Mathew Bose


The foodstuff they all love to hate at the moment is sugar, so to properly quote (and yet bastardise) that most often misquoted saying…the love of sugar is the root of all evil…or is it…?

In truth we need some sugar, it’s one of our bodies preferred fuels. The naturally occurring sugars in plants and fruits, that is, (such as sucrose) all become glucose the body’s favourite fuel. NOT the refined, derived commodity that has taken over our dietary world – which is what this post is about. Over thousands of years our bodies have developed an ability to process sugar one way or another, not at the amounts we are consuming it, but fundamentally. And, like many things these days, there is a dividing attitude to sugar…there’s good sugar and bad sugar you might hear said, or may even believe it yourself….but it’s not actually true. Sorry. So-called ‘natural’ sweeteners can be almost as bad, high in fructose and with an equal quantity of calories, and yet, artificial ones like stevia and sucralose are being touted as safe and almost marvellous…it’s a candy-coated minefield…and potentially a deadly poison.

So, let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this (before it gets to ours) or at least stir up a few of yer-actual-facts and, as per, arm ourselves with information. Let’s be thorough about this and start with the question, ‘What is sugar?’

Sugar is the term used for a group of sweet substances that are used in, and as, food. They are a carbohydrate and classed as ’empty calories’ (having the same energy content as other calories but have none of the redeeming additions like fibre or any vitamins or minerals). So already you see OBVIOUSLY not all calories are the same, right…?

There are various types that come from different sources but the main source for many decades has been sugar cane (and sugar beets) which itself has been the subject of much wrangle and fighting. Sugar is an ancient commodity and was being processed from sugar cane in India half a century before Christ was born but it wasn’t until the boom in production during the eighteenth century that it went so global and The West clamoured for this sweet fix and simply couldn’t get enough. It’s arguable it’s been like that ever since but has also brought the dark clouds of illness with it by association – diabetes, tooth decay, obesity and various other horrors have been, and are being linked to the consumption of sugar.

Essentially sugar starts out as, say, sugar cane and the juice (sucrose) is extracted by pulping the canes and then clarified. This juice has water extracted and the resulting syrup is heated until crystals form. The last remaining moisture is separated from these crystals with centrifugal force and the resulting brown solids are called ‘raw’ sugar. To create white sugar this raw product is treated with chemicals (sulphur dioxide) and filtered and dried to prevent it clumping.

Brown sugars are this same white sugar with a varying amount of the dark surface molasses left in tact or simply added back – be aware that often brown sugar is simply white sugar with a tinge of the molasses, that was extracted in the refining process, reintroduced to colour it…yes, I’m afraid so…BUT HOLD ON…what am I saying?!? It’s all the same thing anyway and even though the sugar companies will argue it’s a ‘natural product’ and doesn’t contain any artificial preservatives, colourings or any other additives…it also doesn’t contain anything useful. Arguing less refined sugar is better for you is ridiculous not least because the sugar canes and sugar beets contained practically zero nutrients in the first place.

Common white sugars like granulated, castor and icing are the same thing but in different granule size. Icing sugar is powdered and has cornstarch added to keep it from clumping. There’s even a possibility that our sugar isn’t actually vegetarian and certainly not vegan…if the filtration process used a form of ‘natural carbon’ otherwise known as bone char! White sugars and brown sugars have the same nutritional value regardless of the molasses content…so that’s the end of ‘have brown sugar it’s healthier’ as an idea! It’s all the same. But is it really bad for us?

Sugar performs a huge variety of functions in food products, in addition to providing a sweet taste and flavour. Sugar is used as a preservative, to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, to hold moisture and prevent staleness, to enhance texture and colours, and to support fermentation in products containing yeast, such as bread. It is also used to counteract the loss of flavour when fat is taken out of foodstuffs. In these roles and others, sugar is an important and versatile fixture for these industries…but not for us.

Yes, we need sugar but in such minute doses compared to the amount we actually consume.Eating things that are termed ‘natural whole foods’ as much as possible is the key. This is basically meat, vegetables and fruit that haven’t been treated or processed in any way. Thousands of everyday items you buy in packets, tins and the like will have sugar in them somewhere. Some obvious some not so. Here’s a list of the most infamous:

…beet, brown, cane, confectionary, corn, granulated, inverted, maple, raw and turbinado sugars…

…agave, corn, high fructose corn, malt and rice syrups…

…corn sweetener, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, fruit juice concentrate, honey, isomalt, maltodextrin, molasses, sorghum and treacle!

Then there’s mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol (all sugar alcohols)…

…and don’t forget dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, saccharose, sucrose, xylose.

(We need a tune to sing this to and learn so we never forget them…)

These and refined grain products, like the much vilified High Fructose Corn Syrup, have crept into everything these days from obvious places like cans of pop to more hidden culprits like bread, yoghurt and cereal. A majority of processed foods and packaged, tinned and pre-prepared items have sugar in (especially those labelled low and non-fat). Read the labels in your cupboards now and you will be staggered how many everyday things have sugar of one form or another added to them (and salt but we will cover that later). This is SO IMPORTANT because the ‘hidden’ sugar slipped in under a name we don’t recognise, and therefore rarely stop to explore, is just as dangerous (if not more so if it’s a lab created Franken-sugar!) Please be vigilant…!

If you believe that honey or agave is better for you than sugar than please look away now. It is not. Ok, in a trump card style battle RAW honey would only beat sugar due to the most tenuous things. Yes it does have a less-empty-calorie card to play but it is so minimal as to be almost embarrassing. Okay it tastes nicer and it has antibacterial qualities which make it good for soothing your throat but it is still a high calorie item and around 50% fructose. Use it in face packs and sparingly in your food. Agave is another much touted ‘healthier’ option, but no, no, no! It has a high fructose content (sometimes as much as 80%) which means it’s sweeter and you might use less, but please it’s really no improvement. AND fructose is THE sugar to avoid of all the sugars. Agave is usually processed to oblivion and doesn’t remotely resemble the original natural plant product. If you must, then sweeten your life with whole fruit which also gives you nutrients, hydration and fibre.

So switch to sweeteners I hear you cry. Oh dear. Please no. True, you’ll not have a single calorie to worry about but you are instead putting an unknown chemical in your body, which has no long term testing to support it, and therefore has no vindicating evidence that it does in fact have any effect on weight loss. In fact, recent research has shown that the excessive sweetness of these substances can trick your body by priming it to prepare for a huge calorific meal and react badly when it doesn’t get it!

Stevia should be mentioned here as it is the newest hottest contender in the sweetener market place and, since being given a good food safety rating, it is being flung in everything. It is incredibly sweet and leaves you with that strong after taste of ‘sweeteners’ which some people apparently enjoy…! It comes from a subtropical shrub and has been used for eons by indigenous South Americans but using this as a factoid to promote it, or define it’s sugar replacing miraculous qualities, is missing the point entirely! The point being that those same indigenous types weren’t also eating all the other sugar riddled crap and anyway, more vitally, whatever sweetener you are using you are still craving and perpetuating the ‘sweet cravings’, meaning it is effecting your every choice in your food and drink intake, increasing it and actually damaging your body.

So, let’s face some facts together, and be brave, shall we? Sugar is not good in whatever form really (as it is processed the same within the body), sugar of one sort or another is simply in everything (often hidden) and we are consuming a mind boggling amount of it and this overloading is causing our bodies to crash and burn. Some reports even go as far as to say that sugar is more addictive than cocaine.

This perspective comes from the invasive way sugars and refined carbs give us that quickening of the system and elevation of mood that we all know so well…just as we all know that feeling of slumping and sluggishness that follows. Reports conclude that the prolong exposure to this kind of abuse to our bodies is causing anxiety and depression along with the more publicised disease and obesity issues.

Sugar in any form is unnecessary and bad for your body. Full stop. There’s no point trying to arrange them into some kind of sliding scale of allowability or health. So-called natural or not, too much of anything sweet with sugars or refined carbohydrates is going to bad for you.

The glucose the body needs can be found (i.e. extracted) in abundance in whole grains, legumes, vegetables and, specially when the sweet tooth kicks in, fruit. Otherwise, the only thing better for you than sugar is simply to have nothing…

…hmmm, so I guess it’s time for a little sugar detox, weaning myself off sweet things and embracing natural flavours. Wish me luck…!

P.S I was sent this interesting article (thanks Grace):

Mathew Bose

Spam fritters…

First a word about Spam. The tins don’t have the nutritional values on them. I think I know why. A 2oz slice (roughly a sixth of the can) has not only the faintest trace of a vitamin, but 15g of fat in it (6g saturated) and 767mg of sodium! That’s a quarter of your daily allowance of fat and third of your daily allowance of salt in one slice! Some protein, and practically no carbs on the other hand (clutching at straws)…it’s hardly a fair swap before you get too excited…

I saw this before I even opened the can but pressed on regardless (something about angels and fools treading) and the first impact you get is from the smell, which is, to be frank, enough to send you reeling. Cold sweaty cat food.


The dog, however, moved faster than has ever been known and was drawn to the tin as if by some kind of olfactory tractor beam and she begged and quivered and gibbered around me. Make of that what you will…

Then the glistening lurid pinkness of it as it emerges (easier said than done it turns out) from the tin all congealed and claggy…oof! Still, I’m intrepid (read a fool) if nothing else, so I slice it into six slices and begin the trial. ‘Fully cooked. Ready to eat hot or cold’ it proudly boasts on the can so I bite into the cold candy pink slab…what can I say?!? Hell…it’s salty!! @*%k me!! Hmmm this is a problem. I love salt but even I think this is like a mouthful of the Dead Sea so I put a couple of slices in a dish of cold water in an attempt to draw some of the salt out.

With the remaining four slices I tried the following ‘fritter’ action…don’t judge me…

  1. The straight forward fry. Literally just fried it till it crisped up on both sides.
  2. A basic batter like for fish and chips (I used self raising flour as that’s what I had to hand, so just flour and water – no seasoning as that can retard the crisping process, I’m told – beaten to a smooth thin batter).
  3. Then the same as above but with a sort of Welsh Rarebit twist! I added wholegrain mustard, Worcester sauce and paprika.
  4. The above but with strong cheddar added (only cheese I had in). This seems like lunacy as the saltiness will be increased but I am clearly heady with mild hysteria and just throwing caution and sense to the wind. You can tell I was getting desperate to find something to counter act the Spam…render it edible…

Well, I think you can already imagine what it all tasted like. Yup…salt. Porky salt at times and then a surprise hint of mustard or cheese for a second then back to salt. The silver lining was I downed a couple of glasses of crisp, ice cold Chenin to quench my blinding thirst – the water had been turned off…apparently…

So what of the soaked slices…?

It’s so robust it didn’t even flinch from being soaked for an hour! So, I dipped a finger in the water and guess what…? (I know this is boringly predictable isn’t it?) Ah-ha!! Gotcha!! It didn’t taste of salt! The soaking hadn’t made any difference at all except it had left a weird film on the water…I’ve chosen to ignore that. An apprehensive nibble at the corner of a piece revealed it to taste exactly the same – although at this point by tongue felt like a piece of beef jerky so it’s not to be trusted. I’m so loathe to reject, waste or give up on any food that I started imagining what I could do to salvage the Spam and keep it in the canon of allowable food stuffs. It was probably the chenin but I begun to think that if I made a form of Spam-hash from it (no! Not to smoke…) the potatoes might absorb and disperse the saltiness etc and hey panko it’d be transformed into a good hearty brunch item, slap a fried egg on it…mmmm…then the glass began to slip from my hand and I woke myself up from this nightmare and chucked the lot in the bin.

Spam is banished. Whatever preparation the underlying fact is it’s painfully high in fat and salt so why bother? There is never going to be another mention of it and the remaining tin I have at home will be ceremoniously destroyed. I applied to have it jettisoned into space but NASA predicted its salt content alone would cause it to return to earth within ninety minutes and probably clobber me on the head…karma innit…

Just to really mess with all our heads I did the exact same with a tin of corned beef as well. I have no idea why. None. The tin was there and I figured I’ll never eat it otherwise and caught up in the craziness of Spamgate I just went with it. I even tried an extra stage with the corned beef though – I added Branston pickle to the batter…

…I need to go and lie down…

Mathew Bose

Durga Puja…

As I may have said already, although I am half Indian, I grew up in Mid Sussex so I know nack all about India really. However, recently The Father has been visiting from India and always around this time of the year, which happens to include an event that I have tagged along to for the last few years…Durga Puja (Worship of Durga). First then my version of who Durga is and the history of this festival. I say my version as it’s a complex subject filled with wondrous elements of Hindu philosophy and tradition, historical significance and the most lustrous artistry and ritual…and food.

Durga is one of the most powerful and popular incarnations of Mahadevi – the Great (mother) Goddess – an all encompassing female deity – and the irascible beauty is usually depicted in a warrior pose, with her many arms brandishing deadly weapons, and riding on a lion. Differing beliefs have her as an avatar of Parvati (the gentle yet powerful incarnation of Mahadevi and wife to Shiva and mother to Ganesh) or either created by the male gods to banish evil or, claim she is, in fact, an ancient and original Grain Goddess.

Durga’s most famous and enduring story is of her great defeat of the buffalo demon Mahishasura who had brought about a reign of terror in both heaven and earth. According to the story Durga was born out of the combined energy of the Hindu Trinity of Brahma (Creator), Vishnu (Maintainer), Shiva (Destroyer) as a fearsome warrior Goddess to defeat this rampaging and seemingly unstoppable demon as he could not be killed by a man or a god. Various gods gave her their weapons to arm her to defeat Mahishasura and it is this victory (and generally the victory of good over evil) that is celebrated at Durga Puja.

My Indian family is from West Bengal and Durga Puja is a big, big deal there, easily the biggest festival of the year and is basically a several day celebration! Before the worshipping and offerings can start there is a years worth of planning and intense work that has occurred to create and bring Durga to life. At temples and makeshift structures set up anywhere there is enough space (pandals) there are effigies of Durga and usually her associated children (Ganesh (via Parvati) – remover of obstacles, Lakshmi – wealth and prosperity (material and spiritual), Saraswati – knowledge, music, science and arts and Karthik – warfare and beauty. There are famous and much admired sculptors (and workshops) who make the more prestigious versions. As the event at the London Durga Puja is so huge and well supported they have a fantastic, beautifully sculpted set of gods. The Camden Centre is the home of the festival and their website says this about their gods:

‘Our present protima is a work of art, especially sculpted by the legendary sculptor Shri Ramesh Chandra Paul of Kumartuli, Kolkata on commission by the world renowned industrialist Mr Lakshmi N. Mittal Chairman of LMN Group/Ispat International Ltd., for the London Durga Puja Dusserah Committee as a gift.’

…and what a fabulous gift it is!

I remember a few years back The British Museum hosted the entire building and sculpting of the set of gods right in the atrium and I went there to watch the amazing, mind bogglingly skilful creation of these beautiful and majestic effigies. Here’s a link to some photos of the event:

I love the ritual and mass gathering and celebrations that attending this festival brings. The place is packed and buzzing with hundreds of families and individuals all coming along to give thanks, be blessed and have a good catch up. Various stages of the Puja are celebrated on different days and during the day there are many announcements for opportunities to be blessed or make offerings.

Being as this is a mass of Indians there has to be food involved! A form of Kitchari (a delicious and gentle mix of daal, rice, vegetables and spices that is ideal for detoxing) was being served but I was drawn to the samosas and vegetable cutlets that where being offered at a makeshift corner stall! These Bong (Bengali) specialities are so good it’s almost bad. The vegetable cutlets are a sublime combination of mashed potato and spices with peas and then some (or all) of many other variables like green beans, grated beetroot, carrots, cashews and coriander leaves. It’s the thin crust of breadcrumbs that’s so amazing though. Not some heavy handed gloopy coating but a fragile and crunchy shell. Wow! 

Bengali style samosas (singara) are a rare treat too! Crispy but soft outer casing crammed with a potato based filling. It’s the whole seeds that make these so tasty I think. Panch phoron (puran) is a ‘five spices’ combo used often in East Indian cooking consisting of cumin seeds (jeera), fenugreek seeds (methi), nigella seeds (kalonji), fennel seeds (saunf), black mustard seeds (rai).

They were being sold in threes so I mumbled something about an OCD issue about eating things in odd numbers and bought six…for the family at home of course! But sadly I must have left them on the bus on the way home as they never made it through the front door…(smiles innocently…)

There were various sweets available at the festival too, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the super sweet, soaked or syrupy varities. However, there was a sweet that you don’t see that often in regular places…it’s called Kanchagolla. I’ll grant you it’s a little like Rasgulla (Rasogolla) but without the syrup…kinda…anyhoo…it is absolutely fabulous. Made with full cream milk paneer and a little sugar (it’s not as sickly as other Indian sweets) and cardamon.

These I didn’t ‘lose on the bus’ and even those who usually find Indian sweets too rich, and overwhelmingly clawing, loved ’em! Apparently they are very easy to make…hmmm…maybe I’ll give them a go. All in the name of appeasing Durga you understand…I mean, we wouldn’t want her to get angry would we? We wouldn’t like her when she’s angry…

Mathew Bose

My eating escapade…part 2

I suppose normal people would have enjoyed the dessert at Bill’s and stopped there and languished in the lemony glow (maybe lit a tab in a post summat-or-other way…) but I have an issue with normal and Lucy thinks it’s a swear word of the most unpleasant proportions when connected to eating so…I had barely scrapped a finger around the inside of my Hedgerow Fizz glass for the eighth time when madam looked at me and said, ‘cactus taco?’. Who can refuse a beautiful blond woman who hits you with that chat up line…?!?

The taco in question is the ‘must try’ (they say) on the menu at Wahaca – the place for ‘Mexican market eating’  It has a funky, almost other-worldy air of confronting you with a brash desire to give you a good time and a glorious crash, bang, boom of colour and energy (the website will give you the general idea!) Which means, of course, I already love it without sampling a single thing. But we all know that style over content is just plain wrong and bad. Wacaha can deliver though. The super friendly staff at the Wardour Street branch (a cavernous place with some crazy-ass lighting fixtures!) were even happy to let us just sit and have the tacos (I think they could tell by the intent (read ‘manic’) look in our eyes we meant business). Other things caught our eye though, you’ll not be at all surprised to hear, and so we settled down to Horchata – an almond and rice milk drink with a hint of cinnamon, and a Chelada – a beer (in this case Pacifico Clara) with lime juice and a salt rim! Beer tequila style! (There is a tequila bar downstairs at this branch but I stayed well away from it. Me and tequila are arch enemies. Only a Paul A. Young chocolate with it in is allowed…actually encouraged.) Chunks of crisp fried sweet potato with an amazing smoky, caramelised version of mojo de ajo arrived. Mojo de ajo is an amazing thing you can make yourself and use for seasoning, marinating, cooking, dipping or generally dousing things in. I recommend the garlic and chilli (chipotle) version although there is an only garlic one too. Okay, if you picture a big green spiky thing with ‘arms’ or Road Runner whenever you hear the word cactus then it may not be the first thing you’d order but if you’ve never had cactus then I recommend it very strongly. I know you are asking what it tastes like, but the answer is truly it tastes like…cactus. Okay, okay but don’t let the following list of things put you off if you don’t like them! Promise? Okay, so, I guess it’s taste and texture is a cross between courgette, green beans, un-sweet melon, very mild green pepper…this isn’t helping! Just try it! FYI the cactus in question is the ‘paddles’ of the Prickly Pear cactus (the red pear shaped fruits are edible also and have a similar taste only sweeter) and it is good for you too with a fair few vitamins and minerals and a reported ability to reduce cholesterol – a massive boon for Lucy and me considering our recent intake! The tacos are delicious and have a thin wafer of crisp grilled cheese on them and they are topped off with guajillo oil. Guajillo oil is another garlic and chilli (guajillo chilli’s this time) concoction and adds a touch of heat (if you make your own then the more seeds left in the more heat) but a great contrasting, earthy depth to the light and bright taste of the cactus and courgette.

Although I am half Indian, I grew up in Mid-Sussex so could have ended up knowing naff all about India really but the genes will out they say (ain’t that the truth about everything?!?) so I adore Indian food. I am spoiled, though, and have eaten Indian food in Indian homes (if you haven’t then I promise you it will revolutionise the way you approach and eat Indian food – hmmm…I see a future post forming! Shall pilfer The Sister’s recipes…) so that mix of preparation and flavours is the only way forward for me. Everyday dishes and street food basically. So, when I was walking behind Selfridges one day and found myself down wind of the most excellent Indian kitchen smells I did what any glutton would do and abandoned my previous mission and followed my nose. Following the stream of scent like the kids in the Bisto ad I walked into Roti Chai So, when Lucy said she fancied some Indian food I knew exactly the place to return to. Roti Chai discretely opened it’s doors (i.e they didn’t tell me about it…bloody cheek…) and is the solo venture from Rohit Chugh previously MD of the renown Cinnamon Club. It’s a restaurant of two halves, the upstairs dedicated to ‘The Street Kitchen’ and the down stairs…well, other things! I don’t know about downstairs as I’ve never made it down there. The draw of Papri Chaat, Railway Lamb Curry and their superb Tarka Daal never allows me to descend into the murky under world of ‘The Dining Room’. I love street food and I think ‘Chaat’ type snack food is sublime. The word Chaat is used to describe savoury snacks, especially the road-side kind, but distilled down from various derivations could mean ‘a delicacy to lick and devour noisily’! The Mother and I used to frequent Ravi Shankar on Drummond Street for various puri combos (and the Dahi Vada!) and the sensational Mysore Masala Dosa. YUM! A lot of reviewers of Roti Chai will encourage you to have the more famous Bhel Puri but I urge you to have to Papri Chaat. Papri refers to the crisp dough wafer that is usually piled high with pieces of boiled potatoes, chick peas, yoghurt, a tamarind chutney or sauce, sev (thin strands of deep fried noodles made from chick pea flour) and some chaat masala (A combination of spices like cumin, dried mango powder, black salt, ginger etc – I think it’s all about the black salt though!) RC serves a long plate of these intensely delicious north Indian snacks. The combination of a big gob and greed means I hoy the entire thing in my mush in one go. The flavours all withstand each other and step forward to present themselves and take a well deserved bow. Please try it…it’s actually sublime! The Railway Lamb Curry is so beyond words that I’m struggling to describe it. It’s rendered me speechless…and anyone who knows me knows that’s damn near a miracle…! So, I’ll digress (as per) into a mini history lesson. This type of dish was developed during the days of the Raj when travelling by rail was quite cool and really the only way to transport oneself from the hot, grimy heat of the cities up into the leafy, lush and cooler hill stations. Slightly tart (from the tamarind juice) and quite mild, yet with deeply earthy flavours, matching the meltingly soft lamb, makes this a dish for all curry lovers. Tarka Daal (a daal finished off with garlic) is my absolute favourite. A staple food of a huge majority in India, daal (and) rice and a stunning combination in it’s simplicity and nutritional value. I think of it, like many Indians I know, as comfort food. The Tarka Daal at RC is like I remember from India and gives me such a serious comfort rush! It also has curry leaves in it which I love so much it’s actually a bit perverse. Mixed with rice (I had white at RC but at home I’d totally go with some nutty brown or even a mix with some crunchy, woody wild rice) it is a dish fit for kings and eaten by all ages, classes, castes and beyond. At RC they have a signature drink. It is a cocktail in a teapot. Camp? Well, yes. But worth the risk. A lychee martini arrives in a teapot (for two people technically but…yes, you guessed it…we had one each) and is poured into robust tumblers, another example of the split personality of the restaurant. The exotic floral sweetness of lychee swirled around the other dishes and brought out, and yet brought together, all the elements to make for one hell of a good meal!

Swooning as I was from this heart-achingly delicious saunter through Indian street food I allowed myself to be led like a lamb to the über hyped shrine of Barrafina The stools only, seated around the bar, sister restaurant to Fino is a first come first served tapas bar in the heart of Soho’s Frith Street that has the creed that fresh ingredients are served with no fuss and no frills. It’s self-assuredly busy from the minute it opens at noon. A line forms and everyone seems actually keen to wait so that has to be a good sign. There are people there having a swift few plates for a quick meal and others there seeming to be hunkered down to try everything on the menu till they burst in some unseemly Monty Python way. Luckily we found a two spot and wedged ourselves in. Now I should point out at this point we were thinking we would have to reign ourselves in a bit, but faced with a menu of items that trigger a spark of lust deep down somewhere unmentionable then what’s an addict to do?!? Pimientos de Padron could arguably be a dish we could have skipped but why deny yourself the roulette of eating these. Huh? I hear you say but the ‘fun’ is that one of these searingly green mini peppers will be scorchingly hot! Whether the odds are it’s one in ten or ten per cent or whatever…all that pales into insignificance if you pick the one pepper on the plate that is going to rip you a new sinus system and have you praying you put water proof mascara on! Sod’s law would have it that yours truly picked that very rascal first time and bit a big healthy chunk out of it before the heat hit. Crikey. It wasn’t as bad as I’d expected and I ended up enjoying the volatile oils punching their way into my mouth and took my mind off the heat by thinking about the health aspect (I didn’t do anything of the sort, of course, but we will now…) Padrons contain good things like vitamins, iron and calcium and they are reported to be beneficial for your digestive system, circulation, blood pressure and cholesterol…the little darlings…well, except for that hot one. We coveted an octopus dish (Octopus and Capers) we saw glistening and succulent in front of our neighbours. I do understand if you’re thinking ‘eew’ because I used to be a tad squeamish about things that look like the thing they ‘were’ (suckers and tentacles never have eat-appeal I think) but I made a vow with myself that if I was willing to eat a nicely, politely packaged homogenised part of a creature then I had to embrace the less neutralised bits. Octopus has a wonderfully meaty texture and isn’t ‘fishy’ or chewy (when it’s fresh and cooked right) and is a low fat source of protein and contains all sorts of useful things like taurine, omega-3, several vitamins and ace minerals like iron, phosphorous and selenium…but it does look like what it is/was so be brave and embrace the challenge! Next up was a plate of Salt Cod Fritters. I love salt cod (cod that has been salted and air dried to preserve it) but can’t usually be **sed to cook with it myself as it’s a bit of a fanny on to rehydrate etc. so I am drawn to it when I see it on a menu. Fritters not a fishcake offered here therefore no potato (loathe a fishcake that is really just potato that’s been wafted in the general direct of fish). Also arriving was the item I was the most excited about, the Jamon and Spinach Tortilla. The enthusiastic chap behind the bar recommended the Classic Tortilla and going against recommendation could be considered foolhardy but in truth it’s unlikely any of these tortillas are anything but divine.

This tortilla was a piece of culinary art. I’ve made versions of these ‘Spanish Omelettes’ heaps of times and, although I’ve managed to keep the centre soft and squidgy, I’ve never encountered a version like this where cutting into it rewards you with a runny (but not spooky runny like under cooked eggs) golden centre, like plunging you into a warm Spanish sunset. Bliss. Lucy realised it’s been literally minutes since our last sweet dish so scanned the dessert items for an eye catching choice. A discussion with the good looking bar staff and we quickly settled on a Crema Catalana but this became protracted as the entire set of them launched into attempting to describe what it actually is. A sister to Crème Brulée but with citrus peel and cinnamon infusion is what I learned from the discussion, but they would be keener on me passing on that it is the original (i.e before the French) and is lighter, less fat and also often served warm. All of this paled into insignificance when the actual dessert arrived. A thick, very crisp, burnt sugar top plundered to reach the glistening super smooth, pale soft beige coloured (the only time beige is allowed anywhere) custard within. Hints of orange and a mild under pinning of musky spices makes this a sublime treat. We shared (grudgingly) but I urge you to order it and devour it by yourself. After all you deserve a treat, right? Incidentally there are heaps of people crammed behind the bar and this includes the chefs! It’s like watching some kind of Michael Clark installation as they weave amongst each other and never seem to clash. But there is literally a couple of feet of space and dozens of people. The three waiters we had serving the six foot area of bar we were sat at were all perfectly formed, petit, hairy and arrestingly handsome. The food is good too…

What was about to happen has to be a secret between us. Time was running out and the last place we wanted to try is called Ceviche. All well and good except it is literally across the street from Barrafina (we sat with our backs to Barrafina in case they busted us!), meaning we walked out and 23 seconds later were sat at the bar at Ceviche perusing their menu and had already spotted and decided upon a drink and the first menu item. All done with an air of French actress nonchalant coolness, bien sûr! (Actually, less Jules et Jim and more Kath and Kim…) Ceviche is a Peruvian restaurant, and no ordinary one either. Founded from frustration at the lack of Peruvian food available and now committed to offering up the freshest and most sublime dishes of the country. As per I’m coming to the party late (takes so long to wrangle my hair…) Ceviche has been open for six months already, which is half a year I’ve lived without their macaroni cheese (Huancaína Macaroni – Peruvian cheese and amarillo chilli sauce with macaroni pasta). I don’t know how I did it but I guess ignorance was bliss…but now I’m doomed to waking in the middle of the night and thinking….mmm could just go a dish of that Ceviche mac’…can I tell you how incredible it is? I mean, actually can I, rather than may I? (Grammar Geek.) I don’t think I can so I’ll just include lots of pictures. Sigh. (The Amarillo chilli is a medium heat, vibrant orange chilli that is the most commonly used in Peru.) Oh, we had heart too! Corazón (tender beef heart marinated in Panca chilli, Anticucho sauce with choclo corn). I love heart! I’ve been making heart for ages. (Lamb’s in my case as the local butcher gets amazing fresh ones). They are such an inexpensive and nutritious source of loads of healthy things and are tasty too…oh come on! Be brave my friends! I’ll write a heart post and convince you! Maybe for Valentine’s day…? The dark red Panca chilli is another very popular chilli in Peru and it adds a slightly smoky , sweeter and mild spicy base taste to lots of dishes. I think the Anticucho sauce might be something I need to incorporate into my life on a more regular basis! This tangy, piquant sauce fuelled with pinging bursts of garlic, vinegar, cumin and warmed through with chilli is just a dream. Traditional Peruvian elements ideal for fusion into other dishes…

The final thing we tried for the simple fact that it is the dish that the restaurant is named for. Ceviche is fresh raw fish in a citrus based marinade with added bits and bobs like coriander or chilli. Citric acid in citrus fruits causes the proteins in the seafood to ‘cook’ (actually become ‘denatured’) – just watch lemon juice on smoked salmon to see it happening before your eyes! Ceviche (the restaurant) marinades in ‘Tiger’s Milk’, which is their, lime based, version of the marinade, and they serve it straight away so the process is truncated. I wonder if a longer marination might be better in truth but I’ll have to attempt this at home to see as Ceviche clearly think otherwise (and who am I to argue…I was just thinking out loud that’s all…!?!) If you like sashimi then you’ll love ceviche with its added thrill of a citrus burst (sounds like Harpic)…

Finally, yes finally, one simply cannot be in a Pisco bar without having a Pisco based product! I ordered a Eucalyptus Chilcano (natch!) which is eucalyptus infused pisco with ginger ale, lime and Amargo bitters (peruvian bitters made from heaps of herbs, peels, roots and lord alone knows what to enhance and transform a cocktail). It was a (sub)lime – see what I did there? – experience. Lucy had a pink thing which due to the consumption of the eucalyptus thing I cannot remember anything about. It was lovely and it had egg white in it…oh and pisco, of course! Clearly I was a bit pisco-ed…