All posts filed under “2.5

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London Round Up: The Brixton

Where else in London can you find a display of salmon-fed shark and big cardboard boxes where dwell gigantic and still creeping snails. Or? Many shelves of stamina conquering root tonic!??

IT IS BRIXTON!

But, if you’re not into that sort of things, there is still a wide selection of Supermalt (which my cat has grown to love).

And, if you’re still not into this sort of things, there is a great, casual, unpretentious neighbourhood of quirky shops and independent restaurants. Kaosarn has already won me over. So did the vibe of multicultural eclecticism of Brixton itself. The market here is full of exotic ingredients, while stall merchants are willing to share ideas of what to do with them.

(Enough convincing).

 


MAMA LAN

Mama Lan Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Rating 3.5/5

Mama Lan occupies a little corner in Brixton Village market and prides itself in turning out well-done, home-made Beijing dumplings (£4.50-6 for 5 pieces), its own brew of tea and a small selection of street delicacies. This makes the menu ideal for snacks and grazing, rather than a proper *big* meal.

I sampled Pork and Chinese Leaf (£4.50) and Beef and Spring Onions (£4.50), both of which were served with crunchy, mildly pickled vegetable bites. Both were good. The casing of the dumplings was pleasantly chewy and fried for light crispy-ness. My preference, however, was the Pork and Chinese Leaf, which had a clearer taste. The filling of Beef and Spring Onions was a little too rich in soy sauce infusion and I couldn’t taste much of the beef itself. My other criticism would be that the dumplings I had weren’t very deep-filled, though for the value and taste satisfaction I could overlook that.

 

 

OKAN

Okan on Urbanspoon

Rating 3/5

Okan serves up Osaka-style okonomiyaki (that is, a Japanese cabbage-based pancake with whatever-you-like toppings) and yakisoba (that is, egg noodle stir fried with okonomiyaki sauce). There are 11 toppings available for okonomiyaki (£6.50-8.25) and 4 variations of yakisoba (£6.75-7.25). The restaurant itself is small and very canteen-like – wooden tables and benches – and you can observe the chefs in action from the hot plate adjacent to the entrance.

I opted for Kimchee and Pork (£7.95) which was fine but not spectacularly brilliant. The pancake itself was not round and rough around the edge; the cabbage was slightly wet; the sauce, which is usually the key of a great okonomiyaki + yakisoba, was loose and could have done with more zing and sweetness. My Squid Yakisoba (£7.25) also turned out wet. The noodle, though not overdone, would merit less cooking time for better texture. The squid was perfectly sauteed.


FISH, WINGS & TINGS

Fish, Wings & Tings on Urbanspoon

Rating 2.5/5

I am not a great connoisseur of Jamaican cuisine and Fish, Wings & Tings with its popular Jamaican offerings – say, goat curry and jerk chicken – did not quite do it for me. The menu, consisting of “Small Tings” (£4.50-6) and “Big Tings” (£6-9), is a good orientation to Jamaican spirits. But, I walked into the place on one of its busiest days. The operation was suffering from high demands and I from a very slow service.

Goat Roti (£7) was an adequately filled parcel of goat curry, chickpeas, potatoes, pumpkins and beans. The roti which was made in house was rustic and tasty enough; the filling contained too much vegetables and too little goat; the base of the curry itself lacked punches of spices. Jerk Chicken (£7.50) was served with tamarind BBQ sauce, pineapple & mango chutney, coleslaw and rice. I found the chicken also lacking in dimension and application of jerk seasoning. The tamarind BBQ sauce was cloyingly sweet, which became even sweeter when taken with the fruity chutney. The kitchen ran out of rice and supplemented it with roti instead.

 

EL RANCHO DE LALO

El Rancho de Lalo on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3.5/5

I am also not a great connoisseur of Colombian cuisine but El Rancho de Lalo did it all for me. The restaurant in comparison with its trendy neighbours, boasts an authentic, albeit *un-cool* look. Peeping in, you’ll see a row of hanging sausages, an open kitchen and many friendly faces. The menu itself is vast and meat-oriented. The starters cost between £3.50-5; the mains (served with rice and salad) £9-12; and the sides £1-3.50. There is also a good variety of Colombian juices and drinks.

The portion size at El Rancho was humongous. Empanada (£4.30) was stuffed to the brink of explosion. The beef and potato filling was full of flavours; the ratio was pro-beef; and the result was moreish robustness. The casing also crackled! Moving on to Tamal (£9) – a corn dough mixture with chicken, pork and veg wrapped in banana leaves and steamed – I found it too much of a delicacy to instantaneously fall in love with. That said, the tamal itself was skilfully steamed and the kitchen was generous with the meaty bits, but overall, the taste of starchy corn dough and the scent of banana leaf was too dominant for my liking. Picada (£10) – a mountain of grilled beef steak, pork steak, pork sausages and deep fried pork belly, with corn bread, plantain and salad (!!!) – was a heaven for meat lovers. The meat was moist; the pork belly crunchy; the sausages containing herbs and porky chunks was nicely charred for a perfectly crispy snap. Monumental satisfaction. I moped it down with El Rancho’s fresh, home-made salsa. (This was a killer for those loving feisty chilli heat)!! There were desserts but I had no more room.

 

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MAMA LAN

Unit 18, Brixton Village
Coldharbour Lane
London
SW9 8PR

www.mamalan.co.uk

OKAN

Unit 39, Brixton Village
[same as above]

www.okanbrixtonvillage.com

FISH, WINGS & TINGS

Unit 79, Brixton Village
[same as above]

www.facebook.com/fishwingstings

EL RANCHO DE LALO

Unit 94-95, Brixton Village
[same as above]

www.facebook.com/El-Rancho-De-Lalo

 

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London Round Up: The Asian(s)

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 ^_^

ASADAL

Asadal on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3/5

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.

 

MITSUKOSHI

Mitsukoshi on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3.5/5

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

Centrepoint Sushi on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2.5/5

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

Princess Garden on Urbanspoon

RATING: 3.5/5

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

Mango Tree on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2/5

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.

 

NAHM (Closed)

Nahm on Urbanspoon

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)..

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ASADAL

Kingsbourne House
229-231 High Holborn
London
WC1V 7DA

Tel. 020 7430 9006

www.asadal.co.uk

 

MITSUKOSHI

Dorland House (Basement)
14-20 Lower Regent Street
London
SW1Y 4PH

Tel. 020 7930 0317

www.mitsukoshi-restaurant.co.uk

 

CENTREPOINT SUSHI

20 St Giles High Street
London
WC2H 8LN

Tel. 020 7240 6147

 

PRINCESS GARDEN OF MAYFAIR

8-10 North Audley Street
London
W1K 6ZD

Tel. 020 7493 3223

www.princessgardenofmayfair.com

 

MANGO TREE

Harrods (Ground Floor)
Brompton Road
London
SW1X 7XL

Tel. 020 7730 1234

www.harrods.com

 

 

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Burnt Enz + Rita’s Dining: The Cool New Breed(s) of East London Pop Up

East.. of London

East London is home to many cool people and happenings. In Elizabethan England actor-entrepreneur James Burbage found success in The Theatre (before dismantling it and moving on to inaugurating what is now known as Shakespeare’s Globe). In Victorian England, Jack the Ripper found whores to murder in the environ of The 10 Bells. Emily Pankhurst, in the early 20th century, found an office in Bow to put into actions her suffragist ideals. After WWII, multinational immigrants found home in London’s East. A few decades later, thanks to those immigrants, artists Gilbert & George found a restaurant that has ever since become their daily dining spot. Most recently we found the inconvenience of London 2012. And I have found joy in Eastenders and two cool spots to eat..

BURNT ENZ

RATING: 4/5

Burnt Enz is a grill restaurant that pops it up at the uniquely laid back Climpson & Sons Roastery, and it has, by now, won raves from London’s food enthusiasts and prompted wicked collaborations with UK’s best young talents (i.e. Junya Yamasaki of Koya, James Knappett of Bubbledogs& and Ben Spalding formerly of Roganic). The project itself is manned by Dave Pynt, who comes from Australia, via the internationally acclaimed kitchen of Asador Extebarri, off San Sebastian (Spain), and has been instrumental in the setup of Nuno Mendes’s The Loft Project.

At Burnt Enz, Dave does nothing but grill. (Well, he may, allegedly, help clean up). You may expect very little grilled things (say, scallops) to very massive grilled things (say, a whole turbot or a suckling pig). And Dave’s philosophy is to stay true to Spanish “asador” spirit, where the grill is done over charcoal fire and the flame is masterly adjusted according to the ingredients.

Burnt Enz operates an a la carte menu at weekends and/or pre-paid “Thirty Thursday Feast” dinners. (My meal below – £45 & BYO – was part of the latter system). The dishes on offer change regularly, on the basis of best available British produce. I was greeted with fresh oysters and lime, and once seated, a platter of charred fennel bulbs was served alongside torn burrata and orange-infused oil. The fennel was gently grilled in low heat and achieved tender but biteful texture. The aroma from the applewood char and the fennel’s very mild aniseed-y taste married pleasingly with the citric orange essence. The burrata, loosened up by the heat, was melting-ly gorgeous. Then came the huge stack of bone marrow with watercress salad and lightly toasted bread. This was a testament to Dave’s highly commendable grilling skills. The bone was well encased by heat but not to the point that the marrow melted. The results were the perfect wobble (when the marrow was forked out) and the delightfully burnt gelatinous skin. The beefy grease from the marrow was nicely countered by the peppery leaves.

Sea breams were also grilled to divinity, boasting the crispy skin that separated and the meat that flaked beautifully. The salsa verde provided herbal acidity that elevated the breams’s natural juicy sweetness. The side of courgettes – also grilled – came with fragrant burnt enz (pun intended). Watery. Sweet. And explosive. They cleansed the palate well. The parade of savoury dishes concluded with lamb shoulders that were as big and buffed as Louise Smith’s. (Sorry I can’t find as fitting a comparison. And sorry for having no photo of either). The heat-blasted skin and trimmed fat (of the lamb, not the gymnast) was crackling. The meat within was robust and moist. It found finishing touches in a comfortingly good mint sauce, lamb jus and broan beans.

Burnt Enz may be finishing its pop-up period at The Climpsons’ Roastery very soon. (Dates here). But Dave and his flame will still be the ONE to watch!




RITA’S BAR AND DINING

Rita's Bar and Dining on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2.5/5

Rita’s Dining, currently taking residence at Birthdays in Dalston, is a collaborative food-and-drink project by REAL GOLD, Jackson Boxer of Brunswick Cafe, Gabriel Pryce and Missy Flynn. This venue is an industrial sort of bar. Think a cluster of low tables and a mismatch of metallic and vintage school chairs. (To feel comfortable when sandwiched between those two items, you will need either flaccid thighs or small balls). No air-con. Raging degrees of hipsters, really. It was a fun crowd, nonetheless.

The food served was redone South American – fried chicken rolls, tacos, beans and some patty melt. The price range was kind, between £4-£6.50. After a lengthy wait I settled for Patty Melt (£5), Ox Heart Taco (£5), Fried Chicken Roll (£6.50), Green Chilli Mac&Cheese (£5), and Pulled Pork & Duck Heart Baked Beans (£5). The Patty Melt filling of minced beef laced with bone marrow and finished with cheese and onion jam could have made a lovely foil against toasted bread. The patty, in my case, was lacking in quantity and therefore did not have much of a melting effect. For the taco, I enjoyed the zingy dressing, but the ox heart was overcooked and the homemade tortilla wrap (authentic tasting) was quite thick and doughy. The chicken roll, arriving in a Rita’s-stamped paper bag, was SUBLIME. The chicken was expertly coated and even more expertly fried. The crumb-y coating was grease-free, crispy and toothsome, while the meat inside oozed heat but retained perfect moisture and tenderness. It was served encased by a white crusty, with a smearing of cayenne pepper infused mayo and shredded iceberg lettuce, to taunt my palate with filthy, saliva-induced piquancy. UTTER BRILLIANCE. Sadly, this redemptive moment did not last long. The kitchen seemed to have missed chilli and cheese in my Mac&Cheese. The result was dry macaroni with quite a bit of oil. The baked bean dish was also left in the oven for far too long, and all the elements landed in front of us dry and overcooked. TOB fiddled with them a little, and we agreed to order one more round of the fried chicken roll. Overall, Rita’s showed promises, but the execution during my visit was flawed.

 

 

BURNT ENZ

The Climpsons’ Roastery
Arch 374
Helmsley Place
London
E8 3SB

www.facebook.com/BurntEnz

 

RITA’S BAR AND DINING

Birthdays
33-35 Stoke Newington Road
London
N16 8BJ

www.ritasbaranddining.com

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Duck & Waffle + Sushisamba: New Height for London’s Top View Restaurants

The Heron Tower, et al.

There are a handful of interesting facts about The Heron Tower but only three that I care about. The first is that it houses Europe’s largest privately owned fish tank, which requires divers to clean. You can see this – the tank and, if lucky, the divers – on street level, from the main entrance. The second is THE lift, the fastest of its kind, which you are only allowed if you dine at The Heron Tower’s sky high restaurants. This lift will rocket you up to floors 38 (Sushisamba) or 40 (Duck & Waffle) in nano-seconds. People with altophobia (me included) will not have enough time to get scared. The third is, of course, the view. The Heron Tower is, currently, the tallest building in the City of London and engulfed by its most iconic architectural landscape. The view from this altitude really makes you frisky, horny and/or romantic. It can make you feel like being god, bankers, or anything that flies.

 

 

DUCK & WAFFLE

Duck & Waffle on Urbanspoon

RATING 4/5

On the 40th floor of The Heron Tower is Duck & Waffle – a compact “all-day, all-night” casual eatery with a bar and a party-friendly private dining room (below). The kitchen is led by young(ish) talent Dan Doherty. The menu, designed for nibbling and sharing, is American(ish), eclectic and funky. The price is relatively affordable. (Only three items on the menu cost around £30. The rest is billed at no more than £12). And you don’t need to pay surplus for this magnificent view.

The cooking, for the most part, was successful. A snack of BBQ-Spiced Crispy Pig Ears (£4) arrived a bagful of tangy, finger-licking umami bomb. The shredded ears achieved a fine balance of fat and soft bone texture, skilfully fried for perfect crisp and tossed generously in powdered BBQ seasoning. I liked it so much that I nearly teared up when my super gorgeous dining companion offered me the last bite. Chip Shop Cod Tongues (£4.5) was not as spectacular but still much enjoyed. These were meaty pieces of cod tongue breaded and fried as if fish fingers. The frying was neat but the tongues themselves which did not have a bold taste could easily be washed over by an accidental juggling of tartar sauce and malt vinegar. Dorset Scallop (£7 but this time complimentary) struck another high note. The commendably fresh scallop was finely sliced, served on batons of Granny Smith apple and finished quickly (not in the manner of a ceviche dish) with lime juice, black truffle and a sliver of chilli. I loved not only the perfect marriage of texture – springy scallop, biteful apple, slithery lime juice – but also the zingy whirlpool of taste. The citric sharpness and zesty fragrance hit first, was mellowed away by the truffle and then with a little spasm from chilli. Ridiculously tasty.

Octopus (£9) from the brick oven was also another dish done well. The octopus chunks were nicely tenderised to the point that they still retained elasticity characteristic of this species, grilled and served with lemon juice, capers and sauteed chorizo cubes. Lovely but did not come together as much as I expected. I found the strong taste from chorizo distracting me from the octopus-sy goodness. Meatballs ‘n Tomato Sauce (£9) contained 3 big, flavoursome balls toppled with fluffed ricotta that were more of a rustic comfort and as good as meat balls can be. The oven baked bread was pillowy, oozing the perfume of rosemary and the smear of broken garlic. It was a pity that the dish which struck me as work-in-progress was the restaurant’s eponymous Duck & Waffle (£12). This was a playful dish of crispy confit duck leg, fried egg, waffle and mustard-seeded maple syrup (bringing to mind my favourite breakkie of bacon + waffle!!). Firstly, though the confit leg was nicely cooked, I would have loved it to be more crispy. The girth-y duck leg flaked well but the meat itself was still quite moist. Together with the soft waffle (delicious!) and the syrup, there was not much texture contrast to be loved. Secondly, I would have preferred the confit leg to be more salty, which would have made the flavour leap through the cloying, sucrosic richness from the syrup better. It was a very pleasant dish, still, and we did fight for the last bite. (Through the course of this meal, my dining companion had learned not to be too generous with me). We shared a dessert, Warm Chocolate Brownie (£7), served with crunchy caramel and peanut butter ice cream, which I believe can put a big smile on anybody’s face :-D

The meal came to about £30 per person (we didn’t drink).. and in a few more words.. I couldn’t recommend Duck & Waffle more ^_^

 

SUSHISAMBA

SUSHISAMBA London  on Urbanspoon

RATING: 2.5/5

 

My dinner at Sushisamba – a kinda global “chain” restaurant of Japano-Peruvo-Brazilian cuisine with outposts in New York, Miami, Chicago and Las Vegas – was nearly entirely unsuccessful. We started the meal with many positives – the superb view of the Olympic Park, the two-level-high ceiling, the bamboo cane structure and the cascading light bulbs. The music was upbeat, and so was the eager Front of House. The cocktail menu was full of indigenous South American fruit and produce. The pricing for food was relatively NOT low. The small dishes to share cost around £10+. The “Large Plates” cost between £15 and £45.

Shishito Peppers (£7) were grilled to mush. The Other Bib left me to them (and he wasn’t being generous). Kanpachi Tiradito (£14) was flawed. The fish, though fresh, was too thinly sliced to carry enough taste to counter the intrusive yuzu and truffle oil dressing. ‘Mixto’ Seviche (£11) on the other hand was weak. The concoction of aji limo, aji colorado and tiger milk lacked piquant complexity and acidity. The mixed seafood and white fish could have been fresher. (They all still smelled fishy). Coxinhas (£7.5), a traditional Brazilian snack made from chicken and spices, was lovely – crispy on the outside and moist inside. The huancaina sauce – cheesy sauce infused with aji amarillo – added punch and creamy richness. Grilled Scallops (£18 for two pieces) were not expertly grilled. The scallops themselves had a grainy texture as if the flame from the robata grill was not properly adjusted. As the scallops were not nicely cooked, the bonito grating only left an unpleasant fishy note to the dish. The accompanying salad of leaves had wilted due to overdressing before it arrived at our table. Grilled Octopus (£12) was finished with spicy aji panca sauce. (Imagine sriracha sauce with a fresher, less vinegar-y taste). The octopus was tender and I liked the encasing scent of charcoal. The most successful dish so far and we felt best to order another round of this. Pork Tsukune (£9.5) was these grilled pork balls. Not so much charcoal effect here and the seasoning of the balls was meek. TOB believed they were undercooked so I ended up eating nearly all. The sweet sauce (soy sauce, sake and mirin) with slow-cooked egg yolk was loose. The lightly congealed yolk (from slow-cooking) resulted in the yolk not mixing into the sauce.

The sushi menu came with an option of making the sushi “special”. The “special” referred to some tailor-made Peruvian/Brazilian inspired toppings. Therefore, my Zuwai crab nigiri (£11 for two pieces) was served with creamy guacamole and coriander. The crab was fresh; the guacamole passable; but the rice was problematic. Too al dente, hard and cold. The sea urchin nigiri (£13 for two pieces) with caviar was much less successful. The sea urchin did not have enough firmness to be molded into a nigiri (as opposed to a gunkan maki). There was no attempt to ward off its strong metallic aftertaste. The botan ebi nigiri (£9) was blanched (I think), dressed with soy sauce and arrived with god-know-what-else on top. (I could taste fried sweet potato and basil but unsure about the rest). It did not make any impact. There was not much to be loved from Wagyu Te Amo (£13) either. This was a roll of seared wagyu beef slices, quail egg, spring onions, fried sweet potato and finished with sweet pear and soy dressing. The wagyu was not of brilliant quality and quite chewy. While I enjoyed the sweetness from the pear dressing, the rice lacked so much character that the dish became very dull. We decided not to have desserts.

Sushisamba was the place I think you could go for scene but not food. The only advantage I could think of for a meal there as opposed to Duck & Waffle is that you can dine al fresco and have a stroll in the terrace area of the restaurant. But, judging from my meal, I could easily do without all that..


 

DUCK & WAFFLE + SUSHISAMBA

Heron Tower
40th + 38th Floors, respectively
110 Bishopsgate
London
EC2N 4AY

Tel. 020 3640 7330

www.duckandwaffle.com and www.sushisamba.com

 

 

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Briciole: Too Cheap Italian For Its Own Good

Going budget..

Briciole (meaning breadcrumbs in Italian) was roughly sectioned into the cafe bar (where you could swing by for proper-looking Italian sandwiches, delicacies and espresso) or the restaurant (where you could book and, well, relax over Italian dishes). And truly there were a few niceties about the place – a neighbourhood bustle, a bright, rustic & airy setting, and a ludicrously cheap price (no item on the menu soared above £12). The menu was staggeringly large – salami, formaggi, salad, soup, pasta, fritti and grill dishes, meat balls & sausages, vegetables, and desserts. But, given all that, I didn’t like my meal at Briciole.

While “cheap” bills aren’t synonymous for bad meals (as many of my meals have proved), I found my dishes at Briciole too budget for my liking. Mozzarella (£6) boast dainty whiteness and firm texture. The milky-ness shone through pleasantly. It was easily the best of the entire meal. Finocchiona/Pork & Fennel Salami (£3) was thinly sliced but there was barely any fennel perfume. Arancini (£3) was correctly deep fried for a crispy skin and promised, visually, some cheesy stringy-ness. Sadly, the faint tomato-y redness infusion did not contain tomato flavour (or stock) to justify the visual yummy-ness, and therefore, the balls had no other taste but rice. Tagliolini with Seafood Sauce (£9) had potential, if the tagliolini itself weren’t cooked to “Greasy Spoon pasta” softness. While the seafood was not overcooked, the tomato sauce faded distinctly in taste. A pinch more salt would bring out the flavour. Veal Ravioli with Sage Butter (£8) was more successful, albeit marginally. The casing had a nice al dente texture; the filling was relatively deep and adequately nice. No trace of sage was spotted. I was also not impressed by Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (£5). Plump as they were, the texture of the balls were not convincingly porky but a domineering mixture of flour and crumbs. That said, the tomato sauce had a taste of tomatoes. Grilled Vegetables (£4) extinguished my little remaining faith in Briciole. Each piece was charred and grilled as if for a dehydration effect. Should one question for a £4 dish? I (stubbornly) insisted in trying the dessert (The Other Bib had given up entirely and nudged me to go for a Chilli Queen instead). And I shouldn’t. Tortino (£3) was a cheesecake of ricotta, cinnamon and chocolate with vanilla sauce. Amazing that it did not positively capture any of those billed flavours. Plain and a disgrace to my tearful minutes spent at the gym.

I am a believer that Italian cuisine is simple and beautiful. It can easily be executed to great effects by means of decent ingredients. Briciole failed this. The £52 something bill between two with a processed orange juice (no wine) might seem a convenience to the wallet. But.. thinking this… £28 can buy a 3-course set lunch at Michelin starred Italian restaurant Semplice (not far from Briciole/been a few times and always high standard) or you can spend a morsel of that amount for superb Deli takeaway from Melograno Alimentari (a lot farther from Briciole though) whose meatballs are way more delicious. Or.. thinking this.. you can work a little harder, buy some decent ingredients and cook your own Italian at home. As for now, this whole thing about Briciole was, in due respect, too cheap for its own good.

And the last photo was my own “extra” effort.. a basic saffron risotto (with pomegranate, rocket leaves and parmesan).

 

RATING: 2.5/5

BRICIOLE

20 Homer Street
London
W1H 4NA

Tel. 020 7723 0040

www.briciole.co.uk
Briciole on Urbanspoon

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Ittenbari: So Far So Good Ramen Arrives in Soho

Japanese import

Ittenbari is a Japanese ramen restaurant import by the guy behind a noted ramen restaurant Ryukishin from Sakai, Osaka. (If you are unfamiliar with ramen, read this first). Unlike its Japanese outlet, Ittenbari isn’t just a ramen specialist restaurant. The menu includes (at present) two ramen dishes – Shoyu and Shio – but offers a breadth of well-know Japanese dishes, from sushi to katsu-don. The price point is kind. £8.90 for a regular ramen and £10.90 for one with extra toppings. Other dishes/sets (excluding sushi) are approximately priced between £9-11.

The ambiance was very casual, but the look of the restaurant verged on being either a pop-up or, plainly speaking, unfinished. There was a warm but muted welcome from the chef station (where the ramen was prepared) at the front, but the staff in the dining room during both of my visits were antithesis of Japanese hospitality. A few came across as they did not care so much. It is also noteworthy that the restaurant has already attracted a lot of Japanese diners.

Best ramen, etc.

Ryukishin is known for its Shio ramen (salt-based and with its own take on infusing the broth with mussels) and the bowl of Shio Ramen at Ittenbari (£10.90) was as great as I have come across in London. The noodle was perfectly cooked and had a wonderful flour aroma; its texture was correctly chewy and bounce-y. The salt-based broth was nearly transparent and had a great clarity of flavours. The topping, however, did not come together as well. I particularly found the gooey, soft-boiled egg loveable, but the chashu pieces were slightly dry and not appetisingly tender. They would have tasted better if sliced more thinly. The other veg toppings were, at one time, thoughtful, and at others, dull. I also noted that each veg topping component did not have much taste in itself and therefore added nothing to the soup. That said, the combination of Ittenbari’s great broth and great noodle alone made it worth a visit.

(Second visit) I asked for a regular-sized Shoyu ramen (£8.90). While not a big fan of Shoyu ramen myself, I liked Ittenbari’s version. The scent of a good quality soy hit my nose first. I also liked the soup of dark amber colour and its fermented soy richness. Yet, it would fare better with a less oily surface. The topping came together better but the minimal scattering made me feel half pleased. And there came the non-ramen items. The Other Bib shunned his Pork Katsu Curry (£9). While the crumb added a great crust, the pork itself was flat, dry and deep-fried until all the life was drained out. The pool of curry was loose and banal. I also noticed that the water and the thicker part of the curry were separated. The side of Chicken Kara-age (£5) was no redeeming grace. Firstly, the dish arrived 10 minutes or so after the bill…

…(Ittenbari runs one we-give-you-the-bill-when-we-see-you-have-finished-your-meal policy. On our visit, as we nearly finished our mains, we asked the FOH to check if the kara-age was coming. The guy disappeared. 10 mins later, the bill made its own way to our table. Another FOH was puzzled that we were waiting for a dish to come and without an apology just walked away with the bill. We assumed it was because they *forgot* to add the kara-age to the bill)…

In addition to this, the kara-age was dry on the outside but was greasy and soggy inside, hence a total of £5 plus 15-min-or-so waiting time for unwanted nothingness.

The bill came.. at the right time at last. And I do feel that Ittenbari ramen would have a very good potential to make it in London, well, if it weren’t for the unpleasant non-ramen dishes and the nonchalant service.

I won’t discourage anybody from trying their ramen. Period.

RATING: 2.5/5

 

ITTENBARI

84 Brewer Street
London
W1F 9UB

Tel. 020 7287 1318

www.ittenbari.co.uk

 

Ittenbari Ramen Restauant on Urbanspoon