Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Meals on (Two) Wheels

Andu Cafe: the flavour of Ethiopia in Dalston

Some of us have kept the high street food economy going with occasional takeaway orders during these lockdown times.

It was my girlfriend who told me about Andu Café in Dalston, east London. This is an area well known to both of us. We’ve been to The Arcola Theatre, just down the road and to gigs at the Dalston Eastern Curve, on Dalston Lane.

However, I knew nothing about Andu, an Ethiopian vegan restaurant on Kingsland Road. Already this is another place to add to Meal on (Two) Wheels’ ever-increasing list of must-visit cafes and eateries in the Big Smoke.

Andu’s success is a combination of low-price, high-quality food, friendly service and cash-only policy. The punters outside (some of whom looked like regulars) were evidence of this.

Beautiful, tasty and well-presented food
(photo by the author)
The menu’s simplicity betrays its tastiness. There’s only the sampler platter to try. This is a six-dish mix of spicy lentil stew, greens, spiced potatoes and onion, two split peas and some vegetables. This is usually served with either rice or injera, the traditional Ethiopian bread. I would strongly recommend choosing the latter.

I’ve written in this section before about Ethiopian food. Andu’s food is as good as Mesi’s Kitchen’s, even though the latter’s menu is far more varied.

The gomen were nice and crunchy. The yesimir wot (lentil stew cooked in a Berbere sauce) was well seasoned. The lightly curried mix of cabbage, potatoes and onions (tikil gomen) was tender and well cooked.

This is street food the way it should taste: gloriously satisfying and cheap. As London prepares to open up the doors of its cafes, restaurants and pubs, Andu’s should be on everyone’s list. Whether to sit in or take away, it won’t matter, the grub will still be good.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Meals on (Two) Wheels: Accra Palace in Upper Clapton

Who cares where jollof rice comes from when the food is this good?

The Third World War – if ever there is another one, that is – won’t start over oil or territories. No, the next world conflict will probably kick off over the provenance of one of Africa’s most delicious and emblematic dishes: jollof rice.

The coordinates we can agree on: West Africa. We can also trace its roots back to the Senegambia region, in the ancient Wolof or Jolof (see?) empire. But that’s about it. Things get a bit murky thereafter. Senegalese, Gambians, Cameroonians, Liberians, Nigerians and Ghanaians all claim ownership of this iconic recipe.

Accra Palace on Upper Clapton Road is not interested in murkiness. Its business is food. And food – good food – is what it delivers. Over time I’ve become a regular, especially when my former favourite Ghanaian restaurant, Rebecca’s in Edmonton (Enfield), is no longer within easy reach.

The dish in question (photo by the author)
The restaurant’s location is excellent. Sandwiched between Stamford Hill’s long-established Orthodox Jewish community and an already hipster-driven, gentrified Hackney, Accra Palace adds a multicultural touch to what used to be a rather drab, drive-through area.

What I love about Accra Palace is both its service and grub. Both come with a smile. My usual fix is jollof rice, fried chicken and plantain. The rice is loose and soft. I once asked one of the staff at Accra Palace what type of rice they used and she told me that they favoured long grain rice (Thai or jasmine).

The other element that makes jollof rice such a distinctive West African staple is its spice mix. In the Ghanaian version warm spices are used most of the time. This means clove, nutmeg or cinnamon. Something else that sets Ghanaians apart from other jollof rice-consuming West African countries is their use of the same protein stock (beef or chicken, for instance) to simmer their dish.

None of the above answers the one million-dollar question: where does jollof rice come from? But as long as we have places like Accra Palace, the provenance is irrelevant. Only the food – and good food at that – matters.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

A Visit to Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire


Was it a hawk, a buzzard or a kite? All I know is that it was a bird of prey

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow (photo by the blog author)

I only noticed it when we were walking towards the exit. It hovered just above us, as if to show off its aerial skills. Was it a kite, a hawk or a similar bird of prey? I don’t know. The sky was a dull grey and fascinated though I usually am by wildlife, I can’t tell a buzzard from a sparrowhawk that far.

We were at Batsford Arboretum, in Gloucestershire. Home to one of the UK’s largest private tree collections, we’d just spent a good hour walking among cherry blossoms and oak trees.

With 56 acres of wild gardens, paths and streams, the arboretum offers something to everyone. Set up as a charity, the Batsford Foundation (the body that oversees the venue’s management and maintenance) aims to promote education, conservation and research into gardens and historic landscapes.

Originally the estate belonged to Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, who had worked for the Foreign Office in Russia, Japan and China in the 1860s. A passionate lover of the oriental landscape, this was the sort of design Mitford had in mind for the arboretum.

A cedar tree (photo by the blog author)

Sadly, during the Second World War and the years that followed the grounds became wild and fell into neglect. It wasn’t until Frederick Anthony Hamilton Wills, 2nd Lord Dulverton, succeeded the previous owner that the garden was returned to its former glory.

Once we left the arboretum I realised there was another building next to it. It was a falconry, where many birds of prey can be seen daily in free-flying demonstrations. I spotted another couple of birds up in the air with the one I’d seen before.

But hard as I tried, I still couldn’t tell them apart.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Walking In the Cotswolds With a Song In My Head

Gorse and limestone, but where’s my snake?


Climbing up on Solsbury Hill/I could see thecity light/Wind was blowing, time stood still/Eagle flew out of the night

I’ve no idea why I was singing and humming (the latter, when words failed me) Peter Gabriel’s tune in my head, other than it seemed appropriate as we went up Cleeve Common, in Gloucestershire. This is a habit I’ve had for many years now. Serenading myself quietly. I think I’ve taken after my dad in that respect. He always had a melody on his lips. Sometimes it was a well-known song played endlessly on the radio. Other times it was a piece he was working on, ready to be finished on the upright piano we had back then in my house.

Geology- and archaeology-rich Cleeve Common sits in one-thousand acres of agriculturally unimproved limestone grassland, in the Cotswolds. Quarries and gorse thickets add to the variety of wildlife habitats.

Untouched by the plough or fertiliser, the area is home to a wide range of wild flowers, many of which would have been familiar throughout Britain before the post-war intensification of farming.

However, despite the presence of three Scheduled Ancient Monuments (the Cross Dyke, the Hill Fort and the Ring), what I really wanted to see was an adder.

I’d heard so much about Britain’s only venomous snake. The presence of meadow pipits was a welcome sign as I knew that adders liked hunting ground-nesting birds. Also, the high-rising temperature would have tempted this usually shy reptile to leave its hideout in order to seek the warmth of the sun.

Yet, after walking for just over an hour there was no slithering, dark zig-zag pattern to spot. We got back to the car, my heart “going boom, boom, boom”, but I guess you already knew that. After all, I’m used to serenading myself.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Belas Knap Long Barrow: a Piece of British History

A culture-rich walk in Gloucestershire and dressing for April

Chamber D (photo by author)

They told me it was a steep climb, but in the end it wasn’t much of an effort. The main issue was how to dress. TS Elliot got it wrong. April is not the cruellest month, but the most weather-uncertain one. Layer-shedding is what I call the fourth month of the year. And so it proved to be today.

I started uphill with a jumper, a hoodie and a jacket. Belas Knap, our destination, beckoned further up ahead. Going through a couple of fields, I realised that lambing season had already started. The evidence was the little, Easter-picture-perfect lambs gambolling about, not too far from the ewes’ watchful gaze.

Belas Knap Long Barrow, in Gloucestershire, is one of those sites that connects you to history straight away. It’s over 5,500 years old and it was built by prehistoric people, early Neolithic period. It was a burial place. At least the remains of 38 people were found within the four chambers that make up the mound.

The site was first excavated in the 1860s. However the barrow was left in ruins until 1928 when more digging and restoration took place. There are four burial chambers and a “false portal” (picture below). The latter might have been built to deter robbers, even though not many valuables have been found in the tomb chambers. Another theory suggests that the false entrance was a “spirit door”, making it easy for the dead to come and take offerings..

False entrance known as portal setting (photo by the author)

By the time we initiated our descent, my hoodie was wrapped around my waist and I was holding my jacket. I was also wishing I had at least put on a T-shirt underneath, instead of a thick top. It wasn’t the climb that was the problem but my sartorial choice.

Monday, 1 February 2021

Living with Covid (in the house)


Sorry, guys, but the test has come back positive”. The words felt like a hammer blow.

Covid-19 had just arrived home.

Worldwide, 2020 has already been an annus horribilisCoronavirus has swept through every single country, regardless of GDP or religion. As an English language teacher, I was one of the first ones to be made aware of the devastation wreaked by this most unwelcome visitor. My school, like all the others in the UK, closed down in late March.

Yet, deep within my psyche (and I only came to this conclusion after reading and re-reading the text from my landlord to both my housemate and me letting us know that he’d contracted the virus) was the thought that all this was happening somewhere else. How reality-defying must one be before reality imposes itself? Sometimes in the most unaccommodating of circumstances.

(Click here to continue reading)

Tuesday, 5 January 2021

Urban Diary



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