Sunday, 24 June 2012

Eat a Pitta

I think St. Nicholas Markets in Bristol is seeing the birth of a new food success story - Eat a Pitta.

The Glass Arcade at St. Nicholas Markets is a consistently popular place for Bristolians to eat, with good reason. Caribbean, Italian, Portuguese, Moroccan and English food is on offer.

And now the latest addition, Eat a Pitta. Who's success seems to rest on a 75 year old Algerian recipe for falafel. Dan Levy, owner of Eat a Pitta explains,

"The falafels are my grandmas recipe which she has held for 75 years. She is originally from Algeria but now resides in France. The recipe has always been in the family so it was natural for me as a chef, to go back to my roots as this is the kind of food I grew up eating. I do think this kind of food is street food so when the stall became free in St nicks I jumped at the chance."

Taking a chance like that is a big step, and one that Dan receives help with from The Princes Trust. I asked Dan how they support him,

"The Princes Trust were able to help me get my business off the ground early in 2011. I was unemployed at the time. They gave me advice and a lot of help with my business plan, although their help is not financial. I have a business mentor through the trust with whom I meet every couple of months for advice and support."

It is definitely a successful combination. Eat a Pitta seems to have the longest queue in the food court on any day of the week and Dan is pretty pleased with that,

"The business has got of to a great start. A lot better than I foresaw in fact. I would like to grow the business, perhaps even into a franchise, I feel it has the potential to achieve that."

It is hard to argue with that. Eat a Pitta seems to be the right thing at the right time. Although if you're Dan the right time would seem to be being at Grandma's for tea,

"As good as mine are, she somehow seems to always make them that little bit better than me. That's grandma's touch I guess."

And so, to the falafels themselves. They're constantly frying them so they're perfectly cooked, crispy on the outside and moist and light in the middle. To make sure that the falafels are as fresh as possible, Dan and his team give away free samples to anyone who wants one. 

To go with the falafels there's a choice of freshly prepared salads. Huge platters of colourful carrots, red and white cabbage and onions. Dishes of hummus and tabbouleh, and a selection of pickles and chillies. And on top of that a choice of tahini, chilli and olive oil and lemon dressings. There's also the extra chilli jam for the brave.

It's a delicious and satisfying meal that is completely guilt free.

When you listen to the news or read a newspaper it seems like there's nothing but bad news at the minute, so it's great to see a new business start so successfully. I hope the success continues. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A salad of nectarine, feta, mint and seeds

Talk about hot off the press, I'm writing this straight after having eaten this fantastic salad, whilst waiting for my missus to cook our main course of gnocchi with sage butter. We're keeping things simple tonight!

This salad is very, very tasty and can be made in minutes. For 2 people I used:

2 Nectarines
A bit less than half a block of feta (DOP of course)
A few leaves of fresh mint, finely chopped
Some freshly toasted sunflower seeds
A good drizzle of lemon juice
Same again of olive oil

Take the flesh off the nectarine as neatly as possible, if you want to plate up something that looks attractive at least. Arrange the slices on a small plate. Sprinkle over a little freshly chopped mint. Crumble over some feta, don't be shy, the dish needs the salty taste for balance.

Then drizzle over some lemon juice and olive oil, I'd use more olive oil to help make things savoury. If your nectarines are really ripe they're going to be very sharp and sweet so the feta and olive oil are really important.

Finally, scatter over some toasted sunflower seeds, hopefully whilst they're still warm, and serve.

The mint works really nicely with the nectarine and seems to calm any flavours which might be too sharp. Both the mint and the nectarine contrast nicely with the feta and olive oil. The seeds give a satisfying nutty crunch.

There we go, job done. Just in time as well - dinner is served!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

HK Diner - Bristol

I've been getting itchy feet again. The missus and I spent most of this morning talking about getting away again and almost craving to be in Malaysia. During our travels of 2010-2011 we ended up spending a lot of time in Malaysia as we used Air Asia for getting around which has Kuala Lumpur as its hub.

I was initially quite worried about eating in Malaysia and South East Asia generally. I've got a really bad nut allergy and have been hospitalised with a severe reaction before. I've had to jam an inch long needle into my thigh after unexpectedly eating nuts at a wedding in Castle Combe which is a few miles away from ambulances based in either Chippenham or Bath. Having a similar experience abroad would not be pleasant.

I found the first couple of days in KL quite stressful and became convinced that I was going to eat nuts, if for no other reason than most of the food would be cooked in nut oil. Eating in normal restaurants felt impossible. However, we got very lucky with the staff at our hostel who spoke excellent English and understood the whole nut allergy thing. They explained that most places now use palm oil for cooking, as a result of Malaysia being the prime producer of palm oil. They also wrote me a note to give to waiters to explain my allergy. This opened up a whole new world.

After getting a bit more relaxed I dove right in, eating from hawker stalls and nasi kandar places with confidence and great satisfaction. The food in Malaysia is fantastic. There's searing hot curries from the Tamil Indians, rich and varied regional cuisine from the Chinese population and the deeply satisfying dishes of Malaysian cuisine including Nyonya dishes from around Melaka. I was in heaven. If it didn't have nuts in it, I ate it. There were times in some kampung buffet restaurants where we had no idea what we were eating, revelling in strong new tastes, eye-watering sambal, rice cooked with coconut and pandang leaves and jungle greens.

It was a struggle to come home when we did and we have both yearned to return ever since.

And so it was that today we spent most of the morning today getting very excited at the thought of heading back to Malaysia, if only for a couple of weeks, in the new year.Which, naturally, led to a huge craving for the sharp, sour, sweet and hot taste tastes of Asian food.

We decided to walk into town as today the Portway was closed for Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride. It seemed like a non-event but it did mean we could walk in to town with loads of traffic noise.

We couldn't decide where to go and eat and ran through the options as we strolled along. We considered the Vietnamese place on Gloucester Road but didn't think it would be open. We thought about eating at a Thai place but that wasn't really what we were after. And then we remembered the place on Park Street that does Malaysian food - which turned out to be the HK Diner.

My missus loves Nasi Lemak so her mind was made up pretty much before we even sat down. I took a bit longer to decide. Until I get familiar with a place I need to be careful because of my nut allergy and so didn't feel I could be as adventurous as I would like. What did immediately spring out at me as Achar Awak - pickled spicy vegetables which are a Nyonya cuisine staple. To go with that I went plain and simple - rice with 3 meats.

Although my first serving of Achar had been sprinkled with peanuts it was swiftly changed to one without. And it was delicious. The missus was transported by her generous portion of Nasi Lemak, with authentic tasting coconut rice.

My meat with rice was very good. The duck was the most tender duck I've ever had and melted in the mouth. To say I was pleased by getting a whole duck breast would be an understatement, and it went really well with the spicy, sour pineapple from the Achar. The BBQ pork was moist and tender and delicious, and the crispy belly pork was really rather good as well. The portion was quite literally more than enough.

The sounds, smells, tastes and sights took us right away from Bristol, back to Malaysia. 20 quid on lunch seemed well spent for such a journey.