Cheap, cheerful & cheekily delicious Indian wraps at Kati Roll Co…

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Cheap food that tastes great in a central location. It’s not actually asking for the world though it sometimes feels like it. Thankfully, tucked away down Poland St is a bright little oasis where you can happily hide from the Big-Ben-snowglobe-toting tourists of Oxford St and feed your face in peace.

When Time Out published their annual list of 100 Cheap Eats in London earlier this year, it became one of my most read & scribbled on articles – hey, I love cyberspace as much as the next gal but at heart, I’m old school. I like to rip pages out of magazines and I like to circle things and I have folders that I can’t actually close because there are too many torn out recipes and articles and reviews in it…anyone else simultaneously share my joy and feel my pain?! Anyway, my point is there are some brilliant hidden treasures on that list and here, with the Kati Roll Company, I’m sharing one of the best.

Kati comes to London via New York, where they’re lucky enough to have three branches of the restaurant, and India where the history of street food is vivid & delicious. Selling soft, flaky, buttery paratha wraps (so good you’ll want to buy a dozen and stuff them with everything you eat for days after) or simple, whole-wheat flour rotis filled with spiced meat, vegetables and cheese, these babies are light, filling and super tasty plus you’ll get change from a tenner and you’ll find yourself plotting opportunities to come back again and again. How do I know? Come on, who actually goes to Oxford St voluntarily? No-one that’s who, unless there’s something rather awesome to snack on as a reward.

Even though the restaurant itself is small, the décor is cheery, authentic and friendly as is the service and there are 13 different rolls on the menu catering for all tastes. Chickpeas, egg, cheese & potatoes will keep vegetarians happy whilst chicken, prawn, lamb & beef mean the carnivores are all set too.

Spices, pickles and chutneys keep things flavourful and fresh while cold beers go down a treat and mango lassis are made freshly every day. I once had an intervention staged on me at an Asian wedding because I couldn’t stop downing the jugs of mango lassi on the table so now, I’m not ashamed to say I get my fix wherever and whenever I can.

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Rolls range from just under £3 to just over £5 and with all available on a ‘two for…’ deal, none of which come in at over £10, this is such a nifty little spot for a quick dinner with a friend.

Unsurprisingly perhaps given the national love for it, Chicken Tikka is the most popular and it is absolutely delicious – warm spices & tender meat make it a winning combination – but for me, it was all about the spicey-pickley marinated paneer which was firm, creamy and tangy. I’m a fervent believer that there’s nothing that can’t be made better with the addition of cheese and Indian incarnations of it are always particularly awesome. Hands up if you agree? Yeah, there you are, I see you.

There’s something about the fragrance of Indian food that triggers a primal reaction – I only have to walk past somewhere serving it and an hour later I’ll realise I’m nowhere near where I was going, I’m not doing anything remotely like whatever I had planned and poppadom crumbs are sprinkled down my shirt but I’m full and I’m happy and sometimes, that’s all that matters…guaranteed, Kati will make you feel that way too.

 

A hot spot for coffee and cake in Victoria…

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If you’ve ever stepped out of Victoria station into the utter chaos that engulfs it and despaired of finding a quiet spot in which to rest your weary feet, feed your hungry tummy and escape the maelstrom of construction, ‘Wicked’ fan girls & frazzled commuters outside, then despair no more because I’m here to tell you that such a place does exist in the form of Coffee Geeks & Friends.

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Opened earlier this year to the delight of a substantial & loyal customer base created through their coffee truck business, Coffee Geeks is the baby of Robin San and Matthew Law, escapees from the corporate workplace turned professional coffee lovers, and is situated in the Cardinal Place Shopping Centre, a place thankfully just moments from both the bus & train station which is being massively invested in.

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Visiting on a sunny Saturday afternoon, there was a pleasantly chilled vibe in the air along with the aroma of decent coffee – sometimes sadly harder to find than you might imagine – and these two things, coupled with stands full of cakes, stacks of magazines – Conde Nast Traveller & Vanity Fair were particularly appreciated as we whiled away an hour with our food & drinks – and a light, airy & minimally modern environment made for a welcome respite from the sort of central London humidity that can make grown men weep. Laptop tappers were using the free Wi-Fi & plug sockets on communal tables leaving us to perch on stools in the window, people watching those scurrying past.

A friendly welcome from staff who were more than happy to answer any questions – trust me, the Kermit coloured pandan cake will leave you with one or two! – was a good start as was having our food & drinks brought over to us. There was a small but delicious choice of sandwiches either on sourdough or in a wrap when we visited…FYI, the smoked salmon on sourdough was light & silky and the roast chicken & bacon wrap was generously filled, they were both made to order and, at £4 each, represented excellent value in a world often stocked with scantily dressed & scandalously over-priced sandwiches.

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If you’re as much of a sucker for freshly made baked goods as I am and the homemade upside down nectarine cake is on the menu, elbow your way to the front of the queue for a soft, naturally sweet & beautifully fresh slice.

The dark chocolate, cranberry, macadamia & sea salt cookie bought for the journey home were also a smart buy, being chewy, light & utterly moreish. Hot chocolate was creamy and actually tasted of cocoa rather than the watery, vaguely chocolatey mess that often gets doled out elsewhere and coffee, from local London roaster Allpress Espresso, was deemed excellent by my coffee snob lunch pal.

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As a non-coffee drinker, I may not know where to go for the best piccolo but I do know the significance of finding a good coffee shop in which to enjoy decent food and well-made drinks at a reasonable price & served with a smile. In a caffeinated landscape of globally impersonal chains, menus that require supreme effort to navigate and products that aren’t actually worth the inflated price-tag they’re stamped with, it’s lovely to find & be able to support a little corner of London that’s independent, inviting & delicious.

Lobster rolls to gorge on in your own corner of Soho hosted east coast USA…

Darling readers, hello. I must jump right in on this beautiful summery afternoon and ask you what far flung corners of the world can be found on your must-visit-must-eat list? Plates of spicy chorizo & blushing prawns among the tapas of Barcelona? Authentic cocoa-spiced mole & hand-made yellow corn tacos in Mexico City? Fresh flavoured, clean lined, elegant fish from the Scandinavian coast?

Sensational as they all sound – and really, I am sincerely up for accompanying you to all of the above plus any other international spots you fancy feasting at –  for me, east coast USA has long held a place on my own global-dining wish list. A work colleague recently jolly-holidayed in Boston & New England and I nearly died of food envy upon hearing his tales of white sandy bonfires, seafood so fresh it practically swam to your plate & bowls of chowder so warm and creamy you’d happily bob around using saltine crackers as a deliciously nibble-able flotation device…

Well now, thanks to the kind folk at Smack Lobster, we can all our own piece of white-shuttered-beach-house Americana without needing to undertake the purgatory of an 8 hour flight wedged into a screaming baby, overweight passenger, dehydrated food laden plane…

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Smack Lobster is the kid sister of Burger & Lobster, a restaurant group where the only decision required of you to make is literally ‘Burger…or lobster?’ The ideology behind Smack – named after the type of boats used to catch lobsters incidentally rather than an invitation to get into a claw-fight with your dinner – is that lobster isn’t something to be reserved only for fat cats with deep pockets, and I can absolutely lay testament to that fact; for a mere 10 of your hard earned pounds, you can gorge yourself on the type of beautiful, fast, fresh food that you’ll remember long after the last smears of mayo have been licked from your fingers.

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Smack can be found in 2 helpfully central London locations with their main restaurant on Binney St near Bond St tube and their deli spot on Dean St in the heart of Soho; on this occasion we were headed for a Pixar Picturehouse date after eating, so it was the second that we headed towards after work on the sort of gloriously bright evening that warms both the skin & the soul.

First thing first, this is a small location so leave your cat at home because kids, there’s no room to swing it. That said, after faux-casually stalking a couple finishing off their rolls in the window of this joint, J & I were seated after only a few moments wait and really, if you’re after something quick to be eaten al fresco or on the run, this place will totally see you right. A large open window on the side was a nice touch with a bench outside where lobster-diners were also happily perched.

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Like its big brother, Smack has a small menu – lobster rolls or lobster salad. Now I love avocado & cous cous as much as the next gal but there was no way anything other than brioche rolls were being ordered on this visit…I had a Hamptons-esque daydream to bring to life after all. Out of 5 options, J and I opted for the California & the Seven Samurai, leaving the Original, the BLT and the Mexican for another time.

The California (below) combines lobster meat with fresh lettuce, juicy cherry tomatoes, wafer thin cucumber slices and a surprisingly light avocado-lime mayo, all of which lie nestled under a scattering of chives. The whole thing was gorgeously creamy without being overly rich and the luscious avocado mayo paired with generous hunks of fat, smooth lobster meat transported me – I was no longer in the streets of W1, I was sat atop a washed-ashore piece of driftwood, listening to the roar of the Atlantic and devouring coral coloured lobster meat, one gluttonous mouthful at a time while the latest Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign cavorted preppily around me…

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If everything about the California carried me, ironically, to the eastern US seaboard, then the Seven Samurai bore me straight to the Far East. Pairing lobster with Japanese mayo, shredded white cabbage, sliced cucumber, pickled ginger, spring onion slivers and togarashi, a Japanese spice made traditionally with chili & pepper, this roll possessed all the beautiful clean flavours that come with Japanese cooking plus a suggestion of heat from the ginger and the spice. The togarashi, as lovely to look at as it was to taste, was new to me but something I’ll be seeking out to throw on future home-made dishes as a change to my time-honoured dusting of everything with smoked paprika.

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A word of praise for the brioche which was every bit as glossy, sweet & soft as you’d imagine; a gentle toasting of the outer sides made for a nice contrast in texture to the rich but low in fat & high in protein lobster within it. Melted butter and velvety mayo accompaniments aside, there’s a lot to be said for adding this crustacean to your diet, especially if you’re made of stronger stuff than I am and can forego those sumptuous brioche buns.

Smack work with a specific group of Nova Scotia fishermen for as much of the year as possible, sourcing from Maine only when out of season there. Every lobster they use is wild when caught and kept in the best conditions possible until it’s delivered fresh each day to their restaurants. They also work closely with the Canadian government ensuring that they stay positively within sustainability laws.

If you’ve always thought that lobster was something to be had in white-linen-and-gleaming-silverware restaurants only, if you’ve wondered how you could afford to introduce it to your diet or if you’re after something a bit fresh, a bit different and a lot exciting for your dinner tonight, then good news…Smack’s open till 1opm.

Race you to that window seat….