The late summer weather means al fresco lunches in one of West London’s many squares, parks and public places. After a while however hummus gets a little boring and so I’ve been eating way, way, way too much cheese.
Much as I love my lunchtime picnics, I miss this place. To be honest, it’s a bit shabby, both on the inside and outside and not quite in keeping with the surrounding gentrification of Notting Hill. Nothing a lick of paint and some new picnic benches outside wouldn’t fix. So I went back recently to try what I consider to be quite possibly the best dish I have ever eaten. One of those dishes you can’t stop eating even when you feel you are about to explode. Stir fried tofu with chili and holy basil from the pub’s Thai menu. By the way, I’ve never tried anything from the pub’s English menu. It all looks a little ordinary in comparison.
But what’s this? Where is it? They have changed the menu! There were only ever two dishes on the menu that didn’t contain meat or fish, the other was a vegetable green curry. Now there are none. You can still order it if you ask nicely, and if the bar staff are in a good mood and it still tastes great, but it’s just not quite the same as the original.
I tried to order the same dish from my local Thai restaurant. they even deliver if you order enough food. Trouble is, they delivered the wrong dish. Beef with chili and basil. So I thought I’d try it at home.
Most of the ingredients can be found in any large supermarket. The deep fried tofu I got from the Oriental CostCutter on Queensway, opposite Baywater tube station. I have also seen it in Planet Organic though it’s pricier there and doesn’t have that same open texture. I had a hunt around for recipes then made a version based on a combination of three or four that sounded similar to the dish from the Walmer Castle. Some recipes would say if you can’t find Thai holy basil then use standard basil. My advice is, if you can’t find holy basil, then leave this dish for another time until you can. Holy basil and regular “italian” basil have totally different flavours.
You can serve this with steamed jasmine rice, sticky rice or, as in my case, a quick stir fry of mushrooms, beansprouts and egg noodles.
1 pack deep fried tofu. If you can’t get this, then use firm tofu, pat it dry, cut into large cubes then fry in a very hot wok with a little oil until well browned.
3 clove garlic – finely chopped
4 spring onions – thickly sliced
4-6 birdseye chilis, sliced (adjust depending on how hot you like it, or add more before serving)
3-4 tablespoons each of dark and light soy sauce
100ml or so of water
pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons sunflower, rapeseed or groundnut oil
a big handful of holy basil leaves
Heat the oil in a wok, with the flame on the highest setting.
When the oil starts to smoke add the garlic, chili and spring onion. Fry for a couple of seconds then add the tofu. Fry for a monute of so then add the soy sauces, water and sugar, Keep stirring for about a minute then add the basil leaves either whole or hand torn. Stir again until the basil has wilted. if you like a bit more “gravy” add a little more water. Serve while steaming hot.