Sunday, 4 September 2011

Big Screen Samosas: Tollywood News

News from the film industry, as Tollywood reports that award-winning actor Sri Hari is producing, directing and starring in a new street-food based comedy feature. Tea Samosa Biscuit. In an interview, Sri Hari explained that the movie centres on the idea that "there are many pubs, hotels and restaurants in Hyderabad, but there are not many hotels for Irani tea, which is quite famous in the city." I'm really hoping the film will also shed light on the city's samosa offerings.

Filming has begun, but no release date has been set. Be sure to keep checking the Samosa Diaries for further updates.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

No accounting for taste: the appearance of the cheese & onion samosa

Sunrise Foodstop, Well's Terrace, Finsbury Park, London N4

Kicking my heels at Finsbury Park bus stands yesterday, I nipped into the Sunrise Foodstop convenience and headed straight for the chiller. A small pile of Quality Foods samosas lay there. The usual trinity were present: vegetable, chicken and lamb. But nestling within that batch, to my utter bewilderment, sat something I never imagined I'd see. I rubbed my eyes. Could it be? A (pre-packaged) traditional samosa with an English CHEESE and ONION filling. I shuddered at the thought, but out of sheer intrigue, I had to try one. I handed over my 95p and went back to the bus stop.

This sort of thing has happened before, readers. In the complex world of curries, of course, the Chicken Tikka Masala was (apparently) concocted in Birmingham to cater for the milder British tastebud. This massively succesful hybrid was declared Britain's national dish by Robin Cook in 2001.

At street-snack level, there was a brief spell at the end of last decade where London Treats shops experimented with spinach and ricotta samosas. A mistake, but arguably excusable for its audacity. Production-line cheese and onion, however, really is the devil of pastry filling. A bland stodge, a uniform goop lazily pumped into pastry.

Still, I gave it a whirl. The cheese and onion innard had the same consistency and smell as its English pasty cousin, although in fairness, Quality Foods have taken strides to add zing to their product. Cumin, chili, and garam masala powder have been added to the mix, but this doesn't distract from the slimy, factory-made feel of the filling. On top of this, it just seems wrong. A good samosa will trigger intrigue with a varied or unusual flavour or texture, this one is bite after bite of the same.

On my bus journey I wondered why Quality Foods added this line to their range. In the face of stiff competition from other street foods, it may be simply that the London samosa needs a shake-up. But whilst I applaud Quality for attempting innovation, they must go back to the chopping board, this is a culinary gaffe.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

La Dolce Vita

The Valtaro Snack Bar, Marchmont Street, Bloomsbury, WC1

A snug breakfast/pasta bar in the heart of Bloomsbury. This place really is lovely.

The Valtaro interior has a characteristic communal feel - a small room with no tables, just a marble-effect bench around the walls and leather topped stools. Brown tiles and wood panelling give the essence of a cabin. The warming and hearty nature of the setting is matched by the food dished up, expect square meals from England (all day breakfast, beans on toast) or Italy (carbonara, salads, etc).

I visited today on a serene Sunday afternoon. Digging into a large plate of funghi pasta (fusilli served with mushroom and garlic sauce - £3.50), I sat amongst a cross-section of the Bloomsbury community. Gossiping students from the halls of residence next door, a young Oriental man wolfing down a portion of bacon and chips, and a blind man reading braille and drinking tea. Meanwhile locals darted in and out for takeaway sandwiches; behind the counter the two staff chattered in Italian over the sound of sizzling pans and Four Tops and Olly Murs on the radio. The food is good, homemade, unspectacular and nourishing.

On the street outside, the launderette is doing brisk Sunday business and old and young men sit patiently outside the Lord Russell pub as if waiting for an announcement. This central London enclave drifts along gently today. Inside the snack bar, customers and staff exchange news as food is served up, and there is a feeling that the popular Valtaro serves as a hub of the neighbourhood.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Ode to a Samosa

A belated Happy Burns Night to the Diaries readership. Enjoy this fine piece of pastry poesy from Sanjeev Kohli.

"Can any other snack ever hope to match thee
when not one of them has any other point
and you have three." Exactly!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Old Man and the Sea

Two Brothers Fish Restaurant, Regent's Park Road, Finchley Central, London N3

'Oh, help us out lads, an English comedian... what's his name... very funny.... sweats a lot...' said the elderly gentleman.

'He needs it for a story....' said a second man in the queue, turning to us.

'Ohh... not... Lee Evans?' I offered.

'Yes that's his name! Lee Evans! I used to work with his dad on the boats.'

'Oh yeah...'

'Yeah. Sailed all over I did...' And off he went, telling us tales of his adventures on the seven seas working his board on cruiseliners. He'd been everywhere. North America, South America, around the coastline of Africa, Australia, the far East. Working as a porter, catering for the cruising classes (the retired and loaded). It sounded like high jinx on the high seas.

'Cod & chips!' called out the cook from behind the shiny metalic fryers. The old man sprinkled on his salt & vinegar.

'See you later boys, enjoy yourselves!' and he bopped out into the misty Saturday night.

If it's good enough for him, I thought, it'll do for me. My fishcake and chips came next.

I would hazard it's the best chip shop in London. The stock comes in direct from the sea via Bilingsgate each day, and your dinner is always cooked to order. Fresh, and highly rated by north London folk. It's by no means the cheapest, but it'll guarantee you'll never pick up something that's been sweating all day under the spotlight counter. None of that slimey yellow batter, no oven chips (!), and not a soggy spring roll in sight.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Suburban Samosa Surprise

This afternoon, in an attempt to carry out research into Joe Strummer's homesick ode to north London wanderlust ('From Willesden to Cricklewood'), me and my mate Jim planned a cycle ride to NW10. We had high hopes: it wasn't raining, we sort of knew the way, and if things went wrong, we could always catch a train home from Cricklewood. However, after a few wrong turns and struggles to cross railway tracks and pedal the steep uphills, we got knackered about half way and gave up. We ended up stopping up in leafy West Hampstead instead. The lonely avenues of Willesden with its stout, mozzarella and eggs could wait.

So, West Hampstead, birthplace of Dusty Springfield (apparently). Looking around, we judged it was the ideal place to reside if your pastimes include dining out on decking and spending a decent sum of money doing so. As a rule of thumb the affluence of a London suburb can be guaged by assessing its fried chicken shop : dry cleaner ratio. Apparently what West Hampstead lacks in hot wings and onion rings it makes up for in dirty duvets and disheveled dinner jackets.

Surrounded by cappucino bars and parasoled patios, we were unsure how to cost-effectively replenish lost energy from our measly attempt at a bike ride. So we went to the nearest off-licence (the spacious Atlanta Food & Wine) to pick up a can of beer and sit down on a bench for a bit. After watching the gentle dog walkers and huffing joggers of West Hampstead afternoon go by for a bit, we decided to go for a snack at David's Deli.

Situated on the corner of West End Lane and Mill Lane, the verandahed David's Deli looked decent enough from the outside, so we stepped in. Seconds later, though, I sensed a bad omen. A girl in front of us bought a can of Rubicon and was charged a whopping one English pound. For a single can (small one). I almost keeled over.

I regained my composure though and stepped up to the counter. With no hesitation I ordered one of the medium sized lamb samosas which lay temptingly on a plate under the glass panel. 'Ok mate. Warmed up? Fancy some spaghetti bolognese too lads?' Enquired the hefty assistant, gesturing towards a chilled plate of pre-cooked pasta. It looked a bit gross.

'Just a samosa thanks, warm please.' I said, and gazed at my feet.

Ting! And out it popped from the microwave. The assistant turned round from the till and said, straight-faced; 'That'll be two pounds please mate.' For the second time, I almost had a heart attack. The most expensive single samosa in London? I had no choice but to pay though, so grudgingly coughed up.

Blimey, this samosa better be bl**dy good! I thought, as we went back to the bench to eat. Unfortunately though, this triangular parcel did not live up to its price tag, and literally crumbled under the pressure. Its fragile pastry fell apart at the slightest touch, leaving samosa innards strewn over me, my bag, and the pavement. When I did manage to take a tangible bite, I tasted a monotonous lamb filling lacking sufficient flavour and I certainly could not taste my £2 worth. A fail.

Still, nothing ventured nothing gained, and at least my heart was pumping for the cycle home. I wonder what old Joe would have made of it all.

David's Deli, West End Lane, West Hampstead, NW London

Monday, 6 July 2009

Up the junction: A great tale for the grandkids

Travelling through traffic-jammed Archway junction late last night my eyes were drawn to something seemingly too good to be true. It stood out like a sore thumb - a shop front window emblazoned with large blue letters proclaiming 'BAGELS 99P'. Underneath were listed filling varieties: cream cheese, salmon, egg mayo, turkey, etc. My mind did cartwheels. Could this place be an unlikely rival to Brick Lane for good value bagels? And right on my doorstep? The shop was shut so I had to wait for breakfast to get my answers.

Fast forward to today: morning broke and I leapt out of bed to go and sample this amazing cheap bagel offer. Arriving at Archway, I went into the shop - First Stop, Junction Road - and frantically looked around. It contained the usual for a convenience store - canned fruit and fish, expensive sliced bread, cigarettes, wine, etc. Woringly though, I couldn't make out any sign of bagel making or storage facilities. I double-checked in the fridges and could only see cans of drink and a lonely cheese and pickle roll wrapped in clingfilm. There was an old man sorting out the Pringle promotion stand, and I asked him whether he had any bagels for sale.

Looking up, he let out a chuckle much like Dr Hibburt from The Simpons and said 'no, we stopped doing bagels a long time ago, actually! We really need to take that sign down, sorry boss!' Clang!