And so, to work…

The lease has been agreed, I hired a lawyer to go through the details, hope it will all go smoothly. Now that it’s all happening I realize that I havent done as much as I could these last few months: I still don’t know where to get all the equipment, which bank offers the best rates, what the place is going to look like, and to my shame, even the recipes are not final (on the plus side, I am the holder of the spider solitaire house record, and have mastered the dish `linguini marmite`). Not much I could do over the weekend except cook.

Cooking in olive oil is a very turkish thing to do; In any restaurant in Istanbul you are more than likely to get at least one vegetable cooked this way, usually as mezze. I don’t mean frying in oil, but actually submerging  a vegetable in oil and aromatics and gently simmering – somehow it accents the flavor of the main ingredient, and gives it a unique buttery texture.

of course, cooking in olive oil is not cheap, but you can use the same oil again three or four times, and the result will actually be better for it. In fact the oil that remains has so much flavor, it makes for amazing seasoning.

Don`t judge this dish by this picture, It is really delicious and special, and my favorite way to eat fennel. About the pictures, I really thought I would get better at this, but the picture quality of this blog seems to be going down by the post. Drastic action must be taken I know. If anyone has some entry-level food photography advice or links, I would be very grateful.

Supposedly, This week should see me setting up a business account, starting to work on finding equipment and on the design,  finding builders to do the place up, and to work on bread and dessert recipes, a task I was dreading to tackle. Again, any advice from readers of this blog who are not married to me is most welcome.

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A quick one before the weekend

A quick one, If there is anyone reading these pages that I don`t personally know: my offer on the property has been accepted.  

OH YEAH!!!

By the way, if there is anyone reading this that I don`t personally know, A great big Thank you!


serious business

Unfortunately, starting a restaurant does involve more than just playing within the kitchen.

Yesterday I had an appointment with Vicky Pollard, She works in HSBC now, in business accounts. She wanted to specify the finance options available to me, which didn’t take that long as there are none, But she did leave me with that delightful morsel of information – approx 2/3 of all new food ventures fail to break even in their first year, and around a third fail to make it to their second year. Nice to know – Thank you Vicky and HSBC. Had as much luck with Santander and I am still waiting for a call back from Nat West. Maybe they just want to spare me further disappointment.

 Barclay’s tomorrow, and that is pretty much the last bank on the list, and if they don’t come through I will have to resort to plan B, which I havent come up with yet.

Read on metro today That 2011 will be one of the hardest years for the british economy, and the hardest hit will be small businesses. That, along with the statistics provided me by Ms Pollard, really make me feel like I am driving a Porsche into a brick wall. 

But there are some good things,I am pretty sure I got the property I want. Still waiting for a written confirmation from the lazy estate agent, I don’t want to jinx it so let us say no more. I`ve formed a company ; My wife and I are now incorporated. Does that mean we need to be more professional around the house? sign a release form before we have sex? The protocol is not yet determined.

And than this happened: a true story, I swear – I found a lamp on the street today. Not exactly on the street, in a shop in Marylebone that was closing down. I asked if I can take it and they welcomed me to it. Rather big, so I had to take it home in a cab, and it was quite dirty, so I found myself scrubbing the lamp with bleach, to make it shine. The Aladdin aspect didn’t come to mind immediately, but It would have been neat if a genie suddenly popped. One that looked in my mind a bit like Vicky Pollard.


Through the grape vine

 

Whats with the puns? I can`t shake it! I think it`s to do with Evening standard Overexposure. Hope I`ll get it out of my system soon, and these pages wo`nt be so painful to read anymore.

The phrase `Overexposure` also comes to mind looking at this picture. I still like it though.  

Everybody tried stuffed vine leaves. Or so they think. I thought I had stuffed vine leaves.In  fact, I even thought I make quite good vine leaves. I learned of my mistake at a food fare in the basement of a shopping mall in Tel Aviv. This guy had a stall there, pots  full of bubbling broths, dumplings and stews, all looking and smelling gorgeous. His mother and Father cooked it all, he boasted,  hand-made and fresh Iraqi food. I saw a Claudia Roden quote somewhere, saying that Persian cuisine is the last undiscovered secret in middle eastern cooking. No disrespect to that great lady, but I think she forgot their neighbours; In Israel, with its huge community of Iraqi jews, their cooking is very highly regarded.

I bought some kibe from this guy, and he was upselling hard. I wasn`t having it, so he gave me these vine leaves to try, and said `you havent tried vine leaves till you tried these` and I had to reluctantly admit, the pushy little man was right, I never had anything even remotely similar; warm and slightly sticky rice, bursting with minty freshness, lemony but not sour, wrapped in soft silky leaves…of course I bought as many as I could, trying to remember every bite so I can recreate them.

And indeed I did – took a lot of trial and error, but I got there finally – I am using risotto rice, for that sticky texture of the grains, cook it slightly with equal amount of chopped onion to rice, season with turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne and ridiculous amounts of mint, fresh and dried. 

After the leaves are rolled they are cooked in lemon juice and olive oil with  leeks and grapes for a couple of hours.

The results are so good I don`t think there is a limit to how many of them I can eat. If they weren’t so time-consuming  to make, I would have it every day, and so would my wife, but these are special affair treats, at least untill the restaurant opens, which seems very near now, I think I am going to close the deal on the location today.


Big Monday

Quick update for readers that are not married to me (according to my stat chart there is one, but I think its my friend Kuskusul) ;  meeting at the bank turned out to be a business start-up seminar attended by the deluded (me) and the elderly(everybody else). It was all flow charts and brochures, but there was free tea and coffee so it wasn`t  a complete waste of time. On the finance front I am back to square one. Square Zero, rather.

Still waiting to hear about the property I put an offer on, In the meantime I am going there again today with my celebrity chef friend, to see what he thinks, and to measure it again as I keep thinking that I got it wrong. I hope to be wiser by the end of the day.

On Sunday we had a few people (14 of them) over  to celebrate the birthday of my previous head chef, An incredible guy with incredible taste and talent. He just moved to his new 5 bedroom home, so I was a bit embarrassed about inviting him to our little run down shoebox, but I wanted to invite him over for a while now. Also, It was a good opportunity to try a few recipes for the restaurant, and take a few pictures for this blog. 

 I don’t think I mentioned this but my wife is a chef as well, and is now setting up a very big restaurant that is opening very soon. We know that we are not going to see much of each other in 2011, with me setting up  a restaurant and her running what will probably be one of londons` busiest kitchens, So we spent a day together cooking at home  which we havent done in a while  (maybe because our kitchen space has shrunk since we moved here, in opposite relation to our bodies) so the chubby little hands you see in the pictures are hers. The lady with the dinosaur hands they call her at work. It was great, cooking together again, it’s the one place I can criticize what she does without her going mental and vice versa. We cooked a lot and I intended to get at least 6 posts out of it, but we didn’t end up with as many pictures as we should have, and I blame it on Poland, and on vodka.

 There is a reason we decided to have vodka instead of wine: Our Polish friend B is famous, amongst other things, for the vodka-and-polish-canapes nights she hosts in her Dalston flat, and it is always tremendous fun. We usually end up at Mangal, topping ourselves up with flasks of vodka that we hide under the table, so the notion of middle eastern food and Polish vodka is tried and tested and is great. But than again, few things aren’t great when you’ve had a pint of vodka in you. She brought us a bottle of my wifes` favorite brand, and we supplemented with some stolli

Needless to say, 15 minutes and two drinks  into the evening and I was not thinking of pictures. Or anything for that matter. At first I was still trying to play host, but I soon gave up the pretence, and just plonked the ice bucket in the middle of the room, for all vodka fiends to help themselves.

 Ourselves, I should say.

It was a  good night, even though I didn’t get all the pictures I wanted, And today is a big day with plenty to do. It’s a good thing vodka doesn’t leave me hung over 


Preserved lemon and mint chicken

.

This one is inspired by  one of the best chef I know, a woman called Margaret Tayar who cooks in her restaurant, on a terrace by the  beach in Jaffa.  not a fancy place –  concrete floor, the furniture is old white plastic and the tablecloth is clearly made out of old curtains. She is around 60 I guess. with crazy black locks, beautiful blue eyes and a constant smile that was showing braces last time I was there.If she is not in the kitchen she is sitting at the entrance on a manky wicker chair, bare feet up, vegetables piled up around her that she would prep with her cousin, or sister, who are also the waiting staff. the food she cooks is based on north african traditions ( I think her family are Tunisian or Algerian), but is a thing all of its own – `mediterranian magic` might be a possible title. she is famous for her mezze salads, grilled fish, couscous dishes and her magic touch – some people, very few, have such an instinct for food, an instincts that guides them when they choose ingredients, decide when it is ready to cook, how to cook it and with what, and these are the people whose food you want, time and again, to come back to.

 But it’s not only the food – she is one of the happiest people I know contaigiously happy, and always seconds away from laughing.I never heard her complain about anything (except  the fish monger who tries to rob and cheat her every day for so many decades now) and she would always say that it’s the restaurant that keeps her happy, just making food for people.

I thought about it now, when the idea of a restaurant is actually getting a bit more real, and I am starting to freak out and ask myself if I really want this – the constant anxiety, the  18 hour workdays, miss seeing movies,  friends and wife (in order of importance). If I will become even a bit more like Margaret, I would consider my efforts well spent.  Still Waiting to hear about the property.

Back to business – her preserved lemons are amazing. Rumor has it she gets truckloads of special lemons from the Sinay desert in egypt – tiny and fragrant, and so flavoursome, and she pickles them for the year. She makes this sauce using those lemons, mint and garlic, and serves it with grilled fish, burnt aubergines, roasted peppers. Whatever she puts it on explodes with freshness.

This is my version of it, I hope she would approve. In the restaurant I will use it with boned chicken thighs on the grill, as a marinade and  a sauce ( here I used whole little chickens that I butterflied and roasted). the recipe requires a lot af mint, fresh and dried, garlic, and preserved lemons, which  Normally I’d  preserve myself, but as they take at least a month to cure I sent my wife to the market to get some, and some dried mint. These lemons she got from the portuguese deli on Atlantic road and they were great – it’s a great deli. As for the mint, well when someone comes back from Brixton market with a bag of dried leaves looking like this, you know you are in for a treat, whatever it is.

   

 

When I ate this I was transported to that balcony by beach, and I could almost hear Margaret saying to her cousin – why didn’t you tell me it’s for them? I would have used the good fish! (that really happened once, it’s that kind of place), so I was worried it might be sense memory that make me enjoy this dish so much, but my friend Ben enjoyed it as well, enough to eat with his fingers, which is the biggest complement an Englishman can offer a chef. Than again, maybe it wasnt dried mint after all… Read the rest of this entry »


Is this the one?

An hour till the bank meeting, and I am flipping. Because I saw a property just now that is pretty perfect, all things considered, and I put an offer on it.

a few months ago we were still looking for a flat. In fact we were flat hunting for 18 months. I am not joking. 18 months. this is how it went – we would see this many properties,  I would get hung up on one, usually something way over our budget, I would want to get it at any cost, borrow the maximum we can, steal from family, I did one night check online how much you can get for a kidney (who didn’t…). My wife, thankfully, is sane, and would hold me back, and so we were saved from losing vital organs and family ties, but every time it would happen, It took me weeks to recover and go back out there. this cycle repeated more than I care to admit, but I like to think that I`ve grown from it and am a different man now.

so I placed my offer and now I coolly get it out of my mind.  Not flipping – breathing slowly. que sera etc.

wish me luck though.