2016 Food highlights, pt. 2

Here is part 2 of my year in food. You can find part 1 here.

– Food at Som Saa because it was genuinely some of the best I have ever eaten. Ever. I was so keen and so worried about the legendary queue that I was the first one to show up – an hour before they even started serving food. They do luckily have a bar where you can knock down cocktails while you wait in trepidation. The whole-fried seabass, evil eyes and all, was a feast of spice, aromatics, tang and happiness on the flaky, buttery fish. And the prawn floss on the aubergine! Stroke of genius.

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– Another one of my favourite restaurants this year, Oldroyd, and its life-changing croquettes. I don’t use the word “life-changing” lightly. Actually, I do. But they were seriously noteworthy.

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Fabrique’s cinnamon buns, a life-saver for indulgent breakfast and comfort pick-me-ups, very conveniently located just by my office. Sticky and cinnamon-y beyond belief. Also everyone working there appears to be incredibly beautiful and blond and Swedish, which figures.

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– Brunch at Chinese Laundry Room. So many colours. Fluffy, pillowy mantou. Eggs as a side. Eggs should always be offered as a side.

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– Egg and bacon naan at Dishoom. True breakfast of champions – served with warming bottomless chai.

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– In June, I managed to relax with this view:

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And eat beetroot casunziei and venison ragù in little mountain lodges in the middle of nowhere.

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– Venetian bacari and 60p wine drunk on a square. Seriously considering moving.

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Mr Lyan’s truly brilliant cocktails were a perfect way to welcome my 26th year of life – especially the beeswax old fashioned.

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Avgustinos, Rhodes. In Rhodes, roughly 40% of our meals consisted of this souvlaki. The rest was incredibly buttery octopus and fried sardines and fresh tomato salad but the souvlaki 40% was strong.

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Electric Elephant Cafe. Our local. They truly know how to fry an egg.

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Osteria Bonelli. Sometimes you discover a somewhat renowned, delicious Roman restaurant you had never heard of, which was just behind your high school. It had been there all along, while I had my first kiss and gushed about boys and wore cropped tops with low-rise jeans. I must have walked it past it a billion times with my backpack and died dark hair. And yet I only discover it years later, when I don’t even live there anymore.

I loved this place. The lack of paper menus, a list of dishes on a blackboard,  the staff, friendly but so quick at taking your order you will most definitely panic-order (i.e. ordering the first thing you recognise) – this place served some of the best Roman food I have ever had. You could be adventurous and go for creamy fried brains, pajata, livers. Or simpler cacio e pepe, carbonara, gricia. A pile of savoury carbs to see you through the day.Processed with VSCO with s1 preset

– One-pound oysters at Wright Brothers. Quickest way to travel to the sea.

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Chinese Laundry Room, London – a review

As is often the case, I discovered Chinese Laundry through the impossibly styled, polished, saturated pictures of Instagram. Seen through colourful filters, these small tables crammed with perfectly arranged plates, and just the right amount of movement (a manicured hand holding chopsticks; a cardigan-wearing arm reaching for some bread), are somehow capable of giving you food envy and a start of salivation.

Yet, by definition, this medium cannot convey in any way the flavour of a dish, its aroma, the warm feeling in your mouth and belly, its texture. Then why am I so attracted to these pictures, why do I follow these as if they were recommendation from a favourite kitchen critic? Maybe there is an element of shameless shallowness, of searching the aesthetically pleasing, of wanting to eat photogenic food. Time Out rushes in defence of brown food; and while I agree with the argument (a curry will never look particularly photogenic, unless you pile edible flowers on it; and as far as the rainbow cake/bagel/soup trend goes, if you’re eating something of a hue that does not even exist in nature, you probably need a cup of green tea), I think there is more to a picture of food.

If you know food even a little, if you love it, a photo will be enough to decide whether the tomatoes are ripe, whether the mango was stringy, if the fried batter is soggy or impossibly crisp. There is a lot you can tell from a bidimensional picture, even if its colours are artificially enhanced.

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In the case of Chinese laundry, pictures of geometrical dumpling omelettes, and sides of pale milky buns, trickling onto my Instagram feed, looked spanking fresh, and astonishingly not swimming in oil.

Things that the beautiful photos did not manage to convey: flavour. Buckets of flavours.

Chinese Laundry is a small, narrow restaurant with adorable dusty green walls adorned with retro Chinese prints – the idea behind the restaurant is to recreate the 80’s in China. The decor, as well as quirky, has a warm, homely feel to it.

Served in immaculate white-and-blue  porcelain, breakfast was wonderfully crafted: a crispy scallion pancake with egg and bacon to binge on, aromatic teas served in small matte teapots, bright-yolked soft boiled tea eggs, their back decorated by mesmerising patterns; a fiery, comforting dish of stir fry dumplings. The side of little milky buns –something extremely pleasing in the consonance of coronals – features one of my absolute favourite foods of all times, for no particular reasons: mantou, the softest, chewiest, palest bun, in two versions: a plain steamed bun served with a sharp, almost sour spicy sauce, and a golden version, I can only assumed deep fried, accompanied by condensed milk spiked with peanuts and toasted sesame.

I went again for dinner, this time a slightly less photogenic one due to dim lighting, and loved the food nonetheless. The plates are fairly small but not quite as small as they make them to be – two plates with some rice and of course mantou, still warm in its wooden basket, were quite filling. The sweet basil pop corn chicken, fried to perfection, meat soft and supple and a crispy batter laced with aromatic sweet basil, was the sort of dish that you could find yourself craving at all times of the night and day.

The aubergine, which always deserves love, was grilled until its pulp was almost creamy, with slight sour notes, and topped with chopped peppers and peanuts for texture, its subtle smokiness perfect on steamed white rice.

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Other dishes I stole bites from included cumin-rich lamb skewers, soft and juicy; aubergine with hot smoked salmon; crispy silken tofu; a delightful and refreshing starter of courgette with raspberry, all with incredibly friendly service – when our waiter was telling us of the town in China he went to college to, I didn’t ever want to leave.

So yes, I suppose Instagram may only tell you so much – but when it gets it right, boy, does it get it right.