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Som Saa
The Real Thing
Latest Post Som Saa:. a variety of citrus fruit used in old-style Thai cookery

When David Thompson packed his bags for Thailand, closing Nahm in the Halkin Hotel in December 2012, he left citing the fact that he was having to “compromise Nahm’s cooking because of lack of availability of ingredients”: it was a body blow for authentic Thai cusine in the UK. Thompson has long been regarded as the ‘daddy’ of Thai food, an Aussie ‘farang’ whose connection with the food goes as far as him having immersed himself in the culture, learnt to speak fluent Thai, and raiding old recipes written down years ago. Many of these are in his big pink tome Thai Food, a book I bought immediately on release in 2002. There are indeed a bewildering number of ingredients needed for many of the dishes – combined with my own cooking inadequacies, I’ve tackled one dish. However, it’s also a fascinating read in its own right, a distillation of the history of Thai cooking and its role in society.

I first met Andy Oliver in 101 Thai Kitchen in Hammersmith, a few months before Nahm closed, just after he had returned from a six month stint at Bo.lan, regarded as one of the best restaurants in Bangkok. Prior to that he had spent two and a half years at Nahm, following on from an appearance in the final of Masterchef in 2009, via stages at Moro, Nobu, Bocca di Lupo, The Modern Pantry and Maze. He later worked on Vanduke, a Thai street food truck which was part of Alan Yau’s Bangkok café concept Naamyaa (with David Thompson consulting), which Andy went on to help launch. From there he went to lauded Thai spot The Begging Bowl in Peckham, to work for his friend and fellow Thompson alumni, Jane Alty. A few pop-ups at Bar Story while working here led to meeting business partner and front of house Tom George, and on to an extended residency at Climpson’s Arch in Hackney in 2014 – the success of this led to a Crowdfunding that rattled up to and over the required amount for their restaurant in a matter of days. Quitting his job in management with BT years ago now looked like a very good decision indeed.

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This Week

Oozy jamón and chicken croquetas; fresh sea urchin from the shell twanging with an iodine kick. Both at the ever reliable Morito in Exmouth Market.

Squid ink flatbread with cod’s roe and egg yolk, at the thrilling, utterly unique, and inspired Black Axe Mangal; mixed Hereford grill of heart, kidney and steak, Camone tomatoes, and a wedge of hash brown. Lee Tiernan and team are dishing up some of the most exciting food in town, with a wood burning oven and thumpingly loud rock soundtrack.

Ricotta tortellini, followed by baby chicken with leeks and bacon. Then there may have been cuttlefish with olives and green beans, and perhaps some hake with seaweed and miso broth; several Picon Bières: it’s easy to order most of the menu at Primeur in Stoke Newington.

The mighty ‘Macbeth’ Haggis Toastie at Deeney’s café in Leyton, with cheddar, caramelised onion, rocket and mustard – an absolute belter.
I've helped Blacklock (Big
Chops, Skinny Chops, Soho
basement) put together a little
list of wines for their new
blackboard. Friendly cash margins means great drinking without
spaffing over the odds. Chops on
a grill alongside some cracking
wines —

Cabernet Sauvignon 2011,
Restless River
Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa

Cult Syrah 2013, BK Wines
Adelaide Hills, Australia

Cabernet Sauvignon 2011,
Ridge Vineyards Sonoma, USA

Pinot Noir 'Laissez Faire' 2014, Cherubino Pemberton, Australia

Nero d'Avola 2013, Fox Gordon
Adelaide Hills, Australia

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Riesling 2012, Sybille Kuntz
Mosel, Germany

'Kortpad Kaptoe' 2014,
Blank Bottle Wellington, South Africa

Chardonnay 'Graviers' 2012, Stephane Tissot Arbois, France

Riesling 2013, Clos Clare
Watervale, Australia

'Toru' (Gewürztraminer/ Riesling/Pinot Gris) 2013,
Te Whare Ra
Marlborough, New Zealand

Lahmacun Rising

Lahm Ajin (‘meat and dough’) from the Arabic (lahm ‘meat’ and ajin ‘dough’)

The Turkish flatbread lahmacun is finally having a little ‘moment’ outside of its traditional heartland of areas like Green Lanes and Kingsland Road in Stoke Newington, appearing in a couple of more stylised, modern spots in London. Lahmacun has been around for thousands of years, being enjoyed in Turkey and Syria, as well as Lebanon and Armenia. While Pide Oven also focus on the cheese based flatbreads (restaurant soothsayer Alan Yau at Babaji Pide appears to have once again kick-started a trend), it’s the lahmacun being properly made in W1 that is the ‘lesser spotted’ beast. Spiced and minced lamb with onions, tomatoes and parsley on freshly made dough, whacked into the oven (ideally a wood burning one) for a few minutes, crisped and cracking in places at the edges, wrapped up with some salad — in this era of the street food renaissance, when it's well made (as it is here, with Turkish-Cypriot nous), it smashes the post booze hunger out of the park. The slick branding on display here has all the signs of a London roll-out: Lahmacun Rising.  

“Wild chimps caught boozing on 7% ABV ‘wine’”, shrieked the headline in The Guardian last year. As headlines go, that’s a corker.

Noble Rot
Issue N10
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“It’s likely that the thunderbolt wine revelation usually comes courtesy of a restaurant, via a well chosen list, a savvy sommelier, a beautiful plate of food, and the perfect alchemy of a night out.”

Once you’ve had a taste of the good stuff, "it's hard to go back”. Here he explores the vinous Holy Grail. Corkscrews at the ready.

CODE Quarterly
Issue 6
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Everyone knows the wines of Napa and Sonoma, but some of California’s lesser-known wine regions are producing vintages that are equally appealing...

Christie's Magazine
February 2016
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Wine is good for you

"A meal without wine is unthinkable for some. Being in a restaurant sober and not witnessing the cut and thrust of the dining room; missing that moment when the volume seems to ‘pop’, usually around 9pm, would make me consider why I was there at all...

Hoi Polloi
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Zeren Wilson ponders the often-snubbed ‘house wine’ and assures us that frugal drinking in London is better than it has been before.

“Monsieur, with this House Ferrero Rocher Wine, you are really spoiling Ous...”. Or something like that...

CODE Quarterly
Issue 5
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The Menu Fetishist Returns

“Here’s our menu, let me know if you have any questions...” The phrase that launched a thousand meals. You read, you choose, you ask, they bring: no titillation here, nothing to see, please move along. You’re a menu fetishist? You sick bastard...

Noble Rot
Issue N8
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Wine List Man vs Inverted Snob

Do you really know about wine? Or is all your swaggering braggadocio about to be mercilessly skewered by the secret wine buff in your midst?

Noble Rot
Issue 6
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Written Welcome
to K–Town

There’s something in the air and it’s Korean flavoured. Zeren Wilson finds out why Korean cuisine is the food of the moment

May 2015
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Written Blue

Spring; The menu bristles with the confidence that means no frilly language, just laconic listings of ingredients with the odd nod to a cooking technique here or there:

Completely London
Spring 2015
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Written Thai Lords

Thai cuisine is on
the verge of a re-appraisal in the UK, with new restaurants cooking regional dishes that really highlight the depth and diversity of the food. Zeren Wilson reports

Caterer & Hotelkeeper,
February 2014
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Written Lambrusco

Having fallen from grace, Lambrusco is now making a comeback in its traditional form as a deep, dry,
sparkling wine from Emilia Romagna. Zeren Wilson hails the return of this once–derided drop.

Christie’s Magazine,
October 2014
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Written California

The wines of Napa Valley and Sonoma County are back in the frame, their characteristic exuberance tempered with the restraint that first wowed the world in 1976. Zeren Wilson, reports

Christie’s Magazine,
November 2014
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Written What to drink with a kebab

– And it's not lager.

Inspired by the recent British Kebab awards Zeren Wilson wonders what the perfect wine pairing is for a kebab and comes up with some surprising conclusions.

Matching Food & Wine
August 2014
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Claude Fournier is a 3rd generation Sancerre winemaker, with wife Eliane's family's history stretching back 13 generations. Sancerre rosé can often be the expensive Loire puppy that is overpriced and underwhelming, leaving the drinker with a sad tinge of regret — this 100% Pinot Noir charmer delivers all the crunchy, redcurrant scented, raspberry twang you could wish for, at a very commendable £9 a bottle. Two bottles, in the garden, sunshine essential.
Wine of the week

Sancerre Rosé 2015, Claude Fournier, Loire, France



There’s something rather interesting happening on this charmingly shabby stretch of Lower Clapton Road — it involves what may officially be the smallest ‘kitchen' in London (a two hob induction at the end of a bar, how good can it be?), and the cooking of William Gleave. P. Franco has been a gem of a little wine bar for a while, part of the rise and rise of Clapton’s drinking and eating options, a jovial communal table that encourages bonhomie and merrymaking over a few bottles and chunks of Parmigiano and slices of charcuterie. Now things have ratcheted up several levels. William was previously Head Chef at the much lauded Hobart restaurant Garagistes, Tasmania, alongside chef and founder Luke Burgess.

3/5 dishes on offer ordered, each one a genuine delight. Crab, smoked haddock and ‘Le Coste’ olive oil — a soothing, beguiling combination of a chowder-like number, alongside sweet white crab meat, and a swirl of intensely grassy olive oil. Squid noodles and XO sauce — a firecracker of a dish with ribbons of tenderest squid, nuggets of fennel spiked Italian sausage meat, the aniseed hop of Thai basil, citrus twang of bergamot, in an unholy (holy) sauce singing with the shrimp and dried seafood charged funk of XO. Wow. Pappardelle with meat ragù may have appeared pedestrian after the squid, but the pasta is so good, the ragù so deeply flavoured and perfectly seasoned, that we order another bottle and start grinning like loons.

Any place that makes you feel this good is doing something very worthwhile indeed. Goodness knows what he’ll do with a proper kitchen.

@P_FrancoE5, @WilliamGleave

When news gets out that two of the mainstays of the estimable Terroirs group are striking out on their own, ears prick up and a flurry of bookings are made by many of those tracking the current fervid London restaurant landscape: ballsy, gutsy cooking with no faff or fanfare is the rich seam that has run through the Terroirs DNA since they opened in 2009. Oli Barker and Head Chef Pascal Wiedemann bring a welcome robust smack in the chops to genteel and monied Holland Park, a neighbourhood which, apart from the pristine Lidgate’s butcher, has historically had little reason to drag anyone to W11 for anything food related. One lunch is enough to convince:

Pork & Pistachio terrine – (£8) – Memories of the excellent terrines at Terroirs. Jammed with lardo, chicken livers, and other goodness. Textbook terrine. “A master of the country terrine”, according to Chef David Gingell of Primeur.

Devilled Egg, anchovies, mâche salad (£7.50)  – Keep these coming all day on a conveyor belt. Punchy Cantabrian anchovies starring.

Squid, brandade & piment d’Espelette (£10.50) – Curls of silkily tender squid, creamiest salt cod brandade beneath. Yes.

  Quail, white polenta, gremolata (£9.50) – Plump and bronzed, we chase white polenta round the plate, mopping and sucking it from chunks of crisped quail. 

  Pork chop, Jersey Royals, wild garlic, sauce charcutière (£17.50) – Unimpeachable chop, with a deeply flavoured, gorgeously rendered ribbon of fat. Quite indecent, quite wonderful.

Tiny and cosy, it has a ‘skiving off work lunch' written all over it. I’ll be on a table beside the kitchen.