All posts filed under “£

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F.A.T by Freddie Residency @ Sharp’s * DunneFrankowski

A cut above average..

A buzz cut. A neck shave. An espresso. Or, a sandwich!? Sharp’s can fix it for you. This is a relatively hip barber’s formerly located on Charlotte Street. Recently, it was seduced to a new *flagship* site on Windmill Street. The operation is split into two parts, as trend has it in Fitzrovia. The front bit is a premium coffee shop by consultancy coffee brand DunneFrankowski, known to those from the East (of London). The barbers are kept in the vintage grooming ground in the back. According to TOB, who has been a loyal Sharp’s customer since its Charlotte Street site, if you get a cut, you can get a free barista-grade coffee. (I can’t verify this as I have my haircut at an internationally corporate, expensive and soul-less hair salon elsewhere). The sandwich that I speak of is a fabulous two-month addition at Sharp’s * DunneFrankowski.

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Koya & Koya Bar: The Japanese Restaurant(s) That Will Re-Define Soho

A rather loyal customer.. ?

I love udon. I love delicious, honest cooking. And I spend at least 2 of my meals per week at Koya.

Koya – for those still unfamiliar with the concept – is a very traditional, walk-in only udon-ya (udon restaurant). The menu is dominated by one Japanese food category. Udon, that is. This type of thickly cut, white noodle is made from wheat flour, salt and water. It is, then, boiled, washed, and when needed, re-heated. The cooking is an interplay of simplicity. You need good noodle, good dashi and good toppings.

The udon dishes at Koya are served in many ways (i.e. “hot udon in hot broth”, “cold udon with hot broth”, “cold udon with cold sauce to dip” and “cold udon with cold sauce to pour”) and with a good range of toppings to choose from. The udon noodle is made fresh daily at the premise. There is also an inventive “Daily Special” blackboard that utilizes the best of ingredients at budget price, keeping me on edge.

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Andy Oliver & Thai Grill @ Bar Story

Andy Oliver

Andy Oliver is a chef with a substantive skill set and no PR boost. He was a semi-finalist of Masterchef when the show was far less a self-promoting bypass to UK restaurant industry. He spent years working, washing and wok-ing under David Thompson at Nahm London. He went on to travel in Southeast Asia and spent more than half a year in Thailand learning the language and continuing his training as a Thai cuisine chef at Bo.Lan Restaurant. (One of my most loved places in the world). Last year Andy returned to London and headed up the operation of Naamya Cafe with David Thompson and Alan Yau. Now he helps run the operation at The Begging Bowl (quite possibly the best Thai restaurant in London) and waits for the right opportunity to open his own restaurant.

According to my book, Andy’s name surfaced, during his time at Nahm, via the Loft Project, and I had the chance to try his cooking at a one-off pop-up in East London years ago. Then, for a *farang* cooking Thai food, he was promising. And it was that experience that brought me to Thai Grill @ Bar Story.

 

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Thai Grill @ Bar Story

Bar Story is housed at one of those railway arches behind Peckham Rye Station. The venue features an indoor cocktail bar and an outdoor drinking space. Very eclectic, with a lot buzz from cool South London crowd.

Thai Grill is a stall separate from the kitchen of Bar Story and stations at this venue on Mondays only. The menu scribbled across a few blackboards is concise and features what Thai blanket as Gai Yang + Som Tam (Grilled chicken + Papaya salad). Andy plays around with the Thai “Yang” category and extends the menu to encompass other favorite grilled items usually found at Som Tam carts in Thailand. There are grilled sea bass (£12), pork skewers (£4), chicken thighs and drumsticks (£5), prawns (£4), home-made fermented pork sausage (£5), and minced beef in betal leaf (£5). (If this isn’t easy to imagine, think Burnt Enz but Thai). £6 for a peanut-y Som Tam and £1 for a bag of sticky rice. You grab your drink from the bar.

 

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I ordered everything from the menu and it was SENSATIONAL. The perfectly steamed, sticky and fragrant Sticky Rice arrived, as it should in Thailand, in a flimsy plastic bag. I started off with salt-grilled seafood dishes. Goong Pao (Grilled prawns) was spot on. The prawns were marinated in a traditional concoction of coriander, garlic, pepper and turmeric and grilled at a controlled low heat for delicious springy-ness. I also enjoyed Plah Pao (Grilled fish) very much. The sea bass was gutted, cleaned and stuffed with a healthy dose of herbs (lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, etc.). It was first grilled at low heat and finished on higher heat for a crispy effect on the skin. The result was as I hoped for – soft and moist meat with peel-able, lightly crispy skin. (It could have been a little crispier). Both the prawns and the fish were served with freshly prepared seafood dipping sauce (garlic, coriander and green chilli). The latter boast great citric tang and herbal refreshment.

Som Tam (Papaya salad) was done peanut-y Central-style. (Thai call it Som Tam Thai, as opposed to Som Tam that are from the Northeastern and enjoy Laotian influences). The best way to get the Som Tam you want (anywhere in the world) is to tell the chef which flavors you prefer (one or two chilli? sour? salty?). I asked for sour and spicy and it tasted superbly authentic. Yum Taeng Kwa (Cucumber salad) appeared very much soft-core (food) porn. The dish featured a spicy salad of cucumber slivers with coriander, mint, shallot and ground dehydrated shrimps. The salad itself verged on being too spicy but the gooey soft-boiled egg was instrumental in balancing out the heat.

The eating continued with Nham Yang (Grilled fermented pork sausage). Andy has my respect for making his own sausage for Nham Yang. (Young generations of Thai rarely know what actually goes into it). The taste, however, was not spot on. That is, the taste of the sausage was saltiness leading to mild sourness from the fermentation process. It should have been the other way round, in my opinion. Correctness aside, the dish was yummy. The pork used for fermentation was much better in quality than you would find off a street cart in Thailand. The only non-Thai dish on the menu was Bo La Lot (Grilled minced beef in betal leaf). It was bigger and more protein-led than most Bo La Lot I have come across. I enjoyed the gradual release of herbal aroma in the minced beef. The home-made Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) was elegant.

Moo Ping was sex pork on skewers. These were shoulders and loins marinated (coriander roots, pepper, garlic, fish sauce, palm sugar) and crisscrossed with fat pieces on skewers. When being grilled, the fat dripped into burning charcoal and created a burst of smokey perfume. And before finishing, they were brushed my coconut milk and left for the last sizzle. The taste – sweet, garlicky, porky, smokey – captured my nostalgia of Thailand. Eating with the sticky rice, I had my orgasm moment. Also peaking was Gai Yang (Grilled chicken), served with two kinds of home-made dipping sauce (sweet chilli sauce and “Jeaw” sauce). Here chicken thighs were grilled whole and then jointed. The turmeric based marinate was carefully applied only to the skin. Again, they were grilled at low heat for roughly 20 min (so be patient) and finished with a brushing of sweet and musty sauce. The result was another orgasm nostalgic moment. The chicken meat was juicy, had a good depth of taste and just fell off the bone. The special brushing sauce proved bloody special. (Andy has a special purveyor of organic and rare palm sugar from Thailand, and it makes his recipes quite extraordinary). My only criticism goes onto to the Jaew dipping sauce, which I found a little too sour. (You may see from the pile of paper dishes in the last photo. We had 3 portions for Moo Ping and 3 for Gai Yang).

Andy’s strength, from what I have tasted, lies not only in his cooking and understanding of Thai food, but also in knowing the limitation of cooking authentic Thai food in the UK. (Say, herbs suffer from jet lag and many other items aren’t allowed in according to Custom laws). Accordingly, he uses the very good produce that tastes and can be found in the UK to wisely construct his menu. Nothing is processed or comes from a tin. No MSG. The result is something simple but sublime, genuine and utterly zingy.

The team was also very helpful and friendly.

(Another criticism, though. If there is a bunch of Thai walking in, please provide spoons with forks).

Updates on menu and specials can be found here.

 

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RATING 5/5

THAI GRILL @ BAR STORY

213 Blenheim Grove
Peckham
London
SE15 4QL

www.barstory.co.uk

Bar Story on Urbanspoon

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Shoryu Soho: When Will We Really Have Super Good Ramen?

Who to trust?

It has been a while now since the ramen trend hit (Central) London and I am still pretty on the fence about the current offerings. Last year Tonkotsu (operation by Tsuru Sushi) was just passable. Now they have acquired a machine and are making their own ramen noodle in house. Might be promising. (I haven’t tried it yet). Bone Daddies was not stellar, during the first few of my visits, but has ever since managed to constantly intrigue the crowd with new, funky (fusion-led) ramen. The products are good but the digression from the traditional isn’t what I exactly crave. Ittenbari was and still is the most traditional. However, it is an inferior product in term of ingredients. Also, I think their broth has a heavily saturated taste of MSG that *improves* the taste of the food as much as the taste of my gum and teeth. (If you eat me now, I might taste good). And this has brought me back to Shoryu Ramen and its new branch in Soho.

Shoryu Ramen has received a much favourable 4-star review by A A Gill. A much lauded, writerly critic who awarded 5 stars to a certain Japanese restaurant by an internationally renowned chef last year in London. The proof in the critic’s expertise of taste in Japanese cuisine lay in the fact that that restaurant was closed 6 months after its opening. And who are we to trust?

Shoryu Ramen is an operation backed by Japan Centre. Its second branch on Denman Street, conveniently located next to Piccadilly Circus and just opposite Chinatown, is much bigger than its original. The vibe is very Japanese. There is an inviting sake and cocktail bar at the entrance, an open-plan ramen kitchen in the dining room, and canteen-style tables and stools.

The menu has inflated a lot (since last time I was at Shoryu’s first branch). Apart from its extensive ramen offerings (14 kinds and between £9.90 and 12.50) and gluten-free noodle options, Shoryu has incorporated a decent-sized yakitori section in its menu (£1.80 – £9 per skewer). Fried dishes dominates the starter section (£1.90 – £10) but there are also sashimi options. The dessert section (£3.50 – £4.80) sounds promisingly transported from Japan Centre.

My whole experience at Shoryu Soho was bad. The ramen dishes, like my experience at Shoryu’s first branch, were just alright. I ate my Tokyo Shoyu (£9.90). The Chashu pork had a likeable flavour and was not too dry. The soy sauce based broth was traditionally boiling hot but it was so one-dimensionally salty that I’d rather not sip on its own. The noodle was delightfully chewy at first bite. For my second bite, it lost that elasticity nearly completely. This showed the noodle wasn’t good enough to be matched with the high temperature of the broth. TOB’s Shoryu Ganso Tonkotsu (£10) was appealing to the eyes but did not strike a high note for taste. The broth achieved a finer balance than my Shoyu but lacked depth to convince that pork bones have been slow-cooked for hours. That said, I liked the generous topping of fried garlic (very aromatic) and the Chashu was acceptable.

Other dishes misfired nearly completely. Kawa or Salted Chicken Skin (£1.50) featured a stick of gelatinous chicken skin. Barely charred. Thoroughly not crispy. If chicken skins are in (think Bone Daddies’s “cock scratching” and Kitchen Table’s “Chicken Skin Wafer”), this skewer can certainly put an end to all that. Satsuma Age or Deep Fried Fish Balls (£1.80) was edible, though TOB refused to eat them. Chicken Karaage (£5) had a standard of KFC chicken popcorn. The batter was crispy but thick. Chikuwa (a kind of fish cake) (£4) was stuffed with cheese, crumbed and fried. In Japan, this could be an extremely addictive dish. Here the fish cake was rubbery and lacked taste.

There were also faults in operation. We were served ramen first. This was followed by a long wait until our starters did make an appearance. The cocktail also did not arrive at the same time as the soft drink (as in the soft drink arrived before the ramen and the other drink arrived right after we finished our ramen). As with new openings, these things will hopefully be ironed out. Hopefully..

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RATING 2/5

SHORYU RAMEN SOHO

3 Denman Street
London
W1D 7HA

www.shoryuramen.com
Shoryu Soho on Urbanspoon

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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).

 

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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

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FIVE GUYS

1 Long Acre
London
WC2E 9LH

www.fiveguys.co.uk

SHAKE SHACK UK

24, Market Building
Covent Garden Piazza
London
WC2E 8RD

Tel. 020 7240 0054

http://www.shakeshack.com/location/london-covent-garden/

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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).

 

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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.

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SFD RATING 3.5/5

SHO FOO DOH @ PACIFIC SOCIAL CLUB

8 Clarence Road
London
E5 8HB

www.facebook.com/ShoFooDoh
Pacific Social Club on Urbanspoon

 

CC RATING 4/5

CITY CAPHE

17 Ironmonger Lane
Bank
London
EC2V 8EY

www.citycaphe.com

City Càphê on Urbanspoon