Not many people would have heard of braai cooking in London. The word means ‘barbecue’ in Afrikaans and is an important social custom in many countries in southern Africa. Thankfully, we don't have to fly halfway across the world to experience this tradition, as we can find this type of cooking at Hammer and Tongs in London’s Farringdon.
The decor, if truth be told is on the drab side, but the main highlight is their open grill kitchen. If they are not too busy, try to speak with their head chef, Rob Creaser and get an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the kitchen area. Over three metres in length and using sickle bush and Blackthorne wood imported directly from South Africa and Namibia, this braai grabs your attention right from the start.
The menu here is a fitting tribute to this temple of meat: they have pre-selected set braai menus, which range from the baby size at £50 for one to two people sharing to their bigger braai at £150, which is recommended for sharing with five to six people. There are pre-braai dishes to try like the biltong and Cape Malay curry fish. I am not normally a fan of biltong, but their version was surprisingly soft and moist and injected with extra flavours due to the addition of vinegar and spices. The latter dish was equally flavoursome with spices like turmeric, ground coriander, ginger and onion; the fish also had a fruity, full-bodied taste, due to the use of fruits in the curry paste.
We built our own braai by choosing from the a la carte menu. We went for three types of sosaties (South African skewers): chilli tiger prawns, honey chicken and spiced pork belly. The prawns were plump, juicy and had a rich smokiness that was further enhanced by the use of cold smoked garlic. The honey chicken was particularly moist and succulent with a healthy dose of vegetables like cayenne pepper, courgette and vine tomatoes.
Boerewors is a must-try for sausage fans and unlike British versions, it must contain at least ninety per cent meat and it must always contain beef as well as lamb or pork. It was slightly too meaty for my liking, but with Blatjang relish, it made for an appetising dish. To balance the meal with some vegetables, you should order their fire-roasted beetroot and feta. It was aromatic and had an earthy sweetness and came with a delicious mustard vinaigrette.
My favourite dish of the evening surprisingly didn't involve any land-animal meat, but it contained yellowtail, squid and mussels. The seafood potje was cooked in a small cast-iron pot over the open-fire; the interesting difference between a potje and a stew is there is no stirring when making a potje, so the individual flavours of the ingredients can be tasted more readily. The tomato flavours and white wine worked extremely well with the fresh seafood ingredients.
Hammer and Tongs is a prime example of how multicultural London is and long may this continue. If you are looking for a taste of traditional South African cuisine, then head to Farringdon today.
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