Thursday, November 16, 2006

Earls Sandwiches

After a disappointing jaunt through Covent Garden itself, which included being acosted by a charity fundraiser, I headed north to a little sandwich bar named Earls that our graphic designer swears by. It's on the corner of Endell Street and Shelton Street (map), right next to the Neal Street area.

Earls is primarily a sandwich bar, but offers a few salads too. My eyes were drawn to their specials board — who can resist choosing from it when the options might be gone next time! My choice was crispy chorizo, chicken, spinach, in a baguette with salad. This cost me £3.20, a reasonable price compared to many sandwich bars in the area. The other options that I considered were the beef melt (roast beef, onion, cheese and horseradish sauce, served on ciabatta and toasted) and the toasted club sandwich (a triple-decker turkey, crispy bacon, cheese and salad sandwich, made on toasted bread).

I was very happy with my chosen baguette, and plan to go back sometime to try out the other two sandwiches above. There are two things I feel I should comment on however. Firstly, the sandwich came wrapped in cellophane (inside the expected paper bag) — this just proved annoying and messy to get off before eating. Secondly, the queues are not as short as they seem! Although the queue for the till is only 2-3 people at most usually, once you order and pay, you have to wait several minutes while they work through the backlog of orders. A small price to pay for being popular I suppose, but possibly not the best option if you're an impatient sort.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sensi Deli

I have to leave the office early this evening for a house viewing, so lunch was a bit of a rushed affair. Once outside the building, I made a beeline for a little Italian deli I'd been to before, that I know does good food. Sensi Deli is on Rose Street, a little back alley running between Long Acre and Garrick Street (map).

I was expecting to pick up a ciabatta roll filled with Parma ham (sliced straight from the joint), mozzerella, rocket and some juicy slices of tomato or perhaps a salad — these are delicious! They have a selection of intriguing pastas, roasted vegetables, and of course fresh rocket, tomatoes and mozzarella. To top it off, they have fresh anchovies; I love fresh anchovies, and the ones they have are really good.

Today though, lunch had a different plan for me as they had some stewed venison which caught my eye. It was just venison, stewed in a largely tomato-based sauce — "tomato", "carrot", "celery", "juniper for flavouring" the servers happily fired at me. I also got a few potatoes and green beans (great components for a salad too) and an olive-focaccia roll.

This came to £5.70, and made a great lunch. The sauce from the venison was a little too oily for my tastes, but the meat was perfectly tender. The potatoes and beans, as tasty as always, made a suitable companion to the stew. The focaccia wasn't too greasy (as some can be), and proved great for mopping up the spare sauce.

I would highly recommend this little deli, whether for salads, sandwiches, or hot food.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fire & Stone

Friday lunch is turning into something of a tradition in our office. Starting in October, one of my colleagues suggested we all go out to lunch together. Since then, we've been out each Friday (well, except one, but over half the office seemed to be off that day) to a different restaurant. I'm hoping it will continue for a long time to come, because it's a great opportunity for me to try out restaurants I wouldn't normally go to by myself.

Today, the destination was Fire & Stone. Fire & Stone is an Italian restaurant serving primarily pizza (there's a small selection of salads and starters too, if you're so inclined). It's just outside Covent Garden, halfway along Maiden Lane (map). Stepping inside, you're greeted by the chimney of a giant pizza oven sticking up from the kitchen below, into a very modern dining room with an industrial feel to it.

After a bit of faffing since they seemed to have lost our reservation (for 10 people, made 40 minutes earlier), we were taken to our table and presented with menus. They've taken an interesting approach with their pizza names, and named each pizza after major cities, with 4 pizzas from each of 5 continents — Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe and the Americas. I had the Marrakech (from Africa, of course), a mouth watering combination of cumin-spiced ground lamb, mint yoghurt sauce, green olives and sliced red onion drizzled with chilli oil. I almost ordered a chocolate brownie shake to go with it, but balked at the £4.50 price tag!

Our pizzas arrived in good time, and mine was delicious. Of course, this didn't stop me enviously eyeing up the Capetown (pepperoni, spiced beef and chillis) or the Andalucia (chorizo, mozzarella and red onion) that my colleagues next to me has ordered.

Before arriving at the restaurant we'd sussed out the lunch time deal on offer — £4.50 for a pizza or a salad, albeit a limited range (usual price £8 or £9). Given that, we spent less than £90 for 11 of us, including the 12.5% "optional" tip they added to the bill. Everyone was happy with their food and keen to go back another week, so it seems I will get to try one of the pizzas I missed out on this time!

Fire & Stone is absolutely recommended, although booking would be wise for lunch times as it got very busy after 1.00pm.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Earlham Street Salad Stall

I felt surprisingly warm on my lunchtime wander today. Maybe it's milder than it has been, maybe my internal thermometer has gone nuts. Either way, I decided to steer clear of hot food and go for something cool. After a slow stroll around the Neal Street area, passing a few sandwich and salad bars that grabbed my eye, I eventually found myself back at Seven Dials without any lunch, near a salad stall I'd been to before.

A couple of months ago, a small salad stall opened up on the corner of Earlham Street and Tower Street (map), just off Seven Dials. They set up their stall at that spot each day, and bring out a large and varied array of freshly made salad components.

There are five main components for the salads: couscous, potato salad, a mixed bean salad (chickpeas, kidney beans, sweetcorn, and cannelinni beans), tomato salad and red cabbage of some description — this one I avoided, cabbage isn't my thing. In addition to the main components, there are a few bits and bobs to brighten things up: a fairly liquid, but rather tasty, houmous; roasted red pepper; sun-dried tomatoes; vine-leaves stuffed with some sort of grain or couscous along with some pretty strong flavours; and finally, olives, the flavourings of which seem to change each time I go (chilli, coriander, garlic and basil are amongst the marinades I've seen).

They package all this up in a little plastic tub and put it in a bag with a napkin, a plastic fork and a generous piece of foccacia bread, flavoured with tomato, olive, onion or garlic (or for those less adventurous, some plain old seeded bread). And all of this for this for just £3!

Definitely worth trying, and if you can nip out of the office and grab your salad before 12, you'll avoid the queues that serve as testament to its quality and value. I'll be interested to see how far into winter they continue serving cold salads — eventually the crisp lettuce will get very crisp indeed. Who knows, maybe I can look forward to it converting into a hot soup stall.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moroccan Vegetable Stew

Today was one of those rare occasions that I brought my lunch from home. Since it was tasty, cheap, and infinitely superior to those prepackaged cardboard sandwiches, I though I'd share it with you. When my girlfriend made her lunch yesterday she made enough to feed four people, so this was the leftovers from that — along with a large hunk of sun-dried tomato bread.

Preparation at work was as simple as adding a bit of water to thin it down, and nuking it in the microwave for a few minutes.

Recipe (serves 4)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 400g chopped tomatoes
  • 200g chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • large handful of raisins
  • 200g butternut squash peeled and cut into 3cm cubes
  • 1 courgette, cut into 2cm pieces
  • 1 carrot, cut into 2cm pieces
Heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3–5 minutes. Add the butternut squash and carrot, and fry until slightly coloured. Add the spices, and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, courgette and raisins, and cover with water. Bring to the boil, then simmer (covered) for 30–45 minutes. Add the chickpeas in 5 minutes before serving. Season, and serve with some couscous or crusty bread.

This recipe was originally inspired by the one in Bowl Food. Bowl Food is a great little recipe book full of comforting bowl food, as you would expect. We've gotten a lot of use out of this book, and loved nearly every recipe we've tried — with a few of our own tweaks here and there. Well worth the £6.59 from Amazon (price accurate at time of posting!).