the Kitchen on the Kelvin

Recipes, news and reviews from my cubby-hole of a kitchen on banks of the River Kelvin, Glasgow


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Corfu, Part II: Corfu Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Watching the people go by in Corfu Old Town

Every so often, one of those rare days comes along that I know will linger fondly in the memory for some time. Free from worry, pressure and expectation, our impromptu visit to Corfu Town was just that.

As I explained in my previous post, our days in Ermones had revolved around unadulterated sun worship, gorging on beautiful Corfiot seafood and quaffing a liberal quantity of cocktails by the pool. While too much of that can only be a good thing in my eyes, we would have been wasting an opportunity if we hadn’t taken a foray into the island’s capital, Corfu Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and only a 30 minute bus ride away.

Just a few weeks before, I’d been drawn in by some striking pictures of the old town on the Instagram account of my Greek school friend, Dimitra, who had spent her summer holidays there. As a native, I knew she’d be able to share with us the insider knowledge we craved: where do the locals eat?

The bus, which eventually picked us up from our hotel after deviating quite significantly from the timetable, reached its final destination on a scruffy plot of land operating as a depot. So far, so unimpressed; I was anticipating a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets brimming with a potent sense of the past. But with the help of some 21st century technology, we discovered the old town a few minutes later and got the eyeful of culture we were looking for.

The rich history of the island, which can be read about here, is clearly demonstrated by the formidable old fort which dominates the bustling port. Further into the meandering passages, shuttered windows and flowering balconies are reminiscent of Paris or Venice which is a direct result of four centuries of Venetian rule before the British, French and Greek governments made their own marks.

Back home in Britain, we’re fed emotive images of the great turmoil caused by the crippled Greek economy but there’s no sign of that here. Glossy boutiques exude opulence and indulgence, chic cafes buzz dynamically with expressive conversation and polished ladies laden with the exploits of their spending strut confidently through the winding streets, chichi toy dogs in tow.

After finding our bearings and absorbing the charm of the place, we were certainly ready for refreshments. Settling on a couple of high stools poised outside an elegant little bar-cum-cafe, we would spend the next three hours supping zingy margaritas and enjoying one of the best pastimes there is: people watching. From the bionic blonde whose plastic surgery portfolio could give those of The Real Housewives a run for their money, to the stream of giggling schoolgirls ordering chain-gulped iced coffees from the pretty Greek version of a 20-something Joaquin Phoenix (swoon), this was one of the foremost people watching experiences of my life. Somehow, TV and film can’t compare to the entertainment that comes from surveying the curious actions and conversations of human beings unknowingly going about their everyday lives.

Now for food. Our dinner venue had come highly recommended by my Greek informant, Dimitra. Entered via an inconspicuous passageway off one of the main shopping streets, I reckon Bellissima has to be Corfu Town’s best kept secret. Despite its Italian name, Bellissima serves traditional Greek fare from its charming situation on a romantic little square. Sat outside at tables with red check tablecloths, we devoured saganaki (king prawns with feta in a tomato sauce), spetzofai (spicy sausage with peppers), more seafood pasta (Craig’s true vice) and the ultimate Greek classic of chicken souvlaki.

This was a feast capable of feeding a large family with Grecian appetites so eventually we had to admit defeat with a dull ache of disappointment. The family which runs this place delivered everything we had hoped for from an authentic meal; the warmest hospitality was lovingly combined with food which was unpretentious, homely and bursting with flavour. And just to top it all off, a group of traditional singers, musicians and dancers performed in the square as we ate to make this an all-encompassing experience of Corfiot culture.

This day trip represented one major life lesson learned: never underestimate the value of taking in some culture. We could have so easily have spent our entire week languishing in luxury by the pool at our hotel but this little sojourn enriched our holiday far more than we could’ve imagined.

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Street Food Cartel @ SWG3, Friday 10 May 2013

I’ve often wondered why Glasgow hasn’t followed London’s suit in bringing decent street food to us city dwellers.

There’s little doubt that this is an area in which the western world has trailed behind South-East Asia, India and North Africa to name a few, but London has witnessed a burgeoning trade in street food over the past decade as trailers and caravans rapidly pop up in markets across the city. Despite a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning contracted after sampling the street fare in Vientiane, Laos, I still think there’s no better way of immersing yourself in a culture when exploring new destinations. As I can tell you myself, there’s always an element of risk when chowing down as the locals do, but it has to be your best shot at authenticity.

For now, Glasgow’s best effort at street food amounts to a late night burger van calculatedly positioned at Charing Cross to draw in inebriated, unthinking revellers heading west from the debauchery of Sauchiehall Street at 3am. I, for one, would be interested to learn the outcome of DNA analysis on those ever-popular patties.

Fortunately, a collective movement for change is beginning to create some ripples in the dank, stagnated waters of Glasgow’s destitute street food scene. A growing number of forward-looking chefs want to bring real, high quality food to the crying-out-for-it streets of the city. However, dealing with the ever-exascerbating Glasgow City Council was never going to be easy and licensing applications have consistently been rejected. Read about why here if you want to get angry.

In a refusal to back down, Street Food Cartel was born. Put simply, it brings the street food experience indoors as a pop-up restaurant based at SWG3 in Yorkhill. This exhibition space and gig/club venue was the perfect choice for an edgy event like this because it’s already a popular haunt of the city’s moustache-toting, horn-rimmed spectacle-clad hipster community. News of the first event in March would spread like wildfire on social media, prompting extra dates to be added and leaving those who didn’t make it along really smarting. Yes, that includes me.

When the next pop-up was announced, I hopped right on that bandwagon and snapped up tickets for Friday 10th May. Expectations were high. After navigating my way to SWG3 – my third or fourth visit but my first time sans pre-bev – I made my way into the former warehouse through a series of unmarked, un-handled doors, eventually emerging into a pretty large space crammed full of makeshift trestle tables and zealous diners. I was offered a complementary Schiehallion beer or a vodka cocktail on arrival and – being a girl – I opted for the latter. Presented in a glass bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag, it was truly Pinterest-friendly. Unnecessary? Probably. Pretentious? For sure, but I won’t pretend that it didn’t meld excellently with the guerilla-style, illegal warehouse party atmosphere going on. It was tart, refreshing and lovely and I would’ve really liked another, but it was a welcome drink only and didn’t appear on the menu. Unfortunately, I also have no idea what was in it aside from vodka, lots of citrus and lots of sugar, making it rather difficult to replicate at home.

Street Food Cartel: the menu

Street Food Cartel: the menu

Sitting in a group of six – a couple of whom had attended the debut SFC in March – we opted for ‘one of everything, please’. Within just three or four minutes, our end of the table was overflowing with spicy, Mexican fare from Lupe Pinto’s Deli, the Great Western Road stalwart famous for its chillies, chorizo and hot, hot spices. All of it was delicious, coming with soft tacos and sides of guacamole, pico de gallo, jalapenos and sour cream. As a disciple of the mighty chilli pepper, I embraced this spicy offering as a scrumptious kick-start to the system. ‘It all starts to taste the same after a while’, I heard a couple of people in my party utter, but I disagreed. The beef, chorizo and chipotle chilli was brimming with richness and flavour and heat, while the sweetcorn, three bean, ancho and cinnamon veggie chilli was a much more piquant palate-cleanser. For me, however, the chicken tinga was the outright winner. I’m always really impressed when someone takes chicken from a fairly standard filler to a genuinely satisfying feed, and that’s exactly what Lupe Pinto’s did here. The poblano chillies offered it plenty of heat, but the white beans added a smooth, creamy texture that delivered a new layer to the usual formula of (Tex-)Mexican cuisine I’m used to. Teamed up with tender, well-seasoned chicken, the dish was very nice indeed.

You’d think that would be enough, but there were still four dishes to come from scoop. At the forefront of the campaign for street food in Glasgow, scoop is operated from a silver, bullet-shaped caravan that wouldn’t look out of place in a 60s sci-fi movie. Chef Jonathan Macdonald founded the company after spending many years travelling the world and cooking as he went, including a five-year stint as head chef for the McLaren F1 team. A quick glance at the SFC menu tells you that scoop’s style is undoubtedly influenced by global flavours and ingredients. First out were the Thai haddock and prawn cakes which, I can tell you, looked like beautiful golden nuggets atop a crunchy, contrasting herb salad. I cannot, however, tell you how they tasted. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough to go around six people. As a lover of fishcakes, this would have been particularly devastating for me if there weren’t plenty of other dishes to distract me from my anguish. Blending Asian, North African and Mediterranean cuisine, the butternut squash spring roll, beetroot pesto, feta and toasted hazelnut dukkah marked a big in-your-face to those who slate vegetarian food. Flavour, texture and aroma: it had it all. The (insanely tender, gelatinous and melt-in-the-mouth) beef rib and the confit pork belly weren’t far short of divine, but this veggie combination was sensational. Not only that, but it was ‘clean’: it tasted like it was good for me; it offered a welcome lift from the full-bodied, excess of rich, meaty flavours I’d been gorging on all evening. The butternut squash spring roll was easily my favourite dish of the night and I only hope I’ll get to try it for a second time in future.

After finishing off with some of Lupe Pinto’s churros – decent cinnamon pastries and beautiful, bowl-lick-worthy molten chocolate sauce – we were out of there, aware that the next round of eager eaters were waiting with much anticipation to get a hold of our end of the table. There’s no denying that the food was excellent and I’ll certainly be snapping up tickets for the next round, but I do hope that a few teething problems will be addressed. Firstly, it was near impossible to hold a conversation with anyone who wasn’t directly to your left or right because of the beats booming around the cavernous, exposed brick space housing the event. I really commend the addition of a DJ because it emphasised the uniqueness of SFC, setting it far aside from your average restaurant meal, but emerging from dinner hoarse isn’t ideal. I’m no sound engineer, but maybe just turning down the volume a little would resolve this issue I’ve heard quite a few grumbles about. Secondly, I was very keen to sample the Tapatio tequila con verdito, but our round never showed up. As we made our way out 30 minutes after ordering these and not having had a waitress in earshot during that time, I saw the barman pouring six tequilas which were probably bound for our willing necks. There had clearly been a bit of a breakdown in communication which could probably be resolved quite easily with the addition of some more waiting staff.

Street Food Cartel: the aftermath

Street Food Cartel: the aftermath

Sorry I didn’t manage to capture even one tantalising dish for you: an unmistakable animal instinct took hold of our pack and the food was long extinct before I could even consider resting my jaw to grab my iPhone. You can check it all out on the Street Food Cartel Facebook page here.