All posts filed under “3.5

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Five Guys + Shake Shack UK

Best burgers in Covent Garden?

Five Guys

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon

Rating 2/5

Originating from DC, Five Guys is known for its history of offering freshly made burgers with hand-molded patties and hand-cut fries. That’s the start of its fame. The freshness, however, was the thing of the 80s. The brand has itself franchised and now in 2013 that it lands in London it is no more than just another fast food joint.

The Central London joint is vast and located just half way between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. The ambiance is pumped by music and benefits much from the jolly heavily American-accented wait staff. There are private booths in the basement. There are also two wicked computerized soda-blending machine that will make Willy Wonka proud. (I would queue for a Raspberry Coke Zero and many more)!!

As for the burgers, it depends on which point of view you come from. The menu at Five Guys is basic – Burger (£6.75), Cheeseburger (£8), Bacon Burger (£8) and Bacon Cheeseburger (£8.75) – and you can opt for the Little options (prices at £4.75, £5.50, £6 and £6.75 respectively). The price does not include fries (from £2.75 – £5). There are also sandwiches (£3.75 – £5). The taste, for me, is junk, but surely for a few others, nostalgically indulgent. My Little Cheeseburger did not kill me. The buns were flabby; the patty was not greasy but very bland; the cheese was heavily processed; the crunchy vegetable bits were redeeming. My Grilled Cheese Sandwich (£3.75), however, might kill me. Utterly processed.

(I did return to Five Guys for soda).



Shake Shack

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

Rating 3.5/5

Shake Shack – one of the most-loved ventures by NYC restaurateur extraordinaire Danny Meyer – has also unpacked at the Piazza of Covent Garden. Unlike Five Guys, Shake Shack burgers do not suffer much from jet lag from their look and are possibly the most photogenic burgers to date in London.

The “Shack” experience is, however, less inviting and very disparate. You need to roam around between the outdoor, the indoor, and the outdoor again. (The dining space inside the Piazza will prove challenging when the weather gets colder). The staff, on two of my visits, was not as charming as at Five Guys.

The menu covers much of what’s available at its counterparts in New York but supplemented with UK ingredients. (Think Angus beef patties and Cumberland sausage hot dogs). There is a good selection of “Shake” (£4.50 – £6.50). The price range is kinder than Five Guys: £5 – £7.25 for burgers, £2.50 – £3.50 for fries, and £4 – £5 for hot dogs. Shake Shack also sells dog treats.

I liked my Shack Stack (£7.75), which is a combo of a cheeseburger with an additional deep-fried cheesy mushroom patty. But, it was the mushroom patty and the fresh veggies that tasted. The beef patty itself was too thin and too docile to make an impact. The chew-y, pillow-y buns were a joy to eat. SmokeShack (£6.50 for single patty), containing smoked bacon and chopped cherry pepper, was a disappointment. I thought it was too bunny and yummy. (If you get this, it might work better by doubling the patty). Shack-cago Dog (£4.75) was studded with onions, cucumber and pickles, and dressed with Rick’s Pick Shack relish and mustard. I thought the whole thing was too sweet. While the halved and grilled beef sausage had a lovely strength of beef and a delightful texture, it was overwhelmed by everything else. Fries were gorgeous on their own, but the cheesy sauce did not leave much impression of cheese. (Oddly mayo-like and buttery).

(I also went back to try ‘Shroom Burger, which I liked).

Quick note. To put these new arrival burgers in the context of London hamburgers, they are great contribution in reviving the burger mania. Taste-wise, however, I find Shake Shack just respectable and Five Guys just edible. The burgers that I think most highly of are Patty and Bun, Byron and the Wagyu Sliders from the bar at 45 Park Lane





1 Long Acre


24, Market Building
Covent Garden Piazza

Tel. 020 7240 0054

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City Caphe + Sho Foo Doh (at Pacific Social Club) = My Fave Asians!!

Two of my most favourite Asians <3 <3 <3

City bound..

City Caphe on Ironmonger Lane seems just another Vietnamese takeaway shop, and I was once fooled by its recyclable crockery and a menu typical to any Vietnamese joint in London. After many visits, however, I began to feel this little paired-down shop IS the best Vietnamese food outlet in London. The proprietor Julie and her family run this small business with heart and soul. This, as you will see when at the shop, has earned them strings of very loyal lunch-crowd followers (in other words – possibly one of the longest and fastest-turning queues in London).

City Caphe is opened only during the week, roughly from 11am until 4pm. (Many items are sold out before 3pm). The menu is simple but not short. There are Pho, Bun Hue, Cuon, Bahn Mi, Spring Rolls and a superbly authentic and highly sugared Vietnamese Iced Coffee. All (apart from the coffee) come with a variety of stocks and toppings. The flavouring is well-judged and thoughtfully modified in ways that the recipes do not depart from authenticity. The portion is substantial and the price never goes above £6.50. Summer Roll (£3.75) – tightly packed with springy prawns, tender simmered pork and fresh herbs – was refreshing and delivered exactly what you’d expect from a proper summer roll. The sweet peanut-based sauce added velvety richness. Bahn Mi is freshly prepared and instantly assembled per orders. My Classic Pork Bahn Mi (£3.95) was tightly packed with multi-textured Vietnamese sausage slices and sweet pickles. City Caphe doesn’t bake baguette on the premise but has it tailored specially for them. Beef Bun Hue (£6.50) was consistently feisty. The good quality beef slices were perfectly poached. The Bun noodle was slurpy-licious. The intense beef stock went down a storm with the garlicky, spicy pungent-ness of chilli oil. An additional herb bag containing basil, chilli and lime wedge was a generous touch showing the kitchen does their best not to strip away authenticity. (The chicken version was very good, too).




Forward to Hackney!!
East London is *in* and I have come across a handful of fun-filled places worth travelling for. (More posts for East London to come). One of these is Sho Foo Doh by Fumio Tanga, which was first set up as an okonomiyaki stall at Chatsworth Road Market on Sundays. Very quickly SFD became the words of mouth and Fumio is now a frequent lodger at nearby Pacific Social Club doing what he does very well – flipping Japanese pancakes!!

Born in Hiroshima (where okonomiyaki is the stable of life), Fumio moved to the UK a decade ago and has become pretty Hackneyed. He fuses, at Pacific Social Club (a cafe that might be described as a run-down space of polychromatic hipness and great vinyls), a nostalgic taste of home with a carefree spirit of East London. The specialities are, of course, booze and Japanese pancakes, but there’s a catch. Japanese pancakes that people outside Japan know are the popularised Osaka-style (a kind of fluffy mixed-meat, cabbage-y patty). For SFD, Fumio alternates this Osaka style with a Hiroshima counterpart. The latter is more layered than mixed, with sautéed noodle forming the base and a thin sheet of pancake to cover it all up.

At Pacific Social Club, Fumio is manning the hot plate in the evening from Thursday to Saturday. The menu changes according to his mood. The price for small plates hover between £3 and £6. The flat rate for an okonomiyaki is £8 but the price goes up depending on how many toppings (50p – £2) you would like to add. Chilled Aubergine (£3) was revitalising. The cooked aubergine chunks were left to marinate and sponge up the clear gingery dashi broth. My Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki was..errr… HUGE!! The pork belly mingled well with the springy squid. The noodle was mildly tossed and cooked in Fumio’s “secret” sauce. The shredded cabbage was layered and perfectly steamed between the noodle and the pleasantly chewy pancake sheet (on top). The generous sprinkling of chopped spring onions not only contributed zing but helped refresh the palate. I also had another one of sweet corn and cheddar cheese concoction which was equally utterly soulful and joyous.

Do note there are a few guest appearances at Pacific Social Club, including Bao London.





8 Clarence Road
E5 8HB
Pacific Social Club on Urbanspoon




17 Ironmonger Lane

City Càphê on Urbanspoon

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Baiwei: One Tasty Leap Forward in Chinatown

Better time..

Baiwei – a new restaurant on Little Newport Street consulted by Fuchsia Dunlop – isn’t your typical Chinatown restaurant. Similar to its sisters Ba Shan, Bar Shu and Baozi Inn, Baiwei specialises in “Maoist” cuisines which couple Sichuanese/Hunanese (where Mao came from) and Northern Chinese (where he held power). The Maoist theme is developed into great detail – wall paintings, memorabilia, etc. and even the cover of Baiwei’s menu greeted me with Mao’s much used propagandist phrase “Better Time”. (The original usage, I think, refers to the promised time of prosperity and abundance that the meaning of “Baiwei” suggests). And, given the dearth of good Chinese restaurants in the area, Baiwei does deliver a much better experience both in taste, service and clean but paired-down look.

The menu is vast and the price range is kind. (You could get satisfactorily fed at less than £20). However, there isn’t a clear indication of how big the dishes you order will turn out to be. (The staff on the floor during my visit was happy to answer questions). I loved my Tofu dish (£4.90) which arrived quite a substantial portion. For this dish, the harder and more dense kind of tofu was used – mashed up, mixed with chopped spring onions and sesame oil and served chilled. The flavor of the soy bean was acute and mingled well with the nutty aroma of the oil. Soy Bean also made an appearance as sheets in another dish (£6.50). Here the dish featured soy-ed and sweetened slivers of pork with soft bean curd wrap and spring onion. (Think duck with pancakes and hoisin sauce). The umami richness of the pork was nicely mediated by the fragrant, pleasingly gummy tofu wrap. Dan Dan Noodle (£4.50) was good but not as successful. While I liked the zingy peppercorn-infused beef topping, the noodle was so soft it took away the joy of chewing. Steamed Egg Custard with Minced Pork (£3.90) was also average. The curd-y egg lacked the strength of good quality egg and may fare better with more salt. The pork topping didn’t quite bolden up the overall taste. 5-Spice Pork (£5.50) was, on the contrary, a revelation. The pork was moist; the exterior was perfectly crispy (with barely any batter) and oil-less; the aroma of the spices (cinnamon stood out) was both comforting and otherworldly. There was a well-executed infusion of spices and smokiness going on in my steamed and pan-fried Pork and Mushroom Dumplings (£6.50) too, but it was a shame that these dumplings were not properly formed and sealed.

I like Baiwei, so to speak. But, if I have to be really honest, I like Ba Shan a lot more. The cooking at the first verges on being light, milder and *subtle*. And, in my opinion, it doesn’t capture the vivacity of this Sichaunese+Northern Chinese cuisine as well.

(Also love steamed buns to go at Baozi Inn).



RATING 3.5/5


8 Little Newport Street

Tel. 0207 494 3605

Baiwai on Urbanspoon

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Grain Store: Bruno Loubet and New Vegetable-Centric Dynamics

The Third Coming?

If you have hung around in London for a while, you are definitely familiar with the glory of chef Bruno Loubet. He has traversed from Michelin-starred kitchens (Pierre Koffman, Le Manoir, Inn on the Park) to Australia and back to acclaimed Bristrot Bruno Loubet at the Zetter Hotel. Loubet’s latest restaurant project is Grain Store, occupying one corner of the new, formidably creative-looking hub of Central St Martins’ in King’s Cross. The menu features a mix-bag of veggies and super-food (though meat does make occasional appearances). The inspirations are trans-cultural and thoughtfully fused. The portion is medium-sized and facilitates sharing. The pricing (£4-10.5 for starters; £10-22.5 for mains; £5.5-6 for desserts) is kind. A tasting menu is also available for £35 per person. The space is well-buzzed but stays casual.

The taste (during my visit) was comfortingly inventive but wouldn’t convert me into vegetarianism. I liked the refreshing bitterness in Endive, Pear and Roquefort Salad (£6) but the dressing of smoked pepper jelly was excessive and led to a quite-sweet aftertaste. Courgette and Prawn Falafel (£6.50) was deliciously spiced and carefully fried. The prawn patty had very good bouncy texture, which as I was munching, released quite a complexity of taste. That said, I thought the broad beans (nicely cooked) were disparate and the raita not contributing much. Butternut Squash Ravioli (£7), served with sage, mustard-ed apricots, rocket leaves and pumpkin seeds, was (if you have a good set of teeth) a feast of texture. While the plump ravioli showed skills, the taste construction (with balsamic and Parmesan) remained down-to-earth comfort. Corn and Quinoa Tamale with Sticky Pork Belly (£15) was a spectacle on the plate. The tamale – made predominantly from sweet corn – was baked and served in corn husk. The belly (the pork – not mine) wobbled magnificently. Together, they created (again) quite a sweet taste, which my rather thick salsa failed to cut through. Strawberry & Balsamic Jam with Horseradish Ice Cream (£6) was invigorating. I loved the feisty ice cream very much but felt the dish would achieve a better balance if the ice cream was served slightly less (a quenelle, instead of a full scoop?).

Despite some ups-and-downs, Grain Store will become an awesome operation. The menu has already introduced new dynamics for vegetable-centric cooking. And, given time, it will transpire more clearly onto the cooking at the restaurant.



RATING 3.5/5


Granary Square
1-3 Stable Street

Tel. 020 7324 4466

Grain Store on Urbanspoon

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Oblix at The Shard: Another Restaurant To Skyscrape London

Dining high..

The Shard – love it or hate it – has changed the way we see London. On its 32nd floor stands Oblix, a hoped-to-be-swanky dining venue by Zuma-famed Rainer Becker. It is noteworthy that this is a venue of two parts: the restaurant occupying the west side and the bar & dining lounge the east. Both promise an incredible view of London, from a similarly impressive height to Duck & Waffle and Sushi Samba at the Heron Tower, without the woozy effects of see-through lifts. The menu at Oblix Restaurant is New York-inspired and inventively approachable, with a focus on the grill and Josper oven. (Do note, when making a booking, that the lounge runs an entirely different menu). The price (£6.50-19.50 for starters; £16-54 for mains; £4-7 for sides; £6-9 for desserts) is not a rip-off but what you would expect from a restaurant in a now-iconic building.

My meal was pleasant but not impactful. Eggplant Caviar (£6.50) arrived a whole eggplant – grilled, chilled, stuffed with modified baba-ganoush mush, spiked with fried garlic shavings and finished with a drizzle of parsley-infused olive oil. The texture contrast of the dense intact eggplant foiled nicely with the creamy “caviar” paste. The smokiness was implicit and not overpowering. Burrata with Olives and Datterini Tomatoes (£15) promised what it was meant to be. The tomatoes exuded sun-kissed fruity sweetness; the chopped olives were of good quality and well-bound. The burrata, however, was cold and was not as deliciously gooey as it could be. The toasted rice did not intervene, but apart from visual quirk, did not contribute much. The mains from the grill were likeable. Tiger Prawn (£21) was grilled and served in its shell with herbal olive oil and roasted fennel. Very meaty! The blend of citric acidity and an aromatic note of rosemary and thyme helped bring out the sweetness of the prawn. (Same grilling technique as Zuma‘s jumbo prawns but with a more humble dressing). Lamb Chops with Harissa and Yogurt (£26), containing three not-so-large pieces, were not spectacular. Despite the lamb’s delightful charcoal-ed tenderness, the complementary flavour of harissa went missing. I personally found the side of Mac&Cheese (£4.5) – here a mixture of Red Leicester, Cheddar, Gruyere, Pecorino and Parmesan – to have more character. For desserts, we opted for 2 ice creams (£2.50 per scoop) and a Cookie Jar (£6). The Crunchy Pecan Bourbon ice cream was immensely decadently nutty. Refreshing acidity from the buttermilk ice cream. The coconut cookies were addictive but the other bits in the jar – butter and sesame cookies, chocolate cookies, financier and macaroon – were good but not memorable.








RATING 3.5/5


Level 32, The Shard
31 St Thomas Street

Tel. 020 7268 6700

Oblix on Urbanspoon

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Beagle: Quality British in *Hip* London

Not too *hip* but rather good..

I don’t take pride in my knowledge of East London, but most recently, the word “hip” has become synonymous with its restaurant scene. Beagle, conveniently situated next to Hoxton Overground Station and at a stone throw from the Vietnamese restaurant community of Kingsland Road, seems a breath of fresh air because it is neither just hipster pleasing nor Vietnamese.

Housed in a rather vast, renovated archway – think exposed brick walls, gaslight-inspired chandeliers, and stubbornly wooden tables – Beagle exudes a charm of old-school “East London” Britishness. The venue itself is sectioned into the bar and the restaurant. The former runs an all-day bar snack menu (£3-50-5), coffee and drinks; the latter an ever-changing menu inspired by British seasonal produce. The kitchen team, led by James Ferguson, an alumnus of much loved Rochelle Canteen, is capable; the price (starters at £4.50-6.50; mains at £12-16; desserts at £5-6.50) is wallet-friendly. There is also a blackboard featuring daily specials (slightly more expensive or with bigger portion for sharing).

I started with Pork Pie (£4), which was part of the bar menu. The filling – a thoughtful mixture of finely ground and coarser chunks of pork – was pleasantly herbed. However, I would have liked the pork jelly to layer between the pastry and the filling more evenly. The piccalilli benefited much from its fresh crunchy veggie components but would fare better with more acidity. Pig’s Head Croquette & Tartare Sauce (£5) was out of this world. The crumb-ed exterior cracked up some indulgently spiced porky aroma; the stringy and moist pig’s head was warm and comforting. My dining companion summed it up as “best pig’s head ever” and my thought was pretty much the same. The tartare, in my opinion, was too creamy and could do with more tang. Moving on to the restaurant menu, I liked (but was not head-over-heel in love) Salt Ling, Chickpeas and Marinated Tomatoes (£6). Good quality ling (iodine-rich and gently flaked) and good quality tomatoes (mellow but juicy). I found the robustness of both diluted by a dash of cream. Grilled Squid (£7.50) was beautifully scorched to tenderize and skilfully handled at the grill. The texture was dainty; the char aroma was explicit. Roast Hampshire Pork Loin with Borlotti Beans (£14.50) arrived with state-of-art pork crackling (pretty much surrealistically blown out of its proportion). The loin, though tender and nicely cooked, had a rather muted taste; the beans were reliable but did not make big impact. I concluded with a very, very good Pear & Almond Tart (£6.50).

Overall.. a lovable scene and food. So, go (when you’re in the area)!





RATING 3.5/5


397-400 Geffrye Street
E2 8HZ

Tel. 020 7613 2967

Beagle on Urbanspoon