In Search of the Perfect Naan

Flower seller in the market in Bangalore
Flower seller in the market in Bangalore

My ideal for the perfect naan is one that I tasted on a business trip to Bangalore a few years ago, at the then Taj Residency hotel. The subtleties of air-fare pricing meant that it was cheaper for me to stay for an extra couple of days and come home on Sunday, even allowing for the cost of the – for India – extremely expensive business hotel. So I had a Saturday buzzing round the sites of Bangalore on a tuk-tuk – including the famous Nandi temple, Botanical Gardens and a crowded market. Exhausted at the end of the day, and faced with a 4 am alarm call the next day, I collapsed in the hotel buffet and feasted on hot, cooked-to-order naans and a selection of curries. Their naan, in my memory, had the right balance between lightness and doughiness, absorbency and firmness: a perfect vehicle for a spicy curry.

Before then I had always preferred chapatis, probably based on my introduction to Indian food at the Chakwal restaurant in Leeds, where a bowl of curry and three chapatis cost less than a pound, with a second bowl half price if you still had room –   perfect for a hungry student.

Star of Spice window
Star of Spice window

The local, Shooters Hill,  curry restaurants frequently come close to my ideal naan, but never quite meet it. The Star of Spice in Herbert Road is our usual destination, and I always enjoy their curries: not over-cooked or over-spiced, but with distinguishable spicy flavours and al-dente vegetables. And of course a cold beer or two, usually Kingfisher in memory of holidays in the Indian sub-continent where the bottles informed us that it was “Most Thrilling Chilled”.

The Jasmine Restaurant
The Jasmine Restaurant

For the sake of fairness, and variety,  it was necessary to visit the Ruchita on Shooters Hill as well, and that was equally enjoyable. It has recently changed hands, and name: it is now called the Jasmine. The new chef seems to be as good as the previous one, based on our first visit. Their Cauliflower Bhaji was just about perfect and their Chilli Masala Chicken made my lips go numb, in a nice way. The naan was good as well, but still not meeting the perfection of the platonic ideal naan.

The other Ruchita, the take-away on Herbert Road, is handicapped in the naan stakes by the foil bags that keep the bread warm during delivery: however quickly you open the bag it seems impossible to avoid that little bit of condensation that prevents the naan achieving perfection. Their portions however are very generous, and there’s always some left over for the freezer.

My favourite Indian restaurant isn’t in Shooters Hill, unfortunately. It’s a South Indian vegetarian restaurant over in Stoke Newington called the Rasa. The starter selection, of different and unexpected types of poppadom and vibrantly flavoured pickles, alone is enough to justify the journey through the Blackwall Tunnel from time to time. However, since I find their Dosas irresistible – especially the Chilli Onion Rava Dosa – they are exempted from the search for the perfect naan.

So the quest continues. If nothing else it’s a good excuse to eat more curries.

Nandi Idol at the Bull Temple in Bangalore
Nandi Idol at the Bull Temple in Bangalore

Howgate Wonder in Nightingale Vale

Lewis demonstrating how to plant a tree
Lewis from The London Orchard Project shows volunteers how to plant a plum tree

I joined Avant-Gardening, The London Orchard Project and other volunteers to plant a plum tree in The Place Where Plums Grow  on Thursday.  In fact we planted two plum trees, and some apple and pear trees, as part of Avant-Gardening’s  The Place Where Plums Grow project, which kicked off in the Nightingale Estate. One of the apple trees was the sweet cooking apple, Howgate Wonder, known for keeping its shape and texture when cooked. It is also known for sometimes producing very large fruit; the world record largest apple was once a Howgate Wonder weighing 3lb 11oz with a 21 inch circumference. It has since been beaten by 4lb 1oz apple grown in Japan.

The London Orchard Project was founded in January 2009 by Carina Millstone and Rowena Ganguli to promote orchards and fruit trees in London. They “are working with Londoners to plant and harvest apple, pear and plum trees all over the city, and help us all to rediscover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit”. As well as planting new community orchards and training orchard leaders to look after them they rejuvenate and restore neglected orchards. One of these orchards is at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Monks Orchard Road Beckenham. Last week I joined a a group of volunteers to help plant some 40 or so apple trees there – including interesting and unusual varieties such as Lanes Prince Albert, Laxtons Fortune and, what bliss, Pitmaston Pineapples! There’s a detailed photographic description of the tree planting technique we used in the natural flow blog. One good thing about planting in Nightingale Vale was that the snow had melted and we didn’t have to break through 2 inches of frost-frozen soil to start digging.

Shooters Hill Orchards 1894-7
Shooters Hill Orchards 1894-7

Another of the London Orchard Project’s activities is mapping orchards, both where they are now and where they were historically. An extract of their map of orchards in London in the 1890s is shown on the right. This was taken from an analysis of Ordnance Survey maps of 1894-1897. There seem to have been even more 30 years earlier, judging from the 1866 Woolwich Ordnance Survey map. If the neat rows of tree symbols indicate an orchard, there was one just south of Nightingale Vale, another in the bend enclosed by Eglinton Road and Herbert Road and many more around Plumstead Common. The 1866 Shooters Hill map shows a large orchard in the grounds of Tower House, which could be the one shown in Brinklow Crescent on the London Orchard Project map, plus another large one just to the North of that, and yet another in the grounds of the old Bull Hotel – the present Eaglesfield Park.

I guess it’ll be a while before we see the fruits of our tree planting labour. But with a young adopter of each tree looking out for them the trees should have a good chance of survival. I’m looking forward to seeing some large Howgate Wonders in Nightingale Vale.

The last tree planted
Job done - the last tree planted

Palm Beach Nkwobi Spot

Woolwich is getting “Back to Business” after the riots, and in response to calls to support local enterprise, it occurred that one way to do so might be to make a beeline for the Nigerian businesses that have, in some ways, helped to keep local commerce alive in the years between the exodus of the Woolwich Building Society, Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society et al, and the arrival of new investment from the council, Berkeley Homes and Tesco.

For several years now there’s been more and more Nigerian shops in the SE18 area, and having followed the food related ponderings of local musicians Afrikan Boy and Tinie Tempah, the time seemed right to try out some West African cooking.

I went to Palm Beach, which is opposite the swimming pool. The reception there was possibly the most good-natured I’ve ever had at a restaurant in this country, and the family that run the place provided a fun and detailed explanation of Nigerian eating and drinking. Broadly speaking there seems to be no wheat or potatoes, and key ingredients include eba (cassava), yam, egusi (melon seeds), beef (nkwobi is hoof stew), tropical fish, and enough scotch bonnet pepper to give you a long and pleasant afterglow. For drinks I tried Palm Wine and Nigerian Guinness, which is much stronger than the Irish type. Overall, I found the intensity of this style of cooking very enjoyable, and am looking forward to trying some more West African fare in the near future, probably at one of the other Woolwich restaurants. At Palm Beach, the cost of mains and drinks was £10-15 per person.

The Christmas Cook-Off

Mike, Shooters Hill’s new green grocer has offered to provide some prizes for a Christmas Competition, so if you’d like a chance to win a Christmas Hamper or a £10 Voucher for his new grocery service, here’s what to do:

Please email your favourite cooking recipes, tips, ideas and suggestions for celebrating the Christmas Feast to, and he will select two winning entries!

All entries should be emailed by Wednesday 22nd of December for delivery on either Thursday the 23rd or Christmas Eve!

The winner will receive the following Hamper:

  • A selection of Fresh Vegetables and Fruit suitable for 4 People for Xmas lunch.
  • A Bottle of Ringden Apple Juice
  • Pimhill Organic Porridge Oats
  • Clipper Everyday Organic Tea Bags
  • Doves Farm Strong Flour
  • 6 Free Range Eggs
  • La Bio Idea Wholewheat Fusilli

A further prize of a £10 Voucher for the Very Green Grocer will go to the second place!

The Very Green Grocer

I am pleased to share the details of a new service in the local area, here is a message from Mike, the very green grocer now personally selling a range of goods on Shooters Hill, including locally sourced produce. His approach offers a more flexible alternative to the vegetable box schemes as it gives more choice to the buyer. He also sells an additional range of organic products, and can offer advice on cooking with the ingredients he sells:

I am Mike and I have lived on Shooters Hill for over 30 years.
I am starting a Fruit, Vegetable and Organic Grocery delivery called The Very Green Grocer on Thursday 16th December. This is exclusively for those who live on Shooters Hill.

I will be selling locally produced vegetables, fruit and produce from farms in Kent and also Organic and fair-trade produce and groceries.

I am offering a service where the customer can shop on the vehicle and choose exactly the products and quantities they want.

  • No Minimum order.
  • No Delivery Charge.

I have personally delivered over 1000 leaflets to households on Shooters Hill and I take this opportunity to apologise to those who do not like this type of advertising. Unfortunately I could not think of a better way to promote the business to all those households.

I have been in catering for over 36 years and will be able to advise people on how best to use the produce they buy from me.

It is called the Very Green Grocer as I intend to run the business in the most environmentally friendly way I can.

Further details on me and The Very Green Grocer can be found on my website

Fever Pitch Carols at Woodlands Farm

I went to the christmas fayre at woodlands farm on Sunday, and to my eyes numbers were down on last year despite the increase in the amount of stalls. In other events this year, the apple day was well attended, the summer show a bit quieter than last time, and the lambing day was absolutely massive this year. On balance I’d say it was a good year for enjoying festivities at Woodlands.

In other farm news, Bella the pig (saddleback I think) had five babies in November. The piglets are very sweet, and they also remind me of the days when the co-op made bacon there.

The accompanying audio is a short clip of some nice multipart harmonies recorded live at the farm, I’m not familiar with the second song, but it’s an interesting arrangement. The date of the event also marked the advent of Christmas, and I am trying out a new christmas pudding recipe which is mainly beeton #1:

Fever Pitch at Woodlands Farm Christmas Fayre by eshootershill

Well, I wish you well this Christmas.

hilly's christmas pudding (as yet untasted)
4 oz organic fairtrade muscovado (carbon footprint marks coming soon, will probably be shocking for tropical goods.)
4 oz suet (lawson uses butter)
4 oz sultanas
4 oz raisins
2 oz currants (or dried flies as my dad calls them)
2 oz shredded mixed candied peel (some people hate these, and there are less victorian ways to get the taste of oranges and lemons in)
2 oz of plain flour
2 oz breadcrumbs (now possible to buy these in packets from polish shops, very good for fried fish too)
1 oz almonds (ground, flaked, or best of all hand blanched, peeled and shredded)
The grated rind of a 1 lemon (I didn't have a lemon handy so I just hope the mixed peel did the trick)
2 eggs
½ teaspoon of nutmeg grated (if you like nutmeg then put more in)
½ a teaspoon of salt
18 pint of milk
1 small wine glassful of dark rum
lawson also puts in couple of ounces of cocoa

pack in a heatproof bowl cover with greaseproof paper and tie with string.
steam for 5 hours.
steam it for at least 2 hours on christmas day, and serve with rum butter.

Shooters Hill, the Cupcake

jamosie sweet
jamosie sweet's enchanted garden cupcakes
Well, so far there’s been the comic, the poster, and the painting, and here’s another example of the inspiration that can be found on shooters hill, and it takes the form of a cupcake! It’s made by jamosie sweet, who has recently started to sell these decorations.

Inspired by the walks we take in the forest every Saturday morning up on Shooters Hill […] Theres only one thing missing and thats some little garden fairies.

via Jamosie Sweet: whimsical enchanted garden cupcakes!.

Shooters Hill on Ice

bramble ice cream
bramble ice cream

-- Ingredients
blackberries - 1 Pound
double or whipping cream - 1 Pint
sugar - ¼ to ½ Pound

whizz and sieve the berries
mix the juice & sugar
whisk the cream into soft falling peaks
fold ingredients together
spoon into a carton
half freeze (about 3 hours)
whisk again, add a few whole berries, and wait...

Bramble time is here again! I’ve tried various recipes over the years: crumbles, pies, juice, jelly and jam, but when I was on my holidays this year I came across some blackberry ice cream which was so nice I decided to try making some myself, luckily it was easy, the trickiest part being the waiting around.


Recently links have been added to the site for two restaurants on shooters hill, one for Ruchita Bengali Cuisine (31 Shooters Hill London SE18 3RL. Tel 020 8319 2233), just down from the red lion pub and chummys shellfish van, and one for City View Restaurant (Red Lion Lane, London, SE18 4LD. Tel 020 8319 9790).

Ruchita, which was previously known as Dhanshirry, and still has the same menu and plates, was awarded a food hygiene certificate in June 2009, and has its own tandoor oven, and so offers good naan, chicken, and lamb dishes.

City View, which is part of the catering school in the Shooters Hill Post 16 campus on Red Lion Lane, also holds a current food hygiene award (which surprisingly few eateries in greenwich achieved), and offers an ever changing and very fancy menu for relatively low prices – the only down side of going there is the walk of shame past all the smoking youngsters by the front gates, plus they only take cash, or at least that was the case when I visited a year ago.

The Red Lion and Bull pubs also got their food hygiene certificates, and only one of eleven eateries on Herbert Road did not get their award, Herbert Best Kebabs, and that was in mid January 2009, so hopefully things have improved there.

Got any Nuts?

Sweet Chestnut from Oxleas Woods
Sweet Chestnut from Oxleas Woods
It was a lovely sunny day yesterday and lots of dogs were out taking their people for a walk and cavorting around the woods at this time of the changing seasons. In august I remarked on the bumper crop of blackberries to be found on the hill, and it’s also been a good year for the Sweet Chestnut trees in Oxleas Woods, with their crop in full swing around about now.

In just a few prickly minutes, my pockets were full, and before long the nostalgic aroma of roasting chestnuts filled the kitchen (luckily this wasn’t joined by the sound of explosions as they had their tips cut off before going under the grill), I also saved a few to plant in pots. Italian chestnuts, which are about twice the size, are also in season, and can be bought in the run up to Christmas; and the west-end chestnut sellers will probably be setting up their little fires around this time.

I’m now looking forward to the first frost, which will be the cue to make sheperdleas sloe gin, this time of year is also a busy one for fungi, who make a strong showing in Oxleas Woods in autumn, especially on the lower, damper slopes, although I’m not really sure which ones are poisonous/hallucinogenic/inedible/edible, perhaps the rangers might be able to answer this kind of question on one of their parkland rambles.