Bukhara

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)

File:Kalon-Ensemble Buchara.jpg

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

http://wn.com/uzbek_cuisine


big boys don`t cry

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Not Kidding

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. 

I feel really bad  about the  In laws though, I`m affraid they took it personally.


chairs in paradise

No luck with the bread yet. Because I didn’t make any. I ended up running up and down town looking at furniture, equipment and more furniture.

I saw some really good chairs In Kensal Green of all places, which goes to show that anything can happen. For those of you who have never heard of it, Kensal Green is a north London suburb, most famed , if I can use that term, for its Victorian graveyard and a pub called paradise.

 Not a joke.

My designer friend sent me there to a salvage shop – I suppose the graveyard location naturally attracts salvage shops, And the place itself does have that graveyard feel, but in a good way.  I saw some chairs I really liked, reasonably priced and there were enough of them, but it felt silly to buy them before I signed the lease. What do I do with 27 stools if the deal doesn’t go through? But what if I lose them? something to think about this weekend.

Scary how fast this week went, and how little got done.


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.


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.