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Middle Eastern Restaurant Review at Bala Baya, London

Earlier this year the all day dining restaurant Bala Baya (@balabayauk), opened reflecting London’s continued growing interest and love of Middle Eastern food. There were lots of articles in the press and on social media but what really intrigued me was the Owner/ Executive Chef Eran Tibi and his quest to make the type of pitta bread and street food he grew up with in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. Eran, a protégé of Yotam Ottolenghi could not find the right kind so decided to set up a production line at the back of his restaurant in Southwark to produce a flavoursome pitta bread pocket – charred on the outside and  fluffy on the inside.

Bala Baya’s Signature Pitta bread

Pitta is the perfect partner with the sharing plate dishes on the menu, however if you are not into bread there is plenty to eat and enjoy. I decided to go for a late lunch and meet and chat with Eran, Tomr (General Manager), Charlie ( Head Chef) and Chronis (Head of front of house).

Late lunch

I chose the cauliflower, char-roasted and topped with a tasty crumble and cool yoghurt giving bursts of flavour- a delicious version of the popular cauliflower schwarma, eaten elsewhere. The other dish, was called ‘Crispy, Sticky, Crunchy’ and was a fusion of Korean fried chicken with some Middle Eastern twists. Lots of layers of tastes and textures, a small plate that packed a big punch. The crispy coated chicken was complimented with bitter orange, harissa, kimchi, and a smooth butternut squash purée. This dish reflects Eran’s eclectic tastes that really worked well. I also had the pitta and dip – a fab combo of charred flavoursome bread with a cooling, seasoned yoghurt dip.

Bala Baya Chefs in Action & Grapefuit & Thyme Gazoz

To drink I chose a non-alcoholic Gazoz, having not heard of these drinks, whose origins are in Turkey, and are popular in Israel.  I chose the grapefruit & thyme version – a refreshing thirst quencher – slightly carbonated – very fruity & slightly sour.

Burnt Babka dessert

Although pretty full, for research purposes I wanted to try the desserts on the lunch  menu – Burnt Babka & Malabi. The babka was a slice of the yeasted classic with chocolate & hazelnut, but charred to bring out a different flavour and served with stewed plums, caramelised pecans & whisked anglaise custard.

Malabi dessert

Surprisingly for someone that is not keen on Malibu, my favourite was the Malabi – a coconut milk & Malibu set milk custard served with a rhubarb and orange compote. A great flavour combo and lighter way to finish lunch. I was keen to experience the more extensive dinner menu, so went back a few weeks later with Carolyn, Laure & Tracey – 3 foodie friends. I am a big fan of mixing and matching and casual dining – and Bala Baya really delivered. We decided to pick a dish each rather than opt for the tasting menu.

Spring Salmon

Tomr was keen I try the new dish ‘Spring Salmon’ -cured spiced fish with rhubarb, preserved lemon & dill jellies. This dish was a subtle combo & a good way to get the tastebuds ready for more full-on flavoured dishes to follow. We tried the ‘Lamb & Dumplings’ (slow cooked lambneck, quince, Persian dumplings, young Pecorino & jus); ‘Calamari & Jam’ (crispy calamari with saffron and butternut jam & lime aioli); Cauliflower ( same as lunch dish), and ‘Stuffed Peppers'( spiced freekah, sour cherries & citrus yoghurt).

Fish & Fennel: Seabass

Our 3 favourite dishes were the ‘Fish & Fennel’ – a whole cooked sea bass with fennel, burnt sage and lemon, griddled vine tomato with a butter and anise sauce. The fish was soft and succulent and an expert mix of flavours.

Aubergine tea with milk (top) and Chickpea & Ox

We also loved the ‘Chickpea & Ox’ with slow braised oxtail, tahini & warm hummus – bold flavours and very tasty. The 3rd dish simply described as ‘Aubergine Tea with Milk’ was an intriguing description so we had to try it. We were not disappointed by the understated titled dish that was a beautiful combination of tea- smoked soft aubergine with a delicious yoghurt topping. We had 2 desserts to share with 4 spoons and chose the burnt babka (same as lunch menu) and the tahini & banana cheesecake with crushed biscuits, tempura banana , salted caramel & praline.

Tahini & Banana Cheesecake (bottom)

I am definitely more of a savoury person but we enjoyed having a little sweet treat to sign off our  meal. It was a fun Friday night to catch up with  foodie friends, whilst enjoying the buzzy vibe and  yummy food at Bala Baya under the railway arches  in Southwark. Thanks to Eran, Tomr, Charlie and the crew for fantastic customer service. #balabaya, is an Israeli term used to express admiration for a woman’s strength and love. I certainly loved the strong flavoured delicious dishes and will be back for another visit soon.

Bala Baya, Arch 25, Old Union Yard Arches, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LR. (balabaya.co.uk).

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Around the World in 7 Beers

Spring has sprung in New York. the clocks have hopped forward an hour and after endless barrages of Snow, the days are finally warming up. In my opinion, of course, this change of season is a great excuse to try out a new beer or two!

So, my good friend Brendon O’Brien Beer Director at DeCicco & Sons and I got together last week to have a chat about some of the best beverages for the season. We decided not to focus on the amazing American Craft Brewing Industry but to have a look at some brewers crafting wonderful, eclectic and fascinating beer in Europe and beyond instead. A kind of World Tour in 7 Beers

The USA may be a world leader in craft beer, but readers, there are some fabulous beers out there, which specialist stores like DeCiccos have managed to get their hands on for your drinking pleasure.  This Spring, you can truly experience the world through beer whilst relaxing at home in your pajamas!

Rothaus Pils – “Tannen Zapfle” –  (5.3% ABV) – The Black Forest, Germany

Rothaus Pils - Tannen Zapfle

Rothaus Pils – Tannen Zapfle as pure a Pilsner as you are likely to find

We start our trip in Europe with this fine beer, which first appeared in the 1950s. The name translates as ‘Little Pine Cones’ . The artwork on the label shows how the pine cones grow upwards in the Black Forest and the Gothic typeface the brewer uses emphasizes its German origin

When poured, it appears as a light straw-colored Pilsner style lager. On tasting, it comes across as a true straightforward expression of beer, soft in texture (important of true Pilsner brewed with soft water).  It is clean and frankly ‘pure as the driven away snow’  So, in our view, a perfect, fresh lively and pure beverage for any day in Spring (and beyond)

Due to its simple perfection and uncomplicated nature it has excellent food pairing potential and will work with virtually anything but Brendon reckons it is best with a Viennese Schnitzel. As the weather warms, we both could imagine quenching our thirst with this fine drink especially after a bout of mowing the yard!

So, say “Auf Wiedersehen” to your thirst with this beauty from the Forests of Germany and head north-west to the land of Brexit from Europe

Siren Craft Brew – “Grapefruit ‘Ting” (ABV 6.0%) – Finchampstead, Berkshire, United Kingdom

Siren Grapefruit 'Ting 2

Siren Craft Brew’s – Grapefruit ‘Ting, pink refreshing and Springy!

According to Brendon, Siren is one of the few English brewers marketing themselves as a craft brewery and this is hugely appealing to the American market.

They have been involved in collaborations with highly recommended US craft brewers such as: Hill Farmstead and Tired Hands

This particular beer is brewed in the “Milkshake” style which is very popular at present in US craft brewing. The style incorporates fruit and another ingredient, lactose milk sugar. The lactose is not fermentable and leaves a residual sweetness. So one gets a sour style fruit beer with a residual sweet taste

On pouring, the beer is Pink and Hazy. and on drinking, it has a tart acidity from the fruit balanced with the sweetness from the lactose. To appeal to the US tastes even more, Siren have thrown in some new world hops as embraced by the craft beer community.

The beer plays on the ‘Radler’ Style – a sort of fruit juice shandy and this brew will certainly appeal to those readers who like a refreshing drink

The acidity in Grapefruit ‘Ting, works perfectly with a Pork Tenderloin and that is Brendon’s recommendation for a food pairing

A great spring refresher and indeed, for any warm day!

LoverBeer – “For Fan” (ABV 7%) – Marentino, Italy

LoverBeer - For Fan

LoverBeer – For Fan (Brendon’s little secret…)

Now, I am sworn to secrecy and not to tell anyone readers but, this is Brendon’s favorite small brewery on the Planet (Oops!)

Apparently, Lover Beer is a husband and wife team with help from the brewer’s father (who is a gentleman of over 80 years old) based in Merentino, Northern Italy just outside of Turin

The style of this beer is a take on a Belgian Lambic, a spontaneously fermented wild ale

The artwork on the beer’s label shows a Monk and a Farmer working together which is very much linked to Valter Loverier, the Master Brewer’s philosophy of emphasizing a blend of old tradition, new world ingenuity and locally farmed produce

Valter and family brewed this beer with an ancient variety of apricots from Piedmont, Italy.  A quenching high acidity base beer is rounded out by a ripe fruit quality and aged for a year in French Oak Barriques (a small barrel)

The color is a golden delight, on tasting, it is incredibly complex but Brendon feels it really hits the nail on the head regarding the beer it sets out to be

Paired with food, it works perfectly with duck, whether that be Peking Duck or Duck Confit

Brendon has just departed for Brewing Heaven…..

Orval – “Trappist Ale” (ABV 6.9%) – Abbaye D’Orval, Belgium

Orval - Trappist Ale

Orval – Trappist Ale, beer to drink while marooned on a desert island

Back over the English Channel we head South East to the Orval Abbey in Belgium to check out what we’ve nicknamed, “The Monk Beer”, brewed by the good Brothers in a 12th Century Monastery on the border with France. It is the only beer the monks sell outside the monastery and all the proceeds raise funds for the monastery and non-profit projects

It is a complex beer borrowing from a number of styles, the base is a Belgian pale ale, dry hopped for the aroma and inoculated with wild yeast strain and bacteria. This allows the beer to have a rustic dry nature and lively carbonation.

When poured it is seriously fizzy with a massive creamy cloudy head on the top of the beer. In color it is tan and light brown in the glass

For Brendon, this mix of styles is presented in one beautiful beer and depending on how old the bottle is, it varies massively in taste. The difference between a bottle of 1-5 years old is simply stellar. A brew to wait all winter for!

This is the drink that Brendon would want an unlimited supply, if he was to be marooned on a desert island, as it is all he needs to drink until rescued

As to a food pairing? Well, this beverage is versatile but frankly it is just superb as a standalone but it works brilliantly when served with cheeses like a sharp cheddar, a soft goat or even sheep’s milk cheese

Single Cut – “Weird & Gilly IPA” (ABV 6.6%) – Queens, NY, USA

Singlecut - Weird & Gilly (& Bowie)

Singlecut – Weird & Gilly, the David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust barnstorming IPA

We now zoom across the pond to my home state of NY to check out a funky music influenced brewer’s beer from Astoria, Queens NY.  Single Cut are up and coming in the American Craft Beer world and are currently one of New York’s hottest breweries

There is a music theme in their brand and their beer names, hence the name of this brew we recommend comes from the late great David Bowie from his Ziggie Stardust persona – “Weird & Gilly” with whom he jammed good in his ‘Spiders from Mars’ LP

Single Cut are known for IPAs, which of course are the hottest form of beer here in the US, as I write. This beer is a distinctly US style hazy orange-colored, huge citrus aroma IPA, brimming with hoppiness and virtually “springing” out of the glass at you

It is unbelievable with Fish Tacos and perfect for the chilli eating aficionados amongst us

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel – “Rigor Mortis” (ABV 10.5%) – St Jerome, Quebec, Canada

Dieu du Ciel - Rigor Mortis

Dieu du Ciel – Rigor Mortis, drink moderately folks, it’s STRONG stuff!

Next, we leap over the US’ northern border to Quebec, Canada to visit Brasserie, Dieu Du Ciel,  internationally recognized brewers, whose approach to brewing is very much like a magpie. Grabbing styles from around the world and perfecting it in the land of the Maple Leaf

Rigor Mortis takes on a Belgian abbey style brew with a strong ‘malt forward’ brown ale – meaning the barley is the driving flavor up at the front of the bus!

Cloudy and dark brown in color, it’s taste is characterized, by fig, molasses and golden raisins (sultanas) and it is dominated by these flavors. This is  a beer for the connoisseur and not those of weak palate. It truly knocks you off your feet with flavor

Brendon says that when it comes to pairing, this beer works like a hand in a glove with Spring Lamb Chops but drink sparingly, as it’s strong dark mysterious stuff which will cause you to get a taste of the label ‘Rigor Mortis’!

Almanac – “Barbary Coast” (10% ABV) – San Francisco, USA

Now we shift our focus South West a few thousand miles to San Francisco back in the US of A to check out Almanac’s amazing creation

These guys are one of the breweries promoting the farm to barrel movement, working with the local Californian farmers, very much tied to the Bay Area and California community. Although known for their sours what we see from this brew is that they excel at all styles

Barbary Coast is one of their biggest hits. A jet black stout full of flavor, high in alcohol brewed with cocoa nibs, chili pepper, oak chips (which replicates aging in oak) and San Francisco sea salt

Stouts are dominated by dark malt coffee chocolate flavors and the chilies in this beer are simply awesome to compliment and balance out these flavors, while the addition of the sea salt brininess pushes forward the cocoa taste

We also love the packaging which really gives the feel of old SF sailboats and the wharf back in the turn of the century with a name being a reference to the Wild West of yore

Check it out!

So, what will be your Beer of Choice for a Trip around the Globe for Spring? Let us know what you think in our survey below:

 

You can find out more about all these beers from their websites and if you, like me are lucky enough to be in New York, from your friendly neighborhood Beer Guys at DeCiccco & Sons!

http://www.rothaus.de

http://www.sirencraftbrew.com

http://www.orval.be/en/8/Brewery

http://www.loverbeer.com/

http://dieuduciel.com/

https://singlecutbeer.com/

http://www.almanacbeer.com/