Back in at the beginning of December I was in London working and needing lunch, I was in the mood for a salad. Having not enjoyed my recent salad from Birley Sandwiches I thought I would give Olive + Squash a visit on the other side opposite Birleys.
As well as “choosing your own salad” they also have a menu of salads you can order as well.
I went with the Portobello Bowl.
This is a chicken, mushroom and lentil salad. It also included spinach and croutons. This was lovely and fresh. I did enjoy the salad, but I think next time I would have it without the chicken and have extra mushrooms.
This dish of lentils has become something of a regular visitor to our dining table. It’s relatively easy and quick to make and gets eaten up. It’s a deep rich warming dish, great for a cold winter’s day. It goes well with roasted or grilled meats, but can be eaten as is on its own.
Splash of olive oil
One diced onion
Diced red pepper
Knob of butter
A tbsp of flour (I used gluten free flour)
Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
Dice the onion and the pepper.
Heat a large deep frying pan, once hot, add a splash of olive oil. Cook off the pancetta, then add the onion and red pepper, cook until softened. I then add some chopped mushrooms for flavour and colour. At this point you could add some other things. I have in the past used sliced baby courgettes.
If there is fat in the pan, then add the flour, otherwise add the knob of butter, in order to help create a roux and ensure that the sauce thickens.
Once the flour is incorporated into the mixture, add some stock. The choice is up to you, I actually quite like a deep beef stock, but vegetable stock works well too. Then add some tomato puree.
Depending on your taste, just add some ground black pepper (or even a little chilli for heat). The dish doesn’t need extra salt as the stock and pancetta have plenty for this dish.
Cook until the sauce has reduced.
Add the Puy Lentils. I use the Merchant Gourmet pack of puy lentils, which are already cooked and work well in this dish.
These tasty lentils have a delicate, slightly peppery flavour, and were grown in Le Puy-en-Velay, in France. They’ve been simply cooked with water, onion, bay leaf and a dash of olive oil, and are a fantastic base for summery salads.
Warm the lentils through thoroughly and serve.
Variations I have made include adding Polish sausage to the dish, or slow cooked belly of pork.
Another variation is to use Merchant Gourmet’s Tomatoey French Puy & Green Lentils.
These are Puy and Green Lentils, cooked in a rich sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil with onion and garlic.
I am quite surprised by the turnover of restaurants in Cabot Circus. The branch of Cafe Rouge closed and was replaced by a Five Guys burger place. La Tasca, the Spanish tapas bar was shut down and the location became a Wagamama.
The Chimmi-Changa restaurant which I remembering visiting once, has recently closed and has been replaced with a new Greek place, The Real Greek. I did quite like the Chimmi-Changa concept, but having eaten there once, and rarely if ever having lunchtime specials, it wasn’t a place I ever went to again. If other people were thinking like me, not surprised it closed.
Obviously the whole place has been refurbished and has more of a New England feel to the place then a Greek taverna. There is a lot of blue coloured wood. It’s calm and welcoming.
The Real Greek has a great lunchtime menu, and if I visit again I will probably choose from that and it looks like great value. Looking over the main menu, they have a range of hot and cold meze dishes. I had two dishes, the grilled kalamari and the lamb cutlets. I had considered going with one of the lunchtime specials, but really wanted to eat squid and lamb, as they are two of my favourite foods and also are considered Greek specialities. They weren’t on the lunch menu, but the meze dishes are still good value for money.
The menu describes the lamb as grilled lamb cutlets, served with lentils and minted Greek yoghurt.
Though advertised as a meze dish this was quite a substantial plate of food. As well as three grilled tender lamb cutlets, they were arranged on a bed of tasty lentils. The flavour was great and really tasty.
The Real Greek describe the grilled kalamari as “Our own unique version, using the freshest squid and a sticky Greek honey and paprika marinade.”
I think you can tell a lot about a restaurant on how they cook squid. The dish looked interesting and not quite how I imagined. The squid was tender and tasty, the marinade wasn’t overpowering and enhanced the dish.
Overall I really enjoyed the food, it was fresh, tasty and looked great. The service was really good, friendly and welcoming without being overpowering.
I like great service, actually I almost expect great service. Generally most people do not go out to a restaurant to eat, they go for the whole experience. The welcome, the opening drink, the perusal of the menu, the choosing, the ordering, the anticipation, the actual eating, the reflection and leaving the table, knowing you don’t need to do the washing up. It’s the atmosphere, the furniture, the music, or no music, the ambience. A good restaurant will try and ensure that the whole experience is just right, and good customer service, is critical for a positive dining experience.
Down in London for a short break, we went to Pizza Express in Kingston, in the Rotunda. Though they said the air-conditioning was broken, it wasn’t that hot, so it didn’t appear that was going to be an issue.
Looking over the menu I decided upon the Toscana Romana Pizza, which is described as having a bigger, thinner, crispier pizza, topped with crumbled chilli & fennel sausage, mozzarella and tomato finished with baby mozzarella, Gran Moravia cheese, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil.
Though on my pizza I got slices of sausage rather than crumbled sausage and I think the pizza works better for it. The Toscana Pizza was delicious and I really enjoyed it.
My wife went with the Leggera Superfood Salad, this is made with baby spinach and seasonal mixed leaves, roasted butternut squash, beetroot, light baby mozzarella, avocado, pine kernels, cucumber, lentils and fresh basil, finished with balsamic syrup.
She really enjoyed it, she though was disappointed that it had no seafood in it! Always read the menu carefully.
Unfortunately, a lack of staff meant for me that the dining experience, specifically the service, was not as good as the pizza. We had to wait long amounts of time between getting the menu, placing our food order, ordering additional drinks and getting the bill. One of the results of the lengthy service delays was in the end we decided not to have pudding.
I don’t mind slow service sometimes, it’s nice to take your time and not be rushed, however, I do find there is a difference between slow and indifferent, which appeared to be the issue here. Too often we were ignored even though we had indicated or even said we wanted some attention. I got the feeling that this was down to a lack of staff, who were probably too rushed and forgot about the key elements of good customer service.
The food was great, just a pity about the service.
My original plan was to cook chicken with lentils in my usual manner, and as explained in this blog post.
However this time decided (as I was cooking) to cook something slightly different. Firstly the chicken wasn’t entirely suitable for grilling in my original recipe, as I was using skinless and boneless thigh pieces. So I went with cooking them in the pan that I would normally use for the lentils.
The chicken was added first and browned. I then added some pancetta, chopped red onion and some chopped courgette. This was then cooked for a few minutes. I then added some chicken stock. I let this cook for about ten minutes.
It was at this stage that I decided to change my recipe. I added some frozen peas and some chopped sun dried tomatoes, and let the dish cook for another five minutes.
I then added the tinned green lentils and half a pot of creme frache. This was then brought back to the simmer to ensure that the lentils are heated through and the creme frache mixed through.
If you have eaten chorizo in the past, either the thinly sliced stuff you get in packs next to the ham, or the whole chorizo sausage that you are finding more and more in most supermarkets, then you probably will find that cooking chorizo really should be on your shopping list.
Now this is cooking chorizo and really does need to be cooked. I have been using it in a few recipes recently, in the main paella, but also chorizo frito al vino.
My method is to cut the chorizo into slices about quarter of an inch thick. Fry in a large frying pan until sealed on both sides and just starting to go a little crispy. At this point I add the red wine (Spanish red wine is best, but I am sure you can use any good red wine).
Cook the chorizo for a few more minutes. Serve as part of a tapas or with salad. The red wine with the chorizo makes a wonderfully spicy sauce which you can dunk warm soft bread into.
Sainsbury’s cooking chorizo comes as smaller whole sausages and these can be cooked whole, but will take a little longer.
Another recipe was to add it to lentils. In a large frying pan, saute some diced onions, pepper and pancetta. I added some stock and tomato puree and simmered for about ten minutes before adding the sliced cooking chorizo. This I cooked for a further five minutes.
The next stage was to add the lentils, I usually use tinned green lentils. I finished the dish with some basil, though parsley would have been better.
Another way I use chorizo is to add it to a tray of roasting vegetables to add texture, flavour and spice.
In many ways cooking chorizo is a versatile ingredient that is in many ways much easier to use than tradition air dried chorizo. I would air caution though, make sure it is proper cooking chorizo and not chorizo style sausages otherwise you will be disappointed.
This is warming dish, usually suited for winter, but also ideal for those cold wet autumn days.
In a large frying pan, saute some diced onions, pepper and pancetta. I added some stock and tomato puree and simmered for about ten minutes before adding the sliced cooking chorizo. This I cooked for a further five minutes.
The next stage was to add the lentils, I usually use tinned green lentils. I finished the dish with some basil, though parsley would have been better. I did in fact (as you can see from the photograph) serve this with some cooked sausages, but this probably isn’t necessary.
Though I always have reservations about Café Rouge there is one item on the menu that I do like that always tempts me to try the place again, and that is Merguez aux Lentilles de Puy or grilled spicy Merguez sausage on a bed of puy lentils in a ceramy sauce and topped with a rocket salad.
They do a very good merguez sausage and it is always very well done, well cooked and nice and spicy. The lentils were quite good too.
However the dish was let down by something as simple as rocket leaves. They were not fresh, old and somewhat manky! A disappointment using not just old rocket leaves, but ones that looked as if they were verging on going off.
Once more Café Rouge disappoints, I need to learn from this.
This is my simple and quick way of cooking a wonderful French peasant style dish of chicken, pork, sausage and lentils.
Place some chicken thighs and drumsticks in a roasting pan, add some chunks of pork belly. You could use a jointed chicken if you wanted. Drizzle with olive oil and place in a hot oven and roast for about 25-30 minutes.
Cook some large pork sausages in the oven, as these take less time, put them in a little later.
In a large pan, soften some pancetta, diced onions and peppers. Once soft, add a knob of butter and some flour, stir well. Now add herbs, wine and stock. Cook for about ten minutes.
In a hot frying pan, cook some chopped mushrooms.
Prepare the dish.
Take the cooked liquid, add the roast chicken and pork. Slice the sauages and add them and the mushrooms to the pan. I used tinned Puy Lentils, but you could use cooked lentils or a tin of another kind. Mix well and heat through.
For the grilled chicken, take a chicken breast, I used a free range corn fed chicken breast which I flattened with my hand (though you could take a rolling pin to it). I seasoned the chicken with seasoning and olive oil before placing under a hot grill for 15-20 minutes.
For the lentils eat a frying pan and add some chopped pancetta. There is no need to add any extra oil as there is usually sufficient fat in the pancetta.
Finely chop an onion. Add the onion to the frying pan with the pancetta.
I softened in a frying pan, the finely chopped onion with the pancetta. When the onion was nicely soft I then added some red wine and beef stock before simmering it down.
I use beef stock over chicken stock just because of the colour rather than flavour. I then reduced and reduced this.
Then add some sliced mushrooms.
I then added the green lentils, I used a tin, for convenience and speed. Once the lentils had heated through I then plated up.
On go the lentils and then slice the grilled chicken and place on top.