and very tender, but came served on enough couscous to feed about 3 people and with a rather bland vegetable stew on the side. He described it as the safe option and it definitely needed something like harissa on the side to liven it up. Other than this and the variation in sizes between the main courses, we were impressed.

Despite being perfectly replete, we heeded the advice on the reviews we had read and ordered a plate of pastries to try. The chef at Khamsa originally trained as a pastry chef at some of the finest pastry schools in France and it showed in every single crumb of our taster plate. We shared a vanilla infused number, similar to a doughnut and a syrup drizzled creation like a fig roll, stuffed with dates. We then tried individual pastries with the stand out being a date stuffed with a pistachio marpizan infused with basil and mint. I usually don’t like dates, but I regretted letting Mister North get this one!

We lingered over the pastries with a huge pot of Algerian mint tea and chatted with the staff. Khamsa is run by a husband and wife team who cook everything from scratch including the jams and condiments. Although the restaurant was busy and bustling, they both made time to speak to us to explain their food and ask how we had enjoyed it. They were so friendly and genuine we actually had difficulty getting them to give us change for a tip!

Our bill came to £69 in total for three of us or £23 each. Considering this was for a three course meal with tea and a fresh juice, I think this was excellent value. Mains range from £9.50 or so to £13.50 and although we drank the bottle of wine we brought, I think this meal would have been just as good without booze, making it even better value!

We loved the cosy intimate upstairs restaurant and thought the large downstairs room with scattered floor cushions and acres of space would be perfect for a party since you could get as raucous as you like. Everything was spotlessly clean, the kitchen in open plan and everything is freshly homemade. You’d struggle to get a table on a Friday or Saturday after 8pm, but luckily you can sample Khamsa at breakfast or lunch too as it is open all day. I’ll be nipping in here to try the rosewater scented coffee and a few more pastries as a North African treat next time I brave the utilitarian world of Lidl, but I’d recommend travelling for this one. It’s rare to find a well priced restaurant that combines good ingredients, well cooked food and such a pleasant atmosphere. Claphamites and Brixtonians should treasure the neighbourhood pleasure that is Khamsa…

Etta’s Seafood Kitchen, Brixton

Times are a-changing for the 1930s covered market in Brixton formerly known as Granville Arcade. Newly listed to prevent demolition, it has been re-named Brixton Village and is taking on a new lease of life thanks to a mixture of recently opened vintage stores, galleries and pop-up shops and the long established fishmongers and butchery stalls and stores selling food and goods from all over the world. Accompanying these retail outlets are some wonderful places to eat and drink, both new and old…

One of the newer arrivals is Etta’s Seafood Kitchen on 6th Avenue. Immediately welcoming with its purple and pink frontage and tables outside, you step inside to a low key environment with a hotch-potch of tables and some good music playing. The menu is simple, but effective, listing a variety of mains, starters and a great kids’ selection along with fresh juices and sides.

Short and sweet

Etta’s offers a mix of fresh and cooked seafood with both a traditional and Carribean feel with a reasonably priced oyster plate, fish curries or a seafood linguine all sounding enticing. However since M and I had already sneaked a quick slice of pizza at The Agile Rabbit we weren’t just as hungry as we might have been for pasta or rice, and decided to go for a mussel pot each and a portion of the crab fritters to share. Our choice was also influenced by the excellent prices with the mussel pot costing a fiver…

Our drinks arrived quickly and my mango and guava juice was tasty, but I was massively distracted though by the crab fritters coming to the table in style. Freshly fried billowing pillows of golden crabbiness on a lovely rectangular plate and an egg cup of sweet chilli sauce, these looked sensational. And they tasted as good as they looked. Light crunchy outers with soft sweet crab filled middles spiked with fresh chilli and coriander in the batter, they were extremely moreish. I skipped the sweet chilli sauce as I’m not a big fan of it, but the fritters had excellent flavours on their own. We were also impressed by the size of the portion for a mere £3.50.

Crab fritters

The mussels appeared at the table steaming hot and promptly and were again a good sized portion. I love mussels, but find that quite often these days they lack much flavour apart from a brineyness so I was trepidatious. No need, these little babies were sweet and tasty with a gorgeous cooking liquor infused with a hint of curry, fresh coriander and lots of garlic. We abandoned much semblance of table manners and devoured our mountain of mussels with our hands. Despite the finger bowl provided, we created a pile of napkins as tall as that of the mussel shells…

One partly eaten portion of mussels…

We didn’t have a single unopened mussel between us and they were beautifully clean and grit free apart from one solitary barnacle that confirmed these weren’t frozen and thawed bi-valves, but fabulously fresh specimens from a market that specialises in fish! We cleared our plates with gusto and my only complaint was that there was nothing to soak up the cooking juices. I managed to resist the urge to drink them out of the dish and sat back feeling very satisfied.

The cafe around us was a good level of busy for a Tuesday lunchtime with the outside tables playing host to several people just calling in for a quick plate of fresh oysters, as well as those tucking into the lovely looking linguine on their lunchbreak. We didn’t feel rushed to eat and leave, but I can imagine it is a fight to get a table here on a Saturday lunchtime!

Our bill came to a mere £16.50 between two for two mains, a shared starter and drinks. All the food is freshly prepared by Etta herself who chatted away to us as we paid, telling us how her kids help out with the cooking and waiting and that all the ingredients are super-fresh and from the local market where possible. Our mussels though (and much of the fish and seafood) came from Billingsgate rather than the local fishmongers which is fine by me as they were such good quality!

Our lunch genuinely felt like sitting in someone’s kitchen for good food and good feelings, but without any sense of it being contrived or cute. This is good home cooking with a serious does of Brixton charm and style. I love seafood and am tickled pink to discover somewhere close to home to indulge my cravings without taking out a mortgage to pay for it. I can’t wait to go back and try the fish curry and the linguine next…in fact, i’ll even skip the pizza to make sure I can do them justice!