Thursday, 24 November 2011

Balls balls balls

In terms of the food blogosphere I'm usually pretty late to get 'on trend'; same applies in most walks of life really. Though in comparison to the rest of the population, including my super clued in workmates, I can still be ahead of the game when I need to be. The latest example is with trend foodstuff meatballs. Apparently they are the dish of 2011, obviously I didn't find out til October, but when I heard tale of Luca's Meatballs hitting Dalston, I was bounding around the office and taking orders for a Thursday cycle order up to Ridley Road.

Ridley Road market seems ungentrifiable. A fantastic thing, in a part of Hackney where new concept stores are popping up almost weekly. It's a full on, stinky, bustling hub of West African diaspora - all dried fish, chilli peppers, broiler hens and music. You can get the cheapest super fresh veg you can imagine - three butternut squash for a pound anyone? Anyway, that a much-hyped meatball shack was opening up had people talking: was this the start of the Broadway Marketisation of Ridley Road? Surely not!

I roll up at Luca's expecting to see a queue of hipsters, DSLRs at the ready. Actually nobody was there, just Luca getting things ready. I started reeling off my order and asked if I worked nearby. I explained that I'd cycled up from Old Street (only two miles) and was very excited. I was rewarded with a tiramisu on the house. Nice one! Luca was incredibly charming and excited about his business, and later tweeted a photo of me with my haul.

The menu is simple - there are (beef) meatballs and spinach and ricotta balls. You can have them on a ciabatta (with tomato sauce, provolone cheese, lambs lettuce) or atop tasty polenta with a range of sauces: roast tomato, spicy tomato, mushroom/cream, gorgonzola. The base price is £3.50, but for an extra 50p you can have an extra ball or a small portion of veg - when I went it was braised baby beetroot.

As we tucked in back at the office, it was thumbs up all around. I'd opted for the ciabatta and it was just wow. The meatballs were splendid, perfectly formed, simply and subtly spiced with just a hint of fennel. The tomato sauce, again, simple and pure, combined perfectly with the smoky provolone. I was just about in heaven. My colleagues had the polenta boxes: one, a veggie, had 4 of the spinach and ricotta balls, the other went half and half. Both were blown away with theirs, particularly appreciating how well done the polenta was. I had a sample of the veggie balls and was surprised at their pungency. Will definitely be going half/half next time.

Luca's offer is expanding - it's positioned outside the newly licensed Wu's Market Bar, which is all tropical and bright inside. Luca will be serving up meatballs late into the night as well as anti-pasti platters and more. I'll be back.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Brunchin' brunchin' #3

Brunch options just get more and more plentiful. I'm now well and truly spoiled for choice in my neck of the woods, as the joy of breakfast food spreads deeper and deeper. In recent weeks, still in my post Masters joy, it's been a steady stream of brunch dates.

So what's new?

Well, Barden's Cafe is fairly new. It's on the main drag in Dalston, formerly a grotty but charming basement venue, now forced overground by the clubbier club The Nest (always looks a bit dancey for an indie boy like me). A big old space, all high ceilings and sleek lines. But rolling up at an unfashionably early 10.30am we were able to get one of the best spots, a whole sofa area all for two. Sorry.

My brunch default is eggs benedict, because I'm rubbish at poaching eggs neatly and can't be arsed making hollandaise. But I was sorely tempted by the idea of french toast, bacon and maple syrup. Happily, Barden's had just the dish - french toast, bacon, poached eggs, maple syrup and cream. It sounded fishy - poached eggs with cream and maple syrup? Bacon and maple syrup and cream? HMM. I pondered for a good 10 minutes and then plumped for it. It arrived, a little pot of cream and a little pot of maple syrup sat separately. I didn't hold back in pouring it all over, and tucked in.

Wow. It actually really worked, just a great combination of flavours. Bits of saltiness here, sweet there. Oi oi. And only £6 too, so you can't complain.

From one side of Hackney to the other: my next brunch was at Bistroteque, from scruffy hipster to coiffured fashion set. Bistroteque is in a warehouse-y space in the badlands south of London Fields and north of Behtnal Green, just off Cambridge Heath Road amid strips of strip clubs. It's an ugly area, but achingly hip. In contrast with its bleak surroundings, Bistroteque is an amazing, stylish space, all white, high ceilings big windows and smart, trendy, efficient staff. A pianist does tinkly cabaret style piano covers of cheesy 80s and 90s pop - our finely tuned ears pick out Steps, Tiffany and S Club 7. Nice.

The brunch menu was fairly trim, but with some tasty sounding options: potato rosti with smoked trout and poached egg was tempting, but I ended up going for eggs benedict, just because I love 'em. But I was a bit disappointed with Bistroteque's offering - for one, one of my yolks was firm. That's not what you expect for £8. And the portions for the trout/rosti dish were very small. The ingredients were unmistakeably good, and the dishes nicely presented, but the disappointment of the yolk and portion size may have left us a little bitter.

From mega chi-chi to down at heel, our most recent brunch was at Acoustic Cafe 'round the corner on Newington Green. It always makes me happy when I walk past, seeing all the nice young couples of Newington Green sitting outside with their broadsheets and big plates of breakfast. It had a bit of an eastern Mediterranean vibe, a sign of its time in the first wave of brunchification, and a few twists on the brunch norms - turkish sausage, feta, olives, etc.

I ordered the Eggs Romano, which was scrambled eggs (my fave way of having eggs) mixed with feta, peppers, basil, onions, in a crisp pancake, served with CHIPS and salad. Petite and on trend it isn't, but it sure does the trick when you're a bit hungover and sleep deprived.