Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mien Tay, Battersea

Not too long ago, the thought of moving to Clapham Junction filled me with horror. I thought this patch of sarf London was horribly bland, twee and borderline suburban; a painfully uncool, soulless “Nappy Valley” ringing with the sound of buggies clashing in cafes.

Although my father still refers to my new ‘hood as “the wrong side of the river”, in the couple of years I’ve lived here I have gradually, begrudgingly accepted that it’s not all bad.

The main thing which redeemed Clappy J in my mind was Mien Tay, a local restaurant which produces consistently great, authentic Vietnamese food.

From the outside it’s rather shabby, with dog-eared clippings of reviews in the window (a particularly glowing AA Gill number is one of the reasons the place is packed day and night, seven days a week). The interior decor doesn’t improve much; there is an incongruous shamble of filing cabinets and mismatched chairs as soon as you enter, where you must wait to be seated. The tables are peculiar glass-topped things which display miniature garden scenes and doll-like furniture. Best of all are the luminous green tunics worn by the staff. If the food wasn’t so good, these details would I’m sure add to the restaurant’s awfulness. But because it’s so good, they add to the charm!

I do think Mien Tay was probably better a couple of years ago, back when you were able to BYO booze, but it’s still a failsafe option for a reliably delicious and cheap meal out. Typically I’m there a couple of times a month; during one ridiculous six week period when Mark and I had no fridge (it’s a long story which will only end up with a rant against John Lewis, so don’t get me started), we were at Mien Tay two or three times a week.

Here are some snaps from my last few visits.

Green papaya salad with dry spicy beef. My favourite starter…

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…although occasionally I like to ring the changes with green papaya salad with fat, juicy prawns

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One of Mien Tay’s signature dishes, chargrilled quail with honey, garlic and spices. Yes, that is a little dish of MSG on the side. I told you it was authentic Vietnamese!

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Vietnamese style spring rolls – so good wrapped up in lettuce leaves and herbs and dunked into the dipping sauce.

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No Vietnamese meal is complete without pho noodle soup, the national dish and the “soul of the nation”. Served with a thicket of fresh herbs on the side, to add as you eat.

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Whole crispy fried sea bream with fish sauce and mango

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Stir fried goat with galangal. Don’t be shy about eating goat; it’s bloody tasty. Pretend it’s beef. 20140219-204716.jpg

Stir fried morning glory with garlic. Took me right back to Hoi An.

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No frills, so no dessert option – just some orange segments to refresh the palate, served as you realise the coins in your purse don’t quite cover the cash-only bill and you need to nip down the road to the cashpoint.

Mien Tay would be a success in any part of town (they have an equally popular sister restaurant in the much edgier neighbourhood of Shoreditch) but situated on the otherwise lacklustre Lavender Hill, it’s a true local gem.

Fondues and don’ts (guest post by Alexa van Sickle)

A timely post to celebrate the cold season, the awesome Winter Olympics and all things Alpine. Over to Lex, a self-proclaimed “fondue aficionado” whose skills I can vouch for firsthand; I lived with her for a couple of years and before long my veins ran with melted cheese.

(NB: this guest post malarkey is a bit of all right – yay for someone else doing the words and slightly shaky smartphone photography! I dare say I will be “delegating” more blog posts in future…)

Strangely, I had to move away from Austria to the UK to become a fondue aficionado.  I was living in Shepherds Bush and working in Wimbledon in 2006 when I purchased my first set at the Centre Court shopping centre, and ferried it home on the District Line.

I’ve since had to replace many of the forks that came with the original set, as they have a habit of getting lost in the kitchen in the same manner that socks get lost between the washing machine and my bedroom – but the set I bought is still very much in use.

This is a standard Swiss cheese recipe, using four cheeses. But using only Gruyere and Emmental works pretty well too if you can’t find the other two, more obscure varieties. There are many ways to jazz it up; using different cheeses, including tapenade, using beer, or champagne, spices, etc. I found this recipe years ago on Kirchenweb.at, (‘Churchweb’) an Austrian website that bills itself as a forum for ‘religious matters, cooking recipes, infos and fun’.

Nerdy bits: ‘Fondue’ from the French verb fondre – to melt – is associated with Switzerland, but also to the French Savoyarde Alps. The earliest printed recipes come from regions that were independent of both France and Switzerland, so it’s not clear who owns the rights. Despite its association with hardy Alpine life, fondue was more common in lowlands and in towns; peasants would not have been able to afford rich cheese such as Gruyere. Later, the wonderful-sounding Swiss Cheese Union promoted fondue as the Swiss national dish as a way of increasing cheese consumption. (No complaints here.)

RECIPE

200g Appenzeller
200g Emmentaler
200g Gruyere
200g Freiburg Vacherin
350 ml dry white wine

(Equal parts Gruyere and Emmentaler works too if you can’t find the other two).

1 garlic clove
4 tbls ‘Maizena’/ cornflour/or normal flour
1 small glass Kirsch (cherry brandy)
1 tbls Lemon juice
pepper
nutmeg
White bread diced (Should be about a day old; fresh bread is harder to digest)

METHOD:

Rub the fondue pot with the garlic clove

Grate the cheese and soak it in the white wine for at least 2 hours

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Put the cornflour and Kirsch in a glass and mix. This mixture functions as an emulsifier so that the cheese and wine melt together properly.

Put the cheese and wine into the pot, and stir as it melts over heat. Include the lemon juice, the kirsch/cornstarch mixture, and season. Also, some grated nutmeg.

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The challenge is getting the texture right; you want the cheese to be runny, but to stay on the bread.

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When you are melting the cheese on the cooker, sometimes it can seem too thick or too runny. You can use the kirsch and the wine to make it less thick, and the cornflour to make it less thin – but try to wait until it is all melted before you do this.

Once it’s all melted, it’s pretty much done; transfer from hob to the set, and light the thing underneath.  When  about two- thirds of the cheese is gone, crack an egg into the fondue pot and stir. I like to have a pack of the ready-made fondue cheese just for a top- up if you run out of cheese before you run out of appetite, but the real stuff is far superior.

At the end of the fondue, a thin crust of toasted –not burnt – cheese forms at the bottom of the pot. This is called the religieuse (‘nun’) and can be eaten like a cracker.

To drink: dry white wine to serve, something not heavy. Traditionally, people have schnapps or tea for digestion – although some spoilsport pointed me to an actual medical study of fondue, that found no correlation between certain drinks and optimal fondue digestion.

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According to the Swiss tradition, if a man loses his bread in the fondue, he must spring for a round of Schnapps. If a woman drops her bread, she must kiss all the men at the table. (Perhaps this is why fondue was so popular in the wife-swapping ‘70s.)

Recipe: chips, salsa, guacamole & seven layer dip

Chips and dips are a crowd pleaser (as long as you beware the dreaded double dip.)

Some of the best chips I have tried are by Manomasa, who proudly make “tortillas with spirit”.

Available in Salt and Cracked Black Pepper, Chipotle and Lime, and White Cheddar they are crisp, crunchy and totally tasty. What sets them apart are ingredients like caraway seeds, linseeds and pumpkin seeds which give a distinctive texture and flavour.

Although they’re good enough to enjoy on their own, accompaniments like zingy pico de gallo salsa, classic guacamole and the showstopper seven layer dip  make them sing.

Let the chips see the dip!

Pico de gallo salsa recipe

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  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes, drained (if you’re making the 7 layer dip, reserve the juices to cook with the beans)
  • 4-5 fresh tomatoes, deseeded, chopped and drained of excess juices (NB: if you’ve got loads of tasty fresh tomatoes in season, by all means make swap six or so fresh tomatoes for a tin)
  • Juice of 2-3 limes
  • half a red or white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Small handful fresh coriander, stalks and leaves, finely chopped
  • Fresh chilli, finely chopped (to taste – you can use a dash of your favourite hot sauce if you prefer)
  • Sea salt and pepper

Chop everything up finely, mix together, chill before serving.

The trick is to keep tasting as you go. You’re aiming for a good balance of hot, sour, salty flavours with the tomato coming through so you’ll always have to adjust a little depending on how juicy your limes are, how hot your chillies are, how tasty your tomatoes are etc.

I always find that you need to add more salt than you think.

Couple of tips – you really do need to drain the tin of tomatoes and/or deseed fresh ones as it becomes a watery mess if you don’t. A teaspoon of sugar is good if your tomatoes are very acidic or if you accidentally put too much chilli in.

Guacamole recipe

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  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 2-3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • Small handful fresh coriander, stalks and leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fresh tomato, chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • sea salt
  • Fresh chilli, finely chopped (to taste – you can use a dash of your favourite hot sauce if you prefer)

Scoop out the flesh of the avocados and roughly mash with a fork (not too smooth – chunky bits are good!). Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Taste, adjust the seasoning as needed, and serve immediately.

The ultimate seven layer dip recipe

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This tastes even better the day after you make it…

1st layer:
1 tin refried beans
half a red or white onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked chipotle paste

2nd layer:
handful of grated cheddar cheese

3rd layer:
3 tablespoons pickled jalapeños, coarsely chopped

4th layer:
Guacamole (recipe above)

5th layer:
Pico de Gallo salsa (recipe above)

6th layer:
small tub of sour cream

7th layer:
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
a small handful of fresh coriander, chopped

To make the first layer of refried beans: sauté the chopped onion in a little oil for 5 minutes, add the garlic and cumin powder and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the refried beans and chipotle paste, stir until heated through. You will probably need liquid to thin the beans so add a little water (or the drained tomato juice from the pico de gallo) until you have a thick but spreadable/dippable consistency. Taste to check for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the bean mixture to a serving dish (preferably clear so you can see the layers) and spread into an even layer. Sprinkle with the cheese and jalapeños. Using a clean rubber spatula, drop the guacamole in large dollops over the cheese and jalapeños and spread into an even layer. Spread the pico de gallo in an even layer over the guacamole. Using a clean rubber spatula, drop the sour cream in large dollops over the pico de gallo and spread into an even layer, being careful not to disturb the pico de gallo. Sprinkle with the spring onions and coriander.

Open a bag of Manomasa chips and enjoy!