17 March 2011

East London, Brick Lane & Curry

The first weekend of my travels found me in London, actually East London as friends have moved there since my last visit.  A whole new world for me to explore as when I lived here I was very much a West End girl.  Sunday dawned a little wet and gray but not too chilly.

First stop was a good caffeine fix which you can now get in London thanks to Allpress opening a little cafe in Shoreditch.  A perfect long black...the only way to start a Sunday morning.  This is a first in the UK as usually when you ask for a long black you are greeted with blank stares.  And to eat, perfectly soft boiled eggs with soldiers.  Simple and perfect.

East London is indeed a world of contrasts.  On Sundays markets and street sellers appear, filling the rabbit warren of narrow streets around Brick Lane.  Posh food stores and East London geezers selling fresh veg....2 pounds for a box of mangoes!! All sorts of imported junk next to a high end antique shop, chandeliers sparkling in the window.  Upmarket minimalistic boutiques interspersed with vintage shops, treasure troves of bygone eras with a sound track of Blondie and David Bowie pumping in the background.

And then there is the street food, huge pots of fragrant smelling curries from every corner of the globe.  We happened upon a makeshift food hall in an old warehouse which was bustling with activity, every table full as folks tucked in to fragrant curries, stews and sweet delights from all corners of the world.  Chinese pork buns, Japanese sushi, Jamaican jerk chicken and goat curry, exotically scented Moroccan tagines, Swedish meatballs, aromatic curries and stews from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Ethiopia.  Sweet peanut pancakes from Malaysia and Brazilian chocolate filled churros, even the cup cake craze makes an appearance on Brick Lane.

We settled on Moroccan and I plumped for the beef tagine and the chickpea and spinach tagine.  Served over couscous and a little minted yoghurt on the top, the beef was tender and full of flavour, aromatic and fragrant with Moroccan herbs and spices...cumin, turmeric, coriander.  The chickpea and spinach was one of those dishes that appears so simple yet exceeds expectations, fresh fragrant coriander really making this dish the stand out.

On and down Brick Lane past the plethora of curry houses all claiming to be the best and the winners of various culinary awards.  So many to choose from, but for dinner we settled on the Brick Lane Clipper thanks to several good reviews on line. A quick search on out first choice took it firmly out of the running, needless to say that is not really fodder for a food blog!

To start fresh poppadoms with pickles and chutneys.  Mango chutney, yoghurt with mango and mint plus spicy lime pickle and a fresh little onion salad.  The mango chutney, delightfully sweet and the lime pickle with a nice chilli hit and the tang of lime.  The yoghurt was good, I just prefer it flavoured with mint for a fresher, greener flavour, but with the mango still good, if a little on the sweet side for my taste.  The onions added the required freshness and all complemented by fresh crisp poppadoms.

For the main event I had the King Prawn Razala.  Oven baked king prawn with a tomato based sauce of fresh coriander, chilli, garlic, ginger and mustard seeds.  Layers of fresh flavours and a good spicy kick. A little lentil daahl on the side and slightly sweet fried paratha bread the perfect accompaniment.  

With all that curry inspiration there was only one thing to cook for dinner.  I was inspired by the butter chicken recipe over at Rasa Malaysia, it just sounded so good.  Rich, creamy and fragrant...what's not to like?  This recipe is inspired by the butter chicken over at Rasa Malaysian as I was unable to find all the ingredients, sadly no Khyber Spice close by...really should have planned ahead and sought them out at Brick Lane.  Not to worry as I am not averse to a little experimenting.

So as far as this being an authentic butter chicken, maybe not, but it was still pretty darn good as evidenced by the almost licked clean saucepan.  Served with some plain basmati rice and a fresh little salad of onion, tomato, cucumber and coriander it was a satisfying little supper.

Butter Chicken


500g boneless chicken, cut in to bite sized pieces. I used chicken thighs as more flavour,however chicken breast would also work here.
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 cup natural yoghurt
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp madras curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp cardamom, bashed in a pestle and mortar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves

4 tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp madras curry powder
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp chilli powder, I added a little more to taste, as much as this is not a spicy curry I do like a little heat. 
1 tbsp honey250 ml / 1 cup cream
Fresh coriander, roughly chopped


Place the chicken in a non reactive bowl. Mix together the lemon juice and zest, salt, chilli powder, yoghurt, ginger, garlic, curry powder, turmeric and paprika.  Pour over the chicken and mix it all together.  Make sure all the chicken pieces are coated in the marinade, cover and place in the fridge over night.
To cook the chicken place it under a hot grill.  Cook for 5-10 minutes each side until cooked through and slightly charred. Just charred not blackened!
Meanwhile melt the butter in a large saute pan.  Add the cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.  Fry for a moment or 2 to allow the flavour to develop.  Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the curry powder, turmeric, paprika and chilli powder.  Stir and simmer for a couple of minutes. Add the cream and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  Add the grilled chicken and cook for a further 10 minutes at a low simmer.
Fresh Little Salad
Mix together a finely diced tomato, a little finely diced cucumber, half a diced onion, a bunch of roughly chopped coriander and a good seasoning of salt and pepper.
Serve the curry over some plain rice sprinkled with some fresh coriander and a little salad on the side.  The curry was rich and creamy, with just the right amount of warmth from the chilli.  The coriander and the little salad provided a clean, sharp freshness to cut through the richness of the curry.  Clean plates all round so maybe not authentic but certainly a success.  Sadly a gray London evening is not the best for photos and none left today to recreate in daylight!



  1. Markets and street food and boutiques and vintage shops, ooh I'd be right at home. Can't wait to hear more :)

  2. Great photos, enjoy your trip!!

  3. I LOVE your photography! Very inspiring post.

  4. @milliemirepoix - I think you would, some real treasure troves.

    Maria & Gina....Thanks for the commments.


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