The London restaurant scene moves forward at the speed of light. Even some of the good restaurants don’t survive the test of time, and for those that do live on, I think they need some extra mentioning here ^_^
Situated on the basement level of a building next to Holborn Tube Station, Asadal is my slightly-more-expensive-than-average Korean restaurant with quite a wide selection on the barbecue menu (£6.50-18.50) and a relatively effective and non-intrusive extraction system. (No ventilation tube at table to suck your eyelashes off, so to speak). Useless as this may sound, I never try order anything else at Asadal apart from barbecue, kimchi and rice dishes. The pungent, variably spiced selection of Kimchi (£6) was crunchy and reliable. Namool Selection (£4.50) was less successful and lacked some vital aromatic dimension of sesame oil. That said, in most Korean restaurants in London, kimchi and namool dishes are complimentary. An Chang Kui/Rib Eye Marinated with Sesame Oil (£13.80) spoke quality but was too calm in taste. More robustness and fragrance from the marinate and the char would have made it brilliant. Bulgogi/Marinated Topside Beef Slices (£9.20) had more flavours, notably sweetness. Gal Bi/Stripes of Marinated Rib (£9.50) was my usual favourite – beefy, well-marinated and quite full of tenderised bites. Dewji Bul Go Gi/Spicy Marinated Pork (£8.50) was lost on the spicy side. Sang Chu/Fresh Lettuce with Seasoned Bean Paste (£2.50) was nice, though I would have loved the paste with a little more heat. Pa Seng Che/Shredded Spring Onions in Sesame Oil and Chilli Powder (£1.90) was fresh, feisty and vinegary. Great foil to the mellow taste from the barbecue. Kimchi Bokum Bab (£8.80) was a dish of stir-fried rice with kimchi and small beef cubes. The rice was grainy but quite wet; the heat was there to please (me) but it could induce a kimchi sweat from irregular chilli consumers; the beef cubes were tough and lost in taste.
For those in the know (of Japanese shopping), Mitsukoshi is the long-standing Japanese department store with many of its branches spreading across Japan, Asia, Europe and America. The one in London – on Lower Regent Street and next to Japan Centre – attracts mostly Japanese (and some Chinese) tour groups. You may expect the same groups of diners in the basement restaurant. You can also expect an all-encompassing, everybody-can-eat menu. And, you can expect Japanese authenticity. The ambiance is low-key, but it is often busy.
The lunch menu contain mainly set courses, costing between £15-27. Most options are served with a bowl of rice, soup and side salad. The dinner menu is dearer but features a wider range of A La Carte dishes. Given my experience at Mitsukoshi, it’s best to go for lunch; the non-deep-frying dishes are usually acceptable; the sashimi, sourced by the same fish supplier as Sushi Tetsu, is reliable.
My Una-Ju Zen (£26.50) from the dinner menu was decent. The accompanying sashimi starter (of salmon, akami and seabass was fresh, though the wasabi was quite dry and tired and didn’t taste much. The eel grilled and caramelised with kabayaki sauce was meaty and fell apart apart in my mouth. The smoky sweetness was quite distinct and the rice was nicely cooked. More spectacular was my A La Carte De Luxe Sashimi (£28.80) from the lunch menu. This premium assortment included salmon, akami, sea bass, yellowtail, flounder, scallops, prawns, squids and vinegared snow crab. It went down quickly with a bowl of rice ^_^
Centrepoint Sushi is a hidden Japanese restaurant above the Japanese-Korean supermarket on St Giles High Street. The budget-priced menu covers a wide selection of dishes, from sashimi and sushi to deep-fried and cooked dishes. Not a destination restaurant, but more of a place you pop in and order the safest-sounding dishes on the menu and hope the kitchen will execute it right.
My chicken karaake bento box (around £12) was decent. The batter was crispy; the chicken did taste like chicken; and the rice was nicely cooked. The side order of assorted pickles (£4) was full of crunch. From my previous experience, however, the sashimi here isn’t usually the freshest. (Generally you can’t really go budget for good sushi or sashimi).
PRINCESS GARDEN OF MAYFAIR
The Mayfair scene is usually the place for swanky, inventive Chinese restaurants (say, Bo London, Novikov Asian, Kai and Hakkasan) but its much more traditional Cantonese Chinese restaurant neighbour Princess Garden of Mayfair will have enjoyed its 30-year-old success in 2013.
For me, Princess Garden isn’t the place you go for a *wow* dim sum lunch but a reliably well-done one. The pricing for dim sum (around £3-4) is also quite a steal for the Mayfair location. To my knowledge, they are also the only Chinese restaurant that offers abalone and sea cucumber as the fixed staples on their dinner menu.
My char siu puff (£2.90) flaked nicely and was without grease. The pork was gently spiced and deliciously sweet. The shredded mooli cake (£2.90) was tangy, crispy and crunchy. The beef cheng fun with enoki mushrooms (£4), thinly wrapped and doused in rich sweetened soy dressing, also boast a correct texture. The turnip cake (£2.80), oozing a mild turnip aroma, was soft on the inside and fried for delectable crisp on the outside.
Mango Tree and Pan Chai by Ian Pengelley are counter restaurants at Harrods Food Hall. The former took over the old dim sum bar; the latter the older sushi bar. Interestingly enough, the majority of the menus of the former restaurants have survived this rechristening. One desperately hungry moment led me to taking a seat at Mango Tree, now a dim sum bar with a modern *fusion* Thai menu. The price range is high enough to make a Harrods regular gasp. The *cheapest* options on the menu are Spare Ribs and Choi Sum with Oyster Sauce at £7.50 each; the most startlingly expensive option is Thai Green Curry with Wagyu Beef at £59.80.
Seeing the menu, my appetite dwindled and I resorted to Goong Ten (£15.80). The dish – or, rather, my martini glass – held three king prawns steamed in ridiculously bland and watery tom yum dressing and a bed of banal (but fresh) salad of carrot and cabbage. This was edible but overwhelmingly disappointing, which is a shame because Harrods’s recent redevelopment of its restaurant section is really exciting.
2012 also saw the end of the era of Nahm London – the world’s first Thai restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star. Chef David Thompson has moved on not only to opening Nahm in Bangkok to great acclaims but also to branching out in London, Hong Kong and a few other destinations in Asia for more casual ventures. I will miss the macho, meaty and slightly salty take of Thai cuisine at Nahm as well as its sparkling array of Thai desserts (the best I’ve ever had in and outside Thailand).
Below was a combination platter of Nahm’s iconic desserts Pumpkin and Taro Custard, with threads of syrup-poached egg yolk and caramelised sesame biscuits. (Well, Bangkok is just one 12-hour flight away)..
229-231 High Holborn
Tel. 020 7430 9006
Dorland House (Basement)
14-20 Lower Regent Street
Tel. 020 7930 0317
20 St Giles High Street
Tel. 020 7240 6147
PRINCESS GARDEN OF MAYFAIR
8-10 North Audley Street
Tel. 020 7493 3223
Harrods (Ground Floor)
Tel. 020 7730 1234