Japanese Okonomiyaki at Okan, Brixton Village

IMG_8364 Among the dirty burgers, brunches and overpriced gift shops lies this little gem which we nearly overlooked, it’s so small. IMG_8360 IMG_8361 IMG_8359 Okonomiyaki (try saying it when you’re drunk. Or indeed, when you’re sober) is a Japanese savourt pancake using egg as its base. Fillings can include meat, fish and noodles to really pad it out, topped with their version of brown sauce and mayonnaise, and sprinkled with bonito fish flakes. IMG_8365 We’re painting quite a picture but this freshly cooked dish is delicious. We were first introduced to it in Kyoto and it’s the first time we’ve seen it anywhere in the UK (if you know anywhere else that sells it then leave a comment below, we’d love to hear about it). IMG_8367 If it really isn’t your cup of matcha, they also serve soba and udon noodles – we had the pork soba noodles and one portion is plentiful. IMG_8366 There’s about 12 seats inside and 8 outside this tiny establishment, so be prepared to queue (as with most Brixton Village outlets, to be fair). Our visit was swift but thoroughly satisfying. Okan, Unit 39 Brixton Village, SW9 8PR

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West Norwood Food Week: 13th – 21st June

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So this is pretty exciting. The brains behind West Norwood FEAST (who we’ve raved about here) have come up with a whole week’s worth of foodie events aimed at pretty much everyone (well, except for those who don’t like food. But never mind those sorts.)

The week appears to be aimed at making the most of both the independent locations the town has to offer, and the sheer variety of food it boasts now too. The weekends are family orientated, while the weeknights have most international cuisines covered. If anything it’s a great opportunity to try out a new place in the area. The list is as follows:

13th June – A Taste of Victorian History – Foodie Cemetery Tour in West Norwood

14th June – Remember your childhood with a free family picnic

15th June – Share a Bangladeshi Family Feast at Lal Baag

16th June – A British Celebration Supper at the Tulse Hill Hotel (check out our views on their menu if you need any further convincing)

17th June – Summer Sharing Feast under the Stars at The Great North Wood (check out our thoughts on their brunch and dinner offerings)

18th June – Share an Italian Summer Dinner at The Garden Gastro Bar

19th June – A DIY DJ evening, with local craft beers and paella at the Book and Record Bar

20th June – A Summer Afternoon of Art in the Park and Picnicking in Norwood Park

21st June – A Taste of the Caribbean – A Midsummer Evening at the Portico Gallery

You can book your place via Grub Club (we used this facility to book our visit to PaoCha and it’s worth bookmarking for unique pop ups in the capital). If you’re interested in the British Celebration Supper, email eat@tulsehillhotel.com.

We’ve got our eating trousers on and ready…

The Breakfast Club, Battersea Rise

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Walk past one of these establishments (there’s one in Islington, Soho, London Bridge and a few other locations) and there will be a queue. No matter what time of day. You’ll think by going for a late brekkie or very early lunch you’re beating the system but no – several others would have had the same plan.

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We waited thirty minutes for a table at The Breakfast Club, which compared to other places is quite a short amount of time. If you’re willing to do the time, it certainly is worth it, but it can be quite a spirit dampener if it starts raining.

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The menu is very traditional American style, with a nod to modern taste too (hiya, avocado). The full English has pride of place so we thought we’d give it a go, along with the Boston Beans.

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A pretty picture it isn’t but if you’re looking for a warming, filling start to the day you’ve got it. Boston Beans is basically a bowl filled with slow cooked pork, barbecued beans, onions and chopped potato, with a poached egg on top. We added avocado to ours (not pictured) for a small cost which added a real creaminess to it.

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We were worried that with the demand to get in, the atmosphere would be hectic and rushed but we were able to take our time. The decor is very kitsch; there’s something to look at in every corner.

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We ate around 12:30-1pm and didn’t need to eat until around 8pm that night, so a good feast all round.

The Breakfast Club, 5-9 Battersea Rise, SW11 1HG

Thali & Pickles, Balham

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We really wanted to like Thali & Pickles. The brainchild of Indian Room down the road in Balham, and Indian Moments on Northcote Road, this is a more modern offering serving street food. Plus filling where Trinity Cafe used to be with something other than an estate agent is always a bonus.

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While the aforementioned excel in your traditional curry house fare, housed with cloth decked tables and piping music in the background (and we love it – some things should never change), the decor here is more up-to-date and reflective of the food trends we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

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The menu is smaller than a typical Indian restaurant but that’s never a bad thing, of course. We opted to share the Pav Bhaji starter and each went for the thali, choosing the chicken and seafood variants.

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The starter at first glance just looked odd. Upon further scrutiny we realised that a ‘pav bun’ is an Indian bread roll. A quick Google gave us the conclusion that not all pav buns are the same – some are sweet, some are quite dense and chewy in texture. Ours was slightly buttered with a sesame seed topping and to be honest, could have been plucked out of packet from Sainsbury’s. Unlike naans or chapatis, there was no real distinction.

The Pav Bhaji starter at Thali & Pickles

The Pav Bhaji starter at Thali & Pickles

The vegetable bhaji mixture it came with hit the right notes with its earthy, spicy taste. Perhaps we’re too westernised when it comes to our penchant for Indian food but we weren’t keen.

Onto the thalis. When ordering the chicken we hadn’t banked on getting a korma. Big mistake. The other additions to the dish were dips, chickpeas, a traditional bhaji and a pudding (the dark coloured ball) which we didn’t try so can’t offer an opinion. The other flavours were very sweet with minimal spice so combined with a main that lacked power, the whole dish was a let down.

The Maharja Murgh thali (aka chicken korma. sad times)

The Maharja Murgh thali (aka chicken korma. sad times)

The seafood one, however, was a lot tastier – plenty of depth and gave the whole dish the kick it needed.

The seafood thali was more impressive

The seafood thali was more impressive

The other downer was the overall price. One starter, two thalis, one alcoholic drink and one soft drink came to around £45. Quite the dent in the pocket when it’s not an extravagant spending spree. If we’d gone all-out with three courses, booze, coffees after dinner then sure, we’d expect to a sizeable sum. This felt like a hit to our budget without the post dinner satisfaction.

We’re not saying don’t go to Thali & Pickles. The rest of their menu looks great and if Indian Room is anything to go by, their traditional curries are probably spot on. For us though that isn’t street food. We could go down the road to their sister restaurant and get the same but at a cheaper price. Sadly an underwhelming experience.

Thali & Pickles, 5-6 Balham Station Road, SW12 9SG.

PaoCha London: a pop-up Chinese Dim Sum Brunch

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The table setting for PaoCha London

The title is a bit of a mouthful but bear with us. A Twitter follower recommended this new eating concept to us and after a quick browse on their website, we knew we wanted to get involved.

The traditional tools behind serving Chinese tea

The traditional tools behind serving Chinese tea

So what is PaoCha London? Two people, Sam and Alex, who have both spent a considerable time in China, decided to create a pop-up restaurant in their own Streatham-based home offering Chinese tea and dim sum. The event seats around 10 people and the menu is based on several courses, each interspersed with – you guessed it – tea.

The menu for the day

The menu for the day

Sam is the main host, while Alex is the artist in the kitchen. We say artist because dim sum he creates from scratch – yes from scratch – is almost too beautiful to eat. We’ll get to that in a second though.

Sam makes a great host, making everyone feel thoroughly comfortable. Her chilled demeanour made for a relaxing experience, putting to bed any thoughts or concerns that sharing a table with strangers could be daunting.

Steamed pork and butternut squash dumplings

Steamed pork and butternut squash buns

Each tea and plate of food was introduced with a bit of background, and Sam detailed the ritual of making Chinese tea, making our Yorkshire tea bag dunking look a little unsophisticated to say the least.

So, the food. Steamed buns packed full (Alex made pork ones and also offered a veggie option in the form of a butternut squash filling), dumplings, pickled veg that had a fresh crunch to it, and spicy greens. Even the snacks at the beginning weren’t just thrown together.

Spinach dumplings

Spinach dumplings

There’s plenty to go around, too – at least two servings of everything so you won’t leave hungry.

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So much detail was paid to the whole event, from the framed, handwritten menu and traditional cutlery to the tea making method which we found rather hypnotic. Sam found that tap water impaired the taste of Chinese tea so ensured the kettle was filled with bottle spring water every time.

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The dessert was a total treat too, featuring moon cakes and mousse poured into hollowed-out tangerines.

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The whole event stretches over three hours, from 12pm-3pm, which sounds like a long time to commit to but it flew by. Sam said there is such a thing as becoming ‘tea drunk’ when the drink isn’t served with food (tradition has it that the Chinese always have some sort of nibble with their chai) but we felt pretty zoned out by the time we left their flat.

So how much is this? Just £15 a head – that’s food, drink and a mini cultural tour in a comfy seat for a ridiculously good price. We couldn’t get over what a bargain it was.

PaoCha currently runs once a month on a Sunday. The next one is 7th June and bookings can be made via Grub Club. Sam tells us they offer private bookings and deals too, so it’s worth getting in touch with them to see what they can offer.

The irony now is that this post was written fuelled by Yorkshire tea. Not quite the same. Oh well…