Half baked

The difficulties of setting up a restaurant? where to start; Still trawling the UK banking system in an attempt to find some loose change to fund my restaurant with.

My lawyer, a sweet but super scary lady, has taken over negotiation from me,  and the gap between how by-the-book she is and the estate agents` ghetto ways  leaves me  in constant fear that something will go wrong. They have exchanged 4 e-mails trying to establish the property number. I had to go down there and count houses.

I would love to post pictures of the place, but not untill the lease is signed. Bad luck you see.

Had a design meeting with my designer friend, who came up with some really important insights, and some great ideas. It was great fun talking to someone professionally about how to realize all these notions I had, and to see the beginning of a floor plan forming. Exciting stuff.

But the one thing I can’t seem to nail,  the biggest hardship so far has been the issue of bread –  I can’t decide what sort of bread I want to serve in the restaurant.

 I know the obvious choice for middle eastern food is flat bread or pita, but I really want to avoid the obvious, and there are so many types of bread that can work, But getting it right takes a while: you can only taste the result when the loaf is ready, and then you have to start from scratch, adding 10 gr. of yeast or half a teaspoon of salt. And if something goes wrong, It goes horribly wrong. This was meant to be a beautiful loaf of spongy type bread I thought will work beautifully, and I really hoped to have a golden-crusted-crown-of-bread  picture for the end of this post.

That won`t be the case. I will spare you the details, and myself the embarrassment  but due to a unique combination of cold weather, lethargic yeast, oven malfunction and incredible stupidity on my part, this loaf did not provide the Kodak moment I was hoping for, and was quite disgusting to eat as well.

tomorrow is designated bread day, hope to do better than this.


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.


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.


say it with cauliflowers

Again, excuse the cheesy pun. It was that or  ‘cauliflowers in the attic’ but as it is my wife’s birthday, and she is so far the only reader of these lines, I opted for something more romantic (Maybe I should have stuck with it, she does have a creepy relationship with her siblings).

This salad is another contender for the mezze section of the menu. The pairing of tahini and cauliflower  is very common in Palestinian cooking and is as simple as it is delicious – you simply deep fry, or in this case roast the vegetable, plate it and  spoon some plain tahini (this brand is amazing! from green valley off Edgware road) and to cut the richness squeeze a tomato or lemon on top, and some herbs – I thing spring onion rounds it off nicely.

 instead of squeezing the tomato I tried this simple tomato sauce made with fresh grated tomatoes, chillies and olive oil, as I`ve seen done in a few places.A nice touch but as this is such a good dish, it can do without.

On the business plan front, my friend Ben, star that he is, came through and mailed me some very good work, or at least I think its good, as I really am clueless about these things, and I don’t speak a word of corporate( note to self – make sure no potential investor reads this blog).

But I still have a lot of work to do before my Wednesday meeting, which I will have to do on Tuesday because as I said, it is my wife’s birthday today.We are not doing much, as our birthday budget was blown  on anti aging face cream made of pearl dust and mashed up babies  that costs like a ski holiday, and a sunday roast at Hix oyster and chop-house( which was meant to be amazing but was actually pub grub quality at thrice the price. Such a shame, when there are so many nice places we could have gone to in this town) so with no money left for a present, I promised her a poem, and I only do Haiku, so here goes –

I want to give you all I have

all I have

is you

So to my only reader and the love of my life, my beautiful, fat, white swan – Happy birthday.


Let the beet rock

I wonder how many food bloggers have used this pun. For me it was this one or ‘let the beet go on’. so cheesy.

I had this salad as a mezze dish on the menu of my imaginary restaurant since forever. it is based on something a mother of a childhood friend of mine used to make – I think it  is Algerian or Tunisian but I`m not sure –  she would dress boiled beetroot with oil and orange juice, fresh ginger, currants and coriander.

 Combining beets and oranges makes perfect sense, as both are winter things and the fresh ginger, that somehow combines the beets earthy notes and the oranges` sharpness really  brings it all together.

 Years later, when I tried to make it, I couldn’t get the orange flavour to come out enough unless I added buckets of juice,and it would overpower. I ended up making a sauce with whole oranges, vinegar, honey and chilli, like a spicy marmalade, and leave it quite chunky, so you get a big hit of orange every now and then. I didn’t think the currants were very useful there, and the coriander was replaced with sweet, fragrant basil, and the result, I think, is quite special, and delicious.


There are a few ways of cooking beets – you can boil them in water, but then you dilute the flavour and sweetness. I would always roast them in the oven whole, which concentrate their flavor, than just squeeze them out of their skin, but I recently saw a friend chef of mine peel the beets before roasting them, which seems like a lot of unnecessary effort, as peeling them after they are cooked is so much faster and a lot easier. but he said that this way you get a far better result, with the added flavor of the roasted, slightly charred surface of the vegetable.  I had to try it  but I really didn’t want it to work. it goes against my grain to do things in a certain way when there is an easier, more efficient way to go about it. I had visions of myself  doing nothing but peeling bags of beetroot, walking around with stained hands all the time… bit of a drama in my head. but you can glean from that something about the person I am, and also how busy I think the place will be. Got the beets in the oven, sauce cooking, camera cleaned of beet stains and cleaned again after this picture was taken

 There is no comparing the amount of flavour in these beets compared to anything I had before.they were so sweet and earthy, so intense and just a bit smokey, completely worth the extra effort that ,dramas aside, is not that much of an effort after all.

Dice the beets, dress with olive oil, fresh ginger and salt, orange sauce and basil on top, and wish my photographic skills will one day be able to this beautiful dish justice


The man without the plan

These past few says have seen me trying to complete my business plan, before submitting it to potential investors, bank managers, friends and wives.There are a lot of web guides to writing a business plan, none of them state hours of spider solitaire as an essential step, likewise going to matinees at the Ritzy, reading the Argos catalogue, going to buy shelves, hanging shelves, going for coffee, talking to elderly neighbours… you get my drift – no progress was made on the business plan. I gave myself a deadline, set a meeting with a bank guy for next Wednesday to discuss my finance options, so I will have to be ready with something. I put all my hopes on my friend Ben, a marketing Exec, who is  in town on a visit and is coming over for dinner, or so he thinks : The plan is to sit him down in front of the screen and starve him untill he comes up with something presentable. This guy is gonna have to sing for his supper tonight.

Didn’t turn out quite like that.  ‘lets see what you’ve got so far’, it’s not much, but I’ve shown him.                                                                     have you ever seen a spreadsheet prepared by a chef?  not a pretty sight, and not something you want to inflict on your friends. To be fair to Ben, he did try, and he gave me some very useful pointers, while polishing off glasses of Pinot.  thirty minutes in, second bottle already half empty (half full?)  we both get quite hungry, I give in and bring the food, and we all forget all about the job at hand.

I’m the first to admit I am not a numbers man, and not a business man, if I was I would have had a real job. Sitting in front of a spreadsheet is my idea of hell, and the prospect of taking my ideas to the bank is something I would do a lot to avoid, but it is an indispensable part of what I`m trying to do, and if I can`t do it, than I have failed before I started. so goodbye spider solitaire, Argos catalogue, DIY jobs and  dear old neighbour Reeny. at least untill next Wednesday.

Dinner came out nice, will write all about it later. I think I can get at least three posts out of this dinner, maybe four, if you count this one. maybe I am not such a strategic disaster after all.


quick fix – siniyeh

 

Not exactly sure if this is the correct spelling for this dish, nor what exactly does it mean. I think it is Palestinian or Lebanese, and when you order it in a restaurant you would usually get minced lamb cooked with spice and topped with tahini, but it can also be topped with tomato sauce, or the meat used can be veal or beef, and you can sometimes get potatoes or cauliflower cooked with the meat as well.

 

 

 We always used to have it in Hinawi, a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Jaffa coastline, unfortunately closed now. there you would get loosely formed patties, very gently seasoned with cumin, allspice, parsley and garlic, in a thin tahini sauce. my attempts at recreation did not go well at first – tahini tends to split when heated. to stabilize it I eventually added yogurt and eggs, the result was a creamy, sesame flavoured custardy kind of thing that is delicious but so rich I had to up the seasoning of the meat. Now I have a spice mix ready-made just for this which includes cumin, fennel, coriander, cinnamon and chilli. the meat needs to be very strongly flavoured, almost too much, so that it stands up to the rich topping.

It has become one of our staples, something we make when we need instant comfort, or when we invite people on the  last minute, like we did last night. all you do is cook the mince, add the spice, while it is cooking you prepare the topping and chop some vegetables for a lemony salad – it really needs it – when the meat is cooked pour the topping, place in oven for 5 min, just to set it, and serve with flatbread.  a middle eastern sloppy joe.

I didn’t cook this as a trial for the restaurant( although when I think about it could be a really nice lunch dish)  but because as I said, this is our ten minute wonder for spur of the moment invites . Our friend Varny and her friend Abbi came over after we all been to a movie at the Ritzy. Varny knows our food and likes it I think, but I am always concerned when new people come that I am going too native, that  the food is too strange and they hate it. And I never really believe people when they say they enjoyed it, I always think they are just being polite. how does that work for a restauranteur-to-be?                      

A pleasant evening, all in all, don’t know if it’s the food or the company, but I think three bottles of wine helped.

 

 not the hangover…