I love spicy food. And when I say spicy, I don’t just mean chilli heat that burns your tongue off. I mean food that is really rich in spices, with flavours that have tantalising layers and aromatic depths.
So, admittedly, it’s quite tragic that I fell in love with Japan where flavours are clean, simple and precise – with an emphasis on minimalism to bring out the essence of the original ingredient.
I am dedicated to my carnivorous ways, despite being fully aware of my hypocrisy: I believe there is no ethical justification for eating meat, but life is just too short for me not to enjoy it. I don’t cook a huge amount of meat at home, so when eating out, it’s something I seek. Desperately. Determinedly. Especially beef, which tops my absolute most favourite food list in the whole wide world. (‘Obsessive’ doesn’t quite cover my devotion to beef.)
There are occasional moments, however, where I open my meat-crazed mind to the possibilities of delicious vegetarian fare out there, in the capital. Albeit this only occurs when dining out with vegetarians, but the point is that it does occur.
In addition to the meat bias of my blog, I try to keep it as a space for sharing food I enjoyed – even if it was just part of the meal, or one dish. Yet sometimes culinary atrocities are too great and they must leap out from my traumatised tongue onto a blank page or screen, as the case may be.
There was a veggie among our party of four and so the mission was on: find something to please all. We dined at Rasa N16 because it served Indian food – specifically south Indian/ Keralan – and that was universally popular choice. It wasn’t the easiest place for us to get to, but positive reviews online told us that we could expect some seriously tasty vegetarian Indian fare at ridiculously good prices. We voyaged out, ready to feast whilst feeling all ethical and healthy. Sadly though, these positive feelings were not enough to counterbalance the gastronomic sacrilege that was laid before us.
We tried four starters (£3.25 each): Kathrikka (sliced aubergine in a spiced batter); Mysore Bonda (spiced potato fried in a chickpea flour); Masala Vadai (deep-fried lentil patties); and Bhel Mix (essentially bhelpuri – a famous Bombay street snack of puffed rice, chickpeas and veg with tamarind juice and coriander). None of these were memorable or flavoursome, requiring a good deal of coconut chutney.
The Masala Vedai were particularly dry and bland and the Bhel Mix was initially interesting – coriander always adds a fresh tang – but quickly became monotonous. It was left unfinished.
Never mind, we thought. It’s hard to make a bland curry. How naïve we were. A tomato and aubergine curry appeared (Rasa Vangi, £4.50_ that was about as inspiring as X Factor reject auditions, save for the fact we couldn’t even laugh at its attempts.
Still, there was one more dish of intrigue – one dish onto which we could pin all our hopes. Our waiter had advised us to order Beet Cheera Pachadi (£4.50) a very adventurous beetroot and spinach curry, in a yoghurt sauce with coconut, mustard seeds and curry leaves. This is apparently a Rasa speciality. Highly recommended.
My friend tasted it first. She wrinkled her nose. “It tastes like salad!”
And she was right. Somehow, the chef at Rasa has created a ‘curry’, which seems to use salad cream as its base sauce. Had it contained a few potatoes, we would have been convinced it was supposed to be salad, served up next to charred meats at a barbecue. The dish remained, untouched. None of us could stomach it.
Re-reading the online recommendations for Rasa N16 makes me wonder whether my friends and I suffered some kind of collective hallucination. Yet whilst the service was good and the prices were undeniably reasonable, the food was something that we would never pay for again.
I have been told there is some very good vegetarian food to be found in the capital. Please restore my faith. Recommendations please.
Rasa N16 2/5 – The food was appalling. Vegetarian food deserves better. The ingredients deserve better
Food 1/5 – I think this might be my first 1/5 scoring on this blog. Sad times indeed.
Value 2/5 – It was very cheap but we would never pay for it again! Atmosphere 2/5 – It was empty yet somehow a little claustrophobic. Service 3/5 – Prompt and efficient.
I may have a reputation as a fearsome meat devourer, lover of all things beef, especially STEAK. And burgers. And roast beef. (Oh shut up, Pheebz, and get on with the review!) Well, just because I am a devoted carnivore does not mean that I am unable to appreciate vegetarian and vegan food. In fact, I recently went to The Gallery Café, where most dishes are completely vegan.
OK, so the truth is… I didn’t go there knowing it was a vegan/vegetarian café, but I liked it so much that I’ll go back!
My friend recently moved to East London and she’d heard very good things about The Gallery Café. So we set off to Bethnal Green and stopped by to find a bustling room with mismatched furniture, and rather tasty-looking home-made cakes lining a wooden-top counter.
We eyed up the sandwiches to one side. That’s funny, we thought. The sausage sandwich looks like it has vegetarian sausage in it.
We eyed up the menu. Mmm. Nice big breakfasts. That’s funny, we thought. They serve scrambled tofu. Where are the eggs?
It wasn’t until half-way through our munching that the penny dropped. After which, we laughed quite a lot at how slow our brains were to engage.
My friend took the scrambled tofu on sourdough toast (£4) with garlic mushrooms (plus £1.50). I was VERY sceptical as I’ve never eaten tofu outside of Asia that I’ve actually enjoyed. But actually, this was great! Seasoned well, mixed with spring onions – it was really tasty and I actually want to go and order it. The garlic mushrooms were also superb, again to my surprise.
Now, I wasn’t especially hungry due to eating a lot beforehand, so I just took a bowl of chips (£1). Look at these beauties. Just £1 for this large portion. They were crispy on the outside, soft in the middle and really, really good. And they were £1. Wow.
I also had a chocolate brownie with walnuts. It wasn’t as dense or gooey as brownies tend to be served, but it was pleasingly moist with a rich, warm flavour.
I didn’t have anything to drink but they offer a lot of speciality teas.
I obviously can’t comment on the rest of the menu, but I’ll be sure to update you when I head there again. I want to test some of the dishes. Can they persuade me to order more vegan food? We shall see…
The Gallery Café 4/5 – OK, so it’s in East London, it’s vegan and it offers fancy teas. Yes, it sounds a little hipster. But really it’s just a casual, laid-back place. And come on – who can refuse a bowl of chips for £1? Or garlic mushrooms on sourdough toast for £3? This place is cheap and yummy.
Where: The Gallery Cafe, St. Margaret’s House, 21 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, London E2 9PL
I absolutely love this recipe for several reasons. Firstly, not only is it really, really delicious, but it’s so ridiculously cheap that I feel justified eating out for dinner if I’ve had this for lunch (I was obviously never meant to live life as a student). Also, forget vegetarian – this dish is vegan! So super-healthy and a step towards eating a more sustainable diet. I eat so much meat after all… Finally, the dhal takes only 40 minutes to cook, most of which time you just have to keep an eye on a boiling pot. One-pot meal = one-pot to wash up.
All in all, this recipe is a gem.
I’ll give the recipe from the original book and my alterations in brackets.
Taken from: Kris Dhillon – The New Curry Secret
Serves 4 (as a side) or 2 (as a main)
Cooking time: 35 – 40 mins
4 heaped tbsp split red lentils
425ml water (I find 375 is adequate. Add with caution – you can always add more)
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tomato, chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped (I used ‘lazy chillies’ in a jar – I add 1 tsp but this is very mild. Experiment to find your level)
1 level tsp salt (I don’t add this at all. Season to your taste)
1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp finely chopped coriander (I use 2 tsp coriander paste – I think this also adds adequate salt)
Any vegetable you feel like adding. My mother recommends cauliflower. I add petit pois.
Rinse the lentils thoroughly and place in pan with all ingredients, except the salt, garam masala, coriander and any extra vegetables. Be cautious with the water. Any extra veg thrown in later will add moisture.
Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover the pan and simmer for a further 20 minutes, stirring two or three times. 10 – 15 minutes before the end, throw in any extra veg.
Stir in garam masala and half the coriander. Season to taste.