Review: Mulu’s “Pop-Up” Ethiopian Night in Oxford, UK

IMG_2736I am really into Ethiopian food, and when I was an undergraduate student in New York City, I used to love eating at Zoma, an incredible Ethiopian place in Harlem. As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any Ethiopian restaurants in Oxford. However, I recently found out that there ARE incredible “Pop-Up” Ethiopian nights in town, where Ethiopian cooks take over local restaurants for a night, and serve up some amazing eats!

I’ve gone to Mulu’s Ethiopian “Pop Up” Night at the Magic Cafe in Cowley three times now, and have not been disappointed. The chef, Freha, grew up in Ethiopia, and used to run a local restaurant with her family there. She now recreates her family’s recipes at the pop-up in Oxford. Mulu serves a wide range of both meat and vegetarian dishes, and although their traditional injera bread is not gluten free (some recipes are), the organizers of the event- Freha and David – have been extremely accommodating, and always provide gluten-free bread for me to eat.

The last time I went to Mulu’s was two Saturdays ago, and as always, I had an amazing meal with friends. We also sampled their “Tej,” which is a traditional Ethiopian honey mead wine, and it was fantastic. After dinner,  Freha provided a showcase of Ethiopian dancing.

If you’re interested in booking the next Ethiopian night at Mulu, or want to get more information about their Ethiopian feasts, you can email mulu.info@gmail.com

Review: Door 74 in Oxford

When I first moved to Oxford almost 4 years ago, I thought that the majority of restaurants in town were quaint independent restaurants. Then, the first time I went to London that year, I was surprised to find out that almost ALL of them are chains (Cafe Rouge, Branca, Patisserie Valerie, Brasserie Blanc etc.) So, I’m always pleased to find a new tasty local restaurant in town that’s completely homegrown and unique to Oxford.

One of my favorite new truly local places is the romantic restaurant Door 74, which could be described as simple “British” cuisine. I went for the first time last December, and had a phenomenal halloumi salad as an appetizer with caramelized onion, balsamic reduction, and roasted butternut squash. Jon and I wolfed it down, and decided on the spot that we’d have to come back to try their three-course Valentines’ Day menu.

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A picture of the interior of Door 74

So, we went back on February 14, and it was incredible. In addition to a holiday appropriate kir royale, I had a french onion soup to start (completely vegetarian), followed by wild mushroom risotto, and a local cheese plate. I can’t wait to go back on another special occasion!

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French Onion Soup (starter)

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Risotto with wild mushrooms (main)

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Cheese dessert plate

GF Ingredients: M&S Gluten Free Salmon Fishcakes (With Tartar Sauce Recipe)

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Living in the land of fish and chips can be hard when you’re gluten-free (chips are gluten-free, but breaded fish fillets are NOT), so I was excited to stumble upon some great looking gluten-free salmon fish cakes at M&S today (you can order them online here, but they’re much cheaper in stores @ three pounds for two packs).

I decided to try them for lunch with some homemade tartar sauce. They were really good – very crisp on the outside, with nice pieces of fresh salmon flakes mixed with creamy potatoes in the inside.

Tartar Sauce Ingredients

  • mayonnaise
  • 1 medium sized pickle, chopped in to small pieces (pickles are called gherkins in England!)
  • squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • pepper, pinch of garlic salt

Directions: Mix ingredients for tartar sauce in a small bowl. Serve with M&S gluten-free salmon cakes (baked in the oven, according to the package) and with fresh lemon slices.

Review: Bookbinder’s Pub in Oxford, UK

IMG_2612Bookbinder’s is a quirky neighborhood pub in the upscale Oxford neighborhood of Jericho. It’s one of my favorite places to spend a mellow weekday evening, and the atmosphere reminds me of two other places I really like (1) the club room of the fancy-schmanzy 21 club restaurant in New York City and (2) Pavilhão Chinês, a bar I went to once in Lisbon, Portugal.

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Bookbinders is decorated eccentrically, with random collectibles – train sets, old ice skates, beer coasters, and old photographs – placed on the walls. There’s also a “music room,” with old records and sheet music.  During the Christmas season, they serve delicious mulled wine and cider with spices and raisins. (I am convinced it’s the best mulled wine in Oxford, because  I’ve sampled the drink in almost every local Oxford pub.) They serve food as well, but I haven’t had the chance to try it.

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The Entrance to the “Music Room” at Bookbinder’s

Last night, Jon and I stopped in after a formal three-course dinner to grab drinks and play a few rounds of our favorite card game – Shithead. Bookbinders has a terrific board game collection, with all the classics -Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, etc.

A quick practical tip for the gluten-free folks: If you’ve been gluten-free for awhile, you know that beer is off limits. However, alcoholic cider is gluten-free, as are all forms of hard liquor. Last night, I had the cider on tap, and it was perfect.

Review: The Karczma, a kitschy Polish gem in Birmingham, UK

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There are few things I love more than “kitsch.” I grew up going to presidential libraries in the United States, scouring vintage shops to add to my growing collection of antique vintage election pins, and falling in love with local town brass band concerts in rural New England. I love old-timey American diners and Norman Rockwell-style schmaltz. Last week, Jon and I were flying through Birmingham on our way to a ski vacation in the Alps, and decided to plan a date night out on the town before flying out. I found a review in the Guardian for the kitschiest sounding restaurant in the city and decided we absolutely had to go check it out!

The restaurant is called the Karczma, and is a traditional Polish place, located next door to a bleak concrete Polish cultural center. The interior of the restaurant consists of a fake thatched roof, sheepskin chairs, nostalgic murals of Polish farmers, and a TV permanently set to a Polish news channel. But if that’s not enough of a draw, the food is PHENOMENAL.

Jon and I started out our dinner with some vodka – his was flavored with grass, and mine had a delicious subtle honey aftertaste. We decided to splurge on some starters – I had a wonderful pickled whitefish dish with diced onion. Jon had (AVERT YOUR EYES DEAR VEGETARIAN READERS!!) fried sheep cheese wrapped in fried bacon. Needless to say, he loved it.

For mains, I had a fried trout, with just the perfect balance of crisp skin and smooth silky interior. The sides included a generous heaping of mashed potatoes with a slight flavor of vinegar, and a side of sauerkraut. Jon had a portion of meat and wheat – some hearty pierogis.

The only downside is that there did not seem to be very many options on the menu for strict gluten-free vegetarians, but if you love fish, you’ll find Karczma heavenly. Check out the menu here: http://www.thekarczma.co.uk/. It’s pretty reasonably priced as well. Our meal came out to somewhere around 30 pounds for the two of us.

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“More vodka, please!”

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