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At the end of April, despite the chaos in the air caused by an unpronounceable Icelandic volcano, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic headed for New York, with an intention of spending there a week pretending to be New Yorkers. Our base was a studio apartment in the Village, a stone’s throw from Washington Square and Bleecker Street.

But Soupwoman’s first story is not about any of the lovely culinary establishments in the neighbourhood – it is about the Ultimate Sandwich.

It is a Finnish tradition to have a picnic brunch on May Day. Being in New York, Central Park was the obvious choice for the location. As for the food, we decided to keep it simple and just grab a sandwich on the way there.

Soon we found ourselves queueing at the counter in the Carnegie Deli. We had heard it was famous for its hot pastrami sandwich, so we decided to have one each, despite the whopping price of nearly 15 dollars. When we got our bag, it was surprisingly heavy, but we had no idea what awaited us.

Then, after we found the perfect picnic spot, it was revealed to us. There are no words – and it was as good as it looks:

Pastrami Sandwich by Carnegie Deli – can you finish it?

The Orginal Soupwoman has been AWOL for some time now – apologies… First due to a holiday, then due to health issues. Still unable to do any proper cooking, soups or otherwise, so there will be no soups of the week in the near future, but reports of culinary adventures in NY are to follow soon!

Those who ever wore a kerchief a la Ally McBeal, saw Friends when it first came out, had their mind blown by Nirvana, laughed at Ren and Stimpy, were awed by The Matrix, and knew what they really, really wanted, surely remember Seinfeld, right? And if you were a fan or even a casual viewer, you must remember the Soup Nazi as well? And you are aware that the character was based on real person? You’re with me then, good.

A couple of years ago, when the Inhouse Food Critic and the Soupwoman visited New York, New York for the first time, it just so happened that one of The Original Soupman(TM) restaurants was in the neighbourhood, and of course we wanted to give it a try. We had one of the meal deals I think, not sure what exactly but it was reasonably tasty and filling, but not mind-blowing, and perhaps a bit pricey for being “just” a soup meal.

But that is not the point here. When we were finishing our meal, I saw a big, bald man speaking on his mobile and gesturing energetically. I had my camera out, so I snapped a photo of the scene. Then some of the staff came out, and had their picture taken with him, and it was not until then when I realised that it was the Soupman himself – with a lot less hair, but it was clearly the same guy as in the logo. He noticed me in the window with my camera, and he smiled and waved at me. And why not, I’m sure he laughed all the way to the bank as well, back in the day when Seinfeld made him notorious!

After the photos, The Original Soupman let his staff to pose in his fancy Mercedes.

Something gentle and mellow this time!

Ingredients
150 g leek, white/whitish parts only, washed and chopped
300 g Jerusalem artichokes, washed, peeled, chopped
20g butter
750ml vegetable or chicken stock
50g mascarpone cheese
grated nutmeg to taste
salt and white pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a pot on medium heat, add leek and saute until soft. Do not let brown. Add the Jerusalem artichokes and saute for a few minutes. Add stock and let simmer until the artichokes are soft. Then, take the pot off the stove and puree until smooth. Add the mascarpone cheese and some grated nutmeg and mix some more. Check the seasoning and serve!

If you want to ensure the soup is silky smooth, you can press it through a sieve, return to the pot and bring it back to a boil before serving.

You can substitute the mascarpone cheese with another cream cheese or cream. I used mascarpone as I happened to have it in the fridge. And, you can of course use the green bits of leek as well, but that makes the soup greener, and the green parts may remain stringy.

It has been quiet on the soup front – inspiration has abandoned the soupwoman momentarily. But I am sure it will return eventually, especially as the stress at work seems to be easing off a bit. I have a couple of ideas brewing already!

The Bamix crisis is over, so this week’s soup is a smooth puree again. And it is spicy!

Ingredients
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp thyme
1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 can of plum tomatoes
3 cans of water (use the empty tomato can)
4 tsp Kallo vegetable stock granules
2 tsp Harissa paste (the real stuff, not the kind that is diluted with carrot puree or somesuch)
salt to taste
(chopped coriander to garnish)

Heat the oil in the pot, add onion, garlic and cumin and fry until the onions have softened. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, water, vegetable stock granules, thyme and harissa paste. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 20-30 minutes. Then puree with a had mixer until smooth,  check the seasoning, garnish with chopped coriander and serve with fresh bread.

On a Saturday in February, the Original Soupwoman and the Inhouse Food Critic forayed into the Capital in search of some cultural delights, and found some in form of a matinée performance of Romeo and Juliet (music by Prokofiev, choreography by MacMillan) at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.  Our original plan was simply to grab a  burger afterwards in nearby branch of GBK, but as we walked past Belgo Centraal, we were suddenly overcome by a craving for a bowl of juicy mussels. Hence, a change of plans and there we went.

It was just after 5, but a queue was already forming. We were put on a waiting list and told that there would be a 5-10 mins wait, which turned out pretty much correct. And it was also lucky, as the bar area was rather grim, especially as there was no service at the bar yet and we just stood around. Having said that, it was also a chance to take in the industrial design of the place, which is unique.

The restaurant is down in the basement, large halls filled with wooden tables and benches, the servers clad in black monk’s robes buzzing around carrying plates and huge pots of mussels. The atmosphere was lively to say the least, and perhaps too noisy for some – there was a certain feel of a factory canteen.

Our drinks orders were taken quickly, and when Inhouse Soup Critic’s chosen beverage was not available, our server recommended an excellent alternative from the extensive list of Belgian beers. Starters also arrived quickly – crab soup for him, Thai style mussels for me. Both were very tasty, and the mussels big and juicy, but it was a little surprising that no bread was served with the soup – it should have been ordered separately. After we finished, our plates were taken away quickly and as our server spotted I tiny drop of broth on the table she cleaned it promptly.

The mains – Mussels Provençal for him, Herb-crusted lamb with creamed savoy cabbage for her – took a bit longer, but we were in no rush so we used that time for discussing the performance we just saw (we both agreed especially Juliet had been fantastic) and of course for people-watching. Belgo is good place for that, as it attracts all kinds of people, from families with children to couples to groups of young people.

As we left, the queue was already stretching to the main door, which demonstrates how popular this place is, and I can see why, although I would not necessarily be willing to wait longer than 20 mins or so to get in.

The Conclusion: We both enjoyed our food, it was good solid quality: tasty, well prepared and nicely presented. The price came to around 50 pounds for 2 courses and 2 Belgian beers – not exactly cheap and cheerful but OK for London, I suppose. The tip (or service charge) was added to the bill automatically, which normally annoys me, but at Belgo Centraal, the super-efficient staff work their butts off and earn every penny.

The Verdict: Belgo Centraal is an interesting experience, but its hectic atmosphere and industrial feel may not suit everyone. Their Express Lunch (12-5pm, a course from their lunch menu + drink for £7.95 ) and Beat the Clock offer (a special menu, priced according to the time the order is placed) seem to offer good value and are worth checking out.