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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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41° Experience, Barcelona

41° Experience

There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.

Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..

Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.

Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.

Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again :-D

 

(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).

PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<

 

 

RATING: 5/5

41° EXPERIENCE

Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
08015, Barcelona
Spain

www.41grados.es


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Kinoshita, Sao Paulo

The Brazillian Japanese and “kappo”

Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan, and along with the people come the food, the produce and myriad aspects of Japanese cultures. The district Liberdade in Sao Paulo has been established as a Japanese community “Japantown” since 1950s and authentic, quality Japanese restaurants can be found nearly everywhere in Sao Paulo. The only distinction, it seems, is that due to its tropical “one-season” climate Japanese cuisine in Brazil does not have the abundance of seasonal produce or is restricted by it.

While in Sao Paulo, I had a chance to try out a modern “kappo” restaurant called Kinoshita by Master Tsuyoshi Murakami.

What is “kappo”? “Kappo” – meaning “To Cook/Cut” – is a kind of personal dining where diners are seated, usually at a counter, behind which the chef decides his menu and prepares all the dishes. There is no prep kitchen elsewhere. The “kappo” menu is a hybrid between the keiseki or multi-course tasting haute cuisine and the izakaya or small portioned bar food. The erasure of the barrier(s) between the kitchen and the dining room encourages an intimate and lively exchange between chefs and diners.

At Kinoshita I was looked after by (very young-looking) sous chef Alex who inquired me of my likes and dislikes. In the end I opted for the “kappo” omakase (£102) which comprises of 9 dishes plus one dessert. Alex did most of the choosing. I was still given the liberty of requesting some dishes I fancied from the extensive A La Carte section to replace some of the intended tasting courses. (It might be helpful to note that the price ranges approximately between £8 to £27 per dish for A La Carte dishes). The meal commenced with an aphrodisiac shooter of fresh oysters, salmon roe, marinated nameko mushrooms and quail’s egg yolk. The vibrant freshness of the ingredients was enhanced by the gleaming yuzu-ponzu soy reduction. This was quickly followed by “Kai”, a dish of poached mussels with spicy miso sauce. The bean-y sweetness from the sauce, undercut by the refined pickle acidity from the cucumber ribbons, provided a body to the succulent mussels. I also liked the lingering tinkling sensation from the chilli infusion. Creamy bloc of duck foie gras was pressed together with traditional grilled eel Unagi and served with batons of granny smith apple and daikon cress Kaiware. The layering of sweetness – from the fatty foie gras to the juicy, meaty eel – was interesting but not groundbreaking. (Eel+foie+apple has been done before. I had a notable version at Martin B in San Sebastian). Enjoyable but I don’t think the apple provided enough acidity to cleanse the palate. The next dish was far more successful. Medallions of raw flounder and scallop were sandwiched together to create a horizontal stack of multi-textured sashimi – soft texture from flounder and springy from scallop. The construction was toppled with salmon roe and peppery daikon cress and finished with the citric ponzu-yuzu soy reduction. Maguro was prepared seared/tataki style and arrived with spicy miso sauce and quail egg. Like the sauce for the mussel dish, it was tasty; the yolk added unctuousness to it. That said, as a whole, with stringy, minimally roasted spring onions and toasted sesame seeds, the dish tasted rather sweet and undermined the first-rate tuna. The sashimi put the meal back on track. The two cuts of tuna were brilliantly fresh. The garnish of rosemary spring did leave an aromatic scent atypical for sashimi serving in Europe. Not a bad thing, though.

 




Rice and more

Interestingly, the meal gathered its momentum with rice and soy sauce. Alex insisted I try the sushi rice and the soy sauce by themselves, before revealing the care and thoughts that had been put into these creations. Starting with the soy sauce, the kitchen at Kinoshita makes their own soy sauce(s). This one, in particular, is only served with sushi. It is prepared by a meticulous balancing of kombu, dried bonito, mirin, sake and salt. A pale shade of brown and crystal clear, and after a small sip, it released a calm, rice-y sweetness and a very subtle hint of salt. The soy sauce that accompanied the sashimi prior to this claimed a lot heavier salt content. I moved onto the rice ball presented with a light touch of wasabi. The ball was explosive. The sushi rice here is prepared from the not-so-old, short-grained Japanese rice that are exported to and grown in California. The grains are quite sticky and gel together well. In other words, they do not require much pressure when being turned into a nigiri by the sushi chef, hence the air space between the grains, the lightness and the explosive-ness. To counter the soy sauce, the kitchen seasons the rice with a stronger dose of vinegar – almost reminiscent of rice for chirashi sushi. In this context, they work surprisingly well. The ethereal state of the rice and the pristine taste emboldened the pure flavour from the fish. After the rice came my nigiri platter of tuna, red snapper, mackerel, scallop and seared wagyu beef. Next was an expertly pan-seared wagyu beef fillet, which was described as a migrating piece of beef. That is, a 100% Japanese breed but born and raised in Brazilian clime. It arrived temptingly pink. The taste was on the pure side – not so much aged – and the texture very firm. The duo of Japanese dried chilli flakes and salt did their job well. The parade of savoury dishes concluded with a heart-warming bowl of Kakiage Don. Kakiage refers to a tempura technique of assembling various ingredients to be deep fried together at once. In my bowl there was an assortment of very fresh scallop and prawns with julienne root vegetables, drizzled with the syrupy teriyaki sauce. Sweet but toothsome. The miso boast a clarity of great stock, while the pickled Japanese cucumber tasted more purely compressed rather than with a vinegary tang. The gummy chocolate moji and the white (but very strong) coffee ice cream were such a pleasing way to end my meal.

 


RATING: 4/5

 

KINOSHITA

Rua Jacques Felix 405
Moema
Sao Paulo
Brazil

Tel. + 55 (11) 3849 6940

www.restaurantekinoshita.com.br

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St Giles “High Street” Haunts = Union Jacks + Cabana + Byron

Union Jacks..

Union Jack's on Urbanspoon

Jamie Oliver intrigued Britain with his new foodie package. We heard of the new book and the new TV show, both of which share the same title “Jamie’s Great Britain”, and now at St Giles Central, we sampled the flagship of his new high street chain venture “Union Jacks”. The ambiance, however, was kiddy at worst. Mismatched kindergarten chairs with spray paints, big and eclectic lights that screamed “Union Jacks” (though there was no sign of that flag itself), and a centre-piece wood oven against the extraterrestially high ceiling did not seem so well and quirkily thought out as his Jamie’s Italian. Sitting down, I felt dwarfed.

For the most part, Union Jacks was a pizza joint, while the menu bordered on being British but promised twists. Jamie shook hands with Chris Bianco, the US pizza king and devised the pizza menu based on what Great Britain has to offer. Before that, I had “By-Catch Fish Fingers” (£5) and “Bloody Mary Mussels” (£5). The fish fingers were firm and enjoyably crispy, but the accompanying tartare sauce was in extreme shortage of acidity. The mussels, though very fresh, were far less successful and tasted no more than molluscs steamed in tomato sauce. No basic flavour suggestive of a Bloody Mary – say, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, chilli, celery – was present.

The “flats” AKA pizzas were flashy and reasonably massive (you might not need a starter). My “Old Spot” (£12) was a maelstrom of taste and texture – from roasted and melt-in-yer-mouth pork shoulder, super crunchy cracklings, sharp quince and sweet Bramley slices, to pungent Stilton and peppery watercress. The Other Bib, however, preferred the “Red Ox” (£12) which landed on the table with an incredible perfume of horseradish. The combo of Worcestershire sauce-braised oxtail and brisket with Red Leicester would appease meat and cheese lovers. To me, it did not have enough dimensions to keep me on edge and finish it all off. Chris Bianco (who was in the kitchen) did a great job synching the ingredients. That said, I didn’t find the puffy pizza dough a revelation but too American for my liking.

GO FOR: Swanky pizza.
RATING: 3/5

(read more about rating here)

Cabana..

Cabana on Urbanspoon

Cabana is an interpretation of Brasilian cafeteria. Now there are two of them – one in Westfield Stratford City and the other at St Giles Central. The St Giles one looked young and fun, with kite ceiling, multicolor lights, cocktail bar and denim banquettes. The menu boast a good selection of Brasilian street nibbles and many grilled-and-skewed things as well as good booze. That said, the price tag here is the least budget.

Food-wise, I was indecisive about Cabana. My Pao de Queijo AKA Brazillian cheesy bread arrived as a trio of tapioca flour based buns. I picked up the genteel milky aroma and liked the crusty-gummy contrast very much (£3.95). For my grilled things, there was this ceremony of waiters approaching your table with a very long skewer of whatever meat you order and un-skewing it straight to your plate. This came with some free tomato salsa, which could do with more seasoning, and some nutty minty salsa, which was appetisingly sweet and fragrant. Still, you need to order side dishes (£2.85- £3.65) separately. My Grilled Pork and Papaya Sausages (£3.35 for two) were pretty much the same size as your typical English sausages. They smelled well charred but tasted steeply sweet with papaya dices. Spicy Malaqueta Prawns (£5.95 for three) were good quality but not large. I felt them a little pricy for the ambiance. Again quite sweet and I didn’t pick up much heat as the term “spicy” promised. Spicy Malaqueta Chicken (£5.45 for three thigh pieces) was a little hotter. The meat was cooked to fall apart and was not too dry. My meal with water and a non-alc cocktail with all above came to £25 without service. I was not in love but I wouldn’t mind going back.

GO FOR: Meaty grill. Cocktail.
RATING: 3.5/5

(read more about rating here)

Byron!!

I love Byron. I love the fact that each of them has been uniquely and funkily designed to fit its surrounding. At St Giles Central, there was a cargo container suspended above the open-plan kitchen. It mediated the bare dining room with the vast aerial space oh so well. I didn’t feel like I was dining at a formulaic high-street chain at all.

The burgers – Scottish meat and freshly minced every day – were still the tour de force and retained their greatest consistency London-wide. Sadly, their row with Health and Safety meant any Byron can no longer serve rare burgers. Stupid authority!!

GO FOR: Comfort. Quick meal. Cool vibe. Low budget.
RATING: 5/5

(read more about rating here)

 

UNION JACKS

St Giles High Street
London
WC2H 8AG

www.unionjacksrestaurants.com

CABANA

St Giles High Street
London
WC2H 8AG

Tel. 020 7845 9730

www.cabana-brasil.com

BYRON

St Giles High Street
London
WC2H 8AG

Tel. 020 7395 0620

www.byronhamburgers.com