All posts filed under “Cafe

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Ethnically Cheap in (Relatively) Central London

Cheap, not sh*t!

Right. It’s not a myth to get an alright meal in a restaurant with a seat and in a heater-ed venue for around £12-15. There is always a time when I have to deal with my gastronomic overspending, and after years of nip-picking “cheap sh*t” out of “cheap eat”, I have come across a few little gems, full of character and serving up alright food at an insanely bargained price. Here are some of them…

Stick & Bowl

Stick & Bowl on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3/5

A small Chinese haunt for maids in Kensington, opposite Royal Garden Hotel where Min Jiang is situated. The more genteel Kensington residents also like it (I learned this from my very proper friend who live in the area), but they send the maids to fetch their takeaway. The eatery is a tiny hole and made of counters and high stools suitable for a no-more-than-half-an-hour meal. The food is usually very nicely prepared. Big portion, et al. My favourite is the crispy noodle with seafood gravy (below), which boasts a greaseless and well textured nest of egg noodle toppled with an assortment of springy prawns, tenderised squids, distinctly flavoured fish balls and crunchy veggies in sticky gravy. (Their aubergine and rice dish is also reliable). During my last visit, I also found the pan fried pork dumpling bearable. Gingery. The casing could do with more work. All in all, with a glass of tap water, comes to around £10.


Marie’s (Thai) Cafe

Marie's Thai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3.5/5

By day Marie’s Cafe serves (dodgy-looking) English breakfast. By nightfall it turns into a very bustling Thai restaurant (of a predominantly white crowd). The cooking is far from bad and reminds me very much of a home-cooked Thai meal. Say, when your Thai friends (who can cook) invite you over for a home feast. This place captures that very well. Decent-sized portion. No dish costs more than £6.50. The flavours are almost there (see, “friends” aren’t professional chefs) and not uncompromisingly westernised. There is only one version of som tam (papaya salad) there and it comes sans papaya. Very much like a zingy, fiery Thai slaw. This is not unauthentic as in Thailand you always get cabbage as a side to your som tam anyway. Chicken Massaman featured perfectly cooked chicken breast slices. The curry was hot enough but lacked tamarind acidity. I DIY-ed my flavour by pouring a little of the som tam juice in. Not tamarind but it would do. Squid Prik Khing was alright. Finely scorched and tenderised squid was sauteed with hot, gingery sauce. It would be nicer without the bell peppers, as they made the dish a little too Chinese for my liking. These three dishes with a hearty bowl of steamed rice and a bottle of water came to £20. It could feed two.

Indian YMCA

Indian Ymca on Urbanspoon

Rating: 3/5

This vast cafeteria at Indian YMCA looks as if it never receives a refurbishment since India gained its independence. It also runs strict opening hours. The food – mostly curries – is pre-cooked and left on hot plates, so it’s best to go at the beginning of their service. Dirt cheap. A table-ful of lamb, goat, chicken, fish curries, two rice dishes, onion bhaji, two mango lassi and one bottle of water came to £11. I don’t have a fine knowledge in Indian dishes but I found the lamb and the goat well simmered in hot gingery curry with subtle tomato acidity. Moist meat. Both dishes oozed a perfume of clove and bay leaf. The fish curry was lighter in taste but the fish itself was too dry and too cooked. The onion bhaji (as we got there end of service) had already lost its crispy-ness. Mango lassi was vibrant and tasted as if they could be priced at £4-5 at any other Indian gaff. An okay meal for the price.

The addresses to note…

Stick & Bowl

31 High Street Kensington
W8 5NP

Tel. 020 7937 2778

Marie’s Cafe

90 Lower Marsh

Tel. 020 7928 1050

Indian YMCA

41 Fitzroy Square

Tel. 020 7387 0411

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Aamanns “Smørrebrødsdeli”, Copenhagen

Best known after Noma?

Smørrebrød is, after Noma, the ultimate definition of Danish cuisine. This is a national open top sandwich, made of buttered rye bread and whatever that goes on top, and served cold. While you can find this sort of things anywhere in Copenhagen and any Scandinavian towns and cities, I am particularly besotted by the posh interpretation of smørrebrød at Aamanns.

The Aamanns

There are two Aamanns in Copenhagen, one a cafeteria-like deli and the other a casual restaurant. Situated next to each other and just a few minute’s walk from Copenhagen’s main shopping street, both Aamanns are owned and run by Adam Aamanns who has been nationally and internationally praised for making Danish smørrebrød exciting. I popped into the deli for some late breakfast bite. The interior was quirky but wooden, a lot of design that would be much valued by such magazines as Monocle. I liked but did not fall in love. The staff, on the other hand, was lovable and helped look for an English menu for me. (I arrived at the minute they unlocked the door).

On the menu were many kinds of smørrebrød freshly prepared using carefully sourced regional ingredients. Cheese and meatballs were also on the menu. A piece of smørrebrød was priced between 50 – 65 Danish Kroner (roughly £5- 6). Fried Pickled Herring with Spices, Sour Cream and Pumpkin Compote was flavoursome. The meaty herring oozed light acidity, well complimented by the creamy pumpkin and the vibrant crunch of red onion rings. There was a delectable note of orange zest in the background. Rilette of Pork was less impressive. While very finely prepared, the pork flavour wasn’t big enough for my liking. That said, I did enjoy the contrast in texture and taste from mildly pickled sauerkraut and crispy crackling crumbs. My favourite of the day, however, was this Beef Tartare with Tarragon and Egg Emulsion, which looked like an Ankylosaurus but neatly armoured with crisp discs and spiky gherkins. The proportion of beef was generous for £6 and was spot on for its fresh robustness. The garnish – tarragon, egg, capers, onions – played a very good supporting role and did not aggravate the beef. I loved it. I could eat a few more..

How many pieces would you need? One or two, I’d say. The pieces were big. The toppings were generous. The dark rye bread was customarily heavy. I could manage a piece and a bit and was obliged to discard the rest (as I was on my way to eat at another place). One smørrebrød could easily count as a starter. All in all, a very good, quick ‘n cheap meal. Inventive and all..

GO FOR: Fancy bread.

(read about new rating here)


Øster Farimagsgade 10
2100 Copenhagen

Tel. +45 3555 3344

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E Mishkin: One Jewish Dream Fulfilled in Covent Garden

A Jewish Dream

… that he[Ezra Mishkin] might make it to London, England and that he might realise his dream of one day having his own restaurant…

Ezra Mishkin, I don’t care if he is fictional, historical, pseudo-historical, historical-fictional, fictional-historical. All I knew was this Jewish man from Ukraine sparked thoughts in Russell Norman’s head to open a “kind of Jewish deli” in his honour of his existence in the heart of Covent Garden. When I had my chicken soup and “alternated a sip with a hunk, sip with a hunk”, I couldn’t help being distracted by the decor, NYC’ Lower East Side blitzed with London’s East End quirk. A well-polished shopfront glared at Shrek the Musical and led way to a class-act gin and cocktail bar, where like all of Norman’s restaurants, you can perch for drinks and nibbles. Inside red leather banquettes were embraced by reclaimed bricked and timbered walls and a tiled ceiling. London’s smallest, cozy, sound proof private room was tucked in one corner and a long table in the other where natural light (if such thing exists in England) beamed through a glass roof. The long and limp lamps oozed charming warmth.. yes, in this pseudo-Jewish establishment, nothing – NOTHING – was reminiscent of Palestine, Israel, UN’s disputes or Sarkozy’s slagging off Netanyahu.

Home, not Home?

The menu at Mishkin’s was Jewish/Eastern European-inspired but left unkoshered. Dishes – Meatloaf, Hot Dog (from the famed Big Apple Hot Dog of Old Street), Chicken Soup and Salt Beef – ranged from being nibble size to quite shockingly huge portion size, while the price fluctuated between £4- £13. There were sections of “sandwich”, “meatballs”, “all day brunch” and “all day supper”!!

To start, I had this off-menu Duck Gribenes. Crispy fried duck skins that burst juicy fat. Then came Cod Cheek Pop Corn, a simple bowl of battered cod cheeks with salted, pepper, gremolata and chilli Though this a combo reminded me of Chinese “Salt and Pepper” with a twist, the Mishkin’s dish was done up with much better quality. The cheeks were crispy on the outside but popped appetising moisture. I quickly found the WOW factor in my Meatloaf which arrived as a dainty, guilt-free (as I’m on a diet) portion. One prick in the middle resulted in an eruption of yolk-y lava from a hidden soft-boiled egg. The coarsely ground, expertly seasoned meat was not just love at first bite but would last as a lifelong relationship. I asked for two of this. Then, to slurp was Chicken Matzo Ball Soup, where floated a baby-fist-sized herbed dumpling. The soup had a distilled taste. Not strong but heart-warming enough. Pickled Herring was a more Ukrainian dish (the origin of Mr. E. Mishkin) and featured zingy herring fillets on a finely chopped beetroot paste with additional intensity and contrast from slivers of pickled gherkins and scattering of dill. Not the best I had since Moscow but a nice find.

The dishes from the “Sandwich” section were much bigger than the above. Steamed Patty was served with a “supersize me” option, which for the sake of my “Skinny” branding, I declined. The normal sized one featured a densely packed patty of beefy robustness, well interjected by an obscene amount of caramelised sweet onions and stringy salted cheese. If asking for a “supersize”, you would get to have two of those patties and more cheese. Chopped Liver with Schamaltzed Radish was my second most favourite of the day. The small hill of fine liver paste was mixed with chopped egg white and a side of goose fat rendered radish & parsley salad. The freshness from the radish helped cleanse my palate off offal-y deliciousness well.

All went excellently well until this Reuben on Rye arrived. Probably the biggest toasted sandwich I’d ever eaten in years. Thin sheets of pastrami sandwiched by a steep dose of sour sauerkraut, gooey cheesy and awesomely crusty Rye. There was a lot of acidity in play from the sauerkraut to the pickled gherkin on the side, but the flavour from the delicate slices of pastrami was not lost. I was also delighted to find Salt Beef Slider from Spuntino (which has been off for months!!) to reappear on the Mishkin’s menu. But I didn’t have enough room for it today :’(

No dessert. I was way too, too, too STUFFED!!!!!

Five Times a Charm

There was no doubt that Mishkin’s will be an overnight success. There are also queues and a lot of phone bookings taken already but the bar area is reserved for walk-ins. I am amazed how Russell Norman makes all this happen – Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino, da Polpo – but at least I’m so glad that he has turned Catherine Street into a destination for those not on their way to see Shrek the Musical. Oh, and Tom the manager is quite hot, too.

Go for: Comfort food and really, really cool vibe.

RATING: 4 out of 5

(read about new rating here)


25 Catherine Street

Tel. 020 7240 2078

Mishkin's on Urbanspoon

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Fornata: Babbo Goes Commercial in Carnaby

Another of the kind..

At first glance Fornata struck me as another Italian addition to London’s now exhausted “cicchetti/ small plate” scene that mighty Russell Norman of Polpo started a couple of years back…

But, if you could get over that, Fornata does boast a good pedigree. Opened by the team behind Babbo – a pricy, not-so-much-talked-about Italian restaurant in Mayfair that serves some bl**dy amazing food – this little cafe-restaurant with wood oven at the heart of the restaurant is rather bright, slightly bland, but relaxed. Quite formulaic it made me felt as if in a chain restaurant. Not so much a place I’d like to have a lingering meal.

Food wise..

Sectioned into dishes from the kitchen and from the oven, the menu was big and full of Italian words without English description. I needed help. One thing that read well was the price. Around £3-5 for small plates and £6-9 for not-as-small plates. I could easily walk in and get fed at just below £20 (sans alcohol).

Beef Ragu Arancini was a delightful combo of texture and a heart-warming slap of saffron. The ragu filling, however, wasn’t particularly flavoursome. Mozzarella in Carrozza arrived deep fried in crumbs. Not a sophisticated taste but there was enough of hot and gummy indulgence to make me smile after a bad day. The most successful, so far, was this Aubergine with Melted Campania Cheese. A little pot of sliced aubergine, tomato sauce, basil and (more) cheese!! Nicely done aubergines (though it could do with a few more slices) retained slight bitterness and well complimented by sweet passata.

The less small dishes were not entirely disappointing. Pollo alla Diavola lacked distinct heat that is associated with the dish. Just juicy-ness from the tomato and herb sauce. That aside, the chicken was pleasantly charred and so tender it fell apart (in a good way) as I sliced. Agnolotti Caprese with Beef Sugo was not good at all. Gooey cheese was not well encased by the pasta and it all fell apart (not in a good way) as I forked. The melting-in-my-mouth sugo could almost be a redeeming grace if it had more richness and depth. Fornata “Burger” was a carnivorous surprise. My “burger” ordered to be cooked medium landed not in a bun but wrapped in a Piadina ball. While the meat was dense and robust, it shouted for more herbs and seasonings to turn it into something memorable.

I almost gave up desserts.. but I felt good I didn’t.

Tiramisu was awesome. Mascarpone tasted like mascarpone; coffee soaked sponge tasted like coffee soaked sponge; chocolate dust tasted like chocolate; the biscuit base tasted like biscuit and was crunchy. Together this was a tiramisu that tasted like a tiramisu. Beautiful. Simple. Not a slop of things that when you ate you could barely discern tastes. I could come back for more.

Last thoughts..

Fornata is a nice budget place and especially ideal for a quick meal. It positions itself between high-street Italian chains serving substandard dishes and mid-range, independent Italian eateries that sometimes lack consistency. Looking at my £44 lunch bill, which could have easily fed two, I shouldn’t be so critical as I actually like having this kind of restaurant in the area X

GO FOR: Quick fix.
RATING: 2.5/5


15 Kingly Street

Tel. 020 8181 8887

Fornata on Urbanspoon

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Indi-Go: Worthy Olympic Detour at Westfield

A novel idea it was that once you get out of the Tube and on your way to London’s brand new Olympic Park you’ll have to walk across.. *ahem* a shockingly vast maze of shopping mall. Westfield Stratford City, it is. I won’t bore you with my impressions, but I only want to tell you this..


Amidst all the chain and semi-chain restaurants at Westfield (I am talking Rosa’s, Franco Manca, Comptoir Libanais, etc.) lies this little gem, Indi-Go. A little Indian island on the Balcony boasting an open plan kitchen and a huge queue of ethnic crowds. Very cafe-like and looking inappropriately un-atmospheric. You queue, order food, get them things that vibrate, feel the vibration, get your food on a plastic tray (Yikes!), fetch your knife and fork, eat.. and leave. No service. No service charge. Not a kind of place you’ll linger there longer than an hour.

The menu at Indi-Go is pleasantly lengthy and focuses on Indian street food. Bhel Puri, Pau Bhaji, that sort of things. There are some biryani, some curries and many Indian sweets!!! This shows good promise :-D

I and the other bib was in a rush, so we tucked in what we felt would be the least time-consuming. Pani Poori was nicely presented and tasted good. These were six light, crispy rice balls filled with chickpeas, red onions, potatoes, coriander leaves and a frisky dose of spices. The tangy lime and mint sauce, albeit watery, shook the balls to livelihood. Then came the curries in massive bowls. Adraki Murgh – a thick, luscious chicken curry – rendered itself a wonderful heat and a perfect balance of sweetness, gingery-ness, cumin and spices. Firework in my mouth and very tender chicken pieces, too!! The same may be said of Kashmiri Lamb Curry. I particularly liked it for meaty robustness and a delicate note of saffron. That said, it wasn’t so much a soul reviver as the Murgh. I mopped it all up with two expertly and most deliciously puffed naans. Seriously they were as fluffy as a duvet!

And I spent my last few minutes juggling Gulab Jamun. Perfectly aerated and ridiculously spongy cake balls soaked in gently sweet syrup. LOVED IT!!

That was my meal. So immensely authentic it brought me to think of places like Dishoom and Delhi Grill. The bill for two of about £34 barely left a scratch on my wallet. If only we had more time, I would love to slowly nibble my way through the menu.

And, yes. I bl**dy take my words back. I can see myself linger at Indi-Go.. for hours!

Enough said,

My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.


The Balcony (1st Flr)
Westfield Stratford City
Montfichet Road
Olympic Park
E20 1EJ

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Roti Chai: A Little Bit of India

Roti.. Chai..

Catchy name. Ironically, at present, there was no “roti” on the menu and my “chai” tasted not delectably milky or outstandingly spiced.


What was Roti Chai?

Say, a hybrid of a cafe and a snack bar (as there was a commendable list of alcoholic drinks). From the outside it appeared a little like E.A.T but an experience of walking in revealed a funky, paired down dining area, with upbeat Indian music and a lovely lady whom I often bumped into often at Dishoom. Good urban vibe, not particularly ethnic. Ideal for fast and furious lunch or bum-resting after shopping spree.

The menu boast a mix-and-match of Pan-Indian street bites, designed for sharing, with an average price per dish at around £4-6. No indication of how heated each dish was. No curries or biryani yet. I was told the selection would get bigger and would also be sync’ed with the finer dining downstairs restaurant (which is not yet opened). Bhel Puri (1) – toasted rice in tamarind and chilli dressing – was a joy to eat. Loose grains of crispy rice. Wonderfully tossed. I saw no sticky syrup but there was dimension to the flavours. Tamarind sweetness and acidity. A playful chilli kick. It would be ideal if there were more contrasting texture and freshness from chopped onions, tomatoes and peanuts. Vegetable Samosa (2) was cracking and fiery. Two plumb pieces deep filled with robustly spiced potato, peas and sweetcorn. Another layer of heat from chilli-ed chickpeas. The mint sauce wasn’t enough to cool it down!

Hakka Chilli Paneer (3) was very much a stir-fry dish and a disappointment. The paneer suffered from being too finely cubed and too glazed, leaving me wonder where all the cheesy flavours had gone. I understood this was an Indo-Chinese dish, hence less spice dimensions, but as it was being paired in this rather heated menu, it made my heart sink when biting into things less aromatic and orgasmic. Chicken Keema Kaleji (4) served with pao bread was the winner of the day. Minced chicken and chopped liver cooked in a nicely balanced masala sauce. Sweetness from tomatoes distilled the chilli heat and the spice-ful aggression. Generous bits of creamy liver added much meaty richness to the paste. Mopped it all up with good quality, nicely buttered pao bun. Loved it.

“Tikki Wala”. Two options: bun kebab (5) and bun tikki (6). The bun kebab on the right featured this spiced lamb patty; the left a vegetarian option. The lamb had this pleasant elasticity but could do with less tamarind glazing on top. The sweetness aggravated my palate as I was sinking my teeth in. Took a minute or so for the feisty taste of the patty to kick in. The vegetarian option could do with a touch more seasoning and a more crisped-up skin. The salad garnish looked awkward. I’d rather the buns were served commando – Spuntino way!

Kulfi (7). Two choices of pistachio of mango. Amazing. Believed they sourced it from the same distributor as Dishoom. Velvety. They killed the heat in my mouth straightaway. Not that you needed two of them.. but I couldn’t see why you should limit yourself to just one?  ;)

I found good promises in Roti Chai, despite its currently small menu. There was this visibly sanitary appeal to the dishes but one bite (into a few dishes) showed the kitchen was not in for compromise. Though almost all dishes came in a bowl, the portion was never too meagre. My meal today, which filled up two bellies and also was left with some uneaten buns, came to about £40.

Stopped myself for now. I will be back for the downstairs restaurant…

.. soon hopefully?

And by then I hope the “chai” will taste better, and there will be a “roti”.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “7 out of 10″.


3 Portman Mews South

Roti Chai on Urbanspoon