Monday, 16 September 2013

Sheesh, Chigwell

Sheesh is a family run restaurant that sits in the rather splendid building that was once home to Ye Olde King’s Head pub in the centre of Chigwell, Essex. I’ve visited several times and have never had a bad meal here, and what’s more, the atmosphere is always electric - filled with a buzz that is hard to achieve in local restaurants outside of the centre of London.

Primarily, a Turkish theme runs throughout the menu, with some other Mediterranean influences - this is basically a ‘posh kebab house’ as my Dad would call it with a few bells and whistles. As I’ve said, the location and venue is in itself fantastic - as well as a vast dining area, there is also an outside terrace that is heaving in the sunshine and the bar upstairs is lively and they have regular performers on to keep the crowds in after their meals too.

I visited Sheesh a few weeks back on a Friday night with three of my girlfriends, Steph, Jade and Jemma for a meal followed by drinks and dancing in the bar.

We started with some appetisers to share – firstly the ‘Karisik Meze’, a selection of homemade dips including taramasalata, hummous, tzatziki, a tomato and onion dip and two aubergine based dips, one smoky, garlicy baba ghanoush-style dip and one oily tomato based dip. All were great but particular mention must be made for the tarama and the aubergine/tomato dip – delicious.

Clearly the four of us wouldn’t be content with just dips being the greedy sorts we are. To complement our dips we also ordered some fried halloumi cheese, gorgeously salty with that almost crust of flavour on the outside and a nearly-gooey interior as well as a plate of ‘sigara boregi’. A plate full of filo pastry cylinders filled with cheese and spinach –calorific but exceptionally tasty. With a satisfying crunch as you bite in, but filled with the most moreish soft and tempting centre.

Jade and Jemma each chose a dish from the ‘specials’ menu, veering away from the traditional dishes. Jade opted for the ‘Kleftico’, different from the Greek version that I know, this was a lamb shank cooked slowly in a tomato and vegetable sauce with the potatoes cooked in the sauce. Not being a fan of lamb, this is something I wouldn’t normally try but the aroma of it was incredibly appetising and so I tried a small little mouthful and was pleasantly surprised. The meat was so tender from the long, slow cooking process and was filled with flavour. Jade certainly enjoyed.

Jemma chose the ‘Kremali Tavuk’, a special of chicken breast served in a creamy red and green pepper and mushroom sauce. The chicken was succulent and moist and the cream sauce was to die for – delicious with some of the pita dipped in. A portion of asparagus made up the rest of Jemma’s meal and it really is worthy of mention alone. It came drizzled in a garlic and herb butter that is simply to-die-for and is then scattered with sea salt which gives that added, flavourful crunch – sensational.

Steph and I both ordered from the huge charcoal grill situated at the end of the main section of the restaurant. We wasn’t sitting in that area on this particular evening, but if you are making an evening of it at Sheesh, try to request a table in this area as it is fabulous to watch the kitchen staff at work – but be warned if you are heading out elsewhere after your meal, you may find yourself coated in eau de kebab.

I chose the ‘Tavuk Sis’ or chicken shish kebab which was exceptional as always. The chicken was juicy and beautifully spiced with just a hint of chilli. Served with a colourful salad of sliced onion, carrots, red cabbage, green leaves and a chopped tomato and cucumber combo as well as a whole, raw chilli the kebab was sitting aboard a flat-bread. Several sauces come alongside anything cooked on the charcoal grill – all of varying heat - Steph and I were both keen on the extra hot which packed a serious punch. A great dish.

Steph embarked on a Woman vs Food mission and chose the ‘Karisek Grille’ – the mixed grill, a selection of all of the meats cooked over the grill. Now all four of us love our food, but we were impressed by Steph as she managed to eat all of the meat on the grill (with a little help from us having the odd nibble).

She had no complaints whatsoever and as well as the same flatbread and salad that came with mine, Steph’s meal consisted of the chicken shish that I had, lamb shish, a lamb chop, a marinated chicken wing, a lamb kofta, and a minced chicken meatball. All were pleasing, but Steph’s particular favourites were actually the chicken and lamb shish that Sheesh do so, so well.

We had an impressive three bottles of the Moko Black New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc at the table too and after paying the bill, around £180 including service, we headed up to the bar to enjoy the live singer. A lovely soulful singer who belted out some absolute old school tunes, veering between Motown and modern songs, it wasn’t long before the combination of great atmosphere and a round of Aperol Spritz and Champagne cocktails had the four of us up dancing, and we were not alone.

Service was good throughout the evening and we really did have a fabulous time. My only slight gripe would be the fact you can only have the table for a certain amount of time, and when our two-hour slot was up the waiters were hovering around us quite blatantly, which as we were only heading upstairs was a tad irritating.

I would certainly recommend Sheesh for a good night out in Essex – great food, drinks and atmosphere are provided so the only thing you need is good company like I had on this particular evening.

Sheesh on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A Vegetarian Afternoon Tea, Hix at Selfridges

My friend Larni and I are going to New York in a mere five weeks for six days of fabulousness and we have been doing a lot of shopping to prepare for our Big Apple wardrobe, a lot! A recent West End retail jaunt on a Sunday was completed by taking in a pre-arranged vegetarian afternoon tea at Hix Restaurant & Champagne Bar at Selfridges.

We planned our shopping trip to finish up in Selfridges and then relax over tea and cake  and as I’m not a vegetarian, I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy a selection of savouries minus the meat, but I needn’t have worried as it was all very appetising.

We each got our own stand filled with treats and at the price of £21.50 per person, it  represented really good value for money. There was a good selection of teas to choose from, although Larni and I are not the most sophisticated when it comes to our tea and just opted for an ordinary breakfast blend. I was a little disappointed that we were presented with chipped tea pots that I felt should have been replaced, but this was the only down point we noticed at Hix.

The savouries included finger sandwiches with a duck-egg mayonnaise, Larni really enjoyed these but I bypassed as I don’t enjoy eggs unless they are baked into a cake. We also each had a naughty but nice mini cheese toastie which was lovely and it was nice to have a little hot savoury alongside the other cold options.

The other two savouries included a tomato crostini topped with a sliver of hard cheese – not the most creative, but certainly tasty. And finally, my favourite - a little sourdough toast topped with delicious homemade guacamole – wonderful.

Onto the sweets,  the most exciting part of the tea – five portions of utter deliciousness. Firstly we each had half of a plain and a fruit scone topped with the obligatory clotted cream and some strawberry jam. The scones were cooked perfectly with the perfect balance of sweet and savoury and were offset beautifully with the accompaniments, they were, for me a very welcome introduction into the sweet coma I was about to enter.

We had been advised to eat one of the treats quickly – this was basically the equivalent of a fancy Tunnocks Teacake  but with a twist. It had a biscuit base, was filled with a glorious pistachio ice cream and then encased with delicious dark chocolate and then finished with some sweetened pistachio shards. Unusual but divine and great to have something I’ve never encountered when having afternoon tea elsewhere before.

We had a mini lemon meringue pie too which was equally impressive. The pies were tiny little pastry confections filled with a rather fluid citrus centre, only a couple of bites to eat, but the kind of bites where you really savour the flavour. The meringue topping was OK as a contrast in texture but was a little bland.

The final confection was the finale for both Larni and myself, and what a showstopper. A rather perfectly portioned wedge of rich chocolate cake, that was moist, unctuous and almost gooey in texture, with a gorgeous flavour of chocolate and topped with a silky chocolate ganache. This is the type of cake that usually I would have a dollop of cream with, but you just didn’t need it, it was pure poetry on a plate – perfection.

Service was perfectly polite at Hix and we were seated with a view down onto the ground floor of Selfridges which was great for people watching and there’s nothing better than enjoying an indulgent afternoon tea at your own, slow pace whilst watching the world frantically go by.

Hix Restaurant & Champagne Bar on Urbanspoon 

Friday, 6 September 2013

Penne with Smokey Tomato & Vegetable Sauce (Vegetarian)

There are tons of variations of tomato based pasta sauces but this is one of my new favourites. With the addition of fresh chilli for heat and enhanced by smoky paprika, it’s a simple meal but incredibly enjoyable. 

The longer you cook off the sauce the more intense the flavours become, but it can be ready, realistically, in twenty minutes so is perfect for mid-week. I make enough here for two for dinner and two smaller portions which make perfect lunchtime fodder for the next day.

Here’s how:
·         1 tin of chopped tomatoes
·         1 onion
·         2 cloves garlic
·         50g pitted black olives
·         1 red pepper
·         1 red chilli
·         2 tbsp tomato puree
·         2 tsp smoked paprika
·         Salt & Pepper
·         1-2 tbsp olive oil

Firstly roughly dice the onion and slice the garlic then add to a pan on a low heat in about a tablespoon of olive oil and gently sauté.

Finely slice the chilli and add to the pan. Slice the pepper and olives and similarly add to the pan.

Once all veg is starting to soften, add the tin of tomatoes to the pan with the tomato puree. Season generously and add the paprika and stir through with a wooden spoon.

Cook off for twenty-thirty minutes, stirring regularly. Taste and add seasoning if needed or if you’d like a more smoky flavour, another teaspoon of paprika.

Cook the penne according to the packet and before draining use a ladle to capture half a ladle full of the cooking water and add to the sauce and stir through.

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce, stirring through to ensure all pasta is evenly coated.

You can of course add some fresh parsley or basil at this point before serving – but personally I don’t bother, it’s practically perfect without.


Another busy week - welcoming in September

Once again, time passes so quickly and with so many delicious bites in between that I don’t always have time to include on here, so another short round-up of some of the tasty morsels to have passed my lips in the past week or so. Before I start I feel duty-bound to warn you, it has not been a ‘skinny’ week!

On Friday I went to Portobello Road market for the first time, incredibly quaint and full of eccentrics with a mixture of genuine vintage and not-so-fabulous jumble-sale items, it was a fun way to spend a Friday lunch. Heading back to the office, we stumbled upon the gorgeous Bluebelles Café a gorgeous little café and coffee shop with a number of enticing baked goods on display. I had an iced latte, a ‘Classic’ sandwich of ham and cheese with bread baked on the premises and then an utterly glorious, rich and moist slice of mocha cake which you can see below. A new haunt I fear!

A dinner at my parents with the boyfriend comprised an absolute feast of delicious things including an aubergine parmigianna dish, seafood en papillote – or cooked in a bag with pasta and these utterly delicious little stuffed mushrooms. A simple but incredibly moreish mixture comprising garlic, Gorganzola cheese, finely diced onion and breadcrumbs – phenomenal!

I visited Street Feast on Saturday with my brother Dan and two friends, Jade and Steph and enjoyed an absolute array of gorgeousness. It was the Spanish Street Fiesta theme organised by the lovely Gizzi Erskine, and some of the tasty bits we enjoyed included Salt Yard goats-cheese-stuffed courgette flower drizzled with honey, Copa De Cava’s/ Camino’s delectable pork cheeks with olive oil mash, unbelievably divine rib-tips from Smokestak, pork belly and lamb ribs from Morito as well as delicious Cava Sangria. A fantastic day and some of the deliciousness can be viewed below.

Finally, I attempted my first ever chocolate tart using a recipe from BBC Good Food which you can find here:

It wasn’t quite as elegant as I’d like – but with a dollop of Rodda’s clotted cream and a drizzle of the hot chocolate sauce, it wasn’t half bad either!

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Mediterranean Pork Belly Strips

This is a simple but immensely satisfying meal that is very easy on the purse-strings too.

Pork belly strips are very inexpensive but deliciously fatty. Picked up for only £3-4, when these are treated nicely they are just fab and this meal is particularly comforting.

I very simply baked on a bed of cherry tomatoes, peppers and black olives with garlic for a real taste of the Mediterranean and when accompanied with Greek Roasted Lemon Potatoes it really is to die for. Rather than a sauce, the juice made from the pork fat, tomatoes and peppers works a treat.

Once the chopping and assembling is done – this can all be bunged in the oven for 45 minutes and you can sit and relax with a glass of wine, or get on with bits and bobs at home, safe in the knowledge a gorgeous meal is in progress that takes next to no nurturing.

Here’s how:

·         Packet of pork belly stips
·         Handful of cherry tomatoes
·         Handful of black olives
·         Few cloves of garlic, skin on
·         1 red and yellow pepper
·         1 tbsp olive oil
·         Salt & Pepper
·         1 tbsp dried oregano

Firstly get the oven on around 180-200 degrees and prepare the veg. The tomatoes need to be halved, the peppers sliced and the olives sliced into 2-3 pieces, depending on the size. Then scatter with the garlic into an oven-proof dish.

Season the pork belly strips generously on both sides then place on top of the ‘bed’ of tomatoes, olives and peppers. Next drizzle over a good glug of olive oil, the best quality you have to-hand and finally scatter over some dried oregano.

Place into the oven and roast for 45 minutes-an hour, depending on your oven and how crispy you like the strips to be.

Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes - Serious Sides

These are the first in my ‘Serious Sides’ series of posts. I’ve realised that I have a ton of side dishes that I constantly make, that friends ask for when visiting that need to get a mention on here.

These Greek Lemon Roasted Potatoes are a favourite, whether with a roast chicken, fish, or with pork as I used with my Mediterranean Pork Belly Strips.

This recipe is enough for two with leftovers that make a very tasty accompaniment to sliced meat and salad for lunch the next day.

Here’s how:

·         400g large Charlotte potatoes
·         1 onion
·         3 cloves of garlic
·         1 tbsp dried oregano
·         150ml olive oil
·         1 ½ lemons
·         Salt & Pepper

I prepare the potatoes as I would for general roast potatoes. Firstly pop the oven on around 180-200◦ and then peel and wash the potatoes. Cut into half or quarter and plunge into boiling, salted water and par-boil for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, peel and slice your white onion and garlic cloves and squeeze the juice from the two lemons and set aside. Then cut the lemons into chunks and place into an ovenproof dish.

After fifteen minutes, drain the potatoes and give a good shake to ‘scuff up’ a little in the colander. Then place into the ovenproof dish. Throw over the onion and garlic and give a good mix with a wooden spoon.

Pour over the olive oil, lemon juice, season well and give a good scattering of oregano and then give a good shake. Cover with foil and place into the oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the dish and replace to the oven for a further 30 minutes or until just starting to crisp.

You should be left with deliciously soft centred, just-crisp on the outside and lemony fragrant potatoes that are divine.