It’s not easy to find a one dish wonder in London - a single main course that is reasonably priced yet manages to wow you with its flavours, especially within a restaurant scene where it’s all about small plate sharing to maximise the flavours a paying customer can take in in one sitting.
I am therefore more than happy to report that I found one such spot with Sambal Shiok, a newly opened noodle bar with a special focus Laksa. Originally a hugely successful pop up run by Mandy Ying, who is of Malaysian born Chinese heritage and with that really knows her stuff, it quickly became a favourite amongst London foodies, so that it was luckily only a matter of time until they found a more permanent home.
Located a short walk from Highbury & Islington station on Holloway Road, it is close enough to my comfort east London zone but still not overrun by hipsters, with the area becoming something of a hotbed for cool new restaurants and wine bars popping up (probably because unlike anywhere in Shoreditch rents here are still vaguely affordable). You can book but only for groups of 4 or more so be strategic about what time you are planning to eat. We came in around 9:30pm on a Friday and they had a waitlist for the rest of night but on this occasion luckily two people just left their seats at the bar counter as we entered. You can actually leave your number and grab a drink while you wait for your table, so make sure you come early enough - the restaurant has only been open since June but just had a raving review by one of my favourite food critics for the Times, Giles Coren, so expect that this spot will very quickly become one of THE new foodie spots in London. And rightly so.
The menu might be concise focusing on different types of laksa that suit everyone, from vegans to meat eaters, plus a few starters and curries but you don’t really need more if what is served is so spot on. Apparently the fried chicken is stellar but we stuck to some moorish crackers to start before moving to the star of the show at Sambal Shiok - the laksa. I went for the prawn one (and what prawns, juicy and cooked to perfection as you seldom get in this country) with added aubergine and a cooked egg and with a mix of egg and rice noodles (again you can customise here). Despite our waiter's warning I also went for the “hot” rather medium broth option. I put the hot in quotation marks here as that was the only slight let down of the meal, the broth just missing that extra kick.
However that is minor quibble and perhaps my tolerance was just particularly high on that day because every other aspect of the soup was absolutely spectacular for the around £14 I paid with all the added extras. It not only looked amazing but was no doubt one of the finest noodles soups I’ve had in my life full stop and I haven’t shut up about the place to friends since finishing the meal. Another special mention also to their well curated wine list, focusing on German wines that never get enough credit, and the fantastic and attentive service by a team that you can tell truly loves what they serve. A wonderful new dining gem that proves that the restaurant scene in London is not quite dead yet!
My trip to Marrakesh left me craving the fresh and fragrant array of tagines we had been lucky enough to sample over our long weekend there. Whether veg or fish based, these tagines were full of delicate flavours, with hints of sweetness and so light yet satisfying that I couldn't wait to re-create my own version at home.
After some research I stumbled across this fish tagine recipe with haddock, which not only looked amazing, I mean with its vibrant colours this simply screamed being on holiday to me, but also appeared relatively easy to make at home. The only ingredients that seemed a little out of the ordinary were the preserved lemons, meant to add a subtle yet essential and unique hint of citrus, and the Ras el hanout (a blend of typical Moroccan spices that make your life a hell of a lot easier than getting the individual ones), both of which you are able to get in most bigger Waitrose supermarkets or online at Ocado, which meant there was no reason for me to not re-create a real Marrakesh style feast at home.
Rather than the plain couscous that usually gets served alongside tagines I thought I would mix things up a little, particularly as I am not a massive fan of the gritty texture of couscous, and went for bulgur wheat on this occasion instead. I had never made it before (to be honest I am much more of a sweet potato or pasta person than other grains), but it proved super easy to make and I served it room temperature with the dinner which meant I was able to prep it before my guests arrived. What really adds flavour here is my go-to tahini dressing that is super easy to make (all you need is tahini, fresh lemon juice, golden syrup and a little hot water to thin) and voila you get a super tasty dressing that not only works here but which I often drizzle on top of roasted vegetables for an extra kick. In terms of add-ins you can go wild, I kept it Middle Eastern leaning with pomegranates, raisins, spring onions and of course fresh herbs but feel free to add more veg to bulk it out.
The tagine does take some prep bearing in mind the marinading time, making of the tomato sauce and roasting of the veg but you can assemble the entire tagine before your guests arrive and then simply stick it all in the oven for 15 minutes when you are ready for dinner, serving the room temperature bulgur wheat on the side and making this a great dish to feed a crowd with!
I was seriously impressed with the end result here, it being as good as the tagines I had in Marrakesh in it's depth of flavours yet lightness, and I am sure to make this again this summer and for many more summers to come! I hope you enjoy the recipe!
Moroccan Fish Tagine with Ginger & Saffron
¼ cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
½ cup olive oil
3 teaspoons Ras el hanout
8 threads Spanish saffron, crushed
5 haddock fillets
2 tins of crushed tomatoes
2 large garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
500g carrots, peeled, sliced diagonally
2 white onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon preserved lemon pulp
1 small jar of pitted green olives
1. In a large bowl, mix parsley, coriander, olive oil,saffron and Ras el hanout. Add juice of half of lemon. Coat fish fillets with mixture, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Cut leftover lemons into thin slices.
2. In a large sauce pan, combine crushed tomatoes, garlic and cumin. Cook over medium heat, mashing and stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 200 celsius.
4. Place carrot slices in single layer on bottom of a casserole dish. Cover with onion slices. Spoon tomato sauce over onions. Cover casserole tightly with aluminum foil. Bake in middle of oven for about 30-45 minutes, until carrots are soft.
5. Remove from oven and place fish fillets on top of vegetables. Reserve marinade. Spread a little preserved lemon pulp on each fillet and top each one with 2 slices of lemon.
6. Pour reserved marinade around fillets and surround with olives. This is when I cover everything in foil and wait until the dinner is in full swing to return to the oven.
7. Return casserole to oven and bake, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes, until fish is flaky.
9. Spoon some of sauce over fish.
Middle Eastern Bulgur Wheat With Tahini Dressing & Pomegranate
300g bulgur wheat
Generous helping of chopped mint & parsley (the more the better)
150g pomegranate seeds (buy them ready at your supermarket of choice rather than creating the mess of dealing with an actual pomegranate)
4 spring onions
For the tahini dressing (I pretty much do this by so the below are guidelines only - taste!)
3 tablespoons tahini
1/2 lemon juiced
1 tablespoon golden syrup
Hot water to thin and give it a dressing like consistancy
1. In a large saucepan of salted boiling water, cook the bulgur until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well, then spread out on a baking sheet to cool.
2. Mix the tahini with the lemon juice and golden syrup. Add hot water until desired consistency. Season.
3. Add dry ingredients to the cooled bulgur wheat then add dressing and stir well. Season. Cover to let the flavours develop and serve room temperature.