Friday, 10 July 2009

The Spice Shop

This tiny box of a shop just off the main drag of Portobello Road is an Aladdin’s cave for any food lover, stocking countless herbs, spices and unusual flavours from across the globe.

The concept

Originating as a stall on the North End Road in the nineties to satisfy the German owner Birgit’s cravings for paprika, the next step was to open a shop on Blenheim Crescent. A staggering variety of pepper, paprika, sumac, chillies, cardamom, saffron and vanilla are just a few of the gems lining the walls alongside Birgit’s own blends, such as Ras al Hanout which contains an incredible 48 spices. The emphasis is on high quality pure spices, responsibly sourced from reputable producers. Sushi mats and wasabi appear next to nutmeg graters, mushroom essence and sunflower seeds.

Who goes

Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver have all visited seeking inspiration for new projects. Tourists and locals alike wander through the door to re-stock their cupboards or to browse and experiment with a new ingredient. As the shop’s assistant Brendan mentioned he ‘learns from the customers’ how to use the encyclopaedic range.


Their distinctive bright orange and red tins are fun, instantly recognisable and make a great gift. You’ll be hunting for Middle Eastern recipes after experiencing the intense citrusy flavour of the sumac and the chai tea mix transports you to the subcontinent. Spice blends are the best sellers but old fashioned whole spices are making a come back.

Any downsides

The shop is minute so by the time a few tourists have piled in it’s hard to manoeuvre and fully appreciate everything on the shelves. That said, the assistants couldn’t be more helpful and there’s usually buzzy music being played. Avoid visiting on a Saturday when the market will be in full swing.

What you’ll spend

Bagged spices and blends are usually under £3 for 50g. The same weight in a tin is about £5. Persian saffron can set you back as much as £8 for 1g and vanilla pods too can be quite pricey. The quality of the produce means that a little goes a lot further than equivalent supermarket varieties.

Anything else

The website has the full range available for sale online and has customers across the world. Interestingly many well-heeled Indians make large purchases via the site because the quality is superior to the often dirty, sun-dried spices for sale on their doorstep. Birgit gives cookery demonstrations over the road at Books for Cooks making use of the wealth of food knowledge she’s picked up travelling to source produce.

The Spice Shop
1 Blenheim Crescent
London W11 2EE
020 7221 4448

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Aziz on Urbanspoon

I feel I have made a profound discovery this weekend, probably starkly obvious to the rest of the world: communal dining works but only for grown ups. It does not work when a deli floor is turned into a nursery complete with mini tricycles, when open bottles of maple syrup are substituted for rattles, when scrambled eggs become ammunition for fork catapults or when milk filled straws are used as water guns to fire upon slightly hungover and completely off-guard occupants of your table.

On Saturday, having hurdled over a few small children to take up position at one of the large wooden tables in the Fulham branch of Del’aziz, I had almost begun to relax into my surroundings when a cold splatter of milk landed on my right cheek. As I turned I was confronted with a very satisfied three year old brandishing a dairy laden straw while his proud parent smiled benevolently on.

In the last few years communal dining has been reinvigorated, creeping across the capital in a range of eateries such as Ottelenghi, La Fromagerie and Wagammas. But embarking on a meal with strangers at your side in any one of these places you can probably assume you have one thing in common with your fellow diners; that you have all learnt the fine art of transporting food from plate to mouth without showering each other with it.

Kids aside, this Mediterranean brasserie and deli, is a pretty smart act. The stacks of oversized cakes lining the window will have your mouth watering before you’ve glimpsed the menu and are available by the slice, whole or bespoke. They are magnificent creations, the kind that would make you hesitate with guilt before breaking a knife into the carefully crafted layers of chocolate, sponge and cream.

Dark wooden shelves line the walls and are adorned with all sorts of edible and non-edible wares from Moroccan crockery to olive oil, authentic spices such as sumac and harissa or Turkish delight and baklava. Sadly, lazily foraging the shelves isn’t comfortable for diner or shopper as the tables are close to the walls and waiters continuously scuttle through the gaps.

The brunch menu makes a refreshing break from the standard formula which has been adopted by so many bistros. Yes, scrambled eggs are on the menu but come with home cured gravadlax or piled onto confit Portobello mushrooms. Moroccan muffins replace the traditional plain version and tender white beans accompany the vegetarian breakfast as a welcome replacement to Heinz.

My berber pancakes, thick spongier versions of their American cousins, arrived dusted with flaked almonds and drizzled with fragrant honey. A generous trio of these comfortingly sweet cakes were accompanied by a fruit salad, the tartness of which provided perfect contrast to the runny honey.

The Eggs Royale could not have been better and we are hard to impress on this front, so often the results are disappointing. Aziz presented perfectly poached eggs, tasty salmon, tangy hollandaise and a herby muffin base all topped beautifully with two slender chives.

As we ate, a sizzling pan passed by us, landed in front of our neighbours and generated envy in spite of our own delicious choices. The aptly named ‘Frying Pan’ is gluttonously filled with chorizo, peppers, bacon, potatoes, cheese and eggs and produced a satisfied smile from the other side of the table.

The mint tea is made with plenty of the fresh herb, the coffee strong and full of flavour and the smoothies, although expensive are packed with fruit. There is a lot left to try on the brunch menu alone and this is without turning the page to the huge range of mezze served after midday. Quite amazingly, considering the fast pace, loud noise and multiple functions of the venue, the staff remain calm and the service quick.

If you can block out the ghoulish wailing of multiple toddlers and the ineffective protests from their bewildered parents, which together combine to create a less than harmonious buzz in Del’aziz, then you are in for a feast.

24-32 Vanston Place
020 7386 0086