Thursday, 24 May 2012

King Prawn and Chickpea Madras Curry with Rice

On a boiling hot day like today, the best thing to eat is a super spicy curry.

Spicy food stimulates the sweat glands that cool you down, which is why the hottest countries on the planet generally feature curry as their national dish. Seems like a lot of bother to me. Why warm your body up to cool it down? Surely it would be more efficient to eat cold food, thereby cooling your body from within and not waking up your sweat glands at all? Quick, I must write to a consulate or three...

I'm not making curry today for any other reason, other than... I LOVE A CUZZA!

Depth of winter, height of summer, I don't care - as soon as I smell the waft of the chilli and spices I'm like a Pavlovian hound sitting in my own saliva. Today's recipe is a king prawn madras with Indian flavours, but I'm equally happy with a Thai Green Curry, or a Singaporean Rendang, or a Malaysian Fish Curry, or even a Veggie Curry, come to that.

I have used king prawns as my main ingredient today, because they are so cheap to buy and so delicious. I remember a time when these Crustacea were considered 'rich man's fare' - but not any more. I normally buy two 225g bags of fresh raw shelled de-veined king prawns for a fiver at my local supermarket, and then bung one in the freezer for next time. You could use chicken, any meat or fish, or a combination of vegetables instead, if you like.

I'm sitting here, waiting for Mrs Ribeye to come home from work so that I can put dinner on our patio table on the roof terrace and eat al fresco while the wife sweats her a**e off eating a hot curry in 75c weather and griping as to why I am torturing her. 'Don't moan' I'll say. 'People in India eat curry all summer long.' 'You're an idiot', she'll say.

She may have a point...

Budget-wise, this luxurious dish comes in at a non-luxurious, pretty standard, £2 per serving. If you make it with other meats or veggies the cost will go up or down a bit - but not by much.

Serves 2


1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of olive or sunflower oil
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, chilli powder, ginger and salt and pepper
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
400g tin of chickpeas in water
225 raw shelled king prawns
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Fresh chillies, cut into fine rings, for sprinkling
300g cooked basmati rice, to serve

On a moderate heat, cook the onions and garlic until soft and translucent (10-15 minutes approx). Add the spices and cook until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and chickpeas and cook until the sauce is thick and unctuous (30-45 minutes approx). Take the sauce off the heat and add the king prawns and lemon juice. Fold the prawns through the sauce until cooked in the sauce's residual heat (5-10 minutes approx). Sprinkle the curry with the fresh chillies just before serving, and serve with the rice.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Vegetable Couscous with Fresh Oregano

So, here are a few facts to ponder:

1. I make Mrs Ribeye's packed lunch every day for work (henpecked, me? nah...).
2. Mrs Ribeye and I are on a 'meat in moderation' pact, meaning we mainly reserve eating flesh for weekends and special occasions.
3. I have a new herb garden (more like a couple of terracotta troughs, actually) on the roof terrace.

Put these seemingly independent facts together and what do you get? Couscous! With vegetables! And fresh herbs! Not so hard to guess really.

Mrs Ribeye loves pasta salad, but wasn't so keen on couscous until I told her that couscous is in fact pasta, but smaller. Now she loves it. I can't wait to tell her that liver is made of strawberries and black pudding has chocolate in it. No, really. Couscous IS made of semolina flour like pasta, so it is (in theory anyway) small pasta. In theory.

Anyway, since I started making this dish, the old finicky eater can't get enough of it. When she saw the fresh oregano, she asked me why I had put bits of the hedge on her packed lunch. Give me strength...

In the new herb 'garden', I have put oregano, French tarragon, apple mint and rosemary. Mrs Ribeye likes nicking off bits of the mint to put in her tea (bless her and her Russian ways) and I like nicking bits off the rest to jazz up our meals. Apart from using the oregano in this vegetarian recipe, I'm looking forward to the weekend to use it to 'herbify' a Greek lamb dish, or something.

This weekend is the Eurovision Song Contest and I have Ophelia, Kumar, Tanya and Ricardo over here for a barbecue/Eurovision extravaganza - let's hope this heatwave holds out (it probably won't). Watch this space for a barbecue recipe after I've figured out what I'm going to make. I'm feeling a bit hamburger-y, but peri-peri chicken is also on the cards. Go Engelbert!

Back to today though. Just gather up some spring vegetables and add them to a sun-dried tomato or basil pesto-flavoured couscous and then get busy with the fresh herbs. It's a wonderful late spring/early summer lunch or supper, or if you're Mrs Ribeye, a fabulous packed lunch to eat with your workmates in sunny Hyde Park. Luckyyyyyy.

Cost-wise, this set me back £1.50 per serving, but feel free to add whatever you like and you'll still stay way under your Potless budget.

Serves 2


100g dried couscous
150ml boiling water
50g sun-dried tomato pesto sauce
Pinches of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
200g chopped vegetables (I have used artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes and black olives)
Fresh oregano leaves to sprinkle

Add the couscous to the boiling water with the pesto, salt and pepper and dried oregano. Leave to stand, covered in clingfilm, until the water has been absorbed (10 minutes approx). Once the couscous has cooled to room temperature, add the vegetables and fold through. Sprinkle with the fresh oregano leaves just before serving.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #3: Makan Cafe, Portobello Road, London, W10

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Mrs Ribeye and I had a wonderful time at Portobello Road market on Saturday morning, although the polarisation of the cheaper shops, frequented by the locals towards the lower end near Golborne Road, compared with the over-priced tourist traps at the upper end near Notting Hill Gate, has never been more apparent. Portobello Road market, made famous in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie 'Notting Hill', is still as vibrant and busy as ever - the only negative is the miserable-looking, and sounding, buskers every 100 yards, drimbling their crappy music to the punters as they shuffle quickly past (an occasional upbeat tune or a smile would be nice, guys).

It is toward the lower end at Portobello Green, that this review comes to you. Mrs Ribeye, fresh from her purchase of an immaculate genuine vintage Burberry trench coat for an amazing £45 (most probably nearer £100 at the upper end of the road), and I, fancied lunch. Under the A40 overpass lurks Makan, along with a few other cafes and luncheries. The Thai restaurant, 'Garden & Grill', with the roof terrace overlooking the very middle of Portobello Road market would have been a great choice - had we been in the area on a weekday instead - but this being a weekend, the prices in that establishment triple on peak days, meaning that the only people they were entertaining were not exactly the local cognoscenti. So Makan it was, an authentic Malaysian cafe filled with 'Lahndahners' who know better.

Makan Cafe
270 Portobello Road
W10 5TY
Tel: 020 8560 5169

The Restaurant:

The place has a real street food cafe feel to it. The furniture is a selection of oddments, ranging from the regular formica topped tables, to wooden garden furniture, to some bar stools at a bar at the front of the cafe near the front door. Every seat was taken when we arrived, but the high turnover rate means that the most you would wait would be five minutes - enough time to place your order and be given a number to wait for your food to be delivered to you, before hurriedly scooting to the nearest available vacant seats.

There is a glass-fronted counter (pictured) with a large selection of Malaysian treats waiting to be microwaved and served to you, and a sign telling you to pick your choice of dishes with one, two or three combinations, in an ascending (but still very reasonable even at the most expensive) order of prices. The chefs at the back kitchen are hard at work preparing food to order if you don't fancy the zapped cabinet fare. Mrs Ribeye and I chose instead to order a couple of dishes from the large photographs suspended above the waiting staff - all coming in a choice of veg/chicken/seafood - and which are also very reasonably priced.

The Menu:

In the chiller cabinet are trays of varying lamb, veg, and fish dishes, from aubergine stews to chickpea curries, a spinach-y looking side dish, chicken noodle dishes, a variety of meat curries, rice and other sundries, including fried seafood-y stuff and dumplings. In fairness, the food doesn't look its best when sitting in its cold stainless steel receptacle, which is the reason why Mrs Ribeye and I opted for the 'made to order' selection instead, but this may have been a mistake, as the guy in the seat next to me
was delivered a most sumptuous selection of 'cabinet stuff' which looked incredible after its careful arrangement on a plate and being subjected to some warming gamma rays.

Never mind, ours was on its way and we ended up delighted with our choices. Mrs Ribeye chose a fried noodle dish with chicken, and I chose a large bowl of Singaporean (I know, not exactly Malaysian) laksa with seafood, and we decided to split everything down the middle to be able to sample a bit of each.

The last time I ate laksa was actually in Singapore, when my friend's mother (who was generous enough to let me stay with them for a week), made us her own home-made version. Makan's was almost as good - trust me,  this is an enormous compliment.

The dishes, when they arrived, were huge and brightly garnished with fresh salad vegetables. The noodle dish was a fried vermicelli-based creation with a generous portion of stir fried chicken and vegetables. The laksa was the star of the show though. A spicy coconut soup filled with noodles, fried tofu cakes, vegetables, and large coral-coloured king prawns. The accompanying chilli oil ramped up the spice quotient for me (a MASSIVE chilli addict), but Mrs Ribeye was happy to leave the heat levels where they were.

Together, the two dishes complimented each other perfectly, and the generous serving sizes meant that there was no need for any starters or side dishes to gild the lily.

The Bill:

With every dish here priced at under £7 - and most are way under - you would be hard pressed to pay more than about a tenner a head, whatever you order. Mrs Ribeye and I came away with a bill of £15 for the two of us, including a drink each, and I reckon that this is the cheapest lunch at a sit-down place in Portobello Road on a weekend market day. If you're around on a non-market weekday, you will love the aforementioned Garden & Grill with the far-ranging views from the first floor terrace, but on a weekend, Makan is the place to be for a delicious, well-priced, Far Eastern dining experience, after a hard morning's vintage clothing shopping.

The Experience:

While not exactly the Ritz, this cafe is a brilliant find for somewhere tasty, authentic and cheap after spending the morning trawling for bargains in London's most famous antique, vintage clothing and food market. I first came here a decade ago and loved the ambience, and as with the best places to eat in London, the ones that survive and prosper seem to always be upping their game. Makan is no exception - it is better than ever and offers one of the only good value eating experiences in Portobello Road on a Saturday lunchtime.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Pepperoni and Pineapple Deep Pan Pizza

I have no idea where I got this combination of toppings for a deep pan pizza from. It's a bit of a hybrid of a pepperoni pizza and a Hawaiian-style ham and pineapple pizza.

While I'm on the subject of Hawaiian pizzas, I'll bet you a million quid that if you went to Oahu or Honolulu and you walked into a pizzeria, you would not find an authentic ham and pineapple pizza on the menu. There may be one there in an ironic stab at self promotion, due to the Hawaiian pizza's fame abroad, but surely the invention of adding ham to pineapple and calling it 'Hawaiian' is a purely English thing?

It's like 'Cajun' seasoning. There are a thousand UK supermarket ready meals comprising a dust-covered chicken breast, calling itself 'Cajun'. I'm tempted to fly one down to New Orleans to ask the locals what they think of it.

Or 'Chicago deep pan pizzas'. Can it be true that it was in Chicago that someone thought of making a pizza base thicker than normal? What were they doing in Italy for all of those years? A huge wasted opportunity by the Italians to claim the deep pan pizza as their own, I must say.

Anyway, enough of my ranting, and on with the recipe. I had my friends Natalia and Fiona over last night for our first ever al fresco dining experience on our roof terrace. The weather was JUST about ok to eat outside, but I decided I could offer something to warm the fires from within - and this pizza was the perfect thing.

Just make sure you use a good wad of dough for the deep pan pizza base, and cook it on a moderately hot 210c to ensure the the base is crisp, while leaving the topping all golden and cooked - but not burnt.

So why the pepperoni and pineapple? Well, I suppose it was because I always quite enjoyed, as a child, the old Hawaiian pizzas that you can get from any old take away place, but felt that the blandness of the ham didn't quite offset the super-sweetness of the tinned pineapple chunks. Swap the ham for a spicy pepperoni, however, and the balance is perfect. Try it, you'll never go Hawaiian again.

I'm calling this combination 'Corsican'-style pizza. Why? Why not.

Pizza making at home is more delicious, easier, healthier, quicker and cheaper than buying one from your local takeaway. I knocked one up in 45 minutes, from making the dough to taking it out of the oven. £1.50 per serving is it will set you back - about a quarter/fifth of the price of the pizza delivery guys.

Serves 4


500g Pizza Dough
4 tablespoons sun-dried tomato pesto, or tomato puree
100g mozzarella, grated
100g pepperoni
100g pineapple chunks
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
Pinches of salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 210c. Spread the dough out onto an oiled baking sheet, to an even 2cm thickness, and spread it with the pesto or tomato puree. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the sauce and dot with the pepperoni and pineapple chunks. Sprinkle the oregano over the pizza and place it on the top shelf of the oven. Cook until the top is golden and bubbling (20-25 minutes approx). Serve hot.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mushroom and Potato Frittata

What's the difference between a tortilla and a frittata? No, this isn't a bad culinary joke - the answer, is that a tortilla is 'flipped' in the pan to cook both sides, while the frittata is cooked one one side in a pan and then grilled to cook the top.

Now, don't say I don't teach you nuffink.

The reason I made this frittata, as opposed to a tortilla, is that I wanted to try out my new cast iron frying pan on both the hob and the grill. This is the first time I have not bought a non-stick pan - opting for a VERY heavy duty, seasoned, solid iron (100 tons at least), very grown up pan, that looks as if I will be able to hand it down to my great-great-great grandchildren, perfectly intact.

Anyway, did it work? The answer, is a resounding YES! I don't know what has come into me, but I feel so comfortingly 'olde worlde cook'-ish with my cast iron pan, that I'm considering never buying anything non-stick again. Teflon? Pah! If it wasn't good enough for Mrs Beeton, it isn't good enough for me. Turning 40 does strange things to you, I must say.

So what does this frittata taste like? Well, I think using the cast iron pan gives it a certain savouriness or something I can't quite put my finger on. I'm sure in a blind-tasting I wouldn't be able to tell whether or not I had used a non-stick pan, but food isn't all about empirical data. It's about history, nostalgia and dare I say it, a bit of romance?

Go and buy a non-stick pan NOW! If you don't buy one ready-seasoned, like me, you will need to fry in it a few times and not scrub off the cooking residue too much when washing it, in order to build up it's non-stick layer.

Do I really need to tell you that this dish is way under the Potless budget? Well, for completeness I will: £1.50 per serving. I thank you.

Serves 2


300g floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper, peeled and cut into 2cm dice
200g mushrooms, finely sliced
1 large red onion, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of thyme
2 tablespoons of olive oil
5 eggs, beaten
Pinches of salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes until soft. Fry the mushrooms, onion, garlic and thyme in the olive oil, on a moderate heat, until soft and translucent. Add the potatoes and move them around the pan to pick up all of the oily juices. Add the eggs and ensure everything is evenly covered. Cook until the bottom of the frittata is sealed (10 minutes approx). Transfer the pan to a hot grill and cook the top until the frittata is golden on top. Serve warm.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Greek Halloumi Salad with Hummus Dressing

I love that squeaky, rubbery cheese halloumi. After a few minutes of frying in hot oil, it transforms from an unpalatable bar of white waxy soapy stuff to a delicious savoury crispy gooey treat, perfect for a meat-free dinner. It's still a bit squeaky though.

So, with a bar of halloumi and the omnipresent tub of hummus in the fridge, I thought, let's make a bit of a healthy meal, after all of the birthday weekend tomfoolery. And this is it. I simply loosened the hummus into a vinaigrette base and coated a few salad vegetables with it before topping the whole thing off with fried halloumi slices. Delish.

In what other way could I fry a lump a cheese and call it a 'healthy alternative'? You gotta love the Greeks.

However, hummus is actually not Greek, despite it being served it in Greek-Cypriot restaurants up and down the UK. A decade or two ago, I went to beautiful Crete (I accept, not in Cyprus) and spent the entire trip searching for what I thought was the traditional Greek dish of hummus. No such thing. Yes, taramasalata and tzatziki adorned every dish in every taverna on the island (whether I asked for it or not), but hummus? No.

So, in the end, we ended up in a Cypriot restaurant, in Greece, before I got served the chickpea dip. And very delicious it was too.

I served this salad with Flatbreads, as you can see from the picture, and a very substantial and lovely meal it was too. Not exactly health food, but not too far off - especially if you fry the halloumi in olive oil, like I did.

All in all, this recipe comes in at a very reasonable £2 per serving.

Serves 2


1 block of halloumi, cut into 6 slices
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Mixed salad vegetables (I used lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, olives, sweet peppers, chillies and radishes, all cut into 1cm dice)
Flatbreads, to serve

For the hummus dressing:

2 tablespoons of hummus
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar or lemon juice
1 teaspoon of mustard
Pinches if salt and pepper

Fry the halloumi in the olive oil until brown on each side. Arrange the salad vegetables in large bowls and top with the halloumi slices. Mix the dressing ingredients together and pour over the salad. Serve with the flatbreads.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Roast Pork Spare Ribs in a Barbecue Glaze

I have only just recovered from my birthday celebration weekend. Yes, that's right. Reggie is 40!

Mrs Ribeye planned a whole weekend of surprise parties and fun, and I didn't have a clue about what she had planned until (a) six different friends told me that they were 'looking forward to the party'; (b) Mrs Ribeye looked stressed-out a few times and when I asked what the problem was, she replied: 'I can't tell you, it's nothing bad - in fact you'll be quite pleased'; and (c) two weeks ago when I asked her what the plan was for my birthday, she said rather unconvincingly: 'nothing is planned, don't ask me any questions, stop getting involved.'

So, with me all dressed up on Friday night to go: 'for a walk', and then appearing at the fabulous restaurant 'Rocket' in Mayfair (review coming soon to Potless) to meet up with all my family; and then all dressed up on Saturday to go: 'out for a quiet drink', and then appearing at a brilliant bar called 'Thirst' in Soho to meet up with all my friends, I applaud my wife's organising skills, if not her subterfuge skills.

Anyway, all this celebrating has left me in the mood for a quiet night-in with no booze whatsoever, and a decent meat-laden meal to build my strength back up after all of the alcohol-induced pounding that it took for the past 48 hours. Since spare ribs are a Mrs Ribeye favourite, I shall show her how much I love and appreciate her through the medium of cooking.

Today's recipe is the culmination of many years of tried and tested barbecue sauce glazes, marinades and sauces, and this version is far and away the best ever. Serve these ribs with my Fully Loaded Potato Skins (recipe to follow in the not-too-distant future) for a fantastic Sunday night dinner in front of the TV, just like we did.

The biggest juiciest pork ribs were on offer this week at my local Sainsbury's supermarket at an incredible £3.50 per kg, which means that this dish comes in at a fabulous £2 per serving.

Serves 4


2kg pork spare ribs


Thumb of ginger, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
25ml Worcestershire sauce
50ml tomato ketchup
50ml hoi sin sauce
25ml honey
25ml soy sauce
25ml lemon juice
Pinch of dried chili flakes

100ml water

Place ribs in a large airtight plastic bag or roasting dish. Mix the marinade ingredients (not the water), pour over ribs and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight. Place ribs with marinade into a roasting dish, into a preheated 200c oven. Add the water. Turn the ribs occasionally to ensure they receive equal time on the top and bottom layers in the dish. Baste every 15 minutes with the marinade in the bottom of the dish. Roast until  ribs are slightly charred and cooked-through and the sauce has thickened to a glaze (1-1.5 hours approx).

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #2: Sakonis, Wembley, Middlesex

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

My last review was Wong Kei in London's bustling Chinatown, and today's entry is similar, in a sort of authentic-ethnic-high-turnover-legendary-landmark-dining-institution kind of way, but not remotely alike in its location, culinary influence or atmosphere. Part of a two restaurant chain (the sister restaurant is located in Harrow, a few miles away), Sakonis is an Indian vegetarian diner set in a busy road close to Wembley triangle, home of the national sports stadium, and a hive of activity for our north London Asian community. I have been eating here for years and feel that now is the time to blab to the world what a uniquely special and delicious experience it is.

127-129 Ealing Road
Tel: 020 8903 1058

The Restaurant:

Located on the busy Ealing Road, lined with jewellers, exotic fruit and veg emporia and sari shops, lies this alfresco patio-fronted diner, established many many years ago to cater for the ever-expanding local Asian community. The parking is a nightmare (especially on bank holidays, the day we decided to go), but there is little other alternative to driving to Sakonis, unless you fancy taking the bus, which I don't.

Once parked; as you walk through the gazebo-ed terrace to the front door, past the front takeaway counter filled with brightly covered sweets and savouries, and through to the dining area, you notice an overwhelming abundance of... white formica. Everything seems to be covered in it, from the floor to the walls to the tables to the chairs and even the crockery. I may be wrong - and in fact the walls and floor may be ceramic tiled instead - but it's the impression or feeling of formica which stays in the memory long after you have left the restaurant, and is in fact probably the reason why I have referred to this place as a diner, rather than a restaurant, so far in this review.

As you are led to your (probably formica-topped) table, you are presented with a large jug of water and plastic cups. Trust me, you will need them later to help put out the chilli fire in your mouth. After a quick glance at the menu, together with the inevitable brief ponder as to whether you might order a la carte this time, instead of greedily plumping for the buffet (pictured),

you smile sweetly at the waiter and tell him that actually you will be plumping for the buffet. Why not? Most of what is offered on the regular menu is to be found under the row of stainless steel sun-lamped and chiller cabinets anyway. Talking of greediness: Just in case your eyes outsize your stomach, a 'polite notice' on laminated card on each table reminds you (politely) not to take more of the buffet than you can eat, and that (politely) any wasted food will be (politely) charged extra for. And (politely) no sharing the buffet with a la carte orderers. Ok ok.

The Menu:

Is there any point discussing anything except for the buffet? Well yes, actually. In fact, looking around the place, I would say that the split between buffet and non-buffet clientele is about 50/50, so noticing around me that most of the knowledgeable-looking patrons act like they eat here every week of their lives, obviously there is a lot to be said for asking for a menu.

The menu is split into five sections: 'Eats', 'Bites' 'Indian-style Chinese cuisine', 'Sweets' and 'Drinks':


As far as 'Eats' is concerned, the crispy potato bhajias are the shining star. These are slices of potato coated in a crispy herby batter, which although not sounding too exotic or adventurous, are utterly sublime. I have never eaten a potato dish, in any culinary style, that I have enjoyed as much as this. Almost as good is the mixed chat, which is a dish of savoury spicy treats smothered in a refreshing yoghurt-based sauce.

A mention must of course go to the masala dosa. A south Indian speciality, comprising a large wafery pancake, filled with a most rich and delicious potato curry. Although not on the menu, the last time we had the buffet, one of the dishes offered was the most incredible Masala Chips (click the link for my own recipe). Message to the Sakonis management: Put them on the regular menu NOW!


'Bites' offers the usual small-dish fare of samosas and kachori etc, which range from a very reasonable £2 to £5.

'Chinese Cuisine':

I have long stopped asking myself why an Indian restaurant is offering Chinese food, and just eat it instead - I suggest you do the same. Try the paneer chilli and the Shanghai potatoes, but don't expect anything in this part of the menu to taste particularly Chinese-y. It's basically Indian food with noodles.

'Drinks' and 'Sweets':

Drinks and sweets are the usual gulab jamun, rasmalai (balls of very sweet whey dough, fried or poached and served either in a sugar syrup or a condensed milk sauce) and ice creams. As with the masala chips, the buffet offered jelabi (fried webs of dough, with a sugar syrup glaze) which was not on the regular menu. I have been assured by Mrs Ribeye that the mango lassi is 'the best ever' High praise indeed. (I wouldn't know. I think drinking yoghurt with a meal is a repulsive notion.)

The Bill:

The buffet is £8.99 for lunch, or £11.99 in the evening. The thing is, you would be hard pressed to spend an awful lot more if you order a la carte, but with the buffet you get about 30 dishes to go at, rather than being restricted to the 3-4 that you would otherwise contend with. On the a la carte menu, there is not a single dish over £7, and most of them are nearer £5. Excellent value.

The Experience:

In fairness, you don't go to Sakonis for the atmosphere or the decor. It is ALL about the food. Not only is Sakonis a brilliant restaurant, it is by far the best vegetarian restaurant of any type of cuisine that I have ever eaten in. Also, I would rather eat lunch at Sakonis than dinner - the atmosphere and decor are not conducive to a lingered-over evening meal.

Like all of my favourite restaurants, Sakonis offers excellent value for money, is completely unique in terms of the food offered, and makes any other 'equivalent' (an oxymoron in the strictest sense of the word, if you consider Sakonis as unique, of course) restaurant seem as if they are not quite trying hard enough. 

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Masala Chips

Mrs Ribeye and I had a fabulous lunch at the Indian vegetarian diner, Sakonis in Wembley, on bank holiday Monday earlier this week.

Gotta love bank holidays, but gotta love Sakonis even more. I won't rave about it here, because I'll write a full review later this week as part of my Potless Budget Restaurant Review series. However, I will write about a stealthily brilliant dish I ate there. I say 'stealthily', because ostensibly this dish is a mere plate of chips with a spicy sauce on it, and while it may be more obvious to bang on about the diner's legendary potato bhajis or masala dosai instead, I won't, because masala chips, for all of its unpretentious concept and simple flavours and ingredients is utterly and completely incredible.

I am using oven chips here to keep the oil consumption to a minimum, and it won't matter whether the chips are fried or baked first anyway, because they're going to get deliciously soggy, once folded into the sauce. Weirdly enough, although anathema to usual chip recipes, sogginess is the preferred texture for a plate of masala chips. In fact, it may even be better to buy a plate of chip shop chips to make this recipe - I reckon they have the right 'sog' factor necessary for an authentic take on this Indian classic. Don't tell Sakonis, but Mrs Ribeye reckons my recipe is even better than theirs.

Anyway, back to bank holiday Mondays: We should have them twice a week.

Keep an eye out later this week for my Sakonis review. It's a corker. But in the meantime, if you fancy a quick hit of their delicious Indian veggie fare, whip up a quick batch of these masala chips for only £1 per serving.

Fabulous as a starter, side dish, or as a snack with drinks. 

Serves 2


1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 red pepper, cut into 1cm strips
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 chillies, cut into 1cm rings
1 tablespoon of sunflower or olive oil
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon of madras or medium curry powder
1 teaspoon of black onion (nigella) seeds
500g cooked chips (French fries)
Pinches of salt and pepper
Fresh coriander leaves, for sprinkling

In a large wok, fry the onion, pepper, garlic and most of the chillies (reserving some for later) together until soft and translucent. Add the tomatoes, curry powder and black onion seeds and simmer for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Add the chips to the sauce and fold through until the chips are evenly coated. Season to taste. Sprinkle with fresh coriander and the reserved chillies before serving.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #1: Wong Kei, London, W1

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Today's entry is a favourite of mine and my family's since the early 1970's, and, as such, is a perfect place to occupy my first ever review. For nearly forty years, I have been a regular at the 'rudest restaurant in London's Chinatown' and the food is as good, if not better, than ever.

Wong Kei 
41-43 Wardour Street
Tel: 020 7437 8408 

The Restaurant:

This four -floored establishment is situated at the 'T' junction of Wardour Street and Gerrard Street in London's busy Chinatown. As soon as you walk through the front doors, a waiter will demand of you how many people are in your party, and any answer apart from 'one, please' will have the words 'Upstairs!' or 'Downstairs!' being screamed at you across the ground floor of the restaurant - the only floor which allows lone diners. In a feeble stab at self-aware humour, the waiters in recent years wear T shirts emblazoned with the 'Upstairs/Downstairs' motto on the back. Hilarious? Er, not.

If you happen not to be alone and are feeling bold, you fancy a quick meal and can't be bothered to walk up the cold staircase at the back or down to the basement replete with fake waterfall, then you may confidently stride toward the ground floor back seating area, where a dozen or so tables allow up to four guests - but be confident, don't make eye contact with any staff member and leap for a table while taking off your coat. As you sit down, ask for a menu - still looking down at your feet.

If you do make it upstairs, the first floor is the busiest and the second floor is the prettiest - with lower ceilings, nice carpets and a more intimate atmosphere. On the contrary, the basement is dank and unappealing, with tiled floors and that crappy waterfall thingy. The ground floor is made up of long and short tables with lone diners sitting zig-zagged down their lengths, to provide themselves with a little more elbow room.

One of the dubious pleasures of Wong Kei is the expectation of sharing a table with strangers. About 75% of the restaurant's dining areas are made up of large round tables of six or eight - which means that a couple or a foursome are more likely than not going to be eating with other couples or foursomes. This is fine, if you are fun and the other people are likewise, otherwise your dinner will be a muted affair with you and your table rivals closely guarding your respective territories with strategically placed chopsticks and napkins. Either way, the sharing space creates a sort of quasi-wedding atmosphere, with just a hint of disappointment when no-one gets up after dinner to make a drunken speech. Unless it's a Friday night, when the late night diners are mainly office workers after a quick post piss-up meal.

The Menu:

First of all, as you sit down, you will be presented with a battered stainless steel pot of delicious fragrant (and free) Chinese tea, small cups and bowls and pairs of possibly Ming-era discoloured, but presumably clean, chopsticks. If you leave your teapot lid open at any point during your meal, a waiter will provide you with endless free refills.

The menu ('Cash Only') is filled with one sentence descriptions with the usual sweet and sour suspects in attendance, but with the odd surprise thrown in here and there to keep you on your toes. A jelly fish salad offers a pleasant alternative to the been-there-done-that crispy duck starter, but the crispy belly pork is the best way to start your meal. Served cold, it is succulent in all the right places, and crispy in all the right places and smothered in a delicious sauce.

Won ton noodle soup (pictured) is a fantastic lunch all on its own, or great for two to share as part of a larger meal. It's by far the best Chinese soup, of any variety, that I have ever eaten, and is pretty legendary - I don't know anyone who has gone to Wong Kei and not raved about the won ton soup. The portion is enormous and Mrs Ribeye and I normally order a soup each, plus some of the most incredible fried chicken wings EVER, for a perfect simple mid-week evening meal.

If you feel like getting messy, the baked crab in ginger and spring onion is a huge portion of the king of crustacea and delicious. Mrs Ribeye can't stand all the messing about with nutcrackers, but I think it adds to the fun - as long as you don't mind covering yourself in sauce. There's no way around it.

If there is anything negative to say about the food, I would reserve it for the typical provincial take-away fare of chicken and cashew nuts or beef in black bean sauce etc. It's not that the food is poor, it's just that it's a bit bland and boring - I would stick to the things which a large restaurant like this can do easily and cheaply, due to the high turnover, which the small restaurants cannot do for the same price and at the same quality - like barbecue meats and seafood. Try the crispy prawns in their shells. Where else can you get such a huge portion in central London for under £7?

Having said that, the only 'regular' menu item which I would order again and again is the Hong Kong style sweet and sour chicken. It is sublime.

Wong Kei is not a dessert-y kinda place. I would nip into Gerrard Street to a Chinese bakery for a cake to nibble as you wander through Chinatown on your way home, but in no way will you need it.

Drinks are mainly Chinese beer (delicious and slightly sweet tasting) and bad wine. I normally drink beer or stick to the free tea.

The Bill:

'Cash Only!' screams the menu on every page - so go to the cashpoint on Shaftesbury Avenue before entering the restaurant. Expect a bill of between £8-15 per head, depending on what you order and whether you have drinks or not. If you go with friends, you will be best to buy a few dishes and share - this keeps the cost even lower (nearer £10 per head, with a beer) and makes the experience more 'Wong Kei-esque'.

The Experience:

Not for the faint-hearted, and don't expect a silver-service dinner, but do expect cheap, well-cooked, delicious food in an unparalleled location. The waiting staff are no longer overtly rude, but they are not exactly full of smiles either. I absolutely love the place and expect to be taking my own children and grandchildren there in forty years time. By 2052, the waiters may even say 'hello' as I enter the restaurant.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Seared Duck Breasts with Roast Duck Wings and Rhubarb Compote

Earlier in the week, I bought a large free-range duck to make for dinner with our friends Tanya and Ricardo, but then disaster struck - they couldn't make it. What on earth am I going to do with a whole 2.5kg duck, with only Mrs Ribeye and I to eat it?

Normally, I would say 'all the more for us', but with spring in the air and our summer holiday to Nice booked, we have decided to cut back on the grub in favour of being able to shoehorn ourselves into last year's swimwear.

So, I decided to make the duck into a two-meal bird.

Firstly, I made my Duck Confit, but because the recipe is a two day process, I couldn't eat it straight away. So, secondly, I decided to pan-sear the duck breasts and roast the wings for a bit of a gnaw. I ideally wanted to make that retro classic Duck a l'Orange (recipe to follow), but because I didn't have any Seville oranges, or even a normal orange plus a lime (which would have equally sufficed), I had to create a compote out of what would have been the Rhubarb Crumble and custard dessert ingredients destined for Tanya and Ricardo's cancelled dinner extravaganza.

The rhubarb sauce with the duck was incredible! Slightly sweet and sour, to offset the richness and gaminess of the duck and so easy to make. Simply roast the rhubarb in a hot oven with sugar and cinnamon for 20 minutes and break it up with a fork. Perfect.

I served the duck with Kai Lan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce and a enjoyed a delicious carb-free meal. Oh, with the custard for dessert. Waste not want not.

A whole duck at my local Asian cash and carry (restaurant suppliers, but open to the public) cost me an incredible £4.50, and the rhubarb was 99p for a huge bunch, which meant that this entire meal only stood me in for £1.50 per serving.

Serves 2


2 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 4cm lengths
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
50ml water
2 duck breasts, skin scored at 1cm intervals
2 duck wings
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of thyme
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
Pinches of salt and pepper

Kai Lan in Oyster Sauce, to serve

Preheat oven to 200c. Place the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon and water in a roasting tray and roast for 20 minutes. Remove the rhubarb from the oven and break it up with a fork and transfer to a serving dish. Coat the duck wings and the flesh side of the duck breasts in the oil, garlic, thyme and seasoning and place the wings in the oven to cook for an hour. In the meantime, sear the breasts, skin side down in a blisteringly hot pan. Transfer the breasts to the same pan as the wings for the final ten minutes of cooking time and then take all of the duck portions out of the oven to rest. After 10 minutes resting, cut the breasts into 1cm thick slices and serve with the wings, rhubarb sauce and Kai Lan.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Malaysian Fish Curry with Rice

It's rare when healthy food tastes decadently indulgent - but when it does, you have to embrace it. Like todays recipe for instance.

Since Mrs Ribeye and I made a pact to eat less meat, we were worried that our diet would become a bit less varied and monotonous. Far from it. Because I find myself cooking things I normally wouldn't have done a few weeks ago, the opportunity to create new and interesting dishes has meant that I have a new lease of cooking life, and I love it!

Whereas before, I would have been content to cook meat or chicken curries, I now make fish or vegetable curries. Wow, what a revelation. Fish curries are so light and tasty, with fresh-tasting flavours, that I feel a bit lighter and bouncier in myself. I kid you not, I love eating meat with a passion, but I'm quite getting into this whole 'pescatarian' thing (actually, shoot me now - a year ago someone called himself a pescatarian to me and I fell about laughing at the pretentiousness, and now look at me, the hypocrite).

Anyway, buy any white fish and whip up a quick curry paste, add some coconut milk and in minutes, dinner is made and another meat-free day chalked up. Today, I chose to make a Malaysian curry by adding nuts to the paste ingredients, but you could omit them and add fresh coriander for a sort of Thai green curry, or fresh grated coconut flesh for an Indonesian touch instead. Experiment!

I used black bream from my local fishmonger, at £7 per kilo, so this dish came in at £2.75 per serving. If I had used cod, it would've been dearer, or river cobbler would've been cheaper. Your choice.

Serves 4


Malaysian Curry Paste:

1 tablespoon of sunflower oil
2 tablespoons of either candle nuts, peanuts, hazelnuts or pine nuts
2 shallots, peeled
3 cloves of garlic
Thumb of ginger or galangal, peeled
2 stalks of lemon grass
2-3 dried chillies, to taste
3-4 curry leaves
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon each of ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and fennel powder
Pinches of salt and pepper

400ml coconut milk
4 large fillets of white fish - bream, haddock, sea bass, river cobbler, cod etc, cut into thick strips
500g cooked basmati rice, to serve
Fresh chillies, cut into rings, to serve
Asian broccoli (kai lan), to serve

Blend the curry paste ingredients together, and heat in a saucepan to release the aromas. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the fish and cook for a further 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the fresh chilli rings and serve with the rice and kai lan.