Thursday, 28 November 2013

Rice Boat, Cambridge, UK- A return visit

It's been a while since I've been to The Rice Boat, but rumours of increasingly dubious service and variations in food quality have been widespread. The last time we did go they had no parathas, dosas, uppams, chapattis, or utthappams available, and we encountered a rather unpleasantly (rather than comically) rude server. And despite my love of the masala dosa I've not made much effort to head to that side of Cambridge lately.

But the other week, the Male Companion Person and I were in the area, and decided that The Rice Boat would make an excellent venue for discussing the Werner Herzog film we'd just seen, as well as dinner. Not much has changed- the tables are looking increasingly scratched and careworn, the door still doesn't close properly (though the waiting staff were on the case with shutting it and minimising icy gales), service is still kind of sketchy (you're not allowed to have fresh cutlery between starters and main courses), but the food is still really good! Well most of it. The pepper fry squid starter was incredibly bland and didn't appear to have been seasoned with anything. It was sort of alright when eaten along with the fried, salted whitebait though. But the main courses were back on top form. I had my usual masala dosa, which was light and generously stuffed with gently spiced potato, and came with two coconut chutneys and sambar. And the MCP had his usual Kerela red fish curry, which was super-spicy as anticipated. We also shared a small green bean thoren and an aubergine theeyal. I was particularly taken with the latter, and its combination of aubergine, tamarind and coconut.

Service that night was perfectly functional (apart from the weird cutlery rule), and our bill was around £50, including drinks but not service. So not a huge bargain, but perfectly reasonable considering the amount of food that was consumed. And despite everything, Rice Boat definitely do make the best masala dosa in Cambridge.

Rice Boat
37 Newnham Road
Cambridge CB3 9EY

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Courgette carbonara

I spotted several recipes for making 'spaghetti' with courgettes ages ago, but put them out of my mind due to the loss of my 'julienne-ing' device (basically a potato peeler but with a segmented blade). But when it miraculously reappeared in the drawer from which it had previously vanished, I took it as a sign. Of course courgette spaghetti is nothing like proper pasta, but it can be cut into long strips and doesn't fall apart once cooked. It's therefore ideal for gluten-free-ers, or anyone wanting a lighter alternative to a proper carbonara.
I don't eat meat, so actually I've never had a 'proper' carbonara, but this is my completely inauthentic pescatarian version.

Recipe (enough for two with leftovers):

3 medium courgettes
2-3 tblsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
Around 200g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 50g tin anchovies in olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
300ml creme fraiche
Around 100g finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Firstly use the most appropriate instrument you have to hand eg food processor, sharp knife, julienne peeler, to make your courgette spaghetti. Dress the courgettes with a couple of spoons of olive oil to stop any discolouration, and put to one side. Mix the egg yolk thoroughly with the creme fraiche, and most of the cheese, and add plenty of black pepper and a little salt. Make sure you have your garlic and mushrooms, prepped and ready to go. Firstly cook the courgettes a little- put a tablespoon or so of oil in a large pan (non-stick works well for this) over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in the courgettes and cook for around 5 minutes. The courgettes should have softened but not be fully cooked through. Tip them out into a bowl and put the pan back on the heat. Next add the anchovies and all their oil into the pan, cook over a medium heat until the anchovies start breaking up, and then put in the garlic and mushrooms. Cook over a high-ish heat so that the mushrooms fry and take on some colour. Once they've done this, add the courgettes back in and continue to heat over a medium-high flame until they are cooked to your liking (they should hold together and not turn to pulp). When cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche mix. The residual heat from the pan should loosen this thick mixture, and coat the courgette strands. And that's it! Have a taste and add more salt and pepper if  needed, and then serve with a little extra Parmesan on the top.

You can make this dish properly vegetarian by omitting the anchovies, and using something like chopped fresh basil or thyme, or some dried herbs instead; and by using a veggie-friendly Italian-style hard cheese.

This would make a great non-stodgy summer dish, when there is often a glut of courgettes about. But I ate it last week in November, whilst wearing a jumper, and that seemed to work fine too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Afternoon Tease, Cambridge, UK

Just a quick post for now, alerting folk to the opening of a new cafe in Cambridge. It still doesn't seem like that long ago that I was enjoying Jo Kruczynska's food as one half of the Plate Lickers supperclub team. And now she has her own cafe!

Located on King's Street in the centre of Cambridge, I popped into the eponymous Afternoon Tease when it had only been open for a week or so. However, everything was already working like a well-honed machine, and I was soon ensconced by a table with a cup of tea and a chocolate brownie. The cafe isn't huge inside, but makes the most of the available space, and most importantly (on the basis of my first visit) serves excellent hot drinks and cakes. I am full of admiration for Ms Afternoon Tease herself, for getting this project off the ground so quickly, and hope to be back for another visit soon.

Afternoon Tease
13 King Street
Cambridge CB1 1LH

Monday, 4 November 2013

Caravan, King's Cross, London, UK

So I took a bit of a break from work last week, and had a day in London to meet up with an old pal. We decided to try out the new branch of Caravan that has recently opened behind King's Cross station, in an area that is undergoing loads of re-development. Caravan is based in a row of old grain warehouses and maintains an air of industrial comfort. It was pretty busy when we arrived (without a booking), but a after a bit of intense computer activity from the friendly front of house person a table for two appeared.

I guess the food at Caravan is a sort of sophisticated cafe-style. It's all very informal, with a few ingredients, but put together well. We shared a couple of small plates and a pizza between us, which was perfect for lunch for two pretty hungry people. A salad of quinoa, feta cheese, butternut squash and broccoli, was something I could easily have put together at home but was fresh and tasty nevertheless.

Grilled kefalotyri cheese, (with pickled mushrooms, and skordalia), was not something I've eaten before. The cheese was quite rich, but with much more flavour than halloumi, and the mushrooms were an excellent addition to balance everything out.

Our pizza with white anchovies, olives and mascarpone was also pretty excellent, with a light and non-stodgy base.


Things took a bit of a slide when our puddings appeared though. As my friend pointed out a big brown smear is never a good look on a plate, even though her chocolate cheesecake was acceptable. My orange semolina cake was pretty tasteless though, with a dry, mealy texture, and I found the saffron ice cream it came with overpoweringly floral. The whole thing also came with a load of bright pink fluff, that looked like a hipster's hair extension had fallen onto my plate. I did taste a bit of it and it was vaguely rose flavoured, which didn't really help with the already excessive floral-ness.

Anyway, odd deserts aside, I still really liked Caravan. It had a nice, relaxed atmosphere, service was friendly (though catching someone's eye was sometimes a little problematic), and most of the food was pretty good. It is also incredibly handy to have somewhere nice to go and eat near King's Cross, as that's the London station I use most. Lunch for the two of us was around £40 (with no alcoholic drinks), so is also very reasonable cost-wise. So I would happily go back to Caravan, but perhaps while maintaining a healthy scepticism with regard to their puddings.

Granary Building
1 Granary Square
London N1C 4AA