When I told friends I want to make my own bread they all thought I am crazy – bread making is a craft in itself, it is a combination of accurate chemistry and adaptability, it takes up a lot of time and kitchen space, and a lot of heart. That is probably the reason so few restaurants make their own bread. But I really think a restaurant should have a signature bread, baked fresh on the premises every day( preferably for every service)
The question is what kind of bread – the obvious choice would be flat bread, which I love and is easy to make, but as the idea is to distinct myself from other middle eastern eateries, Pita bread won`t do.
The bread I need should be spongy enough to mop up sauces but thin enough to eat with your hands, and have a very thin crust. something between a pita bread, focaccia and sponge cake.
I remember something that fits the bill: we used to get it from a little family bakery at the entrance to the market in Jerusalem, and they called it Bukhara bread – A big golden brown round loaf, about an inch thick, dotted with Nigella seeds, the crust shiny and sweet, the bread soft and yielding and just a tiny bit chewy – just what I am looking for.
I looked it up: Bukhara is in Uzbekistan (where that is you can check yourself), it was a major trade center on the silk road, and it is sister city to Rueil Malmaison (again, you can check yourself) and Santa Fe. Wikipedia doesn’t mention anything about bread.
A bit more research and I found a mention of something called `Bukhara obo non`, a bread scented with Nigella seeds, I could not find any recipes but I ended up watching an 8 min video on Uzbek food. fascinating, if you’re into this sort of things.
And than I found the wonderful website uzbekcuisine.com with a whole page on different bread recipes, most of them require mutton fat and contain the phrase `make a pattern with a chekish` and end with the phrase `cook in the tandoor`- which I don’t have, nor do I have a chekish, whatever that may be.
So I got the basic dough recipe, olive oil instead of mutton fat, and took it from there.
Aren`t they pretty? quite delicious as well, even without the tandoor and mutton fat, but it needs more tweaking, more flavour. next attempt will be with sourdough starter and spelt, as soon as I get rid of these two loaves
A lot of people have an aversion to them in their fresh form, maybe they had a bad encounter with a less than fresh fish, or maybe is the little bones you cant get rid of, but the people who clocked on to how good they are, they are the smart ones, in my book.
Sardines, with all the other little oily fish – herring, anchovies, have the same taste apeal as oysters – the briny, mineral sea flavour, but with a firm bite and buttery texture. And the are cheap – for the price of a single oyster you can buy a pound of them.
I got these at the Portugese fishmonger on market row, brixton market. I must admit, most of the fish stalls in the market (and butchers, for that matter) are quite disgusting, but these guys are ok, if you know what your`e looking for. The ones on Atlantic Ave. are not bad either. I didnt plan on getting anything, but when you see sardines as fresh and nice as this, you just buy them.
And when they are as fresh and nice as this, they need as little intervention as possible. After they are cleaned and trimmed thouroghly, they get a good sprinkling of salt, and are left to cure with vine leaves, a bit of lemon and a tiny bit of garlic.
After a few hours the fish will have changed colour slightly, and it is ready to eat. It can be left to cure for longer, but I think that it should be as close as possible to raw. Cover it now in oil and you can keep it in the fridge for a week or longer, but I rarely do – on a plate with some olive oil, a bit of parsley and a squeeze of tomato, and I doubt you ever got that much joy out of £2.30.
Still havent sign the lease. My lawyer has taken a long weekend and I won`t have any news untill tomorrow. The estate agent is not returning my calls and I am that much closer to a complete meltdown.
But there is some progress – I have finally opened a bank account for the business and oddly enough, I bought the chairs. I know its strange, but at least now I have something tangible, an evidence that one day there will be a restaurant. That or I will have 22 chairs at home.
Nice aren’t they? Second hand, so I bet they have some stories to tell, not quite the `jubillee banquette at Buckinham palace` type, more like the `staff lunch at ASDA Croydon` type, but so what? ASDA provides excellent value shopping, and plenty of nice things came out of Croydon, though none come to mind at the moment.
No progress on the bread front, but I did make goat stew.
It was disgusting.
Eating goat, or kid, is an excellent idea: It is tasty, it is lean, it is cheap and because it’s not an industry, it is usually free range.
And it is very middle eastern – or used to be – and also very Brixton.
The first time I tried goat meat was in east Jerusalem, cooked with wild sage on hot coals, it was magic. I had it again in St. John, Shared a whole shoulder of kid with friends and that too was magic – the meat was braised in a delicate stock and was buttery and full of flavour. I cooked kid once before, in Melbournes` excelent MoVida, where I worked for a day – Cooked with onion, carrots and vermouth but mostly with its own juices, it was again, magic.
I thought I was on to a winner, but as we know, nothing good comes easy – I bought this meat at a Brixton butcher, it was labeled ` curry goat`. I braised it with garlic, onion, spice and potatoes for over six hours, expecting an eat-with-a-spoon kind of thing, but it didn’t happen.
Dinner time came, my in laws came over, I ended up serving this tough and leathery affair.
It was a very quiet, very tense evening.
So what went wrong? Before I take the blame I like to try again with kid from a different butcher. Judging The quality of a type of meat your`e not overly familiar with is tricky, but this is the reason I experiment before the restaurant opens.
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.
A quick one, If there is anyone reading these pages that I don`t personally know: my offer on the property has been accepted.
By the way, if there is anyone reading this that I don`t personally know, A great big Thank you!
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.