Tag Archives: old street

A Blacksmith & a Toffeemaker walk into a pub…

10 Apr

The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker

Since moving to London, I have come to love the random names of pubs across this country. The“Bunch of Carrots”; “Dirty Dicks”; and “The Dog and Duck” all spring to mind.

So, when an email came through inviting me to check out a new, quirky pub on St John Street, between Angel and Farringdon, I was immediately taken by the name.

Called The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker after a song by former British singer-songwriter Jack Thackray, the pub is run by two young chaps – Marc Dalla Riva and Matt Rix. The former, a chef, and the latter, an events guru, love the place so much they even make upstairs their home.

While the interior has been redesigned with a Hoxton-ish interior (light colours, modular ’60s furniture, quirky vintage feel) the space manages to avoid being trendy and pretentious by feeling comfortable and laid-back. The aim is to create a place that gets back to the roots of what makes a great pub: good food, good drinks and good people. The pair are focused on providing a roster of impeccable British gins (things like Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Sipsmith and Sacred Gin) and a selection of high quality whiskies, such as The Balvenie, Laphroaig, Macallan and Auchentoshan, at some of the most reasonable prices I’ve seen in London. The pub also offers up real ales and is hoping to do more with British wine.

The pub's chic but cosy interior

It helps that both Marc and Matt are almost jumpy with a childlike enthusiasm for their new space, despite the long hours that go into running the place each week. They came up with the idea for the venture whilst travelling in the States. It developed over many pints and Marc says they couldn’t be happier with the way things are going. He also says their plan had always been to avoid being a “gastro pub” by focusing on high-quality drinks with food accompaniments.

A pork pie waits to be devoured

“The food was always designed to complement the drinks, rather than the other way around,” he adds.

This was partly because he didn’t want to be stuck in a kitchen 18 hours a day – like many chefs find themselves – but also because he wanted to do something a bit different. As such, the bar area features a beautifully streamlined deli counter with sumptuous looking pork pies, scotch eggs and potted duck and pickles.

“People like to see what they’re eating and it encourages people to eat,” says Marc.

There is also a limited selection of mains like burgers and lamb hot pots, in case one finds the gin going to her head. Ingredients are sourced as locally as possible from places like Smithfield market and organic vegetable growers in Kent.

The decision to move away from the “gastro-pub” tag was also because the team didn’t personally like that style.

“We decided it was the formality and, airs and graces that we didn’t like. We love pub culture and find the idea of a ‘gastro-pub’ detracts from that,” says Matt.

“The last thing I wanted was linen napkins,” adds Marc, laughing. “At the end of the day, you can feel relaxed. And you know the owners are happy.”

The Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker is located at 292-294 St John Street. For more information about the pub, its events or more, visit the website here or follow the team on Twitter: @BlacksmithPub

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Nusa Soup For You!

12 Dec

Growing up, I knew almost every line of Seinfeld. My father and I would spend ages entertaining each other repeating scenes and quotes while cooking dinner, standing in queues at the grocery store and during the show itself, probably to the great ire of many around us.

By far one of my favourite episodes is the early-days show entitled “Soup Nazi” – “No soup for you!”

That line still makes me laugh every time, bringing back visions of George, lacklustre and leaving the shop with no bread, or soup. Or frizzy-haired Elaine shouting the line to the chef when she discovers his recipe secrets in an armoire. Brilliant!

So, it was no surprise that the lines of this famous episode were running through my mind as I headed to Nusa Kitchen recently to learn just how they make their soup – no sneaky armoire finds for me, I swear I was invited!

Arriving at Nusa's Old Street location

Nusa, which has two locations in London, prides itself on making fresh soup from scratch every day with only fresh ingredients. From Singapore Seafood Laksa, to Thai Chilli Tofu Broth, much of the inspiration behind the soup comes from the experiences of owner Patou Sekhon’s childhood in Singapore. Her son, Mark, was on hand to tell me the history and how they came up with their ideas.

“It was a bit of an accident. We said, “Let’s do food that’s hot.” We decided to give soup a go,” he explained.

Patou comes up with the recipes at home and then visits to teach them to head chef Michael Bahda, who was took me through the recipes.

The day begins, he said, at 5am when the team arrives to start making the soups in the basement of the Old Street location. All soup has to be done by the time the truck comes to pick up the supplies that will head over to the Adams Court location in the City. Often, the team makes 1000 litres of soup in a day! The “Soup Nazi” would be proud!

As it was Friday, I didn’t have to arrive at the crack of dawn because it is a prep day for the team since the shops are not open at the weekend. Instead, I pitched up a much more reasonable 11am to see the process of soup making from start to finish and help the team get prepped for Monday’s lunchtime rush.

After gathering the ingredients together for our two soups (Keema and Lemon Chickpea) Michael brought out two giant 55-litre pots and began frying the onions in each, while I stood by and took notes. He explained it is a very intense process and brute strength is needed to shift these pots when full.

Head chef Michael shows how it's done as he pours tomatoes into the big pot

I was surprised how similar the Keema recipe was to making a curry – after the onions, we fried garlic, ginger, cumin, chili, turmeric and bay leaves, before adding (salt-free) stock, 7.5 kilos of beef mince and water. Unlike a lot of shop-bought soups out there, the recipes use no added salt, which makes them healthier.

We went through a similar routine with the lemony chickpea soup – frying onions and spices, before adding wine and chickpeas and allowing to cook for a while.

Owner Mark takes a look at the soup while head chef Michael gives some a blend

The smells in the kitchen were intense – and only made my hungry tummy grumble more. The savoury spices floated through the air while the bubbling coconut milk of one of that day’s lunchtime soups lent a sweet flavour to it all. As we waited for the soups to finish, Michael gave me samples of some of the other soups that would be on offer the following week. As the soups are on a four-week rotation, any soups featured only have a short time to impress customers, who will hopefully remember their delicious blends down the line.

My favourite was definitely the spicy chicken with coconut milk and the Jamaican Jerk Chicken, which packed a proper punch.

After the soup had bubbled and boiled for around an hour, we were ready to blend it up and finish things off – with Michael adding cream, fresh lemon juice and coriander to the Lemon Chickpea for an added kick.

I rock out in a too-cool-for-school outfit while Michael and assistant Kamal work to move the heavy pot

The Lemon Chickpea soup soon became my new favourite – by adding the fresh lemon juice and coriander right at the end, Michael said it allows the flavours to really stand out, rather than having them boil away in the melee of ingredients. Stunning!

And, although my day at Nusa came to a close too soon, I went home all inspired by what I saw. And don’t worry, if you visit, they will only be saying, “More soup for you?” rather than “No soup for you.”

If you fancy making one of Nusa’s soups at home, try this to get your body feeling better post-Christmas!

Nusa’s “Body I’m Sorry” Soup:
1 l vegetable stock
50 ml Ponzu Dressing
50 ml Mirin
150 gm Organic Tofu
1 stick of Lemongrass
10 gm chillies
250 gm Chinese Cabbage
25 gm Star Anise
25 gm Ginger
3 Carrots
10 gm Bamboo Shoots
10 gm Water Chestnuts
20 gm Wood Ear mushrooms
2 Cinnamon Sticks
A bunch of Spring Onions
A bunch of Coriander
250 gm fresh Spinach
150 ml Chinese Vinegar
Bring vegetable stock to the boil.  Add ginger, chillies (coarsely chopped) and crushed lemon grass.  After about 10 minutes add mirin, chinese vinegar, star anise, cinnamon sticks and ponzu dressing.  Bring to the boil.  In the meantime, shred cabbage, dice carrots, dice water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. Soak the wood ear mushrooms for about 20 minutes or till softened before cutting them up into small pieces.  Finely slice tofu, spring onions and coriander.  Add all diced vegetables & tofu to hot broth. Let the vegetables soften, before adding spring onions and coriander.  SERVE WITH NOODLES & SPINACH.

Nusa Kitchen has two locations: one at 9 Old Street (EC1V 9HL) and the other at 2 Adams Court (EC2N 1DW).

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