Thursday, 4 August 2016


Starting out: fruit, water, honey
The gut biome and its importance for our wellbeing are only dimly understood, but a recent investigation into the intestines of huntsmen from east Africa has made researchers understand a bit more about digestive health. Compared to the average westerner, the east African hunters have a richer and more varied population of gut flora and fauna - known as 'healthy bacteria' - and have little incidence of conditions common in the West, such as IBS or ME. Health professionals are now thinking that the nature of our individual gut biome fundamentally affects our health. So how can average Westerners, brought up on a diet of processed food, enhance the health of their gut? The answer may lie in fermented food: rich in lactobacilli.
Kvass is an ancient Slavic-Baltic drink made from fermented sourdough bread which morphed into beet-kvass in Russia and the Ukraine, a dense and strong-flavoured traditional drink that remains very popular across Eastern Europe.
However, a lightly effervescent, summery, fruit kvass is quick and easy to make, just using ripe fruit, water and honey. Highly flexible, it can use any fruit you have to hand, even frozen or dried. Like all lacto-fermented products, kvass is as good for you as it tastes. The alcohol content is negligible, but add gin or vodka to make a cocktail if you want to go that way (try it with this and a bit of soda).
What goes into a fruit kvass? Strawberries, raspberries and peaches are all good, either on their own or mixed; so too are mangoes, pears, blueberries. Throw in some grated ginger, a curl or two of lemon peel, or some star anise. With autumn not too far away, blackberry and apple is looking good. 

After 12 hours, the bubbles are beginning to rise

- roughly chop 2 peaches and 6 strawberries (or equivalent);
- place in a 2 litre container;
- add a spoonful of unpasteurised honey; 
- top up with natural spring water and cover. 
You can add a kick-starter of a tablespoon of whey (the colourless liquid strained from live yoghurt), a splash of your previous kvass brew, or even a piece of sourdough bread. However, it works very well with just the honey.
Leave the jar in a shady, warm place, stirring every six hours.
Depending on the temperature, it will begin to bubble after twelve hours, and usually takes 2 to 3 days fermentation to be ready. The longer you leave it, the more sour the flavour becomes, so keep tasting. When ready, decant into clean bottles and store in the fridge, where it will last for several days. Serve chilled.
Sometimes a white scum can form on the surface during the ferment (this means it hasn't been stirred frequently enough - the lacto-bacilli in the liquid will kill off any "bad" bugs so stirring keeps the fruit submerged). As long as the batch still smells good and fruity, the scum can be scraped off and the mixture stirred thoroughly.  A bad smell usually means it has gone off: abandon and start again.
After a couple of days, the fruit looks "cooked"
Once the kvass has been decanted, the remaining fruit looks "cooked"; however, it can be used for a second brew, which will be a bit weaker in flavour: just add honey and top up with water. After a second ferment, the fruit becomes pulpy and is ready for recycling (or put in the garden compost), or pureed and added to muesli, yoghurt and honey for breakfast.
Although it sounds like a summery drink, kvass can be made throughout the year, though fermentation slows a little in the winter.

Sunday, 24 January 2016


Go quickly - the countdown has already started.

For three months until the end of February, the Laos Cafe pop-up is in residence on the corner of Wilton Street and Gillingham Street, Victoria, and according to London Foodie, it is the only place to find Laotian food in London. So there are two good reasons to visit sooner rather than later. A lonely outpost it may be, but its genes are good, the brainchild of Saiphin Moore, based on the home cooking of her childhood. Laos Cafe is using the space that she will be transforming into a new Rosa's Thai Cafe due to open in a few months' time. 

Seafood Noodle Salad

These are fresh, vibrant and light dishes, little changed, it would seem, from the SE Asian home: ingredients grown on the family plot (and plenty of herbs) cooked quickly over charcoal, full of strong flavours and a variety of textures. Featuring salad, fish and noodles or rice, with chilli and fish sauce, it is close to the cuisine of its cousins in Vietnam or Thailand, but also quite distinct from either. 

Aubergine Salad - silken aubergine with a sharp lime sauce
Spicy Pork

In an interview in The Telegraph, Saiphin vividly describes her childhood growing up in Phetchabun (a province straddling the Laos / Thai border), and her memories capture something of the freshness that is the hallmark of the food in her new venture: 
"At lunchtime, we all ate sticky rice and papaya salad.
Green papaya grows easily in Thailand - every house has a tree at the back. We smashed the garlic with green or red chillis (we preferred the Laos style - really spicy) and added tomatoes, fish sauce and anchovies.
People in the village would gather the watch.
I loved it so much they called me the master of papaya, and every time I smell chilli and garlic it takes me straight back." 
Fragrant and spicy Pork Skewers
The sharing plates are substantial here, not the case everywhere.  A highlight is the sticky rice, a foil for the lighter, zesty flavours of the other plates; the brown rice (it is actually red) is especially good, nutty and full of flavour. There is a short wine list and cold beers or hot jasmine tea, but only one desert.

Brown and white sticky rice steamed in banana leaves

The decor is minimalist, a few old b/w photos giving the briefest flavour of South East Asia, but this is a pop-up after all, in a temporary space soon to be refurbished.  The emphasis overall is on the simple, but that does not mean the food lacks care or attention to detail, while the service is helpful (and patient with those less familiar with Laos) - an extra batch of Pork Skewers is quickly put together to take home, along with salad and dipping sauce.  

It does what it says on the tin.
 25 Gillingham Street


Sunday, 10 January 2016


The Kricket container at Pop Brixton
"We don't like Kricket, 
Oh no!  We love it!"  
(adapted from Dreadlock Holiday by 10CC)

So, the secret is out. The hidden gem that is Kricket has been revealed to all in the pre-Christmas edition of Time Out, its Keralan Fried Chicken selected at number 8 in the Top Ten Newcomers Dishes of 2015. The earlier Time Out review might have slipped by without too much notice, though they are consistently busy, but this will put Kricket properly on the map. 
Pop Brixton is the burgeoning container-unit yard just around the corner from the Village Market which sources its growing number of food stalls. The container-unit yard is constructed along the same lines as Box Park in Shoreditch, but is less less fashionista/commercial and more relaxed and food focussed.

Kricket serves up substantial "small plates" of light, highly flavoured Indian-style dishes. Attention to detail is considerable: the layers of contrasting textures add mouth-feel to the range of distinctive flavours; every dish attractively presented on earthen crockery and well garnished.

Bhel Puri

Bhel Puri: crisp and crunchy (think spicy rice crispies) and overlaid with rich, creamy yoghurt which contrasts with the sharp tamarind sauce.  The sprinkle of herb sprouts adds an extra perfumed flavour to the dish.

Smoked Aubergine

Smoked Aubergine: properly smoky but also smooth and rich; crisp papdi are ideal scooping up the fleshy goo of aubergine; crumbled peanuts add crunch, saltiness and sweetness.

Clove-Smoked Pigeon
Clove-Smoked Pigeon: subtle smoky clove flavours infuse the delicate flesh, matched with girolles, punchy garlic pickle and a raita flavoured with burnt grelot. Pomegranate seeds and micro herbs add further textures and flavours to this complex dish.

Goat Shoulder Raan
Goat Raan: perhaps the simplest dish, but that's not in any way a problem; tender meat is coated with a rich, spiced sauce, with wisps of heritage carrots adding a contrasting texture. Hearty and warming, this is a good winter dish.

The menu is not extensive (usually about eight plates and at least one desert, such as gulab jamum)  but everything is perfectly executed despite the tiny cooking and service space at the far end of the container. The service is friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.
Go quickly before the secret spreads or before Kricket moves on to a bigger space.