Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Category Archives: Middle Eastern

artichoke cafe + bar: Brunch!

It was about time that I popped by Artichoke again. It’s the rainy season, and the last I remembered, I left my umbrella at the restaurant. That was last November. I’ve gotten drenched more times than I care to remember since then.

No, I’m only joking. I missed the place, and going Food Geek-y chatting with Bjorn. I have been meaning to drop by for brunch before heading off to the cows in Switzerland for my summer study. Perhaps then I’ll finally get round to putting up recipes again. Who knows?

The last time I was at Artichoke for dinner, Bjorn brought out an unassuming slice of toast with a dollop of his homemade labneh (yoghurt and double cream) and drippy chunks of peach jam – one of the new products of his tinkerings in the kitchen. It was sensational, and I all but declared that such a beauty should only be savoured with a cup of strong, bitter coffee. You know, the perfect pairing for a brunch dish and that whole jazz.

Crunchy toast and sweet, syrupy jam to mellow out the tangy bite of the labneh. This was an unnamed, mysterious concoction that surprisingly worked. This is comfort food.

And then this was introduced proper to the brunch menu under an equally unassuming name of Cheese & Jam Toast ($14.00), and served up with a couple of slices of freshly made pita bread, and a thick slice of toasted sourdough. It was great, although less tangy than what I previously tried. Hopefully it’ll regain its kick. It’s a unique combination. Try it.

This is the Brunch Special ($24), also known as Artichoke’s take on the Ploughman’s Platter, with chicken terrine, labneh on the side, eggplant jam, homemade pickled vegetables, green olives, and thick slices of sourdough. It’s one of those iconic English dishes, so you can imagine that I was rather surprised seeing this among Artichoke’s Moorish influences.

I tell you, the chicken terrine is fantastic. It’s a lot lighter than most terrines, flaky, and certainly not mushy. It is seasoned perfectly with a dash of some spices for a beautiful fragrance. This isn’t pâté though, so while you should schmear some on a slice of bread, it is not going to spread like butter, but add a small bit of that sweet eggplant jam (I tasted the caramelized onions more than eggplant, so haters needn’t worry) and you’re good to go. This is essentially a cold dish, so if you’re hankering for one of those belly-warming brunch dishes that’ll send you back to bed right after you wake, you might want to consider their ever-popular scrambled eggs (with sides of mushrooms and feta cheese, or maple-glazed bacon chop, or Moroccan sausage).

Or you could check out the Ful.

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artichoke cafe + bar

In the 4 months that I’ve been away from writing proper, I’ve been violently sucked into a whirlwind of events, bludgeoned with massive amounts of food, met the incredible people behind food establishments, harvested an insane amount of food photographs, and got tossed into the world of publishing – all in the name of Urban Relish. What was supposed to be a small-scaled summer food publication almost immediately blew out of proportion and there went 4 months.

But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is: Meet my latest obsession.

Moorish Cuisine – a melange of cuisines from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean countries. Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and more, Moorish cuisine is best summed up as probably the best thing that the rampaging Ottomans left behind before the empire was broken up into what we know today as Turkey, Arabia, Syria, and the like.

In a nutshell, you’re supposed to be feasting at a table with friends whom you love enough to share the bounty with. You order up a storm, and dive right in. And there’s so much to love about such a philosophy that I’ve been back about a total of 5 times now, with a handful or so of returns in the planning.

As part of the mammoth food guide, Urban Relish, that I was slaving away for, I had the opportunity to visit Artichoke for a tasting session. All I’d heard about them was their brunch. And if you’re like me and have only heard about their brunch, well I have just one thing to say: Stop hearing it, because I’m going to tell you about their dinners.

Of course, it’s chef Bjorn Shen who has crafted this contagious culture in his restaurant, and all I needed was just a little chat with him for it to start infecting (in the best way possible). If you need an example of his kitchen philosophy, just have a look at that chalk-scrawled wall in the picture on the right. He’s great with his meats, just in case you can’t tell.

It’s all about great food, colour, texture, boisterous groups of people, passing around a Forgotten Grain Salad to share, mopping up plates of dips with flat breads, and perhaps a meat platter if you’re so inclined. Although I must say that if you do order a meat platter, chances are, Chef Bjorn himself might just come right up to your table in the midst of grilling some haloumi and try to convince you to order a Beetroot Tzatziki instead.

When at Artichoke, if something on the menu looks foreign to you, order it. Don’t know what’s blackened Turkish butter? Or the aforementioned haloumi? Only one way to find out. If you’re still insecure, I’m telling you they’re all good. Details in a while.

Here he is, orchestrating the photoshoot as I was perched atop a high stool. He admitted to having dabbled in food photography a while back before starting Artichoke, and burst out of the restaurant arms full with cups, bottles of cider, cutlery, napkins – anything and everything that could be a prop.

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